Category Archives: Personal

Lockdown thoughts from Job 5:1-7

Day 9 in Job. Just a short walkthrough from the Hebrew text this morning as I’ve got a few other things to work on today. I promise not to pull a Joseph Caryl (he preached Job over 24 years and 424 sermons)!

Previously: Job 1:1-5 | Job 1:6-12 | Job 1:13-22 
Job 2:1-6 | Job 2:7-13 | Job 3:1-10 | Job 3:11-26 | Job 4:1-21

(It’s still Eliphaz replying to Job’s lament)

5:1 Cry out now; is there anyone who answers you?
And to which of the holy ones will you turn?
2 For vexation slays the fool,
and jealousy kills the simple.
3 I myself have seen the fool taking root,
and I cursed his settlement suddenly:
4 “May their children be far from happiness,
and may they be crushed in the gate, and there will be no deliverer.
5 Whoever is hungry, may he eat his harvest, and even from thorns take it, and the robber pants after their wealth.”
6 For disaster does not come from dust;
and from the ground trouble does not sprout.
7 For humanity is born to trouble,
as sparks (lit: sons of the flame) fly upwards.

  • There’s lots of difficult translation issues in these verses. But the main point is that Eliphaz is burning to tell a grieving Job that evil people get their just desserts (so he can suggest that God is disciplining him for his sins, v17).
  • According to Eliphaz, Job’s cries to God are futile as there’s no “holy one” to mediate for him (v1) – near context suggests these are angels from a few verses earlier (4:18).
  • For a second time, Eliphaz points to his observations (“I myself have seen”) as his primary way of knowing what’s true (see 4:8). Says Eliphaz, “an eye for an eye” is how the world always works.
  • When Eliphaz curses the fool (v3), we should take notice – since the narrator has riddled us about blessings and curses so often already (see previous discussion).
  • I’ve taken v4-5 as the content of Eliphaz’s cursing as the verbs are better translated as wishes rather than statements. They become callous wishes, rather than statements of fact.
  • In all this, remember though that the narrator has already established Job as “blameless” and one who “turns from evil” (1:1, 1:8).

My thoughts:

  • We all know an Eliphaz: the friend who spouts what’s true, “as they see it”, all the time. Sometimes I wonder if social media rewards the loudest and most opinionated, and if our society is just cultivating lots of postmodern Eliphazes. Do we like and amplify voices with pithy, pointless memes? Why?
  • While it’s true that some suffering is a result of humanity’s evil nature (e.g. murder, rape), it’s callous to use it as a blanket statement. Coronavirus is not because of overpopulation, or some government conspiracy, or whatever quick black-and-white box people come up with.
  • While off-beam, not everything Eliphaz says so far is false. What better time than a global pandemic to remember that, as sparks fly upwards, every human being is born into a world of trouble.
  • Eliphaz curses the fool. Job curses the day he was born. What you get angry at reveals your heart, doesn’t it?

Lockdown thoughts from Job 3:11-26

Day #7 in the Hebrew text of Job (this chapter had 79 rare words!)

Job 1:1-5 | Job 1:6-12 | Job 1:13-22 
Job 2:1-6 | Job 2:7-13 | Job 3:1-10

11 Why did I not die from the womb, depart from the belly and perish?
12 Why did the knees receive me?
And why breasts that I should suckle?

13 For now I lie down,
and I would have been quiet,
and I would have slept then;
I would have rested (to me).
14 with kings and counsellors of the earth who built desert [tombs] for themselves.
15 or with noblemen [having] gold,
the ones who have filled their houses [with] silver.
16 or [why] did I not “fall out” as a miscarried hidden one,
as infants who never see light?
17 There the wicked cease agitation;
and there the weary of strength will rest.
18 Together the prisoners are at ease,

they do not hear the voice of the slave-driver.
19 The small and great are there,
and the slave is free from his master.

  • Remember, this is righteous Job speaking. No feelings are off-limits: he laments his torrid life and wishes he hadn’t been born to begin with.
  • The Hebrew in verse 14 possibly speaks of kings building “desolate places” for themselves (it’s a difficult word to translate). Perhaps in a time of renowned Egyptian kings, there’s an allusion here to their monuments and tombs. Job appeals to death’s equality and prefers it to his present suffering.
  • The word that linked the incessant sufferings that “fell upon” (נפל, niphal) Job in chapter 1 now reappears in verse 16 – literally, Job asks why “was I not as fallout [from the womb]”. Job 3:16 is a voice into those who have suffered miscarriage or abortion (the Hebrew could mean either). Job reaching for this metaphor in his grief unites him with mothers and infants who have suffered in this painful way.

20 Why is light given to the one who suffers,
and existence to the bitter of soul,
21 and to those who wait for death yet it does not [come],
and dig for it over hidden treasures?
22 [to] those who are happy, [who] rejoice with gladness when they find the grave.
23 to a man whose path is hidden, and God has hedged in?

24 For in place of my bread, my sighing comes,
and poured out like water are my howlings.
25 For the fear I feared, it arrives upon me;
and what I dread has come over me.
26 I am not at ease, but I am not quiet,
and I have no rest, but trouble comes.

  • Verse 20 is the sufferer’s lament distilled – Why does God give us life only to bring suffering and “bitterness of soul”? Naomi likewise describes her pain of being widowed and bereft of any livelihood as “bitter” (Ruth 1:20), just as the Israelites described their bondage under the Egyptians as immensely “bitter” (Exodus 1:14).
  • In verse 23, Job laments that God hedges in a man’s way, and hides his paths. Remember the adversary’s accusation in Job 1:10? He charges God with “fencing” Job in to protect him, yet ironically Job now laments that same hedging from God.
  • “My groanings are poured out like water” (e.g. ESV) is too tame a translation. Here Job is “howling” like a lion does (see Job 4:10), and as Jesus relates to when he quotes these famous words on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning howling?” (Ps 22:1) There’s no need to sanitise despair – sometimes you just want to scream and sob.

Thoughts on chapter 3:

  • Every Christian should sit with this chapter at some stage in their lives. Even if we don’t feel what Job feels, someone we love does. Depression is real, and this is a relevant passage for us.
  • Yet because Job’s “howlings” were shared by Christ Jesus on the cross – Christians know One who has walked the darkest valleys for our sins, and “howled” in agony as our loving Saviour. We suffer, but never without Someone who has been there before. A good truth to meditate on as we approach Good Friday.
  • Job is raw, honest and hurt. Yet he expresses his grief on a foundation of God’s presence and control. Even when we question why God has trapped us in our houses right now, we’re acknowledging that he’s in control. God is sovereign even in our suffering.
  • Again, no question, no feeling is off-limits with Dad. Likewise, I always try and allow my children permission to share how they really feel with me, even if it’s raw, amidst screams, and hard to take in.
  • I wonder what songs you and I can turn to in order to express corporately our lament at this broken world, and the suffering in our lives? If we can’t sing words like this as a church family, has our worship music repertoire perhaps been infected by the therapeutic or prosperity gospel?

Lockdown thoughts from Job 1:6-12

Using our nationwide lockdown to lock down some rusty Hebrew. A rough translation and thoughts on the way. Some of it will be familiar to friends who have journeyed through Kirk Patston’s classes. Lord willing we’ll make some progress over the next four weeks.


1:6 Now there was a day,
when the sons of God came to present themselves before Yahweh.
And the adversary also came in their midst.

  • The narrator switches to a scene in heavenly courts. It’s a rare glimpse in Scripture behind the curtain, into the spiritual realm.
  • What we see is not just one spiritual power, but the “sons of God” – perhaps angelic beings (see Job 2:1, 38:7). Whoever they are, they all present themselves before Yahweh in submission.
  • Yet the narrator singles out one being, who is literally called הַשָּׂטָ֖ן (“the Satan”) – it’s not so much a personal name here, but more an adversary (see also 1 Chronicles 21:1, Zechariah 3:1-2).
  • There is more behind the scenes in our chaotic world than we think. Our world is filled with unseen forces and adversaries, but they all must present themselves before Yahweh, our King of Kings.

1:7 And Yahweh said to the adversary, “From where have you come?”
And the adversary answered Yahweh, and he said:
“From wandering the earth, and from patrolling it.”
1:8 Then Yahweh said to the adversary, “Have you set your heart upon my servant Job? For there isn’t one like him on the earth:
a man blameless,
and upright,
and God fearing,
and one who shuns evil.

  • Yahweh allows the adversary to roam about the earth. Whoever this being is, He is free to patrol the earth at Yahweh’s command.
  • Yahweh’s description of Job is identical to the narrator’s in 1:1 – he is someone who is wholly devoted to God. The repetition emphasises that Job is innocent of all the later accusations against him.

1:9-10 And the adversary answered Yahweh, saying:
“Does Job revere God for nothing?
Have you not put a hedge around him
and around his house
and around all that belongs to him
from all around?

You have blessed the work of his hands,
And You have expanded his estate over the earth.

  • Does Job worship God because of the things he’s been given, or does he revere Him hahinnam (הַֽחִנָּ֔ם) – for no reason? That’s the key question of the book of Job for us. Will we worship God even when we have nothing left?

1:11 But now stretch out Your hand and strike all which is his.
[See] if he doesn’t “bless” You to Your face.

1:12 And Yahweh said to the adversary:
“Look, all that belongs to him is in your hand,
Only against him you may not stretch your hand.”

Then the adversary departed from the presence (lit: the face) of Yahweh.

  • There is an element of request in the adversary asking God to stretch his hand out. He knows that only God can decree this, and to what extent (v12).
  • The barakh (ברך) riddle continues here in verse 11. Why does the Hebrew text say barakh (to bless) and not qalal (to curse)? In context, the adversary clearly believes that Job will not bless, but rather curse God to his face.
  • In any case, this word will keep riddling us in the upcoming verses: what does it mean to ‘bless’ God?

My own reflections:

  • Is our wealth a curse or a blessing? Is suffering a curse or a blessing? It’s easy to assume that if we have stuff (toilet paper, a stocked pantry, work from home) we are blessed, but this heavenly conversation reminds us not to quickly assume what “blessing” means in our lives
  • For example, I think of how being in lockdown could be a blessing (time together, a simpler life, no traffic) yet also a curse (time to waste, be lazy with devotionals, become addicted to our smartphones, become bitter or selfish)
  • On the flipside, suffering may not necessarily be a curse. Perhaps there’s wisdom in what J.C. Ryle observes regarding sickness: “I know the suffering and pain which sickness involves. I admit the misery and wretchedness which it often brings. But I cannot regard it as completely evil. I see in it a wise plan and purpose of God. I see in it a useful provision to reduce the ravages of sin and the devil among men’s souls. If man had never sinned I should have been at a loss to discern the benefit of sickness. But since sin is in the world, I can see that sickness is good. It is a blessing quite as much as a curse. It is a rough schoolmaster, I grant. But it is a real friend to man’s soul.”
  • Re: God’s sovereignty. How powerful do I believe my King of Kings is over the chaos of this world? Job 1:6-12 paints him as Lord over all powers and adversaries. Do I believe this?
  • Do I love and serve God only because He gives me benefits (respect, appreciation from others, a paycheck)? Or when there’s no benefit to doing so? When no one is watching online? In the quietness of my heart? When everything is taken away from me? Will I love and serve God “for nothing”?

Our Submission to the NZ Government regarding the Abortion Legislation Bill

Today (19 September 2019) is the LAST day for Kiwis to make a submission regarding the Abortion Legislation Bill currently undergoing Select Committee review. Please consider writing your own submission here – it’s free, you can even just say one sentence, and it’s a great way to be involved in the discussion of what’s literally a life-and-death issue.

Cheryl and I both know and sympathise with the difficulties women (and men) on both sides of the debate face. Our differences centre around balancing care for pregnant women, yet disagreeing on the status and of, and duty of care for the young life inside her.

Our submission is below. We tried not to restate what others have already done so well, but rather just shared some of our personal concerns. I hope it’s a helpful contribution to the discussion.

Select committee:Abortion Legislation Committee
Item of business:Abortion Legislation Bill 2019
Submission date:2019-09-19

Concerns about the proposed Bill

Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission. 

My wife, Cheryl, and I, do not support the proposed Bill for several reasons:

  • Removing abortion from the Crimes Act fails to uphold the human rights of the unborn child and protect her or him from harm, whether they are 7 weeks old or 37 weeks old.
  • The proposed Bill restricts the ability for healthcare professionals to meaningfully express their conscientious objection to performing or providing assistance for women seeking abortion services
  • No provision is made to protect the unborn child from a coerced abortion, or being the victim of sex-selective or disability-specific abortion.

We agree in substance with the detailed submissions from Family First NZ, ProLife NZ and Voice for Life NZ regarding the harm this Bill will enable, and urge Members of Parliament to vote against this Bill.

Finally, I have attached an ultrasound scan of our unborn child at 7 weeks old. Despite his or her small size and stage of development, she or he has a steady fetal heart beat (147bpm), a unique DNA, and all the characteristics of a person. As we seek ways to better support women, it is also children like ours whom we wish to protect from harm.

Some suggestions

A well-known Māori proverb states:

He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.
(What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people , it is people.)

In light of this:

  • We suggest keeping abortion under the Crimes Act, to reflect the reality that abortion involves the killing of an unborn child
  • We suggest adding a clause to the Bill that women seeking an abortion be first offered a free ultrasound to confirm the presence of the unborn child, and counselling services to allow the mother time for reflection in order to make an informed choice
  • We suggest adding a clause to the Bill that, once a fetal heart rate is detectable, any decision regarding offering abortion services must take into account the human rights of the unborn child
  • We suggest the Government take urgent steps to make open or closed adoption more available for pregnant women who are unable to raise their child, including an national adoption register that makes it easier for mothers to find a long-term caregiver for their unborn child
  • We suggest that increased Government assistance and funding be offered to mothers who choose to keep their child and deliver them.


William and Cheryl Chong

2018 Year in Review: there and back again

Cloudless blue skies soar above us. Food and drink – all packed. We turn round the bend, then take a left onto State Highway 1. Two hours of driving towards the Southern Alps awaits. “It’ll be a day trip,” I assured the passengers: an elf queen and three hobbits. Yes – we’re going there and back again.

How to sum up 2018 – our second year in Sydney, our second year raising three kids, our second year digging into the riches of God’s Word? It’s been like a long stretch of gravel road sometimes – bumpy, never-ending, full of surprising potholes.

I learned to schedule important due dates a day or two early, and expect the rest of the time to be filled with unexpected moments. A difficult parenting moment. An impromptu confer and counsel with someone. A daddy date, a playground appointment, a train station excursion. A lecturer wisely pointed out that an essay takes as long as you give it. So this year was spent channelling research and essays into the allocated time. “Turn my eyes away from worthless things!” has been my constant, half-successful mantra this year.

Yet I’m grateful it’s a road others have travelled before us, and alongside us. It’s been amazing how fellow students were so willing to share ideas, resources, notes, and to spur each other on. What a privilege it’s been to learn in community.

“I want to see my name.” Dust billows behind us as we barrel towards our destination: Mount Sunday. Once upon a time, herders on horseback peeled away from their farms to meet on this rocky outcrop beyond the Ashburton Lakes. These drovers would perch on the rock to regale anecdotes of the past week, a tumbleweed-strewn valley before them, snowy peaks surrounding them.

My walk with God has been average this year. Some days were easier. Many days were hard. Is it ironic that I found it easier to parse Hebrew than to pray to the High King? “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” (Ps 94:19)

I’ve learned this year to try and give each area of my life full attention rather than attempt to power through multiple areas with partial attention. I’ve had to practice letting go of my need to perfect every assignment at the expense of sleep. It’s been a different rhythm this year: work hard during the day, then clock off and give Cheryl and the kids my full attention. Catch up on studies in the evenings, but be realistic. God will look after the results. And looking back, He really has. My proud self wants to claim credit, but no. It’s a work of God’s grace in me. My part to play remains – I want to keep changing and becoming more like Christ. To prioritise more than just my studies in 2019. I want to enjoy God, love Cheryl, nourish our children, and serve those around me: church and family, friends and neighbours.

We cross the one-lane bridge, and pause in awestruck wonder. At last! Mt Sunday these days is better known as the filming location for Edoras in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien. You first meet Theoden, King of the Rohirrim, here: corrupted by the evil wizard Saruman. Hope seems lost for men, yet when Gandalf the White strides into Meduseld and reveals himself, he drives out the darkness in Theoden and the first ray of hope begins to shine through. Edoras becomes a Rock of Remembrance, where good starts to triumph over evil.

After God provides Israel with an undeserved victory over the Philistines in we read in the Bible that

Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

1 Samuel 7:12

As we look back this year – wow, hasn’t the Lord helped us! So many Ebenezers. So many Rocks of Remembrance. So many moments of God’s faithfulness and kindness. A band of brothers sharing our weakness to a groom-to-be. Nature walks and ant swarms. Games of Crocodile on the lawn. Quietly exchanging verses and prayers while watching children play. Belting out “All Hail, Redeemer, hail!” with a thousand voices. The still small voice of comfort at a spiritual retreat. Children’s birthday parties. Sunday night laughs and tears. Sharing the gospel with a fellow bus passenger, and hearing him trade an addiction for a worship service. “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

Sometimes we need to cross difficult waters to see our Ebenezers better.
“Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I” – Psalm 61:2

“Can we come back to my name?”
“I don’t know son. Perhaps one day.”

2019 will bring more adventures, more Ebenezers, more chances to reflect on God’s kindness to us as we sojourn a final year in Sydney.

So here’s to another year of walking by faith, amidst our failures, looking to our Solid Rock.

“Here I raise my Ebenezer, 
Hither by Thy help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger, 
Interposed His precious blood.”

Robert Robinson, “Come, Thou Fount of Ev’ry Blessing”
Happy New Year! Much love from the Chongs for 2019.