Alfred Place Baptist Church

38-39 The Lord answered Job (I)

Let’s look again at the book of Job as the thirty-eighth chapter begins, “Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm . . .”

1. GOD ALWAYS SPEAKS TO US.

At last, after all the weeks of silence, after all the jaw-jaw of men, Jehovah speaks. I want to make this initial point, that you mustn’t come to the conclusion that if men suffer deeply enough then they’ll hear the voice of God. That’s not the case. God is always speaking to us in our consciences and in creation around us. The Word of God is at hand, and its impact in an earlier age has left its momentum for our anti-Christian generation. If you complain that God isn’t speaking to you, then, it’s because you’re not listening intently to one of his preachers, and you’re not opening the pages of the Bible studying them and crying to God for light. A man who greatly suffered was one of the dying thieves who raged against the dying of the light; he didn’t hear the Lord though he was there alongside him. He didn’t hear him when he said: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He didn’t hear the great words from the cross. He was so near; he was suffering so greatly and yet he died impenitent and deaf to the voice of the Living God. It wasn’t then because Job had suffered greatly that he learned to know God in pain. It was God who took the initiative, had pity and spoke to him. When Job was healthy and possessing everything, God also came to him at such times. In some of Job’s words in chapter twenty-nine and verse two the old patriarch could look back from the dunghill to a time when he and God were so close: “God watched over me; his lamp shone upon my head [he’s talking about the illumination of the Word of God] and by his light I walked through darkness! Oh, for the days when I was in my prime, when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house”. That’s how Job viewed the past years of a blessed walk with God in his work and at his home. God was his friend. He loved God and God loved him, and then there came a time when that friendship was perforated by pain, as every friendship is.

2. GOD SPEAKS OUT OF THE STORM.

The second thing I want to say is that the Lord answered Job out of the storm. Now you’d think there had been enough storms in Job’s life already, and you’d expect now a still, small voice to sound forth, the voice of a tender father who comes to his son’s sick bed and knows all that he’s gone through. In his words are all the tenderness of a yearning father for his boy. “You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” There is glorious divine precedent for such a response. Or you would expect to find the sympathy of a friend meeting a friend in mourning over the loss of his children. Now wouldn’t the Lord in all the grandeur of the divine compassion speak words of tenderness and empathy? That doesn’t happen. God sends a mighty storm referred to in chapter forty and verse six as we read, “The LORD spoke to Job out of the storm”. Or perhaps it was just one tempest, an endless storm, with God answering Job to the accompaniment of hail, thunder and lightning with the black sky as a backdrop, and the rain pouring down on Job as the infinite and eternal One addressed this speck of dust.

“Why a storm?” you ask. Why not? Should not God speak in a storm to us? God spoke in an earthquake to a prison governor in Philippi. Moses was put in the cleft of a rock as God’s glory passed him by leaving him almost dead with the sight. Four men had been talking sense but also a lot of foolishness in the name of God. They were some of the wisest men in the eyes of the world and they were claiming that they knew about the causes of suffering. They thought they were familiar with God’s ways and his character, speaking in God’s name, but they knew nothing at all of why God had brought such calamities into his godly servant’s life.

So God clears his throat, and having allowed the wordy ones to speak for almost thirty chapters, Jehovah draws near, the real and true Word, and his words are on a different plane. When God spoke to Moses, and through Moses to the people on Mount Sinai in a mighty storm, then Sinai covered with smoke, and the whole mountain trembled. The earth did not tremble as Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, Zophar the Naamathite and Elihu the Buzite spoke at length. When God spoke to Ezekiel at the time of the exile of the defiant anti-Jehovahist people into Babylon he came to Ezekiel in a storm, an immense cloud with flashing lightning, thus we are told in the opening words of Ezekiel. So, this is not a God you play around with. He is one who can move his finger and all you value crumbles. This is not a God you dare ignore, deceive or defy. When we come before him he intimidates us. Now that is not just the Old Testament Lord, is it? When the Lord had become flesh, when Jehovah Jesus entered a village and delivered two men from the demons that possessed them then the demons entered a herd of swine and they cast themselves into the sea and were drowned. The villagers saw it all, the exorcism at a word, the deliverance and the two men washing themselves determined that their bodies should reflect the inward cleansing Jesus had given them. They had once been furtive men of darkness; henceforth they would walk in the light. What had happened? A mighty storm had hit that community when Jehovah Jesus arrived in town. The last verse of Matthew 8 tells us the extraordinary response of the people. What do we read? “The whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to . . . preach some more sermons to them, heal more of their sick, and exorcise the demons?” Is that what it says? No. “When they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.” That’s what they shouted with one voice. “Go away,” they cried to Jesus. No one would shout that out to the non-exorcising milk-sop ‘Jesus’ of the modernist bishops and clergy. Should such a person come to a community he would bore them all with his niceness. He is a pussy cat not a Lion, but when the Jesus of the Bible came to that dark place displaying his mighty power the villagers cried, “We don’t want to know you. Go away!” These people had had a close encounter with Jesus; they experienced his might and all they wanted him to do was clear off and stop bothering them. Get away! You’d think of the salvation of men in their families, their transformation from bigotry, drunkenness and violence to loving God would make all such families and friends turn themselves to Christ falling before him, and yet you find members of such families saying, “We liked our menfolk the way they were before they got religion.” They don’t like this religion, this Jesus that has changed their men, who are speaking to them about their need of him. You remember Peter — and Peter wasn’t a violent man or a bigot — when Jesus did a great miracle and caused the nets to be full and the boats to go down into the water with the weight of the fish that Peter fell amongst the fishes at the feet of Jesus and said, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord”. Four men had been speaking a lot of foolishness in the name of Jehovah and when he breaks his silence and speaks, he comes in a storm. The men get goose-bumps and stay silent because of fear and shame. Now, men and women, that’s not all there is about God, that he’s a consuming fire. It is in the New Testement in the letter to the Hebrews that we are told that. Of course, God is also love. He is as piteous and compassionate as a father for his children and as eager to forgive as the father of the prodigal son. There is no-one reading these words who has out-sinned the mercy of God. If you came this moment and cast yourself upon him and asked for his pardon, he’d save an old, wretched rebel like you, but never forget he is also the God who plants his footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.

3. GOD DOESN’T WAFFLE WHEN HE SPEAKS.

Now, the third thing I want to say about this passage is that when God opens his mouth he doesn’t waffle. Whatever these two chapters of questions are about, they’re not about waffling. God isn’t a bully. He isn’t shaking a rattle at hurting, sick Job to divert his attention from the pain he is in. Jehovah is not saying, “Job, let me divert your attention from all you’ve suffered and let’s have a look at this wonderful world and forget your little worries”. God isn’t act like that. God is the theme of this book; he is the hero of these forty-two chapters, and Job ends the book saying that he can’t understand what God does, but he wants to put himself under the protection and authority of this God alone to serve him throughout his entire life.

Now, what were you expecting when you came towards the end of this book? What did you think would happen? What was Job expecting? Some divine explanation for all he had had to pass through? Job’s friends thought their views would be vindicated that Job had been punished because of secret sins. They imagined it would be a day of divine vindication for them, a confirmation that they had not suffered because God was pleased with their utter integrity. And when you meet God — and soon all of us are going to face the Living God himself for this is a Lord’s Day step nearer our encounter with the Living God — when you meet God, I say, when you meet the immeasurable One, the Lord without height or depth, east or west, the infinite Holy One, when you meet him, what do you expect? When you meet the God before whom the angels cover their eyes and sigh, “Holy . . . holy . . . holy . . . isn’t he holy?” — that’s what the seraphim say to one another when they see uncreated holiness — what, I am asking, in that day, do you expect? The God who made the universe – he created the cosmos and you are to meet him! The One who cried, “Let there be light, and there was light” . . . the God who is Father and Son and Holy Spirit but he is one God . . . what do you expect from him? You may have thought that having come thus far, and finding some pattern of pain in the wrestling perplexities of Job with your own pain that now there would be some civilized cerebral explanation for it all, a justification of God’s ways with Job and so with us. “We’ll know why before we die.” Why a baby died . . . why the incurable illness . . . why the unanswered prayer . . . why the crash. But before death there is silence. The secret things still belong to God. And so it is here, that few words of explanation are given to Job. Jehovah and Job don’t ‘shake hands’ nod and then go their different ways. It’s not like that. It’s never like that. Will we ever know why God dealt with the world in a certain way? Will we ever know? Will we ever know how holy created and sustained angels rebelled against the Lord in heaven, in that absolutely holy place, in the presence of God himself? How is it possible that evil could originate? Will we ever know? Or will we be content to find some matters of the being and ways of God always above our grasp?

On a much more familiar level, do we know what is for our good and what is for our bad? Who knows that? Can you categorize, can you distinguish confidently in each case, affirming it positively or negatively, even in something as basic as this question of what did us all damage and what brought us all good? We know simply that in the best and worst things God is working for our good, and we know that by trusting in his word of promise, but while we are in this world we are often picking up a cup that has come to us and trembling as we hold it crying, “Is it possible for this cup to pass from me?” Let me use this old illustration; an old man had a son and one night the old man’s horse escaped and the neighbours came to comfort him in his loss. “How do you know that’s a bad thing?” he said to them. Several days later the horse wandered back and it had brought a herd of wild horses with it and his friends then came to congratulate the man for his good fortune, but the old man said, “How do you know that this is a good thing?” Then his son, trying to tame one of the wild horses was thrown and broke his leg and his friends gathered around him to bemoan this new misfortune. The old man said to them, “How do you know that this is a bad thing?” Then the warlord came to recruit able-bodied youth for his army, but the old man’s son escaped conscription because of his broken leg and the neighbours came around again and they expressed their pleasure at the good man’s luck. “How do you know”, he said, “How do you know that it’s a good thing?” And so on . . . You know such a parable as that can go on and on and on. How quickly good fortune can turn to bad fortune, or bad fortune can suddenly become a blessing in disguise. What was the greatest time in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ? Thirty painless years in Nazareth as he grew up? I am asking you what was the best thing, the most wonderful thing that the Lord Jesus Christ did? You think and reply, “Well, I suppose it was his crucifixion. He suffered for us and our guilt. He drank the cup; he was laid out on the cross; they nailed him to it with a sledgehammer and nails. After hours of unimaginable pain he died. He died as the Lamb of God, as our substitute.” That dying and pain was the greatest event in the life of our Lord. We’ve sung about it since first we came into his orbit haven’t we? Our minds can go back to childhood and all the times since in which we’ve sung these words.

There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin;
He only could unlock the gate of heaven, and let us in.

We’ve sung about his wonderful love for us thus – “how dearly, dearly has he loved us.” So let us go back to Job and ask what was the best time, the greatest days in the life of Job? We’ve been reading about his early life of prosperity and health. Were those years his best years? Or was it the days when the hedge was lowered and Satan brought pain to him? Yes, those days were Job’s best days, when God ploughed his heart and mind with grief, leaving him in silence making him think all these thoughts about God. Job’s desperate losses and illness were his best days, and we hear his response submitting to the Lord, and we love him. We love Job. “What a giant!” we say. What a patient, holy man he is! How many people in history have been enriched through Job’s sufferings, have you thought? Almost a company of people more than I could number from all over the world and throughout the ages. I’m saying to you isn’t it impossible for us to say categorically about events in our lives, “Well, this and that thing that happened to me were bad, but what happened in this and that were all good things,” because the Christian can looks at the worst things that happen to him and he can say, “The bitter has been sweet and has worked for my good”. Also the Christian looks at the best things to have happened to him and he can say, “Yes, these are also for my good”. When Job was wealthy, honoured, strong in body and mind then with what grace he considered others and spent himself for them. Those years were for his good. But the years on the dunghill, those years were also for his good, because all things worked together for his good though he never knew the reason for the good or the bad. The good that came to Job was all because of the grace of God through the coming Messiah; the bad things that came to him were in order to display his trust in God in dark times to the whole world.

So, God comes in a mighty storm. And he comes to Job and he speaks to Job and the four men and he tells them they’ve got it wrong, v.2: “Who is he that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me”. God is saying, “There are things I’ve said and things that you know. Stick to the things that have been revealed: my own counsels.” God’s word comes to us by his holy prophets and apostles, the whole counsel of God comes to us. God has spoken to us by his Son in these last days so don’t darken those counsels; they are clear. We don’t put him on the spot; God questions us that we answer aright;

What is man?
Man is made in the image and likeness of God. Only man, of all God’s creatures, bears his image and likeness.

Who is God?
God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.

What must I do to be saved?
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

Who is Jesus Christ?
He is the Son of God.

What is the good life?
Fear God and eschew evil.

Don’t darken God’s counsels with words without knowledge. “Preach the Word!” In other words, he is saying to Job and his friends, “Don’t speculate about what you don’t know.” God questions us and supplies us with the answers. Then God says, “Brace yourself like a man”. And the word ‘brace’ probably comes from the Hebrew word ‘to wrestle’, and so Job has been challenging God, “Come and speak to me. When can I meet you?” Job has been picking a fight. “Come on”, he’s been saying to God. Now Job is going to get an encounter with God and it’s going to be about wisdom. There’s going to be a bout between him and God. It’s going to be like Mastermind and Job is going to sit in the chair and God is going to be the question master with all the correct answers.

We want to ask the Almighty, “Give me an explanation for this and that and tell me about this and from your secret will reveal these things to me.” We shrimps want to put God under the spotlight. To whom are you speaking to? You are creatures who take your first breath and then soon it’s time for your last breath; rising, standing, falling and perishing. Yesterday I was born, today I live, tomorrow I die. Our lifetime, a weaver’s shuttle. A watch in the night. It flies by . . . this tiny life, while God is from eternity to eternity. We are the most insignificant specks floating on his infinite vision. Does this impact you at all? God the vast Creator from eternity to eternity without beginning or end of days, and then mortals rise and perish. Not only are we creatures and bowing before God for that, but our hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked and bowing before him for that reason too. The good you would, you don’t. The evil that you would not, you do. Some of your sins are like scarlet. They need to be purged out, and only the blood of God the Son can cleanse you from your sin. That blood alone can make the defiled clean. Why should the perfect and Almighty One be held responsible by us men who drink iniquity like water, for anything he does to us or to ours? We’ve lost any entitlement to an explanation by the fall of our father Adam and by our own sins. You are dealing with Almighty God, the one who sustains the Milky Way and Pleiades and Orion, holding the whole cosmos in its vastness, with billions of light years separating one edge of the universe from the another, and all of that is a speck before him!

God personally deals with us, speaking to us and addressing us with his questions. What’s the first question? Verse four: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” “Well, that’s not fair; I’m a creature; I began only some years ago; I had no existence before that time. You question is on a subject where I have no expertise. Ask me a question I can answer.” God hasn’t finished. He’s only just begun, and there are more questions. Verse five: “Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?” More questions come in verses 12 and 13: “Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?” Like a housewife will take the cloth from the table and will shake the crumbs over the lawn for the birds. Have you given orders to shake the wicked from the universe? More questions. Verse 18: “Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?” More questions. Verse 31: “Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?” More questions in chapter 39, verse 19: “Do you give the horse his strength or clothe his neck with a flowing mane?” More questions, verse 26: “Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom and spread his wings towards the south? Does the eagle soar at your command and build his nest on high?” And for every question, Job says, “Pass”. He doesn’t know. In these two chapters there are about fifty questions but Job can’t answer one. Only God can answer such questions – questions about the earth and the sea, the great constellations in the heavens. Can you take the rings of Saturn and put them on your wedding finger? What’s the point of it all? The point is this: “How great thou art! When through the woods and forest glades I wander, hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees; when I look down from lofty mountain grandeur and hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze, then sings my soul my Saviour God, to Thee, ‘How great thou art!’” – greater than we can grasp. One day we will breathe our last, and then there is God before us. We’ve some understanding, some glorious concepts of him and those we must multiply by infinity. God alone has knowledge, a comprehensive knowledge of himself as well as his creation. He understands everything. God made us with a brain, this wonderful organ, so compressed with its trillions of links, an organ so small that we could hold it in our hands, but the mind of God is utterly measureless. What condescension that God should actually speak to us. When God speaks to the archangel Gabriel he has to use baby language. Michael and Gabriel are creatures, mere spirits, and when God speaks to us he speaks so simply; he has to. God talks in terms of his ‘eyes’ and his ‘ears’ and his ‘hands’ and ‘his arm;’ he’s condescending to us by talking like that. Because he’s made us in his image he can use that language. God never tells Job why he’s suffered as he has, but he says, “I’m the absolutely competent, ruling, reigning God of the universe. I’m in control of absolutely everything I have made from the hawk and the stallion to Pleiades and Orion and the Bear and I don’t have to appear at the United Nations and give an explanation at the human bar for anything at all I’ve done, not anywhere to anyone. You are not my censors, nor are you my judges”. Job discovers when God speaks that it’s not tamely and hesitantly to give an answer to Job for what he’s done. Job has forfeited his rights to any such explanations by his sin.

In the 1980s Adela and Sergei met and they fell in love. Why does that happen? Why do two people find one another so attractive that they want to marry and live together for the rest of their days? Why that man and that woman? We don’t know. Not chance. Not fate. They married in August 1985 and they made their vows that they would love one another exclusively and so live together, “till death us do part”, they said. Solemn words, aren’t they, in the marriage service? “Till death us do part”. But the year before they married, Adela, at 25 years of age, was diagnosed as having Hodgkins Disease. Why? Why of all the friends, the people she was in school with and studied with, why did Adela have cancer? The next three years, then, the three years that they were married, were a gruelling series of chemo with many complications. She was often in hospital with Sergei there at her side, until Adela at the end said: “No more treatment.” She was an outgoing personality, never losing her sense of humour even when the chemo made her hair fall out. She painted herself and dressed up as a clown. She went from ward to ward and in the Children’s Ward cheered up fellow patients. When the impossibility of having children hit home she resisted self-pity and she said to Sergei, “We’ll try to adopt a child” and then they ran into red tape, of course. That didn’t stop them. He bought a crib and brought home this cot, and Adela made some baby things, but alas, nothing ever came of it. Then in January 1989, after 3 years of marriage, Adela passed away, but shortly before, she wrote from hospital to her husband. She said these words,

Please, when I die, remember I was no hero, that I couldn’t always accept God’s will, that I was a sinner and I failed in service and love to others, that I knew despair, depression, fear and doubt and other temptations of the devil. Remember, too, that I loved laughter better than tears, that you can die with cancer but that you can also live with it and joke about it. Please don’t keep things because I made them or wrote them. They’re only earthly things, nothing special. Remember, rather, that God’s will has no ‘Why?’, that his way is best, always, that he loves us even when we don’t love him, that in the church you never stand alone. Hope is greater than despair. Faith is greater than fear and God’s power and kingdom one day will be victorious.

And she wrote him a very personal letter: Belovèd Sergei, you may find this as hard to read as I’ve found it hard to write, but I had to write it even though it may be many years before you’ll need it. I may outlive you but oh, I can’t see how I could ever live without you. Only God knows our hour but if my time comes, God willing, please be near and tell me that it is the end and ask me if I’m ready to meet the Saviour, hold my hand, pray for forgiveness for my sins, pray for peace for my soul and I’ll pray for comfort for yours and fight for you and love you for all eternity.

We don’t know why we fall in love. We don’t know. We don’t know why one person suffers and another doesn’t. We don’t know. It is not necessarily because one is more holy than another. We don’t know why one dies and another lives. We know the wages of sin is death, we know everything we get is because of grace. God knows. God does know. He knows everyone of you, and what is best for everyone of you. God has come in his Son Jesus Christ. He’s come so close to us that it was easy for men to spit in his face. He’s come that close. He’s come so close that they could hammer the nails through his hands. He’s come that close. And that God offers forgiveness for your sins. God is so great, we are so tiny, so inconsequential. God so loving that he’s going to make us like his Son, as glorious as the glorifed Christ. He’s going to make dust like eternally gold and glorious dust! And Job sees something of that. In chapter 40 and verse 4, he just does that, he puts hand over his mouth and is silent, and there comes a time for us to stop asking, “Why, why, why?” and just be still before him. Job has been broken in like a wild stallion. “Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free. I sink in life’s alarms when by myself I stand. My will is not my own, till thou hast made it thine; if it would reach the Monarch’s throne it must its crown resign. It only stands unbent amid the clashing strife when on thy bosom it has leant and found in thee its life.”

Helen Roseveare was in the Congo, October 1964, during the Simba rebellion, and she’s abducted by the soldiers, the Simba soldiers, and she’s raped by them. Why? Why not an unbeliever? There was no sin, or any great wickedness in her past. She was there in the heart of Africa to work and live for the gospel of Christ and the Simbas have got her. She’s helpless. This, she tells us, is what she has seen, and remember, she sees through a glass darkly, but this is what she can see:

That dreadful night, 29th October 1964, beaten and bruised, terrified, tormented, unutterably alone, I’d felt at last that even God had failed me. Surely he could have stepped in earlier, surely things need not have gone that far? I’d reacted, I’d reached what seemed to me the ultimate depth of despairing nothingness. Yet even as my heart had cried out against God for his failure and my mental anguish taunted me to doubt his very existence, another reasoning, another voice — “The flesh is lusting against the Spirit, isn’t it?” and the Spirit responds:“You asked me when you were first converted for the privilege of being a missionary. This is it. Don’t you want it?” Events had moved so fast, everything seemed to happen at once, pain and cruelty and humiliation had continued in an ever-growing crescendo, yet with it a strange peace and a deep consciousness that God was in charge and knew what he was doing. Odd thoughts and praises and impulses broke through and later on were woven together to show the inner meaning of the events of that night. They hadn’t been orderly, in a way that you could set it down on paper or lecture about it. It wasn’t like that. It’s not like that, the answers of God. A storm, the Congo, the Simbas.

That is the point. Job is God’s servant and the Lord Jesus is inviting us today to join this class of servants. Jesus Christ is inviting you to serve a God who doesn’t promise he’s going to tell you why but to trust that he will be in charge of the hairs upon your head. We’re asking you to come under this sovereign God’s authority and power. That’s what becoming a Christian is all about. Sometimes it means dying of cancer three years after you’ve got married. Sometimes it means losing all your children in a wreck at sea when the boat goes down or when a great storm blows the house down, where they’re all meeting in a party. Sometimes it means being raped in the middle of Africa, far from home, with no explanation of why you in particular besides men being one hundred per cent responsible for their actions. Always there is the confidence that God is in control, a God who loves us, a God who will make everything work for our good, a God who will one day explain some things to our total satisfaction and not leave us eternally perplexed of why he dealt with us as he did. All we receive is the cup that a wise and good and loving father has put into our hands to drink and it will never be as bitter as the cup that Jesus drank for us, and that same sympathetic, cup-drinking Saviour will be with us, will help us and will keep us through the darkest times.

17th March 2002 Geoff Thomas