of the most ancient of stories in any language is the story of Job. Most people
in Christendom know the story well. Job’s wealth was legendary. It is said that
he was the “greatest of all men of the east.” However, even before we learn
that fact about Job, we are told that he was a “blameless and upright man,
fearing God and turning away from evil.”
The story of Job is how God allows this
wealthy and righteous man to be chastised by the hand of Satan. All that Job
possessed was taken away in an astonishing series of disasters. One by one,
messengers came to Job to report a catastrophe.
There was first an attack by some nomads
of the area. They slew Job’s workers in the fields and took his oxen and his
donkeys. The messenger who had come to tell Job of these things had not even
finished speaking when one of his shepherds also came to Job with another disaster
that had struck. He described a fire that had fallen from the sky and consumed
all the sheep and all of the other shepherds. The messenger alone had escaped.
No sooner had this one finished his report,
when yet another man burst in with some more terrible news. There had been an
attack by the Chaldeans, who raided all of Job’s camels and killed the servants
who were attending them. As Job sat in shocked astonishment at this devastating
series of reports, still another came. Job’s ten children, for whom he had
prayed daily, had all been in the house of the oldest son when a great wind
came. The house collapsed on them and killed them all.
Job staggered to his feet, tore his robe
as a sign of his anguish, and shaved his head as an indication of his grief. His
strength taken from him, he fell to the ground. His reactions to this cursed
day could have been many. Most men would have probably uttered curses of
anguish. However, of all the reactions that Job might have had in response to
all that he had endured, his response was to fall to the ground and worshiped
the Name of the Lord.
He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed
be the Name of the Lord” (Job 1:21 NAS).
But even with all that had already
happened to him, Job had not seen the end of the disasters that were to befall
him. He was about to endure extreme physical agony.
I suppose that I,
too, would have stopped to investigate the strange sight. Moses, the Israelite
who had fled Egypt for fear of his life, was watching the flocks of his
Father-in-law in far-off Midian. As Moses walked near mount Horeb, he saw a
bush that seemed to be burning, but it was not being consumed by the fire. As Moses
approached the bush, he heard the voice of God speaking to him out of the midst
“Come, I will send
you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of
But Moses said to
God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out
He said, “But I
will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you:
when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this
mountain.” (Exodus 3:10-12 ESV).
This was the call
of Moses by God to lead the Israelite nation out of their captivity in Egypt.
So demanding and at times so frustrating would this task become, that there may
have been moments later in the life of Moses when he wished he had never turned
aside from his intended path to see a bush that was burning but not being
consumed. Perhaps if he had known all that lie ahead of him he would have
hesitated in obeying God even more than he did at the time.
Indeed, when God
told him of his plan for Moses to stand before Pharaoh and to go to the
Children of Israel to tell them that God had appointed him to bring them out of
Egypt, Moses began to argue with God. It was a daunting task. Moses had tried
it once before – forty years previous to that time.
time forty years earlier, the first martyr Stephen would say of Moses, “He
supposed that his brothers understood that God was giving them deliverance by
his hand, but they did not understand” (Acts 7:25). Moses probably felt that if
the Israelites did not accept him forty years ago, they certainly would not
accept him now.
One would think
that the writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews could have dispensed with
the title “harlot” when referring to Rehab, a woman who had lived in the Old Testament days. After all, when he
wrote about “Rahab the harlot,” as he calls her, about seventeen hundred years
had passed since she had practiced that trade. And she had done other things in
her life– more noteworthy things. In fact, it was one of those other and more
significant things about which the author writes: "By faith, the
walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By
faith, Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient,
after she had welcomed the spies in peace" (Hebrews -31 NIV). The
spies of this verse are not the twelve spies that had been sent in to spy out
the land shortly after the Israelites made their exodus out of Egypt. That
occurrence had happened some forty years earlier. The spies referred to in this
case were only two in number, and they went in specifically to spy out the city
of Jericho, the same city that Joshua was contemplating when he met with the
captain of the host of the Lord.
If you are
in the custom of watching the local evening news, on almost any given evening,
you may see a story about some unfortunate family who had just suffered a
devastating house fire. Perhaps even some of you have had this experience. As
the reporter interviews the family, they are usually standing in front of what
was once their home. In the background is the rubble of their building, and
ashes. Many ashes.
what is left after all that is useful is burned away. After the fire has
consumed all that was worth consuming, it leaves the ashes. Ashes are the
useless byproduct of disaster. Even the fire refuses these.
To our Ash
Wednesday service I brought some ashes that I collected from our fireplace in
our home. After the fire has gone out, there are the ashes that remain. These
hold no value for me. No matter how many of these ashes that I collect, I could
never heat our home with them. They are worthless to me.
Today we as
a church are observing Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the
Lent season in the church calendar. The Lent season is the time during the year
that commemorates the forty days of fasting in the wilderness that Jesus
accomplished before he endured the temptation of Satan.
of Ash Wednesday and even the commemoration of Lent is not something that God
has instructed us to do, but is purely a church tradition. Thus, like all human
traditions, we need to be a little careful what meaning we put into it. If we
are holding this service and observing Ash Wednesday out of some sense of duty
or to fulfill a requirement, or simply because we have always done it, we are
missing the point.
we use these moments together to truly reflect on our relationship with God and with
our fellow man, then our observance of Ash Wednesday and of the entire Lent season
will be very meaningful.
I would like to give you two things pertaining to the image of the ashes
to think about during this season of Lent.