Posts Tagged Old Testament
In Job 1 and 2 we see a divine interview as the angels present themselves before God along the lines of a royal audience. Satan came in with the angels and God initiates discussion with Satan. There are very few differences between these two discussions. In each (all passages from the NIV):
- God asks, “Where have you come from” (1:7a; 2:2a).
- Satan answers, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it” (1:7b; 2:2b).
- God directs attention to Job, “Have you considered my servant Job?” (1:8a; 2:3a).
- God praises Job, “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless ad upright a man who fears God and shuns evil” (1:8b; 2:3b).
- Satan calls Job’s obedience into question (1:9f; 2:4).
- Satan lays out a test for Job’s obedience (1:11; 2:5).
- God permits the test but sets the limits of it (1:12a; 2:6).
- Satan goes out from the presence of God (1:12b; 2:7).
While these similarities are important much is to be learned from the differences. In the second event God adds to his praise of Job, “And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason” (2:3c). This was a personal challenge to Satan. Satan had claimed taking Job’s property would cause him to curse God, but it had not happened. Of course it was not the attack on his health that finally got him to curse God—it was the accusations of his friends (which I’ll go into later).
God has a plan for Job and it involves more loss. His reason is kept within his own counsel, though we will see some parts of that later by looking at what did and did not happen. He speaks to Satan in such a way as to get him to act in line with divine plans. To imagine that God did not have a plan in mind, but simply responded to the idea of His creature is of course ridiculous to our understanding of God. While God says Satan incited Him against Job, we know that it was God who brought Job into the conversation. The story is presented as if it was Satan’s idea to inflict Job and how, but we see throughout the story that God was in control all along and the affliction of Job was according to God’s plan. A god who is incited by a lesser creature may do unjustly. In this case the actions of God appeared unjust to the one experiencing them. This had to bring to mind much of the pagan view of gods as arbitrary, fallible and changeable. But the God of the Bible is not a tool of anyone else’s plans. He directs the universe; bestows good; permits evil; inspires or restrains action. He is not fooled by Satan or tricked into doing harm when He would rather bless. If God cannot be wrong, then his allowing harm cannot be wrong. If God cannot do evil, then His permitting evil must accomplish divine good. I sometimes say this as, “If God cannot do evil then His act of permitting cannot be evil. His permitting must be good, even if what is permitted is itself an evil.” In this way, we all must respond as God did to Job, “Let him who accuses God answer Him!”
1 Of course many will say, “Job never cursed God!” That depends on your definition of a curse. In 19:5f, Job says, “If indeed you would exalt yourselves above me and use my humiliation against me, then know that God has wronged me and drawn his net around me” (emphasis added). Job ends up accusing God of injustice and of wrong doing; he cursed God. Interestingly Satan did not incite this from Job, but his well-meaning friends did.
2 When something evil happens, our omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God permitted it. Without his permission nothing happens. This permission can be in one of two forms: action planned and executed by another agent not stopped by God; action planned by God to be accomplished by divine directive. It is this first form of permitting that I am speaking of here. When someone does evil and God permits it (by not stopping it) then God’s action of not stopping the deed is not itself evil, but good. This permitting of something to happen can be good even if the thing permitted is itself evil. Let me use something from raising children. If I as a parent see my child doing something that will inflict pain and I stop it then the child does not experience the pain—my action was good. At time it may be better to permit the child to experience the pain to learn a lesson. The experience of pain itself may be perceived as evil by the child, but my permitting it was a good action because it was with the purpose of teaching the child a lesson that otherwise would not have been learned.
Recently I read an interesting article on Job in BAR magazine. In it the author argues Job was swearing legal oaths to take God to court. This fascinated me and inspired me to reread Job, which is one of my favorites because of my fascination with the philosophical Question of Evil. Job can be taken as a form of an ancient Theodicy. There is one thing that always jumps out, stopping me for meditation in the first chapter. This is Job’s sacrifices on behalf of his children.
The passage says Job was “upright and blameless” and “feared God” (Job 1:1). To demonstrate how much he feared God, and to set up the setting for one of the disasters, it records that whenever his children held a feast Job would sacrifice a whole burnt offering for each of them, “In case they have sinned and cursed God in their hearts” (Job 1:5 NIV). What I wonder is did Job simply provide the sacrificial animals for them and help them make the offering? Did he sacrifice in their place? The passage seems to imply that he actually made the sacrifices himself on their behalf. He was the active agent in the sacrifices.
Could one person make an offering for the forgiveness of another? The law says the one who sinned owes the offering. For some reason Job believes his sacrifice for his sons would be effective in bringing God’s forgiveness for his children. One might say Job offered the sacrifices on his own behalf in case his children had sinned and he was liable, like the High Priest Eli, for not correcting them. The only problem is that it says on such mornings Job would send and have his children purified then continues on describing the sacrifices. The intent was not Job’s forgiveness but that of his children.
As I look at this and share my thinking understand that the details of divinity were slowly revealed throughout the history of God’s people. Many of the views of divinity and sacrifice among the Israelites and patriarchs varied little from the pagan society around them. Until God saw fit to intercede and correct some of their assumptions they often saw Him in similar terms to the pagan gods around them. Could it be that Job sees sacrifice as something that God needs or things that God himself desires? We know sacrifices demonstrated the cost and harm of sin and symbolized the final sacrifice of Christ, but many of the ancients believed the gods ate, drank and interacted much like we humans do. Many believed that they needed sustenance to either survive or for pleasure. There is evidence that many of the people of ancient Israel saw YHWH the same way. Could it be that Job sees the sacrifice as literal food for God who will respond to it by blessing others in gratitude to the worshipper? Could Job believe he is purchasing from God the forgiveness of his kids?
I don’t have an answer to this, but without considering the neighboring views of deity and sacrifice I am hard pressed to understand why Job thinks he can make offerings to cover his children’s sins. We know from the rest of the book that Job, though a devout worshipper of God, had some wrong ideas about Him. Job brought charges against God and accusing Him of acting unjustly. This shows at least some bad theology, even if Job’s acts of devotion toward his misunderstood Lord were sincere. I am not saying Job saw God as one among many gods, but did local pagan ideas of divinity flavor Job’s view of YHWH. I plan to reread Job with an eye toward discovering everything I can about Job’s view of divinity.
Many times, in scripture when the covenant people interact with the surrounding populace, things happen that find meaning in local mythology. By this I do not mean that it supports local mythology, but like in the book Eternity in their Hearts, it seems God demonstrated truths to people using things they already believed.
In Exodus we see Moses strike the Nile and the water turn to blood. It is commonly held that each of these plagues was against some element of Egyptian religion—for example the Nile was seen as sacred. However, I wonder now if this did not have to do with the ancient Egyptian belief in Hathor’s Destruction of Mankind. According to this story the god Re declared a judgment on mankind for rebellion and sent Hathor to destroy them. During the judgment Re changed his mind and inundated the land with a “red beer.” Hathor, because of its similarity to blood, saw it as a sign of the success of her mission but got drunk and forgot to kill the rest of mankind. It seems likely that this plague in which the Egyptian people were judged and harmed by something similar to their mythology showed the powerlessness of Re and his human representative, Pharaoh.
I’ve moved to one of the most beautiful stories of scripture for my devotional reading, the book of Ruth. This story moves me as I think of an old woman and her daughter-in-law reduced to harvesting grain left over in the fields and then go on through the story and discover how God cares for them. The story begins with the heart breaking story of a Jewish family moving to Moab to escape a famine in their homeland. While there the father dies and the two sons take Moabite wives. In time, the sons die. In the world view of Naomi, the old woman, God has greatly stricken her. For what sin was she stricken? She gives no indication of knowing, but insists that the actions of God have been for her harm. It is easy for us to fall into this same pattern. We assume bad things are a punishment from God. This book should dispel that habit.
Had these things not happened we would not have the beautiful story of an outsider being accepted into the people of God. Not only was Ruth accepted into Israel, a relative by marriage overlooked her place and condition taking her as wife (another saw this as too much). In time she went on to become the grandmother of the King of Israel. This of course made Naomi the great grandmother of the king, and when Ruth was blessed Naomi was blessed as well. When bad things come our way, it is natural to assume the worst, to complain that God is unfair or to assume he is punishing us. Perhaps he is pushing us along to get us into the area where he intends to bless us. Perhaps his blows are not affliction, but the wind driving us into the land of blessing. When life seems to punch you in the head, take a quick look back to see if God is showing you an area to repent. If there is such, then repent quickly and turn from your sins. However, realize that God is pointing you forward, not back. He is the God who makes what was into what will be. He is working on you, through good and bad. They are not meant to simply grind you into the ground, but to make you stronger.
Much ink has been shed over the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus. While the Calvinist has no problem seeing God acting to assure Pharaoh would not listen, those who hold to a certain view of free-will see this as unfair to Pharaoh and not in keeping with a just, loving God. While I am not going to take the usual tack here and join in this fray, I will share some thoughts on the interchange between Moses and Pharaoh. Out of this I am sure you will conclude that, Calvinist that I am, I see no problem with the idea that God would sovereignly ordain Pharaoh’s disobedience, so I might as well admit that up front. For those who interject a cry of foul and unfair I will point to the words of Paul (Romans 9:20f NIV): “But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?” For now lay aside these thoughts as we look at the events, as recorded.
In Chapter 7, God lays out his plan to Moses. Moses and his brother Aaron are to go to Pharaoh and tell him to release the children of Israel. God will harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he will not release them until terrible plagues have cost the Egyptians dearly. Before you judge the events too harshly, look at the next passage (Ex 7:5) where God gives his reason: “And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.” God wants to demonstrate the truth about himself to the people of Egypt as the true God; the one God; the universal God. He must strike their gods—which the plagues accomplish. The greatest obstacle between YHWH and the Egyptians is the “Son of Ra,” Pharaoh himself.
In our society of equality before the law and democracy we don’t grasp details of monarchy quickly. In a theocratic monarchy, where the monarch is not only chosen by God, but seen as a god in his own right, there is one will that matters, and in Egypt that will was Pharaoh’s. YHWY demonstrated to the Egyptians the futility of worshipping false gods, those of flesh or those of stone. So why would God make such a demonstration to the people of Egypt? God intended to take his people from Egypt and plant them in Canaan—they would border the Egyptians in a land long contested by Egyptians and Hittites. Imagine you are a nation holding a minority people as slaves. The slaves secure their freedom against your will and a few years later you find they have settled within easy reach of your army. For the sake of His people God must make the Egyptians fear Him and them. In such an autocratic society, as Egypt, one touches society by touching the king. If God wants to teach the Egyptians a lesson he must teach it through their king. For the sakes of Israelites and Egyptians, God must harden the heart of Pharaoh. This is confirmed in Ex 9:16, where God raised up Pharaoh for the specific purpose of showing His power to the world.
Before you conclude that such an act would still be unfair, let’s look closer at the hardening itself. In each of the first miraculous signs and plagues (Ex 7:8-13, 14-24; 8:1-15) we see Moses demonstrate power to Pharaoh (staff turned to snakes, water turned to blood and the plague frogs) and each time the Egyptian magicians were able to mimic the miraculous act and then we read: “But the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and Pharaoh’s heart became hard.” While this example from Ex 7:22, shows Pharaoh’s heart being hardened by seeing his magicians doing the same deed, understand that Pharaoh’s hardness of heart was already a fact, but these actions confirmed, justified and intensified the hardness. From this point on the magicians are outdone with ever more dreadful plagues, but still Pharaoh’s heart remained hard.
While God sovereignly hardened the heart of Pharaoh for the sake of his people, the people of Egypt and the people of the world, Pharaoh played a part in this. He trusted his magicians, with their tricks and incantations. He chose to be deceived by them and to close his ears and eyes to what God was showing. Most amazingly he chose to believe his own press. He chose to keep believing his own divinity no matter how bad things got for him. It was not until the death of his own son—heir to the throne and of equal divinity to himself—that he would bend his will to that of YHWH. The true God had won the battle.
All her adult life, since the first night of her marriage, Leah had to compete with her sister for the attention of her husband. While Rachel received the love of Jacob easily and without effort, Leah—knowing her place in the family—struggled for attention and love.
She had every right to expect the privileges of being the first wife (this was centuries before the law required a husband treat multiple wives equally). This along with his own natural larceny contributed to Laban’s insistence that the first daughter marry before the second. She was to be the first bride, with pride of place. Besides this, it seemed God had decreed she was to be the first wife—He gave her a son right away while her sister was unable to conceive. Was it Jacob’s upbringing in a home where mom and dad each had their own favorite child that caused Jacob to forget tradition and favor Rachel? Was it simple male insensitivity?
Though we will never know why, we can see the result. Leah gave every effort to win her husband’s affection. Rachel didn’t have to try, since she was the favorite. Leah could have become despondent and bitter. She could have decided that without her rightful place as the first wife, she would make Jacob’s life difficult. She didn’t respond this way though. Instead she kept working for the love she sought. In the end, culturally, Leah won.
Without getting bogged down in the minutia of afterlife studies and what happens to us after death, realize that that this subject was not as developed in the time of Jacob and Leah. Much has been revealed about the afterlife since the time of Leah and Jacob. The patriarchs thought of the afterlife as leaving this life and going to God in Sheol (the grave). Scripture tells us (Gen 49:31) that Jacob was to be buried with Leah, while Rachel was buried on the road to Ephrath (Gen 35:19). Leah’s bones would rest by Jacob forever, while Rachel was buried far off from the family tomb. Leah was finally in her rightful place. After a life of obediently seeking the best for her husband and family, in the end, she won; she was victorious over her sister.