Ancient Answers

A speech to end all speeches

1 Comment

By itself the verse highlighted today, Job 12:13, is not particularly remarkable. Ho hum, yes, we know God has wisdom and power, and all other good things. Let’s move on to something more interesting, right? Aha, yes move on and you find yourself in the midst of a very extraordinary speech by a man called Job.

The Book of Job is endlessly fascinating. The first two chapters show us a contest of sorts between God and someone named “Satan”. This is not the place to discuss the name “Satan” and the person given that name in the Book of Job. Most people read the Book of Job as the testing of Job by this person named Satan. God gives permission to Satan to test Job. But the deal with Satan is also a testing of God! It is a testing of a man’s faith in God. Is Job’s faith purely material, because he is wealthy and healthy, with a large family and respect among his peers? Is this the kind of faith that God receives from people, a transactional faith? Satan is not really interested in making Job suffer. His concern is to expose Job’s faith as superficial and transactional. It’s not real faith, in other words. And if Satan could expose Job’s faith in this manner, it would undermine God’s standing. So it is a testing of God more than it is a testing of Job. Fascinating stuff.

So Job is subjected to the most extreme personal suffering and even the killing of his children! His wife, exasperated by Job’s holding on to faith in God finally throws at him those famous words, “Curse God and die!” Fascinating stuff to be part of holy scripture. But the bulk of the book, chapters 3-37, consists of dialogues between Job and three friends who come to comfort him but end up mostly attacking him and pressing to prove the conventional religious idea that Job is suffering because he must be a terrible sinner. In a sense these three friends are also putting God to the test! They’re basically saying: Of course Job must be a sinner, and God is punishing him. How could it be otherwise, if God is going to be faithful to his law? This is man telling God: You better be good to your word! Listen to Elihu, one of the three friends:

“Therefore, hear me, you men of understanding:
far be it from God that he should do wickedness,
and from the Almighty that he should do wrong.
For according to the work of a man he will repay him,
and according to his ways he will make it befall him.
Of a truth, God will not do wickedly,
and the Almighty will not pervert justice….’ (Job 34:10-12)

This is man telling God how to be God. If Job is suffering it must because God is punishing Job for his sinfulness. Isn’t that how many Christians of today also think when they see bad things happen to people, that it must be because God is angry with them? Job will have none of it, though he has his own outbursts against God during the pages of the book. In chapters 12-14 he speaks what I can only call a speech to end all speeches. It is profound, and this speech is the context of the verse highlighted today. Without the context, the verse is ordinary, simply what everyone assumes about God. But read it in the context of this extraordinary speech by Job and you realize that it’s part of something truly grand.

Then Job answered and said:
“No doubt you are the people,
and wisdom will die with you.
But I have understanding as well as you;
I am not inferior to you.
Who does not know such things as these?’  (Job 12:1-3)

Job mocks their wisdom. It’s conventional, it’s what people believe. And he goes on to describe the conventional thinking: “In the thought of one who is at ease there is contempt for misfortune… The tents of robbers are at peace, and those who provoke God are secure, who bring their god in their hand.” Nice commentary on what goes on today as well – how the rich and powerful pass judgment on those who are poor, while they serve their “god”, whoever or whatever their “god” is. In two short sentences Job has identified the sin of our own modern societies. Oh, but wait, more to come:

“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you;
the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you;
or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of all mankind.’

Job asserts that the animals and the birds and the plants of the earth know God’s ways better than human beings! Everything that is alive is under his care. Animals, birds, vegetation, the planet! In our un-wisdom we show contempt for life and are thus showing ourselves to be dumber than the animals. The Bible – especially the part we call the “Old Testament” though there’s nothing old about it – constantly reminds us that the earth and all life on it are singing the praises of God. Just look at Psalm 148. First come the universe and the earth and the animals of the earth before any human beings are named. All creation praises God. And human beings are last in the catalogue of those who offer praise to God.

Psalm 148 Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his hosts!
Praise him, sun and moon,
praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord!
For he commanded and they were created.
And he established them forever and ever;
he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.
Praise the Lord from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and mist,
stormy wind fulfilling his word!
Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
Beasts and all livestock,
creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and maidens together,
old men and children!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his majesty is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people,
praise for all his saints,
for the people of Israel who are near to him.
Praise the Lord!

How trite human wisdom appears to Job, especially as represented by the three friends. And it is only then, after he has summarily dismissed their wisdom as inferior to the wisdom of animals that he speaks the verse that is highlighted today: “With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding.” And with these words he begins the next phase of his speech, in which he elevates the supreme authority of God over and above human conventions and prejudices. And in the midst of all this, he speaks directly to God. The language is strong. But it is free of the sophistry of the friends and of conventional religion. This is a speech to end all speeches!

‘But I would speak to the Almighty,
and I desire to argue my case with God.
As for you, you whitewash with lies;
worthless physicians are you all.
Oh that you would keep silent,
and it would be your wisdom!
Hear now my argument
and listen to the pleadings of my lips.
Will you speak falsely for God
and speak deceitfully for him?
Will you show partiality toward him?
Will you plead the case for God?
Will it be well with you when he searches you out?
Or can you deceive him, as one deceives a man?
Your maxims are proverbs of ashes;
your defenses are defenses of clay.
Let me have silence, and I will speak,
and let come on me what may.
Though he slay me, I will hope in him;
yet I will argue my ways to his face.
How many are my iniquities and my sins?
Make me know my transgression and my sin.
Why do you hide your face
and count me as your enemy?
Man wastes away like a rotten thing,
like a garment that is moth-eaten. (Selected verses from chapter 13 of Job)

That last sentence from chapter 13 leads Job to a beautiful meditation on death in chapter 14, which in one crucial moment leads to a question about resurrection (verse 14). In this last segment of the speech, Job speaks directly to God.

“Man who is born of a woman
is few of days and full of trouble.
He comes out like a flower and withers;
he flees like a shadow and continues not.
Since his days are determined,
and the number of his months is with you,
and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass,
look away from him and leave him alone,
that he may enjoy, like a hired hand, his day.
“For there is hope for a tree,
if it be cut down, that it will sprout again,
and that its shoots will not cease.
Though its root grow old in the earth,
and its stump die in the soil,
yet at the scent of water it will bud
and put out branches like a young plant.
But a man dies and is laid low;
man breathes his last, and where is he?
As waters fail from a lake
and a river wastes away and dries up,
so a man lies down and rises not again;
till the heavens are no more he will not awake
or be roused out of his sleep.
Oh that you would hide me in Sheol,
that you would conceal me until your wrath be past,
that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me!
If a man dies, shall he live again?
All the days of my service I would wait,
till my renewal should come.
You would call, and I would answer you;
you would long for the work of your hands…”  (Selected verses of chapter 14)

Let’s not go any further for now. Those last lines are an anticipation of resurrection. But note why Job even raises the question, “If a man dies, shall he live again?” His reasoning is rooted in his understanding of God’s creative work! “You would call, and I would answer you; you would long for the work of your hands.” Do you see it? Are you glad you read so far down in this reflection? Do you see it? God longs for what he has created! How can God allow his creations to be extinguished. God longs for us while we are alive, to be in fellowship with him. And God will long for us after we die. Do you need any other reason for why there should be resurrection; why life after death. And at this point, the mighty Messiah of Handel comes to mind, the song that comes immediately before “Lift up your gates” in yesterday’s post. And what is this song in Messiah? The words come from Psalm 16:10, and Handel used these words to announce the resurrection of Christ in his marvelous oratorio:

“But thou didst not leave his soul in hell, nor didst thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption.”

God could not endure to see his “holy one” see corruption. It’s the same rationale Job offers. These verses from the so-called “Old Testament” show us the passion of God that is at the core of everything God does – creation, preservation, redemption, resurrection. It’s all one continuous demonstration of God’s character. It is in God’s character that Job places his hopes. And it is in God’s character that we place our own hopes.

One thought on “A speech to end all speeches

  1. I really enjoyed this. Such powerful speeches in Job, as you say. Such moving ideas. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s