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Job 38-42: God is Not Your Enemy

January 14, 2009

When we left off yesterday, I wondered if God’s words in 38:2 applied to a great degree to Elihu because he claimed to know God’s will with perfect knowledge.  God opened his conversation with Job with the intimidating words, “who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?”  While these words probably applied to Elihu, they most definitely applied to Job.  What is the old adage?  “Be careful for what you wish for as you just might get it.”  In a stunning turn of events, Job was about to meet the God of the universe in a court like scene and it was now time for Job to answer a few questions of his own.  In 38-42, we are being brought to the realization that the reasons for our suffering may often more complex than we can imagine and we are assured that God always acts with absolute justice when dealing with his creation.  Moreover, we learn that God has a purpose in suffering that goes beyond repayment for sin; in the case of Job – his suffering led to God’s victory.

 

The title of this post, “God is Not Your Enemy,” originates from something Dr. Elmer Smick said in his commentary,

 

“it was important for Job to know that god was not his enemy as he had imagined.  This encounter with the Lord to learn the lesson that God is God was Job’s assurance that all was well.  Job did not learn why he was suffering; but he did learn to accept God by faith as his Creator, Sustainer, and Friend.  To learn this lesson he needed to get rid of his ignorant fantasies, his words without knowledge, brace himself like a man, and learn who God really was.  This he was about to do by walking with God through his created universe, and being questioned about his limitations as a creature in comparison with God’s power and wisdom in creating and sustaining the universe.”

 

The lesson that we find in this text is that God as the creator and sustainer of the universe has not forgotten to factor in our individual lives in his overall plan for the world.

 

God’s Response to Job

It is very interesting that as God begins his reply of Job, he doesn’t directly answer all the questions that Job for him throughout the narrative.  In this text we notice that God asked Job a series of questions that would eventually lead Job to the right conclusion of the matter.  We notice God’s reply to Job in three major parts.

 

In the first section (38:4-38), God begins to question Job about the complexity of his creation.  God asked for example if Job was there at the creation of the world (38-4); if he has seen the springs in the deepest parts of the oceans (38:16); if he has seen beyond the grave (38:17 [this is particularly interesting as Job spoke so often and so confidently about the grave throughout his speeches]) or if he has seen and understood the complexity of the stars, constellations and the heavens (38:31-33).  Of course, Job didn’t have any idea about any of these things and he was beginning to come to the realization that however predictable the laws of the universe might be, there is far more complexity and mysteriousness than he could ever imagine.  Near the end of the section, God closes with this critical question for this book, “Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?”  Throughout the narrative, Job, his friends and Elihu all pretend to know the working and the logic behind God’s ways.  Job’s accusers have charged that God works in the moral realm in the same predictable manner as he does in the physical realm.  Job has claimed that God has been unjust to him because his suffering has been out of order with the type of suffering he has endured.  Now Job, along with everyone else, must admit that we have no such knowledge. So, if we don’t know how God accomplishes his objectives in the physical realm, how then can we claim to know how God works in the relational or moral  or spiritual sphere?

 

In the second section (38:39- 39:30), we notice that God now turns to the animal kingdom, which would be presumably more accessible to Job’s understanding than the depths of the oceans and the vast greatness of the cosmos. God moves to ask Job a series of questions about lions, ravens, wild donkeys, the wild ox, charger, the eagle, etc.,  After Job is obviously speechless, God said to him in Job 40:2, “will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”  After God asked this question, we get a glimpse of Job’s new found humility, “I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer, twice, but I will say no more” (NIV).  Obviously, Job is in no mood to talk at this point or make any further charges against God.

 

Finally, we enter a last phase where God now appears to demonstrate his authority over the national or political sphere,  as well as the celestial or spiritual realm (40:1-41:34).  Before God launches into a series of questions that demonstrate Job’s’ obvious ignorance of God’s work within his creation, a very serious question was asked in Job 40:7-8, “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?”  For Job, the answer this question is obvious given his now being faced with the presence of God himself.

 

 For many years, this section of Job has deeply troubled me. We can see from the descriptions of the creatures in these verses, particularly with the description of the leviathan.  These descriptions seem very different than anything we know of in the animal kingdom.  Most scholars think that the “behemoth” described here is a hippopotamus and the leviathan is a crocodile.  Yet there elements of the leviathan or the crocodile that seem very hard to believe as we have never seen crocodiles with some of the characteristics that the text ascribes to them.  For example,

 

 “His snorting throws out flashes of light . . . firebrands stream from his mouth; sparks fo fire shoot out.  Smoke pours from his nostrils as from a boiling pot over a fire of reeds.  His breath sets coals ablaze, and flames dart from his mouth” (41:18-22).

 

 So what is this section getting at here?  First we noticed that God rules over the affairs of the cosmos, then we saw how God rules over the affairs of the animal kingdom and now we see that God rules over the affairs of men.  Dr. Elmer Smick describes the language used here to describe the leviathan as “mythopoeic.”.  In essence, it is a type of language that is used metaphorically.  The creature “Leviathan” is used to describe powerful nations throughout the Old Testament. Egypt is in mind in 74:12-14, when the psalmist says,

 

“But you, O God, are my king from old; you bring salvation upon the earth.  It was you who split open the sea by your power; you broke the heads of the monster in the waters.  It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan and gave him as food to the creatures of the desert.”

 

We also see a similar use of language in Isaiah 26:21-27:1; and in the spiritual or celestial realm in Revelation 12-13 (see Smick, EBC, 1048-1051).  Job is facing his own Leviathan and this great enemy’s name is Satan, though Job still has no idea about the details of this great, unseen battle (cf. Smick).  So, based on this usage of the language, it appears that God is finally showing Job that God not intervenes in the cosmos, the animal kingdom, in the affairs of men and in the celestial realm.  This demonstrates that God’s purposes and plans in the great complexity of the universe can’t be boiled down to some immutable law of retribution or karma or whatever other descriptive term that may be attached to it. 

 

Job’s End: A New Beginning

In this text we are given the joy of sharing with Job in a wonderful “happy” ending.  While the pain of his losses probably could not be quantified, God blesses him greatly.  He is given great wealth, long life and a new respect by God.  This all comes after a moment of repentance by Job when he now concedes after concedes that he made a great mistake in his charges against God during his suffering, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.  You asked, “who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?” Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know . . . my ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2-6).  God accepted his repentance and because of his friends’ sacrifices and Job’s prayer on behalf of his friends, God also forgave them. 

 

So, what is the great lesson that we have learned about suffering from the book of Job?  All people suffer and most religious people of all eras have ascribed to suffering to the judgment of God for a particular action.  It has also been assumed that blessing and prosperity will follow automatically from living righteously.  The deduction from all of this is that suffering people must be evil and prosperous people must be good.  The reality though, is that God has a purpose behind all the events of the universe, whether they be the events of the physical realm, the relational realm or the celestial sphere.  Very often, our suffering has not direct correspondence to our own actions and has a purpose that is beyond our understanding.  Our responsibility, when we are undergoing suffering, is to simply trust God in the midst of it.  We must remember that no event of our lives goes under the radar of God’s care.  So here is the great lesson: through his suffering and his continuing faith in the midst of it, God has used Job to slay the leviathan who is Satan. The accuser came to God and said that Job would not hold to God if everything was removed from his life.  God knew better and Job demonstrated for all of us that it always is best to trust in God, even through the most difficult experiences of our lives knowing that he will not allow our suffering to go in vain.  It is because of this that we may confidently proclaim, God is not our Enemy.

Job 25-31: What Do You Do When Life Doesn’t Turn Out the Way You Expected It To?

January 11, 2009

Check out this video about Nick Vujicic, a Christian who understands that God uses suffering to teach us the most important lessons. 

Job, like most of us, had dreams.  Job didn’t have small dreams either.  He had a large family, great wealth, brilliance, great respect and he looked forward to a future that would continue to be the way it had always been.  Most people then, as now, bought into the idea that if you do things the right way, then most things will go your way.  Because of this belief, one naturally decides to do things the right way. Job feared God and because of this, he was very careful to always obey God.  I’m sure that it was this part of the struggle that was most painful for him.  He describes what motivated him to live so faithfully before God in 32:23, “For I dreaded destruction from God, and for fear of his splendor, I could not do such things.”  Job genuinely feared God, because he did not want to suffer for not being in fellowship with him, so he obeyed God and yet suffered more than even the most wicked he encountered throughout his life.  The shattering of his life was particularly dreadful for him because he had taken the greatest of pains to avoid the very circumstances in which he found himself in this book.

Job, before his great spiritual test, really believed that it was beneficial to play by the rules.  Maybe you have taken the same approach in your own life and you have also adopted the view that if you work hard, then you will naturally be rewarded.  Perhaps you have decided to spend time with your kids when they are young, so that they will spend time with you when you are old.  Maybe you have learned to say “no” to the temptation of instant gratification understanding that long-term benefits would eventually result.  Perhaps you treat the elderly with respect with the expectation that you will treated the same way when you are old.  Maybe you eat healthy and exercise regularly in order to increase your odds for a good quality of health and a long life. In many respects, it would be great if life were this predictable, but the reality is that it is not.

With this world view in mind, imagine that  in an instant, the company you worked to build over the course your entire life falls apart and you are left with nothing.  Your children, though you have nurtured them in the Lord, wander from the faith and away from any desire to spend time with you.  Though you have delayed instant gratification, you never quite make it to the place where you can take that long hoped for cruise or purchase that car or watch or gadget that you had always hoped you’d get.  For all the trouble that you have gone to to treat the aged respectfully, you find that the same kindnesses are not returned to you in your old age by a new generation of youth.  For all the health consciousness and discipline you have maintained over the years, you come to find out that you have been struck with the early onset of some terrible disease.  For all you have sacrificed and for all the ways you feel like you’ve played by the rules, you find yourself and all your dreams shattered by the events of life that take us by surprise.  If you have experienced this kind of disappointment, you are feeling the same kind of frustration that Job experienced. 

In chapter 25 we have one of the shortest, but a most succinct retelling of the friends’ position throughout the book.  Bildad sends the final shot across the bow of Job’s life with the words, “Dominion and awe belong to God; he establishes order in the heights of heaven” (Job 25:2).  In other words, Bildad is making the point that just as there is order in the natural universe that is always predictable and always precise, so there is also an order in the moral universe as well.  This moral order of things is also extremely predictable and extremely precise.   This moral precision is what some theologians call the law of retribution.

Advocates of the law of retribution argue that life will hand back to us whatever we have done.  Such a philosophy can be described with the old phrase, “what goes around, comes around.”  Those who hold this view are convinced that God works in a predictable and consistent manner.  For those who do take this position, there is really very little compassion for those who suffer because, in reality, those people deserve what they are getting.  This is the cold view, of course, of Hinduism and it has born out its awful fruit in the inhumane treatment that has been divvied out to the lower casts over the last several thousand years.  As has been mentioned in previous discussions, the law of retribution has made a great come back within the Christian community over the last few decades as well. The health and wealth gospel or prosperity gospel advocates have been preaching this for sometime with great acclaim and to vast audiences on television and elsewhere. 

There are many explanations as to why this type of thinking has proven to be so attractive to people over the ages.  Perhaps, this way of thinking makes life predictable.  If we live right, good will happen. If we do wrong, then we will suffer for it.  Within the context of this thinking, God is sort of beholden to our choices and it takes him out of the mix as one who may bring the unplanned negatives into our lives.  For many people, particularly those who do not trust in God’s perfect will for our lives, it is attractive to hold such a view (I once had a word-faith pastor friend at another church rebuke me for praying for God’s will for my life.  He said to me, “don’t pray for God’s will, because he might give you what you don’t want.” That day I realized how totally off this theology really is). 

Yet, for Job, and anyone who has suffered in a way that seems disproportionate to their life’s contributions, such thinking is a great burden to bear.  Let it be said that I am not saying here that human suffering (or even Job’s) is ultimately unjust; the truth is that we all suffer because we live in a sinful and fallen world.  But what I am speaking to at this point is the idea that there is a  direct cause and effect of our sin and its consequences.  As I have mentioned the example in previous posts of a man who was born blind and everyone wondered whose sin caused the man’s condition – the man’s parents or the blind man himself.  Jesus, of course, said that this blindness was given to this man so that the glory of God could be revealed during Jesus’ ministry.  The point here is that there isn’t always a one to one correlation between sin and suffering because God has a bigger picture in mind then this shallow and mechanical worldview of the events of our lives.

As for a summary of Job’s argument, here is what has happened.  After Bildad’s attack on Job in Chapter 25, Job began a reasoned defense of his theology, life and circumstances.  In chapter 26 he began by affirming the great transcendent qualities of God that his friends have spoken about throughout their speeches.In chapter 27, Job goes on the offensive as he points out that God will be the final judge of the wicked.  These men have been ruthless with Job and surely he has this in mind as he says, “Here is the fate God allots to the wicked, the heritage a ruthless man receives from the Almighty: however many his children, their fate is the sword; his offspring will never have enough to eat.”  In 28, we get a “proverbs,” like lesson in wisdom and where it is found, and Job affirms like Solomon . . . “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.”  In chapter 29, Job begins to share what his life had once been like . . . his hopes, his dreams and the difference that he made in others’ lives.  In chapter 30 he shares with us the devastation that he experienced as his dreams fell shattered on the cold, hard floor.  “Men listened to me expectantly, waiting in silence cor my counsel.  After I had spoken, they speak no more; my words fell gently on their ears. They waited for me as for showers and drank in my words as the spring rain. When I smiled at them, they were scarcely believed it; the light of my face was precious to them. I chose the way for them and sat as their chief; I dwelt as a king among his troops; I was like one who comforts mourners. But now they mock me, men younger than I, whose fathers I would have disdained to put with my sheep dogs” (Job 29:21-30:1).

Finally, we hear Job now wrapping up his defense and finally making his appeal that God might graciously choose to hear his case.  He will argue that while he is no perfect man, there was no reason why he should’ve gone through the sort of suffering that he has been faced with.  In chapter 31, we get a much better picture of Job’s pre-afflicted life than we have had to this point.  He is a man who was pure in his thinking; he was honest; blameless; focused on God; filled with integrity; treated his workers well; good to the poor; took care of the widows; shared with the fatherless; did not purger himself; did not worship false Gods; did not rejoice at his enemy’s misfortune; did not cures his enemies; showed hospitality to the stranger; was open about his faults and sins, etc., In this section we get the sense that Job has now made his case before God.  If he is guilty, he wants God to search him and try him and then punish him, but he desires justice nonetheless.

So, where do we find justice in the midst of our suffering and our shattered dreams?  Job supplies us with the answer to this question in this narrative . . . “Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defense — let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing.  Surely I would wear it on m shoulder, I would put it on like a crown.  I would give him an account of my every step; like a prince I would approach him” (Job 31:35-37).  Job shows us that there is only one great source of justice . . . it is God himself.  Amazingly for Job, and as we will soon see, God is what he is going to get.

Job 18-21: Job’s Full Frontal Assault on the Prosperity Gospel

January 10, 2009

Today’s Reading

 

The Christian life is not as neat and clean or cut and dry as Job’s friends would have us believe. They believed that the moral universe operates in a similar manner to the physical universe: i.e., in a cold and mechanical way.  If you do something wrong, you suffer for it and if you do something right you will be rewarded for it.  To this point in Job’s life, he had no reason to doubt the conventional wisdom of his day and the conventional wisdom, in many places, of ours as well.  The law of retribution or reciprocity may be one of the most ancient religious concepts.  This idea teaches that we receive whatever we give. In fact, we see this law at work to some degree in the teachings of Jesus, e.g., “blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”  There are many, many more examples that could be given for this, particularly from the Old Testament. This law of retribution is a major facet of other religions besides Christianity as well. In fact, this is what the whole concept of Hinduism and Buddhism’s concept of karma rests on.  Webster’s online dictionary defines karma as, “the force generated by a person’s actions held in Hinduism and Buddhism to perpetuate transmigration and in its ethical consequences to determine the nature of the person’s next existence.” In other words, if one lives in an evil way, this way of life will boomerang back to them at some other time in their existence.  While this concept is the unrelenting and unforgiving reality for many faiths, this is not so for Christians.  As followers of Christ, we have been given a gift that overcomes the Law of Retribution.  This gift is called grace.  Grace is classically defined as “unmerited favor.”  It simply means that God reserves the right to give us gifts that we don’t deserve.  Chiefly among these gifts is the wonderful gift of salvation.  Grace through the triumph of Jesus Christ overcomes karma and it is this grace that makes life hopeful and joyful.

 

There has been a new wave of theology that has hit the church with great force over the last thirty years.  This is called the prosperity gospel and the prosperity gospel basically adheres to a strict, graceless,  view of Christianity which adopts the Law of Retribution with a great appetite.  This movement substitutes words like the law of retribution with the law of attraction. The “law of attraction” which states that whatever you think of mentally or speak verbally, faith will give you. In essence, if you think and speak negative thoughts, negative stuff will happen and on the flip side, if you think and say positive stuff will happen, then this will be your lot. This emphasis on positive thought and words works very effectively in reinforcing the deception in the movement as its teachers emphasize another major concept: “positive confession.” Positive confession is the notion that in order for good things to happen to us we must only confess positive things. So if you will (or think), by faith, that something to happen and it doesn’t, you had better not say it out loud or your affirmation of its failing will completely negate the possibility that it will ever happen. In others words, the movement has done its best to create a scenario in which no child will shout, “the emperor has no clothes.”  Some prominent teachers of this type of doctrine are Kenneth Copeland, Benney Hinn and Joel Osteen.  The reality is that the prosperity gospel is no “gospel” at all because there is no grace, only very little of Christ  . . . only heaping servings of the cold, mechanical law of retribution or karma.

 

The reality, though, is that we are learning in this book that this is not the way God operates. God is a God of grace and he is in no way beholden to treat us as we deserve, as Job’s detractors would have us to believe. Job laments about this reality in his complaint directed against God in chapter 21. Listen to his words about the fact that he has seen the wicked prosper and he, a godly man, must suffer.  Job feels that this is unjust and he is now exposing the graceless theologies of man who assume that God must deal with every person in the same way and in accordance with some harsh karma like Christianity.  Job’s words here are very similar to those of the Asaph in Psalm 73.  Job is now beginning, not only to change his mind about the law of retribution, but also now begin a full frontal attack on the very foundation of its logic in 21:3-26.

 

4   “Is my complaint directed to man? Why should I not be impatient? 5 Look at me and be astonished; clap your hand over your mouth. 6 When I think about this, I am terrified; trembling seizes my body. 7 Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power? 8 They see their children established around them, their offspring before their eyes. 9Their homes are safe and free from fear; the rod of God is not upon them. 10 Their bulls never fail to breed; their cows calve and do not miscarry. 11They send forth their children as a flock; their little ones dance about. 12They sing to the music of tambourine and harp; they make merry to the sound of the flute. 13 They spend their years in prosperity and go down to the grave in peace.14 Yet they say to God, ‘Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways.15 Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What would we gain by praying to him?’ 16 But their prosperity is not in their own hands, so I stand aloof from the counsel of the wicked. 17 “Yet how often is the lamp of the wicked snuffed out? How often does calamity come upon them, the fate God allots in his anger? 18How often are they like straw before the wind, like chaff swept away by a gale? 19  It is said, ‘God stores up a man’s punishment for his sons.’ Let him repay the man himself, so that he will know it! 20 Let his own eyes see his destruction; let him drink of the wrath of the Almighty.21 For what does he care about the family he leaves behind when his allotted months come to an end? 22  “Can anyone teach knowledge to God, since he judges even the highest? 23One man dies in full vigor, completely secure and at ease, 24 his body  well nourished, his bones rich with marrow. 25 Another man dies in bitterness of soul, never having enjoyed anything good. 26 Side by side they lie in the dust, and worms cover them both.

 

 

So, Job is beginning to ask the right questions.  In essence, he is asking here, why do the righteous suffer at times and the wicked often seem to prosper? The reality is that God is a God of grace and he has different purposes behind our suffering and other’s prosperity.  In the midst of this great narrative Job musters up his strength to proclaim in genuine hopefulness through faith in Job 19:25-26, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me!”  In the end, Job knows that God will be his defender because he, through all the pain of his situation and in spite of the prosperity gospel touting friends of his, knows that he serves a God of grace.

Watch this video in which John Piper makes his own full frontal attack on the supposed prosperity “gospel” in a way that only men and women who have suffered like Job can really understand. 

 

 

 

Job 15-17:What Do You Do When People Just Don’t Get Your Pain?

January 9, 2009

Today’s Reading

 

Veiled insults, a form of passive agressive behavior, surely have been around since the beginning of time. They come in many forms like, “Hey Jimbob, you’ve really been packing on the weight lately . . . just kidding.” We’ll we have all been there when we know that deep down the person who was “just kidding,” was actually very serious.  Well, in today’s reading, Eliphaz, one of Job’s friends, has chosen to really let Job have it, while not actually saying that it was Job he was talking about.  In this text he talks about what happens to a “wicked man,” when we all know (Job included) who Eliphaz is really talking about.

20     All his days the wicked man suffers torment, the ruthless through all the years stored up for him. 21     Terrifying sounds fill his ears; when all seems well, marauders attack him. 22     He despairs of escaping the darkness; he is marked for the sword. 23     He wanders about—food for vultures; he knows the day of darkness is at hand. 24     Distress and anguish fill him with terror;

they overwhelm him, like a king poised to attack, 25     because he shakes his fist at God

and vaunts himself against the Almighty, 26     defiantly charging against him with a thick, strong shield. 27     “Though his face is covered with fat and his waist bulges with flesh, 28     he will inhabit ruined towns and houses where no one lives, houses crumbling to rubble. 29     He will no longer be rich and his wealth will not endure, nor will his possessions spread over the land.

30     He will not escape the darkness; a flame will wither his shoots, and the breath of God’s mouth will carry him away. 31     Let him not deceive himself by trusting what is worthless, for he will get nothing in return. 32     Before his time he will be paid in full, and his branches will not flourish. 33     He will be like a vine stripped of its unripe grapes, like an olive tree shedding its blossoms. 34     For the company of the godless will be barren, and fire will consume the tents of those who love bribes. 35     They conceive trouble and give birth to evil; their womb fashions deceit.”

 

This attack on the character of Job comes in two parts. First of all, he describes what the life of the wicked man under God’s chastening hand is like. Remarkably, it is a lot like Job’s life.  Secondly, he describes what the life of Job will be like in the future, viz., not much better than the present.  In this diatribe, Eliphaz is condemning Job to a present and future filled with bitter and awful times.  In fact, he feels emboldened in his opinion because presumably, no one in the heavens is with Job  and neither is any wise man on earth.  “The gray-haired and the aged are on our side, men even older than your father” (Job 15:10).  These words come from a man emboldened from the uniform voice of authority.  Eliphaz is not saying these things based on his authority, but upon the authority of the great understanding of the wise of this world.  A throng who believe in the law of retribution, i.e., a man will get what he gives.  Such a position is inferior to the law of grace, but this is the way that wise men thought and think and Job is all alone in a world in which there is God with his veiled purposes and the wise of the world and their veiled threats.  Job is in the most maddening position that any man of his stature and reputation could be. He is accused of wickedness that he has never committed by men who assume that God acts as mechanically as a Swiss clock.

 

So, here the situation stands very clear for Eliphaz.  God is very predictable for him and the ways of God are well defined for him and so he forgets that God is a being who is free to act in any way he wishes.  While we could fault Eliphaz for this mistake here, the reality is that this is a common mistake in our day.  We must never forget that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). While we have the benefit of the whole of Scripture to teach us this, Elipahz had no such advantage.  It is the fact that God is not a God of pure reciprocity but that he is a God of grace as his character shown forth from for all to see when Jesus cried out from the cross, “Forgive them for they know not what they do (Luke 23:43).”

 

Times of prosperity reinforce the law of retribution.   When things are going well for us, we believe that this is how it ought to be as we naturally have a high view of ourselves.  It is in the midst of the despair of loss that we begin to see things somewhat differently.  Job is beginning to see that God does not deal with us all in the same way and he is also beginning to realize that the law of retribution doesn’t always apply.  Job deals with this in two ways.

 

First, Job has come to realize that these men cannot understand that which they have never been taught.  Throughout their lives, these men have generally seen the law of retribution at work – when they work hard, they are rewarded.  When they were lazy, they found themselves in want.  God had spared them from experiences as Job suffered when he seemed to be doing things right while everything actually went wrong.  Job now has come to grips with this reality as he is all alone in this situation and it is pointless to continue to try to get his friends to understand him. He admits this in 17:4, “you have closed their minds to understanding; therefore you will not let them triumph.”  Job understands that these men need God to do something to help them understand his predicament.  Job has resigned himself to the reality that without God’s intervention, there is no hope that they will understand his plight. 

 

The second thing that we see here that is quite amazing and that God is teaching Job here is about grace.  Job knows his own character and he knows that he has done nothing that would lead to this kind of punishment.  Therefore, once again, he is beginning that God is doing his work in our lives while we suffer.  Amazingly, Job is learning compassion in this time of extreme difficulty. After being scolded by Eliphaz he begins with a startling admission of compassion towards his accusers,

 

 “I have heard many things like these; miserable comforters you are all!  Will your long-winded speeches never end?  What ails you that you keep on arguing?  I also could speak like you, if you were in my place; I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you.  But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief” (Job 16:2-5). 

 

Job was now beginning to understand that God does not always work according to our expectations or our schedule.  It has been said that that the famous theologian, Karl Barth had once exclaimed, “it is not we who have God under the microscope, but it is God who has us underneath it.” 

 

So how did Job deal with these guys who didn’t get it?  He realized that only God could show them and took the pressure off himself to prove it to them.  At this point he knew that it was only God’s opinion that mattered.  Secondly, he began to realize that God doesn’t always work the way we think that he should.  Job was beginning to realize what grace is all about and even in the face of this withering attack against him, he could still say that if the shoe was on the other foot and they in his position, he would encourage and comfort them rather than condemn them.  Job is beginning to get it.

Job 11-14: We Must Avoid Offending God when When we are Defending God

January 8, 2009

Reading for January 8, 2009

 

Friend: מֵרֵעַ (mē∙rē): noun, masculine;—companion, , i.e., one in close association and whom one has personal regard for (Jdg 14:11, 20; 15:2, 6; 2Sa 3:8; Job 6:14; Pr 19:7)[1]

 

In today’s reading we are introduced to another friend of Job’s. Zophar was a man of obvious theological sophistication.  He was a man who cared very deeply about the glory of God.  I would like to think that Zophar and Job were (genuine) friends, as the text says, and probably had been for many, many years.  There is no doubt in my mind that Zophar did not go out to visit Job in his distress just to pile more sorrows onto his friend’s life.  Surely Zophar went to visit Job because he cared.  There could not have been a financial motivation for Zophar.  Job, once one of the wealthiest men among his countrymen, now was penniless. I’m sure that no one would believe Zophar went to visit Job because he was looking forward to a having a wonderful time reminiscing about old times.  Finally, Zophar did not go to see Job because he wanted to pick a fight with someone he had most likely respected and looked up to for many years.  Most people don’t like conflict, and while I obviously don’t know what was going through Zophar’s mind, I certainly doubt this is the reason why he would take valuable time away from his life . Who would want to travel a great distance simply to rub a buddy’s crumbling flesh further into the dust.  In fact, we know from the book of Job itself what Zophar’s true motivations were:

 

“When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him.  When they saw him from a distance they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads.  Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights.  No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:11-13; NIV).

 

As we can see from this text, the genuine motivation of Job’s friends was not to destroy him, but to build him up and get Job’s life back in the right direction.Yet, as we enter into this text, we notice that this is exactly what Zophar did not do.  Job, in the midst of the worst possible pain, found himself in a sophisticated theological debate that was very personal with men that he considered to be his friends.

 

With the closeness of Job and Zophar’s relationship established, it appears that after he had mourned with and for Job over the course of a week, he had now had his fill of Job’s call for personal justice.  We noted that the real turning point of this book happened in chapter 9 when Job began to demand a trial from God. As time went on, Job began to make the unbelievable claim that the weights of life were stacked against him and it was God who had done this to him.  We can hear the anger in his words as he cried out in chapter 10,

 

3Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands, while you smile on the schemes of the wicked? 4Do you have eyes of flesh? Do you see as a mortal sees? 5Are your days like those of a mortal or your years like those of a man, 6 that you must search out my faults and probe after my sin— 7though you know that I am not guilty and that no one can rescue me from your hand?”

 

Essentially, Job is saying here that God is after him and there is nothing Job can do because God is all-powerful.  As was noted in the last entry, the frustration of Job’s perceived injustice made him openly wish that there was some arbitrator that would judge between him and God (9:33-35).  Such talk is borderline blasphemous for those of us who take our faith seriously.  Yet he went on and said so much more to bring God’s character into question,

 

22It is all the same; that is why I say, ‘He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.’ 23 When a scourge brings sudden death, he mocks the despair of the innocent. 24When a land falls into the hands of the wicked, he blindfolds its judges. If it is not he, then who is it?  . . . 28I still dread all my sufferings, for I know you will not hold me innocent.

 

There is no way to underestimate the degree to which Job has said some seriously offensive stuff in the midst of is limited understanding about the desperate nature of his circumstances.  I’m sure that Zophar began this process with Job very sympathetically, yet when he began to speak so disrespectfully about God, it probably drove him to his breaking point.  Zophar now was determined to defend God and the lesson here, brothers and sisters, is that we must be very careful not to offend God when we are defending God.  This is because God is a God of grace and just as Job had no idea what was happening behind the scenes of his life, it was also true that Job’s friends didn’t know as well. God is always a God of grace and when we defend him we must remember speak about him in a way that is full of grace and humility. 

 

Without saying too much about this interchange, Zophar came out firing at Job when it was his opportunity to speak.  He was obviously deeply offended by Job’s audacity in calling God’s righteousness and justice into question. I’m sure that it was a painful thing to do, yet he probably looked at it as a duty of love to straighten out his old friend out.  In fact, the way Zophar spoke to Job, it appears that he no longer thought of Job as a friend at all.  As far as Zophar was concerned, pitiful or not, it was time for Job to learn a little lesson about what it means to have a proper respect for God.  Zophar gave it to Job with both barrels and he even made the shocking claim that Job probably deserved worse than what he actually got.

 

“Then Zophar the Naamathite replied: 2 “Are all these words to go unanswered? Is this talker to be vindicated? 3 Will your idle talk reduce men to silence? Will no one rebuke you when you mock? 4 You say to God, ‘My beliefs are flawless and I am pure in your sight.’ 5Oh, how I wish that God would speak, that he would open his lips against you 6  and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom, for true wisdom has two sides. Know this: God has even forgotten some of your sin” (NIV).

 

 

 As we note in chapters 12-14, Job does his best to defend his words and his life’s actions, but it appears that now the proverb has proven itself to be true, “An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city,

and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel” (Proverbs 18:19; NIV).   

 

So, what has gone wrong in this relationship between these two friends that have cared for one another for so long?  The reality here is that neither man has a real understanding of the plan of God in their own particular circumstances.  Once again, this conflict arose because Job accused God of being unjust and Zophar attacked Job making such wild claims and went so far as to accuse Job of harboring secret sins and that his punishment was just retribution for those things that only God could see.  Neither man was right and in the end it was Job who was vindicated by God and it was Zophar who had sin to be atoned for.  So here is the lesson in all of this: when we defend God, we must be extremely careful not to offend Him in the process.  The way we avoid such a tragic mistake is to approach God with humility and others with grace.  Ultimately, God is and will always be his own defense and we can rest in knowing that he can defend his own honor with absolute perfection.

[1]Swanson, James: Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament). electronic ed. Oak Harbor : Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, S. DBLH 5335, #1


Job 8-10: Have You Ever Wondered Whether God is Really Just?

January 7, 2009

Have you ever been frustrated with God?  Have you ever gone through times of loss and began to wonder if He really loved you at all?  Have things become so bad and so out of whack that you began to wonder, perhaps in the inner recesses of your soul, whether God was really just?  If you have ever gone there in your thought life, this book was written for you.

Who do you think Job was?  Perhaps you think that he was a man who was very, very righteous.  Perhaps you were led to believe that Job was a man with incredible (almost superhuman) patience who after losing it all, refused to give into the temptation to call God into question. Perhaps you perceived him to be a man who sat through countless hours of mockery and accusations from those who would be called his friends and raised no deep questions of his own.  Maybe you think that he was a man who just didn’t let himself get frustrated with God and he was able to keep it all in perspective?  While much of this is correct about Job, you may be surprised to find out that this popular perspective on Job isn’t all that accurate.

In many peoples’ lives, it is not the initial pain of loss that makes them doubt God’s goodness (though some situations do immediately draw this response from some people).  Rather, it is the long term pain of loss that will grind us down and lead us to the breaking point when no relief seems to be in sight. Job withstood the loss of his family, his wealth and his health as well as anyone might deal with circumstances so terrible.  Yet, as the days turned into weeks, his resolve and his sense of  who God’s character which had been developed and reinforced throughout his years of  prosperity began to dramatically weaken as the rolling tide of his collective sorrows  started to take their long-term toll.

Job 9 is one of the most significant chapters in the book of Job, if not the most important section.  In this chapter, during Job’s discussion with his friend Bildad, the direction of Job’s words quickly begin to take a more cynical turn.  No longer is he simply mourning the losses and the pain he feels.  No longer does he focus on the abandonment of his friends, as he did in the last section; now he turns his attention toward God.  God becomes, for Job, the focus of his frustrations.  In fact, many might be surprised to read at this point that Job is so angry that he begins to make the incredible case that God has treated him unjustly.  The shocking part we see from this incredibly pious man is that he begins to doubt that God has been just in his dealing with him and so he even goes to the place of wishing that there could be someone who could serve as a mediator between him and the God of the universe.  Read again Job’s words from chapter 9 with this understanding of the text in mind:

 

14   “How then can I dispute with him? How can I find words to argue with him? 15Though I were innocent, I could not answer him; I could only plead with my Judge for mercy. 16Even if I summoned him and he responded, I do not believe he would give me a hearing. 17He would crush me with a storm and multiply my wounds for no reason. 18He would not let me regain my breath but would overwhelm me with misery. 19If it is a matter of strength, he is mighty!

And if it is a matter of justice, who will summon him? 20Even if I were innocent, my mouth would condemn me; if I were blameless, it would pronounce me guilty . . . 22It is all the same; that is why I say, ‘He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.’ 23 When a scourge brings sudden death, he mocks the despair of the innocent. 24When a land falls into the hands of the wicked, he blindfolds its judges. If it is not he, then who is it?  . . . 28I still dread all my sufferings, for I know you will not hold me innocent. 29Since I am already found guilty, why should I struggle in vain? 30  . . . 32  “He is not a man like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court. 33If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, 34 someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. 35Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot.

 

As you may remember from many of the Psalms, God is not threatened by the honest, despairing and angry “soul cry” of his people when they happen to be suffering.  As we reflect and meditate on Scripture, one great thought about God’s character is everywhere to be found: God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. 

 

So we have the question again before us.  Have you ever wondered whether God is really just?  If you have, you are in good company as the main character in this book wondered this same thing.  Now, throughout the rest of this book, we will notice a build up to the day when Job will receive his long anticipated court date and what he will do when he has the opportunity to speak.  There will be much for all of us to learn through the many chapters of dialogue leading up to that momentous day Job is given in court. 

 

Finally, there may be many readers who happen upon this blog who can identify with heartbreak of Job and who share the sense of injustice and frustration in your relationship with Christ that Job experienced. Take time to share your complaints with Him in prayer. He will hear you and just as He did with Job — He can bring healing to your life.

Job 4-7: With Friends Like This, who needs . . .

January 6, 2009

 

Job 4-7: Reading for Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

 

It is very easy to stand in judgement over those who have experienced circumstances in their lives that are filled in pain and misery.  While this is true in our day, it was just as common among the ancients.  There is a brand of theology that exists today which perpetuates the so-called the properity gospel. This theology teaches that God’s greatest desire for us is that we prosper and are filled with lives of good health.  While these things are good, and had been what Job experienced in is life prior to the great collapse of his life, this is not what he experienced afterward.  God’s greatest desire for us is not that we are healthy or wealthy (as good as this may be), but that we be like his son Jesus Christ.  The rest of this book could almost be looked as the anti-prosperity gospel as it exposes the reality that there is much more going on behind the scenes of our lives than that which meets the eye.

 

In this section we find a huge slap in the face of Job which will take up most of the rest of the book of Job.  The character that we are immediately introduced to in this section is Eliphaz, the Temanite.  This section begins a series of conversations between Job and that will eventually three more “friends”.  Job  has just lost his children, his wealth, his health and now he has to sit and listen  to these guys make the argument that God blesses with health and wealth those he loves and punishes those who are not in a right relationship with himself with poverty and sickness .

 

There is one section in today’s reading where we can get a flavor of the great disappointment Job experienced as he began to hear the words of his friend Eliphaz in 6:21-30.

 

Now you too have proved to be of no help; you see something dreadful and are afraid. 22     Have I ever said, ‘Give something on my behalf, pay a ransom for me from your wealth, 23     deliver me from the hand of the enemy, ransom me from the clutches of the ruthless’? 24     “Teach me, and I will be quiet; show me where I have been wrong. 25     How painful are honest words! But what do your arguments prove? 26     Do you mean to correct what I say, and treat the words of a despairing man as wind? 27     You would even cast lots for the fatherless and barter away your friend. 28     “But now be so kind as to look at me. Would I lie to your face? 29     Relent, do not be unjust; reconsider, for my integrity is at stake. 30     Is there any wickedness on my lips? Can my mouth not discern malice? (NIV)

 

So what does this section teach us and what lesson will we learn over and again in this book? When someone else is suffering and there is no direct link to any unwise action, let us be careful not to judge.  Moreover, when someone else is suffering, even when there is a direct link to the suffering and some particular behavior or action (non-action, etc.,), let us be graceful.  When we approach the difficulties of others in this way, we will have the opportunity to be an agent of healing to that person’s life.  May God make us more and more, a people of grace. 

 

John Feinberg is one of the leading experts on the whole subject of the problem of evil.  In 1987, he received stunning news that brought the entire subject to a new level in his own personal life.  He discovered that his wife was diagnosed with a genetically based debilitative disease.  In the following, we have an excerpt on how he has dealt with these painful circumstances.  

 

“Although I had spent much time in my life up to this point thinking about the theological problem of evil (I wrote my doctoral dissertation on it [at the University of Chicago]), I couldn’t make sense of what was happening. How could this happen to us when we had given our lives in service to the Lord? I knew that believers aren’t guaranteed exemption from problems, but I never expected something like this. I was angry that God had allowed this to happen. . . While there are still many things about our circumstances that I don’t know or fully understand, I do know some things with certainty. I know that throughout eternity I’ll be thanking God for the wife and family he gave me and for the ministry he has allowed us to have in spite of (and even because of) the many hardships. I am so thankful that God is patient with us and always there with his comfort and care” (quote taken from an article written in Crosswalk.com on the Suffering and the Goodness of God; Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson Editors/http://www.crosswalk.com/pastors/11583289/print/).

I pray that God will give us all the same courage and wisdom to look at our times of suffering and the suffering of others through a similar lens. This is something Job’s “friends” couldn’t seem to do.  Let us not forget the words of our Lord, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Mt. 5:7; NIV).

Job 1-3: When Suffering isn’t Directly our Fault

January 5, 2009

Reading for Monday, January 05, 2009

 

The ability to assume personal responsibility for our own wrong actions is a step in the process of growing into spiritual maturity.  The mature person has the ability to reckon with what he has done and knows how to deal appropriately with its sorrowful aftermath in the wake of God’s discipline.  Yet, there is another type of suffering that is sometimes more difficult to deal with at times.  There is a type of suffering that we endure which seems to have no direct link to any sinful act that we have personally committed.  The reality is that all suffering is ultimately a result of sin; for if there was no sin, then there would be no tears as will be the case in heaven.  But the kind of suffering I am speaking of here is more direct in nature. For example, you find yourself in a terrible auto accident and then you earnestly ask yourself, “what have I done to deserve this?”  Then you think back to some word, some thought in the past and you begin to think to yourself, “is this now my punishment?”  Or you find yourself in the hospital with some terrible condition or disease and someone comes to visit you and asks you the question, “what is God punishing you for?” 

 

The book of Job is incredibly relevant to our day and age, particularly because we have a whole word-faith movement that is built on the notion that God those who truly believe will live lives free of sickness sand want and those who don’t measure up spiritually will perpetually live out the negative consequences of their spiritually failed condition.  This view discounts the entire truth that God uses difficult times and circumstances to conform his children more and more to the image of Christ (Rom. 1:28-29). 

 

 Dr. Dennis Magary, one of my favorite teachers and the professor who taught a course I took on Job once told the story of a man who came to take his class on Job from outside of the seminary.  Dr. Magary, who is very personable,  decided to take the man out for dinner one evening before class.  The man told him how he had been struggling in his faith for a number of years.  He said it all began the day he lost his wife and children in an auto accident.  As he was mourning his great loss, a pastor and some deacons from the church came over to his home for a visit.  This man, thinking that they were coming to comfort him, was asked to sit down and confess to the pastor and the church leaders what he had sin that he had committed which would lead to the deaths of his wife and children. The man was devastated as he could recount no such thing that would require such retribution.  As time went on, he realized that his plea for innocence fell on deaf ears and he had not quite recovered spiritually ever since the incident.  The message of Job breathed new life into this man’s broken soul.    If you have found yourself on such a journey in your own spiritual life, this book might do the same for you.

 

 

One of the purposes of this book is that it serves as a balance between what theologians call the “law of retribution,” found in the OT (e.g., “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”) and God’s graceful nature.  God does not call Christians to live their lives awaiting the “other shoe to drop.”  God does not want his people to sit around and wonder if God is going to take away their children because of something they did eons ago.  The reality is that there are some types of suffering that we must endure which has much deeper meaning than that which we could ever come to understand in this life. 

 

 

One of the most significant sections of Scripture which deals with suffering, other than here in Job is found in an interchange between Jesus, his disciples and a blind man in John chapter 9:1-3.  The disciples came to Jesus with a very interesting question:

 

 

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (NIV).

 

 

This story of Jesus and the blind man parallels very nicely with what we find as  the underlying message of the book of Job. The reasons behind of our suffering can sometimes be a mystery but the root purpose is always God’s glory.  God can use our suffering redemptively and the book of Job is a giant piece of beautiful poetry which lays this out this truth in exquisite detail.  Over the next couple of weeks, we will flush this out in nice detail, Lord willing.

 

 

I would like to add a few other notes about the book which will help us understand why it has been placed, chronologically, before the patriarchal narratives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.

 

 

Most scholars believe that the book of Job was formally written down between the seventh and the second centuries BC (my opinion is that it is definitely early given the reference to Job in Ezekiel 14:14).  While there is much debate about when the book was actually recorded from oral accounts, there is no doubt that the story goes back centuries before its recorded date.  There are many features of the book that parallel very closely the time period of Abraham.  The fact that God is referred to as Elohim rather than YHWH shows that it must have an early date.  The story itself probably dates back to a few generations after the life of Abraham.  One indication of this is the fact that the author mentions the Sabeans in 1:14. This group, we are told, attacked Jobs sons, daughters and put to death nearly all his servants. We read in Genesis 25:1-4, that Abraham took another wife named Keturah.  One of the children she gave birth to was named Sheba and the descendants of Sheba were the Sabeans.  Because of this, and many factors, such as wealth being measured in terms of livestock  places this story within a few generations after Abraham’s life.

 

 

So if Job lived just after Abraham, why place him in the narrative chronologically before Abraham? The reason for this is so that we can avoid breaking up the Genesis patriarchal narratives.  Placing Job here will accomplish the objective of placing it in the right time era without breaking up a section of Genesis which isn’t meant to be broken up.  In other words, it is more practical to do it this way.

 

At any rate, there is much to talk about in the first three chapters of Job.  We have the adversary (i.e., lit., “the Satan”) and his scheme to derail God’s man. We also have the interplay of Job and his wife and the long list of Job’s losses.  While I can’t write anymore on this topic at the present, I would love to hear your views on these subjects and others that you may observe. We will be; however, examining all of these topics over the next couple of weeks.  Thanks for reading along and may the Lord keep you in his perfect peace today.