“Naked I came from my mother’s womb
and naked I return again.”
While he names his mother’s womb, he means another thing. He refers to the womb of the earth, which is the mother of all things. As a man pinched to the heart, Job does not utter his words to the full; he seems to cut them half off, as is often the case with people in extremity of sorrow. Nevertheless, Job expresses himself clearly enough. The meaning is ‘Very well, then I must be fain to return to the earth, just in the same plight that I came out of my mother’s womb.’ This may be taken in two ways. Firstly, as a general sentence: behold how people come naked into the world, and when they pass out of it they come to the same point again. They brought with them into the world neither their riches, nor their honour, nor their pomp, nor their pleasures. They must be fain to go away into rottenness and the earth must receive them. But the other way of taking the sentence corresponds much more to the context. That is, Job applied the sentence to his own person as if he should say, I came naked out of my mother’s womb and it has been God’s pleasure to enrich me for a time so that I have had great herds of cattle, a great household, good children and, in short, I was gloriously decked with the benefits and blessings which God had bestowed upon me. But now it is his will that I shall go from here stark naked. It is God who enriched me with all these things and now he takes them away again, so that I should return to my first state and dispose myself to creep forthwith into my grave. This sentence is worthy of attention. Job could not have proved his patience in a better way than in determining to be stark naked before God, since it was God’s good pleasure that he should be so. It is true that men have fair excuses, that they cannot force nature, but that in spite of their teeth they must be fain to return naked to their graves. And even the pagans have said that there is nothing but death, and this shows how small a thing is man. Why so? Because we have a gulf of covetousness within us, so that we could find it within our hearts to swallow up the whole earth if we had a chance. Even if a man has plenty of riches, vineyards, meadows and possessions, he is still not satisfied. And yet once we are dead, we are given no more ground than our own length, where we rot and are consumed to nothing. So then, death shows us what we are and what our nature is. Nevertheless, we see many people striving against the necessity of death. They make beautiful tombs and will have triumphant funerals. Such men have it in their hearts to resist God. They would if they could, but they cannot. Such is truly the general state of mankind. But as for us, it becomes us to suffer patiently the loss of our goods and riches and loved ones, whenever we are bereft of them. It becomes us to suffer God to strip us out of everything, even to our bare and naked skin, and to prepare ourselves to return to our grave in the same state. This is the way that we prove ourselves patient. This is what Job meant by the sentence. Also, as long as we lack the goods of this world, or endure hunger and cold, or are struck with adversity without relief, we ought to think of our birth and let us consider ourselves, what we are and from where we came. For people often abuse the fatherly care that God has over them in providing them with the things that they need. We ought to have this lesson well implanted in our hearts, that God will not have us lack anything, nor has he put us in this world without having a mind to nourish us here. We must always acknowledge that all things are from God, and nothing at all from ourselves. We must not think that we possess anything at all in our own right. Everything we have is of the free goodness of our God. We are bound to receive God’s benefits with all modesty, assuring ourselves that God does not owe us anything at all.
So when we are driven by necessity to ask God to sustain us, let us remind ourselves where we came from; even out of our mother’s womb, utterly helpless. We must needs have perished altogether if we had not been succoured by others. So it has pleased God to foster me and to look after me until this hour and to give me his gracious benefits without number. Therefore, if it pleases him to scourge me now, there is good reason that I should bear everything patiently, because I know that it comes from his hand.
So we see what we have to mark on when Job says ‘Naked I came out of my mother’s womb and naked I shall return again’ to my grave.
Finally, when God gives goods into our hands, we imagine that we shall possess them for a long time and that we will continue to be the owners. We imagine that our riches will accompany us to the grave. But let us not account them in such a way, for in so doing we would deceive ourselves. On the contrary, let us assure ourselves that if it be God’s good pleasure to take away the goods he has lent us (for we should consider that everything we have has been lent to us by God), we must be ready to forego them. He does us no wrong if he bereaves us in an instant of everything that he has given us during our lifetime.
Job 1v21(b): The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
Job leads us yet further in saying that God has given and God has taken away and that therefore the name of the Lord was worthy of praise. When he says that the Lord has given, he shows that it is very reasonable that the disposal of everything that belongs to him should be in the hands of the Lord, since it is the Lord who has given them to him. For when God sends us his riches, he does not release his own rights; he retains the sovereignty that he has as creator of the world. For this word creator means that he has made all things in such a way that all power and sovereign dominion remain with God himself. Although people possess their portion of it accordingly as the Lord has distributed, yet God continues as Lord and master. Job knows this and therefore submits himself wholly to God’s good will.
It is often the case that when God has once shown himself liberal to us, out of his own free goodness, people are disposed to cease thinking of these good things as a benefit and a blessing; instead, they consider these things as a right and they consider that their rights have been violated when the good things are taken away. It behoves us not to fall into such wickedness as to take for granted the benefits of God and regard them as a right. Therefore, it behoves us to consider carefully what is meant by the saying ‘The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away’, so that we may know what manner of authority the Lord has, to give us the enjoyment of his benefits and also to take them away from us, in an instant, without warning, at his pleasure.
And here we see why the apostle Paul exhorts us that while this world will pass away and all things in this world will eventually vanish, we should possess as if we did not possess. That is to say, we should not have our minds tied to them.
1 Corinthians 7v29 – 32 What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on, those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it was not theirs to keep; those who use the things of this world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.
In his first letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul says that we should not settle ourselves upon the uncertainty of riches, but that when God shall have us bereft of all that he gave us, we must always be ready to say, as Job did, ‘Very well. You, O Lord, have used your own right. You have given and you have taken away, at your pleasure.’
1 Timothy 6v17 Command those who are rich in the present world not to be arrogant, nor put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
Thus, we see the import of this phrase. Whenever we think of the goods of this world that we possess, we must continually remind ourselves that everything we have is from God. On what condition? He has not simply given them to us so that he claims no more title over them. Rather, he has given them to us on the condition that it pleases him to put them into our hands and he also may pluck them away from us whenever he decides that it is good. Let us understand, then, that we are bound to God and God alone when he gives us leave to enjoy some benefits and that we must not think it strange if he bereaves us of them afterwards. God holds such superiority over us that he may dispose of our lives as he wills.
Seeing then that God is in every way our Lord and master, not only over our possessions, but also over our persons and our children, let us humble ourselves before him so that we submit ourselves wholly to his will, without gainsaying.
By nature, we do not yield honour to God. It is true that people will easily say that God has given them all they possess, but what of it? They fall to considering these gifts to be their right. If there is the slightest hint that any of it may be taken away, they then consider that their rights have been violated. In so doing, they spite God. Such thinking is no better than flat mockery. What do we mean if we confess that we hold everything of God, but yet we will not have God touch anything? We see then the hypocrisy of the world, which plays mockery with God.
It becomes us always to follow the example of Job, which we have been shown here. That is, God has given us everything we possess and we know that he may call it back again and withdraw it at any time, according to his own will.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.
The final phrase of the verse imports even more. Here Job submits himself to God in such a way that he also confesses God to be good and just, even though he has just been scourged so roughly at the hand of God. This imports more, because people may grant power and sovereignty to God and may well say that since God has given, therefore God may also take, while yet they will not acknowledge that God deals justly and with good reason. For there are many who when they are scourged, accuse God of cruelty, or over great roughness. There are very few, if any, who under extremity can confess that there is nothing better than to submit all things to God’s majesty and to acknowledge that if he should let us follow our own way, there would be no way with us but confusion. If he governs us according to his will, everything will be to our profit and welfare. Behold where it behoves us to come. There is much of import in this sentence when it is said, ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord’. For we must not only pick out the words, but also consider the mind from which they proceed and understand that they are spoken truly and without guile. For how is it possible that we should praise the name of God if we do not first acknowledge him to be righteous? But anybody who holds a grudge against God, as though God were cruel and unkind, actually curses God and lifts himself up against God. Anybody who does not acknowledge God to be his father, and himself to be God’s child, nor yields record of God’s goodness towards him, does not praise God. And why not? For those who do not taste and see the mercy and grace that God shows to people when he afflicts them must needs grind their teeth at him and cast up and vomit out some poison against God. Therefore, to praise the Lord’s name imports as much as to persuade ourselves that God is just and righteous of his own nature. Not only that, but also that God is good and merciful. Behold how we may praise God’s name after the example of Job; namely, by acknowledging that God is just and upright and by acknowledging his grace and fatherly goodness towards us. Here we see why the text also adds for clarification:
In all these things Job did not sin, nor did he charge God with being unreasonable.
This is worthy to be marked. Why do people martyr themselves when God sends things contrary to their desire? Because they do not understand that God does everything by reason and that he has just cause to do it. For if we had it well printed in our hearts that all things that God does are grounded upon good reason, it is certain that we would be ashamed to encounter him in such a way. It is purposely stated that Job did not impute any unreasonable dealing to God. That is to say, he did not imagine God doing anything that was not just and upright. Mark this for a special point; much is implied by these words. It is a horrible matter to charge God with being unreasonable. Nevertheless, people often fall into this sin. If God does not send people what they wish, they often fall to reasoning with him. They hold plea with him. They may not even be aware that they are doing it. They may even start arguing before God that they are unable to serve him properly if he does not endow them with various good things. They have an eye to every blow, asking ‘How did this come to pass? This matter should have gone otherwise; I see no reason why it should be thus.’ If we are not careful, we can stray very close to charging God with being unreasonable and in so doing, we condemn God.
Yet, it has pleased the Holy Ghost to teach us that if we have a mind to give glory to God and to praise his name as it becomes us, we must first be fully persuaded that God does not do anything at all without good reason. So then, let us not charge him, either with cruelty or ignorance, as though he did things out of spite, or at random. Let us rather acknowledge that in all points and in all respects he proceeds with wonderful justice, with exceedingly great goodness and with infinite wisdom, so that there is nothing but uprightness and equity in all his doings.
There remains one more point to consider; how Job acknowledged that it was God who took away all the things he was robbed of by thieves. If we are afflicted, we must not think that it happened without reason, but rather that God has just cause to do it. Therefore, when we are troubled and grieved, we must have recourse to God and pray to God to grant us the grace to know that nothing befalls us in this world, except by his ordinance. Yea, and we must be assured that he disposes of all things in such a way that they all turn continually to our welfare.
Romans 8v28-30 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the first born among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
This knowledge will enable us to bear patiently all the afflictions that God sends upon us. It will also serve to humble us before God. When he has made us to taste his fatherly goodness, we shall desire nothing but to glorify him by all means, equally in adversity and prosperity.
Prayer Now let us fall down before the presence of our good God, acknowledging all our faults and praying to God that he will bridle us so that we do not overshoot ourselves in our vain imaginations, but rather that we may know that all our benefit and welfare lies within him, so that we may come to him and to him alone to seek it, resting ourselves wholly upon his mercy. When he has once made us to taste his love that he bears us, may we be so fully persuaded of it that although he may cause us to walk in many troubles and adversities in this world, yet we may never cease to trust him, until he has rid us of this mortal body and removed us from the imprisonment and bondage of sin where we are now, to gather us up to his heavenly glory, which we shall enjoy continually for evermore. We thank our good God that we may rejoice in him as partakers of his everlasting glory. We pray that he will grant this grace not only to us, but also unto all the people who dwell upon the earth.