Saturday, March 11, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 7, Eliphaz Continues To Blame Job

Job's friend Eliphaz believes Job's sorrows are a result of sin and he counsels Job that his trouble didn't come to him without cause. Some of the things Eliphaz will say about the Lord in today's passage are beautiful and true, but have you ever heard anyone take the Scriptures and try to beat someone over the head with them? This is the manner in which Eliphaz uses the word of God. He so strongly believes Job must have done something horribly wrong that he wants to force him into repentance and submission. The word of God says what it says, and no one can change it, but there is a right way and a wrong way to use it when ministering to others. The speech of Eliphaz today contains more judgment than love, and I don't think we can reach people without love. Even if Job's troubles had been the consequences of sin, the correct way to counsel him would have been in a loving spirit, recognizing that we are all equally capable of falling into sin. "Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently." (Galatians 6:1a)

Eliphaz continues his speech and I can't help but picture him enjoying the sound of his own voice. "Call if you will, but who will answer you? To which of the holy ones will you turn? Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple." (Job 5:1-2) This verse is apparently difficult to translate, since I found several different opinions on it. Eliphaz seems to be telling Job that no mortal man and no angel can relieve him of his predicament. The solution to his problem (which Eliphaz believes is sin) lies in the only One who can forgive sin. When we get to verse 6 he will urge Job to appeal to God for help.

Now Job's friend speaks about what he has observed in life. He believes bad things only happen to bad people. This has been his experience. "I myself have seen a fool taking root, but suddenly his house was cursed. His children are far from safety, crushed in court without a defender. The hungry consume his harvest, taking it even from among thorns, and the thirsty pant after his wealth. For hardship does not spring from the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground. Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward." (Job 5:3-7) Eliphaz says, "The foolish man (the one without spiritual understanding) may prosper for a time. But his children will go astray and end up in court. His crops will be eaten by others and his wealth will be spent by others. These things don't happen for no reason. These things happen as a result of sin."

Scholars disagree on the meaning of "Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward". Some say Eliphaz is stating that trouble is unavoidable in life: that as surely as sparks fly upward from a fire, trouble will surely come. The problem with this translation is that Eliphaz is very adamant that trouble only comes because of sin, therefore he must believe trouble is avoidable if men and women will only do what's right. Another opinion on this verse is that man should seek to rise above his troubles, just as sparks fly upward from a fire. This translation makes more sense to me, that Eliphaz is cautioning Job not to be consumed by sorrows but to appeal to the Lord to be lifted out of the fire of affliction.

"But if I were you, I would appeal to God; I would lay my cause before Him. He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted. He provides rain for the earth; He sends water on the countryside. 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. 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. 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." (Job 5:8-16) The things Eliphaz says here about God are true. Several others in the Bible speak similar words about the Lord, including Mary the mother of Jesus in the first chapter of Luke. God does indeed perform miracles and wonders. He honors the humble and lowly and lifts them up. He brings down the wicked. He is the champion of the poor and needy. These things are all beautiful and true. Eliphaz knows the word of God, but he doesn't speak the truth in love to his brother in the faith. He uses the word of God as a weapon, insinuating there is something between Job and the Lord that is preventing the Lord from helping him. He suggests that the dark days Job are experiencing are a result of craftiness and schemes. Perhaps, he thinks, Job gained some of his wealth by being dishonest. Maybe he cheated someone in business. Maybe he oppressed the widow and the orphan. Eliphaz doesn't know what Job's sin might be, but he believes God knows, and he thinks Job ought to get things right with God.

"Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty." (Job 5:17) King Solomon, centuries after the lifetime of Job, would say, "My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline, and do not resent His rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father the son he delights in." (Proverbs 3:11-12) This also is true, that the Lord treats us as His children and gives us correction when needed. However, Job has examined his heart and he knows his terrible circumstances aren't because he needed correction. Eliphaz is not willing to believe this. He says, "Job, your problems are because you are being corrected by God. You should not fight against Him. Instead you should be thankful. The Lord loves you and He is disciplining you as a father would discipline a wayward son."

"For He wounds, but He also binds up; He injures, but His hands also heal. From six calamities He will rescue you; in seven no harm will touch you. In famine He will deliver you from death, and in battle from the stroke of the sword. You will be protected from the lash of the tongue, and need not fear when destruction comes. You will laugh at destruction and famine, and need not fear the wild animals. For you will have a covenant with the stones of the field, and the wild animals will be at peace with you. You will know that your tent is secure; you will take stock of your property and find nothing missing. You will know that your children will be many, and your descendants like the grass of the earth. You will come to the grave in full vigor, like sheaves gathered in season. We have examined this, and it is true. So hear it and apply it to yourself." (Job 5:18-27) This is a lovely passage of poetry and there is nothing basically wrong with Eliphaz's interpretation of spiritual doctrine. We find many of these same promises throughout the Bible. But Eliphaz completely ignores a secondary definition of discipline and how God might use it in the believer's life. We tend to think of discipline as correction, just as Eliphaz does, but discipline also means training, preparation, development, exercise, self-mastery, instruction, and nourishment. God may send this type of discipline into the believer's life, not as a rebuke for sin, but to further develop the godly character which is already present. We can be living right in the middle of God's will, walking as closely with Him as we know how, and still experience troubles. Imagine how hurtful it would be if our friends came over and accused us of being sinners and told us if we would only repent everything would be made right again. The speech of Eliphaz is a shining example of what not to do. He knows the word of God but applies it incorrectly. He uses it not as the balm of comfort but wields it as a surgeon's scalpel. He's determined to get to the heart of the matter and he believes the heart of the matter is sin. He doesn't care how deeply he has to wound Job to get to it. This is not how the Lord Jesus spoke to those who sought Him and believed on Him. Jesus was in the business of healing and making whole. He used the word of God in love, to make people better and to help them be everything God wanted them to be. The example we should follow in using the Scriptures is the example Jesus set.

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