By Stephen Green. (First published in Christian Voice February 2006)
Job 31:9 If mine heart have been deceived by a woman, or if I have laid wait at my neighbour's door;
10 Then let my wife grind unto another, and let others bow down upon her.
11 For this is an heinous crime; yea, it is an iniquity to be punished by the judges.
Job 31:24 If I have made gold my hope, or have said to the fine gold, Thou art my confidence;
25 If I rejoice because my wealth was great, and because mine hand had gotten much;
26 If I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness;
27 And my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed my hand:
28 This also were an iniquity to be punished by the judge: for I should have denied the God that is above.
I am struck by these words in the book of Job. The book is clearly set at or before the time of the Patriarchs, centuries before the Lord God Almighty handed the stone tablets of the covenant to Moses on Mount Sinai and revealed to Moses the laws and statutes which would make Israel the model nation.
Despite that, Job, during his attempt to justify himself, refers to judicial office, to 'judges' and 'the judge', and describes two specific crimes which the judges are empowered to punish. Earlier, Eliphaz, assuming Job has sinned and in some way brought disaster upon himself, urges him to seek the law of God and live by it:
Job 22:22 Receive, I pray thee, the law from His mouth, and lay up His words in thine heart.
23 If thou return to the Almighty, thou shalt be built up, thou shalt put away iniquity far from thy tabernacles.
JOB KNEW THE LAW OF GOD
Clearly, people at the time of Job understood about God, and about the righteousness of His laws, not just in the moral sense, but in the judicial sphere as well. The crimes Job names are adultery and idolatry. We gather from the pages of Genesis that people in the time of Abraham regarded adultery as a great evil and a sin in the eyes of God. During the course of his life, Abraham put the kings of both Egypt (Gen 12:11-20) and Gerar (Gen 20:1-9) in danger of committing this sin by his pretence that his wife Sarah was his sister.
Abraham did this to save his own life. He thought he would be killed for his wife. It appears that the ancients regarded adultery as a worse sin even than murder. The Apostle James hints at the same view when he writes: "For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law." (Jas. 2:11)
Now, James says, "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all."(vs 10) All sin separates us from God and puts us in danger of the judgment, which is why Jesus Christ had to die. He died by God's grace instead of us, paying the just penalty for our sin, so we could be forgiven by His precious blood. Given that, in the judicial sphere of the law of God there are graduated penalties. Stealing a pen is not punished as severely as stealing a sheep, and neither of them is as serious as murder or adultery. However, I have a feeling that even some Christians today would side with our lawmakers in regarding adultery as not deserving to be a crime at all, and being more an unfortunate succession of unforseen events than a sin. In our divorce courts, adultery, especially by a wife, is not merely not taken into account in settlements, if young children are involved it is often rewarded with the family home. How far has justice fallen in our land.
So I believe it would be rare to find, even in the Christian community, someone today who could understand the viewpoint of both Abraham and James that adultery is as serious as, let alone more serious than, murder. As for idolatry, when the view that God is little more that a private lifestyle choice comes in one door, out of another goes the understanding that putting created things in His place and worshiping them instead of God is a sin which brings a whole nation under judgment.
JOB PART OF A WIDER SOCIETY
I hope that is not too much of a digression. My main point is that we tend to concentrate on the great sweep of the story of Job, the to-and-fro of the arguments, Job's dilemma and the eternal questions it poses and the answers it gives, and we pass over the rich detail of Job's day-to-day way of life. Perhaps we have a picture in our minds of Job as an autonomous (literally: 'own law') individual, subject only to God, living in total isolation apart from marauding bands of Chaldeans. However, it is clear that Job is a member of a wider society. Job talks in chapter 29 about the city gate, and the princes, the nobles, the young men, the poor and fatherless. These bronze-age folks are not living in caves, uttering guttural sounds and struggling to build a fire. They are part of a highly-sophisticated social system which understands about hospitality, writing, medicine, science, agriculture, books and crafts such as weaving, building, stonemasonry and even mining for metal ore, smelting and crafts with metals such as lead-pouring (Job 19:24).
Moreover, this is plainly a people who observe laws given by the same Almighty God whom we worship and under whose authority our Queen rules this United Kingdom. Reading between the lines of Job, we see a legal system ensuring fair weights and measures, paying the labourer his wages and not favouring persons in judgment. We see laws to do with respect for elders, repayments of debts and pledges, about care for the poor and against robbery, violence, idolatry, adultery and murder.
Transgressors of capital crimes can expect capital punishment in the judicial system known to Job, as he says: "Be ye afraid of the sword; for wrath bringeth the punishments of the sword, that ye may know there is a judgment," he says. (Job 19:29) In other words, the book of Job is a powerful witness against those who believe there was no law before Mount Sinai, and, by extension, no law after Jesus Christ. The latter is a popular view in certain sections of the church, and it appears to have support from the famous words in the opening of the Gospel of John:
John 1:17 For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
WHAT CAN 'THE LAW' MEAN TO JOHN? But if 'the law' was not given in the first instance by Moses, but was known earlier to Job, then what can the words of John mean? Can it be that as Moses is believed to have collected the story of Job, 'the afflicted one,' that he put in anachronistic references to the law, and judges, and judicial process, drawn from his own time? That would fly in the face of the respect which Moses, well-educated in Egypt and a man of his time, would have been taught to accord both written and oral tradition. He simply would not have taken those liberties. Added to that, the text of Job hangs together in such perfect context that the idea that Moses fiddled around with it cannot stand. Above all, we must believe that Moses or whoever collected the account was inspired by God accurately to record the events in the book of Job, and that he systematically recorded the book and the social system it is set in.
In any case, even before Mount Sinai, we find Moses making the people to know God's statutes and laws (Exod 18:16). We find other instances of the Patriarchs observing a law which we suppose would not be 'given' for another four hundred years. Something is wrong with our usual interpretation. John must mean something other than the moral and judicial law of God when he says "the law was given by Moses."
We only have the Greek word 'nomos' for law, in whatever sense the word is used in the New Testament. However, the Hebrew word 'Torah' is much richer in meaning. It does refer to 'law' but it also means 'teaching' and 'instruction'. Vitally, it carries the meaning of moral law, judicial law, physical law, ceremonial law and sacrificial law either all at once, or one at a time. I believe it is certainly the sacrificial and possibly the ceremonial meaning to which John refers. Nothing else makes sense.
OBSERVING 'THE LAW'
We see in the Gospels our Lord's emphasis on keeping the Commandments, and in the Epistles, there is always practical guidance about moral living. So 'the law' as we normally understand it today is not abolished, but taught by both Christ and Paul in wonderful simplicity. But it is also in the Gospels where we see a society which, although adulterous and sinful, is also obsessed with keeping every detail of a complicated ceremonial and sacrificial system. To an observant Jew, such as the Lord's disciples before the Resurrection, keeping these aspects of the law was vitally important. To some of the Pharisees, detail became more important than justice and mercy (Luke 11:42). Pharisees could - and did - argue about whether, if ceremonially clean water were poured from a clean vessel into an unclean one, the unclean-ness travelled up the water so as to make the upper, clean, vessel ceremonially unclean. Don't even start to think about it. This mindset is what Paul is warning about when he writes to the church in Colosse:
Col. 2:20 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,
21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not;
22 Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?
REMEMBER JOB AND HIS JUDGES
It was of course important to be ceremonially clean to be able to offer sacrifice, and to observant Jews today, even without the sacrifices, ritual cleanliness is still important. Yet it is precisely the animal sacrifices which Jesus has abolished in His flesh offered once for all time on the cross. For salvation, we don't need animal blood, all we need now is the Cross. Meanwhile, the rest of 'the law' has always been known and will remain to the end. So the next time someone says disparagingly to you, 'the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ', remember Job and his judges.