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Lesson 1: Job 1-2

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Let’s begin by addressing the title I have chosen for this brief, three-lesson, series on the Book of Job. Is it too much of a stretch to try and link the message of the Book of Job to our current pandemic? I think not. The current pandemic gives us a bit of a handle, a connection if you would, with Job and this book. After all, Job was likely written early in Old Testament history. It was a different time, a different place, something long ago and far away. Living in the 21st century we may have difficulty fixing our minds on the setting and the message of such an ancient text.

The Covid-19 pandemic can serve as a kind of lens, through which we can view the Book of Job. I believe we will see that Job’s circumstances way back in time and our experience with the Corona Virus have a number of similarities, which will help us identify with Job and with his suffering. Because of the current pandemic many people have lost their jobs, and find themselves economically devastated. Job unexpectedly lost all of his wealth in a very short period of time. He, too, was broke. This Corona Virus has taken the lives of friends, neighbors, and relatives, and so there is much grieving going on, around the world. Job lost all of his children in a moment of time. He, too, had much to grieve over. And finally, many of those who are currently infected with the Corona virus are suffering greatly. So, too, with Job, whose suffering took him to the very edge of death. I don’t believe many today could claim that they are suffering as much as Job did, centuries ago, but many are suffering the physical effects of this virus.

The long and the short of all of this is that the adversity Job experienced on an individual level is similar to that which we are now experiencing globally. It was the apostle Paul who wrote these words about comfort and hope:

For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we may have hope (Romans 15:4, NET1).

3 Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Simply put, Job’s comfort is meant to comfort us in our time of adversity, and to promote our hope and endurance. As God gives us comfort, He expects us to share this with others who are also suffering. So let us listen well to the message which God has for us in the Book of Job.

My Approach In This Brief Series

I do not intend to conduct an in-depth, verse-by-verse exposition of this book. Rather than to dwell on the “gnats” (the minute details) of this book, I intend to focus on the “camels” – the main points of emphasis – of Job (see Matthew 23:23-24). I will seek to summarize the message of Job in three lessons. This first lesson will deal with the first two chapters of Job. The second lesson will be much more challenging, because we will deal with chapters 3-37. And the third lesson will conclude this study by concentrating on chapters 38-42. I believe that this study will be helpful for those who are dealing with suffering. It will also lay a foundation for a more extensive study of this great book.

An Overview Of The Book Of Job

Chapters 1 and 2 set the stage for the rest of the book. The reader is taken up into the heavens to witness a meeting God has with the “sons of God,” the angelic host,2 and particularly Satan. Bear in mind that the details of what we read here are not known to Job at the time of his suffering. We are provided with information that was not given to Job,3 making the testing of his faith an even more difficult experience.

In His conversation with Satan, God calls attention to Job and his righteousness. Satan scoffs at this, contending that anyone would worship and serve God if divine blessings, like those Job experienced, were showered on them. Satan then set forth a challenge: Let God take away all of Job’s material blessings, which included his children, as well as his worldly wealth, to see if Job will continue to worship the Lord. Job’s faith held firm, as described in chapter 1. Satan then proposed an even greater test: attack Job directly with great physical affliction. God granted Satan’s request, but with certain limits prescribed. His power to inflict Job with physical suffering could not bring about Job’s death.4 Once again Job responds in faith (chapter 2). It is only when Job’s suffering appears to be endless that Job begins to complain and to question God’s purposes. His protests and complaints commence in chapter 3, and continue through chapter 31.

Job then begins to protest and to complain due to his intense and extended suffering. He sees death as preferable to life and wishes that he had never been born, or at least that God would take his life. This opens the door for Job’s three friends to intervene with their “words of wisdom.” From chapters 4 through 31, Job’s friends take turns accusing Job of sin, and urging him to repent, while Job defends himself by maintaining his righteousness. When Job’s three friends give up their accusations, the mysterious Elihu steps in for the next 6 chapters (32-37), rebuking not only Job, but also his three friends.

Finally, beginning in chapter 38 God speaks, for the first time in the book. His focus is primarily on Job, and His lessons come from creation and from nature. By this God humbles Job, till he comes to the realization that he is neither all-wise nor all-powerful, and thus he has no right to speak to God as he has. Job’s final words in 42:1-6 are a humble expression of his repentance. After this, God focuses on Job’s friends, contrasting what they have wrongly spoken of Him, with those things Job has rightly said of Him. Job becomes a mediator for his three friends, so that their sins are forgiven (42:7-9). Finally, God multiplies Job’s material and physical blessings (42:10-17).

The Focus Of This Message

In this message I have purposed to focus on four main subjects: Job, Satan, the angelic host, and the “mystery” of what God is doing in Job’s life.

Job: The Man

Spiritually, God Himself presents Job as the godliest man of that day:

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. And that man was pure and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil (Job 1:1).

So the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a pure and upright man, one who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8).

Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a pure and upright man, one who fears God and turns away from evil. And he still holds firmly to his integrity, so that you stirred me up to destroy him without reason” (Job 2:3).

As if this were not enough, listen to these additional commendations of Job elsewhere in Scripture:

Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would save only their own lives by their righteousness, declares the sovereign LORD (Ezekiel 14:14).

Think of how we regard as blessed those who have endured. You have heard of Job’s endurance and you have seen the Lord’s purpose, that the Lord is full of compassion and mercy (James 5:11).

In Ezekiel, Job is named as one of the three greatest men in all of the Old Testament. In the New Testament, James tells us that Job is known for his endurance (steadfastness is the main theme of the Book of James). Obviously, Job is viewed as one of the greatest saints in the Bible, which is what God had called to Satan’s attention.

One evidence of Job’s godliness is to be seen in his role as a father. (You and I know that many of the great men of the Old Testament were far from model fathers.)

4 Now his sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one in turn, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and to drink with them. 5 When the days of their feasting were finished, Job would send for them and sanctify them; he would get up early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job thought, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s customary practice (Job 1:4-5).

It would seem that Job’s children enjoyed the benefits of having a wealthy and influential father. One of the ways they spent their time was having family banquets. One of the sons would host the event, and the other siblings would attend, apparently on a fairly regular basis. It does not appear that Job necessarily attended all of these banquets, but he was well aware of them. Job seems to have sensed that in such a setting it was possible that one or more of his children might have sinned. So, after each banquet, Job would send for his children and “sanctify” them. This involved the offering of a burnt offering for each child. Job believed that these sacrifices would atone for any misconduct which might have taken place. As a father, Job is more than passively concerned about the spiritual well-being of his children.

The reader is also given an accounting of Job’s prosperity, assessed in terms of how wealth was appraised in those days. He had 7,000 sheep. That, my friends, is whole lot of wool (or lamb chops). Then we are told that he possessed 3,000 camels. Wow! So, what use made camels valuable in those days? I think of them in terms of the way they provided transportation. One example would be their use in caravans that transported goods for trade. For example, Joseph’s brothers sold him to the Midianite traders whose camel caravan was on its way to Egypt (Genesis 37:25-28). In today’s terminology, I think of camels as the “long haulers” of ancient times. That’s a whole lot of trucks!

We are also informed that Job possessed 500 yoke of oxen (2 oxen per yoke?). Think of these oxen as the tractors of that day. 500 tractors could do a great deal of farming. Next Job owned 500 female donkeys. I look at these as the “short haulers,” the FedEx vehicles of a delivery business. You could deliver a lot of packages with 500 donkeys.

Finally, we are told that Job had “many servants.” We don’t really know the number of servants, but if you think of their number in terms of the animals which would require care and handling, this would be a very large number. (Perhaps it was such a large number that no precise accounting could be made.)

The sum of this is that Job was not only a very godly man, and a godly father; he was also a very wealthy man. Beyond this (or perhaps because of this) he had great status and influence in the community. He was, indeed, the “greatest of all men in the East” (Job 1:3).

Satan: The Adversary

7 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” And Satan answered the LORD, “From roving about on the earth, and from walking back and forth across it.” 8 So the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a pure and upright man, one who fears God and turns away from evil.” 9 Then Satan answered the LORD, “Is it for nothing that Job fears God? 10 Have you not made a hedge around him and his household and all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock have increased in the land. 11 But extend your hand and strike everything he has, and he will no doubt curse you to your face!” (Job 1:7-11)

3 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a pure and upright man, one who fears God and turns away from evil. And he still holds firmly to his integrity, so that you stirred me up to destroy him without reason.” 4 But Satan answered the LORD, “Skin for skin! Indeed, a man will give up all that he has to save his life! 5 But extend your hand and strike his bone and his flesh, and he will no doubt curse you to your face!” (Job 2:3-5)

Satan is no stranger to anyone who is familiar with the Bible. His origins are described in Isaiah chapter 14 and Ezekiel chapter 28. We are first introduced to him in Genesis chapter 3, where he deceives Eve, resulting in the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. It would seem that some of Satan’s fallen colleagues are involved in the corruption of the human race as described in Genesis chapter 6. In 1 Chronicles 21:1 Satan prompts David to number the Israelites. And in Zechariah chapter 3 he makes accusations against Joshua the high priest.

In the New Testament we find Satan at the temptation of our Lord (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). In John 13:25-27 Satan entered into Judas, prompting him to betray the Lord Jesus. In Acts 5:1-11 Satan corrupts the hearts of Ananias and his wife Sapphira, so that they lie about the amount of their contribution to the church. In 2 Corinthians we read of Satan’s schemes (2:11) and later in the book we are told how Satan works through others, and also disguises himself as an angel of light (11:3-15). In 1 Thessalonians 2:18 Paul writes that Satan hindered his attempts to visit the Thessalonian saints. Peter likens Satan to a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Finally, in the Book of Revelation Satan appears as God’s adversary at the end of this age. At last, Satan is defeated and cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:7-10).

Satan’s Travels

7 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” And Satan answered the LORD, “From roving about on the earth, and from walking back and forth across it” (Job 1:7).

And the LORD said to Satan, “Where do you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roving about on the earth, and from walking back and forth across it” (Job 2:2).

Satan’s travels must be important if they are mentioned twice in these first two chapters of the book. They are also important because some translations don’t necessarily convey the full meaning of the term employed here. Consider, for example, the rendering of the New American Standard Version:

The LORD said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it” (Job 1:7, NAU).

While not frequently used today, the expression, “cruising,” would capture the sense that we take away from “roaming about.” It refers to a kind of non-strategic wandering about that has little or no purpose – hanging out. But that is not the way this word is frequently used in the Old Testament.

I prefer the rendering of the New Living Translation:

“Where have you come from?” the LORD asked Satan. Satan answered the LORD, “I have been patrolling the earth, watching everything that’s going on” (Job 1:7, NLT).

Consider these Old Testament instances where the same word speaks of a much more deliberate and strategic, kind of traveling.

The king told Joab, the general in command of his army, “Go through all the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beer Sheba and muster the army, so I may know the size of the army” (2 Samuel 24:2).

“For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars” (2 Chronicles 16:9, NAU).

Neither the process of numbering the Israelite warriors (something like a census), nor the penetrating scanning of the earth by the searching eyes of God are presented as casual or thoughtless deeds. They are deliberate and focused. This helps us to see Satan’s “travels” in Job as much more purposeful, and thus more in line with Peter’s description of him:

Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

I believe that Satan travels about the earth, with the goal of identifying the most vulnerable targets for his opposition to God by deceiving the nations and attacking the saints. I would therefore expect that Satan had already obtained a considerable amount of “intelligence” about Job, because he would likely be one of his primary targets.

Satan’s Theology

9 Then Satan answered the LORD, “Is it for nothing that Job fears God? 10 Have you not made a hedge around him and his household and all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock have increased in the land. 11 But extend your hand and strike everything he has, and he will no doubt curse you to your face!” (Job 1:9-11)

4 But Satan answered the LORD, “Skin for skin! Indeed, a man will give up all that he has to save his life! 5 But extend your hand and strike his bone and his flesh, and he will no doubt curse you to your face!” (Job 2:2-5)

From Satan’s perspective, Job’s commitment to trust and obey God was easily explained on a human level. Who would not serve God if this was rewarded by good health and wealth? (Prosperity gospeleers, beware!) And so Satan challenged: “Let Job’s prosperity and easy life be taken away, and then see how faithful he is.” Satan was convinced that Job would curse God when his enjoyment of the good life was taken away.

When the first test (taking away all of Job’s wealth and children) failed to prove Satan right, he is not dissuaded. No, Satan maintains that God has not yet directly harmed Job enough. Let Job’s health be taken away and then, Satan contends, Job will curse God.

It should not be overlooked that Mrs. Job served as Job’s “Eve.” She urged her husband to do exactly what Satan expected. It would seem that she embraced Satan’s perspective as to why people worship God. Job’s wife, urged Job to renounce his relationship to God and die.

I am reminded of our Lord’s response to Peter, when he adamantly opposed Jesus’ suffering and death at Calvary:

21 From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him: “God forbid, Lord! This must not happen to you!” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s” (Matthew 16:21-23, emphasis mine).

In the final chapter of this book, God will indict Job’s friends for not speaking rightly about Himself (Job 42:7-8). Satan, too, is guilty of speaking wrongly of God. Think about what his declaration implies about God. In effect, Satan is saying, “God, the only way you can attract and keep a following is to bribe people with prosperity and ease.” What kind of a God has to buy His friends?

The saints should worship and serve God because of who He is. Satan insists that men worship God only because of what He gives. When the saints worship God, what do they worship Him for? Let’s take a look:

1 Come! Let’s sing for joy to the LORD!
Let’s shout out praises to our protector who delivers us!
2 Let’s enter his presence with thanksgiving!
Let’s shout out to him in celebration!
3 For the LORD is a great God,
a great king who is superior to all gods.
4 The depths of the earth are in his hand,
and the mountain peaks belong to him.
5 The sea is his, for he made it.
His hands formed the dry land.
6 Come! Let’s bow down and worship!
Let’s kneel before the LORD, our creator!
7 For he is our God; we are the people of his pasture,
the sheep he owns. Today, if only you would obey him! (Psalm 95:1-7)
6 The LORD does what is fair,
and executes justice for all the oppressed.
7 The LORD revealed his faithful acts to Moses,
his deeds to the Israelites.
8 The LORD is compassionate and merciful;
he is patient and demonstrates great loyal love.
9 He does not always accuse,
and does not stay angry.
10 He does not deal with us as our sins deserve;
he does not repay us as our misdeeds deserve.
11 For as the skies are high above the earth,
so his loyal love towers over his faithful followers.
12 As far as the eastern horizon is from the west,
so he removes the guilt of our rebellious actions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on his faithful followers (Psalm 103:6-13).

God is to be worshipped for who He is, for His character, His mercy, His grace, and His forgiveness. And when God takes the physical blessings away, it even more dramatically shows His goodness and greatness when men continue to worship and praise Him.

Isn’t what Satan is saying to God in our text what he really believes? Compare his words in these first two chapters of Job to what he says when he seeks to tempt our Lord:

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their grandeur. 9 And he said to him, “I will give you all these things if you throw yourself to the ground and worship me” (Matthew 4:8-9).

In effect, Satan reveals his own limitations. How does he seek to get Jesus to follow him? Offer a bribe. In some ways, Satan took the same approach with Eve, and Adam in Genesis 3. God had given Adam and Eve complete freedom to partake of any plant in the garden, save one – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. From what God has forbidden, Satan implies that God is not good, because He has withheld something which Eve saw as good and desirable (Genesis 3:6). So, by following Satan Eve, and Adam, can have something they would not otherwise receive. In the Garden of Eden, Satan is followed because of what he offers, not because of who he is.

So, Satan proposes taking away all of Job’s prosperity, family, and health, expecting that this will terminate Job’s devotion to God. Job’s response reveals that Satan’s thinking is faulty.

In both tests, God allowed Satan a certain degree of freedom to carry out his request, but these came with limits. Satan was always “on a leash,” and God was holding that leash.

Satan’s Peers: The Angelic Host

Now the day came when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD– and Satan also arrived among them (Job 1:6).

Again the day came when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also arrived among them to present himself before the LORD (Job 2:1).

It is very easy to fix our attention on Satan, and forget the angelic host that has been summoned by God. It wasn’t just Satan who came to present himself to God – it was the angelic host, identified as the “sons of God.” The use of this expression, “sons of God,” in Genesis 6:2, 4; Job 38:7; and Luke 20:36 verifies that in Job, “sons of God” refers to angels, or the celestial host.

This gathering seems as though it were some kind of “inspection” or “scheduled review,” where the angels give account of their actions to God, or where God gives out their assignments. The reason why I am making a point of calling attention to the presence of many angelic beings is that we may mistakenly read chapters 1 and 2 as though God were having a private conversation with Satan. But this is surely not the case. We know that angels (fallen and unfallen) are very much interested and involved in the affairs of men.

In the Old Testament it appears to be fallen angels (“sons of God”) who intermarry with the “daughters of men” and produce a hybrid race that will need to be wiped out by the flood (Genesis 6:1-4). Then, we read of an angelic host (of unfallen angels) that is made visible to Elisha’s servant, so that he need not fear the vast army that has come to attack Elisha (see 2 Kings 6:8-23). In Daniel, chapters 9-12, we find that the affairs of men on earth are somehow related to angelic activity in heaven.

In the New Testament angelic activity is even more prevalent. The angels are greatly interested in what God is doing on earth, and so they eagerly watch, while God instructs them through His church:

7 I became a servant of this gospel according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the exercise of his power. 8 To me –less than the least of all the saints– this grace was given, to proclaim to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ 9 and to enlighten everyone about God’s secret plan– a secret that has been hidden for ages in God who has created all things. 10 The purpose of this enlightenment is that through the church the multifaceted wisdom of God should now be disclosed to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly realms. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and confident access to God because of Christ’s faithfulness. 13 For this reason I ask you not to lose heart because of what I am suffering for you, which is your glory (Ephesians 3:7-13, emphasis mine).

For this reason a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels (1 Corinthians 11:10, emphasis mine).

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. 11 They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ and his subsequent glory. 12 They were shown that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things now announced to you through those who proclaimed the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven– things angels long to catch a glimpse of (1 Peter 1:10-12).

We know from these Scriptures and others that the angels are eagerly “watching” what is happening on earth, and particularly in the church. We also know that the angels who did not stay within their proper domain are being kept in eternal chains in utter darkness, locked up until the judgment of the great Day (Jude 1:6). From Luke 8:31, it would seem as though demons in Jesus’ day could be cast into the abyss. Also, when we take Revelation 12:4, 9 into account, there may still be a number of angels who will even yet choose to follow Satan, to their own destruction (Matthew 12:41).

From all that we know about angels, fallen and unfallen, it is not difficult to conclude that God has chosen to confront Satan in front of all of the assembled heavenly host, in order to instruct the angels for their own good. Does God anticipate teaching Satan anything at all? I think not. But by proving Satan a liar and a deceiver I believe God is teaching those angels who are able to grasp what He is doing:

Flog a scorner, and as a result the simpleton will learn prudence;
correct a discerning person, and as a result he will understand knowledge (Proverbs 19:25).

I was reminded of an incident that occurred in one of my theology classes at Dallas Seminary. The professor had asked his students a question, and a rather arrogant fellow spoke up to answer. But rather than speaking in a humble, student-like way, he chose to pontificate in a way that irritated not only the class, but the professor. The professor took the bait and proceeded to question this fellow in greater and greater detail. At every point, the student-scholar dug himself into an ever-deepening hole. I have to tell you that the other students were listening intently, and those as carnal as I were enjoying every moment of it. Finally, the professor “buried” the student, much to my delight. (The professor was more spiritual than I because the next day he apologized to the pompous student before the entire class.)

But can’t you see how this conversation between God and Satan would rivet the attention of all of the angels, so that they were very much engaged in the discussion, and most interested to see the outcome? Hopefully, the angels were instructed, at Satan’s expense.

The Mystery: What Job Didn’t Know

Let us remember that Job handled adversity very well in these first two chapters, in spite of the fact that he had no knowledge, at the time, of what God was doing, or why. The author has clued the reader in, but as yet Job has not been informed of the celestial / angelic / satanic dimension of his adversity. Indeed, Job cannot know what is taking place in the heavens, because that would make his suffering easier to deal with, and thus would make the “test” Satan proposed much easier to handle.

How I’m tempted to wish that the book ended right here, but if that were so I would be tempted to conclude that Job was another one of those Old Testament superstars, who, unlike me, always seemed to do the right thing at the right time. I know better than this because there really are no Old Testament superstars. To conclude Job with a “happily ever after” ending just wouldn’t seem right. Rather than being an encouragement to me, so prone to wander and fail, it would discourage me.

I don’t think Satan wanted it to end here, either, though we do not hear from him again in the book, as we have in these first two chapters. Since the heavenly conversation ends in chapter two, one might conclude that it was not Satan who chose to prolong Job’s testing, but God. What if God wanted to increase the “level of difficulty” for Job in order to show the magnitude of Job’s endurance of faith? What if God did this, not only to amplify His own glory here, but also to increase Job’s faith and obedience? Perhaps the answer will become clear as we continue to study the rest of the book. But for now, let’s consider some applications from what we have learned thus far in Job.


What We Learn About Satan In Our Text

First, we learn that Satan is the great destroyer, who takes great pleasure in destroying all that is holy, pure, and right. He delights in the destruction of human life (John 8:44). He is also a liar, a deceiver (John 8:44; 2 Corinthians 11:3; 2 John 1:7; Revelation 12:9; 20:7-10), and an accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10). I personally believe that Satan also deceives angels to become his followers. How else did angels become fallen angels?

Satan is no one’s friend. While he may present himself as our advocate, he is really our adversary. In the Garden of Eden Satan presented himself to Eve as one who was on her side, seeking to help her pursue what was in her best interest. He was “a friend,” seeking to help Eve achieve the good life, even if that meant disobeying God because He withheld something from her which seemed good (Genesis 3:6). We find the same approach when Satan tempted our Lord at the outset of His earthly ministry (Matthew 4; Luke 4). He was trying to get Jesus to help himself to food which was, for the moment, forbidden. He sought to tempt Jesus to achieve His kingdom the easy way, rather than God’s way. My friends, Satan is never our friend. He is never to be trusted. He is a liar and a deceiver, one who seeks only to destroy God’s work and God’s people. When we seek our own interest, we are actually living according to Satan’s schemes.

There is no greater advocate of “the prosperity gospel” than Satan, who seeks to convince us that God is not really good, especially when He withholds something we desire or delight in. When Satan (ultimately God)5 took away “the good life” from Job, with all of its material and physical blessings, he believed that Job would forsake his faith, and curse God. Satan could not comprehend why men and women would follow God, even when He brought them into great suffering and adversity. He could not grasp that God is worthy of our trust and obedience because of Who He is, rather than because of what He gives.

What We Learn About God In Our Text

One thing we learn about God is that, contrary to the thinking of Job’s friends (and many more today), God sometimes purposes for His saints to suffer because they are righteous. Job was the most righteous man on the face of the earth, and yet God brought great suffering into his life – because he was righteous. When you stop to think about it, it is not just Job’s faith that is being tested, but God’s faithfulness, and His commitment and ability to finish what He started:

For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

Because of this, in fact, I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, because I know the one in whom my faith is set and I am convinced that he is able to protect what has been entrusted to me until that day (2 Timothy 1:12).

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, 2 keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).

24 Now to the one who is able to keep you from falling, and to cause you to stand, rejoicing, without blemish before his glorious presence, 25 to the only God our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time, and now, and for all eternity. Amen. (Jude 1:24-25)

It is God’s faithfulness that serves as the basis of our faithful endurance in suffering:

So then let those who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator as they do good (1 Peter 4:19).

To do so is to imitate our Lord Jesus:

21 For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness. By his wounds you were healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls (1 Peter 2:21-25).

Also, we learn that when God brings suffering and adversity into our lives, it is because He purposes good things to be the outcome.

5 The LORD said to me, 5 “I, the LORD, the God of Israel, say: ‘The exiles whom I sent away from here to the land of Babylon are like those good figs. I consider them to be good. 6 I will look after their welfare and will restore them to this land. There I will build them up and will not tear them down. I will plant them firmly in the land and will not uproot them” (Jeremiah 24:4-6).

1 Now as Jesus was passing by, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who committed the sin that caused him to be born blind, this man or his parents?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but he was born blind so that the acts of God may be revealed through what happens to him” (John 9:1-3).

1 Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory. 3 Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance, character, and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:1-5).

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials. 7 Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold– gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away– and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:3-7).

12 Dear friends, do not be astonished that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice in the degree that you have shared in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice and be glad (1 Peter 4:12-13).

God is glorified when we persevere in our faith and bless Him in the midst of suffering:

14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory, who is the Spirit of God, rests on you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or thief or criminal or as a troublemaker. 16 But if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but glorify God that you bear such a name (1 Peter 4:14-16).

Job 1 and 2 teaches us that God is in complete control. While Satan may exercise authority and apparent control in certain areas, his power and authority is never outside God’s control. Even Satan’s opposition is used by God to achieve His purposes (such as Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and His subsequent arrest and crucifixion).

14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), 15 and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).

What We Learn From Job

If Job were to be graded on his perseverance at the end of chapter 2, he would be given an A+. He passed both of Satan’s tests with flying colors. He did not curse God; instead, he praised and worshipped God (see Job 1:20-22; 2:9-10).

Job believed in substitutionary atonement, that is he believed that God forgave sins on the basis of the offering of an innocent sacrifice. (He offered sacrifices for each of his children, in case they had sinned, and he believed his sacrifice would atone for their sin.)

Job knew that his suffering came from God’s hand (1:21), and thus he would not accuse Him of wrong doing.6 He also seemed to recognize that a saint may experience both prosperity and material blessings, as well as adversity and suffering: “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.” Job recognized that God was worthy of praise, whether He brought material blessings or not. In other words, God is worthy of our praise, whether we are experiencing ease and prosperity, or adversity and suffering.

So, to recap the message of these two introductory chapters of the Book of Job, what do we learn from this introduction that sets the stage for what is to follow? Allow me to summarize:

  • There is a real person, Satan, who actively opposes God and His saints.
  • There are many (some might say countless) angelic beings with whom both God and Satan have contact. They are always observers, and sometimes participants in what God, or Satan are doing on earth.
  • God is sovereign – in complete control. At no time is Satan free to act independently of God. He is always subject to the permissions and limitations God places on him.
  • God does purpose to use suffering and adversity in the lives of righteous saints, for their good and for His glory.
  • Job’s relationship with God is based on faith, and not his works. Job must trust in God because of who He is, rather than because of what He gives.

So why doesn’t the book end here? Job has remained faithful, in spite of the suffering God has allowed Satan to bring into his life. Satan is wrong; God is right. But 40 more chapters remain ahead of us. Let us continue our study, with the goal of learning what is still to be accomplished by Job’s prolonged suffering, some of which comes by means of his “friends” and their counsel.

What Do We Learn That Can Help Us During This Covid-19 Pandemic?

There is nothing here for Satan to learn, but there is much for the Old Testament saints to learn, and much for us that applies to the current pandemic. Let’s ponder a few points of application.

It should be obvious that Satan is intent on attacking the righteous, as he is here in Job, and elsewhere:

Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel (1 Chronicles 21:1, NAU).

Next I saw Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, with Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him (Zechariah 3:1).

Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from its stall, and lead it to water? (Lk. 13:15 NET) Then shouldn’t this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be released from this imprisonment on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16, emphasis mine)

The good news is that Satan can only harm the Christian within the boundaries God establishes. And even when he is allowed to afflict us, his attempts to destroy the believer will lead to our growth in Christ, and the fulfillment of God’s purposes.

8 Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, strong in your faith, because you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are enduring the same kinds of suffering. 10 And, after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you (1 Peter 5:8-10).

31 “Simon, Simon, pay attention! Satan has demanded to have you all, to sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).

7 Therefore, so that I would not become arrogant, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to trouble me– so that I would not become arrogant. 8 I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

Satan almost certainly has his own plans to use the Corona virus for his own purposes. But this virus will only persist within the limits God sets for it (and for Satan). God’s purposes for this virus (and our suffering) will be accomplished, and we, like Job must confess, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).

We should also be cautioned regarding the ever-so-popular “prosperity gospel,” which alleges that those who do good and trust God will not suffer, but will most certainly prosper. Job suffered because he was righteous, not because he had sinned. But Job’s suffering ultimately brought him closer to God, and his example has been recorded in Scripture to instruct us, as we deal with Covid-19, and with all the adversities that we will encounter in this life.

In the midst of our present trials and tribulations, let us never forget God’s promise:

31 What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all– how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we encounter death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31-39).

1 Unless otherwise indicated, all quoted Scripture will be from the NETBible.

2 In addition to Job 1:6 and 2:1, see Genesis 6:2, 4; Job 38:7.

3 At least they were not made known to Job until after his repentance and restoration.

4 Since Satan is a liar, a deceiver, and a murderer, this was a necessary prohibition (see John 8:44; Revelation 12:9).

5 So far as Job knew at the moment, it was God that took away his material blessings. And, in the final analysis, it is always God (see 1 Chronicles 21:1; 2 Samuel 24:1).

6 I’m not altogether satisfied with the rendering, “nor did he blame God” (see NAU, NAS, NLT). He did see his affliction as coming from the hand of God, but he found no fault in God for having done this.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

Lesson 2: Job 3-37

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Years ago, a friend recommended an excellent book to me, entitled Shantung Compound. It was written by a man named Langdon Gilkey. It took place in China during the Second World War, when the Japanese invaded China. Westerners (primarily those from English speaking countries) living in China at the time were interned in various camps. Langdon Gilkey was among these Westerners. He was interned at a former Presbyterian encampment in the province of Shantung, China. His assigned task was to oversee housing for the numerous detainees that were relocated to this camp.

He quickly learned that this was no easy task. In one instance there were two identical rooms. Thirteen men were living in one of these rooms; in the other there were 11 men. That looked like a simple problem to solve – simply relocate one of the men in the 13-person room to the room with only 11 residents. Gilkey found out that the 11 men were not impressed with his mathematics. They were not inclined to make room for another roommate. Their reasons were shoddy and self-serving; nevertheless, their opposition was strong.

In another instance, there was an apartment with the luxury of having two bedrooms. There was a family with several children who hoped to be assigned to these accommodations. There was also a pastor and his wife, who likewise hoped to live in this apartment. The pastor was aware of the other family and its needs, and yet he strongly argued that he and his wife should be given this apartment, because “his ministry was such that he needed to have a study.”

There were many such stories in this excellent book, but Gilkey’s overall thrust was to show how people’s true character is revealed when they are forced to live in adverse circumstances. I could not help but remember Gilkey’s excellent book when I considered Job’s response to his prolonged adversity in the chapters we are studying in this lesson.

Job came out looking very good at the end of chapter two. He did not curse God, as Satan contended, even though his wealth, and later his health were taken from him. Satan’s proposition (that men only serve God because of the good gifts He gives) was proven false, while Job’s faith was proven to be genuine. One might expect the Book of Job to end here, but it does not. In fact, these first two chapters of Job only serve as a prelude to this book; 40 chapters remain to be read.

At the time I first preached this message in Job, the Covid-19 pandemic was in its beginning stages. Now, we are six months into our battle with this virus, and it looks as if it will still be some time until the danger is over. We, like Job, are now having to deal with our affliction as something which must be endured for a good while yet. We are already seeing a change in attitude by those who are “sick and tired” of this pandemic, and whose impatience is showing (and growing!). We certainly are at a place in time when we can identify with Job, and when we can, like Job, learn to trust God. So let us come to this lesson with open hearts and minds to learn about sustained faith and obedience in the midst of prolonged suffering.


Here are a couple of observations to keep in mind as we commence our study of the major portion of the Book of Job.

First, there is no further reference to the heavenly (angelic) gathering, or of any additional conversations between God and Satan. It would not have been surprising to find yet another objection raised by Satan, something that went like this: “Sure, you took away Job’s wealth, and then his health, but he has not suffered that long. Extend the length of his suffering and then he will surely curse you.” No such words are found.

Second, Satan is silent after chapter 2. So what is the reason for this extended period (seemingly months – see Job 7:3; 29:2) of suffering? I think this is God’s doing; Job’s continued suffering seems to be at God’s initiative. Yes, Satan has been shown to be a liar, but Job’s faith is greater than what we have seen thus far. And so (I am supposing) God extends the period of Job’s affliction, not at Satan’s suggestion, but as His own decision. He raises the “level of difficulty” much higher, so that Job’s faith will be even more dramatically demonstrated. If God proved Satan wrong in chapters 1 and 2, He will show Satan to be really wrong in the chapters (and suffering) that follow.

Third, while Job’s wife took up Satan’s theme (curse God and die) in chapter 2, it is now Job’s friends who become Job’s adversaries. Job’s friends, early on his sympathizers, who silently suffered with him at the beginning (Job 2:11-13), now attack him with accusations of guilt and call for his repentance.

Fourth, Job’s responses in this section are not nearly as pious sounding as we have seen in chapters 1 and 2. What we read about Job’s friends, and even what we read about Job, is not encouraging.

Finally, let’s face it, the chapters we are about to consider are those which we might actually be tempted to skip over. Our text is not “a happy text” as some might prefer. I confess, it might be tempting to simply pass by these chapters and avoid the Job’s complaining to God and his arguing with his three friends. It would also be tempting to pass over the error of Job’s friends. I recall years ago, when a well-respected preacher suddenly ended his “chapter by chapter, verse by verse” exposition of Job. He, like many in his audience, grew weary of the accusations of Job’s friends, and Job’s response to his affliction.

But God has placed these chapters in this book for us to read. So, let’s keep in mind what we would miss if we were to skip our text for this lesson.

  • We would miss Job persevering much longer than with his suffering in chapters 1 and 2.
  • We would miss seeing the benefits and blessings which resulted from Job’s extended suffering.
  • We would not see the basis for Job’s righteousness as clearly as we do in our text.
  • We would not see the error of Job’s accusers, and of their theological system of works.
  • We would not gain the instruction that is found here regarding how to comfort and counsel those who are suffering.

Two more observations may prove helpful as we commence our study:

First, Job is poetry. I am indebted to Ray Stedman for reminding me of this fact. Esther is the last of the historical books. When we come to the Book of Job, we begin the poetry section of the Old Testament (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs). Even the words of angst that Job expresses are set forth as poetry.

Second, because there is so much repetition of content in our chapters, while there are only a few “themes,” we are able to capture the essence of what Job and his friends are saying, without going into a very rigorous and minute examination of each chapter. Thus, we are seeking to discern the essence of what Job and his friends are saying here without examining every detail carefully.

How I Plan To Approach This Message

  1. I plan to begin with an overview of this entire passage.
  2. Then we will focus on Job’s “friends,” their message and their methods.
  3. We will next consider Job’s response to his circumstances, and to the rebuke of his friends.
  4. After this, we will look at the counsel of Elihu.
  5. Finally, we shall seek to identify some areas of application for all of us.

An Overview Of Our Text

Our text begins in chapter 3 with Job’s lament over his extended suffering. His wish to be dead is couched in terms of lamenting the day of his birth: Oh, if only he were to have died at birth, or even before! Job’s friends take his response to his extended suffering as an invitation to share their counsel with him. They are convinced they can help him find an end to his suffering. With ever-increasing severity, they accuse him of having sinned. In their minds, the way for Job to be restored is for him to confess his sin and to begin anew to live according to God’s commands. The accusations against Job come in three cycles,1 using a kind of tag-team approach. First comes the attack by Eliphaz, followed by Bildad, and then Zophar. Interspersed are Job’s rebuttals to each indictment. The first cycle looks like this:

Eliphaz (chapters 4 and 5)

Job’s rebuttal (chapters 6 and 7)

Bildad (chapter 8)

Job’s rebuttal (chapters 9 and 10)

Zophar (chapter 11)

Job’s rebuttal (chapters 12-14)

The third cycle ends prematurely, it would seem, with only Bildad’s comments taking up one chapter, which contains only 6 verses. Job’s rebuttal to Bildad’s accusations requires a full six chapters (26-31).

Then, out of nowhere, Elihu appears in chapters 32-37, where he rebukes both Job and his three friends. Chapter 38 begins the text for our third and final message on Job (Job 38-42). Here, God finally speaks directly to Job. Job repents, God provides atonement for Job’s friends, and Job’s prosperity is renewed and enhanced.

Job’s “Friends” And The Great Debate

I have difficulty calling these three men Job’s “friends.” I know that’s the way most of the translations render it, but in fact the original word that is used for them is found 183 times in the Old Testament. 91 times it is rendered “neighbor,” while it is translated “friend” only 49 times. These men are obviously not the kind of folks you or I would want for our closest friends.

It would appear that these men met together and agreed in advance on the approach they would take with Job (2:11-12). To their credit, they empathized silently with Job for seven days, but now that Job has expressed his desire to be dead, they begin to carry out their plan of action. At first, they attempt to give Job the benefit of the doubt, leaving him room to voluntarily repent of his sin (which they were sure was the cause of his suffering). Eliphaz, the oldest of the three, took the lead. He first claimed that his words of counsel came from a vision from the Lord (4:12-17). After all, it’s not easy to argue with a man who claims to have gotten his message straight from God.

Here is how the counsel of Eliphaz began:

1 Then Eliphaz the Temanite replied to Job: 2 “Will you be patient and let me say a word? For who could keep from speaking out? 3 “In the past you have encouraged many people; you have strengthened those who were weak. 4 Your words have supported those who were falling; you encouraged those with shaky knees. 5 But now when trouble strikes, you lose heart. You are terrified when it touches you. 6 Doesn’t your reverence for God give you confidence? Doesn’t your life of integrity give you hope? 7 “Stop and think! Do the innocent die? When have the upright been destroyed? 8 My experience shows that those who plant trouble and cultivate evil will harvest the same (Job 4:1-8 NLT; see also Job 11:13-15).

Eliphaz and his two colleagues are committed to the principle: “You reap what you sow.” In their minds, when you do good, you are blessed; when you do wrong, you are punished with suffering So, given this premise, Eliphaz concludes that Job’s suffering is the consequence of his sin. When I read what Eliphaz is saying here it reminds me of the song which Julie Andrews sang in The Sound of Music :

Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

This could be Job’s friends theme song. Given this assumption, his suffering would require lyrics that go like this:

Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever had
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something very bad.

Sadly, the accusations intensify as the debate goes on. Job’s friends no longer give him (or his children) the benefit of the doubt; Job is assumed to be wrong, even to the point of identifying the sins of which they believe him guilty:

If your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin (Job 8:4).

5 Is not your wickedness great and is there no end to your iniquity? 6 “For you took pledges from your brothers for no reason, and you stripped the clothing from the naked. 7 You gave the weary no water to drink and from the hungry you withheld food. 8 Although you were a powerful man, owning land, an honored man living on it, 9 you sent widows away empty-handed, and the arms of the orphans you crushed. 10 That is why snares surround you, and why sudden fear terrifies you (Job 22:5-10).

I want to deal with Job’s defense in just a moment, but before I do, I’d like to call your attention to Bildad’s final words, as recorded in chapter 25. Listen to what he says:

3 “Dominion and awesome might belong to God; he establishes peace in his heights. 3 Can his armies be numbered? On whom does his light not rise? 4 How then can a human being be righteous before God? How can one born of a woman be pure? 5 If even the moon is not bright, and the stars are not pure as far as he is concerned, 6 how much less a mortal man, who is but a maggot– a son of man, who is only a worm!” (Job 25:3-6, emphasis mine)

Job’s friends are wearing out. In this third and final round of attacks on Job’s character, Eliphaz speaks in chapter 22, followed by Job’s response in chapters 23 and 24. Now, in chapter 25, Bildad speaks his final words of accusation against Job. This attack is but six verses long. Bildad seems to sputter here, his case against Job runing out of gas, so to speak. Zophar is speechless, so far as any recorded response from him is concerned. He remains silent. But Job’s defense is lengthy (chapters 26-31). It seems that as time drags on, he becomes stronger and more forceful in his own defense.

But this is not the only significant thing to note about Bildad’s words, few though they are. Listen to what he is saying:

4 How then can a human being be righteous before God?
How can one born of a woman be pure? (Job 25:4, emphasis mine)

As I think through the argument that has developed over these chapters, Job’s friends have concluded that the only explanation for Job’s suffering is that he must have sinned, for which he must repent. Job has insisted that he has not sinned. And now, Bildad blurts out (my paraphrase), “Job, how you say that? God is so great and so holy, that no one can measure up to His standards. No one born of a woman can be without sin.”

Think about the theological implications of Bildad’s statement. His premise, and that of his two colleagues, is that ‘a person reaps what he sows’. When Job insists that he has not sinned, Bildad hastily disputes this, saying, in effect, “How could you say such a thing, Job? No one can be righteous in God’s eyes, for we are all sinners.” But if man is an unworthy sinner and can do nothing to deliver himself from his sinful state, then how can anyone ever attain righteousness and God’s favor by means of their works? It is on this very note that the “counsel” of Job’s three friends ends. Bildad has run out of things to say, and he says it in six verses. Job will have much to say in response, so much that it will take six chapters.

Job’s Final Defense

Job stands firm against all the accusations his friends have made against him. Based upon his knowledge of how one is justified before God, he is convinced of his innocence:

10 “But he knows where I am going. And when he tests me, I will come out as pure as gold. 11 For I have stayed on God’s paths; I have followed his ways and not turned aside. 12 I have not departed from his commands, but have treasured his words more than daily food (Job 23:10-12, NLT; emphasis mine).

It is not Job’s words to his friends that are problematic; it is the challenge he puts to God, questioning the way that He has orchestrated the events of his life. In short, in his mind, God has dealt harshly, even cruelly, with Job.

18 With a strong hand, God grabs my shirt. He grips me by the collar of my coat.
19 He has thrown me into the mud. I’m nothing more than dust and ashes.
20 “I cry to you, O God, but you don’t answer. I stand before you, but you don’t even look.
21 You have become cruel toward me. You use your power to persecute me.
22 You throw me into the whirlwind and destroy me in the storm (Job 30:18-22, NLT; emphasis mine).

There is a note of arrogance that comes through in these words of Job:

35 “If only someone would listen to me! Look, I will sign my name to my defense. Let the Almighty answer me. Let my accuser write out the charges against me. 36 I would face the accusation proudly. I would wear it like a crown. 37 For I would tell him exactly what I have done. I would come before him like a prince (Job 31:35-37, NLT; emphasis mine).

Job has now become the accuser. As his friends accused him, he now accuses God. Here is a man, standing with his hands on his hips, demanding that God explain His actions.

The Unexpected Intervention Of Elihu
Job 32-37

Elihu appears out of nowhere. He has waited, patiently, for the older men to speak, and now he sees that they have nothing left to say. He is not interrupting; he is speaking because there is silence, and because both Job and his friends deserve a rebuke.

Opinions differ greatly about Elihu and his words, but I have chosen to agree with those who see his words as those which need to be taken seriously. In the text, his words immediately precede God’s words to Job in chapters 38 and following. So here are some of the reasons why I, along with others, find Elihu’s words worth heeding.

  1. Elihu rebukes both Job and his friends. Elihu appears to be impartial in this matter. He speaks for God, and he does not take sides, either with Job, or with his three accusers.
  2. Elihu’s rebuke is based upon what these men have actually said, rather than on whatever wrongs he supposes these men to have committed. Job’s friends, on the other hand, condemned Job on the basis of what wrongs they assumed he had committed.
  3. While Job was quick to dispute what his friends said, he never seeks to defend himself against anything Elihu said. Indeed, it would seem that Elihu invited Job to give a defense, if he was able to do so.
  4. Job’s friends did not seek to defend themselves against Elihu’s rebuke.
  5. Elihu’s rebuke is God-centered. Neither Job, nor his three friends, view his suffering from a divine perspective. Job and his friends are man-centered in their thinking and emphasis, rather than God-centered. Elihu rightly accuses Job of seeking to justify himself, rather than God.
  6. Elihu seemed to be very astute in following what would be proper protocol for what he said.
  7. God speaks immediately following Elihu, yet He does not have any word of correction for him. He does, however, rebuke Job and his three friends.
  8. Elihu is granted six chapters to present his case, paving the way for what God will say next.
  9. Elihu’s rebuke is reasonable:

2 Then Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became very angry. He was angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. 3 With Job’s three friends he was also angry, because they could not find an answer, and so declared Job guilty (Job 32:2-3).

8 “Indeed, you have said in my hearing (I heard the sound of the words!): 9 ‘I am pure, without transgression; I am clean and have no iniquity. 10 Yet God finds occasions with me; he regards me as his enemy! 11 He puts my feet in shackles; he watches closely all my paths.’ 12 Now in this, you are not right– I answer you, for God is greater than a human being. 13 Why do you contend against him, that he does not answer all a person’s words? (Job 33:8-13)

Here is one last (but very important) observation regarding Elihu. I cannot help but believe that he is looking forward to the coming of Christ2 when he says,

23 “But if an angel from heaven appears-- a special messenger to intercede for a person and declare that he is upright-- 24 he will be gracious and say, ‘Rescue him from the grave, for I have found a ransom for his life.’ 25 Then his body will become as healthy as a child’s, firm and youthful again. 26 When he prays to God, he will be accepted. And God will receive him with joy and restore him to good standing. 27 He will declare to his friends, ‘I sinned and twisted the truth, but it was not worth it. 28 God rescued me from the grave, and now my life is filled with light.’ 29 “Yes, God does these things again and again for people. 30 He rescues them from the grave so they may enjoy the light of life (Job 33:23-30, NLT; emphasis mine).


Before we talk about the applications which should flow from our text, let’s be sure that we summarize what it is that this text has said to us about God, and about Job and his friends.

First of all, God was present, and He was paying close attention to what Job and his friends were saying. He was also listening to Elihu, and He had no words of rebuke or correction for him. We know this because we are given God’s appraisal of what Job and his friends said about Him in chapter 42.

After the LORD had spoken these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My anger is stirred up against you and your two friends, because you have not spoken about me what is right, as my servant Job has (Job 42:7; see also verse 8).

I believe that we must conclude that what Job said about God was true, but that his attitude was not commendable, because it was irreverent. We see this in Job’s protests addressed to God:

8 With a strong hand, God grabs my shirt. He grips me by the collar of my coat.
19 He has thrown me into the mud. I’m nothing more than dust and ashes.
20I cry to you, O God, but you don’t answer. I stand before you, but you don’t even look.
21 You have become cruel toward me. You use your power to persecute me.
22 You throw me into the whirlwind and destroy me in the storm (Job 30:18-22, NLT; emphasis mine).

Elihu points out Job’s irreverence when he rebukes Job:

14 “Pay attention to this, Job. Stop and consider the wonderful miracles of God!

15 Do you know how God controls the storm and causes the lightning to flash from his clouds?

16 Do you understand how he moves the clouds with wonderful perfection and skill?

17 When you are sweltering in your clothes and the south wind dies down and everything is still,

18 he makes the skies reflect the heat like a bronze mirror. Can you do that?

19 “So teach the rest of us what to say to God. We are too ignorant to make our own arguments.

20 Should God be notified that I want to speak? Can people even speak when they are confused?

21 We cannot look at the sun, for it shines brightly in the sky when the wind clears away the clouds.

22 So also, golden splendor comes from the mountain of God. He is clothed in dazzling splendor.

23 We cannot imagine the power of the Almighty; but even though he is just and righteous, he does not destroy us. 24 No wonder people everywhere fear him. All who are wise show him reverence” (Job 37:14-24, NLT; emphasis mine).

When we get to chapter 38, where God begins to speak to Job, God will also rebuke Job for his arrogance, and He does this by calling attention to truths that will humble him.

I am reminded of Jonah, when he protests against what is true and praiseworthy about God. Instead of praising God for His mercy and grace, Jonah protests:

1 This displeased Jonah terribly and he became very angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD and said, “Oh, LORD, this is just what I thought would happen when I was in my own country. This is what I tried to prevent by attempting to escape to Tarshish! – because I knew that you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, and one who relents concerning threatened judgment. 3 So now, LORD, kill me instead, because I would rather die than live!” (Jonah 4:1-3, emphasis mine)

Job’s friends are also wrong for a very significant, reason. They insist that God must deal with men on the basis of legalism alone, no more and no less. They believe that God deals out suffering and adversity or blessings and prosperity in direct proportion to man’s deeds, good or evil.

4 Your words have supported those who were falling; you encouraged those with shaky knees.

5 But now when trouble strikes, you lose heart. You are terrified when it touches you.

6 Doesn’t your reverence for God give you confidence? Doesn’t your life of integrity give you hope?

7 “Stop and think! Do the innocent die? When have the upright been destroyed?

8 My experience shows that those who plant trouble and cultivate evil will harvest the same.

9 A breath from God destroys them. They vanish in a blast of his anger (Job 4:4-9, NLT; emphasis mine).

In their kind of legalistic system, God really has no discretionary options. He must deal with men as their actions require. In the minds of Job’s friends, there are no exceptions to this “legalistic” rule of life. That is why they persist in seeking to convince Job that he as sinned, and needs to repent. There are no other options which might explain Job’s suffering. If he repents and does good, then God’s blessings will return. To Job’s legalistic friends, it’s that simple.

So what is the problem with this kind of legalistic theology? As God Himself said, they did not speak rightly about Him:

7 After the LORD had spoken these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My anger is stirred up against you and your two friends, because you have not spoken about me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8 So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job will intercede for you, and I will respect him, so that I do not deal with you according to your folly, because you have not spoken about me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7-8, emphasis mine).

Legalism leaves no place for grace. Legalism insists that “you reap what you sow.” Blessings come to me, or to others, because of the good things I have done. Therefore, I deserve credit for the blessings I have received from God. God is obliged to bless me when I do good. I’ve often wondered at those who reject the gospel because it is a matter of grace, and not law. I have heard people say or infer that they don’t want salvation on the basis of God’s mercy and grace because this does not allow them to take any credit for their salvation. The gospel is offensive to a legalist because it is a manifestation of God’s grace.

So how does legalism (what you sow you must reap) constitute saying something wrong about God? How have Job’s friends spoken about God in a way that is not right? The way they have spoken about God denies that He is a gracious God, who deals with men on the basis of what He has done in Christ, rather than on the basis of what we have done.

When Moses asked God to “learn His ways” he did so in order that he might find grace from God:

“Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people”
(Exodus 33:13, NKJ; emphasis mine).

A little later in Exodus, Moses asks to see God’s glory, and God speaks of His glory as His goodness. He also links his goodness to His sovereignly bestowed grace:

18 And Moses said, “Show me your glory.” 19 And the LORD said, “I will make all my goodness pass before your face, and I will proclaim the LORD by name before you; I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:18-19; emphasis mine).

6 The LORD passed by before him and proclaimed: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, 7 keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children and children’s children, to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7; emphasis mine).

Think of how important grace was to Moses, and to the people of Israel. They had just committed a grievous sin by worshipping the golden calf, a sin for which God could have justly wiped out the entire nation. Moses knew that God’s presence with him, and with Israel, could not be based on his performance, or on Israel’s futile efforts to do better. They were a stiff-necked people, predisposed to sin. Their only hope was to trust in God’s grace and mercy, and in His provision of forgiveness. God’s delight is to save unworthy sinners by means of His grace, rather than by man’s works. By adhering to legalism, Job’s friends denied God’s goodness, as manifested by His grace. Legalism would prohibit God from showing grace to unworthy sinners because they would not get what they deserve. If God’s grace is both His glory and His goodness, then denying the grace of God is to speak very badly of God, which is precisely what Job’s friends did.

But there is a flip side to this coin. On the one hand, God is completely free to graciously bless unworthy sinners. But on the other hand, since men do not deserve, and cannot earn, God’s favor, God does not owe His blessings to anyone. Thus, God is as free to withhold His blessings as He is to bestow them. That is the part that Job was struggling with. Withholding blessings Job did not earn was completely consistent with God’s sovereignty, just as sovereignly bestowing them on one who is undeserving is consistent with His grace.3

But we are not done yet. The error of Job’s friends has even more sobering implications. They were convinced that there could be no such thing as “innocent suffering.” If there is no possibility of “innocent suffering” then there can be no such thing as substitutionary atonement – an innocent animal that is sacrificed to pay the penalty for the sins of someone who is guilty. We know that Job believed in substitutionary atonement because he offered burnt offerings for each of his children, in case they had sinned (Job 1:5). He rightly believed that the sacrifice he offered in behalf of each of his children would atone for sins they may have committed.

If there can be no such thing as “innocent suffering,” then there is no possibility of “substitutionary atonement.” Given this premise, salvation through the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus could not happen, because Christ could not take on sinless human flesh and then die in the sinner’s place on the cross of Calvary. Therefore there could be no such thing as “substitutionary atonement.”

Legalism appears to promote justice, but in reality, it prohibits grace, because justice is thus divorced from mercy. But the gospel of Jesus Christ inseparably joins justice and mercy:

9 Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, so our land will be filled with his glory.

10 Unfailing love and truth have met together. Righteousness and peace have kissed! (Psalm 85:9-10, NLT).

“Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You give a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you neglect what is more important in the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness! You should have done these things without neglecting the others (Matthew 23:23; emphasis mine; see also Exodus 34:6-7).

Job’s friends did not believe in grace. Job believed in grace bestowed; what he did not like was grace withheld, without explanation.4 Faith is best tested and grown in times of adversity, especially when God’s reasons are not revealed to us.

Other Applications

Righteous people are not perfect people. I believe that Job was a righteous man, in chapters three through forty-two, as well as in chapters one and two. I believe that Job’s faith was tested by his tragic losses and his physical suffering in the first two chapters of Job. And, I believe that God intensified Job’s suffering in chapters 3-37, demonstrating to Satan and to the heavenly watchers that Job’s faith and endurance was even greater than what was first displayed.

But this is not to say that Job’s righteousness meant that he lived a flawless life. Job’s complaining in our text was not the ideal for every Christian to follow. Job’s protests about God are such that God Himself will speak strong words to him, rebuking him for his lack of reverence.

I think that there are some Christians who believe the Christian life is – or should be – a life of continual joy, praise, and undiminished confidence in what God is doing. Job is, by God’s declaration, the most righteous man on the face of the earth, but he is not perfect. Neither was any other saint that we find in the Bible. But when all is said and done, righteous people believe in God, even when they don’t like where He has put them at the moment.

Adversity is God’s means of purifying our faith. Extended suffering is part of God’s instruction to deepen our faith and expand our witness.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials. 7 Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold– gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away– and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:3-7).

3 Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up. 4 You have not yet resisted to the point of bloodshed in your struggle against sin. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons? “My son, do not scorn the Lord’s discipline or give up when he corrects you. 6 “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.” 7 Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? 8 But if you do not experience discipline, something all sons have shared in, then you are illegitimate and are not sons. 9 Besides, we have experienced discipline from our earthly fathers and we respected them; shall we not submit ourselves all the more to the Father of spirits and receive life? 10 For they disciplined us for a little while as seemed good to them, but he does so for our benefit, that we may share his holiness. 11 Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it (Hebrews 12:3-11).

2 My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything (James 1:2-4).

The path of extended suffering is the path which our Lord Jesus chose as an example for us to follow.

For it was fitting for him, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10).

For since he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:18).

7 During his earthly life Christ offered both requests and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death and he was heard because of his devotion. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered (Hebrews 5:7-8).

Those who are blessed with prosperity and earthly ease need to be very careful not to assume that their performance (good deeds) is the determining factor. My wife and I have been greatly blessed by our godly children, but I know of many godly parents whose children are not walking with the Lord as they should. It is not the good parenting of my wife and I that brought about godly children; in the final analysis it is the grace of God. Let us be very careful not to assume that God’s apparent blessings are the fruit of our godliness and good works, rather than the gracious gift of a merciful and compassionate God.

God sometimes allows the wicked to prosper while the righteous suffer. Job knew this, and so did Asaph, as we read in Psalm 73. This almost caused Asaph to stumble, and to question why he should continue to live as a godly man, until he looked at life through an eternal lens. Sometimes our own suffering and affliction becomes even more painful when we see the wicked prospering. We must see our current suffering through an “eternal lens,” rather than a merely “temporal lens.”

16 Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison 18 because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

I believe that while we have passed the initial stages of this global pandemic, it will likely linger on (and perhaps even intensify) as time goes on. Thus, our suffering will be extended, just as Job’s suffering was. Let us pray that we might live rightly, trusting God, and speaking rightly of Him, if our adversity and afflictions persist. Like Job at the end of chapter two, our testing is not over until God Himself ends it. In our sufferings, let us be found faithful and joyful, to the praise and glory of our God, as we contrast our present afflictions against eternal glory.

When we successfully endure our present suffering and adversities, our faith and confidence in God are strengthened:

3 Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance, character, and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:3-5).

Finally, the truths about God which Job’s friends found unacceptable are actually the “good news” of the Gospel. God is not only righteous and just, He is also gracious and compassionate. God does not delight in dealing with lost sinners as their sins deserve. He delights in showing mercy and granting forgiveness. Indeed, mercy is God’s preference. He is able to be both just and merciful through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ added sinless humanity to His undiminished deity, and came to live on this earth, to speak for God, to reveal man’s sin, and to demonstrate that He is without sin. He became the sinless sacrifice that bore the penalty for our sins, which provides righteousness for all who trust in Him. My friend, you do not want God’s justice (as Job’s three friends did); what you want and need is God’s grace, through the gift of salvation that comes from the work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary, rather than from your works. The salvation which God provides in Christ will persevere and endure, in the worst adversities of life. If you have not yet trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and the gift of eternal life, trust in Him and be saved.

1 Cycle 1: Job 4-14; Cycle 2: Job 15-21; Cycle 3: Job 22-31.

2 Intentionally or otherwise.

3 I need to make it clear that sovereignty and grace are inseparably linked. Because no one deserves God’s blessings (God’s grace) then men’s blessings don’t depend on their works, but on God’s sovereign choice (Romans 9:9-13, 30-33). God sovereignly bestows unmerited blessings (grace) on men, and He can sovereignly withhold unmerited blessings. Since Job’s “blessings” were not the fruit of his efforts, or worthiness in and of himself, God was not obligated to bless him. Job’s suffering was sovereignly bestowed by God, just as his prosperity was.

4 In reality, Job’s suffering was a manifestation of God’s grace, because it deepened his faith, and strengthened his relationship with God. If “the nearness of God is our good” (Psalm 73:28), then whatever draws us nearer to God is gracious, even though it may not appear so at the moment.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

Lesson 3: Job 38-42

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James Herriot was a veterinarian in Scotland and the author of a number of books, including All Creatures Great and Small.1 In this book he tells the story of how he was greatly humbled at the age of seventeen. James had been a student at the Veterinary College in Scotland for just three days. Today he had attended his first class in animal husbandry and he was euphoric. His professor was one of those exceedingly talented men who could bring the subject of horses to life. James felt he had come to know everything there was to know about these magnificent creatures. To fully embrace his persona as a veterinarian James went to a clothing store and bought a brand-new riding mac with a full array of snaps and buckles which, he said, slapped against his legs as he walked.

Stepping out onto the street in front of the college, what should his eyes behold but a massive horse, standing passively before a coal cart, which he pulled about the streets of Scotland. This horse was not a beautiful specimen. It was old and its back was swayed, but it was a horse. James stepped up to the animal, surveying it with what he believed to be the highly trained eye of a veterinarian. He identified the various parts of the creature’s anatomy, which he had just been taught the previous hour. The crowds passed by, oblivious to his extensive knowledge of horses. Having completed his visual assessment, James started to walk away, and then turned to make a parting gesture which he believed this creature would welcome as a token of his appreciation.

James reached up, intending to pat the great beast on the neck, but the horse acted with unexpected speed, clamping his teeth firmly into the material of James’ new mac and lifting him off the ground. James confessed that he dangled in mid-air like a lop-sided puppet. The passers-by, once uninterested and unimpressed by his attire, or his superior knowledge of horses, now pushed and shoved to get a better look at this bizarre spectacle. Some older ladies took pity on James and pled for someone to come to his aid. To James’ chagrin, the younger ladies giggled. James was mortified. Not only was he overcome with shame, but his breathing was now cut off by his new coat, and saliva from the horse’s mouth was running down his face.

Just then, a little man pushed his way through the crowd. He was a coal dealer, and the horse’s owner, who quickly sized up the situation and commanded his horse to drop James. When the horse hesitated, the coal dealer jabbed his thumb into the horse’s belly. Quickly the horse dropped James to the ground, gasping for air. As soon as he could get to his feet, James tried to disappear into the crowd, but he could not help but hear the advice of the horse’s owner, who shouted after him, “Dinna meddle wi’ things ye ken nuthin’ aboot!

This is virtually the same lesson Job is about to learn from God’s words, recorded in the final chapters of the Book of Job. Earlier in the book, Job has been speaking as one who has great knowledge and authority, concerning a matter he knows nothing about. The humbling lesson which Job learns in our text is one which is vitally important to every Christian, so let us listen carefully to the words of our text, to learn what God’s Word has for us.

A Reminder Of Where We Are In The Book Of Job

In this third and final lesson we have come to chapters 38-42, the closing chapters of the Book of Job. Mark Dever2 has outlined the major sections of the book in this way:

Chapters 1 & 2:

God has good things to say about Job.

Job has good things to say about God.

Chapters 3-37:              Job has bad things to say about God.

Chapters 38-41: God has bad things to say about Job

Chapter 42:

God has good things to say about Job.

Job has good things to say about God.

That pretty much sums it up.

The Structure Of Our Text

Job 38-39

God Uses Nature To Challenge Jobs Wisdom

Job 40:1-5

Jobs Initial Repentance

Job 40:6-41:34

God Challenges Jobs Authority Over Nature

Job 42

Jobs Repentance (Vss. 1-6)

Jobs Intercession For His Friends (Vss. 7-9)

God Restores Jobs Prosperity (Vss. 10-17)


The purpose of this message is not to analyze every detail in these five chapters, but rather to gain a sense of the overall flow of the argument, and the primary message that is here for Job, his friends, the angelic watchers, and us. To accomplish this, we should note several important observations from our text.

First, we see that God speaks directly to Job here, for the first time in the book. It is amazing to realize that God has not spoken directly to Job for 37 chapters. Oh, there’s been a lot of talk – on the part of Job and his three friends – but not any direct revelation from God. Job himself realizes the significance of what is now taking place:

“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye has seen you” (Job 42:5, NET).3

Second, we cannot miss the fact that God does not answer Job’s questions here; instead, he has some questions for Job to answer. Put differently, Job asked God questions He would not answer, while God asked Job questions he could not answer.

Third, we should take note of what God does not say to Job. In the account we are given, God does not tell Job about the celestial gathering and the ensuing conversation between Himself and Satan, as we find it recorded in the first two chapters of Job. Neither is Job informed about God’s purposes for his suffering. Thanks to the observation of Rev. Robert Rayburn,4 we can add that God does not even tell Job that a book will be written about his faithfulness in affliction, which will serve to comfort many.

If one were to summarize Job’s questions in one word, it would be “WHY?” Job will not receive the answer to this question before the conclusion of the book. He will have to be content with the “WHO?” of his affliction, and not the WHY.

Having said this, I am indebted to my fellow-elder and friend, Gordon Graham, who reminded me that someone did write the Book of Job, and whoever this was received the information recorded in it. Surely Job is a likely candidate for being the author of this book. If so, we would conclude that God withheld the answers to Job’s questions until after he repented.5 Job must first trust God, even when he does not understand what God is doing. And having trusted Him, God may then answer Job’s questions (though He is not obliged to do so).

Fourth, we can take note of what God does say to Job in these chapters. In essence God asks, “Who are you, Job, to question the Creator of the Universe?” Job’s attitude and God’s response sounds similar to that of the objector and Paul, who responded to his objections in Romans chapter 9:

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who has ever resisted his will?” 20 But who indeed are you– a mere human being– to talk back to God? Does what is molded say to the molder, “Why have you made me like this?” (Romans 9:19-20, emphasis mine).

Job has forgotten his place in God’s universe. Job foolishly stands in judgment of God and His management of this world. Job is seated in the prosecutor’s chair (maybe even the judge’s chair), and he has placed God in the defendant’s chair. If I could sum up God’s words to Job, they would be, “Job, why don’t you leave the running of the universe to Me?”

Fifth, we should take note of the fact that God speaks to Job out of a whirlwind.

1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind: 2 “Who is this who darkens counsel with words without knowledge? (Job 38:1-2, emphasis mine; see also 40:6)

Elijah was taken up into heaven by a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:1, 11). God’s judgment is spoken of as coming in a whirlwind (Jeremiah 23:19; 30:23; Ezekiel 13:13). This is the very opposite of the “still, small, voice” with which God spoke to Elijah in1 Kings 19:12. I believe that this was to remind Job of the greatness and power of God, much like God impressed the Israelites in the giving of the Law from Mt. Sinai:

18 All the people were seeing the thundering and the lightning, and heard the sound of the horn, and saw the mountain smoking– and when the people saw it they trembled with fear and kept their distance. 19 They said to Moses, “You speak to us and we will listen, but do not let God speak with us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:18-19).

Sixth, God has not forgotten Satan and the angels, which were mentioned in chapter one:

4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you possess understanding! 5 Who set its measurements– if you know– or who stretched a measuring line across it? 6 On what were its bases set, or who laid its cornerstone– 7 when the morning stars sang in chorus, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7, emphasis mine)

Stop and think about it for a moment. When God speaks of His creation of the universe, it is obvious that Job was not there, guiding the hand of God as to just where a certain star should be hung. But the angels were there, not guiding God, but celebrating His majesty and wisdom. They were applauding God’s work of creation.

I can imagine the celestial response to these words. No doubt, the angels were looking on and listening to this conversation between God and Job. Can you imagine how their angelic “ears” would have perked up at God’s reference to them being present at creation? Lest they forget about the greatness and the goodness of God (something Satan sought to encourage), let them recall what they saw, heard, and celebrated at the creation of the universe.

Seventh, I have been persuaded by several friends (and the biblical text) that the reference to Leviathan in chapter 41 is not to be limited to an earthly creature, such as the crocodile. As one friend put it, this creature sounds more like a dragon:

18 Its snorting throws out flashes of light; its eyes are like the red glow of dawn. 19 Out of its mouth go flames, sparks of fire shoot forth! 20 Smoke streams from its nostrils as from a boiling pot over burning rushes. 21 Its breath sets coals ablaze and a flame shoots from its mouth . . . . 33 The likes of it is not on earth, a creature without fear. 34 It looks on every haughty being; it is king over all that are proud” (Job 41:18-21, 33-34, emphasis mine).

When Leviathan here is compared with its occurrence in other biblical texts, it certainly seems that this creature symbolizes Satan himself:6

1 At that time the LORD will punish with his destructive, great, and powerful sword Leviathan the fast-moving serpent, Leviathan the squirming serpent; he will kill the sea monster (Isaiah 27:1).

7 Then war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But the dragon was not strong enough to prevail, so there was no longer any place left in heaven for him and his angels. 9 So that huge dragon– the ancient serpent, the one called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world– was thrown down to the earth, and his angels along with him. 10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, “The salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the ruling authority of his Christ, have now come, because the accuser of our brothers and sisters, the one who accuses them day and night before our God, has been thrown down. 11 But they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. 12 Therefore you heavens rejoice, and all who reside in them! But woe to the earth and the sea because the devil has come down to you! He is filled with terrible anger, for he knows that he only has a little time!” (Revelation 12:7-12, emphasis mine)

Leviathan is vastly more powerful than Job, and Job should rightly fear him. But in the end God will destroy this creature so that his destructive and hostile power will end. Even now (as we have seen in chapters 1 and 2), Satan is subject to the authority of God. If Job is to withstand the “wiles of the devil” it will ultimately be by God’s enablement.

Eighth, take note of the sarcasm and humor which lightens up the correction of Job a bit. Surely this is an example of sarcasm:

“In what direction does light reside, and darkness, where is its place, 20 that you may take them to their borders and perceive the pathways to their homes? 21 You know, for you were born before them; and the number of your days is great! (Job 38:19-21, emphasis mine)

Catch the humor that we find here in Job:

“Can you catch Leviathan with a hook
or put a noose around its jaw?
2 Can you tie it with a rope through the nose
or pierce its jaw with a spike?
3 Will it beg you for mercy
or implore you for pity?
4 Will it agree to work for you,
to be your slave for life?
5 Can you make it a pet like a bird,
or give it to your little girls to play with?
6 Will merchants try to buy it
to sell it in their shops?
7 Will its hide be hurt by spears
or its head by a harpoon?
8 If you lay a hand on it, you will certainly remember the battle that follows.
You won’t try that again! (Job 41:1-8, NLT; emphasis mine)

Nineth, the central theme of these chapters of God’s rebuke is the lesson Job should learn from God’s creation. The first half of the rebuke contrasts God’s creative wisdom and power with Job’s ignorance and lack of participation in creation:

2 “Who is this who darkens counsel with words without knowledge? 3 Get ready for a difficult task like a man; I will question you and you will inform me! 4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you possess understanding! (Job 38:2-4, emphasis mine)

When one reads these verses about God’s creation of the universe, and the heavenly realms, it is impossible to miss a sense of awe at the wisdom and power of God. Conversely, this divine challenge makes man look very small, and Job’s protests very ignorant and ill-founded. As we noted a moment ago, the angels were there, but Job was not. He had no hand in creation. And even if he were there at the time, he would not have anything to contribute to the event. It was all of God.

I believe God’s use of His creation of the universe here should give us pause when dealing with the subject of the earth’s origins. To the degree that one puts God at arm’s length from the creation of the universe, he or she tends to undermine the force of the argument God is making in our text.7 We dare not lose sight of this in the midst of our scholarly debates over the origins of the earth.8

The second half of God’s interrogation of Job concentrates on the animal kingdom and what it has to teach Job, and us.

13 “The ostrich9 flaps her wings grandly, but they are no match for the feathers of the stork.10
14 She lays her eggs on top of the earth, letting them be warmed in the dust.
15 She doesn’t worry that a foot might crush them or a wild animal might destroy them.
16 She is harsh toward her young, as if they were not her own. She doesn’t care if they die.
17 For God has deprived her of wisdom. He has given her no understanding.
18 But whenever she jumps up to run, she passes the swiftest horse with its rider
(Job 39:13-18 NLT).

As I read it, this is an almost comical description of the ostrich. It cannot fly, and yet it makes a dramatic display of flapping its wings,11 even though it will never clear the ground. In addition to this, the ostrich is presented in a less than flattering way. She lays her eggs on the ground, in plain sight. Placed here, unprotected, these eggs may get walked on, or devoured by some other creature. She has no affection for her offspring, and seems not to care whether they survive or not. If they do, it is no thanks to her.

So far, we have a rather demeaning description of this “big bird” (actually the world’s largest bird). But wait, there’s more:

18 But whenever she jumps up to run, she passes the swiftest horse with its rider (Job 39:18).

This unlikable, unlikely, creature is the fastest animal on two legs. (I confess, that I had to Google it to learn this.12) I learned that ostriches are superb runners that can sprint at speeds of up to 45 mph on average, with a top speed as much as 60 mph for short bursts. Its stride is about 12 feet, but a large ostrich, at full speed, may take steps as much as 25 feet apart! What compensation God has given this unusual creature!

Strangely, perhaps, I am reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthians regarding spiritual gifts:

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor in turn can the head say to the foot, “I do not need you.” 22 On the contrary, those members that seem to be weaker are essential, 23 and those members we consider less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our unpresentable members are clothed with dignity, 24 but our presentable members do not need this. Instead, God has blended together the body, giving greater honor to the lesser member, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have mutual concern for one another (1 Corinthians 12:21-25, emphasis mine).

Is the ostrich an example of this same principle in the animal kingdom? By the way, we are told that the ostrich has a brain the size of a walnut.

During this pandemic and its “stay at home” requirements I would like to make a suggestion to parents. Years ago, while teaching school, I used the Moody Science Series in my teaching. This series focuses on the wonder of God’s creation, pointing out the wisdom of God, the Creator. One such video is “The City of the Bees.” You can find it on YouTube.13 What a great way to teach your children about God’s wisdom as seen in the creatures He has made. In some ways it is similar to what we find in the last chapters of Job.

There is yet another lesson to be learned from God’s creatures. Job did not design or create them, and yet they live well, without Job’s presence or control. Take, for example, the wild donkey:

5 “Who gives the wild donkey its freedom? Who untied its ropes?
6 I have placed it in the wilderness; its home is the wasteland.
7 It hates the noise of the city and has no driver to shout at it.
8 The mountains are its pastureland, where it searches for every blade of grass (Job 39:5-8).

Yet another example is the wild ox:

9 “Will the wild ox consent to being tamed? Will it spend the night in your stall?
10 Can you hitch a wild ox to a plow? Will it plow a field for you?
11 Given its strength, can you trust it? Can you leave and trust the ox to do your work?
12 Can you rely on it to bring home your grain and deliver it to your threshing floor? (Job 39:9-12 NLT)

At creation God instructed Adam (and thus mankind) to take control over the creatures He made:

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28).

But this did not happen, at least completely, due to the fall of man. And Job is just one example of this. He does not rule over the wild donkey or the wild ox. Indeed, Job does not rule over creation at all – but God does, and it runs in amazing ways. So, who is Job to be questioning God’s actions with regard to His creatures (including man)? Job talks as though he expects God to “jump through his hoops.”

So, when nature (God’s creation) is pondered, God comes out looking like God: omniscient, omnipotent, wise, and in control (among other things). Man comes out looking greatly inferior:

3 When I look up at the heavens, which your fingers made, and see the moon and the stars, which you set in place, 4 Of what importance is the human race, that you should notice them? Of what importance is mankind, that you should pay attention to them (Psalm 8:3-4).

In the final analysis, Job get’s it. His silence is the proper response, rather than his endless questions.

Tenth, let us briefly consider the restoration of Job’s prosperity.

10 So the LORD restored what Job had lost after he prayed for his friends, and the LORD doubled all that had belonged to Job. 11 So they came to him, all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they dined with him in his house. They comforted him and consoled him for all the trouble the LORD had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring. 12 So the LORD blessed the second part of Job’s life more than the first. He had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. 13 And he also had seven sons and three daughters. 14 The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-Happuch. 15 Nowhere in all the land could women be found who were as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance alongside their brothers. 16 After this Job lived 140 years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. 17 And so Job died, old and full of days (Job 42:10-17).

After his repentance, God doubled the wealth of Job from that which he was said to possess in chapter 1 – with the exception of Job’s children. In the beginning, Job was said to have “seven sons and three daughters” (1:2). Now we are told that Job has another “seven sons and three daughters” (42:13). Why not fourteen sons and six daughters, doubling their number as God did with the cattle Job owned? To me, the answer is that while Job permanently lost his cattle, he did not “lose” his children in the same way. Job believed in the resurrection of the dead (Job 19:25), and it is at the resurrection that he will once again be united with his children who had died. And thus, God did double the number of Job’s children, from ten to twenty.

I find the account most interesting when it comes to the daughters of Job. Clearly, they receive more attention than the sons of Job. Notice that the names of the daughters are given, but not the names of the sons. Furthermore, we are told that the beauty of these daughters surpassed that of any other woman in the land. And finally, we are told that Job gave them an inheritance, the same as their brothers. Why is so much said of the three daughters, but not any such details regarding the 7 sons?

Especially in Old Testament times, women were treated differently than men, at times, almost like second-class citizens. For example, if an Israelite woman gave birth to a female child, she was unclean for fourteen days, but if the child was a male, the mother was unclean for only seven days (Leviticus 12). Lot was willing to offer his virgin daughters to the wicked men of Sodom, to spare his apparent “male” guests from harm (Genesis 19:6-8). Why this partiality toward males? And what does this account of Job’s daughters have to say about that?

It seems to me that Job’s daughters’ status is elevated on account of Job, especially when viewed from an Old Testament frame of reference. Why would this be? I’m inclined to say that this is prophetic, looking forward to the coming of Christ. As a result of Christ’s saving work on the cross of Calvary, men and women, slave and free, Jew and Gentile have the same identity in Christ (Galatians 3:28). They certainly have the same inheritance. I did not say that they have the same earthly roles, but in terms of their identity in Christ, they are equal. I believe Job’s daughters foreshadow this.

The Elephant In The Room:
Where Was Job Right And His Friends Wrong?

7 After the LORD had finished speaking to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “I am angry with you and your two friends, FOR YOU HAVE NOT SPOKEN ACCURATELY ABOUT ME, AS MY SERVANT JOB HAS. 8 So take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer on your behalf. I will not treat you as you deserve, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has.” 9 So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite did as the LORD commanded them, and the LORD accepted Job’s prayer. 10 When Job prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his fortunes. In fact, the LORD gave him twice as much as before! (Job 42:7-10, NLT; emphasis mine)

So, the question must be, “In what way, then, was Job right while his three friends were wrong in what they said about God?”

I am approaching this question on the basis these assumptions:

One: Job’s righteousness was not conditional; it was based upon his faith, and not upon his performance. Ultimately, Job was righteous because God declared him to be righteous, period! Job’s righteousness was not the result of his good works, and his suffering was not the consequence of his sin.

Two: If Job was righteous because God declared it so,14 then Job was righteous throughout his suffering and throughout the book. Job was not just righteous in chapters one and two, he was also righteous in chapters 3-37 (albeit there were some things for him to repent of). And he is still righteous when it all ends in chapter 42. Job is consistently righteous because his righteousness comes as a gracious gift from God, and not as a result of his works.

Three: Job believed in substitutionary atonement.15

4 Now his sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one in turn, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and to drink with them. 5 When the days of their feasting were finished, Job would send for them and sanctify them; he would get up early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job thought, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s customary practice (Job 1:4-5).

Think about what we have been told here. Job was concerned for his children’s spiritual well-being. He did not urge his children to “do better,” or to “work harder” in order to be spiritual. He offered a sacrifice, one per child (verse 5), on behalf of each of his children. The sacrifice of this guiltless animal was assumed to atone for any sins his child may have committed. My point here is that Job does not see righteousness (right standing before God) as a human achievement, but as the result of the sacrifice of another being, offered in place of the sinner.

Four: If Job’s suffering was not God’s punishment for his sin, then God must have another (good) purpose for his suffering. Since God is good to His saints, God’s purposes for Job’s suffering must be good.

Five: The test was to see whether Job would persevere in his trust in God, or whether he would “curse God.”

“But extend your hand and strike everything he has, and he will no doubt curse you to your face!” (Job 1:11, emphasis mine)

“But extend your hand and strike his bone and his flesh, and he will no doubt curse you to your face!” (Job 2:5, emphasis mine)

Then his wife said to him, “Are you still holding firmly to your integrity? Curse God, and die!” (Job 2:9, emphasis mine)

I believe the key to understanding the Book of Job is to grasp how Job’s declaration about God differs from that of his three friends. What is it, in particular, that Job has spoken about God that is right, and what is it that his friends got wrong? We are told that in both cases it has to do with what they have spoken about God:

7 After the LORD had spoken these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My anger is stirred up against you and your two friends, because you have not spoken about me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8 So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job will intercede for you, and I will respect him, so that I do not deal with you according to your folly, because you have not spoken about me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7-8).

What words do we find Job speaking that are, as God indicates, speaking rightly about Him? I believe these words are most clearly spoken in the first two chapters of the book.

He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will return there. The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away. May the name of the LORD be blessed!” (Job 1:21, emphasis mine)

9 Then his wife said to him, “Are you still holding firmly to your integrity? Curse God, and die!” 10 But he replied, “You’re talking like one of the godless women would do! Should we receive what is good from God, and not also receive what is evil?” In all this Job did not sin by what he said (Job 2:9-10, emphasis mine).

In chapter 1, we read that Job lost virtually all of his material wealth, and then he lost his family. In chapter 2, Job experienced great physical suffering. Job’s response to these horrific events reveals this about his view of God:

GOD IS SOVEREIGN, AND THUS ALL OF JOB’S CIRCUMSTANCES ULTIMATELY CAME FROM GOD’S HAND. We can see from our text (chapters 1 and 2) that Satan has played a role in initiating Job’s sufferings, but ultimately Job’s suffering has come from the hand of God. This is exactly what Job acknowledged:

He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will return there. The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away. May the name of the LORD be blessed!” (Job 1:21, emphasis mine)

God is in control of what is given and what is taken away, of apparent blessings and of adversity.

GOD IS RIGHT WHEN HE GIVES, AND RIGHT WHEN HE TAKES AWAY. God is righteous when He bestows earthly blessings on men, and He is no less righteous when He withholds them. It is possible to acknowledge God’s sovereignty in our prosperity and in our poverty, but it is something else to say that God is right in so doing. Thus, Job can say, “May the name of the LORD be blessed!” (Job 1:21).

How could anyone praise God for doing what they believed to be evil? How could Job continue to be faithful to God if he did not consider God righteous?

THE SUFFERING JOB EXPERIENCED MAY HAVE APPEARED AT THE MOMENT TO BE CRUEL, BUT IN REALITY IT HAD COME TO HIM FROM THE HAND OF A KIND AND GRACIOUS GOD. JOB’S SUFFERING WAS ULTIMATELY FOR HIS GOOD, AND FOR GOD’S GLORY. The righteous may very well experience suffering from the hand of a loving God, even when they don’t understand God’s purposes for it. I believe this can be inferred from the first two chapters of Job, but it is also clearly evident in the final chapter of the book. I can think of others, like Joseph, or Daniel and his three friends, whose suffering was divinely designed to produce a blessing.

JOB IS RIGHT WHEN HE SPEAKS ABOUT GOD AND HIS DEALINGS WITH HIM FROM AN ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE. The author of the Book of Hebrews tells us that every Old Testament saint viewed their lives, and their relationship with God from an eternal perspective:

13 These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. 14 For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left, they would have had opportunity to return (Hebrews 11:13-15).

We see that this eternal perspective is evident from Job’s own words:

As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and that as the last he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God, 27 whom I will see for myself, and whom my own eyes will behold, and not another. My heart grows faint within me (Job 19:25-27).

JOB IS RIGHT WHEN HE DECLARES THAT GOD IS WORTHY OF HIS WORSHIP, REGARDLESS OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES HE HAS BROUGHT HIS WAY. This affirmation directly opposes Satan’s assessment of why Job would worship God. Satan believes that men worship God only as long as He pours out material blessings on them. Job believes that God is worthy of his worship, even when He takes all his material “blessings” away.

Now let’s turn to Job’s friends, to see where they were wrong. What was it that they said, which revealed they were not speaking rightly about God?


7 “Stop and think! Do the innocent die? When have the upright been destroyed? 8 My experience shows that those who plant trouble and cultivate evil will harvest the same. 9 A breath from God destroys them. They vanish in a blast of his anger (Job 4:7-9, NLT).


With Job’s three friends he was also angry, because they could not find an answer, and so declared Job guilty (Job 32:3).


5 But if you will look to God, and make your supplication to the Almighty, 6 if you become pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself for you, and will restore your righteous abode (Job 8:5-6).

THE PROBLEM THESE MEN MUST FACE (AND RELUCTANTLY CONFESS) IS THAT NO ONE IS GOOD ENOUGH TO MERIT GOD’S BLESSING. Ironically, these are the very last words spoken by any of Job’s three “friends”:

3 “Dominion and awesome might belong to God; he establishes peace in his heights. 3 Can his armies be numbered? On whom does his light not rise? 4 How then can a human being be righteous before God? How can one born of a woman be pure? 5 If even the moon is not bright, and the stars are not pure as far as he is concerned, 6 how much less a mortal man, who is but a maggot– a son of man, who is only a worm!” (Job 25:3-6, emphasis mine)

JOB’S FRIENDS APPROACHED JOB’S SUFFERING FROM AN ENTIRELY EARTHLY PERSPECTIVE, RATHER THAN FROM AN ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE. I am reminded of Asaph’s lament over the prosperity of the wicked, and over his own afflictions in Psalm 73. It is only when Asaph looks at his circumstances from an eternal perspective that he views matters rightly (Psalm 73:15ff.).

Job’s friends were wrong in the ways suggested above, but in what ways did they speak wrongly about God?

JOB’S FRIENDS LOOKED AT BLESSINGS AND ADVERSITY THROUGH A LEGALISTIC LENS. In short, they believed that what a person sows in life determines what they reap in life. Thus, they expect God to bestow material blessings as a reward for good works. Conversely, they expect God to bestow suffering and adversity as the consequence for sin. They would probably go a step further to say that the magnitude of one’s blessings or suffering is directly proportionate to the magnitude of one’s goodness or to one’s transgressions.

This error of legalistic thinking has a long history in the Old Testament. In Psalm 73 Asaph was greatly troubled by the fact that the wicked were prospering, while the righteous (which included Asaph) suffered. He was greatly distressed that God did punish those who were wicked with suffering and adversity.

We find this error evident in the New Testament as well. Jesus’ disciples assumed that because a man had been born blind, he (or his parents) must have done something very wrong (John 9:1-3). In the Gospel of Luke, we are told that certain people assumed that because Pilate had mingled the blood of certain Galileans with their sacrifices, they must be greater sinners than others. Jesus made it clear that such was not the case (Luke 13:1-5). Thus, Luke’s Gospel calls our attention to Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man lived a very comfortable life, but was assigned to eternal suffering when he died, while Lazarus, suffered greatly in life, but went to Abraham’s bosom (eternal blessings) after death. The Pharisees were astounded that Jesus would associate with sinners, and bless them through His ministry (Matthew 9:9-13; Luke 7:36-50).

In other words, in this life, we should not expect (or insist upon) a direct correlation between one’s works (good or bad) and one’s circumstances in life. Now, when it comes to eternal rewards or punishment, there is a direct correlation between one’s actions in life and their eternal outcome (see, for example, Matthew 25:14-30; note especially verses 21 and 23). This is why heaven and hell are necessary for true justice to be fulfilled. For many, the punishment that is well deserved in this life may only be carried out in eternity.


In the Book of Exodus, Moses is given a vision of God’s glory. You probably remember the story. God has miraculously brought His people out of slavery in Egypt. They have come to Mt. Sinai, where God gives Moses a “hard copy” of the Law. While Moses is up on the mountain, receiving the Law, the people persuade Aaron to make them an idol in the form of a golden calf, which they worship as the “God who brought them out of Egypt.” God sends Moses down to the people where he demolishes the stone tablets, and where God threatens to wipe out the entire nation, and to create a new nation from Moses.

At Moses’ intercession, God grants Moses’ petition and forgives this sinful nation. Now, the question is whether or not God will go up with Moses and His people to the Promised Land. Eventually (again, at the intercession of Moses), God tells Moses that He will indeed go up with Moses, and the people.

But Moses needs assurance. He has no hope that this people will ever “do better.” He knows they are predisposed to sin. So, what assurance does Moses have, if he leads this people toward the Promised Land? The answer is the goodness and the glory of God. In short, his hope is in the character of God. His hope is based upon the grace of God, not the good works of the Israelites.

And so Moses makes these requests:

12 Moses said to the LORD, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ 13 Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people” (Exodus 33:12-13, ESV; emphasis mine).

18 And Moses said, “Show me your glory.” 19 And the LORD said, “I will make all my goodness pass before your face, and I will proclaim the LORD by name before you; I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:18-19, emphasis mine).

And here is God’s response to Moses’ request to know God’s ways, and to see His glory:

6 The LORD passed by before him and proclaimed: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, 7 keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children and children’s children, to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7, emphasis mine).

In this crucial moment in Israel’s history, their fate as a nation seems to hang in the balance. Humanly speaking, apart from the intercession of Moses, Israel was hopelessly condemned. But Moses never appealed to God on the basis of Israel’s conduct. Moses knew that Israel’s fate rested on the character of God. That aspect of God’s character which was most needed was grace. When he asks to know God’s ways, and to see His glory, Moses asks God to reveal His character, which alone is Israel’s hope – and his. And God calls this declaration of His character the revelation of “all His goodness” (Exodus 33:19).

“But wait,” one might object, “what about the declaration that God ‘by no means leaves the guilty unpunished’? Doesn’t grace undermine or nullify justice?” This tension will only be solved by the cross, for the cross of Jesus Christ is where grace is bestowed and justice is satisfied.

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed– 22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. 26 This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness (Romans 3:21-26).

God was gracious in providing the Lord Jesus, whose death on the cross of Calvary provided atonement for sin. Thus, salvation is a manifestation of God’s grace. But Paul says that at the cross, God was both Just and the Justifier. There was justice at the cross because our sin was punished there. The grace of God was manifested in Christ’s sacrifice, which paid the penalty for our sins. And so, the description of God’s character as both gracious and just, as declared by God in Exodus 34, is perfectly displayed at the cross of our Lord. Job’s friends insisted upon justice, but did not embrace grace.

Why is it that grace is so often resisted or rejected? I believe the answer is simple. Justice (which was really legalism, as Job’s friends defined it) meant that if a person was prosperous they could take credit for it. Suffering, likewise, could be explained by pointing to sin in a person’s life. Grace requires that God must be given the credit, and not us. Man’s pride and arrogance does not embrace God’s grace.

JOB’S FRIENDS’ VIEW OF JUSTICE DID NOT ALLOW FOR GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY. If you stop to think about it, bestowing grace requires sovereignty; legalism prohibits it. In the Book of Romans, the question is raised (my paraphrase), “If God promised salvation to the Jews, why is it that so many Gentiles are being saved, and yet so many Jews are not?” Paul’s initial answer (not to neglect what will be said in Romans 10) in Romans 9 is this:

6 It is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all those who are descended from Israel are truly Israel, 7 nor are all the children Abraham’s true descendants; rather “through Isaac will your descendants be counted.” 8 This means it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God; rather, the children of promise are counted as descendants. 9 For this is what the promise declared: “About a year from now I will return and Sarah will have a son.” 10 Not only that, but when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our ancestor Isaac– 11 even before they were born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose in election would stand, not by works but by his calling)– 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger,” 13 just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Romans 9:6-13).

Paul explains the salvation of some and the rejection of others as being the sovereign choice (determination) of God. In chapter 10, Paul will further explain that man’s salvation or condemnation must also be explained in terms of man’s choice or rejection of salvation in Christ. But if salvation is not based upon man’s works, then how can salvation be bestowed? Besides works, what basis is there for bestowing grace? The only basis is God’s sovereign choice.

But Job’s friends believed that his prosperity or suffering was the direct consequence of his works. Thus, Job’s fate is the consequence of his works, not God’s grace. If this is true, God’s sovereignty is both denied and prohibited. In their way of thinking, God is a kind of vending machine, who deals out blessings or adversity in direct proportion to man’s deeds. Sovereignty is not needed, or permitted. It is all about works, man’s works. But where grace is bestowed, it cannot be granted in direct proportion to man’s works, since works are contrary to grace. Grace can only be distributed on the basis of God’s sovereign choices. In effect, then, Job’s friends may talk of the greatness of God, but they must deny His sovereignty. That is not speaking well of God.

JOB’S FRIENDS COULD NOT ACCEPT THE POSSIBILITY THAT A PERSON COULD SUFFER BECAUSE THEY WERE RIGHTEOUS. PUT DIFFERENTLY, THEY COULD NOT ACCEPT INNOCENT SUFFERING. Later on, Joseph and Daniel, would serve to refute this error of Job’s friends. Beyond that, the whole sacrificial system God would establish would operate on the basis that an innocent victim could somehow make atonement for the sin of the guilty. When the Lord Jesus came to the earth as the “Lamb of God,”16 He would make atonement for sin, once for all. Innocent suffering, denied by Job’s friends, was foundational for God’s saving work through the person and sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. Thus, to deny innocent suffering as a possibility, was to deny Christ’s work at Calvary. That, my friend, is not speaking well of God.


It would be easy, even tempting, to deal only with the subject of the innocent suffering of our Lord Jesus. But the Scriptures will not allow us to do this. Innocent suffering is not only the means (the only means) by which guilty sinners can be made righteous, it is also the pattern which Christians should follow if they are to live out the gospel to the glorify God:

2:18 Slaves, be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are perverse. 19 For this finds God’s favor, if because of conscience toward God someone endures hardships in suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if you sin and are mistreated and endure it? But if you do good and suffer and so endure, this finds favor with God. 21 For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness. By his wounds you were healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

3:1 In the same way, wives, be subject to your own husbands. Then, even if some are disobedient to the word, they will be won over without a word by the way you live, 2 when they see your pure and reverent conduct. 3 Let your beauty not be external– the braiding of hair and wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes– 4 but the inner person of the heart, the lasting beauty of a gentle and tranquil spirit, which is precious in God’s sight. 5 For in the same way the holy women who hoped in God long ago adorned themselves by being subject to their husbands, 6 like Sarah who obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. You become her children when you do what is good and have no fear in doing so. 7 Husbands, in the same way, treat your wives with consideration as the weaker partners and show them honor as fellow heirs of the grace of life. In this way nothing will hinder your prayers (1 Peter 2:18-3:7, emphasis mine).

This particular text is one that is very strongly rejected by our culture. It is also frequently and skillfully ignored or set aside by Christians. But what is clear is this: Jesus suffered as one who was truly and totally righteous. Jesus suffered innocently.17 And this example of innocent suffering is to be followed by Christians, not just Christian slaves, but every Christian, by both wives and their husbands. In a day when the mere mention of the word “abuse” seems to be a mandate to do what God has forbidden, let us take the words of Peter seriously. This is the Peter who most strongly opposed the mention of our Lord Jesus suffering innocently (Matthew 16:21-28). Am I saying that we should not take genuine abuse seriously, and deal with it decisively? I am not! But what I am saying is that if Jesus suffered innocently so that we might be saved, and He calls us to “take up our cross and follow Him,” then we had better spend more time and energy seeking ways to obey the Scriptures, than we do seeking a way to set them aside.

This book (of Job) should help us gain a clearer view of what true spirituality looks like in earthly terms. It certainly denies the popular teaching of the “prosperity gospel.” According to God, Job was the most righteous man on the face of the earth. Did that mean that he would assuredly enjoy a life of ease and prosperity? Not necessarily. Did it mean that he would not have times when he was totally mystified as to what God was doing in his life? It did not. Did it mean that there would not be times when godly saints have unanswered questions, and press God for the answers? If so, then there were a number of unspiritual psalmists, who poured out their hearts to God when life was a mystery and when God did not seem to be answering.18 True spirituality is trusting God, especially in those times when His hand seems harsh, and when we have no idea what God is doing.

A final word to those who may be reading this who have not yet come to trust in Jesus Christ as God’s only means of forgiveness of our sins, and of gaining entrance into His heaven. Christian faith is not fair-weather faith, which only holds up when things are going our way. Christian faith is rooted in the character of God and the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. This saving faith is such that it will endure difficulties and suffering which is beyond human imagination – suffering like that of Job. If you want a faith that will survive the tests and trials of life, then only faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will do.

At this moment we are in the midst of a global pandemic. While there are many speculations as to the reasons for this dilemma, the fact is that we know two things or certain: (1) God has purposed to use it for our good and His glory, and (2) We can trust Him to enable us to persevere in the midst of these current trials and adversities. Saving faith, rooted in the grace of God and the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ, endures all things.

1 Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory. 3 Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance, character, and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. 6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 (For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die.) 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, because we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from God’s wrath. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life? 11 Not only this, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation (Romans 5:1-11).

Job’s struggles with God greatly increased the longer his suffering persisted. I believe that we are now at the point in the Pandemic where our faith should be most evident. May we acknowledge God’s hand in this, and trust that He is doing this for our good, and His glory.

1 I have shared this story before, but it is worth repeating since it nicely introduces the story of Job’s humbling in our text.


3 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible.


5 The same thing could be said of Jonah, as it regards the authorship of the book bearing his name.

6 I am reminded of Isaiah 14:12-20 and Ezekiel 28:11-19 where the initial reference is to a king (the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14:4, and the king of Tyre in Ezekiel 28:12), but quickly the description of the person addressed changes to Satan himself. So, too, this “dragon” seems to personify Satan himself, who is surely at the root of Job’s suffering.

7 We should also remember that the first creation is but the “first act,” and that God will bring about a “new creation” (Isaiah 65:17) that is clearly His handiwork.

8 Compare Proverbs 8:22-31.

9 The ostrich may have been something Job had spent some time observing, based on Job 30:29.

10 Some translations differ here (from stork), but for our purposes, it is of little consequence.

11 Actually, this appears to be a part of a mating ritual. We might not be impressed, but the female ostrich will be.

12 See, for example,;


14 I do not wish to be misunderstood here. Job’s righteous deeds, as described in chapters 1 and 2, are not the root, the source, of his righteousness, but these are the fruit of his righteousness. This is what we see in Ephesians 2:8-10.

15 The theological term, “substitutionary atonement” simply means that someone or something else can atone (pay the penalty) for the sins of a person. The animal sacrifice which Job offered for his child atoned (covered) the sins of that child. Substitutionary atonement means that a substitute may bear the penalty for one’s sins (see 2 Corinthians 5:21).

16 See John 1:29, 36.

17 See 1 Peter 1:18-19

18 See, for example, Psalm 4:2; 6:3; 13:1-2; 35:17; 74:10.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

网上牧师杂志–中文版(简体), SCh Ed, Issue 31 2019 年 春季

2019 春

A ministry of…

作者: Roger Pascoe 博士, 主席,
剑桥, 安省, 加拿大
邮箱: [email protected]

Part I:加强讲解式讲道





2.因为在例子中 “解释”和“应用”紧密相连。



















b) 教会历史、人物传记、见证。





  • 每个人都能从中找到认同
  • 它们是“真的”
  • 它们是当代的、相关的
  • 它们不需要解释就可以应用于生活


  • 人们的伤、愿望、需要、关系、职业以及困难
  • 当代的新闻、能触动人们心灵和良知的东西
  • 人们谈论什么、想什么、做什么
  • 人们怎样谈论、思想、行动和反应、
  • 你如何反应、思想、谈论和行动(因此你能够在自己里面找到和其他人认同的地方)。不需要总是特别地谈到自己,通常发生在你身上的事以及你如何行动也同样代表了其他人。

g) 文学手段比如修辞(类比、暗喻、比较和对比)、形象生动的描述、双关语。













这里有几个问题帮助你思想在哪里使用例子以及使用例子的次数和类型 [这些问题来自于Ramesh Richard的准备讲解式讲道(Baker),126]

a) 必须要用例子来澄清或解释讲道的一个要点或部分吗?

b) 例子能够回答听众“怎么样、为什么、什么时候”这种不言而喻的问题吗?

c) 例子使这个要点更可靠、可信、更容易接受吗?

d) 什么样的例子能够帮助听众来理解和应用这个要点?








D. 20个关于例子的做和不做












































Part II.能带来改变的领导


一个基督徒领袖看起来该是什么样的?从个人、性格、能力、态度、生活方式以及属灵等方面,他是怎样一个人?显然,提前3:1-7以及提多1:5-9给出了成为教会领袖属灵方面应具备的最基本要求。但是在我看来,这仅仅是最基本的要求。这并不是一个包含所有的列表,如果一个人满足了,就一定有资格成为教会领袖。我并不认为保罗希望我们把这当做一个清单来用,而不考虑其他的标准和要求。这个列表没有提到品格方面,比如谦卑、勇气或者智慧,而这些也是作为一个教会领袖需具备的重要方面;这里也没有提到领导才能(罗 12:8),然而一个领袖必须有这方面的属灵恩赐。





















  • 所罗门没有像上帝求财富,而求智慧(王上3:9)
  • 耶稣“渐渐长大,强健起来,充满智慧”(路2:40和“智慧和身量都一齐增长”(2:52
  • 使徒行转6章中的领袖“七个有好名声、被圣灵充满、智慧充足的人”(徒6:3
  • 使徒保罗祷告“愿你们在一切属灵的智慧悟性上,满心知道神的旨意”(西1:9)。
  • 谈到基督,保罗说,“所积蓄的一切智慧知识,都在他里面藏着”(西2:3
  • 我们也被劝导“你们要爱惜光阴,用智慧与外人交往”(西4:5



























  • 所多玛事件中的亚伯拉罕以及对罗得的拯救(创14:14f.)
  • 摩西,当他决定放弃埃及的享乐和权力的时候(来11:23-28)
  • 风暴中的保罗(徒27)









b) “看见那不能看见的主”,像摩西一样(来11:27),以及先祖,虽然他们没有得着所应许的,却从远处望见(来 11:13)。









Part III.讲道大纲

如果想听关于这些的英文讲道,请点击链接: Link 1 - 约 20:19-21; Link 2 - 约 20:21-23; Link 3 - 约 20:24-31

题目: 我看到了耶稣

主题: 复活的震撼和现实

要点 #3:耶稣的复活使恐惧变成勇气(19-23)


1. 耶稣的复活减轻了我们的恐惧(19-20)

a) 他说的话减轻了我们的恐惧 (19)

b) 他所做的减轻了我们的恐惧 (20)

2. 耶稣的复活激发了我们的勇气(21-23)

a) 他激发了我们的勇气去继续从事他的工作 (21)

b)他激发了我们的勇气去带着权柄讲论 (22-23)

要点#4: 耶稣的复活使不信成为信 (24-29)



a) 耶稣说的话是具体的证据 (26)

b) 耶稣所做的是具体的证据 (27a)

3. 具体的证据需要结论 (27b-29)


b) 从耶稣而来的极大的祝福尊贵了信心(29)

i) 看见而信是好的 (29a)

ii) 没有看见就信的更好 (29b)

结论 (30-31)

Related Topics: Pastors

網上牧師雜誌 – 中文版(繁體), TCh Ed, Issue 31 2019 年 春季

2019 春

A ministry of…

作者: Roger Pascoe 博士, 主席,
劍橋, 安省, 加拿大
郵箱:[email protected]

Part I:加強講解式講道





2.因為例子使 “解釋”和“應用”緊密相連。



















b) 教會歷史、人物傳記、見證。





  • 每個人都能從中找到認同
  • 它們是“真的”
  • 它們是當代的、相關的
  • 它們不需要解釋就可以應用於生活


  • 人們的傷、願望、需要、關係、職業以及困難
  • 當代的新聞、能觸動人們心靈和良知的東西
  • 人們談論什麼、想什麼、做什麼
  • 人們怎樣談論、思想、行動和反應、
  • 你如何反應、思想、談論和行動(因此你能夠在自己裡面找到和其他人認同的地方)。不需要總是特別地談到自己,通常發生在你身上的事以及你如何行動也同樣代表了其他人。

g) 文學手段比如修辭(類比、暗喻、比較和對比)、形象生動的描述、雙關語。













這裡有幾個問題幫助你思想在哪裡使用例子以及使用例子的次數和類型 [這些問題來自於Ramesh Richard的準備講解式講道(Baker),126]

a) 必須要用例子來澄清或解釋講道的一個要點或部分嗎?

b) 例子能夠回答聽眾“怎麼樣、為什麼、什麼時候”這種不言而喻的問題嗎?

c) 例子使這個要點更可靠、可信、更容易接受嗎?

d) 什麼樣的例子能夠幫助聽眾來理解和應用這個要點?








D. 20個關於例子的做和不做












































Part II.能帶來改變的領導


一個基督徒領袖看起來該是什麼樣的?從個人、性格、能力、態度、生活方式以及屬靈等方面,他是怎樣一個人?顯然,提前3:1-7以及提多1:5-9給出了成為教會領袖屬靈方面應具備的最基本要求。但是在我看來,這僅僅是最基本的要求。這並不是一個包含所有的列表,如果一個人滿足了,就一定有資格成為教會領袖。我並不認為保羅希望我們把這當做一個清單來用,而不考慮其他的標準和要求。這個列表沒有提到品格方面,比如謙卑、勇氣或者智慧,而這些也是作為一個教會領袖需具備的重要方面;這裡也沒有提到領導才能(羅 12:8),然而一個領袖必須有這方面的屬靈恩賜。





















  • 所羅門沒有像上帝求財富,而求智慧(王上3:9)
  • 耶穌“漸漸長大,強健起來,充滿智慧”(路2:40和“智慧和身量都一齊增長”(2:52
  • 使徒行轉6章中的領袖“七個有好名聲、被聖靈充滿、智慧充足的人”(徒6:3
  • 使徒保羅禱告“願你們在一切屬靈的智慧悟性上,滿心知道神的旨意”(西1:9)。
  • 談到基督,保羅說,“所積蓄的一切智慧知識,都在他裡面藏著”(西2:3
  • 我們也被勸導“你們要愛惜光陰,用智慧與外人交往”(西4:5



























  • 所多瑪事件中的亞伯拉罕以及對羅得的拯救(創14:14f.)
  • 摩西,當他決定放棄埃及的享樂和權力的時候(來11:23-28)
  • 風暴中的保羅(徒27)









b) “看見那不能看見的主”,像摩西一樣(來11:27),以及先祖,雖然他們沒有得著所應許的,卻從遠處望見(來 11:13)。









Part III.講道大綱

如果想聽關於這些的英文講道,請點選連結: Link 1 - 約 20:19-21; Link 2 - 約 20:21-23; Link 3 - 約 20:24-31

題目: 我看到了耶穌

主題: 復活的震撼和現實

要點 #3:耶穌的復活使恐懼變成勇氣(19-23)


1. 耶穌的復活減輕了我們的恐懼(19-20)

a) 他說的話減輕了我們的恐懼 (19)

b) 他所做的減輕了我們的恐懼 (20)

2. 耶穌的復活激發了我們的勇氣(21-23)

a) 他激發了我們的勇氣去繼續從事他的工作 (21)

b)他激發了我們的勇氣去帶著權柄講論 (22-23)

要點#4: 耶穌的復活使不信成為信 (24-29)



a) 耶穌說的話是具體的證據 (26)

b) 耶穌所做的是具體的證據 (27a)

3. 具體的證據需要結論 (27b-29)


b) 從耶穌而來的極大的祝福尊貴了信心(29)

i) 看見而信是好的 (29a)

ii) 沒有看見就信的更好 (29b)

結論 (30-31)

Related Topics: Pastors

Abraham: His Faith and His Failures (Expository Sermons On O.T. Characters)

This series of sermons will cover some of the main O.T. characters, beginning in Genesis with Noah, Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph. These sermons will not cover every account or incident in the lives of each person, but are selected (1) to give an overview of how God worked in their lives to accomplish his purposes; and (2) to learn important lessons about character and conduct as it relates to the people of God.

Amongst many other lessons in this series, one thing becomes abundantly clear, that the human heart does not change: it remains deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9). Nonetheless, God in his grace continues to reveal himself, often in remarkable ways, to finite, frail, and failing human beings whom he uses to represent him, to communicate his instructions and plans, to provide leadership to others, and, generally, to carry out his purposes as the drama of redemption unfolds through the progress of salvation history.

We will study characters like Joseph, who was ridiculed, sold as a slave, falsely accused and imprisoned, yet, ultimately, he was vindicated and exalted. We admire him and aspire to emulate his faith, patience, and steadfast endurance despite the circumstances, and, more importantly, we grow in our understanding of God and his ways with us. Conversely, we will study characters whose behavior and responses may surprise us, but in whom God still displays his grace and through whom God still sovereignly acts.

I hope that this series will bless you as much as it has me. It was a pleasure to preach these sermons and it is now a pleasure to share them with you in written form. May the Lord use them to encourage and inspire you as you serve him and faithfully “preach the word.”

Related Topics: Character Study, Failure, Faith

1. Hagar, Pt. 1: When Running Away Is Not the Answer (Gen. 16:1-16)

Related Media


As you read the Bible you discover that life is not always a bed of roses - things don’t always turn out the way you expect or want. Sometimes it’s because of our own ambition or disobedience. Sometimes life just seems to take a twist in the road. What do you do when that happens? Where do you turn?

Kay Arthur tells the story of her friend’s father while he was deer hunting in the wilds of Oregon. He was following an old logging road, nearly overgrown by the encroaching forest, cradling his rifle in the crook of his arm. It was nearly evening and he was just thinking about returning to camp when a noise exploded in the brush nearby.  Before he even had a chance to lift his rifle, a small blur of brown and white came shooting up the road straight for him. It all happened so fast that he hardly had time to think. He looked down and there was a little brown cottontail rabbit, utterly spent, crowded up against his legs between his boots. It just sat there, trembling all over; it didn’t budge. This was all very strange because wild rabbits are frightened of people and it’s not often that you’d ever actually see one, let alone have one come and sit at your feet.

While he was puzzling over this, another player entered the scene. Down the road, maybe 20 yards away, a weasel burst out of the brush. When it saw the hunter, and its intended prey sitting at his feet, the predator froze in its track, its mouth panting, and its eyes glowing red. That’s when he understood that he had stepped into a little life-and-death drama in the forest. The cottontail was a fugitive on the run, exhausted by the chase, only moments from death. This hunter was its last hope of refuge. Forgetting its natural fear and caution, the little animal instinctively crowded up against him for protection from the sharp teeth of its relentless enemy.

The little creature was not disappointed. The man raised his powerful rifle and deliberately shot into the ground just underneath the weasel. The animal seemed to leap almost straight into the air a couple of feet and then rocketed back into the forest as fast as its legs could carry it. For a while, the little rabbit didn’t stir. It just sat there, huddled at the man’s feet in the gathering twilight while he spoke gently to it. Soon the fugitive hopped away from its protector into the forest.

Where does a fugitive run when the predators of trouble, worry, and fear pursue you? Where do you hide when your past pursues you like a relentless wolf, seeking your destruction? Where do you seek protection when the weasels of temptation, corruption, and evil threaten to overtake you? Where do you turn when your life is full of darkness and you can’t see the light of day (Kay Arthur, Stories for the Heart, 251).

Know this: God turns our darkness into dawn. That’s the theme of this series on the life of Abraham. We’re going to see in the story of “Hagar: The flight of a fugitive” that in the darkest experiences of life, that’s where we discover God. The lesson in this passage is that even when you act in self-will, your life is still controlled by God. Notice first that…

1. When you act in self will, your life is infiltrated by the world (1-6a).

Sarah’s frustration dominates her thinking and actions. Her frustration, combined, I suppose, with a certain fear, stems from the fact that she is childless. As she laments her barren condition, she expresses her frustration: “And Sarai said to Abram, Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children (16:2a). This was a desperate predicament for a woman of that day. To be barren was to be under the judgement of God. For a woman to be infertile was to incur the disfavor of your husband.

Sarah’s frustration produces Sarah’s folly. Without any consultation with God, she proposes a foolish plan. She says to her husband: Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her (16:2b). She decides to produce a child through her maid, Hagar. We don’t know anything about Hagar’s family background. We know that she is Egyptian, perhaps an Egyptian slave girl. Most likely Sarah had acquired her when she and Abraham went down to Egypt because of the famine, when Abraham lied about Sarah being his sister (Gen. 12:10-13). Sarah’s logic here is that, “God has promised me a child (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:5), and since I have no child, cannot bear a child, and am too old to have a child, it must be God’s will to use another woman to fulfill his promise.”

Do you see what logic can do to you? It’s so easy to justify your actions of self-will as being God’s will, based on logic, human reasoning, circumstances, feelings, self-justification. Human beings have an enormous capacity to rationalize their decisions, actions, desires, and beliefs. Be very careful when you’re tempted to take matters into your own hands without consulting God. When faced with a dilemma, God should be the first person to turn to for wisdom and direction, not to our own resources.

Sarah’s folly advances to Sarah’s fulfillment. She puts her plan into action. 2cAnd Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. 3 So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abrams wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife (16:2c-3). She was legally entitled to do this with her servant and she was acting well within the customs and moral standards of the day. But she was acting in self-will, entirely independently of God, and wholly contrary to God’s standards for marriage and sexuality. This was entirely worldly thinking and behavior. This is what can happen when you act in self-will: your life can be infiltrated by the world’s standards, priorities, and values.

How much better it would have been if Sarah had trusted God to carry out his promise to make of Abraham a great nation. She certainly shouldn’t have considered giving a pagan, idolatrous Gentile to her husband to bear God’s promised child. This was a worldly alliance if ever there was one. The shame is that Abraham becomes an accomplice. Rather than exercise his leadership and express his trust in God, he agrees to Sarah’s plan: And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived (16:4a).

Abraham should have refused Sarah’s scheme. He should have obeyed God’s law and believed the divine promise. To attempt to produce the promised child through Hagar was lack of faith in God’s power and lack of trust in God’s word. So, be careful who you are influenced by. Abraham was influenced by Sarah, his wife, but her perspective was worldly, humanistic, self-willed. She wasn’t spiritually mature. She was concerned more with having a son than doing God’s will. She wasn’t a very good role model for Abraham to listen to.

Just when the plan seemed to be working, the plot thickens. Sarah hadn’t counted on Hagar’s reaction. Hagar had her own agenda. She used this unholy alliance to further her own interests. Nonetheless, we are somewhat sympathetic to Hagar because she appears to be the innocent victim of Sarah’s scheme. She acts as any worldly, unbeliever might act, with no regard for God’s moral standards and ready to better herself through selfish ambition. The flesh, the world, and the devil play themselves out through her but out of it all she comes to know God as her personal Saviour, her Redeemer.

Now Sarah’s plan began to unravel, because when (Hagar) saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress (16:4b). Even before she gave birth, Hagar’s attitude to Sarah changed, from subservience to scorn, from obedience to opposition. She saw that she could do what Sarah could not - i.e. conceive. This made her, in her own estimation, more valuable to Abraham than Sarah.

Hagar had been in this household now for, probably, at least 10 years. For 10 years she had worked as Sarah’s maid. Now she sees an opportunity to get ahead, to become more than just a servant. By having a child by Abraham she would become his wife! If she became his wife, she would have influence, control, freedom, power, and, more importantly, equality with Sarah. Do you see what happens when you fail to rely on God and act in self-will? 

(1) When you act in self-will, the world infiltrates your life. Abraham and Sarah had gone to Egypt 10 years before to satisfy their hunger during the famine instead of relying on God’s provision. And while they were there, the world infiltrated their life when they acquired Hagar - pagan thinking and pagan ways entered their home. Even though they had been back from Egypt for 10 years (16:3), the impact of dabbling with the world still remained.

(2) When you act in self-will, you adopt worldly thinking, like scheming, rationalizing, self-centeredness, selfish ambition.

(3) When you act in self-will, you practice worldly ways. The culture said it was alright for Abraham to have Hagar as a concubine. Everybody was doing it. But whenever a sexual relationship is established on any other basis than God’s plan for marriage, it causes irreparable harm. Abraham’s relationship with Hagar caused an immediate problem not only between Sarah and Hagar but also between Sarah and Abraham.

(4) When you act in self-will, you succumb to worldly ambition. It’s a fearful force in some people’s lives – to get ahead at any cost.

(5) When you act in self-will, you practice the works of the flesh. It’s impossible to live for God in the power of the Spirit when you’re living for self in the works of the flesh. If you act in the flesh you will probably react in the flesh as well.

Sarah certainly reacts in the flesh. She reacts in the flesh by blaming Abraham. And Sarai said to Abram, May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt (16:5a). She says: “Abraham, what were you thinking? I gave Hagar to you to produce a child – that’s all. But instead you’ve turned Hagar against me! Poor me! She hates me now.”

Sarah reacts in the flesh by blaming Abraham and she reacts in the flesh by passing the buck to God. Listen to her phony pious language. She says: May the Lord judge between you and me (16:5b). She says: “Let God judge whether I am at fault for suggesting the idea or whether you are at fault for heeding my advice.” Why didn’t she consider God before this? Where was her reliance on God’s judgement when she dreamed up the whole scheme to start with? Religious language is often used as a cover for thoroughly irreligious thoughts, motives, and actions.

Hagar also reacts in the flesh by scorning her mistress, despising the one whom she formerly honored and obeyed.

And Abraham reacts in the flesh by becoming callous and irresponsible. But Abram said to Sarai, Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please’” (16:6a). He says, “She’s your servant; you deal with the problem.” Whatever happened to all those 10 years of Hagar’s faithful service? Where is the relationship, the compassion and care for this servant? And what happened to taking responsibility for one’s own actions?

How easily we shirk responsibility! We take matters into our own hands and leave God out. Then we don’t like the consequences. One minute we’re acknowledging, like Sarah, that God has done such-and-such, and the next we’re acting independently in self-will. If she acknowledged that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children, why didn’t she consult God as to what to do about it? Why not wait on God for guidance? Why not recognize the providential hand of God?

When you mess up you need to repent, not blame somebody else for it, certainly not God! How often do we want to take the easy way out and let someone else deal with the consequences of our actions? How easily we cast people aside with no concern for their welfare, dispense with them like so much household waste.

Sarah’s folly could not be that easily remedied. Do you know that this one act started a rivalry between two people groups (Israelites and Arabs) that has lasted throughout history and which has caused oceans of blood to be shed ever since? All the result of Sarah’s folly.

When you act in self-will, your life is infiltrated by the world. And ...

2. When you act in self-will, your life is turned upside down (16:6b-9).

The folly of Sarah’s misguided plan precipitates Hagar’s flight. Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her (16:6b). Previously, Sarah feared being despised by Abraham for her infertility and she misused Hagar to carry out her sordid scheme. Now, Sarah is despised by Hagar and she mistreats Hagar, again. In fact, she mistreats her so badly that Hagar flees as a fugitive. Hagar’s life has gone from riches to rags, from being a maid to the wife of a wealthy man, to a single, pregnant, homeless, despondent woman on the run. All of these conditions are hard and depressing. Being single and pregnant is hard and depressing. Being homeless is hard and depressing. Being on the run is hard and depressing. Being single, pregnant, homeless, and on the run is a recipe for  disaster.

How quickly your life can be turned upside down! One minute you’re living in the lap of luxury; the next, you don’t know where your next meal is coming from. One minute you have a kind boss and good job prospects; the next, you’re cast aside, out on your ear. One minute you’re part of a loving family; the next, you’re caught in the middle of a family feud. One minute you’re single and free; the next, your pregnant and tied down. One minute everything is looking rosy; the next minute your world is dark and bleak.

How do you deal with that? Where do you turn when your life is turned upside down? One thing you don’t do is run away into the wilderness. That’s an act of self-will, taking matters into your own hands. The wilderness is no place to be when you’re in trouble, distressed, desperate; when you’re vulnerable, isolated, despondent. That’s when you need protection, care, support, community.

Hagar flees into the wilderness of Shur where the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur (16:7). There are times in our lives when we find ourselves in the wilderness, in a lonely place. Sometimes people act foolishly towards us. Sometimes we act foolishly towards God and other people. And sometimes we react by fleeing as a fugitive, only to find ourselves in the desert, abandoned and alone. When we hit rock bottom, those are the times when God steps in, assuring us of his favor and showing us that he is still in control.

And (the Lord) said, Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?’” (16:8a). She knows where she came from but she doesn’t know where she’s going. “She said, I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai’” (16:8b). Life for her was full of uncertainty; she didn’t know the future. She had started down a one-way street and now it’s turning out to be a dead-end with nowhere to turn. The only way Hagar can turn with certainty is backwards. “The angel of the Lord said to her, Return to your mistress and submit to her’” (16:9). All that Hagar had and was came from being Sarah’s maid. That was her identity, her position in life. She had left that position without notice or permission and she must return to that position. It wouldn’t be easy to return but it would be right. It was wrong to be rejected, but it was right to go back and face the music. Though Sarah had wronged her, she must not retaliate with another wrong. That’s the result of self-will and personal ambition, not God’s direction. Hagar was as ambitious as Sarah was independent and both character traits lead to trouble.

When you carry out your own independent plans without consulting God, you can expect your life to be turned upside down. When you’re ambitious to improve yourself and get ahead without God’s leading, you may suddenly find yourself in a desert place - lonely, isolated, depressed, desperate. When you act in self-will, the only solution is to repent, turn back to God, and be obedient. It may not be easy but it’s right.

First, then, when you act in self-will your life is infiltrated by the world. Second, when you act in self-will your life is turned upside down. But know this…

3. When you act in self-will, your life is still controlled by God (16:10-14).

After Sarah’s folly and Hagar’s flight, then we see God’s favor. When everything looks black, God turns darkness into dawn. “10 The angel of the Lord also said to her, I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude. 11 And the angel of the Lord said to her, Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has listened to your affliction. 12 He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyones hand against him,
and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen’” (16:10-12).

God is the One who hears. That’s what “Ishmael” means. God is the One who cares for and comforts the desperate and the homeless, who pours grace into troubled hearts, who turns darkness into dawn. He pours his grace into Hagar’s heart by giving her a promise of his favor, that she would be the mother of a great nation. Her child would not be the child of the promise made to Abraham, but the child of a promise made directly to her. But there would be consequences to her actions - her son would be a “wild” man.

That which is born of the flesh is flesh; it cannot be controlled. Ishmael was the product of an utterly fleshly, worldly union. He was the product of a blatantly unequal yoke between a believer and an unbeliever. You cannot mix faith and flesh, law and grace, promise and works.

In the midst of our darkness and despair, God is “the One who hears” and God is the One who sees. 13 So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You are a God of seeing, for she said, Truly here I have seen him who looks after me. 14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered (16:13-14). God had “heard” Hagar and he had “seen” her. He knew all about her. And Hagar had “seen” God, even in the desert and darkness of her life. No wonder she called the well Beer-lahai-roi, “the well of him who lives and sees me.” This idolatrous, unbelieving Gentile now knew that God was alive and active in her life. He is not the God of the Jews only but of the Gentiles also.

Concluding Remarks

In the darkest experiences of our lives, that’s where we discover God, his constant care and sovereign control. Remember: Even when you act in self-will, your life is still controlled by God. In the deepest extremities of desolation and brokenness, we come face to face with God and we find fellowship, nearness, instruction, comfort, hope, communion, acceptance, and relationship. In the places where we least expect to meet God, he manifests himself to us - he bestows his favor on us; he strengthens us, comforts us, and encourages us to face the hardest and darkest experiences of life; he hears our cry and sees our circumstances. In his presence the desert becomes an oasis where we receive refreshing, spiritual renewal that enables us to go back and face the realities of life. And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram (16:15-16).

If you’re not a Christian, you’re in the desert without God. You need God. He  knows all about you and he is in full control of your life. You need God for salvation through Christ.

If you are a Christian, you may also be in a desert place today, but you are not alone. Perhaps you’ve acted in self-will and your life has turned upside down as a result. Perhaps you’re experiencing dark circumstances in your life. You don’t know where to turn. You feel abandoned and desperate. Perhaps you’re facing a health crisis, or financial obligations you can’t meet, or sexual temptations that won’t go away. Perhaps you’re struggling spiritually with your relationship to God, with what the Christian life is about, with what God wants you to do with your life. Perhaps you’re making a heavy decision about a marriage partner or career. Whatever your situation, Christ turns darkness into dawn. He is with you to instruct you and encourage you. The barriers of darkness can be broken today. You can receive Christ’s comfort, strength, encouragement, and care.

If you need to meet with God, why don’t you take this moment to confess that sin that has caused darkness in your life, to cast yourself on the Lord for his direction and protection and provision, to repent of your self-will and neglect of God in your life, to ask God for relief from the dark circumstances of your life, or to pray for friends and family who desperately stand in need of God. Will you do that today?

Related Topics: Character Study, Failure, Faith

2. Hagar, Pt. 2: When Troubles Won’t Go Away (Gen. 21:8-21)

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In the last lesson from Abraham’s life (Gen. 16:1-16), we learned the principle that “even when you act in self-will, your life is still controlled by God.” We saw that Sarah’s frustration and folly led to the fulfillment of her ill-conceived plan, choosing to rely on her own scheme to overcome her barrenness by having a baby (Isaac) through the illicit union of her husband, Abraham, and her maid, Hagar. The plan backfired and caused nothing but turmoil and resentment in the household. So Sarah treated Hagar harshly, causing her to flee from the household like a fugitive. But then, God’s favor turned toward Hagar in her hour of darkness, because God is the God who turns darkness into dawn.

Now we move on to another dark experience in Abraham’s and Hagar’s lives. By now, Isaac has been born and Abraham’s household becomes a place of euphoria and celebration (21:1-7). First, there was euphoria over Isaac’s birth in Abraham’s and Sarah’s old age. Now, some 3 years later, there is great celebration over Isaac’s weaning. But how quickly everything changes. The euphoria turns to conflict (21:9), indignation (21:10), and finally Hagar’s banishment (21:14).

In the December 31, 1989, edition of the Chicago Tribune, the editors printed their photos of the decade. One of them, by Michael Fryer, captured a grim fireman and paramedic carrying a fire victim away from the scene. The blaze, which happened in Chicago in December 1984, at first seemed routine. But then firefighters discovered the bodies of a mother and five children huddled in the kitchen of an apartment. Fryer said the firefighters surmised, “She could have escaped with two or three of the children but couldn’t decide who to pick. She chose to wait with all of them for the firefighters to arrive. All of them died of smoke inhalation.” (From the story: “Times When It Is Hard to Leave”).

Sometimes it’s hard to say goodbye to those we love. You see it in the TV images of people heartbroken for loved ones, not giving up hope that they may still be alive, and desperately not wanting to say “good bye.” It’s hard to let go of those you love, whose company you enjoy. Sometimes family members come for a visit. You look forward to them coming for so long and all of a sudden it’s over, and you’re sad to see them go. Time moves on so quickly; things change so suddenly.

That’s how it was in Abraham’s household in this story as he bids goodbye to Hagar and Ishmael. We will see once more that God turns darkness into dawn. But notice this principle carefully that as darkness comes before the dawn, so trouble often precedes triumph. Trouble comes from all kinds of sources…

1. Trouble often finds it source in our bad attitudes (21:8-10): Sarah’s resentment.

Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing (21:9). Evidently, Ishmael has been tantalizing Isaac (whether verbally, physically, or both we don’t know), ridiculing him, scoffing at him, and this has caught Sarah’s attention. Ishmael is a teenager by now, probably 16-17 years old. According to Gen. 17:24, Abraham was 99 when he was circumcised and Ishmael was 13 at that time. Isaac was born the next year (when Abraham was 100 and Ishmael 14). Isaac would be weaned at about 2-3 years old. Therefore, Ishmael would have been 16-17 at this time.

Ishmael can see what is happening in the family. All his life he had probably been told that he was the child of God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah. But when he found out that Sarah was pregnant, perhaps he knew that it was not so. Now Isaac becomes the centre of attention. This incites Ishmael’s jealousy and anger against Isaac. Ishmael feels victimized and deceived, supplanted. Unfortunately, he has adopted his mother’s attitude. Just as Hagar despised Sarah (16:4), so now Ishmael despises Isaac. You can see how much a child’s environment affects their behavior and attitudes - like mother, like son.

But the problem isn’t so much Ishmael’s scoffing as it is Sarah’s bad attitude. She has never judged her resentment toward Hagar and Ishmael, so that when conflict occurs in the family home, the same emotion quickly resurfaces and the same solution is quickly demanded again: “Get this slave woman and her son out of my house!”

Some people become bitter very easily and then they find it hard to repent of it. They continue to express their resentment, sometimes even years later. Bitterness and resentment are powerful emotional forces. If you become resentful, know this: the same feelings and reactions can quickly rise to the surface again. They always seems to lie just beneath the surface, ready to explode. The apostle Paul says, Be angry and sin not. Do not let the sun go down on your wrath (Eph. 4:26). In other words, do not let anger become sin by nursing it, enjoying it, using it for selfish purposes, or by becoming angry over things we ought not to be angry about. Instead, put a limit on your emotions; put a time limit so that your anger is judged and finished. “Don’t go to bed mad”; bring it to an end. Our emotions are powerful forces in our lives. God has given them to us but not for them to be used sinfully or to go unchecked. It’s sad that our anger is often misdirected. We don’t become angry about things we should and we become angry about things we should not. We should be angry over things that make God angry, but we usually become angry over things that we don’t like.

Sarah’s bad attitude now boils over into her deep-seated resentment. She orders Abraham to cast out this slave woman with her son(21:10a). The word Sarah uses here for slave woman indicates that Hagar’s position in the family has advanced. Hagar is no longer merely a shiphhah, a female slave (16:1-3), but now she is an amah, a maidservant. For all practical purposes Hagar is Abraham’s second wife (16:3b), whose son, Ishmael, under cuneiform law, has a legal claim to Abraham’s estate.

Sarah’s resentment evidently focuses on the family inheritance. She isn’t merely indignant about Ishmael’s scoffing at Isaac, but, more specifically, about the matter of the inheritance, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son, Isaac (21:10b). Perhaps that was always at the root of her bad attitude, and now she gives expression to it. She says: “There’s no way that this son of a maidservant is going to share in the inheritance with my son.” Sarah is actually asking Abraham to disinherit Ishmael, his firstborn son.

Resentment can cause us to have a bad attitude. And a bad attitude can cause us to be very critical, to say things we wouldn’t normally say. Resentment tends to do that. It loosens your tongue to say things that are very caustic, vitriolic. Sarah had not raised the matter of the inheritance before but her bad attitude causes her to find and see things that weren’t issues previously.

Resentment over money often divides families. So often money issues lie at the root of squabbles and resentment. The Bible says that The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:10). So, be sure that it doesn’t get hold of your heart as it did Sarah’s.

Trouble often finds its source in our bad attitudes. And…

2. Trouble often finds its source in our bad decisions: Abraham’s predicament (21:11-14a).

Abraham’s bad decision, when he agreed to Sarah’s scheme with Hagar, is now affecting his state of mind. The thing / matter was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son (21:11). His attitude is now deteriorating. He also has undoubtedly witnessed Ishmael’s ridicule of Isaac, on account of which he is most disturbed and distressed.

Notice the predicament that one bad decision can initiate. His bad decision initiates Abraham’s tense relationships. Now he has a blended family, which often causes conflict. Ishmael is as much a son of Abraham as Isaac is, but not so for Sarah. Abraham is caught in the middle between Sarah and Isaac on one hand and Hagar and Ishmael on the other; between what is legal and illegal; between what is right and what is hard; between his love for Ishmael and his love for Sarah. What Abraham thought was long past comes back to haunt him.

In the midst of his predicament, we see Abraham’s remorse over the bad decision he had made earlier. He must have said to himself a million times: “I wish I had never done what Sarah asked me to do with Hagar. If only I could relive that part of my life. Won’t this problem ever go away?” He sounds like David in Ps. 51:3b. Now he is reaping the consequences of his previous irresponsibility, lack of leadership, and distrust of God.

Bad decisions sometimes produce lifetime scars. Most of us experience the results of past sins (either our own or the impact on us of others’ sins). Abraham sinned in his intimacy with Hagar and he was deeply impacted by Sarah’s bad attitude – her scheming, bitterness, jealousy, resentment. We reap what we sow: it’s the law of the harvest (Gal. 6:7). Sins committed in haste and self-will often continue to haunt us. We get caught in the web of our own weaving. Sins that are forgiven often have consequences that live on. “Though every act of sin is forgivable, the effects of some are not erasable” (Chuck Swindoll, “Abraham”, 110), such as drug abuse, promiscuity, criminal acts. Nonetheless, if we repent, God takes the burden and brings relief. He turns the darkness of our lives into the dawn of his deliverance.

In the midst of his remorse, God brings Abraham’s relief. “God said to Abraham, Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named (21:12). Sarah is right, but for the wrong reason. Abraham is to banish Hagar and Ishmael not because Ishmael has done anything to deserve disinheritance, nor because of Sarah’s resentment, but because of God’s sovereign decree that his promise to Abraham will take place through Isaac. So long as Hagar and Ishmael live in Abraham’s house there would be no peace, nor would Abraham be able to focus on raising Isaac, the child of promise.

Sometimes obedience to God involves letting things go - things that we don’t even know are a hindrance to us; things that are sometimes very dear to us (as Ishmael was to Abraham); things that weigh heavily on our consciences, which we have to deal with and let them go. For some 14 years, Abraham had been under a false impression that Ishmael was the promised child (15:5; 16:10; 17:18). Now he knows otherwise. Nonetheless, it’s still hard to let Ishmael go. Undoubtedly, Abraham must have thought: “He’s still my son. Hagar is my second wife. And they have nowhere to go. How can I do this? I can’t let them go!”

Sometimes the way to correct our bad decisions means making hard decisions. Many times God’s ways aren’t easy for us to accept. Sometimes he uses our bad decisions for his purposes. Perhaps you have an Ishmael in your life. You’ve held on to something for years, as Abraham had held on to Ishmael and it’s hard to let it go because it’s dear to you. Sometimes, obeying God isn’t easy and it is particularly not easy when we have to do something hard to correct something we did wrong. Our affections and desires get in the way and our past keeps coming back. We don’t understand how it will all work out. We keep asking: “Why? What’s the purpose of this experience? It all looked so good at the beginning and now you’re taking it all away. This is a burden too great for me to bear.”

But Abraham wouldn’t have to live the rest of his life under this burden of guilt. Notice how God brings relief to Abraham’s burden by giving him a promise about Ishmael: And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring (21:13). God, not Abraham, would take care of Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham could let the burden go, roll it off onto God. Ishmael would lose his family rights as a son but he would gain a national right as the father of the Arab people. Ishmael would lose his inheritance of property but gain an inheritance of a nation. Ishmael would be cut off from what is his by legal right but be connected to what is his only by God’s promise. Why? Because he is your offspring. Such is the grace of God to Abraham. Despite Abraham’s failure to live up to his responsibilities last time, God will fulfill his promises to him concerning both his sons.

No matter what the consequences of our past sins, God brings relief. If we accept the consequences of those sins and wait upon God, he pours his grace into our lives. Sometimes God removes the cause of the problem so that we can live happily in his will. Sometimes the cause of the problem can’t be removed because we have taken actions which are irreversible and to try to reverse them would be to commit another sin. But God forgives when we accept responsibility and confess our sin, so that we no longer live with the burden of guilt even though we may live with the burden of reality and its  consequences.

Abraham’s remorse turns into Abraham’s relief and finally to Abraham’s responsibility. So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away (21:14a). He is distressed over Sarah’s excessive demand but he responds in obedience to God. Little does he know what God is going to require of him in the next chapter – to sacrifice his son of promise. And yet again Abraham will act in perfect obedience. So here, he does what he has to do but with care and concern for the two of them.

He gives Hagar the basic staples of life (bread and water) and entrusts Ishmael to her care. But bread and water will provide little solace either for their physical or emotional well-being in the life-threatening rigors of the desert. Undoubtedly heart-broken by this tragedy, he sends them away but not in the way or with the anger that Sarah displayed. Instead of hostility there is love. Instead of resentment there is remorse and regret.

Trouble often finds its source in our bad attitudes and in our bad decisions.  And…

3. Trouble often finds its source in our bad circumstances: Hagar’s banishment (21:14b-16).

Sarah’s resentment produced Abraham’s predicament and, finally, Hagar’s banishment. She departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba (21:14b). These were bad circumstances to say the least.

Maybe Hagar forgot God’s promise about her son (16:10). After all that was some 16 or 17 years ago, when God had spoken to her at the spring in the wilderness on the way to Shur. By now she probably believed, like Abraham, that Ishmael was the son of promise. She is probably unaware that God just renewed his promise about Ishmael in 21:13 in order to bring comfort to Abraham. In any event God’s promise probably seemed patently absurd to her now. After all, that was then and this is now. That was the dim and distant past and this is the here and now. She needed to deal with the reality of the present.

You can’t live just on memories of the “good old days”, you know. The reality is that she and her son are both about to die and she is about to face the deepest darkness of her life. Wandering in the wilderness” doubly underscores her darkness. It’s bad enough to wander hopelessly, like a straying animal, lost, not knowing where you’re going. But to wander in the wilderness would fill you with abject terror.

When I flew to Zambia a few years ago, I looked out of the window of the plane and saw the Sahara desert stretching out as far as the eye could see, nothing but mountains of sand, no sign of life. To be abandoned in the wilderness would be a scary prospect.

Soon the moment of total abandonment and darkness comes. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes (21:15). Under the scorching heat, with no shelter and the water supply exhausted, Hagar places Ishmael in the only shade she can find - a desert shrub. What can be more bleak and hopeless than for a mother to place her son under a desert bush and then watch him die. Obviously, she could not carry Ishmael for he is a teenager, but she could help place him in his weakness under a shrub. She takes the very best care of Ishmael that she can, denying herself the only shade that was available.

Powerless to stop the inevitable she sits at a distance awaiting Ishmael’s death. “Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot, for she said,Let me not look on the death of the child.And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept (21:16). All she could do is sit and wait. She can’t even bear to watch, incapable of preventing certain death. Surely she doesn’t deserve this treatment, this fate, despite her attitude toward Sarah and Ishmael’s attitude toward Isaac.

Sometimes the promises of God ring hollow in our experiences, don’t they? They must have been so for Hagar at this moment. “Where is God when I need him? It’s all very well for God to make these grandiose promises, but I need action!”

Trouble often finds its source in our bad attitudes, in our bad decisions, and in our bad circumstances. But remember: As darkness comes before the dawn, so trouble often precedes triumph. And in this lesson it is so, for…

4. Trouble always finds its solution in God’s intervention: Hagar’s encouragement (21:17-21).

For the second time in Hagar’s life God displays his goodness to her. Sarah’s resentment has led to Abraham’s predicament, to Hagar’s banishment and, finally, to Hagar’s encouragement as God intervenes in her life again to disclose to her a promise concerning Ishmael’s future. First, God hears again: “And God heard the voice of the boy” (21:17a). “Ishmael” means “the God who hears”.  God heard the cry of the dying boy and the wail of Hagar’s heart. Then, God speaks again: “And the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is” (21:17b). These are words of comfort: “What’s wrong, what troubles you, Hagar? Don’t be afraid.” Just as God assured Abraham that he need not fear in sending Hagar away (21:12), so now God assures Hagar that she need not fear. Then, God promises again: “Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation” (21:18). Ishmael is not going to die as Hagar expected. Just as God fulfilled his promise to Abraham concerning a son of promise, even when Abraham was as good as dead (Heb. 11:12), so God fulfills his promise to Hagar (16:10) when Ishmael is as good as dead also. Now, in the midst of the ordeal, she hears God’s promise again that Ishmael will become a great nation. What God had told Abraham to give him assurance in sending them away, he now repeats for Hagar’s encouragement.

This is the principle of how God works. First the ordeal, then the revelation. First the suffering, then the solution. First the trouble, then the triumph. First the darkness of defeat, then the dawn of victory. And that’s when God takes action again. “Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink” (21:19).God is active and in control even in such a dark situation. God became a husband to Hagar (cf. Isa. 54:5) and a father to Ishmael (cf. Ps. 68:5-6). He not only promises the future but provides for the present. He gives them not only a promise but practical provision – the water of life. Just as he provided Elijah with a cake and a jar of water (1 Kgs. 19:6), so he blesses Ishmael with a drink and a destiny. The well was there all the time but Hagar couldn’t see it. As soon as God opened her eyes, she satisfied her son’s thirst - he is her first concern and responsibility.

When we exhaust our resources, our tendency is to sit down and cry. Well remember, God still has a lot of options left. Our bad circumstances blind us to the provision God has made. In order to see God’s plan, all we need to do is open our eyes. And when we open our eyes, we see that God was involved all along.

God hears, God speaks, God promises, God acts, and, lastly, God blesses again. “20 And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow. 21 He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt” (21:20-21). The story begins with Isaac’s growth as a child (21:8), but now Ishmael grows from a youth to a man. God is with the boy, and he grew up. There is intimacy, care, divine presence - not merely a voice from heaven – and there is nourishment. What was once a place of dark banishment into a hostile wilderness / desert, becomes Ishmael’s home.

To survive in the wilderness requires skill and Ishmael’s skill is that of an archer. The bowshot that once marked the distance between him and his mother (21:16) now becomes his means of survival in the Wilderness of Paran (21:20). In this little detail we see the wonderful literary skill with which this story is written.

In Hagar’s final responsibility to Ishmael, she chooses a wife for him (21:21). He would never be left alone in the desert. Isn’t it ironic that Hagar, who had no choice of a husband and was thrust into a relationship with someone of a different race and religion,  now takes a wife for her son from their own people, the Egyptians? She had far more spiritual discernment than Sarah did in giving an Egyptian to her husband.

Final Remarks

Remember: As darkness comes before the dawn, so trouble often precedes triumph. God is the God who turns darkness into dawn. The God who heard Ishmael’s cry is the God who hears us when we cry. The God who spoke from heaven is the God who speaks to us through his Word. The God who renewed his promise to Hagar is the God who daily renews to us his precious promises. The God who took action in the wilderness is the God who acts in our wildernesses. The God who blessed Ishmael is the God who blesses us abundantly in and through Christ.

Our privilege and resource in the darkness of our lives is to cry to God, to listen for his voice, to be comforted by his promises, to watch him act, and to receive his blessing. When the circumstances are the darkest, God hears our cry and speaks words of comfort and encouragement; God takes action and opens our eyes to see his power; God is with us even when we can’t see him.

Perhaps you are passing through particularly dark times. Perhaps there are things in your life that you aren’t facing up to. Perhaps there is unconfessed sin in your life of which you have not repented. Perhaps you haven’t changed what needs to be changed. Perhaps you haven’t appropriated God’s grace in your life. Perhaps you see other people as the source of all your problems. Whatever it is, make sure that you deal with it before God today; be reconciled to God through faith in Christ. Don’t allow bitterness and resentment to control your life. Be willing to forgive others. Embrace the grace of God in all its fullness. Trust his precious promises.

Remember the lesson of this story, that as darkness comes before the dawn, so trouble often precedes triumph. Sinful consequences may disturb us but they need not defeat us. Marital conflicts may disrupt us but they need not destroy us. Personal confusion may disarm us but it need not demoralize us. No matter how dark the days may be, God never changes. He is always there when we turn to him. In those times when we can’t see his hand, we can trust his heart.

P. Gerhardt (1607-1676) wrote a hymn that John Wesley translated which sums up how we need to trust God through the dark times as well as the good.

Through waves, through clouds and storms,
God gently clears the way;
We wait His time; so shall the night
Soon end in blissful day.

He everywhere hath sway,
And all things serve His might;
His every act pure blessing is,
His path unsullied light.

When He makes bare His arm,
Who shall His work withstand?
When He His people’s cause defends,
Who then shall stay His hand?

We leave it to Himself
To choose and to command,
With wonder filled, we soon shall see
How wise, how strong His hand.

We comprehend Him not,
Yet earth and heaven tell
God sits as sovereign on the throne,
And ruleth all things well.

Related Topics: Character Study, Failure, Faith

3. When Faith Passes the Test (Gen. 22:1-19)

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Most of us don’t like tests and we certainly don’t like failing them. I grew up in England and at eleven years old we had to write an exam called the “Eleven Plus.” This exam determined whether I would go to a grammar school or a technical school. I remember my dad’s relentless tutoring in the evenings to prepare me for this exam. Surprisingly, I passed! Then, a few years later, I remember writing another set of important exams at sixteen years old called “O” (ordinary) levels. This time the results were miserable. Then came university undergraduate exams, then seminary graduate exams followed by post-graduate exams. I think the worst kind of school tests were those surprise tests that teachers sometimes give. You can probably remember when the teacher would come into the classroom and, without warning, announce: “Today we’re going to have a quiz” and your heart would sink.

God gives tests and usually without warning. More than likely you can pass a test if you prepare for it, but the real test as to whether you know your stuff is if you’re tested without warning. That’s what God does sometimes. Sometimes God tests us when we’re unprepared, off-guard, when no one’s looking, to see if in private we’re the same as we look in public; to see if we truly believe what we say or whether it is just a good show for others. Sometimes God tests us with circumstances or challenges that make no sense to us, to see if our love for him is really what we say it is; to see if we trust him the way we say we trust him. In that situation, do you really trust the providence of God; do you really believe in the sovereignty of God?

Just when we’re hanging onto something tightly, that’s often when God comes in with a test. That’s when God asks: “Do you love me more than these - more than this car, this house, this career, this hobby, this sport?”

How tightly are you holding onto “things”? It’s easy to say “I give everything to you, Lord”, without really meaning it. It’s easy to sing “all the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to his blood,” but do you? Sometimes “things” get such a hold of us, we can’t let go. Those are the times when God checks up on us to test the authenticity of our faith and our love for him. Sometimes those tests are hard. Sometimes we pass them and sometimes we fail them. Sometimes life makes no sense. That’s the way it was in the life of Abraham.

After these things… (22:1a). After the miraculous birth of the promised child, Isaac; after the banishment of Ishmael and Hagar into the wilderness; after the restoration of relationships in the family; after finding peace with God about God’s promise through Isaac. Just when Abraham thought that everything had settled down, that the past was finally past, that he could look forward to a glorious future, that he had it all figured out, After these things God tested Abraham and said to him,Abraham!And he said,Here I am(22:1).

God is a jealous God. He demands our absolute affection and loyalty. He won’t tolerate idols in our lives, even things that are good. He tests Abraham to see if God is first in Abraham’s life or whether Isaac means more to Abraham than God himself.

God had tested Abraham before and Abraham had failed three times. He tested Abraham’s obedience to God with a famine (Gen. 12) and Abraham failed in his obedience by going down to Egypt. He tested Abraham’s faith in God when the birth of the promised son was delayed (Gen. 16) and Abraham failed in his faith by having a son by Hagar. He tested Abraham’s fear of God when Abimelech took Sarah (Gen. 20) and Abraham failed in his fear of God by lying that she was his sister.

When you fail a test three times, it doesn’t look good for the fourth try, especially when that test will involve all three tests you’ve already failed. That can be a very dark time in your life: “Will I pass or fail?” But know this: When your faith passes the test, God renews his blessing. Notice firstly that…

1. When God Tests Our Faith, He Frequently Defies Our Logic (22:1-2).

You’ve all probably suffered the agony of buying something in the store that you had to put together when you got home, only to find that the instructions didn’t make any sense and you had to phone an 800 number to figure it out. God’s threefold instruction makes no sense to Abraham.

Gods instructions defy logic about who to take.He said,Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love’” (22:2a). Notice how this instruction gets progressively more intense. “Take your son… your only son… your only son Isaac, whom you love.” Here’s the issue: this child was becoming an object of affection in Abraham’s heart that was competing with God’s exclusive claims on Abraham’s heart.

By this time, Isaac is probably late teens to mid-twenties. He’s certainly no baby anymore. Over the years Abraham’s love for his son has grown and intensified. First,  he loves the baby promised from God. Then, he loves a son born in his old age. Now, he loves the progenitor of a great nation. Why would God now ask Abraham to take this special child of promise to offer him as a sacrifice? God’s instructions defy logic about who to take.

Gods instructions defy logic about where to go. …go to the land of Moriah (22:2b). Abraham had followed God’s instruction where to go years before when he left his home in Ur of the Chaldees to go to the unknown land of Canaan (Gen. 12). Now once again, he must travel from his home in Beersheba to the unknown land of Moriah, a place known only to God. Why would God ask Abraham to go to this unknown place?

Gods instructions defy logic about what to do. …offer him (Isaac) there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you(22:2c). A burnt offering was a sacrificial offering. It cost the worshipers something. It made atonement for the sins of the worshipers. It produced a sweet aroma to God. It signified total commitment, the only offering that consumed the entire animal on the altar (cf. Lev. 1). That’s the kind of offering God wants - an offering that costs us everything, nothing held back.

These instructions beg two important questions: (1) Will Abraham obey God and offer his son, knowing full well that Isaac is the only person who can perpetuate the promise of God? Abraham has just lost one child, now he is about to lose the other. He lost Ishmael to the wilderness, now he is about to lose Isaac to the altar. He has just banished Ishmael at Sarah’s command, now he is about to banish Isaac at God’s command. (2) Will God protect and provide for Isaac as he did for Ishmael? Will God resolve this dilemma?

It raises an additional corollary question: Why a child sacrifice? Wasn’t this pagan and contrary to God’s own law (Lev. 20:2-3; Deut. 18:10)? Perhaps God demanded this of Abraham to make the test even harder to understand and obey. But the question resolves itself if we focus on the whole narrative, not just the command. God never did require the slaying of Abraham’s son, because he provided a substitute.

Certainly, none of this made any sense to Abraham. It was contradictory to and inconsistent with (a) Sarah’s miraculous conception; (b) the banishment of Ishmael; and (c) God’s promise of descendants through Isaac. And now God was telling him to sacrifice this promised son? It defied logic: it  made no sense.

When God tests our faith, he often defies our logic. Perhaps your own life makes no sense sometimes. Perhaps your future seems to hinge on one momentous test or decision. “Should I marry this person, or take that job, or go out in missions, or take a course of action which could change my life forever.” Perhaps you’ve suffered great sorrow and your life goes into turmoil. You can’t figure out what to do or where to turn.

Or, perhaps you feel the direction of God so strongly in your life but it makes no sense. You thought you knew where your life was headed and now it’s taking a completely different course. Remember, God’s thoughts are not your thoughts nor his ways your ways (Isa. 55:8-9).

When God tests our faith, he often defies our logic. And…

2. When God Tests Our Faith, He Repeatedly Reveals Our Hearts  (22:3-11).

Abraham’s heart is revealed in his threefold reaction to God’s threefold instructions.

First, God reveals our hearts by testing our obedience to him (22:3-4). Abraham only had two options: to obey God or disobey God. And by the morning’s early light, he knew what he would and must do. So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him(22:3).

If you react in true obedience, youll take immediate action - no bargaining with God, no rationalizing, no arguing, no resisting, no doubting.

If you react in true obedience, youll take God at his word. So Abraham gathered what was needed - a donkey to carry the load, two men to take care of them on the way, his son, and the sacrificial wood. As he split the wood, can you imagine what was going through his mind? Every stroke of the axe must have plunged into his heart, reminding him of the knife that soon would plunge into Isaac’s heart.

God’s tests demand unwavering faith in God’s word. That’s the bottom line: “Do you really believe God’s word or not?” That’s why it’s important to read, study, and memorize the Bible. If you want to pass an exam, you must know your material, in this case, God’s Word.

If you react in true obedience, you’ll take immediate action, you’ll take God at his word, and…

If you react in true obedience, youll face reality with courage. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar(22:4). Just as Jesus set his face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem (Lk. 9:51), unswervingly going to The Place of a Skull (Jn. 19:17), so Abraham saw the place afar off and faced the reality of the situation with courage.

The true test of obedience is to see the reality of what God demands and to face it without turning back and without complaint. Perhaps you’ve been there - you’ve seen the test coming in the distance, you knew what it would cost you, and you faced it without doubt.

So, God reveals our hearts in our reaction to tests of obedience, and …

Second, God reveals our hearts by testing our faith in him (22:5-8). If you react in true faith, you’ll have the right perspective.Then Abraham said to his young men,Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you’” (22:5). He had the right perspective: the sacrifice of his son was worship! He had the right perspective: “We will come back - God will keep his word. If Isaac is slain God will raise him up again.”

If you react in true faith, you’ll have the right determination.And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together (22:6). Before, Abraham had placed the bread and water on Hagar’s shoulder. Now he places the wood on Isaac’s shoulder. Both actions must have torn his heart. But despite all that is happening, there is unity between them; the two of them went together - one in purpose, bond, trust, communion.

Isaac is big now, strong enough to carry the wood but young enough to ask a childlike question: And Isaac said to his father Abraham,My father! And he said,Here I am, my son. He said,Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’” (22:7). If you react in true faith, you’ll have the right perspective, you’ll have the right determination, and, if you react in true faith, you’ll have the right answer. Abraham said,God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.So they went both of them together(22:8). Many times before, Isaac had probably seen his father sacrifice a lamb. He knew the procedure, but this time there is fire and wood but no lamb. He knew the pagan sacrificial practices of the Canaanites who offered their firstborn sons as sacrifices to placate the pagan gods, so his question is very valid and real: Might this be what his father is doing?

When tough questions are asked, true faith has the right answer. You can’t explain everything but you respond out of deep faith in God - no wavering, no bitterness, no despair, no rebellion; just trust and serenity. Abraham’s answer completely satisfies Isaac. He has complete trust in his father, complete confidence and reassurance. Besides, he had heard his father tell the servants: We (I and the boy) will come again to you (22:5). What a great relationship Isaac had with his father!

A person’s true character comes out when the chips are down. It’s easy to trust God when everything is going well, but it’s much harder when life is falling apart. It’s easy to express faith in God when everything is rosy but much harder when things look bleak. When Abraham’s world fell apart, he trusted the promise of God (Gen. 21:12), he trusted the power of God (Heb. 11:19), and, here, he trusted the provision of God. When our world seems to be falling apart, we need to trust the promises of God, trust the power of God, trust the provision of God.

God reveals our hearts by testing our obedience to him, by testing our faith in him, and…

Third, God reveals our hearts by testing our fear of him (22:9-10). 9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son (22:9-10).

If you truly fear God, you’ll show it in your actions. It took faith to gather the donkey, the servants, and the wood three days ago. But it took fear to build an altar, arrange the wood, and bind Isaac. That’s why the angel of the Lord said: Now I know that you fear God (22:12).

What does it mean to fear God? It means to reverence him totally, trust him implicitly, obey him unquestioningly; to fear offending him by sinning against him. When you fear God, you obey him no matter what the cost, despite natural instincts, human logic, and unknown consequences. When you fear God, you hold him above everything else - supreme, sovereign - and trust him above all else. When you fear God, you take him at his word. The fear of God is the result of knowing God, loving God, trusting God (Ps. 11:10; Job 28:28; Eccl. 12:13).

When God tests our faith, he frequently defies our logic, he repeatedly reveals our hearts, and…

3. When God Tests Our Faith, He Constantly Confirms His Faithfulness (22:11-19).

The knife is poised, ready to be plunged into Isaac’s heart, and at the climax of the drama we discover God’s faithfulness.

First, God confirms his faithfulness by withdrawing the penalty (22:11-12). What a relief it must have been for Abraham to hear God’s voice. God speaks from heaven at just the right time. The God who would one day slay his own Son, and whose hand no one would withhold, now withdraws the penalty: 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said,Abraham, Abraham!And he said,Here I am.12 He said,Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me’” (22:11-12).

God confirms his faithfulness by withdrawing the penalty. The penalty for sin is withdrawn when we trust Christ as our Saviour by faith. The penalty of testing is withdrawn when our faith passes the test. He turns our nighttime of testing into the dawn of relief.

God confirms his faithfulness by withdrawing the penalty, and… 

Second, God confirms his faithfulness by providing a substitute (22:13-14). Just as Abraham had assured Isaac (22:8), so God now provides a substitute. 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place,The Lord will provide; as it is said to this day,On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided’” (22:13-14). Abraham’s part in the story is completely subordinate to God’s part. Abraham’s faith is not memorialized, but God’s faithfulness is. The Mount of the Lord becomes a permanent witness to the gracious provision of God.

Through all of this, Abraham came to know God in increasingly more precious ways. First, he knew God as “Jehovah” – I am that I am (Gen. 12:1). Then, “El Elyon” – most high God, possessor of heaven and earth (Gen. 14:19). Then, as “El Shaddai” – God almighty, the One who can do what is impossible with men (Gen. 17:1). Now, as “Jehovah-Jireh” – the God who provides.

In the darkest circumstances of our lives, when faith triumphs God confirms his power, his love, his trustworthiness. He is the God who provides. He provides a Savior as our Substitute. He provides the faith to believe, to overcome temptations, to endure tests, to carry burdens, to go on when you feel like quitting, to trust him at all costs. If you’re passing through a deep test of your faith, remember that God is Jehovah-Jireh, the LORD will provide and your dark place will become a memorial to his faithfulness. When you look back on the experience, you will call that heavy burden, that deep sorrow, that prolonged sickness, The Mount of the Lord, the place where God provided.

God confirms his faithfulness by withdrawing the penalty, by providing a substitute, and…

Third, God confirms his faithfulness by renewing his promise (22:15-19). The voice from heaven comes a second time to finish the story. 15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said,By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice. 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba(22:15-19).

First, God attributes praise to Abraham for his faithfulness: (1) Because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son (22:16); and (2) Because you have obeyed my voice (22:18). Now, God confirms his faithfulness by renewing his promise to make Abraham’s descendants plentiful (17a), powerful and successful (17b), and influential throughout the earth (18).

The ultimate consequence of this test is not the sparing of Isaac but the renewal of God’s promise about Abraham’s descendants. They will prosper because Abraham was obedient and faithful – he passed the test. You will never know the impact you will have on future generations because of your obedience and faithfulness.

Concluding Remarks

1. God’s tests often defy our logic. They usually come when you least expect them. One day everything is great, the next your world is upside down. This is where we meet and learn about God in the extremity of our need, in the suddenness of our total dependence on him.

When everything is going well, look out for God’s test! When you’re going through it you won’t like it and it may not make any sense to you. God’s tests often appear incongruous, illogical, because our perspective and understanding are limited. God’s tests may cause you immense grief and you may even think God has abandoned you, because the darkness often obscures what we know by faith.

2. God’s tests repeatedly reveal our hearts by touching intimate, private areas of our lives, by confronting us with a choice between our dearest possessions and him, by forcing us to decide what’s most important to us, by determining where our security lies, by proving our hearts, by demanding that we give up what we love the most to put him first. God wants your heart, 100% of it. He wants you to trust him no matter what. He wants your heart because he cares for you and loves you enough to die for you.

Is your heart totally committed to God? Would you give up your dearest possessions for him? Is he first in your life? Or, does something or someone else hold first place in your heart? How deep is your love for God? When put to the test, will you come forth as gold tried in the fire? Can you truthfully say: “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee”?

3. God’s tests constantly confirm his faithfulness. He is the God who turns darkness into dawn. He is the One who provides. When you can’t figure it all out, when you think everything is hopeless, when you struggle all alone, God steps in at just the right time to reveal the next step, to confirm his faithfulness, to renew his blessing.

Do you really trust him to provide for you, to bless you even when things look dark, and when your faith is tested? Remember: When your faith passes the test, God renews his blessing.

In the final analysis, God’s tests draw us closer to him because in our darkest experiences God becomes more personal and real to us, and because we hear him speak in ways we would otherwise never hear. He relieves our burden, affirms our faith,  provides for us, blesses us, and renews his promises to us in ways too wonderful for us to imagine.

Related Topics: Character Study, Failure, Faith

Why Does Power Corrupt?

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“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”1

Written in 1887, the words of Lord Acton ring proverbial by the witness of history and experience. On a grand scale, great power creates great tyrants. Even religious authorities and institutions tend to act worse when they gain power. And closer to home, compare the service and attitude of people that must compete for your business versus those of a monopoly or government agency where you have no choice or recourse. We could multiply examples. So why, then, does power have such a negative effect on people?

An Original Problem

To answer this important question, we need first to examine “original sin,” or our innate tendency to evil that began with our legal participation in Adam’s sin when he stood and fell in our place. Some reject the doctrine or struggle with how we can justly be punished for something we did not physically do. Yet, we all affirm Adam’s fall every time we sin, while Scripture says we are born with a sinful bent: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me,” cries the Psalmist (Psalm 51:5 NAS). Moreover, “all sinned” in Adam; and by his one sin we all “died,” were judged and condemned, and were “made sinners” (Rom. 5:12,15,16,19). Indeed, “There is none righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10 NAS). Thus, we are born into the world with the need to be “born again” (John 3:3-8).

A Universal Problem

Additionally, our universal tendency to sin as soon as we are able points to a universal heart defect.2 Yet, when theologians cite this tendency as evidence for original sin, opponents cry foul. For instance, a contemporary of Jonathan Edwards and opponent of the doctrine, wrote, “We must not take the measure of our health and enjoyments from a lazar-house [hospital], nor of our understanding from Bedlam [insane asylum], nor of our morals from a gaol [jail].”3 In other words, don’t ignore the good and point to a small batch of bad apples to represent all of humanity. Edwards admitted that people often behave quite well, but added that the fallen heart is best understood when we consider the many hindrances to its sinful display, including negative consequences for bad behavior, rewards for right behavior, and the grace of God that restrains sin and produces good in people. Remove these things and you will have a more accurate picture of the heart.

To illustrate, pick a city, maybe New York, Philadelphia, or Los Angeles. Then, turn out the lights, abolish all laws, penalties, courts, and jails, and send away the police. Moreover, remove every constraint, every negative consequence for bad behavior, every reward for good behavior, including the positive influence of the Spirit of God, and you will have evidence aplenty for original sin and the fallen nature of humanity.

The Deeper Question

Now, consider the question, does power corrupt? If we mean by this that power makes people more prone to arrogance, ill treatment of others, despotism, and tyranny, most would agree that it does. “The poor man utters supplications, but the rich man answers roughly” (Prov. 18:23 NAS). But, if by the question we mean, does power corrupt a good heart, the answer is no. More power to a good heart produces more good works, while more power to an evil heart produces more evil works. God has infinite power and He always uses it for good, while Satan has great (but limited) power and always uses it for evil.

Opportunity and Consequences

What, then, accounts for power increasing evil behavior in people? For one, more power to a fallen nature provides greater opportunity for its expression by removing restraints and negative consequences. In this sense, power corrupts. For example, consider why we make harsh comments on the internet that we would never say to someone’s face, or why we act better standing in line with others than when driving unrecognized on a busy highway—anonymity eliminates accountability, embarrassment, and a great deal of negative fallout for poor behavior. This also explains why the loss of shame is so destructive to a culture—it removes a critical deterrent to bad conduct as people care less about how they act.

Briefly consider why Hitler and the National Socialists (“Nazis”), as well as Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot did such horrific things. Unless someone had a bigger and better military and was willing to use it to punish their behavior, they did whatever their wicked hearts desired because they perceived little to no negative consequences. They assumed they could get away with it—even before God, whose existence they conveniently denied. Without delving into the many ways wickedness justifies itself before the judgments of our God-given conscience, every evil act in history, when restraints to bad behavior are reduced or removed, vindicates Scripture’s description of the fallen heart.

And if you need more evidence, imagine raising children by giving them whatever they want, whenever they want it, and that without discipline and instruction about right and wrong. You will soon have a headache and more evidence for original sin.


Power “corrupts” because we are born corrupt and because power gives the opportunity and impetus to act without fear of negative consequences. Power merely allows a pre-existing condition to appear in a more obvious, forceful, and destructive way. This explains why God withdrawing His grace to allow people to do whatever they please comprises one of the most terrifying judgments in Scripture. Left to our own devices, we will sink to lows we never dreamed possible. May God preserve us from such a fate as we run to Christ and abide in Him. And should He bless us with greater responsibility and service, may He grant us humility and grace to resist the temptation to petty arrogance, for “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6 NAS). “Power belongs to God” (Psalm 62:11 NAS), but it is “perfected in weakness….for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9,10).

© 2016 by Craig Biehl. For a deeper discussion of this topic, see God the Reason: How Infinite Excellence Gives Unbreakable Faith, Carpenter’s Son Publishing, 2015.

1, accessed 7-7-16.

2 Jonathan Edwards, Original Sin, Yale Works, 3:136ff.

3 John Taylor, quoted in Jonathan Edwards, Original Sin, Yale Works, 3:109.

Related Topics: Apologetics, Hamartiology (Sin), Worldview