By Pastor Gary Jennings Jr
Is it possible to quote Scripture and give bad advice at the same time? What an odd question. To answer this we need to look at Job’s friends. In the last post we looked at how there are basically 3 parts to the book of Job. Part 1 – Job’s Tragedy, Part 2 – Job and his friends try to understand tragedy, and Part 3 – God speaks. What I want to focus on today is Part 2 and what kind of advice Job’s friends give.
In Job 2, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar hear of Job’s troubles, they put everything they are doing on hold and travel to Job’s house to comfort their friend. When they meet Job, they don’t say a word, but instead mourn with him for 7 days. So far they sound like pretty good friends. If you have ever been around a friend or family member who has experienced tragedy, you know that sometimes the best and most comforting thing you can do is to say nothing and just be there for them. Job’s friends where doing just that, but after 7 days, they decided to offer an explanation for Job’s situation.
If you remember from the last post, Job loses his family, his business and his health very dramatically in the first 2 chapters of Job. Something as drastic as this just begs for an explanation. So what was the explanation Job’s friends gave? You reap what you sow. I don’t know if you have ever heard this phrase before, but it is a concept that is all over the Bible. You can read about it in Deuteronomy (chapter 28 in particular), Proverbs, and the prophets. Its a farming metaphor which means, if you plant something like wheat, you will get wheat back, multiplied. Galatians 6:7-9 gives us the spiritual version by saying “A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life”. This is basically the idea Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar are referring to in order to explain Job’s situation. If you follow God, you will be blessed, if you follow your sinful nature, you will experience destruction. So Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar look at Job’s situation, his business is ruined, his family is gone, he is extremely sick . . . this could only mean that Job was secretly a bad person and is now reaping destruction.
This sounds logical and Biblical. But it was not a correct explanation of Job’s situation. Job responds by saying, yes people reap what they sow, yes God is a just god, He rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked, these are all true things. But I have done nothing wrong, I am innocent. This situation is different. Derek Kidner says “the basic error of Job’s friends is that they over estimate their grasp of truth, misapply the truth they know, and close their minds to any facts that contradict what they assume”. What was the contradiction? Job was innocent! There was more going on in the book of Job than Job or his friends knew about. In fact, God never explains to them why Job was suffering. They had a limited perspective on what was going on, and it would have been very helpful if Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar took that into consideration.
At the end of the book, God speaks, and he briefly address Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar and says “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has . . . My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has”(Job 42:7-9).
So whats the lesson here? Lesson 1. We all have a limited perspective. Recognize that and let that truth humble you. We don’t know everything, and thats ok. Seriously, it is completely acceptable for a Christian to not have all the answers to every question. We have this thing called faith. Knowledge is fine, but faith is what makes you a Christian. Being good at exercising faith is what makes you a good Christian. Proverbs 3:5 says that we should not lean on our own understanding but trust God with all our hearts. This verse is such a Job verse. Job doesn’t have a clue what is going on, but commits himself to God anyways. This seems to be one of the most important lessons in the Old Testament. We read story after story about people who have a limited perspective and limited understanding but follow God anyways. We read about Moses who had to lead Israel through a river, that made little sense, but it worked out in the end. Joshua had to march around Jericho and sing songs, that made little sense, but it worked out in the end. Noah had to build a big boat in the middle of the desert, that made little sense, but it worked out in the end. Job had to commit himself to God amid his suffering, that made little sense to Job’s friends, but it worked out in the end. We often find ourselves in complex situations that don’t always make a lot of sense. It is comforting to know that all these Old Testament guys found themselves in complex situations as well. When we read these stories, it’s clear that God values faith and commitment from his people way more than understanding. So limited understanding is fine because it gives us all kinds of room to do the most Christian thing we can do, which is to have faith.
Lesson 2. We need to be very careful to not misapply Biblical truth. This is a really subtle but important point. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar manage to quote Scripture and give bad advice all at the same time. How? Job’s situation made little sense to them. It did not fit their understanding of God and how the world worked. So instead of believing their friends innocence, instead of dealing with the complexity of the situation, they ignore it and quote a Bible verse (they didn’t actually quote a Bible verse, its more like they anticipated a Bible verse since Job was likely the first book of the Bible written, but you get the point). There is such a thing as a reckless declaration of truth, where its more important for us to be right about something than it is to be helpful. Guard yourself against that. We should not be quick to quote scripture in order to simply win an argument, or prove we are right, or condemn someone so that we look good, or for any other self seeking and unloving reason. Lets be careful that we don’t misuse the Word of God but use it and apply it to our situations wisely.
And finally a third lesson, the world is complex and we need to commit ourselves to God no matter how clear or confusing our situation is. Understanding is nice but not necessary for following God. God is way more interested in us having faith, trusting in him and following him no matter what situation we find ourselves in. So take every opportunity you can to exercise your faith in God.