Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Job 15:17-35 comments: Eliphaz continues to misrepresent God

17 ¶  I will shew thee, hear me; and that which I have seen I will declare; 18  Which wise men have told from their fathers, and have not hid it: 19  Unto whom alone the earth was given, and no stranger passed among them. 20  The wicked man travaileth with pain all his days, and the number of years is hidden to the oppressor. 21  A dreadful sound is in his ears: in prosperity the destroyer shall come upon him. 22  He believeth not that he shall return out of darkness, and he is waited for of the sword. 23  He wandereth abroad for bread, saying, Where is it? he knoweth that the day of darkness is ready at his hand. 24  Trouble and anguish shall make him afraid; they shall prevail against him, as a king ready to the battle. 25  For he stretcheth out his hand against God, and strengtheneth himself against the Almighty. 26  He runneth upon him, even on his neck, upon the thick bosses of his bucklers: 27  Because he covereth his face with his fatness, and maketh collops of fat on his flanks. 28  And he dwelleth in desolate cities, and in houses which no man inhabiteth, which are ready to become heaps. 29  He shall not be rich, neither shall his substance continue, neither shall he prolong the perfection thereof upon the earth. 30  He shall not depart out of darkness; the flame shall dry up his branches, and by the breath of his mouth shall he go away. 31  Let not him that is deceived trust in vanity: for vanity shall be his recompence. 32  It shall be accomplished before his time, and his branch shall not be green. 33  He shall shake off his unripe grape as the vine, and shall cast off his flower as the olive. 34  For the congregation of hypocrites shall be desolate, and fire shall consume the tabernacles of bribery. 35  They conceive mischief, and bring forth vanity, and their belly prepareth deceit.

In verses 17-19 Eliphaz sets the scene for the rest of his argument by stating, “I will shew thee,” and, “that which I have seen I will declare.” This is to lend credibility to the argument in that it represents his own personal experience. I thought it might be interesting to see how the gospel historian, Luke, presented his narrative.

Luke 1:1 ¶  Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, 2  Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; 3  It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, 4  That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.

Luke’s writing is based not on his eyewitness but on the reports he received from others who were eyewitnesses and heavily involved in the events he relates. When he begins writing his history, The Acts of the Apostles, or just, Acts, he is reporting many events which he personally witnessed. Of course, we believe that Luke was probably one of the few historians in the historiography of the Bible events whose writing was given by inspiration (2Timothy 3:16) which means that God gave him wisdom and understanding (Job 32:8; 2Peter 3:15). This is no way means that Luke took dictation from God but wrote according to his own style and learning as God uses men and women to accomplish His purposes most of the time.

Notice how the apostle John underscores the reliability of his testimony.

1John 1:1 ¶  That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; 2  (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) 3  That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4  And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.

Eliphaz also underscores the credibility of what he is about to say by insisting that the ancients knew it and passed it down from generation to generation so that these statements he is going to make are timeless truths and not his own invention.

Psalm 78:1 ¶  « Maschil of Asaph. » Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth. 2  I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: 3  Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. 4  We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. 5  For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: 6  That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: 7  That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: 8  And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.

Eliphaz argues in opposition to Job’s statement in 9:24 when Job says, “the earth is given into the hand of the wicked.” In Eliphaz’s view in verse 19 the earth is given to God’s people and them alone. The wicked are always punished and do not thrive for long. Eliphaz would represent the postmillennial thought of the 1900’s in America, the view that mankind or rather the part of it that was Christian would rule the earth. The evangelical ideal in 1900’s America was that the horrifying end of human history would came after a golden age of Christianity’s domination of the earth and before Christ’s return.(24) There were sermons about America being the great mountain in Daniel 2 that crushed the other kingdoms and filled the whole earth and how America was the Promised Land now. I have copies of sermons preached in Congress that state such things before the Civil War.

This manner of interpretation of the last times as expressed in the Bible was confronted as the La Belle Epoque and the Gilded Age when Christians and non-Christians truly believed that humanity was going to usher in a glorious reign of peace, prosperity, scientific discovery, and understanding ended with World War One. The thought almost died out by 1936.

But, essentially, American evangelicals believed that Christianity would be instrumental in ushering in this new age, that good people looked good, and that bad people were always punished by poverty, sickness, or whatever other miseries confronted human beings. As this superficial Christianity blossomed American Christians swapped the God of the Bible out and took the government of the people as His replacement so much so that President Woodrow Wilson’s mentor at Johns Hopkins University, Richard Ely, would say;

Now, it may rationally be maintained that, if there is anything divine on earth, it is the State, the product of the same God-given instincts which led to the establishment of the Church and of the Family. It was once held that kings ruled by right divine, and in any widely accepted belief, though it be afterwards discredited, there is generally found a kernel of truth. In this case it was the divine right of the state. (25)

By placing the kind of thinking that Eliphaz presents in historical context I am trying to bring this way of thinking closer to home. Christians in America often viewed disaster, poverty, and illness as a judgment and many still do. People are poor because they are inferior. People are sick because they are being punished for their sins. Disasters that happen must be a judgment on the local area or the nation at large. It is inconceivable to this type of Christian to accept that bad things happen because we live in fallen bodies in a fallen world that cannot hope for anything but Christ’s return to straighten it out.

In this type of thinking, everyone is a Christian, or should be, so you can justify screaming at people on the street for their wicked sins of which many don’t even understand as anything more than a vague feeling that their lives are just screwed up and they don’t know what to do. In postmillennial thinking everyone should be getting with the program and behaving properly as we move the world onto establishing “the kingdom” on earth.

As an example of this thinking the bloodbath that was the American Civil War, the six hundred thousand dead, the tens of thousands of former slaves that starved to death at the end of the war, the twelve years of misery for southern whites, and the ensuing century of continuing misery for African-Americans in America would just be glory-glory-glory-hallelujah-his-truth-is-marching-on as America walked bravely through the millennium.

The so-called “Protestant Ethic” that saw a connection between being close to God and being a worldly success, focused on individualism and helping oneself as the key to salvation and riches, included extreme patriotism that declared America as God’s favored nation. As one author put it, “In the end, it was less a search for redemption than a form of national self-congratulation.” (26)

Of course, this attitude led to disbelief in God and worship of the state in His place. As a president-to-be criticized liberals in his 2006 Call to Renewal speech for surrendering religious faith as the great instigator of social change and noted how the great liberals of the 19th century had all been believers, so history tells us that the expectation that government is God’s agent on earth for bringing in the kingdom results in atheism. Let that be a warning to conservatives who want government to enforce the dictates of the Bible on unbelievers rather than focusing on the Bible changing believers. The great danger of the modern liberal is that they think they are going to make a perfect world, at gunpoint, by theft, extortion, and governmental power. The great danger of the modern conservative is that they want a government composed of only Christians, as Mike Huckabee recently said, the resulting theocracy of which would be a nightmare for true worship as church/state combinations always are. Whose version of Christianity shall we submit to?

I am taking the following verse out of its context to ask a question.

Luke 18:8  I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?

Eliphaz and friends looked down their noses at Job like a late 19th century Boston Brahmin would have looked down on a beggar. “You can’t be where you are unless you’ve just been wicked. Just look at how God has blessed me. Wealth proves I’m Godly. Poverty and suffering prove you aren’t.”

Eliphaz continues his diatribe against suffering Job explaining how the wicked always get bashed about and can’t possibly win in this life. They are cut off in their prosperity because they are in opposition to God and they go wandering, begging for bread. There are some interesting statements in Eliphaz’s speech that could be linked to the destruction of the Beast in Revelation.

Compare verse 30 with Eliphaz’s statement in 4:9;

9  By the blast of God they perish, and by the breath of his nostrils are they consumed.

And Paul’s statement about the end times.

2Thessalonians 2:8  And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:

Also, “the congregation of the hypocrites,” and, “tabernacles of bribery,” are awesome images and clever accusations against Job.

In verse 35 we are reminded of warnings from Paul, first about false Christians;

Philippians 3:18  (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19  Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)

..and those who would deceive the naïve Christian;

Romans 16:18  For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.

Eliphaz continues to misrepresent God by taking truth and oversimplifying and misapplying it in willful, self-righteous ignorance like many modern Christians.

(24) James H. Moorhead, “The Erosion of Postmillennialism in American Religious Thought, 1865-1925,” Church History 53, no. 1 (March 1984), 61-62.

(25) Gary M. Pequet and Clifford M. Thies, “The Shaping of a Future President’s Economic Thought: Richard T. Ely and Woodrow Wilson at “The Hopkins,” The Independent Review: A Journal of Political Economy 15, no. 2 (Fall 2010): 262, 266.

(26) Alonzo L. Hamby, Liberalism and Its Challengers: From F.D.R. to Bush (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 120.


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