On the Ash Heap
Let us think about this some more. Anyone who has ever had a severe skin disorder will know that it is the sort of thing that can drive a person half-crazy. How pathetic and heart-wrenching to read about Job having to use a piece of broken pottery to scrape his boils! Scratching is pointless activity; it only makes the infection worse. Everyone knows this, and yet we cannot help scratching, almost as if we were condemned to tear ourselves to pieces. This reminds me of one of the most terrible prophecies: “This is the plague with which the Lord will strike the nations that fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet” (Zechariah 14:12).
There is nothing more personal to us than our skin. When skin is diseased, it can be a kind of living death, almost as if the body had been turned inside out. This is certainly how it used to be viewed. Disease of the skin was equated with disease of the soul, and anyone afflicted with a skin disease was automatically judged spiritually unclean. The Hebrew word for “leprosy” was applied not to leprosy alone but to a wide variety of skin infections, and also more generally to anything that was ceremonially unclean.
This is why, as you will see, when Job’s three friends come to visit him, even before Job opens his mouth they have already formed a clear opinion as to what his problem is. In their minds, it was obvious to the whole world that if a man’s body was visibly rotting away, he must be a sinner! Job’s physical condition puts him in the same class as modern day AIDS patients. The torment was not just a private one but a public one as well. As terrible as the pain is, even worse is the shame. Listen to Leviticus 13:45-46: “The person with . . . an infectious skin disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ as long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp.”
This is exactly what happens to Job: he is banished from society, run out of town on a rail, treated as an outcast. That is why the verse makes a point to tell us that he was sitting “among the ashes” and scratching himself with “broken pottery.” As I said above, where does one find heaps of ashes and broken pots? At the garbage dump, naturally. Job was not lying at home in his own comfortable bed between crisp white sheets and being waited on by private nurses; no, he was where all the other lepers and pariahs would be found, quarantined in the town dump. At least there, rather than being a burden on society, such people could take care of one another and scrounge around for their own food; besides, there would be lots of broken pottery to scratch themselves with. More than likely even Job’s wife and friends would have treated him as untouchable, keeping a safe distance and talking to him through the stench and drifting smoke, like the poet Dante visiting with the shadows in the Inferno.
As the dialogue between Job and his friends unfolds, we will have to keep in mind this horrible picture of a reeking dump as the setting in which the long and rather abstract theological debate takes place. They are not sitting in some elaborate conference room with a muti-million-dollar church complex. They are not even around a kitchen table. Instead, they were right in the middle of heaps of ashes, smoldering fires, stench, buzzing flies, scampering rats, piles of rubble, and all the other junk you find in a dump—not to mention the human ruins.
So what about you? Are you on the outside looking in to someone else’s suffering and never, as Steve Camp says, “tasting the salt of their tears.” Or are you the one pouring out your heart for mercy and grace? Well, your Father tells you that when you are in need to “come to His Throne of Grace and Mercy and receive Grace in your time of need.” What is his Grace? I have said this before but I will say it again and again until it is alive within your being: Grace is God’s Ability, to do, what you do not have the ability to do. It isn’t just an undeserving affection—an unmerited favor—as we are sometimes told. It is your Father getting in the dirt and muck right with you and lifting you out of it. It is Him giving YOU the power to endure any trial with joy.
Take as your example the Apostle Paul. There he was, the Holy Spirit clearly and emphatically affirming that suffering, beatings, intense opposition and suffering was awaiting him . . . yet knowing all that was to come, he was not moved. he refused to surrender and set his heart to honor his Father and advance with Joy!
Why are you suffering? Why hasn’t your healing come? I don’t know. But I do know that your heart can still be fixed on your Father’s presence and joy. Is your enemy correct? Are you worshipping only for what He can give you? Is your devotion only the result of His blessings in your life?
If nothing else, I hope these studies force you to learn where your affections lie. Are your affections on your Savior and Lord or on your current circumstances of life?
If you are interested, you can download the whole study of Job.
Other Bible Studies and Commentary are available at Doulos Studies.