JOB 4–5 – ELEPHANT AND TERMITE THINKING

Elephant and Termite Thinking © Ross Cochrane

Elephant and Termite Thinking © Ross Cochrane

1. HEAVY FEET OF JUDGMENT, SMALL MINDED

I was aware of the elephant standing in the shadows long before I actually saw it. It’s distinctive shape and enormous size could not be disguised, though it’s dark shades of grey blended in with the early mist of the morning. Surprisingly, I was not overly disturbed, … until it spoke!

“There are some rather weighty matters I have to discuss with you”, it said, as it began to stumble heavily towards me. There were no restraints and so I stepped back a little. “Do the innocent die?” it said, “I could pound you into the dust, snap life from you as easily as a moth. Alive one minute, dead the next! Gone forever without a trace. Like circus tent-cords are pulled and the tent collapses, you could die in ignorance right here, but you need not be afraid of me, only of God.” It’s analogies didn’t help alleviate the onset of panic.

The trunk of the beast swished past my head and in the morning light I saw a tiny white ant gripping onto it. It too looked at me with accusing eyes that seemed to want to eat away at my character.

They made a good team. Having made their lofty assumptions they sought to do great damage with their small thinking. In the ensuing conversation I found the elephant to be big on blame, the termite small on praise; the elephant boundless in discouragement, the termite limited in reassurance. The elephant heaped heavy burdens of guilt upon me and the termite had such little understanding of my innocence. A maximum misinterpretation of my situation coupled with minimum appreciation of my pain.

2. TRUMPETING OPINIONS, LITTLE CONSIDERATION 

The trumpeting voice pounded in my ears “May I venture an encouraging word to you, Job” it said. “Give me a break”, I thought. “I have been sitting in the dust for a week covered in boils, and in excruciating pain, having just lost my family. Encouraging words from an intimidating elephant and disparaging termite! Not!” 

But I could not escape from the Elephant and the Termite. Like a giant hit-man, the elephant, pointing it’s trunk at me, said with a good deal of what I detected to be beligerance “Job, you have encouraged many people in the past and now it is my turn to be give an encouraging warning about your obvious lack of integrity.” I could just detect the termite nodding it’s head and displaying it’s mandables.

“This is far from ‘venturing a word.’” I thought in disbelief, “It’s the bellowing trumpet of an elephant confronting me as if I had committed a crime; loud allegations of blame, accompanied by a termite trying to undermine my integrity.”

“Those who sow evil gather trouble” the elephant said “and since you have gathered plenty of trouble you obviously need discipline.” He saw me flinch as I imagined being stomped into the ground or thrown by those enormous tusks into the air. “You are already suffering because you think you’re so holy, but it’s obvious that you’re not holy enough!”

Once again I became aware of my pain. Weeping sores were all over my body and my bones ached. I couldn’t escape if I wanted to. The termite whispered something into the huge elephant ears and the elephant spoke on the termites behalf “I know all about secret places where immeasurable damage is done! Some secret sin has caused this, Job. Admit it!” he bellowed.

3. BIG EARS OF THEOLOGICAL SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS, SMALL CAPACITY FOR LISTENING

The hairs stood up on my arm. The Elephant seemed to notice and began talking about a ghostly vision that made the hair on his flesh bristle. What hair? What’s this about? This is different and all a bit weird! We are getting into horror movie images here. The elephant spoke of seeing a form and also hearing a voice say, ‘Can a mortal be innocent before God? Can anyone be pure before the Creator?’ (Job 4:17 NLT).

As far as the elephant is concerned everyone falls short of God’s glory, none are righteous, no not one, from largest to smallest. “He’s right” I thought, “We can’t hope ever to match God in our own integrity. God goes so way beyond us that we all fall short. That’s why we need the righteousness of the Mediator God in our lives.”

4. TUSKS EAGER FOR DISCIPLINE AND MANDIBLES EAGER TO BITE

All of a sudden the elephant wrapped his trunk around me and resting on his tusks I was lifted into the air. I was terrified! The termite crawled up my neck and bit me as I flailed helplessly about. I was already suffering from painful boils from head to toe? The termite whispered in my ear “people in your condition die everyday, unobserved. No-one even notices they are gone” (Job 4:20). Sooo encouraging! Not. How are his biting termite-like arguments relevant in bringing answers to my hurts?

I was thrown roughly back into the dust, crying out to God in my pain. The elephants advice was without sensitivity. “I would seek God, and would place my cause before God.” Nothing wrong with that advice, but he went on to say “You are being disciplined by God because of your sin, so admit it.” Strong powerful tusks of accusation based on feeble-minded generalisations.

5. LONG TRUNK OF INTRUSION, SMALL UNDERSTANDING

It was clear that the elephant was determined to stick his nose into my business without really understanding what was happening. It’s assumptions turned into judgments “God is judging you to keep you in line” it said, but it was being way too heavy and simplistic in it’s theology; broad sweeping statements, influenced by the termite’s narrow-minded thinking.

Eliphaz the Temanite (strange, strange name – kind of like Elephant the Termite – conjures up a picture of contrasts). Eliphaz the Temanite wants to make a huge difference but his small mindedness only brings harm. Such contradictions of intention. His dark view of Job stands in stark contrast to God’s statements of integrity (Job 1:8). His lack of compassion is inversely proportionate to the size of his judgments. The variance in what he sees taking place in Job’s life and what is actually happening is extraordinary.

Not all suffering in the world is a result of something we have sown. Jesus said something interesting about a blind man once. John 9:1-3 (NLT) says “As Jesus was walking along, He saw a man who had been blind from birth.   “Rabbi,” His disciples asked Him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”   “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.”  

Now on one level what Eliphaz the Temanite says is right, but he hasn’t really heard from God before giving his advice to Job. He knows nothing of the spiritual battle that is going on in the heavenlies and like a lot of people he is blaming God rather than Satan for Job’s troubles. 

6. BIG APPETITE FOR BLAME, VERY LITTLE COMPASSION

Eliphaz says that people who are not under discipline don’t go through what Job is experiencing. Apparently righteous people don’t get sick or have any suffering in their lives! Get a life! That’s not true! God allowed a righteous man called Job to get sick at the hand of Satan. It wouldn’t last, but Job didn’t know that. 

Let’s get real here and watch out before making rash theological determinations based on half-truths. Eliphaz is a heavy-weight in his judgment but like a termite, his words eat away at Job’s integrity and place a slur upon Job’s character that he doesn’t deserve and certainly doesn’t need right now. Elephaz dishes out large doses of disgrace, with little-to-no honour. 

HOW TO BE BIG IN LISTENING, SMALL IN JUDGING

When he first arrived, Eliphaz was silent for a week. It would have been better if Eliphaz had kept quiet for another week, but he can’t help himself. Ever had a friend like that? Well meaning but with a big mouth, quick to judge and very little by way of compassion? Such “friends” provide immense hindrance to healing, and give minute help in seeking God. 

James 1:19 (NLT) says “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”

A huge part of an effective conversation is an ability to listen. If I am to be an effective listener, I will be interested and responsive, understanding and patient, non-judgmental and sensitive, open and supportive, loving and prayerful in my support. Lord, I need your help today.

The invitation of Job 4 is to speak words of life not judgment to those who are hurting today. Lord, forgive us when we blame You for things without really understanding the spiritual conflict going on around us. Give me huge ears with which to listen, a nose for the truth, tusks of integrity for the battles I face, the ability to give weight to Your Word and to be small in assuming that I am always right. 

Pastor Ross

JOB 3 – WHEN YOU REGRET BEING BORN

Dust Portrait. © Ross Cochrane

Dust Portrait. © Ross Cochrane

When Julie gave birth to our son Ben, and then to Rachel two years later, I was overjoyed. I held them up to God soon after birth and praised God for the privilege of raising them. I realized even then that they belonged to Him, and I needed His help to be a parent. I drove home in the car honking the horn and shouting praise to God.

Job is experiencing so much pain in this chapter that he curses the day he was born in an eloquent tirade of emotions. When you hurt physically and emotionally, you are not interested in the joys of the past or even in hope for tomorrow. You are forced into the present by your pain and consumed by your passionate pleas for it to end.

Job asks the inevitable question “Why?” several times without an answer. In fact if God had answered all his questions he would still have had his pain to contend with. We do not alleviate our circumstances by explanations, but by our circumstances changing. I have found it more helpful to ask the question “What?”

“What can I do, Lord, to co-operate with You in what it is You want for my life to see my circumstances change? As long as I am alive there is a hope and purpose that You have for me, but in my pain, I need Your help so that I can draw even closer to You rather than be so focused on my desolation. What needs to happen, Lord, so that I can do this? I have been driven to the point of wanting death, Lord; to the place where it seems like death would provide respite for my pain, but I keep hearing Your gentle and persistent voice saying that this is not what You have chosen for me.”

“Why did I not die at birth?” Should God answer such a question Job would still find himself in pain. One day he will be able to ask “What purpose do You want for my life?”

Should God give friends who come alongside me and acknowledge my pain and then gently give me just a ray of hope by praying for my healing, then I could bear more easily my pain until I find the healing I long for.

“Why is light given to him who suffers and life to the bitter of soul?” No respite in the answers to this question but it is the expression of anguish that looks for the easy and sometimes selfish ways to alleviate our pain.

Pain has a way of driving you inward. “What can I do to find the solutions I need to get through this and find healing?” The road less travelled is so much more difficult when we are vulnerable and weak physically and emotionally.

For you who are suffering, we can only hope to acknowledge your pain rather than constantly suggest ways you should try to alleviate it. We can pray for your healing rather than focus on your misery, encourage you gently to have hope rather than accuse you of giving up, and love you unconditionally rather than abandon you in your distress. What can we do that will help you find healing? Believe for you when you cannot believe.

Job invites you and me to cry out to God who is our hope, our unchanging anchor in a spinning world, our truth when our thinking is askew, our authority when all I have is questions, our life when I feel that life is a curse, our power, when I am powerless to act, our wisdom when we have our thinking clouded, our Father when there is no other refuge than within His arms, our present help in times of trouble when I am all alone, and all I have is Him, our victor over my thoughts of death when I am regretting that I am alive, our Lord and Saviour when I am drowning in my suffering. He is all I can cling to and all I will ever need.

Pastor Ross

JOB 2 – THE AGONY OF HAVING YOUR FAITH TESTED.

Extraction © Ross Cochrane

Extraction © Ross Cochrane

While I was under the influence of anesthetic I didn’t feel a thing. I woke up on the operating table after the procedure was finished, feeling wonderful. No pain at all.

I was having fragments of my wisdom tooth removed surgically after a botched extraction attempt by a dentist. The tooth had fragmented leaving a chipped spur cutting it’s way through into my sinus cavity.

Gradually the anesthetic wore off and I have never felt so much pain. It was unbearable, nagging, searing pain, and there was no escape. I didn’t care about what was happening in the world. All I could feel was my own pain, like a knife point pressing into my skull.

Rocking back and forth until Julie was able to procure some strong pain killers, it seemed like forever before I succumbed to sleep and 4 hours of escape until the next surge.

Job has no pain killers. He experiences excruciating pain all over his body – unbearable, nagging pain from an outbreak of sores inflicted upon him by Satan. Satan doesn’t kill him but takes him to the edge of sanity. Job wishes he’d never been born as he faces the dentist from hell.

It all began with the sons of God (angels) presenting themselves before God. It seems there are times when angels are required to be more specifically in God’s presence, on parade so to speak, and inspected. Included in the roll-call was Satan. Because even he is under God’s authority, he had to submit to this summons. He comes, but the Bible indicates that he is there to accuse the believers.

Why do they gather? It seems God wants Job’s faith tested and all the angels are to focus on the outcome. Why is this so important? Perhaps it is to impress upon them the justice that God is going to bring on Satan himself one day. One thing is sure, this is a Spiritual battle.

Even though he has already won round one on the earth, Job has no idea of what is happening in this heavenly setting. Despite the recent encounter of losing his family and wealth, Job holds fast to his integrity.

Satan had said “Does Job fear God for nothing” (Job 1:9). His words are thrown back in his face as God says Satan has sought to bring harm for nothing (Job 2:3) or without cause, because Job is still blameless and upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.

God seems intent on taunting Satan with Job’s integrity. Satan takes up the taunt, and says “Skin for skin”, whatever that means. Must be a trading term. If you bartered animal skins for other animal skins, they would be of equal value although such a transaction would get you nowhere.

Satan appears to be saying in effect “His previous wealth and family only balanced the scale in favour of faith in God. Now Job’s family and wealth are out of the way, it is skin for skin. He is in a place where anything else on the adversity side will tip the scales in my favour and turn him away from believing in God. Since the scales are now even, let’s see which is more important – his health or his faith. And I’ll get his friends and his wife to side with me.”

The callousness of Satan is thus exposed. Job has just lost his children and Satan passes it off as amounting to nothing. If he is able to tip the balance by torturing him, things will be different. He’ll curse God and die then. Take out the wisdom tooth. Forget the anaesthetic and pain killers.

Permission is given and Job is inflicted with sore boils from head to toe. He sits in the dust trying to scape the sores to find some relief. The only pain killer for his unbearable suffering is death.

His wife suggest that he ought to curse God and die. Why did that come into her mind? Does she think blasphemy will bring down God’s judgment and this would at least give him the relief of death. She doesn’t simply suggest suicide but cursing God as a way out, so she adds temptation to Jobs agony.

Job says she is speaking like a foolish woman. He’s not calling her a fool as we use the word. The Bible always speaks about a fool as one who rejects God. Psalms 14:1 (NLT) says “Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.””

Warren Wiersbe says, “Faith that cannot be tested cannot be trusted”

1 Peter 1:7 (NLT) says “These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honour on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.”

When his friends come they are totally shocked at what they see. Job is almost unrecognisable and in a great deal of pain. They cry out and weep as if he had just died.

Then they do something incredibly wise. They just sit with Job. They just sit with him and grieve with their friend for 7 days without saying a word. That is the best thing you can do for someone in pain at times. Just be with them. If they had only continued to say nothing, it would have been better.

What is it that will tip the scales of your faith? When our faith is tested, it is so that we can be approved, not fail. May the agony of the testing only serve to purify you as gold.

Pastor Ross

JOB 1 – DOWN BUT NOT OUT

Down but not out © Ross Cochrane

Down but not out © Ross Cochrane

I can only imagine the horror and pain of fighting in a trench, seeing your mates dying all around you, being wounded and then buried alive.

A returned soldier from the first world war, my grandfather had been wounded with shrapnel as his trench was bombed. He was buried for some time because of the blast. His mates dug him out. He talked about hearing their shovels get closer and finally gasping for the first breath of air just before passing out. Down but not out.

He would cry when he thought of all his mates who had died around him.

I loved my grandfather; such a gentle man; a man who couldn’t allow anyone to pass by the gate of his farm unless he invited them in for a cup of tea and a yarn. For my sister’s sake I tried to be strong at his funeral, but I couldn’t stop crying. Grief welled up in unexpected tears. I felt his loss deeply.

I can only imagine what it would be like to lose your family and your wealth in what seems to be a matter of minutes. That empty yet pressing weight in the middle of your chest that hinders your ability to breath. That hollow space in the back of your throat as you hold back gulping panic-stricken sobs in the face of unbelievable trauma and loss.

Job tentatively sought to explore the untraveled path of his grief. Devastated with shock, and no longer able to earn an income, he sat in the dust. Life had catastrophically changed. Tragedy touched a good husband and father, a man of integrity who had faithfully lived a life honouring God.

What seems odd to me is that it is God who initiates the conversation about Job to Satan. He almost invites Satan to do what he can to make his life miserable without actually taking his life. Satan says that Job only loves God because he is wealthy and has not suffered any hardship. He almost dares God to play a game of “What if you let me…then he’ll curse you!”

Down but not out - Job © Ross Cochrane

Down but not out – Job © Ross Cochrane

Strangely enough God allows Satan to test Job by attacking “all he has”. Satan puts iron in his boxing gloves and throws a series of punches, a left jab which takes out Job’s livestock, a straight right which takes out Job’s servants. Job is knocked off-balance and he falls to the ground. While he is down Satan comes in with a foul shot – a devastating left hook which destroys Job’s children.

While he is down Job worships God. He may be down but he is not out, and as he gets to his feet, reeling with the loss of his family, his integrity and faith are still intact. Job is not defeated. He stares Satan in the eye and says “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Up until now Satan has been laughing, but Job’s response is like a powerful uppercut. It comes up underneath his opponent’s guard and knocks him against the ropes. No, Job is not defeated.

Here is a man who is spiritually mature. He is a good father who cares for the spiritual development of his children. He has been blessed by God and is a wealthy business person. He is a loving husband and a man of significance in his community. When trials come, he responds with faith. What about you?

The tired, age-old question is “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

The Bible doesn’t avoid this question. Bad things do happen and Job addresses this.

It’s clear that Satan is our adversary (v. 6) not God. Satan gets around (v. 7) and is always on the move to do some damage (vv. 13-19). What is also clear is that Satan can’t touch you without God’s permission (verse 12). He is defeated every time we place our focus on worshiping God and seeing everything we go through from that refuge point.

Job invites us to exercise faith in adversity, worship in times of great devastation and maintain integrity in the midst of great stress.

Pastor Ross

Genesis 31: 36 – 55 – AN EXIT INTERVIEW WITH STYLE

Exit Interview. © Ross Cochrane using Paint.net and FilterForge.org

Exit Interview. © Ross Cochrane using Paint.net and FilterForge.org

He could have said so much more. I wanted him to say something like “You’re a backstabbing, condescending, conniving, manipulative bully! You’re a pushy, controlling, judgmental, nit-picking, fault-finding, blame-shifting, double-crossing, hypocritical, egotistical, self-centred, self-righteous, irrational, unreasonable … employer!” but Jacob is not into name-calling.

  1. AVOID NAME CALLING

Name-calling is the last resort of insecure people trying to acquire a psychological advantage. Jacob, however, is assertive without being offensive. Quite an art.

Normally an exit interview tries to get to the bottom of why you are leaving your job, your concerns, your suggestions, how you feel, your frustrations about how you were managed, your expectations, and addresses examples of discrimination or harassment. But how do you confront a bully like Laban at an exit interview if name-calling isn’t an option? I am amazed at Jacob’s control.

  1. BE HONEST AND ASSERTIVE

Although Jacob becomes very angry, he keeps it under control and he challenges Laban. He wants all those with Laban to see this bully for who he is. “What’s my crime?” he demands. “What have I done wrong to make you chase after me as though I were a criminal?” (Genesis 31:36 NLT). Jacob lays it on the line. Laban has accused him of kidnapping his daughters and stealing his household gods with absolutely no proof. He has attacked his integrity and Jacob refuses to be walked over.

No-one can make you feel inferior without your approval. An Exit Interview is an opportunity to be assertive. Assertive people express their thoughts and feelings and questions. They keep their anger under control and express honestly how they feel. Ephesians 4:26-27 (NLT, NIV and MSG) says “In your anger, do not sin … don’t sin by letting anger control you … don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry … Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.”

  1. HAVE WITNESSES

“You have rummaged through everything I own. Now show me what you found that belongs to you! Set it out here in front of us, BEFORE OUR RELATIVES, FOR ALL TO SEE. Let them judge between us!” (Genesis 31:37 NLT)

That’s the beauty of an Exit Interview. Before witnesses you can express objectively what has influenced your decision to leave. When we remain silent, we forego the chance for the organisation to evaluate their position and bear witness to what has happened.

  1. STICK TO THE FACTS

He states his case and says in effect. “I’ve been a virtual slave for you for 20 years. You demanded obedience in return for advancement and success but you only kept your promises if it was to your advantage, changing my wages 10 times.” Laban’s self-serving manipulative tactics are out in the open. No more white lies, sneaky moves for Jacob. Finally he is learning the power of honesty. As he relates the facts he lays a foundation for the possibility of change in Laban’s business dealings.

The facts become like a declaration to the devil and in effect Jacob is saying, “You have interfered in my life for long enough! The long meaningless hours of meticulous labour without any recognition are over! You can no longer dictate your unrealistic terms! You can no longer decide my future because your tyranny is now a part of my past! I have sacrificed enough! My ambitions to fulfil God’s purposes for my life will no longer be squashed! I am no longer a part of your empire building efforts!” (Genesis 31:39-41).

  1. CUT YOUR TIES

Making a particular choice means rejecting other possible choices. The truth for Jacob was that a choice towards God meant a choice to escape from Laban.

“In fact, if the God of my father had not been on my side—the God of Abraham and the fearsome God of Isaac—you would have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen your abuse and my hard work. That is why He appeared to you last night and rebuked you!” (Genesis 31:42 NLT). He blurts it all out. I have a new boss! Good on you Jacob! He cuts his ties with Laban and declares his allegiance to God. Cutting Laban out of his life is not so much showing disrespect to Laban but it is an expression of respect for God. He’s made a good choice.

Hebrews 13:5-6 (NLT) says “… For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?””   

Being honest and assertive, having witnesses, sticking to the facts, and cutting your ties helps greatly. But wrapping up the interview is perhaps the most delicate conversation of all. 

  1. SEEK TO MAKE AN AGREEMENT

Jacob and his family are leaving and Laban knows that God will not allow him to harm them. He replies to Jacob with a true and false test, “These women are my daughters, (True) these children are my grandchildren (True), and these flocks are my flocks (False!) — in fact, everything you see is mine (False!). But what can I do now about my daughters and their children? (True!).

The arrogance of his nature defines him. He has felt superior to Jacob all these years and now he barely saves face as he stumbles over his words with a frantic attempt to maintain his power.

Laban still doesn’t admit that Jacob has a right to anything. He believes his own lies and refuses to admit that he is wrong. He remains territorial, seeking to protect what he still considers to be his. If God had not spoken to him, he would probably have harmed them and taken Jacob’s flocks from him. He admits he can do nothing. His hands are tied (Genesis 31:43). He says “So come, let’s make a covenant, you and I, and it will be a witness to our commitment” (Genesis 31:44 NLT). 

Be careful Jacob; before you shake hands with this charlatan, make sure you know what you are doing. Before you sit down and share the covenant meal, make sure it won’t be your last one. Before you set up a monument and collect boundary markers, make sure your livestock are on your side. In fact start counting your livestock to see if they are still there! There’s a sacrifice in making any kind of agreement with someone like Laban.

You can’t make a deal with the devil, but in this case, since God has already bound Laban’s ability to bring harm to Jacob, the covenant is a declaration of grace to Laban. Psalms 34:14 (NLT) says “Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it.”  

Laban wants to protect himself. He doesn’t want Jacob returning to Haran with an army to levy revenge. “See this pile of stones,” Laban continues, “and see this monument I have set between us. They stand between us as witnesses of our vows. I will never pass this pile of stones to harm you, and you must never pass these stones or this monument to harm me” (Genesis 31:51-52). 

  1. REFUSE TO TAKE THINGS PERSONALLY

Laban can’t help himself. Laban adds a clause to the Exit Agreement that insinuates that Jacob is the reason that such a covenant must be made, not him. He says

“If you mistreat my daughters or if you marry other wives, God will see it even if no one else does. He is a witness to this covenant between us … I call on the God of our ancestors—the God of your grandfather Abraham and the God of my grandfather Nahor—to serve as a judge between us.” So Jacob took an oath before the fearsome God of his father, Isaac, to respect the boundary line” (Genesis 31:50-53 NLT).

Subtly, Laban implies that Jacob cannot be trusted to keep the peace between them and that he cannot be trusted to treat his wives well; that he could abandon them for other wives. As if Jacob needed boundaries on the way he treated his wives! It was Laban who sold them like slaves to Jacob without any dowry! Jacob initially only wanted to marry Rachel!

But it’s not worth getting defensive over these subtle slurs on Jacob’s character. In the end they are inconsequential details which will have no effect on the future. Don Miguel Ruis says “There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you refuse to take things personally.”

Laban doesn’t have his household gods anymore so this forces him to call on the God of Abraham. Hedging his bets, Laban says, “May the Lord keep watch between us to make sure that we keep this covenant when we are out of each other’s sight” (Genesis 31:49 NLT).

Laban implies that Jacob needs to be watched. The “Mizpah Benediction” is Laban at his hypocritical best and not a form of blessing so much as a standoff designed to protect him. But he is right; God is the lookout from the watchtower, guarding the dividing line, the boundary, with a border protection policy that guarantees Jacob’s destiny.

In generosity and faith Jacob offers a sacrifice and they have a covenant feast. Talk about preparing a table in the presence of his enemies (Genesis 31:54). 

The next morning, Laban gets up early and he kisses his grandchildren and his daughters and blesses them. Then he leaves and returns home (Genesis 31:55) and Laban finally becomes a figure in Jacob’s past.

This Exit Interview goes well; no name calling or defensive pettiness on Jacob’s part, just assertive, honest disclosure for all to see.

Jesus invites us to make a covenant with Him after the Exit Interview from Satan’s kingdom. He offers forgiveness and peace with God by believing in Him. Our destiny is found in the promises of God in the Gospel of Peace. 

Hebrews 9:12-22 (NLT) says “… Christ offered Himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. That is why He is the one who mediates a new covenant between God and people, so that all who are called can receive the eternal inheritance God has promised them. For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed … Then He said, “This blood confirms the covenant God has made with you” … For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.”  

Hebrews 13:20-21 (NLT) says “Now may the God of peace— who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, … ratified an eternal covenant with His blood — may He equip you with all you need for doing His will …” 

Pastor Ross

Genesis 31:19, 30-37 – CLEARING AWAY THE OLD COBWEBS

Clearing away the Cobwebs © Photo by Ross Cochrane

Clearing away the Cobwebs © Photo by Ross Cochrane

A spider weaves it’s web, silk extruded from its spinnerets. For weeks I watch it sitting in the middle of it’s lair just outside our window and then suddenly it is gone. I often wonder what happened to that spider. Now over the weeks only the tangled architecture of an abandoned snare remains. The magnificent lines of aerial craftsmanship are now sagging, sticky filaments flailing in the wind. The tensile strength of mellifluous spider silk stretched in etched lines in space has become a confusion of snarls.

RECOGNISE MY OLD COBWEBS

  1. AM I TRUSTING IN FALSE SECURITY?

What was Rachel thinking? Was she trying to hedge her bets? Was she rejecting a relationship with God, trying to enrage her father, or does she see these idols as valuable items to sell as a forfeited dowry? (Genesis 31:19). Jacob had stolen his brother’s birthright and family blessing. Now Rachel steals to get what she wants. Theft and lying still plagues this family. In a world full of spiders, it seems stupid to risk getting caught in your own web.

You locate trust where you find your security. You know the common ones; health, wealth, intelligence. (All such are temporal. Believe me; I work in aged care. I see how temporal it can be, everyday). Trusting in an eternal God clears away the cobwebs of false security.

  1. AM I PLAYING THE BLAME GAME?

Laban’s sons and relatives already view Jacob with suspicion, and now once again Laban tries to discredit him – “Why have you stolen my gods?” (Genesis 31:30 NLT). Implying that this is another motive for leaving, Laban attacks Jacob’s integrity. Watch out for the fangs, Jacob. The web is a problem but how will you avoid the cruel venom of the spider?

But is the secret to success really found in knowing who to blame for your failures? Deny all, admit nothing, and blame someone else? Politicians, parents, wives, God? Blame is a cobweb in Laban’s window that blocks his ability to see his own reflection. When you blame others you give up the power to change.

  1. AM I ALLOWING FEAR TO RULE MY DECISIONS?

Jacob has no interest in idols. He explains honestly that fear was the basis of his deception in rushing away, not theft. “I was afraid … I thought you would take your daughters from me by force” (Genesis 31:31 NLT). 

The kind of fear that disturbs our trust in God. Fear that frantically seeks for methods to help God protect us rather than cooperate with His plans was the fear that justified Jacob’s decision to leave secretly. He was obeying God, but fear chooses the way of deception once again to escape harm. Arachnophobia. The vibration of panic pulling at the web has only attracted the malice of the spider. Trust uses the broom of faith to sweep away fear.

  1. AM I GIVING NEGATIVE WORDS POWER?

Jacob has nothing that belongs to Laban. Even his wives were sold to him for 14 years of labour. It all legally belongs to Jacob, except of course for the idols. Not aware that Rachel has stolen the household gods Jacob makes a rash statement of bravado. He says “But as for your gods, see if you can find them, and let the person who has taken them die! And if you find anything else that belongs to you, identify it before all these relatives of ours, and I will give it back!” (Genesis 31:32 NLT).

Negativity misuses our words; and turns words of life to words of death. It makes rash statements without thinking of the consequences. Jacob gives negative words power and says things he doesn’t really mean.

James 3:8-10 (NLT) says that “no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!” 

  1. AM I RELYING ON LIES AND SECRETS?

Laban doesn’t take Jacob’s word. He is looking for any excuse to discredit and humiliate Jacob. He searches the web. Rachel is not about to let her sin find her out. She has hidden the gods in the camel’s saddle and she sits on the saddle. I love what Sherry Car writes about this. She talks about “Sitting on false security! … What kind of false securities do we have beneath us?” https://www.bible.com/

Will the spider find his prey? Laban doesn’t think of asking her to rise because she says she is having her menstrual period. There was an uncleanness associated with this and no-one comes near her. Laban doesn’t find the gods (Genesis 31:35).

Lies and secrets are cobwebs on the soul, hindering our ability to see the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6).

  1. AM I RULED BY SELF DECEPTION?

Rachel is no less guilty of the crime. She escapes facing up to what she has done but perhaps this opens the door to the curse of idolatry into the life of her family and to future Israel? “Be sure that your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23 NLT).

God changed Laban’s capacity for harming Jacob by warning him in a dream (Genesis 31:24), but that doesn’t change his heart. Even after having a direct encounter with God he is still looking for his household idols!

The scene is pathetic. Laban is more concerned to prove that Jacob is a thief and liar than admitting his own need to repent and give his heart to God. Rachel is more concerned with sitting on false security in idols than in trusting in God. Jacob just wants to get out from under Laban’s bullying influence and finds deceptive means to to try to help God. The angelic host must be killing themselves with laughter at the standoff but horrified by the human capacity for deceiving themselves. “Oh what a tangled web we weave…”

GETTING RID OF THE OLD COBWEBS

Robert Zoellick says “All of us make mistakes. The key is to acknowledge them, learn, and move on. The real sin is ignoring mistakes, or worse, seeking to hide them.” The Bible says that the wages of sin always leads to a spiritual death sentence without God’s grace (Romans 3:23,24).

Genesis 31 speaks of the tangled web of self-deceit. The invitation God gives us is to admit our ridiculous pretence. Jacob, Rachel and Laban all have the opportunity to trust in God. 

The nature of trust compels us to confront our self-deceit. It does not sneak away from problems, lay blame on others or trust in false security but declares God’s purposes, inviting us to come freely and choose to refuse being entrapped by our circumstances. It is being open and honest with God, allowing Him to clear away the cobwebs (Galatians 5:1, Ephesians 6:13). 

Security, responsibility, trust, words of life, and truth in life are found in a loving relationship with Christ (John 14:6). He died for my sin so that I could be clean and forgiven and live life to my full potential (Proverbs 3:5,6). 

Pastor Ross

Genesis 31:22-29 – THE MATADOR OF HEAVEN

The Matador of Heaven. © Ross Cochrane using Paint.net and Filter Forge

The Matador of Heaven. © Ross Cochrane using Paint.net and Filter Forge

The spectacle of Spain has been transported to the hill country of Gilead. There may be many historic bullfighting venues in Mexico but on this day all eyes are on this arena in Jordan (Genesis 31:21 NLT). 

The Matador, Jacob, has tried to evade the horns of Laban, but today he has no choice as he turns to face his opponent, eyes wide with fear. Jacob has always sidestepped fighting but this time his escape from the ring has only attracted the attention of this bull of a man. Laban has been taunted to charge. “So he gathered a group of his relatives and set out in hot pursuit. He caught up with Jacob … in the hill country of Gilead” (Genesis 31:23 NLT).

The trumpets sound. Jacob would prefer to be at the stairway chapel, where God offered him a promise of protection, but now although he has no particular style, technique or courage, he has been thrust into the arena.

Jacob the matador is unaware that he is distinguished by the gold of his traje de luces (“suit of lights”), clothed in the assurance of God’s covenant. He can see Laban’s picador sons and servants entering the ring on horseback armed with the vara (lances), and he perceives they are not for the bull. Laban the bull is cruel, and Jacob suffers severe stress as he begins this encounter.

Over the years Jacob has observed the behaviour and quirks of Laban the bull. More reason to be afraid. Trembling, the red cape of his integrity (muleta) seems hardly defence enough as the bull snorts and kicks up the dust with his feet, preparing to make his run. Laban is enraged and restless as Jacob now stands alone to confront him.

The horns of Laban’s power glint in the sun. His authority has been challenged and he is committed to charge in and win back his control by force. Motivated by malice he moves with all his muscle in unrelenting haste, pounding the earth with his very presence toward Jacob. He is determined that Jacob’s devious actions will be met with his malevolence. Jacob has already reaped some lessons from his deceptiveness but now he can expect punishing instruction from Laban’s spite.

Jacob is a relunctant matador. Will he lose his resolve? Will he face his fears with dignity and respect? Will he stand up to Laban? He has had 10 days of looking over his shoulder before his worst dream is realized.

Laban the bull is released into the arena where Jacob stands unarmed and totally unprepared for the corrida, or fight. If not for the Bullfighter of heaven, Jacob would be at some risk of being gored or trampled, but in reality Laban, for all his rhetoric, has been greatly weakened already.

Because of his bungling attempts in trying to help God out with His promises, Jacob has already received a succession of serious interventions to stay the hand of harm. Jacob’s family seems to have a history of bullfighting mediations (Genesis 12:17; 20:3-7). During Laban’s intense pursuit of Jacob, God once again intervenes by interrupting Laban’s sleep with a dream filled with dread, “I’m warning you—leave Jacob alone!” (Genesis 31:24 NLT).

Laban resigns himself against harming Jacob but not to be dissuaded, he proceeds with a verbal goring. He is outraged that Jacob would even think of challenging him. “What do you mean by stealing away like this?” 

Intent on destroying Jacob’s character Laban launches his tactical retaliatory strike, the hot stinking breath snorting directly in Jacob’s face at his first tanda (pass). Laban demands “How dare you drag my daughters away like prisoners of war? Laban has treated his daughters as saleable commodities and so to accuse Jacob of treating them as prisoners of war is a bit hollow.

It is Laban who is the unworthy adversary, yet he parades himself bullfaced amidst pomp and pageantry, with his supporters at hand. It is unusual for the bull to have his own cuadrilla (“entourage”). The picador sons have prepared him with their discontent and stand by for the charge. A series of tandas, or “series” of passes are made, each frighteningly close.

“Why did you slip away secretly? Why did you steal away? And why didn’t you say you wanted to leave? I would have given you a farewell feast, with singing and music, accompanied by tambourines and harps. Why didn’t you let me kiss my daughters and grandchildren and tell them good-bye? You have acted very foolishly!” (Genesis 31:27-28 NLT).  

All valid questions. His aggressive cross-examination of Jacob is designed to bring shame and keep Jacob off balance. His indignation runs deep with jealous rage and he is determined to shake Jacob’s confidence by challenging his integrity with each tanda. 

This is not a father simply wanting to say goodbye to his daughters but an enraged, aggressive and belligerent adversary seeking to get revenge, to ruin Jacob’s reputation, to manipulate, slander and assault Jacob.

A master of character assassination by interrogation, Laban, leaves out the vital facts that would explain Jacob’s action. Jacob is a monster who has robbed his daughters and grandchildren of a farewell celebration. How selfish! How thoughtless! He claims to have integrity and virtuous intentions. He is the noble and good father and grandfather whose only concern is for his family. Not!

It is all Jacob’s fault. He plays the part of the innocent victim of a terrible subterfuge. He plays the martyr like a bull parading as a ballerina. This family tyrant subtly maligns Jacob’s character while trying to parade as a saint. Laban is a self-righteous bully trying to give the impression that he loves his family despite his neglect and cruel games over the last 20 years.

Do you feel guilty yet, Jacob? Jacob, you have broken up the family! You are a coward matador with no cuadrilla for support. Now comes the clincher, “I could destroy you, but the God of your father appeared to me last night and warned me, ‘Leave Jacob alone!’” (Genesis 31:29 NLT). Despite his vehemence and false offendedness, Laban is helpless to do anything to Jacob except berate him. There will be no goring from Labans horns this time.

Who or what is the bully in your life standing between you and the promises of God? What charges does the devil use against you as you make your stand in the ring? What are you holding onto that attracts a spiritual battle like a red rag to a bull? Listen to the promises of the Matador of Heaven not the snorting passes of the bull. Christ invites you to trust him in the midst of the fray. He has faced the bullying taunts of the enemy before. Enter the ring as once again His whispers from the chapel shout to you in the ring “I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. … I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you” (Genesis 28:15 NLT). 

Pastor Ross

Genesis 31:1-21 – EXODUS, GODS AND KINGS

Exodus. © Ross Cochrane using Paint.net, FilterForge and Powerpoint.

Exodus. © Ross Cochrane using Paint.net, FilterForge and Powerpoint.

When my wife, Julie, mentioned to a lady that we have been married for 40 years, she was so amazed and happy for us. She was horrified, however, when she discovered that we had seen “The Exodus” on our Anniversary. She said “Didn’t you find it a bit dark?” It took Julie a while to realise that she was thinking of “the Exorcist”, a very different genre.

I’m old enough to remember the version with Charles Heston as Moses and Yul Brunner as Rameses, so Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton came as quite a surprise when we saw “Exodus, gods and kings.”

Great movie and I liked the twist when God turns up as a child, although as the story progressed it was clear that this was not the God of the Exodus. God is central to the story of the Exodus in the Bible, but this thundercloud child only turns up at odd times throughout Ridley’s story, and like many slighted children he wants to hit back. The difference is that he has unfettered power to back up his cruel outbursts. Is this the Exodus or the Exorcist?

Since no-one but Moses can see him, there is speculation that the boy is probably the result of an hallucination. Did Moses sustain a brain injury when a rock hit him during a landslide on God’s mountain? We are left wondering. Is this really the way Ridley Scott sees followers of Christ?

A shadow of Exodus turns up in Jacob’s flight from Laban.

“I am the God who appeared to you at Bethel, the place where you anointed the pillar of stone and made your vow to me. Now get ready and leave this country and return to the land of your birth’” (Genesis 31:13 NLT).

Jacob has signed the contract, agreed to the value statement, not at the burning bush but at the pillar of stone where he saw a stairway to heaven. He had slept on a stone but just in case you were wondering, was not hit by one coming down the steps (Genesis 28:10-22).

So Jacob puts his wives and children on camels, and he drives all his livestock in front of him. He packs all the belongings he has acquired in Paddan-aram and sets out for the land of Canaan, where his father, Isaac, lives … they set out secretly and never told Laban they were leaving … heading for the hill country of Gilead.” (Genesis 31:16-21 NLT). Laban had no idea. Once again Jacob employs trickery to get out of town. God had told him to go but what was Jacob thinking by not telling Laban?

Jacob gives precedent to his descendant Moses. This journey proves to be the beginning of the great escape, a mini Exodus. He’s on trend, but Jacob, unlike Moses, refuses to go face to face with his Pharaoh. The Exodus will take place big time down the track with millions of people, but here is a model of it, a preview, a taste, the rough sketches of it in the life of Jacob. He is to escape into the Promised Land with a mini Pharaoh hot on his tail (Genesis 15:13-16).

In Jacob’s exodus God doesn’t appear as a precocious child dictating his anger in ugly ways. Instead it is Laban who plays the part of a childish brat who wants revenge for being tricked. In Jacob’s exodus, a loving God bids Jacob to appropriate His promises and come under his protection (Genesis 28:15).

Of course, 1,300 years after the Exodus with Moses, God does become a boy, born in a manger, sent as an initiative of God’s love (Matthew 2:1). Ridley Scott’s boy god is far from the image of Christ and filled with spiteful vengeance. 

In His love God sends a Saviour, who invites us throughout the Bible to respond to Him. The same God who saves a baby in a boat basket of papyrus reeds (Exodus 2:3), sends a baby born in a remote manger to bring salvation to His people (John 3:16). He offers escape from the slavery of a sin ravaged world to find freedom in the promise of forgiveness to those who believe and trust in Christ. 

Pastor Ross

Genesis 31:1-21 – HOW TO QUIT YOUR NIGHTMARE JOB

This Way Out © Ross Cochrane using Paint.net and FilterForge.org

This Way Out © Ross Cochrane using Paint.net and FilterForge.org

The Lord says to Jacob, “Return to the land of your father and grandfather and to your relatives there, and I will be with you” (Genesis 31:3 NLT).

  1. CERTAINTY

The message from heaven is clear. It’s communicating effectively to his present boss that bothers Jacob the most. Laban doesn’t exactly have strong interpersonal skills. He is a little afraid of what Laban will say about him leaving. Will he have to endure an explosive outburst? Some time ago Jacob said he was leaving and ended up staying on for 6 years longer after renegotiating his contract. This time he is sure it’s time to go.

  1. RESPECT

He doesn’t expect his boss is going to stand there and say “Let’s shake hands and be friends” but eventually that’s what he would like. His last employment led to his brother Esau wanting to kill him and he had to be placed in protective custody with his uncle. If only this time he could aim for mutual respect as he leaves his uncle’s employment (Genesis 31:43-55). It’s difficult to leave a job, even if it is a nightmare. How do I do leave with respect?

  1. QUESTIONS

What questions are you asking? Do I stay and face the workplace bully, get fired because of false accusations and innuendo about my work ethics, or quit? There will be consequences whatever I do. If I go home, I will still have some unfinished business to settle, not only with Laban but with my father and Esau. 

I can stay and take what comes – prosperity or poverty without the promise. Or I can go and perhaps stir up all kinds of trouble on the way. If my focus is on what I will lose then I won’t go. If my focus is on obeying God then it may be at the expense of friends, security and it will definitely involve a risk.

  1. CONSEQUENCES

Jacob decides to leave without notice and abandon his nightmare job. He’s overdue for long service leave and he thinks, “It’s not as if I am leaving on good terms. My boss isn’t going to give me a reference anyway.” Is leaving without saying a word doing the right thing? No handover, no farewell speeches, no watch for long and faithful service, no briefing other workers, no reasons given for leaving on record. Leaving a nightmare job is never easy. Abandonment of employment is rarely a good idea. Is it only going to create more problems in the future? Jacob, think of the consequences!

For those who know Christ, the promise to you remains unchanged from the time when God spoke to Jacob and assured him of His presence back in Genesis 28. “I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. … I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you” (Genesis 28:15 NLT). Sweet words in a time of turmoil. Perhaps God is saying to you, “Now get ready and leave…” (Genesis 31:13 NLT). 

Pastor Ross

Genesis 31 – HOW TO APPLY FOR THAT DREAM JOB

Promised Land Next Exit © Ross Cochrane using Paint.net and FilterForge.org

Promised Land Next Exit © Ross Cochrane using Paint.net and FilterForge.org

Recently I was offered a position in an organisation I love. My heart jumped in response to working in such a place. I love being able to sow into people’s lives with my gifts and calling. This opportunity was one that excited my Pastor’s heart with so many wonderful possibilities.

However, the more I prayed about it, the more I felt uneasy about accepting this position. I couldn’t move beyond the conviction that God had called me at present to work with the elderly and the dying, and their families. Perhaps not as exciting but no less significant. I have the opportunity to share my faith with those on the verge of eternity, as well as with families and staff, many of whom do not as yet express a faith in Christ.

I was grateful, honoured and affirmed for the confidence placed in me but I knew that I was already in the place of my calling. What about you?

What would you do if you knew you were not in the place of your calling? What would you do if you were in Jacob’s shoes? How do you apply for that dream job?

  1. HAVE A PLAN

Jacob focuses his job search. The search engine indicates only one job available and that’s a servant position, the same job that has been on offer for most of his life. Often God puts the dream in our hearts long before there is an opportunity to take action. Jacob completes the P.L.A.N. form (Promised Land Application Network) and fills out the online survey (Prayer).

  1. MAKE A LIST

He makes a list of what he desires in a job – A good boss (Genesis 31:5), fair pay scheme for financial security (Genesis 31:7), on the job training and room to grow and improve his qualifications (Genesis 31:5), good team player relationships (Genesis 31:1), innovative workplace (Genesis 31:8-9), life insurance scheme (Genesis 31:24), a place of his own (Genesis 31:3). He decides that the job is a perfect fit.

  1. TALK IT OVER

Talking over his resume with his family he prepares for the job interview. He has been able to handle responsibility, work hard, problem solve and produce effective results. He explains that he has already had a confidential informational interview with his prospective employer. He talked over examples of something particularly innovative that he has done which had made a difference in the workplace. It was his prospective employer who had given him the idea (Genesis 31:5-13).

  1. PREPARE

Prepared for behavioural questions, he was able to describe problems he’s encountered in the past and how he handled them. He knew if he had been asked questions looking for negative information, he had 20 years of experience to draw upon. Fortunately he wasn’t asked to “Describe a work situation where you had to work for someone you didn’t like”? His prospective employer was not only cognisant of his present situation but understood his gifts, abilities, personality, motivations and experience. Laban does not (Genesis 31:12).

  1. BE HONEST

To be honest, his social media profile online is not looking good and his resume of past jobs has a few question marks. His police check might not come back entirely clean. He defrauded his own brother and father (Genesis 27-28). The Promised Land is a great location, but he was expelled from the country at one stage (Genesis 27:41-43). Will he be able to get his visa renewed? Will this all come back to haunt him?

Some of his past actions would be in conflict with the mission of this new organisation but now he is ready to take on board the goals and values of his prospective employer. The workplace culture his prospective boss has created seems very inclusive (Genesis 31:3).

  1. ASK QUESTIONS

All kinds of questions are racing through Jacob’s mind. “What do I believe? How do I respond to my circumstances? How can I communicate my intentions? How much power will Laban exert? Will my leaving be a threat or a blessing? Am I fighting a losing battle? How will my family be impacted? What do I want to invest my time, gifts, motivation and abilities into? What will staying here achieve? Am I brave enough to move? Am I too old to change my circumstances? Am I willing to do nothing? What is God saying? Am I willing to trust in God? Whatever I do demands a step of faith.” 

  1. MAKE A DECISION 

I like the Chinese Proverb – “He who deliberates fully before taking a step will spend his entire life on one leg.” One day Jacob will walk with a limp but at least he won’t stand on one leg. 

God’s promise to us in Psalms 48:14 (NLT) is “He is our God forever and ever, and He will guide us until we die.” Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 28:20 (NLT) “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”   

Pastor Ross