A MESSAGE FOR GODS PEOPLE TODAY
by Rev. Dr. Frederick W. Evans, Jr.
[This was the final sermon prepared by Rev. Evans. It was written, but never delivered, after he had learned that his cancer was terminal and as his suffering was intensifying.] Click here to return to the index for the Evans Papers.
1. Behind the Scenes! (1:1-2:10)
Shortly after the sinking of the Titanic, two were discussing that disaster at sea. Said one, I dont believe God had anything to do with it. Replied the other, If you had been on board you would have wanted to believe that God had everything to do with it. Few questions, if any, arc more crucial than this: Is God, the God of the Bible, present and active in the disasters of life? Moreover, the Bible speaks to this very question in numbers of places, and nowhere more so than in that oldest of Old Testament books, the Book of Job.
Talk about disasters, they came to Job in multiples, in devastatingly rapid succession. First came the loss of wealth, no small matter to one who is described as the greatest of all the men of the East. Then came the loss of family, as his children were swept away in one violent stroke of nature. And nobody had had a greater spiritual concern for his sons and daughters. The climactic blow was the loss of health, so complete that Job was hardly recognizable to those who had known him before. Moreover, the hurt of these successive disasters was compounded by the taunts of his wife, by the accusations of his friends, and by the apparent length of the fiery trial. It is evident that his health problems did not clear up overnight.
Now this presents a particular problem for us in view of what the Biblical text describes as Jobs superior character perfect, not sinless but singlehearted, and upright; his reverence for God - he feared God and shunned evil; yes, and his faithfulness as a parent - his praying and offering sacrifices for his children. In view of all this the mans trials make little or no sense. They dont add up. Looked at from ground level, they rather suggest the indifference of God, the injustices of life and, indeed, the collapse of the whole moral order. We would be completely nonplused were it not for the fact that in these first two chapters we are given a glimpse behind the scenes, even into Heaven itself where what happens on earth is really determined.
WHAT ARE WE TOLD? What do we see through this window into Heaven? It is hardly what we might expect. First, Satan brazenly intrudes himself into the presence of God. Moreover, God acknowledges his being there, for he deliberately brings up to Satan the good testimony of Job, which, in turn, moves Satan to slander Job to God, saying, Doth Job fear God for nought? That is, Job, according to Satan, is a believer solely because of all the blessings that have come his way. He is trusting because of all the treats God has given him. At this point God releases Satan to take away all that Job has - but not to touch Job himself. So it is that Satan proceeds to let loose forces which destroy the mans vast possessions, his servants and finally his children.
And that is not all we are permitted to see, for, again, at the start of Chapter 2 Satan, uninvited, puts in an appearance before the throne of God. The prince of demons dares to present himself along with the good angels. Yes, and again God brings up the integrity of Job, especially in the light of Jobs response to the first series of disasters. How had Job reacted? After hearing what had happened to his children, he had fallen to the ground and worshipped, saying, The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord, Chapter 1 closing on this note, In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.
Whereupon Satan again slanders Job to God, claiming that, if only Job himself is made to suffer physically, he will certainly curse God. Once again God releases Satan to do his worst against Job, anything except take away his life. Even so, Job is soon reduced to complete physical misery, as boils cover his body from head to foot. The glimpse that is given us in Chapter 2, verse 8, is of the poor fellow sitting in the ashheap and scraping his boils with broken pieces of pottery. It is a picture of abject physical torment, and, as we shall presently see, of spiritual, mental and emotional anguish as well.
Now this is what we are told. That is the story - certainly strange to us - that meets our minds eye. But WHAT DO WE LEARN from it? It is only too sadly possible to read something, something in Gods Word, and not learn a thing. There are those who miss it because their spirits are still dead to God. They have not been born of the Spirit, and spiritual things are spiritually discerned. Others who have been born of the
Spirit miss it because they are spiritually dull. Their spiritual sense has not been exercised to discern such things. Yes, and it could be that there are those, real Christians, who miss it because the lesson runs counter to what they had previously thought or been taught about the way God operates in His world and in the lives of His people.
For one thing, here at the start of the Book of Job we can and should learn something about Satan, yes, that Satan is the inveterate enemy of God and of the people of God. Down to the last book of the Bible, until he meets his end in the lake of fire, he is the accuser of the brethren, much as here he accused Job to God. Whether coming at us as a roaring lion or as an angel of light, we can be sure that he will do his level worst against us, anything to bring us down and bring dishonor on the Name of Christ, anything to spite God, anything to strike back and get even.
But there is another side to it. We also learn that there is only so much that Satan can do. He could not have injected himself into that heavenly scene unless God had permitted it. He could not do anything to Job that God did not allow. He could not touch the man physically to begin with, and then he could not take his life. There is a certain helplessness about Satan throughout the whole Job story. And with the startling increase of demon activity in todays world, with Satan come down having great wrath, Christians need to remember that all this is because he knows he has only a short time. Even when Satan flexes his muscles he is on a leash, Gods leash.
All of which accents Gods role in the whole thing. And invariably what we learn about God is most important of all. Here it was God who brought up the subject of Jobs integrity. The initiative from the start was with God. Well, why, then, did He call Satans attention to Job? We can only conclude that it was by way of glorifying Himself, of shaming Satan, and of provoking Satan to put Job to the severest tests. The strong suggestion is that, in permitting Satan to attack Job, He was going to use Satan to accomplish His own blessed purposes, to make Satan, all unwittingly, work for Him - that is, to do a further work in Job, the very work which Job speaks of in Chapter 23, verse 10, He knoweth the way that I take; when He hath tried me I shall come forth as gold.
To read these opening chapters thoughtfully is to recognize that God was - and is - very much on His sovereign throne. Not that Job was told so here at the start. Evidently all this was not revealed to him until after he had been put through the crucible. While he was going through the fire he had to rely on what he had already known of God, His works and His ways. He had to walk by faith rather than by sight. He had no clear revelation of what was really going on behind the scenes. Before any of the Bible was recorded, Job had to endure as seeing Him who is invisible, for everything visible seemed to mock any thought of an all-wise and all-loving God.
Moreover, he did see something of Gods hand in the course of the long-drawn-out experience. To his complaining wife he would say, Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil?. evil in the sense of troubles and trials. Later, to his accusing friends he would say, The hand of the Lord hath touched me (19:21). For him it was not so much the fiery darts of the Wicked One, much less what Shakespeare would call the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Rather was it the arrows of the Almighty (6:4) which were being directed at him. No, at the moment he could not see the blessedness of this. He would have found it difficult to echo these words:
In the center of the circle of the will of
God I stand;
And what about you and me? Today, thanks to these opening chapters, not to mention the rest of the Bible, and their drawing aside the veil on what really goes on behind the scenes, we have a built-in advantage over Job. But what are we doing with our greater knowledge? How convinced are we of the sovereignty of God in whatever comes to pass, when life tumbles in as well as when life is a bowl of cherries? How sure are we that our God is over all His works in all places of His dominion? And are we showing it by a constant attitude of trust? Yes, and has our trust grown to the point where it actually expresses itself in praise, praise in the midst of suffering and sorrow, of any and all the storms which are a part of living in this world?
Well, it all hinges on our having a heavenly vantage-point. And the New Testament tells us that every Christian has a right to it. Paul especially stresses that every true believer, every vital Christian, has been raised with Christ and is now seated in the heavenlies where Christ is. Do we take Paul seriously? Do we see ourselves as being in the heavenlies, or are we spiritually grounded for all practical intents and vainly groping our way through the maze of events as they appear on the surface? It is the difference between being above or merely under the circumstances. It is the difference between hope and despair, between purpose and frustration, between blessed comfort and wretched bitterness.
But let us not forget what it is we see by faith when we take our rightful
places in the heavenlies in Christ, what it is that we see behind these
earthly scenes. It is that God is actively in control. James Russell Lowell
has left us the oft-quoted lines:
Careless seems the great Avenger: historys
pages but record
Stirring lines, and true as far as they go. But they dont go far enough. God is not simply standing and keeping watch. He is not just there. He is acting. He is working all things together for our good and for His glory in us. He is even making the wrath of Satan and wicked men to praise Him. From the very start the Book of Job tells us so. Let us learn this lesson well.
2. On the Surface! (2:11-31:40)
Years ago Oswald J. Smith, the Toronto pastor and missionary pleader, set a goal for himself and expressed it in his song, Deeper and Deeper. Its several stanzas begin:
Into the heart of Jesus deeper and deeper
Along the same line, others have written of a Deeper Life, of Going Deeper. And with good reason. The Apostle Paul exclaims, 0 the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! Moreover, he prays that his believing readers may be able to comprehend the breadth and length and depth and height of the love of Christ.
And yet the sad truth is that most Christians live pretty much on the surface of things. They make snap judgments. Quickly they draw what seem to them obvious conclusions. They offer simplistic explanations of lifes mysteries. And all this can not only be wrong but cruel, especially when they try to interpret what Rabbi Kushner has called the bad things that happen to good people. What makes matters worse, they may set themselves up as authorities and try to force their assumptions on others, especially the sufferers.
The Lord Jesus had to deal with this very sort of thing when He walked the earth. In Luke 13 He spoke directly to certain people who seemed to believe that some who had suffered violent deaths had had to be great sinners. He asked them, Suppose ye that they were greater sinners than others?, and proceeded to set them straight, Nay, but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Again, in John 9 it was His own disciples who asked, Who did sin, this man or his parents that he was born blind? His reply, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
Yes, all too often it is the Lords own who jump to wrong, and often unkind, conclusions because they are still living and thinking superficially. They dont stop to wonder, What is going on behind the scenes, beneath the surface? Such were the three men - Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar - who now figure so prominently in the continuing story of Job. We call them Jobs Comforters and have to agree with his estimate of them, Miserable comforters are ye all (16:2). But that was after they had worn out their welcome by launching a sustained attack upon him as a sinner who had better repent or else!
To begin with, however, we should give them credit for setting their own plans aside that they might come to mourn with their old friend, Job, and to comfort him. But when they laid eyes on him here in the closing verses of Chapter 2, the sight was more than they could bear. They could hardly believe it was the same man they had known. Whereupon they sat down with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights, not saying a word - which, by the way, was probably the best thing they did during all the time they were with him. To this day it is not so much the words of friends, as their presence, which is most needed by those who are overwhelmed with suffering and sorrow. Words tend to be awkward anyway, and when words are multiplied they usually make matters worse. When Jobs Comforters started to speak it soon turned into a verbal contest which went three strenuous, exhausting rounds. And this is how it all got started.
THE FIRST ROUND (3:1-11:20). In Chapter 3 Job finally broke his silence, lamenting the day of his birth and the fact that God was still giving him life. This was enough to open the floodgates, and in Chapter 4 Eliphaz, the first of the Comforters, began to say what he was really thinking, to set forth his view of the reason for all Jobs troubles. It is summed up in verse 7, Remember, I pray thee, whoever perished being innocent? or where were the righteous cut off? You see, it was all very neat. Suffering is always the result of sin, while the righteous are invariably blessed. The application? Job must have sinned in some great way, shape or form to have had all this happen to him.
Now to begin with, Eliphaz tries to say it kindly. In this First Round he is feeling his way along, feeling out his opponent, if you will. But he would also speak authoritatively. Beginning at verse 12, he claims a special revelation from an angel in a night vision, a hair-raising vision no less. In other words, he has a pipeline to Heaven, and Job had better listen. Oh, beware of those who are so sure they have Gods light and leading in everything and who would put others on a guilt trip if they dont see it exactly their way and if they dont do what they, the self-appointed authorities, tell them to do!
Moreover, it soon becomes clear that Eliphaz partners are on the same wave-length, for when Job in Chapters 6 and 7 questions the charge that his calamities are the direct result of his sin, when he appeals to them for the milk of human kindness and finally appeals directly to God, Bildad, Comforter Number Two, in effect replies, You are only getting what you deserve. You should be suing God for mercy, for all the wisdom of the ages is against your claim of innocence. Then, when Job in Chapter 9 continues to maintain his essential blamelessness and pleads with God for relief from his friends and their badgering, Zophar, Comforter Number Three, jumps into the ring, telling Job that he is wrong and had better get right with God. Otherwise, there is no hope for him. So much for the First Round.
THE SECOND ROUND (12:1-20:29). Now a second go-round follows, beginning in Chapter 15, this after Job has told them that he is turning from them to God as He really is in all His greatness and glory, not to their limited concept of Him. And, indeed, what they have done is put God into a box of their own making. They have said that God has to operate according to their own definition of Him. Granted that they have uttered some half-truths. Sin does eventually bring suffering, and righteousness is its own reward. But suffering is not always the result of sin, and the righteous do not always escape suffering. So it is that Job, even in his agony of spirit, even though he feels shrouded in darkness, withstands them. And they do not like it one bit. In this Second they take off the gloves and attack Job, as it were, directly with their bare knuckles.
First, Eliphaz accuses Job of presumption for disregarding the time-honored wisdom that suffering is always the result of specific sin. By suggesting that this is not so, Job is reflecting on the justice of God. Next, hot-headed Bildad, even more heatedly than before, declares that Job is simply getting his just deserts, that his refusal to repent proves that he has lots of repenting to do. Finally, Zophar sums up matters by charging Job with rejecting God Himself He has turned his back on God by rejecting Gods just dealings with him. How dearly it comes through, their equating God with their notions regarding Him! They are angry with Job, not for rejecting God, but for rejecting their idea of God, the God who in large part they have conjured up in their minds. While Job longs for the true and living God, exclaiming, O that I knew where I might find Him! that I might come even to His seat! (23:3), they are satisfied with the mental idol they have created.
One of the recent commentators on the book, Gleason Archer, writes of Jobs Comforters issuing one altar call after another. They are determined to set the poor man down on the mourners bench and then to get him on his knees at the penitent form. Now there is a sense in which we never get to the end of our need for repenting, if only of our lukewarmness toward the Lord. Job had to do some repenting at the last, though not of what his friends thought him guilty. And what was it that moved him to repentance? Was it the pressure, the brow-beating, applied by Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar? No, it was a coming face-to-face, as it were, with the Lord Himself. In his own words: I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes (42:5,6).
THE THIRD ROUND (21:1-31:40). However, the three friends were not finished with their altar calls. When Job in Chapter 21 charges them with being out of touch with reality, of failing to recognize that all injustices are not righted in this life, the Comforters would have another go at him. As usual, Eliphaz speaks first, denouncing Job for suggesting that God is punishing him for his godliness, insisting that Job has to be guilty because God is just. It is more of the same lame theory - Job has sinned! Then, when Job continues to make his appeal to God, Bildad briefly and scathingly chimes in, asking how a mere worm of a man can hope to win his appeal before the judgment bar of Heaven.
It is at this point - Chapter 26 - that Job begins to reflect at length on Gods ways and upon his own past life. He confesses that God in His sovereign wisdom and justice does indeed judge the wicked, but not in the cut-and-dried way his Comforters imagine. As for his own record, he goes back over it with a fine-tooth comb in Chapters 29 through 31 and can find nothing which justifies their accusations of gross sin. Rather he challenges them to bring forth specific charges, if they can. This time, whether disgusted, frustrated or silenced, they have nothing more to say. Zophar does not even take part as the Third Round comes to a dose. The 31st Chapter concludes, The words of Job are ended. Yes, and everything has been said as far as the three friends are concerned.
How easy it is for professing Christians to think and live on the surface of things! it is much easier than digging deep into the rich mine of Gods Word. And there can be no question that Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar qualified as believers in that earlier age. They made many true statements, and the stated them beautifully. But they were content with half-truths which left them satisfied with themselves. And they dung stubbornly to them because they did not want to be shown they were wrong. In a word, they did not really have hearts for God, but rather for their own shallow concept of God. That is why they struck out so vehemently at a man who had a better understanding of God and His ways than they did. Job, even with his incomplete knowledge, even in his bewilderment, was a rebuke to them, and therefore they took it on themselves to rebuke him.
Recalling the title of a J. B. Phillips book, Your God is Too Small, we need to pray constantly for deliverance from self-satisfaction with our present knowledge of God. We have not yet plumbed all the depths of Gods Word. For us there is yet more light to break forth from the old Book. God is not finished with us yet. He was not finished with Job, as we shall see in the chapters that follow, bringing him to a truer knowledge of Himself. And He would do the same for His people in this latter day. Christs saying to His fisherman disciples, Launch out into the deep, and let your nets down for a draught, should have its word for you and me. As we do that, we shall never get to the end of the greatness and glory and grace of our God.
3. Under the Skin! (1:1.31:40)
The church world, wrote L. E. Maxwell of Canadas Prairie Bible Institute, is full of Christian professors and ministers, Sunday School teachers and workers, evangelists and missionaries, in whom the gifts of the Spirit are very manifest, and who bring blessing to multitudes, but who, when known dose up, are found to be full of self. They may have forsaken all for Christ and imagine they would be ready, like the disciples of old, to die for their Master, but deep down in their hidden, private lives there lurks that dark sinister power of self.
Certainly there could be no more splendid specimen of a believer, admirable in every way, than the man we meet in the First Chapter of the Book of Job. As a man of affairs, as a man of God and as a family man he is hard to top, all the more remarkable because he, like Abraham, his near contemporary, did not have the full revelation that we possess. Indeed, at Chapters close Job rises to spiritual heights that few of us have attained. Learning that his children have all been killed in a cyclone, he falls down and worships, saying, The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away-, blessed be the Name of the Lord. Such submission to the will of God puts us to shame. It also leads us to feel that Job had already arrived, that he was without any flaws, that there was no more sanctifying work to be done in him.
Evidently God did not see it that way. In Chapter 1 He has permitted Satan to test Job outwardly, through the loss of wealth, of servants, of sons and daughters. Although all this came increasingly close to Job, it was still outside him. But then as we come to Chapter 2, when Satan returns to question Jobs integrity, his spiritual reality, when he tells God, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life, and alleges that, that if only Job is tried physically, personally, he will curse God to His face, then the Lord releases Satan to do just that. What had been more or less outward before now becomes terribly inward, but with a blessed purpose. Satan has said, Skin for skin! Now the Lord, using Satans attack, is going to bring out what Job is like under the skin, what has not yet been seen by us, the flaws as well as the strengths, his problems with self as well as his shining testimony for God.
Personal trials have a way of doing that, of revealing the flesh or self-life that we did not know was still there. No ~question about it, Job was a surrendered man. But when God accepts our surrender and begins to test it in some refining fire, some valley of humiliation, then the flesh which may have seemed dormant, even dead, reasserts itself. It did with Job in Chapter 3. Sitting among the ashes, he bemoans the day of his birth and the fact that God continues to give him life. He had put himself into Gods hands, and now he wants out. His flesh, his old nature, cries, Enough! And in the chapters that follow that old nature, the self-life, rears its head again and again.
Not that it is all self from Chapter 3 to Chapter 31, when Job has no more to say. For one thing, Job has CLEAR VIEWS ABOUT GOD. His theology is correct and insightful, as is true of many Christians who are still full of themselves. We see something of his knowledge of God in the Divine titles which be uses. Early on in Chapter 1 the name Elohim, expressing Gods power: It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God, Elohim, in their hearts (v. 5). Again, at the dose of Chapter 1 the covenant name for God, Jehovah: The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away-, blessed be the Name of the Lord (v. 21). In Chapter 6, verse 14, the name El Shaddai, usually rendered Almighty God but signifying His loving care and sufficiency- He forsaketh the fear of the Almighty. In Chapter 28, verse 28, the title Adonai, emphasizing His lordship, His mastership: The fear of the Lord, Adonai, that is wisdom. And this is not to mention Jobs referring to the Lord as the Holy One (6:10) and as the Preserver of men (7:20). Job had his theology straight, and it kept him from going completely off the deep end.
Not only did Job have clear views about God, but he had DIM - YET REMARKABLE - ANTICIPATIONS OF THE FUTURE. Who can doubt that he foresaw the need of Christ as Mediator when he declares in Chapter 9, verse 33, Neither is there any daysman any arbitrator between us - between God and man - that He might lay His hand upon us both. Certainly he looked forward to Christ as Redeemer, especially of his body, in these glorious words at the close of Chapter 19: For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand in the latter day upon the earth. And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.
But if Job saw dearly about God and if he saw dimly, yet truly, into the future, the fact remains that he had DEFINITE BLIND SPOTS WHEN IT CAME TO SELF. We begin to see this in the 3rd Chapter where he bewails the day of his birth, asking, verse 11, Why died I not from the womb? He goes on to express similar thoughts in the 6th Chapter, 0 that it would please God to destroy me! (vs. 8, 9) And in Chapter 7, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul (v. 11). And in Chapter 9, I am afraid of all my sorrows (v. 28). And in Chapter 10, Oh, that I had given up the ghost! (v. 18). He wishes that he had never been born but, since he has been, that God would put him out of his misery.
Does someone say, That is the very natural reaction of one who has been through so much? Natural, I will agree, but spiritual, no, for in all these statements he was asserting himself over against God, his wishes against Gods purposes. He was saying that God did not know what He was doing when He made him and now when He was putting him through this very personal trial. He was alleging that he knew better than God. A young woman, experiencing sore difficulties, exclaimed, I wish Id never been made, only to be told by an older and wiser friend: My dear, you are not made yet. You are only being made, and this is the Makers process. For all his weakness, the Old Testament man, Eli, responded rightly when Samuel told him of coming judgment on his house. Said Eli, It is the Lord: let Him do what seemeth Him good.
Yes, Job still had his problems with what Martin Luther called that old Pope Self. We see it cropping up again in another way in Chapter 13, verse 2, where he retorts to his accusing friends: What you know, I know too: I am not inferior to you. As much as to say, Im as good as you. The fact of the matter is that he knew more about God than they did. But the mark of true spirituality is to esteem others better than ourselves and certainly not to compare ourselves with other people. What did Paul write the Corinthians? They measuring themselves by themselves and comparing themselves among themselves are not wise. The standard is Christ, and He always deals a deathblow to self.
We are given another insight into Jobs self-life in Chapter 14, verse 6, where he says, in effect, to God, Turn from me! Leave me alone in peace! Just let me be! Probably all of us at some time have said that to other human beings. But if God was using them as sandpaper to make us more like Christ, then we really were saying it to God. We were telling Him to get out of our lives. It is as though we did not bargain for the difficult people and the heavy blows that God has sent out way. We say, I didnt expect this. I expected joy and peace and victory. But this is too much. Lord, leave me alone! Just let me be an ordinary Christian. When we feel that way about it, we are missing the whole point of the Christian life, that we are to be in His hands for Him to do with us as He pleases, for He can do more with us than we can. We choose the wise part when we not only sing with our voices but pray from our hearts:
Have Thine own way, Lord, have Thine own way.
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will
While I am waiting yielded and still.
But our I problem is deep-seated. Jobs was. In Chapters 29 through 31 he defends himself at length. First, in Chapter 29 he recounts how it was in the days of his prosperity, the great person that he was and the good things that he did. Yes, he speaks of Gods blessing and favor, but the dominant words are I, me and my. Fifty or more times we meet them, reminding us of Romans 7 where the Apostle Paul in spiritual defeat was constantly saying I. It is as though a self-centeredness which had long been submerged is suddenly brought up from the depths and out into the light of day.
Nor is that all, for in Chapter 30, when Job turns to talk about his present adversity, he resorts even more to first person pronouns. They appear no fewer than sixty times, suggesting that at a deep level Job is still the center of his own universe, that there remains in him much land to be possessed by the Lord. If self-congratulation marked Chapter 29, self-pity is the characteristic of Chapter 30, and, as one has written, No manifestation of the self-life is more corrosive and damaging to the soul than self-pity. Its effect is all-negative. It did not give Job any relief from his sorrows, nor did it add a particle to his happiness.
But Job is not yet finished talking about himself. In Chapter 31 he stoutly maintains his innocency. Going into great detail about his record before tragedy struck. And it was a very commendable record. The problem is that it is Job who presents it. It is an act of self-defense, of self-justification, on his part. According to Scripture, the believer is not to defend himself but rather to put his defense into the Lords hands. There is the saying that he who has himself for a lawyer has a fool for a client. Especially foolish is the Christian who would plead his own case when he has an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.
No, we have shared these unpleasant things, not to put Job down, but to call ourselves and others up short. Through far less fearful trials than Jobs the Lord would make us aware of a self-centeredness, a self-infatuation, that we thought no longer existed. He would bring us to the point where we can say with Paul, I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing. And with Christina Rossetti: God, harden me against myself,/ The coward with pathetic voice! Who craves for ease and rest and joys.// Myself, arch-traitor to myself,/ My hollowest friend, my deadliest foe,/ My clog whatever road I go.
But how to deal with the self-life? Self-effort cannot kill self-worship. Good self cannot get rid of bad self. Self, in whatever form, will never die to self. Increasing death to self must come from outside ourselves. And, bless God, it does. Christina Rossetti went on to write: Yet One there is can curb myself,/ Can roll the strangling load from me,/ Break off the yoke and set me free. That One, the Lord Jesus Christ through His death for me and my death with Him! Yes, in Christs death I, believing on Him, have died to sin and self. Now my part is to reckon on that being so, to pray in faith,
Lord, bend this proud and stiff-necked I!
Help me to bow the head and die,
Beholding Him on Calvary
Who bowed His head for me!
Basically that is what happened in Jobs experience, as we shall see. At last coming face-to-face with the living God, he entered into a large measure of deliverance from himself. A direct confrontation with the Lord is crucial. Not that self necessarily is done to death overnight. An old poem puts it in proper perspective:
4. Out of the Shadows! (32:1-42:17)
Out of my bondage, sorrow and night, Jesus, I come,
Jesus, I come
Usually we regard that as a song of invitation for those coming to Christ for the first time. But it also speaks to Christians who need to keep coming to Christ. Sometimes we forget the importance our constantly coming back to the Crucified and Risen Lord, lest we put distance between ourselves and Him. Job, as an Old Testament believer, had done just that. A series of fearful trials, especially the climactic one, had given rise to pride and bitterness, to self-pity and self-defense. He needed to act on another stanza of the invitation song:
Out of unrest and arrogant pride, Jesus, I come,
Jesus, I come
How Job needed to come out of the dreary shadows of the self-life into direct contact with the living God who is Light and in whom is no darkness at all! From Chapters 3 through 31 he and the three men who supposedly had come to comfort him, but actually had become his accusers, had argued back and forth, slugging it out like prizefighters. And now all four of them are exhausted. They have worn each other out. They have no more to say. Chapter 31 concludes, The words of Job are ended. But still there is no answer from God. Job has just said, Oh, that the Almighty would answer me, and that mine Adversary had written a book! As long as he regarded Him as his Adversary, Job was not ready to hear from God.
Graciously God uses a young man by the name of Elihu to calm Job down and to face him with some hard, but blessed, truths. Yes, it is this young fellow, ELIHU, who PREPARES JOB TO HEAR GOD. For some time he has been listening to Job and his Comforters go at it. And, now that they have stopped, Elihu, unable to contain himself any longer, takes all four of them to task. He grants that they as older men should be wiser than he, but not necessarily. God sometimes gives greater wisdom to the young. And what Elihu has to say in Chapters 32-37 bears this out. Elihu does come much closer to the mark than the Comforters or even than Job himself.
So it is that in Chapter 32, verse 2, we have him rebuking Job for his attitude, his justifying himself rather than God. Again, in Chapter 33, verse 13, he asks how Job should dare demand an explanation from God who does not have to give an account for any of His actions, and just because He is God. Moving on to Chapter 34, verse 9, Elihu tells Job that he has put himself on dangerous ground by saying, It profiteth a man nothing that he should delight himself with God. Actually by such talk, Job had put himself on Satans turf, Satan who back at the start had claimed that men fear and serve God only for what they can get. Certainly Job was putting things on the basis of human merit rather than Divine grace.
Not only so, but Elihu scores another point in Chapter 35, verse 10, noting that none saith, Where is God my Maker, who giveth songs in the night? It was his way of reminding Job that he had lost his song and that there was no reason for his having done so, because God gives songs in the night, even in the darkest midnight. He would do that very thing in after years for Paul and Silas in their Philippian jail. Moreover, Elihu makes a major contribution in Chapter 36, verse 10, where he recognizes God as teaching through the discipline of chastening. He opens their ears, He makes people willing to listen to Him through the things which He allows to happen to them - things which the writer of Hebrews says are invariably for our profit and which produce the peaceable fruit of righteousness when we respond to them properly, when we ask, not When am I going to get out of this trial?, but rather, What am going to get out of it?
It was in such ways that Elihu prepared Job to hear God at last, to have direct dealings with Him. As we come to Chapter 38, suddenly GOD BREAKS IN TO CONFRONT JOB. Elihu is interrupted by Gods answering Job out of a whirlwind. Much that Elihu had to say was good, but it was simply to get Job ready for what he needed most, that personal encounter with God Himself. In this case God came on the wings of a mighty wind, of a storm. To Elijah He would come as a still, small voice, but to Job He comes as a whirlwind by way of impressing him with His greatness and power, yet His power to bless. Back in Chapter 1 a wind had carried off Jobs children and dashed his hopes. Now, however, a wind comes to him in blessing.
Not that the Lords first word to him and about him was very cheering, Who is he that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Whereupon he bids Job brace himself like a man and answer, if he can, the questions that are going to be put to him. First of all, Job is asked where he was when God laid the foundations of the earth? Had Job been present? Of course, Job was nowhere to be found, except in the mind of God, when God called the planet into being, set it on its axis, and brought everything in nature into perfect balance and under perfect control. Yes, the very perfection of Gods original creation implies a moral universe. How, then, can Job with his very limited experience, question Gods management of human affairs? How can he dispute the rightness of Gods ways with men, even with himself?
Now the questions turn from astronomy and meteorology to the animal world. Who is it that takes care of the needs of wild beasts and birds? Who has equipped them to fend for themselves? If God has built such amazing instincts into them for their preservation, how can you, Job, improve on Gods methods with you? How can you doubt His love and wisdom in your own case, you who are of more value than many sparrows? As we come to Chapter 40 it is clear that the questioning is striking home. Briefly Job breaks in, exclaiming, I am vile, and adding, I will lay my hand upon my mouth. . . I will proceed no further. He will speak no more in his own defense.
And yet that is not quite enough. It does not clear Job of the charge that he has accused God of unfairness, of injustice, in the course of defending himself. So it is that God now bids him face up to his guilt. Only if he can perfectly judge the wickedness of men will God concede Jobs ability to criticize Him. And now at the last he confronts Job with what might be considered the mightiest and most fearsome of the animals: behemoth, probably the elephant, and leviathan, apparently the crocodile. Both are living demonstrations of the awesome power of their Creator and reminders to Job and the rest of us that we had better bow to Gods superior wisdom and to the righteousness of His ways.
Will Job do it? Already we have heard him confess, I am vile or, perhaps better, I am unworthy. It was a first step toward getting right, although not thorough-going enough. But now, as we come to the 42nd Chapter, all the mans defenses are down, and JOB RESPONDS TO GOD AS A TRUE BELIEVER MUST. Overwhelmed by all the Divine questioning, by its facing him with Gods superior wisdom and power, Job in verse 2 acknowledges that God can do anything and that He knows what He is doing, that He knew what He was about in His dealings with Job. Yes, as one has written: When God wants to drill a man,/ And thrill a man,/ And skill a man/ To play the noblest part;! When He yearns with all His heart! To create so great and bold a man/ That all the world shall be amazed,! Watch His methods, watch His ways!/ How He ruthlessly perfects! Whom He royally elects!/ How He hammers him and hurts him,/ And with mighty blows converts him/ Into trial shapes of clay/ Which only God understands;/ While his tortured heart is crying! And he lifts beseeching hands!/ How He bends but never breaks/ When His good He undertakes;/ How He uses whom He chooses,/ And with every purpose fuses him,/ By every act induces him/ To try His splendor out - /God knows what Hes about!
As for himself, in verse 3 Job confesses that he did not know what he was saying when he objected to what God was doing with him, that he was in way over his head, out of his depth. He had indeed been obscuring Gods counsel by words without knowledge. He had been walking by sight rather than by faith, drawing his conclusions from the outward appearance of things rather than from what had been revealed to him of Gods character. And now in verse 4 he is amazed that God should speak audibly to him, saying, Listen to Me, and I will speak. No, Gods speaking was not flattering to Job, but that did not matter. It was altogether wonderful that the Lord had addressed him directly, that before his very eyes there had been the Divine manifestation in the whirlwind.
So it is that we come to the climax of Jobs response in verse 5 and 6: I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes. Like Moses, Isaiah and Daniel in the Old Testament, like John on the isle of Patmos in the New, Job finds that the vision of God causes everything else to fade into insignificance. Before he had been full of questions, but no longer, like the character in a play who said, I had a million questions to ask God, but when I met Him they no longer seemed important. Rather, in the blaze of Gods holiness, Job at last sees himself as he really is. All he can do is despise himself and repent. Of what does he repent? Not of some specific sinful deed. It goes deeper than that. He repents of what Solomon called the plague of his own heart (1 Kings 8:38), of the corruption of the old nature which showed itself in his wrong attitudes, in his pride and arrogance, in the hyphenated sins of self.
But had Job really repented? Had his self-life suffered a deathblow? The verses that follow indicate that a deep-seated change had taken place. Beginning in verse 7 the Lord turns to deal with Jobs three Comforters. He tells them that His wrath is kindled against them, that they have spoken wrongly, and He bids them offer sacrifices for sin. He also bids Job to pray for them. Will he do it? Will he intercede with God on behalf of these men who had given him such a hard time? He would and he does, with the result that the Lord turned the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends; also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. Nor should we be surprised at Jobs having greater riches than before, for now the Lord could trust him not to vaunt himself nor to use his wealth and position for selfish ends.
This, then, is the story of Job. It is the story, not of how God justifies a sinner, but how he sanctifies a saint, and it is confirmed by the teaching of the New Testament - what it says about Satan as the accuser of the brethren, about his walking about as a roaring lion...seeking whom he may devour; what it says about the godly being the ones that are especially tested; what it says about God using their trials to prune and purify His own; and especially what it says about the whole hard testing process having as its goal the revealing of the self-life and a dying out to self. That is the great end that God has in view. That is the key to becoming more and more like Christ. And the heart of it is the believers recognizing that already he has been crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20, Col. 3:3).
And yet someone may still feel that what was meted out to Job was all so unfair. Even after all that we have seen, your own sense of justice cries out against it. From a simply human standpoint it will always seem that way. Gods ways, however, are not our ways. The perspective of time and the perspective of eternity are not the same. To see things from Gods eternal vantage-point is to get an entirely different reading on what may be happening to us and to our dear ones. This is how Scotlands Samuel Rutherford expressed it in one of his classic letters: When we shall come home and enter into the possession of our Brothers fair kingdom, and when our heads shall find the weight of the eternal crown of glory, and when we shall look back to pains and sufferings, then shall we see life and sorrow to be less than one step or stride from a prison to glory and that our little inch of time-suffering is not worthy of our first nights welcome home to heaven.
Frederick W. Evans, Jr.