Category Archives: Personal

Lockdown thoughts from Job 18

If you were to describe the place where wicked people go, how would you describe it? Bildad has a go — unfortunately, it’s not really what his friend Job needed to hear.

Previously:
1:1-5 | 1:6-12 | 1:13-22 | 2:1-6 | 2:7-13 | 3:1-10 | 3:11-26 | 4 | 5:1-7 | 5:8-27 | 6 | 7 | 8:1-7 | 8:8-22 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13:1-16 | 13:17-14:22 | 15 | 16 | 17 |

Translation:

18:1 Then Bildad the Shuhite answered, saying:

2 “Until when will you (pl.) hunt (lit: set a snare) for words?
Consider, and then we speak.
3 Why are we counted like cattle?
Why are we stupid in your eyes?

4 One who tears his soul in his anger – for your sake will the earth be forsaken?
And the rock removed from its place?

  • Verse 2 begins as Bildad accuses Job and any supporting his argument (the you is plural) of playing games with words (using the imagery of hunting as sport)
  • Verse 3 could be retranslated: “Are we as dumb as cows?”
  • Essentially, Bildad is accusing Job of challenging the foundations of the world by his protests of innocence.
  • Instead of disrupting the “place” (Hb: makom) of the earth, Bildad instead invites Job into the place where wicked men live (in his neat moral universe) – cue verses 5-21
  • Christopher Ash (Wisdom of the Cross, 201) has a good analogy, following the idea of “place”: “Bildad is the moral equivalent of the very house-proud person… Job, they think, is like a rude guest who comes in and wants to trash the place.”

5 “Moreover, the light of wicked men is put out;
And it does not shine, the fire of his flame.

6 The light darkens in his tent;
And his lamp above him is put out.

  • Firstly, Bildad preaches that wicked men have not even a hint of light when they die. It is put out, or extinguished (v5, v6)
  • Bildad, having heard Job wish to “make his bed in the darkness” (17:13), asserts only wicked people go there — “Job, you must be wicked.”

7 “His strong steps are restricted;
His counsel casts him down.

8 For he is cast into a net at his feet;
And he wanders over netting.

9 It seizes by the heel – a trap;
It grips him – a snare.
10 Hidden in the ground in his rope,
And his trap [is] upon the path.

  • In these verses the key idea is the trap (“net” in v8, “snare” in v9, “rope” in v10). The wicked one struts around strongly, but he is caught. He cannot escape.

11 “Terrors all around scare him,
And chase him at his feet.
12 His strength is famished;
And calamity ready for his stumbling.
13 It consumes layers (lit: limbs) of his skin;
It consumes his limbs – the firstborn of death.
14 He will be torn from the tent of his confidence;
And brought to the king of terrors.
15 It dwells in his tent, [they] that are not his(?);
Scattered upon his dwelling [is] sulphur.
16 From beneath, his roots dry up;
From above it withers, his branches.

  • Is this place Hell? We need to be careful not to import New Testament terminology anachronistically. But it’s certainly a description of a grim post-mortem reality for the wicked. Bildad is channelling Jonathan Edward’s “Sinners at the Hands of an Angry God” here.

17 “His memory perishes from the earth;
And he has no name in public (lit: upon the face of outside).
18 They will thrust him from light to darkness;
And from the world they will banish him.
19 There is no offspring for him and no posterity among his people;
No survivor in the places he sojourned.
20 Over his days, those of the west are appalled;
And those of the east are gripped [with] horror.
21 Surely this is the dwelling place of an unjust one,
And [those in] this place does not know God.

  • The point of Bildad’s lengthy description of these terrors is that he assumes Job’s feelings of despair is proof he belongs in this terrifying place.
  • But Bildad is wrong that Job deserves to go there – we are told repeatedly that he is “blameless and upright, fearing God and turning away from evil” (1:1). His neat and tidy logic is a bit housebound, and does not fit in the real world out there.
  • There is a danger too in our lives when we take theoretical truths and make them the lens that we judge another person’s attitudes and actions. Once I told a friend who was under a heavy weight of despair, “I think you’re suffering because you love money too much.” Needless to say, it didn’t go down well. It’s certainly true people can suffer from loving money too much. But it wasn’t right for me to use that logic and misapply it on a friend whose circumstances and heart attitudes weren’t fully known to me.

Lockdown thoughts from Job 15

Day 24. Six more days of full lockdown here in New Zealand. Cheryl’s due date is tomorrow, but no sign of baby yet.

Eliphaz makes a chapter-long reprise today.

Previously: 1:1-5 | 1:6-12 | 1:13-22 | 2:1-6 | 2:7-13 | 3:1-10 | 3:11-26 | 4:1-21 | 5:1-7 | 5:8-27 | 6:1-30 | 7:1-21 | 8:1-7 | 8:8-22 | 9:1-35 | 10:1-22 | 11:1-20 | 12:1-25 | 13:1-16 | 13:17-14:22 |

Translation:

15:1 Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered, saying:

2 “Does a man answer with blustery knowledge (lit: wind-knowledge),
Or fill his belly with the east [wind]?
3 Arguing with useless speech,
With words that do not have value in them?
4 Indeed, you break off reverence,
And you diminish meditation before the face of God,

5 Because your iniquity teaches your mouth,
And you choose the tongue of the crafty.
6 Your mouth condemns you, and not me;
Your lips answer [back] at you.”

  • Eliphaz is less conciliatory this time round after hearing Job complain about his suffering. The first time round (chapter 5) he encouraged Job to view his plight as discipline from above. Here he scolds Job for his “useless speech” (v3)
  • In Eliphaz’s worldview, he fears that lamenting and complain will discourage people from fearing God (v4); therefore Job’s continued howlings and calls for God to answer threatens the spiritual health of others. But is that actually true? Is there no such thing as lament and complaint from faithful people (e.g., the Psalms?)

7 “Were you the first man born?
Or before hills were you brought forth?
8 The secret counsel of God – have you heard it?
Have you restricted to yourself wisdom?
9 What do you know that we don’t know?
[What] do you understand – that is not with us?
10 The grey-haired too, the aged too, [are] with us,
Mighter than your father of days.
11 Are they too slight for you, the consolations of God?
Or a word in gentleness to you?
12 Why has it carried you away – your heart?
And why do your eyes flash?
13 Because you turn your breath against God,
And you have caused words to proceed from your mouth.
14 What is man, that he be pure;
Or that he be righteous, the one born of woman?
15 Look, in His holy ones He does not trust,
and the heavens are not pure in His sight.
16 Indeed, how disgusting and corrupt,
A man who drinks in evil like water.”

  • TL;DR: “You’re not like God in wisdom Job, you sinful evil person” says Eliphaz
  • But seriously, the way Eliphaz waxes lyrical here is remarkable poetry, yet poor remedy for someone who just needed sympathy, not speechy slander
  • Verse 9 isn’t a bad question: “What do you know that we don’t know?” However, Eliphaz should ask this of himself too! If he had, perhaps he would be more careful to charge Job of evil, iniquity and so on.

17 “Let me tell you, listen to me.
And this I have seen and I shall relate it:
18 What wise men declare,
That they have not hidden,
[that is] from their fathers.
19 To them alone the land was given,
And no stranger has passed through their midst.
20 All his days the wicked one – he writhes,
According to the number of years hidden for the ruthless one.
21 Everything of dread [is] in his ears,
In a time of peace a plunderer comes upon him.
22 He does not have confidence to return from darkness,
And he is marked for the sword.
23 He wanders about for food – where is it?
He knows that it is at hand, the day of darkness.
24 It terrifies him, distress and anguish;
They overpower him like a king ready for battle.”

  • Eliphaz continues with a description of the wicked one’s days. His world is black and white, filled only with either good or bad people.
  • According to the wisdom he relies upon, God’s justice is retributive — if you are wicked, then you suffer.
  • He even gives examples (v21, see also 34) similar to the calamities that fell upon Job in chapter 1.

25 “For he stretches out against God his hand,
And is arrogant against the Almighty.
26 running against him with the neck,
With the thickness of the embossings of his shield.
27 Though he has covered his face with his fat,
And made blubber over his loins,
28 He has lived in cities, desolated places,
[and] houses no one dwells in,
Which they are made ready for heaps.
29 He will not become rich,
And his wealth will not stand,
And it will not spread over the land – his possessions.
30 He will depart from the darkness, a flame will wither his shoots,
And he will depart by the breath of his mouth.
31 Let him not trust in emptiness — being deceived,
For emptiness is his due (lit: exchange).
32 Before his time he will be filled,
And his branches will not be green.
33 He will wrong his sour grapes like a vine,
He will shed off, like an olive tree, his blossom(s).
34 For the company of the godless is barren,
And fire consumes the tents of bribery.
35 They conceive trouble, and beget iniquity, their belly prepares deception.”

  • Verses 25-27 give an unusual image of a fierce warrior assaulting God with his shield, who’s actually a blubbery man smeared with fat (food) on his face. Eliphaz thinks that Job’s protests against God come across as a man ill-prepared for battle, or as an Emperor without clothes.
  • The long tirade against “evil people like Job” starts and ends with the idea of a belly — first filled with the east wind (v1), now preparing deception (v35).
  • There’s not much to like about Eliphaz’s epithets right now. I’m thankful for friends who sympathise, pray, talk, give us reasons to smile instead of point out what’s wrong. In time, God will reveal this to Job. Eliphaz would do better to sit and sympathise with his friend.

Lockdown thoughts from Job 13:17-14:22

Day 22, 23. The Government’s announced we’re exiting lockdown next week!

Previously: 1:1-5 | 1:6-12 | 1:13-22 | 2:1-6 | 2:7-13 | 3:1-10 | 3:11-26 | 4:1-21 | 5:1-7 | 5:8-27 | 6:1-30 | 7:1-21 | 8:1-7 | 8:8-22 | 9:1-35 | 10:1-22 | 11:1-20 | 12:1-25 | 13:1-16

Translation:

17 [Job]: “Keep listening to my words,
and my declaration in your ears.
18 Look, I have arranged a legal case (lit: judgement),

I know that it is I who am right.
19 Who is he who will contend with me?
For now, I will keep silent and expire.
20 Only two [things] do not grant to me,
Then from Your face I will not hide:
21 Your hand upon me – take it far away,
and your dread – stop terrifying me [with it].
22 Then call, and I myself will answer,
or I will speak, then respond to me!

  • Job wants his day in court with God. He’s not content to suffer without an explanation. Notice the legal language again in verse 18, when he tells his friends that he’s “arranged a judgement”, and calls for a court to convene. Verse 22 seems to indicate he is happy to either serve as defendant (call, then I’ll answer) or prosecutor (I’ll speak, then respond).

23 How many are [my] iniquities and sins?
My transgressions and sins help me know.
24 Why do you hide your face,
and count me as your enemy?
25 Why do you terrify a leaf driven away,
And pursue dry chaff?
26 For you write against me bitter things,
And cause me to inherit the iniquities of my youth.
27 And you set in shackles my feet and watch all my paths,
The soles of my feet you have imprinted.
28 And this one (lit: he), like rottenness, wears out,
like a garment a moth has eaten.

  • Job begins to “prosecute” God. He doesn’t deny being a sinner (v23), but wants God to show why he’s suffering right now.
  • In verse 26 Job reiterates the “bitterness” of his suffering (see 3:20, 7:11, 9:18).
  • He describes God as “watchful” (v27) but in an overbearing way.
  • It seems “UnChristian” to complain to God, but actually Job reveals his underlying trust that only God can solve his case.

14:1 Man, born of woman,
Short of days, and full of agitation.
2 Like a flower comes forth then withers,
He flees like a shadow and does not stand.
3 Indeed, upon this one do you open your eyes?
And do you bring me before you in judgement?
4 Who can give a clean thing from unclean? Not one.
5 If man’s days are determined, the number of his months [are] with You,
His limits You have made, and he cannot pass it.

  • Job switches back to his existential anguish (e.g. chapter 3). He returns to his thoughts of the futility and difficulty of human life. In verse 1, Job has mentioned this “agitation” in verse 14 earlier, when lamenting how in the grave the wicked cease their agitation (3:17).

6 Gaze away from him and let him rest,
Until he enjoys, like a hired man, his day
.
7 Since there is, for a tree, hope —
if it is cut down, then it will sprout again,
and its shoots will not cease.
8 If its roots grow old in the earth,
and its stumps die in the soil,
9 On account of the smell of water it will break out,
And make branches like a new plant.
10 But a man dies and is weak,
Man expires — where is he?
11 As waters disappear from the sea,
and a river wastes and dries up,
12 So man lies down and does not arise
until the heavens are no more they do not awake,
And they are not roused from their sleep.

  • Job’s reflections here are like the opposite of Psalm 8 (e.g. “What is man that you are mindful of Him?”) There’s nothing like reflecting on a tree that’s hundreds of years old, to recognise our mortality before God. Creation speaks of God’s majesty, yet it does also speak of our smallness and weakness. But perhaps that’s an important perspective we need when suffering tempts us to think it’s all about me.
  • So is Job wanting God to “leave him alone” (v6), or to show His face? (13:24)? I think like Job, we too can oscillate between the two when we’re going through a tough time (“Go away God! Show yourself God!”). Suffering is messy, and Job is honest about how bitter his life is right now.

13 Oh (lit: who will give), that you would hide me in Sheol,
and shelter me until the turning of your anger,
Set me a time, and remember me!

14 If a man dies, will he live [again]?
All of the days of my service I will wait,
Until my relief comes.

15 You will call, and I, I will answer you,
you will long for the work of your hands.

16 Then now you will count my steps,
You will not watch over my sin.

17 My transgressions will be sealed up in a bag, and you would paint [lit: plaster] over my iniquity.

  • I love verse 14. It’s honest Job wrestling with the question of whether there is life after death. Because of a greater suffering servant, Jesus, when a man dies, he will certainly live again in Him. Where, O death, is your sting?

18 But as a mountain falling crumbles,
and a rock is moved from its place,
19 [as] waters weather stones,
Torrents flow over the soil of the land,
So the hope of man you destroy.
20 You overpower him forever and he goes,
You change his face and send him away.
21 His sons are honoured but he does not know,
Or they are brought low and he does not discern it.
22 Only his flesh has will be in pain upon himself,
And his self – over it he mourns.

  • While Job will keep searching for hope and vindication after death in future chapters, for now Job still mourns his condition here and now. His reflections in verses 21-22 that death separates us from the good and bad in our earthly life is mirrored in Ecclesiastes 9:5-6: “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.”
  • One of the ways coronavirus is working in people’s lives is to remind everyone of our mortality. Just read a new obituary section called “Those We’ve Lost” in the NY Times — they’re sweet, sobering and poignant reflections. Yet one day, we all must die. Do we have hope for life after that? Only the Christian message can offer answers to this age-old question.

Lockdown thoughts from Job 8:8-22

Day 15. Bildad is berating his blameless bestie, Job.

Previously: 1:1-5 | 1:6-12 | 1:13-22 | 2:1-6 | 2:7-13 | 3:1-10 | 3:11-26 | 4:1-21 | 5:1-7 | 5:8-27 | 6:1-30 | 7:1-21 | 8:1-7


Translation:

8 (Bildad) “For ask now of the previous generation,
and take heed of the search of the fathers.
9 For we are of yesterday, and do not know,
For [like] a shadow [are] our days on the earth.
10 Is it not they [who] will instruct you, [who] will speak to you?
11 Can the papyrus plant rise up with no marsh?
Will reeds flourish without water?
12 When it is still blossoming, and will not be plucked,
Before any [other] plant they will wither.
13 Thus the paths of any who forget God,
the hope of the godless shall perish,
14 who loathes his trust,
And his confidence is a spider’s web.
15 He leans (impf.) against his house, but it does not stand,
He takes hold (lit: causes to be strong) of it, but does not endure (lit: arise).
16 He is a moist plant before the sun,
and over the garden its shoots spread.
17 Upon a heap its roots entwine,
it looks for a house of stones.
18 If it is uprooted (lit: devoured) from its place,
it disowns him: “I have never seen you!”
19 Thus, this is the joy of his way,
And out of the soil others sprout up.

20 Look, God does not reject the blameless,
And he does not take hold of the hand of evildoers.
21 Still he will fill your mouth [with] laughter,
and your lips [with] shouting.
22 Those who hate you will be clothed with shame,
and the tent of the wicked will not exist.”


  • Bildad who has pointed out in vv1-7 that Job’s suffering must be due to his or his children’s sin, closes his “wisdom” speech by invoking the wisdom of the generation above him (v8-10).
  • He uses vivid metaphors to illustrate that when people oppose God, they end up perishing more swiftly than the water reed, or putting their weight on something as flimsy as a spider’s web. The wicked may seem to be fastened securely and flourishing, yet they (like roots on stones) can be quickly uprooted.
  • When Bildad declares that “God does not reject the blameless”, remember that Job has already been declared “blameless” (tam; whole) in chapter 1 – so these sentiments are aimed at the wrong person!

My thoughts:

  • There’s much that’s true about God and his world in Bildad’s speech. Our days are like a shadow on earth. There is no hope when we forget God. And yes, in general, sin brings sorrow.
  • Yet true words aimed wrongly can do damage – Job doesn’t take too well to Bildad’s bluster in the next chapter. His suffering is not because of any sin he’s done. It’s not what he needed to hear.
  • I remember one time someone told me they were really struggling financially, and I replied that perhaps money was too much of an idol for them. Whether it was true or not, but they needed sympathy not a pat-answer proverb. I had to ask forgiveness for my mistimed words.

Lockdown thoughts from Job 5:8-27

Ten days in Job so far. I’m appreciating the slower pace and the time to think about Eliphaz’s words and why they sound good but don’t help.

Previously: Job 1:1-5 | Job 1:6-12 | Job 1:13-22 | Job 2:1-6 | Job 2:7-13 |
 Job 3:1-10 | Job 3:11-26 | Job 4:1-21 | Job 5:1-7


Translation:

8 But I would seek out God,
and to God would I set my plea,
9 He does great things — unsearchable,
marvellous things without number.
10 Giving rain upon the surface of the earth,
and sending waters over the surface of the fields.
11 He sets the lowly on heights,
and those who mourn He lifts to happiness.
12 He frustrates the thoughts of the crafty,
and their hands do not make success.
13 He catches the cunning in their craftiness,
and the counsel of the astute are hastened [to conclusion].
14 By day they encounter darkness,
and as by night do they grope at midday.
15 But He saves the needy from the sword, from their mouth,
and from the hand of the mighty.
16 And the helpless have hope,
and malice shuts her mouth.


  • Eliphaz continues reciting his prepared-sounding remarks to his suffering friend Job – he encourages him to “seek out God” (v8), then extols His great character (v9-11), and delights in His retributive nature (v12-16). Eliphaz seems to love waxing lyrical about and orderly and lawful God.
  • The quality of the poetry is quite remarkable, and comes across as polished and prepared. They’re beautiful words, yet badly wielded. Job needs a friend, not a lecture.

17 Look, blessed is the man whom God chastens,
So do not refuse the training of “Shaddai” (Almighty)!

18 For He causes pain, yet binds up,
He shatters, yet His hands heal.
19 From six troubles He will deliver you,
and in seven, evil will not touch you.
20 In famine He redeems you from death,
and in war from the hand of the sword.
21 From the whip of the tongue you shall be hidden,
and you shall not fear devastation when it comes.
22 Towards oppression and famine you shall laugh.
And from the beasts of the earth you shall not fear.
23 For with the stones of the field you shall covenant with,
and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with you.
24 You shall know that peace [is] your tent,
and you shall deal with your settlement and not miss the mark.
25 You shall know that many are your offspring
and your offspring [be] as weeds of the earth.
26 You shall come to the grave in ripe [old] age,
as a sheaving of sheaves in its time.
27 Look, this is what we have explored,
it is thus so: hear it, and know it for yourself.


  • Eliphaz concludes his monologue by exhorting Job: see your trials as punishment from God! Don’t reject it! (v17).
  • He saves his biggest words for this climactic moment, invoking a cluster of righteous-sounding vocabulary: blessed (v17, like “Blessed is the man” in Psalm 1), redemption (v20), covenant (v23), shalom / peace (v23-24), and even sin (v24, “miss the mark”). Nothing quite like a bit of Hebrew-ese to really drive home the point that he’s right, huh?
  • It’s almost as if Eliphaz is referencing the Abrahamic blessing (Genesis 15) and invoking the same ideas and hopes (land and offspring and protection) – e.g., verse 25, “your offspring will be as weeds on the earth.” I’m not sure whether that’s the best thing to say to someone who’s just lost 10 kids though. Can’t you just grieve with him?

Some reflections:

  • When I’m chatting with grieving friends, righteous-sounding Christianese can get in the way of showing real sympathy.
  • I know I’m often prone to Eliphaz’s urge to give beautiful and pious-sounding advice when it’s poorly-timed. A friend told me once that when he was recovering in hospital, he got really tired of people who’d come up and just quote Romans 8:28 to him (and not much more). May we be more careful not just what we say, but when we say it, and how. “You’ll find that perfect someone, I know it!” is probably not helpful when your friend is mourning their singleness. Probably a dumb move to declare “He will not cause you to stumble” when your friend is terminally ill.
  • I get that we should take time to weigh up differing viewpoints and commentary on the pandemic: from health officials, economists, etc. But Eliphaz’s mistimed verbosity reminds me that perhaps sharing yet another long-form COVID read isn’t the most important thing my anxious and suffering friends need to hear right now.
  • “Be happy that God is disciplining you” might be something I’d say to myself after a harrowing trial. But it certainly shouldn’t be something I cough onto others without reason, and while they’re grieving, like Eliphaz does. Suffering brings lessons on hindsight — let’s not short-circuit that process for our friends with lofty but mistimed words.