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Monday, September 21, 2009

The book of Job and God's heart for Needy People

A key component of God’s vision for God’s people is that we show his love to the needy. This is a major theme throughout scripture. But not in the book of Job! Oh yes, read Job 31. Job is not a book about heeding God’s call to justice and mercy. Those topics are the fare of the prophets (especially Micah, Amos, and Hosea). And yet … read Job 31.

In that chapter, Job is declaring his own innocence as he has throughout. This time though, he goes to great depths to show that he understands sin.. He does so by repeatedly saying, “If I have …” and then he names some sin. Obviously, he makes two assertions. (1) The behaviors he cites are a sinful acts. (2) He is not guilty of those sins. By recounting what Job lists, we can ascertain his worldview. We can know what was generally assumed by society the basics of right and wrong.

Here are some of the sins Job recites: denying justice to the slave class (v.13); denying the desires of the poor (v. 16); neglecting the widow (v.16); failing to share bread (v.17); failing to aid a needy man by providing him new clothes (v.19); using political power to exploit young people whose fathers had died (v.21); trusting in money and rejoicing in wealth (v.24-25); rejoicing over the enemy’s misfortune (v.29); and, neglecting the foreigner (v.32).

Look closely at all that is mentioned in Job 31. It was understood by Job, by his friends, and by the original readers of Job that everything mentioned in the previous paragraph goes directly against the ways of God. It’s a catalogue of sins related to poverty, hunger, and social justice.

So, while we wouldn’t turn to the book of Job as a textbook on social justice and compassionate love of neighbor, it sure is a good secondary text. Job’s speech in chapter 31 is absolutely a fine support text one can read after one reads the Sermon on the Mount and the Gospel of Luke and the book of James and the three fiery prophets mentioned earlier. All this reading makes it clear that God loves people, and those who truly want to worship God and follow God must likewise love people, and make it a life mission to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

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