4. Where the Crooked Lot Falls
In this section, he considers in what “part of the lot” the crooked providence falls; that is, where would this show up in your life. He breaks this up into two sections. The first section answers the question, how much of your life could be affected by this difficult providence. The section concerns what aspects of your life may be affected.
a. How broadly might you be affected?
He gives three answers: anywhere, everywhere, and the most painful place.
In any part of your life may be affected by trouble:
First, It may fall in any part of the lot; there is no exempted one in the case: for sin being found in every part, the crook may take place in any part.
He observes that our troubles are tied to the fact of sin in the world. He is not saying that all of our troubles are the direct result of sin we have committed (which is generally the mistake of Job’s friends), but rather that sin has caused us damage and that the pain of this life follows in the damage which sin has caused and makes possible. This distinction must be kept in mind. If we falsely believe all troubles are punitive responses to sin, we will cause ourselves an additional level of sorrow, as is evidence in Job’s discussions with his “comforters”. We are blessed and in the Lord’s presence, we will no longer suffer such troubles. But here, such troubles are part of the world:
Being all as an unclean thing, we may all fade as a leaf, Is. 64:6. The main stream of sin, which the crook readily follows, runs in very different channels, in the case of different persons: and, in regard of the various dispositions of the minds of men, that will prove a sinking weight unto one, which another would go very lightly under.
ii. Everywhere at once
Our troubles may come from every direction at once. While this may not at first seem encouraging, it is important to know when we do suffer trouble from everywhere that we are not uniquely troubled. We easily think other people have far less trouble than we do. We also think their trouble is far more limited in scope. But one trouble easily leads to another problem. If you think about it, you can see how one problem (feeling sick), can lead to another problem (being easily irritated), can lead to another problem (personal conflict). Losing one’s job can facilitate marital conflict, and so on.
Secondly, It may at once fall in many parts of the lot, the Lord calling as in a solemn day, one’s terrors round about, Lam. 2:22. Sometimes God makes one notable crook in a man’s lot: but its name may be Gad, being but the forerunner of a troop which cometh. Then the crooks are multiplied, so that the party is made to halt on each side. While one stream, let in from one quarter, is running full against him, another is let in on him from another quarter, till in the end the waters break in on every hand.
And so, if you are considering your own circumstance, do not be surprised if you suffer multiple problems. If you are counseling another, look to see how one thing leads to another.
iii. The tender part
Experience proves this often true. If you were to lose something which you did not treasure, you would not feel the trial. The loss of something important to you makes the thing a trial. In addition, as we see trials to be a means by which God affects a change in our lives, God will touch us in the place where we are most sensitive. This will be a theme Boston will return later and explore in some different dimensions:
Thirdly, It often falls in the tender part, I mean that part of the lot wherein one is least able to bear it, or, at least, thinks he is so,
He then gives an example from the Psalms which speaks of the betrayal of Jesus by Judas:
Psal. 55:12, 13. “It was not an enemy that reproached me, then I could have borne it—But it was thou, a man, mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance.”
Boston repeats the proposition, in the place where we are least able to bear a loss, there will we will experience the loss:
If there is any one part of the lot, which, of all other, one is disposed to nestle in, the thorn will readily be laid there, especially if he belongs to God: in that thing wherein he is least of all able to be touched, he will be sure to be pressed.
Then he provides the reason why God will try us at that place:
There the trial will be taken of him; for there is the grand competition with Christ. “I take from them the desires of their eyes, and that whereupon they set their minds,” Ezek. 24:25. Since the crook in the lot is the special trial appointed for every one, it is altogether reasonable, and becoming the wisdom of God, that it fall on that which of all things doth most rival him.
It will strike us in the place we are most vulnerable to idolatry: “Idolatry does not consist merely of erecting an image and praying to it, but it is primarily a matter of the heart, which fixes its gaze upon other things and seeks help and consolation from creatures, saints, or devils. It neither cares for God nor expects good things from God sufficiently to trust that God wants to help, nor does it believe that whatever good it encounters comes from God.” Kirsi I. Stjerna, “The Large Catechism of Dr. Martin Luther,” in Word and Faith, ed. Hans J. Hillerbrand, Kirsi I. Stjerna, and Timothy J. Wengert, vol. 2, The Annotated Luther (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2015), 302–303.
b. What aspects of your life may be affected
But, more particularly, the crook may be observed to fall in these four parts of the lot.
1. We may suffer in our body
He will explain this point at greater length below, but we must not think that something which arises from a “natural” cause happens without the determination of God. The natural cause which we observe does not tell the whole story. God is sovereign over the operation of gravity and magnetism. The bacteria in our colon are under the watchful eye of God. Even the “regular” flow of nature, rocks falling toward the ground, and so on are all on within God’s control and also “natural”. God’s control and the regularity of the world are not two separate sources of control.
And so if we experience some physical deformity or ailment, it comes from God:
First, In the natural part, affecting persons considered as of the make allotted for them by the great God that formed all things. The parents of mankind, Adam and Eve, were formed altogether sound and entire, without the least blemish, whether in soul or body; but, in the formation of their posterity, there often appears a notable variation from the original. Bodily defects, superfluities, deformities, infirmities, natural or accidental, make the crook in the lot of some: they have something unsightly or grievous about them.
He then gives examples of such injuries mentioned in the Bible:
Crooks of this kind, more or less observable, are very common and ordinary, the best not exempted from them: and it is purely owing to sovereign pleasure they are not more numerous. Tender eyes made the crook in the lot of Leah, Gen. 29:17. Rachel’s beauty was balanced with barrenness, the crook in her lot, chap. 30:1. Paul, the great apostle of the Gentiles, was, it should seem, no personable man, but of a mean outward appearance, for which fools were apt to contemn him, 2 Cor. 10:10. Timothy was of a crazy frame, weakly and sickly, 1 Tim. 5:23.
God in particular takes credit for physical problems: “Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” Exodus 4:11 (ESV)
And there is a yet far more considerable crook in the lot of the lame, the blind, the deaf and dumb. Some are weak to a degree in their intellectuals; and it is the crook in the lot of several bright souls to be overcast with clouds, notably bemisted, and darkened from the crazy bodies they are lodged in: an eminent instance whereof we have in the grave, wise, and patient Job, going mourning without the sun, yea, standing up and crying in the congregation, Job 30:28.
And so when one suffers a physical ailment, we should see that as ultimately coming from God.
2. We may suffer in reputation
Boston uses the word honor. We may be injured in the way that other people speak of us. This is in slander and gossip. It is a harm which seems slight until it is suffered. Such injuring of the character of another is a sin: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Ephesians 4:31 (ESV) And thus we are considering here a harm which comes at sinful action of other people.
Secondly, It may fall in the honorary part. There is an honour due to all men, the small as well as the great, 1 Pet. 2:17. and that upon the ground of the original constitution of human nature, as it was framed in the image of God.
Note that every human being by virtue of being in the image of God is entitled to honor for that image. Thus, this is a severe strike. And yet God will sometimes allow on to the victim of malicious gossip:
But, in the sovereign disposal of holy providence, the crook in the lot of some falls here: they are neglected and slighted; their credit is still kept low; they go through the world under a cloud, being put into an ill name, their reputation sunk.
Sometimes this the result of careless conduct,
This sometimes is the native consequent of their own foolish and sinful conduct; as, in the case of Dinah, who, by her gadding abroad to satisfy her youthful curiosity, regardless of, and therefore not waiting for a providential call, brought a lasting stain on her honour, Gen. 34.
But there is another circumstance, where the wrong falls on the innocent. The charge is malicious and false; but the victim cannot clear his name. And if it is the will of God, the charge will stick even in the face of innocence:
But where the Lord minds a crook of this kind in one’s lot, innocence will not be able to ward it off in an ill-natured world: neither will true merit be able to make head against it, to make one’s lot stand straight in that part. Thus David represents his case, Psal. 31:11, 12, 13. “They that did see me without fled from me: I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind: I am like a broken vessel. For I have heard the slander of many.”
This is a remarkable statement. God will sometimes permit a slander to continue in the face of truth. But, as a dear friend and pastor once said to me, You are never more like Jesus than when you are wrongfully accused.
3. We may suffer in our work
God may strike us in our work. We may work and it is not successful. And God may prosper the wicked (it does not take much work to find a wicked gazillionaire):
Thirdly, It may fall in the vocational part. Whatever is men’s calling or station in the world, be it sacred or civil, the crook in their lot may take its place therein.
He then provides examples of prophets who were struck in their ministry:
Isaiah was an eminent prophet, but most unsuccessful, Is. 53:1. Jeremiah met with such a train of discouragements and ill usage in the exercise of his sacred function, that he was well-near giving it up, saying, “I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name,” Jer. 20:9.
What an odd thing. God calls them to work and then does not bless it in an obvious way. God calls the prophet and then the prophet is discouraged to the point of death. This shows us how easily can misread the providence of God from the outcome:
The Psalmist observes this crook often to be made in the lot of some men very industrious in their civil business, who “sow the fields”—and at times “God blesseth them, and suffereth not their cattle to decrease:” but, “again, they are minished and brought low, through oppression, affliction and sorrow,” Psal. 107:37–39.
Job is the obvious choice of one who was struck in his financial arrangements (as well as family, reputation, and body):
Such a crook was made in Job’s lot, after it had long stood even.
When it is the will of God, no effort or care will avoid his will:
Some manage their employments with all care and diligence; the husbandman carefully labouring his ground; the sheep-master “diligent to know the state of his flocks, and looking well to his herds;” the tradesman early and late at his business; the merchant diligently plying his, watching and falling in with the most fair and promising opportunities; but there is such a crook in that part of their lot, as all they are able to do can by no means even.
Why will following all the admonitions of Proverbs about careful work and prudent action not guarantee a good outcome? Because God’s sovereignty is in the end what will control the outcome:
For why? The most proper means used for compassing an end are insignificant, without a word of divine appointment commanding their success: “Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?” Lam. 3:37. People ply their business with skill and industry, but the wind turns in their face, providence crosseth their enterprizes, disconcerts their measures, frustrates their hopes and expectations, renders their endeavours successless, and so puts and keeps them still in straitening circumstances.
We cannot dictate the end of anything, when God determines otherwise:
“So the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise,” Eccl. 9:11. Providence interposing, crooks the measures which human prudence and industry had laid straight towards the respective ends; so the swift lose the race, the strong the battle, and the wise miss of bread: while, in the mean time, some one or other providential incident, supplying the defect of human wisdom, conduct, and ability, the slow gain the race, and carry the prize; the weak win the battle and enrich themselves with the spoil; and bread falls into the lap of the fool.
4. We may be injured in our relationships
Boston will call this the “rational part” but he means for us “the relational” part of our life. He has an interesting image relationships, they are “the joints of society.” They are a place where things happen and thus a place where society can break. Moreover, we are not made for perfect isolation. We need relationships as a means of comfort and rest. Thus, when a relationship becomes the source of injury, it can be especially painful:
Lastly, It may fall in the rational part. Relations are the joints of society; and there the crook in the lot may take place, one’s smartest pain being often felt in these joints. They are in their nature the springs of man’s comfort; yet they often run the greatest bitterness to him. Sometimes this crook is occasioned by the loss of relations.
When you begin to consider the matter, the Bible is filled with many examples of relationships which became a source of sorrow. Boston provides some examples:
Thus a crook was made in the lot of Jacob, by means of the death of Rachel, his beloved wife, and the loss of Joseph, his son and darling, which had like to have made him go halting to the grave. Job laments this crook in his lot, Job 16:7. “Thou hast made desolate all my company;” meaning his dear children, every one of whom he had laid in the grave, not so much as one son or daughter left him.
Sometimes our relationship to another person makes vulnerable to injury, because the loved one is hurt, we are hurt:
Again, sometimes it is made through the afflicting hand of God lying heavy on them; the which, in virtue of their relation, recoils on the party, as is feelingly expressed by that believing woman, Matth. 15:22. “Have mercy on me, O Lord,—my daughter is grievously vexed.” Ephraim felt the smart of a course of family affliction, when he called his son’s name Beriah, because it went evil with his house, 1 Chron. 7:23.
The more opportunity we have for comfort, the more opportunity there is for sorrow:
Since all is not only vanity but vexation of spirit, it can hardly miss, but, the more of these springs of comfort are opened to a man, he must, at one time or other, find he has but the more sources of sorrow to gush out, and spring in upon him; the sorrow always proportioned to the comfort found in them, or expected from them.
And plainly we can suffer direct injury from one in relation with us:
And, finally, the crook is sometimes made here by their proving uncomfortable through the disagreeableness of their temper, disposition, and way. There was a crook in Job’s lot, by means of an undutiful, ill-natured wife, Job 19:17. in Abigail’s, by means of a surly, ill tempered husband, 1 Sam. 25:25 in Eli’s, through the perverseness and obstinacy of his children, chap. 2:25 in Jonathan’s, through the furious temper of his father, chap. 20:30, 33.
Because of sin, we can expect and we will find examples of every sort of relation, even in those places where it would be most unwelcome, that a crooked dispensation may fall:
So do men oftentimes find their greatest cross where they expected their greatest comfort. Sin hath unhinged the whole creation, and made every relation susceptible of the crook. In the family are found masters hard and unjust, servants froward and unfaithful; in neighbourhood, men selfish and uneasy; in the church, ministers unedifying, and offensive in their walk, and people contemptuous and disorderly, a burden to the spirits of ministers; in the state, magistrates oppressive, and discountenancers of that which is good, and subjects turbulent and seditious: all these cause crooks in the lot of their relatives.