My Meeting Notes, Week of 2/18/24–Psalms 8-10, Acts 6

“When I see your heavens, the works of your fingers, The moon and the stars that you have prepared, What is mortal man that you keep him in mind, And a son of man that you take care of him? You made him a little lower than godlike ones, And you crowned him with glory and splendor. You gave him dominion over the works of your hands; You have put everything under his feet:” (Psalm 8:3-6)

It is a good, appreciative, attitude for life, much better than ‘We pulled ourselves up from our own bootstraps!’ evolution.

Metaphorically, you can probably use it even if you do believe in evolution. After all, it is only ‘origin of life’ [happenstance or created?] at which one must absolutely draw the line. Should developing life incorporate elements of evolution, we can all live with that. Let scientists be scientists and Bible students be Bible students.

The psalmist’s attitude is harder to pull off if you are undergoing Job-like trials. Then again, such an attitude might better enable one to endure them while they last.

 

***When the nations get too big for their pants, which they are wont to do, the psalmist says,

“Rise up, O Jehovah! Do not let mortal man prevail. May the nations be judged in your presence. Strike them with fear, O Jehovah, Let the nations know that they are only mortal men.” (9:19-

 

***His eyes are watching for an unfortunate victim. He waits in his hiding place like a lion in its lair. He waits to seize the helpless one. . . . The victim is crushed and brought down.” (Psalm 10:8-10)

I don’t know anyone like this. Even of the mechanic who billed me for a new carburetor on my Tesla I didn’t go that far.

The whole psalm is about how the wicked one shakes you like a dog with a rat. This may be why Rosie said when she first read the psalms as a young girl, “Man, this guy sure whines a lot!” 

Could you apply it to machinations of humans, be they political parties, governments, or powers transcending governments who push schemes, sometimes will full knowledge they are making you trouble, doing so for their idea of the ‘greater good.’ That scenario fits the tone of the psalm. It’s not for nothing that the Bible likens governments to ‘the heavens.’ They drench you one moment, scorch you the next, freeze you after that, and there’s not a thing you can do about it.

Verses like #4 suggest it’s the atheists up to no good: “In his haughtiness, the wicked man makes no investigation; All his thoughts are: “There is no God.’” But other verses are to the effect that they acknowledge God but count him as a non-factor: “He says in his heart: “God has forgotten. He has turned away his face. He never notices.” (vs 11)

Besides, here’s a commentator (in connection with ‘the senseless one who says in his heart ‘there is no Jehovah’) who says there were no atheists back then, at least not enough to single out as a class: “It never occurred to any writer of the OT [Hebrew Scriptures] to prove or argue the existence of God. . . .It is not according to the spirit of the ancient world in general to deny the existence of God, or to use arguments to prove it. The belief was one natural to the human mind and common to all men.” Dr. James Hastings, A Dictionary of the Bible.

It matters little to say there is a God. What matters is what attributes you assign him. We diss the ancient peoples who worshipped different gods, but when people hold to radically different views of God, is it not in effect different gods they speak of? Just like you mention Oscar Oxgoad and I say ‘I know that guy!’ But further discussion reveals the attributes and physical qualities don’t line up, so you say, ‘Oh, I guess I don’t know him after all. It’s two people who share the same name.’

Who are these characters that assign him whatever attributes they find convenient? I’ll take the overall lesson of the psalm. They’re cocky as all get-out, but God will set matters straight—an underlying theme of the Bible. Humans insist upon self-rule, the underlying Genesis message of knowing ‘good’ and ‘bad’ God says, ‘Don’t try it—you’ll mess it all up.’ They do so anyway. God says, ‘Alright, I allot you such-and-such an amount of time to make good on your claim. When the time is up, we’ll see what kind of a world you’ve made.’

“[The wicked one] says in his heart: ‘I will never be shaken; For generation after generation I will never see calamity.’” (vs 6)

What says the psalmist of God? “Rise up, O Jehovah. O God, lift up your hand. . . . you do see trouble and distress. You look on and take matters in hand. To you the unfortunate victim turns. . . . Break the arm of the wicked and evil man, So that when you search for his wickedness, You will find it no more.” (vs 12-15)

 

***This is from the previous week, but the idea had to gel and be prompted by a question on Quora:

Q (from Quora): Its odd that 1 out of 9 men in the governing body is a person of color. How does that reflect their constituents?

A: 100% of the American presidency was a person of color for 8 years running. Did that result in a country where blacks and whites get along seamlessly, as with JWs? Pew Research reports that [in the United States] the makeup of Jehovah’s Witnesses is almost exactly 1/3 white, 1/3 black, 1/3 Hispanic, with about 5% Asian, mirroring the national population quite well. It is the biblical values taught that count, not the people who serve as placeholders. One should go for substance, rather than symbolism. As the stats show, Witnesses have all but solved racism.

It is pretty much as in Acts 6, when “the Greek-speaking Jews began complaining against the Hebrew-speaking Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution,” necessary because an annual pilgrimage for the Pentecost celebration unexpectedly turned into an extended stay with the formation of the Christian congregation. The apostles jumped on the problem right away, selecting “seven reputable men . . . full of spirit and wisdom, that we may appoint them over this necessary matter.”

Five of the seven are Greek, judging by their names. (vs 5). Good. The Greek names would build confidence among the Greek persons who were agrieved, no doubt. But the apostles saw no need to change their own makeup, incorporating some Greeks among themselves. It’s the same with the Governing Body themselves. With Branches, the governing arrangements start out heavily foreign but as locals advance spiritually a greater load shifts to them, very much like the appointment of the Greek speaking disciples.

 

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Commentaries on Job: 1957, 1942, 1929

I was lamenting at the Kingdom Hall that there is no overall Watchtower commentary on the Book of Job. The elder I was speaking to said there was. ‘I almost fell out of the truth when I read it!’ he quipped. All sorts of understandings, including types and antitypes that we don’t do anymore. He said how he has not seen any of that material in modern times. ‘I don’t think they’re proud of that one,’ he said.

I thought he was speaking of some articles in the 60s that some of the Eliphaz, Bilday, & Zophar remarks link to in the Research Guide, items that come across today as peculiar, though one person in the Kingdom Hall spotted them and commented how ‘deep’ they were. But it turned out it was not them at all referred to. It was a 42-paragraph article in the Sept 1, 1957 Watchtower. It being brought to my attention, I went there. 

1957 is not too long after WWII and the article framed the organizational War experiences of the anointed in terms of Job. (Carl Jung, in 1952, showed how much WWII, specifically the Holocaust, had impacted him when we wrote ‘Answer to Job’—wherein he altogether trashed the God who does nothing but carry on about his almightiness in the face of Job’s great suffering—as though that is the last thing the suffering man needed, whereas the Book of Job itself indicates it is the first.) Job foreshadows Jesus in this 1957 article, since Job’s name means “object of hostility,” and on earth Jesus Christ was the principal object of Satan’s hostility. 

Then, of course, just as Job was persecuted for showing integrity through thick and thin, so was the anointed remnant for showing such integrity during the period of the World Wars, calling out the church clergy for being such ardent cheerleaders of those wars. The Eli, Bill, Zop trio become the clergy continually mean-mouthing and denying the remnant’s supposed integrity towards God, insisting that their lowly circumstances and legal woes meant exactly as outward appearances suggested—that they were losers and frauds. Then, the anointed remnant enters in again as Elihu, who speaks truth about God to counteract the fathheaded and God-dishonoring false doctrines of the clergy, and of Eli, Bill, and Zop.

The 1957 article referred to two books of the Rutherford era, The New World (1942) and Life (1929), each of which devoted many chapters to Job. They were both on eBay, still up for bidding, and not too pricey. I topped the going bid for both of them, then immediately felt (potential) buyer’s remorse—who cares about ancient organizational history? I told myself—it is ‘been there, done that.’ I resolved not to bid anymore. But—no need to—I won both bids and now the books are sitting on my shelf. Yes, I will be going through them, maybe not with a fine tooth comb (or maybe I will) but I will see what they have to say.

That elder who told me of the 1957 article said it doesn’t bother him when interpretations and viewpoints are changed. Part of the ‘light getting brighter’ and all; he had no problem with it. I told him neither did I, however with the caveat that any future revisions I also view as tentative, things that may or may not endure. 

 

Chapter 4 of the book The New World, published in 1942, begins:

“In the critical year of 1942 the developments of the great conflict for world domination drew our attention to the neighborhood of the ancient home of Job, the land of Uz. The inspired record becomes alive with meaning today. It reads: ‘There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job’ (Job 1:1) The record concerning Job is no mere bit of dead ancient history to be pushed aside because of urgent conditions that grimly face us at present. Job was involved in an important way in the chief issue confronting all heaven and earth, and which issue shall be settled in this ‘the day of Jehovah.’ The issue is UNIVERSAL DOMINATION.” [caps theirs, reflecting the still-present recognition that they main issue today is, ‘Who will rule? Will it me human rulership, furthering that claim in Eden that men could be ‘like God, knowing good and bad’—that is, setting their own standards for what is good and what is bad?]

Not “to be pushed aside because of urgent conditions that grimly face us at [1942] present?” Of course not. Job gave meaning to those suffering near-parallel conditions, in some ways worse than those of Job. For nearly a decade by then, there were Witnesses interned in Nazi concentration camps, paying the huge price for what they sporadically still must pay for today—the cost of remaining strictly neutral in national affairs.. They were among the very first so consigned, preceding the far-more-numerous Jews. It’s also well known that once in the camps, they were the only inmates with opportunity to get themselves out; Nazi policy was that if they renounced their faith and pledged allegiance to the regime they could go free. Only a handful took advantage of the offer. Thus, they were not victims of Nazi persecutions so much as martyrs in the face of it.

So, of course they, as serious Bible students striving to keep the faith, would see themselves in terms of Job’s trials. Job’s “true life experience was [like theirs] a prophetic drama which exposes the war hotly waged by religion against Jehovah’s Witnesses from and after Abel, the first martyr slain by a religionist.” Religious unity, as demonstrated by the two largest German faiths, Lutherans and Catholics, had blown sky-high just then, as it had 20 years previously during WWI, necessitating worldwide members of those faiths to rise and stop their fellow church-members who had demonstrated readiness to rise up and blow their fellow ‘brothers’ heads off with a gun if some man with authority would tell them to.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, almost alone, had a logically consistent ‘out’ as to non-participation. If some mama grieved the loss of her son in the European war, well that was a terrible thing, but at least it was not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses who killed him.

 

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Job 38: At This Point Job has Won His Case But He Doesn’t Know It.

Job files charges against God and God shows up to answer. He doesn’t exactly say, ‘This trial is a witch hunt!’ but he’s not intimidated by it. He skips entirely the opening arguments and launches straight into cross-examination. Just how qualified is his prosecutor to be leveling the charges he has? Turns out that the prosecutor admits he’s not very qualified at all. ‘Um . . . sorry,’ he murmurs. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

At this point Job has won his case but he doesn’t know it. When the verdict is read later, delivered by one accused, no less—you can do such things when you are God—he gets off with but a mild reproof, whereas his three accusers come in for sharp censure. When reparations are made, Job makes off like a bandit. He went from everything to nothing and he goes back to everything.

Not exactly everything. Replacement children are not quite the same as original children. You grow to love those new ones, but they are not the same. Not to mention that the originals take objection to having been bumped off. What of Job’s original 10 offspring—maybe not even meaning a literal ten but just an indication that, when it came to family, Job had it all—and lost it. What about them?

Cut to Job’s hope in a resurrection, which sometimes seems to be intact and sometimes doesn’t. Does he come to nurture that hope again? The comfort of the resurrection is that loved one who have departed have not really departed for good; it is more like they’ve begun a long journey from which they will return. Takes the sting out of death, that does. Here is a Revelation passage from John, penned long after Job’s time, that when God’s kingdom ‘comes’ and his ‘will be done on earth as it is in heaven,’ death will be no more:

“I also saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God and prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. With that I heard a loud voice from the throne say: ‘Look! The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his people. And God himself will be with them.’” It’s not mankind ascending to heaven to become angels; it’s ’the tent of God’ descending upon ‘mankind’ where they remain his ‘peoples.’ Jettison some inherited church doctrine that the earth is but a launching pad for an eternity in heaven (for those who are ‘good’) and a lot of mysteries clear up. Just where was that doctrine inherited from?

“I have hope toward God,’ Paul declared to Roman authorities, ‘which hope these men [his religious persecutors] also look forward to, that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.’ How much of this hope did Job also entertain, many centuries prior? Unclear—but possibly he did, particularly as he would get used to his formerly ravaged life being restored. God never does address the suppositions of Job’s persecuting trio, and seemingly Job himself, that he caused the children’s death. Did he, was it ‘wrong place at the wrong time,’ or was it something even more? Turns out with Job that it was something even more, but the man never got a clue as to the heavenly challenge in which he played a starring role.

Job’s fortune and reputation is restored following this appearance of God, so, Duh—he must have passed some sort of test, but to his dieing day he never knows just what that test was. Do you think maybe God, as he ends his cross-questions—which satisfies Job though it doesn’t address his withdrawn challenge, allowing G. K. Chesterton to say much later, ‘The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man’—do you think that Jehovah could have then revealed the contest between He and Satan and how Job’s course had proved Satan a liar? How come it’s not tacked on at the end of his long speech, tying together all the loose ends?

Hmm. Wouldn’t such an ending be a little cheesy, as though a celestial Game Show Host exclaiming, ‘You’re on Candid Camera!’ Wouldn’t such an ending, such as you might expect in a movie, encourage everyone going through hard times forever after to if they, too, are subjects of a wager in heaven?

Nah—better to leave it as it is, with an ending that isn’t at all conventional, doesn’t check the boxes that one might expect checked, and leaves each participant full range to reconcile their own trials with Elihu’s words at 37:23: ‘Understanding the Almighty is beyond our reach; He is great in power, And he never violates his justice and abundant righteousness.’ Even should they get it wrong under duress, they generally have opportunity to get back on track after the dust settles. Knowing Job’s course and outcome, however, may help them to not get it wrong should their time come. ‘You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome Jehovah gave, that Jehovah is very tender in affection and merciful,’ says the apostle James. (James 5:11)

 

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Job 36-37: Elihu Continues. More Lessens to be Drawn

As to the suffering humans go through from time to time: “But if they are bound in shackles And caught in ropes of affliction, He reveals to them what they have done, Their transgressions caused by their pride. He opens their ears to correction.” (Job 36:8-10)

Sometimes he ‘reveals to them what they have done’ by incapacitating them for so long that their thoughts at last roll around to the subject. It may be a long long time, for we are a dense lot. It may even be after the trial has passed and we reflect upon whether any lessons can be drawn from it or not, and at last conclude they can. However:

“The godless at heart will harbor resentment. They do not cry for help even when he binds them.” (36:13) Sure. They just bellyache forever about being wronged. Alas, who isn’t wronged by something or someone at one time or another? How will one respond to it?

“They die while still young, Spending their life among male temple prostitutes.” (vs 14) Let’s just politely pass over this one as something that may have been time-sensitive.

“But God rescues the afflicted during their affliction; He opens their ear when they are oppressed.” (vs 15) Ditto the above remarks on vs 8-10. Then afterward, “he draws you away from the brink of distress To a broad space, free of restriction, With rich food on your table as consolation. (16)

He is pretty powerful, God is:

“For he says to the snow, ‘Fall to the earth,’ And to the downpour of rain, ‘Pour down mightily.’ God puts a stop to all human activity So that every mortal man will know His work.” (Job 37:6-7)

Yeah—like the Bills game he put a stop to—postponed due to snow. The wind blows west to east across the Great Lakes and God help you if you have build a stadium on the eastern end. Not only that, but Elon has to cancel his rockets every other day due to sucky weather. Many things more serious happen, too. Sometimes I think that’s why equatorial regions generally tail the developed world—it’s too hot to want to do anything there. Nor are people sitting too pretty after God has been saying, ‘Pour down mightily’ to the rain for any length of time. How pretty can you be as your house slides into the ravine?

“The storm wind blows from its chamber, And the cold comes from the north winds. . . .[backtracking] The wild animals go into their dens And remain in their lairs.”(8-9)

In my part of the world, they go to Florida as “sunbirds.” Though, sometimes they go to Florida, are dismayed at the heat, and come halfway back to settle in Virginia or area of similar latitude to become “halfbacks.” But if they stay in Florida, they must learn that if you miss a turn, you do not just turn around in a driveway to correct your course. You must drive all the way around a massive block, five to ten miles or so, to finish the job. Traffic is an abomination and few roads that go anywhere have less than six packed lanes.

“[Humans] cannot even see the light, Though it is bright in the sky, Until a wind passes by and clears away the clouds.” (Job 37:21)

Yeah, it doesn’t take much to kneecap them, does it? It’s an object lesson drawing on physical realities to show how humans are not in the best position to tell God how to run the universe.

“Understanding the Almighty is beyond our reach.” (vs 23)

This is a little less so than when the verse was written; some of His gimmicks we have figured out—but still basically it is true. It is rather like when Newton, Kepler, Galileo and others described physical laws of the universe. Far from thinking they were burying God, they supposed they were glorifying him by revealing just the orderly manner in which he worked. But they still only scratched the surface towards ‘understanding the Almighty.’ Later scientists would uncover major disorder in the subatomic universe and yet still somehow God makes it all work.

Here and there, Elihu draws in material unknown in his day, even without the help of Newton, Kepler, and Galileo. “He draws up the drops of water; They condense into rain from his mist; Then the clouds pour it down; They shower down upon mankind,” he casually lets drop at 36:27-28, describing the water cycle and giving full credence to ones insisting that the Bible’s real author disseminates such tidbits well beyond the science of its day.

“Listen to this, Job; Stop and consider carefully the wonderful works of God.” (37:14) . . . “Understanding the Almighty is beyond our reach; He is great in power, And he never violates his justice and abundant righteousness.” (23) It will work out if you hang in there and hang in there as long as it takes. And even if you don’t, maybe you can make it all good later.

“Therefore, people should fear him. For he does not favor any who think that they are wise.” (24)

If he doesn’t, then I won’t either. Few things are more insufferable than the wise instructing the great unwashed in the principles of sound reasoning, always with the assumption that it goes without saying they themselves are in full compliance.

And with these final words of Elihu, the opening act for God’s appearance is complete. There will be an ever-so-brief intermission during which time you may sip drinks and use the restrooms. Do not say as I did to my newly-betrothed wife who didn’t yet fully understand my sense or humor during intermission at the Shaw Festival where everyone was dressed the nines: “Here’s people we don’t hang out with often—‘the wicked!” drawing upon Psalm 73. I know, I know. Completely unfair. No doubt most of them were nice. My newly-betrothed wife looked at me oddly.

 

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Drinking in Derision Like Water—Job 34

Elihu is now rolling with his single speech that spans 6 chapters. What are we to make of Job 34:7?

What other man is like Job, Who drinks up derision like water?

At first glance, it might just seem an acknowledgment that Job suffers a lot. But ‘suffering’ is not the word used. It is ‘derision’: criticism, mockery, ridicule. But he is not just experiencing derision, as though a helpless victim drowning in the stuff. He is drinking it up. 

The expression, ‘You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink,’ may help. In Job’s case, he has not only been led to water, but he is ‘drinking it up’—avidly.

Who derides him? His three assailants, who had originally come to comfort him. When does it happen? Whenever he starts carrying on about his fine conduct before God. The implication is that if he kept his mouth shut, it wouldn’t happen. The three thugs would soon get bored and go away.

Seen in this light, might we revisit Elihu’s prior words (“Speak, for I want to prove you right” at 33:32) as though meaning: ‘I want to prove you right but you are making it difficult! Knock it off with ‘drinking down derision,’ already!’ The fellow really is a good opening act for God, who, by restoration of his former station and fortune, really does convey the verdict that Job is ‘right.’

Elihu isn’t the gem with critics that he is within the Jehovah’s Witness world. Says the Watchtower (10/1/57): “Modern critics call Elihu ‘loquacious’ and say his speeches were ‘longwinded,’ because he spoke so extendedly, presenting the material that is contained in chapters 32 through 37 in the book of Job.” (A ‘pompous little windbag,’ another has called him. “But Elihu saw that the vindicating of Jehovah God was more important than the vindicating of any man,” the Watchtower continues. So it’s okay. Sky’s the limit if you’re going to do that, they say.

Elihu’s reproof of Job has huge ramifications for me, though I probably won’t be instructed by it. Keep an argument going forever and you are, in effect, drinking up derision. Your opponent does not give up. As often as not, several of his allies join in to tell you what a dope you are.

Now, a few caveats. One, it’s not as though Job has anything else to do. Why not kick back at his opponents? As long as he realizes it’s not going anywhere, what’s the harm? Trouble is, he does think it should go somewhere and it causes him major angst when it does not. It’s his own fault, Elihu says. Zip his own mouth and it won’t happen.

As a second caveat, to a certain degree, I already have learned from this principle. I don’t keep disputes going anything like I once did. State a few point as cogently as I can, and then retire. Twitter (X) helped me enormously in this, with its character limit that forced the windbags to be concise. Usually, one must give an opponent the last word, because no way is he ever going to accede that to you—unless you want to squabble to your dying day, you grant the final word to him. For the most part, it is the position any Christian finds himself in with relation to the greater world. Previously, I have said such things as, ‘The key to such discussion is to know that you will lose. Opponents must have their day in the sun before the Great Arguer puts an end to matters once and for all, turning defeat into victory.

A third caveat—I dunno, is it really a caveat, or is it a corollary?—It dovetails quite nicely with current counsel not to ‘engage’ with ‘apostates’—even if I suspect that counsel is taken to an excessive degree. When you do so ‘engage,’ as often as not, you end up ‘drinking in derision as water,’ because you will find they do not give up. I think this is because ‘genuine’ apostasy (as opposed to the ‘wild talk’ of someone who has been hurt) is a matter of the heart, and as such, is poorly addressed by reason, a product of the head. ‘Taste and see that Jehovah is good,’ the Psalm says. What if someone has tasted and seen He is bad? Will you be able to reason with him that his tastebuds are off?

End of caveats. Back to Job’s ‘drinking in derision like water.’ He shouldn’t do it, is apparently Elihu’s point. Apart from whether he should do it or not (for few have done it as much as me, even if I have mellowed some), it ought to be apparent that it never gets one anywhere, that is, if ‘getting anywhere’ means persuading the other person. (If it means, sharpening your own cogency, that is a different matter.) In all the time I have spent online, going on many years, rarely does one see anyone change at all with regard to core positions. Might this be because matters of the heart are handled as though they are matters of the head?

To the extent this is true, I am highly suspicious of new-fangled terms that have to do with refining the intellect—‘critical thinking’, ‘confirmation bias’, and maybe to top it all, the ‘Dunning-Kruger effect,’ which means the dumber people are, the more they think they are in the know. As often as not, the one most insistent on ‘critical thinking’ assumes he has a lock on the stuff. The one who hammers us about ‘confirmation bias’ is blind to his own. Invoking ‘Dunning-Kruger’ is just a means of insulting one’s opponents, who are ‘arrogant’—if they weren’t arrogant, they would fall into line and stop opposing. It is all school-yard bullying couched in intellectual terms.

If it really is so that God is looking into hearts, not heads, then even ChatGBT represents a giant step in leading humanity towards the dead-end of supposing heart matters can be settled by the head. It’s sort of like G K Chesterton commenting on science, that gold-standard of those who trust in the head—saying something to the effect of, ‘Science is at its best when you can tell it where to go.’ As a tool of discovery, it’s great. As the be-all and end-all, it falls laughably short. Better to simply accede to the Bible’s ‘be reasonable,’ and to tell oneself that we don’t have to know everything. At any rate, we can’t know everything, so it is better for the health to acknowledge we don’t have to. 

Keep science in its place and it is fine. But use it with an overreliance on ‘critical thinking,’ freedom from ‘confirmation bias’ and self-assurance that Dunning-Kruger applies to those people, not you, and it is like the dolt fine-tuning his old Chevy for that cross-country trip, when anyone with half a brain knows its the new Ford he should take. The old Chevy will probably collapse. But the old Chevy looks better—he likes the styling—and he want’s to impress his friends.

Job says, (31:35): “If only someone would listen to me! I would sign my name to what I have said. Let the Almighty answer me!” Elihu (later) replies, “Your legal case is before him, so you should wait anxiously for him.” (35:14)

God shows up for the court summons Job has issued! Let no one say He is not humble; if the gerbils issued you a court summons, would you show up? But when he does, it is to cross-examine Job, not be questioned by him. In the end, he never does answer Job’s questions, and yet Job is satisfied. Chesterton’s take? “The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.”

There is a limit to the answers we can demand of God. I think of Anthony Morris relating to the convention how he began to sweat when his house didn’t sell, yet he desperately needed the money for some soon-to-occur obligation. ‘It’s getting a little tight here,’ he related, looking upward, but then gave the aside, ‘He’s God—he can do what he wants.’ In the end, his house sold with minutes to spare. He streamlined a few procedures. ‘It isn’t usually done that way,’ the buyer observed. ‘It is today,’ he shot back. 

Get a few experiences like that under your belt and it is the making of strong faith—but it’s nothing you can prove to another person. If someone says God had nothing to do with it, you certainly can’t reason him out of it. ‘Let each one be convinced in his own mind.’

Better to focus on qualities of the heart—you know, those qualities recommended so much that they are considered prerequisites for appointment to Christian oversight. How does God feel about qualities of the head? Beyond that of being ‘reasonable,’ are there even any of such qualities on the list? I mean, if you think you have such qualities of the head, by all means, bring your gift to the altar. But don’t for one moment think they are as valuable as qualities of the heart. Use your gift to support, to buttress, to frame in public relations terms what it seems the heart people have neglected to adequately frame. That is far better, to my mind, and hopefully far more pleasing to God, than to insinuate, to undermine, to thrust forth your solution as the solution that your less intellectually-endowed brothers ought to follow.

In the end, the things of God are elusive. You just can’t shake Him down to spill, and certainly not by means of your intellect. He’ll do what he does and you won’t know until he does it; surely, that is among the lessons of Job.  Elihu’s reproof of Job stands, buttressed later by God himself. There are some places you just don’t go—such as Job’s demand that God explain himself. It is not so much that he can’t be forgiven for going there. He can and he is. It is that going there does him no good. He just ends up harming himself. God will explain when he explains. In the meantime, you’d best go easy on your fellow slaves, because, ‘to his own master he stands or falls,’ not to you. 

 

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Job’s Anecdotal Evidence: A Court Summons to God

Job supplies his ‘anecdotal evidence’ in Chapter 31, his testimony. “Let God weigh me with accurate scales; Then he will recognize my integrity,” he says. (Job 31:6)

His life course is one of integrity toward God. If it was not, downfall would be justified, he believes, but it has been.

If my footsteps deviate from the way Or my heart has followed after my eyes Or my hands have been defiled, … If my heart has been enticed by a woman And I have lain in wait at my neighbor’s door, … If I denied justice to my male or female servants When they had a complaint against me, … If I refused to give the poor what they desired Or saddened the eyes of the widow; If I ate my portion of food alone Without sharing it with the orphans;… If I saw anyone perishing for lack of clothing Or a poor man with nothing to cover himself; … If I shook my fist against the orphan When he needed my assistance in the city gate; … If I put my confidence in gold Or said to fine gold, ‘You are my security!’ If I found my joy in my great wealth Because of the many possessions I acquired;” (31: 7-25)

All those things would be bad, meriting God’s disfavor, he believes, but he never did any of them!

Have I ever rejoiced over the destruction of my enemy Or gloated because evil befell him?  I never allowed my mouth to sin. . . Have the men of my tent not said, ‘Who can find anyone who has not been satisfied with his food?’ No stranger had to spend the night outside; I opened my doors to the traveler. Have I ever tried to cover over my transgressions, like other men, By hiding my error in the pocket of my garment?” Have I been in fear of the reaction of the multitude, Or have I been terrified by the contempt of other families, Making me silent and afraid to go outside?”  (29-34) No, his life is not characterized by any of those things.

It is his testimony. He has always been upright. He’s ready to sign it: “I would sign my name to what I have said. Let the Almighty answer me!” (31:35) It is like a court summons to God! And God shows up! Let no one say God is not humble. If gerbils sent you a court summons, would you show up?

Before God does, however, Job’s testimony is all peremptorily denied by his three interrogators: 

Eliphaz: Is [your suffering] not because your own wickedness is so great And there is no end to your errors? For you seize a pledge from your brothers for no reason, And you strip people of their garments, leaving them naked. You do not give the tired one a drink of water, And you hold back food from the hungry. The land belongs to the powerful man, And the favored one dwells in it. But you sent away widows empty-handed, And you crushed the arms of fatherless children. That is why you are surrounded by traps, And sudden terrors frighten you;  (Job 22:5-10)

Why does he reject Job’s testimony, instead charging just the opposite? Because it conflicts with his own ‘theology:’ “What I have seen,” Eliphaz says previously, “is that those who plow what is harmful And those who sow trouble will reap the same. By the breath of God they perish, And through a blast of his anger they come to an end. . . . Even the teeth of strong lions are broken.”  (Job 4:8-10)

His pre-formed—faulty, as it turns out—theology tells him Job must have been ‘plowing what is harmful’ for him to be suffering now. Job, who otherwise might have agreed with that theology, undergoes the worst of spiritual crises to accompany his crisis on all other fronts, because he knows he has not been ‘plowing what is harmful’—quite the contrary. So he works out his angst by blaming God for being both cruel and unfair. This further inflames Eliphaz and crew, already riled that Job is resisting their ‘correction.’ Now they read  false positive for apostasy and figure they must attack Job for that reason, too. Presently they are all but hurling epithets at the poor fellow.

Before chalking up the above to the oddities of religious people, reflect that all of society is that way. If you have benefited from acupuncture, say, and want to tell the world about it, you will find yourself derided among the materialist crowd for advocating ‘pseudoscience.’ What about your own beneficial experience, you will ask. ‘It will be attributed to ‘anecdotal evidence,’ inherently unreliable. It doesn’t matter how many like testimonies you can gather; it will all be attributed to ‘anecdotal evidence’ by those whose scientific ‘theology’ admits to no other view—they can’t replicate your experience in their test tubes, so they assume you are either deluded or lying. Mechanisms may differ, but the overall pattern is no different than Job’s ‘anecdotal evidence’ rejected by those of a different theology.

You can go along with the airy dismissal of ‘anecdotal evidence.’ Then one day you find it is your evidence they are trying to dismiss and you wonder how people can be so high-handed and stubborn.

 

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The Book of Job: Do the Birds Fret About What They Must Have Done Wrong?

Early on, Kushner draws on the real-life example that his wife feeds the birds but every so often she forgets. When she does and the birds arrive to find nothing where they have always found abundance, do they fret about what they must have done wrong to merit such a calamity? This little parable speaks to us because my wife also feeds the birds but every so often she forgets. When she remembers, you can hear the creatures chatter: “She did it! That nice lady filled up the feeders again with scrumptious seed! Come, fellow birds, eat up!”

But what do they think when either wife forgets? I’ve never thought to ask the question. Kushner has. He doesn’t know for sure, he says, but he doesn’t think they fret much. Probably, they just fly off to find another stash of food. It is only humans who say, ‘What did I do wrong?’ Thus is set up a central premise in Job.

‘Nothing,’ Job says, ‘I did nothing wrong at all.’ ‘Of course you did!’ his comforters say, pounding as with sledgehammers the point that he must have done something wrong to be punished the way he plainly seems to be. Just like that post I wrote long ago about the New Orleans preachers: They all agreed post-Katrina that the city must have done something wrong, disagreeing only on what that something was.

Had Job’s three comforters pondered a book yet to be written, the Book of Ecclesiastes, they might have come to realize that “time and unexpected events overtake them all.” It’s no one’s fault. That is why “the swift do not always win the race, nor do the mighty win the battle, nor do the wise always have the food, nor do the intelligent always have the riches, nor do those with knowledge always have success.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11) Wrong place at the wrong time is all.

Of course, had the comforters access to Ecclesiastes and been swayed by it, they still would have been wrong. How were they to know, or anyone, the heavenly drama unfolding in the first two chapters of Job whereby the man became a test case for keeping integrity under adversity? With Job, it is not just boilerplate, ‘Just as fish are caught in an evil net and birds are caught in a trap, so the sons of men are ensnared in a time of disaster, when it suddenly overtakes them.’ It is targeted ‘Just as fish are caught in an evil net and birds are caught in a trap, so the sons of men are ensnared in a time of disaster, when it suddenly overtakes them.’ (Ecclesiastes 9:12)

 

Jehovah’s Witnesses break ranks with nearly the entire church world, in fact, nearly the entire religious world, for saying that, at death, one lapses into nothingness. Humans do not have souls. They are souls. When they die, their soul dies. Any hope of future life lies in an also-future resurrection. In the meantime, death is the end—a belief that flies in the face of almost all religion.

If the church model holds true than when someone dies they don’t really die because their soul lives on, you’d almost expect that to be on every page of the Bible—it being part of the continuum of life. ‘So and so died, and up to heaven he went. Another fine person died and also ascended. But this lout passed, and down went his soul to the inferno.’ Instead, you never see it, save for a few brief snippets that bear all the earmarks of allegory—you really have to stretch the point to take them as literal. If you are determined to do it nonetheless, then demand to see the bush every time someone says you must not beat around it.

Nowhere is the ‘death is the end of all things’ model more explicit than in the Book of Ecclesiastes. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do with all your might, for there is no work nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom in the Grave, where you are going.” (9:10) The lesson to be drawn? There is nothing in the Grave but nothing. “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing at all, nor do they have any more reward, because all memory of them is forgotten.” (9:5)

‘Yeah, well,’ said an evangelical to me, circling the wagons to protect his immortal soul belief, ‘Solomon was bummed when he wrote that,—he was down on life.’ I admit, that is something I never thought of, as though his 700 wives had driven him to distraction to the point where (were the thought not sacrilegious) he wished he were gay. My own Bible student had encountered women problems but assured me that he had “stopped well short of 700.”

‘No wisdom in the Grave’ says Ecclesiastes 9:10. Grave is capitalized in the New World Translation because it is the common grave of humankind, not just an individual grave. The original Hebrew word is Sheol. When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek, (the Septuagint) Hades was selected as the proper rendering of Sheol. (Compare Psalm 16:10 to Acts 2:31, where Sheol in the first becomes Hades in the second.)

Modern English Bibles sow confusion when they translate original language words into their equivalent English meanings. It makes sense that they would do that, particularly when cultures unfamiliar with Judeo-Christian terminology are apt to read Sheol or Hades and figure it must be references to some place of geography, such as Seaol or Hanoi. But it becomes harder thereby to discern the origin of certain nonbiblical doctrines. Both Sheol and Hades have often been translated as ‘hell.’

Says the book, ‘The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life,’ In the Hebrew Scriptures of the Bible the word “hell” is translated from the Hebrew word sheolʹ. This word occurs 65 times in all. The King James Version of the Bible, however, translates sheolʹ 31 times as “hell,” 31 times as “grave,” and 3 times as “pit.” The Catholic Douay Version of the Bible translates sheolʹ as “hell” 63 times and as “pit” once and as “death” once. In the Christian Greek Scriptures the word “hell” is sometimes translated from the Greek word hádes. Both the King James and Douay versions translate hádes as “hell” in each of its ten occurrences.’

They’ll translate Sheol and Hades every which way, and this is with old Bibles. Newer Bibles are far worse, far more apt to translate Sheol as Grave. They are better for conveying meaning but worse for conveying origin.

 

It’s an aside. I digress. But Job’s visitors and Job himself might have been adjusted by Ecclesiastes. If I digress, it is in the same manner that G K Chesterton would digress. He would review an author and take the occasion to say whatever he wanted to say. He gave the author no short shrift in doing so. He commentaries on Dickens (Charles Dickens: A Critical Study (1906) are considered among the finest ever written and, in fact, revived the author from the obscurity he might otherwise have fallen in to.

 

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Job 19 — The Redeemer

Feet held fast in the stocks of tragedy, breakdown and debility, Job is pummeled on all sides—to the point where he may lose track of his own head. He cries:

“If only my words were written down, If only they could be inscribed in a book! O that they were carved forever in the rock, With an iron stylus and lead!” (19:23-24)

Yes, put them down somewhere before these louts pound me into mush with their specious words!—cisterns that don’t hold water, polished marble gravestones that conceal rotted bones. Has anyone been there? You know what’s what, but the hounds are tearing at your flesh to the point you may lose track of it. If only it was written down!

God has it in for him. He’s thrown him down, uprooted his hope. He sends his troops to finish off the job—troops in the form of brothers driven from him, friends who abandon him, servants who jeer him, louts who have gained the upper hand and taunt him, other friends who now detest him, and comforters who beat him up. (19: 8-19)

And yet—and yet— “For I well know that my redeemer is alive; He will come later and rise up over the earth. After my skin has thus been destroyed, While yet in my flesh, I will see God, Whom I will see for myself, Whom my own eyes will see, not someone else’s.” (25-27)

He’s not dead yet, just as the Monty Python Dark Ages peasant thrown on the corpse-wagon was not dead yet. His hope is not dead yet. Almost, stretched to the breaking point it is, but not quite dead yet. There will somehow be a last day in which all is set right.

“But deep inside I feel overwhelmed!” (vs 27) He barely seems to know what he is saying.

To his tormentors: “For you say, ‘In what way are we persecuting him?’ Since the root of the problem is with me.” (vs 28)

Yeah, it’s his own fault, they say. So if we just point that out to him, how does that become a problem?

“Be in fear of the sword yourselves,” Job tells them.  “For the sword brings punishment against errors; You should know that there is a judge.”

 

Says Chesterton: [Job finally] demands an accounting from God, but “in the spirit in which a wife might demand an explanation from her husband whom she really respected. He remonstrates with his Maker because he is proud of his Maker. He even speaks of the Almighty as his enemy, but he never doubts, at the back of his mind, that his enemy has some kind of a case which he does not understand, In a fine and famous blasphemy he says, ‘Oh that mine adversary had written a book!’ It never really occurs to him that it could possibly be a bad book.”

A redeemer. (v 25) He knows that one will come later and ‘rise up over the earth’—it will be a big deal. Bells and whistles go off in JW land at mention of a redeemer, for it is a cornerstone Bible theme. Naomi and her makeshift clan had fallen on hard times, but it was all made right by a redeemer (repurchaser—the word can be rendered either way). It foreshadows the Christ’s (Hebrew: Messiah) own role as repurchaser. Adam sells out his offspring through disobedience, bringing upon all of them the penalty for sin. Jesus buys back by paying just the right price exactly offsetting that of Adam, the only other perfect man who’d ever existed. Put faith in that arrangement and you’re golden, so long as you hold to it.

Through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because they had all sinned. (Romans 5:12)

The wages sin pays is death, but the gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord. (6:23)

The first man Adam became a living person.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.  (1 Corinthians 15:25)

So, the redeemer verse is a big deal for Jehovah’s Witnesses, right up there with ‘Until I die I shall not take away my integrity,’ and ‘Have you seen the storehouses of snow that I’ve stocked up for the Great Day?’ Those verses comprise our own triumvirate of verses. There are a few others, but anything in the preamble of Job, chapters 1 and 2, doesn’t count, for it is just setting the stage.

Then there is the one about Job never being overly attentive to a virgin. (31:1) We tromp on that one for all it’s worth because we’re trying to delay our kids from sex until they’re ready—and ‘ready’ for us means, not only being no longer kids, but being married, and ideally married at a mature age—not just ‘at the bloom of youth’ age.

It’s not easy. The verse doesn’t even fit, really, and is better used as a stopgap against adultery. But we need all the help we can get. The young people creep closer and closer to this new thing that is sexual attraction. It is so tantalizing, so enticing. What’s all this fuss of the old people, with the cautions and dating restrictions? They edge in ever closer, till—like entering the threshold of a black hole, the strange force sucks them into an elongated two-mile strand of spaghetti.

 

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Job 27: Until I Die I Will Not Renounce My Integrity

Job did confront God. It might read shocking to some who imagine him composing songs of praise to God on his bed of nails. In the end, though, all was forgiven and he was cut considerable slack due to the agonizing stress he was under. His three interrogators, on the other hand, were cut less slack, since they used their good health to pound their fellow into the ground with their ‘holiness’ and assumed ‘theology’ which held that if you suffer, it serves you right. You must have done something wrong.

The scripture from Job that makes our day as Jehovah’s Witnesses—you can almost hear the cymbals crash at Kingdom Hall when it is cited—is “Until I die, I will not renounce my integrity.” Right it is that it should be highlighted, for it demonstrates that man can, under the worst of circumstances, maintain integrity to God.

But it is part of a package: The full verse reads: “It is unthinkable for me to declare you men righteous! Until I die, I will not renounce my integrity!

Part of keeping his integrity lies in not letting these three bullies gaslight him, not ‘declaring them righteous.’ He knows who he is. He knows he is not what they say, a hypocrite who fully deserves his own downfall. “I will maintain my righteousness and never let it go; My heart will not condemn me as long as I live.” (vs 6) Defending himself before these three louts is part of ‘not renouncing his integrity.’

Apparently, not renouncing his integrity even involves challenging God. Job begins his speech with a preamble just 3 verses earlier: “As surely as God lives, who has deprived me of justice, As the Almighty lives, who has made me bitter.

Of course he  confronts his Creator!’ Unless there really is a hellfire, he couldn’t possibly suffer more than he is doing at present! What’s he got to lose? What’s God going to do—kill him? That’s exactly what he wants. Although we go on and on about Job’s faith in the resurrection, even writing a song about it (and it’s a good song, too), the context of his remark appears to show he doesn’t have any faith in a resurrection at all:

He says: “For there is hope even for a tree. If it is cut down, it will sprout again, And its twigs will continue to grow. . . . At the scent of water it will sprout; And it will produce branches like a new plant. But a man dies and lies powerless; When a human expires, where is he? Waters disappear from the sea, And a river drains away and dries up. Man also lies down and does not get up. Until heaven is no more, they will not wake up, Nor will they be aroused from their sleep.” (Job 14: 7-12)

so that the verses we like, the verses that follow, read as though something he would like to see, but fat chance that they will! Wishful thinking they appear to be, no more: 

O that in the Grave you would conceal me, That you would hide me until your anger passes by, That you would set a time limit for me and remember me! If a man dies, can he live again? I will wait all the days of my compulsory service Until my relief comes. You will call, and I will answer you. You will long for the work of your hands.”

It’s a little hard to tell for sure, but those first verses hardly seem a preamble to lauding God for the resurrection hope.

Nonetheless, God makes it all good at the end. Job makes no accusation to God beyond what can easily be explained by the suffering he undergoes. His companions, under no stress at all, go well beyond anything Job says. ‘What does God care if you do what’s right? It’s impossible to please him. Even the angels can’t do it!’ — they revisit the point several times. ‘The very heavens are not clean in his eyes,’ say they.

While one might come online and chew out an Eliphaz, Bildad, or Zophar, one does not do it with a Job, condemnatory though some of his reasonings were. That role must be reserved for God. Even Elihu, who has words of correction for Job, makes clear his motive: “If you have something to say, reply to me. Speak, for I want to prove you right,”  he says to Job. (33: 32) In the meantime, he’s not going to take advantage of his health to bully a sick man, as the other three fellows do: “Look! I am just like you before the true God; From the clay I too was shaped. So no fear of me should terrify you, And no pressure from me should overwhelm you.” (33: 6-7)

No one wants to be a Zophar, who to put it in modern terms, visits a patient on a respirator with COVID-19, who has lost his entire family to that plague, has lost everything else as well, who says something rash in his agony, so Zophar responds: “I have heard a reproof that insults me—my understanding impels me to reply.” (!) You almost expect him to challenge Job to a duel! It’s his mission to defend God from any ill talk, regardless of circumstances, but there are times to give it a rest.

You can’t tell a person that their experience is not theirs. No one should try. Everyone will have their say until God debuts with 70 questions to make you say, as did Job, ‘maybe I was a little rash.

 

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Job 29-30: Taking Delight in Another’s Downfall

Why do I think of that Billie Halliday song”

‘And when you’ve got money, you’ve got lots of friends, crowding round your door. When the money’s gone, and all your spending ends, they won’t be round anymore.’

It’s a lot worse than that for Job. They do come around—to spit on him. What is it with people who take delight in another’s downfall?

“They mock me even in their songs; I have become an object of scorn to them.  They detest me and keep their distance from me; They do not hesitate to spit in my face.  Because God has disarmed me and humbled me, They throw off all restraint in my presence. On my right they rise up like a mob; They put me to flight And put up barriers of destruction in my path. They tear up my roadways And make my calamity worse, Without anyone to stop them.  (Job 30:10-13)

Not like in the old days at all when Job “used to go out to the city gate And take my seat in the public square, The young men would see me and step aside, And even the old men would rise and remain standing. Princes refrained from speaking; They would put their hand over their mouth. The voices of the prominent men were silenced; Their tongue was stuck to the roof of their mouth. Whoever heard me would speak well of me, And those who saw me would testify for me. For I would rescue the poor who cried for help, (29:7-12)

It was a big deal to be at the city gate. Here the JW Library footnote links to Insight Book coverage:

“Because of the important usages of the city’s gateway, it was a high honor to sit down with the older men of the land in the gates.” The point is then illustrated with several references to scripture:

The capable wife’s husband “is well-known in the city gates, Where he sits among the elders of the land,” (Proverbs 31:23) which is no place for a fool: “True wisdom is unattainable for a fool [who] has nothing to say in the city gate.” (Proverbs 24:7)

David, when he is on the run, frets over being the “talk of those sitting in the city gate.” (Psalm 69:12)

To ‘crush the afflicted one in the gate’ meant judicial corruption: legal cases were handled there: “Do not rob the poor man because he is poor, And do not crush the lowly man in the city gate,” (Proverbs 22:22) something Job never did (see above). “For I know how many your revolts are And how great your sins are,” said Amos to a later people: “You harass the righteous, You take bribes, And you deny the rights of the poor in the city gate.”

and several others.

Cheering over a respected one’s downfall. What’s with that? I think of Davey the Kid’s talk, many years ago, on how love does not rejoice over unrighteous (1 Corinthians 13:6) No, it does not. But, he asked, might we even take a secret delight in the troubles of another? Then he illustrated, with ‘So and so was reproved,’ (hooking his thumb in his belt and thrusting himself forward—it was a memorable gesture) ‘But I wasn’t!’

 

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