John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: January 9

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John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: January 9

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Family Meetings


After the description of Job’s prosperity, his greatness, and his goodness, there follows a remarkable passage regarding his intercourse with his sons, which invites our attention today. These sons had, it appears, separate establishments of their own; and the statement seems intended to show the harmony in which they lived, and the care that was taken to keep up a good understanding and social intercourse. It is said that, “His sons went and feasted in their houses, every son his day; and sent and called for their three sisters to eat and drink with them.”

It will seem strange to many that these words have been variously understood. To a man of plain understanding, undistracted by critical questions, it will, we apprehend, appear that the sons of Job were settled too far apart for the different members of the family to have daily intercourse with each other, yet near enough to be able to visit one another occasionally; and that to render the advantage and pleasure of this intercourse a regular and calculable thing, as well as to equalize the incidental expenses, it soon became the custom of the family for each son to give an entertainment in rotation, at determined intervals of time, to parents, brothers, and sisters; thus providing; that all the family, notwithstanding their separation, should have the pleasure of meeting together in gratifying social intercourse, probably many times in the course of the year. It is a pleasing picture to imagine the several parties hastening from different quarters on the well-known day, mounted on their camels, the ladies shielded from the weather in their camel cots; the beaming countenance with which they were welcomed as they arrived by their brother-host; the eager gaze which they all sent in the direction of their native home, watching till their father’s camel loomed in sight in the distance, and the respectful love with which they all hurried to meet their venerated parent on his arrival; the officious care with which they assisted him to dismount; the filial tenderness with which they received his embrace; and the bent heads upon which he poured down the fullness of a father’s blessing.

That the sisters were invited to take part in these entertainments—in fact, “to eat and drink with them”—will strike most of our readers as quite a natural circumstance. Yet it excites some surprise in the minds of those who are aware of the present, and indeed very ancient, custom of the East in this respect—women and men taking their food separately, not only as regards strangers, but members of the same family; brothers not taking even their ordinary meals with their sisters, nor wives with their husbands. In the case of an entertainment, if women take part in it at all, it is by the women of the host-family feasting separately those of the guests, while the husband entertains the men. Except in Ruth’s simple refection, in the harvest field, which was in some sort an exceptional case, there is not in Scripture any instance of men and women, even of the same family, eating together; although the usages of the ancient Hebrews, in regard to the treatment of women, are in many respects much and favorably distinguished from those we now find prevalent in western Asia. Here, however, a still higher state of social consideration for the women of a family appears; resembling more than anything else the comparative freedom and case of social intercourse between men and women, which appear to have prevailed in the elder branch of Abraham’s family, which remained in Padan-Aram, at the time of Eliezer’s journey thither, and of Jacob’s sojourn there. This, by the way, is a strong though incidental corroboration of the view which has been taken of the locality of the land of Uz. The same system of usages, with regard to the women, was doubtless brought by Abraham into Canaan; but which the family seem to have soon found it necessary in some respects to modify, in regard to the notions of the people of less pure and simple manners, among whom he had pitched his tent. The sarcastic rebuke which the king of Gerar administers to Sarah for going without a veil, contrary to the custom in that country, strongly bears on this case, and illustrates the sort of compulsion, under which the patriarchs in Canaan found themselves, of adopting some of the restrictions which prevailed in the land of their sojourning.

Although a slighter matter; we must not refuse to point out that in the case before us, the reader has the earliest example of a custom which, among all the changes of time and country, has maintained its ground to this day among nearly all nations, and in no nation flourishes more vigorously than our own, of making “eating and drinking” together the medium of social intercourse, and of maintaining friendly relations, among different members of the same family. Say what men will, there must be some substantially good foundation for a custom so old and so universal. It must have been found in a great measure effectual for the intended object. It were difficult not to entertain kind and amiable feelings towards one who takes pains and incurs expense on your account, or to retain harsh judgments of one whose good cheer comforts your heart. This view of the matter may be safely expressed by one whose infirmity, by allowing him no place at “good men’s feasts,” frees him from all danger of misconception.

Doubtless the members of Job’s family, foreknowing when they were thus to meet, went prepared for the intercommunication of their cares, their joys, and their griefs, as well as for the discussion of, and consultation upon, the matters that severally concerned them. Men did not in those days maintain correspondence by letters; and such reunions as these were therefore highly-prized opportunities for the report to each other of all that happened to interest any of them, or that they had heard of or noticed since they had last met. In our own age, the perfection of intercourse and intelligence by letters and newspapers, detracts from the value and importance of such personal interviews; as there need be little left to report or discuss of public or private matters when persons meet. But it was very different when such interviews were the sole means of intercommunication, and friends met together, after an interval of time, in complete ignorance of what had occurred to each other since they last parted. This gave to these family gatherings a degree of real interest and animation scarcely to be appreciated in these days of penny-postage and steam presses; when the very perfection of our means of civilization tends to lower the tone of our personal communications. All the larger matters of public or private life are already known, have already been abundantly discussed; and, except with those whose high intellect or playful fancy draws adequate materials, in a fit audience, from the world of inner thought, it becomes difficult to sustain anything like the vital eagerness of old-world conversation, when every one of those who met together had something real to tell, of which the others had not heard.

It has been thought by some that in the present case, “every one his day,” means that it was the birthday of every one of Job’s sons that was thus celebrated. It may be so, and it is quite likely that birthdays were thus early celebrated as seasons of festivity. Still, unless the birthdays were at proper distances of time from each other, the observance would have been inconvenient, and not likely to be carried out. But when there are many children, any approach to a regular distribution of their birthdays over the year is unusual; on the contrary, they seem rather to run into groups, two or three near each other. In our own family, for instance, the birthdays of all the males (four) occur in December, and two of these on the same day of the month. Unless, therefore, it so happened that the birthdays of Job’s sons occurred at more regular intervals than is at all usual, we should think these family gatherings were independent of that circumstance; and “his day” probably means no more than the day previously determined as the one in this rotation of family entertainments, on which, according to previous arrangement, all the others were to meet at the house of him whose turn it was to give the feast.