Agapé Chicago
inviting Chicago to feast on the love of Jesus

Blog

In Case You Missed It -- Job 8, Psalm 105

Eliphaz proved pastorally insensitive when addressing Job. Today, Bildad lies about God. Besides the harsh insinuation that Job’s children’s sin was the reason they died, Bildad says something theologically troubling: “If you are pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself on your behalf and restore you to your prosperous state. Your beginnings will seem humble, so prosperous will your future be” (Job 8:6-7).

This is what we call today “health and wealth theology,” the idea that those who do right will prosper and those who do wrong will suffer. However, the Bible teaches that this line of thinking is completely mistaken. For example, Jesus teaches often that his followers will suffer for following Him (e.g. Matthew 24:9, Matthew 16:24). The New Testament is about a crucified perfect man and His persecuted followers.

Considered in light of God’s scriptures, Bildad proves to be a terrible source for insight about God’s works. Job certainly does not gain help in understanding his predicament.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Job 6-7, Psalm 104

Job says a lot today. He confirms that his frustrations are justified by wondering out loud if a donkey will “bray when it has grass” (Job 6:5). Of course, it doesn’t, and in the same way Job doesn’t question God for no reason. Job also wishes to have God strike him down so he can perish as one confident he has been true to God. After this Job speaks of how horribly his friends are treating him.

However, the most dramatic part of Job’s speech comes when he begins aiming his questions at God. Job wonders what he has done and why God cares so much. Finally, Job wonders why God, if Job has in fact sinned, will not just forgive him. After all Job as a mortal will be dead soon. Job still has little insight into what God is doing in his situation.

So we see a gamut of thoughts and emotions, all of them revealing a great deal of Job’s character and his search to make sense of God’s work. This is why, in times of suffering, Job has always been a faithful friend to those who will study his words. Job endured great suffering, and he can be a great ally in whatever suffering we face.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Job 4-5, Psalm 103

In the first of many responses from Job’s friends, Eliphaz demonstrates what will become an unfortunate habit of Job’s friends. Eliphaz says true things about God which miss the point, for Job doesn’t deny their truth. For example, Eliphaz speaking of evil people’s claims, “At the breath of God they perish.” Job never suggested anyone died except by God’s choice. Eliphaz asks the rhetorical question, “Can a mortal be more righteous than God?” (Job 4:17) Has Job ever suggested a mortal is so righteous? One last instance makes my point: when Eliphaz declares, “He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted” (Job 2:9). Job would, if we were listening to a preacher give a sermon, intellectually agree with all of Eliphaz’s points. That does not help Job make sense of the peculiar suffering he is facing, especially given Job’s prior obedience before God.

There are many problems in Eliphaz’s approach, but one of them is that his arguments depend heavily on assuming Job has forgotten the truth. However, as we read in chapter 2, Job has not credited evil to God and so has shown no evidence of abandoning faith. Job’s friends will be unhelpful for many reasons. One of them is that they don’t really understand their friend.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Job 3, Psalm 102

“I wish I had never been born.” “I wish I could just go ahead and die.” These are the sort of phrases we hear when helping the extremely depressed loved ones in our lives. However, when we read about Job asking, “Why did I not perish at birth” (Job 3:11) or suggest he is like, “those who long for death that does not come” (Job 3:21), it is easy to be caught off guard. Many of us, accustomed to happy endings, are uncomfortable with the Bible showcasing such unresolved frustration like we encounter in Job 3.

During our trek together through the scriptures, we have read similar brutal honesty from the likes of David while reading his psalms. We have learned that it is good for people to bring their concerns to God in authentic fashion. Now, in Job’s circumstances, his words increase our awareness of the narrative tension. We are left to wonder: What answers will Job receive? Will God tell Job the meaning of His suffering? or Will Job find comfort? Job 3 is important, just like the two previous chapters in framing the forthcoming discussions between Job and his friends.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Job 1-2, Psalm 101

An adequate reflection on Job 1-2 would take pages. I want to simply note today that though “The Accuser” (Satan) is the instigator of Job’s troubles, we must deal with the uncomfortable fact that all Job’s hardships are due God’s choice and actions. Why do I say this?

First, this Accuser must ask God’s permission to afflict Job (Job 1:8-12, Job 2:4-7). Secondly, even as he afflicts Job, the accuser recognizes that ultimately it is God’s hand still at work (Job 1:11, Job 2:5). Third, Job acknowledges implicitly God’s work when he responds to his wife that he should be willing to accept both good and evil from God (Job 2:10).

This brings up the incredible tension: if God does all of this, then has God done something evil? Job answers clearly that, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). Immediately after we are told Job did not “charge God with wrong.” How can that make sense? To Job and the reader, God has absolute rights as creator and sustainer to give and take away. Yes, God takes everything from Job. Yes, what Job loses reflects the evil of the fall of humanity. No, God in taking away Job’s good gifts, did not do evil.

In the readings ahead, Job and his friends will attempt to make sense of God’s actions. Our readings today tell us important truths that frame the remainder of the book of Job. God did no evil and Job did no evil. Once we understand this, the conversations that lie ahead can be better appreciated.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Esther 9-10, Psalm 98

Yesterday I argued that the Jews, in exile, often showed God’s greatness to the nations better than they did under the Davidic monarchy. The end of Esther reiterates the extent to which one Jewish man showcased God’s work in his life while serving a foreign king.

Mordecai is the focus of Esther 10. We are told that his story is written in the chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia. This is a big deal. Many of Israel’s leaders have their names in Israel’s chronicles, but Mordecai has his name listed among the great leaders of one of history's great empires. Mordecai has performed his duties so well that he would forever be remembered among Persian kings. Mordecai and other Jews, like Nehemiah, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shined like stars in the midst of their foreign rulers. God called them into difficult situations, and they stepped up by working hard, yet unto the Lord.

In exile, the Jews learned to faithfully follow their God while excelling at their vocations, so as to win favor from their neighbors. There is good reason why so many Christian leaders see the exiled Jews as a great example for how we should engage our culture(s) in all times.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Esther 8, Psalm 97

A sentence can make us pause and reread a few times to reflect on its meaning; Esther 8:16 made me pause and reread. It says, “The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor.” This is a fairly straightforward sentence except for the usage of the word “light”.

Light can mean, in this context, that the Jews had knowledge, for light is often symbolic of knowledge, but I don’t know whether that fits this passage best. Light could refer to how the Jews possessed the favor of the nations, which God promised their predecessors. Truly God had called the Jews to be a light to the nations in Isaiah 49:6. Or perhaps it means God gave the Jews clarity as opposed to confusion; clarity is often associated with light.

The truth is, I don’t know for sure the intended usage of light in this passage. My best guess is that it means favor, since the surrounding verses stress the way others began to favorably view the Jews. If that is the case, then it is strange, as one commentator has pointed out, that God’s people accomplish their vocation to bring good news and light to the world better as exiles than they did during a majority of their time as a monarchy. As the scattered church today, we do well to reflect on what this might mean for us in difficult times.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Esther 6-7, Psalm 96

Esther lived in the days between the beginning of Ezra and the end of Nehemiah. In those two books, a common phrase for God’s favor is “the hand of the Lord”. Today we see God’s hand at work for Esther, Mordecai, and the Jews.

King Ahasuerus chooses to read the chronicles which recall Mordecai protecting the king from his treacherous eunuchs. To others, this might have seemed like coincidence, but we should recognize the Lord’s hand in it. When Haman is asked what to do for the man the king loves, he is blind to the fact that Ahasuerus is speaking about Mordecai. This too is God’s hand at work. The King adores Esther, and of course this is God’s hand. Lastly, the timing of Haman approaching Esther to beg for mercy all worked out by God’s hand to bring justice to a man who initiated attempted genocide.

When we read the word of God, it reminds us that we might find ourselves in situations that seem more like Esther 2-3 rather than Esther 7. The truth is that God’s hand is always at work in our world, and we must cling to this truth for joy in our hard times.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Esther 4-5, Psalm 95

It is strange to think that a king would know so little about the queen he loves that he would issue a decree to exterminate her entire ethnic group, yet this is the situation in which Esther finds herself. When Esther asks her cousin and adoptive father Mordecai about the problem he faces, he tells her the entire story. Note how Mordecai sees the hand of God and communicates this to Esther.

First, Mordecai confidently asserts that God will deliver the Jewish people somehow. Secondly, Mordecai helps Esther to see the need for her to take the risk of asking the king to change his mind. Mordecai declares it possible Esther has “come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). Mordecai sees God’s hand at work and calls Esther to courage lest she and her family die. Esther will not automatically find favor in the king’s eyes; if she fails to please the king, she might die.

Through prayer and fasting, Esther is strengthened to see that this is her moment. She is given wisdom on how to act, and God uses her to combat the complete destruction of her people. To God be the glory for raising up people in the right times and places.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Esther 2:19-3:15, Psalm 94

Every one of us grew up learning about the horrors of the Holocaust and the Nazis’ desire to exterminate the Jewish population in Europe. Sadly, human history is filled with mistreatment of the Jews, even by Christians. Long before the time of Jewish ghettos in large European cities and the persecutions of the mid-1900’s, another tyrant desired to exterminate the Jewish people.

Haman’s hatred for Mordecai in our reading leads to the king making an edict to have all the Jews in the Media Persian empire destroyed. After the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon, it would have seemed that life could not have been much worse for the Jews. Yet when King Ahasuerus makes this decree, the worst potential fate for God’s people seems near at hand.

Today’s reading shows the work of Satan at its finest, for Satan is a great deceiver. Even after Mordecai spares the king’s life, the same king is duped into making an edict killing Mordecai’s people due to Mordecai’s convictions. The rest of the book of Esther will showcase how God is at work in this story to thwart the plans of Haman, and thus the devil.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Esther 1-2:18, Psalm 93

I hate to begin a blog post with a caveat, but I really must say something. I have never watched “The Bachelor”. Still, as I was thinking about the process for replacing Queen Vashti, my mind reflected that this show could have looked to Ahasuerus and his officials for a script. It is shocking to me that we live in a culture where the process of replacing Vashti would be deplorable to many of us, yet we endure entertainment built on the same principles.

In any case, Esther’s situation reveals that God’s people find themselves in the midst of a wicked people. Esther and Mordecai must navigate the evil days in which they live, as exiles in a foreign land. We do well to pay attention in the upcoming readings for cues on how to live as exiles in confusing and evil times. As the church, we live in a world where “The Bachelor” and all of its misogynist and perverse trappings seem normal to so many. To that end, I pray that we are helped by Esther and Mordecai as we consider how they were shining lights in their dark days.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Nehemiah 13, Psalm 90

Very often, even after the hard work is done, there is still work left to do. Nehemiah has led his people to rebuild the walls which protect the holy city. They have found a measure of safety and order. Still, after Nehemiah goes back to Artaxerxes for a time, not a few of Judah’s leaders begin to do dishonorable things in Jerusalem with God’s tithes. Nehemiah has faced incredibly hard work leading a people in the midst of external opposition; upon returning, Nehemiah must work still to prevent internal corruption.

When God does a great work for Israel, the important issues of addressing sin, systemic injustice, or corrupt leadership don’t always go away. God has brought order and blessings for His people, but maintaining these blessings will take virtue. Virtue doesn’t happen accidentally, for we must work in faith to cultivate a love for whatever is noble, good, and true. Thus, no matter the level of external opposition we meet with in our lives, nor the number of struggles we as a church will face, there will always be important work to do, individually and corporately, for we must continually grow virtuous by grace.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Nehemiah 11-12, Psalm 89

After rebuilding the walls, the leaders, in addition to ten percent of returned exiles began to live in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 11:1). Why are only ten percent of the people asked to live in Jerusalem? For one, the walls had just been rebuilt, and the city was still very vulnerable; those who stayed in their towns were thankful for those ten percent who moved to Jerusalem.

Secondly, it is likely that Jerusalem would require a few more years to establish the infrastructure necessary to handle a large population. Remember, even after all of this rebuilding in Nehemiah, there is still much work left to be done. Jerusalem is by no means in possession of their former power or even their former plumbing. God has been faithful, yet there is still a great deal of work to be done to make the city habitable for a growing number of returned exiles. Thus, it is best that the leaders oversee the rebuilding of this city and also take the risks inherent to the task.

Throughout Nehemiah, these details offer great insight into God’s relationship with our daily lives and clue us in to how God provides. God is not distant, and He does not consider the particulars of our lives between waking and sleeping irrelevant. Rather, God is pleased to provide intimately and thoroughly for His people.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Nehemiah 10, Psalm 88

Nehemiah, the Levites, and other leaders seal a covenant with their signatures to begin Nehemiah 10. This covenant commits to the stipulations found in the Mosaic law. For today, consider that these leaders “assume responsibility for bringing to the house of the Lord each year the firstfruits of our crops and of every fruit tree” (Nehemiah 10:3). This idea of “firstfruits” plays a prominent role in scripture, representing the gift of their best to God, since He is the giver of all things. Though He delights more in a contrite spirit than in sacrifices and offerings, at the same time, a contrite spirit stirs them to give God their best.

How is your spirit before God? What you give to God in terms of time, resources, and passions will reveal a great deal about your spirit’s posture before Him. Importantly, God frees us to give our firstfruits precisely because God gives us His first fruits: Jesus, Son of God (1 Corinthians 15:20).

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Nehemiah 9, Psalm 87

For the second time in the book of Nehemiah, confession of sins plays a predominant role for an entire chapter. What does this tell us about the importance of confession? There are some obvious truths we all understand about confession. For example, we can’t change if we don’t know what we have done wrong. Also, confession acknowledges to the offended party we understand our responsibility. Most importantly, Biblical confession starts from a perspective well represented by the words of Judah’s leaders: “ In all that has happened to us, you have remained righteous; you have acted faithfully, while we acted wickedly” (Nehemiah 9:33).

Confession understands who is right and who has been wrong all along. This is why confession is an important response as we are saved by faith (Romans 10:9-10). Faith recognizes that God alone can save us, and confession recognizes that we have been trying to save ourselves, albeit to no good end. Thankfully, in God’s grace, if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us (1 John 1:9).

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Nehemiah 8, Psalm 86

Ezra makes his first appearance in the book of Nehemiah while Israel celebrates the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles). The regulations for this 8-day festival are spelled out in Leviticus 23:33-44. Nehemiah and Ezra call Israel to follow those stipulations, and Israel goes above and beyond in their obedience. Those following Nehemiah’s leadership listen to the law and the scriptures being read for hours and hours.

In our day, where many people demonstrate the traits, even if they don’t have the disorders, of attention deficit problems, this is hard to fathom. Truthfully, in any age, when people are interested in the scriptures to this degree, this is great evidence that God is at work. In fact, the passage makes Judah’s enthusiasm clear when it says that this festival had never been celebrated in this way since the times of Joshua. Though the Festival of Booths had been observed, the passion and zeal for God’s glory makes this instance special. It seems like revival. May God cause such love for His word in our midst today.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Nehemiah 7, Psalm 85

Before Nehemiah registers the families that have returned from exile, he places someone in charge of Jerusalem and the shutting of that city’s gates. This person, Hanani, is placed in charge because “because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most people do.” Character mattered to Nehemiah. He could not imagine charging someone with great responsibility unless they had great integrity and feared God.

In the New Testament, when we read about the qualifications for elders in the church, the only competency mentioned is ability to teach (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:9). Otherwise, all the qualifications relate to the content of the leader’s values and practices. Sadly, in many churches, skills, competency, and charisma often trump character when people choose their leaders.

The church desperately needs to recognize and recover God’s priorities for leaders, for we become like those we follow and esteem.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Nehemiah 5-6, Psalm 84

When the exiles return to rebuild, some of the wealthier Jews are charging their neighbors interest on loans taken to purchase food. Charging interest to a fellow child of Israel is forbidden in Exodus 22:25, Leviticus 25:36-38, and Deuteronomy 23:20-21. For a devout Jew, charging interest should be a black and white issue. Instead, Nehemiah has to call these wealthier individuals to repent of their greed and understand the price everyone has paid to come back from exile (Nehemiah 5:6-8).

I have heard many argue based on passages like this that church folks should never charge interest to brothers or sisters when giving a loan. Now, I would hate to make a law that binds the consciences of people since the New Testament does not explicitly prohibit charging interest to a brother or sister. However, I do think that sound arguments exist that this would be a very natural application of many New Testament teachings (e.g., Galatians 2:10, James 2:1-13). Additionally, I think the laws God gave to the Jewish people to ensure justice with one another give great insight into how he we should relate to each other in the family of God, the church.

Personally, I am all for people in the church loaning money to one another to help in times of struggle, but I would encourage our people not to charge interest. Such generosity would at least be a dim reflection of the goodness of Christ who gave up His riches to help poor beggars like us.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Nehemiah 3-4, Psalm 83

Those little phrases “next to him” and “after him” repeated so often in Nehemiah 3 paint a picture not simply of walls being rebuilt, but of a human wall doing the work. Nehemiah 3 vividly describes how many different hands are involved in the task of rebuilding. God isn’t just using these people to rebuild a great structure; as they labor, God is also making them strong together. God delights in using our collaboration and teamwork to build what He calls good.

In Nehemiah’s situation, it was good to build walls and gates; in our day, God is building His church. May we do this work next to one another, with one another, and for one another’s ultimate good through Christ.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Nehemiah 1-2, Psalm 82

Ezra ends with the people fasting and turning to God in confession; Nehemiah begins with the main character, Nehemiah, fasting and confessing Israel’s sin, which led to their exile. If you want to know when God is on the move and at work in His people, look for confession of sin and genuine repentance. The truth is, whenever sinful people encounter a Holy God, the fitting response is confession that leads to repentance. Confession alone is not enough, and no one will repent if they do not understand their wrongdoing. Both must go together, and Nehemiah begins with confession as he leads the returning exiles of Judah in a book-long repentance of their failure to trust the God of the universe.

Jeremiah Vaught