A miserable comforter, a devastated man

Text Job 15-17 Time 18/06/00 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
I was reading recently about a primary school teacher who found some of her pupils prone to repeating the same phrase over and over again. ‘You sound like a broken record’ she said. Of course, such young children didn’t know what she was talking about having never seen those round black vinyl things that were so popular when I was a boy. If one of these was damaged somehow, it could make the needle on the record player stick so that the same phrase was repeated again and again until you nudged the playing arm. In these days of CDs, Minidiscs and MP3s, etc, such things have to be explained but we all know what repetition is. As we come to the second round of the three rounds of speeches from Job’s 3 friends we get plenty of repetition. They do sound like broken records and really say nothing new.
‘So’ you say ‘why bother to look at it? Let’s skip to the end.’ Well, there are several objections to that.
1. All Scripture is God breathed ….
2. Repetition is good for us. It drives lessons home.
3. Studying these chapters helps us to sympathise with Job who had to listen to it all again and gives insight into the reality of suffering and trouble. It is not over in a moment.
4. There are further lessons to be learned in the friends attacks and Job’s replies. For although there is much repetition here, there are changes. Sadly, they are not changes for the better. The arguments are more intolerant, less friendly and more fierce. They seem to have given up on the idea of getting Job to repent too. They increasingly insult him. As one writer puts it ‘Their words, which should have been chosen carefully in order to fall like smoothly like salve for the soul, became arrows of acrimony and spears of bitterness, injecting a maddening poison.’
1. Lessons from a miserable comforter
1. General lessons
In general, we can say a number of things arising from the speech of this miserable comforter Eliphaz. The lessons here apply again to counselling. By counselling I do not mean simply formal counselling but whenever we speak to others to lead them to God – as in preaching, evangelism, sharing, giving advice, as well as more formal counselling situations.
1 Simply repeating arguments does no good
There is nothing new here from Eliphaz. Why he thought simply repeating the same arguments could make a difference we do not know. Certainly, if there is misunderstanding or a failure to hear, repetition is good but it is clear that Job understands exactly what his friends are saying. He simply disagrees. Mere repetition is not going to change his mind. If we are going to repeat things we need to develop and amplify our arguments. Otherwise we are wasting our time.
2 Taking offence when advice is rejected does no good
Eliphaz’s annoyance with Job’s rejection of his ideas is apparent. We must not be personally offended when our ideas are rejected. If our ideas are from God he will vindicate himself regardless of us. If our arguments are man made, as here, better that they perish. If you read Paul’s letters you will see how he often defends the truth. When it affects the gospel he is willing to defend himself even but he does not take offence. Love is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5).
3 Forgetting that you are there to comfort does no good
It is essential that we remember what we are doing when we counsel those who are in trouble or in need. We are aiming to console them, to comfort them, to help them, not merely to win arguments. Better to lose the argument and be a genuine blessing to them than to win the argument but destroy that person. There is a place for rebuke in counselling but never forget the purpose of counselling – to help the person!
4 Insulting those you are trying to help does no good
It is very tempting to turn on a person and let him know what we think of him sometimes but Jesus warns us that to call someone a fool is to court judgement from God. Insults are never right and do no good. Better say nothing than to be insulting. This is especially so when we are counselling. Once we start insulting those we are trying to help we have definitely gone wrong. We will get nowhere by that route.
5 Refusal to change your theological position does no good
Obviously, we should take great care about this but it is important to at least be willing to change. In Cromwell’s famous words we want to say to Eliphaz and men like him ‘We beseech you in the bowels of Christ to consider that you may be wrong’. You may be wrong. If only Eliphaz and the others had at least been open to the possibility that they may have been wrong. We must hold our convictions deeply and firmly. It is no good flitting from one view to the next. However, even deeply held convictions can be wrong. We must reckon with that possibility.
2. Take care how you rebuke …
Here in 15:1-16 this miserable comforter Eliphaz makes a series of rebukes. They are badly done and Job does not deserve them. They stand as a warning to us.
1 Take care how you rebuke irreverence
Eliphaz accuses Job of undermining (4) piety and hindering devotion to God. According to Eliphaz, Job’s very words condemn him; his own lips testify against him. Because he has sinned he has craftily defended himself like a fool with empty notions and hot east wind, useless words and speeches that have no value. In quite what way Job has shown irreverence is unclear. It seems that what Eliphaz is concerned about is not really irreverence towards God but irreverence towards himself – a not uncommon confusion. We need to be very clear which is which before we rebuke anyone for irreverence. Just because we are Christians and somebody disagrees with us does not make them irreverent.
2 Take care how you rebuke pride
Next comes a barrage of questions putting Job in his place (7-9) Are you the first man ever born? Were you brought forth before the hills? Do you listen in on God’s council? Do you limit wisdom to yourself? What do you know that we do not know? What insights do you have that we do not have? He then takes up Bildad’s argument from tradition (10) The grey-haired and the aged are on our side, men even older than your father. How dare Job proudly oppose such authorities! However, this accusation of pride is very much the pot calling the kettle black. Eliphaz himself seems much prouder than Job. Job did say he knew what his friends knew but he did not claim to know everything they knew and he certainly never claimed to have a hotline to God. When you point the finger, remember that four point back at you and we must take care especially when it comes to the matter of pride.
3 Take care how you rebuke foolishness
Eliphaz goes on to rubbish Job’s supposed claims to wisdom. In verse 11 he asks Are God’s consolations not enough for you, words spoken gently to you? Isn’t it enough, Job, that God has been as kind to you as he has and we have spoken to you so gently? But your heart has carried you away and you have been angry against God pouring out such words from your mouth. ‘You’ve let your emotions get the better of you, Job. You’re not thinking straight.’ Then he goes back to his earlier argument What is man, that he could be pure, or one born of woman, that he could be righteous? If God places no trust in his holy ones, if even the heavens are not pure in his eyes, how much less man, who is vile and corrupt, who drinks up evil like water! What a fool Job is not to see what must be happening – God is punishing him for sin. But we know that is not why Job is suffering and it is Eliphaz who is the fool! Whenever we dare to call someone else fool we do well to consider our own foolishness before we fly off the handle.
4 Take care how you rebuke wickedness
In the second half of his speech Eliphaz launches out on a tirade against the wicked and how God will judge them. He emphasises the inner turmoil for the man with a guilty conscience. He bases his argument on two authorities. Dangerous grounds on which to build a theology.
Experience (as before) let me tell you what I have seen.
Tradition (Bildad’s argument) what wise men have declared, hiding nothing received from their fathers.
Having said that, there is not very much wrong with what he says. The problem is the implication – that Job is such a wicked, ruthless man and unless he repents he will get what’s coming. Eliphaz’s words are cruel and thoughtless. He certainly is a miserable comforter.
Of the wicked man he says - All his days the wicked man suffers torment, through all the years stored up for him. Terrifying sounds fill his ears; when all seems well, marauders attack him. He despairs of escaping the darkness; he is marked for the sword. He wanders about - food for vultures; he knows the day of darkness is at hand. Distress and anguish fill him with terror; they overwhelm him, like a king poised to attack … he will inhabit ruined towns and houses where no-one lives, houses crumbling to rubble. … He will no longer be rich and his wealth will not endure, nor will his possessions spread over the land. He will not escape the darkness; a flame will wither his shoots, and the breath of God's mouth will carry him away.
Why? Because he shakes his fist at God and vaunts himself against the Almighty, defiantly charging against him with a thick, strong shield. … his face is covered with fat and his waist bulges with flesh.
He also trusts in what is worthless but Eliphaz goes on (31ff) Let him not deceive himself by trusting what is worthless, for he will get nothing in return. Before his time he will be paid in full, and his branches will not flourish. He will be like a vine stripped of its unripe grapes, like an olive tree shedding its blossoms. For the company of the godless will be barren, and fire will consume the tents of those who love bribes.
Why? They conceive trouble and give birth to evil; their womb fashions deceit.
When we apply such truths about the wicked to those who are innocent we err greatly and can do great harm.
2. Lessons from a devastated man
1. What a devastated man needs to hear
The first thing we gain from Job here is a fresh insight into what those who suffer really need.
1 What they do not need to hear
Endless repetition
Verse 2 I have heard many things like these; miserable comforters are you all! ‘You’re just repeating yourself, Eliphaz’ says Job ‘I’ve heard this all before.’ As we have said the last thing people who are in trouble need is us endlessly repeating things that haven’t helped them the first time.
Long winded speeches and arguing
Verse 3 Will your long-winded speeches never end? What ails you that you keep on arguing? Similarly, long sessions of preaching or lecturing are not going to do the trick either.
Fine speeches and shaking of heads
Verse 4 I also could speak like you, if you were in my place he says, I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you. But Job sees that all this tut tutting and headshaking is doing him no good. We must see it too.
2 What they do need to hear
Job says that if he was in their position (verse 5) My mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief. Encouragement and comfort – that was what he needed. We have made the point already but it is worth underlining again. A lesson for preachers and for all counsellors.
2. The character of the devastated man
There is no pompousness with Job though. No sooner has he said ‘This is how to do it’ than he adds Yet if I speak, my pain is not relieved; and if I refrain, it does not go away. He sounds fine at times but he is in real agony and anguish. We get an insight into this in what he says. There are several aspects to it. It is good to remind ourselves of why those who suffer know such great anguish.
1 The devastated man is one who suffers at God’s hands
Speaking to God, Job says (7-9) Surely, O God, you have worn me out; you have devastated my entire household. You have bound me - and it has become a witness; my gauntness rises up and testifies against me. God assails me and tears me in his anger and gnashes his teeth at me; my opponent fastens on me his piercing eyes. God has worn him down, devastating his household. He has tied Job up in a sick body the very sight of which haunts him. He has assailed Job and torn into him in anger. Like a wrestling champion he stares at Job with piercing eyes. It is this realisation that devastates the devastated man. He knows what God has done but he does not know why.
2 The devastated man is one who suffers at man’s hands
Job goes on (10, 11) Men open their mouths to jeer at me; they strike my cheek in scorn and unite together against me. God has turned me over to evil men and thrown me into the clutches of the wicked. It is this that only adds to his suffering. Here it is difficult not to think of the suffering of Christ and here is one comforting thought for the believer.
3 The devastated man is one who suffers at God’s hand unexpectedly and continually
In verses 12-14 it is again God’s role in his troubles that Job has in mind but this time he thinks of the amazing turn around in his life and the way his suffering has gone on and on – both exacerbating factors. All was well with me, but he shattered me; he seized me by the neck and crushed me. He has made me his target; his archers surround me. Without pity, he pierces my kidneys and spills my gall on the ground. Again and again he bursts upon me; he rushes at me like a warrior.
4 The devastated man is one who suffers at man’s hand, his own, despite his piety
15-17 I have sewed sackcloth over my skin and buried my brow in the dust. My face is red with weeping, deep shadows ring my eyes. His own feelings of wretchedness and despair only add to the suffering of the devastated man. We must reckon with that too. What exacerbates it all is the thought, yet my hands have been free of violence and my prayer is pure. To suffer for doing wrong is hard – to suffer for doing nothing wrong is beyond us. Yet again it points us to Christ – He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. Rather he went around doing good. He was the perfect, spotless Lamb who was slain for sinners.
3. The one hope for a devastated man
This leads us to the one glimmer of hope in this passage – verses 18-21. Job has once again protested his innocence (yet my hands have been free of violence and my prayer is pure). He pleads that when he dies the earth will not deny him justice, O earth, do not cover my blood; may my cry never be laid to rest! Remember how innocent Abel’s blood cried out from the ground to God. That made Job then think of God in heaven. Yet it is God who has devastated him. But Job cannot believe there is no-one to witness his righteousness, no-one in heaven to plead his cause. And so with great insight he says Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend. In ancient times if a man was taken to court he would be represented not by a professional lawyer as such but by a friend. The friend would intercede for him. Job’s hope, his one hope, is that there is someone in heaven who can do that for him. He is not perfect but his suffering is not due to any sin of his. But who can plead his case? Only someone like the friend and advocate he describes. Now, of course, this is the glory of the New Testament - that it reveals that there is such a Friend and Advocate, a Mediator between man and God – the man Christ Jesus. As John says (1 John 2:1) I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence - Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the one who intercedes on behalf of his people. It is not that there is really any reluctance on the part of the Father to be gracious but it is particularly the role of the Son to intercede, to pray for his people, to plead in their behalf. We have already met Satan in this book. Satan means ‘Accuser’ and that is what he does - he accuses God’s people. But Jesus defends them. He stands up for them and pleads their cause. What Job glimpsed here is revealed in all its glory in the New Testament. It is the answer in all our innocent sufferings. It is the answer to all suffering in the end. Christ, who suffered and died is now in heaven pleading for his people. He bears witness to every good deed they do and he covers over all their sins. He successfully pleads for each one. The TV Detective Perry Mason never lost a case - except one. Christ never loses a case full stop. All our friends may fail us but the Friend who sticks closer than a brother never will. All we have to do is look to him.
Only a few years will pass before I go on the journey of no return he says. That is true for all of us. A one way ticket to eternity stands waiting for us all. Job felt for himself (17:1) My spirit is broken, my days are cut short, the grave awaits me. He had to say Surely mockers surround me; my eyes must dwell on their hostility. And so he prays Give me, O God, the pledge you demand. Who else will put up security for me? His only hope is if God himself saves him. He is praying (albeit only half aware) for the Saviour Christ to be given him. That is the only hope for any of us.
4. Why despair so often prevails over hope
Having reached this great height, Job begins to fall back into despair. As for Job’s friends (4, 5) You have closed their minds to understanding; therefore you will not let them triumph. Job gently suggests that may be they were being paid to do such dirty work. But If a man denounces his friends for reward, the eyes of his children will fail.
He then speaks again of his miseries (6ff) God has made me a byword to everyone, a man in whose face people spit. My eyes have grown dim with grief; my whole frame is but a shadow. Upright men are appalled at this; the innocent are aroused against the ungodly. Again the Lord Jesus comes vividly to mind. Then we have another faint word of hope (9) - Nevertheless, the righteous will hold to their ways, and those with clean hands will grow stronger. Whatever comes, the righteous will hold on their way. Job knows he is innocent. He is not suffering for some sin. But he cannot prove it. He cannot demonstrate it. Everybody thinks he is a sinner. And so in despair he speaks like a drunkard picking a fight - But come on, all of you, try again! I will not find a wise man among you. How bleak it seems My days have passed, my plans are shattered, and so are the desires of my heart. Why? Because of the failure of his so-called friends. Verse 12 These men turn night into day; in the face of darkness they say, Light is near. If only one of them could have said ‘Yes, Job we know you are innocent. We are sure God will vindicate you.’ But there is none of this. They have no word of Christ to share and in the end that is what makes their counsel so bleak. Any counselling will be bleak if it does not point to Christ. Simply to say ‘You must try harder’ or ‘Things could be worse’ or ‘May be things will get better’ is to mouth empty platitudes. The Christian counsellor must say ‘Yes, it’s a mess. No, I don’t know why you are suffering. But I do know Jesus Christ also suffered innocently and that if you look to him, he will save you. He will deliver you. Indeed, he is the only one who can rescue you. Trust in him.’
Otherwise, it is only gloom. Listen to Job here (13ff) If the only home I hope for is the grave, if I spread out my bed in darkness, if I say to corruption, You are my father, and to the worm, My mother or My sister, where then is my hope? Who can see any hope for me? Will it go down to the gates of death? Will we descend together into the dust? If all we have to look forward to is the grave then how bleak it all is. Despair prevails over hope so often because it does not take Christ into account. Job lived long before the Lord Jesus but he did glimpse what was going to happen. He had a hope, a faint hope, yes, but a real one – that Jesus would be his Advocate. How much more privileged than Job we are. Don’t give in to despair – look to Christ. Tell others about him. He is the answer. Amen.

In trouble - more lessons

Text Job 11-14 Time 11/06/00 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
Job was a great and godly man who suffered devastating disaster yet did not curse God. Three friends came to comfort him in his distress. So far, we have looked at the first speeches of Eliphaz and Bildad and how Job responded. Today we look at the third friend Zophar’s first contribution and Job’s response. Sadly, it is more of the same, although there are differences. Whereas Eliphaz appealed to a vision he had to bolster his argument and Bildad to tradition, Zophar simply appeals to himself – to his own arrogant self. Eliphaz showed some sympathy to Job and believed he could only be guilty of some relatively minor sin. Bildad is much more harsh and is sure Job and his children have been guilty of some serious sin. Zophar the Naamathite’s idea seems to be that Job is guilty of some secret sin that he has kept hidden. He is furious with Job and shows him no compassion. Like the others, he is convinced that the reason people suffer is because they sin. Because Job is suffering, he must have sinned. As Calvin says ‘Some comforters have no more songs than one, and have no regard at all to whom they sing it’. Again the lessons for us are mostly negative but there is much to learn.
1. Lessons to learn from a counsellor’s speech
As with Eliphaz, we can again say that if we are going to be any help to people who are suffering and who are in trouble we must learn to be humble; to be compassionate and to avoid the trap that all 3 fall into of misapplying a rigid theological position that is both unhelpful and wrong. More specifically,
1. General Lessons Realise
1 The need to rely on God’s wisdom not your own
As we have said, the other two rely on experience and tradition. Zophar avoids relying on these but to rely on your own wisdom is not any better. We must rely on God’s wisdom. Even then (as we shall see) there are dangers. But to rely on ourselves is foolish indeed. As Bildad rightly argues, we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow.
2 Retribution and blessing are not always immediate
One of the major problems with Zophar’s thinking, like the others, is the assumption that all God’s retributions and blessings come in this life. Now there is such a thing as immediate retribution and immediate blessing. A child disobeys his parents, runs into the road and is injured; an adult sleeps around and contracts an STD or AIDS - there is pretty immediate retribution. Similarly, an obedient child is given a treat; a faithful husband has the joy of his wife’s devotion - again, pretty immediate blessing. Even in this life Christians know many joys and unbelievers know many hardships simply because of obedience or disobedience to the gospel call. However, it is vitally important to remember that retribution and blessing are not always immediate. Some wicked people live a long time and get many of this world’s blessings while the godly die young after much suffering. We must face up to that fact.
3 Not all blessing in this life comes in material form
It is also worth adding this. There is a tendency to assume that a rich, healthy man with many friends is more blessed than a poor, sick one with few friends but it can be the case that the rich one finds it hard to get to sleep at night and has many worries while the other is basically contented, knowing his sins are forgiven and that heaven awaits.
4 In this life godly people often suffer
This is one of the great lessons of the Book of Job and one that it never hurts to keep underlining.
2. More specific lessons Beware of
1 Misapplying biblical rebuke
There is a view of counselling that has been around for a while that believes in no rebukes or moral judgement of any kind. Non-directive counselling is very good at listening and being sympathetic but it has little to say about change. Biblical counselling usually, though not always, has something to say about change and is not afraid to rebuke where necessary. One of our duties as Christian brothers and sisters is to rebuke one another. However, we must be very careful when we rebuke that we have our facts straight and that we are not harsh or unfair. Sadly, the accusations made against Job here are false and Zophar even puts words into Job’s mouth. There are four accusations. That Job is a
Bildad calls Job a windbag, here Zophar says Are all these words to go unanswered? Is this talker to be vindicated? He prattles. Job certainly has plenty to say and can be repetitive but he waits until his friends have finished and partly his repetitions are in answer to his friends’ ones. Talking too much is a sin but considering all Job has had to face this accusation is unfair.
Verse 3 Will your idle talk reduce men to silence? Will no-one rebuke you when you mock? Again this is unfair. Job definitely disagrees with his friends but that is not the same as being a mocker.
In verse 4 Zophar says You say to God, My beliefs are flawless and I am pure in your sight. Job defends himself. He believes his accusers are wrong but nowhere does he say that his beliefs are flawless or that he himself is pure. If we do not listen properly to what people are saying we will never help them.
In verses 5 and 6 he says Oh, how I wish that God would speak, that he would open his lips against you and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom, for true wisdom has two sides. Know this: God has even forgotten some of your sin. In other words ‘I wish that God would let you have your wish Job and meet you in court. Then it would be clear how very little wisdom you really have. The fact is that not only are you being punished for your sin but God has ignored some of it too. What a fool you are!’ But the boot is in fact on the other foot. Zophar is the fool!
Take care then when you decide to deliver a rebuke. Get your facts right.
2 Misapplying biblical doctrine
Zophar, like his friends, has good things to say. In verses 7-9 we have a classic example Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens - what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave - what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea. This is not only correct but spot on as to what will best help Job at this time. It is the nearest we get to an ‘answer’ to the problem of suffering. Zophar is making the point that God’s wisdom is
Inexhaustible. There is no limit to it and Beyond human comprehension.
He goes on to make the equally valid point that this ensures justice. Verses 10 and 11 If he comes along and confines you in prison and convenes a court, who can oppose him? Surely he recognises deceitful men; and when he sees evil, does he not take note? You can’t fool God. He deals with the wicked. But Zophar assumes that means that anyone who suffers now must be being punished. He says (12) But a witless man can no more become wise than a wild donkey’s colt can be born a man. He has Job in mind – Job is witless and is no more likely to become wise than a stupid donkey is to give birth to a man! If only Zophar could see that he is the silly ass not Job! Knowing that God’s wisdom is profound and beyond human comprehension, he has failed to apply this fact to himself – why Job suffers is hidden in the wisdom of God! As we’ve said before, it’s not enough to know the Bible and its doctrines, we need to know how to apply these precious truths.
3. Misapplying biblical requirements
Again in verses 13-20 we have a wonderful series of statements that are not so much wrong as misapplied. It is an excellent call to repentance.
What to do
13, 14 Yet if you devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent. That is what God requires – heart devotion and real desire for him with a putting away of sin and a break with all evil.
The promise of blessing if you comply
15-19 then you will lift up your face without shame; you will stand firm and without fear. You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by. Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning. You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety. You will lie down, with no-one to make you afraid, and many will court your favour. Again such things are to be expected by those who repent – a clear conscience; confidence before God; light; joy; security; hope; safety; certainty; blessing.
A warning against not complying
20 But the eyes of the wicked will fail, and escape will elude them; their hope will become a dying gasp. This again is true.
So what is the problem? Again, it is not the message Job needed to hear. Some of us especially need to hear that message this morning. There’s a sense in which we all need to hear it. But it may well not be the chief thing you need to hear. Certainly that was the case with Job. He needed to hear a message of comfort, reassuring him of God’s love and expressing great sympathy with him in a time of real testing when all was so difficult and apparently uncertain. Preachers have to bear this in mind. In counselling one another we also have to remember that there are no ‘off the peg, one size fits all’ approaches. We are all individuals, in different situations with different needs. In each case our words need to be tailor-made for the person we hope to help. The Master here is Jesus Christ himself. If you read the Gospels you will see that. It is vital not just to throw any truth at someone who is suffering but to say the right thing at the right time. We can only get this right by the grace of God.
2. Lessons to learn from a sufferer’s response
1. Lessons from how he speaks to his counsellors
1 People who suffer have not lost their powers of thought
Perhaps in our generation we’re a little more aware of those with handicaps than in the past. However, do you know the phrase ‘Does he take sugar?’? This is apparently a cliché often heard. Instead of turning to the person with a handicap and asking the simple question by word or sign ‘Do you take sugar in your tea?’ you turn to someone and say ‘Does he take sugar?’ There is greater temptation in some cases than others but there is a general danger of assuming that a person who is suffering has somehow lost his ability to think. There is no logic in this. Listen to Job – a suffering man in anguish. Doubtless you are the people, and wisdom will die with you! His sarcasm is understandable, forgivable. He says But I have a mind as well as you; I am not inferior to you. Who does not know all these things? They’ve come up with nothing new and nothing of any help to Job.
2 There are many examples of apparently unjust suffering
Demonstrating that he was perfectly able to think straight, Job goes on to give examples of apparently unjust suffering. The friends claimed that even in this life it is only the wicked who suffer. This is nonsense as Job shows with three obvious examples.
Job himself
In verse 4 he begins with himself I have become a laughing-stock to my friends, though I called upon God and he answered - a mere laughing-stock, though righteous and blameless! Now we know Job’s friends denied he was blameless but God declares him so and that is enough. Verse 5 Men at ease have contempt for misfortune as the fate of those whose feet are slipping. It is easy to mock someone in trouble but there are various reasons for suffering. If we ever doubt that, let’s remember Job.
Pagan marauders
In verse 6 Job says The tents of marauders are undisturbed, and those who provoke God are secure - those who carry their god in their hands. Job knew that there were plenty of marauding pagans about but they weren’t all suffering.
Creation itself
Verses 7-10 But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of 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. Everywhere you look in the natural world there are examples of suffering. Nature is ‘red in tooth and claw’. Can it possibly be established even for a moment that all suffering is direct punishment for sin? The idea is ridiculous! As Christ himself tells us, the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous and those who suffer in natural disasters are not necessarily any more wicked than those who escape.
3 Remember that wisdom lies with God
Job goes on to ask (11) Does not the ear test words as the tongue tastes food? As our tongues decide what food we like so our ears test the words we hear. Verse 12 is probably quoting Bildad and Eliphaz Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding? They relied on tradition and experience. Job’s excellent answer is To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his. It is to God we must look for wisdom. Here Job concentrates on his power (14-16) What he tears down cannot be rebuilt; the man he imprisons cannot be released. If he holds back the waters, there is drought; if he lets them loose, they devastate the land. To him belong strength and victory; both deceived and deceiver are his. If we are to understand anything in this life we must grasp the sovereign power of Almighty God.
4 For various reasons God often reverses situations in this life
This leads Job on to give a whole series of examples where Almighty God reverses situations in this life. Powerful men are suddenly brought down; situations that cannot change suddenly do change. God does all this. Job gives the examples of great counsellors and priests led away stripped and judges made fools of; kings stripped to loin cloths while their prisoners go free; men long established overthrown; trusted advisers silenced; elders losing all discernment; nobles held in contempt; the mighty disarmed. There are plenty of examples of such revolutions even down to our own day. Think of the velvet revolutions in Eastern Europe; think of someone like Jeffry Archer or Jonathan Aitken and other disgraced politicians we have seen fall. Verses 22-25 He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings deep shadows into the light. He makes nations great, and destroys them; he enlarges nations, and disperses them. He deprives the leaders of the earth of their reason; he sends them wandering through a trackless waste. They grope in darkness with no light; he makes them stagger like drunkards. What a picture of the reverses God brings about. Here it is Job; tomorrow it may be you or me. That's worth pondering.
5 What those who suffer need most is to go to God not men
As we come into Chapter 13, Job is still clearly unhappy with his friends My eyes have seen all this, my ears have heard and understood it. What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you. Most interestingly he says (3) But I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God. His friends have smeared him with lies you are worthless physicians, all of you! he says If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom. All their efforts had conspired only to harm Job not help him. When we counsel people we must remember that it is not us they need to hear but God. It is not us they need to meet with but the Lord.
6 We do not need to defend God
Of course, one reason why the friends did so much talking was that they wanted to defend God. Instead of listening to Job as he desired they simply went on with their own speeches, trying to defend God. In a series of questions Job asks Will you speak wickedly on God’s behalf? Will you speak deceitfully for him? That, unintentionally, is what they had done. Will you show him partiality? Will you argue the case for God? That was their approach. Would it turn out well if he examined you? Could you deceive him as you might deceive men? He would surely rebuke you if you secretly showed partiality. Would not his splendour terrify you? Would not the dread of him fall on you? This is fair enough. Verse 12 Your maxims are proverbs of ashes; your defences are defences of clay. Ironically it was the good motive of seeking to defend God that had led to this. There’s no time now but we could name a whole series of examples where, attempting to defend God and his cause, people have introduced all sorts of heresies. Would you try and defend a lion? No. We don’t need to defend God either. We simply need to listen to his Word.
7 The only real hope sufferers have is in God
In verse 13 Job then tells his friends to Keep silent and let him speak what ever might be the result. Why do I put myself in jeopardy and take my life in my hands? he asks. The following verse (13:15) is famous though difficult to translate. Though he slay me, the NIV has yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face. What ever Job may mean exactly, it is clear that he sees his only hope is in God. His friends have been unable to help him. He has to look to God whether that will work or not. He is confident, however. Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless man would dare come before him! Listen carefully to my words; let your ears take in what I say. Now that I have prepared my case, I know I will be vindicated. Can anyone bring charges against me? If so, I will be silent and die. In counselling, it is that sort of conviction we want to inculcate. Not ‘I can solve all your problems’ but ‘Go to God. He alone can help you. Put your hope in him.’
2. Lessons to learn from the way he speaks to God
Above all else those who suffer want relief from their sufferings and some explanations. Job puts it like that as he begins to speak to God again in verses 20, 21 Only grant me these two things, O God, and then I will not hide from you: Withdraw your hand far from me, and stop frightening me with your terrors. He wants relief. But with that he wants some answers to his questions. He wants to know the answers to four basic questions and when people suffer these are the sort of things they want to know. It is good for us to be aware of the questions even if we have to say we cannot give complete answers.
1 Why they are suffering
Job goes on (22ff) Then summon me and I will answer, or let me speak, and you reply. How many wrongs and sins have I committed? Show me my offence and my sin. Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy? Will you torment a wind-blown leaf? Will you chase after dry chaff? For you write down bitter things against me and make me inherit the sins of my youth. You fasten my feet in shackles; you keep close watch on all my paths by putting marks on the soles of my feet. Job wants to know what sins he has committed and how many. He wants to know why he is suffering so much. These are inevitable questions. Of course, we know that it is not for his sins that Job is suffering and we know it is not revealed to him just why he is suffering but such questions inevitably come when a person suffers.
2 Why anyone suffers
Chapter 13 ends with this very bleak verse So man wastes away like something rotten, like a garment eaten by moths. Chapter 14 takes up the theme Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure. Job recognises that the problem is not just that he is suffering but many others suffer too. Do you fix your eye on such a one? Will you bring him before you for judgement? Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No-one! We are all sinners so there can be no real escape from suffering in this life. The only hope, it seems to Job, is if God will look away. Man’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed. So look away from him and let him alone, till he has put in his time like a hired man. There is a mystery in suffering. We must face it.
3 Why they go on suffering
Job then thinks of trees and how even if they are cut down they can sprout again. But man he says (10) dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more. As water disappears from the sea or a river bed becomes parched and dry, so man lies down and does not rise; till the heavens are no more, men will not awake or be roused from their sleep. Until the great day of resurrection man stays dead bodily. And so, argues Job, wouldn’t it be better if he was dead? That would mean an end to all this suffering. All he would have to do is wait in his grave until the resurrection call from God! That way all his sins would be sealed up in a bag and he would not have to suffer any longer. That is one of the attractions of death and we must understand it. The problem of suffering is not just that it happens but that it goes on with no end in sight. We need to understand the anguish that involves.
4 What is the point of life?
Then comes the ultimate question – one that especially presses on us when we are going through trouble – what’s the point of life anyway? Verses 18-22 But as a mountain erodes and crumbles and as a rock is moved from its place, as water wears away stones and torrents wash away the soil, so you destroy man’s hope. You overpower him once for all, and he is gone; you change his countenance and send him away. If his sons are honoured, he does not know it; if they are brought low, he does not see it. He feels but the pain of his own body and mourns only for himself. It is very bleak and we need to feel it.
But that is not all the Bible says, of course. Indeed it shows us that the whole purpose of life is God’s glory. Job is eventaully vindicated and the great day of judgement will deal with every anomaly in this world. Out great message is that by faith in Christ all will eventually be well.

In trouble - Mistakes to avoid

Text Job 9-10 Time 04/06/00 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We are looking at the Book of Job. Job was a blameless and upright man. He suffered appalling losses – all his vast wealth; his grown up children; even his health as he is covered head to toe in sores. Even his wife has let him down badly. Three friends have come to comfort him but the first, Eliphaz the Temanite, has served only to make things worse. We have looked at his speech (4, 5) and Job’s reply (6, 7).
Though marginally better than his friends, Eliphaz lacks sensitivity and compassion and misapplies the rigid theological position that he has adopted – the view that suffering is a punishment for sin. His other faults are his expecting too much from Job; his over-reliance on experience and observation; his claims to divine inspiration; his misapplication of truth; his assumption that Job must be at fault (which, of course, he was not. We know from the opening chapters that Job was not suffering because he had sinned as his friends imagined). Eliphaz also unsympathetically prattles about the greatness and the goodness of God.
Bildad the Shuhite is no better; in fact he is worse. Let’s consider his first speech together in Chapter 9 and note
1. Mistakes for counsellors to avoid
1. Do not be blunt or insensitive
We said that Eliphaz lacked sensitivity and compassion. This is even more so with Bildad. With all the sensitivity of charging rhino he plunges straight in with How long will you say such things? Your words are a blustering wind. In other words ‘Shut it, Job, you’re just a windbag!’. The same bluntness and insensitivity is observable throughout Bildad’s speech. See verse 4 for example, When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin. Regardless of Job’s feelings in the matter Bildad states his opinion baldly – Your children were sinners so God struck them dead! Even if this were true it would be an appallingly bad way to put it. Here are a couple who have lost their children in an accident and someone says ‘They had it coming. They were wicked kids.’ Job had prayed for his children, he would make sacrifices on their behalf whenever they had a big get together just in case they had thought something sinful. But Bildad disregards all that. He is convinced that all suffering is due to sin and so he speaks as he finds. He goes on in the same way throughout. Later in verses 11-19 he launches out against Job himself and as we shall see he again shows all the compassion of a sledge hammer breaking stones.
2. Do not make superficial, wooden misapplications of biblical truth
Again like Eliphaz, Bildad has understood important biblical truths. Whereas Eliphaz emphasises the holiness of God, Bildad centres on his justice. Does God pervert justice? he asks in verse 3, Does the Almighty pervert what is right? Well, of course not. God is just. He is fair. He does not pervert what is right. But then to conclude that Job’s children must have sinned then and were justly wiped out is to entirely misapply that precious truth. Equally superficial are his words in verses 5-7 But if you will look to God and plead with the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself on your behalf and restore you to your rightful place. Your beginnings will seem humble, so prosperous will your future be. Bildad is trying to be helpful but he is not at all. It’s like when you have tried to do something ten times and someone comes along and says ‘Do it this way and it will be easy’ only to proceed with all the ways you have already tried. Infuriating! Job was pure and upright but God had not roused himself and restored Job – that was the whole problem! Knowing the truth is important but it is only half the battle. A medical expert may know all there is to know about a certain disease but it will be of no use if he misapplies his knowledge. If he treats you with all his expertise but you have some other disease, not the one he is expert in, it will do you no good. Rather, it may do you harm. So it is not enough to know that God is just, we need to know how that justice is worked out – and we have to say that it is not always as straightforward as we may expect. We must believe God is just – it is a core biblical doctrine. However, it will not always be obvious that God is being just in the way he acts towards individuals.
3. Do not rely too heavily on tradition
Eliphaz relied a great deal on experience and observation, with all the dangers that brings. Bildad, on the other hand, was a great believer in tradition. He would not approve of Tzietel’s song in the musical ‘Fiddler on the roof’ bemoaning ‘Tradition’ and its restrictions. No, for him tradition was a great thing, a thing always to be reverenced. Ask the former generations and find out what their fathers learned, he says (8-10) for we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow. Will they not instruct you and tell you? Will they not bring forth words from their understanding? Of course, we can learn a great deal from tradition, from what has been taught in the past but we must not assume that ‘if it’s old, it’s gold’ any more than ‘if it’s new, it’s true’. No, all ideas and teachings must be brought to the bar of Scripture and tried there. This is one of the major flaws in Romanism – its raising of tradition to the same level of authority as Scripture. We can make the same mistake – let’s be careful not to.
4. Do not make harsh, unfair misapplications of biblical truth
In verses 11-19 Bildad uses three illustrations to drive home his belief that Job has sinned.
1 He talks about papyrus growing in marsh land where there is water. It can grow up very quickly. It can also wither just as quickly, such is the destiny he says of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless. Job may have started well but look at him now. He is obviously a stony ground believer with no root.
2 He then speaks of a fragile spider’s web. That is what the wicked lean on and cling to. It cannot hold them up. Job too protests innocence but for Bildad it is all very flimsy and does not stand up.
3 Thirdly, he pictures a plant’s root system spreading its shoots over the garden. However, where there is no moisture it can be rooted out and you cannot even tell that it has been there. Job the stony ground believer, will soon be gone and he will not be remembered.
Again we must say that even if Bildad was right this would be callous and insensitive but he is wrong! Take care when you apply truth – especially to others.
5. Do not be unhelpfully optimistic
In the final part of his speech Bildad tries to be more optimistic. Surely God does not reject a blameless man or strengthen the hands of evildoers. If you are innocent he will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy. Your enemies will be clothed in shame, and the tents of the wicked will be no more. Which is all very well but no help to Job at that present moment. God did restore Job but what Job wanted to know was why he was suffering then. Optimism has its place in counselling those who are depressed and suffering but let us again seek to be sensitive. Optimism can have the very opposite effect to that intended.
2. Mistakes for sufferers to avoid
Now let's come to Job’s reply, which is, as before, not strictly a reply but the next stage in his grief. Chapter 9 is again full of questions. We have already warned against the danger of asking (or answering) too many. Here are some to avoid.
1. Avoid unhelpful questions
1 How can I go to a God who is so Almighty?
Job begins Indeed, I know that this is true. But how can a mortal be righteous before God? which is a question raised by Eliphaz – when we speak with those who are grieving we will find that thought is not strictly linear – we will go back and forth on things. Job says Though one wished to dispute with him, he could not answer him one time out of a thousand. The reason being that God is Almighty. In verses 4-14 Job expands just a little on what that means. It is a wonderful description of the Almighty.
His wisdom is profound, his power is vast. Who has resisted him and come out unscathed? Think of God’s power. For example, volcanoes. He moves mountains without their knowing it and overturns them in his anger. Or earthquakes. Or simply the way he is able to bring darkness to the sky. Verse 8 He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea. He is the one who makes the various constellations there. He is incomprehensible (10) He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted. Yet says Job, when he passes me, I cannot see him; when he goes by, I cannot perceive him. He is also the invisible God. He does as he pleases If he snatches away, who can stop him? Who can say to him, What are you doing? He is supreme in his authority. Verse 13 God does not restrain his anger; even the cohorts of Rahab cowered at his feet. Job is referring to dinosaurs of the sea, beasts that lived at the time – God the Creator has them under control.
Now the doctrine of God’s sovereign power is revealed in Scripture to comfort us but there are times when it is anything but a comfort. How can I go to such an Almighty God? There is an answer, of course. God is not only the Almighty but a God who condescends to reveal himself to the meek and humble. He reveals himself as Jesus Christ. Some are so aware of that they forget he is Almighty. Both things need to be kept in mind. When we are suffering, the Almightiness of God can be a difficulty, however. The answer is not to downplay factor but to recognise the difficulty it creates.
2 How can I argue with a God who does not change his mind?
Job goes on (14, 15) How then can I dispute with him? How can I find words to argue with him? Though I were innocent, I could not answer him; I could only plead with my Judge for mercy. Which is exactly right, of course. But, says Job, Even if I summoned him and he responded, I do not believe he would give me a hearing. This is wrong, of course, but we can see why Job is so fearful. He would crush me with a storm and multiply my wounds for no reason. He would not let me regain my breath but would overwhelm me with misery. Job’s expectation is understandable. Look how much he has suffered already. What reason is there to suppose that God will suddenly change? In verse 19 he says If it is a matter of strength, he is mighty! And if it is a matter of justice, who will summon him? He is without hope. Even if Job got his case to court, as it were, he feels he would lose the case he feels in such a mess. Verse 20 Even if I were innocent, my mouth would condemn me; if I were blameless, it would pronounce me guilty.
Such feelings of hopelessness are understandable and to be expected. Again we have to say that although God is immutable – he does not change his purposes - nevertheless, he is pictured in Scripture as changing his mind – think of the story of Jonah and the Ninevites for example. This stresses his compassion and his willingness to hear the cries of his people. We must stress this to those who grieve. We must not make the mistake of suggesting that God is a God who is mutable, who changes in the sense of changing his purposes, however. That would be even more discouraging. The immutability of God may give little comfort at times but it is an important doctrine to hold on to.
3 How can I come to a God who seems so arbitrary?
In verses 21-24 Job goes on Although I am blameless, I have no concern for myself; I despise my own life. It is all the same; that is why I say, He destroys both the blameless and the wicked. It makes no difference whether you are good or bad, says Job. This is certainly not Job at his best. He is thinking only in earthly terms here. When a scourge brings sudden death, he mocks the despair of the innocent. When a land falls into the hands of the wicked, he blindfolds its judges. If it is not he, then who is it? Yes, it all seems rather arbitrary in this life and it is only by faith that we can be convinced that all will be well in the end. It is not easy when we are in pain and grief, however, and we ought to avoid getting into pointless arguments with people on this at such times. Yes, at times it all seems one big mess. We should not be surprised at that. We live in a fallen world and we view it with fallen minds. At times it does seem to make no sense at all.
4 How can I plead my cause with a God who is determined to find me guilty?
This sums up Job’s final question of Chapter 9. He describes how quickly his life is rushing by - swifter than a runner; they fly away without a glimpse of joy. They skim past like boats of papyrus, like eagles swooping down on their prey. If he tries the old remedy of just snapping himself out of it and putting a smile on things, it doesn’t work – verse 28 I still dread all my sufferings, for I know you will not hold me innocent. And so he concludes (verse 29) Since I am already found guilty, why should I struggle in vain? Even if I washed myself with soap and my hands with washing soda, you would plunge me into a slime pit so that even my clothes would detest me. What is the point in protesting my innocence? God is determined to find me guilty! Now that is not the attitude that the Lord Jesus ever took. Wicked men were determined to find him guilty. God himself, he knew, would declare him guilty. Nevertheless, he strove for innocence. He displayed, vitally, his complete innocence. We must do the same. We must never get into the way of thinking that says ‘It makes no difference what I do, I’m condemned any way’. That is never true.
Verses 32-35 are most interesting. Job still has this idea of going to court with God in his mind. But he says He is not a man like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court. Then he says If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, 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. And is that not just what the man Christ Jesus, the one Mediator between man and God, does? Again, we need to come to Christ if we are to successfully face trouble of any sort. Yes, God sees our guilt, he condemns. But he also forgives in Christ.
2. Avoid unhelpful thoughts
We will be more brief with Chapter 10. We can sum up with three warnings for times of suffering.
1 Do not think that God is against you in the present
In verses 1-7 Job speaks of his loathing for his very life and speaks out in bitterness of soul telling God not to condemn him, but to state his charges. He wants to know the logic in his suffering. Does God get pleasure from oppressing Job, his own hands’ work, while smiling on the wicked? Or is God like a man so that having failed to catch the real culprits he has to take it out on Job though he knows he is blameless? This is utterly ridiculous, of course, but it reminds us of the wretched thoughts that can go through our minds when we are in grief and anguish. God is never unfair. He never treats his children with anything but good motives and for good ends. Children sometimes doubt their parents. It all seems so unfair and senseless at times but even with imperfect human parents we usually come to see the wisdom in the end. How much more so with God himself. Do not think that God is against you in the present.
2 Do not think that God was against you in the past
In verses 8-17 Job goes on to remember that it was God who made him like a potter at the wheel or a dairyman making cheese. God watched over Job and made him, does he now plan to destroy him? Despite all his kind providences was God always secretly planning that if Job sinned, he would be punished. In fact, whether Job was guilty or innocent made no difference. If Job tries to stand tall, God stalks him like a lion and simply displays his awesome power and overthrows Job. You bring new witnesses against me and increase your anger towards me; your forces come against me wave upon wave.
Again, most of us have had times when we’ve thought like this. "So this is where it was all leading". Such negativity is not only unhelpful but wrong. Job had not yet seen the unfolding of the whole story. He also did not know what had gone on in heaven. If he could have pictured us here this Sunday morning studying his words it all would have looked so different. We must believe that all our past has been under God’s direction and that all that has happened to us has been for our good – even the bits we hated. God works in such ways. For believers, this is the truth.
3 Do not think that God will be against you in the future
Finally, Job again says he wishes he had never been born or had died at birth. He assumes he can’t have long to live anyway so can’t God give him just a little joy at the end now before he enters the gloom and darkness of death? How bleak it all seems for Job. As far as he can see, there is no hope, no future. And there are days like that – even for believers. It is well that we expect such things. The truth is, however, that God is working all things together for good to those who love God, those who are called according to his purposes. They have a glorious future ahead. The glories of heaven are beyond imagining. Just above our heads are crowns of gold. If only our eyes were open to see.

Grief - Some things to expect

Text Job 6, 7 Time 28/05/00 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
I was talking to someone the other day about a person we both know who has lost someone very close to him in the last 12 months. They said, ‘He’s reached the bitterness stage now. He’s asking why God let it happen and things like that.’ There are certainly stages in the grieving process and whenever we go through the trauma of a great loss it is important to remember that – both for ourselves and as we try to help others. Our emotions and moods are going to vary in the light of what has happened. On one hand, there will be variation from day to day and, on the other hand, there will be general patterns or phases.
We have already seen Job strong and confident (Chapters 1 and 2); then there was numbed silence followed by expressions of great despair and many questions (Chapter 3). Here (in Chapters 6 and 7) we see him angry and frustrated. Anger itself is not a sinful thing. God himself is angry with sinners. The difficult thing with anger is keeping it under control. It is a bit like fire. It is liable to break out and do a great deal of damage. We must be very careful, therefore when we feel angry. In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry is the Bible’s exhortation (Psalm 4:4 and Ephesians 4:26).
Here Eliphaz, the first of Job’s three friends to speak, has spoken but far from helping Job he has hindered him. Eliphaz was convinced that suffering is caused by sin and so Job must have sinned. We know, however, that that diagnosis is wrong. Here (Chapters 6 and 7) Job replies to Eliphaz, although it is not a reply in the proper sense but rather an expression of his anger at his alienation and distress. It gives us an insight into Job’s sufferings and prepares us for what may lie ahead – for us or for those we seek to help. In 2 Corinthians 1:3, 4 Paul speaks of the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. One of the ways the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort comforts his children is by giving them an insight into suffering and grief through his Word in chapters like these.
1. Expect a sense of alienation
Firstly, in Chapter 6, Job speaks to his friends. As he speaks, it becomes clear that he had a great sense of alienation or estrangement. This is a common feeling among those who grieve. They feel cut off; there is discord and withdrawal. This is to be expected.
1. Expect a sense of alienation from God
In 6:1-7 Job seeks to justify his previous outburst. As he speaks, it becomes clear that he feels alienation from God. If only my anguish could be weighed and all my misery be placed on the scales! he says. Despite great efforts on the part of some to measure pain it has been found impossible. If this is true of physical pain how mush more of mental torture. Job wishes there was some way his anguish and his misery could be measured. It would surely outweigh the sand of the seas he says. Put all the wet sand you can find in one pan, he says, then put my misery and anguish in the other pan and it would soon tip the scales. His argument is that it is no wonder his words have been impetuous. Of course, the New Testament answer is Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest but simply quoting that text will not solve a person’s problems. It is easy to criticise the reactions of others or assume that their problems can easily be solved but we must take into account the burden they bear.
He describes what has happened to him in these terms (4) The arrows of the Almighty are in me, my spirit drinks in their poison; God’s terrors are marshalled against me. There is no argument between Job and his friends about the fact that his suffering comes from God. This is one of the Bible’s assumptions and one that we should make too. If we suffer it is because God has allowed it to happen. But for Job, at this present time, there is no comfort in realising this. It only adds to his distress.
Does a wild donkey bray when it has grass, or an ox bellow when it has fodder? His bellowing and braying are the result of his deprivations. Verse 6 (Is tasteless food eaten without salt, or is there flavour in the white of an egg?) is more difficult to understand. Probably his point is that just as you put salt on tasteless food so it is right that losses should be met with expressions of grief. The idea of suffering any longer in silence repels Job - I refuse to touch it; such food makes me ill.
On the cross, the Lord Jesus himself cried out My God, my God why have you forsaken me? He knew what alienation from God was all about and is fully able to sympathise with those who have such feelings. When people grieve it is of no comfort in itself to know that their suffering comes from God. This often simply leads to an increased sense of alienation. It is part of their suffering. We must maintain this truth, therefore, but not expect there to be any immediate comfort in it. In due time it will be a comfort to the believer, nevertheless.
2. Expect a sense of alienation from yourself
Job goes on to once again express his desire to die and his sense of weakness and hopelessness. Again these are typical and well express the feelings of a man alienated not only from God but from his very self.
1 Expect desires for death. He expresses his desire for death in verses 8 and 9 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 me off! Job feels trapped like a prisoner, God’s hand is holding him down - and he wants to be free. God has been weaving the tapestry of his life and now he wants the job to be finished and for God to cut off the thread. The reason he wants to die is that (10) Then I would still have this consolation - my joy in unrelenting pain - that I had not denied the words of the Holy One. He is conscious of his anger getting out of control and although he feels alienated from God he does not want to deny the words of the Holy One. We have more than one example in Scripture of servants of God who wanted to die – think of Elijah, Jonah and Jeremiah for example. Are you concerned not to deny the words of God the Holy One? It is right that we should be concerned about this. On the other hand wanting to die is not the answer. God has decreed the day of your birth and the day of your death. We must be patient until the day of death – it will come soon enough. And after death, remember, the day of judgement.
2 Expect a sense of weakness and hopelessness. Job continues (11-13) What strength do I have, that I should still hope? What prospects, that I should be patient? Do I have the strength of stone? Is my flesh bronze? Do I have any power to help myself, now that success has been driven from me? It is very easy to feel confident when all is going well but then we run into trouble and everything looks different. Of course, this is closer to reality but it is not pleasant to be in such a position. Suffering and grief bring us to an end of ourselves. We should not be surprised by such feelings of alienation when we grieve. It is then that we must cast ourselves entirely upon the Lord. The Lord Jesus, remember, is our great High Priest who (Hebrews 4:15, 5:2) is not unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but … who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin … He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.
3. Expect a sense of alienation from your friends
As we have said, Eliphaz was not much help to Job and that only added to Job’s misery. Part of grieving often involves a sense, just or unjust, of being let down by others. Even the very best friends will not be able to do all that we wish and often they will fail anyway. This also is to be expected.
1 Expect to be disappointed with friends. In verse 14 Job declares A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends, even though (or lest) he forsakes the fear of the Almighty. This is the test of friendship as far as Job is concerned. He is not saying that unbelief should be defended but he is saying that friends must be friends however bad it gets. Are we friends of that sort? Job felt Eliphaz and the others had not been such friends because they were so quick to condemn him as a sinner without listening to him.
In a very poetic extended metaphor he describes them as being like wadis - that overflow in winter when darkened by thawing ice and swollen with melting snow, but that cease to flow in the dry season, and in the heat vanish from their channels. He vividly describes caravans of merchants from Tema or Sheba in Arabia travelling through the wasteland looking for water and being disappointed and distressed, because they had been confident; they arrive there, only to be disappointed. It is a poignant picture and describes, of course, Job’s own disappointment in the attitude of his friends. The oasis of friendship had proved to be a mirage. (21) Now you too have proved to be of no help; he says you see something dreadful and are afraid. Perhaps Job is saying here that it is their fear of identifying too closely with him that is the problem. They are keen to defend God but their theology is poor and so they lack sympathy for the one they are supposed to be trying to help. Job asks (22, 23) Have I ever said, Give something on my behalf, pay a ransom for me from your wealth, deliver me from the hand of the enemy, ransom me from the clutches of the ruthless? If he had asked them to pay money or mount a dangerous rescue mission then their reluctance to get involved might have been understandable but he has simply asked for sympathy. That is something important to remember. Those who are in trouble are simply asking for sympathy in a crisis. They are not asking us to solve every problem or somehow deliver them. They are not asking for money or for us to endanger our own lives. They simply desire sympathy and comfort from us. One would think it easy enough but we should not be surprised when we do not get it. At such times believers must remember that in the Lord Jesus Christ they have a friend who sticks closer than a brother and look to him. He knew what it was to be deserted by all but he himself never fails his own. Think of how his friends failed him in Gethsemane and beyond.
2 Expect to have to defend yourself and plead for help. Eliphaz’s argument was that as suffering comes because of sin and Job is suffering, Job must have sinned. But if that was true what was Job’s sin? Teach me, he says (24) and I will be quiet; show me where I have been wrong. In verse 25 he adds How painful are honest words - the point probably being that he knows Eliphaz has spoken frankly But what do your arguments prove? So far they have simply treated him as a windbag not listening to him properly (Do you mean to correct what I say, and treat the words of a despairing man as wind?) They are like men gambling or bartering for a slave (You would even cast lots for the fatherless and barter away your friend. He adds (28) But now be so kind as to look at me. Would I lie to your face? If there was any sin he would confess it. Relent, he pleads do not be unjust; reconsider, for my integrity is at stake. Is there any wickedness on my lips? Can my mouth not discern malice? How they have reduced Job. Expect such feelings, expect to be put in that sort of position when you are in grief. It may not come to that, hopefully, but it may. Be prepared. Think how the Lord Jesus had to rebuke Peter when he opposed him.
2. Expect a sense of distress
In Chapter 7, having spoken to his friends, Job speaks to God. He speaks of his misery and his anguish. Again there are many questions. Again, Job’s reaction is typical of those in grief. There are things for us to learn here.
1. Expect to suffer misery
Job begins by speaking of the miseries of life. In his condition, he is acutely aware of them. When we are suffering and grieving that is what happens. We have a heightened sense of life’s futility and misery. Does not man have hard service on earth? he says. He pictures life as that of being Like a slave toiling under the hot sun and longing for the evening shadows, or a hired man waiting eagerly for his wages. He sees his life as a futile one allotted to him by God. He could not even rest when night fell. Suffering and grief often seems worse when night comes. He talks of the nights of misery … assigned to him. He lies down at night in misery and longs for the morning. The night drags on, and I toss till dawn he says. And no wonder – his body is clothed with worms and scabs, his skin is broken and festering. The nights were long for Job but the days passed quickly. Verse 6 My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and they come to an end without hope. The threads of hope were fast running out for Job. He is clearly angry about that.
Job is especially aware of the brevity of life. Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath; he prays my eyes will never see happiness again. Of course, this latter statement was wrong. But that is how Job felt. He is sure he will die soon enough – (8-10) The eye that now sees me will see me no longer; you will look for me, but I will be no more. As a cloud vanishes and is gone, so he who goes down to the grave does not return. He will never come to his house again; his place will know him no more.
2. Expect to suffer anguish
It is clear that Job is not suffering only in a physical way. He is in deep anguish and his anger is rising. In verse 11 he says Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. As we have said, anger is a dangerous thing because it can so easily get out of control. Anger and bitterness are common when we have suffered a great loss. Here Job speaks to God in his anger. He asks God (12) Am I the sea, or the monster of the deep, that you put me under guard? He wants God to leave him alone. But 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. And so he says (16) I despise my life; I would not live for ever. Let me alone; my days have no meaning. Again there is the sense of futility and the desire to die, to escape from God.
3. Expect to have many questions
Finally, in verses 17-21, we have a series of questions addressed to God followed by a rather petulant statement of defiance. Something to expect when a person is grieving is questions. Many questions come. Some of them are genuine questions, some are mere grumbles. Some are worth answering, some are better left unanswered. Here Job wants to know What is man that you make so much of him, that you give him so much attention, that you examine him every morning and test him every moment? It begins like Psalm 8 but is not a question full of wonder but rather a complaint. Why won’t God leave me alone a moment? He goes on (verse 19) Will you never look away from me, or let me alone even for an instant? If I have sinned, as Eliphaz contends what have I done to you, O watcher of men? Job asks God. He wants to know Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you? {or myself}. If this suffering really is a result of sin Why do you not pardon my offences and forgive my sins? It is difficult to know where to begin with such a torrent of questions. We must say, however, that Eliphaz is wrong in his diagnosis. On the other hand, Job is not helping himself here. Better to be calm and to patiently wait.
His final statement here For I shall soon lie down in the dust; you will search for me, but I shall be no more is a defiant one. It’s like a child angry with his parents. ‘You’ll be sorry when I’m dead!’ Children and even adults do say foolish things when they are angry and grieving. They are best passed over.
Here we gain some insight into grief and suffering, then, and that includes the suffering and grief of Christ. If we understood it better we would be:
1 Able to help ourselves more in such troubles
2 Able to help others more
3 Understand and appreciate the Saviour more, the Saviour who suffered and died on the cross for sinners.

Compassionate care, Appropriate application

Text Job 4, 5 Time 14/05/00 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We have begun to look at the Book of Job and we have seen first the portrait of Job at the beginning – an upright and blameless man. Then we learn how every prop is taken from him – all his wealth, all ten of his grown up children and then even his health. His wife urges him to curse God and die but he refuses to even think in such terms. In two wonderful statements he says (1:21, 2:10)
Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.
Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?
Job does not know why he suffers as he does but this book is inspired by the Holy Spirit and it is revealed to us what is happening behind the scenes. There is a dispute between God and his arch enemy Satan. When God boasts of his servant Job Satan counters by arguing that Job only serves God for what he gets out of it and that the moment things began to go wrong Job would curse God. The implication is that God can only get people to serve him by bribing them. In answer, God allows Satan to attack Job. First it involves losing his wealth and children, then, as Job still holds on to his integrity, Satan is given permission to afflict him with an appalling disease.
Following all this, three friends come to comfort Job and sympathise with him. First they sit in silence for seven days then (Chapter 3) Job makes a speech revealing the desperate anguish he is in. He certainly does not curse God but he does curse the day of his birth. He would rather be dead than in the situation he finds himself. Following this we have a long series of speeches which I have suggested to you we can think of as a discussion among art critics. We have seen the portrait – both before and after the disaster. Now the three friends speak to Job about what has happened to him. There are a number of observations we can make about these chapters (4-31).
1. There are three cycles. Each speaker speaks once and Job replies, except in the last where cycle where Zophar remains silent.
2. The friends fundamental conviction is that Job’s suffering is caused by sin, something we already know is the wrong diagnosis.
They syllogise: All suffering is punishment for sin; Job is suffering; so Job has sinned.
Because they want to defend God they condemn Job, but it is wrong thinking that leads them into this logical impasse.
3. The speeches grow progressively more vitriolic and specific regarding how Job has sinned. There is a movement from suggestion to insinuation to accusation. Eliphaz is the most courteous, Zophar the harshest, with Bildad somewhere in between.
4. Bildad and Zophar echo and repeat the things Eliphaz says though their emphases differ. Eliphaz has an emphasis on experience, Bildad on tradition. Eliphaz and Bildad’s speeches get progressively shorter. Zophar’s second speech is slightly longer than his first.
5. Job answers each speech with a longer one. He affirms his innocence, speaks of how God has afflicted him and speaks of his longing to present his case to God. At the beginning he has many questions.
The friends' speeches are intended to help Job but, as we shall see, they serve only to add to his sufferings. These are supposed to be friends offering comfort and sympathy but they sound more like magistrates admonishing from the bench. They have a great deal to teach us about counselling one another and about how we understand the ways of God with men. Much of what they teach, however, is by way of negative example.
This week we will concentrate on Eliphaz’s first speech in Chapters 4 and 5. Here his basic point is that Job is a good man and should not lose heart. Job is being disciplined by God as there is obviously some sin in his life. If he will just bear it patiently all will be well in the end. A number of lessons arise from the way we see Eliphaz approaching counselling Job. These are drawn from Eliphaz’s negative example.
1. General Lessons
These I have drawn from suggestions in Derek Thomas’s excellent Welwyn Commentary.
1. Be humble
We should say that Eliphaz is certainly not as bad as he might be. He is the most sympathetic of the three and at least accepts Job’s essential innocence and uprightness. We must not underestimate how difficult his task either. A modern writer says ‘The first rule of ministry to people who are depressed is that you will almost certainly get it wrong.’ At least Eliphaz manages to stay cool and doesn’t launch into a tirade. At the very least he ought to teach us humility in this area. He failed - and so will we, without God’s help.
2. See the need for sensitivity and compassion
Perhaps his biggest failure is that he is too cool. He lacks sensitivity and compassion. We are to mourn with those who mourn but Eliphaz, like the others, fails to do that. He lacks sympathy and accuses Job of sin and of a lack of submission to God. He implies that he is a fool and the cause of his children’s deaths. Obviously we need to retain some sort of detachment when we counsel others but a lack of compassion is never excusable. We can only counteract this by showing compassion to one another at all times. As believers we should love each other deeply from the heart and try to understand and help with the burdens that each one is carrying.
3. Avoid the danger of misapplying a rigid theological position
The other big mistake, we shall see is the way Eliphaz decides what is wrong with Job before he starts. He does not listen. He has his own agenda, his own particular theological grid and he is determined to force Job into it. It reminds me of how as a boy my mother used to be annoyed with one particular doctor who she felt never looked at us probably. She felt that if you said to him ‘It looks like chicken pox or measles or whatever’ he would always agree with you. As we got older we were told not to say what she thought it was in front of him. She wanted him to look at the child and make a decision, not make his mind up before looking.
Eliphaz understood very well that God disciplines his children – he uses suffering to perfect them. Nothing wrong with that. However, what he did not take into account was the fact that it is possible to suffer for another reason. Because of the rigidity of his system he was determined that Job must be guilty of some sin. Because of his mistake he was both wrong and dangerous. It is important to have a clear system of theology in our minds but if we are wrong in some part and we misapply it then we can do great damage. I have mentioned before a contemporary of mine when I was a teenager whose believing mother died. She felt she should not be sad because her mother was in heaven. The consequences of her not grieving were great.
We have much less excuse than Eliphaz for making such a mistake as he made. Look for example at what Jesus says in Luke 13:1-5 and John 9. He asks of some Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices - Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? He says I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. When his disciples asked about the man blind from birth who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? he replied Neither this man nor his parents sinned, ... but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. There should be no doubt in our minds that there are many reasons why people suffer and we will often not know why an individual is sufferings as he is. It is helpful for us to imagine how Christ would have handled this rather than Eliphaz. What a difference! He should be our model.
2. More specific lessons
1. Do not expect too much from those who are in trouble (4:1-6)
From the beginning it is clear that Eliphaz is unhappy with Job. He begins, If someone ventures a word with you, will you be impatient? But who can keep from speaking? In other words ‘You are obviously upset. I hope we won’t have another outburst if I speak to you. Anyway, what I have to say has to be said.’ That sort of approach shows a lack of understanding. People get upset when they are in trouble, believers and unbelievers – we should not be surprised at that. If people reject what we say, surely we can cope with it and try another approach?
He then reminds Job of the way he has been a support to others when they have been in trouble (3, 4). Think how you have instructed many, how you have strengthened feeble hands. Your words have supported those who stumbled; you have strengthened faltering knees. He then draws two arguments from that.
1 (verse 5) But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged; it strikes you, and you are dismayed. The implication is that Job should not feel as he obviously does. He needs to be encouraging himself. He should take some of the medicine he has been so good at giving to others.
2 Further (verse 6) Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope? Job is obviously not a wicked man. This is just a temporary setback. It will be over soon. This is a genuine effort at encouragement but of no help to Job who wanted to know why he was suffering and when it would end.
All this is to really minimise Job’s sufferings and to fail to see how great they are. It’s like when people go to those who are depressed and tell them to cheer up! Or when they go to people who are devastated and say ‘You’ve got to put this behind you and get on with life’. Or the remark ‘Now this is not like you. Pull yourself together.’ Or ‘Well, I didn’t expect this sort of reaction from you of all people.’ That is to expect too much from people when they are at a low ebb. Do not expect too much from those who are up against it and in trouble. The Lord is very caring and forgiving and we should be too.
2. Do not rely on experience and observation (4:7-11)
Eliphaz then proceeds to present his argument. Job is pious and blameless but he is suffering. It must be because he has done something wrong. Where does Eliphaz get this idea from? Clearly it was a traditional belief held by many then as now. But two things have strengthened Eliphaz’s convictions in this respect. Firstly, his own experience. Consider now he says to Job (7) Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? Bad things don’t happen to good people – well, nothing too bad anyway. As I have observed, those who plough evil and those who sow trouble reap it. At the breath of God they are destroyed; at the blast of his anger they perish. It is bad people who suffer. They fall under God’s wrath and get what they deserve. They reap what they sow. No matter how full of themselves these lions may feel God deals with them. See verses 10 and 11 The lions may roar and growl, yet the teeth of the great lions are broken. The lion perishes for lack of prey, and the cubs of the lioness are scattered. Job had been ‘lionised’ at one time but now he is perishing and his cubs have been scattered.
When ever we base an argument on experience we need to be careful. Eliphaz no doubt was an older man and had seen plenty of life but to generalise in such a way was unhelpful and misguided. We must not put weight on what ‘everybody knows’; on universally acknowledged ‘facts’. Eliphaz’s generalisation was wrong. They did not know it but Job was not suffering for doing anything wrong. Eliphaz’s experience needed tempering by God’s Word.
3. Do not claim divine inspiration for what you have to say (4:12-16)
Eliphaz’s confidence in the rightness of his argument was further strengthened by an apparently supernatural experience he had had. He describes it in a vivid and rather over the top way (12-16). A word was secretly brought to me, my ears caught a whisper of it. This wasn’t for everyone just for Eliphaz. It happened while he was sleeping one night. Amid disquieting dreams in the night, when deep sleep falls on men, 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. He is trembling and fearful, his hair stood on end! Then (16) It stopped in front of him. He could actually see it. But he says I could not tell what it was. A form stood before my eyes, and I heard a hushed voice. It sounds slightly comical to our ears perhaps because we have heard this sort of thing ridiculed so often but it is clear that Eliphaz wants us to think ‘Wow! What an amazing experience. God has come in a special way to him. I must listen to him.’ In fact, as is so often the case, the message is nothing special.
Now Eliphaz lived in a different time to us, a time when they did not have the Bible and when God did speak sometimes in dreams and visions. However, not everyone who claimed to have had a vision really had. Certainly there are many today who claim revelations from God of various sorts. Of course, the trouble here is that it is difficult to argue with someone who says ‘God has told me’. Sometimes it’s more subtle. ‘I’ve prayed about this and now I am sure of the truth. You do agree, don’t you?’ It is a problem when people feel strongly led to do a certain thing. It can be like blackmail sometimes. We must give those we are counselling room to disagree with us without assuming that they must be going against God’s Word. They may be – but we must not equate our advice with God’s as Eliphaz does.
4. Do not misapply truth to individuals (4:17-21)
There is some argument about the message from this supposed spirit. The NIV has Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his Maker? in verse 17. Can a mortal be righteous with God? Can a man be pure before his Maker? is probably more accurate. In other words no-one is perfect. Eliphaz goes on to argue (18, 19) 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! Now on what basis Eliphaz claims the angels are not perfect we do not know, unless he is referring to fallen angels. His emphasis, however, turns to the weakness and mortality of man. Between dawn and dusk they are broken to pieces; he says (20, 21) unnoticed, they perish for ever. Are not the cords of their tent pulled up, so that they die without wisdom?
The basic point here is true. Man is mortal and sinful. He has no way of making himself righteous before God. He is impure. The problem is the application. Job is not claiming to be without sin at all. He is a holy man and his suffering is not the result of some sin in his life. Eliphaz believes there can be only one reason for suffering, however, and so he misapplies the truth. He also gives the impression that Job should simply accept his lot without question – easy to say when it is someone else suffering.
We must not fall into this trap - the idea that one size fits all. We are not saying that there are different truths in a post-modern sense. Rather, there is one truth but different aspects of it apply in different situations. A doctor would be pretty incompetent if he decided a new wonder drug was so good that he would give it to all his patients what ever the problem.
5. Do not assume a person you are counselling is at fault (5:1-7)
Back in 4:8 Eliphaz has already observed that those who plough evil and those who sow trouble reap it. He cannot get away from the idea that Job is guilty of some wickedness. And so he says, rather uncaringly, (5:1) Call if you will, but who will answer you? To which of the holy ones will you turn? Protesting your innocence is a waste of time Job. He then goes on to talk of a fool. By implication he is saying Job is not very different from a fool. Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple. I myself have seen a fool taking root, but suddenly his house was cursed. His children (like Job’s ?) are far from safety, crushed in court without a defender. The hungry consume his harvest, taking it even from among thorns, and the thirsty pant after his wealth. Where do all his troubles come from? Not from nowhere, argues Eliphaz, it has to be a case of reaping what you have sown. Verse 6 For hardship does not spring from the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground. Verse 7 is famous Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward. No matter how innocent a man, there is always sin and so trouble is inevitable.
Sometimes when we are trying to help people we will have to say ‘Look. You’re in this trouble and it’s really your own fault.’ But that won’t always be the case. Sometimes, perhaps often, we will speak to people who are in trouble and it is not of their own making. We must keep that possibility firmly in mind. Yes, man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward but sometimes they are not the ones making the sparks fly. We must not be too quick to decide it is the person’s own fault.
6. Do not unsympathetically prattle about the greatness of God (5:8-16)
In 5:9-16 we have a wonderful speech about the greatness of God. It is an eloquent hymn that magnifies and honours God. Paul quotes from it approvingly in the New Testament. It is marred, however, by the way it is used. Eliphaz prefaces it with these words (8) But if it were I, I would appeal to God; I would lay my cause before him. In other words, ‘Stop your complaining Job and start bowing down before this great God in prayer.’ This is both thoughtless and unjust. Job had been worshipping God. He was not denying the greatness of God in any way. Now the greatness of God is part of the answer to Job’s problem but not in the way that Eliphaz thinks. It is easy to prattle about the greatness of God and say a great deal that is true of him yet do no good to the person we are supposed to be helping. He does perform wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted. He is the one who sends rain on the earth. He does, on one hand, raise up the lowly and the mourner and he thwarts the plans of the crafty, catching the wise in their craftiness. He overthrows the wicked and saves the needy from the sword in their mouth. All this means that the poor can have hope as all injustice will be dealt with – but not straight away. And that is the problem for someone who is suffering – not necessarily that they do not believe it will all turn out for their good. Rather, they want to know why they are suffering and for how long. So let’s take care how we talk about the greatness of God to people.
7. Do not unsympathetically prattle about the goodness of God (5:17-27)
Similarly in verses 18-26 there is another eloquent hymn to the goodness of God. I suppose today we would quote Romans 8:28. ‘Look Job’ says Eliphaz, with all the sensitivity of a butcher hacking into a meat carcass, ‘You are really blessed! God is correcting you. The last thing you want to do now is to blow it by despising the discipline of the Almighty.’ This was both wrong and thoughtless. Job was not being disciplined – at least that was not the main reason for his suffering. Nor was it what he needed to hear just then. The last thing we want to say when someone is suffering is "this is for your good". Think of a father smacking his child and saying ‘I’m doing this for your own good’. It may be true but it is hard for any child to believe it at that moment. No discipline is pleasant at the time. Last Christmas we set off adn the car broke down and so we had to come back. My eldest son was so disappointed. Trying to help I quoted Romans 8:28 and assured him that God would work it together for out good - which he did. But it was the wrong time to speak like that adn i confess I was rather insensitive.
Yes the Lord wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal. From six calamities he will rescue you; in seven no harm will befall you. What ever the trouble, God will rescue you. If its famine he will ransom you from death, and in battle from the stroke of the sword. You will be protected from the lash of the tongue and need not fear when destruction comes. You will laugh at destruction and famine, and need not fear the beasts of the earth. Be assured believer, God determines only good for you. You will have plenty of food (no stones in your fields will spoil the crop); be safe from violence; you’ll know security, prosperity, a large family, a long and healthy life. This is the norm for the believer. We need to fix such thoughts in our minds when things are going well. However, for various reasons there are times of suffering to be faced as well. To say to people at such times (27) We have examined this, and it is true. So hear it and apply it to yourself is inappropriate, however. If they are struggling to see it, our pushing of the subject will do more harm than good. Better just to be patient until God does restore – as he did with Job and then bring in these truths. At the very least let’s be sensitive about the way we speak of the goodness of God to those who are passing through deep waters.