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    Aug 03, 2014

    Class 11: Job

    Series: Old Testament Overview

    Category: Core Seminars, Suffering, Nature of God, Sovereignty of God, Faith


    Introduction to Wisdom Literature


    Good morning!  As I mentioned upstairs, we’re looking at the book of Job this morning.  Now, if you’ve been faithfully attending the class these past ten weeks, I’m sure you’re wondering, “what?”  Ruth, Samuel, and then . . . Job?  Yes.  Let me explain.


    Take a look at the second handout you received when you walked in: “The Old Testament in Redemptive-Historical Order.”  You can see a thematic grouping of the books of the Old Testament, moving from the Creation of God’s people in the Pentateuch to the establishment of God’s people in the land, and the crowning of God’s king that we saw last week with Ruth and 1 and 2 Samuel.  The next book in your bible, 1 Kings, begins the process of reversing all that with the disobedience of God’s kings.  That’s a story told in Kings and annotated by the prophets.  Then the exile, or the disestablishment of God’s people, and finally the re-creation of God’s people.


    Now, in the middle, as the kingship is established, we have the wisdom and praise of God’s king.  Because if you think about it, the often-termed “wisdom literature” in the middle of your Bible is quite related to God’s king.  Many of the Psalms were written by David.  Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs are either credited to or closely related to David’s son Solomon.  These books were wisdom for ruling well as God’s king—even more than they were intended for God’s people.


    And so we’re going to take a break from Israel’s history of kings to look at God’s wisdom for kings.


    Introduction to Job


    Of course, ironically, as we get to Job you can kind of forget everything I just said.  Because Job wasn’t written by a king at all.  So why are we studying Job now?  Well . . . basically because it’s wisdom literature and we’re squeezing it in with the rest of the wisdom literature which does fit here.  Job is timeless in its wisdom.  It seems to be set in the time of Abraham (or even before) based on how Job lives, how he measures wealth, and so forth.  But the use of the covenant term Yahweh for God by the narrator suggests that the story was compiled after the Exodus when God gave his people his covenant name.  So it is a book we don’t need to fit neatly into a chronology of outside events.  It’s interesting that when the characters themselves speak, they almost always use the generic term “God.”  But when the narrator speaks, he uses Yahweh, which you’ll see in your bibles as “The Lord.”  So whoever compiled this knew a lot more about God than Job did.


    So what is Job about?  Most fundamentally, the book of Job is about asking some of life’s most difficult questions.


    Why do the righteous suffer in the same way as the unrighteous?  The wicked seem to go unpunished, and many upright people suffer.  How do we explain that?  And, perhaps more importantly, how should the righteous conduct themselves when they suffer?


    You can tell that two things are assumed here.  (1) That God is sovereign, ordaining everything that comes to pass; and (2) that God is good, loving what is right and hating what is evil.  The book of Job, much like the book of Ruth that we saw last week and the book of Habakkuk that we’ll get to in the second half of the course, address the gap between what our circumstances seem to say about God and the reality in his Word of his goodness and sovereignty.  When we look at life around us, it seems that either God isn’t in control, or he doesn’t actually care about what is good.   Job is about understanding how we can trust a good and sovereign God in the midst of unexplained suffering.


    Notice I didn’t say that Job explains why these things happen.  The book is useful in part because it explains why bad things happen to Job.  But Job never finds that out.  Instead, the book is about how we can trust a good and sovereign God despite the nature of our circumstances.  Job is a book about trust.  Not about perfect explanation.  About amassing evidence so that we can take an intellectually honest leap of faith to trust God in difficult circumstances.  Even when we will never find out this side of heaven why those circumstances came to pass.


    So we can summarize the book of Job with a simple theme statement:


    God is completely sovereign over all the affairs of his universe, for his own glory.  But often his motives, reasons, and goals behind what he does are not revealed to us.  Yet we find in his character, and in our Redeemer, reason to trust in his care.


    This isn’t some kind of New Testament systematic theology read into ancient literature.  Instead, this is the message of Job.  Job takes on mammoth issues.  And it doesn’t give us some simplistic, cliché answer.  There is no one-to-one correspondence between evil and suffering, or between righteousness and reward, this side of heaven.  Things are complicated and sticky.  And Job’s dealing with this is genuine and realistic.  These issues need to be dealt with seriously, soberly, humbly, and reverently.  But these issues are dealt with.  There is real suffering in the book of Job.  And wrongheaded attempts to answer the question of why God allows that suffering to happen.  But finally, the voice of God who makes all things clear.


    We’re going to break down the book this morning into three big pieces.  First, we’ll observe that we often suffer.  Next, that we sometimes understand.  And last, that we can always trust.[1]


    So, we often suffer.  We sometimes understand.  But we can always trust.  Let’s get started.


    We Often Suffer


    When we first meet Job, we see that he is a righteous man.  Chapter 1, verse 1: “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.”  not only was Job righteous, he was wealthy, verses 2 and 3.  And wise, as we see in verse five.  In all, as we see in verse three, Job was “the greatest of all the people of the East.”


    What is most well-known about Job, though, isn’t all of this.  It’s what he loses.  Eight verses chronicle his descent into utter ruin.  First he loses his wealth, verse 13:


    13 Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, 14 and there came a messenger to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, 15 and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 16 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said,“ The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 17 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 18 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, 19 and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”


    On top of all this, Job loses his health.  Chapter 2, verses 7.  All of this, taken from Job in a moment.


    Turning from Job to ourselves, it’s worth noting that while Job probably suffered more suddenly than we will, he didn’t suffer more comprehensively than we will suffer.  As Sir Walter Scott said, “Come he slow or come he fast, it is but death that comes at last.”


    Indeed, suffering is universal.  Yet sometimes we Christians avoid admitting the doubt, fear, failing, anger, or conflict that suffering can bring.  We like our church services to be like motivational pep rallies.  But if we want to have a realistic understanding about what it means to be a follower of the Crucified One, if we want to live in the real world, we should recognize that, although we may be able to psyche ourselves up for a little while with a rose-colored version of Christianity, we won’t be able to convince many people around us.  And we won’t be dealing honestly with ourselves either.  Job is a good example of someone who suffers, and deals honestly with his sufferings.


    That’s the first thing we see in this book: we often suffer.


    [Take Questions]


    We Only Sometimes Understand


    The second statement that summarizes Job’s message to us: we sometimes understand.  This is really what most of the book is about.


    Let me give you a brief overview of the rest of the book.  You’ll see it outlined on the back page of your handout.


    At the end of chapter 2, three of Job’s friends come to comfort him, and they sit with them in silence for a whole week.  Very wise of them.  Finally, in chapter 3, Job breaks the silence.   He pours out his complaint.


    Then chapters 4-41—all but the last chapter—are a series of dialogues.


    4-31 contain three cycles of dialogues between Job and his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  In cycles one and two, Eliphaz speaks and Job responds.  Then Bildad speaks and Job responds.  Then Zophar speaks and Job responds.  Really, each of the speakers makes the same point.  Job’s friends: suffering has happened because Job has sinned.  Job: not so!  I’m innocent!  At the end of the third cycle, Job makes his final protest.  He almost demands for God show up and explain his suffering.


    Instead of God, we hear from a young man named Elihu, who appears in chapter 32 and speaks all the way to 37.  Elihu says he has been listening for some time but hasn’t said anything because he’s younger and doesn’t want to disrespect his elders.  But Elihu’s not happy with anyone.  He believes there has been far too much navel-gazing and pointing at Job, and not enough looking to God.  So he gives four monologues on the greatness of God’s justice and mercy which are beyond human understanding.  He challenges Job to consider that his sufferings might in some way be the deliberate acts of a loving God.  And he concludes, 37:23-24 by saying:


    The Almighty—we cannot find him;
        he is great in power;
        justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate.
    Therefore men fear him;
        he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit.


    Finally, in chapter 38, God himself enters the discussion and criticizes those who have “darkened counsel” with “words without knowledge” (38:2).  In one of the Bible’s most remarkable passages, God paints a picture for Job and the others of his unique and sovereign power.  As he says at one point, “Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind?” (38:36).  God looks at the natural world and considers the many things he has made, from seas to stars, from ostriches to oxen.


    Then in chapter 40, God asks Job directly, “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?  He who argues with God, let him answer it.” (40:2).


    To which Job’s response is simple: “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?  I lay my hand on my mouth.  I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” (40:4-5).


    God replies,


    Will you even put me in the wrong?
        Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?
    Have you an arm like God,
        and can you thunder with a voice like his?

    10 “Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity;
        clothe yourself with glory and splendor.
    11 Pour out the overflowings of your anger,
        and look on everyone who is proud and abase him.  (40:8-11)


    In the remainder of chapters 40 and 41, God continues to instruct Job and the others about who he is: “Who then is he who can stand before me?  Who has first given to me, that I should repay him?  Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.” (41:10b-11).


    In chapter 42, the last chapter, Job makes his final confession:

    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.  (3:5-6)

    The story ends here in chapter 42 with God telling Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar that they have been wrong.  He says that what Job has said about God is true. (42:7)  Then he blesses Job.  There are some interesting things God does not say, which we’ll get to those in a moment.  That’s a summary of the book.

    Now, back to a main theme running through these chapters: We Sometimes Understand.

    Job’s friends maintained that we can always understand why we suffer.  Their arguments can basically be summarized this way: “Job, what’s happened to you is really bad.  You must have sinned in a most extraordinary way, because God is just.  And though you deny having sinned, we know you must have.  There can be no other explanation.”

    And every time Job basically responds, “Oh no, this can’t be because of my sin.”  Not that he’s never sinned, but that no great, hidden sin has marked his life that would have called for such calamity.

    Job’s friends keep coming back to the basic idea “You get what you deserve.”  Really, their response is like the response of Jesus’ disciples in John 9.  “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (9:2).  They were every bit as right as the disciples.

    And we can sympathize with them.  They wanted to know why this could have happened to their friend Job.  They didn’t deny the reality of the material world like a Christian Scientist or a Buddhist who says, in essence, “suffering isn’t real.”  And they couldn’t abandon their orthodoxy by rejecting God’s justice or his sovereignty.  So this is what they were left with.  How can an innocent Job suffer in the world of a God who is both sovereign and just?  Logically, something has to give—and Job’s innocence would seem to be the first to go.  Now, in our world people give up on all three of these pillars.  Some deny the reality of suffering, as I just mentioned.  Some think God is well-intentioned, but unable to protect us.  Others deny his goodness or his justice.  But only the religion of the Bible has the audacity to maintain that all four can be true.  Suffering.  God’s absolute control.  God’s goodness.  And yet also Job’s innocence.

    We all have similar tendencies.  We all assume, at some level, the right to understand what God is doing through suffering.  So when we ask the question “why” in suffering, we don’t do it humbly.  We do it angrily.  How dare God do this to us since we’ve followed him so faithfully.  Or despairingly.  I guess my trust in God didn’t work for me after all.  But why do we expect this kind of knowledge?

    That’s the point of Job.  Perhaps more than anything else, Job teaches us that we don’t have all the facts.  In a moment, we’ll look at the interchange between God and Satan that answers why Job suffered.  But Job never knew that, did he?  And God never explains it to him.  There’s nothing like “Oh Job, I’m so sorry for these troubles you’ve been having.  Let me tell you what happened.  Satan came along.  And he said . . . and so I said . . . and then, you see . . .”  No.  Nothing like that.  Job is left in the dark.

    So . . . Job’s friends didn’t understand why Job suffered.  Job didn’t understand why he suffered.  We understand, but only because God told us.  So the book of Job isn’t about understanding why evil happens.  Rather, it is simply telling us that only sometimes we understand.  Only sometimes.

    So if we don’t get what we want—what Job wanted—an explanation, how can we continue to live faithful lives?  That brings us to our third point.  Often we suffer.  Sometimes we understand.  But we always can trust.

    [Take Questions]

    We Can Always Trust

    Faith exists because understanding doesn’t.  If we insist on living only according to our own understanding and completely apart from trust, then we cannot be Christians.  We need to know how to trust.

    The good news is, we have a basis for that trust: God’s power!  In some of the most beautiful poetry you will ever read, the book of Job displays the power of God.  The one we’re called to trust.  Like the other great Old Testament books that grapple with the problem of suffering, we never find an explanation.  But we do understand more of who God is.  And in that knowledge of our Lord, we find the evidence we need on which to base our trust.  We see his creation of all things.  We consider his power and his competency.  We observe his Providence in caring for everything he has created, particularly his care for us.  And we know he is the one who can be trusted.

    As I said, Job never understands why he suffered.  What he’s given is knowledge about God.  And Job trusted that God!

    But we are so much more blessed, aren’t we? Because God lets us peak behind the scenes so we can understand why Job suffered.  That’s the heavenly court scene in chapter one.  Now, in that scene, Satan was wrong, you know.  Satan accuses Job of serving God for his own selfish ends (1:9-11).  He says that Job serves God because he’s wealthy.  God knows that Satan’s wrong, but he allows Satan to take away Job’s wealth.  And guess what?  With all his wealth gone, Job continues to worship God.  Satan was wrong.

    But Satan has never been one to be put off just because he was wrong.  So he accuses Job of serving God only because his health remains.  “Oh surely,” Satan says, “you can take everything a man has, but if you touch his body, then you’ll find out what he really cares about.  Then he will curse you to your face.”  Again, God allows Satan to do what he asks, taking away Job’s health.  And guess what?  Even as Job’s body wastes away, he still worships God.

    Job’s changing circumstances reveal that, as wealthy as he is, Job’s not worshipping God because of his wealth.  As healthy as he is, Job’s not worshipping God because of his health.  The true worship of God does not depend on our circumstances.  We can certainly give him thanks for good circumstances.  But true worship is a response to who God is, regardless of our circumstances.

    In fact, that brings us to one of the central ironies of this book.  I hope you noticed it.  Most of the book consists of Job’s friends saying to him, “Hey Job, I know you look virtuous, but there must be some sin here.”  But they were so far wrong, someone could have said to them, “Eliphaz, Zophar, Bildad, this suffering might have come on you had you been more virtuous!”  Job faced this suffering not because of his vices, but his virtue!  That was why of all the things God could have bragged about before Satan, he chose Job.

    What does this mean for us?  It means we don’t trust God because we are so clever or holy but because his character is trustworthy.  That was the only basis for trust that Job was ever given.  He never read Job chapter 1.  He was only shown God’s character.  Essentially, God says, “Job: look out the window at the beauty of my creation.  And let that be enough information about my goodness and power to enable you to trust me while I rip your world to pieces.” And Job trusted! 

    Think of how much more we know about God’s character than even Job!  How much more evidence we have to trust God.  Skip from his vantage point to ours.  In the gospels, we read of the greatest injustice ever perpetrated in the history of the universe: the murder of the innocent son of God.  And we see how God used it for the greatest of good ever conceived: his glory through the salvation of mankind from his sins.  So statements about suffering in the New Testament can point back to this pivotal event.  If God can use even this for the greatest good, how much more confidence do we have in his good purposes in our own suffering?  “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

    The pattern set in Job is what we get throughout the Bible.  How does suffering of God’s people jive with his sovereignty and mercy?  No explanation, but a call to trust.  And yet through the centuries, compounding more and more evidence on which to base that trust, culminating in the suffering of Christ and his glory.

    At times, God does graciously allow us to see how he has used a difficult situation for our good.  And surely we should thank him for the consolation such moments of understanding afford.  But there is danger in assuming that he must give us such understanding.  What will follow is a counterfeit trust, a trust in our own abilities to figure out all of God’s purposes within any particular trial.  Rather than trust in God and in his character as he has finally revealed it in Jesus Christ on the cross.  The only one who is worthy of our trust is not ourselves; nor is it our own clever ability to figure out life’s knotty questions; it is God himself.  We can trust God because, as Job said, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth” (19:25).  How would Job’s Redeemer redeem?  By living more righteously and perfectly than Job ever could, and by taking upon himself more suffering than Job ever knew.  Job’s patience amid suffering, you see, was finally meant to point to the genuinely perfect righteousness and wholly undeserved suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross.  Through his death on the cross and his resurrection on the third day, Christ would defeat the powers of sin and death.  God promises to forgive everyone who repents of their sins and trusts in Christ.  And they too, along with Job, will stand with their Redeemer in the end.


    I mentioned earlier the story of the disciples asking Jesus, regarding a blind man, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Apparently they were asking the wrong question: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).

    God intends to display his glory in your life and in the lives of everyone around you.  You can be certain of this.  Now, how he specifically intends to do this would take us into other books of the Bible.  But within the context of Job, we can see very clearly that he intends to display his glory in the lives of his children as they continue to serve him amid life’s trials.  And if you are God’s child, reconciled to him through Christ, realize that your very suffering can exquisitely display the glory of God as you serve and worship him in a way that defies the world’s comprehension and abilities.  If you, Christian, are presently enduring a season of suffering, it may be that God is sitting in heaven right now and saying to the heavenly host about him, “Have you considered my servant?”  Could it be that one day you will watch as God shows to all creation the presently unrevealed glories of what he has done by making you in his image and then remaking you as his child?

    We often suffer.  We only sometimes understand.  And by God’s grace, we can always trust.

    Let’s pray.


    [1] The remainder of this class is taken almost entirely from Mark Dever’s chapter on Job in “The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made”