Sunday, April 30, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day 3, Wisdom And Pleasures Are Meaningless

Solomon begins his discourse on all the worldly things in which he tried to find meaning. Today he speaks of the pursuit of wisdom and the pursuit of pleasure.

"I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind!" (Ecclesiastes 1:12-13) Solomon wails, "God gave us minds that want to learn, but there is too much to learn, and none of it really satisfies us. I had the time and the money and the opportunity to study anything I wanted, but I'm bored and unfulfilled. This is nothing but a heavy burden! Why did He make us this way?"

"I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind." (Ecclesiastes 1:14) This is a profound statement about the life that is lived without God at its center. A person can spend his or her life chasing after this thing or that thing only to find out it has no more substance than the wind. Everything about life on earth is transitory except our relationship with Almighty God. Because He is eternal, our relationship with Him can also be eternal. There is no one who can take away from us what we have in Him. Life is short and uncertain and what we possess today might be gone tomorrow, but the Lord says, "I will never leave you or forsake you." (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5)

"What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted." (Ecclesiastes 1:15) There are certain laws of nature and of the universe that are absolute, even though we don't understand them. There are many things about time and space that even the most brilliant physicist or quantum theorist can't explain, yet they are there. Solomon has applied his mind to scientific endeavors and has ended up frustrated. He has wondered about such enigmas as this, "Some things about our universe don't make sense! I can't understand them. How did everything that exists burst forth out of nothing? How do the solar systems hold together without spinning out of control into deep space? How does time work and why is it that we can only go forwards in time and not backwards?" These questions have gone around and around in his mind until he is weary of them. There are no answers, only more questions. Those of you who just completed the study of Job with me will recall all the questions the Lord asked Job about the universe, the earth, and the animals. Job couldn't answer any of God's questions about how these things were created or why they do what they do. Solomon couldn't answer them either. He deeply wanted to know, but there are some things only the Lord knows.

"I said to myself, 'Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge. Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief." (Ecclesiastes 1:18) He comes to the conclusion, "Whoever said ignorance is bliss was onto something! The more I learn, the more my curiosity increases. But the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know. And the more I try to find out, the more puzzled I become. I'd be better off if I were simple-minded than to have to deal with this thirst for knowledge!"

Pleasure, like wisdom, has fallen short in satisfying Solomon. "I said to myself, 'Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.' But this also proved to be madness." (Ecclesiastes 2:1) At some point he abandoned his obsessive studies and decided to fill his life with the pleasures of this world. He thought perhaps these would provide diversion from the things that bothered him. But it didn't work.

"'Laughter,' I said, 'is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?' I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly---my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives." (Ecclesiastes 2:2-3) Laughter is good medicine when added to a fulfilling life that is focused on the Lord. The "madness" comes into play when instead of seeking the Lord we spend our days and nights seeking mirth and entertainment, trying to ignore the emptiness in our hearts and attempting to block out the voice inside us that keeps telling us how unhappy we actually are. I picture Solomon sitting at a riotous party or ancient comedy club one night and suddenly becoming acutely aware of his loneliness and despair. He's laughing on the outside but weeping on the inside. He doesn't feel a bit better than he did before he got there so he goes home in a state of deep depression.

The pursuit of wisdom and pleasure have not filled the emptiness in Solomon's heart. So next he thought maybe keeping himself busy with huge projects might do the trick. He wouldn't be the first person or the last person to think that becoming a workaholic is the answer to his problems. We know he built the Lord's temple near the very beginning of his reign, but this was when his heart was still right with the Lord. As his heart grew cool toward the Lord he completed many other ambitious projects to keep his mind off his sadness. The Bible and the history books name some of the things he built, including an ornate palace for himself, a palace for his first wife who was the daughter of an Egyptian king (he would have constructed housing for all his other wives and concubines as well), a large fortification wall around the city, a citadel called Millo, facilities for foreign traders to stay in when they came to town, various cities around the nation for his fleets of chariots and his many horses, storage cities for the treasures he accumulated, zoos for the exotic animals he collected, and a beautiful system of parks and gardens for the citizens of Israel to enjoy. He mentions some of his projects and interests here in Ecclesiastes, "I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well---the delights of a man's heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me." (Ecclesiastes 2:4-9)

While he immersed himself in studies and pleasures and work, he never lost the intelligent mind that constantly sought meaning in life. Even when giving himself over to foolishness, he didn't lose common sense. Deep down he was aware the whole time that nothing he was spending his time on was fixing what was wrong. He enjoyed these things to a certain extent because it's human nature to enjoy them, but the hole in his heart wasn't repaired by any of them. "I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11)

I am so thankful the Lord created us with an empty space that only He can fill! If He hadn't, would we ever seek Him? Would we ever know the joy of communing with One who possesses an intelligence and a goodness so much greater than ours? Would we ever experience the relief of knowing our faith in Him has made us righteous and justified in His sight? Would we ever know the love that is greater than any other love? We thank You and praise You, Lord, for creating us in exactly the right way, for giving us minds that need meaning and for fashioning us in such a way that nothing but a relationship with You will ever make us happy. Amen!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day, 2, Solomon Speaks Of The Fleetingness Of Life

Today Solomon mourns the shortness of life. The Bible doesn't tell us how old Solomon was when he became king or how old he was when he died. We know he reigned over the nation of Israel for forty years and we know that his son and successor, Rehoboam, was forty-one years old when he became king. This means that Rehoboam had already been born a year before David made Solomon king, leading us to think Solomon was probably at least eighteen or twenty when he received the throne. He was a married man with a baby when the crown was placed on his head. This would allow us to estimate he was at least in his sixties when he died. Some scholars believe he could have been as old as eighty if he were closer to middle age when he got married and had his son Rehoboam. I tend think he might have died at the younger age, partly because David himself only lived to be seventy and there may have been some genetics that influenced the length of Solomon's life, and partly because Solomon lived a life of excess which included lots of wine and rich foods. He may also have been quite sedentary, being a scholar and a politician, not a physically active warrior like his father. The best we can calculate is that he was likely somewhere between sixty and eighty at death, a fairly short life when compared to the ages of the patriarchs, and an exceedingly short time when compared with the long ages of eternity.

Solomon feels as if all his work has been futile. He is soon to leave this world and that means leaving behind his kingdom and his vast projects. The idea that a man can work hard all his life only to leave it so quickly seems pointless to him. "What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises." (Ecclesiastes 1:3-5) He says, "This world outlives us all! No matter how hard we work or how much we achieve, the world goes on without us. Why do we even bother? I've spent many days standing in the hot sun staring at blueprints and watching my buildings slowly rise from the ground, but when you stop to think about it, what's the point of it all? I've named great palaces and towers and gardens after myself. I've even built a temple in the name of the Lord. But I'm still going to die and when I do the sun is going to keep coming up every morning and the world is going to keep on turning."

In his youth Solomon lived a self-centered life. He indulged himself in every pleasure his carnal mind could concoct. He drank to excess and spent money like it grew on trees. This is a man who had the means to experience every fine thing and every pleasurable pursuit the world offers, yet being able to have it all left him feeling completely empty inside. Now that he's older he realizes the world doesn't revolve around him. While he was young he lived as though it did, but now he knows better. As he celebrates birthday after birthday, Solomon wonders if he's done anything that really matters. What kind of legacy is he leaving behind? Has he done anything of eternal value for the kingdom of God?

When he dies he knows that life will go on without him, a thought that bothers a man like him who has lived life mostly for himself. "The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say." (Ecclesiastes 1:6-8a) Solomon sums up a feeling that all of us have probably experienced at one time or another when he says, "All things are wearisome, more than one can say." He states, "Day in and day out it's the same old stuff. We get up and go about our work, then we come home and go to bed, then we get up and do it all over again. It's monotonous. It wears a person down. It causes us to question what the point is of anything. The work we do today will have to be repeated tomorrow. And then eventually we will die and someone else will simply take up where we left off, doing the same old things day in and day out. It makes me exhausted to think about it."

A life that consists of thinking solely of ourselves or of the things of this world will indeed drag us down and make us bored and disappointed with life. There's no magic or mystery to a life like that. There's no wonder or excitement. But when we live a life that's closely connected to our Creator, daily communing with Him, He can give us back our joy of living. He will open our eyes to the wonders of the world and to the simple pleasures of home and family, work and worship. God is able to wake us up every morning with fresh eyes and a zest for living when we firmly decide to live for Him. There is nothing more exciting than walking in the footsteps of our Lord and constantly learning more about Him. He will give us opportunities we never expected and adventures we never dreamed of.

Solomon has been able to experience pretty much everything but as his youth fades away he is forced to come to the conclusion that none of it made him feel fulfilled. He will admit to a life of decadence and dissolution in the next chapter, "I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure." (Ecclesiastes 2:10a) He had the wealth to obtain anything that appealed to him, but because it didn't satisfy his soul it only made him want more. He could afford tickets to all the best plays and concerts and could buy the books of every philosopher in the world, but the more educated and cultured he became the more educated and cultured he wanted to be. Nothing was ever enough for him because he left God out of the equation.  So he says, "The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing." (Ecclesiastes 1:8b)

"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, 'Look! This is something new'? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time." (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10) He spent his youth in pursuit of new adventures and new pleasures only to find that it was all the same old thing. He probably rushed out to hear the latest opera or see the newest play or listen to a famous orator who came to town only to go back home disappointed. His heart had a continual longing for something more but he couldn't find it because he was looking in all the wrong places. He complains, "There's nothing new or exciting in this world. It's the same stuff dressed up in modern packaging. Sin isn't even very interesting; it may look new and improved, but at heart it's nothing but the usual lust and covetousness and greed that it's always been."

He fears that the generations to come will forget him just as the great men of previous generations have been forgotten. "No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them." (Ecclesiastes 1:11) He asks, "Who is going to remember and talk about great-great-grandpa Solomon? Who is going to tell stories about me? Who is going to care about what I did with my life? Who will want to follow my example?" He would have been correct in expecting to be mostly forgotten except that his life turned around near its end. Would we be studying about Solomon today if he had never experienced the spiritual and mental crisis that caused him to write the book of Ecclesiastes? Would we care anything about him if he had not decided to make his final years count by turning back to the Lord and by writing instructions for following the Lord in the book of Proverbs? We would simply remember him as a vastly wealthy king of Israel who ruled the nation when it was at the height of its glory and power. He would have rated interest only as a character of history, not as a man of God or a spiritual guide. Without the books of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs we would be missing two extremely important books of the Bible, and I am thankful that Solomon didn't leave this world without God in his heart. We are blessed by his life because he ended it well. Like many of us, he made a great deal of mistakes in his youth, but he is not forgotten these thousands of years later because he decided to make his life count for the Lord. He is an example to all of us who took some wrong turns but want to stay on the right path for the rest of our lives. It doesn't matter how many years we spent going in the wrong direction. It doesn't matter whether we are already middle aged or elderly. God can still take the years we have left and make them really count for something. He did it for Solomon; He can do it for us.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day 1, Introduction

The book of Ecclesiastes begins by identifying its author, "The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem." (Ecclesiastes 1:1) This can be no one but King Solomon. The Bible has this to say about Solomon, "God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. Solomon's wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else, including Ethan the Ezrahite---wiser than Heman, Kalkol and Darda, the sons of Mahol. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He spoke about plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also spoke about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. From all nations people came to listen to Solomon's wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom." (1 Kings 4:29-34)

Verse one says this book contains the words of the Teacher, which is the Hebrew koheleth, meaning something like teacher, preacher, speaker of the assembly, or bringer of wisdom. This is a logical title for Solomon to give himself, though it may be one of the titles given to him by the people of Israel or by those who came to hear his wisdom. The Bible says he was wiser than all the wise men of the East, wiser than the priests and magicians of Egypt, wiser than some specific men who are mentioned by who would have been known in his time. He possessed an insatiable appetite for learning, yet for all his education and all his wisdom, he found life lacking in meaning. The problem with great intelligence is that along with it comes a talent for introspection. The smarter a person is, the more likely he or she will spend time pondering the meaning of life. The more intelligent a person is, the more he or she will struggle with boredom and dissatisfaction.

Solomon, like many others before and after him, finds out that fame and fortune leave him feeling empty inside. And, like many others who have enjoyed a huge measure of celebrity, he spends a good part of his life trying to ignore his discontent by filling himself with alcohol or by pursuing the lusts of the flesh. Needing something upon which to expend his energies and his restless thoughts, he took on massive building projects and busied himself during the daytime hours with city planning. But in the long dark nights when there was no work to do, and no one to talk to, and nothing to occupy his mind, he finds himself falling into despair. He thinks to himself, "Does anything really matter? My wisdom will die with me. My buildings and my parks and gardens will endure after me, but will anyone take care of them? Will anyone look at them and remember me? Who will inherit my fortune? Will he be a wise man or a fool? Will my successor be a good king like I've been and like my father David was, or will he bring the nation to ruin? I've spent my days working my fingers to the bone and for what? I have no control over anything that happens after I die. All my work seems meaningless to me. None of it has any eternal value."

During Solomon's reign the nation of Israel controlled the largest portion of the Promised Land that it ever would. The twelve tribes were united under one king, but division would ensue after Solomon's death. The nation enjoyed a time of peace and prosperity while Solomon was on the throne. The Bible tells us that, "The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy." (1 Kings 4:20) He had twelve thousand horses and fourteen hundred chariots. Solomon was a ladies' man, marrying seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. Many of his marriages were for the purpose of political alliances, but we are also told, "King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women." (1 Kings 11:1a) Nehemiah called this a sin, pointing out that men of Israel were not to marry foreign pagan women. (Nehemiah 13:26) The women Solomon married were from cultures of which the Lord had said, "'You must not intermarry with them, because they will turn your hearts after their Gods.' Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been." (1 Kings 11:2-4)

So we see the main reason for Solomon's discontent: he was not faithful to the Lord. No wonder life began to seem meaningless! He had immersed himself in every worldly pleasure, in every practice of the cultures around him, in building palaces and parks in his own name, in indulging himself with alcohol and rich foods and debauchery, and all of this left him feeling empty inside. He had a hunger of the soul that none of these things could fulfill. Solomon was a man who removed God from the center of his life, essentially dethroning Him as King of kings, and had crowned himself in God's place. Whenever we allow our lives to revolve around ourselves instead of God, we are going to end up disappointed and dissatisfied. Humans make very poor gods. We are unable to keep from letting ourselves down and from letting others down. For a while we might be able to numb our depression by filling the hours with work or pleasures as Solomon did. But what do we do in the night when doubt creeps in, and when despair lurks at the door, and when depression falls down over us like a long black cloak? How do we comfort ourselves then? What do we do when we are forced to come to the conclusion that a life not centered on God is meaningless?

As the book of Ecclesiastes opens we find King Solomon in a state of mental and spiritual crisis. He's severely depressed. Everything seems pointless. All the labor he has expended feels like a waste of time. Nothing has satisfied him. Nothing he has done appears to have any eternal significance. So he cries out, "'Meaningless! Meaningless!' says the Teacher. 'Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.'" (Ecclesiastes 1:2) The word that the NIV renders as "meaningless" and the KJV translates as "vanity" is the Hebrew hebel which means "fleeting or temporary, futile or fruitless, empty or absurd". It is believed that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes near the end of his life, when he gazed around him at all he had accomplished and realized he took no real pleasure in it. He wrote this book during his final years when he looked back on his life and felt like he had simply spent it chasing the wind, not achieving anything of lasting importance.

Solomon will end up answering his own question. He wonders, "Does anything really matter?" and he will come to the conclusion that nothing matters to the person who lives his life without God. Nothing fully satisfies the soul of man other than a relationship with the Creator. Nothing lasts except what is done for God's kingdom. This is when Solomon will have the wisdom to realize that something does matter. When God is at the center of our lives, everything takes on a deeper meaning. Life is richer and more fulfilling. When we put God in His proper place in our lives, all other things take their proper places, and most importantly we take our proper places. We are not gods and the world should never revolve around us. This leads to a sense of futility and hopelessness. But everything matters when our world revolves around God.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 53, Conclusion

Today we come to the conclusion of the book of Job. In our introduction I warned that this was a book of questions, not answers. We know that God allowed Satan to attack Job, but we don't fully understand why. We have not unraveled the mystery of why God sometimes allows bad things to happen to good people. He never answered Job's questions of "why" but He did answer Job's questions of, "Are You really in control of everything, God? Is there a reason for my troubles, even if I never understand them? Are You still with me? Do You still love me? Are You a good God?"

When hardships come, most of us are in no danger of renouncing our belief in God and becoming atheists. We are unlikely to doubt He exists, but the danger is that we will find ourselves in Job's shoes, wondering whether God is good. We believe He's there, but doubt creeps in about His character. Does He really care about us? Is He in charge of our lives or not? Does He have our best interests at heart? These are the thoughts that have plagued Job the most. During the many sleepless nights he spoke of, the fear that clutched his heart wasn't that there may not be a God but that God may not be good. He now repents of such doubts, "Then Job replied to the Lord: 'I know that You can do all things; no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. You asked, 'Who is this that obscures My plans without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know." (Job 42:1-3) He still doesn't know the reason for his suffering, but he admits that he spoke hastily when he accused God of being unrighteous toward him. Throughout the book he kept asking for a hearing before God the Judge, but what he had really done in his mind was call God into the courtroom and find Him guilty of unrighteousness. He had judged God's character based on his circumstances, not based on knowledge. He reached a verdict without knowing the whole story. He still doesn't know the whole story, but he knows enough now about the infinite intelligence of God to realize He must have a reason for everything that happens and, though those reasons may be incomprehensible to humans, those reasons are good.

"You said, 'Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.' My ears had heard of You but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:4-6) In the original Hebrew he is saying he retracts everything he's said about God. He doesn't despise himself in the sense of having no self-esteem, but in the sense of being sorry for speaking hastily. He feels regret. Job has not literally seen God with his eyes, but the image he received of God simply by hearing His voice has brought him to his knees. He is overwhelmed by God's majesty. He is bowled over by His genius and power. This reaction is what always makes me feel so bad for those who live in rejection of God and believe they will stand before Him someday and put on a defense about their good deeds. No one in the Bible literally sees God face to face, but the mighty revelations they receive of Him often render them awestruck and speechless. Just the sight of God's messenger angels sometimes causes men of the Bible to shake with fear or faint; how much more would a person be shocked into silence when looking upon the living God? No one is going to put on a defense before this Judge. Either we have Christ as our defender in court or we stand before God on our own with our sins still clinging to us, but either way I don't think we are going to say a word on our behalf. If we did, it would be something like what Job says today, "I had heard of You but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I despise myself."

"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 the truth about Me, as My servant Job has.'" (Job 42:7) The Lord graciously passes over all the doubtful statements Job made about Him. He concentrates only the correct things Job has said about Him. Why does He do this? I think it's because Job just repented of the parts he got wrong. As far as God is concerned, those mistakes don't exist anymore. He has cast them behind His back, forgotten. Isn't this a beautiful picture of how God restores us when we repent? Look how quickly He moves on from Job's mistakes and praises him for the things he got right! Sometimes in our minds we feel like God might still be holding something against us, but we have the proof right here in these few verses of how quickly God leaves our mistakes behind. He's not holding a grudge against Job for the things he's repented of and He's not holding a grudge against us for the things we've repented of.

Job's friends need to do some repenting of their own. God goes on, "'So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to My servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about Me, as My servant Job has.' So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the Lord told them; and the Lord accepted Job's prayer." (Job 42:8-9) Job is not the only man the Lord humbles in this book. The Lord humbled Job for doubting that He is good; now He humbles Job's friends for doubting Job is good. The Lord had provided much evidence of His goodness and life-giving power; anyone could see the proof by viewing the marvelous creation, yet in his troubles Job doubted God's goodness. By the same token Job had provided much evidence of being a godly man by the way he lived, something his friends had viewed firsthand during the years they had known him, yet because of his troubles they doubted Job's goodness. God would have been righteous to harshly judge Job and his friends for their attitudes, but He accepted Job's prayer of repentance and now intends to accept Job's prayer on behalf of his friends. Job is to act as a mediator, to engage in intercessory prayer for these men who have wronged him. And here we find a wonderful example of how God, through Christ the Lord, acts as a mediator for those who have wronged Him. Job must now pray for the very men who have hurt him, but this is what Christ does for us! We have sinned against God, but God the Son acts as a mediator between us and God. In addition, when praying for us Christ is praying for those who have hurt Him personally, because it was our sins that nailed Him to the cross, our sins that put the bloody stripes on His back, and our sins that mashed the cruel crown of thorns on His head.

"After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and are with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on 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 former part. 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. The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. Nowhere in all the land was there found women as beautiful as Job's daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers." (Job 42:10-15) The Lord not only restored Job's relationship with Himself, but He restored Job's relationship with his friends. Elihu, who spoke against Job for about five chapters, is not mentioned. For one thing, I don't think he was ever a friend of Job, but just a brash young man hanging around these elders waiting for a chance to show his smarts. For another thing, he may not have felt repentant about his wrong words as Job and his friends feel repentant about theirs. We don't know whether Elihu is even still standing there or whether he fled the scene when he heard the Lord's voice in the whirlwind. We can only assume that if he were still there, and if he possessed a sorrowful spirit over all his mistakes, the Lord would have offered him restoration. The fact that He does not mention him indicates that Elihu is either no longer there or that he maintains a prideful attitude.

"After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so Job died, an old man and full of years." (Job 42:16-17) This verse reminds me of a saying attributed to Grandma Moses, "I look back on my life like a good day's work; it was done and I am satisfied with it." As Job looked back on his life, on the good times and the bad times, he was satisfied with it. He had experienced ecstatic highs and unbelievable lows, but he knew he had really lived. Have you ever known anyone who seemed to want to go through life feeling numb, who wanted to completely avoid anything that makes them uncomfortable or anything that will cause them to feel too much emotion? Isn't that kind of sad? When they are old and full of years and look back on their lives, can they say they really lived? I've experienced ecstatic highs and unbelievable lows and everything in between, but when I get to the end of my days I can say I really lived my life. I've run the entire gamut of every emotion there is. I've cried bitter tears and I've cried tears of joy. I've been through days that were so beautiful I couldn't imagine anything better. I've been through days so bad it was hard just to keep taking the next breath. But I've lived. And when I am old and full of years I hope I can look back on my life and say, "It was a good day's work. I've felt it all. I've been through it all. I am satisfied with it."

When we talk about bad things happening to good people, maybe it all comes down to a matter of perspective. From our human perspective, a good life would be one full of sunshine and clear skies with smooth sailing all the way. God is gracious enough to give us days like that, days when things couldn't be more perfect, days when we feel like we're on top of the world. But from God's perspective, smooth sailing isn't always what's best for us. Instead of shielding us from the storm, sometimes He takes us right through it. He lets the clouds come. He lets the rain pour down. He causes us to have to hold on to Him for dear life. To God even our bad times are good times if they bring us closer to Him. And it's not as if He sends us into the storm alone. He's standing on the boat with us as the rain pelts us and as the wind whips our hair and as we rise and fall on the mighty waves. He invites us to enjoy the exhilaration of the storm, to surrender to its wildness, and to trust Him to bring us through. Then, as we look back on our lives, we can say, "It was a bumpy ride, but my God was with me all the way, and it was good!"

Below is a link to a lovely worship song I heard on the radio yesterday. It speaks of God's goodness and I think it goes perfectly with our study of the book of Job. I thank you for making this journey with me. I hope our study time has been a blessing to you.
King Of My Heart

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 52, The Lord Talks Of Fierce Creatures

The Lord has been speaking of the universe, the earth, and the animal kingdom. Today He talks about very large animals that He created.

"Look at Behemoth, which I made along with you and which feeds on grass like an ox. What strength it has in its loins, what power in the muscles of its belly! Its tail sways like a cedar; the sinews of its thighs are close-knit. Its bones are tubes of bronze, its limbs like rods of iron. It ranks first among the works of God, yet its Maker can approach it with His sword." (Job 40:15-19) The identity of this creature is not known. Some scholars believe the hippopotamus is intended, while others think it may be an animal now extinct, such as the woolly mammoth. I found one commentary that suggested it was a dinosaur, but unless something is seriously wrong with our way of dating fossils, it appears as though dinosaurs were long gone before mankind came on the scene.

"The hills bring it their produce, and all the wild animals play nearby. Under the lotus plants it lies, hidden among the reeds in the marsh. The lotuses conceal it in their shadow; the poplars by the stream surround it. A raging river does not alarm it; it is secure, though the Jordan should surge against its mouth. Can anyone capture it by the eyes, or trap it and pierce its nose?" (Job 40:20-24) Who can tame such a creature other than its Maker?

Now the Lord moves on to a huge water creature. "Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook or tie down its tongue with a rope? Can you put a cord through its nose or pierce its jaw with a hook? Will it keep begging you for mercy? Will it speak to you with gentle words? Will it make an agreement with you for you to take it as your slave for life? Can you make a pet of it like a bird or put it on a leash for the young women in your house?" (Job 41:1-5) There are other references to Leviathan in the Scriptures. Its identity is as unknown as that of Behemoth. Some scholars believe it was a mythical creature of ancient Canaanite cultures, but the Lord speaks of it in the book of Job as if it is a literal animal. Many commentators think it is the crocodile, and part of its description would easily fit the crocodile. We don't know whether this creature still exists in our day, but it evidently existed in Job's day, and it was as wild and free as the animal called the Behemoth.

"Will traders barter for it? Will they divide it up among the merchants? Can you fill its hide with harpoons or its head with fishing spears? If you lay a hand on it, you will remember the struggle and never do it again! Any hope of subduing it is false; the mere sight of it is overpowering. No one is fierce enough to rouse it. Who then is able to stand against Me? Who has a claim against Me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to Me." (Job 41:6-11) The Lord has been proving His awesome majesty to Job who erroneously desired to speak face to face with God as he might speak to another man. Job forgot for a while that they were not equals. He could not drag God into court and force Him to give testimony about His reasons for allowing suffering. The Lord says, "You are unable to subdue any of the fierce creatures I have made. How then can you presume to approach Me and accuse Me of wrongdoing? You have said things about My character that are not true. I created all things and I own all things to do with as I please; even so, I have not behaved with unrighteousness. I am faithful to My creation and I am faithful to you."

"I will not fail to speak of Leviathan's limbs, its strength and its graceful form. Who can strip off its outer coat? Who can penetrate its double coat of armor? Who dares open the doors of its mouth, ringed about with fearsome teeth? Its back has rows of shields tightly sealed together; each is so close to the next that no air can pass between. They are joined fast to one another; they cling together and cannot be parted." (Job 41:12-17) This part of Leviathan's description corresponds with the crocodile, but as we continue on it will sound more like a dragon.

"Its snorting throws out flashes of light; its eyes are like the rays of dawn. Flames stream from its mouth; sparks of fire shoot out. Smoke pours from its nostrils as from a boiling pot over burning reeds. Its breath sets coals ablaze, and flames dart from its mouth. Strength resides in its neck; dismay goes before it. The folds of its flesh are tightly joined; they are firm and immovable. Its chest is hard as rock, hard as a lower millstone." (Job 41:18-24) Old Testament scholar Elmer Smick states that Leviathan is used here as a metaphor for Satan, the one whom the Bible calls "that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan". (Revelation 20:2) The Bible begins and ends by depicting Satan as a serpent, both in the book of Genesis and in the book of Revelation. Elmer Smick says that when the Lord speaks of His power over Leviathan, "He is celebrating His moral triumph over the forces of evil. Satan, the accuser, has been proved wrong though Job does not know it."

"When it rises up, the mighty are terrified; they retreat before its thrashing. The sword that reaches it has no effect, nor does the spear or the dart or the javelin. Iron it treats like straw and bronze like rotten wood. Arrows do not make it flee; slingstones are like chaff to it. A club seems to it but a piece of straw; it laughs at the rattling of the lance. Its undersides are jagged potsherds, leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing sledge. It makes the depths churn like a boiling cauldron and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment. It leaves a glistening wake behind it; one would think the deep had white hair. Nothing on earth is its equal---a creature without fear. It looks down on all that are haughty; it is king over all that are proud." (Job 41:25-34) This is the end of the Lord's speech to Job. We expected more of a conclusion, that the Lord would wrap things up in a way that makes sense to us. We thought He might provide an explanation that satisfies our longing to understand why He sometimes allows bad things to happen to good people. Job probably expected an explanation like that, but if so he didn't receive it. Instead he received a fresh glimpse of God that was bigger than anything he had ever imagined. He must acknowledge the fact that there are purposes of the Lord which no human being can fully understand. We don't know how He created the animals, creatures both wild and domestic. We don't know why He created certain creatures. We don't know how He enables birds to fly or fish to swim or why He made the hippo so large and fearsome or how He formed the scales of armor on the crocodile. We have no idea what led Him to make some animals fearless of humans and other animals willing to be helpers of mankind. If we can't comprehend the simple things of the natural world, how can we begin to understand the complex things of the spiritual world?

God says, "Job, I am so much bigger than you will ever know. My intelligence created all these things and they serve me in the ways I have chosen. No creature exists without a purpose. No human is born without a destiny. No good things and no bad things happen without a reason. I am in charge of all that exists. You may question Me if you like, but I don't owe you an explanation. You wouldn't understand it if I gave it. My thoughts are very different from yours and My understanding is so much greater than yours. I'm not going to answer your questions about your own situation, Job, but I'm going to expand your mind and stretch your faith. I'm going to ask you to trust Me even when you don't understand Me. I'm inviting you to grow in ways you never dreamed of. Are you willing to believe I love you even when bad things happen? Will you follow Me even when you don't know where we're going? If you can step up your faith in this way, and if you can leave your comfort zone, I will do for you what I promised the prophet Jeremiah: 'Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.' I won't answer the questions you've been asking Me, but I will reveal Myself to you in new ways and I will speak to you, telling you the things your heart needs most to hear. Are you willing to come on this journey with Me?"

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 51, Job Has No Answer For The Lord

The Lord pauses in His discourse on the creation to ask Job a question. "The Lord said to Job: 'Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? Let him who accuses God answer Him!'" (Job 40:1-2) Throughout the book we have seen Job declare that God is his enemy, that God has afflicted him for His amusement, that God has treated him unfairly, and that God hates him and has abandoned him. Job has deeply desired an audience with the Lord so he can plead his case. But now that he has it, now that God challenges him to make his accusations to His face, Job no longer feels the same way. He's been given a glimpse of God as He really is and this has made him see himself as he really is, "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.'" (Job 40:3-5)

Job was telling the truth when he insisted to his friends that he hadn't committed any sins worthy of his tragedies. He wasn't a perfect man, but he was a man who lived for the Lord and didn't wallow in sin. But now, with the thundering voice of God coming out of the storm, Job is humbled by His great majesty. Even if he were a perfect man, he would still be very small in comparison to this powerful God. So he says, "I won't say another word. I'm not worthy to open my mouth in Your presence."

Job is ashamed of the accusations he has made against God. He knows now that he was wrong. God has been with him this whole time and has heard every word and has seen every tear. Have you ever been angry at God and later felt ashamed of it? I have, and the last time wasn't so long ago either. Something looked like it was going to turn out badly for my household and I was angry with God about it. I was like Job, crying out, "But Lord we've been living for You as best we know how! We haven't committed any sins worthy of this terrible problem. How could you let this happen to us? We've been faithful to You; why have You let us down?" After two or three months of struggling with the fear of the outcome of my situation, it became suddenly very clear that God had everything under control, that He had a plan in place all along, and that He wasn't even going to allow my household to face the thing we feared. When I realized how wrong my attitude had been, I felt ashamed. I felt unworthy to speak to the Lord or even raise my eyes to heaven. The best thing I could do, after repenting, was to be like Job and say, "I put my hand over my mouth. I will say no more." I was wrong, just like Job was wrong, and I was ashamed of the accusations I'd made against the Lord.

"Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm: 'Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me. Would you discredit My justice? Would you condemn Me to justify yourself?'" (Job 40:6-8) Job's friends have suspected him of secret sins, terrible sins. He's spent a fair portion of the book defending himself and declaring his innocence. He concluded that since God allowed trouble into his life, God must be unfair. God must hate him. So now the Lord says, "You went too far in trying to prove your innocence. You blackened My name in the process. You accused Me of unrighteous motives that I don't possess."

"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. Unleash the fury of your wrath, look at all who are proud and bring them low, look at all who are proud and humble them, crush the wicked where they stand. Bury them all in the dust together; shroud their faces in the grave. Then I Myself will admit to you that your own right hand can save you." (Job 40:9-14) The Lord declares, "You have judged Me as unfair. You judged Me without all the information needed to come to that conclusion. Who made you a judge? Can you robe yourself in glory and splendor as I can? Are you able, with just the majesty of your presence, to humble the proud? Do you have the power, as I do, to judge the wicked and bring them down? If you could do all these things, then I would have to admit you also possess the power to save yourself, but you do not. You need Me, Job. I alone can save you. And it's my great pleasure to do so."

It is faith alone that saves us. No amount of good works will ever justify us when we stand before the one and only righteous Judge. When the Apostle Paul described the difference between works and faith, he used Abraham as an example and said, "If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about---but not before God." (Romans 4:2) Even if a man like Job or Abraham had lived a perfect life, his boasting of it could only be done in the presence of other humans. He would still have been humbled when face to face with God. He would still have cried out, "I am unworthy!" If Abraham had done enough good works to get into heaven, he could brag about it among men, but he would have nothing to brag about in front of God. This is because when we get a glimpse of God's perfection, we get a glimpse of our imperfection, and that's when we realize nothing but faith in the God who saves will ever be enough to make us right in His eyes. The Apostle Paul concludes that Abraham, just like the rest of us, was justified by faith and not by works. "What does Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.'" (Romans 4:3)

Job didn't lose his faith in the existence of God, but he did lose his faith in God's goodness. When we look at the Scriptures and think of all those who were saved by their faith, at the core of their faith is a belief that God is good. Everything hinges on that. Only a righteous God can save. Only a good and loving God can provide a way of salvation for sinful mankind. We can't judge His character by the things that happen in this world. For a time Job was so completely stunned by his circumstances that he doubted everything he had ever believed about God. He judged the character of the Lord by the things that had happened to him. The Lord will never explain to him the reasons for his troubles, but He will show him that no God who isn't good can create something out of nothing, like the universe. No God who isn't good can create life and intelligence, as He did with man and the animals. No God who isn't good would say of mankind, "They have all gone astray like wayward sheep! They have rejected Me, the One who loves them, and have followed after false gods and have believed the lies of the flesh. But I will seek them anyway! They are worth any price to Me! I would die for them, I love them so!"

Only a God who is good could love those who don't love Him. Only a God who is good would seek and save those who have walked away from Him. "This is love; not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1 John 4:10) A God who is not good would have let us go our own way. A God who is not good would have concluded we deserved anything we got. But our good and loving God said instead, "No, I won't let this happen to them! They may deserve wrath but I want to offer them mercy. They will never perform works good enough to save themselves, but they don't have to. I will do all the work for them. Their faith in My work will save them. I don't want to spend eternity without them."

Monday, April 24, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 50, The Lord Talks About The Animal Kingdom

Yesterday the Lord spoke about the universe and the earth. Today He talks about the animal kingdom.

"Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water? Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, 'Here we are'? Who gives the ibis wisdom or gives the rooster understanding? Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens when the dust becomes hard and the clods of earth stick together? Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of the lions when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket? Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food?" (Job 38:34-41) God is in charge of providing water and food for the wild animals. Job may feel like God has stopped taking care of him, but as the Lord Jesus once said, "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." (Matthew 10:29-30)

"Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn? Do you count the months til they bear? Do you know the time they give birth? They crouch down and bring forth their young; their labor pains are ended. Their young thrive and grow strong in the wilds; they leave and do not return." (Job 39:1-4) Job has been thinking maybe God took His eyes off him, but here the Lord points out that He keeps His eyes on the wild animals and is with them in their labors. If God takes the time to do this for the animal kingdom, how much more time must He spend watching over mankind?

"Who let the wild donkey go free? Who untied its ropes? I gave it the wasteland as its home, the salt flats as its habitat. It laughs at the commotion in the town; it does not hear a driver's shout. It ranges the hills for its pasture and searches for any green thing." (Job 39:5-8) It's so easy for us as humans to think of ourselves at the center of everything, even to start believing this world couldn't get along without us. But God created all of nature, both the wild and the tame, and nature obeys Him, not man. The natural world would go on if humans ceased to exist. In his distress Job has forgotten that there is a great big world out there and that there is more to life than what he is currently experiencing. When tragedy comes into our lives we sometimes marvel that the sun keeps coming up or that the world keeps turning in spite of our pain. But isn't it a good thing that it does? Life goes on because that's what it has been designed to do.

"Will the wild ox consent to serve you? Will it stay by your manger at night? Can you hold it to the furrow with a harness? Will it till the valleys behind you? Will you rely on it for its great strength? Will you leave your heavy work to it? Can you trust it to haul in your grain and bring it to your threshing floor?" (Job 39:9-12) The wild ox won't obey the voice of a man who calls to it. But it obeys the voice of the Lord. The wild ox serves the Lord by being what the Lord created it to be...a wild ox.

"The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully, though they cannot compare with the wings and feathers of the stork. She lays her eggs on the ground and lets them warm in the sand, unmindful that a foot may crush them, that some wild animal may trample them. She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers; she cares not that her labor was in vain, for God did not endow her with wisdom or give her a share of good sense. Yet when she spreads her feathers to run, she laughs at horse and rider." (Job 39:13-18) Yesterday we spoke about Job's need to learn how to thrive in a world that is both beautiful and cruel. It seems senseless to us that the stork would lay her eggs and not care whether they are safe, or that she would drive her young hatchlings away as soon as mating season begins again. But this is the mind the Lord gave her, and storks continue to be born and to exist even though their mothers abandon them quickly. Their low intelligence has not caused them to become extinct. If they are able to live and thrive in a world both beautiful and cruel, Job in his much greater intelligence should be able to do the same.

"Do you give the horse its strength or clothe its neck with a flowing mane? Do you make it leap like a locust, striking terror with its proud snorting? It paws fiercely, rejoicing in its strength, and charges into the fray. It laughs at fear, afraid of nothing; it does not shy away from the sword. The quiver rattles against its side, along with the flashing spear and lance. In frenzied excitement it eats up the ground; it cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds. At the blast of the trumpet it snorts, 'Aha!' It catches the scent of battle from afar, the shout of commanders and the battle cry." (Job 39:19-25) The warhorse is fearless, itching to get into the battle. This too may seem senseless to Job, that an animal exists with little instinct for self-preservation. Yet the Lord has given it its fearlessness for a purpose. He has created every creature with exactly what it needs to do the job it was designed to do.

"Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom and spread its wings toward the south? Does the eagle soar at your command and build its nest on high? It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night; a rocky crag its stronghold. From there it looks for food; its eyes detect it from afar. Its young ones feast on blood, and where the slain are, there it is." (Job 39:26-30) This is another example of a creature doing exactly what it was designed to do. It has a purpose in the scheme of things. And Job's suffering also has a purpose in the scheme of things, though he doesn't understand it anymore than he understands how the hawk or the eagle flies.

We see some awesome aspects of God's character as He describes several occupants of the animal kingdom. We catch a glimpse of His unfathomable intelligence, the intelligence that specifically made each and every creature in the exact way it needed to be made. We feel some of the exultation God feels as He beholds this wild and beautiful creation. To us it seems as if nature teeters on the edge of chaos, but at all times God is in control of it. Even if He explained to us how He created all things and how He holds them together, we wouldn't understand. Why then do we think we would understand His reasons for allowing certain things to happen? The Lord says, "Job, if you can't understand something as simple as how I created birds to fly or donkeys to graze or horses to charge into battle, how can you understand something as complicated as the reason why I sometimes allow suffering? Isn't it enough for you to know I'm in control of everything? Can't you trust that I love you too much to allow anything into your life that doesn't need to be there? Are you willing to stretch your faith and believe that what seems bad to you may actually be good?"

Sunday, April 23, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 49, The Lord Asks Job If He Understands Creation

The Lord is asking the questions now and He displays His infinite intelligence by describing His works of creation.

"Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? The earth takes shape like clay under a seal; its features stand out like those of a garment. The wicked are denied their light, and their upraised arm is broken." (Job 38:12-15) The Lord points out that He sets a limit to everything. Every night must end. The wicked who do dark deeds during the night are brought to a halt by the arrival of morning. By the same rule, Job's trial will also have an ending point. Things are not out of control; the God who keeps the universe in order has Job's life under control. The dark night of his suffering won't last forever.

"Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell Me, if you know all this." (Job 38:16-18) Job, like all of us, sees such a small portion of God's work. There are depths in the seas and creatures living there that no eye but God's has ever seen. There are strange and wonderful aspects of the universe that even the most brilliant physicist can't understand. Yet Job has questioned God as if they are equals. He has demanded answers from God as if God is a man like him. You may recall the other day we talked about the dangers of thinking God is like us, of losing our awe and reverence for Him. In his pain and doubt, Job tried to bring God down to his level, but God can't be brought down to man's level. He can't be made to be like us. He can only extend the offer to lift us up to a higher level, to make us more like Him.

"What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!" (Job 38:19-21) The Lord asks, "Do you know where I store the light during the night? Do you know where the darkness sleeps while the day shines forth? Do you have any idea how I control all these things, day after day and night after night? Surely you do! You are so ancient! Surely you remember how I created these things!" Job possesses the wisdom of an elder in the community, of a godly man, but this is nothing in comparison to God's knowledge. Job's methods of reasoning are nothing like the Lord's because he is unable to see events from the Lord's perspective. As God said in the book of Isaiah, "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways." (Isaiah 55:8)

"Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no one lives, an uninhabited desert, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass? Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen?" (Job 38:22-30) In my background study I found a commentary on Job by a lady named Kathryn M. Shifferdecker and she makes the statement that God is saying all these things to remind Job he isn't the center of the universe. In Job's mind, everything revolves around mankind. But God says here that He waters the deserts where no man lives. He makes grass to sprout where no person will ever see it. He makes sea creatures no human will ever lay eyes on. While it's true that the universe and the earth are especially engineered to support life, and human life in particular, the creation does not revolve around man. It revolves around the God who created it and who holds it in place. Ms. Shifferdecker sums up God's speech beautifully, "Is this an adequate response to Job's suffering? It is not, in a conventional sense, very comforting. God would probably fail a present-day pastoral care class. Nonetheless, these speeches of God at the end of the book of Job accomplish something profound. They move Job out of his endless cycle of grief into life again. They enable him to live freely in a world full of heartbreaking suffering and heart-stopping beauty, and to do so in a way that reflects God's own care for the world."

"Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades? Can you loosen Orion's belt? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs? Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God's dominion over the earth?" (Job 38:31-33) The author of the book of Hebrews tells us that the Creator sustains all things (holds all things together) "by His powerful word". (Hebrews 1:3) When the Lord spoke into the darkness, "Let there be light," everything came into being. He set the stars in place and told the planets what their orbits were to be, and they are still obeying His word, doing exactly what they were commanded to do. Can Job even begin to do such a thing? Is anything truly within his control? Is anything truly within anyone's control?

I used to be a real control freak. My life was ruled by all sorts of obsessions and rigid behaviors. Everything had to be done in a particular way (my way) and it had to be done on schedule. Woe to anyone in the household who didn't fall in line with my compulsive ways. On top of these unhealthy behaviors, I was in danger of destroying my health with anorexia because my weight and appearance was something I thought I could control in a world that felt like it was out of control. I denied anything was wrong with me, refusing to admit that it wasn't normal for a woman as tall as I am to weigh less than a hundred pounds. I was destroying my life and making myself and my marriage miserable. Eventually the Lord had to step in and take action. I went through an exceedingly painful time in my life. I had to accept that I wasn't in control of anything. I had to face the fact that my obsessive behaviors weren't preventing anything bad from happening; bad things happened to me anyway. I had to learn to live and even thrive in a world that often feels like it's out of control. By methodically pulling one rug after another out from under my feet, the Lord showed me that all my methods of controlling my life were nothing but illusions. He was my security. He was the bedrock at the bottom of everything. The world did not revolve around me and I was not the one holding it together. It was a long and hurtful lesson but those are the lessons we don't forget. Like Job, I learned to live freely in a world of heartbreaking suffering and heart-stopping beauty, trusting that even when things seem out of control, the God who set the stars in the sky is holding everything holding me together.

God's speech is intended to bring Job out of his obsessions about himself and his situation. It reminds him there is Someone bigger than he is. It tells him there is a higher purpose to the things that happen in this world. Job, in his misery, has been unable to think about anyone or anything but himself. God calls him to step up his faith, to expand his mind, to acknowledge that God is so much bigger and so much more intelligent than he ever imagined. It's as if God is saying, "Think about something other than yourself, Job. Climb out of this pit of despair and breathe in the fresh air again. Enjoy the beauty of the creation. Cherish your life on earth, not because it isn't fragile and fleeting, but because it is. Embrace the uncertainty. Let go of your desire to be in control of everything. I am your security. I am in control of all things; you don't have to be."

Saturday, April 22, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 48, The Lord Speaks Out Of The Storm

We have studied thirty-seven chapters filled with questions. Job has questioned his friends and his God. Job has been questioned by his wife and his friends. But now, at the height of the thunderstorm, God shows up and asks His own questions without answering any of Job's, or at least without answering them in the way Job expected.

"Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: 'Who is this that obscures My plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.'" (Job 38:1-3) The Lord addresses Himself directly to Job, perhaps because Job is the only one of the men who has addressed himself directly to God. "Words without knowledge" have been spoken by all four of the men, but Job is the only one of them who has questioned God and His motives. God answers Job's questions with questions of His own, and in them we get a sense of the unfathomable "otherness" of God. God wants us to know Him and enjoy fellowship with Him, but at the same time we must never forget how completely different He is from us. You may have heard the expression "familiarity breeds contempt" and I think there is a danger in becoming a bit too chummy with the Lord. The danger is that we might begin to think He is just like us. We run the risk of losing our sense of awe and respect for Him. Jesus Christ truly is our friend, but He is also the holy Word of God for whom and by whom all things were created. Job and his companions have been speaking about God as if they know more about Him than they actually do, but now this God shows up and reminds them that He created the universe and everything in it without man's help or advice. He has existed since eternity past and has needed no one's counsel. Man was, in fact, formed on the final day of creation. If God had needed man's help for anything, He would have made him first, not last.

"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? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone---while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?" (Job 38:4-7) At first glance God's answer to Job seems cruel and uncaring. He passes over all of Job's questions and appears to be saying, "Who are you to question Me? Where were you when I created the world? Can you even explain how I did it? Would you understand it if I explained it?" But we don't want to miss the fact that God has answered Job's chief prayer. All along Job has earnestly desired a meeting with God. He has begged to speak to God and to have God speak to him. As Bible scholar David Guzik points out, "God has now appeared to Job. Job's greatest agony was that he felt God had abandoned him, and now he knew he was not abandoned."

If we read God's reply as a rebuke for Job's questions and doubts and confusion, we are missing something indescribably beautiful. God sees straight to Job's heart and realizes that, more than anything else, he needs to know God is still involved in his life. He needs to know God sees him and hears him and is willing to take the time to interact with him. Of course Job would still like all of his questions answered, but would hearing the tale of God's conversation with Satan have helped him? Wouldn't knowing that Satan regularly appears in the presence of God to accuse believers of sin and faithlessness have made Job feel even less secure? If God explained to Job that the loss of his children and his livelihood and his health were intended to prove his faithfulness, would that comfort him at all? God's purpose in these tragedies is, at its core, somewhat unknowable by the human mind. I freely admit to you that I don't really understand what God is doing in the book of Job. We are willing to try and accept on faith that God allowed things to happen to Job in order to fulfill a greater purpose, but the explanation we are provided in the book doesn't answer all our questions. The more we think about it, it seems we keep coming up with even more questions, not fewer questions. And maybe that's what would have happened to Job if God had appeared and started explaining Himself. Would Job have understood or would he simply have come up with more and more questions? Would God's explanation have given him what he really needed: the assurance that God is still with him and still loves him? When God shows up and speaks directly to Job, He clearly states that He has heard Job's words. He's had his eyes on Job this whole time. He's had His ears open to Job's cries. He's heard Job's prayers. And the answer to those prayers is, "Here I am! I have not abandoned you! I have never left you for a second!"

Now that Job knows God is still with him, God reminds him that He is always in control even when the world seems out of control. Job may never understand the reasons for his circumstances, but now he will never doubt that anything happens to him outside of the will of God. He may not be able to comprehend God's reasons, but he knows that God has reasons. The One who created the universe and governs everything in it is in control of the circumstances of men's and women's lives. "Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, 'This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt?'" (Job 38:8-11) The God who holds the sea in place is able to hold us together even when it feels like our world is falling apart.

When things haven't gone our way, when we are hurt and confused, what is it that we really want? Is it the answers to all our questions? Or is it the assurance of God's love and His presence with us? Doesn't it seem like we can get through anything as long as we feel the Spirit of the Lord with us in our troubles? When we have the sense of being wrapped securely in His loving arms, don't we find the courage to keep on putting one foot in front of the other? As long as we have the confidence that our God is with us, that He is for us, that He will provide everything we need to make it through our trials, we are able to keep from giving up. God knew this was what Job really needed and He provided it by showing up in person. I've been through several dark chapters in my life and I don't know how I would have made it if God hadn't shown up. If He hadn't spoken to me through the Scriptures and through the Holy Spirit, I would have fainted and given up. He didn't answer all my questions but He comforted me with His love. He strengthened me when I felt like quitting. He held me up when I couldn't walk on my own. This is what He does for Job today. He doesn't answer Job's questions of "why", but He does answer Job's most earnest question. Job had wondered in his heart, "Is God still with me? Does He see me and hear me? Does He love me?" The answer to that, in the midst of a powerful thunderstorm and awesome whirlwind, is a resounding, "Yes!"

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.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 46, Elihu's Speech, Part Six

I think I will be so glad when Elihu has finished talking, but today he continues on. He tells Job that God does not answer him because he is wicked.

"People cry out under a load of oppression; they plead for relief from the arm of the powerful. But no one says, 'Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night, and teaches us more than He teaches the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds in the sky?' He does not answer when people cry out because of the arrogance of the wicked." (Job 35:9-12) Elihu suggests Job has had no regard for God and that God has not answered him because he's a wicked man.

"Indeed, God does not listen to their empty plea; the Almighty pays no attention to it. 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. So Job opens his mouth with empty talk; without knowledge he multiplies words." (Job 35:13-16) He thinks Job is not sincere in his worship of the Lord.

"Elihu continued: 'Bear with me a little longer and I will show you that there is more to be said in God's behalf. I get my knowledge from afar; I will ascribe justice to my Maker. Be assured that my words are not false; one who has perfect knowledge is with you.'" (Job 36:1-4) Elihu claims to speak on God's behalf. He doesn't want Job and his friends to reject his words because, in his mind, they are the words of God.

"God is mighty, but despises no one; He is mighty, and firm in His purpose. He does not keep the wicked alive but gives the afflicted their rights. He does not take His eyes off the righteous; He enthrones them with kings and exalts them forever. But if people 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. If they obey and serve Him, they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity and their years in contentment. But if they do not listen, they will perish by the sword and die without knowledge." (Job 36:5-12) Job's tragedies are all the proof Elihu needs to believe he is an ungodly man. He says, "But you don't have to be! God is so high above us, yet He doesn't despise us in our ignorance. He is gracious to give us knowledge if we ask for it. If you will repent and live right, God will reward you."

"The godless in heart harbor resentment; even when He fetters them, they do not cry for help. They die in their youth, among male prostitutes of the shrines. But those who suffer He delivers in their suffering; He speaks to them in their affliction." (Job 36:13-15) Elihu states, "The godless remain angry toward God even when He disciplines them for their own good. The man who rejects God will die in shame. A man like that is as bad as one who participates in pagan temple orgies; he is a disgrace."

Elihu advises Job that God is chastising him for his own good. "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." (Job 36:16) The Lord does indeed work hard to woo us away from the ugly fruits of our sinful labors. He offers us a better way of living. Because He loves us, He wants us to follow Him instead of worldly things.

"But now you are laden with judgment due to the wicked; judgment and justice have taken hold of you. Be careful that no one entices you by riches; do not let a large bribe turn you aside. Would your wealth or even all your mighty efforts sustain you so you would not be in distress? Do not long for the night, to drag people away from their homes. Beware of turning to evil, which you seem to prefer to affliction." (Job 36:17-21) Elihu says, "You could have had prosperity and the blessings of the Lord! But instead you followed after riches and were willing to do unrighteous things in order to get them. All your money is gone now; what use was it to you? It didn't prevent God from bringing judgment on you for your sins."

"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'? Remember to extol His work, which people have praised in song. All humanity has seen it; mortals gaze on it from afar. How great is God---beyond our understanding! The number of His years is past finding out." (Job 36:22-26) Elihu magnifies the name of the Lord and urges Job to join him. He thinks perhaps Job has made a big deal of himself and has made far too little of God. Once he gets things in the proper perspective he will be much better off. This principle is true, although it doesn't apply to Job's particular situation since he has remained faithful to the Lord.

The bigger we make ourselves, the smaller we make our God. And the opposite is also true: the bigger we make our God the smaller we make ourselves. Elihu is correct when he insists that man needs to keep things in proper perspective. God deserves to be exalted. Who is like Him? There is a very valuable nugget of advice in Elihu's speech today when he says, "Remember to extol His work." How much bigger would God seem to us if we remembered to extol His work every day? What if we woke up and praised Him for the sunrise? What if we gratefully breathed in the fresh morning air and thanked Him for the beautiful planet we live on? What if we learned how to recapture the wonder of childhood when we lived closer to the ground and every tiny flower and every blade of grass seemed like a miracle? We have a God so great that He made all these things. He simply spoke the word and an entire universe sprang into existence out of nothing. Is He not big enough to handle all our problems? Let's remember to extol His work today. He has created all things, including us, and we are fearfully and wonderfully made. He loves us so much He came up with a way to redeem us so we could live with Him forever. A God this great deserves all our praise.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 45, Elihu's Speech, Part Five

Elihu continues to suspect Job is a sinner, and he points out that man must come to God on God's terms, not on man's terms. Yesterday he concluded by saying that God punishes the one who turns from Him, and today he says that God judges the one who does this, "They caused the cry of the poor to come before Him, so that He heard the cry of the needy. But if He remains silent, who can condemn Him? If He hides His face, who can see Him? Yet He is over individual and nation alike, to keep the godless from ruling, from laying snares for the people." (Job 34:28-30) Like Job's three friends, Elihu thinks God brought Job down because he was a wicked man.

"Suppose someone 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.' Should God then reward you on your terms, when you refuse to repent? You must decide, not I; so tell me what you know." (Job 34:31-33) Elihu says, "If you don't repent, how can God reward you? How can God forgive you?" This would be good advice if Job had any unconfessed sin in his life. If his troubles were due to his own foolishness, the best thing he could possibly do is bow humbly before God and admit to his failures and ask the Lord to help him.

"Men of understanding declare, wise men who hear me say to me, 'Job speaks without knowledge; his words lack insight.' 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." (Job 34:34-37) Job already knew people were whispering behind his back. According to Elihu they are saying that he is foolish and without any spiritual understanding. They say, "It's bad enough he's been such a sinner that God had to punish him so severely. But he remains in his rebellion. Even now he refuses to repent."

"Then Elihu said: 'Do you think this is just? You say, 'I am in the right, not God.' Yet you ask Him, 'What profit is it to me, and what do I gain by not sinning?'" (Job 35:1-3) Because he's done his best to live a godly life, Job feels he's received unfair treatment. He has wondered whether it would have made much difference if he had not tried to do what was right. Would the outcome have been the same? Would he have been better able to take his tragedies if he had earned them? Elihu doesn't believe Job should ask such questions.

"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. If you sin, how does that affect Him? If your sins are many, what does that do to Him? If you are righteous, what do you give to Him, or what does He receive from your hand? Your wickedness only affects humans like yourself, and your righteousness only other people." (Job 35:4-8) Elihu thinks Job is making a big deal out of himself. He asks, "Can anything you do really hurt God? Can anything you do help God? Your actions affect the humans around you, but you can't harm or benefit the God who is so high above you." This is a rather pointless statement and it's untrue. The Bible tells us that our sins grieve the Holy Spirit of God. (Isaiah 63:10, Ephesians 4:30) The Lord is wounded by our sins and I think the main reason is because he sees us hurting ourselves with our sins and hurting those around us. God loves us and He mourns over our rebellious ways in the same way an earthly father mourns for a wayward child. Elihu makes it seem as if God does not care whether we are good or bad; he concludes that we are pretty much worthless to the Lord either way.

Elihu's God is a God of vengeance, not a God of mercy. He would not have known what to make of the prophecies that later came of a suffering Servant who would pay for the sins of mankind. He would not have been able to understand the mission of the Redeemer. It would have been unthinkable to him for God to come in the flesh and dwell among humans, to take on our sins, to receive our punishment, to be wounded for our transgressions. He would have said, "No! This is impossible! God is too good. He's too holy. We aren't worth it to Him. We either come to Him in full obedience, making ourselves righteous by good works, or we don't come to Him at all. Why should God do any of the work? We aren't worth it!"

But the Lord thought we were worth it. The Easter holiday may be over for this year, but we can experience the mercy and grace that is Easter every day of our lives. Christ said, "I love them too much to be without them. I will do anything it takes to make them whole. I will bear their wounds and wear their stripes. I will bow my back under the heavy weight of their sins. They are worth everything to Me."

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 44, Elihu's Speech, Part Four

Elihu is really on a roll now and today he repeats some of Job's own words back to him and makes fun of them.

"Then Elihu said: '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." (Job 34:1-4) Elihu says, "We are a bunch of smart men. We are able to judge for ourselves what is right and what is wrong." I'll have to disagree with him, because the Bible says, "There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death." (Proverbs 14:12) We can't always use our own judgment. Our carnal minds will lead us astray, which is why we must be led by God's word instead.

Now Elihu mocks Job's words. "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.' Is there anyone like Job, who drinks scorn like water? He keeps company with evildoers; he associates with the wicked. For he says, 'There is no profit in trying to please God.'" (Job 34:5-9) He accuses Job of being the most wicked of men. His words are a sharp contrast to those of God, who said of Job, "There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." (Job 1:8)

It's true that Job wonders why he bothered to live a godly life if it didn't prevent tragedies from coming. Earlier in our study of Job we compared his words with those of the psalmist Asaph who wrote, "Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments." (Psalm 73:13-14) In time Asaph realized he was looking at his situation all wrong, but for a while he felt like Job and said, "What good is it to live a godly life? It hasn't spared me from troubles."

"So listen to me, you men of understanding. Far be it from God to do evil, from the Almighty to do wrong. He repays everyone for what they have done; He brings on them what their conduct deserves. It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice. Who appointed Him over the earth? Who put Him in charge of the whole world? If it were His intention and He withdrew His spirit and breath, all humanity would perish together and mankind would return to the dust." (Job 34:10-15) The companions of Job believe that all troubles are punishment. They think it would be unrighteous of God to visit sorrows upon a godly man, therefore Job cannot be godly because God would not afflict him if he were. They completely reject the idea that God might allow hardships for purposes other than punishment.

"If you have understanding, hear this; listen to what I say. Can someone who hates justice govern? Will you condemn the just and mighty One? 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? 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." (Job 34:16-20) Elihu points out that God judges the ungodly and shows no favoritism even if the ungodly person is rich or influential. I think he is trying to insinuate Job expected special treatment from God because he had been wealthy. He's making the accusation that Job had been living an ungodly life but considered himself immune from judgment because he was an important man in the community.

"His eyes are on the ways of mortals; He sees their every step. There is no deep shadow, no utter darkness, where evildoers can hide. God has no need to examine people further, that they should come before Him for judgment. Without inquiry He shatters the mighty and sets up others in their place. 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." (Job 34:21-27) Job has been expressing his desire for a hearing before the Judge, but Elihu says that God has the right to judge without a hearing. God sees and knows all things and He doesn't need to hear any testimony. But Elihu, like Job's three friends, seems oblivious to the fact that the wicked often prosper for a long time on the earth. He keeps talking about how swiftly justice is meted out on the wicked, but quite often it seems to take a long time before the Lord brings wicked people down.

None of Elihu's words are helpful and I'm sorry to say we have more of his useless words to get through before the Lord finally interrupts him in Chapter 38. If nothing else, we can learn from Elihu's example what not to say to someone who is hurting.

Monday, April 17, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 43, Elihu's Speech, Part Three

Elihu criticizes Job for speaking against God. He feels man has no right to question God or to complain that God is not answering. He states that perhaps God is already answering Job, but he is not listening.

"But I tell you, in this you are not right, for God is greater than any mortal. Why do you complain to Him that He responds to no one's words? For God does speak---now one way, now another---though no one perceives it." (Job 33:12-14) Elihu is going to point out that God speaks to no one in an audible voice from heaven, but that He does speak in other ways.

"In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on people as they slumber in their beds, He may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn them from wrongdoing and keep them from pride, to preserve them from the pit, their lives from perishing by the sword." (Job 33:15-18) Elihu says, "During the daytime you may be too busy to realize God is trying to get your attention. It's possible for men and women to fill their waking hours so full that there is no room for God. This is why He sometimes has to speak through dreams and visions."

"Or someone may be chastened on a bed of pain with constant distress in their bones, so that their body finds food repulsive and their soul loathes the choicest meal. Their flesh wastes away to nothing, and their bones, once hidden, now stick out. They draw near to the pit, and their life to the messengers of death." (Job 33:19-22) We know that Job is sick in body and suffering from a lack of appetite. Elihu suggests that this illness is being used of God for a purpose. Job has accused God of being his enemy, of maybe afflicting him for some private amusement, but on this point Elihu displays some wisdom. God is not Job's enemy. He doesn't hate him. He hasn't allowed afflictions into his life just so He can have His own private reality show. Elihu believes suffering has a purpose in the believer's life, although as we will see in the next section, he thinks Job's suffering will be relieved if he will repent of blaming God.

"Yet if there is an angel at their side, a messenger, one out of a thousand, sent to tell them how to be upright, and he is gracious to that person and says to God, 'Spare them from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom for them---let their flesh be renewed like a child's; let them be restored as in the days of their youth'---then that person can pray to God and find favor with Him, they will see God's face and shout for joy; He will restore them to full well-being. And they will go to others and say, 'I have sinned, I have perverted what is right, but I did not get what I deserved. God has delivered me from going down to the pit, and I shall live to enjoy the light of life.'" (Job 33:23-28) In the original Hebrew the angel or messenger in verse 23 would be more correctly translated as a mediator or interpreter. In Chapter 9 Job expressed his wish that someone would help him speak with God, "If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together." (v 33) Elihu says, "God does deal with us in this way. A mediator speaks to Him on our behalf and says, 'I have found a ransom for him! I have redeemed him! Hear his prayer of repentance.'" Elihu uses this example of conversion wrongly in Job's case, since Job has not strayed from the Lord, but it remains a beautiful picture of the way Christ intercedes on our behalf. God the Father hears our prayers of repentance because God the Son has asked him to. God the Father grants us pardon because God the Son has paid our ransom.

"God does all these things to a person---twice, even three times---to turn them back from the pit, that the light of life may shine on them." (Job 33:29-30) Elihu tells Job, "The Lord gives a person second and third chances. Maybe even more! When a man keeps going the wrong way, the Lord brings affliction into his life to correct his ways, but this is not because God hates anyone. It's because God wants to save our souls. He loves us too much not to discipline us."

"Pay attention, Job, and listen to me; be silent, and I will speak. If you have anything to say, answer me; speak up, for I want to vindicate you. But if not, then listen to me; be silent, and I will teach you wisdom." (Job 33:31-33) There have actually been some nuggets of wisdom in Elihu's speech. None of them apply to Job's particular situation, but he's made a few good points about the way God sometimes uses affliction to get our attention and about the fact that there is a mediator between God and man. The problem is, none of this is going to help Job because he already knows these things. They have no bearing on his own circumstances because he knows he hasn't brought his suffering upon himself. He wants to believe there is a purpose for his pain. He could probably stand his tragedies if God would only speak up and tell him the reason for them. But so far all he's heard is useless advice from men who think he is an unrepentant sinner.

Job's longing to understand the reasons for his suffering remind me of a line from a song (the link will be provided below) that says, "I want to believe there's beauty here." And I think that's a very profound statement. In our suffering, don't we want to believe there is beauty? Couldn't we stand it a little bit better if we believed beauty could come from ashes? Our Maker knew we would need promises to hold onto in the tough times, and that's why He gave us so many. In our pain and confusion we have to believe what the word of God says instead of relying on the way we feel. Our feelings will deceive us. Because we are weak and fragile, our troubles can overwhelm us. But God has given us the promises in His holy word so that we will have something unshakable to cling to even in the midst of the storm.

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