This is the second sermon on the book of Job. Last Sunday we covered the first eight chapters and today we will go through the 18th chapter. I invite all of you to join us in our study. So let’s do a quick review. Before we put on our spiritual glasses to find meaning for ourselves, let’s f8irst put on our literary glasses, like we did in high school when we studied a literary work.
We from the opening words of Chapter 1, to the symbolism in numbers of children and livestock, to the scene changes back and forth from earth to heaven, to the banter between friends in poetry form, to the parallelism that Job was written as fiction. The book of Job could be written about many people we know who have suffered unjustly. The author calls us to not get tied up in the details, but to look for deeper meaning.
The story of Job centers around the fact that God pointed to Job as a perfect person to the one called “Satan” in most of our Bibles. I call this character “the Accuser” so that we do not get this character confused with Satan in the New Testament as they are not the same.
The Accuser said to God, “well of course Job is faithful, his life is perfect – make him suffer and he will curse you.” God gave permission saying just leave Job alone. The Accuser killed all of Job’s children, livestock and servants, but Job remained faithful and worshipped God. The same conversation happened again in Chapter 2 and the Accuser said, “well of course Job is still faithful, he has his health.” So God gave permission for the Accuser to attack Job as long as he preserved his life. So Job becomes covered with sores from head to food, the Accuser exits the story leaving Job in agony.
Job’s three friends come to console and comfort Job. They weep and cry out and they sit with their friend for seven days and nights in total silence. Job is the first to speak – crying out to his friends and to God his misery wishing he had never been born. Eliphaz asked to speak and asked the tough question, “Can mortals be righteous before God?” This reflects the ancient understanding that God is like a King or great Judge rewarding good behavior and punishing bad behavior. Eliphaz encouraged Job to accept his punishment because as a human, he must have sinned. Job and his friends speak back and forth and Job quickly feels attacked by his friends.
So let’s look together starting at the 9th chapter of the job of Job. —Job begins by acknowledging that of course he is human and then turned the argument back on his friends saying, “how can a mortal be just before God?” Job is asking, “What is the point of being in relationship with God, if humans have no chance of being righteous?” Job claims his innocence in Verse 15 and then says how he would like to speak to God without fear because he says, “I know I am not what I am thought to be.”
In Chapter 10, Job does speak to God and says, “I will say to God, Do not condemn me; let me know why you contend against me. Although you know that I am not guilty, and there is no one to deliver out of your hand? Your hands fashioned and made me; and now you turn and destroy me.”
Zophar responds in chapter 11 and tries to convince Job that God’s hidden wisdom provides the underlying order that could explain the cause of Job’s suffering. In verse 5 Zophar says, “But O that God would speak, and open his lips to you, and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom! For wisdom is many-sided. Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.”
Job speaks the words of wisdom that have been uttered in many forms for all generations in Chapter 12. “Don’t judge a person unless you walk two moons in his moccasins.” Or “Don’t judge a person unless you have walked a mile in her shoes.” Or in the words of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” —No one can possibly understand Job’s situation, Job’s feelings, Job’s heart unless they have climbed into his skin – covered in sores and felt his pain. No one has lived his life, has suffered his sufferings.
—–Job then turns to nature acknowledging that God is in control of this situation and no one else, not Job and not his friends:
“7 ‘But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; 8 ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. 9 Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? 10 In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being. 13 ‘With God are wisdom and strength; he has counsel and understanding. 16 With him are strength and wisdom; the deceived and the deceiver are his.
Job continues in chapter 13 reminding his friends that he is not inferior to them. They do not have information or knowledge that he himself does not have. Only God should answer, only God can answer. Job then asks God to tell of his sin – how many times and what was the sin? He questioned God, “Why do you hide your face, and count me as your enemy?”
Chapter 14 shows Job’s emotional rollercoaster. You can imagine his anguish as he sits in his ash heap and is deep in his own thoughts. It beings in despair and then in verse 7 turns to hope and then back to despair, hope, despair, hope and then ends in despair in the last verses. But we do see a crack in Job’s hopelessness, it may only be a crack, but we all know that even a seed will sprout with the light coming in through the crevice of a rock. Joe is tired, he knows he has not caused this situation and so places all blame in God’s hands, knowing that God also provides the only real hope for his life. Job says, “remember me.” The criminal on the cross next to Jesus said, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Job said to God, “remember me,” “remember me.”
But as frustrated and emphatic as Job is, his friends do not listen and do not let up. Eliphaz in chapter 15 and Bildad in chapter 18 continued to hammer the same argument they have espoused the whole book. If you sin, God will punish you. In chapter 15 Eliphaz said:
8 Have you listened in the council of God? And do you limit wisdom to yourself? 20 The wicked writhe in pain all their days, through all the years that are laid up for the ruthless. 25 Because they stretched out their hands against God, and bid defiance to the Almighty.
I love how Job responds in chapter 16:
3 Have windy words no limit? Or what provokes you that you keep on talking? 4 I also could talk as you do, if you were in my place; I could join words together against you, and shake my head at you. 15 I have sewed sackcloth upon my skin, and have laid my strength in the dust. 16 My face is red with weeping, and deep darkness is on my eyelids, 17 though there is no violence in my hands, and my prayer is pure. 19 Even now, in fact, my witness is in heaven, and he that vouches for me is on high. 22 For when a few years have come, I shall go the way from which I shall not return.—
Psalm 22 says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Christ repeated those words as he hung on the cross. Parts of Chapter 14 are listed to be read and studied and preached on Holy Saturday, the day between Jesus’ death and his resurrection. Job’s feelings are the Disciples’ feelings. Job feels that death has already arrived – he is living in death. The Disciples are right there with him. He laments, he yells, he cries, he reasons, he lets a crack of hope in and then he does it all again. Job gives full voice to the pain and frustration of humanity and he invites the Disciples and all of us to join him on his ash heap.
Job oscillates back and forth between hope and despair. I am sure the Disciples were on an emotional roller coaster on that first Holy Saturday. I know many of us have been on that dreaded ride as well.
While the Disciples did have an understanding of heaven and afterlife, Job did not. In the time of Job, there was no belief in an afterlife – when you died, that was it – “from dust you came and to dust you shall return.” The best you can hope for would be to nourish the soil and the plants that grow there.
But Job gives us something special here. Job looks to nature for wisdom about the character of God and to answer life’s questions. Job is meditating on the natural world, as he sits on his ash heap, seeking answers to his suffering. “Ask the animals and they will teach you, in God’s hand is the life of every living thing.” God is in control. God is the creator whose breath-spirit hovered over the waters of chaos at the beginning of creation. God’s breath went into the first human being made from the soil of the ground. God creates, God shapes and molds and gives life and God takes away life and breath and security and health.
Where do humans fall in the circle of life, Job wondered. Is this it for me? Will the rest of my days be spent in physical and emotional agony sitting on an ash heap? Chapter 14 says:
“For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its root grows old in the earth, and its stump dies in the ground, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth branches like a young plant.
But mortals die, and are laid low; humans expire, and where are they? . . . mortals lie down and do not rise again; until the heavens are no more, they will not awake or be roused out of their sleep. O that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath is past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me! If mortals die, Will they live again?
“Can we be like trees?” Job wonders. Can we have life after our death? Observations from nature give important insight into the character of God, nature is a source of wisdom about God.
In the second century after Christ, Ireneaus said, “The initial step for a soul to come to knowledge of God is contemplation of nature.” Job was many hundred years ahead of Ireneaus as he sat on this ash heap, contemplating trees and wondering about the possibility of an afterlife. The mystery that is God can be found all over nature. Ask animals and the birds, ask the plants and the fish – look at the trees and know that God is powerful and great and mysterious. Look to nature and have hope – have hope.
Joe, like all of us who have suffered greatly, learned the painful yet necessary lesson that he is not the center of the world. This is a tough lesion for anyone but especially us Americans. From the moment we wake up in the morning, we are viewing the day and our environment as to how it affects us. It is too early, I did not sleep well, the food is too hot, the air is too cold, I don’t want to, I don’t like that, that does not fit into my schedule. . . We also feel that if we do enough research, if we work hard enough, if we purchase the right product or get the right prescription all will be right in our world. When things go well, when we feel in control, we give thanks to God.
But when the inevitable happens, we experience suffering that we could not have prevented and we cannot stop. It is in those moments that we can learn to put God in the center of our lives. It is in those moments that we learn to move out of the way. Indeed, at those times, we are not able to do anything else. So we join Job on the ash heap and move out of the c enter of our own world. We join Job on the ash heap and contemplate the mystery that is God. We join Job on the ash heap and whisper, “Oh God, remember me – remember me.”