Genesis 42; Mark 12; Job 8; Romans 12

Feb 09, 2016 | Don Carson

Genesis 42; Mark 12; Job 8; Romans 12

BILDAD THE SHUHITE IS SCANDALIZED BY Job’s response to Eliphaz and offers his own searing rebuttal (Job 8).

“How long will you say such things?” Bildad asks. “Your words are a blustering wind” (Job 8:2). We would say they are nothing but hot air. From Bildad’s perspective, Job is charging God with perverting justice. “Does the Almighty pervert what is right?” (Job 8:3). But Bildad cannot let the point linger as a merely theoretical point to be debated by theologians. The implications of his rhetorical question Bildad now drives home in a shaft that must have pierced Job to the quick: “When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin” (Job 8:4). In other words, the proper explanation of the storm that killed all ten of Job’s children (Job 1:18-19) is that they deserved it. To say anything else would surely mean, according to Bildad, that God is unjust, that he perverts justice. So the way forward for Job is “to look to God and plead with the Almighty” (Job 8:5). If Job humbles himself and is truly pure and upright, God will restore him to his “rightful place.” Indeed, all the fabulous wealth Job formerly enjoyed will seem like a mere piffle compared with the rewards that will come to him (Job 8:6-7).

For his authority Bildad appeals to longstanding tradition, to “the former generations.” The opinions he and his friends express are not newfangled ideas but received tradition. Bildad and his friends, regardless of how old they are, can only have learned by experience what can be tasted in one lifetime. What they are appealing to, however, is not the experience of one lifetime, but accumulated tradition. That tradition says that the godless and those who forget God perish like reeds without water; they enjoy all the support of those who lean on spiders’ webs (Job 8:11-19). Conversely, “Surely God does not reject a blameless man or strengthen the hands of evildoers” (Job 8:20).

Of course, this is roughly the argument of Eliphaz, perhaps somewhat more bluntly expressed; and while Eliphaz appealed to visions of the night, Bildad appealed to received tradition. Once again, parts of the argument are not wrong. At one level, on an eternal scale, it is right to conclude that God vindicates righteousness and condemns wickedness. But as Bildad expresses the case, he claims to know more about God’s doings than he really does (neither he nor Job knows the behind-the-scenes setup in chapter 1). Worse, he applies his doctrine mechanically and shortsightedly, and ends up condemning a righteous man.

Can you think of instances where premature or unbalanced application of biblical truth has turned out to be fundamentally mistaken?

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Genesis 41; Mark 11; Job 7; Romans 11

Feb 08, 2016 | Don Carson

Genesis 41; Mark 11; Job 7; Romans 11

IN THE SECOND PART OF HIS RESPONSE TO ELIPHAZ, Job addresses God directly (Job 7), though we are meant to understand that this agonizing prayer is uttered in such a way that Eliphaz and his friends overhear it. In fact, as we shall see, there is a tight connection between chapters 6 and 7.

The first ten verses of moving complaint, full of descriptions of sleepless nights and festering sores, are focused on “reminding” God how brief human life is. “Life is hard, and then you die” is the contemporary expression; more prosaically, Job asks, “Does not man have hard service on earth? Are not his days like those of a hired man?” (Job 7:1). Physically, he will not last much longer.

“Therefore,” Job argues, “I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul” (Job 7:11). To God, Job says, in effect, I am not a monster—so why pick on me? My life is without meaning (Job 7:16); I would rather be strangled to death than continue to live as I am now living (Job 7:15).

Why should God make so much of a mere mortal as to pay him the attention God is obviously paying Job (Job 7:17-18)? Though he is unaware of any sin in his life that has attracted such suffering, Job knows he is not sinless. But why should that attract so much suffering? “If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of men? Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you?” (Job 7:20).

Now it should be easier to see how this chapter is tied to the argument at the end of chapter 6. There Job protests to Eliphaz that his (Job’s) integrity is at stake. The thrust of Eliphaz’s argument was that Job must be suffering for wrongdoing he had never confessed; the way ahead is self-abnegation and confession. But Job replies to the effect that his friends should still be his friends; that they are condemning him because they themselves cannot bear the thought that an innocent person might suffer; that their rebuke calls into question his lifelong integrity. In chapter 7, when Job turns to address God, his stance is entirely in line with what he has just told Eliphaz. Far from confessing sin, he tells God that he is being picked on. Or if he has sinned, he has not done anything to deserve this sort of minute attention and painful judgment. Indeed, Job comes within a whisker of implying that God himself is not quite fair. Thus Job maintains his integrity.

So the drama of this book builds. The way ahead is still to be explored. Meanwhile, meditate on Job 42:7.

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Genesis 40; Mark 10; Job 6; Romans 10

Feb 07, 2016 | Don Carson

Genesis 40; Mark 10; Job 6; Romans 10

JOB’S RESPONSE TO ELIPHAZ TAKES UP two chapters. In Job 6 he argues as follows:

(1) In the opening verses (Job 6:1-7) Job insists he has every reason for bemoaning his situation: his anguish and misery are beyond calculation (Job 6:2-3). Nor does Job flinch from the obvious: in God’s universe, God himself must somehow be behind these calamities—“The arrows of the Almighty are in me … God’s terrors are marshaled against me” (Job 6:4). Not even a donkey brays without a reason (Job 6:5), so why should Job’s friends treat him as if he is complaining without a reason?

(2) Job utters his deepest request: that God would simply crush him, “let loose his hand and cut me off” (Job 6:9). This is more than a death wish: “Then I would still have this consolation—my joy in unrelenting pain—that I had not denied the words of the Holy One” (Job 6:10). From this, three things are clear. (a) Despite his agony, Job is still thinking from within the framework of a committed believer. His suffering is not driving him to agnosticism or naturalism. (b) More importantly, his primary desire is to remain faithful to God. He sees death not only as a release from his suffering but as a way of dying before the intensity of his suffering should drive him to say or do something that would dishonor God. (c) Implicitly, this is also a response to Eliphaz. A man with such a passionate commitment to remain faithful to “the words of the Holy One” (Job 6:10) should not be dismissed as a light and frivolous prevaricator.

(3) Eliphaz’s position depends on the assumption that if Job acts as Eliphaz advises, all his wealth and power will be restored to him. Job insists he is well beyond that point: he has no hope, no prospects. He cannot conduct himself in such a way as to finagle blessings from God (Job 6:11-13).

(4) Meanwhile, Job reproaches Eliphaz and his colleagues (Job 6:14-23). “A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends, even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty” (Job 6:14); that is what real friendship is like. Job analyzes the real reason why his friends have proved “as undependable as intermittent streams” (Job 6:15): they have seen something dreadful and they are afraid (Job 6:21). Their neat theological categories have been blown away by Job’s suffering, since they had believed he was a righteous man. They must now prove him to be unrighteous, deserving of his sufferings, or they too are under threat.

(5) Job ends with a wrenching plea (Job 6:24-30). As far as he is concerned, his own integrity is at stake; he will not fake repentance when he knows he does not deserve this suffering. “Relent, do not be unjust” (Job 6:29), he tells his friends.

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Genesis 39; Mark 9; Job 5; Romans 9

Feb 06, 2016 | Don Carson

Genesis 39; Mark 9; Job 5; Romans 9

IN THE SECOND PART OF HIS SPEECH (Job 5), Eliphaz presupposes the stance he adopts in the first part (see yesterday’s meditation), yet adds several new wrinkles to his impassioned presentation.

First, he says that Job’s approach to God in this crisis is fundamentally flawed. By all means call on God (Job 5:1)—but why imagine that someone as exalted as God will answer? Meanwhile, Job’s attitude is what is killing him: “Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple” (Job 5:2). Eliphaz speaks out of his own observation: he has seen such fools prospering in the past, but suddenly they are uprooted. The implication is that Job’s former prosperity was the prosperity of a “fool,” and his current loss is nothing but his due. Somewhat inconsistently, Eliphaz adds that human suffering is a function of the human condition: “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7).

Second, rather self-righteously Eliphaz tells Job what he would do if he were in a similar situation (Job 5:8-16). He would appeal to God and lay his case before him—not with Job’s attitude, which Eliphaz finds insufferable, but with humility and contrition. After all, God reigns providentially and is committed to humbling the arrogant and the crafty and exalting the poor and the needy. So Eliphaz would approach God as a suppliant.

Third, Eliphaz insists that at least one of God’s aims in bringing about loss and disaster is discipline: “Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal” (Job 5:17-18). Those who recognize this point discover that God quickly restores their life and prosperity. They find themselves secure in every trial. Job cannot miss the implication: if he feels he has suffered unjustly, not only is he insufficiently humble, but he fails to recognize the gracious, chastening hand of God Almighty, and therefore he remains under God’s rod instead of finding mercy. “We have examined this,” Eliphaz concludes rather pompously, “and it is true. So hear it and apply it to yourself” (Job 5:27).

What Eliphaz says carries some measure of truth. God does indeed chasten his children (Prov. 3:11-12; Heb. 12:5-6). But this presupposes that they need it; God certainly does not chasten his children when they do not need it. Eliphaz thus presupposes that Job deserves God’s chastening; readers of chapter 1 know he is mistaken. True, God saves the humble and abases those whose eyes are haughty (Ps. 18:27); but Eliphaz mistakenly assumes that Job must be haughty, or he would not be suffering. So here is a lesson: false or improper application of genuine truth may be heartless and cruel—and, as here, it may say false things about God.

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Genesis 37; Mark 7; Job 3; Romans 7

Feb 04, 2016 | Don Carson

Genesis 37; Mark 7; Job 3; Romans 7

FROM JOB 3 UNTIL THE FIRST PART of the last chapter of the book, with a small exception at the beginning of chapter 32, the text is written in Hebrew poetry. The book is a giant drama, like a Shakespearean play. Speech follows speech, the movement of the drama carried forward on the sustained argument between Job and his three “friends.” Eventually another character is introduced, and finally God himself responds.

The opening speech belongs to Job. The burden of his utterance is unmistakable: he wishes he had never been born. He is not ready to curse God, but he is certainly prepared to curse the day that brought him to birth (Job 3:1, 3, 8). Everything about that day he wishes he could blot out. If he could not have been stillborn (Job 3:11, 16), then why couldn’t he have just starved to death (Job 3:12)?

Implicitly, of course, this is criticism of God, however indirect. “Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?” (Job 3:23). What Job is experiencing is what he feared throughout his years of plenty (Job 3:25). He has no peace, no quietness, no rest, but only turmoil (Job 3:26).

Four reflections will put this first address in perspective:

(1) This is the rhetoric of a man in deep anguish. So many of the things about which we complain are trivial. Even our most serious grounds for complaint are usually only some fraction of what Job faced.

(2) Before we condemn Job, therefore, we must listen attentively, even fearfully. When we come across those who for good reason are in terrible despair, we must cut them some slack. It would have been wonderful if one of the “friends” had put an arm around Job’s shoulder and wept with him, saying, “We love you, Job. We do not pretend to understand. But we love you, and we’ll do whatever we can for you.”

(3) Job is transparently honest. He does not don a front of feigned piety so that no one will think he is letting down the side. The man hurts so much he wishes he were dead, and says so.

(4) Both here and throughout the book, for all that Job is prepared to argue with God, he is not prepared to write God off. Job is not the modern agnostic or atheist who treats the problem of evil as if it provided intellectual evidence that God does not exist. Job knows that God exists and believes that he is powerful and good. That is one reason why (as we shall see) he is in such confusion. Job’s agonizings are the agonizings of a believer, not a skeptic.

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Genesis 34; Mark 5; Job 1; Romans 5

Feb 02, 2016 | Don Carson

Genesis 34; Mark 5; Job 1; Romans 5

REVENGE MOVIES AND REVENGE BOOKS are so endemic to popular culture that we rarely think about the ambiguous, corrosive nature of sin. There are only good guys and bad guys. But in the real world, it is far from uncommon for sin to corrupt not only those who do evil but also those who respond to it with self-righteous indignation. The only persons not blamed in this horrible account of rape and pillage (Gen. 34) are the victims – Dinah herself, of course, and the Shechemites who, though unconnected with the guilt of Hamor’s son or the corruption of Hamor, are either slaughtered or enslaved.

Certainly Shechem son of Hamor is guilty. In the light of his rape of Dinah, his efforts to pay the bridal price and to secure the agreement of the other males to be circumcised appear less like noble atonement than determined, willful selfishness, a kind of ongoing rape by other means. The reasoning of Hamor and his son, both in approaching Jacob’s family and in approaching their own people, is motivated by self-interest and characterized by half-truths. They neither acknowledge wrongdoing nor speak candidly, and they try to sway their own people by stirring up greed.

The “grief and fury” of Dinah’s brothers (34:7) may be understandable, but their subsequent actions are indefensible. With extraordinary duplicity, they use the central religious rite of their faith as a means to incapacitate the men of the village (the word city refers to a community of any size), then slaughter them and take their wives, children, and wealth as plunder. Does any of this honor Dinah? Does any of it please God?

Even Jacob’s role is at best ambiguous. His initial silence (34:5) may have been nothing more than political expedience, but it sounds neither noble nor principled. His final conclusion (34:30) is doubtless an accurate assessment of the political dangers, but offers neither justice nor an alternative.

What does this chapter contribute to the book of Genesis, or, for that matter, to the canon?

Many things. For a start, the chapter reminds us of a recurrent pattern. Just because God has once again graciously intervened and helped his people in a crisis (as he does in Gen. 32-33) does not mean there is no longer any moral danger of drift toward corruption. Further, once again it is clear that the promised line is not chosen because of its intrinsic superiority; implicitly, this chapter argues for the primacy of grace. Apparently the crisis at Shechem is what brings the family back to Bethel (Gen 35:1, 5), which brings closure to Jacob’s movements and, more importantly, reminds the reader that “the house of God” is more important than all merely human habitation.

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Genesis 33; Mark 4; Esther 9-10; Romans 4

Feb 01, 2016 | Don Carson

Genesis 33; Mark 4; Esther 9-10; Romans 4

THE SO-CALLED PARABLE OF THE SOWER (Mark 4:1-20) might better be called the parable of the soils, for the variable that gives the parable life and depth is the variation in the land onto which the seed is thrown.

Because Jesus provides the interpretation of his own story, its primary emphases should not be in doubt. The seed is the “word,” i.e., the word of God, which here is equivalent to the Gospel, the good news of the kingdom. Like a farmer scattering seed by hand in the ancient world, this word is scattered widely. Inevitably, some of the seed falls on ground that for one reason or another is inhospitable: perhaps it is the hard-packed dirt of the path, or perhaps birds come and eat the seed before it settles into the plowed ground and germinates, or perhaps it grows in the shadow of thornbushes that squeeze the life out of it, or perhaps it germinates in shallow soil with limestone bedrock just beneath the surface, such that the roots cannot go down very far to absorb the necessary moisture. The parallels with the way people hear the word are obvious. Some are hard and repel any entry of the word; others are soon distracted by the playthings Satan quickly casts up; others find that worries and wealth – the terrible Ws – squeeze out all concern for spiritual matters; still others hear the word with joy and seem to be the most promising of the crop, but never sink the deep roots necessary to sustain life. But thank God for the soil that produces fruit, sometimes even abundant fruit.

So much is clear enough. But two other features of this parable deserve reflection.

The first is that this parable, like many others, adjusts the commonly held perspective that when the Messiah came there would be a climactic and decisive break: the guilty and the dirty would all be condemned, and the righteous and the clean would enjoy a transforming rule. That is what the final kingdom would be like. But Jesus pictures the dawning of the kingdom a little differently. In the parable of the mustard seed (4:30-32), for example, the kingdom is like a tree that starts from small beginnings and grows into something substantial; here is growth, not apocalyptic climax. So also the parable of the sower: for the time being, the word is going to be scattered widely, and people will respond to it in different ways, with widely divergent yields.

The second is that not all of those who show initial signs of kingdom life actually take root and bear fruit. That truth deserves meditation and calls for self-examination.

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Genesis 32; Mark 3; Esther 8; Romans 3

Jan 31, 2016 | Don Carson

Genesis 32; Mark 3; Esther 8; Romans 3

WHAT A TRANSFORMATION IN JACOB (Gen. 32)! Superficially, of course, not much has changed. He left Beersheba for Paddan Aram because he was afraid for his life; his brother Esau had reason enough, according to his own light, to kill him. Now he is returning home, and Jacob is still frightened half to death of his brother. No less superficially, one might argue that much has changed; Jacob fled the tents of his parents a single man, taking almost nothing with him, while here he returns home a rich, married man with many children.

But the deepest differences between the two journeys are reflected in Jacob’s changed attitude toward God. On the outbound trip, Jacob takes no initiative in matters divine. He simply goes to sleep (Gen 28). It is God who intervenes with a remarkable vision of a ladder reaching up to heaven. When Jacob awakens, he acknowledges that what he experienced was some sort of visitation from God (28:16-17), but his response is to barter with God: if God will grant him security, safety, prosperity, and ultimately a happy return home, Jacob for his part will acknowledge God and offer him a tithe.

Now it is rather different. True, God again takes the initiative: Jacob meets angelic messengers (32:1-2). Jacob decides to act prudently. He sends some of his people ahead to announce to Esau that his brother is returning. This spawns devastating news: Esau is coming to meet him, but with four hundred men.

On the one hand, Jacob sets in motion a carefully orchestrated plan: successive waves of gifts for his brother are sent on ahead, with each of the messengers carefully instructed to speak to Esau with the utmost courtesy and respect. On the other hand, Jacob admits that matters are out of his control. Bartering is gone; in “great fear and distress” (32:7) Jacob takes action, and then prays, begging for help. He reminds God of his covenantal promises, he pleads his own unworthiness, he acknowledges how many undeserved blessings he has received, he confesses his own terror (32:9-12). And then, in the darkest hours, he wrestles with this strange manifestation of God himself (32:22-30).

Twenty years or so have passed since Jacob’s outward-bound journey. Some people learn nothing in twenty years. Jacob has learned humility, tenacity, godly fear, reliance upon God’s covenantal promises, and how to pray. None of this means he is so paralyzed by fear that he does nothing but retreat into prayer. Rather, it means he does what he can, while believing utterly that salvation is of the Lord.

By the time the sun rises, he may walk with a limp, but he is a stronger and better man.

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Genesis 31; Mark 2; Esther 7; Romans 2

Jan 30, 2016 | Don Carson

<a href=”″ target=”_blank”>Genesis 31</a>; <a href=”″ target=”_blank”>Mark 2</a>; <a href=”″ target=”_blank”>Esther 7</a>; <a href=”″ target=”_blank”>Romans 2</a>

THE THREE MOST COMMON ACTS of piety amongst many Jews were prayer, fasting, and alms-giving (i.e., giving money to the poor). So when Jesus’ disciples seemed a little indifferent to the second, it was bound to provoke interest. The Pharisees fasted, the disciples of John the Baptist fasted. But fasting was not <em>characteristic</em> of Jesus’ disciples. Why not? (<strong>Mark 2:18-22</strong>).

Jesus’ response is stunning: “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast” (2:19-20). Here is Jesus, profoundly self-aware, deeply conscious that he himself is the messianic bridegroom, <em>and that in his immediate presence the proper response is joy</em>. The kingdom was dawning; the king was already present; the day of promised blessings was breaking out. This was not a time for mourning, signaled by fasting.

Yet when Jesus went on to speak of the bridegroom being taken away from his disciples, and that this event would provoke mourning, it is very doubtful if anyone, at that time, grasped the significance of the utterance. After all, when the Messiah came, there would be righteousness and the triumph of God. Who could speak of the Messiah being taken away? The entire analogy of the bridegroom was becoming opaque.

But after Jesus’ death and resurrection, after his exaltation to glory, and after the promise of his return at the end of the age, the pieces would fit together. The disciples would experience terrible sorrow during the three days of the tomb, before Jesus’ glorious resurrection forever shattered their despair. And in an attenuated sense, Jesus’ disciples would experience cycles of suffering that would call forth days of fasting as they faced the assaults of the Evil One while waiting for their Master’s blessed return. But not now. Right now, sorrow and fasting were frankly incongruous. The promised Messiah, the heavenly Bridegroom, was among them.

The truth, Jesus says, is that with the dawning of the kingdom, the traditional structures of life and forms of piety would change. It would be inappropriate to graft the new onto the old, as if the old were the supporting structure – in precisely the same way that it is inappropriate to repair a large rent in an old garment by using new, unshrunk cloth, or use old and brittle wineskins to contain new wine still fermenting, whose gases will doubtless explode the old skin. The old does not support the new; it points to it, prepares for it, and then gives way to it. Thus Jesus prepares his disciples for the massive changes that were dawning.

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Genesis 30; Mark 1; Esther 6; Romans 1

Jan 29, 2016 | Don Carson

Genesis 30; Mark 1; Esther 6; Romans 1

“THAT NIGHT THE KING COULD NOT SLEEP” (Esther 6:1). What a great dramatic line! Are we supposed to think this is an accident?

Both the Bible and history offer countless “coincidences” brought about in the providence of God, the significance of which is discerned only in hindsight. Even in this chapter, Haman chooses this particular morning to present himself early in the court—to obtain sanction for Mordecai’s execution, at that!—and that makes him the man to whom the king puts his fateful question (Esther 6:4-6). In the meditation for January 25 we observed that the peculiar timing of Agrippa II’s visit to Porcius Festus meant that Paul was forced to appeal to Caesar—and that brought him to Rome. Likewise, in God’s providence, Caesar Augustus, more than half a century earlier, had decreed that the Roman world face a census, and under the local rules that decree brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem just in time for the birth of Jesus, fulfilling the biblical prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).

History entirely removed from the canon provides numerous circumstances where the tiniest adjustment would have changed the course of events. Suppose Britain had not broken the “Enigma” code machines. Would the Battle of Britain, and even World War II, have gone another way? Suppose Hitler had not held back his panzers at Dunkirk, sending in his planes instead. Would 150,000 British soldiers have been captured or killed, once again changing the face of the war? Is it not remarkable that Hitler’s persecution of Jews drove some of the best scientific minds out of Germany and into the United States? Had he not done so, is it not entirely possible that Hitler would have invented an A-bomb before America did? What then would the history of the past fifty years have looked like? Suppose Khrushchev had not blinked at the Cuba missile crisis, and a nuclear exchange had followed. What would be the state of the world today? Suppose the bullet aimed at Kennedy had missed. Suppose the bullet aimed at Martin Luther King had missed. Suppose the bullet that took out the Archduke in Sarajevo had missed. Christians cannot possibly suppose that any of these events and billions more, small and great, were outside of God’s control.

So the first verse of Esther 6 sets the reader up for the dramatic developments in this chapter, plunging us into many useful reflections on the matchless wisdom and peculiar providence of God. Then, at the end of the chapter, comes a line scarcely less dramatic: “While they were still talking with him, the king’s eunuchs arrived and hurried Haman away to the banquet Esther had prepared” (Esther 6:14). What profit should readers gain from reflecting on this turning point?

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