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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Did God Abandon Job? (Part III)

Having read the lengthy, very descriptive discourses between Job and his three friends from chapters three through thirty-one, we might have expected Job to reply to Elihu, a stranger. However, when Job said his words were ended, he meant it. He had offered his defense to his three friends, who ended up being Accusers more than Comforters; Job didn’t respond to the arrogant stranger.

Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, as well as the young tag-along visitor, insisted that Job had sinned mightily to find himself in such a serious condition, making repentance the only way out of the suffering. Indeed, God would restore Job, if only he’d confess and make things right.
Actually, part of Job’s pleading to God involved this very thing; if God would only tell him what it is that he had done, Job would immediately repent. Everyone else had spoken, now Job waited to hear from God. He’d pleaded with God to question him, so he could argue his case before the Righteous Judge. He just had no clue what he’d done to offend God.
The final chapter of Elihu’s discourse begins with an impressively accurate description of the sound of God’s voice. Phrases such as, “the roar of his voice,” “the rumbling that comes from his mouth,” and “God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways,” makes one wonder if there had been an actual atmospheric disturbance or God’s voice that pierced the air space.” Whether or not Elihu had finished his speech, the next voice he heard was that roaring thunder. The words had not been directed to Elihu, nor Job’s three friends, but to Job himself.

Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (Job 38:1-4)

In other words, Job had no knowledge of God’s plan so why was he using his own intellect on this issue, trying to cloud it over with his many words? Yes, God agreed to question Job, as he had requested. Interestingly, God started at the very base of all of our doubts concerning Him. Where were we when God planned out every detail of our present world? Regardless of the problem the answer is the same: God has a plan, and God is perfect.

Job didn’t interrupt God, saying something like, “Hey, God, that’s not the issue; it’s my unjust suffering about which I’ve been waiting to talk with You. No one disagrees with You here; we know the whole earth was Your idea and Your plan. But, what about me? Why have I lost everything you gave me, including my healthy body?”

But, Job didn’t ask, he just listened. Perhaps, Job was reviewing what had happened to him when the trial began—how the Chaldeans and Sabeans had killed his servants and taken his stock from the field? When God had reached verse 22, I think I really would have wondered why God hadn’t sent forth some of what he had stored up for such times. Why hadn’t God fought for Job?

“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle?” (Job 38:22-23)

You may think that this is just more poetic license being taken here; but I assure you, the Old Testament does record a battle where such large hailstones rained down on the enemy that his folks won the battle. (“…the LORD hurled large hailstones down on them, and more of them died from the hail than were killed by the swords of the Israelites.” [Joshua 10:11]) When Job needed the softball-sized spheres, however, they stayed locked in the storehouse. Why? Because, God had given His word. (You’ll see what that means if you just hang in there.)

God didn’t just create the world, step back with a sigh and wipe the sweat off his brow. It’s His world and He is still very much involved—in every part of His creation’s existence. It is impressive to think that Almighty God keeps watch over the wildlife, too, but that’s exactly what God told Job.

“Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn? Do you count the months till they bear? Do you know the time they give birth?” (Job 39:1-2)

I don’t know about mountain goats, but the neighbor’s domestic goat chose a Sunday afternoon naptime to carry out this very noisy delivery right under my bedroom window, making me wonder if her choice of location was God’s joke on me when I read the above. I think that God included these verses to let Job know that, truly, it was God Who had His eye on everything that happened in the world He had created. Job shouldn’t worry that God had taken a bit of a vacation, missing the chaos happening in his little corner of the world. Guess that means that God heard Job when he asked just who else could be doing this to him back in chapter nine. This is God’s way of letting Job know that nothing at all happened, without God being aware of it.

Again, God returned to questioning Job. This time, the topic was God’s justice.

The LORD said to Job: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” (Job 40:1-2)

Uh-huh, God had been silent to Job’s groanings, but He’d heard him proclaiming his innocence of all accusations. If there is only that one possibility—sin is the only reason for such sorrows—well, then, it must be God Who has made an error somewhere, right? The conclusion often drawn by readers is that God was upset with Job. It is my own belief that God was not at all angry with Job. All of the audio recordings I’ve heard from the various readers of this passage of Scripture indicate God was furious with Job.

My belief is based on one simple fact: God told Eliphaz he was angry with the three friends, but never once said He was angry with Job. In fact, God said Job had spoken right about Him. So, when I read God’s words to Job, I hear an authoritative voice, of course, but the tone is more along the lines of a university professor, than an angry monarch. I think that God is trying to show Job why he should trust God implicitly in the face of everything that has happened to Job; that Job is totally unable to rescue himself or change his current situation. Job is also unable to understand the circumstances that led up to the sorrow upon sorrows that Job has been living, but that God knows, exactly, what has been happening and why.

After Job has listened to God review the making of the world and the assurance of God’s constant presence in even matters that seem mundane to man, Job is faced with just how small a presence he makes in the total scheme of things.

Then Job answered the LORD: “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more.”

Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm: “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his? Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself in honor and majesty.

Then I myself will admit to you that your own right hand can save you.” (Job 40:3-10 and 14)

Of course, if Job could have saved himself, he would have done it already! It’s a no-brainer; Job can do nothing. I think that God’s questions are more rhetorical than real, since God doesn’t really give Job a minute to respond to them before He continues expanding Job’s vision of just where he is in the world plan.

God spends a lot of verses on describing the great behemoth, the leviathan, and I found it hard to relate to the creature in any real way. Then, as I read, I pictured those gigantic dinosaurs about which we studied in school and the picture became a bit clearer. The sheer size of those creatures, not to mention their aggressive strength, creates a picture of just how much greater God is than I had given Him credit. I mean, how many times do we picture God about the size of Jesus when He took the human form here on earth? My, but that makes God sooo small in comparison with His actual size.

God draws Job’s attention to this issue as He continues in Chapter Forty:

“Look at Behemoth, which I made along with you and which feeds on grass like an ox. What strength it has in its loins, what power in the muscles of its belly! Its tail sways like a cedar; the sinews of its thighs are close-knit. Its bones are tubes of bronze, its limbs like rods of iron. It ranks first among the works of God, yet its Maker can approach it with his sword.” (Job 40:15-19)

On and on goes the description of the physical picture and power of this enormous, prehistoric-like being. This descriptive narrative fills the rest of this chapter and right into the whole of Chapter Forty-One.

“Can you make a pet of it like a bird or put it on a leash for the girls in your house?

Any hope of subduing it is false; the mere sight of it is overpowering. No one is fierce enough to rouse it. Who then is able to stand against me?” (Job 41: 5, 9-10)

The image of a dinosaur on a leash, held by a child, is ludicrous; he’d never let her get close enough to take ahold of the end of any leash that an army of men might have managed to get over the head of such a beast. Yet, the image pales in size compared with the One Who created the creature. God could approach it with a sword or a leash, and the behemoth wouldn’t move a muscle. God is so much bigger than the beast and in total control over him. Not only that, but doesn’t God have a claim of some kind to what His own hands created? Even in our western, modern court system grievances can be argued in court over the right of an artist. Since God has not relinquished His rights, He is the sole-possessor of His work.

“Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.” (Job 41:11)

And that, dear Reader, is the main point of Job’s story, if you only take into account God’s rights to do what He did—nothing to help Job or protect him from loss and suffering. God owns it all; it’s all His, and He can do, or not do, whatever He pleases. No one has any right to contend with Him over any of His decisions.

That’s truth in its raw form. However, one must take the character of God into consideration when studying this painful account of Job, a faithful and blameless man. There is, quite simply, more to the story.

The final chapter in the Book of Job begins with Job’s response to the questions God had asked earlier.

Then Job replied to the LORD: “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’

My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6)

Job understood what God was trying to say. Though his speech had not caused Job to sin, he did get it that his attitude needed a bit of tweaking—which is a present-day way of admitting that it wasn’t what it should be, right? Job accepted that there were things happening that were out of his realm of understanding, which is what too wonderful for me to know means. Justice was never the issue. Like us, Job had more to learn!

****Did God Abandon Job? (Part IV)…Next Post

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