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Friday, June 7, 2013

Did God Abandon Job? (Part II-A)

The previous post described the man Job and a bit about his relationship with God, his Creator. The Book of Job is the oldest book in the Bible and details a true account of an especially difficult time in the life of one of God’s faithful servants.

As the story opens, everything was going well for Job. His business was prospering as he worked hard and kept his integrity in the midst of the stiff competition along the trade route. He had seven grown sons and three grown daughters, who also had a good relationship with one another.  People respected Job and sought out his counsel as one of the best leaders of his region. Even the Almighty God said there was none like Job in all the earth, that Job was blameless and upright. Yup, things were going mighty fine for our main character.

Then one holiday, without any warning, Jobs entire life was turned upside-down, leaving him with only a handful of servants who refused to obey his requests and a troublesome wife. Before Job had even heard all of the details of one bad report from a servant who narrowly escaped death, the next one had arrived, waiting to give his own news of tragedy. Like falling dominos, the bad news tumbled out onto Job, until he had lost everything!

As was their custom, all of Job’s kids assembled to celebrate the holidays together at one of the sib’s homes. They did this as often as there was a celebration, so it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for the ten to enjoy one another’s company. Normally, the feast days lasted for more than a day or two, so it is likely that Job and Mrs. Job celebrated some part of the feast with their children. No mention is made of their participation, only what happened when Job and his wife were back at their own home.

The kids were still celebrating the holidays at big brother’s when the messengers arrived at their parents’ home. The following is my paraphrase from Chapter 1:13-19.

First messenger: “The Sabeans attacked us, Sir! They killed everyone with their swords, and took all 500 oxen and 500 donkeys! I’m the only one of your servants that made it out alive.”

The second messenger arrived while the first was still speaking and gasped out his own report: “Boss, the fire was just awful! It dropped from out of nowhere and burned up your 7000 sheep and all who were attending them! I’m the only one who escaped the flames, so I came as quickly as I could to tell you.”

The first messenger had finished, but the second was still speaking, when a third messenger began his own report: “None of us saw them coming; they were on us before we knew what was happening, Sir! Three parties of Chaldeans surrounded us, killed all of the servants and made off with your 3000 camels! They left me alive so I could come tell you what happened.”

Certainly, all of this was a shock to Job, but the fourth messenger about did Job in. When the third messenger was still speaking a fourth arrived with the worst news imaginable.

“I’m sorry, Sir; I’m so very sorry! It’s not just the camels that are lost to you, Boss. The desert wind grew so strong that the four corners of your eldest son’s home just wouldn’t support it. Your children…your son’s house…the wind hit all four corner supporting beams at once. The four corners buckled and the house collapsed on them all. Every one of the servants and all of your children were killed. I’m the only one left. I came as fast as I could.”

Job was overcome with grief at the loss of his children; all ten of them had been killed at the same time. This is how the bible records Job’s reaction to the news as Chapter One continues.

At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “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.” (Job 1:20-21)

The Bible doesn’t record the time elapsed from the tragedies listed in Chapter one to the physical assault on Job, only the gory details of the poor guy’s condition. In Chapter Two, painful sores broke out all over Job’s body—from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet. Some folks say it was a skin condition we know as “boils.”

Today, when a person has such a thing pop out, we have antibiotics to treat it before it spreads, or begins to ooze its discharge all over the skin. Poor Job had no such medication available to him, resorting to the common practice for treating outbreaks of the skin.

Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. (Job 2:8)

Ouch! What Job needed was a kind word from his wife, a cool bath in which to soak, and maybe a bit of antiseptic painted all over him? None such measures of comfort were offered to the suffering man. In fact, Mrs. Job has only two lines recorded in all forty-two chapters of the drama.

His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9)

Even in the midst of his physical suffering, not to mention the still-fresh agony of the multiple tragedies, Job’s focus was still on God.

He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10)

The Hebrew definition for the word the translators called foolish carried a meaning more along the lines of moral deficiency than lack of intelligence, which Mrs. Job was, definitely, demonstrating in her attitude. I don’t think I would have told Job to curse God, but I’m fairly certain I would have been saying, “Why me God?” had I been in Mrs. Job’s position. I mean, it was she who had carried those ten kids for nine months, benefited from the labors of all those servants, not to mention the respect just being Mrs. Job afforded her. Now, she knew full-well it was all gone. She was as bereft as her husband, but her foundation in faith was not nearly as solid as Job’s.

Perhaps the keynote Scripture in this story of Job’s trials comes after reading of Job’s many losses, his body covered with sores, and immediately following Job’s response to his wife’s suggestion. The Bible record states,

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.”

Was Mrs. Job still with her hubbie when his wealthy friends came to call? If she was there offering them tea, as a good hostess would have, we don’t read about it in the bible. In fact, the above is the only mention of Job’s wife recorded, so maybe it was just too much for her. After all, Job was one sorry sight on which to look, night and day.

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. (Job 2:11-13)

Once we get to the portions of Scripture where the men share long-winded discourses with Job, we realize that holding their speech back for one whole week was no small matter for these verbose comforters. To say that they didn’t speak for a whole week, not one word! Well, that must have been one gruesome sight before them as they gazed at their old friend.

Job would have been better off had he kept silent, but Chapter Three begins with Job breaking the silence. The pain and emotional suffering had been so hard, and poor Job just couldn’t understand how it happened. Like many have when a “Job experience” comes to their tents, Job searched for something, anything he may have done to provoke such calamity from the Lord’s hands. Perhaps, that’s what Job was trying to work through in all those days of silence? We don’t really know what he was thinking, but when he spoke, we can certainly understand his feelings.

Job didn’t curse God, but he did curse the day he was born. Who amongst us wouldn’t have done the same in Job’s position? Would we not just wish we’d never been born? Would we not wish our suffering to end and God snuff us out before night fell again?

The whole chapter runs along those lines. We begin to see just how the present suffering is affecting Job as we read his lengthy expression and the confusion he’s going through right then.

In the final verses of Chapter Three, Job concludes these opening remarks to his friends and God with the following insight.

“What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.  I have no peace, no quietness. I have no rest. But only turmoil.”

Boy, can I identify with his words! There are times when things happen that I just can’t get a handle on, and God doesn’t seem to be listening to my prayers. Indeed, the turmoil will take away any possibility of rest...and having peace is, definitely, not in the picture until I can figure things out. Sounds like Job felt the same way.

At times of trouble, it is so comforting to have a close friend with whom I can just share my thoughts and feelings. You know the kind: someone who will listen with compassion, not needing to offer advice or condemnation. A kind word and a suggestion of how things might be made a bit better are always welcome, but what I really need is just a sounding-board. Often, just voicing my concerns and re-hashing the events is enough to help me see the picture more clearly. That’s what Job needed at this point, too. His wife was not going to be an objective listener, since it was affecting her own life, too.

When Job’s friends arrived and just sat with him, it must have been a comfort to him, especially because they didn’t fill the air of his misery with empty platitudes as well-wishers often do when they don’t know what else to say. Perhaps it was this silent compassion that gave Job the freedom to voice his feelings of pain and confusion over what had happened to him. Well, poor ol’ Job had a big surprise waiting for him with these three friends who had come to bring him comfort.

****Has God Abandoned Job? (Part II-B)…Next Post

2 comments:

  1. You are bringing the old story of Job into the light of the present. Wonderful revealing of a special man, his suffering and inner strength...

    Keep Winging His Words,
    Pam

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete