October 1, 2021
Scenic South District
NRSV Job 4:1-211 Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered:
2 “If one ventures a word with you, will you be offended?
But who can keep from speaking?
3 See, you have instructed many;
you have strengthened the weak hands.
4 Your words have supported those who were stumbling,
and you have made firm the feeble knees.
5 But now it has come to you, and you are impatient;
it touches you, and you are dismayed.
6 Is not your fear of God your confidence,
and the integrity of your ways your hope?
7 “Think now, who that was innocent ever perished?
Or where were the upright cut off?
8 As I have seen, those who plow iniquity
and sow trouble reap the same.
9 By the breath of God they perish,
and by the blast of his anger they are consumed.
10 The roar of the lion, the voice of the fierce lion,
and the teeth of the young lions are broken.
11 The strong lion perishes for lack of prey,
and the whelps of the lioness are scattered.
12 “Now a word came stealing to me,
my ear received the whisper of it.
13 Amid thoughts from visions of the night,
when deep sleep falls on mortals,
14 dread came upon me, and trembling,
which made all my bones shake.
15 A spirit glided past my face;
the hair of my flesh bristled.
16 It stood still,
but I could not discern its appearance.
A form was before my eyes;
there was silence, then I heard a voice:
17 ‘Can mortals be righteous before God?
Can human beings be pure before their Maker?
18 Even in his servants he puts no trust,
and his angels he charges with error;
19 how much more those who live in houses of clay,
whose foundation is in the dust,
who are crushed like a moth.
20 Between morning and evening they are destroyed;
they perish forever without any regarding it.
21 Their tent-cord is plucked up within them,
and they die devoid of wisdom.’
DevotionalThe tale of Job is fraught with difficulty: it is difficult to hear about the destruction that is wrought, difficult to sit with Job in his grief and agony, difficult to hear the inability of Job’s friends to be helpful when no words suffice. A snapshot of the story is that Satan demanded to know if God thought any mortals were actually righteous, and God puts forth Job as an example of such a person. Satan wants to test this theory, and in this dialogue of human misery, Job faces trials that are legitimately beyond bearing. Everything and everyone that is near and dear to Job is lost. Job tells us exactly how deeply he wished never to see this day in chapter 3, and with poignantly beautiful words he says in verse 9, “Let the stars of its dawn be dark, let it hope for light, but have none.” Job has hoped for light, and indeed, he found none.
In Chapter 4, we meet Eliphaz the Temanite, one of Job’s besties. Eliphaz would have shut down my personal ability to listen immediately by opening with the equivalent of, “If I really tell you what I think, will you get mad at me?” The answer is likely to be affirmative when you come at me like that. From that brilliant beginning, Eliphaz then uses his own logic to construct a proof that works in his own mind to determine and prove that God is fair. If one accepts this proof as truth, then the only conclusion that Eliphaz sees is that a fair God allowed these tragedies to befall Job because he was due them for his own failings. “You got what you deserved, bro. Just face it. God is fair, you agreed to that. So, God only does fair things and you got what was coming to you.”
Friends, this logic is still alive and well today among people who mean well. They come to the funeral of your loved one’s tragic death and tell you that it was for the best, that all things happen for a reason, or that it was to spare them some other suffering later. As if the proof logic tactic weren’t enough, the Israelites of the time also believed that the sins of the ancestors were passed to the subsequent generations. Who can win under those circumstances? So, Job has endured the well-intentioned abuse of someone he regarded as a friend. Where does this leave us? There are some practical things to observe.
The beauty and skill of the writing is legendary. The topic may be off-putting or distressing, but it is incredibly well written. Gems are hidden in the story. Chapter 3, verse 9, says: “Let it hope for light, but have none.” In chapter 4, verse 12, is written: “Now a word came stealing to me, my ear received the whisper of it.” There are many more to discover.
Then, there is a cautionary tale about being a true friend. When someone has experienced great loss and tragedy, a true friend cannot simply explain it away. The pain of loss or tragedy exists, it is excruciating, and it is not yours to mitigate. If Eliphaz and the others had continued to sit with Job, instead of writing internal narratives to then deliver with increasing severity, then they would have been true friends. Most of the time, your presence as a friend is enough in times of grief and sorrow. There are no words that we as mortals have that can make the pain of loss disappear, so do not exhaust the mourner with your attempts to do so. Just share your love and presence, and trust it is enough.
There are times we experience despair. Sometimes, the physical pain of loss is like a weight we cannot bear. We might experience regret and perhaps shame. Our feelings and experiences are real. But cast amongst the darkness like so many distant stars, this scripture, and all scriptures, are meant to give us gems of hope and light.