Part II: Job’s Weakness

Job Charcoal 1

Naked Came I... PLR '99

“Have I the strength to go on waiting? What end have I to expect, that I should be patient? Is my strength the strength of stone, or is my flesh made of bronze?” The Book of Job 6:11-12

We have talked a lot about how righteous Job was. He was so good, that many believe that he was an Old Testament symbol of the Messiah to come, as Jesus, who innocently suffered for the sins others. I don’t believe this to be the case. As good as Job was, he simply was not good enough. While Jesus expressed great sorrow in the Garden of Gethsemane, and even prayed “if possible let this cup pass me by” Matthew 26:39, Jesus never expressed doubt in God, the Father, and he knew exactly what the purpose and need for his suffering was; he freely accepted it and even embraced it after his prayer.

As I mentioned before, Job did not cross any lines, but, in my opinion, he did come close. Let us now take a look at some of the weaknesses Job may have had. First of all, even though Job is placing expectant hope on God as his savior during his suffering, there is evidence that deep down he lacked trust in God when he still had everything to lose. In his first speech when he breaks the silence with his friends, Job states, “Every terror that haunted me has caught up with me; what I dreaded has overtaken me.” The Book of Job 3:25. Perhaps Job was just a tad bit too attached to his riches. He uses the words, “haunted” and “dreaded” as if he spent significant time worrying that some day it was all going to come crumbling down, that maybe God would take everything away from him. Could it be that Job was unknowingly becoming more attached to his riches than he was to God? Weak argument, you say? Well, this is not the only evidence of weakness in Job.

Later on in Chapter 29, during Job’s final defense of his case, we hear from a man that could be considered just a tad bit self-righteous. Granted, he is defending his righteousness to his friends and to God, but his self description becomes more and more grandiose as the chapter moves on. He begins by contributing all of his blessing and prestige to God, but quickly moves into lamenting over the loss of the good ol’ days when he was on top of the world! He speaks of how everywhere he went, people would step aside to let him pass; they would cheer his name in the streets, “Here comes Job! Look, it’s Job; he’s the man; if he can‘t do it, no one can!” He may have been the world’s first celebrity! Job had the final word on everything in his town. When he spoke up, everyone else shut up. There was nothing more to say; Job’s word was all that was needed. He even describes himself with language that is used to describe God in other books of scripture: “I put on righteousness like a garment and it clothed me; justice, like a cloak and turban, adorned me. I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame; I was a father to the needy…” The Book of Job 29:14-16. Now, to be fair to Job, God uses scripture to describe his good character to us and then calls us to be like him and go about doing good. However, Job seems to be enjoying the benefits of his blessings a little too much and could be seen as sharing some of God’s glory with himself. It would be hard to live in the midst of all that adoration and not be affected a little bit. This chapter ends with Job‘s comments, “I thought, ‘I shall die with my powers unimpaired…with the bow always new in my grasp and the arrow ever ready to my hand.’” The Book of Job 29: 18,20 (italics mine).

In Chapter 30, Job explicitly describes his current state of affairs and we see how far he really has fallen. He truly has gone from the top of his society to the bottom. This is where we get a good, and pretty gross, description of how bad things got for Job, so it’s understandable how Job would get emotional here, and let his anger get the best of him. Job’s problem with God is not so much that he is suffering, but that God won’t tell him why. He has been constantly crying out his “Why me?” prayer, yet God has remained silent. He tells his friends that God will prove his innocence in the end, yet God remains silent. If there were ever time for Job to curse God, it would be now, but he does not cross that line. He might stand right on it, but he does not cross it. After vivid descriptions of his plight, Job shouts out: “I call out to you, God, but you do not answer, I stand up to plead, but you keep aloof. You have turned cruelly against me; with your strong hand you persecute me…Yet no beggar held out his hand to me in vain for relief in his distress. Did I not weep for the unfortunate? Did not my heart grieve for the destitute? Yet evil has come, though I expected good, and when I looked for light, darkness came.” The Book of Job 30:20-21,24-26. It’s subtle, but look at what Job is really saying here, “God, when I ask for help, you’re not there for me, but when people asked me for help, I was always there for them.” Job strongly implies here that he is better than God. Not stronger, not smarter, but Job is accusing God of not taking care of him, and he implies that he would do a better job of running things if he had the power. This is dangerous ground for Job. He does not curse God, but he does border on blasphemy, and he pretty much commits the very same sin that Satan originally committed: Pride. Job does not outright rebel and try to take God off his throne; he understands he has no power over God, but he is treading on thin ice. If you are interested in a humorous take on this delicate concept, check out the movie, Bruce Almighty. The plot is basically a lighter version of the story of Job, but with God taking Bruce (Job) up on this particular idea that he can do things better. Watch the movie and see how things might turn out if a human receives all of God’s power and tried to run things for a while. Not pretty; funny, but not pretty. In the end Bruce, played by Jim Carry, is humbled and he grows spiritually. We shall see the same happy ending for Job, but it is important to note that God does deal directly with this comment when he finally does answer Job.

It must also be noted, again, that Job is not being punished for any of his self-righteous and prideful tendencies, nor is he being rebuked for any lack of trust he may have had. The text is clear that Job is not being punished. Be honest with yourself, Job puts us all to shame, even with his slight problems. I don’t think Job was the slightest bit aware of these issues, and had he not been pressed so hard, they probably would never have come up, but God looks deep into the heart of every man and woman, and nothing there remains hidden from him. It is possible that God saw, however small, the potential for Job to slowly fall into pride and self-righteousness, and he used Satan’s little game to expose Job’s potential for sin, so Job would be able to be humbled and be able to stay aware of the problem and work to remain humble.

Some people believe that anything we perceive to be evil cannot come from God. I agree that God does not create evil in our lives; God is love; he is pure and morally perfect, but I do not think everything that causes us pain is necessarily evil. The problem is in the perception. First of all, our own sin often causes us to experience the pain we attribute to the devil. There are clear consequences laid out in the scriptures for making bad choices. Additionally, God would not be a good Father if he did not discipline us. The author of Hebrews even states in his letter to the church: “My son, do not think lightly of the Lord‘s discipline, or be discouraged when he corrects you; for whom the Lord loves he disciplines; he chastises every son whom he acknowledges” Hebrews 12:5-6. Sometimes when we feel pain, God is disciplining us. But this is not the case for Job, so what was God doing? He was training Job. As good as Job was, God did not want any potential to lose him, so he wanted to train Job to be better. Think of it this way, consider the coach of a professional sports team. The sport doesn’t matter. Let’s say, for whatever reason, a practice before a championship game becomes significantly difficult, maybe it is too hot, or too cold. What if the coach said to his athletes, “Aw, are you guys getting tired? Do your muscles hurt a little more than usual? Let’s just call it a day and go get a beer so you can feel better. We don’t really need to practice our drills, we don’t really need to stay in shape for the game…” Would you expect that team to win? Now consider this, if the God of the Bible is real, he testifies that Satan is real; therefore, we do have an enemy that is really trying to harm us. If we choose to follow God, we are in a war whether we want to be or not. Now think about all the pain soldiers experience at boot camp, and even during training as they advance up the ranks. If they are to survive, they must allow temporary pain to their physical bodies, so they can have the strength and agility and skill and strategy needed to win the war. Just the same way, God trains us to be better servants, and if we are willing, to even be spiritual warriors. The pain we experience is usually spiritual and emotional, but in the end we become stronger and more equipped to do battle when Satan and his servants, our enemy, set their sights on us. I believe that God has no problem using evil to accomplish good; either for the world in general or for the individuals experiencing the pain. Think about the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-45. After Joe’s brothers sell him into slavery out of jealously when he was a child, he later ends up being their king and their savior from drought. When he confronts them he says, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good.” God used the trials of being a prisoner and a slave to train Joseph and prepare him to lead and save the nation of Egypt, as well as preserve his family who would become the nation of Israel. Something else we need to consider is that we simply live in a fallen world; sometimes the sin and rebellion of others will cause us pain as well. For instance, if a drunk driver loses control and crashes into a car with a mother and children and the accident kills or cripples them, that mom and her children are obviously the victims of someone else’s bad choices. There is no discipline nor training going on here, just a random tragedy as the result of living in a world of people who make bad choices; this is the unfortunate result of God giving us free will. However, I believe that God can and does work these things out for good for those who are willing to seek him, and receive his comfort and guidance. God does not wish evil upon us, but since it is in the world, and since most humans don’t hesitate to commit evil deeds, I don’t think God really has any problem with manipulating evil and using it to bring good into the world in some way. Whether by advancing his kingdom, as Tertullian, an early church father states: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” (Apologeticus, Ch. 50), or by giving one person a wake up call so they can discover the truth and be saved. The Apostle Paul declares that, “in everything, as we know, he cooperates for good with those who love God and are called according to his purpose” Romans 8:28. Many people are offended at the idea of God using evil for anything. I don’t understand that. We have to trust that God knows what he is doing. If he allows evil into my life to make me stronger, or to eventually bless me, or even to bless someone else, I have to trust that it was the best way according to what my free will allowed him to do. I take comfort in the fact that God will use everything that Satan throws at me to bring about good in my life. It does not give me the right to commit evil, but it does give me confidence that all my failures and mistakes are not entirely without purpose.

The Book of Job also has evidence that even though Job was God’s best servant, he still lacked a strong relationship with God; however, we will save those details for another time.

 

  • All scripture references are from The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha.

 

 Peter L Richardson

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Part I: Job’s Integrity

Naked Came I...     PLR '99

Naked Came I... PLR '99

“Have I the strength to go on waiting? What end have I to expect, that I should be patient? Is my strength the strength of stone, or is my flesh made of bronze?” The Book of Job 6:11-12

Have you ever had one of those days when your alarm somehow didn’t go off, so you wake up already running late for work? The kids won’t get up and one of them claims to be sick, but in your stress and annoyance you don’t believe him, and as you are shuffling them out to the bus stop after shoving a Pop Tart down each of their throats, the kid pukes all over you. So, you send him back to bed, call around for someone to come over and baby sit, change your clothes, clean up the carpet, call the boss and admit you are going to be late, listen to his lecture, and when your mother finally gets there, the car won’t start. What two little words does every human being state at a time like this? Why me?!? Who are we really asking this question to? Even atheists ask it. What do we really mean? When you think about it, it is a completely self-righteous and arrogant question to ask. Do we really believe that out of all the negative action and energy in the earth, out of all the random acts of chaos that still occur throughout the universe, that we should somehow be exempt from problems? Do we really believe that we have done nothing so grievous that we should have a free pass from trouble? (The true irony is that everyone asks that question to some invisible force who we try to hold accountable when things go wrong, but how many of us say thank you when things go well? Just something to think about). Job never actually puts these two words together in all of his eloquent poetry, but they are certainly the running theme throughout everything he says. While most of us don’t have the right to utter such words, if anyone in the world could ask “Why me?” with confidence, it was Job. We know why Job was experiencing such trouble; we know about the wager between the Lord and Satan, but Job didn’t. If Job’s actions had anything to do with his trials, it was that he was too good, and he made himself a target for Satan. When his world fell apart, Job really couldn’t fathom why God would allow such a thing. It is clear from the text that Job really was the best man of his time, but as mentioned in an earlier post, a closer reading of the text reveals that God may have had something more in mind than winning a bet when he allowed Satan to attack Job. Job was the most righteous man alive, but he was not perfect, and he may have still been lacking what is most important to God, an intimate relationship.

However, let’s first take a look at Job’s integrity. When he lost everything, including his children, Job states the famous lines: “Naked I came from the womb, naked I shall return whence I came. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord,” and the text goes on to say, “Throughout all this Job did not sin, nor did he ascribe any fault to God.” The Book of Job 1:21-22. Next, after Job became “afflicted with running sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head, and Job took a piece of a broken pot to scratch himself as he sat among the ashes,” his wife said to him, “Why do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God, and die!” The Book of Job 2:7-9. Not a very nice thing for a spouse to say! But we should put ourselves in her shoes, she did, after all, lose everything that Job lost, including her children, and now she couldn’t even touch her man. She must have been a good woman for Job to choose her, but she was simply not as righteous as her husband. She was broken, and she couldn’t take anymore. Job responds to her with, “You talk as any impious woman might talk. If we accept good from God, shall we not accept evil?” and the text goes on to say, “Throughout all this, Job did not utter one sinful word.” The Book of Job 2:10.

It wasn’t until his friends showed up that Job’s speech became increasingly aggravated and in his frustration Job has some pretty shocking things to say towards God. The text makes it clear that Job did not cross any lines, he remained faithful to God and he kept his integrity, but he sure did walk right up to the line at times.* For the most part, however, despite struggling with depression, Job’s strong faith and patience shines through. Chapter 13 is a good example of Job’s typical attitude during his suffering. In verses 1-12, Job is once again imploring to his friends to believe that he does not deserve the kind trouble he is experiencing as a punishment for something he did. At this point, I would have been worn out. Even if I was as sure as Job was in my innocence, I would have given in and agreed with my friends just to get them to shut up and leave me alone. “Yeah, yeah, you know, I think there was that one time that…. and of course, I always wanted to… so, now that we have that straight, I’ll see you guys off, and I’ll take care of repenting on my own, thank you very much!” Job consistently resists their accusations of sin; if he were to give in to them, he would be lying, and Job has too much integrity to lie. He is so confident in his innocence, he even gives his friends a warning: “Must you take God’s part, putting his case for him? Will all go well when he examines you? Can you deceive him as you could a human being? He will most surely expose you if you take his part by accusing me.” The Book of Job 13:8-10. We all know how that turned out for his friends. The next section of this speech, verses 13-19, really reveals Job’s integrity despite the conflict he is experiencing. He is unaware that Satan is behind what is happening, and Job has already testified to God’s sovereignty over the universe, so according to his limited perception, he believes his God to be his tormentor, “Why do I expose myself to danger and take my life in my hands? If he wishes to slay me, I have nothing to lose; I shall still defend my conduct to his face.” But in the same breath, he believes that his God will be his deliverer! “This at least assures my deliverance: that no godless person may appear before him…Be sure of this: once I have stated my case I know that I shall be acquitted.” The Book of Job 13:14-18. Many of us stub our toes and curse God for it; after losing everything, Job still believes his God is just and will come through for him in the end. In the last section of the chapter, verses 20-28, Job asks God for an audience so he can find out why God is so mad at him. It is important to note that Job does not claim to be without sin, but he has done everything he can think of to do right in the situation, and he is still coming up short. He assumes he must be missing something, and he wants to speak to God so he can fix the problem and move on with his life. He asks, “How many crimes and sins are laid to my charge? Let me know my offense and my sin. Why do you hide your face and treat me as your enemy?” The Book of Job 13:23-24. Though at this point, Job blames God for his problems, he does not curse him; he does not give up on his faith, and he still even has hope for salvation from God.

At the end of what must have seemed like to a sick man an endless debate with his friends, Job presents a final summary of his defense with a list of all the good things he’s done in his life and all the bad things that he has avoided. It’s Chapter 31, and it’s worth the read. This guy did everything he could to guard himself from lust; he treated slaves as respectfully as he did his rich colleagues; not only was he generous with the poor and outcast, but he was willing to mingle with them and share his table with them. He always told the truth; he never worshiped idols; he was an honest businessman and was merciful and forgiving when someone owed him something. He never gossiped, and he always rejoiced over others’ successes. Let me just say that on my best days, when I’m at my most victorious over sin and temptation, and when I’m my most selfless and serving others with a joyful heart, Job puts me to shame. This guy really was righteous. He really did do everything he was supposed to do, and he really avoided doing any evil at all. The text states here and in other places, that if Job did slip up and sin in any way, he was quick to repent and to offer God the proper sacrifices. This gives Job the confidence to direct the end of his speeches to God: “Let the Almighty state his case against me! If my accuser had written out his indictment, I should not keep silence and remain indoors. No! I should flaunt it on my shoulder and wear it like a crown on my head; I should plead the whole record of my life and present that in court as my defense… Job’s speeches are finished.” The Book of Job 31:34-38, 40.

Job is pretty confident in his righteousness, but there is also evidence that he may have been a bit too confident, and as a result, he may have put too much faith in his works. He was, no doubt, God’s best man, but Job’s desire to be perfect before his Creator may have actually caused him to lack a strong and solid relationship with Him. In the next post we’ll take a detailed look at possible weaknesses Job may have possessed.

*Since God did not fault Job for this, I believe that God wants us to be open and honest with him when we are struggling with any negative emotions towards him. There is an attitude of honor and respect we should hold when we converse with the Lord; however, I have always thought that people who were obviously upset with their circumstances, but they were in denial out of some show of perceived righteousness, are foolish. God knows our thoughts; he knows how we are really feeling, and you might as well get it out there, so he can begin to heal you.
 
  • All scripture references are from The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha

Peter L Richardson

 

 

“I great the dawn and not a setting sun, when all is done.” -Paul Laurence Dunbar

The opening and the closing of each day are the most spectacular moments in time. In fact, each moment is time. We mark the moments of our lives, our entire calendar of events on how often that golden orb rolls its way across the sky. Without the sun to rise and set upon us, we would utterly be lost in the dark. The words sunrise and sunset probably spark up similar, if not the same, images in most people’s minds: A pretty picture of the sun hanging just above the horizon, but close attention reveals many differences between the two similar events. Which horizon the sun is hanging above makes all the difference in the world, and these differences are strangely symbolic of our lives.

The sunrise almost always gives an appearance of new glory in the sky. It is the symbol of new birth, the miracle of creation constantly renewing itself as the old passes away and life is given to those who would open up their eyes and see the glory displayed. We spend the first nine months of our lives in a quiet slumber in soft darkness clinging to our mother’s life support. We spend each night of our lives clinging to our pillows, our dogs, and eventually our spouse. Coming out of the womb, we find a bright and blinding light; everything is confusing and new, and at dawn’s first light, we must shake off the quiet slumber as we wake to the blunt revelation of a new day. The sun is never visible first thing in the morning. A heavy mist often covers the landscape, leaving us only a hazy yellow-orange-light just over the horizon that is pushing the darkness of confusion ever westward until we can finally see and understand in the light of day. A sunrise does not usually consist of too many colors. While the sky becomes heavenly in the new light, somehow, the earth looks beige, as if you have been placed in an old fading photograph. In these first few moments of the day, you are able to look directly into the sun and not lose your sight. We have a soft orange glow hanging against a pale yellow sky as we begin to search out our path for the new day.

As the sun rises higher into the sky, it becomes a brighter yellow, and the color of the earth begins to take a sharper focus in our lives. The most intriguing time of the sunrise is after it is already a good way up into the sky when soft white clouds, lined with a touch of gray, often appear in front of the sun. These clouds are the first signs of mystery in the day we must face. They are the people we first interact with following our ascent into this new world; our mothers, fathers, siblings and doctors… Bands of sunlight shoot out through and around these clouds ensuring us that there is something else, something glorious and higher than the mystery. There is light that is etched into our subconscious from birth; it is brighter than the sun, it is beyond the sky, it may be reflected in the faces we see in our lives, but these faces are not the source. This is the light we spend the rest of the day searching for. This light gives us a reason to get up and out of bed every morning. At times the clouds cover up the brightness; darkness and rain dominate the day and create the mystery of the light, but if our day is bright and our eyes are open to the light, we will be the reflection for others who are still lost in the mystery.

Meanwhile the dark night constantly pushes the sun across the sky into the western horizon, bringing us full circle to our deaths. I have always found sunsets more beautiful than sunrises. They simply have more personality. Sunsets often have every color of the rainbow, albeit in dark shades and tones, involved in the intricate pattern that the clouds make up in the sky. These colors are the true accomplishments of our lives, all the emotions we have felt, all the ways we have touched others are now reflected on their faces and hearts. They are the memories we cling to, knowing we are nearer to slipping into the dark, the unknown. Man’s fear of death is inevitable. There comes a time in many sunsets when the sun seems to disappear for moments behind the clouds, leaving a dark gray sky filled with a cold loneliness. There comes a time in a person’s life when he shivers from the chill of the night as he realizes how short is the time he has left, and he chokes with fear. However, for those who became testimonies of the greater light, the sky fades to an orange-auburn. The sun appears blood red just over the horizon. The earth, once so colorful, now is painted black against the auburn sky. A man finds peace within himself. His fate is accepted, and the sun slips over the edge of time. Darkness covers the sky. A new beginning of a new unknown.

Zed's sunset copy

 

Peter L Richardson
11/5/91
 

Job’s Friends: Eliphaz, Bildad, & Zophar

Naked Came I...            PLR '99

Naked Came I... PLR '99

“Tell me plainly, and I shall listen in silence; show me where I have been at fault. How harsh are the words of the upright! But what do your arguments prove?” The Book of Job 6:24-25

I personally think Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, get a bad rep. People talk of them as if they were the worst friends anybody could have, and they do get pretty brutal with Job, especially considering the horrible condition he was in, but I believe they were genuine friends. They just couldn’t understand or comprehend the situation. We need to look at the beginning of the matter to see this. First of all, these guys were probably business partners of Job from nearby provinces, and not just his neighbors down the street. They had to travel considerable distances to get to Job, and they were willing to do it. Even today, with the conveniences of planes, trains, and automobiles, people only travel to see a sick loved one if they are really important to them. When they finally got to Job, he was so deformed by a skin disease that they didn’t recognize him at first. During that time, sick people who had little hope of surviving were quarantined outside the town, especially for skin diseases; Job was probably living in the city dump so he could scavenge for food. When they found him, Job’s friends tore their clothes, threw dirt on their heads and wept out loud for him. That was how their culture expressed mourning for the dead; these guys were seriously upset for their friend. The next thing they did for Job also shows their genuine love for their friend. They sat in silence with him for seven days. The worst thing a friend can do when you are going through a tragedy is to try to justify it to you, or explain it away, or tell you to cheer up and try to make the best of it; when you are deep in the pit, you don’t want to hear any of that. These guys knew Job was in bad shape, and they knew there was nothing they could do for him except just be there. It was Job who broke the silence, and unfortunately, his friends’ replies to him were less then helpful and just continued to spiral downward and become more and more negative and vicious throughout their debate. What was the issue they were so concerned about? God’s justice. They just couldn’t believe that God would allow something like that to happen to Job unless Job did something terrible to deserve it. They were confident they knew the truth.

Job breaks the silence with an almost perversely beautiful poem about how difficult life is and how death is preferable to living. He wishes he was never born and he just wants to die so he can have relief from his pain; ironically, the one thing God will not allow Satan to do is kill him. Job ends his complaint with a statement that life is unfair, which is completely understandable in his circumstances. However, considering most of Job’s life was amazingly blessed, is it fair that he should imply it was not worth living? Rather than hearing the pain that Job is experiencing right now, Eliphaz jumps on Job’s “life is unfair” statements and is the first to speak up. One after another, Job’s friends increasingly accuse him of wrongdoing, blasphemy and foolish living as they hand out word blows. When Job continues to maintain his innocence of any sin deserving that level of punishment, they refuse to accept it. They all come to the same conclusion: Job sinned; therefore, God is punishing him. If Job would only repent, God would relent. Poor Job has already repented for everything he can think of, and nothing he‘s done is really that bad, so his logical conclusion: life is unfair; bad things do happen to good people and vise versa.

Each of Job’s friends represent a common stronghold of the mind among self-righteous and closed minded people even today. Eliphaz bases all his wisdom on experience. He tells Job: “Fools are destroyed by their own angry passion…I have seen it for myself: fools uprooted, their homes in sudden ruin…” Job 5:2-3. Eliphaz is the type of guy who only trusts what he has seen or what he knows. Unless you can prove it, he won’t believe it. It is good to find out for yourself the truth of things, but the reality is there are simply things in life that can’t be explained by personal experience. One person can’t possibility have a full understanding of all the possible experiences there are in the world. Additionally, there are things in this world that are beyond anyone’s understanding, things we can’t explain with science or philosophy. Eliphaz is unwilling to open his mind to the possibility that Job might be innocent of sin, even when Job pleads with him to trust in his past actions and proven character: “I beg you, turn and look at me: am I likely to lie to your faces? Think again,…for my integrity is in question. Do I ever give voice to injustice?” Job 6:28-29. But Job cannot convince his friend to trust him.

Next, Job’s buddy Bildad decides to speak up. Bildad’s problem is tradition. He states: “Enquire now of older generations and consider the experience of their forefathers…” Job 8:8, but he goes on to say absolutely nothing new, even though he says it very poetically: “Job, just admit you’re a sinner and repent, and God will chill out!” Bildad’s wisdom is better than Eliphaz. At least he’s open to learning from other’s trusted experiences from the past, but the problem with putting too much stake on tradition is that you can only see the world through the colored glasses that were handed down to you. You become unable, or unwilling, to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and consider things from their perspective. If a new revelation that is truth comes along, you will miss it. Job responds to Bildad with: “Though I were to wash myself with soap and cleanse my hands with lye, you would thrust me into the miry pit and my clothes would render me loathsome.” Job 9:30-31. Job is saying to his friends that even if he could somehow prove his innocence, they would still slander him, and make him look wrong, just to prove themselves right.

Finally, Zophar says his piece, and he is the most harsh of them all, holding back no punches from the beginning. Job, speaking in his own defense, has stated that if God would speak, he would defend him and prove his innocence. This is too much for Zophar, who bases his wisdom solely on the law. He rebukes Job for speaking “irreverently,” in other words, putting words in God’s mouth that God would never say, and he concludes his rebuke with: “A fool will attain to understanding when a wild ass’s foal is born a human being!” Job 11:12. But then he spends the rest of his speech telling Job what God would really say. A bit hypocritical right? This how all legalistic people become. God has laid down a law that he expects us to follow, but the law is given for our good, and not to be a burden. As soon as God’s law is used to harm others, it becomes null and void through the distortion of a hardened heart.* Jesus later states that the law can be summed up in loving God with all your being and loving your neighbor as yourself, Matthew 22:37-40. In other words, love is the true law; without love, it is no longer God’s law. Religious people that have become legalistic lose the Spirit of Grace written in the law. Unable to live up to their own standards, they begin to justify their own behaviors and at the same time become increasingly judgmental towards all others. Job responds to Zophar with his own bit of sarcasm: “No doubt you are intelligent people, and when you die, wisdom will perish! But I have sense, as well as you; in no way do I fall short of you; what gifts indeed have you that others have not?” Job knows all about their experience, tradition and law. He knows their theology as much as any child or even any animal knows it. He is experiencing something different, something outside the scope of his society‘s knowledge of theology.

It’s hard to understand how Job’s friends could be so cruel and so stubborn with a man who lost everything to random disasters and became as sick as Job was (If you want to get grossed out, read some of Job’s often vivid descriptions of his symptoms!), but you have to consider what they were really afraid of. Job, we have established, was known to be the most righteous man on the Earth. That makes Job more righteous than all of them. These guys were stuck in a works mentality, they thought they had to earn God’s love and favor, and therefore, if you did something wrong, God would be angry at you and strike you with lighting and turn you into a spot of grease. To put it simply, all good fortune is the result of doing good, and all bad fortune is the result of doing evil, and therefore, punishment from God. The problem they had was that if Job really was as innocent as he claimed, what hope could they possibly have? Would they be next? Surely, all you have to do is say enough Hail Marys, or pray towards Mecca three times a day. Just follow the rules and you’ll be okay right? God couldn’t be that unpredictable, could he? Job’s experience broke the box they had neatly put their god into and crumbled the foundation of everything they based their hope for security on. If bad things can happen to good people, why be good? If God shows mercy towards those who are evil, why look for justice? It was simply too frightening and too confounding for them to accept the truth of Job’s innocence.

Two more cycles of speeches result from this original debate in which Job and his friends continually become more volatile and insulting with each other. They are like kids arguing in a school yard: You’re a sinner — No, I’m not — Yes, you are — No, I’m not — Yes, you are — No, I’m not;  and so on and so forth. It seems that a crowd has gathered to hear the debate because a young man, Elihu, steps up and states that he’s tired of their bickering and he can prove Job wrong, but he too is unsuccessful. Finally, God himself steps in. We will consider God’s full response at a later time, but it is sufficient here to note that Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were all wrong. God rebukes them for their misunderstanding of his character, for adamantly speaking wrongly about him, and for they way they treated Job. He even threatens to treat them the way they claimed he was acting against Job: “You’re going to slander my best man without proof? You’re going to kick a good man when he’s down? You better apologize to your buddy, Job, and ask him to forgive you and pray for you, or I just might dish out some of that punishment you say I’m so famous for!” God leaves their fate in Job’s hands; Job can forgive them and pray for them, or he can let God’s justice and judgment fall down on their sin. 

 

*NOTE: That is not to say that there are no painful consequences in God’s law. In fact, suffering the consequences of disobedience to his law is one way that God keeps us on track and seeking to live righteously, but we humans, in my opinion, do not have the right to usurp God’s authority and punish individuals for their sins except in the case of keeping order and relative peace in society, which God has ordained us to do. For instance, governments need to arrest criminals, and a parent can and should discipline their child for stealing or being disrespectful. However, if my neighbor decides to be a man-whore, I can only warn him about God’s judgment on promiscuity, and urge him to repent and accept God’s love and grace; ridiculing him in public or waiting late at night with a group of man-whore haters to jump him is out of our scope of authority. We cannot force or manipulate anyone to follow God, we are only called to be witnesses of the truth. Situations like the Crusades, the Inquisition, and any type of Jihad, are completely evil and outside of God’s law.  
 
  • All scripture references are from The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha.

Peter L Richardson