Psalm 55:20–23; Job 34:29–35:16; 1 Corinthians 8

Psalm 55:20–23: Continuing to describe his enemy, our psalmist relates how be betrayed even his supposed friends: “He reached out his hand against his allies/ profaned his own pact.” (21). From our Christian perspective we think immediately of Judas, although the psalmist certainly wasn’t thinking about future events.

Once again, smooth beguiling speech is the means of betrayal: “His mouth was smoother than butter–/and battle in his heart./ His words were softer than oil,/ yet they were drawn swords.” (22) The metaphors of butter, oil juxtaposed against battles and swords perfectly describes a betrayer who seduces and then goes in for the kill. Although the psalmist certainly wasn’t thinking about it, the seduction of women by evil men using smooth talk certainly comes to mind here.

The poet presents his enemy (and us, I think) with a choice. We can retain our evil ways or we can “Cast [our] lot on the Lord,/ and He will support you./ He will never let the righteous stumble.” (23). We can decide for God, or we can be left to our grim fate, which the psalmist acknowledges that God (not he) “will bring them down/ to the pit of destruction.” (24a). These “men of bloodshed and deceit/ Will not finish half their days.” (24b) Unlike Job, the psalmist is confident that evil doers will get their just desserts in the end. Personally, I’m torn between Job and our psalmist.

Job 34:29–35:16: Elihu relentlessly continues his theological discourse and delivers perhaps the harshest condemnation against Job that we’ve encountered so far:

34 Those who have sense will say to me,
    and the wise who hear me will say,
35 ‘Job speaks without knowledge,
    his words are without insight.’
36 Would that Job were tried to the limit,
    because his answers are those of the wicked.
37 For he adds rebellion to his sin;
    he claps his hands among us,
    and multiplies his words against God.”

Elihu’s sermon continues on into the next chapter as he basically accuses Job of terminal self-righteousness; that shaking your fist at God is a pointless exercise: “If you have sinned, what do you accomplish against him?/ And if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to him?” (35:6). But along the way, Elihu makes an important point about human relationships: “Your wickedness affects others like you,/ and your righteousness, other human beings.” (35:8). 

But in the end, Elihu asserts that Job’s railing against God is pointless: “Job opens his mouth in empty talk,/ he multiplies words without knowledge.” (35:16) 

Really, Elihu? You say that Job has not been tried to the limit? That he’s just being rebellious against God? That his woes are just empty talk? This seems to be a classic case of preaching to someone in whose shoes we have never walked. Elihu has not gone through what Job has experienced; he is looking on from the sidelines.

I think about people who are sop much more skilled at philosophical discourse and giving advice rather than they are at listening. These are the people that are working so hard on what they’re going to say next that they’ve not even heard the person talking to them. Elihu has been silent through 31 chapters, but I’m left with the impression he hasn’t heard a word Job has said.

1 Corinthians 8: Paul takes up a social issue that on its surface is foreign to us: should Christians consume food offered to idols?  Speaking, I think, to mature Christians, Paul points out that ““no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one” (4) so the question is basically moot.

But. “It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.” (7) In other words, habits acquired in one pre-believer state are difficult to break.

Which brings us to the key point of the chapter, which is still enormously relevant to us today in the church: “take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” (9) It is better to forego our correct belief and rationalized theology than to inadvertently lead someone else astray. In short, we are to teach and lead by example.

While Paul’s admonition applies to every Christian, I think this raises particularly thorny questions for those in leadership roles to whom others naturally look to as examples of how to lead the Christian life. For example, this is why pastors who engage in legal but questionable financial behavior, or “upstanding Christians” who bring barely-justified lawsuits against others in or out of the church are so injurious to the church at large–and only provide meaty (pun intended) ammunition for the charge of hypocrisy.


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