William S. Plumer, 1865



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 unselfish.

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 olive oil."

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 29:18-20.

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; 35:2.

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 imitation.

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 insatiable covetousness.

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 are delivered.

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 man.

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.