July 25, 2015
Scripture and Commentary, July 26-Aug.1
Job 20, Mt. 17
Job 21, Titus 1
Zophar feels compelled to speak because he believes he speaks the truth (“my thoughts cause me to answer”) and because Job thinks he has checked (refuted) the cherished beliefs of the three friends. Zophar believes he must show that Job, not the friends is the one in error. He must check Job.
Here again we read wonderfully wise words. Zophar may be wrong about Job, but his words about the final state of the wicked are wise and true. His thoughts are concisely expressed in verse 5, “the triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment.” The rest of the chapter can be understood as an expansion and clarification of these words.
Zophar does not dispute Job’s statements about the prosperity and worldly ease enjoyed by wicked people. He does insist that they will know the wrath of God. Those who have gained wealth by immoral means will be forced to vomit them up again (15). The wrath of God will rain upon him (23). “The increase of his house shall depart, and his goods shall flow away in the day of [God’s] wrath” (28). Zophar’s error is his belief that the punishment of the wicked always happens in this life. Like Job, Zophar knows little or nothing of Heaven and Hell. Therefore, in his view, God must punish the wicked in this life, or Job’s accusations against God are true. So Zophar has to speak and has to defend his beliefs, thinking he is defending God.
It is worth noting that the wickedness to which Zophar refers is primarily the social and economic abuse of the poor (19). In Job’s time the economy was driven by agriculture. It still is today, though most people don’t understand that. By various means, certain people were able to gain ownership or control of vast tracts of land. They usually considered the people on the land to be their property also. In a later era we would call this “feudalism.” The landowner would be called the gentry, the people would be called peasants. The system is not as highly developed in Job’s time, but a form of it exists, and through it, the land holders stand together to keep the peasants working for them. Of course, the land owners take part of the crops and other products as tribute, taxes, or rent. Most charge exorbitant rates that keep the peasants in perpetual poverty while the land owners live in luxury. The same thing could happen in trade, mining, manufacturing, or any other form of business, and it still happens today. Zophar does not condemn legitimate business or the wealth it creates. He does not say all people should have an equal share of the economy. He says those who abuse the poor steal their legitimate share from them. God sees this theft, and will take the thieves’ ill gotten gains from them.
Job is one of the land owners, and Zophar is accusing Job of abusing the poor who work for him. All three of Job’s friends believe this is Job’s terrible sin, and that his suffering is God making Job vomit up again the riches he has gotten by abusing the poor.
Job denies abusing the poor. But, he says, those who do, and whose families have done so for generations, continue to prosper. They grow richer, not poorer. Their houses are safe from fear, their livestock produce great herds, and they spend their days in ease until the moment they go down to the grave. So, the evidence that God’s wrath is poured out on the wicked in this life does not exist. Instead, the evidence seems to indicate that God favours the wicked, even when they intentionally spurn God. “Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways. What is the Almighty that we should serve him? And what profit should we have if we pray unto him?” (14 & 15).
In a sense, this is exactly what Job is asking, along with billions of others down through history. What good is there in serving God? What profit is there in doing good? What penalty is paid for doing evil? As far as they can see, there is no reward for the good and no penalty for the wicked. Therefore, why not pursue wealth and pleasure? Why not take everything you can get, by any means possible, and enjoy it while you can? For it seems God does not care, and the good things of life go to the wicked, not the good.
To Job, this is especially true, since he thinks death is either the end of a person’s existence, or a descent into a shadowy existence where wealth does not exist and pleasure is unknown.
Job 22, Mt. 18:1-20
Job 23, Titus 2&3
Eliphaz again takes the conversation. This time his speech is sharp. He both accuses Job of terrible sin, and names the sin.
The first 4 verses speak of the impossibility of any man being “profitable” to God. Here Eliphaz speaks truth. It does not increase God’s completeness or contentment when people do good. God is eternally complete and content. Nothing people can do can add to or take away from Him. He is happy in His own fellowship. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost do not need the love or fellowship of people. Thus far, Eliphaz has spoken the truth.
Even verse 5 is true. Job’s wickedness is great and his iniquities are infinite. But the same is true of all people, including Eliphaz. So his words are true, but his meaning is false, for he is accusing Job of being a sinner, while he, Eliphaz is righteous.
Verses 6-20 run into deeper falsehood. Here Eliphaz gives the details of what he believes are the sins of Job. The sins are basically two. First, Job has achieved great wealth by cheating and stealing. Second, he has scorned God by thinking God will not see his sins, or, if He sees them, will not punish him for them.
Verses 21-30 give a very good example of very bad theology. Eliphaz declares that God will give Job health and wealth if he repents of his sin. God will give him gold in such abundance it will be like the dust on the ground and stones in the brooks (24). He promises Job the power to lift the downcast out of their sickness and poverty, just by speaking a word over him. This is not true, yet it is a very popular view in various Christian groups today. Prosperity preachers, and those who promise miracles to those who act, or believe, or pray in the correct word, dominate TV and radio Christian broadcasting. But the Bible does not make such promises. Remember, even Christ didn’t get relief from His troubles when He prayed in Gethsemane.
Job still maintains that he is not guilty of the sins Eliphaz accuses him of. He wishes he could leave these friends behind and go straight to the presence of God. There he would order (present) his case, and God would give him relief. But he can’t find God. He goes forward looking for God, but He is not there. He goes backward, but he cannot find God. It is as though God has sent plagues upon him, yet does not hear or listen to his prayer. The only one who can help him is God, and God will not do it. As far as Job can know, this suffering is his lot for the rest of his life. Therefore, Job has no hope. His despair is absolute.
Job 24 & 25, Mt. 18:21-35
Job 26, Philemon
Job continues to insist that God does not always punish the wicked or reward the righteous while they live on earth. The sins described in verses 1-16 virtually cover the entire range of the Ten Commandments, especially as they apply to commerce and community. The horrific effects of sin are shown. Corruption in business does not just make money, it steals the land and livestock of the poor. It leaves people homeless and starving. Verse 8 presents a disturbing picture of the homeless and naked exposed to the elements and clinging to a rock because they have no covering from the cold. There is no shelter in a rock. There is no warmth in a rock. Even if the rock has a small enclave or ledge, or even if it has a cave, the cold stone sucks the heat out of the cold and shivering people. This is the result of evil in commerce that puts profit above all else.
Verses 17-25 tells of the death of the wicked, but death is the lot of all people. Whatever suffering it entails is suffered by the evil and the good. So the righteous have no satisfaction in the death of the wicked, for they, too will die.
This short chapter of only six verses comprises another response from Bildad. He basically repeats the words of Eliphaz in Job15:14-15.
Now it is Job’s turn to speak again, and he delivers an impassioned defence that goes from here through chapter 31. In chapter 26, Job rebukes Bildad, saying his words give no comfort. They do not save the arm that has no strength or give wisdom the one who lacks it. His words are dead things formed under the sea, unseen and unprofitable (1-4). God is powerful (5-14). Nothing can resist His might, but the thunder (way He uses His power in nature and in the lives of people), no one can understand (14). This pitiful statement again expresses the absolute hopelessness of Job. He has heard, and answered, all of Bildad’s arguments before. They did not help then: they do not help now: and Job does not expect them to help, not ever.
Job 27, Mt. 19:1-15
Job 28, Hebrews 1
Job says he will not compromise his integrity. He has not committed the sins his friends accuse him of, and he will not confess to crimes he has not committed. No matter what his friends think, and no matter what God does to him, Job says he still has the satisfaction of knowing he is a good and righteous man. “My righteousness I hold fast” (vs. 6). Verses 8-23 describe the fate of the wicked in fearful terms. It is hard to tell if Job is mocking his friends by parroting their words, or if Job is sincerely voicing his beliefs. It is possible that his views have changed, even though he still believes he has been unfairly treated by God.
It is probable that Job has seen a glimmer of hope. He has spoken of the possibility of knowing God’s mercy in the after life. He has voiced a hope that such a thing might be possible, and that God will give the final rewards and justice to people after death. Job seems to have a revival of this hope here. In verse 19 he says, “The rich man shall lie down.” This particular lying down is in the grave. The rich man, like all others will die, and the riches he has enjoyed will be left behind for the living. “But he shall not be gathered.” Job refers to an ancient belief that the dead are gathered unto their people after death, and that there is some kind of peace about being gathered to them. Thus, Genesis 25:8 says, “Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people.” We read similar words in Genesis 35:29; “Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people.” This is said as a good thing, as a homecoming and a reunion. In Luke 16:22 our Lord says the beggar, Lazarus, “died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom.” This probably has the same meaning as the verses about the deaths of Abraham and Isaac. Job was familiar with the idea of an after life in which the good receive good and the evil receive evil. It is very possible that Job is beginning to realise that this must be true. Otherwise, all that he has been saying about the injustice of God is true.
So Job says the wicked lie down in the grave “but are not gathered” as Abraham and Isaac were gathered. Instead, “Terrors take hold on him” (20), and “God shall cast upon him, and spare not” (22), meaning to cast him out of God’s presence and into the terrors of verse 20.
Now Job asserts that man cannot really attain wisdom. He means man, by his own intellect and experience, cannot discover the answers to the most important questions of life. They are beyond man’s capacity to answer. What is the meaning of life? Why do the innocent suffer? Why do the wicked prosper? Is God real? Does God care? People consider themselves wise, and they formulate their own answers to these questions, but their answers are mere hopes and guesses without evidence and without validity. Yet they are willing to risk eternity on their hopes and guesses. To Job, only God possesses the wisdom to answer these questions. “God understandeth the way thereof (of wisdom), and He knoweth the place thereof. For He looketh to the ends of the earth, and seeth under the whole heaven” (23 &24).
Job 29, Mt. 19:16-30
Job 30, Heb. 2
Job 29 and 30
Chapters 29 and 30 are a lament. 29 recalls Job’s past wealth and honour among his people. Chapter 30 presents his current, bitter circumstances. The faith expressed in chapter 28 has waned, casting Job back into despair. He says God will not reward him after life, not even if Job is somehow able to cry out to Him. “He will not stretch out His hand to the grave, though [the dead] cry in His destruction” (30:24).
Job 31, Mt. 20:1-16
Job 32, Heb. 3
Job continues to maintain his own righteousness, but here he becomes even more forceful about it. We can see the intensity of the conversation growing and the animosity rising among the men. Job names the sins his friends say he has committed. At the end of each list of sins, he announces his willingness to suffer for them if he has committed them. In verses 8, 10, 22, and 40 he calls upon God to pour out terrible sufferings upon himself, in addition to what he has already suffered. He says, if God can show him his sin he will accept His verdict as a crown (36).
We can’t help feeling Job is making a mistake here; that he is letting his anger at his friends , and God, make him say things he shouldn’t, and claim more righteousness for himself than he possesses. It is as though Job has gone from a legitimate statement of innocence of the sins he is accused of, to daring God to strike him if he has even considered committing any sin. If God were to actually act on Job’s words, it would be far more terrible for Job than he can imagine.
Job’s friends have given up on him. They believe he is hardened in sin, and no amount of reasoning or reproof will convince him to repent. He is righteous in his own eyes, and wicked in their eyes, so further discussion is pointless. But Elihu continues. His remarks are not offered in an attempt to help of comfort Job. He wants only to vent his anger and prove that Job is a hardened and wicked man. He is an example of how our faith often become more about us than about God. For, though he speaks of God and the things of God, it is his view and opinion of God that he argues for. We cannot say he does not care about the truth about God, but we can say he is more concerned about justifying his own views than about knowing the truth. The same thing happens today. Some people’s Christianity is much more about them than about God. It is about their feelings and tastes and comforts, for which they contend as angrily as Elihu. Often their arguments are based on experience or results, rather than Scripture. They say, “This makes me feel like I am close to God, therefore it must be good.” “This draws large crowds of people, therefore it must be right.” They seldom do the painstaking Biblical research, or serious historical investigation necessary to rightly divide the word of truth.
Job 33, Mt. 20:17-34
Job 34, Heb. 4
Elihu’s anger wanes a little in this chapter, but his self-righteousness does not. He is sure his words are full of uprightness and his lips utter knowledge clearly (3). He repeats Job’s words (8-11) only to rebuke Job for striving against God and not listening to what Elihu believes is the word of God to Job coming through his friends (11). He reiterates the previous assertions of the friends, saying God chastens the wicked with pain as a message to turn from sin and live (16-23). He confidently asserts that God receives the penitent sinner and blesses him with good things in life (24-30) The chapter concludes with an arrogant command to Job to take Elihu’s words to heart (mark them, vs. 31), because he will teach Job wisdom (32).
How often the young account themselves wise. A young man with a very limited exposure to the Bible will gladly dispute the words of a Godly minister who has devoted a lifetime to studying Scripture. A person who has experienced very little of life, and very little of its sorrows, eagerly instructs those struggling under heavy burdens of grief, loss, and regrets. A person with a degree in counselling, and two years of marriage considers himself and expert in marriage and family life. Each new generation happily discards the “foolishness” of its elders and embraces the “wisdom” of its young and inexperienced trend setters. Elihu does repeat the words and ideas of the older men, but he is convinced that he is better able to dispute with Job than they. His is the confidence of youth.
Elihu continues to mock Job’s words. His restatement of them is sarcastic and caustic. He is still more concerned with appearing to be wise, and justifying his own views, than he is about Job’s sorrows. We cannot help noticing here that, though Job’s friends can quote his words with great accuracy, none has really listened to them. None has tried to see Job’s point of view or understand his complaint. None has really attempted to answer Job’s questions or explain why God allows innocent people to suffer. The uniform response of his friends has been the assumption of Job’s guilt and the constant restatement of the view that his suffering is God’s punishment for sin.
We continue to hear this today. We hear that if we only have enough faith, or know the correct way to pray, or live in obedience to God’s commandments, or give the right amount of money to the right “ministry” with the right attitude, God will give us our miracles of healing and happiness and prosperity. The book of Job refutes all such claims. It says the wicked often prosper at the expense of the innocent, and God often allows faithful people to fall into grievous sorrow. The Elihus of the world have no answer to this.