The last Saturday in June. The first day of Summer is behind us, so from now until late December, the days will become shorter. The warm temperatures will continue, for a while, but the wheel turns. My favorite month is May: the bitter cold is behind us, the flowers are springing up, and the world seems full of wonderful possibilities. By mid-year, however, so many of those infinite possibilities seem to be locked out. Perhaps that's just my chronic morose outlook.
The Old Testament reading today continues in the book of Job, chapters 4, 5, and 6. Job is not fun reading, not full of sunshine, rainbows, and singing unicorns. But it is an account that many of us can identify with, that of a person suddenly overcome with unforeseen disaster. I've been there, and am not alone in that. As we go through this account, we will see that Job's real focus is on the why of it all. WHY is this happening? What did I do to deserve it? Why?? And he never really gets an answer. Yet he never, never once, takes his wife's urging to "curse God and die". He questions, but never curses, weeps, but never profanes.
Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said,
If we assay to commune with thee, wilt thou be grieved? but who can withhold himself from speaking?
Behold, thou hast instructed many, and thou hast strengthened the weak hands.
Thy words have upholden him that was falling, and thou hast strengthened the feeble knees.
But now it is come upon thee, and thou faintest; it toucheth thee, and thou art troubled.
Is not this thy fear, thy confidence, thy hope, and the uprightness of thy ways?
Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? or where were the righteous cut off?
Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same.
By the blast of God they perish, and by the breath of his nostrils are they consumed.
The roaring of the lion, and the voice of the fierce lion, and the teeth of the young lions, are broken.
The old lion perisheth for lack of prey, and the stout lion's whelps are scattered abroad.
Now a thing was secretly brought to me, and mine ear received a little thereof.
In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men,
Fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones to shake.
Then a spirit passed before my face; the hair of my flesh stood up:
It stood still, but I could not discern the form thereof: an image was before mine eyes, there was silence, and I heard a voice, saying,
Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker?
Behold, he put no trust in his servants; and his angels he charged with folly:
How much less in them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, which are crushed before the moth?
They are destroyed from morning to evening: they perish for ever without any regarding it.
Doth not their excellency which is in them go away? they die, even without wisdom.
Call now, if there be any that will answer thee; and to which of the saints wilt thou turn?
For wrath killeth the foolish man, and envy slayeth the silly one.
I have seen the foolish taking root: but suddenly I cursed his habitation.
His children are far from safety, and they are crushed in the gate, neither is there any to deliver them.
Whose harvest the hungry eateth up, and taketh it even out of the thorns, and the robber swalloweth up their substance.
Although affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground;
Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.
I would seek unto God, and unto God would I commit my cause:
Which doeth great things and unsearchable; marvellous things without number:
Who giveth rain upon the earth, and sendeth waters upon the fields:
To set up on high those that be low; that those which mourn may be exalted to safety.
He disappointeth the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprise.
He taketh the wise in their own craftiness: and the counsel of the froward is carried headlong.
They meet with darkness in the day time, and grope in the noonday as in the night.
But he saveth the poor from the sword, from their mouth, and from the hand of the mighty.
So the poor hath hope, and iniquity stoppeth her mouth.
Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty:
For he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole.
He shall deliver thee in six troubles: yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee.
In famine he shall redeem thee from death: and in war from the power of the sword.
Thou shalt be hid from the scourge of the tongue: neither shalt thou be afraid of destruction when it cometh.
At destruction and famine thou shalt laugh: neither shalt thou be afraid of the beasts of the earth.
For thou shalt be in league with the stones of the field: and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee.
And thou shalt know that thy tabernacle shall be in peace; and thou shalt visit thy habitation, and shalt not sin.
Thou shalt know also that thy seed shall be great, and thine offspring as the grass of the earth.
Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season.
Lo this, we have searched it, so it is; hear it, and know thou it for thy good.
But Job answered and said,
Oh that my grief were throughly weighed, and my calamity laid in the balances together!
For now it would be heavier than the sand of the sea: therefore my words are swallowed up.
For the arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinketh up my spirit: the terrors of God do set themselves in array against me.
Doth the wild ass bray when he hath grass? or loweth the ox over his fodder?
Can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt? or is there any taste in the white of an egg?
The things that my soul refused to touch are as my sorrowful meat.
Oh that I might have my request; and that God would grant me the thing that I long for!
Even that it would please God to destroy me; that he would let loose his hand, and cut me off!
Then should I yet have comfort; yea, I would harden myself in sorrow: let him not spare; for I have not concealed the words of the Holy One.
What is my strength, that I should hope? and what is mine end, that I should prolong my life?
Is my strength the strength of stones? or is my flesh of brass?
Is not my help in me? and is wisdom driven quite from me?
To him that is afflicted pity should be shewed from his friend; but he forsaketh the fear of the Almighty.
My brethren have dealt deceitfully as a brook, and as the stream of brooks they pass away;
Which are blackish by reason of the ice, and wherein the snow is hid:
What time they wax warm, they vanish: when it is hot, they are consumed out of their place.
The paths of their way are turned aside; they go to nothing, and perish.
The troops of Tema looked, the companies of Sheba waited for them.
They were confounded because they had hoped; they came thither, and were ashamed.
For now ye are nothing; ye see my casting down, and are afraid.
Did I say, Bring unto me? or, Give a reward for me of your substance?
Or, Deliver me from the enemy's hand? or, Redeem me from the hand of the mighty?
Teach me, and I will hold my tongue: and cause me to understand wherein I have erred.
How forcible are right words! but what doth your arguing reprove?
Do ye imagine to reprove words, and the speeches of one that is desperate, which are as wind?
Yea, ye overwhelm the fatherless, and ye dig a pit for your friend.
Now therefore be content, look upon me; for it is evident unto you if I lie.
Return, I pray you, let it not be iniquity; yea, return again, my righteousness is in it.
Is there iniquity in my tongue? cannot my taste discern perverse things?
The New Testament passage is verses 20-43 in the 7th chapter of the Acts. Stephen, the first deacon, is essentially preaching to the religious leaders, reminding them of the history of the people of God, and how He had cared for them in wonderful ways. And how they had repeatedly sinned against Him, and the consequences for that. They had a reverence, perhaps excessively so, for the past. Stephen was reminding them that that past was not always something to celebrate.
In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up in his father's house three months:
And when he was cast out, Pharaoh's daughter took him up, and nourished him for her own son.
And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.
And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel.
And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian:
For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not.
And the next day he shewed himself unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another?
But he that did his neighbour wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?
Wilt thou kill me, as thou diddest the Egyptian yesterday?
Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Madian, where he begat two sons.
And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sina an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush.
When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight: and as he drew near to behold it, the voice of the LORD came unto him,
Saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and durst not behold.
Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground.
I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send thee into Egypt.
This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush.
He brought them out, after that he had shewed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red sea, and in the wilderness forty years.
This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear.
This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us:
To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt,
Saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us: for as for this Moses, which brought us out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.
And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.
Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness?
Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them: and I will carry you away beyond Babylon.