William S. Plumer, 1865
ALTERNATE LIGHT AND DARKNESS IN PROVIDENCE,
ILLUSTRATED IN THE CASE OF THE GREAT MAN OF UZ
The book of Job is the oldest and the best epic poem in
the world. The people prominently before us are Jehovah, Satan, Job, Job's
wife, his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, and that remarkable
person, Elihu. Much of the book is a discussion of the principles, on which
the speakers suppose God's providence to be conducted.
Some have surmised that Job was a fictitious character;
but this is surely a mistake. The prophet Ezekiel clearly proves that he was
a historic personage—as much so as Noah or Daniel. Ezek. 14:14, 20. He was a
man, and a very godly man.
The course of providence towards him is full of
instruction. In his life we find lessons of much value. Instruction by
example clearly points out the duty to be performed, shows that it is
practical, and awakens in the virtuous the desire of imitation.
Among mere men we seldom find a striking example of more
than one striking feature. Abraham was distinguished for his faith; Moses,
for his meekness; Daniel, for his dauntlessness; John, for the tenderness of
his love; and Job, for his patience. If we would find perfect symmetry of
character in any portion of history, we must go to the man Christ Jesus.
It may aid us to pursue a method in our reflections.
I. Let us consider the course of providence towards Job,
and his character and circumstances before his great afflictions.
Job was a man of great piety. The Scriptures say
that he was upright and perfect. He was not double-tongued, nor
double-minded—but sincere, free from hypocrisy, and had respect to all God's
commandments. "He feared God and eschewed evil." This character is given by
God himself. His reputation among men was both fair and high. "Those were
the days when I went to the city gate and took my place among the honored
leaders. The young stepped aside when they saw me, and even the aged rose in
respect at my coming. The princes stood in silence and put their hands over
their mouths. The highest officials of the city stood quietly, holding their
tongues in respect. All who heard of me praised me. All who saw me spoke
well of me." Job 29:8-10. Probably no man ever received more marked
attention from great and small than did Job. "Everyone listened to me and
valued my advice. They were silent as they waited for me to speak. And after
I spoke, they had nothing to add, for my counsel satisfied them. They longed
for me to speak as they longed for rain. They waited eagerly, for my words
were as refreshing as the spring rain. When they were discouraged, I smiled
at them. My look of approval was precious to them." Job 29:21-24
He was also esteemed wise, and possessed great influence
by his eloquence. He was a sound adviser. Speaking of his influence over
men, it is said, "I told them what they should do and presided over them as
their chief." Job 29:25.
Job was also a great captain. His military skill and
prowess were such that he dwelt as king in the army. Job 29:25. "He broke
the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil out of his teeth." Job 29:17.
He was also a philanthropist. He was not indeed ostentatious in his charity,
yet such a city set on a hill cannot be hid. "All who heard of me praised
me. All who saw me spoke well of me. For I helped the poor in their need and
the orphans who had no one to help them. I helped those who had lost hope,
and they blessed me. And I caused the widows' hearts to sing for joy. All I
did was just and honest. Righteousness covered me like a robe, and I wore
justice like a turban. I served as eyes for the blind and feet for the lame.
I was a father to the poor and made sure that even strangers received a fair
trial." Job 29:11-16. In his labors of love, he was both diligent and
Before his afflictions Job was a man of great wealth. "He
owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred teams of
oxen, and five hundred female donkeys, and he employed many servants. He
was, in fact, the richest person in that entire area." Job 1:3. In wealth he
excelled all the rich men of the East. So abundant were his possessions that
"my path was drenched with cream and the rock poured out for me streams of
In his own family, Job enjoyed domestic comfort. Although
he had his fears about his children, yet it does not appear that they were
either profane or licentious. He loved them tenderly and they were
respectful to him. His wife seems not to have shown her grievous lack of
piety during his prosperity.
To crown all his enjoyments, the candle of the Lord
shined upon his head, and by the light of the divine countenance he walked
through darkness. The secret of God was upon his tabernacle, and the
Almighty was yet with him. Job 29:3-5. It is in God's light that we see
light. When he smiles we are blessed. When he gives comfort, who can
afflict? All this prosperity begat confidence in its own continuance, and
led Job to say, "I shall die in my nest and I shall multiply my days as the
sand. My root was spread out by the waters, and the dew lay all night upon
my branch. My glory was fresh in me, and my bow was renewed in my hand." Job
II. Let us consider Job's afflictions themselves, and his
patience under them.
One day when Job's sons and daughters were dining at the
oldest brother's house, a messenger arrived at Job's home with this news:
"Your oxen were plowing, with the donkeys feeding beside them, when the
Sabeans raided us. They stole all the animals and killed all the farmhands.
I am the only one who escaped to tell you." While he was still speaking,
another messenger arrived with this news: "The fire of God has fallen from
heaven and burned up your sheep and all the shepherds. I am the only one who
escaped to tell you." While he was still speaking, a third messenger arrived
with this news: "Three bands of Chaldean raiders have stolen your camels and
killed your servants. I am the only one who escaped to tell you." While he
was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: "Your sons and
daughters were feasting in their oldest brother's home. Suddenly, a powerful
wind swept in from the desert and hit the house on all sides. The house
collapsed, and all your children are dead. I am the only one who escaped to
tell you!" Job 1:13-19
A descent from such extraordinary prosperity awakens very
different sentiments from those entertained by men, who have long lived in
poor circumstances and been unexpectedly raised to greatness. Let this
thought be remembered.
Job's afflictions commenced with the loss of his wealth,
consisting of oxen, and donkeys, and sheep, and camels, and servants. The
news of these losses came upon him by surprise. Poverty is no sin—if it
comes upon us without any fault of ours. Yet everyone knows that it brings
sore trials on all, especially on those who are not accustomed to it. All
this is heightened by the suddenness of its approach. This often produces a
shock which few hearts are sufficiently stout to resist. Many who have stood
calm while thrones were falling around them, who have fearlessly stormed the
deadly breach, and who have manfully suffered community slander, have sunk
under intolerable anguish, when their earthly possessions have taken flight
and left them destitute and dependent. Whatever bitterness is necessarily
connected with such loss, was the portion of Job.
No sooner had the messengers closed their respective
narratives of his losses of property, than another with all the promptness
attending the announcement of calamities thus spoke, "Your sons and
daughters were feasting in their oldest brother's home. Suddenly, a powerful
wind swept in from the desert and hit the house on all sides. The house
collapsed, and all your children are dead. I am the only one who escaped to
tell you!" Thus his children were carried into eternity on the same day on
which he lost all his property! Not a child was left him. His Reuben and his
Benjamin, his daughter that was to him as a pet lamb, and she that was in
deportment as a matron, all died. And then they died so suddenly. No
previous sickness gave warning of approaching death. In the morning he had
parted with them, not dreaming that he would nevermore see their faces in
the land of the living. Nor had he satisfactory evidence that they were
prepared for this solemn exchange of worlds. Indeed he had fears to the
contrary. As priest of his own house, he had been in the habit of offering
sacrifices for them on occasion of their feasts, thinking that they might
have sinned and cursed God in their hearts. Job 1:5. But on this occasion
Job had not time to offer sacrifice or prayer after the close of the feast.
How must this saint of God have followed in imagination the departed spirits
of his children. And how must his heart have swollen with anguish when in
vain he sought for assurance of their salvation. Yet at the end of all this,
Job reverently "fell down upon the ground, and worshiped, and said, Naked
came I out of my mother's womb and naked shall I return there—the Lord gave,
and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." Job 1:20, 21.
But neither the malignity of Satan, nor the mysterious
love of God, would permit Job's sufferings to end here. Satan obtained
permission to afflict him with bodily disease, so that he was covered from
the sole of his foot unto his crown with sore boils. This affliction makes a
standing posture a rack of torture, a chair a seat of misery, and a couch a
"bed of unrest." In the midst of his wretchedness, he "took a potsherd to
scrape himself and he sat down in the ashes." In our suffering it is seldom
that we cannot find some posture that will not give some relief. But this
was not Job's case. Pain followed pain, and suffering followed
suffering—until his agony was complete. Hear his dolorous complaint, "I,
too, have been assigned months of futility, long and weary nights of misery.
When I go to bed, I think, 'When will it be morning?' But the night drags
on, and I toss till dawn. My skin is filled with worms and scabs. My flesh
breaks open, full of pus." Job 7:3-5
From all this weight of suffering Job might have found
some relief, had his wife possessed a right spirit. But when she saw him
thus afflicted, her heart rose in rebellion against God, and instead of
exhorting her husband to faith and patience, she bade him "curse God and
die." During his prosperity Job's wife may have given some evidence of
piety. If so, how must such an avowal have pierced his soul; and if not, how
afflicting it must have been to behold her, whom he loved so tenderly,
venting her wickedness against God? She not only manifested hatred to him
whom Job adored; but she became cold and cruel to her husband. He says, "My
breath is repulsive to my wife. I am loathsome to my own family." Job 19:17.
The appeal to marital affection was fruitless. Pointing to the pledges of
their love in their offspring had no effect. Her marriage vows and all the
kindness she had received, were forgotten. Her heart was unfeeling.
Another source of distress to Job was the conduct of his
friends, his servants and his neighbors. To him who is afflicted, pity
should be shown. But when those in whom we have trusted hide as it were
their faces from us, it is sad indeed. At first Job's friends seemed
disposed to sympathize with him—but they soon began to accuse him
wrongfully. They aggravated his sufferings by referring to his former
prosperity. Job 4:2. They dealt deceitfully with him. Job 6:15. They scorned
him. Job 16:20. They vexed his soul. Job 19:2. He says, "They whom I loved,
have turned against me." Job 19:19. They charged him with hypocrisy, Job
20:5; they told him God was punishing him for his injustice and cruelty, Job
22:6-9; they perverted his language, and upon his speech put a construction
which he had never thought of, and a meaning which he abhorred. Job 34:9;
The great difficulty was that without evidence they
believed him guilty of great sins; and such people cannot be convinced by
evidence. Under these circumstances Job poured forth his complaints. Hear
him—"My relatives stay far away, and my friends have turned against me. My
neighbors and my close friends are all gone. The members of my household
have forgotten me. The servant girls consider me a stranger. I am like a
foreigner to them. I call my servant, but he doesn't come; I even plead with
him!" Job 19:13-16. So full was the conviction of those around Job that he
was a wicked man, and so helpless was he, that he was held in the utmost
contempt. "Even young children despise me. When I stand to speak, they turn
their backs on me. My close friends abhor me. Those I loved have turned
against me." Job 19:18-19.
The children of the vilest men, mocked him and spit in
his fave. "But now I am mocked by those who are younger than I, by young men
whose fathers are not worthy to run with my sheepdogs. And now their sons
mock me with their vulgar song! They taunt me! They despise me and won't
come near me, except to spit in my face." Job 30.
If we feel great pain at even suspicion thrown on our
characters, what must Job's anguish have been when old and young, rich and
poor, vile and honorable, pious and ungodly united in suspecting, condemning
or despising him as a wicked man!
Nor had Job any means of proving himself innocent. The
charges brought against him were general and vague. It was impossible for
him to prove a negative. Yet he felt, as all godly men do, that a good name
is better than great riches and precious ointment. His other trials would
have been comparatively light, had his friends been true and kind. But they
were unstable and greatly misjudged him.
Another source of sorrow was that Job had no sensible
pious comfort. He cries out, "Oh that I were as in months past." Job
29:2. At no period of his sufferings does he seem to have had those
transporting views of divine things, which many of the martyrs had, and
which quenched the violence of fire, and bore the soul away from the
consideration of personal pains—to rapturous thoughts on Jesus, and heaven,
and the crown of imperishable glory. Yes, not only was he tossed with
tempest and not comforted—but his soul was filled with great distress. He
cries out, "For the Almighty has struck me down with his arrows. He has sent
his poisoned arrows deep within my spirit. All God's terrors are arrayed
against me!" Job 6:4. The spirit of a man sustains his infirmity—but a
wounded spirit who can bear? Even when alone, the terrors of God may be
insupportable; but when joined to so many other evils, where is the heart
strong enough to bear the dreadful weight?
It heightened Job's misery that he had not sweet access
to God by prayer. He says, "If only I knew where to find God, I would go to
his throne and talk with him there. I would lay out my case and present my
arguments. Then I would listen to his reply and understand what he says to
me. I go east, but he is not there. I go west, but I cannot find him. I do
not see him in the north, for he is hidden. I turn to the south, but I
cannot find him." Job 23. The privilege of prayer in all its sweetness
remaining to God's people, they have inexpressible comfort; but when that is
gone, what can the soul do?
Another aggravation of Job's affliction was, that
although better instructed than his friends, he yet but imperfectly
understood the doctrine of providence. This difficulty has been felt in
every age. In the patriarchal and Mosaic dispensations it terribly afflicted
the righteous. Even under the clear light of the gospel, godly men have
perplexities from this source. Job had no such clear Scriptures as these,
"As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten." "If you be without chastisement,
you are not sons." "We must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of
God." "We know that all things work together for good to those who love
God." Instead of this clear light Job himself saw God's ways involved in
inscrutable mystery. Job 31:3.
Hope of better days on earth seems quite to have departed
from him. He says, "I shall no more see good." Job 7:7. As far forward as
his vision extended, all was dark and dreary. No star of promise, no ray of
joyous expectation illumined the gloom. Former greatness and happiness but
showed him how low he had fallen. They gave no pledge of return. All seemed
to be irretrievably gone to the great man of Uz. "So I looked for good, but
evil came instead. I waited for the light, but darkness fell. My heart is
troubled and restless. Days of affliction have come upon me. I walk in
gloom, without sunlight. I stand in the public square and cry for help. But
instead, I am considered a brother to jackals and a companion to ostriches.
My skin has turned dark, and my bones burn with fever. My harp plays sad
music, and my flute accompanies those who weep." Job 30:26-31
Under this enormous load of suffering Job set a bright
example of patience. Not a word of sinful murmur escaped his lips. Job 1:22.
He exhibited not the proud severity of the stoic in refusing to acknowledge
himself afflicted. He had not the iron hardihood of atheism, denying God's
hand in his troubles. Nor did he exhibit the sinful sinking of unbelief.
He submissively acquiesced in what God ordained. He brought no foolish
charge against his Maker. He meekly says, "What? shall we receive good at
the hand of God—and shall we not receive evil?" Job 2:10. He sought solace
in worship and especially in praise. It is not claimed that in all things
Job was spotlessly pure—but only that he was in the main and persistently
upright. Near the close of the book God himself says, "My servant Job has
spoken of me that which is right." Job 42:7. Job did indeed undertake to
reason on matters beyond his knowledge. Job 38:2. But the general tenor of
his feelings was pleasing to God. For a long time he bore the most trying
events with a spirit of submission probably never equaled in a mere man. For
this cause he is fitly held up to us as one whose example is worthy of
III. Let us consider Job's history after the heavy hand
of God was no longer upon him. On this point
the record is brief but highly satisfactory. "When Job prayed for his
friends, the Lord restored his fortunes. In fact, the Lord gave him twice as
much as before! Then all his brothers, sisters, and former friends came and
feasted with him in his home. And they consoled him and comforted him
because of all the trials the Lord had brought against him. And each of them
brought him a gift of money and a gold ring. So the Lord blessed Job in the
second half of his life even more than in the beginning. For now he had
fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand teams of oxen,
and one thousand female donkeys. He also gave Job seven more sons and three
more daughters. He named his first daughter Jemimah, the second Keziah, and
the third Keren-happuch. In all the land there were no other women as lovely
as the daughters of Job. And their father put them into his will along with
their brothers. Job lived 140 years after that, living to see four
generations of his children and grandchildren. Then he died, an old man who
had lived a long, good life." Job 42:10-17.
Every foul imputation on his character was wiped away.
Every slanderous tongue was silenced. The terrible storm was passed. Only
the peaceable fruits of righteousness remained. Sobered and chastened he
indeed was—but richly laden with the experience of God's goodness. He saw
the end of the Lord, that the Lord is full of pity and of tender mercy.
1. How vain are all merely earthly possessions! How
unstable is popular favor! How uncertain are riches! How soon our pleasures
may be followed by pains! When parents rejoice at the birth of a child, they
know not how soon they may weep over his dead body without an assurance that
his soul is saved. Solomon thoroughly tried the world. His sober inspired
judgment was that all was vanity. The sooner we reach that conclusion
ourselves—the wiser shall we be! "Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly
meaningless! Everything is meaningless!" Ecclesiastes 1:2. Now all has been
heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his
commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every
deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or
evil." Ecclesiastes 12:13-14.
2. Let us always be more afraid of sinning against God
than of offending our nearest earthly friends. Job instantly repulsed the
wicked assaults of his wife, saying, "You speak as one of the foolish women
speaks." Job 2:10. To his own disciple, Peter, Jesus was compelled to say,
"Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in
mind the things of God, but the things of men." Matt. 16:23. No human
friendship may for a moment interfere with our fidelity to God.
3. Although God generally chooses the poor as his
children, yet he offers mercy to the rich, and receives all such as humbly
seek his grace. Job's riches did not debar him from the kingdom of heaven.
By reason of depravity, riches tend to alienate the heart from God; yet
sovereign grace can remedy that evil. He, who is rich in this world's goods,
and also rich in faith and good works, is loudly called to sing the praises
of Jehovah. Nothing but almighty power could thus make the camel go through
the eye of the needle, or preserve the soul from the burning flames of
4. Weight of character and a high order of talents are by
no means confined to the enemies of God. Why should they be? Piety is
wisdom. Who ever stood higher for wisdom in council, for soundness of
judgment and for prowess in war than did the man of Uz? There cannot be
found any number of men who surpass God's people for calmness of inquiry,
soberness of mind and practical wisdom. True religion is worthy of the most
earnest and solemn attention.
5. Christian men are not always pious, in proportion to
the degree of light which they enjoy. Job is supposed to have lived before
the time of Moses, under the obscurity of the patriarchal dispensation; yet
he was a burning and a shining light. He neither saw nor heard many wondrous
things well known to us. Yet how far did he and Abraham and Enoch and other
ancient worthies excel the great mass of even godly men of these latter
days. Truly we ought to blush for our short-comings. Guilt is in proportion
to light. Surely then we must be very guilty for our sad deficiencies.
6. When malice, or envy, or suspicion, or evil surmising
exists—no established reputation, no lack of evidence of guilt can "tie the
gall up in the slanderous tongue." By a long and holy life Job had given
incontestable evidence of the purity of his character. His friends could
bring no proof of his criminality in anything. Yet they charged him with
cruelty, wickedness and hypocrisy! Such vileness has not yet left the earth.
It is no new or rare thing for the best men to be charged with the vilest
plans, principles or practices. It will be so until grace shall reign
through Jesus Christ over all hearts. A propensity to evil thoughts and evil
speeches, is among the last faults of character, from which even godly men
7. If friends accuse us falsely and act as enemies, let
us not forget to pray for them. Job set us the example—Job 42:8. Enmities
arising between old friends are generally more violent than others. "A
brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city—and their
contentions are like the bars of a castle." Proverbs 18:19. But we must not
yield to evil passion. We must forgive and seek blessings on those who
falsely accuse us and cruelly entreat us. It was not until Job prayed for
his accusers that God turned his captivity. Let us never carry a load of
malice in our hearts. It is worse than any evil we can suffer at the hand of
8. When our characters are assailed, we are at liberty to
use Christian measures to remove an evil report. It is then best to leave
the whole matter in the hands of God. Lawsuits for character may be lawful
and sometimes expedient. But when bad passions are excited, no character is
so unspotted that malice will not spew out its venom against it. We may deny
our guilt; we may call for evidence against us; we may bring evidence of
innocence; but with men of heated imaginations and strong prejudices,
evidence never has its just weight.
9. It is very dangerous to become involved in a
labyrinth of reasoning concerning God, his character and providence.
Things which are revealed belong to us and our children. We may safely
follow wherever revelation leads; but we are no judges of what is proper to
be done under the government of God. The attempt to criticize the divine
proceedings is always a failure and iniquity. "The secret things belong to
the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children
forever, that we may follow all the words of this law." Deuteronomy 29:29.
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways
higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9.
10. It is important to study the Scriptures and learn all
we can concerning the plans and providence of God. Had Job clearly known
what we by patient study may learn, it would have removed much of the
pungency of his grief. God's word is a light and a lamp. Let us walk by it.
11. What is the grief of each one? Is it poverty, poor
health, loss of reputation, loss of pious comfort? Whatever it is, take for
an example of suffering affliction Job—the narrative of whose trials was
written for our comfort. Like him, let each one say of the Almighty, "Though
he slays me, yet will I trust in him." Job 13:15. Never was pious confidence
in the Lord misplaced. Never did any trust in him and was confounded.
12. The secret of the Lord is with those who fear him.
The greatest secret God ever reveals to his people is the mystery of
redemption. Of this Job was not ignorant. By this he triumphed. His own
language is explicit, "But as for me—I know that my Redeemer lives, and that
he will stand upon the earth at last. And after my body has decayed, yet in
my body I will see God! I will see him for myself! Yes, I will see him with
my own eyes! I am overwhelmed at the thought!" Job 19:25-27.