Lesson 2: Job 3-37Related Media
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
- I plan to begin with an overview of this entire passage.
- Then we will focus on Job’s “friends,” their message and their methods.
- We will next consider Job’s response to his circumstances, and to the rebuke of his friends.
- After this, we will look at the counsel of Elihu.
- 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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Job’s friends did not seek to defend themselves against Elihu’s rebuke.
- 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.
- Elihu seemed to be very astute in following what would be proper protocol for what he said.
- 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.
- Elihu is granted six chapters to present his case, paving the way for what God will say next.
- 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.
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).
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.
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.