JOB 4–5 – ELEPHANT AND TERMITE THINKING
1. HEAVY FEET OF JUDGMENT, SMALL MINDED
I was aware of the elephant standing in the shadows long before I actually saw it. It’s distinctive shape and enormous size could not be disguised, though it’s dark shades of grey blended in with the early mist of the morning. Surprisingly, I was not overly disturbed, … until it spoke!
“There are some rather weighty matters I have to discuss with you”, it said, as it began to stumble heavily towards me. There were no restraints and so I stepped back a little. “Do the innocent die?” it said, “I could pound you into the dust, snap life from you as easily as a moth. Alive one minute, dead the next! Gone forever without a trace. Like circus tent-cords are pulled and the tent collapses, you could die in ignorance right here, but you need not be afraid of me, only of God.” It’s analogies didn’t help alleviate the onset of panic.
The trunk of the beast swished past my head and in the morning light I saw a tiny white ant gripping onto it. It too looked at me with accusing eyes that seemed to want to eat away at my character.
They made a good team. Having made their lofty assumptions they sought to do great damage with their small thinking. In the ensuing conversation I found the elephant to be big on blame, the termite small on praise; the elephant boundless in discouragement, the termite limited in reassurance. The elephant heaped heavy burdens of guilt upon me and the termite had such little understanding of my innocence. A maximum misinterpretation of my situation coupled with minimum appreciation of my pain.
2. TRUMPETING OPINIONS, LITTLE CONSIDERATION
The trumpeting voice pounded in my ears “May I venture an encouraging word to you, Job” it said. “Give me a break”, I thought. “I have been sitting in the dust for a week covered in boils, and in excruciating pain, having just lost my family. Encouraging words from an intimidating elephant and disparaging termite! Not!”
But I could not escape from the Elephant and the Termite. Like a giant hit-man, the elephant, pointing it’s trunk at me, said with a good deal of what I detected to be beligerance “Job, you have encouraged many people in the past and now it is my turn to be give an encouraging warning about your obvious lack of integrity.” I could just detect the termite nodding it’s head and displaying it’s mandables.
“This is far from ‘venturing a word.’” I thought in disbelief, “It’s the bellowing trumpet of an elephant confronting me as if I had committed a crime; loud allegations of blame, accompanied by a termite trying to undermine my integrity.”
“Those who sow evil gather trouble” the elephant said “and since you have gathered plenty of trouble you obviously need discipline.” He saw me flinch as I imagined being stomped into the ground or thrown by those enormous tusks into the air. “You are already suffering because you think you’re so holy, but it’s obvious that you’re not holy enough!”
Once again I became aware of my pain. Weeping sores were all over my body and my bones ached. I couldn’t escape if I wanted to. The termite whispered something into the huge elephant ears and the elephant spoke on the termites behalf “I know all about secret places where immeasurable damage is done! Some secret sin has caused this, Job. Admit it!” he bellowed.
3. BIG EARS OF THEOLOGICAL SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS, SMALL CAPACITY FOR LISTENING
The hairs stood up on my arm. The Elephant seemed to notice and began talking about a ghostly vision that made the hair on his flesh bristle. What hair? What’s this about? This is different and all a bit weird! We are getting into horror movie images here. The elephant spoke of seeing a form and also hearing a voice say, ‘Can a mortal be innocent before God? Can anyone be pure before the Creator?’ (Job 4:17 NLT).
As far as the elephant is concerned everyone falls short of God’s glory, none are righteous, no not one, from largest to smallest. “He’s right” I thought, “We can’t hope ever to match God in our own integrity. God goes so way beyond us that we all fall short. That’s why we need the righteousness of the Mediator God in our lives.”
4. TUSKS EAGER FOR DISCIPLINE AND MANDIBLES EAGER TO BITE
All of a sudden the elephant wrapped his trunk around me and resting on his tusks I was lifted into the air. I was terrified! The termite crawled up my neck and bit me as I flailed helplessly about. I was already suffering from painful boils from head to toe? The termite whispered in my ear “people in your condition die everyday, unobserved. No-one even notices they are gone” (Job 4:20). Sooo encouraging! Not. How are his biting termite-like arguments relevant in bringing answers to my hurts?
I was thrown roughly back into the dust, crying out to God in my pain. The elephants advice was without sensitivity. “I would seek God, and would place my cause before God.” Nothing wrong with that advice, but he went on to say “You are being disciplined by God because of your sin, so admit it.” Strong powerful tusks of accusation based on feeble-minded generalisations.
5. LONG TRUNK OF INTRUSION, SMALL UNDERSTANDING
It was clear that the elephant was determined to stick his nose into my business without really understanding what was happening. It’s assumptions turned into judgments “God is judging you to keep you in line” it said, but it was being way too heavy and simplistic in it’s theology; broad sweeping statements, influenced by the termite’s narrow-minded thinking.
Eliphaz the Temanite (strange, strange name – kind of like Elephant the Termite – conjures up a picture of contrasts). Eliphaz the Temanite wants to make a huge difference but his small mindedness only brings harm. Such contradictions of intention. His dark view of Job stands in stark contrast to God’s statements of integrity (Job 1:8). His lack of compassion is inversely proportionate to the size of his judgments. The variance in what he sees taking place in Job’s life and what is actually happening is extraordinary.
Not all suffering in the world is a result of something we have sown. Jesus said something interesting about a blind man once. John 9:1-3 (NLT) says “As Jesus was walking along, He saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” His disciples asked Him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.”
Now on one level what Eliphaz the Temanite says is right, but he hasn’t really heard from God before giving his advice to Job. He knows nothing of the spiritual battle that is going on in the heavenlies and like a lot of people he is blaming God rather than Satan for Job’s troubles.
6. BIG APPETITE FOR BLAME, VERY LITTLE COMPASSION
Eliphaz says that people who are not under discipline don’t go through what Job is experiencing. Apparently righteous people don’t get sick or have any suffering in their lives! Get a life! That’s not true! God allowed a righteous man called Job to get sick at the hand of Satan. It wouldn’t last, but Job didn’t know that.
Let’s get real here and watch out before making rash theological determinations based on half-truths. Eliphaz is a heavy-weight in his judgment but like a termite, his words eat away at Job’s integrity and place a slur upon Job’s character that he doesn’t deserve and certainly doesn’t need right now. Elephaz dishes out large doses of disgrace, with little-to-no honour.
HOW TO BE BIG IN LISTENING, SMALL IN JUDGING
When he first arrived, Eliphaz was silent for a week. It would have been better if Eliphaz had kept quiet for another week, but he can’t help himself. Ever had a friend like that? Well meaning but with a big mouth, quick to judge and very little by way of compassion? Such “friends” provide immense hindrance to healing, and give minute help in seeking God.
James 1:19 (NLT) says “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”
A huge part of an effective conversation is an ability to listen. If I am to be an effective listener, I will be interested and responsive, understanding and patient, non-judgmental and sensitive, open and supportive, loving and prayerful in my support. Lord, I need your help today.
The invitation of Job 4 is to speak words of life not judgment to those who are hurting today. Lord, forgive us when we blame You for things without really understanding the spiritual conflict going on around us. Give me huge ears with which to listen, a nose for the truth, tusks of integrity for the battles I face, the ability to give weight to Your Word and to be small in assuming that I am always right.