|Series Theme: The Anguish of Job|
Meditation No. 22
Meditation Title: Plants & Spiders' Webs
Job 8:15 He leans on his web, but it gives way; he clings to it, but it does not hold.
The book of Job, I believe, like no other book in the Bible challenges us to think and pray and seek after truth. The reason for this is that we have these three friends and their ‘target', Job, who all say many things, some of which are truth, some of which are half truths, some of which are false, and some of which are true generally but not specifically for these circumstances. Discerning the truth needs the real help of the Holy Spirit. It also requires a lot of perseverance! The verses we are about to consider raise the question of where we get our authority for ‘the truth'. Eliphaz has spoken about revelation from the spirit world, but now Bildad appeals to tradition. “Ask the former generations and find out what their fathers learned,” (v.8)
Now ‘tradition' sounds very respectable, relying upon the wisdom of the elders from the past, but unless those elders had specific experience of the Lord, their rules, their perception of life and living, is likely to fall short of the truth. The Roman Catholic part of the Christian Church relies heavily on tradition, what has been previously decreed, and we find that recent Popes have had to back away from some of the ‘doctrines' of tradition. The Protestant part of the Christian Church operates on the basis of “Scripture alone” for determining truth of revelation. No, it's not what men learned but what God revealed, which is to be the basis of our faith. It is the bits that we ‘add on' that so often cause the difficulties and make us open to challenge.
It sounds at first sight a reasonable call, this look to what the elders of the past have learned, especially when Bildad continues with the humble sounding plea: “for we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow.” (v.9) That sounds like humility but it denies the truth that each one of us, in every new generation, has got to come to the place of accepting the revelation that God has brought in His word and then to go on and be led and taught by His Holy Spirit. This is the vulnerable edge of Christianity, that we have the truth enshrined in The Book (the Bible) but we have to apply it to everyday life and it is at that point that it sometimes gets difficult, but it is a case of God leading us today. It is all about a relationship with Him.
His appeal sounds so good: “Will they not instruct you and tell you? Will they not bring forth words from their understanding?” (v.10). It sounds at first sight as if this man has a real teachable spirit; he is really open to learn, but actually there is a danger in mindlessly taking on board what previous generations taught. It sounds a recipe for trouble, for each of us in each new generation are challenged to think for ourselves and assess what men have said in the past, even the traditions of behaviour and practice that the Church has adopted in the past, and put it alongside Scripture, and see if it measures up to the truth found there.
Verses 11 to 19 bring a repetition of analogy, a series of pictures making the same point, presumably that which Bildad has been taught from the past. “Can papyrus grow tall where there is no marsh? Can reeds thrive without water?” (v.11) There is a natural order to things, there is a design in life, things have to have the right environment if they are to grow. “While still growing and uncut, they wither more quickly than grass.” (v.12). If they don't have the key elements for life, they will wither – even before they are cut! Now he applies this picture: “Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless.” (v.13). There it is: without God you will perish. There is obviously an implication here in his mind that will become more obvious as we go on: if you are perishing (suffering) it means God is not with you, that you have forgotten and drifted away from God.
He then paints a second picture, a very valid picture: “What he trusts in is fragile; what he relies on is a spider's web. He leans on his web, but it gives way; he clings to it, but it does not hold.” (v.14,15). In other words, the person who has forgotten God, who has drifted away from the Lord, is now relying on their own hopes or dreams but this is like relying on a spider's web which, in truth, is so fragile that it will give way if you lean on it.
Then comes a third analogy: “He is like a well-watered plant in the sunshine, spreading its shoots over the garden.” (v.16) This man who has forgotten the Lord, was prosperous while he was with the Lord, looking good while he had resources from God, but, “it entwines its roots around a pile of rocks and looks for a place among the stones,” (v.17), it stretched out away from that ‘environment' with the Lord, to a ‘stony place' where its resources for life and growth were absent. There is likely to be a consequence, he goes on: “But when it is torn from its spot, that place disowns it and says, `I never saw you.' Surely its life withers away, and from the soil other plants grow.” (v.18,19). When we are weak and vulnerable, the enemy comes against us and tears us away from the tenuous, weak links that we still have, but they are not strong enough to hold us and The Source says we no longer belong. Thus we wither and die away, while others who hold to the Lord continue on and prosper.
The truth of this latter part is that as long as we are committed to God, He will never leave us or forsake us (Heb 13:5) but if we purposefully go away from the Lord we will find we ARE on our own and vulnerable to the enemy. Yes, there IS a lot of truth in the analogies that Bildad brings BUT they are general principles but they are not the only reason why we enter into suffering. That is Bildad's error: he tries to apply a particular diagnosis to Job's situation without the full facts – and gets it wrong! Yes, be quite clear, these principles ARE valid. If we drift from the Lord we do becomes vulnerable to the enemy but that is not the only reason why these sorts of things happen!
The truth is that Job has not drifted away from the Lord, so when the enemy came it wasn't because the Lord was casting him away, in fact it was the very opposite, He was drawing him nearer by the testing and teaching that was coming. There is a strong warning here to those of us in the Christian community, not to jump to conclusions and wrongly apply general principles into specific situations unless the Lord says they apply!
This is where we come back to a rejection of only tradition or even a mix of tradition plus Scripture, or even Scripture entirely on its own. No, the whole thing about the Christian life is that it is about a relationship – and interaction – with God, and part of that is being able to say, “Lord, what is the truth here in this situation?” and expect answers that work. Scripture PLUS a living relationship with the Lord!