Tag Archives: suffering

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.

Previously:


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”?

Lockdown thoughts from Job 1:1-5

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.

1:1 There was a man in the land of Uz – Job [was] his name.

Now this man was blameless
and upright;
and God fearing
and one who shunned evil.


  • The narrator emphasises that Job is blameless – literally, tām (תָּ֧ם) means something like “whole”. This is an account of a righteous sufferer.
  • Uz is outside of God’s promised land (possibly Edom). So Job’s story isn’t just for physical descendants of Abraham, but for anyone who experiences suffering.
  • Interesting that God invites readers to reflect on suffering not by way of proverbs or epistles, but by presenting a story. To become wise, we must walk with someone as they suffer. In this case, Job.

1:2 And it was born to him seven sons and three daughters.
1:3 And his possessions was:
seven thousand sheep
and three thousand camels
and five hundred yokes of oxen
and five hundred donkeys
and many, many servants (sing.; perhaps “a large workforce”)


And this man was greater than all the sons of the east.


  • This guy is rich – like the CEO of Air New Zealand, for example.
  • Yet we don’t have to be millionaires to be able to relate to Job; compared to the rest of the world, most of us live in the top 95% of the socioeconomic spectrum.

4 Now his sons would come,
and they would hold a banquet – each house, each man [in] his day,
and they would send out and call for their three sisters to eat and to drink with them.

When the days of feasting completed its circuit, then Job sent [for them]
and he set them apart
and he would rise in the morning
and raised up an offering for all of them.


For Job said: “Perhaps my sons sinned
and ‘blessed’ God in their heart.”
Thus Job would do habitually (lit: all the days.)


  • The Hebrew in verse 5 literally says: “Perhaps my sons sinned and barakhed God in their heart.” The word barakh (ברך) has a wide semantic range (to bless, to greet/farewell), but it does not mean curse.
  • Perhaps the scribe didn’t want to write “curse God” on the page.
  • Perhaps the author is using barakh euphemistically.
  • In any case, this word will riddle us in the upcoming verses: what does it mean to ‘bless’ God when we suffer?

My own reflections:

  • This is an account of a righteous sufferer, but every story of suffering poses unanswered riddles.
  • Life is not always as black and white as Proverbs. It is hard, uncertain and full of perplexing questions like “How will I keep afloat today? Why did all this happen today? Is being in lockdown or whatever God has given me a blessing or a curse?”
  • Job acts as a mediator for his children’s sin – his actions foreshadow a future Advocate who makes an offering for those he calls his own.
  • So there is no riddle with Jesus: He is the only one who is truly blameless, and made a perfect offering (his own blood) to atone for our sins.
  • I love Andrew Peterson’s line in the chorus of “Is He Worthy” – Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole? Jesus is that whole person that we need as our Advocate and Friend today.

What does sin have to do with my four dead girls?

Tim Keller shares a practical example of gazing at Jesus Christ for the peace of God that surpasses all understanding:

“Horatio Spafford was an American lawyer who lost everything he had in the Chicago fire of 1871. Only two years later, he sent his wife, Anna, and their four daughters on a ship across the Atlantic Ocean to England. The ship hit another ship and began to sink. As it was sinking, Anna got the four little girls together and prayed. The ship went under the water, and they all were scattered into the waves, and all four little girls drowned. Anna was found floating unconscious in the water by a rescue ship. They took her to England, and she cabled Horatio Spafford just two words: “saved alone.”

When Spafford was on the ship on his way to England to bring his wife home, he began to write a hymn – “It is well with my soul… When peace, like a river…” Those are the words he wrote.

Here is what I want you to think about: why would a man dealing with his grief, seeking the peace of God – the peace like a river – spend the entire hymn on Jesus and His work of salvation? And why would he bring up the subject of his own sin at such a time? He wrote:

My sin, oh, though the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.

What has that got to do with his four little girls who are dead? Everything!
Do you know why? When things go wrong, one of the ways you lose your peace is that you think maybe you are being punished. But look at the cross! All the punishment fell on Jesus. Another thing you may think is that maybe God doesn’t care. But look at the cross! The Bible gives you a God that says, “I have lost a child too; but not involuntarily – voluntarily, on the cross, for your sake. So that I could bring you into my family.”

In that hymn you can watch a man thinking, thanking and loving himself into the peace of God. It worked for him under those circumstances. It worked for Paul under his circumstances (Phil 4:6-13). It will work for you.

– Timothy Keller, “Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering”, p.311-2

Declare your faith for those who are faithless

Grief

Earlier today I was listening to a sermon on Psalm 150 this afternoon. About halfway through, Daniel Montgomery made a good point regarding what we’re to do in our gathered worship:

And here’s the deal – what you notice in the “what” of praise [referring to who Psalm 150 is directed to], is that it’s not just about you. When we gather we respond to the Lord in singing, but we also according to Colossians 3:16, are called to “sing to one another.” See, there’s a corporate element that so many of us are missing.

So when we’re called to declare our faith, we’re called to declare our faith for those who are faithless when we gather. So when we have that opportunity to step into the reading of Scriptures and declare our faith — some of you are like, “Well I believe that” — well why don’t you state it for people that don’t?

When we gather and we lament, and some of you are like, “I’m not feeling down, I’m pretty good right now, I don’t need to pray that prayer”. But some are really hurting. Some are in hard relationships, or physically in despair. And they need you to lament with them. That’s simply obeying the command to rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).

Firstly it reminded me to consider whether the choices of songs, prayers and readings at our church cover the spectrum of emotion that God’s people expressed in the Scriptures (especially the Psalter): rejoicing, celebration, but also lament, grief, repentance, even anger at God’s enemies.

And then the other thing was that I’ve recently had conversations with people who found it hard to sing songs of lament or about trials, when they were feeling fine. The speaker made a good point – we could instead adopt the biblical mindset of singing laments for those that need it, read statements of faith and creeds for those that don’t believe it. To declare our faith for those who are faithless.

Scriptures of comfort and strength

suffering

Some days I’m glad that the Bible speaks so honestly about suffering.

When I feel burdened with struggles, it’s worth meditating on one (or all) of these verses.

Jesus: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)

The Lord wants us to give Him these burdens – He can carry them better than we can.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7, ESV)

Cast your anxieties on Jesus – He cares intimately for you and knows your needs.

And how about Psalm 31:

I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love,
because you have seen my affliction;
you have known the distress of my soul,
and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
you have set my feet in a broad place.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye is wasted from grief;
my soul and my body also.” (Psalm 31:7-9)

Rejoice in the Lord’s love. He is aware of your distress and is not ignorant of your troubled heart.

Then verse 14:

But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”

And David ends the psalm:

“Love the Lord, all you his saints!
The Lord preserves the faithful
but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride.
Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the Lord!” (Ps. 31:23-24)

A real prayer for fortitude.

Other passages that speak of comfort and strength include Psalm 46, 73, 130, 1 Peter 1:3-9, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (“boasting gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me”), Romans 5:3-5…

What other passages from God’s Word give you comfort and strength?