Job & Elihu

Scripture: Job 32-37

 

Title: Job & Elihu

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Job
  • Elihu
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

As you arrived this morning, some of you would have been given a puzzle piece

–         Based on the piece of the puzzle you have, can you tell me what you think the full picture is?  (What time of the year is it? Etc.)

–         [Let people make their guesses]

Well, they were (mostly) good guesses – but this is the full picture when you put all the pieces together…

It’s a photo of The Remarkables taken from Frankton, near Queenstown

–         The point I’m trying to make here is that when we have only one piece of the puzzle it is extremely difficult to accurately imagine the whole picture

 

Today we continue our series on intergenerational relationships in the Bible by focusing on Job & Elihu

–         Job was an elder in the community and Elihu was a young man

 

Job:

For those not familiar with the story, Job was a righteous man who went out his way to always do the right thing by God and his neighbour

–         He lived by a strict moral ethical code

–         Job prospered in everything he did, had a large family and was well respected in the community – he was a genuinely good guy

–         Then one day Job lost everything

–         Through a series of unfortunate events he lost his great wealth and all his children were killed in a single day

–         Despite this incredible loss Job did not curse God

–         He said, ‘The Lord gives and takes away – blessed be his name’

 

Not long after that Job lost his health as well – he was covered in painful boils

–         Although he was suffering in every way that its possible for a man to suffer, Job still did not curse God

 

For seven days he sat in silence on the ash heap, scraping the puss out of his boils with pieces of broken pottery

–         When Job’s friends came to offer him comfort they could hardly recognise him

–         The three men sat in silence with Job, waiting for him to speak

 

When Job finally did open his mouth, it wasn’t to curse God but rather to curse the day of his birth – Job felt so miserable he wished he’d never been born

 

Although Job didn’t curse God he still had a beef with the Almighty

–         All his life he had lived by a strict moral code based on the belief that God is just and all powerful – he rewards good behaviour & punishes bad

–         That was the one piece of the puzzle that Job had

–         He didn’t have other pieces of the puzzle like we do

–         For example, he didn’t know there was a resurrection of the dead

–         For the people of Job’s day this life was all there was – you lived and died and that was it

–         So if you didn’t get justice in this life, you missed out altogether

 

And therein lies the rub for Job – he felt he had been unfairly treated

–         Job knew that, although he wasn’t perfect, he had never done anything bad enough to deserve this

–         How could God (who is just) let a good man like him come to ruin?

–         If Job had a belief in the resurrection then he would at least have the comfort of knowing that whatever injustices he suffered in this life, God would make it up to him in heaven

–         But Job doesn’t have that piece of the puzzle

 

From Job’s perspective it seems that God has punished him unfairly, without explanation

–         Job wants his day in court with the Lord

–         He wants God to tell him what he’s done wrong

–         Job wants the opportunity to justify himself – but God is silent

 

Job’s friends (Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar) are well meaning but unfortunately they have the same puzzle piece that Job has

–         Like Job they believe God rewards good behaviour and punishes bad (in this life) – end of story

–         Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar don’t want to face the inconvenient truth that sometimes bad things happen to good people – so this life isn’t fair

–         They can’t see a both / and solution to this problem

–         They can’t see how both God and Job can be justified at the same time

–         For them it is either / or – either Job is right or God is right

–         God can’t be wrong therefore Job must have done something really bad to deserve the calamity that has fallen on him

 

Now not everything the friends say is wrong – some of what they say is right and true – they simply lack the humility to admit they don’t have all the answers

–         Their faith isn’t spacious enough to accommodate doubt

–         Like someone once said, ‘the opposite of faith isn’t doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty’

 

As the dialogue goes back and forth between Job and his friends, the friends become more hostile toward Job until in the end they accuse him of heinous crimes from the past – crimes Job never committed

–         Job is misunderstood by those closest to him and that just adds to his feelings of isolation and mistreatment

 

In their rush to defend God, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar are unkind to Job (they kick the man while he is down). As Derek Kidner points out…

–         “One of the lessons of the book is that God [hates] our special pleading for him, with its suppression of unwelcome facts” [1]

–         In other words, God doesn’t like it when we deny or falsify the facts to defend him

 

Job said it well when he replied to friends…

 

Will you speak falsely for God and speak deceitfully for him?

Will you show partiality toward him, will you plead the case for God?

Will it be well with you when he searches you out? [2]

 

Last night Robyn and I went to my cousin’s, 40th birthday party

–         My cousin is married to an artist and he had a painting on the wall that looked something like this…

If you can imagine a whole lot of circles of different sizes and colours arranged on the wall, with space in between the circles – it looks really cool

–         The artist has an interesting process

–         He starts by painting one really big single art work and then he cuts the circles out and puts them on the wall

–         So we don’t get to see the whole picture – we just see bits and pieces

 

Some would call this abstract art but in my mind it points to reality

–         I don’t know why he paints like this but I reckon it’s a parable of how we experience life

–         We never see the full picture – we only see bits and pieces

–         We have blind spots

–         There are gaps in our understanding and gaps in our conversation

–         There’s the things we say and the things we hide

–         There’s our words and our silence

–         There’s the circles and the space in between

–         Faith lives in the space in between

 

God, the artist, sees the whole picture – we don’t

–         We might look at the fragmented pieces of our life and not be able to make sense of it – that’s how it was for Job

–         He didn’t have the full picture – he just had bits & pieces and he was struggling to join the dots, to make sense of it all

 

It was similar for Job’s friends – they looked at the ruin of Job’s life and couldn’t see the full picture

–         They weren’t comfortable with the space in between – they tried to force all the circles together and in the process they left no room for faith

–         They misunderstood both Job and God

 

All the while that Job and his three friends are having this conversation, others are watching and listening in, including a young man called Elihu

–         The interesting thing here, from an intergenerational perspective, is that young people (like Elihu) were allowed to observe and even participate in deep theological discussions like this

–         They weren’t excluded or shielded from these difficult matters

 

 We pick up the story from Job chapter 32…

 

So these three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. But Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. He was also angry with the three friends, because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him. Now Elihu had waited before speaking to Job because they were older than he. But when he saw that the three men had nothing more to say, his anger was aroused.  

 

Elihu is angry with his elders because he feels like they have misrepresented God in their conversation

–         By insisting on his innocence Job has made it appear as though God is unjust

–         And by letting Job have the last word, the three friends have made it seem like God was in the wrong

 

For the next six chapters Elihu presents his ideas

–         Some commentators dismiss Elihu’s contribution as unimportant

–         But when we listen to what he has to say with an open mind, without looking down on him because of his age, we have to admit he adds value

–         Elihu does take a different approach to his elders and in the process helps us to see one or two other pieces to the puzzle

–         He doesn’t have the whole picture and he misunderstands Job at times but he also foreshadows some of the things Yahweh says to Job later

 

The first point of difference is that Elihu addresses Job by name

 

You might think this is a small thing but actually it’s quite significant

–         How do you feel when someone forgets your name?

–         Most of us feel less somehow

–         But when people remember our name we feel like we matter, we exist – we are not nobody – we are somebody

 

Elihu calls Job by name which is a way of acknowledging that Job is a person and he is not ashamed to admit that he knows Job

–         Job’s three friends don’t use Job’s name when talking to him which seems to indicate that he has become a stranger to them

–         It’s not that they’ve had a senior moment and forgotten Job’s name

–         It’s more like they are embarrassed to admit they know Job and that’s hurtful

–         (Having said all that I hope I don’t forget anyone’s name today – if I do, it’s not intentional)

 

The next main point of difference is that Elihu bases his comments on what he has heard Job say

–         He doesn’t accuse Job of some imaginary sin from the past or make up some alternative facts like Job’s friends did

–         Elihu sticks to the evidence available to him

–         Elihu was actually listening to Job and trying to give him a fair go

 

This said, Elihu sometimes gets his wires crossed and misunderstands Job

 

For example, in chapter 33, Elihu quotes Job as saying…

–         ‘I am pure and without sin; I am clean and free from guilt. Yet God has found fault with me; he considers me his enemy. He fastens my feet in shackles; he keeps close watch on all my paths.’

 

Elihu makes it sound like Job is claiming moral perfection and…

–         “While Job is confident that he has followed God’s way faithfully, he never asserts that he has not sinned.” [3]

–         Job’s position is that he cannot recall having ever done anything bad enough to warrant such harsh punishment

–         Elihu hasn’t properly understood Job

 

On the whole though Elihu’s basic approach is miles better than that of Job’s three friends, even if it lacks some refinement

 

Another point of difference is that Job and his friends seem obsessed with the cause of Job’s suffering while Elihu suggests they would be better to consider the general purpose of suffering

 

Do you understand the difference between cause and purpose?

–         If you are receiving chemo treatment for cancer then you might experience some hair loss

–         The cause of the hair loss is the chemo drugs – but you don’t think too much about the cause because there’s no gain in that

–         Rather you choose to focus on the purpose of the chemo drugs, which is to make you better

–         Thinking about the purpose gives meaning to the hair loss and strengthens your resolve to carry on with the treatment

 

Elihu tries to get Job and his friends to quit their obsession with the cause of Job’s suffering and start thinking about the purpose – what does suffering achieve?

 

In chapter 33 Elihu says to Job…

–         Why do you complain to [God] that he answers none of man’s words? For God does speak – now one way, now another – though man may not perceive it. [God speaks] in a dream, in a vision of the night… Or a man may be chastened on a bed of pain…

 

One of Job’s complaints was that God was silent and wouldn’t respond to him

–         Elihu suggests that God has been trying to communicate with Job

–         Through dreams of the night (Job had certainly had nightmares)

–         And through pain (C.S. Lewis said that pain is God’s mega phone – Job was in a lot of pain)

–         The purpose of the nightmares and pain, according to Elihu, is so God…

…may terrify them with warnings, to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword

 

In other words, stop worrying about the cause of your suffering Job and consider God’s purpose which is to save you from death

 

While Elihu is on the right track, he can’t see the whole picture

–         God’s purpose isn’t to turn Job away from wrong doing – Job was never on the wrong path in the first place

–         God’s purpose was to set Job free from the prison of himself

–         Of course Job didn’t know this at the time – we seldom know the purpose until after the fact

 

Elihu carries on, in chapter 33, with a note of hope, saying…

 

Yet if there is an angel on his side as a mediator… to tell a man what is right for him, to be gracious to him and say, ‘Spare him from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom for him’ – then his flesh is renewed like a child’s; it is restored as in the days of his youth.

 

Elihu’s idea here is that God provides an angel to help the man in trouble – to be his advocate, pay the bail and get him out of prison

–         This is really Job’s idea, but Elihu does well to agree with Job on this point – Job had said in chapter 16…

 

Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend.

 

In his desperation Job had accurately guessed one of the pieces of the puzzle yet unseen – a very important piece as it turns out

–         Jesus is our witness in heaven – our advocate on high

–         The Spirit of Jesus is our intercessor and friend who pleads with God on our behalf (with groans and sighs too deep for words)

 

One of the poetic twists in the story is that Job himself acts as a mediator and intercessor, praying for God to forgive his friends, at the end of the book

 

In chapters 34 & 35 Elihu gives Job a hard time for insisting on his own innocence – this is not Elihu’s finest speech

–         Like Job’s friends, Elihu’s purpose is to defend the reputation of God

–         Ironically, in making the point that God is just, Elihu is unfair to Job

–         What Elihu doesn’t realise is that it’s not necessary, in Job’s case, to defend God – the Lord is big enough to handle our questions and doubts

 

Elihu finishes well though – in chapters 36 & 37 he focuses on the greatness and splendour of God – which is what Job needs

–         Elihu asks Job a series of questions which Job can’t answer. He says…

 

Listen to this Job; stop and consider God’s wonders. Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes his lightening flash? Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of him who is perfect in knowledge?

 

And so on…

–         Because of his obsession with being right Job had become locked in a prison of self-absorption

–         By talking about the mastery and wisdom of God in creation, Elihu reminds Job that he is not the centre of the universe.

–         The world doesn’t revolve around Job

–         In this way Elihu gets Job thinking about something other than himself and he anticipates God, who asks Job a lot of unanswerable questions too

 

Conclusion:

God’s response seems baffling to us for God doesn’t speak directly to Job’s complaint (which is essentially, ‘What have I done to deserve this?’)

–         The point seems to be that Job and his friends had arrived at a faulty conclusion because they weren’t asking the right questions

–         God wasn’t interested in punishing Job – he wanted to set Job free from his moralistic, man-centered theology

 

Sometimes, like Job, we can become too preoccupied with questions of ethics and our destiny

–         We might be uncomfortable with the space in between the circles – the unknown, the realm of mystery, where faith lives – God is in the gaps

–         If we force the circles together too tightly – if we try to confine God within our narrow theological system – then God may need to pull the circles apart again to make room for faith and communion with Him

–         God is in the gaps

 

It’s when Job gives up trying to justify himself that God vindicates Job, restoring his life and perspective

 

The people at the Fuller Youth Institute say that…

  • Young people who have safe relationships in which to share their questions and struggles tend to have stronger faith
  • – But I don’t think it’s just young people that need safe relationships
  • – We all need someone who will listen without condemning us and without trying to save us or fix our theology
  • – Being safe doesn’t mean having all the answers – it means being able to handle the truth with grace and without fudging the facts to defend God
  • – It means having a faith that is spacious enough to accommodate doubt

 

Sadly, neither Job’s friends nor Elihu were equipped to provide Job with a safe relationship (although Elihu did a slightly better job than his elders)

  • – Through the process though Job became a safe person for others

 

I’m not sure how you have suffered

–         I’m not sure what doubts you wrestle with

–         But I am sure you can’t provide sanctuary for others unless you yourself have suffered loss and been hollowed out by grief

 

As Jesus said…

–         “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.”  [4]

[1] Derek Kidner, ‘The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes’, page 61-62.

[2] Job 13:7-9

[3] John Hartley, NICOT ‘Job’, page 440.

[4] This is the Message Bible’s translation of Matthew 5:4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted’.

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