“Almost Right” is Still Wrong

illustration-to-book-of-job.jpg!Blog

Illustration to Book of Job by William Blake

From time to time, we run into well-meaning Christians who take issue with discernment ministries when they point out errors in what might otherwise be considered sound doctrine. They have little issue with calling out overt paganism as unbiblical, but when we exercise discernment regarding a beloved pastor’s sermon or a 200-year-old hymn, allusions to “straining at gnats” or “eat the meat and spit out the bones” start to arise as well as blanket accusations of being “divisive” and “mean-spirited”. While there is definitely something to be said about the manner of speech and the need to speak in humility and love, it is also important to point out the wrong, however slight it might seem now, so that what is almost right, can be made completely right rather than completely wrong. We are not aiming for a level of Truth that has not been revealed, for only God is capable of such Truth. What He has revealed of Himself in His Word is knowable, and must be pursued, lest we stumble and fall. In my opinion, no where do we see this truth more beautifully displayed than in the Book of Job.

If you’ve never read the Book of Job, I encourage you to do so. Some interesting background on the book, scholars believe that it was written before Moses for several reasons. The clearest indication found within Scripture is the fact that Job offered sacrifices for his family rather than a Priest or Levite. Therefore, Job lived sometime after Noah and before Moses.

For today, I want to dive right into the advice given to Job by his friend Eliphaz.

The Prosperity Gospel of Eliphaz

Job 4 (ESV)
Eliphaz Speaks: The Innocent Prosper
1 Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said:
2 “If one ventures a word with you, will you be impatient?  Yet who can keep from speaking?
3 Behold, you have instructed many, and you have strengthened the weak hands.
4 Your words have upheld him who was stumbling, and you have made firm the feeble knees.
5 But now it has come to you, and you are impatient; it touches you, and you are dismayed.
6 Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope?

What a way to start, eh? It’s like starting out with, “don’t get mad at me, but I just have to get this off my chest”. Now, in a single day Job got word that all of his kids died, and everything he owned was gone. Then, he was made so sick that he was nearly unrecognizable to his friends. They wisely sat in silence with him for seven days, because of his obvious suffering. Job finally speaks out of despair wishing that he had never been born. Before we judge Eliphaz too harshly, are we not taught to speak up, and not hold our tongues whenever we hear indications of potentially suicidal behavior? Job broke the silence, and was despondent… would you have held your tongue? Even if you know where this story is leading, I implore you not to fully disengage with what is happening here. It is important to note that this account predates any Scripture in written form (Moses recorded the Law). Unlike us, no one in the Book of Job has the written Law, the Prophets, or the New Testament from which to draw reference.

Job 4:7 “Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?
8 As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.
9 By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of his anger they are consumed.
10 The roar of the lion, the voice of the fierce lion, the teeth of the young lions are broken.
11 The strong lion perishes for lack of prey, and the cubs of the lioness are scattered.

Eliphaz begins with empirical (experiential) knowledge. His first comments betray his conviction that Job’s affliction must be a result of his sin. He starts by charging Job to Remember: who that was innocent ever perished  and I have seen that those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same. Is this correct? Is this so-called “principle of sowing and reaping” being applied correctly here? By the breath of God they perish… who? those who sow iniquity and trouble. Make no mistake, Eliphaz is pointing to Job as the reason for his affliction, and he is claiming that it is God who is afflicting Job as punishment for his iniquity. Rather than ask Job a single question, or provide any verbal encouragement whatsoever, he has judged Job guilty, because in Eliphaz’s experience no one who is innocent faces judgement. In today’s public church, this is what the underside of the “prosperity gospel coin” looks like. If being a child of God guarantees prosperity, then the lack of prosperity and especially the afflictions of this world bear testimony that you are not a child of God.

What happens next is not uncommon today. We have the written Scriptures today, and yet we still hear folks rely on a direct revelation rather than the Word of God. Eliphaz now shares with Job knowledge he claims to have obtained from a spirit, a whispered word,  a voice from the silence.

Job 4:12 “Now a word was brought to me stealthily; my ear received the whisper of it.
13 Amid thoughts from visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on men,
14 dread came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones shake.
15 A spirit glided past my face; the hair of my flesh stood up.
16 It stood still, but I could not discern its appearance. A form was before my eyes; there was silence, then I heard a voice:
17 ‘Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker?
18 Even in his servants he puts no trust, and his angels he charges with error;
19 how much more those who dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust,
who are crushed like the moth.
20 Between morning and evening they are beaten to pieces; they perish forever without anyone regarding it.
21 Is not their tent-cord plucked up within them, do they not die, and that without wisdom?’

Yikes. This unidentified spirit, who brought dread and trembling upon Eliphaz spoke to him. What did this spirit say? Was it of God? It pronounces judgment against all of mankind, and declares of God that He puts no trust in His servants, and charges his angels with error. Is this a statement of Praise to the Lord God, or an accusation? I think now is a good time to look back to the first chapter of Job, to see what God actually had to say about Job prior to his afflictions.

Job 1:6-12 (ESV)
Satan Allowed to Test Job
6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 8 And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” 9 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

There is no higher praise a mortal man can receive from the Lord God. Satan asserts that it is God’s blessing that is to blame for Job’s fear of God. When you think about it, what an odd accusation, given all that we’ve read thus far. If God rewards the righteous, how then can God’s reward be the cause of their righteousness? Satan is accusing God of being either ignorant or misleading. He swears to God that Job’s fear of the Lord God is superficial, and merely a result of having been granted unusual favor in God’s sight. Take away his blessings and Job will surely curse God. Yet what we see at the close of the first chapter is, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” Job 1:22 (ESV). Satan lost the first bet, but wasn’t finished. Was Satan after Job? No. He was gunning for the Lord God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.

Job 2:1-7 (ESV)
Satan Attacks Job’s Health
1 Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. 2 And the Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 3 And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason. 4 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. 5 But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” 6 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.” 7 So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.

This is the testimony God presents concerning Job. So, what can we say about the spirit from whom Eliphaz drew his knowledge and counsel? We can safely say that it is not of God. Whether a fleshly fabrication from his own sinful heart, or from a spirit of error in service of Satan we need not declare. Only that it was not the Spirit of God speaking. There was no reason for on Job’s account for the loss of his property and children. None. The accusation of Eliphaz against Job is without merit. His appeal to “sowing and reaping” was faulty, though it might have been right had Job indeed plowed iniquity or sown trouble. But he was wrong. In Chapter 5, we see Eliphaz prescribe for Job what he thinks would fix the problem. We also see a fresh twist on his charge against Job.

Job 5 (ESV)
1 “Call now; is there anyone who will answer you? To which of the holy ones will you turn?
Surely vexation kills the fool, and jealousy slays the simple.
I have seen the fool taking root, but suddenly I cursed his dwelling.
His children are far from safety; they are crushed in the gate, and there is no one to deliver them.
5 The hungry eat his harvest, and he takes it even out of thorns, and the thirsty pant after his wealth.
6 For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground,
7 but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.
“As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause,

Woah, and Eliphaz unloads on Job. To which of the holy ones will you turn? Really, Eliphaz? But as for me, I would seek God... in other words, “I don’t know who you’ve tried to seek out or to whom you’ve plead your case, Job, but I would seek God.” So, Eliphaz, did you seek God when a dreadful spirit visited you and spoke accusingly of God and the angels and of His servants? Did you seek God before judging Job guilty of iniquity, of foolishness, and before implying that he might not seek God? As troubling as this portion of his advice was, this isn’t the twist I mentioned. What remains of his advice would be praiseworthy on its own. However, in this case, it is Eliphaz demonstrating piety while judging Job of iniquity.

Job 5:9 who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number:
10 he gives rain on the earth and sends waters on the fields;
11 he sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety.
12 He frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success.
13 He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end.
14 They meet with darkness in the daytime and grope at noonday as in the night.
15 But he saves the needy from the sword of their mouth and from the hand of the mighty.
16 So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts her mouth.
17 “Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty.
18 For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal.
19 He will deliver you from six troubles; in seven no evil shall touch you.
20 In famine he will redeem you from death, and in war from the power of the sword.
21 You shall be hidden from the lash of the tongue, and shall not fear destruction when it comes.
22 At destruction and famine you shall laugh, and shall not fear the beasts of the earth.
23 For you shall be in league with the stones of the field, and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with you.
24 You shall know that your tent is at peace, and you shall inspect your fold and miss nothing.
25 You shall know also that your offspring shall be many, and your descendants as the grass of the earth.
26 You shall come to your grave in ripe old age, like a sheaf gathered up in its season.
27 Behold, this we have searched out; it is true. Hear, and know it for your good.”

On it’s own, this portion rings true. I hear echoes of various Psalms and Proverbs. Some of these things are indeed true. But notice the string of true statements Eliphaz has assembled. He engages in parallelism that honors the poor, the lowly, the needy while judging the crafty, wiley, and those wise in their own craftiness. Eliphaz has now judged Job’s former blessings from God as the evidence of his iniquity, his craftiness, and his wiles. He then commands Job to rejoice in his reproof, for now that Job has been made lowly, poor, and shattered, God can bind up his wounds and heal his hands. If all that had befallen Job were indeed punishment for sin, this portion would ring true. I hope you will take the time to read through the rest of this book. In addition to what Satan does to Job, he must endure also the counsel of his wife, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. Eliphaz fully unleashes his accusations against Job in chapter 15 and again in chapter 22. Each time he speaks harshly against Job, urging him to submit to God and he will be healed. Almost right advice, but completely wrong, for Job was not being judged by God for iniquity. He rebukes Job for not confessing his sin (of which Eliphaz has no proof, except for his own prosperity-gospel view of God) and accuses him of iniquity due to the reality of Job’s affliction.

But what did God have to say at the end of this time of tribulation? Let’s skip ahead to end of the book and see.

Job 42:7-9 (ESV)
The Lord Rebukes Job’s Friends
7 After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8 Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” 9 So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.

The anger of the Lord God burned against Eliphaz and his two friends. They were wrong. They had not spoken right of God. Almost right, is still completely wrong by God’s standards. There were times when Job speaks more boldly than perhaps he ought, and the Lord answers very strongly. But in the end, we see that Job also learned a great deal about the Lord God. We see it in his confession at the beginning of Job 42.

Job 42:1-6 (ESV)
Job’s Confession and Repentance
1 Then Job answered the Lord and said:
2 “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
4 ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;
6 therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

Job has seen the Lord God of whom he had only heard before (and was faithful to unlike anyone else) and in seeing the Lord God with his eyes, he despised himself, and repented in dust and ashes. This draws me to an account in the Book of John

John 9:1-7 (ESV)
1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him,“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered,“It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva.Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 7 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

Thankfully, we have Jesus Christ, who gave of Himself to bear the price of our sin so that we might be covered by His righteousness.  In closing, I urge you brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, to humbly bear each other’s burdens in love. Encourage one another and lift each other up in prayer and thanksgiving. Be slow to judge, and quick to forgive. Be gentle and loving if you witness or suspect sin, but do so humbly, knowing that by the same measure you judge others will you also be judged. That is not a prohibition, but a caution.  We dare not base our judgement on our experiences alone, nor on the whisperings of unidentified spirits, but only on the Word of the Lord.

May the Lord bless and keep you firmly in His Grace and Mercy,
In Christ,
Jorge

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