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Archive for May, 2010

Psalm 68:12 And lovingkindness is Yours, O Lord,
         For You recompense a man according to his work.

The Geneva Study Bible has an interesting take on this verse. Its translating dates back to 1599, so it was twenty years old when the Pilgrims were landing on Cape Cod. It says that, “Also unto thee, O Lord, [belongeth] mercy: for thou renderest to every man according to his work. “  So that the wicked will feel your power, and the godly your mercy.

Rendering according to one’s work is merciful. It give a person a lot of control over their reward. You want a bigger reward? Do better things. Stop lying.  Retribution in kind is merciful.  It removes the evildoers so that the innocent are free from their torment and false accusations.

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Elihu

Yesterday’s post from the Book of Job established that it is the Character of God to pay a man according to his work.

To more fully understand the Book of Job, one must have an idea of who Elihu was and why he said what he did. Unlike the other three men who sought out Job and had spoken as friends, Elihu claims to speak the truth of God. (Job 36:4)

Quite often, Elihu will say things that are true, and then he will spin them out of context. For example, in Job 32:8 he is making the point that it is not the number of years a person has lived, but God’s Spirit within that makes a man’s words wise. Certainly that is true, but Elihu then uses it as his excuse for justifying himself and to be angry at Job. This pattern is repeated frequently throughout Elihu’s long discourse and it makes it rough on the reader, who must constantly evaluate whether Elihu is stating truth or if he is spinning it.

If you read very many commentaries on the Book of Job, you will find many commentators do not like Elihu at all. Some even think that scripture was tampered with later and this section was added to the book by someone else later on—someone with inferior literary skills. In their objections, they do exactly what they accuse Ehihu of having done (and they come off as being equally arrogant.) In fact, a strong argument can be made that the commentators are falsely accusing Elihu.

At any rate, Job has been wanting to hear from God and Elihu now points out there are at least three ways for God to speak. Up to this point in the book, we have seen examples of two: dreams & visions, and pain & suffering. God uses a third, more direct method in the final chapters.

God dismisses Elihu’s speech with one rhetorical question, “Who is this that darkens counsel By words without knowledge?” (38:2)

So, what is the correct interpretation of Elihu’s claim that God repays a man for what he has done? That he brings upon him what his conduct deserves? (34:11) Elihu got the facts right. In the end, Job was rewarded with a double portion. But the counsel and interpretation that Elihu offered—that God was trying to teach Job something, was enigmatically wrong. God called it dark counsel. The opening chapters make it plain that God’s purpose wasn’t teaching Job but was demonstrating to Satan that Job could pass the test.

God’s ‘cure’ for Job was simply to remind Job of His creative power in both the physical and biological world. Job needed the encouragement of this reminder; he had chosen to trust God all along and now God recited 123 verses of reasons that Job’s trust was well-placed. Job has no “correction” to make with God; he is asked only to pray for his friend’s restoration.

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The Book of Job (jōb) opens with a conversation between God and the devil. Satan is telling Job that the only reason people follow God is because He blesses them. The devil goes so far as to say that if God stopped blessing people, they would begin cursing Him. Their attention turns to Job and the gauntlet is thrown down, the challenge is set: God will stop blessing Job for a season and the devil can “have at.” It is basically a no-holes-barred challenge with the one exception being that the devil cannot murder or otherwise cause Job’s death. If you have read the book, you know that calamity strikes hard and fast. (That was probably a tactical error on the side of the devil, but it’s off-topic for now, and so that debate must be left for another day.)

Job was really rich and he had a lot of grown children. He was also quite the worry wart and so he made regular sacrifices “just in case” his kids had sinned. As a result of The Great Accusation in the heavens, there came a single day when Job lost 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, very many servants, seven sons and three daughters. The oxen, donkeys, and animal handlers were attacked by the Sabeans. The sheep and the servants shepherding them were lost by firefall, possibly fire set by lightning or perhaps a volcano. The camels were raided by three bands of armed Chaldeans. His children were killed by a windstorm. In all this, Job did not blame God. Job was clueless about God’s challenge to the devil, but he was convinced that it wasn’t God who sent the disasters. He was right.

Job had some good friends, and they were desperate to make sense of all this. His friends were aware of the principle retribution in kind. Working logic backwards, they decided that Job must have committed some horribly atrocious sin. Their idea of helping Job was to get him to repent.

In chapter 34, Elihu, one of Job’s friends, is telling him that,

10 “Therefore, listen to me, you men of understanding.

Far be it from God to do wickedness,

And from the Almighty to do wrong.

11 “For He pays a man according to his work,

And makes him find it according to his way.

12 “Surely, God will not act wickedly,

And the Almighty will not pervert justice.”

If Job had sinned, Elihu would have been right. Elihu stated the principle accurately. The only thing wrong with this explanation is that he falsely accused Job of doing something horrid when Job was completely innocent. At the end of the book, God is pretty ticked off at Job’s friends for making things worse by accusing Job like that. As the King James Version puts it, My wrath is kindled against thee.42:11 He tells them they have to take seven bulls and seven rams and go to Job with this sacrificial apology.

Look at the way God handles the false accusers. He demands that they make an atonement for what they did, but then as a final step, He gives Job all the power to accept the sacrifice, or not. The false accusers could not get absolution by praying to God only. They had to ask Job to pray for them. That was the only way.

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7 With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, 8 knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.
Ephesians 6:7, 8

Here is one more example of impartiality in the payment—the social status of slave or freeman does not matter. Their actions are rewarded. Paul’s letter was written to the church in Ephesus, not the heathens in Ephesus, so we would not really expect him to be going on with threatenings about payment for the bad things they may do. That would be off-topic in the context of his letter of encouragement.

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Every time someone decides to leave the truth twisting in the wind, they are staggering toward slaughter. Every time someone decides that the simple truth is not strong enough to accomplish their desire and so embellish it with a tiny add-on lie, they have turned from the path of life and are staggering toward slaughter.

11 Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
12 If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?
Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?
– Proverbs 24: 11,12 NIV

Again, in these verses from Proverbs, there is a pattern of first establishing a careful and informed decision preceding the announcement to repay a man according to his work. For those who pursue their own desire and allow the truth to twist in the wind, the payment is slaughter.

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I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.
Jeremiah 17:10 KJV 

Retribution in kind is not frivolous or capricious. The heart was searched. The mind was tested. The reins were tried. Once again we see that men will be rewarded in keeping with their ways and their fruit.

The fruit metaphor stretches back to the third day of creation. The fruit trees on the earth began bearing fruit after their kind. And God saw that it was good.

When the fruit of the lips is a lie, it produces more lies; liars are quickly caught in a food web of their own making.

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People who are resistant to the concept of Retribution in Kind like to jump up and dismiss it with, “All that eye for an eye stuff is Old Testament. Jesus changed all that.”

Here then, straight from the Lion’s mouth, complete in red letter edition, is Mathew 16: 24-27

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 25 “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds.  

That can also be translated ‘I will recompense every man in accordance with his doing.’ This passage hardly ever catches a balanced teaching in children’s Sunday School classes. Most lessons are long on taking up the cross and hammer home the high cost of discipleship. When Jesus comes in splendor with an army of angels, He rewards every man in accordance with what he has done. Today the sun may rise on the evil and the good, and rain may be sent on the just and unjust, but Jesus taught that the Day of the Great Assize is coming.

quoted from the New American Standard Bible

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