56. Where is Wisdom?

Meditations in Job : 56.  Where is Wisdom and Understanding

Job 28:12,13 But where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell? Man does not comprehend its worth; it cannot be found in the land of the living.

In this final discourse from Job we have noted his cynical challenge to his friends (26:1-4), his acknowledgement of the mystery of God (26:5-14), his claim to righteousness (27:1-6) and his acknowledgement that God deals with the wicked (27:7-23).  Next he challenges the very basic premise of these friends – that wisdom and understanding can be found this side of heaven.

In chapter 28 he ponders on where wisdom comes from. In 28:1-11 he simply speaks about man’s activity in mining gold (v.1), iron and copper (v.2), and sapphires (v.6). He majors on the great endeavours that are needed to dig deep into the earth to find these things of great worth, and he does this to contrast the finding of wisdom.  In our verses above he asks where wisdom can be found.  Man doesn’t value it, he maintains, so it is in very short supply. It’s not in the natural world (oceans, v.14), it cannot be bought (v.15,16) and yet its value far exceeds that of precious stones (v.17-19).  Where therefore does it come from, he asks again (v.20), for it is hidden from us (v.21) and even the afterlife hasn’t got it (v.22).  No, he concludes, God understands the way to it and he alone knows where it dwells,” (v.23).  Why? Because, “he views the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.” (v.24)  i.e. because the Lord knows everything and sees everything and therefore knows how everything works (v.25-27).   Moreover, He has declared to man that, “The fear of the Lord – that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.” (v.28) i.e. wisdom comes with a right relationship with the Lord and a life that flows out of that relationship. This is what wisdom is all about.

In chapter 29 he looks back on how things had been, before these calamities had come upon him. He remembers how God had been with him and he had been blessed (29:1-6). In those days he had been respected in the city (29:7-11) because of all his good works in helping the poor and needy (29:12-17).  In those days he had felt utterly secure (29:18-20) and his counsel had been gladly received by all who sought him out (29:21-25).

In chapter 30 he faces what has happened.  Now all that has changed!  He had counseled and sought to help those who were the dregs of society (30:1-8) but now their sons mock him (v.1,9), they detest him (v.10), they throw off restraint (v.11), they attack him (v.12-14) and he is left in a place of terror (v.15).  Now he is in a place of physical anguish (v.14-19) and although he cries out to the Lord he gets no answer (v.20).  Indeed it seems like the Lord attacks him (v.21-23).  It’s like it’s all been turned upside down. “Surely no one lays a hand on a broken man when he cries for help in his distress.” (v.24)  That’s what you’d expect!

He thinks back to those he has responded to in similar situations: “Have I not wept for those in trouble? Has not my soul grieved for the poor?” (v.25) Might he not have expected similar?  But, “Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness. The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me. I go about blackened, but not by the sun; I stand up in the assembly and cry for help.” (v.26-28)  Part of the awfulness of this trial is the absence of help, the failure to be given comfort. Instead of comfort he’s just received accusations (darkness) and ongoing anguish continues as he has to defend himself (churning inside) and his character has been blackened and he’s left crying for help.  He feels a total outcast, “I have become a brother of jackals, a companion of owls,” (v.29) and his physical affliction has just got worse: “My skin grows black and peels; my body burns with fever,” (v.30) and his inner anguish just gets worse: “My harp is tuned to mourning, and my flute to the sound of wailing.” (v.31).

As we have quickly scanned these three chapters of Job’s outpouring, we have caught again a little of the awfulness of what has happened to him, the terrible contrast between what was and what he now is.  We have also seen the awfulness of the lack of help, encouragement and solace.  It has been said that the Christian army is the only army that shoots its wounded.  Perhaps this is the original example of that.  When he needed comfort, all he received was criticism.  When he needed compassion all he received was condemnation. His afflictions are far more than merely physical, or even the loss of his family and life; his afflictions include that lack of understanding and feelings from his friends. How do we stand up under such scrutiny? How do we measure up in the light of our responses to the fallen around us?

40. Sinful Race

Meditations in Job : 40.  Part of the sinful human race

Job 15:14 “What is man, that he could be pure, or one born of woman, that he could be righteous?

As we have commented before there are some Christians who focus on sin and failure and in this respect they are like Eliphaz who, you will remember is speaking against Job for the second time. Previously when he spoke, he indicated that he had received the spirit encounter and the result of that was a mindset that put man down and derided him. We reminded ourselves about being made in the image of God and of being loved by God. We may need to do that again!

So here he is having just put Job down by suggesting four times that Job’s words were rubbish. Now he goes on to speak again of the failures of mankind. Essentially our verse today says that no person born of a woman can be pure, everyone is a sinner. Now of course we have no dispute with that, for Paul said, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23). The difference between Eliphaz and Paul is that Eliphaz gets bogged down in it while Paul goes on to say, “and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Rom 3:24). Paul only speaks of our sin in the context of our salvation. Eliphaz follows the same track that we saw in Ch.4 & 5, referring to the ‘holy ones’, the angels. In chapter 4 he had said, “If God places no trust in his servants, if he charges his angels with error, how much more those who live in houses of clay.” (v.18,19). Here he says, If God places no trust in his holy ones, if even the heavens are not pure in his eyes, how much less man, who is vile and corrupt, who drinks up evil like water!” (v.15,16). It’s the same old argument being repeated. God doesn’t trust his angels who are close to Him, so why should he trust mankind. As we commented when we considered that earlier passage, that is only true of the fallen angels, and as we now know, God loves us and sent his Son in human likeness to die for us so, no, mankind is not abhorred by God, but loved.

Eliphaz now says he wants Job to listen to him on the basis of the wisdom that he has picked up from the elders through the years: “Listen to me and I will explain to you; let me tell you what I have seen, what wise men have declared, hiding nothing received from their fathers.” (v.17,18). You obviously are clueless, Job, is what he infers here when he says patronizingly, “Listen to me and I will explain to you.” And why does he think he can teach Job some things? Because I have seen it, I have picked it up from the wise men before me who passed on all they had learnt from their fathers and “(to whom alone the land was given when no alien passed among them)” (v.19), i.e. right at the beginning when no one else was there and they were the first in the land. That’s where MY wisdom comes from! So what has he learnt from them?

“All his days the wicked man suffers torment, the ruthless through all the years stored up for him. Terrifying sounds fill his ears; when all seems well, marauders attack him. He despairs of escaping the darkness; he is marked for the sword.” (v.20-22) i.e. the wicked (who he surely associates with Job) and ruthless man will receive torment, and enemies will attack him and leave him in despair (yes, this is Job!) He piles it on: “He wanders about–food for vultures; he knows the day of darkness is at hand. Distress and anguish fill him with terror; they overwhelm him, like a king poised to attack,” (v.23,24) i.e. he feels utterly hopeless, in darkness, filled with distress and anguish. So, Eliphaz, you do understand what Job is going through, so why can’t you feel for him? Answer, because you would rather condemn him! There’s a reason behind all this, continues Eliphaz; it is “because he shakes his fist at God and vaunts himself against the Almighty, defiantly charging against him with a thick, strong shield.” (v.25,26) You’re a rebel, Job, and you’ve brought all this on yourself! Watch how he now piles it on Job, heaping him with more and more negatives and there can be absolutely no doubt that this is specifically about Job: “Though his face is covered with fat and his waist bulges with flesh,” (v.27) Is Job so well off that he is rather over developed? Well it’s unkind to mention it anyway! Moreover “he will inhabit ruined towns and houses where no one lives, houses crumbling to rubble.” (v.28) – his home will be desolate and as a general statement, “He will no longer be rich and his wealth will not endure, nor will his possessions spread over the land.” (v.29) – his riches will have been taken. But it’s worse: “He will not escape the darkness,” (v.30a), the anguish of darkness will go on and on and he won’t be able to escape it.  “A flame will wither his shoots,” (v.30b), the burning irritation of his sores will undermine his life, “and the breath of God’s mouth will carry him away,” (v.30c), i.e. God’s decree will undermine his security and carry him away.

Note that although Eliphaz hasn’t directly referred to Job, it is obviously him that he has in mind, so now he brings him a warning in the same indirect manner: “Let him not deceive himself by trusting what is worthless, for he will get nothing in return. (v.31). Whatever you seem to be trusting in will not help you, and “Before his time he will be paid in full, and his branches will not flourish. He will be like a vine stripped of its unripe grapes, like an olive tree shedding its blossoms.” (v.32,33). You are going to be cut off so that any fruit that was apparent will be stripped away. Job had appeared prosperous but now that is all stripped away and he has nothing. Why? “For the company of the godless will be barren, and fire will consume the tents of those who love bribes.” (v.34) God sorts out the godless so they will not be fruitful and when they take bribes, God’s justice will fall on them and their homes and possessions will be taken. “They conceive trouble and give birth to evil; their womb fashions deceit.” (v.35) This sort of person breeds trouble and, by implication, it will turn round and bite them!

What an example of ongoing condemnation! Now there may be a number of truths built in there but the trouble is that these generalities DON’T apply to Job. This is not happening because he had defied God (v.25,26), he is not godless and doesn’t take bribes (v.34) and he doesn’t breed trouble (v.35). These are all FALSE ASSUMPTIONS of Job in Eliphaz’s mind. Zero out of ten for wrong assessment, Eliphaz!

Frustrated Punishment

Readings in Luke Continued – No.10

Lk 4:28-30 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

We noted in the previous meditation the fickleness of sinful mankind. One moment these people were hanging on Jesus’ every word. The next they were questioning who he was and then the next they are trying to kill him. This little episode portrays humanity exactly as it is. Later on, three years on, Peter, as one of the leaders of the discipleship group, would strongly affirm his commitment to Jesus but then hours later deny him. It is a wise person who realises their frailty and weakness and realises their need for the Lord to be the stabilising influence in their life.

So Jesus has just challenged them to be more faithful than their forefathers had been. He had cited instances of where two of God’s leading prophets had brought healing to Gentiles and not to Israel. It was possibly that which riled this group of apparently pious Jews in this particular synagogue. We don’t like to face our history, especially when it has not been very glorious. The mother’s rebuke of a child, “You’re just like your father!” isn’t meant as a compliment but as a condemnation. We so easily get cast in the mould of our parents and we need to realise that we can be free to be ourselves, not following in their mistakes. These proud Jews could have said, “Yes, you’re right. We should learn from the unbelief of previous generations, so that we don’t be like them,” but they didn’t! Instead they acted just the same.

Now what this particular incident shows is that unrestrained anger can lead to terrible things. They were ‘furious’ Luke tells us, and it was their fury that led them to seek to do harm to Jesus. In their anger they no doubt justify themselves: this is a false prophet and the Law says that such men should be put to death (Deut 13:1-5), so they grab him and force him out of the synagogue, and bundle him out of town to a nearby cliff where they intend to thrown him down on to the rocks below. Anger drives these men (because it almost certainly was the men) to attempt murder. Pause up a moment: is anger a problem to you? Does it just spring up and leave you out of control of yourself? You need to assess the cause of that anger, what is behind it, and take that to the Lord and ask for help, before it causes you to do something you may later regret.

You may remember, that a while back we pondered on the expression, “until an opportune moment” in respect of Satan’s attack on Jesus. Was this such an opportune moment? Was Satan behind this? Was he stirring up the religious crowd to act in this way? The chilling thought is that he can take religious people and provoke them to awful unChristlike behaviour. The atheist crusaders of our day are only too quick to point out the misdeeds of apparent believers – but they are right! Such things should not happen! Christians should not be resorting to force, should not be resorting to worldly methods to combat ungodly unrighteousness.

Anger is very often spurred on by fear and fear is often a defence mechanism. These religious Jews feared the thought that they might be wrong, that they might be rejecting God’s will and, thus, that they might receive God’s judgement. They did not know God’s love and they did not have assurance of the reality of a living relationship with the Lord, and then in their fear, their anger boils up and they lash out. It all stems back to a weak relationship with God, and it is because of this that they eventually act like they do. They have murder in their hearts, no doubt spurred on by Satan who would like to see Jesus destroyed, but they are responsible for their own behaviour and they cannot just blame Satan. It is down to them – and to you and me if we behave like this!

So here is this incredibly volatile and emotional crowd. You see them in Middle Eastern cities on the news, a rabble that has been whipped up to do violence, emotions running amok. But then comes something quite incredible, and we are not told how it happened. Jesus simply walked right through the crowd and went on his way. As we just said, we aren’t told how it happened. Somehow the authority of the Son of God was exerted, the power of God for deliverance, and Jesus just walks away from the milling mass of angry humanity. Somehow those around him must have been neutralised and so they just let him go. Somehow, those in his path must have just been anesthetised to his presence and they just let him pass through. The crowd, that is one moment full of anger, is next minute standing and wondering where he had gone and what it was all about. This was one of the very rare occasions where Jesus’ very life was under threat and somehow he used his power to save himself. It is a salutary reminder than God does not need defending!

However, the crucial lessons in this passage are about unrestrained anger, and we would do well to take note of them!