51. A Sinner

Meditations in Job : 51.  You ARE a Sinner!

Job 22:4,5 Is it for your piety that he rebukes you and brings charges against you? Is not your wickedness great? Are not your sins endless?

I have noticed that there are those who only look for the negatives in mankind and constantly go on about our sin. Eliphaz seems to be one of those people. As he comes back on Job again he starts by asking what benefit God gets from us being good: Can a man be of benefit to God? Can even a wise man benefit him? What pleasure would it give the Almighty if you were righteous? What would he gain if your ways were blameless?” (v.2,3) The implication is that God doesn’t bother with us when we are good, because he goes on with our verses at the top today, saying that it is not for our goodness that He rebukes us but for our sin – so Job, you must be a sinner!  Well actually God does bother with us when we are righteous – He loves us and blesses us, even if we don’t realise what is going on!

When he asks “Are your sins not endless?” he is assuming that Job must have sinned and so he reels off a list of possible things that Job has done – demanded of the weak and poor (v.6), failed to help the needy (v.7,8), disregarded widows and orphans (v.9).  This he concludes, “is why snares are all around you, why sudden peril terrifies you, why it is so dark you cannot see, and why a flood of water covers you.” (v.10,11).  This is his logic; he doesn’t know that Job has sinned but the fact of everything is going wrong brings him to that conclusion.

He then turns Job’s words back on himself, “Yet you say, `What does God know? Does he judge through such darkness? Thick clouds veil him, so he does not see us as he goes about in the vaulted heavens.” (v.13,14).  Look, he replies, God’s above the darkness and sees everything: “Is not God in the heights of heaven? And see how lofty are the highest stars!” (v.12) You’re just doing what sinners of old have always done, “Will you keep to the old path that evil men have trod?” (v.15) “They said to God, `Leave us alone! What can the Almighty do to us?” (v.17) and suffered because of their foolishness: “They were carried off before their time, their foundations washed away by a flood,” (v.16) not realising that it was God who had blessed them in the first place: “Yet it was he who filled their houses with good things, so I stand aloof from the counsel of the wicked.” (v.17) (and here he is quoting Job back to himself – see 21:16) “The righteous,” he concludes, “see their ruin and rejoice; the innocent mock them, saying, `Surely our foes are destroyed, and fire devours their wealth.” (v.19,20)  i.e. the righteous see how things go wrong for the wicked and mock them for their stupidity.

In the remaining verses of this chapter, Eliphaz makes what, in any other circumstances, would be a good call to repentance, but that is based on the assumption that Job has sinned – and of course we know that he hasn’t.  His sin is not the cause of his present difficulties!  But what he now says does so often apply: “Submit to God and be at peace with him; in this way prosperity will come to you. Accept instruction from his mouth and lay up his words in your heart.” (v.21,22) Good advice!

“If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored: If you remove wickedness far from your tent and assign your nuggets to the dust, your gold of Ophir to the rocks in the ravines, then the Almighty will be your gold, the choicest silver for you,” (v.23-25) which might be summed up as don’t put your trust in riches but in God – also good advice! “Surely then you will find delight in the Almighty and will lift up your face to God. You will pray to him, and he will hear you, and you will fulfill your vows. What you decide on will be done, and light will shine on your ways.” (v.26-28).  Yes, in those circumstances that would be a good and right outcome.

“When men are brought low and you say, `Lift them up!’ then he will save the downcast. He will deliver even one who is not innocent, who will be delivered through the cleanness of your hands.” (v.29,30)  Yes, when the righteous are in a good place before God they can be used by Him to be a blessing to others. Yes, all of this is really good advice – if it was being given to a different person!  This is the problem here.  Job’s afflictions are not coming from sin.  We need to reiterate this again and again.  At the outset the Lord declared him blameless.  At the end the Lord chastises the three ‘friends’ and says that they have not spoken rightly as Job has.  He says it twice! (42:7,8)  Job has not sinned.  He has misunderstood what is going on and has flapped around trying to find an answer but that is not sin!

The warning that comes here again and again, as we consider these attempts of the ‘friends’ to get to grips with what is happening to Job, is beware of applying answers when you don’t know the truth of what is going on!  That surely must be a truth that applies when we encounter so many people.  Do we know everything that is going on in them?  No!  Do we know why they are in difficulties – really what has caused it?  No!  No, in every case we need the revelation and the wisdom and the compassion and the grace of God.  Without those we need to shut up!

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!

39. Condemned

(We return to the series on Job to follow his anguishes with his three friends)

Meditations in Job : 39.  Do we condemn ourselves?

Job 15:6 Your own mouth condemns you, not mine; your own lips testify against you.

We come to the next round of the three ‘friends’ making further comment about Job. Eliphaz was the first one to have spoken and had, first time round, been fairly diplomatic in the way he brought out his assessment of Job’s situation. This time round he seems not so circumspect and speaks more directly. Our verse at the top today really sums up his initial strike: you condemn yourself. It’s like he says, I don’t need to pull you down; you do it yourself by what you say. Let’s see exactly what he says and then see it in a wider context.

He says Job condemns himself in four ways; first with empty words. Would a wise man answer with empty notions or fill his belly with the hot east wind” (v.2) Empty notions? Ideas that have no meaning! That’s not kind! A “hot east wind”? Words that come from an arid desert that have no effect except wear out the listeners. Job is like an arid desert? That’s not kind!  How do you think you might feel if you had been trying to explain something and then eventually they turn round, exasperated, and say you were just an empty wind bag?  We must not forget in all this how Job is physically. Nothing has changed. This is almost the equivalent of three philosophers coming in and sitting next to you when you are in a critical condition in a hospital bed. This is an unfair competition; they are feeling fine but he is feeling like he’s at death’s door!

Eliphaz continues: “Would he argue with useless words, with speeches that have no value?” (v.3) There is that same put-down: “useless words! This is not nice. This is the equivalent of the parent or teacher who says to the child who already feels a failure, “You are stupid!”  This is not what they need to hear. At such times we need gentle words of encouragement – even when we are wrong. Low self esteem is not helped by words of condemnation that are just plain unkind!

The second way he condemns himself, according to Eliphaz, is to undermine his relationship with the Lord. Previously he had said, Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope?” (4:6). In other words, be confident in your piety, in the way you express your relationship with the Lord, but now he is saying that Job’s words even undermine that previous experience of the Lord: But you even undermine piety and hinder devotion to God.” (v.4). You might have started out well, he suggests, but now, “Your sin prompts your mouth; you adopt the tongue of the crafty.” (v.5). In other words, you’ve tried to argue from cleverness, appearing crafty and trying to twist God around your little finger, we might say. Thus he concludes, “Your own mouth condemns you, not mine; your own lips testify against you.” (v.6) i.e. just listening to what you say, I realize I don’t need to say anything; you are tearing yourself down.

But then comes the third put-down or third way he says Job’s words condemn him. Now he says Job’s youthful arrogance ignores the aged wisdom that is before him. Listen: Are you the first man ever born? Were you brought forth before the hills?” (v.7) i.e. have you lived longer than anyone else so that your wisdom is greater than anyone else’s (implied)? He goes on, “Do you listen in on God’s council? Do you limit wisdom to yourself” (v.8) i.e. do you claim to have been in the courts of heaven and overheard God so you know what He thinks? Are you the only wise person around? Really, come on, “What do you know that we do not know?  What insights do you have that we do not have?” (v.9). Why are you cleverer than we are? The obvious inference is that, of course none of this is true so he appeals to age and aged-wisdom to overcome Job: “The gray-haired and the aged are on our side, men even older than your father.” (v.10) He appeals to Job as coming from the older generation who demands respect. Whether Job is a lot younger is unclear, but at least Eliphaz is older and claims the wisdom of age.

Then we come to the fourth of these put down’s or ways that Job condemns himself through his words. He claims Job is even refusing God’s correction: Are God’s consolations not enough for you, words spoken gently to you?” (v.11). This infers that the words the three friends have spoken have been God’s words, correcting Job. Instead of receiving their words, Job has responded in anger: “Why has your heart carried you away, and why do your eyes flash,” (v.12). What this therefore means is that Job has actually railed against God. Look – “so that you vent your rage against God and pour out such words from your mouth?” (v.13). By implying that they, with their aged wisdom, were speaking as from God, it means that Job’s responses were responses against God.

In each way these put down’s really demean Job and are designed to take away any grounds he might have to respond. Recap: Job’s words are empty, they undermine his previous relationship with the Lord, they ignore the wisdom of his aged counselors who speak for God and thus he rejects the correction of God. Where do you go with all that? Well, what is the truth?

First of all simply deriding what someone says in their argument as empty wind, is the worst form of arguing. Abuse is not arguing! Modern atheistic crusaders use this tactic to seek to demean their believing opponents. It is, we say again, the worst form of arguing. Second, to challenge the spirituality of another person and challenge the way they work out their relationship with the Lord is a dangerous thing to do. It puts your own quality of relationship with the Lord under the spotlight because it infers that by comparison to yours, their relationship is less. Taking the words that come from another and implying it reveals a shaky relationship is similarly a dangerous thing to do. Merely because someone’s understanding of certain aspects of religious doctrine is a little faulty, it doesn’t mean their relationship with the Lord is defective. A relationship with the Lord is better measured by the obedience of that person to what they have heard from the Lord than the amount they know.

This leads us on to question the wisdom of the aged. Hopefully the aged have learnt a lot through their years of experience, but sadly that is often not true. The aged may not be obedient to the Lord and that counts a lot more with Him than how many sermons we have heard or how many Bible Studies we have attended. We also need to challenge a person’s right to claim to have spoken from the Lord. They may have done but there is no presumption that comes with age that that is so! Jesus was full of grace and truth, which meant that whenever the down trodden (such as Job) came to him, he treated them with gracious, gentle acceptance. That is not how Eliphaz has been treating Job. These are all significant issues that we should be thinking about in the way we treat other people.

14. Dubious Counsel

The Anguish of Job – Meditation 14

Job 5:8 But if it were I, I would appeal to God; I would lay my cause before him.

Perhaps it is important that we remind ourselves of Job’s state of mind before we consider Eliphaz’s counsel. Remember that, after all his possessions and family were taken, Job’s response was, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” (1:21) That was a marvellous illustration of someone who just submits themselves to God’s sovereign will because God knows best and we have no claim on any possessions. Then came the bodily affliction and when his wife provokes him, his reply was simply, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?(2:10) and the record states, “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” (2:10b) Yes, after that Job had rued the day he had been born and the fact that he continues to live while in such pain, discomfort and anguish, but in no way is he chiding God and he has very little over which to repent.

Now all that needed saying if we are to see the import of our verse today: I would appeal to God; I would lay my cause before him. In itself, on its own, it looks quite simple and acceptable. It is going to lead into talk about God’s discipline and it follows talk that infers Job has blown it, so in fact it is actually a suggestion that Job should repent and call on God for forgiveness but, as we’ve just seen, that’s not what is needed and the bigger picture shows than this was not all about Job’s sin, but simply about testing Job’s faithfulness.

Does Job need to appeal to God? Does he need to lay his cause before Him? Job has already declared his acceptance of God’s will in the opening chapters. He has accepted that for whatever reason this has come from God and God’s will is supreme so there is nothing more to be said. Eliphaz doesn’t agree. He thinks Job needs to be crying out to God. This is a crucial point here.  Job is most unusual in that the Scriptural record declares a) he was an upright man, and b) he rested in God’s sovereign will.  Now perhaps we might concede that it is natural in such circumstances to want relief (which chapter 3 shows Job clearly wants) and to ask God for mercy to relieve him of this affliction, but that is the most that can be said with what we know about him and the origins of this situation. Yet those don’t seem to be the grounds that are in Eliphaz’s mind when he talks about appealing to God. He is still on the ‘sin-judgment-discipline’ train of thought which is clearly not a right path.

His approach here also needs comment: But if it were I, I would….. What he is saying is, “You are doing this, but I would do that,” which is another way of gently saying, “I think you are wrong. I think you are in the wrong and I think you need to change and do something about that.” However you look at it, it is a subtle challenge to Job’s position and Job’s beliefs.  It is saying, “From my standpoint I see it like this…. and I realise that that isn’t how you see it.”  That’s what this sort of language says.  It is the language of gentle conflict rather than loving acceptance.  It is the language of one who wants to put another straight, bring correction to his wrong way of thinking and wrong beliefs.  It may be gentle but it is still that.

Now it would be unfair not to mention the verses that follow, where Eliphaz speaks of the faithfulness of the Lord.  He is using it as a means of persuading Job to face up to his errors and confess and repent.  God is good, so you can trust him to respond well to your repentance, is really what he is saying in the following verses. There are some subtle implications behind it all though, which bear considering.

• “He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted. He bestows rain on the earth; he sends water upon the countryside.” (v.9,10) i.e. God is great and all powerful and a wonderful provider. It’s all right, Job, He’s a good God.

• “The lowly he sets on high, and those who mourn are lifted to safety. He thwarts the plans of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success.” (v.11,12) i.e. He cares for the lowly and those who mourn but is not fooled by the crafty who He deals with and sorts out. If you are lowly, Job, He will lift you,  but if you play crafty with Him, He will deal with you.

• “He catches the wise in their craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are swept away. Darkness comes upon them in the daytime; at noon they grope as in the night.” (v.13,14) Hmmmm! He will deal with those who are not straight forward with Him, so you’d better be upfront with God now, Job.

• “He saves the needy from the sword in their mouth; he saves them from the clutches of the powerful. So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts its mouth .” (v.15,16) Hmmm again! Yes, He does look after the needy and the poor. Is this an implication that, because He doesn’t appear to be looking after you Job, you aren’t the poor and needy and this is judgment on your affluence?

It is difficult to assess the truth of what Eliphaz is getting at here (which is why commentators vary) but it does seem that he is speaking truth about God in such a way that it could possibly condemn Job.  How much better to have said, “Job, I don’t understand all that is happening to you, but one thing I do know, and that is that God does love you,” but Eliphaz hasn’t had that revelation yet (as many of us still haven’t!), and so all he is left with is truths applied in a negative way.  May we be those who can pick one another up with an acknowledgement of our own frailty and the simple reminder that God does love us, even if we can’t see how the present circumstances reveal that.

12. A Dubious Vision

The Anguish of Job – Meditation 12

Job 4:12-15 “A word was secretly brought to me, my ears caught a whisper of it. Amid disquieting dreams in the night, when deep sleep falls on men, fear and trembling seized me and made all my bones shake. A spirit glided past my face, and the hair on my body stood on end.

The area that Eliphaz moves into next will certainly upset some people. I mean, “A spirit glided past my face”, what us that about???? Some will write this off as just some weird thing because “there can’t be any such communication with ‘the other side’” while other will uncritically accept it and say, “Great!! Both are wrong and we need to be wise and understanding of the truth. The apostle John wrote, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 Jn 4:1). In other words, says John, check out these strange things. Don’t take them automatically as something from God.

When we find ourselves with this sort of situation, we need to check the nature of the experience, check the content of the message and check the outcome or fruit of what it says and how it leaves us feeling. Let’s do that here.

First let’s check the experience itself. Amid disquieting dreams in the night. He starts off from a place of apparent nightmares. Not a good place to start from if you are discussing revelations from God, an indication of a mind not at rest. But then, fear and trembling seized me and made all my bones shake. This wasn’t in response to a revelation from God, this was just a feeling of dread. Something nasty was happening. Now certainly in Scripture when the Lord reveals Himself there is often ‘the fear of the Lord’ because He is awesome, but fear that is disassociated from revelation is concerning. Then we find, A spirit glided past my face, and the hair on my body stood on end. That is quite a different experience from anything else we find in Scripture. Dreams or visions are almost quite normal in the Bible but one of the things about such things that bring revelation is that although they come bringing divinely supernatural revelation, in the way they come they tend to be quite ordinary. This is not an ‘ordinary’ experience. Is every mystical experience of God? Definitely not! Even angels in Scripture are sometimes so ordinary that they are mistaken for ordinary men.

Let’s look next at the content of this apparent revelation. “Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his Maker?” (v.17) Excuse me? Is there any question of this? Why was this spirit saying this to Eliphaz? Was it to pass on to Job (there is not mention of that guidance) or was it just to confirm Eliphaz in his wrong thinking? The enemy loves to encourage us and confirm us in our wrong thinking! Is there anyone involved saying that God is not righteous? Is there anyone saying that they are more righteous than the Lord? This sounds like a put-down of mankind. Why? Certainly the Lord is above question; of that there is no doubt. Let’s see where it goes. “If God places no trust in his servants, if he charges his angels with error” (v.18). Where did this come from? Is that true? Does God not trust any of His angels? Surely He does for He sends them out as messengers. Who has He charged with error? Which angel? Well, Satan. Ah, this sounds like sour grapes then. Is this an indication of where this ‘message’ originates? How does it continue: “how much more those who live in houses of clay, whose foundations are in the dust, who are crushed more readily than a moth!” (v.19). So, it appears to be saying, if some angels fell of the rails and received God’s censure, how much more will human beings whose lives are very transient and so easily destroyed? That is a real put-down view of humanity. You are weak and you are failures and you are easily crushed. That almost sounds mocking. How does that line up with Scripture? Is this really how God feels about mankind?

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule.” (Gen 1:26). That’s our starting place – made in the image of God. Listen to how David, the man after God’s own heart saw us: “what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet” (Psa 8:4-6) That is not a negative put-down view of mankind. That says that we have tremendous potential. Yes, mankind has sinned, yes mankind has fallen, yet God has not written mankind off. Remember the most famous verse in the New Testament: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16). ‘The world’ here refers to the people of the earth. God doesn’t have a pessimistic view of mankind, He loves us and that is why He sent Jesus. What does He offer us? Eternal life, a life in eternity with Him!

Finally, what is the fruit of this ‘word’? Well for Eliphaz it is a confirmation that man is weak, man is a failure, man has no hope and man is a sinner who deserves God’s judgment. Now of course all that is true but it is only half the picture as we’ve just noted above, and so if you dump someone with just this half of the picture you’re going to leave them feeling pretty down. Does this word bring Job closer to the Lord? No it makes him feel worse. It just confirms he is doomed. Listen, by contrast to what Paul taught about prophecy from the Lord: “everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” (1 Cor 14:3) Wow! That IS different! If it was a word from the Lord it would have strengthened, encouraged and comforted Job – but it didn’t!

What are the basic lessons here? First, don’t accept every weird and wonderful experience or word as from the Lord. Check it out. Check out the circumstances of how it came, check it out against Scripture to see if it conforms to the overall picture and, finally, check it out to see the fruit or effect of it. Does it bring repentance which releases life, joy and hope, and does it simply build up and encourage. Those are fruits to be looked for. If it pulls down, condemns and makes the person feel bad, throw it away. God is in the business of bringing life not condemnation (Rom 8:1). Don’t let legalistic, doom bringers bring you down. Jesus has come to set us free from our sin, our guilt and our shame, not to rub our noses in it! Hallelujah!

11. Naive Thinking

The Anguish of Job – Meditation 11

Job 4:7 Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?

Eliphaz opened with an apparent care and concern for Job but then gradually his own agenda or his own way of thinking seeped out in condemnation. His first shot, as we saw in the previous meditation, was to challenge Job on his past behaviour and subtly question whether his outlook and apparent behaviour matched reality. Job didn’t need challenging, he needed accepting. Now Eliphaz moves more fully into his doctrine: sin brings the judgement of God and innocent people don’t suffer. It is a doctrine that many of us hold consciously or sub-consciously. The problem with it is that it is based on a large half-truth.

For instance, the Old Testament is full of instructions in the Law, some of which clearly indicate that blessing follows obedience and curses follow disobedience (see Deut 11:26-28). Now before we go any further, let us clarify that this applies to conscious behaviour. Without a doubt it DOES operate. Paul was to say, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7,8). Eliphaz puts it, “As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it.” (v.8) More than that, it’s not just a mechanical, “one-thing-flowing-from-another”, it is by the hand of God: “At the breath of God they are destroyed; at the blast of his anger they perish.” (v.9).

His doctrine is clearly that God brings judgment on those who bring evil to His world. The tricky bit about this, is that he implies therefore, that the corollary of this is that anyone who is suffering must have sinned and be evil. That IS the logic of this package! Indeed he gives an illustration that no one is exempt: “The lions may roar and growl, yet the teeth of the great lions are broken. The lion perishes for lack of prey, and the cubs of the lioness are scattered.” (v.10,11) What he is saying is that even the greatest of the animals is subject to being dealt with. When the lion’s teeth break and he’s toothless, then he cannot carry on providing food for his family and they are scattered. He’s easily brought down.

That’s got to be a parallel in Eliphaz’s mind to what has happened to Job, except the only problem is that that wasn’t how it had happened. Job’s misfortunes didn’t happen because of Job being brought down first by God. Job’s afflictions came after everything else had been taken away. In Eliphaz’s mind sin and then judgment are linked and, therefore, so are the reverse – judgment and then sin – but this fails to distinguish, first of all, between judgment and discipline. Judgment is punishment that is linked to specific sin and tends to bring an end to life. Discipline is something brought to train, to bring about change, so that a life may continue but more righteously. Discipline is a very real subject in the Scriptures (see Prov 1,7, 3:11 & Heb 12:5-11). So we have judgment and we have discipline and they are different, but is that all there is?

No, because what we have seen happening in chapters 1 and 2, fits neither of those descriptions. There we saw Job declared righteous (see 1:1,8,22, 2:3,10), well if not righteous, “blameless and upright” which is very similar. James nudges us to think along another line: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (Jas 1:2,3) A trial or a test isn’t quite the same as discipline. Discipline works to create a change in us and although trials and tests tend to do the same, the primary objective of a test (in God’s kingdom at least) is to get you to pass, to prove your faith. In that sense it seems that what Job is going through is more like a test than anything else. It is NOT judgment and it is not, therefore linked with sin, which is what Eliphaz thinks.

There is also another factor that Eliphaz doesn’t seem to take into account in his equation, that of Satan. The big difference between trials or tests and temptations is that God brings the trials but Satan brings the temptation (Jas 1:13 ). The trial that God brings is aimed to get you to overcome and release life, but the temptation that Satan brings is designed to make you fall and be destroyed. Satan is out to get Job and to get him to fail. He is out to destroy Job one way or another. The Lord permits Satan to do that, for it to act as a trial that Job is going to triumph in.

But when we look at life more widely, we realise that there is even more to it than what we’ve considered so far. There is also the sin of other people, and because God hesitates to overcome the free will of mankind, He has to allow men to sin, and we saw that sin as raiders came and took Job’s possessions. Many people in the world, living under repressive governments, are suffering as the result of human sin. This is not because God is judging them or disciplining them or even testing them; it is just the sin of human mankind being expressed. Good people still get mugged! Good people, simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, suffer at the hands of the sin of others.

Similarly, we see effects of sin causing sickness or illness or failure of life. When God made the world originally, it was “very good” (Gen 1:31 ) but with the arrival of sin, the world started breaking down, men did not live so long and hardship was experienced. Innocent babies die in the womb, die at birth, or die in their early years of life. It may be that food additives or radiation will be shown to be causes of allergies and cancers, but there is always the perennial question when it strikes, “Why me?” for it strikes Christians as well as non-Christians. Some of these are questions we will never be able to answer this side of heaven, and who, without the specific revelation, could have guessed what had gone in heaven in chapters 1 and 2?

No, it is naïve to suggest that all suffering is judgment or discipline. Some of it certainly may be so, but we cannot make a general doctrine of it. Jesus himself, giving a general warning to put your lives right with God declared that we should all do that, not because of individual sufferings but simply because we should: “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem ? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Lk 13:1-5) Let’s not try to live on quick-fix doctrines like Eliphaz; they are usually wrong!

10. Be an Example

The Anguish of Job – Meditation 10

Job 4:1-3 Then Eliphaz the Temanite replied: “If someone ventures a word with you, will you be impatient? But who can keep from speaking? Think how you have instructed many, how you have strengthened feeble hands.

Job has just poured out his heart in anguish. He rues the day that he was born that allowed his life to develop to this day of pain. It’s a short-sighted cry but when you are in complete anguish that isn’t very surprising. When he comes to the end of his cry, there is a brief pause and then Eliphaz can’t hold himself back any longer. Remember, he is one of the three friends who have come to “sympathize with him and comfort him.” (2:11).

First of all he recognises that Job is in a state and therefore he launches out somewhat defensively: “If someone ventures a word with you, will you be impatient?” He knows that in Job’s state he might object to whatever comes. Yet, as we said, Eliphaz can’t hold himself back: “But who can keep from speaking?” Anyone watching you and listening to you Job, would want to help and say something, is what he is saying. This sounds just like a concerned friend but sometimes those who appeared concerned have another agenda!

See where he goes next: Think how you have instructed many, how you have strengthened feeble hands. Hullo? What is this saying? Think about where you’ve come from! See how he continues: “Your words have supported those who stumbled; you have strengthened faltering knees.” (v.4) It looks like he’s saying, think about the sort of man you’ve portrayed yourself as, a righteous man who can straighten out others. Where is this going? “But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged; it strikes you, and you are dismayed.” (v.5) That sounds like a clear rebuke that says, you should not be like that, does your past count for nothing? Have you not learnt from what you have taught others? It gets worse: “Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope?” (v.6) This sounds like a bit of a snide shot, as if to say, “if you are as righteous as you have thought you were, shouldn’t that be what you trust in?” Now that’s nasty because it could be taken in two ways. First, it is just as it comes and is therefore a challenge to snap out of it and trust in what he knows. Second, it could have an implied, barbed edge to it that suggests, well if this has happened to you, perhaps it shows that you were not as righteous as you thought!

That’s not nice! What do people in anguish need? Our church’s mission statement speaks of being a people that are “loving, accepting and caring.” It is that middle word that the person in anguish needs – acceptance. I remember once I was in rather a mess, mostly not of my making, but we needed help from outside and two people ‘helped’ us. One of them, when he first came, started out with, “Well, you blew it that time didn’t you!” As someone in deep anguish it wasn’t what I needed. The other man, fortunately, took me where I was and just lovingly accepted me and helped me through.

A couple of elderly good friends have loved and accepted us through the years and never uttered a single word of criticism. The hard nosed fundamentalists at this point say, “But you were probably wrong sometimes, you needed correcting!” No, I needed loving. I am a Christian and the Holy Spirit lives in me and He corrects me. When I am loved and accepted then I feel secure enough to come out from behind my defensive barriers and acknowledge failure and then let the Lord do His work. The second man and the elderly couple have almost certainly been the greatest agents for change in my life over the years. Why? Because they came without judgement and just loved and accepted us and their love has transformed us! We are utterly different people because of their love.

I sometimes see people from other churches, who live in an environment of harsh correction, living under preaching that is more focused on pointing out our failures than providing hope. For them Christianity is a struggle and guilt is always not far away. No, when we are struggling with life, we need hope and encouragement. When we are in the midst of a crisis we need loving acceptance that understands what we are going through. Eliphaz started out looking like he was there for Job, but his words had an edge that seemed judgmental.

We can all of us forget the fundamentals of life. Eliphaz pointed at Job’s past and assumed it made him less vulnerable in the present. It doesn’t matter who the great man of God is, we’re all vulnerable today. It’s not just the person who feels weak; Paul warned, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor 10:12). We are sometimes most vulnerable when we are feeling strong. The key point here though, is that even though you were strong last week, today we still need the Lord’s grace and protection just as much. Don’t ever take leaders for granted and think they don’t have the same struggles that you have; they do! Temptations come, potential crises arise, and anguish can be just over the horizon for any of us. Is this being negative about life? No, it is simply being real. There’s a whole lot more we could say in respect of guarding ourselves and getting the support of others in the body of Christ, but even the best of us come under pressure from the enemy.

A final point here, perhaps in preparation for what is coming: don’t make any assumptions about why a person is going through a crisis. We may jump to terribly wrong conclusions. Like Job it may be nothing to do with their sin. Yes, it may be because of their sin, but at that point they need gentle handling and heaven will be checking our motives and the way we speak: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Gal 6:1-3). There is enough there in those three verses to provide a week of meditations. Our goal – restore gently. Our danger – we might be tempted. Our approach – carry each other’s burden. Our folly – to think we are something better than others. Let’s learn how to be better comforters!