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Examine the Cross

Editor’s Note: Below is a cleaned-up version of my notes notes from the “phone-based” Sunday School lesson prepared for June 14, 2020.  The suggested Bible text and section headings for this lesson were based on pages 83-84 of the Lookout Magazine’s study plan, which is available as a free download (independent from this site).


Welcome

  • Thank you for joining this teaching session by phone today.  For those who were here last week, welcome back.  I’m glad that the technology held up well enough for you to return, or maybe you’re giving it another try.  For those joining for the first time, welcome.  Just to let you know how this works, after an introduction, most phones will be muted during the lesson (to reduce background noise), but we can open them back up when we take some time for questions and conversation at the end.
  • It’s not the same as meeting in person, but we can still learn from the Word of God and remember that we are the church, even when we can’t be at the church building together.
  • As a reminder, I’m calling in from a computer today, so I’ll look to our moderators to let me know if my connection drops or breaks up.  In that case, give me a couple of minutes to switch to a landline and continue.

Introduction

  • We learned last week how to be a better friend than Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, but we also found that they showed love to Job when they just sat with him in silence.  Since last week’s lesson in Job chapters 6 and 16, the dialogue between Job and his three friends has continued.
  • In addition, starting in chapter 32, another participant enters the conversation.  This man, Elihu, probably could have taught the lesson from last week!  I think that the introduction to his speech (which runs for almost 5 chapters) says a lot.  Let’s read Job 32:1-5.
  • In light of our lesson today in Job chapter 38, I’d like to call out a few things from towards the end of Elihu’s speech, in Job 37:9-13.  After we read those verses, hold onto that image for a little while, as we continue the study..

In the first verse of Job chapter 38, everything changes, starting with Job 38:1-3.

  • Just as God listens to our prayers, even when we don’t feel His presence or think that He is answering our calls for help, God had been listening to Job and his friends.  God knew about the suffering that Job was going through, and was not absent from the situation.  We can take encouragement from this, and even as we cry out to God, we must remember that He is there and that He loves us, even if things are going badly for us or around us.
  • God challenges Job (to put it lightly), and asks him some questions.  These are somewhat rhetorical questions, and we don’t read that Job tried to answer them.  These questions point out just how much greater than us God is, and they remind us (just like the original hearers of this message) that while we can ask God questions, we are in no position to usurp His authority, nor to question His power or His decisions.  It is irresponsible and false to dare suggest that we know everything (like He does).
  • The next several verses record God asking some of these questions.  Note that God doesn’t give Job more information here to explain Job’s situation, to somehow just enrich Job’s human knowledge enough to fill in a key fact.  There wasn’t a simple answer about Job’s suffering that maybe Job or his friends had missed.  God sets the bar much higher, describing elements of His (God’s) own nature by way of illustration.  Sometimes, the point is that God is God, and we don’t have to have all of the answers in order to follow Him.  After all, if we had to know everything before we trusted God, there would be no room for faith, and that would imply that God was small enough for us to understand Him (which, of course, He is not).

Let’s resume with some more of the questions that God asked Job.

Job 38:16-18, “God is Creator of the Unseen Realms”

  • I enjoy watching (or at least listening to) science shows on TV, and learning more about what other people have learned about the world around us.  While doing so, explorers have sent some submersibles to interesting places in the ocean.  Others have explored some of the mountains and jungles.  Still, there is so much that we don’t know – and even much that we can’t ever know – about the earth.
  • For instance, just recently, scientists published a paper on how certain parts of the earth’s insides are structured.  Using a host of seismic data, they calculated and projected out some models of how the various stuff inside the earth is organized and distributed.  That’s interesting (at least to me), but I’m confident that these measurements (while useful) were indirect.  That is, none of those scientists actually got to travel into the molten center of the earth and check it out!  On the other hand, if He chose to, God could just peek in and check their work.
  • Here, in verse 17, “gates” may refer to power over something, like when Samson carried off the gates of Gaza (Judges 16:3).  While the book of Job was written centuries before Jesus was resurrected from the dead, we know that God has long understood both sides of human death.  God created us in the womb, at the start of our lives, but He also knows what lies beyond our mortal death (or after Jesus returns, which would be awesome if that happened before we die).  Even as God sees eternity, He is more powerful than death.
  • Notice how this passage ends, “Tell me, if you know all this.”  I’m not sure if I’d even call this a challenge from God (since there’s no contest), but it’s a reminder to Job to put his questions in their proper context.

God continues asking questions.

Job 38:19-21, “God is Creator of Light and Darkness”

  • Now God gets to the basics of light and darkness.  We may take for granted the ability to flip on a light switch and change a dark room to one that we can walk across without stepping on Legos.  We trust the sun to come up in the morning, and know that night won’t last forever.  But, remember that these things didn’t always exist.
  • Consider the very first chapter of the Bible, in the first day of Creation: Genesis 1:3-5.  God created this world, and brought the light into existence by saying so.  He brought the sun and light (and even night) to this globe that we live on, and our ability to merely observe the results of His work doesn’t put us into anywhere close to the same category as Him.
  • I remember being in Mammoth Caves some years ago.  Tours are taken down into the cave and then the guide shuts off the lights!  There’s a difference between the dim haze of an urban setting, and the pitch-black where there is no light at all.  God understands and sees both light and darkness perfectly, though.
  • Again, this section closes with a reminder of Job’s place in the world:

“Surely you know, for you were already born!
You have lived so many years!”

Job 38:21 NIV

  • Whether we live to be 100 in this century, or consider the patriarchs living for hundreds of years in the past, none of us was around when God put everything together in the first place.
  • It’s like the owner of a new TV thinking he is pretty cool because he can watch two shows at once with the remote (which is similar to what happened to me recently when I found the multiview option on my DVR’s remote).  That might be entertaining, but my expertise isn’t even close to the people who designed and built that TV!

God continues with questions about controlling the weather.  (Ever heard the saying, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it”?  Well, God can – and does – do something about it.)

Job 38:22-30, “God is Creator of the Sky”

  • Remember what Elihu said in Job 37:11?  Elihu had started to remind the other guys here that God was a lot bigger than they were making Him out to be (by their implications).  God wasn’t someone we could reduce to a few simple rules or equations.
  • Have you ever been in an incredible storm?  It’s one thing to watch from the safety of our home, but have you ever been out in the middle of one?  (Don’t stand under a tree in a lightning storm, by the way.)  I remember charter fishing with some family members one time off of the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, when a storm came up.  As the charter operator sped back to shore at top speed, the rain was coming down in torrents.  There was a shortage of seating on the boat, so I was near the front, hanging on to the outside of the boat, thinking about what would happen if I lost my grip and fell into the ocean.
  • That can be a pretty alarming experience for us, but to God, there’s nothing to fear.  Consider Jesus, as he and His disciples were caught in a storm.  His disciples are afraid (and remember, these disciples included fishermen, who knew the sea), but Jesus is…what?  He’s sleeping.  In another case, from the book of Acts, Paul – as a prisoner – calms down the other passengers on a storm-caught ship, and brings the peace of God to them before they get to shore safely.
  • God even takes care of the places where people are not.  Matthew Henry wrote, “God’s providence reaches further than man’s industry.”  For all our effort spent taking care of plants and animals, God looks out for living things that have no contact with human beings.
  • However, for those who think that they are super-tough, like storm chasers or those who keep golfing in a lightning storm (don’t do that, by the way!), remember this: Like light and darkness, even if we could somehow figure out how to control the weather, God was there before us, and He created the heavens in the first place.

This next part is pretty intriguing to me.

Job 38:31-33, “God is Creator of Stars and Clouds”

  • Here, we find an ancient reference to constellations in the stars.  The Pleiades, or “Seven Sisters”, is a constellation.  (In fact, Wikipedia says that the name of this constellation in Japanese is “Subaru”.  Check out the stars on the nameplate the next time you pull up behind a Subaru!).  Orion is another constellation, considered to be a hunter with arrows.
  • The “bear” has a few possible translations.  It could be Ursa Major (the bear-shaped pattern that includes the Big Dipper).  Alternate translations here include Leo (which could be the lion constellation that we know today), or Arcturus (a particularly bright star).  In fact, the New American Standard Bible says here, “guide the Bear with her satellites”.
  • Regardless of the differences between ancient and modern constellation names, the point is still the same, though.  For all their big talk, Job and his friends can’t reach out and change things in the heavens.  Even today, our furthest satellite has barely left our own solar system, which is virtually nothing in cosmic terms.  We may be able to send scanners to look at the sun, but we can’t move it, much less any of the other 100 billion stars in our galaxy.  God set His laws of the universe into motion, and we can’t change them.
  • We may think of constellations as a relatively newer concept, perhaps created by Greeks or Romans who wanted to see their gods in the stars.  And today, the belief in Astrology – the idea that the stars and planets control our lives – is based on an incorrect premise.  Instead of the stars and planets guiding our lives, their Creator alone has the wisdom to direct our lives, and – if we want what’s best for us – we should invite and welcome Him to do so!
  • However, the idea of tracing out stars to make patterns in the sky is not a modern invention.  And, although we must be careful not to project modern concepts to past generations (who I believe were just as smart as we were, despite not having the Internet!), there are some theories that God gave certain constellations as prophetic and illustrative signs to ancient humankind.  If that were the case (and I’m not certain whether or not it is), it’s difficult to tell how much of what we know of the constellations and Greco-Roman mythology represents corruptions of that message over time, and how much was based on what God had already taught their ancestors.  Maybe the original constellations were a reminder of God’s promises to our ancestors, with the story marching through the heavens in a pattern each year.

Moving on to the next section, God gets closer to home.

Job 38:34-38, “God is Creator of Stars and Clouds”, continued

  • At that time, I understand that the ibis (a kind of bird) was thought to predict the flooding of the Nile, and the rooster announces, well,…you know what the rooster crowing means, at least today.
  • Again, it seems that Elihu was on the right track.  Can you imagine a meteorologist with a 100% accurate forecast?  The data and mathematics that this would require are staggering.   More than that, though, God not only knows when rain will come, but He can actually provide rain when He wants to.  Remember when God had Elijah tell Ahab the king that there would be a drought (1 Kings 17:1) and then after God humiliated the prophets of Baal, rain returned (1 Kings 18:41-46).
  • In last week’s lesson (Job 16:18), Job had called out to the earth to testify on his behalf.  God controls the earth, too, and He certainly knows every drop of blood that Job’s broken body lost, just as He watched His Son bleed on the day of His crucifixion.

As God has demonstrated His power and authority over the universe and the sky, he now gets down to the animals that live on this earth with us.

Job 38:39-41, “God is Creator of the Animals”

  • Even animals aren’t under the control of mankind, despite limited levels of domestication.  We might have a dog or cat as a pet, but even they don’t always obey us.  If you have a pet (or several), you know that it’s enough work to feed and care for them.  How would you like to go out and hunt food for a wild animal, though, or to be responsible for feeding all of the birds who live outdoors?
  • God continues to point out His sovereignty over the animals in the next chapter, and later brings up amazing beasts – Behemoth and Leviathan – that were simply too powerful for human beings to tame.
  • God created these diverse and fantastic creatures, and He cares for them.  As much as God cares for the animals, though, Jesus reminded us that God cares for us, too: Luke 12:6-7.

Action

So, what do we do about this?  To start with, we can praise and worship God for His greatness, to be sure.  That is a good idea both when we are struggling and when things are going well.

In the context of the book of Job, though, I think that there’s a lesson for us to learn in the modern world.  There’s a risk here, as we become smarter (or at least as we think that we do), that we – whether as individuals or a culture – start to arrogantly think that we start to know these answers.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of science, especially when it is doing its job and not trying to be religion or philosophy.  However, if we were to start trying to actually answer these rhetorical questions that God asked Job (using answers like the physics of the orbits of planets around the sun, the water cycle, and maybe even the electrical principles of lightning), we are missing the point.

It’s great that God has allowed us to study and learn about the world around us.  However, as mere observers of just a fraction of the universe, limited to our finite minds and measurements, we must not believe that we have risen to the status of God.  There’s an old preacher’s joke about a conversation between God and a scientist.  The scientist says, “I can create life from nothing, just like you did, God”.  God says, “Go ahead, and show Me”.  So, the scientist picks up some dirt, to take it to his lab, but God says, “No, that doesn’t count.  I made that dirt, too.”

Just as God continued asking questions to Job for the majority of 4 chapters, He can keep asking questions to us, if we get too arrogant today.  I don’t know if I ever watched the old game show, Truth or Consequences, but I was told that if a contestant on that show got a question right, the host would just ask another question, and another, and another…until they got one wrong.  After all, the fun of that show was seeing the consequences, right?  The good news is that God isn’t trying to bait or trap us, but His unlimited omniscience still keeps going and going, long after our limited knowledge runs out.

Remember, asking God questions is perfectly OK.  We can tell Him about our pain and ask for His relief.  Where Job and his friends crossed the line, though, was in thinking that they were smarter than God.  In their over-simplified world, they started to think that they knew everything about the situation, and questioned why God didn’t react the way that they thought He should.  May we learn from them, and not fall into that trap.

Conclusion, “The Cross Examination”

  • If you have the opportunity, I strongly encourage you to read page 84 of the Lookout this week.  There’s an article called “The Cross Examination”, that makes this point more elegantly than I have here.  It points out how we – again, both as individuals and as a society – do question God, on points that He has either answered in the Bible, or that He has simply chosen to not give us the answers to.
  • In my own words, though, when we or others are tempted to cross-examine God, maybe we should instead “examine the cross”.  That shows who God is, and answers many of our questions.

References:

  • Christian Standard, Volume CLV, Number 6, pages 83-84. © 2020 Christian Standard Media.
  • Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
  • The Reformation study Bible, English Standard version, by R C Sproul, © 2015 Reformation Trust, Orlando, Fla.
  • Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete). Matthew Henry. Volume 3, 1706.
  • Asbury Bible Commentary. Copyright © 1992 by The Zondervan Corporation.

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