Alfred Place Baptist Church

11-14 Zophar’s Speech and Job’s Reply

“A rural family with six children, four of them hemophiliacs, serves the Lord with joy and discipline. Then the AIDS crisis hits. Unknown to doctors and patients alike, the nation’s blood supply is contaminated. The four hemophiliacs must constantly tap into that supply. Two contract AIDS and are dead within three years. The third has tested HIV-positive; it is only a matter of time before the patient exhibits clinical symptoms, suffers, and dies. The fourth, age thirty, himself the father of three, has refused to be tested, but he knows that the chances are overwhelming that he too is a carrier; and that he will shortly leave his wife a widow and his children fatherless. He has almost no insurance, and no insurer will now give him the time of day.”

Don Carson records this incident at the beginning of his book, “How Long, O Lord?” (Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, 1990, p.16). We are reminded immediately of the godly Job and the judgements that fall upon him, removing his business, his children, his health, and the affection of his wife. All those trials were compounded by the arrival of so-called comforters, ostensibly coming to cheer him but in reality they torment him by accusations that these troubles have come to him as a divine judgement for his sins. Imagine any of them coming to that family described by Don Carson, decimated by Aids. As we shall spend a portion of our own lifetime comforting fellow-believers, one of the reasons the book of Job is found in Scripture is to tell us what we are not to say to mourning family members.

1. ZOPHAR, THE PROUD COUNSELLOR.

The third of the comforters is a man called Zophar. What does he say to Job and how does Job answer him? Zophar is the youngest of the three men; he is certainly as mean as Bildad, maybe an even harder man. He is blunt, and arrogant; he has four pieces of considered advice to offer this old man in his agony of body and soul and this is how he starts: “Are all these words to go unanswered? Is this talker to be vindicated?” (v.2).

i] YOU TALK TOO MUCH.

That is the first thing Zophar says. We are urged, if we would be wise grief counsellors, to listen intently to what people in distress say, not to interrupt or direct the flow of the conversation. Let them open their hearts while we are patient and silent. We are reminded that they are suffering from stress. Zophar had never attended a grief counselling course. He has neither little human compassion nor common sense. A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he knows something too. Yet, “All these words . . . ” Zophar mutters darkly (v.2).

It is a familiar enough criticism . . . “all these words . . . preachers stand in their pulpits six feet above contradiction,” people say, don’t they? But boys and girls at 14 are found all over the United Kingdom sitting at their desks and they have 40 minutes of Physics, followed by 40 minutes of French, and then 40 minutes of Mathematics, and 40 minutes of Biology, week after week in compulsory education until everyone is 16 years of age. It’s the life of all young people. But 40 minutes of the Bible . . . talking about the most fascinating and wonderful of themes . . . the most loving of all Beings in the universe . . . the divine Saviour, the only one who can save and educate us? What torture – a 40 minute sermon! “You can’t expect people to listen for that length of time,” they say. They can listen to Chemistry for 40 minutes, and Welsh, and Chaucer, and Economics, but not to the Word of the Living God. Zophar here bursts out, “Are all these words to go unanswered?” He asks, “Is this talker to be vindicated?” That’s how broken Job appears to Zophar, someone seeking to defend himself by verbosity, pleading his innocence of the deep secret crime for which God is obviously judging him in this fearful way. “Will no one rebuke you?” Zophar cries (v. 3), and we all know who will. Zophar is the self appointed rebuker, and the first thing he says concerning Job’s speech of chapters nine and ten, where Job has protested that he is a good man, is in effect, “Shut up Job. You talk too much.”

ii] IF GOD WOULD OPEN HIS MOUTH YOU WOULD SOON BE SILENT.

The second observation Zophar makes is “If God would speak up and spill the beans on your character then you wouldn’t be protesting your innocence”. He turns to Job and dismisses him, “You say to God, ‘My beliefs are flawless and I am pure in your sight.’ Oh, how I wish that God would speak, that he would open his lips against you and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom, for true wisdom has two sides. Know this: God has even forgotten some of your sins” (vv.4-6). Of course, Job never claims that his beliefs are flawless or that he is as pure as God. Job knew better. But he does plead constantly that there is no secret activity of wickedness for which God has taken away his children, his health and all that he has. Zophar demeans Job’s claims of obedience to God. “You think you are so wise in the ways of God and what he requires of us. If he spoke what might he say about you?” He raises his eyebrows and looks inquiringly at this sufferer. “God would tell you what true wisdom is. Know this, that God has even forgotten some of your sins.” In other words, not only is God treating Job fairly, he is actually getting off lightly with less than his guilt deserves. So Job needs to be pleading for mercy, not speaking of his purity.

In other words, “Job, you’re getting less than you deserve.” Zophar doesn’t like this ‘whinging’ that he’s hearing from the ash heap. “Your sins are so great that God took everything away from you, but he hasn’t begun to punish you for all your sins, only for some of them,” he says. “God has chosen not to judge you now for them, so you should be thankful for God’s restraints, not protesting how innocent you are.” Zophar is showing his built-in animosity about all the things that Job has talked to him about, the righteousness of God, and the need for sacrifice for your sin. Zophar is resentful because he feels that men who live a good life get the blessings. Those who get the problems are being punished for their follies.

iii] GOD IS INCOMPREHENSIBLE SO WE CANNOT KNOW HIM.

Zophar expands this theme of the silence of God and he says what critics have said for the last two hundred years, that because we cannot know God exhaustively, we will never know God truly. “Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens – what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave – what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea,” he says. Because God is infinite then he is incomprehensible, Zophar is saying, so we can never hope to have a comprehensive grasp of God, and all our statements about him are conjectures. So what does Job think he is doing pleading his blamelessness and saying there is no reason for God to be punishing him in these ways. “We cannot know God so you cannot say something like that,” says Zophar.

Now that does not follow does it? There is nothing at all about which I have exhaustive knowledge. I do not know my own wife or children comprehensively, but I have true knowledge of them. The scientist who has specialised in the atom all his life is realising as he enters dotage how little he has learned of that immense subject, but what he knows from his studies is largely true. Isaac Newton, that most brilliant of scientists, judged that all he had discovered was one pebble on the shore of a mighty ocean, but Newton knew the truth about that little pebble. Certainly God alone knows himself comprehensively. God alone can go in, and in, and in, and into himself and know every aspect of his own being. God only knows the love and holiness and wisdom and might of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God knows himself utterly, and there are no secrets to God himself. He is the only exhaustively self-knowing being that there is. There is no corner, nor recess unknown to him, nor shadow of turning cast by him.

Mere man the creature will never know God like that. When Adam before the fall walked with God in the garden, he didn’t know God as God knew himself. The angels in heaven who never sinned do not know God like that. The glorified saints in heaven don’t know God in that way. Only God himself knows himself exhaustively. God is indeed incomprehensible. The words of Zophar are a proof text about that. We have this little brain of ours which a man could hold in his hands. This fascinating organ with its billions of connections, and the speed with which it can think and calculate is a staggering creation of God’s, but still it is limited and utterly insignificant before God’s immensity. Paul says that God’s ways are past finding out. So, of course, we’ll never know God as God knows himself. But the knowledge of himself that he has given to us is true. “He is there, and he is not silent”, said Francis Schaeffer.

There is no use in having a silent God, for then we would not know anything about him. But the only God there is has spoken and told us much about himself. We have an answer to our existence, and to the problem of the human condition, to why men suffer and die – we are fallen creatures. He has told us of the Messiah. Job did know much about him, in fact much more than the knowledge of deity held by Zophar and Bildad and Eliphaz. But Job did not know God exhaustively. There were secret things that God had withheld from him, including why God had decreed such waves of pain to suddenly crash into his life. But what true knowledge of God Job had, enabled him to trust God for what he did not know about him. “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10).

iv] CONFESSION AND REDEDICATION IS THE WAY AHEAD FOR JOB.

The fourth observation Zophar makes is to give Job a tip about his future. “If you devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, then you will lift up your face without shame; you will stand firm and without fear” (vv. 13-15). In other words, “Job, repent, put away the sin that is in your hand, and start living a decent life again. Then you’ll be a new man without shame. You’ll forget all these troubles (v.16), life will be brighter (v.17), there will be hope in the future (v.18), you will lie down without fear and gain your old popularity (v.19), and the wicked won’t be able to touch you (v. 20).

It’s so easy isn’t it? The natural man’s religion seems straightforward compared to this gospel of ours. It sees no need of grace, does it? A man does something wrong. He feels some sorrow and may even express it. Life goes on. But we explain to them about the incarnation of the living God, the twofold nature of Christ, that he is very God but is also bone of our bone. There are these two natures, human and divine, in the one person of our blessed Lord. He has all the attributes of God but a true and real man. He was sent into this world as the gift of his Father to us. He effected a righteous life, the only man ever to be without any sin whatsoever – what an achievement – and then he died a death of atonement on the cross. Without the shedding of the blood of God the Son there is no remission of sin. The Lord Jesus paid the price for sin which we sinners could never pay, and he was raised from the dead on the third day. This living Christ now offers himself to sinners to become their Lord and Saviour. That is what we tell the world, and people like Zophar will listen politely to us as we nervously stammer our words of personal testimony. We are telling them things that are crucially important, and they’ll say, “Well, I don’t see it that way. If I have a decent life and try and do my best, and confess my sin to him when I fall, God can’t expect anything more from anyone, and that’s it”. That is Zophar, “Come now Job, and put those things behind you that have brought God’s judgment upon you in their horrible way. Stretch out your hands to God and he will forgive you and put your life back together again. That’s what it’s all about, not this complicated and unnecessary business about the perfect righteousness of God, and us needing to make a sacrifice every day for our sins, and his imputed righteousness becoming ours by faith.”

The Gospel is simple, but it isn’t easy. Faith in Jesus Christ is simple, but not easy. Repenting, turning away from sin, is simple for me to say, not easy for anyone to do, especially for the preacher. Cowper writes of “The dearest idol I have known,” and some idols are very precious to us. We cling to them at any cost. They are more valuable to men than Jesus Christ. So Zophar’s great message is, “Devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him … put away the sin that is in your hand … then you will lift up your face without shame … you will surely forget your trouble … life will be brighter than noonday …you will be secure, because there is hope” (from vv.13-20). The way of restoration seems almost automatic. We do A and B, and God in turn does C and D. Job then leaves the ash heap, his health improves and his happiness is restored. Would that it were always so! Zophar’s theology prevents him from seeing that there are cases when the happiness and contentment which ought to be a part of the believer’s comfort are little enjoyed. An old Puritan rightly affirmed that ‘God sometimes puts his children to bed in the dark.’ There are matters about which the Christian has to be prepared not to get light in this world. There are mysteries which God calls us now to leave unsolved. So it was for Job. Why his last weeks had been characterised by unrelieved gloom he would not be told until he went to a better place. But then, what joy, to be released from this perplexity and pain in a moment, and to join the Lord he loved and all his loved ones who died in faith.

Job had no time for the slickness of human theologies and philosophies. He observes, “The tents of the marauders are undisturbed, and those who provoke God are secure – those who carry their god in their hands” (Job 12:6). We see this to be true, that those who provoke God are actually secure satisfied people both psychologically and economically. They are those who carry their god in their hands – their wallets and jewelled rings. Judgement is generally delayed until after death. God waits for men to come to repentance. There are in the country today, hundreds of thousands of crimes of violence unsolved. There are drug barons, pimps and racketeers who are multi-millionaires, leaving a trail of evil behind them in destroyed lives. But they themselves “look about them and take their rest in safety. They lie down with no one to make them afraid and many court their favour” (vv. 18&19). The tents of marauders are undisturbed.

Zophar’s theology overemphasises the material, forgetting that the blessings God brings into his people’s lives are rarely financial. They sometimes are, and we in the Western world are generally rich people, but God’s blessings are not material blessings are they? There was no man more greatly blessed than the apostle Paul, but no man poorer than the apostle Paul. Zophar was a health and wealth believer, with credit card religion, you key in your special number by doing good works, and God just opens the divine dispensary and you get all you want in life. It’s that sort of religion. It is biblically impoverished, theologically ignorant and its fruit is a sharp tongue and a self-righteous spirit.

2. THE RESPONSE OF JOB.

Then there is Job’s response, which is in chapters 12 and 13 and 14. It’s a magnificent speech. Read and re-read it. It is characterised by such dignity and holy emotion in the light of all that Job has had to listen to. The third of his so-called ‘friends’ has told him that his sons and daughters have been quite justly put to death by an act of God, because they were sinners. His ‘comforters’ have told him that God has even ignored certain of his own sins and is punishing him by these dreadful sufferings for merely a part of his wickedness. Job then, in response to these three speeches, is forceful; he doesn’t spare his friends; he mocks them, he is ironic, and as contemptuous of some of their opinions as the Saviour was of “that fox Herod” or of the religion of the Pharisees. Job is more than capable of righteous indignation at what they have been saying. Job is angry, but he doesn’t sin. Job’s friends have demeaned themselves by what they’ve said to him in these first speeches of theirs. They’ve made inhuman and inhumane accusations. They have denied the truth; they’ve used the most simplistic concepts to promote themselves and all in the name of ‘friendship’, and ‘counselling’, and serving the highest interests of God and man. Job’s friends’ aim is to get him to prostrate himself before God and make a false confession of sin, weeping over his falls in such a way as to bring a tear to the eyes of God. Then God will pity him and withhold the punishments that are descending upon Job which have not yet ended. It’s the religion of works-paganism that his friends have brought to him. No doubt the devil himself will seize every opportunity to bring to the Christian sufferer the same message that he is getting what he deserves because of certain of his sins.

i] JOB HAS CONSIDERED THE PROBLEM OF CHRISTIAN PAIN.

So having heard all this Job responds immediately. “Doubtless, you are the wise, you are the voice of the people, and when you die, wisdom will die with you” (v.2), he says. “But I have a mind, as well as you, I’m not inferior to you, who doesn’t know all these things?” (v.3). You see what he’s saying? He’s replying to these men, “Don’t you think I’ve been exercised about the problem of human pain? Don’t you think I’ve thought about it much – what you’ve been suggesting to me – for many years? Don’t you think I’ve seen good men and women suffer, and suffer greatly and at length, and not know why they are experiencing this? I cannot understand why God permits particular people to suffer as he does.” So their ill-considered confident assertions are an insult to Job’s thoughtfulness, as if he had never faced up to fearful providences.

Men want to take charge of other people’s lives by throwing simplistic solutions at them. I am referring to such theories as Reincarnation – a typical unprovable human theory: Karma – men are getting what their lives deserve – another device of darkened man. Think of the blameless Christ and his suffering and how that makes mockery of those attitudes. “Fix this! Fix that! That’s all you’ve got to do. It’s simple. Just tinker with this or that and your problems will go. But every one of us Christians today is living under the constraints of Romans 7 and is saying “The good that I would, I don’t, and the evil that I would not, that I do. O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through my Lord Jesus Christ.” We are aware of our sin and weakness, longing for delivery but knowing that hope lies in God’s deliverance through Christ. We suffer daily, but know that nothing shall separate us from the love of God. We shall live in the tension of Roman 7 and 8, every one of us, until glory. That is where we put ourselves when we hear about the griefs of a friend, the sufferings and the pains that he or she is going through. We stand together in the solidarity of the weakness of Romans 7 and also the triumphs of Romans 8.

Who doesn’t know about all these things? Job asks. There was that man who punched the Rev. Ifan Mason Davies last Monday night in the fair as he gave out tracts and sold Christian books to people in Aberystwyth. He said to Ifan angrily, “What about my mother? My mother was a perfect woman. She died at 41. You believe in God?” Imagine that he said that to Ifan of all people who lost his own wife of cancer in her 40’s. He punched Ifan! Was he the first man in the world to suffer loss? Didn’t he have boys and girls in school with him whom he looked at across the classroom shyly and sadly when they returned to school from the funeral of a parent? Who doesn’t know that this is a groaning world? It is such a nice, tidy solution that some people have to the reality of God when they dismiss him with such words as, “my mother, who was a Sunday School teacher, died at a young age and so there is no God. That means I don’t have to serve him, I don’t have to love him, I don’t have to worship him on the Lord’s Day or make my life count for him because this great grief happened. I can get drunk and punch preachers in the street.” The man was abusing the memory of his mother in doing that.

Job tells these three men that their words have mocked him, and made him a laughing stock, (verse 4). It’s a very serious accusation he makes. They are men at ease with their lot, satisfied with their lives and their relation to God. “Men at ease have contempt for misfortune as the fate of those whose feet are slipping” (v.5). But God isn’t like that, Job says, God treats him seriously. “I called upon God and he answered me” (v.4), he says. Job has had an experience of a lifetime of the return of his prayers, and he points out to them the fact that ungodly men often seem more secure and healthy than the righteous. They don’t have the problems of their wives dying of cancer, and their children being killed. They carry around with them their little gods; they have portable idols that they always carry with them like lucky charms, perhaps today hanging them on their rear view mirrors. They are their gods, objects that they put their trust in. “They carry them in their hands”, (v.6).

“But ask the animals”, that fascinating exhortation comes in the next verse. What are animals, but dependant creatures living brief, brutal lives meeting a terrible end. They know not why. Animals are simply conscious that they must constantly search for food to sustain themselves and their young. We Christians are certainly conscious that whatever it is that goes on in the brain of an animal it would know that it is not an independent being but it is locked into a food chain needing constant food to survive. It somehow knows that a mighty God supplies it with breath and life. We know more, what it does not know, that the supplier is the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A sparrow doesn’t know why it’s been given life; it doesn’t know why life must end; the sparrow cannot answer our questions and tell us that. But it falls, we know, at the decree of our Father in heaven. Better for Job’s friends to be like animals that live in God and are silent about who made them and why they live and die than show their ignorance in all their talk as his comforters have done. But God’s ear tests words “as the tongue tastes food” (v.11).

ii] JOB PRAISES THE SOVEREIGN GOD.

Then Job sings the great hymn of praise to the omnipotence of God from chapter 12, verse 13 to the end of the chapter:
13 “To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his.
14 What he tears down cannot be rebuilt; the man he imprisons cannot be released.
15 If he holds back the waters, there is drought; if he lets them loose, they devastate the land.
16 To him belong strength and victory; both deceived and deceiver are his.
17 He leads counselors away stripped and makes fools of judges.
18 He takes off the shackles put on by kings and ties a loincloth around their waist.
19 He leads priests away stripped and overthrows men long established.
20 He silences the lips of trusted advisers and takes away the discernment of elders.
21 He pours contempt on nobles and disarms the mighty.
22 He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings deep shadows into the light.
23 He makes nations great, and destroys them; he enlarges nations, and disperses them.
24 He deprives the leaders of the earth of their reason; he sends them wandering through a trackless waste.
25 They grope in darkness with no light; he makes them stagger like drunkards.

It’s sheer doxology whose form and concepts point forward to some of the psalms and then on to the songs of Mary and Zechariah and even Simeon, in the opening chapters of the gospel of Luke. Job lacks the full-orbed confidence that knowing the Messiah has brought to New Testament worshipers because Job was living in the twilight of prophesy, but was carrying the Old Covenant church up a learning curve, establishing for them the links between the will of God and our suffering and the great righteous Sufferer. So the criticism of Job’s friends is making him less confident than he has ever been in all the wise ones of the world, and it is turning him away from the comfort of mere man so that he increasingly casts himself upon God. Job says to them that he has learned that animals depend on God and in his hand is the life of every creature. He too will look to this mighty God whom he loves, and he will not be intimidated by the smartest men in the world who have come to tell him the way that they look at life. They have probably got it all wrong. See what his God has done: “He deprives the leaders of the earth of their reason; he sends them wandering through a trackless waste. They grope in darkness with no light; he makes them stagger like drunkards” (vv. 24 and 25).

iii] JOB REBUKES HIS ‘FRIENDS.’

In Chapter 13, Job turns again to his three comforters, these unfaithful men whom he realises now are betraying his friendship, and then he protests to God how he is treating his faithful servant Job:

1 “My eyes have seen all this, my ears have heard and understood it.
2 What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you.
3 But I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God.
4 You, however, smear me with lies; you are worthless physicians, all of you!
5 If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom.
6 Hear now my argument; listen to the plea of my lips.
7 Will you speak wickedly on God’s behalf? Will you speak deceitfully for him?
8 Will you show him partiality? Will you argue the case for God?
9 Would it turn out well if he examined you? Could you deceive him as you might deceive men?
10 He would surely rebuke you if you secretly showed partiality.
11 Would not his splendor terrify you? Would not the dread of him fall on you?
12 Your maxims are proverbs of ashes; your defenses are defenses of clay.
13 “Keep silent and let me speak; then let come to me what may.
14 Why do I put myself in jeopardy and take my life in my hands?
15 Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face.
16 Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless man would dare come before him!
17 Listen carefully to my words; let your ears take in what I say.
18 Now that I have prepared my case, I know I will be vindicated.
19 Can anyone bring charges against me? If so, I will be silent and die.
20 “Only grant me these two things, O God, and then I will not hide from you:
21 Withdraw your hand far from me, and stop frightening me with your terrors.
22 Then summon me and I will answer, or let me speak, and you reply.
23 How many wrongs and sins have I committed? Show me my offense and my sin.
24 Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy?
25 Will you torment a windblown leaf? Will you chase after dry chaff?
26 For you write down bitter things against me & make me inherit the sins
of my youth
27 You fasten my feet in shackles; you keep close watch on all my paths by putting marks on the soles of my feet.
28 So man wastes away like something rotten, like a garment eaten by moths.

Let us take an overview of what it says. Job begins with his ‘comforters’: “You smear me with lies” (v.4), though it’s better translated, “You plug all the holes in your theology with lies”. He attacks them quite brutally. In fact it’s the spirit of the Christ in him. You remember the Lord Jesus speaking in Matthew 23 to the Pharisees, addressing so forthrightly these religious experts whose achievement was to put increasing burdens on people just as these three had loaded Job with burdens. “If you had never opened your mouths, then you would have been wiser,” he tells them (v. 5). “You dare to speak wickedly and deceitfully on God’s behalf,” (v.7). “How dare you argue the case for God – you three actually arguing the case for my God,” (v. 8). “What would happen if he examined you?” (v. 9). “He’d rebuke you and you’d be terrified,” (vv. 10 & 11). “Your profound words are worthless clay and ashes, just like these ones on which I’m sitting,” (v.12). “Be quiet and let me speak. I won’t trust you, but though God should slay me my hope will be in him. I’ll always trust him though he eventually takes my life away,” (v.15). “I’ll plead my righteousness to his face,” (v.15) “I know I’ll be vindicated,” (v.18). “What specific charges of wrongdoing are you bringing against me,” Job asks them (v.19).

Then he turns to God: “I myself only ask God for two things,” (v.20), “one, that his heavy chastening hand be taken from me, and secondly that he stop frightening me with more of his terrors,” (v.21). “Give me the word, Lord, and I’ll speak to you and you reply and show me my specific sins,” he says (v.23). “But why do you hide your face from me,” (v.24) “and treat me as if I were your enemy.” Job asks God, “Will you torment a piece of chaff, a mere leaf blown in the wind?” (v.25). “But now I’m going back to all the sins of my youth, and I’m wondering if I’m being punished for those sins,” (vv. 26 & 27). “I’m a prisoner to my pain, look at me I’m just wasting away like a moth-eaten garment, my life is absolutely threadbare,” (v.28). And on that bleak note chapter 13 concludes.

iv] JOB EXPRESSES HIS LAMENTATION.

Then in chapter 14 we hear a powerful lament. It is less vehement that Job’s tortuous anguish in chapter 3. Job is learning some things, and perhaps he is mellowing in his tones, but still he is profoundly grieved. He is a weary man. He is conscious how quickly his life is going away, how transitory it all is. Our lives are like that. It seems only yesterday I was a little boy of 6, when to be a grandfather in your 60s seemed an eternity away. I want tell you – it’s a moment! It’s like a weaver’s shuttle, as swiftly over as a single dream, so soon is life finished. This is the fourteenth chapter:
1 “Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.
2 He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure.
3 Do you fix your eye on such a one? Will you bring him before you for judgment?
4 Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No one!
5 Man’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.
6 So look away from him and let him alone, till he has put in his time like a hired man.
7 “At least there is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail.
8 Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil,
9 yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant.
10 But man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more.
11 As water disappears from the sea or a riverbed becomes parched and dry,
12 so man lies down and does not rise; till the heavens are no more, men will not awake or be roused from their sleep.
13 “If only you would hide me in the grave and conceal me till your anger has passed! If only you would set me a time and then remember me!
14 If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come.
15 You will call and I will answer you; you will long for the creature your hands have made.
16 Surely then you will count my steps but not keep track of my sin.
17 My offenses will be sealed up in a bag; you will cover over my sin.
18 But as a mountain erodes and crumbles and as a rock is moved from its place,
19 as water wears away stones and torrents wash away the soil, so you destroy man’s hope.
20 You overpower him once for all, and he is gone; you change his countenance and send him away.
21 If his sons are honored, he does not know it; if they are brought low, he does not see it.
22 He feels but the pain of his own body and mourns only for himself.”

We see how Chapter 14 begins with those unforgettable words: “Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow he does not endure.” May the power of that truth grip us all. Our lives flying by – let’s make sure that we are saved from a brief life full of trouble. There is far more to life that that! Let us be sure we are glorifying and enjoying God in this world and then for ever.

Then Job turns to God (v.3), and he addresses God for the remainder of this first cycle of speeches. Job says something like this: “You are fixing all your might and all your attention on me, you who are infinite, eternal, unchangeable, the vast maker, the creator, the sustainer, the everything that is divine and glorious as the one living God, and you have been dealing with me, a fleeting shadow. You are bringing this withering flower to such judgements as I have had to experience,” he says. “I have nothing that’s free from sin to offer to you and no-one else has,” (v. 4). “You’ve determined my days, the very number of months I’ve been given to live,” (v.5). “Oh don’t make that short span of my life full of anguish,” he pleads (v.6). “I can think so morbidly at times that even a tree is better than a poor man, because when a poor man dies he is buried and that’s it. His one short life was perhaps full of trouble, and that is it. There is no rerun and no reincarnation, but a tree is cut down and then its shoots begin to grow again!. A lumberjack saws it down to the ground, but how strong is its root,” (vv. 7-12). “Shoots grow up. The tree is reborn. It grows again, utterly unlike us when we are cut down. It is all over.”

Then Job cries from his dung heap in his pain “I’m better dead than suffering like this.” “If only you would hide me in the grave,” (v.13). Then he seems to have some faith, a hope of life beyond the grave and his sin being covered. Job says at the end of verse 13, “If only you would set me a time and then remember me. If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come, you will call and I will answer you. You will long for the creature your hands have made. Surely then you will count my steps but not keep track of my sin. My offences will be sealed up in a bag, you will cover over my sin,” (vv.13-17). Those are the most hopeful notes he ventures to sound on the mercy of God. Will God put all his sins in one bag and bury it in the depths of the sea? God will do that; he will cover over Job’s sins so that God can’t see them. God will cover over all Job’s sins. That is his hope, so there seems to be some light shining on the ash heap.

v] JOB ALMOST DESPAIRS AT THE FINALITY OF DEATH.

Then in the last four verses of this chapter Job’s mind is again absorbed by the fact of death, its inevitability and grimness. We don’t know when and how we will die, and we have to submit to Sovereign God in this matter, this one who destroys men’s hopes as the good Job himself has seen his own life destroyed by this mysterious Sovereign One.. So his speech ends, “But as a mountain erodes and crumbles and as a rock is moved from it’s place, as water wears away stones and torrents wash away the soil, so you destroy man’s hope. You overpower him once for all, and he is gone; you change his countenance and send him away. If his sons are honoured, he doesn’t know it; if they are brought low, he doesn’t see it, he feels but the pain of his own body and mourns only for himself.” (vv.18-22)

So men grow old and they begin to wonder whether their children and even grandchildren will be more successful that they have been, or not? But Job thinks dolefully, “In the realm of the dead you just mourn for yourself.” So on this dark note, comes to an end this first cycle of four men making their speeches one by one.

But Job, why didn’t you think of Enoch who lived before you? You knew what happened to Enoch, how he walked with God and then he was not because God took him. Why don’t you fill your mind with that and not all these dark thoughts? How easy to tell a depressive what he should be thinking, but how surpassingly hard to cast away melancholic thoughts. What can we say to understand Job? This long speech of three chapters’ length, comes because Job has been terribly provoked by the folly of his callous friends. Through their ignorance they’ve said things to him that have caused him unimaginable anguish, and we sympathise with him. If we had lost only half of what Job had lost then we would be demented with grief, but Job still continues to speak rationally with them and with such boldness to his God.

Oswald Smith has got a little book on Job and he has called it Baffled to Fight Better. Indeed that’s what happens, through the heartaches of the horrible things that have happened to him, and through his drawing near to God in anguish and perplexity, casting himself upon God, and through God finally, as we shall see, speaking to the patriarch, Job does live to fight his true enemies, sin and the world, far better. We share in his victory.

In this chapter there is also the unseen activity of Satan, using the words of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, turning the knife, making Job curse God and give up his faith. Is Satan winning? When you read these three chapters and you see the struggles of Job, you fear, thinking perhaps Satan is gaining the upper hand. Remember how even the great John the Baptist, when he was thrown into prison and his life was in danger, sent messengers to inquire why the Lord Christ wasn’t rescuing his beloved servant. He sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you he who should come or do we seek for another? Was our master right when he said of you, ‘Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’? He said of you that you will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Was our master right?” John the Baptist of such immense faith struggled at one time. So we appreciate Job, two thousand years before Christ came, can be pressed down beyond measure. Occasionally Job has a marvellous flash of assurance and he says, “though God should choose to slay me, yet I will trust him and my hope will be in him,” but then the depth of his pain, poverty and loneliness gets through to him.

Job asks this great question “If a man dies, will he live again?” (14: 14). That is the most important question that any one of us can ask. Is death ultimate? Is it the ultimate reality? Do we live, and then die, and that’s it? There is no explanation to life anywhere nor ever can be – is that it? “Stoicism wins.” More, despair wins. Is that it? Let us personalise it: we are having a funeral service of one of our old members tomorrow, Miss Rachel Jones. Is that the end, did she live and then she died, and that’s it? Is that what it’s all about, death, the coffin, the corpse, the grave, the cemetery. Will she live again?

The redeemer whom Job declared would one day come did actually arrive, the promised Messiah. He is Jesus Christ. Job lived on the promise side of his appearing, in hope. We live on the fulfilment side, and we look at Job’s battles through the coming of Christ into the world. He does have the power to give us living hope. He is the one whom the winds obeyed. Power over disease, and power over death are his. He raises the widow of Nain’s son, Jairus’ daughter, and Lazarus. It would be inconceivable that this one who is the power of God incarnate, this teacher of the Sermon on the Mount should die and that was it. ” I have power to lay my life down, I have power to raise it again” he claimed. He overcomes death and he is seen, heard, and touched. He cooks fish and eats meals with his friends. For 40 days there are many appearances, and during this time he transforms the lives of these men. They are not desperate doubters as Job was after Christ has spoken to them. They are men of confidence, especially after he has poured out his spirit on the day of Pentecost. They are men who can transform other men, and their message is not that Jesus Christ was alive but now he’s dead. That was not their message. Their message was Jesus was dead but now he’s alive. He has poured his spirit on us and because he lives we shall live also, and if you repent, if you turn from your sins and believe, he can transform you too with that message of the dying dead risen living Christ.

They went round the Mediterranean basin and they preached it. People were transformed, Europe was transformed and here we are, 1900 years later and we are testifying to you – who as yet don’t believe – the reality of the livingness. Can a man who dies live again? Yes! Jesus says. He answers that question today. Death is not the end. Death is the beginning of the new chapter of life for the Christian, the consummation of love and fellowship with Christ in his very presence, where in fullness and joy at his right hand there are pleasures for evermore. This Jesus can become your God and your Saviour if you come with your doubts and difficulties speak honestly to him. Speak straight to God about how you feel, and about what your difficulties are. Perhaps your mother died, and she was a good and lovely person and when she was 40 and you were a young fellow and most needed her, she was taken from you with cancer and you’ve been bitter. Jesus Christ can turn that bitterness into sweetness, and one day soon he will give you an answer to your questioning. Not in this world, but in a better place. If she loved the Lord and you love him too then you will meet in his presence. He will put his arms round both of you and unite you for evermore. That’s the hope that the Christian has. If a man dies will he live? He will! By Jesus Christ! Don’t be a disdainful cynic – look at the truth and that truth is found in Jesus.

GEOFF THOMAS