Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Due to its nature especially careful reading is required for the Book of Job. With the histories you can just follow the stories they tell and in the prophecies you might be so confused you push through without trying to understand everything. But since Job is a huge debate, the results of which are kind of surprising, you have to analyze each word and argument. Such close attention gives the Holy Spirit an opportunity to highlight the text in really cool ways…or at least that’s how it seems to work for me anyway. I often wonder where Job’s friends go wrong, because in other situations they’d probably be correct, theologically speaking. During a recent read-through, the Holy Spirit showed me that one problem is that, from a fundamental standpoint, Job’s friends don’t really “get it.” At least Bildad doesn’t- which is a problem shared by many people around the world.
In chapter 8 of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, we can read a fairly accurate assessment of space:
Space is big. Really Big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.
Now for God to have made life, the universe, and everything else, it means he must be bigger than space itself. He is bigger than big. He transcends big. According to Job, we can’t even approach how huge and complicated God is. This is how Job describes God:
He spreads out the northern skies over empty space;
He suspends the earth over nothing.
He wraps up the waters in his clouds,
Yet the clouds do not burst under their weight.
He covers the face of the full moon,
Spreading his clouds over it.
He marks out the horizon on the face of the waters
For a boundary between light and darkness.
The pillars of the heavens quake,
Aghast as his rebuke (Job 26:7-11).
God is ridiculously big. But even more than that, Job concludes,
And these are but the outer fringe of his works;
How faint the whisper we hear of him!
Who then can understand the thunder of his power? (Job 26:14)
Even the concepts that we can just barely wrap our brains around are peanuts for God, just a little edge of all he’s doing all the time and a small fraction of his immensity. All that we see and experience are just a tiny miniscule fragment of the whole of God- a being we can’t even begin to comprehend.
And so, with this knowledge of God’s scale, Bildad asks the big question:
How then can a man be righteous before God?
How can one born of woman be pure?
If even the moon is not bright
And the stars are not pure in his eyes,
How much less man, who is but a maggot-
A son of man, who is only a worm! (Job 25:4-6).
If not even the stars can impress God; who are we, and how can we measure up? It’s a logical question and the logical answer is that we can’t. Isaiah notes,
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all of our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
We all shrivel up like a leaf,
And like the wind our sins sweep us away (Isaiah 64:6).
Even at our best, everyone is so full of sin and still can’t measure up to God, so no matter what we do it looks like nothing in the Lord’s eyes. Check out how God describes his chosen people in Isaiah 41:14,
“Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob,
O little Israel,
For I myself will help you,” declares the Lord,
Your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.
Apparently Bildad was right on target with his worm/maggot comparison; as that’s apparently how the Lord actually sees us. In fact, our littleness and sinfulness are such a burden on our relationship with God that we are not to even look at him and live. Moses was God’s friend, but check out how the Lord talked to even his human friend when Moses requested to see God,
And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:19-20).
Even God’s friend wasn’t able to see him and live, for the purity of the Lord would wipe out the rottenness we humans are made of. “And so,” many unbelievers reason, “if God is entirely unapproachable, they why waste time trying to please him?” (Note: this isn’t Bildad’s response; he tries very hard even though he knows God can’t be impressed.) But seriously, if we can’t approach God, why try?
Ok, so there is nothing we can do to impress God or even rid ourselves of the filth of life enough so as to come near to the Lord. But, according to the Bible we were made to touch God. In fact, Genesis 1:27 tells us, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” We were made to be like God (at least in form), so as to have fellowship with him. Most people don’t seek out dogs or cats to converse with right away, but other people; likewise the Lord made us like him in order that we could have a relationship with him. However, due to the abuse of free will, all of us are not perfect like the Lord, and all of us are tainted by sin down to our very fiber of being. Therefore it is written,
But your iniquities have separated
You from your God;
Your sins have hidden his face from you,
So that he will not hear (Isaiah 59:2).
But the Lord wants to have a relationship with us. Therefore he made a way for us to be atoned for our sins, the sacrificial system. Through the blood of innocent animals, God gave man a way to be redeemed. Let’s check out how this process is outlined:
If a member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, he is guilty. When he is made aware of the sin he committed, he must bring as his offering for the sin he committed a female goat without defect. He is to lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and slaughter it at the place of the burnt offering and pour out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar. He shall remove all the fat, just as the fat is removed from the fellowship offering, and the priest shall burn it on the altar as an aroma pleasing to the Lord. In this way the priest will make atonement for him, and he will be forgiven (Leviticus 4:27-31).
Now, if you read that carefully, you’ll note that it also mentions burnt and fellowship offerings- those are different sacrifices that also take place constantly. On the whole, a lot of sheep, goats, and cattle are to end up dead and burned every year to satisfy the Lord’s relationship condition. But that was just the groundwork, a preview of things to come; for as it turns out, those sacrifices were just symbolic. The Bible (much) later tells us,
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming- not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshippers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrews 10:1-4).
Yeah, now that we’re looking at it from a logical standpoint, it doesn’t make much sense that animals (which are lower on God’s view screen that we are) would somehow be able to cover for our sins.
Enter Jesus. Jesus is God. John 1:1-3 describes him like this,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
Now since Jesus Christ, God-made-man, died for us; that means that Jesus’ death was a God-sized sacrifice. As God is infinite, Christ’s sacrifice was therefore more than enough to cover past, present, and future people. The timelessness and infiniteness of Jesus’ death is such that Paul’s present-tense speaking still applies today: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). So wait, Jesus’ death covered his present, our future, and somehow even the past? Oh yeah, as God is timeless so was Jesus’ sacrifice. Jesus even clarified to the people of his day that he too was not burdened by time. History records in John 8:58, “’I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’” And we’re reminded of Jesus’ timelessness again in Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Now Job had a saving faith; he “got it” when it came to Jesus (even though he didn’t know Christ by name). We read as Job describes what we know as the Christ,
Even now my witness is in heaven;
My advocate is on high.
My intercessor is my friend
As my eyes pour out tears to God;
On behalf of a man he pleads with God
As a man pleads for his friend (Job 16:19-21).
There’s only one dude in the whole Bible who fits that description and that’s Jesus; the son of God who shows up in the New Testament. And yet Job, whose book probably takes place somewhere during Genesis knows enough to realize that there’s somebody in heaven looking out for him. Job also realized that no man can achieve God’s requirements, and the burden therefore falls on the Lord to pull us out of our messes. He states in Job 17:3, “Give me, O God, the pledge you demand. Who else will put up security for me?” In modern language it’s like Job saying, “God, I can’t afford to pay what you’re asking, please pay it for me.” And indeed God did, through his son Jesus; who paid our sin debt through his infinite, God-sized, sacrifice on the cross.
God is infinitely big, and as such his heart is also of an immeasurable size; therefore his mercy is without end (at least as far as we’re concerned). All it takes is the acknowledgement of Christ’s sacrifice on your behalf and his Lordship in our lives and then you can be saved and be able to approach our ridiculously big God. For it is written:
…That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved (Romans 10:9-10).
And for those of us who are saved, then this message is for you from our unbelievably big God: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Rock on God!