Tuesday, 24 June 2014

(176) June 25: Job 1-2 & Acts 7:1-19

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read consider what exactly is being tested in Job.

To ponder:
Job worships Israel’s God, but is not an Israelite, living in Uz, the area of Edom, south of Israel. However he is portrayed as the archetypal wise and so righteous man. He is blameless, which is not to be perfect, but without fault in the eyes of the world (see 1 Thess 2v10). And he fears God, which is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 1v7). It would have been assumed that it is because of this that he is blessed with the large and numerically complete family, and with wealth, implied by his livestock. Indeed, he was known as the “greatest man.” He was a godly father too, challenging all fathers by offering sacrifices incase his children had sinned – the equivalent of praying for God’s mercy to one’s children today.
            With all this in place, we now look behind the scenes. “The Satan” (lit: adversary) refers to an angelic being who stands against God and his people. Yet by having to present himself to God, we immediately see he is subject to God’s will. And here God takes the initiative. The sense is that Satan has been roaming the earth, perhaps looking for mischief, and God asks if he has considered Job. The title “servant” for Job here is a noble one, rarely used (2 Sam 7v5). By affirming the supremacy of Job’s righteousness and wisdom, it is as if God wants him to be a testimony to Satan of what the faithful can be. Paul makes this point in asserting how the unity of godly Christians displays God’s wisdom to the principalities and powers (Eph 3v8-11), proving the redemptive power of the gospel. We should see our own call to righteousness and wisdom as this significant.
            Satan effectively says Job is only like this because God has hedged him in with protection, and that if God would curse him, Job would surely curse God. The LORD’s response shows Satan’s activity is constrained by God’s permission, allowing him to afflict Job’s possessions but not Job. Satan’s power to influence human action and nature itself is then seen in the three events that lead to Job losing his livestock (and so wealth) and servants; and the fourth in which his children are killed (1v13 -29). In response Job mourns, but still worships, acknowledging God can give and take away as he pleases, and refusing to charge God with doing wrong. This is key to understanding the book. It affirms that true righteousness and wisdom is seen in maintaining one’s blamelessness and fear of God even when the worst happens, submitting to God’s unfathomable will and never charging him with injustice.
            This is all confirmed with Satan’s conversation with God repeated, but with God’s affirmation that Job “still maintains his integrity” – that is his blamelessness and fear of God. Satan’s response “skin for skin” probably means if God inflicts Job’s physical wellbeing, then Job would do similar by paying God back with a curse. Interesting here is the fact that what Satan does to Job is at the same time ascribed to God as the one who permits it and so is effectively acting through Satan (2v3, 6-7). Afflicted with some terrible skin disease Job is then pictured mourning amongst ashes, apart from all society, seeking to alleviate the pain with broken pottery. It’s a vivid picture of how consuming and alienating extreme suffering can be.
            Job’s wife, perhaps angry that Job is sticking with God after they have lost their children, urges him not to hold onto his integrity, ie. to turn from living for God to curse him. Family members might encourage the Christians to the same. Yet Job highlights this is “foolish” rather than wise. Noticeably, he doesn’t deny God would ever allow such suffering, recognising nothing happens but by his provoking or permitting it. Instead, he affirms trouble as well as good should be accepted from God. So he doesn’t sin by cursing God or charging him with wrongdoing (1v22, 2v9). At this point Job has been a model in how to respond when inexplicable suffering comes.
Job’s three friends are foreigners, who show a commendable compassion in travelling to “sympathise” and “comfort” him. And their care is evident in their mourning when they can barely recognise him because of his sufferings, being unable to speak for seven days. This response also affirms how severe his sufferings were. At this point, they therefore challenge any cold complacency we may have when our friends suffer.
Praying it home:
Praise God that even evil and suffering is not out of control, but comes according to his wise purposes. Pray that those you know who suffer would maintain their blamelessness and fear of God, not charging him with wrongdoing.

Thinking further: Lessons from Job
We should note that much of the book is poetry and so not intending to provide a developed understanding of such doctrines as the afterlife. Nevertheless, it is clearly intending to portray much about God. And here we once again see his absolute sovereignty, even over evil, and his readiness to both provoke and permit suffering for his own reasons. In Job’s case, this is to test and prove his faithfulness to God’s glory before Satan. And we can conclude Job’s sufferings were also so that we might benefit from this book. Suffering may also come to deepen our character, perseverance and hope (Rom 5v3-4), prove the genuineness of our faith to us (1 Pet 1v7), display the difference our faith makes to the world (1 Pet 3v1-2), or occasionally even come as a deserved punishment (1 Cor 11v28-34). However, Job’s example already is that we may not know what God’s particular purpose in an experience of suffering is. However, we must maintain our blamelessness and fear of God nevertheless, trusting him and so not questioning his justice by charging him with doing wrong,
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