Don't forsake your first love

Text Revelation 2:1-7 Time 11/07/10 Place Childs Hill Baptist ChurchI thought that over the next few weeks we could look at the seven churches of the Book of Revelation. As some of you know the Book of Revelation was addressed originally to seven churches in what was then called Asia Minor. That is the part of the world that we know now as Turkey or Anatolia. Revelation has quite a long introduction but it reveals that it was written down by the Apostle John. He tells us (1:9-11)
I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.We don't know the details but John was exiled by the authorities to the little island of Patmos off the coast there in the Aegean Sea and it was there that he had this tremendous vision of the Lord Jesus. The initial encounter is found in Revelation 1:12-19. John hears a voice first then he says
I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.There is much more, of course – enough to fill 22 chapters in our Bibles. Chapters 2 and 3 contain specific letters to the seven churches. The order is not immediately clear but a messenger carrying the message from Patmos would have to travel 60 miles across the sea to get to the nearest of these churches – Ephesus (the one mentioned first). If you stick to the main road it would then be logical to travel north to Smyrna and further north again to Pergamum before looping east to Thyatira, further south to Sardis and then on to Philadelphia and Laodicea. The archaeologist William Ramsay once wrote of “the great circular road that bound together the most populous, wealthy, and influential part of the Province, the west-central region”.
What we find with these churches is that only the church in Smyrna receives unmixed praise and only the church in Laodicea receives only condemnation. Philadelphia is more praised than blamed and the church in Sardis is more blamed than praised. The others have a mixture of praise and blame.
This week we want to look at the first church, Ephesus, and we want to compare it with this church here and see how we measure up.
Ephesus was at that time a port at the mouth of the River Cayster. It was not only the nearest church to where John was in exile but it was also the prosperous capital city of that region and a city that its citizens were very proud of. It was home to the great temple of Artemis or Diana as the Romans called her – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was also a church that John had close connections with. Although Paul had founded the church there (his letter to them is part of the New Testament) and Timothy had pastored there for many years (as is clear from Paul's letters to Timothy) it seems that John eventually worked there as Pastor. So let's consider what John is told to write (2:1) To the angel of the church in Ephesus. There are a number of things to note.
1. Consider the character of Christ and his presence among his peopleIn each case the letters begin with a description of Christ drawn from the initial description in Chapter 1. Here it is These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. This is mentioned back in Chapter 1 - I saw says John seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man," ... In his right hand he held seven stars. The imagery is explained in 1:20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.Jesus promised that where two or three come together in his name that he would be among them and to be with his disciples forever. Here the churches are pictured as being like lampstands from the temple – they give out light. Jesus is like a high priest walking among them. Angel means messenger and the angels of the churches are probably their ministers. They are in God's hands. This was true of the church in Ephesus then and it is true of every church including this one. When we meet together Christ is among us and the minister is in his hand. That is something worth remembering.
2. Consider a New Testament church with many good points. Are they seen in us too?
This Christ goes on to speak firstly of the good characteristics of the church in Ephesus. He mentions at least three things. We should be seeking to emulate such good traits.
1. Productive
First, Christ says (2) I know your deeds, your hard work. The church at Ephesus was a working church. It was active. Everybody did something. We do not have any details here of what they did but they did things and they worked hard at doing them. It was a hive of industry. This is what churches that please Christ are like. He doesn't want us to be lazy or inactive but to work hard and to do what we can to take the work forward.
Are you playing your part? There is praying to be done, children's work to be organised and led, evangelistic outreach to be involved in. There is cleaning and repairing to be done to the building, rubbish to be cleared and weeds to be dug up, papers to be dealt with, etc. We need a small army of workers to get it all done. In Ephesus that is how it was. What is it like here?
2.Persevering
Christ also draws attention to their perseverance. In verse 3 he says You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Perhaps you can imagine what being a Christian in Ephesus was like. There was plenty of opposition to the church. People worshipped pagan gods and engaged in all sorts of occult practices we know. This led to strong opposition at times we can be sure. Despite the opposition, however, these people still persevered and endured in the faith. We know a certain amount of opposition too and sometimes it must get us down but we need to press on despite it. When we hear Jesus say I know ... your perseverance, it should encourage us to keep going. Don't give up!
3.Pure
The other great thing about the church in Ephesus was its doctrinal purity. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, says Jesus and that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. In verse 6 he adds this - But you have this in your favour: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. They were unwilling to tolerate those who practised wickedness. When people who were not apostles claimed to be apostles they tested their claims to see if they were true. We know nothing about the Nicolaitans but they were obviously a heretical group of the day whose teachings Jesus hated. The Ephesians were quite clear in their denunciation of this false teaching. They were determined to be orthodox and only to teach in the church what was true. Again the challenge is there for us. Isn't this what we should be aiming at? We cannot be indifferent to what is taught in the churches. We must seek to be orthodox and to conform to what is in Scripture.
So here is a church marked by productivity, perseverance and purity. What an example it is – an example we ought to follow.
3. Consider the one fatal flaw in this church. Is it something that we are guilty of too?
If the letter had ended there it would have been great but it could not end there for there was a problem in the church in Ephesus. In 2:4 we read Christ saying Yet I hold this against you. What is wrong? You have forsaken your first love. Whether this first love is human or divine is not spelled out but it would seem that it is their love for Christ that has been forsaken. The relationship between Christ and a church is to be like that between a groom and a Bride. We were at a wedding again yesterday in South Wales and I lost count of the number of times the groom told us he loved his bride. One of his best men made a joke about how John was willing to talk about Bethan ad nauseam. One hopes that he will continue to be as enthusiastic 40 years on. However, we know what married life is like. Sometimes you wonder if the husband really loves his wife at all, as he should. Something similar can happen in the relationship between Christ and a church or Christ and an individual for that matter. Certainly that is what had gone wrong in Ephesus.
Were they productive and hard working? They were.
Were they persevering – not giving up despite the trouble? They were.
Were they doctrinally pure, unwilling to tolerate any unsoundness? They were.
The problem was not a lack of productivity, perseverance or purity – the problem was the forsaking of their first love You notice it is forsake not lose as the misquotation often goes. This is not something that accidentally happens over night. No what happens is that the purity and the productivity become ends in themselves and the heart of the matter – love for Christ – is lost.
Is this us? Have we forsaken our first love? Are we like uncaring husbands or wives who have to say of their spouses – we're not in love with them any more? We must never forsake our first love. He must remain first and foremost. Nothing else must intrude.
4. Consider what those guilty of such a sin must doIn 2:5 Christ goes on to explain what must be done given that this problem exists in Ephesus. This time we can think in terms of two Rs.
1. Remember
The first thing is Remember the height from which you have fallen! We must not live in the past certainly but sometimes it is right that we look back and we see the changes that have come in our lives. Some of these changes are not for the good. As we have said, marriage is an example of a situation where a man may look back over his life and see that there has been a change and he no longer loves his wife as he once did. Such a realisation can save a marriage. Simply going on oblivious to the fact can be a disaster. So let's all look back and ask ourselves whether we have forsaken our first love. It is not a question of whether I do the same things I once did but whether I still love as I once loved.
2. Repent
The thing that should follow this remembering for the Ephesians is that they should do the things you did at first. This is real repentance – not just being sorry but trying to put things right. If we have forsaken our first love – as a church or as individuals – this is what we must do. We must turn around and start again. We mustn't be like a child that has fallen in a muddy puddle and is waiting to be picked up. We must get ourselves up and start getting back to where we should be – not in our own strength but in his – the one who was our first love. We need to stir each other up to it.
5. Hear the warning for those who refuse to take such steps
He goes on If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. If the lampstand is the church then it is pretty clear what that means. Verse 6 mentions the Nicolaitans - But you have this in your favour: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Christ is not saying that all is bad in the church in Ephesus. No, there are good things but to use football terms they have taken their eye of the ball. One can watch the ball and miss the man but one can also watch the man miss the ball. They have been caught watching the man instead of the ball. They are all taken up with these Nicolaitans instead of with Christ himself. We must not make that mistake. orthodoxy is important but not at the expense of forgetting Christ himself.
6. Consider the call to hear the Spirit and the promise here for those who overcomeAt the end of each of the letters we have similar words as in 2:7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Here it is To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. To overcome is to overcome ones difficulties. Here it is this forsaking of the first love. It can only be done by remembering and repenting. The overcomer is promised the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. This is a promise of heaven. Without a return to love for one's first love, heaven cannot be attained.

God's sovereign power

Text Job 40:6-42:17 Time 28/09/03 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We come this week to the final part of the Book of Job and to the second of the two speeches that the LORD makes to Job. In this second speech the LORD begins by rebuking Job and challenging him regarding his attitude. He then gives two final examples of creatures, this time the Behemoth and the Leviathan, that demonstrate his sovereign power. Job then humbles himself before the LORD in dust and ashes and the LORD rebukes Job’s so-called friends for their failure to speak what is right about him. They are forgiven through the prayer of Job. Finally, we are told about how the LORD restored Job’s fortunes following his terrible troubles. There are six things to notice here then in all. We can divide them into two sets of three.
1. A rebuke to receive, a challenge to consider and lessons to learn
1. A rebuke to receive - Receive this rebuke all who accuse God of injustice
In 40:6 we read that God continued to speak to Job out of the storm. As we said previously the LORD’s coming is often accompanied in the Old Testament with stormy weather, a reminder of his power and greatness. It is the LORD who comes near, however, the covenant God of Israel who is full of love and compassion. In 40:7 here repeats what he had already said back in 38:3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. As we said then, the term used refers to preparation for any hard work but here refers to wrestling, a fight. ‘You want a fight?’ says God, as it were, ‘then get ready’. You’ve heard of duels in days gone by, two men shooting at each other from 40 paces. Here is a duel between God and Job and Job needs to be ready for the encounter. It’s going to be a rough ride. Here the fight continues.
In verse 8 two further questions are asked, Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Here is a rebuke then to Job for his questioning of God’s justice and to any who are tempted to question God’s fairness to them. We must take great care how we speak of God and his dealings with us. We must not be murmurers against him. This is a loving rebuke, however, and is intended to bring a person to his senses and see what he has done. Have we spoken out in such ways? Then we must be willing to be rebuked and to repent of such foolishness.
2. A challenge to consider – Consider this challenge all who accuse God of injustice
Further questions follow in verse 9 Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his? Do you have God’s power? Are you as strong as him? The LORD makes a challenge in verses 10-14 If you are so powerful Then adorn yourself with glory and splendour, and clothe yourself in honour and majesty. Unleash the fury of your wrath, look at every proud man and bring him low, look at every proud man and humble him, crush the wicked where they stand. Bury them all in the dust together; shroud their faces in the grave. Then I myself will admit to you that your own right hand can save you. If Job really does want to contend with the LORD then why does he not cover himself with glory? Does he really think that he can decide who should suffer and who should not suffer? Is he going to be the one who decides who goes to hell? The whole idea is ridiculous.
A Hollywood film recently appeared in which this idea is pursued. The basic plot of Bruce Almighty is that this TV presenter fails to get a promotion and then loses his job and gets beaten up, etc. Everything goes wrong and he blames God for it. Unexpectedly, he is summoned before God and is told that from now on he will be taking care of things. Of course, he soon finds that the task is much more difficult than he had ever realised. There are many faults and failures in the film but it does at least get this idea over. For example simply for Bruce to deal with all the often conflicting prayers of the people of one small town is a major job in itself. Now here we are being challenged by God. If we are so disappointed with the way that he is running our lives then what is our solution? Do we presume to advise him on how things can be improved?
3. A Lesson to learn - Understand God’s sovereign power
The LORD then goes on to demonstrate his sovereign power by reference to two particular creatures – the Behemoth and the Leviathan. Already our attention has been drawn to the way that the LORD provides for the lion and the raven and the way the mountain goats and deer procreate as he watches over them. We have also been reminded of the way God possesses the wild donkeys and oxen in a way that leaves them to freely roam at will. Then there was the rapid propulsion of the ostrich and the warhorse on the land and the hawk and the eagle in the sky. Here we meet two more creatures. Before we begin to look at them we must consider four introductory questions.
1 Are we talking here about two creatures or one?
Some wonder if the two words simply refer to the one creature first on land and then in the sea. However, it seems more likely that we are talking about two different creatures – one very powerful but quite placid, the second powerful and violent too.
2 Are we talking here about mythical creatures or real ones?
In some respects these do sound like quite fantastic creatures and may be the legends of such creatures are in mind here but in the light of verse 19 which speaks of the behemoth as ranking first among the works of God it is most likely that we are talking about real if rather exotic creatures in fact.
3 Are we talking here about creatures still around today or extinct ones?
It has been suggested that the behemoth is in fact the hippopotamus but the reference to His tail swaying like a cedar (17) does not fit and so others have wondered if this is may be an elephant, the trunk being the part that sways like a cedar. The elephant, however, does not eat grass. The leviathan, it is suggested, is a crocodile yet certain parts of the description again seem to take us beyond that.
4 Are we talking here about what we normally refer to today as dinosaurs?
I think that we are probably talking here about creatures now extinct, creatures like those that we most often refer to today as dinosaurs. The behemoth sounds something like a brontosaurus and the leviathan sounds something like a plesiosaur or even a stegosaurus. Our knowledge of dinosaurs is confined chiefly to what we can learn from fossils, of course. Sometimes the imagination of those who describe these creatures runs away with them but it is clear that many of them were quite magnificent creatures. There is no reason to believe that they were all wiped out at once. It is far more likely that each one became extinct at a different time, like the many other extinct animals that have died out in more recent years. As for dinosaurs on the ark, it is a well known fact that they start out as quite small creatures and there would have been no difficulty for Noah bringing them on board.
1 Behold the Behemoth and understand God’s sovereign power
The word Behemoth itself is a plural, probably to denote its large size. So we must imagine first a large animal quietly grazing (15) Look at the behemoth, which I made along with you and which feeds on grass like an ox. It is then described, verses 16-18, What strength he has in his loins, what power in the muscles of his belly! His tail {or trunk} sways like a cedar; (referring to its size or perhaps its rigidity) the sinews of his thighs are close-knit. His bones are tubes of bronze, his limbs like rods of iron. Each element points to the noble strength of this animal, the sort of thing you see in the hippo or the elephant. It goes on (19) to make the point that He ranks first among the works of God,(this is the largest of God’s land creatures) yet his Maker can approach him with his sword. The animal is no match for God himself, of course. The point is then that if Job wants to contend with God he can get some idea of what that will involve by thinking about this creature God has made. Would you want a wrestling match with a hippo or a rhino or an elephant? How do you fancy being confronted by one of the dinosaurs of long ago? No? Then why would you want to argue with God or rebel against his will for your life?
Verses 20-24 leave us with a beautiful description of this strong, noble creature surrounded by other animals that have no fear of attack from him. It is intended to set our minds on God and his sovereign power over all things. Verses 20-24 The hills bring him their produce, and all the wild animals play nearby. Under the lotus plant he lies, hidden among the reeds in the marsh. The lotuses conceal him in their shadow; the poplars by the stream surround him. When the river rages, he is not alarmed; he is secure, though the Jordan should surge against his mouth. Can anyone capture him by the eyes, or trap him and pierce his nose? That last verse is very pointed. Are you trying to capture God and pin him down? Give up now!
2 Look at the Leviathan and understand God’s sovereign power
The word leviathan appears some six times in Scripture. The word seems to have at its root in the idea of coiling or twisting. Here in Chapter 41 we return to the straight question method. In verses 1-7 we have a series of nine questions. They are full of playful irony. They are meant to make you smile. They each serve to describe this powerful creature of God and teach us that his power is very great indeed.
Leviathan can’t be pulled in with a fishhook. You can’t even tie his huge tongue down with a rope. He won’t be tamed. Will he keep begging you for mercy? Will he speak to you with gentle words? Will he make an agreement with you for you to take him as your slave for life? Can you make a pet of him like a bird or put him on a leash for your girls? Will traders barter for him? Will they divide him up among the merchants? Can you fill his hide with harpoons or his head with fishing spears? No, (8-10) If you lay a hand on him, you will remember the struggle and never do it again! Any hope of subduing him is false; the mere sight of him is overpowering. No-one is fierce enough to rouse him.
And the application of this (10b, 11) Who then is able to stand against me? Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me. We must recognise that we cannot stand against God. We couldn’t even wrestle against a large crocodile and win. Just as we cannot put such a creature on a leash and take it for walks in the park so we cannot tame God and make him our pet poodle. Everything is his and he does as he pleases.
The description then goes on at length in verses 12-34. It doesn’t really help us to get any clearer idea of what this animal looks like but all the images are of strength and power and underline the fact of God’s sovereign power. He is not only strong but is graceful in form. No tanner could skin it and Who would approach him with a bridle? It has fearsome teeth and (15-17) His back has rows of shields tightly sealed together; each is so close to the next that no air can pass between. They are joined fast to one another; they cling together and cannot be parted. The description in verses 18-23 make him sound like one of those dragons of legend. This is poetry, however, and these verses should probably be understood metaphorically.
His neck and upper body are described in verses 22-24 Strength resides in his neck; dismay goes before him. The folds of his flesh are tightly joined; they are firm and immovable. His chest is hard as rock, hard as a lower millstone. In verses 25-29 we return to the idea of trying to capture this beast. The very thought is madness. When he rises up, the mighty are terrified; they retreat before his thrashing. The sword that reaches him has no effect, nor does the spear or the dart or the javelin. Iron he treats like straw and bronze like rotten wood. Arrows do not make him flee; slingstones are like chaff to him. A club seems to him but a piece of straw; he laughs at the rattling of the lance.
Finally, we see him like the beast emerging from the sea that John speaks of in Revelation. His undersides are jagged potsherds, leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing-sledge. He makes the depths churn like a boiling cauldron and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment. Behind him he leaves a glistening wake; one would think the deep had white hair. Nothing on earth is his equal - a creature without fear. He looks down on all that are haughty; he is king over all that are proud. Those final words speak of leviathan but the point is that it is God who made him. He is the one of whom it can be said absolutely that Nothing on earth (or in heaven or under the earth either) is his equal. He needs fear no-one but looks down on all that are haughty; he is king over all that are proud. Humble yourself before him now, confess your sin, seek his forgiveness.
What is your experience of God? Have you known him as the Behemoth? Are you aware of God but not as a God who invades your life? He is a God who is to be worshipped. Serve him by trusting in Jesus Christ and living for his glory. Perhaps you have known him as Leviathan. What a struggle is going on. You are trying to oppose the Almighty. Give in now and humble yourself before him before it is too late.
2. An example to emulate, a rebuke to receive and an encouragement to enjoy
1. An example to emulate - Join with Job in humbling yourself before God
At this point the book is practically over and only a few things remain to be covered. First (1-5), Job replied to the LORD: I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge? Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. Here is a wonderful example of humility for us. Job knew he had done wrong. He knew he had failed. He acknowledges God’s absolute sovereignty to do just as he pleases, therefore. He confesses his sin in speaking as he did and how ignorant he had been of God’s greatness too. He repents with great sorrow before the LORD. Now this is how we ought to proceed, especially if we have been guilty in any way of murmuring against God and complaining about our lot. Many others, like Job, can speak of the things that they have learned through suffering. It is not right simply to say that God lets us suffer in order to teach us lessons. However, one of the things that often happens when Christians suffer is that they learn things about God that they could never have learned any other way. That was Job’s experience. At this point all his sufferings and loss are forgotten as he realises how much more he has already gained.
2. A rebuke to receive - Receive this rebuke all who fail to speak rightly of God and seek forgiveness
Next we have another rebuke – this time for Job’s so-called friends.
1 The wrong
Verse 7 After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Job was at fault in some of the things he said but he had not sinned in the way that the three friends had. They had persistently tried to explain Job’s sufferings in ways that were plain wrong. They had ended up making all sorts of terrible accusations against Job because they were unwilling to accept such a thing as innocent suffering. It is important that we remember what a serious thing it is to teach error. God is angry with all who teach what is false. To fail to speak what is right about the LORD is a great sin especially when a person claims to be speaking God’s truth. Such people deserve God’s wrath.
2 The remedy
This is given in verse 8 So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. This was the Old Testament period and so before the sacrifice that Christ made on the cross therefore the way of atonement was through an animal sacrifice pointing forward to the coming of Christ. This was also before the establishment of the House of Levi as the priestly tribe and so Job the Patriarch is the one who was to perform the sacrifice. As a priest he was also to pray for his friends that God would not deal with them as they deserved. This was done, we read, and the LORD accepted Job’s prayer.
Today a sacrifice and a prayer is needed if any of us are to find forgiveness for our folly. The only one who can do that is Jesus Christ. He has already made the sacrifice for all who are his by dying on the cross. He is also now praying in heaven for all those who are his. All we have to do is to confess our sins as Job did and as his friends did and look to the Lord Jesus Christ. Are you doing that? If not you will remain under God’s wrath. Turn now to the Lord and find forgiveness. Job, then, is a type of Christ. When we think of Job and his patience we should think too of Christ and all he has patiently done for sinners.
3. An encouragement to enjoy – Be encouraged by the excellent things ahead all who patiently trust in God
Finally we read (10) that After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before. In another wisdom book the Book of Proverbs we read these words (3:13-17) Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honour. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. Here we see a man who has found wisdom. Job has come to see the truth – not the truth about why he was suffering. That, it appears, was never revealed to him. However, he now knows God in a way that he never knew him before. Along with that matchless gift came other things too. Again, I remind you, we are in the Old Testament where things were often made more concrete and tangible. What happened to Job at the end of his sufferings is not guaranteed on earth for every believer. Some do suffer right to the very end. There is no guarantee that even if we do bow down to God and accept our situation that it will then pass straightaway. However, we know that this life is not all. There is a world to come. In that world these blessings will certainly be ours. What blessings?
1 Pleasant ways and peaceful paths
Verse 11 All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the LORD had brought upon him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring. We may be tempted to ask where these all were when Job was in trouble but Job himself clearly forgave them their failing. We must do the same sort of thing where necessary.
2 Riches and honour
The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first. He had 14,000 sheep, 6000 camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. Exactly twice what he had before. Verse 13 And he also had seven sons and three daughters. This was exactly the same as were lost in the tragic whirlwind. Often in the Bible girls’ names are not given. Here things are reversed. Verses 14 and 15 The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers. The three names actually suggest beauty – as in the gentleness of doves, the sweet smell of perfume and the beautifying work of cosmetics.
3 Long life
Verses 16 and 17 After this, Job lived 140 years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so he died, old and full of years. Of course, for the believer eternal life is his reward. That will more than make up for any loss here on earth.
There were times when Job had thought he would never be happy again. He was wrong. God is gracious and kind and if we look to him there is hope for us all.

Matters to ponder with a warning and example

Text Job 38:39-40:5 Time 21/09/03 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We are in the final section of the Book of Job and we are looking at the speeches of the LORD found in Chapters 38-41. Last week we looked at most of Chapter 38 and the first part of the first speech. Then we noted how Job had longed for a meeting with God. Indeed, it is the obvious way for the book to end. God’s justice has been called into question, what is his answer? Now, when Job’s wish is finally being granted it is, no doubt, not really what he had expected. It is tempting for us too to be dismissive about what is said here as it is far from being what we might have expected. It is tempting to be disappointed. What is going on? Here is a man reduced to nothing and God wants to talk to him about donkeys and ostriches! Some go further. ‘A magnificent impertinence’ one writer called it. Others accuse God of waffling and the psycho-analyst Carl Jung accused God of bullying. For another it is like shaking a rattle at a baby to divert its attention.
As we said last time, however, it is important to remember that whereas up until now we have been considering human answers to the problem of suffering and the answers have been inadequate in both form and content, we now come to God’s own answer. It is, of course, a perfect one in both form and content even though it doesn’t do what we expect.
Part of the problem is our expectations. Instead of giving an answer to the problem of evil or talking about Satan or dealing with the errors of Job’s friends or whatever, the LORD meets with Job in his own world - a world of beauty, order, mystery and wonder - and asks a whole series of questions of his own. On further reflection it is perhaps what we might have expected – not more answers of the sort that man so readily gives but transcendental questions that lift us out of our own little worlds to see the folly of our own wrong attitudes and harsh thoughts towards God. What we have here is a Spirit inspired answer to the problem of suffering that clearly transcends the human wisdom of Job’s day and also of our own. Right up to the end of the book God has things he wants Job to learn, things that have been re-enforced by his sufferings. He reduces Job to silence. If we want to be wise, especially regarding this matter of suffering then we will pay close attention to what we read in these chapters.
Another problem is, perhaps, the way we read these verses. There is a lot of gentle irony here, even humour at times perhaps. It is not harsh sarcasm. He comes to Job as the LORD not as God Almighty.
Last week we looked at 38:1-3. We noted that it is the LORD who speaks, the covenant God, self-existent and yet full of love. He comes in a powerful storm and he demands that Job get ready for a fight.
To God our discussions of suffering are for the most part highly irrelevant and lacking in wisdom. They serve too often only to obscure his glory. We ought to feel rebuked for much of our grumbling and our pontificating on what we hardly understand. What he really wants from us in this matter is for us to meet with him, to sit and listen, to be overpowered by his greatness and our smallness.
We have looked at how that begins to happen in 38:4-38. There God asks Job questions about inanimate nature. We start with questions about the earth and then the sea. Then come questions about dawn falling on earth and revealing its features and then about the depths of the sea and the depths of the earth. Verses 19-21 are about light and darkness and are followed by a whole series of questions about the sky and its weather and where it comes from – first snow, hail, lightning and wind, then rain, dew, ice and frost. That leads on, finally, to questions about our control of the stars in the sky and the clouds and lightning bolts. So the general drift is from the LORD laying the earth’s foundation below us to us counting the clouds above.
In 3:38-30 we move on to animate nature or the animal and bird kingdom and questions related to that world. Some 10 creatures are mentioned altogether in this section, six animals and four birds. Most are wild or undomesticated animals. They may appear to be chosen at random but they are all quite different, showing characteristics of ferocity, helplessness, timidity, strength, bizarre behaviour and wildness.
1. Aspects of God’s dealing with his creatures to ponder
1. Ponder provision for creatures by God. He feeds lions and ravens.
Ponder lions. Verses 39, 40 Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of the lions when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket? Lions have been in the news this week. People are concerned that there are so few of them relatively speaking - only 23,000 in the whole of Africa! There was a time when they were a lot more common than they are now. The lion is mentioned more often in the Bible than any other wild animal. It symbolises strength and dignity. Perhaps you have been to Longleat or somewhere like that and seen them quite close up. As you may know, it is the lionesses that do the hunting for food. They are the ones who hunt the prey. The point made here is that in reality it is the LORD who provides for the lions. Neither Job nor anyone else gives any thought to it.
Ponder ravens. Similarly, verse 41 Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food? Ravens are scavenger birds and are well known for their willingness to eat almost anything. Farmers consider them pests. Jesus drew attention to them, of course, as they teach us the folly of worrying. God provides for them and we can be sure he will provide for us. There are mysteries in life. We don’t know, in many cases, why we are suffering as we are but surely we can be confident that the God who provides for the lions and for the ravens will provide for us. If he satisfies the hunger of the lions then surely he will satisfy us, if we look to him? If he provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God then surely we can be confident that he will provide for us too whatever our need.
2. Ponder procreation in nature. God sees the mountain goats and deer give birth.
Ponder mountain goats and deer. The question in 39:1 is Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? There are various types of mountain goats around today such as the ibex, which we have seen down at London Zoo. Perhaps you have seen them too. Because they live in high and remote places they are seldom seen giving birth, although they obviously do. The companion question is Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn? Deer are very shy creatures and their giving birth is seldom seen either. And so these questions are asked in verse 2 Do you count the months till they bear? Do you know the time they give birth? Well, it would seem, Job didn’t know the gestation period for mountain goats or deer and he certainly could not tell you just when they were giving birth. But God had seen it, (3, 4) They crouch down and bring forth their young; their labour pains are ended. Their young thrive and grow strong in the wilds; they leave and do not return.
By now it has been possible to track creatures down and even film such things. Perhaps you have seen footage of deer giving birth to their young. The whole process is full of fascination as something like the Disney film Bambi and live action films show. The point here is that every time such a thing happens God sees it. He knows about it. He created these animals to procreate in this way and he has watched over every birth ever since. Now if God knows about such things then surely he knows all about you and your needs too? Nothing’s hidden from him.
3. Ponder possession of animals. God gives freedom to wild donkeys and wild oxen.
Ponder wild donkeys. By our day we are chiefly used to seeing domesticated donkeys. They are strong, if stubborn animals, and have long been domesticated for use in carrying burdens and pulling carts and so on. Wild donkeys are few and far between these days. Here the focus is on the wild donkey. Verse 5 asks Who let the wild donkey go free? Figuratively Who untied his ropes? God himself answers (6-8) I gave him the wasteland as his home, the salt flats as his habitat. He laughs at the commotion in the town; he does not hear a driver’s shout. (Again figurative). He ranges the hills for his pasture and searches for any green thing. Yes, man may possess them and tame them, although not without difficulty, but God possesses them and gives them freedom. He lets them roam where they will.
Ponder wild oxen. What is said about wild oxen is similar. Oxen were used in similar ways for pulling carts and especially, of course, for ploughing. Verses 9-12 Will the wild ox consent to serve you? Will he stay by your manger at night? Can you hold him to the furrow with a harness? Will he till the valleys behind you? Will you rely on him for his great strength? Will you leave your heavy work to him? Can you trust him to bring in your grain and gather it to your threshing-floor? Of course, all these questions have to be answered in the negative because while the ox remains wild then none of these things can be done with it. Perhaps we can apply it in this way. While God allows things to run wild, we cannot harness such things in the way that we would like. This is true of our sufferings sometimes. There are such things as pain management and coping with pressure but there are times when it is all beyond us. We should not think at such times that because things are out of our control that they are out of God’s control. We cannot make such assumptions.
4. Ponder propulsion on the ground. God makes ostriches and warhorses fast.
Ponder ostriches. There is quite a bit about the ostrich in verses 13-18. This time we have a description rather than questions as such. Ostriches are strange creatures, as you know, because although they are birds and have wings (they are the largest birds living today being 6-8 feet in height) they cannot actually fly. With their long gangly legs and prominent eyelashes that protect their eyes from sand and dust they are odd looking creatures. They are rather foolish too in the way that they treat their young, as is noted here. Their speed on land, however, is quite phenomenal. They can reach speeds of 60 mph or so and can run at 40 or 50 mph for up to half an hour. Verses 13-18 The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully, but they cannot compare with the pinions and feathers of the stork. She lays her eggs on the ground and lets them warm in the sand, unmindful that a foot may crush them, that some wild animal may trample them. She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers; she cares not that her labour was in vain, for God did not endow her with wisdom or give her a share of good sense. Yet when she spreads her feathers to run, she laughs at horse and rider. Although there is no question then, the obvious point is that it is God who has made the ostrich foolish in some respects but skilful in others – here speed in particular.
Ponder warhorses. Verses 19-25 revert in part to the question method as we think next of another speedy animal. This time the horse and particularly the warhorse, the one domesticated animal that we focus on. One writer calls it ‘one of the most outstanding eulogies of this magnificent creature in all literature.’ Here is speed again but something much more – here is strength, flair, √©lan, power, bravery, eagerness. Listen to verses 19-25
Do you give the horse his strength or clothe his neck with a flowing mane? Do you make him leap like a locust, (when the spurs dig in) striking terror with his proud snorting? He paws fiercely, rejoicing in his strength, and charges into the fray. He laughs at fear, afraid of nothing; he does not shy away from the sword. The quiver rattles against his side, along with the flashing spear and lance. In frenzied excitement he eats up the ground; he cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds. At the blast of the trumpet he snorts, Aha! He catches the scent of battle from afar, the shout of commanders and the battle cry.
Yes, men ride on horses. Over the centuries they have used them in battle. However, it is God who has made the horse strong and brave and fast and magnificent. There used to be stables in Childs Hill when I first came here but it is gone now and a horse is a rare sight in our streets. I remember early one morning, however, walking up towards the Heath when I came round a corner and there were some 20 or so horses with cavalry officers on horseback out for a morning trot. An amazing sight. You have been to Buckingham Palace or Horse Guards Parade and seen these magnificent creatures, I am sure. Who made them so magnificent? It is God who gave the horse its strong body, its flowing mane, its head and hooves. Now the God who does such things can be trusted. We can look confidently to him. We must.
5. Ponder propulsion though the air. God makes hawks and eagles fly.
Ponder hawks and eagles. Finally, we look up into the sky and to the hawks and eagles. Now you usually have to travel a long way to see eagles and hawks in this country but there are similar birds of prey. Where I come from you see kestrels and near Aberystwyth there are many kites. We went to see kites feeding at Nant-yr-Arian the year before last. It is a magnificent sight. I remember too visiting London Zoo where they had an eagle owl flying just above people’s heads as it swooped for food. So here’s the question (26) Does the hawk (or any other bird of prey) take flight by your wisdom and spread his wings towards the south?
Having begun with the king of beasts, the lion, the LORD ends with the king of birds, the eagle. Verses 27-30 Does the eagle soar at your command and build his nest on high? He dwells on a cliff and stays there at night; a rocky crag is his stronghold. From there he seeks out his food; his eyes detect it from afar. His young ones feast on blood, and where the slain are, there is he. Again, it is a marvellous and evocative description. So we are thinking not only here of the eagle’s magnificent seed as it soars through the air but other matters – the way it builds its nest way up on a bleak crag which it then makes its home. Think of the splendid isolation, the grandeur of the cliff top. Think of its incredible eyesight. From way up in its rocky crag it can look down and see a small lamb or some other creature which it is able to swoop down and take in a moment providing food for its young. It is nature red in beak and talon and we may naturally turn from it in revulsion but here is evidence once more of God’s wisdom and power. The truth is that it is all around us, if we only have eyes to see it. We never need doubt the wisdom and power of God while we are able to see something of the animal kingdom and what it is like.
It is important when we study the Scriptures that we always look to see what we can learn about Christ. Here I think it is important that we remember that all things were made through Christ and for his glory. When we speak then of God’s knowledge, provision, sovereignty, power and wisdom, we are speaking of the knowledge, provision, sovereignty, power and wisdom of Christ. It is this same Christ who lived and died so that all who trust in him may not only be forgiven but know peace even in the midst of suffering.
2. A warning against contending with God
To close I want us to concentrate on 40:1-5. Firstly, there is a warning. Verses 1, 2 The LORD said to Job: Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him! This warning is implicit in what we have read and here it is spelled out. God has infinite wisdom and not only did he create this whole universe but he also manages this whole world as he pleases and with great skill. This consideration should convince us that to try and contend with the LORD or to make accusations against him cannot be right. Are you really going to fight against God? Are you really going to correct him and tell him how to run things. We know, surely, that the whole idea is crazy.
3. An example of how to react to God
So what do we do in the midst of suffering, especially if we feel we have spoken out unwisely or had thoughts accusing God of unfairness and injustice? Job is great example to us. Verses 3, 4 Then Job answered the LORD: I am unworthy - how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer - twice, but I will say no more. We need to realise our unworthiness and our insolence before God and be silent. We need to humble ourselves before him and recognise that he is in control and he will do as he wills. Surely this should be our attitude whenever we suffer. There are things in our lives that we don’t like, that we hate, things we want to see the back of. However, if we trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, we have to say that God is in control and we need to humble ourselves before him and acknowledge his wisdom. He made the ostrich odd but fast, the warhorse magnificent and fast. He lets the wild donkey roam free. He provides for the lions and ravens. He also wisely acts in our lives so that if we trust in him all will work for our good.