Message 23, Optional Session: The Book of Job:
We can identify with Job’s story because we have all experienced suffering. But the book of Job isn’t merely given as a means for identifying with Job; it is given to help us understand and respond rightly to suffering. This session considers what Job teaches us about how God uses trials and suffering to draw us closer to Himself.
Well, thank you for coming, and the book of Job. 1985 or so, 30 plus years ago, they landed on my desk. I was editing a magazine at the time, and the Banner of Truth had just published a facsimile edition of Calvin’s 159 sermons on Job. These were sermons delivered in 1554, 1555. These were week-day sermons, not Sunday sermons, so if you lived in Geneva in the sixteenth century you’d have gone to church every lunchtime Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and these sermons were delivered over a period of about 14 months beginning in February, ending the following year in April.
And they were delivered of course in French, and Calvin preached without notes, and a stenographer by the name of Dennis Ragunea took down every word that he said, and they were later published, first of all in French, and then they were published in English, translated and published in English, about 10 years after Calvin had died.
And this was a copy of that edition, in the English edition, and I looked at it and I thought, who in the world is going to read this? Well, I did, and I became somewhat obsessed with the book of Job. And then preached a series about 35, 40 sermons on Job, and then later preached another series of about 20 messages on Job, and then a third occasion I preached about, I don’t know, 12 or 14 sermons on Job. Joseph Caryl, a puritan, in the seventeenth century, who was the predecessor of John Owen at a church in London, preached for 23 years on the book of Job.
And, 10 volumes of sermons were produced, and they’re actually available in print today, and yes, the congregation dwindled, so you can imagine, you know, he begins the series on Job, you go away for 20 years, come back to the church he’s still preaching on the book of Job.
Well, many a Christian has gone to the book of Job, perhaps to search for an answer to the question why is this particular trial or suffering happening to me, or to my family or to someone that I love. And if you do that, the chances are that your question is not going to be answered. We’re introduced in the opening two chapters to a prologue to the book of Job, and this prologue is given for us.
This is not something that Job himself was privy to, this is information that we are given, first of all, about Job himself. And four — three times in the first two chapters we’re told that he was a blameless man, upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil.
And these are words that occur from the mouth of God. So this is not Job’s assessment of himself and it’s not the author’s assessment, and let’s assume that the author isn’t Job, we don’t know who the author is, but it’s not the assessment of the author, it’s the assessment of God Himself.
So, we’re introduced to a dilemma because of this, that this is not the suffering of an ungodly person. In a sense, we can understand that, from a theistic point of view, from a Judeo-Christian point of view, we can understand why an ungodly person suffers. We might go — and we won’t pursue this today — but we might even go to the extent of saying that they ought to suffer.
That the justice of God demands that they suffer, now, we won’t pursue that line of argument, and — but that’s not the issue we’ve got here. The issue we’ve got here is, the suffering of a godly man. Actually the suffering of the godliest man on the face of the earth.
Why do the righteous suffer? Psalms 78 ponders that question. Why do the righteous suffer? Why is it that if you trust in Jesus and follow Him with all of your heart, you abstain from outward ungodliness, you pursue holiness without which no man shall see the Lord, but still you suffer. My first experience as a pastor. In 1979, I was ordained almost 40 years ago, and a young couple they just got married, they’re — she’s pregnant, first child, and the child is anencephalic. I
t has no brain essentially, and there were pressures put on them to have an abortion, which they didn’t have, they brought the child to full term, but knowing that the child would not survive, and asked me to be present. I was behind a screen, but when the child was born I appeared and prayed with them, and the child survived, maybe (was a girl), she survived maybe a couple of minutes and she passed away. And we buried her the next day. I still have the memory of the father with what looked like a little white shoebox (their firstborn daughter), and buried her.
And — why? And then, shortly afterwards — and I’m still in the first few months of being a minister, and a young woman gives birth to a child who’s actually still alive and now in her 40’s, but was not expected to live more than maybe 6 or 7 years, and had a very rare disease with multiple tumors on her brain.
And, it was evident from the moment of birth that something was wrong, and the father walked out at the delivery, walked out, never came back into this marriage ever again. Never gave her any alimony or support or anything, and I would visit her often. I must have visited her, over the course of 15, 16, years. I must have visited over a 100 times, and every occasion she would ask, “Why?”
And it became a kind of a ritual, and she would say “Why?” and I would say I don’t know, and she would say “OK, well let’s have a cup of tea, and we’ll talk about something else.” But she would ask the question every time, and I would allow her to do that, she had the right to ask the question. Suffering.
The problem of evil, but not just in the theological and academic form, but in a very personal form, so that in the first two chapters of Job he loses everything that he possesses. He loses all 10 of his children, and he loses his health to the point that towards the end of the book he is dying, and he’s evidently contracted some kind of disease that is life threatening.
We are introduced in the opening two chapters to the character of Satan. Satan only appears on three occasions in the Old Testament. Once in the garden of Eden, here in the book of Job, and a reference in Zachariah, but we are given a glimpse that behind the curtains there is this battle between God and Satan, and it is God who says to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?”
So, this is not, the answer to the problem of pain is not, well Satan did it, that is true, that’s a part of the answer, but it’s not the full answer, because Satan can’t do anything without the permission, the decree, of almighty God. So, the book of Job elevates the issue of the problem of suffering and pain, and the problem of personal suffering and pain, to the point that we can’t remove God from it.
So, Satan is given permission, first of all, he may do things to Job but not to Job himself. So he loses all 10 of his children, loses his wealth, and in one sense it’s all Satan’s doing, and then in the second bout in chapter 2 he loses his health. God allows him to touch Job, but not to take away his life. But, you see, the problem that arises because of that. It’s the problem that God is involved in some way, and then we’re introduced to three friends.
The end of chapter 2 and chapter 3, Job descends into a darkness. Wishes he’d never been born, wishes that the day of the announcement of his birth be wiped off the calendar, so that it had never occurred. Jeremiah in chapter 20 almost verbatim cites Job chapter 3. And Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and on the cross, expresses a darkness, a grief, a sorrow. I’m glad it’s here, I can’t tell you that I know experientially what Job 3 is about.
I’ve had my moments, but I’ve never been in Job chapter 3. I’ve never expressed the thought, “I wish I had never been born.” I might have said those words as a young child. I probably did, but not as an adult for sure. It’s like a parachute, I think. I’m glad it’s here, that some of God’s choicest saints, some of the most godly men and women who have ever lived have known a day of darkness, and sorrow that has engulfed them, and has torn apart their mind, and the rationality with which they understand their existence. And maybe that’s you.
And Job chapter 3 is there for you. That you’re not alone, and God has placed in the Bible an expression of this darkness from one of the most godly people that ever lived.
And then we’re introduced to the three friends who the best thing they ever did was to stay silent for seven days. And then they began to speak, and let me just pick up in chapter 4, and this is Eliphaz (probably the oldest of the three), and he says in verse 17 “Can mortal man be in the right before God?” Now, you can take that text and misuse it, and you can make a gospel text of it. “Can a mortal man be in the right before God?”
The answer is no, everyone is sinner, there is none righteous, no not one, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and that’s why we need a Savior, and that’s why we need a gospel and God has sent Jesus into the world to die for our sins, and so on. You can imagine that text being used as gospel text, except that’s not what it means.
What Eliphaz means is, that the reason why Job is suffering is because he is a sinner. That this is God’s judgment, this is Gods retribution upon Job because of sin, either a big sin, either a sin in the past, either a sin that he’s forgotten about, but in some form, in some way, in some manner the reason why Job is suffering is because he’s a sinner. “Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker?
Even in his servants he puts no trust, in his angels he charges with error.” Fallen angels. So this is the theology of Job’s three friends. Calvin said they only have one song and they sing it to death, and the song is one of instant retribution. You get out of life what you put into it. That and no more.
Now, is that true? And the answer is that it is partly true. If you sleep with someone who has AIDS. You have an affair, you sleep with someone, they have AIDS. You lose your mind and you date a prostitute online, you meet her in some secluded spot in the city, and these things happen. And, you contract HIV, and AIDS, and you come and you say to me, “I don’t understand this?
Where is the justice in this?” I’m sorry, I feel sympathy for you. I’ll help you in any way I can, but you are to blame for this. You have reaped what you have sown. It’s what we tell our children, there are consequences for our actions. You do something bad, you do something wicked, you do something evil you reap the consequences, you’re to blame.
It’s partly true, but it’s not true here. This is a case of innocent suffering. It’s similar to the incident in John chapter 9 when we are introduced to a man who is born blind, blind from birth, and the disciples come to Jesus and say, “Who sinned? Was it him or was it his parents?” Because in the thinking of the disciples somebody is at fault here, it’s either him or his parents, it’s either his sin or he’s inherited the guilt of his parents, but one way or another suffering is the consequence of sin, and that’s the theology of Job’s three friends. And they say a lot of stuff that’s true.
They’re not liberals, they believe in the justice of God, they believe in retribution, they believe that God punishes sin, they believe in accountability, they’re not liberals. They’re fierce, and in many ways orthodox. But on this point they’re entirely false. And wrong. That the reason for Job’s suffering is not his sin. True, he lives in a fallen world, he lives in world where sin abounds, but the reason for his suffering lies outside of any consideration of his sin.
Now, in the course of the book Job answers the friends. He says things that he shouldn’t say, and the more he talks the more he says things that he shouldn’t say, so although Job is a godly man, by the end of the book Job has said things that he should never have said about God. God, astonishingly and wonderfully never chastises him for that. There is no rebuke of Job. And, perhaps pastorally, that tells us that we have a God who sympathizes with our weakness.
There are times when God — Job calls out for someone to stand between him and God, not, well, turn to Job chapter 19. And you needn’t turn there if you don’t have your Bibles, because if you don’t have your Bibles you can’t turn there, but, “I know that my Redeemer lives,” in verse 25 of chapter 19. You know it from Handel’s Messiah. “I know that for my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.”
And again we might take that text and say, “This is Job saying that he has a Savior. He has a Redeemer, somebody who pays the ransom price to set us free, and liberate us into fellowship and communion with God,” except that’s not what the text I think means, because Job is not confessing here that he needs a Savior to forgive him his sin. He needs a Redeemer, a ‘goel,’ to represent him before God. Like Boaz took responsibility for Naomi, and married Ruth as a ‘goel,’ as a redeemer, my kinsmen redeemer.
He took the responsibility of representing his now deceased brother, and represented him legally, and I think that’s what Job 19 means, “I know that my Redeemer.” The one who will represent me, and take up my case before God. Because even if I die I know that He will represent me, and I think Job 19 is often misinterpreted.
So then, you come to Elihu in chapters 32-37. All I’m going to say about Elihu is that he begins well, and ends badly, and, the contribution that Elihu makes to the argument is this, that suffering has educative properties. Suffering can teach you things that nothing else can. And I think that’s what Elihu is doing in the first half of his contribution, and then — and commentators disagree, and friends of mine disagree, but my opinion is that Elihu begins well and ends badly, and he’s never mentioned at the end of the book. And then in Job 38, God finally speaks, and this is part of the pastoral problem in the book of Job.
That Job wants God to answer his questions and God has been silent, and so in Job 38, “Then the Lord answered Job out of a whirlwind and said, “Who is this that darkens counsel with words without knowledge?” Well, it’s Job of course, “Dress for action” — and it’s a verb in Hebrew which comes from the field of wrestling. Job has been asking for a fight.
An epistemological fight, a fight about ideas. “Dress for action like a man. I will question you, and you make it known to me,” and already you get the impression that the dice is loaded here, because Job is the one asking the questions, God is the one who’s supposed to answer the questions, and God reverses it, and says I’ll do the questioning you do the answering.
I remember watching ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ one time. I think I must have been sick, and watching daytime TV. And there was this little lady, and she was from a post office in Iowa or somewhere, and she comes on. And you know in the first five or six questions up to I think a 1,000 dollars, they’re easy questions, you’re meant to get them, you’re meant to go home with 1000 dollars, you’re not meant to make all this trek all the way, and go home with nothing, and she couldn’t answer the first question.
She got it wrong and all. And I always wondered about her. She went back to the post office and every time somebody would come in people would say, ‘Ohm yeah, you’re the one who failed the first question, and this is Job.’
So, what is the first question? “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” And, you want to say, that’s not fair, is it? I mean, it’s not fair, you’re suffering, and your trial is real, and you’re in pain, and you’re hurting, and you’re angry, and you want God to speak, and you want God to justify his actions. And God says to you “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?”
And, you’re going to say, “What does that got to do with anything?” And 50, 60, 65 questions about things beneath the ground and caverns, about things in the universe and the stars beyond Job’s understanding, and Job can answer none of these questions.
So, in chapter 40, at verse 15 God introduces Behemoth, a land creature, describes him. It’s described in somewhat semi-poetic terms for sure, but it’s a land creature, Behemoth, and then in chapter 41 and verse 1, Leviathan, and a sea creature. And, because our time is limited there are all kinds of interpretations, but just for the sake of argument, just for now, let’s assume Behemoth is a hippopotamus, and Leviathan is a crocodile.
And, one of the finest interpreters of Job today, three volume commentary on Job in the Word Biblical Commentary series, Clines, takes this interpretation. So it’s a perfectly acceptable interpretation. Behemoth is a hippopotamus, and Leviathan is a crocodile.
Well, have you ever looked at a hippopotamus? And you ask yourself “What was God thinking when He made a hippopotamus?” Because it looks like something a committee made. Or, let’s talk about a crocodile, and because we’re in Florida, let’s simply say alligator.
So, why did God make alligators? I’ve given money to save the polar bear, I have, I’ve given maybe 10 dollars. If somebody’s on the street and they’re looking for a contribution to save the polar bear, I’d probably give something, because I would be very sad if there were no polar bears. This is nothing to do with global warming, it’s just a statement about polar bears. And I would be very sad if there were no polar bears in the world.
But alligators. I wouldn’t shed a tear. Why did God make alligators? Shoes. Belts. Well, let’s think about this a little more seriously. Why is God asking this question? Did you ever think about Leviathan? Did you ever think about the crocodile? Why did God make a crocodile? Well, I know the answer. Because I’ve written a book on Job, actually I’ve written three books on Job, so I know the answer.
The answer to the question why did God make a crocodile is, I don’t know. Actually, that’s not the right answer. The answer is for the glory of God. And that’s what pain is, and suffering. If you ask about a particular pain, a particular trial, a particular suffering, “Why?”
I’m going to have to say to you, in all likelihood, I don’t know, I have no idea. I don’t have any answers for you, except this one: for His glory. Now, only a Christian can answer the question in that way. An unbeliever most definitely cannot answer the question in that way. For the glory of almighty God. It’s not important that I understand, what’s important is that He does, and I trust Him. And that’s the message of the book of Job. Thank you.