Monday, February 2, 2015

Job’s friends as absurd self-contradictors

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I recently went back to the Book of Job and was struck by how the Lord chastised Job’s friends at the end:

7 ¶And it was so, that after the Lord had spoken these words unto Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath.
8 Therefore take unto you now seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you: for him will I accept: lest I deal with you after your folly, in that ye have not spoken of me the thing which is right, like my servant Job. (Job 42:7-8)

The Lord doesn’t just say that they’ve spoken wrong things against the Lord, but that if He were to deal with them according to their folly (which has to be according to what they said of Him) it would be a major calamity to them that they must avert with contrition and sacrifice, with Job to intercede for them in prayer.

So I went back through Job to see if I could discover what wrong things his friends had said about God.  A lot of it sounds good, but I started to catch hints of contradictions, things that I wouldn’t have caught without knowledge of the restored gospel and wouldn’t have caught without looking very carefully.

(A big help to me was a summary of the dialogue posted on executableoutlines.com/job/job_sg.pdf. )

For example, try out this from Elihu:

13 Why dost thou strive against him? for he giveth not account of any of his matters.
14 For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not.
15 In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed;
16 Then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction,
17 That he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man. (Job 33:13-17)

Elihu asserts first that God doesn’t tell man what He is doing, but very soon after, Elihu says God speaks once, even twice, and man doesn’t get it.  Either say God doesn’t speak, or God does speak, but you can’t say both, otherwise you contradict yourself.

But pass on that, and you run into another contradiction.  God speaks multiple times, but man doesn’t perceive it, says Elihu. But then later, Elihu says God opens the ears of men to withdraw them from their purpose (of from the course they choose to a better one), but in order for men to change course, that implies men can listen and understand God’s words and can change.  Elihu, either man can perceive God talking to them, or they can’t and God can have no influence on any humans anywhere.  But you can’t say both, otherwise you contradict yourself.  There are no hedging words in this discussion.  They speak generally and expect to set down general rules.  But their rules contradict.

What I’ve pointed out above is just a small sample of the contradictory claptrap that Job’s friends say to him, especially Elihu.

Let’s look at another contradiction – Job 35:24-27.

24 Remember that thou magnify his work, which men behold.
25 Every man may see it; man may behold it afar off.
26 Behold, God is great, and we know him not, neither can the number of his years be searched out.
27 For he maketh small the drops of water: they pour down rain according to the vapour thereof: (Job 36:24-27)

In this section, Elihu says first that man can behold and know the work of God, that every man can see it even from far away because it is supposedly so obvious.  Then, in the very next breath, he says God is great, that He can’t be known, nor can His years be searched out.  Look, either God can be known, or He can’t, but you can’t say both.  And if you say God is great, then that means you know something about Him, which means He can be known, so you can’t say He’s a mystery!  Even saying He can’t be known means you know something about Him.

The truth is, God can be known, but only by revelation.  He must reveal Himself, and we must search and pray and obey to show we want to know Him.  Even learning about Him through the marvels of the natural world requires revelation.

Even funnier, in the verses after this, Elihu says, “Can any understand the spreading of the clouds, or the noise of his tabernacle?” (Job 36:29), which sounds like a rhetorical question conveying no one can know that stuff  Except he then proceeds to give a big discourse of all he has observed and known about how the weather words, clouds, thunder, rain, whirlwinds, and all.

Let’s look at another of Job’s friends to see how they go off the rails.  Here’s Eliphaz:

3 Is it any pleasure to the Almighty, that thou art righteous? or is it gain to him, that thou makest thy ways perfect?
4 Will he reprove thee for fear of thee? will he enter with thee into judgment?
5 Is not thy wickedness great? and thine iniquities infinite? (Job 22:3-5)

Eliphaz’s series of questions sounds like they are meant to exalt God outside the realms of human concerns, but in his questions he actually goes so far as to give voice to the same thoughts Satan uses to try to make us think we are of no significance to God.  Restored doctrine and scripture must be used to detect it.

“Is it any pleasure to the Almighty, that thou art righteous?” (v3) – Actually, God’s work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.  And the worth of a soul is great in the sight of God.

“or is it gain to him, that thou makest thy ways perfect?” (v3) – Maybe we are all unprofitable servants, but all heaven rejoices when one sinner repents, and repentance is the only way we can make our ways perfect.

“Will he reprove thee for fear of thee?” (v4) – Even the pre-mortal Christ as Jehovah acknowledged that Israel wearied Him with their sins and made him to bow under their iniquities.  We also know that He wished the cup to pass from Him and not drink it, and he shrunk from it, but partook anyway.  Yes, God will reprove man, and yes, every sin we commit causes Christ pain.

“will he enter with thee into judgment?” (v4) – This should be a no-brainer.  Of course, God will bring us to judgment!  Our whole life is a preparation for that.

“Is not thy wickedness great? and thine iniquities infinite?” (v5) – This is clearly hyperbole.  Based on our limited time on earth, our sins can’t be infinite.  Further, our repentance and the atonement of Christ takes the wickedness we have away.

Clearly Eliphaz hoped to make Job question himself and whether he was really as blameless as he claimed.  He thought there had to be something Job had done to warrant all of his suffering and he only needed to remember what it was and repent and he’d be fine.  The problem was, Job wasn’t the kind of person to let sins go neglected.  If he sinned, he repented immediately.  So while he wasn’t perfect, he was quick to purify himself.

Let’s look at what Zophar says:

And that he would shew thee the secrets of wisdom, that they are double to that which is! Know therefore that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth. (Job 11:6)

If Job were wicked and never repented, this would be a denial of the full justice of God.  Justice demands the full price for sin be paid.

How about for a repentant person, like Job?  Then the demands of justice fall on Christ instead through Job’s faith.  And Job's sacrifice and repentance and obedience would be sufficient with his faith for Christ’s demands of him.  But… Job's suffering continues, so this statement of Zophar’s doesn’t help at all.

Here’s something else Eliphaz says:

Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? or where were the righteous cut off? (Job 4:7)

Let’s talk about martyrs.  The nature of martyrs is that they witness to the truth to a wicked generation and are killed for their testimony.  And who hasn’t heard the saying “Only the good die young”?  Accidents happen both to good and bad people.

How about another one.

17 Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker?
18 Behold, he put no trust in his servants; and his angels he charged with folly: (Job 4:17-18)

If God puts no trust in his servants, why does He even have servants?  Why does He give anyone church callings?  Obviously, He knows His servants make mistakes, but He trusts them anyway for their good.  As for charging the angels with folly, that sounds more like Satan than God.  John in Revelation speaks of Satan as the accuser of our brethren, one who accused them before God day and night.

Once you notice this stuff, you start to find it all over the place and you realize that Job’s friends didn’t know what they were talking about.  It almost seems like the more extravagant their attempts to exalt God, the more likely they are to also say something ridiculous soon after.  While they might have aspired to Job’s level of wisdom and righteousness, they didn’t have a foundational grasp of so many things.  This is why Job tells them, "How then comfort ye me in vain, seeing in your answers there remaineth falsehood?" (Job 21:34)