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Friday, October 14, 2011

Ghostly Encounters

We watch innocent children play in a playroom at home and all of a sudden a child with death in its face pokes its head momentarily through a shadowy doorway behind them. The hair on the back of our necks stands up in response. Self -proclaimed “scientists” go from place to place testing to verify whether or not reported ghostly voices, shadowy figures, scary touches, or emotional impressions are real. It all draws in the curious and makes for popular TV. What is really going on here?

Did you know that there is someone in scripture who experienced a similar ghostly encounter? Read the experience of Eliphaz as recorded in the book of Job:

Job 4:12-17 - “Now a word was secretly brought to me, and my ear received a whisper of it. 13 In disquieting thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, 14 Fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones shake. 15 Then a spirit passed before my face; the hair on my body stood up. 16It stood still, but I could not discern its appearance. A form was before my eyes; there was silence; then I heard a voice saying: 17 ‘Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his Maker?

To understand what is going on here the context of the passage is very important. Job is a book about trusting God in terrible times of suffering. It is a book about the meaning of true faith. True faith isn’t based on reward or blessing, it is based on a trusting relationship with Almighty God. But the context of this book is often glanced over. The book opens with a description of Job as, “the greatest of all people of the East” (1:3). What makes Job so great? His holy walk with God and concern for the spiritual welfare of his family (1:5). What matters most is God’s assessment of Job. God says, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” (1:8). God is proud of “His servant” Job. We should all desire or God to think and say the same things about us. But who was God speaking to when He said this?

God was speaking to Satan when he commented on Job. The “sons of God” or angelic beings come to present themselves before God. Satan, (a fallen angelic being) joined in coming before the LORD (1:6). Once before the LORD God asks Satan where he has been. Satan’s response is important to note. He says, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it” (1:7). And it would not be presumptuous to say that Satan goes to and fro throughout the earth with ill intent.

The New Testament states:

1 Peter 5:8-9 - Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.

Job is in part, a book about resisting Satan. After the second chapter Satan is not mentioned again in Job. And yet Satan’s encounter with God is the backdrop for the entire book.

Spiritual warfare is the setting for the book of Job. God brags on Job, Satan responds with a ridiculing retort:

Job 1:9-11 - 9 So Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!”

God accepts the challenge and removes His hedge of protection from Job (1:12). Satan ruthlessly removes Jobs wealth and family (1:13-21). Job’s faith proves steadfast. “In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong” (1:22).

Satan wasn’t satisfied. He again goes before the LORD and again describes his dealings as, “From gong to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it” (2:1-2). This time God again boasts on Job saying, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and suns evil? And still he holds fast to his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to destroy him without cause” (2:3). God glories in the steadfast integrity of His servant Job. Notice Job is referred to by God as “My servant.” Job lives for the LORD. Job sees His life and the circumstances of it as fully surrendered to the LORD. This is verified by the description of Job’s response to his loss. The passage states:

Job 1:20-21 - 20 Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

None of us in our right mind would want to experience losses like Job did. But if we ever do, we should pray for Job’s attitude as expressed by God’s inspired word here.
Satan wasn’t satisfied; he never is. He proudly challenged God’s words again with rippling rebellion saying, “Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will surely curse You to Your face!” (2:5). Ah, there is Satan’s motive and goal. He wants to get Job to curse God. God gives permission for even this (2:8). Notice God is sovereign; nothing happens to Job; no attack is made without the express permission of God. Satan and God are not equals. Satan is under the sovereign control of God. But God gives Satan permission to physically afflict Job in an effort to test his faith.

What strategy does Satan rely on besides the actually destruction of Job’s wealth, health and family? We see it in the reaction of Job’s wife. After having lost all and being further physically afflicted Job’s wife encourages him to do exactly what Satan so desired, “Curse God and die!” (2:9). Job’s wife is culpable in that she stopped be a helper to Job and turned to being a defeated antagonist to her husband. Satan often works to divide and conquer in the marriage relationship. Remember Eve and Adam (Gen. 3). Job’s response to his wife is suited for any spouse who acts like her; “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” The summary assessment of Job is, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (2:10). Satan will stoop to anything to accomplish his cursed plans. And he didn’t stop there.

Job, the biggest loser on earth at that time, having been ridiculed by the one closest to him, his wife, he is then joined by three friends (2:11-13). At first they didn’t even recognize Job so torn was he by his circumstances. But when they did see who it was, they wept with their friend and tore their clothes in empathy. Then they sat down with him for seven days of silent sorrowing together (2:11-13).
Job then speaks and starts what will become an incredible dialogue with his friends and ultimately with God in an effort to explain his circumstances. Who is to blame? Why has this happened? These are the questions addressed in this incredible book. That is the context of the ghostly appearance mentioned earlier.

The first of Job’s friends to respond in an effort to explain Job’s circumstances and set him right, is Eliphaz. And it is Eliphaz who bases his words on “a word” that “was secretly brought to me” by the ghostly figure in the night. Eliphaz and the other two friends Bildad and Zophar, as well as a fourth young late comer named Elihu are all in the end rebuked by God (42:7). Now we can’t attribute all of their response to ghostly apparitions, but at least we can do so for Eliphaz. The account given by Eliphaz concerning the ghostly appearance in the night is not coincidental. There is spiritual warfare going on here. This ghostly appearance is also not solitary in its occurrence.

When we look in the Bible we find other incidents of spirits influencing people. A spirit of ill will had an ill effect on Abimelech (Judges 9:23). King Saul was distressed by a spirit after he had disobeyed the LORD (1 Sam. 16:14-15; 19:9). Lying spirits influenced false prophets (1 Kings 22:23). Satan himself influenced King David to momentarily not trust in God but instead trust in his own earthly forces (1 Chron. 21:1). Jesus cast out evil spirits from people in the New Testament (Mat. 8:16; Mark 1:23-27). And Judas’ heinous betrayal of Jesus is linked to Satan entering him (Luke 22:3).

A point to be made here is that the “friend” of Job who should have encouraged him became a source of discouragement and aggravation in part as a result of passing on words he had received from a ghostly figure in the night. It is not farfetched to associate this ghost with the work of Satan. His desire is to compound Job’s pain with relentless accusations from those closest to him over the bulk of the book of Job. It wasn’t that Satan entered his friends. They believed in God and had a relationship with Him. But they allowed themselves to be influenced by Satan through a ghost inspired (satanically motivated) response as well as their own proud presumptuous reasoning based on very limited information. Proverbs states, “Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; when he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive” (Prov. 17:28). They should have kept their peace.

The broader point to be made is that Satan worked to manipulate and influence others for his purposes by way of a ghostly appearance. The Bible says:

Ephesians 6:12 - 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Job’s enemy was not his friend; it was Satan and his demons. Satan is an intelligent being. He was once a gloriously beautiful cherub but he fell in pride to ugliest of adversaries of God (Ezek. 28:12-17). Satan is a defeated foe. Jesus defeated him publically and decisively at the cross (Col. 2:15). But he is still at work and he will stoop to anything to work his plan to bring people to curse God. Today we see his work in the proliferation of ghostly occultic interests. Satan plays on the curiosity for the unknown in people yet blinded by Him (2 Cor. 4:4). He wants to distract people from the reality of God and His love and grace and salvation by creating an environment where people seek ghosts instead of God. Our response should be to, “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Eph. 5:11). Look at what happened with Job and his friends. Shine the light of truth on the deceptive darkness of Satan. Expose the ghostly encounters for what they really are, a work of Satan. May God help us by His Spirit in this task. All to His glory. Amen.

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