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Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Adversary at Work in One New Testament Life

Job’s calamities all began with Satan challenging God concerning Job’s faithfulness. God gave Satan, the adversary, permission to take all that Job had, but not to hurt him, physically.

Satan countered Job’s victory to honor Almighty God above love of material possessions and family with yet another challenge.  The adversary declared that Job’s love of self would make him deny God when his health failed. God knew better. Permission was granted, but had limits, just as with the first challenge. The adversary could attack Job’s body but not kill him.

As we saw at the end of the two battles, God was pleased with how Job handled the trials. Ultimately, Job was much better off, materially, than before the calamities began.

The story of Job let’s us realize that Satan needs God’s permission to do anything at all to us. We see the adversary in the proper position here, but also in the relative size.

Somehow, folks get the idea that Satan can be everywhere all at once, attacking everyone in the whole world, if he wants. Satan can’t be in more than one place at any one time, just like you and me. He is a created being and is no bigger than any of the other angels God created.

No one thinks that Gabriel, the Archangel who announced that Jesus would be born to Mary and Joseph, can be in more than one place at a time; but, somehow, we can picture the adversary scattered all over the world. This is simply not possible; he is just one created being.

Equally, it is true that Satan does ask permission to attack God’s kids on those days when he is presenting himself before God in Heaven. One such example from the New Testament is found in the Gospel of Luke.

The time of revelation of the permission being granted was at the “Last Supper.” Jesus met with His disciples for the last time; they won’t eat together again until after his resurrection. Jesus said so many mysterious things to the men, but this one really hit home for Peter, who was also called Simon.

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)

Within this brief statement we fine four things that Jesus reveals:

1. Satan has asked permission of Father God to sift Peter like wheat. That is to say, to prove that he is not faithful to God, in the same way that the dross falls through the sifting screen and only the pure wheat is left.

2. God has granted the adversary permission. So often our image of God is that he would never grant Satan permission for anything, let alone to attack us. If it’s in God’s plan to help us grow, or to reveal our own heart to us, God may actually grant that permission.

3. Jesus knows that Peter will fail the test.

4. Jesus is praying that Peter will not fall away because of this mistake, but will come back from that and end up being a strength to his brothers, all of whom will also have denied Christ.

Wow, all of that in just those three, short sentences. Yup, all of that.

Of course, Peter’s response is what we would expect of the impetuous follower of Jesus. I can so easily see myself behaving in exactly the same way! It’s Passover celebration. Jesus is there and all is well with the world. Nothing will change how I feel about Jesus; I’d rather die than leave Him.

But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” (Luke 22:33)

Me, too, Jesus! Peter just knew that he was as loyal as the summer day was long. No way, even if everyone else abandoned Jesus, the Lord could count on Peter to hang in there and sit in a prison cell, chained with Him against a wall. Jesus knew better, which was why He was praying for Peter and the others.

Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:34)

These must have been painful words coming from Jesus. How could Jesus say that to Peter? Did the Lord not realize just how much Peter loved Him?

That’s exactly the point; Jesus knew Peter better than Peter knew himself. Yes, Peter loved Jesus and wanted to be the person he thought he was already. Jesus knew that serious fear and danger would reveal to Peter just how much he still had to grow. Its little wonder that Peter cried such agonizing tears when, later in that very same chapter, Jesus’ words proved exactly right.

Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them.

A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.”

But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.

A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”

“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.

About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”

Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.”

And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Luke 22: 54-62)

When that rooster crowed, Peter had denied Jesus, not once, but thrice! He hadn’t even noticed the first two times.

Oh my, but I can see myself running away to cry my eyes out somewhere in the dark. I’d be unable to believe that I’d done that right after I had promised to even go to prison or die with Jesus and now, I couldn’t even admit I knew Him? Unbelievable, after all Jesus had done for me. Yup, I totally understood.

Many a preacher has said that the look Jesus gave Peter when the rooster crowed to mark the end of Peter’s denials was one of condemnation. An “I told you so” kind of look. I seriously doubt that this was the way Jesus, Who loved Peter so deeply, felt when he glanced over at Peter.

I believe that Jesus said, in His glance, “Remember, Peter? I told you what happened here. Satan has asked permission to sift you. The adversary sifted you and you’ve fallen through. But, remember Peter, I’m praying for you. I knew you’d not be strong enough to resist this trial, and I’m praying for you. It’s okay. You’ll make it; just repent. And, when you do come back to take your stand for me, strengthen your brothers. They will have all denied me, just as you have, so they will need you to strengthen them. I love you, Peter. It’s okay.”

Jesus made the effort to tell Peter ahead of time that Satan was at the bottom of this; that Peter would lose this battle, but there’d be others. Jesus would pray him through. Don’t give up, Peter! The Lord’s pulling for you!

Think back to what Job went through at the adversaries attacks. That’s the kind of intensity that was hitting Peter to deny Christ at that very time. That helps us to understand better just how Peter could have turned away so soon after declaring his allegiance to Jesus, doesn’t it? This time, the power of the gates of hell did prevail against Peter, but the reason the permission had been granted proved true. Peter did return and, definitely, did strengthen his brothers.

Reading this account, we see the very Person Job longed for when he was going through his own trials. A mediator. At the end of Job Chapter Nine, Job is stating what he needed, but didn’t have; what Peter had, but didn’t know he even needed.

When Job pleaded for someone to “lay his hand upon both of us…to bring us together,”a vivid picture formed in my mind.

God stood on one side of a vast chiasm, and I on the opposite edge. No way could I jump across that gigantic hole. Then, a rugged, wooden cross dropped down to fill the chiasm, one arm rested on each edge.

As I stared at the cross, it changed and, was replaced by the outstretched arms of Jesus. Jesus the Mediator, bridges the gap sin made between God and me; the picture was clear.

Jesus formed that bridge across the chiasm. Jesus is the Mediator Job longed for.

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus. (I. Timothy 2:5)

Jesus says the same to us today. Yes, the adversary will ask permission to sift us like wheat, but God won’t always grant that permission. No permission, no attack.

However, on those occasions when God does grant Satan permission to sift us, we can be certain that Jesus, our Mediator, is praying for us, too! We might prove strong enough to endure the hardship, as Job did, but most of us are not there yet. Most of us will be more like Peter; we believe that we are faithful and solid in our commitment to Christ, until a trial of temptation comes that knocks us off our pins. Then, we will be devastated, as Peter was, and run from the shame of our betrayal of the Lord. May we also do as Peter did, repent, come back to Jesus with an even stronger loyalty, knowing that we are capable of falling; but that Jesus is willing to receive us again. May we be strengthened by the experience, not bitter that we had so underestimated our fleshly weakness.

Remember; God wants you to succeed in every trial. He’s not out there with a large stick waiting to beat you up when you fail. Jesus is praying you through…either to victory like Job, or repentance and strength as for Peter. You can make it! Jesus is praying for you!

 
This post marks the final episode in the “The Question of God and Abandonment” series. It is also the last post of this summer. I’ll be devoting my writing time to the completion of the first draft of a nonfiction manuscript. Now’s the time to get caught up with some of the old posts you’ve not yet checked out.

****Have a terrific summer!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Spiritual Warfare at the Highest Level, Conclusion

The first two chapters of the Book of Job made it clear just how the calamities of Job began and why, but in the fourth chapter, we see that the Adversary enlisted Job’s own friends to be a part of the struggle; they didn’t just happen to stop in along their regular business travels.

Eliphaz was one of Job’s best friends and, in the beginning of his comforting, did offer encouraging words, re-affirming Job’s right-standing with men and with God. Of course, Satan had made other plans for just how Eliphaz might serve his purposes. I hadn’t really noticed this point before studying the Book of Job this past couple of weeks.

As with much of the detail of this story, I don’t have a specific timetable as to when events occurred. However, having lived more than a quarter of a century with the awareness of how the spiritual world collides with the physical world in my own life here in Africa, I am offering the following possibility.

The word of Job’s losses may have traveled to Eliphaz and the other two men by way of the trade route. No email or cell phones at that time. Still, such news would have made the rounds; Job was such an important man in the region. Perhaps, Eliphaz had been thinking about checking up on Job the next time he had reason to go with a caravan down in that direction, but he’d not made any specific plans—until one night when his own sleep was interrupted.

“A word was secretly brought to me, my ears caught a whisper of it. Amid disquieting dreams in the night, when deep sleep falls on people, fear and trembling seized me and made all my bones shake. A spirit glided past my face, and the hair on my body stood on end. It stopped, but I could not tell what it was. A form stood before my eyes, and I heard a hushed voice:” (Job 4:12-16)

This is a real event happening, while everyone else in the house sleeps. I’ve had this very experience in the middle of the night, though the gliding by of the spirit was not felt on my face but the top of my bare arm, sticking out of my summer nightgown. I’ve seen the form described here more than once, so I assure you this is real and not part of a poetic account of some nightmare.

Before we read what the evil spirit said, let’s remember that it’s part of the adversaries plan. He’s taken all of Job’s possessions and now his physical body is under attack.

But, Satan knows we are more than physical bodies; our emotions are very intricately involved in our lives. The dispatching of this spirit to one of Job’s best friends is to get him to head for Job’s house now, not when he gets around to a scheduled trip for trade purposes. Now, because it’s part of the plan to destroy Job; to get Job to deny his commitment to God

The evil spirit plants some thoughts about Job in Eliphaz’s mind as he speaks to him in the midst of his terrified night awakening.

‘Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can even a strong man be more pure than his Maker? If God places no trust in his servants, if he charges his angels with error,
how much more those who live in houses of clay, whose foundations are in the dust, who are crushed more readily than a moth! Between dawn and dusk they are broken to pieces; unnoticed, they perish forever. Are not the cords of their tent pulled up, so that they die without wisdom?’
(Job 4:17-21)


The spirit mentions a couple of things that clue us in to the source of the voice. First, we know that what is being said about no one being more righteous or pure than God is true, of course. This is exactly how the enemy works. He begins with statements that we know are true and moves into the lies.

He implies that God can’t trust anyone, even the angels. Well, the fact that this is happening to Job, an innocent man, is clearly proof that God does trust his servants.

The reference to charging his angels with error is another of those truths, but the implication is that God was not acting properly here. This spirit would know, since he is one of the thousands who did rebel against God and was punished for his wrongdoing. He was not only charged with the error, he was convicted and, when he refused to repent of it, was punished for it.

The spirit’s implication is that the powerful angels were above the rules here and well-above mortal man in importance to God. Not so, since God holds all of us to the same standard…obey God, or face the consequences of the rebellion, as the angels did.

The evil spirit says the people die unnoticed, which is never the case, of course. That point has already been made.

Lastly, the spirit implies that the weak mortals will die without wisdom. No one would categorize Job in the “crushed like a moth” level of strength, after all he has endured and still held to his commitment to God. As was discussed in the earlier posts of this series on Job, the fear of the Lord is wisdom. God, Himself, said that Job feared God; therefore, we can conclude that, even if Job died, it wouldn’t have been without wisdom.

We are not weaklings to God; we are His children, able to make a choice for wisdom as we live our lives through each trial presented during our sojourn here on earth.

The fear that gripped Eliphaz this specific night, I believe, may have been the catalyst to his organizing the three men to travel to Job. All in the plan of the enemy to break Job’s resolve to stay in right relationship with God, no matter what happened to him. (The mention of Eliphaz by name when God spoke, may also let us know that God recognized it was to Eliphaz that the spirit came.)

As we read, the three really gave their best at getting Job frustrated with their lack of belief in him. The men just wouldn’t get their eyes off the circumstances, so they fit their words to their own preconceived notions of what the problem must surely be. Unconfessed sin. Period.

His friends contributed the final blows to Job’s agony. He’d suffered loss of absolutely everything; he had pain beyond measure night and day, including terrifying nightmares that prevented any rest at all; and now his friends had added the emotional blows of not having a single person left to believe in his innocence.

However, God knew the truth, and this can also be a comfort to us during such trials of misunderstanding. God knows the truth; that is absolute. If we, truly, have no idea what has caused our troubles and no idea at all what God is wanting us to do, then just rest in the fact that God knows the truth. Hang in there and obey whatever it is you know God wants you to do right now. Job is a good example of that for us.

This life here on earth is but a sojourn to train us. All training includes testing; we don’t learn or grow without testing. But, God is there to strengthen us through it, if He chooses not to intervene or remove it altogether.

Sojourner, are you saying that what we’ve been reading about Job being the battlefield in the good versus evil war is still happening? Are you telling us that Job wasn’t the only guy that went through something like this?

Yes, that’s what I’m saying. I’ll give you a New Testament example of this very same thing in the next post. The story might hit a bit closer to home than Job’s, since most of us would not fall under the category of the wealthiest man in the region.

****The Adversary at Work in One New Testament Life... Next Post

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Spiritual Warfare at the Highest Level

Okay, Job’s great trial ended well for him, things turned around completely, and his hard work paid off for him once again, But, why all of those months and months of agony? What was the point and why didn’t God step in and rescue Job, if He wasn’t interested in preventing the calamities altogether?

Lay aside your preconceptions of what you have decided may be the reason, keeping an open mind to what is about to be presented, please. Folks have written books about this very issue, and have drawn all sorts of conclusions.

Most common is the simple statement that no one really knows why bad things happen to good people, but, obviously, they do. Another conclusion is in agreement with Job’s friends…there is unconfessed sin somewhere and Job just needs to ‘fess up and repent to make everything better. A third view is that we were all born into a sinful world, so we can’t expect things to go smoothly for us during our sojourn on earth; it’s a training ground for Heaven, after all.

Actually, all of those points are valid to some extent; as is the point that God made it all, and God can do whatever He pleases with whatever he has made.

There is one view that has not been addressed in those possibilities. It is the one about which God shared with me long ago when I was going through my own Job-experience in an African jungle. God called it, “Spiritual Warfare at the highest level,” which is why I have changed the title of this post in the “Did God Abandon Job?” series.

The starting point for my presentation is the following important point: We live in the midst of two dynamic worlds—one the physical, we can see, and the second the spiritual, which is unseen, but frequently interfaces with our physical and emotional lives.

The spiritual world is not a belief system that you may choose to accept or reject. It is a real world, with real beings, created by the same God Who designed our physical world. God never intended the spiritual world to contain beings committed to evil and overthrowing Him. However, in that world, as in ours, those created by God have been given free will. To obey God is a matter of choice. If one chooses not to obey, then one has chosen to be thrown out of Heaven—or not inherit it, as is the case with those of us born into the physical world for the sojourn here.

Lucifer was the head of God’s worship team and of the same rank as Michael and Gabriel. However, that wasn’t enough for him. He wanted to be worshipped, not to lead others in worship of the Creator God. Lucifer’s name was changed to Satan when God threw him out of Heaven, though he was behaving like a Satan before the change of location.

Satan, which literally means adversary, made a decision to try to overthrow God. Sadly for one-third of the angels God had created to live with Him in heaven from the start, Satan’s charismatic persuasion drew them into his plan. They refused to repent, so God threw them all out of Heaven, with their leader—the former Lucifer.

Interestingly, when God called the angels to a meeting where each one gave an account of their activities, Satan was also there. That’s comforting on so many levels, not least among them the understanding that God was in control of what Satan did here on earth, even if Satan was thrown down here. Satan was never out of God’s control, even here on earth.

So, let’s see what happened that really started all of Job’s troubles.

One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”
Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:6-8)

Hmm? We all know what it is that Satan is doing as he roams around here on earth; he’s looking for God’s people to corrupt to bring them to his rebellious side. He’s out to prove to God that people really don’t want to submit to God’s authority, anymore than he and the other angels did.

God knows this, and God also knows the heart, as well as the practices of Job. God will prove that, once again, Satan is wrong. God does have people on earth who obey Him and recognize him as the almighty.

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” (Job 1:9-11)

At this point, we picture God shaking His head, saying something like, “No way, Satan; Job doesn’t deserve what you are proposing. He’s innocent of wrongdoing, and I’m committed to protecting him from you.”

But, alas, that’s not at all what happened. God didn’t push Job behind His back and stand between Job and the evil adversary, though God certainly could have done that. God had another plan.

What a painful decision this must have been for God. He loved Job so much, and knew that it would be a really hard thing for Job to go through; but God also knew that his faithful servant would come through it with his integrity intact. God accepted Satan’s challenge, though God set a limit to what He would let  His adversary do. The battle had begun, and Job’s heart for his possessions and children was the battlefield.

The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. (Job1:12)

Satan rallied his former-angelic troops, now called demons or evil spirits, and gave them specific instructions. At the end of one day, Satan and his forces had totally decimated Job’s life. All of his thousands of sheep and camels were gone; all of his hundreds of oxen and donkeys taken. The human toll was even greater as only one servant of all his workers in each of the four areas of loss survived to tell him. Job’s own children—all seven sons and three daughters—had died when his eldest son’s house collapsed on them.

How, but by God’s grace, did Job keep from having a heart attack at such catastrophic devastation happening in one, single day? Truly, God must have strengthened Job. Satan was commanded not to lay a finger on Job’s body, but such incredible news would have been the death of a man under normal circumstances, without any additional help from the adversary.

Regardless of the pain this would cause the man God so loved, He didn’t step in and stop the carnage or thieving marauders.  He’d given His word to let Satan take all that Job had; it was Satan who was the deceiver, not Almighty God.

Job did tear his clothing at the news of the loss of his children, but the words out of Job’s mouth were to worship God. Job accepted that God had taken back all that He had given to him. At the end of the account, the Bible records the following:

In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (Job 1:22)

God had been proven right about Job. He didn’t curse God or leave his own integrity behind when all of his material possessions were lost, or when the human toll included his own children. Job passed the test and the first battle over Job’s loyalty to God was won.

That would have been enough for me, but the war between good and evil was not over yet. The next battle was right around the corner. The bible doesn’t tell us how much time elapsed between the first and second battles, but Chapter Two recorded Round Two.

On another day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. And the LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”
Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” (Job 2:1-3)

Now would be a great time for God to puff out his chest and brag on Job just a bit, but He didn’t do that. God just stated the simple facts. He knew what was coming.

“Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” (Job 2:4-5)

Things were about to get even worse for poor ol’ Job! At this point, I saw clearly just what I wanted God to do. I mean, I had once rammed a large splinter of  wood under my fingernail-from the tip right down into the nailbed—and I knew I’d confess to whatever anyone wanted me to say, if they only promised to get that agonizing splinter out of my finger. (Take note here: Never tell me any secrets.)

But God knew Job. I picture God taking a deep breath here and then speaking, but it’s the writer in me, nothing to verify that He did.

The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”
So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. (Job 2:6-7)

God set Job’s continued living as the boundary, but when Job was in such agony, I’m pretty sure Job meant it when he cried out to God to end his life so the suffering would stop. In any case, the Bible records Job’s response to his wife’s suggestion that he curse God and die with the following question:

“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. (Job 2:10)

How God must have longed to step in and relieve Job’s pain! But, God had given His word that Satan could afflict Job, sparing only his life. God was confident that Job would pass the test; He knew him inside and out. That didn’t mean that God felt nothing at the sight of Job’s misery. We understand that God’s compassionate character dictates He suffered, too.

Since we’ve read the end of the story already, we know that Job succeeded in finishing his great trial well…he never said anything that offended God. Never.

The previous post dealt with God’s response to Job, as well as His handling of the sin of Job’s three friends, so it won’t be repeated here. Since God was responding to what each man said, we know that God hadn’t abandoned Job, technically. God was there watching and listening from the moment He gave Satan permission to attack Job.

The fact that Job could live through such calamity with his integrity intact, continuing to worship God through every trial, encourages us that God was strengthening Job.

In II. Chronicles, we read that God’s own eyes search the whole world, strengthening the hearts of those who are fully committed to Him. (II. Chr. 16:9) There was no one on earth more fully committed to God than Job, so we can be sure God was right there, strengthening him during the trial. God didn’t remove it; God didn’t interrupt it, but God strengthened Job to make it through to victory.

Again, for the third and final man featured in the question of God and Abandonment, the answer is a resounding, “No!” God never abandoned Job.

The issue for Job was one of spiritual warfare. The battle was going on between God and the adversary, and Job was, in fact, the battlefield. God trusted Job to hang in there and not deny Him.

In the next post, we’ll see how the adversary persuaded Job’s three friends to aid in the battle against God.

****Spiritual Warfare at the Highest Level, Conclusion…Next Post

Friday, June 14, 2013

Did God Abandon Job? (Part IV)

Job, considered by men and by God to be the greatest man in the eastern world, possessed not only the power that massive wealth affords, but a profound commitment to God. Whether in business or in his personal life, Job followed hard after God; Job practiced what he preached, or in the vernacular of today, Job walked the talk.

As cited earlier in the series, in Almighty God’s own opinion, Job was a blameless and upright man, who feared God and shunned evil. In the Bible, evil is defined by anything that opposes God and His laws. Job simply obeyed God

Naturally, Job held certain expectations for his life and final days, because of his relationship with the Creator God. Hadn’t he always done what God wanted him to do?

“I thought, ‘I will die in my own house, my days as numerous as the grains of sand. My roots will reach to the water, and the dew will lie all night on my branches. My glory will not fade; the bow will be ever new in my hand.’” (Job 29:18-20)

A poetic way to say life should be great until Job dies, his life full of years and at peace with God and everyone else.

Should have been, but then trouble came to Job’s camp and he lost absolutely everything he had, including his ten kids.

Then, Job’s health took a major hit with painful sores breaking out from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Next, his marriage came under some serious pressure as Mrs. Job told her husband to abandon his integrity and just curse God and die. Yikes, woman what are you thinking!

With all of this calamity and suffering suddenly upon Job, he never once turned away from God. Job had the attitude that God had given him everything. If God wanted it, well, here you are God; take it back. Once bodily suffering began, Job asked his complaining wife if they shouldn’t accept suffering from God in the same way they had received all the good things he had brought their way?

We never hear any word of Mrs. Job again, except to note that Job said, in the heat of this affliction, his breath was offensive to her. If she spoke again, her words didn’t make it on to the scroll/page.

So, how long was Job suffering like this? The Bible doesn’t give an exact timetable here, though I really would have liked to know, wouldn’t you? What we do know is that it took awhile for his friends to make their way to him, because Job told them that he had had months of long nights, with days that pass too quickly. I can relate to that thought. When I’m really sick with some tropical fever, it seems as though the nights will never end; it’s always worse at night. I even do what Job did; I remember just how wonderful things were before this suffering!

“How I long for the months gone by, for the days when God watched over me, when his lamp shone on my head and by his light I walked through darkness! Oh, for the days when I was in my prime, when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house, when the Almighty was still with me and my children were around me, when my path was drenched with cream and the rock poured out for me streams of olive oil.” (Job 29:2-6)

I’d prefer my cream chilled, from the refrigerator, and my olive oil from that familiar rectangular, glass bottle. But, I get the picture; things were a whole lot better before this present darkness came upon Job! And, the trial didn’t stop there.

Job must have just been so relieved to see some old friends show up for a bit of sympathizing and comforting. I mean, Job had absolutely no one; even his kin had deserted him. Those who had always been his friends there in the town wouldn’t come near him. His domestic workers who had survived refused his requests. Job really needed a friend in the worst way.

Things started out well; no one said a word for a whole week, so great was the suffering the three friends saw when they caught sight of Job! As is all-too-often the case when we see someone in pain, we just need to fix it. It’s not wrong to want to relieve a person’s suffering, but sometimes it’s better to just sit with them, in silence. If we don’t really know what to do, it’s better to do nothing, other than offer our sympathy and a cool drink when they need one.

However, as soon as the tormented Job began to cry out to his friends, the wheels of sympathy shifted to trying to find something that Job could do to reverse his present circumstance. Sometimes, reading the lengthy discourses, one wonders if anyone was listening to the speaker; so much of what was said is, basically, the same point being made: Bad things don’t happen to good people. So, since these really bad things have come upon you, Job, you must have really done some serious disobeying! Yet, God is just, so confess, repent, and everything will return to the good life you once enjoyed. Period, no other possibility to account for the trials and sorrows; no other solution out of his suffering.

Since this region’s people speak with their hands and undulating vocal inflections, we can picture the following: Job, sitting amongst the ashes, with sackcloth on his body and sores oozing, arms lifted and hands gesticulating with each phrase as he described his burdens, or offered his defense. Each time Job replied to one of the friends, he moved from gazing around the circle as he spoke, shifting to turn his remarks towards God.

Here, we can picture Job’s head tilted upward, elbows bent, palms facing inward and both arms bouncing in rhythm to his pleading. A paraphrased version of what Job said, “What’s happening here, God? You know I’m innocent of any wrong doing, and if I’m not, then tell me what it is that I’ve done. C’mon here, Yahweh, give me a chance to repent of something! You know the truth, help me out here!”

If we choose to believe Job is innocent, we can understand Job’s verbose, frustrated defense as he speaks, but it is also possible that we might be persuaded to side with Job’s friends. Who can figure out suffering or severe trials when they come to someone who always seemed to be above reproach? Job just had to have done something, didn’t he? God wouldn’t really punish someone who did no wrong; it doesn’t fit with a picture of a just, loving God.

Still, in the midst of his passionate discourses of unjust suffering and proclamations of his innocence, Job continued to declare his allegiance to God. Yes, his words confirm that he is totally miserable, a man in agony, without a single person left who still believes in his innocence. Sometimes it even sounds a bit borderline to us as Job rants and raves; is what Job just said something that God will hold against him? I mean, that remark sounded pretty negative about the Almighty and His right to inflict punishment on Job.

When we begin to think such things, we need to remember what the bible said about Job’s words during these crises in his life.

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. (Job 2:10b)

One thing I’ve learned in forty-three years of following hard after the Lord is this: God totally understands! God isn’t offended by the things we say to Him when we are hurting; He understands that it may not really be what our heart feels towards Him. In fact, God knew this to be true about Job. That’s not to say that our remarks made in the depth of pain, don’t hurt God; He’s a very tender Father and I do believe that we can hurt His feelings. I believe that our actions can sometimes even break his heart. But, even so, God understands and doesn’t hold our expressions against us. God knows that, if we are committed to Him, we will repent of our harsh words and He will rush to forgive us. God understands that we are children, not always comprehending that what is happening to us may work out for our good, in the end. Or that the pain is necessary for the moment.

When we read Job’s words, we may be focused on all of the lengthy negative narrative, but sprinkled in the midst of his pain, we find Job’s real commitment expressed, too. Here are a few examples of Job’s real heart revealed between the paragraphs of pain and confusion.

“That God would be willing to crush me, to let loose his hand and cut off my life! Then I would still have this consolation—my joy in unrelenting pain—that I had not denied the words of the Holy One.” (Job 6:9-10)

“Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face. Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless person would dare come before him!” (Job 13:15-16)
“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27)

Job’s love for God is amazing! He believed that God afflicted him for some unknown reason—even suffering nightmares all night long, as if physical pain wasn’t enough—yet, his heart yearns for God. Why? Because Job confidently puts His trust in His Creator; in good or in bad, God is still God and worthy of Job’s trust. He will put his hope in God even if God ends up killing him. Regardless of how things look, Job knows that his Redeemer lives, and ultimately, it’ll all work out. Job is thinking eternally, not just in the realm of the physical world that he has known. That’s what makes the difference.

Next, God turned his attention to Job’s three friends. Here again, we notice the absence of Elihu in the words addressed to the visitors. Since his words were the same as Job’s three friends, one must deduce that Elihu had also fallen into the category of not saying what is right about God. Therefore, one would have expected God would include him in the order for sacrifice and submitting to letting Job pray for him.

Why didn’t God do that? One thought to ponder is that, perhaps, Elihu was not committed to God at all, but only echoing what he knew others believed as far as man’s position with God and his laws. This is important to consider, because God does not offer forgiveness and restitution to Elihu, just as it is not available to those who are not His children by their own choices. God is only Father to His children, not all of the people created in this world. As in the natural world, fathers are responsible only for the children in their home. Since God was dealing with errant children when He spoke, it is possible that Ellihu’s name was omitted simply because he wasn’t one. Perhaps, Elihu had just come along for the ride, so to speak.

Though God clearly addressed all three of Job’s friends, He mentioned only Eliphaz by name. He had been the first man to reply to Job, and may have been the one to organize the travel to visit Job. (This will be discussed in the next post.)

After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the LORD told them; and the LORD accepted Job’s prayer. (Job 42:7-9)

Time for restoration of God’s faithful servant, Job. He’d passed the test with flying colors; his life was about to change drastically.

After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the LORD had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.

The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. And he also had seven sons and three daughters. The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.

After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so Job died, an old man and full of years. (Job 42:10-17)

Marvelous ending to an incredibly gruesome account in the life of Job. No doubt God had blessed Job with a new wife, since no mention is made of the old Mrs. Job having a second set of ten children. Things like that tend to get recorded somewhere, right? Twenty kids from one wife would be a kind of record, I would think. So, I am assuming she wasn’t in the picture. (Please let me know if you have evidence to the contrary; I do want to know.)

Okay, Sojourner, so they all lived happily ever-after, but you promised some things you’ve yet to deliver, haven’t you?

Yes, and I haven’t forgotten. The main question has only partly been answered: Did God abandon Job? We know that God didn’t, technically, abandon Job, because He saw everything that happened to him, as well as heard every word spoken during the trial and tribulations Job endured. God was watching from afar.

So, the real questions that remain are these: Why didn’t God rescue Job? Why is it a matter of not going against His word? If God was watching Job, then why did God let this all happen to Job in the first place? Shouldn’t God have intervened to prevent all of the suffering?

The next post will address these questions. Get ready to come with an open mind, and perhaps a slightly different view than you might have had when reading the Book of Job.

****Spiritual Warfare at the Highest Level…Next Post

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Did God Abandon Job? (Part III)

Having read the lengthy, very descriptive discourses between Job and his three friends from chapters three through thirty-one, we might have expected Job to reply to Elihu, a stranger. However, when Job said his words were ended, he meant it. He had offered his defense to his three friends, who ended up being Accusers more than Comforters; Job didn’t respond to the arrogant stranger.

Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, as well as the young tag-along visitor, insisted that Job had sinned mightily to find himself in such a serious condition, making repentance the only way out of the suffering. Indeed, God would restore Job, if only he’d confess and make things right.
Actually, part of Job’s pleading to God involved this very thing; if God would only tell him what it is that he had done, Job would immediately repent. Everyone else had spoken, now Job waited to hear from God. He’d pleaded with God to question him, so he could argue his case before the Righteous Judge. He just had no clue what he’d done to offend God.
The final chapter of Elihu’s discourse begins with an impressively accurate description of the sound of God’s voice. Phrases such as, “the roar of his voice,” “the rumbling that comes from his mouth,” and “God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways,” makes one wonder if there had been an actual atmospheric disturbance or God’s voice that pierced the air space.” Whether or not Elihu had finished his speech, the next voice he heard was that roaring thunder. The words had not been directed to Elihu, nor Job’s three friends, but to Job himself.

Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (Job 38:1-4)

In other words, Job had no knowledge of God’s plan so why was he using his own intellect on this issue, trying to cloud it over with his many words? Yes, God agreed to question Job, as he had requested. Interestingly, God started at the very base of all of our doubts concerning Him. Where were we when God planned out every detail of our present world? Regardless of the problem the answer is the same: God has a plan, and God is perfect.

Job didn’t interrupt God, saying something like, “Hey, God, that’s not the issue; it’s my unjust suffering about which I’ve been waiting to talk with You. No one disagrees with You here; we know the whole earth was Your idea and Your plan. But, what about me? Why have I lost everything you gave me, including my healthy body?”

But, Job didn’t ask, he just listened. Perhaps, Job was reviewing what had happened to him when the trial began—how the Chaldeans and Sabeans had killed his servants and taken his stock from the field? When God had reached verse 22, I think I really would have wondered why God hadn’t sent forth some of what he had stored up for such times. Why hadn’t God fought for Job?

“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle?” (Job 38:22-23)

You may think that this is just more poetic license being taken here; but I assure you, the Old Testament does record a battle where such large hailstones rained down on the enemy that his folks won the battle. (“…the LORD hurled large hailstones down on them, and more of them died from the hail than were killed by the swords of the Israelites.” [Joshua 10:11]) When Job needed the softball-sized spheres, however, they stayed locked in the storehouse. Why? Because, God had given His word. (You’ll see what that means if you just hang in there.)

God didn’t just create the world, step back with a sigh and wipe the sweat off his brow. It’s His world and He is still very much involved—in every part of His creation’s existence. It is impressive to think that Almighty God keeps watch over the wildlife, too, but that’s exactly what God told Job.

“Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn? Do you count the months till they bear? Do you know the time they give birth?” (Job 39:1-2)

I don’t know about mountain goats, but the neighbor’s domestic goat chose a Sunday afternoon naptime to carry out this very noisy delivery right under my bedroom window, making me wonder if her choice of location was God’s joke on me when I read the above. I think that God included these verses to let Job know that, truly, it was God Who had His eye on everything that happened in the world He had created. Job shouldn’t worry that God had taken a bit of a vacation, missing the chaos happening in his little corner of the world. Guess that means that God heard Job when he asked just who else could be doing this to him back in chapter nine. This is God’s way of letting Job know that nothing at all happened, without God being aware of it.

Again, God returned to questioning Job. This time, the topic was God’s justice.

The LORD said to Job: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” (Job 40:1-2)

Uh-huh, God had been silent to Job’s groanings, but He’d heard him proclaiming his innocence of all accusations. If there is only that one possibility—sin is the only reason for such sorrows—well, then, it must be God Who has made an error somewhere, right? The conclusion often drawn by readers is that God was upset with Job. It is my own belief that God was not at all angry with Job. All of the audio recordings I’ve heard from the various readers of this passage of Scripture indicate God was furious with Job.

My belief is based on one simple fact: God told Eliphaz he was angry with the three friends, but never once said He was angry with Job. In fact, God said Job had spoken right about Him. So, when I read God’s words to Job, I hear an authoritative voice, of course, but the tone is more along the lines of a university professor, than an angry monarch. I think that God is trying to show Job why he should trust God implicitly in the face of everything that has happened to Job; that Job is totally unable to rescue himself or change his current situation. Job is also unable to understand the circumstances that led up to the sorrow upon sorrows that Job has been living, but that God knows, exactly, what has been happening and why.

After Job has listened to God review the making of the world and the assurance of God’s constant presence in even matters that seem mundane to man, Job is faced with just how small a presence he makes in the total scheme of things.

Then Job answered the LORD: “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more.”

Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm: “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his? Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself in honor and majesty.

Then I myself will admit to you that your own right hand can save you.” (Job 40:3-10 and 14)

Of course, if Job could have saved himself, he would have done it already! It’s a no-brainer; Job can do nothing. I think that God’s questions are more rhetorical than real, since God doesn’t really give Job a minute to respond to them before He continues expanding Job’s vision of just where he is in the world plan.

God spends a lot of verses on describing the great behemoth, the leviathan, and I found it hard to relate to the creature in any real way. Then, as I read, I pictured those gigantic dinosaurs about which we studied in school and the picture became a bit clearer. The sheer size of those creatures, not to mention their aggressive strength, creates a picture of just how much greater God is than I had given Him credit. I mean, how many times do we picture God about the size of Jesus when He took the human form here on earth? My, but that makes God sooo small in comparison with His actual size.

God draws Job’s attention to this issue as He continues in Chapter Forty:

“Look at Behemoth, which I made along with you and which feeds on grass like an ox. What strength it has in its loins, what power in the muscles of its belly! Its tail sways like a cedar; the sinews of its thighs are close-knit. Its bones are tubes of bronze, its limbs like rods of iron. It ranks first among the works of God, yet its Maker can approach it with his sword.” (Job 40:15-19)

On and on goes the description of the physical picture and power of this enormous, prehistoric-like being. This descriptive narrative fills the rest of this chapter and right into the whole of Chapter Forty-One.

“Can you make a pet of it like a bird or put it on a leash for the girls in your house?

Any hope of subduing it is false; the mere sight of it is overpowering. No one is fierce enough to rouse it. Who then is able to stand against me?” (Job 41: 5, 9-10)

The image of a dinosaur on a leash, held by a child, is ludicrous; he’d never let her get close enough to take ahold of the end of any leash that an army of men might have managed to get over the head of such a beast. Yet, the image pales in size compared with the One Who created the creature. God could approach it with a sword or a leash, and the behemoth wouldn’t move a muscle. God is so much bigger than the beast and in total control over him. Not only that, but doesn’t God have a claim of some kind to what His own hands created? Even in our western, modern court system grievances can be argued in court over the right of an artist. Since God has not relinquished His rights, He is the sole-possessor of His work.

“Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.” (Job 41:11)

And that, dear Reader, is the main point of Job’s story, if you only take into account God’s rights to do what He did—nothing to help Job or protect him from loss and suffering. God owns it all; it’s all His, and He can do, or not do, whatever He pleases. No one has any right to contend with Him over any of His decisions.

That’s truth in its raw form. However, one must take the character of God into consideration when studying this painful account of Job, a faithful and blameless man. There is, quite simply, more to the story.

The final chapter in the Book of Job begins with Job’s response to the questions God had asked earlier.

Then Job replied to the LORD: “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’

My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6)

Job understood what God was trying to say. Though his speech had not caused Job to sin, he did get it that his attitude needed a bit of tweaking—which is a present-day way of admitting that it wasn’t what it should be, right? Job accepted that there were things happening that were out of his realm of understanding, which is what too wonderful for me to know means. Justice was never the issue. Like us, Job had more to learn!

****Did God Abandon Job? (Part IV)…Next Post