Category Archives: Preaching

Lockdown thoughts from Job 18

If you were to describe the place where wicked people go, how would you describe it? Bildad has a go — unfortunately, it’s not really what his friend Job needed to hear.

Previously:
1:1-5 | 1:6-12 | 1:13-22 | 2:1-6 | 2:7-13 | 3:1-10 | 3:11-26 | 4 | 5:1-7 | 5:8-27 | 6 | 7 | 8:1-7 | 8:8-22 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13:1-16 | 13:17-14:22 | 15 | 16 | 17 |

Translation:

18:1 Then Bildad the Shuhite answered, saying:

2 “Until when will you (pl.) hunt (lit: set a snare) for words?
Consider, and then we speak.
3 Why are we counted like cattle?
Why are we stupid in your eyes?

4 One who tears his soul in his anger – for your sake will the earth be forsaken?
And the rock removed from its place?

  • Verse 2 begins as Bildad accuses Job and any supporting his argument (the you is plural) of playing games with words (using the imagery of hunting as sport)
  • Verse 3 could be retranslated: “Are we as dumb as cows?”
  • Essentially, Bildad is accusing Job of challenging the foundations of the world by his protests of innocence.
  • Instead of disrupting the “place” (Hb: makom) of the earth, Bildad instead invites Job into the place where wicked men live (in his neat moral universe) – cue verses 5-21
  • Christopher Ash (Wisdom of the Cross, 201) has a good analogy, following the idea of “place”: “Bildad is the moral equivalent of the very house-proud person… Job, they think, is like a rude guest who comes in and wants to trash the place.”

5 “Moreover, the light of wicked men is put out;
And it does not shine, the fire of his flame.

6 The light darkens in his tent;
And his lamp above him is put out.

  • Firstly, Bildad preaches that wicked men have not even a hint of light when they die. It is put out, or extinguished (v5, v6)
  • Bildad, having heard Job wish to “make his bed in the darkness” (17:13), asserts only wicked people go there — “Job, you must be wicked.”

7 “His strong steps are restricted;
His counsel casts him down.

8 For he is cast into a net at his feet;
And he wanders over netting.

9 It seizes by the heel – a trap;
It grips him – a snare.
10 Hidden in the ground in his rope,
And his trap [is] upon the path.

  • In these verses the key idea is the trap (“net” in v8, “snare” in v9, “rope” in v10). The wicked one struts around strongly, but he is caught. He cannot escape.

11 “Terrors all around scare him,
And chase him at his feet.
12 His strength is famished;
And calamity ready for his stumbling.
13 It consumes layers (lit: limbs) of his skin;
It consumes his limbs – the firstborn of death.
14 He will be torn from the tent of his confidence;
And brought to the king of terrors.
15 It dwells in his tent, [they] that are not his(?);
Scattered upon his dwelling [is] sulphur.
16 From beneath, his roots dry up;
From above it withers, his branches.

  • Is this place Hell? We need to be careful not to import New Testament terminology anachronistically. But it’s certainly a description of a grim post-mortem reality for the wicked. Bildad is channelling Jonathan Edward’s “Sinners at the Hands of an Angry God” here.

17 “His memory perishes from the earth;
And he has no name in public (lit: upon the face of outside).
18 They will thrust him from light to darkness;
And from the world they will banish him.
19 There is no offspring for him and no posterity among his people;
No survivor in the places he sojourned.
20 Over his days, those of the west are appalled;
And those of the east are gripped [with] horror.
21 Surely this is the dwelling place of an unjust one,
And [those in] this place does not know God.

  • The point of Bildad’s lengthy description of these terrors is that he assumes Job’s feelings of despair is proof he belongs in this terrifying place.
  • But Bildad is wrong that Job deserves to go there – we are told repeatedly that he is “blameless and upright, fearing God and turning away from evil” (1:1). His neat and tidy logic is a bit housebound, and does not fit in the real world out there.
  • There is a danger too in our lives when we take theoretical truths and make them the lens that we judge another person’s attitudes and actions. Once I told a friend who was under a heavy weight of despair, “I think you’re suffering because you love money too much.” Needless to say, it didn’t go down well. It’s certainly true people can suffer from loving money too much. But it wasn’t right for me to use that logic and misapply it on a friend whose circumstances and heart attitudes weren’t fully known to me.

Lockdown thoughts from Job 17

Apologies for missing the last few days. Our country moved into Lockdown-lite (or, Lockdown with KFC); we welcomed a new child into our family (she’s gorgeous!); life’s been busier. I’m still keen to triapse through Job in Hebrew. Job continues to stare into the grave as he responds to his miserable comforters.

Previously: 1:1-5 | 1:6-12 | 1:13-22 | 2:1-6 | 2:7-13 | 3:1-10 | 3:11-26 | 4:1-21 | 5:1-7 | 5:8-27 | 6:1-30 | 7:1-21 | 8:1-7 | 8:8-22 | 9:1-35 | 10:1-22 | 11:1-20 | 12:1-25 | 13:1-16 | 13:17-14:22 | 15:1-35 | 16 |

Translation:

17:1 My spirit is ruined, my days are extinguished;
[There are] graves for me.

  • Chapter 16 ended with Job predicting his journey to a “way from which I shall not return” (v22). Here he continues his realisation that his spirit is broken, his days are gone, and the graveyard is his next destination.

2 Surely there is mockery with me;
And in their hostility my eyes dwell.
3 Set it down: pledge me with You;
Who is he that to my hand will strike?
4 Because their hearts You have closed from understanding;
So You will not let [them] be exalted.

5 When for a portion he tells [off] friends,
then the eyes of his children will be finished.

  • Job’s friends seem to him as “mockery” (v2). High praise for the wisest of the wise huh.
  • The Hebrew for verse 3 is a bit unclear, but it seems like Job wants God to pledge him — in other words, to guarantee his wellbeing. Back in chapter 2, God has already guaranteed Job life in his wager against the Satan (2:6). But Job doesn’t get to learn this.

6 He has made me a proverb for people,
And spittle to the face I have become.
7 Dimmed with angst are my eyes,
My members are like a shadow, all of them.

  • If there was a list of sayings about suffering, Job’s name would be all over it (v6). His name is synonymous with suffering even today.
  • It’s haunting to consider verse 7 – Job has become a shadow of himself. How many people have you met who have suffered so much, that they are no longer quite their former self?

8 Righteous men are appalled by this;
The innocent one, concerning the godless, is stirred up.
9 And the righteous one holds his way,
and the clean of hands increases strength.

  • In his despair, Job holds out hope that truly righteous people are out there who will see his suffering and be appalled (v8), not applaud it

10 But turn, all of you (Hb: them), and come;
For I do not find among you a wise man.
11 My days have passed, my plans are torn apart; the desires of my heart.
12 Night into day, these men change;
[Making] Light [seem] near from the face of darkness.
13 If I hope for Sheol as my home;
In darkness I spread out my bed,
14 To the pit I have called: “You are my father!”;
“My mother” and “my sister” to the worm.

  • Job issues another challenge to his unsympathetic friends – “I do not find among you a wise man!” (v10)
  • Job has gone from one who used to make plans (v11) to one who sleeps in darkness and hopes for the grave (v13-14) – watch the repetition of the word hope (Hb: qavah).

15 So where then is my hope?
And my hope who will see?
16 To the bars of Sheol [will] I go down?
Or together into the dust [will] we descend?

  • Verse 1 started with the graveyard awaiting Job; the chapter ends with Job saying Sheol (i.e. death, the underworld) is all he has to look forward to.
  • Yet we should be encouraged that Job keeps asking “where is my hope?” (v15) This is a sign that he hasn’t totally given up. Likewise, don’t quench your suffering brother or sister’s cries of despair. By their cries, they unwittingly reveal a desire to keep going that’s worth encouraging.
  • A global pandemic, a dashed relationship, an ongoing struggle with sin — these too are situations that prompt us to ask, “where is my hope?” Although Job’s hope was never fully realised amidst his dark days, in Christ believers know a hope that will not put them to shame (Romans 5:5)
  • Though the Christian is not immune to staring into the pit or facing the bars of grave, we can walk in Job’s footsteps with hope that is realised in Jesus.

Lockdown thoughts from Job 13:1-16

Day 21. Some interesting questions in this chapter so I only made it halfway.

Previously: 1:1-5 | 1:6-12 | 1:13-22 | 2:1-6 | 2:7-13 | 3:1-10 | 3:11-26 | 4:1-21 | 5:1-7 | 5:8-27 | 6:1-30 | 7:1-21 | 8:1-7 | 8:8-22 | 9:1-35 | 10:1-22 | 11:1-20 | 12:1-25

Translation (Job is still speaking):

1 “Look – all [this] my eye has seen,
My ear has heard and understood it.
2 Like your knowledge, I know — I too,
I am not inferior (lit. falling) to you!
3 But I speak to the Almighty, and to argue with God I desire.

  • Job is closing off his response to his friends’ first round of speeches (ch12-14). In chapter 12 he waxed lyrical about his observations of God’s sovereignty over creation.
  • His speech is emphatic in verse 2 as he insists his knowledge is not inferior to his friends. But He wants to talk to God, not them right now.
  • The word inferior is translated from our frequent friend niphal (to fall) – just as calamities fell from above, and Job fell to the ground and mourned (see discussion in chapter 1). The sense here from Job is: “I’ve fallen, but I haven’t fallen so far as to lose my mind yet!”

4 “But you (pl.) are smearers of lies;
healers of worthlessness (lit: idols) are you all!
5 Who would give for you to keep completely silent?

  • I wonder if there is more to “worthless healers/physicians” in verse 4. The Hebrew word for “worthlessness” could also mean idols (see e.g. Lev 19:4, Isaiah 2:8, Ps 97:7). Is Job comparing his friends’ wisdom to the idolatrous advice that pagan doctors and faith healers dispense? That’s not so distant to us in an age of faith healers and prosperity teachers, who prey on our idols of wealth and comfort to sell us false gospels. Perhaps our modern day equivalents to Bildad, Zophar and Eliphaz are Benny, Crefo and Osteen.
  • Verse 5, in our vernacular, could be translated: “I wish you would just shut up!” No need to sanitise how hurt Job is right now.

6 “Listen now to my argument,
And to my lip’s contentions give attention.
7 To God would you speak iniquity, and to Him would you speak deceit?
8 Will you lift up His face? Or to God will you contend?
9 Is it good that He searches you?
Or as one deceives a man, can you deceive Him?
10 Surely He will rebuke you (pl.),
If you show partiality [lit: lift up faces].
11 Will not His splendour terrify you (pl.)?
And the dread of Him fall upon you?
12 Your memorised sayings (lit: remembrances) are proverbs of ashes; defences of clay are your defences.

  • Job revives his legal language from verse 6 and press his case.
  • Instead of spouting more “wisdom”, Job wants his friends to “listen/hear” (v6).
  • He then essentially charges his friends for being more interested in defending God (v8, “lifting up His face”) rather than searching for what’s actually true. Job taunts them to try it and see: surely they will be terrified by God instead (v10-11)
  • Job colourfully paints his friends’ advice as “proverbs of ashes” (v12). They sound good, but have no substance. Their words are as sturdy as mud pies in a rising tide.

13 “Be silent with me, and let me speak,
And let whatever pass over me.
14 Why do I take my flesh in my teeth? And my life place in my hand(s)?

  • Having lambasted his friends’ trite words, Job puts his case forward, Though fearful that it could cost him his life to argue against God, Job is willing that “whatever pass over” him.
  • Verse 14a is a curious expression (it’s what the Hebrew literally says). Perhaps in his grief he is reaching for self-harm language. Maybe it’s literally describing what he does with his boils — biting his flesh. Maybe he’s evoking the image of being caught like prey in a lion’s jaws (but hard to understand why he does it do himself).

15 “Look, if He slays me, I will not hope (or yet I hope in Him),
Surely I will argue my ways to His face.
16 Furthermore, this to me [is] salvation, for no godless person would go before His face.

  • Verse 15 is popularly read as Job expressing hope and trust amidst God’s sovereignty in his suffering: e.g. Shane and Shane’s “Though You slay me, yet I will trust You”. But it’s more complicated than that. The Hebrew text actually reads: “…I will not hope” (לֹא, lo), but the early scribes have suggested it be read as “I will hope in Him” (לו, also lo). Both sound the same! Does Job lose hope, or does he keep hoping in God? The text could go either way.
  • Remember that God hasn’t actually slayed Job — He’s preserved his life. And also remember that Job has just announced he’s about to say some things that might cost Him dearly before God. That’s the context.
  • I think in Job’s grief, he says things which are messy and can’t be turned into a systematic theology proof-text about God’s sovereignty.
  • When suffering is a riddle (as we saw with the puzzling use of barakh in the prologue) it presses us to keep reading to see whether Job’s wailings will be vindicated. Job is caught between hope and despair as he longs to hear back from God. I think that’s a better way to read verse 15.
  • We don’t need to sanitise our friends’ sorrows one way or another, but keep listening to their cries, as doubtful or messy as they seem.
  • Job believes “salvation” (v16) comes from having the opportunity to plead his case. But in Christ, we have a greater salvation who has pleaded our hopeless case for us. Because of His despair on the cross, we have real, lasting hope that no one can argue away.

Lockdown thoughts from Job 11

It’s Day 19 of our nationwide lockdown. Hoping to get through some of the book of Job in the mornings during these few weeks.

Previously: 1:1-5 | 1:6-12 | 1:13-22 | 2:1-6 | 2:7-13 | 3:1-10 | 3:11-26 | 4:1-21 | 5:1-7 | 5:8-27 | 6:1-30 | 7:1-21 | 8:1-7 | 8:8-22 | 9:1-35 | 10:1-22

Translation:

1 Then Zophar the Naamathite answered, saying:

2 “Will a multitude of words not be answered?
And a man full of talk (lit: lips) be proved righteous?

3 Your loose talk causes men to be silent,
And you mock yet there is no one who shames [you]
.
4 And you say: “Pure is my doctrine, and clean I am in Your eyes.”
5 But what would I give (lit: who would give) for God to speak,
And open His lips with you!
6 Then he would tell you the secrets of wisdom.
For [He is] unmatched (lit: double) in understanding.

Know that God exacts of you from your iniquity.

  • Zophar, Job’s third friend, jumps in – he can’t contain himself any longer, hearing Job’s protests go unchallenged. He accuses him of being full of talk (literally lips-filled), and should be shamed for it.
  • Verse 4 is Zophar’s summary of what he’s heard from Job’s – he believes his teaching is pure and so is his character.
  • He presumes to know God’s secret wisdom (v6a), and proceeds to tell Job. Perhaps he thinks this will comfort his friend (2:11-12), but he is wrong to claim himself as God’s spokesman.
  • Especially among Christians we must be careful not to say “Thus says the Lord” when it is not Scripture, but our own opinions we are sharing.

7 Can you find the essence (lit: search) of God?
Or until the perfection of the Almighty can you attain?
8 [It is] Higher than the heavens – what can you do?
It is deeper than Sheol – what would you know?
9 Longer than the earth is its measure, and wider than the sea.
10 If He passes and imprisons,
and summons an assembly then who can turn Him back?
11 For He knows men of emptiness,
And sees iniquity, without considering it.
12 And a hollow man will get understanding,
when a colt of a wild donkey is born a man. (i.e. never)

  • Zophar extols God’s sovereignty and unsurpassed wisdom — which are both true — but then wields it to imply that God knows Job’s “emptiness” and iniquity (v11)
  • He even uses Job’s words against him in v10: where Job says “who can turn him back” (9:12) to reflect on God’s unfathomable nature, Zophar throws the legal language back at him to warn Job from further sinning (v10)
  • He is much less subtle than Eliphaz and Bildad – he really does think Job is sinning. Bildad at least wondered if Job’s children are complicit in the sufferings that have fallen on Job (8:4); and Eliphaz allows that God will cause pain yet bind up (5:18). Zophar just reckons Job must repent.

13 If you strengthen your heart,
And stretch out to him your hands,
14 If iniquity [be] in your hands put it far away,
And do not let evil dwell in your tents.
15 For then you will lift up your face without blemish,
And be one firm and tempered, and you shall not fear.
16 For you will forget your trouble, like waters passing away you will remember [it].
17 And from noonday, life will arise,
[Though] It be dark, it will be like the morning.
18 And you are safe, for there is hope,
And you will search, to security you will rest.
19 You lie down, and there is none who cause trembling,
Many entreat your favour.
20 But the eyes of the wicked will finish,
and a refuge has escaped from them,
And their hope is to breathe out their soul.

  • Zophar’s proposed remedy is too simplistic – “stop sinning and you’ll forget your troubles”.
  • He is totally tone-deaf to Job’s depression – by referencing “darkness” in v17, he has clearly heard Job’s anguished laments (10:20-22) but glibly says: don’t sin and then it’ll feel like daytime again. He’s quick to offer a fix, but slow to sympathise.
  • We can be too quick to offer solutions when friends suffer. How many times has someone suggested, “do this”, “do this”? This morning I was encouraged by an email from someone who’s been praying for us, who simply said: “It was good to sit in the silence with you guys for a bit.” Thank you, friend.

Tenebrae, online

Watch our lockdown version of a Tenebrae service here: https://youtu.be/bbqYH8G9LOc

Tenebrae means “darkness” or “shadows”. As an experiement, I read through the events surrounding Jesus’s final few hours with some dear friends from around the world.

Come and pause from all the chaos, hear Jesus’s last words before He died, and reflect on the darkness He took on the cross to rescue sinners.

If you’d like to follow along from Luke’s Gospel, the words are here: bit.ly/shadowandflame