I Will Question You (Job - Part 3) Back to all sermons
Date: May 23, 2014
Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Scripture: Job 38:1–42:17
Synopsis: Job came to God with his questions, demanding answers. When God showed up, he didn’t answer Job’s questions. Instead, God became the questioner: “I Will Question You!” is the title of this sermon from Job 38-42. While God did not answer Job’s questions, he did reveal himself to Job in a new way. This new perspective on God and on life itself was enough for Job. Will it be enough for us?
Life is filled with “Why?” questions. You only have to listen to the news reports. An airplane takes off from Malaysia with over 200 people aboard and disappears without a trace. A ferry in Korea capsizes and hundreds of people, many of them high school students on a field trip, are drowned. An explosion in a coal mine takes the lives of scores of miners. 200 school girls are kidnapped from a school in Nigeria. Bombs explode in a busy Nairobi market place. Floods destroy homes and livelihoods in the Balkans. And we ask “Why?”
As Christians who believe the Bible, we do have at least a partial, big picture answer to these questions. We know, from Genesis 3 and the account of the fall of Adam and Eve and the chapters that followthat we live in a broken, fallen world that has been subjected to futility and frustration; it is a world under a curse because of mankind’s rebellion against God, the Creator. What we see in the larger world around us are the consequences of sin and the Fall of man.
While that answer may partially satisfy us at the cosmic, macro level, if we are honest, we still struggle with the “Why?” question on the individual, micro level. Why these people? Why that country? Why children? Why now? Why this? And, particularly pressing and personal, “Why me?” when we are personally touched by pain, tragedy or sorrow. Why?
I remember many years ago, sitting and listening to the prayer of a man who was in the midst of an excruciating personal tragedy. His oldest daughter, a young woman only 21 years of age, had been abducted by persons unknown – simply vanished in broad daylight. She was never found, a mystery that was never solved. The father, a strong Christian and a missionary, was understandably distraught after each day passed with no word. I still remember his prayer that day. “Lord, we can accept anything from your hand, but we have to know why.”
We can certainly empathize with his emotions, his desire for, even his demand for an explanation. But I remember wondering at the time, and I still wonder today. Do we need to know why?
This is the third and final message in our series from the Book of Job. In the first message we looked at the first two chapters of Job, where we were privileged to see behind the curtain that exists between the visible world and the invisible, spiritual world. We witnessed the debate between God and Satan. The debate arose over a fundamental question of God’s kingdom and his rule over his subjects. We posed the question this way: Why do the righteous worship? God points to Job as an example of one of his faithful subjects; a man who feared God and turned away from evil. But Satan challenges Job’s loyalty to God. “Does Job fear God for no reason?” Satan accuses Job (and by extension, all God followers) of being a mercenary whose worship was based solely on self-interest. “Take away your hand of blessing and protection, and Job will curse you to your face,” was his claim.
And so the great contest is joined in the spiritual world. But it is played out in the visible world, in the life of Job. I pointed out in that message, and I remind us of this fact again today, that Job was utterly unaware of the scene in heaven. It is essential to our understanding of the story and the book to keep that fact in mind.
In the next section of the book (chapters 3-37) and in my second message, we listened as Job and his friends tried to make sense of Job’s tragedy and to reconcile it with their theology. They strive to match what they see with what they believe – once again, remembering that they only see the earthly circumstances of Job’s life. They attempt to match Job’s tragedy with their concept of God as a God of justice who punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous. Job’s friends come to the conclusion that Job must have sinned to bring such judgment from the hand of God.
But Job continues to protest. He affirms his faith in God, but he shouts repeatedly to heaven, just as that grieving father did in his prayer: “Why, God? Why? I have to know why!”
Here is a sample of Job’s protesting cry as recorded in Job 23:1-5
Then Job answered and said:
2 “Today also my complaint is bitter;
my hand is heavy on account of my groaning.
3 Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
that I might come even to his seat!
4 I would lay my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
5 I would know what he would answer me
and understand what he would say to me.
Job demands an audience with God, so that he can make his case and argue with God and demand an answer from God.
And so, following chapter after chapter of agonizing debate, the Book of Job reaches its climactic moment. God shows up. We are told in Job 38:1 that he showed up in a unique way. It says that the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind. NIV translates it “storm”. The basic meaning is a strong wind. My own picture of it is a kind of mini twister or tornado funnel – intense, but localized. We used to see these in Africa from time to time – just a sudden funnel of wind that would spring up and lift dust, leaves and other debris high into the air. This is the same word that is used to describe the wind (or whirlwind) that took Elijah up to heaven.
Whatever the mode of his appearance, it is what he said that makes the deepest impression.
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3 Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
In God’s opening words, the whole perspective and orientation of the Book of Job and indeed of the universe itself is turned upside down and inside out. Job has been asking and demanding answers from God. When God shows up, he says simply: “Here I am, but I will be the one asking the questions and you will answer me.”
I am reminded of a common scene in many cop shows on TV. The suspect in a crime has been apprehended, and he starts asking; “Why am I here? Why are you arresting me? What evidence do you have against me?” And the arresting officer says sternly, “I will be the one asking the questions!”
Why do I say that these words turn the perspective of the Book of Job and even the universe inside out? I say it because we tend to view the universe and life and life’s circumstances from a man-centered and self-centered perspective. We are the center of the universe. God exists to serve us and to meet our needs. And when he does not fulfill our expectations, we demand that he explain himself to us. This is what Job has been doing. But God refuses to answer any of Job’s questions. There is not even one hint of an effort to explain to Job what was going on or what had happened in the scenes behind the curtain. God felt no obligation whatsoever to answer Job’s questions. “I will ask the questions,” he says. “You will answer me.”
We will never understand the Book of Job until we realize that it is not a man centered book. It is a God-centered book. Job is not the main character in the story. God is. God is the Sun. Job is simply one of the planets. And I would go further and state that we will never understand the Bible until we realize that it is not a man-centered book. It is a God-centered book. And we will never begin to understand life and the world around us until we realize that this world, this universe is not man-centered. It is God-centered. He created it. He rules it. He is sovereign. And as the Sovereign One, he will ask the questions.
In these chapters, we have some of the most exquisite poetry in the Bible, as God’s questions are put into beautiful images and figurative descriptions of the created world. We are just going to sample. In chapter 38, he describes the wonders of creation by describing the beauty and power of inanimate nature.
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
7 when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb,
9 when I made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors,
11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?
He goes on to describe the wonders of climate and weather.
“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,
or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
23 which I have reserved for the time of trouble,
for the day of battle and war?
24 What is the way to the place where the light is distributed,
or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?
25 “Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain
and a way for the thunderbolt,
26 to bring rain on a land where no man is,
on the desert in which there is no man,
27 to satisfy the waste and desolate land,
and to make the ground sprout with grass?
28 “Has the rain a father,
or who has begotten the drops of dew?
29 From whose womb did the ice come forth,
and who has given birth to the frost of heaven?
30 The waters become hard like stone,
and the face of the deep is frozen.
He describes the stars in their constellations:
“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades
or loose the cords of Orion?
32 Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season,
or can you guide the Bear with its children?
33 Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
Can you establish their rule on the earth?
It is intriguing that these constellation names can be traced so far back in history. No one knows exactly where and when they originated. Some speculate as far back as the Sumerian and ancient Babylonians. God challenges Job: “Did you hang those stars in the sky, Job?”
Growing up in Africa, I love this next paragraph and description of the coming of the rains after a long dry season; the dramatic thunderstorms, followed by rain that falls so heavily, you are soaked in seconds. Listen:
“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
that a flood of waters may cover you?
35 Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go
and say to you, ‘Here we are’?
36 Who has put wisdom in the inward parts
or given understanding to the mind?
37 Who can number the clouds by wisdom?
Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
38 when the dust runs into a mass
and the clods stick fast together?
Can you do that, Job?
Starting in the last few verses of chapter 38 and on through chapter 39, God describes the wonders of the animal kingdom. It’s a great read, just for the beauty of the poetry.
“Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
40 when they crouch in their dens
or lie in wait in their thicket?
41 Who provides for the raven its prey,
when its young ones cry to God for help,
and wander about for lack of food? (38:39-41)
He continues in the same vein in the next chapter:
Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
Do you observe the calving of the does?
2 Can you number the months that they fulfill,
and do you know the time when they give birth,
3 when they crouch, bring forth their offspring,
and are delivered of their young?
4 Their young ones become strong; they grow up in the open;
they go out and do not return to them.
Skip down to verse 9:
9 “Is the wild ox willing to serve you?
(My African roots reassert themselves here, and I picture the fierce Cape buffalo of the African plains, one of the wildest and most dangerous of God’s creatures.)
Will he spend the night at your manger?
10 Can you bind him in the furrow with ropes,
or will he harrow the valleys after you?
11 Will you depend on him because his strength is great,
and will you leave to him your labor?
12 Do you have faith in him that he will return your grain
and gather it to your threshing floor?
And now another image from my African heritage – maybe that’s why I enjoy these chapters!
13 “The wings of the ostrich wave proudly,
but are they the pinions and plumage of love?
14 For she leaves her eggs to the earth
and lets them be warmed on the ground,
15 forgetting that a foot may crush them
and that the wild beast may trample them.
16 She deals cruelly with her young, as if they were not hers;
though her labor be in vain, yet she has no fear,
17 because God has made her forget wisdom
and given her no share in understanding.
18 When she rouses herself to flee,
she laughs at the horse and his rider.
Stupid, but fast, God says of the ostrich. And I made her that way!
He goes on to describe the power of the horse, and the soaring flight of the hawk and the eagle. And throughout, he keeps asking Job the question: Did you create this? Can you do this? Can you make this happen? Do you understand how this works?
He then returns to his challenge in chapter 40:
And the Lord said to Job:
2 “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
He who argues with God, let him answer it.”
“Job, do you really want to argue with me? Do you really want to debate me? Do you really want to question me and the way I run the universe?”
In awe, Job bows in worship:
3 Then Job answered the Lord and said:
4 “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
5 I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but I will proceed no further.”
To be sure that the lesson has gone home, God challenges Job again:
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
7 “Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
8 Will you even put me in the wrong?
Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?
9 Have you an arm like God,
and can you thunder with a voice like his?
He then goes on to ask Job: Do you want to govern the world? Do you think you can do a better job?
“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.
12 Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low
and tread down the wicked where they stand.
13 Hide them all in the dust together;
bind their faces in the world below.
14 Then will I also acknowledge to you
that your own right hand can save you.
Do you think it’s easy being God? Do you want to take my place? If you are wiser and more powerful than I am, I will be glad to give you a turn!
In the rest of this chapter and the next, God describes two great creatures. The names he uses are strange to us: behemoth and leviathan. Bible commentators differ in their interpretation of the reference. We are faced with one of the two conclusions. Either these are descriptions of mythical creatures, creatures of legend. Or these are figurative descriptions of actual creatures. I prefer the latter, and from the description would identify the behemoth as the hippo and leviathan as the crocodile.
We don’t have time to read these poetic descriptions, but in both cases he returns to the same point:
which I made as I made you; (40:15)
Here he makes the declaration that this creature was created in the same way and by the same power that God made Job and all human beings.
Then in describing Leviathan, he has this to say in 41:8-11.
Lay your hands on him;
remember the battle—you will not do it again!
9 Behold, the hope of a man is false;
he is laid low even at the sight of him.
10 No one is so fierce that he dares to stir him up.
Who then is he who can stand before me?
11 Who has first given to me, that I should repay him?
Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.
Here is the logic: “Job, if you are not strong enough to stand before these creatures which I made along with you, what makes you think that you are strong enough to stand before me, the Creator, and challenge me and question my wisdom and my plans and my governance of the universe? Do you have enough power and wisdom to challenge me and my working in your life, when you cannot even understand, let alone control this world which I have made?”
Notice that God has not answered a single one of Job’s questions. He has not taken Job into his confidence about the scenes in heaven, or revealed the role that Satan has played in the trial – or even the honor that Job has brought to God’s name, by holding onto his faith in the midst of trial. In response to all of Job’s protests and questions, God has really only said one thing to Job:
“I am God. Consider my greatness, my majesty, my power, my wisdom as displayed in the things that I have made. And worship me, simply because I am God.”
We see Job’s response in Job 42:1-6
Then Job answered the Lord and said:
2 “I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 ‘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.
4 ‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
6 therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”
And so, with his questions unanswered, but his faith intact, he bowed in humble worship before the God of the universe; the Creator God, his God, the God who can do all things and whose purposes cannot be thwarted.
We started out this series of messages with the question: Why do the righteous suffer? But we very quickly discovered that that is not the question that the Book of Job was written to address. Instead it was written to raise a different question: Why do the righteous worship?
And as the chapters have unfolded, we discovered something else. We thought we came to this book to ask God questions and demand answers. Instead, we found that the Book of Job was actually written to ask each of us a question. And that question is very personal and very profound: Whom do you worship, and why do you worship him?
Ultimately, there is only one right and worthy answer to that question: To worship the God who created all things. To worship him simply because he is God! And because he is God, he is worthy of our worship and of our confidence and of our trust, whether or not we understand what he is doing in the world or in our lives. To worship him even when we don’t understand why.
There was a Christian film that came out many years ago called The Hiding Place. It tells the true story of a family of believers in Holland during the 2nd World War. This family risked their lives by hiding Jews from the Nazis. Ultimately, they were discovered and arrested and sent to a concentration camp, where the father and one of the two sisters, named Betsy, were eventually put to death. The other sister, Corrie ten Boom survived to tell their story and to have a world-wide ministry of writing and speaking.
There is one particular scene in the film that powerfully imprinted itself on my memory. It takes place in the concentration camp. Corrie and Betsy have become known as Christians, which has subjected them to considerable scorn from the other, embittered residents of the camp. How could anyone cling to faith in God under such horrendous conditions? One of the women was especially bitter.
“I am a violinist,” she said. “I spent years in lessons and practice. I became one of the best. I played first violin in one of the finest orchestras in Europe. And now look!”
She thrust her hands out in front of her. They were gnarled and crooked. Practically every bone in her hands had been broken under Nazi torture. “I will never play the violin again,” she said. “If there is a God, why did he permit this to happen? Why? Why?”
There was a long silence. Then Betsy answered, very softly and very simply: “If you know him, you don’t have to know why.”
That’s really the whole practical application of the Book of Job in a single sentence, isn’t it? If we know him, we don’t have to know why. Job demanded answers. “Tell me why, God! Tell me why!” When God appeared, he said to him simply: “Look at me Job. Consider what I have made. Meditate on me and on my wisdom and my power.” And when Job looked at God, he no longer needed to know why. It was enough just to know God.
And so, with the test concluded and Job’s faith intact, in the final verses of Job, God sets out to restore Job. But I think it is very significant where he begins:
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. 8 Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” 9 So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job's prayer.
This paragraph may seem extraneous to the larger story, but it is here for a reason and the reason is important. Sometimes after a difficult time of testing and trial, we may come through with our faith in God intact. But there may remain a legacy of bitterness toward other people who were a part of the trial. Maybe they had a hand in actually causing our trial. Or maybe they were friends who failed to support us when we needed it most. Or maybe it was people, friends or other believers who, like Job’s friends, said thoughtless things, tried to blame us for our suffering, or were callous or cruel either intentionally or unintentionally. It certainly would have been easy for Job to feel that way about his friends, wouldn’t it?
So what did God do? He gave Job a way to deal with the problem. “Pray for their forgiveness!” Job is instructed. And so the bitterness is left behind, covered under God’s forgiveness. I wonder if you or I has some lingering bitterness from the trials we have experienced. Is there someone you need to forgive, so you can be truly free from the past?
Then with Job’s relationship to God affirmed and his relationship with his friends restored, God opened the windows of heaven and began to pour out blessing once again. All his possessions were restored twice over, and in the process of time, ten more children were born to him.
We need this encouragement during the times of testing and despair. When the time of our testing is past, God will restore us and lift us up. He will often do it in this life, and he will certainly do it in the life to God. Ultimately, God is a just and fair God.
The question before us all then remains. Whom do we worship and why do we worship him? Why do we trust God? Can we trust God? Can we trust him and continue to worship and serve him even in the dark times, even when we don’t understand and even when we don’t know why?
Not everyone is satisfied with the answers the Book of Job gives. I remember taking a literature class in university, in which we studied Job as a piece of literature. It was interesting to listen and participate in a discussion on the Book of Job with people who were not believers. I remember one out spoken student in long hair, a full beard, a leader of a local commune (this was in the 1960’s). His summary of the Book of Job was laced with profanity and obscenities: “I think Job was #*&#,&#*#,*!#*#stupid!”
He spoke as one who did not know God. To unconditionally trust a God whom we do not know is impossible. But the better we know him the more sense it makes. He is God. He can be trusted.
In the first message in the series I told you the story of the death of my sister-in-law Janis, a victim of a bandit’s bullet in Southern Sudan. In the weeks following Janis’ death, I spent a lot of time with my brother Lanny. We didn’t talk that much, but I do remember one morning, sitting and drinking a cup of coffee together in the clubhouse after playing a round of golf.
We started talking about what had happened. Lanny commented: “Many of the letters of condolence I have received have said something to the effect that ‘you must really be struggling with why God allowed this to happen.’ But the strange thing about it is that I have not really been troubled by that question. I know that I am simply a servant of God and under his orders. Janis and I were in Sudan in obedience to God and to his call on our life. Therefore what happened is part of his plan for me as his servant. And as painful as it has been, I know that I can trust him and now simply get on with the task that he has given me.”
Lanny knows God.
If you know him, you don’t have to know why.
Before I close, I want to come back to make one final point. I want to come back to that bitter young man in my literature class. I made the comment that he did not know God and to trust a God whom we do not know is impossible.
Maybe that is where you are in life this morning. You don’t know God. He is a stranger to you, and an object of fear, or bitterness, or confusion or all three. It’s no wonder you can’t trust him. But how can you get to know him? Where can you go to find him?
God appeared to Job and took him on a tour of the created world to reveal his power and wisdom to Job. That is a good way. But there is an even better way. In John 14:8, one of Jesus’ disciples named Philip approached Jesus with a request.
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”
That sounds like a reasonable request. Maybe he had one of the Old Testament accounts of God’s appearances in mind. Maybe even God’s appearance to Job in the whirlwind. “Show us the Father, and it is enough.”
How did Jesus respond?
9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
Paul says it this way in Colossians 1:15a: He is the image of the invisible God.
He adds in Colossians 1:19: For in him (Jesus) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.
If you want to know God, you need to get to know Jesus. He is the Word become flesh, God the invisible in visible form. He is the Way to the Father. Open a Bible and start to read. Start with one of the Gospels. Before you read, though, just pray this simple prayer: “God, I want to know you. Show yourself to me.” If you will do this with an open heart and mind, be ready for the adventure of a lifetime.
Be careful, though. You may think you are coming to ask God questions. But don’t be too surprised if you soon find that it is God who is asking you the questions!
- Read Romans 1:19-20.
- Now read Job 38.
- What divine attributes are on display in Creation (as described in these verses)?
- (If time permits, read Job 39 as well, and answer the same question.)
- How did Job respond? (Job 40:3-5, 42:1-6) What has he come to understand that he did not understand before?
- “Job is a God-centered book. The Bible is a God-centered book. The universe is God-centered. He asks the questions.” Do you agree with these quotes (from the sermon)? How do they affect our understanding of the Book of Job? How do they affect our understanding of life? How do they affect our “need to know why”?
- “If you know him, you don’t have to know why.” Do you agree or disagree? Why?
- 8. Why do you think it was important for Job to pray for his friends?
- What have you appreciated most from this series on the Book of Job?
- What still troubles you in the story?