Day 015: The Things We Know to be True (Job 40-42)

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:5


Originally posted January 15, 2021


Today I did my second funeral in five days. Terry was one of those precious senior adults that a church can’t function without. He was one of our main buildings and grounds volunteers. The hedges outside were his passion project, and they always looked like they had been trimmed with fingernail clippers. He was diagnosed with Covid on December 27, and passed away on January 9.

All we could do was a graveside service because of Covid restrictions. The wind was blowing so hard I literally could not hold my Bible open or have any notes. So I kind of had to speak whatever was off the top of my head.

So I talked about Job. I talked about living the kind of life that would make God brag about you to Satan (See Day 004, “Have you considered my servant?”). I talked about confidence that even when we return to dust, we will say, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in my flesh I will see God–Him, and not a stranger.” (See Day 008, “Standing on the Dust”19:25-26).

And I talked about how God never gave Job an answer for why he was experiencing the pain he was experiencing. How we don’t know why God would take away such a godly servant like my friend. How people are looking to their pastors for answers as to why there are so many empty chairs at empty tables right now, and we really don’t have any. Why would God give us reasons for all this that He withheld from such a godly man as Job?

But while Job never got an answer from God, he got something better. He got God’s presence: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you,” said Job (42:5).

One of my go-to Scriptures when I am facing questions I can’t answer is Psalm 62:11-12. It was the text I used for the first funeral I ever preached. The funeral was for the infant son of a drug addict, who rolled over on him when she was high. I was 26 years old and had been out of seminary for less than a year. I had absolutely no answers. Not for the family, not for myself. This level of senseless grief was so far beyond anything I had ever experienced. But this is what I found in God’s Word at that moment:

Once God has spoken;
    twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
     and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.

(Side note: I found it in the 1984 New International Version, and that is still my favorite phrasing. You’ll need to find a physical copy of it, because the publisher has apparently purged the internet of any digital references to it. But here it is in the NIV ’84:

One thing God has spoken;
Two things have I heard:
That you, O God are strong,
And that you, O Lord, are loving. 

I am so thankful that this journey through Job is happening at this moment. For all of you that are going through dark times right now, please know that God is present with you, and that no purpose of His will be thwarted. And when we don’t know anything else, we know this. God is strong, and God is loving.

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)

Day 008: Standing on the Dust (Job 17-20)

“But I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the end he will stand on the dust. Even after my skin has been destroyed, yet I will see God in my flesh.” (Job 19:25, CSB)

Usually when I read Job 19:25, I hear Handel’s Messiah in my head, and I’m filled with hope and confidence that one day Jesus will return and stand in the latter day upon the earth. But I noticed something different this morning that took me in a different, but no less hopeful, direction:

There is an alternate translation to “upon the earth” that the CSB picks up on and no other English translation: “and at the end He will stand on the dust.”

The Hebrew is ha ‘aphar. It means dust, dry earth. It’s what God made Adam out of in Genesis 2. When God pronounced judgment on Adam after the Fall, He said, “Dust thou art and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19). Ha ‘aphar.

So here’s Job, in so much pain that he is ready to die and return to dust. And he says “in the end, my Redeemer will stand on the dust. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.”

There’s a different word for “the earth.” It’s ha ‘erets, and that’s the word that refers either to land or to the planet Earth. In the beginning God created the heavens and ha ‘erets (the earth). ” (Fun Fact: if you go to Israel, you can pick up a copy of the National Israeli newspaper, Ha”Erets).

So, I don’t know that Job 19:25 is necessarily looking toward the end of all time and the return of Jesus. I think its closer to home than that. Job knows that when he returns to dust, God will be standing with him, among the dust of his earthly life, and Job will see God in his flesh.

And there’s one more beautiful nuance in verse 26, when Job says, “Even after my skin is destroyed I will behold God in my flesh.” “Skin” and “flesh”are two different words in Hebrew. Skin is the physical stuff. It’s Job’s hide. But “flesh” is Job’s person. It’s Job’s self. It’s Job as he essentially is.

So when our hide goes back to dust, God will be standing with us, and we will see Him. We will experience God in our flesh—at the core of who we essentially are. Wow.

Praise God that I don’t have to wait until the end of history to see God standing on the earth. In my darkest days, when my flesh is failing, when the world is crumbling to dust around me, I will see my Redeemer, standing on the dust, saying to me with all that He is, “Your Redeemer lives.”

“And my precious child, you live also.

“Rise.”

Day 004: Have You Considered my Servant? (Job 1-5)

And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? Job 1:8

Job is one of the most perplexing books in the Old Testament. It asks A LOT of big questions, and unfortunately leaves most of them unanswered. Why do bad things happen to good people? If God is all powerful, He could prevent evil. If God is all good, He should prevent evil. So why doesn’t He?

Chapters 1-2 raise another question for me: If God is completely holy, and if evil cannot even exist in God’s presence, how is it that Satan is allowed to present himself before God in the first place?

Job is one of those books that invariably comes up whenever anyone is arrogant enough to say, “You know, when I get to heaven, I’m gonna have some questions for God.” (Sidenote—if there was a “God rolling His eyes” emoji, I would use it here).

For a book about questions, let’s not overlook the question God Himself has at the beginning of the book. Satan presents himself before the Lord. God asks Satan where he’s been. Satan says, “Oh, you know—just walking around on earth.”

And then, the question which sets up the rest of the book. God asks Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?”

This would be the point where, if I was Job, I would want to say, “Lord, could you not mention me to the devil? I’m REALLY ok if Satan hasn’t noticed me. Let’s just let him do his thing, and I’ll do mine—k?”

Instead, God wagers His own reputation on Job’s response to suffering. Satan lays down a challenge. “God, let me mess with Job, and we will see how this so-called blameless and upright man responds to You. He praises You. Of course he does! Look how You’ve blessed him. But let me take away those blessings, and I’ll bet he blames You for it.”

And God says, You’re on.

For all the questions I might have about God, the one God has for me cuts me to the heart: could God stake His reputation on my response to suffering? Could God ever have the confidence in my character to point me out to the devil himself, and say, “Have you considered my servant James?”

Lord, today, let me be someone you could bet on against Satan, and win.

Job: Some Nerve!

Who did Job think he was, telling God he would “cling to his righteousness and never let it go”?

 

One of the most rewarding parts of my work week happens on Monday nights from 8:30-10:00, when a group of men gather together for a deep dive into the book of Romans. Some of us are trying to memorize the entire book. Others are memorizing the two or three verses that go along with each session. But all of us are benefiting from the intense, focused study on the book that launched the Reformation and is the foundation for arguably the most well-known gospel presentation, the Romans Road.

The dominant theme of the first three chapters of Romans is that none of us are righteous. Not one of us–no, not one–can stand before God with any shred of righteousness that comes from ourselves.

Which makes the book of Job such an enigma. You know the story. God and the devil make a wager over the life of Job. God gives Satan permission to mess with Job, taking away everything from Job except his life. Job’s friends come to console him, and wind up arguing with him for about 25 chapters. Basically, they all tell him that he is being punished because of some unconfessed sin. But Job’s not buying it. Which leads us to Job 27:3-6:

3 as long as my breath is still in me and the breath from God remains in my nostrils, 4 my lips will not speak unjustly, and my tongue will not utter deceit. 5 I will never affirm that you are right. I will maintain my integrity until I die. 6 I will cling to my righteousness and never let it go. My conscience will not accuse me as long as I live! [Job 27:3-6 HCSB]

Does anyone else look at this and think that Job sounds really full of himself? Humility is a Christian virtue. All of us have to admit we are sinners before we can trust Christ for our salvation, right?

So where does Job get off saying things like, “I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it?” Is this arrogance? Does it fly in the face of Paul’s teaching that “there is none righteous, no, not one?” (Romans 3:10) I don’t think so.

Job’s confidence is not in himself, but in the trustworthiness of God. Job believed in a God whose will and ways could be known. Other gods from other religions were fickle and capricious. You never knew what you might have done to displease the god of the rain when there was drought, so you danced and sacrificed and cut yourself until the blood flowed in an effort to get his attention (remember the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18?) A king wouldn’t know how to gain the favor of the gods so his army would prevail in battle, so he might sacrifice one of his own sons to Molech by throwing him in the flames (Jeremiah 32:35). Or think about the Greek gods we studied in high school. Mortals were constantly subject to the whims and jealousies of the gods. When Zeus and Hades were angry at each other, humans paid the price.

But Yahweh is different. He can be known. He has given us His laws and decrees. We know what pleases Him and what doesn’t. And this is the confidence Job was clinging to. No matter how many times his so-called friends argued, “well, you must have done something wrong to be suffering in this way,” Job stubbornly and steadfastly held on to the idea that he knew what it took to walk with God, and that he had done it. When Job says things like “I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live,” he was not expressing confidence in his own goodness, but in God’s justice.

I am so thankful that our God is predictable. He is not capricious, punishing humans on a whim or a lark (I admit, some would argue that’s the whole storyline of Job. I encourage you to watch this excellent animated walk-through of the book of Job from the fine folks at the Bible Project, and then let’s talk.). Don’t get me wrong. There is still none righteous. But Job teaches me that we can trust in God’s unchanging character. In every situation. In every place. For all time. Praise Him!

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