MISERY AND MAJESTY
By David Feddes
30 readings and meditations from the book of Job.
FOR FREE OR FOR A FEE?
“Does Job fear God for nothing?” (Job 1:9)
Job was the greatest man around: devoted to God, opposed to evil, upstanding in character, outstanding in wealth and wisdom, eager for his family to be right with God. The Lord was so pleased with Job that he singled him out and bragged about him.
But Satan was not impressed. “Does Job honor God for free?” sneered the Accuser. “Do you really think he serves you because he loves his Boss? Don’t make me laugh! He’s just in it for the paycheck. Haven’t you shielded him and that big, happy family of his from any sickness or sadness? Not only that, you’ve made the man so rich that he owns everything in sight. You’ve been paying him mighty well, haven’t you? But if you took it all away, Job would curse you to your face.”
The Lord replied, “Very well, Satan, I accept that challenge. Give it your best shot. Do what you want with everything I’ve given to the man–but don’t you dare touch Job himself.”
What will happen? How will this all turn out? Is Job Is anyone loyal to God just because of who God is? Or is God like a billionaire with no real friends? Sure, some people will act friendly and try to please him. But is that because they love him, or because they want to benefit from his riches? Does God have to pay people to gain their loyalty? Does he have to pay you?
Do you serve God for free or for a fee?
PRAYER: Lord, you deserve our love and obedience. Move us to love you freely in good times and bad, that Satan may be silenced, and that you may rejoice in us. Amen.
GIVE AND TAKE
“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21)
Sunday is a day for worship. However, if your heart is aching and your eyes are swollen from crying, you may not feel like praising God. But God is still God. He is worthy of worship.
Job’s property had vanished; his employees were wiped out; his children were dead; and how did Job respond? He mourned his terrible losses and then fell to the ground in worship.
Job realized that even grief points to God’s goodness. After all, why does it hurt so much to lose a loved one? Because that person was dear to you. And who gave you that dear person? God did. God hasn’t taken away anybody or anything that he didn’t first give you and let you enjoy for a time.
Gerald Sittser, in his book A Grace Disguised, tells of the shattering loss of his daughter, his wife, and his mother in a single horrid accident. He says, “I did not deserve to lose three members of my family. But then again, I am not sure I deserved to have them in the first place.”
We enter this world with nothing; we leave it with nothing; and in between, everything we have is from God. He rules everything. He owes us nothing. The Lord is free to reduce us from joy to sorrow, from abundance to nothingness. But he is also free, in his give and take, to take away our temporary sorrow and to give us everlasting joy.
PRAYER: Lord, we worship you today, even in our tears. You give and you take away. Help us to adore you and to cling to the one gift you won’t take away, the gift of yourself in Jesus. Amen.
FOR BETTER, FOR WORSE
“Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” (Job 2:10)
God said to Satan, “Have you seen Job lately? He is still loyal to me even though he lost everything for no reason.”
But the cynic from hell retorted, “The man is even more self‑centered than I thought! What does he care if his workers and children are dead? As long as he can save his own skin, he’ll do whatever you want. But give him a few jolts of real pain, and he’ll curse you to your face.”
So, with God’s permission, Satan tormented Job with horrible sores that covered his body from head to toe. Job found himself sitting on a garbage heap like a bum, scraping his festering sores with a fragment from a broken dish.
This was too much for Mrs. Job. She exploded: “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Give it up, man. Curse God and die!”
That didn’t sound like the dear wife Job had come to know. So Job replied, “You’re not thinking straight. Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” To curse God and choose death may seem like a sure release from physical pain and emotional anguish. But Job refused his wife’s devilish advice. Instead he urged her to be loyal to God, for better or for worse.
Centuries after Job, Jesus also had to reject advice from someone close to him. Jesus’ dear friend Peter suggested that God’s Chosen One should avoid the suffering that God planned for him. And Jesus replied, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Mark 8:33) God’s way often leads through suffering, not around it.
PRAYER:I need your presence every passing hour. What but your grace can foil the tempter’s power? Who like yourself my guide and stay can be? Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me. Amen.
They began to weep… No one said a word to him because they saw how great his suffering was. Job 2:12-13
Do you ever avoid visiting people who are sick or who have just lost a loved one? If so, why? One excuse might be that it makes you feel bad to see people in pain. But isn’t that the point of visiting? People who feel bad need to know that others feel bad with them, that they’re not alone in their pain.
Or maybe you avoid people in pain because you don’t know what to say. Someone you know goes through a divorce, or loses a job, or has a family member convicted of a crime. You feel bad for them but stay away because you’re at a loss for words. But who says you have to give a speech? One tear is worth a thousand words. A simple hug often does more good than all the speeches in the world.
Look at Job’s friends. They wept and sat with Job for an entire week without saying a word. Job’s friends later made serious mistakes, as we’re going to see, but give the friends their due. They didn’t avoid Job. They came to him sooner than most of us would; they cried more tears with him than most of us would; they kept their mouths shut longer than most of us would; and they spent more time with him than most of us would.
If someone you know is hurting, don’t stay away, and don’t say too much. Just be there, and be quiet. “Mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).
PRAYER: Father, give us the courage and compassion to visit the sick and sorrowing and to share their tears, just as Jesus shares our pain and sympathizes with us. Amen.
BETTER OFF DEAD?
Why is light given to those in misery … to those who long for death that does not come? (Job 3:20-21)
Job suffered in silence for awhile. Then, finally, he broke the silence. He cursed the day he was born. He wondered why he was alive. “Why,” he asked, “is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul, to those who long for death that does not come?” (3:20)
Why do people who long for death have to go on living? Why must someone paralyzed in an accident go on living? Why must someone whose life has been ruined or who experiences chronic depression go on living? Why must a person who is painfully wasting away in a hospital or nursing home linger on instead of just dying peacefully?
Those are tough questions. I don’t know any easy answers. Neither did Job. But one “answer” Job refused even to consider was ending his own life. That was not his decision to make, no matter how distressing his pain, no matter how perplexing his questions. Although Job thought he’d be better off dead, he knew that God gives life and only God has the right to end life. Job could ask questions of God, but he couldn’t make decisions for God.
Only in faith can you question God even when you have no idea what the answers might be. Only in faith can you go on living even when you think you’d be better off dead. Only in faith can you endure your worst nightmare and yet dare to dream of a God who hears your cries.
PRAYER: Why, Lord, why? We ask, not in unbelief, but in faith. We believe you have reasons, but we don’t know those reasons. Help us trust you even when we don’t understand. Amen.
THE OBVIOUS EXPLANATION
“As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it.” (Job 4:8)
“Job, I can’t just sit and listen,” protests his friend Eliphaz. “I’ve got to say something. What’s wrong with you, man? You’ve helped other people, but now something happens to you, and you start complaining and questioning (4:1-6). Think about it. Would God ruin an innocent person? Of course not! Observation shows that people who plant trouble end up reaping trouble. God always blasts the bad guys” (4:7‑9).
“And if the plain facts aren’t enough for you, here’s a word of knowledge I’d like to share. It came to me in a deep and spooky vision. The revelation I received is that the Lord is always right, that nobody can be more righteous than the holy God, and that he smashes those who offend him” (4:12-21).
“So if I were you,” continues Eliphaz, “here’s what I’d do. I’d stop griping and start asking God for help (5:8). God punishes bad people, but he rescues those who turn to him (5:9-16). If you’re suffering, God must be trying to teach you a lesson. So don’t despise his discipline (5:17). Once you’re back on good terms with God, everything will turn around, and you can enjoy security and prosperity once again (5:18-26). Admit it, Job, this makes perfect sense. So hear it and apply it to yourself” (5:27).
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? If God isn’t treating you as you’d like, something’s wrong. You’ve got to work your way back into his favor. Eliphaz urges Job to relate to God on the basis of how it pays. But is that what God wants? Isn’t that what Satan accused Job of doing?
PRAYER: Forgive us, Lord, when we think we have you figured out, or when we try to earn your favor by our actions. Help us bow to your will and trust your grace in Christ. Amen.
“Now you too have proved to be of no help. You see something dreadful and are afraid.” (Job 6:21)
What’s our first reaction when we hear someone has AIDS? “How did he get it?” When someone is hurt in a car crash: “Was she wearing a seat belt?” When someone gets lung cancer: “Did he smoke?” When someone’s child is arrested: “Well, they never did know how to handle their kids.”
Why are we so quick to explain and blame, rather than simply to weep with those who weep?
Here’s how Job explains it: “You see something dreadful and are afraid” (Job 6:21). We want a neat explanation for a messy situation. That way it won’t seem so senseless and scary. If we can see how sufferers brought it on themselves, we can comfort ourselves that we’re not doing what they did, and we can shield ourselves from the fear that what happened to them could also happen to us.
Sometimes people’s pain can indeed be traced to past behavior–though not nearly as often as we’d like to think. But even if people in pain have sinned horribly, they need our compassion more than our contempt. As Job put it: “A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends, even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty” (Job 6:14).
Innocent sufferers (like Job) need tears, not accusations. And even guilty sufferers need tears more than they need accusations. Who knows? Despairing sinners who have rejected the Almighty may find through the tears of faithful friends that the God they’ve given up on still cares about them, after all.
PRAYER: Father, forgive us for our fear and our judging of people in pain. Make us faithful friends. Shine your love through us to those who most need it. In Jesus, Amen.
THE BURDEN OF GREATNESS
“What is man, that you make so much of him, that you give him so much attention?” (Job 7:17)
A biblical poet once expressed amazement that the Creator of galaxies would pay attention to tiny humans. He asked, “What is man that you are mindful of him?” and then praised God for making humanity so great (Psalm 8).
But there’s another side to this. Job used words much like that poet’s, but for Job humanity’s greatness and God’s attention to us was starting to feel more like a crushing burden than an honor. Might it not be better if God would just “look away” (Job 7:19) and ignore us and let us ignore him. That way we could simply relax and enjoy ourselves and then pass into nothingness. “What is man,” wondered Job, “that you make so much of him, that you give him so much attention? Even if I sin, how can the sin of puny, little me affect the infinite, Almighty God?”
But, whether we understand it or not, whether we find it burdensome or glorious, we do matter to God, and our sins do affect him. Indeed, we matter so much to him that he eventually became one of us in the Person of Jesus. And our sins affect the Lord so deeply that he was crucified and endured hell for those sins. God will never just look away and let us relax in a life where all that matters is our own pleasure and comfort. He designed us for something far greater: to glorify him and to enjoy him forever.
PRAYER: Father in heaven, sometimes we feel crushed by how much you make of us. Give us strength to share in the suffering of Christ that we may also share in his glory. Amen.
CAUSE AND EFFECT
“When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.” (Job 8:4)
Bildad, the second of Job’s friends to speak up, is a man who can’t bear to hear anyone question God, and so he sings the same tune his buddy Eliphaz sang earlier–only louder. “How long are you going to talk like a whiner and a windbag, Job!” says Bildad. “God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world. Everything works by cause and effect. There’s no mystery at all why your kids are dead. They got what they deserved. God simply gave them over to the penalty of their sin” (8:1-4).
“But listen, old friend,” continues Bildad, “at least you’re still alive. God is still giving you a chance. All you need to do is have more commitment to God and clean up your behavior (8:5-7). Tried and true wisdom tells us that bad things happen to bad people (8:8-19). But the reverse is also true: good things happen to good people. If you live a clean life, then you’re going to have success and laughter and joy” (8:20-22).
Job’s friends think they’ve got God’s ways figured out and Job’s troubles figured out. They figure that God always brings pleasure to his friends and pain to his enemies. Their figuring is based on formula, not faith; on merit, not mercy.
Today is Sunday. Do you worship a God who fits your formulas and rewards your merits? Or do you worship a free and sovereign Lord of infinite mystery and majesty, a God who sometimes sends unexplainable suffering to his friends and showers undeserved mercies on his enemies?
PRAYER: Lord, your ways are not our ways. Silence our proud formulas. Help us this Lord’s Day to bow our knees before you and to put our arms around those who grieve. Amen.
“He is not a man like me… If only there were someone to arbitrate between us.” (Job 9:32-33)
“Okay,” says Job, “Suppose I agree that God rewards the righteous. Who is righteous? Is anybody? How can a mortal be righteous before God? Nobody has one chance in a thousand of winning an argument with God. No matter how innocent I might be in terms of human justice, I still couldn’t claim any rights in God’s court. I could only plead with my Judge for mercy.”
“You know my biggest problem? God isn’t a man like me. He’s too wise for me, too powerful for me, and his ideas of fairness don’t fit my ideas of fairness. If only I had someone to stand between God and me, someone to connect us, someone with power and wisdom equal to God’s and yet someone who has lived through human trials and temptations. If only I had somebody like that, I could relate to God without such a sense of terror and distance.”
At that point, Job could only lament that God “is not a man like me” and wish for a go-between. But here’s the good news: God has become a man like me. Jesus is eternal God, yet he was “made like his brothers in every way” (Hebrews 2:17) “to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus bridges the gap between God and humanity, for he is both divine and human. So, back to Job’s question: Can a mortal be righteous before God? Yes, for “we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1).
PRAYER: We praise you, Father, that what Job longed for in his anguish, you have provided in your love. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for becoming human and bridging the gap. Amen.
WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE…
“Know this: God has even forgotten some of your sins.” (Job 11:6)
Job’s friends have good intentions. They are troubled by Job’s tragedy and want him to be happy again. At the same time, they want to defend God’s honor against Job’s cries and questions. They want to make sense of Job’s predicament in terms of what they believe about God.
Zophar, the third of the friends to speak, uses this method even more forcefully: “Job, I can’t let you get away with talking like this. If you think your problems weren’t caused by anything you did, think again! The fact is that it could be a lot worse. God has even forgotten some of your sin.”
“God is so great we can’t know everything about him. But we can be sure of this much: if you’re sunk in depression and despair, you must have a dirty secret somewhere, and you need to confess it to God. If God seems far away, guess who moved? You need to get closer to God again. Pray harder. Live cleaner. Then your troubles will vanish, and you’ll be safe and secure, happier than you ever dreamed possible.”
These well-intentioned words hurt Job more than they help. “You guys are such know-it-alls,” replies Job. “Well, I have a brain, too. Who doesn’t know all these things? But how do you know they apply to me? It’s easy to look down on those who are suffering when you’re not suffering yourself” (12:1-5).
With friends like these, who needs enemies?
PRAYER: When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me. Help me, Lord, to trust your mercy and to show mercy to others, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
NO MATTER WHAT
“Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” (Job 13:15)
Job tells his friends, “I want to hear from God, not from you. Does God need you to be his lawyers and argue his case? You say I’m being punished for some secret sin. Easy for you to say! But are you so pure that God couldn’t find an excuse to zap you if he wanted? What are your pompous words and pious works before his blazing splendor? Nothing but ashes!”
Job’s friends reason that since God is fair, the way he treats us depends on us. God simply responds to what we do. Job, however, believes in a God who is not bound to respond directly to what we do but who freely does whatever he chooses to do. We can’t predict or control God’s actions. Sometimes God freely chooses to do things that seem unfair. But whatever God chooses to do, Job is going to hang on to God, no matter what. “Though he slay me,” cries Job, “yet will I hope in him” (15:13).
When Job cried those words, he knew only his own agony and dread. Little did he know that the Lord would say, “Though the humans slay me, yet will I give them hope.” And that free, “unfair” choice of our Lord means salvation.
This is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Lent is a time when many Christians focus in a special way on Jesus’ suffering and death. Today and all during Lent, ask yourself: Do I trust the Lord no matter what, even if it kills me? Do I trust him, even though my sin killed him?
PRAYER: Father, we tremble before your holy majesty and absolute freedom, and yet by faith we cling to you and to your Son, Jesus, who was slain to give us hope. Amen.
WHAT’S THE QUESTION?
“If a man dies, will he live again?” (Job 14:14)
I’m not a fan of bumper sticker religion. HONK IF YOU LOVE JESUS doesn’t have the same ring as “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). For awhile there was a bumper sticker that blared, JESUS IS THE ANSWER. Then another sticker fired back: IF JESUS IS THE ANSWER, WHAT’S THE QUESTION? At last! A bumper sticker worth remembering!
Maybe you like nice, polite people who honk but never cry or ask hard questions. Maybe you like a nice, safe God who offers easy answers. If so, you probably dislike hearing Job as much as his friends did. But Job asked questions we need to ask. “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (2:10) “What is man, that you make so much of him?” (7:17) “How can a mortal man be righteous before God?” (9:2) You need to ask such questions; otherwise, the Answer won’t mean much to you.
Another question: “If a man dies, will he live again?” Job sees trees which are cut down but then sprout again. If only that could happen to people! If God would just hide Job in the grave till these terrible times passed and then renew him and cover over any sin of his–a life beyond this life would mean all is not lost, after all.
“If a man dies, will he live again?” When you’re desperate, that’s the sort of question you ask. And the risen Jesus is your Answer. The dead tree of Calvary sprouts up into resurrection life.
PRAYER: Father in heaven, stir our souls to ask the same desperate questions Job asked. Then open our hearts to receive your Answer, the crucified and risen Jesus. Amen.
A FRIEND IN HIGH PLACES
“My advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend.” (Job 16:19-20)
Job’s complaints to God were agonizing: “Surely, O God, you have worn me out… God assails me and tears me in his anger… Men open their mouths to jeer at me; they strike my cheek in scorn and unite together against me. God has turned me over to evil men… He has made me his target” (16:7-13).
Job wrongly complained that God was his enemy, but then, suddenly, he declared in faith: “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” (16:19-21).
How could Job complain so bitterly and still express such great faith? Well, senseless pain often brings conflicting thoughts and emotions. Agony can bring out our deepest fears about God and also awaken our highest hopes. Pain can be the worst of times and the best of times in our walk with God.
At any rate, Job was saying more than he knew. He did indeed have a Friend in high places. In fact, this Friend would someday endure everything that Job thought he himself was enduring. This Friend would indeed bear God’s wrath. God turned this Friend over to evil men who struck him and mocked him and crucified him. And now this Jesus, the God-man, pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend. “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
PRAYER: Father, on a day when we talk of love and valentines, we thank you for the greatest love of all, your love in Jesus. Thank you, Jesus, for being our Friend. Amen.
PROVIDE WHAT YOU REQUIRE
“Give me, O God, the pledge you demand. Who else will put up security for me?” (Job 17:3)
Job refuses to believe that some particular sin of his caused God to make him suffer. But he also refuses to think that any particular good deed of his can obligate God to accept him or reward him. No matter what Job does, God will never owe him anything.
Earlier Job asked, “How can a mortal be righteous before God?” (9:2) God is so great and holy that we mortals can’t fully understand his requirements, let alone fulfill them perfectly or put God in our debt. Job knows that if God has some requirement that must be met before Job can be assured of God’s approval, then God himself will have to supply what he requires. And so Job pleads, “Give me, O God, the pledge you demand” (17:3).
That prayer is answered in Jesus Christ. The inexpressible holiness of God (which we can hardly understand, let alone measure up to) has been fully satisfied by the holy Son of God in his perfect life and sacrificial death. God’s attitude toward his people is based not on what we do but on what Christ has done. And when the Lord accepts us, his Holy Spirit empowers us to become more and more the people God commands us to be. In other words, God gives us the very thing he demands of us. And so, like Job, God’s people can base their assurance of God’s approval, not on any visible or material prosperity, but on the fact that God provides what he requires.
PRAYER: Provide us, O God, with what you require. Declare us right with you through Jesus. Make us what you want us to be through your Spirit. We trust your promise, O Lord. Amen.
MY REDEEMER LIVES
“I know that my Redeemer lives… In my flesh I will see God.” (Job 19:25-26)
Tragedy has many terrible aspects, but perhaps the worst is that it is so final. When people die, they’re dead. That’s it. “It’s all over,” thinks Job. “My workers are dead. My children are dead. Soon I’ll be dead as well. Sorrow and death get the last word.” Or so it seems.
Job sees the stark finality of his tragedy with his own two eyes; but then his eyes of faith glimpse a different reality. In that great and unshakable reality, tragedy doesn’t get the last word. God does.
Death may be all around, but Job’s Redeemer is alive. Job somehow senses, in spite of his fears and outcries, that the God who seems to be his enemy is actually his Redeemer. This Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth where Job can encounter him. Even death itself cannot prevent this. Job may die, his body may decay, and yet he will still somehow have his own body and his own eyes and his own personality back again. “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!” (19:26-27).
Every Sunday is a fresh reminder that Job’s faith–our faith–is not in vain. It was on this first day of the week that the Man who is also our Redeemer God rose from the dead and opened the way for all his people to rise again. “My Redeemer lives”–and so will I.
PRAYER: In this Sunday we praise you, Father, for giving us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus. We love you and yearn to see you face to face. Amen.
THE HIDDEN GOD
“If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling!” (Job 23:3)
If you’re like some readers of devotional meditations, you might skip the Bible passage for the day and breeze through the short meditation. Big mistake! In the book of Job, especially, you miss the depth and power of God-breathed Scripture if you settle for the bite-sized summaries we provide. You need to enter directly into Job’s terrifying struggle in order to meet Job’s terrifying and wonderful God.
In chapter 23 Job wrestles with something that troubles many of us: Why does God hide himself? Why, in a terrible time, is God nowhere to be found? We search high and low, we wish for miracles and signs, we wish that God would come out into the open and talk with us about our struggles, but often God simply hides and remains silent.
Somehow, though, God is present even when he is absent. He reveals himself even when he hides himself. He prompts questions that mean more than most answers. And in the process, he brings us to the point where we give up on our ability to track him down, and we simply trust him and believe that he is working his secret way in us. “He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (23:10).
It is in suffering that God seems most distant and hidden; and it is in suffering that he comes closest and is known most clearly. Nowhere is God more hidden than at the cross of Jesus; and nowhere is he more clearly revealed.
PRAYER: Father, we long to hear your voice and see your smile and feel your touch. Use our sorrows and struggles to work your way in us, and then refresh us again. Amen.
GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER?
“The groans of the dying rise from the city… But God charges no one with wrongdoing.” (Job 24:12)
“Why do the righteous suffer?” That’s a hard question. And the flip side is equally hard: “Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power?” (21:7) Workers lose their modest income in corporate downsizing, while the rich executive who dumped them reaps a $3 million bonus. A godly mother is killed by a drunk driver; meanwhile, a murderous Mafia boss is toasting his eightieth birthday. A young man studies hard and works hard flipping burgers, and what does he get? Chump change. Another youth sells drugs and shoots people, and what does he get? Fast women, fancy cars, and money to spare.
All too often, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The weak get ripped off and the strong get away with murder. Even if they’re caught, they can hire a dream team of lawyers and play golf the rest of their lives. “The groans of the dying rise from the city, and the souls of the wounded cry out for help. But God charges no one with wrongdoing” (24:12).
Well, not yet, anyway. But God will. “God drags away the mighty by his power… He may let them rest in a feeling of security, but his eyes are on all their ways. For a little while they are exalted, and then they are gone… they are cut off” (24:22-24). So don’t judge the destiny of the wicked by what they get away with now. And (Job would urge) don’t judge the status of the righteous by what they suffer now.
PRAYER: Lord God, hear the cries of wounded souls and the groans of the dying in our cities. Help us to work for justice and to trust the certainty of your justice yet to come. Amen.
“…how much less man, who is but a maggot–a son of man, who is only a worm!” (Job 25:6)
Who was the shortest man in the Bible? Bildad the Shuhite, say some would-be comedians. Well, whether Bildad was tall or short, his view of humanity was lower than shoe height. If the Shuhite made you feel like a heel, he’d think he was flattering you–you maggot, you worm!
Job’s three friends couldn’t deal with Job’s questions, so they resorted to badmouthing. They said people are useless to God. Earlier Eliphaz asked, “Can a man be of benefit to God? What pleasure would it give the Almighty if you were righteous?” (22:2-3) Bildad gave the friends’ last word: WORM!
Bildad was right that God is awesome but wrong to think that God’s creatures are therefore worthless to him. When God made the moon and stars, he saw them as good (Genesis 1:18); Bildad sees them as impure. When God created the first humans–in his own image, no less–he saw that what he had made was very good (Genesis 1:31); Bildad sees man as a maggot.
To insult God’s creatures is to insult their Creator. Even if people are sinful, they are not slime. The glorious God has crowned humanity with glory and honor (Psalm 8), in Creation and in Jesus.
Do we matter to God? Can we give him pleasure? Yes indeed. “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).
PRAYER: Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! We are small and sinful, yet you crown us with glory, and you delight in us through Jesus. Hallelujah! Amen.
THE SEARCH FOR WISDOM
“But where can wisdom be found? … ‘The fear of the Lord–that is wisdom.'” (Job 28:12,28)
Schools have more technology and spend more money per student than ever before. But are students any wiser? Educational advocates debate appropriate levels of funding. Governmental bodies adopt formulas and quotas to provide for more equitable distribution of the funding. It seems that everyone wants students to be well-educated and well prepared for a productive role in society. But will they be wise?
Suppose your school is doing a great job of teaching science and showing students how to make money. If your school is doing that, is it teaching true wisdom? Not according to Job. He admires human technology as shown in mining (28:1-11). He speaks of the wealth that people amass (28:14-19). But technology can’t uncover wisdom, and money can’t buy it.
Job needed wisdom to help him deal with his desperate situation, and he knew that technical skills and money couldn’t provide such wisdom. So Job went back to the one thing he knew for sure: God is the source of wisdom, and only those who fear God and shun evil can make even a start at becoming wise. Human research without divine revelation is ignorant. Financial value without godly values is bankrupt.
Whatever else Job couldn’t figure out, he knew one thing: wisdom starts with God. So, shouldn’t all education start with God? And shouldn’t we seek “the full riches of complete understanding, in order that we may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:2-3)?
PRAYER: Lord, make us wise. Help us to stop trusting our own skills and riches and to revere you and learn from you, that we may have an eternal wealth of wisdom in Jesus. Amen.
OUT OF THE NEST
“I thought, ‘I shall die in my nest, and I shall multiply my days as the sand.'” (Job 29:18)
Back in the good old days, God made sure everything was cozy for Job and went according to plan. Job’s children were healthy. People respected him. He helped people in painful situations and protected them from exploitation. Doing well for himself and doing good for others–what could be better? To Job it felt like a warm, safe nest. He’d go on in his comfortable life, comforting others but never needing comfort himself, until at long last he would die peacefully in his sleep at a ripe old age.
Do you ever feel that way? Your life is good, and you assume it will stay that way. If you love God and others as Job did, you thank God each day for his gifts and then use those gifts to help others. You rest in your nest, praising God and dropping spare blessings to the unfortunate folks below.
But then disaster strikes. And this time it doesn’t strike someone else. It strikes you. Suddenly your security is gone. Your plans crumble. Your warm, safe nest is only a memory. You find yourself falling through the air with nothing to help you or hold you.
Sometimes a young eagle must be driven from the comfort of the nest before it will fly. The same is often true of us. We can’t always rest in a nest. Sometimes we’re forced to fly by faith. “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles” (Isaiah 40:31).
PRAYER: Father, we’re glad for blessings that move us to thank you and help others. But when our nest is gone, help us fly on wings of faith, upheld by your grace. Amen.
OLD AND YOUNG
“It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right.” (Job 32:9)
Some people get older and wiser; others just get older. A blockhead at age 25 isn’t automatically a genius by age 65. But there are some people who do acquire wisdom over the years, and we expect such people to provide answers for those of us who know less.
Young Elihu has listened expectantly to four of the wisest older men around. But when these four–Job and his three friends–have said everything they have to say, Elihu still hasn’t heard a clear, satisfying explanation of God’s ways with humanity. What a letdown!
This hot-blooded young fellow gets angry. He looked up to these men. He’s been hoping they’d have some answers. But if they don’t–well, wisdom isn’t limited to old folks. Maybe, says Elihu, a young person, led by God’s Spirit, can come up with a solution that nobody in the older generation has thought of. And so Elihu launches a speech that lasts for six chapters, mixing elements of truth about God with youthful brashness and confidence in his own smarts. (In 36:4 he describes himself as “perfect in knowledge.”)
In the end, however, the passion and idealism of youth can’t answer the questions or solve the problems, any more than the experience and seasoning of age could. The old and the young have had their say, but the final word still has not been spoken. Who can speak that final wisdom but the One who is infinitely old, yet ever young?
PRAYER: Lord, we thank you for the knowledge of the old and the idealism of the young, but we trust you alone, the only wise God, as the One who has all the answers. Amen.
ANSWERING WITH QUESTIONS
“The Lord answered Job: “I will question you… Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (Job 38:3)
Job’s been calling for God to stop hiding and answer his questions. Finally Job gets his wish. The Lord speaks up: “Who’s been spouting off about my ways without knowing what they’re talking about? You want to confront me, Job? Here I am. You have questions for me? I have some questions for you!”
“Where were you, Mr. Expert, when I laid the groundwork for physical reality? Who set limits on seas and water? Have you ever ordered a sunrise? You who are so troubled by the death of your loved ones–what do you really know about death? Do you know the way to the source of light? Surely you’ve got it all figured out! You’ve been around so long!”
“Are you smart and strong enough to rule the weather? Do you control the stars? And what about the animals? Mountain goats, wild donkeys, wild oxen, ostriches, horses, hawks and eagles–did you design these strange and splendid creatures or provide for them?”
We can’t answer God’s questions, so how can we expect him to answer ours? God doesn’t have to explain himself to puny people. And even if he did explain, how could we understand his complex dealings with spiritual beings like us when we can’t even grasp his whole design for physical reality?
It comes down to this: Will we trust our own reasoning powers and demand that God explain himself to us on our terms? Or will we humble ourselves and trust in the Lord even though we can’t possibly figure him out?
PRAYER: Father, we bow before your fearsome majesty; we fall silent before your mind-boggling wisdom; and we rest in your unfailing love in Christ. Amen.
SOMEONE ELSE’S ANIMALS
Will the wild ox consent to serve you? Will he stay by your manger at night? (Job 39:9)
In Job’s time, goats supplied milk; donkeys carried things; oxen pulled plows and wagons. These animals were useful to people and were cared for by people. Still today people care for animals and find them useful–so useful, in fact, that we might think animals exist only for the sake of humans.
But the Lord tells Job otherwise. Mountain goats have babies, and their young grow strong, without human help and without giving milk to humans. Wild donkeys run free far from any town, serving no man and finding their own food. Wild oxen do their own thing; they don’t work for people. So if we think all creatures and events revolve around humanity, we’d better think again.
Some animals are designed in a way that makes no sense to us. The ostrich has wings but flaps them without ever flying. The ostrich doesn’t protect her eggs or care for her young very well. It seems that when God handed out brains to his creatures, the ostrich was last in line. But for some unknown reason God gave this strange bird the ability to run like a racehorse!
The world and all its creatures are ultimately not ours but Someone else’s. God shows Job that we shouldn’t expect every creature and every event to serve our personal desires or make sense to us. They are designed to glorify God. That’s why he made them. And that’s why he made us.
PRAYER: “How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works.” Amen. (Psalm 104:24,31)
“Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?” (Job 40:8)
The Lord barrages Job with questions and then says, “Your turn, Job. Do you want to correct my mistakes or accuse me of anything? Now’s your chance. Speak up!” Job can only confess his unworthiness and fall silent. But God isn’t finished speaking. He unleashes another avalanche of questions.
As we hear God asking Job these unanswerable questions, let’s listen with ears that have heard the gospel of Christ. One of God’s most pointed questions is this: “Would you condemn me to justify yourself?” (40:8) Job shudders at the thought. Can any person condemn God to justify himself? Never! But, somehow, God condemned himself to justify us! In Jesus, our Lord took upon himself our sin and guilt, and credited his righteousness to us.
God thunders at Job, “When you crush the wicked and make everything right, then I’ll admit that your right hand can save you” (40:14). Of course Job can’t do that. But who could dream that one reason this thunderous God doesn’t immediately wipe out his enemies is that he intends to make many of them into his friends?
God asks, “Who has a claim against me that I must pay?” (41:11) Job can only think to himself, “Nobody. We have no claim on God.” Our only rightful wage is death (Romans 6:23). But in Jesus, God has established a claim on himself by which he binds himself to the eternal blessedness of his people.
Like Job, we can’t answer God’s devastating questions. But in Jesus, God answers those questions himself. And what astonishing answers!
PRAYER: To him who can bring us faultless and joyful before his glorious presence–to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power, and authority, through Jesus our Lord! Amen. (Jude 24-25).
TOO MUCH TO HANDLE
“Any hope of subduing [leviathan] is false… Who then is able to stand against me?” (Job 41:9-10)
What is leviathan? A giant crocodile? A dragon-like remnant from the age of dinosaurs? A monstrous sea creature? We’re not exactly sure. But it’s clear that whatever this beast is, he’s too much to handle.
And if you can’t handle leviathan, you surely can’t handle the Lord who created leviathan. You can’t catch him or tie him down (41:1). You can’t bargain with him or make him work for you (41:3-4) or turn him into a pet on a leash (41:5). You can’t buy or sell him (41:6). You can’t attack or fight or overpower him (41:7-9) or intimidate him in any way (41:12-34).
God is too much to handle. If you can’t handle leviathan, a crocodile, a tyrannosaur, or a killer whale, how can you ever handle the God who is stronger and wilder than any of his creatures? Don’t try to challenge or control or tame the Lord. Don’t try to figure God out or turn him into a warm, fuzzy pussycat. Instead, submit to him, trust him, worship him, and marvel at his awesome, unpredictable ways.
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).
PRAYER: “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name?” Amen. (Revelation 15:3-4)
“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” (Job 42:5)
God spoke to Job, but he didn’t give Job one word of explanation for his suffering. Earlier in the book we are told about Satan’s wager, but God never told Job. Why not? Well, for one thing, God wanted to show that he doesn’t owe anybody an explanation for anything.
But maybe there’s another reason God didn’t tell Job about Satan. What if Satan wasn’t God’s main reason at all? What if the Lord had other reasons all along, things he wanted to accomplish through Job’s suffering which had little to do with Satan? Satan’s questions provided the occasion, but he was just a supporting actor to move the divine drama forward. Evil though Satan is, he still can’t avoid being used for God’s good purposes.
In allowing Satan to hurt Job, God achieved more than one purpose. God clearly disproved Satan’s lie and showed that Job wasn’t just serving God for pay. But all along God had another purpose, a purpose which we see fulfilled in today’s passage. Even though Job was serving God faithfully already before his troubles, God wanted Job to know him better and to trust him more. Formerly, Job knew the Lord through hearsay. Afterward, he knew God through a direct encounter.
Job got no explanation. Instead, he got something better: God Himself. Job was satisfied, though humbled. And Satan wasn’t even in the picture anymore. Satan’s aim was to disprove and destroy Job’s integrity. But God’s intent all along was to take Job beyond moral integrity to personal encounter.
PRAYER: Lord, you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. We repent of thinking you should fit our ideas. Thank you for giving us not explanations but yourself. Amen.
SAVED THROUGH A SUFFERER’S PRAYER
“I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly.” (Job 42:8)
Job’s friends saw their good health and prosperity as proof that God liked their pious platitudes. They saw Job’s suffering as proof that God was against Job. But they were wrong. God told them, “I am angry with you,” and he said that their only hope was to go to the man they had unjustly accused and ask him to pray for them. Only through Job’s prayers would God welcome these men into his favor. So Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar humbly “did what the Lord told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer” (42:9).
And so God accomplished still another purpose through his suffering servant, Job: he provided a preview of One greater than Job who was still to come, an innocent Man who would suffer pain and rejection, and whose prayers of intercession would bring forgiveness to the people who had despised him. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering…. He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53).
This suffering servant hung on a cross and prayed, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). He died but then rose again, and he never stops praying for sinners. “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
When you sin and God says, “I am angry with you,” your only hope is to turn to this suffering servant, the Lord Jesus. He will pray for you, and God will forgive you for his sake.
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, bring your perfect sacrifice to the Father and pray for us, that he may not deal with us according to our folly. Thank you for interceding. Amen.
HOW COULD JOB BE RIGHT?
“You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:8)
At times Job complained so bitterly to God that he verged on blasphemy. God then overwhelmed Job and humbled him to the dust. But in the end God declared Job to be right. How could that be?
If you still don’t see why Job with his fierce questions could be right, while his friends with their polite talk of God could be wrong, consider this. Who is right? A married man who loves his wife and remains faithful to her, despite saying some regrettable things when he hasn’t understood her? Or a single man who moves in with a woman and tries to keep her happy and avoids arguments just so that he can keep getting what he wants from her?
A right relationship to God is one of faith and committed love, not just polite, “good” behavior to get what we want from him. Even if Job was wrong in some particulars, he was right about that. And God vindicated his faith. Because Job walked by faith, God graciously declared his approval of the right things Job said, and he took the wrong out of the picture.
The Bible says, “Who are you, to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4). Job’s friends judged Job when they should have been judging themselves. God is the final judge. And God judged Job to be right!
PRAYER: Thank you, Lord, that the righteous live by faith. Thank you that in your free mercy, you approve those who trust you. Exalt those you’ve humbled, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first. (Job 42:12)
God sometimes sends suffering to those he loves, and he does so for a reason. But the suffering never lasts. Once Job’s misery had accomplished its purpose, God stopped it and replaced it with bounty. Job’s wealth was doubled. Even his family was doubled: Job’s ten children in heaven were matched by another ten here on earth. And in Job’s family, unlike so many families of that time, the daughters were treasured and favored just as much as the sons.
The earthly restoration and blessing of Job was God’s way of showing what awaits the people he loves. At that point in the unfolding of God’s plan, the light of resurrection and heaven was still only a distant gleam. But when our Savior, Christ Jesus, appeared, he “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (1 Timothy 1:10). In Jesus our future has become more clear and sure, and it is nothing less than eternal glory with God himself.
Meanwhile, we still sometimes face Job’s question, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” It’s a hard question but a temporary one. Right now we live in a broken world that includes both good and trouble. But in the world to come, where God will be all in all, there will be only good. For God is good.
The God who sometimes takes away is also the God who gives and gives and keeps on giving. And his blessings in our latter life will be far greater than any blessings in our first life. “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, “you have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” Amen. (Psalm 16:11)
These meditations by David Feddes were originally published in Today.