Genesis 42, Job 8, Psalm 40

Read Genesis 42, Job 8, and Psalm 40.

This devotional is about Job 8:1-7

Sometimes people have a simplistic view of God and his work for us. Job’s friend Bildad the Shuhite here in Job 8 is one example. Bildad’s thought was that Job was full of hot air when he claimed not to deserve his suffering (v. 1). Since God is just, he thought, then Job’s children must have sinned. Therefore, in their death, they got what they deserved (vv. 3-4), according to Bildad.

On the other hand, Bildad thought that, if Job just repented and sought the Lord, God will give him everything back that he lost and then some: “But if you will seek God earnestly and plead with the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself on your behalf and restore you to your prosperous state. Your beginnings will seem humble, so prosperous will your future be” (vv. 6-7).

This shows that the Prosperity Gospel is a very old heresy. It sounds so simple and so good: Bad things happen to sinful people but God blesses the repentant and upright. Claim the truth that “Christ died for our flu according to the scriptures” and you’ll get better immediately, says the prosperity gospel. Seek God now, Job, and all your kids will come back to life. That’s Bildad’s simplistic understanding of God.

Job was written, in part, to cure us of this nonsense. Scripturally, God does promise blessings for obedience and punishment for disobedience. The problem is that, in this life, “blessings” are not primarily material goods or physical health. Those blessings will be fully realized in God’s kingdom but, until that kingdom exists on earth, people on earth–even believers–will still have to struggle with financial issues, sickness and death, and other human problems. God allows many kinds of sufferings in our lives to test our faith, deepen our faith, and purity our faith. Job received this testing, not for unconfessed sin, but for the glory of God so that his power would be demonstrated through Job’s faith.

It’s not wrong to desire health but it is wrong to suggest that someone’s spiritual life is damaged because they are sick or suffering. The thing that someone condemns someone else over might be the very thing God is using powerfully in their lives for his glory. So don’t impose on God simplistic, false human notions about God and his blessings. Instead, trust God in your suffering and let him testify to his own greatness through your faith as he faithfully carries you through the trials of life.

Genesis 35-36, Job 2, Psalm 34

Read Genesis 35-36, Job 2, and Psalm 34.

This devotional is about Job 2.

In Job 1 we were introduced to this famous man of the Old Testament. Although he is not tied through any genealogy to Israel, he was someone who worshipped the true God. As 1:1-2 told us, “he feared God and shunned evil.”

In chapter 1 we learned that Job loved God, had a large, loving family, and was financially prosperous. God pointed him out to Satan as an example of spiritual greatness. Satan responded by asking and receiving permission to test Job’s faith.

After taking everything Job had but his wife, here in chapter 2 Satan received permission to cover Job’s body with painful sores. He was now suffering immensely inside and outside. His wife, also a victim of everything Job suffered except for the sores, was unable to contain her anger at God. “Curse God and die!” she said to her husband in verse 9. In verse 10, Job responded with a condensed form of his understanding of discipleship: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” The longer version was spoken in Job 1:20-21: “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.”

In both of these quotations, we are challenged to accept our place as the “creature” in the “Creator-creature” hierarchy. God is the Creator; he owns all things, including us, right down to the length and quality of our lives and the health (or not) of our bodies. Anything we have is on loan to us from God because we came out naked and leave naked (1:21a-b). If it was loaned to us by God, he has the right as the Creator to reclaim it anytime he wants: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.” Our mission in life is, whether happy or sad, prospering or suffering, to worship and praise God: “may the name of the Lord be praised.” When Job asked his wife, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” he was speaking reverently and in submission to God, his Lord and Creator.

But Job’s attitude is a tough one to replicate, isn’t it? God did not create us to suffer; he created us to worship and serve him in joy. It was the entrance of sin that brought suffering into the world. Since God could have stopped the entrance of sin or the causes of our suffering, it feels unjust to us when suffering comes into our lives.

This is why suffering–trials–is the test of our faith. When we curse God, we call him unjust. We appeal to our own sense of right and wrong, a sense that is permanently skewed in our direction. We want mercy when we do wrong but justice when we feel that wrong has been done to us. God allows us to suffer to expose our unbelief, the weaknesses in our faith, so that they can be purified from our hearts and we can trust him even more purely and fully.

Everyone reading this is suffering in some way, or emerging from suffering, or heading toward it, probably unknowingly. Let the presence of pain in your life strengthen your walk with God. Let it cause you to turn to him for hope and comfort not away from him in anger or bitterness. Let it teach you how to truly praise God from the heart and trust him. Remember that Job did not have the answer to “why” that we were given in chapters 1-2. All he had was his theology and his circumstances. When those two seemed irreconcilable, he went with his theology and staked his hope there.

May God grace us to do the same.

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(By the way: people refer to Job sometimes as “the oldest book in the Bible.” It might be, but we really don’t know. My Old Testament professor in seminary wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Job and he thought the author could be Solomon based on the Hebrew text. But Job the man probably lived prior to Abraham, so his story is quite old regardless of when God inspired someone to write it.)

Genesis 29, Esther 5, Psalm 28

Read Genesis 29, Esther 5, and Psalm 28.

This devotional is about Genesis 29.

Laban may have thought himself to be very clever. He managed to get 14 years of work and marry off both of his daughters at the same time.

Everyone else, however, suffered in this situation, but no one suffered more than Leah. Moses, the author of Genesis, recorded the difference in attractiveness between Leah and her little sister Rachel (v. 17). Surely Leah herself must have realized it. Watching her father trick Jacob into marrying her must not have felt good. She must have wondered if Laban felt he wouldn’t be able to find her a husband the usual way because she wasn’t attractive enough. She must have felt anxious about Jacob’s reaction when he found out what Laban had done. No doubt she was crushed by his disappointment with her and his continuing desire to marry Rachel.

The only thing that she seemed to have in her favor was her fertility. This gave her an advantage over Rachel who had difficulty conceiving (v. 31b). Since Jacob loved Rachel so much more than Leah, it seems likely that Rachel had, um, more opportunities to conceive than Leah. Yet Leah was the one producing the boys that Jacob wanted. Each child she bore was interpreted as a gift from the Lord, which it was (v. 31). Although her marriage was unhappy and her family life was stressful, Leah looked to the Lord for help and was grateful for his favor in her life.

So many people suffer from sad, unfixable situations. Thinking about Leah’s life can give us some perspective. We all have problems, heartbreaks, and disappointments in life but most of us have better lives than Leah ever had. Her marriage was sad from the beginning, from her first full day as a married woman. Most of us, probably, had (and have) a life that is better than that. Despite how messed up her situation was, Leah was thankful to the Lord for each son she bore to Jacob. Her motives were not always perfect, but her thanks to God was sincere.

When your life is unhappy, follow Leah’s advice and consider ways in which the Lord has blessed you. Praise him for what he has given you; don’t grieve over the things you have been denied. Leah’s disappointments in life were opportunities for her to learn how to walk with God. Her words after the birth of each son suggests that she made the most of those opportunities. May we do the same when we experience painful situations in our own lives.

Deuteronomy 28, Jeremiah 20, Psalms 75-77

Read Deuteronomy 28, Jeremiah 20, Psalms 75-77 today.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 20.

Jeremiah’s fears in chapter 18 finally materialized here in chapter 20. Despite the fact that he is doing the will of God, God wills for him to suffer persecution. As a direct result of his prophesies (v. 1b-2a), one of the priests had Jeremiah beaten and confined to the stocks (vv. 1-2). When Jeremiah was released the next day, he had a few choice prophesies for this “man of God,” namely that he would personally experience the Babylonian exile and die there in that foreign land (vv. 3-6). 

Jeremiah has a few choice words for the Lord, too, following (or perhaps during) this episode. He complained first about the social cost of serving the Lord (vv. 7-8). Imagine being a prophet of God in a culture that was supposed to belong to God but where nobody but you cared anything about following God’s word. Imagine that even the priests were out to get you and, when they persecuted you, they did it in public so everyone entering the temple could make fun of you while you were bound in the stocks. That’s the tough job God had called Jeremiah to do.

It was so tough, in fact, that he decided to shut up and stop doing it. But according to verses 8-9 God’s word refused to be contained within his heart and mind, so he resumed his prophesies against his better judgment. As a result, even those he considered to be friends wanted him to pay for what he was saying (v. 10). Here, then was a man who was caught in an absolute quandary. Speaking up was too costly. Being silent was impossible.

What to do?

The only thing Jeremiah could do was appeal to God. In verses 11-12 he committed his persecutors to God’s justice. In verse 13, he resolved to praise the Lord for the deliverance he received, but that did not keep him from experiencing deep anguish over what his life had become (vv. 13-18). It would be nice to see this chapter end in a more tidy way, wrapped up with a nice pretty bow of worship and thanksgiving. However, Jeremiah’s prayer in this chapter ended with painful words wishing he had never been born. Spoiler alert: Jeremiah 21 just moved on to the next situation Jeremiah faced. There was no happy resolution to the trauma of his heart.

What do we make of all of this? First, that we should not expect a pain free life just because we are serving God. In fact, serving God may make life more painful and troublesome than it is for those who only pretend to serve God (like Pashhur the priest at the beginning of chapter 20). God’s will for your life may involve suffering. That suffering may be the direct result of the fact that you are serving him–not because of any defect in Godbut as the result of living in a sinful world which hates God, seeks to suppress his truth, and persecute his people.

Second, we should understand that God is not angered when we speak to him out of our emotions—even when those emotions are negatively directed toward him. While it is certainly sinful to blaspheme the Lord, God compassionately understands how painful this life and doing his will can be. No one felt the pain of doing God’s will more than Christ himself did. So there is no inherent sin in questioning God’s will or wondering about God’s ways.

At the end of our anxious cries, however, we need to look to the Lord in faith even if we never understand in this life. What we should not do is look away from him in unbelief; eventually God’s justice will be done and there will be rewards and comfort for those who serve him, even when it is hard. Let Jeremiah’s prayer in this passage, then, encourage you to be straight with God in your praying. He knows what your thoughts and feelings are anyway, so why not pour them out before him rather than bottling them up?

Deuteronomy 23, Jeremiah 15, 2 Corinthians 1

Read Deuteronomy 23, Jeremiah 15, and 2 Corinthians 1.

Paul wrote this letter to the church at Corinth to continue to address problems in the church, just as he did in 1 Corinthians. One problem, which he addressed in verses 12-24, was criticism he received for changing his travel plans after he had told the Corinthians he was coming to visit them. Before he got to that issue, however, he took time to praise God for how God had comforted him during the troubles he and his ministry partners had experienced in Asia (v. 8).

Why does God allow problems into our lives? Why aren’t his servants exempt from problems as a reward for their ministry of the gospel? There are at least four answers and three of them are discussed in this chapter.

First, God allows problems into our lives because we live in a fallen world. Until the redemption of all things is complete, problems will be part of life for everyone–believers and non-believers alike. This we know from other texts, not this chapter.

Second, God allows problems into our lives so that he can comfort us and teach us to comfort others (v. 4). The best people to help you when you are persecuted are those who have endured persecution themselves. The best people to help you when you face a life-threatening illness are those who have been there. They are the “best people” to help because they can empathize with your struggles more deeply and more personally. They know what encouraged and helped them when they were struggling, so that makes them more equipped to help you.

Third, God allows problems into our lives to test and strengthen our faith. Verse 6 says that problems produce “in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.” That “patient endurance” is not just giving up and taking it, like when you’re stuck in stopped traffic on the freeway and there is nothing you can do about it. “Patient endurance” is the ability to trust God throughout the duration of a trial rather than giving up faith in him. Trials reveal whether we are truly trusting in God or whether we are self-deceived about our faith. They also teach us to look to God for comfort, help, and deliverance which strengthens our faith when God delivers us. Verse 9 made the same point when it said, “this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” For true Christians, trials drive us closer to God while problems in life drive unbelievers further from him. That doesn’t mean you’ll never question God; read the Psalms and you’ll see plenty of verses that question God. Instead, while your faith may waver and feel week, it will ultimately hold and eventually get stronger through trials.

Fourth, God allows problems into our lives to teach others how to pray. Verse 11 says, “…as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” As you go through problems in life and ask others to pray for you, your trial gives them the opportunity to learn intercessory prayer. When the trial ends, it gives other believers who prayed for you the opportunity to give thanks to God.

What problems and struggles are you facing right now? Which of these lessons do you feel God is teaching you most directly? If you’re not facing a trial in your life right now, give thanks for God’s favor but study the list above, too, to fortify yourself for when the problems arrive.

Genesis 46, Job 12, Hebrews 4

Read Genesis 46, Job 12, and Hebrews 4 today. This devotional is about Job 12.

Imagine experiencing the devastation Job experienced and then, when your friends came over to comfort you, they began to insist that this was your fault. That’s where Job found himself in these chapters. His friends took turns explaining that God is just and so Job must deserve what happened to him. Since they believed that as a given, they urged Job to repent.

When Job responded to his friends he insisted on his innocence, cried out to God for an explanation, and complained about his suffering.

In the previous chapter, Job 11, his friend Zophar rebuked Job for his words (11:1-12) and promised Job that if he just cut the nonsense and turned to God, his life would get better. “Yet if you devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand… Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning” (vv. 13-14a, 17). 

Here in Job 12, Job began his response and Job’s speech in this cycle goes through chapter 14.

The first four verses of this chapter are harsh. In them, Job struck back verbally at his friends for the things they have said to him. In verse 5 Job said, “Those who are at ease have contempt for misfortune.” That statement was meant as a rebuke to his friends. They have a smug sense of security that causes them to look down on Job for what he suffered.

The problem with Job’s friends was not that their theology was completely wrong. The problem was that they made simplistic assumptions about Job and then applied their theology based on those assumptions.

Imagine that you were on a jury in a criminal case. As you enter the jury box, you look over at the person sitting at that defendant’s table. Just because they are sitting there, they look pretty guilty. It is easy to rationalize that the police would not have arrested them nor would the prosecutor have charged them if they didn’t have really good reasons to think that they are guilty. If you assume–as many of us do–that most criminal defendants are probably guilty, then it is tempting to pass judgment on the defendant without really weighing the evidence or applying the standard, “innocent until proven guilty” in a rigorous way. After all, you don’t commit crimes, so you’ll never be in that guy’s shoes.

But if you were wrongly accused of a crime, you would want the jury to think differently than the thinking I just described in the previous paragraph. You’d want the jury to listen carefully, weigh all the evidence and–most of all–empathize with what it would feel like to be charged and convicted of a crime you didn’t commit.

The point of all this for us is that, when our lives a going well and we feel secure, we should not “have contempt for [the] misfortune” of others.” We don’t know everything about anyone and we certainly don’t know the mind of God. So be careful about assuming that someone who is suffering deserves what they are suffering and that it is their own fault.

Being a good friend to someone who his hurting starts with empathizing with their pain. You shouldn’t ignore obvious sin but you also shouldn’t assume that someone who’s suffering has sinned and deserves it.

Genesis 40, Job 6, Matthew 28

Read Genesis 40, Job 6, and Matthew 28.

This devotional is about Job 6.

In chapter 6, Job continued lamenting the painful afflictions that had come into his life. He had asked his wife in chapter 2:10b: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” But now the sorrow of his reversal in life was weighing down on him much more heavily. He viewed the devastation he had experienced as a direct attack from God (v. 4) and wished that God would just kill him so that he could die without cursing God (vv. 8-10). Job was tempted to curse God because he felt there was no future for him, nothing to look forward to, no encouragement left for this life (vv. 11-23). He concluded this chapter by asking for proof of his disobedience (vv. 24-30).

Although we know personally and theologically that Job was not perfectly sinless, we also know from chapters 1-2 that God did not allow these problems into Job’s life to punish him.

But Job didn’t know why God allowed all this trouble in his life. In that way, he’s like us most of the time. If I break the law and get caught, then I know that the “trouble” in my life is my fault while I’m being prosecuted.

But if I’m living my life as I always have and suddenly my house catches fire and burns to the ground, then I am left to wonder. Why did God allow this? Was it something I did?

When we cannot see a direct cause for the problems in our lives, we tend to speculate in one of two directions. Either:

  1. I did something and God is punishing me for it
  2. Or God is mistreating me unjustly.

This is what Job was wondering so he demanded that God answer him. In verses 29-30 he said, “Relent, do not be unjust; reconsider, for my integrity is at stake.  Is there any wickedness on my lips? Can my mouth not discern malice?”

If you were one of Job’s friends, how would you respond to the feelings and questions he expressed in this chapter? His friends were sure that God was not unjust so they were likewise certain that Job did something wrong.

Is that how we treat people who are hurting and dealing with problems? Do we assume that God is punishing them for something?

That isn’t comforting to anyone, but could it be correct? How would God want us to respond to someone in Job’s situation?

Maybe we know enough about Job’s story to give the right answer biblically. But does that knowledge guide us when we are talking with hurting people? Can we offer friendship and comfort and encouragement to other believers without wondering or implying that they are somehow to blame for their suffering?

Genesis 39, Job 5, Matthew 27

Read Genesis 39, Job 5, Matthew 27.

This devotional which is about Job 5.

Job 1 and 2 record the discussion God and Satan had about Job and the calamity that God allowed Satan to bring into Job’s life. At the end of chapter 2, Job was visited by friends who wept with him and “…sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights” (v. 13). Job broke that silence in chapter 3 with a bitter expression of the turmoil in his soul.

The first of Job’s friends to speak was Eliphaz the Temanite. His response to Job began in chapter 4 and extends to our reading today, Job 5. He began his speech by complimenting Job’s wise words for others who were in trouble (4:1-6), but then Eliphaz began to rebuke Job gently for not applying his words of wisdom to himself (4:7-21). 

Here in Job 5, Eliphaz continued his response to Job. His message is, in summary:

  • Don’t be bitter (vv. 1-7, but especially v. 2).
  • Appeal to God to fix all this if you think you’re really innocent (vv. 8-16).
  • But be honest with yourself and realize that God is putting you under discipline (vv. 17-27).

The assumption that Eliphaz and all of Job’s friends had was that Job was suffering because he had sinned and was now experiencing the discipline of God in his life. While Eliphaz did not directly call on Job to repent, his instruction “do not despise the discipline of the Almighty” (v. 17b) insinuates that Job should repent. Eliphaz’s sweeping description of what a good life Job could have in verses 18-26 is all designed to persuade Job to stop hiding his sin, stop living in denial about it, and come clean with God. This chapter, and Eliphaz’s speech, ends with these words, “We have examined this, and it is true. So hear it and apply it to yourself.”

If we didn’t have Job 1-2 or God’s speech at the end of Job, I think we’d be tempted to agree with Eliphaz. I know I would be tempted to agree with him. Job’s problems came so fast and so ferociously that it is hard not to see them as deliberate acts of God. If Job were as innocent as he claims, why would a good and loving God treat him so badly? it makes no sense to us, humanly speaking.

That’s a big reason why the book of Job exists. It exists to challenge and correct our simplistic ideas about suffering. People tend to see God’s blessings as proof that he approves of how they are living. We also tend to see problems as proof that something is wrong. That’s what Eliphaz thought, but he didn’t know anything that he thought he knew. Instead of being spiritually helpful to Job, Eliphaz compounded Job’s suffering with his words.

We should learn from the book of Job that God works in this world in ways that are more complicated than we think. If you are talking with another believer about his or her problems, you don’t know why God allowed those problems to happen. So, it is unkind and unhelpful to make assumptions and then apply God’s word based on those assumptions.

Are you kind and loving when you talk with other believers who are suffering? Or do you–even if you mean well–make the suffering more painful? By all means do what you can to speak truth to other believers, but ask God for wisdom and discernment and make sure that you are kind and loving instead of self-assured and harsh.