Job received the three first assaults unmoved; but when the fourth came he was moved. The depths of his soul were stirred within him. “He arose and rent his mantle and shaved his head: and fell down upon the ground and worshipped, and said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Oh, victory! What were the conquest of a realm—what all that the earth calls glory, to this? The man has conquered himself; and in so doing, Satan is conquered too. Little knew Job the great conclusions that hung upon that issue. The “sons of God” once more “shouted for joy;” and the enemy for the time withdrew, crest-fallen, defeated, but still unconvinced, and still implacable.
Rending of the garments is frequently mentioned in Scripture as an act of extreme grief or extreme indignation. It was not peculiar to the Jews, but was generally prevalent in the East, as an expression of great agony of mind for public or private loss. It is indeed frequently noticed by the classical authors. It was one of the old primitive acts of mourning not forbidden by the law, except to the priests, and it may be doubted whether even they might not rend their private robes, although forbidden to rend their sacred dress. It became in time a regular and formal act of mourning among the Jews, and is still preserved by them in the modified shape of making a slit in a particular part of the dress. To a western imagination, tearing the robe looks more like an act of violent rage than of mourning. But it is to be recollected that there was no properly mourning dress, as with us, of different form or color from that ordinarily worn. For this there might be, two reasons—one, that the rapidity with which interment follows death in warm climates does not allow time for such dress to be made; and the other, that it would be considered ominous to preserve such a dress ready-made in the house. To mar the beauty of the ordinary dress, by rending it, was a more summary and certainly not less significant process of producing a mourning attire; and the rent mantle became not less intelligibly indicative of the condition of a mourner than is a scarf or hat-band with us.
That Job shaved his head as a mourner has been produced, among other proofs, to show that he was not a Jew, or at least that he lived before the giving of the law, by which this act of mourning was forbidden. Note: Lev_21:5; Deu_14:1. This is no doubt correct; yet having this prohibition in view, one is somewhat perplexed by the allusion found in the prophets to shaving the head as an existing custom, and in which indeed it seems to be sanctioned or even commanded. So, for instance, the Prophet Isaiah, reproving the unseasonable mirth and desperate security of the Jews in a time of public trouble and humiliation, tells them: “In that day did the Lord God of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth.” Note: Isa_22:12. And so Micah—“Make thee bald, enlarge thy baldness as the eagle, for they are gone into captivity from thee.” Note: Mic_1:16. It is hence inferred by some that the kind of shaving the head or clipping the hair forbidden by the law of Moses, is not to be taken in the absolute sense, but was designed only to preclude conformity to the customs of the heathen, who were, it seems, wont on such occasions to cut their hair in a peculiar fashion, and to offer their locks to their idols. Thus it would signify that the Jews were not to shave or cut theirs in like manner as the heathen.
It is possible, however, that, understood in the plain sense, the prohibition was one of a class of lesser regulations which, in the lapse of time, passed out of observance. But it may appear a better explanation, that although forbidden to shave their heads on the death of their friends, they were allowed or even expected to do so in cases of mourning for sin, and in times of public repentance and humiliation. To such, both the texts we have cited bear reference.
There has been some curious discussion respecting Job’s pathetic declaration—“Naked came I from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither.” The last clause must clearly refer to the womb of man’s common mother the earth, and as he says to “return thither,” it would seem as if the first clause also should have the same reference. This is urged by many; and some find in it an allusion to the account in Genesis of man’s creation from the dust of the ground. There is much, however, to urge in favor of the more usual notion, that notwithstanding the word “thither,” the first clause refers to his natural mother, and the last to the earth. Such transition of antecedents is not unusual in Scripture. It would thus amount to saying, “Naked came I out of one mother’s womb, and naked shall I return to the womb of another”—the womb of his maternal earth.
The origin of man from the earth, early introduced the usage of ascribing to it the maternal character, which soon degenerated into a superstitious worship of the earth, under some title analogous to Dameter, or mother-goddess, a supposed Chaldean title from which the Greeks derived their Dameter, or, as they sometimes wrote it, Ge-Meter, or Mother Earth, to whom they appropriated annually two festivals of great pomp and solemnity. Numerous passages illustrative of the maternal character ascribed to the earth, might be culled from the classical and eastern poets, as well as from the moderns.
The philosophical poet Lucretius has many such. Here is one—
“Whence, justly, Earth
Claims the dear name of mother, since alone
Flowed from herself whate’er the sight surveys.” Note: “Linquitur, ut merito maternum nomen adepta,
Terra sit e terrâ quoniam sunt cuncta creata.”—v. 793.
In Chaucer we read—
“And on the ground, which is my modres gate,
I knocke with my staff erlich and late,
And say to hir, Leve, Note: Open. Modre, let me in.”
Klopstock has a fine passage recognizing the same idea in his Messiah—
“Once more I hail thee, once behold thee more,
Earth, soil maternal! Thee whose womb of yore
Bore me; and soon beneath whose gelid breast
These limbs shall sink, in soft and sacred rest”
In a Sanscrit poem, quoted by Sir William Jones, occur the lines—
“How soon are we born! how soon dead!
How long lying in the mother’s womb!”
How long indeed! Yet the imagination is oppressed by the effort to grasp an idea of the vastness of that mighty birth which the earth’s womb shall yield up at the last day.
The declaration of Job corresponds with that of the apostle: “We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out,” 1Ti_6:7.