The first messenger of evil had scarcely finished his tale, when another came running with great affright to tell that “the fire of God is fallen from heaven, and hath burned up the sheep, and the servants, and consumed them; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.” “The fire of God” is here probably the lightning—which is so distinguished in the poetry of many nations, sometimes even among the ancient Greeks. So Euripides—-
Alas! alas! may the fire of heaven
Strike through my head.”—Medea, 144.
This is indicated by its falling “from heaven;” for had it been “fire of God” alone, this might have been doubtful, seeing that the name of God is used to form the superlative, so that this, without the additional circumstance, might simply mean, “a great fire,” as the marginal reading in the authorized version gives it. So “cedars of God,” are very great cedars; and “mountains of God,” very high mountains. That lightning might destroy men and flocks of sheep no one can doubt; but that they were actually burnt up and consumed, may be an exaggeration of the greatly terrified messenger—a hyperbole of fear. The previous account, taken in connection with this circumstance, may lead us to understand that these so-called “natural” elements are in some way, and by the permission of God, under the control of Satan—seeing that this stroke came at his bidding and at the time he wanted it; and his power here over the lightning, and presently over the winds, coincides with and illustrates the apostle’s declaration, that he is “the prince of the power of the air,” Eph_2:2.
This man had hardly ended his baleful message, than another hurried up, blood-stained and dusty. He had to tell that the Chasdim or Chaldeans, “had made out three bands, and fell upon the camels, and have carried them away, and slain the servants with the edge of the sword, and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.” This completes the ruin of Job’s estate. The Sabeans had plundered the cattle of the homestead, the oxen and the asses; the fire had consumed the flocks of sheep in the pastures; and now the Chaldeans drive off the camels, which were at pasture in another and probably more distant quarter. And it is worthy of note that in all these cases the servants had lost their lives in defence of their master’s property—the best proof that could be given that he had been a good master to them.
But who were these Chaldeans, whose familiar name we now hear for the first time? There is some confusion in the minds of uncritical readers from the fact, that the Chaldeans are diversely mentioned as a tribe, as a nation, and as a priestly caste. The name of Chaldea usually suggests the region about Babylon, which was the seat of the Chaldean empire in a later age, and we are apt hastily to conclude that the Chaldeans had come all the way from that quarter to plunder Job’s camels. The fact is, however, that the acquisition of this territory by the Chaldeans belonged to a far later age; and that we here find them as a tribe, with Job’s camels within their reach, agrees with the earliest traces of them we have been able to find. It agrees also with the Book of Genesis, for there the very Ur, or Orfah, forth from which Abraham came, and not far from which Job appears to have lived, is named as “Ur of the Chaldees.” The fact of their appearance here is therefore a strong argument for this allocation of the land of Uz, for in Arabia or in the country east of the Jordan, the Chaldeans would have been little likely to come into aggressive contact with Job, from the position where we find them, and still less from that which they eventually occupied, and from which the cursory reader (if there be any cursory readers of the Bible), might suppose that Job’s assailants came.
Knowing the little interest which all but a few of our readers would be likely to feel in purely geographical or rather ethnographical investigations, we abstain from producing in detail the other beside this Scriptural evidence, which goes to show that the Chaldeans were at this time a body of hardy mountaineers, who had gradually—as may be traced by subsisting names—come down into these parts, some of them settling in the plains, while others remained in the neighboring mountains, from which, as is still the wont of the mountaineers in those parts, they occasionally came down to scour the plains and drive off the cattle of the inhabitants. The rude manners, predatory tastes, and hardy habits remained among the mountaineers, long after those branches of the nation that had gone down into the plains became a comparatively cultivated people.
The actual life, and the written histories, poems, or tales of tribes of this habit of life, whether tent-dwelling pastors in the plains, or rude mountaineers, are full of instances of the kind of aggression practised by the Sabeans and Chaldeans; especially in driving off cattle, and are regarded by them not as crimes, but as glorious exploits. The following is a notice of one of Antar’s forays, in the Bedouin romance that bears his name—“They then departed, traversing the wilds, and the wastes, and the plains, and the mountains, amounting in all to 250 famed warriors, 150 belonging to the Carad division, and 100 forming the party of Oorwah…. The party proceeded till midnight, when Antar, Oorwah, and fifty horsemen alighted, saying to his father and his uncles. ‘Do you go ahead with the women.’ But he and Oorwah mounted at daylight and galloped over the plains till they came to the pastures of the tribe of Fazarah. The sun was just risen, and the cattle were grazing. Antar rushed upon them, and drove away all the he and she camels, and the high-paced horses that belonged to the tribes of Fazarah and Zeaad. And when they had launched into the desert, ‘Send on the plunder with thirty horsemen,’ said Antar to Oorwah; ‘but do thou stay with me, with these twenty men, that we may encounter the troops that will come upon us.’ Oorwah did so: and thirty went on with the plunder, Antar and Oorwah slowly following with the twenty.
“As soon as the intelligence of the seizure of their cattle reached the tribe of Fazarah, they all mounted, and hastened off in pursuit, to the number of 500. They went on until they overtook Antar, who, when he saw the horsemen and heard their shouts, turned upon them and met them, and in less than an hour he had slain numbers of them. Oorwah and his people also slew those who were destined to die that day, piercing their chests with the point of the spear. Extinction and perdition fell on the tribe of Fazarah. Antar smote off heads and skulls, and dispatched the horsemen to the mansions of annihilation”
The affliction of Job ended not with this catastrophe, which from a man of surpassing wealth made him a beggar. There was something dearer to him than all his substance; and that, too, he lost.
The next messenger came, pale with sorrow, to declare to the patriarch that all his children were dead; rent from him at one fell swoop. In the midst of their feast, a “great wind from the wilderness came and smote the four corners of the house,” so that it fell, and destroyed all who were in it. This must have been a whirlwind, as it thus seemed to come from all points of the compass at once. Of the extreme violence and destructive effects of whirlwinds within the limited range in which they operate, in eastern and especially tropical countries, many instances are reported. But even in this country, where the sterner phenomena of nature are rarely witnessed in their strongest manifestations, whirlwinds have been observed fully adequate to produce the effect here recorded, especially when we bear in mind the comparatively frail construction of the houses which the people of Job’s time and country appear to have inhabited.
The public prints of the time report that on May 12, 1811, at Hopton in Derbyshire, a tremendous whirlwind began its destructive operations, and continued its course for the extent of five or six miles in length, and in a breadth of about four or five hundred yards. Its appearance was that of an immense cloud in the form of a balloon, whirled round with incredible swiftness, in a circular direction, from S. by W. to N., having a kind of pipe or tail that reached to the ground. This irresistible tube darted up and down continually, tearing up plantations, leveling houses, walls, and miners’ cots. It tore up large trees, carrying them twenty or even thirty yards; and it twisted the tops from the trunks of other trees, bearing them to the distance of fifty and a hundred yards. Cows were lifted from one field to another, and hay-stacks were moved to a considerable distance. In its progress it divided into two parts, one of which took a north-east, and the other a north-west direction; the consequence of which was, that Kirk-Ireton, part of Cowland, and Hopton, were laid completely in a state of ruin.
Something similar occurred about two years before (July 1809, near Cirencester. On this occasion the whirlwind presented the appearance of “a large conical hay-rick encompassed with smoke.” It moved slowly at first, but on nearing the town acquired a velocity almost incredible; and, making towards the basin of the canal, where it did considerable damage, skirted the town, and entering Lord Bathurst’s park, there tore up from the very roots twelve trees measuring eight or ten feet in girth, while others were stripped of their branches or literally cut asunder. Eventually, after quiting the park, and doing serious damage to a neighboring farm, it seemed gradually to dissolve into the air, and could no longer be traced by the eye.