The Serpent-Crusher – Job 40-41. RBT Notes, 30th January

Does God need to justify His ways to humanity? Does the Lord of all creation need to explain Himself to the atoms of dust which make up His creation? Does He need to defend what He’s doing to you and me? God appears to Job, and any desire Job has to know the ways of God disappears as suddenly as Job’s suffering came to him. God is God. That is enough (vv.1-5).

God is fierce. There is love, here, be sure of that; God is not peeved, He’s not nursing a bruised ego that His ways have been questioned. He is revealing more of His Lordship to Job for the very purpose of deepening Job’s confidence in Him (vv.8-14). When God works in our lives, He shows us all that we cannot do – and do not deserve. This makes His grace all the sweeter, and our desire to trust Him all the more intense.

Who is like our God? Who can defeat our God? For the remainder of ch. 40 and for all of ch. 41 we have this exciting and dramatic description of the creatures no man of Job’s day could tame, first the behemoth (the hippo or elephant), and then the leviathan. The terrors of these beasts are nothing to God, who effortlessly controls them. And the leviathan? This lengthy description of the scaly, snorting beast makes us wonder just what animal it is. In fact, is it actually an animal? The best reflection on this chapter over the centuries has offered a very credible theory, that this is no animal: it is the ultimate Beast. It is Satan.

Satan reared his head in chapters 1 and 2, only then (apparently) to sink beneath the surface of the book. We know, however, that Satan may disappear from our sight and awareness, but he never actually goes away. Not yet, at least. If this is the great Deceiver in our chapter, then this brings the events of Job’s life full circle: the Satan who was given permission to torment him is the Satan who, though powerful, is shown to be under God’s effortless control. That is true for Job, as it is true for us. Though defeated by Christ at the cross, our Enemy is wounded, but still very dangerous. Dangerous for now, of course; our promise is that “in a little while the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet” (Ro. 16.20). He will – and because of this we have hope.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, one day, and only because of the Coming of Christ,  all my troubles will be over. He will come, and He will crush all wickedness and all opposition to God. And He will bring all His children safely home. Give me a great and joyful confidence in what You have declared. Until that day, keep me humbly trusting Your promises, and never demanding Your answers. Amen.

Out of the Storm – Job 38-39. RBT Notes, 27th January

I actually think that Elihu had more to say. Most of us do, when suffering comes. Whether it’s debates, arguments, complaints, discussion or anything else, suffering rarely silences us. But Elihu has spoken his last because, now, God speaks.
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God speaks. Can you actually believe that? Those two easy words – if they’re true – speak of a chasm of mystery and power which we can never cross. We cannot understand God, and we certainly cannot make Him speak. The Scriptures teach us that our minds, mouths and ears only work because God has created them and has decided that they should work. If God does speak, and Christians believe that every page of Scripture is the voice of God, then we need to use our ears and our minds. We can rest our tongues. In fact, we must.
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Who is He speaking to? Who is the man “that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge”? (38.1). Elihu? The three friends? Job? All of them? It could as well be you or me. Apart from God’s revelation we are blind, and suffering can make us blindest of all.
These two chapters are full of drama, as God reminds us, and Job in particular, of His untameable power and matchless wisdom. He is the creator, controller, planner and sovereign over all things. Stars, planets, seas, seasons, rain, thunder and lightning, they all have their existence and order at His bidding (vv.4-38). Effortless power.
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Effortless power, and complete care. God takes Job on a Planet Earth-like tour of His created world (38.39-39.30). Lions, goats, ostriches, donkeys, cattle, horses and hawks. Powerful, majestic and even funny creatures all glory in the strength God has given them, and God Himself glories in them. He loves all that He has created, and He cares for all. Who are we to doubt His goodness to us then, even when life is full of pain for us?
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A Prayer to Pray
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Lord, teach me that what I need most of all is to hear Your voice. I need to listen to You, when I don’t understand my life, and even when I don’t understand You. You speak the truth, and You always speak it out of a heart of love. Father, teach my often mistrusting heart to trust You, to seek You, and to glory in Your power and Your love. 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.

 

Sweet Sovereignty? Job 9-10. RBT Notes, 6th January

Suffering gives and suffering takes away. It can be a great friend, giving us the perspective on life, God and ourselves which we so badly need. It can also rob us of the truest perspective, as well.

Firstly, it puts you under few illusions. Once you may have been smug and a little full of yourself, but now you’re different. In your suffering, God, that reality you were managing to hold at arm’s length, has come terrifyingly close, and you catch glimpses of Him for who He really is, majestic and awesome. Job knows that noone is righteous before a holy God (v.2). He knows that God is magnificent, powerful, and utterly sovereign (vv.2-13).  “Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God”, as Jonathan Edwards said.

Suffering can also skew our perspective. Suffering can lead us to mistrust God, to distort our view of Him, when we most need the correct picture of Him. Job is filled with dismay at the thought that God is the Lord. He felt little love for His absolute sovereignty. He feels far from Him, unable to speak, unconvinced that God would even listen (vv.14-16). He is fearful that God would crush and condemn him (vv.17-20). These are the words of despair before a sovereign God, not of devotion. And, as we all know, suffering breeds despair.

Job’s anguish before his friends and his God goes on (vv.21-35). For all of his faith in God’s power and goodness, the praise freezes on his lips. The God who had blessed Job was the one, Job maintains, who was always planning to strike him (10.12-13). God to him is a punisher, a devouring lion, an accuser, an attacker (vv.14-17). He doesn’t want to live, not in this world, not in any world where God is the Lord (vv.18-22).

Is Job right? What do you think? Yes, God is the Lord, the Sovereign, the Lion. Yes, His wrath breaks out against sin and sinners. But what does the Gospel say to us? And what did the Gospel, though he knew so little of the full display of saving grace in Jesus, say to Job? It says that we are safe, safe in God’s grace. His covenant love saves and protects us. His love is always for us, His plans are always good. And His sovereignty, sometimes overwhelming as it is, is good, and it is sweet.

Spurgeon, one of the Kingdom’s best-known chronic depressives, knew where to place his trust when life was miserable. “When you go through a trial, the sovereignty of God is the pillow upon which you lay your head.” This is true, because He is true, and He is sovereign. In Jesus you really can trust Him. So do.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Safe in the shadow of the Lord. Lord I do trust You, help my mistrust. In a world of stress, may Your sovereignty in Your dear Son be my pillow. Make it so, Lord. Amen.

No Wise Words – Job 5-6. RBT Notes, 4th January

Comforting words? Or deadening ones? How many of us have felt a zeal to help a struggling believer, and we’ve dived in with our apparent wisdom? We’ve waved our sword of truth, only maybe later to discover that it was our truth, not the balanced, grace-infused truth of God’s Word. And far from building them up, we’ve actually cut that poor Christian down. These wounds last for a long, long time.

Eliphaz’s diagnosis for why Job is suffering is as severe as his proposed remedy. Job has had everything stripped from him, and Eliphaz has seen it all before – in the lives of fools (v.3)! Do you see his point, in 5.3-6? Yes, we all suffer, but the godless man (which is what ‘fool’ implies) will suffer most of all: suffering is his just reward. Job isn’t named, but Eliphaz is reasoning that this cap fits Job.

And the remedy? If Job wants his great life back, he most go to God and fall down before Him: He is the mighty Saviour, the sovereign Lord (vv.8-16). Good advice? Undoubtedly. But why is it given? Because, Eliphaz reasons, Job is being corrected and disciplined (v.17). No, Eliphaz doesn’t mention particular sins which Job is being disciplined for – maybe he’s waiting for Job to confess them – but he’s settled in his own view that Job is getting what he deserves. Confess them, and Eliphaz is sure that the good times will come rolling back (vv.17-26). And don’t he and his friends know it (v.27)?

So, Eliphaz weighs out his wisdom, and Job is left wondering at the weight of his own anguish (6.1). He feels wretched, pierced by God’s arrows (v.4), unable to eat (v.7), longing for death (vv.8-9), and fantasising that he might die with his integrity intact (v.10). His despair is deepened by his so-called friends and their advice (vv.14-21). He wants their wisdom, but defies them to name the sin which has brought this misery on him from God (vv.22-30).

We must be more careful, then. We live in a strange, complicated world, where horrible things happen for no apparent reason. Be slow to speak, even when you’re sure of your counsel. You know but the tiniest fraction of the Almighty, and can only guess at the best of times as to how He is fulfilling His purposes. Please, fear bringing discouragement to another believer because of your neat answers and ready advice. Listen, think, pray, and pray some more. In many words there is always sin, and even in the most carefully chosen ones, there is often little wisdom. Please, be careful.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, I need to cover my mouth. How quick I am to think that I understand, and that I have something worthwhile to say when others suffer. Please forgive me for overbearing and arrogant words. Teach me humility, reverence and awe in Your presence. Teach me to make my words few, and my concern deep. Like Jesus. Amen.

 

All my sorrows – Job 3-4. RBT Notes, 3rd January

Suffering has its own adrenalin. When terrible things happen, most of us know a great energy surging through us, helping us to cope with the immediate trauma. Ever noticed how strong a bereaved person is at a funeral? And how upset many of those outside the immediate family circle are? God is good. He cares for the broken-hearted, and gives them strength to face loss. Energy given at a time of trauma is a gift of grace.

It’s the next six months which are the worst. Or the next six years, or twenty. With time grief sinks in, and works its way into every thought, feeling and memory. This is where we find Job in chapter 3. He opens his mouth, and his heart-grief pours out. Experience the power in his lament, a torrent of misery and anger. This is very raw grief. Job would rather die than live – and rather not have been born at all (vv.3-12). Death is the great leveller, where rich and poor lie side by side, the slave and the free sleeping (vv.13-19) – but even that peace eludes Job. The light of life which he is forced to endure now is only filled with misery and turmoil (vv.20-26).

This is a believer’s grief. Maybe you’ve seen it in others, or felt it yourself. Does it scare you, that grief brings feelings which are so intense, and which look so much at odds with the submission which faith is supposed to bring? Do you need to rush to bring comfort, or maybe rush to bring defense to God, when a Christian grieves like this? Or do you feel that your own feelings of angry desolation when you grieve are wrong?

One of Job’s friends, Eliphaz, speaks up. We’ll hear his views many times in the following chapters. Here, the essence of his counsel is this: “look at yourself – and work out why you’re suffering”. He notes that Job has been godly and kind to others, and so there should be no reason why suffers under a just God, unless he is deep-down at fault (v.11). He even claims supernatural revelation for his beliefs (vv.12-21). Job is getting what he deserves. Surely he’s right, then?

Not so fast, Eliphaz. This friend’s views have been repeated through culture and history, and they still lurk in the church of Christ. Yes, the Bible does tells us to watch our steps, as God’s punishment for our sins does sometimes comes to us in this life. But far more of the Bible’s teaching warns us that only a fool draws a straight line between our actions and the consequences of them this side of God’s judgment. Many suffer through no apparent fault of their own. Then there are others who are thoroughly rotten, and they have the most charmed lives. Trying to work out what God is doing in our lives, and how our hearts stand before Him by measuring our joys or our sorrows, is a dangerous game.

Are you suffering at the moment? Are you tormented by things in your life you can’t change, and many that seem to be beyond justice? Look at another righteous Sufferer, One who suffered at the Cross. See the way He submitted to God’s good and perfect will, and drank that bitter cup. Know afresh that nothing can separate you from God’s love in Christ. Pour out your anguish to Him, knowing that His love is poured out without condition to you. Keep believing: Jesus did.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, You did not ordain an easy life for Your Son, You’ve not ordained one for any of Your blood-bought children. Keep my heart both soft and honest before You. May my sufferings be my sanctification. Amen.