Friday, October 31, 2003

Job 35: Songs in the Night

This essay is #41 of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning.

Elihu's Third Speech

People--Trouble--God. I have heard it said that there are no atheists in fox holes. The assertion could be true for at least two reasons. The first is that atheists, having nothing but nature upon which to ground ethical decisions, tend to appease rather than confront an evil they have no basis for calling evil. The second is that for those atheists - channeled by unfortunate circumstances into a foxhole with bullets whizzing past their ears - might have second thoughts about life and the universe. If the atheist, how much more the nominal person of belief. How many of us glide through good times with hardly a whisper of thanks to our Creator. Then dark clouds gather and our prayer life picks up, "Oh God-Oh God-Oh God help me!!". 

In his third speech, Elihu has words for stormy weather friends of God.

Elihu again speaks to Job:

Then Elihu answered: “Do you think this to be just: when you say, ‘My right before God.’ But you say, ‘What will it profit you,’ and, ‘What do I gain by not sinning?’ I will reply to you, and to your friends with you. Gaze at the heavens and see; consider the clouds, which are higher than you! If you sin, how does it affect God? If your transgressions are many, what does it do to him? If you are righteous, what do you give to God, or what does he receive from your hand? Your wickedness affects only a person like yourself, and your righteousness only other people. (Job 35:1-8)

According to Elihu, our sin does not impoverish God and our righteousness does not enrich Him. What then is the point of putting a price tag on obedience. It is not for sale. Most of us are self-centered most of the time. We think of ourselves, our pleasures, our pains. The more the universe revolves around us the better we feel--at least for awhile before the ripple effect of our arrogance crashes around us. What we do affects others. It has little effect upon the Creator.

But when things go wrong we want help. Note what Elihu says next:

People cry out because of the excess of oppression; they cry out for help because of the power of the mighty. But no one says, ‘Where is God, my Creator, who gives songs in the night, who teaches us more than the wild animals of the earth, and makes us wiser that the birds of the air?’ (Job 35:9-11)

People cry out because they are hurting and oppressed. The man in the foxhole wants to live, so he pleads with God. People try to bargain with God, "If you do this for me, I will do such and such." or "If you get me out of this scrape, I will never do such and such again." We have all done this.

"But no one says, 'Where is God, my Creator, who gives songs in the night?'" Drink these words like you would fine wine. 

  • God is our Creator. We are creatures. He has creator rights. This could be good or bad depending on what kind of Person He is.
  • Who seeks God because He is God? Although He might constrain our paths into the "shadow of death" or the dark night of the soul, He gives  "songs in the night." Job is going through a dark night of the soul, and Elihu says that to seek God because He is God can give a song to sing in the depths.

Note what others have said along similar lines:

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be seen by all. The Lord is near! Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, tell your requests to God in your every prayer and petition—with thanksgiving. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)

In the same way, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. And God will exalt you in due time, if you humble yourselves under his mighty hand by casting all your cares on him because he cares for you. Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour. Resist him, strong in your faith, because you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are enduring the same kinds of suffering. And, after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ Jesus will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him belongs the power forever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:5-11)

Paul rejoiced in prison. He sang songs in prison after a brutal beating. He knew his God and delighted in His God and his God gave him songs. 

Mankind is a special creation. Only people receive songs in the night. As Elihu says, He "teaches us more than the wild animals of the earth, and makes us wiser than the birds of the air/" Only we have songs that can spring up in times of terror and trouble. Only we can know our Creator on such close and intimate terms.

For in fact you shared the sufferings of those in prison, and you accepted the confiscation of your belongings with joy, because you knew that you certainly had a better and lasting possession. (Hebrews 10:34)

Hebrews 10:34 is Christianity with an attitude. "You accepted the confiscation of your belongs with joy." Think about this. There is a knock on the door and your house is now state property, because you have conducted Bible studies in it against zoning regulations. Do you accept this without grumbling? Do you moan, "God works all things for the good?" Might it be possible to break out in songs of joyful praise?

"Where is God, my Creator, who gives songs in the night?" Here is a prayer for us in troubled times.  To seek God because He is God is the path.

Unfortunately for the atheist in the foxhole, or for the stormy weather believer, God has little regard. Elihu concludes this speech this way:

Then they cry out—but he does not answer— because of the arrogance of the wicked. Surely it is an empty cry—God does not hear it; the Almighty does not take notice of it. How much less, then, when you say that you do not perceive him, that the case is before him and you are waiting for him! And further, when you say that his anger does not punish, and that he does not know transgression! So Job opens his mouth to no purpose; without knowledge he multiplies words.” (Job 35:12-16)

Job has been seeking the restoration of his past life. He has been seeking health. He has asked for justice. He has done everything, but seek God because He is God. Job has no song.

The Lord's speech is soon to come. Look at how Elihu lays the ground work for that coming. Elihu, who has the wisdom from God in him, has built bridges between himself and Job, between himself and Job's friends, and now he begins to build a bridge between Job and his God.

The world needs more people like Elihu.

Monday: We begin to look at Elihu's final words

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


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