The harsh censures and severe insinuations of Eliphaz seem to have opened Job’s eyes to the fact, that his own previous language had been too bold and inconsiderate. It often happens that men do not feel the complete force and meaning of their own expressions, until they witness the effect produced by them upon the minds of others. In his reply, he therefore pleads in justification the severity of the afflictions which had extorted those complaints from him. He manifests a keen sense of the unkindness of his friends, in being so ready to declare him guilty because he was miserable, and in coming to him with harsh reproaches instead of bringing the consolations he so much needed. He implores them to trust him with fairness, to examine his case in a friendly spirit, and not to condemn him merely because of his miserable condition. From this he passes, as men so afflicted are apt to do, to reflections upon the shortness and the miseries of life; and then he reverts to his own condition, expostulating with the Almighty upon the greatness of his afflictions, and their long continuance. Substantially the same state of feeling is evinced as in his previous address, but a fresh element of distress is added in a sharp sense of the world’s injustice, and in the consciousness of being misrepresented and misunderstood. This was a new trouble; the harder to bear, as he could not but perceive, that the judgment of the world at large could not be more favorable to him, than that of friends, who had known him so long and so well. There is much force and beauty in this second speech of Job, and many workings of the human heart are laid open; but although the tone is less violent than that of the former address, there is much in it that cannot be commended or approved.
What strikes us forcibly in reading this speech is, that in the midst of Job’s impatient longing for death, which is now not less emphatically evinced than before, the idea of suicide seems never to have crossed his mind. It is not simply that he repelled the suggestion, but it seems never to have occurred to him as a conceivable or possible thing. It may be doubted whether any instance of such an act had yet anywhere occurred. There is no allusion to it in all the complaints of the weariness of life, and the accounts of misery and trouble, which the Scriptures contain. Neither is there any trace of the fact in the Old Testament, if we except the case of Saul, which, under the circumstances, can hardly be regarded as an act of suicide: and the only case in the New Testament is that of Judas, which belongs to the time in which the suicidal Romans had rendered at least the idea of self-murder familiar to the Hebrews; as is also instanced in the intended suicide of the heathen jailor at Philippi.
The view which Job takes is clearly and very beautifully expressed in the first verse of the seventh chapter. “Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth? are not his days also like the days of an hireling?” That is, as the hireling has an appointed close to his day’s labor, so has man an appointed time for the close of his labor and grief. He then argues further, that “as a servant earnestly desireth the shadow, and as an hireling looketh for the reward of his work,” so may he as justifiably sigh for the close of his life’s long and weary day. But there is this difference, that the hireling in the midst of all his toils can look forward with assured confidence to the precise hour, at which they will close, and when his wages will be given to him. But Job knows not the appointed time for his release. Death seems his only refuge, it is his only hope; and although he knows that it must come at last, he knows not when. Meanwhile he says: “Months of vanity, and wearisome nights are appointed to me.” In the last clause, respecting the “wearisome nights” there is an apparent transition from the greater to the lesser sense of the comparison. The nights, which bring sound and healthful rest to the hireling, are to Job more wearisome and full of seeming horrors than even the day. We have had occasion to point out this as one of the symptoms of his disease. But apart from this, every one knows that under mental trial the nights are far more terrible than the days. The mind no less than the body lies loose and relaxed; and all the avenues of the soul are open to receive those impressions of grief, horror, and despair, against which the guarded mind might be able to stand up. The sleep, if unscared by dreams, is short and unrefreshing; and that state, which is neither sleeping nor waking, although it seems more of wakefulness than sleep, has all the evil of both, and none of the good of either. Them is a vague sense of dread, of weight, and oppression, under some impending horror. And then, when one fully rouses with a start from such sleep or slumber, and has not yet had time to put on the soul’s armor, it will seem as if all is against him; as if the uses of life are past, and that it has nothing more of hope or joy to offer. It is only when, like another Samson, the man “goes forth and shakes himself,” that he finds there is any strength left in him; that the trials which perplex his life may still be encountered, and the troubles which bow him down may still be borne. Hence it is, that Job and other sacred poets speak so much of the terrors of the night; and that the Psalmist, especially, so often dwells upon the blessedness of filling the mind with thoughts of God and of his loving-kindness when we lie down upon our beds.
As we have said, the idea, that from the weariness of toil the hireling should leave his work, before the shades of evening warned him that the time appointed of the master was come, had not entered Job’s mind as among possible things; and he says, in another place, “All the days of my appointed time will I wait till my change come.” Indeed the fact, that there was an appointed time, though he sometimes complains that it was so long in passing, seems to have been a great fact to his mind in all his afflictions. This, indeed is “a great fact” in the history of man’s life, though he shows but little consciousness of it. As God has sat limits to the sea by a perpetual decree, “Hitherto shalt thou come and no farther,” so has He set bounds and limits to the life of man, “Thus far and no farther shalt the line of thy life reach.” We live not by a “peradventure.” All our care cannot lengthen our stature one cubit, so can it not add one sand to the hour-glass of our lives. And as we cannot lengthen, so neither can we really shorten, our days in respect of this appointed time. They who die in a time which God forbids, yet die when God appoints. They may cut their thread of life, but they cannot cut short the thread of God’s decree. We live not—we cannot live, at our own will, but at the will of God; and we are entirely tenants at his will in these houses of clay, holding the lease of our lives to what year He pleases.
“Our time is fixed, and all our days are numbered;
How long, how short, we know not: this we know,
Duty requires we calmly wait the summons
Nor dare to stir till Heaven shall give permission,
Like sentries that must keep their destined stand,
And wait the appointed hour till they’re relieved.”—Blair.
But although man’s life is at God’s appointment, man must not live upon that appointment. He must not say, “God has appointed how long I shall live; then what need I care how I live, or trouble myself about the preservation of my life?” This is to walk contrary to one part of the Lord’s appointment, while we were heedful to the other part. It is heathen or Moslem submission to inevitable fate; but not Christian submission to a Divine appointment. God who appoints the term of man’s life, also appoints the means for its preservation to that term; and the appointment affords no warrant for any one to cast himself into needless dangers, or to forego the helps assigned for the sustentation of existence.
The fact that there is a time as surely appointed to us as to Hezekiah, although we are not allowed that knowledge of the fact which he possessed, ought to teach us patience in quiet waiting upon God. It is not in man, whatever be his rage, to take one hour of our appointed life from us, or to add one moment to the time of our sorrow. If our very hairs are all numbered, much more are all our days. Let us, therefore, honor God by having good thoughts of Him, knowing that whether our times be short or long; calm or stormy, they are appointed times; appointed by One who loves us with exceeding love, although He well remembers that we are but dust.