Tuesday, March 24, 2020
Then Job answered the LORD and said:
“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘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.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”
After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.
Job is a long book – 42 chapters. In addition to being long, Job requires that the reader plod through a vast middle section made up almost entirely of lengthy, poetic speeches which often repeat the same themes. Surely this is by design. The length of the book and its methodical pacing tell us, at least, that God desires for us to take our time reading through Job’s story. It is tempting to focus almost exclusively on the opening and closing narratives while neglecting the larger middle portion. But those chapters function like carefully placed speed bumps requiring the reader to move slowly and cautiously through the challenging terrain of God’s providence in human suffering. Questions about God’s role in human suffering are profoundly difficult both intellectually and emotionally. So, it is no surprise that God gave his people a book that requires the reader to slow down, read carefully, and digest slowly. Questions from the ash heap of sorrow cannot be answered with a Tweet.
Technically, Job is classified as wisdom literature. This is appropriate for Job possesses many of the key features of biblical wisdom literature. However, Job is unique among the books of the Bible in that it is a mix of prose, poetry, and speech. Most of all, however, Job is poetry. God, of course, inspired not only the words of Scripture but the various genres as well. And it pleased Him to give us a book which grapples so honestly with human suffering written primarily in a poetic structure. Why might this be? We can only speculate but J.I. Packer is probably getting at the truth when he concludes that poems “are always a personal ‘take’ on something, communicating not just from head to head but from heart to heart” (quoted in Ash).*
At the beginning of the Book of Job we are introduced to the spiritual reality of the universe. Specifically, we see that there is a spiritual conflict instigated by Satan. The story of Job is not about suffering and evil generally. It is about the faithful believer who suffers. It is about the wicked intentions of Satan against God and his people. And Job suffers precisely because he is a righteous man.
It is his faithfulness which makes him an attractive target to the enemy. Jesus said in John 10:10 – “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy.” The Apostle Peter said, “Your enemy of the devil goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.” One sobering moment described in Luke 22 Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” Jesus did not pray that his disciples would be spared from the attacks of the evil one in this life. He gives permission for the attacks and then prays for their perseverance.
Don’t ever believe that knowing Jesus lifts you above the warfare. Quite the opposite. Knowing Jesus puts you smack dab in the middle of it. In 1 Peter 4:12 the apostle tells us not to be surprised at our suffering, “as though something strange were happening to us.”
After experiencing unimaginable suffering Job endured the misguided counsel of his friends. Those friends held to a worldview in which suffering only came to the unrighteous. Therefore, their litany of rebukes against Job acted like salt in the wounds. Indeed, so great was the pain that even righteous Job began to challenge God’s justice. And then God spoke. And rather than offering answers to every question about “the problem of evil” God gave Job what he truly needed. God spoke. He put Job in his place as it were. “Where were you when I made all these things?”
After hearing God’s searing words Job responded with repentance: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know (vs. 3). The Lord then turned his attention to Job’s friends: “After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: ‘My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (vs. 7).
Unlike his three counselors, Job had spoken rightly: “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” “Shall we receive good from the Lord and not calamity?”
But Job repents precisely because all of his words and attitudes were not right. And this likely indicates that God’s commendation of Job is more than just about the words Job spoke. It is likely that God is affirming the totality of Job’s faith in contrast to the lack of understanding of the three friends. Throughout, Job displays a passion to know God and understand his ways. He never lets go of God. God is not merely a system or philosophy to Job. For Job, God is his only hope to be justified. He waits actively, prayerfully, and painfully for the vindication of God.
“Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” - James 5:11
* Ash, Christopher, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014) p. 22.