Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Book of Job, Session 1

Bible Study @ Calvary Presbyterian Church, Hawthorne, CA
Winter Semester … The Sorrow and Hope of Job - Session 1

Tuesday Jan 15
Saturday Jan 19
Job 1-7
Jan 22
Jan 26
Job 8-14
Jan 29
Feb 2
Job 15-21
Feb 5
Feb 9
Job 22-28
Feb 12
Feb 16
Job 29-35
Feb 19
Feb 23
Job 36-42

The Book of Job consists of two elements that can stand by themselves. 

The Fable of Job, a very patient man (1, 2 and 42).

James 5.7-11

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

The Fable presents a very simple scenario - Good man, bad things, faithfulness and patience, good things and then some.

The Poem of Job (everything in between 1, 2 and 42; likely written at a later date (after the Exile) when the Jews were wrestling with some very large questions. Though Job is no Jew, and his friends aren’t either. This is Everyone’s story! Universal in scope - questions everyone has asked.

In the Fable, it’s all rather simple; in the Poem, nothing is simple.

At some point in time, the ancient Fable, a rather simple story, becomes the framework of a struggle between 1) conventional thinking, represented by Job’s friends - do good, you get good; do bad, you get bad. 2) Job’s dogged defense of his life - yes, he’s not perfect, but he’s a man of integrity. Whatever he’s done wrong, or good he’s failed to do, doesn’t deserve this kind of loss and suffering. Something is wrong in the universe, and if there is a God of compassion, Job needs that God to come to his defense against the God of Reward and Punishment. 3) God’s speech, which doesn’t touch upon the question of suffering, but brings to Job a larger picture of creation (see Psalm 8). While God doesn’t address Job’s suffering, God does show up to address Job - Job is that important to God. 

The Fable

A man of great prosperity and piety in the Land of Uz - likely Edom, since most of the names in the story are drawn from Esau’s geneology (Genesis 36); Esau’s first son is Eliphaz, the first of Job’s friends to speak.

Satan, who seems to be a spy of sorts for the LORD (Yahweh), joins a  meeting of the heavenly council. The conversation turns to Job, a very good man. Then comes the question: Who wouldn’t be good and faithful since you have blessed everything he’s put his hand to. Turn against him, and we’ll see what kind of man he truly is.

Angry at God, folks will tell me, “I don’t go to church anymore, because what good did it do me anyway. I’ve been …, I’ve served …, I gave …, and now look at me. What a mess I’m in. I have no further interest in God.”

The central accusation: Human beings are faithful to God when life is good for them, but seriously disrupt that life, and they’ll quickly turn away, cursing God to God’s face.

What are the conditions of our relationship with God? Do we “love” the LORD our God for God’s sake, or our own, or a combination of the two? Have we ever “cursed” God, and wondered why God was “doing harm to us, and for what purpose? Do we deserve this, or is God going after us senselessly, for the heck of it (like the other gods who trouble humanity - many cultures of the past saw the gods as troublers, teasers, tormentors, of humanity for their own entertainment)? Or is God against us from sins, known or unknown? 

Have I wasted my time in worship and service? Is this what I get for all my effort?

How could God answer the question?

So begins the experiment - what is the character, the true character, of a human being - this strange creature possessed of divine qualities embodied in the dust of the earth. In other words, can there be genuine devotion, worship and praise? Or is it all tainted by self-interest.

Does Satan see something God doesn’t see, or refuses to see?

Satan takes everything away from Job, but Job remains steadfast. Satan and the heavenly council gather again, and once again, Job comes up for discussion. Satan suggests that Job’s faithfulness will collapses if his health is taken. 

So, let’s see how far this can go to uncover Job’s “true” character.

Three friends come by to comfort Job, and they’re silent for seven days and seven nights; they give Job the gift of presence. They didn’t come to argue with him, though it comes to that. They came to offer him comfort, and counsel. They await his words.

Job curses the day of his birth (see Jeremiah 20.14); he doesn’t curse God. Though, as we will see, Job believes something to be wrong.

The easy manner in which the comfortable dispense counsel to the suffering.

Chapter 4: Eliphaz enters the discussion and begins in a kindly way, to say what Job himself has likely said to others in the day of their distress. Ultimately, says Eliphaz, Job has, indeed, sinned, as everyone does, thus bringing calamity upon himself. Job may be a good man, and he is, but no one’s perfect, not even angels. We all make mistakes and we have to pay for them.

But commit your way to the LORD (5.8); the LORD wounds and heals (5.18) … this has been well-studied by us; pay attention to it and know it for yourself (.5.27). “What we say to you Job is tried and true; you’ve likely said it yourself.” It’ll all work out, just you wait!

Chapter 6 - Job replies and stands by his claims, and challenges God to come to his aid. “Tell me what I’ve done to deserve this?” His pain and sorrow are unrelenting. And Eliphaz’s words are tasteless to him (6.6-7). Job says, “My friends have betrayed me.”

6.24 - give me more than cheap advice and counsel. Teach me. Show me where I have gone wrong.

Chapter 7, further reflection by Job on life’s hardships: life is short, and ends in death … and, 7.11, Job says, “I’ll not shut up. I’ve a complaint, a just complaint, and I’ll make noise until I get some satisfaction.” 7.17, an ironic play on Psalm 8, which asks the question: Why is God concerned about humankind, as small as we are? Job turns it a bit, wondering why such a “big god” would bother with creatures so tiny? “Why don’t you let me alone? What am I to you?”

Summary: it’s all about big questions.

Satan: What is the character of humankind? Are they capable of loving God, or are they driven by self-interest?

Job: Why is this happening to me?

Eliphaz: What did you do wrong to deserve this? 

Job’s question: Why does God even bother with me? 

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