Platforming Idols

Scripture Focus: Psalm 68:19
19 Blessed be the Lord who daily bears our burden. God is our salvation.

Isaiah 46.1-2
1 Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low;
    their idols are borne by beasts of burden.
The images that are carried about are burdensome,
    a burden for the weary.
2 They stoop and bow down together;
    unable to rescue the burden,
    they themselves go off into captivity.

Reflection: Platforming Idols
By Erin Newton

“Important” people are easy to spot. These social influencers are usually surrounded by crowds. Royalty and the political elite are transported in special caravans. The importance of a person is often depicted by how they are presented to the common people. (Even Star Wars’ Boba Fett is mocked for walking instead of being carried as a symbol of status.)

The vision set forth in Psalm 68 is a royal procession. God has cleared away his enemies, he goes before the people who sing songs of the great deeds he has done. Gifts from foreign kings are brought to his temple sitting high upon a mountain. All while the earth trembles at his presence.

God is lifted high to the center of attention, glory, and majesty. Amid this promenade, an interesting statement is made. God daily bears our burdens.

The ancient world had religious ceremonies where idols were carried out among the worshippers. Images gilded in gold and set with precious gems would ride upon platforms for the crowd to revere. However, Isaiah 46.1 reveals the true nature of these gods. “The images that are carried about are burdensome, a burden for the weary.” These gods, once exalted in festivals, are a millstone around the neck of the people. They go from deities to rubbish, “…unable to rescue the burden, they themselves go off into captivity.”

What a difference between the gods of the earth and the true God of heaven!

The psalmist expressed not only the magnificence of God but the unique nature of his intercession for his people. God is not the burden on our backs. My early life was one filled with extensive legalism. The daily spiritual checklist that I thought defined my worth was burdensome. Legalism did not anchor me in faith, it anchored me into hell.

Are there things you have trusted that were more burdensome than you imagined? Sometimes, not always, the burden in our lives is the false god we’ve decided to carry. It is time to remember that God is the one bearing our burdens. Abide in him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11.28-30)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; shout for joy, all who are true of heart. — Psalm 32.12

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 6 (Listen – 3:22)
Psalm 68 (Listen – 4:26)

Read more about Gods of Ruin and Ridicule
We must decide every day whom we will serve. The gods of this world bring ruin and ridicule.

Read more about Lamenting Materialism
Today, Ba’al wouldn’t be a rain god, he’d be Gordon Gekko. Or Bernie Madoff. Or Jordan Belafort…Materialism is one of the chief idols of our age.

The Struggle against Chaos

Scripture Focus: Job 41.1, 33
1 Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook
    or tie down its tongue with a rope? …

33 Nothing on earth is its equal—
    a creature without fear.

From John: Erin typically has been covering Wednesday but her specialty in her Master’s study included ancient near eastern mythology including chaos monsters such as mentioned in this chapter, so we switched it up. I’ve learned a lot from her. She’ll be presenting part of her research at the Southwest regional meeting for the Society of Biblical Literature on March 5, 2022, in Dallas. If you are in the area and of a scholarly persuasion, find more information at this link or register to attend here.

Reflection: The Struggle against Chaos
By Erin Newton

Chaos seems to be everywhere. Mobs overpowering a building. Countries poised for invasion. Cancer cells riddling a body. Christians tearing down the dignity of another. One of the thoughts we struggle with is the idea that all the events of life are haphazardly occurring, without meaning, spinning out of control.

Job’s life has been a tumultuous journey. His plea that God would hear him has been answered in a whirlwind. A steady inquisition about the creation has rained down. Where were you when…? Do you know how…? Who can do this…? Each question implies that God alone is able and Job is merely mortal. Then two mysterious creatures enter the scene. The land beast, Behemoth, and the sea-loving Leviathan become the conclusion of God’s response.

Leviathan has a coat of armor, a mouth ringed with teeth, snorting and breathing fire, incredibly powerful, and without equal. God warns that if you lay a hand on it, you will remember the struggle and never do it again! Some view this creature as a crocodile. Others prefer to look at the dragon-like features and recognize its mythic characteristics.

This dragon, or sea-serpent, is known as a chaos monster. The use of this imagery is a common ancient feature embodying a world lost in confusion and disarray. It is that which strikes fear in the hearts of people. It is that which threatens the peace, joy, and safety of men and women. For the ancient world around Israel, chaos monsters were those that could kill their deity and send unending famine to the world.

How can God comfort Job by talking about such a beast? How can Leviathan be the answer God gives to someone who suffers?

The rhetorical questions show the superiority and authority of God. The dragon is under the control of God, caught by a hook begging for mercy. It is both created and doomed for destruction (Psalm 104, Isaiah 27). The beast of chaos cannot stir the world into disorder because he is held on a leash by God.

We still feel the effects of chaos in the world. Disorder lurks beneath the surface of our daily lives. But there is hope: “We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Cor 4.8-9). No purpose of God’s can be thwarted.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea-monsters and all deeps;
Fire and hail, snow and fog, tempestuous wind, doing his will;
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars;
Wild beasts and all cattle, creeping things and winged birds;
Kings of the earth an all peoples, princes and all rulers of the world;
Young men and maidens, old and young together.
Let them praise the Name of the Lord, for his name only is exalted, his splendor is over earth and heaven.
He has raised up strength for his people and praise for all his loyal servants, the children of Israel, a people who are near him. Hallelujah! — Psalm 148.6-14

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 41 (Listen – 3:03)
Psalm 55 (Listen – 2:43)

Read more about an Unobligated God
God does not owe us salvation and forgiveness. But thank God that he pays debts that he does not owe.

Read more about Anxious Nights Between Destruction and Chaos
From the chaos of the sea and the wilderness wind, God brings order and a highway to salvation.

God’s Not Deaf

Scripture Focus: Job 35.12-14
12 He does not answer when people cry out
    because of the arrogance of the wicked.
13 Indeed, God does not listen to their empty plea;
    the Almighty pays no attention to it.
14 How much less, then, will he listen
    when you say that you do not see him…

Reflection: God’s Not Deaf
By Erin Newton

I assume most have dreamed about being in danger and suddenly couldn’t make a sound. Mouth gaping wide, no noise comes out. There is no one to hear the call for help. How terrifying!

Elihu waited until the end before adding his commentary. There is hope that the words will be kinder with the young friend. Unfortunately, he is just as hurtful. He denies Job’s claim to righteousness and suggests that God will not listen because of Job’s sin. Job is stuck in a nightmare of suffering. Elihu thought Job’s prayers were silent screams.

Elihu emphasizes the transcendence of God. He views God as removed from the experiences of humanity. In verses 6-7, Elihu states that God is unaffected by sin and gains nothing from righteousness. To this friend, sin is a human problem and righteousness is only beneficial for humanity.

Understanding the nature of God is difficult. We know from creation and prophetic visions that God is transcendent. Millard Erickson defines transcendence, “God is separate from and independent of nature and humanity.” In short, it is his “otherness.” But this is not the entire picture.

Job argues that God is intimately related to humanity. In this way, God is immanent. The prologue of the heavenly scene allows us to see how closely God is concerned with Job’s life. The permission given to Satan comes with strict boundaries. Job declares that his own life is the breath of God within him (Job 27.3).

James Wharton suggests, “It is possible that God is both infinitely more transcendent and infinitely more personally engaged with human beings than either Elihu or Job has any way of knowing?” Again, amid dialogue between the four friends, we are struck with the tension of truths.

In our own lives, we struggle with moments of wishing God was nearer to us. The pressure of illness, the dark cloud of grief, the uncertainty of politics, the vast void of loneliness. We often feel like each prayer is a nightmare-choked silent scream. But the truth is that God is overwhelmingly concerned about your life. Yes, yours.

The fear that God may ignore your peril, the doubt that your pleas are being offered to a deaf God are not founded in truth. Do not let your heart nourish such lies. Elihu understood God’s transcendence but discounted his immanence. Rejoice in the truth that God is with us, our Immanuel. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show us the light of your countenance, O God, and come to us. — Psalm 67.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 35 (Listen – 1:33)
Psalm 46-47 (Listen – 2:15)

Read more about Ennobled by the Incarnation
Jesus comes not to condemn our humanity but to share in it. The incarnation is an ennobling epiphany.

Read more about Ever Present Help and Gladdening Streams
The “ever-present” help that most people are used to are the digital assistants embedded in devices attached to our hands and wrists.

Hounding the Wounded

Scripture Focus: Job 20.2-3
2 My troubled thoughts prompt me to answer
    because I am greatly disturbed.
3 I hear a rebuke that dishonors me,
    and my understanding inspires me to reply. 

Reflection: Hounding the Wounded
By Erin Newton

In 2017, my son had an accident while in the hospital and coded. He survived, miraculously. Days later, a discussion about unrelated plans resulted in a friend scolding me for a minor offense. Though forgiven, those words echo painfully in my mind.  

From the depths of his heartache, Job asks why his friends have decided to “hound” him (Job 19.28), literally using a Hebrew military term about pursuing an enemy. Job is in pain, suffering physically, emotionally, and spiritually but his friends treat him as a spiritual enemy.

Zophar feels wounded by Job’s reply to their insensitivity. Job’s complaint is justified and expected from one in despair. Zophar is concerned with his own honor and seeks to defend his view of God’s justice toward the wicked, a debate that continues for chapters between Job and his friends.

The debate centers over whether God judges the wicked during their lifetime or as Job proposes, sometimes the wicked prosper and one must wait to see the hand of God. Zophar repeats the assumption that the loss of wealth and declining health are indicative of God’s judgment. This theory suggests that Job is responsible for his own pain and there the trauma grows. When I was hurt by my friend’s rash judgment, it added to my present trauma.  

The question must be asked: What is our goal in correcting others? Do we seek their edification? Or are we too busy defending our own honor? Job keeps pleading with them for pity. Your words are hurting me. But the friends dig in further. It’s all your fault.

Brené Brown says, “Very few people can handle being held accountable without rationalizing, blaming, or shutting down.” Zophar didn’t have time or patience for Job’s pain. He demanded that the sufferer retract his words while inflicting the same disparaging slander upon his friend.

I’ve had a small taste of the bitter encouragement Job endured. I’m also part of the white, evangelical, Christian community. There has been temptation to defend my honor as a white believer before listening to the pain of my brothers and sisters. This Monday we honored the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. A Zophar-like attitude tempts me to try and say something to preserve my own honor. The better option is to sit silently with our friends. Be willing to be humbled, held accountable, and listen deeply. Let them speak, we want to hear. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
But I will call upon God, and the Lord will deliver me.
In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday, I will complain and lament,
He will bring me safely back… God, who is enthroned of old, will hear me… — Psalm 55.17

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 20 (Listen – 2:52)
Psalm 30 (Listen – 1:32)

Join us! Walk through the Bible with us…
Share this subscription link with friends, family, or your community of faith. Find joy reflecting on God’s Word!

Read more about God is Faithful, not Indebted
Job and his friends believed in an indebted God who owed good to the righteous, owed suffering to the wicked, and never made late payments.

Unhurried Wisdom

Scripture Focus: Job 12.2-3
2 Doubtless you are the only people who matter, and wisdom will die with you!
3 But I have a mind as well as you; I am not inferior to you. Who does not know all these things?

Reflection: Unhurried Wisdom
By Erin Newton

Consider the cliche: Out of sight out of mind. Now, consider this: Absence makes the heart grow fonder. So, which is it? Forgetfulness or fondness? These are modern phrases. However, the book of Job also utilized opposing statements to reveal the complexity of life and necessity of wisdom.

One of the struggles while reading Job is that the statements made by his friends are often valid comments holding truth in some aspect or another. These short statements and concepts are true but not applicable in all situations. So, what is the problem with their advice?

We have been privy to the opening scene of God and Satan. Imagine removing the first few verses from chapter 1 and reading the story without the prelude about God allowing the testing of Job’s faith. Would you not also be suspicious of what he had done to deserve this?

Zophar made statements such as “God has forgotten some of your sin” and “If you lift your face to God, you will be free from harm.” At the core of these statements is true theology: the forgiveness of sins and the security in the arms of God.

What we know of these friends is that they are all God-fearing men. They speak of things that are true and seem to place their faith in God. But they still give bad advice, tactless encouragement, and sometimes traumatizing remarks.

Job’s response also focuses on truths about God. Zophar has suggested that God allows suffering because of man’s sin. Correct. Job suggests that God allows suffering for reasons outside our ability to understand. Correct. Wisdom involves living in the tension of two seemingly opposing truths. Wisdom involves taking time to understand the situation and knowing which truth to apply.

If we are not presently in Job’s position, we are one of the friends. The world around us is constantly suffering: racial tension, economic hardship, mutating viruses, abusive bosses, wayward children, dementia, loneliness, sexual abuse, cancer, addiction. We must wisely speak truth to our hurting friend.

Wisdom is not a character trait abruptly gained. In our quick paced world, we forget to think before we speak. Sometimes we want to be the first one to reply thinking our promptness is a signal of our virtue. We might speak rashly and say something true, just like Job’s friends. But if our truth is received as trauma, we have missed wisdom entirely.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I will bear witness that the Lord is righteous; I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High. — Psalm 7.18

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 12 (Listen – 2:21)
Psalm 19 (Listen – 1:52)

Join us! Walk through the Bible with us…
Share this subscription link with friends, family, or your community of faith. Find joy reflecting on God’s Word!

Read more about Adding Insult to Injury
There’s no nice way to say this, but Job’s friends are jerks. Maybe they mean well…It’s like one “bad take” after another.