Wednesday, 25 June 2014

(177) June 26: Job 3-5 & Acts 7:20-43

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read consider the key points Eliphaz is trying to make.

To ponder:
Job’s words only confirm how severely he is suffering. In short, he wishes that the day of his birth never took place - that pagan priests or the like who “curse” days or claim to be able to rouse the Leviathan (ie. sea monster), would use their power to curse that day (3v8). He recognises that for those who suffer it would be better to be stillborn and so “asleep,” ie. unconsciously resting in the place of the dead. Moreover, he asks the obvious question: Why does God continue to give life to those who long to die because of their suffering? Why does he “hedge” them in, not with protection (as 1v10) but with hardship in every direction. Most believers fear the arrival of tragedy, but for Job, what he feared had come to pass (3v25). Against the so called prosperity teachers, who promise health and wealth, he is therefore clear evidence that the godly are not exempt from extreme suffering. And he vocalizes their feelings.
            Eliphaz seems rather provoked to respond by what Job has said, and somewhat critical of his attitude, suggesting he would be “impatient” if someone speaks to him (4v1). He recognizes Job is godly in having done much to strengthen others in their troubles. But he finds fault in Job being so discouraged. Instead, he suggests Job should be confident that because he is blameless his sufferings will pass as the upright are never destroyed. Rather, it is the evil who perish under God’s anger. His attitude highlights the danger of insensitivity to another’s suffering, often seen in urging them to buck their ideas up rather than appreciating their despair. It is also na├»ve, as a moment’s reflection shows that all who are upright die eventually, and many after great suffering.
            Eliphaz however has more to say. He claims to have received a prophetic word (4v12-21) that no mortal is more righteous than God. His point seems to be that their lives are so transient that they never have time to gain sufficient wisdom. How ready Christians can be to super-spiritualize their counsel as a word from God, to the frustration of their hearers, when it is just obvious insight. Eliphaz goes on to tell Job that resenting his situation or envying those who don’t suffer is foolish and detrimental. Indeed, he implies to act in this way is to be a fool and so subject to all the trouble fools experience in this hard human life because they lack the wisdom to guard against them (5v2-6). And so rather than foolishly calling on angels for help, as they will give no answer, he should “appeal to God.” Again, the challenge is to all who like Eliphaz are quick to rebuke the lowly in spirit and urge contentment in their hardships. There is a place for these things (Phil 4v8-13), but not with insensitivity.
            The appeal to God urged upon Job, is to his justice as the one who as creator has power to thwart the crafty and save the needy (5v8-16). There may be a suggestion here that Job should not only seek his own deliverance but punishment on those behind his initial sufferings (see 1v13-17). At one level the advice is not wrong, but it assumes there is no higher reason for Job’s sufferings. Of course we know there is and so are learning that there is not necessarily a simple answer when trouble comes. From our perspective God may not do what seems just and deliver us. This is not to suggest he is unjust, but that he is doing something else through our hardships, meaning that justice must wait. We can only accept the mystery inherent in not being party to God’s purposes.
            In missing this, Eliphaz goes on to conclude that although Job’s sufferings cannot be punishment, because he is evidently upright, the reason for them must be as discipline to correct some lack he has. He is therefore bold enough to insensitively say Job is actually “blessed” and should not “despise” his experience, as when it is over God will surely restore him to a position of great blessing. 5v23 speaks of an agreement with creation that entails harmony in which crops flourish without stones hindering them, and livestock are safe as wild animals don’t attack. The whole section is a wonderful picture of life in the new creation (5v17-26), and is an encouragement when we suffer (Rom 8v18-21). But it is not a promise for this life. Moreover, we know Eliphaz is misdiagnosing the situation, as Job is not being disciplined. So where he finishes boldly asserting the truth of what he has said, and calling Job to apply it, we finish having learnt that although we can know reasons why someone might suffer, we rarely know the reasons why they do suffer, and so should refrain from declaring any.

Praying it home:
Praise God for the hope of glory that does give perspective to suffering. Pray that you would be sensitive to the despair and struggle of those who suffer, not giving glib answers.

Thinking further: The genre of Job
We should note that much of the book is poetry and so not intending to provide a developed understanding of such doctrines as the afterlife. Again, the inclusion of ideas such as pagan priests or magicians cursing days or raising sea monsters should not be read as suggesting Job believes in such powers. They are simply the concepts of his day that he is using to express himself. This all reminds us that poetry requires reflection. We will not be able to comment on everything written, but will try to portray the sense of the argument. But do try and find the time to ponder the rich language, feeling its force, often as it builds line after line, saying almost the same thing but with a different illustration or nuance. Like narrative, poetry doesn’t always comment on the right or wrongs of what is said, leaving the reader to chew over them, and discern these things by reflection on the wider scriptures. We should therefore acknowledge a degree of uncertainty to some of our conclusions, although God’s final verdict on Job’s three friends is that they do not speak “what is right” about him as God (42v7).
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