Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Job 23, 24: The Big No-Show

This essay is #28 of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning.


In Job 22, Eliphaz had accused Job of specific wrongdoing. Perhaps there followed an embarrassed silence, because many knew that Eliphaz had overreached and stretched the truth quite a bit. Job's prior reputation might well have fended off the blow. In any case, we will not hear from Eliphaz again. I am unsure as to whether this is because of the brashness of his last speech or because of what Job is about to say. 

What Job said next is of vital importance to the book of Job, because it brings the central dilemma in high relief. In these words, Job asked, "Is God the big No-Show?"

Job began his response to Eliphaz by asserting both his innocence and his righteousness. He had asserted his innocence before, but the confidence that he now showed in his righteousness is a new turn. Watch the further development of this, because it will change your attitude toward him. You will begin to dislike him, and rightfully so.

But for now, lets look at Job's opening words:

Then Job answered: “Even today my complaint is still bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning. O that I knew where I might find him, that I could come to his place of residence! I would lay out my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would know with what words he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me with great power? No, he would only pay attention to me. There an upright person could present his case before him, and I would be delivered forever from my judge. (Job 23:1-7, The Net Bible)

Do you see the change here? "Would he contend with me with great power? No..." It would be one thing if Job were speaking of God's mercy here, but he was not. He was speaking as an upright person who could present his case and be delivered forever. 

The problem according to Job then became one of God's absence:

“If I go to the east, he is not there, and to the west, yet I do not perceive him. In the north when he is at work, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I see no trace of him. But he knows the pathway that I take; 

If he tested me, I would come forth like gold. My feet have followed his steps closely; I have kept to his way and have not turned aside. I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth in my heart. 

But he is unchangeable, and who can change him? Whatever he has desired, he does. For he fulfills his decree against me, and many such things are his plans. That is why I am terrified in his presence; when I consider, I am afraid because of him. Indeed, God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me. Yet I have not been silent because of the darkness, because of the thick darkness that covered my face. (Job 23:8-17)

In the above, Job came close to saying that God was hiding. When he said, "He knows the pathway that I take," I can almost hear Job adding, "and he avoids it." And yet Job backed off slightly when he sensed that perhaps God was close after all, "I am terrified in His presence." But this was only momentary. He continues:

“Why are times not appointed by the Almighty? Why do those who know him not see his days? (Job 24:1)

Job thought that he knew God and that he had a right to appointed days of good. He had a right to God's presence. 

Now! As you read the Job's next words, ask yourself, again, how you would answer him? Job's suffering had brought him to the point that he asked the hard questions:

Men move boundary stones; they seize the flock and pasture them. They drive away the orphan’s donkey; they take the widow’s ox as a pledge. 

They turn the needy from the pathway, and the poor of the land hide themselves together. Like wild donkeys in the desert they go out to their labor, seeking diligently for food; the wasteland provides food for them and for their children. They reap fodder in the field, and glean in the vineyard of the wicked. They spend the night naked because they lack clothing; they have no covering against the cold. They are soaked by mountain rains and huddle in the rocks because they lack shelter. The fatherless child is snatched from the breast, the infant of the poor is taken as a pledge. They go about naked, without clothes, and go hungry while they carry the sheaves. They press out the oil among the olive rows; they tread the winepresses while they are thirsty. 

From the city the dying groan, and the wounded cry out for help, but God charges no one with wrongdoing. 

There are those who rebel against the light; they do not know its ways and they do not stay on its paths. Before daybreak the murderer rises up; he kills the poor and the needy; in the night he is like a thief. And the eye of the adulterer watches for the twilight, thinking, ‘No eye can see me,’ and covers his face with a mask. In the dark the robber breaks into houses, but by day they shut themselves in; they do not know the light. For all of them, the morning is to them like deep darkness; they are friends with the terrors of darkness. (Job 24:2-17)

Job spoke of  the results of men's wickedness on the poor and the suffering that it causes. In one sense, he was vindicating himself against Eliphaz's accusations by showing the compassion and understanding that he had for the plight of the poor: he knows they huddle homeless and exposed in the rocks. But of more importance is this: Job saw all this and then noted that "God charges no one with wrongdoing."

Job at this point anticipated what his friends would say:

“You say, ‘He is foam on the face of the waters; their portion of the land is cursed so that no one goes to their vineyard. The drought as well as the heat carry away the melted snow; so the grave takes away those who have sinned. The womb forgets him, the worm feasts on him, no longer will he be remembered. Like a tree, wickedness will be broken down. He preys on the barren and childless woman, and does not treat the widow well. But God drags off the mighty by his power; when God rises up against him, he has no faith in his life. God may let them rest in a feeling of security, but his eyes are on all their ways. They are exalted for a little while, and then they are gone, they are brought low like all others, and gathered in, and like a head of grain they are cut off.’ (Job 24:18-24)

His friends would tell Job to be patient and the wicked will get what's coming to them. Job was not convinced and concluded his speech with this question:

“If this is not so, who can prove me a liar and reduce my words to nothing?” (Job 24:25)

Job contended that his friends' theory was wrong and that they would have to prove him the liar to advance it. While they have had their heads in religious theory, Job had been looking at his own situation and the situation of others and has concluded that there is a problem with God. Even if it was generally true that the righteous prosper and the wicked do not, the exceptions are still troubling. Is God all good and all powerful? Or is He good but limited in power? Or worse, is He all powerful and capricious?

Tomorrow I will take a look at Bildad's very brief speech and Job's reply.

Wednesday: Bildad almost speaks

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