Alfred Place Baptist Church

1:1-22 The Sovereignty of God and the Responsibility of Man

Job 1:1-22 “In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright, he feared God, and shunned evil.”

Since the terrible events of September 11 in New York and Washington D.C. it has been reported that sales of Bibles and books on biblical prophecy have rocketed across America. Also classical books like Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” have been increasingly on demand so that would-be purchasers trying to get copies in their local bookshops have failed to get any. The shops have sold every copy. Also books about Islam have been sold out. However, over four hundred thousand people every day have been visiting a website devoted to the wild ramblings of the 17th century Frenchman called Nostradamus, with his talk of ‘metal birds’ and ‘twin brothers torn apart by chaos.’ Certainly in the USA the events of September 11 have achieved a change in mood, perspective and priorities, however briefly, and we are praying that all this will work for the good of the gospel. For ourselves we have turned to the Book of Job. It’s one of the great pieces of Old Testament scripture and it clarifies for us some of the most important questions men can face, especially the relationship of the power of evil to God. Today we are going to again look at the three main characters in the first couple of chapters.

1. JOB.

Job has no family tree. He is not an Israelite, and the things that happen to him do not take place in the land of promise. He is not a member of the old covenant community, but like Noah he has a personal covenantal relationship with the Lord. God calls Job “my servant” (v.8). That is a very significant phrase in the Old Testament; one thinks immediately of the prophecy of Isaiah and the Servant ‘s Songs especially Isaiah 53. The Messiah himself was the supreme servant of God; he had an especially close and a deep relationship with God, but so also did Job. He is presented to us as living a marvellously godly life. No sins are ever recorded of him; God himself says of Job, “He is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (v.8).

Even more fascinating is the fact that Job, we are told, was an especially rich man. In today’s parlance we would call him a multi-millionaire. Job didn’t need to ‘name it and claim it.’ He’d got it! Seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, a thousand oxen, and five hundred donkeys, so he has over ten thousand animals, and a vast number of servants to care for those herds as they grazed over many hills and valleys. He was, we are told, the greatest man among all the peoples of the east. Job was a sort of shepherd king, a man of enormous influence and power both in a nearby city, which he talks of entering as a respected man, and in the countryside. Yet for all his affluence, Job was not corrupted in any way. In this he was a greater believer than Abraham, and also than Solomon. Those men were both publicly compromised. Job stood higher than the popes of the 15th and 16th centuries, higher than the Venetian doges, higher than Tillich and Barth, higher than the American tele-evangelists. He was a more valiant man than most wealthy men of the Middle-East, the USA and Europe today. Job used his wealth, as no other man in the world of his day, to help the poor, the blind, the orphan and the widow. He was a counsellor, we are informed later in the book, of people that were troubled, and he served the cause of justice. So he was different in his godliness. He was quite apart from other wealthy spiritually-minded men in the ancient world. Few men of God ever since can be compared with Job.

Job, however, was also exceptional in his sufferings; they’re no run of the mill sufferings. They are the most unimaginable griefs that ever came upon a man, in their suddenness, scope and the devastating effects they had on a wide circle of observers encouraging cynicism and unbelief. Without any prior warning at all three servants come running into his home one day, one man hot on the heels of another, to tell him breathlessly that all his business and possessions had been stripped from him. Not one of his livestock were left and his servants had all been put to the sword. Another servant came with a fearful message. It was not, “One of your children is sick and your wife wants to see you at home straight away”, nor even that one of his children was dead. All of them! The ten children had been killed at a family gathering. But that’s only the beginning of his troubles. His health was taken from him in a terrible illness which leaves him mentally conscious but physically destroyed. It’s vividly described, this combination of wretched ailments that come into his life. His bones ache and rot, his skin turns black and peels, wart-like eruptions occur all over his body; he has anorexia, fever, depression, constant tears, sleeplessness, nightmares, putrid breath. His eyesight is affected and his teeth rot. It’s a state of living death. One of those diseases would have been enough to destroy a person’s peace. Job seems to have every ailment described in an encyclopaedia of illnesses.

But worse is to come. All the petty little people who’ve looked at Job, and been envious of his power, wealth and integrity rejoice that “the mighty has fallen.” Young men insult him, drunkards sing songs in ale houses to celebrate his downfall. Men actually spit in his face as they come carrying their rubbish to this heap of ashes. So Job becomes an outcast; he is disgusting to look at and he even exudes a stench. People quickly conclude that God has condemned him, and so they condemn him unequivocally too. Job sits alone there and scrapes himself with a piece of broken pottery.

Job’s own wife isn’t his support, nursing him and caring for him. She also seems to be convinced that the judgement of God has come upon him. Christians have passed through great troubles, but they have been wonderfully supported by their local church. They have survived because Christian friends have loved them and were there for them. Their family have said, ‘We just thank God that when our daughter went through all that that her local church were trumps. They couldn’t have done more for her.’ Job didn’t have that. When four friends came to him they all assured him that God is just and straight and so the Lord was evidently punishing Job for some wickedness that he must have done. All four of them drove the point home one and after another. One ‘comforter’ no sooner stops than another takes his place. Relentlessly they persuade Job that what he’d got was what was coming to him. They would not accept his protestations of blamelessness. They behaved so cruelly to a man who’d lost his health, his family and all his possessions, and was being derided by the world.

This is what we have in the book of Job. We have an exemplary, blameless man who loves God with all his heart falling into the most abject suffering. The worst providences are happening to the best of men, and it all comes to Job without any explanation. That is the scenario. So the book of Job is saying to us ‘you are not like Job because you can always find some sins in your life for which God is chastening you. You are not like blameless Job. Neither can the troubles that you are passing through be, in any way, compared to those experienced by Job. You certainly have a wonderful support structure of friends which Job did not know.’ In other words, I am a greater sinner than Job, but I’m suffering far less than Job. So our dilemmas should be easier to bear than Job’s were. We should thus be able to get help from this whole scenario of how God deals with Job and what ultimate confidence, maturity and peace Job came to by the grace of God.

Job is like the suffering Servant of God, that is, he is like Jesus Christ. Our Saviour was the one blameless man who breathed the air of this world. There is no one as powerful or as rich as Jesus; the cattle on the thousand hills were all his. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge were his, and yet this Servant King suffered the loss of everything: his life was taken away, his friends deserted him, his own Father forsook him, all mocked him, none helped him. He hung on the cross in the darkness until he died.

All this happened to Jesus Christ who was Job’s great living Redeemer. Yet out of it God brought life, blessing and salvation. The God who was in charge then is in charge of your life now, and he has brought you here today to hear him speak these very truths to you.

2. SATAN.

The second personality to be found in these opening chapters is Satan. The devil was the chief of the great army of angels who sinned, rebelling against God, and so did not keep their position in heaven, but were cast out into darkness. He is the commander-in-chief of the powers of that place. He is called the serpent, the dragon, the roaring lion, the tempter, the evil one, the liar, the murderer. He is the one who sinned from the beginning, the accuser, the wanderer, the cynic, a tormentor of men. But Satan is always in chains; he can go only so far as those chains with which God binds him will allow him to move. He’s a muzzled cur on leash, and he can do nothing to harm those in covenant with God without a divine decree. Satan can’t touch a hair on Job’s head unless God says such words as these: “Very well then, everything Job has is in your hand, but on the man himself do not lay a finger” (v.12).

People in Europe in the 21st century live with the legacy of the writings of Dante – the famous ‘Inferno’, and Dante portrayed Satan in that enormously influential book as having virtual sovereign power. So many novels, films and the imaginations of men concerning the occult have attributed to Satan an existence and an evil power which is virtually as great as God himself. People in Europe also live with the legacy of the story of Faust, and Satan in that tale is portrayed as having a certain noble, tragic quality about him. Now that idea also cannot live in the light of the Bible. Satan is a strong creature of pure malice – in chains.

We also need to remember that the role which Satan had in Job’s day was before the coming and the triumph of the Lord Jesus Christ. At the time of Job the pagan nations were in darkness; they didn’t know the true God. They had no special revelation of His mercy and His love. The nations were under the influence of the prince of this world, but when the Christ came the Devil lost that rule. At the end of his life the Lord Jesus affirmed, “Now the prince of this world is being driven out”. So we see Satan in the Book of Revelation being cast into the bottomless pit, and he’s falling, and falling, and falling. Every time someone is converted Satan falls again; every time there’s a great awakening of gospel faith he’s falling again. Every time people turn to God and churches are planted, growing and spreading, Satan is falling. At Golgotha the Devil lost his throne; he didn’t lose his identity or his activity, but he lost his power over the nations of the world to keep them in the darkness of unbelief because of the death of Christ. He was thrown out of his reign over that territory because of the death and resurrection of Christ, and he now stands condemned. It was when Gentiles came seeking Jesus that the Lord Christ, being told the news, cried, “I saw Satan fall like lightening from Heaven.”

So in the opening chapter of Job the angels come to present themselves before God, and Satan is there. I just envisage the scene like a dog coming across other guard dogs, and their tails are curled, and their hairs are up on end. They are snarling and growling in their hatred at this one who’s come into their midst. So it is with Gabriel and the archangel and the seraphim, they are there in the presence of their Master, and then at that moment Satan came along as a creature of God to answer to God himself. Remember how much nearer in time than ourselves to the Garden of Eden Job lived, where the serpent chose to come and tempt the woman and the man – in that very place where God and our parents walked together each day!

So Satan is a chained beast, but a preternaturally powerful beast, highly organised, with principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this world at his command. The powers are enough for every Christian to have to put on the armour of God if they are going to stand and resist him in this evil day. Remember the deadly battle with Apollyon Bunyan’s Pilgrim endures; he barely escapes with his life. But we must grasp that the cosmic situation since the triumph of the God-man’s incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension and pouring out the Spirit on the nations is not as it was when Job lived in Uz.

3. THE LORD OF HOSTS.

The third figure we meet in the first chapter of this book is Almighty God, and Job says a great truth about Him in chapter 23 and verses 13 and 14: “God stands alone, and who can oppose Him?” Job is saying that there is only one living and true God. He stands absolutely alone. There is none else but him. God and Satan are not two beings both enjoying some equal status. There is no such dualism anywhere in Scripture. The Lord of hosts stands alone. Who can oppose Him? Mere man can’t smack God’s hand and say, “Don’t touch!” Satan is in mute frustration, because from God, and through God, and to God are all things. To reject a sovereign God is to be left with the deity described in the title of the autobiography of the former Director-General of the BBC, Marmaduke Hussey, “Chance Governs All” (Macmillan, 2001, London).

Job says in that verse “He does (God does) whatever He pleases, He carries out his decree against me (against Job) and many such plans He still has in store” (ch.23, vs13-14). So God has plans and decrees, and He carries them out. He does whatever he pleases. Ephesians 1 verse 11, “He works all things after the council of His own will.” Romans 8 verse 28, “He works all things together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”

So there were years when God’s plan for Job was unimaginable prosperity and blessing, in his family, for his health and his reputation. Then this period came into Job’s life and God’s plan was for Job’s faith to be tested. Remember the beginning of James’ letter, one of the earliest of all New Testament documents. The opening words after the customary greeting are, “Consider it all joy my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds; because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature, and complete, lacking nothing.” (James ch.1 vs2-4) With those truths James commences his letter.

Throughout our lives we are confronted with little trials coming into our lives, and God is constantly challenging us: “Do you really trust me now,? Do you truly believe that I’m in control? Do you really believe I’m working all things together for your good, even today? Your heart has been broken, these sadnesses have occurred, but do you really trust me to go on keeping you day by day?'” Now we must remember the godliness of Job, and the horrendousness of the troubles that have come into his life, and the triumph of his trust. Then the voice of faith will say that the same God is working in our lives according to this same plan. God is testing his servant. He is producing perseverance, patience and perfection in Job because, however mature Job was, there was always room for more maturity in his life.

The great doubt Satan raises is ‘does Job trust God merely because everything that happened to him has been so wonderful?’ That was the devilish accusation, and God replies to Satan, “Well let’s try Job, let’s put him to the test.” The end result was that Job passed the test, and grew in wisdom, holiness and love. So we are to believe that God has his plans for us, and that his purposes for his people are generally green pastures and still waters. You can look back, as I can look back, through decades of our lives and we can see how good God has been to us, to every single person God has been good. He hasn’t treated us as we deserve to be treated. But then there came a time in our lives, as it came into Job’s life, when there was that valley of the shadow of death, and though there was a table spread it was in the presence of our enemies. Then too God was saying, “Are you still trusting me? Are you still looking to me? Do you still believe I’m in charge?” God will take responsibility for the dark days, as He will for the brighter days too.

I think we must call those dark days through which the Lord leads us, the strange work of God, and we must never at such times charge God with wrongdoing when the darkness deepens. He’s always the Father of lights. He never does evil, He never tempts men to evil, and Job never wavers in his conviction about that fact. He never doubts God. The great testimony to Job in this first chapter (verse 22), when all those troubles have come into his life, is given by God himself when he says about Job, “In all these Job did not sin by charging God with wrong doing.” Job was enabled to say, “The Lord gave and the Lord took away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” (v.21)

THE LORD DID IT ALL, BUT HE DID NOT DO THE WICKEDNESS OF ANY OF IT.

The Lord had done it, but he had not done the wrong in what was done. Let’s think of Job’s thousand oxen, and five hundred donkeys and ask who took them away? The Bible gives two answers; verse 15, “the Sabeans attacked and carried them off”, verse 21, “the LORD has taken them away”.

Let’s think of Job’s three thousand cattle, who took them away? The Bible gives two answers; verse 17, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and carried them off.” Verse 21, “the LORD has taken them away.” So God did it, and sinners also did it. In other words God put it in the minds of the raiding party and their leaders, “Let’s attack Job’s herds now. Let’s go and we’ll steal them from his servants.” God took them away. The Sabeans took them away.

THE TESTIMONY OF THE PROPHET ISAIAH

The Lord will yet judge the Sabeans and the Chaldeans for doing what they did. Turn to Isaiah chapter 10. I’ll refer five times to that chapter in this section, and it might be useful for you to have it open before you. John Reisinger has drawn our attention to it. In Isaiah chapter 10, God is using the pagan rapacious Assyrians in a special way as a chastening rod of judgment upon his recalcitrant people.

i] Let’s start at verses 5 and 6: “Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath! I send him against the godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger me, to seize loot and snatch plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets.” So the rod in the hands of the Assyrians is really God’s rod. The club in the Assyrians’ hands is actually God’s club. The Lord is saying here “I send him, I dispatch him, against the people who anger me.” So God is sovereignly at work, totally in control, working out His own plans, and Job, hundreds of years earlier, knew that this was so for himself too. In his loss Job is faithful enough to go back always to first causes, “the LORD gave and the LORD took away.” The Chaldeans were being used by God. The Sabeans were in the hands of God. They weren’t loving God, nor were they doing such necessary things to the glory of God. They hated Job’s God, but they were furthering God’s purposes. Whom the Lord loves he chastens, and sometimes he will find an Assyrian to be his rod.

ii] Look again at Isaiah 10 verses 7 to 11, “But this is not what he intends, this is not what he has in mind; his purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations. ‘Are not my commanders all kings?’ he says. ‘Has not Calno fared like Charchemish? Is not Hamath like Arpad, and Samaria like Damascus? As my hand seized the kingdoms of the idols, kingdoms whose images excelled those of Jerusalem and Samaria – shall I not deal with Jerusalem and her images as I dealt with Samaria and her idols?'” So the Assyrians do not have the same thing in mind as Jehovah has. The Assyrians are not thinking about how they can obey the Lord. The Chaldeans and the Sabeans were thinking about loot – immense riches, thousands of camels, donkeys and oxen stolen from Job and all for themselves. But unbeknown to them, God was the one who was directing the whole situation, creating brainwaves and putting thoughts in the minds of Chaldeans and Sabeans. The Lord was in charge of everything when he purposed to test and try Job, and when he gave Satan permission to tempt Job. So the Sabeans were moved by covetousness, and the Chaldeans were moved by greed. Nonetheless God controlled and used all their lusts to accomplish his foreordained plan, which was to strengthen and perfect Job.

Let me use this illustration of John Reisinger; there was a very wealthy man, we’ll call him Mr. Rich, and he had a beautiful estate and it was covered with every kind of tree. It was a veritable arboretum. Mr. Rich never married – he loved his trees. He even gave every tree a pet name, and there was one particular tree which was his favourite. Unfortunately Mr. Rich had an enemy, and we’ll call him Mr. Evil, who hated Mr Rich. He desired to hurt him, but he continually failed. Then one night a thought came to him how he could really plunge Mr. Rich into despair. He climbed over the wall into Mr. Rich’s estate and he proceeded to chop down Mr. Rich’s favourite tree. The very thought of how hurt Mr. Rich would be when he saw his tree lying on the ground drove him on, so he chopped away with his hatchet, and then he got his saw out and sawed and sawed until his hands were blistered and bloodied. It was a huge tree, but he worked and worked, and finally the tree cracked and groaned as it fell. But Mr. Evil underestimated the speed and direction with which it fell. The tree pinned him to the ground and he was unable to move an inch. Dawn came, and soon he saw two men walking towards him as he lay under the fallen tree. He shouted out, “I know I’m caught, and I know I’ll be punished, but I don’t care. I have destroyed your favourite tree. I’ve ruined your garden. I’ve chopped down this tree. Ha ha!” Mr. Rich finally spoke, and he said, “This man who is with me is a landscape gardener and I’m building a summer house on my property, and I must cut down one of these trees. So I’d chosen this very spot, and I brought this gentleman today to show him the tree I’d chosen to be cut down. I see you’ve saved me the trouble, thank you very much.”

Now that is a little parable, and you see its point, don’t you? God puts Job in the Devil’s hands for a limited objective, to test and strengthen his faith, to perfect him. Job praises the God of providence accounting everything that happens to him as joy. He says, ‘The LORD took away my oxen, and my camels, and my donkeys. The Lord took away my health. Blessed be his name.’ He never charges God with wrongdoing. But then we must never forget that, inspite of God using those events, the Lord holds the Sabeans and the Chaldeans responsible for theft and murder. The Chaldean raiding party, and the Sabean bandits will have to answer to God.

iii] Let’s look again at Isaiah 10 and verses 12 and 13, “When the Lord has finished all his work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he will say, “I will punish the king of Assyria for the wilful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes. For he says: ‘By the strength of my hand I have done this, and by my wisdom because I have understanding. I removed the boundaries of nations, I plundered their treasures; like a mighty one I subdued their kings.'” The Sabeans and the Chaldeans had no idea that they were serving God in strengthening the faith of Job, in the eyes of the world they had no thought of God at all, they were as conceited as the king of the Assyrians. But God will summon them to appear before his judgment throne.

iv] Look at verse 14, “‘As one reaches into a nest, so my hand reached for the wealth of the nations; as men gather abandoned eggs, so I gathered all the countries; not one flapped a wing, or opened its mouth to chirp.'” Like that burglar who got into the rooms of some of you earlier this year and stole precious objects, leaving such terrible marks of hatred behind him. He might have later bragged to his fellow delinquents down at the pub, ‘that was as easy as stealing eggs from a bird’s nest.’ But God says ‘I know all about you, I’m going to hold you to account, I’ll judge you for what you’ve done.’ You learnt things through that bad experience, about caring, trusting God, and more earnestly asking Him to protect you and yours, but you are also at peace that though the police never discovered the culprits, God knows them and he will deal with them righteously.

v] God used the Chaldeans and the Sabeans; they completed a plan that God had made, but the Lord was angry with them. Look again at verse 15 in Isaiah 10, “Does the axe raise itself above him who swings it, or the saw boast against him who uses it? As if a rod were to wield him who lifts it up, or a club brandish him who is not wood!” So God took the initiative using the Chaldeans and the Sabeans to do his will, and afterwards he condemned them. God judged them for their misdeeds. He used them and yet he summoned them to his tribunal. If you are tempted to think that’s unfair, let us insist that those raiding parties were not puppets whose strings were being pulled by God. They never felt that they were like robots, driven by some force outside of their own control to plunder, kill and steal. They freely acted like that; they freely chose to behave as they did. They were one hundred percent responsible for their actions. I remember the Irish Republican Michael Cunningham saying to me that when he was making a bomb, ramming home the powder and when it blew up and injured him so terribly, that at that moment and ever afterwards he never blamed God for what he had done, not for a moment. He never thought that God was responsible for what he had chosen to do: “I was responsible. I answered for doing what I did,” he said to me.

Now the God of the Bible is one hundred percent in control. He’s working everything according to his own foreordained purpose and plan. And you can protest to me saying, ‘There’s a contradiction in what you are saying. Men have got to choose. It must be either the one or the other. Either God is totally sovereign, and that means we must be puppets, or we are sovereign as men, and God helplessly twists His hands and looks down at everything that happens to Job and Jesus and ourselves.’ No, no! It’s neither of those choices between those two. The Bible says that it is both: ‘God works according to his own plans, and every human being is responsible.’ One hundred percent God; one hundred percent man. One hundred percent plus one hundred percent equals one hundred percent. Now there is no one living in the world who can explain how you reconcile these two, but they both stand in the light which is given in the independent testimony to both truths found throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. God is absolutely sovereign, He will accomplish these plans of His. There’s not another being alongside Him to say to him, ‘Don’t!’ No one can resist God. Yet man is absolutely responsible for every fault and word and deed; you freely chose to come here this Lord’s day and I freely chose to preach these sermons to you on Job. Yet God is in control of everything that is happening.

JOB IS IN GOD’S HANDS AND ALSO IN SATAN’S HANDS.

So Job is in the hands of the Devil, and he’s in the hands of God at the same time. He was, like every Christian, always in the hands of God at all times, but there were times when God permitted him to be also in the devil’s hands. The devil had desired to sift him like wheat. There’s a wonderful example in the Bible of how something can be in God’s hand and in Satan’s hand at the same time. It is found in the accounts that you find in the books of Samuel and Chronicles concerning the census that David took of the people. Sometimes these reports of that census are talked of as one of the mistakes of the Bible – an imagined ‘Biblical contradiction’. In Second Samuel chapter 24 verse 1 we read these words, “Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.'” The Lord was inciting David to take a census. Then in First Chronicles chapter 21 verse 1 we read, “Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.” Satan incited David to take the census. Both are talking about the same event, when Israel and David were puffed up about figures, might, power, size, and growth. So, moved by the flesh they numbered the people. In Samuel it said the LORD incited David to do this, in Chronicles it said Satan incited David to do it. Which is correct? Well if you’ve followed me until now, and have begun to understand the principle that I’ve set forth, then it’s clear that both the Lord and Satan were involved. It was Sovereign God’s plan, quite unknown to Satan. It was Satan’s hatred and God used it, and that accomplished the work. God used David’s pride and Satan’s malice to accomplish his own plan of humbling the people so as to make this rich and proud nation a devout and godfearing people again. So, I’m saying to you, Satan’s hands, the Chaldeans and the Sabeans, and the foolish decision of David to take a census were all agents that brought about unmitigated evil, but God Himself was the sovereign mover and controller of all those events accomplishing his good purposes through these cruel follies.

THE CROSS OF CHRIST.

Let me come to an end by talking to you about the cross of Christ. That’s the greatest wickedness the world has seen, not what happened to Job, but what happened to the Suffering Servant, and you will recall what Peter said about the cross in Acts chapter 2 verse 23, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” These are justly famous words. Two things Peter says; firstly he tells us that the cross was God’s plan; it was his set purpose. It was God’s foreknowledge that brought about the death of Christ, not “Chance Governs All”, not an all powerful human combination of Rome and decadent Judaism that murdered the Messiah. Sovereign God, he said, planned Calvary. So does that mean that those who bribed Judas, and those betraying disciples, and the false witnesses who lied, and weak Pilate, and the men who mocked and executed him, that they are not guilty because they were simply doing God’s purpose? No. Peter goes on and says, ‘you made the decision to put him to death. Other wicked men assisted you and you willingly co-operated; you acted out of hatred. The blood of Christ is on your heads.’ God used wicked men to accomplish his own eternal purposes, nevertheless, God holds those men responsible. Now we can’t understand how both those things can be true, but we cannot deny that the apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2 verse 23, teaches them both.

Consider what was God’s plan for all eternity, that the Messiah would come. He was announced as the promised one who would one day appear in human history and he will bruise the serpent’s head, but in so doing he will be bruised himself. He will be the man of sorrows; the Lord himself will bruise him, lifting up His rod so that it falls on Christ. That’s God’s plan from all eternity, and so it must happen. The Lord has made up his mind. Then what did the evil men in Jerusalem want? What did the mob cry for those 1970 odd years ago? What did the chief priests plan for? What did Judas betray for? What did the Roman soldiers kill for? That Jesus of Nazareth be bruised and put to shame. God sovereignly ordains things to take place in time. Men freely choose those very events in their lifetimes. Sinners are held responsible for what they’ve done.

Let me use another story of John Reisinger’s; there is a signalman and he has a problem with drink. One day he’s in the signal box, and he’s drinking secretly there, so much so that he falls over drunk and he pushes down a lever, the points change, and as a result a train goes onto another line. However, it was fortunate that it didn’t go on the line it was supposed to take because that line went over a bridge and a flood had washed that bridge away. The whole train would have been destroyed. But because he fell down drunk and hit that lever the train went another way and all those people were spared. Six months later, he’s drinking again.

He goes off to sleep, fails to pull a lever, and one train carries on, and on, and it crashes into another train and twenty people are killed.

Now the question is, how many times was that man guilty? How many times did he do something wrong? Once when people were killed, or the two occasions when he got drunk on duty? And the answer of course is twice. There were two occasions when he got drunk. Twice he failed to pull the lever and change the points. Even though once he averted a disaster, and the other time he caused a disaster, if he is to be judged in terms of his guilt and his responsibility, he did wrong twice.

Now, God may use your sins. The Lord is free to use the malice of Joseph’s brothers, and bring good out of them. He’s a sovereign and a merciful God and so may bring great good out of things we have done badly – and none of us has ever done anything free from sin. He might have brought great good out of Peter’s cursing and swearing at the fire side, and all the humiliation and repentance that subsequently came into Peter’s life. But He still holds Peter responsible, and he yet holds you and me responsible for all the wrong we have done. God holds the men who crucified His son responsible, even though unimaginable blessings came from the cross of Christ. God used the Sabeans and the Chaldeans when they were actually stealing Job’s herds and butchering his servants. Through all his losses Job was tested and in the end was a far stronger man and we are stronger who are drawn into his crisis. We’re not responsible for the results of what God does with our actions, but we are totally responsible for the actions themselves. That’s the basis on which God deals with us. Job never felt he was a mere victim; he knew he was a responsible man. That was his great dilemma; he searched his heart concluding, ‘No, there’s no particular wickedness for which I’m being punished by these terrible acts.’

The Lord Jesus never felt that he was a puppet in the hands of God, or that his death was purely through the actions of wicked hands in Jerusalem when all those centuries ago he became the recipient of dreadful cruelty. He was freely and sovereignly laying down his own life – “no man takes it from me”, and God was in charge of everything. We must believe as Jesus did. ‘Father’ he says – see how even on the cross of woe that filial affection and trust is paramount – ‘Father into your hands I commend my spirit, my life.’ We must do that, always accepting from the hands of our loving LORD everything that takes place in our lives. When on that never-to-be-forgotten day Job’s breathless servants brought the bad news to him, hour after hour, breaking the old man’s heart, Job knew God was still on the throne.

“Our God reigns!” Easy words to sing but do we know the power of that truth as Job knew it? If the Sabeans and the Chaldeans temporarily prevailed it’s only because God had purposed to use their misdeeds for his glory, and for Job’s good. “Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?” (Amos 3:6).

October 7th 2001 GEOFF THOMAS