Day 014: The Lord Answers Job (Job 38-39)

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
    and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7)

In my Bible, the chapter heading for Job 38 is “The Lord Answers Job.” This was probably the most excited I’ve ever gotten about a chapter heading. And if this is your first read-through, you may have felt the same sense of excitement. You may have thought, “Finally! Job’s going to get some answers. God’s going to give Job a peek behind the curtain, and he’s going to be let in on the wager between God and Satan that set all this in motion. Finally, Job’s going to get some satisfaction.”

And that last part is true. Job will get satisfaction. But not because he gets an explanation. Don’t miss that the chapter heading is “The Lord Answers Job,” not “the Lord Explains Himself to Job.”

Because God doesn’t explain Himself to Job. Instead, He says, “Brace yourself. You want answers, but I’ve got some questions for you.”

Side note: Is anyone else replaying the “You can’t handle the truth” scene from A Few Good Men right now? Just me? Ok. Let’s move on.

And for the next seventy-one verses, God grills Job. All God’s questions are variations on the theme of “Where were you when I made the world?” Not once does God offer any explanation. At the beginning of chapter 40, Job throws in the towel, like a fighter who’s ready to give up. And still God isn’t done. For two more chapters, God relentlessly questions Job.

And yet, Job is satisfied. It’s in tomorrow’s reading, so I won’t give too much away. But it comes down to this: God’s presence is better than God’s explanation. For 130 verses, Job has one-on-one time with the God who spoke stars into existence. Who upholds the Universe by the word of His power. Who tames the wild, chaotic forces of nature. Who knows when the mountain goats give birth.

Can you even imagine the privilege?

What kind of answer did God give?

All the answer Job needed.

Day 013: Really, Elihu? (Job 35-37)

36 And Elihu continued, and said: “Bear with me a little, and I will show you,
    for I have yet something to say on God’s behalf.
I will get my knowledge from afar
    and ascribe righteousness to my Maker.
For truly my words are not false;
    one who is perfect in knowledge is with you. (Job 36:1-4)

Be not wise in your own eyes;

    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

Proverbs 3:7

When Elihu says “one who is perfect in knowledge is with you” (verse 4), scholars are divided over whether Elihu is talking about himself or God. If he is talking about God, then he is claiming that he is one “perfect in knowledge” only because he is speaking “on God’s behalf” (v. 2).

This is probably the case, because in contrast to the three other friends, Elihu isn’t rebuked by God at the end of the book (see 42:7).

For Elihu’s sake, I really hope he’s talking about God. Because if he’s talking about himself as “one who is perfect in knowledge,” then wow. If he really does have that inflated a sense of the importance of his own words, then he comes across as an arrogant little cuss.

Honestly, were it not for the fact that God doesn’t rebuke Elihu, I would be firmly in the “arrogant little cuss” camp. From 32:6-22, Elihu goes on and on about how he didn’t want to say anything out of respect for his elders; but then he couldn’t hold back any longer because what they were saying was dumb, and blah, blah, blah.

Full disclosure, I did find other articles that give Elihu much more of the benefit of the doubt. This one: “Elihu, the Forgotten Prophet of Job” sees Elihu as a legitimate provider of truth and revelation, rebuking both Job and the three friends for what he calls their “Karmic folk theology.” And the author makes some great points.

Still, I said what I said.

In 33:1-5, Elihu talks about how awesome what he is about to say is going to be:

But now, hear my speech, O Job,
and listen to all my words.
2 Behold, I open my mouth;
the tongue in my mouth speaks.
3 My words declare the uprightness of my heart,
and what my lips know they speak sincerely.
4 The Spirit of God has made me,
and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
5 Answer me, if you can;
set your words in order before me; take your stand.

And for the next four chapters he goes on and on. And on. And on.

When he finally takes a breath at the beginning of chapter 36, he seems to acknowledge that he’s already talked longer than the other three friends, yet he still isn’t done. And he sounds exactly like the kid in the youth group that schedules a meeting with the pastor to tell him everything that’s wrong with his theology.

Elihu may be my least favorite character in the Old Testament. I don’t know when he showed up in Job. He had listened to at least some of the words the other three friends had said (32:11-12). But significantly, he was not listed among the friends who sat in silence for seven days before venturing to say anything (see Job 2:11-13).

Elihu wasn’t listed among the friends who sat in silence with Job for seven days. Does he really have the right to say anything at all?

And for that reason, I feel like, even though what he said was “right,” Elihu hadn’t earned the right to say it. And that’s a lesson I take to heart as a pastor. I can be 100% right in what I say to my congregation. I can rebuke, correct, admonish, and reprimand all I want, because for thirty minutes every Sunday morning, I’ve got the microphone, and they are too polite to stop me.

But if I haven’t sat in silence with these people at a graveside or a hospital bedside, then it doesn’t matter how right I am. There are a hundred wrong ways to speak truth, but there is no wrong way to demonstrate love. At the end of the day, I don’t know why the Lord doesn’t rebuke Elihu. All I know is that I want to be very careful to avoid “being wise in my own eyes.”

Day 012: Why Isn’t Elihu Rebuked? (Job 32-34)

for the ear tests words
    as the palate tastes food.
Let us choose what is right;
    let us know among ourselves what is good. (Job 34:3-4)

Of Job’s friends, Elihu (who’s name, incidentally, means, “My God is He”) is the only one in the whole story with a Hebrew name. He is also the only one of Job’s friends who doesn’t accuse Job of a wicked life for which Job was being punished. So when God rebukes the other three friends (see Job 42:7), this may be why Elihu isn’t lumped in with them.

This doesn’t mean Elihu doesn’t sometimes come across like a sanctimonious young punk (Job 33:3: “My words declare the uprightness of my heart, and what my lips know, they speak sincerely”—really, Elihu?).

In contrast to Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz, Elihu takes issue with what Job has said, not with what he assumes Job has done to deserve the punishment he is getting. Here are some examples:

You say, ‘I am pure, without transgression;
I am clean, and there is no iniquity in me. (33:9)

Why do you contend against [God],
    saying, ‘He will answer none of man’s words’? (33:13)

For Job has said, ‘I am in the right,
    and God has taken away my right; (34:5)

For he has said, ‘It profits a man nothing
    that he should take delight in God.’ (34:9)

In counseling training, we called this “observing, not concluding.” You focus on what you see in front of you, without trying to interpret or draw conclusions from it. This is hard to do, and as Tara-Leigh points out in the podcast today, eventually Elihu draws the same conclusions that the other three do—that Job is being punished for sin.

Note: The Bible Project has a great podcast focused on Job and Elihu. They say Elihu’s argument is that the purpose of Job’s suffering to build character as a defense against future hardship. You can check this out for yourself here.

And this is where I’m challenged, both as a pastor and in general: When I meet someone, I’m not in a position to make judgments on what they have done before I met them. In counseling, I often hear stories from the people on both sides of a conflict, sometimes from years ago. I can’t know who’s right. I wasn’t there. But I can listen for how they are responding now to that conflict. And if they are responding in a way that doesn’t speak the truth about God and His character, and what it means to respond in a way that is consistent with who they are as believers in Christ, then that’s what I can speak to. Elihu may still be wrong, but he’s wrong about Job (Job never said “I am pure and without transgression,” as Elihu claims he did in 33:9). He’s not wrong about God.

Heavenly Father, when I counsel people, help me test words and responses, not past actions. Help me stay in my lane, so that I never fail to speak the truth about You.

Day 011: When We Don’t Feel as Close as We Used To (Job 29-31)

“Oh, that I were as in the months of old,
    as in the days when God watched over me,
when his lamp shone upon my head,
    and by his light I walked through darkness,
as I was in my prime,[
a]
    when the friendship of God was upon my tent, (Job 29:2-4)

There is an old preacher’s joke about a senior adult couple riding down the road together in their late model sedan, with a bench seat so wide the driver and the passenger are in different zip codes. The wife looks at her husband behind the wheel and says, “Honey, do you remember when we first got this car, how close we used to sit on this bench seat? I would cuddle up next to you, and you would put your arm around me, and we would just go down the road together that way. What happened? How come we don’t sit so close anymore?”

Her husband said, “I don’t know. I never moved.”

In chapter 29, Job is expressing some of the same feelings. He misses the days when he felt the light of God’s love shining on him. When he felt “the friendship of God upon his tent.” He is wondering why they aren’t so close anymore. 

Ironically, Job seems to be judging the distance he feels from God by the way people are treating him. For the rest of the chapter, Job describes at length how people treated him with deference and respect. Even princes and nobles quit their small talk when Job showed up, because they wanted to hear what Job had to say (see verses 7-10).

“But now,” says Job in 30:1, “they laugh at me, men who are younger than I.”

So Job’s conclusion is that because he no longer commands the respect of those around him, that God must have withdrawn fellowship and blessing from him.

There are a lot of things going on behind the curtain that we, the readers of Job, are privy to that Job himself is not. We know about the wager God made with the adversary. We know that God has not pulled Himself away from Job. We know, as sure as we know that the old man behind the wheel of his Buick was not the one who moved; that God hasn’t moved either.

So we should also know that the praise of men should not be the gauge by which we measure the approval of God; any more than the absence of their praise indicates His disapproval. But so often, we make the same mistake.

God has not moved. He has not withdrawn His favor from us. He has not turned away from us. And whether we have the respect of our coworkers, our neighbors, or even our own family members or not, we can know for certain that God is still watching over us. His lamp still shines on our heads. We can still walk through the darkness by His light. His friendship is still upon our tent.

And He is still behind the wheel.

Day 010: Holding Fast to Your Righteousness? (Job 24-28)

I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go;
    my heart does not reproach me for any of my days. Job 27:6

Job 27:6 could be taken as really arrogant. Who holds onto their own righteousness like this? Who would dare to say, with so much confidence, that their heart doesn’t reproach them for any of their days? “Any” of your days? What about that one time back in high school? What about that night when your parents were out of town? What about that one day you forgot to scan one of the items in your grocery cart?

How hard are you holding on to your righteousness now?

But Job’s confidence is in the character of God. Unlike the gods of the people around him, Job had confidence that his God could be known. That it was possible to know what it took to please God. That God did not punish or discipline for no reason. That He is not petty or capricious or whimsical or temperamental.

Remember, Job had been in the habit of offering sacrifices for each of his children the morning after a feast, just in case one of them had sinned the night before (Job 1:5). Job was more than willing to own his sin. He just wasn’t willing to admit that God would punish him without reason, or keep from him the knowledge of how to live a life pleasing to God.

This is why Job holds on to his integrity and doesn’t follow his wife’s advice to curse God and die. He is confident that God is absolutely righteous. He knows that God makes Himself known to His children. He trusts that if he had displeased God to the point that all this suffering had been heaped upon him as a punishment for sin, that he would at least know what the sin was, and that God would love him enough to show him his fault.

So even though he sounds like he is full of himself in verse 6, what he is actually full of is confidence that man can know what it takes to please God. And that brings him more solace than these “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2) ever could.

And one more thing: followers of Jesus have even more reason to hold fast to their righteousness. Why? Because it’s not our righteousness! Look what Paul says about righteousness in Philippians 3:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—”
‭‭Philippians‬ ‭3:8-9‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Our righteousness is imputed to us. That means it is conferred or imparted to us by Jesus. We are declared righteous because of His righteousness. So in one sense, a believer who says he will hold on to his righteousness and not let go is saying that he will hold on to Jesus and not let go. Because the Lord will never let go of us.

Day 009: Two Big Questions (Job 21-23)

They spend their days in prosperity, and in peace they go down to Sheol. 14 They say to God, ‘Depart from us! We do not desire the knowledge of your ways. 15 What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? And what profit do we get if we pray to him?’ Job 21:13-15

There’s two big questions Job deals with in this long, depressing book. The first is “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Why were Job’s lands, livestock, and children all taken away, when Job had done his best to live a blameless and upright life before God?

But the second question may actually do more violence to our souls: “Why do good things happen to bad people?” I mean, MAYBE I could endure the suffering Job endured. Maybe the loss of everything else would drive me further into the arms of God. Maybe I could have the faith to say “When God is all I have, I realize God is all I need.”

Maybe. But I think it would only be if God took away my eyes and ears when He took away everything else. Because otherwise, I would still see the ease and comfort of other people. I would still hear the wicked boasting about their prosperity. And I would wonder why I got the raw deal I got.

That’s what is driving Job to despair in chapter 21. It’s bad enough that the devil has left Job with nothing. But when Job sees his pagan, God-cursing neighbor left with everything, it’s almost more than he can bear.

When I was trained as a disaster relief chaplain earlier this year, we were asked to role play different scenarios that were based on actual situations other chaplains had encountered on the field. Here’s the scenario my partner and I got:

You encounter a couple sorting through the wreckage of their home after a tornado. You notice that the house across the street is untouched. As you talk to the couple, they tell you that they have always gone to church and tried to be good Christians, but their neighbor across the street has no relationship with God, throws loud parties, and yells at his wife and children all the time. They want to know why their house was destroyed and his wasn’t.

I confess I got the easier of the two roles. I was the homeowner. My partner was the chaplain trying to convince me that God was faithful.

It’s an offense to our sense of justice to see the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer. We see this, and something in our spirit says, “It ought not to be this way.”

Where does that something come from? Where do we get that sense of oughtness? The theologian Karl Barth offers this as a proof that there is a world beyond this one. We long for things to be a way that they never are, and never have been. Why? Because God has set eternity in our hearts. God has wired us to long for a world in which all wrongs are put right and all scales are balanced.

I think this is what the Psalmist meant in Psalm 37:

“For the arms of the wicked shall be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous. The Lord knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will remain forever; they are not put to shame in evil times; in the days of famine they have abundance. But the wicked will perish; the enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures; they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭37:17-20‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The prophet Isaiah promised that there would come a day when “every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain and hill will be made low, the crooked made straight, and the rough places made a plain” (Isaiah 40:4).

In other words, a level playing field. We won’t see it on this side of eternity. But the fact that we long to see it at all points to its existence. In Barth’s words:

This is the voice of our conscience, telling us of the righteousness of God. And since conscience is the perfect interpreter of life, what it tells us is no question, no riddle, no problem, but a fact — the deepest, innermost, surest fact of life: God is righteous.

Beloved, sometimes our only solace is that this life is not all there is. And as for the wicked, that is their greatest terror.

FURTHER READING: How Karl Barth Speaks to our Post-Pandemic Needs (Baptist Press)

Why do the Wicked Prosper (from GotQuestions.org)

Review of Romans 1-7 For You by Tim Keller

Romans 1-7 for You by Timothy J. Keller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love the “For You” series. I’ve read a lot of the books in this series, and have found they are helpful for preparing to lead Bible studies, small group discussions, preaching, or just generally learning more about a particular book of the Bible. Best of all, they are not so academically dense that I can’t put them in the hands of a layperson as a resource for teaching or understanding.

Each chapter covers a block of scripture verses, typically about half of the biblical chapter. And each of those chapters is divided into a part one and part two, with questions for reflection at the end of each. I’m not always clear on why the additional division, except to make them bite-sized and accessible.

Tim Keller is solid, as usual. I’ve loved everything I’ve ever read by him.

Basically, this is a great resource. As I was laying out my sermon series on Romans, this was the first commentary i reached for to help organize the structure of the series.



View all my reviews

Day 007: On Numbering Our Days (Job 14-16)

““Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass, look away from him and leave him alone, that he may enjoy, like a hired hand, his day.” Job 14:1, 5-6 ESV

Teach us to number our days carefully
so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts. Psalm 90:12

I wrote this on January 7, 2021. My mom passed away at the end of May last year.

One of my favorite things to do in a new year is to begin a new journal. I love the point when the blank pages before me outnumber the filled pages behind me.

But if you asked Job, at this stage of his life, if he was excited about the prospect of a new year stretching before him, the answer would be an unequivocal “no.” Job was done with suffering. Done with pain. If you were to come up to Job with a party hat and a noise maker and saying “Happy New Year,” it would be rubbing salt into wounds that were already raw.

As I write this, my mother is dying. She is 88 years old and in hospice care. There are way more filled journals in her past than there are blank journals in her future. And she’s tired. She’s done with getting her meals through a feeding tube. She is weary of hurting. She has no regrets about her life, and is honestly looking forward to coming into her eternal rest.

And because of that, I am a lot more tender toward Job this time around in my read through the Bible plan. Job doesn’t want to live a second longer than the time God has appointed for him. I don’t want to give anything away from tomorrow’s reading, but Job knows that he has a living Redeemer who will stand with him when his life on earth is done. And he’s ready to see Him. I read Job’s words. I hear the weariness in his voice. And I think of my mom, who is so ready to see her Redeemer.

I’m not there yet. This year marks my 55th year on this planet. My 35th year in ministry. My 29th year as a married man. 24th as a father. I believe there are still new adventures to be had. New lessons to be learned. New insights to be gained. And I pray, Lord, that I will come to the end of this year…

  • More at peace with You, yet more broken by You;
  • More in love with my wife yet more aware of how fragile and delicate a God-honoring marriage truly is;
  • More dedicated to my role as a father, yet more aware of my diminishing impact and years to influence their lives;
  • More confident in my leadership at my church, yet more mindful of my utter dependence on You.

Let me journey without arriving, mature without mellowing, stabilize without stagnating, and study without graduating. And let me live this year only for the glory of God.

Father,  teach me to number my days aright, that I may gain a heart of wisdom.

Day 006: The Patience of Job, and the Impatience of Zophar (Job 10-13)

Then Zophar the Naamathite answered and said:

“Should a multitude of words go unanswered,
    and a man full of talk be judged right?
Should your babble silence men,
    and when you mock, shall no one shame you?

Job 11:1-3

we often hear about “the patience of Job,” But this morning I was convicted about the impatience of Zophar, one of Job’s friends.

As I read Zophar’s response to Job’s third cycle of complaints, I noticed that Job’s friends seem to be getting more and more impatient and aggravated with him the more he complains.

They started off tentative, walking on eggshells, worried that they are going to say something offensive. But as days pass and there seems to be no breakthrough, the gloves come off, the niceties fall away, and the frustration comes out. You see it with how “in your face” Zophar is in his response. I love the heading in my ESV Bible: “Zophar Speaks: “You Deserve Worse.”

I have an ugly truth to admit as a pastor: I’m not nearly as nice as you think I am. I start off full of compassion and concern for someone. I listen well. I pray fervently. But as time goes on and the situation doesn’t improve (or gets worse) my compassion can turn to aggravation.

I find myself groaning inwardly when I see a call from a particular number. I brace myself when someone makes a beeline for me on Sunday morning, because I know they are going to want to talk to me about everything that is going on with them, right up until the moment the first song starts.

Maybe its a reaction against feeling helpless. Nobody wants to feel like they can’t solve a problem. The helplessness first wearies, then irritates, then repels. Caregivers become callous. I’ll start going to a different door at the end of the service if I know “that guy” exits on the other side of the building.

How did you do it, Lord? How do you patiently hear the prayers of everyone in the world, when I lose patience with the prayers of one congregation? I want to be more like you, and less like Zophar.

If there is one prayer to pray over your pastor, pray that his heart stays tender toward those who are suffering without relief. Pray that as the Lord renews His mercies to us every morning, our mercy toward others would be renewed.

Day 005: Job’s Prayer for a Mediator (Job 6-9)

If only there were someone to mediate between us,
    someone to bring us together,
34 someone to remove God’s rod from me,
    so that his terror would frighten me no more.
35 Then I would speak up without fear of him,
    but as it now stands with me, I cannot.
Job 9:33-35

We’ve already seen the first prophecy of the coming Messiah: Genesis 3:15, where God promises that the seed of the woman will one day crush the head of the serpent. Today, in what was most likely the first book of the Bible to be written, we see Job as the first one to long for the Messiah’s coming.

Job cries for a mediator who will remove God’s punishment (“God’s rod”) from Job. Someone who would bring God and man together. Someone who would allow humanity to speak to God without fear.

Lord Jesus, thank You for being the answer to Job’s prayer! Job longed for a mediator that could stand between Himself and God. You, Lord Jesus, are that mediator! (1 Tim. 2:5). You are the One that has brought the two together, breaking down the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14-16)!

Job wished for one that would remove the rod of God’s punishment far from him. Lord Jesus, You did (Isaiah 53:5).

Job dreamed of a day when he could speak to God without fear of Him. Oh, Lord Jesus, You made a way! You tore the veil! Because of You, we can approach the throne of Grace with confidence that we may receive grace and mercy (Hebrews 4:16).

I praise you Lord Jesus, that what was prayed by a man who lived before Abraham was fulfilled by the Son of God, who said, “Before Abraham was, I am!” (John 8:48-49)

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