God is proud of us.
Much has been written and said of Job, the friend of God who underwent immense personal suffering. The book that bears his name begins with a description of what could arguably be considered the worst day a person could have—Job loses all his wealth and all his children in the same day.
But here’s the thing that startled me the first time it dawned on me: God was the one who pointed out Job to Satan. Did you catch that?
“One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’
“Satan answered the Lord, ‘From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.’
“Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.’” (vs 6-8)
Satan presents himself before the Lord as the ruler of the earth, as if he was its rightful owner. So he says he’s been surveying his territory, and God responds by pointing out His friend Job. As if to say, You might think everything and everyone on the earth belongs to you, but you’re wrong. Job is faithful to Me.
God was proud of Job. He pointed him out to Satan in order to brag about him. His accolade is incredible: There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright. God, calling a sinner blameless? I would say that’s definitely bragging!
Being a mom is unlike any other experience in life. Our daughter is only ten days old, but I’ve already begun to discover that there is a lot we say and believe about God that is simply not true, because we tend to disconnect what we know about love from our personal experience from what we believe about the way God loves us.
Jesus tried to help us reconnect the two when He said this: “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt 7:11) So, then, how we love our children is just a glimpse of how God loves us. And He loves us more, not less.
There’s this odd notion that silently permeates much of Christianity that God couldn’t be or isn’t proud of us. It’s a concept that says we need to approach God with this “I am such a worm” mentality, as if God could never see anything good in us, and it is only by His sheer grace, our pleading, and Jesus’ blood that He can even stand to look at us.
How do I know this isn’t true? Because I am proud of my ten-day-old daughter. I’m so proud of her that she focuses intently when I play music to her. I’m proud of her that she is learning how to breastfeed successfully. And she’s not even choosing to do these things! She doesn’t even know what’s happening yet.
So, why shouldn’t I hear Jesus saying, “If you, then, though you are evil, are proud of your children, how much more will your Father in heaven be proud of you!”
God is on record in Scripture as being proud of Job. And He is proud of you, too. If He has a refrigerator, your finger painting is on it. And if He has a photo brag book, your picture is in it. God is proud of you, and He’ll let you know it whenever He has a chance!
God restrains evil.
To me, there are two very interesting things regarding evil in the first and second chapters of Job. The first one involves how Satan perceives the spread of evil in the world: he blames God. Did you notice that? Check this out from chapter one: “‘Does Job fear God for nothing?’ Satan replied. ‘Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.’” (vs 9-11)
When Satan talked to God about the possibility of Job experiencing suffering, he said that if God would stretch out His hand to strike Job, Job would curse Him. But we know that’s not what happened. It was Satan who inflicted the terrible losses on Job.
Again, in chapter two, he says nearly the same thing: “‘Skin for skin!’ Satan replied. ‘A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.’” (vs 4-5) Once again, Satan depicts God as being the one who causes suffering, yet when Job met with painful boils, it was Satan who had inflicted them on him (vs 7).
I think this says something about the way Satan views God. He sees God as the one responsible for causing evil, sin, and suffering. He blames God for his own misfortunes and, at least in this circumstance, we see that Satan is even willing to blame God to His face for the suffering he knows he is going to cause.
Of course, we know that God is not responsible for sin and suffering. There is plenty of evidence in Scripture to indicate that sin breaks God’s heart. He doesn’t want to see any of His children suffer or ultimately lose them to sin’s self-destructiveness. However, though God is not to blame for sin and evil, the first two chapters of Job make it clear that He does have control over the extent to which Satan can inflict pain and suffering.
In the first chapter, God put a very clear limit on what Satan could do to Job: “The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.’” (Job 1:12) God allowed Satan to have access to Job’s possessions, but he wasn’t allowed to do anything to Job himself. Again, in the second chapter, God put another limit on Satan: “The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.’” (vs 6) This time, God allowed Satan access to Job’s health, but he wasn’t allowed to kill him.
Far from causing or sponsoring evil, God is restraining evil all the time. If Satan had his way, we’d all be suffering immensely (or dead). But, although he thinks he’s the ruler of this world, Satan still can’t make a move without God’s permission.
What does this mean to me? First, that nothing can come to me without God’s knowledge. Crisis doesn’t surprise Him. Our suffering doesn’t catch Him off guard. Second, it also means that God won’t allow anything to come to me that He knows I’m unable to deal with. I’ll admit that this is sometimes hard to believe, since there are a lot of things I’ve dealt with in life that I’d rather not have gone through! But, just as God set boundaries with Satan when it came to Job, I believe He sets boundaries with Satan when it comes to me and you. If something unsavory comes to me, it means God has seen it, allowed it, and will work it out for my best good. And that means I’m okay with it—whatever it is.
Satan accused God of putting a hedge around Job (Job 1:10). The truth is, each of us has two hedges around us: an inner hedge and an outer hedge. Our outer hedge is people and things. Our inner hedge is faith and trust in God. In this continuing war, God allows Satan to trample on our outer hedge at times, but He will never allow Satan to do anything that He knows will destroy our inner hedge. That’s why He is in the business of restraining evil.
God helps us see the big picture.
At the beginning of this chapter, Job wished for something that many people have wished for at some point: that he had never been born. “May the day of my birth perish, and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’ That day—may it turn to darkness; may God above not care about it; may no light shine on it.” (vs 3-4)
Job wanted to die. He wanted the memory of his life to be erased forever from the earth. He wanted to cut out the day of his birth from the yearly calendar. But God didn’t give Job what he wanted in that moment. Instead of letting his memory be blotted from existence, God worked in and through his life to memorialize his experience for all eternity. And in his experience, we see one of the very first glimpses of the spiritual battle between God and Satan.
Among other things, the book of Job helps us to put suffering into perspective. It’s a story that has enlightened and comforted countless people throughout history—and I imagine that when Job understands what the testimony of his life was able to accomplish, he will praise God for not giving him “what he wanted” in the moments of his darkest despair.
We live with such a limited perspective, but God wants to help us see the big picture. He wants to help us see things as He does so we will know that we have nothing to fear from this life. Job said, “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.” (vs 25) Because of Job’s story and because of God’s desire to help us see the big picture, we can know that even when the things we fear come to us in life, God can and will use them for our good.
God trusts His servants.
In this chapter, Job’s friend, Eliphaz, related something he had seen in a dream: “A word was secretly brought to me, my ears caught a whisper of it. Amid disquieting dreams in the night, when deep sleep falls on people, fear and trembling seized me and made all my bones shake. A spirit glided past my face, and the hair on my body stood on end. It stopped, but I could not tell what it was. A form stood before my eyes, and I heard a hushed voice: ‘Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can even a strong man be more pure than his Maker? If God places no trust in his servants, if he charges his angels with error, how much more those who live in houses of clay, whose foundations are in the dust, who are crushed more readily than a moth!’” (vs 12-19)
Interesting, isn’t it? Did you wonder what the “spirit” was that met Eliphaz in his dreams? Perhaps there is a clue in what this spirit said about God:
1) God places no trust in His servants.
2) God charges His angels with error.
Hmmm . . . who does that sound like? Doesn’t it remind you of Satan in chapters 1 and 2? The one who would gladly stretch out his hand to inflict suffering on us . . . all while blaming it on God? If this is Satan, what he is ultimately saying is that—if there is a problem between him and God—God is to blame. This is always Satan’s mantra. God is to blame.
Clearly, however, this message about God is false. For Eliphaz might not know it and Job might not know it, but the reason Job is in this predicament is precisely because God trusts him. He trusts Job to be faithful and upright, even in the face of suffering. He trusts that Job knows who He is, even when all his friends are telling him the contrary.
God trusted Job. And God trusts all His servants. He delights in having relationships with His creatures, and a relationship requires a mutual bond of trust. The more we come to trust God, the more trustworthy we become, and the more trust He places in us, until—like Job—we too will be in a position to be singled out as one of God’s faithful friends.
God contends with our preconceptions.
Eliphaz has a lot of nerve. I mean, I’m sure that, in his way, he was just trying to help Job. But really, with friends like this, who would need enemies? Eliphaz is the first to speak up, and he makes a number of not-so-veiled comments about Job’s situation and what he believes is going on.
First, he says that he has known “a fool” whose house has been cursed, children crushed, and wealth destroyed. Next, he tells Job that it would be prudent for him to appeal his case to God, for (he reasons) although God makes the wicked suffer, He will be merciful to those who repent. All this is said to suggest that Job is a foolish and wicked man who has brought his troubles on himself.
Finally, Eliphaz finishes his first speech by proclaiming that if Job repents, God will protect him always. No harm will come to him if he relinquishes his sinful ways and returns to walk in the paths of the Almighty.
There’s just one problem: Job wasn’t suffering because he had sinned. And he wasn’t suffering at the hand of God. All of Eliphaz’s preconceptions were misconceptions. The idea that God brings suffering on people because they’re wicked isn’t true. Nor is it true that God always protects the righteous from harm. Case in point: Job.
The point, here, is that when it comes to dealing with us, God has to contend with a lot of preconceptions. Some of our preconceptions may be right, but many of them are dead wrong. And God doesn’t deal with them by erasing what’s in our brain and programming it differently. He doesn’t force us into a different way of thinking. Instead, He works through circumstances in our lives to help us understand a different way of looking at things.
It won’t be too long before Eliphaz has just such an experience.
God can handle our emotions.
When Job opens his mouth to reply to Eliphaz, one thing is clear: He is angry. “Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty. But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams . . . Now you too have proved to be of no help; you see something dreadful and are afraid.” (vs 14-15, 21)
I don’t blame him. Instead of offering sympathy and understanding to their friend in crisis, Job’s friends tried to load him down with guilt and shame. I think I would be angry too if I’d suffered the biggest calamity of my life and my “friends” visited me to tell me it was all my fault.
But something else caught my eye as I read this chapter of Job: “Oh, that I might have my request, that God would grant what I hope for, that God would be willing to crush me, to let loose his hand and cut off my life! Then I would still have this consolation—my joy in unrelenting pain—that I had not denied the words of the Holy One.” (vs 8-10)
Job had earlier said that he felt like God’s arrows were pointed at him. Yet, he is still addressing God. He is addressing God in his anger. Isn’t that remarkable? Those who have this concept of God as some distant, harsh Deity should pay particular attention to this point. Job is screaming out in anger to God. And God doesn’t squash Job like a bug.
God can handle our emotions, especially our strong emotions. And more than simply “handling” them, He wants us to approach Him with any emotion we have. Whether it’s anger, grief, or happiness, God wants us to be real and authentic with Him. We should never be shy about being honest with God, no matter our emotions. Even when we are screaming out in pain and anger, God is still the best place to turn. He can handle all our emotions.
God knows the whole story.
As Job continued his response to Eliphaz’s speech, he once again addressed God directly: “I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. Am I the sea, or the monster of the deep, that you put me under guard? When I think my bed will comfort me and my couch will ease my complaint, even then you frighten me with dreams and terrify me with visions, so that I prefer strangling and death, rather than this body of mine. I despise my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone; my days have no meaning.” (vs 11-16)
There’s no doubt about it. Job was in a state of absolute misery. And when he cried out to God, it’s obvious that Job believed that God was punishing him for some reason. Eliphaz and Job’s other friends contended that Job was being punished for his sin, but Job maintained his innocence. Still, in verse 16, Job asks God to let him alone. He doesn’t want to “be punished” any longer.
As readers of the story, we have the benefit of seeing the whole story. And the fact of the matter is that God wasn’t punishing Job, He was honoring Job. Don’t you find that incredible? Job’s misery caused him to think that what was going on was the exact opposite of what the actual story was. God wasn’t angry or displeased with Job. He was more than happy with him. What seemed to Job like God’s punishment were the circumstances that were going to result in Job’s exaltation.
Our perspective, like Job’s, is limited at best. Therefore, it’s helpful to remember that God knows the whole story. And, as his story went on, Job demonstrated that he had faith in that. Though he couldn’t see as God could see, he continued to trust that God knew what He was doing—even when he couldn’t understand it.
When we’re facing a personal crisis, such as illness, I’m sure you’ve heard people talk about having enough faith to be healed. But what about having enough faith to be sick? Do we have enough faith to remember that God knows the whole story and, consequently, we will one day also know the whole story? Job had enough faith to withstand the enemy’s onslaught. And so can we.
God deals in the ultimate.
After Job got done rebuking Eliphaz, Bildad stood up to rebuke Job. His discourse continued on in much the same vein as Eliphaz’s speech, except Bildad didn’t have the class, style, and finesse of Eliphaz. Instead of “massaging” his point of view, Bildad was ready to get down and dirty and to the point: “When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.” (vs 4) In other words, Bildad was saying, your kids got exactly what they deserved. Wow. Nice friends, Job.
It’s what Bildad said next, however, that concerns us today: “If you are pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself on your behalf and restore you to your prosperous state.” (vs 6) It really isn’t surprising to see this theological bit of “wisdom” represented by at least one of Job’s friends. Unfortunately, it’s still “wisdom” that floats around today. If we were just more faithful, more righteous, more something, God would bless us.
That’s just not the way it works in this world.
First of all, once again, Job was in his predicament because he was righteous. He wasn’t in his predicament because he was being punished for his sin, as his friends suggested. So right there, we know that Bildad’s assumption is wrong.
But in addition to this, there are countless examples in Scripture of bad things happening to good people. Abel was righteous, and he was “rewarded” with murder at the hands of his brother Cain. The prophet Isaiah was sawed in half by a wicked king. Stephen, faithful to the very end, was stoned to death in God’s name. History is littered with the tragic stories of righteous men and women who met with very unsavory circumstances. God didn’t come to their rescue, as Bildad suggested.
At the same time, good men of God (such as Jeremiah and David) asked, Why do the wicked prosper? So, it’s apparent that this black and white view of cause-and-effect doesn’t always apply in this world. The righteous are not always rescued. The wicked are not always stopped. Often, the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. That’s the way it is.
That’s the way it is because we’re all living in a war zone. And in the middle of a war, all bets are off. God can and does protect the righteous—always. But He does it in the ultimate sense. In this life, we are not guaranteed health, wealth, or an easy time. On the contrary, Jesus promised exactly the opposite: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt 5:11-12)
God deals in the ultimate. And ultimately, each of us will be given what we choose. Those who choose God will live with Him forever. Those who reject God will be separated from Him forever. Nothing can snatch away our ability to make that choice, for God honors our freedom to choose. Until then, however, we live in a world where sin and evil are on the loose. And, as Job and so many others have found out through the years, evil hurts the righteous just as much as the wicked.
God mediates with us.
What may be said of Job may also be said of us: There is a lot about God that we know, but there is also a lot about God that we do not know. Job demonstrated that in this chapter. He said a lot of things about God that he knew from his experience with Him—He is the Creator; He is all-powerful; He is not mortal. But, as close as Job was with God, there were still some things he didn’t know about God. And those things made him uneasy.
This is a common predicament for sinners. We sense that, in our sinful condition, we are separated from God. That causes fear. Just think of what Adam and Eve did right after they first engaged in sin—they ran and hid! In this separated condition, we imagine that it would be a fearful thing to meet God. We imagine that He might not be so nice to us. So we do what Job did. We long for a mediator: “If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot.” (vs 33-35)
Ironically, at the end of Job’s story, he discovered that he didn’t actually need a mediator with God. God showed up and talked to him . . . face to face. Now, as Christians, we refer to Jesus Christ as our mediator. But it is sooo important to remember who it is that requires the mediator!
Often, we have been quick to paint God the Father as the one who needs a mediator. We have painted Him as one who is offended by our sin and, thus, requires a mediator to plead with Him to take us back. We picture Jesus in that role. But that is just not true! God has never needed a mediator. We are the ones who need the mediator!
Our sin keeps us from believing that God is as welcoming, loving, and accepting as He is. Thus, we demand a mediator, afraid that He will reject us otherwise. But Jesus, as the mediator, is pleading with us to be reconciled to God. Not the other way around. Even more than that, Jesus is mediating with us along with the Father and Spirit—they plead with us as well! But if we have too many fears about coming face to face with the Father . . . if we are just a tad bit more comfortable with Jesus, then God is more than happy to begin with us at that point. Jesus can introduce us to the Father in good time.
We shouldn’t be ashamed to feel like we need a mediator. And we should remember that God is more than willing to mediate with us. But don’t get the roles switched around. Nobody is mediating with God. He is mediating with us!
God makes sense out of suffering.
Here is the passage from today’s chapter that I want to focus on in this blog: “Why then did you bring me out of the womb? I wish I had died before any eye saw me. If only I had never come into being, or had been carried straight from the womb to the grave! Are not my few days almost over? Turn away from me so I can have a moment’s joy before I go to the place of no return, to the land of gloom and utter darkness, to the land of deepest night, of utter darkness and disorder, where even the light is like darkness.” (vs 18-22)
Have you noticed something interesting about Job? He never asks God to reverse the circumstances that have caused his suffering. He doesn’t ask to have his children resurrected. He doesn’t ask to have his wealth restored. He doesn’t even ask to be healed from his illness! The only thing he asks is why. That’s all he wants to know.
Job is in a very precarious emotional position. He is in the throes of such despair—not because what has happened to him is so awful (though it is), but because he can see no sense in his suffering. His friends apparently see sense in his suffering; they are trying to convince him that his secret sin is to blame. But Job knows that’s not true. This makes it all the more frustrating for him. He might buy the argument that suffering comes because God punishes the wicked, but he knows in his heart that he’s not wicked.
As readers of the story, we see sense in Job’s suffering. We know exactly why it has happened. The curtain has been pulled back for us, and we have seen a glimpse of the unfolding drama between God and Satan—good and evil—that has caught Job up in the crossfire. Perhaps it is because we have seen “the rest of the story” that we assume Job must also have known something about what was happening in the background. But Job knows nothing. He can see no sense in his suffering.
In that regard, Job is not so different from the rest of us. For we can see sense in Job’s suffering, but we still have a very difficult time applying his story to our story. We can see sense in his suffering, but we still can’t see sense in our own. If we did, we might react very differently in times of calamity and crisis.
We still ask the very same question Job asked—why. But the story of Job is in the Bible precisely because God wants us to know “the rest of the story” as we deal with our own suffering. We don’t have to experience suffering as Job did. Because of Job, we can experience suffering from the perspective of the bigger picture. We can face the despair of Job 3 and on with the full understanding of Job 1 and 2. We don’t have to go through it blind, wondering why. We can know exactly where suffering comes from and why.
Job’s story is the story of every person who has ever suffered, because all suffering originated at the same point—with Satan and sin. But God doesn’t want us to wallow in despair, without hope. He is eager to make sense of our suffering. He wants to help us understand it, and He wants to help us stand up under it.
Suffering isn’t senseless. I mean, that may have been Satan’s original intention. As an evil being, he delights in causing suffering “just because.” But as suffering passes through God, He is able to bring sense and purpose out of it. He is able to transform it so that it ultimately becomes a blessing and not a curse. I don’t know how He does it, but with God, there is no senseless suffering. He takes all those ashes and makes beauty. He takes all that pain and makes joy.
God doesn't punish sinners.
I have a feeling that the title for this blog will pique the curiosity of more than a few. There may be some who are inclined to “tune out” right from the get-go, but . . . please don’t! If you disagree with what I have to say about this chapter of Job, I want to hear from you! Please leave a comment, and let’s have a discussion about this important topic.
To me, the theology put forth by Zophar in this chapter is astounding. He is clearly incensed that Job continues to maintain his innocence, and he means to teach him a lesson. Let me quote here from The Message, since Eugene Petersen wrote in such a way as to specifically retain the “flavor” of the original speech: “Now it was the turn of Zophar from Naamath: ‘What a flood of words! Shouldn’t we put a stop to it? Should this kind of loose talk be permitted? Job, do you think you can carry on like this and we’ll say nothing? That we’ll let you rail and mock and not step in? You claim, “My doctrine is sound and my conduct impeccable.” How I wish God would give you a piece of his mind, tell you what’s what! I wish he’d show you how wisdom looks from the inside, for true wisdom is mostly “inside.” But you can be sure of this, you haven’t gotten half of what you deserve.’” (vs 1-6)
Wow. In researching this chapter, I discovered that the idea Zophar is putting forth here is actually an idea still prevalent today (especially in Reformed Theology), known as total depravity. This theology suggests that the whole of a man’s sin—what was inherited from Adam, plus our own personal sin—is so great that one could say of every suffering in life, “God still hasn’t given me half of what I deserve.” Therefore, I should be glad that God sees fit to only punish me to a small degree. That’s basically what Zophar was saying: Job, if you’re unwilling to acknowledge your secret sin, at the very least, you should shut up. God hasn’t given you nearly what your wickedness deserves, so you should have nothing but gratitude for Him. Stop your complaining.
It amazes me that more Christians (seemingly) haven’t taken the time to read Job and understand what God means when He says that Job’s friends said of Him what was wrong. This is a great example. Zophar was trying to “teach” Job that God punishes sinners, but Zophar was wrong. Yet, we still hear it preached from the pulpits of Christianity today: God does and will punish sinners.
God does not punish sinners. Let me say that again: GOD DOES NOT PUNISH SINNERS. Sin punishes sinners (Rom 6:23). God, on the other hand, returns good for evil. There are examples of this all throughout Scripture, but let’s just refresh our memory with one example today. Joseph’s brothers did what was evil. They sold Joseph into slavery and then, to cover it up, they lied to their father about it. They let him believe for years that Joseph was dead.
Joseph’s brothers did what was evil. And God punished them, right? No, He saved them! He used their evil deed to bring good to them. Instead of visiting retribution on them for their wickedness, He used what they had meant for evil to bring life to Joseph, to them, and to many other people. God does not punish sinners. Instead, He returns good for evil.
For those of you who still don’t buy this argument, let’s talk for a moment about the difference between punishment and discipline. We don’t differentiate between these two concepts very well in our culture, and that’s why much of what God does in the Old Testament can look like punishment—when, in fact, it may not be.
Look up the definition of punishment in the dictionary, and this is what you’ll find: Suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution.
Look up the definition of discipline in the dictionary, and this is what you’ll find: Training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.
I will be bold today and say that God never punishes anyone because He doesn’t engage in retribution. However, we normally think of punishment when we think of God’s justice, and the reason for that is because our own justice system deals largely in punishment. When faced with a person who has committed a crime, usually we get “justice” by imposing some sort of loss as a tit-for-tat measure.
But God deals in correction, not retribution. In Old Testament history, whenever He imposed consequences or left the Israelites to reap the consequences of their own choices, the purpose was discipline. He was always seeking to redirect their steps, to bring them back to Him. That’s the difference between punishment and discipline. Punishment is retributive. Discipline is redemptive.
Even if God wanted to make sinners suffer for their wickedness, He wouldn’t have to do anything to cause more misery than sin causes on its own. Yes, sin causes its own suffering. I certainly know that from personal experience, and I’m sure you do, too.
I’m glad Zophar was wrong about God. But I’m glad he was also right that we have never gotten even half of what we deserve. For we could have been left to the misery and destruction caused by our sin. But God would not abandon us. Throughout history, He has been working to transform what has been intended for evil into something that can be used for good. Because of His generous and gracious nature, we have not been destroyed by our sin!
God reveals truth.
From time to time, I visit a Christian forum online where people are discussing topics about God. Occasionally, I contribute. Most of the time, however, I simply read the ideas of others with interest. Recently, a self-proclaimed atheist has joined the group and has been asking a number of good questions about the Bible. She says this is her “last attempt” to try to understand the Bible and that she has come to the forum to find out why Christians believe what they do.
She has created an almost-impossible task for herself. Why do Christians believe what they do? Ask twenty different Christians, and you’ll get twenty different answers—not to mention probably twenty different sets of beliefs!
This isn’t the sort of discussion I get involved in, because frankly, I have no desire to try to convince another person to hold the same beliefs I do. I firmly believe in Paul’s admonition to “let each one be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom 14:5). If anything, I would like to set her mind at ease. For there is Truth, and God will make it plain to her in His own way and time. She won’t be left “wondering” forever.
This is what I understood Job to be saying in his reply to Zophar: “Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind. Does not the ear test words as the tongue tastes food?” (vs 7-11)
I once read a book by J.B. Phillips called Ring of Truth. It was an account of his experience of translating the New Testament from its original language into English. In it, he describes so well the idea that we know truth when we hear it, because it has a “ring” to it. Job was saying the same thing here in comparing how the ear tests words with how our tongues taste food.
When you taste something, how do you know if it is sweet, salty, or bitter? Can you describe how you know? No. You just know because you know. Our taste buds were designed to do that job. In the same way, as we hear ideas, concepts, and beliefs, there is a mechanism in us that helps us determine whether something is true or not. I can’t explain it; I can only tell you that I’ve experienced it.
I believe that’s the only way the Apostle Paul could write these words: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” (Rom 1:18-19)
God reveals truth—to every person. He makes His truth plain to the Christian, the atheist, the humanist, the Buddhist, the Muslim, etc. Nobody is outside the reach of His revelation. Where we go wrong with this is in the assumption that God can, will, or must convict you of the same thing or in the same way as He has convicted me. If you are not convicted of the same thing I am, then I assume that you are rejecting God.
The only thing we can assume is that God—in His own time and in His own way—reveals to each person what they need to understand in order to respond to Him. At that point, they may choose to accept what He has revealed or (like those Paul wrote about in Romans 1) reject what He has revealed. But what God wants them to know about Himself will be made plain to them, because God will make it plain to them.
So, I’d like to tell that atheist girl and anybody else who is searching for answers about God to relax. If there’s something you need to know, God will make it plain to you. He reveals truth.
God wants to kill us?
This chapter of Job contains one of my most favorite verses in the Bible and one of the most beautiful things Job said during the course of his ordeal: “Even if God kills me, I will still trust him.” (vs 15) Wow—what a statement! Job knew God so well and trusted Him so much that he felt comfortable to place his life totally in God’s hands.
Incidentally, although Job didn’t know it at the time, this declaration was a direct affront to Satan’s assertion at the beginning of the book: “Job honors God for a good reason. You have put a hedge around him, his family, and everything he owns. You have blessed the things he has done. His flocks and herds are so large they almost cover the land. But reach out your hand and destroy everything he has, and he will curse you to your face.” (Job 1:9-11)
In effect, Job was saying, Even if God pulls down the hedge that surrounds me, I will still trust in Him. Right here, we can see that Satan was totally wrong about Job. We’re not even halfway through the book yet, and God is vindicated as being the one who can read the heart. He knew His friend Job, and He knew Job would trust Him no matter what.
But encountering Job’s wonderful statement also brought to mind something else I was reading earlier this week. It’s from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, from the chapter titled “Is Christianity Hard or Easy?”
“Christ says, ‘Give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself.”
I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. Whoa. Can that be true? Does God want to kill us? Well (and here you see “the catch” to the title) yes, God wants to “kill” our natural selves, our sinful selves, and make us new creatures in Christ.
Paul said the same thing in 2 Corinthians 5:17. “For if a man is in Christ, he becomes a new person altogether—the old person is dead and gone, everything has become fresh and new.” I believe Jesus also touched on this when He talked about the root of murder being anger at a brother or sister and how adultery can be committed in the mind (Matt 5). He was telling people that to control one’s carnal behavior isn’t enough. He wants to tear down the “man of sin” and totally create us new from the inside out! He doesn’t just want me to “control” my sinful heart. He wants to give me a brand new one!
Is this process “hard” or “easy” for us? What do you think?
I don’t think it’s easy. I mean, I know that I need to be a “new creature,” and there is part of me that wants that. But there is another part of me that sorta likes the “old” woman. Yes, I will be shameless enough to admit that I like some of my sinful thoughts and rebellious ways. And I’m not too sure I want to give God free reign to change whatever He wants. There’s a part of me that fears I might end up being a humorless prude if I let God take out my old heart and mind and replace it with a new one.
In that sense, I saw Job’s words in a whole new way today, though I would change one word in this application: Even as God kills me, I will still trust in Him. I will trust that He knows the person I was truly created to be. I will trust that He knows what brings true happiness, joy, and freedom in this life. I will trust that He can mold me into the kind of person I never thought I could be—someone who is more alive and vibrant than I could ever imagine. I will trust that He is still the genius Creator.
So, I don’t know about you, but today, I’m giving God permission to kill me—the old me, the woman of sin—and start over. I’m giving Him permission to take the whole tree down, pluck up the roots, and plant something new and wonderful in my life. I’m giving Him permission to remove my old self and, in its place, give me His self.
And, like Job, I trust that He will do right by me.
God created us for the eternal.
From this chapter comes a famous Bible passage which has been the subject of much music, mostly choral works: “How frail is humanity! How short is life, how full of trouble! We blossom like a flower and then wither. Like a passing shadow, we quickly disappear.” (vs 1-2) One in particular I remember from my college choir days, John Rutter’s Agnus Dei, included a repeated musical motif in the middle: In the midst of life, we are in death.
I can’t think of anything else that we need to constantly remember, and I can’t think of anything else that is so seemingly-impossible to keep forefront in our minds. This world—as it is now—is not what we were made for. We were created for the eternal, not the temporary. As Job said, sin has made this world and this life very temporary and full of trouble, yet we so often go through our lives expecting sunshine and security. We are still surprised and caught off-guard by hardship, tragedy, and suffering.
There was one group of people in history who weren’t surprised by suffering. There was one group of people who expected, even embraced, suffering. That was the disciples—post-resurrection. When Jesus came out of that tomb, when they realized that they had actually been in the presence of Almighty God for more than three years (and when they realized what kind of person He was!), nothing else mattered to them any longer.
The only thing they cared about was telling as many people as they could that they had been with God. Imagine—He had actually shown up on the planet! They didn’t work hard to further their careers, put down roots, afford a better car or larger home. They didn’t care when someone insulted them, abused them, or threw them into jail. Everywhere they went, every person they saw, they considered an opportunity to do their temporary job. And they suffered hardship, abuse, and awful deaths with joy, knowing that they would soon reach what they were created for.
If you are on the path of trouble today, remember that the path of trouble is the way home. Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him (Heb 12:2), and we can find the same joy in every “unexpected” tragedy and crisis. Are you laboring hard to “secure” a better life for yourself in this world? Don’t be surprised if it falls apart . . . because it can, so easily. Our possessions, our health, and even the very people we love the most—all of these are temporary and fleeting.
The great Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “Let each man surrender his own longings to the glory of Jesus, and feel, ‘If my lying in the dust would elevate my Lord by so much as an inch, let me lie still among the pots of earth. If to live on earth forever would make my Lord more glorious, it should be my heaven to be shut out of heaven.’”
I want that to be my attitude. Whatever today holds for me, I know it is temporary. And I can trust that the God who created me for the eternal is well able to accomplish what He knows is best in and for and through me in this day!
God bucks tradition.
Have you known any Eliphazes in your life? I’ve known a few. Actually, I’ve known more than a few. And why is it that they mostly seem to flock to the church? (Sigh.) Here is Eliphaz, once again, trying to put Job in his place: “Do you think you’re the first person to have to deal with these things? Have you been around as long as the hills? Were you listening in when God planned all this? Do you think you’re the only one who knows anything? What do you know that we don’t know? What insights do you have that we’ve missed? Gray beards and white hair back us up—old folks who’ve been around a lot longer than you.” (vs 7-10)
Eliphaz was affronted at the things Job had said and the questions he had asked. You see, Eliphaz believed that God was a certain kind of person, and that was not to be questioned. In telling Job that he had “gray beards and white hair” on his side, Eliphaz was simply saying, “Our religious tradition trumps everything else.” Eliphaz couldn’t conceive that Job could have a better understanding of God than “the elders,” and he certainly didn’t take kindly to Job questioning the status quo. In verse 6 of this chapter, Eliphaz comes right out and tells Job that—even if he has no secret sin of which to repent—what he’s currently saying is plenty enough to get him in trouble.
The sad fact was that the religious tradition of Eliphaz and his friends was the very thing that blinded them to the reality of Job’s experience. They were totally incapable of empathizing with Job, of listening to him, of caring for him, of doing anything except insist that he had brought his misfortune on himself and demand that he repent. This is the sad fate of tradition. It is so often closed to anything else but itself. It is so often used against people. It is so often used to close doors, not open them.
I like how Oswald Chambers put it: “When once the sledge-hammer of tradition is brought to bear, there is nothing more to say. . . . The Pharisees adopted this method with Jesus. . . . The ‘Eliphaz’ method has hindered more souls in developing the life with God than almost any other thing.”
I don’t mind saying that I think God hates the sledge-hammer of tradition. Look no further than Jesus, who spent so much of His time bucking tradition (no doubt, one of the biggest reasons He was hated by the Pharisees). God is not about keeping the status quo. God is about vibrant life, discovery, and relationship. He’s the God who says, “Come, let us reason together” (Isa 1:18). He welcomes our questions, our protests, and our arguments.
My daughter is three weeks old. Right now, my days and nights are filled with three things: Feeding her, changing her diapers, and rocking her to sleep. When she’s five years old, I don’t expect to be doing these things any longer. I don’t expect her to say, “But, Mommy, this is the way it’s always been, and this is the way it should continue to be.” No, I want her to learn to walk and talk and explore the world. I want her to ask questions and discover new things. I want to share everything with her. But that will never happen if she’s determined to remain where she’s at at three weeks old.
It’s the same way with God. He doesn’t want us to remain stuck. He wants us to ask questions and discover new things. When we’re in a relationship with Him, if we don’t know more than the “gray beards and white hair,” at the very least, we should have an awful lot of questions for them. So, let me make an appeal to pastors and church-going folk: Please, can we stop with the ‘Eliphaz’ method? If God is willing to buck tradition, maybe we ought to also be a little more open-minded.
God knows what's best.
Eliphaz and his friends accused Job of attacking God. Job claimed it was the other way around: “I was living in comfort, but He has taken that away. He has taken hold of me by the neck and shaken me to pieces.” (vs 12) Commentators are divided (on this verse and the surrounding ones) as to whether the “he” is referring to God or Satan. Regardless, we’re going to proceed as if Job was talking about God. Have you ever felt like life was going along smoothly, and all of a sudden, God stepped in and messed it up?
I’d like to tell you another story about my daughter. I have heard that, once a child is older, you forget what the first several weeks with a newborn were like. At this point in my life as a new parent, I’m shocked that nobody warns you about the first several weeks. They’re brutal! I think mommies and daddies go all starry-eyed into parenthood, thinking that their baby is going to be like the ones normally seen on TV—quiet and still. Then, whammo!, the baby comes and reality hits, and there’s no going back.
In preparation for the arrival of our little one, we read a book called The Happiest Baby on the Block. Naturally, we wanted one of those. The premise of the book is that the first three months of a child’s life are really like the “fourth trimester.” Thus, the book recommends swaddling (a technique of wrapping the baby tightly in blankets so movement is restricted) and loud “white noise.” That’s what was most surprising to me. We think babies like quiet places, but the author of this book says it’s the opposite. Apparently, it’s very noisy in the womb, so loud “white noise” (ala the vacuum cleaner) is actually soothing to an infant. This noise, combined with the swaddling, simulates the cozy, familiar environment of the womb and has a calming effect on a fussy baby.
But it doesn’t always work at the drop of a hat, and we weren’t so eager to always go with this method right off the bat. You see, Caroline doesn’t like to be swaddled. At least, she thinks she doesn’t like it. If she is fussy and we put her in the swaddle, most of the time, she screams louder and tries to kick harder. So, for a while, we laid off the swaddle. But not for long.
One day, my husband was trying to put Caroline down for a nap. She was a little fussy, but he was working with her to settle her down. He rocked her, shushed her, walked with her, and patted her back. This went on for quite some time. Finally, she was in a deep sleep, and just as he was laying her down in her crib, she had one of those “startling issues” that all newborns have. And without warning, her little hand flew up, and she hit herself in the nose.
Needless to say, that was the end of the sleeping.
And it was also the end of us not swaddling Caroline when it’s time for bed. You see, she doesn’t like it at first. I’m sure if she could talk, she might echo Job’s sentiment: I was so comfortable, but you’ve taken that away. She bucks the swaddling initially, but when she gets calmed down and off to sleep, the swaddling ensures a much longer, much more peaceful nap. And that’s not only best for Mom and Dad, it’s best for her, too.
In the Our Daily Bread devotional for Job 16, David Roper tells the story of ground squirrels who hibernate close to his home every year. In the spring, he and his wife enjoy watching them scurry back and forth, making their little homes in the surrounding hills. But Roper and his wife live at the edge of a golf course, and every year, an employee from the golf course comes to exterminate the squirrels because they dig holes and destroy the fairways.
Roper says that always makes him so sad that he has tried to think of ways to force the squirrels out at the end of winter. He tries to think of how he could find and break up their nests and chase and scare them away—so they wouldn’t meet a worse fate. “If I could,” he writes, “I’d chase the little animals away. I’d destroy their holes and force them to settle someplace else. I’m sure they would resent my interference, but my actions would be solely for their good.”
So it is with God. He knows what is best for us, and He will do what is best for us—even if it distresses us terribly. And whether He causes or allows things to come that make us uncomfortable, we can know that He has our best interests at heart. Whether it’s a longer sleep or a longer life, God uses the discomforts we encounter as blessings. So if, as Job said, “I was living in comfort, but He has taken that away,” we can trust that God knows what He’s doing and that the end result will be for good.
God shoulders the burden of sin.
There is a very interesting verse in this chapter of Job. Look it up in several versions at home or online, and you’ll find a number of different renderings: “Give me, O God, the pledge you demand. Who else will put up security for me?” (vs 3) In other words, Job is crying out to God and saying, “You will have to set things right, God. I don’t have what it takes.”
Remarkably, this is yet another slam at the theology presented to Job by his friends. Their contention was that Job had done some very bad things, and if he wanted his life to get better, he was going to have to take responsibility, repent, and make the first move back toward God. However, as we already know, Job totally rejected that bogus theology and firmly placed the ball in God’s court, admitting that it was beyond him to address his own problem and asking God to bear the cost of setting things right.
Boy, did he know a lot about God.
From the very beginning, God has shouldered the burden of sin. Though the problem in our relationship with Him was not caused by Him, He has always been the one to take the initiative. He has always borne the cost of setting things right. He pursues us. He reassures us. He tries to make amends with us. He does everything in His power to repair the damage that our sin has caused.
What we see in the events surrounding the cross is a God who says, “There is nothing you can do to Me to make Me lash out at you. You may have a problem with Me, but I have no problem with you. I love you. I forgive you. I accept you. And I always have. Now, won’t you come on home?”
In the work of salvation, God shoulders the burden of sin. He does all the “heavy lifting,” reconciling us to Himself by revealing the kind of person He is. We usually think (and preach!) that it’s the other way around—that somehow God has to be reconciled to us. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Though we have caused the breach in our relationship with Him, God is the one who repairs the breach and woos us home. He is not offended by our sin; His heart is moved to help and heal us, just as the heart of any parent is moved when their child is sick. He has never had to be persuaded (either by speeches or sacrifice) to accept us. He accepts you. Right now. Just as you are.
Whatever is necessary for salvation is provided by Him. He sets us right, He keeps us right. And thank God He does, because addressing our own problem is entirely beyond us.
God wants you to be free.
I don’t remember when it was that I finally worked up the courage to watch the movie Braveheart. It was a long time after it was released, and even then, I remember watching most of it through the laced fingers covering my eyes. (I have a problem with graphic violence.) But I can never forget the final moments of that film, as Mel Gibson’s character, William Wallace—bound and seconds away from death—cries with his last breath, “Freedom!”
There was something in that moment that swept me away, perhaps something that called out to the freedom-loving American in me. It was clear to me that it didn’t really matter that Wallace was about to die. He was free, and nobody could take that away from him. It actually reminded me of Christ—falsely accused, wrongfully arrested, convicted at a sham trial, beaten, abused, hung up to die. And what was He doing whilst all of that was going on? Ministering to the women on the road, comforting His mother, forgiving His abusers. It didn’t really matter that He was about to die. He was free, and nobody could take that away from Him.
Actually, He declared His freedom over the whole situation long before He was ever in it: “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.” (Jn 10:17-18) Jesus was never anyone’s victim.
In this chapter of Job, Bildad is giving another speech, this time detailing the horrors he believes all wicked people must face: “Terrible things startle them from every side and chase them at every step. Hunger takes away their strength, and disaster is at their side. Disease eats away parts of their skin; death gnaws at their arms and legs. They are torn from the safety of their tents and dragged off to Death, the King of Terrors. Their tents are set on fire, and sulfur is scattered over their homes.” (vs 11-15)
Once again, here’s the problem. Much of what Bildad described in this chapter was happening to Job, a righteous man. Of course, that’s the whole rub, isn’t it? Job’s friends look at his circumstances and, because of their theology, automatically assume that Job is wicked. But Job knows he’s not. He is a righteous man who is seemingly suffering things that we think should be reserved for the wicked.
What does this have to do with freedom? Here’s a quote I ran across today from a book called The Gospel According to Job, by Mike Mason. It floored me: “It is true that Job has been ‘marched off to the king of terrors’—but not for the reason Bildad supposes. . . .It is not Job’s wickedness but his faithfulness that the Lord is disclosing through this ordeal. In fact there may be nothing our God wants more than to bring each one of us to the point where He can do with us exactly what He did with Job: hand us over with perfect confidence into the clutches of Satan, knowing that even then our faith will hold.”
Whoa. I don’t know about you, but I had to sit with that for just a minute. There may be nothing our God wants more than to bring each one of us to the point where He can do with us exactly what He did with Job. But, why would He want to do that?
I suspect that it’s not so much about wanting to hand us over into the clutches of Satan as it is His wanting us to be free. But once we are truly free, then—just like Job and Jesus—we actually are in a position to shine for God even in the midst of suffering.
Again, it begs the question: why should that ever need to come to pass? Well, I’m sure this is a subject that will continue to unfold as we make our way through the rest of the 66 books, but for now, let me venture a brief answer. Actually, Mason touched on it earlier in the quote: It is not Job’s wickedness but his faithfulness that the Lord is disclosing through this ordeal.
God operates on the basis of revelation. He applies that principle to Himself—we come to know Him because of His self-revelation. He also applies that principle to us in judgment—what and who we are is revealed through circumstances, not “pronounced” by Him. God is in the business of full disclosure. He never asks us to take His word for something; He always says, “Come and see.”
We are all caught up in the middle of a universe-wide war. This is a war between Christ and Satan, good and evil, and it is intensifying all the time. Although there has been a lot of suffering involved in this war, it is mainly a propaganda war with those of us in the middle left to decide—who is telling the truth?
Since God doesn’t ask us to “take His word for it,” one of the things that is necessary in order to finally conclude this war is to reveal in its entirety the full awfulness of sin. We may think we’ve already seen all there is to see, but Satan—who is the Father of Sin—is like a roaring lion, seeking to destroy anything and everything he can. (Look no further than the story of Job. The only restraint he shows in destroying Job’s life is the limitations placed on him by God.)
What if those limitations weren’t placed on Satan any longer? A full disclosure about the true nature of sin and evil would be possible, but God can’t and won’t remove those limitations if He knows we are unable to bear the onslaught. That’s what was so remarkable about Job. God knew Job, and He knew Job could stand up under the onslaught of evil.
And, contrary to what Bildad said at the end of this chapter, Job knew God. He knew the truth about God, and just as Jesus said, “The truth will set you free.” (Jn 8:32) Job was free. Though he suffered, though he grieved with a broken heart, though he asked angry questions, he triumphed over the evil that was thrown at him because he knew the truth about his Friend. And that truth made him free.
God wants you to be free. He wants you to know the truth, that He has already overcome this world (Jn 16:33). Because of that, there is absolutely nothing that can separate us from Him (Rom 8:38-39). In Him, we are safe, even if the enemy of our souls is allowed to shatter us and everything around us. Nothing can snatch us from God’s hand. When we know the truth about Him, we will be free to watch the evil storm clouds gather, brace ourselves against the onslaught, and stand.
God is with us.
This chapter of Job contains, perhaps, the most famous passage from the whole book. In the middle of a despairing speech, suddenly, Job utters some of the most hopeful, confidence-filled words in the Bible: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.” (vs 25-26)
In my flesh I will see God. When we read this, I think we often imagine that Job is saying that he himself will see God. (And that is true.) But I saw it in a different way today. Perhaps it was possible that Job was saying that one day, he would see God in human flesh. He knows enough about God to know that he has a redeemer, a defender—someone who so closely identifies with His creation that He might even become one of them.
That is speculation. But, of course, that’s exactly what happened.
God became one of us. He entered the war zone, took on the mantle of suffering. He voluntarily identified Himself with us, with all of our problems, and with all of our suffering. Think about that for a moment—especially that last part. None of us have really chosen suffering. We’ve been thrust into a world that’s in the middle of a war, and suffering is just part of the deal. We didn’t choose suffering, but He did.
That’s what Love does. It suffers. It doesn’t shirk away from the tough stuff, but faces it head-on. If, in the end, Job knew why he had gone through what he did, I think he would have counted it a privilege to have suffered for his God. And I wonder why we, as Christians, don’t see suffering more as a privilege instead of something to be avoided at all costs. For if our God, Redeemer, and Friend voluntarily took on our suffering in His flesh, shouldn’t we also be able to bear up under the suffering that comes our way?
God is with us—not because He had to be, but because He wanted to be. Job got a glimpse of that, even at a time when he couldn’t physically sense the presence of God. My prayer is that, whatever we face in life, especially when times get tough, we will never forget that Emmanuel is our best friend. God became one of us. We have seen the Creator of the Universe in our flesh.
God is always bringing us new light.
Are you feeling like I am about the speeches of Job’s friends? Come on, enough already. When I opened my Bible to chapter 20 today and saw that Zophar was going to launch off yet again into the same, old thing, I felt a huge yawn coming on. It’s like being on the telephone with an automated answering service—no matter what number you press, you get the same recording: Thank you for holding. One of our representatives will be with you shortly. It gets frustrating when there’s no way to break through the monotonous drivel and reach someone who is actually alive and breathing.
I think Job must have felt that same kind of frustration. No matter what he said, he was constantly met with the same recording: Wicked people suffer. You are suffering. Ergo, you are wicked. Repent. By this time, at least to me, I’m not even able to distinguish differences in the speeches of Zophar, Bildad, and Eliphaz. It’s as if, the longer they try to hit Job over the head with their theology, the more they meld into one, monotonous voice.
Job, on the other hand, is growing more profound and inspired. All the way back at the beginning, he started off wishing he was dead—actually, that he’d never even been born in the first place. As time passed, he acquiesced to the idea that all human life is brief and he would be dead soon enough, never to return. Then, he declared that—although he was majorly displeased with God—he would trust in God even if God killed him. And in the last chapter, he boldly stated that he knew his Redeemer, and he was planning to see him with his own eyes—after his death.
Yes, as time goes on in this ordeal, Job is gaining wisdom and insight. Little pinpricks of light are starting to pierce the darkness surrounding his heart. His friends, on the other hand, are one-hit wonders. They have a story and they’re sticking to it. They are incapable of doing anything except repeating—regurgitating, actually—what they’ve always been told. Saying what they’ve always said, doing what they’ve always done.
By the end of the book, we know who is speaking correctly. Job is revealed as the friend of God—the one who has the relationship. In this relationship, God is always bringing us new light. We grow, we learn, we understand more and more as we remain connected with Him.
By contrast, Job’s friends—it seems—didn’t have much of a relationship with God. In this chapter, I thought these verses were most telling: Zophar warns, “The heavens and the earth will testify against [the wicked], and all their possessions will be dragged off when God becomes angry.” (vs 27-28) Zophar (and his friends) spent the majority of their time focused on the material aspect of the wicked’s “punishment.” Here, Zophar mentions the loss of possessions.
This, to them, was the thing to fear, the ultimate punishment. The loss of wealth is seen as grave judgment. The loss of God’s friendship doesn’t seem to occur to any of them as a far worse fate. Yet, for Job, the startling absence of God in the midst of his suffering is the thing that fills him with dread. This God—whom he thought he had such a great relationship with—is suddenly not speaking to him anymore. That’s what Job cares about.
It’s amazing to see the difference between the two, isn’t it? Job, who indeed does have a relationship with God, is finding strength and hope and courage—even as he is assaulted from all sides. Even in his darkness, he is being impressed with new light. His friends, on the other hand—who don’t even have the disadvantage of dealing with their own personal suffering in this instance—are stuck in their religious darkness and blind to God’s light. When one doesn’t have a relationship with the Light of the World, one can’t see.
Satan was so wrong about Job. He said Job only cared about “the goodies.” But, when it came down to it, it was shown that Job only cared about God. He would have loved Andrae Crouch’s song, “If Heaven Never Was Promised to Me.” Can’t you hear him singing it? If heaven never was promised to me, neither God’s promise to live eternally, it’s been worth having the Lord in my life. I was living in a world of darkness, but He brought me the light.
God is in the business of bringing light to dark places. For those who are connected to the Sun of Righteousness, there will always be new light to be discovered in His Word. Nobody should ever sit back and feel satisfied that there is no more truth to be revealed. For if Job could, in the midst of his darkest hour, see the light of his Redeemer, how much more light is there for us to discover!
God has a popsicle stash.
Awful, heart-wrenching things happen in this world. I’m going to tell you about two of them to start this blog. I once heard about a little, eighteen-month-old boy who was rushed to the hospital with a very high fever. He had been having some flu-like symptoms, but his parents weren’t worried until his fever spiked. After the doctors ran all their tests, they concluded that the small boy had meningococcemia, a bacterial infection which can be one of the most dramatic and rapidly fatal diseases.
The doctors determined that, given the circumstances, they wouldn’t be able to save the child’s life. And so, with his organs shutting down and the final hours of his life ebbing away, his parents ate a last supper of popsicles with him in his hospital bed. I still cry when I think about it.
A few years later, I heard about a young man who was in the prime of his life, just getting ready to graduate high school. In earlier years, he had battled some form of cancer, but it had gone into remission. Suddenly, though, it came roaring back, and this time, the prognosis wasn’t good. For several months, the young boy wasted away as doctors tried different experimental therapies. Finally, after all the options had been exhausted and there was no hope left, the boy was discharged from the hospital and sent home to die. Because he was on steroids for the pain, he spent the last weeks of his life feeling better than he had felt in a long time, eating all his favorite foods, playing video games, and enjoying each day.
So, what do the stories of these two boys have to do with Job? Well, Job asked a question in this chapter that a lot of people have asked throughout history: Why do the wicked prosper?
“Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power? They see their children established around them, their offspring before their eyes. Their homes are safe and free from fear; the rod of God is not on them. Their bulls never fail to breed; their cows calve and do not miscarry. They send forth their children as a flock; their little ones dance about. They sing to the music of timbrel and lyre; they make merry to the sound of the pipe. They spend their years in prosperity and go down to the grave in peace.” (vs 7-13)
Job’s friends had been trying to argue that the wicked always suffer, but Job said, “No they don’t. I look around, and I see plenty of wicked people livin’ it up, having a grand, old time. How do you account for that?!” Job wasn’t the only one to ask this question. David, Jeremiah, and others asked the very same question. They (like we) expected to live in a world where good things happened to good people and bad things happened to bad people.
At the risk of sounding like a know-it-all (which I most certainly am not), I think I have an answer to this question so often posed by righteous men. And I think the answer lies in the stories I related to you at the beginning of this blog.
I bet that, up until that night in the hospital, that eighteen-month-old child had never had a meal of popsicles. Why would I bet that? Because parents who want to raise healthy children don’t feed them a diet of popsicles. And I would bet that, up until the last few weeks of his life, that teenage boy had never taken a steady stream of steroids. Why would I bet that? Because steroids—while marvelous for pain relief—will destroy your body.
But the overriding concern in those two cases at that particular time was not the health of the individuals, but the quality of the time they had left to live in this world. In terms of sustained life, both cases were hopeless. Nothing could be done to save either life, and so the focus shifted to what could be done to make what remained of life enjoyable.
I think God is in a similar situation when it comes to the wicked. And by “wicked,” I’m referring here to people who have cast the Lord off for good. These are people who have rejected the Holy Spirit for so long that they are incapable of responding. They have passed “the point of no return.” They cannot be saved. They cannot be healed. Only God knows who these people are, because only He can read the heart. Sometimes, a truly wicked person might not appear to be a bad person. We are not able to make those judgments.
But because God reads the heart, He knows when one of His children has forever closed off their heart to Him. He knows which of His children He will ultimately lose. And I think that when His children place themselves beyond His healing reach, He will do whatever He can to make what remains of their life on this Earth enjoyable.
So, why does it seem sometimes like the wicked prosper? Because this life is all they have. These wicked, evil people (whoever they are and wherever they are) are still God’s children. They’re still His creation. He cares about them and loves them just as deeply as He loves His righteous children. And if He knows they have rejected the option of a life spent eternally with Him, well, I think He tries to bring them as much “heaven” in this life as He can.
Of course, I think there’s a limit to how much even God can do for the wicked in this life, because being a wicked person is its own punishment. Cherishing a sinful, evil heart has its own unpleasant consequences. But I believe God has a stash of popsicles that He shares with the wicked when no more discipline is helpful, when no more amount of wooing would work, when healing is not possible.
Jesus said, “Go in through the narrow door. The door is wide and the way is easy that leads to death. Many people are going through that door.” (Matt 7:13) If we have chosen the wide door, at the beginning, I believe God makes it very hard for us to ultimately continue on the road to death. If we start down it, He puts obstacles in our way, warnings not to continue, and makes it all but impossible for us to keep going.
But if we are determined at all costs to stay on that road, once there is no going back, I do believe the road becomes very easy. For, at that point, what God has on His hands is a terminally-ill child with no hope of a cure. And once He is faced with the reality that He will lose that child forever, He does what every loving parent on this Earth does—He brings out the popsicles.
God takes pleasure in us.
In the opening of Job 22, Eliphaz starts in again with Job: “What pleasure would it give the Almighty if you were righteous?” (vs 2) Actually, The Message Bible does an even better job of capturing Eliphaz’s “so what” attitude: “So what if you were righteous—would God Almighty even notice? Even if you gave a perfect performance, do you think he’d applaud? Do you think it’s because he cares about your purity that he’s disciplining you, putting you on the spot? Hardly! It’s because you’re a first-class moral failure, because there’s no end to your sins.” (vs 2-3)
Of course, Eliphaz was dead wrong. Job was no first-class moral failure; on the contrary, he was upheld by God as righteous and blameless. And it’s clear from God’s dialogue with Satan in the first two chapters of the book that God took great pleasure in His friend. He was proud of Job. He bragged about Job to Satan (and, later, to Job’s friends).
So often, we picture God as this distant Deity who, yes, created us, but He may or may not be so closely involved with our lives. We may be tempted to think of Him as a God who is removed, not affected. We certainly know that God loves us, but what of the notion that God likes us? God has to love us; that’s sort of what He does. But like us? Take pleasure in us?
Yes, that’s the picture of God that is painted by the book of Job: a God who likes us just as much as He loves us. A God who revels in our accomplishments and brags about us to others. A God who heaps honor upon us. Doesn’t sound like distant and unconnected to me. So, the next time an Eliphaz approaches you and says, “Do you think God takes pleasure in you?”, you can look him square in the eye and say, “As a matter of fact, He does!”
God is all.
Job, with yet another reply to his so-called friends: “Even today my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning. If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling! I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what he would answer me, and consider what he would say to me.” (vs 2-5)
Did you find this as interesting as I did? Simply put, Job understood what is most important in life. He got it. He didn’t say, “If only my children hadn’t died. If only they could be resurrected!” He didn’t say, “If only I hadn’t lost all my wealth. If only I could get all my flocks back!” And he didn’t say, “If only I didn’t have to put up with this disease anymore. If only these boils weren’t causing me so much pain!”
No. He said, “If only I knew where to find God. If only I could get to where He is.”
I hate to break it to you, but the daily circumstances of our lives don’t really matter all that much. It doesn’t matter if we’re rich or poor. It doesn’t matter if we’re healthy or sick. It doesn’t matter if we’re alone or in a crowd. It doesn’t matter if we’re unemployed or just got a promotion. The only thing that matters is whether God is with us.
We can have all the health, wealth, family, and friends in the world, but if we don’t have God, we have nothing. The reverse is also true. We can be sick, poor, and alone, but if we have God, we have everything. God is all. And when we have Him, we really do have it all.
The more I go through the book of Job, the more I am impressed with Job. (I guess God knew a thing or two when He started bragging about him.) He really was an upright, blameless man who had his priorities straight and knew what was important in life. And he really knew what God was like. And I want to come to know God just as well as he did. There is nothing more important.
God believes in equal justice.
There is a lot of talk about justice these days—especially in the “enlightened” and “educated” culture of the West. And this topic of discussion is not limited to any particular arena. You hear it discussed both inside and outside of the church. There are a lot of different ideas about justice. What is it? When is it achieved? How is it achieved? Is justice achieved at the level of treatment (that is, how people are treated) or at the level of outcomes (that is, what happens to people)?
I think, whether he knew it or not, Job touched on that in this chapter: “God drags away the mighty by his power; though they become established, they have no assurance of life. He may let them rest in a feeling of security, but his eyes are on their ways. For a little while they are exalted, and then they are gone; they are brought low and gathered up like all others; they are cut off like heads of grain.” (vs 22-24)
So, what Job is saying is that even though the wicked may seem to prosper in this life, they end up just like everybody else—in the grave. This is the way of every person, wicked or righteous, rich or poor, young or old. No matter the choices they make in life, all are treated the same by God.
Need some more evidence of that? Check out these passages:
“I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:44-48)
Here, Jesus tells His followers to be perfect as God is perfect—by doing what? Treating the wicked and the righteous alike. God sends blessings on both the righteous and the unrighteous. He repays good for evil. He doesn’t treat His “good” children one way and His “bad” children another way. He treats all with equal love and compassion. He exercises equal justice.
But that’s in this life. What about in “ultimate” terms? What about on that day of judgment?
“The day of judgment is certain to come. And it will be like a red-hot furnace with flames that burn up proud and sinful people, as though they were straw. Not a branch or a root will be left. I, the Lord All-Powerful, have spoken! But for you that honor my name, victory will shine like the sun with healing in its rays, and you will jump around like calves at play. When I come to bring justice, you will trample those who are evil, as though they were ashes under your feet. I, the Lord All-Powerful, have spoken!” (Mal 4:1-3)
Who gets hit with the fire? Everybody! Did you notice that? The flames will “burn up proud and sinful people,” but the righteous will experience those flames as a “sun with healing in its rays.” The outcomes are very different, but the treatment is the same. God doesn’t treat His “wicked” children any differently than His “righteous” children. He treats His children as He does based on who He is, not based on who they are.
This goes right along with the question Isaiah asked: “‘Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?’” And the answer: “Those who walk righteously and speak what is right.” (Isa 33:14-15) All will meet with fire, because God Himself is fire! (Heb 12:29) but some will live in that fire, and some will die in that fire. God, however, treats all His children equally.
Isn’t it time we stop thinking of God (much less portraying Him) as a person who doles out rewards to His friends and punishments to His enemies? In the great scheme of things, God treats everyone the same. He practices equal justice. That means, to both the righteous and the wicked, He exercises patience, love, discipline, grace, and generosity. What we do with it and how it ultimately affects us is up to us.
God created worms without arms and legs.
If there is anything in the book of Job that I’m glad God rebuked as being wrong, it is this in chapter 25: “How then can a mortal be righteous before God? How can one born of woman be pure? If even the moon is not bright and the stars are not pure in his eyes, how much less a mortal, who is but a maggot—a human being, who is only a worm!” (vs 4-6)
Oh, Bildad. How little you think of yourself! At the end of the book, God said that Bildad (along with his other friends) spoke what was wrong. However, I still hear this sordid theology leaking out of Christian churches all the time! Who told us that we are just worms in the eyes of the Lord? Certainly not God!
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” (Isa 43:1)
“Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you . . .” (Isa 43:4)
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son . . .” (Jn 3:16)
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight . . .” (Isa 42:1)
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matt 10:29-31)
Hmmm . . . since when was a worm worth more than a bird? It’s the early bird who gets the worm! But, you get the point, right? In an earlier chapter, we talked about the Eliphaz method and how we needed to boot it out of the church. So, maybe we should call this the Bildad method and get rid of it, too!
If you believe that you are nothing more than a worm in the eyes of the Lord, stop it! How would you feel if your child thought you looked at him as nothing more than a worm? Would you agree with him? Would you pat him on the head and say, “I know you’re worthless, but I’m so merciful that I love you anyway”? Of course not! Absurd! So why would you imagine that your perfect heavenly Father would feel that way about you?
And if, for heaven’s sake, you’re telling other people that they’re nothing more than a worm in the eyes of the Lord, stop it! If you—who are sinful—wouldn’t dream of telling your own child that she is a worm, why would you think your perfect heavenly Father would say that about you?
God created worms—that’s for sure. But all the worms He created have no arms and no legs. If you’ve been guilty of using the Bildad method, it’s really time for a new look at God. As Jesus said (with what I’m sure was a big smile on His face, a big twinkle in His eye, and perhaps a wink), “Don’t worry. You’re worth more than several small birds.”
In God’s eyes, you are no worm!
God is a genius.
In 1988, when I was 11 years old, my parents bought us an Apple IIGS computer for Christmas. My brother—who was then, and has always been, more technologically savvy than I—was especially excited. For months, he had been reading about the Apple IIGS, and he wanted one in the worst way. Let’s face it, in 1988, just the idea of having a personal computer in your home was rare, let alone one that had a state-of-the-art sound system and a color graphical user interface. Oooooh, aaaaaah.
Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Computers and the genius behind the Apple IIGS, passed away this week at age 56. He was a legend in the technology world, and moments after his death was announced, there was no shortage of memorials to him on social networking sites (such as Facebook), referring to him as Thomas Edison or Albert Einstein.
After the Apple IIGS, he went on to design a whole line of Macintosh computers, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. It would take an entire book to detail all the technological accomplishments he oversaw in his short lifetime. Simply put, Steve Jobs was a genius, and the world of technology will never be the same without him.
Nobody would look at an iPod or an iPhone—with its intricately-designed functionality—and think that it appeared on the planet by chance, that it slowly pieced itself together over hundreds or thousands or millions of years. Yet many people think this very thought about things God has made—things that are so intricately-designed that we (in all our intelligence) can’t even come close to replicating them.
Job pointed out a number of these things in this chapter, and they struck me all over again in a new way. These days, Science would have us believe that none of what we observe in the universe is designed, yet the geniuses among us not only fail at replicating these things, sometimes they can’t even describe how or why they work as they do:
[God] spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing. (vs 7)
God stores water in clouds, but they don’t burst. (vs 8)
[God] makes the moon wax and wane, putting it through its phases. (vs 9)
[God] marks out the horizon on the face of the waters for a boundary between light and darkness. (vs 10)
And this only scratches the surface. Job says as much in verse 14: “These things are merely a whisper of God’s power at work. How little we would understand if this whisper ever turned into thunder!”
So, while we say farewell to Mr. Jobs and marvel at all that his genius has brought into the world, let’s remember that his is but a drop in the ocean of God’s genius. When we design, when we imagine, when we create, we are utilizing the ingenuity of the One in whose image we were made. He is the true genius!
God sets us straight.
This chapter almost seemed a little out of character for Job, didn’t it? Every speech his friends have made has included some awful description of what will befall the wicked—in order to convince Job that he is wicked. Job has been protesting his innocence from the beginning and even making some arguments that, in his experience, tragedy does not befall the wicked quite as often as his friends would imagine. And then, he seems to reverse his position in this chapter.
Or does he?
A lot of what Job describes in this chapter seems to apply to him: “Their children—all of them—will die violent deaths” (vs 14); “They go to bed wealthy and wake up poor” (vs 16); “Catastrophes relentlessly pursue them; they run this way and that, but there’s no place to hide” (vs 22).
Is Job finally admitting that he is among the wicked? Is he finally agreeing with his friends’ assessment of his situation? Hardly! You didn’t skip over verses 5 and 6, did you? “I will never admit you are in the right; till I die, I will not deny my integrity. I will maintain my innocence and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.”
Job continued to steadfastly declare that he was innocent. So, instead of agreeing with his friends, what Job is saying is, “I am innocent, even if the circumstances make it look like I am guilty. I know that my situation may look like ‘judgment’ on a wicked person, yet I assure you it is not.”
We don’t always see things clearly. If we learn nothing else from the book of Job, let us learn that! And what Job is saying to his friends here reminded me of something the prophet Isaiah wrote about Jesus: “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.” (Isa 53:4)
Wow! Did you catch that? Isaiah was prophesying about the pain and suffering that Jesus would endure, and he was predicting that our immediate response would be to consider Him stricken by God. In other words, we would look at the cross and say, that looks like God is punishing His Son, but that’s not what was happening at all.
There are so many times in life when our perspective is skewed. And when it is, I am so glad we have a God who sets us straight. In the story of Job, He was setting the record straight—both on Job personally and on the question of where suffering comes from. And in Isaiah, He was setting the record straight about what was happening at the cross and how Jesus was not being punished by God for our sins.
How many more things do we need to be set straight on? Who knows—probably a lot, probably more than we can imagine. But, especially in Isaiah, God has shown that He is in the habit of setting us straight even before we know we need to be set straight. So we don’t have to worry. If our vision is skewed, God will help us get our perspective straightened out.
God has all the priceless stuff.
If you watch much TV, you’ve probably seen the famous MasterCard commercials featuring the “priceless” slogan. For instance, one featured a woman going on a blind date: “Haircut and style—seventy dollars. Spa manicure—fifty dollars. Stunning black dress—one hundred thirty dollars. Your blind date complaining about picking up the sixty dollar tab—priceless. There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.”
This chapter of Job reminded me of one of those commercials. Job starts off talking about all the different types of gems and metals that can be found on Earth. He talks about how men will go searching very carefully to find these precious items: “Miners carry lanterns deep into the darkness to search for these metals. They dig tunnels in distant, unknown places, where they dangle by ropes. With their own hands they remove sharp rocks and uproot mountains. They dig through the rocks in search of jewels and precious metals.” (vs 3-4, 9-10)
And, after detailing how carefully men work to acquire these expensive materials, he talks about wisdom—and how rare and unattainable it is to the human race. He concludes by saying that it can only be found in God: “The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.” (vs 28)
When you think about it, God has all the priceless stuff, doesn’t He? We value gold, gems, and precious jewels. We think those are the expensive things, the things worth having. But God has the truly priceless stuff—wisdom, peace, joy, hope, and love. All of these things may only be found in Him. None of them can be found outside of Him—none!
If you want wisdom, there’s only one place to go. If you want peace, you can only find it in God’s hand. If you want joy, you must seek the Almighty. If you want hope, He’s the one to see. And if you want love, you must begin with the Source of all love. Without these things, all of the gold, gems, and precious jewels mean nothing. And if you have these priceless things, well, then it doesn’t much matter how much gold you’ve got, does it?
So, if Job was a marketer, maybe he would have restated this chapter as follows: Copper—$0.26 per ounce. Silver—$35 per ounce. Gold—$1650 per ounce. Wisdom—priceless. There are some things money can’t buy. All of them can be found in the Master.
God has a future for you.
In this chapter, Job reminisces about the past, remembering what it was like before he met with all his misfortune. Not only did he enjoy God’s intimate friendship (vs 4), but he was respected and honored in his community (vs 7-8), and he spoke with an air of authority (vs 21-22). At that time, Job felt like his legacy would go on forever: “Then I said, ‘I shall die in my nest, and multiply my days as the sand.’” (vs 18)
But now, Job believes all those days are in the past. He thinks his best days are behind him. He believes he has lost God’s friendship and is destined to die old, miserable, and alone.
But Job is wrong. His best days were still in front of him. That’s how it always is when we are friends with the Almighty. With God, our best days are always in front of us. God has a future for you and me just as He did for Job.
And did you notice that the things Job remembered so fondly were all things that were in God’s future for him? Not only was Job once respected and honored in his community, but he has been revered ever since in the pages of Scripture. Not only did Job once speak with an air of authority, but at the end of his story, God Himself declared that Job spoke what is right. And not only did Job once feel that his legacy was immortal, but his legacy has persevered for thousands of years. His story is still touching lives today.
So, it’s not that it’s bad to reminisce about the past. But in so doing, don’t be tempted to think that your best days are behind you. Learn this lesson from Job’s story: with God, your best days are always ahead of you. He has plans for your future, and they are even better than you can imagine!
God specializes in the unexpected.
Job is starting to get desperate. He knows his friends are wrong about his condition, but he is growing increasingly frustrated and miserable that God won’t talk to him. He feels abandoned: “I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me.” (vs 20)
Job did what we so often do—misinterpret God’s silence as indifference or neglect. Job assumed that God was displeased with him for some reason, although he couldn’t figure out why. In reality, God was highly pleased with Job, but Job couldn’t have imagined that to be the case. By this time, he was convinced that God was out to get him: “You snatch me up and drive me before the wind; you toss me about in the storm. I know you will bring me down to death, to the place appointed for all the living.” (vs 22-23)
Job’s suffering had totally skewed his perspective and blinded him to reality. Here, he candidly states that he is waiting for death, the death he believes will come from God’s hand. The reality was that Job had decades of life ahead of him—happy years full of wealth, health, and abundant blessing. A peek ahead at Job 42 will reveal that Job had ten more children and lived to see his great-great-grandchildren.
Job was expecting death, while all the time, God was awaiting the right time to heap abundant life on His friend. As Charles Spurgeon put it, “A life of usefulness, and happiness, and honor lay before him; and yet he had set up his own tombstone, and reckoned himself a dead man.”
I had to think about the disciples and how it was the same for them. After Jesus had been crucified, they were huddled together on the first day of the week with the doors locked for fear of the Jews (Jn 20:19). They thought it was all over. All their hopes had been dashed, and they thought there was nothing more to live for. What they couldn’t see was that what they thought was an ending—the death of Jesus—was really just a beginning. They didn’t account for the unexpected.
Job soon found out that his Heavenly Friend specialized in the unexpected. In the end, he received all the things he didn’t expect and none of the things he did. How about you? What are you expecting? Are you looking at your life’s situation today and thinking that things will never change? Are you miserable, wondering why God isn’t helping you out?
Another valuable lesson we can learn from Job is the lesson that God specializes in the unexpected. Just when we think things will never change, God can completely turn them around. Just when we think things could never get better, out of the blue, God rains down His blessings. Things are never so black that the Light of the World can’t penetrate the darkness.
No matter how it looks, don’t give up. God specializes in the unexpected.
God makes us whole.
At the beginning of the book of Job, God called Job “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8) In this chapter, we finally get a description from Job about what that life looked like. Job defends his conduct, his way of life, and—although he doesn’t know that God has called it “blameless and upright”—he is sure that he is not guilty of any secret sin.
He begins this chapter by suggesting that God weigh him on some honest scales so “He may know my integrity.” (vs 6) The Hebrew word translated integrity in that verse is tummah, and it comes from the word that means “completeness, fullness, wholeness.” And, as Job continues his description in the rest of this chapter, we come to see exactly what integrity looks like and the things it includes:
- A pure heart. (vs 1)
- Clean hands. (vs 7)
- Fairness to those who work for you. (vs 13)
- Care for the poor and misfortunate. (vs 16-20)
- Refusal to take advantage of others. (vs 21)
- Refusal to take refuge in wealth. (vs 24)
- Refusal to worship idols. (vs 26)
- Inability to rejoice in the suffering of enemies. (vs 29)
- Willingness to be honest with God. (vs 33)
Can you imagine what our world would look like if more people lived like this? This is a picture of wholeness. This is a picture of what we can and will become when we are friends with God. He makes us complete, full, whole. And—contrary to what you often hear today from the class warfare folks—He doesn’t even have to strip away wealth to accomplish it! God’s wholeness includes wealth in every area of life—spiritual wealth, physical wealth, relational wealth, and even financial wealth.
So, as you look over the list of qualities in Job’s blameless and upright life, take heart! This is a picture of the wholeness God wants to give you. He is able to do it, and He is willing to do it. He is anxious to make you complete in Him!
God is no respecter of age.
So, Job’s three friends finally gave up trying to convince him that he was wrong. Their minds were unchanged, but they saw the futility of arguing any longer. This, however, didn’t sit well with Elihu, a young person who was apparently observing the debate. The narrator of the story tells us that it was Elihu’s age that kept him silent until now: “Now Elihu had waited before speaking to Job because they were older than he. But when he saw that the three men had nothing more to say, his anger was aroused.” (vs 4-5)
Elihu claims that he stands alone—that both Job and his friends are wrong in their arguments. So, he prepares to lay out his case. In so doing, he spoke this truth about wisdom: “It is the spirit in a person, the breath of the Almighty, that gives them understanding. It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right.” (vs 8-9)
This made me think of what Paul wrote to Timothy: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” (1 Tim 4:12)
Elihu is right: God is no respecter of age. His Spirit reveals wisdom, truth, and understanding to people of all ages. And people of all ages (as we will probably discover with Elihu) are free to resist God’s wisdom. Neither young nor old have the market cornered on wisdom. As commentator John Trapp said, “Age is no just measure of wisdom. There are beardless sages and greyheaded children.”
So, don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young . . . or old. God is no respecter of age, and we really shouldn’t be either. That is not to say that we shouldn’t respect our elders, but we shouldn’t swallow what they have to say just because they’re old. And neither should we be eager to run after the latest trends just because the young people endorse them. Let God’s Spirit speak to you. He will guide you into all truth.
God subjects Himself to our scrutiny.
Well, what can we say about Elihu? Except that he is insufferably wordy—it took him a chapter and a half to say “I’m going to speak!”—and fearfully pompous—”Be silent, and I will teach you wisdom.” (vs 33) He hasn’t even really gotten around to any major points yet, although my suspicion is that he won’t have much to add to the conversation. (We’ll see.)
At the very least, in reprimanding Job for his conduct, Elihu has already said two things that (in my opinion) are dead wrong about God: “Why do you contend with Him? For He does not give an accounting of any of His words. For God may speak in one way, or in another, yet man does not perceive it.” (vs 13-14)
First, Elihu rakes Job over the coals for questioning God. It’s as if Elihu is saying, How dare you question God or call Him to account. He neither owes you an explanation, nor will He give you one. Now, it may be true to say that God doesn’t “owe” anybody an explanation. I guess God doesn’t really owe anybody anything. But for Elihu to say that God does not or will not give an accounting of Himself to His creatures reveals that he doesn’t know much about God!
If God had ever wanted to take an attitude of Don’t you question Me!, He would have done it in heaven when Lucifer began to spread discontent. Instead, He graciously allowed Lucifer to raise his questions and humbly began providing evidence for the answers to those questions—even though His own character was called into question by His creatures. For He does not give an accounting of any of His words . . . ha! As they say in England, that’s a load of codswallop!
The second assertion Elihu made was that even if God speaks, man can’t perceive it. That is, even when God chooses to communicate with us, we can’t understand it. What I love about this is that, in a few chapters (while Elihu is still talking), God Himself is going to interrupt and take over the conversation. He will refute the idea that human beings can’t perceive it when He talks!
All throughout our history, God has acted with the utmost humility in both communicating with us and subjecting Himself to our scrutiny. As Paul wrote in Romans 3:4, “The Scriptures say about God, ‘Your words will be proven true, and in court you will win your case.” What court is that? The universe-wide court of public opinion.
God has opened Himself up to our judgment. We have been given the opportunity to make a judgment about the kind of person He is, and the reason we have that opportunity is because He has humbled Himself in order to communicate with us. Though God may not “owe” us anything, He always provides an accounting of Himself to His creatures. Sorry, Elihu, maybe you had a little more to learn than you thought!
God wants us to be real.
Didn’t Elihu say he had something new to add to the conversation? Instead, he ends up repackaging and regurgitating the arguments of his older, supposedly-not-as-wise counterparts: “Job claims that he is innocent, that God refuses to give him justice. He asks, How could I lie and say I am wrong? I am fatally wounded, but I am sinless. Have you ever seen anyone like this man Job? He never shows respect for God. He likes the company of evil people and goes around with sinners. He says that it never does any good to try to follow God’s will.” (vs 5-9)
In reality, Job had said nothing of the sort. The idea that Job was only following God because of what he could get out of the deal was Satan’s charge in chapter 1, but Elihu and the others had to try to make sense of the situation. In their minds, they couldn’t see any possibility under which both Job and God could be right. In their minds, if God was right, then Job was wrong, and vice versa. Author Mike Mason said this about Elihu’s state of mind: “What most alarmed Elihu about Job was that somehow this man had the cheek to blame God for his problems, and yet still to consider himself righteous and faithful.”
In Elihu’s mind, simply questioning God was bad enough: “To his sins [Job] adds rebellion; in front of us all he mocks God.” (vs 37) Elihu would never have thought of talking to God the way Job talked to Him, yet in the end, Job was vindicated as having been the one who said “what was right” about God. Have you ever wondered about that?
I mean, Elihu and the others didn’t say everything wrong about God. They got a lot of things right. In this chapter, for instance, Elihu talks about God knowing all about what men do. He talks about God not perpetrating evil. He extols God’s role as Life-giver. Certainly, all these things would fall under the category of saying “what was right” about God.
Job, on the other hand, misunderstood a great deal about his suffering. He wrongly thought that God was against him, when in fact, God was on his side all along. Yet Job was never chastised for having said “what was wrong” about God.
What made the difference?
I think that Job said “what was right” about God in terms of demonstrating the quality of relationship God longs to have with us. Job was real with God. When he suffered, he didn’t put on a brave, happy face, he cried out—sometimes most bitterly—to his friend. When his friend didn’t respond right away, Job demanded to know why. Whatever was on Job’s mind, whatever was in Job’s heart, he was honest about it. He put it right out there for God, and everyone else, to see.
Elihu and his counterparts, on the other hand, warned Job not to be so open with God. They advocated for a much more reserved relationship—one where the creature is supposed to “watch out” and try not to offend the Creator. This, I believe, was the major “wrong” thing they said about God—to suggest that we be afraid of Him and what He might do to us.
God actually doesn’t want us to approach Him like that! (Every time He met someone in the Bible, the first words out of His mouth were always, Don’t be afraid.) He wants us to be real with Him. He wants us to know that we can cry out to Him as Job did—even with our deepest, darkest fears, angers, and hurts. He wants us to know that we’re safe with Him. He wants us to know that we can be friends.
And when we’re friends with Him and we help others to understand that God wants to be friends with them, too, we say “what is right” about God, even if we don’t get every little detail correct. The relationship is what God is most concerned about—He has an eternity to fill us in on the details.
So, how long has it been since you’ve been honest with God? I mean, really honest? With God, you don’t have to hide or sugarcoat your feelings. He wants you to be real!
God has a heart.
Poor Elihu. Every time he opens his mouth, he proves yet again how much he doesn’t know about God. In this chapter, he picked up on one of the previous arguments made by Job’s friends and carries it a bit further: “Look up at the heavens and see; gaze at the clouds so high above you. If you sin, how does that affect him? If your sins are many, what does that do to him? If you are righteous, what do you give to him, or what does he receive from your hand? Your wickedness only affects humans like yourself, and your righteousness only other people.” (vs 5-8)
I think this is what Satan would like us to believe about God—that He is distant, that He is unaffected, that He doesn’t care. But that picture of God does not stand up to the rest of the Bible. God has a heart, and it bleeds all over the pages of Scripture:
“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.” (Gen 6:5-6)
“‘Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I, [Solomon], am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?’ The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this.” (1 Kgs 3:7-10)
“The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zeph 3:17)
“How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? My heart recoils within me; all my compassion is aroused.” (Hos 11:8)
God, unaffected? Hardly! Everything we do affects Him! This is one of the reasons I believe God made us to be creators of little people in our own image. When we have children, we immediately understand that God could never be distant or standoffish with His creatures. He is deeply concerned about us, about everything we do and everything we go through. Our wickedness as well as our righteousness affects Him in a major way.
One of our local high school vice principals lost his 2-year-old daughter to cancer this week. As a new mom, I can’t imagine the awfulness of losing a child. I don’t even want to think about what it would be like. But I think that anybody who loses a child in this world has a special insight into the heart of God. They know what it’s like to be forced to say goodbye—even when it’s not what they want. They know what it’s like to be willing to do anything—even give up their own life—in order to help their child, but to no avail.
And they will be able to sympathize with God one day as He is forced to give up and let go of all of His children who don’t want to have any part of eternity. They will be able to comfort God in a special way as He mourns the loss of His own children. What a heart-wrenching experience that is going to be!
So, you may say a lot of things about God, but don’t ever say that God doesn’t have a heart. He does, and it beats for you.
Every. Single. Day.
God does not claim authority.
I find Elihu very interesting indeed. He started his long-winded speech by proclaiming that both Job and his older friends were wrong. In so doing, he presented the promise of a third and new argument to explain Job’s predicament. And, as he began, we saw that Elihu certainly was much more eloquent and forceful than his compatriots. However, after he had talked for some time, it seemed apparent that Elihu didn’t really have much new to add to the conversation. And in today’s chapter, he employs a new tack:
“Elihu continued: ‘Bear with me a little longer and I will show you that there is more to be said in God’s behalf. I get my knowledge from afar; I will ascribe justice to my Maker. Be assured that my words are not false; one who has perfect knowledge is with you.’” (vs 1-4) Wow. One who has perfect knowledge is with you? Gee, nobody could accuse Elihu of being humble, that’s for sure.
What really interested me, however, was how Elihu claims to be speaking in God’s behalf. He says he gets his knowledge “from afar,” implying that he has gotten his perspective directly from God. Therefore, of course, it could not (and should not) be questioned. After all, one who has perfect knowledge is with you!
Yet, Elihu proceeds on from this declaration to simply repeat the failed arguments of Job’s other friends. He lumps Job in with the wicked and claims that things could turn around for him—if only he would repent.
If we can infer that it is Satan who wants to attack Job’s integrity, than we can also assume that Elihu is inspired by that spirit—and isn’t it interesting to note how the method changes over the course of the story? First, Job’s older friends try to convince Job of his wickedness, but they do it by appealing to ancient wisdom, tradition, and common knowledge. But Job wasn’t convinced.
So, along comes Elihu, claiming that he is going to say something new. Instead of saying something new, however, he repackages the old arguments and ties it up with a bow of claimed authority. In other words, Elihu says, “You ought to listen to me because my message came straight from God.” That was the “new” part of his speech.
Hmmm. . . Does this remind you of any other stories in the Old Testament? Do you remember the story in 1 Kings 13 about the old prophet who lied to the young prophet? He told the young prophet he had a message from God . . . when he really didn’t. Listening to the old prophet cost the young prophet his life. Thus, the lesson we learned was, be careful who you trust.
Not everyone who says they come with a message from God is actually from God. It’s very easy to claim authority—and that’s why God doesn’t do it. He does not use His personal authority to validate claims. He doesn’t say, “Because I told you so.” He always provides evidence to verify that what He says is true. Even though He is the most trustworthy and authoritative person in the universe, He welcomes the opportunity to answer our questions with proof. He doesn’t claim authority.
God is in the storm.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that Elihu spends the last part of chapter 36 and all of this chapter describing a storm. I think he must have been describing an actual storm that was approaching, because in the very next chapter, God speaks to Job out of the storm. In my mind, I could just imagine this grand, glorious storm sweeping across the plain, becoming the backdrop for the next part of Elihu’s speech—the terrible majesty of God. I bet Elihu never expected God to be in the storm.
There’s a lesson there, I think. After all, isn’t a storm the perfect metaphor to describe Job’s suffering? Storms are unpredictable, sometimes appearing almost out of nowhere. Wild, uncontainable, and sometimes dangerous, they throw our environment into chaos. They remind us that nature can sometimes run amok. And that’s what happened to Job. He was thrown into the midst of an unpredictable, wild, chaotic situation. One minute, his life was going along normally. The next minute, everything was blown to pieces.
But, as Job and his friends found out when the Lord began speaking, God is in the storm. He is right there in the midst of suffering, not distant and removed, but present. His presence in the storm also reminds us that—ultimately—He is in charge of all the storms that come to us. We observed that in the first two chapters of Job during the exchange between God and Satan. Satan may have brought the storms to Job’s life, but he was unable to do anything without God’s knowledge and approval.
This is a good thing for us to remember. Even when we are in the midst of what looks like chaos and destruction, we can trust that God is right in the middle of it with us. And that’s why we can find peace, even in the midst of a storm. There is a calm we can have, knowing that all the storms in life are still subject to the great Creator.
Job’s friends could never have imagined a God who resided in the storm. It was their contention that a storm in life (suffering) meant that their friend had either been abandoned by or turned his back on God. They couldn’t imagine a storm and God together. But that is the story of our lives on this planet. We are living in the midst of the storm—but we are not there alone. Because of the testimony of Job, we know who lives in the midst of the storm, and out of it, He speaks.
God shows up.
For most of his short history, man has been consumed with one thing—his god(s). Story after story in the Bible talks about the lengths man will go to in order to win the attention or approval of whatever god he believes in. From Baal to Molech to Dagon, and from bodily sacrifice to animal sacrifice to human sacrifice, men have employed bizarre (and often tragic) means to rouse their god to action. To no avail. It’s hard to get the attention of someone who doesn’t exist.
Given that backdrop, don’t overlook the simple beauty of this chapter. Job also believed in a god . . . who happened to be the God of heaven. He believed he was friends with this God and, during his ordeal, kept demanding that this God show up. And, guess what? He did. Our God is the only God in history to show up. For centuries, men have been praying to, pleading with, and sacrificing to other gods—only to be left frustrated and alone. But the God of heaven and earth, the one true God, He shows up. He’s been showing up since the beginning in the Garden, and He’s still showing up today.
Think for a moment about what that must have been like for Job and his friends. We don’t know if Job had ever encountered God in such a personal way before, but from the speeches made by his friends, we could conclude that none of them had ever been in the immediate presence of God. They were of the opinion that God didn’t even care about human beings, so why would He ever bother to show up? Imagine what it must have been like for Job to invoke God’s presence and get exactly what he asked for.
I think that’s a point we often overlook at the end of Job. We’re too busy trying to make sense of the questions God asked. And those questions, in and of themselves, are interesting. Why would this be what God says when He shows up? Why not declare right away that Job is righteous? Why not sympathize with Job? Why not tell Job that He wasn’t the one who caused His suffering?
He doesn’t do any of that. He doesn’t provide any answers whatsoever. He only asks questions—and they are questions that Job can’t answer. In fact, most of them are questions that scientists still can’t answer thousands of years later! I don’t think God asked these questions because He expected them to know the answers. They couldn’t know the answers. Rather, God wanted Job to realize that there were many aspects of life (not just his suffering) that he didn’t understand—but that these aspects were known to Him and He had the situation under control.
Regardless, Job didn’t much seem to care that God was asking questions he couldn’t answer. Instead, the fact that God showed up and was speaking was enough for Job. That told him all he needed to know—that things were still all right between him and his friend. To that extent, it really didn’t matter what God said. Job had finally gotten the one thing he wanted—to see his best friend.
Through the centuries, man has talked to a lot of gods. But there is only one God who has ever showed up and talked back. And He is no less willing to show up today than He did in the Garden, in Job’s town, or in Bethlehem. Especially when we encounter the storms in life, we will find that our God is there.
God is the answer.
I have to admit that the way God comes to Job at the end of the story has always perplexed me somewhat. I mean, Job has been suffering, really suffering, and when God shows up, He almost doesn’t seem to care. Out of nowhere, He comes and just starts asking questions—and questions that seemingly have nothing to do with anything. It’s easy to think, Doesn’t God know what’s going on here?
It does seem sort of ludicrous, doesn’t it? Job has been philosophizing about deep subjects, such as truth, honesty, and justice, and when God arrives on scene, He begins to talk about . . . the ostrich? (vs 13) At first blush, it doesn’t seem to fit. Something doesn’t seem right.
But consider for a moment what wasn’t said in God’s speech. Think about the things Job’s friends thought God would say to Job if He got the chance. God did not show up and condemn Job. He didn’t accuse Job of being a secret sinner, as Job’s friends did. On the other hand, He didn’t immediately exonerate Job either. Instead, He asks a whole bunch of questions.
Bible commentator Dave Guzik observed this about God’s discourse: “It might seem that God was being harsh with Job; but one must compare what God said with Job with what Job’s accusers thought God should say to him. God did not come to Job as a judge or even a policeman; He came to Job as a teacher—a loving, winsome, vivid, powerful, humorous teacher. God was once again with Job (in His proper relation, of course), and that was enough for Job.”
Indeed, it was enough for Job. God spoke out of the storm. He didn’t banish the storm, and He didn’t calm the storm. Instead, He calmed Job’s heart. The fact that God was there talking to him was the only thing Job needed.
So, if God’s actions in these final chapters of Job seem frustrating, it may be because we’re overlooking the point. While it’s true that God didn’t give the answer Job was looking for or the answer Job’s friends were looking for, that doesn’t mean He didn’t answer. He did answer; His answer was Himself.
And He is still the answer to all of life’s suffering. When He comes to us in the storm, it may not be in a way we expect, it may not be with the outcome we would like, and it may not be with the things we want to hear—but He is still the best and only answer to all the troubles we face in this life. For as Paul said, if He is for us, who can be against us? We can face anything and everything as long as He is near!
God loves the "little" people.
I am sometimes asked why I don’t quote from the King James Version of the Bible in this blog, as there are many Christians who believe that the KJV is the only “pure” translation of the Scriptures. I certainly have nothing against the KJV—in fact, many of the beloved memory verses I learned as a child were from that translation—and I’m glad it’s still around for those who love to read the old English. However, I subscribe to my father’s school of thought regarding Bible versions: The “best” one to read is the one you will actually read.
That being said, there is a potential pitfall with reading much older translations: Words change meaning over time. The word atonement is a great example. What that English word meant in 1611 when the KJV was published is not the same thing it has come to mean today. Thus, when we read Bible verses in the KJV that use the word atone or atonement, we “hear” something different today than what was meant four centuries ago.
Job chapter 40 bears another example of this sort of language shift that can lead to misunderstanding . . . and I was surprised to see that this verse hasn’t been updated either in the New King James Version or the 21st Century King James Version. Here’s the verse:
“Then Job answered the Lord, and said, ‘Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth.’” (vs 3-4)
Because of this verse, many commentators have concluded that God’s discourse with Job was conducted in such a way as to convince Job of his wickedness and that, finally, God accomplished what Job’s friends couldn’t—He got Job to admit that he was a vile, wicked man. Of course, that perspective always seemed odd to me because of what God said about Job in chapter 1—that he was upright and blameless. Why in the world would God seek to contradict Himself? Yet, there is the problem of that word vile.
But that problem is cleared up immediately when you examine the original Hebrew word, qalal. This word does not mean wicked or evil or sinful. It means “to be of little account” or “insignificant.” And, in 1611, that’s also what the word vile meant. Not anymore.
Job is not confessing to some secret wickedness here. Nor, as others have suggested, is he suddenly confronted with his dirty sinful nature in the light of God’s holy presence. This is what Job is saying: Wow. I’m a teeny, tiny speck.
Is this a surprising realization in light of God’s questioning? God has been asking Job questions designed to enlarge his vision of the universe and its government. He has been asking questions about the way things work—even the things Job takes for granted, such as rain that waters the crops and animals that till the soil. And Job catches the vision! All of a sudden, he sees himself in relationship to the entire universe. And he goes, Whoa. I’m a teeny, tiny speck. No, wait, that’s too big. I’m just a speck on a teeny, tiny speck.
He is the first to think what King David would memorialize in Scripture centuries later: “I look at your heavens, which you made with your fingers. I see the moon and stars, which you created. So why are people even important to you? Why do you take care of human beings?” (Ps 8:3-4)
Job realized that, in the grand scheme of things, he was a “little” person. He was nothing. And yet, I have to imagine that, right on the heels of that realization came this one: But God Himself showed up to talk to ME! Job, this little “nothing,” called on the God who made the universe . . . and that great God heard him and came running.
God loves the “little” people. In fact, in His kingdom, there are no “little” people. Every single person is important in God’s eyes. Heaven is not built on a hierarchy. That’s why Jesus told the people in His day that even the sparrows—which they counted as meaningless and cheap—were important to God. And if the sparrows didn’t fail to escape His notice, how much more does He care about those who are made in His own image!
In the grand scheme of the universe, our planet is a speck. And that makes each one of us a speck on a speck. Yet our great God also became a speck on a speck so we would know that, to Him, we are not insignificant. We are not vile. We are infinitely valuable.
God wants to tell us more.
Most people believe that Job got to the end of his life without ever understanding why he went through all that he did. They don’t believe God gave His friend any explanation for his sufferings. I disagree. I think God’s explanation to Job is contained in this chapter, and it’s stunning, considering that a general knowledge of Satan didn’t enter Israelite thinking until close to the end of the Old Testament time period.
This chapter is all about Leviathan. Now, most commentaries treat this chapter as if Leviathan was an actual sea creature that is now extinct. That’s certainly a possibility, but there is much more going on in this chapter than making reference to a literal creature. Here are the characteristics attributed to Leviathan in this chapter:
- It is strong. (vs 22)
- It is cruel, delighted by sorrow. (vs 22)
- It has strong defenses. (vs 23)
- It is hard-hearted and has no feeling. (vs 24)
- It causes great fear—even among the mighty. (vs 25)
- It cannot be overcome by weapons. (vs 26-29)
- It is not vulnerable. (vs 30)
- It has no worthy rivals on Earth. (vs 33)
- It is filled with pride—the king of pride. (vs 34)
Perhaps this last verse gives it away—more than all the others. God is not talking about a sea creature, here. Oh, He may be referencing an actual animal, but I believe He is using it as a metaphor for Satan. He is trying to help Job understand just what he (along with everyone else) is up against. We all share the Earth with this dreadful, fearsome creature.
The Greek version of the Old Testament translates the Hebrew word for Leviathan as dragon. So it seems that they understood that God was talking to Job about the same creature described in the Book of Revelation—the great dragon that rules the sea: “the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan” (Rev 20:2). So he’s there at the end, and you’ll remember that humanity also encountered a serpent at the very beginning . . . when all Earth’s troubles began. It is this serpent, this dragon, that God has been contending with, and He is trying to help Job understand the enormity of the problem.
In this chapter, the description of Leviathan is terrifying. As Mike Mason wrote, it “seems so endlessly sprawling, gargantuan, invincible.” I imagine that’s just how Job’s suffering felt—sprawling and invincible. And though Scripture doesn’t explicitly tell us so, I like to think that Job understood what God was trying to tell him. I like to think that he thought about that sea creature (whether it was a real or mythical figure to him) and realized that, if he ever met one, he’d be up against more than he could handle. I like to think it helped Job understand just how much more was going on behind the scenes in God’s world.
God wants to tell us more. The story of Job is memorialized in Scripture for exactly that purpose. When we encounter suffering, He wants us to know where it has come from. And He wants us to know—as Job found out—that despite how bad it feels at the moment, He has the last word on suffering. Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!” (Jn 16:33)
We tend to think we know it all. But there is so much we don’t know. There is still so much we have to learn, so much that God wants to tell us. And this chapter of Job gives me great comfort—that God is able to teach us in ways we can understand. I want to be a friend of God like Job was. I want to be willing to learn, to have my vision enlarged, to see from God’s perspective. And I want to do that, even when the path to knowing God better is fraught with suffering. For I believe that whether the education comes from experiences of happiness or sorrow, there can be no greater privilege than to sit at the feet of the Master Teacher.
God wants to show us more.
After having gone through the book of Job, chapter by chapter, with a fine-tooth comb, I find that I love this final chapter now more than ever before. I used to love it for the fact that God exonerated Job and put Job’s friends in their place when He said, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has” (vs 7), but I see so much more in this chapter now than I did previously. I guess that’s because God is always wanting to show us more! And that’s the picture of Him I saw here.
In this chapter, Job talks about seeing God: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (vs 5-6) Before we get to the “my eyes have seen you” part, let’s clear up any possible misunderstandings about the word despise. This is connected with the word vile back in chapter 40.
If you read the blog for that day, you’ll remember that the original Hebrew word translated vile meant “insignificant” or “to be of small account.” Job carries that concept one step further here. He is not saying that he despises himself (as in hates). Once again, it has nothing to do with sin or wickedness. The original Hebrew word—mawas—literally means “to disappear.” So, Job is saying, I realize that I’m not just of small account. I’m cancelling myself altogether. I disappear, I retract my statements, I’ll shut up now. Forget everything I just said.
Job realizes that many of the things he spoke so confidently about were things he didn’t understand or see clearly. And that brings us to the “my eyes have seen you” part. Job’s reaction to being in God’s presence might make us question how well he really knew God in the first place. It almost sounds like he didn’t know that much about Him, or that everything he knew was wrong. But we shouldn’t assume that. Rather, it has been my experience that the more I come to know and understand about God, the more I feel like I never knew Him before.
Bible commentator Dave Guzik put it this way: “Each fresh and deeper revelation of God has a brightness that makes previous experience of God seem rather pale. What [Job] had just experienced was so real it made his previous experiences seem unreal.” God always wants to show us more about who He is, because He wants us to know Him as He knows us. And the more we come to know Him, the better it gets. As Job said, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” (vs 3)
As an author and songwriter, I have experienced this all too frequently. When I look back at some of the things I wrote even just a few years ago, I marvel at my limited perspective and understanding. Not that I feel like anything I wrote about God back then was necessarily wrong, but just too small or not enough. It seems like the things I know about Him now far eclipse the words I committed to paper back then. And in five years, I’m sure I’ll feel the same way again—perhaps even about this very blog.
That’s just what happens as God shows us more.
The other thing that delighted me about this chapter was the ironic twist with Job’s friends at the end. And, no, I’m not talking about how they were wrong and Job was right. But, all the while, Job’s friends were—I believe—earnestly trying to bring Job back to God. Even though they were wrong about God and had misunderstood Him greatly, I believe their intentions were good. They were trying to help their friend in the only way they knew how. Job endured their “help,” and in the end, he became the means by which they were brought back to God—and brought with a new understanding! Instead of convincing Job to “return to God” in order to get out of his predicament, his predicament became the occasion for them to see God more clearly.
Job, who had cried out for a mediator, was elected by God to mediate on behalf of his friends. This is often the way God “shows” us more about Himself. As Paul wrote, “[God] comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.” (2 Cor 1:4)
God shows us more about what it’s like to be Him by giving us opportunities to act on His behalf. In this case, He asked Job to extend the hand of grace to his friends. And Job did it splendidly, without one word of complaint or resentment for all his friends had said to him. That is just like God. No wonder He declared that Job had said what was right!