“The Bible says…”

Monday, August 27, 2012 — Week of Proper 16

Thomas Gallaudet with Henry Winter Syle, 1902, 1890

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 981)

Psalms 1, 2, 3 (morning) 4, 7 (evening)

Job 4:1; 5:1-11, 17-21, 26-27

Acts 9:19b-31

John 6:60-71

[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

It seems so important when reading Job to remember how it comes out in the end. As I listened to the words of Eliphaz today, I had to remind myself of the final verdict at the end of the book — God rejected the argument of Eliphaz.

But so many of the verses sound so similar to passages in the Psalms or in Proverbs. Some of the pithy nuggets of Job’s friends are quoted as examples of Biblical wisdom. I can hear it in the back of my mind — someone preaching, “The Bible says, ‘Human beings are born to trouble just as sparks fly upward.'” Amen brother. But wait. Eliphaz said that, and he was one of the losers in the debate. God said his argument was essentially false. It may not be a great idea to say, “the Bible says…” and quote Eliphaz.

Yet, Eliphaz sounds so much like the Psalms we have today for our morning office. Psalm 1 insists that the righteous are happy, “like trees planted by streams of water, …everything they do shall prosper… It is not so with the wicked; they are like chaff which the wind blows away.” Job’s fortunes have been blown away like chaff. His misery must be a sign of his sin, Eliphaz reasons, “therefore do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.”

Eliphaz advises Job, “As for me, I would seek God, and to God I would commit my cause.” So does the Psalmist, who in the face of many adversaries declares, “I call aloud to you, O God, and you answer me from your holy hill…. Surely, you will strike all my enemies across the face.” (Ps. 3) Eliphaz offers similar confidence to Job. “You shall come to your grave in ripe old age, as a shock of grain comes up to the threshing floor in its season. See, we have searched this out; it is true. Hear, and know it for yourself.” Eliphaz sounds a lot like Psalm 2. “Let me announce the decree of God, who has said to me, ‘You are my Son; this day have I begotten you. Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance and the ends of the earth for you possession. You shall crush them with an iron rod and shatter them like a piece of pottery.'”

Eliphaz declares with confidence a conventional wisdom grounded in the theology of the Scriptures, especially the Psalms, Proverbs, and in the theology of the Deuteronomic history. Yet his words feel like an attack to poor Job. They seem shallow and unsatisfactory, not wise and comforting. Eliphaz throws the Book at Job and only adds to Job’s suffering.

In the end, God will declare Job’s fierce honesty in the darkness to be more faithful, true and authentic than his friends’ mastery of the Book.

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