Blessed

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Psalm 1:1-2:12

The Book of Psalms has been called the Hymn Book of the Church.  150 songs that encompass the whole range of human experience.  There are songs of love and hate, of joy and sorrow, of deep intimacy and of profound disillusionment with God.  We love the Psalms because we can find a song to sing for every occasion.

But God doesn’t want just anyone to pick up His song book – just as the Royal Opera House would be displeased if you decided to join in. .  Only certain people are invited to sing at the Opera House, and similarly, only certain people are allowed into the Psalms.

That’s why Psalms 1 and 2 are often called “the gateway to the Psalms.”  Before we start singing these songs for ourselves, we’re stopped at this checkpoint.  And these two Psalms will instruct us in the basics.  Only certain people can proceed.  And Psalms 1 and 2 will tell us, who’s in and who’s out.

The person who is ‘in’ is called “blessed.”  (Psalm 1:1; 2:12)

It’s just like the sermon on the mount.  As Jesus begins to preach, He uses the beatitudes as a gateway, explaining the kind of person who is in God’s Kingdom (Matthew 5:1-12).  They are called “Blessed.”

“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…” (Matthew 5:3)

The one who’s blessed is the one who belongs.  In both Hebrew (the language of the Old Testament) and Greek (the language of the New), it’s a word that means “happy” or you might say “flourishing.”

So who is blessed?  Who is allowed to sing these songs?  The book of Psalms opens like this…

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.  But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.  And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.  (Psalm 1:1-3)

You might think that the Psalm is “blessing” all those who say “no” to peer-pressure and “yes” to Bible study.  You might think it’s promising prosperity to those who keep their noses in the Scriptures and out of trouble.  But look again.

Only one person is described here: “the man.”  What a title!  I rarely venture to call myself a man.  But here is the man – the definition of man, the one to whom all other men are only relative.

In the Bible, “the man” is often used to refer to a ruler (e.g. Joseph, Genesis 42:30).  And in many parts of the English speaking world we’ve maintained  that same sense: “Stick it to the man”, “the Man is keeping me down.”  In Northern Ireland (where my wife is from) they will often refer to “your man” as a reference to your boss or your head of state.

Well “the man” of Psalm 1 meditates on the Bible day and night.  That’s something that was the particular provenance of the King. (Deuteronomy 17:18-20).  For instance, Joshua is told to meditate on the Bible day and night so that he would prosper (Joshua 1:8).  In the Bible trees, vines and branches are particularly associated with kings.And here in Psalm 1 “the man” will be a prosperous tree.

So, by now we should get the idea, “the man” is a king.

And when we turn to Psalm 2, we encounter a king who is called the Christ (Anointed One), the Son of God.

So when you put all this together, you start to see that “the Man” of Psalm 1 is in fact the King of Psalm 2.  The Man of Psalm 1 is Psalm 2′s Anointed One (or Messiah or Christ, it’s all the same word).  The Man is the Christ, the Son of God.

In both Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 we have a contrast – but not between one group of good guys and another group of bad guys.  In both Psalms we have one man, the King – who is God’s Righteous, Anointed, Blessed, Beloved Son and then we have the wicked – the other kings of the earth, the sinners, the mockers, the rebels.  The message of these Psalms is not ‘Don’t belong to the bad guys, belong to the good guys.’  The message of these Psalms is ‘Don’t belong to the wicked, belong to the Blessed Man.’  Belong to the Christ, the Son of God.

If we take the beginning and end of these two Psalms together we see the whole message of the Bible in a nutshell:

Blessed is the Man” (Psalm 1:1) and “Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.” (Psalm 2:12).

Before the world began, the Father was blessing His Son – anointing Him with the Holy Spirit.  Now the invitation goes out to all the world – “Put your trust in the Blessed Man and find God’s blessing in Him.”

Once we get beyond the gateway, the rest of the Psalms will preach to us this same message.  In all the Psalms there are 4 basic characters:

1) The LORD / God / the Father

2) The Man / The Christ / The Son of God / The Righteous King

3) Those who put their trust in the King

4) Those who refuse the King / the wicked

Some Psalms are prayers of the Christ to God.  Some are the declarations of God to the world about His King.  Some are the prayers of sinners, asking for refuge in the Christ.  But in all these interactions, all the Psalms are proclaiming the gospel to us:  Blessed is the Man, and blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.”  (Ephesians 1:3)

Old and full of days

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Job 42:7-17

Everyone remembers the sufferings of Job.  Few people remember how it all turns out.

And the LORD turned the captivity of Job… the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before…  So the LORD blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning…  After this lived Job an hundred and forty years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, even four generations. So Job died, being old and full of days.  (Job 42:10-17)

Job is the story of man.  And the story of man has a happy ending!  To be more precise, it has a happy beginning, a terrible middle and a glorious ending.

This ending seems to come from nowhere.  Nothing in Job’s circumstances suggests or precipitates this turn-around.  It’s simply that the LORD shows up and ushers in a dramatic “happily ever after.”

First there is a righting of wrongs, then there is a restoration.

The righting of wrongs comes as the LORD confronts Job’s miserable comforters, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar:

the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath. Therefore take unto you now seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you: for him will I accept: lest I deal with you after your folly, in that ye have not spoken of me the thing which is right, like my servant Job”.  (Job 42:7-8)

These fools who have tormented Job will be forgiven by the LORD.  How?  Through sacrifice and through the intercession of righteous Job.  As Job prays for his friends He plays the part of our Friend in heaven, the One who:

pleads for a man with God, as a man pleadeth for his neighbour! (Job 16:21)

As he does this for his friends, Job is called the LORD’s “servant” four times.  He is playing the part of Christ who intercedes for fools like us and brings us acceptance with the Father.

And now with the righting of old wrongs completed, the LORD turns to restoration.

Job has more sons and daughters – beautiful children, whose children and grandchildren he lives to see.  His wealth is also restored – twice over.  In the beginning Job had 7000 sheep, 3000 camels and 500 she asses (Job 1:3).  At the end he has 14000 sheep, 6000 camels and 1000 she-asses (Job 42:12).  And he lives for 140 years – twice a normal life-span.  This is not merely “paradise regained.”  Through suffering, Job is brought out to an even greater glory.  This is the story of man also.  We won’t simply return to the garden – we will be brought, through suffering, to a city.  We won’t simply be “men of dust” but will partake of Christ’s resurrection humanity.  The end will be far greater than the beginning.

Job is never given an explanation for his suffering.  He’s never told that suffering X was caused by Y and intended to achieve Z.  Instead he’s given something so much better.  He’s given an experience of the LORD, a promised righting of wrongs and a miraculous restoration.

We, like Job, are headed towards prosperity, feasting, comfort and consolation.  We are headed towards riches and blessing and fruitfulness and beauty and fullness of life.  This happy ending is not a fairytale.  It is a certain future hope guaranteed by the resurrection.  Our Redeemer liveth.  He redeemed even His own death.  At that first Easter, even deicide is redeemed.  What will He not redeem?!

Our bodies, our wounds, our circumstances, our sufferings, even the whole universe – nothing is beyond His resurrection power.  Which means that there is no senseless suffering.  Whatever we face – whatever wounds we are enduring – Christ will redeem them.

On Good Friday as people watched the murder of the Messiah, they may have returned home thinking, “There’s no way any good could come from that!”  Yet the greatest good imaginable came from precisely that.  Easter is not just an example of redemption but the engine of redemption.  It’s the pattern, the prototype, the power of redemption.  There’s nothing the resurrection won’t fix.  And not just fix.  As with Job, we too will receive a double portion.

Repent in dust and ashes

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Job 42:1-7

From the first verse of the book, Job is presented as a blameless and upright man.

The LORD is proud of Job’s matchless virtue (1:8; 2:3).  Job fears God and shuns evil.  And even when calamity falls he does not sin by cursing God (1:22; 2:10).  Instead, through all his laments and complaints, the LORD is still able to conclude in chapter 42 and verse 7 that His servant Job has spoken what is right.

And yet, in chapter 42 verse 6, Job says

“I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes!”

Uh-oh, we think.  Someone’s got self-esteem issues!

But no.  In fact Job hasn’t been esteeming himself at all.  He hasn’t had the chance to think of himself really.  This self-appraisal is not the fruit of lengthy meditations upon his sins or sufferings.  Job has not been sat in a spiritual sulk cursing himself because he’s stupid, fat, ugly, unpopular, or any of the labels we hang on ourselves.

In fact, for four solid chapters,  Job hasn’t had a single thought about himself.

That’s because from chapter 38 to 41, the Almighty has been answering Job out of the whirlwind.  So in chapter 42 and verse 5 Job summarizes exactly where his self-appraisal has come from:

I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes”.  (Job 42:5-6)

“I abhor myself” says Job.  By comparison with the LORD – upright Job falls flat on his face and confesses his total unworthiness. And that’s a good, right, true and psychologically healthy thing to do.  Not that Job wondered to himself “What would be the correct response to meeting my Maker?” It was a natural response – but a healthy one too.

There is a wrong despising of self.  You can fail to look at the LORD but instead be self-absorbed in your despair.  We’ve all been there to some degree or another.  And it’s wrong.  But mainly it’s wrong for where the self-hater is looking.  Yet when we truly see Christ we have a very different self-appraisal to those recommended by popular psychology.

Think of the prophet Isaiah.  In Isaiah 6, he sees Jesus in the temple seated on the throne (cf John 12:30f).  He is “high and lifted up,” the angels are calling out ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’, the temple is shaking, smoke is everywhere and Isaiah cries out:

“Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.

Isaiah wasn’t feeling particularly sinful that morning.  No-one was reminding him of past sins.  He felt no guilt at all … until he saw the King.  Then he said “Woe is me, I am undone!”

Or think of Peter fishing with Jesus in Luke chapter 5.  He’s in the boat with the LORD of Isaiah chapter 6.  They have a miraculous catch of fish. And Luke 5 verse 8 says:

When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

Peter confesses to being a sinner when he sees the glory of Jesus.  Peter hasn’t just remembered some sins from his murky past.  He’s not even thinking about his sins, he is simply looking at Jesus and saying “I do not match up.”

This is how to get a true estimation of yourself.  Don’t look at yourself.  Don’t look at your achievements, don’t look at your failures.  Look at Christ!  When we see the awful chasm by which we fall short of Him, then we hear Him say to us:

“They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners”.  (Mark 2:17)

Gird up thy loins

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Job 38:1-41

“Brace yourself.”

“Get ready to take it like a man.”

“Roll up your sleeves, there’s work to be done.”

These are all rough modern equivalents to “gird up thy loins.”  Essentially it’s a command to gather up your loose hanging robes (etc!), in a belt because action is called for.

But perhaps we’re surprised at its use in the book of Job.

In chapters 1 and 2, the reader gets a glimpse into heaven.  From the outset we see what lies behind the sufferings of Job.  But from chapter 3 onwards the camera pans down to earth.  And for the next 35 chapters, all we hear are earthly opinions about the workings of heaven.  Job and his miserable comforters debate the whys and wherefores of suffering.  But suddenly in Job 38:1 “the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind.”

“Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.  Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding”.  (Job 38:3-4)

This line of questioning continues for four chapters.  It is intense, unanswerable and relentless.

Is this what we expect after all the sufferings of Job?

If we were writing the story, surely we’d conclude things with Job and the LORD having a lovely cup of tea while angels give the poor man a back-rub.

But instead, Job gets an earth-shattering experience of the LORD Almighty.  His eyes are dramatically lifted from himself and his situation and  fixed instead on this Warrior, Creatorand Commander who speaks from the midst of a tornado.  Job experiences the LORD’s incomparable wisdom in surround sound. After a heck of a lot of speeches in the book, the LORD has the last word and Job is rendered speechless.

You might call this, putting Job in his place.  And actually it is absolutely for Job’s good.  The whole point of the LORD’s rhetorical questions — Did you make this world?  Do you know how it works? — is to lift the burdens of deity from his shoulders.

You see, whenever we try to balance the scales of sufferings and blessings, we put ourselves in the place of God.  If we imagine that we can justify X amount of suffering because of Y amount of sin or  its beneficial outcome, Z, we are overstepping our limitations as creatures.  We must trust to the Lord the redemption of all evil.  And we can trust to the Lord the redemption of all evil.  That’s because at Easter, He has suffered the ultimate evil and turned it into the ultimate good.

We cannot make sense of suffering by doing some kind of double-entry accounting.  If we do that we play God and we’d better gird up our loins for His response!

No, we leave the redemption of evil in the hands of our Redeemer.  It’s not our job to rationalize good and evil – in fact doing so sounds very much like our original sin.  But the tree on which good and evil is really known is the cross.  There Christ doesn’t just “make sense” of evil, He makes good.

In the course of the book, Job asks God “why” he’s suffering 20 times.  He never gets an answer.  But he does get an experience of the LORD Almighty.  And that’s better.  In our suffering, do we want the reasons or do we want the Redeemer?  The reasons aren’t promised.  The Redeemer is.

I know that my Redeemer liveth

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Job 19:21-29

What phrases do you use in consolation?  Imagine that you have some bad news to tell:

“My credit cards have been stolen, they’ve cleared out my bank account…”

How do you finish that sentence?

…still, worse things happen at sea

… serves me right for being so careless

… I suppose I’m just cursed

… oh well, mustn’t grumble

… I guess I should count my blessings

… but people in Africa are starving

… at least I have my health

… such is life

Whatever we tack onto the end of our stories of suffering gives a little window onto our theology of suffering.  Yet none of the lines above are a Christian response to suffering.

Recently, though, I heard a wonderful line.  It came from a woman suffering from terminal cancer.  How would you finish a sentence that begins “I have 6 months to live”?  She said, “…Still, nothing a resurrection won’t fix.”  Now that’s Christian consolation.

And it’s the very heart of the book of Job.  In amongst all the suffering there is resurrection hope:

“I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.  Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.” (Job 19:25-27)

Let me highlight four words from this.

First Redeemer.

Who does Job look forward to seeing?  Not just his Saviour – someone who would rescue him out of suffering.  Job looks forward to seeing His Redeemer.  That’s different.  A Redeemer won’t just pull me out of the pit.  A Redeemer will join me in it and transform the pit to paradise.  That’s very different.

Jesus is not a Replacer, snatching away the old and giving us something entirely different.  He’s a Redeemer who comes into our suffering and transforms it.

Think of Doubting Thomas.  When Thomas finally confesses Jesus to be “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28), what was he looking at?  He was looking at scars!  Jesus had bared His wounds to Thomas and told him to “behold” his hands and side.  And beholding the wounds of Jesus, Thomas sees the glory of his Lord and God.

Here’s the point: Jesus did not cast off his wounds in the resurrection. His wounds were redeemed in the resurrection.  They were transformed into badges of divine glory.  And what Jesus did with His wounds, He will do with all our wounds.  Through His resurrection He will not sweep aside our frailties and failures – He will transform them.

Often when we suffer we simply want rid of the situation.  But Jesus wants to do something better.  He doesn’t waste our suffering.  He never considers it a dead loss.  Somehow he will redeem the situation.  Somehow He will redeem every situation.  The scars we bear will become scar stories and testimonies to His grace.  If Jesus can redeem the suffering of the cross then He can and He will redeem any suffering – yours included.

The second word to highlight is earth.

Job is not looking forward to escaping this nasty planet and wafting around in some spiritual dimension.  Only the very pious can derive comfort from the prospect of clouds and harps and eternal prayer meetings.  But Job knows that God’s future is here on planet earth.  Earth is not going onto the trash heap.  No, Christ is going to redeem this suffering world and raise it to new life.

So on Easter Sunday, after Jesus rose from the dead, what did He do to give us a picture of resurrection life?  He went for country walks, spent time with His fishing buddies, He cooked breakfast on the beach and He ate many meals.  Resurrection life will be very earthy life.  Because the future is here on a redeemed planet earth.  Our hope is earthed which makes it a hope that can sustain sufferers.

The third word to emphasize is flesh.  Job’s skin will be destroyed, but in his flesh he will see God.  There would be a bodily perishing, but a no-less bodily resurrection also.  And he testifies that his own eyes will see God.  That’s a stunning thought.  The eyes with which you read this sentence – they are the eyes which will see Jesus.  It is these hands which will cling to Him.  These vocal cords will sing in His presence.  They will first perish, yes.  But after passing through death, they will be redeemed, resurrected.  In this flesh I will see God.

Which means Job won’t just know his children in some kind of afterlife – he will hold them.  He will walk with them.  He will eat with them.  We have a physical future to look forward to.  What a precious truth that is, especially for those incapacitated by their sufferings.  As Isaiah  prophesied:

The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.  Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing.  (Isaiah 35:5-7)

Finally, let’s think about the word see.

As wonderful as our physical future will be, the centre of our hope is this: we shall see God.

Job has endured terrible suffering and he’s never known why.  The reader knows – we see into heaven – Job does not.  But one day Job will see God – face to face.   He will know God even as He is known (1 Corinthians 13:12).  All God’s ways will be transparent to Job.  And they will be transparent to us also.  Then we will happily look on Beauty Himself.

Whatever you’re going through today, allow these words from Handel’s Messiah to shape your hope for the future…

I Know That My Redeemer Liveth
And that He shall stand
At the latter day
Upon the earth

And though worms destroy this body
Yet in my flesh shall I see God

For now is Christ risen
From the dead
The first fruits of them that sleep

I know that my Redeemer lives
I know that Christ is risen
Yes, I know my Redeemer lives

Escaped by the skin of my teeth

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Job 19:1-20

Here’s one of the more famous phrases in the Bible.  We’ve probably all used it.  And we’ve probably used it in its biblical sense –to describe an extremely narrow escape.  But if we were asked to explain it, perhaps we’d struggle.  Why “skin of my teeth”?  Why not “hair of my kidneys”?  Or “lips of my elbow”?  That would seem to make as much sense.

Job is talking about an “escape” that’s so unlikely it seems impossible.  The fact that my teeth don’t have skin is precisely the point.  My escape is as implausible as my teeth having skin.

What does Job need to escape from?  Well, let’s start with his circumstances.  They are pretty dire:

“I called my servant, and he gave me no answer; I intreated him with my mouth.  My breath is strange to my wife, though I intreated for the children’s sake of mine own body.  Yea, young children despised me; I arose, and they spake against me.  All my inward friends abhorred me: and they whom I loved are turned against me.  My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth”. (Job 19:16-20)

Everyone around Job seems to be against him.  But if that weren’t bad enough, verses 9-11 speak of God being against him too:

“He hath stripped me of my glory, and taken the crown from my head.  He hath destroyed me on every side, and I am gone: and mine hope hath he removed like a tree.  He hath also kindled his wrath against me, and he counteth me unto him as one of his enemies”.  (Job 19:9-11)

We’ve been thinking of Job as the story of “man” and so these verses are particularly apt.  Stripped of his glory and crown, man is now God’s enemy.

Nothing in man’s circumstances and nothing in his natural state before God can possibly give him hope.  Yet he does have a hope.  Tomorrow we will think about the one hope for Job (the one hope for man) – “I know that my Redeemer liveth” (Job 19:25).

But the context for this hope is despair in his own situation.  Man’s salvation is completely unnatural – a “skin of my teeth” kind of escape.  It has nothing to do with me and my circumstances and everything to do with my Redeemer.

John Calvin describes it poignantly:

“Everything by which we are surrounded conflicts with the promise of God.  He promises us immortality, but we are encompassed with mortality and corruption.  He pronounces that we are righteous in His sight, but we are engulfed in sin.  He declares His favour and goodwill towards us, but we are threatened by the tokens of his wrath.  What can we do?  It is His will that we should shut our eyes to what we are and have, in order that nothing may impede or even check our faith in Him.”

This is a gospel for sufferers.  Those who suffer know they have nothing.  You can’t tell Job that “worse things happen at sea” – in his case, it’s just not true.  It’s as bad as it gets.  Those who suffer know that there’s nothing in their immediate circumstances that would give them hope.

Yet here is the gospel: our salvation lies entirely above our circumstances and above ourselves.  It lies in Christ our Redeemer.  For now “we shut our eyes to what we are and have” – nothing around us will give us comfort.  But there is One above us who can be trusted – He provides our escape:

our life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.  (Colossians 3:3-4)

Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward

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Job 5:1-7; 6:1-10

When two massive egos clash we say that “sparks fly.”  But in Job, when “man” meets “world”   that’s when the sparks fly.

As we’ve been reading, the book of Job is the story of man.  And at its heart is the question of innocent suffering.  Is there such a thing?  His miserable comforters say no.  And actually humanity has a lot invested in saying no.  We would love to believe that our lives are in our own hands and that our efforts can save us.  But if that’s true then trouble is earned.

The Book of Job tells us the truth about trouble:

“Although affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground; Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” (Job 5:6-7)

Notice here that this doesn’t say “Existence is suffering.”  Creation isn’t the “trouble”.  The problem is not with physicality or the natural world.  In Genesis, both “dust” and “the ground” are said to be the raw materials of “man”. But “man’s” matter is not the matter.  Instead there’s something about man in the world that inevitably leads to trouble.

This is because man’s story is one of falling and rising.  In Adam man tumbles down.  All who are born in Him are born to trouble.  Yet Christ came as the last Adam.  He takes our trouble on Himself.  He is the One who is supremely born to trouble.  In fact it’s His trouble – the cross – that defines the direction of travel for all men.  It’s not the last word, but it is the path all must tread.  However,  it’s trouble that has a happy ending.

So then in your affliction there’s bad news and good news.  The bad news is, you’ve been born to it.  But, if you belong to Christ, you’re born again to a renewed humanity.  For the Christian there’s a sequel to the verse.  After trouble and through trouble we can be certain: As surely as sparks rise – so will the believer!

The Apostle Peter gets that balance between falling and rising just right:

“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy”.  (1 Peter 4:12-13)

Miserable comforters

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Job 2:1-3:10

The world cannot abide innocent suffering.  It unnerves us, to put it mildly.  Some of this is compassion.  But much of it is fear and selfishness.

Our (unconscious) thought processes go something like this:  If tragedy really is indiscriminate, then the world is an unsafe place in which to make my home.  If my careful preparations, my hard work, my risk assessments, health and safety policies, due diligence, fitness regimes, good diet and general moral rectitude can’t protect me from suffering  then…  dear me, I may have to face the world depending only on the LORD who “giveth and taketh away”.  That’s an unbearable prospect for natural humanity.

So when our friend is sick we feel a twinge of empathy.  But if they persist in being ill, it’s amazing how quickly compassion turns to criticism.

- You need to try Goji berries, anti-oxidants will do the trick
- I started doing X and my life’s never been the same, you should try it
- I read an article saying it’s caused by Y, you should cut Y out
- I hate  to say it, but I saw this coming, you should have been more Z…

We assume that life works according to laws.  Keep the laws, life goes well.  Break the laws and pay the price.  It’s easy for the advice-givers to say this, because their happy circumstances prove what they want to believe: that their life is in their hands and their good works will save them.

Job had to endure such “miserable comforters.”  In fact he coined the phrase “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2) and for the best part of four millennia we’ve found it to be true!

Yesterday we saw the sufferings of Job – he loses his sons and daughters, his livestock and his servants on a single day.  His family and his wealth are devastated.  Then in Job chapter 2, he loses his health as well.

[Satan] smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown. And he took him a potsherd to scrape himself withal; and he sat down among the ashes.  (Job 2:7-8)

When Job’s friends hear about it, they do the right thing:

When Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came every one from his own place; Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite: for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him.  And when they lifted up their eyes afar off, and knew him not, they lifted up their voice, and wept; and they rent every one his mantle, and sprinkled dust upon their heads toward heaven.  So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great.  (Job 2:11-13)

Job’s friends come in sympathy, they sit with him and are silent.  In the entire book, it’s the best thing they do.  For a whole week they bite their tongues.  It’s when they open their mouths that the trouble starts.

First we hear from Eliphaz.  Here’s a snapshot of his philosophy:

“Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? or where were the righteous cut off?”  (Job 4:7)

Eliphaz has no category for righteous suffering.  Therefore Job’s suffering means unrighteousness, and Eliphaz doesn’t mind pointing it out.

Job takes a few chapters to respond – he really is innocent and he really is suffering.  But Bildad has had enough of his defense.  He pipes up in chapter 8:

Then answered Bildad the Shuhite, and said,  “How long wilt thou speak these things? and how long shall the words of thy mouth be like a strong wind?  Doth God pervert judgment? or doth the Almighty pervert justice?  If thy children have sinned against him, and he have cast them away for their transgression;  If thou wouldest seek unto God betimes, and make thy supplication to the Almighty;  If thou wert pure and upright; surely now he would awake for thee, and make the habitation of thy righteousness prosperous”.  (Job 8:1-6)

Do you hear what Bildad is saying?  Your children had it coming to them and if you were truly upright you wouldn’t suffer like this!

Poor Job! With friends like these…

Well in chapters 9 and 10 Job continues to insist – this really is innocent suffering.  Job continually stresses both things – it’s truly undeserved and it’s truly awful.  But our human nature can’t handle that.  So Zophar speaks up for miserable comforters everywhere.  Yes Job, he argues, things are bad now but…

“If thou prepare thine heart, and stretch out thine hands toward him;  If iniquity be in thine hand, put it far away, and let not wickedness dwell in thy tabernacles.  For then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot; yea, thou shalt be stedfast, and shalt not fear”:  (Job 11:13-15)

Be more devoted Job, then things will turn out alright!

What can be said to that?  Some withering sarcasm seems best!

And Job answered and said,  “No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you!” (Job 12:1)

It’s a wonderful riposte from Job!  But the advice of these friends is no laughing matter.  It’s torment!  Job says to them:

“How long will ye vex my soul, and break me in pieces with words?” (Job 19:2)

But this is where all “comfort” ends if the comforters don’t know the grace of God.  If friends don’t have Jesus Christ – the Innocent Sufferer – at the heart of their thoughts and actions, they will end up tormenting the sufferers.  They will only lay extra laws on those who are already burdened.

But thankfully, Job knew another Friend.  He speaks of Him in chapter 16.  Let me give you a more modern translation of it:

“Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend”.  (Job 16:19-21; NIV)

No-one on earth seems to believe in innocent suffering.  But Job knows One in heaven who certainly does.  This Friend in high places would suffer for the sins of the world, and He is Job’s Witness, Advocate, Intercessor and Friend.

Meditate now on each of those roles: Witness, Advocate, Intercessor and Friend.  In suffering, Christ is the one true comfort.  All our comfort must lead back to Him.

The LORD gave and the LORD hath taken away

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Job 1:1-22

Job is a very old book.  Many scholars consider him to be a rough contemporary of Abraham.  That’s almost 2000 years before Jesus took flesh.  It might even have been the first biblical book to be written down.  Yet it appears fairly much in the middle of our Bibles.  This is because of the genre.  It’s “wisdom literature” – like Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs – so it gets lumped in with them.  Wisdom literature is not fast food: it’s Scripture you have to chew on slowly.  It’s often full of riddles and rhymes and elaborate picture language.  Job is no exception.

The story of Job is the story of Man.

We begin in Uz, which is Hebrew for “a wooded place.”  And this wooded place is “in the east.”  Like Eden.

There’s a man, Job, who is in charge of many animals and whose life seems to be going perfectly.  Like in Eden.

Then Satan pokes his nose in and everything’s ruined.  Like in Eden.

Here’s how it happens.  It seems like there are occasional meetings in heaven at which all angels – fallen and unfallen – attend.  And at one such gathering, the LORD mentions how proud He is of Job.  Satan replies:

“Doth Job fear God for nought?  Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land.  But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face”.  (Job 1:9-11)

This gives us a fascinating insight into Satan.  He cannot comprehend a person worshipping God unless they are paid to do so.  He is certain that if the LORD removes divine protection and provision, Job will have no reason to pay any respects.  Satan assumes we only love God for the stuff we get out of Him.  To put it plainly, he considers us gold-diggers.  And when the money dries up, we’ll want a divorce.

The trouble is, in the vast majority of cases he’s right!  Mostly we are mercenaries.  Mostly we do want His things, but not Him.  And the proof is this: What do we do when the things are taken away?

Well, we shall see.  Because Satan is permitted to ruin Job’s life in a quite devastating way.

In verses 13-19 we read how Job loses his sons, his daughters, his servants and his livestock in four consecutive waves of tragedy.

It’s like the phone ringing again and again with disaster after disaster.  He has lost all his wealth and all his children in one fell swoop.  What’s his response?

“Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped,  And said, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD”. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.”  (Job 1:20-22)

Satan was wrong.  Job’s response is incredibly different to the natural human response.  He grieves, yes.  He expresses the deepest sorrow.  But he blesses God in the midst of unfathomable tragedy.  And by ‘turning the other cheek’ to this evil (so to speak), Job resists the devil and gains victory.

Who is Job?  How can he be so different?  Over the course of the next week we’ll study some more of his phrases.  We will see how he represents true Man.  He is showing us here the victory of Jesus Christ who defeats Satan not apart from suffering but in it.

For now, note Job’s complete lack of entitlement.  He doesn’t claim that he is “owed” by God.  Instead he is profoundly aware that everything is a gift.  He handles suffering through a deep appreciation for the grace of God.  He doesn’t think, “I don’t deserve this” and he avoids the despair of thinking “perhaps I do deserve this.”  The language of “deserving” is the language of his “miserable comforters” as we’ll see.  Job rejects this language.  He has a healthy understanding of the grace of God who doesn’t “pay and exact”, but Who “gives and takes away.”

Job doesn’t wave his accomplishments in God’s face with a defiant “Why me!?”  Nor does he search his soul for failures to explain “Why me!?”  He realizes that God deals in gifts and not wages.  This frees him to grieve without hardening or disintegrating.

None of us can avoid suffering.  It is the way of man (I’m using “man” in its all-inclusive King James sense!)  But before the storm hits, we can put the roof on.  And the roof, in this instance, is a deep conviction of the grace of God.  We will be greatly helped when suffering hits, if we remember now:

Everything in my life is God’s gift.  The good is His grace to bestow.  All lack is His right to withhold.  But I trust Him in all circumstances because I am not a gold-digger.  I am not in this relationship for the sake of the “stuff.”  I trust Jesus for the sake of having Jesus.  And, come what may, He is enough.

Carried away

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2 Chronicles 36:1-23

Usually when we get “carried away” it’s not so serious.  Perhaps we’re a little overcome by a bout of silliness.  Or we lose track of the time in conversation.  Or we go a bit far as we rant about some pet topic.

But getting “carried away” in the Bible was very serious.  The phrase is used about 60 times to refer to the people being uprooted from their land.  E.g.

“Judah was carried away out of their land.”  (2 Kings 25:21)

As we saw yesterday, the kingdom splits after Solomon.  Twenty northern kings later, “Israel” was “carried away” by the Assyrians.  And twenty southern kings later, “Judah” was “carried away” by the Babylonians.

It was an incredible wrench for the people of God.  In the original Hebrew, the verb for “carried away” was more literally “uncovered.”  The people felt naked.  This land of milk and honey was a tangible token of their new creation inheritance.  But now, just as Adam and Eve were booted out of paradise, so the people are booted out of the promised land.  Through disobedience, they are removed from the presence and favour of the LORD and put under a curse.

It’s in this period of exile that the people sing their lament:

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.  (Psalm 137:1)

For 70 years they are “carried away.”

Then in the 6th century BC there was a pseudo-return from exile.  The people rebuilt Jerusalem and its temple and physically resettled in the land.  But it wasn’ta real return.

Matthew chapter 1 (the first chapter of the New Testament) surveys the history of the people from Abraham to the birth of Christ.  And in verse 17 Matthew concludes:

“So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.”

The end of exile is not some ancient rebuilding project – but the Messiah. 

But here’s how He gives rest.  He carries His people home, by being carried away Himself.  Mark 15:1 says:

They bound Jesus, and carried him away, and delivered him to Pilate.

In judgement Jesus is handed over to the foreign ruler.   And on the cross He is stripped and uncovered, He is excommunicated – crucified outside the city, He endures the shame, He bears the curse, He suffers the estrangement, He pays for their sins.  Jesus is “carried away” to the place of uncleanness and death.

But then He rises up again at the Head of His people – the Heir of the world.  Now He is truly home – at the Father’s side.  And when He moves to earth with His Father, the whole world will be our promised land.

Are you feeling uprooted?  Uncovered?  Away from home?

If you belong to Jesus, He has carried you to the Father’s right hand.  He is the end of exile.  He is our true home.