Friday, April 21, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 47, The Winds Of Change

Elihu is still speaking today but there is a change in the atmosphere. A storm is approaching. I picture the men sitting outside in the stillness of an afternoon that has turned dark, hearing the sound of far-off thunder and seeing the flash of lightning in the distance.

Elihu uses the imagery of a thunderstorm to describe God's power. "He draws up the drops of water, which distill as rain to the streams; the clouds pour down their moisture and abundant showers fall on mankind. Who can understand how He spreads out the clouds, how He thunders from His pavilion? See how He scatters His lightning about Him, bathing in the depth of the sea. This is the way He governs the nations and provides food in abundance. He fills His hands with lightning and commands it to strike its mark. His thunder announces the coming storm; even the cattle make known its approach." (Job 36:27-33) I grew up in rural Southwest Virginia and I remember being able to tell whether an approaching storm was going to be a short summer rain or a heavier thunderstorm by how the cows behaved. If they kept grazing in the fields, I kept playing in the yard. But I knew it was time to get inside the house if they lined up and headed for the barn. Elihu points out that even the cattle respect the power of the thunderstorm.

Elihu is drawing a comparison between the mighty thunder of God's voice and the loud thunder of the storm. He thinks Job does not fear God nearly enough. "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. He unleashes His lightning beneath the whole heaven and sends it to the ends of the earth. After that comes the sound of His roar; He thunders with His majestic voice. When His voice resounds, He holds nothing back. God's voice thunders in marvelous ways; He does great things beyond our understanding." (Job 37:1-5) Elihu is asking, "Job, how can you not quake in fear at the sound of His thunder? How can you accuse God of treating you unfairly? How can you be angry with Him? God is in control of all things and He does as He pleases; who can question Him?"

"He says to the snow, 'Fall on the earth,' and to the rain shower, 'Be a mighty downpour.' So that everyone He has made may know His work, He stops all people from their labor. The animals take cover; they remain in their dens. The tempest comes out from its chamber, the cold from the driving winds. The breath of God produces ice, and the broad waters become frozen. He loads the clouds with moisture; He scatters His lightning through them. At His direction they swirl around over the face of the whole earth to do whatever He commands them. He brings the clouds to punish people, or to water the earth and show His love." (Job 37:6-13) Elihu says that when God sends a storm that stops man's work, this reminds man of the presence of God. I think he is suggesting that the storm of trials that came into Job's life was intended to remind him of the presence of God. Job had not forgotten God, but Elihu still believes he had.

"Listen to this, Job; stop and consider God's wonders. Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes His lightning flash? Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of Him who has perfect knowledge? You who swelter in your clothes when the land lies hushed under the south wind, can you join Him in spreading out the skies, hard as a mirror of cast bronze?" (Job 37:14-18) Elihu asks, "Job, can you even begin to explain how God orchestrates the weather? How then would you understand His reasons for your troubles if He explained them to you? You keep asking Him 'why', but He doesn't owe you an explanation. God is sovereign. God has the right to do with His creation anything He wishes. Your job as a man is to bow to His will and accept whatever He sends you."

"Tell us what we should say to Him; we cannot draw up our case because of our darkness." (Job 37:19) Job has said over and over that he wants to meet with God face to face. He asks for a fair hearing in God's courtroom. But Elihu wants to know how a man could even begin to put on a defense before such an intelligent Judge. He thinks, "What could a man say in the presence of God? Face to face with such awesome holiness and power, wouldn't our minds simply go blank? How could we even begin to talk to Him?"

"Should He be told that I want to speak? Would anyone ask to be swallowed up? Now no one can look at the sun, bright as it is in the skies after the wind has swept them clean." (Job 37:20-21) Elihu asks how he would gain an invitation into God's courtroom. And why should he want to go there? He says, "Would anyone ask to be swallowed up? Looking on His righteousness would kill me! No man can see God and live! I could no more look Him in the eye than I could stand and stare straight into the sun."

"Out of the north He comes in golden splendor; God comes in awesome majesty. The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in His justice and great righteousness, He does not oppress. Therefore, people revere Him, for does He not have regard for all the wise in heart?" (Job 37:22-24) Elihu has made a beautiful metaphor of the storm in comparing it to the thunderous and unfathomable power of God, but as usual he has fallen short of true wisdom. He proclaims that God is beyond our reach and cannot be known. And while it's true that our reach is shortened by our mortal feebleness and our sins, God's arm is not shortened that it cannot save. (Isaiah 59:1) What we could not do for ourselves, God did for us. His own brilliant mind and His own mighty arm performed the work of salvation. Elihu envisions a God whose holiness burns like the heat of a thousand suns, before whom no man can stand, and this would be entirely true if no plan of salvation had ever been conceived in the merciful mind of God. But this God who is so far above us was willing to humble Himself to reach down and take hold of us and pull us to safety. The Lord Jesus Christ, King of all kings and heir to all the treasures of God, set aside His glory to come to earth and become a man. He did not look down on man or think of Himself as so much better than humans, but in every way He took on our image and infirmities.

Elihu is wrong. He may have meant well, but he is wrong when he says no man can know God. God wants to be known. He deeply desires a relationship with human creatures, so much so that even before the first cell was made of the first human body, Christ had already agreed to die for us! Tomorrow this God, whom Elihu believes would never lower Himself to speak to man, is at last going to have His say.

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