Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jun 10 2019 - Job 4:1-7; 5:8-27 – The advice of Eliphaz

Job's friends sat with him in silence for seven days. Job had broken the silence with his lament, cursing the day when he was born. How will his friends react to Job's strongly worded lament? How might we have reacted?

Eliphaz is the first to speak and he starts sympathetically. He begins by commending the way Job had often encouraged and strengthened others when they were in need (4:3-4). Eliphaz seems to suggest that Job ought to be able to counsel himself in a similar manner – surely he could apply to himself what he had preached to others (4:5). His piety and godly life should be his confidence and hope, knowing that God would not leave the innocent to perish or destroy the upright (4:6-7).

But this is the problem. Job, an upright man of whom, if I might put it this way, even God is proud, has faced suffering on a scale few others have experienced. If what Eliphaz suggests is true, then Job's friends must conclude from his suffering that he has sinned – perhaps committed some secret sin. On the other hand, Job, knowing his own innocence must conclude that God is unjust.

We are not going to read chapter after chapter of the speeches of Job's friends and Job's responses during which his friends quickly become his accusers. But let us return to the words of Eliphaz. As he wrestles with the puzzle of why righteous Job is suffering he says in 4:17, "Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can even a strong man be more pure than his Maker?" By this truism, Eliphaz suggests that even though others may consider him the most righteous of men, God's standards are very different. Perhaps God had seen sins in Job's life of which he and others are quite unaware.

Much of what Eliphaz has to say to his friend seems far from comforting, but in 5:8 he gives Job good advice. The best thing is for him to lay his cause before God. God is sovereign over all creation; he will save the needy and puts an end to injustice (5:9-16). Or maybe, suggests Eliphaz, Job should understand his suffering as God's discipline (5:17-18). Once Job has understood the lessons God is seeking to teach him, the discipline will cease and Job will again enjoy God's blessings (5:19-26).

Some of Eliphaz's examples seem particularly ill-chosen. To tell a man who has lost all his children that, when God has finished disciplining him, his descendants will be like the grass of the earth in number (5:25), was crassly insensitive to say the least. Eliphaz rounds off what he has to say by urging Job to apply these lessons to himself (5:27).

At the end of the book of Job, the Lord singles out Eliphaz for special criticism saying that he has not spoken truth about God (42:7). Eliphaz believes that he is able to understand the rules that must govern a moral universe and that must therefore bind the actions of God. Job is beginning to understand that God, as sovereign ruler of the universe, may give or take away as he pleases (1:21; 2:10). There is an unfathomable mystery about the ways of God. It is folly for us, as human beings to think that we can hold God accountable for what he does. God is not answerable to us – but he is unfailing in his grace and mercy towards us (see Romans 11:33-36).

We know that suffering and loss affect good and bad alike in this present world. Nevertheless, the Christian can receive suffering as discipline; not as punishment for some wrong we may have done but as discipline that drives us to Christ and trains us to be more like him. He suffered for us even though he had done no wrong. Suffering may help us to seek his face, to learn of him and to be strengthened by his presence with us in our loss and our distress.

Father God, your ways are beyond our understanding. But we understand and know that you love us for you gave your Son for us that we might have eternal life in him. Fill us with your Spirit that we might grow more like our precious Saviour and that we might always have fitting words of encouragement to those in need.

Jun 10 2013 - Acts 7:30-50 – God who sees and hears and comes down to rescue

In revealing himself to us God accommodates himself to our understanding, describing his actions in homely, human (anthropomorphic) terms.

Stephen describes how God appeared to Moses at the burning bush and said that he had seen the oppression of his people in Egypt and had heard their groaning and had now come down to set them free. What a wonderfully dramatic picture. But it’s more than a picture, it is a reality borne out by the events that follow. God is with Moses, enabling him to perform signs in Egypt. Indeed, it is God himself who, through the plagues, has come to do battle with Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt. God has come to rescue his people and to bring them into freedom. He comes to bring them to himself, enabling them to live with him and before him. The Living God is with them, leading them out in a pillar of cloud and of fire, through the waters of the Red/Reed Sea, on to Sinai, through the desert and ultimately into the Promised Land. He has come to “tabernacle” among them.

Such descriptions of God are more than figures of speech. Anthropomorphic language is more than accommodation to our limited understanding. God has ultimately revealed himself to us in the man, Jesus Christ. God has seen and heard and has come down to rescue. Jesus is not God dressed up in human form but God incarnate – Immanuel, God with us. In Jesus, God has entered into our world, into our situation, to rescue us and set us free. The person of Jesus, the cross, the resurrection and empty tomb are together the single act at the centre of history that provides shape and meaning to all of history.

Looking at our world in all its injustice, confusion and pain we often cry in exasperation, “Why doesn’t God do something? Why does he not come and sort things out? Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down...” At such times we need to remember that God does see the plight of our world; he does hear its cry, and God has come down to set the captives free. Nor is he now absent. God is at work in the world through the Spirit and in the power of the risen Saviour to transform hearts, lives and communities. We just need eyes to see it, for it is, in one sense, a hidden work – the seed that grows by itself. We need also the courage to act as an answer to our own cries, to be active agents in God’s transforming work through the power and presence of the risen Saviour. God is pleased to see and hear and come alongside hurting people through us.

Nor should we forget that a day will come when God will again rend the heavens and come down. The God who has seen and heard and who came down to our rescue in the person of Jesus shall come again to transform all things. The kingdom of this world shall become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ and he will reign for ever and ever.

Living God, we thank you that you heard the cry of your damaged world and came down to heal and to save in the Lord Jesus. We long for that day when he will come again and make all things new – when pain and alienation shall be no more and all hurts are healed. Help us now to bear witness to Christ as we work towards the mending of a broken world. Help us to hear the cries of those around us and to be ready to come to their aid.

Peter Misselbrook