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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Facing Trials: Job [20]

What is the purpose of this story? It is about pain and suffering and God and faith.

Depending on the individual and the circumstances, God can use suffering for various reasons.

Suffering can be viewed as part of punishment for unbelievers. Used in this way, the word means to suffer with no beneficial intent or results.

As an example, when God destroyed all life on earth except Noah and his family in the Flood, it was definitely a judgment upon wicked mankind. The Lord had granted 120 years of grace for people to repent, but they did not turn to Him. Then he destroyed them all in an obvious punishment for sin.

God's other use of suffering is for the believers, His children. When he afflicts us it is to our benefit.

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)

With this in mind we can summarize the reasons the Lord sends troubles into the lives of believers. 

The first is disciplinary. This is to correct an errant or erring Christian. A believer who is drifting away from the Lord may be brought back through some tragedy. This is probably why we find more people receptive to this message at funerals. The loss of someone close can make even the most lukewarm of us more receptive and appreciative of God's Word.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Facing Trials: Job [19]

God restores Job's prosperity, and he lived another 140 years. It was a long and peaceful time during which he lived to see his children's children "to the fourth generation" (Job 42:16)

But, no doubt, Job never forgot his trials. He must often have thought of how in his darkest hour, he was able to mane his boldest expression of faith. ''I know that my Redeemer lives". And as the years brought him closer to death, those words surely became more and more treasured.

Like Job, we all have been able to encounter death with courage. Death is never easy to face, whether it is our own or that of a loved one. Yet Christ strengthens us. For ''death has been swallowed up in victory" (1 Corinthians 15:54)

Through Christ, death has lost its sting; it is but the gate to glory. So as we face life's troubles, we can actually look forward to the end of life on earth. That doesn't mean we shouldn't pay attention to today and what's going on. But it does mean that we should not live in terror of the end. 

So, Job was ready to die. The last verse of his book describes Job's passing very simply and eloquently: "And so he died, old and full of years" (Job 42:17).

As we prepare to wind down our study of Job, perhaps as word is necessary concerning our approach to the book. Job lived in Old Testament time, before Christ. But during our study I have made frequent reference to the New Testament and to Jesus Christ. How is that possible?

One of the things that people overlook when reading and studying the Bible is that it is one complete story. Not a lot of little stories or vignettes thrown together. In this singular story, Christ is at the center. Though Job did not know Jesus by name, Job still placed his hope and confidence in his redeemer. The person that would save him...This is what we call faith and trust.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Facing Trials: Job [18]

Although both Job and his friends had sinned, the Lord was pleased with Job and not with the other three.

Text:Job 42:7-17

As indicated earlier, it was faith that distinguished Job from Elipjaz, Bildad, and Zophar. More importantly, Job repented of his sins, while the friends did not acknowledge any evil on their part.

Now God commands the friends to sacrifice seven bulls and seven rams. And the Lord tells the three, "My servant Job will pray for you" (Job 42:8).

So Job prays for the very men who had treated him unfairly. Such prayer demonstrates the sincerity of Job's repentance.

This reminds us of Stephen and of Christ, who asked forgiveness for those who wronged them (Acts 7:60; Luke 23:34).

Certainly the kind of prayer offered by Job is effective, as Scripture promises, "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (James 5:16)

All this must be a gigantic blow for Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. Their self-righteous attitude is smashed as God warns them to repent, since "you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has"  (Job 42:8). Happily, they then do as the Lord directs.

After Job prays for his friends, the Lord restores his wealth. As soon as this happens, Job's relatives and acquaintances also return, as they always do. Obviously their loyalty is very shallow, yet Job seems content to accept their belated condolences and gifts.

Since he has come to realize that God will judge man's motives, Job is happy, for his part, to look at their actions in the kindest and most gracious way possible. Rather than embittering him toward other people, suffering has made Job even more patient and loving toward others.

As for his previous possessions, they are doubled. Job now owns 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 2,000 oxen and 1,000 donkeys.

He also has another seven sons and three daughters. Unlike all Job's other children and even his wife, these girl's names are given the honor of being recorded in the book of Job. They are Jemimah (meaning "dove") Keziah ("cinnamon") and Keren-Happuch ("horn of paint"). These children, of course, cannot replace the other ten job lost. Nonetheless, they are blessings from a loving God.

But what if God would have done none of this for Job? What if Job were to live out his life in poverty, loneliness and disrepute?

Would that have diminished the Lord's goodness? No.

Job was at peace with God before his restoration. Job's renewed prosperity illustrates that soon or late, God will deliver his people from suffering.

Some, like Job, may begin to experience it already in this life. But all believers in Christ will know it fully in the life to come.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Facing Trials: Job [17]

God has finished speaking. And now...Job realizes he has been foolish to question God's wisdom and justice:

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. (Job 42:2-3)

Job finally understands that God's ways are different than ours. The Lord's wisdom is greater than ours, His mercy infinite and His power without bounds.

This realization that God uses everything, including suffering, for his own purposes is really the climax of the book of Job. What can we do but trust in him? He has given us our life; he has preserved us. And if he should send us pain and suffering, do we not trust that he will use those circumstances and situations in a way that is consistent with his mercy?

This is the message of the book of Job.

The last recorded words of Job are words of repentance:

"My ears had heard of you [God]

But how my eyes have seen you.

Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:5- 6)

Job has seen the Lord's goodness. He recognizes his own evil for questioning that goodness. Job confesses his sin and confidently places himself in the hands of his loving God.

Much earlier in his trials Job could easily say (without really understanding), “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised'' (Job 1:21). But, now that concept is rooted far more deeply within Job's heart. He is no longer haunted by doubts and bitterness.

Job is at peace with God.

Job's present state of mind echoes what the Apostle Paul says much later in the Bible, "be content whatever the circumstances" (Philippians 4:11).

After all, if God has given his only Son into death to save us, won't he use all things--even suffering--for our eternal good?


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Facing Trials: Job [16]

God is speaking to Job, but rather than discussing his obvious troubles, the Almighty draws Job's eyes away from his sufferings, away from himself and to the grandeur of his God.

To begin with, God demonstrates that his wisdom and power are infinitely beyond that of any human being.

"Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?" (Job 38:35)

"Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom and spread his wings toward the south?" (Job 39:26)

From the wonders of His creation, God moves to his loving care for the things he has made:

"Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food?

Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?

Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?

Do you count the months till they bear?

Do you know the time they give birth?

They crouch down and bring forth their young: their labor pains are ended.

Their young thrive and grow strong in the wilds; they leave and do not return. (Job 38:41-39:4)

In 39:13-17 God also points to the ostrich, whom he has not endowed with great wisdom. Yet the Ruler of the Universe protects the baby ostrich, even though its own mother does not!

The application from all this should be clear to Job. If God so carefully governs the birth of ravens, wild goats and ostriches, won't he care about man, the pinnacle of his creation?

The is the same thing Jesus tried to tell His disciples, "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" (Matthew 6:26)

Now God challenges Job:

"Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!" (40:2)

Suddenly, Job doesn't have so much to say about how the Almighty does His job; and his friends have nothing to say at all. All he can reply are these few words:

"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." (Job 40:4-5)

Job's desire to meet with God face to face has been fulfilled. But now that it has come, Job is almost mute! It is one thing to smugly talk about God's injustice, but it is quite another to make those assertions in the presence of the Lord of the Universe.

The Lord continues...

He points out that Job has sinned by calling God unfair. In trying to judge God, Job has placed himself above the Almighty (Job 40:8-14). But God is God! He is judge over all.

The Apostle Paul wrote, "But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” (Romans 9:20)

In concluding his speech, the Lord spends considerable time on two mighty creatures, the behemoth (Job 40:15-24) and leviathan (Job 41).

People have always been interested in just what animals these Hebrew words might refer to. Behemoth simply means "cattle' or "beast." In Job 40 the word probably refers to a hippopotamus or elephant. Either of these animals could fit the description of this powerful beast, whose ''bones are tubes of bronze, his limbs like rods of iron" (Job 40:18). It is possible that in ancient times such animals did live in the Jordan Valley (Job 40:23). Today, however, they are not to be found in that region.

The leviathan is most likely a crocodile, with "rows of shields" (Job 41:15) on his back.

God declares that both animals, whatever they may be, are so powerful that no man can match their strength. Yet the Almighty emphasizes that both are under his control. For he is Lord over all, the King of Creation.

I think this falls in the category of "be careful what you ask for!"


Monday, November 21, 2011

Facing Trials: Job [15]

Job has heard from three of his friends and a young interloper. Job can't quite seem to decide if God is arbitrary or just cruel. The question plaguing him is, "why do the good suffer?"
As Elihu completes his speech, he notices a storm arriving from the north. God is in the storm, and He has come to speak...
TextJob 38:1 - 42:6

The Lord comes to answer Job out of the storm. He said:

Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?

Brace yourself like a man;

I will question you, and you shall answer me.

Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?

Tell me, if you understand. (Job 38:1-4)

With these thoughts God begins his longest direct discourse in the Bible! Job and his friends must have been overwhelmed by hearing the Lord's voice from the storm. Everyone is stunned, as they listen in silence to the Lord.

This was not the first nor the last time in the Old Testament when God spoke directly to men. He spoke directly to Adam and Eve (Genesis 3), Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), Jacob (Genesis 32:24-30), Moses (Exodus 3), Elijah (1 Kings 19) and others.

The Almighty does not stop to argue with Job. Instead of meeting him with hostility, punishment and vengeance, God comes in love.

Though Job's friends condemned him, his Creator does not. Yes, the Lord will speak sternly with his servant; but nowhere will God imply that Job suffered because of his sins.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Facing Trials: Job [14]

Despite his youth, Elihu seems to clearly see the weakness in the arguments of Job and of his three companions. He "became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. He was also angry with the three friends, because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him" (Job 32:2- 3)

He heard Job speak, albeit foolishly, as though he were able to judge God. He (Job) has questioned the Lord's justice and wisdom. The three friends have foolishly condemned Job. Obviously Job was not the ungodly sinner they have accused him of being. So with Elihu's insight, the arguments finally stop.

Even though he is also buying into the view that suffering is a punishment for sin, Elihu seems to catch fleeting glimpses of something more important. Perhaps God does use affliction for another purpose besides punishment and correction.

But those who suffer and are delivered in their suffering, He speaks to them in their affliction. 

He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food." (Job 36:15-16)

Could it not be, implies Elihu, that God uses troubles to bring about good? Perhaps he sends pain into our lives to turn us to Him before WE FALL INTO SIN, NOT ONLY (as the friends have said)TO PUNISH AND CORRECT US AFTER WE HAVE ALREADY FALLEN! So Elihu is suggesting that the Lord is not silent, after all, as Job has argued (Job 33:14). Rather, He is saying something to Job for his benefit.

These small hints of better things are the best Elihu has to offer. He struggles to rise above the thinking of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, but he is also a child of his times. And so Elihu slips back into the platitudes about sin and punishment. But, importantly, Elihu has come closer to helping Job than anyone else. 

Elihu has touched on a vital truth, namely, out of mercy (and granting free will) God allows His children to suffer. Far from being a sign of God's displeasure, suffering can be, and often is, a sign of his love.

Is this not the same that we do with our own children. Yes, we love them and want to protect them from all harm, but as they mature, we withdraw some of that safety net. We allow them to trip over some of life's potholes. And we do this, not because we are terrible parents or we hate our children. No, we do this because we do love them, and we want them to survive in the real world when we are gone, and we cannot protect them.

In the words of Scripture, "The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son" (Hebrews 12:6). That is to say, where there is Christian faith, there are bound to be tribulations. Life has tribulations...for everyone! We do not get a fee ride or a free pass because we are faithful.

Remember that the Bible defines faith as being "certain of what we do not see" (Hebrews 11:1). If, however, we could always clearly see God's love and mercy in our lives, then we would not have to accept in faith that God is merciful and loving. We would have visible proof of it.

But "we live by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5;7).

The Lord does not want us to trust in him simply because we are blessed with good health and riches and honor. Rather, he wants us to trust him simply because of what he tells us in his Word, what we believe, what we have faith in. Thus we are often called on to believe in spite of what we see and experience--not because of it.

So the Lord tells us over and over in his Word that we believers should expect sorrows, troubles, persecutions and burdens to bear. These come together with God's blessings of forgiveness, love, peace, joy and eternal life. 
While he is still speaking, Elihu sees a storm coming from the north. He perceives in it the power of God:

Now no one can look at the sun, bright as it is in the skies after the wind has swept them clean. Out of the north he comes in golden splendor; God comes in awesome majesty. The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress. (Job 37:21-23)

In this, Elihu is right. For the storm will bring a revelation from God Himself. Hang on, God is about to speak...


Friday, November 18, 2011

What do you say...

Among the many things I think we do incorrectly, as children of the Light, is that we take God, His grace and mercy, and each other for granted.

We sleepwalk through our daily existence as if tomorrow is promised to all of us. We put our love, accolades and apologies on hold and on our to-do lists, assuming that we will get around to it tomorrow...or later, when we have time.

When God puts something in my path to make me take my eyes off myself, and on to others, I try to pay attention.

I have a friend who is dying...soon.

I am frequently moved to music, when I can't find the words to speak or write.

The first song is, " This May Be the Last Time, I don't know?"

Before my mother died a few years ago, this was my most pressing thought every time I left her house. We all need to learn to treat each other as if this moment in time may indeed be the last time we will see each other this side of heaven.

The second song is, "Give My Flowers, while I can smell them"...

Give me my flowers,
While I yet live,
So that I can see the beauty,
That they bring.

Speak kind words to me,
While I can hear them,
So that I can hear the beauty
that they bring.

And, a third is a song which most of you have probably never heard of, is called, "Mother Theresa"

"What do you say to someone, who has given her life for the world?

What do you say to someone, who has shone God's light on the world?

We Love you, we love you...oh, we'll miss you...oh, we love you

She cared for the sick and the dying,
Fed the malnourished, and the ones that were crying,
Comforted every one of God's children,
Yes she did, yes she did.....All of God's children

What do you say to someone, who has given their life for the world?

What do you say to someone, who has shown God's love to the world?

We Love you, we love you...oh, we'll miss you...oh, we love you

She lived in this world, but no of it
All things taught, she did it
An angel going to God's heaven,
Who can deny it?

An angel going to God's heaven,
Who can deny it?
What do you say to someone, who has given her life for the world?

What do you say to someone, who has shown God's love to the world?

We Love you, we love you...oh, we'll miss you...oh, we love you

And if we write her life story,
One word says it all,
And that word would be....LOVE!
Unconditional love...... for God's children.

And, what do you say to someone, who has given their life for the world?
What do you say to someone, who has shown God's love to the world?
We Love you, we love you...oh, we'll miss you...oh, we love you
We Love you, we love you...oh, we'll miss you...oh, we love you

We Love you, and the good that you do...

We'll always look back to you

we love you... we love you.... we love you."

"Mother", thank you for your faith, love, support, encouragement, chastisement, life lessons, laughs we shared...for all that you do, all that you give, and all that you are. Thank you for being my mother when I needed one, and my spiritual sister when I needed that, too.

May God's love continue to shine on you!

Do you owe someone some flowers or a song?

Do it today!

Tomorrow is not promised...


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Facing Trials: Job [13]

Job, has lost all, and has endured the words of his friends. He believes in God, but has an issue or two with him.  He is trying to make sense of the age-old question: "Why do the good suffer?"

Now another man enters the discussion...ELIHU

Text: Job 32 - 37

Of all the people in the book of Job none is as mysterious as Elihu, "son of Barakel the Buzite, of the family of Ram" (Job 32:2). He suddenly appears on the scene and just as suddenly leaves, not to be heard of again.

We can make a guess, that all of Job's suffering has attracted the attention of many. Elihu has patiently waited until the others exhausted what they had to say.

He explains his behavior:

"I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know.
I thought, "Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom.” (Job 32:6-7)

Sadly, as Elihu implies and we have seen, "advanced years" do not always bring wisdom.

This makes me think of the advice Paul gave to Timothy, while he was a young pastor:

"Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity" (1 Timothy 4:12) That is good advice, but apparently none that Elihu ever heard or listened to.

Elihu starts his speech politely, and he initially seems to be trying to help, but he doesn't seem to have much in the way of tact.

Elihu says, "So Job opens his mouth with empty talk; without knowledge he multiplies words." (Job 35:16) Nowhere does Elihu speak this harshly to the three friends, only to Job. 

Furthermore, Elihu is behaving almost as if Job were an unbeliever, which is not the case at all.

Elihu says:

"He [Job] keeps company with evildoers; he associates with wicked men. So listen to me, you men of understanding far be it from God to do evil, from the Almighty to do wrong. He repays a man for what he has done; he brings upon him what his conduct deserves. (Job 34:8, 10-11)

Elihu goes on and on about God's justice. But he says almost nothing about God's love. Consequently his presentation is also one-sided.

From Elihu's shortcomings, and from the three friends, we can learn what not to do to someone who is down and out, namely, speak to him in a loveless manner.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Facing Trials: Job [12]

Job is thinking aloud. He has accused God of being unfair, and not punishing the wicked. But on second thought, he knows that this is not true, as he has seen them punished.

And, more importantly, he understands that he cannot see everything going on in another's life. So perhaps he, Job, should back up off his judgement of other people. A lesson we could all stand to learn and incorporate into our lives.

Job continues to speak about the priceless value of wisdom:

"Neither gold nor crystal can compare with it, nor can it be had for jewels of gold" (Job 28:17)

He concludes, "The fear of the Lord--that is wisdom" (Job 28:28)

Here again we see Job's trust in God. He still looks to the Lord as the source of the greatest blessings.

Job moves from thinking about wisdom to thoughts about the “good old days'' (Job 29), which he compares to his present sorry state (Job 30).

And then, as if going around in a circle, he returns to his old lament: God has not been fair (Job 31).

Yes, Job trusts God. But at the same time he accuses the Lord of being unfair!

How can Job sound so confused, conflicted and so divided?

The answer lies in Job’s approach to that age old question, "Why does a righteous man suffer?"

Unable to agree with the friends' obtuse ideas and false accusations, Job tries to use his own reasoning to try to find an answer. And, the best answer he can come up with is that, God is arbitrary.

When we look at the world in which we live, Job's conclusion seems most logical. There appears to be little or no fairness in this life.

Some people would use the apparent injustice of the world as an argument against the very goodness and power of God. They would argue that, either God is not good or He is not almighty. If God were good, he will want to prevent unjust suffering. And if God is almighty, he will be able to prevent it. So if he is both good and almighty...then why does God allow suffering? This is the logical dilemma Job is caught in, along with us. 

Convincing as this thinking may seem to be, it still is wrong. For one thing, it is presumptuous. How can we presume to judge God? In the scheme of things, our intelligence and experience are very limited, our vision shortsighted. But God knows everything-- the past, present, and future. Surely he knows better than we do what is just and unjust in the long run, in eternity.

Secondly, the accusation that God is unfair overlooks the very nature of Christian faith. Our faith is not based on what we can reason from our own experience. Or, it should not be. Rather, it rests in the promises of God.

As Hebrews 11:1 explains,

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."

The book of Job thoroughly studies mankind's two basic answers to this problem of suffering by God's children.

The first, of course, were the answers of the "friends": suffering is always a punishment for sin.

The second, by Job: God is arbitrary.

Both solutions are wrong.

These views, and other similar ones, are based on human speculation. So, in the face of Job's anguished "Why?" human intelligence can only whistle in the dark. No matter how many approaches we take, we always arrive at a dead end when attempting to fathom God's ways. Human wisdom has little comfort and no hope to offer. Least of all can it penetrate to the love of God, which continues to shine behind the dark clouds of suffering.

If there is to be an answer to Job's dilemma, it lies well beyond human reason.

God himself must reveal it and that is just what He will do for Job.

But first Job must meet a young man named Elihu...


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Facing Trials: Job [11]

Job's friends speak a final time.

Eliphaz opens the third and last cycle of discussion with wild accusations against Job: "You demand security from your brothers for no reason...You gave no water to the weary and you withheld food from the hungry...And you sent widows away empty-handed and broke the strength of the fatherless" (Job 22:6-9).

None of these charges are true.

Bildad has little more to add. He simply restates the power and righteousness of God and then describes man's insignificance.

As for Zophar, Job's most vehement accuser, he has nothing more to say at all.

So the three friends end their talks as they started. They have made no confession of faith, as Job has. Their trust is not in the Lord, but in their own righteousness. Although they knew about God, they do not know God, the Redeemer, the One who forgives.

What does that mean?

They understand a vengeful God, who hates and punishes sin, but they do not understand a loving God who wants to redeem the sinner. They do not understand the love God has for us.

There is an old saying that they could use here, "hate the sin, and love the sinner."
Paul speaks to this is in his letter to the church at Ephesus, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not of works, so that no once can boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Job, however, gets it! Job had faith in God.

Meanwhile Job's thoughts dart from one subject to another.

He declares his desire to argue his case with God (Job 23:4). In spite of what sounds like hubris, Job still exhibits a quality his friends lack. While they are content to talk about God, Job's burning desire is to talk to God!

In his boldness Job foolishly accuses the Lord, "The groans of the dying rise from the city, and the souls of the wounded cry out for help. But God charges no one with wrongdoing" (Job 24:12) [translation- God all this stuff is happening, and You are not calling anyone to task, or making anyone "pay" for it]

Job has second thoughts about this, because he knows that God does indeed punish the wicked, "For what hope has the godless when he is cut off, when God takes away his life?'' (Job 27:8)

In other words, Job seems to come to the conclusion that it is impossible to determine a man's standing with God on the basis of outward appearances. People may be successful in life, but that is no sign of God's favor. The Lord may still condemn them.

This is a mistake we all still make. Outward appearance does not always give an indication of what is going on in someone else's life, mind, heart or spirit. 

God himself confirms this and warns us to never judge a person's spiritual condition by his physical and material circumstances. In 1 Samuel 16:7 he teaches, "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Facing Trials: Job [10]

Job's friends have taken a second run at cheering him up or figuring out what's happening to him. They have made a mess of things. Whatever threads of friendship were there, have snapped. Job has snapped and told them what horrible friends they have been; they have not tried to comfort him at all, and have been less than useless.

In the midst of all this angst, Job makes a declaration that his Redeemer will save him. Remember that we are in the Old, and not the New Testament, so he is referring to God.

Job says that even in death, God will save him.

His courage, in this moment, rests in the confidence that salvation lies ahead. Like Job, we can bear up because we know that God will ultimately deliver us from sin, pain, tragedy, sickness, frustration and death itself.

But Job does not stay at the lofty heights of his proclamation for long. He soon begins to slide back into gloom and confusion. But he doesn't ever sink to the depths of despair he experienced earlier. As he concludes his greatest confession of faith, the worst really is over for Job.

Before he and his friends move into their final round of discussions, Job touches on another aspect of his suffering which we need to look at.

He says, “Look at me and be astonished; clap your hand over your mouth” (Job 21:5) Job is speaking about his appearance. It is so bad that it is sickening even to look at him!

Job's words are a harsh reminder to his friends, and to us, of suffering's ugly presence in this world. All around us there is anguish. Yet, we tend to look away from it. Many people cannot bring themselves to visit nursing homes or institutions for the mentally-challenged. Those of us who can see clearly, tend  avoid the empty glaze of the blind. The healthy often avoid being near the infirm. 

But God does not want us to close our eyes to suffering. Rather, he wants us to follow His example. When he became human, He did not avoid humanity's suffering. Christ moved among the poor, the lame, the deaf, blind and diseased. He had compassion. And, He healed.
And he went even further. Christ actually suffered and died for them, and for all of us. Such is God the Redeemer's relation to suffering humanity. Far from being aloof, he became a part of it.

So when Job declares, “Look at me," God is looking. The Lord is looking with far more compassion and love than Job even realizes.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Facing Trials: Job [9]

Job's friends have been unsuccessful in lifting him from the doldrums of depression. We move on the the second cycle of conversation.

Text: Job 15 – 21 For their whole lives, Job's friends have lived comfortable with the belief that suffering and sin, prosperity and righteousness went together. But now, because of their false doctrine, they are unable to help their friend. All they have done so far is to make Job feel worse.

In the second cycle of talks, the friends begin trying to pin specific sins on Job. They are looking for proof to back up their earlier accusations that Job has sinned in some way, and is being punished.

Eliphaz accuses Job of being conceited and thinking that he knows everything. ''What do you know that we do not know? What insights do you have that we do not have?" (Job 15:9)

Bildad chides Job for thinking himself better than his friends (Job 18:3).

And Zophar indirectly accuses him of stealing. Without naming Job, he states, “For he has oppressed the poor and left them destitute; he has seized houses he did not build'' (Job 20:19).

All three men issue severe warnings about what happens to the wicked. In the words of Bildad, “Calamity is hungry for him; disaster is ready for him when he falls'' (Job 18:12).

As is often the case with people who have things going their way, the friends have now turned to a condescending manner to the sufferer.

Though they do not come right out and say it, they consider themselves better and morally superior to poor Job.

Sadly, the words of Job's friends only serve to make his agony increase. In answering them, Job laments their lack of help. If he were in their shoes, Job states, he would not just shake his head in disgust. He would "encourage" and "comfort" his friends (Job 16:4-5).

After telling them what ''miserable comforters"  they are (Job 16:2), Job also demonstrates how foolish their ideas are.

Job points out that, contrary to their theories and empty words, the wicked often do prosper. (Job 21:7-8, 12-14)

In the midst of all this arguing, bitterness and confusion, Job gives his most desperate plea for compassion.

First he relates how everyone has turned on him (Job 19:16-19; 21-22)

Following these anguished words, Job suddenly changes his line of thought. He makes a strange request:

Oh, that my words were recorded,

that they were written on a scroll,

that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,

or engraved in rock forever! (19:23-24)

Job knows that what he is about to say is worth preserving on parchment, even etched in stone.

In this darkest hour Job is about to exclaim the brightest hope. Standing as one of the grandest statements of faith ever uttered and glistening like cool water in a desert, this outburst expresses Job's faith in the resurrection:

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! (Job19:25-27)

What will be said about us when we leave this earth? Many a tombstone gives a lasting statement of faith in our Savior.

Many have tried to diminish this great confession of faith by contending that Job is merely hoping someone will come to prove his case against his friends, or even against God. But Job is saying a great deal more than that.

Notice how he equates his "Redeemer'' with God. Some day God himself will come and redeem Job, that is, save him or defend him. And, not only will God redeem Job from false accusations, but from death itself.

How can this be? How can Job be so sure that even after he dies he will see God, his Redeemer, with his own eyes? Because Job believes.

Of course Job's understanding of the resurrection is not as complete as that of Christians living in the New Testament era. Nevertheless, his faith rests in this same Redeemer. Such a faith comes from neither experience nor human reason.

Faith is, well......faith.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Facing Trials: Job [8]

Job's friends have come to help him. He has lost everything, including his children. The "A" team of friends sit and weep until Job curses his own existence. Now they speak.

Eliphaz has told him that he must have done something terrible to deserve this trouble and torment.

Bildad tells him that his children must have been wicked, and its time for Job to "pull those big girl panties up, go back and pray like our forefathers did, and get on with it."

Now the youngest member of the trio speaks... ZOPHAR

Zophar is thee youngest and most vehement of the three. He appeals neither to visions nor to tradition. He simply knows Job is a terrible sinner! "Oh, how I wish that God would speak, that he would open his lips against you...Know this: God has even forgotten some of your sin...Yet...if you put away the sin that is in your hand...then you will lift up your face without shame" (Job 11:5- 6, Job 13-15).

Zophar declares that God is actually being easy on Job. Job, he says, deserves much worse! If only Job would let go of his pet sin, whatever sin that might be, then everything would be fine again.

Job answers with sarcasm (Job 2:2, 3). He states that he is just as smart as his friends who, though once strangely silent, now suddenly claim to have all the answers. And he sums up his feelings, “You are worthless physicians, all of you!” (Job 13:4). Oh snap! 

Any former friendship between Job and the three has been destroyed. Though they have come to help, they cannot find the way to do it.

Certainly Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar have said many things that are true. They recognize man's sinfulness and God's justified anger with sin. Eliphaz has correctly asked, "Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his Maker?” (Job 4:17) They also understand that Job, like everyone else, is a sinner. They also realize the greatness of God and know that deliverance can come only if God wills it.

Mixed in with their correct ideas, the friends unfortunately share some dangerous misconceptions about God, sin and punishment. Many people still hold to these ideas. Chief among mis-thoughts is that suffering is always a punishment for specific sins. They associate health and prosperity with righteousness, poverty and illness with sinfulness.

The disciples even had issues with this concept. Recall how the disciples were amazed when he told them it was harder for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle (Mark 10:23-26). The rich were thought to be especially close to God and favored by him.

It has some grain of truth to it, as we can see from our own life experiences. The book of Proverbs emphasizes some of this, as well. Which person is more likely to succeed in his work: the one who is lazy, has a chaotic family life and is a drunkard or the man who uses his God-given talents, governs his household well, and leads an upright life?

But there is a false deduction is drawn from this, namely, the deduction Job's friends make. They cannot even comprehend the possibility of a righteous man suffering.

The "friends'' of Job are misdirected in another area too. Their whole approach to Job is wrong. After Job's initial outburst, they assume a loveless, judging and condemning attitude. It is possible to say all the right things, but in the wrong way.

Nowhere in their speeches do Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar exhibit any love for Job. The Apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal'' (1 Corinthians 13:1)

The discussions between Job and the three friends will continue, and Job will continue to struggle with the issues at hand. Yet Job's friends won't move beyond the attitudes we have already seen. This is the tragedy of the "worthless physicians.”

Have you had occasions where you have spoken the truth, but at an inappropriate time?

What should always be our motivation, even when we tell the truth? 


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Facing Trials: Job [7]

Recap: Job has lost almost all he had and owned. He is sitting on a mound. His friends come to see him. They sit in silence, staring and weeping for seven days. Job breaks the silence by cursing the day he was born.

We have been in the place that Job finds himself. Nothing is going right. All of the glorious plans we have laid and systems we have put in place are crumbling. We think it would have been better if we had never been born.

Let's get real...we have all been there at least once.

With all that has happened, Job begins to question God's goodness. He wishes the Almighty had never created him.

Scripture declares, "Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34) Obviously Job's heart has started breeding bitterness and self-pity.

Through this outburst Job shows that his heart is sinful like every other man's. In the words of Martin Luther, the human heart is "turned in upon itself.” We naturally tend to make more of our own misfortunes than those of others.

But this is still a little strange. These words, cursing his birth, come from the same man who said, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken a way; may the name of the Lord be praised?” (Job 1:21)

Here we see the complexity of human nature. Each of us is at the same time a saint and a sinner. The Apostle Paul describes the dual nature of the believer in this way: "When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” (Romans 7:21)

Throughout Scripture, many of the great saints showed weaknesses as well as strengths. The sins of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Peter and John are portrayed alongside their faith. They were human, just like us. Well, maybe not just like us, but very similar. :)

This principle, of the believer's dual nature, is important to remember as we continue to look at the book of Job. Through these great heights of faith, and moments of near despair, Job will grow stronger.

He does not know it yet but his sufferings will bring him closer to God.

Job just cannot see anything positive coming out of his current situation. He sees only empty darkness, the abyss. All he can do for now is cry out in anguish again and again, "Why?...Why?...Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb?” (Job 3:11)

Though Job has been a believer all along, he struggled with these issues more than ever as he and his friends tried to answer that one simple question: Why?

Why does God allow evil to strike his people?

TextJob 4 - 14

Job speaks to break the silence. Now his friends have something to reply to. In their responses to Job they not only reveal their individual personalities, but also their common religious outlook.

The discussions between Job and the three friends take up most of the book of Job. One by one the friends speak, and Job responds to each of them. Except for Zophar, each friend speaks to Job three times.


Eliphaz is the oldest of the three, since he speaks first. He is polite and begins talking in a kindly manner, "If someone ventures a word with you, will you be impatient?” (Job 4:2)

It doesn’t take long, though, for Eliphaz to get to the heart of his speech: "Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?” (Job 4:7) What he is saying and what he feels is that, destruction has come to Job's household because of some sin Job committed.

Eliphaz claims to have gotten this insight from a mystical vision he had. 

Eliphaz goes on to say that Job should view his suffering as a loving correction from the Lord:

"Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty" (Job 5:17)

Job doesn't find this advice helpful, or satisfying. He can see that Eliphaz is speaking out of fear. And, he doesn't hesitate to say so. "Now you too have proved to be of no help; you see something dreadful and are afraid" (Job 6:21).

We often feel afraid or guilty or uncomfortable when they we try to comfort others. We wonder, "Why did this happen to him and not to me?" We know we are not any better than the sufferer, yet we have been spared. Why? Eliphaz has no answer for this either. Almost in a state of panic, he stabs in the dark for some rhyme or reason to this mystery. And, all he can come up with is: Job must have done something wrong!

What good is this to Job? Eliphaz has not been able to turn Job's thoughts away from his misery. "The night drags on, and I toss till dawn. My body is clothed with worms and scabs, my skin is broken and festering'' (Job 7:4-5)

Then his next friend, Bildad takes a shot at it.


Since Job has not gratefully received Eliphaz' advice, Bildad decides to skip over the courtesy. He begins, "How long will you say such things? Your words are a blustering wind'' (Job 8:2).

Bildad doesn't beat around the bush. He comes right out with accusations, "Does God pervert justice?...When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin" (Job 8:3-4). Imagine how such remarks must have hurt Job deeply; the loving, concerned, and praying father!

But, Bildad presses on...

"But if you will look to God and plead with the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself on your behalf and restore you to your rightful place. (8:5-6)

Unlike Eliphaz, Bildad does not appeal to dreams for his advice. No, he is a scholar, so he directs Job to look to ancient traditions: "Ask the former generations and find out what their fathers learned, for we were born only yesterday and know nothing" (Job 8:8-9)

In response, Job does not claim to be perfect. But he also knows that Bildad's statements are untrue. Alas, he has no answers either. And so, like his friends, he begins to grasp for some other explanation.

Perhaps God is arbitrary: "He would crush me with a storm and multiply my wounds for no reason'' (Job 9:17)

Can that be right? God is arbitrary?