Thursday, February 23, 2012

Blog through the Bible: The Long rebuttal part 1

In Job 26-31, we get the longest rebuttal Job has given. Here is the gist of it. Your wisdom is worthless. You don’t understand God! You say that the wicked get punished, but where is there any justice? I wish God would punish the wicked, because the fear of the Lord is the beginning of true wisdom. I long for the days when I was respected, when I naively thought I would be rewarded for my righteousness. Now I am mocked and God just looks on.

This is my case before God, for everyone to see: If I’ve done anything wrong then let me be punished, but I’m righteous. I’ve helped the poor and orphans; I’ve been there for the needy and won justice for the oppressed. Now I’m just humiliated. I’ve never lusted after women, mistreated my employees, exploited the poor, worshiped money or any other god, I haven’t sinned in my speech or in my heart. Let me be cursed if I’m lying.

This speech is a complete contrast with the last speech. In the previous chapter, Bildad seems to have run out of stuff to say. Now, Job responds, and he seems to be getting stronger. He begins with Bildad, starting with “you”, in the singular. But then he moves to the three, with you, in the plural in 27-31. This speech is long and complex. In some ways, it’s like he’s determined to drive his friends into silence. It’s time for a shock and awe speech. Some of it is just review.

Job begins the speech by speaking of the majesty of God in chapter 26, as he works to show that he knows more about the majesty of God than his adversary did (at this point, calling these guys friends is like calling Lex Luthor Superman’s’ friend). They are not friends. In a stunning irony, Job mocks Bildad’s (and the whole group) for the futile efforts to help him, saying that Bildad has treated him as if he were “without power (v2)”, feeble (no strength-v2), and without wisdom (How you have counseled him who has no wisdom, and plentifully declared sound knowledge!) These friends have been callous in their treatment of him. Now he pours out a response like Michael Jordan would do to the one who compared themselves to him. And like MJ’s beat-downs, it’s a thing of beauty. Job says Bildad has not strengthened him, has not given him helpful advice or insight, and he has spoken without wisdom and knowledge. Note these words…“How you have helped him who has no power! How you have saved the arm that has no strength! How you have counseled him who has no wisdom, and plentifully declared sound knowledge!” He asks “with who’s help did you utter your words, saying in essence, they needed some help. Given that Bildad and his pals were “miserable comforters (16:2) and worthless physicians (13:4), they probably did.

Job moves on, to speaking about God. He says, “God is over death” (The dead tremble under the waters and their inhabitants. Sheol is naked before God, and Abaddon has no covering). He says “God is over outer space” (the void), “and earth: (v7). He says “God is in control of light and darkness” (10), “he can cover the moon, and spread out the clouds”… “H is in control of the sea”, “He is in control”. And not only is He over the grave and the skies and the sea, He is majestic on the earth. He causes earthquakes (the pillars of heaven tremble), and he controls the sea and sea monsters. By the wind, God’s breath, He clears the sky of clouds after the storm. This reveals his power and wisdom.

Now side note; what’s going on with the Rahab thing? Verse 12 says, “By his power he stilled the sea; by his understanding he shattered Rahab.” I got curious, because it seemed like something that just seemed odd. Commentator Roy Zuck helped me out. He noted that “The raging sea is pictured as a sea god named Rahab whom God defeated”. Notice that the next verse says “his hand pierced the fleeing serpent”? He also says that this “may be another description of this sea God”. In light of how much the Jewish people feared the sea, the point is that God is superior to all mythological representations of evil.

All of this shows God’s unfathomable power over nature. Job agrees with his so called “friends” about God’s unfathomable power. After giving an incredible review in all of God’s powerful deeds, he concludes, “Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” The comforters charge Job with reducing God to impotence, but Job say “No, No, NOOOOOOO”, people are so far from God that all they here is a whisper…Carson says that Job “is so insistent on God’s transcendent power that he entertains the view that God is distant”.

In the chapter 27, he doesn’t slow down at all. D.A. Carson says that here, “are all the tensions in Job’s position”. He will never admit that his opponents  are right, fro this would mean denying that he has lived his with integrity. Notice his words. He starts by putting himself under oath to make his point (as surely as God lives), and affirms his innocence, declaring “as long as my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils, my lips will not speak falsehood, and my tongue will not utter deceit.” He moves on to affirming his integrity, as he says, “Far be it from me to say that you are right; till I die I will not put away my integrity from me. I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go; my heart does not reproach me for any of my days. However, ironically, the God by whom Job swears by, the God whose greatness Job has declared in chapter 26, the God who provides Jobs every breath is also, Job insists, the God “who has taken away my right (denied him justice)”, and the Almighty, “who has made my soul bitter”. , as long as my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils".

But that’s not the end of the irony, because this does not mean that God is corrupt or unjust. Job recognizes that God calls unjust and wicked people to account. It seems that Job may mean this as a warning to his “friends”, as he says, “Let my enemy be as the wicked, and let him who rises up against me be as the unrighteous.” Zuck wonders, “did he have in mind his fellows at the ash pile?” He then asks four questions in 7-12 that point to the hopeless condition of the godless ones. When dying (when distress comes upon him), will God hear his cry? (V9). “Will he take delight in the Almighty? Will he call upon God at all times? (V10), Behold, all of you have seen it yourselves; why then have you become altogether vain? (V12). He then goes on in 13-23 to point out the nasty, painful end of the wicked that often happens in this life, but ultimately, comes in death.

These are not Job’s final thoughts. The drama is far from over, but here we can pause, as D.A. Carson and reflect on the place that the story has brought us, and some insights that we can glean. Here are two thoughts that he lays out.
First, it is always best to be honest in our reflections on God, to avoid positions that distort facts (the folly of the three “comforters”), to remain transparent before God. He knows what we think anyway. Hope of advance is possible where there is honesty, but almost impossible where deceit reigns.
Second, this means that at various stages of a believer’s pilgrimage there may be times when opponents will see in him or her conspicuous ironies or profound mysteries. One should not glory in contradictions, of course, but in matters relating to God, mysteries are inevitable. In time, some of these edge toward resolution, but almost always accompanied by the unfolding glory of new depths.

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