Thursday, October 23, 2003

Job 31: Job's Righteousness

This essay is #36 of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning.

Job

Chapter 31 contains the last of Job's words concerning his righteousness. He begins:

I made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I pay attention to a virgin? What then would be one’s lot from God above, one’s heritage from the Almighty on high? Is it not misfortune for the unjust, and disaster for those who work iniquity? Does he not see my ways and count all my steps? If I have walked in falsehood, and if my foot has hastened to deceit— let him weigh me with honest scales; then God will discover my integrity. (Job 31:1-6)

Job paints a metaphor between a covenant that he made with his eyes and God's proper action toward the just and wicked. He says, in effect, "Just as my marriage required that I change the way I look at unmarried women, so the righteousness of God should affect the way he sees the just and unjust." Job does not let up on his belief that God owes him. Misfortune is for the unjust, not the just. God should weigh him with "honest scales." God must come to "discover" Job's integrity. 

So Job raises the bar and invites ruin for any sin that can be found in him:

If my footsteps have strayed from the way, if my heart has gone after my eyes, or if anything has defiled my hands, then let me sow and let another eat, and let my crops be uprooted. 

If my heart has been enticed by a woman, and I have lain in wait at my neighbor’s door, then let my wife turn the millstone for another man, and may other men have sexual relations with her. For I would have committed a shameful act, an iniquity to be judged. For it is a fire that devours even to Destruction, and it would uproot all my harvest. 

If I have disregarded the right of my male servant or my female servants when they disputed with me, then what will I do when God confronts me in judgment; when he intervenes, how will I respond to him? Did not the one who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us in the womb? 

If I have refused to give the poor what they desired, or caused the eyes of the widow to fail, If I ate my morsel of bread myself, and did not share any of it with orphans— but from my youth I raised the orphan like a father, and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow. If I have seen anyone about to perish for lack of clothing, or a poor man without a coat, whose heart did not bless me as he warmed himself with the fleece of my sheep, if I have raised my hand to vote against the orphan, when I saw my support in the court, then let my arm fall from the shoulder, let my arm be broken off at the socket. For the calamity from God was a terror to me, and by reason of his majesty I was powerless. 

If I have put my confidence in gold or said to pure gold, ‘You are my security!’ if I have rejoiced because of the extent of my wealth, or because of the great wealth my hand had gained, if I looked at the sun when it was shining, and the moon advancing as a precious thing, so that my heart was secretly enticed, and my hand threw them a kiss from my mouth, then this also would be iniquity to be judged, for I would have been false to God above. 

If I have rejoiced over the misfortune of my enemy or exulted because calamity found him— I have not even permitted my mouth to sin by asking for his life through a curse— if the members of my household have never said, ‘O that there were someone who has not been satisfied from Job’s meat!’— But no stranger had to spend the night outside, for I opened my doors to the traveler— if I have covered my transgressions as men do, by hiding iniquity in my heart, because I was terrified of the great multitude, and the contempt of families terrified me, so that I remained silent and would not go outdoors— (Job 31:7-34)

The pattern of the above is a conditional "If I had done such and such" followed by a judgment, "then let this bad thing happen to me." It is interesting to note that Job just breaks off at the end without completing the pattern. I see him making a hand gesture at this point as if to say, "and on and on I could go." The point Job is making is that he has no sin for which he deserved the life he now lived. And so he concludes:

If only I had someone to hear me! Here is my signature— let the Almighty answer me! 

If only I had an indictment that my accuser had written. Surely I would wear it proudly on my shoulder, I would bind it on me like a crown; I would give him an accounting of my steps; like a prince I would approach him. 

If my land cried out against me and all its furrows wept together, if I have eaten its produce without paying, or caused the death of its owners, then let thorns sprout up in place of wheat, and in place of barley, weeds!” 

The words of Job have ended. (Job 31:35-40) 

"Here is my signature--let the Almighty answer me!" Job has claimed the high moral ground and has asked the King of the Universe to answer his challenge. The catastrophes and sickness  and abuse of his friends have squeezed him to a point where he has concluded that God might not be all He is said to be. Job's book learning has been challenged. It is worth bringing to mind the words of C. S. Lewis in his book, "A Grief Observed" in which he chronicles the bitter days following the death of his much loved and valued wife:

Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not, 'So there's no God after all,' but, 'So this is what God's really like. Deceive yourself no longer.'

...

Cancer, and cancer, and cancer. My mother, my father, my wife. I wonder who is next in the queue.

...

Sooner or later I must face the question in plain language. What reason have we, except our own desperate wishes, to believe that God is, by any standard we conceive, 'good'? Doesn't all the prima facie evidence suggest exactly the opposite? What have we to set against it?

If a person of C. S. Lewis' caliber can ask such questions, how many thousands are asking them today? As we will see, Job survived this questioning and so did Lewis. Here is the book of Job--quite possibly the oldest book in the Bible--asking the same questions. Job's indignities go way beyond what most of us suffer and in so doing gives us the freedom to ask the hard questions about God. Job, C. S. Lewis, and others who have followed their steps are correct to stand naked and bold before the Almighty with their questions! Through the centuries, each, in turn, have discovered and more firmly established the goodness and mercy of God in their hearts. If one can apprehend from the core of his or her being the love and mercy of God in the most trying of times, how real that love must be! 

Look at Lamentations where the author stands amidst the burning rubble of Jerusalem and writes of the Lord's dealing with him and claims that all hope is lost:

He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has made me cower in ashes. I am deprived of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is. So I said, “My endurance has perished, I have lost all hope of deliverance from the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:16-18)

Two (2)--only two (2)--really just two(2) verses later, this same man writes:

But this I call to mind, therefore I have hope: The Lord’s many kindnesses never cease, for his great compassion never comes to an end. They are renewed every morning; your faithfulness is abundant! I said to myself, “The Lord is the portion of my inheritance; therefore, I will put my hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:21-24)

This is the context of the great hymn "Great is Thy Faithfulness." Hope came from a sudden Holy Spirit given revelation that the smoldering ruins were the anomaly and that the Lord's mercy was the rule. This is the wisdom that Job needs. This is the wisdom that we need. It must spring up in the center of our hearts and bring its peace. And this, the book of Job will now begin to do.

Here at the end of chapter 31, we are at the book's low point.  Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar are silent, but still full of condemnation. Job has claimed the high moral ground and sits there waiting for God to find time in His busy schedule to come and apologize. What can bring resolution? There are some reading this essay who have been with this study from the beginning. Others of you have joined in and caught up. Have you not been surprised at how dynamic this book is? It moves slowly, perhaps from coming from a slower moving era, but what depths of emotion it plumbs and what questions of life and God that it raises. I trust that you are glad you have stuck with it. More surprises and some delights are ahead.

Chapter 32 introduces Elihu and with him, optimism begins its return. I will introduce this remarkable young man tomorrow.

Next: Introducing Elihu

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

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