Questions, Questions, Questions! (Job - Part 2)
Topic: Expository Scripture: Job 13:1–37:24
Synopsis: Every human being is a theologian. Everyone has a belief system which includes what we believe (or don’t believe) about God and the unseen, spiritual world. And each of us is faced constantly with the task of making sense of the “stuff of life” in light of our theology. This was the task that faced Job and his three friends; making sense of Job’s tragedy in light of what they believed about God. Chapter after chapter and cycle after cycle the debate continues (Job 3-37). Who was right? Who was wrong? And why? Match your thinking and your theology with theirs in this message entitled: Questions, Questions, Questions!
Every human being is a theologian. Everyone has a belief system, which includes what we believe (or don’t believe) about God and the unseen, spiritual world. Each one of us is faced constantly with the task of making sense of the world and our experience of the world in light of our theology.
The atheist has a theology. He has studied the world around him and analyzed his own experience of that world and come to the conclusion that there is no god. The person who believes in God must decide what kind of God he believes in and how this God works and then must explain what happens around him in light of what he believes about God. Over time, one’s theology or beliefs about God may shift and change, based on life experiences.
In today’s message I have set myself an impossible task. I am going to cover 35 chapters of Scripture, from Job 3 through Job 37. I would liken my task to the website “Google Earth”. I occasionally enjoy going on that website and looking at different regions of the world where I have lived. I enjoy it because of the different perspectives it offers. I can back way off and look at an entire hemisphere and see entire continents on one screen. But then I can zoom in on a country, and then a city, and then a particular street and even a street address and finally get down to such a magnified view that one can actually identify cars in the driveway of a particular house.
Preaching is like that. Most often I use a fairly magnified view, looking at specific words and verses and paragraphs. But occasionally it is helpful to back off and take a satellite view. That is what I am doing in this message. A couple weeks ago I encouraged you to do some homework and read through the Book of Job in preparation for this short series of messages. I hope you have done that, as it will certainly help you follow what I am going to say today.
Job 3-37 is a section of Scripture that is filled with emotion. It is also filled with theology. Good theology and bad theology. In these chapters, Job and his friends are trying to make sense of Job’s tragedy, and to reconcile what has happened to Job with their theology and what they believe to be true about God. They are trying to match what they see with what they believe.
Let’s set the stage from the end of Job chapter 2:
11 Now when Job's three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. 12 And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. 13 And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.
Remember what they know and what they do not know. They were not privileged to see the scenes that took place in heaven; what happened on the other side of the curtain. They only saw the richest and greatest man they know seated on an ash heap; his wealth, his family and his health all gone. It was as catastrophic a series of tragedies as any man has ever experienced. And their first response to Job and his grief is a good one. They simply sat silently and suffered with him.
But then in chapter 3 the great debate begins. Job speaks, and then his friends take turns in answering him. As you read this section, it is always very important to keep track of who is speaking. It is very easy to miss the forest for the trees in these chapters, and to lose the flow what is being said by whom in the mass of verbal arguments.
Job opens with the first speech as chapter 3 begins:
After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. 2 And Job said:
3 “Let the day perish on which I was born,
and the night that said,
‘A man is conceived.’
4 Let that day be darkness!
May God above not seek it,
nor light shine upon it.
And so he continues throughout this chapter and many of his speeches that follow. He expresses the wish that he had never been born. Failing that, he wishes he had died at birth. Then he longs for death to take him now. “Why don’t you let me die now, God?” he asks.
We hear Job longing for the good old days, the days of his prosperity. “If only I could turn the clock back!” he implores. In his speeches, Job expresses disappointment and even anger at God. He cries out over and over to God for an explanation of what has happened.
The first thing that strikes me in these chapters is just how human Job was. I don’t know about you but I find that immensely reassuring. After reading the first two chapters, it would be possible to come away with the impression that Job was a figure carved from marble; a superhuman saint reacting to his great tragedies with great faith, almost as though unfazed by it all. But in the chapters that follow, when he opens his mouth and speaks, we find out how human he is; how like me he is in his reactions and feelings. I am reminded of the words of James in James 5 when he describes Elijah as “a man just like us.” Or as the KJV translates, he was a “man of like passions.”
Job was like us, a man of deeply felt emotions and questions and even doubts. Yet in spite of his human frailties and the turmoil of his emotions, Job’s faith ultimately stood the test. I find that hugely encouraging. To be a man or woman of faith does not mean being a person without feelings, a woman without tears, a man without anger, a person without occasional times of experiencing a deep sense of disappointment in God. It is encouraging to discover that faith and human emotions are not mutually exclusive.
After Job’s friends have sat silently with him for 7 days, they listen to Job speak, and then they begin to offer their counsel and advice. When we left Job last week, it seemed as though everything that could be taken away from him had been taken away; possessions, family, health and finally even the loving support of his own wife.What more could he lose? We are about to find out as we read this middle section of the Book of Job. There was one more thing that could be taken away and that is his reputation and respect in the community. Amazingly, it is this last shred of dignity that Job has to cling to that his friends now begin to attack.
Remember, Job’s friends are doing what we all do. They are trying to make sense of the visible stuff of life in light of their theology or belief system. The theology of Job’s friends can be summarized rather simply. God is a righteous and fair God. As a fair God, he rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. Now they looked at Job, sitting like a beggar among the ashes, and they could only draw one conclusion. Job had sinned and God was punishing him. And because the punishment was great, therefore Job’s sins must have been great. So in applying their logic and theology to the situation, they conclude that their role is to defend God’s justice by exposing Job’s sins and urging him to confess them. Only then would God restore his blessings.
Now, within their arguments there are many layers of logic and intricate reasoning, and even some subtle differences in the arguments of the different men, all of it stated in carefully crafted and beautiful Hebrew poetry. But it all essentially leads back to the same point: “Job, what have you done?”
Let’s sample their logic and accusations:
Job 4:7-9: Remember: who that was innocent ever perished?
Or where were the upright cut off?
8 As I have seen, those who plow iniquity
and sow trouble reap the same.
9 By the breath of God they perish,
and by the blast of his anger they are consumed.
There they are stating their theological presuppositions.
Job 8:3-6: Does God pervert justice?
Or does the Almighty pervert the right?
4 If your children have sinned against him,
he has delivered them into the hand of their transgression.
5 If you will seek God
and plead with the Almighty for mercy,
6 if you are pure and upright,
surely then he will rouse himself for you
and restore your rightful habitation.
Here they apply their theology and call on Job to repent.
Job 11:5-6: But oh, that God would speak
and open his lips to you,
6 and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom!
For he is manifold in understanding.
Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.
Wow! That’s harsh! What more could God take away from Job?
Job 34:10-12: “Therefore, hear me, you men of understanding:
far be it from God that he should do wickedness,
and from the Almighty that he should do wrong.
11 For according to the work of a man he will repay him,
and according to his ways he will make it befall him.
12 Of a truth, God will not do wickedly,
and the Almighty will not pervert justice.
This last speech is by a somewhat enigmatic young theologian named Elihuwho weighs in on the discussion after the three friends have run out of words. But even he comes to the same conclusion. God doesn’t make mistakes. Therefore the fault must lie with Job.
The probing and the questioning goes on and on, chapter after chapter. In fact, as Job continues to protest his innocence, their attacks become more and more vicious. They begin to list all the sins they can think of and accuse Job of being guilty of them, without any evidence or basis in fact.
Job 22:4-11: Is it for your fear of him that he reproves you
and enters into judgment with you?
5 Is not your evil abundant?
There is no end to your iniquities.
6 For you have exacted pledges of your brothers for nothing
and stripped the naked of their clothing.
7 You have given no water to the weary to drink,
and you have withheld bread from the hungry.
8 The man with power possessed the land,
and the favored man lived in it.
9 You have sent widows away empty,
and the arms of the fatherless were crushed.
10 Therefore snares are all around you,
and sudden terror overwhelms you,
11 or darkness, so that you cannot see,
and a flood of water covers you.
Understand! These things are not true! If they had been, God would never have described Job as a blameless and upright man who shunned evil. Eliphaz is making them up, figuring Job has to be guilty of something, and if he just fires enough arrows, he is bound to hit on Job’s hidden sins.
So how does Job respond to all of this? He cries out in wounded innocence. There are few things more painful than to suffer for something you have not done. But then to have people assume you did something wrong because you are suffering is to add the final measure of pain and indignity. It is like a woman who has been forcibly raped, but then when she raises a protest, she is accused of being in the wrong because she must have done something to entice the rapist! The pain is now doubled!
Job’s response to the accusations is 2-fold.
First, he protests his innocence. “I am innocent of these charges!” he cries.
Now, understand, Job is not claiming for himself total sinlessness. But what he does claim is that he is innocent of the terrible sins which would justify the awful things that have happened to him. He cries out over and over: “Lord, if I have sinned, show it to me and I will repent.” But he refuses to confess what he has not done.
Job’s defense reaches its climaxes in chapter 31:
“If I have walked with falsehood
and my foot has hastened to deceit; v. 5
“If my heart has been enticed toward a woman,
and I have lain in wait at my neighbor's door, v. 9
“If I have rejected the cause of my manservant or my maidservant,
when they brought a complaint against me, v. 13
“If I have withheld anything that the poor desired,
or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail,
17 or have eaten my morsel alone,
and the fatherless has not eaten of it
“If I have made gold my trust
or called fine gold my confidence,
25 if I have rejoiced because my wealth was abundant
or because my hand had found much,
26 if I have looked at the sun when it shone,
or the moon moving in splendor,
27 and my heart has been secretly enticed,
and my mouth has kissed my hand,
28 this also would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges,
for I would have been false to God above.
33 if I have concealed my transgressions as others do
by hiding my iniquity in my heart,
34 because I stood in great fear of the multitude,
and the contempt of families terrified me,
so that I kept silence, and did not go out of doors—
35 Oh, that I had one to hear me!
(Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!)
Oh, that I had the indictment written by my adversary!
36 Surely I would carry it on my shoulder;
I would bind it on me as a crown;
37 I would give him an account of all my steps;
like a prince I would approach him.
38 “If my land has cried out against me
and its furrows have wept together,
39 if I have eaten its yield without payment
and made its owners breathe their last,
40 let thorns grow instead of wheat,
and foul weeds instead of barley.”
In all of these verses, Job is saying one thing. “I will bear, even welcome, just punishment from the hand of God, but I cannot confess falsely to sins I have not committed.”
In addition to his own protests of innocence, Job also makes one additional point to counteract the arguments of his friends. From his own observations of life, Job makes this assertion: The wicked do prosper.
He says it in Job 12:6: The tents of robbers are at peace,
and those who provoke God are secure,
who bring their god in their hand.
He makes the point even more clearly in Job 24:1-12:
“Why are not times of judgment kept by the Almighty,
and why do those who know him never see his days?
2 Some move landmarks;
they seize flocks and pasture them.
3 They drive away the donkey of the fatherless;
they take the widow's ox for a pledge.
4 They thrust the poor off the road;
the poor of the earth all hide themselves.
Skipping down to verse 9:
9 (There are those who snatch the fatherless child from the breast,
and they take a pledge against the poor.)
10 They go about naked, without clothing;
hungry, they carry the sheaves;
11 among the olive rows of the wicked they make oil;
they tread the winepresses, but suffer thirst.
12 From out of the city the dying groan,
and the soul of the wounded cries for help;
yet God charges no one with wrong.
In this point again Job is saying to his friends: “Your theology does not fit the facts on the ground. Look around! There are lots of openly wicked people who are doing very well and whose fields and crops are prospering even as they exploit and abuse the poor who work for them. How can we say that God always rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked? I am righteous and I am suffering. Those people are wicked and unjust and they are prospering. Innocent people are dying all around.”
And so the cycles of the debate continue, round and round, over and over?
Who is right and who is wrong?
The text of Job does come to our rescue on this question. I am going to cheat and skip to the answer at the back of the book. At the end of the day there is a divine answer and God as the judge of all and the final referee of all theological arguments declares a winner in Job 42:7: 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.
So by God’s own assessment, Job is right and his friends are wrong. But we are not told in just what way Job’s friends erred. That is a question we must wrestle with and answer for ourselves. I have done that and I will share my conclusions. But I would welcome you to the discussion and the search as well, for I do not claim that my answers are exhaustive. Here are my thoughts.
1. Their understanding of God was incomplete.
They made a very common mistake. They assumed that God was as limited as their own concept of him; that what they understood about God was all there was to God. A man by the name of J. B. Philips wrote a book many years ago with the title: “Your God Is Too Small.” In this book he talks about some of the misconceptions people have about God. One of those misconceptions he calls “God in a box.” It is the idea that we take certain facts about God and from that we form our conception of God. Our conception of God becomes our box that we try to fit God into. Anything outside of the box gets cut off or ignored. No ambiguity is tolerated. This is what God is. This is how he acts. Our idea of God becomes our God.
Job’s friends had put God in a box. It wasn’t a bad box, as boxes go. They viewed God as a fair and righteous judge. But they also viewed him as a God who always works in very certain, predictable ways; ways that they could understand, manage and therefore control. But God is always bigger than our concept of him. God is always full of surprises. He is faithful to himself and to his character, but that does not mean that he is predictable by our measures of predictability. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways.
2. Their understanding of the world was incomplete.
They did not have a comprehensive enough view of the spiritual world and the forces at work on the “other side of the curtain.” Satan was a vital player in this drama. Yet they had no idea what his role was or the effect that he had on Job’s circumstances.
Now at this point it is hard to fault them, isn’t it? How could they know these things? We all have inadequate views of God, and what access did they have to the realities of the spiritual world? But their real error lay in my third point.
3. They made evaluations and passed judgments that they had neither qualifications nor sufficient facts to make.
Their chief problem lay in their assumption that they knew enough to explain God and condemn Job. In fact they were missing key pieces to the puzzle. They were missing an accurate knowledge of Job’s personal life. So they made up things to fill in the gaps. They were missing the knowledge of Satan’s role in the whole drama. They didn’t know what God’s ultimate plan and purpose was. They didn’t know, and they didn’t know what they didn’t knowbut they went ahead and made judgments anyway.
There is an important lesson for all us to learn here. Don’t pass judgment on others! We don’t have enough facts. We never will have enough facts; either about their personal lives, about their struggles, about God’s plan or purposes in their lives. Leave such judgments to God.
4. They failed to view the situation from the long-term, eternal viewpoint.
Now, to be fair to them, the perspective of timing was addressed in their debate. They did agree, for example, that the wicked often do prosper temporarily. But ironically, their conclusion from this was that Job had prospered. But now that he had fallen on hard times, it was obvious that his prosperity must have been the temporary prosperity of the wicked and that his secret sins had now caught up with him. Their time line was still too short.
God keeps a much longer view. The books will only close and be balanced in eternity. I have always liked the story of the two farmers who farmed adjacent fields. One was a committed Christian. The other was a godless man who lived only for his own pleasure. One year, as they gathered in their harvest it became obvious that the godless man had reaped a much more abundant crop. The Christian farmer had struggled with various disasters throughout the year, but the other man had been spared them all. When the harvest was complete the other man came to gloat. “Tell me. What good did all your praying and going to church do? Where is your God now? I don’t even believe in God, let alone obey him. Yet I have over double the harvest you have. How do you explain that?”
The Christian farmer answered simply: “God doesn’t settle all of his accounts in October.”
Well, what about Job? God said, “Job has spoken of me what is right.” What did Job do right? Once again, I will share my observations. I invite you to study and come up with others. But here’s what I’ve found.
1. He clung to the truth.
And Job again took up his discourse, and said:
2 “As God lives, who has taken away my right,
and the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter,
3 as long as my breath is in me,
and the spirit of God is in my nostrils,
4 my lips will not speak falsehood,
and my tongue will not utter deceit.
5 Far be it from me to say that you are right;
till I die I will not put away my integrity from me.
6 I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go;
my heart does not reproach me for any of my days. (Job 27:1-6)
He knew that the charges his friends were making against him were not true. He clung to that reality. He willingly said, “If I have sinned and God shows me my sin, I will confess it.” But he was unwilling to utter a false confession to satisfy his friends. He would not turn away from what he knew to be the truth.
2. He was honest with God.
It is important to remember that God can handle our honesty. Job is very transparent with his feelings; even his anger and his feelings of disappointment with God; his confusion and his tears. Yet God affirms him in the end. We don’t have to hide our true feelings from God. He knows them anyway. Pour them out before God. He can handle them.
3. He clung to his faith in God in the midst of his pain.
We saw this last week in his initial response to his tragedy. He sustained that faith through it all, even when that faith was stretched to the breaking point. In the midst of his pain, he utters these ringing words in Job 13:15:
Though he slay me, I will hope in him;
I believe he was able to do this, at least in part, because of this final point.
4. He trusted ultimately in his eternal hope.
There is another great statement of faith buried in all his confusion found in Job 19:23-27:
“Oh that my words were written!
Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
24 Oh that with an iron pen and lead
they were engraved in the rock forever!
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
Job is taking the longest of long-term views here. He is looking at life through the lens of eternity and holding on to his eternal hope; the hope of resurrection. Where did Job get this hope? What was his understanding of this word “Redeemer”? Did he know that he was prophesying about Jesus? I don’t know the answer to these questions. I only know that buried in these tormented words of a suffering servant of God, we have these ringing words of faith as he clung to the eternal hope that has sustained all true believers down through the years.
May you and I do the same.
So if you are passing through a time of suffering and trial, and you have searched your heart honestly before God and are convinced that you are not suffering the logical consequences of your own sin – then I urge you to follow these same four simple (but not easy!) truths:
Cling to the truth.
Be honest with God.
Cling to your faith in God – even in the midst of your pain.
Trust ultimately in your eternal hope.
We have advantages that Job did not have. We know the name of our Redeemer. His name is Jesus. And we know that he lives, because he died and rose again. And we know that he is coming back to stand again upon the earth.
When that happens, will all of life make sense? I am not sure. I suspect that when we see Jesus, it won’t really matter.
1. Read the Scripture passage through together (Just kidding!)
2. Read Job 3 together. Have you ever felt this way? Or even close? Share as much of that experience as you are comfortable sharing with your group.
3. Are you reassured or bothered by the fact that Job felt this way? Explain your answer.
4. Job’s “friends” make a series of speeches. Read these as samples: Job 4:7-9, 8:3-6, 11:5-6, 34:10-12. Is there theology (statements about God) accurate? In what areas does it fall short?
5. The message lists 4 ways in which they erred:
- Their understanding of God was incomplete.
- Their understanding of the world was incomplete.
- They made evaluations and passed judgments that they had neither qualifications nor sufficient facts to make.
- They failed to view the situation from the long-term, eternal perspective.
Discuss each of these points in turn: How common is this error? How do we make the same error today in our evaluation of others? In our evaluation of our own circumstances?
6. Are there other ways in which Job’s “friends” erred.
7. The message also listed four things Job got right:
- He clung to the truth
- He was honest with God
- He clung to his faith in God – even in the midst of his pain
- He trusted ultimately in his eternal hope
How do these points help you in facing life’s hardships? Which ones are most helpful? Which ones are hard to apply?
8. Are there additional ways you can suggest that “Job got it right”?