Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wizard Oil, Quack Medicine, and other American Cults

How many of the current fads are not much different than Aunt Polly's in Mark Twain's classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer? You know if you're in danger of becoming Aunt Polly if the words "organic," "eco-friendly," "100% natural," and "free range" make you go weak in the knees. Does your expression become serious, do your eyes water, and do you sometimes speak with a quiver in your voice about the evils and dangers of processed foods and milk products and beef that was not certified organic? Please read on...

"His aunt was concerned. She began to try all manner of remedies on him. She was one of those people who are infatuated with patent medicines and all new fangled methods of producing health or mending it. She was an inveterate experimenter in these things. When something fresh in this line came out she was in a fever right away to try it, not on herself, for she was never ailing, but on anybody else that came handy. She was a subscriber for all the "Health" periodicals and phrenological frauds; and the solemn ignorance they were inflated with was breath to her nostrils. All the "rot" they contained about ventilation and how to go to bed and how to get up and what to eat and what to drink and how much exercise take and what frame of mind to keep one's self and what sort of clothing to wear was all gospel to her, and she never observed that her health-journals of the current month customarily upset what they had recommended the month before. She was simple-hearted and honest as the day was long. and so she was an easy victim. She gathered her quack periodicals and her quack medicines, and thus armed with death went about on her pale horse, metaphorically speaking, with "hell following after." But she never suspected that she was not an angel of healing and the balm of Gilead in disguise to the suffering neighbors." (88-89)


Comfort for You

This meal is God’s weekly assurance and promise to you that He is your God. We say week after week that this is the new covenant in the blood of Christ for the remission of sins, but we need to be reminded frequently that this means God is your God. God is for you. He is your Advocate and Defender. God rejoices over you with singing. And He does not rejoice over you because He does not notice the remaining sin in your life. He doesn’t rejoice over you because He has lowered the bar. No, He rejoices over you because you are in Jesus who is His beloved Son and because the Spirit has been poured out in our hearts to conform us to the image of that beloved Son. In other words, God rejoices over His people because He knows what’s coming. He knows the glory that He has prepared for us and in us. And so He invites us here week after week and insists again that He is your God and that He is for you. And He declares this so that you will not grow weary in doing good. He declares this so that you will be comforted in trials and place your hope in Him. So hope your God; believe that He rejoices over you. Be comforted and rest in Him. Jesus says, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”


Follow Jesus

Jesus says that if we want to be His disciples we must leave everything behind and follow Him. He says we must take up our cross and follow Him. He says we must leave father and mother, sister and brother and follow Him. He says we must sell our possessions, give alms to the poor and follow Him. Jesus says, “Follow me,” and that command is universal. Every Christian is commanded to follow Jesus. It is true that Jesus calls us all to follow Him in different ways, different callings, different roles. But the command is universal and the command is absolute. Nothing may come between you and the Master; every Christian must follow Jesus wherever He leads. In the gospels many of the examples we see are startling. People are asked to sell all that they have, people are required to leave their parents and siblings behind. Let the dead bury the dead, Jesus says, not bothered by any appearance of disrespect. But we’re fairly quick to lay out all the qualifications. We’re very quick to point out the exceptions: the disciples who stayed close to their families, those who retained their vocations and so forth. And so the call to follow Jesus frequently dies the death of a thousand qualifications and footnotes. But this should not be. Jesus began his ministry calling disciples to leave their nets, to leave their fathers and mothers and vocations behind, he called the rich to give their possessions and wealth away, he called his disciples to lose their lives for His sake and for the sake of the gospel. And so the exhortation is to stop disobeying Jesus. Are you clinging to possessions that Jesus would rather have you sell or give away? Stop it. Are you resisting the call because you know that would mean moving or leaving? Obey the call. The call to discipleship is not a call to convenience or middle class stability. It is not assurance of air conditioning and steaks on the grill. The call of discipleship is the call to take up your cross. So drop your excuses and follow Jesus. And remember that He who calls you, also promises to grant you hundred fold in return both in this life and in the life to come. The call to discipleship is not a call to renounce pleasure and blessing; the call to discipleship is a call to greater pleasure and blessing in the Kingdom of God.

“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Lk. 14:26)


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Eighth Sunday in Trinity: Job 42

We finish our series in Job this morning considering the conclusion to the book. We know what happens, but it’s important to see how ‘what happens’ actually fits the narrative.

Job is Comforted
Job’s answer to Yahweh should first of all be recognized as an answer – meaning that Job is having a conversation with the Lord of the universe. Second, Job’s response is really the only appropriate response to the glory of the Lord, and it’s the response that he vaguely knew he would give in this setting (9:2-21). While this short speech is primarily expressing awe, wonder, and appreciation for the ways of God which are past finding out, the conclusion is perhaps the most important point. Job says that he had “heard” of Yahweh by the hearing of his ear, but now he has seen Him with his eyes (42:5). This is a recognition that what Job longed for has been granted (19:26, 31:37) and reminds us again of Jacob who also saw God and lived (Gen. 32:28-30). Furthermore, Job’s final line needs careful consideration. He is commonly translated to say that he abhors himself and repents in dust and ashes, but this seems antagonistic to the positive evaluation that God gives in 42:7-9. While humility and awe and thankfulness seem fully in order, why would Job “despise” himself and repent? A better way of reading Job’s concluding statement is to see Job saying that he still despises his physical circumstances, but he is “comforted” in his dust and ashes (cf. comfort: 2:11, 7:13, 16:2, 42:11; despise: 7:16, 9:21).

Sacrifice and Prayer
Yahweh’s wrath is aroused against Eliphaz and his two friends for not speaking what is right concerning Him (42:7). He orders them to offer seven bulls and seven rams (which is quite a sacrifice) as an Ascension Offering, and he says that Job will pray for them and Yahweh will accept him (42:8). Literally, Eliphaz and Co have not spoken what has been established/prepared/created by God. Perhaps the idea is not so much error in facts, but a refusal to align themselves with the creative and providential purposes of God. Literally, it is Job’s face that lifts Yahweh from treating the three friends as their folly merits. The three friends did as Yahweh said, and Yahweh “lifted the face of Job” (42:9).

The Restoration
Yahweh “returns the captivity” of Job in his prayers for his friends (42:10), and this means that Yahweh gives Job double what he had previously (cf. Zech. 9:11-12). Eleven thousand sheep, camels, oxen, and donkeys means twenty-two thousand of the same. This restoration from exile is a resurrection scene, and this is confirmed by the return of Job’s seven sons and three daughters (42:13). The doubling effect suggests two other themes as well: first, a double return is the amount of restitution required in the law for theft. This includes intentional burglary, but it can also touch on “any kind of lost thing” for which a cause comes before the judges (Ex. 22:9). While there is no “guilt” on Yahweh’s part (Ex. 22:1), He is nevertheless restoring Job’s livelihood in a manner that is above reproach. Another connection is the fact that the double portion is an inheritance, the inheritance due the firstborn son (e.g. Dt. 21:17). And resurrection is not merely restoration, not merely double restoration: resurrection is glorification. It is life back from the death, twice the life back from the dead, and beauty that overwhelms (42:14-15).

Conclusion and Applications
Of course Job’s restoration-resurrection is only a faint glimmer of what we are witnesses to in Jesus Christ. And this glimmer is held in perspective by the last verse of the book. Job died under the great blessing of God, but he died. So too, even this side of the resurrection of Jesus, we still look for the glory of the final restoration, the inheritance of the sons of God (Rom. 8:14-28). This means walking in hope (Rom. 8:24-25), walking in hope with perseverance like Job (Js. 5:11). This hope is not numb to pain and hardship, but this hope most certainly rests in the comfort of the Storm.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Job and Rene Girard

Some tentative thoughts on Job:

Rene Girard has pointed out that there is no mention of the calamities that befall Job in any of the dialogues. In all of the conversations between Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, no mention is made of the great events of chapters 1-2.

I might suggest that there are a couple of possible allusions to the calamities (8:4, 15:34, perhaps others), but the point is still striking. If Job is primarily contesting those events why doesn't he bring them up?

So it seems reasonable to go back to chapter 3 where the complaint begins and ask, "What is Job actually complaining about?" Job's initial response to his wife is to insist upon receiving the evil from the hand of God. Then Job sits in silence and mourning with Eliphaz and company for seven days and seven nights.

As we read through Job's initial complaint in chapter 3, we see great distress and pain which fits with what has already occurred, but Job also seems to be looking around him and into the future: "I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, for trouble comes" (3:26). His trouble isn't primarily behind him; it's all around him and it's still coming.

My question: What if Job's complaint is primarily (but not exclusively) about the three friends? This is Girard's general claim as I understand him, but his exegetical theatrics allow him to dismiss the prologue and epilogue as extraneous material, making this an easier conclusion to draw.

But it is true: Job doesn't bring up the calamities of chapters 1 and 2. He doesn't complain about them. But he most certainly does complain about his friends, their accusations, and God's failure to intervene. What if the justice that Job cries out for is entirely (or almost entirely) centered on the "schemes" of his friends (e.g. 21:27) and their subtle (and not so subtle) political maneuvering to grasp the kingdom from him?

What if Job's plea for a judgment, for a day in court with Yahweh is primarily to appeal (not the calamities) but the accusations brought forward by his three friends and his right to the throne?

Job accepts the calamities from the hand of God, but when the three friends arrive he sees what they are up to. He sees the greed in their eyes, and as a king, he refuses to go down without a fight. He must defend his office, his righteousness as king from these power-hungry aggressors.


Monday, July 20, 2009

The Economy of the Eucharist

Throughout Job there is something of an underlying debate over the nature of relationships. Are human or divine-human relationships founded on a principle of reciprocity or are they founded upon grace? Reciprocity means that relationships, however friendly, are fundamentally based on exchange, quid pro quo, commodities. I do this for you, and you do that for me. You invite me over for dinner, I’ll invite you over for dinner. You say something nice about my outfit; and I’ll say something nice about your hair. You know this principle is at work when a gift creates (or appears to create) an obligation. When you receive a gift, and your next thought is ‘I better make sure I get one for them.’ But this system is built fundamentally on the assumption that we are all a bunch of atoms, and we bump around and into one another, and in order to keep everything smooth and balanced, we just need to do our part. Injustice occurs when someone doesn’t do their part or get what they deserve.

The Accuser operates with this assumption in the beginning when he asks if Job fears God for nothing. Satan assumes that Job fears and serves God because of the benefits he receives from God. The three friends also assume the same sort of program because on the flip side, if Job is no longer receiving benefits from God, Job must have failed on his end of the bargain. But when God finally appears and answers, His speeches are overflowing with grace. Of course they are questions, and of course they revel in the difference between God and Job, but they also reveal how generous and overflowing God is. He cares for cool animals and dumb animals; he waters barren lands with no people. He designed and sustains the world in all of its details even though most of it no one even knows or notices. And all this is in a conversation between the God of the universe and a mere man named Job. God is the overflowing God, the God of grace, the God who gives. And He created this world to mimic that grace, that overflow, that generosity.

Relationships based on reciprocity will always fall short of God’s glory because God designed the world for relationships to be built on grace. And this means that we are called to give with no thought of getting anything in return. We are to bless not merely those who bless us, but bless those who persecute us. We are not to do go to those who can repay us, but to do good to those who cannot or will not return the favor. We are to imitate our Father in heaven who causes his rain to fall on the just and the unjust. And that is what we celebrate at this table. This bread and wine are the gifts of God for the people God, and the gift is Himself. The gift is God giving His Son to us through the Spirit that we might have His life within us. We are not atoms bumping into each other trying to keep the balance sheets straight. We are sons of the Most High called to give ourselves away. When we give gifts, we are not giving objects to other objects out there in the world. We are giving ourselves, pledging ourselves, and we do so in imitation of God who gives Himself to us week after week. And we know that we really have no possible way of returning the favor. And all God wants us to do is rejoice in that inequality, rejoice in the grace, rejoice in the Gift. Some come and rejoice.


From Glory to Glory

One way of looking at the book of Job is as a coming of age story. We have pointed out before that in the Bible, the categories of Priest, King, and Prophet can be seen not only as different roles but as steps in glory and maturity. We see this in Israel’s history: priests keep laws very carefully. They guard the sanctuary from defilement. Kings must build upon knowledge of the law, and apply it with wisdom. Solomon must judge between the feuding prostitutes in a case where this is no explicit command in Scripture. Kings must execute justice by applying the Scriptures to new situations. And finally, when God’s people have grown up in this wisdom, they are prepared to stand before God as prophets. Prophets are members of God’s court. They are God’s advisors. God tells them what he is planning to do, and they are invited to interact with that. Remember Abraham who discusses God’s plan destroy Sodom and Gomorrah or Moses on Mt. Sinai urging God to reconsider His plan to destroy the children of Israel. And because prophets are involved in the decision making process, they are authorized to speak on God’s behalf. Prophets bring and declare the word of the Lord with authority. They know what God is going to do because they were there when it was decided. Job’s story follows this trajectory. Job begins as an upright man who is blameless and shuns what is evil. He offers sacrifices for his sons who may have sinned; Job is introduced in the glory of a priest. But when his world comes apart, he must learn to navigate his circumstances that are more dicey. He must apply biblical truth to his situation faithfully, and he must seek justice through fighting back false accusations. Job must embrace the glory of kings. But the glory kings is in search of the glory of prophets. Kings want to know that they have struggled faithfully; they want an answer from the King of Kings. And so Job finally receives an answer from the whirlwind. And in that answer, Job is ushered into the presence of Yahweh. And in the conclusion to the story, God says that Job will pray for the three friends and God will hear and forgive them. Job has been granted the glory of a prophet. Job is a story of a man going from glory to glory, going from the glory of a priest to the glory of a king to the glory of a prophet. And the trajectory is important. God doesn’t want slaves, God doesn’t want machines, God wants sons. God wants sons that grow up into friends. We are gathered here this morning as the friends of God, filled with the Spirit of the Son, and therefore we are invited to guard his house as priests, to seek wisdom as kings, and to speak in His presence as prophets and be prepared to take what we learn back into the world.


Seventh Sunday in Trinity: Job 38-41

Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, we thank you that you have sent your Son into the world for our salvation. We thank you that He has been raised to Your right hand and has poured out His Spirit upon us so that we might be faithful sons in Him. We ask that You would empower Your Word now, through the working of the Spirit that we might lifted up to Your glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!

As we saw last week, Job’s steadfast hope in the God who judges, the God who speaks, is finally vindicated in Yahweh’s answer from the whirlwind. But of course God is far more glorious, far more wonderful than even Job can hope for. Insisting that Mt. Everest is amazing is still nothing compared to actually climbing it.

The Sons of God
Remember Job is an Adam who faces what feels and looks like the unmaking of his world (Job 1-2). Job’s initial curse is an utterance calling for the reversal of creation: “Let there be darkness” (3:4, 5-6, 9). Job calls upon the “cursers of the day” to arouse Leviathan to do his part in unmaking the world (3:8). Remember that Job’s longing for death and darkness is ultimately related to his longing for a day of judgment, a day in which he might appeal his case to God (9:14-20, 32-35; 13:3, 15; 16:21; 31:35-37). Job is an Adam outside of the presence of God, the greatest of the “sons of the east” (1:3) but not among the “sons of God” who stand before Yahweh, who speak in his presence. But we detected hints even early on that the entire exercise of The Accuser was designed to draw Job up into the presence of God: As Job is a faithful father offering sacrifices for his sons, Yahweh is a faithful father who offers his son Job as a sacrifice. In order to stand before Yahweh one must be drawn up into the fiery storm.

Yahweh’s First Speech
The Wind/Spirit has blown upon Job, and the wind has only increased in the dialogues, culminating in the whirlwind answer of Yahweh (38:1). But the actual content of Yahweh’s speeches seems a little odd at first: How do all the questions relate to Job’s questions? Much of what Yahweh says Job seems to already understand to some extent (9:2-10). Is Yahweh merely flexing his divine muscles? Yahweh asks, “Who is this who darkens counsel with speeches without knowledge?” (38:2). This may very well be referring to Elihu, although Job seems to refer to it later and is happy to acknowledge his own ignorance (42:3). Yahweh commands Job to prepare for battle (38:3, cf. 1 Sam. 2:4, 2 Sam. 22:40, Ps. 18:40, etc.). He says, “I will question you, and you will make it known to me.” (38:3). But this may not be so much a challenge as it is a promise. Given the entire book, we ought to think of God as a Father here, not a power-flaunting monarch. Yahweh speaks eleven poems comprising 9 scenes of creation and 11 different animals (38:4-39:30). He recounts creation (38:4-11), and his first series of questions conclude with reference to the “sons of God” (38:6-7), implying that they know. The following poems dwell on commanding, studying, dividing, and binding various aspects of creation. These scenes and the wild animals that follow picture the world in need of care, taming, and cultivating.

Yahweh’s Second Speech
Yahweh asks Job if he would like to cross-examine Him (40:2), and Job says he is really of little account and asks what he could counter with (40:4). He puts his hand on his mouth, and says he is finished answering (40:4-5). Yahweh proceeds and again tells Job to prepare for battle (40:7). This time Yahweh addresses Job directly: Is Job trying to thwart Yahweh’s judgment? Is he accusing Him of evil? Does Job have an arm like God (49:9-14)? Part of the point is to draw the contrast tight, but when he points to Behemoth and Leviathan, He says that since Leviathan is so fierce, who will stand before Me (41:10)? But we know that the sons of God do stand before Yahweh, and part of God’s greatness and glory is the creation of man: Adam was created as a son to rule creation (Gen. 1:26-28, 2:8-14, 19-20, Ps. 8).

Conclusion & Applications
Yahweh’s speeches certainly dwell on the glory of God and His perfect rule over creation, but Yahweh’s answer is also an answer (38:1, 40:1), a drawing near. This transcendent and all sovereign Creator and Sustainer of the Universe is talking to Job, asking him questions. God’s answer from the whirlwind is not primarily new information (9: 2-10); rather, it is the overwhelming presence and person of God. The whirlwind is a whirlwind of words, a storm of questions, a survey of God’s glory throughout creation. And finally, while many questions have an implied ‘No’ answer, some are ‘Yes’ or qualified yes’s. God is glorious, but part of that glory is His delight in His children, His sons who stand before Him and learn His wisdom. Adam was the first son of God created to learn and grow up into the wisdom of God exhibited in the whirlwind, and Job is another. And we too are sons, filled with the Spirit, being taught to stand before the Father and rule the world in His wisdom (Rom. 8:14-17, Heb. 4:14-16). And proof that this is what Yahweh is doing is seen in Job’s prayer for the three friends at the end (42:7-10).

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Closing Prayer: Gracious God we worship your greatness and your glory. Your wisdom and might and glory and power is infinite and eternal, and your majesty and righteousness is beyond measure. O God we are speechless and dumbfounded when we consider creation, when we consider the works of your hands and when we consider that you have created us and saved us and that you care about us. And not only do you care about us, but you are determined to glorify us with Your Spirit by conforming us to the image of your Son. God, we have such small imaginations and so little faith. We are so easily distracted, so easily satisfied with cheap substitutes, but we need and want nothing but You. So be our strength, be our strong tower, and grant that we might hunger and thirst for Your righteousness. Through Jesus Christ our Lord who taught us to pray singing…


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Strangers are Family

Ezekiel says that in the New Covenant the land and inheritance will be divided by the twelve tribes of Israel, and that strangers will also be included in the inheritance: "'It shall be that you will divide it by lot as an inheritance for yourselves, and for the strangers who dwell among you and who bear children among you. They shall be to you as native-born among the tribes of Israel. And it shall be that in whatever tribe the stranger dwells, there you shall give him his inheritance,' says the Lord God" (Ez. 47:22-23)


Embrace the Mess

I wanted to say a few words directed at the growing opportunities many of us have with people in our churches with little to no church background. A couple years ago, I remember thinking at one point that we must be doing something wrong because of how messy everything was: custody battles, drunkenness, drugs, uncontrollable children, and so on. These baby Christians bring with them many years of sin and pain and ugliness, and even after they are converted and baptized, there is not usually an overnight transformation in every area of life. It’s only the beginning.

But I wanted to give three brief exhortations in this regard: first, our job is to love them, to befriend them, seek them out, invite them into our homes, eat with them, laugh with them, sing with them, and disciple them. And so the first encouragement is to continue in hospitality and love, despite their circumstances, despite the mess, despite the craziness.

Second, I referred previously to these families and individuals as baby Christians, and that really is what they are. Paul pastored Christians who sued each other, were neck deep in sexual sins, and frequently didn’t seem to know the first thing about what it meant to be a Christian. And that wasn’t a sign of his failure. On the contrary, it was a sign of the gospel’s success. The fact that we have a growing number of people in our community in need of lots of attention means God is blessing us with more children. But they are children, they are young, they need what all children need: love, attention, lots of patience, and joyful leading.

But lest you think I’m saying we’re mostly a bunch of grown ups and now we have a few children in our midst, remember that one of the ways God ministers to every parent through children is by showing us our sins. Children are little mirrors. And they are blunt and painfully honest. And if God is kind and we are faithful, we must learn to see ourselves and the sin remaining in our lives in our children. And this is no different with baby Christians who may be the same age as us, older or younger. The reason God brings baby Christians into the church is not just to save them (although it is that), but it’s because we need them to remind us of all the dirt still staining our hands. It is far too perilously easy to settle into a semi-respectable Christian existence. But God hates that kind of apathy. And so he sends us mirrors. Families who can’t hold it together in public, marriages that are so openly on the rocks, children that blissfully tell their parents where to stick it, and God does this not so that we can feel self righteous and thankful that at least we’re not as bad as that, but so that we might see ourselves for what we are: sinners saved by grace. And if we can’t see ourselves in baby Christians than we will not inherit the kingdom of God. If we do not see ourselves in these children, we cannot be His children.

But this last point is meant to be an encouragement and not hard words. God is blessing us. God is growing us up by surrounding us with children. I for one am very excited about all of this. Dealing with parole officers and attorneys and psychiatrists is not at all a sign of failure. It’s the very opposite. It’s proof that we are exactly where we’re supposed to be. So invite them over, embrace the mess, and pray expectantly.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Job is Comforted

The word frequently translated "repent" in Job 42:6 is used six other times in the book, and it is nowhere else translated "repent." It is always translated (in the NKJV anyways) as "comfort" or "comforted" or "comforters."

One of the great problems for Job is that he can find no real comfort, no true comforter. Rather then being helped, he is hounded by his comforters. The three friends gather around him to comfort him (2:11), and Job certainly was looking for comfort (7:13), but they are "miserable comforters" (16:2). After more of their accusations, Job concludes that they have tried to comfort him with empty [hebel] answers (21:34). Try as he may, Job can find no comfort. Job was once a great king who offered comfort to others in their mourning (29:25), but he has found none in his distress.

Given this narrative, it makes great sense to see Job's final response to Yahweh's speeches not as some kind of change of mind (i.e. repentance), especially since the Lord explicitly says that what Job spoke was right (42:7-8). Rather, it makes great sense to see Job as saying that he is finally comforted in his dust and ashes. The last use of the word is in 42:11 where his brothers and sisters come to him, eat with him, and really do comfort him. Job first finds his comfort in Yahweh, the Great Comforter, and then his brothers and sisters come and extend more of the comfort of Yahweh to Job.

The other verb in 42:6 is MA'AS which is usually translated "reject/refuse/despise." The word is used a number of times in Job: Eliphaz exhorts Job not to reject the discipline of the Almighty (5:17), Bildad says that God will not reject the blameless (8:20), Job cries out to God asking why He despises the work of His hands (10:3), even children despise him Job says (19:18), and Elihu insists that God is just and does not randomly reject people (35:5).

The challenge with translating this verse is that it has no direct object. What does Job reject/despise/refuse? There is one other use of the same verb in Job where there is no direct object but the context fills out the meaning for us. In 7:16, Job says "I despise _____ : I would not live forever. Leave me alone for my days are but a breath." Given the context it makes good sense for the translators to supply the words "my life." Job says: "I despise my life: I don't want to live forever..." And Job says something similar later in 9:21 when he insists, "I am blameless, yet I do not know myself, I despise my life." And here the direct object "my life" is explicitly provided. The idea is that Job knows he's blameless, but given his circumstances he does not want to live.

So my suggestion for translating 42:6 is the following:

"Therefore I despise my life but I am comforted in my dust and ashes."

Job is still in great pain, he has lost so much of what was dear to him, and his kingdom is still in terrific jeopardy, but in those dust and ashes, in the dust and ashes of his mourning and despair, Yahweh has spoken to him. Yahweh has spoken in the midst of the storm, and therefore Job is comforted.


Helping Yahweh Make His Point

Curtis goes on to say that in order to follow the Yahweh speeches, we need to recognize that several sections are "secondary." For instance, the portions concerning the Bohemoth and the Leviathan are clearly "out of place in that they do not in any way serve to advance the argument." Curtis is also skeptical about the helpfulness of the "brief poem about about the ostrich (39:13-18)).



Job Rejects Yahweh?

John Briggs Curtis writes: "Challenged by God in such terms [Yahweh's answer from the whirlwind], Job must respond. Yahweh has focused the issues in the simplest possible terms: Job can either accept the divine appraisal of the universe and of Job's place in it, or Job can reject God. There is no middle ground left for compromise. Confronted by a choice so clearly defined, Job reacts, as he must: He totally and unequivocally rejects Yahweh." He continues, describing another article by Patrick, "There is nowhere in Job's final speech even the slightest suggestion that he either recants his previous position or shows remorse for all that he has said."

While I disagree with Curtis' conclusion, his honesty in dealing with the several pieces of evidence is helpful. The conclusion that Curtis does not appear to consider is the possibility that both God and Job are right.


Sixth Sunday in Trinity Season: Job 32-37

Opening Prayer: O God of our Fathers, please bless Your word now, teach us, correct us, train us in justice that we may be fully equipped for every good work. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Last week we saw how Job emerges as a king in the midst of his trials. Job speaks the wisdom of nobility from the dust and ashes. This nobility is not a self-righteous pride; it is faith and hope in the God of the resurrection. Today we consider the last satan, a fourth accuser who rises against Job, the young man, Elihu. Elihu is a complex character in some ways; and many commentators have disagreed over him.

Elihu’s First Speech
Elihu is the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram (32:1). Elihu is a Hebrew whose name means, “He is my God,” closely related to the name Elijah. Elihu is furious that Job thought his righteousness was greater than God’s (32:2). Elihu is also furious with the three friends who have not found any answer to Job’s assertions and condemned Job (32:3). He is a young man who says that he has been listening and waiting for an appropriate opportunity to speak (32:4-14). He says that he will speak now since they have no more words to speak (32:15-16). He, on the other hand, is pregnant with words, and he will constrain the wind in his belly to rip open (32:18-19). Elihu insists that he is the answer to Job’s request. He is Job’s mouth before God (33:8). He insists that he is upright, and that it is the Wind/Spirit of God that flows through him (33:2-5). Elihu says that Job is not right to insist that he is innocent (33:8-12). God speaks sufficiently (33:12-18), and He even sends messengers so that after chastening a man, a man’s righteousness may be restored to him if he confesses his sins (33:13-30).

Elihu’s Second Speech
Elihu says that it is not fitting for a wicked king to act as a judge (34:17), but not just anyone can point this inconsistency out (34:18). Therefore, it is God who providentially enacts this justice (34:10-11, 19-22). In other words, God has judged Job as wicked and there is no need for an appeal (34:23). Job is a wicked king, and God has revealed this openly to all (34:24-37).

Elihu’s Third Speech
Elihu says that Job is necessarily implying that he is more righteous than God because he says that it doesn’t matter if he is righteous or not (35:2-3, cf. 34:5-9). Elihu tries to answer Job by asking how anything we do (righteous or wicked) really affects God (35:4-8). In particular, He is under no obligation to answer prideful men, and the fact that He does not answer does not impugn His justice (35:9-16).

Elihu’s Fourth Speech
Again, Elihu claims to speak on behalf of God (36:2). His knowledge is perfect (36:4). Elihu repeats what the other friends have argued but applies it specifically to kings like Job (36:5-21). Elihu even seems to agree with Job in the abstract when he says that God’s eyes are on the righteous, and that they remain on the throne with (righteous) kings (36:7). But when calamity falls on even an apparently righteous king, Elihu is forced to conclude that he was actually wicked. Elihu reminds Job that God is great and mighty, and he illustrates God’s greatness with the image of a terrific thunder storm (36:26-37:13). Elihu tells Job to consider the Storm (37:14-18): does he really think he can speak to the Storm (37:19-22). God is a mighty storm: we cannot speak to Him and we cannot find Him (37:23). He is a righteous storm; that should be enough (37:24). But 38:1-2 is a fairly decisive answer.

Job and Elihu
After the words of Job are ended (31:40), the three friends leave off answering Job “because he was righteous in his own eyes” (32:1). But Elihu burns with anger and continues the storm of words, the wind continues to blow. And with four consecutive speeches, it blows even harder than ever. Many commentators note that Elihu’s speeches seem out of place. His appearance and disappearance is surprising. He arrives with the same kind of abruptness as the first calamities. In fact, remember that there were four messengers who brought the tidings of the calamities, and now there have been four more messengers of ill tidings.

Conclusions and Applications
It’s worth remembering what the rest of Scripture says about Job: He was surely one of the most righteous men (Ez. 14, 20), and he was steadfast in his perseverance (Js. 5:11). Job is an example to follow, and the central example is his faith, his refusal to doubt his righteousness. And so the question is: do you cling to your integrity like Job (27:2-6)? It’s important to be clear that Job was not sinless, but he was righteous and perfect. And we are no different.

Paul says that we are to reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ, and therefore, we are to disobey sin (Rom. 6:11-12). Our rebellion against sin is based on the fact that it no longer has dominion over us: we are to present ourselves to God as though we are already alive from the dead (Rom. 6:13). We are not under law but under grace (Rom. 6:14). Like Job’s integrity, our security and hope is in the judgment of our Redeemer. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5 that the resurrection is our assurance and confidence (5:1-11), and this is because “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them” (5:19). This means that you are new creations, the old has passed away, and you are righteous.

This means that our battle against sin, the flesh, and the devil begins with faith in Christ who has reconciled everything to God. The death and resurrection of Jesus has accomplished the reconciliation of the world. Broken relationships, death, sin and guilt, disease, pain, frustration, failure, shame: a Christian is someone who believes that Jesus dealt with it already in the cross. There is a judgment, and that judgment has already occurred in Jesus. Therefore refuse every accusation that would dethrone you in Jesus. Cling to your integrity.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Closing Prayer: Gracious God, we thank you that you have reconciled the world to yourself in Christ already. We thank you that you have not imputed our trespasses to us, but you have made us alive in Christ. Give us grace to believe this, to love this, to cling to this justice until we finally see it with our eyes. Through Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray, singing…


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Elihu's Four Speeches

David Freedman asks the question, why does Elihu have four speeches? But what's particularly striking about Elihu's four speeches is that his speeches are not broken up by responses or answers from anyone else. His speeches are only delineated by Elihu reaffirming that he has something important to say and that he ought to be listened to (32:6-33:1ff/33:31-33; 34:1-2ff; 35:1ff; 36:1-4/37:14). 35:1 doesn't include the usual profession of intelligence, but there is the introduction in which he is rather humorously said to "answer," which of course could refer to the entire collection of speeches (constituting an answer to Job and the three friends), but the immediate context suggests that Elihu is answering none other than himself! The dialogue has descended into a monologue.

Even Yahweh's two speeches are briefly divided by a short response from Job (40:3-5).


No Answer Elihu

Lynch again: "The lack of answer from the Almighty forms a void into which Elihu steps, assuming de facto that the Almighty will not verbally answer Job (33:13-30; 34:12-13; 35:13-14). As we later find out, it is Elihu who is not explicitly answered by the Almighty."


Pummeled with Words

In "Bursting at the Seams: Phonetic Rhetoric in the Speeches of Elihu" published in the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Matthew Lynch says that the "'damage' to Job only begins in chs. 1 and 2." The calamity continues in the form of the verbal onslaught of Job's three friends. Lynch points out that "from the beginning, Job is assailed by words, by the breathless reports of his three servants, the biting words of his wife, and by his three companions." In a footnote, Lynch points out the repetition in chapter 1 of the phrase "while he was still speaking, another came and said..." The trials of Job in some sense always come in the form of words. From the beginning Job is pummeled with words. And as Lynch rightly sees, this is central to Job's plea for a resolution in words: "Oh that someone would give me a hearing! See my signature. Let the Almighty answer me, and my accuser write an indictment" (31:35).


Job's Repentance

In a 1976 article in Vetus Testamentum, Dale Patrick says that Job 42:6 is usually translated wrong. The most straightforward translation of the "repentance" is actually a statement that he plans to cease his complaint and mourning. He would translate the verse: "Therefore I repudiate and repent of dust and ashes." Patrick explains: "God has changed Job's lament into praise, and this last bistich expresses Job's intention of abandoning the posture of mourning."


Thursday, July 09, 2009

Catching Up

So those of you who check this blog with any frequency know that it was dead quiet around here for the month of June. And that was due primarily to the fact that we bought a house, worked on it for a couple of weeks, moved in, unpacked, unpacked some more, and somewhere in there managed to stay mostly sane. I was in Louisiana for a wedding for six days, and trying to keep up with the bare minimum of church duties.

But we are ever so thankful for our new place right smack dab in the middle of everything, right where we want to be. It's directly across from East City Park, and we have a goodish more space to spread out, put up out of town guests, and hopefully serve the community.

We have raspberry bushes, a strawberry patch, and a seedless blackberry bush all promising to leave their juicy marks on our fingers and cheeks for most of the summer. If you're in the neighborhood please stop by. Feel free to let yourself in the back yard and pick our fruit. There's plenty.

Our family continues to be healthy and happy, and I'm thankful to report that Tovia Ann is now officially walking or toddling as they call it. But she has definitely graduated to being a fully initiated bi-ped, and is quickly leaving crawling behind. River will be in Kindergarten this Fall and Felicity is just a few weeks away from turning 3. God continues to pour out his goodness and mercy on us, and if I can get my act together, I'll try to have more pictures of the family up soon. But for now, you can see our new house.

Happy Summer and Cheers!


Littlejohn on Mercersburg Theology

My friend, Brad Littlejohn, has just had his first book published through Pickwick Publications, an imprint of Wipf and Stock. The book, The Mercersburg Theology and The Quest for Reformed Catholicity, looks like a great introduction to John Williamson Nevin, Philip Schaff, and the 19th century conversation surrounding ecclesiology, sacraments, and what it means to be "Reformed and Catholic." Peter Leithart writes the forward of the book, and he says:

"For an increasing number of Protestants, the dismemberment of Protestantism is a scandal, an oozing wound in the body of Christ, leaving behind a twisted Christ as painful to behold as the Isenheim altarpiece. But what is a Protestant to do? The Reformation was itself a rent in the vesture of Christ, so how can Protestants object to the tin-pot Luthers and Machens who faithfully keep up the Reformation tradition of fissure and fragmentation? ... We need an American Reformation that recovers the original catholic vision of Protestantism, and in pursuing this, American Protestants do well to take a page from early-twentieth-century Catholics and embark on a program of ressourcement, and to this program Littlejohn's book is a valuable contribution..."

So go get your copy already.


The Prince and the Princes

Toward the end of Ezekiel, the "prince" is described, the descendant of David who will rule Israel in accordance with the law of God. It's interesting however that he is given particular liturgical duties. After the vision of the temple is described in detail, the prince is said to have rights to eat of the holy bread in the presence of the Lord (44:3). Likewise, the prince leads the congregation in offering sacrifices and celebrating the feasts and appointed seasons "to make atonement for the house of Israel" (45:16-17). The prince's role seems to be as a representative of the house of Israel. He has not been merged into the priesthood, but as the representative of Israel, he is granted specific privileges which verge on priestly duties. Whereas the people must enter and exit through separate gates, the prince may come and go through the gate where the priests come and go (46:1-11).

The word here for "prince" is from the root word "lift up" [NASA]. The prince is literally "one who is lifted up." He has been raised to a position of authority and responsibility. The same word is used to describe the 12 princes descended from Ishmael in Genesis, and later it is the word that describes the "leaders" that are appointed to represent and lead the 12 tribes of Israel (Numbers 2-3). Interestingly, a hint of Ezekiel's prince is seen even as early as Numbers 7 where those previously appointed/named princes of the tribes offer sacrifices on behalf of their respective tribes. Likewise, it's these princes of the tribes whose duties include dividing the land of promise (Num. 34).

Later, at the dedication of the temple, Solomon assembles these "princes of the fathers" (1 Kgs. 8:1), again suggesting that these princes play a role in Israel that is both judicial and liturgical. Of course leaders like Abraham, Samuel, David, and Solomon play similar roles. Melchizedek is both priest and king.

No huge or final conclusions here, but tentative ideas for further study: First, what sorts of direction does this provide for civil rulers today? The Magisterial Reformed instinct to see political rulers as having responsibility for the spiritual well being of their subjects, to defend the church, and assist the church in preserving and spreading the gospel, seems to fit with this framework. Magistrates really are deacons.

Second, we might turn the equation around and also apply this to church polity.... Or at least ask the questions: are these princes the equivalent of elders or bishops in the NT or something else? Again, the dual roles of liturgical leader/representative judge seem consonant with this OT pattern.

Last, since The Prince who sits on the throne of David is ultimately Jesus Christ who is both High Priest and King of Kings, Lord of all civil and liturgical affairs, it shouldn't be so surprising that we would mimic Him in our lives. He has made us "priests and kings" to our God after all. And perhaps there is something mutually benefiting, mutually establishing in these roles as well that we've lost in the post-Enlightenment world.


Pascal on Happiness

"All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves." -- Blaise Pascal

(Cited in Desiring God by John Piper, P. 19)


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

YHWH in Job

The name of Yahweh is used exactly 24 times in the book of Job. It shows up 11 times in the prologue and 12 times in the epilogue. It occurs once in the arguments of Job and his three friends, invoked by Job himself recognizing that all that has befallen him is from the hand of Yahweh (12:9).


Fifth Sunday in Trinity Season: Job 22-31

Opening Prayer: Almighty and gracious God, we know that you have predestined the salvation of this world through our Lord Jesus Christ. And we know that you have determined that this salvation will come about through the preaching of the gospel, through the declaration of your word. So we come before you humbly, as your people. Save us from our sins and equip us to be grace for the world.

We come now to the third cycle of discourses. During the last cycle we noticed the trajectory of Job’s speeches leading through death looking forward to the resurrection where “there is a judgment.” At this point it’s worth remembering that Job’s struggle runs parallel in some ways to the life of Jacob, whose wrestling culminates in being crowned a “prince” (Gen. 32:28).

Eliphaz’s Last Speech
Eliphaz says that even if Job was righteous it wouldn’t matter (22:2-3), but the bottom line is that Job isn’t righteous and that’s why God is correcting and judging Job (22:4). It’s interesting that Eliphaz says that God “enters into judgment” with Job since that is what Job has been asking for (e.g. 9:19, 13:3-19, 19:7). But Job seems to recognize this too (14:3), and it’s this judgment that he wants a further judgment on (23:4). He wants an appeal. Eliphaz finally gets specific and says that Job has oppressed the poor (22:5-20). Eliphaz says that Job should acquaint himself with God (22:21ff). He says that if Job does this, not only will Job be blessed materially (22:23-25), but Job will also pray and be heard (22:26-28). Eliphaz at least understands that this is Job’s chief desire: the ability to speak to God.

Job’s Response
Job goes right to the final point of Eliphaz: Job wants to find God, to present his judgment before Him (23:3-9). Job believes that God is busy turning Job’s dust into gold (23:10), but this is terrifying (23:14-17). Job again insists that both oppressors and oppressed return to the grave (24:2-24), and calls upon his interlocutors to prove him wrong if they can (24:25).

Bildad’s Last Speech
Bildad says that “rule” belongs to God (25:2). The word here connotes wisdom to rule, skill in understanding and leading in the world. It’s the same root word for “proverb.” Bildad’s last words are short and again insist that man is a worm that cannot be righteous before God (25:4-6). Literally, Bildad asks, “How can a man be righteous with God?” (25:4)

Job’s Response
Job’s response is striking since he immediately begins asking about Bildad’s righteousness. And for Job, righteousness is not an immaterial quality so much as it is particular actions in space and time (26:2-4). The implication is that God is righteous, and therefore He does save the weak. The narrator says here that Job continues “his discourse,” and the word here is the word for ruling wisely that Bildad ascribed to God. While discoursing on God’s wise rule (26:5-14), Job is entering into God’s wisdom. While God has taken away Job’s justice (in appearance and by accusation) Job will not put away his integrity (27:2-6). Some commentators suggest that 27:13-23 is actually Zophar’s last speech (since otherwise he has none), but given 27:7-12, it seems better to see Zophar silenced by Job. Job’s appeal to righteousness is grounded in confidence in God’s justice (27:13-28).

Wisdom and Summary
Job says that while silver and gold can be mined out of the earth (28:1-11), wisdom is not found in the land of the living (28:12-21). In a strange way Death has heard about wisdom because it is found with God (28:22-29). Job continues speaking with the wisdom of a king (29:1), and laments how far he has fallen (29:2-25). His glory has been turned to shame, and his people have turned against him (30:1-14). Terrors come upon his honor like the “wind” (30:15), and Job summarizes his situation saying that he has become like dust and ashes (30:19). Literally, he has become a “parable” or a “proverb” of dust and ashes (cf. 17:6), and we should not forget the associations of this word with kingly rule (think of Solomon, 1 Kgs. 3:9, 4:29-34). Previously, Job rejected the advice of the friends as “proverbs of ashes” (13:12); their wisdom was based on a different kind of justice, a different kind of rule. God is the source of true kingly rule (25:2), and Job having been reduced to a “proverb” begins speaking proverbs (27:1, 29:1). He rules from the ashes. The wind of the Spirit has blown over Job, remaking him, filling him with wisdom, and he speaks like a king. Job ends his words with a request to be shown his sin if he is hiding any like Adam (31:33), but what he really wants is an answer (31:35). Job would like to explain his side of the story to God, to approach Him like a prince (31:37).

Conclusion & Applications
Wisdom and understanding is fundamentally a poetic enterprise, it means being able to see and say what things are like. Job has struggled through a war of words, and his words have emerged as proverbs (27:1, 29:1). He has fought like a king, learning the wisdom of the dust of death.

What is the wisdom of the dust of death? From beginning to end, the Scriptures show dust as the place of man’s mortality, the place of the curse of sin, a symbol of judgment, and at the same time, the place of resurrection (19:25). Christ has turned the dust of death into the place of new creation. The curse has been turned into blessing. The Slave of all has become the Lord of all.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Closing Prayer: Gracious Father, all might, all wisdom, and all rule and dominion belongs to you. You rule all things by your great power and might, and in your glory you have invited us to join with you in that rule. You have poured out your Spirit of wisdom and strength on us, the Spirit of Jesus who is the Lord of all lords and king of all kings. Teach us to love your wisdom and your justice which delights in humility. And we pray in Jesus name who taught us to pray, singing…