Job in 25 minutes

We’re finishing Job having now spent three weeks going through its 42 chapters. There is a lot to digest from it, and not only because of its length. It is a weighty book dealing with questions of God’s role in the world and suffering.

We were blessed at church to have had a sermon two Sundays ago that took on the minor task of preaching on the entirety of the book. Often as we preach from the texts we’re reading we preach on some of the texts. But as this tries to sum up the whole, I thought I’d link to it here and offer it up as a good word on this deep book.

The Patience of Job, Lauren Taylor, October 21, 2012


Job’s boldness to cry out “my Redeemer lives”

Job 19 includes what are probably the most familiar lines from the whole book. Verse 25 says, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.” It is a powerful line and in it we see the hope, similar to what I wrote last week, of Christ. But it is all the more powerful given the context. Job boldly says that he does have a redeemer. He says this redeemer lives and this redeemer is spoken of in relation to Job one day seeing God. But all this he says in his dire circumstances. Earlier in the chapter Job has said this:

All my intimate friends abhor me, and those whom I loved have turned against me. My bones stick to my skin and to my flesh, and I have escaped by the skin of my teeth. Have mercy on me, have mercy on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me! Why do you, like God, pursue me? Why are you not satisfied with my flesh?

Life has been bitter to Job. He has called out hoping to meet death, wishing the day on which he was born was taken from history. The ones who should be close seem far, the ones who should love hate, and Job says even children despise him. Yet even as his world seems to crumble Job is able to find the strength to say, perhaps the strength to believe, that there truly is a redeemer. He does not let his circumstance dictate truth. God is God even when life is painful. We have hope even when there seems to be no hope for us. Even in the midst of sin and death we have one who redeems us from such slavery and who will usher us into the presence of God.

Are Job’s friends right or wrong?

As we continue to read into Job we have the problem of what to make of the words of Job’s three friends. It seems at times that their words are true and their conclusions right. They talk of the punishment that comes upon the wicked, but they then relate this to Job’s situation, and there it falls apart. The picture we are shown is one in which Job is innocent and that the distress that has come upon him is not a direct punishment for something he has done. So are his friends right or wrong?

It is a little more complex and a word that has helped me in reading it is “appropriate.” Whether one of the friends speaks something that is true, is it also an appropriate statement to make? Is it fitting to the situation and applicable for Job? I felt torn wanting to quote some of these friends when I came across some powerful verses knowing that they’re not quite in the right in their speech. Would I be quoting them out of context?

Again it is good to remember just because someone says something in the Bible doesn’t mean it is “biblical.” Characters from the Bible are not always the examples we remember them to be and the wisdom of Job’s wise friends is not always good. But there are instances where even the naive speak great truth without even knowing it. So ultimately, these three may say some insightful things, but use discernment in judging their words. The only one who is without fault in speech is God, who we’ll get to at the end.

The Despair of Job is Now a Hope We Have In Jesus

If you follow along with the focus passages that are available each week, then perhaps by now you’ve already looked closely at a passage from Job 9. If not, there is a section in the book of Job where Job complains. In fact–there are many such sections. But in this one part specifically Job cries out about his own inability to come before God and defend himself. He doesn’t believe that he could stand up to the bigness of God and prove himself innocent. Humans are nothing in comparison to the majesty of a God who forms mountains and places the stars into constellations. Recognizing this Job says:

There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both.

The good news we have in the New Testament is that we know such an arbiter. We know that Jesus Christ is the one who, being both fully God and fully human, is able to perfectly represent us before the Father. He intercedes for us and he is the one who has made us innocent. We can have hope to enter boldly into God’s presence because of the all-sufficient work of Jesus.

Hebrews goes into the priestly work of Jesus and how he has done everything we need, and emphasizes how what he has done is so much greater than anything that has gone before. Jesus is a greater priest than the priests of old. Jesus is greater than angels and greater than Moses. Jesus while still being the priest is also the sacrifice, and again is a greater sacrifice. What Christ has done for us has once and for all paid the price for our sin and has made us right before God.

In Jesus Christ the plea of Job comes to be fulfilled and we can rejoice now knowing such good news. The suffering of Job continues into our day, but we know that our God entered into such suffering, taking on more than we ever could in bearing our sins, and in so doing has secured salvation for us.

The need for encouragement for Job and for us all

Job chapter 4 begins with Eliphaz speaking to Job about an apparent contradiction. Job has been able to comfort and strengthen others but it seems to me that Eliphaz is saying if your words could uphold others, why are you having such difficulties? If you believe something enough to share it with another, are you believing it for yourself? Don’t you have confidence and hope?

Behold, you have instructed many,
and you have strengthened the weak hands.
Your words have upheld him who was stumbling,
and you have made firm the feeble knees.
But now it has come to you, and you are impatient;
it touches you, and you are dismayed.
Is not your fear of God your confidence,
and the integrity of your ways your hope?
Job 4:3-6

It is a difficult thing to be able to pull yourself out of such hardships and misery such as Job is facing. He could with complete sincerity offer words of encouragement to others, but now is a time that he may be reliant on others to take that role for his sake. Job needs his friends to be a source of strength, but instead Eliphaz questions.

I am reminded of a quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer about the need for community and the ability of others to speak truth and be a strength for us, especially since we cannot do it alone.

But God has put his Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Even if we are often the “strong” one for someone else, publicly seen as comforters and encouragers, that doesn’t mean that we still do not need the word of Christ from brothers and sisters in the faith. We are all called to proclaim Christ and we are all people who need to hear it not only in our own heart, but in the voice of another. No one is so mature a Christian that they are above being encouraged by the words of the gospel. No one is perfect, no one is strong enough. So be open to those chances in which you can be that bearer of Christ to someone who may really need it, and be open to hearing Christ in others.

Sitting in Silence, lessons learned from Job’s Friends

7th print from William Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job, pub. 1826

How often, when people are going through loss or tragedy, do we lament that we just don’t know what to say? Maybe that even holds us back from approaching others in their time of grief. The friends of Job may have plenty of words to say to him in his time of great suffering, but they don’t make up with quantity what they lack in quality. They come to bring comfort, but instead accuse him. I think we fear having wrong words like those three and that fear holds us back in a state of inaction.

To their credit they begin their time with Job with a great show of solidarity and compassion. The three come to him, tear their clothes, cover themselves in ashes, and sit with him. They sit with him in silence for seven days and seven nights. Here was a man who had lost so much and was enduring great physical pain. Did they have the perfect thing to say that would make everything better? Of course not. What could they say? But Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar come to be by Job’s side.

They show compassion, a word whose root means to suffer with. They sit and suffer with Job, and that at least can be something we learn from them.

A tip for reading Job

Job mocked by his wife, Georges de la Tour, 1625-1650

One thing I have found difficulty in reading Job is just keeping track of where I am. This is a pretty unique book and coming from the prophets in which we have fewer voices to keep track of, Job is complicated in comparison. Once we get past the prologue we find Job surrounded by three people, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.

As the speeches start, make sure to keep track in your mind who is talking. Sometimes they’ll go on for pages, so you won’t have those handy little section headings that modern Bibles have. Each one will speak and then Job will reply to them. It is good to note here that just because the words of these companions are included in the Bible does not mean that they each have thoroughly ‘biblical’ perspectives. Try to imagine what you’d say to someone in Job’s position to get a sense of the difficulty these three have in finding any words to share. But also think of Job’s perspective and ask how he would respond to their words. They go back and forth several times, taking us through the first 26 chapters.

Later on another man named Elihu is added to this discussion, but in the end it is not the words of any of these men, but God who has the final say.

Welcome to Week 4 of this Fall Quarter

William Blake’s illustration of Job

If you’ve made it this far here’s what I have to say–Well done, everyone. Jeremiah was a long, full book and you’ve finished it. But if you were hoping for a short and light read to follow it, you’ve come to the wrong place. We get the ancient book of Job with all the challenging questions about suffering and God’s sovereignty. We’ll also begin Hebrews, which I’ve really enjoyed in the last few years. It teaches us, among other things, just how perfectly Jesus fulfills the Old Testament.

Don’t forget that this week we’re back into the Psalms, so get back out your third bookmark for this week.

Send your questions my way and enjoy the week.