Declaring, Establishing, the Book of Job, Bad Hermeneutics, and the Gospel
I’ve noticed something rather a lot these last few years, and it’s something that bothers me rather a lot. It’s the practice of declaring things instead of praying for things. I’m sure I’ve probably mentioned it around here before. I’ve definitely had plenty of conversations with people about it, as it seems I’m not the only one who’s noticed it.
Anyway, this declaring often seems to go along with talk of what you declare being established. And the Bible does indeed talk about what a man declares being established. ‘You will also declare a thing, and it will be established for you’ – it says it right there in Job 22:28, so why do I get so worked up about all these declarations? Because while the Bible might say it, the Bible in no way teaches it!
What?! How can I say that the Bible says something it doesn’t teach? Simple. The Bible says many things it doesn’t teach. And to recognise that in no way undermines the authority or inerrancy of Scripture. Every reader must acknowledge that the Bible says things it doesn’t teach, for the Bible authoritatively and inerrantly records words spoken even by the Devil himself. The Bible records the Serpent casting doubt on the LORD God’s words in the Garden, but that doesn’t mean that the Bible is in any way casting doubt on His words. The Bible records the words, ‘there is no God’, but instead of teaching them, tells us that these are the words of a fool (Psalm 14:1). So not everything that is written in the Bible is the teaching of the Bible.
And that goes for these words from the book of Job. It is never wise to just dip into Scripture like a promise box to take out a verse, but this is even more so the case with a book like Job. For, you see, much of Job is given over to the words of Job’s friends. But Job’s friends turn out to be men who don’t really know the Lord God and His ways. They know some true stuff about God, but they also have plenty of false ideas about Him as well. And Job 22, the chapter where this verse about declaring and it being established is found, is the perfect example of this.
It is Eliphaz who’s speaking here and he’s convinced that Job has done something bad (Job 22:5-11). How else could he possibly merit such suffering? But you see that’s just it. Eliphaz seems to think that God’s all about merit. So, for example, Epiphaz thinks He’ll always bring the wicked crashing down quickly because, well, they deserve it (Job 22:15-20). And while he seems to have this strong view of merit (or demerit) before God, at the same time he seems to speak of God in almost deist terms, as if He’s far off and couldn’t care less about us (Job 22:2-3). Putting the two together it seems like Eliphaz thought of God in a rather mechanistic way – this god of Eliphaz wasn’t a god of love and relationship, but rather one who was only interested in law and punishment. Eliphaz didn’t see a loving Father, only a slave-master in the sky.
Yet Eliphaz does manage to say some true things about God. He knows that He is Almighty (v.3). He is the God who gives instruction from His mouth (Job 22:22) and who hears our prayers (Job 22:27). The Lord God will be our gold (Job 22:25) and we should delight in Him (Job 22:26). But in the midst of those true things Eliphaz continues to speak falsely of God too. It is not we who remove our iniquity, but God who removes it for us (contra Job 22:23). Knowing God does bring peace (peace with God!), but it doesn’t mean that suddenly all our circumstances will be good (contra Job 22:21), nor does it mean that we will be rich (contra Job 22:24). Yes, God does save the humble and deliver the one who is not innocent, but He does it through the nail-pierced hands of Jesus, not the purity of our hands (contra Job 22:30). Eliphaz knows some true things about God and His ways. But he also has lots of false ideas about God and his ways.
And it’s right in the middle of this hodge-podge of true and false ideas of Eliphaz that we find that statement, ‘You will also declare a thing, and it will be established for you’ (Job 22:28). So when we read these words in their context, we see that these are the words of a very muddled up and confused man who doesn’t know God as Saviour, who thinks salvation comes through works-righteousness, and who refuses to listen when Job speaks of knowing His Saviour. In other words, not a hugely reliable source for establishing doctrine or grounding a practice!
Taken in their context we can see Eliphaz’s words for what they are – not sound teaching, but part of his false gospel. Eliphaz is trusting in a system of works righteousness vindicated by prosperity, and that’s what he’s getting at here. His idea is that you’ll be so righteous through what you do (or don’t do) that God will have to bless you to vindicate your righteousness. It all comes back to his idea of salvation through merit – your own merit.
The true gospel, however, says that you don’t need some declared blessing established in order to have your righteousness vindicated, for the true gospel says that your righteousness is found in Jesus Christ alone. He was vindicated through His resurrection from the dead, and in Him, clothed with Him for righteousness you share in that vindication.
In other words, you don’t need to get some blessing established now to know that you’re saved. The proof of your salvation isn’t found in God suddenly giving some great wealth or blessing here and now. No – the proof of your salvation is found in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. So if you need assurance, don’t look around for sudden establishments of your declarations, but look up to Jesus, the risen Lamb who has made an end to your sin once and for all through His death and given you new life through His resurrection.