All posts by John

Christian saved by grace through faith.

12 Restraints Against Sin

 

In the book of Job, chapter 31, we find Job in the midst of a discourse in which he acquits himself of at least a dozen sins as he unfolds his closing argument prior to resting his case before the Judge.

While it can be argued that when Elihu arrives he charges Job with self-righteousness, perhaps using the monologue in this chapter as key fodder for those accusations,  we must nevertheless observe how Job was a model of a holy, godly life.  It may be true that he failed to exercise discretion before trumpeting his good deeds to others, there is still much profit to be had in thoroughly digesting this chapter.  Here we’ll use it to examine the reasons behind the motivation for Job’s integrity, or why Job was restrained against the numerous sins from which he exonerated himself.  These restraints against sin may be summarized as follows

  1. Loss of inheritance with God (vs. 2)
  2. Calamity or disaster by the hand of God’s wrath (vs. 3)
  3. Omniscience of God (vs. 4)
  4. Heinousness of Sin (vs. 11)
  5. Loss of estate & soul (vs. 12)
  6. Hierarchy with God over him (vs. 14)
  7. Equally Fashioned in the womb by God (vs. 15)
  8. Terror of Calamity from God (vs. 23a)
  9. The Majesty of God (vs. 23b)
  10. Punishment by the judges (vs. 28a)
  11. Hypocrisy (vs. 28b)
  12. Fear of God – is the general tenor of all that comprises this list and is the outflow of the overall condition of Job’s heart.

The first three restraints from this summary occur as Job acquits himself of the sin of fornication or lust.  In Job 31:1 he acquits himself of gazing lustfully at a woman with the memorable statement “I have made a covenant with my eyes.”  Job supports this covenant by pointing toward three restraints, namely the loss of inheritance with God, punishment in the form of calamity or disaster at the hand of God’s wrath, and the omniscience of God.  Essentially, Job is questioning what a man who indulges in lust can expect to receive from God.  The rhetorical question implies the answer is, nothing good, in fact only judgment.  Lust of the flesh can often be a hidden sin because once the eye captures, the heart fans the flames of desire largely resulting in the internalization of the sin, though it may have obvious outward manifestations.  Still, though it be a hidden sin, it is not hidden from the all-seeing omniscient eye of God as Job readily recognizes.

Similarly, Job next applies a set of restraints to adultery, or what we might say is the physical expression of the lusts that were denied previously.  Too often we fail to realize that allowing lust of the eyes unfettered access into our hearts can, and often does, result in a greater depth of sin, namely adultery.  Here Job acquits himself of this sin by stating two restraining factors that have held him back, the heinousness of sin and the everlasting fires of judgment that destroy a man’s estate and his soul.

The next two restraints from sin that Job mentions are applied to his business relationship with his employees, described for us as manservants and maidservants.  Here he is restrained by understanding the hierarchy of God to master and master to servant.  In essence, Job has described Ephesians 6:9, Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master (Lord) and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.”  The second restraint applied to this case is the equality between the classes, master and servant, because God has fashioned both in the womb.  This is certainly a lesson for us that all men and women are created equal because God is the Creator and Maker of all, in His own image we may add.

The next set of restraints are applied to the societal sins from which Job acquits himself found in verses 16-23.  These two are fear of calamity from God and the majesty of God.  James Durham remarks, “He adds [these] reasons to show, that it was neither his natural temper so inclining him, nor applause of men, nor baseness of spirit, that made him forbear such things, but the awe of God, which was the principle of his acting and forbearing.” (pg. 180)

Finally, we arrive at the sin of idolatry, from which Job says he was restrained by the consequence of punishment by judges and the hypocrisy of denying God.  The sin of idolatry was considered a violation of the law and therefore subject to punishment from the civil authorities.  Additionally, Job sees a higher constraint for idolatry, namely that it would mean he had denied God, which in his case would have been hypocrisy of the highest order.

Parsing through these, we find a godly fear operating within Job as the undercurrent that motivates him to refrain from committing open sins.  This is corroborated by the opening commendation of Job in chapters 1 & 2, There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.  While Job mentions at least these eleven restraints it is clear that the chief restraint is the fear of the Lord.  This calls to mind the very words of Job in chapter 28 describing the height of wisdom from God, “And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’”

In addition to the restraints that Job mentions in this chapter, applied toward particular sins, he also calls down a series of curses upon himself applied in the case of other sins.  Job weaves between restraints and consequences both acting to guard him from delving into a life or pattern of various sins.  Oh that our hearts would be so quick to shun evil as was Job’s.  Oh that we would open our eyes to see the fear of the Lord clearly before us that we might be restrained from sin.

Yahweh Speaks

 

There is a sense in which all that has come before chapter 38 in the book of Job has been preparatory for the arrival of Yahweh.  Job has essentially begged for an audience with God, his friends have at times assumed to speak for God, and Elihu has announced the arrival of God at the conclusion of his final speech.  It is here, at the beginning of chapter 37, that Elihu prepares the way for Yahweh to speak by using metaphorical language of a storm to refer to the voice of God, as highlighted below

Keep listening to the thunder of his voice
    and the rumbling that comes from his mouth.
Under the whole heaven he lets it go,
    and his lightning to the corners of the earth.
After it his voice roars;
    he thunders with his majestic voice,
    and he does not restrain the lightnings when his voice is heard.
God thunders wondrously with his voice

At the end of this chapter, Elihu again uses storm imagery to describe the imminent arrival of Yahweh

“And now no one looks on the light
    when it is bright in the skies,
    when the wind has passed and cleared them.
22 Out of the north comes golden splendor;
    God is clothed with awesome majesty.
23 The Almighty—we cannot find him;
    he is great in power;
    justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate.
24 Therefore men fear him;
    he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit.”

All of this, and as noted the entirety of the book, prepares us for chapter 38, the long-awaited arrival as God calls Job to account through two (possibly three) speeches, which span chapters 38 to 41.  Puritan James Durham notes that these speeches occur in three distinct sections, each with a key verse that functions as a challenge issued to Job.  The first is found in chapters 38-39 with challenge #1 at Job 38:2.  The second occurs in chapter 40 with challenge #2 being Job 40:2 and the final section occurs in chapter 40:6-41:34 with challenge #3 being issued in Job 40:8.  These speeches may be organized for our interpretation by examining the introductory arrival of God, as well as the content, purpose, and accomplishment of these speeches.

As God arrives on the scene, several observations may be made from the narrator’s introduction, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said”.  First, we may observe that the covenant name, Yahweh (LORD), is now being used for the first time (Job 12:9 is the lone exception) since the opening chapters.  This is significant because it serves to highlight the loving relationship that God has maintained with his servant Job, despite Job’s complaint that the opposite was true.  Second, we may observe that God answers Job from His own divine prerogative.  God is under no obligation to respond to anyone, let alone Job, despite his integrity.  Through the speech that follows, God will accomplish all that He has intended, yet it is by His condescension that He replies to Job at all, a product of His grace.  Third, Yahweh speaks to Job out of the whirlwind.  While not the exact word used in chapter 1 to describe the storm that killed Job’s children, nevertheless a parallel must be drawn between the scenes.  Additionally, it is remarkable that God chooses here to speak to Job “out of the whirlwind” yet chose in 1 Kings 19 to speak to Elijah by a still small voice.  God knows by what means to respond to His children in order to get their attention.  Elijah was broken, Job had need to be broken.  This relationship is noteworthy (cf. James 5).

The content of these speeches are not altogether unique, as it pertains to the Book of Job, though certainly the Orator is the origin of all truths regarding Him.  Many of the sustaining acts of creation, as well as some of the creatures, have been previously mentioned in Job.  In fact, the general tenor of Yahweh’s speeches, namely the highlight of His sovereignty and providence, have been a subject broached throughout the book.  Some noteworthy occurrences come from the mouth of Eliphaz (Job 4:7-11; 5:8-16) and Zophar (Job 11:7-9), but most prominently from Job (Job 9:3-12; 12:7-10; 26:5-14) and Elihu (Job 35:10-11; 36: 24-33; 37:2-24).

The speeches of Yahweh consist of 77 questions, 61 if you count the question marks in the English Standard Version.  The difference is due primarily to the fact that many of the questions are multifaceted serving to build upon each other and add weight to the interrogation of Job.  Additionally, the questions, while rhetorical in nature, all carry an implied “no” as their expected response from Job.   In the first speech, the focus is primarily on the creative and sustaining acts of God, while the second (third?) speech is focused primarily on the creatures that God has created.  In all, at least 8 animals are described, plus the mysterious creatures Behemoth and Leviathan.

The deliverance of these questions are sometimes paused briefly for a moment of personal application.  This occurs in Job 38:21; 38:36; 40:15; 41:8-11.  Among these, Job 40:15 stands out because it sharpens the point of the sword of this discourse on the Behemoth by associating its creatureliness directly with Job’s.   The attention drawn out in this relationship helps focus the true purpose behind God’s discourses on His creation.

The purposes of God’s speeches directed toward Job are numerous but begin with the exaltation of His character, namely His majesty in sovereignly creating and ordering the universe, His goodness in caring for the least of His creatures (by implication His greater care for mankind as just mentioned), and His freedom in doing whatever His hand desires.  A second purpose of God’s speeches are to abase the creature, namely Job, and by extension all mankind.  By exalting His own character and asking Job if he is capable of exhibiting the same providential care it serves to humble him before the Almighty through this contrast with divinity.  Additionally, God does this, i.e. exalting His name, by drawing the mind to observe the creation.

Through His response to Job, God does not answer the “Why is God” nor the “Where is God” but the “Who is God.”  In the midst of affliction, or more broadly in the midst of tragedy in general, too often the demand is to answer the former two questions, “Why is God allowing this to happen?” or “Where was God?”  meanwhile the latter is largely ignored altogether.  This is precisely how God answers Job and it is completely unexpected.

Finally, we must address the accomplishment of God’s speeches.  Narrowly, the effect of God’s speeches are seen in humbling Job to the point of repentance for his errant words against Him.  Broadly, God’s speeches accomplish the purpose of bringing the eyes of mankind toward the observation of His creation for the purpose of exalting the Creator.  Durham summarizes this well

“God would by all this learn folks to drink in the thoughts of his greatness from his work of day and night, rain, snow, etc., out of everything, to be getting some lesson. And the great lesson of all is to exalt God and abase the creature; a suitable frame for us to be in, [which] would keep us from many debordings [deviations] that we are ready to fall out.” (pg 225)

Reading the words of Yahweh should stir our souls, particularly if we begin a few chapters prior and allow the anticipation for His arrival to carry us as it is meant to.  Applying a simple interpretive grid will help us better understand the reason that God answers the way He does and open our eyes to the significance of this in the case of Job, and our own cases of affliction as well.

“It is a fault in us that we do not dwell more in meditation on the creatures, to find out God in them.” – James Durham (pg. 240)

 

Examining Elihu

 

The poetic interlude in the 28th chapter of Job prepares the way for the arrival of a new character on the scene.  By the time the words of Job are ended in chapter 31, the silence created by his last defense allows for an opening and introduction of a young man, Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram.”

As the narrator introduces Elihu, we are informed that his anger burns towards Job and his three friends, the former because “he justified himself” and the latter because they had failed to properly answer Job, instead condemning him.  Apparently, the dialogues and diatribes from the previous chapters took place in a public venue and Elihu was one of, perhaps many, observers.

Confusion regarding the presence of Elihu in the midst of Job abounds.  Some commentators have viewed him as the mouthpiece of Satan while others see him as a Christological figure providing the mediation that Job had long desired.  With such a wide spectrum of opinions, how then are we to understand Elihu’s overall contribution to the book and more importantly, how are we to rightly interpret his speeches?  To arrive at these answers and others yet to be asked, we need to examine Elihu in order to discern whether he is helpful or hurtful, friend or foe.

The speeches of Elihu span from chapter 32 to chapter 37 and are often filled with verbosity.  Over these 6 chapter divisions, which we may be reminded are not original, nor inspired, but instead a later, helpful interpretative addition, Elihu offers four speeches.  Speech 1 occurs in chapters 32 and 33 and generally may be viewed as an apologetic introduction.  Speech 2 is contained entirely in chapter 34, largely consisting of rebukes towards Job and his friends.  The third speech is found in chapter 35 and the subject begins to transition away from Job and his three poor counselors to theology proper, namely God Himself.  The fourth and final speech of Elihu fills the remainder of the chapters (36-37) and is chiefly a discourse on the character and majesty of God as he prepares for His arrival in the subsequent chapters.

There are at least four key themes that may be gleaned from Elihu’s speeches, and probably more, but for our general examination here we will limit them to:

  1. A rebuke of Job for being right in his own eyes
  2. Pride
  3. The majesty of God
  4. The purposes of God in affliction.

As the young man enters center stage, we read of his lengthy apologetic in chapter 32, setting the stage for his own interjection of opinions into the affliction that Job.  There is somewhat of an initial tone of humility expressed by Elihu and we have no real reason to assume anything other than proper motives for voicing his own opinions here.  However, he does at times go too far in his harshness and, as with the other speeches, his cannot simply be taken as inerrant.  In his opening remarks we see that he has respectfully waited his turn to speak while his elders offered their extensive advice to Job.

The rebukes of Job come early and often, as Elihu holds back very little, if anything, of what has been building up inside, like wine waiting for venting.  His initial rebukes of Job are often accompanied by quotations of things that Job has said.  With these, there has been confusion whether Elihu has intentionally misconstrued what Job has said, or whether he is simply generalizing what Job has said.  Determining which position to take on these quotations likely determines whether one views Elihu in a negative or positive light respectively.  In his opening apologetic, he has already informed his audience that he has been a diligent listener of the proceedings (Job 32:11-12).  It seems unlikely that Elihu is undertaking a smear campaign of Job by intentionally distorting his previous speeches.  Instead, it seems more reasonable to conclude that Elihu is generalizing, though sometimes inaccurately, for the purpose of summarizing the tenor of Job’s speeches.

This occurs in Elihu’s first rebuke of Job from chapter 33:8-13 (ESV)

“Surely you have spoken in my ears,
    and I have heard the sound of your words.
You say, ‘I am pure, without transgression;
    I am clean, and there is no iniquity in me.
10 Behold, he finds occasions against me,
    he counts me as his enemy,
11 he puts my feet in the stocks
    and watches all my paths.’

12 “Behold, in this you are not right. I will answer you,
    for God is greater than man.
13 Why do you contend against him,
    saying, ‘He will answer none of man’s words’?

This passage (Job 33:8-13) is typical and exhibits well the characteristic thoughts of Elihu with regard to Job.  In this we see Elihu’s attentiveness to the arguments which were previously laid out, his summation of Job’s perspective on his affliction, and his concluding rebuke.  Verse 9, cited above, illustrates the difficulty with how to interpret Elihu’s take on Job’s complaints.  On the one hand, some have taken it to conclude that he misconstrues Job by claiming that he spoke of his innocence, in toto.  However, Job did no such thing, only maintaining his innocency with regard to his present affliction.  In fact, on several occasions we read of Job referring to past sins: Job 13:23-26; 14:16.  Meanwhile, others have concluded, and perhaps rightly, that Elihu is simply making a generalization of Job maintaining his righteousness and that he has denied all along any correlation between his affliction and unconfessed or hidden sins.  Additional rebukes of Job in Elihu’s speeches occur in Job 34:5-9; 34:35-35:4; 35:16; 36:16-24 and 37:14-20

A second key theme of Elihu, as we enumerated above, is the subject of pride.  Perhaps this theme is less obvious than the rebukes of Job and less powerful than the exaltation of God’s majesty, yet nevertheless it percolates throughout, primarily by way of mentions in Job 33:17; 35:12; 36:9; 37:24.  Context for each of these are informative.  The first occurs while Elihu outlines some purposes of God in affliction, which we will look at in more detail below.  By stating that affliction may serve to humble and keep one from pride, Elihu has essentially placed his finger on the pulse of Job’s chief malady.  In Job 35:12, he informs us that God may choose not to answer the prayers of those who are being afflicted because of their pride (cf. James 4:7).  The third passage, Job 36:9, seems to specifically address those who are in position of authority, i.e. kings, who are “caught in the cords of affliction” in which the Lord, “declares to them their work and their transgressions, that they are behaving arrogantly.”  Again, our context for pride rises out of God’s purposes in affliction.  Finally, Job 37:24, the final words of Elihu, conclude by stating that the Lord “does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit.”  If we are to conclude that often what is most important is spoken last, then we are on sure footing when concluding that pride is a major theme in these speeches and an indication of the true sin that Job possessed.

These emphases on pride are used in the speeches of Elihu both directly and indirectly to rebuke Job of this hidden, indwelling sin that wasn’t stirred up until affliction struck.  Job’s continual lamenting, at some point, crossed over from anguish and spilled into self-pity rooted in pride.  Ultimately, while Job may have indeed been innocent of a directly correlated sin to his affliction, he nevertheless became guilty of pride and it was out of this condition of the heart that his tongue spoke faux knowledge that darkened the wisdom and majesty of God.

Which brings us to the third key theme of Elihu, namely the exaltation of the Majesty of God.  This is actually not a new theme in Job as we have seen bits and pieces from Job himself and his friends.  However, with Elihu it serves a preparatory function, awaiting the arrival of God.  While each of his speeches are peppered with statements that highlight the character and attributes of God, it is Job 36:22 to the end of chapter 37 that really prepares the way for the arrival of God by proclaiming the majesty of God, particularly as it relates to his creation.  Perhaps, in a very real sense, Elihu is functioning as a type of John the Baptist.  In this way, God’s speeches are not a shock when He speaks of ostriches and wild donkeys, rather this is a continuation, albeit now inerrant, of thoughts expressed previously about Him, serving to build upon the truths and correct the errors.

The final key theme found in Elihu’s speeches is the purpose of God in affliction.  There are at least 8 clear purposes, but perhaps more can be gleaned from these four speeches.  These occur in Job 33:7; 33:30; 34:27; 36:10-11; 36:16; 36:22; 37:7 and 37:13.  With these wide varieties of God’s purposes which may be found in affliction, Elihu has risen above the argument of Job’s friends that affliction is limited to the wicked.  Additionally, he has solved Job’s dilemma that while the wicked suffer, so to do the righteous, but these sufferings flow from a capricious God and to be appear arbitrary and largely meaningless.

Given this overview of Elihu, what may we conclude?  With the exception of perhaps some sharp language in his rebuke of Job, he was correct in his assessment of pride, his exaltation of God’s majesty, and the purposes of God in affliction.  At the conclusion of his speeches, we are given several additional indications that validate Elihu.  First, Elihu was the only contributor that Job did not reply to.  Second, and perhaps most importantly, in His final analysis of Job and his friends, God did not issue a rebuke to Elihu.  Having undertaken this examination of Elihu, we may conclude that Elihu was indeed helpful.