Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Reading Through the Book of Job #4 (Chapters 26-37)

JobToday we move on in the Book of Job to Job’s monologue about wisdom and Elihu’s defense of God, accompanied by the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 6: Job, by August H. Konkel. Though both Job and Elihu have some excellent insights, their response is still incomplete. We still are waiting for the final word from YHWH on the situation. 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…

With the dialog at an impasse Job begins a monologue (26-31) about God's wisdom and how far beyond humans it is. In 26 he looks at creation and our lack of understanding of that. Using mythological terminology he notes that we have no access to home of the gods or the place of the dead. We only know a "whisper" of the ways of God.

We are forced to resort to metaphors in talking about the mystery of creation. How then should we expect to understand that rebuke when it thunders in all its force? There is no use in wisdom asserting it has the power to explain how God’s sovereignty operates in the world of people any more than it can explain the earlier mystery—creation itself. Job 26, 166

Job continues this theme in 27-28. He chastises the 3 friends because their wisdom is clearly inadequate for the situation. They want him to repent of something he had not done. However, Job also recognizes that he is not wise enough to understand the situation. 28 is a poem to wisdom that recognizes how valuable and rare it is. The only real source of wisdom  is God. People become wiser as they submit to God, but can never know the universe as God knows it.

Job knew about the justice of God, and he understood retribution. Once retribution comes upon the enemy of God, the time of reconciliation is past, as Job eloquently explained in his description of the wicked (27:13–23). If Job was such an enemy, there was no point in his friends telling him to find divine favor. And if Job was not such an enemy, there was no point in accusing him of being a sinner under judgment. Either way, the friends were wrong. Understanding the mind of God must mean that bad things can happen to good people. Job 27, 169

Absolute wisdom is denied to humans, but humans have access to a more limited form of wisdom. The wisdom of humans is to fear the Lord and to know about morality, life, and appropriate conduct. Humans should know this kind of wisdom, but the wisdom of God concerning the ultimate order of the universe is a wisdom humans often wish they could know but cannot—their attempts to find it may well leave them self-deceived. Job 28, 174–175

In 29-30 Job laments the changes in his life. He does not understand why they have happened. When he was rich and blessed, he shared those blessings with everyone around him. He deserved the respect people gave him. He didn't do anything wrong to bring on the disaster he now faced. He doesn't understand why God is doing this to him.

Purity of life and fear of God do not determine what kind of life we may have, but this does not decrease their importance. Job concluded his speech with a soliloquy on what kind of man he wanted to be (29:19–25), not because it would determine the fate of his life but because that is the wisdom of the fear of God. Job 29, 177

Clothes are more than symbolic; they are also necessary for function and protection. Job’s reference to his change of clothes refers to both aspects...His deprivation left him to be scorned by those who were outcasts, who had no place in society at all. This dramatic change of life had taken place as quickly and completely as a change of clothes. Job could do nothing to change his situation. Job 30, 182–183

Job continues in 31 by describing the "code" (the 10 commandments probably underlies this speech) by which he lived. He not only lived out the "letter" of the law but he was careful to keep the "spirit" of the law by loving God and people who God brought into his life. Job was deeply committed to covenant with God. It did not seem to him that God was keeping His side of the covenant.

It is unfortunate that the Decalogue is often conceived of as only being laws, for in reality it is a summary statement of the covenant relationship...Expressed this way, it is clear that the primary requirement of the covenant is knowledge of the Creator and submission to him. A correct understanding of the lordship of the Creator demands a reverence to him and a respect for all of his creation. Job 31, 187

Job concluded with two affirmations of his integrity before God. His life had been an open book. He had not been afraid to live his faith before others (31:33–34), with the attendant danger that he would be ridiculed or even denigrated and ostracized. He had lived by the dictum that the Lord is the king of all kings and he must fear no other. Divine approval had been his highest goal (31:35–37); the deeds of his life were his signature. Job 31.31-37, 189

The dispute between Job and the 3 friends has ended and the friends have been unable to refute Job. This leaves the argument appearing to vindicate Job and make God the bad guy. This cannot be, so now the young man Elihu speaks up to fix the situation. Elihu will do a better job than the 3 friends but he still does not resolve the matter at hand. They need to have a better and wiser arbiter bring his voice into the discussion.

The poet subtly portrays this arbiter as a brilliant young fool. Eliphaz protested that a wise man does not answer with empty talk (15:2), yet that is exactly what Elihu intended to do (32:17–20); he uncorked himself and let his words gush forth. This pretentious modesty is a reminder that there is no intellectual solution to the problem of Job, which began in the councils of heaven, or to the problem of human suffering in this world. Job 32, 193

In chapters 33-35 Elihu defends God's justice against Job's assertion that God was perverting justice and making him suffer without telling him the reason. First, he says that Job, like all people, is not sinless, and has no right to call for God's justice. Second, God has spoken to him through dreams and through the very pain he is suffering and through angels. God is not arbitrary in judgment. He gives people the government, often oppressive, they deserve. Job has no right to question God's timing and is prideful for doing so. We tend to look at justice personally and want it for ourselves right now, rather than seeing God's overall purpose in it. Our just Creator will judge in HIs own perfect timing.

Moral failure is a matter of pride, for it assumes we know better than God about what is right or at least that we can escape the harm that comes from such actions. Every sin in some sense has its origin in the hubris of humans who think that they can be their own god. Job 33, 198

In demanding to see the Day of Judgment, Job was setting a limit on how God rules his world. God cares about the poor and the needy and hears their cries (34:28). Those who have caused the poor to cry out in this way have placed themselves under judgment. God will crush even the most powerful ruler who has acted in such a harsh manner. The order of equality God has for creation cannot be violated without cost. Powerful leaders need to be especially careful to act with justice because this is the way of God. This is true for God, and it is true for all who represent his rule in his world. Job’s trouble was the mistaken thought that he should be able to determine when this judgment takes place. Job 34, 205

It is the tendency of mortals to expect divine justice to operate according to their immediate personal needs. They never think beyond themselves to ask about what justice might mean from the perspective of the Creator. They want relief from their suffering immediately. They forget that they are but one aspect of the wonder of God’s creation. Job 35, 208

Next, Elihu focuses on the lessons that can be learned through suffering. First, God uses suffering to get our attention so that he can bring us to maturity. Second, we learn that we are not in control. God is. Elihu has done a better job of defending God than the three friends did but he still has not resolved, nor does he understand, Job's standing with God. Thus, even though his theology is good, it is misapplied to Job.

Elihu concluded his speech by pointing to the majesty of God as seen in the tempest, a reminder that the just will emerge from the storm of adversity into the light of divine favor. Instead of a narrow personal concern about present suffering, Elihu wanted to call our attention to the wonder of the works of God. It is the duty of mortals to exalt his glory and not to focus on themselves. Job 36:22–26, 215

God redeems the afflicted by means of their suffering, and he gets their attention through adversity...Suffering is not to be thought of as punishment, for that is reserved for the wicked who go the way of no return. Suffering is a discipline; it serves the purpose of correction. Those who receive it properly will be ever grateful for it. Job 36.1-21, 211–212

Elihu summarized the main lesson (37:19–24). God is concerned that his glory be known by those he created to know him (37:24). God does not accomplish this by simple retribution for bad and good deeds; rather, he acts as a great teacher who knows so vastly much more than his students that they do not always understand his methods. Job 37, 217

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