The Spirit in Job?

“A word was secretly brought to me, my ears caught a whisper of it. Amid disquieting dreams in the night, when deep sleep falls on people, fear and trembling seized me and made all my bones shake. A spirit glided past my face,and the hair on my body stood on end. It stopped, but I could not tell what it was. A form stood before my eyes, and I heard a hushed voice: (Job 4v13-15)
For Job, the spirit mentioned here appears to arrive while he is still in a dream-like state as we are told he awakes as the spirit glides past his face. Now, if we were reading this during the European Romantic Movement of the 18thC , we might conclude that the term ‘spirit’ as it is used here is done so to convey a dark abode such as ‘death’ that has come upon him – which is certainly possible allowing for the devil’s request to test Job by putting his family to death. Whether at this moment, Job is bereaved experiencing his  dark night of the soul due to his loss and bereavement or being assailed by a spiritual entity, what we can be sure of is that

  1. the spirit that wreaks such havoc on Job is not from God nor was it ever sent by him.
  2. the spirit is not related to Job’s own state of sense of sadness or distraught.

Yes, Job is traumatised by the events that have rocked his world, but these have neither come from God nor are they happenstance. The only explanation remaining is that which is spirit but not of God or man has intervened in the events through which Job’s family and life have been destroyed. What follows in the chapters that follow is Job’s attempt to make sense of what has happened to him. A bereavement journey that will show his friends as ill-equipped to advise him – especially in their suggestion that he has  somehow displeased God and deserves to die.

Now, however you understand this passage – and believe me there are several ways to read the text – questions that are far more important to consider are:

  • How Satan had such easy access into God’s chamber?
  • Or why God would accept such a wager with the enemy of Creation – who is prepared to kill and destroy to be proved right?
  • Moreover, who is the narrator that is privy to their conversation between God and Satan? (it is inferred that they are the only ones present).
  • And what does this tell us about God’s goodness that he might condemn the lives of the innocent by giving Satan free reign to do what he likes?

In short, the best description of ‘Spirit’ as descibed here in Job seems to be related to a dark entity whether than be a fallen entity or a sense of foreboding as death is visited upon the helpless and innocent. What it clearly isn’t is God playing with people’s lives!


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Understanding ‘spirit’ in scripture…

‘On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him.’ (Esther 1v10)
As mentioned at the start of these posts on the work of the Holy Spirit, the term ‘spirit’ is interchangeable in that it can mean one of many things in the Old Testament. So far we have encountered it as relating to human disposition – that is,
  1. the psyche by which a person’s sense of wellbeing is described by him or her as being happy, morose, jubilant etc.
  2. the spirit is referred to in a communal way in which one person’s affinity with another makes them kindred just as with Jonathan was one in spirit with David. (That said, CS Lewis would probably more accurately define this as Philia – love of friends as in detailed in his book The Four Loves).
  3. and lastly, the move of the Spirit that enables a person to do God’s work. As when the Holy Spirit falls upon a person and they prophesise or are renewed with super human strength or knowledge or wisdom. Though the point to note here is that  in the Old Testament this is always a temporary infilling as the Spirit rests upon the person for the duration of time needed to bring about the outcome. (Though this changes after Jesus’ death and resurrection once the Counsellor is sent and the Holy Spirit finds a permanent recepticle in everyone who believes in Christ – the measure and capacity of this being determined by the person’s willingness to be obedient to God).
So- with these three definitions explained, a task for you. Which one of the three definitions best describes the opening verses in which ‘King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine?’

 

 

 


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Attentive to the Holy Spirit’s instruction? (part 2)

‘For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you gave them into the hands of the neighboring peoples.’ (Nehemiah 9:30)

In last week’s post we encountered  Nehemiah addressing and reminding the people how God’s Spirit will instruct them. He also follows up by explaining to them why this instruction was needed in the first place:

‘By your Spirit (God) you warned them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you gave them into the hands of the neighboring peoples.’ (Neh 9v30)

Admittedly, given that God’s guidance from the Holy Spirit did not come to each person directly – but rather through the mouth of a prophet to the community – it is easy to understand why people might not  heed the warnings. That said, the words of the prophet were often loudest when spoken against those in the community who had already foresaken God through decisions made to worship idols, elicit fertility cults to make crops grow and forsaking the law of Yahweh in loving one another and the community.

In short, the people were guilty of syncretism in which  they mixed their worship of the One True God with offerings to idols and showing a devotion to other deities. Why did this happen? Well, the people around them appeared more prosperous (in terms of weath and provision) and basically God’s community wanted what they had.  Hence, the eventual outcome in which Nehemiah recounts the people being taken into slavery and exile as they opted to serve and be obedient to a lesser master and an easier route. A salient lesson for believers as we naviagate the thin line between wilfulness and obedience.

 

 

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Attentive to the Holy Spirit’s instruction? (part 1)

‘You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst.’ (Nehemiah 9v20)
In chapter 9, Nehemiah makes the case that God’s grace is abundant. Although in the past, the people had abandoned God – resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem and them being taken into captivity – God is forgiving and will restore. Hence, Nehemiah’s attempts to organise the remanant of the people and rebuild the defences around Jerusalem.
In this section of Nehemiah’s much large speech, he reminds the people of God’s providence and care for them throughout history and exhorts them to remember that the good Spirit who has instructed them in the past and (by inference) will do so again. All that the people need to is trust God to do what He has promised.
As it is, the people, after a lot of grumbling, do take God at his word and begin to move on from despairing about the situation to being more focused and proactive in bringing about a solution. In this instance, the physical act of repairing the walls, hanging the doors and defending the breaches in the wall area until (at last) everything was restored and they could all return to their families.
Given that the Holy Spirit instructed people then and that God does not change with the passing of time, why not pray that God will speak clearly to you this day and instruct you as to what happens next, where you go and what you will repair and restore for God.

 


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The consequence of truth telling

Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest. He stood before the people and said, “This is what God says: ‘Why do you disobey the Lord’s commands? You will not prosper. Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has forsaken you.”‘(2 Chronicles 24:20)Unlike the last post in which Azariah wins over Asa with his generous offer that although he has been disobedient, God is gracious and there is a way back for him, Zechariah speaks  a message from which there is seemingly no reprieve.
Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has forsaken you’ (v20)
Does Zechariah speak this message without grace because he knows the heart of the person being spoken to and how their hearts are hardened so that they will not respond to God? All we can say is that Zechariah’s approach results in what he probably thought would happen: namely, them plotting against him and soon after that, stoning him to death in the courtyard of the Lord’s temple. (v21-22) Dying, Zechariah utters to Joash the words:
‘May the Lord see this and call you to account’ (v22)
and by the  turn of the year, the army of Aram marches in against Joash; invading Judah and Jerusalem, killing all the leaders of the people who Zechariah had prophesised about. (v23-4). Joash later dies at the hands of his own advisors.
Moral of the story – the importance of obedience and truth telling. Moreover, a readiness to keep in step with the Holy Spirit at cost to ourselves as we secure God’s intended outcomes. For Zechariah, truth telling meant speaking the words that would bring his own death sentence about. For Azariah, telling the truth was a chance to correct a leader who had gone astray from God but was capable of acknowledging his mistake, changing his ways and doing God’s will.

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Speaking God’s truth?

The Spirit of God came on Azariah son of Oded. He went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you. For a long time Israel was without the true God, without a priest to teach and without the law. But in their distress they turned to the Lord, the God of Israel, and sought him, and he was found by them. In those days it was not safe to travel about, for all the inhabitants of the lands were in great turmoil. One nation was being crushed by another and one city by another,because God was troubling them with every kind of distress. But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.”’ (2 Chronicles 15:1-7)

God’s Spirit comes upon Azariah and he confronts Asa with the truth about the choices he is making. He also explains how his current course of action is affecting his relationship with God and hints at the consequences that await Asa further down the line.  Amazingly….

When Asa heard these words and the prophecy of Azariah son of Oded the prophet, he took courage. He removed the detestable idols from the whole land of Judah and Benjamin and from the towns he had captured in the hills of Ephraim. He repaired the altar of the Lord that was in front of the portico of the Lord’s temple.’ (2 Chronicles 15:8)

So what lesson should we learn from this? Firstly, to be obedient to God when called upon to speak to another about Him,. Secondly, making sure that whatever words we use and the message we bring, is seasoned with love, generosity and grace (just as God is!).

 

 


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Hands that build versus those that kill.

‘King David gave (his son) Solomon the plans for all that the Spirit had put in his mind for the courts of the temple of the Lord and all the surrounding rooms, for the treasuries of the temple of God and for the treasuries for the dedicated things. He gave him instructions for the divisions of the priests and Levites, and for all the work of serving in the temple of the Lord (1 Chronicles 28v12-13)
What a contrast! In the last post, we see David and his men being joined by Aramais and others as they fight against those who oppose God’s people. However, in this passage, we learn that despite all the battles David has fought and won. For those people he has ruled over and made judgements for as king. For the achievements and advances David has made, he does not qualify to build God’s temple. Why?
Actually, God is very clear on this matter as he informs David: ‘You are not to build a house for my Name, because you are a warrior and have shed blood.’ (v3)
Who would have thought it and yet it’s obvious. The same hands that spill blood and injure are not suitable to adorn God’s temple nor to touch the vessels used in service to the Divine. That God informs David of His plans in advance for the temple only to tell him later on that the task of building it will rest with his son Solomon, must have been a hard pill for the King to swallow.
The most interesting thing I take away from this event is how the holiness of God and decisions that we make in life can (and sometimes do) affect the way God’s Spirit is or is not able to operate within us. Hence the reasoning behind Paul’s warning to the church:
‘Do not grieve the Holy Spirit,with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.’
 (Ephesians 4v30)

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God at work?

‘Then the Spirit came on Amasai, chief of the Thirty, and he said: “We are yours, David! We are with you, son of Jesse! Success, success to you, and success to those who help you, for your God will help you.” So David received them and made them leaders of his raiding bands.’ (1Chronicles 12v18)

It is helpful to view this verse in context. The group led by Amasai seek out David and his men who are living in the wilderness where they operate like a hit and run raiding party. David’s question to Amasai about whether he and his men have come in peace or to betray him to his enemies gives us an idea of the times and the fluidity of loyalty and agenda.

From scripture, Amasai’s response – swearing allegiance to David and his cause – is seen as a Spirit led decision. The fact that it is inspired in the moment by the spirit that rests ‘on’ him suggests it is a momentary revelation. Whatever way we understand this, what is clear is that Amasai considers David a man worthy of following because God’s favour and providence rests on him


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Act of God or human interpretation?

The people of the half-tribe of Manasseh were numerous; they settled in the land from Bashan to Baal Hermon…(and)… were brave warriors, famous men, and heads of their families.  But they were unfaithful to the God of their ancestors and prostituted themselves to the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them. So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria (that is, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria), who took the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh into exile. He took them to Halah, Habor, Hara and the river of Gozan, where they are to this day. (1 Chronicles 5v23-26)

So, to summarise….

  1. we learn that the half-tribe of Manasseh who although proven warriors for God in the past now worship the gods of the fertility cults that are around them.
  2. next, we have the interesting take on events in which God is credited as prompting the Assyrian king to overrun the half-tribe of Manasseh so they are forced into exile.
  3. then, lastly, the conclusion that what the half-tribe of Manasseh has done is so dispicable that these people will never return from exile as a result.

Okay, firstly, the fact that the half-tribe of Manasseh has fallen away from God is not news. Syncretism – the amalgamation of different religions and cultures – was commonplace and a problem for all of the tribes of Israel who often hedged their bets by worshipping many dieties. Not that this was right but being chaste to the one God was a steep curve for many of them and is for us today who also struggle with the love of self and possessions.

Next , the narrator credits God as orchestrating the exile of the half-tribe of Manasseh when other explanations keep God both good and consistent in His Love of Creation. While it’s an easy assumption to presume that God made the people pay the price because of their idolatry  – this sort  of thinking renders God less than loving as it suggests the Divine is prepared to set aside human freewill to effect a punishment. It also neglects the more obvious explanation that in worshipping other gods, the half-tribe of Manasseh moved away from God and isolated themselves to the point where they were overrun by others.

And lastly, the inference that the half-tribe of Manasseh committed an unforgiveable sin. Or put another way, that because the strayed from God, their punishment was final and total. Surely, if this was the case then what is the point of Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. Or is it that everything points to the cross of Christ – to the God of forgiveness – to the dead who will rise to life eternal and know the true God where bodies, minds and hearts are reborn imperishable and will never stray again. This is the God of love and of such things is His Provision.

 

 


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No half measures…

‘(Ahab) sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced divination, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger.’      (2Kings 21v6)

‘Josiah got rid of the mediums and spiritists, the household gods, the idols and all the other detestable things seen in Judah and Jerusalem. This he did to fulfill the requirements of the law written in the book that Hilkiah the priest had discovered in the temple of the Lord.’ (2 Kings 23v24)

What a contrast!  Ahab sacrifices his own child in the fire, practices divination, consults mediums and spiritists to find out the meaning of omens he has received. Josiah on the other hand, places God’s agenda front and foremost as he removes the mediums and spiritists and every idol that causes the people to stray from God.

In reading this, I’m reminded of Saul’s earlier failure in which he declares war on the mediums and spiritists only to later on disguise himself and visit a woman to ask her to consult a spirit on his behalf. The woman – fearing he will kill her – reprimands his duplicity, showing in that moment more integrity than the King himself. Now, compare this with…

…Josiah who removes all things that will prove a stumbling block to the people and for what reason? To fulfil the requirements of (God’s) law.

Question: What separates Josiah from King Saul and Ahab?

Answer:    A desire to fulfil and obey God’s law – no half measures and no looking back.

 


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