Foam on the Water – Job 23-24. RBT Notes, 17th January

Job’s thoughts are filled with God, but in ch. 23 he is tormented by the fear that God can neither be found, nor reasoned with. He is the Judge Job cannot escape (v.7). Thereagain, He is the God Job cannot find (vv.8-9), and yet, Who knows Him so well (v.10). “He does whatever He pleases” (v.13) should be the believer’s song of worship (cf Ps. 115.3); but for Job it is the anguished howl of despair before a God of such inscrutable ways.

Meanwhile, all is struggle, frustration, and despair. God looks at human wickedness, but does not intervene (24.1-17). Men do unspeakable things, God does nothing. This is life on earth. But once again, faith breaks through. Job does recognise that even the complacent wicked, whose ways are never brought to account, are only “foam on the surface of the water” (v.18), and “for a little while they are exalted, and then they are gone” (v.24).

Why these words? Faith and frustration often work together, in the same heart, and are on the same lips at the same time. Job defends himself from the accusations of his friends by insisting that judgment rarely falls in this life, but also complains that the vindication he longs for is so slow to come. He will wait, though. God hears him, and that is enough. It must be enough for us, too.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, I get so frustrated in life, often because I forget that life is a mist which will soon disappear. One day all will be justice, peace, glory and endless joy. Lord Jesus, by Your Spirit keep me trusting until that day. Keep me close to You, and for You. Amen.

Friends, or Enemies? Job 22. RBT Notes, 16th January

God is on Job’s case. He won’t ignore him, although Job sometimes prays for Him to; but neither will He condemn Job. This is, of course, where Job and his friends are in such bitter disagreement.  In fact, Job’s friends are so rigid in their views that they cannot conceive of God as doing anything other than spitting His judgment on Job, and so they are convinced that He deserves it. Bad things never happen to good people, they reason. And they will not be moved.

But bad things do happen to good people. They are, quite simply, wrong.

Eliphaz’s charges are absolutely searing: Job has been wicked, demanding pledges, stealing the clothes from people’s backs, denying them the basic necessities of life, abusing widows and orphans (vv.6-9). No wonder all this trouble has fallen on him, no wonder that his life is “so dark you cannot see” (v.11). For Eliphaz, Job in his sin joins the legions of men who have ignored God and wished God would disappear (vv.12-19).

The second half of the chapter is a beautifully-worded celebration of trust in God (vv.21-30). He is as gold and silver, and He alone brings peace and saving power. This is all true, gloriously so. It’s just that Job’s trust is already in Job, tough as it is for Him. Job’s trust should also be in kind and wise friends. When that trust is broken – for Job as well as for any of us – it’s a long, long way back.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, help me to be a better friend to others. So often my words are ill-chosen. So often my feelings and attitudes towards others are wrong. Put a guard on my mouth, Lord, and work through more careful thinking, that I might be slow to speak, quick to listen, quick to pray, and a genuine, trustworthy friend. May I minister Christ in His wisdom and tenderness to others. Amen.

You don’t always get… Job 20-21. RBT Notes, 13th January

The middle of the book of Job feels like a tennis match: back and forth, back and forth, heavy bass-line slugging, much grunting, and it’s very, very long. Ok, there are three on one side (soon to be four), and one on the other, but the scoring’s pretty even. Each side knows that God’s honour is at stake, and each knows that the truth will out. We spectators don’t quite know what to make of it.

For Zophar it’s simple: Job is a sinner who, like every other sinner, will get his comeuppance. He is angry that Job is refusing to concede that their assessment of him is true (vv.2-3), and adamant that he is guilty and under God’s judgement. His speech is another word picture of a man who is meeting his Maker and will not escape. Is that you, Job?

No!, insists Job. He is as disturbed as they are about the apparent prosperity of the wicked (21.7-15). They have everything – except problems. Job knows that they will be judged. But his challenge to his friends is this: the wicked are often very comfortable in their lives (vv.29-33). They don’t get what they deserve. Precisely! Why, then, should Job’s friends be so sure that each man gets what he deserves in this life, when all can see that this is patently untrue? And if all can see that this is untrue, why are the friends hammering Job, telling him that his circumstances prove that he is a sinner under God’s wrath? They are wrong (v.34).

Bad theology wounds, and it kills. Simplistic theology discourages true believers. What the world and the church needs is theology straight from God’s Word, which is more than able to deal with mystery, uncertainty and tragedy in this world, ministered with care and respect. If you’re not comfortable with mystery, and if you’re too impatient to share your convictions gently and carefully, then who is it you worship? A God of black and white, easy answers? A God of slot machine cause and effect dealings? Be careful.

 

A Prayer to Pray  

Father in heaven, give me a faith which is able to cope with what I don’t understand, knowing that You understand it. Give me a faith to trust in You in the sadness of life, sure that You have the answers. Give me the patience to wait for those answers, and, if You don’t give them, to wait for You in heaven. Amen.

My Redeemer lives – Job 18-19. RBT Notes, 12th January

When meaningful dialogue stalls, sometimes wretched dialogue still continues. Job and his friends aren’t going to persuade each other of their positions, but the talking goes on. And on. The tone and quality are distinctly lower, however. At times, it’s not far short of mud-slinging. Bildad accuses Job of insulting them as being like cattle (v.23), and suggests that Job’s own words are just self-centred lament (v.4). And then comes a familiar thread: that Job is no more than the many wicked men who have lived on earth, ultimately brought down by the judgment their sin deserves (vv.5-21). Job’s name isn’t mentioned – but nobody is deceived.

So, same insinuations of Job’s guilt, and the same angry reaction from Job: Job is angry at these men (19.1-6), and struggling with his feelings towards God (vv.7-20), as he believes that God has turned from friend to enemy, and with that, He has turned the people around Job against him, and made this faithful servant an object of ridicule. “Have pity” (v.21-22).

When Job couldn’t be more wretched, faith again breaks forth: with his desperation – and every human being’s desperate longing that their lives mean something, somewhere. He longs that his misery would be recorded and remembered (vv.23-4). Then these astonishing words: he knows that there is hope, there is redemption, there is a God who cares, saves, loves (vv.23-27). He longs for Him. We do, too, and we know Him. His name is Jesus.

We know Him and His hope. Because we do, we fear Him. Yes, we are safe from His wrath, but we never forget the reality of what our sins deserve, and what a great price has been paid for us (v.29). Living close to the cross is the only place for hope, sanity and perseverance this side of that great day.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, how I need You to keep my focus on Your Son. Outside Him, all is despair and frustration. In Him there is abundant life and hope. Lord, I am so prone to wander. Fix my heart, on Him, in Him, I pray. Amen.

Hope in the Grave? Job 15-17. RBT Notes, 11th January

Here’s an old friend. But Eliphaz has no new perspective to bring to Job’s sufferings. In fact, his tone against Job is even more strident: “you even undermine piety and hinder devotion to God” (v.4). Eliphaz says what Job already knows – that God is perfect, whilst we are not (vv.14-16), and that life is nasty and short (vv.17-24), that riches bring no security (vv.28-30), and that all life will end with the grave (vv.31-35).  Notice, though, that his words are spoken against Job. In Epliphaz’s eyes, here is the arrogant godless man whom the Lord has laid low.

Poor Job has to listen to this speech, so no wonder he explodes after it: “miserable comforters are you all” (v.2). He’s had enough of their words (v.3), and protests that, if the tables were turned, he would seek to encourage them (v.5). He has no encouragement, now: there is no crumb of comfort from these three men, and Job struggles to give himself any help, either. Chapter 16 and 17 are amongst the most desolate in the whole book. God comes at Job as the enemy (s0 he feels, vv.6-9), men do, too (vv.10), and his misery is a shared project between God and his creatures (vv.11-15). Death is all that there is to look forward to (22-17.1), since this world has no comfort and no comforters, least of all Job’s so-called friends (vv.3-16).

No comfort, or comforters? Not quite. There is one, Job, who is your intercessor (16.20). There is one who has pleaded not just for friends, but for enemies (16.21). The is one who is making a true and eternal home for you beyond the grave (17.13), and there is one who has descended into the dust for you (17.16). Look up, take heart. And that means you, too.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, I am a creature of tears, dust and death. I am a child of Adam. I look, though, to the Last Adam, the obedient and conquering Lord Jesus Christ. Save me, through His glorious merits, I pray. Set my aching heart on Him, and teach me to see beyond the grave to worlds unknown, which one day I shall know, all because of Jesus. Amen.

 

This Grace – Job 13-14. RBT Notes, 10th January

Theology brings life. Without the revelation of God, there is no knowledge of God. Without studying what God says about Himself, there can be no conviction about God. And without walking with God, in the joys and (more importantly) the sorrows of life, there is no deep, satisfying and life-bringing knowledge of God. Job and his friends in many ways know the same things about God. But it is Job, in his anguish, who is discovering the deep things of darkness. He knows, as they don’t just hard faith is. He will discover that a hard journey is often the only authentic way of faith.

Job and his friends believe in the same God (v.1). Job, crushed by his circumstances, feels crushed too by his friends (v.2). These friends, though, are no help at all, hiding behind cut and dried theology, and offering easy solutions to what aren’t Job’s actual problems (vv.4-5). Job is desperate to have this thing out with God. He also wants to have it out with his friends (vv.6-28). Without honesty, and without compassion and answers in our pain, how can any of us bear the weight of our suffering?

Job speaks to God. His life is short, and dreadful, just as suffering scars every life (vv.1-2). Worse still, Job complains, God seeks out each man, and on top of his misery, man must answer for his sins (vv.3-6). There are no second chances, and no apparent hope of life after the grave (vv.7-12).

And yet. And yet, Job longs for grace. In a burst of faith, he lays hold of a confidence in resurrection life, and hope (vv.13-17). God can never be avoided, but He can – and must – be trusted in, and this great God will be great in His mercy. Life, for most of us, will be marked by deep disappointment and dissatisfaction (vv.18-22). Grace alone is needed. And for that, we need the best theology, because the God who shows Himself in Christ is just that God of grace.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, I need Your grace. Teach me to explore all that You are in Your Word with confidence. And teach me that all that You are, in might and mercy, is displayed in and offered through Your Son. May He be my confidence in all my trials. Amen.