1. A Marker in the Sand

Getting to Know God Meditations:  1. A Marker in the Sand

Job 40:1,2  The Lord said to Job:  “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”

For who? I have over the years written thousands of these meditations (studies) and my general goal has always been twofold: to teach myself and clarify my own thinking AND to provide material that I hope may strengthen and encourage the Christian community. In this new series, I want to make a slight difference, I would like to help new Christian believers AND perhaps shine some light into the darkness for those who cannot yet say they are believers and yet are here showing interest. Can I speak to that latter group first of all.

Questions:  The fact that you are reading these words means that somehow you have come across this site, or perhaps been directed towards it by a friend, and are at the very least intrigued by the thought of ‘God’.   Now that in itself is intriguing for we live in a world, here in the West, that has been changing dramatically over the last hundred years in ways that are greater than all of previously recorded history and because of that ideas and thinking has been shaken as well. Throughout history there have been ‘signs of religion’. One of my granddaughters said to my wife recently, “But surely, granny, there is no evidence for God.”  What a staggering statement built on what appears to be total ignorance. My wife, telling me of this later, said she had to struggle not to tell her all about what she taught every year at upper level education, a whole year of just that, examining the amazing range of evidence. But this meditation (study) is not going to do that; my remit in these studies is much more limited but, I hope, just as rewarding. Put in a nutshell, it is to find out about God from the Bible.

The Bible? And here, briefly, we have to counter the tsunami of ignorance that prevails in many today. Here is a book – a best seller still around the world – or rather 66 books with some 40 or so authors, made up of writings from Jewish history (the Old Testament) and of the first century CE (what used to be AD!) telling of the activity of Jesus Christ and the birth of the Church. To short-cut pages of explanation may I simply put it to you if you are coming to this subject for the first time, that I am a reasonably intelligent person (teacher and retired pastor) who has read and studied the Bible for over fifty years (yes, that makes me old!), questioning, seeking, researching and never being content with superficial answers and have written studies that cover that vast majority of the Bible. At the end of all that, may I suggest to you that a) you can trust its veracity, its truthfulness and its accuracy and, b)  no, it is not full of inconsistencies or contradictions as popular ignorant opinion often has it. I would not waste your time with it if it did!

The Basis: The basis of these studies will be what the Bible says about God, not what people think about God or what people think about what the Bible says about God, but what it actually says. For that reason you may find these studies different from anything you’ve read before. They should, hopefully be full of the Bible, at least be looking to see what the Bible says. Now here’s an honest health warning. I want to change your thinking. I say that quite openly because, as I have already suggested, I believe many people come to this subject with a rucksack of ignorant wrong presuppositions that they have been carrying around that has weighed them down. I would like to invite you to lay that down and fill it instead, with reflections about what we find in the Bible. In a later study I will lay out the structure of the Bible for you because it does, despite it being 66 ‘books’, stand as a single-story entity.

A Fresh Starting Place: May I suggest, in respect of the Bible, an experimental fresh starting place for all of us. The scholars etc. who know about these things conclude, as I said above, you can trust its veracity, its truthfulness and its accuracy. Now having said that, it is legitimate to ask, why did the 40 or so writers write what they did, and can we believe their reports of their experiences. Now the one convincing thing, I find,  is that there is an amazing uniformity from such a wide diversity of writers who together form a compelling picture.

All I ask from the outset is that we ponder, IF all these people are being truthful about what they have written (and why should 40 or so people, spread over a long period of history, convey a lie?) what logically should that leave us thinking about God and, indeed, about our own lives? i.e. dare we assess the truth and be honest enough to say it might change us?  I will start each study with a verse of scripture from the Bible, and may include a lot more, but these are after all, Bible studies. We are studying the Bible. The early studies will be light on Bible quotes, not to weigh down those for whom the Bible is new reading, but I will constantly refer to people and places and give references for you to look up if you wish.

Job? The book of Job (which I do not recommend as your first area of reading – try Mark’s Gospel) is a tough book about a man who suffered and it is all about what his three friends thought about that suffering. Was God to blame for it? Whether it is history or a story with a point has often been debated. It is thought to be one of the oldest books in the Bible. At the end of all the debating within it (often with confused and wrong thinking, which is why I don’t recommend it as starter reading because it can be confusing reading; come to it after you have got more foundational reading under your belt)

Job encounters God who identifies Himself as ‘the Almighty’ or ‘the Mighty One’. Now philosophers will say that the definition of God has to be One for whom there can be no one greater. We will go on to see what the Bible says about that as an idea, but it is a good starting point and it is the point that Job faced God and concluded, “I spoke of things I did not understand… My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (see Job 42:1-6)

The point is we are not talking about an abstraction here, just a nice idea to play around with; we are working towards the idea that there IS a Being as uniquely described in the Bible, who is so much greater than anything or anyone we can comprehend, and that is scary. The more we go on, the more true we will see that is but, at the same time, be given great reassurance that although fear is a natural feeling (which is why many duck away from thinking through these things) the truth is that the Bible reveals Him as loving and for us. That’s the simplest way I can put it for the moment.

For those of us who are believers, I invite you afresh to pause and worship and ask Him to teach you anew. If you are not at that place, may I simply invite you to keep an open mind and come with me in the studies ahead of us, and possibly experience something you’ve never come across before. We live in a doubting, disbelieving world, more often built on ignorance, a dry and spiritually arid place. My intent is to draw a line in the sand of this modern-day desert and say, enough of this ignorance, let’s have the courage and honesty to face it and say, let’s change it! Take a few minutes each day to come with me on this expedition.

26. Job

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 26.  Job

Job 2:3    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.”

We are getting near the half-way mark in the 39 books of the Old Testament, Job being the 18th and I have pondered why exactly am I writing this particular series? (apart from the fact that I prayed and this seemed to be what the Lord was putting on my heart.) What am I trying to do, what do I feel is the aim of each study? Well perhaps as far as each study goes it is to lift up for inspection some of the gems found in every book of the Bible. As far as the entire Bible is concerned it is to see that although books vary in what we might call weight or significance, every book is part of the canon which the apostle Paul said was seriously useful for bringing us up, (2 Tim 3:16,17) and every book has gems within it worthy of our reflection and meditation.

Job is a book that for many is hard going. I did a series of meditations on it years ago and it is heavy stuff. If we are honest, I think many people think of Job as a valley covered with mist, so difficult is it. Now if that is an accurate analogy, then I would say as I come to it now, I come as if standing on a mountain looking down on this mist-covered valley and as I look various rockets burst up through the mist and explode in the clear air above producing a beautiful display. These rockets or highlights come at various places in the book and they bring light or clarity to the whole. The problem we struggle with is that the book largely comprises arguments between Job and his three friends about the reasons for Job’s state and, and here is the difficult part, so much of the time these three friends get it wrong, either partially or completely! That’s what makes it hazy or misty. So, all I intend to do is highlight these ‘rocket verses’ and make the briefest of comments.

1:1 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.” The start of this story is to describe Job as blameless and upright etc. Hold on to that when you read the book.

1:8  “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.” We are shown into heaven where the angels (and Satan is a fallen angel but is included here) parade before the Lord and it is the Lord who initiates discussion about Job. All that happens is because the Lord initiates it.

1:12 “everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Satan challenges whether Job will be so righteous if he is put under pressure and so the Lord allows that in a limited way. And then later (2:3) we get our verse above where the Lord points out that Job had NOT failed despite being under awful pressures.

2:10 “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” With all that Satan brings about, the record is clear: Job had not sinned.

Now those are the key starting ‘rockets’ that reveal what the whole book is about. Job is put under the most severe of physical and mental trials but has not sinned. For the next 29 chapters we have the debate between Job and his three ‘friends’. In the midst of these confusing pages, Job makes a most remarkable declaration:

19:25,26 “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.” As this is thought to be one of the earliest books in the Bible with so little revelation existing beforehand, this is a most remarkable declaration.

In chapters 32 to 37, a young man, Elihu, presents a further viewpoint. Then in chapter 38 the Lord speaks:

38:1-4  “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.”  Ooops!  Job you may have been right about being blameless before all this, but when you start declaring about God you are on tricky ground! In the chapters that follow (38-41) the Lord demonstrates His knowledge and His power. When the Bible describes God as ‘holy’ it means He is utterly different from anything else we know, and the lesson God brings Job is that when it comes to talking about God we need to guard our lips sometimes.

42:1-6 “Then Job replied to the LORD: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted….. Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know….. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job is humbled by his encounter with the Lord.

42:7 “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.” That is a remarkable affirmation of Job. Not only has he not sinned but he hasn’t spoken wrongly about God. It appears that if God has a problem with Job (as He previously chided him) it was simply that he had not maintained a humble spirit when he talked about the Lord. That needed remedying.

42:10,12  “After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before…. The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.”  The Lord didn’t just leave him but totally restored him and blessed him twice over.

There it is. Rocket after rocket being fired up out of the mist that shed light. It is both a strange and amazing book. The lessons are incredibly challenging. First, the enemy does NOTHING without the permission of God first. Second, God is thus supreme over all. Third, the Lord looks for faithfulness to Himself and to themselves, in each of His people. Remain true to God and be true to who He has made you and don’t let other people try to tell you that you are something else! Fourth, because the Lord has given us free will, He knows that in this ‘Fallen Post-Genesis 3 World’ things will go wrong and He will be working to ultimately put them right. There may be a variety of reasons for those things and they do NOT necessarily mean we got it wrong. Some things are down to our own folly, some to that of others and some to the works of the enemy, and sometimes, just sometimes, the Lord allows or even provokes those things to come about simply to discipline us for our good, but it is ALWAYS for our good. Rest in that and rejoice.

39. Contentment

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 39 :  Learning to be Content

Eccles 4:4 And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Motivation is a strange thing. What is it that motivates us? If you like crime dramas or detective novels, you’ll know about motivation; it’s the thing that drives someone to commit a crime. Or every now and then you come across a story of someone who has battled against the odds and persevered and pushed on to achieve great things, and somewhere in the story you’ll look for the motivation. What was it that drove this person on when most people would have given up? What makes a person driven?

In our verse above today we come to one of those verses that has to be held lightly for it is not the entire truth. All Scripture may be inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16) in the sense the He prompted the people to write the things on their hearts, but sometimes, as in Job’s case and Solomon’s case not everything they wrote was true for they both wrote from a difficult perspective. Job wrote from the perspective of pain and Solomon here from the perspective of old age when he had lost contact with God. So hold lightly what he says here!

In his jaded outlook he maintains that everyone works and seeks to achieve because of their envy of others. Now that is no doubt true of a very large number of people but not everyone. Some people work to simply stay alive, some at the opposite end of the scale who are rich simply to fulfil personal desire to do something with little care about others, and finally, there will be those who work to fulfil their calling before God –  but we’ll come to them later.

Without doubt many people are motivated to work and motivated to achieve by other people. The person who presses on in a career and lays down their life to achieve great things in it, if they were honest, would acknowledge that they were trying to rise above the rest, or get the things they see rich people have. It is looking at other people that drives them on.

Indeed, if our motivation is to “keep up with the Jones’s” then we will always be seeking more and more and more because the first set of people we see who have more than us, are just above us in the social or economic scale; they’re the ones we know and want to catch up with. Once we’ve done that we encounter the next tier in the affluence stakes and they become our target and so it keeps on. There will always be a Bill Gates above us to spur us on if that is our motivation.

We may not like the word ‘envy’ but that ultimately is what it is if we look to other people and wish we had what they have – which is of course what modern capitalism is built upon. Unfortunately there is that echo back to the Ten Commandments where we are exhorted not to ‘covet’ what other people have, but that is slightly stronger than envy because coveting implies we plot to get what they have. Envy is just an attitude thing although, as Solomon shows here, it can be a motivating force.

Again, with our modern knowledge of how people work we might suggest that envy that motivates in this context is an indicator of a low self esteem. We think other people are better than us because they have more than us and so we work to improve our self esteem by working or achieving more. It is, as we showed above, a futile task because it is rather like working to be good; we never know when we’ve arrived, so we have to keep on striving.

For the Christian we need to learn to hold a balance between being content with what we have and stretching forward to reach what God is holding out to us. For herein is the truth, that the Lord always has something more for us and it requires us to reach forward in faith to take it. Yet this is not a striving thing, this is not a personal effort thing. This is simply resting in the provision of God – in terms of things and personal abilities – reaching out to what HE puts before us and although that may stretch our faith, it doesn’t stretch us to straining point which so much world activity does.

No, contentment for the Christian is being happy with what the Lord has given us at the moment and NOT having to strive to catch up other people. It is a very different thing to emulate someone and to envy them. My wife had an uncle who in old age still followed and served the Lord and was a tremendous witness. He truly experienced what the writer of Psa 92 wrote about: The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 91:12-15) As I encountered this aged saint I felt, “This is a life I would truly like to emulate because here is a wonderful example of godliness!”  That is different from envy which desires for personal gratification. It is good and right to desire to flow in God’s will as revealed in His word and by His Spirit. Envy is born out of self-interest and leads us into wrong attitudes and actions and robs us on contentment. Don’t let it!

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!

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.