"Portrait of the Man God Brags On"
Sept.2, 2007 Job 29(1-18; 31:16-23)
Big Shots Bite the Dust
What would you say makes a big shot? How do we identify people that seem to be very important - those who are 'household words'? Sometimes it's based on popularity - from the life of the party to the class clown. There are women whose names we'd recognize because they're pretty - they're called idols or divas (from the Latin divus meaning 'divine one' or goddess). Or there are impressive performers, such as sports stars or actors with outstanding talent. Power is another means to become famous: perhaps through politics or business or inheriting the family fortune. Strangely, though, the Bible doesn't rate any of these as necessarily very important; God isn't 'wowed' by any of these human factors, which can be so fleeting and short-lived.
Underneath our cat's litter box for the past couple of weeks has been a newspaper with a photo and story from the Liberal leadership convention in December last year. The photo shows a rather wistful-looking Bob Rae chatting with Michael Ignatieff, of some intellectual renown. These two men were in the lead for the first 2 ballots at the convention, but eventually lost out to Stephane Dion. They'd hoped to become party leader and perhaps the next prime minister, but despite their fame, their hopes were dashed. After being knocked out of the race, though, Bob Rae's comments showed a healthy if humbled attitude; he told reporters, "This is not life, this is politics.I've had a great run.I have absolutely no regrets.I've had a lot of fun."
The apostle Peter quotes Isaiah, "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever." (1Pe 1:24-25) Human glory passes quickly, as politicians well know. How can we find the kind of glory that lasts eternally? How can we avoid becoming just another headline or obituary that winds up under the litter box?
A Man in whom God Delights
Way back in ancient times, as the Bible records, there was once a man in whom God delighted especially. His name was Job. Usually we associate the name Job with perseverance or suffering. But before all that happened, he was a very wealthy, powerful, and righteous man - so righteous that he was definitely on God's radar. Job lived as a rancher with his numerous flocks and herds in the land of Uz, somewhere to the east or north-east of Palestine. There's no exact date, but this all likely happened in the second millennium before Christ, after the time of Abraham but before King Saul. The first two chapters reveal some secret dialogue in the heavenly places between God and the Accuser, Satan. We read in 1:8, "Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil."" Wow, this is something! There's a person on earth that's so good he's got God's special attention; in fact, God brags on him. Satan challenges God, saying Job only trusts God because it's good for business, he doesn't 'fear God for nothing': if God were to take away all his possessions, Job would curse God to His face. God gives Satan permission to destroy all Job's wealth and family as a test. Job is devastated but doesn't charge God with wrongdoing. Later, God again says to Satan in 2:3, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason." Here again God is bragging about Job's blamelessness and uprightness. Job's complete integrity offers God something that brings glory before the accuser.
Wouldn't you like that? Not a passing photo on a page of the Free Press, but to be commended and bragged on by God Himself? What could be more important in eternity than for God to have a good opinion of us? What matters isn't pleasing people, but the Lord. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, "We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts." (1Thess 2:4)
That's not the only occasion God centres out Job, by the way. In Ezekiel 14, vv 14 and 20, the Lord says even if "Noah, Daniel, and Job" were in a country God slated for destruction on account of its sin, "they could save only themselves by their righteousness." Again God's lifting up Job as a shining example of what it means to be upright.
This sermon is not about works-righteousness, as if we could somehow earn God's good favour on our own merit. We are all sinners and can only come to God by confessing our sin, repenting, and trusting in Christ for our forgiveness. Ephesians 2 says, "Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-- it is by grace you have been saved...not by works, so that no one can boast." (Eph 2:3-5,9) When we call upon Jesus to be our Saviour and Lord, our sin is paid for on His cross, and we are clothed with His righteousness - that's how God sees us now. Jesus "has become for us wisdom from God - that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption." (1Cor 1:30)
But that same passage in Ephesians 2 that's so key for emphasizing it's not by works that we're saved, goes on to imply God's goodness starts to find its expression through us in the things we do: 2:10, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." So let's consider the early life of Job as an example of the righteous deeds God wants to be producing in our lives, us former wretches - actions that make Him proud to be our heavenly 'Daddy' and wanting to boast about His kids in Christ.
A Great Man - Showing Great Generosity
Most of the book of Job is argument between Job and his 3 'sympathizing' friends, who arrive to commiserate with him amidst his terrific physical suffering. He bemoans he was ever born and longs to present his case before God; they insist that because God is almighty and just while Job is a mere sinful man, God must be punishing him for wrongs he's committed. Job maintains his innocence; and the argument goes on from there. But if you burrow through the long speeches you come to Job's final speech, in which he pauses to long for his former 'glory days' in chapter 29, and recaps his innocence by summing up his past record in ch.31. Here we find the essence of his blameless, upright behaviour. Surprisingly, it doesn't have to do with championing great moral causes or an excessively active participation in official religion, but a continuous life of helpfulness to 'little people'.
Chapter 29 sandwiches Job's benevolent acts between passages that relate the great respect and esteem in which he was held by society before the losses occurred. Vv7-11, when he went to take his seat in the local government, young men stepped aside, old men rose to their feet out of respect; chief men or princes fell silent and covered their mouths with their hands in an Eastern gesture of honour; nobles hushed their voices. Everybody spoke well of Job and commended him. Vv 21-25, people waited silently for his counsel; they could hardly get over it when Job smiled at them; he acted as their chief or king and chose the way for them. But he didn't throw his weight around like a dictator - v25, he was 'like one who comforts mourners', gentle, considerate, sympathetic.
How did Job earn such huge respect and honour? V12 starts with a conjunction which is key - "[...those who saw me commended me] Because" in NIV, "For" in NLT. Then follows an impressive list of his merciful acts to the downtrodden. "[Whoever heard me spoke well of me...] Because I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist him." One translation says he was "a saviour" to the poor (BBE). Deuteronomy 15(7f) commands the Israelites not to be "hardhearted or tightfisted" to poor kinsmen, "rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs." Some people quote the first half of v11 "There will always be poor people in the land" as an excuse not to have to share, but the verse actually concludes, "THEREFORE I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land."
V13 in Job 29, "The man who was dying blessed me..." Doesn't that make you think of Mother Teresa and her work with the diseased and dying in the streets of Calcutta? NLT "I helped those who had lost hope, and they blessed me." NRSV "The blessing of the wretched came upon me." Our first reaction might be to turn away from someone who's 'wretched', but Job reached out and helped.
Continuing on in v13, "I made the widow's heart sing." Isn't that something! Widows would be naturally affected with grief by their husbands' death; this was compounded by their dependence upon relatives or neighbours for support in an agrarian society. Job stepped in and took away their worries about starving.
V15, "I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame" - interesting way of putting it, actually BECOMING or substituting as the missing limbs for the handicapped. Can we start to imagine ourselves as someone else's eyes or legs? Are we so ready to assist that we seem almost like an extension to them?
V16, "I was a father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger." To those who didn't have a dad, Job became one. He didn't resist getting involved if an outsider was in a fix, but stepped in and represented them 'pro bono'. NRSV "I championed the cause of the stranger."
Vv 14 & 17 speak of not just benevolent relief, but active intervention in the system of the day as a powerful agent. "I put on righteousness as my clothing; justice was my robe and my turban." This past week Steven Truscott was acquitted of a rape-murder conviction from decades ago; he would be happy to see justice finally served! 17 sounds almost warrior-like, men: "I broke the fangs of the wicked and snatched victims from their teeth." NLT, "I broke the jaws of godless oppressors and made them release their victims." Hey, wouldn't you just love for that to be YOU?! Watch out Rambo & Schwarzenegger, Justice Job is on the rampage! Dive for cover, Mafia! Head for the hills, drug-dealers! Bullies, beware - he'll have you in a headlock!
Being a Christian man isn't a call to be weak and wimpy, but to stand and fight evil in all its forms, championing the cause of what's right and good. Job went head to head with the forces of evil - and won. Get in your crosshairs those Proverbs 30:14 talks about - "those whose teeth are swords and whose jaws are set with knives to devour the poor from the earth, the needy from among mankind."
Skip over to chapter 31:16 for a parallel passage that lists those Job has benefitted. He has not "denied the desires of the poor or let the eyes of the widow grow weary" (when looking to him for assistance). He hasn't kept his bread to himself, but shared it with the fatherless. From Job's youth he has reared orphans as would a father - sounds like foster parenting or adoption. He has guided the widow, hasn't seen anyone perishing for lack of clothing; instead he warmed the needy man with the fleece from his sheep. And look closely at 31:21-23 for extra insight into why he does all this (NLT): "If my arm has abused an orphan because I thought I could get away with it, then let my shoulder be wrenched out of place! Let my arm be torn from its socket! That would be better than facing the judgment sent by God."
What's he saying here? Even if nobody else saw it - if he could abuse an orphan and no one else ever find out, or if he had such powerful friends at court that he knew he'd be let off - Job's saying God would know, and would hold him accountable. He recognizes God's watching out for the fatherless, the poor, the widow, the needy, the 'nobodies' of our culture. Those who have no hope of standing up for themselves, God will ultimately back up, and Job fears that confrontation; "If the majesty of God opposes me, what hope is there?"
This fits in well with God's 'preferential option for the poor' shown in other parts of the Bible. Psalm 68:5, "A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling." (Ps 68:5) Exodus 22:22f, ""Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan.If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword..." Do you think God's serious about how we treat such as these? Proverbs 23(10f), "Do not...encroach on the fields of the fatherless, for their Defender is strong; He will take up their case against you." God is the orphan's Defender.
In the New Testament, how did James, the brother of our Lord, define true religion? Just 2 things - "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (Jas 1:27)
Plug In to the Impoverished
Do you want to be the kind of person God delights in - that He can't stop bragging to Satan about? First of all, get Jesus in your life - we need Him to wash away the junk we've done and sweep clean the house of our spirit, so the Holy Spirit can come in with power to change us. Then find your outlet, your target, how God wants to pour His goodness and love through your life into others.
What did the first apostles ask Paul and the Gentiles to do? Remember the poor, "the very thing I was eager to do." (Gal 2:10) How did Jesus commend the sheep rather than the goats in the story about judgment in Matthew 25(35f)? "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat...I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me..."
Start with those at hand. Is there someone you know who's in need - perhaps a friend or family member? Any hearts like the widows' that aren't exactly 'singing' at the moment? What about people up the street or at your place of employment - maybe some extra expenses have suddenly made it hard to find the rent money. I know one family that just received a $3000 out-of-province ambulance bill.
What does it mean to be 'eyes to the blind and feet to the lame' today? On the photocopier at the hospital, someone had accidentally left behind a list from a service club of the volunteer drivers who courier donated eyes to the bus depot in Kitchener en route to the CNIB in Toronto. That kind of covers both bases.
Even if you can't think of someone in need right at hand, there are many Christian agencies that provide care in Jesus' name around the world. Children's Homes International, based in Kitchener, cares for 450 orphans in 4 different countries. Go to our EMCC.ca website and see all our denomination is doing under "Relief & Development": maybe you aren't equipped to multiply medical clinics in Haiti, but Marilyn McIlroy and her teams are!
Samaritan's Purse, headed by Billy Graham's son Franklin, is at the forefront of providing assistance when disasters happen. August 15, Peru was hit by an earthquake of magnitude 8.0. Over 600 people were killed, and officials estimate that over 35,000 homes were destroyed. In some communities, like the town of San Clemente and the port city of Pisco, at least 80 per cent of the buildings are destroyed or damaged. Thousands of people were left homeless and without water or electricity. A Samaritan's Purse Canada project manager who's there to help lead the relief effort says, "Pisco is like a city that has been bombed - there is incredible destruction." The website notes they've distributed tens of thousands of hot meals through their network of local partners; they've supplied gas stoves and pots, and over 1,600 blankets to those sleeping in the streets. They're also providing building materials, including rolls of heavy-duty plastic to construct temporary shelters for more than 2,000 families.
And you always secretly wanted to see Peru, didn't you?! Samaritan's Purse is also sending Relief Teams comprised of Canadian volunteers, who will provide disaster relief through clean-up and rebuilding. So you can even get involved hands-on! http://www.samaritanspurse.ca/teams/relief/earthquake_relief.aspx
The Lord was proud of righteous Job, who was a 'big shot' not because of power or popularity, but because he responded to help those in need, and took a stand against injustice. As Jesus' sheep, let's follow our Saviour in lifting up the fallen, as His Spirit guides and gives us strength. Let's pray.