Saturday, 5 July 2014

(187) July 6: Job 32-34 & Acts 13:1-23

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

To discover:­
As you read note what distinguishes Elihu’s argument from that of the previous three friends.

To ponder:
We have not met Elihu before. The three friends cease their arguments as Job will not shift on his assertion that he is “righteous.” And Elihu is angry. But it is not at Job’s claim to be upright, but at his focus on justifying his innocence rather than God’s. He was therefore angry at the friends too, for not refuting Job in this. Such anger is not always wrong, if it is for God’s honour (Jn 2v16-17).
            Elihu comes across as godly himself. He is humble enough to respect his elders and hear them first – a lesson in restraint many could learn from (32v4-7). He also speaks more gently, reassuring Job that he need not fear him (33v7), and that he is concerned for Job (33v32). This is a better example of how to speak with those who suffer. Nevertheless, Elihu feels compelled to speak by the understanding he has as a human being, and is determined to be honest (33v8-22). Indeed, he is concerned the three friends might leave the refuting to God (32v13). 
            Elihu calls Job to answer him, and ably sums up Job’s argument. Job is saying he is pure yet God has found fault with him, implying God must therefore be unjust (33v8-11, also 34v5). 33v12 probably means that Job is wrong because he is assuming God acts just like men do. In other words, this may be a right conclusion at the level of human justice, but God’s purposes are broader. This tendency to complain about what God is doing in suffering because it seems inconsistent with human concepts of what is right is common. But our concepts of how things should be reflect our limited understanding and perspective. As God’s do not, he often acts in ways that seem unacceptable to us, but that with full knowledge we would accept as right and just.
Elihu goes on to state Job is complaining that God doesn’t answer him (ie. his “man’s words”), but adds that God does nevertheless “speak” (33v12-14). He does this by terrifying people in their dreams to warn them to turn from pride and wrongdoing (33v14-18), and by inflicting them with suffering. Here Elihu describes sufferings like Job’s (33v19-22). His point seems to be that God has already spoken to Job, and not to charge him with wrongdoing, but keep him from it, and specifically from pride – which he would have been prone to due to his highly esteemed position in society. In other words, although Elihu seems to assume with the others that Job has done wrong, he holds that suffering may be discipline rather than punishment (Heb 12v4-8), to turn a man’s “soul” from the pit, ie. grave (33v30). His speculation about a possible mediating angel who would speak to God on the sinner’s behalf, ransoming him from the pit so he could be restored to health, all echoes Job’s earlier longings (33v23-26, see 16v19-21, 19v25-27). It implies hope for restoration if Job will only “pray” to God. He could then testify to others that despite his sin he didn’t get what he deserved (33v26-27).
            In chapter 34 Elihu may be addressing Job’s three friends, rather than wise men in general (34v1-4). He states Job “keeps company with evildoers.” In context this probably means that by saying there is no gain in pleasing God because he is unjust, Job is aligning himself with the wicked who think such things (34v7-9). To this Elihu declares that God repays men for what they do as it is “unthinkable for God to do wrong,” and especially when one considers he holds everyone’s lives in his hand (34v10-15). Elihu then states that God displays justice in how he governs rulers, punishing the godless so that they do not continue ruling and so “laying snares” for people (34v16-30).
            Now addressing Job, Elihu then speaks of the person who vocalizes an acceptance of guilt and a desire to learn where they’ve gone wrong, but then refuses to actually repent (34v31-33). He is probably implying this is what Job has done by asking God to show him the error of his ways if he has done wrong, whilst refusing to actually admit any wrongdoing. Elihu is clear, God will not reward such people. He then adds that Job speaks without knowledge and longs that Job be “tested to the utmost” (ie. punished) for answering like a “wicked man,” and so adding conscious “rebellion” against God to his less wilful sin. Elihu has a commendable zeal for God, and highlights how those who suffer can sin in their speech about God. But he still hasn’t fully appreciated Job’s situation.
Praying it home:
Praise God for how he does use suffering to discipline people and wake them up to sin or a tendency to pride. Pray that you would trust God in suffering and not speak against him.

Thinking further:
None today.
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