Self-Serving Rhetoric

Scripture Focus: Job 18.16-21
16 His roots dry up below 
and his branches wither above. 
17 The memory of him perishes from the earth; 
he has no name in the land. 
18 He is driven from light into the realm of darkness 
and is banished from the world. 
19 He has no offspring or descendants among his people, 
no survivor where once he lived. 
20 People of the west are appalled at his fate; 
those of the east are seized with horror. 
21 Surely such is the dwelling of an evil man; 
such is the place of one who does not know God.”

Psalm 26.1
1 Vindicate me, Lord, 
for I have led a blameless life; 
I have trusted in the Lord 
and have not faltered. 

Reflection: Self-Serving Rhetoric
By John Tillman

Job’s friends grew harsher with him as the conversation continued. Contentious debate spiraled into more personal attacks.

Bildad answers, spouting truisms and generalities about things that will befall wicked people. However, he goes beyond just reciting commonly held beliefs. He personalizes them, using details similar to Job’s recent experiences. 

“He is torn from the security of his tent and marched off to the king of terrors…”
“It eats away parts of his skin; death’s firstborn devours his limbs…”
“Sulphur is scattered over his dwelling…”
“Fire resides in his tent…”
“He has no offspring…”
“His roots dry up below and his branches wither above…”

Bildad would not have known this, but Job’s spiritual tent of protection had been removed and he had been given over to Satan, a king of terrors. The other details he did know and he turned them against his friend. Job’s “roots,” the sources of his wealth, and his “branches,” his children and extended family, were dried up and withered. His security had been torn away by foreign kings. His children had been crushed in a collapsing building. His skin was being eaten away by sores and illness.

I am convinced that the hostility of Job’s friends and their judgmentalism came from fear and insecurity. The friends are the appalled “people of the west” and “the east.” They were appalled that similar things might happen to them. Proving that Job’s sin brought this on himself was essential to their worldview. Bildad’s images pointed an accusing finger at Job and, by contrast, implied that he and the others were righteous.

Fire fell on Job’s life. Rather than comfort him, his friends blew on the embers to warm themselves.

Blaming others’ choices for their problems gives us false peace in two flavors. We can believe that bad things can’t happen if we are “good.” We can excuse ourselves from helping the suffering because we think their suffering is justice for their wrongs or correction for their foolishness.

In our lives, we can be quick to say, “consequences of your actions” when bad things happen to others and cry “persecution” when bad things happen to us.

Don’t fall victim to the same self-insulating, self-serving, victim-blaming rhetoric as Bildad and the other friends. No matter why fire falls on others’ lives, may we be found tending to the burns rather than stirring up the embers.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy before the Lord when he comes, when he comes to judge the earth. — Psalm 96.12

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 18 (Listen – 1:54)
Psalm 26-27 (Listen – 3:13)

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Read more about When Help Doesn’t Help
We all reap what we sow, don’t we? Unfortunately, this is a common view of pain and suffering, even in the Church today.

Hope In the Tree of the Cross

Scripture Focus: Job 14.7-9, 14-17
7 “At least there is hope for a tree: 
If it is cut down, it will sprout again, 
and its new shoots will not fail. 
8 Its roots may grow old in the ground 
and its stump die in the soil, 
9 yet at the scent of water it will bud 
and put forth shoots like a plant.

14 If someone dies, will they live again? 
All the days of my hard service 
I will wait for my renewal to come. 
15 You will call and I will answer you; 
you will long for the creature your hands have made. 
16 Surely then you will count my steps 
but not keep track of my sin. 
17 My offenses will be sealed up in a bag; 
you will cover over my sin. 

Psalm 22.1, 31
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 
Why are you so far from saving me, 
so far from my cries of anguish?
31 They will proclaim his righteousness, 
declaring to a people yet unborn: 
He has done it! 

Reflection: Hope In the Tree of the Cross
By John Tillman

“At least there is hope for a tree…”

This phrase sparked a memory. I remembered the phrase, “I want to be a tree,” but I didn’t remember its source. When I looked it up I was reminded of the remarkably strange world of 80s British music videos and Tim Pope’s song, “I Want to Be a Tree.” 

I’m sure I heard this song during the early days of MTV (when they used to play music) and the phrase must have stuck in my memory. Pope is most well known for his music videos for David Bowie, The Cure, and others. 

Pope’s song is mostly tongue-in-cheek escapism but buried in the humorous lyrics are the roots of real issues. At first he wants to escape attention and life’s annoyances. He obliquely references the Eden narrative. He then hopes to escape “World War Three.” Today’s crisis-centered culture is fraught with uncertainty about many things but it is hard to explain how inescapable nuclear annihilation seemed to GenXers and how powerless we felt about it. 

Job’s lament is more desperate and is grounded in suffering that is more intense than Pope, or most of us, ever will know. Job’s thoughts also take us deeper into the promises of God. 

Job planted his hopes in God. The idea that God will raise humans to eternal life is a seed in Job. It develops in the Psalms and other scriptures and blooms in the gospels. 

Today we also read Psalm 22, referenced by Jesus from the tree of the cross. It begins, like Job, questioning God’s abandonment, but ends triumphantly, celebrating God’s victory. “He has done it,” Psalm 22’s last line proclaims. “It is finished,” Christ’s last breath from the cross echoes. (John 19.30; Psalm 22.31)

Our hope is found not in becoming a tree but in laying down our lives and being transformed by the cross of Christ. The cross—the cruel instrument of death—becomes a blossoming tree of life from which we are free to partake. (Genesis 2.16; 3.22-24; Proverbs 11.30; Revelation 2.7; 22.1-2, 14

At the roots of the tree of the cross, we find healing, peace, and power. As we follow Christ, we will become like this tree. Grafted into the Root of Jesse, (Romans 11.16-21) we bloom in deserts of suffering. We protect others under our branches and shade. We bless the earth, bringing up water of life and healing for the nations.

When grown to maturity, a Christian is like a tree. (Psalm 1.3)

Further Study: Humans are… Trees? From The Bible Project Podcast

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Our sins are stronger than we are, but you will blot them out. — Psalm 65.3

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 14 (Listen – 2:23)
Psalm 22 (Listen – 3:49)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 15 (Listen – 3:23), Psalm 23-24 (Listen – 2:03)
Job 16-17 (Listen – 3:40), Psalm 25 (Listen – 2:18)

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Read more about Praise from a Stump
In Isaiah chapter 11, we see this shamed, humbled tree being miraculously restored.

Tension in God’s Presence

Scripture Focus: Job 13.27
27 You fasten my feet in shackles; 
you keep close watch on all my paths 
by putting marks on the soles of my feet. 

Reflection: Tension in God’s Presence

By John Tillman

Job acknowledges hardships beyond his own, including slavery. He addresses slavery realistically, but not in a way that defends its practice. Every reference to it is negative.

Job compares God’s awareness of all his sins to a practice of marking the soles of slaves’ feet to track their barefoot movements. This would probably have meant branding and would double as a proof of ownership. 

There is a tension in many of Job’s complaints related to God’s presence or attention. In verses like Job 13.22, Job complained about God’s attention on every detail of his life. Job even asked God to look away and let him die in peace. (​​Job 7.19)

In other verses, Job longed for God to answer him, to come to him, to not “hide his face” (Job 13.24). If God did not come to him and answer him, there could be no justice, restoration, or hope.

God’s presence was Job’s only hope but also brought unbearable attention. Job both longed for God’s face to look at him and begged God to look away. He did not want to be treated as God’s enemy but recognized he was not God’s equal.

We feel this tension in our lives. The weight of our sin is real. Our personal sins and the sins and guilt of our society and culture from age to age hang on us. “Gestures broadly at everything” has become a common phrase in memes that express frustration at problems. Like Job, we gesture broadly at everything and wonder, “How can God be pleased with us? How can he love us?”

However, there is one thing we point to that guarantees God’s love—the cross of Christ. There is one mark given to us which brings freedom, not oppression—the Holy Spirit. There is one redeemer standing upon the earth, (Job 19.25-27) mediating peace in human’s war against God—Jesus Christ.

Jesus told his disciples that “righteous people” longed to see and hear what they have relayed to us. (Matthew 13.16-17) Job is certainly one of them. We are sure of God’s love for us in Christ. We are more sure of it than Job ever could be.

So, let us live in a way that assures others of God’s love. Let our actions be evidence of God’s beneficent presence. May rivers of his living water flow out of us, calling the thirsty to drink.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah—that is, Christ—is coming; and when he comes he will explain everything.” Jesus said, “That is who I am, I who speak to you.” — John 4.25-26

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 13 (Listen – 2:27)
Psalm 20-21 (Listen – 2:37)

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Read more about Do We Know Him?
We don’t deserve to learn Christ’s identity…Yet Christ’s love makes us worthy. He replaces our springs of sinfulness with his living water.

Unhurried Wisdom

Scripture Focus: Job 12.2-3
2 Doubtless you are the only people who matter, and wisdom will die with you!
3 But I have a mind as well as you; I am not inferior to you. Who does not know all these things?

Reflection: Unhurried Wisdom
By Erin Newton

Consider the cliche: Out of sight out of mind. Now, consider this: Absence makes the heart grow fonder. So, which is it? Forgetfulness or fondness? These are modern phrases. However, the book of Job also utilized opposing statements to reveal the complexity of life and necessity of wisdom.

One of the struggles while reading Job is that the statements made by his friends are often valid comments holding truth in some aspect or another. These short statements and concepts are true but not applicable in all situations. So, what is the problem with their advice?

We have been privy to the opening scene of God and Satan. Imagine removing the first few verses from chapter 1 and reading the story without the prelude about God allowing the testing of Job’s faith. Would you not also be suspicious of what he had done to deserve this?

Zophar made statements such as “God has forgotten some of your sin” and “If you lift your face to God, you will be free from harm.” At the core of these statements is true theology: the forgiveness of sins and the security in the arms of God.

What we know of these friends is that they are all God-fearing men. They speak of things that are true and seem to place their faith in God. But they still give bad advice, tactless encouragement, and sometimes traumatizing remarks.

Job’s response also focuses on truths about God. Zophar has suggested that God allows suffering because of man’s sin. Correct. Job suggests that God allows suffering for reasons outside our ability to understand. Correct. Wisdom involves living in the tension of two seemingly opposing truths. Wisdom involves taking time to understand the situation and knowing which truth to apply.

If we are not presently in Job’s position, we are one of the friends. The world around us is constantly suffering: racial tension, economic hardship, mutating viruses, abusive bosses, wayward children, dementia, loneliness, sexual abuse, cancer, addiction. We must wisely speak truth to our hurting friend.

Wisdom is not a character trait abruptly gained. In our quick paced world, we forget to think before we speak. Sometimes we want to be the first one to reply thinking our promptness is a signal of our virtue. We might speak rashly and say something true, just like Job’s friends. But if our truth is received as trauma, we have missed wisdom entirely.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I will bear witness that the Lord is righteous; I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High. — Psalm 7.18

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 12 (Listen – 2:21)
Psalm 19 (Listen – 1:52)

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Read more about Adding Insult to Injury
There’s no nice way to say this, but Job’s friends are jerks. Maybe they mean well…It’s like one “bad take” after another.

Echoing Voice of Hope

Scripture Focus: Job 11.16-19
16 You will surely forget your trouble, 
recalling it only as waters gone by. 
17 Life will be brighter than noonday, 
and darkness will become like morning. 
18 You will be secure, because there is hope; 
you will look about you and take your rest in safety. 
19 You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid, 
and many will court your favor. 

Reflection: Echoing Voice of Hope
By John Tillman

Job’s counselors, although they are insensitive, state many beautiful and biblical truths found in similar forms elsewhere in the Bible. There are repeated echoes of God’s promises of hope and peace.

In this short section (Job 11.16-19), Zophar is echoed or referenced in Leviticus, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Micah, Kings, and probably more. (Leviticus 26.6; Psalms 3.5; 4.8; 37.6; Proverbs 3.24; Isaiah 32.18; 58.8; 65.16; Zechariah 3.10; Micah 4.4; 1 Kings 4.25

Is Zophar echoing the other writers, or is it the other way around? 

The date of the writing of Job is uncertain, but probably the other writers were inspired by the writing in Job. It is difficult to be sure.

The Hebrew of Job is different enough from the rest of the Bible that many scholars believe it was written before the other Hebrew writings. (There are other opinions but this is the majority view. See links below for more info.) Job’s story may be the earliest surviving writing in the Bible.

Regardless of when the story was written down, the events seem to happen during the pre-tabernacle period. Job offers his own sacrifices as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did, and no references are made to the Tabernacle or Temple. Job’s lifespan is similar to long-lived ancient patriarchs, so he may have lived between Noah and Abraham, or between Seth and Noah.

The Bible is literature that is connected and unified across ages—we should read it that way. Marvel films didn’t invent interconnected literature—the Bible’s been this way for millennia. Marvel film buffs scour every frame of each film, looking for “Easter eggs” that are references to past films or hints at stories to come. The Bible has similar treasures for us that recall the past and hint at the future. These echoes make sense in the larger story. This is why it is so important for us to engage with the Bible on both a large and a small scale. We can miss the larger story of the Bible if we zoom in too close on a single frame.

In this passage from Job, we hear the often repeated, echoing message that God cares for us. Our trouble and pain are known to God. He will end them and bring us comfort. He will plant us in a good place and we will be safe, “under our own vine and fig tree.” (Micah 4.4)

The echoes of hope we hear are not of Zophar’s voice. The echoing voice of hope in scripture is God’s. We can be secure in him.

Links for further study: Summary of Job from Bible Study Tools and Authorship of Job from Bible Odyssey. (Thanks to Erin Newton for recommending these links.)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting

Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, God reveals himself in glory. — Psalm 50.2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 11 (Listen – 2:01)
Psalm 18 (Listen – 5:47)

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Read more about Hope on a Limb
Jesus is, for some, the unwanted king of the parable. His Advent will frustrate those who wait for earthly adulation and success…He endlessly supplies those whose hopes rise higher.