Friday, November 7, 2008

"That which I most feared..."

1. Sacrifice and Mercy

Job went every morning and sacrificed to the Lord for each of his ten children, lest they be guilty even in their hearts of even some unknown sin. He was a rich man, and his sacrifices would have been substantial – sheep or goats, and bulls, all without blemish. His bare arms would have been stained and hot with blood. Perhaps the blade was flint, perhaps bronze. Blood would soak the foot of the altar, making the stones shine and turning dust into mud. Being a sin offering, the visceral fat would have been burned. The smoke rose as a sweet savour to the Lord. The stink of urine and feces remained with Job, attracting flies.

On his son’s birthday, his eldest son – his firstborn – various messengers came to Job. This would have been later in the day, after all his sacrificing had been done – after he had washed his hands and arms clean, and sent his blood-splattered priestly robe to its daily laundering. That morning’s sacrifice would have been a special occasion, since his children had all gathered to celebrate the day. Such was their custom, to gather for birthdays, but this was the firstborn, he of the double portion, so the festivities would have been especially grand. All the more occasion for unwitting sin, Job knew, and his sacrificing would have been a spectacle of bloodshed. He was too busy with this matter to observe the day with his children. He knew his priorities, and was not wrong in this.

Did he spy the first messenger, come running from the south? Was he like that other father, of the prodigal son, constantly scanning the horizon for some sign or word? Did Job wonder at the servant’s haste, grow uneasy at the breathless desperation of the man? Was he patient, waiting as the man doubled over before him, gasping for air to utter the words?

Sabaens … oxen and asses … massacre.

Of course Job was angry. He was a ruler of the land. He was greatest of the sons of the east. And his mind would have raced with plans to organize his many men, to pursue the raiders, to hunt them down and kill them and retake what was his. Thus two centuries before did Abram rescue Lot from Chedorlaomer and Tidal, Amraphel and Arioch. It would not stand, and no excuse that years of famine unsettled all the world. Alas, Job had not time for this. Unseen behind him as he listened rushed a second messenger.

Fire from the heavens ... sheep and men all killed.

Had it sounded like distant northern thunder to Job, earlier that day? -- perhaps during his sacrificing? Did he wonder at the pall of smoke dark in that quarter of the sky? Was his soul stirred with unease, knowing his sheep were grazing in those spring pastures? But there would have been no thought of anger at God, in this. It would not have occurred to him. And nothing to be done about it in any event. He would have seen this immediately, and returned to the thought of retaking his herds from the Sabaeans. But immediately, before Job can give any command, a third servant races from the east.

Chaldeans … camels … massacre.

Camels are the beasts of trade -- the foundation of Job’s wealth, dealing in spices and incense and oils and cloths. The Sabaens would have to wait, or at least take second priority. So Job would have been thinking, even as the servant still babbled out his story. But then. Then. A final messenger. From the fourth quarter of the land.

A great wind … house collapsed … all your sons and all your daughters … dead.

Struck from the four corners of the earth in a season of troubled skies and restless nations.

He had shed no tears, felt no grief, before. Even anger would have waited upon justice. But his sons. His daughters. Crushed beneath the stones and great beams of a house that he had built.

Job fell down. How long he lay we cannot know. We know he fell, because he then arose. And being a man of his culture, he tore his clothes. I would have, would have hid my face in one hand, the other across my belly.

2. Integrity and Blame

Satan came before God on a day when the sons of God came before Him. There are, it seems, great and high holy days in the heavenlies, and this was a holy week, for there were several audiences. What would be the name of these days? On the week of Passover, so many things occur.

Satan had been stalking across the confines of the earth, pacing between its pillars. Now he returned to the courts of his banishment. Was he in shackles, paroled from his confinement for a time but wearing his dishonor? Or was his proud, degenerating countenance symbol enough of his state. In any case, from his depredations he was summoned, and stood, or kneeled, before the Lord.

“Consider blameless Job,” invited God. Has Satan never heard of Job? What then is being said? Of course they both, God and Satan, understand that they are being watched. “Adam and Enoch have walked with Me, but from the days of the beginning none surpass my servant Job.”

Satan well remembered Adam, and must have smiled in his heart. Every man has his idol. With Adam, it had been Eve. How he must have loved her, to follow her into death. He would not have her be alone. He had known solitude. Well has Satan considered Adam, and smiles. Satan would have gone to gloat in Sheol, save the shade was sleeping.

As for Enoch, he would have been a presence in that company of angels, and nothing could be said of him.

“Touch Job, O Lord, with Thy blessing, and he will bless Thee in kind.” How clever, the play on words. And so the Lord removed the hand of his protection, and gave his servant Job into the power of Satan.

But after Job fell, and rose to tear his cloths and shave his head and strew ashes like smoke and wind, after, he fell again, and worshipped. “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Grief does not crush some men.

When after some days Satan came again, the Lord recalled Job to memory. “You incite Me against him, and he holds fast to his integrity.” So many ways to accuse, there are, yet Satan did not see his chance although the Lord had spoken it.

Instead, Satan turned, returned, to the flesh. “Skin for skin.” He must have said it smiling. Perhaps this is why Adam fell – the tender touch of Eve. And the Lord gave Job, his bone and his flesh, into the hands of Satan.

From crown to sole has Job been struck, a byword of pain as he sits in ashes, blistered like a burnt offering, dripping infection like fat melting over flames. “Would that I had died in my mother’s womb,” he cries. “Would that I had never been born.” But he cannot die, and though he would not cling to life, he holds to his integrity. He is not crushed.

3. Justice and Glory

God, enthroned, receives the worship of his angels. He has contained His glory in a vessel, that all might see. Thus did He walk in the cool of the evening with Adam beneath the canopy of leaves. Thus did he sit and eat in the heat of the day with Abraham beneath a single tree. In the morning too He comes to men, we are reminded, bearing new mercies -- but this is of a different sort, the unseen gift of an unseen God. So is God seen, and not seen. For God dwells in unapproachable light, and none may look upon him and live.

For Job, there was no vision. For Job there was no walk, no meal -- not even wrestling ... nothing he could cling to. Job was not granted the presence of the Lord. He had felt His hand, or its absence, and could bear no more. Job got more wind, the insubstantial wind, which blows where it wills and knocks strong houses down. This is fitting, for dust lives in wind.

If Satan still comes before the Lord, we know nothing of their conversations. If God points out some other Job, we do not know the name. We cannot see when hedges fall. We hear only the wind. What God's purpose might be in this we must wait to learn.

But one sure lesson might be found by those who know to look. Who is this God, with whom men walk and eat? Who is this God who speaks with the fearsome voice of storm? We say 'God' -- a general term, capitalized as a convention. But He has a name, and that not lost between the consonants. Who then is this God, who sought for Adam hiding in the Garden? -- whose feet were washed by trembling Abraham within the grove of Mamre? Who is the God who rendered Job to Satan? What is his name?

Today we call him Jesus.

The Word is what is manifest, and is all of God that can be known. But simply because we know him, doesn't mean he is not to be feared. It is a good thing to have God for a friend. But we must have him also for our God. Jesus comes again, not as servant but as king, not on a cross but with a sword, not to suffer but to judge. He is not meek, now.

What we know, what we may feel certain of, is that the prayers of this God were not answered. The cup was not taken from him. He was forsaken. Yet this is the God who removed his hand from Job. There is a necessity in all this which words cannot explain.

Whether or not hardship is earned is incidental. Every man might feel that he is Job. Yet no answers will be found again in whirlwinds. Do you expect a point? Then consider His servant, Job. Only at the end, however long he waited, do we find Job clinging no longer to integrity. We find him crushed. So did his eyes see, and blameless Job repented.



Craig Lowery said...

EXCELLENT! I had all but despaired of finding a blog worth reading. Thankyou for your efforts, and I've bookmarked your blog for return visits. You can find me at craigintosh.blogspot. My writings are less focused and far less poignant than yours, but maybe you'll find something of interest.

Jack H said...

Thanks, Craig. A gentle word turneth away wrath.



ELAshley said...

How do you place Job's time 2 centuries after Abraham. For all my study, I've never found anything to idenify the time.

Jack H said...

Briefly, rabbinic legend places Job as a contemporary of Joseph and still alive in the early life of Moses. Is this reliable? Maybe yes and maybe no. My work on the Ice Age and cyclic catastrophism support this dating, and there are correlations in my reconstruction of ancient history that also justify the conclusion, but again, these are merely inferences. Some things are solid enough to defend rigorously. This isn't one of them. But on the other hand, we go with the evidence we have, not that we'd like to have.


brent said...

I've read and reread this several times. It is a very good piece and have shared it with others. It was the inspiration for this:

A piece in my own faith struggles.