Understanding God’s Discipline

Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal” (vv. 17–18).

- Job 5:17–27

Biblically speaking, wisdom involves both the knowledge of truth and the right application of that knowledge. It is not enough to understand the truth, for one must know how to apply rightly the truth in particular situations. This does not mean the standard of right and wrong changes according to the whims of human beings. What it does mean is that the same truth does not necessarily have the same application in all situations.

This is particularly clear in the book of Job when we consider the response of his friends to his suffering. Oftentimes, what Job’s friends tell him is in itself true, but they are making a wrong application or deduction from it. Today’s passage gives us a great example of a true statement that Job’s friends apply incorrectly to Job’s particular situation.

In Job 5:17–18, Eliphaz notes that the discipline of the Lord is a blessing that should be embraced, that although He may bruise, it is only for a season because He will then bind up the wounds of His people. With this statement, Eliphaz is teaching nothing different from the rest of Scripture’s teachings. In fact, that God’s children receive discipline proves they are God’s children. Hebrews 12:7–8 notes that “it is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” Though we may find it difficult to receive it as such, divine discipline is a mark of our Creator’s love for His people.

The error arises when we view all suffering as punitive discipline. Eliphaz, speaking for Job’s friends, wrongly sees the suffering of Job as proof that he is being chastised for specific sins. He goes on to note that those who are righteous will persevere through the discipline and experience full restoration (Job 5:19–27). Yes, the righteous will persevere, but Eliphaz has no category for nonpunitive discipline. He has no room for God’s disciplining His children in a more general sense that enables them to learn of His sufficiency. He has no room for the discipline of the Lord as being anything more than a reality in which all suffering proves the existence of a specific sin. Scripture, on the other hand, has a role for nonpunitive suffering as a form of discipline in the lives of God’s people. After all, Jesus, the sinless Son of God, endured a nonpunitive form of divine discipline, for the Father allowed Him to learn “obedience through what he suffered” (Heb. 5:8).

Coram Deo

Truth, if wrongly applied, can actually do more harm than good. Job’s friends were not wrong that God disciplines His children, but they did err in viewing all discipline in punitive terms. Such a view will lead to poor counsel that makes people look in vain for the sin that has led to their suffering or prompts in them feelings of false guilt as they try to explain their suffering. Let us take care not only to know the truth but also to learn to apply it rightly.

Passages for Further Study

Proverbs 12:1
Revelation 3:19

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