30. Guilt?

Meditations in Job : 30 :  Prison means Guilt?

Job 11:10,11 “If he comes along and confines you in prison and convenes a court, who can oppose him? Surely he recognizes deceitful men; and when he sees evil, does he not take note?

We’ve just seen Zophar condemning Job for being a sinner, even if he doesn’t realise it. Now he leans back on the wisdom of God and the next three verses might be summarised as, “He’s a lot smarter than you are, Job.” Observe: Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens–what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave–what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea.” (v.7-9) That is pretty simple and straight forward.

Then he comes up with our verse at the top today, “If he comes along and confines you in prison and convenes a court, who can oppose him?” (v.10). In other words, if God decides to put you in ‘prison’ there’s not a lot you can do about it! But then comes the crunch line: “Surely he recognizes deceitful men; and when he sees evil, does he not take note?” (v.11) which is surely another way of saying, you can’t sneak past God with your deceit and, by implication, that means you, Job! Nasty! But it gets worse: “But a witless man can no more become wise than a wild donkey’s colt can be born a man.” (v.12). i.e. you can’t make a stupid man wise any more than a wild donkey can be born human – no hope! (Seems like another nasty implication in that!)

It’s that word ‘prison’ that stands out. “If he comes along and confines you in prison”. A prison is a place, not of your choice, where you are restrained and cannot get out. Psalm 107 speaks of prisoners: “Some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom, prisoners suffering in iron chains, for they had rebelled against the words of God and despised the counsel of the Most High.” (Psa 107:10,11) Clearly there ‘prison’ is the outworking of rebelling against and rejecting the Lord, but elsewhere it speaks about the Lord releasing from prison: “He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free, the LORD gives sight to the blind, the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down.” (Psa 146:7,8). There ‘prison’ is simply being oppressed and not being able to do anything about it, being hungry and not being able to find food, being blind and not being able to see, and being bowed down by burdens and not being able to get rid of them and stand upright. Each of these things is a ‘prison’ from which the prisoner cannot escape on their own. The messianic cry in Isa 61 opens with this, The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me…. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” (Isa 61:1) Jesus comes to release us from such prisons.

In the same way, surely Job is ‘in prison’ in the prison of suffering from which there appears no escape. That’s how Zophar sees it, and he sees it as of God’s making and in this respect he is right – but he’s got the wrong reason. It wasn’t because of Job’s sin; it wasn’t because Job was wicked or deceitful!  All that follows would be right if Job had sinned but because he hasn’t it is truth but applied in the wrong place!

In what follows we have a condition followed by an outcome, and both are legitimate IF there is sin. First, the condition which is a double thing: Yet if you devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent,” (v.13,14). For God to bring forgiveness, cleansing and restoration there needs first to be repentance and repentance involves a determination not to continue the sin of the past. This is a simple but vital principle for salvation. For God to bring salvation there does have to be a renouncing of the past.

But then comes a whole series of outcomes that will mean total change, and again these are truths, if only they are applied in the right place. Observe again: then you will lift up your face without shame; you will stand firm and without fear.” (v.15) i.e. you can start feeling good about life again. Then, “You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by.” (v.16) i.e. you can forget about this miserable experience. Then, “Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning.” (v.17)  i.e. your life will be totally transformed. Then, “You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety.” (v.18) i.e. you will have a new sense of security and peace because of the awareness of being safe in God’s hands, and because of that, “You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid, and many will court your favor.” (v.19). It will be a new day where peace reigns! That’s what it will be like for you, but in the meantime, the eyes of the wicked will fail, and escape will elude them; their hope will become a dying gasp.” (v.20). Those who are wicked will know what you are experiencing at the moment (implied) and they will feel trapped by their suffering.

Now, please, realise that this IS all truth. It does work like that – so often! There isn’t a guarantee as much as we’d like to think there is, for things DO go wrong in life. However repentance and renouncing sin DOES lead on to blessing and salvation, which means that life is often a blend of the wonderful together with the occasional hiccup which can appear nasty until we receive God’s grace, wisdom and guidance. But, if we’re in a time of testing, it may have nothing to do with sin; it may simply be your time in heaven’s gymnasium, getting fitter and stronger spiritually. Zophar, unfortunately, doesn’t know the difference!

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