Job 16:1

In this reply Job refuses to make a direct rejoinder to the attack upon him; he is too utterly bowed down in his weakness. But -

I. The first part of his speech consists of A BITTER SARCASM UPON THE IDLE TALK OF HIS FRIENDS. (Vers. 1-5.) Their speeches are useless. They mean to comfort (Job 15:11); but their reasonings produce an opposite effect on his mind. They should cease; there must he something ailing those who are thus afflicted with the disease of words. Words will not heal the broken bones nor soothe the wounded heart. Were it so, then Job could act the part of comforter as well as they, in the case of their affliction. Thus with scorn he repels their futile attempts to "charm ache with air, and agony with words," to "patch grief with proverbs."

"Brother, men
Can counsel, and speak comfort to that grief
Which they themselves not feel; but, tasting if,
Their counsel turns to passion, which before
Would give preceptial medicine to rage,
Fetter strong madness in a silken thread,
Charm ache with air, and agony with words;
No, no; 'tis all men's office to speak patience
To those that wring under the load of sorrow;
But no man's virtue, nor sufficiency,
To be so moral when he shall endure
The like himself: therefore give me no counsel:
My griefs cry louder than advertisement."

II. Next, he relapses into a MELANCHOLY CONTEMPLATION OF HIS EXTREME MISERY. (Vers. 6-17.)

1. The alternative of silence or of speech is equally unbearable. (Ver. 6.) A healthy man can give vent to his feelings in talk; but no words suffice to check the flow of this immense grief. Would he do well to be silent? But, then, what grief would depart from him? None! There is no riddance either way. Speak or not, his suffering remains the same.

2. The instinct to pour forth his woe proves irrepressible and he proceeds with the description of his terrible sufferings. (Vers. 7-14.) His strength is exhausted. His house is desolate. His wrinkled and emaciated body is a spectacle to move his own pity. But still keener are the sufferings of his mind. The thought that God has inflicted this suffering, that he is, as he supposes, an object of the Divine wrath, fills his mind with intolerable gloom. And not only is God against him, but evil men seem to be employed as instruments of his wrath. They, envious of his former prosperity, and of his goodness, now gather around to heap every insult upon his head. Tracing again all to God, Job conceives of him under the image of a furious warrior, who has advanced against him in utmost violence, caused a shower of arrows to fall upon him, pierced him as with a sword, battered him into ruins as a strong wall is battered into breaches by the violence of the battering-ram.

3. His present condition. (Vers. 15-17.) Humbling himself beneath the rod, he has adopted all the symbolic language of penitence and grief. He has put on the sackcloth; bowed his head to the dust; given himself to weeping until his eyes are heavy and his face is red. And all this though there is no wrong in his hand, and his prayer is pure."

III. THE HEAVEN-PIERCING CRY OF INNOCENCE. (Vers. 18-22.) So soon as in the course of these sad reflections Job once more recurs to the consciousness of his innocence, new courage is born to his heart; in his very exhaustion he can still cry to Heaven in the might of a confidence that will yet wring an answer from God. He calls upon the earth not to hide his blood, and may his cry have no resting-place. The allusion is to the ancient sacred custom of blood-revenge (Genesis 4:10, 11; comp. Isaiah 26:21; 2 Samuel 1:21). But the circumstances under which the desire net to die unavenged here appears are quite unusual As one persecuted, not merely by man, but far more by God, near to death, he maintains his innocence before man and God. Here is a seeming contradiction between the dark thoughts just expressed of God, and this profound faith in the invisible and just Judge. Grief is full of inconsistencies and contradictions, arising from the imperfection of the understanding. They cannot be solved by thought, only as here by faith. Thus we come to another moment of calm amidst this terrible tempest of grief - another break in the sky amidst these storms. The chapter leaves the deposit of a noble consolation at our feet.

1. The existence of the Witness in heaven. An all-intelligent Witness, a feeling Witness, an all-remembering Witness of innocent suffering, is our heavenly Father. There may be ever an appeal to him from the unfeeling conduct and the mocking observation of men.

2. The certainty of a just decision in the end. "If we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it." In all the sense of life's mystery, and the temptation to doubt whether God be perfectly good and kind, let Patience, supported by faith, have her perfect work. Let us "remember Job," and "consider the end of the Lord" - J.

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.)

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.)

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.)

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.)

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.)

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.)

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