Bible Note #35: Compassion for the Weak — Job 29:14-17


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The Grand Canyon; photo by GAC

Job is a tricky book to use.  The book is a debate among Job and some friends over how to understand suffering and what God is doing in the midst of that suffering.  We should not assume that everything that Job or the others say is correct.  The only one who speaks infallibly in the book is God himself.

Here, however, in these verses, Job is presenting his case by pointing to an aspect of the character of God that is affirmed over and over throughout scripture.  It is a defining feature of God’s righteousness and justice that the weak and vulnerable are to be given special care and concern.  To care for the weak, the vulnerable, the refugee, the needy is to embody the righteousness and justice of God.

See for example:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.”  Leviticus 19:9-10

Or:

“Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.  Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord.”  Leviticus 19:13-14

Or:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”  Isaiah 58:6-7

Or:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”  Matthew 25:35-36

I could go on and on in the same vein.  In God’s view, there is no justice, no righteousness apart from compassion for the weak and the vulnerable of the world.  Job knows this about God’s character, and so he pleads his case before God by arguing that in his own life he has had the heart of God and has done the works of God.

I put on righteousness as my clothing;
    justice was my robe and my turban.
I was eyes to the blind
    and feet to the lame.
I was a father to the needy;
    I took up the case of the stranger.
I broke the fangs of the wicked
    and snatched the victims from their teeth.  Job 29:14-17

He has, he argues, clothed himself in the character of God in all he has done.  Job (with so many others in scripture) presents us with the picture of a God-shaped righteousness that is biased toward the weak and vulnerable.

Before anyone dismisses this as so much “leftist” heresy, let’s remember that this bias toward the weak and vulnerable and needy is the very essence of the Gospel of Salvation.  If God is not biased toward the helpless and the weak, then we are all still in our sin.  God’s grace is provision to the sinner who is weak and helpless, the sinner who cannot provide for himself, the sinner who is trapped in the predatory jaws of the devil.  This is the heart of our God, a heart of compassion for the vulnerable and the needy.  He shows it in his work of salvation.  He shows it in his vision for human society.  He shows it in the very fabric of the created order.  It is who he is.  God’s grace—blessing without consideration of deserving, blessing given based only on need.

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Big horn sheep at the Grand Canyon; photo by GAC

The opposite of this compassion for the weak is the act of preying on the weak.  Predation is the opposite of compassion.  Predatory behavior was never part of God’s plan for his creation.  It is, rather, the fruit of the Fall.  Predation was introduced into the created order only after the Fall.  It was, in fact, forbidden to human beings even longer, being allowed to us only after the Flood (Genesis 9:2-3).  It will not be part of the new creation.  In that new order of things in the kingdom of God, predation will again cease.  “The lion will eat straw like the ox” (Isaiah 11:7; see also Isaiah 65:25).

The sufferings of the vulnerable and weak is a consequence of the Fall.  As Job plainly sees, to stand with God’s creational and redemptive intent is to stand against this suffering, to alleviate it, and to eliminate it.  It is to break the fangs of the wicked and to snatch the victims from their teeth, that is, to end the predation of the powerful who prey on the vulnerable and weak, the poor, the blind, the lame, the refugee, the needy.  Those who stand by while the physically, socially, economically weak ones suffer is to stand with the devil and to stand against God.

“They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.”
Isaiah 11:9

©2019 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.
{All scripture quotations are from the NIV.}

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