John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: January 25

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John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: January 25

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The regions which might be expected to supply the most striking parallels to the lamentations of Job over his forlorn estate, are far more wanting in them than any ancient or modern pagan, or—we grieve to say—any Christian country. They are under the Mohammedan law, which enjoins nothing more stringently than submission to the Divine decrees, and represses all complaint under the calamities of life as a high sin. Hence these countries afford the most striking examples of repressed feeling, and of real or affected resignation to all evil, among all classes, that has ever been witnessed in the world. Our own law—the law of Christ—not less urgently enforces such submission; but the Moslems obey their false prophet better than we our true one. We can, indeed, produce examples of Christian resignation, more illustrious than any that Islam has yielded; but for a generally diffused and practically exemplified feeling of unconditional and uncomplaining submission to all the dispensations of Providence, no Christian nation can come near to these. There is a reason. Their system is one of self-righteousness—one of merits before God. It knows no Redeemer, nor feels the need of one. This implicit resignation stands high among the merits by which they expect to win heaven at last. It is to them a salvation. With us it is not so. It is a grace, a duty of our Christian profession; but for salvation we rest not on any of these things, but solely on the most precious blood of Christ.

Nevertheless, although such examples are for this reason rare, and there are none that we remember of very recent date, they are sometimes to be found; and when they are found, they assume a marked resemblance of form and substance to the lamenting outcries of Job. The most striking example occurs in the case of Malek er Nasser Daud, an emir of some Arab tribes in Palestine, from which he had been driven by the Crusaders, and eventually died in a village near Damascus in the year 1258. He deplored his misfortunes in a poem, from which the following passage has been quoted by Abulfe da in his Annals, and was first cited to illustrate this chapter by Rosenmüller—“O that my mother had remained unmarried all the days of her life! That God had appointed no lord or consort for her! Or that, when He had destined her to an excellent, gentle, and wise prince, she had been one of those whom He created barren, and had never known the blessed tidings that she had borne a man or a woman. Or that, when she had carried me under her heart, Note: Compare Spenser—“From the dear closet of her painful side.” I had lost my life at my birth, and if I had been born, and had seen the light, that when the congratulating people hastened on their camels, I had been gathered to my fathers.”

It is well worthy of note, that in Job’s malediction, he (as also this Arabian poet) only curses the day of his own birth, and wishes he had never been born. There is no trace of malignity or ill feeling against mankind or individuals—nothing is invoked which could cause suffering to any living creature. Even anything of this sort seems to be studiously avoided. Nothing would seem more in his way than to curse the man who brought to his father the tidings of his birth; but he turns aside from this more direct course to curse the night in which the important message was delivered. This is highly interesting and important, but is apt to escape notice; for, from the force of the language employed, one is apt to suppose, at the first view, that a wide-spread destruction and ruin is invoked; and it is only when we come to weigh the words that we discern that not the least harm to any one but himself is involved in his malediction. This is very singular, and it were hard to find a parallel to it. Even the Arabian poet cannot manage the like subject without virtually cursing his mother—wishing that she had never been married, or that she had been altogether barren. It is wonderful that in restricting himself from the harrowing denunciations, by which coarser maledictors are only able to make their meaning strong, Job yet finds circumstances and images so various, materials of cursing so complete, and language of such torrent-like force. It was not for want of the ordinary human objects of malediction that he thus averts the shafts of his curse from inflicting wounds on others, directly or indirectly. There were the Chaldeans and the Sabeans, who had rent away his substance and destroyed his servants; there were the men who had brought him the evil tidings; there were the friends of his prosperous days, who had, after the manner of men, as he subsequently intimates, turned from him in the day of his affliction. But there is not a word aimed at any of them, or even glancing towards them. This seems to us without parallel; and we doubt whether any other instance of a long strain of malediction, without one shade of malignity, exists in all literature. Look at a few instances.

Shakespeare affords one in the second part of Henry IV—

“Now let not nature’s hand

Keep the wild flood confined! Let order die!

And let this world no longer be a stage

To find contention in a lingering act;

But let one spirit of the first-born Cain

Reign in all bosoms, that, each heart being set

On bloody courses, the rude scene may end,

And darkness be the burier of the dead.”

Otway, who was awful at imprecations, supplies another—

“Curst be the hour that gave me birth!

Confusion and disorder seize the world,

To spoil all trust and converse among men,

‘Twixt families engender endless feuds,

In countries endless fears, in cities factions,

In states rebellion, and in churches schism;

Till all things move against the course of nature;

Till forms dissolved the chain of causes broken,

And the Original of being lost”

To him also belongs the terrible exclamation—

“Oh for a curse

To kill with!”

There is one piece, however, that comes much nearer the mark of Job’s lamentation in many of its touches, and also in the absence of offensive malediction. The groundwork is also more similar than might at first appear, as it rests upon a mother’s affliction for the loss of her husband, and therewith of all prosperity for her young son. The reverse is in both cases sudden, from the highest flow of prosperity to the depth of distress, and in both the mourners commence by lamenting the day of their birth. Most of our readers guess that we allude to Andromache’s lament for the death of her husband Hector. We almost hesitate to quote the passage, supposing it so well known; but being reminded by one near us, that a quotation from Homer for an illustrative purpose is always interesting, even to those who know him well, and that many of those into whose hands this work will fall, are more familiar with his name than with his epics, we venture to give the passage in Cowper’s translation—

“Hector! I am undone; we both were born

To misery, thou in Priam’s house in Troy,

And I in Hypoplacian Thebes, wood-crowned,

Beneath Eëtion’s roof. He, doomed himself

To sorrow, me, more sorrowfully doomed,

Sustained in helpless infancy, whom oh

That he had ne’er begotten! Thou descend’st

To Pluto’s subterraneous dwelling drear,

Leaving myself destitute, and thy boy,

Fruit of our hapless loves, an infant yet,

Never to be hereafter thy delight,

Nor love of thine to share, or kindness more.

For should he safe survive this cruel war,

With the Achaians, penury and toil

Must be his lot, since strangers will remove

At will his landmarks, and possess his fields.

Thee lost, he loses all—of father, both,

And equal playmate in one day deprived.

To sad looks doomed, and never-ceasing tears,

He seeks, necessitous, his father’s friends;

One by his mantle pulls, one by his vest,

Whose utmost pity yields to his parched lips

A thirst-provoking drop, and grudges more.

Some happier child, as yet untaught to mourn

A parent’s loss, shoves rudely from the board

My son, and, smiting him, reproachful cries—

’Away—thy father is no guest of ours.’

Then, weeping, to his widowed mother comes

Astyanax, who on his father’s lap

Ate marrow only, once, and fat of lambs;

And when sleep took him, and his crying fit

Had ceased, slept ever on the softest bed,

Warm in his nurse’s arms, fed to his fill

With delicacies, and his heart at rest.

But now Astyanax (so named in Troy

For thy sake, guardian of her gates and towers),

His father lost, must many a pang endure.

And as for thee, cast naked forth among

Yon galleys, where no parent’s eye of thine

Shall find thee, when the dogs have torn thee once

Till they are sated, worms shall eat thee next.

Meantime thy graceful raiment rich, prepared

By our own maidens, in thy palace lies;

But I will burn it, burn it all, because

Useless to thee, who never, so adorned,

Shalt slumber more; yet every eye in Troy

Shall see how glorious once was thy attire.”