Rev. Cumbow Preaching
When I read this Hebrews passage of God’s word being a two-edged sword that cuts, slices, lays bare, so that someone can be examined, I could only think of the trials of Job. In the second part of the scripture, that talks about approaching the throne of grace with boldness, I could only think of Job who spoke boldly and honestly with a rawness that is shocking. Job is cut down by God’s word, and his faith is examined. Job says harsh things to God and about God, and yet God shows up and shows Job grace. Not so coincidentally, Job was also one of the assigned Old Testament passages for this morning that was assigned by the lectionary. So this morning, I will provide a narrative retelling of Job, weaving in the book of Hebrews into the story. May you hear a new word, gain fresh insight, and hear the good news of the Gospel from this well-known Bible story:
There once was a man from the land of Uz whose name was Job. He was blameless, upright, turned away from evil, and feared God. He had a wife, three daughters, seven sons, hundreds of sheep, oxen, and donkeys, thousands of camels, and many servants. Job was a faithful man who was very blessed, who rose early in the morning to give burnt offerings for all of his family…just in case they had sinned. While Job was relishing his rich life on earth, the heavenly beings gathered and presented themselves to the Lord. Questions arose about Job’s character among the heavenly beings. Was Job really faithful? Or did he just appear faithful because he had been so blessed? Would he be so pious if he wasn’t so blessed? Satan, the Accuser approached and asked God, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence 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. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” God caught onto the rising suspicion and agreed to let Satan the Accuser to have power over Job’s family and belongings, with one condition. God said, “Only do not stretch out your hand against him.” The word of God was alive and active, spoken to judge the thoughts and intentions of Job’s heart.
It happened in an instant. All in one day Job lost everything. He was blindsided when a few surviving servants came breathlessly running to tell him that Sabeans and Chaldeans came to raid his livestock and killed his servants, that a fire from heaven fell down to kill the rest of his livestock and servants, and that a great wind knocked down the house of the eldest son killing all of Job’s children. In just a blink, everything and everyone that Job had or cared for was gone. In a rush of grief, Job stood and tore his clothes, then shaved his head stripped bare, saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” The living word of God laid Job naked and bare so that he might render an account of his actions; and that he did. Job did not curse God; but the Accuser wasn’t yet convinced. So Satan went before God again, and again God consented to let the Accuser take control so long as Job’s life was spared. Just when Job thought he had nothing left to lose, Satan inflicted loathsome sores on his entire body, from the sole of his feet to the crown of his head. Job, now a broken man, sat on the ground, slowly scraping his skin with a potsherd. The two-edge sword that is the word of God pierced Job, divided his soul from his spirit. He was mourning, miserable, and distressed.
Job’s friends found him sitting on the ground in an unrecognizable state. Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite came to sit with him on the ground with him for seven days. They sat together, in the pain and in the silence, for a week. Sitting in the pain with a friend is the most powerful thing a person can do. However, these three friends made the mistake that every person makes: they got uncomfortable with the pain and began saying unhelpful things to try to “fix” it for Job. When people get uncomfortable with sitting in the pain they try to make sense of it, saying there must be a reason behind it, that maybe the person who is experiencing pain somehow brought upon themselves. Or even worse, there are the platitudes like, God will never give you more than you can handle, which anyone who has experienced loss or tragedy will say is untrue. This is the mistake we all make when our friends and family suffer, and this is what Job’s friends did.
Eliphaz said, “Those who plow iniquity sow trouble and reap the same.” Bildad told Job to make a “supplication to the Almighty.” Zophar warned Job that, “God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.” Together they said that Job had created trouble, so he was reaping trouble; he must repent because he has gotten the punishment that his sins deserved. These words were spoken to try to fix what was happening, but they only served to kick Job while he was down. This cycle repeated itself 3 times where Eliphaz condemns Job, Job defends himself, Bildad condemns, Jobs defends, Zophar condemns, Job defends, and it starts all over again with Eliphaz. Over and over again these friends slammed Job with accusations and with shallow comfort. Surely Job must have done something to deserve all this right? These friends could only come to this conclusion. Any other conclusion might have threatened their understanding of God; it was easier for them to beat up on Job than it was for them to assess whether or not their beliefs and their theology might need to be challenged, questioned, and stretched. They chose to guard their beliefs instead of showing compassion to Job.
Job stood firm and bold. Each time one of his friends came after him, Job defended himself. Job called out to God, demanded answers and sought out help. Truly, this is what it means to approach the throne of grace with boldness when he said, “I loathe my life! I curse the day I was born. Oh that it would please God to crush me. My complaint is bitter! God has made my heart faint; The Almighty has terrified me.” Such strong and powerful words that Job dared to speak aloud to his friends and to God can be a shock to hear; and yet scripture said he never cursed or sinned when he spoke. Job said, “God has crushed me with a tempest; if it is a contest of strength, God is the strong one! How will you, my friends, comfort me? Your answers are nothing but falsehoods.” These are the words of a man who had nothing and no one, and was only left to defend himself with boldness. If his friends could not answer him, who was left?
There was one more friend who has been silent this entire time, a young man named Elihu. One would think a fresh set of eyes and a new perspective would be a breath of fresh air for this toxic cycle of despair, but Elihu rebuked Job as well, and said, “You said I am clean without transgression, but you are not right. Why do you contend against God?” It would be easy to dismiss Elihu, but he provided a segue into what was to be the living, active, and physically present word of God. Elihu told Job about the elusive wisdom and action of God, and said, “God is greater than any mortal. For God speaks in one way, and in two, though people do not perceive it. See, God is exalted in power. Who is a teacher like God?” Elihu explained that Job and all people do not see what God is at work doing in all of God’s wisdom. There had to be something happening behind the scenes that no one was aware of.
This is when the word of God became living and active in a completely new way when God directly answered Job. God made a theatrical entrance by way of whirlwind. God from this whirlwind declared, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it? Look at Behemoth, which I made just as I made you; it eats grass like an ox. Its bones are tubes of bronze, its limbs like bars of iron. Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook, or press down its tongue with a cord? Its breath kindles coals, and a flame comes out of its mouth.” God tells of the wonders of creation with incredible and mighty animals like behemoth and leviathan. God speaks of the wisdom of the cosmos, that no one else has but God. How can someone like Job judge God when Job doesn’t have the wisdom of all creation? Job repents in dust an ashes.
Here comes the twist, and the surprise of this distressing story: God said that the friends have not spoken what is right about God, but Job had. The friends had defended God, or at least their beliefs about God; Job was the one who defended himself and said shocking, audacious things about God. Job had dared to approach the throne of grace with boldness, and God approved of the rawness and honesty that Job brought before the throne. God’s wrath was kindled against the friends who had to go and sacrifice burnt offerings. God’s compassion is shown when Job’s possessions and family are restored. There is no pretty bow to tie up this story neatly with a satisfying resolution, because Job still suffered and his previous family is gone forever. Maybe that is the point: life is messy, God’s word is often unclear, but God always shows up in the mess. So let us learn from Job that when we cannot grasp divine wisdom when God’s word cuts us like a two-edged sword, we are allowed to approach the throne of grace boldly, honestly, daringly, baring our souls and seeking compassion. Praise be to God. Amen.