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Faith in the Lord’s Crucible - The Message of the Book of Job (2)

Malcolm C Davis, Leeds

"The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the Lord trieth the hearts" (Proverbs 17.3)

2. The Defeat of the Comforters by Job

The long drawn-out battle of words between Job and his three well-meaning friends essentially occupies twenty-nine chapters of the book. Their dialogue must therefore be of some significance for us today. Job, on the one hand, is speaking throughout as a consciously-innocent sufferer who is searching for an explanation of his plight from his God. His three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, on the other hand, are all reasoning from a false assumption, namely, that all suffering is the direct result of the sufferer’s own sin, and therefore that Job must have sinned in some way to deserve his present calamities.

Eliphaz argues from the viewpoint of a religious moralist, basing his arguments on experience, general observation, and his own spiritual illumination, but has far too narrow a view of God’s Providence. Bildad argues simply from the point of view of traditional wisdom which is inadequate to explain Job’s particular suffering. Zophar is a religious dogmatist who simply asserts his assumption that Job must be a wicked man. None of them can give a satisfactory answer to Job’s problems, and their philosophy does not look beyond this present life. Job clearly sees the fallacy of their arguments, pointing out that often the innocent suffer, while the wicked prosper. But they insist that Job must have committed some grave sin to deserve his present suffering; while Job eventually embarks on a long speech of self-vindication which the three friends cease to attempt to refute.

So there is deadlock, and Job is left, technically, the victor of the argument, but still terribly perplexed concerning God’s dealings with him. He seeks an opportunity to meet God, so that he might argue his case with Him. Job’s natural self-righteousness thus gradually fully emerges, as he at times accuses God of injustice with somewhat rash words, and assumes that God has become his enemy. His spirit is not yet fully submissive to the Lord’s will and sovereign dealings with him. He expects better things from his God, not realizing that none of us naturally deserves anything good from God. He has thus under extreme pressure really gone back on his initial apparently quiet acceptance of his calamities from God’s hand in the Prologue. In fact, Job was driven by his friends’ misrepresentations of both God and himself to sin against God with his lips.

At the same time, throughout the dialogue there are occasional, but clear, evidences of Job’s very real faith and trust in God, and the beginnings of an understanding of the Lord’s dealings with him. In 13.15 he boldly declares, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust him", although he adds, significantly; "…but I will maintain (argue) mine own ways before him". In v.16 he then continues, "He also shall be my salvation: for a hypocrite shall not come before him". Job thus had a glimpse of the final outcome of his sufferings, although he still wished to argue his case with God. His fundamental trust in God was firm throughout the trial, but his natural spirit not yet subdued before Him. In 19.25-27, likewise, Job shows remarkable faith in God as the God of resurrection who would ultimately vindicate him then, if not before. "I know that my Redeemer liveth", he declares in a prophetic passage concerning the final judgment. In 23.10 he has a clear insight into the final issue of his trial, when he says, "But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold"; which is exactly what did happen in the end. Very real faith is thus at this stage in the trial mingled with a desire for self-justification before God as well as before his friends. It was the workings of self in Job that underlay the Lord’s purpose in ever testing him. So it will be with us, when the Lord brings us into various trials of faith.

3. The Daysman’s Intervention to Reprove Job

In 9.33 Job had complained, when wishing to argue his case with God, that, "Neither is there any daysman betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both". Job was thus looking for someone to mediate between himself and God. So now the introduction into the scene and argument of the younger man called Elihu, whose name means "My God is He", would appear to be the answer to Job’s request, and the catalyst which will begin to resolve the deadlock in the situation. Elihu clearly understood that he was to act in this role, for in 33.6 he says to Job, "Behold, I am according to thy wish in God’s stead". Certainly, the present writer takes this view of Elihu’s contribution to the argument. In this he follows such commentators as William Kelly and Samuel Ridout, even though some more recent commentators have differed somewhat from them, and higher-critics have dismissed Elihu’s speeches as an interpolation in the book. No, a consecutive reading of the book would suggest that Elihu, mortal man though he was, was the mediator for whom Job had been looking earlier in the dialogue. The most that can be said against him is that he tended to be rather verbose and somewhat full of himself. But, on the other hand, he claims to be inspired of God in what he says in his speech, according to 32.8: "But there is a spirit in (mortal) man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding". And when we examine fairly what he says there is no good reason to doubt this. Also, and probably conclusively, we should note that Elihu is not, by contrast with the three other older friends, rebuked by the Lord in ch.42 for speaking wrongly of Him. Therefore, his speech can be expected to contribute a new and important dimension to the discussion.

Elihu draws attention to one aspect of Job’s problem which all sides in the argument have so far overlooked. He suggests that Job’s suffering is intended to be educational and corrective, discipline rather than punishment for a particular sin. God is trying to teach Job some spiritual lesson. But he also points out that Job’s suffering is being prolonged by Job’s resentfulness and refusal to submit to God’s dealings with him. In 33.17 Elihu explains God’s probable purpose behind His dealings with Job: "That he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man". This statement names the sin which God wishes to deal with in Job, and in all of His children, namely, pride, the root manifestation of self. Elihu complains that Job, instead of learning from his afflictions, has displayed the same attitude towards God as the wicked do, that is, a rebellious resentfulness. In fact, he is more concerned with Job’s wrong attitude towards God in the present, than with any supposed wrong behaviour by Job in the past.

Therefore, Elihu appeals for a teachable humility on Job’s part. Job’s protestations to God have been motivated by self-righteous pride which tried to vindicate himself to the point of impugning God’s righteousness. This calls forth rebuke. Also, Elihu appeals for a submissive patience in Job, and for a simple faith in God Himself, rather than a demand that God should explain all His reasons for His dealings with him. For God is always God, absolutely majestic, sovereign, holy, and transcendent, whilst we are just His sinful creatures.

Now Elihu did not know about the scene in heaven described in the Prologue, but he was very near the truth concerning the reason for Job’s suffering. He was a spiritually-minded younger man with some degree of spiritual insight into the situation. Although he could not know all God’s transcendent purposes in the trial of Job, he exhorted him to trust God that there was a very gracious and loving purpose in permitting it. Likewise we today need to trust the Lord in our various trials, without asking the reason why they have come upon us. We, like Job, need to become more teachable and malleable in our heavenly Potter’s hands. Then the Lord will in some way teach us valuable lessons about both ourselves and Himself. Only so will blessing result from suffering.

To be continued.

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