Job Chapter Sixteen
Job reproves his friends. (1-5) He represents his case as deplorable. (6-16) Job maintains his innocency. (17-22)
Commentary on Job 16:1-5
(Read Job 16:1-5)
Eliphaz had represented Job's discourses as unprofitable, and nothing to the purpose; Job here gives his the same character. Those who pass censures, must expect to have them retorted; it is easy, it is endless, but what good does it do? Angry answers stir up men's passions, but never convince their judgments, nor set truth in a clear light. What Job says of his friends is true of all creatures, in comparison with God; one time or other we shall be made to see and own that miserable comforters are they all. When under convictions of sin, terrors of conscience, or the arrests of death, only the blessed Spirit can comfort effectually; all others, without him, do it miserably, and to no purpose. Whatever our brethren's sorrows are, we ought by sympathy to make them our own; they may soon be so.
Commentary on Job 16:6-16
(Read Job 16:6-16)
Here is a doleful representation of Job's grievances. What reason we have to bless God, that we are not making such complaints! Even good men, when in great troubles, have much ado not to entertain hard thoughts of God. Eliphaz had represented Job as unhumbled under his affliction: No, says Job, I know better things; the dust is now the fittest place for me. In this he reminds us of Christ, who was a man of sorrows, and pronounced those blessed that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Commentary on Job 16:17-22
(Read Job 16:17-22)
Job's condition was very deplorable; but he had the testimony of his conscience for him, that he never allowed himself in any gross sin. No one was ever more ready to acknowledge sins of infirmity. Eliphaz had charged him with hypocrisy in religion, but he specifies prayer, the great act of religion, and professes that in this he was pure, though not from all infirmity. He had a God to go to, who he doubted not took full notice of all his sorrows. Those who pour out tears before God, though they cannot plead for themselves, by reason of their defects, have a Friend to plead for them, even the Son of man, and on him we must ground all our hopes of acceptance with God. To die, is to go the way whence we shall not return. We must all of us, very certainly, and very shortly, go this journey. Should not then the Saviour be precious to our souls? And ought we not to be ready to obey and to suffer for his sake? If our consciences are sprinkled with his atoning blood, and testify that we are not living in sin or hypocrisy, when we go the way whence we shall not return, it will be a release from prison, and an entrance into everlasting happiness.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Job》
 I have heard many such things: miserable comforters are ye all.
Such things — These things are but vulgar and trivial. And so are all creatures, to a soul under deep conviction of sin, or the arrest of death.
 Shall vain words have an end? or what emboldeneth thee that thou answerest?
End — When wilt thou put an end to these impertinent discourses? He retorts upon him his charge, chap. 15:2,3.
 But now he hath made me weary: thou hast made desolate all my company.
He — God, as appears by the following words.
Weary — Either of complaining, or, of my life.
Desolate — Hast turned my society into desolation, by destroying my children and servants.
 He teareth me in his wrath, who hateth me: he gnasheth upon me with his teeth; mine enemy sharpeneth his eyes upon me.
Eyes — Looks upon me with a fierce, and sparkling eye, as enraged persons use to do.
 They have gaped upon me with their mouth; they have smitten me upon the cheek reproachfully; they have gathered themselves together against me.
They — My friends.
Gaped — Opened their mouths wide against me. In all this Job was a type of Christ. These very expressions are used in the predictions of his sufferings, Psalms 22:13. They gaped upon me with their mouths, and Micah 5:1. They shall smite the judge of Israel upon the check.
 God hath delivered me to the ungodly, and turned me over into the hands of the wicked.
The wicked — And thus Christ was delivered into wicked hands, by the determinate counsel of God.
 I was at ease, but he hath broken me asunder: he hath also taken me by my neck, and shaken me to pieces, and set me up for his mark.
Shaken — As a mighty man doth with some stripling, when he wrestleth with him.
Mark — That he may shoot all his arrows in me.
 His archers compass me round about, he cleaveth my reins asunder, and doth not spare; he poureth out my gall upon the ground.
His archers — Whoever are our enemies, we must look on them as God's archers, and see him directing the arrow.
 I have sewed sackcloth upon my skin, and defiled my horn in the dust.
I have — So far am I from stretching out my hand against God, chap. 15:25, that I have humbled myself deeply under his hand. I have not only put on sackcloth, but sewed it on, as being resolved to continue my humiliation, as long as my affliction continues.
Defiled my horn — I have willingly parted with all my wealth, and power, and glory (as the horn often signifies in scripture,) and been content to lie in the dust.
 Not for any injustice in mine hands: also my prayer is pure.
Not — And all this is not come upon me for any injurious dealing, but for other reasons known to God only.
Pure — I do not cast off God's fear and service, chap. 15:4. I do still pray and worship God, and my prayer is accompanied with a sincere heart.
 O earth, cover not thou my blood, and let my cry have no place.
Earth — The earth is said to cover that blood, which lies undiscovered and unrevenged: but saith Job, if I be guilty of destroying any man, let the earth disclose it; let it be brought to light.
Cry — Let the cry of my complaints to men, or prayers to God, find no place in the ears or hearts of God or men, if this be true.
 Also now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and my record is on high.
Witness — Besides the witness of my conscience, God is witness of my integrity.
 When a few years are come, then I shall go the way whence I shall not return.
Go — To the state and place of the dead, whence men cannot return to this life. The meaning is, my death hastens, and therefore I earnestly desire that the cause depending, between me and my friends, may be determined, that if I be guilty of these things, I may bear the shame of it before all men, and if I be innocent, that I may see my own integrity, and the credit of religion, (which suffers upon this occasion) vindicated. How very certainly, and how very shortly are we likewise to go this journey.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Job》
16 Chapter 16
Miserable comforters are ye all.
They are but sorry comforters who, being confounded with the sight of the afflicted’s trouble, do grate upon their (real or supposed) guilt, weaken the testimony of their good conscience that they may stir them up to repent, and let them see no door of hope, but upon ill terms. Learn--
1. God’s people may mutually charge and load one another with heavy imputations; whereof, though one party be guilty, yet who they are will not be fully cleared (save in men’s own consciences) till God appear.
2. Man may sadly charge that upon others whereof themselves are most guilty. For the friends charged Job to have spoken vain words, or words of wind, and yet he asserts themselves were guilty of it, having no solid reason in their discourses, but only prejudice, mistakes, and passion.
3. Men may teach doctrine, true and useful in its own kind, which yet is but vain when ill applied. Thus Satan may abuse and pervert Scripture.
4. Vain and useless discourses are a great burden to a spiritual, and especially to a weary spiritual mind, that needs better.
5. When men are filled with passion, prejudice, or self-love, they will outweary all others with their discourses before they weary themselves. Yea, they may think they are doing well, when they are a burden to those who hear them.
6. Men are not easily driven from their false principles and opinions when once they are drunk in.
7. As men may be bold who have truth and reason on their side, so ofttimes passion will hold men on to keep up debates when yet they have no solid reason to justify their way.
8. Man’s consciences will be put to it, to see upon what grounds they go in debates. It is a sad thing to start or continue them without solid and necessary causes, but only out of prejudice, interest, or because they are engaged.
9. Men ought seriously to consider what spirit they are of, and what sets them to work in every thing they say and do. (George Hutcheson.)
Spiritual depression and its remedies
I. Spiritual distress is either physical, caused by the action of bodily weakness and infirmity upon the mind. Or satanic, directly due to suggestions of the great enemy of souls. Or judicial, arising from the sensible withdrawal of the light of God’s countenance. The general cause of this depression is sin. God occasionally permits it to come upon us, that we may know ourselves, and feel our own weakness.
II. How spiritual depression manifests itself. The most common form is, that the sufferer fancies himself lost. The Psalmist expresses the effect thus, “Make the bones which Thou hast broken to rejoice.” The sufferer finds no comfort in prayer; or in the ordinances of religion. What can be done for such?
1. Sympathise with the sufferer.
2. Immediately have recourse to prayer.
3. Endeavour to discover the cause of the withdrawal of God’s favour.
4. Dwell much on the promises of God.
5. Meditate upon the love and sovereignty of God.
6. Look to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
Do not continue to write bitter things against yourselves. This is not the day of condemnation. (M. Villiers, M. A.)
The office of the comforter is a very high and blessed one. One who has the tongue of the learned, and can speak a word in season to him that is weary, may often prevent distress becoming despair; may often strengthen faith and hope, and cheer the mourner with the light of eternal peace. He who has force of conviction, clearness of sight, knowledge of God’s love, may render one of the richest services that man can render to his fellow men. In Job’s case there was a sorrow that indeed cried aloud for comfort. The pity of the angels must have rested on him, plunged from such a height of mercy into such a gulf of misery. Is there no comforter? When wealth abounded, he had many to felicitate him; are there none now to weep for him, and to uphold his heart? Let us look. There are never wanting hearts that pity the afflictions of men. But it is one thing to pity with silent, on-looking grief; it is another thing to tackle grief itself, and show how right and merciful it is: and for this brave and tender work few are fitted. And so accordingly Job has to complain (Job 6:15-17) that his friends on whom he had relied were like the winter torrents, brawling strongly, flowing bravely when less needed; but drying up in the summer heats and leaving caravans, which hoped to drink of their waters, to perish with thirst. But amidst the bewilderment which marks all his friends, and the general shrinking of those who should have tried to comfort, there are three of his old friends--apparently from what they say themselves, and what Elihu says of them, all men at least as old as Job himself--who strive to console him. Not at the very outset of his calamity, but at a time when Job can say (Job 7:3), “I am made to possess months of vanity”; these three men make an appointment with each other and go together to comfort him. Job himself flouts them, saying, “Miserable comforters are ye all”; doing thereby not quite justice to men whose task was not so easy to accomplish as some of their critics think. I think that great and obvious as their faults were, perhaps they were better comforters to Job than any others would have been. They did not find a solace for him, but they did something better, they helped him to find the true solace for himself. Let us see what there is in the character and utterances Of these men worthy of our remark.
1. They had evidently some of the grandest qualities of a comforter about them. They had a profound sense of Job’s calamity. Their whole bearing at the outset is beautiful; when they see him they lift up their voice and weep. They seat themselves beside him on his dunghill, and for a whole week, in grave, respectful silence, they share his sorrow. Everywhere, but especially in sorrow, speech is only silvern, but silence is golden. In great sorrow the room to admit comfort is small, though the comfort needed be very large indeed. Consolation is hardly for early stages of great sorrow, it must be inserted gradually, as the soul gives room to hold it. And when the time comes for direct consolation, it should be line upon line, here a little, there a little. The comfort of the Gospel of providence first; the comfort of the Gospel of salvation second. If they had been but wise enough to hold their peace, they had been almost perfect comforters. They did so for seven days, and showed by doing so they had one great quality of the comforter; they took some proper measure of the trouble they came to soothe.
2. If they had a sense of his calamity they had also another quality of great value in a comforter--they had courage. Amongst Job’s numberless friends hardly any but themselves had the courage to face his grief. They had it. Courage is wanted sometimes to forbid the abandonment of despair, to deny the accusations which impatience makes against God. Sometimes, like the great Comforter, you have to begin by convincing of sin, and to lead the afflicted through penitence to consolation.
3. They had also some of the great elements of the creed of consolation. They believed, first of all, that God sent the affliction; and the root of all consolation is there. The sorrow’s crown of sorrow is the thought that chance reigns. And wherever we feel God rules, and what has happened came by Divine prescription or permission, we have a seed of consolation most sufficient. In fact, as we shall see hereafter, all Job’s grand comfort springs from this. They have a second great article of faith and consolation--their hearts are strongly moored in a sense of the justice of God. In heathen creeds a large place was often assigned to Divine envy and jealousy. And they have also some knowledge of His love, They urge Job to prayer as to something He habitually answers. They urge him to penitence, assuring him that even though his guilt had been so great, yet God would pardon him. They have some of the great convictions requisite to console.
Yet they fail in their effort to console; and when you ask why, you see that while they possessed some of the first qualities of comforters, they had others which marred their work.
1. First of all, their creed, good as far as it goes, does not go far enough. There was in it a certain intellectual and moral narrowness. They think of God almost exclusively as a judge--rewarding right, punishing wrong, pardoning the fault He punishes when it is duly repented. But they seem to give God no margin for any other activities. According to them, all He does is reward or punishment. They have not in their view any grand future extending to the other world--in preparation for which, discipline of various kinds may be useful, even where there is no special transgression. They had a short, clear creed--say to the righteous it shall be well with him, say to the wicked it shall be ill with him--and any refinement, such as “whom God loveth He chasteneth,” seems to them something that spoils the clearness and cogency of saving truth. These men could believe in a reward to the righteous, in affliction to the wrongdoer, but the doctrine, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous,” enfeebled the hopes of the good and destroyed the alarm of the wicked. Accordingly not one of them ever is able to get out of the feeling that Job had been secretly a sinner above all men. We should beware of narrowness, and, although our light is fuller, remember that we make a mistake whenever we imagine that we have mapped out the whole of God and of the plans and working of God. Leave a margin modestly, and assume that God will do many things, the reasons for which are sufficient, but not knowable by ourselves. Assume that we cannot understand much of His ways, and be on your guard against creeds that simplify too much. Man is rather a complicated thing, and the truth of man cannot be reduced to a set of very easy and very broad statements. These comforters failed to remember that man’s understanding was not quite equal to account for all God’s acts, and they left out of view all the prospective probable results of God’s dealings in the idea that the calamity could have no reason excepting some precedent wrong. And they had another fault.
2. They were short of faith in man. It is easy to understand how men should be suspicious. When we feel how much of volcanic energy there is in the evil of our own hearts, we are apt to believe too readily in the evil of others. Faults are common, falls are common, but deliberate hypocrisy is too rare to justify an easy assumption of its existence on slight grounds. If a wavering thought that their friend must have been guilty of great sins, and all his religion hypocrisy, was pardonable, should they have settled down so fixedly and promptly in this belief, and without any evidence, have first surmised and then asserted guilt beyond that of any other? This unbelief in Job is a sin which God subsequently rebukes them for. It is a serious thing to admit to one’s heart any unbelief in the essential integrity of another. Keep faith in man if you would comfort man. These men were short of faith in their fellow men, and became, as Job called them, “false witnesses for God,” in consequence of being so. Perhaps the week of silence is due to suspense as well as sympathy, to some misgiving about their theory as much as to compassion. But as soon as Job has “cursed his day,” and given vent to the murmur which, however natural, was not sinless, then the momentary misgiving vanishes, and they begin their work. Eliphaz, more gently than the rest, with little more than a hint of the direction in which he thinks Job would do wisely to proceed. Bildad follows with utterance full of ungracious candour: “If thy children have sinned against Him, and He have cast them away in their transgression He would restore your prosperity if you prayed.” Zophar, who is coarser than either of the rest, roundly tells him that “God exacteth of him less than his iniquity deserves.” When Job has declared his innocence, and uttered his longing to stand face to face with God, and reminded them that the prosperity of the wicked was as universally observed as their calamities, they abate no measure of their censure. In every form of innuendo and accusation they impeach him for some great crime. Till at last Eliphaz himself gathers boldness to make specific charges of inhumanity. Poor Job! to be thus battered by accusations; when soothing tenderness was his need and due. Yet I am not sure he is altogether to be pitied. They could not give him comfort, but they drove him to find it for himself. And in finding it for himself he got it more firmly and more richly than he could possibly have found it ready made on their lips. Several things should be remembered.
1. It is well to act the comforter.
2. Love is the great prerequisite for doing so. Sympathy soothes more than any philosophy of sorrow.
3. A narrow interpretation of God’s ways of love is a common fault of those who would console.
4. There must be time for consolation to grow, and it may come in a form very different from that in which we expect it.
5. At last God brings all the true-hearted to a comfort exceedingly rich and great. (Richard Glover.)
These words express Job’s opinion of his friends. Nor is it a harsh judgment. These friends missed, and misused, their opportunity. They wanted to be at the philosophy of the matter. Many men now, when asked to assist a neighbour, are more ready “to trace the history of the ease,” than to render assistance. Job’s comforters deserved the epithet “miserable,” because--
I. They forgot that affliction is not necessarily punitive. And, conversely, all exaltation is not blessedness. Job’s comforters saw only the surface, and reasoned from what they saw. They did not discriminate between Job’s circumstances and the man Job. They did not discriminate between the body of Job and Job. Allowing that the affliction of Job fell heavily on his soul, it was not necessarily punitive on that account. God subjects His people to tests and disciplines as well as to punishments. Christian men are in the school of Christ, and must accept its discipline.
II. They did not discriminate between means and ends. Not to do so is grievously to err in matters religious; not doing so is practical superstition. A man regards church going, Bible reading, attendance upon ordinances, as ends instead of means. What then? He lessens the felt necessity for the broken and contrite heart. Nay, more, he will never rise into the region of the spiritual, so will never worship God acceptably.
III. We shall never benefit a fellow man by casting the past in his teeth. Even if a child has been naughty in the past, we shall only harden it by dwelling upon the fact. Our Lord never twitted men about their past. Job’s comforters gratuitously assumed that Job’s past had not been well spent, and so they merited the epithet “miserable.” We all need comfort; we can get it only in Christ. If we are seeking it in fame, money, friends, learning--anything appertaining exclusively to this world--the time will come when we shall exclaim of these things, “Miserable comforters are ye all,” May that sentence not be uttered in eternity. (J. S. Swan.)
Cold comfort some ministers render to afflicted consciences; their advice will be equally valuable with that of the Highlander who is reported to have seen an Englishman sinking in a bog on Ben Nevis. “I am sinking,” cried the traveller. “Can you tell me how to get out?” The Highlander calmly replied, “I think it is likely you never will,” and walked away. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
No comfort in cant
Those persons are incompetent for the work of comfort bearing who have nothing but cant to offer. There are those who have the idea that you must groan over the distressed and afflicted. There are times in grief when one cheerful face dawning upon a man’s soul is worth a thousand dollars to him. Do not whine over the afflicted. Take the promises of the Gospel and utter them in a manly tone. Do not be afraid to smile if you feel like it. Do not drive any more hearses through that poor soul. Do not tell him the trouble was foreordained; it will not be any comfort to know it was a million years coming. If you want to find splints for a broken bone, do not take cast iron. Do not tell them it is God’s justice that weighs out grief. They want to hear of God’s tender mercy. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The worldly philosopher no comforter
He comes and says, “Why, this is what you ought to have expected. The laws of nature must have their way”; and then they get eloquent over something they have seen in post-mortem examinations. Now, away with all human philosophy at such times! What difference does it make to that father and mother what disease their son died of? He is dead, and it makes no difference whether the trouble was in the epigastric or hypogastric region. If the philosopher be of the stoical school, he will come and say, You ought to control your feelings. You must not cry so. You must cultivate a cooler temperament. You must have self-reliance, self-government, self-control”--an iceberg reproving a hyacinth for having a drop of dew in its eye. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The voluble are miserable comforters
Voluble people are incompetent for the work of giving comfort. Bildad and Eliphaz had the gift of language, and with their words almost bothered Job’s life out. Alas for those voluble people that go among the houses of the afflicted, and talk, and talk, and talk, and talk! They rehearse their own sorrows, and then tell the poor sufferers that they feel badly now, but they will feel worse after awhile. Silence! Do you expect with a thin court plaster of words to heal a wound deep as the soul? Step very gently round about a broken heart. Talk very softly round those whom God has bereft. Then go your way. Deep sympathy has not much to say. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The comforter must have experienced sorrow
People who have not had trials themselves cannot give comfort to others. They may talk very beautifully, and they may give you a good deal of poetic sentiment; but while poetry is perfume that smells sweet, it makes a very poor salve. If you have a grave in a pathway, and somebody comes and covers it all over with flowers, it is a grave yet. Those who have not had grief themselves know not the mystery of a broken heart. They know not the meaning of childlessness, and the having no one to put to bed at night, or the standing in a room where every book, and picture, and door is full of memories--the doormat where she sat--the cup out of which she drank--the place where she stood at the door and clapped her hands--the odd figures she scribbled--the blocks she built into a house. Ah, no! you must have trouble yourself before you can comfort trouble in others. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
But now He hath made me weary.
Weariness under affliction
The word “he” is not in the original. Some understand it of his grief and sorrow, and read thus, “And now it hath made me weary,” or, my pain hath tired me. Others understand it of what had been spoken by his friends; your tedious discourses, and severer censures, have quite spent my spirits, and made me weary. Our translation leads us to a person, and our interpretation leads us to God. Job everywhere acknowledges that God was the author and orderer of all his sorrows. Weariness of mind is referred to, and it is the most painful weariness.
1. A state of affliction is a wearisome estate. Suffering wearies more than doing; and none are so weary as those who are wearied with doing nothing.
2. Some afflictions are a weariness both to soul and body. There are afflictions which strike right through, and there are afflictions which are only skin deep.
3. Some afflictions do not only afflict, they unsettle the mind. They unsettle not only the comforts, but the powers and faculties of it. A man under some afflictions can scarce speak sense while he acts faith, or do rationally while he lives graciously.
4. A godly man may grow extremely weary of his afflictions. The best cannot always rejoice in temptations, nor triumph under a cross. True believers, as they have more patience in doing, so in suffering; yet even their patience doth not always hold out; they, as Job, speak sometimes mournfully and complainingly. (Joseph Caryl.)
God hath delivered me to the ungodly.
Tracing all to God
But Job gets some notion of the reality of things when he traces all to God, saving, “God hath delivered me to the ungodly, and turned me over into the hands of the wicked.” I begin to feel that even the devil is but a black servant in God’s house. There is a sense, perhaps hardly open to a definition in words, in which the devil belongs to God as certainly as does the first archangel. There is no separate province of God’s universe: hell burns at the very footstool of His throne. We must not allow ourselves to believe that there are rival powers and competing dynasties in any sense which diminishes the almightiness of God. If you say, as some distinguished philosophers have lately said, God cannot be almighty because there is evil in the world, you are limiting the discussion within too narrow a boundary. We must await the explanation. Give God time. Let Him work in His eternity. We are not called upon now to answer questions. Oh! could we hold our peace, and say, We do not know; do not press us for answers; let patience have her perfect work: this is the time for labour, for education, for study, for prayer, for sacrifice: this poor twilight scene is neither fair enough nor large enough to admit the whole of God’s explanation: we must carry forward our study to the place which is as lofty as heaven, to the time which is as endless as eternity. We all have suffering. Every man is struck at some point. Let not him who is capable of using some strength speak contemptuously of his weak brother. It is easy for a man who has no temptation in a certain direction to lecture another upon going in that direction. What we want is a juster comprehension of one another. We should say, This, my brother, cannot stand such and such a fire; therefore we try to come between him and the flame: this other brother can stand that fire perfectly well, but there is another fire which he dare not approach; therefore we should interpose ourselves between him and the dread furnace, knowing that we all have some weakness, some point of failure, some signature of the dust. Blessed are they who have great, generous, royal, Divine hearts! The more a man can forgive, the more does he resemble God. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
Not for any injustice in mine hands.
A good man’s confidence
In these words Job delivers us--
1. The confidence of a godly man.
2. That kind of infirm anguish and indignation, that half-distemper, that expostulation with God, which sometimes comes to an excess even in good and godly men.
3. The foundation of his confidence, and his deliverance from this his infirmity. (John Donne.)
My witness is in heaven and my record is on high.
The trite witness of life
I. In reference to Job.
1. A declaration of his belief.
2. An avowal of his sincerity.
3. A proof of his devotion.
II. In reference to ourselves.
1. In seasons of self-suspicion.
2. Under the assaults of calumny.
3. In the prospect of death. (G. Brooks.)
When a few years are come, then I shall go the way whence I shall not return.
The shortness of human life
Doctrine--The coming in of a few new years will set us out of this world, never to return to it.
I. In what respects we can have but few years to come.
1. In comparison of the many years to which man’s life did, at one time, extend.
2. In comparison of the years of the world that are past.
3. In comparison of the great work which we have to do, namely, our salvation and generation work.
4. In comparison of eternity.
II. Why is the coming, and not the going, of the few years mentioned?
1. Because, that by the time they are fully come in, they are gone out.
2. Because that year will at length begin to come which we will never see the going out of.
III. When the few years have sent us off, there is no returning.
1. Men cannot come back (Job 16:14).
2. God will not bring them back. Improvement--
The shortness and frailty of human life
This is not one of Job’s fretful speeches; it is one in which he is giving forth the utterances of an inspired philosophy, and suggests a few practical reflections, as well on the frailty of life as on the irreversible issues of death.
I. The shortness and frailty of human life. “When a few years are come.” Almost every image that could be thought of to denote transitoriness, fleetness, brief duration, sudden change, will be found in Scripture as an emblem of human life. Our days are represented as passing from us just as an eagle hasteneth to her prey, as the swift post flies on his errand, as the ships of Ebeh cleave a path through the waters, as the weaver’s shuttle darts through the web, as the rolling clouds move in the air. Or again, our life is a flower clothed in glory for a day--a shepherd’s tent, which on the morrow will be removed to some other place--a vapour, curling up for a moment into some beautiful shape, and then dissolving into nothingness--a shadow, flinging its bold outline across our path, and in an instant departing to leave no trace behind. But let us consider some of the senses in which this expression, a few years, may be taken. Thus it may be taken in a contingent sense with a sad reference to life’s uncertainty, to the consciousness which should be present to all of us, that the invisible guiding hand which struck down our friend during the past year may be led to lay us low the next. In this view the word “few” may be taken in its most severe and absolute sense. It may mean three years, or two years, or even one, but it behoves the youngest, and the strongest, and most full of hope amongst us, to speak as Job spake. Every day throws fresh confusion into our calculated probabilities of life’s duration. Death seems to be always finding some new door which we had left out of our account, and which we had not provided against; it seemed to be too remote a contingency to be numbered among human likelihoods. But commonly, the word “few” is used in some comparative sense. The labourers in the field of the Gospel are said to be few compared with the plenteousness of the harvest; they who find the way of life are said to be few compared with those by whom the way is missed; and so, in the text, the years of our life are said to he few, compared with the many things which have to be done therein, in order to fit us for a condition of immortality. The comparison comes natural to us. In all great works to be done, we almost intuitively consider as an element of the difficulty the question of time. The surprise of the Jews when they supposed our Lord to say that He would rebuild their temple after it was destroyed, was not that He should rebuild it, but that what it had cost forty-and-six years to accomplish, He should be able to do in three days. Well, the building up of the spiritual temple does not always require forty-and-six years, though it may require threescore years and ten. But whatever the unknown limit be, the years always seem to be getting shorter as that limit is approached; or as the work to be done in it remains in an unfinished state. The fact, as you perceive, cries aloud against the folly of all delayed repentances. To subdue the power of sin, to get disengaged from the ties of the world, to change the bias of an evil heart, and acquire a relish and taste for holiness, to become skilled in those higher acquisitions of the saintly life--how to wait, how to hope, how to be silent, how to sit still--oh, we want a long life for this! Grace may dispense with it sometimes, and does; as when our young righteous are taken away from the evil to come; and then the green blade is as fit for the garner as the shock of corn in its season. But in all cases where longer time is granted, longer time is required; and then, if a portion of these years be wasted, what arrearages of work are thrown forward to the remainder; and thus we fail to make any advance. We have everything to unlearn and undo. But again, I think the time that remains to us is described by the phrase “few years,” because howsoever many they be, they will appear few when they are past. For the truth of this, I may appeal with confidence to the experience of the aged. You may have many years to live, but they will not appear many when you have lived them out. What the text seems to suggest is, that the duration of the future should be measured by the mind’s estimate of the duration of the past. Assume, for example, that you have ten more years to live; to know whether this is a long time or a short time, measure it by what appears to you now the length of the last ten years. Something important and noticeable occurred about that time; realise the fact, that after a corresponding lapse for the future you will be no more seen. Such a method of measuring your length of days from the other end of the line cannot fail to leave upon the heart a salutary impression of the shortness of life. Wherefore, let us all calculate our length of clays according to Job’s life table; let us reckon our years backwards, that is, not by what they are in prospect, but what they will seem in review. I note one other thought, which could hardly have been out of the patriarch’s mind, when he spoke of his remaining years as few, namely, that they must be few--incomparable, and beyond all arithmetical reduction few--when compared with the life which was to succeed. This should be always an element in the Christian’s computation of time. We shall never get at the true length of our years without it. If the apostle Paul, when writing to the Corinthians, had taken for his guidance any of our human calendars he would have said, “That light affliction which has been upon me for nearly thirty years”; but instead of this he recollects that time is not to be estimated by this standard at all. Length of service must be compared with length of reward--increase the one and you diminish the other, and this without limit; so that if the duration of the succeeding recompense become infinitely great, the duration of the service becomes inappreciably small. Who cares to be king for a day? Who for one morsel of meat would become another’s servant for the rest of his life? Or, on the other hand, who would not endure sorrow for a night to he assured that he should enter upon a life of endless joy on the morrow? “Whence I shall not return.”
II. The irreversible issues of death.
1. Here we should note the moral scope of the expression. Job is not to be understood as if he would exclude the possibility of his return to earth bodily to visit his friends, and renew his employments, to tell life’s tale a second time--his design is manifestly to indicate the fixedness of his spiritual state when these few years of life shall have run out. His meaning is, I shall go to the place whence I shall not return for any of the available purposes of salvation, for repentance, for prayer, for making reconciliation. It is a place where all is determined, unalterable, final; where as each tree falls, so it lies; where he that is unjust is unjust still; where he that is holy will be holy still. He had used similar language in the 7th chapter. “As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away; so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more.” To which we may not unfittingly add that exhortation of the wise man, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”
2. And now let me gather up some of the lessons of our subject. I speak to many who must take up the words of our text in their most literal sense. “When a few years are come, I shall go the way whence I shall not return.” Your years to come must be few, because your years past have been many. Well, what have you been doing with those many? And your work, how stands it? Has your life been all wasted, all unprofitable, all of the earth, earthy? Have you made nothing of your day of grace and visitation? And yet your sun is going down. As thus--it should teach us to get our hearts fixed upon the true rest, while our few years are continued, and be gradually preparing for our final rest when these years are gone. Let our souls be staid on the right rest now. We know where it is, what it is, who it is says, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”; rest from the buffetings of a changeful world, rest from the tossings of an anxious heart, rest from the accusations of an upbraiding conscience, rest from the suggestions of a desponding and fearful mind. Get skilled in the art of dying daily, of anticipating the summons to an eternal world. (D. Moore, M. A.)
Calm in prospect of death
Why should we be pensive and wistful when we think how near our end is? Is the sentry sad as the hour for relieving guard comes nigh? Is the wanderer in far-off lands sad as he turns his face homewards? And why should not we rejoice at the thought that we, strangers and foreigners here, shall soon depart to the true metropolis, the mother country of our souls? I do not know why a man should be either regretful or afraid as he watches the hungry sea eating away his “bank shoal of time” upon which he stands, even though the tide has all but reached his feet, if he knows that God’s strong arm will be stretched forth to him at the moment when the sand dissolves from under his feet, and will draw him out of many waters, and place him on high above the floods in that stable land where there is “no more sea.” (A. Maclaren.)
The extreme brevity of human life
I. The fact itself. It is in accordance with the representations of Scripture. Our life nearly resembles Jonah’s gourd, which came up in a night and perished in a night. Our life is short, if you consider--
1. The actual span of life. Seventy years, and infantile tenderness is transformed into decrepitude,--the infant at its mother’s breast becomes the man of hoary hairs, tottering beneath the pressure of infirmities, and sinking fast into the cold and silent grave.
2. The millions who die young. It is said that by far the greater number of human beings die in infancy. And how many die in youth!
3. The momentous objects to which we have to attend in this life. We came not into this world just to exist, or just to spend a mere animal life; we came to prepare for eternity, for our final and irrevocable destinations beyond these narrow confines. Here we have to repent, to seek an interest in Christ, to love, to serve, to glorify our Creator, to labour in His cause, to cultivate our faculties, to discipline our hearts, prior to our entrance upon a deathless state of existence beyond the tomb. All this to do, and yet so short a time for its accomplishment.
4. The momentous interruptions which we experience in our attention to these essential duties. What cares fill up this little life of ours! what sorrows, what temptations, what losses and crosses, to call off our attention from our grand concerns!
5. The uniform testimony of Scripture respecting it.
6. Its contrast with that dread eternity to which we haste. Our life beyond this present scene will be commensurate, in its duration, with the life of God, eternal as the throne on which He sits and sways the universe.
II. Improve this fact.
1. By meditating on the brevity of life; using whatever can aid you to impress your minds deeply with this solemn fact.
2. Take care not to waste life.
3. Improve life. “Seize the fleeting moments as they pass.”
4. Ever keep in view the uncertainty of life.
5. Remember that these few years of your existence will soon be past.
6. Remember that there will be no return to this present world. Let us live while we live. Let us all keep the end of our journey in view. Let us learn to die daily. Let us seek an interest in the grace, and blood, and righteousness, and intercession of the blessed Redeemer. (F. Pollard.)
The final journey anticipated
I. Consider the momentous journey which is here anticipated. Under the figure of a journey, Job directs our attention to that important period, when the immortal spirit must quit terrestrial things, and our perishing bodies be consigned to the silent grave. This journey may be considered--
1. Solemn in its nature. There is an indescribable solemnity in death, even to the man who is best prepared for the event. The path is unexplored; at least, the experience of those who have gone is of very little benefit to survivors: to know what it is to die, we must enter the darksome vale. The journey is of a solitary description; we must perform it lonely and unattended; the tenderness of affection, and the pomp of equipage, are of very little avail in the hour of mortality.
2. Indisputable in its certainty.
3. Unknown in its commencement. The moment when we shall be called to begin this momentous journey is wisely hid from our view. Our passage to the tomb may be by slowly rolling years of gnawing pain; or by a sudden stroke we may be launched into eternity.
4. Important in its consequences. The hour of death terminates all possibility of spiritual improvement.
II. Describe the effect which this anticipation ought to produce. The anticipation of a journey, so momentous in its nature and consequences, ought--
1. To elicit serious examination respecting our state of preparation. Man by nature is not prepared for this important event.
2. To excite just fear in those who are unprepared.
3. To stimulate the righteous to constant watchfulness.
4. It furnishes a source of consolation to the afflicted Christian. He looks forward with solemn delight to that period when he shall be called from this state of suffering and pain to the blissful regions of immortality. He considers the hour of dissolution as the time of his introduction to angelical society, heavenly employment, a fulness of felicity, the unveiled glories of his Redeemer,--and the whole eternal in duration. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Our last journey
I. Let us realise our inevitable journey. I shall go the way whence I shall not return. Let us apply it each one to himself. The fact that all men are mortal has little power over our minds, for we always make a tacit exception and put off the evil day for ourselves. How the individuality of a man comes out in his dying hour! What an important being he becomes! Differences on the dying bed arise out of character and not out of rank. In death the financial element looks contemptible, and the moral and the spiritual come to be most esteemed. How did he live? What were his thoughts? What was his heart towards God? Did he repent of sin? The individuality of the man is clear, and the man’s character before God, and now it is also evident that death tests all things. If you look upon this poor dying man, you see that he is past the time for pretences and shams.
II. Now, let us contemplate its meaning. Very soon we shall have to start upon our solemn and mysterious pilgrimage. Hence, if there is anything grievous to be borne, we may well bear it cheerfully, for it cannot last long. When a few years are come we shall be gone from the thorn and the briar which now prick and wound. Hence, too, if there is any work to be done for Jesus let us do it at once, or else we shall never do it, for when a few years are come we shall have gone whence we shall not return.
III. Now, consider the fact that we shall not return--“When a few years are come, then I shall go the way whence I shall not return.” To the occupations of life--to sow and reap, and mow; to the abodes of life--to the stoic and to the country house; to the pleasures of life. To the engagements of the sanctuary, the communion table, the pulpit, or the pew, we shall not return. We need not wish to return. What is there here that should either tempt us to stay in this world or induce us to return to it if we could? Still, I could suppose in a future state some reasons for wishing to return. I can suppose we might have it in our hearts, for instance, to wish to undo the mischief which we did in life. You cannot come back to carry out those good resolutions, which as yet are as unripe fruit. Neither can we come back to rectify any mistake we have made in our life work, nor even return to look after it, in order to preserve that which was good in it.
IV. And now let us enquire whither we shall go? In some respects it happeneth alike to all, for all go upon the long journey. All go to the grave, which is the place of all living. Then, we shall all go forward in our journey towards resurrection. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》