The Need for Trust in the Midst of Trials

1 And Elihu answered and said:

“Do you think this to be just?
    Do you say, ‘It is my right before God,’
that you ask, ‘What advantage have I?
    How am I better off than if I had sinned?’
I will answer you
    and your friends with you.
Look at the heavens, and see;
    and behold the clouds, which are higher than you.
If you have sinned, what do you accomplish against him?
    And if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to him?
If you are righteous, what do you give to him?
    Or what does he receive from your hand?
Your wickedness concerns a man like yourself,
    and your righteousness a son of man.

“Because of the multitude of oppressions people cry out;
    they call for help because of the arm of the mighty.
10 But none says, ‘Where is God my Maker,
    who gives songs in the night,
11 who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth
    and makes us wiser than the birds of the heavens?’
12 There they cry out, but he does not answer,
    because of the pride of evil men.
13 Surely God does not hear an empty cry,
    nor does the Almighty regard it.
14 How much less when you say that you do not see him,
    that the case is before him, and you are waiting for him!
15 And now, because his anger does not punish,
    and he does not take much note of transgression,
16 Job opens his mouth in empty talk;
    he multiplies words without knowledge.” – Job 35:1-16 ESV

Once again, the overly verbose Elihu starts off the latest section of his speech by lifting the statements of Job out of their context and using them as a launching pad for his latest diatribe. He addresses Job’s persistent demand to get a hearing before God so that He might prove himself innocent. Elihu describes that demand as nothing more than a display of boastful pride. As far as Elihu is concerned, Job has no rights before God.

This led him to pick up on another statement made by Job but he does so with a fair amount of paraphrasing. He accuses Job of claiming that living a righteous life is of no advantage if the righteous suffer along with the wicked.

But what Job actually said was quite different. He simply asked, “For what hope do the godless have when God cuts them off and takes away their life? Will God listen to their cry when trouble comes upon them?” (Job 27:8-9 NLT). All he was trying to say was that the only hope the righteous have is if their God hears their cries and releases them from their pain and suffering. If He were to refuse to do so, they would be no better off than the wicked.

Yet Elihu wants to paint Job as a prideful, self-proclaimed Puritan who claims to have lived a perfect and sin-free life. Elihu isn’t buying Job’s innocent-victim act but he plays along with the idea. For Elihu, it didn’t really matter whether Job was righteous or wicked because God was not affected by either.

If you sin, how does that affect God?
    Even if you sin again and again,
    what effect will it have on him?
If you are good, is this some great gift to him?
    What could you possibly give him? – Job 35:6-7 NLT

Elihu’s concept of God was that of a distant and disengaged deity who was far removed from the daily actions of mere humans. His argument seems to be that even if Job was fully righteous, God owed him nothing. All of Job’s supposed good deeds were nothing more than filthy rags in the eyes of God (Isaiah 64:6). From Elihu’s vantage point, sin had no influence on God; it only affected the sinner and all those around him. In the same way, the righteous deeds of men were only of value to other men. They were the sole beneficiaries. In Elihu’s theology, God remained unaffected by human sin or righteousness.

“There is no place in Elihu’s theology for doing God’s will out of love for him. Man affects only his fellow man by being good or bad (v.9). And though God may punish or reward man as Judge, there is no place for him in the role of a Father who can be hurt or pleased by man.” – Elmer B. Smick, “Job,” in 1 Kings-Job, vol. 4 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

Elihu seems to concede that Job had done a few righteous things in his lifetime, but Elihu didn’t believe those “good deeds” had earned Job any credit with God. It seems obvious that these two men had two diametrically distinct views of God. For Elihu, God was aloof and disinterested in man’s earthly activities. But Job believed that God was intimately involved in the lives of mankind, and the Scriptures support his conclusion.

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,
    and whoever captures souls is wise.
If the righteous is repaid on earth,
    how much more the wicked and the sinner!  Proverbs 30:30-31 ESV

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise,
    but the companion of fools will suffer harm.
Disaster pursues sinners,
    but the righteous are rewarded with good. – Proverbs 13:20-21 ESV

Say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, and do not fear,
for your God is coming to destroy your enemies.
    He is coming to save you.” – Isaiah 35:4 NLT

It was David who said of God, “The Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness” (1 Samuel 26:23 ESV). He spoke these words to King Saul, after having rejected the opportunity to take Saul’s life. David had spent years running from the king, who had placed a bounty on David’s head. On one occasion, after a long day of pursuing David, Saul and 3,000 of his men set up camp in the wilderness of Ziph. In the middle of the night, David and a companion snuck into camp and found Saul fast asleep. Abishai, who had volunteered to join David on his clandestine mission, saw this as a God-ordained opportunity to take care of the Saul problem once and for all.

“God has surely handed your enemy over to you this time!” Abishai whispered to David. “Let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of the spear; I won’t need to strike twice!” – 1 Samuel 26:8 NLT

But David rejected Abishai’s advice, refusing to take matters into his own hands.

“Don’t kill him. For who can remain innocent after attacking the Lord’s anointed one? Surely the Lord will strike Saul down someday, or he will die of old age or in battle. The Lord forbid that I should kill the one he has anointed! But take his spear and that jug of water beside his head, and then let’s get out of here!” – 1 Samuel 26:9-11 NLT

With Saul’s spear and water jug in his hands, David stealthily exited the camp and climbed to the top of a nearby hill, where he called out to Saul and revealed just how close the king had come to death at his hands. David informed Saul that the only reason he was still alive was because David was willing to let God reward and repay according to His own will.

“The Lord gives his own reward for doing good and for being loyal, and I refused to kill you even when the Lord placed you in my power, for you are the Lord’s anointed one. Now may the Lord value my life, even as I have valued yours today. May he rescue me from all my troubles.” – 1 Samuel 26:23-24 NLT

This perspective stands in direct opposition to that of Elihu. He asserts that when the oppressed “cry out, God does not answer because of their pride” (Job 35:12 NLT). The reason they get no answer from God is because they are sinful. According to Elihu’s theology, their oppression is their own fault.

But in the very next breath, Elihu seems to contradict himself. He states, “…it is wrong to say God doesn’t listen, to say the Almighty isn’t concerned” (Job 35:13 NLT). He actually accuses Job of denying God’s presence. But that is not what Job has been saying. He has only expressed his view that God didn’t seem to be listening or intervening in his situation. He has repeatedly called out to God, asking for an audience before His Creator and Judge so that he might state his case. But from Job’s perspective, it felt like God was not listening or was nowhere to be found.

Job was simply stating things as he saw them. He was describing the way he viewed his life from his limited earth-bound perspective. He knew God was there, but his circumstances painted a very different picture. Elihu views Job’s honesty as the words of a fool because he doesn’t understand the depths of Job’s pain. Elihu can’t get past Job’s words long enough to see what going on in his heart. This leads him to say, “…you are talking nonsense, Job. You have spoken like a fool” (Job 35:16 NLT)

But in reality, Job was speaking like a suffering saint. He was expressing his pain and confusion just as David did. The David who was confident that God rewards the righteous is the same David who wrote the following gut-wrenching words:

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand? – Psalm 13:1-2 NLT

And he was the same David that followed up these words of anxiety and anguish with the following statement of faith and hope:

But I trust in your unfailing love.
    I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
    because he is good to me.  – Psalm 13:5-6 NLT

Both David and Job were venting their frustration. The only difference is that Job had not yet reached the point of expressing his hope in the faithfulness of God. He was not yet ready to rejoice in the midst of his trials. At this point in his life, there was no song on his lips or unwavering confidence in his heart that God was going to make things right. He had hopes but they were weak and wavering. He was desperate for deliverance but was not quite convinced of its imminence.

But Job could have used a little help from his friends. Instead, all he got was a heavy dose of condemnation and correction. In Elihu’s attempt to defend God, he was destroying Job’s faith in God. His truncated theology had produced a diminished view of God that was actually diminishing Job’s faith in God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

Running On Empty

1 I am the man who has seen affliction
    under the rod of his wrath;
he has driven and brought me
    into darkness without any light;
surely against me he turns his hand
    again and again the whole day long.

He has made my flesh and my skin waste away;
    he has broken my bones;
he has besieged and enveloped me
    with bitterness and tribulation;
he has made me dwell in darkness
    like the dead of long ago.

He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
    he has made my chains heavy;
though I call and cry for help,
    he shuts out my prayer;
he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones;
    he has made my paths crooked.

10 He is a bear lying in wait for me,
    a lion in hiding;
11 he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces;
    he has made me desolate;
12 he bent his bow and set me
    as a target for his arrow.

13 He drove into my kidneys
    the arrows of his quiver;
14 I have become the laughingstock of all peoples,
    the object of their taunts all day long.
15 He has filled me with bitterness;
    he has sated me with wormwood.

16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
    and made me cower in ashes;
17 my soul is bereft of peace;
    I have forgotten what happiness is;
18 so I say, “My endurance has perished;
    so has my hope from the Lord.” – Lamentations 3:1-18 ESV

The life of a prophet of God was not an easy one. These men had been hand-selected by God and given the unenviable task of delivering His message of pending judgment to His people. From a human perspective, it would appear that each of the prophets failed at their job – if success is measured by the number of people who heard their message and repented. The sad reality is that while everyone heard the message of the prophets, no one heeded their call. And God had warned Jeremiah that his experience would be the same as every other prophet of God. He was just the latest in a long line of men who had been tasked with delivering God’s call to repent or suffer the consequences.

“From the day your ancestors left Egypt until now, I have continued to send my servants, the prophets—day in and day out. But my people have not listened to me or even tried to hear. They have been stubborn and sinful—even worse than their ancestors.

“Tell them all this, but do not expect them to listen. Shout out your warnings, but do not expect them to respond.” – Jeremiah 7:25-27 NLT

And Jeremiah knew what it was like to be the social pariah, unwelcome and even despised for his role as God’s messenger.

“What sorrow is mine, my mother.
    Oh, that I had died at birth!
    I am hated everywhere I go.
I am neither a lender who threatens to foreclose
    nor a borrower who refuses to pay—
    yet they all curse me.” – Jeremiah 15:10 NLT

Jeremiah was in a no-win situation. His message of doom and gloom was unpopular with the people, but as a prophet of God, he was obligated to speak the truth of God. And it certainly didn’t help his cause that there were plenty of others who claimed to be prophets whose messages were much more positive and appealing. They were contradicting Jeremiah’s gloomy forecast, telling the people that all would be well. There had nothing to worry about. But God would have the last say in the matter.

“These prophets are telling lies in my name. I did not send them or tell them to speak. I did not give them any messages. They prophesy of visions and revelations they have never seen or heard. They speak foolishness made up in their own lying hearts. Therefore, this is what the Lord says: I will punish these lying prophets, for they have spoken in my name even though I never sent them. They say that no war or famine will come, but they themselves will die by war and famine! – Jeremiah 14:14-15 NLT

And God had fulfilled that promise. But here was Jeremiah, the faithful prophet, expressing his deep sorrow over his lot in life. Not only had he been required to spend years delivering God’s message of the judgment to come, but he had also been forced to live through it just like everyone else. He had not been spared the pain and suffering. He had not been given an exemption from God or been removed to a safe place while all the devastation and destruction took place. He had been right in the middle of it.

“I am the one who has seen the afflictions
    that come from the rod of the Lord’s anger.” – Lamentations 3:1 NLT

And all that he had witnessed had left a lasting impression on him. He describes himself as being besieged by “bitterness and tribulation.” His body was wasting away. His appetite was shot. He even felt like his prayers never made it past the ceiling. All in all, Jeremiah was in a dark place. Everything he had predicted had come to pass, but he found no satisfaction in knowing he had been right. He grieved over the state of his people. He mourned the loss of so many lives.

But the people had no love-loss for Jeremiah. In fact, they found a sort of perverse joy in knowing that the high-and-mighty prophet was suffering right alongside them. The one who had warned them of God’s judgment was experiencing it too. And they found time to mock Jeremiah for his condition.

“My own people laugh at me.
    All day long they sing their mocking songs.” – Lamentations 3:14 NLT

Jeremiah was emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausted. And he could see no light at the end of the tunnel. His depression was so intense that he claimed, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord” (Lamentations 3:18 ESV). He was at a loss as to what to do. His job of delivering God’s message was complete. He had finished what he had been tasked to do. But now he had to sit back and watch the sad plight of his people and wonder what was going to happen next. Where was God in all of this? How could this be His divine will? Was this how it was going to end?

There is something refreshing about Jeremiah’s bluntness. He is not afraid to say what he is thinking or to express his doubts and concerns. In doing so, he is not showing disrespect to God, he is simply sharing his heart. He is being honest. And this tendency toward transparency and honesty can be found elsewhere in Scripture. David, the man after God’s own heart, was particularly adept at expressing his feelings to God. He was not afraid to share his feelings with God because he knew that God was already aware of them.

You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord. – Psalm 139:2-4 NLT

As a result, David had no problem sharing his innermost thoughts with God.

O Lord, why do you stand so far away?
    Why do you hide when I am in trouble? – Psalm 10:1 NLT

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way? – Psalm 13:1 NLT

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
    Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
    Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief. – Psalm 22:1-2 NLT

Jeremiah was in good company. Like David, he knew God could handle his complaints. Refusing to say what he was thinking would not fool God because God knew his thoughts before he did. Failing to express his feelings would be nothing less than dishonesty toward God. So, he vented. He complained. He shared his pain and expressed his confusion over his lot in life. But while his hope was at an all-time low, we will see that his faith remained firmly fixed on the character of God.

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

The Calm Before the Storm.

And Saul spoke to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill David. But Jonathan, Saul’s son, delighted much in David. And Jonathan told David, “Saul my father seeks to kill you. Therefore be on your guard in the morning. Stay in a secret place and hide yourself. And I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where you are, and I will speak to my father about you. And if I learn anything I will tell you.” And Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have brought good to you. For he took his life in his hand and he struck down the Philistine, and the Lord worked a great salvation for all Israel. You saw it, and rejoiced. Why then will you sin against innocent blood by killing David without cause?” And Saul listened to the voice of Jonathan. Saul swore, “As the Lord lives, he shall not be put to death.” And Jonathan called David, and Jonathan reported to him all these things. And Jonathan brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence as before.

And there was war again. And David went out and fought with the Philistines and struck them with a great blow, so that they fled before him. Then a harmful spirit from the Lord came upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand. And David was playing the lyre. And Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear, but he eluded Saul, so that he struck the spear into the wall. And David fled and escaped that night.– 1 Samuel 19:1-10 ESV

David had to be one confused young man. On two separate occasions, the king of Israel had tried to pin him to the wall with a spear. But then, the same man turned around and offered his daughter’s hand in marriage. Yet David’s demureness and subsequent delay caused Saul to give his daughter to another man. But this was followed by Saul offering to David his younger daughter, Michal, who David eventually married. He became the son-in-law of the king. He was part of the royal family and best friends with the king’s own son. And yet, unbeknownst to David, Saul was continually plotting ways to rid himself of his new son-in-law, who he believed posed a major threat to his reign. Perhaps David simply wrote it all off as nothing more than a symptom of Saul’s fits of rage. After all, David had originally been hired to serve as Saul’s “music therapist,” playing his harp in order to calm the king when he had one of his bouts of uncontrolled anger. He would have known first-hand just how violent Saul could become. Even when Saul had attempted to kill David with a spear, he probably convinced himself to not take it personally. He had just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But things were much worse than David knew.

Saul was so desperate to eliminate David that he commanded his son, Jonathan, and all his servants to kill him. Basically, he ordered a hit on David. He put a bounty on his head and brought in reinforcements. But Jonathan took this news hard. He and David were best friends. He was being commanded by his father and king to kill someone he cared deeply about. It’s interesting to note that Jonathan, the heir to the throne of Saul, did not perceive David as a threat. He did not share his father’s paranoia regarding David. In fact, he pleaded with his father to reconsider and reminded him of all that David had done for him.

“The king must not sin against his servant David,” Jonathan said. “He’s never done anything to harm you. He has always helped you in any way he could. Have you forgotten about the time he risked his life to kill the Philistine giant and how the Lord brought a great victory to all Israel as a result? You were certainly happy about it then. Why should you murder an innocent man like David? There is no reason for it at all.” – 1 Samuel 19:4-5 NLT

And Saul seemed to listen to the words of Jonathan, vowing to spare David’s life and welcoming him back into his presence as before. But this happy reunion would prove to be short-lived. It would simply be the calm before the storm. The king whom God had rejected and the man whom God had anointed as his replacement were not going to be able to coexist for long. Eventually, Saul was going to have to go away. He was the one who would have to be eliminated, not David. God’s plan to place David on the throne of Israel was not going to be curtailed or compromised by anyone or anything. But things were going to get worse before they got better.

While things appeared to have gone back to normal, with David winning victories over the Philistines by day and playing his harp for Saul in the evenings, the animosity of Saul remained unchanged. And eventually, in one of his tormented moments, Saul attempted to kill David for the third time. David was forced to run for his life yet again. And this would prove to be a foreshadowing of David’s life for years to come. He was about to discover that his lot in life was to be that of a man on the run. He was to become a fugitive, a wanted man with a price on his head and a relentless pursuer on his trail, who would stop at nothing until David was dead.

David must have looked back on his anointing by Samuel and wondered what it all meant. Why had the prophet chosen him? What had the anointing meant? What had he been anointed for? David must have assumed that he had been chosen by God to be a great military leader, having killed Goliath and given his numerous victories over the Philistines since becoming a commander in Saul’s army. But why would God give him success in battle and then allow him to suffer at the hands of his own king? How was he supposed to do his job when he was constantly having to worry about the king killing him? All of this must have created a great deal of confusion in the mind of David, and led him to have some frank and open conversations with God. In fact, because of all that David was about to experience, he would learn to talk to God with an honesty and openness that only suffering can create. Many of his psalms reflect the nature of his relationship with God, revealing his total transparency and somewhat shocking honesty.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? – Psalm 13:1-2 ESV

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest. – Psalm 22:1-2 ESV

I pray to you, O Lord, my rock.
    Do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you are silent,
    I might as well give up and die. – Psalm 28:1 NLT

David was going to learn to trust God. But first, he was going to learn to be honest and open with God. David would discover his own limitations and come to grip with his own weaknesses – the hard way. His anointing by Samuel was just the beginning of his preparation. The Spirit of God coming upon David was instrumental in his early success, but the Spirit of God transforming the heart and character of David was going to be the key to his future rule and reign. What would eventually make David a great king are the lessons he would learn while on the run. The time he spent hiding in caves would play a vital role in preparing him for the crown. David was going to learn a lot about himself over the next few years. But he was going to learn even more about God. What would eventually make him a great king would be his understanding of the greatness of God.

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.

Seeing The God Who Sees All.

On that day King Ahasuerus gave to Queen Esther the house of Haman, the enemy of the Jews. And Mordecai came before the king, for Esther had told what he was to her. And the king took off his signet ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai. And Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman. – Esther 8:1-2 ESV

Over in the book of Deuteronomy, we read the following description of God:

I will proclaim the name of the Lord; how glorious is our God! 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 32:3-4 NLT

The truly unique attribute about the story of Esther is that God is nowhere mentioned in the book, but His presence can be seen and felt as the narrative unfolds. He is portrayed as the faithful God who does no wrong. He works invisibly, but invincibly behind the scenes, orchestrating His plan and asserting His will on the lives of men, including those who do not believe He exists. God has been actively involved throughout the story of Esther and Mordecai. He is the one who put Esther on the throne of Persia. He was behind the seeming coincidence that allowed Mordecai to discover the plot against the king. He was the cause behind the king’s insomnia and his request to have the royal record read to him in hope that it might lull him to sleep. God had been witnessing the actions of Haman. He knew his heart and was well aware of his hatred for Mordecai and the people of Israel. While it may have appeared that God was out of sight and out of touch with all the events unfolding in Persia, He was actually in complete control. And He had a plan already in place to deal with not only Haman, but the king’s decree.

Later on in the the same chapter in the book of Deuteronomy, we read:

The Lord says, “Am I not storing up these things, sealing them away in my treasury? I will take revenge; I will pay them back. In due time their feet will slip. Their day of disaster will arrive, and their destiny will overtake them.” – Deuteronomy 32:34-35 NLT

God is always watching. Like a divine accountant, He is documenting every deposit and withdrawal. He knows the heart of every man. He sees their every action and knows the motivation behind all that they do or don’t do. And while it may appear that God is blind to our predicament and unaware of the injustices being heaped upon us, unlike King Ahasuerus, He is fully cognizant of all that goes on in His kingdom. And God has a just outcome in store for every individual who rises up against His rule or raises a hand against His people.

When we find ourselves going through difficulty, it is sometimes easy to assume that God is not there or that He does not care. We react like the psalmist.

O Lord, the God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, let your glorious justice shine forth! Arise, O judge of the earth. Give the proud what they deserve. How long, O Lord? How long will the wicked be allowed to gloat? How long will they speak with arrogance? How long will these evil people boast? They crush your people, Lord, hurting those you claim as your own. They kill widows and foreigners and murder orphans. “The Lord isn’t looking,” they say, “and besides, the God of Israel doesn’t care.” – Psalm 94:1-7 NLT

But our perspective gets skewed. Our circumstances blind us to the ways of God. We get so busy looking at our difficulties, that we lose the ability to see God working in our midst. So the psalmist goes on to remind us of God’s ever-constant presence. And he warns the wicked that God knows all and sees all.

Think again, you fools! When will you finally catch on? Is he deaf—the one who made your ears? Is he blind—the one who formed your eyes? He punishes the nations—won’t he also punish you? He knows everything—doesn’t he also know what you are doing? The Lord knows people’s thoughts; he knows they are worthless! – Psalm 94:8-11 NLT

It is as if the psalmist knew about Haman long before he was even born.

Can unjust leaders claim that God is on their side—leaders whose decrees permit injustice? They gang up against the righteous and condemn the innocent to death. But the Lord is my fortress; my God is the mighty rock where I hide. God will turn the sins of evil people back on them. He will destroy them for their sins. The Lord our God will destroy them. – Psalm 94:20-23 NLT

And God dealt with Haman, a leader whose decrees permit injustice, by turning his sins back on him. He was destroyed for his sins. And, at the same time, Esther and Mordecai were rewarded. Esther was given the property of Haman. Mordecai was given the king’s signet ring, the symbol of his power and authority, which had previously been given to Haman. And Esther put her uncle, Mordecai, in charge of all the Haman’s vast estate and wealth. The tables had turned. The wicked were defeated. The righteous were blessed.

But while the story of Esther has a happy ending, we must be careful not to assume that every situation and circumstance works out with a perfect fairy tale ending. Stephen, while preaching the gospel, was brutally stoned and murdered by an angry mob. Paul spent much of his adult life in prison as a result of his ministry on behalf of Christ. John was exiled to the island of Patmos by the Roman government because of his persistent preaching of the gospel. We would be wrong to assume that things always turn out right. The Christian faith has always had its martyrs. There are countless believers all across the world who are suffering for their faith at this very moment. Many of them will die as a result of their faith in Christ. But that does not change the fact that God is in control. He knows what He is doing. He has a plan and He will bring it about in His perfect timing and according to His perfect will. We may not understand it or even like it, but we can trust that whatever happens is within the just and righteous providence of God. For Esther and Mordecai, the story has a happy ending. But while some may experience pain, suffering, lose and even death, it does not mean that God is not working.

The Lord will not reject his people; he will not abandon his special possession. Judgment will again be founded on justice, and those with virtuous hearts will pursue it. – Psalm 94:14-15 NLT


Job Security.

O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come. – Psalm 71:18-19 ESV

These two simple verses found in Psalm 71 have struck a chord with me. Maybe it’s because I turned 60 this year and the mention of old age and gray hairs felt a bit too personal. But I think what really impacted me was the sense of passion the Psalmist felt for God. He had sensed God teaching him from his earliest memories as a young man. And now that he was an older man, he was still proclaiming the wonders of God. There is a sense of continuity in his words. He and God had a relationship that ongoing and always evolving. The psalmist felt a responsibility to tell others about the goodness and greatness of God. He was not content to merely receive God’s blessings and enjoy His presence in his life. He had to tell someone. And the older he got, the greater his resolve to proclaim the greatness of God became. The years were increasing his passion rather than diminishing it. Each passing year simply provided more personal testimonies of God’s wondrous deeds to share with others.

There is a sense in which our primary job description as God’s creation is to tell of His greatness. We are to declare His glory. The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it this way: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” We exist to glorify God and our job is never done because God’s glory is inexhaustible. We will never run out of reasons to praise Him. We will never run short of His great deeds to proclaim. Because God never rests. He never takes a day off. He never ceases to perform wonders on behalf of His children. The problem is not that God is silent or still, but that we too often fail to recognize all that He is doing all around us. We can also lose sight of our primary function as His creatures: to glorify Him.

I think the thing about these verses that struck a chord with me was the intentionality and passion they express. Here is a man who recognized the influence of God over his life, but who also recognized his own responsibility to tell others about it. He had a lifelong duty to proclaim all that he knew about God to everyone he met. And he was asking God to keep him at it well into his “golden years”. There is no sense of retirement in his words. He isn’t looking to coast into old age. He realized he has a God-given responsibility to proclaim God’s might to the generation to come. Each generation of believers has the responsibility to share with those who come after them, to “tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” (Psalm 78:4 ESV). Old age is no excuse to slow down or give up. To our final dying breath, we should be telling the next generation all that we know about God. And the longer we live, the more we should have to share. As the number of our days remaining decrease, our determination to tell others about God’s wonders should increase, so “the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God” (Psalm 78:6-7 ESV).

All of those reminds me of a verse in the early chapters of the book of Judges that sets up the sad story that was to follow. It simply says, “After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the LORD or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10 NLT). One generation had failed to tell the next, and the result was a new generation that had no real knowledge of God. The rest of the book of Judges tells us how that generation abandoned God and served false gods. One generation had failed the next. They hadn’t done their job. And the consequences were serious. The book of Judges closes with a sobering message. “In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes” (judges 21:25 NLT). Not only did they have no human king, they failed to recognize God as King. Each man and woman lived with their eyes focused on themselves. They had become their own personal kings reigning over their petty kingdoms of one. All because one generation had failed to do its job. Could the same thing happen in our day? I believe it already is. But it is not too late. Those of us with graying hair and diminishing strength still have an opportunity to make a difference. We may be working less, but our work is far from done. We must tell the next generation about the greatness and goodness of God. We must proclaim His wonders and give testimony to His unfailing faithfulness.

Growing old is no excuse for growing complacent. We have a job to do and God has not given us permission to retire or renege on our responsibility. Increasing years should only increase our sense of urgency. Our time is running out. We must take advantage of every day that God gives us to proclaim His might to another generation, His power to all those to come.

Righteous In All His Ways.

We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. – Daniel 9:6-7 ESV

Daniel 9:4-19

Along with the prophecies of Jeremiah, Daniel would have surely been familiar with the psalms of David. In more than one of his psalms David wrote of the righteousness of God. “The LORD is righteous in everything he does; he is filled with kindness” (Psalm 145:17 NLT). “God’s way is perfect. All the LORD’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to him for protection” (Psalm 18:30 NLT). He would have also known the words of Moses regarding the righteousness of God. “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). As a young Jew growing up in Judah, Daniel would have been well-schooled in the righteousness of God. And as an old man living in exile in Babylon, he was still holding on to what he knew and believed about God. As he continued his prayer of confession and contrition on behalf of the people of Judah, he openly and humbly admitted their full responsibility for their predicament and God’s right and responsibility to have dealt with them as He had. God had warned, but they had not listened. God had given His call to repentance to every king, prince, father and child in Judah, so that no one could have claimed ignorance. Their sin against Him had been knowingly and willful. As a result, Daniel confesses that their humiliation was well-deserved and should have been fully expected. Not only for those living in exile in Babylon, but for every Jew wherever they might be living.

How easy it is to snub our nose at God and then shake our finger in His face when things don’t turn out quite the way we expected. How many times had the people of Israel refused to listen to God and then attempted to blame Him for the consequences of their own rebellion? It would have seemed logical and only natural to question why God had abandoned them as a nation and allowed them to be defeated at the hands of their enemies. But the truth was that they had abandoned God. They had forsaken Him and refused to live according to His commands. And God had repeatedly warned them what would happen if they continued their pattern of ignoring His calls to repentance. So Daniel knew that God was in the right. He had kept His word and done exactly what He had said He would do. Because He is righteous. But God is far more than just a letter-of-the-law god. His righteousness has a purpose behind it. As David had said, “The LORD is righteous in everything he does; he is filled with kindness.” Even in His punishment, He expresses love. “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Solomon 3:11-12 ESV). “Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you” (Deuteronomy 8:5 ESV).

Daniel had had 70 years to consider why the people of Judah were living in the land of Babylon as exiles. He had had ample time to think about their circumstances and reach the conclusion that their situation was a result of their own sin and God’s righteous, yet loving discipline. Which is why he concluded that God had “driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed.” They were wrong. God was right. They had been unfaithful, but God had remained faithful. In fact, God had not only told Jeremiah what would happen if the people of Judah refused to repent, He had told him what He would do even after they stubbornly forced His hand. “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:10-11 ESV). God would be righteous and loving, just and gracious, holy and merciful. He is always righteous and forever loving. He is always firm in His discipline and yet forever faithful in showing kindness. Daniel knew he had no right to point his finger at God. He had no cause to blame God for the less-than-ideal circumstances of the people of Judah. They had gotten what they deserved. But God was about to give them what they didn’t deserve – His grace and kindness expressed in His miraculous restoration of them to the land He had given them. They deserved exile. They didn’t deserve restoration. God had righteously punished them, but was also going to lovingly forgive them. What a picture of the grace and mercy He poured out through Jesus Christ on the cross. The very death we deserved He asked His own Son to bear, so that we might receive pardon and enjoy restoration to a right relationship with God. And all we must do to enjoy this amazing grace is acknowledge our sin and admit our complete inability to save ourselves. We must believe that His Son is the only payment righteous enough and valuable enough to settle the debt we owed. Our death sentence was well-deserved. His grace and love, as revealed through the gift of His Son, was not. He is righteous in all His ways. He is loving beyond belief.

Psalm 145 – Day 2

I Can’t Stop Talking About God.
(Based on Psalm 145)

I will hold You in high esteem, my God and my King,
And I will bow in reverence to Your reputation forever!
I will bend my knees in praise to you every day,
I will boast of Your reputation forever and ever.
You are great, O Lord, and extremely praiseworthy.
The true extent of Your greatness is beyond our comprehension.
One generation will praise Your works to the next,
And tell them of Your strength.
I will speak of the incredible splendor of Your majesty,
And of Your extraordinary works.
They will tell of Your fear-inducing, awe-inspiring acts,
And I will recount Your greatness.
They’ll overflow with memories of Your great goodness,
And be overcome by Your righteousness.
You are gracious and compassionate,
Slow to get angry and overflowing with mercy.
You show Your goodness to everyone and extend mercy to Your entire creation.
Everything You’ve made will end up praising You, O Lord,
And those who are faithful to You will bow down before You.
They will talk about the glory of Your reign over them and of Your great power.
They will make known to the next generation Your might acts,
And the glory of living under Your righteous rule.
Yours is a kingdom that will never end, and Your rule outlasts the generations.
You support all who fall and lift up all who are bent down and burdened.
Everyone looks to You and You provide what they need at just the right time.
You open Your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature.
You are right in everything that You do, and always holy.
You are never far from those who call on You, who call on You in faithfulness.
You will satisfy those who fear You, hearing their cry and rescuing them.
All those who love You, You will keep safe, but those who hate You will be destroyed.
I will declare publicly my thanksgiving to You,
So that all mankind might bless Your holy name forever.

Psalm 145 – Day 1

Sharing What We Know About God.

“Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts; let them proclaim your power.” – Psalm 145:4 NLT

Six months ago, we started this journey through the Psalms of David. Our goal was to discover the character of God through the pen of David. We wanted to see what David understood about his God and how it impacted the way he lived his life. And Psalm 145 seems like a perfect way to wrap up this series. In it, David praises the greatness of God. He says, “I will praise you every day; yes, I will praise you forever. Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise! No one can measure his greatness” (Psalm 145:2-3 NLT). David is blown away by the greatness of God and wants everyone to know. He is not content to internalize his thoughts about God and he expects everyone to “share the story of your wonderful goodness” (Psalms 145:7 NLT). David’s praise of God was not merely academic or rote. What he knew about God, he knew from experience. He had seen these attributes or characteristics of God lived out in his own life, day after day. He had seen God’s power, experienced His mercy and grace, felt His compassion, witnesses His mighty acts with his own eyes, and learned that God is always right in everything he does. David knew what the Scriptures had to say about God, but his awareness of God’s unfailing love, truthfulness, faithfulness, righteousness, compassion, mercy and grace came from his own personal interactions with God in daily life.

When David wrote, “Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts; let them proclaim your power” (Psalm 145:4 NLT), he wasn’t suggesting that they simply recount and retell the stories they had heard from their parent’s experiences in the wilderness. Many of us can tell stories from the Bible that illustrate God’s greatness, but how many of us can share personal encounters with God that speak of His goodness, greatness, love, and power? There is a huge difference between knowing about someone and getting to really know someone. I may know a lot about Abraham Lincoln, but it all comes from books and from the perspective of others. But I know my wife. I know here because I spend time with her and our lives are deeply interactive and entwined. We spend time together talking, sharing, interfacing, and impacting the lives of one another. The same should be true of my relationship with God. Praise for God should be personal and intimate. It should come from experience. David had come to know God because he had spent time with God. He had watched God work in and around his life, caring for him, providing for him, protecting him, correcting him, and revealing Himself to him. David had a lot to praise God for. When he spoke of God’s wonderful goodness, mighty acts, awe-inspiring deeds, unfailing love, and greatness, he was speaking from experience. He knew what he was talking about. And nobody could argue with him. So what will we have to tell the next generation concerning the mighty acts and power of God? What stories will we tell to illustrate our understanding of His greatness and goodness? Our lack of stories are not a reflection on God or an indication of His absence in our lives, but are simply an indication of our lack of dependence on Him. We have little to praise Him for because we have given Him few opportunities to work in our lives. We have become self-sufficient and have attempted to run our own lives according to our own plans. But David reminds us, “The Lord is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth.He grants the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cries for help and rescues them. The Lord protects all those who love him” (Psalm 145:18-20 NLT).

Father, may we truly have something great to share with the next generation. May we have stories to tell of your greatness and goodness because we have learned to wait on and rely on You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Psalm 144 – Day 2

It’s Good To Know God.
(Based on Psalm 144)

I get down on my knees in celebration of the Lord, my rock,
He personally trains me for battle, equipping me to do battle.
He is who I turn to for mercy, protection, refuge, deliverance from trouble,
He is my shield in battle, and I confidently trust Him to subdue my enemies in battle.
Lord, what is man, that You bother to even acknowledge his existence?
Or the nations, that You give them any consideration?
Man is like a wisp of wind to You, his days are like a shadow that vanishes before Your eyes.
Lower heaven and come down, touch the mountains and make them erupt!
Send lightning, scattering the bolts around like arrows of destruction.
Reach down from on high, deliver me from the deep water, from the hands of pagan nations.
Whose words are full of lies and whose actions are always deceitful.
I will make up a brand new song celebrating You, O God!
I will sing praises to You using my favorite instrument.
I will sing of the salvation You bring to kings,
How You delivered me, David, Your servant, from the sword.
Separate me and deliver me from these foreign nations,
From all their lies and deception.
That our sons may grow to full height, like a plant,
That our daughters may be like corner stones in a beautiful palace.
That our storehouses may be full, that our sheep may multiply, filling our pastures.
That our oxen will be strong to do labor, our walls will keep us safe, and our people will stay content.
People who find themselves in those circumstances will be happy,
But their happiness will be because God is their Lord!

Psalm 144 – Day 1

Who Are We Compared To You?

“O Lord, what are human beings that you should notice them, mere mortals that you should think about them?” – Psalm 144:3 NLT

Perspective can be an illusive thing. It is so easy to have a one-dimensional view of life and the circumstances surrounding it. We can end up seeing things from our point of view alone, and lose sight of reality. We can easily view ourselves as somehow special, our talents as truly unique, and our inherent value as greater than it really is. God provides perspective to life. He is to be the focal point to all of life and all meaning. He is the creator and sustainer of life. The world exists for Him, not the other way around. He is one who came up with the idea of mankind and then made it happen. David was blown away that this all-powerful God would even bother to waste a single second dealing with the likes of men. The Message paraphrases verse three quite clearly and frankly: “I wonder why you care, GOD – why do you bother with us at all?”

David had a healthy perspective of life because he had an accurate view of God. He understood the greatness of God was and the pitifully powerless condition of man. David lived dependent on God – gladly and willingly. He viewed God as his rock – his source of stability and strength. He saw God as his personal trainer and reliable ally. When David ran into trouble, God was who David ran to for help, hope and healing. He didn’t get too full of himself or allow his position, possessions or power to warp his perspective on life. He knew he needed God – at all times and in every way. All his strength came from God. All his victories were due to God. His rescue from trouble was totally up to God. His success or failure was in God’s hands. His present prosperity and future posterity were up to God. Which is why he could say, “Yes, joyful are those who live like this! Joyful indeed are those whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 144:15 NLT). Living with a clear perspective of God and life is essential to experiencing joy. When we understand just who God is, we will gladly place all our  hope on Him, and refuse to see ourselves as more than what we are – mere mortals. A God-focused perspective can bring peace even in the midst of difficulty, hope in the face of heartache, confidence even when surrounded by confusion and chaos. A healthy perspective of God gives us a healthy view of life.

Father, it is amazing that You, the God of the universe, would take time to even think about me, a mere man. But You do. You created me, care for me, sent Your Son to die for me and You have a plan that includes me. You are great, powerful, holy, sinless, righteous, and yet You choose to care for me. Thank You! Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men