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attributed his virtue to the absence of temptation and trial, — thus denying virtually a greater than external goodness among men, even if there is such a thing in the abstract, and asserting, with a sneer, that when a man outwardly good, and revered as good, is subjected to a bitter ordeal, he will prove disloyal to his Maker. The principle thus far educed is a cynical disbelief of the highest kind of virtue under a severe trial. It is needless to add that this is the opinion of worldly men in all ages and nations, and therefore not an unnatural suggestion.
And God is willing to subject his servant to the test. So he allows Satan to take away his earthly goods, and even to deprive him of his children. To a healthy and noble nature like that of Job, this last affliction was most grievous to be borne: it sometimes drives even good men into rebellion, although, strange as it may seem, many parents would rather part with their children than part with their property. It has been remarked that Southern planters recovered from bitter feelings over the loss of their sons in battle during the War of the Rebellion, but not so easily from the poverty which the war produced. The hopeless loss of property by a whole community, however, is revolutionary of society, and might well cause despair, lightened only by the patient heroism of industry ; while the loss of sons could be considered glorious though grievous.
Notwithstanding the overwhelming calamities of Job, he maintains his integrity. He is indeed pierced with grief and torn by agonies, but does not rebel against the hand that smites him. While he rends his mantle and shaves his head, and throws himself naked on the ground, he yet exclaims, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away ; blessed be the name of the Lord !”.
In due time Satan again appears among the Sons of God. He is asked the same question as before, and is told that Job still holds fast his integrity. Satan before was simply cynical and incredulous, but now becomes cruel and malicious. “Skin for skin,” said he ; “all that a man hath he will give for his life. Put forth thine hand now and touch his bone and flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face.”
God allows this additional trial, and his servant is covered with sores from head to foot, — offensive boils, with intolerable itchings, so that he is a misery to himself and loathsome to all around him. His limbs become jointless lumps, like elephants' legs, and his only relief is in scratching himself with a potsherd. He sits in ashes, a sign of the deepest misery and mourning, but sins not. His sufferings are so tormenting that his wife counsels suicide. Her advice is spurned. “Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What! shall we receive good at the hands of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil ?” Chrysostom asks, “Why did the Devil leave to Job his wife ?”.
Satan, baffled, crestfallen, defeated, now retires from the scene, and appears no more. Job has obviously triumphed. At least, he has not sinned with his lips. No murmur escapes him.
The real conflict, however, is to begin, when his three friends come to comfort him. Their half-truths will stagger him. They are all good men, intellectual, sympathetic, religious. When they came near him, they scarcely knew him, he was so outwardly changed. They were filled with compassion, and lifted up their voices and wept. They sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights, without saying a word. How delicate their treatment ! how profound their grief! We do not know whence these friends came, probably from different districts in Idumea, — that is, if they were real persons, and not poetic creations, like Homer's heroes. They were certainly not Hebrews, since no mention is made in the whole poem of those things peculiar to the Israelites, not even of the name of Abraham or Moses; although the pure monotheism of the poem, and the peculiar combination of personality and all-pervading influence in the conception of God and his relations to man and the world, are so entirely Hebrew that there can be no doubt of its Jewish origin. The fact of its silence on
salient points of Hebrew history points to its probably ideal character.
At length Job breaks the silence. He is not rebellious, but he is so overpowered by grief and pain that he curses the day of his birth. Jeremiah did the same thing in his profound sadness. Job wishes to die, which is not unreasonable ; and he utters sundry imprecations, not on God or man, but in the shape of wonder why he is thus afflicted. “Why died I not from the womb, ... or as an infant which never saw the light?” With what vehemence does he give vent to his feelings ! He invokes darkness and the shadow of death, yea, the obscuration of the universe. “Let the stars of the twilight be dark, neither let it see the dawning of the day.”
Then Eliphaz, the Temanite, the oldest and most respected of his friends, replies. He approaches his friend tenderly, and utters some general truths. “Shall mortal man be more just than God? Shall a man be inore pure than his Maker ? . . . Man is born unto trouble. . . . Happy is the man whom God correcteth.” But he intimates that destroying judgments are not sent upon the innocent. The inference is that Job is afflicted because he is a sinner, and a sinner because he is a man.
These truths, though kindly said, do not touch Job's case. The mystery remains why an overruling God suffers afflictions to befall the righteous; for Job was conscious from first to last that he was a good man. That he is not absolutely perfect he is willing to admit, but he is not conscious of having committed sins that are logically followed by punishment. “His mind comes to the assistance of his soul.” He is never more sublime than amid ashes, or on a dunghill. “ Teach me, and I will hold my tongue.”
Then answered Bildad the Shuhite, and said, “How long wilt thou utter such things, and the words of thy mouth be like a boisterous wind? ... Behold, God will not cast away a perfect man. . . . If thou wert pure and upright, surely now he would awake for thee, and make the habitation of thy righteousness prosperous.” Bildad here casts reflections on Job's sincerity, and insinuates that he has coinmitted some secret sin, for which he is punished. He is also solemn and indig. nant in view of Job's vehemence, which he likens to the wind He reiterates the general truth of the jus. tice of God which Eliphaz has declared, and sees in the afflictions of his friend only the divine chastisement for his sins. Neither of these good men could soas beyond this half truth.
But Job, in his unclouded intellect, shows the fal. lacy of their reasoning. He astonishes them with the declaration that the just God destroyeth the good man as well as the wicked man; and in support of this