Sleep is an amazing thing. If you can get any, it brings rest and recuperation from the stresses of life, yet it is the stress of life that often denies us the sleep. The more we try to sleep, the more we stay awake and, as in our reading, the more the disciples try to stay awake, the more they sleep.
Clearly Jesus cannot sleep as the enormity of what is about to happen has just hit him like a sledgehammer! We as humans can understand his reluctance to face what is to come, yet we as humans can but marvel at his complete and utter obedience to follow his Father’s will.
The disciples, exhausted from the day’s events so far, struggle to comprehend the magnitude of Jesus’ words and cannot stay awake. The image we see is of the three disciples intertwined with Jesus, their bodies indicating that they are in this together – yet Jesus is facing upwards, praying to his Father while the disciples are at his feet, sleeping. A shaft of light highlights the night time scene, but even this is not enough to wake them.
We too, often miss the story of the Garden. We go from the Last Supper to the Cross and miss the bit in between. We are so eager to pass by the horror of Good Friday, that we forget the night of Maundy Thursday and the battle that Jesus faced.
May we, this Lent, pause, and reflect on whether we could stay awake in the face of such a task, and let us spend time in the garden, hard as it may be, to offer our complete obedience to God in all we do.
(Picture He Qi, Praying at Gethsemane)
It is as though God pauses for breath and then turns to Job again and demands a response. God doesn’t seem to mind that Job has been critical of the ‘Almighty’; but insists that Job cannot fall silent now that God has opened his eyes to see the bigger picture of divine activity.
Job, on the other hand, who has never doubted the enormity of God’s power, admits his insignificance and his inability to answer God’s questions; and replies that he has nothing to say. We should note that Job doesn’t admit to wickedness, or to being wrong in his claims that God isn’t just.
But God won’t accept Job’s silence and in words that repeat the opening of chapter 38 challenges Job again. Justice is the point of contention now; and the opening words of v.8 could be translated, ‘Will you also frustrate my rights?’. Job has made accusations against God to prove himself innocent but God is not willing to plead guilty as charged!
Amazingly, God invites Job to stand in the divine shoes (so to speak) and to try his hand at exercising justice over the proud, the wicked, the whole world; to exercise the sovereignty that he has accused God of failing to do. In context Job recognises that this is a ridiculous suggestion, way beyond his ability; and I freely admit that it is way beyond mine too!
There is nothing Job can say; he can only wait to discover what God will say or do next. Job’s day in court isn’t going the way he expected but he is receiving God’s full attention.
God hasn’t dismissed Job as a fool, nor refused to engage with his accusations. God is taking seriously the fact that justice matters to Job and is leading him towards a resolution of the central issue; a resolution that Job will be able to own for himself because he is a party in reaching it.
Today I can only wait in silence with Job for God to lead me into deeper truth; but I do so in the belief that God knows everything about me (Luke 12:7) and the conviction that nothing can separate me from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39) as I continue walking in the way of Jesus through Lent.
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
‘Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb?—
when I made the clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped”?
‘Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
It is changed like clay under the seal,
and it is dyed like a garment.
Light is withheld from the wicked,
and their uplifted arm is broken.
‘Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.
‘Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
and where is the place of darkness,
that you may take it to its territory
and that you may discern the paths to its home?
Surely you know, for you were born then,
and the number of your days is great!
‘Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,
or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
which I have reserved for the time of trouble,
for the day of battle and war?
What is the way to the place where the light is distributed,
or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?
‘Who has cut a channel for the torrents of rain,
and a way for the thunderbolt,
to bring rain on a land where no one lives,
on the desert, which is empty of human life,
to satisfy the waste and desolate land,
and to make the ground put forth grass?
‘Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
when they crouch in their dens,
or lie in wait in their covert?
Who provides for the raven its prey,
when its young ones cry to God,
and wander about for lack of food?
‘Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
Do you observe the calving of the deer?
Can you number the months that they fulfil,
and do you know the time when they give birth,
when they crouch to give birth to their offspring,
and are delivered of their young?
Their young ones become strong, they grow up in the open;
they go forth, and do not return to them.
‘Who has let the wild ass go free?
Who has loosed the bonds of the swift ass,
to which I have given the steppe for its home,
the salt land for its dwelling-place?
It scorns the tumult of the city;
it does not hear the shouts of the driver.
It ranges the mountains as its pasture,
and it searches after every green thing.
‘Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars,
and spreads its wings towards the south?
Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up
and makes its nest on high?
It lives on the rock and makes its home
in the fastness of the rocky crag.
From there it spies the prey;
its eyes see it from far away.
Its young ones suck up blood;
and where the slain are, there it is.’
Chapters 32-37 are a long monologue spoken by Elihu, introduced by a brief explanation of who this young man is and implying that he has been silently observing everything since arriving at the scene with Job’s friends.
Elihu is angry; angry at the friends and angry at Job. The friends have failed to answer any of Job’s arguments adequately and Job has had the effrontery to question God’s justice and power; so Elihu offers himself as the arbiter. In many ways he is a stereotypical ‘angry young man’ who is ‘no respecter of age’ and arrogant. Much of what he says engages with the earlier dialogues. Sometimes he quotes directly; sometimes he distorts what was said and displays his own prejudices. He dares to suggest that he can teach Job wisdom, if he’ll listen to him (33:33); and he makes a staggering claim that he is able to speak on God’s behalf with ‘perfect … knowledge’ (36:4).
However, before older readers start saying something like: ‘that’s the trouble with the young, they think they know it all’, or younger readers despair at one of their generation being presented in such a negative way by the author of Job – and some commentators have suggested (wrongly in my opinion) that Elihu is presented as a ‘fool’ – we do well to heed some important truths about God that are put into Elihu’s mouth. We also need to realise that he has been listening carefully; he doesn’t enter the debate with a total disregard for what has gone before. How often are we so concerned to make our own point that we fail to listen to what others are saying?
Elihu teaches us that God grants wisdom to humans irrespective of age (32:8-9); we are the ones who foolishly regard age categories as having significance with regard to the things of God. Secondly, we cannot demand an answer from God to any of our questions; we need to acknowledge that God chooses how and when to communicate and that there is a possibility that we don’t perceive God’s response when it is made (33:13-15).
Elihu also reminds us that God is our Maker; that ‘God is mighty and does not despise any’ (36:5); that God ‘does great things that we cannot comprehend’ (37:5) and that ‘around God is awesome majesty’ (37:22). He affirms the mystery of God and urges us to treat God with reverence.