Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Job 21: Job Responds to Zophar

Job 21 concludes the second cycle of speeches. As Zophar upped the ante by accusing Job of specific acts of wickedness, Job now upped the ante with the corollary to  his main argument.

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

Zophar had accused Job of specific acts of wickedness such as oppressing the poor and seizing homes. It was, therefore, to be expected that Job suffered as he had. That was the fate of the wicked.

Job former speeches had developed the notion that the innocent, in fact do suffer. In this conclusion to the second section, Job presented the other side of this coin. The wicked sometimes prosper:

Then Job answered: “Listen carefully to my words; let this be the consolation you offer me. Bear with me and I will speak, and after I have spoken you may mock. 

Is my complaint against a man? If so, why should I not be impatient? Look at me and be appalled; put your hands over your mouths. For, when I think about this, I am terrified and my body feels a shudder. 

Why do the wicked go on living, grow old, even increase in power? Their children are firmly established in their presence, their offspring before their eyes. Their houses are safe and without fear; and no rod of punishment from God is upon them. Their bulls breed without fail; their cows calve and do not miscarry. They allow their children to run like a flock; their little ones dance about. They sing to the accompaniment of tambourine and harp, and make merry to the sound of the flute. They live out their years in prosperity and go down to the grave in peace. 

So they say to God, ‘Turn away from us! We do not want to know your ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What would we gain if we were to pray to him?’ 

But their prosperity is not their own doing. The counsel of the wicked is far from me! (Job 21:1-16) 

I have indented the above quotation to highlight the fact that what terrified Job and made his body shudder was that sometimes "the wicked go on living, grow old, even increase in power"

What Job said is true. Job did not understand it and honestly neither do we. One of David's worship leaders, Asaph, faced the same dilemma, which he recorded in Psalm 73:

But as for me, my feet almost slipped; my feet almost slid out from under me. For I envied those who are proud, as I observed the prosperity of the wicked. For they suffer no pain; their bodies are strong and well-fed. They are immune to the trouble common to men; they do not suffer as other men do. Arrogance is their necklace, and violence their clothing. Their prosperity causes them to do wrong; their thoughts are sinful. They mock and say evil things; they proudly threaten violence. They speak as if they rule in heaven, and lay claim to the earth. Therefore they have more than enough food to eat, and even suck up the water of the sea. They say, “How does God know what we do? Is the sovereign one aware of what goes on?” Take a good look! This is what the wicked are like, those who always have it so easy and get richer and richer. (Psalm 73:2-12)

Job's point should have hit home with his friends. Sometimes the innocent suffer. Sometimes the wicked prosper. His friends never connected the dots, but persisted in condemning him, but not before Job asked them directly to consider this matter:

“How often is the lamp of the wicked extinguished? How often does their misfortune come upon them? How often does God apportion pain to them in his anger? How often are they like straw before the wind, and like chaff swept away by a whirlwind? 

You may say, ‘God stores up a man’s punishment for his children!’ 

Instead let him repay the man himself so that he may know it! Let his own eyes see his destruction; let him drink of the anger of the Almighty. For what is his interest in his home after his death, when the number of his months has been broken off? 

Can anyone teach God knowledge, since he judges those that are on high? (Job 21:17-22)

Do Job's words make you squirm? They should!

“One man dies in his full vigor, completely secure and prosperous, his body well nourished, and the marrow of his bones moist. And another man dies in bitterness of soul, never having tasted anything good. Together they lie down in the dust, and worms cover over them both. (Job 21:23-26)

With those words, Job asked whether life has any meaning at all? What answer do you have for Job? It would be so much easier if Job's friends were right. Job's wickedness brought trouble his way, but he repents, and the Lord restores. Neat and clean. Simple, easy to understand, easy to communicate theology. The Lord's creation and His sovereign plan just do not allow for this simple formula. 

Job concluded with this challenge to his friends:

“Yes, I know what you are thinking, the schemes by which you would wrong me. For you say, ‘Where now is the nobleman’s house, and where are the tents in which the wicked lived?’ 

Have you never questioned those who travel the roads? Do you not recognize their accounts— that the evil man is spared from the day of his misfortune, that he is delivered from the day of misfortune? No one denounces his conduct to his face; no one repays him for what he has done. And when he is carried to the tombs, and watch is kept over the funeral mound, The clods of the torrent valley are sweet to him; behind him everybody follows in procession, and before him goes a countless throng. 

So how can you console me with your futile words? Nothing is left of your answers but deception!” (Job 21:27-34)

Surely Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar would see the point now!

We are just half way through Job and we are in trouble. What answers and hope lie ahead? Will the third cycle offer relief? Before continuing with Job, I will be taking the next several days to explore Jesus' teaching on judgment as record by Matthew 7:1-6. Given the state of affairs between Job and his friends, this diversion will be timely. The book of Job is among other things a polemic against the kind of judgment that Jesus condemns. Perhaps Jesus' instruction will help us to not fall into the same trap.

Wednesday: Eliphaz Accuses Job

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

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