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.

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 Last Word? Job 25-26. RBT Notes 18th, January

One more word from Bildad, and one more (lengthy) response from Job, and then the book will take a different turn. Unsurprisingly, much the same ground is gone over. Bildad savages this poor wounded sheep again. His words are true, and there is much in them which should lift our hearts to worship. God is full of dominion, and His greatness should fill us with awe (25.2). Noone can be righteous before Him (vv.4-6). Well said, preacher. But one of his servants is again being kicked when he’s already down. This “maggot” Job knows his maggotiness all too well: now Job needs balm, not bruises. Bildad’s not the man to give the medicine, though he should be.

Hear the scorn in Job’s voice. He looks for comforters, and there are none (26.1-4). And yes, Job has his worship, too, his exalted vision of a magnificent God. Job’s Lord rules death and the dead (vv.6-7), moves on the clouds and rules the sun, moon and seas (vv.5-11), strikes His enemies (vv.112-13), and possesses a majesty which even His own worshipers have barely, barely even started to comprehend. A word to make our praise flow. A word, too, to stifle the hasty arrogance with which we claim to speak knowledgeably about God. Bildad, take note. Other would-be Bildads, watch your tongues, too.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord of Glory! There is a time to be quiet, to consider my thoughts, and my words. Your holiness and Your might should be marshaled to strike me down, sinner as I am; and yet You have displayed Your holy might in working my salvation at the cost of Your precious Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. May my words be few, my speculations about You clothed with reverence, and my worship be marked by wonder and delight,. You are God, and all that You do, though so often misunderstood by me or kept from my sight, is good. 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 Easy Road – 2 Corinthians 1. RBT Notes, 1st November

“Called to be an apostle” (v.1). Paul needs to remember that, when it comes to the Corinthians. This church, dearly loved and gifted by the Lord (1 Cor. 1.4-9), are a tough crowd. They’ve not mellowed since Paul wrote to them in his first letter, and this epistle shows them with the same besetting sins – they are proud, cold and difficult. Paul longs that they would remember that he is an apostle, sent by the Risen Christ. He has truth to tell, and love to share. They need to open their hearts to him, if they are to be open to the Lord who sent him.

He is suffering for the Saviour, and has no shame in it (vv.1-11). So many believers, then and now, see suffering as failure. Paul doesn’t. Nor does he want his suffering to be a failure in his own life, leaving him bitter or discouraged. Rather, he is learning to find God’s comforting grace in his trials, and is eager to share that comfort with others (vv.3-7). he is convinced that God is utterly trustworthy (vv.8-11). So how are you doing? Is your suffering making you hard-hearted, or growing in humility and gentleness? And will you allow the Lord to use your knowledge of grace to reach out to other struggles with? that is His will for you.

He is committed to the Corinthians, even if it might not look like it (vv.12-24). Sometimes Christian leaders have a really hard time of convincing those they serve that they really do love them. Paul does. Leaders need to say hard things, make unpopular decisions, and don’t have all the time they would like to give to people. Paul feels he needs to defend himself against the suspicion that, because his travel plans have got messed up and he hasn’t managed to get to Corinth, that he’s not a true friend of the believers there (vv.12-22). Not at all!, he’s saying.  He is their committed servant. He is, afterall, “called to be an apostle”, and every commissioned servant of Christ has a mandate of love. Reflect on the gorgeous statement of ministry intent, in v.24. Then ask yourself, do you trust your leaders? Are they working for your Gospel joy? And will you allow them to love you, in saying the things you like, and the things you don’t? It may well all be for your own good.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord Jesus, Head of Your church, thankyou that in You all of God’s promises are true and trustworthy. Empower me by Your Spirit to believe them, and change my heart to seek the joy of others in You, with transparent love and perseverance. Amen.