CAREFULLY EVALUATE EXPLANATIONS

 

Week of November 13, 2005

 

Bible Passage:Job 4:6-8; 5:27; 8:4-8; 11:13-15; 13:20-24.

Biblical Truth: Human explanations for suffering and loss often fall short of understanding Godís purposes for allowing them.

 

Overview of Job.

 

It is one thing to bear a sudden tragedy. It is quite another to suffer its pain for weeks and months and even years afterward. In one afternoon Job had lost his ten children and all his wealth. Shortly afterward he was afflicted with a horrid skin disease. In both these tragedies he kept his faith in the sovereign hand of God [1:21, 2:10]. The weeks of relentless pain had taken their toll on Jobís serenity. He now questions God in 3:11, 20. When the three friends of Job hear this protest they cannot stay silent any longer. So Eliphaz speaks in chapters 4-5 and sets the course for Bildad and Zophar as well. He spells out a principle that runs through all the speeches of the three friends: trouble comes to those who sin, but the innocent do not perish. Suffering is the result of sin, and prosperity is the result of righteousness. Job knows that this principle is too simple because it does not answer the hard questions. It does not answer why some suffer in an extraordinary way even though they have not sinned in an extraordinary way, but in fact may be godly and upright people. It does not answer why some prosper in an extraordinary way even though they are extraordinary sinners. So Job protests his innocence. But again and again the three friends insist that suffering follows wickedness. Something happens to Job through this long conversation with his three friends. He begins in chapter 3 with utter dismay and he cries out against the wisdom of God in giving him birth. The duration of his disease had almost defeated the initial stand of faith that he took at the first [1:22; 2:10]. But little by little you can watch his faith regaining its strength as he fights against the superficial theology of his friends. His faith finally breaks out into victory in chapter 19. In 19:25-27 Job reaches an answer: As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God; Whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes will see and not another. My heart faints within me! Job is finally sure that beyond the grave he will meet God as a Redeemer and not an angry Judge. This confidence does not answer all Jobís questions or solve all his theological problems. He still is utterly perplexed as to why he should have to suffer as he does. His suffering goes right on. God seems utterly arbitrary in the way he parcels out suffering and comfort in this life. But Jobís confidence of new life after death does enable him to hold fast to three of his cherished convictions, namely the sovereign power of God, the goodness and justice of God, and the faithfulness of his own heart. With those convictions he holds out against the simplistic doctrine of justice in the mouths of his three friends.

 

Flawed Appeal to Justice 4:6-8; 5:27.

 

[6] Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope? [7] Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright destroyed? [8] According to what I have see, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble harvest it. [5:27] Behold this; we have investigated it, and so it is. Hear it, and know for yourself. [NASU]

 

Eliphazís speeches start in Job 4. Eliphaz seems to be the oldest, profoundest and generally gentlest of the three friends. He has a deep faith in Godís transcendent holiness, and a deep experience of God making himself known. Here he is faced with his suffering friend. He has witnessed a profound and sudden change in Jobís fortunes, from one who was so rich to one who has now become so poor. He has heard the terrible outburst of chapter 3, but he knows nothing of the secret goings-on between God and Satan in the heavenly court. Now he ventures to reply to Jobís lament. In this first speech, Eliphaz recognizes Jobís true piety and goodness. He recognizes that in days gone by Job has admonished many [3], and has strengthened feeble knees [4]. Job has been known as someone who cares for those in trouble. He is a man of piety and blameless ways [6]. Job has been in touch with the suffering of others. But now trouble has come to him [5]. Eliphaz tries to encourage Job to be more confident, and to live in hope [6], for is it not the case that innocent and upright people are actually kept safe by God [7]? He bases his comfort on the belief that the righteous are not ultimately destroyed, the innocent do not perish [7]. We need to remind ourselves at this point of the theological view, shared by Eliphaz and the other friends, and by Job also, which is expressed in Job 4:8: Those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble harvest it. You reap what you sow. That is the position on which Eliphaz is building his argument. Behind this theological principle is a view of the world as an ordered moral universe. God is a just God and a good God. Virtue will be rewarded, and the way of the wicked will perish. So far Eliphaz is perfectly right. This is a moral universe. As the psalmist in Psalm 1 made clear, there is a basic choice between godliness and the way of the wicked. There is no third option. Many biblical writers pick up this theme. Jesus himself says, By your standard of measure it will be measured to you [Mark 4:24]. And Paul illustrates the same theme when he says, Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap [Gal. 6:7]. Although the gospel of grace in the New Testament reminds us that if we are united with Christ there is no longer any condemnation in the face of Godís moral law [Rom. 8:1], this does not remove that other strand of Paulís theology: namely that Christians are judged according to their works [1 Cor. 3:10-15]. In this sense Eliphaz gets it perfectly right. He reminds Job that he lives in a moral universe, and that godliness will bring its good reward. However, in another sense, Eliphaz gets it entirely wrong. For he wrongly believes that this theological principle works the other way round: that everything you reap must result from something you have sown. This is manifestly untrue of Job. Eliphaz is here replacing theology with causal logic. He is taking a right theological principle and turning it on its head in a way which is both wrong and unfair. The view that we reap what we sow is really a statement of faith. We believe that God is a good and sovereign Creator who knows what is best for his people. We believe that he judges the world justly. However, from our vantage-point, we do not always know what is best for us, nor can we see how God is ruling his world. In fact what we see often seems to contradict our faith in the goodness of God. Eliphaz seems unable to allow God to be the judge of rewards and punishments, or even to allow that some principle other than rewards and punishments may be in operation. He insists on interpreting what he sees before his eyes as evidence of Godís mind. Therefore he affirms: ĎBecause, Job, you are reaping disaster, you must have sown iniquityí. But as Psalm 73 makes clear, Godís actions and providences do not necessarily fit in with our immediate expectancies. God is working to purposes of his own. It is only when the psalmist could see things from the perspective of eternity that he began to understand [Ps. 73:17]. Eliphaz fails to distinguish between an earthly and a heavenly perspective. He operates with an easy natural view of causes and effects Ė that a visible effect (Jobís suffering) must come from an obvious cause (Jobís sin). We need to keep the doctrine of retributive justice within the broader context of Godís loving and often unexpected grace. Sometimes God allows us to go through experiences in which his face seems turned away from us. Sometimes we learn in that way lessons of faith that we could never have learned in any other way. For Eliphaz to tell us at such times to pull ourselves together and take responsibility for our faults simply misses the point.††

 

Flawed Appeal to Tradition 8:4-8.

 

[4] If your sons sinned against Him, then He delivered them into the power of their transgression. [5] If you would seek God and implore the compassion of the Almighty, [6] If you are pure and upright, surely now He would rouse Himself for you and restore your righteous estate. [7] Though your beginning was insignificant, yet your end will increase greatly. [8] Please inquire of past generations, and consider the things searched out by their fathers. [NASU]

 

Bildadís first speech comes in chapter 8 and opens with a note of annoyance against Job [2]. He goes on to suggest that Jobís childrenís deaths were their own fault [4]. But he has a strong sense of Godís power and Godís justice. Whereas Eliphaz extolled Godís transcendent holiness, Bildad talks more about his power, and his unwavering justice. There is an inflexible righteous and just power in God. So Bildadís remedy for Job is to seek God [5]. Bildad knows there is something wrong in Jobís relationship with God. He calls on Job to be pure and upright so God can restore his possessions to him [6]. In much of his speech, Bildad is simply reflecting the teaching of a long line of godly ancestors. He appeals to them in verses 8-10. Bildad tells Job that things will improve. He includes the somber note that Godís retribution against the wicked will be seen, although it may take more than one generation to work through.

 

Flawed Appeal to Reason 11:13-15.

 

[13] If you would direct your heart right and spread out your hand to Him, [14] If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away, and do not let wickedness dwell in your tents; [15] Then, indeed, you could lift up your face without moral defect, and you would be steadfast and not fear. [NASU]

 

Zophar is our third speaker and is one of those people who think that they have all the answers. The type of person that never lets facts interfere with their theories. He is the last person that we would want to see when we are suffering. Zophar is really very indignant at Jobís continuing protest about his innocence. Zophar rests on Godís omniscience and Godís inscrutable wisdom and, or course, on his own inalienable common sense. Behind Zopharís view, as with Eliphazís, is a view of the universe in which evil is punished. But Zophar seems to turn this into a law of divine retaliation: You owe, so you must pay. He appeals to Job to repent. In verses 13-14, Zophar sets out four steps to repentance, and then the blessings that will follow. Step one is direct your heart right; secondly, spread out your hand to Him; thirdly, if iniquity is in your hand, put it far away; and fourthly, do not let wickedness dwell in your tents. If you do these things, then the blessings of the penitent will come to you. Verses 15-19 paint a picture of these blessings: You will lift up your face without shame, you will stand firm and without fear, you will forget your trouble, and your life will be brighter than noonday; you will be secure because there is hope, you will rest in safety; you will lie down with no one to make you afraid. Zophar is right: the life of faith is to be based on penitence and obedience. God does give the blessings of hope, security and peace to his people. But Zophar, like his friends, is only telling half the truth. He is wrong in forgetting that God also sometimes allows unpredictable and seemingly unfair suffering. He is wrong in presuming that the answer for Job is repentance. But that is his message: if only Job would repent, his happiness would be restored. But if he wonít, then he will go the way of the wicked [11:20].

 

Flawed Appeal to God13:20-24.

 

[20] Only two things do not do to me, then I will not hide from Your face: [21] Remove Your hand from me, and let not the dread of You terrify me. [22] Then call, and I will answer; or let me speak, then reply to me. [23] How many are my iniquities and sins? Make known to me my rebellion and my sin. [24] Why do You hide Your face and consider me Your enemy? [NASU]

 

Job makes only two conditions in his prayer, as he has already expressed it in 9:34 (see also Ps. 39:10): (1) That God would grant him a cessation of his troubles; (2) That God would not overwhelm him with His majesty. Job is concerned to be relieved of his misery, but he is even more concerned not to find himself driven from a place of trust in God to a place of terror before God. But if God grants these two things, then he is ready whether God should Himself call upon Job or permit him to have the first word. He now vividly pictures himself talking with God. He asks God to show him the sin which has caused these sufferings. Iniquities Ö sins Ö rebellion are the three most important Hebrew terms for sin. Job intends here to include all aspects of sin in his request for God to show him what has caused his suffering. The question and challenge of verse 23 is now changed to grievous astonishment in verse 24 that God does not appear to him, and on the contrary continues to pursue him as an enemy without investigating his cause. Job is confused about why his Lord will not speak to him and explain why his sufferings continue. Hide Your face is a Hebrew idiom indicating the absence of Godís favor and blessing. But note here that Job still sees the cause of his sufferings in Godís sovereign hand. Job does not start looking elsewhere for the explanation of his suffering. His faith in Godís sovereign control over the universe remains steadfast. Job maintains his dependence upon God for his salvation: Though He slay me, I will hope in Him [13:15]. Like Job, we must cleave to God even though we cannot, for the present, find comfort in Him. For, like Job, our faith in God teaches us that we have nowhere else to turn.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††† What are the three convictions that Job holds fast to? Why do these convictions enable him to withstand the accusations of his friends?

 

2.†††† What is wrong with the counsel that Jobís three friends give him? Each of the three friends emphasize some attribute or attributes of God. List the attributes that each friends emphasizes. What does this teach you about the danger of interpreting life by isolating one or two of Godís attributes from His perfect nature in its completeness?

 

3.†††† What does Job pray for in 13:20-24? What continues to sustain him in his confusion and pain?

 

References:

The Message of Job, David Atkinson, Inter-Varsity.

Job, F. Delitzsch, Eerdmans.

Job, Matthew Henry.

Job: Wrestling with Suffering, Sermon by John Piper (7/14/85).