Have I No Power to Deliver?

1 Thus says the Lord:
“Where is your mother’s certificate of divorce,
    with which I sent her away?
Or which of my creditors is it
    to whom I have sold you?
Behold, for your iniquities you were sold,
    and for your transgressions your mother was sent away.
Why, when I came, was there no man;
    why, when I called, was there no one to answer?
Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem?
    Or have I no power to deliver?
Behold, by my rebuke I dry up the sea,
    I make the rivers a desert;
their fish stink for lack of water
    and die of thirst.
I clothe the heavens with blackness
    and make sackcloth their covering.”
Isaiah 50:1-3 ESV

The first three verses of chapter 50 continue the theme established in the preceding chapter. God knows that when the people of Judah find themselves in captivity in Babylon, they will accuse Him of abandonment. He addresses His children, the people of Judah, as if they are already in exile, and He defends Himself against their charges of forsaking their mother, Israel. He had not divorced her and sent her away – even though He had every right to do so. She had been unfaithful to Him. She had committed spiritual adultery against Him, not once, but repeatedly. And He had not sold her into slavery in order to pay a debt. God owes no man anything. He is obligated to no one.

This was not a case of God having grown discontent with His wife, Israel, and jettisoning her for a younger, more loving spouse. He makes it very clear to His children that their captivity was their own fault. It was their sins that had caused God to do what He had done.

“No, you were sold because of your sins.
    And your mother, too, was taken because of your sins.” – Isaiah 50:1 NLT

When the inevitable consequences of their repeated sins against God finally came to fruition, the people of Judah would be quick to blame God. They would see themselves as the innocent victims, having been abandoned by their heavenly Father. But God would have none of it. He would not allow them to deny their own guilt and cast dispersions on His character and integrity.

And what makes Judah’s sin so egregious is that they had been warned by God, repeatedly. He had sent His prophets, like Isaiah and Jeremiah to call them to repentance. And they had the northern kingdom of Israel as living proof of what happens when God’s people remain stubbornly unwilling to heed His warnings and return to Him. The northern tribes of Israel had rejected God’s calls to repent and had suffered the consequences.

When Josiah was king of Judah, the Lord said to me, “Jeremiah, you have no doubt seen what wayward Israel has done. You have seen how she went up to every high hill and under every green tree to give herself like a prostitute to other gods. Yet even after she had done all that, I thought that she might come back to me. But she did not. Her sister, unfaithful Judah, saw what she did. She also saw that I gave wayward Israel her divorce papers and sent her away because of her adulterous worship of other gods. Even after her unfaithful sister Judah had seen this, she still was not afraid, and she too went and gave herself like a prostitute to other gods. Because she took her prostitution so lightly, she defiled the land through her adulterous worship of gods made of wood and stone. In spite of all this, Israel’s sister, unfaithful Judah, has not turned back to me with any sincerity; she has only pretended to do so,” says the Lord. – Jeremiah 3:8-10 NLT

Israel had been conquered by the Assyrians, had its capital city of Samaria plundered, and its people taken as captives to Nineveh. And the people of Judah had watched all this happen, but had remained unmoved and unimpressed by God’s judgment against their brothers and sisters. They continued to forsake God and pursue false gods. And al the while, they attempted to fool God into believing that they remained faithful by going through the motions of religious ritual and outward law keeping. But it was all a facade, intended to deceive God into believing that they remained devoted and sincere.

And God accuses them of ignoring His many calls to repent.

“Why was no one there when I came?
    Why didn’t anyone answer when I called?” – Isaiah 50:2 NLT

Isn’t it interesting how, when we find ourselves in trouble, we immediately call out to God for rescue. Yet, when we are living in sin and enjoying the temporal pleasures that sin offers, He calls out to us, and we ignore Him. He pleads with us to repent and return to Him, but we are too enamored with the false sense of joy and contentment that a lifestyle of sin provides.

That God did not prevent the fall of Judah had nothing to do with a lack of power on His part. He could have, but He chose not to. And He reminds them that His power is unlimited.

“For I can speak to the sea and make it dry up!
    I can turn rivers into deserts covered with dying fish.
I dress the skies in darkness,
    covering them with clothes of mourning.” – Isaiah 50:3 NLT

All of this is reminiscent of the story of Job, the man of God who found himself having lost everything – his children, his health and all his wealth. He was under intense emotional, physical and spiritual attack, wrestling with trying to understand the why behind his condition. And he stated:

“If only I knew where to find God,
    I would go to his court.
I would lay out my case
    and present my arguments.” – Job 23:3-4 NLT

Job was anxious for an opportunity to plead his case before God. All his friends had accused him of being a sinner suffering the obvious consequences of God’s anger. But Job had pleaded innocence, persistently claiming that he done nothing deserving of his fate. And he was convinced that, if he could just have a hearing before God, he would receive a fair trial and a just decision.

“Then I would listen to his reply
    and understand what he says to me.
Would he use his great power to argue with me?
    No, he would give me a fair hearing.
Honest people can reason with him,
    so I would be forever acquitted by my judge.” – Job 23:5-7 NLT

But Job felt like God was nowhere to be found. He claimed, “I go east, but he is not there. I go west, but I cannot find him” (Job 23:8 NLT). God seemed hidden and concealed and yet, Job was able to say:

“But he knows where I am going.
    And when he tests me, I will come out as pure as gold.
For I have stayed on God’s paths;
    I have followed his ways and not turned aside.
I have not departed from his commands,
    but have treasured his words more than daily food.” – Job 23:10-12 NLT

The people of Judah could make no such claim. They were guilty as charged and fully deserved the punishment they had received. Job had suffered greatly, but had done nothing to deserve it. And yet, despite his innocence, he knew that casting blame on God was not the answer. In fact, he wrote, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28 NLT).

Had the people of Judah only understood the reality of that thought. But they had no fear of God. In spite of what had happened to Israel, they continued to emulate the sins of Israel, forsaking God for lifeless idols made by human hands. They practiced deceit and lived a lie. They ignored God’s laws and violated His calls for justice and righteousness. They turned their backs on the very one who had the power to deliver them. And they would suffer the consequences for their sins.

But what about innocent Job? He had done nothing to deserve his sorrowful circumstances. What did God do for Him?

…the Lord restored his fortunes. In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before! Then all his brothers, sisters, and former friends came and feasted with him in his home. And they consoled him and comforted him because of all the trials the Lord had brought against him. And each of them brought him a gift of money and a gold ring. So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning. – Job 42:10-12 NLT

God blessed and restored him. And, amazingly, that was exactly what God planned to do for the rebellious nation of Judah. He would bless and restore them. Yes, they would suffer for their sins. They would pay the price for their disobedience. But God, the faithful, covenant-keeping God, would redeem them from their captivity and restore them to the land of promise. Despite the gravity of their circumstances, His hand was not shortened, and His power to redeem was not diminished in any way. And the day will  come when the people of Judah and Israel will acknowledge God just as Job did.

“I had only heard about you before,
    but now I have seen you with my own eyes.
I take back everything I said,
    and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” – Job 42:5-6 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Yet I Will Praise Him

A writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, after he had been sick and had recovered from his sickness:

10 I said, In the middle of my days
    I must depart;
I am consigned to the gates of Sheol
    for the rest of my years.
11 I said, I shall not see the Lord,
    the Lord in the land of the living;
I shall look on man no more
    among the inhabitants of the world.
12 My dwelling is plucked up and removed from me
    like a shepherd’s tent;
like a weaver I have rolled up my life;
    he cuts me off from the loom;
from day to night you bring me to an end;
13     I calmed myself until morning;
like a lion he breaks all my bones;
    from day to night you bring me to an end.

14 Like a swallow or a crane I chirp;
    I moan like a dove.
My eyes are weary with looking upward.
    O Lord, I am oppressed; be my pledge of safety!
15 What shall I say? For he has spoken to me,
    and he himself has done it.
I walk slowly all my years
    because of the bitterness of my soul.

16 O Lord, by these things men live,
    and in all these is the life of my spirit.
    Oh restore me to health and make me live!
17 Behold, it was for my welfare
    that I had great bitterness;
but in love you have delivered my life
    from the pit of destruction,
for you have cast all my sins
    behind your back.
18 For Sheol does not thank you;
    death does not praise you;
those who go down to the pit do not hope
    for your faithfulness.
19 The living, the living, he thanks you,
    as I do this day;
the father makes known to the children
    your faithfulness.

20 The Lord will save me,
    and we will play my music on stringed instruments
all the days of our lives,
    at the house of the Lord.

21 Now Isaiah had said, “Let them take a cake of figs and apply it to the boil, that he may recover.” 22 Hezekiah also had said, “What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of the Lord?” – Isaiah 38:9-21 ESV

Hezekiah had been severely ill, and the prophet Isaiah had given him the divine prognosis that his illness would end in death. In his despair, Hezekiah prayed to God and received the news that he would be healed and his life would be extended an additional 15 years. The book of 2 Kings provides additional details concerning Hezekiah’s miraculous recovery.

Then Isaiah said, “Make an ointment from figs.” So Hezekiah’s servants spread the ointment over the boil, and Hezekiah recovered! – 2 Kings 20:7 NLT

Sometime after these events, Hezekiah composed a poem commemorating the occasion and recording the diverse range of emotions he had experienced.

Hezekiah had been rocked by the news of his pending death. It was unexpected and had caught him completely by surprise. Like anyone facing the prospect of an untimely death, Hezekiah thought about all those he would leave behind.

“Never again will I see the Lord God
    while still in the land of the living.
Never again will I see my friends
    or be with those who live in this world.” – Isaiah 38:11 NLT

He couldn’t help but feel that he was being robbed of life, and denied the joy of experiencing all the pleasures that come to the living. Like all men, he had a difficult time imagining what existence beyond death might look like. He refers to his soul being confined to Sheol, the abode of the dead. The ancient Jews did not have a well-developed understanding of the afterlife. Their concept of the blessings of God was closely tied to life on this side of death, not beyond it. Which led Hezekiah to wonder whether his premature death was the result of his own sin. He couldn’t help but consider that he had somehow displeased God and his terminal illness was a form of divine punishment. For the Jews, disease was viewed as a sign of God’s displeasure. The apostle John records a scene from the life of Jesus that reflects this common misperception.

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” – John 9:1-2 NLT

The disciples were reflecting the commonly held view that blindness was a curse, not a blessing. So, this man or his parents must have done something that angered God and brought about his blindness.

Hezekiah shared this mindset and saw his illness as a curse from God. Which led Hezekiah to pray incessantly, his voice sounding like the coos of a dove as he moaned out his pleas for God’s mercy. And yet, he somehow believed that his calls for healing would be ineffectual.

“But what could I say?
    For he himself sent this sickness.
Now I will walk humbly throughout my years
    because of this anguish I have felt.” – Isaiah 38:15 NLT

His illness was God’s doing, and there was nothing he could do about it. But his poem takes a dramatic turn at this point. Suddenly, Hezekiah begins to reflect his gratefulness for the dark night of the soul he experienced.

“Lord, your discipline is good,
    for it leads to life and health.
You restore my health
    and allow me to live!
Yes, this anguish was good for me,
    for you have rescued me from death
    and forgiven all my sins.” – Isaiah 38:15-17 NLT

God provided healing and the assurance that his life would be extended another 15 years. Hezekiah’s sorrow was immediately replaced with joy. His despair was replaced with delight in God’s mercy and unmerited favor. God was allowing him to live and, not only that, forgiving his sins in the process. Because Hezekiah believed his illness was the result of sin, his healing could only have happened if God forgave his sin.

You can sense Hezekiah’s rather earth-bound and limited view of life and the afterlife. From his human perspective, life was essential if one were going to praise God.

“For the dead cannot praise you;
    they cannot raise their voices in praise.
Those who go down to the grave
    can no longer hope in your faithfulness.” – Isaiah 38:18 NLT

He shared the commonly-held view that this life was where God’s blessings were to be enjoyed and where our devotion to God was to be displayed. You see this mindset reflected in the psalms.

The heavens belong to the Lord,
    but he has given the earth to all humanity.
The dead cannot sing praises to the Lord,
    for they have gone into the silence of the grave. – Psalm 115:16-17 NLT

Even King David had shared this view of life and death.

Return, O Lord, and rescue me.
    Save me because of your unfailing love.
For the dead do not remember you.
    Who can praise you from the grave? – Psalm 6:4-5 NLT

From Hezekiah’s perspective, long life provided an opportunity to praise God. “Only the living can praise you as I do today” (Isaiah 38:19 NLT). And he intended to take advantage of every single moment God was going to give him on this earth.

I will sing his praises with instruments
every day of my life
    in the Temple of the Lord.” – Isaiah 38:20 NLT

Hezekiah’s desire to spend his remaining years praising God is commendable. His ecstatic reaction to the news of his healing is natural and normal. He had been facing certain death and, suddenly, he had been given a new lease on life. In the excitement of the moment, Hezekiah expressed his desire to repay God by dedicating his life to the praise and glory of God. And again, this reaction by Hezekiah is commendable, but it raises some unavoidable questions: Are we only willing to praise God when He gives us the desires of our heart? Had God not chosen to heal Hezekiah, would the king have praised the Almighty anyway? Would he have accepted the will of God even when it seemed to contradict his own human understanding of what it means to be blessed by God?

The prophet Habakkuk provides us with a much more balanced illustration of how we, as humans, should understand and respond to the seeming incongruities of life.

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
    and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
    and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
    and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
    I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! – Habakkuk 3:17-18 NLT

The apostle Paul shared this same viewpoint, declaring to the believers in Rome that, even in the face of trials and troubles, we have ample reason to praise God.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. – Roman 5:3-5 NLT

In Hezekiah, we have reflected a similar but significantly different sentiment.

Lord, your discipline is good,
    for it leads to life and health.
You restore my health
    and allow me to live! – Isaiah 38:16 NLT

The question is whether we, as those who believe in the sovereignty of God, are willing to accept both the good and the bad of life as coming through His hands. It was right for Hezekiah to rejoice in God’s healing. It was appropriate for him to respond with praise and adoration at his miraculous restoration by God. But the fact is, God does not always heal. Things do not always turn out for the better. Those with terminal illnesses do not always receive an additional 15-years of life. But those facts do not alter the goodness of God. They do not do anything to diminish the divine sovereignty of God. In our greatest moments of darkness and despair, our attitude should be that of Job who, when facing the loss of all that he had, was able to say:

“Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” – Job 2:10 NLT

Praising God in the good times is easy. Praising Him the difficult times requires faith and a strong belief that His will is always right and His plan, while not always clear to us, has our best interest in mind.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

What God Is About To Do.

Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind are also seven years of famine. It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt, but after them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will consume the land, and the plenty will be unknown in the land by reason of the famine that will follow, for it will be very severe. And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about. Now therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years. And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.” – Genesis 41:25-36 ESV

If you were going to have to interpret the dreams of the most powerful man in the world, wouldn’t you prefer that you have something positive to share? Nobody likes to hear bad news, especially someone like Pharaoh, who was probably used to having everyone around him tell him what he wanted to hear. But Joseph gave Pharaoh the truth, telling him, “God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do” (Genesis 41:28 ESV). According to God’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s two dreams, there was only one meaning. There was going to be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of drought and famine. The seven years of agricultural bounty would be completely consumed when the famine came. And as if that news was not bad enough, Joseph tells Pharaoh, “the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about” (Genesis 41:32 ESV).

This is going to be a divine act. Which brings us back to the issue of God’s timing. Why had Joseph had to stay in prison for two years? Why had God waited all that time before causing Pharaoh to have his dreams? It was all part of His divine plan and according to His perfect timing. At just the right time, Pharaoh had his dreams. At just the right time, the cupbearer remembered what Joseph had done for him in the prison. At just the right time, Joseph was brought from the prison to the palace to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. And it would prove perfect timing, not only for Joseph but for the land of Egypt. The events foretold in Pharaoh’s dreams were about to take place. And Joseph gives him some very sound counsel:

“Therefore, Pharaoh should find an intelligent and wise man and put him in charge of the entire land of Egypt. Then Pharaoh should appoint supervisors over the land and let them collect one-fifth of all the crops during the seven good years. Have them gather all the food produced in the good years that are just ahead and bring it to Pharaoh’s storehouses. Store it away, and guard it so there will be food in the cities. That way there will be enough to eat when the seven years of famine come to the land of Egypt. Otherwise this famine will destroy the land.” – Genesis 41:33-36 NLT

The passage doesn’t say this, but it seems clear that Joseph’s counsel to Pharaoh had been given to him by God. This was not some off-the-cuff advice that Joseph threw in for free. It was part of the interpretation. God had shown Pharaoh what He was about to do. Now He was telling Pharaoh what he should do to prepare for the inevitable. Honestly, I doubt that Joseph had any idea that the words coming out of his mouth were in reference to himself. That kind of grandstanding doesn’t fit the kind of character he has displayed throughout the story so far. Joseph wasn’t trying to audition for a job. We know that he was a hard worker, a good manager of the affairs of others, and had a track record of having God’s hand of blessing on his life. But there is no indication that Joseph was trying to get out of jail by jockeying for a role in the royal cabinet. He was simply sharing the words of God. The remarkable advice he gave Pharaoh was divinely inspired, not the result of human discernment. God was giving ample warning about the events to come and the steps to prepare for them. The famine had a divine purpose behind it. So did the seven years of plenty. But only those who heeded the Lord’s counsel and followed His prescribed steps of preparation would survive. And survival was at the heart of God’s message. This famine would be widespread and have an impact far beyond the borders of Egypt. And God was preparing the land of Egypt to be His divine resource for rescuing the descendants of Abraham and fulfilling His promises to them.

So often, the ways of God make no sense to us. His methods appear to be convoluted and confusing. We wonder why He does things the way He does. We question His reasoning and complain about His timing. Whether we intend to or not, when we doubt the ways of God, we are really questioning the wisdom of God. And He has some fairly strong words for those who raise questions about His wisdom.

“Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.” – Job 36:2-3 NLT

This statement was addressed to Job, who had been through a great deal of suffering and loss. He had some legitimate questions about all that had happened to him. He was confused by all the pain and persecution he had endured. And his confusion caused him to lash out at God, questioning His ways and raising doubts about His wisdom. So God had a few questions of His own for Job:

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much.” – Job 36:4 NLT

“Have you ever commanded the morning to appear and caused the dawn to rise in the east?” – Job 36:12 NLT

“Have you explored the springs from which the seas come? Have you explored their depths?” – Job 36:16 NLT

“Can you shout to the clouds and make it rain? Can you make lightning appear and cause it to strike as you direct?” – Job 36:34-35 NLT

God’s questions to Job are numerous and come in relentless waves. Then He adds one last question: “Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?” (Job 40:2 NLT).

We may not understand God’s ways, but we have no right to question His wisdom. He is God Almighty. He is the creator of all things. He is the God of the universe. His wisdom is beyond our comprehension. His methods are too much for our minds to grasp. But we can know this. He is all-wise, all-powerful and all-loving. He knows what He is doing and what He does is always right.

He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT

The LORD is righteous in everything he does; he is filled with kindness. – Psalm 145:17 NLT

 

When God Is Silent.

I cry to you for help and you do not answer me; I stand, and you only look at me. You have turned cruel to me; with the might of your hand you persecute me. You lift me up on the wind; you make me ride on it, and you toss me about in the roar of the storm. For I know that you will bring me to death and to the house appointed for all living. – Job 30:20-23 ESV

Job was in a very difficult place. He was suffering greatly and was struggling to understand the why behind it all. His friends were blaming all his problems on sin. But Job kept defending his own innocence, insisting that he had done nothing wrong. His pain was real. His losses were great. His confusion was intense. So he did what came natural to him – he called out to God. He prayed, sharing his pain and suffering with the only one who could do anything about it. But from Job’s perspective, God was silent. Job remembered a time when God had been his friend and things had been so much better. “Oh, that I were as in the months of old, as in the days when God watched over me, when his lamp shone upon my head, and by his light I walked through darkness, as I was in my prime, when the friendship of God was upon my tent, when the Almighty was yet with me, when my children were all around me” (Job 29:2-5 ESV). Job longed for the good old days. He wished that things were back to the way they used to be. In those days Job was somebody special. He was well-respected and a pillar of the community. He enjoyed the blessings of God and the admiration of men. But now he was a social pariah. He was seen as sinner who had been punished by an angry God. He had lost all his wealth, his health and all of his children. All he had left was a wife who constantly badgered him to curse God and die, and a few very opinionated friends who seemed to think they spoke for God. And all Job really wanted was answers. He desperately needed to know where God was in all his suffering and why He wasn’t doing anything about it.

We’ve all been there at one time or another. Finding ourselves in a difficult circumstance, unable to figure out what has gone wrong, we cried out to God. But the sky was like brass and our prayers proved ineffective. God was silent. And that silence can lead us to jump to some pretty serious conclusions. It did for Job. He determined that God was behind all his suffering. Not only that, God was persecuting and punishing him. And the end result of it all was going to be death. Job can’t understand why all this is happening to him. He pleads with God, “Yet does not one in a heap of ruins stretch out his hand, and in his disaster cry for help?” (Job 30:24 ESV). Job reminds God that, in his better days, he was always there to help those in need. So why was God refusing to help him now that he was suffering? He also pleads his case, defending his innocence and declaring his willingness to accept any punishment he deserves. 

If I have walked with falsehood…”

if my step has turned aside from the way…”

If my heart has been enticed toward a woman…“

If I have rejected the cause of my manservant or my maidservant…”

If I have withheld anything that the poor desired…”

if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing…”

if I have raised my hand against the fatherless…”

If I have made gold my trust…”

If I have rejoiced at the ruin of him who hated me…”

if I have concealed my transgressions as others do…”

Job was willing to accept his punishment – IF he was guilty. But he stuck by his claim of innocence. Which made his suffering all that much harder to understand and endure. He didn’t know why he was having to suffer. And God was not giving him an answer. And the difficult thing for us to understand is that God did not owe Job an answer. God is not obligated to explain Himself to us. We may not always understand or even like what is happening to us or around us, but God doesn’t owe us an explanation. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV). The ways of God are often a mystery to us. His actions may confuse and even anger us, but we must understand that our God is always loving, righteous, just and good. There is always a method behind His seeming madness. He has a very good and righteous reason behind all that He does and all that He allows. His seeming silence is not indicative of inactivity. God was fully aware of all that was going on in Job’s life and He had a plan in place to rectify it and restore Job completely. Job may not have known what the future held, but he should have known that his God was loving, just and good. He is a defender of the weak, a protector of the poor, a friend of the just, and a restorer of the broken and battered.

What Job didn’t know was what God had in store for him. The book ends with the statement, “And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:10 ESV). “And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning” (Job 42:12 ESV). God had heard. God had seen. And God restored the fortunes of Job. His silence was not a sign of indifference. His lack of a response to Job’s prayers was not an indication of anger or dissatisfaction. He had had a plan in place the entire time. God had known what He was going to do. And He did it – at just the right time and in just the right way.

First-Hand Knowledge.

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. “Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;  therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes. – Job 42:2-6 ESV

Things had not gone well for Job. He had lost everything – his health, his wealth, his children, his pride, and from his perspective, His God. Time and time again Job had cried out to God, but there had been no answer. The only thing he heard was the steady flow of accusations and bad advice from his so-called friends. Job had grown weary and despondent. He had lost all hope. He couldn’t understand why all these things had happened to him. He insisted on his innocence, but had to constantly put up with self-righteous condemnations of his friends. The only way their theology could explain Job’s predicament was to blame it on sin. From their perspective, Job was simply getting what he deserved.

But God finally broke the silence and the first thing Job heard was a question and then a warning. “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me” (Job 38:2-3 ESV). God then preceded to interrogate Job regarding his right to doubt His integrity or question His actions. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:4 ESV). For two solid chapters God gives Job a lecture on the incomparable nature of His power, character and status as the Creator of all things. Then God concludes it with yet another question: ““Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it” (Job 40:2 ESV). And all Job can say in response is, “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further” (Job 40:4-5 ESV). Then God goes on for another two chapters, establishing His unquestionable integrity and power. God assured Job that He was in complete control. His might had not diminished. His sovereign power was the same as it was when He created the universe. And God’s loving reprimand produced a spirit of confession and repentance in Job. He realized that he had been speaking out of ignorance, talking about things he didn’t understand. His questioning of God had been uncalled for and inappropriate. It had been disrespectful at best and rebellious at worst. Even in his pain and sorrow, Job realized he had no right to treat God with disdain or express his displeasure over how God had been treating Him. God’s ways were beyond his ability to comprehend.

It is interesting to note that everything God told Job was not new news. For the most part God simply recounted His creative powers and used nature to remind Job of His might and sovereignty. God simply gave Job a refresher course in theology. By the time God was done, Job was been reminded of the stark difference between mortal men and the almighty God of the universe. One of the great benefits of the Bible is that it provides us with wonderful stories of God’s power. It reminds us of His divine interactions with mankind and how, over the centuries, God has continued to display His power in unexpected ways. The Bible reminds us that it is risky business to judge God based on circumstances alone. Just when it all looks lost and God is nowhere to be found, we read of Him stepping in and doing incredible things to redeem and rescue His people. Difficulties are never too difficult for God. Tough times never prove too tough for Him. Moments of despair are simply opportunities for God to display His power in our lives.

Job came to a sobering realization that God was in control. He had no legitimate reason or right to question God. And even before God had done a thing to remedy Job’s problem, Job repented. He confessed his arrogant, prideful and disrespectful treatment of God. Up to that point, everything Job knew about God had been second-hand information. But now he had heard directly from God. He had first-hand knowledge. God had spoken to him and He had made His point very clear. Rather than judging God based on the circumstances happening around him, Job had learned to judge his circumstances based on what he knew about God. God was sovereign. God was powerful. God was creative. God was in control at all times. Who are we to question His actions? Who are we to doubt His integrity?

Too Heavy Too Handle.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you. – Psalm 139:17-18 ESV

Psalm 139.

David is blown away with God. The very fact that God created him and knows everything about him was just too much for him. He uses a Hebrew word, yaqar to describe his feelings. It can mean to “be valuable, be precious, be costly”. But it can also be used metaphorically to mean “be heavy” or “hard to understand”. It is the same word used in the book of Daniel when the king asked his magicians to tell him his dream and his meaning. Their response was, “The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh” (Daniel 2:11 ESV). Given the context, it would seem that David is saying that God’s thoughts regarding him are too heavy or difficult for him to comprehend. Remember, David has been speaking of God’s creation of him, how He knew David before he was even formed in the womb. God already knew the day of his birth and the length of his life – long before his conception. God was aware of David’s thoughts – even before they came out of his mouth as words. All of this was too much for David to get his head around. He said, “How vast is the sum of them!” He could have gone on forever, recounting even more amazing facts regarding God and His intimate involvement in his life.

David seems to say that when he goes to bed, he falls asleep thinking about about it and when he wakes up, there’s still more. The word translated, “I am still with you” is `owd  and it means “a going round, continuance” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance). It can simply mean “more”. In other words, David says he wakes up in the morning and there is even more to be amazed about regarding God’s thoughts for him. It reminds me of another psalm of David where he writes, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4 ESV). Even Job, in his suffering, said to God, “What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, visit him every morning and test him every moment?” (Job 7:17-18 ESV). The very idea that God takes notice of us, created us, cares for us, never takes His eyes off of us, and loves us, should astound us. To think that the God of the universe gives me a second thought at all should blow me away as it did David. As David has already acknowledged, “You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar” (Psalm 139:2 ESV). God is not some distant, disconnected deity who has no knowledge about or interest in His creation. He cares. In fact, He loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for us. He knows our weaknesses. He fully understands our inability to live up to His righteous standards. He is fully aware that we are incapable of not sinning. So He provided a way for us to be made right with Him that is not based on our own human effort, but on the death of His own Son. God knows us. And in spite of that, He still loves us. He knows our thoughts, even when we think we have kept them hidden. And yet, He is still willing to forgive us of those thoughts, if we will simply confess them to Him. He sees everything we do – the good, the bad, the ugly – and is still willing to show us mercy and extend to us His grace. That truly is amazing.

To think that God even gives me a second thought should leave me astounded. How easy it is for me to live my life thinking that all I say, think and do is done is obscurity. I am just one among billions. I am virtually unknown and little more than a blip on the radar screen of life. I can easily conclude that my contribution to life is inconsequential and of little value. But God, the one who created me, knows me, cares for me, watches over me, thinks about me, loves me enough to discipline me, and gave His Son to die for me. That’s heavy. That’s mind-boggling. But what a great reminder from the pen of David. I need to constantly consider the fact that I am known and loved by God. I must never forget that He made me – just as I am. As David said, He “formed my inward parts” and “knitted me together in my mother’s womb”. He made me for a reason. He saved me, not because of anything I had done to deserve it, but simply because He loved me. He is constantly transforming me into the likeness of His Son. He never takes His eyes off of me. He holds me in His hands. He protects me, provides for me, guides me and disciplines me. And He always knows what is best for me. Hard to believe? No doubt about it. But my disbelief won’t do anything but rob me of the joy of knowing just how much my God loves me. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV).

Day 11 – Matthew 14:4-12; Luke 3:19-20; John 1:26-27

Can This Be God’s Will?

Matthew 14:4-12; Luke 3:19-20; John 1:26-27

“So John was beheaded in prison.’” – Matthew 14:10 NLT

How many times in life does something happen that makes us ask the question, “Can this be God’s will?” Usually, it involves an event or situation that appears tragic, unfair, unexplainable or, in our minds, unacceptable. It could be the death of a child or a spouse. Someone innocent who is treated unfairly or accused unjustly. At those times in our lives, it is easy to question God and wonder about His will. Was He in charge? If so, why didn’t He do something about the situation? Why didn’t He intervene? Doesn’t He care? If it was all a part of God’s will, how can a loving God allow something so tragic or unjust to happen? Invariably, we begin to measure God based on our understanding of the circumstance, rather than the other way around.

Here in the opening days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, we read the tragic story of the death of John the Baptist. John had been arrested by Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, for publicly reprimanding him about having an immoral relationship with the wife of his brother, Phillip. Here was John, the cousin of Jesus, and the one chosen by God to herald the coming of the Messiah, locked in prison for speaking the truth of God. He and his disciples had to be wondering how this could have happened. He had a God-given job to perform. He didn’t have time to sit in prison. He had a message of repentance to preach and more people to baptize. But not only was John confined to jail, he was about to be beheaded at the request of Herod’s wife, as a party favor for a dance her daughter performed for his friends. John’s head would literally be handed over on a silver platter, ending his life and putting an end to his career as God’s voice in the wilderness.

But why? How could God allow this to happen? How could this tragic event be a part of His divine will? Those are legitimate and yet difficult questions. And there are no easy answers. But we must not allow ourselves to question the wisdom, righteousness, or justness of God. We must remind ourselves that at no point was God up in heaven shocked by these events, or caught off guard by the outcome. He was fully aware and fully in control – otherwise He would cease to be God as we know and understand Him. As difficult as it is for us to understand the why behind events like these, we must refrain from questioning the Who. God reminds us, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts. And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine” (Isaiah 55:8 NLT). God does not always act in ways that we can understand or comprehend. He does not operate according to a rule book devised by men. There are things happening behind the scenes that we cannot see. There are outcomes we are not aware of. We tend to equate the activity of God with those events we deem good and that produce for us a measure of happiness. A job promotion most certainly be God’s will. The birth of a baby must be His will. A bride and groom exchanging vows and rings has to be within the will of God. But should anything seemingly negative or unfair happen in or around our lives, and suddenly we begin to question God and His will. And yet, when Job found himself covered in sores, financially devastated, and having lost all of his children through a tragic event, he told his wife, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10 NLT).

Yes, John the Baptist died a tragic, undeserved death. From our point of view, it was unnecessary, unfair and far to early in his young life. But God had a reason. There was a purpose behind it all. Does He explain it to us? No. Is He obligated to explain Himself to us? No. But would the death of Jesus be any less tragic, unfair, seemingly unnecessary, and unacceptable to the disciples when it took place just a few years later? No. Would they question the will of God for allowing their Messiah to be murdered at the hands of their own religious leaders? Probably. But God had a purpose. God had a plan. It was necessary for Jesus to suffer and die. And for some reason, it was necessary for John to do the same. Why? I don’t know. We can speculate that God needed to remove John from the scene so that there would be no chance of anyone mistaking John for the Messiah, but the Scriptures don’t tell us. God doesn’t give us His reasoning. But rather than view God through the lens of life’s events, we must learn to view life’s events through the character of God. We must remind ourselves that He is all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful, sovereign, wise, just, righteous, holy, merciful, gracious, and in complete control of ALL that is happening in the world around us. We see only in part. Our perspective is limited. Our understanding is restricted. So we must learn to trust that God, in His infinite wisdom and love, is doing what He knows to be best, according to His divine, perfect will.

Father, open our eyes and help us to see You. It is so easy to concentrate on what we see happening and not recognize that we have a faithful, loving, all-powerful God working behind the scenes in ways that we cannot see or comprehend. We have such limited perspectives and are quick to call You unjust or unfair without knowing the full outcome. Teach us to continue to trust You even when we don’t understand. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org