Thursday, April 20, 2017

Reading Through the Book of Job #2 (Chapters 3-14)

JobToday we look at the first round of the wisdom dialog between Job and  his 3 friends in the Book of Job accompanied by the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 6: Job, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs, by August H. Konkel and Tremper Longman. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar present a good lesson in how NOT to comfort the afflicted. Much of what they say is true, but misapplied. They misrepresent God and bring more pain to the sufferer. I am posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

Job begins the dialog section (3-25) with a speech that curses the day of his birth and wishes for death to come. Job feels that God has abandoned him and life is no longer worth living. He is beginning to doubt God's goodness.

Though Job did not curse God, he felt that he no longer had any place in God’s creation or purposes. Job did not deny the goodness of God’s creation, but he did deny that all of God’s creation is good. He used the language of creation to challenge the goodness of his own existence, which is to implicitly challenge the goodness of God. As happens so often in human passion, his grief made him presumptuous about his relationship with God. His losses led him to assume God was not present with him and therefore that his own presence within creation was not good. Job 3.1-10, 47

The story of Job is a story of resolute faith, however much Job might have been compelled to challenge the Almighty. He did not contemplate suicide. Such an act would have been a failure of faith, a taking into his own hands a life that was not his to take, for it was a gift. Job came to feel that the gift was cruel, but that did not grant him the power to deny that gift. Job 3.20-26, 50

Eliphaz responds with his "comfort" for Job in 4-5. Eliphaz, at first, politely and sympathetically urges Job to take the advice gave others. Take the adversity as discipline for sin, confess it, and learn from it. He rejects Job's assertion that he is suffering righteously and implies that Job has an ungodly source for this idea. Eliphaz simply sees that good is always rewarded and evil punished and, in error, applies this to Job's situation.

The central point of Eliphaz’s lecture is that one reaps what one sows. All analogies, like this one—“you reap what you sow”—are very useful in their power to make a point, but that which is their strength also makes them dangerous. An analogy is not applicable in all respects...The words of Eliphaz did not soothe the wounded Job; rather, they were salt on his wounds. In this way, the author of Job succeeded in exposing this “doctrine” and its oversimplified analogies. Job 4, 52–53

Eliphaz was not saying that trouble is the inevitable result of birth. Eliphaz’s argument is that the fool is the cause of his own downfall; he is not the victim of being born into an unfriendly world. Job 5, 58

Job responds to Eliphaz (6-7) with a defense of his righteousness and a lament that God is making his life miserable, even though he is righteous. He feels that his friends have turned against him and that God is pursuing him to punish, rather than forgive his sin. He wishes that both would just leave him alone. To Job life is "futile and unfulfilled."

This irony of life is heightened through a reflection on the psalms in 7:10; “never to be seen again” is more literally “his place will know him no more” and shares exactly the same words as Psalm 103:16b. In the psalm (103) the brevity of human life is compared to the grass, which disappears when the wind blows over it. The psalm assures us that the merciful God remembers the brevity of our life. He understands that we are dust, and his loyalty to us will never end. For Job, the brevity of life is not a way to be reminded of God’s constant providence; his impending death is simply a reminder that his hopes for success are gone forever—that his life was like the passing wind. Job 7.1-10, 68–69

Bildad drew on ancient wisdom to refute Job. He thought it was simple. The righteous are rewarded and evil punished. Thus, Job and his children were wicked and needed to repent. We know from the prologue that this is not true. Ancient wisdom did not apply in this case and Bildad, by his own criteria, becomes a false accuser and subject to punishment.

Simple retribution is not adequate to describe the complexities of life. Bildad not only assured Job that he would yet have joy but also that his enemies would be destroyed. In this Bildad was again incriminating himself. In the lament psalms, enemies are most often those who judge one to be guilty because some misfortune has overcome them. Bildad has adopted the very role of such an accusing enemy, who will be disgraced. Job 8, 75

Job agrees with Bildad that God is just, but that no human can be just before God and God cannot be held accountable for how He treats his creation. He continues to assert his innocence as a righteous sufferer. He sees God as mowing down the innocent as well as the guilt in natural disasters. If this is the way God treats vulnerable humans, Job thinks it is better not be born.

Though God is not the agent of such suffering, his failure to intervene means righteous and wicked alike are consumed. For righteous Job, this indifferent attitude of God could only be taken as a mockery, and it was none other than God who must be held accountable for having this attitude. In Job’s mind, this was the undeniable truth that emerged from the fact that a man of integrity was left in such hopeless despair. Job 9.1-24, 79

From Job’s perspective, the design of God appears to be to destroy life and reputation; even the innocent cannot have a modicum of self-respect but instead are filled with shame and contempt. Should Job seek a bit of self-worth, God would hunt him like a lion. Thus, his wonders were seen in his destructive judgment (cf. 9:5–10). Any effort on Job’s part to clear his name could only mean more suffering. Job 10, 85

Zophar rebukes Job for thinking that he knows more than he does about God and that somehow God can be held accountable to him. Zophar sees the situation very simply. Job has sinned  and needs to confess. He should not be "hollow-headed," learn and acknowledge sin and everything would be okay. The problem is that Zophar should have taken his own advice. He did not understand Job's situation.

Zophar is at times representative of each of us. Confident of the truth we know and oblivious to what we do not know, we respond with biting criticism to those we perceive as being in the wrong. When we are suffering, it is easy to ignore such individuals or even despise them, but this may be to our own peril. We need to be sure we have fully appreciated the truth they do represent. Job 11, 87–88

In his 2nd longest speech in the book Job addresses the 3 friends (12.1-13.19) and then God (13.20-14). He sarcastically rebukes his friends for their inadequate wisdom. Traditional wisdom is not enough to understand the ways of God. The friends are building their argument on lies, which is a very dangerous thing to do before God. Job asks God to let up on him a little, to apply mercy to him  instead of searching out every sin. He recognizes his lack of perfection, but wonders why God is not giving him any grace.

The problem was the inadequate wisdom of these friends who thought that simple, immediate retribution is somehow the sum total of justice, that it is the very foundation of the divine order, and therefore the basis for all application of wisdom. With their rhetoric they made Job into a proverbial example of self-righteousness under judgment. These friends rewarded calamity with derision; they kicked their friend while he was down. Job could only lament this supreme injustice. Job 12, 95

Wisdom can be wise only in so far as it knows its limits. When wisdom pontificates on what it cannot understand, it mocks the innocent. Job 12, 97

God would not seal up sins for purposes of retaliation. The friends might have smeared (tapal) Job with lies (13:4), but God would cover over (tapal) Job’s sin so it would not victimize him (14:17). Job 14, 107

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