A man and his wife were browsing in a crafts store one day when the man noticed a display of country-style musical instruments. After looking over the flutes, dulcimers and recorders, he picked up a shiny, one-stringed instrument he took to be a mouth harp. He put it to his lips and, much to the amusement of other shoppers, twanged a few notes on it. After watching from a distance, his wife came up and whispered in his ear, "I hate to tell you this, honey, but you're trying to play a cheese slicer."1 Sometimes to be wrong about something can be harmless, even humorous. But at other times it can cause great suffering.
Perhaps you've heard of the sad story about the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge. The builders accomplished this monumental undertaking more than one hundred years ago, despite countless obstacles and accidents. This cable-wire suspension bridge was the first of its kind in the world. And so when the bridge was finally opened to the public, it was a huge curiosity. Pedestrians traveled between Manhattan and Brooklyn for a small fee. Tragically it was during one of those times when the bridge was packed with pedestrians that someone shouted, "The bridge is falling!" That untrue remark created a panic in the crowd and twelve people were trampled to death in the stampede to get off the bridge.2
Isn't it true that misrepresentation of the truth always causes harm in some way? In a real way we see that misrepresentation taking place in the book of Job.
Now, I must warn you that this sermon is supposed to be based on Job 2:10 through 37. That's over thirty chapters. You might feel nervous if I launched an exhaustive, comprehensive study of the intricate arguments between Job and His friends. Well, you can relax. That's not what I'm doing. Instead I would like to highlight just the essence of these chapters.
You remember the story, of course. Job lost everything, and yet he still did not sin. One thing he did do was to express his depression. In chapter 3, Job opened his mouth and he cursed the day of his birth. If you'd like to follow along, look at Job 3:3-4 . "May the day perish on which I was born. And the night in which it is said, 'a male child is conceived.' May that day be darkness; and the shadow of death settle upon it; may a cloud settle upon it; May the blackness of the day terrify it. Job 3:11. "Why did I not die at birth? Why did I not perish when I came from the womb?
Job wanted to die. He had lost everything and he was devastated. He had been a wonderful friend of God and all this tragedy comes upon him. And just like us, he wondered, "Why, God?" And he cries out that he wishes he had never been born. He is completely overwhelmed.
And so his friends come from a long distance and sit beside him dutifully. They'd never seen him like this. You see, Job was one of the leading citizens of the area and in their view he had been so prosperous because he had been blessed by God. But now Job is cursing the day he was born in the presence of three very concerned friends.
All three of the "friends" had a ready-made conclusion about the calamity that came upon Job. Eliphaz was the first to speak up. You'd think that he and his friends were theologians since they appeared to have all the answers. Job 4:7, "Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright ever cut off? In other words, "Job, you must be really bad for all of this to happen to you."
And he goes on in verses in Job 4:17-18 "Then I heard a voice saying, 'Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his Maker? If he puts trust in his servants, if he charges his angels with error, how much more those who dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust. Who are crushed before a moth?
Eliphaz is saying that God never trusts anybody because they are not trustworthy. Obviously, Eliphaz and his two friends are not aware of the events of Job 1 and 2, are they? God said, "I trust Job. He is a perfect and upright man who will not let Me down." They wouldn't have believed God said that. And so this friend goes on to say, "Job, you must have sinned big time. Repent and God will forgive you and you'll be blessed, and then if you're blessed, you will be prosperous. That was the general understanding they had of how things worked. They were operating on the idea that Job brought all of this upon himself. Their idea was that Job sinned and God punished. So the main thing these "theologians" were saying was that Job shouldn't be complaining, but repenting. They seemed to know the answers to everything.
What was wrong with that basic approach? Well, I believe we have to keep in mind the story in John 9 when the disciples asked who sinned, the man who was born blind or his parents, in order for him to be born blind? And also, we need to remember the story when Jesus told the disciples it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to be saved. And the disciples then asked, "Who an be saved? And that response doesn't make sense to us unless we understand their thinking. You see, if a man was rich, they reasoned that it was because he was blessed, and if he was blessed it was because he was good. Therefore, in their thinking, if you were rich, you were good. According to the disciples' thinking, if it was hard for rich people to be saved, how could poor people be saved, because they were poor for not being blessed, and they weren't blessed because they were not good. They could look around the community in their days and they could tell who was good because they were blessed and therefore very prosperous. But if a man in the community who was once very prosperous lost everything, including his family and his estate, he was not being blessed anymore because he must have sinned very severely.
And that is why it is so important that God says Job was perfect. He was not sinning and offending God. He was God's friend. He trusted God. So we really need chapters 1 and 2 before we read the rest. All of these dreadful things happened to a saint, not a sinner. And Job knew he hadn't done anything wrong, but he couldn't understand why all the calamity happened and why he couldn't talk with God and clear up everything.
So where was the error of Job's friends? Well, notice their shocked reaction to Job's depression and his cries and complaints. Look at Job 10:1. At this moment they are listening to Job's speech of depression. Job 10:1-7 . "My soul loathes my life; I will give free course to my complaint. I will speak of the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God, 'Do not condemn me; Show me why you contend with me. Does it seem good to You that You should oppress, that You should despise the work of Your hands, and shine on the counsel of the wicked? Do You have eyes of flesh? Or do You see as man sees? Are your days like the days of a mortal man? Are Your years like the days of a mighty man, that You should seek for my iniquity and search out my sin, although You know that I am not wicked, and there is no one who can deliver from Your hand?" I think we have to keep in mind that overall Job does trust and acknowledge God. Remember what he said in chapter 13 about trusting God?
But Job is definitely complaining here. He wanted to know why God wouldn't talk to him. They used to talk all the time and now God wasn't talking to him. So Job was really upset about that, in proportion to how close their friendship had been before.
But, while Job's expressions were from utter depression, it really troubled his friends. They were shocked by Job's nerve to say what he said.
Now, what if they had heard Abraham say to God, "Should not the Judge of the whole earth do what is right"? What would they have said? "Oh, Abraham, you can't talk to God like that!" What if they had heard Moses say, "God, you cannot destroy the people. It would ruin your reputation before the Egyptians and the heathen"? Job's friends would have responded, "Moses, you can't talk to God like that. If God says, 'Step out of the way,' then you should step out of the way. If God has said it, you'd better believe it and that's all there is to it." I mean, that's the way they lived with God, as they knew and understood Him. But God's friends, Abraham and Moses knew they could reason with God reverently. So Job was really behaving like Moses and Abraham as he went through his experience and he was showing himself to be a friend of God. But the three friends didn't think that Job should talk like that to God. And when God didn't seem to be his close friend anymore, Job was upset. You know that God would have interpreted that as a compliment. But the three friends didn't think Job should talk like that to God.
Let's look at chapter 11 for part of Zophar's reaction. Job 11:4-6. "...For you have said, 'My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in your (God's) eyes.' But oh, that God would speak and open his lips against you, that he would show you the secrets of wisdom! For they would double your prudence. Know therefore that God exacts from you less than your iniquity deserves." In other words, "Job, you should be sicker than you are and you should hurt worse." What did they think he must have done to deserve all of this? What kind of God would punish the children for the sins of the father? To them that was what happened. Their idea of God was a vengeful, vindictive God, who watches from heaven and as soon as someone sins, lightning bolts from heaven strike out. That's the theology they had worked out in their minds. And that's how the conversation goes on and on ad nauseam throughout most of the book.
It makes me think of a story by Dr. Paul Brand, a missionary doctor in India. He wrote that one day his family went out into the woods and searched for mushrooms for dinner. They cooked up the mushrooms and enjoyed their meal together. But not long after dinner, the Brands noticed that something didn't seem quite right. Things around them began to look different. Everything seemed out of balance. A simple walk across the room turned treacherous. Things around them began to look different. Suddenly, it struck them that they were hallucinating. Some of those mushrooms they had eaten were poisonous. Fortunately, the Brands had enough presence of mind to realize the danger. They induced vomiting and quickly returned to normal.3
This story of Job and his three criticizing friends tells me that if we have the wrong concept of God, we will end up criticizing people when we should offer comfort and hope and truth. A few poisonous mushrooms can make you really sick, but bad theology is so poisonous that it can make you sick and lead you to endanger those around you.
That's what Job's three friends were doing. They reasoned from experience, tradition and even common sense in their arguments. All three were very sincere and very concerned about Job, but all three had wrong ideas about God.
The wonderful reality is that God is not as He has been misrepresented to be; arbitrary, unforgiving and severe. He's fair and forgiving and kind. He's a God who could really understand Job's complaints. Even after Job admitted that he said things beyond his understanding, God was very generous. He was far more sympathetic than Job's fellow humans. And we know that there is more to the story. We have a bigger picture, a larger view.
Many years later, as one who knew the God of Abraham and Moses and Job, the apostle Paul wrote the truth about God. It's in Romans 8:31-33. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with him also freely give us all things?
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
1. Ed Preacher's Laughter for a Saturday.
2. John H. Beukem, Stories from God's Heart. Chicago: Moody Press.
3. Dr. Paul Brand, God's Forever Feast. Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 1923, p. 142.
Hymn of Praise: #244, My Song Shall be of Jesus Scripture: Job 13:13-15 Hymn of Response: #1, Praise to the Lord
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last updated 27/10/05 by Bob Beckett.