January 6 - 12
Prayers of Despair: Job
DARK TIMES CAN SHADOW LIFE with the appearance that God has forsaken us. "Where is God?" C. S. Lewis asked after his wife died of cancer. "Go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once."A Grief Observed (New York: Bantam Books, 1980), pp. 4, 5.
During Job's dark night of the soul he cried, "If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling! I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what he would answer me, and consider what he would say" (Job 23:3-5, NIV). No answer came, however.
How does a person pray when circumstances are so bleak that it seems as though no way out exists and God no longer hears? This week's lesson looks for answers in the story and prayers of Job.
THE WEEK AT A GLANCE:
I. Crisis! (Job 1; 2).
II. Job's Bitter Complaints to God (Job 7:7-21; 10).
III. Job's Cry for Justice (Job 9:32-35).
IV. Glimmers of Hope (Job 13:15, 16; 14:7-17; see also 19:25-27; 23:10).
V. Breakthrough! (Job 38:1; Heb. 11:6).
MEMORY TEXT: "But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me. I will come forth as gold" (Job 23:10, NIV).
Job was a desert chieftain, and several clues in the book of Job suggest that he probably lived during the time of the patriarchs:
(1) his great age (Job 42:16) before average human life span was shortened to "threescore years and ten" (Ps. 90:10), or seventy years; (2) Job served as the head of the family, offering sacrifices instead of defer[r]ing this task to temple priests (Job 1:5); (3) there was no written Scripture, only oral transmission; and (4) there was lack of reference to the great events of Israelite history such as the Exodus and the conquest of the Promised Land.
What kind of test was Job subjected to without his knowledge? What was the issue in the contest? Job 1:6-12. What happened to Job's life when God removed His protective hedge? 1:13-19; 2:7. What common belief did Job's friends hold about suffering? 4:7, 8.
People suffer for many reasons. Much misery comes from our own poor choices, though the cause of some misery isn't our own fault. Even God's forgiveness doesn't necessarily interrupt the chain of consequences that follow as a result of the poor choices we make. People also suffer indiscriminately from the violence of Satan, the elements, and human nature. "Job and his friends were steeped in a tradition that claimed that suffering was always punishment for specific sin [4:7, 8]. Job was not aware of such sin, and was faced with the predicament of finding an explanation for his misfortune."The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 494:4, "Theme."
Read Job 1:20, 21. These verses record Job's reaction to his first round of suffering. As Job realized, affliction and loss can deepen our own gratitude to God. Appreciation for the simple blessings may be enriched by the loss of what we often take for granted-ordinary things, such as a cup of water, as British author Somerset Maugham learned. Maugham displayed a cracked clay cup on his mantle, along with far more elaborate objects. When asked about this one misfit, Maugham told how during World War I, on a troop ship crossing the ocean, the crew received one cup of water a day. He drank his ration from that cup and kept it in sight throughout his life to remind himself never to take blessings for granted. After Job's first test, he worshiped and prayed to God in a similar spirit of gratitude.
Even when we suffer, we all have our own personal "cups" filled with blessings. Whatever you might be suffering now, can you think of things for which you should be thankful? If you know someone who's hurting, tactfully try to point him or her to the blessings currently enjoyed.
Prolonged suffering profoundly affects the sufferer. How did Job's prayers change after he had been suffering for a long period of time? Job 3:20, 21; 6:8, 9; 7:16.
Preservation of life is one of the strongest human instincts. Job's desire to die shows his desperation. Yet he never thought of taking his own life; instead, he begged God to take it from him.
Job 10 is another of Job's prayers uttered in pain. Use the chart below to study this prayer.
|What was Job's plea to God? Vs. 2.|
|How did he feel about what was happening to him? Vs. 1.|
|In your own words, what question did Job keep asking God? Vss. 8, 9, 18.|
|What was Job's final request in this prayer? Vss. 20, 21.|
"The patriarch continues his argument against Godbut why does he? It's as if he cannot give up on the Lord. Do we usually keep on arguing with someone who we expect will never respond to us? Most of us will either retreat into silence or aggressively break the relationship. But Job hangs onhe won't let go of his Creator. .
The loss of God overwhelms him far more than the destruction of his wealth or even the death of his children and servants."Gerald Wheeler, God of the Whirlwind (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1992), p. 69.
Have you ever felt that life was not worth living? At times like this, faith can be so crucial. How were you able to cope? Have you learned things from your experience that you could share with someone going through a crisis?
As a tribal chief, Job is accustomed to court proceedings. Yet, he who had defended the oppressed (Job 31:21, 22) now longs for a hearing for himself (13:3, 22, 23; 23:3-5). He agrees with his friends that righteousness should be rewarded and evil punished. His complaint is that God has violated the rules (9:22-24). Therefore, he prepares a legal brief with his signature on it, defending the uprightness of his life (chap. 31; see especially vs. 35). However, he fears that he would be defeated in a confrontation with God and that God would not answer his questions but simply overwhelm him with a show of power (chap. 9:14-20; compare 40:1-9).
What kind of legal help did Job long for? Job 9:32-35.
The "daysman" or "umpire." "In his argument with God, Job feels that there is no one to whom he can look to as an arbiter. On one of two conditions only, he thinks, could the contest be more even between himself and God: (1) If God, divesting Himself of all His divine attributes, became man, and (2) if some umpire, or arbiter, could be found to decide the contest. Neither condition, however, did Job think possible. The gospel provides a fulfillment of both conditions. 'The I AM is the Daysman between God and humanity, laying His hand upon both' (DA 25). Not that we need to conceive of Jesus as settling an argument between man and God, but He is the One who represents God to man, the One through whom man can understand and approach God. See Heb. 2:17, 18."The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 525:33, "Daysman."
Job asked, "How can a mortal be righteous before God?" (9:2, NIV). What is our only claim to acceptance with God? Rom. 3:23, 24.
Job was righteous (chap. 31), and God does reward deeds of mercy like Job'sif not now, then in the hereafter. (See Matt. 25:34-40 and Job 42:12-17.) Job's faith in his own good works, however, did not bring him acceptance with God. We all must bow before God as a sinner, claiming the Sacrifice for sin and pleading only the merits of His blood.
|How can you help someone who feels too sinful for God to hear his or her prayers? How would an understanding of Christ's imputed righteousness help such a person grasp the truth that God's acceptance is because of Christ, not because of anything good in ourselves?|
Silence is one of the cruelest treatments a person can inflict on a friend. It is easily interpreted as hostility. God's silence caused Job's gloom. He kept talking to God, demanding a hearing. God, however, did not answer (13:22, 24; 30:20). Yet, in the darkness of Job's forsaken state, shafts of light, each one more intense, pierced through. These gave rise to sublime expressions of faith.
Through the ages, Job's declarations of hope have brightened the pathway of Christians everywhere. Summarize these declarations of hope below.
Job 13:15, 16 _____________________________________________________________
Job 14:7-17 ______________________________________________________________
Job 19:25-27 ______________________________________________________________
Job 23:10 ________________________________________________________________
Job 23:10 "is one of the key verses of the book. Although Job could not seem to find God, he believed that God was aware of his ways and purposeful in His dealings with him. Job was beginning to understand that he was being tried. He still did not know of Satan's challenge regarding him. One of the rungs of the ladder by which Job climbed from despair to faith was the recognition on his part that he was not being punished or unjustly treated, but rather was being tested that he might emerge as pure gold from a furnace."The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 561:10, "Come forth." His conversations with God began to show this change.
|When we endure suffering and the prospect of death, what an advantage we have knowing that Christ will resurrect us! How can this advantage affect the tone of your prayers when you communicate with God during trials?|
The greatest sorrow Job expressed was not the loss of his property or family but the loss of a sense of God's presence. Where did Job finally find Him? Job 38:1.
In the midst of Elihu's final speech, a great whirlwind approached (chap. 37) and God spoke to Job out of that storm. "Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind" (Job 38:1). Through the storms of life we struggle, and in the storms we find God.
In Job 38 God does not desire "to settle an argument, but to reveal Himself. Neither does He explain the reason for Job's suffering. A clear understanding of God is superior in importance to an unfolding of all the reasons for divine providence. God does not explain why the wicked prosper or why the righteous suffer. He says nothing about the future world, or future compensation for present inequalities. God simply reveals HimselfHis goodness, His power, His wisdomand He intends that this revelation shall answer Job's problems."The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 598:1, "Answered Job."
God never explains to Job the cause of his suffering. Why? Perhaps because in this life we often have to trust God without knowing why we suffer. Job, however, seems to be satisfied just to see God (42:5, 6), to make contact with Him again.
Today many "thieves" try to rob us of our intimacy with God. Often we allow guilt, grief, and pain to come between us and Him, but doubt is the cruelest weapon against faith. After studying contemporary science and theology, many Christians cry out, "They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him"! (John 20:13). Losing sight of God undermines the very basis of life.
What attitude is necessary in order to make contact with God? Heb. 11:6. How does one get this attitude? Rom. 10:17.
Believers today never need to experience the silence of God, because He speaks to us through His Word. We can store in our hearts promises that bring God near, especially in times of crisis. We can also sing our way out of darkness through the great hymns of faith. These hymns become some of the greatest prayers ever uttered.
|What promises and hymns have you stockpiled in your arsenal of faith to equip you for the conflicts of life? What do you do when, in certain times, even these promises feel empty? How can we learn to move beyond feelings to trust in God?|
FURTHER STUDY: We read about the circumstances surrounding Job's last recorded prayer in Job 42:7-10. What does this prayer teach us about grace and forgiveness?
Read Education, pp. 154-156, and Prophets and Kings, pp. 162-165.
"Let us strive to walk in the light as Christ is in the light. The Lord turned the captivity of Job when he prayed, not only for himself, but for those who were opposing him. When he felt earnestly desirous that the souls that had trespassed against him might be helped, he himself received help. Let us pray, not only for ourselves, but for those who have hurt us, and are continuing to hurt us. Pray, pray, especially in your mind. Give not the Lord rest; for His ears are open to hear sincere, importunate prayers, when the soul is humbled before Him."Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 1141:10, "Pray for Those Who Hurt Us."
SUMMARY: Through the long dark night of the soul, God is with us, though we may not be able to sense His presence. During such times, we need to cling to Him in prayer and through faith in the promises of His Word.
GHANA-When Mavis Akomeah's [ah-koh-MEH-ah] father lost his job, the family was forced to return to their village to farm. But Mavis and her younger brother stayed with an uncle in town, so they could continue their studies.
Mavis became sick with a high fever and a serious cough. But there was no money for a doctor or medicine. The cough often kept her awake at night and left her too weak to attend school. As her illness dragged on, Mavis worried that she would not be able to prepare for her upcoming school exams.
Her classmates and pastor came to visit and pray with her. Mavis was surprised at this outpouring of love, for her own family had grown somewhat cold spiritually. The visits showed Mavis that God cared for her, a lonely, sick teenage girl.
Mavis returned to school just before her exams. Though still weak, she forced herself to study long hours to catch up. One night the power went out, and she lighted a candle so she could continue studying. But weak and weary, she fell asleep. Suddenly she awoke and found the table in flames and the room filled with smoke.
Mavis and her brother jumped through the flames to safety. Their shouts brought help, and the fire was soon out, but the room and its contents were destroyed, including Mavis's study notes.
When her friends learned what had happened, they shared their notes with Mavis so she could prepare for her exams. With much prayer and support from her friends, Mavis passed her exams.
The pastor continued to visit Mavis and her brother, and they began Bible studies. Their mother came to visit and joined their study group, then later their father joined them. Mavis asked to be baptized, and her parents, who had not taken their faith seriously before, decided to be rebaptized.
Mavis thanks God for making His love real to her through her uncle, her caring friends, and their concerned pastor, who visited and prayed with her when she needed it most. It made an eternal difference, not just to a sick teenager, but to her entire family.
Mavis (left) is a secondary student in Tamale, Ghana. Charlotte Ishkanian is editor of Mission.
Produced by the Office of Mission
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