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Eternal Fingerprints

Introduction

 

cropped-cross-over-fingerprint

This blog is intended to be a shared journey through scripture, spiritual ideas and a wrestling with God and man.

It is a battle of vulnerability with all my flaws and weakness but with a hope in a God who is perfect and without flaw.

This God seems to accept a humility and brokenness in lieu of perfection. A God who desires heart rather than piousness and religiousness.

My commentary on scripture to the best of my knowledge and understanding is theologically accurate and written in contemporary language. It’s not perfect. I have never met anyone with perfect theology. So much of our worldview is anchored in our own experience even when viewed through a reasonably sound exegetical lense. We all have our subtle and not so subtle angles on interpretation.

It is written in a style that is meaningful and connected with my own experience of life and spirituality. I hope any readers will also find meaning and connection in this journey. More than anything I hope I can communicate the heart of God rather than any emphasis on doctrine or law.

I am a Christian. I am not your average religious person though. I struggle with religiousness and religious groups. I make no judgment about church culture because I see many people find meaning, purpose and some kind of security within that framework.

I understand this. I worked full time in the ministry for a large group of churches for 16 years. I spoke in many Cities around the world. It worked for me. …at least I thought it did.

In the latter years I disengaged, allowed bitterness to rule my heart and pressed the self destruct button on my life on a scale of greater magnitude than even in the days and years before I found God.

I had a complete moral failure and meltdown that saw me head for oblivion in a dark pit of self pity, deceit, manipulation, adultery, cruelty and thievery. These events were dealt with very publicly and quite rightly usurped me from my seat of influence. I should be in jail but I am not.

The way I see it is that it was an intervention from God. It’s as if he said “Human judgment is flawed. I am not going to put you under human judgment. Instead I am going to put myself under human judgment”. This he did at the cross. I wake up each day with gratitude and a clear conscience. This is not because I am innocent but it is because I am free.

I must add that I am free not because anything was swept under the carpet. Far from it. Everything was exposed in broad daylight and put under Crystal clear scrutiny. It was the most challenging thing I have ever had to deal with. To face people I had betrayed, hurt and let down. To experience the full gravity of guilt and shame and yet I wouldn’t have had it any other way. This was the key to a great healing and reconciliation. This is God’s way. I am forever changed as a result of what happened. This is good.

I know that faith is not simply an intellectual exercise but is to be lived with intentional activity and that walking with God demands that we live in community with other believers and share our message of hope to those who are suffering in this broken world without hope. I want to unpack these ideas or tenets in this blog. I want to explore them in the light of scripture.

When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, he effectively answered his enquirer that it is to “love God and love people” (Matthew 22:36-40). This is not something that can be practiced in isolation. Neither is it something that can be measured by law.

My big question is this. What does it really look like to walk with God? What does it mean? Religious answers do not satisfy me. I want an answer that I connect with and can share with others.

I have titled the blog “Eternal Fingerprints” because it is a piece of work that I hope will leave eternal fingerprints on your heart as I seek the same transformation of my own. They are not my fingerprints but rather they are the fingerprints of God from his word.

This is one reason that I choose to write with anonymity. I want my readers to focus on the message rather than the messenger. Some of my readers will know who I am if you move in the same congregational circles that I have moved in. I hope that if you feel any sense of hurt or betrayal as a result of my actions and we have not yet had the opportunity to meet face to face then you will draw something helpful and healing from these words.

This is my journey. I am happy to share it with you.

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Psalm 2

Conspire

Psalm 2

Why do the nations conspire

    and the peoples plot in vain?

The kings of the earth rise up

    and the rulers band together

    against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,

“Let us break their chains

    and throw off their shackles.”

The One enthroned in heaven laughs;

    the Lord scoffs at them.

He rebukes them in his anger

    and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,

“I have installed my king

    on Zion, my holy mountain.”

I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:

He said to me, “You are my son;

    today I have become your father.

Ask me,

    and I will make the nations your inheritance,

    the ends of the earth your possession.

You will break them with a rod of iron;

    you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

10 Therefore, you kings, be wise;

    be warned, you rulers of the earth.

11 Serve the Lord with fear

    and celebrate his rule with trembling.

12 Kiss his son, or he will be angry

    and your way will lead to your destruction,

for his wrath can flare up in a moment.

    Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
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A quick reminder from the introductory notes of the Psalms that Psalm 2 is a poetic reflection on God’s promises to King David from 2 Samuel chapter 7. That one day a messianic king will come and establish God’s kingdom over the world, defeating evil and rebellion among the nations. Psalm 2 concludes by saying that all those who take refuge in the messianic king will be blessed which is precisely the word used to open Psalm 1.

Together, Psalm 1 & Psalm 2 tell us that the book of Psalms is designed to be the prayer book of God’s people as they strive to be faithful to the Torah and hope and wait for the future messianic kingdom.

Psalm 2 is attributed to David (Acts 4:25), and is called the second psalm (in Acts 13:33). The introductory rhetorical question, “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot on vain” (verse 1), is shown in the following verses to be a question of incredulity: Why do the nations attack God’s anointed king when their attack is doomed to failure?

Historically, “his Anointed” (verse 2), referred to David or to any of his descendants who were experiencing opposition (compare 1 Samuel 24:6); prophetically, it refers to the Messiah who, as Son of David, also experienced opposition (Acts 4:25-27).

The fact that God shall laugh and scoff  (verse 4), at the world’s opposition to the Anointed One presages their calamity because the Lord has installed His “King upon … Zion” (verse 6). And adopted Him as His “Son”; therefore, the nations may be taken as an “inheritance” at the son’s request (verse 8).

Every Davidic ruler was an adopted son (2 Samuel 7:14), but the real significance of the promise is fulfilled in Jesus (Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5; 5:5). The wise alternative is to submit to this Son (verses 10-12).

Psalm 1 is disclosed the two different “ways” for individuals, Psalm 2 follows up with its application to nations. This psalm is normally termed “royal” and has had a long history of messianic interpretation. Psalm 2 progressively shines its poetic spotlight on 4 vivid scenes relating to the mutiny of mankind against God

  1. Scene One: Human Rebellion (2:1-3).
  2. Scene Two: Divine Reaction (2:4-6).
  3. Scene Three: Divine Rule (2:7-9).
  4. Scene Four: Human Responsibility (2:10-12).

The opening question sets the tone of the psalm, one of astonishment at the senseless rejection of God’s rule. This psalm is meant to be read in connection with Psalm 110, fulfilled both in David’s time and at the time of the people’s rejection of the Messiah (Acts 4:25-26). It communicates the activities of a people who complain and are discontent.

It exposes the irony of man’s depravity, devising, conspiring, and scheming emptiness (compare Psalm 38:12; Proverbs 24:2; Isaiah 59:3, 13).

Verse 3 communicates the fact that worldly people do not want to serve a holy God.

In verses 4 – 6 the readers and hearers are reminded that the king they are attacking has been installed by God. Countries that attack David are really attacking God!

God laughs at the very idea that people think they can oppose His will (37:13). It is the embodiment of futility.

All of man’s power is as nothing with Almighty God. Even the next breath that we take, is by permission from Almighty God.

It brings to mind the following words in Philippians 2:5-11

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,to the glory of God the Father.

For a mere human being to come against the Father or His Son is absurd. God does not even bother to try to straighten them out, He just laughs that they would be so foolish. To reject Jesus, seals a person’s doom. This is one thing God will not forgive.

In verses 7 – 9 David says that when he became king he also became a son of God. So God will give him everything that he asks for. In verses 10-12, David tells the world leaders to obey the king. This is what “kiss his son” means! David the king is God’s son. He is the shadow of the forthcoming messiah.

The words “you are my Son” in verse 7 recall 2 Samuel 7:8-16, as the basis for the Davidic king. It is also the only Old Testament reference to the Father/Son relationship in the Trinity. Later it becomes a complete physical reality in the incarnation, and therefore a major emphasis in the New Testament.

Verse 7 is quoted in the New Testament with reference to the birth of Jesus (Heb. 1:5-6), and also to His resurrection (Acts 13:33-34), as the earthly affirmations.

When did Jesus become God’s son? The words in verse 7 seem to point to a particular day.

Answering this question involves understanding the meaning here of the word “day”. As God lives beyond time, He cannot be limited to a 24-hour period. This word means an eternal day. Jesus did not become the Son of God at a point in time; rather He has eternally been in the process of being generated as the Son in God’s eternal day. There has never been a time when Christ was not the Son of God.

On several occasions during His ministry on earth, the Sonship of Christ was particularly emphasised, in the Incarnation (Luke 1:35), in the Baptism (Matthew 3:17), and in the Resurrection (Romans 1:4). These events did not make Christ the Son of God, but only proved that He already was.

The Scripture from Philippians 2:10, leaves no doubt how far reaching this power and authority of Jesus is. What Adam and Eve lost in the Garden of Eden, Jesus purchased back on the cross. Whether we accept Jesus as Lord or not, we are His property. We are His creation and He purchased us with His blood at Calvary.

Verses 10-12 are a demonstration of grace. Judgement is not immediate. The tone is surprising. Space and time are left for thoughtful repentance.

“Be wise … be warned” are favourite words in the wisdom literature. Kings are instructed to act prudently and with discretion.

The combination of the words trembling and fear in the Bible or fear of the Lord is not to be afraid in terms of the crippling emotion of fear but rather calls for a modesty and humility as opposed to pride, haughtiness, and arrogance.

To fear the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom. The kings and judges of this world are subject to a higher Power. They may rule over nations, communities and households on the earth, but there is someone higher than they are. All mankind, whether kings or judges, or presidents, or any other holders of high office in the earth, must answer to God.

Kiss the Son is an expression that points to a symbolic act that would indicate allegiance and submission (compare 1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Kings 19:18). The word for “Son” here is not the Hebrew word for “son” that was used in verse 7, but rather its Aramaic counterpart which is a term that would especially be suitable for these commands being addressed to nations (verse 1).

The closing words of Psalm 2 pick up the major burden (of Psalm 1).

Reflections from my original journal notes in August 2015

I lack a fear of the Lord. I live as if I am my God. I don’t understand what it means to fear the Lord. I understand fear but it sounds so negative. I know I need to take refuge in him and I know I am reaping a wrath that paradoxically is an act of love. It’s a hard teaching but I can get it.

I have hurt, betrayed and disappointed so many people. Each new person I speak with creates difficulty and awkwardness.

The reality of prison hit me. A lot will depend on the feedback from the charity commission. On the one hand prison does not seem a bad option. I think I would get some stability and support. Maybe not much in an over stretched system but perhaps something. On the other hand it scares the life out of me …aggressive men, the possibility of being taken advantage of sexually, boredom, shame and taking me back to a place of insecurity and fear. All thoughts that have emerged in me. It is completely outside of my control so I try not to think about it at all.

Rumours are apparently emerging at church and my children are being confronted by conflicting information by his friends. I began to think about the mess I caused and also felt anger towards those who were speculating.

My oldest daughter wrote me a letter and gave a carrier bag full of food. I read it immediately my wife handed it to me. It broke my heart. I could not stop crying. I began to see the pain and destruction.

She said that it hurts to see me homeless and she wanted to give me food as she remembered a time when she had no money to buy food after moving out from home and I took her to the supermarket and bought her a months worth of groceries. She told me that she did not know if she could ever forgive me for what I did, that I had broken her heart, that she was angry with me for the way I had treated mum. She used to look up to me and want to be like me and now her whole life feels like a lie.She was angry about the timing just before my son’s birthday, angry about the possibility that we may lose the house over this, worried about the other family members. The whole situation has caused her to lose faith in marriage, question everything, put her barriers up & become very bitter. It hurt her more than when her biological mum died (my first wife).

I read it again later. The sadness is intense. It’s deeply painful to look at the effects of my behaviour. I felt proud of the way she expressed herself with maturity and balance and could see that she is growing.

I really hope they don’t lose the house over this. It is a very real possibility.

I thought a lot about self pity and how I have gone from someone who is generally self motivated to someone who is barely existing at the moment.

Self pity robs us of our energy, vitality and will power. It causes us to be running on empty. I have lost my drive, my energy. I need to find a way back and get out of this rut.

I listened to something last night that suggested one way to combat self pity is to do something for someone else. It makes sense. I know that life is about what you bring to the table and not about what you can grab from the table. I pray that my eyes are open to opportunities of service.

I need God. Only he can restore me to sanity. I have been acting out of futility trying to be the God of my own life. I cannot use my willpower to even stop diarrhoea if I have it. I don’t have the power to handle this situation. I tried to handle it myself and it didn’t land me in a very pretty place.

A TV needs an external power source. Doesn’t matter how great the TV is it needs a power outside of itself to function the way it was designed to operate. I need a power outside of myself for the same reason. I have to accept that.

There is always going to be an insanity button inside my head that says “I can do it this one time successfully and without consequences” … I have no effective mental defence against this. It’s how this story started in 2009 / 2010. I can do this and get away with it was in my mind. I remember thinking that thought.

I know that I need this power, this presence of God to restore me to sanity.

It’s about keeping things in today.
Today I am not going to prison.

My belief in God needs to be one that impacts my lifestyle again. Faith without deeds is dead. I want this. I am certain I want to walk with God. I am not so certain about the religious system I have been in. I know that today I have an opportunity to live it. To read, to pray, to look for opportunities to love and serve others.

I want to try. I only want to focus on today and that seems like an adventure at the moment. It may change as the day unfolds. Things generally don’t go smoothly when you are homeless and everything seems to take forever. There may be some benefit to life slowing down though.

Reflections two years on

Two years ago I was just beginning to face and feel the consequences of what I had done, the hurt I had caused, the betrayal, the cruelty, the emotional and actual carnage I had created through my trail of selfishness, manipulation, dishonesty and chaos. I had a small glimmer of hope and though I could barely speak to God I was aware of his presence and his intervention in my life.

Opposing God is futile, asserting myself as the God of my own life and living with complete autonomy actually doesn’t work out too well.

God is gracious. Judgement is not immediate. In my case I can trace this chaos back to resentments that were left unchecked and bad decisions made over a six year period. God in his grace and wisdom saw what I needed to get out of this pit and how hard I would need to fall.

He also saw that within that process what my family needed to grow and mature spiritually. Who knows the impact of what this dark period in my life will have in the future and how it may produce growth and opportunity for seeds to be planted. God has a way of taking all of human brokenness, darkness and mess and bringing something amazing from it.

The point of Psalm 2 is that it is futile to oppose God and that Jesus is Lord.

Psalm 1

tree
So we begin this excursion into the book of praises. In terms of my own personal spiritual recovery this was the first book that got me back into reading the Bible. I will be going through my original notes from 2015 and building from them as well as providing the historic and cultural framework of the Psalms. Hopefully my personal journey through them will add something helpful in your own connection with scripture.

A quick reminder from the introduction notes. Psalm 1 focuses on how blessed a person is who meditates on the Torah, prayerfully reading it day and night and then obeying it.

Torah means teaching. It is also the name used to categorise the first five books of the Old Testament (also known as the books of Moses).
———————————————
Psalm 1
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
 and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
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This wisdom psalm is a helpful introduction to the book of Psalms. It summarises in a few verses the message of the Bible and the fate of man in relation to God. (Jeremiah 17:5-8 gives us a significant parallel). By two cycles of contrast, Psalm 1 separates all people into their respective spiritual categories:

  1. A picture of the Godly (1:1-3).
  2. A Picture of the Ungodly (1:4).
  3. The outcome of the chosen way to live (1:5-6).

The word “blessed” means “inward joy is theirs” (Matthew 5:3-12). An exclamation of strong emotion, it results from deep reflection on a subject. The psalmist paints a picture of the gravitational pull of evil.

From the perspective of the individual, this is a deep-seated joy and contentment in God; from the perspective of the believing community, it refers to redemptive favour (see Deuteronomy 27:11 – 28:6).

So a person is blessed if they do not allow themselves to be influenced or be in the company of people who will inevitably pull them astray. Instead their focus is to meditate on the law of the Lord, to think about and reflect on a life that is worth living. To show self control and be proactive and intentional about living the kind of life that pleases God rather than reactive, acting on impulse as a result of what is going on around them.

It is interesting that Jesus’ sermon on the mount also opens with the word “blessed”

Notice the progression in verse 1. At first, he is walking, then he is standing, then last he is sitting. This demonstrates the progression of influence. First we walk with and all within the time frame of one verse we find ourselves sitting and investing time with those whose agenda is not driven by being with God but rather one of selfish pursuit.

The contrast is asserted that the man who is blessed instead of walking, standing and eventually sitting with the ungodly he invests his heart and time into knowing God, walking with God, standing with God and sitting with God allowing God to be his primary influencer rather than men who will lead him astray.

Because of the mostly arid terrain of Israel, a lush tree served as a fitting symbol of blessing in the Old Testament. The image here is of a “tree” nourished by the constant supply of water from the river. The Hebrew word suggests the attributes of strength, stability, and endurance.

The same qualities are on offer for the man who is rooted in scripture and draw strength from it for their lives (Jeremiah 17:8). Those who are deeply “planted” in God’s Word will be fruitful in life.

We are then given an abrupt contrast in verse 4,  “Not so the wicked!”

“Chaff” is a word that describes the leftovers from the harvest which were unsubstantial, without value, and worthy only to be discarded. usually the chaff would either blow away in the wind or be burned.

We know that the chaff grows with the wheat until harvest time. The chaff is destroyed, and the wheat is carried into the barn. The ungodly live around the godly in this world, but at harvest time there is a separation.

To “stand in the judgement” of God is a desired outcome here, a symbol of divine approval. “assembly of the righteous” refers to God’s people, those whose faith is reflected by their delight in God’s Word (1:2), and who live according to it.

In the day of judgement, the wicked will not be left standing with those who love God and strive to obey Him; they will be separated like the chaff.

Charles Spurgeon the influential preacher put it like this…

“The righteous carves his name upon the rock, but the wicked writes his remembrance in the wind. The righteous man ploughs furrows of earth and sows, and has a harvest here, which shall never be fully reaped until he enters the enjoyments of eternity. But as for the wicked, he ploughs the sea, and though there may seem to be a shining trail behind his keel, yet the waves shall pass over it, and the place that knew him shall know him no more forever”.

I read this Psalm on August 1st 2015, two days after arriving back in London. I had decided two days earlier that I was going to put everything on the table. Come home and face the consequences of my deceit, theft, affairs, sexual immorality, cruelty and everything that I had hidden from my family and closest friends in recent years.

I was mindful of Jacob the deceiver wrestling with an angel all night and asserting that he would not let him go unless he would be blessed. By daybreak he walked with a limp because of an injury to his hip due to the wrestling, he bore the scars of the fight but he was sufficiently changed. His name was changed to Israel which means “He wrestles with God”. I had been heading for the abyss of destruction in life and left a trail of carnage behind me. This was the turning point.

To be honest I was licking my wounds a bit and self pity still dominated but God allowed me to get to a desperate enough place to at least bring it all into the open. So two days into at least attempting to be in my right mind here’s a snippet of what I wrote having read that Psalm.
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“As I read it (Psalm 1), I did not really connect with the Psalm. There was almost an “I know this already” about me. It felt like religious words. It did not really touch my heart. I look at my summary above and there is something that stirs inside me. It’s not a big stirring but maybe just a connection with the reality of what I have done. In many ways it seems surreal. I don’t feel the connection because I was not privy to the effect of my actions on others in the moment. I was too self consumed. My oldest daughters text from when I absconded to Germany gave me a glimpse. I contrast that with what she wrote in my father’s day card or my birthday card and its hard to believe it is the same person. I am tearful. In some ways it is not the same person. I have done something that has caused something to die inside of her. That saddens me.

In a more poignant way my wife asked me in an email if I had taken her Oyster card when in the house. I really hadn’t and she was wrestling with the fact that she would even question me. She wrote these words in a following email:

“This has been a really hard day because of what that thought triggered for me. Of course  I am glad you did not take it but it is really beside the point. The fact is there was a time when I trusted you 150% and now that is replaced with mistrust and it is really devastating. This is going to happen often now. I could not tell you, and maybe I won’t always tell you. But this is so hard because my nature is to trust and you took advantage of that. I have been very strong, I know that. But today I am weak. Today I hurt and cannot stop crying.”

I wrote an apology. I genuinely was not hurt because she accused me. I was deeply saddened for breaking something in her that is a great quality. I cried about it a lot yesterday. “Love always trusts” has died in my wife because of me. She was always the most trusting person I knew, some might say that she was naive but she always took me at my word. Something I never deserved.

I had a good phone call with a friend. I talked through my day which I think I wasted I stayed pretty much the whole day in Tesco car park. It was a bit soul destroying, going through papers, resting, reading and trying to keep my phone charged from the car battery. My friend said that from my email it was good that I am beginning to be honest but a lot of self pity came through. I agreed and I really want to fight the self pity and find a way forward. I am not sure how exactly.

I went on a prayer walk along the Roding River which was a favourite prayer walk for myself and my wife when we were first married. For the first few minutes I could barely get words out. I cried mostly. I found enough in me to have a meaningful conversation about wanting to find my way and to walk with God.

I slept well last night though my back hurts from sleeping at a strange angle. I don’t mind sleeping in the car. The hardest thing is not being able to organise my space, my clothes, my documents .. I really miss being organised. Sleeping in Tesco’s car park is a bit scary, there are drinkers and drug users about. I have had to park discretely near the skips. At least I have access to a toilet as the store is open 24 hours.”
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My journey into this darkness began with walking with the wicked, then standing with them finally sitting (and sleeping with them). Two years on from my meltdown I see it with such clarity. I thought I knew it before. I know my problem with lust and I know that some of the other issues that are bound up in my ego are ever present and I am always one decision away from walking with the wicked. I can only ever make a decision for today but two years of daily decisions of walking with God have kept me in a good place.

More reflections from my journal that day…
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Having worked in the addiction recovery field for almost 3 years during my meltdown I wondered if indeed I had some kind of addiction. Now I believe that we are all addicted to something or even multiple things. It’s just a way of explaining how we plug what is essentially a spiritual void with something that is of this world. Of course it doesn’t meet that need. It doesn’t quench that thirst or satisfy. It promises to deliver something that it cannot possibly deliver.

What is my addiction? I don’t really know what it is or if it really is an addiction but I do know it has the effects and impact of an addiction. Maybe it’s an addiction to attention but I am not so sure. I know the bottom line of it is that I am resisting knowing and accepting the real me because I feel inadequate, not good enough, not normal. I barely even see it but I know it’s there.

I can think of it most easily in terms of how things were in the relationships I had. I know there were many more that I wrote to in whatsapp and Facebook and gave some hope, created something.

I know I was powerless, perhaps I still am powerless. I know that my life became unmanageable. Everything seemed contained when I was living the double life but towards the end I had a compulsion to act at every opportunity and a mental obsession that took all of my head space. I noticed in the last few weeks that I was less focused at work and at home to the point I was not really achieving anything in a day. My responsibilities at home would go unmet and I was there but absent. This had been noticed by the whole family.

I know that to continue this way is not the answer. I know that the problem is bigger and stronger than me and that I can only do this with God.

I know that I would not drink poison even if I don’t know much about the chemistry and the biological impact of drinking poison. If I saw something labelled poison I would not drink it because most likely I would die.

This life I have been living had poison labelled all over it. It’s what the Bible calls sin. It’s the lawlessness of man when he chooses to trust his own instincts over what God his designer says is good for him. It is a mistrust of God, a decision that says I don’t trust that you will meet my needs God, I don’t trust that you have my best interests at heart. It’s a decision that says “I always have my best interests at heart” so I will trust me.

I am powerless to indulge in this kind of life successfully without it having a negative impact. Okay I could do it for a while and the negative things were subtle but now ….

The Spiritual impact is carnage. My connection with God, my connection with my family and my connection with my community is destroyed.

Was this obsession making me more of the person I want to be or less the person I want to be? I try to take an inventory.

I know the right answer to this. The honest answer is that I don’t know. I do know that I don’t want a double life, I do know that I want to be honest, I do know that I want to live without the need for attention or affirmation. I think I want to walk with God but on the other hand I don’t want to be religious. I think I can only do this with God.

The social impact of this is devastating. It has changed my relationships. I am isolated, alone …it has destroyed my wife’s capacity to trust. My children don’t speak with me. My dad is very cold towards me, I am sure that there are many people who are angry with me.

I lost my job as a result of stealing money to support this lifestyle. The idea that I committed a crime was unimaginable a few years ago.

I might feel physically okay at the moment but I am sure that staying like this for a while will have a negative effect. I don’t get to shower as often as I would like, I don’t eat regularly and when I do its not the healthy balanced way I have been eating the last few years. I don’t get to work out.

Financially I have caused a whirlwind of destruction both personally and for the family. The possibility of losing the house is not out of the question. The financial impact on the family is catastrophic. I am perhaps £70,000 in debt including the money that I stole.

The emotional destruction is intense. I can’t begin to scratch the surface with that. I get glimpses when my wife or someone else expresses something to me.

Hiding things became my habit. I hid everything. Our financial situation, my online life, the post, how I was really feeling, my entire world became secret.

I think the honest answer is that this obsession is not drawing me closer to the real me but neither was the religious framework with which I was living.

I know I need to discover internal motivation and not be affected so much by external things.

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Reading those words now make me think about the fact that even the religious system can be the addiction that some people have. It’s a challenging dilemma. On the one hand we don’t want to walk with the wicked because we know where that leads and on the other hand we can create a man made system for doing good which leads us down another dark alley. We are broken, we are flawed and we are a mess.

God on the other hand promises us something that is unattainable by human effort. It is what we are seeking and hoping for. It is found at source in him. It is not found in other people at all. I am not denying the power, the importance and the necessity of community…how on earth are we going to love one another if we are not living close enough to others to intentionally practice that command? How are we going to forgive one another as God commands if we are not living within close enough proximity that we will offend each other?

The answer as far as I can make out is not bound up in religious systems or culture or organisational endeavours of the church but rather rooted in walking with, standing with and sitting with God and then the possibilities of how this works in community can be explored.

Psalms – Introduction

Psalm

The English title comes for the Septuagint, which entitled the book Psalmoi, meaning “Sacred Songs Sung to Musical accompaniment”. The Hebrew title for the book is tehilim, meaning “praises”. If one word could be chosen to describe the book, certainly “praises” would qualify, for there is no psalm that does not contain an element of praise.

Rabbis often designated it “The Book of Praises”.

The Greek verb from which the noun “psalms” comes basically denotes the “plucking or twanging of strings”, so that an association with musical accompaniment is implied.

The book of Psalms is a collection of 150 ancient Hebrew poems, songs and prayers that come from all different periods in Israel’s history. At least 73 of these poems are directly connected with King David but there are many different authors behind these poems.

David (73 Psalms)
Asaph (12) (Psalm 50, Psalms 73-83 are absolutely credited to him)
Sons of Korah (11) (Psalms 42, 44-49, 84, 85, 87 are directly credited although more likely as performers rather than authors)
Heman & Ethan (2) known to be temple worship leaders (Psalm 88 & 89 respectively)
Solomon (Psalm 72 & 127)
Moses (Psalm 90)
Anonymous (49 Psalms)

The oldest psalm appears to be the Psalm of Moses (90), there are a number of postexilic psalms, to the late sixth or early fifth century B.C. (Psalm 126).

The backdrop for the Psalms is twofold:
(1) The acts of God in creation and history; and
(2) The history of Israel.

Historically, the psalms range in time from the origin of life to the post-Exilic joys of the Jews liberated from Babylon. Thematically, the psalms cover a wide spectrum of topics, ranging from heavenly worship to earthly war. The collected psalms comprise the largest book in the Bible and the most frequently quoted Old Testament book in the New Testament. Psalm 117 represents the middle (out of 1189), in the Bible. Psalm 119 is the largest in the entire Bible. Through the ages, the psalms have retained their original primary purpose, i.e., to engender the proper praise and worship of God.

The Bible tells us that before Jesus and His eleven bewildered disciples left the Upper Room to walk the dark pathways to the Mount of Olives, they sang a hymn, a psalm.

So it has been through the millennia. When God’s people gather, whether in times of grief or celebration, they sing. The song style and instrumentation change with time, but singing remains a deeply rooted, fundamental part of the Judeo-Christian heritage.

From the spontaneous choir of former slaves on the far side of the Red Sea to the elaborate professional choirs and orchestras king David assembled among the Levites, singing became integral in Israel as worship became more and more organized. For instance, when David moved the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem for the first time, he appointed “some of the Levites … to praise the Lord God of Israel”. They used “stringed instruments and … cymbals … and trumpets” (1 Chronicles 16:4-6). He also gave Asaph and his kinsmen the directive that thanksgiving be sung to the Lord.

Years later, when the elderly David turned the kingship over to Solomon, he designated 4000 Levites to praise the Lord with musical instruments that were made for them (1 Chronicles 23:5). In addition, David set more than 300 others to sing (prophesy), worship songs in the temple (1 Chronicles 25:1-31).

All the music written for the instruments and all the songs written for the choirs came together hundreds of years later in what we now call the Book of Psalms, 150 prayers and songs that became the hymnbook of the people of God (although far more than a hymnbook as we will discover). In fact, many of the words from those psalms found their way into historic hymns of the church and are now in contemporary praise and worship hymns.

While it is difficult to get the full effect without knowing the melodies, to read the words in Psalms is to read lyrics that once echoed off the walls of the temple in Jerusalem. It is to join hearts and hands across time for the purpose of enthroning the God whose love endures forever.

Many of these poems came to be used by the choirs that sang in Israel’s temple but the book of Psalms is actually no mere hymn book. At some point after Israel’s exile into Babylon these poems were gathered together and intentionally arranged into the book of Psalms. It has a very unique design and message that you are not going to notice unless you read it from beginning to end.

To see this, it is perhaps most helpful to start at the end. The book concludes with 5 poems of praise to the God of Israel. Each one begins and ends with the word “Hallelujah”. This is Hebrew for a command to tell a group of people to praise “Yah” which is short for the divine name “Yahweh”. …so the command is “Hallelu Yah”! This very much appears to be a conclusion to the book so with a bit of detective work it is worth looking for some other signs of intentional design of this collection.

If we pay attention to the headings of the poems we can see that the Bible translators have further broken down the collection into five books.

Book 1 – Chapters 3-41
Book 2 – Chapters 42-72
Book 3 – Chapters 73-89
Book 4 – Chapters 90-106
Book 5 – Chapters 107-145

The final poem in each of these five sections have very similar endings. They look like an editorial addition. Each saying something along the lines of  “May the Lord God of Israel be blessed forever and ever Amen and Amen.”

So the book has a conclusion and has five parts in the middle so we can now investigate the beginning to find out what sort of introduction we are given to this body of work. Here we find (naturally) Psalms 1 & 2. These initial Psalms stand outside of book 1 because most of the poems in book 1 are linked to David except Psalms 1 & 2 which are anonymous.

Psalm 1 focuses on how blessed a person is who meditates on the Torah, prayerfully reading it day and night and then obeying it. The word Torah simply means teaching and came to refer to the first five books of the Old Testament which are also known as the books of Moses. It appears that both meanings are implied here as the book of Psalms is being offered as a new Torah that will teach God’s people the life long practice of prayer as they strive to obey God’s commands given in the first Torah.

Psalm 2 is a poetic reflection on God’s promises to King David from 2 Samuel chapter 7. That one day a messianic king will come and establish God’s kingdom over the world, defeating evil and rebellion among the nations. Psalm 2 concludes by saying that all those who take refuge in the messianic king will be blessed which is precisely the word used to open Psalm 1.

Together, Psalm 1 & Psalm 2 tell us that the book of Psalms is designed to be the prayer book of God’s people as they strive to be faithful to the Torah and hope and wait for the future messianic kingdom.

So with these books introduced we can start to see how the rest of the book of Psalms is pieced together.

Book 1 for example has right at the centre a collection of poems (Psalms 15 – 24) that opens and closes with a call to covenant faithfulness. Then in Psalm 16-18 we find a depiction of David presented as a kind of model of this faithfulness. He calls out to God to deliver him and God elevates him as king.

In the corresponding Psalms 20-23, the David of the past has become the image of the messianic king of the future who will also call out to God, be delivered and be given a Kingdom over the nations.

Right at the centre of this collection is a poem (Psalm 19) dedicated to praising God for the Torah. So the two themes of Psalm 1 & 2 are bound together tightly.

Book 2 opens with two poems (Psalm 42-43) that are united in their hope for a future return to the temple in Zion and this is an image closely associated with the hope of the messianic kingdom. Book 2 closes with a poem that depicts the future reign of the messianic king over all the nations (Psalm 72). This is really an amazing poem because it echoes all these other passages from the prophets about the messianic kingdom (Isaiah 11, 45, 60 & Zechariah 9). It concludes by saying that this kings reign will bring about the fulfilment of God’s ancient promise to Abraham to bring God’s blessing to all of the nations.

Psalm 72:17 = Genesis 12:3 & Genesis 22:17

Book 3 also concludes with a poem reflecting on God’s promise to David (Psalm 89) but this time in the light of Israel’s exile. The poet remembers how God said that he would never abandon the line of David but now he is looking at Israel’s rebellion and the resulting destruction and exile. He observes the downfall of Israel. The poet ends by asking God to never forget his promise.

Book 4 is designed to respond to the crisis of exile. The opening poem returns us back to Israel’s roots with the prayer of Moses (Psalm 90). He does what Moses did on Mount Sinai after the golden calf incident and he calls on God to show mercy.

The centre of the book 4 is dominated by a group of poems that announce that the Lord, the God of Israel reigns as the true king of the world and that all of creation bows down before him and celebrate that future day when God will bring his kingdom and justice over all the world (Psalms 93-99).

Book 5 opens with a series of poems that affirm that God hears the cries of his people and will one day will send a future king to defeat evil and usher in God’s kingdom (Psalm 107-110). This book also contains two larger collections, The first is called the Hallel (Psalm 113-118) and the second is the Songs of Ascent (Psalm 120-136). Each one of these collections concludes with a poem (Psalm 118 & 132) about the future messianic kingdom and the two collections together sustain the hope for a future exodus like act of God to redeem his people. Psalms of Ascents or Pilgrim Psalms (Chapters 120 – 134), were sung by pilgrims journeying up to Jerusalem for the three annual feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.

Sandwiched between these two collections is Psalm 119 which is the longest  Psalm in the book. It is an acrostic poem. Each line begins with a new letter of the Hebrew alphabet and it explores the wonder and gift of the torah as God’s gift to his people. The themes from Psalm 1 & 2 are now combined completely together in book 5.

So now as we go back to 5 poem conclusion. We see in the centre poem Psalm 148 all creation is summoned to praise the God of Israel because he has “raised up a horn for his people” (Psalm 148:14). The horn is a metaphor of a bulls horn raised in victory and this image echoes back to the same image used in Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2 but also to the earlier Psalm 132. The horn is a symbol for the future messianic king and his victory.

There are lot’s of different kinds of poems in the book of Psalms but they fall into two main categories. They are either poems of lament or poems of praise. The poems of lament express pain, confusion and anger about horrible the world is and about how horrible the things are that are happening to the poet. These poems draw attention to what’s wrong in the world and they ask God to do something, to intervene. There are a lot of these types of poems which indicates that a lament is an appropriate response to everything that we see that is wrong in the world. These are predominantly in the earlier in books 1 through to 3. You will however see praise poems too. These are poems that are poems of joy and celebration and they draw attention to what is good in the world. They retell stories of what God has done in our lives and thank God for it. In books 4 & 5 praise poems outnumber poems of lament all culminating in that 5 part hallelujah conclusion.

The songs of Israel are characterized by passion, transparency, vulnerability, and pathos. Whether the psalmist warns against concealing sin (32), begging for forgiveness (51), admitting there is no place to hide from God (139), acknowledging that evil so often seems to prevail (73), or asking God to administer justice to His enemies 55), readers are invited to come boldly to the throne of grace to find mercy and grace in time of need (Heb. 4:16).

The shift from lament to praise is profound. This teaches something about the nature of prayer as we hope for the messianic kingdom as the book teaches us to do. This will cause tension for us as we look on the tragic state of our world and of our lives. The psalms teach us not to ignore the pain of our lives but at the same time Biblical faith is forward looking. Keeping our eyes, hearts and minds fixed on eternity and our hope in that.

The Psalms are a celebration of the Torah and the messiah expressed in lament and praise, faith and hope.

Job 42

forgiveness-copy-e1435428741640

Job 42:1-6

42 Then Job replied to the Lord:

2 “I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.

4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
5 My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”

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Job’s response appears to have been immediate, humble and repentant. Still without the answers that he was wrestling with and still in his suffering but his attitude was different and heart was responsive,

He was not confessing the sins that Eliphaz and his other friends accused him of, presumably he was innocent of such misjudgements but rather this was a dispute with God about his justice.

Job recognised God’s sovereignty, his ultimate goodness and felt extreme disappointment with himself for lacking faith that his hand was at work in his present suffering.

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Job 42:7-8
Epilogue

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 the truth about me, as my servant Job has. 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 the truth about me, as my servant Job has.”

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These verses seem strange. Job’s friends were wrong in their approach but were at times theologically on point, there doesn’t appear to me too much to differentiate their behaviour with Job’s behaviour and it may appear that they all deserved the same punishment.

Job is identified as a servant of God. A servant is someone who carries out his master’s work. Job was in some way identified as carrying out God’s work (Job 29:14). Acting on behalf of God !

Job was already God’s servant when his suffering began (Job 1:8). And Job was still God’s servant during his trials (Job 2:3). In verses 7-8, God emphasised 4 times that Job was God’s servant.

In the culture of the day there was a special relationship between a servant and his master. Someone who insulted a servant was also insulting the servant’s master. See Mark 12:1-9. A master would try to punish the person who insulted his servant. The master would feel that the person was insulting the master’s own honour.

In 2 Kings 2:23-24, some youths insulted Elisha. It was as if they were insulting God himself. Bears came from the wood and attacked the youths. If the youths had insulted an ordinary man, who was not a servant of God such a terrible thing may not have happened. But Elisha was acting on behalf of God.

Eliphaz said that Job was evil (Job 22:5). This would be a stupid thing to say about any innocent person. But Job was a servant of God. So Eliphaz’s stupid words were insulting God.

A servant’s primary responsibility was to be loyal to his master. Job did all that he could to be loyal to God. He maintained that loyalty when he heard his wife’s foolish advice to curse God and die (Job 2:9-10). Job did not blame God in chapter 3.

Job’s friends accused Job. His friends arguments led him into a path of blaming God in order to maintain his own innocence. Their poor stewardship of the situation had led Job into this dark place.

So God was angry with Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar.

God could have punished Job’s friends. But instead, God wanted to forgive them. So God told them to kill some animals. Then, they should burn the animals as gift to God. The animals would suffer the punishment that the friends deserved.

This later became a pattern of life for his people. God often wanted such sacrifice to give a physical demonstration of his punishment and mercy. Ultimately Jesus became the sacrifice (Hebrews 10:1-10).

Job prayed for the friends because he was God’s servant. So Job was able to pray on behalf of his friends. This also was a shadow of what was to come, first through the priesthood and later through Christ himself (Hebrews 2:17, 4:14).

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Job 42:9
9 So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the Lord told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.
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In the preceding verses Eliphaz is told to get seven bulls and seven rams and sacrifice them.

The number 7 is used 735 times in the Bible (54 times in the book of Revelation alone). If we include the words ‘sevenfold’ (6) and ‘seventh’ (119), the total jumps to 860 references.

Seven is the number of completeness and perfection (both physical and spiritual). It appears to derive its meaning from being tied directly to God’s creation of all things. According to Jewish tradition, the creation of Adam occurred on October 7th, 3761 B.C. (or the first day of Tishri, which is the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar). The word ‘created’ is used 7 times describing God’s creative work (Genesis 1:1, 21, 27 three times; 2:3; 2:4). There are 7 days in a week and God’s Sabbath is on the 7th day.

The Bible, as a whole, was originally divided into 7 major divisions. They are 1) the Law; 2) the Prophets; 3) the Writings, or Psalms; 4) the Gospels and Acts; 5) the General Epistles; 6) the Epistles of Paul; and 7) the book of Revelation. The total number of originally inspired books was forty-nine, or 7 x 7, demonstrating the absolute perfection of the Word of God.

There are at least seven men in the Old Testament who are specifically mentioned as a man of God. They are Moses (Joshua 14:6), David (2Chronicles 8:14), Samuel (1Samuel 9:6, 14), Shemaiah (1Kings 12:22), Elijah (1Kings 17:18), Elisha (2Kings 5:8) and Igdaliah (Jeremiah 35:4).

In the book of Hebrews, written by the apostle Paul, he uses seven titles to refer to Christ. The titles are ‘Heir of all things’ (Hebrews 1:2), ‘Captain of our salvation’ (2:10), ‘Apostle’ (3:1), ‘Author of salvation’ (5:9), ‘Forerunner’ (6:20), ‘High Priest’ (10:21) and the ‘Author and finisher of our faith’ (12:2).

Job’s friends obeyed God, they went to Job and asked his aid and interposition, and obtained it. The Lord accepted Job in this intermediary priest type role. Job is therefore a type of Christ, not merely in his sufferings, but also as mediator for his friends who had so completely misjudged him and misunderstood him.

Their only chance of being forgiven was for Job to accept them and pray to God for them. God had already accepted Job. They knew they must go to Job in humility, having rejected him already. This had to be one of the hardest things they had ever done.
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Job 42:10-15
10 After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. 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 on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.

12 The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. 13 And he also had seven sons and three daughters. 14 The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. 15 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.

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Job prayed for his friends which is evidence that there was no longer any bitterness towards them. He forgave them and God forgave him. God’s restoration was immediate and abundant.

Friends, prosperity, family and long life were all restored to Job.
There was a point in Job’s life when he imagined he would be prosperous and successful all his life and then it was all taken from him. His dominant thought was that he was going to die. He didn’t see his suffering coming and then in the midst of his suffering he had no idea what lay ahead of him.

This is the nature of life and it’s twists and turns. Our footing in life can seem secure but something can come left from centre and pull the rug from under our feet or suddenly we can be escalated into an arena of life that we did not expect or choose.

We have no idea about what may be happening in the spiritual realms that may have an impact on our earthly life.

Job looked after his daughters carefully. Usually only the sons would share the family’s wealth. It is interesting that his daughters are named and his sons are not.

I think the purpose of this text is most likely to inform us about how Job dealt with his girls so that is why their names are mentioned and not the boys.

Possibly, the author wants to draw our attention to two things in the text.

There were no other women in the land as beautiful as Job’s daughters.
According to the Old Testament, the inheritance was only given to the males of the family and not the females. The sons were given an inheritance. The only reason girls were given an inheritance was if there father were to die without having a male heir (Numbers 27:8). If a girl were given an inheritance then she was not allowed to marry anyone other than a man from her father’s tribe. God did not allow the inheritance of one tribe to pass along to another tribe (Numbers 36).
The names have special meanings.

The first daughter’s name is Jemimah = “day by day”

This may have been a reminder to Job that after all of his sufferings he would need to live one day at a time. Keep everything in the day.

The second daughter’s name is: Keziah = “cassia”- a spice; a powdered bark like cinnamon

This spice is also mentioned in Psalm 45:8 “All Your garments are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia ; Out of ivory palaces stringed instruments have made You glad.”

His third daughter was named:

Keren-happuch = “horn of antimony” used by ladies of that time to apply eye cosmetics

The names of the girls, the beauty that is mentioned is perhaps  indicative that the suffering in Job’s life had come to an end.

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Job 42:16-17
16 After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. 17 And so Job died, an old man and full of years.
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Tradition says that Job was about 70 when his troubles began which would mean that he would have been about 210 when he died which seems to be about right for the patriarchal period.

After the flood, God said that men would not continue to live for more than 120 years (Genesis 6:3). And Psalm 90:10 says that a normal life is 70 or 80 years.

Because of verse 16 and some traditions or customs that are mentioned in the book, it is believed that Job lived in very ancient times. If so, the Book of Job may be the oldest book that still exists.

There are many lessons that we can draw from this book and it is rather easy to see something of ourselves in Job and an example of our struggle with the fairness and unpredictability of life. It is however less common to think of ourselves as one of the judgemental friends who labelled Job’s struggle and made many assumptions about what was going on and yet that is quite possibly just as significant for most of us (especially those of us that would think of ourselves as religious or having a faith).

It’s something for me to think about. I am most certainly someone who can identify both with Job and his friends. The good news is that all were forgiven and found their connection with God.

That’s the end of my journey into the wisdom literature. I hope that you have found it helpful and insightful. Some of the material has been lifted from my most recent journals since early in 2017.

In my personal studies, journal reflections I am now working my way through the book of Genesis which I am finding incredibly inspiring and encouraging. I look forward to publishing that in my blog at a later date.

Tomorrow, I will begin a new journey into the Psalms. The original reflections on the Psalms began on my recovery journey in the Summer of 2015. I have been rereading my journals from that period and they bring up a lot of stuff for me. A lot of sadness about the darkness I was in and also an appreciation of how God allows us to grow. The Psalms were my anchor in that initial period when I could barely whisper a prayer. I could at least wrestle with the Psalms and learn to pray through them.

After the Psalms I dug into Luke followed by Acts (or Luke the sequel as I like to call it), 1&2 Corinthians, Zephaniah, Nahum & Habakkuk before landing into the wisdom literature. This is a taste of things to come.

My desire is to get through the whole Bible within a 7 year period and from thereon publish an evolving commentary and study series building on the framework that was ignited by my recovery and journey back to some kind of spiritual health.

If you find it helpful or insightful then I thank God that he has made it useful to you as well as me. I hope you will stick with me for this adventure and that we will grow together in our knowledge of God and our faith.

Please note that though I love to write I am not claiming any theological expertise, I have borrowed a lot of material from other sources and rephrased it in my own words and it’s just one mans journey wrestling with himself and God in the light of the scriptures. It’s written with a reasonable level of articulation and grammar in an accessible style that I hope is easy for you to understand and not too academic or pious. It is far from perfect …imagine it as a sketchpad.

Job 41

IMG-20170715-WA0005 (2)

Okay, so I know the picture is not a leviathan. Hang in there with it. The picture has some relevance. Besides, the leviathan images I looked at were a bit too influenced by mythology and fantasy animation. 

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Job 41:1-2

41 “Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook
or tie down its tongue with a rope?
2 Can you put a cord through its nose
or pierce its jaw with a hook?
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One commentary puts it like this:

“Leviathan is a symbol of evil, drawn in part from Ugaritic myths about a fire-breathing sea dragon (Psalms 74:14; 104:26; Isa. 27:1). Dr. Henry Morris points out that the “Leviathan” was evidently the greatest of the marine reptiles or dinosaurs, something like a plesiosaur, perhaps, though modern commentators tend to call it a crocodile.” Ultimately, Leviathan points to Satan, the paragon of evil, whom Yahweh has in control and one day will destroy (e.g., Isa. 27:1; Rev. 20:1-3).”

That seems quite a credible explanation. Most modern translations use the word crocodile and most mainstream commentators will also refer to the crocodile.

The crocodile of course is an animal of great strength and an extremely dangerous animal which cannot be tamed by man and cannot be controlled. The point is that God controls it. He has power and authority over it.

Leviathan is a large sea creature, whose exact identity is unknown.

“Leviathan appears in 4 other Old Testament texts (Job 3:8; Psalms 74:14; 104:26; Isaiah 27:1). In each case Leviathan refers to some mighty creature who can overwhelm man but who is no match for God. Since this creature lives in the sea among ships (Psalm 104:26), some form of sea monster, possibly an ancient dinosaur, is in view.

Some elements of the description match the idea of the crocodile, which had scaly hide (verse 15), terrible teeth (verse 14), and speed in the water (verse 32). But crocodiles are not sea creatures and clearly this one was (verse 31).

Some have speculated that it is a killer whale or a great white shark, because he is the ultimate killer beast over all other proud beasts (verse 34). It could also have been some sea going dinosaur.

Whatever it is, God is speaking of the unlikelihood of catching one on a hook, or of tying his tongue down with a rope.
Job imagined that God was responsible for Job’s troubles. But chapters 1 and 2 explain that, in fact, the accuser called Satan was responsible.

There are some similarities between Satan and Leviathan

· Nobody can control Satan, except God. The same is true of leviathan.

· The devil is a fierce enemy. A crocodile or leviathan never tries to escape from trouble. It does not retreat, its reaction is always to attack.

· A person cannot defeat the devil by his own skills or intelligence. We need divine assistance from God. Even the most skilled experts in reptile behaviour will have trouble restraining the crocodile!

· Satan is filled with pride and arrogance. The crocodile behaves as if it is the proudest animal.

So whether we are talking about some fantastic mythical beast or a crocodile or some other fearsome animal, the point is that there is some comparison to Satan whom man has no power or authority over but God can comfortably restrain and manage.

Job had no place to stand before God and tell him that he was unjust or unfair or ask why all of this happened. In the big scheme of eternity, the heavens and the passages of time …this was trivial stuff even though it was huge and monumental to Job. There really was no case to answer because God knows what he is doing, when he is doing it, how he is doing it and why he is doing it. Everything is for ultimate good and is motivated by his love for his people and his creation.

If our earthly lives are all there is then these questions of Job’s seem justified but we are created to be spiritual beings that will ultimately live eternally with God in harmony with his purposes and his Kingdom.

Satan will do what he will do and many things in life cannot be controlled by human effort. We are not in control even though we think we are.
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Job 41:3-5

3
Will it keep begging you for mercy?
Will it speak to you with gentle words?
4
Will it make an agreement with you
for you to take it as your slave for life?
5
Can you make a pet of it like a bird
or put it on a leash for the young women in your house?
_________________________
The idea of taming or domesticating the leviathan or crocodile is absurd. It is presented here almost as sarcastic. Job is asked if he would have it as a pet !!!
God could control it but Job certainly would have no control over such a beast.
_________________________

Job 41:6-11

6 Will traders barter for it?
Will they divide it up among the merchants?
7 Can you fill its hide with harpoons
or its head with fishing spears?
8 If you lay a hand on it,
you will remember the struggle and never do it again!
9 Any hope of subduing it is false;
the mere sight of it is overpowering.
10 No one is fierce enough to rouse it.
Who then is able to stand against me?
11 Who has a claim against me that I must pay?
Everything under heaven belongs to me.

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Overpowering the leviathan or crocodile is near to impossible for one man, fishing spears would be ineffective. It would be futile and certainly a man would be worse off for trying. Fighting God is as futile. God has no problem subduing or restraining such a beast but Job wanted to contend with God and question him over his suffering.
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Job 41:12-17

12 “I will not fail to speak of Leviathan’s limbs,
its strength and its graceful form.
13 Who can strip off its outer coat?
Who can penetrate its double coat of armour?
14 Who dares open the doors of its mouth,
ringed about with fearsome teeth?
15 Its back has rows of shields
tightly sealed together;
16 each is so close to the next
that no air can pass between.
17 They are joined fast to one another;
they cling together and cannot be parted.
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These verses almost certainly describe the crocodile… impenetrable skin, scales, fearsome teeth. God’s variety in creation is amazing and what is even more amazing is how the whole eco system works in perfect balance to sustain life on earth in all of it’s variety and complexity.

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Job 41:18-21

18 Its snorting throws out flashes of light;
its eyes are like the rays of dawn.
19 Flames stream from its mouth;
sparks of fire shoot out.
20 Smoke pours from its nostrils
as from a boiling pot over burning reeds.
21 Its breath sets coals ablaze,
and flames dart from its mouth.
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These verses are dense Hebrew poetry and filled with metaphor but it is easy to see why people have been led to believe that God is describing a dragon or some other mythical creature. Unfortunately one of the common misrepresentations of scripture is to misunderstand literary genres. This is poetry and as such it should be read as poetry.

This is a description of something fearsome and unbridled or unleashed out of control and impossible for man to control. The emphasis is that this creature surrenders to God’s ways and is obedient to God’s design.

The variety in God’s design is amazing. It is breath taking. He has described a number of animals in the book of Job. I watched a documentary last night about deep sea creatures in the darkest parts of the ocean. The Mariana trench etc., and some of those seem otherworldly.

The amazing thing is that all of nature is true to it’s design …except us. We decide that we want to live by our own self imagined design and assert our ways over God’s ways and yet God lavishes us with affection.

amazing …

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Job 41:22-25

22 Strength resides in its neck;
dismay goes before it.
23 The folds of its flesh are tightly joined;
they are firm and immovable.
24 Its chest is hard as rock,
hard as a lower millstone.
25 When it rises up, the mighty are terrified;
they retreat before its thrashing.
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The poetic description of the leviathan continues. Our translation doesn’t really do it justice but it captures an image of a fearsome beast whether crocodile or otherwise. Whilst we don’t really get animals in this country that we need to fear too much. Myself and my wife had an encounter with a herd of cows yesterday was quite scary. There was a point of realization where I knew if they ran at us we would not stand a chance and they were definitely not too pleased by our presence.

We went out to the depths of Essex, somewhere near Thaxted and attempted a walk that to be fair we were warned was not very well signposted. We managed to get off track and back on track on a couple of occasions the most notable being a dramatic encounter with some aggressive cows (see attached pic). According to the walk instructions we were to climb over a stile and walk diagonally across the middle of the field to a gated a bridge to reach another bridge and then a peaceful meadow and riverbank. Sounded fantastic and though the field was full of cows, I have never been too bothered about cows as long as you treat them respect and proceed with caution.

However, the cows had another idea as we began our journey towards them. They herded together and began to walk towards us. That’s okay we thought, we would navigate our way around them and keep our distance. They were having none of it. They decided to move rather speedily towards us (as speedily as cows move without looking undignified). They picked up pace a little but perhaps the scariest part of it was their solid conviction in their eyes that either we were going to get out of their field or they were going to fight to the death. These cows meant business. We moved back towards the stile as the cows edged closer towards us, with us scrambling over the stile whilst they were merely feet away. They then stood staring at us by the stile pretty much telling us don’t even try to pass. This is the moment I took the picture.

It was a close shave that took us back to the road and the long walk back to base, adding possibly a good thirty minutes to the walk. We did however have a fantastic time and enjoyed sending the story to the rest of the family on whats app with pictures.

We had the last laugh. I made a corned beef curry last night as we had friends over to eat with us.  

The point is that God has carved out the most amazing detail in creation and every part does it’s work. Crocodiles do a lot to ensure that rivers are clean by eating carcasses of other species and keeping population of other species down they are in some ways guardians of certain rivers ensuring that everything runs smoothly.

There is incredible design in nature. Day to day we might observe a few things that inspire us but the deeper we dig, the level of detail is fascinating.

Yesterday on our walk apart from the cow encounter we saw flowers that we had not seen before and blue dragonflies hanging around stinging nettles … great swarms of them. I also saw a red beetle like creature feeding off the pollen of a large daisy as well as hover flies and other flying things that looked like they were pretending to be wasps. Amazing..

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Job 41:26-29

26 The sword that reaches it has no effect,
nor does the spear or the dart or the javelin.
27 Iron it treats like straw
and bronze like rotten wood.
28 Arrows do not make it flee;
slingstones are like chaff to it.
29 A club seems to it but a piece of straw;
it laughs at the rattling of the lance.
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All weaponry is completely useless against the leviathan or crocodile. This is a fearsome beast that cannot be overcome by man and his weapons of war. Some commentators have suggested that this is an allegory for Satan. I am not sure that it is, but if it is then it would carry a similar meaning that only God can subdue Satan. Man is powerless against such a force. Satan devours without any fear of man.

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Job 41:30-32

30 Its undersides are jagged potsherds,
leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing sledge.
31 It makes the depths churn like a boiling caldron
and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment.
32 It leaves a glistening wake behind it;
one would think the deep had white hair.
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The crocodile leaves when it chooses to leave. Nobody can tell it what to do. Its legs are short, so its body leaves a track in the mud.

It stirs the water as it returns to the river. And the crocodile also leaves a track of bubbles (called foam) on the surface of the water.

The beauty and artistry observed in nature is beautiful and awesome when you stop to think about it and pause to contemplate what is happening.

The movement of the leviathan is expressed in a very poetic way here. There is much poetry in nature. It’s important to me to slow down and just take in what is actually happening in a moment. We live life too fast in general.

We talk sometimes about how life would be if civilization collapsed when we are on our walks. It’s something that I think about quite a lot. I am quite certain that although our years would be less in number, time would feel as though it were going more slowly.

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Job 41:33-34

33 Nothing on earth is its equal—
a creature without fear.
34 It looks down on all that are haughty;
it is king over all that are proud.”

—————————————–
We close the penultimate chapter of the book of Job with the final words of God to Job. He leaves him with much to ponder about the world around him, creation and where he fits into the big scheme of things.

The leviathan or crocodile will bring down the proudest of creatures. You cannot help to look at him with reverence and fear

The words imply, that he is created not to be afraid; he has no dread of others. In this respect he is different from other animals. The Septuagint says, “He is made to be sported with by my angels.”

So God has demonstrated his wisdom and power in the context of creation known to Job.

This wisdom and power of our creator prompts a response of reverence and humility. We don’t understand why God’s providence allows certain events to occur but we have no choice but to accept that they are wisely and justly ordered if we are to accept that God is a God of love and our part is to submit to his divine order of things.

Psalm 104 is similar to Job chapters 38-41. Psalm 104 also describes various animals:

· Psalm 104:11 and Job 39:5-8. These passages are both about the wild donkey

· Psalm 104:18 and Job 39:1-4. These passages are both about the wild goat.

· Psalm 104:26 and Job chapter 41. These passages are both about the crocodile or leviathan.

· Psalm 104:7-9 and Job 38:8-11. These passages both describe how God made a boundary for the sea.

· Psalm 104:21-22 and Job 38:39-40. These passages both describe how God provides food for lions.

There are also other similar passages.

In Job chapters 38-41, God was testing Job (Job 38:3; Job 40:7).

Psalm 104 is like an answer to Job’s test. The Psalm praises God, who did all these things by his wisdom (Psalm 104:24). He will punish wicked and bring about justice in his own way and on his terms (Psalm 104:33-35).

Job 40

speak out storm

Job 40:1-5
40 The Lord said to Job:
2 “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?
Let him who accuses God answer him!”
3 Then Job answered the Lord:
4 “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
5 I spoke once, but I have no answer—
twice, but I will say no more.”
———————————————-
God challenged Job to answer his questions. Of course God did not need to know the answers but he wanted Job to acknowledge his position in all of this and who he was speaking to.

Job spoke to his friends confident that he had thought carefully about his suffering and that he was perplexed despite having wisdom and knowledge of God.

But then God spoke …And Job’s ideas did not seem so important.

Job’s immediate response was one of confessing his insignificance in the presence of the Lord.  He had no answer. How could he answer the living God? All his complaints against God were empty and futile.
———————————————-
Job 40:6-14
6 Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm:
7 “Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
8 “Would you discredit my justice?
Would you condemn me to justify yourself?
9 Do you have an arm like God’s,
and can your voice thunder like his?
10 Then adorn yourself with glory and splendour,
and clothe yourself in honour and majesty.
11 Unleash the fury of your wrath,
look at all who are proud and bring them low,
12 look at all who are proud and humble them,
crush the wicked where they stand.
13 Bury them all in the dust together;
shroud their faces in the grave.
14 Then I myself will admit to you
that your own right hand can save you.
——————————————————
God again spoke from the whirlwind, daring Job to try running the universe according to the retribution principle. If Job could do it, then he would vindicate himself. Job had partially capitulated to his friends’ perspective on retributive judgment.

In his speeches, Job spoke as if he were wiser than God. Job even made a list of things that God should do. Job could not explain why God was not doing such things. So Job would complain about God’s behaviour.

God had given Job space to speak or answer his questions, Job had nothing to say, so here  God resumes the argument.

God unleashed another torrent of crushing rebukes to Job, in which He mocked Job’s questionings of Him by telling the sufferer that if he really thought he knew what was best for him rather than God (verse 8), then he should take over being God! (Verses 9-14).
God pointed out Job’s main error. Job imagined that God was unfair. Job said that he himself was right, rather than God.

So it turns out that Elihu’s opinion about Job was correct (Job 32:2). Elihu may not have delivered it in a particularly helpful way but he was right.

Firstly, God reminded Job about God’s great power. Job was not as powerful as God (verse 9).

God is at all times “clothed with majesty and strength” (Psalm 93:1). “With glory and beauty” (Psalm 104:1). He “decks himself with light as with a garment” (Psalm 104:2). Job is challenged to array himself similarly.

In verse 10 God was describing his own dress. He is Majesty and Strength at all times. God is engulfed in Light so bright, it is above the light of the sun. God showed Job that he could not dress himself with such as this. God had dressed Job in his robe of righteousness however.

Then God gave a list of how Job would like God to act (verses 11-13). God can do such things. But Job could not do these things. So Job was in no position to be telling God to do these things.

Job could not and would not try to right all the wrong in the world. That is of course God’s work. So God uses humour in verse 14. If Job could carry out his great ideas, then even God would respect Job!

God in effect was saying that he would turn over the universe to Job and see if he could do better! It’s really so unbelievably absurd and inconceivable that man should run the universe and yet that is exactly what we have tried to do and is the core of our sin problem. We choose to be God because we either don’t trust that God will do it the way it should be done or that he will not act with our best interests at heart.

Things have not changed that much since the time of Job. Even the righteous amongst us have the same issues as Job himself. The gap between those that are perceived righteous and those perceived to be wicked is very fine line indeed. We invest a lot of time investigating this micro divide when there is an impossible chasm between all of us and God. It may benefit us somewhat to spend more time looking at the chasm than the hair that separates us as humans.
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Job 40:15-24

15 “Look at Behemoth,
which I made along with you
and which feeds on grass like an ox.
16 What strength it has in its loins,
what power in the muscles of its belly!
17 Its tail sways like a cedar;
the sinews of its thighs are close-knit.
18 Its bones are tubes of bronze,
its limbs like rods of iron.
19 It ranks first among the works of God,
yet its Maker can approach it with his sword.
20 The hills bring it their produce,
and all the wild animals play nearby.
21 Under the lotus plants it lies,
hidden among the reeds in the marsh.
22 The lotuses conceal it in their shadow;
the poplars by the stream surround it.
23 A raging river does not alarm it;
it is secure, though the Jordan should surge against its mouth.
24 Can anyone capture it by the eyes,
or trap it and pierce its nose?
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The rest of the speech is taken up with a description of “behemoth (40:15-24), and “leviathan (41:1-34). I assume that these are most likely literal, rather than mythical, creatures since they are observable and because the rest of the God’s questions deal with real animals.

There has been much speculation and many suggestions about the identity of these creatures, with the most likely being the hippopotamus and crocodile, respectively.

The descriptions of both are filled with hyperbole: “he drinks  up a river” (40:23); “a flame goes out of his mouth (41:21), compare the earlier hyperbolic description of the horse in 39:19-25.

The point of referring to these animals is this: if Job cannot master just two marvels of physical strength within God’s creation, how can he expect to stand as a combatant humbly and trusting in a God who knows infinitely more than he.

Behemoth is a generic term used commonly in the Old Testament for large cattle or land animals, the description in this passage suggests an extraordinary creature, the hippopotamus as a result of the details in the passage (verses 19-24).

However, the short tail of a hippo is hardly consistent with verse 17, where tail could be translated “trunk”. It could refer to an elephant, who could be considered “first” or chief of God’s creatures whom only He can control (verse 19). Some believe God is describing a dinosaur.

The word is a transliteration of a Hebrew word that means “super-beast”. No person could contend with such a creature. So how could Job pretend to be God’s equal when he could not even control what God had created?

The word in Hebrew is really the natural plural of behēmāh, which means domestic cattle. And this fact would suggest the idea that more than one animal may be meant in the description (Job 40:15-24).

There is a word in Coptic (p-ehe-emmou, meaning water-ox), used for the hippopotamus, which may, perhaps, lie concealed in behemoth. Then the difficulty is to make the description answer throughout to the hippopotamus (e.g., Job 40:20), since the hippopotamus does not frequent mountains, neither does it exactly eat grass like an ox (Job 40:15).

But the hippo behaves as God describes. It is a large animal that lives near the river. It is strong (verse 16). It eats plants (verse 15). It is not cruel to other animals (verse 20). And the hippo can swim (verse 23)

Verse 24 suggests that it would be difficult to snare him. It would be almost impossible if he saw you coming. He would fight with his nose. This would be true of either the elephant or the hippopotamus.

Whatever the animal is supposed to be whether a dinosaur, hippopotamus, elephant or some mythical creature it is something of an impressive beast that has great strength and would be fascinating to observe.

Job does not even measure up to that and yet God created it and controls it!

Job 39

Job 39:1-12

39 “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
    Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?

Do you count the months till they bear?

    Do you know the time they give birth?

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.

“Who let the wild donkey go free?

    Who untied its ropes?

I gave it the wasteland as its home,

    the salt flats as its habitat.

It laughs at the commotion in the town;

    it does not hear a driver’s shout.

It ranges the hills for its pasture

    and searches for any green thing.

“Will the wild ox consent to serve you?

    Will it stay by your manger at night?

10 Can you hold it to the furrow with a harness?

    Will it till the valleys behind you?

11 Will you rely on it for its great strength?

    Will you leave your heavy work to it?

12 Can you trust it to haul in your grain

    and bring it to your threshing floor?

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The wonders of the animal kingdom are put before Job and further questions that he would have no answer for.

Job had at one point reasoned that God did not really know his situation. The reason that he had not yet been rescued was because perhaps God was unaware. God clearly knows the details of how the complexity of his creation works and he knows the small details of Job’s life.

The diversity of creation is brought to the table. Every animal has it’s own personality and instinct. This is true of each individual human being too, The variety and complexity in creation is astounding,

Jesus taught a lesson in Matthew 10:29-31 that he knows even when one sparrow falls to the ground and that we will not be forgotten, God knows the details of our lives, He knows everything that has shaped us and caused us to act in ignorance and fear. He knows why sin has surfaced in our lives, He understands this and has compassion for our pitiful plight.

In verses 1-12 we read about goats, donkeys and oxen. On the farm these animals are domesticated and managed but here he speaks of wild animals before they are tamed. They behave as God intended them to behave and not to obey the instructions of men.

Wild goats are shy, they live in the mountains. The young goats are not loyal to their mothers, they quickly gain their independence and go off on their own.

A tame donkey is a loyal animal that is easily managed and can carry heavy loads. A wild donkey however is completely different, it will not obey any man’s orders. It is completely unmanageable.

An ox has incredible strength. Job used to own 1000 oxen (Job 1:3), they are very useful in agriculture because of their strength.

I have seen verse 9 translated as unicorn before but the Hebrew word just means an animal with horns. The idea is an animal that cannot easily be domesticated. Ox seems better to convey the idea. It is an animal of great strength. However, it would be of no use to the farmer if it cannot be tamed. It might wander into the fields and instead of being useful to the farmer it would destroy the crops.

A wild ox would be happy to take the crops but instead of taking the crops to the farm house or the barn it would eat the crops itself!

The question being asked of Job and his friends is what do you really know? Who are you to question my ways and my purposes? You have no idea about the complexity of creation and why I have done what I have done or the point of all this. Just be quiet!!!

Good point. I am too quick to lose my gratitude and perspective and act as though all that matters is whatever is in front of my nose. There is a big world out there beyond my needs, my wants, my desires, my issues and problems. 

God is God, I am not!!!

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Job 39:13-18

13 “The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully,     though they cannot compare     with the wings and feathers of the stork. 14 She lays her eggs on the ground     and lets them warm in the sand, 15 unmindful that a foot may crush them,     that some wild animal may trample them. 16 She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers;     she cares not that her labour was in vain, 17 for God did not endow her with wisdom     or give her a share of good sense. 18 Yet when she spreads her feathers to run,     she laughs at horse and rider.

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In his description of the ostrich God lets us know about the diversity in creation. Some animals are created to be wise and clever, others are created with other impressive traits but are not so bright. The Ostrich is a mixture of foolishness and strength. Ostriches have been known to chase horses and scare them off!

The variety in creation is astounding. There are some bizarre creatures out there and some very majestic creatures. The ostrich has wings but does not fly. It runs extremely fast and has incredible strength. Some birds are extremely careful about their eggs and care for their young but ostrich eggs are left in vulnerable places and it does not appear to have any sense of maternal instinct.

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Job 39:19-25

19 “Do you give the horse its strength     or clothe its neck with a flowing mane? 20 Do you make it leap like a locust,     striking terror with its proud snorting? 21 It paws fiercely, rejoicing in its strength,     and charges into the fray. 22 It laughs at fear, afraid of nothing;     it does not shy away from the sword. 23 The quiver rattles against its side,     along with the flashing spear and lance. 24 In frenzied excitement it eats up the ground;     it cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds. 25 At the blast of the trumpet it snorts, ‘Aha!’     It catches the scent of battle from afar,     the shout of commanders and the battle cry.

———————————-

From the ostrich we move into a magnificent, vivid picture of the war horse.

A war horse is more fearless than a loyal soldier.

Ostriches are like cowards! They run away from the battle. But army horses do the opposite. They race into the battle.

The Ostrich has physical strength but the horse represents mental strength and courage as well as physical strength.

Man did not give the horse strength, God did.

An army set for battle is set rigid with discipline and focus to hem back the fear that may be felt. The horse however, is impatient and engaging, it cannot stand still, but rises up with his fore feet and paws and prances. it digs the earth and makes it hollow, by a continual striking upon the ground. It feels no fear and has no hesitation.

Horses are not able to reason that they might be going to their own death in battle. They just want to do what horses do. This is the wonder of God’s design.

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Job 39:26-30

26 “Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom     and spread its wings toward the south? 27 Does the eagle soar at your command     and build its nest on high? 28 It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night;     a rocky crag is its stronghold. 29 From there it looks for food;     its eyes detect it from afar. 30 Its young ones feast on blood,     and where the slain are, there it is.”

——————————————

The hawk’s strength of wing is extraordinary, and one of the most majestic sights is to see a bird of prey in flight. Human ingenuity has not been able to master flight so majestic.

Even young hawks manage such precision navigation in their migration.

The sight of a bird of prey is razor sharp, When it spies it’s prey, it flies with incredible swiftness and accuracy, even like an arrow out of a bow.

Eleven of God’s creatures, six beasts and five birds, are presented for Job to explain. God cycled through all of these subjects, and when He finished, Job had not answered one question.

We have nothing to answer in creation. What can we say?