Category Archives: Reading

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

Lockdown thoughts from Job 8:8-22

Day 15. Bildad is berating his blameless bestie, Job.

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


Translation:

8 (Bildad) “For ask now of the previous generation,
and take heed of the search of the fathers.
9 For we are of yesterday, and do not know,
For [like] a shadow [are] our days on the earth.
10 Is it not they [who] will instruct you, [who] will speak to you?
11 Can the papyrus plant rise up with no marsh?
Will reeds flourish without water?
12 When it is still blossoming, and will not be plucked,
Before any [other] plant they will wither.
13 Thus the paths of any who forget God,
the hope of the godless shall perish,
14 who loathes his trust,
And his confidence is a spider’s web.
15 He leans (impf.) against his house, but it does not stand,
He takes hold (lit: causes to be strong) of it, but does not endure (lit: arise).
16 He is a moist plant before the sun,
and over the garden its shoots spread.
17 Upon a heap its roots entwine,
it looks for a house of stones.
18 If it is uprooted (lit: devoured) from its place,
it disowns him: “I have never seen you!”
19 Thus, this is the joy of his way,
And out of the soil others sprout up.

20 Look, God does not reject the blameless,
And he does not take hold of the hand of evildoers.
21 Still he will fill your mouth [with] laughter,
and your lips [with] shouting.
22 Those who hate you will be clothed with shame,
and the tent of the wicked will not exist.”


  • Bildad who has pointed out in vv1-7 that Job’s suffering must be due to his or his children’s sin, closes his “wisdom” speech by invoking the wisdom of the generation above him (v8-10).
  • He uses vivid metaphors to illustrate that when people oppose God, they end up perishing more swiftly than the water reed, or putting their weight on something as flimsy as a spider’s web. The wicked may seem to be fastened securely and flourishing, yet they (like roots on stones) can be quickly uprooted.
  • When Bildad declares that “God does not reject the blameless”, remember that Job has already been declared “blameless” (tam; whole) in chapter 1 – so these sentiments are aimed at the wrong person!

My thoughts:

  • There’s much that’s true about God and his world in Bildad’s speech. Our days are like a shadow on earth. There is no hope when we forget God. And yes, in general, sin brings sorrow.
  • Yet true words aimed wrongly can do damage – Job doesn’t take too well to Bildad’s bluster in the next chapter. His suffering is not because of any sin he’s done. It’s not what he needed to hear.
  • I remember one time someone told me they were really struggling financially, and I replied that perhaps money was too much of an idol for them. Whether it was true or not, but they needed sympathy not a pat-answer proverb. I had to ask forgiveness for my mistimed words.

Lockdown thoughts from Job 8:1-7

Day 14 of our nationwide lockdown. Hoping to keep my nose in the Bible while there’s time and energy. Job’s just responded to the unhelpful accusations of Eliphaz, and now friend #2 has a go. Just a few verses today.

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

Translation:

1 Then Bildad the Shuhite answered, saying:

2 “Until when will you utter these things?
And [will] a strong wind [be] the words of your mouth?
3 Does God pervert justice?
Or does the Almighy pervert what is right?
4 If your children have sinned against him,
he has delivered them into the hand of their rebellion.
5 But if you will seek diligently for God, and implore the Almighty,
6 If pure [are] you, and you are upright even now He will awake for you,
And restore your righteous dwelling.
7 And your former days is small,
But your latter days will be very great.”

  • What is the prosperity gospel? It is what Bildad is preaching to Job. If you live a good life — pure and upright — God will arouse like a genie and give you a righteous dwelling, and you’ll flourish till the end of your days (v5-7). But if your children are dead, it’s because they missed the mark spiritually (v3), and deserve the sorrow that’s come to them. Cold, callous conclusions. And totally opposite to the true gospel — we cannot life a good and upright life, yet in Jesus Christ, God graciously provides us a righteous dwelling for the end of our days.
  • How are Bildad’s words different to many of the black and white statements in Proverbs though (e.g. Prov 2:20-21)? Do they not also teach this kind of retribution that Bildad shares? Perhaps we need to think further how Bildad is speaking, and to whom.
  • Remember Job is already named as “upright” in the prologue (1:2). Sin brings sorrow, but it does not therefore mean that all sorrow is from sin. Job’s account teaches us that yes, even the upright will experience sorrow.
  • The word “justice” in verse 3 (מִשְׁפָּט, mishpat) is important, and will pop up more and more frequently as the dialogues run (23 times total). All of Bildad and Eliphaz’s talk about what’s right and wrong will move to Job to press God about justice – to demand an explanation for why he is suffering. How can suffering be just? We too, have a deep yearning for answers to these questions.

Lockdown thoughts from Job 7:1-21

Day thirteen. Nearly halfway through our nationwide lockdown! I’m enjoying the pace but do let me know if it’s too much of a drag. Job is continuing his reply to Eliphaz.

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 |

Translation:

1 Is there not hard service for humanity on earth?
And [are] their days like a hired one?
2 Like a slave longing for shadow [of nightfall],
like a hired hand waits for his wages.
3 Thus I have been made to inherit months of emptiness,
and nights of misery are appointed to me.
4 If I lie down and say: “when will I arise?” yet the night stretches on.
And I am full of tossing until dawn.
5 My flesh is clothed of worms and lumps of dirt,
my skin hardens then flows [from my sores]
6 My days are cursed/as light as a [weaver’s] shuttle,
and finish without hope/thread.

7 Remember that my life is like a breath,
my eye will not return to see good.
8 It will behold me no more – the eye that sees me,
Your eyes [are] upon me, but I [will] no longer be.

  • Job continues to lament his sufferings. He compares his life to days of slave labour (vv1-2), and nights full of misery (v3-4).
  • We’re reminded of what Yahweh afflicted Job with in verse 5 – he is clothed with sores that attract worms, dirt, that harden and then break out with pus (see Job 2:7).
  • There’s some achingly beautiful Hebrew wordplay in verse 6. Job could be saying that his days are “as fleeting as a weaver’s shuttle, and ends for lack of thread” (here’s a video of it zipping along). Or it could read that Job’s days are “as cursed as a shuttle, and ends for lack of hope”. The verb root for to be fleeting and to be cursed is the same (both קלל / qll pointed differently), and the noun תִּקְוָה means “cord, thread, end, hope. What does suffering feel like to Job? Like being caught in the warp and weft of a tapestry of sorrow, shuttling back and forth in vain, hoping for the thread to end.

9 As a cloud breaks up and disappears [lit: completes and goes],
thus the one who goes down to Sheol does not come up.
10 He no longer returns to his house,
and his place does not recognise him.
11 Furthermore, I myself will not refrain my mouth,
I will (or, Let me) speak in anguish of my spirit.
I will (or, Let me) lament in the bitterness of my soul.
12 Am I the sea, or a sea monster,
that you (sg) set a guard over me?
13 For I say, “my bed will comfort me,
my couch will ease my complaint.”
14 Then you dismay me with dreams,
and from visions you terrify me.
15 So my soul would choose strangling;
death from my bones.
16 I reject [my life], I would not live forever,
Refrain from me, for my days are “hevel”.


  • Job closes his reply to Eliphaz by insisting he be allowed to keep anguishing and lamenting (v11) – it could also be translated “Let me speak… let me lament.”
  • Job accuses Eliphaz of treating him like a sea monster to be guarded and caged (v12). Ironically, when God finally replies in the closing chapters he will parade monsters before Job to remind him that He rules over creation.
  • Remember Eliphaz’s righteous-sounding vision in chapter 4? They’re scary and terrifying to Job. Don’t pull that out again, please.
  • Job basically says in verse 16: “Leave me alone, Eliphaz”, because his days are hevel. I leave it untranslated because it’s the same slippery word the Teacher uses in Ecclesiastes 1:2, and should bring to mind all the various translation possibilities. Are Job’s days now meaningless? Vapour? Vanity? Fleeting? Bubbles? Suffering has a way of making us question the purpose of life, doesn’t it?

17 What is man,
that you grow him,
and that you set upon him your heart,
18 and visit him [in] mornings, in moments test him?
19 How long will you not gaze [away] from me,
[or] leave me alone to swallow my spit?
20 [Say] I have sinned; what would I do to you, watcher of humankind?
Why have you set your mark on me?
[Why am] I a burden to [you]?
21 And why do you not pardon my transgression,
or pass over my iniquity?
For now on the earth I will lie down;
You will seek me, but I will not be.


  • There’s echoes of Psalm 8 in the “What is man” questions that close chapter 7. From the description of what the 2nd person does (grows him, sets his heart upon him, watches humankind), I think Job is now addressing Yahweh.
  • Here is Job’s first halting attempts at questioning God. We will see this grow and expand in his later speeches as he gets bolder and starts to litigate God and appeal for His justice. But for now, Job asks a couple of dark questions, then resigns himself to lying in the ground again.
  • Verse 21 ends in a similar way to verse 8. Want to know what suffering feels like? It feels like people / God looking for you, but you’re not there.

I decided to respond a bit differently today. Here’s a prayer of lament:

“Lord,

Life seems so hard now in lockdown.
The days come and go
come and go
come and go
and I can’t see the end.
I’m waiting for the thread to finish.
How long Lord?

And life outside my bubble seems bleak,
full of fears and anxiety and hopelessness.
How long will You let all this pain and sorrow continue?
When will You fix all this brokenness?

And people are dying Lord.
Thousands and thousands, finishing their days without hope.
Their life’s thread cut off by coronavirus, by cancer, by suicide.
Please have mercy on them.
And on the unreached.
And on my family.
And my friends.
More thread.
Please.

As brother Jesus lamented in the Garden of Gethsemane
As He felt forsaken and crushed to pardon our sins
Father help me lament with my Saviour.
Give me fresh eyes to see how Christ
is the scarlet thread of hope
I can follow in my failures
trust in my trials
and come
and go to.

Father,
Pass over my sins
let me rest
in peace.
Amen.”

“Lament for thread” by WHC, 7.4.20

Lockdown thoughts from Job 6:1-30

I posted most of this yesterday but it didn’t seem to upload – my bad.

It’s Day 12 of 28. We’re in chapter 6, Job has just heard Eliphaz say to him: “God only punishes wicked people. Don’t despise His discipline of you now.” How does Job respond to these simplistic adages?

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 |


Translation:

1 Then Job answered, saying:

2 “If only my vexation were weighed
and my calamity (lit. falling) held together in the balances!
3 For then it would be heavier than the sea,
thus my words are rash.
4 For the arrows of the Almighty [are] in me,
of their poison my spirit drinks
the terrors of God are arranged against me.
5 Does the donkey bray over grass?
Or the ox low over his fodder?
6 Is tasteless food eaten with salt,
Or is there taste in the white of an egg?
7 My appetite (lit. soul) refuses to touch [these things],
They are as loathsome food to me.”

  • Eliphaz began his speech with the statement that “vexation slays a fool” (5:2). Job doesn’t concede to being foolish or evil, but responds by sharing how deeply vexed (from grief) he feels because of all the calamities that have literally “befallen” (see previous discussion on ‘fall’).
  • Job describes his sufferings as “arrows from the Almighty” – poison, terrors arranged in battle against Him (v4). It jars with our one-dimensional view of God, yet it wasn’t so long ago that Christians spoke and sung in this way as well (e.g. John Newton’s “I Asked The Lord That I Might Grow”)
  • In verses 5-7 Job says that, just as you’d look for the reason why animals are making noise (e.g. lack of food), look for the reason that he’s crying in grief.

8 “Oh, that my request would come
that my hope God would give,
9 that God be pleased to crush me,
that He loose his hand and cut me off!
10 And it may yet be my comfort
So I would exult in pain unsparing,
since I have not denied the words of the Holy One.
11 What is my strength, that I should wait,
What is my end, that my soul should be patient?
12 Is strength of stones my strength,
Is my flesh bronze?
13 Is there no help in me,
and is resource driven from me?”


  • Job is walking through the valley of the shadow of death. He feels so wrecked in his suffering that He’d rather God take his life. Yet He maintains that his life is in the Almighty’s hands: only He can “crush” Him, “loose His hand” (v9). Throughout this book Job never lets go of God’s sovereignty over all things, including his suffering.
  • His friends came to “comfort” (Heb: nakham) him in chapter 1, but Job would feel more “comfort” (same word) in being cut off by God (v10).
  • Job doesn’t take on Eliphaz’s assumption that he’s sinned – he insists he has not “denied the words of the Holy One” (v10).
  • But he has taken on Eliphaz’s way of addressing God from chapters 4-5. God is no longer the covenant Yahweh of chapter 1 (“The LORD gives, the LORD takes away” etc.) – he is Almighty, the Holy One. It’s a subtle shift, but there’s a greater distance in his address of God. In our suffering it can be hard to see God in His full and complete character.
  • Oh, Job. I can’t imagine how hard it is for you right now.

14 “”[He who would] withhold from a friend loyalty / loving-kindness,
The fear of the Almighty he forsakes.

15 My brothers are as deceitful as intermittent streams,
As river valleys that overflow,
16 being darkened with ice,
whereupon the snow hides itself,
17 In time they thaw, they disappear,
In its heat they evaporate from their place.
18 The [river] paths turn from their course,
They rise into emptiness [inland] and perish.
19 The caravans of Tema gaze,
The processions of Sabeans hope [for the rivers].
20 They are ashamed for they were confident,
They came up this far but are confounded.
21 For you now have become nothing,
You have seen [my] terror and fear [it].”

  • When a friend suffers, the God-fearing response is to show them the covenant loyalty (v14; חסד, chesed) that God shows us in His promise keeping character. That speaks louder than any sermon on suffering can do, and it’s what Job longed for from his friends.
  • Job uses an extended metaphor to describe how unreliable his friends are to him right now (. They’re like rivers that appear during flash floods or when ice melts: here one minute, gone the next. (How easy it is to say “I’ll pray for you” and perhaps do it once; how much harder to actually keep it up and be a reliable brother or sister!)
  • In chapter 1 the Sabeans are terrorists who destroy Job’s crops. Here they’re travellers looking for water and disappointed (v19).

22 For have I said, ‘Give to me’?
Or ‘From your wealth offer a bribe for me’?
23 Or ‘Deliver me from the hand of the adversary’?
Or ‘From the hand of the ruthless redeem me’?

24 Instruct me, and I myself will be silent,
And how I have erred make me understand.
25 How forceful are [your] ‘righteous’ words!
But what does it reprove, reproof from you?
26 In your reproving [of my] words, do you treat
(and) as wind the words of a despairing man?
27 Indeed, for the orphan you would cast lots (lit: “fall”),
And you would trade off your friend.
28 Now then – be willing to turn to me,
to your face I would never lie!
29 Turn now, let there be no “wicked words”,
And turn, my righteousness is yet in it (or here).
30 Is there on my tongue “wicked words”,
Can my palate not discern calamities?

  • Job sarcastically asks in vv23-24: “Did I ask for money from you?” All he wanted was sympathy from his friends, but all he gets so far is their reproof, reproof, reproof (3x) and scolding.
  • By their speechiness, Job’s friends have treated his laments “as wind” (v26). They’re lacking sympathy.
  • Job’s friends are acting like the kind of people who would cast lots over an orphan child and auction them off (v27-28). They’re as cold and clinical as Joseph’s brothers (Gen 37). Or perhaps even like people who wax lyrical about cost-benefit analyses of lockdowns when people are hurting and dying and need sympathy. Suffer with me, Job cries!
  • The word עַוְלָה (ʾavlah) I’ve translated as “wicked words” in this context (v29, 30). Words that are false, or words that destroy. Job wants his friends to “turn away” (literally, repent – shuv) from their wicked words, for his righteousness remains intact.

Thoughts:

  • Do I see my messages, social media posts and shares as things to “repent of” when they actually aggravate hurting people? Maybe I don’t need to jump into that debate about who’s social distancing correctly and who isn’t. Maybe my voice isn’t actually needed among the choruses criticising policymaking decisions or differing government responses. We’re all suffering together, in different ways. Maybe it’s better for me to just share their sorrows, and offer the comfort that God has comforted us with (2 Cor 1:1-3).
  • In anxious times, what hurting people need most may not be more long-winded speeches, but perhaps just chesed. Loyalty, loving-kindness: the same covenant love that Jesus demonstrated when he laid down His life for his friends (John 15:13). How can I remember and live that out as we remember Jesus’s death and resurrection amidst a raging pandemic?