Friday, August 22, 2003

Job 13, 14: Job's Third Prayer

For a third time, Job directed his speech to God.  

This post is part of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning. At the end of each post you will find a link to the next.

Job's Third Prayer

Job's ordeal consisted of his grief over loss, his illness, the accusations of his friends, God's "case" against him, and his "case" against God. When it was Job's turn to speak, he would, therefore, speak to his friends and speak to God.

Job began this prayer with these words:

Only in two things spare me, O God, and then I will not hide from your face: Remove your hand far from me and stop making me afraid with your terror. Then call, and I will answer, or I will speak, and you respond to me. How many are my iniquities and sins? Show me my transgression and my sin. Why do you hide your face and regard me as your enemy? Do you wish to torment a windblown leaf and chase after dry chaff? For you write down bitter things against me and cause me to inherit the sins of my youth. And you put my feet in the stocks and you watch all my movements; you put marks on the soles of my feet. (Job 13:20-27, The Net Bible)

There was some amount of presumption in these words. He said, "spare me ... then I will not hide." Hiding from the Lord was, of course impossible. Nevertheless, Job asked that the Lord let up on the pressure. Job had no wiggle room; his feet were "in the stocks" and God watched all his movements. "Marks on the soles of my feet," as we will see below, apparently referred to part of the punishment of putting feet in stocks. So Job wanted God to let go and give him some answers:

  • How many are my iniquities and sins? I think that they are none to few.
  • Show me my transgression and my sin, if you can.
  • Why do you hide your face and regard me as your enemy? A legitimate question: although theologically Job may have known that God was not really an enemy, how much more might an "enemy" have done against him?
  • Do you wish to torment a windblown leaf and chase after dray chaff? My life and slip ups could not possibly warrant all this attention.

"Perhaps," Job suggested, "You are visiting the sins that I committed long ago, but why now?"

Job then reflected on the nature of man and his inevitable death:

So man wastes away like something rotten, like a garment eaten by moths. Man, born of woman, lives but a few days, and full of trouble. He comes up like a flower and then withers away; he flees like a shadow, and does not remain. Do you open your eye on such a one? And do you bring me before you for judgment? Who can make a clean thing come from an unclean? No one! Since man’s days are determined, the number of his months is under your control; you have set his limit and he cannot pass it. Look away from him and let him desist, until he fulfills his time like a hired man. 

But there is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail. Although its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump begins to die in the soil, at the scent of water it will flourish and put forth shoots like a new plant. But man dies and is powerless; he expires—and where is he? As water disappears from the sea, or a river drains away and dries up, so man lies down and does not rise; until the heavens are no more, they will not awake nor arise from their sleep. (Job 13:28-14:12)

If nothing else, the above segment is marvelous literature, but, of course, it is much more.

In the first half of his thought, I think that Job generalized his situation and applied it to all of mankind. He spoke in third person, but if you change "he" to "I" and so forth, it would be a continuation of his personal complaint. Job instead made complaint on behalf of his race. Job also reflected on the permanence of our death. You could cut down a tree in a drought, and watch it come back again and again as soon as the rains came. But when a man died, he was gone for good. Or was he?

O that you would hide me in Sheol, and conceal me till your anger has passed! O that you would set me a time and then remember me! If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait until my release comes. You will call and I—I will answer you; you will long for the creature you have made. Surely now you count my steps; then you would not mark my sin. My offenses would be sealed up in a bag; you would cover over my sin. (Job 14:13-17)

There was a spark of hope in these words. Perhaps men were more like trees. Perhaps Job could die and escape his pain. Then when God's anger passed and he missed Job there could be some restoration. Although God was "now" counting his steps, "then" in that future time, He would no longer mark his sin--a refer back to marking the soles of his feet.

But this brief optimism was short-lived and Job concluded his prayer:

But as a mountain falls away and crumbles, and as a rock will be removed from its place, as water wears away stones, and torrents wash away the soil, so you destroy man’s hope. You overpower him once for all, and he departs; you change his appearance and send him away. If his sons are honored, he does not know it; if they are brought low, he does not see it. Only his flesh has pain for himself, and he mourns for himself.” (Job 14:18-22)

Job had just touched on the doctrine of resurrection. In Job's days the doctrine was not as well developed as it is today. We have the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah to establish that truth. How much Job actually knew is a matter of conjecture. The Old Testament, at best, only suggests the truth. So, Job's wishing for a death that would make God miss the creature that He had made, was somewhat like the put out child wishing that he could die so that his parents would realize how valuable to them he really was. Such thoughts are common in children. The finality of death is what condemns the ploy to futility. And so Job turned away from that line of thinking and spoke once again of the relentless wearing down of his life and hope.

Once more, Job faced the central fact of his pain--and fell silent.

Next week: A brief time away from Job

This speech of Job concludes the first of three cycles of speeches. What a time that we have had working through them. We have seen great changes in Job. Some were good and some pointed to trouble. We have seen great cruelty flow from the mouths of supposed friends, who were locked into a clean-edged religious view of the world.

What will the second cycle reveal?

For this we will have to wait. This Sunday, I will be traveling and teaching at Community Bible Chapel in Richardson, TX. This is a very good Bible church--dedicated to a study of the Scriptures that is sound and has integrity. When I teach there, I must submit a study guide for the lesson in advance. After I teach, I must produce a manuscript of the lesson for publication.

My blogging next week, will be the manuscript of my teaching on the Lord's prayer. I am not full time pastor. I am a self-employed computer programmer who studies, teaches, and writes in the time left over after family and customers. So please excuse the absence of Job for a week and enjoy the change of pace.

Monday: Eliphaz Begins the Second Cycle

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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