Thursday, 5 August 2021

She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers; she cares not that her labor was in vain, for God did not endow her with wisdom or give her a share of good sense. Yet when she spreads her feathers to run, she laughs at horse and rider. – Job 39:16-18

Today's Scripture Reading (August 5, 2021): Job 39

Richard Adams, in "Watership Down," his classic adventure novel about a group of anthropomorphized rabbits, writes, "A thing can be true and still be desperate folly." Truth never guarantees wisdom; sometimes, what is true is still the most foolish thing imaginable.

And that is the point that God is attempting to make. The tale of the ostrich is the only genuine attempt at humor in the book of Job. Amid Job's distress, it is as if God tries to bring a smile to the prophet's face. But it is humor and an example of outrageous behavior that is provided by the truth of nature. An ostrich is a funny beast. It is a bird that doesn't fly. And yet, it hilariously flaps its wings anyways. It lays the largest eggs of any living land animal, yet it does not guard its eggs or care for its young. Instead, the ostrich drives its young away from the nest before the onset of the next mating season. It is a ridiculous bird, and yet, it is real. But when an ostrich decides to run, it is in a class of its own. An ostrich can reach speeds of 70 km/h, and it laughs at most creatures who might try to run with it.

God's message to Job is that wisdom is a gift that comes only from him, and he gives it to whom he will and withholds it from others at his discretion. But that does not mean that God loves some more than others. Instead, God loves the ostrich, even though the bird is not just missing flight but also seems to be absent of any good sense. And yet, the ostrich is still his creation.

Mike Mason makes a wonderful observation about God's use of the ostrich in teaching Job about wisdom and the ways of God.

It was through wonderful and strange examples like the ostrich that God both taught and entertained Job. "Get used to My absurdity, and live by faith rather than by sight. Be like the ostrich: though you cannot fly, you can still flap your wings joyfully!"

The message that God is trying to drive through to Job is don't worry about what you don't understand or what you cannot do. Just do what I (God) have designed you to do. Like the ostrich, find the areas where you excel, the places where I have gifted you, and run with everything that is inside you.

Tomorrow's Scripture Reading: Job 40

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. – Job 38:1

Today's Scripture Reading (August 4, 2021): Job 38

British author Vivien Greene argued that "Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass...It's about learning to dance in the rain." It is a truth that a good friend of mine had to try to teach his young son. The family had moved from an inland place where the sun shone, and rain seldom darkened the sky, at least, not during the long hot summer months, to a coastal city where rain was an ever-present reality. During the first few months of the family's existence in their new home, the young boy spent hours looking out the window, hoping and dreaming of the day when the rain might stop. Finally, mom and dad tried to teach their son a valuable lesson. If all he did was wait by the window for the sun to shine, he was going to have a sorrowful existence in his new home. What he needed was to learn to play, or dance, in the rain.

Elihu has been speaking about the storm as an example of God's power. He has told Job that,

He fills his hands with lightning
    and commands it to strike its mark.
His thunder announces the coming storm;
    even the cattle make known its approach.

"At this my heart pounds
    and leaps from its place.
Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice,
    to the rumbling that comes from his mouth.
He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven
    and sends it to the ends of the earth.
After that comes the sound of his roar;
    he thunders with his majestic voice.
When his voice resounds,
    he holds nothing back.
God's voice thunders in marvelous ways;
    he does great things beyond our understanding (Job 36:32-37:5).

As Elihu says, "Listen! Listen," we begin to understand that Elihu is not just talking about a theoretical storm, one that we can all remember at some point in the past. Elihu has been watching the storm clouds gather as he has been speaking to Job. He has seen the rain streak the darkened sky as the tempest has drawn closer. This is not a "someday" storm; it is one that Job and Elihu have been observing and watched as it moved their way, drawing closer and closer as the conversation drags on.

Maybe, at some point, someone might have suggested changing the venue of the discussion to take the conversation inside and out of the storm. But before Job and his accusers make their move out of the impending storm, Elihu uses the storm as an example of the power of God. Except that, this time, God is in the storm. And as the storm reaches the five men, God begins to speak. But he does not talk to Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, or Elihu. Instead, he directs his comments straight at Job, who is, incidentally, the only one who has addressed his remarks to God and cried out to him for assistance.

Tomorrow's Scripture Reading: Job 39

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Tell us what we should say to him; we cannot draw up our case because of our darkness. – Job 37:19

Today's Scripture Reading (August 3, 2021): Job 37

In the early morning hours of Thursday, June 24, 2021, the twelve-story Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Florida, collapsed. Almost immediately, rescue efforts began trying to find any possible survivors. The problem was you couldn't just get in the scene and start digging. If anyone was still alive under the pile of rubble, any rash movements could cause the debris to shift, killing those who might have survived or endangering those working at the site. Rescue efforts moved forward, but they did so at a slow pace, as the experts did what had to be done in an attempt to free anyone who might be trapped, but without causing any more damage. The loved ones of the disaster victims waited for news nearby, but very quickly, there appeared a rift between the workers and the relatives. Conflicting reports began to arise. Relatives pleaded for more workers to help with the task, while those working at the site turned down assistance because they couldn't make use of any more people and maintain the site's stability. One family member finally had had enough, and she let loose. The searchers were moving too slow. They could work faster; they just didn't want to. They were being slowed down by red tape while their relatives were dying.

Was there any truth in the assessment? Probably not. No one actually seemed hindered by any red tape. What slowed the rescuers in the performance of the duty was the physical situation. Sometimes it is hard for those on the outside to understand what is going on in any particular circumstance, but that pressure is only raised when human lives hang in the balance. There are probably good questions that need to be asked in any situation, but often, we just don't know what the questions are. And in pressure situations, we begin to draw our own assumptions, partially because we don't understand and partly because we don't trust the so-called experts to answer our queries honestly. The result is that we make unwarranted accusations about those who are in control of the situation.

Elihu confronts what he sees as Job's arrogance. Job believes not only that he knows the questions to ask God but that he deserves an answer from the Almighty. Job thought that God owed him an explanation about everything that has taken place. But Job's response is a push back against the accusations of his friends and now Elihu. So, Job's questions were not really aimed at God; they were aimed at his accusers. If Job was suffering because he has sinned, then he needs to understand what precisely that sin might be because he honestly doesn't know what his friends find so evident in their evaluation.

Elihu's response is intended to be sarcastic. "Job, if you know the questions we should be asking, if you can see through the darkness that pervades this situation, then go for it. But I don't even think you know the right questions to ask, let alone have a right to get an answer from God. You are lost in the darkness, and you have no desire to listen to any of us who are trying to help you to understand."

George Bradly sums up the heart of the situation for Job as he listens to the many words of Elihu.

"These chapters intensify the sense of the loneliness and solitude of Job. He stands there, silent and alone, with none to sympathize with him, none to enter into his perplexities; condemned as impious, heretical, and even blasphemous, by the concordant voice of friends and bystanders; alike by his own generation, and by that which was growing up to take its place; yet 'enduring to the end,' … and awaiting with trust and confidence the verdict of his God."  

Tomorrow's Scripture Reading: Job 38

Monday, 2 August 2021

If they obey and serve him, they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity and their years in contentment. – Job 36:11

Today's Scripture Reading (August 2, 2021): Job 36

My story isn't over. Oh, many of the pages have been written, but there is still more writing to come. I am anxiously waiting for the chapters of promise that have yet to be revealed. And I am not a passive participant in my story. I know that the chapters that have been written have been mainly written by my hand. But in the recording of my account, I also recognize the presence of another hand and a different kind of writing. It is that other hand that has lifted me up in moments when I was down. It is that other hand that has found me when I was sure that I was lost. It has acted as the cavalry in my life, riding over the horizon at just the right moment.

Don't get me wrong, there are also moments when I was lost, and I seemed to stay lost for a long time. But even these terrifying moments are just segments of the story. Maybe sometimes they served as the end of a chapter, but they do not tell the whole story, and they do not sum up my life or the chapters that are yet to be written.

Elihu's argument continues, outlining his belief that Job's struggle is evidence of his sin. If Job had been as righteous as he claimed, then Job would have been prosperous. But Job is no longer successful, and what he had has been taken away from him, Elihu believes, because of Job's sin. Elihu thinks that this is a universal reality; what has happened to Job will also happen to all who do evil on the earth. Elihu's theology is a cousin to one that is still preached today. The argument that has been repeated from many pulpits in the advanced nations is that God wants you to be wealthy and successful. After all, he owns the cattle on a thousand hills; he possesses the wealth of the land; why would he not want to give it to you. Therefore, if you are successful, God is with you. But the reverse is also true. If you sin, then God will curse you.

As far as Elihu is concerned, Job is cursed and because Job has sinned. Maybe it is just the pride that Job has shown during his conversation with his friends, or perhaps it is something else, but what cannot be disputed is that Job was paying the price for his sin.

But the mistake that Elihu and the rest of Job's critics are making is believing that Job's story is over; this is his final act. But the truth that the reader knows is that this is not the last chapter. And in the final chapter, Job will be restored.

And so will we. We know that our restoration is at hand because we have read the final chapter of God's story, and here is the spoiler; the Lamb wins, and that means so do we!

Tomorrow's Scripture Reading: Job 37

Sunday, 1 August 2021

But no one says, 'Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night?' – Job 35:10

Today's Scripture Reading (August 1, 2021): Job 35

It happened in Philippi. Paul and Silas were ministering there, and lives were being changed, and as often happened, that upset those who were making money from the way things were, even if the way things were was the source of pain. Those who had benefitted economically from the system didn't approve of the changes made by Paul and Silas. So, they had them arrested on the charge of creating chaos in the city. Paul and Silas were stripped, beaten with rods, flogged, and then finally thrown into prison. What happened next is remarkable in several ways. 

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone's chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, "Don't harm yourself! We are all here" (Acts 16:25-28)!

When we read the passage, we often seem to concentrate on the miraculous earthquake that set the prisoners free, or maybe that they didn't leave when they had the opportunity but instead used the situation to minister to the jailer. But considering that Paul and Silas had been arrested, beaten, flogged, and then thrown into jail, it seemed to be a perfect moment for worry and just trying to recover, as much as possible in their circumstances, from their injuries. But instead, at midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to their God. And that might be, at least for me, the most fantastic aspect of the story.

Elihu points out that when people are oppressed, they cry out to the government, or the king, or whoever seems to hold the power to make the cruelty stop. Our struggle is against unjust systems. If we can, we work hard to overturn those systems, sometimes by working within the system itself by changing the laws, or even through a violent overthrow of the system or even the government. But Elihu's point is, "why is overthrow our first alternative? Why is it that we don't cry out to God, our Maker, the one who gives us songs in the night?"

Maybe it is a question of priority. God might not be the first one to whom we cry out, but we do cry out. And, as we mature in our faith, maybe we cry out more often to the one who gives us songs in the night. In the desert, Hagar would cry out, and God would hear her. In Egypt, Israel would cry out, and God would send Moses. And in a prison in Philippi, Paul and Silas would call out and sing the songs of the one who had created them; songs given for the night. And Paul and Silas wouldn't have to ask Elihu's question; 'Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night?' They knew precisely where their God was; he was sitting with them, helping them to sing their songs in the night.

Tomorrow's Scripture Reading: Job 36

Saturday, 31 July 2021

For the ear tests words as the tongue tastes food. – Job 34:3

Today's Scripture Reading (July 31, 2021): Job 34

Inspirational author, Michael Bassey Johnson, comments that "You can believe in whatsoever you like, but the truth remains the truth, no matter how sweet the lie may taste." His argument reminds us of a couple of things. The first is that taste is not necessarily the best standard to decide what is good for us. I wish that vegetables tasted like an apple pie with ice cream or that eating that bag of potato chips was better for me than eating a salad, but that is just not true. My tongue can be deceived, and what tastes good is not always what I need to eat. And the second thing that Johnson reminds us of is that there is often a reason why it is easy to believe a lie. We can, and often do, phrase the lie so that it conforms to what we think and what we want to hear. It is the great danger of the echo chambers that we have built around us. We need to hear more than we do, primarily if they are words spoken by someone who does not necessarily agree with our stance on a specific issue. We need to hear the arguments, but more importantly, we need to learn to love through our differences. Our tendency seems to exclude those who believe differently, but that is like eating only ice cream and banning the salad that our body needs to thrive.

Elihu asks Job and his friends to listen to him. And in the process, he argues that the ear tests words like the tongue tastes food. And he is right, kind of, but it is also a double-edged sword. Elihu's logic is based on the idea that we can somehow taste what is good for us, but we know that that is just not true. Often what tastes good is not what we need. In the same way, it would be more accurate to say that our ear hears words the way that our tongue tastes food. But, just as our tongues fail to taste what is good for us, our ears can't hear wisdom; they just hear the words in search of something that sounds sweet, even if it is a lie.

Elihu's point is that if they just listen to him, they will know his wisdom by hearing his words even though he is young. Just as Elihu has listened to the words of Job and his friends and has heard that they lack wisdom, his wisdom will be heard if they listen. But that is not really what Elihu understood. He understood that neither Job nor his friends were in his echo chamber, He has heard the lie, and he wants to replace their lie with one that might taste a little sweeter to his ear, but regardless of how sweet Elihu's words might taste to the ear, the message is just another lie.    

Tomorrow's Scripture Reading: Job 35

Friday, 30 July 2021

I am pure, I have done no wrong; I am clean and free from sin. – Job 33:9

Today's Scripture Reading (July 30, 2021): Job 33

Headlines are lovely things. But they are designed to do one thing; grab the attention of the reader. How they do that is up to the publisher. Some try to tell you the essence of the story they want to tell in a single, concise statement, but others are not quite that honest. They lead you to believe something, but you find out that the truth is actually quite different when you get to the story. But if all you ever do is read the headlines, the chances are that you will receive a very warped version of the news.

And yet, it seems that that is precisely what we do. We become a people educated by headlines. And in the end, we begin to believe a lie that has been sold to us by the headlines that we read, headlines designed to get us to do something that we don't want to do; read the article.

Elihu claims that he has listened carefully to everything that Job has had to say in his defense. And he sums up Job's words with this statement; according to Elihu, Job's argument has been, "I am pure, I have done no wrong; I am clean and free from sin." But that isn't entirely true. Elihu has heard the headlines, not the details, and definitely not the emotion and the heart of the Prophet.

Job admits that the anguish over his circumstances has caused him to say things that he ordinarily would not have said; "no wonder my words have been impetuous" (Job 6:3) the Prophet had told his friends. His complaint is not that he has not sinned, but rather "Why do you [God] not pardon my offenses and forgive my sins (Job 7:21)?

Job recognizes his guilt. Australian biblical studies scholar, Francis Anderson, makes this observation;

"We need to ask, therefore, whether Elihu is fair. To some extent, he is. Job has repeatedly claimed to be clean and pure, whatever the words he used… But, side by side with this, Job has often admitted to being a sinner."

Elihu has read the headlines in Job's argument, but what he seems to miss are Job's heart and his intentions. And maybe because he is young, he ignores how pain has distorted Job's message. In the midst of our pain, our message does change, and we who are friends of those in pain need to understand that and be willing to hear the message of the heart that sometimes overwhelms the rest of our communication.

Tomorrow's Scripture Reading: Job 34