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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Words about God spoken wrongly

I am taken aback by the beauty of the poetry in Job, specifically Eliphaz, as he speaks in chapter 4. The problem with saying that of course is that Eliphaz and his partners are condemned in the end. “The Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: ‘My wrath is kindled against you and your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what right, as my servant Job has’” (42:7). From beginning to end, we operate with the idea that we can’t trust what the friends say. After all, God rejected them.

Is there anything worthy holding on to from the speeches of the friends?

The apostle Paul thought there was. He quoted Eliphaz. Paul said of God, “he catches the wise in their craftiness” (1 Corinthians 3:19, a direct quotation of Job 5:13). In fact, Eliphaz’s entire message in chapter 5 is something we would absolutely say is true of God.

Job 5:8-16 (New International Version)

8 "But if it were I, I would appeal to God;
I would lay my cause before him.

9 He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed,
miracles that cannot be counted.

10 He bestows rain on the earth;
he sends water upon the countryside.

11 The lowly he sets on high,
and those who mourn are lifted to safety.

12 He thwarts the plans of the crafty,
so that their hands achieve no success.

13 He catches the wise in their craftiness,
and the schemes of the wily are swept away.

14 Darkness comes upon them in the daytime;
at noon they grope as in the night.

15 He saves the needy from the sword in their mouth;
he saves them from the clutches of the powerful.

16 So the poor have hope,
and injustice shuts its mouth.

Who among God believers would contest the truth of any of Eliphaz’s words in these chapters?

What is possibly more controversial is his claim to have had a vision that revealed to him the absolute sinfulness of man. I believe the Bible reveals and human history confirms that all humans are sinful. But I also believe that through the practice of spiritual discipline and the work of the Holy Spirit in a person, that person can be righteous. Obviously Eliphaz disagrees.

Job 4:12-21 (New International Version)

12 "A word was secretly brought to me,
my ears caught a whisper of it.

13 Amid disquieting dreams in the night,
when deep sleep falls on men,

14 fear and trembling seized me
and made all my bones shake.

15 A spirit glided past my face,
and the hair on my body stood on end.

16 It stopped,
but I could not tell what it was.
A form stood before my eyes,
and I heard a hushed voice:

17 'Can a mortal be more righteous than God?
Can a man be more pure than his Maker?

18 If God places no trust in his servants,
if he charges his angels with error,

19 how much more those who live in houses of clay,
whose foundations are in the dust,
who are crushed more readily than a moth!

20 Between dawn and dusk they are broken to pieces;
unnoticed, they perish forever.

21 Are not the cords of their tent pulled up,
so that they die without wisdom?' [a]

I am not a poetry critic. In fact, I have had trouble understanding and appreciating poetry. But the words of Eliphaz’s vision blow me away. I don’t know why, but they do.

So what then? Eliphaz has not spoken rightly about God. In 5:8-16, he speaks the wisdom of Proverbs and in 4:12-21, he speaks the poetry of Psalms. How do appropriate the words of Eliphaz and the other friends, and Elihu? Even Job? In his anguish Job proposes to take God as his opponent in a court of law, and Job is sure he will win. And God says Job speaks rightly!

Maybe the key is the friend and Elihu pontificated about God without truly attending to the wounds of their friend. They spoke from the safety of the ivory tower. Had they uttered the same words from the sewers that run through the ghettos, their words would be able to stand on the truth of God’s Word intersecting with human reality.

Job, irreverent as he was, spoke the truth. He was angry with God. He attacked God and accused God of attacking him. But, he did not judge others. He took it straight to God. Maybe that is why his words are deemed to be right, the words of his self-righteous friends deemed to be in error.

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