Give God Glory Rather Than Advice

19 “Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
    and where is the place of darkness,
20 that you may take it to its territory
    and that you may discern the paths to its home?
21 You know, for you were born then,
    and the number of your days is great!

22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,
    or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
23 which I have reserved for the time of trouble,
    for the day of battle and war?
24 What is the way to the place where the light is distributed,
    or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?

25 “Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain
    and a way for the thunderbolt,
26 to bring rain on a land where no man is,
    on the desert in which there is no man,
27 to satisfy the waste and desolate land,
    and to make the ground sprout with grass?

28 “Has the rain a father,
    or who has begotten the drops of dew?
29 From whose womb did the ice come forth,
    and who has given birth to the frost of heaven?
30 The waters become hard like stone,
    and the face of the deep is frozen.

31 “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades
    or loose the cords of Orion?
32 Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season,
    or can you guide the Bear with its children?
33 Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
    Can you establish their rule on the earth?

34 “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
    that a flood of waters may cover you?
35 Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go
    and say to you, ‘Here we are’?
36 Who has put wisdom in the inward parts
    or given understanding to the mind?
37 Who can number the clouds by wisdom?
    Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
38 when the dust runs into a mass
    and the clods stick fast together?

39 “Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
    or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
40 when they crouch in their dens
    or lie in wait in their thicket?
41 Who provides for the raven its prey,
    when its young ones cry to God for help,
    and wander about for lack of food?– Job 38:19-41 ESV

God finally speaks. Job has heard from his three friends and Elihu, the young, arrogant upstart. But now he hears from the only one who matters; God Himself. And God’s response is full of not-so-subtle sarcasm as He peppers Job with rhetorical questions designed to accentuate His divine nature. He starts out His response to Job by saying, “Brace yourself, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them” (Job 38:3 NLT). God tells Job to brace himself like a man because He has a few questions for him. “Who are you…?” “Where were you when…” “Have you ever…?” “Can you…?” “Do you know…?”

At one point, God’s sarcasm becomes painfully clear and pointed. He sardonically states, “But of course you know all this! For you were born before it was all created, and you are so very experienced!” (Job 38:21 NLT).

God is questioning Job’s right to question Him. Who is Job, a mere man, to question the intentions and integrity of the holy, righteous, all-powerful, God of the universe? Every one of His questions is a statement of His sovereignty and superiority. He is providing Job and his four friends with a much-needed reminder of His surpassing greatness. God’s emphasis on nature is intended to get Job’s focus off of himself. His myopic and rather morbid perspective has tainted his view of God, and produced faulty reasoning and a fragile faith.

“The function of the questions needs to be properly understood. As a rhetorical device, a question can be another way of making a pronouncement, much favoured by orators. For Job, the questions in the Lord’s speeches are not such roundabout statements of fact; they are invitations, suggestions about discoveries he will make as he tries to find his own answers. They are not catechetical, as if Job’s knowledge is being tested. They are educative, in the true and original meaning of that term. Job is led out into the world. The questions are rhetorical only in the sense that none of them has any answer ventured by Job. But this is not because the questions have no answers. Their initial effect of driving home to Job his ignorance is not intended to humiliate him. On the contrary the highest nobility of every person is to be thus enrolled by God Himself in His school of Wisdom. And the schoolroom is the world! For Job the exciting discoveries to which God leads him bring a giant advance in knowledge, knowledge of himself and of God, for the two always go together in the Bible.” – Francis I. Andersen,

By drawing Job’s attention to the wonders of creation, God is showcasing His power and providential care. There are wonders surrounding Job that reveal just how great and good God really is. The presence of light and dark are the handiwork of God. From the human perspective, these elements simply appear in the sky and little thought is given as to their source. But God demands that Job explain where light comes from and where the darkness goes in the morning. Then He sarcastically adds, “But of course you know all this! For you were born before it was all created, and you are so very experienced!” (Job 38:21 NLT).

God is not being mean; He is simply driving home the extents of the vast gulf between His own reality and man’s infallibility. He wants Job to contemplate the inconceivable greatness of the One who controls the entire universe and all it contains, including Job.

Job wants answer from God. He demands to know the source of his own pain and suffering, but God asks him, “Where is the path to the source of light? Where is the home of the east wind?” (Job 38:24 NLT). God is letting Job know that there are greater questions to consider other than the ones he keeps asking. If Job wants to understand the nature of his circumstances he needs to know his God, and a quick look at the creative order would provide Job a masters-level course in theology.

King David had graduated with honors from God’s divine school of wisdom, having learned the lessons of God’s greatness found in the world around him.

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
    The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
    night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
    their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
    and their words to all the world. – Psalm 19:1 NLT

And it was Jesus who used nature to teach His disciples the wonder of God’s providential care so that they might understand His unwavering faithfulness and their need for enduring faith.

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

“And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? – Matthew 6:25-30 NLT

God turns Job’s attention to the clouds that produce rain, ice, hail, thunder, and lightning. These everyday, commonplace meteorological events are not the result of chance but are the handiwork of God. The very presence of rain is a reminder of God’s faithfulness. Without it, nothing on earth would survive. Yet, God can turn life-giving rain into crop-destroying hail. He can transform a gentle rain into a torrential, flood-producing downpour that takes away life and livelihood. These kinds of occurrences are an inexplicable yet inescapable part of life on this planet, and so is human suffering.

God’s point seems to be that there are some things men will never fully comprehend. Despite our modern scientific capabilities and our incessant obsession with solving the riddle of the universe’s creation, there are certain aspects of God’s creative order that will remain a mystery to us. Job was earth-bound and suffered from a limited understanding of the heavens. He could see the stars and even know some of them by name, but he could not explain their existence or comprehend the magnitude of their number.

In a sense, Job had been trying to give God directions concerning the future of his own life. He wanted to provide the God of the universe with some helpful guidance regarding his future state. But God asks Job if he has any insight into the “the movement of the stars” (Job 38:31 NLT). If Job knows that is best for himself, can he also “direct the constellations through the seasons?” (Job 38:32 NLT). And the answer is clearly, “No!”

Job has no business giving God advice. He is in no place to tell God what to do. And to ensure that Job understands that point, God asks, “Do you know the laws of the universe? Can you use them to regulate the earth?” (Job 38:33 NLT). If the answer is no, then why does Job seem to believe he knows the laws concerning his own universe and how they should be used to regulate the affairs of his life?

Sometimes, a simple upward glance will help take our eyes off of the worries and concerns we face in this world. The prophet Isaiah echoes the words of God and provides a much-needed reminder to reminder to acknowledge the greatness of God rather than attempt to advise Him.

Who else has held the oceans in his hand?
    Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers?
Who else knows the weight of the earth
    or has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale?
Who is able to advise the Spirit of the Lord?
    Who knows enough to give him advice or teach him?
Has the Lord ever needed anyone’s advice?
    Does he need instruction about what is good?
Did someone teach him what is right
    or show him the path of justice? – Isaiah 40:12-14 NLT

And Isaiah recommends that we consider a bit of star-gazing before we resort to advice-giving. God doesn’t need our recommendations, but He is worthy of our veneration.

Look up into the heavens.
    Who created all the stars?
He brings them out like an army, one after another,
    calling each by its name.
Because of his great power and incomparable strength,
    not a single one is missing. – Isaiah 40:33 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Too Wise for His Own Good

23 “If there be for him an angel,
    a mediator, one of the thousand,
    to declare to man what is right for him,
24 and he is merciful to him, and says,
    ‘Deliver him from going down into the pit;
    I have found a ransom;
25 let his flesh become fresh with youth;
    let him return to the days of his youthful vigor’;
26 then man prays to God, and he accepts him;
    he sees his face with a shout of joy,
and he restores to man his righteousness.
27     He sings before men and says:
‘I sinned and perverted what was right,
    and it was not repaid to me.
28 He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit,
    and my life shall look upon the light.’

29 “Behold, God does all these things,
twice, three times, with a man,
30 to bring back his soul from the pit,
that he may be lighted with the light of life.
31 Pay attention, O Job, listen to me;
be silent, and I will speak.
32 If you have any words, answer me;
speak, for I desire to justify you.
33 If not, listen to me;
be silent, and I will teach you wisdom.”– Job 33:23-33 ESV

According to Elihu, Job has only one chance for redemption and restoration, and that involves the intercession of an angel or mediator sent from God. It is difficult to tell whether this divine agent is mediating on behalf of the guilty party before God, or whether their goal is to show the sinner the error of his ways. The English Standard Version Bible translates verse 23 as “to declare to man what is right for him.” The New English Translation takes a similar approach: “to tell a person what constitutes his uprightness.” These translations seem to indicate that the angel has been sent to reveal the path to righteousness to the wayward sinner.

But the New Living Translation translates the same line a slightly different way: “to intercede for a person and declare that he is upright.” This would indicate that the angel or agent is mediating on behalf of the falsely accused victim and declaring his innocence before God.

Based on Elihu’s earlier declarations of his own uprightness, it would appear that the NET Bible and the ESV Bible have rendered the text accurately. Elihu seems to be alluding to himself as the angel or mediator sent from God. Look back at how he described himself to Job when he began his address.

I speak with all sincerity;
    I speak the truth.
For the Spirit of God has made me,
   and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” – Job 33:3-4 NLT

Elihu believes he has been sent to Job by God in order to call him to repentance. That is why he is so adamant and repetitive in his calls for Job to listen to what he has to say.

“Listen to my words, Job;
    pay attention to what I have to say. – Job 33:1 NLT

“…you are wrong, and I will show you why. – Job 33:12 NLT

“…listen to me.
    Keep silent and I will teach you wisdom!” – Job 33:33 NLT

Elihu’s entire speech is a not-so-subtle master’s class in self-promotion. He is out to toot his own horn and establish himself up as Job’s divinely-ordained rescuer. He even alludes to the fact that he is the “dream” sent from God to serve as the wake-up call that will deliver Job from his living nightmare of a life.

For God speaks again and again,
    though people do not recognize it.
He speaks in dreams, in visions of the night,
    when deep sleep falls on people
    as they lie in their beds.
He whispers in their ears
    and terrifies them with warnings.
He makes them turn from doing wrong;
    he keeps them from pride. – Job 33:14-17 NLT

Elihu is convinced that he is Job’s deliverer. While his three companions have failed in their attempts to persuade Job of his guilt, Elihu is convinced of his success because he believes he speaks for God. As a further sign of his self-inflated worth, Elihu claims to have direct access to the Almighty and enough influence to intercede on Job’s behalf. Look closely at what he promises Job.

“If there be for him an angel,
    a mediator, one of the thousand,
    to declare to man what is right for him,
and he is merciful to him, and says,
    ‘Deliver him from going down into the pit;
    I have found a ransom;
let his flesh become fresh with youth;
    let him return to the days of his youthful vigor’” – Job 33:23-25 ESV

This arrogant young man states that he has the power to offer Job mercy and to provide him with a ransom that will atone for all his sins. According to Elihu, his  “gracious” and undeserved mercy will restore Job to health and happiness. But Elihu is not only overly confident in his assertion; he is sorely mistaken. Elihu seems to suffer from a bad case of savior complex. He is fully convinced that he is the remedy to Job’s problem and can restore him to health and happiness. He even believes he can provide a ransom that will satisfy the just demands of a holy and righteous God. But compare his words with those of the psalmist.

Truly no man can ransom another,
    or give to God the price of his life,
for the ransom of their life is costly
    and can never suffice,
that he should live on forever
    and never see the pit.

But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol,
    for he will receive me. – Psalm 49:7-9, 15 ESV

Elihu provides no details concerning the ransom he intends to offer on Job’s behalf. But the psalmist would argue that there is nothing Elihu can offer that would ever cover the cost for a man’s sin. Even the sinner himself cannot ransom his own life.

Elihu is so over-confident that he places God is a subsidiary role, with nothing more to do than to rubber stamp the transaction that Elihu has arranged. Once Job has seen the error of his ways and Elihu has offered whatever ransom he has in mind, then all Job has to do is pray and “he will be accepted. And God will receive him with joy” (Job 33:26 NLT). Because of Elihu’s efforts, God will restore Job to righteousness. Done deal. Case closed.

Elihu attempts to manipulate his suffering friend by describing a future scene that pictures Job is confessing his sins and rejoicing in his redemption.

“‘I sinned and perverted what was right,
    and it was not repaid to me.
He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit,
    and my life shall look upon the light.’” – Job 33:27-28 ESV

All Job has to do is admit his guilt and all will be well. That is the deal Elihu is offering and it is nothing more than a form of plea bargaining. In his desperation to get a full confession out of Job, Elihu guarantees absolution and complete restoration. But those things are not his to give. He has no power or authority to promise Job anything. Elihu does not speak for God, and he is not an angel sent from God.

He is right about one thing; God can and does rescue and restore those who are suffering.

“God does these things
    again and again for people.
He rescues them from the grave
    so they may enjoy the light of life.” – Job 33:29-30 NLT

But Elihu has no business guaranteeing such an outcome to Job or anyone else. And he is way out of bounds when he places himself in the role of Job’s savior and ransom provider. Yet, he is so self-deceived and over-confident that he demands Job’s undivided attention to his words.

“Pay attention, O Job, listen to me;
    be silent, and I will speak. – Job 33:31 ESV

After all, he is the “angel” of God, the divine mediator who has the power to redeem Job from the grave. He is Job’s self-appointed Messiah and he has a direct line to the throne of God in heaven. So, if Job wants to see his fortunes restored and his life spared, he will need to listen to what Elihu has to say.

And sadly, Elihu was far from finished. He has another entire speech to deliver, in which he will lecture Job on the justice of God. His primary purpose will be to refute Job’s claim on innocence and establish God’s right to judge justly. But in all of this, Elihu will mirror the mistakes of his predecessors. He will make assumptions and draw conclusions based on incomplete data. He will say right things about God but make false accusations against Job – all because he is ignorant of all the facts. This “angel of God” will prove to be a lousy spokesperson for God because he doesn’t know the mind of God.

If only Elihu could have accessed the wisdom of the apostle Paul, he could have avoided the pitfalls of the savior complex and spared Job a lot of grief.

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!

For who can know the Lord’s thoughts?
    Who knows enough to give him advice?
And who has given him so much
    that he needs to pay it back?

For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! – Romans 11:33-36 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Gratitude is Good Medicine

1 “But now they laugh at me,
    men who are younger than I,
whose fathers I would have disdained
    to set with the dogs of my flock.
What could I gain from the strength of their hands,
    men whose vigor is gone?
Through want and hard hunger
    they gnaw the dry ground by night in waste and desolation;
they pick saltwort and the leaves of bushes,
    and the roots of the broom tree for their food.
They are driven out from human company;
    they shout after them as after a thief.
In the gullies of the torrents they must dwell,
    in holes of the earth and of the rocks.
Among the bushes they bray;
    under the nettles they huddle together.
A senseless, a nameless brood,
    they have been whipped out of the land.

“And now I have become their song;
    I am a byword to them.
10 They abhor me; they keep aloof from me;
    they do not hesitate to spit at the sight of me.
11 Because God has loosed my cord and humbled me,
    they have cast off restraint in my presence.
12 On my right hand the rabble rise;
    they push away my feet;
    they cast up against me their ways of destruction.
13 They break up my path;
    they promote my calamity;
    they need no one to help them.
14 As through a wide breach they come;
    amid the crash they roll on.
15 Terrors are turned upon me;
    my honor is pursued as by the wind,
    and my prosperity has passed away like a cloud.

16 “And now my soul is poured out within me;
    days of affliction have taken hold of me.
17 The night racks my bones,
    and the pain that gnaws me takes no rest.
18 With great force my garment is disfigured;
    it binds me about like the collar of my tunic.
19 God has cast me into the mire,
    and I have become like dust and ashes.
20 I cry to you for help and you do not answer me;
    I stand, and you only look at me.
21 You have turned cruel to me;
    with the might of your hand you persecute me.
22 You lift me up on the wind; you make me ride on it,
    and you toss me about in the roar of the storm.
23 For I know that you will bring me to death
    and to the house appointed for all living.

24 “Yet does not one in a heap of ruins stretch out his hand,
    and in his disaster cry for help?
25 Did not I weep for him whose day was hard?
    Was not my soul grieved for the needy?
26 But when I hoped for good, evil came,
    and when I waited for light, darkness came.
27 My inward parts are in turmoil and never still;
    days of affliction come to meet me.
28 I go about darkened, but not by the sun;
    I stand up in the assembly and cry for help.
29 I am a brother of jackals
    and a companion of ostriches.
30 My skin turns black and falls from me,
    and my bones burn with heat.
31 My lyre is turned to mourning,
    and my pipe to the voice of those who weep.Job 30:1-31 ESV

Job’s moment of reminiscence is followed by a painful realization that there’s no going back. All that he has lost is gone forever and, from what he can ascertain, it is all the handiwork of God. To make matters worse, Job feels as if God has emasculated him, leaving him defenseless against all those who would do him harm or further damage his reputation. He describes himself as being surrounded by a host of individuals, both young and old, who seem determined to grind his life and name into the mud.

“I am mocked by people younger than I,
    by young men whose fathers are not worthy to run with my sheepdogs. – Job 30:1 NLT

“…they mock me with vulgar songs!
    They taunt me!
They despise me and won’t come near me,
    except to spit in my face. – Job 30:9-10 NLT

And Job holds God responsible for the relentless attacks of these despicable people.

God has cut my bowstring.
    He has humbled me,
    so they have thrown off all restraint. – Job 30:11 NLT

Part of the frustration he feels is his inability to be able to defend himself. It is as if God has sent him into battle without a reliable weapon or ammunition. He is easy prey to all those who mean to do him harm, and the number of his enemies increases daily. Job describes himself as being surrounded and overwhelmed with no one to come to his aid or defense. He is convinced that God has abandoned him.

They block my road
    and do everything they can to destroy me.
They know I have no one to help me. – Job 30:13 NLT

According to Job’s estimation, he has suffered a litany of indignities at the hands of his oppressors. They mock and taunt him. They treat him with disrespect, avoiding him like the plague and only coming close in order to spit in his face. His enemies lay traps for him and attack him when he is weak and defenseless. The effects of all this mistreatment is a deep depression and a growing sense of despondency and defeat. Job has nowhere to turn and no one he can count on to come to his aid.

He even describes God as joining in the abuse, having grabbed him by the collar and cast him into the mud. His enemies kick him while he’s down but it is God who put him in that vulnerable position. The middle portion of this speech reveals the depth of Job’s despair as he levels his charges against God.

“I cry to you, O God, but you don’t answer.
    I stand before you, but you don’t even look.
You have become cruel toward me.
    You use your power to persecute me.
You throw me into the whirlwind
    and destroy me in the storm.
And I know you are sending me to my death—
    the destination of all who live. – Job 30:20-23 NLT

He accuses God of neglect. No matter how often or hard Job has cried to God, his pleas have been met with indifference. It is now to the point where he feels as if God gone from being disinterested in his plight to being an active participant in his pain and suffering. He accuses God of being אַכְזָר (‘aḵzār), a Hebrew word that means “to act harshly” and implies cruel treatment to the point of death. In other words, he is convinced that God is out to kill him. He even suggests that God is sending him to his death.

At this point, Job can’t comprehend why all of this is happening to him. He recalls the many times when he was the friend of the helpless and hopeless. In his former life, when he was healthy, happy, and whole, he would “weep for those in trouble” and he “grieved for the needy” (Job 30:25 NLT). Isn’t that the right thing to do, he asks. Wouldn’t a righteous God expect His people to treat one another with love and care, not cruelty and harshness?

But when Job looks for good, all he finds is evil. When he could use a bit of help and hope, all he gets is a steady diet of mockery, cruelty, and false accusations – even from the hand of God. And this state of affairs has left him in a deep pit of despair.

“My heart is troubled and restless.
    Days of suffering torment me.
I walk in gloom, without sunlight.
    I stand in the public square and cry for help.” – Job 30:27-28 NLT

It’s interesting to note that in chapter 29, Job spent a great deal of time recalling and lamenting his former glory days. His memory took him back to the good old days when things were so much better. But while he look back longingly and remembers those trouble-free days, at no point does he thank God for making it all possible. This oversight on Job’s part is glaring when you consider the words he spoke after the first news of disaster struck his life in the opening chapter.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” – Job 1:21 ESV

Job had just received the devastating news that he had lost all his flocks and herds as well as all ten of his adult children. Yet, he was able to bless God. But now, we find him throwing himself a pity party and bemoaning his lonely and ill-fated life. He doesn’t thank God for all the amazing benefits he enjoyed during the vast majority of his life. Instead, he wallows in the memory of his former state and complains about the less-than-enjoyable nature of his current circumstances. It was an unknown psalmist called Asaph who recorded the following words from God:

“Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God,
    and keep the vows you made to the Most High.
Then call on me when you are in trouble,
    and I will rescue you,
    and you will give me glory.” – Psalm 50:14-15 NLT

God went on to say, “…giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors me. If you keep to my path, I will reveal to you the salvation of God” (Psalm 50:23 NLT). Job was so busy deluging God with his complaints and declarations of mistreatment, that he forgot to thank God for all the wonderful blessings he had enjoyed. God had blessed him with life, health, financial prosperity, a large family, and a good reputation. Job had not earned or deserved any of those things. Now that they were gone, he longed to have them back but he failed to thank the One who had made them possible in the first place.

While Job had a rock-solid memory regarding his former life, he couldn’t seem to remember the words he spoke when his health first failed.

Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” – Job 2:10 NLT

Job suffered from selective memory loss. As time passed, he became less and less willing to accept anything bad from the hand of God. He didn’t like the cards he had been dealt and was anxious to see God remedy the situation as soon as possible. Job was running out of patience and hope, and it seemed that his well of gratitude had run dry as well.

For all his reminiscing, Job struggled with forgetfulness that produced in him an unhealthy ungratefulness. God would have Job repent and remember just how blessed his life had been.

“Repent, all of you who forget me,
    or I will tear you apart,
    and no one will help you.
But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors me.
    If you keep to my path,
    I will reveal to you the salvation of God.” – Psalm 50:22-23 NLT

Job didn’t need any more lectures from his friends, but God didn’t need any advice or criticism from Job either. They say gratitude is good medicine and the apostle Paul would have wholeheartedly agreed.

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NLT

Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. – Colossians 3:16-17 NLT

Gratitude has a way of changing one’s attitude. If Job could learn to give thanks as readily as he complained, his outlook on life would undergo a dramatic change. But his near-sighted focus on his circumstances left him with a distorted view of God and a disgruntled outlook on life and eternity.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Worthless Wisdom of this World

1 Then Zophar the Naamathite answered and said:

“Therefore my thoughts answer me,
    because of my haste within me.
I hear censure that insults me,
    and out of my understanding a spirit answers me.
Do you not know this from of old,
    since man was placed on earth,
that the exulting of the wicked is short,
    and the joy of the godless but for a moment?
Though his height mount up to the heavens,
    and his head reach to the clouds,
he will perish forever like his own dung;
    those who have seen him will say, ‘Where is he?’
He will fly away like a dream and not be found;
    he will be chased away like a vision of the night.
The eye that saw him will see him no more,
    nor will his place any more behold him.
10 His children will seek the favor of the poor,
    and his hands will give back his wealth.
11 His bones are full of his youthful vigor,
    but it will lie down with him in the dust.

12 “Though evil is sweet in his mouth,
    though he hides it under his tongue,
13 though he is loath to let it go
    and holds it in his mouth,
14 yet his food is turned in his stomach;
    it is the venom of cobras within him.
15 He swallows down riches and vomits them up again;
    God casts them out of his belly.
16 He will suck the poison of cobras;
    the tongue of a viper will kill him.
17 He will not look upon the rivers,
    the streams flowing with honey and curds.
18 He will give back the fruit of his toil
    and will not swallow it down;
from the profit of his trading
    he will get no enjoyment.
19 For he has crushed and abandoned the poor;
    he has seized a house that he did not build. – Job 20:1-19 ESV

Tag! You’re it.

Now, it’s Zophar’s turn to torment Job, and he takes up the challenge with a vengeance. Like his companions, Zophar has had his fill of Job’s declarations of innocence and accusations of abuse. He is deeply offended by Job’s assertions that their counsel was harmful in any way.

“I must reply
    because I am greatly disturbed.
I’ve had to endure your insults,
    but now my spirit prompts me to reply. – Job 20:2-3 NLT

It’s amazing to witness how adept these men are at turning all the attention to themselves as they play the victim card and accuse Job of harming them. Somehow, they manage to make it all about themselves, portraying Job as the evil aggressor and themselves as his hapless and defenseless prey.

Zophar displays no compassion or empathy and is unwilling to allow his suffering friend to vent his frustration or express his confusion over his predicament. At no point do any of these men say, “I understand.” They have come to be heard, not to listen. They are determined to offer their opinions but have no desire to provide a listening ear or a word of consolation and comfort.

Rather than wrapping his arms around Job and loving him through his sorrow, Zophar chooses to beat down his brother with charges of wickedness and godlessness. But he isn’t brave enough to say, “Job, you are a wicked and evil man.” Instead, he veils his accusations in cleverly worded lessons about the well-deserved fate of such people. From the beginning of time, the wicked and godless have always gotten their just desserts. Oh, for a time they may enjoy a semblance of success and “the sweet taste of wickedness” (Job 20:12 NLT), but their joy is always temporary and their fate is permanent and inescapable.

“…the triumph of the wicked has been short lived
    and the joy of the godless has been only temporary…” – Job 20:5 NLT

“…they will vanish forever,
    thrown away like their own dung. – Job 20:7 NLT

They will fade like a dream and not be found.
    They will vanish like a vision in the night. – Job 20:8 NLT

In this grand-sounding soliloquy, Zophar never mentions Job by name but it is painfully clear who his words are meant for. He infers that Job was a prideful man who enjoyed a lifestyle of wealth and comfort. He had all the trappings of success but they were ill-gotten gain, acquired by illegal or illegitimate means. Zophar has concluded that Job’s former life of luxury and leisure was the result of “stolen riches” (Job 20:10), not the blessings of God. He rationalized that Job’s fall from grace was nothing more than payback for a life of crime, graft, and corruption. If Job’s heirs were going to live out their lives in abject poverty, it was his own fault.

Their children will beg from the poor,
    for they must give back their stolen riches. – Job 20:10 NLT

This callous statement is all the more hurtful because Zophar is fully aware that Job has no children. All ten of them had been killed when the roof of the house they were in collapsed and crushed them to death. So, Job had no inheritance or inheritors. He had nothing to leave and no one to leave it to. But that sad fact didn’t stop Zophar from continuing his relentless attack.

Zophar seems to take great pleasure in reminding Job of all that he has lost. He can’t stop alluding to Job’s former wealth and riches, and it’s impossible to know whether these attacks are driven by long-pent-up feelings of jealousy. But it is quite possible that Zophar had always been bothered by Job’s success. It’s as if he almost relishes the prospect of Job never rising from the ashes and regaining his former status as a wealthy and well-respected member of the community.

To justify his contempt for Job, Zophar must paint him in the least flattering light. So, he attributes Job’s success to corruption.

“Their wealth will bring them no joy.
For they oppressed the poor and left them destitute.
    They foreclosed on their homes.” – Job 20:18-19 NLT

This conclusion gives Zophar the freedom to treat his former friend with disdain. One almost gets the impression that Zophar has developed a strong hatred for Job that is the culmination of years of jealousy and envy. While Job was in his prime and enjoying what appeared to be the blessings of God, Zophar could only sit back and watch as his friend basked in all the affluence and accolades. Now, the tables were turned. Zophar was on top and getting to watch his former friend’s fall from grace.

For Zophar, Job’s demise was proof of his depravity and wickedness. There was no other explanation. For Job to have lost all that he had, he must have gained it all through a life of wickedness.

“They enjoyed the sweet taste of wickedness,
    letting it melt under their tongue.
They savored it,
    holding it long in their mouths.
But suddenly the food in their bellies turns sour,
    a poisonous venom in their stomach. – Job 20:12-14 NLT

Zophar’s logic is simple but sensible. Job had gained his wealth through wickedness or God would not have taken it from him.

They will vomit the wealth they swallowed.
    God won’t let them keep it down. – Job 20:15 NLT

While everyone had believed that Job’s wealth was the byproduct of his blameless life, Zophar was challenging that conclusion. He was proffering a different opinion that portrayed Job as a villain and not a victim. He proposed that the collapse of Job’s world was nothing more than the judgment of God for a life of undeserved prosperity gained through wickedness. That is why Zophar shows no sympathy to Job. He has determined his former friend to be a godless sinner whose fate is well-deserved and proof of God’s justice. Sadly, Zophar justifies his enjoyment of Job’s fall by demonizing him. This might explain why Zophar goes out of his way to portray Job as a corrupt profiteer who used his facade of righteousness for personal gain.

Like all men, Zophar is attempting to explain the complexities of life through the means of flawed and finite human reason. There is so much he doesn’t understand. There are so many things he cannot see from his limited earthly perspective. Zophar can’t peer into the heart of his friend. He has no way of determining Job’s righteousness or deciding Job’s warranting of God’s judgment. Zophar, because he is human, has no capacity for discerning the will or the ways of God. He has deemed himself to be a spokesman for God but he does not know the heart of God. And eventually, God will expose the flawed logic of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.

After the Lord had finished speaking to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has.” – Job 42:7 NLT

These men had taken it upon themselves to speak on behalf of God. But nowhere in the Book of Job do we see them consulting God and attempting to discern His will concerning Job. There are no prayers directed to God. There are no requests for wisdom or insight. These men seem to believe that they reached the right conclusion without the help of God. Yet, the apostle James would have encouraged them to pray more and talk less.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. – James 1:5 NLT

Life is complicated, and understanding the complexities of the human experience is impossible without insight from the One who rules and reigns over all. Zophar had no business acting as Job’s judge. He had no right to stand in judgment over his friend and flippantly determine his fault and fate without seeking insight from God first. He and his two friends were claiming to speak for God but had not heard from God.

They had set themselves up as arbiters of truth and dispensers of divine justice. But they were more like the false teachers that Jude describes in his short but impactful letter.

They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds. They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness. – Jude 1:12-13 NLT

In the end, Zophar, Eliphaz, and Bildad were providing wisdom that was ungodly, counsel that was unhelpful, and conclusions that were unreliable and inaccurate. All because they failed to consult God. Had Paul been around to consult them, they may have taken a decidedly different tact.

Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As the Scriptures say,

“He traps the wise
    in the snare of their own cleverness.”

And again,

“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise;
    he knows they are worthless.” – 1 Corinthians 3:18-20 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

A One-Dimensional View of God

1 “My spirit is broken; my days are extinct;
    the graveyard is ready for me.
Surely there are mockers about me,
    and my eye dwells on their provocation.

“Lay down a pledge for me with you;
    who is there who will put up security for me?
Since you have closed their hearts to understanding,
    therefore you will not let them triumph.
He who informs against his friends to get a share of their property—
    the eyes of his children will fail.

“He has made me a byword of the peoples,
    and I am one before whom men spit.
My eye has grown dim from vexation,
    and all my members are like a shadow.
The upright are appalled at this,
    and the innocent stirs himself up against the godless.
Yet the righteous holds to his way,
    and he who has clean hands grows stronger and stronger.
10 But you, come on again, all of you,
    and I shall not find a wise man among you.
11 My days are past; my plans are broken off,
    the desires of my heart.
12 They make night into day:
    ‘The light,’ they say, ‘is near to the darkness.’
13 If I hope for Sheol as my house,
    if I make my bed in darkness,
14 if I say to the pit, ‘You are my father,’
    and to the worm, ‘My mother,’ or ‘My sister,’
15 where then is my hope?
    Who will see my hope?
16 Will it go down to the bars of Sheol?
    Shall we descend together into the dust?” – Job 17:1-16 ESV

In this section of Job’s speech, he inadvertently shifts from talking to God directly to addressing Him in the third person. It is as if he is addressing two different audiences at once. One moment, he seems to be speaking directly to God:

“You must defend my innocence, O God,
    since no one else will stand up for me. – Job 17:3 NLT

In the next breath, he addresses an unseen audience to whom he vents his frustration about Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.

“God has made a mockery of me among the people;
    they spit in my face. – Job 17:6 NLT

Then he suddenly directs his attention back to his three accusers.

“As for all of you, come back with a better argument,
    though I still won’t find a wise man among you. – Job 17:10 NLT

It’s almost as if Job sees himself on trial in a courtroom. He is standing before God, who serves as the judge, his three friends make up the prosecution, and his neighbors act as a jury of his peers. Job finds himself on the witness stand, responding to the accusations of his guilt, and attempting to sway the judge and jury of his innocence.

In his hopeless and impoverished state, Job pleads with God to put up the money for his bond.

“Lay down a pledge for me with you;
    who is there who will put up security for me?” – Job 17:3 ESV

In the legal system of that day, each litigant was required to post a bond that would help cover the expense of the trial. At the end of the trial, the losing party would forfeit whatever collateral they had pledged. But Job was destitute and had lost all his worldly possessions, so he had no cash or collateral on hand. Job’s unusual request for a pledge from “the judge” was his way of letting God know that he felt like he was on trial. There was no literal courtroom with a jury and a judge sitting on a dais. But from Job’s perspective, his entire life had turned into a courtroom drama with himself as the defendant and God acting as his judge.

What complicated matters for Job was that the judge was also the cause of all his troubles. Since Job believed in the sovereignty of God, he could reach no other conclusion than that the Almighty was the moving force behind all that had happened in his life. At no time does Job blame Satan or anyone else for his problems. He inherently knows that God is the ruler over all the universe and nothing happens without His consent or causation.

So, in this “trial” of his life, Job finds himself in a rather awkward position, having to defend himself against his “assailant” who also serves as his judge. And, in a way, Job must also rely on God to act as his defense attorney because he has no one else to whom he can turn or trust. This rather unconventional trial causes Job to make statements that seem contradictory and confusing.

While he expresses anger with the unwarranted attacks of his friends, Job holds God responsible.

“You have closed their minds to understanding,
    but do not let them triumph.
They betray their friends for their own advantage…” – Job 17:5 NLT

Yet, he wants the judge to punish his friends for their actions.

“… so let their children faint with hunger. – Job 17:5 b NLT

Job couldn’t help but hold God accountable. After all, he believed His all-powerful God to be in control of all things at all times. So, he reasoned that his difficulties could have no explanation other than God. And his undeserved and inexplicable troubles were having a negative impact on those around him.

“God has made a mockery of me among the people;
    they spit in my face.
My eyes are swollen with weeping,
    and I am but a shadow of my former self.
The virtuous are horrified when they see me.
    The innocent rise up against the ungodly. – Job 17:6-8 NLT

Those who once looked up to Job as an icon of integrity and virtue now cross to the other side of the street when they see him. They avoid him like the plague. Those who once revered Job for his righteousness are now horrified by his apparent wickedness and join the mob that assails him as ungodly. He has become a social pariah and an outcast in his own community. He has no family, home, or friends. He is alone and desperate for someone to come to his aid and defense, so he calls on his God.

My days are over.
    My hopes have disappeared.
    My heart’s desires are broken. – Job 17:11 NLT

These are the cries of a broken man. He is not using hyperbole or overexaggerated rhetoric to intensify his suffering. He is not shedding crocodile tears or putting on a performance to gain the sympathy of the judge and jury. Job is at the end of his emotional tether, crying out for someone to step in and deliver him from the never-ending nightmare that has become his life.

What frustrates Job is how his friends use their words to twist reality. Their clever speeches paint a false picture of what is really going on.

“These men say that night is day;
    they claim that the darkness is light. – Job 17:12 NLT

Their statements contradict the truth. In a sense, Job accuses them of lying in order to state their case against him. Their words, cleverly spoken, are nothing but fabrications and half-truths that portray Job as a wicked man who fully deserves all that is happening. But Job knows that they are wrong. Yet, the only hope he has left is death. The only way he sees this nightmare ending is with the termination of his life.

“If I hope for Sheol as my house,
    if I make my bed in darkness,
if I say to the pit, ‘You are my father,’
    and to the worm, ‘My mother,’ or ‘My sister,’
where then is my hope? – Job 17:13-15 ESV

But in his heart, he knows that death will not bring deliverance. The loss of his life will not restore his reputation, bring back his dead children, or renew the joy he once had. With no clear idea of what lay beyond the grave, Job could not imagine death as the preferred solution to his problem. That is what led him to take his case to God.

He is pleading with God to come up with another plan. He asks the judge to pronounce a verdict that will vindicate him and restore him – in this life. Job doesn’t want to die, but if the future holds more suffering, he sees it as his only way out. However, he believed that God had the power and authority to step in and change the course of his life. If God had caused it all, He could also bring it to an end.

But Job had a one-dimensional view of God. He had somehow reached the conclusion that a good God gives nothing but good gifts to his good children. If Job was convinced of his own righteousness, then he believed himself to be deserving of God’s goodness. In a sense, he had turned God into a cosmic slot machine, a kind of divine genie in the sky who doles out good things to His good children. But this seems to contradict what Job stated back in chapter two.

Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”  Job 2:10 ESV

Yet, time has a way of altering our perspective. The longer Job had to dwell on and in his misery, the more uncertain he became about his earlier statement. He had been willing to accept the evil as long as it was immediately followed up by a proportionate amount of good. But when more trouble came his way and the floodgates of God’s goodness didn’t open up as expected, Job began to have second thoughts. He began to question the goodness of God. Things hadn’t turned out as he anticipated and his one-dimensional view of God was leaving him conflicted and confused. Where were his rewards? When was God going to show up and pour out all His blessings again? But Job had much to learn about God and his own unworthiness.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Suffering Need God, Not Guilt

1 Then Zophar the Naamathite answered and said:

“Should a multitude of words go unanswered,
    and a man full of talk be judged right?
Should your babble silence men,
    and when you mock, shall no one shame you?
For you say, ‘My doctrine is pure,
    and I am clean in God’s eyes.’
But oh, that God would speak
    and open his lips to you,
and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom!
    For he is manifold in understanding.
Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.

“Can you find out the deep things of God?
    Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?
It is higher than heaven—what can you do?
    Deeper than Sheol—what can you know?
Its measure is longer than the earth
    and broader than the sea.
10 If he passes through and imprisons
    and summons the court, who can turn him back?
11 For he knows worthless men;
    when he sees iniquity, will he not consider it?
12 But a stupid man will get understanding
    when a wild donkey’s colt is born a man!

13 “If you prepare your heart,
    you will stretch out your hands toward him.
14 If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away,
    and let not injustice dwell in your tents.
15 Surely then you will lift up your face without blemish;
    you will be secure and will not fear.
16 You will forget your misery;
    you will remember it as waters that have passed away.
17 And your life will be brighter than the noonday;
    its darkness will be like the morning.
18 And you will feel secure, because there is hope;
    you will look around and take your rest in security.
19 You will lie down, and none will make you afraid;
    many will court your favor.
20 But the eyes of the wicked will fail;
    all way of escape will be lost to them,
    and their hope is to breathe their last.” – Job 11:1-22 ESV

After Job finished his gloomy response to Bildad’s less-than-encouraging speech, he had to hear from the third friend who had been waiting in the wings and eagerly biding his time until he could put in his two cents. And Zophar wasted no time in delivering a stinging indictment against Job, filled with carefully worded one-liners that he hoped would shake his friend out of his self-righteous self-denial and force him to confess his obvious guilt.

Zophar, like his friends before him, had taken a look at Job’s circumstances and concluded that Job had done something terribly wrong. He was being punished by God for his sins and all Job had to do was confess and change his behavior. According to Zophar, if Job follows his advice, God will forgive and restore him.

Sounds great, but there’s only one problem. Job is innocent. He has done nothing wrong to deserve all that has happened to him. He has done nothing of which to repent. He is confused, hurt, alone, and suffering from unimaginable grief. And all he gets from his friends is accusations of his guilt.

Zophar takes the rhetoric to a whole new level, accusing Job of being deceitful, evil, and witless.

“Surely he [God] recognizes deceitful men; and when he sees evil, does he not take note? But a witless man can no more become wise than a wild donkey’s colt can be born a man.” – Job 11:11-12 NIV

In Zophar’s mind, Job is nothing more than a dimwitted, stubborn sinner who refuses to admit his guilt. In Zophar’s world, all pain and suffering were tied to sin. Righteous men don’t suffer. Good men don’t lose all their worldly wealth. Sinless men don’t have all their kids killed in a single freak accident. Therefore, Job was NOT a righteous man. Case closed.

But once again, Zophar didn’t have all the facts. He was operating off of conjecture and faulty conclusions. The one thing he should have known or at least assumed is that God is in control. But the issue was not whether God had caused what had happened to Job; it was that God was aware and that He cared. Zophar would have been much more helpful if he had simply reminded Job that only God knew the real reason behind his suffering. He should have counseled Job to take his situation to God because only He could provide answers and assistance. The simple truth is that if Job had sinned, God would reveal it to him. If Job was innocent, God would ultimately disclose the reason behind his suffering. Bottom line? There was a purpose behind it all, and God was the key to discovering that purpose.

But instead, Zophar continued to berate and belittle his friend, accusing him of mocking God with his false claims of innocence. Zophar was completely convinced that Job was an unabashed liar who refused to acknowledge his obvious guilt. And he is so self-assured in his assessment that he has the audacity to tell Job, “Listen! God is doubtless punishing you far less than you deserve!” (Job 11:6 NLT). His analysis of the situation has produced an iron-clad guilty verdict.

Zophar had reached what to him was a logical conclusion. God was all-wise and could see into the lives of all men. There was nothing hidden from His sight. While Job’s life had given the outward appearance of righteousness, it must have contained hidden secrets of which only God was aware. Now God was exposing Job’s sins by inflicting judgment.

If God comes and puts a person in prison
    or calls the court to order, who can stop him?
11 For he knows those who are false,
    and he takes note of all their sins. – Job 11:10-11 NLT

Convinced that his conclusion was the right one, all Zophar could recommend was repentance.

“If only you would prepare your heart
    and lift up your hands to him in prayer!
Get rid of your sins,
    and leave all iniquity behind you.” – Job 11:13 NLT

But Zophar couldn’t see into Job’s heart. He had no way of knowing what Job had done or said that might have led to his fall from grace. In fact, he had no proof whatsoever that Job had done anything worthy of God’s judgment. Yet, on nothing more than flimsy facts and faulty conclusions, he labeled his friend as a babbler and an empty-headed person. When Job needed love, Zophar delivered demeaning labels and callous calls to repent or suffer further judgment from the hand of God.

But despite all his pain, Job knew that God was there. He called out to Him. He appealed to Him. He acknowledged that God had created him (Job 10:8-9). But Job was confused. He clung to his innocence but was having a hard time understanding why he was having to endure all this pain. He was going through a terrible time of questioning and doubt. He needed comfort and all he got was caustic counseling from those who claimed to be his friends. He needed empathy but all he got was impatient demands that he confess his hidden sins.

Job’s suffering was so intense that he longed for death. At this point in his life, he needed friends who would point him to the mercy, grace, and sovereign power of God. He needed guides to God, not the grand inquisition. He needed to be reminded that God loves him, not loathes him. The only remedy for anyone’s pain and heartache is God. We need to point them to Him.

When darkness falls
Temptations call
And all around me seems undone
You hear my pleas
Supply my needs
And tell me of Your wondrous love

You are the joy in my morning
You’re my song of praise
Just like the new day dawning
Flooding my world with grace

Though trials come
And every one
Can take me further from Your truth
You calm my fears
Dry all my tears
And draw me closer, Lord, to You

In You there’s no shadow of turning
Constant in all Your ways
You’re growing my faith
And I’m learning to lean
On You all of my days

© 2008 Sovereign Grace Ministries

Reading the words of Zophar reminds me that I need to be a friend who points others to God, instead of always trying to point out their faults or their sins. He alone knows their hearts, and only He can diagnose their condition and heal their hurts. I am simply a guide who can point them to God as they wander in the darkness of their circumstance.

The other lesson to be learned from this passage is to take my pain and suffering to God. In the midst of the pain that enters my own life, I should always turn to Him first. And when I find that difficult to do, I pray that God will bring friends into my life who will remind me of His love, grace, and mercy.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

With Friends Like These…

1 “Has not man a hard service on earth,
    and are not his days like the days of a hired hand?
Like a slave who longs for the shadow,
    and like a hired hand who looks for his wages,
so I am allotted months of emptiness,
    and nights of misery are apportioned to me.
When I lie down I say, ‘When shall I arise?’
    But the night is long,
    and I am full of tossing till the dawn.
My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt;
    my skin hardens, then breaks out afresh.
My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle
    and come to their end without hope.

“Remember that my life is a breath;
    my eye will never again see good.
The eye of him who sees me will behold me no more;
    while your eyes are on me, I shall be gone.
As the cloud fades and vanishes,
    so he who goes down to Sheol does not come up;
10 he returns no more to his house,
    nor does his place know him anymore.

11 “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth;
    I will speak in the anguish of my spirit;
    I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
12 Am I the sea, or a sea monster,
    that you set a guard over me?
13 When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me,
    my couch will ease my complaint,’
14 then you scare me with dreams
    and terrify me with visions,
15 so that I would choose strangling
    and death rather than my bones.
16 I loathe my life; I would not live forever.
    Leave me alone, for my days are a breath.
17 What is man, that you make so much of him,
    and that you set your heart on him,
18 visit him every morning
    and test him every moment?
19 How long will you not look away from me,
    nor leave me alone till I swallow my spit?
20 If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of mankind?
    Why have you made me your mark?
    Why have I become a burden to you?
21 Why do you not pardon my transgression
    and take away my iniquity?
For now I shall lie in the earth;
    you will seek me, but I shall not be.” – Job 7:1-21 ESV

Job pulls out all the stops, unleashing a torrent of pain-induced questions mixed with a heavy dose of invectives against his so-called friend, Eliphaz. He has had enough of listening to pious-sounding advice that only intensifies his misery while raising more questions than answers.

Job’s statements recorded in this section contain direct attacks on Eliphaz as well as more veiled questions aimed at God. It is partly a self-defense and a soliloquy. Job seems to be letting his inner thoughts pour out with no attempt to manage their intensity or worry about the impact they may have on the hearer. He can no longer constrain his growing frustration and allows a barrage of pent-up anger to flow from his lips unabated.

But even considering his circumstances, Job’s words are shocking to the ears. As followers of God, we can’t help but question the propriety of his unfiltered and ungodly-sounding speech. Can he say the things he is saying? Is it okay for someone to talk like that, especially to God? It all sounds so unfaithful. The degree of his pessimism appears to be off the charts. Where’s his faith? Just listen to his words:

“I hate this life! Who needs any more of this? Let me alone! There’s nothing to my life – it’s nothing but smoke.” – Job 7:16 MSG

A believer isn’t supposed to think like this, let alone talk like this, is he? Just listen to the way he addresses God.

“Let up on me, will you? Can’t you even let me spit in peace?” – Job 7:19 MSG

How can he get away with that? Shouldn’t we say something? Shouldn’t I quote a verse to him? Doesn’t he need a good dose of Romans 8:28?

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Or how about 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18? That’s a good one. “Always be joyful. Keep on praying. No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” This guy just needs someone to read him the proverbial riot act and tell him to shut up and shape up.

But wait a minute. Before we blow into another person’s despair with our gems of wisdom and some ill-placed and taken-out-of-context Scriptures, let’s try to understand where they’re coming from. Let’s enter into their situation and feel their pain. Let’s share their grief. Let’s get into their shoes and try to experience what they are going through.

Too often, we try to alleviate someone else’s misery because we want it to go away for our sake, not theirs. We want the other person’s pain to go away because it causes us to doubt. It tests our faith. Listen to what Job said about his friends: “They arrive so confident – but what a disappointment! They get there, and their faces fall! And you, my so-called friends, are no better – there’s nothing to you! One look at a hard scene and you shrink in fear” (Job 6:20-21 MSG).

You see, pain is – well, painful. It is hard to watch someone suffer and even more difficult to walk into someone else’s heartache and simply be there for them. We want to fix it. We want to pray them out of their situation. We want to counsel them back into wholeness. And while there’s nothing wrong with prayer or biblically-based counsel, God may simply want us to go through this moment with them to provide love and concern. He may not want us to fix them; He may just want us to care about them.

There is something uncomfortable about Job’s words in this chapter. He is being brutally honest and it assaults our Christian sensibilities. He is saying things that “good” Christians should not say. He is being TOO honest, and it makes us squirm. But in the midst of his pain, Job has lost all his pious inhibitions. He is beyond worrying about what others think about him because he is fighting for his life. Loss has a way of peeling away the layers of pretense and getting us down to the bare reality of life. It causes us to question, and those questions make others uncomfortable.

But why does the pain and suffering of others make us uncomfortable? It’s usually because we don’t have the answers. Of course, those of us who have grown up in the church have the standard Sunday School answers. We know a handful of verses we can apply to a given situation but most of us don’t speak from experience. We have been programmed with the proper responses but our words don’t always reflect a personal point of reference.

Job’s friends had not walked in his sandals. They had never been through what he was experiencing, so they couldn’t relate and it made them uncomfortable. But if any one of them had suffered the kind of losses Job had, they would probably have said less and hugged more. They would have allowed their friend to vent, understanding that it was part of the healing process.

Is there a time to speak up? Certainly. But sometimes it is enough just to show up; to give those who are going through tragedy a chance to express their grief, vent their anger, and ask their questions. God can handle it, so why can’t we? I think it’s because, in the back of our minds, we don’t like to witness the suffering of others because it raises doubts in our own minds. Where is God? Why does He allow good people to go through difficulties? If it can happen to them, what guarantee do I have that the same thing won’t happen to me?

Suffering causes us to doubt. It tests our own belief system. But that’s okay. Part of the reason God placed us within the body of Christ is that we might go through difficulty together. I can learn from the heartache and hurt of others. I can grow from their difficulty – alongside them. Job’s friends could have learned a lot – if they would have only listened.

Job made it clear. He was in pain and he was no longer willing to keep quiet.

“I cannot keep from speaking.
    I must express my anguish.
    My bitter soul must complain. – Job 7:11 NLT

And while Job’s skin was covered with sores, his mind was filled with questions. He couldn’t understand what was happening to him. He desperately needed to know he was still loved because he felt completely abandoned and alone. And in a desperate attempt to seek solace and comfort from God, he cried out, “Why not just forgive my sin and take away my guilt? For soon I will lie down in the dust and die. When you look for me, I will be gone” (Job 7:21 NLT).

It was at that moment that Job needed his friends to show up and wrap their arms around him. He needed to know he was not alone. He needed to be reminded that his God still loved him. But as we will see, Job’s friends failed to hear what he had to say. Rather than listen and love, they will take turns berating their beaten-down friend and attempting to set themselves up as his spiritual superiors and moral betters. With friends like these, who needs enemies?

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

When Saying Nothing Is Sound Advice

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.” – Job 5:17-27 ESV

Much of what Eliphaz has to say is true but he is approaching Job’s situation from a point of ignorance. He is speaking about matters that are outside his realm of understanding. And while there is a hint of truth in his words and his efforts appear to come from a good place, his well-intended rhetoric paints God in a poor light and portrays faithful service to God as a means to an end. In other words, if you do good things for God, He will reward you.

His message to Job is less a call to repentance from sins committed as it is a call for Job to change his ways. In essence, he is advising Job to replace his bad behavior with good behavior. According to Eliphaz, that little formula is the key to reversing Job’s fate and restoring his fortunes.

At first glance, Eliphaz’s advice seems biblical and sound. He recommends that Job readily accept what can only be explained as the discipline of the Lord. In saying this, Eliphaz has drawn the conclusion that Job is guilty of something and his suffering is nothing more than a sign of God’s loving discipline. And this statement seems to resonate with the words of the author of Hebrews.

…have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said,

“My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and don’t give up when he corrects you.
For the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” – Hebrews 12:5-6 NLT

This passage is an almost verbatim quote from the Old Testament book of Proverbs, and when you see it in its immediate context, it appears to have been written with Job in mind.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take.

Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.
    Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
Then you will have healing for your body
    and strength for your bones.

Honor the Lord with your wealth
    and with the best part of everything you produce.
Then he will fill your barns with grain,
    and your vats will overflow with good wine.

My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline,
    and don’t be upset when he corrects you.
For the Lord corrects those he loves,
    just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. – Proverbs 3:5-12 NLT

But having read the opening chapters of the book of Job, we know that Job is not being punished by God. His suffering has come at the hands of Satan. Yes, God is the one who gave the enemy permission to test Job’s integrity and loyalty, but none of the attacks were a form of discipline or judgment.

“Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” – Job 1:12 ESV

And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.” – Job 2:6 ESV

It is true that God lovingly disciplines His children but we cannot automatically assume that all suffering in this life is evidence of this truth. We live in a fallen world in which evil exists and sinful people commit heinous crimes against one another. Disease and sickness are a constant threat. Natural disasters are commonplace. And, as the Scriptures remind us, there is an ongoing spiritual taking place all around us, but invisible to our human eyes. The apostle Paul warns us about this in his letter to the church in Ephesus.

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:11-12 ESV

And this is exactly the kind of counsel Eliphaz should have given Job. Rather than automatically assume that Job was guilty of sin and undergoing the discipline of God, Eliphaz should have encouraged his beleaguered friend to recognize the reality of spiritual warfare. Perhaps Eliphaz lacked a well-developed doctrine of the supernatural and was not well-versed in the ways of Satan. It seems apparent that his concept of God was not fully developed because he has a rather one-dimensional view of the Almighty. Eliphaz’s theology seems to portray God as either a rewarder or a punisher. If men do well, they get blessed by God. If they do poorly, they experience His judgment.

Once again, Eliphaz seems to be partially right. The author of Hebrews seems to corroborate Eliphaz’s view of God.

…without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. – Hebrews 11:6 ESV

But one must take this verse in its context, where the author is unpacking the definition of faith and illustrating it through the lives of the Old Testament saints. Nowhere in the chapter does the author describe God’s rewards as physical health or financial windfalls. In fact, he describes these people as having exhibited faith, but “all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised” (Hebrews 11:39 ESV). In other words, their faith and faithfulness did not produce health, wealth, or prosperity. In fact, their lot in life was anything but easy or rewarding.

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. – Hebrews 11:35-38 ESV

Eliphaz’s entire premise is built on a faulty foundation. His reasoning is simplistic and based solely on a cause-and-effect model. Job had done something bad, therefore he was being punished by God. If Job would start doing good, he would be blessed by God.

To Eliphaz, the circumstances surrounding Job’s life were clear. He had sinned and was reaping the just rewards of his folly. But if Job would simply alter his behavior, the nightmare would be over and God would put a hedge of protection around him.

“He will save you from death in time of famine,
    from the power of the sword in time of war.
You will be safe from slander
    and have no fear when destruction comes.
You will laugh at destruction and famine;
    wild animals will not terrify you. – Job 5:20-22 NLT

But again, this is a simplistic view of God and a less-than-helpful way to understand the nature of life in a fallen world. God does not promise His children a trouble-free existence. He does not exist to make our earthly life a walk in the park and even our best behavior cannot immunize us from suffering and pain.

Not long before His own death, Jesus warned His disciples:

“But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” – John 16:32-33 ESV

Not long after having been stoned and left for dead, Paul entered the cities of Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 ESV). It is likely that as Paul spoke these words, his body bore the visible signs of his stoning. He was like a walking illustration of his very words. The walk of faith is not easy and the children of God are not immune to suffering, sickness, persecution, or distress. It is as Jesus promised, a time marked by many trials and sorrows.

Eliphaz was promising Job a return to normalcy and a trouble-free life.

“You will know that your home is safe.
    When you survey your possessions, nothing will be missing.
You will have many children;
    your descendants will be as plentiful as grass!” – Job 5:24-25 NLT

Eliphaz believed that if Job changed his ways, God would restore everything back to the way it was. But this pollyanna outlook flies in the face of Job’s own words.

Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” – Job 2:10 ESV

Job was not blaming God for his circumstances; he was simply acknowledging God’s sovereignty over all things. He knew that God was in control and he was willing to rest on the goodness of God. That is why he could say, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21 ESV).

Eliphaz would have done well to speak less and listen more. He could have learned a lot from Job but he was too busy giving out unsolicited and highly unhelpful advice

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

When Good Friends Give Bad Advice

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.
The hungry eat his harvest,
    and he takes it even out of thorns,
    and the thirsty pant after his wealth.
For affliction does not come from the dust,
    nor does trouble sprout from the ground,
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,
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.– Job 5:1-16 ESV

Assumptions can be dangerous things, especially when it comes to spiritual matters. And while Eliphaz thought he was doing his beleaguered friend a service, his lengthy and unsolicited counseling session was based solely on his own opinion about Job’s plight. From his theological vantage point, it appeared as if Job had done something to anger God. There could be no other explanation. After all, Job had been blessed beyond belief, a sure sign of God’s favor. He had a large family and his adult children had done well with their lives. Job had also built a prosperous agricultural operation that made him “the richest person in that entire area” (Job 1:3 NLT). And then suddenly, as if out of nowhere, Job had lost it all, including his health.

Like a forensic investigator, Eliphaz examined the evidence and came to the conclusion that his friend had committed some highly egregious sin that resulted in God’s judgment. In his attempt to explain Job’s horrific downfall, Eliphaz concluded that there must have been some heinous transgression hidden in his past. Job’s sins had caught up with him.

Eliphaz is so convinced that his assumptions are correct that he challenges Job to call on the “holy ones” to come to his defense. In a casebook display of insensitivity, Eliphaz questions his friend’s innocence and callously claims that even the angels would fail to listen to his cries or come to his aid. They would refuse to act as witnesses on his behalf or plead his case to God.

In one of the most blatant displays of over-confident self-righteousness, Eliphaz boldly asserts that Job is a fool.

“Surely resentment destroys the fool,
    and jealousy kills the simple.
I have seen that fools may be successful for the moment,
    but then comes sudden disaster. – Job 5:2-3 NLT

Eliphaz has the audacity to claim that the fate of Job’s children was his own fault.

“Their children are abandoned far from help;
    they are crushed in court with no one to defend them.” – Job 5:4 NLT

Eliphaz’s assertions are far from subtle and anything but encouraging. He lobs his so-called truth bombs like hand grenades, showing no regard for Job’s feelings and demonstrating no awareness that his assumptions might be wrong. He had reached his conclusions and there was no turning back. But Eliphaz’s rush to judgment was both unwise and unwarranted. There were things he didn’t know. There were details about Job’s story of which he was ignorant and uninformed. Yet, he felt confident enough to declare his friend guilty and to label him a fool.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addressed the issue of murder as it relates to the Mosaic Law.

“You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’ But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell.” – Matthew 5:21-22 NET

He rightly declared that the Law prescribed judgment for the act of murder. But then He added an interesting addendum, declaring that anger itself was tantamount to committing murder. Hatred was the breeding ground from which murder sprang forth.

Then He took His interpretation of the Law one step further by stating that to insult someone was also an act worthy of judgment. Jesus uses the word “raca,” a term that was derived from the Aramaic word reqa. It was an insult that is best translated as “empty-headed” and was used to refer to someone’s stupidity or mental inferiority. It was a highly derogatory expression and Jesus warns that its use to devalue another human being was deserving of the severest punishment of the Law. And then He adds one more eye-opening insight into the true meaning behind the command, “You shall not kill.”

“…whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. – Matthew 5:22b ESV

According to Jesus, Eliphaz was walking on thin ice. He had taken it upon himself to act as Job’s judge and render a guilty verdict – all without input or approval from God.

Eliphaz’s arrogance is truly mind-boggling. He’s so confident in his assertions that he talks to his friend like he’s a child, reminding him that evil doesn’t just happen; it has a source.

“…evil does not spring from the soil,
    and trouble does not sprout from the earth.
People are born for trouble
    as readily as sparks fly up from a fire.” – Job 5:6-7 NLT

Eliphaz not only has an explanation for Job’s sorry state but he also has a solution.

“If I were you, I would go to God
    and present my case to him.
He does great things too marvelous to understand.
    He performs countless miracles. – Job 5:8-9 NLT

But this advice reeks of sarcasm. It is almost as if Eliphaz knows that Job is going to deny his guilt and declare his innocence. So, he challenges Job to present his case to Yahweh. What appears to be a sincere recommendation that Job turn to God for help is really a thinly veiled and sarcasm-laced statement of Job’s guilt. Eliphaz isn’t hiding his belief that Job has brought all of this on himself. He even warns Job that God ”frustrates the plans of schemers so the work of their hands will not succeed. He traps the wise in their own cleverness so their cunning schemes are thwarted” (Job 5:12-13 NLT).

Eliphaz told Job that he was more than welcome to take bring his case before God, but he would find Yahweh to be anything but accommodating or forgiving. In Eliphaz’s mind, Job was nothing more than a clever schemer who had fooled everyone but God with his convincing holier-than-thou lifestyle.

Eliphaz seems to have reached the conclusion that Job had somehow used his wealth and power to take advantage of the poor, so he warned his friend that God “rescues the poor from the cutting words of the strong, and rescues them from the clutches of the powerful” (Job 5:15 NLT). This was a bold and highly condemning assertion on Eliphaz’s part; one that was based solely on conjecture and had no basis in reality.

When reading the words of Eliphaz, it’s important to consider how they stand in stark contrast to God’s assessment of Job.

“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? – Job 2:3 ESV

Eliphaz had already assumed Job’s guilt, solely based on circumstantial evidence. But there was so much he didn’t know and couldn’t see. He was blind to the spiritual battle taking place behind the scenes. He was incapable of seeing into the inner recesses of Job’s heart but had been more than willing to declare his friend a fool and a scheming con man who had enriched himself on the backs of the poor and needy. But he was wrong. Yet, he was far from finished. Eliphaz was neither lacking in confidence nor words, and he had a lot more to say to his involuntary counselee.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Good Counsel, Well Received

13 The next day Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening. 14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” 15 And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God; 16 when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.” 17 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. 19 Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, 20 and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. 21 Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 22 And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23 If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.”

24 So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. 25 Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 26 And they judged the people at all times. Any hard case they brought to Moses, but any small matter they decided themselves. 27 Then Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went away to his own country. – Exodus 18:13-27 ESV

Like any father-in-law, Jethro wanted to see how his daughter’s husband performed “on the job.” So, the next morning, he followed Moses as he headed into the “office” – where Moses began a dawn-to-dusk session of judging the affairs and disputes of the people.

Moses took his seat to hear the people’s disputes against each other. They waited before him from morning till evening. – Exodus 18:13 NLT

This scene must have come as a shock to Jethro, because the last time he had seen Moses, his son-in-law had been herding sheep in Midian. Now, he was managing the affairs of what was essentially a small nation.  Every day, countless people made their way to Moses, where they lined up and waited for their turn to present their cases to the one and only judge qualified to settle their disputes.

Moses was a prophet who had been given the authority to speak on behalf of God Himself. It’s important to remember that at this time in their journey, the people of Israel had no written code of conduct or official compendium of laws to govern life and settle disputes. So, Moses was the only individual within the whole Israelite community who could adjudicate any disagreements and provide godly insights or a possible solution to the interpersonal conflicts taking place. Moses put his role this way:

“…the people come to me to get a ruling from God. When a dispute arises, they come to me, and I am the one who settles the case between the quarreling parties. I inform the people of God’s decrees and give them his instructions.” – Exodus 18:15-16 NLT

Moses wasn’t just dispensing sage wisdom and helpful advice; he was delivering personalized judgments from the throne of God in heaven. Part of what made the length of Moses’ days so long was the sheer number of cases that needed to be heard,  assessed, and litigated. And it must have taken time to hear the oral arguments of each party in the dispute. It could also be that Moses was required to take each matter to the Lord and then wait for a specific answer to be returned. This would have been a time-consuming and highly exhausting process.

So, when Jethro observed how Moses spent his days, he was more than a bit surprised. His initial thought was that this entire scenario was absurd. How could one man possibly hope to handle such a demanding volume of cases? He saw that Moses was headed for a mental or physical meltdown if something didn’t change, and quickly. So, like a good father-in-law, he pulled Moses aside and tried to set him straight.

“What are you really accomplishing here? Why are you trying to do all this alone while everyone stands around you from morning till evening?” – Exodus 18:14 NLT

None of this made any sense to Jethro. As a priest, he fully understood the concept of one man serving the needs of others, but this was lunacy. The volume of cases Moses was trying to handle on his own was beyond the scope of one man – even with God’s divine assistance. That led Jethro to deliver a no-holds-barred assessment of Moses’ leadership strategy, and it was anything but flattering.

“This is not good!” Moses’ father-in-law exclaimed. “You’re going to wear yourself out—and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself. – Exodus 18:17-18 NLT

In essence, Jethro told Moses, “You’re a train wreck waiting to happen. And it’s not a matter of if, but when.” From Jethro’s perspective, his overly-eager son-in-law was headed for an emotional, mental, or physical breakdown.  This led him to give Moses some unsolicited free advice; counsel was likely motivated more by his concern for his daughter and grandsons than for Moses himself. Jethro had just reunited Zipporah with her husband and he was not anxious to see her become a young widow because of Moses’ refusal to delegate responsibilities to qualified men.

So, he advised Moses to share the load – for his own good.

“You should continue to be the people’s representative before God, bringing their disputes to him. Teach them God’s decrees, and give them his instructions. Show them how to conduct their lives.” – Exodus 18:19-20 NLT

Jethro wasn’t trying to change Moses’ job description, but he simply suggested a reprioritization of his roles. It’s unlikely that every case Moses heard required God’s input. There were probably some that Moses could settle on his own through the use of common sense. So, Jethro suggested that Moses recruit qualified men who could hear and settle the simpler cases while forwarding the more complicated disputes to Moses.

“…select from all the people some capable, honest men who fear God and hate bribes. Appoint them as leaders over groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten. They should always be available to solve the people’s common disputes, but have them bring the major cases to you. – Exodus 18:21-22 NLT

Jethro was recommending the time-tested strategy of delegation. As the sole mediator between God and the Israelite community, Moses was too vital to spend his time trying to settle every petty dispute that came up among the people. He needed to focus on the bigger issues and allow others to lighten his load by filtering out the more run-of-the-mill problems that didn’t require divine intervention.

Jethro outlined a detailed conflict resolution strategy involving a tiered network of judges and counselors who serve on behalf of Moses. The whole idea was for Moses to “the leaders decide the smaller matters themselves” (Exodus 18:22 NLT). This wasn’t rocket science. Jethro was recommending a simple organizational restructuring plan that would spread the load and spare Moses from burnout. And Jethro assured Moses that Yahweh would give this new approach His Good Housekeeping  seal of approval

“If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.” – Exodus 18:23 ESV

Moses wisely heeded his father-in-law’s advice and implemented this new conflict resolution strategy, and according to the text, it all worked like a charm. The newly appointed leaders did their jobs and, as a result, Moses got a new lease on life. The valuable bandwidth he had lost was restored and, in the end, ikt proved to be a win-win situation for all involved.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.