54. Righteous?

Meditations in Job : 54.  How can a Man be Righteous?

Job 25:4 How then can a man be righteous before God? How can one born of woman be pure?

Job has been protesting his righteousness and the three ‘friends’ have been struggling with that!  Bildad comes in, for the last time, with an attack on that assertion. It is in fact the last of the words from the friends. In the remainder of the book we will see Job speaking, then Elihu an outsider speaking, and then the Lord.

To start this last argument, Bildad exalts the Lord: “Dominion and awe belong to God; he establishes order in the heights of heaven. Can his forces be numbered? Upon whom does his light not rise?” (v.2,3) i.e. God is the supreme ruler who brings peace (implied)  and order to heaven. He calls upon countless angels to serve Him and His glory shines on all of creation. This is the God with whom we have to deal. So far, so good! Implied within all this is God’s perfection, perfection in His being and perfection in all He does. Before Him, Bildad continues in our verse above, how can any man stand righteous? How can any human being claim to be righteous?

He then sets up a strange comparison: “If even the moon is not bright and the stars are not pure in his eyes, how much less man, who is but a maggot– a son of man, who is only a worm!” (v.5,6) If the moon and the stars are not bright in comparison to His glory (implied), how much less be a mere human being, who is but a maggot in God’s order of things?  I have heard the same being said in the sceptical derision of modern day atheists: If God is so great how could he possibly worry about such mundane and minute figures such as we are? And there is a great mystery – the love of God!

When we seek to examine Scripture as a whole, we come across two amazingly different pictures of mankind. The first puts us down:

  • For instance the apostle Paul wrote, “death came to all men, because all sinned.” (Rom 5:12) and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23)
  • David said, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me,” (Psa 51:5) and “All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one,” (Psa 14:3) and, agreeing with Bildad, “no one living is righteous before you.” (Psa 143:2).
  • Jeremiah spoke similarly: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” (Jer 17:9)

So, this first position shows mankind as utterly sinful and in that respect, in their original state, there is nothing good about them. But there is a second view of mankind:

  • “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honour and put everything under his feet.” (Heb 2:6-8 quoting Psa 8) – this is mankind who God made to rule over the earth.
  • Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” (Prov 8:30,31) i.e. God delighted in mankind when He made us!
  • “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (Jn 3:16,17) i.e. God still loved this world – the people on it – even though we are sinners.

This latter position shows that we were created to a position of authority and rule and honour and even though we are fallen, God still loved us enough to send His Son to die for us. So, can we be righteous? That is Bildad’s concern. Can we be righteous apart from Jesus, we might add?

Consider: Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” (Gen 6:9) and “Return his cloak to him by sunset so that he may sleep in it. Then he will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the LORD your God.” (Deut 24;13) and “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.” (Psa 1:5) and “But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God (Psa 68:3) and “Thus you will walk in the ways of good men and keep to the paths of the righteous.” (Prov 2:20) and “The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry” (Prov 10:3). ‘The righteous’ in all of these cases (and very many more in the Old Testament) are those who walk with God and follow His ways and are morally upright.

Let’s move on a step: Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15:6) and “to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” (Rom 4:5). Here we see ‘righteousness’ clarified as that which God declares over a person when they simply believe Him! Where there is faith, there is righteousness.  Can we be righteous? Yes, by walking with God – by receiving His salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, and being led by His Holy Spirit. This IS righteousness. We could say so much more on this subject but space forbids for the moment. Bildad, you’ll  need to see the wider testimony of Scripture and realise that although we are fallen, we are loved and, being loved, we can enter into a living relationship with God whereby He declares us righteous for believing what He has done for us and then for what He is doing in us.

2. Survivors

MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.2

Isa 1:9 Unless the LORD Almighty had left us some survivors, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.

Isaiah challenges us over this matter of God being a God of love, because he records God’s dealings with Judah and Jerusalem during a time when all was not well in the nation and they were far from being the people that God had called them to be. Now we have to recognise and remember certain basics here.

First, God had called Israel at Sinai to be His special people: if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:5,6). That had been God’s invitation to them, and they had responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said.” (Ex 19:8). That had committed the nation to this ongoing relationship with the Lord. Essentially Israel were to be God’s prototype nation, a nation that would receive His guidance (laws) on how to live in accordance with the way He had designed mankind and to be able to relate to Him despite being part of sinful mankind (ceremonial/sacrificial laws).

Second, they were still human beings with free will which meant that if they were to live out this relationship with God, they needed to choose to do that. Of course they were also free to choose to do the opposite, i.e. to go their own way, which is what they often did. Now when they lived contrary to God’s design-laws for them, when they were out of relationship with Him, then they failed to receive God’s blessing (decree of goodness and protection) and because they were spiritually weak, they so often also became morally, economically and militarily weak which made them vulnerable to attacks from surrounding predatory nations. Now sometimes this is attributed simply to their sin, and sometimes it is specifically attributed to the Lord’s hand of discipline on them, and we need to understand this feature of their life.

Because they were supposed to represent God to the rest of the world, and represent His goodness, as perhaps was seen at the height of Solomon’s reign, when they went away from Him they were revealing a very different picture of God’s people and were thus misrepresenting the Lord. Because of this the Lord would do all in His power (beyond taking away their free will) to bring them back into a good place, a place of relationship and a place of blessing. Now we shouldn’t see this as anything strange, this absence of His blessing when they turned away from Him. Imagine a child brought up in a wealthy home. They have everything they could want. They are truly blessed, but then they decide to ignore their parents and leave home and they fall into bad ways. Obviously they are now no longer in the place of receiving all the good provision of their parents at home, but we would not blame their parents for this; it is simply that they have chosen to move out of the place of blessing, and that it how it so often was with Israel.

So in Isaiah chapter 1, we find Isaiah identifying this time as such a time: “Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him” (1:4). He describes Israel as sinful (wrong-doing), loaded with guilt (it IS their fault), children (of God), given to corruption (corrupt – tainted or infected [by sin], think of a corrupted hard drive on a computer) and why? Because they have forsaken or spurned God and turned their back on Him, just like the child I cited as an example just now.

And what had happened to them? “Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by strangers.” (1:7). They had become weak and malnourished and thus a prey to enemy invaders. Look how he pictures them now: “The Daughter of Zion is left like a shelter in a vineyard, like a hut in a field of melons.” (1:8). They stand out like a sore thumb, we might say, in their desolated state, like a hut left after harvest, standing all alone (implied). Then comes our verse today: “Unless the LORD Almighty had left us some survivors, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.” (1:9) Sodom and Gomorrah, of course had been totally destroyed, but the Lord, Isaiah says, has saved them from that. And there we find a feature of the Lord’s activity with this sinful people: He constantly saved a remnant. The Lord was not going to allow this people, who he had saved from Egypt to be a light to the rest of the world, to be totally destroyed.

Again and again He preserved some of them, the righteous remnant, we will see. Yes, even though the majority of the nation turned away from God, there would always be a few that would remain faithful and these ones the Lord always preserved. They were not going to get swept away in the folly of the majority. In His love for the nation, He would preserve the righteous ones, even when an enemy came in and plundered the land. These ones would be saved even from that invader. We will see this activity of the Lord again and again in these chapters of Isaiah, and indeed in the writings of the other prophets as well. The others may perish in their folly as they refused the word of the Lord coming to them, refused the Lord’s attempts to bring them back from that folly and save them, but the righteous ones of the Lord would be preserved and maintain the name of Israel. Watch for this as you read the prophets.