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.

14. The Centurion

People who met Jesus : 14 :  The Centurion

Mt 8:5-7 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.” Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.”

One of the things that comes out, when we start looking at the people who came to Jesus, is that quickly we realise that they are people in need. Here we find the Centurion came “asking for help.” The reality is that we all need the Lord’s help but sometimes it needs a crisis for us to realise it.  Most of the time we seem to be able to cope in our day to day living and in our folly we ignore the Lord and just get by in our own strength. The leper in the previous meditation was very obviously in constant need of help; that was the nature of his illness – he was stuck with it. We may be wrong but it seems in the case of the Centurion it is a problem that has just occurred. We assume there has been an accident and it has left the Centurion’s servant paralyzed and in great pain. He would never have had this servant if he had had this affliction for a long time. No, it is more likely that it is something that has only recently happened.

Yes, physical afflictions can be illnesses (which may or may not be long-term) and they can be injuries that occur as a result of an accident. In the later case they may similarly be something that will heal up quickly, or possibly remain a long-term affliction. Whichever they are, we want to be rid of them. When we are not ill or not afflicted, we can sound very spiritual about such things, but when we are on the receiving end of such things, we just want to be rid of them. We show that by taking medicines or by going to a doctor or even by asking for prayer. In each case we want to be rid of this thing. Such things spoil or mar our lives and it is natural to want to be rid of them. What is incredible about Jesus’ ministry is that whenever people came to him to be healed – he healed them! Now that may sound obvious but it isn’t. Many of us today don’t believe he still heals and yet the New Testament clearly teaches that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb 13:8) Why do we see so little healing? Perhaps, before we can see more healing, we need to see more of the characteristics of this Centurion appearing in the church.

The story seems to start out simply enough, as our verses above indicate but the wonder of the story is yet to come: “The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, `Go,’ and he goes; and that one, `Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, `Do this,’ and he does it.” (v.8,9) There is within this, first of all, a remarkable humility: “I do not deserve…” This Centurion is a Roman, part of the conquering forces in the land. He could have held a very superior attitude, but he doesn’t!

But not only is there a remarkable humility in this man, there is also a remarkable strength of belief and understanding. This man has heard about Jesus, but hearing isn’t enough. This man believes what he has heard. When he has heard that Jesus has the power to heal people, he believes it. But there is more to it than that. He understands that Jesus is motivated by compassion and that compassion means that when anyone comes in need, he will meet that need (but of course we have to come). Thus he explains to Jesus that his servant is in ‘terrible suffering.’ That will be enough to motivate Jesus – and it does – and that triggers off even greater faith in this man. Jesus has expressed his willingness and so now all that is needed is for it to be done.

It is at this point that the depth of faith and understanding of this man is revealed. He has understood that Jesus doesn’t have to go through any ritual or performance or particular actions, he doesn’t need to come to the house. Oh no, he knows that Jesus has the power and authority simply to speak a word and it will be done. This man already understood more than most of us understand today.

That this is remarkable is evidenced by Jesus’ response: “When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (v.10) This is a not very subtle commendation of this man, and a challenge to the rest of the community of God’s people! Jesus then simply speaks the word and the healing takes place: “Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour.” (v.13)

There are clearly levels of belief (and unbelief) revealed in Scripture. In terms of unbelief, Paul was to one day write to the Corinthians, “anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 11:29,30) i.e. sin in the church can bring illness and even death. That is a terrible extreme we really want to avoid. When it comes to faith we will see in these studies, differing levels of faith, the height of faith, perhaps, being seen in this Centurion. To recap: he heard about Jesus, he believed Jesus could heal, he believed Jesus wanted to heal because of his compassion, and he believed Jesus has the power and authority to heal simply by speaking a word.

Notice in conclusion that there is no penance required, no weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over repentance; it is all very much more straight-forward. The very act of coming to Jesus indicates a person willing to submit themselves to him. When we come to him, we recognise that he may require us to put issues right in our lives, but we are willing for that. James laid it out as follows: “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (Jas 5:13-16) Those verses deserve some serious consideration and they are extremely challenging. Why not work through them slowly and allow the Lord to speak to you through them. In trouble – you pray. In sickness – call others to pray. If there is sin, confess it and open the way for healing. Wow! Challenging stuff!

God of Refuge

God in the Psalms No.11

Psa 7:1 O LORD my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me

We have seen previously (Meditation 3) God as a shield, the one who stands between us and our enemy and provides protection, but the idea of God being a refuge takes us on beyond that to a fuller and more intimate picture of God with us.

Yes, there is the same idea of God being a protector and He does it by being a deliverer (as we saw in Meditation 4), to save David from those who pursued him and sought to kill him (v.2).   So what’s the difference between a shield and a refuge?   A shield is something you hold out in front of you to protect you from the enemy, while a refuge is a place you retreat into to receive that same protection.   A shield is before you and a refuge is all around you.   A shield you have to hold up strongly, but a refuge is something you retreat into when you are weak and unable to defend yourself.  The refuge provides the strength and you need do nothing except get into it.

In mountain areas, there is sometimes a refuge in high places which is either a hut or simply a wall in a square shape with a single opening. In both cases the climber or walker simply gets into the refuge to escape the weather. When wives have been beaten by husbands who are bullies, we now have ‘refuges’ where they can go where the husband cannot. All they need do is flee into the refuge and they are safe.

Thus, similarly, we can have a sense of the Lord’s presence surrounding us and when that happens, the noise of the winds of adversity are cut off and we have peace.  God is our refuge.  There are times when the enemy seems to rage against us and affliction comes in a variety of ways, and we cry out to the Lord and then, suddenly all is still, the struggle seems to be terminated.  God is our refuge.  It is simply His presence being manifested and whenever He comes into our circumstances, He takes control and peace comes. The picture of Jesus asleep in the boat with the disciples, in the storm (Mt 8:24 -), although an historical event, is also a good analogy of this.  A storm blew up that threatened the boat. They woke Jesus and he returned to their conscious world and rebuked the wind and the waves.  Suddenly there was peace. Thus was God manifest.   God was their refuge.

In Num 35:9 onwards we find God giving Moses the law for the cities of refuge. These were simply places where someone who had committed manslaughter could go to get protection against the avenger. We have an accuser, Satan, for that is what his name means.  When we fail and sin, we confess it and when he accuses us we have to flee to the refuge that is Jesus and all he’s done of us on the Cross.  That was why John wrote in 1 Jn 2:1,2 about how, should we sin, we have one who speaks in our defence, the one who died for us, Jesus. When we are accused we are to flee to God, our refuge, for He alone has provided safety and protection for us against the demands of Satan and the Law, so that we might live and not die. He is our refuge because of who He is and what He’s done.  Psa 126:1 says, Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge.” This is what a refuge does, it keeps us safe; it makes us feel secure.   That is far more than the work of a shield.  As we said, the refuge surrounds us and it is His strength, not ours, that prevails against the enemy. We just have to cry to Him and then let Him be Himself for us, for His very presence acts as a refuge from all the enemy can bring against us. Hallelujah!