HONOR THE SOVEREIGN LORD

 

Week of November 27, 2005

 

Bible Passage:  Job 42:1-13, 16-17.

 

Biblical Truth: Those who submit to God at all times honor Him and experience the blessings of living in fellowship with Him.

 

Background Passage: Chapters 38-41.

 

At long last, the Lord speaks: Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind. God does answer Job in this world, in sovereign freedom, and in His own timing. But God gives no answer to Job’s questions, no apology for having been silent for so long, no hint about Satan’s wager, no apparent acknowledgment of Job’s struggle. It is significant that the one who speaks is ‘Yahweh’, the covenant Lord. Back in the prologue of the book of Job [1:1-2:8] the personal covenant name, Yahweh, was used of God. Then throughout chapters 3 to 37, the name Yahweh is not used; God is called ‘El Shaddai’, God the Almighty. With Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, ‘Shaddai’ has become a God, not of personal grace and security, but of distance, detachment and impersonal almighty power. They used a name of God which originally spoke of grace in a way that denied grace. But now, in chapter 38 our author wants us to have no doubt Who is speaking to Job. God is called ‘Yahweh’ once again. Now the God, whose name ‘Yahweh’ is associated with his personal presence of care, steadfast love and faithfulness to the people of his covenant, speaks to Job.

 

God has not abandoned Job; he now makes himself known. But why does God spend all this time talking about his creation? Surely there is a more appropriate topic of conversation for someone who for some weeks has been going through an appalling sense of isolation. Let me amaze you, says God, by the complexity and intricacy of all of creation: marvel at its wonders, see how it all fits together into an overriding pattern and purpose. These chapters open up a vision of the wisdom of God which transcends any wisdom of humanity. God knows things that we do not. He has secrets to which we are not party. There is a pattern to the divine order of things of which we could not have dreamed. And here in chapters 38 and 39, the Lord takes Job round with question after question: Did you know this? Could you comprehend that?

 

Then comes a short interchange between the Lord and Job in 40:1-5. In this context, Job realizes for the first time that he has in fact overstepped the mark in his protest. He should not have found fault with the Almighty. He should not have insisted on his own understanding. He should not have accused God of injustice. So Job replies: Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You? [40:4]. God has spoken to Job, and Job has very little left to say.

 

In 40:6-14, God is responding to Job’s complaint about the way God governed the world. Job must realize that he is no more able to exercise judicial power in the moral realm than he can understand the workings of nature in the natural realm. This is the point of the question in verse 9: Or do you have an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like His? God is reminding Job that he is a God of wisdom, power and justice. Here we have a description of the character of God in whose hands lie the mysteries of this world’s suffering. Before such a God every escape hatch is closed to the human logic which would play one part of God’s nature off against another. God is all-knowing, all-powerful and all-good in everything He does.

 

The book of Job has shown us that there are questions for which there are no answers this side of heaven, and problems which human logic cannot solve. But the book of Job also brings us face to face with the living God, and invites us to live in his light with all our logical gaps, untidy edges and struggling faith. Thus Job came to a more mature view of God. He found that knowing God was a sufficient answer to all his questions. All the ‘unknown’ things become insignificant when you know the God who knows all things.

 

Submit to God 42:1-6.

 

[1] 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 declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. [4] Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me. [5] I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You; [6] Therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes.”  [NASU]

 

Neither bad theology (in the words of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar) nor good theology (in the words of Elihu) gives us the knowledge of God which changes a person’s heart. Until God gives you a taste of his goodness all the theology in the world will not give you a knowledge of his goodness that changes your heart and saves your soul. This is the meaning of what Job confesses in 42:5: I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You. Now Job has a new sense of God’s reality. It is more than intellectual or speculative knowledge. It is the knowledge of the heart. He has tasted. And now he sees. And the result is a broken and changed man.

In verses 1-6, Job bows in reverent submission to confess three great truths.

1.    In verse 2, he confesses the truth that God is absolutely sovereign. Throughout his ordeal, Job never lost sight of God’s sovereignty [e.g. see 23:13-14]. And now at the end, Job gives us one of the clearest declarations of God’s complete sovereignty that you will find in all of Scripture. Nothing can prevent God from accomplishing His purpose.

2.    In verse 3, he confesses the truth that God’s wisdom makes his own wisdom look like ignorance. Job now sees the foolishness of his questioning the all-knowing, all-wise Creator. Job quotes God’s answer to him in 38:2. Then Job draws a conclusion (therefore) where he acknowledges that he tried to speak about things that were far beyond his understanding or knowledge.

3.    And in verse 6, he confesses the truth that he is guilty of despicable sin in questioning the ways of God. Note that Job does not repent of any sins that brought on his suffering since his suffering was not the result of his sin. But Job does retract and repent of the rash and ignorant things he had said during his ordeal when he questioned God’s justice.

Job is now a broken and changed man. That’s what happens when you really see God. Before Job saw God in this way he had esteemed himself somewhat highly and had not hesitated to assert his righteousness. Now he sees himself more clearly. And what he sees drives him to repentance. If we don’t feel grieved for our sin, and deeply unworthy of God’s goodness, then we need to pray earnestly that God would show us himself – that he would cease to be a mere doctrine that we hear with our ear, and instead would become an awesome, infinitely holy, dreadful and wonderful Sovereign that we taste and see with our hearts.

 

Intercede for Others 42:7-9. 

 

[7] It came about after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has. [8] Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, and go to My servant Job, and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves, and My servant Job will pray for you. For I will accept him so that I may not do with you according to your folly, because 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 as the Lord told them; and the Lord accepted Job.  [NASU]

 

In these verses God seeks to humble the three friends of Job in two ways. He tells them they are theologically wrong, and he makes them seek forgiveness through the very one they had reviled. They had said that the wicked suffer and the righteous prosper. Job had said that the world proves no such thing: the wicked often prosper more than the righteous and the righteous often suffer more than the wicked. Job was right. Not only that, the three friends saw all justice working itself out in this life. But Job eventually broke through to the truth that much that is amiss in the world would be made right in the life after death [19:25-27]. Job was right. But their humbling is not yet complete. They cannot simply go to their closets and say a simple prayer for forgiveness and be done with it. They must go to Job with their sacrifices and ask him to pray for them. This must have been a deeply humiliating thing. The very one that they had accused of being far from God must become their priest to bring them near to God. In other words God is seeing to it that the only way the three friends can experience reconciliation with God is through experiencing reconciliation with Job. They must humble themselves before Job not simply before God.

 

There is a rich vein of theology hidden in these couple of verses! God’s anger against the three friends is not his last word. By way of sacrifice and prayer he makes it possible for them to be dealt with graciously. And the sacrifice was made and the prayer offered by the one who was called my servant. The servant stands in place of the people before God, bringing a sacrifice of atonement, consecration and offering, and praying for God’s mercy and grace.

 

Enjoy God’s Blessings 42:10-13, 16-17.

 

[10] The Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends, and the Lord increased all that Job had twofold. [11] Then all his brothers and all his sisters and all who had known him before came to him, and they ate bread with him in his house; and they consoled him and comforted him for all the adversities that the Lord had brought on him. And each one gave him one piece of money, and each a ring of gold. [12] The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had 14,000 sheep and 6,000 camels and 1,000 yoke of oxen and 1,000 female donkeys. [13] He had seven sons and three daughters. [16] After this, Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons and his grandsons, four generations. [17] And Job died, an old man and full of days.  [NASU]

 

There is a second thing that God is doing before he restores the fortunes of Job: he is proving the repentance of Job. When the three friends come to Job seeking his intercession with God, it is not just their humility that is on trial! Job is now being asked to love his enemies and pray for those who abused him. He is being asked to bless those who cursed him and not to return evil for evil. And he is still a very sick man! God has not yet reversed his misery. Why? What is the lesson here? Isn’t it the same as Matthew 6:14-15? For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. In other words, it is repentance and faith that receive the forgiveness of God. But the genuineness of repentance, the authenticity of faith, the reality of your change of heart must prove itself in your willingness to forgive those who sin against you. If the forgiveness of God that a repentant sinner claims to have received does not flow through him to others the claim is a delusion. He is still in his sins. So God puts Job to one last test. Will he lay down the weapons of revenge and accept the terms of God’s treaty and extend amnesty to his three friends the way God has? Yes. Job passes the test.

 

So the book closes with the sediment of pride strained out of Job’s life through the sieve of suffering, the bad theology of his three friends corrected and their foolishness humbled, the brotherhood of God’s servants restored and purified, and the honor of God’s name vindicated over against the accusations of Satan. May the Lord grant us grace to learn that while his ways may not be our ways and his thoughts may not be our thoughts, yet they are the wisest of all ways; and are full of mercy for all those who love God and are called according to his purpose.

 

 

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

We can draw the following points from our study of this remarkable book.

1.    There are more things in heaven and earth than we have ever dreamt of. Job is being caught up into purposes of God of which he knows nothing. There are uncertainties, puzzles and ambiguities in the life of faith which we have to leave within the mystery of God. The secret things belong to the Lord [Deut. 29:29]. We must allow God to have his secrets, and receive from him the gift of faith to hold on to him in our uncertainties. May God deepen our faith, even when we are in the dark.

2.    There is a warning against inappropriate preaching even of the truth. We saw an insensitivity in the three friends, as they tried to force Job to fit in to their theories, becoming increasingly hardened in their attitudes as he refused to be molded to their shape. We will never help people if we come to them with predetermined theories and try to squeeze them into our mold.

3.    We have seen vividly displayed before our eyes and our emotions, the fact that God’s people do suffer. Good and godly people do suffer. We must learn not to judge a person’s spiritual standing according to his or her circumstances and fortunes. There can be a pain that heals, and a closeness to God, even when outer circumstances are all out of line.

4.    We recall the difference between a mere factual knowledge of God and faith in the living God who makes himself known. Again and again the three friends tried to push their understanding of God into a logical corner in which to trap Job. Their understanding of rewards and punishments was distorted through their logic and became simply a belief in the workings of natural causes. We are warned by these friends of the need to hold fast to what God has said of himself, and not to be led astray by a twisted logic. We know God only as he has made himself known.

5.    James 5:11 talks about the perseverance of Job. Here is a man who has listened to the voice of his conscience, and held firm under adversity. The voice of conscience, educated as it needs to be by the Spirit of God, must not be ignored.

6.    The law of retribution and a concentration on guilt needs to be set in the broader context of the law of love and a concentration on grace. There is a place for the doctrine of divine judgment, of rewards and punishments, for this is a moral universe. But this doctrine can sometimes be used as a defense against the demands of fellowship, and actually get in the way of the word of grace. Let us see how in the book of Job God himself moves beyond the law of retribution by bestowing on Job the gift of his own gracious presence. Likewise, the doctrine of grace transposes questions of theodicy from a searching for past causes into a hope for future redemption. Job’s questions of theodicy are not answered; they are placed in a broader, more personal, context in which they no longer need to be asked.

7.    What matters most from this book is not the preaching or the theology, nor orthodox belief or even Job’s own upright character. Important as all these are, they find their place only in the light of that which is more important than them all, namely walking with God in fellowship with him, to enjoy him in his world. That gift of fellowship can bring profit even out of the greatest suffering.

8.    We can take heart from the depths of Job’s sufferings. Suffering will end; but when, we do not know. But we do know that the Lord will come, and he will transform our ‘wounds into worship’. That is the word of hope from Job for people who are waiting with anxiety and uncertainty – wondering, maybe, where God is in their lives. The Lord will come! We are not promised freedom from suffering in this world. Nor are we let into all of God’s secrets. But we are promised grace. For some, there may be healing and restoration in this life. For others, that gift awaits them in the ‘new heavens and the new earth’ where there will be no more pain, no more tears, no more death. But for all of us, here and now, there is grace, and there can be hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.     Why is it significant that when God finally speaks to Job, He is called “Yahweh”? Why do you think God’s answer to Job focused on His creation?

 

2.     What three great truths does Job confess in 42:1-6? Why is a belief in the total sovereignty of God so important for Job and for us?

 

3.     Why has 42:5 been called the key verse in the book of Job? What can we do in order to see God with our eyes and not just hear about him with our ears?

 

4.     Why do you think God had Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar go to Job in order for Job to offer a sacrifice and pray for them?

 

References:

The Message of Job, David Atkinson, Inter-Varsity.

Job, Peter Bloomfield, The Guide, Evangelical Press.

Job: Reversal in Suffering, Sermon by John Piper (8/4/85).