The Instability of Bad Theology

6 “For to the snow he says, ‘Fall on the earth,’
    likewise to the downpour, his mighty downpour.
He seals up the hand of every man,
    that all men whom he made may know it.
Then the beasts go into their lairs,
    and remain in their dens.
From its chamber comes the whirlwind,
    and cold from the scattering winds.
10 By the breath of God ice is given,
    and the broad waters are frozen fast.
11 He loads the thick cloud with moisture;
    the clouds scatter his lightning.
12 They turn around and around by his guidance,
    to accomplish all that he commands them
    on the face of the habitable world.
13 Whether for correction or for his land
    or for love, he causes it to happen.

14 “Hear this, O Job;
    stop and consider the wondrous works of God.
15 Do you know how God lays his command upon them
    and causes the lightning of his cloud to shine?
16 Do you know the balancings of the clouds,
    the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge,
17 you whose garments are hot
    when the earth is still because of the south wind?
18 Can you, like him, spread out the skies,
    hard as a cast metal mirror?
19 Teach us what we shall say to him;
    we cannot draw up our case because of darkness.
20 Shall it be told him that I would speak?
    Did a man ever wish that he would be swallowed up?

21 “And now no one looks on the light
    when it is bright in the skies,
    when the wind has passed and cleared them.
22 Out of the north comes golden splendor;
    God is clothed with awesome majesty.
23 The Almighty—we cannot find him;
    he is great in power;
    justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate.
24 Therefore men fear him;
    he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit.” – Job 37:6-24 ESV

Elihu continues his impassioned defense of God by emphasizing His sovereignty over creation. This God of whom Job has taken issue is the same God who controls the weather and, by extension, all created life. God is behind every storm and every drop of rain. He produces thunder, lightning, ice, wind, heat, and cold from His throne room in heaven, controlling the fates of all living creatures. Their habitats are directly impacted by His sovereign will and their well-being is under His providential control.

“He directs the snow to fall on the earth
    and tells the rain to pour down.
Then everyone stops working
    so they can watch his power.
The wild animals take cover
    and stay inside their dens. – Job 37:6-8 NLT

It’s not difficult to discern the point behind Elihu’s lofty rhetoric. This young man has not gotten distracted or forgotten about Job. This entire speech is intended to drive home his disdain for Job’s continued demand for an audience with God. Elihu finds Job’s personalized approach to God to be offensive. In his estimation, Job has gotten too comfortable with his relationship with the Almighty and has lost sight of His glory and splendor. Job is too demanding and has become far too casual in his conversations with Yahweh. He treats God like a peer when he should be cowering in fear and begging for mercy.

But Job and Elihu have strikingly different understandings of God. For Job, God is all-powerful, but also intimate and personal. He cares about the plight of His children and hears them when they call to Him. This is what has Job so perplexed and confused. He has suffered greatly and call out repeatedly, but God has not responded. His caring and compassionate God is acting in a way that is contrary to his nature.

Job is not demanding anything from God. He is simply asking for clarity on his circumstances. He wants to know why he is suffering and when he might expect to find relief. Job’s cries to God are not meant to be disrespectful; they are simply the impassioned pleas of a desperate man who longs to find relief and restoration. A quick review of Job’s comments provides insight into his thinking and the motivation behind his heartfelt cries to God.

“What I always feared has happened to me.
    What I dreaded has come true.
I have no peace, no quietness.
    I have no rest; only trouble comes.” – Job 3:25-26 NLT

At least I can take comfort in this:
    Despite the pain,
    I have not denied the words of the Holy One.
But I don’t have the strength to endure.
    I have nothing to live for. – Job 6:10-11 NLT

“My days fly faster than a weaver’s shuttle.
    They end without hope.
O God, remember that my life is but a breath,
    and I will never again feel happiness. – Job 7:6-7 NLT

If I have sinned, what have I done to you,
    O watcher of all humanity?
Why make me your target?
    Am I a burden to you?
Why not just forgive my sin
    and take away my guilt?
For soon I will lie down in the dust and die.
    When you look for me, I will be gone.” – Job 7:20-21 NLT

Job was not being disrespectful; he was being brutally honest. The unbearable nature of his pain and loss had left him in dire need of expiation or an explanation. He wanted to know the why behind his suffering. Why had he lost his entire fortune? Why had all ten of his adult children died in a freak accident? Why had his reputation been dragged through the mud and his integrity been destroyed by the unjust comments of former friends? Why had God not intervened or simply destroyed him? If Job had done something worthy of all this devastation, why had God not left him alive? If he was innocent, why would God not come to his defense and acquit him of all the false charges against him?

But Job wasn’t stupid. He knew God was holy, righteous, and transcendent. The Almighty was not a man whom Job could order to appear in court and answer for His actions.

“…how can a person be declared innocent in God’s sight?
If someone wanted to take God to court,
    would it be possible to answer him even once in a thousand times?
For God is so wise and so mighty.
    Who has ever challenged him successfully?” – Job 9:2-3 NLT

Since God is the righteous Judge of the universe, Job knew he stood no chance of successfully arguing his case or achieving an acquittal.

“God is not a mortal like me,
    so I cannot argue with him or take him to trial.
If only there were a mediator between us,
    someone who could bring us together. – Job 9:32-33 NLT

These statements reveal that Job had a deep respect for God but they also display the depth of his despair. He knew God was his only hope but he felt as if he had no access to the only One who could justify or judge him. Among his friends, Job’s guilt was a foregone conclusion. It was an open-and-shut case that left no room for denial or debate. Yet, Job kept reaching out to God for a second and more vital opinion on the matter.

Then there was Elihu. His view of God was admirable and, for the most part, accurate. He saw God as a powerful and unparalleled in glory. He was the transcendent God who ruled over all creation and reigned in mighty and majesty. He was without equal and worthy of honor and obedience. Elihu’s God was completely righteous and always right. He was free to do as He pleased and whatever He did was just and fair. No one should dare to question His ways or doubt the efficacy of his actions. That’s why Elihu took exception with Job’s constant complaints aimed at the Almighty. As far as Elihu was concerned, Job was out of bounds and way over his head.

And Elihu kept trying to remind Job that his circumstances were the result of God’s divine judgment. He was in this predicament because he had failed to show God proper respect.

“The clouds churn about at his direction.
    They do whatever he commands throughout the earth.
He makes these things happen either to punish people
    or to show his unfailing love.” – Job 37:12-13 NLT

From everything else Elihu has said, it’s doubtful that he believed Job was the recipient of God’s unfailing love. All the evidence was stacked in the favor of God’s judgment. It was obvious to Elihu, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar that Job was guilty and deserving of everything that had happened. These four men had no idea what Job had done to merit such a harsh punishment from God but they were convinced that he had done something.

As Elihu begins to wrap up his lengthy and meandering speech, he devolves into the use of sarcasm, attempting to humiliate and belittle Job.

“So teach the rest of us what to say to God.
    We are too ignorant to make our own arguments.
Should God be notified that I want to speak?
    Can people even speak when they are confused? – Job 37:19-20 NLT

He mocks Job for his incessant demands for an audience with God. In Elihu’s estimation, Job is a fool at best and a blasphemer at worst. He views Job as an ignorant sinner who has no respect for the God of the universe and is destined to suffer the consequences for his impiety and immorality.

In a false display of compassion, Elihu encourages Job to change his ways and show God the respect and honor he deserves.

“We cannot imagine the power of the Almighty;
    but even though he is just and righteous,
    he does not destroy us.
No wonder people everywhere fear him.
    All who are wise show him reverence.” – Job 37:23-24 NLT

But this will prove to be the last words that Elihu or his companions will speak. Their time to pontificate and postulate is over. Now they will hear from the One for whom they claimed to be speaking. The very God whom they thought they knew was about to expose the ignorance of their ways. And much to their shock, God would begin His speech by addressing Job directly. Their friend would get his wish. The transcendent, all-powerful God of the universe had heard Job’s cries and was ready to speak.

But what comes next will prove to be a surprise to all the parties involved. Everyone, including Job, is about to get a lecture from God that will leave them at a loss for words and in need of an overhaul of their theology.

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.

Diminishing God’s Glory by Disregarding His Love

22 “Behold, God is exalted in his power;
    who is a teacher like him?
23 Who has prescribed for him his way,
    or who can say, ‘You have done wrong’?

24 “Remember to extol his work,
    of which men have sung.
25 All mankind has looked on it;
    man beholds it from afar.
26 Behold, God is great, and we know him not;
    the number of his years is unsearchable.
27 For he draws up the drops of water;
    they distill his mist in rain,
28 which the skies pour down
    and drop on mankind abundantly.
29 Can anyone understand the spreading of the clouds,
    the thunderings of his pavilion?
30 Behold, he scatters his lightning about him
    and covers the roots of the sea.
31 For by these he judges peoples;
    he gives food in abundance.
32 He covers his hands with the lightning
    and commands it to strike the mark.
33 Its crashing declares his presence;
    the cattle also declare that he rises.

1 “At this also my heart trembles
    and leaps out of its place.
Keep listening to the thunder of his voice
    and the rumbling that comes from his mouth.
Under the whole heaven he lets it go,
    and his lightning to the corners of the earth.
After it his voice roars;
    he thunders with his majestic voice,
    and he does not restrain the lightnings when his voice is heard.
God thunders wondrously with his voice;
    he does great things that we cannot comprehend.
– Job 36:22-37:5 ESV

Elihu now shifts the focus of his argument away from Job and onto God. He has not given up on leveling his indictment against Job, but has simply taken a new tactic. By emphasizing the transcendence of God, Elihu hopes to shame Job into submission. What right does this groveling and grumbling man have to expect an audience before the God of the universe? Elihu wants Job to understand that his incessant demands for justice from God are a waste of time and breath.

“Look, God is all-powerful.
    Who is a teacher like him?
No one can tell him what to do,
    or say to him, ‘You have done wrong.’ – Job 36:22-23 NLT

Elihu’s theology promoted a God who was above reproach and beyond man’s capacity to understand. How dare a mere mortal like Job shake his fist in the face of the Almighty and demand restitution and restoration. God owed Job nothing, and all of Job’s petty and self-pitying pleas were having no impact on the One who had bigger fish to fry. Instead of bombarding God with a barrage of questions and calls for an inquest, Job would be better off praising His glory and greatness.

“Instead, glorify his mighty works,
    singing songs of praise.
Everyone has seen these things,
    though only from a distance. – Job 36:24-25 NLT

Not bad advice but, once again, it lacks nuance and is being used to shame Job into silence. In essence, Elihu is telling Job to stop complaining and start praising. The truth is, there may be a time when that kind of counsel is called for, but in Job’s case it seems a bit out of place and insensitive. It wasn’t wrong for Elihu to remind Job of God’s glory and to encourage an attitude of praise, but his motivation seems a bit off. Was Elihu interested in the glory of God or in using that topic to shame Job into a confession of guilt?

Everything he says is correct and in line with the Scripture’s description of God’s nature and character. He manages to paint an accurate likeness of God but everyone of his brush strokes seems to emphasize God’s majesty and transcendence. His portrait of God displays a distant and incomprehensible deity who remains aloof and detached from man. Look closely at Elihu’s use of language.

“Look, God is greater than we can understand.
    His years cannot be counted.
He draws up the water vapor
    and then distills it into rain.
The rain pours down from the clouds,
    and everyone benefits. – Job 36:26-28 NLT

Yes, God is mysterious and far beyond man’s capacity to understand. His ways are unfathomable and incomprehensible. This great God of the universe is busy managing the details of His vast kingdom and orchestrating everything from the weather to the annual harvests that meet the needs of all men. Elihu’s God is patterned after the pagan deities who were believed to rule over various aspects of nature and who used their domains to exact blessing and judgment on the human race. Notice how Elihu describes God as using nature to either benefit or punish mankind.

“Who can understand the spreading of the clouds
    and the thunder that rolls forth from heaven?
See how he spreads the lightning around him
    and how it lights up the depths of the sea.
By these mighty acts he nourishes the people,
    giving them food in abundance.
He fills his hands with lightning bolts
    and hurls each at its target. – Job 36:29-32 NLT

Elihu then draws the conclusion: “The thunder announces his presence; the storm announces his indignant anger” (Job 36:33 NLT). It is no coincidence that Job some of the losses that Job had suffered were due to “acts of nature.”

Job would have remembered that fateful day when one of his servants arrived with the following news:

“The fire of God has fallen from heaven and burned up your sheep and all the shepherds. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.” – Job 1:16 NLT

And before Job could process this devastating information, another servant showed up with even worse news.

“Your sons and daughters were feasting in their oldest brother’s home. Suddenly, a powerful wind swept in from the wilderness and hit the house on all sides. The house collapsed, and all your children are dead. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.” – Job 1:18-19 NLT

The “fire of God” and “a powerful wind” were responsible for Job’s losses and now Elihu declares, “the storm announces his indignant anger” (Job 36:33 NLT). What was Job supposed to deduce from this message? What point was Elihu attempting to make?

Elihu answers those questions when he counsels Job to “Listen carefully to the thunder of God’s voice as it rolls from his mouth” (Job 37:2 NLT). Elihu is letting Job know that God is not yet done pouring out His judgment. According to Elihu the ongoing presence of pain and suffering in Job’s life was proof of his guilt and evidence of God’s judgment.

Elihu even manages to portray himself as the godly saint who recognizes God’s greatness and responds accordingly.

“My heart pounds as I think of this.
    It trembles within me. – Job 37:1 NLT

He trembles in awe at the power of God but he is not afraid of judgment because, unlike Job, he had done nothing wrong. It is Job who needs to worry. That is why Elihu counsels him to offer praise and glory the all-powerful God so that the storm of His wrath might subside.

God’s voice is glorious in the thunder.
    We can’t even imagine the greatness of his power. – Job 37:5 NLT

This seems to be a subtle suggestion that, unless Job confesses his guilt, things are going to increase in intensity. The judgment of God will not relent until Job repents. Elihu is attempting scare Job straight. He is using the inescapable and unfathomable power of God to threaten Job into submission and force a confession.

But nowhere do we hear Elihu speak of God’s mercy and grace. He never mentions the love of God and he never encourages Job to seek hope in the patience and forgiveness of God. Yet, God described Himself in those terms when speaking to Moses in the wilderness.

“Yahweh! The Lord!
    The God of compassion and mercy!
I am slow to anger
    and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.
I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations.
    I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.” – Exodus 34:6-7 NLT

It was King David who said of God, “O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help” (Psalm 86:5 NLT). He went on to describe God in terms that provide a much-needed balance to Elihu’s one-dimensional view. His words echo the self-disclosure of God Himself.

But you, O Lord,
    are a God of compassion and mercy,
slow to get angry
    and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. – Psalm 86:15 NLT

The prophet, Jonah, who had been commanded by God to “go to the great city of Nineveh” (Jonah 1:2 NLT), was reluctant to take up his commission because he didn’t want to see the Ninevites spared from God’s judgment. God had made Jonah’s commission quite clear: “Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are” (Jonah 1:2 NLT).

When Jonah finally obeyed God’s command and made his way to Nineveh, his worst fears were realized when the citizens of that wicked city repented. Disappointed that the enemies of God’s people had been spared and not destroyed, Jonah declared his dissatisfaction.

“Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. – Jonah 4:2 NLT

The whole reason Jonah tried to avoid his God-ordained mission was because he knew that Yahweh was merciful and compassionate. He understood that God was loving and quick to forgive. It was his knowledge of God that prompted him to try and disobey God because he didn’t want to see the Ninevites spared.

In a way, Elihu seems to be doing the very same thing. He avoids any mention of God’s love, mercy, and grace. He refuses to portray God as patient and compassionate. In his determination to convict and condemn Job, Elihu ends up diminishing the glory of God. He invites Job to praise a version of God that is incomplete and, therefore, inaccurate.

Elihu could have used a few pointers from the prophet, Joel. Rather than trying to scare Job into submission by emphasizing the judgment of God, Elihu should have pointed his suffering friend to the love, mercy, and grace of God.

That is why the Lord says,
    “Turn to me now, while there is time.
Give me your hearts.
    Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
Don’t tear your clothing in your grief,
    but tear your hearts instead.”
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
    He is eager to relent and not punish. – Joel 2:12-13 NLT

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.

When Questioning God Becomes Playing God

13 “God will not turn back his anger;
    beneath him bowed the helpers of Rahab.
14 How then can I answer him,
    choosing my words with him?
15 Though I am in the right, I cannot answer him;
    I must appeal for mercy to my accuser.
16 If I summoned him and he answered me,
    I would not believe that he was listening to my voice.
17 For he crushes me with a tempest
    and multiplies my wounds without cause;
18 he will not let me get my breath,
    but fills me with bitterness.
19 If it is a contest of strength, behold, he is mighty!
    If it is a matter of justice, who can summon him?
20 Though I am in the right, my own mouth would condemn me;
    though I am blameless, he would prove me perverse.
21 I am blameless; I regard not myself;
    I loathe my life.
22 It is all one; therefore I say,
    ‘He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.’
23 When disaster brings sudden death,
    he mocks at the calamity of the innocent.
24 The earth is given into the hand of the wicked;
    he covers the faces of its judges—
    if it is not he, who then is it?– Job 9:13-24 ESV

Job clings tenaciously to his claim of innocence but knows that he will have a difficult time proving it in the divine court of law. He is faced with the formidable task of having to present his case before the Judge of the universe and, as far as he can see, his prospects of success are small. Taking the advice of Bildad, Job inquired of bygone ages and considered what the fathers searched out (Job 8:8). He took a look at history and came to the conclusion that God doesn’t always side with the righteous. His ways are not always predictable.

Job makes mention of Rahab, likely a reference to Leviathan, a mythic creature (Job 26:12) that the Jews associated with the sea. Rahab is most often used in Scripture as a reference to the sea and God’s power over it. The God who can control the oceans of the earth cannot be defeated by the rhetoric of mortal men. Job mournfully concludes, “…who am I, that I should try to answer God or even reason with him?” (Job 9:14 NLT).

The oceans bend to the will of God. The creatures of the earth must do His bidding. Nothing and no one can stand before Almighty God, so what hope does Job have of successfully stating his case and receiving justice? Even if he is right, he will be powerless before God. His words of self-defense will prove meaningless, leaving him with no other option than to plead for God’s mercy.

From Job’s perspective, God was the cause of all his troubles, and this conclusion led him to see no hope in arguing his case. As far as Job could see, God had made up His mind and He would not be swayed by some mortal’s pathetic pleas of innocence.

“For he attacks me with a storm
    and repeatedly wounds me without cause.
He will not let me catch my breath,
    but fills me instead with bitter sorrows.
If it’s a question of strength, he’s the strong one.
    If it’s a matter of justice, who dares to summon him to court? – Job 9:17-19 NLT

At this point in his life, Job’s conception of God had become marred by his circumstances. He saw God as the divine bully in the sky who was using His superior power to taunt a weaker and undeserving victim. Job’s theology had become warped by the recent events of his life. He was viewing God through eyes clouded by tears and a mind heavy with grief. Nothing made sense. God appeared to be uncaring, even callous. Job had reached the conclusion that the justice of God had less to do with righteousness and rightness than it did with His overwhelming power. Job had divorced God’s justice from His goodness. In his grief, Job had decided that the only difference between God and mortal men was His undiminished sovereignty and unaccountability. God answered to no one.

Because Job understood God to be just and right, it didn’t matter what he said. He could claim his innocence but it would do no good. Job could state his case but God would ultimately win any war of words and the divine verdict would be binding and non-negotiable. This pessimistic and defeatist mentality led Job to conclude, “Innocent or wicked, it is all the same to God. That’s why I say, ‘He destroys both the blameless and the wicked’” (Job 9:22 NLT).

But Job was wrong. His conclusions, though heartfelt and sincere, were inaccurate. His understanding of God was flawed, having been heavily influenced by his circumstances. The Scriptures paint a starkly different image of God.

This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. – Psalm 18:30 ESV

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

“God’s way is perfect.
    All the Lord’s promises prove true.
    He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.
For who is God except the Lord?
    Who but our God is a solid rock? – 2 Samuel 22:31-32 NLT

For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. – Psalm 84:11 NIV

This last verse is particularly pertinent because it reminds us of God’s previous assessment of Job. The Lord had declared His servant to be “a blameless and upright man” (Job 1:8 ESV). He viewed Job as faithful and a man of integrity. But God had allowed Satan to test Job’s allegiance. The Almighty permitted the enemy to take away all that was near and dear to Job, except his life. Satan had conjectured that Job would turn his back on God if all the blessings of life were removed. And, in a way, it almost seems as if Satan was right.

Job still acknowledges the presence and power of God. He has refrained from following his wife’s advice to curse God and die. But Job does not come across as a man who has a healthy relationship with His Creator. He doesn’t seem to view the ways of God as perfect and favorable. He doesn’t refer to God as his rock, sun, or shield. And while he readily admits that God is just, Job doesn’t describe Him as faithful or fair. In fact, Job’s assessment of God is anything but favorable or optimistic.

“When a plague sweeps through,
    he laughs at the death of the innocent.
The whole earth is in the hands of the wicked,
    and God blinds the eyes of the judges.
    If he’s not the one who does it, who is?” – Job 9:23-24 NLT

What makes this statement so significant is that it comes from the same lips that earlier declared, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10 ESV). Job no longer appears willing to “receive evil” from the hand of God. He has had enough and demands that his innocence be acknowledged and his suffering come to an end. In a way, Job reveals that he knows what is best and is determined to get his way, and the only thing standing in his way is God. Whether he realizes it or not, Job has decided to play god and, in doing so, he has declared war on Yahweh. He has decided that Yahweh is unfair and ultimately, unjust in His dealings with men. Without realizing it, Job has succumbed to the same tactic that Satan used to deceive Eve in the garden. He has bought into the enemy’s tempting offer of autonomy.

“…your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” – Genesis 3:5 NLT

Job’s eyes had been “opened” by the lies of Satan and he believed that he knew what was best for himself. He decided that he was right and God was wrong. Without actually saying it, Job declared that his way would be better than God’s way. His brand of justice would be superior to that of God. His definition of right and wrong was the only one to consider and his preferred outcome was the only one he would accept. But Job had a lot to learn about the justice of God, and he would soon discover that his desperate desire to play god would not improve his circumstances. The solution to his problem was not the removal of all the problems from his life. What he needed most was a healthy understanding of the character of 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.

The Folly of a Faulty View of God

1 Then Job answered and said:

“Truly I know that it is so:
    But how can a man be in the right before God?
If one wished to contend with him,
    one could not answer him once in a thousand times.
He is wise in heart and mighty in strength
    —who has hardened himself against him, and succeeded?—
he who removes mountains, and they know it not,
    when he overturns them in his anger,
who shakes the earth out of its place,
    and its pillars tremble;
who commands the sun, and it does not rise;
    who seals up the stars;
who alone stretched out the heavens
    and trampled the waves of the sea;
who made the Bear and Orion,
    the Pleiades and the chambers of the south;
10 who does great things beyond searching out,
    and marvelous things beyond number.
11 Behold, he passes by me, and I see him not;
    he moves on, but I do not perceive him.
12 Behold, he snatches away; who can turn him back?
    Who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’” – Job 9:1-12 ESV

Job was convinced of his own innocence but he wasn’t quite sure how to state his case before God Almighty. Bildad had brought up the topic of God’s justice and Job took no issue with his friend’s assessment. His only point of contention was with Bildad’s insistence that he “seek God and plead with the Almighty for mercy” (Job 8:5 ESV). That all sounded well and good but how was a mere man to come before the God of the universe and hope to stand a chance of declaring his own innocence? Despite his strong belief in his innocence, Job asked, “…how can a person be declared innocent in God’s sight?” (Job 9:2 NLT).

Eliphaz had boldly proclaimed, “If I were you, I would go to God and present my case to him” (Job 5:8 NLT). But Job insists that Eliphaz’s confident assertion is easier said than done.

“Yes, I know all this is true in principle.
    But how can a person be declared innocent in God’s sight?
If someone wanted to take God to court,
    would it be possible to answer him even once in a thousand times?
For God is so wise and so mighty.
    Who has ever challenged him successfully? – Job 9:2-4 NLT

Job found it easy to confront and contradict his two friends, but to hope to stand before God and demand a fair trial was something he couldn’t fathom. He was more than confident debating Eliphaz and Bildad; after all, they were only human and were hampered by their unenlightened, earth-bound perspectives. But God is all-wise and all-knowing. As the sovereign God of the universe, He “is wise in heart and mighty in strength” (Job 9:4 ESV). How was Job supposed to come before God and hope to stand any chance of arguing his case with any success? He pessimistically concedes, “Who has ever challenged him successfully?” (Job 9:4 NLT).

In this doleful response to the counsel of his friends, Job reveals the extent of his reverence and awe for God. He displays a strong understanding of God’s sovereignty but it is tinged with a hint of resignation. For Job, God was a distant and disembodied deity who was to be feared. There is no sense of intimacy or personal friendship expressed in Job’s description of God. In his mind, God was the “unmoved mover,” a phrase coined by the Greek philosopher, Aristotle. He wrote, “…there must be an immortal, unchanging being, ultimately responsible for all wholeness and orderliness in the sensible world” (Sach, Job. “Aristotle: Metaphysics”. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.).

Job’s concept of God was that of an invisible, all-powerful deity who created the universe and was fully capable of doing with it whatever He wanted to do.

“Without warning, he moves the mountains,
    overturning them in his anger.
He shakes the earth from its place,
    and its foundations tremble.
If he commands it, the sun won’t rise
    and the stars won’t shine. – Job 9:5-7 NLT

Job was awed by God’s power but not comforted by God’s presence in his life. He could not conceive of this great God giving him the time of day or listening to his pleas of innocence. Job couldn’t fathom why the One who hung the stars in the heavens and maintained the order of the entire universe would ever bother to care about someone as insignificant and unimportant as him.

Job’s humility is to be admired but it reveals a woeful understanding of the nature of God. His concept of God, while accurate, is incomplete. He has no idea just how much God loves and cares for him. Like his two friends, Job is blind to what is going on in the unseen realms. He is oblivious to the conversation that God had with Satan, in which the Almighty declared His pleasure with him.

“Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? – Job 1:8 ESV

“Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” – Job 2:3 ESV

Job seems to believe that his all-powerful God has no time for or interest in him. This “unmoved mover” is too busy caring for the universe to take note of some insignificant human living in the land of Uz. Job admits that God “does great things too marvelous to understand” (Job 9:10 ESV), but he concludes that God is too busy to deal with his petty problems or listen to his pleas for assistance.

Job displays an all-too-familiar concept of God that is shared by far too many believers today. This idea of a great God in the sky who has no time or interest in the billions of helpless, hopeless earth-bound creatures scurrying across the planet is alive and well today – even among professing believers. We may pray to this God, but we don’t actually believe He hears or will answer. We give lip service to His grace and goodness but live as if He is too distant or disinterested in what is going on in our lives to do anything about it. He may help others but He probably won’t help us. He keeps the lights of the universe on but He’s too busy to do anything about the darkness enveloping our lives. This pessimistic perception of God is all too prevalent in today’s world and fully embraced by many who would declare themselves to be faithful God followers.

And these very same people would wholeheartedly agree with the gloomy perception of Job.

“…when he comes near, I cannot see him.
    When he moves by, I do not see him go.
If he snatches someone in death, who can stop him?
    Who dares to ask, ‘What are you doing?’ – Job 9:11-12 NLT

But this one-dimensional view of God is unbiblical, inaccurate, and unhelpful. It paints a distorted view of God that is unmerited and diminishes His glory. The Scriptures paint a starkly different image of God.

The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help.
    He rescues them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
    he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

The righteous person faces many troubles,
    but the Lord comes to the rescue each time. – Psalm 34:17-19 NLT

The Lord is righteous in everything he does;
    he is filled with kindness.
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 145:17-20 NLT

God is our refuge and strength,
    always ready to help in times of trouble.
So we will not fear when earthquakes come
    and the mountains crumble into the sea.
Let the oceans roar and foam.
    Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge! – Psalm 46:1-3 NLT

Job didn’t have access to these truths. He had no Bible to open up and read about the goodness of God, so his entire understanding of God was based on his own experience. He was confined to judging God based on circumstantial evidence. In looking at his life, Job could remember a day when he was blessed by God. He had enjoyed good health, financial success, and the joy of a happy home life. His God was good and so was his life. But then, in a moment’s time, all that changed. He lost everything. The blessings were replaced with curses that were unbearable and inexplicable. He couldn’t understand what was going on but was firm in his belief that he had done nothing to deserve such a fate.

In hopeless resignation and spurred on by the unhelpful counsel of his two friends, Job began to draw unhealthy conclusions about God that would do more harm than good. He could only conceive of God as a righteous and unapproachable judge who had no patience or time to hear the petty complaints of a mere human. Job wanted to defend himself and testify to his own innocence but didn’t believe he would get a fair hearing. His faulty view of God left him in a state of resentment and frustration because he couldn’t imagine the “unmoved mover” being moved by his plight or persuaded by his pleas of innocence. And his growing resignation will result in an ever-increasing sense of despair that, left unchecked, will turn into disdain and doubt.

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.

Our Multidimensional and Merciful God

20 The word of the Lord came to me: 21 “Son of man, set your face toward Sidon, and prophesy against her 22 and say, Thus says the Lord God:

“Behold, I am against you, O Sidon,
    and I will manifest my glory in your midst.
And they shall know that I am the Lord
    when I execute judgments in her
    and manifest my holiness in her;
23 for I will send pestilence into her,
    and blood into her streets;
and the slain shall fall in her midst,
    by the sword that is against her on every side.
Then they will know that I am the Lord.

24 “And for the house of Israel there shall be no more a brier to prick or a thorn to hurt them among all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. Then they will know that I am the Lord God.

25 “Thus says the Lord God: When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and manifest my holiness in them in the sight of the nations, then they shall dwell in their own land that I gave to my servant Jacob. 26 And they shall dwell securely in it, and they shall build houses and plant vineyards. They shall dwell securely, when I execute judgments upon all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. Then they will know that I am the Lord their God.” – Ezekiel 28:20-26 ESV

We tend to struggle with a lot of the imagery and words used in a book like Ezekiel. In it, we get a glimpse of God that tends to make us a little bit uncomfortable. He appears angry, vindictive, and violent, using His power like a neighborhood bully.

After a steady diet of the more attractive version of God depicted in the New Testament, the wrathful, vindictive image found in the Old Testament can come across as a bit disconcerting. It can be difficult to reconcile the God found in Ezekiel with the loving, forgiving, merciful, and grace-giving God we have come to know and love.

But the Bible gives us a complete and holistic view of God. Yes, He is at times angry and wrathful. Yet He is also patient and forgiving. He punishes, but He also protects. He destroys, but He also restores. And in each and every case, all that He does is so that the world might know that He alone is God. Every action God takes is aimed at revealing who He is.

Two times in the closing verses of chapter 28, God declares that what He is about to do will result in a greater knowledge of Him.

“Then they will know that I am the Lord God.” – Ezekiel 28:24 ESV

Then they will know that I am the Lord their God.” – Ezekiel 28:26 ESV

Throughout the Bible, we see evidence of God displaying His power. From the creation account in the opening chapters of Genesis to the cataclysmic events recorded in the book of Revelation, the immense and unmatchable power of God is evidenced for all to see. But at the same time, He also reveals His holiness. Not only is He all-powerful, but He is also completely righteous in all that He does.

The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. – Psalm 145:17 ESV

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

He makes this clear in His message to the Sidonians.

“Give the people of Sidon this message from the Sovereign Lord: ‘I am your enemy, O Sidon, and I will reveal my glory by what I do to you. When I bring judgment against you and reveal my holiness among you, everyone watching will know that I am the Lord.’” – Ezekiel 28:22 NLT

God’s judgment of the people of Sidon and His eventual destruction of them would reveal His holiness. But how? In its simplest form, God’s holiness refers to His set-apartness, His transcendence. He alone is God. There is no one and nothing else like Him. He is distinct and unmatched in all His attributes. He is not a God among gods. He is the only true God. And when God acts against evil and punishes sin, He reveals His distinctive nature. He displays His holiness.

Yet God also reveals His holiness through His kind, gracious, and undeserving treatment of His people. In the same chapter where God warns of His holy judgment against the Sidonians, He promises the restoration of His rebellious people.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: The people of Israel will again live in their own land, the land I gave my servant Jacob. For I will gather them from the distant lands where I have scattered them. I will reveal to the nations of the world my holiness among my people. – Ezekiel 28:25 NLT

God declares that He is going to reveal His holiness, distinctiveness, and set-apartness by returning His people to their land and restoring them to a right relationship with Himself. He is a promise-keeping God, and while He must punish His people for their sins, He will never fully abandon them. His holiness required Him to punish them for their sins, but He would also forgive and restore them.

“They will live safely in Israel and build homes and plant vineyards. And when I punish the neighboring nations that treated them with contempt, they will know that I am the Lord their God.” – Ezekiel 28:26 NLT

God reveals His holiness; His unmatched, unparalleled, distinctiveness in all that He does. Both His wrath and restoration reveal His one-of-a-kind nature. There is no other god like Him. There is no other god BUT Him. The Sidonians, neighbors and close allies to the residents of Tyre, were going to experience God’s judgment because of their unfair treatment of the people of Judah. And their false gods would prove to be no match for Yahweh. He declares Himself their enemy and vows to bring judgment against them. And for the third time, God announces, “Then everyone will know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 28:23 ESV).

The people of Sidon will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Yahweh, the God of Judah, is the one true God. They will have experienced His power and irrefutable presence in the form of their own destruction. While the citizens of Tyre and Sidon gloated over Judah’s demise, they had no idea that a far worse fate awaited them. When they had chosen to align themselves against God’s people, they had unknowingly declared war against Him. They had made God Almighty their sworn enemy. But when the dust settled and the realization of their defeat had sunk in, they would know that He alone is the Lord.

The God of judgment and the God of love and mercy are one and the same God. His holiness requires that He judge sin justly and completely. He cannot turn a blind eye to it. That is why He had to punish the sins of Israel and Judah. Even though they were His chosen people, He could not ignore or overlook their rebellion against Him. But God’s judgment of them was always to be temporary and followed by a remarkable display of His unfailing love and covenant faithfulness, and the author of Hebrews reveals just how compassionate and forgiving God can be.

But when God found fault with the people, he said:

“The day is coming, says the Lord,
    when I will make a new covenant
    with the people of Israel and Judah.
This covenant will not be like the one
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    and led them out of the land of Egypt.
They did not remain faithful to my covenant,
    so I turned my back on them, says the Lord.
But this is the new covenant I will make
    with the people of Israel on that day, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their minds,
    and I will write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
And they will not need to teach their neighbors,
    nor will they need to teach their relatives,
    saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’
For everyone, from the least to the greatest,
    will know me already.
And I will forgive their wickedness,
and I will never again remember their sins.” – Hebrews 8:8-12 NLT

And centuries earlier, God spoke of this very same covenant to Ezekiel.

“And I will make a covenant of peace with them, an everlasting covenant. I will give them their land and increase their numbers, and I will put my Temple among them forever. I will make my home among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And when my Temple is among them forever, the nations will know that I am the LORD, who makes Israel holy.” – Ezekiel 37:26-28 NLT

And when God restores His people, rebuilds His temple, and takes up residence among them once again, the nations will know that He alone is Lord.

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.

An Anchor For the Soul.

For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. – Hebrew 6:13-20 ESV

Living as a believer in this fallen world requires hope. Hope in something far greater to come. Hope in the reality of heaven and hope in God’s promise to His children that He will one day make our eternity a reality. To emphasize the faithfulness of God and the reliability of His promise, the author used Abraham as a case in point. He reminds his readers that Abraham had been give a promise by God to bless and multiply him. But Abraham had to wait a long time for that promise to be fulfilled. It would be 25 years before Isaac was born, and all during that time, Abraham had to deal with the very real fact that he and his wife were not getting any younger and she was no less barren than when the promise was made. When the promise of God was finally fulfilled and Isaac was born, Abraham rejoiced in the faithfulness of God. He had come through for them. He had done the impossible and given Abraham and Sarah a son and heir, in spite of their old age and her barrenness. But not too many years later, God commanded Abraham to take his son, the very one he had so long waited for, and offer him up as a sacrifice. And Abraham obeyed. How? Why? Because he had faith in God. When Isaac asked his father, “where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7 NLT), Abraham was able to confidently answer, “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8 NLT). His answer did not necessarily mean he believed God was going to provide a replacement or stand-in for his son, but that he trusted God fully and completely in what He was asking him to do. Later on in this same letter, in chapter 11, the Great Hall of Faith, the author will explain more fully what was going on in Abraham’s mind at that moment.

It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.” Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead. – Hebrews 11:17-19 NLT

Abraham trusted in the character of God. He knew he could trust God and that even if he had to go through with the sacrifice of Isaac, God was powerful enough to raise his son from the dead. God was going to fulfill His promise and Isaac was key to that happening. When Abraham had shown God that he was willing to obey His command fully, God intervened. He sent an angel to stop Abraham from killing Isaac and provided a ram as a substitute sacrifice. Then God said to Abraham, “Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me” (Genesis 22:16-18 NLT). In swearing by His own name, God was emphasizing that His promises were based on His very nature or character. He is trustworthy, faithful, unchanging, powerful, and loving. He can be trusted. “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” (Numbers 23:19 NLT). “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.
” (2 Timothy 2:13 NLT). 

God had made a promise and an oath. These two unchangeable things were the basis of Abraham’s hope. He kept waiting and relying upon the promise of God that had been sealed with the oath of God. He knew His God could be trusted to fulfill all that He had promised. And that is the author’s message to us. Because it is impossible for God to lie, “we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. ” (Hebrews 6:18-19 NLT). We have been promised eternal life through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. We have placed our hope and faith in Him as the means by which we can inherit eternal life. But we must maintain our confidence even in times of testing. We must keep hoping in the promise made to us by God through His Son. Periods of spiritual barrenness should not defeat us. Delays as to His return should not demoralize us. God has promised and He can be trusted, because He does not lie. We have a firm anchor for our souls, even in the storms of life. Jesus, our high priest, has gone on ahead of us and He intercedes for us with God the Father on a daily basis. He is the anchor to which our souls must hold firm, no matter what happens around us. He not only saved us, He is sanctifying us, and one day He will return to redeem and glorify us.

This passage always brings to mind the words of an old hymn. It sums up well the message found in this passage.

In times like these you need a Savior
In times like these you need an anchor;
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!

This Rock is Jesus, Yes, He’s the One;
This Rock is Jesus, the only One!
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!

At An Acceptable Time.

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness. – Psalm 69:13 ESV

The primary purpose of prayer is not to get something from God. But for many of us, that is what we have made it. That is how we understand it and approach it. We pray primarily to receive something we need or want. And while we are encouraged to ask from and offer petitions to God, there is far more to the act of prayer than simply receiving our requests. Prayer is an act of humble submission to a holy, all-powerful God. It conveys our dependence upon Him and acknowledges our understanding that He is the giver of all good things. Jesus said of the Father, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11 ESV). The psalmist reminds us that “the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11 ESV). God loves to give to His children. But there is more to prayer than getting from God. It is an experience in getting to know God. Through prayer we discover the will of God. We experience the nature of God. We begin to understand the attributes of God. We learn the valuable lesson of trusting God. And over time, as we wait for His answer, we grow in our willingness to wait on God.

In this psalm, David makes it clear that his prayer was to God. He wasn’t going to turn to anyone or anything else. His request was going to be made to the only one who could do anything to help him. David was up to his neck in trouble, and he had been for some time. His prayers had been constant and urgent. “ I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God” (Psalm 69:3 ESV). David longed to see God intervene and deliver him from all his difficulties. He wanted to be a living example of God’s saving power. He cried out, “Deliver me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies,and from the deep waters. Let not the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me” (Psalm 69:13-14 ESV).

But David was willing to wait. His prayer was based on his understanding of God’s love and faithfulness. While he would have loved an immediate answer to his prayer and a quick deliverance from his trials, he was willing to wait on God, because he trusted God. He knew that God was there and that He cared. His petition was based on what he knew about God. “Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me” (Psalm 69:16 ESV). We sometimes pray and our focus is more on what we want than on the one to whom we are praying. We can become obsessed with our request and fail to give much thought to God and His love, mercy, grace and power. David went to God because he loved God. David made his request to God because he trusted God. David prayed to God because he was completely dependent upon God. And he knew that God would answer him “at an acceptable time.” The Hebrew literally means, “in a time of favor.” David was willing to wait on God to answer his request when He deemed the timing was right – based on His unfailing love, faithfulness, and mercy.

We are welcome and encouraged to make our requests known to God. Paul writes, “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:5-7 ESV). Notice that Paul says the result of our petition will be peace – the peace of God. In other words, the peace we will receive will be a God-based peace, not an answer-based peace. We will not experience peace because we got what we wanted, but because our God has heard our request and loves us deeply and cares about us greatly. The peace will be founded on the character of God. He is sovereign. He hears. He loves us. He is faithful. He is all-powerful. He will always do the right thing. And He will provide His answer at an acceptable time and in the appropriate manner.

Paul said, “The Lord is at hand.” He is near. He is not distant or disengaged from our experiences. He is as near as our next prayer. But rather than simply pray to get from Him, we should pray to get to know Him, to discover His character, to become more convinced of His love and faithfulness. David was so confident of God’s deliverance that he was able to say, “I will praise the name of God with a song;I will magnify him with thanksgiving” (Psalm 69:30 ESV). He knew His God. He trusted Him. He was willing to wait on Him. Because He knew His answer would come at just the right time and in just the right way.

The Value of Reflection.

You have shown signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, and to this day in Israel and among all mankind, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day. You brought your people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs and wonders, with a strong hand and outstretched arm, and with great terror. – Jeremiah 32:20-21 ESV

Jeremiah 32:17-25

Looking back can be little more than a nostalgic and idealistic longing for the way things used to be, but it can also be a valuable discipline that provides us with perspective. It was George Santayana who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” His was a somewhat negative outlook, but it reflects the truth that occasional reflection on the past has value for the future. There are lessons to be learned. There are examples to emulate and mistakes to avoid. The old saying that hindsight is 20/20 simply reminds us that the validity or stupidity of a decision is much more clear when looking back than when standing with the choice in front of you. There is value in reflection. We can gain so much insight when we take the time to examine the past and see where we have been. George Bernard Shaw put it this way: “If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.”

In his prayer, Jeremiah takes some time to look back. But he is far from nostalgic. He isn’t longing for the good old days. He is reminding himself of the greatness of God. As he stands on the edge of the unknown, with the fall of Jerusalem looming in the future, he reflects on the one things he can count on: God. God had been a constant in the life of Israel for generations. He is the one who had done signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, forcing the pharaoh to release the Israelites after more than 400 years in captivity. But God’s miracles hadn’t ceased there. He had continued to display His power on behalf of the people of God all the way up until that moment in time. God had a reputation for doing great things. But a lot of people had forgotten. They had ceased to remember the past. They were caught up in the present and living with a fear of the future. Overwhelmed with the insecurity of their circumstances, they had either forgotten all about God or had chosen to ignore Him. But Jeremiah was counting on God. He was looking back and reminding himself of just how powerful and personal his God was. This was not the first time the people of Israel had found themselves in a tough spot. They had faced difficult circumstances before, and God had always showed up and come through for them before. Jeremiah knew God was about to bring judgment on the nation of Judah for its stubborn refusal to repent and return to Him. The future didn’t look bright. But in looking back, Jeremiah was able to remind himself of the faithfulness, love, power, and capacity for deliverance of his God.

When we learn to look back, we discover the immutability of God. He is unchanging. He is consistent and highly dependable. You can always rely on Him to act in the same way, day in and day out. He is the same today as He was in the days of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David, Daniel, Jeremiah, Paul, and Peter. The difficulties we face are no greater than the ones faced by the people of God in the Old Testament or the believers in the early church. In fact, in so many ways, we have it far easier. And yet, we find ourselves panicking, doubting, worrying, and wondering if our God can handle our problems. We question whether He is strong enough to deliver us from our circumstances. Jeremiah would encourage us to look back. He would remind us that our fear of the future is best faced with a healthy dose of the past. We may not know what God is going to do, but we can remember what He has already done. We can’t always know what tomorrow holds, but we can know that it’s in good hands because God is in control. He always has been. He always will be. He is consistently, completely reliable. We can count on Him. So when we face the unknown, we simply need to turn around and take a look in the rear view mirror and see where we’ve been and how God has been there with us all along the way. His presence is sometimes best seen in retrospect. His love for us ofter becomes more clear to us upon reflection. Looking back can be a healthy exercise for the child of God. Remembering what He has done can go a long way in helping us trust Him for what He is doing to do. There is value in reflection.

In Wrath Remember Mercy.

O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. – Habakkuk 3:2 ESV

How well do you know God? How intimately are you acquainted with His character and how does that impact the way you view life and influence your prayers? Habakkuk was a prophet of God who lived during the seventh-century B.C. and prophesied to the southern kingdom of Judah during the period of time before they went into exile. Those were difficult days. The people were rebellious. The nation had had a long succession of kings, most of whom had failed to lead well or serve God faithfully. Habakkuk’s job was to call the people to repentance. Like virtually every prophet of God, his message tended to fall on deaf ears and he experienced little to no success for his efforts. Earlier, Habakkuk had prayed another prayer, asking God to explain Himself. “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted” (Habakkuk 1:2-4 ESV). Habakkuk was struggling. He had a difficult, if not impossible job to do. He found himself surrounded by sinful, rebellious people, living in a society where wickedness was rampant. Even the governmental and legal systems were perverted and failing to do their jobs.

God’s response to Habakkuk was simple and direct. “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told” (Habakkuk 1:4 ESV). He went on to tell Habakkuk of the coming Babylonian invasion of Judah. The once great nation would fall and the people would be taken into captivity as a result of their consistent rebellion against God. And Habakkuk was not shocked by God’s news of Judah’s pending doom. He simply stated, “Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof” (Habakkuk 1:12 ESV). He trusted God, but he was confused that He would use an even more wicked, immoral and godless nation to punish the chosen people of God. Habakkuk was wrestling with what he knew about God and how it all fit into his current circumstances. He asked God, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” (Habakkuk 1:13 ESV). Habakkuk was having an internal struggle with what he knew about God and what he saw happening all around him. He was surrounded by injustice and inequality. He helplessly watched as the wicked seemingly enjoy success at the expense of the godly. And then God had told him that the godless, pagan Babylonians would be His chosen instrument of punishment on the nation of Judah.

Judah was looking and praying for salvation. He was asking God to remedy the dismal situation in Judah. But God revealed that judgment was coming, and it would be coming from a source that would shock and surprise most people. God was going to answer Habakkuk’s prayer, but in a way that was unexpected and seemingly unjust. All of this was so confusing to the poor prophet. He trusted God, but he also couldn’t help but look around and see the sinful mess in which the people of Judah found themselves. Everything was topsy-turvy and upside down. Wickedness was winning out over righteousness within the walls of Jerusalem and now God was going to use a pagan nation to destroy those very same walls and the nation that lived within them. And Habakkuk knew that God was justified in His actions. The people were going to get exactly what they deserved. Which led Habakkuk to pray, “I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear.” Habakkuk knew what had happened to the northern kingdom of Israel. God had used the nation of Assyria to punish them, destroying their capital and taking their people into captivity. Habakkuk understood the nature of God’s sovereignty, justice and power, and it caused him to fear God. It was not a cowering, run-for-your-life kind of fear, but a sobering reverence and awe that resulted in a healthy respect for who God was.

Habakkuk appealed to God, asking that “In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known.” He wanted God to reveal His divine plan of judgment to the people. He wanted God to make it known that His wrath was coming, so that the people might yet return to Him and be revived. And God was using Habakkuk as His chosen instrument to accomplish just that end. But when all was said and done, Habakkuk knew that, whatever happened, they were dependent upon God’s mercy. God had every right to be angry. He had been faithful. He had provided blessing upon blessing to His people, but they had chosen to repeatedly and persistently rebel against Him. Now judgment was imminent. So Habakkuk pleaded that God would “in wrath remember mercy.” He knew His God to be loving, faithful, merciful and kind. While He was obligated to punish sin, He was also consistent in extending mercy. Even His punishment would be an expression of His love for the people of Judah. He would use it to bring them to an end of themselves and to create in them an awareness of their need for Him. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6 ESV). Habakkuk was placing his hope, faith and trust in what he knew about God. He was going to trust Him to do the right thing, regardless of whether it made logical sense or not. He was learning to judge his circumstances through the lens of God’s character, rather than the other way around. God’s ways are not our ways. But His ways are always just, righteous and loving.

Finger-Pointing Prayers.

Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, he and the elders of Israel. And they put dust on their heads. And Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord God, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan!  O Lord, what can I say, when Israel has turned their backs before their enemies! For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it and will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will you do for your great name?” – Joshua 7:6-9 ESV

The nation of Israel had survived 40 years of wandering in the wilderness on their way to the land that God had promised them. Once they set foot in Canaan, the land of promise, they had experienced an extraordinary victory over the city of Jericho. God had delivered this walled city into their hands in a miraculous fashion that clearly revealed it was a divinely ordained victory. Under God’s direction, Joshua had led the people around the walls of Jericho in a grand processional for six straight days. On the seventh day they marched around the circumference of the city seven times. At the end of their last lap, seven priests blew seven trumpets, the people shouted, and the walls fell. Not exactly your run-of-the-mill military engagement. But that’s because it was God’s doing. Nobody could claim credit for the victory but Him.

But the joy of the victory was to be short-lived. Because the next city to be attacked was Ai, a much smaller town that should have been a breeze compared to Jericho. The problem was that “the people of Israel broke faith in regards to the devoted things” (Joshua 7:1 ESV). Just prior to their final “victory lap” around Jericho, Joshua had warned the people “the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction” (Joshua 6:17 ESV). But a single individual would choose to ignore Joshua’s warning and take some of the forbidden plunder for himself. Achan ended up stashing a costly cloak, 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels in his tent. As a result of his sin, the Israelites would suffer an unexpected and humiliating defeat at the hands of the people of Ai. Routed and demoralized, “the hearts of the people melted and became as water” (Joshua 7:5 ESV). And it is within that bleak context that Joshua, the God-appointed heir to Moses’ mantle as leader, brought his case before God. His was a very blunt and bleak prayer. It reflects Joshua’s confusion over what had just happened. He began his prayer by asking, “Why?!”

“Why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all?” He was looking for an explanation. He wanted answers. What he had just witnessed made no sense to him. They had gone from overwhelming victory to inexplicable defeat. At this point, Joshua had not idea why this tragedy had happened. He didn’t get it. He didn’t like it. And as far as he was concerned, God had some explaining to do. Had it been God’s plan to release them from captivity in Egypt and drag them across the wilderness for 40 years, only to allow them to suffer defeat at the hands of the Amorites? Joshua even sarcastically commented that it would have been better had they just been content to stay in Egypt. In essence, Joshua questioned God’s integrity and intentions. When he couldn’t explain his less-than-acceptable circumstances, he was quick to blame God. Not only that, he jumped to the worse-case-scenario, automatically assuming that all was lost. Once every other nation caught wind of their defeat, the days of Israel’s existence as a nation would be numbered. It would be just a matter of time before they were just a memory.

This passage is seldom used as a model for prayer. Joshua’s brutally honest verbal fusillade is rarely held up as a healthy example of proper prayer etiquette. And yet, God answered Joshua. He didn’t reprimand him. He didn’t respond with a haughty, “Who do you think you’re talking to, young man?!” Seeing Joshua lying face first in the dirt with his clothes torn as a sign of mourning, God simply said, “Get up!” Then He asked for an explanation for Joshua’s actions. “Why have you fallen on your face?” (Joshua 7:10 ESV). But before Joshua could respond, God gave His own answer. He provided an explanation for what had just happened. “Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you” (Joshua 7:11-12 ESV). God was more than willing to accept responsibility for Israel’s defeat, but He would NOT accept blame for their sin. Joshua could question God’s intentions and motives, but he should never have questioned His integrity. There was and always is a very good reason and explanation for what God does and for what He allows. He is never out of control, caught off guard, mistaken, or ever unjust in His interactions with men. Whether we like or understand the circumstances of our lives, God is sovereignly overseeing each moment. Joshua’s prayer was based on ignorance. He was pointing fingers at God, questioning His intentions and doubting His integrity. But little did he know that sin had entered the camp. Because they had failed to keep God’s command to devote all the plunder to destruction, God was forced to devote them to destruction. Their circumstances were self-inflicted, but God ordained. It was not wrong for Joshua to ask God, “Why?” But it was wrong for him to doubt God’s character. There was a perfectly good reason for their defeat, and it had nothing to do with God’s power or His failure to keep His promises. Our prayers should always begin with what we know about God. His character is unquestionable. His integrity is unshakeable. His intentions are always justifiable. It is perfectly okay to ask God why, but it is safe to say that any blame to be had will never be His. We must always be willing to say along with David, you are “justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:4 ESV).