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. ><>

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Job 13: Job After Zophar

We continue with Job's words to his friends after the first speech of Zophar. 

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 Responds to His Friends

In his response so far, Job had again spoken of the guilty that go unpunished and the sovereign control of the Lord over the events on earth. He now moved to introduce two other points. The first  was that he wanted a hearing with the Lord. The second was that his friends should be careful themselves:

But I wish to speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God. But you, however, are inventors of lies; all of you are worthless physicians! O that you would keep completely silent! For you that would be wisdom. (Job 13:3-5)

Job's words, "For you that would be wisdom." could be taken in at least two ways. The first was that Job spoke sarcastically, "Your words are so foolish that to be quiet would show a marked increase in wisdom.". The second was Job was giving a warning. In modern vernacular, Job said, "Wise up. If I have not escaped, you are far from secure yourself." Given where Job goes next, I believe that he intended the latter as his primary meaning. Job could base his words on the knowledge that Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were wrong about the situation. By refusing to investigate and know Job's innocence, they had become morally culpable:

Listen now to my rebuke, and be attentive to the arguments of my lips. Will you speak wickedly on God’s behalf? Will you speak deceitfully for him? Will you show him partiality? Will you argue the case for God? Would it turn out well if he would examine you? Or as one deceives a man would you deceive him? He would certainly rebuke you if you secretly showed partiality. Would not his splendor terrify you and the fear he inspires fall on you? Your maxims are proverbs of ashes; your defenses are defenses of clay. (Job 13:6-12)

Up to this point, we have seen the good side of Job's new founded strength. On the other hand, Job believed that God had wronged him and spoke again of having a hearing:

Refrain from talking with me so that I may speak; then let come upon me what may. Why do I put myself in jeopardy, and take my life in my hands? If he slays me, I will hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face! Moreover, this will become my deliverance, for no godless person would come before him. Listen carefully to my words; let your ears be attentive to my explanation. See now, I have prepared my case; I know that I am right. Who will contend with me? If so, I will be silent and die. (Job 13:13-19)

When Job spoke of putting himself in jeopardy and of coming before the Lord. Contextually, "If he slays me, I will hope in him" might be better understood as reading, "Yes he might slay me, but I will hope in him and defend my ways to his face." Job talked of putting himself in jeopardy and taking his life in his hands, so he acknowledged that he was taking a risk. But Job thought the risk worth taking. Yes, it might mean his death, but he had hope that he could defend his ways. Job's boldness to his friends had spilled over and become boldness before God as well, "I will surely defend my ways to his face!" In this were the seeds of Job's undoing.

Following from this point, Job again directed his speech to God Himself. We will look at that tomorrow.

Friday: Job's third prayer.

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

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Job 12: Job After Zophar

Zophar did not have much to say to Job and none of it provided any comfort. Job had a lot to say in return. 

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 Responds to His Friends

Zophar finished speaking and Job responded with the longest speech so far, occupying 3 chapters. This speech again showed change in Job's understanding of his situation.

  • His opening lamentation began by trying to curse the night of his conception and the day of his birth.
  • After Eliphaz's speech, he asked for compassion and kindness from his friends and attested to his innocence
  • After Bildad's speech, he began to face the realities of his situation and began to ask the tough questions
  • After Zophar's speech, he began to defend himself against the barrages of his friends. He also furthered developed the ways of God that troubled him.

Job opened with an attack and a restatement of some earlier points:

Then Job answered: “Doubtless, you are the people, and wisdom will die with you. I also have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you. Who does not know such things as these? I am a laughingstock to my friend, I, who called on God and whom he answered, —a righteous and blameless man is a laughingstock! For calamity, there is derision (according to the ideas of the fortunate)— a fate for those whose feet slip! But the tents of robbers are peaceful, and those who provoke God are confident— who carry their god in their hands. (Job 12:1-6, The Net Bible)

Job began with what has become one of my favorite lines in all of the book of Job, "Doubtless, you are the people, and wisdom will die with you." Here was sarcasm with a keen edge. Without the sarcasm the words meant that the embodiment of wisdom in these three men was of such caliber that the world had never seen its equal and never would again. Job, of course, meant the opposite. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar provided no more than the prevailing wisdom of the day, but they projected an attitude of having great stature.

Job again attested to his innocence, but in a bitter rebuke, "a righteous and blameless man is a laughingstock." And his words, "For calamity, there i derision (according to the ideas of the fortunate)--a fate for those whose feet slip," stressed an important point for us. We really do not feel the pain of others, no matter how imaginative we are. This was the foundation of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar's lack of empathy. They had the luxury of detachment, because they had never personally suffered without apparent reason. 

Finally he contrasted his position to that of robbers and idolaters who that very day were living in peace and confidence.

At some point, Job would overshoot the mark and, as Elihu put it, "justify himself rather than God." But for now, we can see already that the trials were strengthening him.

Job's directed his next words to Eliphaz, the scholar. He admonished him to observe more broadly. By doing so, he would see that the Lord had his hand in Job's calamity. Perhaps Job was thinking of "nature red in tooth and claw" and natural disasters that affect the innocent and guilty alike. In stating this, Job continued to uphold the power of the Lord to do what He pleased. Here is what he said:

“But now, ask the animals and they will teach you, or the birds of the air and they will tell you. Or speak to the earth and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea declare to you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this, in whose hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all the human race. (Job 12:7-10)

Job then picked up Bildad's theme of ancient wisdom and told him that contemporary events could also inform:

Does not the ear test words, as the tongue tastes food? Is not wisdom found among the aged, does not life bring understanding? (Job 12:11-12)

With these connections made, Job tried to drive home his point that the Lord was responsible for calamities of all sorts:

With God are wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his. 

If he tears down, it cannot be rebuilt; if he shuts a person in, it cannot be opened. 

If he holds back the waters, then they dry up; if he releases them, they destroy the land. 

With him are strength and prudence; both the one who goes astray and the one who misleads are his. He leads counselors away stripped and makes fools of judges. He loosens the bonds of kings and binds a loincloth around their waist. He leads priests away stripped and overthrows the potentates. He deprives the trusted advisors of speech and takes away the discernment of elders. 

He pours contempt on noblemen and disarms the mighty. 

He reveals the deep things of darkness, and brings deep shadows into the light. 

He makes nations great, and destroys them; he extends the boundaries of nations and disperses them. 

He deprives the leaders of the earth of their understanding; he makes them wander in a trackless desert waste. They grope about in darkness without light; he makes them stagger like drunkards. 

Indeed, my eye has seen all this, my ear has heard and understood it. What you know, I know also; I am not inferior to you. (Job 12:13-13:2)

Jesus taught, in reference to God's kindness and mercy, that He, "Brings rain on the just and the unjust." By this Jesus meant that God provided for the needs of all. Job presented another side, "If he holds back the waters, then they dry up; if he releases them, they destroy the land." Job spoke of drought and flood and said they were also from God. We must remember from the first two chapters that in Job's case, Job spoke correctly. His calamity has come from the Lord. Remember that Satan said to the Lord, "But stretch out your hand." And after the first set of calamities, the Lord took full responsibility when he said, "You stirred me up to destroy him without reason."

You should be feeling uncomfortable by now. The concept has already proven too much for Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar and that is why they continued to pound on the theme that Job must have done something. What is your reaction. Perhaps, you are now wishing you had not come along on this study. Is the Lord the author of all calamity and suffering? No other book in the Bible raises the questions so completely and harshly than Job. Unfortunately, the telling is hardly complete; three-quarters of the book stretch before us. Do not despair, there is hope ahead, but it will take some time to get there. And unless we fully enter into the tension that Job raised, we will not appreciate its resolution.

Thursday: Job's speech continues

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

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Job 11: Zophar

With the first Bildad-Job cycle completed, it was Zophar's turn to speak. Would he defend Job or condemn him? 

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.


Eliphaz spoke from a base observation and experience. Bildad spoke from a base of ancient wisdom. Zophar just spoke. If Eliphaz represented scholarship and Bildad represented orthodoxy then Zophar represented rigid fundamentalism. Consequently, Eliphaz had the best chance to see Job's situation for what it was, and Bildad might have been made to listen to new wisdom. Zophar would have been unmoved.

Zophar's speech occupies just 20 verses, but every one drips venom:

Then Zophar the Naamathite spoke up and said: “Should not this abundance of words be answered, or should this talkative man be vindicated? Will your idle talk reduce people to silence, and will no one rebuke you when you mock? For you have said, ‘My teaching is flawless, and I am pure in your sight.’ But O that God would speak, that he would open his lips against you, and reveal to you the secrets of wisdom, for true wisdom has two sides, so that you would know that God has forgiven some of your sins. 

Can you discover the essence of God? Can you find out the perfection of the Almighty? It is higher than the heavens—what can you do? It is deeper than Sheol—what can you know? Its measure is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea. If he comes by and confines you and convenes a court, then who can prevent him? For he knows deceitful men; when he sees evil, will he not consider it? But an empty man will become wise, when a wild donkey colt is born a human being. 

As for you, if you prove faithful, and if you stretch out your hands toward him, if iniquity is in your hand—put it far away, and do not let evil reside in your tents. For then you will lift up your face without blemish; you will be securely established and will not fear. For you will forget your trouble; you will remember it like water that has flowed away. And life will be brighter than the noonday; though there be darkness, it will be like the morning. And you will be secure, because there is hope; you will be protected and will take your rest in safety. You will lie down with no one making you afraid, and many will seek your favor. But the eyes of the wicked fail, and escape eludes them; their hope is to breathe their last.” (Job 11:1-20)

To Zophar, Job was just a talkative man having an abundance of idle words. Never mind that Job had declared his innocence and had begun to raise the central questions emanating from his true situation. On the contrary, according to Zophar, Job was getting off easy. After all, he told Job, "God has forgiven some of your sins." That must have made Job feel good. He had lost his children, lost his livelihood, and lost his health to a terrifying disease--and now he must accept that God had been merciful. (Now as we come to the end of this study, we will indeed see that the Lord's motivation was mercy, but not as Zophar meant it.)

Zophar next declared that it was impossible for Job to really know God. But God knew him, "For he knows deceitful men; when he sees evil will he not consider it?" Perhaps Job could begin to know God if he put away his evil ways. Until then there was little hope, "an empty man will become wise, when a wild donkey is born a human being." By this Zophar likened Job to the wild donkey and placed his bet on the side of Job's continued failure.

And so Job, about whom the Lord said, "there is no one like him on the face of the earth," needed to put away his iniquity and keep evil far from his tents. Then the good life would come. Barring that Job's only hope was to breathe his last breath and die.

I hope that by now you have begun to see the real drama in this little read middle section of Job. There are physical, personal, spiritual, and philosophical  dynamics that have put pressure on Job. As surely as his friends are losing their grip on reality (not in the sense on insanity but in the sense of seeing the world incorrectly), Job is facing the reality of his situation in a desperate need to understand.

Job's response to Zophar, if he really actually spoke to Zophar, was quite long. That comes next, and we will be on it for several days.

Wednesday: Job after Zophar

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

Monday, August 18, 2003

Job 9, 10: Job's Second Prayer

Job has raised the question of suffering and God. He noted the suffering of the innocent and the blind eyes of justice and asked. "If it is not He, then who is it?" Was Job about to fulfill Satan's wish and curse 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.

What Now?

Job raised a hard issue and then fell into despairing self-pity:

My days are swifter than a runner, they speed by without seeing happiness. They glide by like reed boats, like an eagle that swoops down on its prey. If I say, ‘I will forget my complaint, I will change my expression and be cheerful,’ I dread all my sufferings, for I know that you do not hold me blameless. If I am guilty, why then weary myself in vain? If I wash myself with snow water, and make my hands clean with lye, then you plunge me into a slimy pit and my own clothes abhor me. For he is not a human being like I am, that I might answer him, that we might come together in judgment. Nor is there an arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both, who would take his rod away from me so that his terror would not make me afraid. Then would I speak and not fear him, but it is not so with me. (Job 9:25-35, The Net Bible)

Of special note here: The accusations of Job's friends were now numbered among his misery, "I dread all my sufferings, for I know that you do not hold me blameless. ... If I wash myself with snow water, and make my hands clean with lye, then you plunge me into a slimy pit and my own clothes abhor me." His friends could have lightened his load, but they made it heavier. Job knew that his sufferings led to their condemnation, and, therefore, dreaded them all the more. They had responded to his declarations of innocence by plunging him "into a slimy pit."

So Job desperately felt a need for an arbiter who could settle matters between himself and his God. The outcome, according to Job, would be clear. The arbiter would force God to remove his rod. 

However, it is the nature of God that no arbiter is possible. An arbiter is one who has authority over the parties in arbitration. God, being the highest and final authority, can never actually be a party in an arbitration.

Job's Prayer

And so Job prayed a second time. It was an honest, seeking, and angry prayer:

I am weary of my life; I will give free course to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God, ‘Do not condemn me; tell me why you are contending with me.’ 

Is it good for you to oppress, to despise the work of your hands, while you smile on the schemes of the wicked? Do you have eyes of flesh, or do you see as a human sees? Are your days like the days of a human, or your years like the years of a human, that you must search out my iniquity, and inquire about my sin, although you know that I am not guilty, and that there is no one who can deliver out of your hand? 

Your hands have shaped me and made me, and afterward you destroy me utterly. Remember that you have made me as with the clay; will you return me to dust? Did you not pour me out like milk, and curdle me like cheese? You clothed me with skin and flesh and knit me together with bones and sinews. You gave me life and favor, and your intervention watched over my spirit. But these things you have concealed in your heart; 

I know that this is with you: If I sinned, then you would watch me and you would not acquit me of my iniquity. If I am guilty, woe to me, and if I am innocent, I cannot lift my head; I am full of shame, and satiated with my affliction. If I lift myself up, you hunt me as a fierce lion, and again you display your power against me. You bring new witnesses against me, and increase your anger against me; relief troops come against me. 

Why then did you bring me out from the womb? I should have died and no eye would have seen me! I should have been as though I had never existed; I should have been carried from the womb to the grave! Are not my days few? Cease, then, and leave me alone, that I may find a little comfort, before I depart and cannot return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death, to the land of darkness, like the deepest darkness, and the shadow of death and disorder, where even the light is like darkness.” (Job 10:1-22)

In this prayer, Job posed his questions and issues to God. His tone was from a man weary and in deep bitterness. He had nothing to lose and thus could "give free course" to his complaint. And so he complained that God caused his suffering and gave no notice to the "schemes of the wicked." He pondered why God bothered to create him in the first place. He wanted to know why the God, who would treat him harshly on account of sin, treated him harshly anyway. In other words, why was there not a difference. 

Concerning Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar Job said to God, "You bring new witnesses against me, and increase your anger against me; relief troops come against me." Job understood God's hand in the entire situation. Satan's vindication demanded that this be so. Satan wanted Job to curse the Lord to His face. That required that Job see his calamity as coming from the Lord and concluding that the Lord was not good. As some philosophers have put it, "Either God is omnipotent and not good or He is good and not omnipotent." Job did not question God's power, but he was beginning to question His goodness. As Job said to Bildad:

“It is all one! That is why I say, ‘He destroys the blameless and the guilty.’ If a scourge brings sudden death, he mocks at the despair of the innocent. If a land has been given into the hand of a wicked man, he covers the faces of its judges; if it is not he, then who is it? (Job 9:22-24)

As much as possible, pretend that you are reading Job for the first time. How would you advise Job knowing what you know from Job 1 & 2? Could you do it without making Job feel like an insignificant pawn in the hands of battling spirits? How would you advise Job if you did not know about the confrontation in the court of heaven, but understood him to be upright and blameless?

Zophar came next in the cycle. Perhaps he would give answer to Job.

Tuesday: Zophar

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