Suffering Often Predates Salvation

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He will swallow up death forever; 

and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, 

and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, 

for the LORD has spoken. (Isa 25:8)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Suffering and salvation are prominently linked in the Books of the Law and the Prophets, where emotional distress often amplified the reproach suffered.

In the Books of the Law, reproach is often a theme of wives teasing each other viciously over barrenness. This conflict figures prominently in conflict between Sarah and Hagar (Gen 16:4) and later between Hannah and Peninnah (1 Sam 1:1–6). Consider the reproach suffered by Rachel who was barren and whose older sister, Leah, had six sons and a daughter: “Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. She conceived and bore a son and said, God has taken away my reproach.” (Gen 30:22–23) Rachel’s reproach over her barrenness fueled a bitter rivalry with her sister, Leah (Gen 30:1). Because Rachel was also Jacob’s favorite wife, her son, Joseph, soon became Jacob’s favorite son, as we read: “Now Israel [also called Jacob] loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors.” (Gen 37:3) Jacob’s gift of the robe to Joseph signaled the passing of family leadership and made Joseph’s half-brothers so jealous that they sold him into slavery in Egypt. They later told Jacob that Joseph had been killed by wild animals (Gen 37).

After suffering at the hands his brothers, being sold into slavery, and sent to prison, Joseph proved himself to be an honest man, a hard worker, and an able leader. However,  it was God’s gift of interpreting dreams that brought him before Pharaoh and led to his promotion to prime minister. As prime minister, Joseph saved Egypt and his own family from starvation during a seven-year famine (Gen 38–45), even though he started out as the son who suffered revulsion and persecution within his family.

In the Books of the Prophets, suffering and persecution are major themes in the story of Job. Job is a righteous man persecuted by Satan (Job 1–2) but reviled by his friends who doubt his righteousness.

One of Job’s friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, inquires of Job saying: ”who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?” (Job 4:7) Another friend, Bildad the Shuhite, calls Job a windbag and asks: “Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right?” (Job 8:3) This reproach by Job’s friends gets so bad that God himself gets angry at these friends and corrects their theological misconceptions saying: “For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7)

In spite of the reproach of his friends and the loss of his family and fortune, God comes to Job’s rescue and rewards Job’s faithfulness, as we read: “And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.” (Job 42:10) The story of Job highlights the reproach and suffering which are explained in three separate Old Testament ethical approaches.

The first ethical approach is that one is made righteous in keeping the law and unrighteous in breaking it. God enforces the law by rewarding the righteous and punishing the unrighteous, as is the expectation of Job’s friend, Eliphaz the Temanite (Job 4:7). Psalm 1 also focuses on this theme.

The second approach is that one becomes righteous by gaining wisdom as to how the world really works, as we read: “One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless.” (Prov 14:16) In effect, evil is not just bad, it is also stupid, as we often read in Proverbs.

The third approach is that God honors righteous suffering, as we saw in the life of Job and as we also experience in daily life as deferred gratification. In education, for example, we put off taking a job, study hard, and are typically blessed later with a better job, although the risk of failure is always possible. Still, God rewards those who trust in him and take risks for the kingdom, and punish those who refuse to (Matt 25:14–30).

In God’s kingdom, the cross we bear always precedes the crown we wear.

He will swallow up death forever; 

and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, 

and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, 

for the LORD has spoken. (Isa 25:8)

Suffering and salvation are prominently linked in the Books of the Law and the Prophets, where emotional distress often amplified the reproach suffered.

In the Books of the Law, reproach is often a theme of wives teasing each other viciously over barrenness. This conflict figures prominently in conflict between Sarah and Hagar (Gen 16:4) and later between Hannah and Peninnah (1 Sam 1:1–6). Consider the reproach suffered by Rachel who was barren and whose older sister, Leah, had six sons and a daughter: “Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. She conceived and bore a son and said, God has taken away my reproach.” (Gen 30:22–23) Rachel’s reproach over her barrenness fueled a bitter rivalry with her sister, Leah (Gen 30:1). Because Rachel was also Jacob’s favorite wife, her son, Joseph, soon became Jacob’s favorite son, as we read: “Now Israel [also called Jacob] loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors.” (Gen 37:3) Jacob’s gift of the robe to Joseph signaled the passing of family leadership and made Joseph’s half-brothers so jealous that they sold him into slavery in Egypt. They later told Jacob that Joseph had been killed by wild animals (Gen 37).

After suffering at the hands his brothers, being sold into slavery, and sent to prison, Joseph proved himself to be an honest man, a hard worker, and an able leader. However,  it was God’s gift of interpreting dreams that brought him before Pharaoh and led to his promotion to prime minister. As prime minister, Joseph saved Egypt and his own family from starvation during a seven-year famine (Gen 38–45), even though he started out as the son who suffered revulsion and persecution within his family.

In the Books of the Prophets, suffering and persecution are major themes in the story of Job. Job is a righteous man persecuted by Satan (Job 1–2) but reviled by his friends who doubt his righteousness.

One of Job’s friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, inquires of Job saying: ”who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?” (Job 4:7) Another friend, Bildad the Shuhite, calls Job a windbag and asks: “Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right?” (Job 8:3) This reproach by Job’s friends gets so bad that God himself gets angry at these friends and corrects their theological misconceptions saying: “For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7)

In spite of the reproach of his friends and the loss of his family and fortune, God comes to Job’s rescue and rewards Job’s faithfulness, as we read: “And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.” (Job 42:10) The story of Job highlights the reproach and suffering which are explained in three separate Old Testament ethical approaches.

The first ethical approach is that one is made righteous in keeping the law and unrighteous in breaking it. God enforces the law by rewarding the righteous and punishing the unrighteous, as is the expectation of Job’s friend, Eliphaz the Temanite (Job 4:7). Psalm 1 also focuses on this theme.

The second approach is that one becomes righteous by gaining wisdom as to how the world really works, as we read: “One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless.” (Prov 14:16) In effect, evil is not just bad, it is also stupid, as we often read in Proverbs.

The third approach is that God honors righteous suffering, as we saw in the life of Job and as we also experience in daily life as deferred gratification. In education, for example, we put off taking a job, study hard, and are typically blessed later with a better job, although the risk of failure is always possible. Still, God rewards those who trust in him and take risks for the kingdom, and punish those who refuse to (Matt 25:14–30).

In God’s kingdom, the cross we bear always precedes the crown we wear.

Suffering Often Predates Salvation

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

 

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