I think I mentioned before that I'm now teaching the Ladies' Bible study at church once a month. This is the type of opportunity for which I've been praying and it is a fun and challenging way for me to get to know the ladies in our church a little better. Right now, I'm in the process of working my way through the book of Job, and I've found it terribly interesting. I've read the book before. Last term, as I was writing/translating/ developing the Sheep Tales script for the story of Job, I studied through it, too. So this is my third time through and God has been showing me some "unexpected" things. After much prayer, I decided to share some of these "unexpected" things I believe the Holy Spirit has been teaching me. How well do you remember the history of Job? He is described as a man, irreproachable and just (not meaning perfect or without sin, but that he lived in such a manner that other men had no reason to accuse him of wrongdoing); a man who respected the authority of God to order the events and happenings of his life, it is written that he "feared God," and kept himself far from evil deeds. He was incredibly wealthy and a bit of a celebrity, well-known throughtout the lands east of Palestine. One other characteristic that is clearly evident is that he is loathe to offend God: in thought, in deed, by his actions or his lack of actions. This can be clearly seen in that he continually interceded for his children - in case they had purposefully or accidentally offended the Lord, and when his wife advised him to "curse God and die," he called her a foolish woman or a "woman lacking good sense." What does it mean - to offend God? Synonyms for that word "offend" include: insult, scorn, refuse to honor, trespass, transgress, provoke, affront, outrage... Psalm 10.3b-4 describes the man who has no fear of offending God: "He... reviles the Lord. In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God." Job is not at all like this. God himself describes Job one of a kind: "blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." As I have been studying this remarkable man, I was surprised to find one particular "expected" description missing, at least during the beginning chapters of the book. He is not described as a man of faith... Yet, I have always considered him a man of tenacious faith who clung to God even when he felt completely forsaken. What happens to Job? At the suggestion of God, Satan - the "Accuser," targets Job for an enormous, severe, concentrated and vicious attack. Incredible, right? This attack only comes after God points Job out to Satan. This begs the question why - but I don't find an answer except that God is God and He does know best. As I look at all the suffering in the world, that is not an answer that satisfies me; but I do know that God is righteous, just, holy, gracious, loving and merciful - so I still have to trust.
More specifically, how is Job attacked? First, he loses his herds of cattle, donkeys, sheep and camel as well as all of the shepherds employed to care for them. Then, all ten of his children who were gathered together for a celebration are killed when a desert storm destroys the home where they were staying. Job's response are the well-known words: "Naked I came from my mother's womb and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised." But Job's testing continues. What happens next? Job himself is struck, from the top of his head to the bottoms of his feet, by a terrible and painful skin disease. His wife, then comes to accuse him and follows up by encouraging (or provoking) him to violate his conscience and sin by cursing - offending - God. I've already mentioned his response to his wife.
Yet his trials continue... Job's three friends come, in theory, to comfort him. Instead they begin to blame, to demand repentence and to debate with him as to why all of this misfortune has befallen him. Reading through Job's responses to these men, I have been overwhelmed by the depth of his suffering, his frustration and his bitterness. He never once contests whether God has the right to do as He wishes to, with and for Job- after all, Job is His creation. But Job longs for death; I think it is safe to say that at that moment, Job no longer wants to be one of those creations. It was in reading through Job 10 the other day that the Holy Spirit showed me a connection, however, with another passage of Scripture: "Your hands shaped me and made me. Will you now turn and destroy me? Remember that you molded me like clay. Will you now turn me to dust again? Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese, clothe me with skin and flesh and knit me together with bones and sinews? You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit. But this is what you concealed in your heart, and I know that this was in your mind... Why then did you bring me out of the womb? I wish I had died before any eye saw me. If only I had never come into being, or had been carried straight from the womb to the grave! Are not my few days almost over? Turn away from me so I can have a moment's joy before I go to the place of no return, to the land of gloom and deep shadow, to the land of deepest night, of deep shadow and disorder, where even the light is like darkness."
As I read this, I thought, "Job clearly sees the sovereignty of God, but is not seeing it through trusting eyes of faith." Then, as I reread the bold-faced phrase above, emphasizing the word "this" I thought, "Now where have I heard something like that before?"
I thought immediately of another Old Testament figure in the Bible - a beautiful young woman named Esther. Who was Esther? She was a young Jewish maiden who, because of her beauty (within and without) became the favorite wife in the royal harem of Xerxes, king of Persia. Esther won his love and favor; he thought of her with tenderness, but he did not know her ethnic background. His prime minister, Haman, fiercely hated the Jews and so concocted a plan to destroy them. Esther's uncle came to her to present the plight of her people, asking her to intervene on their behalf because of her position with the king.
At first she resisted, to which her uncle replied: "And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" The end of the story? Esther does intervene on behalf of her people, saying "...Go, gather all the Jews... Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish." Esther is granted the king's favor, and her people were saved. But can you see the connection?
"But this is what you concealed in your heart, and I know that this was in your mind." -Job's words.
"And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" -Esther's uncle's words.
The this refers to challenging, difficult and heart-breaking circumstances for both people. Job, like Esther, was born and placed exactly as he was because he was God's man to face this particular circumstance. Esther found, in the encouragement of her uncle, the faith to seek God's favor, but then to act. Job, at this particular point in the book, is paralysed by his lack of confidence in God's goodness despite all that has happened around him.
And you? Are you facing circumstances in your life that paralyse you? What this is staring you in the face? I just faced one - Victoria was very sick as I was preparing this particular study - she had both malaria and typhoid and was not improving with oral medications, which, of course, meant hospitalization. As we headed back to the clinic, however, after praying with Tim and another friend, I chose to take my study materials with me and to continue preparing, trusting that God would touch her little body and that I would be able to teach that study. Borrowing the words from a popular movie, I was "preparing my fields for rain," trusting God to take care of the situation. That was a "Wow!" moment for me. I trusted God to provide in a very specific way and then chose to act and saw Him respond. It didn't all play out the way I had expected, but I could not doubt the evidence of His hand.
In the life of Job, by the end of this testing, I do believe he had become a man of faith - not in spite of, but because of, as a result of "this:" these circumstances that were so difficult, so painful, so hard. He came to know the Lord in a deeper way than most people will during their lifetimes - God spoke to him out of the storm. God showed himself more mighty and more powerful than Satan - that when a man chooses God, inspite of our frailities, our lack of belief and faith, and our tendancies to doubt, nothing can snatch him out of the hand of the Father. Could it be that God loved Job so much - therefore He allowed "this?"
If you are anything like me, you might be thinking, "Ummm... I'm not so sure I want God to love me like that?" But as I seek to know God, I have to ask myself who God really is. I cannot confound God with my ideas concocted in my head of who I think He is. I cannot make God fit into an image or a mold that I myself have made. "When I let my preconceived ideas fall away, I can then leave a properly clean slate open, ready to welcome suprising newness..." I am open to the truths that God wants to teach me. (Quote from the preface to Job in Bonne nouvelle pour toi, a modern day French translation of the Bible.)
Without knowing all the reasons, perhaps without knowing any reason, I can trust that all He does in my life has a goal of drawing me into a closer relationship with Him, is for the purpose of knowing and trusting Him more intimately. If I acknowledge that He has the right, then I must choose to trust Him and place my confidence in Him and the results He chooses.
In light of this, the following words take on a deeper meaning for me: "But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His suffering, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things..."