Trouble Assured

For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground, but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. (Job 5:6-7 ESV)

This statement, from one of Job’s friends, strikes a chord. It is a simple, yet profound, description of humanity’s predicament. (The wording of it would seem to contradict Adam’s curse in Genesis 3:17-19, unless its intention is for us to take a step back and recognise God as the ultimate source of trouble?) Anyway, as part and parcel with living in a fallen world, trouble is guaranteed. It is a dead certainty, just as anyone who has sat and watched a fire will attest, sparks are sure to fly upward, so too are we destined for trouble. Being at odds with our creator has made our lives difficult. Not even Jesus and His cross are enough to spare us affliction in this world. Instead, here’s what Jesus had to say:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV)

Although these words of Jesus come prior to His crucifixion and resurrection He speaks so definitively about overcoming the world that He talks about it in the past tense, “I have overcome the world.” Curiously, peace can be had in the midst of turmoil, and it is found in Jesus, especially in what He said to us.

Jesus, not even Your death and resurrection protect us entirely from the effects of Adam’s curse during our days on earth. However, we take heart in the fact that You have overcome this world, when You experienced the very worst humanity could dish out. We ask that, when life seems to be going up in flames, tribulation would drive us to lap up Your words to us, that we would be comforted by the fact that You have overcome Adam’s curse for all eternity.

Satan’s or God’s Hand?

Is God at work in our lives or is it Satan? For any particular incident, whether good or bad, we tend to think it must be either one or the other. Curiously though, the Bible implicates both in consecutive verses.

Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “… stretch out your hand and touch all that [Job] has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” (Job 1:9-12a ESV)

Notice, first Satan incites God to stretch out His hand against everything Job has, then God places everything Job has into the hand of Satan (even while preventing him from stretching out his hand against Job himself). Both God and Satan are stretching out their hands simultaneously — in tandem we might say — but each is working with a vastly different outcome in mind. God is at work to prove our faith genuine, while Satan would see our faith crumble. Also, Satan can do no more or less to us than what God allows, in other words, God is sovereign — in control.

It would appear that Job was blissfully unaware of any involvement from Satan when he later says to his wife:

“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (Job 2:10b ESV)

Job doesn’t blame Satan for all the bad things while giving God the credit for all the good stuff. Nor is Satan responsible for all the good and God only the bad, that’s absurd. As far as Job was concerned, God had taken away his children and wealth, even his health, and he wasn’t wrong in expressing it; he didn’t blaspheme. When something bad happens Satan nefariously wants us to curse God, yet God benevolently wants us to continue trusting in Him. Similarly, when something good happens, Satan would have us get more carried away with the gift than the Giver, but God would receive our gratitude.

Whether navigating life’s pleasures or enduring its pain, there is more at play than just God and Satan. A third entity must be contended with. Namely us, but especially the problem emanating from our own desires:

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. (James 1:12-14 ESV)

Jesus, we are sorry for failing to react like Job — like You — to life’s ups and downs. Thanks that the Spirit that raised You from the dead is at work in us to give us life (Romans 8:11). With His help, let us not be taken in by the tempter when Your Father’s hand brings about good or bad for us. Please purify our desires and make us steadfast, like You, in the face of trials that we may lay claim to the crown of life.

Destroyed

Round two. Satan hasn’t finished casting aspersions on Job yet, even though he remains a model of integrity after his first bout with Satan, going toe to toe with his accuser. Satan is adamant that Job will abandon his faith once he can no longer say, “Well at least I still have my health!” As a heavy comfort, Satan is prohibited from giving Job anything terminal.

And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.” (Job 2:3-6 ESV)

Satan’s cunning is again met with frustration as Job once more exhibits Christlike resolve, even rebuking his wife whom, in a stroke of brilliance, Satan spared in order to taunt Job:

So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes. Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (Job 2:7-10 ESV)

Father, by Your Spirit, help us maintain our integrity, even when You are incited to destroy us without cause. Keep us from cursing You and help us stand our ground in faith when our health is taken from us. May we not cave, even when those closest to us tempt us to defile our lips. Help us accept both good and bad in our lives as coming from Your gentle hands, to trust that suffering has a good purpose, equipping us to comfort others with the comfort we receive from You (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Thank You for Jesus, that He kept His lips pure in the face of staunch opposition, and whose suffering made possible our salvation. Make us like Him. Thank You for being there and helping me get through all the hardest parts of my life.

Cosmic Wager

It would seem that Satan’s war against humanity must be waged within bounds set by Yahweh. Job is a Christlike figure, a righteous man, head and shoulders above his peers. If God were a betting person, He’d put His money on Job (only the deck is stacked because He knows the outcome beforehand) since God is pleased with Job and the exemplary life he leads.

And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. (Job 1:8-12 ESV)

Till now, Job has led what many would consider a charmed life but all that is about to change. His life is going to be drastically altered. Of all God’s blessings he will only retain his good health, in a bid to work out whether he will continue to fear God. Satan is convinced that Job will change his tune, but even when Job learns, in quick succession, that he has been robbed of his possessions and family (bar his wife) his faith remains intact.

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. (Job 1:20-22 ESV)

Father, thanks for the times when we enjoy Your hedge of protection around us, when You bless the works of our hands. By Your Spirit, strengthen us to endure when You reach out take from us. Give us faith that will withstand a cavalcade of disaster. Don’t let Satan prevail against us. If only we could be the sort of people You could place confidence in. Thanks for Jesus, for living a peerless, righteousness life which becomes ours through faith. Help us follow in His footsteps.

Someone to Intervene

In the most ancient book of the Bible, Job appears as something of a rarity. Someone who is blessed exceedingly with wealth and yet reveres God, living a life beyond reproach. He is not even Jewish. What is perhaps more striking still is his role as a priestly intercessor. He wastes no time mediating between his adult children and God, all of the time.

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually. (Job 1:1-5 ESV)

In this way, the story of Job anticipates the Christ.

Consequently, [Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25 ESV)

Father, thanks for Jesus, the sinless Saviour, who lives to constantly mediate at Your side on our behalf. He saves us totally so we can get up close and personal with You. Make us like Job — like Christ — ready to step in between others and You, to plead for forgiveness for them. May the riches of Your blessings not prevent us from living reverent, blameless lives of upright obedience to You, shunning evil.

I was the Cupbearer

Ever feel like your role in life is insignificant or inconsequential? Take note of the progression of the following passage. First, Nehemiah is deeply moved when he learns of the plight of his people. This prompts him to beseech God through fasting, prayer and confession. Then we find out Nehemiah is just your run-of-the-mill, humble, unassuming servant, in the role of cupbearer to a foreign king.

And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” Now I was cupbearer to the king. (Nehemiah 1:3-11 ESV)

The rest of the book regales us with how God utilises Nehemiah, and his ordinary job, to bend a foreign ruler to God’s will, making the king favourably disposed to God’s people. In God’s hands, Nehemiah becomes, in large part, the answer to his own prayer, aiding to restore his people’s fortunes.

Father, move us to have compassion regarding the plight of our fellow man, both for those who are enemies of Jesus and for those who suffer for His namesake. In Your hands, no one is useless but all of us can be used mightily for Your purposes—to extend and bolster Your kingdom—whatever our station in life. Thanks for Jesus who, though He was King, came to serve, especially by reversing our fortunes. Thanks for keeping Your covenant promises. Help us uphold Your commandments. You can turn a cupbearer into so much more.

Forty: Hardship, but also Revelation

The number ‘forty’ in the Bible is associated with judgement and trials. God sent rain for forty days and nights in the days of Noah and the flood (Genesis 7:4, 12). Israel was made to spend forty years in the wilderness for their failure to obediently capture the land God had promised to them (Numbers 14:33). Jesus also spent time in the wilderness (forty days), being tested by Satan (Matthew 4:1-11). And, although Satan gets to sift us like wheat, we remain under the protection of Jesus’ prayer:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32 ESV)

Forty also relates to revelation. Moses was with God up the mountain for forty days and nights, where he experienced God’s glory and received the Law (Exodus 24:15-18ff). After His resurrection, Jesus spent forty days among His disciples teaching them regarding God’s kingdom (Acts 1:3).

Father, You do not allow wickedness to go unanswered, but execute just punishment. Thank You that, even though we must suffer at times, Jesus has shielded us from Your coming wrath. Thanks for Jesus who, though tempted, was without sin and that by trusting in His death and resurrection we get to participate in Your kingdom. Your name be praised for the faith-sustaining prayers of Your Son in the face of hardship. Reveal to us more and more of Your glory and Your kingdom through the ministry of Your Christ.

Twelve Included

God, from small beginnings, transformed a forlorn and childless Abraham and Sarah into a formidable nation. Enacting His initial agreement to an extent with the twelve sons of Abraham’s grandson, Israel (Jacob), giving rise to twelve tribes.

Now the sons of Jacob were twelve. The sons of Leah: Reuben (Jacob’s firstborn), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s servant: Dan and Naphtali. The sons of Zilpah, Leah’s servant: Gad and Asher. These were the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan-aram. – Genesis 35:22b-26 ESV

In the end there were thirteen tribes, sort of, with Joseph’s sons becoming the heads of the two half-tribes: Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48:3-5). How fitting, then, that from among these tribes Jesus appointed and trained twelve Disciples, investing His authority with them to begin bringing about the ultimate fulfilment of God’s initial agreement, where all Christians are considered Abraham’s children—God’s children—saved through their witness and testimony by the work of the Holy Spirit.

And [Jesus] called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. – Matthew 10:1-4 ESV

Judas, due to his betrayal, was later replaced by a thirteenth Apostle, bringing their number back up to twelve (Acts 1:15-26).

Now we await the day when the elect among the Jews (symbolised by 12x12x1000) along with every chosen Christian (beyond number) are gathered before Jesus:

And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel…
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, – Revelation 7:4-9 ESV

Forward Thinkers

At the end Luke chapter 9, just after Jesus has suffered rejection from some Samaritans and just prior to Him commissioning 72 disciples to expand His Kingdom, we have some pretty confronting interactions between Jesus and three of His would-be followers. Today I just want to hone in on the third.

Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” – Luke 9:61-62 ESV

To me, this man’s request seems quite reasonable, commendable even. After all, he just wants to go and say goodbye to the members of his household before leaving them behind to follow Jesus. I mean, what could be the harm? Although, I guess his close relatives might try to talk him out of it. “Just how well do you know this Jesus character anyway?” So Jesus’ response can seem complementary or harsh, depending on whether you decide that this man is a shining beacon or a cautionary tale. In any case Jesus’ point is not lost.

We can all imagine a farmer attempting to guide a plow while getting distracted by something behind him. We can also picture the crooked furrow he would leave behind and we can even anticipate the knock on effect of added difficulty for sowing and reaping. Or to modernise the image a bit, looking in the rear view mirror is handy when you are backing up your car but obsessing with it when you are moving forward is bound to end in disaster. Working for God’s kingdom demands we focus our attention on what is ahead, not on what lies behind.

Sadly, for some of us, following Jesus will mean separation or even estrangement from our families, though it is rare in western civilisation. Now that may seem like too steep a cost but we must weigh it against what Jesus says elsewhere, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29). That is an exceptional return on your investment. A hundred times what you’ve given up, and life without end.

The passage in Luke calls to mind someone who infamously turned back in the Old Testament. She is slighted in the history of God’s people where her is name omitted. She is known only as “Lot’s wife” in Genesis 19. After being warned specifically not to look back or even stop (she was meant to be fleeing God’s judgment) she was drawn back to the fleeting pleasures of this life which incur God’s wrath. Her judgment was instantaneous as she was transformed into a pillar of salt. Which, I’m quietly confident, isn’t what Jesus had in mind when he said to be salt and light. All of us, then, are called to leave behind our old sinful way of life, of which we should be ashamed, but how does Jesus wants us to move God’s kingdom forward exactly? I think the answer comes just a couple verses later in Luke:

And he said to [his disciples], “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. – Luke 10:2

Earnest prayer to the Lord of the harvest. Primarily we move God’s kingdom forward on our knees. So, let’s pray.

Father, we eagerly ask You to propel forward-focused workers into Your harvest field. We are ashamed of our sin that provokes Your wrath and we thank You for Jesus who bore Your anger in order to shield us. Help us leave behind everything, including our sin, that prevents us from following Jesus wholeheartedly and may we never look back. When we have Christ we are more than compensated for anything we have to give up. We seek first Your Kingdom, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

Top Ten

It is no coincidence that the greatest countries in the world to live in are those most heavily influenced by Judeo-Christian values. In mercy and judgment, God gifted His people Israel with one commandment for each of the ten plagues He severely chastised Egypt with (Exodus 7-12).

And God spoke all these words, saying,
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
“You shall not murder.
“You shall not commit adultery.
“You shall not steal.
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
“You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbour’s.” – Exodus 20:1-17 ESV

These rules for living have never been improved upon, although Jesus distilled them down to just two guidelines, borrowed from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18):

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:37b-40

Lord, to cherish You above all else is to abide by Your first four commandments, and to love all others as much as we love ourselves will prevent us from transgressing the remaining six. Thank You Jesus that when You walked this earth You upheld the Law and the Prophets in perfection, that when we trust in You You clothe us in Your right standing before God. By Your Spirit, enable us to please You by keeping Your commands, and so stand out as a source of good in this world.