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As yet Job utters no word of complaint. He even attempts as best he can to justify the Almighty. “Shall we receive good,” he asks, “at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil ?” Evidently, then, the Adversary's suggestion that all Job's previous religiousness had been mere self-seeking was proved to be untrue. For now he had nothing, less than nothing, and he still continued to worship. The refutation of Satan's cynicism is not the object of the poem, but the poet represents it as one of the objects of Job's afflictions. This reference in the prologue to the didactic use of suffering seems to me introduced for the sake of lifting the reader on to a higher platform than that occupied at first by any of the dramatis personce, and so enabling him, with the keener interest and the more intelligent sympathy, to follow the action of the drama.
Job appears to be fully conscious of the depth of his misery only after the arrival of his friends, who came, according to etiquette, to pay him a visit of condolence. His affliction and his disease have made such havoc that at first they do not recognise him. The only real kindness in their power was to mourn with him in silence, and this for a time they did. “They
sat round the ash-heap for seven days and seven nights; and none spake a word unto him; for they saw that his grief was very great.”
All this time Job remained brooding over his grief, and at last a change comes over him; his patience gives way—he is calm no longer, but breaks forth into a passionate malediction.
Perish the day wherein I was born. Let it be turned into darkness. Let not God regard it. Let those who make days unlucky join me in cursing it. Let it be a day of blackness and terror and grief; nay, let it pass out of the calendar and be altogether forgotten, because it allowed me to be born.
If it was necessary that I should come into the world at all, why did I not forthwith expire ? I should now have been sleeping quietly with kings and princes, in that happy spot where all are equal and all are at peace ; where the prisoner is at liberty and the slave is free; where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.
Or if I could not die as soon as I was born, why was I not allowed to expire when life became unbearable ? As it is, sighs and groans are my only food. My worst fears since I became afflicted have been more than realised. Trouble cometh upon trouble. Death I regard as the most precious treasure. To the grave I look forward as to a happy home. Why is life forced upon me?
This brings us to the discussion between Job and his friends. Eliphaz was probably the oldest of the three, for in the East the greatest respect was paid to age, and he always speaks first. He was decidedly the wisest and the best of them,—a more original thinker, a more gentlemanly controversialist, and a more sympathetic, or rather a less unsympathetic, friend. He had something of “the vision and the faculty divine.” He had heard voices and talked with spirits from the unseen world; and it is on this experience that he now bases his argument. Bildad has nothing of his own to bring into the discussion, but he is great in proverbs and the opinions of the Fathers. He thinks as he does because his reading has shown him that such were the views of his ancestors. Zophar is neither a thinker nor a scholar. He is a good specimen of an ignorant and a vulgar bigot. He could hardly say when or how his opinions first came into his head; he has never asked himself why he believed anything. The fact that his opinions are his own is their all-sufficient justification. A man so pleased with himself is naturally very hard upon others. Accordingly, we find Zophar more cruel in his treatment of Job than either of the other two.
The discussion consists of three parts. The friends speak in each part, and are separately answered by Job, except on the last occasion, when Zophar, with more sense than we should have been inclined to credit him, holds his tongue. The discussion arises out of Job's malediction, which has aroused their orthodox zeal. According to their view of matters, he ought to have been confessing his sins instead of cursing his fate. “A little sympathy on such an occasion would have been worth a good deal of theology.” But theology was their strong point, and so they begin to talk it. Their speeches are throughout based on the assumption that rewards and punishments are meted out in this life strictly according to moral desert, that none but the wicked suffer, and that their sufferings are in exact proportion to the magnitude of their sins. This assumption in the old oriental theology is, if you come to think of it, very curious and suggestive. One would have imagined it a most patent truth, that men are not dealt with according to their deserts. No doubt violations of natural law are followed by disastrous consequences; and so, if detected, are violations of social law. But with moral offences it is different: there is no invariable punishment attending them. Nature, moreover, often destroys the innocent, and society frequently persecutes its benefactors. Since the world began, the best men have often been the most unfortunate, and the worst men the most successful. The manifest want of adjustment between men's circumstances and their deserts is, with our modern theologians, one of the strongest arguments for a future life. But formerly, it had been assumed that the adjustment was absolutely perfect. The facts, numerous enough and striking enough, which contradicted the assumption, the older theologians never seemed to see. “Experience,” says Mr Froude, “when it contradicts our cherished convictions, is like water dropping on the rock, which it wears away indeed, but only after thousands of years." This theory as to the exclusively retributive nature of suffering had formed part of Job's own theology; and, as we shall see, the difficulty, or rather the impossibility, of reconciling it with his own experience was one great source of his mental distress. His friends were quite sure he deserved his afflictions. Men are generally very sceptical as to the merits of their neighbours. They were