I posted most of this yesterday but it didn’t seem to upload – my bad.
It’s Day 12 of 28. We’re in chapter 6, Job has just heard Eliphaz say to him: “God only punishes wicked people. Don’t despise His discipline of you now.” How does Job respond to these simplistic adages?
1 Then Job answered, saying:
2 “If only my vexation were weighed
and my calamity (lit. falling) held together in the balances!
3 For then it would be heavier than the sea,
thus my words are rash.
4 For the arrows of the Almighty [are] in me,
of their poison my spirit drinks
the terrors of God are arranged against me.
5 Does the donkey bray over grass?
Or the ox low over his fodder?
6 Is tasteless food eaten with salt,
Or is there taste in the white of an egg?
7 My appetite (lit. soul) refuses to touch [these things],
They are as loathsome food to me.”
- Eliphaz began his speech with the statement that “vexation slays a fool” (5:2). Job doesn’t concede to being foolish or evil, but responds by sharing how deeply vexed (from grief) he feels because of all the calamities that have literally “befallen” (see previous discussion on ‘fall’).
- Job describes his sufferings as “arrows from the Almighty” – poison, terrors arranged in battle against Him (v4). It jars with our one-dimensional view of God, yet it wasn’t so long ago that Christians spoke and sung in this way as well (e.g. John Newton’s “I Asked The Lord That I Might Grow”)
- In verses 5-7 Job says that, just as you’d look for the reason why animals are making noise (e.g. lack of food), look for the reason that he’s crying in grief.
8 “Oh, that my request would come
that my hope God would give,
9 that God be pleased to crush me,
that He loose his hand and cut me off!
10 And it may yet be my comfort –
So I would exult in pain unsparing,
since I have not denied the words of the Holy One.
11 What is my strength, that I should wait,
What is my end, that my soul should be patient?
12 Is strength of stones my strength,
Is my flesh bronze?
13 Is there no help in me,
and is resource driven from me?”
- Job is walking through the valley of the shadow of death. He feels so wrecked in his suffering that He’d rather God take his life. Yet He maintains that his life is in the Almighty’s hands: only He can “crush” Him, “loose His hand” (v9). Throughout this book Job never lets go of God’s sovereignty over all things, including his suffering.
- His friends came to “comfort” (Heb: nakham) him in chapter 1, but Job would feel more “comfort” (same word) in being cut off by God (v10).
- Job doesn’t take on Eliphaz’s assumption that he’s sinned – he insists he has not “denied the words of the Holy One” (v10).
- But he has taken on Eliphaz’s way of addressing God from chapters 4-5. God is no longer the covenant Yahweh of chapter 1 (“The LORD gives, the LORD takes away” etc.) – he is Almighty, the Holy One. It’s a subtle shift, but there’s a greater distance in his address of God. In our suffering it can be hard to see God in His full and complete character.
- Oh, Job. I can’t imagine how hard it is for you right now.
14 “”[He who would] withhold from a friend loyalty / loving-kindness,
The fear of the Almighty he forsakes.
15 My brothers are as deceitful as intermittent streams,
As river valleys that overflow,
16 being darkened with ice,
whereupon the snow hides itself,
17 In time they thaw, they disappear,
In its heat they evaporate from their place.
18 The [river] paths turn from their course,
They rise into emptiness [inland] and perish.
19 The caravans of Tema gaze,
The processions of Sabeans hope [for the rivers].
20 They are ashamed for they were confident,
They came up this far but are confounded.
21 For you now have become nothing,
You have seen [my] terror and fear [it].”
- When a friend suffers, the God-fearing response is to show them the covenant loyalty (v14; חסד, chesed) that God shows us in His promise keeping character. That speaks louder than any sermon on suffering can do, and it’s what Job longed for from his friends.
- Job uses an extended metaphor to describe how unreliable his friends are to him right now (. They’re like rivers that appear during flash floods or when ice melts: here one minute, gone the next. (How easy it is to say “I’ll pray for you” and perhaps do it once; how much harder to actually keep it up and be a reliable brother or sister!)
- In chapter 1 the Sabeans are terrorists who destroy Job’s crops. Here they’re travellers looking for water and disappointed (v19).
22 For have I said, ‘Give to me’?
Or ‘From your wealth offer a bribe for me’?
23 Or ‘Deliver me from the hand of the adversary’?
Or ‘From the hand of the ruthless redeem me’?
24 Instruct me, and I myself will be silent,
And how I have erred make me understand.
25 How forceful are [your] ‘righteous’ words!
But what does it reprove, reproof from you?
26 In your reproving [of my] words, do you treat
(and) as wind the words of a despairing man?
27 Indeed, for the orphan you would cast lots (lit: “fall”),
And you would trade off your friend.
28 Now then – be willing to turn to me,
to your face I would never lie!
29 Turn now, let there be no “wicked words”,
And turn, my righteousness is yet in it (or here).
30 Is there on my tongue “wicked words”,
Can my palate not discern calamities?
- Job sarcastically asks in vv23-24: “Did I ask for money from you?” All he wanted was sympathy from his friends, but all he gets so far is their reproof, reproof, reproof (3x) and scolding.
- By their speechiness, Job’s friends have treated his laments “as wind” (v26). They’re lacking sympathy.
- Job’s friends are acting like the kind of people who would cast lots over an orphan child and auction them off (v27-28). They’re as cold and clinical as Joseph’s brothers (Gen 37). Or perhaps even like people who wax lyrical about cost-benefit analyses of lockdowns when people are hurting and dying and need sympathy. Suffer with me, Job cries!
- The word עַוְלָה (ʾavlah) I’ve translated as “wicked words” in this context (v29, 30). Words that are false, or words that destroy. Job wants his friends to “turn away” (literally, repent – shuv) from their wicked words, for his righteousness remains intact.
- Do I see my messages, social media posts and shares as things to “repent of” when they actually aggravate hurting people? Maybe I don’t need to jump into that debate about who’s social distancing correctly and who isn’t. Maybe my voice isn’t actually needed among the choruses criticising policymaking decisions or differing government responses. We’re all suffering together, in different ways. Maybe it’s better for me to just share their sorrows, and offer the comfort that God has comforted us with (2 Cor 1:1-3).
- In anxious times, what hurting people need most may not be more long-winded speeches, but perhaps just chesed. Loyalty, loving-kindness: the same covenant love that Jesus demonstrated when he laid down His life for his friends (John 15:13). How can I remember and live that out as we remember Jesus’s death and resurrection amidst a raging pandemic?