Learn Not the Way of the Nations

Some believers I know are fascinated by other world religions. Others are fascinated by the occult or by creepy, scary stories of mysterious, spiritual happenings. Some still cling a bit to superstitions like horoscopes or folk tales. And I think we know, if we think biblically, that these are bad ideas.

But I wonder if these are the only bad ideas that we are willing to learn too much about from time-to-time.

Jeremiah 10:2-3a

2 Thus says the Lord:
“Learn not the way of the nations,
nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens
because the nations are dismayed at them,
3 for the customs of the peoples are vanity.

Learn not the way of the nations. In this instance, Jeremiah is communicating God’s message against idolatry, astrology, and superstition. We are not supposed to be like that. Nor are we to fear what the nations fear. When people get creeped out by Friday the 13th coming up on the calendar, a full moon, or a black cat crossing the path, we should not join in. These are vanity.

But those things are not the only vanities of the nations. They are just the easy ones. There are other false beliefs, false gods, false customs and practices of the nations that Christians often find fascinating. For example, it is quite popular among some believers to find a great deal of personal satisfaction in understanding the ways of the world, in speaking the language of the lost, in really identifying with those who do not know Christ. Of course, there is a way to show love and kindness and understanding to the world around you that is beautiful, helpful, and evangelistic. But there is a folly in letting yourself become so familiar with the thoughts and practices of the world that you begin to treasure the world’s opinion of you as a smart, nuanced, non-judgmental person who is not like all those other Christians.

I certainly have known a few believers who have found a good deal of satisfaction in their worldly understanding. Perhaps these are folks who are really up on the latest Netflix series, the hottest new music, or the juiciest celebrity gossip. Perhaps these are just Christians who want to look smarter than the rest by using the terms, labels, and arguments of the culture in many settings. Perhaps these are Christians who take pride in the workings of political movements that most other believers oppose.

We want to be a relatable people. We do not want to be unable to communicate with genuine folks who live next door. But the word of God tells us that many of the fears, practices, and beliefs of the lost world are vanities that we should not consume. Our minds are to be filled with the word of God, the ways of God, the law of God, the holiness of God, and the glory of God. There is nothing good about knowing more about the arguments of a philosopher than the heart of Jesus. There is nothing good about knowing how to sing the songs of the world rather than the songs of the word. There is nothing good about gaining the approval of the culture, being seen as thoughtful and winsome, if you compromise the clean and clear gospel.

Yes, let’s know our neighbors. Let’s listen and understand. Let’s be kind. But let us not learn the ways of the world so as to be drawn into their vanities.

Empty Religious Claims and Base in Tag

Do children still play tag? I wonder sometimes with all the safety rules that are applied these days if that game is allowed any longer. When I was little, tag was one of the first games of choice on the playground. And sometimes you would play with a particular spot, maybe a tree or pole, as base. If you were touching base, you were always safe. You could never be tagged and made to be “it.”

I am thinking of tag and of the base in particular because of something I read in the book of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 7:3-4 – 3 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’

In Jeremiah 7, the Lord has a message for the people of Judah. He is beginning to warn the nation that they are in great danger of facing his judgment. The people of Judah have begun to assume that they are always safe from the wrath of God because the temple of God is standing in Jerusalem. They just know that, no matter how badly they behave, no matter how much they do what God commands they never do, God would never let his temple fall.

In the text above, God asks them why they think they can violate his commands, turning against the covenant they agreed to, and be safe just by pointing to the building on the hill in Jerusalem and shouting the phrase, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.” It was as if the people of Jerusalem were using the temple as base in tag. They thought they could sin all they wanted against the Lord but touch the temple and be safe no matter what.

In the following verses in this chapter, God points out that the people of Jerusalem are not safe. The temple is not base. They have no hope except for repentance. And if they will not repent, the temple itself will fall just as did the northern kingdom of Israel before Jeremiah’s day.

Jeremiah 7:8-11 – 8 Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. 9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.

From verses 5-7, God told Judah that their hope was in repentance and faithfulness. But here we see that there is no safety for the people in continuing in sin, running to the temple, and thinking they will be safe.

Honestly, we have little trouble looking at this passage and feeling it is obvious. Of course no temple would protect the people from the judgment of God if they are living in open rebellion against him. No building will cover over idolatry, theft, murder, adultery, and all the rest. WE know, or at least we should know, that the people need to be under the grace of God, turning from sin, obeying his law, seeking his mercy.

But before we let ourselves really roll our eyes at the people of Judah from the seventh or sixth century BC, let’s ask ourselves an important question. Do we have a false notion of a religious lucky charm that makes us safe and allows us to continually live in sin? I think a lot of people do, people who use the label Christian for themselves.

As one example, there are many people who have an unbiblical view of the grace of God and the way we receive it. Some believe that grace can be gained through interaction with blessed objects. For example, if a person believes that they receive an extra dose of grace by receiving the bread and wine of holy communion, they are thinking of grace in a way that is foreign to the New Testament. Communion is a beautiful ceremony and is vital to healthy Christian life. But communion does not grant to the Christian extra forgiveness atop the forgiveness that God gives to believers at their conversion. Nor does a Christian find any extra grace from God in drinking water from a particular stream, in bowing at a particular site, or in venerating a particular relic. Simply put, the Bible does not teach us that grace is transferred to us through holy objects or sacred ceremonies.

The danger, of course, is that a person who allows herself to believe that grace is found in ceremony, physical objects, or the blessing of a priest is in danger of believing that personal faith, personal conversion, and personal striving toward sanctification are less important. She may indeed live in opposition to the word of God, and then declare herself safe before the Lord with similar words to the people of Judah, “I went to mass; I went to mass; I went to mass,” or the Protestant alternative, “I went to church, to church, to church.” The bread and wine, the words of another’s blessing, or even a beautiful building full of religious things will not grant us favor.

But the danger of thinking of religious ceremony as a safe base allowing us to continue in sin is not unique to a Roman Catholic mindset (or that of other groups that find great value in objects and ceremonies). I have met many a person who believes himself to be secure in Christ, not because of biblical evidence of conversion, but because of a prayer prayed decades earlier. A person responded to an evangelist at an emotional church meeting and convinced himself that, no matter what, his prayer and an emotional moment give him license to live however he pleases. But the New Testament is as unfamiliar with that kind of claim as it is of the idea that the grace of God is transferred to us because of what building we are in. God never suggested to us that there is such a thing as salvation in Christ apart from the lordship of Christ. God never has told a person that they can lie, cheat, steal, commit adultery, pervert justice, hate others, forsake worship, ignore the church but then trot out the saying, “I prayed the prayer; I prayed the prayer; I prayed the prayer.”

Salvation is a free gift of God. The forgiven are saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We are saved when God makes our hearts alive, we see our sinfulness before him, we understand Christ and his work, and we cry out to Jesus for mercy. But in that crying out to Jesus is a commitment to follow Jesus as our Lord. In that crying out to Jesus is a change in our very life purpose. In that crying out is our full surrender of self to the word and ways of the Lord.

Nobody has ever been saved by doing good deeds or practicing religious rituals. Nobody has ever received grace by touching a sacred object or having a special person pronounce blessing over him. And nobody has ever been saved by muttering an emotional prayer that does not lead to life-change. Yes, we are saved when we truly trust in Jesus. But when we truly trust in Jesus, change begins. And no person should ever assume that he or she has salvation without a commitment to submit to the word of God. Don’t get me wrong, struggling and failing from time to time is sadly part of living in this still-fallen world. And I surely would say to you that I have a great many failures in my past since my time of conversion. But, a claim of salvation without a desire to follow the Savior is like thinking that we can run to empty words or empty actions and claim them as base so God cannot tag us. Or, you might say that claiming salvation which does not result in following Jesus as Lord is like the cry of the Judeans, “the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.”

Healing Wounds Lightly

Which do you prefer, making people happy or making people sad? Would you rather have people like you or dislike you? Would you rather tell people things they want to hear or things they don’t?

Jeremiah had a hard job. He would preach to the people of Judah, promising things that nobody wanted to hear. As a prophet of God, this man spoke with the authority of the Lord. And the news that he delivered was not good news for most. You see, Jeremiah knew he was preaching a call to repentance to an unrepentant people. And Jeremiah knew that this unrepentant people would face the judgment of Almighty God.

What did prophets do? Often we think of prophets like fortune-tellers, but simply predicting the future was not their roles. For the most part, prophets speaking to Israel and Judah were men who reminded the nation of the law of God. A prophet would see the nation in violation of their covenant agreement with the Lord, warn that such violation leads to consequences that were clearly spelled out in the covenant, and remind the people that God promised favor to those who would turn back. Yes, the prophet might tell the people how God would fulfill his promises—e.g. which nation would come in and conquer as a judgment—but the prophet mostly applied to the people the terms of the covenant that the nation had agreed to centuries earlier.

The trouble, in Jeremiah’s day is that people were pretending to speak as prophets and promising the nation all sorts of blessings to come, even though they had no such promises from God. These preachers were giving the people feel-good messages of future prosperity without actually having a message from God to proclaim.

Jeremiah 6:13-15

13 “For from the least to the greatest of them,
everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
and from prophet to priest,
everyone deals falsely.
14 They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
when there is no peace.
15 Were they ashamed when they committed abomination?
No, they were not at all ashamed;
they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;
at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,”
says the Lord.

When I read that passage, I am always caught by verse 14, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” And the reason this gets my attention is that it sounds to me like the words coming from many a pulpit today. But I know that the word of God would show us that to heal a wound lightly, to promise peace with God where no such peace can exist, that is a terrible thing to do.

Who would proclaim peace with God where there is no peace? There are several categories of folks who do this. Preachers and writers who want to be well-thought-of by the outside world will do so. These folks will strive to look more intelligent, more progressive, more nuanced than other Christians by accepting worldviews and behaviors that God actually calls sin. They will try to build their congregations by appealing to unrepentant sinners and saying to them that God now happily accepts them as they are and does not want them to change their behavioral or thought patterns.

Other false teachers will heal the wounds of God’s people lightly by preaching a prosperity that God never promised. This is more popular on the shallow end of the pool as smiling men with expensive suits, expensive cars, and expensive homes tell people that the faith is not so much about sin and righteousness as it is about God giving to their greedy hearts everything they want if they will just believe hard enough; believe hard enough and perhaps send in a donation. They gloss over issues of sin and of false doctrine to draw in people who have more of a superstition than a faith and who desperately want to be lifted out of their current condition. Some who follow these men are sweet and genuine people who are duped by a person offering them healing from a disease or protection from an oppressive regime. Others who follow these men are as greedy as the prosperity preachers, seeking earthly blessing rather than the God who would give us himself.

To find those who preach peace where there is no peace, just listen for those who preach salvation without focusing on our genuine need of a Savior because of our genuine, personal sin. Listen for a person who tries hard never to offend the sensitivities of the one in sin. Listen for a person who focuses the message on a few Scriptures out of context rather than a person who walks through the Bible to preach the sweet stuff and the hard stuff alike. Listen for a person who would hide part of Christianity to make it more marketable to outsiders.

No, I do not ever strive to be offensive on purpose. In truth, I do not like delivering bad news to anybody. But if we are going to be faithful Christians, if we are going to point people to genuine peace and not a false peace, we must be willing to preach a true gospel. And the true gospel includes the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, the person and work of Christ, and the need of a person to repent and believe to find eternal life. That message will offend people who do not believe they are sinners or who simply do not desire to repent of sin.

If I went to a doctor and had a deadly disease, what should the doctor do? Imagine, by the way, that the doctor has the cure. Would it be kind of the doctor not to tell me of the disease for fear of hurting my feelings? Of course it would not. She does not have to tell me in a mean way, an arrogant way, a holier-than-thou way. She can tell me kindly, but she must tell me. If the doctor knows I am dying, she needs to let me know. She needs to offer me the cure. If I reject treatment, then the fault is my own. But it would be an evil thing for her to say to me that I am healthy and strong if I am not.

Christians, may we never offer false hope. May we never promise what God does not promise. May we never declare a person to be at peace with God if they are not at peace with God. May we never heal anybody’s wounds lightly.

Grace Toward Good Works

How good works and the grace of God are related ought not be confusing to Christians. This teaching runs all through the New Testament, but many fail to grasp it. Simply put, we are saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone apart from any good works on our part. Our doing good has absolutely nothing to do with our salvation. However, once we are saved, good works follow.

What are the errors? Some would suggest that Christianity is so much about grace that good works are not at all important. Once you are saved, be whatever you want to be. After all, you are under grace. Such would be a horribly ungodly way to think. Genuine Christianity includes a genuine submission to the lordship of Jesus Christ. And if you find a person uncommitted to following Jesus, obeying his words, living in accord with his commands, be skeptical of their claim to faith.

On the other hand, there are others who get the cart before the horse and assume that our good works have something to do with our salvation. The assumption is that we in some way must contribute something, even if it is only a small thing, to our salvation. This is truly what the word legalism means. Paul was battling against that concept in Titus 1. There he preached against those who claimed that the people of Crete needed to submit to Jewish religious regulations to be allowed to be considered Christians.

These two errors regarding faith and good works have been common throughout the history of the church. If you have a Roman Catholic background or if you grew up in a rulesy culture, you may be tempted by the legalistic idea that you have to be good first to be saved or that your participation in certain religious ceremonies or practices somehow contributes something to your salvation. But if this is not your background, you may be more influenced by a perversion of the concept of grace that leads you to believe that Christianity makes no claim on your life and behavior.

In my circles, I think the problem of perverting grace toward license to sin is more the problem. More people that I have known want to claim Christ because of a religious experience even if their lives do not reflect being changed by the Lord. Again, I will emphasize that none of us are saved by being good. But the Scripture is clear that a change of behavior is an outcome of salvation.

Titus 2:11-15 — 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. — 15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

Notice, in that paragraph, that Paul is quite clear that we are saved by grace. But a purpose of the grace of God includes our purification. We are to renounce ungodly and worldly passions. This means that we cannot be driven by our bodies and our desires as is the world around us. Just because a thing feels natural to you, just because the world around you says that a behavior is OK does not make it OK. We renounce behaviors that society around us embraces and even applauds. Jesus is about purifying a people for himself, his very own possession, for his glory. And that purification includes our being changed from living for self and living like the world to our living under the commands and standards of the Lord.

So, let me say it once again for the folks in the back. To be saved, you contribute nothing. You do not change yourself or participate in any religious ritual to be granted the grace of God. God does the saving. It is by his grace alone. And the thing we do is believe—by grace we are saved through faith. Even our faith, we must biblically recognize, is a gift given to us by God. But for certain, no person has ever been saved because of a thing he or she did. We are only saved when we fall on the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ.

But, and this is the guard against the other error, when you are saved, you change. God works in you and with you and through you to change you. If you can live like the world around you while claiming Christ, there is a problem. If you are not submitting to God’s commands for Christians, there is a problem. If you can do what God calls sin without remorse and without repentance, you may well never have been saved by grace through genuine faith. God saves us by his grace, but his grace leads to our sanctification, our renouncing of sinful ways to live to his glory.

Sin Nature in Pure Form

What is at the heart of the human sin nature? If one were to think about sin, what it is and how it works, what would be at its essence? Some say pride. Some say greed. And I’m not actually wanting to write a scholarly argument for seminary review here. But I do think, with a look at the ending of Job, we can get a sense, from Job’s failing, of what our sin in its pure form smells like.

Yes, I said Job’s failing. In chapter 2 of Job the Lord made sure we knew that Job did not sin with his lips. But that was in chapter 2, long before Job’s conversation with his friends. During that conversation, Job walked dangerously close to the edge. The reason that I argue that Job failed, at least a little, is that he repents. One does not repent from success and find the blessing of God at the end.

Job 42:5-6

5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
6 therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”

Of what did Job have to repent? How does it show us what our sin is at its core? Look at these words from the Lord in the middle of his questioning and correcting of Job.

Job 40:1-2, 8

1 And the Lord said to Job:
2 “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
He who argues with God, let him answer it.”
8 Will you even put me in the wrong?
Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?

At the end of the day, I think the core of human sin is the notion that we can judge God to be in the wrong. Adam and Eve, in the garden, deceived by the serpent, determined that God was wrong for withholding from them the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve determined for herself that she would like to be in God’s position of power. The couple, in their rebellion against God, was fighting to be their own deity.

Consider your own failings. How often are your sins caused by your assumption that you deserve something that God has not given you? You rage because traffic upsets you. God has not been good to you by giving you an easy commute. You go into depression because people do not admire you. God has not given you the loving attention of others you deserve. You do something shady financially. God has not given you the fiscal freedom you deserve. You sin with sexual lust or open immorality. God has not been good to you by fulfilling all your desires as you deserve. You shout at your wife or your children and treat them poorly. God has not given you the admiring, respectful, perfect spouse that you deserve. Is not all our sin our souls’ declaration that God has not been good, that is ways are not perfect, that we know better than him what is righteous?

Christians, one of the greatest dangers we face as we think about the world we live in is the danger of us placing ourselves, in our own minds, in a position to sit as judge over the Lord. We must not pretend that we can ever know better than the Lord what is right or wrong. God is infinite in knowledge. We are not. God is perfect in holiness. We are not. We lack both the goodness and the capacity to judge a single deed of the Lord’s.

Remember this as you face a world that calls into question the standards of the Lord. How do we respond to the world’s arguments about sexuality, gender, marriage, justice, or righteousness? We respond by looking to the word of God. We begin with the absolute knowledge that God is good in all things; his ways are perfect. If he tells us that his design is best, it is. If the world around us says that God’s design for human flourishing is not good or does not work, we let them know that we understand their rationale, but we know the God who created all, who is over all, who knows all, and who is the only one who can declare what is righteous and what is sinful.

Do Not Fear What They Fear

We live in a world of political intrigue and conspiracy theories. Some would tell us that the planet is doomed in just a few years because of climate change. Some would suggest that a faceless conglomerate of uber-rich and powerful people is running the nation from behind the scenes. The news media seems corrupt beyond repair. The nation is divided politically like we never imagined it would be. Families are foundering. And all sorts of isms, racism, classism, sexism, are tearing our world apart.

In truth, any number of the things listed above may be real problems. For sure, some are quite real and quite dangerous. But what is a Christian’s heart response to the messed-up world we live in?

In Isaiah 8, God is continuing a conversation with Judah through Isaiah. The northern kingdom has just about reached the end of its rope. God is about to allow the king of Assyria to sweep into the land and conquer. And that powerful ruler will threaten Judah as well, coming near to the city of Jerusalem itself. But God promises that he will deliver the people of Judah from this threat. They are to know, as God promised with the birth of a child who would be called Emmanuel, that God would be with them.

Isaiah 8:11-15 – 11 For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: 12 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13 But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”

This was the paragraph that started me down the road of considering the fears and conspiracy theories that are so prominent in our world today. Some of our fears and concerns are very real and right. Some are kooky. But all of our fears, if not checked, can lead us to look like the lost world and not like followers of the living God.

Our God would tell us not to fear what the rest of the world fears. God would say that there is not necessarily a conspiracy everywhere the world around us sees one. And even when there is a conspiracy, God would also remind us to fear him, obey him, shelter in him, and find life in him.

If we shelter in the Lord, will the world leave us alone? No, God did not say that. He said that he would be a shelter for us—that’s something we like. But he also said that he will be a stumbling block and offense to the world around us—that’s something we are not so fond of. Christians, grasp that both of these things are true. Trusting in and fearing the Lord means that your soul is finding real shelter under his wings. But to shelter in the Lord and love him and his word is to offend the world around us. There is no other way to be faithful to the Lord.

No, I’m not saying we go out and try to be annoying. Nor am I suggesting that we should not care about doing right by the environment, the oppressed, or the government. We should do all that we can do to live justly and righteously and mercifully in our world. But all that we can do is circumscribed by the commands of our God. And that same God is the One we actually fear. We do not tremble at the things the world around us says are big deals. We do not identify ourselves with worldly causes so much so that our identity as followers of Jesus takes a back seat.

God was offering comfort and counsel to Isaiah by reminding him that God was with him and would not ultimately let Jerusalem fall to
Assyria. God has given us his word to remind us of his eternal plan. We are to set our minds and hearts on eternity, on things above. We are to store up our treasure in heaven where moths and thieves are no problem. We are to find our hope in Jesus who lived, died, and lives again. We are to find our value, not in the opinions of the people around us, but in the approval of our Savior and our joy in his glory.

Are You Hearing God’s Voice?

How often do we deal with a person who says that they do not believe in the existence of God? It seems, of course, to become more common from day to day. But that unbelief, or at least that claimed unbelief, has nothing to do with the revelation of God. Scripture is clear that God reveals himself to all people everywhere. Nature itself, the heavens and the earth, communicate to humanity something of the power and grandeur of God. No person on earth is beyond this language that speaks without words and reveals that we are creatures beneath a Creator (cf. Psa. 19:1-6). And honest people also recognize that we have fallen short of perfection.

But there are people who claim that God is unfair and unkind, because he will not speak to individuals and prove himself to them. Many are angry with God, because he has not answered their questions to their satisfaction. Like job, there are people who demand that the Lord explain himself and his ways to them. Unlike job, many are waiting that revelation before they will determine whether or not they approve of the Lord.

In the case of Job, in the midst of his suffering, God allowed Elihu to help Job to remember that God is good, and God is always telling us things we need to hear. Look at the words of Elihu in response to Job’s feeling unfairly treated or that God is too silent.

Job 33:12-14

12 “Behold, in this you are not right. I will answer you,
for God is greater than man.
13 Why do you contend against him,
saying, ‘He will answer none of man’s words’?
14 For God speaks in one way,
and in two, though man does not perceive it.

Why accuse God of not speaking? He speaks to us all the time to show us things we need to know. IN the rest of the chapter, Elihu will point to a couple of ways that God speaks to us. These are fascinating. They are part of what we call general revelation. General revelation is the revelation of God that is available to mankind generally. General revelation is not enough to reveal to a person the true gospel, but it is enough to convince a person that there is a God who made us and that we need his favor and forgiveness.

Job 33:15-18

15 In a dream, in a vision of the night,
when deep sleep falls on men,
while they slumber on their beds,
16 then he opens the ears of men
and terrifies them with warnings,
17 that he may turn man aside from his deed
and conceal pride from a man;
18 he keeps back his soul from the pit,
his life from perishing by the sword.

Verses 15-18 show us that God speaks to humans in our dreams. This is not Elihu pointing to a form of charismatic dream prophecy. Instead, he seems to simply be pointing to night terrors. In our dreams, the things that make us afraid are there to remind us of the evils that we deserve if we are not forgiven by the Lord. In truth, we ought to learn from our dreams that the wrath of almighty God is far more frightening than any terror our imaginations can stir up. Nightmares should cause a human being to be humbled, to be reminded of our frailty, and to turn to the Lord for mercy before it is too late.

From verses 19-22, Elihu speaks of painful illnesses like the one Job is facing. Elihu points out that these are messengers of God to remind us that we are mortal, and we need to be rescued. In verses 23-25, the argument is that a man healed from a disease, restored from the doors of death, should see this as the kind favor of God.

Job 33:26-30

26 then man prays to God, and he accepts him;
he sees his face with a shout of joy,
and he restores to man his righteousness.
27 He sings before men and says:
‘I sinned and perverted what was right,
and it was not repaid to me.
28 He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit,
and my life shall look upon the light.’
29 “Behold, God does all these things,
twice, three times, with a man,
30 to bring back his soul from the pit,
that he may be lighted with the light of life.

Elihu has a grasp on salvation. Hard circumstances and pains in life exist to remind us of our need for salvation and our lack of power on our own. They remind us that we must cry out to God for mercy. We are sinners before a holy God, and we need his mercy to live.

Elihu said that Job complained that God would not answer his complaints. But then he told Job that God had been speaking all along. God has spoken in creation to display his glory and power. God has spoken in Job’s nightmares to remind us of the wrath we face for our sin. God has spoken in Job’s hurts and illness to remind him of his mortality. God has used all sorts of circumstances to check Job, pulling him back from the danger of diving headlong into bitterness against the Lord and certain destruction.

Do you hear the voice of God? Do you realize that the created world around you shows you his power and artistry? Do you see that your worst fears are but tiny reminders of the deeper horrors of falling under the judgment of God? Do you understand that our pains and sicknesses remind us that we are mortal and in need of God to rescue us? Will you let that voice of God call you to turn from sin and cry out to him for mercy?

IN God’s special revelation, the Bible, he has shown us that our salvation is completely bound up in the person and work of Jesus. If you wish to be forgiven, believe in Jesus. Turn your heart from all that God calls sin. Cry out to Jesus for mercy. Surrender lordship of your life to him. God promises that all who will repent and believe will be saved.