TBU: The Bible Unpacked: Comprehensive Edition

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Chapter 39  Part I


Hard times are experienced by all Christians. This reality is reflected in the Bible, notably in Job and Psalms. But the Bible also shows that there are a number of practical and effective things that we can do when undergoing hard times.

Note that the next chapter looks at experiencing persecution because of one’s faith. This current chapter deals with undergoing hard times in general – particularly when one is hurting or “down” – irrespective of whether such times are a result of one’s faith or not. As such the responses discussed in this chapter, supplement or reinforce the responses to persecution that are given in the following chapter.

Prologue: God’s People Still Have Hard Times

See also:

Trouble is characteristic of human life

Job 5:7  [Eliphaz:] But a person is born for trouble as surely as sparks fly up from a fire.  GW

Ps 90:10a  The days of our lives add up to seventy years, or eighty, if one is especially strong. But even one’s best years are marred by trouble and oppression.  NET

The wicked oppress the righteous and the poor

Amos 5:12  [God, to the wicked:] I know how terrible your sins are and how many crimes you have committed. You persecute good people, take bribes, and prevent the poor from getting justice in the courts.  GNT

Examples of God’s people undergoing hard times

1Ki 19:3-4  Elijah was afraid, so he got up and fled for his life to Beer Sheba in Judah. He left his servant there, 4while he went a day’s journey into the desert. He went and sat down under a shrub and asked the Lord to take his life: “I’ve had enough! Now, O Lord, take my life. After all, I’m no better than my ancestors.”  NET

Job 3:24-26  [Job:] For my sighing comes in place of my food, and my groanings flow forth like water. 25For the very thing I dreaded has happened to me, and what I feared has come upon me. 26I have no ease, I have no quietness; I cannot rest; turmoil has come upon me.  NET

Examples of God’s people even attributing their plight to God

Ruth 1:20-21  Then she told them, “Don’t call me Naomi any longer! Call me Mara, because God has made my life bitter. 21I had everything when I left, but the Lord has brought me back with nothing. How can you still call me Naomi, when God has turned against me and made my life so hard?”  CEV

Lam 3:1-3  I am the man who has experienced affliction from the rod of his wrath. 2He drove me into captivity and made me walk in darkness and not light. 3He repeatedly attacks me, he turns his hand against me all day long.  NET

Here Jeremiah speaks on behalf of his nation, as if it was the nation speaking as one.

Note: The desire to contend with God over one’s plight

Job 7:11, 20-21  [Job, to God:] “Therefore, I will not refrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.20If I have sinned – what have I done to you, O watcher of men? Why have you set me as your target? Have I become a burden to you? 21And why do you not pardon my transgression, and take away my iniquity? For now I will lie down in the dust, and you will seek me diligently, but I will be gone.”  NET

“Therefore” (v. 11) appears to refer to the misery of Job’s predicament (cf. vv. 2-5) with the prospect of imminent death (cf. vv. 6-10) – and possibly also his apparent innocence (cf. 6:10, 24, 30). His circumstances being as such, he says that he will not keep silent but speak out and complain to God. In v. 21 Job asks God why he does not forgive his sins and relent, apparently reasoning that his death – by which he would pay for his sin – was now imminent anyway.

 Questions for Section A

Mourn Loss

The actions spoken of in this section are important for dealing with grief. For they help us express it and “get it out of our system”. Note that while the vast majority of the verses in this section refer to loss in accordance with the above heading – usually in regard to the death of one or more loved ones – a few of them speak of other troubles.

Mourn and weep over loss – particularly deaths

John 11:32-35  Now when Mary came to the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the people who had come with her weeping, he was intensely moved in spirit and greatly distressed. 34He asked, “Where have you laid him?” They replied, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus wept.  NET

Acts 8:2  Some devout men buried Stephen, mourning for him with loud cries.  GNT

Mourn and weep before God

Josh 7:5-6  The people of Ai killed about thirty-six Israelites and then chased the rest from the city gate all the way down to the canyon, killing them as they went down the hill. When the Israelites saw this, they lost their courage. 6Then Joshua tore his clothes in sorrow. He bowed facedown on the ground before the Ark of the Lord and stayed there until evening. The leaders of Israel did the same thing. They also threw dirt on their heads to show their sorrow.  NCV™

Judg 20:25-26  The Benjaminites again attacked them from Gibeah and struck down eighteen thousand sword–wielding Israelite soldiers.  26So all the Israelites, the whole army, went up to Bethel. They wept and sat there before the Lord; they did not eat anything that day until evening. They offered up burnt sacrifices and tokens of peace to the Lord.  NET

Openly express your sorrow and grief

1Sam 30:3-4  When David and his men came to the city, they found it burned. Their wives, sons, and daughters had been taken captive. 4Then David and the men who were with him wept loudly until they could weep no more.  NET

Est 4:1  Now when Mordecai became aware of all that had been done, he tore his garments and put on sackcloth and ashes. He went out into the city, crying out in a loud and bitter voice.  NET

Fast in mourning

2Sam 1:12  And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son, for the people of the Lord and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.  NKJV

 Questions for Section B

Keep in Mind God and His Word

In hard times, remember God . . .

Neh 4:14b  [Nehemiah, speaking to his people about enemy threats:] “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the great and awesome Lord, and fight on behalf of your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your families!”  NET

. . . and remember what God has done

Ps 77:7-15  [A psalmist:] “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? 8Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? 9Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah 10Then I said, “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.” 11I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. 12I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. 13Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? 14You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples. 15You with your arm redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah  ESV

The expression “the years of the right hand of the Most High” (v. 10) speaks of the years when God’s power was clearly manifested on his people’s behalf. In the face of present difficulties and God’s apparent rejection and inactivity (vv. 7-9), the psalmist chooses to remember and meditate on God’s wonderful deeds of the past (vv. 10-12, 15), by which he finds encouragement and a revitalized view of God (vv. 13-14).

Seek God in hard times

Ps 77:2a  [A psalmist:] In my time of trouble I sought the Lord. I kept my hand raised in prayer throughout the night.  NET

Do not forget God’s word

Ps 119:61  [A psalmist, to God:] The ropes of the wicked tighten around me, but I do not forget your law.  NET

Note that the following subsections also contain verses from Psalm 119, and are likewise spoken by the psalmist to God.

Keep meditating on God’s word and obeying it

Ps 119:23, 51, 166  Though rulers plot and slander me, your servant meditates on your statutes. … 51Arrogant people do nothing but scoff at me. Yet I do not turn aside from your law.166I hope for your deliverance, O Lord, and I obey your commands.  NET

Job 6:10  [Job:] Then I would have this comfort and be glad even in this unending pain, because I would know I did not reject the words of the Holy One.  NCV™

Job has primarily in view his obedience to God’s commands (cf. CEV), which he had not rejected amidst his great ordeal.

Put your hope in God’s word

Ps 119:81  I am weak from waiting for you to save me, but I hope in your word.  NCV™

Take comfort in God’s word

Ps 119:50, 52  This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.52When I think of your rules from of old, I take comfort, O Lord.  ESV

In v. 50 the psalmist says that his comfort in suffering is God’s promise which preserves or “revives” (NET) his life, through the hope that it gives (cf. v. 81 ⇑).

Delight in God’s word

Ps 119:92, 111  If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.111Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart.  ESV

In v. 92 the psalmist asserts that he would have perished in his affliction if God’s law had not “been the source of my joy” (GNT) and so “sustained me with joy” (NLT). The reason why God’s word produced such joy may have primarily been because of its promises (v. 50 ) and/or because the psalmist “found happiness in obeying” it (CEV).

 Questions for Section C

Trust in God

See also:

In hard times, trust in God

Ps 31:13-15  [David, to God:] I have heard the slander of many; It is like terror all around me, as they conspire together and plot to take my life. 14But I trust in you, O Lord. I say, “You are my God.” 15My times are in your hands. Deliver me from the hands of my enemies and from those who pursue me.  ISV

The statement: “You are my God” (v. 14) implies that the Lord is the one David trusts in as sovereign over his life, the one who held his present and future circumstances in his hands (v. 15a).

Commit yourself to God and take refuge in him . . .

Ps 31:5  [David, to God:] Into your hand I entrust my life; you will rescue me, O Lord, the faithful God.  NET

Ps 57:1  [David, to God:] Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.  ESV

. . . For God saves and protects those who take refuge in him

Ps 91:1-7, 9-12  The one who lives in the shelter of the Most High and who abides in the shadow of the Almighty 2will say to the Lord, “You are my refuge, my fortress, and my God in whom I trust!” 3He will surely deliver you from the hunter’s snare and from the destructive plague. 4With his feathers he will cover you, and under his wings you will find safety. His truth is your shield and armor. 5You need not fear terror that stalks in the night, the arrow that flies in the day; 6plague that strikes in the darkness, or calamity that destroys at noon. 7If a thousand fall at your side or ten thousand at your right hand, it will not overcome you.9“O Lord, you are my refuge!” Because you chose the Most High as your dwelling place, 10no evil will fall upon you, and no affliction will approach your tent, 11for he will command his angels to protect you in all your ways. 12With their hands they will lift you up so you will not trip over a stone.  ISV

Accept hard times from God

Job 2:7-10  Satan left the Lord’s presence and struck Job with painful boils from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. 8Job took a piece of broken pottery to scratch himself as he sat in the ashes. 9His wife asked him, “Are you still holding on to your principles? Curse God and die!” 10He said to her, “You’re talking like a godless fool. We accept the good that God gives us. Shouldn’t we also accept the bad?” Through all this Job’s lips did not utter one sinful word.  GW

1Pet 2:19  God will bless you for this, if you endure the pain of undeserved suffering because you are conscious of his will.  GNT

Peter is speaking of accepting undeserved suffering (cf. v. 18) as being in accordance with God’s will.

 Questions for Section D

Hope in God and Wait for Him

In hard times, put your hope in God

Ps 42:5-6a  [A psalmist:] Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation 6and my God.  ESV

Lam 3:19-23  [Jeremiah:] Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! 20My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. 21But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: 22The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  ESV

Look resolutely and expectantly to God

Ps 25:15  [David:] I continually look to the Lord for help, for he will free my feet from the enemy’s net.  NET

2Chr 20:12  [Jehoshaphat, as Judah faced invasion:] O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.  ESV

Wait for God

Isa 8:17  [Isaiah:] I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.  ESV

Wait for God patiently and quietly

Ps 37:7  Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!  ESV

Lam 3:26  It is good to wait quietly for the Lord to save.  NCV™

Wait with confidence and in the knowledge that God will act

Ps 27:13-14  [David:] I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! 14Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!  ESV

Isa 64:4  Since ancient times no one has heard or perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who intervenes for those who wait for him.  NET

Note that God’s action on behalf of his troubled people is not always simply the removal of the cause of their trouble. It may instead involve strengthening his people to cope with the trouble, with inner joy and peace.

 Questions for Section E

Pray for persecuted Christians