Daily Devotions Housekeeping
Dear <<First Name>>
I hope you are finding the current series of Devotions interesting as we journey through Job together.
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Job 16:1-17; 17:1Then Job answered:
‘I have heard many such things;
miserable comforters are you all.
Have windy words no limit?
Or what provokes you that you keep on talking?
I also could talk as you do,
if you were in my place;
I could join words together against you,
and shake my head at you.
I could encourage you with my mouth,
and the solace of my lips would assuage your pain.
‘If I speak, my pain is not assuaged,
and if I forbear, how much of it leaves me?
Surely now God has worn me out;
he has made desolate all my company.
And he has shrivelled me up,
which is a witness against me;
my leanness has risen up against me,
and it testifies to my face.
He has torn me in his wrath, and hated me;
he has gnashed his teeth at me;
my adversary sharpens his eyes against me.
They have gaped at me with their mouths;
they have struck me insolently on the cheek;
they mass themselves together against me.
God gives me up to the ungodly,
and casts me into the hands of the wicked.
I was at ease, and he broke me in two;
he seized me by the neck and dashed me to pieces;
he set me up as his target;
his archers surround me.
He slashes open my kidneys, and shows no mercy;
he pours out my gall on the ground.
He bursts upon me again and again;
he rushes at me like a warrior.
I have sewed sackcloth upon my skin,
and have laid my strength in the dust.
My face is red with weeping,
and deep darkness is on my eyelids,
though there is no violence in my hands,
and my prayer is pure.
My spirit is broken, my days are extinct,
the grave is ready for me. Reflection The opening verse of chapter 17 expresses the essence of Job’s long monologue through both these chapters. He has nothing else to say and piles up a range of metaphors to convey how he feels about the harsh ways in which God has treated him. His ‘comforters’ have brought him no comfort either. The speech indicates someone worn down by all that’s happened to him and all that’s been said as well. He’s hit rock bottom and he’s lost the will to fight back any more. There’s just the hint of a cry to God for pity; but it’s couched in the language of a defeated man pleading with an assailant to stop hitting him any more.
Yet Job still maintains his innocence (16:17) and, although the final verses of chapter 16 are virtually impossible to translate from the Hebrew with any certainty about their meaning, it appears that Job believes that God knows this too. Nonetheless he’s lost hope and is waiting for death.
It would be quite easy for someone as desperate as Job to admit they were in the wrong and deserved to be ‘punished’. It might make the friends feel better; but it would do nothing to alleviate the pain and suffering being endured. Nor is it possible for Job to admit he is ‘guilty as charged’ because he has absolutely no idea what it is that he has allegedly done. Consequently there is no obvious way out of the impasse where Job and his friends find themselves.
I don’t know what it is to be in such despair; but I am aware that others will have known such times in their lives and some will be struggling in its depths today. It can strike anyone; and some of those living on our streets, or in prison, are in its grip, believing themselves friendless too.
Let us be mindful that we can never fully know why someone is their current circumstances; and that their own attempts to explain it may be flawed. Let us be mindful of offering ‘solutions’ when we have no idea what the real problem is. Let us commit, though, to walking beside anyone in despair as a rock on which they can lean for rest, as a shield to protect them from further harm, and as a sign that they are not alone.
draw near to any who are in despair
and lift them out from their darkness.
Grant them a vision of fresh possibilities
and the hope of new life.
Bring them to a point where they can
contemplate the future as an adventure
to be enjoyed.
May we, and all your people,
be ready to act as trusty companions
along the way.
In the name of Christ, Amen.
Job 15:1-16Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered:
‘Should the wise answer with windy knowledge,
and fill themselves with the east wind?
Should they argue in unprofitable talk,
or in words with which they can do no good?
But you are doing away with the fear of God,
and hindering meditation before God.
For your iniquity teaches your mouth,
and you choose the tongue of the crafty.
Your own mouth condemns you, and not I;
your own lips testify against you.
‘Are you the firstborn of the human race?
Were you brought forth before the hills?
Have you listened in the council of God?
And do you limit wisdom to yourself?
What do you know that we do not know?
What do you understand that is not clear to us?
The grey-haired and the aged are on our side,
those older than your father.
Are the consolations of God too small for you,
or the word that deals gently with you?
Why does your heart carry you away,
and why do your eyes flash,
so that you turn your spirit against God,
and let such words go out of your mouth?
What are mortals, that they can be clean?
Or those born of woman, that they can be righteous?
God puts no trust even in his holy ones,
and the heavens are not clean in his sight;
how much less one who is abominable and corrupt,
one who drinks iniquity like water! Reflection Eliphaz can’t accept Job’s dismissal of all the traditional wisdom that he, Bildad and Zophar have offered and accuses Job of claiming to be wiser than they are. The debate is getting personal as each character becomes more disparaging about what someone else has said. Eliphaz tries to suggest that Job should listen to his ‘elders and betters’, although there is no suggestion in the text that Job is any younger than he is! He accuses Job of condemning himself out of his own mouth and suggests that no-one could say such irreligious things unless corrupted by sin. Therefore, Job must simply have been concealing his sinfulness and is getting his just deserts.
I am painfully aware of how easy it is to dig one’s heels in, to keep repeating exactly the same line of argument; and even to distort the evidence presented by someone else so that it will fit one’s own prejudices. Eliphaz doesn’t hold back and says many things to preserve his own authority and to diminish Job.
In verse 8 he asks rhetorically whether Job has had the privilege of listening to God in the divine council. Elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible this privilege is understood to be the context through which prophets receive their messages from God; but this is not the meaning here. Eliphaz is implying that Job seems to regard himself as akin to wisdom personified (Prov.8:30) alongside God at creation. As readers, we recognise the irony of the question. The prologue to the book is set in the divine council; and if Job had been able to listen in, all of his questions would have been answered before he even thought of asking them.
As the book unfolds, though, we progress with Job on his journey of discovery about God, about himself, about the universe, about cherished religious traditions, and even about the sincerity of friendship. Hopefully we are making similar discoveries for ourselves.
I’m sure that God could reveal everything about everything to us without our needing to ask questions; but then we would never know what it means to learn, or have the joy of that ‘eureka’ moment when we solve a tricky problem. The idea of growing in faith would also be meaningless. So I will thank God for everything that bewilders me and keep pursuing answers to all my questions.
grant me an inquisitive mind
and an unwillingness to accept
easy answers that fail to engage
with the heart of a matter.
Preserve me from belittling others, though, in my search for truth.
May I delight in all that you reveal to me
through the unexpected,
and even unwanted,
events of my life
as I journey through Lent
on the road to the Cross.
Psalm 361 My heart has heard an oracle
about the wicked’s sin:
There is no fear of God in him;
he feels no dread within.
2 He views himself with blind conceit,
his sinfulness denies.
3 He speaks with evil and deceit,
no longer good or wise.
4 In bed he plots his evil ways;
he schemes throughout the night,
As he commits himself to sin,
rejecting what is right.
5 Your steadfast love is great, O LORD;
it reaches heaven high.
Your faithfulness is wonderful,
extending to the sky.
6 Your righteousness is very great,
like mountains high and steep;
Your justice is like ocean depths.
Both man and beast you keep.
7 How precious is your steadfast love!
What confidence it brings!
Both high and low find shelter in
the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast within your house, and drink
from streams of your delight.
9 For with you is the source of life;
in your light we see light.
10 To those who know you as their God,
your steadfast love impart;
Maintain your righteousness to those
of pure and upright heart.
11 Let not the ruthless foot of pride
approach and threaten me,
Nor let the hand of wickedness
force me to turn and flee.
12 See where these evildoers lie,
who righteousness despise!
Thrown down are they, and there they stay,
unable to arise.
You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this here to the beautiful tune Land of Rest. Reflection C.S. Lewis wrote: “The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man, the roles are quite reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock” (God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics).
The Psalmist might challenge C.S. Lewis’s accusation, for in today’s Psalm we also see God in the dock. The wicked and the sinner do not fear God. They put themselves above God. They do not see themselves as God sees them, but only in their own blind and conceited way.
We might not like the language of ‘fear’, but we certainly need a humble and reverent awe as we come before God. We need to recognise that God is God – and we are not. We need to be prepared to hear from his word – not ours. We need to seek his will – not others. This is so relevant to our everyday lives, and to our church lives. Take Church Meetings, for example. So often I’ve heard it said that the URC is ‘democratic’, but are they meant to be? Surely they must be about theocracy: listening to the Spirit and discerning God’s will together. How might that change our meetings – and, crucially, our decisions?
The wonderful news is that when we humble ourselves before God, our eyes are opened to God’s true self: to his steadfast love that reaches to the heavens; to his faithfulness that extends to the sky; to his righteousness and justice that go from the top of the mountains to the deepest depths of the ocean. The person who makes themselves God – and let’s be honest, all of us do at times – misses out on this truly stunning panorama. We replace an indescribable and beautiful and awe-inspiring God with… me. There is simply no comparison. May David’s prayer be ours: “Let not the ruthless foot of pride approach and threaten me.” Amen.
Open our eyes
that we may see you as you truly are:
loving, faithful, righteous and just.
Open our eyes
that we may see ourselves as we truly are:
broken and sinful, yet loved and restored.
Help us to be humble,
resisting the ruthless foot of pride,
and trusting in your steadfast love.
Job 14:1-17‘A mortal, born of woman, few of days and full of trouble,
comes up like a flower and withers,
flees like a shadow and does not last.
Do you fix your eyes on such a one?
Do you bring me into judgement with you?
Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?
No one can.
Since their days are determined,
and the number of their months is known to you,
and you have appointed the bounds that they cannot pass,
look away from them, and desist,
that they may enjoy, like labourers, their days.
‘For there is hope for a tree,
if it is cut down, that it will sprout again,
and that its shoots will not cease.
Though its root grows old in the earth,
and its stump dies in the ground,
yet at the scent of water it will bud
and put forth branches like a young plant.
But mortals die, and are laid low;
humans expire, and where are they?
As waters fail from a lake,
and a river wastes away and dries up,
so mortals lie down and do not rise again;
until the heavens are no more, they will not awake
or be roused out of their sleep.
O that you would hide me in Sheol,
that you would conceal me until your wrath is past,
that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me!
If mortals die, will they live again?
All the days of my service I would wait
until my release should come.
You would call, and I would answer you;
you would long for the work of your hands.
For then you would not number my steps,
you would not keep watch over my sin;
my transgression would be sealed up in a bag,
and you would cover over my iniquity. Reflection This part of Job’s speech is more reflective and sombre in tone. It focuses on human mortality and the brevity of a person’s life in the grand scale of the universe. Job admits that every human being is ‘unclean’ in comparison with God but prays that God might at least let someone live out their allotted span in peace. Verses 7-12 are recognised as a short poem that contrasts the inevitability of human death with the possibility of renewal and reinvigoration that follows even the harshest acts of pruning in the case of plant life.
Right until the end of the Old Testament period there was no hope of a meaningful afterlife for humanity. Sheol, an underworld place of shadowy non-existence, beyond the reach of God, was believed to be the destiny of everyone at death. Job wonders why God has ordained things this way and forlornly wishes that, in his case, Sheol might be a place where God granted him temporary protection. But the ludicrous notion of God protecting Job against God’s own wrath brings such flights of fancy to an end.
Thoughts such as these, as God’s people began to think seriously about God’s purposes for humanity and about the bigger problem of evil, may represent the earliest beginnings of a doctrine of resurrection. However it didn’t really begin to emerge until later times of persecution under the Greek empire when remaining faithful to God could mean losing one’s life. If the faithful were being killed, what was the point of faith if it was hastening the end of ‘Israel’ and there was nothing beyond? As Christians we live in hope of resurrection to eternal life through the work of Christ on the cross; but there are countless millions around the world who still struggle with the questions that confront Job without any such hope. Fatalism and despair, or narcissistic self-interest at the expense of anyone else’s situation, are alternative responses to living in a world that seems to lack justice.
Our world urgently needs to hear a message of hope and as disciples of Jesus we have been given an imperative to make known the good news of God; and to live out our faith in ways that proclaim the hope that is in us.
PrayerGod of life,
fill me with hope
and grant me a deeper understanding
of your promises of life eternal.
Make me sensitive
to all those who struggle
to make sense of what is happening
in the world;
and ready to engage with them
no matter what kinds of answers
As I follow Jesus
may my faltering acts of love
and expressions of hope
be transformed by your Spirit
into a revelation of you
and your loving purposes for all creation;
for in you alone is the world’s true hope. Amen.
Job 12:1-4, 13-25; 13:13-19Then Job answered:
‘No doubt you are the people,
and wisdom will die with you.
But I have understanding as well as you;
I am not inferior to you.
Who does not know such things as these?
I am a laughing-stock to my friends;
I, who called upon God and he answered me,
a just and blameless man, I am a laughing-stock.
‘With God are wisdom and strength;
he has counsel and understanding.
If he tears down, no one can rebuild;
if he shuts someone in, no one can open up.
If he withholds the waters, they dry up;
if he sends them out, they overwhelm the land.
With him are strength and wisdom;
the deceived and the deceiver are his.
He leads counsellors away stripped,
and makes fools of judges.
He looses the sash of kings,
and binds a waistcloth on their loins.
He leads priests away stripped,
and overthrows the mighty.
He deprives of speech those who are trusted,
and takes away the discernment of the elders.
He pours contempt on princes,
and looses the belt of the strong.
He uncovers the deeps out of darkness,
and brings deep darkness to light.
He makes nations great, then destroys them;
he enlarges nations, then leads them away.
He strips understanding from the leaders of the earth,
and makes them wander in a pathless waste.
They grope in the dark without light;
he makes them stagger like a drunkard.
‘Let me have silence, and I will speak,
and let come on me what may.
I will take my flesh in my teeth,
and put my life in my hand.
See, he will kill me; I have no hope;
but I will defend my ways to his face.
This will be my salvation,
that the godless shall not come before him.
Listen carefully to my words,
and let my declaration be in your ears.
I have indeed prepared my case;
I know that I shall be vindicated.
Who is there that will contend with me?
For then I would be silent and die. Reflection Job responds at length; in fact his speech fills three chapters of text (to 14:22 if you want to read it all) but it will suffice to focus on selected verses today and tomorrow. He addresses the friends as a group with contempt accusing them of speaking as if they were the sole possessors of wisdom. Job laments that he – and everyone else – already ‘knew’ what they have been saying and therefore he, an upright worshipper of God, has become a laughingstock.
He returns again to ideas that God’s wisdom and power can result in the ‘un-doing’ of creation, in the turning upside down of all accepted understandings of justice and proper order in the world. He is arguing that his recent experience, real life, does not accord with the doctrine of divine retribution that his friends held on to. For Job it had become impossible to accept any longer that God behaved justly. Or more accurately Job is admitting that human understandings of ‘justice’ simply don’t apply to God and his theology is being turned upside down.
Job has reached a turning point. He rejects his friends as being useless and demands a day in court face to face with God, even though he no longer has any faith in God’s justice (13:13). He doesn’t think he has any hope but is determined to present his case as he has nothing to lose. He is confident that no-one, not even God, can prove him guilty.
As the chapter ends Job pleads with God to let him know how he has sinned - why is God treating him as an enemy? Job won’t turn away from God; he won’t abandon faith in God’s sovereignty; he can’t quite let go of the idea that God behaves ‘justly’ – if only humans could understand how divine justice operates.
Grappling with difficult theological questions as they relate to lived experience is part of the discipline of Lent; and it can often lead to a deepening of our faith. But Job reminds us that we will not always get answers to our questions. Jesus has revealed much about God to us; but faith demands that we put our trust in the invisible God who is ultimately beyond all human understanding.
your wisdom surpasses our understanding
and your sovereignty encompasses
all time and space;
and yet in Jesus you have shown us
your love and compassion
for each and every one of us.
Help us to trust you always.
Help us keep on striving
to know you better,
to wrestle with the challenges
that life brings to faith.
Grant us an ability
to accept our ‘unknowing’
when there are no easy answers;
and to continue walking the way of Jesus
until journey’s end. Amen.
Job 11Then Zophar the Naamathite answered:
‘Should a multitude of words go unanswered,
and should one full of talk be vindicated?
Should your babble put others to silence,
and when you mock, shall no one shame you?
For you say, “My conduct is pure,
and I am clean in God’s sight.”
But O that God would speak,
and open his lips to you,
and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom!
For wisdom is many-sided.
Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.
‘Can you find out the deep things of God?
Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?
It is higher than heaven—what can you do?
Deeper than Sheol—what can you know?
Its measure is longer than the earth,
and broader than the sea.
If he passes through, and imprisons,
and assembles for judgement, who can hinder him?
For he knows those who are worthless;
when he sees iniquity, will he not consider it?
But a stupid person will get understanding,
when a wild ass is born human.
‘If you direct your heart rightly,
you will stretch out your hands towards him.
If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away,
and do not let wickedness reside in your tents.
Surely then you will lift up your face without blemish;
you will be secure, and will not fear.
You will forget your misery;
you will remember it as waters that have passed away.
And your life will be brighter than the noonday;
its darkness will be like the morning.
And you will have confidence, because there is hope;
you will be protected and take your rest in safety.
You will lie down, and no one will make you afraid;
many will entreat your favour.
But the eyes of the wicked will fail;
all way of escape will be lost to them,
and their hope is to breathe their last.’ Reflection The third friend, Zophar, now enters the fray and he introduces the concept of wisdom into the debate saying that Job lacks the wisdom to appreciate that he is not wholly innocent, as he claims. However Zophar misrepresents Job in verse 4, since the Hebrew more accurately reads ‘my teaching/doctrine’ rather than ‘my conduct’. He is accusing him of intellectual arrogance, which is not a stance Job has taken. In any case the prologue has established that God regards Job as innocent, so this is a moot point.
Zophar speaks rather like a hostile witness in a legal trial but his statement that God is actually being lenient towards Job (v.6b) is exceptionally harsh. He adds insult to injury by piously appealing that God would speak and reveal this ‘wisdom’ to Job, which is exactly what Job wants of God. Zophar continues, presenting himself as God’s spokesman, and expounds the limitless extent of God’s power in traditional ways culminating in the standard doctrine of retribution. It is as if he believes that he is telling Job something new!
Zophar assumes Job’s guilt yet holds out the hope that Job could be restored to his former happy state if he turned towards God and renounced his wicked ways. But Job has always ‘feared God’ and ‘turned away from evil’ (1:1) and this hasn’t saved him from his current plight. Zophar’s rigid beliefs lead him to conclude therefore that there can be no escape for Job.
I hope that I never encounter a ‘friend’ like Zophar and that I will never speak to anyone in such an unfeeling, superior way.
One thing that his speech reveals, though, is the difference between learned knowledge and wisdom. We can all acquire knowledge and sometimes we focus too heavily on the pursuit of certificates to demonstrate our learning. We also live in a world where some advocate ‘alternative facts’ in support of a personal agenda if the truth threatens to undermine their status or power base. Wisdom has little to do with the amount of information stored in our heads, or readily accessible in electronic format through a search engine. Wisdom is about discernment, and about employing true knowledge to fulfil God’s purposes. Wisdom is something that can only be received as a gift of God’s grace.
thank you for opportunities to learn
and for enabling us to access
so much information
about the world and its inhabitants.
Grant us wisdom to discern truth
and the courage to name falsehood
for what it is.
Save us from using our knowledge
to belittle others.
Save us from using eloquent words
oblivious of the hurt they may cause.
Give us grace so that all our speaking
is directed towards building up
and the glory of your name.
Job 9:1-12; 10:8-13Then Job answered:
‘Indeed I know that this is so;
but how can a mortal be just before God?
If one wished to contend with him,
one could not answer him once in a thousand.
He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength
—who has resisted him, and succeeded?—
he who removes mountains, and they do not know it,
when he overturns them in his anger;
who shakes the earth out of its place,
and its pillars tremble;
who commands the sun, and it does not rise;
who seals up the stars;
who alone stretched out the heavens
and trampled the waves of the Sea;
who made the Bear and Orion,
the Pleiades and the chambers of the south;
who does great things beyond understanding,
and marvellous things without number.
Look, he passes by me, and I do not see him;
he moves on, but I do not perceive him.
He snatches away; who can stop him?
Who will say to him, “What are you doing?”
Your hands fashioned and made me;
and now you turn and destroy me.
Remember that you fashioned me like clay;
and will you turn me to dust again?
Did you not pour me out like milk
and curdle me like cheese?
You clothed me with skin and flesh,
and knit me together with bones and sinews.
You have granted me life and steadfast love,
and your care has preserved my spirit.
Yet these things you hid in your heart;
I know that this was your purpose. Reflection In chapter 9 Job responds by questioning how any mortal can be just before God because God is the creator and a human is insignificant in comparison. He wants a day in court to determine the issue; but also suggests that the idea of a legal contest between God and him is impossible, because God makes the rules and God refuses to reveal the basis on which divine judgment is made. Nonetheless Job protests his innocence: he has not sinned against God. In chapter 10, in strong language, he presents the case he would make against God for condemning him unjustly. He doesn’t expect an answer; and indeed he isn’t sure that God is even listening to anything he says.
These chapters include important passages about God as creator that reflect both ancient cosmology and understandings of human growth in the womb. They indicate something of the development of these theological concepts; and how this writer challenges simplistic ideas. It was believed that the earth was flat and that it rested on pillars set firmly at the base of the watery ‘deep’ where chaos monsters dwelt. The bottoms of mountains acted as foundations that provided stability and in the Psalms (46:2-3; 75:3; 93:1) this is all part of God’s creative work that can resist hostile forces. Job argues that God also has the power to ‘undo’ creation as an expression of divine anger, which for all its negativity is a salutary reminder that we should never take the continuing existence of anything, even the cosmos, for granted. Even the promises of God in Genesis that there will never be another ‘Flood’ recognise that the earth might be finite (Gen.8:22).
The description of God’s involvement in the development of a human baby resonates with ideas about the creation of humanity found elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible (formed from dust – Gen.2:7; moulded like clay - Isa.45:9; and knit together – Ps.139:13) but this is much more detailed, almost ‘scientific’, with its reference to skin, flesh, bones and sinews. It reveals a God intimately involved in bringing to birth an individual new life with great care, as an act of love; and then preserving that person in being. We are indeed wonderfully made, each one of us a unique child of God, and we can be confident that God, as our mother, will never forget us (Isa.49:15). I may not understand the ways of God; but I will trust in God’s unfailing love.
you brought the cosmos into being
and you hold all that it contains in being.
Time and space belong to you;
and yet you know and care for me,
small as I am.
I praise you for my life
and the grandeur of the universe.
Help me to fulfil my potential
as your child
and to live in ways
that reflect the wonder
of your creative love. Amen.
Job 8‘How long will you say these things,
and the words of your mouth be a great wind?
Does God pervert justice?
Or does the Almighty pervert the right?
If your children sinned against him,
he delivered them into the power of their transgression.
If you will seek God
and make supplication to the Almighty,
if you are pure and upright,
surely then he will rouse himself for you
and restore to you your rightful place.
Though your beginning was small,
your latter days will be very great.
‘For inquire now of bygone generations,
and consider what their ancestors have found;
for we are but of yesterday, and we know nothing,
for our days on earth are but a shadow.
Will they not teach you and tell you
and utter words out of their understanding?
‘Can papyrus grow where there is no marsh?
Can reeds flourish where there is no water?
While yet in flower and not cut down,
they wither before any other plant.
Such are the paths of all who forget God;
the hope of the godless shall perish.
Their confidence is gossamer,
a spider’s house their trust.
If one leans against its house, it will not stand;
if one lays hold of it, it will not endure.
The wicked thrive before the sun,
and their shoots spread over the garden.
Their roots twine around the stoneheap;
they live among the rocks.
If they are destroyed from their place,
then it will deny them, saying, “I have never seen you.”
See, these are their happy ways,
and out of the earth still others will spring.
‘See, God will not reject a blameless person,
nor take the hand of evildoers.
He will yet fill your mouth with laughter,
and your lips with shouts of joy.
Those who hate you will be clothed with shame,
and the tent of the wicked will be no more.’ Reflection It is now Bildad’s turn to speak and, as with the whole cycle of speeches, we need to read each as a separate poem that rarely interacts directly with what has been said previously by Job or one of the other friends. Bildad simply disparages Job’s words as nonsense (a great wind) and declares as an incontrovertible truth that God never behaves unjustly. He uses the example of Job’s children as evidence of divine retribution at work – surely one of the most tactless sentences ever put into the mouth of a supposed friend of someone who has been bereaved! He goes on to say that if Job is pure and innocent, and he turns to God in prayer, then God will restore him back to his former situation. This, of course, in context is impossible as everything Job had has been annihilated.
So we recognise that it is Bildad who is speaking nonsense; but he appeals to tradition, the wisdom of the ancestors, as though this can never be challenged. He implies that everything about God and God’s ways was made known to the wise and that Job needs to learn from these teachers. He doesn’t appreciate that Job is fully aware of these traditions, has accepted this teaching in the past, but is now questioning its validity because it doesn’t ring true with his experience.
Bildad’s final words summarise his view of divine retribution and show that in his blinkered acceptance of this doctrine he has completely missed the point of what is happening to Job. It can be so easy to imagine that we know all that is needed about God, to accept the teaching of scholars, the traditions of the church, the wording of Bible translations that have been handed down and have become familiar to us. We can forget that ours is a living faith and that the Holy Spirit was given to lead us into truth. Greater understanding is surely something we should keep striving towards.
New situations also give rise to new questions and we need to be prepared to admit when the old answers are no longer satisfactory in the complexities of life. God’s truth may surprise us and make us rethink!
help me to be a questioning believer,
ready to let go of old certainties
when confronted by their inadequacy.
Save me from offering
trite or tactless responses
that add to someone’s pain;
and from speaking
without first seeking
someone’s own perspective
on their situation.
lead us into truth as more of God’s wonder
is revealed as we walk the way of Jesus.
Job 6:14-27; 7:16-21‘Those who withhold kindness from a friend
forsake the fear of the Almighty.
My companions are treacherous like a torrent-bed,
like freshets that pass away,
that run dark with ice,
turbid with melting snow.
In time of heat they disappear;
when it is hot, they vanish from their place.
The caravans turn aside from their course;
they go up into the waste, and perish.
The caravans of Tema look,
the travellers of Sheba hope.
They are disappointed because they were confident;
they come there and are confounded.
Such you have now become to me;
you see my calamity, and are afraid.
Have I said, “Make me a gift”?
Or, “From your wealth offer a bribe for me”?
Or, “Save me from an opponent’s hand”?
Or, “Ransom me from the hand of oppressors”?
‘Teach me, and I will be silent;
make me understand how I have gone wrong.
How forceful are honest words!
But your reproof, what does it reprove?
Do you think that you can reprove words,
as if the speech of the desperate were wind?
You would even cast lots over the orphan,
and bargain over your friend.
I loathe my life; I would not live for ever.
Let me alone, for my days are a breath.
What are human beings, that you make so much of them,
that you set your mind on them,
visit them every morning,
test them every moment?
Will you not look away from me for a while,
let me alone until I swallow my spittle?
If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of humanity?
Why have you made me your target?
Why have I become a burden to you?
Why do you not pardon my transgression
and take away my iniquity?
For now I shall lie in the earth;
you will seek me, but I shall not be.’ Reflection Job isn’t persuaded and renews his lament, wishing that God will end his life because he isn’t sure how much more he can endure without sinning against God. The only point on which Job agrees with Eliphaz is that God is all powerful and free to act in whatever ways God chooses. He denounces his friends for failing him and regards them almost as enemies, even though he has acknowledged God as his tormentor (6:4). The Hebrew of verse 14 is ‘broken’ and cannot be translated but it is clear that it includes the words friends and loyalty and probably implies that being loyal to one’s friends is the essence of true religion. There is a degree of irony in the way Job asks how he has offended them.
In chapter 7 he turns back to address God and expresses a sympathetic understanding for human beings everywhere who live in misery – something he had failed to understand when his own life was good. He asks God to remember the mortality of humans and then, in anguish, accuses God of persecuting him for no reason. His patience is ended and he demands that God justifies what is happening to him. It would be bad enough if God was ignoring him in his misery; but in Job’s eyes it seems as though God is out to get him!
In verse 17 we find one of many allusions to the Psalms that the writer of Job incorporates in these dialogues. Familiar words from Psalm 8 (vv.4-5) which accord a high status to humanity in God’s creation and loving purposes, are here parodied to question why God has singled out humanity – and Job in particular – in a relentless, tyrannical way. Job ends up by arguing that even if he had sinned – which he insists he hasn’t – what’s the point of God constantly watching him, he’ll be dead soon and out of God’s reach.
What I like about Job is the willingness to engage with God head on; and the fact that we see his self-awareness and understanding of the human condition subtly changing as he grapples with all that is happening and keeps asking questions. He hasn’t received any answers from God; but that won’t stop him believing that God is the only one who can provide them.
help me to turn to you in every situation,
seeking to understand more
of your nature and your purposes.
Help me to realise that
through the honesty of my prayers
you will bring about change in me;
and that I cannot influence you
to do my will.
Grant me the courage
to keep asking you difficult questions
and the faith to say ‘Your will be done’
when I don’t discern your answers.
Psalm 351 LORD, plead my case when I am charged
by foes maliciously;
And fight for me, when they attack
and vent their spite on me.
2 Take up your shield! Come to my aid!
3 Speak to my soul and say,
“I’m your salvation.” With your spear
cut off my en’mies’ way.
4 May those who seek to take my life
endure disgrace and shame;
May those who plot my overthrow
turn back the way they came.
5 May they like chaff before the wind
be blown in disarray,
And by the angel of the LORD
be driven far away.
6 LORD, make their pathway insecure,
in darkness hard to find;
And let the angel of the LORD
attack them from behind.
7 Since they have spread a net for me
without a cause at all,
And for no reason dug a pit
that in it I might fall,
8 Let ruin seize them, and let them
in their own net be caught;
May they instead fall in their pit
and so to death be brought.
9 Then will my soul rejoice in God
and in his saving name.
10 “Who is a God like you, O LORD?”
my heart and soul exclaim.
“The poor you rescue from the hands
of those who are too strong;
You save the poor and weak from those
who rob and do them wrong.”
11 Malicious witnesses rise up
and falsely slander me;
I have no knowledge of the things
they ask accusingly.
12 They pay back evil for my good
and leave my soul forlorn.
13 Yet, at their illness, I would fast
and, clad in sackcloth, mourn.
And when my prayers were not heard,
14 I mourned as one bereaved
Of mother, brother, closest friend;
I bowed my head and grieved.
15 But when I slipped, they gathered round
and gloated with delight;
They came upon me unawares
to vent on me their spite.
Unceasingly they slandered me;
16 they mocked maliciously,
Like those who have no fear of God,
and gnashed their teeth at me.
17 O Lord, how long will you look on?
Defend me from their strife;
From these marauding lions’ teeth
protect my precious life.
18 Then where the great assembly meets
to you I will give praise;
Among the crowds of worshippers
in thanks my voice I’ll raise.
19 Let him not gloat who, without cause,
is my fierce enemy,
Nor those who hate me unprovoked
stare spitefully at me.
20 They do not speak in peaceful words,
but cunning schemes have planned,
Accusing those who live at peace
and quiet in the land.
21 Triumphantly they shout and say,
“His wickedness we see!”
22 LORD, you have seen; hold not your peace.
Lord, be not far from me.
23 Awake, and rise to my defence!
Contend for me, my God.
24 Do not let them gloat over me;
in justice judge, O LORD.
25 Let them not think within their hearts,
“At last! just what we want!”
Nor let them say, “We’ve swallowed him”—
let that not be their taunt.
26 May all who gloat at my distress
know shame and loss of face;
May all who triumph over me
be covered with disgrace.
27 May those who long to see me cleared
shout out with joy and sing:
“The LORD be praised, who loves to see
his servant prospering.”
28 I will extol your righteousness;
I’ll praise you with my tongue.
I will proclaim your greatness, LORD,
and praise you all day long.
Reflection Psalm 35 is a psalm of imprecation.
It originates from someone who feels deeply wronged. As a consequence, the Psalmists’ response is to enlist God’s help in destroying those who set out to destroy him. It is a sentiment that most of us are familiar with. To hurt others as we ourselves have been hurt.
This spirit of retaliation is one from which most Christians flinch, believing it not to be worthy of the One who died in agony with words of forgiveness on his lips for those whose actions had led him to a cruel execution by the Roman occupying power.
Five hundred years ago, the Archbishop of Glasgow issued a terrible curse against the Reiver families who burnt and stole from families living on either side of the English Scottish border. Some 300 words of the curse are carved into a granite stone which has been placed in the Millennium Gallery. The curse has provoked controversy in the city.
Yet the hounding of the innocent by the powerful inflames us still. Verses 11- 14 indicate that the Psalmist has shown goodness to those who now work for his downfall. In verses 15 16 we get a foretaste of the treatment Jesus experienced, whilst remaining like a sheep before its shearers. From this heartfelt cry, we are reminded that God is not impartial, impassive to the suffering of people. The praises the Church offers flow from God’s nature and purpose which to embody justice for the oppressed and the vulnerable, even if God’s ways of transforming brutality and injustice are not like ours.
PrayerThank you, God,
That you hear the cries of suffering people.
Lead us from curses to blessing.
Minister to the anger in our own hearts,
So that we may be instruments
of your peace,
In a world which scarcely recognises it,
Job 4:1-9; 5:8-9, 17-19Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered:
‘If one ventures a word with you, will you be offended?
But who can keep from speaking?
See, you have instructed many;
you have strengthened the weak hands.
Your words have supported those who were stumbling,
and you have made firm the feeble knees.
But now it has come to you, and you are impatient;
it touches you, and you are dismayed.
Is not your fear of God your confidence,
and the integrity of your ways your hope?
‘Think now, who that was innocent ever perished?
Or where were the upright cut off?
As I have seen, those who plough iniquity
and sow trouble reap the same.
By the breath of God they perish,
and by the blast of his anger they are consumed.
‘As for me, I would seek God,
and to God I would commit my cause.
He does great things and unsearchable,
marvellous things without number.
‘How happy is the one whom God reproves;
therefore do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.
For he wounds, but he binds up;
he strikes, but his hands heal.
He will deliver you from six troubles;
in seven no harm shall touch you. Reflection Eliphaz feels obliged to speak, to reprove Job for his lament and initially his words are a gentle rebuke to a friend. He then voices one of the doctrines of traditional wisdom, as though this will comfort Job: that an innocent person has never suffered a premature death.
It is hard to imagine that anyone today could believe this, let alone voice such ideas to a friend who is saying they want to die. But sometimes we fail to think about the impact our words will have and, more dangerously, fail to consider whether received wisdom, or long held beliefs, are actually true. As Eliphaz continues his speech he is obliged to concede that Job has never appeared to be a wicked person and deserving of his fate. However he still can’t bring himself to reject the idea that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked.
It might seem that if God exercised justice in such a neat binary way the world would be a better place; but it only takes a moment’s thought to realise that people are neither completely righteous nor totally wicked. It is also evident that corrupt practice can certainly bring material rewards, status and power, while good people are often downtrodden and living in poverty. Life is messy and we often discover unintended negative consequences follow an initial decision that seemed like a good idea.
If we claim to understand how God’s justice works we are deceiving ourselves. Personally I also find the idea of God’s justice being delayed until an ‘end time’ when some will be saved and others condemned equally unsatisfactory, because I believe that the incarnation demonstrates that God cares about this world and the importance of justice in the here and now. Exactly what justice means and how it is exercised demand serious, ongoing, consideration, because circumstances and context have a bearing on it.
Eliphaz rubs salt into Job’s wounds by suggesting that he should be happy to receive God’s discipline (5:17); and he simply doesn’t appreciate how his own blinkered dogmatism is adding to Job’s pain. Let’s take care that we don’t do the same.
preserve me from thinking
that I have the answer
to someone else’s problem.
Help me to listen,
to discern what the real needs
and questions are,
before saying anything.
Help me to be a conduit
through which someone
can draw nearer to God,
instead of claiming
to be God’s mouthpiece.
Grant me wisdom
and fill me with compassion
for all who are in turmoil
or any kind of pain.
Teach me what it means
to be a real friend
as I walk the way of Jesus.
Job 3After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. Job said:
‘Let the day perish on which I was born,
and the night that said,
“A man-child is conceived.”
Let that day be darkness!
May God above not seek it,
or light shine on it.
Let gloom and deep darkness claim it.
Let clouds settle upon it;
let the blackness of the day terrify it.
That night—let thick darkness seize it!
let it not rejoice among the days of the year;
let it not come into the number of the months.
Yes, let that night be barren;
let no joyful cry be heard in it.
Let those curse it who curse the Sea,
those who are skilled to rouse up Leviathan.
Let the stars of its dawn be dark;
let it hope for light, but have none;
may it not see the eyelids of the morning—
because it did not shut the doors of my mother’s womb,
and hide trouble from my eyes.
‘Why did I not die at birth,
come forth from the womb and expire?
Why were there knees to receive me,
or breasts for me to suck?
Now I would be lying down and quiet;
I would be asleep; then I would be at rest
with kings and counsellors of the earth
who rebuild ruins for themselves,
or with princes who have gold,
who fill their houses with silver.
Or why was I not buried like a stillborn child,
like an infant that never sees the light?
There the wicked cease from troubling,
and there the weary are at rest.
There the prisoners are at ease together;
they do not hear the voice of the taskmaster.
The small and the great are there,
and the slaves are free from their masters.
‘Why is light given to one in misery,
and life to the bitter in soul,
who long for death, but it does not come,
and dig for it more than for hidden treasures;
who rejoice exceedingly,
and are glad when they find the grave?
Why is light given to one who cannot see the way,
whom God has fenced in?
For my sighing comes like my bread,
and my groanings are poured out like water.
Truly the thing that I fear comes upon me,
and what I dread befalls me.
I am not at ease, nor am I quiet;
I have no rest; but trouble comes.’
The amazing thing is that Job’s tirade is directed at God; but he neither curses God, nor accuses God of causing his suffering. Instead he appeals to God to eradicate the day of his birth from history – to wipe away his life altogether. It is a cry born out of faith in God; but in a God who isn’t behaving justly, from Job’s perspective.
As he continues to unleash his emotions, Job’s words turn to lament and he wishes he was dead, for then he would be at rest with all the rich and poor, good and bad, alike who had gone before. (No-one believed in resurrection when this book was written.) As he cries out ‘Why?’ he starts to align himself with the weak and the oppressed in society, people for whom death comes as a merciful release.
It is easy to see why, at the darkest moments in life someone might imagine that everyone else would be better off if the sufferer hadn’t existed, if they hadn’t been around to cause pain and sorrow to others. Such feelings are understandable because pain can prevent us from seeing all the positive things that have also been part of life. It can be the same whenever we receive negative criticism, even if only one such point is made alongside much praise and affirmation. It gets out of proportion in our mind and we begin to undervalue ourself; or we wallow in a sense of guilt and become unwilling to do anything, in case we get it wrong.
It is healthy to lament before God in heartfelt ways and to permit anyone who is suffering to do the same. For to paraphrase some words of Peter in John 6, where else can we turn? We may not get the answers we want but we will discover that our cry has been heard by a God who cares about us.
there is so much suffering in this world
and many people live in despair.
Draw near to them
and let them know
that their cries are heard.
Help me to keep a proper perspective
when things go wrong in my life
and to trust in your good purposes
at all times. Amen
Job 2One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. The Lord said to Satan,‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’ The Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.’ Then Satan answered the Lord, ‘Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.’ The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.’
So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.
Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.’ But he said to her, ‘You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to go and console and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They sat with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. Reflection For Job life gets even tougher as he contracts a nasty skin disease which covers him from head to toe. He has no idea where it’s come from and he’s certain he doesn’t deserve it. In the ancient world diseases and any kind of suffering were understood as divine punishment for sin; and this book wants to challenge that theology. Again, as readers, we are assured that God knows Job remains ‘blameless’.
Job feels like rubbish and goes to sit among the rubbish away from other people. But still Job doesn’t rail against God, or sin in any way, even when his wife encourages him to ‘curse God, and die’. He refuses to deny the sovereignty of God and God’s freedom to act in ways that we cannot understand. He refuses to let go of faith and to live as one alienated from God.
Personally I wish the text expressed Job’s reproof to his wife as the speech of ‘any foolish person’, rather than ‘any foolish woman’; but it stems from a community and a time where patriarchy prevailed. Gender is not the issue here but the folly of rejecting God whenever life doesn’t go the way we would wish. Job speaks truly when he declares that God is the source of everything, good and bad alike, a truth also expressed in Isaiah 45:7.
Then Job’s three friends come to offer him pastoral support for they have heard about his troubles. They are shocked at his appearance and consult together about how to respond and the amazing thing is that they don’t go away, fearful that they might catch the same disease. They don’t nominate one of them to be their spokesperson leaving the other two free to depart. They don’t offer words of comfort, or go straight in with questions to Job about his situation. They simply weep and sit alongside him in silence, sharing his misery for a whole week.
It can be so tempting to stay away from someone who is suffering when we feel inadequate and don’t know what to say or do. Often, though, our presence and readiness to share someone else’s grief is the best response we can make and exactly what is needed as a real expression of love.
you are the source of all that is
and I praise you
for all the experiences of life.
Help me to remain faithful,
whatever befalls me.
Thank you for my friends,
especially those who have stuck by me
in the tough times
and revealed your love to me.
Help me to be a loving friend to others,
willing to give of my time
and my presence
in response to their need.
Help me to know
when to keep my mouth shut
and to recognise
that I don’t have all the answers,
nor the wisdom to understand
what the real questions are.
Sustain me by your love
and let that love flow through me
to any who are in need today. Amen.
Job 1There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. 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 had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred 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 feasts in one another’s houses in turn; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the feast days had run their course, Job would send and sanctify 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.’ This is what Job always did.
One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’ The Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.’ Then Satan answered the Lord, ‘Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence 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 now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.’ The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!’ So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
One day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, ‘The oxen were ploughing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.’ While he was still speaking, another came and said, ‘The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you.’ While he was still speaking, another came and said, ‘The Chaldeans formed three columns, made a raid on the camels and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.’ While he was still speaking, another came and said, ‘Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you.’
Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped. He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; 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 wrongdoing. Reflection As Lent begins we think of Jesus, at the start of his ministry, being tempted in the wilderness by ‘the devil’ or ‘Satan’; the description depends upon which Gospel and which Bible translation we read. It is easy to think of such a figure as acting in opposition to God; but here at the start of Job we find the same character – the satan – clearly presented as one of the heavenly beings serving God, who does nothing without divine sanction. The Hebrew noun translates as ‘adversary’ or ‘accuser’ and should not be understood as a proper name in this book. The figure functions a bit like the prosecuting counsel in a law court, the one who presents the evidence in support of an accusation that has been made.
In this chapter, we as the readers, are being told that God believes Job to be a completely ‘blameless and upright man’. However the conversation with the satan raises the question as to whether Job’s integrity is sincere, or motivated solely by the prospect of further blessings from God being received for good behaviour. Is he truly selfless and altruistic, or would Job act differently if life turned sour on him, or disaster struck? So God instructs the satan to put Job to the test.
It is important to recognise that this chapter doesn’t describe actual events but is a literary device designed to get us thinking about our behaviour and motivations; and about the theological problem of evil. God is not capricious and I do not believe in a God who deliberately inflicts (or sanctions) any kind of suffering on a human being.
Job passes his first test with flying colours; but I’m left wondering how I would feel if I lost everything that was precious to me. Material possessions are one thing and perhaps I need to learn to value these less highly; but the sudden loss of loved ones would be a very different matter. I hope my response would be to turn towards God with honesty, in grief, anger, turmoil, trusting that in God alone would I ultimately find the answers and the loving support I needed – but would I respond like that?
Jesus was willing to embark on a period of self-examination in the wilderness; and as his disciples it is appropriate for us to grapple with some of these difficult questions as we journey through Lent.
may I be truly thankful
for all the blessings that are mine
and never expectant of receiving more.
Help me to surrender all that I have
to be used in your service.
Make me ready to engage in self-examination
as I follow Jesus on the road to the Cross. Amen.
Lent with Job
Dear <<First Name>>
Lent starts tomorrow - traditionally a six week period of preparation for Easter marked, before the Reformation, by fasting from meat and dairy products - Orthodox Christians still do this. Many of us try and give something up for Lent, others try and take something up as a positive outworking of spirituality.
During the first 28 days of Lent (not including Sundays) we will be looking at the Book of Job which is not a book many of us are familiar with. Very little of it appears in the Lectionary for Sunday readings which is shame as this Book tries to deal with the problem of reconciling God's justice with the suffering of humanity. Tennyson felt that the Book of Job was the greatest poem of ancient and modern times so we think it's well worth exploring over the next few weeks.
As a change to our normal pattern we have a guest writer for this series: the Rev'd Dr Janet Tollington who lectured, for many years, before her retirement, at our Westminster College in Cambridge. Her speciality is the Old Testament.
We hope that this change to our regular pattern will be refreshing as we look at this little known book in the first part of Lent.
with every good wish
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC Project
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Daily Devotions in Lent
Dear <<First Name>>
Today is Shrove Tuesday and tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, marks the start of Lent.
The way we mark Lent has changed since the Reformation - our Orthodox sisters and brothers still mark Lent by a vegan diet as a way of preparing for the celebrations of Easter and identifying with Jesus' days of fasting in the Wilderness. Shrove Tuesday, in pre-Reformation Europe was when all meat and dairy products were eaten up - a shadow of this is seen today in the consumption of Pancakes. In the Western Church we may give something up in Lent (as a contemporary form of fasting) or we may take something up. All these - from fasting to taking things up - are ways in which faithful Christians seek to live out their discipleship.
For Lent we continue our Daily Devotions but are doing so in a different way. Instead of a team of writers looking at a book we have invited the Rev'd Dr Janet Tollington to write 28 reflections on the Book of Job. Janet was, for many years, a lecturer in the Old Testament at our Westminster College and now, in retirement, continues to supervise undergraduate and PhD students for Cambridge University.. She is a member of Emmanuel Church in Cambridge and continues to serve widely in the URC. We hope these reflections help us understand Job better - it's not a book which is read very often these days though you may be surprised at how some of the words from Job have entered into common language and the Church's liturgy.
On Sundays we will continue to work though the Sing Psalms Psalter from the Free Church of Scotland and, in the final two weeks of Lent, we will be reflecting on Jesus' journey to Calvary using art as a focus.
Please do encourage folk you know - church folk or those who are exploring spiritually, to sign up to receive these Devotions. Often the message "they are good, I'm using them, you should give them a try" is all the encouragement someone needs. Simply direct people to our website - devotions.urc.org.uk and they can sign up from there.
with every good wish
Coordinator, Daily Devotions from the URC Project
in this season of reflection,
help me to find the people
who are calling me to change my ways
and to search my heart.
As the Winter deepens,
may my heart be stripped bare,
so that when comes the Spring,
I can rise renewed
and flourish into life. Amen. --> Copyright © 2018 United Reformed Church, All rights reserved.
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Micah 7:8 - 20Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy;
when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness,
the Lord will be a light to me.
I must bear the indignation of the Lord,
because I have sinned against him,
until he takes my side
and executes judgment for me.
He will bring me out to the light;
I shall see his vindication.
Then my enemy will see,
and shame will cover her who said to me,
“Where is the Lord your God?”
My eyes will see her downfall;
now she will be trodden down
like the mire of the streets.
A day for the building of your walls!
In that day the boundary shall be far extended.
In that day they will come to you
from Assyria to Egypt,
and from Egypt to the River,
from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain.
But the earth will be desolate
because of its inhabitants,
for the fruit of their doings.
Shepherd your people with your staff,
the flock that belongs to you,
which lives alone in a forest
in the midst of a garden land;
let them feed in Bashan and Gilead
as in the days of old.
As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt,
show us marvellous things.
The nations shall see and be ashamed
of all their might;
they shall lay their hands on their mouths;
their ears shall be deaf;
they shall lick dust like a snake,
like the crawling things of the earth;
they shall come trembling out of their fortresses;
they shall turn in dread to the Lord our God,
and they shall stand in fear of you.
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over the transgression
of the remnant of your possession?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in showing clemency.
He will again have compassion upon us;
he will tread our iniquities under foot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.
You will show faithfulness to Jacob
and unswerving loyalty to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our ancestors
from the days of old. Reflection Our devotional journey through Amos and Micah over the last five weeks has been something of a roller coaster, as is true of much of the prophetic writings. If today’s passage consisted only of the last thirteen lines, speaking confidently and movingly of God’s compassion and steadfast love, we could finish on a high note, breathe a sigh of relief and get on with Lent!
But no, we have verses 8 – 20 in the mix also. The prophet’s community is still in a hard situation, conscious of rightly being under the judgement of God, yet trusting God for restoration. The words of hope that are like salve to the wounds of humiliation, restricted freedom, exile and loss of home, are double-edged. A good future can only be articulated as a role-reversal. It will be the turn of the enemies to be covered in shame, trembling in dread and fear.
Jesus showed, lived and suffered a different way into the future: loving one’s enemies, and praying for them; forgiving as we wish to be forgiven. It’s demanding stuff, is it not? As people of the United Reformed Church we are ‘Walking the Way: Living the life of Jesus today’, so, tough or not, this is our calling.
Today is Shrove Tuesday, pancake day. In many of our churches people will be tossing and eating pancakes, a tradition that stems from needing to use up all the rich foods before Lent fasting begins. There is also a spiritual tradition of self-examination on Shrove Tuesday. Would you take time today to do a bit of self-examination? Are there enemies whom you do not love, do not pray for, and do not forgive? We need to recognise when this is so, and pray for grace to change.
For there is only hope for the future through the gateway of forgiveness.
PrayerCompassionate, Faithful God
known to us in Jesus Christ,
alive in us today through your Holy Spirit,
search our hearts, minds and lives
show us where and how to forgive
as individuals and as communities.
InformationThomas Hemerford was an English Reformation martyr. A native of Dorset, he was educated at Oxford and then studied for the priesthood at English College in Rome. He was ordained in Rome in 1583, and returned to England, where he was swiftly arrested. Condemned for being a priest, he was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn with four companions. He was beatified, the first significant stage to being declared a saint, in 1929.
Revelation 12. 10–12aI heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming, ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death. Rejoice then, you heavens and those who dwell in them!’ Reflection Recently in worship I asked two of my congregations what they had to be thankful for. In one the simple freedom to worship was mentioned and we reflected on parts of the world where this isn’t possible. An article in this week’s Tablet indicates that the Holy See and the Peoples’ Republic of China are edging towards signing an historic agreement to both establish diplomatic relations, after a 70 year break, and to end the conflict about the appointment of bishops (both Rome and the Chinese government wish to do this). In other parts of the world the Church is more severely persecuted and the State doesn’t seek to interfere with Church governance but to completely suppress it.
In the West we live in very tolerant, even indifferent, times and the idea of people being persecuted for their faith seems both horrific and distant. We have selective memories and don’t often think of Protestant Christians killed by Catholics nor Catholic Christians killed by Protestants in these isles in the Reformation era.
Hemerford had the misfortune to be called to ministry in the middle of Elizabeth I’s reign. In many ways Elizabeth was a religious moderate but the entwining of Catholicism and treason meant death for priests sent, after training, from the Continent to the “English Mission.” I always marvel at the bravery of those called to minister in the face of persecution and am thankful to live in a more tolerant age and work within a denomination which sees itself as both catholic and reformed. I pray that one day, soon, no one will be persecuted for their beliefs and that, one day, all will be reconciled in God’s all-powerful loving presence.
You were killed for your faith,
and many now suffer discrimination,
imprisonment, torture and death
for their faith in you.
Comfort those who live with persecution,
bring the persecutors to repentance,
that we may live in a world
where oppressed and former oppressor
can run free together.
Psalm 34At all times I will bless the LORD;
I’ll praise him with my voice.
Because I glory in the LORD,
let troubled souls rejoice.
Together let us praise the LORD;
exalt his name with me.
I sought the LORD; his answer came:
rom fears he set me free.
They look to him and shine with joy;
they are not put to shame.
This suffering man cried to the LORD;
from him deliverance came.
The angel of the LORD surrounds
and guards continually
All those who fear and honour him;
he sets his people free.
Come, taste and see—the LORD is good;
who trusts in him is blessed.
O fear the LORD, you saints;
with need you will not be oppressed.
Young lions may grow weak
and faint and hunger for their food,
But those who wait upon the LORD
will not lack any good.
Come here, my children!
Gather round and listen to my word;
And I will help you understand
how you may fear the LORD.
Does anyone delight in life
and long to see good days?
Then keep your tongue from evil speech,
your lips from lying ways.
Depart and turn from evil paths
and practise what is right.
Desire to know the way of peace;
pursue it with your might.
The LORD’s eyes are upon the just;
he listens to their plea.
The wicked he rejects, and blots
from earth their memory.
The righteous cry; the LORD responds
and frees them when distressed.
The LORD draws near the broken heart
and rescues the depressed.
From all the troubles of the just
the LORD will set him free.
The LORD protects his every bone;
and broken none will be.
The wicked are condemned to death,
all those who hate the just.
God saves his own; they’re not condemned,
for in the LORD they trust.
You can hear a slightly different translation (starting at v7) , but in the same metre, sung to the lovely American tune Land of Rest here. Reflection How often have we read this Psalm and marvelled at how the words really relate to us at the time? These words are attributed to David after a real life situation from which he had been delivered. The Lord was always looking after him, as he does each one of us. The incident is related in 1 Samuel 21:10-15, where David feigns madness and is, therefore, driven out, taking refuge in the Cave of Adullam. The words speak of a God who is good to know and experience, as well as the one to whom we can go whenever we are faced with fears which we can’t handle ourselves.
Not that these are the only key moments expressed here with which we can identify. Inspired many years ago but just as relevant to us in these diverse days in which we are living. How much we need the deliverance and surrounding protection which God alone is able to bring us when we trust in Him alone.
Probably never before have the words, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous” been more appropriate, as they are in this day and age. All too often we see the Christian cause brought into disrepute, ridiculed and misquoted, and often contradicted in the press and on television. What comfort is to be found in the truth that God rescues all His people from situations in which they may find themselves, and not always of their own doing. In these words we find hope that when we take refuge in God, rather than trying to plead our own corner, God gives us His joy. No wonder the Psalm starts with such praise, blessing, boasting of the Lord, magnifying His name and shared excitement! May our spirits similarly rise as we “Exalt His name together!” knowing that He is the only one in whom we can find complete safety and security.
PrayerEver present God,
our strong defence and deliverer.
Help us in those moments
when we are overtaken by fears,
crippled by our phobias,
and trapped in our own caves of isolation,
to know that we are safe in your hands,
surrounded by a greater strength
and security than this world knows
or can supply.
In humility Lord, we come to you,
asking you to free us from the fears that shackle us,
from the situations which give us despair,
releasing us into the freedom of worshipping you
as you so richly deserve.