Alfred Place Baptist Church

4-7 The First Encounter with a ‘Friend’

We are going to consider this morning chapters four, five, six and seven of the book of Job. From now on we’ll be dealing with several chapters of this book every time we examine it. We are going to be examining the dialogue that is recorded in the words of Job’s comforters and the holy patriarch’s responses to them. This is the great poetic section in the middle of the book of Job. To speak on such large portions of Scripture is not my customary style of preaching, nor that of the men who have been my role models all my life. However, I don’t know how you can go through a passage of Scripture like the book of Job in any other way. My fear is that we shall spend such time declaring the actual words of these chapters that there will be little time for application. My hope is that the power of all this vivid language will do its own cleansing and sanctifying work in our lives. I will seek to honour the words of this God-breathed book and trust that the same Spirit will make his power known through it in strengthening our faith and deepening our love for God, and giving us more intelligent trust in him.

Job chapters 4 and 5 contains the first speech of Eliphaz the Temanite, and it begins, “Then Elphaz the Temanite replied: ‘If someone ventures a word with you will you be impatient? But who can keep from speaking?'” Let me seek to put the sufferings of Job and this response to them into a context we may more readily understand. Near the town of Bourton on the Water in the Cotswolds there is a small village called Great Rissington, surrounding its little church. A hundred years ago William and Annie Sole lived on Great Rissington. They had nine children, six boys and three girls. During the war, the Great War 1914-18, five of the boys became soldiers. In 1916 Albert, Frederick and Walter were killed and in 1918, the twins, Alfred and Arthur were killed. The sixth son Percy was too young to fight but he died in 1923 of meningitis. Within the span of eight years William Sole had lost his six sons, five of them in battle. Every Remembrance Day their names are still read out in the church of St. John the Baptist in Great Rissington. How would your begin to comfort Mr. and Mrs. Sole? What would you say to parents who had gone through such an experience of loss?

Job had seven sons and three daughters and all at once they were killed in a party in the home of one of them which suddenly collapsed. Job’s friends go to sympathise with him. At first they show the dynamic of respect in a week of silently sitting nearby, weeping with him. Finally Job breaks the silence; he will not go silent into that dark night, but rages and rages against the ending of his family life. After that extraordinary outburst in chapter 3 the first friend to speak to him is Eliphaz. He seems to be the oldest of the four men and he’s very courteous, scholarly and theological, but note his ominous opening words. If anyone says to you, “If someone ventures a word with you, will you be impatient?” (v.3) then immediately you are on guard and wonder what’s coming next, aren’t you?

I. ELIPHAZ’ COUNSELS. (Chapters 4&5).

Eliphaz has a number of things to say to Job, the first clumsy thing he says is,
1] “Don’t be discouraged, because you’ve lived a good life.” By striking this note at the beginning of his very long speech one believes that he has not had much experience of comforting the grieving. “Now trouble comes to you and you’re discouraged; it strikes you and you’re dismayed. Shouldn’t your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope? (vv. 5&6). Imagine knocking on the door there in Great Rissington and sitting down with Mr. and Mrs. Sole who’ve lost all their boys and saying to them, “Well now, here’s something to help you, you shouldn’t be so broken-hearted because of your own genuine piety; you’ve been very religious and blameless people.” That would be a very perplexing beginning wouldn’t it? You are turning these people on themselves and their past, and giving them praise, rather than looking above to the living and loving Father. The Lord Jesus Christ, the most pious and blameless of all men, wept with Mary and Martha as they were there at the grave of their brother Lazarus. That was the beginning of his comfort.

Eliphaz, at the beginning of his long speech, shows how obsessed he is with the importance of living a decent and a proper life. It is everything to him, He goes on to talk about people like criminals who ended up on the gallows or in prison. “I’ve observed those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it. At the breath of God they’re destroyed; at the blast of his anger they perish” (vv. 8&9). Once they were kings of the earth, like Mafia princes they strolled around. They prowled their patch like lions, but a hail of bullets mowed them down. “The teeth of the great lions are broken. The lion perishes for lack of prey, and the cubs of the lioness are scattered” (vv.9&10). So that’s Eliphaz’s first comfort to Job “You’ve not like a criminal. You’ve lived a good life.”

But that is not Job’s hope. Job knows about sin in the heart, and he offers to God a sacrifice for himself and for his sons that they might be forgiven if there were just thoughts of evil in their hearts. Job believes only a perfect holiness is acceptable with God, so man must receive by grace unmerited the divine pardon. Then God can view man as perfect because the blood of the sacrifice has been shed. That was Job’s message. Eliphaz says to him, “Think how you instructed many” (v.3). Job had told all who would hear him this great message. Eliphaz himself and the two others, had heard this great message from Job, that through this good news Job had sought to “strengthen feeble hands.” “Keep going to the place of sacrifice. Make an atonement for your sins; confess them over the victim slain. There’s forgiveness, and an eternal righteousness in God.”

That was Job’s hope. It was not focused in his piety. It was not in his own godliness, though that was an indispensable inward witness of the genuiness of his faith and the reality of his words to others. But Eliphaz, you see, could not appreciate this. He says “Well, you’ve lived a decent life, that’s one great thing to be thankful for when loss comes into our lives”. Eliphaz says in that professionally religious way of his, “You’ve done your best in life; shouldn’t your piety be your confidence?” (verse 6) It was clearly Eliphaz’s confidence. “No, No,” Job says in his heart, “my confidence is in the mercy and righteousness of God.”

2] The second thing that Eliphaz says to him is “men can’t be more righteous than God” “I mean, we’re bound to be less righteous than God aren’t we? That’s inevitable, isn’t it, that there are lesser standards for us than there are for God.” That is what Elphaz thinks, and everyone you meet. They say, “You can’t be perfect, can you?” But Eliphaz has a most dramatic tale to tell of a glorious religious experience that he has had which has confirmed to him that we can’t be expected to become more pure than God. “A word was secretly brought to me, my ears caught a whisper of it. Amid disquieting dreams in the night when deep sleep falls on men, fear and trembling seized me and made all my bones shake. A spirit glided past my face and the hair on my body stood on end. It stopped, but I could not tell what it was. A form stood before my eyes and I heard a hushed voice, ‘Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his Maker?” (vv. 15-17). After that build-up, the message is so desperately disappointing. We hear of a ghostly spirit gliding past Eliphaz and the hairs on his neck standing on end. Then the form stood before his eyes and the ghost speaks … and the words are, “Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his Maker?” How unexceptional those words are. Who in the world does not believe them? They are like the words of a ‘prophecy’ that people in hushed tones of reverence will tell you that they’ve had, a word of wisdom or a word of knowledge, and people set such store by them, and remember them better than verses from the word of God itself. When they share them with you there is that inevitable sense of anti-climax. The knowledge we gain from the word of God is infinitely fuller and qualified within a whole biblical context. The word of God can make Christians perfect.

Why is Job being told this in such a dramatic way? Because Eliphaz doesn’t accept Job’s emphasis on God only accepting a righteousness which is as perfect as his own. No man can be as righteous as God, Eliphaz is saying, and I have had a vision to prove it. Men like Eliphaz are telling the world something like this, that God is like a schoolmaster who knows everything about every subject, but who expects much less a standard from his pupils.

If they reach examination standard, they show far less understanding than their teacher, but they still pass, and he is pleased with them. So too we believe that it’s possible to attain by the help of God a sort of level of righteousness, which is of course far lower than God’s holiness, but God sees it, and God will reward it, Eliphaz says. So Job in Eliphaz’s judgment is aiming for something quite impossible – ‘the righteousness of God.’ That is quite unattainable he says. Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope, he has said in verse 6, because they were his comfort. “I haven’t been perfect, but I’ve done my best and god will surely be pleased with that. No one can be more perfect than God.

So this is the second word that Eliphaz brings to Job. Are they words of comfort? If God accepts man’s flawed attempts at living according to his own abilities, then why did the Son of God come from heaven? Why the incarnation? Why did Jehovah Jesus live in Nazareth’s obscurity and face the contradiction of sinners? Why must He die as the Lamb of God? Jesus told John the reason at his baptism. He said, “It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness. I must identify with sinners; I stand in line for baptism with them,” he said. “You’ve got to baptise me, because a righteousness must be fulfilled.” John said of Jesus, “He’s the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world,” God does requires perfection, doesn’t He? He doesn’t say, “Try for seven of the ten commandments.” The righteous God loves righteousness. Who says, “Ah, it’s just a little bit of anthrax. It can’t do you much harm – just a few spores of the stuff. It’s just little bit of arsenic, or just a tiny HIV virus, just a few cells. That’s all, just a little bit!” My friends, you don’t want any of it, do you? Any of it! How much more God, the living God, before whom the cherubim veil their faces and cry, “Holy! Holy! Holy!”, will not accept a spot, a wrinkle, or any such thing! God wants perfection, God desires holiness. The Lord Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Be perfect! Be perfect!” He told us to be holy as our Father in heaven is holy.

That perfection, which God demands, the Lord God also provides. That is the good news, that in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed. It is made irresistibly plain to the sinner. God provides it for the repentant believer in the righteousness of his Son Jesus Christ. His own obedience to the death of the cross is imputed to everyone whose faith is in that cross. God will clothe all of us in that righteousness. It is unto all and upon all who believe. The great end to John Bunyan’s doubts and fears was when he saw that his righteousness was in heaven. It was at God’s right hand that a sinner’s righteousness can be found. in the one Mediator that there is with God.

3] The third thing Eliphaz says to Job is that he should submit to the judgments of God. You notice how fearfully quickly some people pass away; they’re the picture of health walking down Great Darkgate street one day and the next thing we hear is that they’ve gone. My friend John Marshall was speaking to me on Friday and was saying, “I have a friend who this year went to the doctor just because his knees were clicking, but he was referred to a hospital, where it was discovered that he was suffering with pernicious anemia. Just three months went by and he died.” That is a familiar story isn’t it? Yet it would hardly have been the story to take with you to Mr. and Mrs. Soles’ house in the Cotswolds to make them more resigned to the fact that they’ve lost their five boys. “Some people die quickly.” No comfort there. Yet this is the message Eliphaz tells Job, that we are all living in houses of clay, “If God places no trust in his servants, if he charges his angels with error how much more those who live in houses of clay, whose foundations are in the dust, who are crushed more readily than a moth. Between dawn and dusk they’re broken to pieces; unnoticed, they perish forever. Are not the cords of their tents pulled up so that they die without wisdom?” (vv. 18-21). So Eliphaz is telling Job that there is no escape from death, and no point in being resentful. Then you see what he says in verse 7 of the next chapter, those famous words, “Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upwards.” So with this theme of man’s mortality is how he comforts Job, the inevitability of death. “So they’ve died. Your servants killed and your family too. But death is an inevitable fact…” Eliphaz says. See how sharply he alludes to the death of Job’s dear children with the subsequent loss of all their goods in the opening verses of chapter 5. “Call if you will, but who will answer you? To which of the holy ones will you turn? Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple. I myself have seen a fool taking root, but suddenly his house was cursed. His children are far from safety, crushed in court without a defender. The hungry consume his harvest, taking it even from among thorns, and the thirsty pant after his wealth. For hardship doesn’t spring from the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground. Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward,” (vv. 1-7) he says. Such words are not the tender sympathies of a man who has been broken in sympathy by the devastating loss of his friend.

4] The fourth thing ‘comfort’ Eliphaz brings to Job is to urge him to appeal to God in his trouble. That’s all a man can do, cast himself on God who is all powerful and all just. This is how he puts it, “But if I were you, I would appeal to God; I would lay my cause before him” (v.8). And in the next 8 or 9 verses Eliphaz speaks eloquently of God’s power over creation, over the mightiest men of the world, and over the schemes of sinners. This God “saves the needy … so the poor have hope and injustice shuts its mouth” (vv. 15&16). He is urging Job to take his trouble to this mighty God and plead for his protection and grace, and that is the best thing Eliphaz ever said that day.

5] But Eliphaz has one more thing to say concerning the mighty deliverances of God. “From six calamities he will rescue you; in seven no harm will befall you” (v.6). Then, to the end of his speech, he lists the divine deliverances, from famine, warfare, destruction, wild beasts, the loss of your property, long life to children and to yourself. “A Sovereign protector I have!” These deep assurances are the stuff of pastoral comfort. Eliphaz also realises that this God is one who corrects his children. “Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty” (v.17). This verse is taken by the writer of the Hebrews and quoted there. How important to know that some suffering is God’s chastening for our sins. God warns, rebukes, and pleads, but then, as reluctantly as any earthly parent would pick up a rod to correct a child, God will discipline his children with the correction of suffering.

The one proviso we must make is that not all suffering is chastening for past sins. It can’t be can it? You think of the thorn in the flesh that was given to the apostle Paul. That thorn, a messenger of Satan prescribed by God, was not a chastisement for specific sins which Paul had committed in the past. Paul tells us that the thorn was given to him because of great blessings that had come into his life. He had been caught up to the third heaven and had heard words and seen sights that were just unlawful for him to repeat. But lest he be puffed up with pride from having such a glorious experience God sent into his life this thorn in the flesh – whatever it was, some necessity, some distress, some trials, some persecution – to counter balance the extraordinary blessing. It was to save Paul from pride. So then the suffering wasn’t to do with great sins the apostle had committed in the past but it was to save him from the sin of pride in the future. The suffering accepted and submitted to kept the apostle sweet and holy looking to God and depending on his grace. So that Paul could go on to write the great letters, one of which we are studying now in such wonderful enriching detail on Sunday nights. God knew there would be a congregation in Wales 2000 years later that would need a holy letter, an inspired epistle. So God prepared Paul for this redeeming work, and part of the preparation was the thorn in the flesh. It was not to do with judgments for the past.

So Eliphaz is right, blessed is the man who God corrects, and we must not despise the discipline of the Lord. That is true. But it was not a chastening because of past sins that has come into to Job’s life. God himself says that Job is blameless, loving and serving God. The Lord challenges Satan, “Have you seen my servant?” God puts Job into Satan’s hands to manifest to men and angels for the next four thousand years that he will keep his own people through the very worst pain.

II JOB’S RESPONSE (Chapters 6 & 7)

Job’s response to all this is found in chapters 6 and 7. What would you say in response? I wonder how any of us would react, having to listen to an older wise man addressing your grief, loneliness and weakness as Eliphaz has? Can you imagine the exasperation, and the anger building up a head of steam? Where was the comfort from this man? Where was the kind sympathy? Where was the hope? What does Job say?

1] Job tells Eliphaz that his bland words are no balm to his deep wounds. Job refers to his mountainous anguish. Has Eliphaz lost sight of that? Does he realise what has happened to Job? “If only my anguish could be weighed and all my misery be placed in scales! It would surely outweigh the sand of the seas” (vv. 2&3). Put my pain on one side of the scales and then send for all the dump trucks you can hire and scour the shores of the world for all its sand, and fill the other side of the scales with that. Job’s grief would far outweigh that Everest of sand. That’s the first thing Job wants Eliphaz to see. This mountainous anguish. Then Eliphaz can begin to grasp why Job has cursed the day of his birth as he did, and longed for death. He adds, “no wonder my words have been impetuous. The arrows of the Almighty are in me, my spirit drinks in their poison; God’s terrors are marshaled against me. Does a wild donkey bray when it has grass or an ox bellow when it has fodder? Is tasteless food eaten without salt or is there flavour in the white of an egg? I refuse to touch it; such food makes me ill,” (vv. 3-7). Job says that it is God himself who has made him a target and shot his arrows into him. Chapter three was Job’s scream of pain. “Do you realise, Eliphaz, what God has done to me, the God I love? The God I’ve lived for…? The God I’ve served…? His arrows of bereavement, arrows of ill health, arrows of the natural derision of the world, arrows of my wife’s contempt have come thudding into me one after another. The arrows of the Almighty are in me and they’re poisoned arrows, and the poison’s in my system,” he says, “and that’s my dilemma. What you’ve said to me, Eliphaz, is tasteless. It’s like the white of an egg.” Think of the far greater anguish of the Suffering Servant forsaken by God. What language could we borrow to show our affection to him? Words fail us.

2] The next thing Job says to Eliphaz is to reaffirm his welcome of death, and plead his innocence in the light of that coming judgment. “Oh, that I might have my request, that God would grant what I hope for, that God would be willing to crush me, to let loose his hand and cut me off!” (vv. 8&9) “What strength do I have, that I should still have hope? What prospects that I should be patient? Do I have the strength of stone? Is my flesh bronze? Do I have any power to help myself, now that success has been driven from me?” (vv. 11-13). Job is persuaded that should he die he would meet God, and God would say to him, Well done, good and faithful servant. God would welcome him. “Then I would still have this consolation – my joy in unrelenting pain – that I have not denied the words of the Holy One.” (v.10) God would say, Well done, you never denied me. Well done. So Job is pleading his innocence, and he maintains his integrity right through this book. One comforter after another come, and they all say you must be a sinner, but this theme of Job’s innocence is never far from his replies to them. Job has a conscience without blame before God and he will maintain his own integrity. How easy it would have been to say “Well I guess like everyone I’ve done some awful things too,” and then the men would have nodded their heads, secretly smiled in relief and gone back to their lives reassured that their view of the world was the right one. Men are punished in this life for their wickedness. They get their karma. But Job refuses them any confirmation of their error. The great Suffering Servant was a Lamb without blemish and without spot and God himself spoke of his integrity: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Without his vicarious sufferings there would be no hope for Job or anyone.

3] Thirdly Job tells Eliphaz bluntly, “You’re no friend to me.” He’s speaking on this theme in verses 14 to 23: “A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty. But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams…” and so on. As caravans that look for water, and merchants of Sheba that go trading and find nothing, so Job is frustrated expecting the strength of friendship and understanding but getting nothing (vv. 18-29). He is like the Psalmist who said that he looked for sympathy and there was none, for comforters and he found none (Psalm 69). “You’ve proved to be of no help,” (v.21) he tells Eliphaz tersely. To his friends he looks for devotion and understanding; he says, he’s never asked them for a penny. Should he be kidnapped and held to ransom he would never ask them to dip into their coffers and raise the money. “I’ve never asked you for any help. You’re poor friends,” he says. The friends of Christ present their very bodies as living sacrifices to him.

4] And then, fourthly, Job appeals to Eliphaz to show him if he’s done anything wicked, anything worthy of such suffering. He insists that Eliphaz must do this: “Teach me and I will be quiet, show me where I’ve been wrong. How painful are honest words! But what do your arguments prove ?” (vv.24&25) And so on. He wants evidence of wrong doing. He’s convinced he is a righteous man. So that’s how he begins his speech. He speaks and says these basic truths to Eliphaz. He affirms, “God is the author of my pain.” Job is saying in effect, “Do you understand my dilemma, Eliphaz? My theological dilemma is that the God I love and serve blamelessly has taken away from me the loving support of my wife, my honour in the community. All my property, my servants and most of all, my ten children have been destroyed. God has done this while I remain convinced of my own innocence . Now can you, Eliphaz, indicate where I have done wrong. Can you inform me of my wickedness?

5] Then chapter seven begins by Job commenting on his own condition with a realisation that he stands in solidarity with many many suffering people in the world. We know much about them today, as TV news and documentary brings pictures of them as they flee from floods and famine and all kinds of natural disaster. They live in mud huts and refugee camps, millions upon millions of them, people whose every day is one search for food for survival. Others have a terminal illness, many are abused by their own parents, locked into that horror, women abused by their husbands. There are fetid prisons and concentration camps; there are street children who live in sewers, squatters who live in shanty towns.

In the first five verses of chapter 7 we see Job speaks up on behalf of suffering humanity. He says, “Does not man have hard service on earth? Are not his days like those of a hired man? Like a slave longing for the evening shadows, or a hired man waiting eagerly for his wages, so I have been allotted months of futility, and nights of misery have been assigned to me. When I lie down I think, ‘How long before I get up?’ The night drags on and I toss till dawn. My body is clothed with worms and by scabs my skin is broken and festering.” (v.1-5). Creation itself is groaning at this spectre, it is travailing in pain, and suffering Job is asking questions on behalf of suffering humanity. The church identifies with that suffering, and seeks to do good to all men, and love our hungry hurting neighbour as we love ourself. This theme is going to reoccur throughout the book. But the power of these words is they don’t come from a poet, or a Marxist, or a do-gooder. They come from a man who has gone through what Job is experiencing, who sees his own life slipping away. He says, “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and they come to an end without hope” (v.6).

Then, in that place – on that dung hill – Job prays. Now when Eliphaz goes to him Eliphaz fails to part in prayer for him, but Job prays and says, “Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath, my eyes will never see happiness again. The eye that now sees me will see me no longer; you will look for me, but I will be no more. As a cloud vanishes and is gone, so he who goes down to the grave does not return. He will never come to his house again; his place will know him no more” (vv. 7-10). So he cries to God that he won’t forget him. “Remember me, remember the closeness of the fellowship, remember me coming to your altar, remember the worship, remember my face, my voice remember the blessedness that I’ve known with you. How could you ever forget my service? But where are you now, now that I need you.” Job’s consciousness of his mortality makes him cry to God to be remembered.

Then Job goes on to consider death, how final it would be, the peace from this anguish that he’ll know then, and how he will disappear from this vale of tears. He even says, “God, you’ll come looking for me, but you won’t find me” (v.8) “I’ll be dead,” Job speaks like a little boy saying, “If I’d die you’d be really sorry you treat me like this.” That is a deep instinct for righteousness in the hearts of all men and women, to be treated straight and fairly by those in power over us. Job is so frustrated with all he is experiencing.

6] Job’s closing argument to God in verses 11-21 is amongst the most extraordinary in the Bible. One rejoices that it’s there. It is the sort of Scripture that makes me hug the Bible to my chest and thank God for it, that a man of like passions as myself said such outrageous things to Almighty God and was not turned into a pillar of salt, and that the Holy Spirit himself helped Job to say this, and even that the same Spirit preserved the record of them in the Holy Bible. They’re bursting with frustration and despair. The only reason that you can grasp their audacity is that they come from a man who is convinced that the God he serves has taken from him all the most loved and precious things in his life, and given him no explanation. He can see no failure on his part commensurate with such dreadful judgments. Why should God have done this? God hasn’t done this to sinners who hate him and mock him, but he’s done it to this godfearing and blameless man. This man who is almost like Noah in the world a singular preacher of righteousness, a lone man in an uncomprehending world, who knows and loves God, and yet the righteous and omnipotent God, Job’s Father in heaven, treats him this way.

Eliphaz has blandly said, “If it were I, I would appeal to God” (4:8). “Appeal to God?” Job says. “I’ll tell you about God,” Job says: “He treats me like a Zoo Keeper treats a wild beast, like an animal, He locks me up and imprisons me. He just looks at me as I walk up and down in my pain, in my cage. “You put me under guard” (v. 12). “Am I the sea or the monster of the deep that you put me under guard? (v.12). If I fall on my bed and sleep, He terrifies me with nightmares. Maybe Job had nightmares of great winds and collapsing buildings and his children perishing (vv.13&14). How many survivors, and family members, and firemen in New York get such nightmares still? Job says he would prefer to be strangled than go on like this. “I prefer…death, (v.15) rather than go on living in this body of mine, I despise my life, let me die, my life has no meaning.”

“What is this man that you make so much of,” Job says to God, “this man that you’ve made?” he asks, (v.17). “I’ll tell you what he’s like,” Job could be saying, “he’s like a laboratory specimen, a rat in a cage, “examined every morning, tested every moment”, never given any peace” (v.18). “You examine him every morning and test him every moment. Leave me alone! “Will you never look away from me, or let me alone even for an instant? (v.19) Why are you treating me like this, even if I’ve sinned in a particularly bad way? “Have I become a burden to you? (v.20) Why don’t you just “pardon my offences and forgive my sins” (v.21), whatever they are and let life go on. “I will soon lie down in the dust” (v.21). Then Job repeats that sentiment, “You will search for me but I will be no more” (v.21), and that is how the first speech of Job in answering the arguments of his friends comes to an end.

CONCLUSION.

So we have surveyed these four chapters, and I am emphasising that we can understand them only if we enter by biblical understanding into the faith of Job, and the harrowing experience that Job is passing through. Job has lived a totally God centred life, seeking to honour God in everything he did, accepting God as the sovereign controller and ruler of all that happens to him. He always returns to this God as the first cause of everything; “the Lord has given and the Lord has taken away,” he says. Then one day out of the blue that same God he trusts with all his heart brought these terrible calamities upon him, wave after wave breaking over him and destroying his life. There’s nothing left before him except suffering and death. That is the Job we meet here. This cry of anguish as the seventh chapter concludes is that of a particularly sensitive loving man in the depths of despair and frustration who is aroused for the first time in his life to talk thus to God. It is the most heroic example of the faith of Job. In spite of losing everything he doesn’t stop speaking to God. He doesn’t do what the world does and bury his sorrows by drinking his alcohol and swallowing his tranquillisers to lift himself. He doesn’t dismiss God from his life and vow he will never think of God again. He doesn’t think of suicide. He rejects all the options of the natural man and he goes to God in his rage, and in his frustration. He talks defiantly to a God who remains absolutely silent as Job speaks to Him. “Man must be a pretty extraordinary being that you devise such pain for him,” Job says. Those are words of traumatic awe.

You get words like that in the New Testament, don’t you? You think about its teaching on hell. You think about the words of our Lord Christ – gentle Jesus meek and mild – and our Saviour speaks more of hell than any of the other personalities of the New Testament. The worm that dies not, the fires that are not quenched, the wailing and the gnashing of teeth, the outer darkness. There is a passionate gladness about those words because they are talking about the ultimate triumph of the justice and righteousness of God. They are also words of passionate sadness that human beings are on the broad road and they’re going to be destroyed. And any Christian who takes the words of Jesus Christ seriously – any believer who says the Saviour is never wrong in anything – will find those words are a burden. They weigh like the universe on any Christian.

So Job has suffered hell-like pains. They have fallen upon him, and the continual speeches of Job’s alleged ‘friends’ are also part of Satan’s attempt to make Job curse God and die in despair. “Job you’ve lived a good life,” Eliphaz says. “Submit to God now.” “Submit to Him?” cries Job, “How can I do anything else but submit to Him?” “All suffering is a correction for sin,” says Eliphaz gravely. “What particular sin?” asks Job. All these questions are asked by this broken hurting man, in his torment, and he turns from unsympathetic blind man to God. “How can you treat me like this? The pain from you was bad enough, but now these self righteous lectures…

We know why Job was treated as he was, but we do not know why some of the Lord’s most choice servants experience what they do. How can God treat his trusting people as he does? You hear young Christians looking forward to their whole lives speaking and they would say, “God would never allow a Christian man and woman to lose five sons in battle, and the sixth son of meningitis all in seven years. God wouldn’t allow that,” we’d say. “God wouldn’t allow ten children, seven boys and three girls, to be killed in a moment when a great wind blew, and house in which the party was being held – at which they were celebrating their love for one another – fell around them crushing them all.” Then we look here at the Bible and it happens! And we look at human history, and it happens! And we learn to be restrained about what this awesome sovereign God chooses to do or not do with sinners in a rebellious God-hating world.

What sort of God is He? He’s a God who sometimes veils Himself in darkness. He’s a God who lifted up his rod and smites his Son on Golgotha, not sparing him. When his Son asked, “Why have you forsaken me?” God didn’t tell Jesus why. Think of a father going into a bedroom hitting his son, and hitting his son, and pounding his child. What horror! Now we would never do that. Love in most sinners’ hearts would restrain them. But the Bible tells us that God loves you, you worthless sinners who trust in Jesus, and God loves me, a rebel, so much, that he wouldn’t spare his Son the rod and the sword of justice. He was his innocent and holy Son, but God smote him in order that you and I might be embraced by the Holy One of Israel. That’s the sort of God He is.

So I’m saying to you, never presume on the love of God, and never take for granted his mercy and his forgiveness, never do that, never do it! God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. The cherubim hide their eyes as they come into his presence. God has every right to do in us, and with us, and for us just whatsoever he pleases. We have forfeited every right to say, “Who are you to treat me in such a way?” because of the sin of our father Adam, and because of our own sins. What God did to Job is a strange work, it is the most unusual providence any sinner has ever experienced or ever will. I am saying that none of us will ever meet a man to be treated as Job was. Job is the paramount, unique, sufferer in all of human history. That is the reference point to which all the suffering church turns and it says, “But my pain has not been as bad as Job’s neither has been my love for God.” Mr. and Mrs. Sole in their little Cotswold village did have one another, and their own health. They had two daughters who were their loving carers throughout their lives. They had friends, and the means of grace to attend. Mr. and Mrs. Sole knew that their boys had died in a noble cause. They had laid down their lives for their country, and there were tens of thousands of other parents who were going through something similar to what they were experiencing. A great cloud of grief hung over all Europe.

Job had none of those comforts, Job is baffled, and his voice of faith to the silent and hiding God emerges out of his despair. Job is shouting into darkness and I’m saying to you, “Can’t we all speak to God with honesty concerning all the blessings that we have known in our lives? Doesn’t all the goodness and mercy of God that has followed us all our days – utterly undeserved and bought for us by the sufferings of Christ – doesn’t that motivate you and give you hope? When he says to you “Come unto me all you that labour and are heavy laden I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me. I am meek and lowly of heart and you shall find rest for your souls,” then can’t you go to the Lord then? Is he not a God who has been so tender and patient, giving you green pastures and still waters, years of temporal blessings and innumerable spiritual blessings? Can’t you go to that God today? You say to him in your heart-ache, “I don’t know why it’s this stretch of the journey you have mapped out for me, and why these dreadful troubles have come into my life, but I know that you’re going to explain it all one day, and until then you will be with me, and your grace will be sufficient for me. I know you have promised that this too will all be for my good, and I know that through Christ these will be sanctified to make me a holier and better person. But why have you done this?” That is the voice of trust and obedience.

18 November 2001 GEOFF THOMAS