Friday, April 9, 2010

Job's Friends Part 4

Job's Friends Part 4 

From the book of Job, Chapter 1 verse 4 we read:

Job 1:4
His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them.

Of the verses that we have examined thus far, this one is perhaps the most interesting and difficult to understand.  But we will take it word for word, idea for idea and I hope to make out the understanding of what the Holy Spirit is communicating to us.

The verse begins with "his sons" referring back of course to Job.  Job had seven such sons and apparently they were all at home.  In today's culture such a phenomenon is unheard of in itself.  To have so many children is one thing, for them all to remain at home is almost ethnic in that it is a stranger to normal American experience.  Today children grow up and move far away, they leave the nest, they move on.  Can one imagine what Thanksgiving would be like in Job's day?  The roads would be abandoned!  Unlike today's world, there would be almost no holiday traffic, as all the children would still be home.

There is something to be said for staying home.  While I can hardly speak to the virtue, having moved more than a thousand miles from my homeland, I can attest to the warmth, comfort and security of having family near-by and the loneliness and solidarity of being separated from those who love you most.  We should not misunderstand the culture of Job's day - not everyone stayed home to live with their parents.  Proverbs teaches us that a neighbor close by is preferred in the day of calamity than a brother far off in another land.  Abram left his kin in Ur.  Jacob and Esau lived in different parts of the world.  Paul left Tarsus.  Jacob went down to Egypt.  Joseph was no longer living in Bethlehem.  While the world was much smaller than it is today, apparently people still moved and traveled and were separated from family.

However, in Job's family - everyone was still there.  And that says a lot, in my opinion, about Job's patriarchal provision.  His children were not confined to the family estate, rather, they chose the family estate.  And apparently, from the next few words, we find them happy to be at the family estate.  As a father I can think of no greater blessing than the idea that my son would find my patriarchal provision sufficient that he would be able to be distinct and protected at the same time.

That last idea bears exploration.  Many children leave fine homes because they feel the need to spread their own wings.  While they are in the nest they live under a shadow of their parents that represses their own individuality and personality and dignity.  They don't dislike home, they just need room to be themselves.  What I find surprising, is that Job among all his other talents and righteousness, knew how to protect his family and at the same time give them freedom to be themselves.  They remained home because Dad didn't suffocate them.  Dad didn't impose himself on them.  In short, Dad didn't exacerbate them.

His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day.  There are no momma's boys here.  See this young men?  None of these sons still live under the same roof as Mom.  We have no clue as to whether they are married or not, Scripture does not tell us.  But each had his own house.  One of the secrets to the harmony of this family, I believe, is without a doubt the ability to sustain a household by each one of the sons.  They, each of them, understood the economics of maintaining a home.  They, each of them, understood the mechanics and stewardship of owning a home.  How many young women would do well to consider this when considering a husband.  Does he maintain his own home?

This is especially important in the matter of bachelors.  I have owned a home as a bachelor and as a married man and they are two very different things.  As a married man, you have someone there who has a vested interest in the home - in fact, often the woman has a superior position in the home.  This is not to say that she usurps her role as God ordained, rather, that her husband wisely understands this role is as a steward, not as a servant.  As a steward, she has more control than the master.  As a servant, she has less control.  A servant does what the master says.  A steward determines what is best for the master.  In any case, a bachelor has no steward, no partner, no one who is at least as interested in the home as he is, if not more.  A bachelor who owns a home exercises something many men don't find attractive - home economics.  Many men I know, if single, and while single, would prefer to rent an apartment.  We simply don't nest well.  

However, Job's sons all had their own homes.  However it was that they came about them, we know them to be responsible, independent home owners - of sufficient sized homes that any of those homes could house a party of 10 with spouses and children and friends and servants.  We find out later that, indeed, servants were present in these homes.  

Our friend Job is a father among fathers.  His sons are not just independent, but full of brotherly love - love for their siblings.  And these boys are gentlemen too!  Did you catch it?  They invited their three sisters too.  This is not stag night.  This is not boy's night out.  These children don't believe in gender based fun.  There were no crude jokes, inappropriate humor, or sexists comments.  

So what do we have here?  Riotous partying?  Maybe.  Excessive libations, indulgences and entertainments?  Perhaps.  Permissive diversions and distractions?  Doubtful in mixed company.  The worst that could be said were that the children were accustomed to excess and wealth on a level that few ever enjoy.  It is not a sin to be wealthy.  It is no sin to party.  However, we will see later, that such endeavors do expose us to the risk of sin.

The confusing part of this verse, the part that is obscure to me, is the frequency of the parties. Scripture does not tell us that anything inappropriate happened at these parties.  We can freely assume the best of these children knowing the Godly nature of their parents.

When I first read this verse I assumed that there was a party on every day of the week - for there are seven sons, and there are seven days.  But is that what the verse says?

"each one on his day" does not necessarily mean Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday...  Does it?  The NET bible says "each one in turn".  The New Living Translation says "when Job's sons had birthdays".  The NIV says "His sons used to take turns."  As I've noted before, I'm no master of Hebrew and I won't attempt an analysis of the original language.  But I will point out that the translators considered most credible and qualified for those translations did not translate the verse to read that the sons were partying it up every day of the week, rather that they had parties, they shared the responsibility of hosting and like good hosts, they made sure their sisters, who may or may not have had a home of their own, would be invited and included.  This looks to me like a healthy, loving, Godly family.  Who wouldn't want to be one of those brothers and sisters?

I think there is something here beyond family harmony though.  There is provision, there is security, there is love, and there is a resource for all of this.  These sons grew up to be like their father.  Job cared for his family and servants, and here we see his sons doing likewise.  My respect and admiration for the man grows every day.  And I can hardly imagine the pain and loss that we're coming to eventually.  In fact, this is the happy part of the story, the part we don't want to end.  For those fans of "Lord of the Rings" this is the picnic celebrating Bilbo's 111th birthday in the Shire.  For fans of "War and Peace" this is Anna Pavlovna's soirée.  For those fans of "The Titanic", this is the party in the lower quarters.  It is difficult to even read further, as one wants this picturesque landscape of family harmony as God designed it to last forever.  God blessed Job, and here we see the deepest blessing, one we may all envy with equal desire.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Job's Friends Part 3

Job's Friends Part 3

From the book of Job, chapter 1 verses 3 and 10:

Job 1:3
He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.

Job 1:10
Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.

It is not my intent to bounce around Job cherry picking nuggets of wisdom; much less to continue mixing my metaphors.  My point in skipping ahead and including verse 10 is because I believe it gives context and meaning to verse 3.  For we see that Job is a rich man.  Yesterday I was speaking with one of my best friends, a man whom I'm proud to call friend, a farmer who was explaining to me that even today a man who owned so many animals would be a great man indeed.

And herein lies a problem for me personally.  I struggle against those who would preach a prosperity gospel, but here we read about a God fearing man who avoid evil and who is blessed by God in very material ways.  This has got to set free prosperity gospel preachers and give wings to their delights.  I can just hear preachers excusing mansions and mega churches with these two verses.  Indeed, how can we see it otherwise without looking to other Scripture?


Is there any significance to the numbers 7,000, 3,000 and 500?  Again, I think those who see numerology within everything would have a field-day here.  Seven is often the number of perfection.  Three is identified with the triune Godhead.  And I'm tempted to point out that there are five fingers on a hand which allows us to grasp and work.  But is the Holy Spirit trying to teach us anything from these numbers, or are they there just to say simply that Job was a very rich man?  

Sheep are sustenance.  They provide no labor, they consume resources and labor; however, they provide sustenance in the form of wool and food.  In that regard they are God's provision for us.  His provision to Job is marked out by the number 7,000.  Job's sustenance was large indeed.  One might say it was figuratively perfect.  If we believe Satan's representation in verse 10, and it is important to recognize that God did not correct him, then indeed the numbers were determined by God himself and not by chance or fortune.  In any regard, God has blessed Job with a great number of sheep.

Camels can be both sustenance and labor.  Camel hair is of generally fine quality and can be used in the production of felt and other clothes.  Additionally, Job's camels were the ATVs of the day, the farm truck and 4 Wheeler combined into one.  Unlike the relatively smaller herds of sheep that I saw while I was in the area of Northern Arabia and Western Iraq, where presumably Job lived, Job had vast herds which could not be managed by shepherd boys on foot.  Water was scarce so camels were particularly valuable in that climate.  Job had 3,000 camels.  One wonders, how did he feed so many camels?  The sheep would subsist on the grass in that part of the land.  The camels would be able to eat the grass as well, but Job's family would need grain in addition to the meat their stock provided.

In addition to the animals, Job was responsible for a great many servants.  These are people who are, like Job's family, dependent upon Job for their very lives.  One cannot help but remember the story of the prodigal son, who in desperation and fear for his life when starving thought to return to his father's house as a servant when he remembered how his father cared for his servants.  It is entirely reasonable to understand that Job was just as righteous in his dealings with his servants.  It is not only reasonable, but expected that Job's servants were well cared for, that Job loved them and prayed for them and considered their welfare and that of their families.  In this regard Job was more than a family man and a farmer, he was a business man capable of managing the affairs of many.

I suspect that Job was more than a herdsman; that in addition to livestock he also had fields of grain that are not mentioned but which are implied.  How are they implied?  Why else would Job need 500 oxen?  Sure, oxen are a food source as well.  But they require a lot more grass than the desert would provide.  It is uncertain what the climate was like in that part of the land.  Indeed, it is even disputed where exactly in northern Arabia or western Iraq Job lived.  But there are rivers there now and there were rivers there in Job's time.  It is possible that Job lived near enough water to grow crops to support the oxen and supplement the diet of the sheep, camels, donkeys and his own family and servants.  Indeed, I believe it is more than possible, but implied by the numbers themselves.

Better than implications, however, is the notice we are given in verse 14 where a servant tells Job that "the oxen were plowing and the donkeys were feeding beside them."  I am impressed by the diversity of Job's farm operation here.  He is practically self reliant in that his operation provides grain, wool, meat and other food stuffs.  Job is not to be taken lightly.  I imagine if we were to meet Job today, he'd have a Masters of Science degree from Penn State University in Animal Husbandry and Farm Operations.  These are not simple folk from a bygone era, rather, Job is a sophisticated businessman capable of understanding diversification, human resource management, farm management, production capacities, resource management, building design, farm implements, textile production, risk management, and other skills necessary for such a large operation.

This observation is necessary as we will eventually be analyzing Job's arguments and philosophies in light of his intelligence and education.  I believe we will be wise to understand Job as a renaissance man.  

And this renaissance man was the greatest of all the people in the East.  That is quite an observation.  Was it Job's wealth that made him great?  Is the Holy Spirit here stooping to modern valuations of man which look only at the pocket book?  I don't believe that in light of all that we have seen about how Job came about his wealth and the remarkable diligence and skills that were necessary to produce and maintain that wealth.  I have known rich people who came about their wealth with ease producing things of little lasting worth.  I have also known rich people who came about their wealth through diligence and hard work with an ever lasting interest in those whom God has put in their charge, who have a generous nature and a kind disposition but who are intensely interested in being the best steward of what God has given them.  I believe Job was the latter kind.  Job was the kind of man that despised gambling in all forms, who appreciated life and human dignity.  Job was the kind of man who was generous and who looked out for the best interests of others - as we shall see in a few verses.  Job was a righteous man who saw himself for what he was - a steward of God's property.

My last observation on verse 3 is that all that Job had was from God.  Verse 10 teaches us that God blessed the work of Job's hands and his possessions increased accordingly.  Job worked.  He was not a lazy man, or a man given to idleness or trivial entertainment.  When others were playing, Job was working; and then when they were sleeping Job was offering sacrifices.  But hard work alone does not provide anything.  That is what a servant of God is expected to do.  The increase in Job's wealth was entirely from God.  God saw fit to give, and later he sees fit to take away.  In chapter 2 verse 10 we see that Job understands the source of all his wealth to be from God.  And so, that Job was wealthy and powerful and influential were all blessings from God.

Is this prosperity Gospel?  Satan certainly thought so, as we shall see in a few verses.  However, we will suspend our analysis of that question till then.  In the meantime I will pray that God blesses me with a proper understanding of these verses and the question of whether God does or does not bless righteousness with material wealth and power.