Sometimes Following the Bible Can Make You a Real Jerk

Not everything in the Bible is meant to be carried out. In fact, there are some things in the Bible you are definitely not supposed to do.

How can I say something like that? After all, you know I’ve read 2 Timothy 3:16-17 –

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

I believe every word of that passage. I also believe that doing some of the things the Bible says is not only stupid but foolish, and if I did them I’d be a real jerk. In fact, I have done them and I have been a real jerk.

Here’s one from the Book of Job, the words of Zophar.

My troubled thoughts prompt me to answer
    because I am greatly disturbed. (Job 20:2.)

Sounds good so far, doesn’t it? If something is troubling, talking it out can be the right thing to do. But then we get to the next verse.

I hear a rebuke that dishonors me,
    and my understanding inspires me to reply. (Job 20:3.)

Zophar sees injustice and must speak out, but who is the victim of this injustice? Zophar. And being a man of great understanding – understanding so great that it inspires his reply! – Zophar must speak in his own defense. As the rest of Job 20 shows, Zophar’s defense is an all-out attack on Job’s character.

What a jerk.

Stupidly Following Scripture

Taking Zophar’s words as an example of appropriate biblical behavior would be stupid. It’s not that we should write these words out of the Bible. There they are for all to read. But Zophar’s  words are not recorded as a guide.

Or are they?

They are a guide for what not to do. That’s part of what it means in 2 Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching.” Every word of the Bible is there for a reason. Understanding that reason takes discernment. So what is the reason for Zophar’s words?

Every word of the BibleOne tool for exercising discernment is studying all of Scripture, not allowing words to stand in isolation. Sometimes that takes effort, and sometimes it is as plain as day. Zophar’s words fall into both categories.

First the plain as day part – at the end of the Book of Job, God clearly rebukes Zophar in the clearest words possible.

I am angry with you … . (Job 42:7.)

If God is angry at Zophar, it’s plain we need to rethink anything Zophar has said to see where he went wrong. This is where it takes effort to see what other passages might apply. Here’s one –

If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. (Luke 6:29.)

Zophar felt the insult like a slap on the cheek, and in turn felt compelled to answer back. That doesn’t fit in with Jesus’ teaching.

Here’s another that’s on point –

Do not say, “I’ll pay you back for this wrong!”
    Wait for the Lord, and he will avenge you.(Proverbs 20:22.)

In light of these passages, it’s clear Zophar didn’t have as great an understanding as he thought. Sure his understanding might have inspired him to reply to the insult, but it’s actually a matter of not having enough understanding that drove his actions. That’s why this passage is in the Bible. That’s the lesson we are to learn from Zophar.

And that’s the lesson I still need to learn so I don’t end up being a real jerk.


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8 Responses to Sometimes Following the Bible Can Make You a Real Jerk

  1. Laura Droege says:

    This is terrific, Tim. How many times have I responded to an insult and felt the need to defend myself when I didn’t have a full understanding of the situation or the person throwing the perceived insult? How many of those times did I end up being a jerk? Yikes.

    I found it rather amusing that the two out of three “related posts” at the bottom of this one involved “concealed weapons”. It seemed appropriate, though. Defending ourselves, particularly when we don’t have a full grasp of the situation, is a bit like pulling out a concealed weapon on someone for stepping on one’s toes: nothing good is going to happen.

    • Tim says:

      It’s one thing to say “Yowch!” when someone steps on my toes. It’s another to haul off and slug them for it. Zophar did some verbal slugging and I hate to say but I’ve done that too. Yowch.

  2. Mary Anne says:

    For me, the best application of this is when C.S. Lewis tackles the “cursings” in Reflections on the Psalms and quotes the appalling verse about “Happy is he who takes your children and dashes them against the rocks” and applies it figuratively, about there being things in our inner life that “are very much like babies”: our moments of greed and selfishness and self-pity and complete disregard for anyone’s welfare but our own, and concludes with something along the lines of, “For all such charming infants, the Psalmist’s advice is the still the best–knock the little bastards’ brains out. And ‘happy’ he who can, for it’s far easier said than done.”

    • Tim says:

      I once preached a whole sermon on Psalm 137, including the verse about babies and rocks. The application I gave was not “Go, therefore, and do likewise.”

  3. I think, like Zophar, we can become puffed up with pride, thinking we’ve got the solution for somebody else’s problem. And then when they tell us, in no uncertain terms, that we’re not only not helping but making things worse, we respond with self-righteous indignation. Zophar IS a jerk; he’s not humble enough to back off and acknowledge that he’s doing more harm than good.

    • Tim says:

      Believe me, Jeannie, I’ve had plenty of solutions for other people’s problems. The only problem is they weren’t good solutions.

  4. Carmen S. says:

    Matthew Henry:
    Zophar speaks of the short joy of the wicked. ( 1-9) The ruin of the wicked. (10-22) The portion of the wicked. (23-29) Zophar having described the vexations which attend wicked practices, shows their ruin from God’s wrath. There is no fence against this, but in Christ, who is the only Covert from the storm and tempest. Isaiah 32:2. Zophar concludes, ” this is the portion of a wicked from God.” It is allotted him. Never was there any doctrine better explained, or worse applied, than this by Zophar, who intended to prove Job was a hypocrite. Let us receive the good explanation, and make a better application, for warning to ourselves, to stand in awe and sin not. One view of Jesus, directed by the Holy Spirit, and by him suitably impressed upon our souls, will quell a thousand carnal reasons about the suffering of the faithful.

    Job 42 Job humbly submits unto God. (1-6) Job intercedes for his friends. (7-9) His renewed prosperity. (10-17) After the Lord had convinced and humbled Job, and brought him to repentance, he owned him, comforted him, and put honour upon him. The devil had undertaken to prove Job a hypocrite, and his three friends had condemned him as a wicked man; but if God say, Well done, good and faithful servant, it is of little consequence who says otherwise. Job’s friends had wronged God, by making prosperity a mark of the true church, and affliction a certain proof of God’s wrath. Job had referred things to the future judgment and the future state, more than his friends, therefore he spoke of God that which was right, better than his friends had done. And as Job prayed and offered sacrifice for those that had grieved and wounded his spirit, so Christ prayed for his persecutors, and ever lives, making intercession for his transgressors. Job’s friends were good men, and belonged to God, and he would not let them be in their mistake any more than Job; but having humbled him by a discourse out of the whirlwind, he takes another way to humble them. They are not to argue the matter again, but they must agree in a sacrifice and a prayer, and that must reconcile then, those who differ in judgment about lesser things, yet are one in Christ the great Sacrifice, and ought therefore to love and bear with one another.

    When God was angry with Job’s friends, he put them in a way to make peace with him. Our quarrels with God always begin on our part, but the making peace begins on his. God is to be had only in his own way and upon his own terms. These will never seem hard to those who know how to value this blessing: they will be glad of it, like Job’s friends, upon any terms, though ever so humbling. Job did not insult his friends, but God being graciously reconciled to him, he was easily reconciled to them. In all our prayers and services we should aim to be accepted of the Lord; not to be have the praises of men, but to please God.

    His troubles began in Satan’s malice, where God restrained; his restoration began in God’s mercy, which Satan could not oppose. Mercy did not return when Job was disputing with his friends, but when he was praying for them.

    2 Timothy 3: 16-17 All Scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof ( Greek elegcho~~to expose it to the light, to bring something to the light. The Bible is able to show us whether we are wrong and where we are wrong), for correction, for training in righteousness.

    Job 20:2 “Therefore do my thoughts cause me to answer.” He takes no notice of what Job has said to move their pity, or to evidence his own integrity, but fastens upon the REPROOF he gave them in the close of his discourse, COUNTS THAT A REPROACH, and thinks himself therefore obligated to answer, because Job had bidden them to be afraid of the sword, that he might not seem to be frightened by his menaces. The best council is too often ill taken from an antagonist, and therefore usually may well be spared. Zophar seemed more in haste to speak than became a wise man; but he excuses his haste with two things—-1. That Job had given him strong provocation ( v.3): “I have heard the check of my reproach…. and cannot bear it any longer.” Job’s friends, I doubt, had spirits too high to deal with a man in his low condition; and high spirits are impatient of contradiction, and think themselves affronted if all about them do not say as they say; they cannot bear a check but they call it a “check of their reproach,” and they are bound in honour to return it, if not to draw upon him who gave it.

    2)That his own heart gave him a strong instigation. His thoughts caused him to answer ( v.2), for out of the obedience of the heart the mouth speaks; but he fathers the instigation (v.3) upon “the spirit of his understanding”; that indeed should cause us to answer; we should rightly apprehend a thing and duly consider it before we speak of it; but whether it did so here or no is a question. Men often mistake the dictates of their passion for the dictates of their reason, and therefore think they do well to be angry.

  5. Tim says:

    Okey dokey, thanks.

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