Have you ever hoped to receive some emotional support from someone and they were only interested in themselves? Have you ever hoped the doctor would have the solution to your illness but he didn’t have a clue? Or you dreamed of having new drapes but after they were installed, all it did was make the rest of the room look shabby?
We’ve all had disappointing things happen. We hoped something would meet our needs or someone would come through for us. And that’s the idea that Job communicates in our next look at the word “hope” in Scripture. It’s found in Job 6:19: “The caravans of Tema looked, The travelers of Sheba hoped for them.”
When I first read this verse as the next one in our survey of “hope,” I thought, “I’ll have to pass on this one.” I figured there might be a few verses that just wouldn’t offer anything to write about. This seemed like one of them. After all, who cared about the caravans and travelers of Sheba? But once I studied the passage, it became clear that this is actually a powerful verse. It is used by Job as a metaphor of disappointed longing.
In Job 5, Eliphaz continued his doctrinal verbal thesis that something had been wrong in Job’s life because something bad had happened to him. Now in Job 6, Job laments that his friends have been far less than encouraging brothers. I like the way it’s said in the Contemporary English Version (vs. 14-21):
“My friends, I am desperate, and you should help me, even if I no longer respect God All-Powerful. But you are treacherous as streams that swell with melting snow, then suddenly disappear in the summer heat. I am like a caravan, lost in the desert while searching for water. Caravans from Tema and Sheba thought they would find water. But they were disappointed, just as I am with you. Only one look at my suffering, and you run away scared.”
Job defines his friends as fickle, sometimes with overflowing generosity but then suddenly as un-satisfying as a dry desert where caravans hoped to find water. Job says, “But they were disappointed, just as I am with you.”
Although we all desire and even strive to be the kind of friend that meets another’s needs, the simple fact is that we can’t meet all of them. Although Job’s friends seemingly met few of his needs, they started really good. In the beginning, they were like the swollen rivers offering thirst-satisfaction. When they first arrived, they sat silent with him for seven days (check out Job 2:12-13). This was the best therapy they gave him but unfortunately, they ended up opening their mouths and spouting their theology. Of course, there’s a place for both but they would have done better to stay silent for Job was able to figure it out through what ended up direct communication with God.
Ultimately, Job’s friends’ failure points us to the fact that only God can be all that we need. Friends must always seem like a parched desert because God is the only one who supplies living water. Parents must always seem like a disappointing dried up river because God is the only one who has all the answers. Mentors must always seem like a water-less oasis because God is the only one who doesn’t disappoint. After those friends finished trying to change Job, God stepped into the picture and Job ended up with the right perspective—one of repentance and surrender.
At parenting seminars, I say, “Our children need to be needy so that they will need God.” We can’t as parents be our child’s all in all because then they wouldn’t need God. The same goes for our friends, those we mentor…whoever. We are limited in ministering to their needs because only God can fully do it and He doesn’t want a substitute. Trying to find a substitute for God is our trouble to begin with and it ends in sin.
So, what do we learn? Don’t try to be a person’s all in all. Even thought they may hope you can be. Do what God wants you to do for them and trust He will use their hunger and thirst to draw them to Himself. He’s the oasis, the spring in the desert, that waters the caravans as they come by. All you’ve got is a bucket.
And how about you and me? Are we hoping others will be our all in all? If we’re disappointed because they aren’t an oasis or a flowing river, maybe we’re putting our trust in something that never should have been expected to meet our needs. The caravans had a right to expect water at the oasis but we don’t have a right to expect anything or anyone other than God to be what we need.