Crushing Convictions – Job 35-37. RBT Notes, 26th January

No one likes a smug believer. Elihu thinks that Job, broken though he is, is actually smug in his conviction that God will vindicate him (35.1).

Here are the main planks of his objections to Job. Each is wrong, but subtly so. Have a think as you listen to Elihu:

God is too big to bother with you (ch.35): whether sinners or saints, Elihu is convinced that God won’t trouble Himself with them. “He does not answer when men cry out” (v.12). He is holy, set apart, and sovereign. We may cry out to Him, but to expect God to answer, according to Elihu, is foolish presumption.

God has thunderbolts stored up for sinners (ch. 36): Elihu is right, God has. Thunderbolts are His speciality (v.29-30). Smiting sinners is His business (vv.8-11), and in His mercy He warns them of the judgment to come (v.12).

The trouble is, Elihu is unwittingly tripped up by his own convictions. Take the statement in v.36, “how great is God, beyond our understanding” (v.26). It’s true. But it’s more true than Job has yet realised. Elihu hasn’t yet seen the mysteries of God’s workings, which include undeniable grace and mercy. You might say, neither has Job, yet. Maybe we haven’t really grasped this, either. But it is the undeniable truth in Christ: God has thunderbolts of saving grace prepared for sinners through His Son.

God is beyond our reach (ch.37): “God comes in awesome majesty. The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power” (vv.22-23). He is. We can’t get ourselves to heaven. We cannot understand God. We cannot even work out how to live this side of death. We cannot find God.

But He can find us. He can teach us how to live, He understands us, and He can get us to heaven. We are not beyond His reach. In fact, He is reaching out to us.

Every church has its Elihus. They have zeal, and they have theology. They often lack, though, a theology suffused with grace. Elihu should have known that the God of heaven, and the God of His covenant people, is a God of great covenant grace. Believe Him. And then share the God of might and mercy with the broken. And at the centre, remember Jesus. “No one has ever see God; but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known” (Jn.1.18).

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord God Almighty, Lord of heaven and Lord of the manger, thankyou for all that You are. Thankyou that all of Your grace and glory is found in Jesus. Fix my heart on Him, especially when my heart is broken with suffering. And may the comforts You give me be exactly those comforts I gladly share with others. Amen.

Zeal; and Knowledge – Job 32-34. RBT Notes, 25th January

Did Job justify himself rather than God (32.2)? Enter Elihu, who certainly thinks so. He also thinks that the friends have done a pretty poor job. If we’ve had the slow burn of insinuation and then accusation from these three friends, then now prepare for the fireworks from this new face.

This young man is in a hurry, a hurry to show the oldies that he is wise, that God is glorious, and that Job and the friends are wrong (vv.6-22). Elihu, this zealous young preacher, is going to give it his best shot, and with God on his side, how can he fail (33.1-7)?

In essence, Elihu can’t stomach the fact that Job is maintaining his innocence before God and complaining of experiencing a punishment which no sin he can discover deserves (vv.8-11). God is holy, and sovereign; He never needs to explain Himself to us. When and how He does speak and act is up to Him, and when He does, it is always for our good (vv.12-21). God is powerful and merciful, and will do anything to reach out to needy sinners (vv.22-33).

Good theology, yes? Now read ch.34 carefully. What’s wrong here? It’s this: Elihu believes in a God of beautiful sovereignty and searing holiness, but he cannot see how that God can have anything to do with sinful Job other than signal His divine displeasure. So Job must be wrong. Totally. Job can make himself hoarse insisting he is free from any sin God is chastising him for, but Elihu refuses to believe him (vv.34-37). And he will not believe that God can do other than judge Job.

What do you think? Does God launch His missiles at every sin and every sinner? Not in this life, surely? That’s right. Elihu is zealous, a worshipper of God, but has much to learn of God’s ways. God is far greater, and more mysterious than He has yet realised. And far, far more merciful, too. Look the Cross. Doesn’t the Cross teach all this to us?
A Prayer to Pray

Who is like You, O Lord? Majestic holiness, majestic mercy, and glorious purposes are all Yours. Teach me to adore, trust, and to be patient before You. You will have Your good and gracious way. Amen.

Heart-felt – Job 31. RBT Notes, 24th January

Sin pays. Job knows that, whether in this life or the next, our subtle, sly, hidden sins, as well as the broad-daylight, seen by all ones, will all meet the judgement of God. The wages of sin is disaster (vv.1-4). If you know this, you care deeply about how you live. You know that you always live in the Presence of God.

This chapter is Job’s attempt to search his heart for any false way.  Has he cheated others (vv.5-8)? Has he been lustful, and unfaithful (vv.9-12)? Has he cheated his employees, trampled on the poor, abused the disadvantaged (vv.13-23)? Has he put his trust in his riches (vv.24-8)? Has he closed his heart to the needs of others (vv.29-24)?

There a hundred ways to hide from God, and to pursue sin (many thousands, in fact). Job wants to know that his heart is true to God. These words aren’t the workings of a neurotic, sick heart. They aren’t the anxious psychological gnawings of a desperate man, who’s hounding his own mind and soul. This, according to Scripture, is a good thing. We are to examine ourselves, look for sin, identify it and confess it. Confession isn’t just good for the soul, it is essential. If there’s no confession, there’s no faith in the first place. No confession, and no faith – and there’s no salvation.

Believers are broken people. They are not endlessly self-recriminating, perpetually guilty people; but healthy, joyful, believing people. We have big sins. And we have a far, far bigger Saviour.

“The words of Job are ended” (v.40). Of course, Job has nothing more to say. In that, strangely, he can take heart: God loves to come to the broken-hearted. And to them He always has much to say.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, teach me my sins, and draw from me a whole-hearted repentance. I deceive myself, and then I try to deceive You. All-seeing Master, show me what I cannot see, or what I will not see. Show me til I see my sins, and help me so that I see the Cross. This will be enough, for me and for You. Amen.

The Changing Scenes – Job 29-30. RBT Notes, 23rd January

One of suffering’s worst torments is the memory of happier days. One of life’s biggest mistakes is the thought that the good things we’re currently enjoying will always be there. But life is uncertain. Nothing is guaranteed, apart from the constant presence of God’s grace. That grace, though, does not always manifest itself is a trouble-free life. Far from it. Now all Job has of the material and this-worldly blessings God showered upon him are the memories of them. That is so much anguish for Job.

These two chapters are a study in the contrast of Job’s life, past and present. First he remembers the good times, in ch.29, “when I was in my prime, when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house” (v.4). Job had plenty: the Presence of God, the respect of others, the opportunity of serving the needy in the community, and the comforts of feeling that none of it would never end. “I dwelt as a king among his troops” (v.25).

But now? Ch. 30 spells out his wretched life is: mockery, hatred, fear, illness, degradation, unanswered prayers, loneliness. “I have become a brother of jackals, a companion of owls” (v.29). He has nothing.

What worst of all in Job’s life, then? It’s his own feelings about all he has lost. His anguish about his privations gives the bitter sting to his miseries. Yes, he’s always known that life is short and uncertain: “naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall depart” (Jb. 1.20).  Now, he has time to see and feel all of suffering’s indignities. And it’s all wretched.

Man of sorrows? That is who Job is. Remember another Man of Sorrows. He never ever complained about how the Lord dealt with Him, but he underwent every imaginable suffering, womb to tomb, and heaven to hell. Because of Him, and His abandonment, we are never alone, not ever. We may know our share of anguish and loss; but His Presence, whether felt or not, is a treasure no believer will ever forfeit. Sometimes God uses the worst of suffering to bring this, the best of truths, home to us.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, I have to confess that I am scared of suffering. Lord, left to myself I would rather have the comforts of life wrapped tightly round me than the lonely road of fellowship with you in my losses. Father, give me a deepening confidence in Your goodness and care, and a more willing heart, should you remove my treasures, to seek with more confidence the treasure of Your love in Christ. Amen.

Loving Wisdom – Job 29. RBT Notes, 20th January

Where can wisdom be found? School? Life experience? A few University degrees? A few hard knocks? Wisdom, for Job as well as for the entire Bible, isn’t beard-stroking cleverness; it’s knowing how to live with faith in a Good God in a world which is full of injustice and suffering, where horrible things happen to us. “Wisdom”, which seems so unimportant us when life is easy, is the thing we crave most of all when everything goes wrong and all we have is the temptation to despair.

So how do we get it? That’s Job’s question. In fact, he says that that’s the question we all need the answer to.

People go to great lengths to get what’s valuable to them. They face up to all sorts of danger in mining precious metals, digging into dark and dangerous places (vv.1-11). Wisdom, however, is of far greater value than gold. How do we get it, then? We can’t buy it (vv.15-19), and we can’t even search it out (vv.12–14, 20-22). God alone knows where it is, and He alone explains to us how to get it: “the fear of the Lord – that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding” (v.28).

This is the open secret, the mined truth which deep-down we already know. Honour God above everything, and do what He tells you. Simple, then? Yes, and no. Apart from grace, we can’t, and we won’t. We are too proud, and too foolish. We are too in love with the so-called wisdom of self. Also, we are too afraid to trust ourselves to a God we cannot see, and who doesn’t bring easy remedies to our lives, when everything is hard and painful.

Pray. Pray that God would impress on your heart the need for wisdom. Pray that He would give you a sight of the One who was laid into the depths of the earth, His Cross-work completed, to make a foolish world wise. He is the source of all wisdom. Discover Him afresh. In Him really are the treasures of heaven’s loving wisdom.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Loving Father, thankyou that You gave Your Son as wisdom for a dark and foolish world. Thankyou that I never need to earn Him, or be clever enough to understand Him. I open my mind and heart again to all that You want to give me in Christ, and by faith I receive Him. Amen.

Hear This – Job 27. RBT Notes, 19th January

Hear this. Job is a man on the edge. Maybe you’ve not been close to faith’s precipice. Not yet, anyway. Listen carefully to Job’s turmoil, and be careful not to judge. His friends did, and they’re going to find out soon enough what the Almighty thinks of their words.

What does God think of Job’s words, and his tears? What do you think? It takes faith to cry to heaven, and it takes faith to look into your heart and to see that, sinner though you are, there is no one sin of yours for which heaven has collapsed in retribution upon you. In fact, for us as Christian believers, we know that we will never be judged for any of our sins, no matter how serious and hideous they are. Christ has paid for them all.

Job’s are strong words, aren’t they? “God has denied me justice”, and He “has made me taste bitterness of soul” (v.1). Job is bitter, all the more so because his friends are trying to force him into a confession which he doesn’t have – “I will never admit that you are in the right” (v.5). Self-righteous Job? I don’t think so. Here is a man who knows that God alone is righteous, and that there is no righteousness in confessing what you aren’t guilty of, just to win friends and influence them – and maybe try to influence God Himself, too.

Job knows all that his friends know about God and His justice, as well as about man and his wickedness. It is because he does that he sees their advice for what it is – “meaningless talk” (v.12). The wicked will die, the grave will swallow them, however comfortable and happy their lives are. Job knows that for sure (vv.13-23).

You really can have a great theology and also a terrible life. You can believe true things about God, and live by them, and never see the blessings this side of eternity which you want for yourself, your family, church or world. Job’s example teaches us to be very careful about drawing hard and straight lines between what we have in life and how we stand before the Almighty. God is God. He gives or He withholds, He answers prayer as we long for Him to, or He chooses not to. What we must do is to fix our hearts on the Gospel truth that He has not withheld His best, His Son. Because we are safe in Jesus, we are safe even when life is disappointing or even crushing. There is a happy land. There is a Master who will reward our faith, if we do not give up. Do you believe Him?

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, my faith often sags. I look at what others have, and my heart snarls, not celebrates. I look at the much more that I want in life, and so often complain about what I do not have. Enough, Lord: teach me to treasure Your love in Your Son. Teach me to be content in Him. Do this, by Your Spirit’s power, to Your Glory, I pray. Amen.