Reexamining Wisdom

Scripture Focus: Job 33:13-14
13 Why do you complain to him
     that he responds to no one’s words?
 14 For God does speak—now one way, now another—
     though no one perceives it.

Reflection: Reexamining Wisdom
By Erin Newton

There is a stirring in the Christian world. People are asking about life, becoming perplexed at how things are. Many questions are about the Church and its purpose, motives, plans, and policies. The stirring seeks to disturb the status quo. There is a sense of hope that change is on the way.

For many, this is a frightening prospect. Content to hold fast to the ways of tradition, every daring question is considered cautiously. The world works this way, we say. God responds like this. The old patterns are not altogether wrong, but the narrowed perspective can be unhelpful to those with questions.

Elihu speaks to Job out of his own tradition with clear speeches of how things are. His response is not surprising. Each word is a repetition of the wisdom of the day. We’ve seen this throughout the book. The dominant view of God and his people was that those suffering likely deserved it.

When Job complains about God not answering his complaints, Elihu responds tersely, “Of course he has answered you!” He speaks of God answering through dreams that terrify or pain that chastens. Always with the perspective of justice, the wisdom given by Elihu is that Job’s suffering must be a lesson he has to learn.

Job continues to plead his case. His conscience clears him of believing Elihu’s speech is applicable to him. His questions continue to reveal a different perspective or at least he longs to hear something new, something to change the status quo of ancient wisdom. “For God does speak,” Elihu says and that should bring comfort. Job demands of God to speak something new.

We read the story of Job to find comfort in our own suffering. We like to know we are not alone when the pain feels unjustified. We often don’t consider how the story presents a picture of the community wrestling with different perspectives of life. The friends are rooted in their traditional wisdom, and it has served them well over the years. Job’s circumstances force him to look for another answer and beg God to explain it to him.

The stirring in the Church today is a plea to reexamine the wisdom of our day. Is it rightly applied? Are we addressing the community properly? Do we spout spiritual truths to a hurting world without listening or are we joining the plea for God to answer?

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 Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Job 33 (Listen 3:00)
Psalm 17 (Listen 1:58)

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An Earful From Elihu

Scripture Focus: Job 32.1-9
1 So these three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. 2 But Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. 3 He was also angry with the three friends, because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him. 4 Now Elihu had waited before speaking to Job because they were older than he. 5 But when he saw that the three men had nothing more to say, his anger was aroused. 
6 So Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite said: 
“I am young in years, 
and you are old; 
that is why I was fearful, 
not daring to tell you what I know. 
7 I thought, ‘Age should speak; 
advanced years should teach wisdom.’ 
8 But it is the spirit in a person, 
the breath of the Almighty, that gives them understanding. 
9 It is not only the old who are wise, 
not only the aged who understand what is right.

Reflection: An Earful From Elihu
By John Tillman

Job and friends are about to get an earful from Elihu.

Elihu’s been there the whole time. Invisible, unnoticed, and ignored, he’s been listening. Once he breaks his silence, Elihu speaks longer than any of the others in the book.

Perhaps Elihu was related to one of the other men. Perhaps he was simply there to hold their camels. Perhaps the argument attracted an audience and Elihu was part of the crowd. We don’t know.

Reading Job, tension grows between our discomfort with Job’s accusations and our dissatisfaction and anger at Job’s treatment by his friends. Elihu starts by expressing those same feelings and frustrations, and we feel a sense of relief. “Finally, someone gets it,” we think. 

We could learn a lot from Elihu. Elihu is patient and has waited a long time to speak. Elihu is respectful but honest about his anger. He credits the spirit of God for his wisdom, not his own intellect. That doesn’t, however, mean that Elihu gets everything right. 

Elihu soon begins to fall into the same logic the others did. His only concession to Job is that perhaps God is using the suffering to prevent Job from sinning, not as punishment for past sins. The longer he talks, however, the more his anger grows, his logic falters, and he sounds just like the men he is trying to refute.

When leaders in politics and religion squabble and argue, younger people have often been like Elihu. They’ve been told to be invisible and considered insignificant. They’ve been unnoticed and ignored. And they’ve been listening with growing frustration, disgust, and anger.

Like Elihu, the spirit of God is stirring younger generations, so they are about to burst and will not stay silent. (Job 32.18-20)When they speak out, they may anger the old guard. They won’t be flattering or show partiality to position, rank, or denominations. (Job 32.21-22) And they may not get everything right. They might fall into the same old errors or find new ones. 

We won’t improve the conversation by continuing to ignore, sideline, or dismiss their arguments because of their youth. “It is not only the old who are wise,” and not only the young who are foolish.

When we get an earful from an Elihu, we should listen. If we don’t engage the Elihu’s of our age in sincere conversation, we may never hear from them again.

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 Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings

Job 32 (Listen 2:12)
Psalm 15-16 (Listen 2:03)

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God specifically moved among the young people of the land and the older generation did not take them seriously. 

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Fringes of Creation

Scripture Focus: Job 26:14
14 And these are but the outer fringe of his works;
     how faint the whisper we hear of him!
     Who then can understand the thunder of his power?

Reflection: Fringes of Creation
By Erin Newton

In a recent lecture, I heard Diane Langberg speak about the mental and emotional weight of constantly counseling those in grief. When asked how she handles the psychological toll of such heaviness, she said one thing she does is reconnect with nature by getting out into the garden and planting flowers.

What hope is gained by looking out the window at birds near a feeder or gazing up to name the constellations in the starry night? How is it that creation can feed the soul and bring a downcast spirit a momentary reprieve? The words of Job hint at this phenomenon. He calls us to consider creation as we try to understand the mysteries of our suffering. 

Looking across the stormy ocean, there is a certain hue of blue-green that is only shown in the tossing of waves. “He wraps up the waters in his clouds.” The skies that settle into a dark gray as the air begins to mist and you can smell rain is on the way—this is done through the hands of God.

Even in the calm mornings near the lake, where the fog clings to the silent motionless waters. There is a calm serenity that creation exemplifies for us each day. “He marks out the horizon on the face of the waters.” It is within reach but often outside our present focus.

The binding of the waters, the limitations of the darkness, the stillness of the sea—all of these speak of the power of God. For Job, it is just the fringe of God’s work.

The mythic dragon that lives in the primordial sea—Rahab, the gliding serpent—has been silenced by the hand of God. The spirit which hovered over the waters is the spirit that split the Red Sea. “By his breath the skies became fair.”

God’s power calmed chaos and brought order. God’s power provided a way through the waters and into deliverance. This is the fringe of God’s works that Job and his friends long to understand.

But just as innocent suffering seems to reside outside our ability to understand, so does the magnitude of God’s power. Reaching down into the dirt, looking out across the valleys, exploring the depths of caves, and climbing above the tree line onto snowcapped mountains—this momentary pause to look at the fringes of his works is one place we find respite in our suffering.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Let us make a vow to the Lord our God and keep it; let all around him bring gifts to him who is worthy to be feared. — Psalm 76.11

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

​Today’s Readings
Job 25-26 (Listen 1:52)
Psalm 5-6 (Listen 2:45)

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“Tension” is a good word for the dialogues between Job and his friends. The greatest tension is the conflict between how each person views the world.

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Vulnerable Quartet

Scripture Focus: Job 24.1-12
1 Why does the Almighty not set times for judgment? 
Why must those who know him look in vain for such days? 
2 There are those who move boundary stones; 
they pasture flocks they have stolen. 
3 They drive away the orphan’s donkey 
and take the widow’s ox in pledge. 
4 They thrust the needy from the path 
and force all the poor of the land into hiding. 
5 Like wild donkeys in the desert, 
the poor go about their labor of foraging food; 
the wasteland provides food for their children. 
6 They gather fodder in the fields 
and glean in the vineyards of the wicked. 
7 Lacking clothes, they spend the night naked; 
they have nothing to cover themselves in the cold. 
8 They are drenched by mountain rains 
and hug the rocks for lack of shelter. 
9 The fatherless child is snatched from the breast; 
the infant of the poor is seized for a debt. 
10 Lacking clothes, they go about naked; 
they carry the sheaves, but still go hungry. 
11 They crush olives among the terraces; 
they tread the winepresses, yet suffer thirst. 
12 The groans of the dying rise from the city, 
and the souls of the wounded cry out for help. 
But God charges no one with wrongdoing.

“If you aren’t intensely concerned for the quartet of the vulnerable…it’s a sign your heart is not right with God.” — Tim Keller

Reflection: Vulnerable Quartet
By John Tillman

The “quartet of the vulnerable” is a term for those vulnerable to harm, particularly in the Bible: the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, and the poor.

Job sees wrongs in his community, questioning why God has not acted on behalf of three of these four groups. He shines a light on the sufferers and has compassion for them.

Job starts with the subtle crime of moving boundary stones. Doing this made one’s land more profitable and incrementally stole influence and livelihood from neighbors.

An action in Job’s list that particularly infuriates me is driving away the orphan’s donkey. Driving away the donkey is an act of financial sabotage, equivalent to breaking a farmer’s tractor or burning down their barn. It is intended to cause bankruptcy, loan default, and desperation. It cuts their bootstraps to prevent them from pulling themselves up, ensuring that there is no escape from poverty and enslavement. 

Another wrong Job lists is sending “the poor of the land into hiding”, forcing them into deserts where there is no food for their children. (Job 24.4-5) These wrongs make me think of current issues.

When we look honestly at our society as Job did, can we not see those incrementally “moving boundary stones” stealing wealth and influence from their neighbors? Can we not see those financially and educationally sabotaging people working to escape poverty? Can we not see those sweeping the poor out of sight or allowing them to languish and die?

Laws have been opposed and defeated to help the poor or penalize financial crimes. Programs or money that would feed hungry children have been attacked or eliminated. Churches, programs, or pastors who help the poor or migrants have been criticized, intimidated, fined, and prosecuted for doing so.

What kind of society does these things? Not a great one. Not a righteous one. God judges the righteousness of kings, countries, and cities by the condition of these groups. God is concerned for the welfare of this vulnerable quartet. We should share his concern.

Job began this section with despair that these things were happening. We may identify with that despair. Job ends this section with certainty that God will destroy and punish abusers of the vulnerable.

If Job looked past his pain to shine a light on the sufferers, have compassion for them, cry out to God for them, and take action on their behalf, so can we.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught the disciples, saying: “Look, I am sending you out like sheep among the wolves; so be cunning as snakes and yet innocent as doves. Be prepared for people to hand you over to sanhedrins and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for my sake, as evidence to them and to the Gentiles. But when you are handed over, do not worry about how to speak or what to say; what you are to say will be given to you when the time comes, because it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you.” — Matthew 10.16-20

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

​Today’s Readings
Job 24 (Listen 2:56)
Psalm 3-4 (Listen 1:56)

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Our Redeemer Lives

Scripture Focus: Job 19.23-27
23 “Oh, that my words were recorded, 
that they were written on a scroll, 
24 that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, 
or engraved in rock forever! 
25 I know that my redeemer lives, 
and that in the end he will stand on the earth. 
26 And after my skin has been destroyed, 
yet in my flesh I will see God; 
27 I myself will see him 
with my own eyes—I, and not another. 
How my heart yearns within me! 

Reflection: Our Redeemer Lives
By John Tillman

Job lived before Moses and before Abraham. The Law had not yet been written. However, the concept of a redeemer has many expressions within the Law. A redeemer was typically a family member who would save or redeem a victim from a hopeless situation. 

Commentator Carl Schultz notes different types of redeemers. The redeemer could take vengeance for the victim’s unjust death. (Deuteronomy 19.1–12; 2 Samuel 3.26-27; 2 Samuel 14.11) The redeemer could reclaim the victim from slavery. (Leviticus 25.47-49) The redeemer could reclaim family property. (Leviticus 25.25-27) The redeemer could marry the victim’s widow, continuing the family line and maintaining property for the widow and her children. (Ruth 4.1-16)Job could have been thinking of a relative who might come to his aid, but what human relative could redeem all Job lost? What human relative could vindicate him? Pronounce him innocent? Restore his dignity? Restore his health? Restore his life?

Job’s words about a redeemer may have an earthly meaning, but no earthly redeemer could accomplish all that Job longed for.

Job was not asking for a loan or financial support. He did not want to muster an army to pursue human raiders. (Job 1.17) He did not appeal for legal representation. Job looked for a redeemer beyond the physical, yet Job declared he would see this redeemer in the flesh.

We share Job’s situation. Job’s difficulties are greater in severity than ours but similar in nature. Have we not lost loved ones? Have we not been cheated? Have we not lost or lacked finances? Have we not been estranged from loved ones? Have we not experienced injustice?

Do we not also need the redemptions described in the Law? By Satan’s deceit, Adam and Eve died, and we are slain with them. By sin’s shackles, we are enslaved to a wicked master. By death’s power, we are evicted from our true home with God. By all of this, we live under Satan’s kingdom—in his household.

We share Job’s hopeless situation. We also share Job’s Redeemer.

Jesus fulfills all the roles of the redeemer in the Law. He is the strong man, breaking into Satan’s home to steal us back and crushing the head of the serpent. He is our brother, restoring our rightful home and preparing a place for us. He is our liberator, breaking the shackles of sin. He is our new Adam and, united to him, as he suffered, died, and rose, so shall we.

Praise God, our Redeemer lives!

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
The Lord lives! Blessed is my Rock! Exalted is the God of my salvation! — Psalm 18.46

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

Today’s Readings
Job 19 (Listen 2:48
John 18 (Listen 5:16)

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