Alfred Place Baptist Church

1:1 The Book of Job: 2. A Survey

Job 1:1 “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.” In this sermon I want to give you an overall survey of this entire book – 42 chapters in 42 minutes! If you want to follow this survey in your own Bibles you can easily find the book of Job. It is immediately before the book of Psalms. If you open the Bible in the middle you should come to the Psalms. There are 150 of them, and the book of Job is immediately before the Psalms.
I want to divide the book of Job into 5 sections plus an introduction and a conclusion. So that is where we are going in this particular sermon. I think introductions to whole books of the Bible like this have their own difficulties because they can give us knowledge about the Bible, and that is not good enough. To know the Bible truly as a Christian you need to come under the power of the Word of God. We presume the devil knows the Scriptures. He’s able to quote the Bible isn’t he? So he must know the actual contents of the Bible I guess better than any of us do, but he refuses to come under the power of the Bible. He is fascinated by the Bible and yet he utterly rejects what it says. That would be one of my reservations about my doing what I am about to do now, giving men and women an overall survey of this book of Job. But, additionally, it is not easy to do this in a gripping way; it can be a little boring as if I were changing a sermon into a lecture.

A.W.Tozer once said, “Charles G. Finney believed that Bible teaching without moral application could be worse than no teaching at all, and could result in positive injury to the hearers. I used to feel that this might be an extreme position, but after years of observation I have come around to it, or to a view almost identical with it. There is scarcely anything so dull and meaningless as Bible doctrine taught for its own sake. Truth divorced from life is not truth in its Biblical sense, but something else and something less. Theology is a set of facts concerning God, man and the world. These facts may be, and often are, set forth as values in themselves; and there lies the snare both for the teacher and for the hearer.

“The Bible is among other things a book of revealed truth. That is, certain facts are revealed that could not be discovered by the most brilliant mind. These facts are of such a nature as to be past finding out. They were hidden behind a veil, and until certain men who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost took away that veil, no mortal man could know them. This lifting of the veil of unknowing from undiscoverable things we call divine revelation. The Bible, however, is more than a volume of hitherto unknown facts about God, man and the universe. It is a book of exhortation based upon those facts. By far the greater portion of the book is devoted to an urgent effort to persuade people to alter their ways and bring their lives into harmony with the will of God, as set forth in its pages.

“No man is better for knowing that God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth. The devil knows that, and so did Ahab and Judas Iscariot. No man is better for knowing that God so loved the world of men that He gave His only begotten Son to die for their redemption. In hell there are millions that know that. Theological truth is useless until it is obeyed. The purpose behind all doctrine is to secure moral action. What is generally overlooked is that truth as set forth in the Christian Scriptures is a moral thing; it is not addressed to the intellect only, but to the will also. It addresses itself to the total man, and its obligations cannot be discharged by grasping it mentally. Truth engages the citadel of the human heart and is not satisfied until it has conquered everything there. The will must come forth and surrender its sword. It must stand at attention to receive orders, and those orders it must joyfully obey. Short of this any knowledge of Christian truth is inadequate and unavailing.

“Bible exposition without moral application raises no opposition. It is only when the hearer is made to understand that truth is in conflict with his heart that resistance sets in. As long as people can bear orthodox truth, divorced from life, they will attend and support churches and institutions without objection. The truth is a lovely song, become sweet by long and tender association; and since It asks nothing but a few dollars, and offers good music, pleasant friendships and a comfortable sense of well-being, it meets with no resistance from the faithful. Much that passes for New Testament Christianity is little more than objective truth sweetened with song and made palatable by religious entertainment. One reason for the divorce between truth and life may be the lack of the Spirit’s illumination. Another surely is the teacher’s unwillingness to get himself into trouble. Any man with fair pulpit gifts can get on with the average congregation if he just “feeds” them and lets them alone. Give them plenty of objective truth and never hint that they are wrong and should be set right, and they will be content. On the other hand, the man who preaches truth and applies it to the lives of his hearers will feel the nails and the thorns. He will lead a hard life, but a glorious one. May God raise up many such prophets. The church needs them badly.” (A.W.Tozer, from the book ‘Of God and Man,’ published by the Christian Publications, Inc., 25 South Tenth St., Harrisburg, PA. 17101.)

Those are the kinds of reservations every exhorter of the Word of God brings with him to a task like ours today, but it is necessary for us to grasp the whole map of the book. of Job To know where you are going, you don’t just zero in on the street or house which is your ultimate destination, but you look for the area of the country, the county and the route across the land which will take you there. That is what we are doing today, we’re looking at the layout of this story. Or to change the imagery we’re looking for some higher resolution on the whole of the book of Job so that then the detail will be clearer when we come to examine the individual passages, verses and phrases.

The beginning of the story of Job is well known. He was an outstanding man and so devoted to God and opposed to evil that the Lord could brag about him even to Satan himself. God himself could single him out and say, “Have you considered my servant Job, there’s no one on earth like him” (v.8). But Satan – that word means the ‘accuser’ – wasn’t impressed: “Does Job revere God free of charge?” he protests. “Haven’t you kept him, and his family safe from every sickness, and any sort of sadness? You’ve made him the richest man around, so rich that he owns everything in sight. The only reason he’s loyal to you is that you are paying him so well. God, if you took it all away Job would curse you to your face.” Satan is challenging the reason why we go to church each Sunday. He is saying that it is basically because we’ve had such an easy life that we are here. He is claiming that it is a sort of a personal insurance policy of ours. You come here on a Sunday morning and you say ‘Thank you’ to God, and then you hope that because of attending this service God will continue in the future to make your life as benign as it has been in the past.

The Lord replies, “Very well Satan, give it your best shot. Do anything you want to him, except you may not touch this man himself,” (v.12). Thus, known to us, but not to Job, Satan struck and in a single day Job lost everything. His workers were massacred by bands of killers who made off with all Job’s livestock. A terrible lighting storm wiped out more, and on the very same day, when all his sons and daughters were having a party in the oldest brother’s house, a fearful gust of wind rose buffeting the house so that it collapsed like the World Trade Center in New York killing all seven sons and three daughters. Job was utterly devastated, yet on that very day Job bowed and worshipped God. He said that the Lord had given everything, and the same Lord had taken away everything. “May the name of the Lord be praised,” (v. 21).

So the scene turns to another encounter between God and Satan. The Lord says to Satan, “Have you seen Job about lately? Lost everything and for no apparent reason, but his integrity is intact.” “Skin for skin” Satan said “He’s saved his own skin; what does he care about his workers and his children. A man will give everything up as long as he isn’t hurt.” You hear that refrain everywhere don’t you? “Just as long as you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything.” So Satan is saying, “Just let Job’s body start hurting … just give him a taste of what pain is really like, and you’ll see what he’ll do – he’ll curse you to your face.” “All right,” God said. “You go ahead and turn the ratchet on him, but you’ve got to spare his life” So then these great walls about Job that are around the souls of the people whom God loves to defend were lowered again. His property, his children, his business had already been taken from him, and now his health is taken from him. Job is tormented by Satan with terrible sores that cover his body from head to foot. Notice that the Bible tells us even the soles of his feet were covered with them (2:7), and we find Job sitting on a garbage heap with a fragment from a broken dish in his hand and in a sickening way he’s scraping away at the puss that oozes out from the sores. Then his wife comes along and looks at him there and she asks, “Are you still holding onto your integrity? Give it up man,” she says to him, “curse God and die” (2:9). Job says “you talk as if you’re out of your mind. Shall we accept good from God, and shall we not accept the trouble, pain and death that also comes to us from our sovereign God?” He refused to abandon God just because God was taking him through this unimaginably bleak chapter in his life. Job had no idea why this was happening to him. It was the most horrible week he’d ever known, and it seemed to him that he was the victim of a capricious sovereignty, but Job was going to hold onto his integrity no matter what. That is the provable patience and perseverance of Job that is referred to in the New Testament (James 5:11).

Before long it is the anguish of Job that comes out. Job has got three religious friends whose names are Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. They soon hear about his troubles and they meet together saying, “we’ve got to do something” So they go to him to comfort and sympathize with him. When they see him they are horrified at the change in his appearance. He looks absolutely dreadful and they’re stunned. So they sit with him one Sunday, just staying quietly at his side, morning, afternoon and evening, no one daring to say a word. Monday comes and they are there again; Monday afternoon passes, and when it’s Monday evening they go home. They are back there on the next day, and on Wednesday, and on Thursday they are not absent. They sit with him on Friday. They glance at one another from time to time. Is anyone going to say anything? They look at suffering Job and they can’t open their mouths. Saturday comes and goes. They have waited a week and they can’t break this silence. The horrific nature of the change in an esteemed friend demands a week of silent sorrow concerning the judgment that’s fallen from heaven on Job.

Finally Job breaks the silence and he shocks the three of them, as he solemnly and lengthily curses the day on which he was born. He says he wishes he were dead; he wonders why he is still alive, chapter 3 verse 20 “Why, oh why is light given to those in misery and life to the bitter of soul, and those that long for death but it doesn’t come?” (3:20). Why is life sustained by God in people who are saying, “What’s the future? There’s no future, I’ve got nothing to look forward to because God has hedged me in, wouldn’t I be better off dead?” (cp. 3: 23). That is the introduction to this mighty book.

1. THE FIRST CYCLE OF SPEECHES: (Chapters 4-14).

HOW IS GOD RELATED TO JOB’S SUFFERING?

The three men have bided their time, and now they are going to give their opinions on why men suffer. They’re going to speak in turn, keeping the same order, and making three speeches each, except for the third man, Zophar, who makes two speeches. So the three friends make eight speeches in total and Job answers each one, so that there are eight responses from Job. Eight speeches, and eight responses, and that is the backbone of the book, and also its challenge to us who read, study and preach it.

Job’s friends can’t bear to hear him speaking the way he has, just sighing, “let me die … better for me to die”. Eliphaz is the one who speaks first: “Job, I’ve got something to say to you, what’s wrong with you man? You’ve encouraged others throughout your life and now, it’s time to apply a little spiritual insight to yourself.” (4:1-6). “Consider this fact, who being innocent has perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? I’ve observed this, that those who plough evil and trouble reap it” (4:7&8). “If something happens to a person, well, they’ve got it coming to them. We all know God is absolutely straight,” (4:17-19). “If I were you I’d stop griping and start asking God for his help, God can punish – but he can also rescue! If you are suffering it must be because God is trying to teach you a lesson (cp. chap. 5), “so don’t despise the discipline of the Lord, (5:17). Once you are back on good terms with God then everything will turn around and then it will be the old times again. You’ll be enjoying prosperity and security.” That’s what Eliphaz says (vv. 18 to 27). Job doesn’t buy it; he doesn’t believe that his sufferings are a divine punishment for some particular sin. Job figures that it’s got to be something God has decided to do for some unknown reason, for some purpose that has nothing to do with any particular sins of Job. In chapter 7 verse 20 he’s cries out to God in his frustration and he says to the Lord, “If I’ve sinned, what have I done to you O watcher of men, and why have you made me your target?” He feels God is bringing out an arrow of suffering and – twang – he’s shooting down Job with one unimaginable grief after another.

The other friends are horrified at this, and then you have their response in the second speech by a man called Bildad. He plays the same tune as Eliphaz only louder. He says bluntly “Job’s children were destroyed, the seven boys and the three girls, and I will tell you why they were destroyed – because they had it coming to them.” “Does God pervert justice?” he says (8:3 and 4); “when your children sinned against him, God gave them over to the penalty of their sins. So you’ve got to do the same, you’ve got to clean up your life while you’re still breathing and confess your sins, while you’ve still got a chance. God won’t reject a good man but he won’t help a bad man.” Bildad says, “if only you could get right with God then your life would be filled with laughter and joy again” (8:21.

Job speaks, and he answers by utterly rejecting this advice. He replies, “Oh I long that I could have an arbitrator between myself and God – someone to come between us” (9:33). Job appeals to God, “You know that I’m not guilty” he says (10:7). Then the third friend Zophar breaks his silence and he makes his first speech. He turns the screws on Job saying, “Job, you have deserved this punishment, and not only this punishment but worse!” says, “Know this” (11:6), “God has even forgotten some of your sins.” Zophar continues, “But all you have to do is repent and everything will be well with you” (11:13ff).

That’s the end of the first cycle of speeches from Job’s ‘friends’ and ‘comforters.’ They have given such wretched advice; they’ve got good intentions, and they are deeply saddened to see their old buddy in such a condition. They want him happy again, but they are trying to make sense of life. They know that God is straight, God is just, God is Holy, and they want to defend the integrity of their Lord, for they can see, quite rightly, there is no shadow of turning in God. The Lord is not mean. There is no cosmic malice in him at all. They want to vindicate the honour of God, and so they are all telling Job to show God some respect. “You can retrieve some God-given happiness if you’ll only acknowledge that your life’s in a mess because you’ve sinned, and there are some secret faults which you have hidden from men for which God is judging you.” There is some dirty linen in Job’s cupboards and he’s got to acknowledge its existence. =

“If God seems far away from you this morning, then who has moved, you or God? If you’re sick and you need to be healed, well you just need more faith.” But such well-intentioned advice to Job is very cruel to him, and every time they thrust another sermon down his throat Job gags on it “You people are no help to me” he says. “You see something dreadful and it scares you (6:21); we see the collapse of the Twin Towers and the destruction of the wing of the Pentagon and the crashing of the planes, and we are afraid. What does the future have in store for us? What horrors are to be revealed? We are afraid. We want neat explanations for messy situations, answers that aren’t painful or senseless. Job says “you’re not telling me anything I don’t know already, I believe God is holy and righteous and fair in everything he does. His justice and his wisdom are far beyond me.” This is Job’s powerful speech in Chapter 9. “Its easy for you, my friends, to judge people in trouble when you’ve got it made.” That’s what he tells them in chapter 12 especially the first 5 verses. So Job’s long reply in chapters 12 and 13 and 14 is aimed at telling his comforters a few home truths: “You’d be smarter to keep your mouths shut. Do you think that God really needs you and your phony explanations? Does God need you to act as his lawyers? You say I’m being punished for some secret sin but what if God examined you, and what would happen should he put you in the crucible? What if he brought his great microscope out and just skewered you down with four big pins and examined your imaginations and thoughts? What if he began to look at you, took his scalpel out and went to work on your life? “I’m tired,” Job says, “of hearing from you. I want to argue my case with God himself. He might kill me, but even so I’m going to keep my hope in him. I know that somehow I will be vindicated.” That’s the great speech of Job in chapters 13 & 14.

2. THE SECOND CYCLE OF SPEECHES: (Chapters 15-21).

DO WICKED PEOPLE ALWAYS SUFFER?

We meet the same pattern as in the first cycle. Eliphaz is the first speaker, and he bluntly asserts that those words of Job were “all empty notions” (15:2) and “his speeches have no value” (15:3): “your own mouth condemns you” (15:6): “all his days a wicked man suffers torment” (15:20) so that if every man, every wicked man without exception, suffers torment in this world then ipso facto Job must be a wicked man because Job is suffering torment. Job replies famously to this in chapter 16 with the words, “I’ve heard many things like these, miserable comforters are you all” (16: 2). “I want a true friend” he says and then he describes that person in verses 20 and 21. A true friend won’t accuse him, a true friend will plead for him, and say, ‘Oh, look at my brother; he’s in such a state; I won’t rub salt in these wounds. Rather I’ll plead to God for the Lord to help him.’ (16:20&21). That is what a true friend will do. So Eliphaz speaks but again is not helpful.

Then, secondly, Bildad speaks in chapter 18 and he reproaches Job, actually saying to him, “When will you end these speeches?” (18:2), and then he tries to intimidate Job by describing for him the terrors that wicked men face. Job answers Bildad in Chapter 19 “How long will you torment me and crush me with words” (19:2): “have pity on me, my friends, have pity!” (19:21). Then in this chapter the words are found, “I know that my redeemer liveth”, taken by Handel and used in his oratorio, “The Messiah” (19:25) indicating that in his blackness Job can see some glints of light – though they are not from anything his comforters are saying.

Then Zophar speaks (chapter 20) and that’s the last time Zophar opens his mouth. You would judge that he’ had barely been listening to a word Job has been saying, rather that he’d been thinking about his next speech and all the time writing some notes down and preparing to deliver his ‘wise words’ to Job. Zophar points out familiar truths about God judging the wicked in this world. It is very eloquent, but it is not a true diagnosis of Job’s problems. Job answers Zophar in chapter 21. He raises the issue of God’s judging the wicked and he points out to Zophar that that is something we rarely see. That is absolutely true. These are days of the long-suffering and patience of God, not days of his sudden judgments falling upon the children of disobedience. In chapter 21, verses 7 to 16 are a very crucial passage because they show us the problem we see today in a prosperous atheistic culture: “Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power? They see their children established around them, their offspring before their eyes. Their homes are safe and free from fear; the rod of God is not on them. Their bulls never fail to breed; their cows calve and do not miscarry. They send forth their children as a flock; their little ones dance about. They sing to the music of tambourine and harp; they make merry to the flute. They spend their years in prosperity and go down to the grave in peace. Yet they say to God, ‘Leave us alone; We have no desire to know your ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What would we gain by praying to him?’ But their prosperity is not in their own hands, so I stand aloof from the counsel of the wicked.” “So, Zophar, if you are saying, ‘Troubles always come on wicked men, and troubles have come on me, therefore I must be a wicked man,’ then I want to point out to you that this is not what I observe. I see wicked men going about their daily lives, growing fat, seeing their children and businesses flourishing.” That is Job’s response to Zophar, and he adds, “how can you console me with your nonsense. Nothing is left of your answers but falsehood” (21:34). And Job effectively shuts Zophar’s mouth and Zophar never speaks again. So that is the end of the second section.

3. THE THIRD CYCLE OF SPEECHES. (Chapters 22-31).

IS JOB GUILTY OF SECRET SINS?

The third cycle of speeches starts in chapter 22 with Eliphaz once again, and he is making the same weary point insisting that Job is a wicked man, and now most starkly, “Is not your wickedness great? Are not your sins endless?” (22:5). Eliphaz is ramming that point home to a godly sufferer who’s lost his children, his possessions, and his health so that he is a broken man sitting in pain on a dung heap scraping the matter from his wounds. Here is Eliphaz, with no subtlety or affection, declaring to Job that his wickedness is great and so he’s got what was coming to him.

Then, in chapters 23 and 24 Job replies, and they are great chapters. Job says in that section “I’m going to keep trusting God. I don’t know why this has happened to me, but I’m going to keep trusting God.” In chapter 25 Bildad speaks, but the force of Job’s wisdom has impacted his thinking and Bildad splutters out a few remarks in a couple of sentences and suddenly dries up. It is the shortest chapter in the book of Job. In this tiny speech, a mere six verses in length, Bildad concludes that God is Almighty and we men are like maggots (25:6). The inference is that maggots have no rights. They may not complain when death comes to them.

When Job answers Bildad from his ash tip his wonderful irony is evident: “How you have helped the powerless! How you have saved the arm that is feeble. What advice you’ve offered to one without wisdom! What great insight you’ve displayed! Who has helped you utter these words? And whose spirit has spoken from your mouth?” (26:2-4).

Then Job proceeds to confess in chapter 26 how sovereign God is, and he says “I can’t find a secret sin in my life that I’m deliberately holding back from confessing. I can’t believe that all this pain has come into my life to judge me because of something dreadful which I have done.” Then Job says in chapter 27, “I will never admit you are in the right; until I die, I will not deny my integrity. I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live” (27:5&6). It’s a moving speech which lasts until the end of chapter 31. Its heart is Job’s declaration of the source of true wisdom. This is to be found in fearing the Lord – that’s wisdom (28:28), and in shunning evil. The wise man hates every form of wickedness, and in chapter 29 Job talks longingly about his life before this wave of tragedies had swamped him. It’s a plaintive speech, “How I long for the months gone by, for the days God watched over me …” (29:2). Then in the following chapter (30) he compares that life to today’s and the scorn men are displaying towards him now in his ruined existence. Yet he shows what inte grity he has preserved, in the justly famous opening verse of chapter 31 where he says, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl,” (31:1) It is a great statement of Christian duty when in our own age we are bombarded with advertisements, newspaper pictures, TV and the Internet which appeal to men’s lust. Job says that purity starts with a determination not even to look at a woman; he had not seduced any of his maid servants. This is Job the man of God before us, not Samuel Pepys the man of the world. So it was not because of a failing of the flesh that God had judged him. Chapter 31 finishes with the phrase, “The words of Job are ended” (31:40).

4. THE FOURTH SPEECH MADE BY ELIHU. (Chapters 32-37).

Elihu finally makes his appearance. He is the new kid on the block. We can see at the beginning of Chapter 32 a little hint that something different is now happening by the fact that we have some prose instead of poetry for 4 or 5 verses (32:1-5). The three older men have ceased advising Job, judging that he was simply righteous in his own eyes, but Elihu the son of Barakel the Buzite, hearing all the exchanges, has become very angry with Job, convinced that the old patriarch has been justifying himself rather than God. Elihu is also angry with the three friends because they hadn’t found a way to refute Job, and had failed to close the case against him.

Elihu had waited before speaking to Job out of respect for the other three older men, but when he saw that they had nothing more to say his ire was aroused. Thus Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite begins to speak, making the longest peroration in the book, beginning, “Job has protested his innocence, and not one of you has proved that he is guilty. None of you has answered Job’s arguments” (32:12). So Elihu turns to Job “you know sometimes God chastises or intimidates us to draw us nearer to him, have you thought of that as a possibility?” Elihu mentions that “A man may be chastened on a bed of pain with constant distress in his bones” (33:19) and what may happen? He prays to God and finds favour with God; he sees God’s face, he shouts for joy and he is restored by God to his righteous state (32:26). But Elihu has been drinking the same draft as the other three and the fundamental conclusion at which he arrives is that Job’s suffering has come about through Job’s sin. Elihu lays it down as a religious axiom that God “repays a man for what he’s done” (34:11) “he brings upon him what his conduct deserves,” and “so, Job, you’ve got what was coming to you.” In Chapter 36 the same basic premise that we’ve heard many times in the eight speeches from the other three men is reiterated: a just God couldn’t make a good man suffer … he just couldn’t!

Now all the talk of man is over. Job doesn’t answer Elihu when he finishes speaking. Those sentiments have been answered in his earlier replies. Of course, much of what the comforters say is true. Their views of the justice of God and the certain judgment that hangs over sin are undeniable realities. They are simply not the right diagnoses for Job’s suffering. Consider how all the advice a doctor gives would be true, but if he has failed to diagnose the cause of the pain it might be devastating advice. He might be saying “You must exercise!” but the cause of the pain is in fact a broken bone which needs to be held firmly until the bones are set. “Exercise!” is good counsel concerning a frozen shoulder but not with a broken shoulder blade. All the advice a good doctor would give would be considered and weighted opinion, but he would be a crazy doctor who would give the same advice to everyone who came to him. He’d be cruel and stupid to send them all to have operations or to send them all to have counseling. You have to match the counsel with the diagnosis according to the real condition of the patient. These four friends have given totally wrong advice to Job based on a narrow understanding of why a professing godly man suffers. They conclude that Job’s godliness has been a mask covering secret sin which is known to the Lord.

The comforters don’t know what you know and I know, and what even Job doesn’t know. We have read chapters one and two of this book, and we know all about why God has brought the protecting hedge lower and let this trouble come into his servant’s life. They are ignorant of any of this and the test of the old patriarch’s faith is that godly Job knows nothing of it either.

5. GOD SPEAKS. (CHAPTERS 38-41).

God speaks at last, the Lord who has been listening to all these speeches, the eight speeches of the three comforters and the eight replies of Job, and the long speech of Elihu. Now God answers and gives Job that encounter with himself that Job longed for in order to make sense of his pain. It is an overwhelming encounter, and through it Job just shrinks to a floating speck before the infinitude of the Ancient of Days. God silences Job, asking many questions about what Job can see in the world around him. He shows Job that God is all knowing about the visible world. How much more is the living God all knowing about everything that we cannot see, that is, in those scenes when angels and a devil present themselves before the Lord.

So God humbles and silences Job and sets him in his place, but then he says to Job, “basically you are right and your friends have been wrong”. He turns to one of his friends, Eliphaz, and he says “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right as my servant Job has” (42:7). Somehow impatient Job with all his frustration, in his pain and reckless words has yet come closer to the truth, with a better understanding of God than these three religious counselors. Job’s friends know that God is just – of which there is no debate – so they have inferred from that that good behavior always moves God to provide pleasant consequences for men in this life, and that all bad behaviour results in God bringing judgments upon men in this life. That is where they went wrong. If the suffering Messiah himself were set before them they would argue just as unhelpfully. They have forgotten the eschatological dimension of the judgments God will one day bring upon the unrepentant.

Where have we heard earlier this same jingle that where men live good lives God treats them well and when they live bad God treats them ill? We overheard much the same thing from Satan haven’t we? That is the devil’s analysis of why people believe in God, why people do religious things and go to services on a Sunday. Satan spreads the tale that people worship God because of repaying him for his kindness to them and to make sure he continues to be good. Religion is an insurance policy and nothing more. Job’s friends were saying the same thing, that our entire relationship with God and everything that happens to us can be explained in terms of reward and punishment.. We get good things from God; we pray, “Let me get my grades to go to university” and we get our grades and we say, “Thank you God. I will go to church every Sunday when I am at University.” We keep up some sort of minimal contact with God because good things happen to us when we do, and we’re glad. But when troubles arise, illness strikes, hearts are broken and marriages get stormy then we start turning away from God, complaining “He’s no help; He’s been no support to me. What have I done to deserve this? God is unjust.”

But Job was different. Job said that you worship God when life doesn’t make sense; you magnify God when you don’t get the answers, when God says “Wait!”, and should God say “No!”, then you still keep trusting him. “Though he should slay me I’ll keep trusting him,” Job says (13:15). So Job does believe in God’s perfect justice, but Job is also aware that we can never predict God. We can never know what God’s secret will for the church is going to be, and the Lord is not bound in any way to inform us of those things. God is Sovereign. He does not owe us an explanation. In fact God is the potter and we are clay, and God decides what he’s going to do with each piece of clay. There’s much more to a relationship with the Lord than God bringing out his cane and whacking us whenever we do something wrong. Job has a sense of the mystery, the freedom and the inscrutable otherness of God.

You and I do ask, “why has God dealt with the church and the people of God in this last horrible decade of the twentieth century in the decline of the church and the falls of men of God – as he evidently and fearfully has? Why has he permitted such grief?” No one can answer that question. The gap between God and ourselves is immense: God’s power is so vast and God’s mind is infinite while ours is narrowly limited. God’s character is so pure and we have muddy streams running through every cell of our brains, and every decision that we take. Even our religion is defiled, maybe especially defiled. We know the things revealed in the Word. So we know far more than Job and his friends, but it is the knowledge of creatures, and it will always be such. Such inequality exists between ourselves and God. How measureless is God, no east, no west; a God of immensity, of no distances, no heights and no depths, immeasurable and unimaginable vastness – this is our God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost and yet he is one God. “Thee to perfection who can know?” sings the hymnist. We are to live a few years on this earth and then we die, but God is not a man like me. I cannot call on him to answer me. If we confronted one another in a cosmic court then my mouth would be stopped and I would look around to see if there were someone to arbitrate between us. Only then could I speak up before him.

That is Job’s longing early in his book (chapter 9) “if only there could be an ombudsman, a go-between, if I had a mediator who would speak up for me to God who could also speak to me on behalf of the Holy One then I would be a blessed man.” “Even now,” Job says, “my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God for me” he says (19:25-27). His confidence returns to him in all his faithful answers to his friends: “This mediator is with God, and I know that my redeemer liveth and though worms will destroy this body yet I’m going to see God in my flesh one day.” There are at times in this book the real cries of a desperate man, and we hear questions and groanings and longings which only God can satisfy. But the answer to pain, whether Job’s or anyone else’s, is God himself. It is not answers from God but the being and presence and blessing of the living God that we need – a loving Lord who comes seeking us through our pain. When the book ends it is not like an Agatha Christie mystery with all the explanations given and everything falling into place. God never explains himself to Job. The Lord never says to Job, “Well, you realize why this happened; Satan once came to me and he said that you Job trusted me merely for what you were getting from me. So I let Satan do all those things to you. That is why they happened.” God never says anything remotely like that, and Job, until the end of his life, didn’t know what we all know today, even the youngest child in our midst. We’ve got this Book, and this Bible helps us a lot in handling pain and rejection. And this book will assist all of us with the answers to our pain.

THE CONCLUSION OF THE BOOK. (CHAPTER 42)

The story draws to a close, but someone is noticeably absent. Who is missing at the end of the book of Job? It is Satan who is nowhere to be found. He has slunk off “roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it” (1:7). He is evidently seeking someone new whom he may devour. At the end of this book he has vanished from the scene. Job held on to God; the old patriarch did say some wild words, but he kept clinging to God, and the devil was proved to be wrong. When the time is right God is going to make clear to all the redeemed (who have to live until that set time by faith), why their lives went at times through a dark valley. And Job could only speak in the light of his own little knowledge of God’s promises, of one day the Mediator coming – that great advocate, a spokesman for us at God’s right hand. “Is God a man?” he asks (9:32), and you and I know that God is not a man. But in the light of the coming of the Son of God into the world, the church can say, Yes, God became a man, this gap between us, this immense vast gulf between Jehovah and ourselves, has been bridged by the coming into this world of God the Son. He’s taken frail flesh; He’s lived and died amongst us. The Bible says that he has been made like his brothers in every way. He is able to sympathize with us in our weakness. The mediator that Job longed for is real, so we can come to God with confidence because we know that there is one who will represent us and speak in our defense, the man Christ Jesus.

There is one God and one mediator between God and men and it’s by that man Christ Jesus that God has supplied our need for forgiveness. It is found in this Lamb of God. He has fully satisfied the debt of out sins. Job cried out “Why?” but Jesus cried “Why? too. He cried out that question on the cross – “why have you forsaken me?” It was on the cross in his extreme suffering that he won the victory over the accuser, and over death. In the person of the Son of God the Lord himself has suffered much more than Job suffered or that all of us have suffered – all put together. The Son of God has come and He has absorbed the pain and suffering of our sinfulness.

Ultimately there is no blameless, holy, innocent sufferer in the world but one, and he voluntarily and freely took his suffering that others deserved in order that there might be reconciliation between ourselves and God. On the third day he rose from the dead and on that first day of the week we meet as Christians and we celebrate eternal life as God’s gift through Christ. The pains of this life can’t be compared to the glory to follow, and the sufferings are just a prelude, and foretaste of that place where God will wipe away the tears from our eyes. There God will explain our unanswered questions, and the consummation of the work God has begun in us will be manifest. We will meet there with those in Christ whom we have longed to see – our dear children who died before us, our parents to whom we owe so much. They won’t be frail there, unable to lift a cup and put it to their lips. They will no longer be forgetful not even recognizing us. All their pain will have been taken away. Heaven is the great destination of the suffering church. Its glories are the hope of every believer in Jesus Christ.

September 23 2001 GEOFF THOMAS