Social Justice and Job’s Defense

In today’s reading (Job 29-31), Job delivers his final defense. Basically he goes through one by one and asserts his fulfillment of all the major areas of social justice that he is required to perform. Part of the reason this section is so cool is that Job’s list gives us a good picture of what a righteous person’s life should look like in the OT. Job begins with more personal sins and works his way up to the “biggies”. He also (according to my study Bible) uses the “law of retaliation” method — i.e. he calls judgment on himself if he has NOT been righteous in each area. Check it out:

  1. Deceit/Adultery — If Job has either looked lustfully after another woman or been a deceitful man, then may all his crops be uprooted and may his wife “grind another man’s grain”! (So that’s what they call it these days…)
  2. Employee fairness / Equal treatment — “If I have denied justice to my servants… when they had a grievance against me” (31:13) then may God call him to account!
  3. Justice to poor, widows, and orphans — “If I have denied the desires of the poor… if I have kept my bread to myself…” (31:16-17), if he has in any way mistreated or used his influence against widows or orphans, “then let my arm fall off from the shoulder…” (OUCH!)
  4. Idolatry (including greed) — “If I have put my trust in gold…” or worshipped the sun or moon, then God will judge me for my unfaithfulness to him.
  5. Hypocrisy — If Job has been a hypocrite in his treatment of enemies, the poor, strangers, his tenants, or his own sin, then (I love this one) may his fields grow stinkweed!

After writing out this declaration of his innocence (or rather, an invocation of punishment if he’s guilty), Job affixes his signature and rests his case. So cool! I love the list as a whole (you should totally check out Job 31 sometime if you haven’t), but there are a few specific things that I noticed in particular.

First, I find it EXTREMELY interesting that idolatry and greed/coveting are listed together! Wow! Job even says that saying to gold “You are my security” would be a sin of unfaithfulness to God! It makes me wonder if we put wayyyy too much emphasis today on financial planning and making sure we are “financially secure” at all times. This is not to say that we should all go close our savings accounts or anything — but I wonder how many of us would be willing to say, “You know, I’m not sure if this job change will be able to pay the bills, but God, YOU are my security.” I think a lot more of us struggle with “money as our security” than we are willing to admit.

The second thing that really stuck out to me was how Job discusses the justification for his treatment of his servants. In verse 15 he says, “Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?”  My husband is often fond of saying, “If I matter, then everybody matters.” I think Job’s comment here is making the same statement, that both he and his servants (and all people) have equal value because of their shared creation by God.

Overall, I think Job’s “Declaration of Innocence” is really enlightening about the kind of conduct God expected/expects of his people. I also, however, find myself thinking a lot about scale. Job’s description of his duties focuses on a small, interdependent, and pretty self-contained community. These days, however, it seems there are fewer and fewer communities that are self-contained, and suddenly we find that we have access to 7 billion neighbors! (Or is it 8 billion by now?)

The point is that things have gotten a lot more complicated since Job’s time. However, I think that lots of times we use that numerical complication (or distance, language, culture, etc.) as an excuse to cop out of God’s requirements, which are NOT complicated: Be honest, treat people as if they matter as much as you, help the poor be less poor, be faithful to God, and don’t be a hypocrite. These requirements aren’t hard to understand, but we get ourselves all tied up sometimes because with 7 billion neighbors we’re not sure where to start and we just collapse into the overwhelm. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t know the solution for how to get all 7 billion people to play nice and treat each other justly. BUT we can’t allow ourselves to be so paralyzed by the enormity of the whole world’s need that we fail to even START reaching out to the people in our own spheres of influence.

So. Be a Job. Start enacting justice with the people around you right now. Yes, the ultimate goal of God’s kingdom is justice for all, and it can be hard — but don’t let confusion about how to reach the ultimate goal keep you from taking the steps you can already take.

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