By Mike Dawson
Pastor Emeritus, First Baptist Church, Columbia
Focal Passage: Job 36:8-23
“… One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and JUSTICE FOR ALL.” That phrase from our Pledge to the Flag apparently contains ‘fighting words’ for several groups in America today. Many object to the words “one nation under God,” and even “indivisible” and of course “liberty;” but some groups are shouting that “JUSTICE FOR ALL” is especially untrue for them. On this July 4th, our nation’s 245th birthday, it’s timely to be studying from the book of Job about JUSTICE SOUGHT.
The ancient poetical book of Job deals with a number of deep matters, mainly the question, “why do bad things happen to good people?” Job was one of the best people ever — God Himself said so — yet horrendous things happened to him.
Today’s lesson continues that ‘why’ question, but adds an interesting twist: “why do bad people SAY good things?” A bad person (‘bad’ because he was self-righteous instead of being God-righteous) named Elihu stepped out and said interesting things, some of them true, but his point of view was very false.
Who was Elihu, and why study his speech about justice?
Elihu had kept silent until ‘Job and friends’ had finished their verbal boxing match. He claimed he had waited because the others were older. I think he might’ve just simmered until he boiled over — because when he’s introduced, the Scriptures use the word ‘wrath” twice in characterizing him (Job 32:2-6). The friends had slugged it out over questions about Job suffering such awful losses, grief and pain.
After three grueling rounds, the match finally ended. Now angry young Elihu entered the ring, and he had it all to himself; Job was either too tired to fight back or had no time left after the six-chapter harangue. Elihu went over the same fake news the others had fought about: “Job has gotten what he deserved,” and essentially, “He was a hypocrite for claiming his righteousness — when anyone knows that only wicked sinners suffer like this.”
An interesting thing about Elihu’s tiresome tirade: he often told the truth. Bad people can say good things! I’ve paraphrased three of his “truisms” found in Job 36:8-23, today’s study text:
Truism No. 1: A sad death could happen to a saved but sinful soul, and an early death could happen to a hypocrite. (Verses 8-15) Elihu said some startling words here, and some of them are true — except not in Job’s case.
Truism No. 2: A “might-have-been” life is a great tragedy. (Verses 16-21) TRUE! But Elihu contended that God would’ve protected Job from his distresses, yet since he was wicked, judgment and justice overtook him. UNTRUE!
Truism No. 3: “There’s no god like Jehovah!” (Verses 22-23) That refrain from a familiar song could summarize Elihu’s accurate praises: Jehovah is awesome! Who could teach like Jehovah? Who’s ever given directions to Jehovah? Who could ever say that Jehovah is wrong?
“Liberty and justice for all;” amen. But there’s no liberty without a repentant response to the Gospel, and there’s no true justice in any nation not “under God.” May we Americans renew our commitment to the exhortation of Amos 5:24, “Let justice roll down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream.” We can’t have one without the other.