It seems that today people of integrity are difficult if not impossible to find. Whether we put our confidence in preachers, politicians, pundits, plutocrats or presidents, sooner or later we will be disappointed if not disillusioned. However, I can't help but feel that this is not an especially modern phenomenon; instant coverage on the media simply assures that scandals cannot be covered for long as they may have been in the past. So we're barraged almost daily with some new revelation(s) of sexual or financial misbehavior on the part of prominent persons.
Of course we recognize that we are all sinners and that sooner or later every human being will undoubtedly stumble. Jesus was the only person who could say, "Which one of you convicts me of sin?" (John 8:46)
But then there's this guy named Job. Here's a guy that seems to have kept clean from scandal, even though his three "friends" did their best to prove him a sinner.
A brief summary of Job's story: Job was a man described as "blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil" (Job 1:1). Even the LORD Himself brags on him using these same words, preceding them with, "... there is no one like him on the earth ..." (1:8; 2:3). Job was a man of great wealth, with a large loving family. We might be tempted to perceive some sort of cause/effect relationship between his wealth and his integrity (or vice versa), yet when all this is taken away from him along with his health in a series of disasters, we read, " ... Job did not sin nor did he blame God" (1:22); " ... Job did not sin with his lips" (2:10). Job's three friends come to "comfort" him, but instead of comfort, we find a long rambling dialog that seems to get hotter and hotter as the friends with their simplistic theology accuse Job of every sin in the book in order to bring him to "repentance."
This summer I've been leading a Bible study on the Book of Job. This past week we dealt with Job's final words of defense as recorded in chapter 31. Even as we were discussing, I was struck with the depth of this passage and its relevance for the present time.
Job in this chapter gives a series of "if - then's" and calls down curses on himself if he is guilty of various sins. It is not clear whether he is speaking to his friends any more or pleading directly with God. The structure goes something like this: "If I have done ______ let ______ happen to me." It is not the curses that grabbed my attention, as much as the "if I's ...," which amount to denial of any wrongdoing.
He starts out his defense by denying that he has (to use the words of a former president) lusted in his heart:
"I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze upon a maiden?" (31:1)
He returns again to lust, and the adultery that could follow:
"If my heart was enticed by a woman and I lurked at my neighbor's door ..." (31:9)
He denies dishonesty in business dealings:
"If I have walked in falsehood ..." (5)
"If my step has turned from the way ... and a stain stuck to my hands ..." (7)
He denies that he has been motivated by greed (remember he had been an extremely prosperous man):
"If I have put my confidence in gold, or regarded fine gold as my trust; if I gloated over my great wealth, and that my hand acquired much ... " (24, 25)
He denies that he has been guilty of secret idolatry:
"If I have looked at the sun in its shining or the moon in its course of splendor; if my heart secretly was enticed and my hand threw a kiss from my mouth ..." (26, 27)
He denies that he has ever acted in vindictiveness:
"If I have rejoiced at my enemy's misfortune or thrilled when evil befell him ... I never let my mouth sin by wishing his death in a curse." (29, 30)
He denies ever acting in hypocrisy:
"If I have hidden my transgressions like Adam, by burying my iniquity in my bosom ..." (33)
All of the above denials are impressive and apparently irrefutable by Job's friends. He was certainly a man who "turned away from evil." But it is Job's remarks about his treatment of those in need, those not materially blessed as he was, that grabbed my attention. He expresses a view that we cannot easily find in the thinking of ancient humankind. This view apparently affects his attitude toward not only those who were his servants, but to any or all whom he saw in need.
"If I have rejected the claim of my man servant or my maid servant when they had a complaint against me, what then could I do when God arises? When He calls me to account what could I answer Him?" (13, 14)
"Did not He who made me in my mother's belly make him? Did not the same One form us both in the womb?" (15)
Don't miss that last rhetorical question. Job regards his servants -- who are actually in the culture of his day, his "property" -- as sharing a common humanity with him. This is radical thinking in ancient culture, where "the other" was often regarded as something less than human; where the Hebrews considered non-Hebrews as "Goyim," the nations outside of God's covenant and as having less "rights" than they; where the Greeks considered non-Greeks as "barbarians," babblers, who spoke gibberish. Where socio-economic status was considered a birthright.
And not only did Job consider his servants as fellow human beings, he recognized that they had rights at law -- apparently God-given rights equal to his own. And his female servants shared equal rights with their male counterparts! This was radical thinking in a patriarchal culture. Job sees all human beings as in some sense equal! This was 3,000 years before Thomas Jefferson, who still saw only white males as created equal. As one commentator said of this passage, "Common humanity as God's creatures levels or rather elevates all." -- F. I. Anderson
It is this fundamental belief that I strongly suspect colors all his dealings with his fellow human beings -- the poor, the widow, the orphan.
"If I denied the poor their need or caused the eyes of the widow to fail, or ate my food alone and the fatherless has not eaten also. For from my youth he grew up with me as a father, and from the womb I guided her" (16-18).
"If I ever saw someone perish without clothing, or the needy with no covering. If his loins have not blessed me and he has not been warmed by the fleece of my sheep" (19, 20).
"If I have raised my hand against the fatherless because I had support at the gate (i.e., court) ... " (21).
And he regarded even strangers or aliens of equal value. He shared what he had with all travelers.
"If the men of my tent have not said, 'Who cannot get filled with his meat? The alien has not lodged outside. I opened my doors to the road" (31, 32).
As we study the Book of Job, we often pass over this chapter as just one more chapter of his whining or griping against God and against his friends. But this is Job's final plea. He puts his signature on it and tells the Almighty to answer. He insists that he has not been guilty of the sins listed. The sins he denies are mostly not sins of commission, but what could be called "sins of omission." He feels an obligation toward his fellow human beings, an obligation to share the good things that God has blessed him with. If he has in any way failed in this obligation, he is willing to suffer the consequences. (Of course he feels he hasn't failed and thus is suffering unjustly.)
It should be noticed too that Job is not bragging. He is not presenting his behavior as something to publicly boast about. It is not till the end of the lengthy dialog that he lets this all out. And it is not to give a list of his virtues but to deny that he has failed to do what he seems to understand as his obligations to God and his fellow human beings.
I've never met or even heard of any other person who could make the claims that Job did. And yet he appears to regard his behavior as nothing other than what would be expected of a man of his stature.
Job was not a follower of Jesus Christ. He was apparently not an Israelite -- a member of God's covenant people. He apparently had no Bible, no set of rules written by the hand of God; he had never read the Sermon on the Mount; and yet...
So where does this leave me?