Job 5: Eliphaz continues

26 May

Again Eliphaz presented two arguments:

1. appeal to God and lay your cause before Him

2. but anyway if God is on your side everything will go well with you.

And he ends with the perfect line;

“We have examined this and it is true. So hear it and apply it to yourself.” (verse 27)

Oh how many times I have heard this sentiment. “But this is the truth” “Everyone knows…”

The only truthful part of Eliphaz’s monologue is that the only person Job can turn to for answers is God.

I suppose we are at an advantage in this story because we know from God’s mouth that Job is blameless. We know that this is not God’s discipline or the consequences of Job being stupid – like upsetting his neighbours so they raided his animals or something equally disruptive to society. This is almost nothing to do with Job, and yet it is everything to do with Job. Job’s constancy in his faith and integrity are key to this story.

I also wonder at the writing of this book and the other Wisdom books. Although the Bible books are not completely in chronological order we have seen a world view presented of God rewarding those who love Him and punishing those who turn away from Him. And here in Job is a challenge to that neat presentation of life on earth.

But it is only a superficial reading that can simply pick the cause and effect – obey God and be rewarded Vs ignore God and be punished. God was endlessly patient with the wicked kings like Ahab and Jezebel and he allowed his prophets to be killed. Even David who loved God and sought him out, did not live a blameless life and whilst God did bless him (and he was not pursued for the murder of Uriah) David also had to live with his children’s rather wild lives.

If we reflect on the previous books of the Bible we have to acknowledge that Eliphaz has picked what he wants and created his own little religion and called it “truth”. We can look around and see similar distortions of faith in the world, but we can also question our own approach to life and God. When have we approached life with the belief that we deserve everything to go our way because we love Him and not say “God willing” when we make our plans?

Job 4: Eliphaz speaks

25 May

Eliphaz must have been bursting to say something because as soon as Job speaks, he is in there. But he speaks in circles:

  • verse 1 he suggests that Job might be impatient with a person speaking and verse 3 he says how Job has helped others so why would Job not listen to a friend?
  • verse 3 and 4 he talks about how Job has instructed people well and strengthened others but then he seems to suggest in verses 19-20 that God would never trust a mere man to have wisdom.

His two pronged attack becomes clear:

1. Job becomes dispirited too easily at the first sign of trouble since if he is righteous it is well known that “where were the upright ever destroyed”? (verse 7)

2. But perhaps Job is proud and thinks he is more righteous or more pure than God and this is the root of the problem.

I think if I were Job I would want to stuff ashes in this “friend’s” mouth! Perhaps he is peaking out of the desperation sometimes found in friends and even carers who face an impossible task – how to comfort someone when the situation seems without hope. So Eliphaz babbles on about dreams and spirits (verses 13 and 15) and accuses his friend of being weak and / or proud instead. He does reach a point which could be considered helpful but that is in the next chapter.

Eliphaz takes bits of truth and twists it just enough to become a little dagger to poke at Job. Yes, God does usually save the upright and He can serve the evil their just desserts in this life but it does not always happen like that. Life is hard and since the Fall of Man we have to live with death and destruction within our DNA. God does not always intervene and our pain is not always caused by our own sins. A true friend would know Job’s heart and know whether he harboured a HUGE sin worthy in Eliphaz’s “logic” of causing these disasters. But Eliphaz is wrong in his world view and wrong in his view of his Job.

In my searches about the names of Job’s friends I have seen many artists’ impressions of this moment. I thought that the friends were sitting in the ruins and ashes with Job, but the artists often place the friends on a little bench and Job on the ground. Perhaps this interpretation is more accurate? The friends at first appear to be truly supportive of Job being silent for seven days. Then they became judgmental rather than helpful or encouraging and this view suggests to me that they would not be sitting alongside Job but sitting on a bench.

So chapter 4 is our first lesson in “how not to comfort a friend”, or “various ramblings without wisdom relating to life”.

Job 3: Job wishes he had been stillborn

24 May

Job did not simply wish he were dead but rather he wished he had never lived. He cursed the day he was born, wishing he had been stillborn because then he would be at peace.

Job asked why some people have to live in misery waiting and wanting death. He concludes by saying that he has no peace, no quietness, no rest only turmoil.

Such despair and pain is hard to witness. Job felt like God had blocked away the meaning of life from him. This is the only  direct mention of God in the chapter but there is an underlying question “Why God do you let my life continue when it is so miserable?”.

Job’s reality was that the worst thing he imagined had happened. Job had to deal with real loss and distress yet he could not see beyond this. Job had no hope, he could see nothing ahead in his life but pain. Everything of value was gone including the strength in his body in addition to his hope for the future.

At this stage, Job had sat in silence for seven days and he must have been thinking over and over and over about the events of the past couple of days. He would have seen no reason for the disasters, seen nothing to hope for, seen no chance of change and yet he sat there. In some ways he was simply sitting before God, because God was the last person he had spoken about. Sometimes it is all we can do but sit before God and wait, but after seven days Job exploded. He could not see the point of a life where everything he has established and built was destroyed overnight. He wished he had never been born because the pain and misery in existing was too much for him.

Viktor Frankl examined meaning and hope in life from the position of being in a concentration camp. He found that hope in something in the future could mean the difference between someone simply slipping away from life and someone holding on to being alive in terrible situations. It seems that at this moment in Job’s life, he wants to let go because he can see nothing to live for.

Job 2: Disease strikes Job

23 May

God was pleased with Job’s response to the disasters that had fallen upon him. But Satan suggested that if Job himself was threatened his integrity would be lost.

Job was inflicted with painful sores all over his body. He resorted to sitting in the ashes and scraping at the wounds with a piece of pottery. His wife (who sounds like part of the suffering too) demanded that he simply cursed God and died. Job suggested she had no moral fibre and asked whether we should only accept the good from God and not the trouble?

Then Job’s friends arrived. Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite came to comfort him. They joined him sitting on the ground in the ashes and no one spoke for seven days.

At this point Job’s friends are doing the very best thing they can for him – being with him in his pain and being silent. His wife was not being helpful or even kind.

In church recently the sermon discussed suffering and pain. I was reminded of Jesus’ suffering. His undeserved suffering for our sake. Jesus and the New Testament writers do not suggest we should seek out suffering but that there is a fair chance that we will suffer in our lives. Job seemed to understand this. From being a wealthy man with a large family, he became poor and was left with a quarrelsome wife. Yet he still accepted that he had no right to expect more from God.

Even in the midst of his suffering Job still knew who God was and worshiped him for being God. Job also still knew who he was too, which becomes clearer as the story continues. Now when I face despair I can remember the first two rules of Job:

1. God is still God and worthy of my worship
2. I am still unworthy even of His presence.

But as a Christian, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, I can add a third rule:

3. God still loves me and wants the best for me.

Already I am finding reading this book, difficult. How can all this be true? But even more importantly – how can I live it?

Job 1: The start of Wisdom

22 May

I cannot say that my heart leapt at the thought of reading Job. Pain and suffering are difficult topics and perhaps we all struggle with them? I turned to Eugene Peterson to see how he introduced the book to gain a head start and began to be far more interested in Job than I had been.

Job is the first of the five books of Wisdom. Between them, according to Petersen, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs “serve as out primary witnesses to Biblical Wisdom” (The Message – introduction to the wisdom books). He suggests that they balance and counter balance the ordinary and the extra-ordinary in life and in life under God. Everything in our lives, both the good and the bad come under God and can have His Wisdom applied to it.

Petersen introduces Job with the assertion that Job represents us in the mystery of suffering. Job’s attitude challenges the prevailing wisdom (which we find again today) that if we do right under God then we will be healthy, wealthy and wise. The idea that if we live “intelligently and morally we are exempt from suffering.”(The Message – introduction to Job).

Job says, according to Petersen, that we should not try and answer for God separately from God. “It is the secularization of answers that is rejected. We cannot have truth about God divorced from the mind and heart of God.”(The Message – introduction to Job).

Finally Petersen summarises the challenge to us as friends of those who are suffering to learn from Job’s friends as follows:

1. we never truly know what is going in our friend’s lives and therefore cannot completely understand their problems.
2. our friends may not want our advice.
3. more often than not people do not suffer less when they are committed to following God and when they do go through it their lives are often transformed by it and we can learn from being with them.

With that introduction to bolster us, let us start the Wisdom books. Let us start Job.

Seeing this book as the first in the set on Wisdom, has changed my view of the story of Job. Before I was hung up on the reason why God let Satan test Job, now I realise that this is about unexplained suffering and if Job accepted that God did not need to answer for this – I must accept it also.

The first chapter starts as a whirlwind of pain for a man who lived (to everyone’s knowledge) a perfect and happy life under God. He was wealthy, had ten children whom he loved and worshiped God with his heart and soul and mind. David could have learned from this man!

But then four things happen:

1. Sabeans attacked, killed his servants and took  500 teams of oxen and 500 donkeys.
2. Lightning struck the shepherds out with the flocks, killing the men and 7000 sheep.
3. 3000 camels are taken in a raid by Chaldeans and the camel drivers were massacred.
4. A tornado destroyed the house of Job’s eldest son, killing all his children who were having a party at the time.

This is all his wealth and his children – taken in a day. Yet Job responded by worshiping God:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
Naked I’ll return to the womb of the earth.
God gives, God takes.
God’s name be ever blessed.” (verse 21)

Esther 9 and 10: Purim

21 May

Since Chapter 10 is only 3 verses I have chosen to include it with Chapter 9.

When the thirteenth day of the twelfth month (the day chosen by Haman by lot) arrived, the Jews were ready to attack their enemies. With Mordecai second only to the king in power, many people supported the Jews including officials, nobles and governors.

On the thirteenth day the Jews in Susa killed 500 men and the ten sons of Haman, whilst in the provinces they killed 75,000. No one took any plunder even though the king’s edict had allowed for this. On the fourteenth day the Jews in the provinces celebrated with their friends and families.

At Esther’s request the king allowed the Jews in Susa one more day to deal with their enemies, killing a further 300 men. They rested and celebrated on the fifteenth day.

Mordecai decreed that this would be a Jewish holiday and it was called Purim. This is because pur or lots were cast to decide the date. The holiday is still celebrated by eating special pastries and giving food baskets with different feasts in the various parts of the world, as the Jews in the different parts of Xerxes’ empire would have eaten different foods.

It is estimated that Esther and Mordecai lived over 2,500 years ago and we continue to celebrate their achievements, representing God’s favour for His people over the millenia.

Esther 8: More edicts

20 May

The king gave Esther all of Haman’s estate and gave his signet ring (which he has retrieved from Haman) to Mordecai. But Esther was still worried that the original edict from Haman was in force.

The king said that he could not revoke an edict once issued, but that Mordecai could issue any edict in his name that he thought appropriate to resolve the problem. Mordecai issued an edict across all 127 provinces of the empire saying that the Jews could defend themselves and plunder their enemies from the attack planned for the thirteenth day of the twelve month.

Mordecai became the king’s right hand man and there was great celebrations in Susa. The final verse also notes that more people became Jews because they were scared of the Jews. I suppose this means there were more people ready to fight when the time appointed arrived. The new edict was issued in the third month so there was at least eight months’ to prepare for defence and plunder.

When I read this story it is disconnected to the other books of the Bible. Ruth is comparable but it was about Jesus’ ancestors whereas Esther and Mordecai simply appear and then disappear into history again. Perhaps the real story here is that God really cares about everyone, not only those who are part of his specific plan for Jesus to save the world. At a stretch perhaps Haman could have killed Jesus’ ancestors – but Mordecai never believed God would desert them. God saved his people and blessed the empire of a heathen king for the sake of His people.

We can be inspired by Esther, a foreign girl becoming a powerful queen in the greatest empire of the day, who was prepared to die for her people. We can be inspired by Mordecai whose faith and persistence was rewarded by God and King Xerxes. But most of all we must be inspired by God who demands all of our hearts and souls and minds because He is still God regardless of who is king or prime minister or president or queen.

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