Lesson 3: Job 38-42Related Media
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
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
God Uses Nature To Challenge Job’s Wisdom
Job’s Initial Repentance
God Challenges Job’s Authority Over Nature
Job’s Repentance (Vss. 1-6)
Job’s Intercession For His Friends (Vss. 7-9)
God Restores Job’s 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?
JOB’S FRIENDS HAVE NO EXPLANATION FOR JOB’S SUFFERING, OTHER THAN TO ACCUSE HIM OF SIN.
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).
AS ELIHU POINTS OUT, OTHER THAN TO FIND SIN IN JOB’S LIFE, HIS FRIENDS HAD NO EXPLANATION FOR JOB’S SUFFERING, AND NO BASIS FOR COMFORTING HIM.
With Job’s three friends he was also angry, because they could not find an answer, and so declared Job guilty (Job 32:3).
THEIR SOLUTION WAS FOR JOB WAS TO REPENT OF HIS SIN AND DO GOOD:
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.
THE LEGALISM OF JOB’S FRIENDS FOUND NO PLACE FOR GRACE, WHICH IS A PROMINENT PART OF GOD’S CHARACTER.
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.
INNOCENT SUFFERING AS A PATTERN FOR CHRISTIAN CONDUCT
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, https://www.livescience.com/27433-ostriches.html; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GK1ll8e017k
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.