Job 3:1-10; 4:1-9; 7:11-21

Job 3:1   After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. 2 Job said:

3          “Let the day perish in which I was born,

and the night that said,

‘A man-child is conceived.’

4          Let that day be darkness!

May God above not seek it,

or light shine on it.

5          Let gloom and deep darkness claim it.

Let clouds settle upon it;

let the blackness of the day terrify it.

6          That night—let thick darkness seize it!

let it not rejoice among the days of the year;

let it not come into the number of the months.

7          Yes, let that night be barren;

let no joyful cry be heard in it.

8          Let those curse it who curse the Sea,

those who are skilled to rouse up Leviathan.

9          Let the stars of its dawn be dark;

let it hope for light, but have none;

may it not see the eyelids of the morning—

10       because it did not shut the doors of my mother’s womb,

and hide trouble from my eyes.

 

Job 4:1   Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered:

2          “If one ventures a word with you, will you be offended?

But who can keep from speaking?

3          See, you have instructed many;

you have strengthened the weak hands.

4          Your words have supported those who were stumbling,

and you have made firm the feeble knees.

5          But now it has come to you, and you are impatient;

it touches you, and you are dismayed.

6          Is not your fear of God your confidence,

and the integrity of your ways your hope?

 

Job 4:7             “Think now, who that was innocent ever perished?

Or where were the upright cut off?

8          As I have seen, those who plow iniquity

and sow trouble reap the same.

9          By the breath of God they perish,

and by the blast of his anger they are consumed.

 

Job 7:11           “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth;

I will speak in the anguish of my spirit;

I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.

12       Am I the Sea, or the Dragon,

that you set a guard over me?

13       When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me,

my couch will ease my complaint,’

14       then you scare me with dreams

and terrify me with visions,

15       so that I would choose strangling

and death rather than this body.

16       I loathe my life; I would not live forever.

Let me alone, for my days are a breath.

17       What are human beings, that you make so much of them,

that you set your mind on them,

18       visit them every morning,

test them every moment?

19       Will you not look away from me for a while,

let me alone until I swallow my spittle?

20       If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of humanity?

Why have you made me your target?

Why have I become a burden to you?

21       Why do you not pardon my transgression

and take away my iniquity?

For now I shall lie in the earth;

you will seek me, but I shall not be.”

 

I am always humbled when allowed to stand in front of this congregation and share my thoughts about a particular Bible passage. And I confess I have struggled with this one.

So Rob decides we are going to focus on the Book of Job and then he leaves town!

And now with all this craziness going on in the world. A black man being shot by a police man right here on a street I have driven down, policemen being shot by a sniper in Dallas, 80 plus people mowed down by a truck driver with a gun in France, a crazy political race for President. Friends with serious illnesses some even terminal. A thunderstorm followed by a wind storm doing damage to homes. Serious flooding in northern Wisconsin. Destitute families in Peru with no heat, little water and meager food supplies.

Why Job? Why does the Bible include this book of complaints?

One Biblical study wrote about the book of Job that “it is an exquisite dramatic treatment of the problem of the suffering of the innocent. – This is a literary composition, and not a transcript of historical events and conversations.”

“The lessons that the book teaches are not transparent, and different interpretations of the divine speeches and of the final chapter are possible.”

Why was this story, so well written, included in the Old Testament? Who was this man Job supposed to be? What was his story? This once rich man who thought he was generously blessed. Then the Devil asked God to let him cause Job to lose his riches, to suffer much physical pain, to suffer mental anguish. And Job did indeed become bitter.

In today’s bible readings Job laments his current state of affairs, then a friend tries to console him, but Job is just too embittered to abandon his complaints to God.

Have you ever been disappointed with God – how God was treating you – that he was letting the Devil disrupt your life? You know maybe when you or your wife or your kids were sick, maybe seriously sick.

How many times did Lisa Smith say “I just don’t know why this is happening!” while Rob was in the hospital. And his mother was not well and his kids had school activities and there was stress with her job. Did she mean “Why is God letting this happen?”

At one point in our lives, Ruthi’s Dad was terminally ill in the hospital, my parents were passengers involved in a car accident, my mom with several broken ribs and my dad with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s. Then our son calls from college dorm a couple states away and says he has mono.

How should a man or woman respond at these times in our lives? Can we be honest with God? Can we plead with Him and ask why me, why now? Is it fair to ask is this revenge for a sin I committed?

 

In today’s passages we hear about a friend who tries to console Job. He praises Job and tries to remind him of all the good he has done for others. But Job rebukes him and continues to complain about his condition – his miserable condition.

Have you been there? Have you been with a friend who is distraught about something in their lives? Loss of a loved one – maybe an accident, maybe a battle with drugs or alcohol, maybe the loss of a job, maybe just an unexplained death in the family.

When the three friends first arrived to be with Job, they said little, they just sat by his side for seven days. And sometimes it is enough to just be there. Maybe hold a hand, or offer a hug, or share some tears. And the friend will draw strength from having a shoulder to lean on.

But not Job.

The biblical scholars say that the authors of the book of Job broke with the traditions of laments portrayed in the Psalms. Oh there is lots of lamenting in the book of Psalms but the words are not direct complaints against God.

For example, in Psalm 22: “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me? Why do you remain so distant? Why do you ignore my cries for help? Every day I call to you My God, but you do not answer. Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief

Yet you are holy. The praises of Israel surround your throne

But I am a worm, not a man. I am scorned and despised by all!”

 

I would like to share a little bit of what I saw, what I perceived when my older brother Don was at the end of his life. You should know that Don was a special person to me, 8 years older, old enough to look up to as I was growing up. Don was almost always successful in what he tried to do. First as a teacher of Agriculture, his FFA groups excelled in regional and state competitions. Only when parents complained that he pushed their kids too hard did he look for other employment.

He became the feed manager of state wide agricultural cooperative in Michigan. And he was successful in increasing sales. He tried new things like adding cherry flavoring so that the cows would eat more. He added baking soda to the feed that increased the butterfat in the milk they produced – but the company he bought the baking soda from also made a fire retardant. Somebody screwed up and put the wrong compound in the wrong bag, the fire retardant was mixed into the feed and thousands of cattle had to be euthanized because the fire retardant permanently altered their health. Don’s career seemed to be in jeopardy.

He landed a job selling liquid feed and moved to central Illinois. While selling the products for the liquid feed company it occurred to him that there was a market for liquid feed (molasses based) in small 5 gallon containers. The company did not want to mess with such small quantities so he asked if he could market it himself and they agreed. He literally began in a small warehouse not much bigger than a garage repackaging the product into the smaller containers.

His business grew and he left the liquid feed company and started his own and called it Double S (S standing for Shepard). He wanted Triple S for him, his wife Evelyn and his son Greg but the name was already taken so they settled for Double S. And his company grew. They bought an abandoned warehouse and repackaged their feed there into 5 gallon containers, barrels and totes. And they showed farmers how to set up storage and pumps to make their feed more flavorful so the cows, and pigs, and horses would eat more of what they needed for a healthy diet.

He was competing with some very big and established companies like Purina and Cargill, and major farm cooperatives. He did well. He was at the order desk at 5:00 a.m. and because he lived just a few miles from the eastern/central time zone boundary, his customers were working at 6:00 a.m. They could call him when they were running out of feed and Don had a truck on the way within a couple of hours. The big companies could not do that. And his costs were lower.

His company grew to have nearly 30 employees and they were doing business in over 25 states. He put in his own feed mixing and storage facility. He bought the warehouse next door. He bought an abandoned Chuckles candy plant so that he had a place to receive train car tanker loads of molasses.

Then one morning as he got ready to go to the feed plant he felt faint and sunk into a nearby easy chair. His wife immediately took him to a Dr. where he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. When I was told, my reaction was what a terrible way to die.

The first surgery removed his esophagus with a tumor that completely blocked his throat. I was there when they did a second surgery to attempt to clean out the rest of the tumors. The Dr. came out of the operating room seemingly with tears in his eyes. He said he did the best he could but he could not get it all. Don lived for a few more months but he never went back to the feed plant. He didn’t ask how it was doing. He didn’t ask about the customers. He didn’t ask about the financials.

What he did do was write down memories – memories of his life. Family and friends came to visit and he greeted them the best he could.

Don was not a religious man. He did not belong to a church. But he had a faith in God. A friend named Alice would come and look after Don on some days. And she asked if he would like her to read to him from the Bible. He said yes and the Bible was at his side for the rest of his days.

 

In the end what seemed to matter the most was the promise that there was more. More than a feed plant, more than awards of recognition, more than a healthy net worth. Sure it must have been comforting to know that his wife was economically secure, that his son was capable of continuing the business.

But the most comfort came from the Bible by his side.

 

In today’s readings we first hear Job complaining about his situation. Then a friend tries to console him to no avail. And then Job continues his lamentations.

What’s the poor guy to do? What are we to do?

 

Let me tell you one more story reported by webpage called The Wired Word.

Elie Wiesel, who, after surviving a Nazi death camp in his teens, became a living witness for the six million Jews slain in the Nazi terror during World War II, died last Saturday at the age of 87 at his Manhattan home.

Eliezer “Elie” Wiesel was born in 1928 in to a Jewish family in Sighet, Romania, growing up with his parents and three sisters. All of that was disrupted in the spring of 1944 when the Nazis marched in and sent the city’s Jews, including all of the Wiesel family to death camps. The Wiesels were routed to Auschwitz, where the male and female members were separated. The point of separation was the last time Wiesel ever saw his mother and one of his sisters, both of whom died in that camp.

“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp.” Wiesel wrote in his book Night, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget the smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreathes of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget those things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God himself. Never.”

On April 11, 1945, Elie Wiesel, having not eaten in six days, was among those liberated from the camp by the U.S. Third Army. He wondered why he had survived when millions of others had not. He eventually concluded that it must have been so that he could bear witness to what had happened.

Admitting that the death of one million children in the camps caused him to question God and even wonder about God’s existence – and despite his words in the book Night quoted above about “moments which murdered my God” Wiesel did not abandon faith. He regularly attended prayer in a nearby synagogue and became more devout as the years passed.

In a 2006 interview, Wiesel was asked what it was like to have strangers ask him why he still believed in God. He responded “You know who asks me the most? It’s children … there are all the reasons in the world for me to give up on God. I have the same reasons to give up on man, and on culture and on education. And yet … I don’t give up on humanity, I don’t give up on culture, I don’t give up on journalism … I don’t give up on it.” Likewise, he didn’t give up on God.

Job’s friend Eliphaz said to him: “In the past you have encouraged many a troubled soul to trust in God; you have supported the weak. Your words have strengthened the fallen; you steadied those who wavered. But now when trouble strikes, you faint and are broken. Does your reverence for God give you no confidence? Shouldn’t you believe that God will care for those who are upright?”   (Job 4: 3 – 6)