John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: January 13

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John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: January 13

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The First Calamity


There are many who pride themselves on their deep knowledge of human nature,”—that is, being interpreted, on their keen appreciation of the dark things and the foul things of the human heart. The Lord preserve us from too much of this knowledge. He who has none of it is little better than a fool; and he who has most of it is much worse than a man. For we find the highest degrees of this knowledge united to the lowest degree of appreciation of, a moral incapacity of apprehending, a total inability of feeling, that which, through the grace of God, is divine and spiritual, and therefore good and holy, in the soul of man. They know the guilty well, but ignore the heavenly. They grope the muck-heap which stands in the midst of the field, and are thoroughly acquainted with its contents: but they are blind to the noble trees by which the field is bordered; they see not the fair flowers which deck its surface as the firmament is decked with stars—those flowers of heaven; and they are utterly unconscious of the nourishment for man and beast which its bosom bears. Now, we continually see that this deep knowledge of man’s lower nature, which makes them seem the wisest of men, is, in its results and conclusions, continually baffled, foiled, and put wrong by their ignorance of, and their utter incapacity of sympathizing with, his better part.

The most perfect master of this knowledge is Satan; and he is at once the most complete example and most egregious dupe of this ignorance. It were difficult to find the man in whose soul some faint glimmering of faith in God or man does not linger. But Satan has none. He is the most complete example of knowledge without faith. This is his character: he has no faith. This is his weakness and his shame. In this possession and in this want he has reached heights and depths impossible to man. But his ignorance stultifies his knowledge, and renders the feeblest of God’s children, armed with “the shield of faith,” no unequal match for him.

With Job this Satan has undertaken a great conflict—-and he shows his consciousness of its importance, as well as his profound knowledge of human nature, by the care and skill with which he commences his operations.

We first observe that he is very particular in the choice of the day in which, as he hopes, to crush Job to the dust. He had all the days in the year to choose from, but he made choice of that one day in which affliction would be felt the most intensely—because it was a day of joy. He knew that the grief which comes unexpectedly in the midst of our gladness has its force doubled by the sudden contrast and revulsion, as it is when the heart is most open to gladness, that it is least fitted to receive sorrow. The day was one of unusual festivity in the cheerful family of Job—“a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house.” In the rotation of feasts to which we have already referred, it is likely that the festival commencing the series was more distinguished than the others. But it is not clear whether this was one of those feasts, or an extraordinary one, apart from that arrangement. Whether such as in due rotation was held at the house of the eldest brother, and therefore more distinguished as given by him who was the wealthiest and most considerable of the sons, or whether it was altogether a separate matter—it is clear that it was a day of high festivity. This we gather not only from the designed indication that it was held in the eldest brother’s house, but that it was a banquet of wine, by which, in Scripture, a high and extraordinary banquet is always indicated. It is noticeable that in the ordinary account of the festivals it is said that they met “to eat and drink;” but here it is “to eat and drink wine.” Very much, in our view of transactions recorded in Scripture, depends upon minute differences such as this, which are apt to escape ordinary notice. So Queen Esther, in a far later age, invites the king to “a banquet of wine,”—not that there was nothing but wine at the banquet, but the addition implies that it was a plentiful banquet, a solemn banquet, a banquet at which nothing was wanting, seeing that it included wine for drink.

Job was not there. But no doubt his heart possessed a full share in the gladness which belonged to the occasion, while he contemplated the prosperity of his family, and the felicities which God had given to his children.

It was in such a day as this that the tidings of evil came upon him. A man from the not far-off fields came hastily in, with the marks of strife and blood upon his body. As soon as he recovered breath, he says: “The oxen were plowing and the asses feeding beside them,”—or rather, “at hand,” not afar off; and these particulars respecting the employments of the cattle are given by the man to show that the servants were not neglectful of their master’s interests. There was nothing in their conduct that tended to produce the calamity he came to report. The cattle and the servants were properly occupied. But of the asses, it may be asked, had they nothing to do but to feed while the oxen labored? Is not the ass as well as the ox a laboring beast? The answer to this is supplied by a circumstance undesignedly suppressed in our version. The original indicates that they were she-asses, as is distinctly marked in nearly all the versions but our own. The translators probably thought it a matter of no consequence. But female asses, on account of their milk, were much more highly esteemed at all times in the East than the males, a few only of which appear to have been kept for continuing the breed; and hence, perhaps, they are not noticed in the previous account of the live-stock belonging to our patriarch. She-asses, on account of their milk, were also greatly preferred even for travelling: for the ass which Balaam rode is expressly declared (in the original) to have been a female, Note: Num_22:21. as is that of Abraham. Note: Gen_22:3.

Upon this peaceful scene of laboring oxen and feeding she-asses, the desolating marauder intrudes, and sweeps away the cattle, slaughtering the servants who attempted to protect the property of their master. “The Sabeans fell upon them, and have slain thy servants with the edge of the sword, and I only am escaped to tell thee.” In the Hebrew it is “Sheba came”—the nation for the people; and this is an idiom familiar in most languages, as when we say, ‘Spain made war,’ or ‘France made war.’ There is, however, some question respecting the people thus designated, seeing that there are three Shebas in Scripture, founders of nations or families of the same name. There was one, who was a grandson of Cush; Note: Gen_10:7. there was another, who was a son of Joktan; Note: Gen_10:28. and there was a third, who was a son of Jokshan, the son of Abraham by Keturah. Note: Gen_25:3. The one usually fixed upon as the progenitor of the present Sabeans is the second, whose descendants settled in southernmost Arabia, from which the Queen of Sheba came to visit Solomon. This is founded on the idea, that Job was an Arab, or Edomite; but as those who think so place him in northern Arabia, not far from the borders of Palestine, it were little likely that even a wandering tribe of this nation would be found at so immense a distance, plundering Job. We use the word Arabia so easily for a single country as practically to forget the immense distance between its southern and northern parts. The distance was so great as to render the visit of the Queen of Sheba a wonder in Israel, and our Lord describes her as having come “from the uttermost parts of the earth.” A troop of Highlanders driving away the cattle of a Cornish farmer would be nothing to this. Of course, this objection from distance becomes increasingly forcible in the more northern position which we have been led to assign to Job.

Abraham’s grandson settled in the country eastward of the Jordan, towards the Euphrates. There is not here the same, although there is some, objection from distance. But there is no evidence that this tribe: ever assumed a predatory character—nor is it likely that they would have assaulted the possessions of such a man as Job, probably nearly allied to them, as such aggressions usually take place between inimical tribes. Besides, a tribe founded by the grandson of Abraham is rather too recent for those conditions of the narrative which have been previously indicated; and more than all, we can find the other Sheba of Cush, of more ancient date, inimical, as belonging to the race of Ham, and dwelling with the Chaldeans in and on the borders of the very region which we have led our readers to regard as the land of Uz. Haran, in this region—the same that is mentioned in the history of the patriarchs—is noticed in oriental history as a city of the Sabeans, which is a circumstance of much importance in this age, where so many valuable identifications have resulted from the attention paid to the ancient names reserved among the natives of those regions. We thus and otherwise find the name of Sheba or Saba connected with this region, and, from the course of ancient historical migration, we are constrained to connect it with the Cushite Sabeans; though, but for this consideration, and for the circumstances already suggested, the name as found here might well enough even be referred to the Keturian Sheba, as “the east country” into which Abraham sent his sons, applies generally to any countries lying towards and beyond the Euphrates, even though its due direction were more north or more south than east. Besides, even if the district into which the Keturian sons of Abraham went lay immediately beyond the Jordan towards the Euphrates, their sons may have spread north (as well as south) from this district; and considerations may be imagined which would draw some of the extra-covenant branches of Abraham’s descendants towards the old seats of the family in Haran.

Upon the whole, then, it appears to us that the Sabeans, whom Satan made his instruments in afflicting Job, were Cushite Sabeans; next to them, but at a wider distance in probability, stand the Keturian Sabeans; and last of all—indeed so far last as to be out of the question—the Sabeans of Arabia Felix, although these, as having the largest historical name, are usually thought of whenever the Sabeans are mentioned; just as when Memphis is mentioned, we think rather of the ancient metropolis of Egypt than of Memphis in the United States.