Job: The Revelation of God in Suffering
From Gospel Translations
Job had been lying in unrelieved misery for months with open sores all over his body. During this time he bore the grief of seven dead sons and three dead daughters. All of his wealth had vanished in one afternoon. He had become repulsive to his wife, loathsome to his brothers, and even little children despised him as he lay on the ash heap outside of town.
Job's Wavering Faith and Complaints to God
At first Job bore these calamities with amazing submission: "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord . . . Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil?"
But as the misery drug out over the months, Job wavered in his confidence that God was for him. In defending himself against the bad theology of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, he said things about God that were not true. He began to insist on his own righteousness at the expense of God's justice.
For example, in 13:23–24 he said, "Make me know my transgression and my sin. Why dost thou hide thy face, and count me as thy enemy?" Job could only think that God was ignoring his faithfulness and treating him as an enemy.
He did reach the point where he confessed (in 19:25–27) that after death he would see God as his Redeemer. But for now God was treating him as an enemy, not a friend or a child—so Job thought.
And so he complains to God: "Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat! I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments . . . Why are not times of judgment kept by the Almighty, and why do those who know him never see his days?" (23:3–4; 24:1; cf. 13:23–24).
The Superficial Theology of Job's Friends
Job's three friends had taken the position that the severity of Job's suffering must be the sign of some grievous sin in his life. God is punishing Job. But Job silences these three by showing that is no correlation in this world between righteousness and prosperity or between wickedness and suffering. The righteous often suffer more than the wicked and the wicked often prosper more than the righteous. Job is victorious over the superficial theology of his friends.
Elihu's Rebuke and Counsel
In chapters 32–37 the younger friend Elihu rebukes both Job and his three friends. The three friends of Job had not been able to account for the suffering of this good man with their theology. And Job had said rash and presumptuous things about God in order to justify himself.
Elihu's point of view is that Job is a righteous man, though not perfect, and that he is loved by God. God is not treating him as his enemy but as his child and friend.
God originally allowed Job's sufferings to commence in order to show Satan and the armies of heaven that Job cherished the worth of God more than his possessions and his family and his health. But after Job showed that he did in fact love God more than all else in the world, there was another purpose that God sought to achieve by letting his suffering drag on for several months.
That purpose, according to Elihu, was to purge out of Job's life a residue of pride that had lain quietly at the bottom of his life. When Job was shaken by suffering long enough, the sediment of pride was stirred up into his life and showed itself when Job tried to justify himself at God's expense.
A Twofold Purpose of Suffering in Job's Life
What we have seen so far, then, is that Job's suffering has a twofold explanation: its purpose at the outset was to demonstrate God's value and glory, and its ongoing purpose was to refine Job's righteousness. His suffering is not punishment. It is not a sign of God's anger. Job's pain is not the pain of the executioner's whip but the pain of the surgeon's scalpel. The removal of the disease of pride is the most loving thing God could do, no matter what the cost.
Remember the words of the Lord: Better to suffer the excruciating pain of a gouged out eye than to let any sin remain in your heart. If this does not seem obvious to you—namely, that sanctification is worth any pain on this earth—it is probably because you don't abhor sin and prize holiness the way God does and the way you should. Let us examine ourselves carefully at this point.
A Gathering Storm and God's Rebuke of Job
Toward the end of Elihu's speech (32–37) a thunderstorm had gathered and filled him with awe. It is as though he senses the approach of God in this storm and brings his words to a close. And sure enough, somehow, out of the whirlwind comes the voice of God to Job (chapters 38–41).
In 38:1–2 God begins: "Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: 'Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?'" Someone might think that God is criticizing the words of Elihu here, but that is not the case. He is speaking to Job and criticizing Job.
We know this because in 42:3 when God is through speaking, Job quotes these words from 38:2 and applies them to himself. He says, "Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?" That is a quote from God in 38:2. And then Job responds (in the second half of verse 3), "Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know."
So the words of God in chapters 38–41 are not a rebuke of Elihu. Nowhere does God rebuke or criticize Elihu. Elihu had been right. Job listens in silent agreement. And when Elihu is finished, God speaks to Job and not to Elihu. And so now we want to know what more God has to say to Job. Let's look and see.
Job on Trial Before God
Job 38:3, "Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me." God has been questioned by Job long enough. Now it is time for Job to be put on trial. It's time for God to be the questioning attorney.
Let's try to summarize the interrogation without reading the whole thing. It is not exactly what you would expect.
Questions About the World Below
In 38:4–7 God focuses on the earth: "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding." You weren't there, Job, and you don't know how I did it.
In 38:8–11 God focuses on the sea: "Who shut in the sea with doors, when it burst forth from the womb?" It was I, Job, I set its limits not you. You weren't there and you don't know how I did it.
In 38:12–15 the Lord focuses on the dawn: "Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place?" You never did it. You can't do it. You don't know how to do it. I have always done it. I always will.
In 38:16–18 God focuses on the depth and breadth of the sea and land. Job, you have never even been to the bottom of the ocean or around the world. And you think you know enough to argue with God.
Questions About the World Above
Then in the last half of chapter 38 God takes his focus off the world below and turns it to the world above.
First, in verses 19–21 he queries Job about the origin of light and dark: "Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness?" You don't know where it is or how to get there. But I do, Job. I made the light.
Then, in verses 22–30 God asks him about snow and hail and rain and frost: Do you know anything about how to store up hail for the day of battle? Would you know how to cut a channel in the sky to make it rain on a land where no man is?
Or lift your eyes even higher, Job, (verses 31–33) and look at the constellations: Pleiades, Orion, Mazzaroth, the Bear! "Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth?"
If not, come back down then and we will just talk about the rain again (verses 34–38). Can you make it rain? Do you know how to whistle for the lightning so it comes and says, "Here we are!"? Can you count the clouds with your wisdom? Or do my earthly pastimes stretch your mind a bit too far?
So whether we focus on the earth or the sea or the dawn or the snow or hail or constellations or rain, the upshot is that Job is ignorant and impotent. He doesn't know where they came from. He doesn't know how to make them work. He is utterly surrounded, above and below, by mysteries. And so are we, because the scientific advancements of the last two hundred years are like sand-pails of saltwater hauled from the ocean of God's wisdom and dumped in a hole on the beach while the tide is rising. God is not impressed. And we should be overwhelmed with our ignorance, not impressed with science.
Questions About the World of Animals
Then come the queries about the world of animals.
In 38:39–41 God asks who Job thinks provides lions and birds with their food? "Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?" I do, Job—all over the world. Can you do that?
Or consider the birth of the young (39:1–4). "Do you know when the mountain goats bring forth? Do you observe the calving of the hinds?" Think of it, Job! I am on top of all these things. Every wild deer in northern Minnesota that gives birth—I am there. Every mountain goat in Switzerland and Nepal—when they bring forth, I am there; I know their months. I care for the young.
Think of it, Job! When a man sees a work of God, like your suffering, can he see its connection to ten thousand other realities in the world like I can? If not, how will he dare to judge its wisdom!
Consider the wild ass (39:5–8). "Who has let the wild ass go free?" Do you think there are wild and unpredictable creatures in the world, Job? Guess what? I set them loose. I give them a wilderness for running and the mountain for pasture. They are the work of my hands. Things are quite in order! And you have nothing to do with it.
And so it goes. The wild ox (39:9–12): you don't know how to bind him or use him. He is mine.
The stupid ostrich (39:13–18): she walks away from her eggs; she treats her young cruelly. Who made her forget wisdom? I did, Job. Even the foolish things are by design. Ostriches and Minnesota mosquitoes and black flies. I govern them all by perfect design.
Of course not all animals are foolish and useless. Take the war horse (39:19–25), for example. "Do you give him his might? Do you clothe his neck with strength?" You don't know how to do it, Job. I am the only one who does.
Finally, Job, (39:26–30) "Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars, and spreads his wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?"
No! Whether we consider the prey of lions, the birth of mountain goats, the freedom of the wild ass, the insubordination of the wild ox, the stupidity of the ostrich, the might of the war horse, or the flight of the hawk and eagle, the upshot is the same: Job is ignorant and impotent. He did not make them. He does not know how to control them. He cannot see what they are doing. And yet this ignorant Job presumed to question the ways of God!
God Pauses for Job's Response
So at the beginning of chapter 40, God pauses in his interrogation to give Job a chance to respond.
And the Lord said to Job, "Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it." Then Job answered the Lord: "Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer thee? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further."
Job is getting the point: a finite creature who has no wisdom to run this world and is utterly ignorant of 99.999% of its processes has no business instructing his Maker and Ruler how to run the world, even condemning God for the way he runs it.
God Continues His Case Against Job
God presses his case further against Job in 40:6–9 as he speaks again out of the whirlwind.
Gird up your loins like a man; I will question you, and you declare to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be justified? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?
Are God's Ways Right Simply Because He Is Almighty God?
This is disturbing argument. Does God mean that we are to submit to the justice of his ways simply because he has a powerful arm? Are we supposed to acknowledge his right simply because he has might? Is something right and good just because God does it?
I think the answer to that question is yes and no. On the one hand, there is no greater reality than God with which we can judge God's actions. He would not be God if he submitted to something outside himself.
But on the other hand, when we say the sentence, "God is good," or, "God always does what is right," God wants us to mean more than simply, "God is God." He wants us to see that his might does not make right in the sense that it could be capricious and arbitrary and irrational and nevertheless right. Instead he wants us to see that his might is purposeful.
God's Holy and Purposeful Might
So in 40:10–14 he challenges Job to join him in this holy and purposeful might.
Deck yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe yourself with glory and splendor. Pour forth the overflowings of your anger, and look on every one that is proud, and abase him. Look on every one that is proud, and bring him low; and tread down the wicked where they stand. Hide them all in the dust together; bind their faces in the world below. Then will I also acknowledge to you, that your own right hand can give you victory.
This is very different from saying, "Acknowledge that my might is right no matter what I do." Instead, God says, "I employ my might to clothe myself with splendor and to abase the proud and (by implication) to exalt the humble." In other words the rightness of God's might is not merely that it is God's, but also that its purposes are consistence with his excellence.
The goodness of God is just this: that he upholds his glory by abasing the proud and giving the humble delight in his excellence.
Job Brought to Submission and Worship
So in bringing Job to submission, God did not simply say, "Might makes right. So stop condemning my ways." He said, in the first place, there are ten million things about running the world of which you don't know the first thing, but I know perfectly. So it is presumptuous to assume you can counsel me about how to run a more just world. You can't begin to know all that has to be taken into account in making decisions about how to run the world for my glory and for the joy of my people!
And in the second place, God showed that his might is not arbitrary but purposeful. And the purpose is to uphold his glory by abasing the proud and blessing the humble. Therefore Job should not presume to accuse God of being arbitrary or capricious or irrational. He should submit to the wisdom and goodness of God's dealings and hold fast to the promise that "God withholds no good thing from those who walk uprightly" (Psalm 84:11).
Three Acts of Job's Submission
Which in fact he did in Job 42:1–6. Notice the three acts of submission:
- Verse 1–2: "Then Job answered the Lord: 'I know that thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of thine can be thwarted.'" He submits to God's absolute sovereignty: that can do whatever he pleases, and is not constrained by anything outside himself.
- Verse 3: He quotes God and then gives his response. "'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know." He submits to God's infinitely greater wisdom and knowledge: he has spoken about things of which he is very ignorant.
- Verses 4–6: He again quotes God and then gives his own response. "'Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.' I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes."
The lessons for us are plain and simple and profound:
- Believe with all your heart in the absolute sovereignty of God. Pray that God would give you that conviction.
- Believe with all your heart that everything he does is right and good. Pray that God will give you that assurance.
- Repent of all the times you have questioned God or found fault with him in the way he has treated you. Pray that God would humble you to see these murmurings as sinful.
- Be satisfied with the holy will of God and do not murmur.
Be like the great George Mueller of Bristol England. On the Lord's Day, February 6, 1870, his wife Mary died of rheumatic fever. They had been married 39 years and 4 months. The Lord gave him the strength to preach at her memorial service. He said,
I miss her in numberless ways, and shall miss her yet more and more. But as a child of God, and as a servant of the Lord Jesus, I bow, I am satisfied with the will of my Heavenly Father, I seek by perfect submission to His holy will to glorify Him, I kiss continually the hand that has thus afflicted me.