Category Archives: Job

Is Affliction Discipline or Judgment?

 

In the book of Job, one of the primary faults of both Job and his poor counseling friends was their inability to understand how divine affliction can be justly administered to the righteous.  On the one hand, the friends failed to reconcile this with the justice of God, while on the other hand, Job failed to reconcile this with the goodness of God.  The argument of the former was that God afflicts the unrighteous, so Job must by necessary consequence be unrighteous.  The argument of the latter was that God arbitrarily afflicts both the righteous and the unrighteous because He’s basically a big meanie who borders on being unjust.  The friends of Job were certain that his affliction was the product of divine retribution correlated to sin, consequently they viewed Job as being in the cross-hairs of God’s punishment.  Job continually maintained his innocence, but didn’t have a category, other than the capriciousness of God, for why he was being afflicted.

Thankfully, Scripture is not silent on the issue of whether Christians are either under divine discipline or divine judgment, so we’re not left wondering or debating the issue.  In the Book of Hebrews, chapter 12, we have a verse that speaks precisely to the heart of this very issue.  I’ve included the surrounding verses for context

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

Briefly, the author of this passage exhorts believers to persevere on their pilgrimage to holiness, fighting against sin, and embracing the discipline that comes from the hand of the Lord.  In doing so, he supports his statement by citing an Old Testament passage (Prov. 3:11-12), which is the modus operandi of the author.  With this citation, and his own discourse, he uses the word discipline (Grk. paideia) 8 times (note the underlined use above is supplied by the translation).

In it’s first entry on this word, Thayer’s lexicon defines it as,

the whole training and education of children – which relates to the cultivation of mind and morals, and employs for this purpose now commands and admonitions, now reproof and punishment.”

The use of this particular word helps the author support his example of the relationship of a father to his children with respect to discipline.  Here, he creates a parallel of the earthly relationship of father to children in order to relate to the heavenly relationship of God the Father with His own children.  In doing so he firmly roots the source of discipline as love, the motivation as the believer’s good, and the goal as holiness.

A.W. Pink in his brief, but helpful book titled Comfort for the Christian elaborates on this word by preferring the translation, “son-training.” He writes

“Unhappily there is no word in the English language which is capable of doing justice to the Greek term here.  ‘Paideia’ which is rendered ‘chastening’ [KJV; ESV discipline] is only another form of ‘paidion’ which signifies ‘young children,’ being the tender word that was employed by the Saviour in John 21:5 and Hebrews 2:13.  One can see at a glance the direct connection which exists between the words ‘disciple’ and ‘discipline’.  Son-training would be better.  It has reference to God’s education, nurture and discipline of His children.  It is the Father’s wise and loving correction which is in view.”

Considering this in relation to the affliction that Job experienced we are, more easily than he and his friends, able to reconcile his righteousness with his suffering concluding that it was for training of a son, not punishment of an enemy.  In fleshing out this distinction between divine discipline and divine punishment further, Pink makes a threefold distinction.  First, he notes the character of God, acting in the former as a Father and the latter as a Judge.  Next, he draws a distinction between the recipients, sons for discipline and enemies for punishment.  Finally, the distinction in design, one is retributive, the other remedial.  “One flowing from His anger, the other from His love.”  Recall in the Book of Job that the entire argumentation of the friends was the misapplication of divine retribution.

God has reserved His divine punishment, or wrath, for those who have not repented and trusted in Christ for salvation.  God’s children are no longer under His wrath, no longer capable of receiving divine punishment, as that was exhausted for them in Christ’s death on the cross.  There is, however, divine discipline or chastisement, reserved exclusively for His children, from His love and for their good.  Turning one final time to Pink, he observes in the cases of David, Job, Abraham, and Paul four distinct purposes for this divine discipline.  For David, his affliction was retributive, or punishment for the sins he had committed.  Keep in mind however that this retribution is not condemning, not judgment, and not sourced from wrath.  It too is driven from God’s love for David’s good, as we may now see in Psalm 51 among others.  Turning to Job, A.W. Pink categorizes his affliction as “corrective” or we might say refining, as it exposed the indwelling sin of Job’s heart, namely pride.  With Abraham, we have and educative use of affliction for the purpose of “developing spiritual graces.”  Finally, with Paul and his thorn in the flesh, Pink describes this as “preventative against pride.”

Our loving Father knows the right affliction at the right time for each of our spiritual conditions whether it be punishment for sin, corrective or refining for sins which we were unaware, educational – that we might grow in our knowledge of God, or preventative – hedging us in to keep us from sin.  How good it is to meditate on this omniscience of God and know that in His wisdom, from His love, He cares for each of His children not leaving them to wander aimlessly like the sheep we are, but as the Great Shepherd He brings the rod for our own good.   Do not despise this, nor grow weary, but endure dear Christians, “God is treating you as sons.”

The Untamed Tongue

 

In the book of Job, there’s a sub-current theme that has largely gone unnoticed but deserves a closer look.  This theme is developed around the use of words and speech throughout the book, so much so that 22.5% of the Hebrew found in the book is related to key terms for speech.  For comparison, the book of Isaiah uses these same key terms 22.7% of the time, while Deuteronomy and Proverbs are 34.2% and 8.7% respectively. (see Barrick, William, “Messianic Implications in Elihu’s ‘Mediator Speech'”)

While the principal speakers of the book of Job – Bildad, Elihu, Eliphaz, Job, the Narrator, Zophar, and the Almighty God – all use or make reference to words or speeches, by far and away the majority is by Job himself (Note that Satan, Job’s servants, and Job’s wife do not make use of these words).  This should be unsurprising for at least the basic reason that Job is the central figure and does the majority of the speaking, however, the larger meaning likely has more to do with the overall interpretation and understanding of the book as a whole, namely that even righteous Job cannot tame the tongue.

While we are told early on in the book that Job was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil”, it is by his own admission that his tongue has tripped him up with respect to speaking about his affliction, its divine purpose and meaning, and more importantly, questioning the very character of God, Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” Job 42:3  

In chapter 4, during the speech of Eliphaz, he reminds Job that in the past, his “words have upheld him who was stumbling” yet as the affliction wears on and indwelling sin continues to be stirred up, Job’s words are unable to be restrained. This affliction, brought about by the hand of God, served to stir up settled sin in the heart of Job, out of which the overflow spilled to his words.

In the Book of James, which some have argued (rightly) is a New Testament commentary on the Book of Job, the Apostle draws the readers attention to the dangers of the untamed tongue, first by way of introduction in chapter 1 and then by way of exposition of this intro in chapter 3. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility that James has Job in mind when he mentions this section, particularly as he describes mankind’s ability to tame all sorts of creatures, but not the tongue, For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind,but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” James 3:7-8  This should especially call to mind the references to the creation of beasts and birds, reptiles and sea creatures, that Yahweh uses in His response to Job in chapters 38-41.

Commenting on this verse in James, Puritan Thomas Manton writes, 

The tongue is barely subdued for any good use.  And in this life God does not give absolute grace to avoid every idle word.  This refutes the idea of the power of free will alone; we cannot tame one part of the body.  Consider the offenses of the tongue and you will see that you must walk humbly with God. (CCC on James, pg. 195)

With Job, we are given evidence and insight into the life of a truly righteous man who reveals that in the midst affliction, even he is unable to tame the unruly tongue that speaks out of the abundance of the heart (Luke 6:45).  Job fell victim to the trappings of the “last word” in an argument and looseness of his words toward Almighty God.  If Job fails in with regard to the untamable tongue, what hope is there for us?

Turning again to Manton we get sound counsel in this regard,

Though we have lost our power, God must not lose his right.  Weakness does not exempt us from duty; we must bridle the tongue, though we cannot do this ourselves.

Even if we cannot bridle it, God can.  The horse does not tame himself, nor the camel himself; man tames the beast, and God tames man.

He then offers two methods for the duty of taming the tongue

  1. Come before God humbly; bewail the depravity of your nature,  manifested in this uncontrolled part of the body.

  2. Come earnestly.

Finally, we may gain superior wisdom from the pen of the divinely inspired Apostle James who writes that we should, “be quick to hear and slow to speak.”  James 1:19

The example of Job and the exhortation from James stand as stark witnesses that the tongue is an untamable viper.  Nevertheless, let us labor in this duty; let us mourn when we fail; let us extend grace to those whose tongues speak with liberality; and let us follow the example of our Lord, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” 1 Peter 2:23

The Vindication of Job

 

The final chapter in our series on “How to Interpret the Book of Job” brings us to what might best be summarized as The Vindication of Job.  However, rather than occurring in a single instance, instead it has been an unfolding process throughout the book that culminates during and at the conclusion of Yahweh’s speeches.

In order to rightly interpret the final chapter and feel the weight of the emotion felt here and in the chapters leading up to this one, we must remind ourselves that the overwhelming chorus of Job’s speeches has been the insistence on his integrity and the desire for vindication by a mediator.  We may call to mind  Job 9:15-30; 10:7; 13:15-23; 16:17; 23:7-12; 27:3-6; 31:36-37  as instances where vindication is central in the thought and speech of Job.  With this reminder before us, we turn to the vindication applied to Job in chapter 42, which generally unfolds in three sections that we will summarize as The Response (42:1-6), The Rebuke (42:7-9), and The Restoration (42:10-17).

Then Job answered the Lord and said:

“I know that you can do all things,
    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

First, in interpreting The Response as indicated in Job 42:1-6 cited above, we must also look at Job’s initial response to God found in Job 40:3-5.

Then Job answered the Lord and said:

“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
    I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
    twice, but I will proceed no further.”

A comparison and contrast of the two is necessary in order to ask and answer one principal question, “What was lacking in the first response that caused God to continue His verbal barrage?”  The answer should be clear.  Despite Job’s recognition of his own smallness in comparison with the supremacy of God and his pledge of silence in his first response, he had not yet expressed repentance.  This becomes central in his second response, found in this last chapter, where Job’s contrition is on display through not only his words, but his actions.  This response has 5 principle parts

  1. Recognition
  2. Recitation #1, with confession
  3. Recitation #2, with confession
  4. Retraction
  5. Repentance

It’s significant that Job begins with a recognition of the supremacy of God, which he qualifies by statements on God’s omnipotence and God’s sovereignty.  This is the fountain from which the remainder of Job’s words flow and a direct result of the Word of God in chapters 38-41 which served to till and plow the proud heart of Job.  From this soil of recognition, Job recites two questions from God and answers them with subsequent confessions of his own inadequacy.  He then retracts his misspoken words in the form of a statement of self-loathing before finally repenting in dust and ashes.

In the next section of the chapter, we find The Rebuke of Job’s friends serving as a critical component to the overall statement of vindication.  After the Lord spoke to Job, He directs His attention to Eliphaz, the unofficial spokesman of Job’s three counseling friends.  This address begins with the assertion of God’s character by describing how His wrath has been kindled through the ignorant tongues of the three friends. In the midst of this rebuke, we are given the first layer of Job’s vindication, namely that he will intercede for his friends.

This initial point of vindication is structured around a crucial statement which God repeats three times.  The first occurs after God issues His instructions to Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar commanding them to bring seven bulls and seven rams to, “My servant Job”.  Literally meaning “slave”, the word translated as servant, is preceded by a statement of possessive ownership of God and occurs three times in verse 8.  The first, as just mentioned, is followed by a reference to Job’s intercession for his friends in prayer, which is followed by a a statement simultaneously rebuking the words of the three friends while commending the words of Job.

Recall that the title used in reference to God in introducing His speeches is Yahweh, a reminder of the unwavering covenant love and relation of God to Job.  Here we see a second indication of the relationship, that of servant (or slave) to Master.  If the former indicated goodness and love, the latter indicates freedom and hierarchy, which we will see more clearly later.

In the next verse, we have an indication of the spiritual condition of the three friends, namely their unquestioned obedience of the command of God to bring their sacrifices to Job, despite their errant applications of affliction, .  Immediately after this, we read of further vindication for Job, the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.”  The NASB footnote for verse 9 provides a more striking translation of this phrase as, “The Lord lifted up the face of Job.”   This seems to recall Job 9:24; 11:15; and 22:26.  Again, it should be pointed out that this is Job’s intercession of his friends, whom to this point have been a continual thorn in the side of Job, serving much more as his enemies than his friends.  It is therefore not difficult to find parallel with our Lord Jesus Christ who not only prayed for His murderers on the cross, but provides continual prayer and intercession as High Priest for those who were once His enemies.  

With this statement, we are ushered into the final section of Job’s vindication, The Restoration, introduced for us in 42:10.  In Job 42:11-13 we are given the particulars of Job’s restoration from God in doubling all that he had before, including his children (It should be noted that he had 10 children before and has 10 children again, for a total of 20, giving an implicit reference to expectation of resurrection and rejoining his lost children).  Following this, we read of an interesting interlude where the daughters of Job are mentioned by name, commended for their beauty, and rewarded with an unprecedented share of Job’s inheritance, a seat usually reserved for the first born and almost exclusively for sons.

The summary and conclusion comes in the final two verses as we read, And after this Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, four generations. 17 And Job died, an old man, and full of days.”

The restoration of the fortunes and family of Job, brings up a pivotal interpretive impasse for the entire argument of the book, namely this:  “Does God’s restoration of Job, after his repentance, validate the prosperity gospel of Job’s friends?”  This is not a trivial question, in fact it goes to the heart of the interpretation for the book, for each step of the way the interpretive keys have steered in the direction of the misinterpretation of Job’s affliction by the three friends and their misapplication of the retributive justice of God to the case of Job.  If those keys are wrong, then one must read this vindication of Job as validation of the friends and thereby cause us to reinterpret the entire book, by necessity, this time reading the words of the friends as correct and Job’s as wrong.  If this were the case, then it contradicts the statement made by Yahweh in 42:9.  So what are we to conclude?

Recall that their were two (at least) attributes of God that neither Job nor his friends could reconcile with the events of affliction that were taking place, namely the goodness and freedom of God, which we alluded to earlier.  It wasn’t until the speeches of Elihu (chapters 33-37) that Job was instructed on God’s good purposes for affliction and likewise the speeches of God where Job was instructed on the freedom of God.  In this final part of vindication, The Restoration, God combines both His goodness and freedom and puts it on display in the form of physical blessings.  What a marvelous display of God’s grace and condescension in restoring His servant Job, while revealing more of His infinite character to Him.  However, with this, let us be reminded that God is under no obligation to act in this way for every one of His saints who are brought through the refining fires of affliction.

The vindication of Job is an interpretive key for the entire book because 1. God vindicates the integrity of Job, even though all that he has said has not been accurate. 2 God rebukes Job’s friends even though all that they have said has not been wrong. 3. The restoration of Job invalidates the prosperity gospel while simultaneously asserting the freedom of God.  This should teach us to read God’s Word, particularly the individual books, completely and in their context before rushing to interpretive decisions allowing them to unfold before us.