Tag Archives: Job

Digesting Dialogues and Diatribes

 

The majority of Job consists of speeches and attempted dialogue between Job and his three friends that arrive at the end of chapter 2, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  Each offer counsel to Job in their respective turns followed by a retort by Job.  This section essentially stretches from chapter 3, beginning with Job’s lament, to chapter 27 where Job concludes the dialogues with an interlude (ch. 28) before preparing for his closing remarks in chapters 29-31.  The speeches can most easily be digested by separating them into three cycles with introductory and concluding remarks by Job.

Historically, the focus of studies on the book of Job have centered on the prologue (chs. 1-2) and the epilogue (ch. 42) with little emphasis on the dialogues.  Reasons for this may abound, but are likely due to the complexity of the language and the lack of desire to dive into the weeds, so to speak.  However, as with any good Bible study, the diamonds are beneath the surface.

Cycle one begins in chapter 4 with Eliphaz’s response to Job’s lament and runs through the entirety of chapters 14.  Following Eliphaz is Bildad in chapter 7 and Zophar in chapter 9.  This order is repeated in cycle two with the counseling speeches occurring in chapter 15, 18, and 20 respectively, while Job’s response and commentary again intermingled between them.  Cycle three again opens with a word from Eliphaz in chapter 22 followed yet again by Bildad in chapter 25.  However, this time in the cycle Zophar is mysteriously absent and is instead replaced by an additional speech by Job (chs. 27-28).  Of the three cycles, the first is arguably the most critical as it outlines each participants main argument.  The subsequent cycles contribute to the overall sweep of the book but add a lot of repetitious argumentation.

As mentioned above, the lament of Job in chapter 3 opens the section of speeches.  Here we find the faith of Job and his confidence in God rattled as emotion and grief begins to overwhelm the stalwartness that was so evident in chapters 1 and 2

“’21 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.’ 22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” Job 1:21-22

10 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?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” Job 2:10

Job’s lament can be broken down into three strophes or divisions the first of which is his desire that he would’ve never been conceived (vs. 1-10).    In the next division he desires that he would’ve died at birth (vs. 11-19).  In the third and final division, Job wishes that death would be immanent for those suffering (20-23), particularly as it is applied to his case.  Though Job did not sin with his lips in chapters 1 and 2, one is left wondering if cursing the day he was born is shortsighted in its failure to recognize that God had ordained his birth and may have plans beyond what Job can see, a theme which will permeate Job.

A helpful tool for understanding chapters 4-27, and really the rest of the book of Job, is to breakdown the speeches into digestible bites.  The chapter breaks, though a fallible interpretation, offer some help in recognizing where natural pauses or changes of direction might occur.  Next, four principle observations may be asked of each speech, the main theme, key verse or verses, and key error(s) and truth(s).

Attempting to identify the main theme in these chapters of Job can prove to be difficult.  The language is often that of similitudes and the structure archaic Hebrew poetry.  However, that doesn’t mean that the task is impossible.  Generally speaking the speeches either identify a main point early on or devote the majority of the content towards the main idea.  So for instance, though Bildad has much to say in rebuking Job in chapter 8, verse 3 would seem to establish a major theme for him, namely the justice of God, “Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right?

Second, and more pointedly, identifying the main verse or verses of the speech can help weed out some of the supporting verses and aid  in clarifying the main theme.  Here you are looking for a key statement that either expresses a critical truth concerning the character of the speaker, audience, or God, a detail about a change in the situation, or a doctrinal proposition being put forth, just to name a few.

Third, as has been previously mentioned in these speeches we need to take the good and leave the bad.  Remember that in stating this, it is a recognition that both parties in the debate have good things to say, though many times it is wrongly applied, particularly by Job’s friends.  However, having said that, there are also many errors or inconsistencies that are stated as well, sometimes simply in the form of inflammatory or unhelpful counsel.  By identifying these key errors and key truths it will provide guardrails for correctly interpreting the content and meaning of the dialogues.

Thankfully for the sake of interpretation, the cycle of speeches get shorter as the book progresses and the content of the speeches begins to become repetitive.  In the opening cycle, the focus is upon the character of God by means of the affliction of Job.  In cycle two, the focus is much more on the character of the wicked and the justice of God meted out against them.  By the time we reach cycle three, we get much of the same with the addition of Job expressing in clear terms the suffering AND prosperity of the wicked, along with the divine prerogative of God to delay His justice as He sees fit.

Understanding the central portion of Job is foundational for understanding the role of Elihu and the purpose and meaning of God’s reply in chapters 38-41.  As such, there’s no reason to rush through or even skip this section as many have tried to do in the past.  Sometimes the treasures and gems are hidden away in locations for those willing to put forth the effort to find them.

 

 

Job and the Mute Christian

 

“Dear hearts—The choicest saints are ‘born to troubles as the sparks fly upwards’, Job 5:7. ‘Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivers him out of them all.’ Psalm 34:19. If they were many, and not troubles, then, as it is in the proverb, the more the merrier; or if they were troubles and not many, then the fewer the better. But God, who is infinite in wisdom and matchless in goodness, has ordered troubles, yes, many troubles to come trooping in upon us on every side. As our mercies—so our crosses seldom come single; they usually come treading one upon the heels of another; they are like April showers, no sooner is one over but another comes. And yet, Christians, it is mercy, it is rich mercy, that every affliction is not an execution, that every correction is not a damnation. The higher the waters rise, the nearer Noah’s ark was lifted up to heaven; the more your afflictions are increased, the more your heart shall be raised heavenward.” – Thomas Brooks, The Mute Christian under the Smarting Rod

As I read through the book of Job in my yearly reading plan, one thought kept ringing over and over in my head, namely that Job should be quiet and humbly recognize his inherent sinfulness.  I mentioned both of those responses in the last post, but here I’d like to flesh out more of this idea with the help of Puritan Thomas Brooks.

In his book cited above, Brooks pens a masterful treatise on the proper Christian response to suffering, discipline, and general trials that befall us all.  Below is a summary of a meaty section on holy silence as a response before God, both what it is and what it isn’t.  Even though I’ve summarized, it’s still a little long, but so soul stirring and beneficial.  Perhaps the next time you read through Job or are going through challenging experiences, this section may be helpful to you.  The entire work is well worth reading and is available online completely free: Grace Gems  or .pdf here

From Brooks:

“I was silent; I would not open my mouth, for You are the one who has done this!” Psalm 39:9

What is the silence meant, here in this verse?

First, There is a STOICAL silence.  The stoics of old thought it altogether below a man that has reason or understanding either to rejoice in any good, or to mourn for any evil; but this stoical silence is such a sinful insensibleness as is very provoking to a holy God, Isaiah 26:10,11.

Second, There is a POLITIC silence.  Many are silent out of policy.

Thirdly, There is a FOOLISH silence.  Some fools there be that can neither do well nor speak well; and because they cannot word it neither as they would nor as they should, they are so wise as to be mute—Prov. 17:28

Fourthly, There is a SULLEN silence.  Many, to gratify an humour, a lust, are sullenly silent; these are troubled with a dumb devil, which was the worst devil of all the devils you read of in the Scripture, Mark 9:17-28.

Fifthly, There is a FORCED silence.  Many are silent per force. He who is under the power of his enemy, though he suffers many hard things, yet he is silent under his sufferings, because he knows he is liable to worse.

Sixth, There is a DESPAIRING silence.  A despairing soul is a terror to himself; he has a hell in his heart, and horror in his conscience. He looks upwards, and there he beholds God frowning; he looks inwards, and there he finds conscience accusing and condemning of him; he looks on the one side of him, and there he hears all his sins crying out—We are yours, and we will follow you; we will go to the grave with you, we will go to judgment with you, and from judgment we will go to hell with you; he looks on the other side of him, and there he sees infernal fiends in fearful shapes, amazing and terrifying of him, and waiting to receive his despairing soul as soon as she shall take her leave of his wretched body; he looks above him, and there he sees the gates of heaven shut against him; he looks beneath him, and there he sees hell gaping for him; and under these sad sights, he is full of secret conclusions against his own soul.

Seventh, There is a PRUDENT silence, a HOLY, a GRACIOUS silence; a silence that springs from prudent principles, from holy principles, and from gracious causes and considerations; and this is the silence here meant.

What does a prudent, a gracious, a holy silence include?

First, It includes a sight of God, and an acknowledgment of God as the author of all the afflictions which come upon us.

Secondly, It includes and takes in some holy, gracious apprehensions of the majesty, sovereignty, authority, and presence of that God under whose acting hand we are—Hab 2:20

Thirdly, A gracious, a prudent silence, takes in a holy quietness and calmness of mind and spirit, under the afflicting hand of God.

Fourthly, A prudent, a holy silence, takes in an humble, justifying, clearing and acquitting of God of all blame, rigor and injustice, in all the afflictions he brings upon us; Psalm 51:4

Fifthly, A holy silence takes in gracious, blessed, soul-quieting conclusions about the outcome of those afflictions which are upon us.

Conclusions:

First, and that more generally, That afflictions shall work for their good

Surely, as the tasting of honey did open Jonathan’s eyes, so this cross, this affliction, shall open my eyes. By this stroke I shall come to have a clearer sight of my sins and of myself, and a fuller sight of my God, Job 33:27, 28; 40:4, 5; 13:1-7.

Surely this affliction shall proceed in the purging away of my dross, Isaiah 1:25.

Surely as ploughing of the ground kills the weeds, and harrowing breaks hard clods; so these afflictions shall kill my sins, and soften my heart, Hosea 5:15, 6:1-3.

Surely as the plaster draws out the infectious core; so the afflictions which are upon me shall draw out the core of pride, the core of self-love, the core of envy, the core of earthliness, the core of formality, the core of hypocrisy, Psalm 119:67, 71.

Surely by these afflictions, the Lord will crucify my heart more and more to the world, and the world to my heart, Gal. 6:14; Psalm 131:1-3.

Surely by these afflictions, the Lord will keep pride from my soul, Job 33:14-21.

Surely these afflictions are but the Lord’s pruning-knives, by which he will bleed my sins, and prune my heart, and make it more fertile and fruitful; they are but the Lord’s portion, by which he will clear me, and rid me of those spiritual diseases and maladies, which are most deadly and dangerous to my soul!

Affliction is such a potion, as will carry away all soul-diseases, better than all other remedies, Zech. 13:8, 9.

Surely these shall increase my spiritual experiences, Rom. 5:3, 4.

Surely by these I shall be made more partaker of God’s holiness, Heb. 12:10. As black soap makes white clothes, so does sharp afflictions make holy hearts.

Surely by these God will communicate more of himself unto me, Hosea 2:14.

Surely by these afflictions, the Lord will draw out my heart more and more to seek him, Isaiah 36:16. Tatianus told the heathen Greeks, that when they were sick, then they would send for their gods to be with them, as Agamemnon did at the siege of Troy, send for his ten counselors. Hosea 5:15, ‘In their afflictions they will seek me early,’ or as the Hebrew has it, ‘they will morning me;’ in times of affliction, Christians will industriously, speedily, early seek unto the Lord.

Surely by these trials and troubles, the Lord will fix my soul more than ever upon the great concernments of the eternal world, John 14:1-3; Rom. 8:17, 18; 2 Cor. 4:16-18.

Surely by these afflictions the Lord will work in me more tenderness and compassion towards those who are afflicted, Heb. 10:34, 13:3. The Romans punished one that was seen looking out at his window with a crown of roses on his head, in a time of public calamity.

Surely these afflictions are but God’s love-tokens. Rev. 3:19, ‘As many as I love—I rebuke and chasten.’ Seneca persuaded his friend Polybius to bear his affliction quietly, because he was the emperor’s favorite, telling him, that it was not lawful for him to complain while Caesar was his friend. So says the holy Christian—’O my soul! be quiet, be still; all is sent in love, all is a fruit of divine favor. I see honey upon the top of every twig, I see the rod is but a rosemary branch, I have sugar with my gall, and wine with my wormwood; therefore be silent, O my soul!’ And this general conclusion, that all should be for good, had this blessed eject upon the church—Lam. 3:28, ‘He sits alone, and keeps silence, because he has borne it upon him.’

Afflictions abase the carnal attractions of the world, which might entice us. Affliction abates the lustiness of the flesh within, which might else ensnare us! And it abates the spirit in its quarrel against the flesh and the world; by all which it proves a mighty advantage unto us.

Secondly, Afflictions shall keep them humble and low—Lam. 3:29

Thirdly, The rod shall not always lie upon the back of the righteous.

Fourthly, Lamentations 3:32 ‘But though he causes grief, yet will he have compassion, according to the multitude of his mercies.’ ‘In wrath God remembers mercy,’ Hab. 3:2. ‘Weeping may endure for a night—but joy comes in the morning,’ Psalm 30:5. Their mourning shall last but until morning. God will turn their winter’s night into a summer’s day, their sighing into singing, their grief into gladness, their mourning into music, their bitter into sweet, their wilderness into a paradise.

Fifthly, Lament. 3:33, ‘For He does not afflict willingly (or as the Hebrew has it, ‘from his heart’), ‘nor grieve the children of men.’ Christians conclude that God’s heart was not in their afflictions, though his hand was.

Sixth, A holy, a prudent silence includes and takes in a strict charge, a solemn, command, that conscience lays upon the soul to be quiet and still. Psalm 37:7

Seventh, A holy, a prudent silence includes a surrendering, a resigning of ourselves to God, while we are under his afflicting hand.

Eighth and lastly, A holy, a prudent silence, takes in a patient waiting upon the Lord under our afflictions until deliverance comes—Psalm 11:1-3; Psalm 62:5

What does a holy, a prudent silence under affliction not exclude?

First, A holy, a prudent silence under affliction does not exclude and shut out a sense and feeling of our afflictions, Psalm 39:9

Secondly, A holy, a prudent, silence does not shut out prayer for deliverance out of our afflictions.

Thirdly, A holy, a prudent silence does not exclude men’s being kindly affected and afflicted with their sins, as the meritorious cause of all their sorrows and sufferings, Lam. 3:39, 40

Fourthly, A holy, a prudent silence does not exclude the teaching and instructing of others, when we are afflicted.

Fifthly, A holy, a prudent silence does not exclude moderate mourning or weeping under the afflicting hand of God. Isaiah 38:3

Sixth, A gracious, a prudent silence does not exclude sighing, groaning, or roaring under afflictions.

Seventh, A holy, a prudent silence, does not exclude nor shut out the use of any just or lawful means, whereby people may be delivered out of their afflictions.

Eighth, and lastly, A holy, a prudent silence, does not exclude a just and sober complaining against the authors, contrivers, abettors, or instruments of our afflictions.

Have you Considered Job

 

It seems only fitting that a post on Job should follow up the post on Moses’ sin, particularly as it relates to the effects that sin may have on an individual.  In that post, though we saw that Moses’ actions had the direct consequences of prohibition into the Promised Land, there was also mention of the danger in wrongly applying our circumstances to an individual sin.

An example of this wrong application may be seen on the part of the disciples in John 9 where our Lord and His disciples encounter a man who was blind from birth and they asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus replied that neither this man nor his parents sinned but that he was blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him.  This isn’t to imply that this man, nor his parents, never sinned, only that his blindness was not a direct result of an individual act of sin.

Enter Job.

In the book of Job we are introduced to a righteous man.  This declaration by God defines all that comes afterwards and in fact aides in understanding Job’s response to his personal calamity.  What does it mean that Job was righteous?  It CANNOT mean that Job was sinless.

This is important.

Here’s what we read in the prologue of Job:

“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.” Job 1:1

Three key descriptions are given to Job:

  1. Blameless and Upright
  2. Feared God
  3. Turned Away from Evil

In short, we may surmise that Job did not live in open sin and he feared God.  By all accounts we would describe him as a morally upright man.  If we were to strictly conclude that individual sins may always be directly correlated to “disciplining” events in our life at the hand of God, as we saw with Moses, it would appear that Job would be the least likely candidate for what was to happen in his life.

In other words, there is not a DIRECT correlation between a particular sin that Job committed and the suffering that he endured.  This was partly the error of his 3 counseling “friends” who felt that the justice of God demanded that He must bring physical retribution against any and all sin, so that must be the reason for Job’s troubles.  They represent the classic example of misapplying correct doctrine.  Essentially they were flattening out the justice of God to an across the board application.  More on that perhaps in another post.

So what may we glean from Job that would help us better maintain the tension between sin and discipline that was mentioned in the post on Moses’ sin?

First, through Job we see that physical suffering is not necessarily tied to individual misdeeds or sin.

Second, because we live in a fallen world, all suffering finds its roots in sin, generally.

Third, we often do see the wicked prospering, but it does not mean that God is unjust.   We need also to remember that in such a case, God is storing up wrath for the Day of Judgment (Romans 2:5-11).  Conversely, we often see the “righteous” suffering, though this is only temporary and is not to be compared with the eternal weight of glory which awaits them.

Fourth, when suffering does come, it is not punishment, though it may be discipline for our good and God’s glory.  This may require that we expand our understanding of God’s discipline to realize that it is always loving, it is always to purify, and though it may be generally painful, it is temporary and working to conform us more to the image of Christ (See Hebrews 12:4-13).  In other words, suffering is never meaningless.

Fifth, God is sovereign over every circumstance, including the trials and tribulations that come in our lives.

Six, when suffering/discipline comes we should

  • A) Recognize the hand of a Holy God
  • B) Recognize our own inherent sinfulness.

Seven, trust as Job did, in our Mediator – Jesus Christ; that He intercedes on our behalf to the Father;  and that through Christ we may come to the mercy seat and find grace in our time of need.

Eight, in the face of suffering at the disciplining hand of Almighty God, consider 1 of 2 responses

  • A) Keep our mouths shut before the all-holy God
  • B) Confess our inherent sinfulness and plead mercy on behalf of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In either or both responses, trust the sovereign hand of a just, holy God (more to come on this in the next post, Lord willing).

There is a danger in reading of a tragedy like Moses’ where his sin was specifically tied to an episode of discipline and then extract that principle across the board, either to our own lives or to the lives of others, wrongly concluding that a particular sin or lifestyle of sin has caused a difficult circumstance to arise.  Make no mistake, it can, as with Moses, and this should cause us holy, reverent fear of God, but it cannot be flattened across the board, as with Job.

God is far too complex for that simplistic view of how He governs the universe.  Again, this was one of the errors of Job’s friends.

In summary, as believers in Christ when we experience challenging and trying situations or are counseling others through them, we need to avoid the two ditches of applicational error.  The first, that of Job’s by thinking that we do not deserve to suffer.  The other,  that of his friends, by thinking that all trials are just retribution and precisely what we deserve.  Keeping this balance and maintaining this tension will go along way towards helping us navigate the waters of difficulty.