Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Reading Job is kind of like playing a game. At times it can be perplexing and a little testing. Job says some outrageous things like,
God assails me and tears me in his anger
And gnashes his teeth at me;
My opponent fastens on me his piercing eyes (Job 16:9).
In case you didn’t catch that, Job calls the Lord his opponent. This is only made more shocking though; because in the end God sides with him. Meanwhile, as Job is fast approaching blasphemy, his friend’s retort with stuff that, for the most part, makes sense; like when Zophar says,
Oh, how I wish that God would speak,
That he would open his lips against you
And disclose to you the secrets of wisdom,
For true wisdom has two sides.
Know this: God has even forgotten some of your sin (Job 11:5-6).
Y’know, Zophar isn’t wrong, the Lord speaking would silence everyone, and our God is one of forgiveness. Yet God rebukes Job’s friends at the end of the book. Sometimes I wonder if the final exam for being a Pharisee was to pick apart a selection from the book of Job. During my most recent read through of Job I found myself assailing the Holy Spirit with questions as to what was ok and what was not- trying to somehow wrap my head around this interesting book.
…And God is faithful. The Holy Spirit showed me an interesting pattern that crops up throughout Job that bears looking at. Eliphaz says to Job,
What do you know that we do not know?
What insights do you have that we do not have?
The gray-haired and the aged are on our side,
Men even older than your father (Job 15:9-10).
Eliphaz notes to Job (who’s not a young guy himself) that older folk would agree with what he has to say to his friend. Eliphaz also notes,
Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished?
Where were the upright ever destroyed?
As I have observed, those who plow evil
And those who sow trouble reap it (Job 4:7-8).
Job’s friend says that to his memory, he can’t remember any innocent person dying. This tells us that Eliphaz hasn’t been to many funerals, is lying, or is given over to ridiculous hyperbole. But notice how he phrases it, “As I have observed…” Aside from trusting the old and himself, Eliphaz also references wise men in one of his speeches (while still talking about his personal experience):
Listen to me and I will explain to you;
Let me tell you what I have seen,
What wise men have declared,
Hiding nothing received from their fathers
(To whom alone the land was given
When no alien passed among them):
All his days the wicked man suffers torment,
The ruthless through all the years stored up for him (Job 15:17-20).
Eliphaz is quick to quote anyone who he thinks will agree with him and his own experiences about life and faith. He’s not alone though. Zophar also sticks in his two cents when he speaks,
Then Zophar the Naamathite replied:
“My troubled thoughts prompt me to answer
Because I am greatly disturbed.
I hear a rebuke that dishonors me,
And my understanding inspires me to reply” (Job 20:1-3).
Just like Eliphaz, Zophar feels compelled through his own thoughts to react to Job’s speeches of woe. Both Eliphaz and Zophar often weigh their opinions based on their knowledge and experiences instead of acknowledging that Job’s plight is difficult and they might not know everything. I mean, come on, Job just lost his family, his fortune, and his health in one day, I doubt any of us have relevant experience to cover such a situation.
Job though, whom God supports in all this, seems to display a greater wisdom than that of his friends. History records,
Then Job replied:
“Doubtless you are the people,
And wisdom will die with you!
But I have a mind as well as you;
I am not inferior to you.
Who does not know all these things?” (Job 12:1-3)
Job acknowledges that his friends have experience, yet also notes that he knows about as much as they do. He continues later,
My eyes have seen all this,
My ears have heard and understood it.
What you know, I also know;
I am not inferior to you (Job 13:1-2).
To be sure, Job and his friends share roughly the same education and religious knowledge. He goes on in Job 13:6-8,
Hear now my argument;
Listen to the plea of my lips.
Will you speak wickedly on God’s behalf?
Will you speak deceitfully for him?
Will you show him partiality?
Will you argue the case for God?
Job asks his friends if it is their place, as mere men, to argue on God’s behalf. And rather than make a statement of opinion, Job speaks to his friends out of faith,
Though he slay me, yet I will hope in him;
I will surely defend my ways to his face.
Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance,
For no godless man would dare to come before him!
Listen carefully to my words;
Let your ears take in what I say.
Now that I have prepared my case,
I know I will be vindicated (Job 13:15-18).
Job acknowledges that even if God appears as his enemy during this time of trouble, he’ll still hope in the Lord and through his faith will be vindicated by God from any wrongdoing. He’s able to do this because he realizes that God-based things are beyond understanding. Consider how Job puts it,
To God belong wisdom and power;
Counsel and understanding are his.
What he tears down cannot be rebuilt;
The man he imprisons cannot be released.
If he holds back the waters, there is drought;
If he lets them loose, they devastate the land.
To him belong strength and victory;
Both deceived and deceiver are his (Job 12:13-16).
The Lord controls and manages everything, both sides of everything. We are but men; but he is the beginning and the end. As Jesus went about preaching the message of God, he realized quickly just how limited man’s thinking is. While trying to speak on salvation to one of the Pharisees, he was met only with confusion- keep in mind that the Pharisees were the religious ruling class. However, when it came to the Son of Man, they couldn’t wrap their brains around it. Jesus responded by saying in John 3:12, “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” Our Lord and Savior realized that even his most base teachings weren’t sinking in- if that was the case, how could anyone understand what the workings of heaven were like? Well, actually get a preview of the workings of heaven in Ezekiel, and guess what? It’s confusing as all get out. Here, have a taste of Ezekiel’s wild ride:
I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north- and immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was that of a man, but each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had the hands of a man. All four of them had faces and wings, and their wings touched one another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved (Ezekiel 1:4-9).
Did that make any sense to you? Maybe you can picture it, but it’s hard to figure out the logic behind any of it. By all means though, if you can figure out what these creatures looked like (using Ezekiel 1 and 10 as your references) by all means draw me a picture and I’ll probably put it up in the article, because heavenly things are darn confusing. Even names in heaven don’t make much sense on earth. Check out this fun conversation from Judges 13:17-18,
Then Manoah inquired of the angel of the Lord, “What is your name, so that we may honor you when your word comes true?”
He replied, “Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.”
The angel knew that Manoah (and probably by extension, us) wouldn’t understand his name or what it meant, so he decided not to event try to explain it. Rather he just said, “Eh, you wouldn’t get it.” We here on earth can’t do God justice when arguing on his behalf because, quite frankly, we just don’t get it. And Job knew that even though he was in pain, God was good and he hadn’t been sinning, therefore in the end (even though he didn’t understand his current situation) the Lord would vindicate him from any blame.
However, Eliphaz and Zophar weren’t so good at listening, and had a tendency to put their feet in their mouths. Check out what Zophar said to Job,
Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
They are higher than the heavens- what can you do?
They are deeper than the depths of the grave- what can you know?
Their measure is longer than the earth
And wider than the sea (Job 11:7-9).
Eliphaz likewise reminds Job of his place in the universe in Job 15:7-8,
Are you the first man ever born?
Were you brought forth before the hills?
Do you listen in on God’s council?
Do you limit wisdom to yourself?
Of course, both Zophar and Eliphaz feel they are exempt from their own statements; as Zophar tries to fathom the mysteries of God while he rips into his friend and Eliphaz continues long diatribes about Job’s holiness despite not being the first man born or a member of God’s council. No, no, apparently their experiences and understanding of life, the universe, and everything trump Job’s. Let’s see what Scripture has to say on the subject. Solomon, the wisest of men ever, tells us,
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge him,
And he will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord and shun evil (Proverbs 3:5-7).
The king of wisdom tells us that true wisdom doesn’t come from our own experiences, rather, we should wholly trust in God. Elihu takes it up a notch and explains that if we seek wisdom, we need to go to the source, “But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding” (Job 32:8). So we find that if it is wisdom we seek, then we should be relying on God, the source of that wisdom rather than our own experiences and ideas.
When it comes down to it, it’s not our place to know everything. Adam and Eve were explicitly told not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. From the beginning we were advised not to try to understand it all. Then does God want us to be stupid? Of course not! Solomon wrote, “I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness” (Ecclesiastes 2:13). But don’t take his word for it (as Solomon was just a man); listen to what Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 10:16, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” The Christ told us that we should be wise and astute. However, we should understand that we’ll never get it all. Rather, what we need to do is to put our trust in God, even when things don’t make sense at all. Paul wrote,
When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).
Your wisdom and knowledge shouldn’t be a reflection of yourself, but rather a reflection of the glory of God. Paul had a wonderful education and was a Pharisee in his own right, but for him that wasn’t important. The focus was Christ and any wisdom you might find in his letters is not a reflection of his experience, but a reflection of Jesus’ glory. That is true wisdom. After all his animals died and his children were killed, what did Job do? He worshiped the Lord, even though he felt like God was attacking him. We read after he finds out the bad news,
At this, job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
May the name of the Lord be praised.”
In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing (Job 1:20-22).
With everything falling apart, seemingly made the target of some cruel joke from God; Job worshipped.
And that’s the defining difference between Job and his friends. When everything goes down and life sucks more than ever, what do you do? Job worshipped his God, who had made everything happen. He complained- a lot, sure. But he stuck by God and didn’t trust everything that the world, the elders, his friends, or even his wife was telling him; for Job knew that redemption could only come from God. And through his faith in the redemption, vindication, and salvation that he knew only the Lord could supply Job spoke these words,
Oh that my words were recorded,
That they were written on a scroll,
That they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
Or engraved in rock forever!
I know that my Redeemer lives,
And that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
Yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
With my own eyes- I, and not another.
How my heart years within me! (Job 19:23-27).
Job was waiting for Jesus’ redemption, and only in the middle of his worst time was he given such an amazing prophecy of the Lord’s coming in bodily form and the salvation he’d bring. Keep in mind, most theologians put Job’s story somewhere before the time of Moses. So Job was speaking of Jesus and meeting him in heaven in a new, resurrected body at least probably a thousand years before Christ was born. If he had faith in Jesus that far before the birth of Christ, how much more us who have the Scriptures recording Jesus’ life and ministry! No matter what you’re going through, don’t look at it with your worldly eyes, trust in God, worship him, and consult his Word (the Bible) to find out what your next move should be.