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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Semi-Random Musings (2)

There’s often quite a difference between what we assume went on in a Bible story and what probably really happened.

My mental pictures of Bible characters and their environment tend to auto-default to the flannelgraph cutouts of my Sunday School years. These presumably came from the fertile minds of whoever was drafted to produce the art for the curriculum. But such sacred two-dimensional imaginings are not necessarily the first thing a ten-year old challenges or even notices. They are what they are, and they stuck with me.

This was long before Veggie Tales, so thankfully I don’t carry around the mental image of the prophet Daniel as played by Larry the Cucumber. Not much, anyway.

I’m not sure what they do in Sunday School today.

All to say, when you read the first chapter of Job, I suppose you can fob the story off as sanctified mythology if you want. In that case the details don’t matter much; it’s the broad strokes and the moral we are perhaps intended to retain. This is usually how such stories are treated.

But like many others, I believe these accounts are genuinely historical, though often presented with very little unnecessary verbal color or literary adornment. This means the few apparently-extraneous details that have been provided by the Spirit-led author are not irrelevancies at all.

Take the second chapter of Job. In typical Sunday School fashion, I used to picture three friendly neighbours climbing over the pasture fence into Job’s obliterated Back 40 to offer him their condolences. But here’s what the Holy Spirit actually said:
“Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.”
Now, if we put this together with the statement that Job was “the greatest of all the people of the east”, it seems highly unlikely we are talking about neighbours. A Temanite is a man from Teman, and if this is the Teman in Edom that is being referred to, then Job’s friend Eliphaz was from more than a few miles down the road. Assuming Bildad was indeed a descendant of Shuah, Abraham and Keturah’s son, he probably lived in the deserts of Arabia. Zophar hailed from Parts Unknown, but chances are Naamah lay off in yet another direction. These were probably the closest thing Job had to peers. They were great men of the east coming from a considerable distance, having heard the news of their friend’s distress. Each came from “his own place”. They even made an appointment to meet up to see Job.

This was no casual visit. The length of the book (not to mention the seven days of silent mourning that preceded their exchange) is evidence they were equipped to stay with Job for a while, and it is clear he was not up to entertaining them. So, being great men, they probably came with caravans, tents and servants. Traveling could be dangerous in those days, and they may have had guards as well.

Thus, when we picture Job’s theological debate with his friends about his suffering and God’s dealings with mankind, we are probably closer to the truth to envision him surrounded by dozens of onlookers and reminded at every turn of all the riches, power and social station of which he had been so abruptly and painfully stripped. The whole book of Job probably took place in front of a crowd.

It’s also a little more poignant when you think about it that way, isn’t it?

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Speaking of crowds, Shawn Abigail has a solid post over at assemblyHUB on the subject of public teaching. This quote is timely:
“Many of today’s sermons cannot be considered masterpieces of good communication. Sometimes we preach without energy, and use a monotone. Sometimes we miss the point of the passage, and ramble from topic to topic.

Sometimes we present the results of a Bible study, without doing the hard work of turning it into a sermon. And sometimes we just approach a passage trying to find something to say, rather than asking ourselves what the text is really driving at. We stand and talk without saying anything wrong, but we fail to exercise the gift of teaching.”
Most of these are semi-regular occurrences in the sort of local church in which at one point or another every interested Christian man will almost inevitably be invited to take the platform. Our own Bernie recently suffered through a message that was not just ineffective but potentially damaging to the audience, and writes this:
“There appear to be two ditches involved in gift — the one ditch that says ‘hire a guy and we can all sit on our bums’ is the one we have largely avoided at [Bernie’s local church]. Largely. But on the other side of the road is the ‘Let’s give everyone a go up front!’ ditch. We occasionally topple over into that one.

This underlines for me what James had to say: ‘Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers.’ Whatever we might think of that or do with that verse, it tells me that God simply has not GIVEN a ton of teachers to any single local meeting. The true public teaching gift (and I recognize fully that ‘public’ is not the only mode of teaching!) is apparently a rarity of rarities. It is not to be pursued lightly.

And it underlines for me that if I am to keep teaching in a public setting, I need to do so humbly. I’d hate to be pursuing the wrong gift after a couple of decades of this. Setting ourselves up as public teachers is necessarily a temptation to pride.”
I think Bernie’s right: humility is Job One. Job Two is realistically assessing what it means to have a teaching gift, and only making regular public use of those who inarguably do.

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