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“I ONLY AM ESCAPED ALONE TO TELL THEE"
by Philip Owen

Familiarity with Scripture can sometimes lead to a casual or even careless disregard for its truths.  “I know that verse or passage,” we may tend to think and hasten on to newer territory.  But as I was meditating recently on the familiar account of Job, I was struck by a detail that I had overlooked.  Four times in the first chapter (vv. 15, 16, 17, 19), we read these words:  “I only am escaped alone to tell thee.” 

As the Book of Job is not fiction, this repetition cannot be attributed to the use of a narrative device by a human author.  God Himself is underscoring some truths for us.  In the first instance, Sabeans attacked and killed Job’s servants as they plowed then stole the oxen and asses in that location. In the second, “fire from heaven” (lightning?) burned up Job’s shepherds as they tended his sheep.  Third, Chaldeans killed Job’s servants and stole the camels they had been tending.  Finally, a windstorm collapsed the house where Job’s seven sons and three daughters were gathered, killing them and, presumably, all but one of their attendants.  In each of these four instances, one servant escaped and reported the tragedy to Job.  The details in this account suggest two salient truths.

1. God works with precise purpose Himself ("I only am escaped alone.")

 We are tempted to see only the death and devastation in these accounts—understandably so.  That is surely what Job saw.  As I reread the account this morning, I was freshly overwhelmed with the reality of Job’s loss, one sledgehammer blow followed another without relief.  We can scarcely imagine the loss of life, but we know that another wealthy man, Abraham, had 318 servants (Gen. 14:14) so that, by comparison, it is conceivable that in addition to Job’s ten children, several hundred others were killed in these various calamities.

What we must note, however, is that God is not ham-fisted in His actions.  A tsunami, a tornado, a flood, an explosion, even an enemy attack—all occur under the directing hand or permissive eye of God.  In many cases, thousands may die, but this is not the result of mindless devastation or of an uncaring God.  Everyone dies sooner or later.  It is particularly arresting when many die suddenly, but it is no less precise, timely, and individual for each.

Note that in the four instances above, as varied as were the causes of the deaths (some the result of “natural” disasters others of human wickedness), all died except one.  God presided over these human catastrophes with the skill of a neurosurgeon.  The deaths were not mindless, directionless, or purposeless.  There is no such thing as an accident.  God intended Job to endure a thoroughgoing trial, and he systematically stripped him of all that he had, and in each case left only one person to report what had happened.  God severs or saves person by person.

2. God gives us a purpose ("to tell thee.")

 Many unbelievers (and sadly, believers as well) float through this life without a visible purpose, trying to figure out why they are here, manufacturing meaning as they live their lives.  The four verses that make up our text offer a window through which we may view our purpose in life.

Each servant who had escaped death recognized that he had been delivered in order to tell Job what God had done.  So it is with us.  We have been born and, especially, have been redeemed for the purpose of testifying to what God has done, first in the vicarious judgment He poured out on His Son on the cross and then in the blessed salvation He has proffered us.  Once, Job’s servants had had many menial responsibilities.  But as they came face-to-face with the stark reality of eternity, they were committed to their one ultimate purpose:  “to tell.”

And so it should be with us: whether in seeming tragedy or evident blessing, our lives should be a beacon of grace.  By the grace of God, we who are saved have escaped the eternal judgment awaiting all who are lost.  We have escaped in order to glorify God through speech and actions that proclaim the manifold grace of God and that declare the truth of His mercy.  Our purpose is truly a mission.  By human vocation, we may be shepherds or household servants, computer technicians or housewives, but God has delivered us from the destruction and eternal judgment of sin in order that we might tell of His grace.  Once the servants’ lives had had many mundane focuses, but with the coming of Job’s trial, they all had one focus and one message.  So it should be with all of us.

Few if any of us will endure trials as severe as Job’s.  Nevertheless, the reality of God’s judgment and the glories of God’s grace that we experience daily should make us as single-minded in purpose as were Job’s servants.

Have you escaped? Then say so. Tell others.

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