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THE BOOK OF JOB.
TN the literature of the Jews there is a poem which
all Christian nations cherish as a precious inheritance, – a “masterpiece of religious reflection and systematic creative art.” This great dramatic poem, alike interesting and profound, simple yet sublime, is called the Book of Job. It is generally regarded as one of the grandest poems ever written, and declares the highest truths which appeal to the intellect of man.
I need not say that the author of this transcendent work of genius is unknown, and also the age in which he lived. Some critics have supposed that it was written in the patriarchal age; others, in the time of Moses. Others again suppose that it was written in the time of Solomon, and some place it even after the Captivity. According to Ewald the poem was written about the time of Manasseh and Isaiah, — about 650700 B.C. But though no definite knowledge has been reached, or is ever likely to be reached, as to its age or authorship, this glorious old poem remains for all ages to ponder upon, rising in majesty and significance the more it is contemplated, and the greater the light shed upon it, —- a wonderful meditation upon the profound mystery, Why does the overruling God suffer afflictions to befall the righteous ?
The central figure in this great Eastern drama is a venerable old man, rich in experience, deep in reflection, acute in observation, - a sage and prince abounding in patriarchal possessions, with flocks and herds, with a large family, living in great honor and dignity, humane, charitable, hospitable, upright, loyal to conscience and duty, without pharisa ism or asceticism, enslaved neither by dogmas nor forms, independent in mind, incorruptible by any known temptation, revered by all who knew him, at peace with himself and with his Maker, — in short, a most noble and interesting character, a “perfect man,” so that “there was nothing like him in all the earth.”
His wife, and we infer that he had but one appears but a single time to our view, utters a few bi ter and defiant words, and passes forever out of sight. Of his children nothing is said further than that, on a certain occasion, they feasted ; and for fear that they had sinned in their riotings, the pious father offered up to God an expiatory sacrifice for each.
The next personage is of more importance, and is vital to the interest of the drama. This personage is called Satan, — an accusing spirit, whose vocation, it would appear, was to wander up and down upon the earth, and present his report to the Supreme Majesty of heaven on the actions of men below,— a very different being from the Satan of Milton, who had been cast down from heaven for rebellion against God, into an eternal pit of misery and despair ; more like the Mephistopheles of Goethe, who sneers and disbelieves, and denies the existence of genuine goodness. It does not appear that the Satan of the Eastern poem was even an enemy of God, or the impersonation of evil in the world. He appears among the “Sons of God," and yet not of them, since he is suspicious, sinister, cynical, and incredulous of such a thing as disinterested virtue.
And the Lord said, “Whence comest thou ?" and Satan answered, “ From going to and fro upon the earth.” And the Lord continues, “Hast thou considered my servant Job ?” as much as to say, “What fault canst thou find in him?" Satan replies, “Does Job serve God for nought? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increasing in the land; but put forth thine hand, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.”
It would seem that Satan did not deny that the life of Job, in all its outward forms, was virtuous; but he