Sunday, March 19, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 15, Zophar Speaks

Job's friend Zophar speaks fewer words than the other two men, but the words he speaks are sharper and more hurtful.

"Then Zophar the Naamathite replied: 'Are all these words to go unanswered? Is this talker to be vindicated? Will your idle talk reduce others to silence? Will no one rebuke you when you mock?'" (Job 11:1-3) These three men are on the hunt for Job's sin like a pack of hounds chasing a fox. They believe they are hot on the trail. They dismiss Job's claims of innocence and, instead of lending him their sympathy and support, they treat him like a man in need of an intervention. They think if they can just attack his defenses long enough he will cave in and admit to something dreadful. Zophar says, "You can't distract us with all these words! You can't silence us. Your claims of innocence mock the Lord and we won't stand for it."

"You say to God, 'My beliefs are flawless and I am pure in Your sight.' Oh, how I wish that God would speak, the He would open His lips against you and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom, for true wisdom has two sides. Know this: God has even forgotten some of your sin.'" (Job 11:4-6) Zophar wishes God would speak up and rebuke Job. He will see his wish fulfilled later on, at least in part. God will speak up but when He does He's going to be very displeased with the words that have come from the lips of Zophar, Bildad, and Eliphaz.

Zophar doesn't mean that God literally forgot some of Job's sins or that Job has sinned so much that even God can't keep track of them all. What he's saying is something like, "You should be happy your circumstances aren't worse than they are. God hasn't punished you to the extent you deserve. If He punished you according to your sins, you'd be dead." There is a sound basis to Zophar's doctrine in that we all have sinned and we all deserve death. David said something similar, "He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities...As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him." (Psalm 103:10,13) The prophet Jeremiah agreed, saying, "Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail." (Lamentations 3:22) Of course we deserve the wrath of God, and Zophar is correct in believing so. But he fails to come to the same conclusion as King David and Jeremiah: the Lord would rather show us mercy than wrath. The Lord has compassion on us. The Lord offers us a way to escape the eternal consequences of our sins. Zophar heartily believes in and approves of God's holy right to judge and to bring discipline. This is a side of God's character he can understand, being a judgmental man himself. But he can't understand God's compassionate side because this is a quality he himself lacks. Zophar is a harsh man and he identifies more with a God of wrath than a God of mercy.

"Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens above---what can you do? They are deeper than the depths below---what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea." (Job 11:7-9) Again Zophar has missed something vital about the character of God. King David also came to the conclusion that God's ways and God's thoughts are high above us, but this only made him praise the Lord's love even more. "For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us." (Psalm 103:11-12) David exclaimed, "This God who is so high above us, so holy and perfect, lowers Himself to care for us. We are nothing compared to Him, yet He shows us mercy. We don't deserve compassion, but He feels it anyway."

"If He comes along and confines you in prison and convenes a court, who can oppose him? Surely He recognizes deceivers; and when He sees evil, does He not take note? But the witness can no more become wise than a wild donkey's colt can be born human." (Job 11:1-12) Zophar does not believe Job should speak out against the sovereignty of God. Since God created all things, He can do with them as He wishes. Zophar doesn't believe man has the right to question Him. In addition, he tells Job he is stupid for questioning God. He thinks Job has no more hope of becoming wise than a donkey has hope of having a human baby.

Zophar now offers a stern admonishment to repent and make things right with God. "Yet if you devote your heart to Him and stretch out your hands to Him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, then, free of fault, you will lift up your face; you will stand firm and without fear." (Job 11:13-14) Perhaps feeling he's distributing helpful advice, Zophar says, "You're a stupid man, Job, but even you can enjoy the blessings of God if you will just confess and turn from whatever sin brought these tragedies into your life."

Job's three friends still don't believe bad things can happen to good people. I wonder what they would have made of the crucifixion of Christ. I have a strong feeling they would have been among the crowd who believed God would have rescued Jesus from the cross if He were not a sinner. They would not have been able to reconcile His fate with their doctrine of believing the one who does good never endures hardship. I think they would have stood with the Pharisees and Sadducees and teachers of the law who shook their heads and condemned Jesus in their minds as a liar and a blasphemer.

Zophar concludes by promising a life of ease and prosperity if Job will only repent of secret sins and live an honest life in the sight of God. "You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by. Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning. You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety. You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid, and many will court your favor. But the eyes of the wicked will fail, and escape will elude them; their hope will become a dying gasp." (Job 11:16-20)

We've found many nuggets of truth in the words of Job's three friends, but these words have been spoken without love. The Apostle Paul gave very clear instructions in Ephesians 4 how to teach the truth of God, and he said we must teach it "in love". We are to speak the truth, yes, but only in love. We are not to take the holy Scriptures and use them as weapons. Job's friends are like a trio of surgeons performing exploratory surgery without anesthesia. They keep cutting him and cutting him with sharp unmerciful words as they try to get to the root of his problem, which they believe is sin. But the job of convicting a person of sin is not ours. If we teach, we must do it in love as Jesus would, and then we must trust Him to do the rest. Only the Great Physician can take the word of God and perform lifesaving spiritual surgery. "For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12) We can't beat people in the head with the Scriptures or point our finger at them and shout, "Sinner!" and expect to draw them to Christ. They need to see the love of Christ in us. If the world can't find anything admirable in Christians, how will they be attracted to Christ? The Lord Jesus didn't beat people up about their pasts; He offered them a better future. He didn't produce a list of sins and denounce them and shame the sinner; He simply told them to go and sin no more. They didn't have to return to that empty way of living after they saw the love in His eyes and the compassion in His heart. Why did those whom society considered outcasts and sinners run to Jesus in droves? It was because of the love.

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