Friday, February 24, 2012

Blog through the Bible: The Long rebuttal part 3

In Job 26-31, we get the longest rebuttal Job has given. In part 1, we looked at the summary, and covered 26-27, in part 2 we looked chapter 28, where Job speaks about God’s wisdom. Now we come to the end 29-31, which function much like the closing remarks of an attorney before a jury, as His discuses his pre- affliction glory in 29, delineates his present gloom in 30, and deliver his final oath of innocence in 31.

In 29 he lays out how he was, a man of standing. He tells of how God watched over him (29:2), and “the friendship of God was upon my tent”. God had made him great and made things easy “my steps were washed with butter, and the rock poured out for me streams of oil!” Furthermore, he was respected in the community. He tells of how he had a seat at the gate of the city (he was a city elder), and people stood out of respect, even “The princes refrained from talking and laid their hand on their mouth”

Why? Because of how he helped the needy. He says “I delivered the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to help him. The blessing of him who was about to perish came upon me, and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy”. In contrast with Eliphaz’s charge, he says, I helped people. Furthermore, He says, he administered justice “I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban… I was a father to the needy, and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know”. How ironic is it that when he needed justice, his friends brought none, they did not help him when he was down? Job says, I fully expected to go to the grave in peace “I thought, 'I shall die in my nest, and I shall multiply my days as the sand”. He was a comforter, a counselor, and I lived like a king among his troops, like one who comforts mourners.

But that didn’t last. In 30 he talks about his present condition. 

In 1-15 he speaks of the social shame. He is now an object of scorn. “But now they laugh at me, men who are younger than I, whose fathers I would have disdained to set with the dogs of my flock.” This would be an unthinkable dishonor in the shame/honor society of the ancient near east. Having enjoyed the respect of the most respectable, he now receives the contempt of the most contemptible, and its killing him. He says “and now I have become their song; I am a byword to them. They abhor me; they keep aloof from me; they do not hesitate to spit at the sight of me. Because God has loosed my cord and humbled me, they have cast off restraint in my presence. On my right hand the rabble rise; they push away my feet; they cast up against me their ways of destruction.” Job no longer feels respected or safe, because “they break up my path; they promote my calamity; they need no one to help them….As through a wide breach they come; amid the crash they roll on…Terrors are turned upon me; my honor is pursued as by the wind, and my prosperity has passed away like a cloud.

In 30:16- 19, Job then speaks of his physical suffering. He says, “my soul is poured out within me; days of affliction have taken hold of me. The night racks my bones, and the pain that gnaws me takes no rest. With great force my garment is disfigured; it binds me about like the collar of my tunic. God has cast me into the mire, and I have become like dust and ashes.”

In 30: 20-23, he speaks of feeling neglected by God, and then, in 30:24-31 he says, even you “friends” were no help. In fact, they have done what no one with an ounce of kindness would do, they showed cruelty, “when I hoped for good, evil came, and when I waited for light, darkness came”. Job says, in the end, my lot is miserable. “I go about darkened, but not by the sun; I stand up in the assembly and cry for help. I am a brother of jackals and a companion of ostriches. My skin turns black and falls from me, and my bones burn with heat. My lyre is turned to mourning, and my pipe to the voice of those who weep”.

This man has lost everything, he is dealing with physical and emotional trauma, and the loss of standing, and he has come to the point where he is broken and rejected. And yet, this brings us to 31, because Job will not say, I have brought this on my self. He continues to declare his innocence. All along he has been declaring it. Now, he speaks of how he lived here in 31.He discloses the habits of his life that explain why the opening chapter describes him as “blameless and upright,” a man who “feared God and shunned evil” (1:1). 

Part of the reason that he had been so honored in the community was that his righteousness and generosity were well known, as he cared for the hurting. But, Job says, there is more. I made a covenant with my eyes he says, not to look lustfully at woman. Because God sees all my ways, and the number of all my steps (v4), he would know, even if others did not, and then “What would be my portion from God above and my heritage from the Almighty on high?” But that’s not all he has done in light of Gods all seeing gaze. He doesn’t stop with just keeping his passions and eyes in check. He says, in light of God’s all seeing gaze, that he speaks honestly to all. He denies being dishonest with others, and if he’s cheated others, he’s willing to have God use the scales to judge him. He’s confident that he’s been above board. Moreover, he says (9-12), I have avoided adultery, because it is a horrible evil, “If my heart has been enticed toward a woman, and I have lain in wait at my neighbor's door, then let my wife grind for another, and let others bow down on her (a euphemism for sexual activity). For that would be a heinous crime; that would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges”. Such a sin, he acknowledges, is shameful and would deserve punishment. Notice that he classes lust in a separate category from acting on the lust with adultery here, while condemning both. He says, I have dealt equitably with my servants, because he knows he has to face God one day (13-15), for they are as human as he is. Furthermore, he declares that out of fear for God he was especially generous with the poor, even caring for the unappreciative (31:16-23); and he calls down extra curses on himself if he has done them evil, saying “if I have raised my hand against the fatherless, because I saw my help in the gate, then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder, and let my arm be broken from its socket.” He wraps up by saying, I have not trusted in wealth. Materialism and idolatry were not something I took part in, in fact, while you think I trust in riches (Eliphaz accuses him of this in chapter 22), I was not even enticed by the call of idolatry and wealth. He says that he did not gloat over the misfortunes of others (29-30), and always cared for the traveler. He had no hidden sin, because he stood in fear of the multitude. He declares his innocence to the end and finds no comfort, as he cries out “Oh, that I had one to hear me! (Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!) Oh, that I had the indictment written by my adversary!  Surely I would carry it on my shoulder; I would bind it on me as a crown;  I would give him an account of all my steps; like a prince I would approach him. "If my land has cried out against me and its furrows have wept together, if I have eaten its yield without payment and made its owners breathe their last, let thorns grow instead of wheat, and foul weeds instead of barley." The words of Job are ended.

The lesson in all this is that we don’t know all. It’s easy to make conclusions. That person is getting punished by God. This person is being blessed by God. I’ve got it all figured out. The book of Job says, “Wait, you don’t know the whole story. Don’t presume you do”. Job and his friends are at an impasse, and at this point, it seems like everyone is out of steam, and nothing is resolved. Thankfully we’re not quite done. Two more speakers have to come on the stage.

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