January 15, 2014.
Daily Reading: Job 3-5.
Background: Job 1-2.
Job has lost everything, even his health, because he was righteous and is being tested. In this section of the story of Job, there has been seven days of silence before Job begins his lament. Chapters 4 and 5 are Eliphaz the Temanite’s rebuttal to Job’s lament.
Concepts and Connections.
1. Job’s lament: We may not fully appreciate how much Job has lost, how much he has suffered, until we hear his first words that he speaks to his friends who have come to comfort him (actually, we probably cannot fully appreciate it even after this). Job laments the day of his birth, asking why he was allowed to be brought into the world on the knees of his mother instead of rather dying at birth. Though this story is thousands of years old, the motif remains present even in our culture today. In the well known Christmas movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey wishes he had never been born after experiencing a troublesome point in his life. This is a phrase that can be heard among those who are very downhearted and are going through rough times, just as Job was. Sometimes we shame people for going through these emotions rather than doing something that will actually help them just as Job’s three friends are about to do. The lesson here is that emotions are not sin (for Job is vindicated in Job 42:7-9, though he is first rebuked by God for other reasons, see Job 38-41) and it is alright to feel downhearted, especially when one is put in a situation where its is understandable. However, our actions that stem from our emotions can very well be sin. Though Job had hit rock bottom, he refused to “curse God and die” as his wife had suggested he do (see Job 2:9-10).
There are four biblical characters who longed for death, for four very different reasons. Moses had the congregation of Israel murmuring agains him (see Numbers 11:13-15), Job was stricken with affliction for reasons unknown, Elijah was being hunted by an evil queen, Jezebel (see I Kings 19), and Jonah was very angry that his enemies repented and were delivered by God (see Jonah 4). In each case, the Lord dealt gently with one who wanted to die and made an effort to bring them out of this state of mind. When we feel downhearted, we do not need to remain in this state, nor do we need to believe that it means God has forgotten or left us, for our trials do not indicate such. Job understood what it meant to hold fast to his integrity, but he would say some things in the following chapters that he would live to regret after being confronted by God. Nevertheless, in the end it is Job who is told to make intercession for his friends because they had not spoken rightly of God (see Job 42:7-9).
2. The leviathan and Sheol: in his lament, Job mentions two concepts that we may be unfamiliar with. The first is the leviathan, mentioned in Job 3:8, which according to its description in Job 41 is a giant sea monster who’s identity is unknown to us today. Some translations will have a footnote that says the leviathan might be a crocodile, but this does not fit the historical or textual context that surrounds the beast. More will be discussed about the leviathan in chapter 41. The second concept that Job brings up is the idea of Sheol, though he never mentions it by name (his first mention of Sheol by name is in Job 7:9). Sheol is an interesting concept in the Old Testament as it was used to describe where people go when they die. The word can be translated as “grave” or “pit”, and it was a place that all men went, both righteous and unrighteous. To say that it was the Jewish idea of “hell” is misleading, for it simply represented a realm of the dead, though it is typically only referenced in times of mourning or pensive thinking. Perhaps a good way of thinking about it would be to remember that Sheol was a place of the dead, where the dead knew nothing nor did any work (see Ecclesiastes 9:10), and it was used as a comparison to the realm of the living here on earth. It could be that a well established concept of the afterlife simply hadn’t matured until the second temple period in Jewish history, in which period Christ came to this earth, which may be one of the characteristics of the “fullness of time” at which the plan of God would be established (see Galatians 4:4-5).
1. Quick to Judge: The very first words that are spoken by Eliphaz are not consoling in the least, but rather accusatory. Perhaps the three friends couldn’t stand to see Job in his condition, but the way they respond to it is very judgmental. It didn’t matter that Eliphaz knew how Job had strengthened the weak, upheld the stumbling and encouraged those with weak needs. It didn’t matter that Eliphaz knew that Job was a righteous man. He looked at his situation and assumed that Job must have had to do something wrong to deserve his tragedy. Though there was no evidence of his unrighteousness, the evil that had been brought upon him was enough to convict him in Eliphaz’s eyes. Again we see a characteristic of man that has well survived time and culture, as we are too very quick to judge one another today. We may not do this from a standpoint of looking at someones tragic lot in life (though this way of thinking still persists with some), but we do often look at someone’s actions and assume the worst. If someone lives in a certain area, joins a certain club or hangs out around certain people, then we often judge them prematurely as having done something wrong, though we have no evidence of wrong doing. These judgments indeed exist for a reason, as sometimes they are representative of what is actually going on, but we do not need to be quick to judge without getting to know someone or asking them directly about their actions. Jesus would be around “publicans and sinners” and the Pharisees accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard (see Matthew 19:11), but they were very wrong. We too are often wrong in our judgments. Let us take lesson from Job’s three friends.
2. Using your own experience to define God: One of the problems that Eliphaz had with his theology, so to speak, was the fact that he used his own experience to define the characteristics of God. In verse 8, he begins “As I have seen…” and then begins to describes the experience he has had with seeing the righteous prosper and the wicked being cut down to define how God deals with man. Through these experiences, he has decided that God always causes the righteous to prosper and the wicked to perish. Therefore, Job must have done something wrong. He even uses a “spiritual” experience to back up his characterization of God, in which a spirit allegedly came to him at night and told him that no man could be righteous in the eyes of the Almighty. The problem is, man cannot use his experience alone to define God, for God is well above our comprehension. This is why he has revealed himself to us through his word. Job was not going through his trials because he had done something wrong, but rather because he was one of, if not the most righteous man on earth. Though there was some truth in Eliphaz statement, as the Lord does look favorably on the righteous at times, his view of God was in no way complete, though he thought it was. Yet the three friends will continue in the following chapters to tell Job what God is like, without referencing the words of the Almighty. God has revealed Himself and His character to us through the bible, thus wee need not be quick to define God based only on our experiences.
1. Being right in one’s own eyes: “As for me, I would seek God…” Eliphaz seems to be very righteous in his own eyes. After all, according to his ideology, righteousness was defined by one’s situation in life, and he was definitely not in the situation that Job was in. Therefore, he had to at least be more righteous than Job, at least in this moment. Eliphaz makes the mistake here that we all probablly make at some point in our lives, if not often: things always seem much easier and more clear when we look at the situation someone else is in than when the situation comes upon ourselves. It is easy to pick out what someone else should do in their situation or where someone else went wrong, or even the apparently obvious sins of others, but it is much more difficult to see all that in ourselves. Eliphaz seems confident that he would know what to do if he were in Job’s situation, but in reality he probably would not have reacted even as well as Job did, for we know that God considered Job to be a very righteous man (see Job 1:8, 2:3). Sometimes there are simply no words of comfort for a particular situation, and unless we specifically know that someone did something wrong and their situation was the consequence of their actions, we should not accuse them with words filled with air, but comfort them in anyway we can. Even if we know that their situation is a direct result of sin, we should still comfort them and do whatever we can to pull them out of that sin.
2. Discerning what is right: Upon a quick read through the book of Job, one might not realize which of the speakers is actually speaking what is right in the sight of God. There are five different speakers in the book of Job, and only one is explicitly said to be spoken “right of God” (see Job 42:8), though Elihu’s words (a young friend of Job who isn’t mentioned in the three friends that come to see him at the beginning, see Job 32-37) are not explicitly said to be incorrect. There are three, then, that did not speak what was “right of God.” Yet, some of the things they say sound very good! For example, Eliphaz says in Job 5:17 “blessed is the man whom God reproves.” This concept is also taught in Psalm 94:12, and thus it would seem to be a righteous thing to say. When we are discerning right from wrong, we need to remember that even when someone’s ideology as a whole is wrong, they may indeed say correct things, such as Eliphaz did here. Though he was right in this sentiment, he had wrongly applied it to Job, for Job’s troubles did not come due to unrighteousness. There are other things that Job’s three friends say that sound right, but are in actuality not always right. It would sound right to say that the Lord makes the hand of the righteous man to prosper (see Job 4), but this is not always the case. We have to check what people say with the word of God to see if they prove to be correct, even when what they say sounds very good. In I John 4:1, John warns not to believe every spirit, but to test the spirits to see if they are from God, for there are many false prophets. We need to keep this in mind when listing to anyone who claims to have truth, especially when they cite no reference from the word of God.
Tomorrow’s reading: Isaiah 6-11.
Blessed is the man who stands steadfast under trial.