This talk was given by Martin Ansdell-Smith on as part of our worship service at Main Street Community Church and over the Internet.
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Thank you, Moira, for reading today’s passage from the Authorised Version. Many of us know those words from decades ago when the AV was the principal English translation. More of us will know them as the words to an aria in Handel’s The Messiah. From a more modern version:
Job 19:23–27 NRSV
O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!
Whichever version you know best, the words are powerful.
The book of Job is the first poetry book in the Old Testament. In English translations it is about halfway through the Old Testament. Job is about one man’s dealings with God. Events and people that shape the earlier narrative books such as Moses, Exodus, covenants, nation, play no part. It is mostly poetry in six– word lines that need many more words to translate into English and, like much poetry, can leave out connecting words and use words in unfamiliar senses. Job is a challenging book to translate. Comparing different English translations shows how different they can be in wording and sense. This morning we’ll look at the big picture and draw out a few points that may be helpful.
Job is married, healthy, with many children, an affluent farmer with a large workforce and big herds of animals. He knows the one true God and does his best to do what God requires of him. His life pleases God and, when the Satan, literally the accuser, claims that Job only maintains this good relationship with God because of what God does for Job, the stage is set for the claim to be tested. God allows Satan to afflict Job but not to harm him physically. In one day, Job’s children and many of his workers die, and his animals are killed or stolen. Job’s response … is to worship God:
Job 1:21–22 NRSV
He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.
God then allows the Satan to afflict Job physically. Job’s skin becomes a painful running sore from head to toe. Some of Job’s friends come to visit and sit with him in prolonged silence. This is to their credit but their presence is marred by their advice: they are convinced that Job must have deserved these calamities.
Job 19:23–27 NRSV
“O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!
During their conversations, Job tries to convince his friends he has not deserved them and Job makes the statement we are looking at today. Job sees God as his adversary, his attacker, and he thinks God has acted unfairly. Job wants to put his case formally but fears he might die before he can be vindicated. He is sure that he has a kinsman redeemer who will vindicate him. You will remember we met this term ‘kinsman redeemer’ earlier this year in the story of Ruth, it also occurs in Jeremiah and, the Old Testament affirms God is the redeemer of Israel because they are part of his family (e.g., Ex. 6:6; Ps. 19:14; 78:35; Is. 44:6; 49:7, 26; Jer. 50:34 ). If catastrophe strikes, such as wrongful death, or being sold into slavery, or having to sell family land to pay debts, the kinsman redeemer has the responsibility and privilege of avenging the death, or continuing the family line, or buying back the property, if they can.
Job is clear that somehow, through the efforts of his kinsman-redeemer, Job will, in person, see his case presented before God and know he has been vindicated. As the book progresses, God himself vindicates Job, restores him, and prospers him.
We don’t know if Job foresaw the coming of a Messiah as the way his vindication would happen. We know the Messiah came as Redeemer at the first Christmas. Perhaps Job looked further ahead, to the glorified Messiah coming as judge of all the living and the dead, as we know will happen at Jesus’ second coming.
But Jesus did not come to show we are in the right: he came because we are in the wrong and need a redeemer. It is not that God is against us and Jesus is for us. There is no difference of opinion or intent between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. From eternity, before anything was created, they were in perfect harmony and remain so. Their love for us is perfect. God: Father, Son, and Spirit, so loved us that he sent his son.
Note a couple of points:
1) Job, even in his deep distress, keeps talking to God,though he misunderstands God’s part in what is happening. He maintains communication. Calamities come to all, no-one is exempt. The Bible warns us that people trying to follow God’s way may have more hardships than others:
Luke 9:23–24 NRSV
Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.
We can expect persecution,
2 Timothy 3:12 NRSV
Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
And we have freedom … to be a slave:
Galatians 5:13–14 NRSV
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
But also remember
Mark 10:45 NRSV
For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Our call to serve is also a call to be served by God: God helps us to do everything he commands us to do.
When calamity comes, we must not cut ourselves off from God, or other Christians, the church. We must not wait until things improve. As God says,
Psalm 50:15 NRSV
Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
When we struggle emotionally, physically, spiritually, then our prayers, our worship, may be poor or inappropriate in the eyes of others, and even in our own eyes, but to God, it is precious. So in Mark 14, the woman who “has done what she could”, and in Mark 12, the poor widow giving two coins: all she had, more than she could afford [Mark 12:41–44].
Never compare your little to what others give or do out of their abundance — or vice-versa. Out of an abundance of health, strength, wealth, time, abilities someone may give much, but God looks at the capabilities and the heart. With God, it’s okay not to be okay. We can, we must, be honest with God, but open to his response. Read Psalms for examples. Serve, love, worship, praise, pray, talk with God, intercede for others where you are, as you are, as best you can.
2) Do pray for others. At the end of the book of Job, when God has clarified the situation for Job, Job repents of his complaints about and his attitude to God. God tells the three friends their advice to Job was wrong and tells them to get Job to pray for them. And asking Job for prayer and Job being willing to pray for them was not to wait until Job was physically restored or in better circumstances:
Job 42:9–10 NRSV
So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the LORD had told them; and the LORD accepted Job’s prayer. And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.
As the apostle Paul puts it,
Ephesians 6:18 NRSV
Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.
The notion that bad things happen because they were deserved, should have ended with the book of Job. He had done nothing worse than anyone else to deserve these calamities. Yet the notion persisted, and still does. Jesus met it.
John 9:2–3 NRSV
His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.
Luke 13:1–5 NRSV
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
No one deserves good. None of us is good in ourselves. God is under no obligation to be nice to us, and there is nothing we can offer to God to make him obliged to us, to make us more deserving. All we can do to love, to serve, God and our neighbour is no more than we should do.
Everything good we receive is an undeserved gracious gift from God. We must always thank God for the good we have, praise him for who he is, never complain about what we think we should have.
God’s timing is not ours, but that is to our benefit. As the apostle Peter puts it,
2 Peter 3:8–9 NRSV
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.
God always acts at the right, the perfect time, though we may find the delay difficult. When reading the Bible, recognise the delays. Decades in exile or under evil rulers, years of disbelief or persecution, centuries between the prophecies of the Messiah and the Nativity at Bethlehem, and after that awaiting, as we still do, for Jesus’ return in glory to judge the living and the dead.
These delays must have seemed endless, unendurable, to those who lived through them. In the nativity, think of the months Zechariah had to wait, unable to speak. Remember Joseph. How long did he, and Mary, have to wait between learning of Mary’s pregnancy before Joseph received the confirmation from the angel? Use times of waiting to draw attention away from our circumstances and give time to God, to listen, to be receptive to him. Be waiting on God, not for Him.
You can rely on God, despite outward circumstances:
… you can count on God to keep his promises, even when you can’t see him or feel him. ... you can trust him even when it seems like he’s untrustworthy. Even when you face an uncertain future. Even while you are doubting or when you are afraid.
[Harold L. Senkbeil, Christ and Calamity: Grace & Gratitude in the Darkest Valley (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020).]
This week we reach the end of Advent. Once again, we will celebrate that the eternal Son of God, the creator of all, took on flesh, was born as a baby, fully human and fully divine, to show God’s love, redeem those willing to be God’s people, empower them with the Holy Spirit: God living in them. Once he took on this human body, he would keep it for ever.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see.
Hail th’incarnate Deity
[Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Charles Wesley 1708–1788]
Jesus lives to pray for his church, for each of us. As the great Scottish pastor, R M M’Cheyne put it,
If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.
R M M’Cheyne (1813–1843)
Quotation taken from Neal Hegeman, Weekend: True Prayer, ed. R. C. Sproul Jr, Tabletalk Magazine, August 1997: Counting on God: The Faith of Abraham (Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 1997), 35.
Finally, an advent prayer:
Keep us, O Lord,
while we tarry on this earth,
in a serious seeking after you,
and in an affectionate walking with you,
every day of our lives;
that when you come,
we may be found not hiding our talent,
nor serving the flesh,
nor yet asleep with our lamp unfurnished,
but waiting and longing for our Lord,
our glorious God for ever.
(Richard Baxter, 1615–1691)
© The Archbishops' Council of the Church of England, 2000-2005
Amen, Amen, Amen.
Clines, David J. A. Job 1–20. Vol. 17. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1989.
Goldingay, John. Job for Everyone. 1st ed. Old Testament for Everyone. Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press; Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2013.
This talk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989.
Scripture quotations marked NRSV on this page and in the audio are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.