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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=”http://www.gnpcb.org/esv/search/?q=Gen.+31″ target=”_blank”>Genesis 31</a>; <a href=”http://www.gnpcb.org/esv/search/?q=Mark+2″ target=”_blank”>Mark 2</a>; <a href=”http://www.gnpcb.org/esv/search/?q=Esther+7″ target=”_blank”>Esther 7</a>; <a href=”http://www.gnpcb.org/esv/search/?q=Romans+2″ 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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Genesis 29; Matthew 28; Esther 5; Acts 28

Jan 28, 2016 | Don Carson

Genesis 29; Matthew 28; Esther 5; Acts 28

THREE OBSERVATIONS THAT SPRING from Esther 5:

First, the pace of the story prompts a cultural observation. There is much in our culture that demands instantaneous decision. That is as true in the ecclesiastical arena as in the political. We observe what we judge to be an injustice and immediately we get on the phone, fire off E-mails, or huddle in small groups at the local coffee shop to talk over the situation. Of course, some situations require speed. Endemic procrastination is not a virtue. But a great many situations, especially those that involve people relations, could benefit from extra time, a slower pace, a period to reflect. We have already seen that the news of Haman’s plot has been disseminated throughout the empire. Considerable time therefore elapsed before Mordecai approached Esther and challenged her to act. Even then, she did not barge into the king’s presence. She allowed three days for preparation and prayer. Now she is in the presence of the king. Her unauthorized entrance has been accepted. But instead of laying out the problem immediately, she calmly invites the king and Haman to a private banquet. When they get there, she slows the pace even more and builds anticipation by proposing a further banquet, when she will tell all.

Second, Haman represents a man lusting for power. He is in high spirits because only the king and he have been invited to Esther’s banquet (Esther 5:9, 12). His boast is his wealth and his public elevation above the other nobles (Esther 5:11). It is not enough for him to be rich and powerful; he must be richer and more powerful than others. Doubtless some readers suppose that such temptations do not really afflict them, because they do not have access to the measures of wealth and power that might make them vulnerable. This is naive. Watch how often people, Christian people, become unprincipled, silly, easily manipulated, when they are in the presence of what they judge to be greatness. One of the great virtues of genuine holiness, a virtue immaculately reflected in the Lord Jesus, is the ability to interact the same way with rich and poor alike, with strong and weak alike. Beware of those who fawn over wealth and power and boast about the powerful people they know. Their spiritual mentor is Haman.

Third, Haman represents a man sold out to hatred. All of his strengths and advantages, by his own admission, mean nothing to him when he thinks of Mordecai, “that Jew” (Esther 5:13). The only thing that can restore his delight is the prospect of Mordecai’s death (Esther 5:14). Here is self-love, the heart of all sin, at its social worst: unrestrained, it vows that it will be first and wants the death of all who stand in the way of fulfilling that vow.

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Genesis 28; Matthew 27; Esther 4; Acts 27

Jan 27, 2016 | Don Carson

Genesis 28; Matthew 27; Esther 4; Acts 27

FOR NARRATIVE SIMPLICITY AND POWER, the book of Esther readily captures the imagination. Though by now we are three chapters into it, we can pick up something of both its flavor and its message by reflecting on selected elements of Esther 4.

(1) The book makes its profound theological points by the shape of its restrained narrative. Commentators never fail to observe that not once does the book explicitly mention God. Nevertheless, it says a great deal about God and his providence, about his protection of his covenant people (even when they are far from the land, learning to survive during the exile and throughout the Diaspora), and about their faith in him, even when they are horribly threatened.

(2) The book thus gradually leads us to reflect on the strange circumstances that bring Esther to succeed Vashti as queen, as the consort of the Emperor Xerxes. If the point is overlooked by the careless reader, the chapter before us makes it pretty obvious to all but the most obtuse. “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (4:14), Mordecai asks Esther by the hand of Hathach. Mordecai is not appealing to impersonal fate; he is a devout and pious Jew. But the form of his utterance emphasizes God’s sovereign providence even while implicitly acknowledging that providence is hard to read. God’s people must act responsibly, wisely, strategically in light of the circumstances that play out around them, knowing that God is in control.

(3) Even while Mordecai mourns and wails deeply when he discovers Haman’s plot (Esther 4:1-3), he neither descends into fatalism nor loses his faith. Having had time to mull over the wretched threat to his people, he reaches the conclusion (as he puts it to Esther) that, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish” (Esther 4:14). Granted that God is faithful to his covenant promises, Mordecai cannot conceive that he would permit the people of God to be destroyed.

(4) True to her upbringing by Mordecai, Esther simultaneously expresses confidence in the living God and avoids the presumption that God’s purposes for her life are easy to infer. She knows that God is there and that he hears and answers importunate prayer. “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa [the capital city], and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do…. And if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). While she resolves to do what is right, she acknowledges that she cannot see her own future and commits herself to the grace of God.

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