Alfred Place Baptist Church

29-31 Job speaks for the final time

“Job continued his discourse: “How I long for the months gone by, for the days when God watched over me . . .”’ (v.1). It is Job’s last speech. After this, in all the remainder of the book of Job, he only speaks seven verses. Here we are half way through the longest of his speeches; he has already spoken for three chapters as we break into it.

We are by now all familiar with this man and his unbelievable and unexplained catalogue of sufferings. A great and holy man has been broken by one calamity after another. He has three muddled associates who arrange to met him together and they compound his grief because of their philosophy. They are men who are persuaded that our pain is due to God punishing us for things that we’ve done wrong. Relentlessly and mercilessly they hammer away at this theme at Job. “Vindicate God”, they say to him, “by acknowledging you’ve been perpetrating unspeakable wickednesses. Justify the ways of God by confessing your evils.” How they repeat this theme; they approach Job with this accusation from a hundred angles. No sooner has one stopped than another speaks up, and then when the three have all had their say they speak up all over again, and again. It’s the cruellest counsel you can imagine hearing in men dealing with someone who has lost everything he loves.

But Job is an extraordinarily resilient man who can tap the wellsprings of God and he answers them persistently and wisely, in his anguish, because he has resources they know nothing at all about. He won’t be brainwashed or browbeaten by them. Job has admirable style, but the experience is so wearing. Remember how ill Job is; he is skin and bone by now. He just stinks, his skin is black. He sits on a dungheap. His own remaining family are appalled by what has happened to him and he is meeting relentless attack; solitary Job, all alone, bearing his great loss. Now, we are insisting again and again that you Christians will never experience anything as terrible as Job once experienced. He is not Mr. Average Christian, or Mr. Everyman. The nagels in heaven are silenced as they behold what Job has had to endure. But you will be sustained by the same power and grace that kept Job’s sanity. The same love of God will keep you through the lesser trials we must pass through. That same grace will keep you. All God’s elect are going to succeed in what the Bible calls ‘enduring to the end’. You’re going to cope and you will keep coping. How few mature Christians do fall away through times of pain and suffering, and when we look at Job’s response, there’s nothing puppet-like about him at all. Here’s a man of like passions as ourselves. He is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh and only by appropriating the grace of God did Job get by. Grace is omnipotence acting to sanctify and glorify God’s people. With one hand God took his protecting hand from Job and into his life came the furies, and then with the other hand God sustained and kept him by his mighty power.

1. JOB LOOKS BACK.

So, let’s take an overview of chapter 29 where Job is inevitably looking back at his fearful providence. What Job is thankful to recall now in his illness is that death seems very near. I hope old age comes to all of us, and then we will look back necessarily because our futures will be brief and our past will have all the varied decades of our earthly pilgrimage. Job is looking back in this chapter, and he mentions the kinds of things that we should be thankful for at the end of our days. That is its theme.

i] It has been a life cared for by God.

“There were days”, Job says, “when God watched over me” (v.2). Great periods of his life when he was conscious he had a Shepherd who cared for him and looked after him. What are the marks of a life that’s being cared for by God? It is a life illuminated by the Word of God. Job says, “His lamp shone upon my head and by his light I walked through darkness!” (v.3). Job is talking about the light that he received from the Scriptures of his day. They were a light to his feet and they guided and instructed him. How did this show itself in Job’s life? Pre-eminently in this that he was conscious that God was his friend. That’s what he was aware of (v.4). It was no burden to him to be a religious man with Holy Omnipotence staring down at him day by day. God was his sacred loving friend. He was not someone that you just called on on special occasions, for example, on a Sunday he had a little niche and you went to a service and worshipped him, or that there are certain other times in your life, certain big events or special periods in the year, when you referred to him, but you were conscious that between Almighty God and yourself a friendship existed. Job knew God, and he knew him intimately. That’s what he says in the fourth verse; “God’s intimate friendship blessed my house” with his family (v.5) and his life was terrific. A ‘life with God’ . . . isn’t that a sort of austere, negative life full or morals, rules and regulations? “I can’t do this, and I can’t do that?” No, “It’s a life of peaches and cream”, Job says (v.6) . . . (well, olives and cream). So that God in your home is life enhancing and life enriching, but not just for your own glow but for family blessings too.

ii] It had been a life which brought the respect of society.

Then Job reflects on his life in his community, and he talks about the respect that his life gained in society because of his character and his achievements. He mentions it like this, simply and movingly “When I went to the gate of the city and took my seat in the public square, the young men saw me and stepped aside and the old men rose to their feet; the chief men refrained from speaking and covered their mouths with their hands; the voices of the nobles were hushed, and their tongues stuck to the roof of their mouths. Whoever heard me spoke well of me, and those who saw me commended me,” (vv.7–11). This respect was not because Job had a lot of money. That wasn’t the reason why the young stepped aside and let him pass first and why the old did the same. There was a respect for how Job lived his considerate and loving life seen by all. Men saw his good works and glorified God for Job. The respect he received was the sign that they were glorifying God for him.

Job also helped people, and that was at some cost and even danger to himself. “I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist him. The man who was dying blessed me; I made the widow’s heart sing. I put on righteousness as my clothing; justice was my robe and my turban. I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger. I broke the fangs of the wicked and snatched the victims from their teeth” (vv. 12-17). There was a remarkable spirit of altruism in Job. He got involved in his world as it light and salt. He loved his neighbour as himself. He didn’t pass by on the other side when he saw a beaten-up man. A Levite might, and a priest might, but Job was like the good Samaritan. Where there was terrible prejudice and indifference, then Job took up the cause of the person who was the object of the prejudice (v.16), and when he thought of the future, his simple wish was this: “to live a long life and die at home, that’s what I want. If I can live a longer life, a few more years, I still desire to die in my own house” (v.18), that was his ambition. Such were his modest, glorious hopes.

I buried a lady on Thursday this week and she had a fear. She fought cancer for eighteen years and had received great help. The Royal Marsden hospital had of course helped brilliantly and the doctors here were excellent, but one concern was that she should die at home. She was a widow and her children lived hundreds of miles from her. She lived all by herself. How could she manage to care for herself until the end? She didn’t want to go to hospital; lying there in a ward with many other people was something she flinched from. These were the little, fussy concerns that she had. She also hoped she would not have long bouts of pain at the end. God was so good to her. She had at the end one night in hospital and most of that time she was unconscious. She had no pain and everything was handled well. God was gracious and tender towards her. What a nice end! If I could choose, then mine would be an end like that. To die trusting in the blood of Christ to be my sole and sufficient answer at the throne of judgment. Keep your mind on your end. Consider being able to speak to your children, looking after yourself, cooking a meal towards the end, some proper meal and then pulling up one’s feet under the blanket and rendering one’s soul and eternity to God.

iii] Serving his fellow-men.

Then Job looks back thankfully at the times when he was able to serve his fellow-men and speak to them and be loved for what he said. I can remember talking to Professor John Murray and asking him about some of the special divine blessings he’d known in his life. Mr. Murray thought for a while and then he said, “Well, there was an occasion when our whole denomination was in danger of splitting. There was a division amongst the men and they asked me if I could speak to the church on the subject. The church gathered in its Assembly and I gave a paper there”, he said to me, “and there was such a blessing on it. It created unity and strength and the church never looked back and was never troubled by that issue again.” He looked at his contribution to the life of a church at one time and how God had met with them as Mr. Murray had spoken to them. You see this in the words of Job, “Men listened to me expectantly, waiting in silence for my counsel. After I had spoken, they spoke no more; my words fell gently on their ears. They waited for me as for showers and drank in my words as the spring rain. When I smiled at them, they scarcely believed it; the light of my face was precious to them. I chose the way for them and sat as their chief; I dwelt as a king among his troops; I was like one who comforts mourners (vv.21–25)”. I always put John Murray in the midst of that scene, that godly, humble, holy man speaking the word to a church and no split ensued. “The light of my face was precious to them” – how the Orthodox Presbyterian Church loved John Murray! His piety as much as his exegesis held them together and on they went. What a wonderful blessing!

I wonder now, does any of this resonate with you? Will you be able to look back and think of your life, that there were those in different needd and you helped them? You think of the great humanitarian parable of our Lord, how he will speak to the sheep in the last day, “I will say, I was all by myself, but then you came to me. I was without clothing, and you were the one who clothed me. I was hungry, you fed me. I was in prison and you visited me. I was sick and you came and you stood by the bed and you spoke to me; you did what you could to help me. Come! Come now”, he says, “you blessèd ones”. Job could recognise that blessing of ministering to others. When Job spoke his words were weighed. They counted, and why shouldn’t your words count? If you are men and women who take God and his wisdom so seriously, and like the previous chapter describes, you are men mining for gold and opaz and diamonds who tunnel deep into the darkness and find it and expend such energy in the search. You are men and women who give yourselves to seeking maturity, practical sagacity, wisdom, understanding and discernment. Why shouldn’t you be people then, who give good advice when a friend calls in his or her desperation, and you are a constant help to your family, husband, children and parents? You can look back like Job looks back with thankfulness to God that he had not lived a selfish life.

2. JOB LOOKS AROUND.

The next chapter, that is, chapter 30, is a striking contrast. What Job had been is left behind and the focus is turned to what Job had become. There is present lamentation for three issues.

i] The contempt of young men.

In the first 15 verses of chapter 30 the contempt of young men is graphically described. Job has become the butt of the song of the drunkards in the taverns. These men are the sons of criminals. They weren’t put in prison in Job’s days for their crimes, they were shunned and banished from civil society. So they were forced to spend their years, like Cain the murderer spent his, ostracised from men and women in the wilderness. So it was with these outcast criminals who are described for us here, “a base and nameless brood, they were driven out of the land” (Job 30:8). They are described in the opening eight verses as scraping an existence in wastelands, they’re living on scraps, they’re huddled in the undergrowth, hardly speaking. They have become like beasts and they bray at one another (v.7). These are extraordinary word pictures of the dispossessed criminal underclass. Their forsaken sons are without fathers: they are youths who haven’t reached the first step of the ladder. Their sons now taunt Job, singing songs of mockery that godly, righteous Job has had his comeuppance. “I have become a byword among them. They detest me” (vv. 9&10). Did you hear of the delight in certain schools in London and elsewhere at the destruction of the Twin Towers. Young men and women actually rejoiced, laughing aloud and applauding at that. Soon it will happen here with bombs on the tube trains and buses, and then it won’t be a matter of crowing over America’s grief.

That’s the picture you have here of unbelievers glad that the righteous have fallen so low. We are told that the sons of the criminal classes actually came to the dunghill where Job sat and they cleared their throats and they spat full in Job’s face (v.10). They threatened and attacked Job. He watched these young men coming like a marauding army, and invading his space. He sat alone and watched a group of these young men menacingly walking towards him. Job tells us (in vv.14–15) what a terrifying experience it was, in the dusk these men sauntering along threateningly towards him. So they became part of his sufferings.

ii] The divine abandonment.

That was much more serious (vv.16–23). Compared to the loss of everything else, the loss of God was catastrophic and it showed itself in pain around the clock (vv.16–17) with God doing nothing about it so that Job could have cried, “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” and God does nothing, in fact he seems to make things worse; “he throws me into the mud, and I am reduced to dust and ashes” (v.19). And so now this man who has walked with God, who claimed that God was his friend and God was always in his home, has this extraordinary theological problem of unanswered prayer. Is it a big thing to ask from God, “Why are you treating me in this way? Why have you taken my children from me? Why do you send terrible ill health into my life like this?” but there is simply a deafening silence, “I cry out to you O God, but you do not answer” (v.20). God, he says, seems to toss him as a leaf is tossed with a mighty wind and it’s spinning round and round. Job knows when that leaf falls to the ground it’s going to be trodden on and ruined. Its end will be death (v.23). That is Job’s sense of the value of his life, buffeted by the messengers, broken by the death of his children, whipped by the cynicism of his wife and then he has to endure the despairing counsels of people who are supposed to be his friends. Job is a twisting leaf, blown about by God.

iii] The dashing of every hope.

The final cluster of present troubles is described in verses 24 through 31, and that’s the dashing of every hope. So, these young men are threatening, taunting him, spitting at him, and God is not answering, and then every other hope is destroyed. Who’ll go out of their way to help him? Job had gone out of his way to help people (v.24), but they didn’t reciprocate. No one helps him in return (v.25). When he hoped for good, he got evil. When he hoped for light, then the darkness prevailed (v.26). There were days of constant stomach churning. His skin turned black. He says this twice (vv.28, 30). No one wanted Job. He was abandoned, just like the pile of dung on which he now sits. Only the wild dogs come and sniff at him (v.29). The only songs that Job can sing now are dirges (v.31). That’s the portrait that is given here of Job on the dungheap. He is as low as you can go. Mocked by evil men, deserted by a sovereign God and racked with pain and discomfort, that’s his self-portrait in chapter 30.

3. JOB GIVES HIS TESTIMONY.

We come finally to chapter 31 and the conclusion of this final lengthy speech of Job in which he gives his testimony. You know how the apostle Paul in the first chapter to the Romans and early in the first letter to the Corinthians calls on God to be his witness. He says to the people, “Now what I’m saying to you is absolutely true – may God be witness to my words.” How has Job lived? How does an Old Testament Christian spend his days? How should we live?

i] Job was faithful to his wife.

The first thing that Job says is that he didn’t play around with women. That’s how he starts in the opening four verses of this chapter. Job was faithful to the marriage vows he had made to his wife. He kept a covenant with his eyes. So if there was a woman walking towards him, he humbly looked down. He didn’t mentally undress a woman, and lust after her. He was conscious, he tells us, that he was living in a moral universe governed by the law-giving God, and that he had a conscience. “That is man’s lot; it’s our heritage”, Job calls it. Animals don’t possess such a divine monitor rebuking or commending them for their actions, do they? One animal will go up to another animal and they will copulate. That’s how an animal lives, but men and women are made by God and for God. A man has a conscience that tells him when he does right, and warns him when he does wrong, and if men choose to behave like animals then it is ruinous (v.3) – an utter disaster. That’s Job’s inspired judgment, and judged by it our own society is disintegrating. It is being ruined by the behaviour of young and old because too many are behaving like beasts and not like those made in the image and likeness of God. “God sees our ways”, Job says; “God counts our every step” (v.4).

ii] Job resisted temptation.

Secondly, Job overcame all other temptations (vv.5–8). There was the temptation coming to him to be a deceiver (v.5), to let his instincts and desires rule him, to do what his instincts told him to do, not thinking as a man of God, not using his mind. No, Job overcame that temptation. His heart wasn’t led by his eyes (v.7). So, here is Job, the man who took his conduct very responsibly. He didn’t say, “Well, it’s my life. You’ve got to make your own choices. I alone can decide . . .” because Job knew that lust and deceit touch other lives, and God has put the solitary into families; other people are affected by deceit and lust. Job’s prayer was, “Let God weigh me in honest scales”. Let God do that to all of us.

iii] Job lived a pure home life with his family and workforce.

Thirdly, he talks about his home-life, with its own integrity (vv.9–15). Again he returns to the seventh commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, and he says, “I haven’t hung around my neighbour’s door”. He didn’t do that (v.9). “That would be shameful, that would be a sin to be judged” (v.11). Lust is like a fire and when it burns it just destroys, doesn’t it? It destroys marriages, and trust, and friendship, and peace. It destroys children. It would have burnt his whole future family life: “It would have uprooted my harvest” (v.12). A man’s harvest is at the end, to have the loving trust of his children and his grandchildren, and to have peace and unity. That’s the harvest that we have, and if Job had acted in an adulterous way, “It would have uprooted my harvest”, he says.

Then Job turns to the people who worked for him, and he affirms that he was abundantly fair in all his dealings with his workers (v.13). “If he was mean with them in any way, if he took advantage of them, well, how could he face God in judgement?” he asks. The same God who made the manager, makes the worker (v.15). “The same God who judges the worker, will judge the manager”, he says. So, he’s conscious of his responsibility.

iv] Job was just in the community.

And then fourthly, his conduct in his community (vv.16–23) was blameless and compassionate. How important balance is in the Christian life. Justice is wedded to mercy. Job can say that he hadn’t ignored the poor. There’s a difference between professional beggars and the poor, and the Christian’s obligation is to the poor, to the widow, to the orphan (vv.16–17). “From a young man”, he says, “he’d been taught his duty to the poor.” His father had taken him with him when they’d visited the poor and they’d been generous without demeaning them. He’d been trained from a young boy to think of others, that other people came first. “Love your neighbour as yourself”, his father had commanded him (v.18). He’d clothed the naked, he’d cared for the fatherless (vv.19–21). That was his life, loving his neighbour and fearing God. He always feared the God with whom he was to spend eternity. Job makes it plain in this passage that you can’t live a selfish life and escape the judgement of God. You can’t profess to be a Christian and it not showing itself. It must show itself. Without love for others you’re a hypocrite – the New Testament says that “by their fruits you shall know them”. Faith is meaningless without that. He is a man who fears God, who stands in awe of his judgement; he fears grieving the Holy Spirit by a selfish life, and this is manifest in our lives. We show it by a life that embraces those others whom God brings into our lives. So Job says in verse 23, “I dreaded destruction from God, and for fear of his splendour I could not do such things”. So the reality of a God who is light must affect the children of light, that we walk in the light day by day because of the light that we’re heading for. It’s a short journey to eternal light, and we show it by walking in the light here.

v] Job kept his own heart.

In verses 24–40 Job describes keeping his own heart. We live in a materialist age. You go to a shop on a Saturday, maybe it is Woolworths, to buy some chocolate and there’s a crowd lining up to buy their tickets for the National Lottery. All their problems would then be solved, they imagine, if only their lucky numbers come up. Then life would be one of luxury, the most expensive cars, hotels and visits to exotic places. “That’s what life is all about! That’s life to the full!” The Lord Jesus comes and he says, “You can’t serve two masters.” It is giving them both full service that is impossible. It is impossible to serve God and Mammon (money/ wealth). You can’t serve them, because they give contradictory orders, don’t they? God says, “Thou shalt have no other gods but me. Thou shalt not make an idol of anything, nor take my name in vain. Keep a day special every week. Honour your father and mother. You shall not kill, nor commit adultery, nor lie, nor steal, nor covet”, he says. But Mammon says, “Covet. Go for it”. That’s Mammon’s orders. “Get as much as you can as quick as you can. Go for it. Time is short. Don’t hang around.” “No! You can’t serve them both,” says the Lord, “you can’t serve the two, because they say two totally different things. You’ve got to make a choice. Either you’re going to serve the Living God, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. You’re going to become his bondslave, or you’re going to slave for money. You can’t serve them both.” If you go out from church week after week without the Saviour, is it because you’re serving money? Job says, “I haven’t put my trust in gold because if you do you know thieves steal it; they break in and help themselves to it; moth and rust corrupt it.” Then a September 11th comes along in your own personal life and you lose everything you value.

God is Job’s strength. “Gold is not my security”, he says (v.24). God was his security. What gave Job the greatest joy? It was not his wealth (v.25) but the living God. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy God forever. So, Job goes on to say that he didn’t worship the creation, like New Age people do. He didn’t bow before the sun and moon (v.26). That would have been idolatry. Yet here in the heart of the Old Testament is this example of a man who loves his enemy. You know the Pharisees in Jesus’ day were saying to people, “Love your neighbour. Hate your enemy”. Jesus says,“But I tell you, love your enemy. Do good to those that despise you. If a man smites you on the one cheek, turn the other cheek also”. Now here in the heart of the Old Testament, Job tells us, “I love my enemy.” This is what he says in vv.29–30; “If I have rejoiced at my enemy’s misfortune or gloated over the trouble that came to him. I have not allowed my mouth to sin by invoking a curse against his life”. Job never did that. He loved his enemy too much to gloat over his misfortunes. You can love your enemy. The grace that enabled Job to do this can enable you also. This person who you just discovered has been convicted as a monster, you can love him. You can. But it was also a life of hospitality and friendship to his neighbours. He says in v.32, “No stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveller”.

So Job challenges us; is that true for us? Do you have an open door? Do people come in and sit with you on the settee and talk with you and have coffee together? Do you have people for a meal? Is your home an open door? Job’s was, he affirms. Are you very important, and busy Christians? Job says to these three pathetic acquaintances of his that he hadn’t concealed his sin, he had no guilt and shame hidden in his heart, as they allege. He loved righteousness too much for that and hated sin. He feared God too much to have committed secret sins.

Then there is his secret cry, this longing to God for vindication. You see it’s in parenthesis, you see the brackets at the beginning of v.35 and at the end of v.37, and it’s a section apart. It’s outside this flow. “Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defence—let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing. Surely I would wear it on my shoulder, I would put it on like a crown. I would give him an account of my every step; like a prince I would approach him.” That’s what he says. He cries for justice. So, here’s Job who has had fearful accusations made against him but they’ve not destroyed him at all. He refuses to sign a false confession. He is holy Job. He maintains his integrity. He ends up here in the last verses of this chapter calling on the land that he’s walked across and ploughed and furrowed, on which he has herded his sheep, which has heard him order his workmen about with their tasks. He addresses those vast acres of land and asks that it bear witness against him if it has seen or heard him sin. Let the stones and the trees and the very soil itself speak up if they have witnessed him doing anything untoward there. If he’s broken the backs of his tenants, let judgement fall upon him. So this is how it ends, ‘“If my land cries out against me and all its furrows are wet with tears, if I have devoured its yield without payment or broken the spirit of its tenants, then let briers come up instead of wheat and weeds instead of barley’. The words of Job are ended.”

Let me close. You are aware, of course, that all these things that Job did, he didn’t do to get right with God; he didn’t do these things to get justified. Because he was right with God, because God had pardoned his sins, because he’d put his hand on the blameless Lamb who had died in his place, confessing his own unworthiness, because he loved God and sought forgiveness from God he showed he had received the free pardon and grace of God by a different kind of life, by a new rich life, this wonderfully giving life that Job had led. It wasn’t a perfect life. It wasn’t a blameless life. Maybe in years to come Job would read this chapter that we’ve just read and feel rather shame-faced about some of the statements he made. “Did I say that? I seem to have protested too much, didn’t I? I was a sinner after all. Nothing I did was perfect.” Maybe, as the years went by, Job would respond like that, but Job answers these three men in the persistence of their accusations by appealing to God, and his own servants, his family and the women who knew him to look on him and see how he has lived. He is preaching to us from his own example, and he is saying to us what the New Testament says to us: Faith without works is dead. Dead! So it’s a great challenge as to the quality of our trust, of our faith in God, that it show itself in the energy of sacrifice and self-denial. You think of the perseverance that this great man Job showed through all his life. Now, his God is your God, if you’ve come to God through Jesus Christ. He can help you and you can lead this sort of life, that when you come into a church meeting our hearts beat with delight at the sight of you; when you speak there’s wisdom in your contribution, there’s graciousness and richness about what you give. God has made you that kind of person. You certainly don’t recognise those things in yourself. It is God who has made you this sort of person, and your children rise up each day and bless God for you. Your friends will know a lonelier, colder world when the time comes for God to take you home.

24th February 2002 Geoff Thomas