Tag Archives: Job

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.

 

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.