68. Final Comment

Meditations in Job : 68. A Final Comment

Job 1:1, 2:3, 42:7 In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil…  Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.”……         the LORD .. said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.

So, we have come to the end of what has been quite a long and difficult book. The first two chapters were all-important to our understanding; they show us the reason why Job was suffering – and it wasn’t anything to do with his sin. In the arguments that follow the three ‘friends’ declare again and again that it must all have happened because of Job’s sin.  Their arguing is like the waves on the shore, coming in one after another and trying to encroach up the beach.  But Job won’t have it.  He looks back and he is certain in his mind that he has done everything he possibly could to be righteous: I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.” (Job 27:6)

In this he surely challenges those of us who are modern Christians, for rarely does one hear this being spoken about, this possibility of living a righteous life where we can be called ‘blameless and upright’. The New Testament is clear on its teaching, If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us,” (1 Jn 1:8) and that is all most of us hear! Righteousness doesn’t deny that we are sinners, but it does declare that we can be all out for God and, as much as we are that, we are living according to His will and are righteous.  Righteousness, Paul tells us, is believing God, not living according to the rules but in harmony with God: “no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.” (Rom 3:20) and “God will credit righteousness–for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” (Rom 4:24). In one of the meditations in this series we concluded that ‘the righteous’ are those who walk with God and follow His ways and are morally upright. From our New Testament perspective they are those who walk with God in a clearer relationship than ever before because of the coming and the work of Jesus on the Cross on our behalf.

The battle that is seen in Job is whether he will hold on to the truth or whether he will be diverted and curse God. Twice Satan maintains he will be able to get Job to curse God and once Job’s wife exhorts him, “Curse God and die!” (2:9) but instead we read, “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” (2:10). The worst Job can eventually be chided for is speaking into a situation that he did not understand: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” (38:2). Neither he nor we know what is going on in the courts of heaven. Sometimes we would do well to heed Solomon’s wise counsel: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” (Prov 10:19).  Moreover, it is probable that our words are never perfect and we come short in understanding.  The lesson is very clear: when we do not know what is going on, may we just continue to be faithful.  If we cannot see the way ahead or we do not understand what is happening around us, let us simply declare the foundational truths that we who live in New Testament times should know: God loves me, Jesus died for me, and God is working in all that happens for my good.  There may be many more things we can give thanks and praise for, but those are always foundational basics that we should be declaring.

Job did not live with the revelation that we have and so it makes it all the more wonderful that in the midst of his anguish and in the midst of fending off the guilt inducing comments of his friends he can declare some amazing truths: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” (13:15). That is a great statement of trust. But see what follows: “Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend.” (16:19-21). In heaven there is one who will speak up for him. How could he known about the Son of God???? But he continues: “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.” (19:25-27)   What an amazing declaration of truth of his eternal destiny was that!  These are some verses that almost defy our understanding. They appear as pure revelation. They are absolutely true but come in a time when no such knowledge was available.  As such they remind us that when we are living in relationship with the Lord, He will share things by His Spirit that can be known in no other way than directly from heaven.

If you are like me, the complexity of the words and the arguments are so great that you are left thinking, what was that passage all about, and that simply means that we will need to go back over and over this book until we are familiar with it.  I think it will be well worth the effort.  Enjoy – again and again.  For myself, I am left feeling very much aware that what I have written through this series needs rewriting again and again for there is so much more to be seen.   So, of you come back here in six months time, the words may be different, but isn’t that what learning is all about.  May Job challenge us to be learners, going to new depths of understanding. Amen.

67. The Conclusion

Meditations in Job : 67. The Conclusion

Job 40:1-6 The LORD said to Job: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” Then Job answered the LORD: “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.” Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm

There is a pause and the Lord looks Job in the face and challenges him to speak up and correct God – if he can! Answer up, He continues!  I can’t, Job replies, I am unworthy (or small and insignificant). I’ve spoken but I should say no more. So the Lord continues to speak and to challenge. Previously it had been on the grounds of Job’s lack of knowledge as compared with the Lord’s, but now it is on the grounds of his smallness and weakness, first as compared to God and then simply as compared to some of the creatures he sees on earth.

First, compared with the Lord: “Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his? Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself in honor and majesty.” (v.9,10) i.e. does your power and splendour match that of God? “Unleash the fury of your wrath, look at every proud man and bring him low, look at every proud man and humble him, crush the wicked where they stand.” (v.11,12) i.e. can you bring down and humble the proud and the arrogant? Is this within your domain? Of course not!

Then the Lord refers to creatures on earth: “Look at the behemoth, which I made along with you and which feeds on grass like an ox.” (v.15). A note in your Bible suggests that this may refer to a hippopotamus or an elephant. The Lord describes him and ends with, “Can anyone capture him by the trunk, or trap him and pierce his nose?” (v.24) The implication is that in comparison we are puny and weak.  He moves on to the next creature in chapter 41: “Can you pull in the leviathan with a fishhook or tie down his tongue with a rope?(Job 41:1) Again a note in your Bible suggests that this may refer to a crocodile. The Lord describes him and concludes, “No one is fierce enough to rouse him. Who then is able to stand against me? Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.” (41:10,11)  i.e. if you can’t stand against such a creature how can you dare think you can stand against God who is so all-powerful and who made all things?  Almost tediously, to make the point, the Lord continues in verses 12 to 34 to describe this creature that is beyond our handling. The point is simply made: Job you are small and insignificant even in comparison to some of the other creatures that share the earth with you. Get yourself in perspective!

In the final chapter, Job eventually answers: “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.” (v.2,3) i.e. I know you are The Great One, and you can do anything and I acknowledge I spoke out about things I don’t know about. He concludes, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (v.5,6) At last Job has a right perspective. Note he hasn’t all the answers and it hasn’t been explained to him what had taken place in the courts of heaven, but he is satisfied that God is so much greater – all-wise, all-knowing and all-powerful – and therefore it is foolish to argue with Him. What becomes assumed is that God is also all-good, for this is not just a mindless submission to a harsh dictator.

The Lord then turns to the three friends and chides them, After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has… You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (v.7,8) He tells them to offer sacrifices for their folly and to get Job to pray for them. Perhaps more than their chastening, we should note the Lord’s affirmation of Job – Job had spoken rightly about God! Wow!

But the Lord doesn’t leave it there, “After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before. All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the LORD had brought upon him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring. The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. And he also had seven sons and three daughters.” (v.10-13) Yes, this is restoration. No, his previous sons and daughters cannot be brought back but he’s given a new family and immense prosperity.

The point of all that, surely, must be that any doubt over Job has been taken away. Here is a man who had been righteous and who had weathered this terrible storm and is declared still righteous by God and is rewarded accordingly.

Righteousness is possible and it is possible to maintain it in the face of immense suffering. That must be one of the obvious lessons that comes through this book. May you and I hold on to Job’s example as we live out our lives in this Fallen World where things go wrong.

66. God Speaks

Meditations in Job : 66. God Speaks from a Storm

Job 38:1-5 Then the LORD answered 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. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?

All the talking by the humans has come to an end. Now it is the Lord’s turn. He has remained silent and let the variety of opinions be expressed. For the moment He ignores the three friends and Elihu. He simply addresses Job. Note it says “the Lord answered Job.” These words are going to be a direct answer to all that Job has said, but they will not be a point-by-point apologetic. Oh no, the Lord is going to answer by a very different means.  The Lord comes and speaks through a storm. Saying that, it isn’t that the storm brings Job a lesson, but the Lord’s voice comes from the midst of the storm. A storm, by its very nature, displays power. We are reminded of the revelation that Ezekiel received: I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north–an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light.” (Ezek 1:4) I think I have never seen this so well shown as in the film Independence Day when a massive alien spacecraft comes with what appears amazing clouds and a storm. It conveyed well the enormity of the power that we see in the Scriptures when God makes His presence known sometimes.

It is important to note this tangible power and might, because it is simply an expression of the Lord’s activity which He is going on to speak about to Job. He is not going to answer Job on an intellectual argument or emotional challenge level; He is simply going to state some simple facts, revealed through questions.

But first He expresses something about Job.  Now later on He will reiterate His good feelings about Job but for the moment He wants to convey to Job His dissatisfaction with what Job has been saying.  Job may have been a righteous man prior to all this happening, but he has given way to the pressures coming from the three friends and has spoken out about things of which he has no knowledge.  He did not know about the prior conversations in heaven and the causes (and objectives?) of what happened, and so all his words were baseless (literally!).  So he spoke without knowledge and so it is going to be on the basis of the absence of knowledge that the Lord is going to help Job regain his right perspective!

As we said, the Lord is not going to enter into an intellectual debate with Job; He’s simply going to help Job regain perspective and when that happens, that will be enough. He uses rhetorical question after rhetorical question. The answers are obvious. We won’t look at them all; you can read them in your Bible. He starts with three that will show the nature of His approach: Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? …. Who marked off its dimensions? ….  Who stretched a measuring line across it?” i.e. were you around when I created everything?  Of course not!   Immediately there is this implied acknowledgement that the Lord is the Creator of the world and that lifts Him infinitely higher than Job.

The questions roll on, one after another and the answer from Job’s perspective has to be “No, I am a mere man!”  Every now and then the Lord drops in a challenge that reminds Job of that very fact; for example, “Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!” (38:21) and that just rubs the truth in even more.  No, I’m just a mere man and my few years count for nothing.  The questions pour on, covering nature, the constellations, even the origins of wisdom, and then on into chapter 39 about the habits of all the animals and their strangeness sometimes.  Does He know about all these details?  No, of course he doesn’t; he’s a mere man and it’s not the twenty first century where technology has begun to open up some of these secrets that show us just how wonderful Creation is.

We’ll pause it there and continue to consider the torrent of questions in the next meditation. It is a simple lesson of perspective. Sometimes we think we are so great; we have achieved so much.  Some of us have learnt so much that we fool ourselves into believing that the tiny bit of information we have absorbed makes us important.  In a foolish age when so many deny the presence of God, we take for granted the incredible wonder and power of what we can observe in Creation.  We explain it away and fail to see the enormity of the Creator that defies our imagination.  Because we are tainted by this disease called Sin, we are blinded to the truth.  We think we are great.  But then it only takes a bad cold or the flu or a strained back or severe toothache to bring us down to helplessness and we realise afresh our limitations.  We dare to argue with Almighty God?  What crass stupidity!

65. Final Words

Meditations in Job : 65. Elihu’s Final Words

Job 37:23,24 The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress. Therefore, men revere him, for does he not have regard for all the wise in heart?

In verses 27 to 33 of chapter 36 Elihu has considered God’s greatness in the light of what He does in terms of nature, the elements. As we start chapter 37 he expresses his own heart about this: At this my heart pounds and leaps from its place. Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice, to the rumbling that comes from his mouth.” (v.1,2)  Now much of what follows is an extension of this, as he comments on various elements of God’s activity, and as he speaks about the lighting and thunder (v.3-5), the snow, rain and ice (v.6-13).

But then, following on from this, he asks Job if he has the same knowledge that God has? “Listen to this, Job; stop and consider God’s wonders. Do you know how God controls the clouds” (v.14,15)  He expands this in verses 14 to 18 and then asks Job if, in the light of God’s greatness, any of us dare question Him: “Tell us what we should say to him; we cannot draw up our case because of our darkness. Should he be told that I want to speak? Would any man ask to be swallowed up?” (v.19,20).  Really, he is saying, when you think about God’s greatness, it is stupid to dare to challenge Him; He’s in a different league to us!

Think about it, he continues, “Now no one can look at the sun, bright as it is in the skies after the wind has swept them clean.” (v.21) i.e. can anyone look at the sun in a clear sky? Of course not! So what about the Lord? “Out of the north he comes in golden splendor; God comes in awesome majesty.” (v.22) When His glory comes we realise that likewise we cannot even look at Him (implied).

His conclusion? “The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress.” (v.23)  i.e. God is so great that He is beyond our reach and in His unchanging righteousness, He always does good and therefore never oppresses people – that we need to trust in!  What should be our response to Him? “Therefore, men revere him, for does he not have regard for all the wise in heart?” (v.24)  We should just revere and worship Him without question for He is so much greater than us that he can disregard what we think is wisdom, what we think ins the right path, for His knowledge and wisdom is so great that He KNOWS what is the right path (implied).

Thus we come to the end of the six chapters of Elihu’s speaking.  Whether it was just one long speech or several broken speeches is not fully clear, but as he moves through from arguing against what he has heard Job say, eventually he comes to consider the Lord Himself, and in that he concludes, there’s nothing more to say.  When you think of it, the Lord is so great and we are so small, that any thought of us trying to hold God to account is really futile! When anyone reads the Bible and sees the works of God, then they will see One who is so much greater than us that He defies definition.  We can say that He is the Designer-Creator of the world and that He upholds and maintains this world, we can say that He is all-wise and all-knowing and all-powerful and all-loving, but beyond that we become unwise if we try to go much further. His goodness and salvation was revealed through His Son, Jesus Christ, and all of this shows us – if we have eyes to see – that if we want to argue with God, we are really very silly!

At the end of the book Job eventually says, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5,6)  Once he encountered the Lord he knew how stupid he had been to argue.  When Isaiah had a vision of the Lord he declared, “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isa 6:5)  When the apostle Peter caught a glimpse of who Jesus was, he cried out: “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Lk 5:8)  When Ezekiel saw something of God in a vision, we read, “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown.” (Ezek 1:28) When the apostle John saw the risen Jesus in a vision, he recorded, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” (Rev 1:17)

The testimony of Scripture is consistent and we would do well to heed it and ensure we are not like those foolish atheists who dare to challenge Almighty God, for again the testimony about Jesus is very clear: “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 1:9-11)  One day EVERY knee will bow. Why make it worse with foolish words now?

64. God corrects

Meditations in Job : 64. God of Correction

Job 36:5,6 God is mighty, but does not despise men; he is mighty, and firm in his purpose. He does not keep the wicked alive but gives the afflicted their rights.

Elihu is aware that he is giving a long answer to Job: “Bear with me a little longer and I will show you that there is more to be said in God’s behalf.” (v.2)  He believes that what he has to say comes out of his relationship with the Lord: “I get my knowledge from afar; I will ascribe justice to my Maker. Be assured that my words are not false; one perfect in knowledge is with you.” (v.3,4) His knowledge comes from the Lord and he will show that God is just, for God is here to make it clear.  Then he makes the declaration we have in our verses above, that although God is great He doesn’t look down on men. He is true to His nature, true to His purposes for the earth – He will disregard the wicked and bless those who are in need. He comes to bless the righteous: “He does not take his eyes off the righteous; he enthrones them with kings and exalts them forever.” (v.7). He purposes to exalt them.

But then there are those who are suffering because of what they have done: “But if men are bound in chains, held fast by cords of affliction, he tells them what they have done– that they have sinned arrogantly. He makes them listen to correction and commands them to repent of their evil.” (v.8-10) He comes to them and points out the reason why they are like they are; He brings conviction with the objective of bringing change to them: “If they obey and serve him, they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity and their years in contentment.” (v.11)  Yet, He will not force them and so, “if they do not listen, they will perish by the sword and die without knowledge.” (v.12)

The reality is that there will always be those who refuse to heed Him: “The godless in heart harbour resentment; even when he fetters them, they do not cry for help. They die in their youth, among male prostitutes of the shrines.” (v.13,14) They have no one to blame but themselves, for those who have an open heart will heed Him for He speaks to them, calling to them: “But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction.” (v.15)  What is He doing?  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.” (v.16)  i.e. He is trying to draw you to a place where you can face the truth about yourself and be set free.

But not everyone will let God do that: “But now you are laden with the judgment due the wicked; judgment and justice have taken hold of you.” (v.17) This appears to be directed at Job. Read it carefully though. He’s suffering from the judgment that is usually reserved for the wicked and has become the focus of a whole argument about judgment and justice. This doesn’t necessarily mean that he has been judged, just that he’s in a place where he’s suffering in the same way as those who are judged. A fine distinction!

In this place of suffering it is easy for our thinking to be distorted and we can be vulnerable to temptations, so Elihu warns him, “Be careful that no one entices you by riches; do not let a large bribe turn you aside.” (v.18) i.e. in your thinking, don’t let the thoughts of riches, of the life you’ve known in the past, bring you into wrong thinking. Don’t even think that a bribe could get you out of this. No, don’t even let your mind go in that direction; money can’t help in this sort of situation: “Would your wealth or even all your mighty efforts sustain you so you would not be in distress?” (v.19) No, nothing of what you have known in the past can help here.

Don’t let your imagination wander to getting back at others who are less fortunate than you when no one else can see: “Do not long for the night, to drag people away from their homes.” (v.20) Elihu has heard Job scrabbling to make sense of what has happened, almost coming to the end of himself and the end of his righteousness, so he gives him a further nudge in the right direction: “Beware of turning to evil, which you seem to prefer to affliction.” (v.21)  Don’t give up, don’t step over the line, off the path of righteousness.

Then he turns back to the Lord again and maintains His greatness and His integrity: “God is exalted in his power. Who is a teacher like him? Who has prescribed his ways for him, or said to him, `You have done wrong’?” (v.22,23) Make sure you maintain a right perspective about the Lord: “Remember to extol his work, which men have praised in song. All mankind has seen it; men gaze on it from afar. How great is God–beyond our understanding! The number of his years is past finding out.” (v.24-26) In the closing verses (v.27-35) he speaks about the way the Lord works in nature, revealing His mighty power. The inference is that we would do well not to contend with such a Mighty One.

There are commentators who are very negative about Elihu’s words in this chapter. I have sought to interpret them in line with the grace that comes from this young man earlier on. He has shown that he respects the aged and so I believe his words are gracious words. I believe he recognises, with the wisdom given him by God, that in deep anguish our minds wander (v.18-21) into wrong thoughts. How many of us fanaticise about what we might like to do – but that it very different from what we would actually do!   Elihu, I suggest, is helping Job face his fantasies and thus see that they are foolish. Perhaps here is a very great lesson that comes through in Job.  It is one thing to let your mind wander all over the place, even into completely wrong thinking, because who knows how much of that is inspired by the enemy, but the righteous, at the end of it all, will still remain righteous and will not give way to those thoughts. Take hold of what you think; assess it and make sure you do not step off the path of righteousness in what you then say and do.

63. Would God Listen

Meditations in Job : 63. Would God Listen?

Job 35:6,7 But if he remains silent, who can condemn him? If he hides his face, who can see him? Yet he is over man and nation alike

As we move on into the next chapter, Elihu first chides Job for his apparent double arguing. On one hand he declares that he will be cleared by God for his righteousness, and on the other he wonders why he bothers to remain righteous: Do you think this is just? You say, `I will be cleared by God.’ Yet you ask him, `What profit is it to me, and what do I gain by not sinning?” (v.2,3). In answer Elihu simply asks them all to look upwards and grasp something of the Lord’s greatness: “I would like to reply to you and to your friends with you. Look up at the heavens and see; gaze at the clouds so high above you.” (v.5,6) He does this because he is now going to argue that God is so great that He doesn’t get value from either our goodness or badness.

He starts with the badness: “If you sin, how does that affect him? If your sins are many, what does that do to him?” (v.6). He replies, “Your wickedness affects only a man like yourself,” (v.8a) i.e. God is so much ‘above’ us that our petty foolishness doesn’t change Him. Then the goodness: “If you are righteous, what do you give to him, or what does he receive from your hand?” (v.7) and his reply is that righteousness only affects the sons of men, i.e. it’s only humans who may be recipients of your goodness.

He then considers how we respond to things when they go wrong: “Men cry out under a load of oppression; they plead for relief from the arm of the powerful.” (v.9), i.e. we are only too quick to cry out for help from God but no one says, `Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night, who teaches more to us than to the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds of the air?” (v.10,11) i.e. we cry for help but don’t simply trust the Lord for His caring provision “in the night” when it is dark and who relates to us and teaches and helps us.  Do we remember that He does these things when we ask or do we ask in a grumbling manner?

Look, he continues, there are times when God just keeps quiet: “He does not answer when men cry out because of the arrogance of the wicked. Indeed, God does not listen to their empty plea; the Almighty pays no attention to it.” (v.12,13)  i.e. if it is just a selfish, self-centred, shallow cry of arrogance against God, He will not respond.  God replies to righteous, humble cries, is implied in this.  And if God won’t reply to the petty, critical calls of the arrogant, how much less will He reply when we say stupid things about Him: “How much less, then, will he listen when you say that you do not see him, that your case is before him and you must wait for him, and further, that his anger never punishes  and he does not take the least notice of wickedness.” (v.14,15)

He concludes, “So Job opens his mouth with empty talk; without knowledge he multiplies words.” (v.16)  i.e. Job you don’t know what you’re saying.

Now let’s look at some of these things again. Is it true that God doesn’t care about whether we do good or bad? Well Elihu is right that God’s character is not changed because of our behaviour;  no, He remains exactly the same whether we are the most wonderful saint or the worst sinner. In that respect He is utterly unchanging.  Yet, Jesus revealed Him as a loving Father and as such He will be grieved if we sin and bring harmful outcomes upon ourselves, so in that respect it is not true to say that it doesn’t matter.  Remember this is an argument about how God is or is not affected by our behaviour, but there is the whole question of how loving children can purposefully sin and upset their loving heavenly Father, which is Paul’s point in Romans chapter 6.

Indeed does God ignore us when we say stupid things?  Well the lesson of the whole book of Job suggests that He often stays quiet while we seek to resolve our problems but nevertheless eventually speaks and brings correction.  I believe that as part of His working to bring maturity in us, and indeed of testing us, it means that sometimes He remains silent to allow us time and space to think, pray and work through to a right place. Sometimes part of the test is how will we respond when he does remain silent? Often in the psalms, the psalmist starts out with worries and concerns and obviously feels very stressed and yet, as he progresses his thinking, he comes to a place where he is able to praise the Lord and affirm truths about God.

So if the Lord seems to be remaining quiet, how are you responding? Will the Lord find a faithful and right attitude prevailing in you, right through to the next time you hear from Him?  Because we are His children, the Lord may remain quiet but that doesn’t mean He remains still. The teaching of the New Testament is that He is always working and He is working to bring good for us. May we remember these things when we are in times of difficulty.

62. None like God

Meditations in Job : 62. None like God

Job 34:29 But if he remains silent, who can condemn him? If he hides his face, who can see him? Yet he is over man and nation alike

Elihu has just declared that it is unthinkable that God would ever do wrong (34:12). Now he goes on to show God’s greatness and why we can make such an assertion that is true. When he says, Who appointed him over the earth? Who put him in charge of the whole world?” (v.13) he is saying, let’s face it, God is above all beings and there is no one like Him!  God is all powerful and He sustains life and could withdraw it whenever He wanted: “If it were his intention and he withdrew his spirit and breath, all mankind would perish together and man would return to the dust.” (v.14,15) The writer to the Hebrews similarly maintained in respect of Jesus, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Heb 1:3).  God is so mighty and life-giving that without Him nothing would exist.

Elihu calls again for Job to think about this: “If you have understanding, hear this; listen to what I say.” (v.16) and then goes on to challenge the ungodly of the world who would dare to challenge the Lord: “Can he who hates justice govern? Will you condemn the just and mighty One?” (v.17).  Can corrupt leaders rule and can they possibly have any right to challenge the Lord? Look, he says, “Is he not the One who says to kings, `You are worthless,’ and to nobles, `You are wicked,’ who shows no partiality to princes and does not favor the rich over the poor, for they are all the work of his hands?” (v.18,19)  No, it’s the other way round, he says.  It is He who condemns them! Indeed, if He wants to, He can deal with them in an instant: “They die in an instant, in the middle of the night; the people are shaken and they pass away; the mighty are removed without human hand.” (v.20)  It is easy for Him to remove them as He wills.

More than that, He sees everything they do: “His eyes are on the ways of men; he sees their every step. There is no dark place, no deep shadow, where evildoers can hide.” (v.21,22)  Implied here is that His justice is perfect for He sees and knows everything and nothing is hidden from Him. Moreover,God has no need to examine men further, that they should come before him for judgment. Without inquiry he shatters the mighty and sets up others in their place.” (v.23,24) i.e. He doesn’t need to enquire of them like an earthly judge, to try and find out the truth, for He knows it – always!  Thus, because He knows, He can act accordingly and His action will always be just: “Because he takes note of their deeds, he overthrows them in the night and they are crushed. He punishes them for their wickedness where everyone can see them, because they turned from following him and had no regard for any of his ways.” (v.25-27). He sees and He hears everything: “They caused the cry of the poor to come before him, so that he heard the cry of the needy.” (v.28). He knows when they have been oppressing the poor and the weak. he knows when they are guilty, and what they deserve!

Yes, this is the God with whom we have dealings, and He is utterly just, but suppose He appears to remain silent for a while, who can possibly challenge this God who sees all, knows all, and acts utterly justly? “But if he remains silent, who can condemn him? If he hides his face, who can see him?” (v.29a).  If He does remain silent, if He does appear to hide Himself, who can do anything about that and, in the light of all we’ve just noted, who can possibly criticise Him, for He is always just! He is above all: “Yet he is over man and nation alike,” (v.29b) and He is working, as we’ve seen before, to bring and maintain good on the earth, and so part of that is, “to keep a godless man from ruling, from laying snares for the people.” (v.30)

Elihu then supposes words of repentance (which he has heard from Job): “Suppose a man says to God, `I am guilty but will offend no more. Teach me what I cannot see; if I have done wrong, I will not do so again.” (v.31,32)  That sounds all right but it must be accompanied by real and genuine repentance: “Should God then reward you on your terms, when you refuse to repent?” (v.33a) and by implication, he is saying, I’m not sure I’ve seen that in you Job!  I get the impression, is what I sense him saying, that you want God to come to you on your terms, rather that you go to Him on His – total honesty!  So he concludes: “You must decide, not I; so tell me what you know.” (v.33b)  At the end of the day, Job, you’ve got to decide what is the truth about what is going on inside you.

But he makes his own pronouncement on the basis of what he has heard: “Men of understanding declare, wise men who hear me say to me, `Job speaks without knowledge; his words lack insight.” (v.34,35) i.e. tell me you wise men who have been listening to me, don’t you think that Job has been speaking without knowledge?  Well actually, yes he has, but they don’t know that for they too lacked the knowledge of what had gone on in the courts of heaven. But there is truth here, that Job had spoken without knowledge and in some ways he would have done better to remain silent: “Oh, that Job might be tested to the utmost for answering like a wicked man! To his sin he adds rebellion; scornfully he claps his hands among us and multiplies his words against God.” (v.36,37) Yes it does seem that Job has unwisely spoken out about God.

Very well! Who wants to cast the first stone? Who of us would probably not have done the same as Job? How many of us groan and grumble under the awful pressures of the anguish that comes with extreme suffering? Yes, we can sound spiritual and declare with Paul that ‘God’s grace is sufficient’ (2 Cor 12:9), but sometimes it takes a while for us to appropriate that grace, as it clearly did for Paul (for he had asked three times for his ‘thorn in the flesh’ to be removed!).

The reassurance here is that the Lord understands. He is going to educate Job and that includes rebuking him, but after that when Job responds, He fully restores him. It’s a process and it’s why Jesus died on the Cross for us: we suffer, we groan, we don’t always handle it well, we find the grace eventually, and we say sorry for our earlier grumblings, and we are forgiven.  So, put that stone down, you have no right to judge Job or anyone like him!  Let’s look to the Lord for His mercy, grace and forgiveness.  Us weak people have got to stick together!

61. No Wrong God

Meditations in Job : 61. God does no wrong

Job 34:10-12 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. It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice.

In chapter 34 we pick up the second phase of Elihu’s talking, started by, “Then Elihu said…” Again he challenges his listeners to listen and check out what he has to say: Hear my words, you wise men; listen to me, you men of learning. For the ear tests words as the tongue tastes food. Let us discern for ourselves what is right; let us learn together what is good.” (v.2-4).  In this there is a confidence that is willing to be checked out.  We also have a reasonable faith one that can be checked against the evidence and we should not be afraid to say to others, “Check it out!”

Elihu then picks up again on what he has heard Job say, “Job says, `I am innocent, but God denies me justice. Although I am right, I am considered a liar; although I am guiltless, his arrow inflicts an incurable wound.” (v.5,6) Job has asked for justice but justice is not what it is all about.  Elihu concludes that this puts Job in the same category as evildoers who also say wrong things about God (implied): “What man is like Job, who drinks scorn like water? He keeps company with evildoers; he associates with wicked men.” (v.7,8)  i.e. he takes in scorn as one drinks and takes in water and by his words he “keeps company with” and “associates with” wrong people. That doesn’t make him an evildoer or wicked but just means he is speaking in the same foolish way they do.

Why?  What has he said?  He has said, “It profits a man nothing when he tries to please God.” (v.9)  i.e. what is the point of trying to please God?  Back in chapter 21 Job maintained that the wrong doer so often appears to get away with it and, indeed, both good and bad die young or live to old age.  Perhaps this is what Elihu is referring to.  He has a strong answer which we have in our verses today which may be summed up as, “God does no wrong!”   Often in these meditations I have found myself saying that we may not understand what is happening to us but when we get to heaven, if God allows us to look back on His dealings with us, we will never be able to criticise Him for anything He has said or done or not done!

In verse 11 we find a doctrine that comes up often in Scripture: “He repays a man for what he has done; he brings upon him what his conduct deserves.” In the New Testament Paul says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor 5:10) which is about our future destiny, and then more generally in respect of life here on earth, “A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal 6:7)

Yes, this is a general truth.  One day we will have to appear before the Lord to account for what we have done and, yes, here and now our wrong behaviour can have serious repercussions. For example the promiscuous person can find themselves with a sexually transmitted disease, which may be life threatening. Their behaviour has genuinely serious repercussions. The person who steals something lives in fear of being caught and one day may be arrested and judged. The person who has an uncontrollable temper may say things which harm and destroy a relationship and life is changed.  A person who eats too much becomes obese and may have a whole range of health problems, as does a person who drinks too much or takes illegal drugs. In all of these ways wrong behaviour DOES bring ‘negative fruits’ to our lives, fruits that are liable to be harmful and destructive.  It is no wonder that Elihu had previously said that God speaks to us “to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.” (Job 32:17,18)

But there is a bigger truth and it is that God does things sometimes that are not related to this general principle and so Job is not being punished for his wrong doing.  As we’ve seen, he’s been declared by the Lord to be righteous. This is all about testing of faith, testing for faithfulness, and that is nothing to do with discipline to deal with sin. No, the principle is right, Elihu, but it just doesn’t apply here to Job.  It’s a good and right principle but it is not what is happening here.

Yet again we are faced with this warning not to judge people without revelation from God. It is too easy to get it wrong!

60. Lessons in Love

Meditations in Job : 60. Lessons in Love

Job 33:14,17,18 For God does speak…… to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword

Now I know the word ‘love’ is not mentioned in this chapter but I would suggest that everything the Elihu says about the way God works, describes God as a God of love.  Elihu has listened (33:8) and heard Job say that he is pure and without sin (v.9) yet Job has blamed God for finding fault with him and for making him an enemy (v.10), the way He has dealt with him (v.11), and with this Elihu has a problem (v.12)

Now the truth we know from earlier in the book is exactly the opposite: God hasn’t found fault with Job, He has praised him for his righteousness and there is no way that God considers Job an enemy.  In fact, without realising it, he is God’s emissary, displaying faithfulness on behalf of God in the face of Satan’s attacks.  There has been a wrong assessment of the situation by Job.

But then comes Elihu’s second complaint: Job says he’s cried to God but the Lord hasn’t answered him. Elihu launches into a declaration that God does speak again and again, “though man may not perceive it.” (v.14b)  The Lord speaks in a variety of ways (v.14a), in dreams or visions (v.15) or directly into our ears (v.16).  The REASON God speaks is then given: to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.” (v.17,18)  When God speaks He is trying to get man to turn away from those destructive attitudes and ways of behaving so that he will be saved.  If we refuse to heed his voice we may simply end up in hell, and we may even go there through a violent means brought on by our own folly.

Another way that the Lord ‘speaks’ to us is through personal suffering that brings us to the edge of death (v.19-22), yet Elihu is aware that God sends angels as personal messengers “to tell a man what is right for him” (v.23c) and also to remind the Lord that He has provided a ransom to save this man (v.24) so that this man might be saved and restored (v.25).  Now whether that ransom is reference to the sacrifices made for sin (see 1:5) or whether it is a prophetic reference to the Lamb of God, Jesus, is unclear.  Such a man will pray and be restored (v.26) and then he will go and confess to others that he had sinned but had not received what he had deserved (v.27) because God has redeemed him (v.28).

He reiterates that God does this sort of thing, “twice, even three times– to turn back his soul from the pit, that the light of life may shine on him.” (v.29,30)  Yes, God uses this sort of thing to bring people to their senses.  We see this exactly in Jesus’ parable to the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:14-17) where the bad circumstances drive the son to his senses.

Elihu concludes this chapter with a call to Job to answer up if he has got an answer.  Now the only trouble with all this is that, of course, Job doesn’t have an answer because neither he nor Elihu know what has gone on in the courts of heaven (ch.1 & 2) and they don’t know that this actually has nothing to do with Job’s sin.  Everything Elihu has said has been absolutely correct – except it doesn’t apply to Job, because he is a special case and he is going through trials for no other reason than God has chosen him to go through them – and that because he IS righteous!

So, having looked at this chapter, there are various things we need to check out in ourselves.  Elihu maintains that God does speak to us in a variety of ways.  Are we open to believe that?  Do we believe that the Lord speaks to us personally – and if so, what have we done with what He has said?

Second, are we aware that in God’s sanctifying processes, making us more like Jesus, He uses physical suffering and circumstances generally?  Can we, therefore, when things aren’t going well, be open to learn from Him?

Third, do we realise that whenever God ‘speaks’ it is to extend our experience of salvation and keep us away from things that would harm us or draw us away from Him?  Are we so aware of God’s love that we can be utterly secure in all that happens to us, secure in the knowledge that He loves us and is working to bless us?

Finally, can we learn that lesson that we have observed previously but which arises again here, that unless we have had revelation from God we should be slow in assessing people negatively (judging them).

Moses asked the Lord, “teach me your ways so I may know you.” (Ex 33:13). In this meditation new have been touching on the ‘ways’ of God, the way He works and why He works as He does. May we learn these things!

59. Elihu Prepares

Meditations in Job : 59. Elihu prepares the way

Job 32:10-12 Therefore I say: Listen to me; I too will tell you what I know. I waited while you spoke, I listened to your reasoning; while you were searching for words, I gave you my full attention. But not one of you has proved Job wrong; none of you has answered his arguments.

Some commentators complain that Elihu is wordy but I believe we see in the verses we’ll consider today, a young man, aware of his youthfulness, who seeks to be gracious and seeks to explain why he is daring to speak in the company of these older and, one might suppose, wiser men. He starts by, in a sense, laying down his right to speak: “I waited while you spoke, I listened to your reasoning…. I gave you my full attention,” i.e. I have sat quietly taking in all that you have said. I have not interrupted (implied) or joined in; I’ve sat, listened and thought about what you have said. And, to the three friends, “not one of you has proved Job wrong.” This is the truth, this summary of all that they have said. As we noted in the previous meditations, the Lord also chided these three with, you have not spoken of me what is right.” (Job 42:7)

He continues, “Do not say, `We have found wisdom; let God refute him, not man.” (v.13)  I like the Message version’s take on this: “And don’t excuse yourselves by saying, ‘We’ve done our best. Now it’s up to God to talk sense into him.” That’s a cop out, we might say, but he’s not going to be defeatist like this: “But Job has not marshaled his words against me, and I will not answer him with your arguments.” (v.14) i.e. I’m not going to use the same wrong arguments you used.

This then becomes like a stage play where one player moves aside from the rest and talks out loud for the sake of the audience, for it’s as if he makes an aside about the three friends who have been silenced: “They are dismayed and have no more to say; words have failed them. Must I wait, now that they are silent, now that they stand there with no reply?” (v.15,16)  Look at this, he says, they’ve run out of words, so must I remain silent any longer while they say nothing?  No, he continues, “I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know.” (v.17)  Why?  Because he feels like he’s about to explode: “For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me; inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst. I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply.” (v.18-20).  In this he sounds like some of the prophets who felt the same thing.  They tried to remain silent but God’s word, bottled up in them, just had to explode out!

Then he gives a little warning: I will show partiality to no one, nor will I flatter any man; for if I were skilled in flattery, my Maker would soon take me away.” (v.21,22).  It’s all right, he reassures the friends, I’m not going to take sides and I’m not just going to pat Job on the back to encourage him, because if I did that God would not be pleased.  We are in the business of truth and although grace may prevail, it has to do so in the face of the truth!

But then, as we move into the next chapter, he turns directly to Job: “But now, Job, listen to my words; pay attention to everything I say.” (v.1)  Now this may sound a little condescending but I believe he is in fact acknowledging that Job has almost come to the end of himself with all this arguing and needs this exhortation to hang on in a bit longer and hear what he has to say. He goes on: “I am about to open my mouth; my words are on the tip of my tongue.” (v.2) i.e. I can’t hold back any longer so please stay with me, I’ve got to speak!  Please understand, he continues, “My words come from an upright heart; my lips sincerely speak what I know. The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” (v.3,4) i.e. please see that I’m trying to come without any deviousness and I will speak as sincerely as possible, to share what I believe God’s Holy Spirit has taught me.

“Answer me then, if you can; prepare yourself and confront me. I am just like you before God; I too have been taken from clay. No fear of me should alarm you, nor should my hand be heavy upon you.” (v.5-7) i.e. please give me answers and be ready to challenge what I say if it is untrue (implied) because we’re both just men and I don’t come threateningly to seek to overpower you.

In the poetic form that this story comes, it may appear a little straight-laced to us but I believe the tone or sense of Elihu’s words are as I have suggested.  I have always been struck by the similarities between what he says and then what the Lord says.  I believe he comes as a godly intermediary. This is no jumped-up upstart trying to put down these four older men.  I believe we should see graciousness in the way he says things.  This run-in to the main thrust of what he has to say to Job suggests a diplomat, or at least one who is concerned about the people he is addressing.

Perhaps these thoughts might leave us thinking about how we approach people who we feel need correcting.  Presumably we have earned some right to be in the position of correcting another.  If not we should remain silent!  But perhaps by servant hearted godliness we have to come to the place of being in a position to help others in their thinking.  We have to assume from the context that they have wrong thinking and we need to help them correct it.  Do we come to them as people who are obviously lesser beings who can’t think properly for themselves, or do we approach them as children of God to whom we are coming as servants.  I am always mindful of Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders: “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.(Acts 20:28)  What was he saying to them?   As you care for the church, remember that these are people who are precious to Jesus for he gave his life for them.  They are precious to him!   That is how we approach Christians in need of correction: they are precious to Jesus and we should treat them accordingly.  May it be so!