Thursday, January 26, 2012

Blogging the Bible: Job, an upright man, a challenge, the refusal to sin, and the opening of the Grand Dialogue

The story of the Job develops quickly. IT starts with the prologue, introducing us to this rich, righteous man. After the prologue, the scene shifts, and we learnt that something is happening far beyond the realms that Job inhabits. We’re told that as the Angels come and present themselves before the Lord, Satan, the accuser comes, and he too presents himself. He is evil to the core. He’s been roaming the earth, and you think of a lion on the prowl. This may also suggest that he has dominion over the world. Roy. Zuck points out in his commentary that “to walk on land often symbolizes dominion over it. Satan is of course, ‘the god of this age’ (Ephesians 2:2) and the whole world is under the control of the evil one (1 John 5:19)”. When he comes, God holds up Job as a supreme example of righteous devotion and asks, have you considered “my servant Job?” This speaks to the regard God has for this man. God declared of Job “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." Satan shoots back, and says in essence, “that’s because you protected him and made him rich.” He questions the motivations of Jobs heart. But, he goes on, if you take away all that he has, “he will surely curse you to your face." Satan’s view is that worship is basically selfishness. It’s a way to get stuff. He goes right after the heart of our relationship with God. Satan is saying that no one chooses to worship God for right motives, and suggests that Job will turn if the protection is God.

At the Lord said to Satan, "Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger." He knows what’s in Jobs heart, and he chooses to use Job to silence Satan, while building Jobs spiritual insight. But it will be tough. At this, Satan went out from the presence of the LORD, heading straight at Job.

The exchange between Satan and God is super important. D.A. Carson notes that it does three thing.

First, it sets up the drama that unfolds in the rest of the book. Second, implicitly it establishes that even Satan himself has restraints on his power and cannot act outside God’s sanction. Third, it discloses that Satan’s intention is to prove that all human loyalty to God is nothing more than crass self interest, while God’s intention is to demonstrate that a man like Job is loyal and faithful regardless of the blessings he receives or does not receive.

Meanwhile, Job knows nothing of all this. He couldn’t, or the whole challenge doesn’t work. Very quickly, he loses everything. First, he loses his oxen and donkeys and servants with them, then his sheep and servants, and then his camels and servants, and finally, his sons and daughters. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. With that, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Tearing his robe symbolized inner turmoil and shock. Shaving his head symbolized the loss of his personal glory. Then, not in despair, but in obeisance to God, Job worships, declaring famously, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." In all this we’re told, “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing”. He survived the first test and passed with flying colors.

From there, the heat gets turned up. In Job 2 Satan comes back and God again holds Job up for examination.  Satan’s take is, "Skin for skin!" Satan replied. "A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face." In essence Satan says, “It’s one thing to show loyalty when the losses are all external. It’s easy to show loyalty and endurance when the loss doesn’t actually cause you physical pain. But let me hurt him. Then we’ll see the measure of the man. Then he’ll curse you to your face’. God says. “OK”, and round two begins. There’s just one rule. “You must spare his life." Anything else is fair game. At this, Satan afflicts Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head, and Job is reduced to scraping himself with a shard of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. He is reduced to nothing. Even his wife thinks this. As she says “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!"

Notice a few things here.

First, this is still innocent suffering. God says of Job, “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason”.

Second, Job’s loyalty is not about possessions. Satan thought that without the stuff, Job would not worship God. But Job’s loyalty is not about stuff. He is a man who is faithful and upright, even when he loses it all. Which is why Satan ups the stakes, which brings a whole new level of innocent suffering, and sets the stage for the rest of the book.

Third, notice that we’re faced with a painful question. D.A. Carson obverses that “At this point believers must ask painful questions. Doesn’t this sound as if God is using Job in some fantastic experiment? Why should the poor chap have to lose his wealth, his family, his health, and (as we shall see) his reputation, merely to prove God right in a challenge God might well have ignored? That question could call forth a very long book. I have no final, exhaustive answers. But some things should be borne in mind.
(a) We belong to God. He may do with us as he wishes. There is something deep within us that rebels at being reminded of that elemental truth. But truth it is. Indeed, our rebellion in the face of it is a reminder of how much we still want to be at the center of the universe, with God serving us. That is the heart of all idolatry.
(b) Suppose Job had known of the arrangement between God and Satan. A lesser man might have protested violently, but it is at least plausible to think that Job would have used such information to invest his suffering with profound significance, thus making it easier to endure. Indeed, he might have seen his suffering as bound up somehow in a larger cosmic struggle between good and evil.”

Fourth, notice that Job ends up emotionally alone. Even his abandons him to breakdown and death. His three friends come to comfort him, but they will be anything but. This innocent suffering is incredibly painful and hard, it’s unbearable alone, and that’s where Job is.

Finally, notice his steadfast determination to take whatever God gives him. "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" Whatever he faces, he is determined to accept it as a worshiper of God. In all this, Job did not sin, proving that Satan’s predictions that Job curse God are wrong, and vindicating God’s words.

From here on out, the majority of job is composed of speeches, with the exception of the start of 32. It’s all Hebrew poetry, and it’s one speech after another, as Job and his “friends” debate and push back and forth. Eventually, another player comes on the scene, and then, God speaks and settles the debate.

The first speech is Jobs. He opens his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. He wishes he had never been born. That’s the gist of this speech. I wish I’d never been born.

Notice a few things in this speech.

First, while he is not willing to curse God, the day of his birth is fair game. He wishes that it would just cease to be, and that he would cease to be. He wishes he had died. This is a criticism of God, as he pounds on the question, Why? "Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul, to those who long for death that does not come, who search for it more than for hidden treasure, who are filled with gladness and rejoice when they reach the grave? Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in? For sighing comes to me instead of food; my groans pour out like water. What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.

Second, Notice also that these are the words of a man who is in agony. Nothing we experience compares with this. His words express a pain we can’t fathom. Roy Zuck notes that “only those godly people who have relished release from life’s woes through the gates of death can fully appreciate Job’s mournful wail. Job here voiced not the injustice of his plight, but the intensity of it. Later, as his agony wore on, he spoke of its injustices.”
Second, notice Jobs honesty. He’s not interested in faking things and putting on a good face. He’s brutally honest with his feelings. He wishes he was dead.

Third. Notice that Job is not willing to write God off. D.A. Carson notes that for all that Job is prepared to argue with God, he is not prepared to write God off. Job is not the modern agnostic or atheist who treats the problem of evil as if it provided intellectual evidence that God does not exist. Job knows that God exists and believes that he is powerful and good. That is one reason why (as we shall see) he is in such confusion. Job’s agonizing are the agonizing of a believer, not a skeptic.

The next speech belongs to Eliphaz the Temanite. This speech covers chapters 4 and 5. The gist is, you must have been sinning, repent for your sin". You should be welcoming God’s discipline as a blessing.

Notice some things about the speech.

Notice that it starts of gently but turns quickly. Having heard Jobs outburst he approaches softly. “If someone ventures a word with you, will you be impatient? He reminds Job of how he has helped others. He commends Job. But then, he pushes on Job, you have supported all these others, how come you are dismayed? How come you’re letting this get you down? Eliphaz basically says Job is all talk, he’s helped others cope, but can’t cope himself when trouble comes.

Second, notice that it quickly turns to accusation. Your piety should be your confidence, and your blameless ways your hope, but they’re not. “Consider now: “Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?” You must have done something. “Those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it”.

Third, notice that Eliphaz has a view of justice that is basically, you get what you deserve. The innocent never perish, the upright aren’t cut off (4:7), your reap what you sow (4:8); his view is that God is holy and righteous, and he rewards good, and punishes evil.

Fourth, notice that Eliphaz claims to have special revelation to back up his view. “A word was secretly brought to me; my ears caught a whisper of it. Amid disquieting dreams in the night, when deep sleep falls on men, fear and trembling seized me and made all my bones shake. A spirit glided past my face, and the hair on my body stood on end.” 'Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his Maker? If God places no trust in his servants, if he charges his angels with error, how much more those who live in houses of clay, whose foundations are in the dust, who are crushed more readily than a moth! His take is that God is so transcendent that even the angels are not trusted, so of course people are even less reliable. The implication is that Job just needs to confess his sins, and admit that he is getting what he deserves.

Fifth, notice that he thinks Job’s approach to God is flawed. He says, “Call if you will, but who will answer you?” In his mind, God is to exalted to respond, and Jobs a fool for doing so. Furthermore, he says, Jobs attitude is the problem. “Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple.” Eliphaz says, I’ve seen the fool prosper for a while, but they always get there. But then he says, inconsistently, that “man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward”. Suffering is part of what it means to be human.

Sixth, notice that in- self righteous foolishness, Eliphaz presume to speak about he would act if he was in this spot. “I, I would appeal to God; I would lay my cause before him. He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.” He would appeal to God, with humility, knowing that God rules and reigns, and raises the lowly, and the ones who mourn, while he humbles the proud and crafty. He would go to God as a beggar looking for help.

Seventh, notice that Eliphaz believes that at least one of God’s aims in bringing about loss and disaster is discipline: “Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal”. His take is that if Job gets this, God will quickly respond, and bind him up; he will rescue him, and ransom him from death. He will restore him. The point is, if he thinks he doesn’t deserve this, not only is he proud, but he’s just not seeing that God is acting on his behalf by disciplining. As long as he chafes against the discipline, it will keep coming. When he repents, then things will turn around. He concludes proudly. We have examined this, and it is true. So hear it and apply it to yourself."

Finally, notice that on the one hand, Eliphaz’s argument is right to some degree. God is totally, just, holy, and transcendent. And the bible does declare that we reap what we sow (see Prov. 22:8; Gal. 6:7). Furthermore, God does discipline his children (Prov. 3:11-12; Heb. 12:5-6). But these truths, when taken alone, can overlook three things. First, sometimes it takes a long time for God to bring Justice, it’s not instantaneous. Psalm 73 laments how long it takes, but what does it say in the end? Sometimes it takes awhile for God to act. But Eliphaz seems to think that it all happens fast, in a quick, obvious act and react, tit for-tat, system of justice. Second, at times, the innocent do suffer. Eliphaz can’t conceive of the innocent suffering, so he has to head out on a path that condemns innocent Job. But Job is innocent. Third, while God does discipline his children, that fact is based on the need for it. God doesn’t discipline his children when they do not need it. Eliphaz assumes that Job deserves God’s chastening; and works from there. But, as we know, he’s wrong.

So here are the lessons to take away from this passage.

First, God does allow suffering, and we don’t always know why. However, He has His reasons.
Second, we must be careful how we use truth. False or improper application of genuine truth may be heartless and cruel—and, as here, it may say false things about God. 
Finally, see how Job acted. In all the pain, he honored God; my hope is that we do the same.

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