Sunday, 24 June 2012

Interpreting Job. Part 2

Part 1

What makes the book of Job difficult is not so much the information that is clear, rather it is how we view the dialogues. God rebukes Job, yet says that Job spoke what is right about him and not his 3 friends. God does not rebuke Elihu, yet Elihu seems to say some similar things that the 3 friends say. Also the 3 friends say some things that seem to be correct. This last issue is the most problematic.

It is likely that some of the things the friends claim are correct. Paul quotes Eliphaz approvingly,
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, (1 Corinthians 3:18–21)
This is from Eliphaz's first speech,
He frustrates the devices of the crafty,
so that their hands achieve no success.
He catches the wise in their own craftiness,
and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end. (Job 5:12–13)
Just before these words Eliphaz says
“As for me, I would seek God,
and to God would I commit my cause,
who does great things and unsearchable,
marvelous things without number:
he gives rain on the earth
and sends waters on the fields;
he sets on high those who are lowly,
and those who mourn are lifted to safety. (Job 5:8–11)
which seems true based on reason. It is also consistent with other Scripture. The psalmist acknowledges that God sends rain,
You visit the earth and water it;
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide their grain,
for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth. (Psalm 65:9–10)
and many other passages affirm that God raises the lowly, or dwells with them
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate; (Luke 1:52)
Consider also Psalm 34:18; Psalm 75:7; Psalm 107:40–41; Psalm 113:7–9; Psalm 138:6; Psalm 147:6; Isaiah 57:15; Ezekiel 21:26; James 4:10.

Not only do other biblical authors quote the friends approvingly, so does Job. Responding to Bildad's words Job says,
Truly I know that it is so:
But how can a man be in the right before God? (Job 9:2)
How does one make sense of all this?

My conclusion is that Job's friends say a range of things, many of which are true. This is not too surprising as they are Job's friends and, as Job is righteous, he is likely also wise, and his close friends may also have some wisdom.

It seems that Job's friends are mistaken in attributing proverbial wisdom to an individual case. Much of what they ascribe to God, and what they say about how things pan out for the wicked, has elements of truth. But such truth is difficult to apply to individuals. That a wicked man may lose his life early does not mean every evil man does. Moreover, it is an error deducing underlying motives or actions from consequences. It does not follow that if a sinful man suffers then a suffering man has sinned. The righteous can suffer also. Job's friends made this error, and in charging Job with sin they are calling righteousness unrighteous. This is a very dangerous thing to do. Jesus said that those who do this to the Holy Spirit are committing an unforgivable sin (Matthew 12). God takes very seriously accusations against his people. David knew this principle and would not raise his hand against Saul because Saul had been anointed by God; David refused to even while Saul was mistreating him.

Job's friends were mistaken to assume that just because the wicked may get their comeuppance in this world (they certainly will in the next) then all those who suffer do so because of some sin. Their failure to see rightly meant that not only did they mistakenly condemn Job, in doing so they were unable to offer Job the friendship and comfort he needed at the lowest point of his life.

The suffering of Job was grievous. He lost his wealth. He lost his children. He lost his health. But at such a difficult time he also faced his wife tempting him to sin and his friends accusing him of sin. The loss of everything and no one to comfort him. How great must have been his despair.

There is more to gain from the book than this, but the above is how I currently understand the larger picture.


  1. I think the key is to look for the essence of each friend's response to the cry Job made. So when Job deplored his birth in ch3, Eliphaz' response is that it is because of Job's sin that the calamity had fallen upon him. Whatever truth Eliphaz may have shared in ch4 is irrelevant because it is said to support an untruth.

  2. "It seems that Job's friends are mistaken in attributing proverbial wisdom to an individual case."

    Dead on. You hit it on the head. I take Job mostly as a polemic against the main thrust of what Job's friends teach. However, the teaching is based off of true axioms. As you said, "It does not follow that if a sinful man suffers then a suffering man has sinned. The righteous can suffer also." This is the book's principle point.

    When it comes to character of Job, it is important to note that there is a difference between needing reproof, and actual sin. Job was righteous, knew he was righteous, and was demanding justice. There is nothing wrong with that. Furthermore, he was going to God with his complaint, showing that his worldview was also correct. Consistantly, Job merely wants to be heard by the judge, and when he is, he is content. This shows his righteousness more than his words in his moments of anger.

  3. What makes the book of Job difficult is not so much the information that is clear...
    Oh that there was much that fit that description!

    The main issue of controversy in the dialogues between the three and Job, and which I take God as picking Job's side rather than the three's, is that their proverbial approach purported that justice is meted out perfectly in this life. Job took great exception to that suggestion, and that seems to be difference that God was pinpointing when it came time for him to speak. Humans cannot read the tealeaves of circumstances and make conclusions about God's justice. Attempting to do so could only lead to condemning the innocent (like Job) and vindicating the guilty (like the wicked who are rich and blessed but won't face justice until death).

    Job's reproof by God was about Job getting carried away by the combination of his circumstances and the folly of the three and thinking he was equal to the task of taking God to task. What he said about God's governance of life was true (whereas the three was not) and commended rather than rebuked. What he said about standing toe to toe with God in argument and showing him what was what was arrogant and foolish and God dressed him down for it.

  4. Grant, I would have to look more closely at this.

    JCF, not sure how much I can agree with or disagree with Job's friends without looking elsewhere in scripture. It would seem we should disagree with them based on God's comments, but I have tried to show that their comments are not necessarily proverbially incorrect. Assuming they were wrong didn't help me. Seeing they were wrong in their application I think helps interpretation. I agree with your point one and two.

    There are probably 2 errors by his friends which I haven't completely separated. One is to apply wisdom incorrectly, and one is to accuse God's people falsely. His friends did both.



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