Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
John 16:5-11; Revelation 3:1-13; Job 31:1-23; Daniel 9-10
Job 31 is written in a format that was well-known in ancient judicial settings. Today, an innocent person would plead not guilty and demand that evidence be produced to support their alleged wrong-doing. Job’s approach, called a negative confession, is an appeal to God. He states that he has made a commitment to God to live according to God’s ways. Therefore, if he is guilty of violating God’s code of ethics, he accepts God’s penalty. He accepts the lex talionis, an eye for an eye, and acknowledges that he will reap what he sows. The assumption is that if he sinned in any of these ways, God would have punished him. Since this hasn’t happened, and God sees everything (v. 4), Job must be innocent of these allegations (v. 6).
There are theological problems with Job’s view of justice and punishment. The book of Ecclesiastes makes it clear that crimes do go unpunished, and some reap riches from sowing injustice. In spite of this, Job’s confession affirms important ethical principles in the Bible. Job picks items that highlight what he considers to be essential aspects of the character of a man of God. He affirms common biblical themes such as sexual purity, pointing to lust as an issue of the eyes and heart (vv. 1, 9), and generosity to the poor and widows (vv. 16-22).
His discussion of servants and slaves is an important affirmation of the biblical view of all human life. Other ancient (and modern) cultures viewed servants as little more than property, with no rights. Job affirms that his servants are entitled to justice, and to make grievances against him (v. 13). He specifically states that men and women have equates rights in this area. Our common humanity is the basis for the same ethics in our treatment of others. A servant, a slave, or a subordinate, male or female, has each been formed by God in their mother’s womb. If we think we are entitled to more rights because of who we are, or where we stand in society, we go against the biblical view that all have been created in the image of God.
We may not have slaves, but how often do we dismiss others because we judge them externally? I was waiting in a hospital one day for a medical scan. This required drinking a jug of liquid over a 1-hour period. An elderly woman was doing likewise, accompanied by a staff member from her residential home. The woman grew increasingly impatient and complained that her appointment had been for 20, 30, 40 minutes earlier. The care staff ignored her mostly, but occasionally told her to keep drinking her ‘water’. This woman didn’t realise her appointment had already started when the liquid was brought. This wasn’t water, but imaging fluid required for her scan. If someone had shown her the respect of explaining how the procedure worked, she may have been more content. In the end, she grew more aggravated and insisted on being taken home without having her scan done. Some might dismiss this woman as a cranky old person, but she is someone God carefully formed in her mother’s womb, just like he did with you and me. She has her issues, but so do you and I. If we all took the time to think about others as God does, as Job remind us here, we may find it easier to treat them as God does.