Tag Archives: Job

The words of Job are ended

 

The words of Job reach their denouement in the 31st chapter of the book with the concluding statement, “The words of Job are ended.”  To this point, we have heard Job speak at liberty in a variety of ways which began with his first brief response at the onset of affliction in the opening chapter, “And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

This was followed by his second response a chapter later, But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” And then silence; for at least seven days in the presence of his friends, but probably longer due to the time it took them to travel.

By chapter 3, we have no clear reference for how much time has elapsed since the loss of Job’s wealth, the death of his children, and the onset of his excruciating disease.  The seven-day silence is then broken by Job in his lament for death.  We next read Job’s words as he takes his turn in the cyclical interactions with his counseling friends in chapters 6-7; 9-10; 12-13; 16-17; 19; 21; 23-24; and 26-27.

Job’s extended discourse in chapters 26 and 27 is interrupted by the presence of a poetic outburst proclaiming the wisdom of God in chapter 28.  While the location of this chapter in the flow of Job, as well as the orator of this poem, has been the source of debate, it’s best to avoid the speculation by embracing the poem as an interlude in preparation for Elihu’s upcoming speeches and more importantly for the arrival of Yahweh.

In the final three chapters of the words of Job, we see three distinct movements of thought.  The first of these is Job’s longing for the good old days when he walked closely with the Lord and was thought highly of in his community.  In a sense, this overview of the past by Job gives us some insight into his life prior to the events of chapter 1 and adds to our understanding of his overall character.  This pining for the days of old shifts to the present in chapter 30 and Job once again enters into a lament by detailing how the days of old have been reversed and flipped on their head.  Job leaves the present lamentation and begins to conclude with his final defense wherein he lists a series of acquittals from sin.

Looking back over the previous chapters, we may observe that Job has often spoken by way of lament or prayer expressing his desire to die.  He’s offered complaints against God, commendations of God, complaints against his friends, and perhaps most frequently has expressed his desire for vindication, or to be cleared from all accusations of wrong doing.  Through the words of Job, which have meandered and progressed along these various paths from the opening chapters to their conclusion in chapter 31, we can make several observations that will help us with the overall interpretation of the book. These will focus on: 1.) The general spiritual condition of Job 2.) The style or delivery method of Job’s words 3.) The good and the bad.

Regarding Job’s spiritual condition, it’s important to discern that Job vacillates between hope and despair.  With this, it’s critical to note when the occurrence of each takes place and then subsequently to take the context of the words he speaks into account.  In other words, when he is in a moment of despair from the weight of his tragic circumstances and utters words which would make us cringe, we need to understand the context of the wounds out of which these words are spoken.  Likewise, when we read of words of hope and restoration we must realize that this is the faith of Job on display, shining brightly in the midst of the most grievous of circumstances.

Similarly, we may observe in the words of Job that he often wavers between the flesh and the spirit, an internal struggle that every believer of Christ has.  In the New Testament, this is most evident in Romans 7:7-25.  Historically, Martin Luther seems to have placed his finger on the pulse of this malady with the Latin phrase simul justus et peccator, or simultaneously justified and sinner.  In Job, we can sometimes see momentum building in the strengthening of the spirit, while at other times he sinks into the flesh bemoaning his condition, cursing the day he was born, and generally questioning the justice and goodness of God.

Finally, central to the argument of Job in the face of his critics, particularly as it pertains to rightly interpreting his words, is his desire for vindication and the defense of his integrity.  If Job concedes to the argument of his friends that only those embroiled in great wickedness are afflicted and that since he is afflicted he must be numbered among the wicked, then he proves himself to be nothing more than a hypocrite, superficially serving God while being materially blessed, all the while living a wickedly sinful life.  This concession on Job’s part would in turn prove Satan truthful and God a liar.  While Job is not aware of chapters 1 and 2, the reader must feel this tension as the progression of the drama unfolds.

As to the style, typically, the words of Job are spoken in the form of a soliloquy, essentially talking to himself out loud for others to hear, as well as prayer towards God, dialogue with his friends, the aforementioned poem, and later, by way of response directly to God, albeit much briefer than his earlier spoken words.

Job’s words are generally strong displays of theological precision, particularly when hope abounds and the spirit is winning the war over the flesh.  However, the potential for the reader to derail into a  hermeneutical ditch exists when we simply assume that all Job has to say is correct or that the tone with which he speaks is generally positive.  This isn’t always the case.  Job often comes within a hair of outright blasphemy of God by questioning His wisdom, justice, and goodness.  Likewise, he repeatedly sees God as his enemy who has done little more than set him up as a target of His wrath.  Additionally, too often Job’s tongue borders on self-righteousness and pride as the debris of indwelling sin is stirred to the surface through his ongoing affliction and interaction with his friends.  As with the interpretation of the their speeches, so too with Job, we must hold on to the good and leave the bad.

As one reads through the book of Job, it’s nearly impossible not to feel the emotion of Job’s words and to find ourselves siding with him verbatim while dismissing the words of his friends.  Instead, we would do well to interpret the book consistently by maintaining the tension between both good and bad that come from all those who speak up until the arrival of Yahweh.  The Epistle of James hits hard upon this theme of the forked tongue when he says, From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.  Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. James 3:10-12  Unfortunately, perhaps nowhere in Scripture is this more clearly on display than with the words of Job and even more so with his friends.

Thus, the words of Job are ended.

 

 

 

 

9 Observations for How NOT to Counsel like Job’s Friends

 

Having summarized the dialogues and diatribes that took place in chapters 4-27 of the Book of Job, we observed extensive evidence of poor counseling, applied by Job’s friends to his case of heart-wrenching affliction.  We’ve already seen how everything they had to say was not necessarily bad or even incorrect, yet the way they offered counsel and the misapplications that they made leave them open to criticism.  Fortunately, we can take this criticism of their counsel and use it as a guide, negatively, for our own counseling opportunities.

With that, below is a summation, though certainly not exhaustive, of 9 examples of poor counseling or how not to counsel those going through a period of affliction, primarily collated from the speeches of Job’s friends.

  1. Do not immediately equate affliction with a specific sin
  2. Insensitivity; lacking compassion and pity.
  3. Focusing on emotion filled words, rather than the condition of the afflicted; Failure to allow grace-filled latitude.
  4. Looking to win a debate, rather than comfort the afflicted.
  5. Using theology as a club, particularly the sovereignty of God.
  6. Twisting or abusing Scripture to support your point or undermine the views of the afflicted.
  7. Failing to allow room for grace when the afflicted are emotionally overwhelmed.
  8. Attacking the character of the afflicted for the sake of proving a theological point.
  9. Doubting or denying the faith of the afflicted in their emotionally fragile state.

Rather than taking the path that Job’s friends took by focusing on his words and attempting to verbally beat him into submission and admission of guilt, it is often best to comfort the afflicted and to weep with those who weep, as we read in Job 2:12.

Speaking to the deficiencies of Job’s counselors, Calvin writes,

By this we are admonished, when we wish to comfort neighbors in their sorrows and trials, not to jump to conclusions; as there are many who are forever harping on the same string and they do not consider the person to whom they speak, for we must treat one person differently from another.  For if there is someone who is obstinate against God, we must speak in a style and language different than we would toward a poor creature who innocently wandered.  And then according to what the evil is, there is also need to be warned how to proceed against it.  For example, if men are stupid, we must cry out and rebuke their indifference, in order that they may learn about the hand of God, in order to humble themselves under it.  There is, then, need of great prudence when we wish to properly comfort those who God afflicts.  This is what we have to remember from the passage (Job 16:2), when it is said that those who attempted to comfort Job were tiresome, since they did not bring to him anything from which he could profit.  This, then, is what we have to remember especially.

The book of Job is not primarily a counseling handbook, as we’ve seen.  However, once we work through our interpretation of the book, a clear application is how to properly deal with affliction and how to counsel those who are being afflicted. Here, with Calvin, we are reminded that a one-size fit all solution to the numerous sorrows that we as a fallen humanity face is simply inadequate and is indeed the failed strategy of the poor counselors of Job.

Without detailing proper counseling techniques, which could be numerous and case-specific, it would seem then that it is more prudent to disciple in prosperity than to counsel in adversity.  Let us teach our brothers and sisters how to handle adversity and how to remain faithful in the face of affliction before that time comes, and it will come.  In this way, discipleship is always preparatory for the next affliction. Generally speaking it would seem that too often we have gone to great lengths in our counseling because we have not done the necessary work of discipleship.

Affliction is the theological training ground of God.  Allow Him to have His good work in refining His people and removing the dross from their (our) lives.  The principle role of a friend in these trials should be that of a loving arm of compassion, intercessory prayer on their behalf, and consistently pointing those who suffer to the Word of Almighty God.

You have heard of the Patience of Job

 

The Epistle of James has the only other mention of the man Job outside of the book that bears his name, the other reference being Ezekiel 14.

“Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy” James 5:11 KJV

Here we see a commendation of Job and an example held up by James for us to imitate in our times of suffering.  It’s not all too uncommon to hear of the patience of Job, as seen in the passage purposefully cited from the King James Version above.  In fact, it’s become a bit of a colloquial saying to apply towards a patient person, “he’s got the patience of Job.”  However, if one takes the time to read carefully through the Book of Job, we actually see that Job was not patient…at all (Consider Job 4:2,5; 6:11; 21:4).  How then can we reconcile James’ declaration of Job’s patience with the perceived impatience that he displayed in the midst of his very tumultuous trials and afflictions?

The answer is to simply slowdown in our reading of James’ epistle and hold off on applying our traditional understanding to this passage.  In doing so, we may ask a few questions of the context, focusing particularly on the meaning of the word being used here, translated as patience in the KJV above and as steadfastness in the ESV, “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”

First, let’s note the flow of the argument being made in James.  In the opening of chapter 5, which of course is an interpretive division, the author introduces a reproof against the rich, which were already in the cross-hairs earlier in the letter (James 1:10-11).  In 5:6 we read, “You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.”

Here we begin to see the upcoming focus for our verses of interest, namely the persecution of the righteous.  Therefore, when we arrive at verse 7, we may better understand the upcoming context of patience in suffering, Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord”, “See how the farmer waits for the previous fruit of the earth, being patient about it”, “You also be patient.”

James’ epistle is introduced with a discussion on patience in suffering and he picks it up here again in chapter 5.  Immediately seeing the call for patience might tip us towards understanding that Job is the prime example for patience in suffering, as seen in verses 10-11, “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”

In this passage, we first see a general reference to the prophets, who are an example of suffering and patience, or better, “patience in the face of suffering.”  This may refer most notably to those prophets for whom books of the Old Testament have been named, i.e. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea,etc. who suffered for the sake of the Lord’s name and the proclamation of His Word.  We might also cross-reference Hebrews 11 to see are more rounded out list.

The word “patience” (makrothu) used here in reference to the prophets is the same word used throughout James 5 up to this point and can additionally mean forebearance or longsuffering, so patience is a fitting translation.

Next, we arrive at the example of Job in verse 11, but note that in the phrase used in reference to him, “the steadfastness of Job” we have a different word than what was used in first example, the prophets.  Even the ESV recognizes this by choosing to translate the word as steadfastness rather than patience, signifying a different word is likely being translated.  Here we have the word hupomone, already introduced in James 1:3, and there is some semantic overlap between the two.  However, the latter use seems to carry a stronger meaning and in nearly every other New Testament use it implies perseverance in the face of trials or affliction (see Luke 8:15; 21:19; Rom. 5:3; 2 Cor. 1:6; 2 Cor. 6:4; 2 Thess. 1:4; Heb. 10:36; 12:1; James 1:3-4; Rev. 1:9; 2:2-3; 2:19; 3:10; 13:10; 14:12) .

If the author wished to continue maintaining the same point, he could have just as easily used the same word here.  But he didn’t.  In my humble opinion, I think this is because Job is seen as a different case, set apart from those others who suffered, even unto death.  Job’s perseverance was markedly different because the depth of his suffering was markedly greater.  To this point, one commentator has remarked, “patience can be described as passive endurance; by contrast, perseverance is the active determination of a believer whose faith triumphs in the midst of afflictions.”  With the prophets, we certainly see endurance in the face of many trials, even unto death.  However, with Job, we see this active determination of triumphant faith in the face of the harshest afflictions.

In this section of James we read of a strong exhortation for the righteous to bear with suffering in patience.  However, this is taken a step further when we read of Job’s perseverance, recalling to mind for us the severe affliction that he endured through faith by the Grace of God.  No, perhaps rather than praising someone for the patience of Job, we may more accurately honor those who display the perseverance of Job, triumphant faith active in the midst of trials.

Sola Gratia!