St Matthew 26: 47-56While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.’ At once he came up to Jesus and said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed him. Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, do what you are here to do.’ Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?’ At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.’ Then all the disciples deserted him and fled. Reflection As the Passion narrative begins to unfold, Jesus’ disciples are not portrayed in a good light. One disciple betrays him, another tries to retaliate with violence, and finally they all forsake him. Throughout Matthew, Jesus had predicted his fate; had the prophets not foretold that the Messiah would suffer and die? But the disciples had not understood. And Jesus has to endure not only arrest, but also betrayal, violence, cowardice, on the part of his closest followers. It is a black moment.
Caravaggio, the legendary bad boy from the violent and bawdy back streets of Rome, was a brilliant painter of darkness. The drama of his painting, The Taking of Christ, is enhanced by the blackness; it is emotionally charged; it compels us to look at what is happening. The off-stage light is focussed on the faces of Judas and Jesus; Judas has just given his master a kiss, he is still gripping him in his arms, on his face a mix of fear, love and dismay. Jesus turns his face away, in the pallor of death, his downcast eyes and clasped hands accepting his fate, refusing retaliation and violence. Immediately behind, a disciple is fleeing, his arms raised, his mouth agape, his back turned to Jesus whom he has abandoned; while the artist himself is watching, holding up a Chinese lantern, to shed a secondary light on the scene. The nearer soldier’s thrusting, metal-clad arm lays hold of Jesus by force, shining like a mirror, inviting us to see ourselves reflected in it.
It is as if Caravaggio is asking us to consider: are we also participating in the betrayal of Jesus?
PrayerGod of power,
God of mercy,
you turn darkness into light
and despair to hope.
Lift from our hearts
the failures that weigh us down
that we may find new life
in Jesus Christ our Saviour.
St Matthew 26: 36-46Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples,
“Sit here while I go over there and pray.”
He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them,
“I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.”
And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed,
“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”
Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter,
“So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Again he went away for the second time and prayed,
“My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”
Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them,
“Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.” Reflection
Sleep is an amazing thing. If you can get any, it brings rest and recuperation from the stresses of life, yet it is the stress of life that often denies us the sleep. The more we try to sleep, the more we stay awake and, as in our reading, the more the disciples try to stay awake, the more they sleep.
Clearly Jesus cannot sleep as the enormity of what is about to happen has just hit him like a sledgehammer! We as humans can understand his reluctance to face what is to come, yet we as humans can but marvel at his complete and utter obedience to follow his Father’s will.
The disciples, exhausted from the day’s events so far, struggle to comprehend the magnitude of Jesus’ words and cannot stay awake. The image we see is of the three disciples intertwined with Jesus, their bodies indicating that they are in this together – yet Jesus is facing upwards, praying to his Father while the disciples are at his feet, sleeping. A shaft of light highlights the night time scene, but even this is not enough to wake them.
We too, often miss the story of the Garden. We go from the Last Supper to the Cross and miss the bit in between. We are so eager to pass by the horror of Good Friday, that we forget the night of Maundy Thursday and the battle that Jesus faced.
May we, this Lent, pause, and reflect on whether we could stay awake in the face of such a task, and let us spend time in the garden, hard as it may be, to offer our complete obedience to God in all we do.
(Picture He Qi, Praying at Gethsemane)
PrayerGod of the tired, exhausted and weary,
bring rest and refreshment.
God of the frightened, the worried, the anxious,
bring calm and assurance.
God of the undecided, the apathetic, the “not sure”,
bring certainty and decision.
Loving God, help us to face the challenge of believing;
the challenge of obedience
and most of all,
the challenge of following the way of the Cross.
Psalm 391 I said, “Now let me watch my ways
and keep my tongue from sin.
I’ll put a muzzle on my mouth
while I’m with wicked men.”
2 When I was silent and kept still
and firmly held my peace,
Not speaking even what was good,
this made my pain increase.
3 Because of this my heart grew hot;
the fire burned strong indeed
The more I mused upon it all.
Then I began to plead:
4 “LORD, show me that my life will end—
how many days I’ll see—
And cause me, LORD, to understand
how brief my life will be.
5 “O LORD, how short you make my days
before I sink in death.
My years are nothing in your sight;
man’s life is but a breath.
6 “Like shadows people go about;
they bustle to and fro.
They heap up wealth, but do not know
to whom their wealth will go.
7 “But now, what do I look for, LORD?
My hope is set on you.
8 From my transgressions rescue me
lest fools in scorn pursue.
9 “I held my peace and would not speak,
for you did this, I know.
10 Remove your scourge from me; your hand
has struck and laid me low.
11 “For you rebuke and punish men
for their iniquity.
You, like a moth, consume their wealth;
each man is vanity.
12 “O LORD, please listen to my prayer
and hear my cry for aid;
Do not be deaf to the appeal
which I with tears have made.
“For as your guest I stay a while.
I’m like my fathers all—
A stranger and a pilgrim here.
Have mercy when I call.
13 “O turn away your eyes from me.
Let me rejoice again
Before I finally depart
and here no more remain.”
You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this to the tune Culross here. Reflection I cannot be the only person who loves the Psalms for their honesty and their clear sense that the journey through life can be, at best, a bumpy road. When we are gripped by despair or frustration, the Psalms encourage us to speak out, honestly, what we are feeling.
The Psalmist here has tried to keep from speaking evil.. but eventually cannot keep silent any longer and nearly bursts with anguish “How much longer do I have to live – how much more do I have to endure?”. Then, as so often in a Psalm, we reach the ‘and yet…’ point - “Now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you”.
After an honest outburst of how it really feels, the Psalmist starts to look at the situation including God in the picture. “I am a passing guest, as all my ancestors were”.
In a sense nothing has changed in the course of the Psalm, but blessing comes when the Psalmist takes God’s perspective into account.
Last Christmas I watched and waited with my mum as she was dying. On Christmas Eve I turned away from the tree and the turkey and spent a quiet hour by mum’s bed. There were times when she and I cried out “how much longer?”, but there were also times when we were at peace, knowing that the end would come, and that in life and in death she was safe in God’s hands – as was I and all whom she loved. As the gift of Christ at Christmas quietly approached, we accepted the coming of God to make us at home. Taking our lead from the Psalmist, we find in God's perspective our hope and our strength.
PrayerHear my prayer, Lord,
Hear me when I cry out in honest pain.
Help me to remember you are there.
Hold me in your arms
until I can stand again.
In the name of Jesus who trusted you in all these ways,
Job 42: 7-17After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: ‘My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt-offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has done.’ So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.
And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. After this Job lived for one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. And Job died, old and full of days. Reflection It is easy to overlook this prose epilogue to the book and assume that it simply restores the status quo of 1:1-5 before the veracity of God’s claims about Job were put to the test. Let’s not make that mistake.
The narrator gives us another speech by God. This one is directed at Eliphaz and his two friends (Elihu isn’t included); and God is angry with them. They are accused of speaking ‘folly’ (v.8), the word implies a heinous offence that leads God’s people astray (Isa.9:16; 32:6). In contrast Job is described as God’s ‘servant’ who spoke rightly. The ones who had tried to defend God against Job’s accusations are now identified as the ‘wicked’ and commanded to offer propitiatory sacrifices. Their rigid adherence to traditional ‘wisdom’ and unwillingness to open their eyes to see a bigger vision of God is condemned by God.
As God’s servant it appears that Job has already risen up from the ashes and resumed his former position as a righteous mediator for the community (1:5; 29:7ff); and God chooses to show mercy on the friends when Job intercedes for them (1:8, 9).
The restoration of Job is an act of God’s grace not a reward for his integrity. This occurs ‘when’, i.e. after, Job had prayed, not ‘because’; nor in response to prayer. Job is doubly blessed by God in all his material possessions, a sign of the unpredictability of God; and ironically Job’s wider family flock to offer comfort and support (v.11; cf. 19:13-19) – now he no longer needs it!
He is blessed with the same number of children as before (where’s his wife?) but the naming of the daughters is interesting. ‘Turtle dove’ calls to mind the woman in Song of Songs 2:14; ‘Cassia’ an aromatic oil for special uses (Ex.30:24; Ps.45:9) and ‘Horn of antimony’, akin to eyeliner used to beautify ancient queens (2 Kgs.9:30; Jer.4:30). These are very beautiful women, to be regarded as princesses; but Job treats them exactly like their brothers (v.15)! This is a radical statement about gender equality that goes far beyond the provisions of Numbers 27:1-8, which is often regarded as daringly innovative!
There is a ‘happy ever after’ ending as Job lives out a ‘double’ lifespan before he dies in the manner of Abraham (Gen.25:8) and Isaac (Gen.35:29). We’ve come round full circle; but Job has taken us deeper into the realities of the human condition and higher into the wonders of God. Rather like the experience of Jesus on his way from the wilderness to the cross. May our Lenten journey of faith continue on a similar path as we walk the way of Jesus.
for all your blessings we praise you
and we rejoice in the knowledge
that you are a God of mercy,
for too often we are less like Job
and more like his friends.
Enlarge our vision
and strengthen our faith;
and may our lives proclaim
the radical truth of your gospel,
for the sake of Jesus. Amen.
Job 42: 1-6‘I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
“Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?”
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
“Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.”
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.’ Reflection Job breaks his silence and turns to God again; but his tone is different and there’s a change in his attitude towards God. Job says nothing about his own situation or demands for justice. Instead he expresses contentment because he has come to a radically new understanding about God and God’s purposes.
In this short speech Job reiterates what he had always believed about God’s power (v.2); but then he replays two things that God had spoken to him. Verse 3 is virtually identical to 38:2 and verse 4 repeats 38:3b and 40:7b. Job has had time to reflect on these words and now admits that he had been speaking in ignorance most of the time. The things of God are ‘too wonderful’ for Job, or any human being, to comprehend; and Job is even more aware of this since God has revealed so much more about the scale, complexity and mystery of creation. In his first response Job conceded his impotence but now he effectively retracts his charges against God as mistaken.
His final words explain what has prompted this change in him; it is his personal encounter with God. Previously he had ‘heard’ about God. In other words had learned the traditional doctrines, the deposit of faith that had been handed down and imagined that was all he needed to (or could) know about God. Now, though, he has ‘seen’ God: God has opened his eyes to realise that humans are not central to God’s design and that God’s concerns are far wider than our self-centred ones.
This leads him to respond in complete humility before God. The words ‘despise myself’ and ‘repent’ in verse 6 don’t quite convey what the Hebrew expresses. The first of these verbs most frequently means ‘reject’ and the second basically means ‘change one’s mind’. So we might read, ‘Therefore I reject (my misunderstandings?), and change my mind in humble submission’.
It is always valuable to increase our knowledge about God by study and debate; but it is when we engage with God that we begin to comprehend who is the source, the guide and the goal of all that has existence. In worship, through Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit we have access to the eternal God who, I believe, is waiting to engage with each of us at an ever deeper level; and to open our eyes. Who knows? What we see may cause us to change our minds!
you have revealed your human face
to us in Jesus
and are present with us
through the Spirit.
Thank you for coming into our lives
in ways that enable us to see
something of your holiness.
Help us to worship you with reverence,
with eyes wide open,
so that we might glimpse more of your grandeur
and your loving concern for all creation,
through our praises,
our heartfelt prayers
and our rigorous engagement with your word.
And may we live by what we see,*
in the name of Christ. Amen
*Taken from verse 4 of George Caird’s hymn ‘Not far beyond the sea, nor high’, Rejoice & Sing 318.
Job 40:15-41:34‘Look at Behemoth,
which I made just as I made you;
it eats grass like an ox.
Its strength is in its loins,
and its power in the muscles of its belly.
It makes its tail stiff like a cedar;
the sinews of its thighs are knit together.
Its bones are tubes of bronze,
its limbs like bars of iron.
‘It is the first of the great acts of God—
only its Maker can approach it with the sword.
For the mountains yield food for it
where all the wild animals play.
Under the lotus plants it lies,
in the covert of the reeds and in the marsh.
The lotus trees cover it for shade;
the willows of the wadi surround it.
Even if the river is turbulent, it is not frightened;
it is confident though Jordan rushes against its mouth.
Can one take it with hooks
or pierce its nose with a snare?
‘Can you draw out Leviathan with a fish-hook,
or press down its tongue with a cord?
Can you put a rope in its nose,
or pierce its jaw with a hook?
Will it make many supplications to you?
Will it speak soft words to you?
Will it make a covenant with you
to be taken as your servant for ever?
Will you play with it as with a bird,
or will you put it on a leash for your girls?
Will traders bargain over it?
Will they divide it up among the merchants?
Can you fill its skin with harpoons,
or its head with fishing-spears?
Lay hands on it;
think of the battle; you will not do it again!
Any hope of capturing it will be disappointed;
were not even the gods overwhelmed at the sight of it?
No one is so fierce as to dare to stir it up.
Who can stand before it?
Who can confront it and be safe?
—under the whole heaven, who?
‘I will not keep silence concerning its limbs,
or its mighty strength, or its splendid frame.
Who can strip off its outer garment?
Who can penetrate its double coat of mail?
Who can open the doors of its face?
There is terror all around its teeth.
Its back is made of shields in rows,
shut up closely as with a seal.
One is so near to another
that no air can come between them.
They are joined one to another;
they clasp each other and cannot be separated.
Its sneezes flash forth light,
and its eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn.
From its mouth go flaming torches;
sparks of fire leap out.
Out of its nostrils comes smoke,
as from a boiling pot and burning rushes.
Its breath kindles coals,
and a flame comes out of its mouth.
In its neck abides strength,
and terror dances before it.
The folds of its flesh cling together;
it is firmly cast and immovable.
Its heart is as hard as stone,
as hard as the lower millstone.
When it raises itself up the gods are afraid;
at the crashing they are beside themselves.
Though the sword reaches it, it does not avail,
nor does the spear, the dart, or the javelin.
It counts iron as straw,
and bronze as rotten wood.
The arrow cannot make it flee;
slingstones, for it, are turned to chaff.
Clubs are counted as chaff;
it laughs at the rattle of javelins.
Its underparts are like sharp potsherds;
it spreads itself like a threshing-sledge on the mire.
It makes the deep boil like a pot;
it makes the sea like a pot of ointment.
It leaves a shining wake behind it;
one would think the deep to be white-haired.
On earth it has no equal,
a creature without fear.
It surveys everything that is lofty;
it is king over all that are proud.’ Reflection These are the last words God addresses to Job. Much has been written about whether the beasts should be understood as a hippopotamus and a crocodile, or mythical creatures; and you are entitled to wonder how these descriptions of powerful beasts contribute to the effectiveness of God’s speech. We can agree with George Bernard Shaw who once noted, “If I complain that I am suffering unjustly, it is no answer to say, “Can you make a hippopotamus?”
This is true and yet the author of Job has chosen to end the divine speech in this abrupt way. Job is forced to contemplate Behemoth, one of the creatures made by God, just as God made Job (40:15). It is described in the same way as wisdom as the first of God’s creative acts (compare 40:19 with Prov.8:22) and only God can control it. Leviathan was understood as a fearful mythical monster that inhabited the deeps (Job 3:8; Isa.27:1); but through a rhetorical question to Job (41:11) and the following verses, God claims control of it too (see also Ps.74:14).
Is a parallel being made between Job and these wondrous creatures? All are under the control of God and capable of being subdued? And yet God chooses to give Job the freedom to challenge God, to do more than simply admire God’s majestic power from afar. Job has the choice to keep silent and turn away from God or to make a response as God had demanded.
Understood in this way all that these verses say to Job is said also to us. They challenge us to make a decision about God. Will we walk away if God hasn’t given us the answers we want? Or will we realise that the God who has made Behemoth, Leviathan and us is so amazing that nothing could be more important than being in an ongoing real relationship with this God?
I could never walk away; and I praise God for all that has been revealed in Jesus of God’s love for me. I still have many, many questions about God’s ways but I rejoice in the knowledge that God will never refuse to listen to them if I have the faith to take them to God in prayer.
PrayerThank you, God,
for creating me and setting me to live
in such a wondrous universe.
Thank you for giving me the freedom
to respond, or not,
to your invitation to live
in covenant relationship with you.
Thank you for showing yourself to me,
and in all your marvellous acts of creation.
Thank you for strengthening my faith
as I grapple with you in a search for truth.
May my walk of faith
be an encouragement to others
to put their trust in you.
In the name of Christ, Amen
Job 40:1-14And the Lord said to Job:
‘Shall a fault-finder contend with the Almighty?
Anyone who argues with God must respond.’
Then Job answered the Lord:
‘See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but will proceed no further.’
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
‘Gird up your loins like a man;
I will question you, and you declare to me.
Will you even put me in the wrong?
Will you condemn me that you may be justified?
Have you an arm like God,
and can you thunder with a voice like his?
‘Deck yourself with majesty and dignity;
clothe yourself with glory and splendour.
Pour out the overflowings of your anger,
and look on all who are proud, and abase them.
Look on all who are proud, and bring them low;
tread down the wicked where they stand.
Hide them all in the dust together;
bind their faces in the world below.
Then I will also acknowledge to you
that your own right hand can give you victory. Reflection It is as though God pauses for breath and then turns to Job again and demands a response. God doesn’t seem to mind that Job has been critical of the ‘Almighty’; but insists that Job cannot fall silent now that God has opened his eyes to see the bigger picture of divine activity.
Job, on the other hand, who has never doubted the enormity of God’s power, admits his insignificance and his inability to answer God’s questions; and replies that he has nothing to say. We should note that Job doesn’t admit to wickedness, or to being wrong in his claims that God isn’t just.
But God won’t accept Job’s silence and in words that repeat the opening of chapter 38 challenges Job again. Justice is the point of contention now; and the opening words of v.8 could be translated, ‘Will you also frustrate my rights?’. Job has made accusations against God to prove himself innocent but God is not willing to plead guilty as charged!
Amazingly, God invites Job to stand in the divine shoes (so to speak) and to try his hand at exercising justice over the proud, the wicked, the whole world; to exercise the sovereignty that he has accused God of failing to do. In context Job recognises that this is a ridiculous suggestion, way beyond his ability; and I freely admit that it is way beyond mine too!
There is nothing Job can say; he can only wait to discover what God will say or do next. Job’s day in court isn’t going the way he expected but he is receiving God’s full attention.
God hasn’t dismissed Job as a fool, nor refused to engage with his accusations. God is taking seriously the fact that justice matters to Job and is leading him towards a resolution of the central issue; a resolution that Job will be able to own for himself because he is a party in reaching it.
Today I can only wait in silence with Job for God to lead me into deeper truth; but I do so in the belief that God knows everything about me (Luke 12:7) and the conviction that nothing can separate me from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39) as I continue walking in the way of Jesus through Lent.
I am humbled when I realise
that you are interested
in all of my concerns,
be they petty matters
or ones that have significance
for the whole world.
Thank you for the privilege of prayer
whereby I can engage with you
person to person;
and help me to know when to speak,
when to listen,
and when I must wait
and endure the silence.
Reassure me of your presence
and deepen my faith,
through Jesus Christ,
Job 38:1-27, 39-41; 39:1-8, 26-30Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
‘Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb?—
when I made the clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped”?
‘Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
It is changed like clay under the seal,
and it is dyed like a garment.
Light is withheld from the wicked,
and their uplifted arm is broken.
‘Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.
‘Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
and where is the place of darkness,
that you may take it to its territory
and that you may discern the paths to its home?
Surely you know, for you were born then,
and the number of your days is great!
‘Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,
or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
which I have reserved for the time of trouble,
for the day of battle and war?
What is the way to the place where the light is distributed,
or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?
‘Who has cut a channel for the torrents of rain,
and a way for the thunderbolt,
to bring rain on a land where no one lives,
on the desert, which is empty of human life,
to satisfy the waste and desolate land,
and to make the ground put forth grass?
‘Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
when they crouch in their dens,
or lie in wait in their covert?
Who provides for the raven its prey,
when its young ones cry to God,
and wander about for lack of food?
‘Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
Do you observe the calving of the deer?
Can you number the months that they fulfil,
and do you know the time when they give birth,
when they crouch to give birth to their offspring,
and are delivered of their young?
Their young ones become strong, they grow up in the open;
they go forth, and do not return to them.
‘Who has let the wild ass go free?
Who has loosed the bonds of the swift ass,
to which I have given the steppe for its home,
the salt land for its dwelling-place?
It scorns the tumult of the city;
it does not hear the shouts of the driver.
It ranges the mountains as its pasture,
and it searches after every green thing.
‘Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars,
and spreads its wings towards the south?
Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up
and makes its nest on high?
It lives on the rock and makes its home
in the fastness of the rocky crag.
From there it spies the prey;
its eyes see it from far away.
Its young ones suck up blood;
and where the slain are, there it is.’ Reflection Astonishingly God responds to Job’s demands for an audience and speaks to him. Storm imagery was often associated with theophany in the ancient world; but the translator’s choice of ‘whirlwind’ conveys the idea of God emerging from a calm centre into the storm-tossed chaos of human existence.
However God’s opening words rebuke Job for speaking without knowledge and challenge him to prepare for a robust interrogation. Far from providing any answers to Job’s questions, God launches into a series of questions for Job to answer, questions that rapidly reveal how little Job (or any human being) knows about the world around us. None of God’s questions relate to issues of justice, suffering, innocence and wickedness – the topics that exercised Job and his friends. None of God’s questions focus on humanity at all; they are about creation, the cosmos and the animals. They force Job to expand his focus onto the origins of the world, the depths of the sea, the stars in heaven and the wild creatures that inhabit the land beyond the territories controlled by humans. These poetic chapters are breath taking in their scope and their use of language to enlarge our horizons.
Like Job, we are incapable of answering God’s questions; like Job we understand their implication. God is the one with knowledge, who brought all these things into being and who established order in the world, order that accords to a divine plan beyond human comprehension. It becomes clear that God lavishes attention on aspects of creation that are of no interest, or use, to humans (38:25-27) and God’s loving care extends to wild beasts that humans regard as threatening (38:39-41). The freedom of the wild ass to roam widely, untamed by humans as a beast of burden (39:5-8), delights God. We are forced to recognise that human obsession with our own problems and our perspective on the world is not a major concern of God! ‘Nature, red in tooth and claw’ and birds that feed on carrion are part of God’s wisdom and deserve God’s final word (39:26-30).
These chapters don’t suggest that humans don’t matter to God – quite the opposite because God has chosen to engage, person to person with Job; but they present a picture of God’s activity and concern far wider than we tend to imagine.
I need to be reminded – I am not at the centre of the universe! Nor are you.
the universe is filled by your glory
and I am humbled
when I contemplate how much more
you may still have to reveal
about your nature and purposes.
Forgive me when I behave
as though my concerns
are the ones that matter most.
Forgive us all when we fail
to be good stewards of your creation
and treat it as a possession
to be used for human benefit.
Grant us a better understanding
of how all things can work together
for good for the eternal glory
of your name. Amen
Job 32:1-10; 34:34-37; 37:23-24So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then Elihu son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became angry. He was angry at Job because he justified himself rather than God; he was angry also at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer, though they had declared Job to be in the wrong. Now Elihu had waited to speak to Job, because they were older than he. But when Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouths of these three men, he became angry.
Elihu son of Barachel the Buzite answered:
‘I am young in years,
and you are aged;
therefore I was timid and afraid
to declare my opinion to you.
I said, “Let days speak,
and many years teach wisdom.”
But truly it is the spirit in a mortal,
the breath of the Almighty, that makes for understanding.
It is not the old that are wise,
nor the aged that understand what is right.
Therefore I say, “Listen to me;
let me also declare my opinion.”
Those who have sense will say to me,
and the wise who hear me will say,
“Job speaks without knowledge,
his words are without insight.”
Would that Job were tried to the limit,
because his answers are those of the wicked.
For he adds rebellion to his sin;
he claps his hands among us,
and multiplies his words against God.’
The Almighty—we cannot find him;
he is great in power and justice,
and abundant righteousness he will not violate.
Therefore mortals fear him;
he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit.’
Reflection Chapters 32-37 are a long monologue spoken by Elihu, introduced by a brief explanation of who this young man is and implying that he has been silently observing everything since arriving at the scene with Job’s friends.
Elihu is angry; angry at the friends and angry at Job. The friends have failed to answer any of Job’s arguments adequately and Job has had the effrontery to question God’s justice and power; so Elihu offers himself as the arbiter. In many ways he is a stereotypical ‘angry young man’ who is ‘no respecter of age’ and arrogant. Much of what he says engages with the earlier dialogues. Sometimes he quotes directly; sometimes he distorts what was said and displays his own prejudices. He dares to suggest that he can teach Job wisdom, if he’ll listen to him (33:33); and he makes a staggering claim that he is able to speak on God’s behalf with ‘perfect … knowledge’ (36:4).
However, before older readers start saying something like: ‘that’s the trouble with the young, they think they know it all’, or younger readers despair at one of their generation being presented in such a negative way by the author of Job – and some commentators have suggested (wrongly in my opinion) that Elihu is presented as a ‘fool’ – we do well to heed some important truths about God that are put into Elihu’s mouth. We also need to realise that he has been listening carefully; he doesn’t enter the debate with a total disregard for what has gone before. How often are we so concerned to make our own point that we fail to listen to what others are saying?
Elihu teaches us that God grants wisdom to humans irrespective of age (32:8-9); we are the ones who foolishly regard age categories as having significance with regard to the things of God. Secondly, we cannot demand an answer from God to any of our questions; we need to acknowledge that God chooses how and when to communicate and that there is a possibility that we don’t perceive God’s response when it is made (33:13-15).
Elihu also reminds us that God is our Maker; that ‘God is mighty and does not despise any’ (36:5); that God ‘does great things that we cannot comprehend’ (37:5) and that ‘around God is awesome majesty’ (37:22). He affirms the mystery of God and urges us to treat God with reverence.
forgive us when we are ageist
in our consideration of others.
Help us to look beyond
the physical manifestation of years
to see the person created in your image,
our brother or sister in Christ.
May we neither seek, nor give,
deference on the basis of age;
but listen respectfully
to all who want to join in our debates,
hoping that we might discern your voice
in words of young and old alike. Amen.
Psalm 381 In wrath do not rebuke me, LORD,
Or in your anger chasten me.
2 Your arrows deeply pierce my soul;
Your hand lies on me heavily.
3 Because your anger rests on me,
My body has no health within;
There is no soundness in my bones,
Because you judge me for my sin.
4 My guilt has overwhelmed my soul;
Its burden is a crushing weight.
5 My wounds are foul and festering,
Because my foolishness is great.
6 I am bowed down, I am brought low,
And I go mourning all the day.
7 My back is filled with searing pain,
And my whole body wastes away.
8 I’m feeble and completely crushed;
In anguish of my heart I groan.
9 Lord, my desires before you lie;
To you my sighing is well known.
10 My heart beats wildly, strength has failed,
The light has faded from my eye.
11 My friends and neighbours keep away;
They see my wounds and then pass by.
12 My enemies who seek my life
With cunning set their snares for me;
My foes conspire to do me harm,
And all day long plot treachery.
13 I’m like the deaf, who cannot hear,
And like the mute, who cannot cry.
14 I’m like a man who hears no sound,
Whose mouth can offer no reply.
15 I wait for you, O Lord my God;
And you, O LORD, will answer me.
16 I prayed to you, “If my foot slips,
Let them not gloat exultantly.”
17 Indeed I am about to fall;
My pain is ever deep within.
18 I must confess iniquity,
And I am troubled by my sin.
19 My foes are vigorous and strong;
And many hate me wrongfully.
20 My good with evil they repay;
When I seek good, they slander me.
21 O LORD, do not abandon me;
Do not be far from me, my God.
22 Come quickly to deliver me
Because you are my Saviour, Lord.
You can hear a soloist sing this from v15 to the tune Llef here. Reflection I wonder how easily we can relate to the words of the Psalmist in this Psalm? It seems to speak in two voices – one seeking approval or forgiveness, and the other seeking protection and safety. We are perhaps more inclined to do the latter and not the former. We tend not to consider ourselves being rebuked by the anger of a God who crushes us. Instead we prefer to find ourselves seeking the comfort of a loving God who will not abandon but will save us in the times when things go wrong.
Perhaps it’s easy to disregard this Psalm or to place it in a context of Exilic abandonment where it can have no bearing on our lives. Maybe we don’t think of our own need for approval from God, relying instead on a God who became incarnate so that we would have the promise of eternal life. Maybe we too comfortably associate with the protection and promise of God, and less on the reprimand that all wrongdoers deserve.
Any parent figure must– to a greater or lesser extent – combine the tasks of telling-off and protection; we must recognise where we have done wrong, and yet have the assurance of our own safety in difficult times. As Children of God, we occasionally act in ways that deserve God’s rebuke. But we also occasionally find ourselves in difficulties where we need to know we have God’s all-encompassing protection.
We need not redraw our images of God as one of anger or wrath, but perhaps we have much to learn about seeking God’s forgiveness and to holding our humanity before God. Perhaps we need to be able to relate more to these words of the Psalmist if we are to be Children of God who are both truly forgiven and fully consoled.
when we do wrong,
help us to know how to correct our actions.
when we speak wrong,
help us to find words to ask for forgiveness.
when we need your comfort,
console us with your love and enfold us in your outstretched arms.
Job 29:2-6; 30:16-23; 31:5-8, 35-37‘O that I were as in the months of old,
as in the days when God watched over me;
when his lamp shone over my head,
and by his light I walked through darkness;
when I was in my prime,
when the friendship of God was upon my tent;
when the Almighty was still with me,
when my children were around me;
when my steps were washed with milk,
and the rock poured out for me streams of oil!
‘And now my soul is poured out within me;
days of affliction have taken hold of me.
The night racks my bones,
and the pain that gnaws me takes no rest.
With violence he seizes my garment;
he grasps me by the collar of my tunic.
He has cast me into the mire,
and I have become like dust and ashes.
I cry to you and you do not answer me;
I stand, and you merely look at me.
You have turned cruel to me;
with the might of your hand you persecute me.
You lift me up on the wind, you make me ride on it,
and you toss me about in the roar of the storm.
I know that you will bring me to death,
and to the house appointed for all living.
‘If I have walked with falsehood,
and my foot has hurried to deceit—
let me be weighed in a just balance,
and let God know my integrity!—
if my step has turned aside from the way,
and my heart has followed my eyes,
and if any spot has clung to my hands;
then let me sow, and another eat;
and let what grows for me be rooted out.
O that I had one to hear me!
(Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!)
O that I had the indictment written by my adversary!
Surely I would carry it on my shoulder;
I would bind it on me like a crown;
I would give him an account of all my steps;
like a prince I would approach him. Reflection Job begins to speak again and he sets out his defence over three chapters. In 29 he laments all that he has lost, recalling the high regard in which he used to be held by everyone, when God was his friend (vv.2-6). The lament continues in 30 as Job pathetically sets out his current miserable state. In 31 he demonstrates that his conduct has been exemplary by listing sins of which he has never been guilty; and he swears an oath to this effect. Only 30:20-23 are directly addressed to God; but the whole speech serves to exonerate Job of any charge that might have been alleged against him. At the same time Job’s words function as an indictment against God for acting unjustly towards him.
Job’s description of his prior life suggests a man who held very high status and 29:12-17 depict the actions of a righteous ruler (as in Ps.72) who delivered justice to the needy without partiality. He thus refutes one of Eliphaz’s accusations (22.5-9).
There is a degree of self-justification in what Job says and his proud spirit can still be discerned as he almost belittles those who are now humiliating him (30:1, 5, 12); but the effect is to increase his sense of self-degradation. Other people may be the agents of his torment but Job has no doubt that God is his persecutor. He accuses God of ignoring his cries and of being cruel in turning from being a friend into a foe (vv.20f). There is no suggestion that Job expects an answer anymore; but chapter 30 ends with a summary of his case and a statement that he had expected reward for his virtuous life (v.26).
In chapter 31 Job addresses the ‘court’. Both Job and God now stand accused and if God won’t respond all Job can do is deny all misconduct. In v.35 he demands for one last time that God appear and that a proper case be conducted. Job is prepared to sign his ‘statement’ and to flourish it because he is absolutely confident that it vindicates him.
Job has run out of things to say. He is desolate and no-one is responding; but he isn’t cowed before God. He has accused God of many things; but he remains firm in his belief that God exists and that God holds all the power. May we never let go of these truths.
PrayerGod, there are times
when you seem hidden
and it feels as though
my prayers fall on deaf ears.
Help me to remain firm in my faith and,
like Job, to be persistent
in my cries to you.
Grant me resilience
in the face of adversity or injustice;
and the determination
to ensure that ‘truth will out’.
As I walk in the way of Jesus
draw near to me,
I pray, and let me know your presence.
In his name, Amen.
Job 28‘Surely there is a mine for silver,
and a place for gold to be refined.
Iron is taken out of the earth,
and copper is smelted from ore.
Miners put an end to darkness,
and search out to the farthest bound
the ore in gloom and deep darkness.
They open shafts in a valley away from human habitation;
they are forgotten by travellers,
they sway suspended, remote from people.
As for the earth, out of it comes bread;
but underneath it is turned up as by fire.
Its stones are the place of sapphires,
and its dust contains gold.
‘That path no bird of prey knows,
and the falcon’s eye has not seen it.
The proud wild animals have not trodden it;
the lion has not passed over it.
‘They put their hand to the flinty rock,
and overturn mountains by the roots.
They cut out channels in the rocks,
and their eyes see every precious thing.
The sources of the rivers they probe;
hidden things they bring to light.
‘But where shall wisdom be found?
And where is the place of understanding?
Mortals do not know the way to it,
and it is not found in the land of the living.
The deep says, “It is not in me”,
and the sea says, “It is not with me.”
It cannot be bought for gold,
and silver cannot be weighed out as its price.
It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir,
in precious onyx or sapphire.
Gold and glass cannot equal it,
nor can it be exchanged for jewels of fine gold.
No mention shall be made of coral or of crystal;
the price of wisdom is above pearls.
The chrysolite of Ethiopia cannot compare with it,
nor can it be valued in pure gold.
‘Where then does wisdom come from?
And where is the place of understanding?
It is hidden from the eyes of all living,
and concealed from the birds of the air.
Abaddon and Death say,
“We have heard a rumour of it with our ears.”
‘God understands the way to it,
and he knows its place.
For he looks to the ends of the earth,
and sees everything under the heavens.
When he gave to the wind its weight,
and apportioned out the waters by measure;
when he made a decree for the rain,
and a way for the thunderbolt;
then he saw it and declared it;
he established it, and searched it out.
And he said to humankind,
“Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom;
and to depart from evil is understanding.”’ Reflection This chapter is a breath of fresh air after all the words of protestation. It makes no reference to Job, the friends, nor to the issue of divine justice; it is a superb poem about the location of wisdom (vv.12 and 20), as though it was a tangible commodity. It is questioning the source of wisdom, how it can be acquired and who, if anyone can possess it.
The knowledge displayed in this poem about the mineral resources of the world (Israel produces no such metals and stones in any quantity) and the technical skills required to mine them is remarkable. It describes the ingenuity and effort employed by humans to extract these precious things; and the superiority of humankind over the greatest creatures among the birds and animals, which lack such abilities.
The poet contrasts this knowledge and apparent mastery over the physical world with wisdom that still remains elusive. Verses 13-22 catalogue all the places on the earth, under the earth, even in the land of the dead, where our search for wisdom might take us; and implies that this would be a futile pursuit. Nor can wisdom be bought, irrespective of the wealth we may have amassed and be willing to pay for it, declares the poet. It is beyond price. Wisdom is the most desirable thing imaginable and yet it remains inaccessible if we try to gain it through our own endeavours.
The questions of vv.12 and 20 are answered in the concluding stanza: God knows the ‘way’ to wisdom. God, who created the heavens and the earth, who directs the forces of nature and weather patterns, has established wisdom. The poet is saying that true wisdom is a fundamental principle of order in the universe, a facet of God’s creative activity; and therefore not something that any human can hope to possess.
The final verse refers to human ‘wisdom’, using the word in a different sense. Here it means ‘insight’ or ‘discernment’, in contrast to factual information or skills that can be learned. This kind of wisdom can be attained but only as a gift of God, as the outcome of living in right relationship with God. Too frequently the acquisition of mineral deposits has led to human conflict around the world. So let us pray for an increase in human wisdom and commit ourselves to seeking a deeper relationship with God above all else.
your wisdom underlies all that exists
and we marvel at the rich resources
deep within the earth.
Grant that the nations of the world
might learn to use these wisely
and to turn away from the evils
of greed and war.
Help us to grow in wisdom
as we focus on you;
and to learn from Jesus
about the things of real value in life. Amen.
Job 27Job again took up his discourse and said:
‘As God lives, who has taken away my right,
and the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter,
as long as my breath is in me
and the spirit of God is in my nostrils,
my lips will not speak falsehood,
and my tongue will not utter deceit.
Far be it from me to say that you are right;
until I die I will not put away my integrity from me.
I hold fast my righteousness, and will not let it go;
my heart does not reproach me for any of my days.
‘May my enemy be like the wicked,
and may my opponent be like the unrighteous.
For what is the hope of the godless when God cuts them off,
when God takes away their lives?
Will God hear their cry
when trouble comes upon them?
Will they take delight in the Almighty?
Will they call upon God at all times?
I will teach you concerning the hand of God;
that which is with the Almighty I will not conceal.
All of you have seen it yourselves;
why then have you become altogether vain?
‘This is the portion of the wicked with God,
and the heritage that oppressors receive from the Almighty:
If their children are multiplied, it is for the sword;
and their offspring have not enough to eat.
Those who survive them the pestilence buries,
and their widows make no lamentation.
Though they heap up silver like dust,
and pile up clothing like clay—
they may pile it up, but the just will wear it,
and the innocent will divide the silver.
They build their houses like nests,
like booths made by sentinels of the vineyard.
They go to bed with wealth, but will do so no more;
they open their eyes, and it is gone.
Terrors overtake them like a flood;
in the night a whirlwind carries them off.
The east wind lifts them up and they are gone;
it sweeps them out of their place.
It hurls at them without pity;
they flee from its power in headlong flight.
It claps its hands at them,
and hisses at them from its place.
Reflection Again there are difficulties with the text. Verse 1 suggests that Job begins a fresh speech, despite the fact that the book presents him as the speaker of the previous chapter; and the latter half, vv.13-23, sounds like something Zophar might have said. Verse 13 is virtually identical with 20:29, the conclusion of his second speech; and many consider this to be Zophar’s third. It repeats ideas put forward by all the friends.
The opening section of this chapter clearly belongs in Job’s mouth, although vv.7-10 (which are very reminiscent of Ps.35) interrupt the flow. This is Job’s final response to the friends and it is couched in the language of the law court. He makes the strongest possible claim that he is innocent of the alleged wickedness through two solemn oaths, both made in the name of God. He still maintains that God is responsible for all his suffering; but God is also the one who keeps him alive.
Job insists that he is in the right, that his friends have been wrong. All that they have tried to teach him about God’s justice has been in error; Job is the one who has things to teach his friends, if only they were willing to listen and learn. It is as though Job is saying to them, ‘Look at the evidence in front of your eyes. Why can’t you see the truth?’
Through his oaths Job is effectively giving formal notice to God that he is ready to defend himself, whatever the outcome. If Job is wrong and he has sworn falsely in the name of God it would mean automatic death. The stakes couldn’t be higher and everything rests on Job’s integrity.
Swearing oaths or making vows, are not understood as life and death matters in today’s world; and sadly they are sometimes treated casually. Prenuptial agreements, whereby marriage breakdown is anticipated before the vows have even been taken, are fairly common. Telling lies in court won’t be prosecuted as perjury unless the lie was about an issue ‘material’ to the case. Gone are the days when saying ‘my word is my bond’ would be accepted as evidence of good faith.
I accept that it can be impossible to keep a promise when relationships have broken down; but let us never make a promise without the sincere intention of fulfilling it. It is a matter of integrity.
the Bible is full of stories
of your promises being fulfilled
and we know that we can trust you
to keep your word.
Help us to consider carefully
the costs that will be involved
before we make any commitment;
and help us to keep any promises
we have made.
May our lives reflect your faithfulness
as we take a stand for truth in the world. Amen
Job 25Then Bildad the Shuhite answered:
‘Dominion and fear are with God;
he makes peace in his high heaven.
Is there any number to his armies?
Upon whom does his light not arise?
How then can a mortal be righteous before God?
How can one born of woman be pure?
If even the moon is not bright
and the stars are not pure in his sight,
how much less a mortal, who is a maggot,
and a human being, who is a worm!’ Reflection Chapters 24-26 cause problems for readers and translators alike. Structurally we expect Bildad to speak next, then Job, then Zophar and then Job again – but this third cycle of dialogue isn’t complete. In 24:1-12 the Hebrew text consistently reads ‘they’ as the subject. The NRSV translator is probably correct to interpret this as ‘the wicked’ in v.2, but in v.5 ‘they’ seem to be the oppressed; and the ambiguity continues in vv.9-12. 24:1 didn’t indicate a change of speaker; but vv.13-24 don’t ring true in the mouth of Job as they express the opposite of what he has been maintaining.
Chapter 25 is a very short response from Bildad. Has it been curtailed? Are more of his views expressed elsewhere in these chapters? 26:2-4 make sense as Job’s response to Bildad but what follows is simply a non-controversial speech about God as creator of the universe. It isn’t clear how this contributes to the flow of the debate; and all the friends could have said this as easily as Job.
Scholars offer ingenious solutions to the apparent corruption and dislocation of the text; but none are considered satisfactory. Who knows? Could ‘confusion’ be a clever device by the author cautioning against arguing round in circles to the point where no-one is clear about what each is saying, or whose views are being rebutted?
Today’s focus is on Bildad’s speech. He offers an uncontentious description of God’s infinite power and sovereignty; but then makes a leap in reasoning to conclude that no ‘maggoty’ human could be righteous before God. Is he implying that God’s majesty equates to divine righteousness and so Job is being ridiculous, almost blasphemous, by claiming to be righteous (or ‘blameless’, ‘innocent’) as he has frequently asserted? But ‘righteousness’ has a different meaning when applied to God as against humanity. The standard for humans is not moral, or any other kind of, perfection; the measure in the Hebrew Bible is conformity to what God requires of us, as set out in the ‘books of the law’.
Just as it is a fallacy to work from human understandings of justice to presume knowledge of how divine justice works, so it is a fallacy to work from an understanding of God’s righteousness to apply the same standard to ourselves. So let’s not beat ourselves up (or judge others!) when we fail to reach perfection; but give thanks that, through Christ, God understands our weakness and accepts our faith as righteousness.
PrayerGod of light,
your righteousness shines into all creation
to reveal things as they are.
Nothing can be hidden from your sight
and we know that we fall short
of our own expectations,
let alone the standard you require of us
as your people.
Yet we rejoice in the knowledge
that you accept us and love us;
and have chosen to continue
Christ’s mission on earth through us.
We are dumbfounded by this trust.
When we stumble, lift us up again,
that we may continue
walking the way of Jesus for your glory.
Job 23Then Job answered:
‘Today also my complaint is bitter;
his hand is heavy despite my groaning.
O that I knew where I might find him,
that I might come even to his dwelling!
I would lay my case before him,
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would learn what he would answer me,
and understand what he would say to me.
Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
No; but he would give heed to me.
There an upright person could reason with him,
and I should be acquitted for ever by my judge.
‘If I go forward, he is not there;
or backward, I cannot perceive him;
on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him;
I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.
But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold.
My foot has held fast to his steps;
I have kept his way and have not turned aside.
I have not departed from the commandment of his lips;
I have treasured in my bosom the words of his mouth.
But he stands alone and who can dissuade him?
What he desires, that he does.
For he will complete what he appoints for me;
and many such things are in his mind.
Therefore I am terrified at his presence;
when I consider, I am in dread of him.
God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me;
If only I could vanish in darkness,
and thick darkness would cover my face! Reflection Apparently Job has been able to ‘blot out’ all that has been said to him. It is as though he is on his own and this soliloquy lets us see how quickly he fluctuates between complete confidence that God would acquit him of all charges, if only he could present his case, and pure terror at the thought that God has already decided he is guilty. Job doesn’t seem interested in the restoration of his health or wealth; he is only concerned about his innocence before God.
At the outset we sense his desire to engage with God, who is so elusive. Job no longer asks God to come and meet him but muses whether he might be able to approach God in the heavenly realm. His hope that God would ultimately act justly hasn’t been completely abandoned; but then his doubts resurface. He has no idea where to find God and yet he has an overwhelming sense that God is watching his every move ready to condemn him. What if God cannot be dissuaded from pursuing him? That thought terrifies him and he sinks down into dark despair.
We’ve reached the core of the book. We’re faced by the same questions as its characters and author. How does God exercise justice? Can we ever know the ways of God? Can humans bring influence to bear on God through word or action? Where can we go to meet with God? And would we be crushed by the overwhelming holiness of God at such a meeting?
None of these questions are answered simply by pointing to Jesus, for although in him we see God in human form, we remember that Jesus submitted himself to the will of God (Mk.14:36) and knew what it was to feel forsaken by God (Matt.27:46).
In Jesus we find answers to many of our questions: in him we find a friend who is always ready to meet us in our need and to provide real comfort. In Jesus we find a teacher who shows us how to live our human life in accordance with God’s will and purposes. In the risen Christ we have a mediator in heaven between God and humanity (1 Tim.2:5) who intercedes on our behalf. Even so there remains mystery about the God who created all things, holds all things in being and will bring all things to fulfilment when time is no more.
we are awestruck
by the contemplation of your fullness
and I confess that part of me
is fearful of meeting you face to face.
Thank you for Jesus
who has revealed your human face
and taught us that we need not be afraid.
May we always approach you with reverence
and with confidence that it is your
‘good pleasure to give (us) the kingdom’. Amen
Job 22:1-11, 21-30Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered:
‘Can a mortal be of use to God?
Can even the wisest be of service to him?
Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are righteous,
or is it gain to him if you make your ways blameless?
Is it for your piety that he reproves you,
and enters into judgement with you?
Is not your wickedness great?
There is no end to your iniquities.
For you have exacted pledges from your family for no reason,
and stripped the naked of their clothing.
You have given no water to the weary to drink,
and you have withheld bread from the hungry.
The powerful possess the land,
and the favoured live in it.
You have sent widows away empty-handed,
and the arms of the orphans you have crushed.
Therefore snares are around you,
and sudden terror overwhelms you,
or darkness so that you cannot see;
a flood of water covers you.
‘Agree with God, and be at peace;
in this way good will come to you.
Receive instruction from his mouth,
and lay up his words in your heart.
If you return to the Almighty,[b] you will be restored,
if you remove unrighteousness from your tents,
if you treat gold like dust,
and gold of Ophir like the stones of the torrent-bed,
and if the Almighty is your gold
and your precious silver,
then you will delight in the Almighty,
and lift up your face to God.
You will pray to him, and he will hear you,
and you will pay your vows.
You will decide on a matter, and it will be established for you,
and light will shine on your ways.
When others are humiliated, you say it is pride;
for he saves the humble.
He will deliver even those who are guilty;
they will escape because of the cleanness of your hands.’ Reflection This will be the last we hear from Eliphaz; but he has no intention of being conciliatory towards Job. Quite the opposite, he is downright hostile. Although he ends (vv.21ff) with an appeal to Job to return to God, suggesting that he can still be rehabilitated, this is only on the basis that Job renounces both his wickedness and his wealth (totally ignoring the fact that Job has already lost all of this!).
Eliphaz talks about God’s transcendence and self-sufficiency, unaffected by human behaviour. Since God is just, he argues, the harsh treatment that Job has received from God must result from a life of exceptional wickedness. Any protestations of innocence by Job only compound his wickedness in Eliphaz’s eyes. Having reached this monstrous (and seriously flawed!) conclusion Eliphaz then sets about ‘manufacturing’ the facts to support his theory.
The speed at which Eliphaz has turned from being a true friend arriving to comfort someone who has suffered misfortune, into a false accuser is frightening. It is a salutary reminder of the fragility of bonds of friendship, unless we work at strengthening them through loving words and deeds.
The spurious crimes of which Eliphaz accuses Job are all social ones forbidden in the law codes and frequently denounced by the prophets. Crushing the arm of an orphan goes even further as this represents an act of gratuitous violence that would deprive the victim of any hope of independence. It is akin to some of the horrors of modern slavery that are in our news.
However these verses remind me of the parable in Matthew 25:31ff about sheep and goats. In Jesus’s mouth these words challenge us to examine our own social responsibility against the kingdom values he came to reveal. Our communities contain many who are impoverished, hungry, thirsty, prey to loan sharks; many who are homeless while luxury housing continues to be built as investment property for the rich.
Many churches and individual Christians do great work to alleviate suffering and to support the needy as they strive for social justice; and we thank God this faithful Christian witness. But is there more that we should be doing, in the name of Christ, to transform the structures of society that perpetuate such ‘wickedness’ in our world?
I have so much to learn
as I travel through Lent,
about you and your ways,
and about me and my shortcomings.
Preserve me from speaking falsely
and from turning away
from anyone in need
when I have an opportunity to act kindly.
Fill me with righteous anger
towards the structural injustices that exist
and teach me what is possible for me
to accomplish in the work of transforming
this world into your kingdom. Amen.
Psalm 37: 1-201 Do not fret on account of the wicked,
do not envy the ones who do wrong;
2 For like grass they will very soon wither,
like green plants they will not flourish long.
3 Put your trust in the LORD and be upright;
then secure in the land you will live.
4 Take delight in the LORD above all things—
the desires of your heart he will give.
5 To the LORD let your way be committed;
trust in him—he will do what is right.
6 Then your justice will shine like the morning,
your just cause like the sun in its might.
7 So be silent and seek the LORD’s presence,
and be patient until he replies;
Do not fret when you see the successful,
if their schemes are promoted through lies.
8 Do not fret—it leads only to evil;
keep your temper and stay far from wrath,
9 For the wicked will certainly perish,
while the godly inherit the earth.
10 Yet a while, and the wicked will vanish;
though you search, they will never be found.
11 But the land will belong to the humble,
and their welfare and peace will abound.
12 Though the wicked may strike at the righteous,
and may gnash their teeth wildly in hate;
13 Yet the Lord simply laughs at the wicked,
for he sees the approach of their fate.
14 Though the wicked take aim at the righteous
and attempt to bring down the oppressed,
15 Yet their bow will be broken in pieces,
and their sword will but pierce their own breast.
16 Though the righteous have little, it’s better
than the riches of many unjust;
17 For the wicked’s great strength will be broken,
but the LORD is the righteous one’s trust.
18 Day by day the LORD cares for the blameless,
so their heritage stands ever sure.
19 When a famine comes, they will have plenty;
and in drought they will always endure.
20 But the wicked will certainly perish;
they will vanish, as smoke blows away.
And the foes of the LORD will be scattered,
like the flower of the field in a day.
Reflection The wealth gap between the richest individuals and corporations on the one hand and the rest of humanity on the other is vast, growing and, because of offshore tax havens, almost certainly underestimated.
Facilitated by an economic model written by the rich, backed by a largely supine mainstream media and underwritten by laws that put property rights before human ones, it is easy to resort to either despair or terrorism.
The first part of Psalm 37 cautions against either. Whether written by David personally or one of his court, it is clear that even a relatively privileged person feels the need to express anger against those richer and more powerful again.
God’s advice is clear: don’t get angry, don’t worry, hold to what is right and trust me – this intolerable situation will not last forever.
But does this mean God wants us to adopt passivity in the face of great oppression and wrongs, just waiting for Him to deal with the matter in His way?
I think not. So what is our role – with God – in these matters?
I find my answer in Luke 1: 46-56 mid way through Mary’s awesome acceptance of her favoured role in building the Kingdom: “he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
So, the answer to the conundrum in Psalm 37 is quite simply Jesus: His life, teachings, death and resurrection as lived by the great mass of humanity in faithfulness to the Gospels.
We must combine together to resist the predominant ideas in our society which are set by the rich and the powerful for their own aggrandisement. We must resist them in prayerful thought and deed and at the right time and in the right ways. We must be unafraid to be an army of the saints.
We must become His Way!
Let us never fall into despair or needless violence
as we witness to your Way.
In the face of the overwhelming and arrogant
give us the fruits of your grace:
determination not anger.
Confidence not anxiety;
holding onto what is right,
not what is merely expedient
and a total trust in your revolutionary love for the poor.
Let us be your confident agents
and turn this world the right away round
fit for the Kingdom.
St Mark 8: 27 - 33Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’ Reflection We lose some of the radicalness of the Jewish title Messiah. It means, as the Greek translation Christ means, “anointed one.” By the time of the New Testament Jewish people believed the Messiah would be a political leader who would end the Roman occupation. The Temple authorities were always on the lookout for anyone who was named, or claimed to be, Messiah - after all revolutions lead to repression and the political space carved out by the leaders would have been quickly ended. No wonder Jesus tells Peter, and the others, “sternly” not to tell others.
Interestingly, Peter understands the implication of the title - but Jesus seems to reject that understanding. Jesus warns that he must suffer and die - and rise again. Clearly Peter missed the rising again bit. What use is a Messiah who dies? Peter tries to set Jesus straight and gets called Satan for his pains - remember from our series on Job Satan is envisioned as as a tempter. Jesus sees Peter’s attempt to get him to see sense as tempting.
Much as I warm to the idea of religious leaders overthrowing corrupt dictators I am reminded of the words of Paul VI who struggled with the part that political liberation - as Peter thought the Messiah would lead - with the task of evangelism: ...the Church has the firm conviction that all temporal liberation, all political liberation- even if it endeavours to find its justification in such or such a page of the Old or New Testament...even if it pretends to be today's theology- carries within itself the germ of its own negation and fails to reach the ideal that it proposes for itself whenever its profound motives are not those of justice in charity, whenever its zeal lacks a truly spiritual dimension and whenever its final goal is not salvation and happiness in God.
Liberation will only come through Jesus, our Messiah, the one who doesn’t self destruct unlike all our human ideologies.
help me to struggle to against injustice,
to put a spoke in the wheel of those
great machines of evil,
but to remember,
in doing so,
to keep close to you,
that I don’t rely on my own strength,
ideas or politics,
Job 21:1-16, 22-26, 34Then Job answered:
‘Listen carefully to my words,
and let this be your consolation.
Bear with me, and I will speak;
then after I have spoken, mock on.
As for me, is my complaint addressed to mortals?
Why should I not be impatient?
Look at me, and be appalled,
and lay your hand upon your mouth.
When I think of it I am dismayed,
and shuddering seizes my flesh.
Why do the wicked live on,
reach old age, and grow mighty in power?
Their children are established in their presence,
and their offspring before their eyes.
Their houses are safe from fear,
and no rod of God is upon them.
Their bull breeds without fail;
their cow calves and never miscarries.
They send out their little ones like a flock,
and their children dance around.
They sing to the tambourine and the lyre,
and rejoice to the sound of the pipe.
They spend their days in prosperity,
and in peace they go down to Sheol.
They say to God, “Leave us alone!
We do not desire to know your ways.
What is the Almighty, that we should serve him?
And what profit do we get if we pray to him?”
Is not their prosperity indeed their own achievement?
The plans of the wicked are repugnant to me.
Will any teach God knowledge,
seeing that he judges those that are on high?
One dies in full prosperity,
being wholly at ease and secure,
his loins full of milk
and the marrow of his bones moist.
Another dies in bitterness of soul,
never having tasted of good.
They lie down alike in the dust,
and the worms cover them.
How then will you comfort me with empty nothings?
There is nothing left of your answers but falsehood.’ Reflection This response from Job engages directly with all that his friends have argued. He makes no direct reference to his own situation but instead points to the evidence of human experience that totally refutes what they have said. He is quite calm as he demolishes Zophar’s most recent words by describing the prosperous, joyful life enjoyed by some who are wicked. He doesn’t suggest that this is true for all but in vv.23-26 simply points to the fact that the fate of the wicked seems to be arbitrary, from a human perspective. The only certainty that they all share is death. God isn’t being just in Job’s eyes and he ironically asks if the friends presume the right to teach God ‘his own business’ (v.22). The chapter ends as Job dismisses all their arguments as false.
In the cycle of dialogues we have seen the relationships between Job and his friends becoming strained, we have recognised many heated words being spoken and seen intransigence on all sides. Here, although Job begins by taunting his friends, saying that the only ‘comfort’ they can offer is to keep their mouths shut, Job is the one who sees the need to calm things down.
He has the ‘wisdom’ to behave differently. He de-personalises the debate. He could have continued to assert that everything said by the friends about the fate of the wicked was irrelevant because he was innocent; but this line of argument was leading nowhere. So he changes direction. I think this affirms what the prologue attested: Job is an upright man who ‘feared God’.
It is the sign of a mature faith when a Christian is able to steer a debate in a way that offers the hope of constructive dialogue and a good resolution that everyone can live with. This may mean stepping back from what seems like a position of strength when discussing an issue that really matters to us. Nothing will be gained by winning an argument if the consequence is a breakdown in relationships and disunity in the church.
Big theological issues frequently threaten to cause division in the church; and they should never be avoided for the sake of an easy life! When the heat rises let us pray for a Job among us who can help us continue the discussion from a different angle in a measured, Christ like, way.
look upon us kindly
when we struggle with some of the issues
on which Christians disagree.
Help us in the pursuit of your truth;
and teach us how to debate
with personal integrity and mature faith.
Forgive us for past failures
and any breakdowns in relationships;
and lead us in ways that lead to reconciliation.
In the name of Christ, Amen
Thank You For Your Feedback
Thank you to everyone who sent in feedback about the Daily Devotions. I wanted to let you know about some responses to that feedback.
Some of your commented that it wasn't clear that you could change your email address using the link at the bottom of each email. I have now changed the Templates but you won't see the difference until September as I create the emails, and insert the readings, some time in advance. However, over time I hope this becomes clearer.
Some of you said you would appreciate a better search facility on the Devotions archive site - devotions.urc.org.uk - as you use the devotions later on in small group studies, for worship preparation or to print off and use elsewhere. Thanks to one of our writers, Walt Johnson, who maintains the archive site for us, we now have a better search facility. You will see the search box and, below, it a link to click to get help on searching - do click that link! In sum:
- if you are looking for any search term you don't need to do anything much different to now, eg: if you are looking for EITHER ‘matthew’ OR ‘mark’ OR ‘luke’ – put a space between each search word. - Enter: matthew mark luke
- If, however, you are looking for ALL search terms you need to use the + sign. Eg: If you are looking for ‘job’ and ‘comforter’ put a + sign before each word. Enter: +job +comforter
- If you are looking for a specific phrase eg: ‘bread of life’ – put the double quotation-marks around the search term Enter: “bread of life”
Several of you asked if it was ok to use the Devotions elsewhere - Synod Newsletters, local church newsletters, for small group studies - the answer is "of course!" We want them to be used wherever you think they will be helpful. All we ask is that you attribute them and say give the archive address - devotions.urc.org.uk so that people can sign up to receive them.
Finally, several folk either said they printed them off for people in their churches who don't have email or asked if it was possible to create them as booklets. The good news is that we will now be doing this. We are working on creating the current series on Job into a booklet, the next series - looking at art which takes us on the Way of the Cross, has been prepared and the post Easter series on Titles of Jesus is about to be turned into a booklet. I will endeavour to get booklets out several weeks before the series starts to give people time to copy and distribute them in their churches. We will produce a PDF document which can be printed off and then photocopied back to back, then stapled and folded into an A5 booklet. If you'd like to receive these when they are ready please sign up for a new list here We hope to send out the first two such booklets over the next week.
thanks for your feedback - it's all very encouraging.
with every good wish
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC Project
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