Mystery in the Ashes

Scripture Focus: Job 11.7-9
7 “Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
8 They are higher than the heavens above—what can you do?
They are deeper than the depths below—what can you know?
9 Their measure is longer than the earth
and wider than the sea.

Ephesians 3.17b-18
17b I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ…

Reflection: Mystery in the Ashes
By John Tillman

Job’s friends tried to explain his tragedies as punishments, implying that Job must have done something wrong to cause his suffering. Zophor takes the gloves off and directly attacks Job, hitting him with an angry, accusatory rant. Zophor says Job’s sins are so many that God has forgotten some of them.

Zophar claimed no one could probe the mysteries of God’s action or knowledge. “What can you do or know? God’s actions and knowledge are higher, deeper, longer, and wider…” Ironically, Zophar was simultaneously claiming to understand God’s actions and knowledge.

Some people want a logical and predictable god. Do good? Get immediate, tangible rewards. Do bad? Get immediate, tangible punishment. This turns faith and obedience into cost-benefit analysis and god into a robot who blesses when we push the “bless me” buttons and punishes when we push the “punish me” buttons. 

God is not a transactional robot god. Compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, God maintains love to thousands, and forgives wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished. (Exodus 34.6-7) God is relational, complicated, and at times illogical: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them?” (Psalm 8.4

What Zophar thought illogical and impossible happens. God came down to speak to Job. But that was just a taste. Eventually all the mysteries of God are revealed in Jesus—the very ones Zophar thought unknowable.

Jesus is not a robot god distributing tragedies as punishments or blessings as rewards. He’s not a distant God, who is ever-so-sorry you are hurting and tells you to buck up. He’s not a God like Job’s friends who will sit with you awhile but then lose patience and say something hurtful.

Where is Jesus in Job-like moments? In the ashes with us. Perhaps, like Job, there is mystery in the ashes we cannot know without going through the pain.

Jesus is God right in the midst of our hurting and he is there to reveal the mystery of God to us. Who demonstrates the height, depth, width, and length of the love of God? Jesus. (Ephesians 3.14-21) Who shows us the Father? Jesus. (John 14.6-9) Who blots out our sins from God’s remembrance? Jesus. (Hebrews 8.6, 12-13; Jeremiah 31.34) Who reveals to us the mystery of God? Jesus. (Colossians 2.2-3)

Our only joy in blessing or suffering. Jesus. Our only hope, in life or death. Jesus.

Music: Christ Our Hope in Life and Death — Keith & Kristyn Getty

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah—that is Christ—is coming; and when he comes he will explain everything.” Jesus said, “That is who I am, I who speak to you.” — John 4.25-26

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 11 (Listen 2:01
John 11 (Listen 6:37)

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Echoing Voice of Hope

Scripture Focus: Job 11.16-19
16 You will surely forget your trouble, 
recalling it only as waters gone by. 
17 Life will be brighter than noonday, 
and darkness will become like morning. 
18 You will be secure, because there is hope; 
you will look about you and take your rest in safety. 
19 You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid, 
and many will court your favor. 

Reflection: Echoing Voice of Hope
By John Tillman

Job’s counselors, although they are insensitive, state many beautiful and biblical truths found in similar forms elsewhere in the Bible. There are repeated echoes of God’s promises of hope and peace.

In this short section (Job 11.16-19), Zophar is echoed or referenced in Leviticus, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Micah, Kings, and probably more. (Leviticus 26.6; Psalms 3.5; 4.8; 37.6; Proverbs 3.24; Isaiah 32.18; 58.8; 65.16; Zechariah 3.10; Micah 4.4; 1 Kings 4.25

Is Zophar echoing the other writers, or is it the other way around? 

The date of the writing of Job is uncertain, but probably the other writers were inspired by the writing in Job. It is difficult to be sure.

The Hebrew of Job is different enough from the rest of the Bible that many scholars believe it was written before the other Hebrew writings. (There are other opinions but this is the majority view. See links below for more info.) Job’s story may be the earliest surviving writing in the Bible.

Regardless of when the story was written down, the events seem to happen during the pre-tabernacle period. Job offers his own sacrifices as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did, and no references are made to the Tabernacle or Temple. Job’s lifespan is similar to long-lived ancient patriarchs, so he may have lived between Noah and Abraham, or between Seth and Noah.

The Bible is literature that is connected and unified across ages—we should read it that way. Marvel films didn’t invent interconnected literature—the Bible’s been this way for millennia. Marvel film buffs scour every frame of each film, looking for “Easter eggs” that are references to past films or hints at stories to come. The Bible has similar treasures for us that recall the past and hint at the future. These echoes make sense in the larger story. This is why it is so important for us to engage with the Bible on both a large and a small scale. We can miss the larger story of the Bible if we zoom in too close on a single frame.

In this passage from Job, we hear the often repeated, echoing message that God cares for us. Our trouble and pain are known to God. He will end them and bring us comfort. He will plant us in a good place and we will be safe, “under our own vine and fig tree.” (Micah 4.4)

The echoes of hope we hear are not of Zophar’s voice. The echoing voice of hope in scripture is God’s. We can be secure in him.

Links for further study: Summary of Job from Bible Study Tools and Authorship of Job from Bible Odyssey. (Thanks to Erin Newton for recommending these links.)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting

Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, God reveals himself in glory. — Psalm 50.2

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

Today’s Readings
Job 11 (Listen – 2:01)
Psalm 18 (Listen – 5:47)

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