Friday, October 24, 2003

Job 32: Elihu Who?

This essay is #37 of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning.


Chapter 32 of Job begins:

So these three men refused to answer Job further, because he was righteous in his own eyes. 

Then Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became very angry. 

  • He was angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. 
  • With Job’s three friends he was also angry, because they could not find an answer, and so declared Job guilty. 

Now Elihu had waited before speaking to Job, because the others were older than he. But when Elihu saw that the three men had no further reply, he became very angry. (Job 32:1-5)

Some scholars, who have no imagination for how the literary forms of the oldest biblical work might have differed from today, state that this portion of Job is a later addition. I think that you will conclude otherwise. To be sure, he pops up without introduction, but that anonymity is part of the message. If Elihu had spoken first before Eliphaz had sent the dialog spiraling downward, the events in this book would have been far different. Elihu is the perfect antithesis to everything that has gone on before now:

  1. He was never mentioned, because his social status was not worth mentioning. He may have been an attendant to one of the Job's friends or just a bystander. All that is necessary for us to know is that he had been able to hear everything. His anonymity is part of the book's instruction. The esteemed old men have failed. Those society expected to prevail are silent. A young man, full of the Spirit, is able to answer. By this, the author of Job lets us know that wisdom is there for all us.
  2. He was young and had the idealistic conceit of a young man who knows that he is right. He will often say things like, "For in truth, my words are not false; it is one complete in knowledge who is with you. (Job 36:4)"
  3. Elihu ascribed his knowledge as coming from the Spirit of God, "But it is a spirit in people, the breath of the Almighty, that makes them understand. (Job 32:8)" This has a direct connection to Job 28 that told us only God knows the paths to wisdom. Elihu understood this and sought understanding from God for himself and Job and the friends.
  4. Elihu had a different approach to Job's situation, "Look, I am just like you in relation to God; I too have been molded from clay. Therefore no fear of me should terrify you, nor should my pressure be heavy on you. (Job 33:6-7)" Do you see how different Elihu's words to Job differ from the other three? According to Elihu, he and Job stand together, side by side, before God. They are made from the same stuff. Elihu is on Job's side. Later on Elihu will say, "I want to justify you." (Job 33:32b) Elihu instructs where the other accuse. Elihu has compassion for Job's situation.
  5. Elihu understood the Lord's broader use of suffering. He saw that it could be used as a pre-emptive strike, "Indeed, God does all these things, twice, three times, in his dealings with a person, to turn back his life from the place of corruption, that he may be enlightened with the light of life. (Job 33:29-30)"

The speech of Elihu lets us know that wisdom comes from God and is no respecter of age. A young man is just as likely to have the wisdom needed in a situation as an older man. Elihu demonstrates how love combined with exhortation can encourage and correct at the same time. When you have a friend who is hurting, read the speeches of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar to learn what not to say--then read the speeches of Elihu to learn what to say. Elihu instructs, but does not condemn. Elihu is able to see the purposes of God outside of the religious constraints of the experts. Elihu is the bridge by which Job will finally stand before the Lord.

On Monday, Elihu's Anger

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

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.


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. ><>

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Job 30: Job Again Complains to God

This essay is #35 of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning.


Job's soliloquy now turns to his disease and his mistreatment at God's hand:

And now my soul pours itself out within me; days of suffering take hold of me. Night pierces my bones; my gnawing pains never cease. With great power God grasps my clothing; he binds me like the collar of my tunic. He has flung me into the mud, and I have come to resemble dust and ashes. (Job 30:16-19) 

Job sees God's actions toward him as violent and uncaring. He then underscores this by his next prayer:

I cry out to you, but you do not answer me; I stand up, and you only look at me. You have become cruel to me; with the strength of your hand you attack me. You pick me up on the wind and make me ride on it; you toss me about in the storm. I know that you are bringing me to death, to the meeting place for all the living. (Job 30:20-23)

So the Lord God is silent and cruel and plans for Job to die.

Surely one does not stretch out his hand against a broken man when he cries for help in his distress. Have I not wept for the unfortunate? Was not my soul grieved for the poor? But when I hoped for good, trouble came; when I expected light, then darkness came. My heart is in turmoil unceasingly; the days of my affliction confront me. I go about blackened, but not by the sun; in the assembly I stand up and cry for help. I have become a brother to jackals and a companion of ostriches. My skin has turned dark on me; my body is hot with fever. My harp is used for mourning and my flute for the sound of weeping. (Job 30:24-31) 

Job declares the injustice of his situation. 

This is short, but I am going to take up the next part of Job's speech tomorrow. It is Job's last hurrah. It is his declaration of righteousness that deserves not the trouble that he has endured. It is the last information that we will need about Job before Elihu speaks.

It is interesting to note that Job again appeals to his concern for the poor, in spite of those who gladly would drive from the community with whips. I think this underscores the irony that I brought out yesterday. Job's status has dropped below those very people and yet Job has no new concern for them. As the drama moves to Elihu's and then the Lord's speeches, the cracks in Job's character become more visible.

Next: Job declares his righteousness

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

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Job 30: A Curious Twist of Justice

This essay is #34 of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning.


Job's words in chapter 29, reveal a good man who became accustomed to being the center of community life. He took delight in the silence of others waiting for him to speak. He enjoyed the pleasure on people's faces when he chose to smile at them. You might now find yourself liking Job less or feeling less sorry for him. That is what you are supposed to be feeling, because it lays the ground work for the revelation about the Lord and His purposes in Job's life.

One of the reasons that Job cited for the honor given him by the community was the compassion that he showed to the poor. In his words from yesterday:

As soon as the ear heard these things, it blessed me, and when the eye saw them, it bore witness to me, for I rescued the poor who cried out for help, and the orphan who had no one to assist him; the blessing of the dying man descended on me, and I made the widow’s heart rejoice; I put on righteousness and it clothed me, my just dealing was like a robe and a turban; I was eyes for the blind and feet for the lame; I was a father to the needy, and I investigated the case of the person I did not know; I broke the fangs of the wicked, and made him drop his prey from his teeth. (Job 29:11-17)

Job was the champion of the poor. But it is interesting that when we get to Job chapter 30, we must realize that there was a limit to Job's compassion. There were some people that Job found contemptible::

But now they mock me, those who are younger than I, whose fathers I disdained too much to put with my sheep dogs. Moreover, the strength of their hands— what use was it to me? Men whose strength had perished; gaunt with want and hunger, they would gnaw the parched land, in former time desolate and waste. By the brush they would gather herbs from the salt marshes, and the root of the broom tree was their bread. They were banished from the community— people shouted at them like they would at thieves— so that they had to live in the dry stream beds, in the holes of the ground, and among the rocks. They brayed like animals among the bushes and were huddled together under the nettles. Sons of senseless and nameless people, they were driven out of the land with whips. (Job 30:1-8)

Job refers now to being mocked by people that he and others had driven from the land with whips. In reading this, we must remember that Job was declared in the book's beginning to be upright, blameless, and God fearing. We must, therefore, conclude that this was an unusual group of people for whom a lack of compassion is warranted. Nevertheless, I find the admission troubling. Job "disdained" them. He had no use for them. It did not bother him that they gleaned in salt marshes--what grows well in salt?--and lived in what must have been horrible poverty. Job is aware, but has no compassion for their suffering. Perhaps these people, who bray like animals, are among the insane or demonized or addicted. They seem to be beyond hope, at least in Job's eyes.

And it is interesting to now see that Job's troubles, which have come from the Lord's hand, have reversed their positions. Job is now the object of disdain from these very people:

And now I have become their taunt song; I have become a byword among them. They detest me and maintain their distance; they do not hesitate to spit in my face. Because God has untied my tent cord and afflicted me, people throw off all restraint in my presence. On my right the young rabble rise up; they drive me from place to place, and build up siege ramps against me. They destroy my path; they succeed in destroying me without anyone helping them. They come in as through a wide breach; amid the crash they come rolling in. Terrors are turned loose on me; they drive away my honor like the wind, and like a cloud my deliverance has passed away. (Job 30:9-15)

Job, once the center of community life, is now relegated to the edge of edges. He has become the outcast of outcasts. 

The more I think about this, the more inclined I am to think that we are to recognize Job's hypocrisy without nullifying the Lord's own assessment that there was no one like Job on the face of the earth: upright, blameless, fearing God, and turning away from evil. Assuming that these people driven from the community were the insane, demonized, and addicted, what can we conclude?

  • Such people have burdened society for thousands of years. This is not to say that they do not deserve compassion, but it recognizes the fact that they drain energy and resources from the community. I have worked in homeless shelters and I have sat down and talked with many people who are there because they are alcoholics or are addicted to drugs. Short of the power of God to deliver them from their physical bondage, their life will be homeless. They are not sober long enough to provide for themselves.
  • In a less mechanized age, such as Job's, the drain from such people is more acute. Let's talk clothing, for example. In Job's day the home had to begin with flax or wool, spin the thread and weave the cloth before they could cut the pieces and hand sew the garment. The very things that are incidentally ours today, i.e. food and clothing, were the very things that occupied most of the labor in everyone's working day. They did not have an abundance to share, even in the good years.
  • Even today, we debate the line between compassion and society's larger well being. We debate about providing clean needles to drug addicts. Clean needles mean that an addict is less likely to contract needle born diseases, but it also removes a deterrent that might help the addict cross the line and seek recovery. Condoms reduce teen pregnancy and abortion and sexually transmitted diseases, but they also remove those consequences as deterrents. I can argue that there are pains and consequences that societies must leave in place for the greater good of the whole. Clean needles and condoms, although they reduce suffering, work against those the things on which great societies exist: a diligent population that serve each other and strong marriages and homes. Is it possible or impossible to accomplish both? We do not yet know.
  • Since we have neither solved these issues and continue to debate the line, we cannot judge Job's culture and the line that they drew.

Nevertheless, this section of the book of Job demands that we see the cracks in Job's arguments. That is why we recoil when he tells us how people swooned over his smile. We are to see and question the hardness of Job over these people and ask if there is not room for a heart that mourns a bit more over their situation. Indeed, it would seem that the Lord has turned the tables between them and Job for just such a purpose, although the point is never explicitly made.

Next: Job complains again to God

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

Monday, October 20, 2003

Job 29: Job Revealed

This essay is #33 of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning. This link has been corrected and will now take you to the beginning.


Then Job continued his speech: “O that I could be as I was in the months now gone, ..."

With the refrain, "Then Job continued his speech:" the author concludes his interjection and we are once more in the midst of Job's situation. How different his words were now from what they were when he wanted to curse the day of his conception and birth. Job now had the stage. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had been silenced. Job was now able to talk about his past and his present. A close reading reveals many good things and some not so good things about him. Job is a book of real people, so we would expect this. This soliloquy of Job reveals him to be a complex character. He is godly, but far from perfect.

Here is the opening of Job's last speech:

Then Job continued his speech: “O that I could be as I was in the months now gone, in the days when God watched over me, when he caused his lamp to shine upon my head, and by his light I walked through darkness; just as I was in my productive time, when God’s intimate friendship was experienced in my tent, when the Almighty was still with me and my children were around me; when my steps were bathed with butter and the rock poured out for me streams of olive oil! (Job 29:1-6)

This is the description of the good life: intimacy with God, surrounded by family, and having steps bathed in butter. Job had everything that he wanted on the home front.

When I went out to the city gate and secured my seat in the public square, the young men would see me and step aside, and the old men would get up and remain standing; the chief men restrained from talking and covered their mouths with their hands; the voices of the nobles fell silent, and their tongues stuck to the roof of their mouths. (Job 29:7-10)

Not only did Job have the ideal home, but he had political status in the community. The city gate was the place of government. He had the respect of the young, the old, and the chief men. They became silent when Job arrived. Job had great honor.

As soon as the ear heard these things, it blessed me, and when the eye saw them, it bore witness to me, for I rescued the poor who cried out for help, and the orphan who had no one to assist him; the blessing of the dying man descended on me, and I made the widow’s heart rejoice; I put on righteousness and it clothed me, my just dealing was like a robe and a turban; I was eyes for the blind and feet for the lame; I was a father to the needy, and I investigated the case of the person I did not know; I broke the fangs of the wicked, and made him drop his prey from his teeth. (Job 29:11-17)

Job saw himself as the champion of the down and out. It was for this reason that he was so revered at the gate. The opening line, "as soon as the ear heard these things" refers to the sudden silence of the young, old, and chief men when Job took his seat in the gate.

Then I thought, ‘I will die in my own home, my days as numerous as the grains of sand. My roots reach the water, and the dew lies on my branches all night long. My glory will always be fresh in me, and my bow ever new in my hand.’ (Job 29:18-20)

But here Job lets us know that he expected payment for his good works. His righteousness was what secured his home, gave him length of days, and made "his glory" always fresh. A curious flaw has finally surfaced and Job's next remarks amplify it:

People listened to me and waited silently; they kept silent for my advice. After I had spoken, they did not respond; my words fell on them drop by drop. They waited for me as people wait for the rain, and they opened their mouths as for the spring rains. If I smiled at them, they hardly believed it; and they did not cause the light of my face to darken. I chose the way for them and sat as their chief; I lived like a king among his troops; I was like one who comforts mourners. (Job 29:21-25)

Job considered himself to be the center around which his community revolved. Look at the descriptions Job uses to describe his importance. People waited for him as they would for rain? And what kind of attitude must Job have had for him to say about himself, "If I smiled at them, they hardly believed it?" Are these not the words of someone who thinks overly highly of himself? Job relishes the attention of his fans. Although in the beginning he speaks of God's presence and friendship, what we read here is what he misses the most. Indeed, it might be that God was just one more being in orbit around Job.

It is no accident that these revelations come after the treatise on wisdom. Before then, we the readers had been caught up in the argument about Job's losses. On this side of the treatise, we know to seek wisdom for living. Now the author can let Job reveal a subtle flaw. Job was upright, feared God, and turned away from evil. Nothing has changed here. Job served and protected his community. Job was a good man. In this sense, no one could point a finger and accuse Job of any sinful or wicked action.

But all these good things were setting Job up for failure. Job 29 gives us a window into the Job that the Lord saw. Job's last speech will develop this further. Then will come the very interesting speeches of Elihu and the Lord Himself.

Next: How things changed for Job

<>< Test Everything. Clings to what is good. ><>