Pious Platitudes - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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Pious Platitudes

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Pious Platitudes

Reading:
Job 12:1 – 13:12

Text:
 Job 13:12 "Your maxims are proverbs of ashes; your defences are defences of clay."


Introduction
You may well know Job's story. He was a good man who suffered catastrophic losses in his life and he didn't know why. The book which carries his name shows him struggling to come to terms with it all. The book introduces us as well to some of his friends who initially set out to try to show compassion and to comfort Job but whose efforts were misguided and only added to the pain that Job had to go through.

As readers of the book we are supplied right at the outset with information that was not available either to Job or to his friends. We know from the very beginning that Job's problems had come to him not because of a life of hidden wickedness but precisely because he was the upright man he claimed to be through the book. Job's life has been exemplary and it is precisely that which lies at the heart of his troubles – there is a conflict going on at a more fundamental level: Satan is trying to prove that Job's exemplary behaviour is motivated by nothing more than self-interest.

Job doesn't know of this and is left struggling to understand why he is suffering so greatly when he knows he has done nothing which would warrant such harsh treatment. Job maintains this stance of innocence throughout his exchanges with his friends and refuses their suggestions that he has brought his troubles on himself by some unconfessed sin. We're not to imagine that Job was making a claim to sinless perfection but he, like his friends, did believe that he lived in a moral universe and what he was experiencing bore no relation to the life he had lived.

We can readily understand this because we find it very easy to imagine it is possible to somehow draw a straight line between what we do and what we receive. If something bad happens to us we cry out it's not fair and all too often if something bad happens to another we can smugly imagine that it's their own fault – as Job himself put it:

Job 12:5 "In the thought of one who is at ease there is contempt for misfortune; it is ready for those whose feet slip."


We have our little sayings to help us justify such thoughts too, you know them well:

"There's no smoke without fire" we say and the idea of the presumption of innocence is immediately tarnished.

Or we can even take a Bible text and misapply it:

Gal.6:7 "for whatever one sows, that will he also reap."


Doesn't that seem to give credence to the idea that we always get what we deserve? That as certainly how Job's friends reacted. But they went too far and made such a principle say more it does.

Yes, we will reap what we sow – that is the clear teaching of Scripture unless God intervenes mercifully with his wonderful free and undeserved grace – but in our life's experience we also reap things that we have never ourselves sown!

Do you remember Jesus parable about the wheat and the tares in Mt.13:24-30? The labourers had sown good seed in the field but when it grew it grew up in the midst of weeds – and this was the work not of the labourers but of an enemy.

In other words there may be a link between personal wrong-doing and subsequent sufferings but not all the suffering we experience is to be attributed to personal wrong-doing. Once again Jesus met this simplistic thinking head-on:

Lk.13:1-5 "There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.""



Job's Pain and Suffering Cried our for Compassion
And so will the plight of some of the people we know whether Christian or not. How are we to respond? And how too will we react when such experiences come our way too?

Job wasn't prepared to admit to something he knew he hadn't done and his friends – doubtless motivated initially at least by compassion – were wrong to go on insisting that his problems were of his own making. When they persisted their efforts served only to aggravate Job's pain and suffering. Their words had no weight or substance to them, they were words which offered no sustenance, no hope and although perhaps having a certain appearance were in fact brittle and indefensible:

"Your maxims are proverbs of ashes; your defences are defences of clay."


Other translations put it a little more forcefully:

"Your platitudes are as valuable as ashes. Your defence is as fragile as a clay pot." NLT


Or again,

"Your wise sayings are knickknack wisdom, good for nothing but gathering dust."


Just how had Job's friends got themselves into such a position where their advice had become so unhelpful and counterproductive?


The friends' emphases
Chs.12-14 contain Job's response to Zophar, the third of his friends who chose to speak to him. However before specifically addressing Zophar Job speaks to all three.

All the protagonists shared a similar world-view. Each one believed in a moral universe where there was a definite distinction to be drawn between right and wrong. In their world view God was actively involved in the world he had made.

Eliphaz was particularly focused upon God's power and he thought Job should look there for an answer:

Job 5:8-9 "As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable, marvellous things without number"


Bildad preferred to emphasise God's justice:

Job 8:3 "Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right?"


Zophar wanted to direct attention to God's wisdom and understanding:

Job 11:5-6 "But oh, that God would speak and open his lips to you, and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom! For he is manifold in understanding. Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves."


Each of these friends had spoken at length to Job – they dressed up their ideas in fine sounding words as they were speaking profound truth. Job's appreciation of what they had to say was far different. There was truth in what they said but it was truth that everyone knew already. It wasn't that Job wanted to disagree with the true things that his friends spoke about – his problem was with the way they wrongly applied that truth. They had their views and refused to seriously consider the facts of Job's situation. Behaving like this they had effectively "stitched Job up" and were condemning a straw man of their own imagination.

And this was incredibly painful for the already deeply pained Job. Not being taken seriously and fed a diet of pious platitudes Job felt demeaned – his friends were mocking him and scorning him. They were rubbing salt into already raw wounds.

At this point we can perhaps look forward and think of Jesus' own experience which was graver than Job's and we are told often that he was mocked!

In reacting to the heartless efforts of his friends Job cries out to them. Look at the evidence, consider the facts – didn't they realise that such a simplistic approach was out of line with their own experience? Surely they have observed that the evil and the wicked did prosper – Asaph, the psalmist was later aware of this and greatly troubled by it see Ps.73.

Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar had a limited understanding and they misapplied what they did know. When they found Job wasn't prepared to meekly accept their analysis they thought that it was their duty to somehow defend the Almighty whom they viewed as being assaulted by Job. But they ended up by defending the Almighty with lies and misrepresentation.

There is a clear warning for us here. We must be careful not to try to say more than we know. We don't always know exactly what God is doing nor why he is doing it and we must be humble enough to own up to it. The whole edifice of Christianity will not come crashing to the ground if we as Christians hade to admit that we don't have every detail of every answer at our fingertips. God is God and his ways are not our ways and his thoughts and higher than our thoughts. Let us say it reverently, God is big enough to defend himself
.
As Job's friends persisted to apply their limited understanding in a wrong direction they ended up working as Satan's allies. They ended up portraying God as though he were in fact Job's enemy – a satanic deception if ever there was one. It has so often been Satan's aim to give men and women wrong views of God and he still does that today – let us take care that we don't unwittingly help him in his devilish task.


Job's Rejection of his friends' advice
We are not considering some nice armchair theological debate that has no impact upon real life. Job was in the furnace – his suffering was real and he longed for real help.

He saw his friends were only adding to the pain and he longed for them to be quiet and the disagreements between them become more and more heated emotionally – the language is robust and vivid cf. Job 15:2 when Eliphaz speaks for the second time: The church Bible expresses it like this:

"Should a wise man answer with windy knowledge, and fill his belly with the east wind?"


Doesn't sound too bad really put like that does it – at least you're probably not shocked by it. But listen to how another translator expresses it: "If you were truly wise, would you sound so much like a windbag, belching hot air?" He goes on "Would you talk nonsense in the middle of a serious argument, babbling baloney? Look at you! You trivialize religion, turn spiritual conversation into empty gossip. It’s your sin that taught you to talk this way."

And these words are in the mouth of a man who would express empathy and compassion! We don't want to allow ourselves to be drawn in to such a way of speaking!

And Job not only refuses to accept his friends diagnosis of his situation he refuses to see God as his enemy – rather he clings to his belief that God is his friend and he longs to draw near to his God!

And so Job speaks about God to his friends but it is not long before he has moved from talking about God to talking to God. It would seem that this shift comes about gradually beginning in 13:17 but by v.20 it is clear that his words are now primarily being directed to the LORD.

Job's would-be counselors had relied upon what we might call "sound-bite theology". They refused to engage seriously with the facts of Job's individual situation and as a consequence their advice was hopeless and devoid of comfort. It amounted to nothing more that platitudes that were insubstantial and incapable of bring nourishment to a hungry and weary soul.

Job is particularly harsh in his criticism of his friends – even wild animals knew as much as they did with their supposed deep understanding. The animals knew God's power and Job was in danger of thinking of himself as simply a helpless victim of God's power. He was under God's power but it would take Elihu's later intervention to remind him that such divine power was always exercised in accordance with divine goodness and with a view to securing God's kind and generous purposes.


Conclusion
All this should set some warning bells ringing in our ears.

How easy it is to dress up some worldly wisdom and let it emerge in religious garb! How easy it is to mouth partial truths and to advance only platitudes! How easy and tempting it can be to apply truth in a wrong way and to draw totally erroneous conclusions!

Job doesn't want to hear more of the type of advice that makes God out to be his enemy - he wants God and believes that God is indeed his friend. In his pain he doesn't turn from God but towards him and in so doing sets out on the high road to victory, even if that victory will not be gained in an instant.

As Job reacts to his friends he effectively puts all his eggs in one basket – his only hope is in God:

Job 13:15 "Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face."


This same spirit will re-emerge in the history of faith. It would be the react of men like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as they responded to King Nebuchadnezzar:

Dan.3:17-18 "our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."


And supremely it would be the reaction of Jesus Christ who in full knowledge of the fact that the sufferings through which he was passing were ordained by his Father nevertheless preferred his Father's will to his own commending even his spirit as he died into his Father's hands!

To God be the glory.

Amen.



 
 
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