Isaiah – The Old Testament Gospel

One of the most beautiful aspects of the Bible is its coherence. Written  over the course of some 1500 years by approximately 40 men from all different walks of life, it is amazing to see how unified the Word of God is in the message it presents. Few things exhibit this more beautifully than the way the Old and New Testament intertwine, one explaining and illuminating the other. And no single book could illustrate this better than the book of Isaiah.

Isaiah is often called ‘The Old Testament Gospel’, and for good reason. The New Testament contains approximately 85 direct quotes from or indirect allusions to this beautiful prophetic book. Many of those quotes are direct references to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. In fact, some of our most treasured statements concerning Christ come straight from this book:

7:14 Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.

9:6 For a child will be born for us,
a son will be given to us,
and the government will be on His shoulders.
He will be named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

11:1 Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him-
a Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
a Spirit of counsel and strength,
a Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.

That these verses refer to Christ is undeniable. Incidentally, Isaiah gives him the Names ‘Mighty God’ and ‘Emmanuel’, names that show unequivocally the divinity of the Son of God – and that hundreds of years before He was ever born! More beautiful than any passage, however is Isaiah’s description of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53:

1 Who has believed what we have heard?
And who has the arm of the Lord been revealed to?
2 He grew up before Him like a young plant
and like a root out of dry ground.
He didn’t have an impressive form
or majesty that we should look at Him,
no appearance that we should desire Him.

3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of suffering who knew what sickness was.
He was like someone people turned away from;
He was despised, and we didn’t value Him.

4 Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses,
and He carried our pains;
but we in turn regarded Him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
5 But He was pierced because of our transgressions,
crushed because of our iniquities;
punishment for our peace was on Him,
and we are healed by His wounds.

6 We all went astray like sheep;
we all have turned to our own way;
and the Lord has punished Him
for the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet He did not open His mouth.
Like a lamb led to the slaughter
and like a sheep silent before her shearers,
He did not open His mouth.
8 He was taken away because of oppression and judgment;
and who considered His fate?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
He was struck because of my people’s rebellion.

9 They made His grave with the wicked
and with a rich man at His death,
although He had done no violence
and had not spoken deceitfully.

10 Yet the Lord was pleased to crush Him severely.
When You make Him a restitution offering,
He will see [His] seed, He will prolong His days,
and by His hand, the Lord’s pleasure will be accomplished.
11 He will see [it] out of His anguish,
and He will be satisfied with His knowledge.
My righteous Servant will justify many,
and He will carry their iniquities.

This moving passage is a preciously exquisite expression of the suffering that Christ was to face. To find this quoted by an Old Testament prophet such as Isaiah is amazing, fantastic, and enrapturing to me. Many of us are very familiar with these passages that reference Christ. We should never become so familiar with them, however, that we lose the awe of what these verses represent and the truth they contain. He was pierced for our transgression and crushed for our iniquities! The punishment for our peace was upon Him and we are healed by His wounds! I know of few Scriptures that express more clearly the nature of the salvation bought for me and the price that was paid to make that salvation possible. More than any New Testament passage, these verses cause a song of praise and thanksgiving to rise from my lips!

Another magnificent way that Isaiah points forward to the New Testament is through eschatological prophecy. Some of this may be overshadowed by the powerful references to Christ’s first coming, but they should not be overlooked or underestimated. Familiar prophetic phrases that we all know from the book of Revelation are actually direct quotes from Isaiah. Take a look at these examples:

21:9 And he answered, saying,
“Babylon has fallen, has fallen.”

22:22 I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; what he opens, no one can close; what he closes, no one can open.

34:4 All the heavenly bodies will dissolve.
The skies will roll up like a scroll,
and their stars will all wither
as leaves wither on the vine,
and foliage on the fig tree.

These verses show that the book of Revelation has a strong correllation to the rest of the Bible. How beautiful is it to see this intriquite tapestry of Biblical truth where nothing stands on its own!The New Testament could not exist without the Old Testament and vice versa. In fact, a proper understanding of the Word of God can only be gained if a person delves and digs into the whole counsel of God, reading the Old in the light of the New and understanding the New in the light of the Old. Once we begin to divorce the two, we end up with an incomplete theology, a shallow understanding of Who God is, and an acute danger of drifting off into error. To fully understand the gospels, we need prophets like Isaiah; to truly get a grip on the book of Revelation, we need the Old Testament.

The greatness of God is seen so profoundly in the way He has put together these sacred words we call the Bible. Isaiah is a gem that leaves me wanting to read about the suffering servant over and over again. This prophet leaves me awe-struck at how many eschatological references he makes and inspires me to get an even better understanding of prophecy. The book of Isaiah is truly the Old Testament Gospel. I love it.

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All That Glitters Is Not Gold

Imagine somebody came up to you and asked you about the meaning of life – what would you tell them? I have a feeling I would talk about God, sin, the cross, salvation, heaven, and hell. I would discuss the need for wholehearted devotion to God and the need to turn away from son. One word that would most likely not be part of my apology is the word ‘vanity’. And yet that is the very word that Solomon uses as a direct answer to that universial question concerning the meaning of life. If the wisest man that ever lived uses the word ‘vanity’, it is probably worth taking a closer look at.

Of all the books of the Bible, Ecclesiastes probably has the most depressing introducion:

2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.


If these words came from anybody else’s lips, I might have reason to question them. These are not some words by a philosopher or wise-guy off the street; they are spoken by David’s son Solomon. Having been given the opportunity by God to ask for one thing, this young man realized his inadequacy to lead the kingdom of Israel and asked for wisdom. This wisdom came to define Solomon’s life and legacy. Because he asked for wisdom above anything else, God blessed Solomon tremendously in other areas in life as well. He spent his life bathing in wisdom, wealth, and pleasure, with access to anything he could possibly desire. Most people dream of living the kind of life Solomon led, and yet he himself came to the ultimate conclusion that it was all meaningless, futile, and worthless in the end. To see a man such as Solomon sound as depressed, frustrated, and disillusioned as he does in this book is sobering.

To pass by the vast scope of what Solomon calls futile would be foolish. He declares that wisdom, riches, hard work, wise living, pleasure – none of it leads to true fulfillment, all of it is ultimately meaningless. Ironically enough, our society spends the overwhelming majority of its time pursuing those very things. Not a day goes by in which I do not find myself presented with the lie that more money, more wisdom, more pleasure, more of the things I want, more hard work, or a greater morality will eventually result in a greater fulfillment in my life. And again I hear the voice in the wind that whispers, “meaningless, everything is meaningless.”

With the constant push to pursue, I need this daily reminder that everything is indeed futile. Who has not cheered for the winners of talent competitions and gameshows or stood in awe of those who display an extraordinary amount of wisdom and knowledge? In an age where wealth, wisdom, and accomplishment are worshiped as modern day idols, we need to engrain Solomon’s warning in our minds: everything is futile, chasing after the wind. As attractive as things may seem on the outside, they are ultimately empty and vain.

Before we sink into complete despair and conclude that nothing matters because everything is meaningless, we are offered a thread of hope in the midst of this gloom. Having completed his quest for meaning, Solomon draws one conclusion in chapter 12 that turns this book upside-down:

13 When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is: fear God and keep His commands, because this [is for] all humanity. 14 For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil.

Even though we are surrounded by all these meaningless and futile things, a ray of hope begins to shine through – one thing does matter, and that one thing is to fear God and keep His commandments. For me, this conclusion turns this book from utter despair to exuberant joy. Light shines all the more brightly in the midst of greater darkness. When I have agreed with Solomon that riches, wealth, pleasure, and all these other things do not offer true meaning or fulfillment, I am set free from the encroaching lies that beset me. With the darkness exposes for what it is, my eyes begin to see the light and I perceive that this Old Testament king was right – the only thing that really matters is fearing God and doing what He says. Any other pursuit will dissolve into nothingness, but a life lived in the fear of God is a life that is truly meaningful.

No, all that glitters is not gold – only the fear of God provides the meaning and fulfillment mankind searches for. But the only way we will truly understand that is if we see everything else for what it really is – vanity.

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He Is Not A Tame Lion

“He is not a tame lion,” C.S. Lewis wrote when describing the lion Aslan is his book “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”. His implication was that while Aslan is a good lion, it does not mean one need not be afraid of him or deal with him as one would deal with an equal. No matter how good of a lion he is, he is still a wild lion. When it comes to the God of the Bible, the same is very true. God is absolutely a good God – but that does not imply that He is a soft or tame God that can be trained to our command. No, the Lion of Judah is not a tame lion at all.

The thought that the God I serve is not a tame God strikes fear into my heart. This fear is not the kind where I cringe because I am afraid of an unpredictable, volatile God that could strike at any moment for no apparent reason. No, the fear this strikes in my heart is a reverential awe that is caused by the realization that this God is beyond my understanding, greater in power than I can fathom, and beyond my ability to control. To illustrate these thoughts, just take a look at this verse in Proverbs 16:4:

4 The Lord has made everything for its purpose,
even the wicked for the day of trouble
.

When I heard this verse, it stopped me in my tracks. Is Solomon seriously declaring that God creates the wicked specifically for the day of trouble? How can a good and loving God that seeks to bless and prosper create wicked people for the day of trouble? This line of thought sheds a light on God that is very different from the picture we usually see painted of Him. So lest we think this verse is an isolated mistake in the Scriptures that can be ignored or reinterpreted, be reminded of Isaiah 45:7:

7 I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the Lord, who does all these things.

My intuitive response to this verse is “WHAT?!?” God creates calamity? Surely I am reading this wrong, certainly Isaiah doesn’t quite mean this when he says that God creates darkness. No matter which way I look at these verses, however, I cannot escape the echo in my mind that God is not a tame lion. I’d like to put God in a box labeled ‘love’ or ‘grace’, make myself believe that he is a nice God that always blesses and always prospers, forgives readily and never does anything calamitous. But as much as I want to do that, the Biblical reality suggests that that kind of God is not the God of the Bible. We ascribe natural disasters, calamities, and things we would describe as ‘evil’ to chance, nature, or anything that would keep us from having to face reality – God is not a tame lion. These verses challenge that approach and demand a change of perspective when it comes to some of the ‘stuff’ that happens in people’s lives.

This truth is difficult for me to process, comprehend, and accept. I confess that I do not and probably cannot understand how God can create both well-being and calamity, how He can create the wicked for the day of trouble. The theological tension this creates, however, does not mean I need to find a way to explain it or make sense of it. God is God and I am not – He is sovereign, He is all-powerful, He knows infinitely more than I do, and so there must come a point where I stop trying to figure things out and simply trust Him.

He is not a tame lion. Knowing this makes me approach him reverently and carefully. At the same time, that wild lion has a love in his eyes that is wilder, deeper, and more free than any other love I know. And the love and acceptance I read in those eyes whenever I approach him makes it more than worth the risk. Still, I know that I am approaching a God whose wisdom and understanding is greater than mine. Though I won’t always understand, I can always trust. He may not be tame, but He is good.

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How to Benefit from God

No single force or power in the universe is greater than the power of forgiveness. Nothing sets you free, brings joy, and gives strength like the knowledge that your slate is wiped clean and your past is remembered no more. This grand truth is foundational to Christianity and cannot be overemphasized. Forgiveness is so contrary to our nature, in fact, that we humans need to be constantly reminded that our former deeds are really remembered no more. One Psalm that celebrates forgiveness is the phenomenal anthem of Psalm 103.

The beauty of the Psalms is that we experience so many aspects of a relationship with God through the words of human being just like you and me. In Psalm 38 and Psalm 51, we witnessed the devastating effects of sin on a man’s life; in Psalm 103, we rejoice with David in the glorious liberation he experienced. His exuberance in this psalm is contagious; I cannot read or hear it without feeling a fresh joy welling up inside of me.

1 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Right from the start, I get the impression that David just cannot hold back this river of joy. Commanding his soul to bless the Lord, he urges himself to remember God’s benefits. That statement caused me to stop in my tracks; I do not frequently come across a Scripture that specifically outlines God’s benefits. Conveniently, David provides us with a list. While it’s not a theologically comprehensive list of all God’s benefits towards believers, its contents are enough to excite even the gravest of sinners:

1. He forgives all your iniquity
2. He heals all your diseases
3. He redeems your life from the pit
4. He crowns you with steadfast love and mercy
5. He satisfies you with good

These truths are so deep and beautiful and all-encompassing! Not only does he forgive my iniquity, he forgives all my iniquity. That means there is no sin so grave that God will not forgive it. David doesn’t stipulate that this pertains only to unintentional sin or sin due to extenuating circumstances. No, God forgives all my iniquities! That is a far-reaching truth that will take me a lifetime to comprehend. For some reason, I have a tendency to hold on to past sins and failures and count them against myself. The thought that somebody would provide a blanket statement that all my sins are forgiveness regardless of circumstances or works done to earn that forgiveness is almost too much to take in – and yet it is the glorious truth the Bible presents me with!

God forgives, He heals, He redeems, He crowns, and He satisfies. These are absolute truths that define the very nature and character of God. They describe how He interacts with us and gives us such hope! Like David, I don’t deserve to be redeemed from the pit I put myself in. I don’t deserve to be crowned with steadfast love and mercy or to be satisfied with good. And yet there it is, that unfailing truth that goes against every natural thought and feeling we have. How deep God’s love truly is, can be seen in the verses that follow:

8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Dealing with people the way they deal with you is a common practice amongst sinners and saints alike. God does not, however, follow that practice. The imagery David uses to describe God’s chesed – His steadfast, covenant love – is breathtaking. Just like the heavens are infinitely high above the earth, God’s love towards those who fear Him is infinite. His forgiveness is not like ours, where past transgressions are brought back up if we repeat them but enough times. No, He casts them away as far as the east is from the west – infinitely far away. God does not remember them, bring them back up, or hold them against us. His love has no end and does not change. What an astounding truth!

Part of what makes God’s love so amazing is the fact that He not only forgives but also shows an amazing understanding for us as human beings:

13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
14 For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.

God remembers that we are dust. How comforting it is to know that He knows our frame and realizes we are but human! David realized that God’s love is a covenant love that is not based on our weak frame and our fleeting days. His joy was in the steadfast, covenant love that has no beginning and has no end – a love that is not fleeting like we are but eternal, steadfast, rock-solid, and unmoveable. And for those who fear God, that is a thought as comforting as any that could be conceived throughout history.

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Sin’s Siren Song

Few sins in the Bible are more well-know than the one that some describe as David’s Great Sin – his sin with Bathsheba. Perhaps it is because we do not expect such gross sin from such a man of God that we draw so much attention to it; or maybe we all too readily identify with it in some way. Whatever the case may be, David’s sin with Bathsheba provides some unique insight into what sin does to the heart and life of a man (or woman) of God. The contrast between what sin promises and what it delivers could not be illustrated more vividly.

In 2 Samuel 11, we read that it was wartime. David should have been out on the battlefield with his men but instead stayed behind in Jerusalem. On a presumably nice evening, in an unguarded moment, David laid eyes on Bathsheba while she was bathing and could not resist the temptation: he ordered her to be brought to him and slept with her. Upon finding out that she was pregnant, a series of events led him to ultimately have Bathsheba’s husband Uriah killed on the battlefield – one of his very own ‘mighty men’.

In the next chapter, God sends Nathan the prophet to confront David with his sin. As a child, I never realized that at least nine months must have passed between David’s sin and Nathan’s bold confrontation of the king. Many commentators even indicate that approximately a year passed between that fateful night and his ultimate repentance. Several Psalms shed a fascinating light on what must have gone on in David’s soul during that dark year of his life. Here is what he says in Psalm 32:

3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried upt as by the heat of summer.


Psalm 38 tells it perhaps even more succinctly:

2 For your arrows have sunk into me,

and your hand has come down on me.

6 I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;
all the day I go about mourning.

8 I am feeble and crushed;
I groan because of the tumult of my heart.

The misery David experienced during that year must have been horrendous! His strength was gone, his body wasted away, the light was gone from his eyes, he went around mourning all day long – that sounds like somebody who is severely depressed! I sense such a deep tragedy in his anguish, all the more because he knew what it meant to have an intimate relationship with God. How David bore the weight of his sin I am not sure; these Psalms, however, testify to the fact that it almost ruined him entirely.
Those who think David was able to be happy and escape his sin entirely are grossly mistaken and have perhaps spent too much time letting Hollywood shape their worldview. The truth is that nobody who sins will be able to escape what they have done. David’s own words in Psalm 51 testify to this:


3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.


David was no fool; he knew what he had done. Apparently, he couldn’t get away from the memory even if he tried to ignore it. Songs and stories have been composed and written to convince us that the truth is otherwise, but the Biblical reality cannot be ignored. Sin never sets free – it enslaves. No matter how great the promise and no matter how beautiful its siren song, it drags a person down to the very pit of hell. The thought that a man of David’s stature experienced something as horrible as that is staggering.
Every person reading this has faced sin’s siren song and will face it again in the future. Through David, God reminds me of the true nature of sin. He helps me to remember what sin really looks and feels like, so that when temptation does come, I can expose it for what it really is rather than believe its lies. And ultimately, God uses David to remind me that no matter how deep a man has fallen and no matter how great his sin, no matter how dirty and muddy a man finds himself, there is always a way home to the heart of God. David himself points the way in the rest of Psalm 51:


10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a rightt spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.


The enticement of sin and the misery it brings cannot and must not be underestimated. If it can lead a man like David to a year of despair, there is no reason why we should not be on guard. More than that, however, we must remember that there is always a way back for a man who comes to God with a broken and contrite heart. And most of all, we need to know that God is always greater than any sin or temptation that could ever be thrown at us.
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Psalm 18 – A Song of Deliverance

David is described in the Bible as a man after God’s own heart; his love and passion for God was as such that he became the standard that any king after him was measured by. Even more than the stories the Bible tells about him, the Psalms reflect and express his desire for God in such a captivating way. One such Psalm that exalts God and praises His power and faithfulness in an unparalleled way is Psalm 18. Throughout the centuries, many a song has been composed from the words of this Psalm. The words are worth taking a closer look at.

The introduction tells us that David composed this after he had been delivered from all his enemies and from Saul. After spending years in the wilderness, the promise of God to establish David as King had finally been fulfilled. The years of running, hiding, and waiting had finally come to an end. With that context in mind, it is no wonder these words welled up in David’s soul:

1 I love You, Lord, my strength.
2 The Lord is my rock,
my fortress, and my deliverer,
my God, my mountain where I seek refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation,
my stronghold.

What a magnificent declaration of Who God is! All those years, David had placed his trust in God. He didn’t kill Saul when he had the chance to, he stayed faithful to God, and now God had finally delivered him. Just look at the nouns David uses to describe God: rock, fortress, deliverer, mountain, shield, stronghold. He realized that God was his source of strength, hope, and deliverance. Reading these words make me want to break out in song myself!

Look at what happens when a man of God calls upon God in his distress:

6 I called to the Lord in my distress,
and I cried to my God for help.
From His temple He heard my voice,
and my cry to Him reached His ears.
7 Then the earth shook and quaked;
the foundations of the mountains trembled;
they shook because He burned with anger.


13 The Lord thundered from heaven;
the Most High projected His voice.
14 He shot His arrows and scattered them;
He hurled lightning bolts and routed them.

An awesome display of God terrible power and fierce anger is what we see in response to David’s cry for help. The intensity of God’s response makes me cringe, want to fall down in worship, and leaves me speechless with a renewed fear of God. It also encourages me because it reaffirms that while it may appear that the violent and godless prosper for a time, the Lord will act on behalf of His children and leave no question as to what happens to those who come against the saints of God. God is our defender!

David’s heart is also expressed so exquisitely in this Psalm’s focus on God. David takes none of the credit for what God has done; his total reliance on Him is obvious in every word he speaks. Just look at how many times he uses the word ‘You’ in this passage:

29 With You I can attack a barrier,
and with my God I can leap over a wall.
30 God-His way is perfect;
the word of the Lord is pure.
He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.
31 For who is God besides Yahweh?
And who is a rock? Only our God.
32 God-He clothes me with strength
and makes my way perfect.
33 He makes my feet like the feet of a deer
and sets me securely on the heights.
34 He trains my hands for war;
my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
35 You have given me the shield of Your salvation;
Your right hand upholds me,
and Your humility exalts me.
36 You widen [a place] beneath me for my steps,
and my ankles do not give way.

This kind of an attitude is what makes up a man after God’s own heart – and I realize that I do well to keep these truths close to my own heart. God is the One who clothes me with strength, He is the One sets me securely on the heights. He trains my hands for war and gives me the shield of salvation; His right hand is what upholds me. In all of this, it is not about my ability, craftiness, insight, or strength in the least – it is all about God! This singular focus on God is of paramount importance in the life of any believer. Like David, we need to look to God for everything we need in the midst of all that life, satan, and our enemies throw at us.

What a fabulous Psalm this is! Words like these build up my faith and lift my spirit tremendously. From my heart wells up a song that wants to shout along with David:

46 The Lord lives-may my rock be praised!
The God of my salvation is exalted
.

He truly is amazing, awesome, and worthy to be praised.

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It’s a Matter of Perspective

If a man could ask God one single question, I think it is a statistical probability that his question would be regarding the ‘why’ of human suffering. How a supposedly good and almighty God could allow such suffering as we see in the world has puzzled and baffled even the greatest minds of history. The Old Testament is not afraid, however, to tackle this question in a rather unconventional manner. Where we Greek-minded Westerners would most likely have written a discourse that deals directly with the question and gives a clear answer, the Bible does not do so. In good Hebrew tradition, it tells us the story of Job.

The book of Job starts out by informing us of the kind of man we are dealing with in this story:

1 There was a man in the country of Uz named Job. He was a man of perfect integrity, who feared God and turned away from evil. 2 He had seven sons and three daughters. 3 His estate included 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and a very large number of servants. Job was the greatest man among all the people of the east.

Here we have the greatest man of the East. I am impressed by the testimony given of him – he was a man of perfect integrity. What an amazing man Job must have been to have such a thing said of him and to have such wealth as a testimony to his integrity and the favor of God on his life. People that the Bible says those kinds of things of inspire me; what kind of testimony would God give of me?

All the more shocking, then, is what happens to Job: in one day, he loses his camels, his sheep, his oxen and and his donkeys. Every single one of his children are killed in a tragic accident, leaving his wealth destroyed and his soul undoubtedly in deep sorrow. If these disasters were not enough, terrible boils break out all over his body, leaving Job sitting in the dust with a piece of broken pottery to scratch himself. When his wife tells him to curse God, his misery must have been complete. How despondent, dejected, and depressed Job must have been! Within moments this upright and righteous man went from riches to rags, leaving him to curse his day of birth and plead his case with God.

What I find particularly interesting is the theological discourse that ensues. His three friends decide that theological arguments are the best way to approach the situation. Conform the theological thought of those days, they conclude that Job must be wicked and needs to repent. Job counters that he is righteous and pleads his case with God, asking how God could have treated him like this. Thoughout all the theological arguments that take up the vast majority of this book, however, I find it intriguing how they all miss the greater spiritual reality. Such a chasm exists between the endless arguing of Job and his friends and the reality of why his suffering actually occurred. The theological debates so utterly missed every purpose and point – as if their theology provided a simple, cookie-cutter answer to Job’s intense misery and suffering. And while Job himself did not approach the situation much better, I am more inclined to excuse his empty words because of the unthinkable suffering he underwent.

The book of Job could not have illustrated more poignantly the extent to which our understanding, our reasonings, and our theologies fall short of truly explaining the spiritual reality behind natural events. Job does not provide an answer to the question of suffering, but it does provide an answer in terms of perspective. God confronts Job in a way that is unparalleled in the Bible, asking a number of questions that expose Job’s utter lack of knowledge and real understanding:

2 Who is this who obscures [My] counsel
with ignorant words?
3 Get ready to answer Me like a man;
when I question you, you will inform Me.
4 Where were you when I established the earth?
Tell [Me], if you have understanding.
5 Who fixed its dimensions? Certainly you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 What supports its foundations?
Or who laid its cornerstone

I identify with this book in that I love theology, I love putting reality into a Biblical framework that makes sense. The question is what happens when something happens that shakes that framework to the core. Do I question God? Do I argue my case with him and wonder whether he really sees my righteousness? Do I curse God because of my misery? Job challenges me to remember that no amount of theology or reasoning can take the place of knowing God and accepting that we cannot understand everything. We see but a glimpse of who He is; in many cases, we can only trust in His power, sovereignty, love, and goodness. What do I know and understand compared to the infinite God? Who am I to question Him or argue with Him?

As poignant as God’s interrogation is, so stunningly beautiful I find Job’s response to God:

2 I know that You can do anything
and no plan of Yours can be thwarted.
3 [You asked,] “Who is this who conceals [My] counsel with ignorance?”
Surely I spoke about things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
4 [You said,] “Listen now, and I will speak.
When I question you, you will inform Me.”
5 I had heard rumors about You,
but now my eyes have seen You.

When confronted with the greatness of God and your own puny humanity, how else can you respond? Every time I read these final chapters, I am inclined to echo Job’s words: I have heard rumors about You, but now my eyes have seen You. How ultimately futile are my flimsy attempts at interpreting the reality as I see it; what a cold comforter my theology can sometimes be. And how great is this God I serve, how awesome, how unfathomable are His ways. What do I know?

Such a painfully beautiful book is the book of Job.

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