Sunday, August 3, 2008

Job 4.1: Fear God because he is good

Job 4:1 Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said,
2 If we assay to commune with thee, wilt thou be grieved? but who can withhold himself from speaking?

Eliphaz (my God is fine gold) replies, firstly with a disclaimer. Commune doesn’t really give the full effect, he’s really saying “if we test words with you will you be weary?” Yet he feels compelled to speak.

Job 4:3 Behold, thou hast instructed many, and thou hast strengthened the weak hands.
4 Thy words have upholden him that was falling, and thou hast strengthened the feeble knees.
5 But now it is come upon thee, and thou faintest; it toucheth thee, and thou art troubled.

Here we are reminded again that Job has lived uprightly. He has had a reputation for wise counsel to others. The word instruct is ‘yasar’ more closely related to our understanding of discipline or chastisement, even blows. Hands in scripture are pictures of actions, of deeds, of our labor, of authority and of blessing:

Gen 5:29 And he called his name Noah, saying, This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the LORD hath cursed.

Gen 16:9 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands.

Gen 48:14 And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim's head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh's head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn.
15 And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day,
16 The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.

So how do we strengthen the hands of another?

Ezr 6:19 And the children of the captivity kept the passover upon the fourteenth day of the first month.
20 For the priests and the Levites were purified together, all of them were pure, and killed the passover for all the children of the captivity, and for their brethren the priests, and for themselves.
21 And the children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the LORD God of Israel, did eat,
22 And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the LORD had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.

The feast of unleavened bread begins with a remembrance (the Passover) of being delivered from bitter bondage into liberty, so it is naturally joyful, but here it is noted exceedingly so because God had turned the King to strengthen their hands. How? Without repeating three chapters of Ezra, we find that a new temple was to be built according to God’s will and with the decried blessing of Cyrus the former King of Babylon. However, when the people began to build they found that there were adversaries among them:

Ezr 4:1 Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel;
2 Then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither.
3 But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us.
4 Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building,
5 And hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.

The purpose—the work—of God’s people here was the rebuilding of the Temple of God, and they were weakened in this purpose by all these legal actions which eventually caused the building to cease. Until the prophet Haggai told them to start again. The enemies again try to make trouble by writing to the new king Darius, but this turned against them when Darius strengthened their hands…

Ezr 6:6 Now therefore, Tatnai, governor beyond the river, Shetharboznai, and your companions the Apharsachites, which are beyond the river, be ye far from thence:
7 Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God in his place.
8 Moreover I make a decree what ye shall do to the elders of these Jews for the building of this house of God: that of the king's goods, even of the tribute beyond the river, forthwith expenses be given unto these men, that they be not hindered.
9 And that which they have need of, both young bullocks, and rams, and lambs, for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the appointment of the priests which are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail:
10 That they may offer sacrifices of sweet savours unto the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and of his sons.
11 Also I have made a decree, that whosoever shall alter this word, let timber be pulled down from his house, and being set up, let him be hanged thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this.
12 And the God that hath caused his name to dwell there destroy all kings and people, that shall put to their hand to alter and to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem. I Darius have made a decree; let it be done with speed.

The enemy had hoped, apparently, that there was no decree or that the King would be to lazy or indifferent to search, but instead Darius does far more instead of simply acknowledging what was given, he adds to it his own decree. This passage is filled with an ardent fire for this mission calling for prayer over the king and his sons, and for death to all who oppose or alter and bringing a curse on all kings and peoples that attempt to thwart the work.

On a side note, this should show how we never know the impact of our actions when we do them. Remember that this Darius is the same man who had Daniel thrown into the lion’s den (because of his deceived ego rather than malice), but fasted and prayed when it was done that Daniel would be delievered…

Dan 6:26 I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and stedfast for ever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end.
27 He delivereth and rescueth, and he worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.
28 So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

The first act of Darius when he took over was to appoint men of whom Daniel became the chief, and the first trial for Daniel under his reign was the lion’s den and by then already Darius had a knowledge of Daniel’s faith in God. So it would seem that as this part in Ezra takes places more than two years after Darius began to reign that he may have been heavily influenced by Daniel’s presence already. Who knows what would have happened here if Daniel had not changed the King’s heart in that time?

So how do we strengthen hands? By upholding the purpose and authority to which a person commits themselves. If a man purposes to start a business then we encourage and enable him to do so? If someone wants to be a missionary then we encourage and enable them to so? That doesn’t mean giving them a free ride, but we literally lend our strength of resources to them. This was the way of Job.

What about weak knees. Well what do weak knees do? They wobble as when we’re afraid, our knees shake. They betray us. We have purposed to do something and our fears are stealing from us.

Isa 35:3 Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees.
4 Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you.

Our knees are weak with fear, and so strengthen them we must simply speak against it. Be strong! Fear not! It is so easy and common these days to be motivated by fear. Fear of death, of pain, conflict; losing a job, not having enough money. There are an endless parade of things that threaten us, but the truth is when we are ‘secure’ that list is not shorter. Doesn’t Job demonstrate that? He was the greatest and even he was afraid that he was not safe, and for his own purposes God took it all.

There is no security, but God himself. That is why when we see someone who is afraid, we shouldn’t say ‘oh it won’t be that bad, the worst case scenario will never happen.’ Instead we should be saying ‘whatever happens, don’t be afraid. God will save you.’ We strengthen someone against their fears by directing their attention beyond their situation.

Gen 15:1 After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.

‘After these things’ refers to Abraham having just returned from battle alongside the king of Sodom to rescue Lot and his family. God directs his attention from that to see that He is his shield. And he also speaks against Abram’s other fear which he is about to voice concerning being childless by announcing that He is his reward.

Gen 21:17 And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is.

Fear not, why? Because God has heard.

Gen 35:17 And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also.

It is not just any redirection of heart, but towards a hope. Abram away from his fear: I am your shield and reward. Hagar away from her fear of losing her son: God has heard. Rachael away from her fears in childbirth: You will have this son.

Deu 1:21 Behold, the LORD thy God hath set the land before thee: go up and possess it, as the LORD God of thy fathers hath said unto thee; fear not, neither be discouraged.

Fear not: possess your inheritance.

The means to control fear is to look past it to the hope. Isn’t another word for something feared, a dread? Isn’t dread the opposite of hope? When you hope for something (in the true biblical sense), it is a sure expectation of not just of anything but of something good. We don’t hope to die alone, racked with pain, to sink into the dust and be forgotten! We would dread that if we believed it to be true, instead we hope for the day of redemption! Not in a wishful way, but in a certain way reliant upon the faithfulness of God.

Job was a man recognized by his friends as one who added his strength to their purposes, and as a man who directed their hearts to look past fear to hope. And yet, we find that Job himself feared that something like this would happen as he remarked already. And now his friend criticizes him for not bearing up under his weak-kneedness. Why would this be true?

Isn’t it in fact that this is further evidence of Job’s weakness in sometimes reflexive lifestyle. I wanted to temper earlier comments with ‘sometimes’ because we must also remember that Job is still the man in God’s eyes as being perfect (content and unjealous of others), upright (righteous in God’s eyes), fearful of God and revolting from evil. Job was all those things and God commended him for it, but at the same time we see a pattern where by choice of a righteous and perfect will he does what it good and pleasing to God, yet he has neglected his heart, the health of which God is concerned with.

He gets so much right, but then he makes offerings for sins he doesn’t know have happened; praising God for everything while secretly fearing disaster; and then praising God in the disaster while inwardly being torn apart. This is very interesting if you think about the basic premise that is developing in this book. Here was a man who was so righteous in God’s estimate (not man’s) that before Yeshua, the only men he could be compared with were Noah (who alone in his generation was righteous) and Daniel (a man so loved by God that his prayer triggered the sending of Gabriel to deliver a message to him laying out the timetable of Messiah’s coming). I don’t think there’s a man alive that could be compared to Job (then again, I’m no judge of such things), but God throws him into a fight for the very thing God esteems him for—his fear of God. Why? To prove a point to Satan for one, but also so we could learn the importance of our hearts’ health to God, and ultimately we know that it will work to Job’s good because he loves God.

So what is this neglected theme? God is concerned with far more than our righteousness. Obedience is of paramount concern in scripture, but we often get the misguided notion that God wants us to be obedient just for the purpose of obedience. This view of an unloving God is where people get notions like “the Law was only given to show us we couldn’t be righteous.” Rather than the biblical truth that God himself said:

Deu 10:12 And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul,
13 To keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good

All commandments were given expressly for our good, not for the amusement of a whimsical, arbitrary god. They are the standard of righteousness, and on our own we cannot be perfect by them, but they are still the standard of how we should conduct ourselves and in doing so we reap blessings (because they are for our good) and become more like our Father (because the basis is always expressly or implicitly because we are in His image).

This view of God being concerned with our righteousness and not our well-being stems from and/or is the root of our beliefs that his commands are arbitrary and not for our good. And if we allow ourselves to believe this lie, then how can we possibly believe that God is himself good? It is no wonder we don’t trust God if we don’t believe he is good. If you met a man who you believed was not good and he asked for a tenth of your pay check you would probably say “heck no, get out of my face!” But if you really believed in this man as being good (and all that that implies) I bet you would lend it because you would trust him to not abuse your generosity or to ask without a good purpose or to ask without the intent to bless you as well (assuming he had also the power to do it).

How we don’t trust God with our obedience (tithing, returning good for evil, worshipping on His appointed days instead of ours, speaking the truth against popular lies, making fools of ourselves for his namesake) is a direct reflection of the fact that we do not trust God. And that is a direct reflection of the fact that we do not believe God is good.

Job is commended for his contentedness, his righteousness, his fear of God, and his will to cause no evil—but there is no mention of his trust of God. Instead we see that while he is obedient, he has secretly been afraid of this very thing. That God would send him terrible disaster. Why would he have that fear? Fear is caused by lack of the focus on the hope; realization of the truth that God will ultimately deliver. How do we strengthen the feebles knees? By telling the fearful to be strong, because GOD WILL SAVE. To be unafraid we must stand in trust of God because he alone is the final arbiter of every event.

And our trust cannot survive if we do not believe that God is good. Sure we can be righteous in the same way that a child can obey only out of fear of a spanking, but if the child does not see the father and mother are good then they will not trust them and their obedience will only last as long as their fear. This is Satan’s whole hypothesis: He fears because he has much to lose, take away what he fears losing and you will take away his fear, then he will ‘bless’ you. So the antithesis of this, the alternative hypothesis is that there is a reason to fear God and keep integrity other than what you have to lose.

A paradox to our minds, we should fear God and bless him because he is God and because God is good. Why should we fear God because he is good? I don’t know, I can’t wrap my mind around it myself, but remember it was after Yeshua raised the centurion’s servant from the dead that great fear fell on everyone because a ‘great prophet’ was among them. Our fear of God is in someway tied to our belief in his goodness not to what he can take away or his capacity for evil. This is what Satan did not understand or wished to disprove, you can take away his fear by pouring evil upon him and taking good from him, but God knew Job. He knew Job would in the end be able to maintain his fear of God by seeing God’s inate goodness, but for now Job is struggling with this understanding as we often do.

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