Fox Byte 5776 #3: Questionable Consolation
Pompous people lend themselves so readily to ridicule. Unconsciously, of course. By their very nature they would not stoop to the indignity of common humor since it punctures the mirage of superior respectability they strive to maintain. That is precisely what makes it so easy (and so much fun) to lampoon such persons – albeit usually without their knowledge since they generally are the ones who wield power. Whether it is the official in high office, the wealthy heir, or the elderly matron, such people disapprove of anything or anyone that upsets their self-imposed definition of what is right and proper. Such definitions tend to be myopic at best, as well as inflexible, brittle, and hilariously easy to dispel. Doing so brings amusement and some measure of relief to the oppressed even though it likely will not result in appreciable change, or perhaps even notice by the butt of the joke.
Which explains why the operas of W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan are still appealing. The best of their works feature masterful caricatures of England’s increasingly ossified Victorian society of the late 19th century. Perhaps the best of the best is The Mikado, a farce set in Imperial Japan, but featuring decidedly English characters and situations. This is apparent from the opening scene when a chorus of Japanese gentlemen strut haughtily about the stage singing of their lofty status. We soon learn that Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner of the town of Titipu, has a dilemma: the Mikado, Japan’s emperor, has decreed that since there has been no execution of a criminal in Titipu for quite some time, an execution must take place within a month. It just so happens that Ko-Ko is himself a condemned criminal on reprieve from execution and is next in line for the chopping block. He is “consoled” by two noblemen, Pooh-Bah and Pish-Tush. Pooh-Bah explains that his family pride calls on him to take Ko-Ko’s place, but his desire for self-preservation prevents him from doing so. Pish-Tush takes a different approach with this empathetic offering:
I heard one day a gentleman say
That criminals who are cut in two
Can hardly feel the fatal steel,
And so are slain, are slain without much pain.
If this is true, it’s jolly for you,
Your courage screw to bid us adieu.
Ko-Ko is not amused with either man’s offering, which leads Pish-Tush to confess the truth:
And go and show
Both friend and foe how much you dare.
I’m quite aware it’s your affair.
Yet I declare I’d take your share,
But I don’t much care.
That is not unlike the lamentable comfort of Job’s friend Eliphaz:
Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright destroyed? According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble harvest it. (Job 4:7-8 NASB)
Perhaps Eliphaz means well, but his words do not begin to address Job’s condition. As we have seen in the opening chapters, Job has lost his children, his wealth, his health, and any hope of comfort from his grief-stricken wife. To their credit, Job’s friends recognize his pain and wait seven days before opening their mouths (Job 2:11-13). Their task at that point is to do nothing more than be there for Job, joining with him in his mourning as best they can. The Jewish custom of sitting shiva reflects this principle. Shiva is the seven-day period after the loss of a loved one in which the mourner is left to grieve in peace. It is part of the healing process. Those who come to comfort them need do nothing more than sit in silence, lending support simply by their presence. Often at this stage that is all the mourner needs, and all that he or she can handle. A loved one has passed. Time is required to process the loss, sort through the memories, honor the dead, and prepare oneself to continue living. When the mourner is ready conversation and other interaction can begin – but not until then.
And so Job’s friends sit silently with him for a full week. When at last he breaks the silence, it is with a raw, anguished voice. What he has suffered requires far more than seven days to process. That he can speak at all is something of a miracle. What he says is not a surprise:
Afterward Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. And Job said,
“Let the day perish on which I was to be born,
And the night which said, ‘A boy is conceived.’
May that day be darkness;
Let not God above care for it,
Nor light shine on it.
Let darkness and black gloom claim it;
Let a cloud settle on it;
Let the blackness of the day terrify it.
As for that night, let darkness seize it;
Let it not rejoice among the days of the year;
Let it not come into the number of the months.
Behold, let that night be barren;
Let no joyful shout enter it.
Let those curse it who curse the day,
Who are prepared to rouse Leviathan.
Let the stars of its twilight be darkened;
Let it wait for light but have none,
And let it not see the breaking dawn;
Because it did not shut the opening of my mother’s womb,
Or hide trouble from my eyes.” (Job 3:1-10 NASB)
We cannot comfort a man in the throes of such agony. What we do is listen. Some of what he says we will understand, but much we will not. The best we can do is let him talk out his grief. In time a godly man like him will come to the solution of his problems. We know he is a godly man because even in this black season he utters no curse or accusation against the Holy One. There may be something of the like lurking in the depths of his soul, but his regard for YHVH and his righteous discipline prevent it from crossing over his tongue. If there is sin in him, it is not in his lips (Job 2:10).
And yet it is there. No one can endure what has come upon him without at least once entertaining resentment and bitterness against the Creator. In time the Creator Himself will deal with it, using the man’s own words against him. Job dares not curse God, but he can curse the day of his birth. He calls on the spiritual powers of the heavenly places to darken that day and blot it out of existence. These are the stars of heaven, the angelic host. Surely no one but they are powerful enough to rouse Leviathan, that great monster of the deep. Job apparently invokes the fallen sons of God, not those who remain loyal to YHVH. Who but Satan’s angels would curse the day, the light of which exposes their works of darkness? But Job overreaches himself, speaking of things far above his understanding and experience. We can forgive this in view of his tortured state, but the God Who remembers every idle word will call him into account, just as Messiah Yeshua reminds us:
But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. (Matthew 12:36-37 NASB)
Job is not done with such words. Since he cannot go back in time and nullify the day of his birth, they next best thing would be to ask for death:
“Why did I not die at birth,
Come forth from the womb and expire?
Why did the knees receive me,
And why the breasts, that I should suck?
For now I would have lain down and been quiet;
I would have slept then, I would have been at rest,
With kings and with counselors of the earth,
Who rebuilt ruins for themselves;
Or with princes who had gold,
Who were filling their houses with silver.
Or like a miscarriage which is discarded, I would not be,
As infants that never saw light.
There the wicked cease from raging,
And there the weary are at rest.
The prisoners are at ease together;
They do not hear the voice of the taskmaster.
The small and the great are there,
And the slave is free from his master.
Why is light given to him who suffers,
And life to the bitter of soul,
Who long for death, but there is none,
And dig for it more than for hidden treasures,
Who rejoice greatly,
And exult when they find the grave?
Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden,
And whom God has hedged in?
For my groaning comes at the sight of my food,
And my cries pour out like water.
For what I fear comes upon me,
And what I dread befalls me.
I am not at ease, nor am I quiet,
And I am not at rest, but turmoil comes.” (Job 3:11-26 NASB)
In this lament Job invokes things humanity has known from time immemorial. Life is toil, equally for the poor laborer as for the wealthy nobleman. All taste of death, the great leveler which knows no distinction between slave and free, male and female, old and young, wealthy and poor. No wonder many long for it. Where else but in the grave will they find rest? Yet it is not given to them. What irony that death comes to those who have the most to gain from life, not to those whose gain would be to slip the surly bonds of earth and touch the Face of God.
There is another irony at work here. Although Job reveals in this discourse his longing for death, in it he also gains victory over Satan, the instigator of his misery. It was Satan who boasted that, “all a man has he will give for his life”, and claimed that afflicting Job’s body would compel him to curse YHVH to His face (Job 2:4-5). Where is that cursing in this speech? Where, in fact, is any hint of clinging to life? Job is ready to lay down his life. Certainly it is because life has become grievous to him, but we may conclude that as a righteous man he could not under any circumstances curse God, and therefore preferred death to the possibility that he might do so. By longing for death he cheated death, choosing instead life, which he rightly equates to light in the knowledge that both are of God. In all these things Job prefigured something that became clear long after his day regarding Messiah Yeshua:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:1-5 NASB)
If death is the great leveler of all mankind, then Messiah is the One Who raises up those who believe on Him. He, too, is the great equalizer, but with far better consequences:
For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17 NASB)
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:28-29 NASB)
Thus we have hope for Job even at this early stage of processing his grief. We cannot say the same for his friend Eliphaz. He meets Job’s elegant cry of pain with a lengthy recitation of pious platitudes (Job 4:1-5:27), beginning with an accusation:
Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered,
“If one ventures a word with you, will you become impatient?
But who can refrain from speaking?
Behold you have admonished many,
And you have strengthened weak hands.
Your words have helped the tottering to stand,
And you have strengthened feeble knees.
But now it has come to you, and you are impatient;
It touches you, and you are dismayed.
Is not your fear of God your confidence,
And the integrity of your ways your hope?
Remember now, who ever perished being innocent?
Or where were the upright destroyed?
According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity
And those who sow trouble harvest it.
By the breath of God they perish,
And by the blast of His anger they come to an end.
The roaring of the lion and the voice of the fierce lion,
And the teeth of the young lions are broken.
The lion perishes for lack of prey,
And the whelps of the lioness are scattered.” (Job 4:1-11 NASB)
The problem is not that Eliphaz is completely wrong, but that he utters truth in a twisted way results in great error. It seems that he seeks to justify himself, perhaps motivated by jealousy of a man who has bested him at every turn. He cannot argue with Job’s righteous nature and the charitable deeds that pour forth from it, but he can accuse Job of impatience, of resistance to other points of view, and of some hidden wrongdoing that has at last resulted in God’s judgment. Is he right? Perhaps, or perhaps he is projecting onto Job faults of his own that he would rather remain undiscovered.
Eliphaz does not stop there. Not only does he misrepresent Job to his face, he misrepresents Job’s Maker:
“Can mankind be just before God?
Can a man be pure before his Maker?
He puts no trust even in His servants;
And against His angels He charges error.
How much more those who dwell in houses of clay,
Whose foundation is in the dust,
Who are crushed before the moth!
Between morning and evening they are broken in pieces;
Unobserved, they perish forever.
Is not their tent-cord plucked up within them?
They die, yet without wisdom.” (Job 4:17-21 NASB)
Does YHVH indeed place no trust in any creature He has made? No, Eliphaz is woefully in error. If Job speaks of things beyond his experience, Eliphaz speaks things of his own imagination. Job has a relationship with God, revealed by the fact that he remains alive and refuses to speak ill of YHVH. Eliphaz has knowledge of God, but does not know Him. Regarding YHVH’s trust in His servants, perhaps we should consider that He entrusted the survival of every animal and avian species, as well as the human race, to one man, Noah. Then there is the case of entrusting the redemption of all humanity to the man called Abraham and to his descendants. Those are examples Eliphaz would have known in his day. Since then we have learned of Moses, the man who conversed with God face-to-face (Numbers 12:6-8); David, the man after God’s own heart (I Samuel 13:13-14); Josiah, the man who served God with all his heart, soul, and might (II Kings 23:25); and Daniel, the man greatly beloved (Daniel 10:10-11). We have also the testimony of Moses, David, and Paul:
The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29 NASB)
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty!
You make him to rule over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen,
And also the beasts of the field,
The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea,
Whatever passes through the paths of the seas. (Psalm 8:3-8 NASB)
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7 NASB)
Eliphaz has erred, not knowing the scriptures or the power of God (Matthew 22:29). Yet he is ignorant of his error, for he compounds it by forging ahead with a judgment against Job:
“Call now, is there anyone who will answer you?
And to which of the holy ones will you turn?
For anger slays the foolish man,
And jealousy kills the simple.” (Job 5:1-2 NASB)
Is Job the Righteous nothing more than a foolish, angry man filled with jealousy? Does this man highly regarded by the Most High really have no hope that anyone in heaven will hear him? How does Eliphaz know this? How dare he make an accusation against one beloved of the Lord? But still he does not stop. As if to justify himself he offers Job some advice:
“But as for me, I would seek God,
And I would place my cause before God;
Who does great and unsearchable things,
Wonders without number.” (Job 5:8-9 NASB)
The man speaks truth here and his advice is sound, but he has just uttered a curse on the one to whom he gives the advice. He has said Job has no hope of an audience in heaven. How, then, can he advise Job to seek God? Happily for humanity, God is much bigger than Eliphaz supposes. That is why his closing comments bring some redemption to his dismal attempt at self-justification wrapped in the guise of consolation:
“Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves,
So do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.
For He inflicts pain, and gives relief;
He wounds, and His hands also heal.
From six troubles He will deliver you,
Even in seven evil will not touch you.
In famine He will redeem you from death,
And in war from the power of the sword.
You will be hidden from the scourge of the tongue,
And you will not be afraid of violence when it comes.
You will laugh at violence and famine,
And you will not be afraid of wild beasts.
For you will be in league with the stones of the field,
And the beasts of the field will be at peace with you.
You will know that your tent is secure,
For you will visit your abode and fear no loss.
You will know also that your descendants will be many,
And your offspring as the grass of the earth.
You will come to the grave in full vigor,
Like the stacking of grain in its season.
Behold this; we have investigated it, and so it is.
Hear it, and know for yourself.” (Job 5:17-27 NASB)
In these lines Eliphaz uncovers the purpose of Job’s ordeal, and of this holy experiment of human history. YHVH disciplines those He loves to perfect them so they may walk out destinies as yet undreamed (Job.36:15-16; Proverbs 3:11-12; Hebrews 12:4-11; James.1:12). How odd that such truth comes from the mouth of one who has little understanding of what he has uttered. The view Eliphaz and his companions share is that God inflicts punishment on wrongdoers to get them back in line, and then He rewards those who obey so they stay in line. Suffering is bad, even if inflicted by a loving God, and occurs only for the purpose of correction, not for refinement. Such a two-dimensional view of YHVH and His dealings with mankind cannot stand when held against the dreadful reality of human existence. At best it provides a measure of solace in unhappy events and some strengthening of the will to live a good life. At worst it feeds shallow, self-serving hypocrisy that amounts only to a form of godliness which denies the power thereof.