The last few days, I have been reading Job. I was thinking about reading the bible cover to cover this year, but wanted to do something different. I have done Genesis to Revelations, I have done one section fromt the OT, one from Psalms, one from Proverbs, and one from the NT every day. So I decided this time to try it chronologically. As it stands, I spent the last few days with the man of constant sorrows. And I have to say: I am really fascinated by Job. I have read his story before, and have understood it on an overall level: sometimes bad things happen to bad people for not discernible reason.
But as I read it this time, I noticed myself dissecting it that little bit further. I decided to note down my thoughts on it, and figured it might make an interesting blog entry. For those of my readers who don’t know the story, here is the rundown: Job was a good man. He was obedient to God. He was also rich as hell, and had a big happy family. The story never says if one caused the other, or if these facts are incidental (and this becomes one of the key plot points!) Anyways, Satan asks to tempt Job. First, he takes his wealth away. Job still praises God. Satan comes back for round two, and takes away Job’s health. Job still praises God, but starts to wonder why his life sucks. He isn’t so much angry at God, as he is confused by why he is suffering. Job’s friends come by and say it is because he sinned. Their basic argument is that God is just, so good people prosper, and bad people suffer. Job contends that he hasn’t sinned, his friends call him a liar, and his wife tells him to curse God and die. God comes down and says to Job et al, it isn’t that simple. I AM just, but you won’t always get what I am doing. He tells Job’s friends to repent, and Job is blessed with even more wealth, and a bigger family, and a long happy life!
I want to tackle a few things here, but the first is a character study of the four friends and Job’s wife. I found some interesting trends in what arguments they used, and their purposes for arguing. First, we have the four antagonists, the friends of Job. Each one has different motivators, and uses different arguments, but all come to the same conclusion: Job’s losses are due to sin.
Eliphaz – This guy is interesting. He is the only one who never says he took offence at what Job said. He also uses “you did” less, and speaks more in terms of God’s capabilities versus man’s. His arguments are very intellectual, and lack the passion the other two older friends show.
Bildad – Wow. This guy is offended! He thinks of Job as self-righteous, because if he is as good as he claims, then he is implying that Bildad isn’t. Also, he keeps talking about how he isn’t stupid. His arguments are raw and visceral, and flat out accusations.
Zophar – He has the shortest of the conversations with Job, and only comments once. He claims his reason for speaking is to protect his “honour”. Even though Job is defending rather than attacking, Zophar feels a need to defend his “reputation.” His argument after that is very direct, and little more than an extended poetic that reinforces what the other two have already said. Other than being chivalrous to his own ego, he doesn’t bring much to the party.
Elihu – This guy drives me nuts, because I know this guy! Every time I struggle, be it with sin or with situation, this guy strolls into my life. Here is the guy who starts by claiming his humility: “Oh, I let you speak first, because you are older, and I am respectful. I am only speaking because the spirit prompted me to (Yeahh.... right!)” He then does all but parrot the key arguments made by Eliphaz up to this point! His only original thought is to warn Job not to go to those who would financially back him out of his “Punishment”, and that Job hangs out with bad eggs. Almost nothing new comes from him. I relate to this pompous windbag because I am him. Lord, help me to never be Elihu again!
Character Study – Job’s Wife
I have her separate for two reasons: first, her contributions make up a single verse. Second, she never accuses Job of wrong doing. Instead, she simply tells him to stop trying to protect his integrity, curse God, and die! I don’t want to analyze her, as I would have to do a lot of assumption to get to why she did what she did. Let’s leave it at this: she told Job to give up. Why? We don't know? Her motivation: unknown. But there is one thing we do know: God blessed her. Job had more children... her children. Job regained his wealth... wealth she would have partaken in. Whatever her standing with God, whatever the intention behind her words, God blessed her.
Back to my thoughts on the story...
Job’s friends accuse him of basically one thing: earning his misfortune. They claim he has sinned. This includes hiding his sin, thinking he deserves to hear from God, blaming God for what he has received, and even hanging out with bad people. Their arguments all revolve around trying to show Job that the wicked suffer (here on earth) while the righteous prosper (here on earth.) They invoke God’s righteousness, God justice, God’s hatred of sin. They argue that God would never hurt good people, and that God does hurt evil people. The flaw in their argument is simple: they limit God. True, God allows what happens in this world to happen. It is His will. But, suffering is not always a punishment. And wealth or prosperity is not always a blessing. Sometimes the good suffer while the wicked prevail (curse you Donald Trump!) God gave pharaoh riches, but kept him evil so that he could motivate the Israelites to leave Egypt. God blessed Solomon, even after he had multiple concubines. David, when he was righteous, lost his wife and was an outcast rejected by the very king he protected. But during his sin to Gideon, we see him overflowing with wealth. II Corinthians tells us a simple fact: we go through the wringer so that we can succor those who suffer. In other words, it teaches us empathy. From Job, I learned a great deal, even though I never met the fella. This tells me that suffering may also come so that someone else can learn from my pain... right back to II Corinthians 1:3-5!
Yes, I believe that some suffering is discipline, to wake me up and get me back on the right path. And I think that some blessings are so that I can continue the good works that God has planned for me. But I have also been cursed by wealth, and blessed in my trials. In fact, I have always learned more from my trials, than I ever will from my periods of blessings (Reality check: I need to look back over that last sentence. Something about it doesn’t feel right.)
After the repartee is behind them, God comes to them all in a storm. Talk about a dramatic entrance! I love how God answers Job's plea. He starts by justifying those things his friends said that were right: we will never understand or measure up to God’s Power, wisdom, or authority. Job’s only answer is to say that he repents of his sin, and realizes the arrogance in questioning God as just. At this point, we would expect a stern lecture to Job, or for God to confirm his sin. Instead, God rebukes the three friends (not Job’s wife or Elihu. Insteresting…) He then commands them to offer a very hefty sin offering: seven bullocks each (seven being the number of completion). He adds that Job will pray for them, and he will accept Job’s prayer! Talk about a kick in the pants! He is essentially making Job the High priest over those who tried to point out Job’s unworthiness! Finally, he blesses Job with even more than he had before.
So what does this tell me? It tells me that what I consider justice, and what others consider justice, isn’t always corresponding to God’s justice. I am limited, to say the least. I do not have God’s knowledge. I do not have his strength. I do not have his power. I do not have his experience, his control, his perfection. I am a finite being trying to figure out the infinite and perfect. And I need to accept my limitations and embrace God’s lack thereof. If I suffer, I should praise God because it is somehow for my good. If I should prosper, I should praise God, because it is somehow for my good. And if I stagnate, then I need to worry. (I have drank water from a stagnantpond. Not good! (And yes, the link is to Beef Magazine! Isn't that awesome?)) As followers of Christ, we should embrace all that the Creator gives us: good and bad, loss and gain. Rather than looking at how easy or hard it makes our life, we should be asking: what am I to learn? And more importantly, what I am to do?
One more thing: teh book of Job was, according to tradition, written very early on, possibly before or around the time of Abram (soon to be Abraham.) The Mosaic organization of the church had not yet taken place, and much of the structure of Israel is yet to come, not to mention that there is little of what we now consider the bible, if anything at all. In some ways, given the lack of available scripture and the lack of modern communication of gospel truths (John piper has a blog! What did Elihu have? Papyrus and ink made from ground bugs?), I can almost understand his friend’s possible misunderstanding of the Word. They couldn’t open to Romans, or read of God’s mercies to the wicked in Psalms. I get that.
But… what is my excuse? When I offer my brother condemnation rather than comfort; when I see his trial, and accuse him of sin; when I let my pride govern my response, rather than my love; what can I blame? I know better, but I still do the same things that Eliphaz did, intellectualizing another’s suffering. I still whine like Bildad when someone doesn’t acknowledge my image or opinion of the situation as gospel, taking it as a personal slight. Like Zophar, I sometimes protect my honour more than I seek the truth. And like Elihu, I sometimes feign piety when trying to convince others of their sin (beams and motes come to mind…)
God, forgive me for my arrogance, and my blindness. Lord, thank you for taking the time to use Job to teach me to spend less time critiquing others, and more time on my obedience to you in ALL aspects of my Christian walk. Help me to be more like Job, “But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief.” Let me offer relief first, even if You call me to rebuke. Let me be honest and true to You, while still making love and support my number one priority. Thank you for the chastisement God. I wasn’t expecting it, but I appreciate. Love you, Lord!