Humility, silence, reflection

Text Job 38:1-38 Date 14/09/03 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We return this week to the Book of Job and to Chapter 38. At this point the LORD at last breaks his silence and speaks. In fact this is the first part of the first of two speeches found in Chapters 38-41.
In 13:20-22 Job had said 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. Then summon me and I will answer, or let me speak, and you reply and in 31:35-37 he had cried out Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defence - let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing. Surely I would wear it on my shoulder, I would put it on like a crown. I would give him an account of my every step; like a prince I would approach him. Well, here Job’s wish is granted. We have had to wait for the speeches of the angry young man Elihu first but now the LORD does come and he speaks to Job. Job doesn’t approach him like a prince, as he thought he would, but God certainly does speak. And what does he say?
Well, again I don’t suppose it was anything like Job had imagined it and may be you will be tempted to be disappointed with what we read here. What is this? Here is a man reduced to nothing and God wants to talk to him about donkeys and ostriches! However, it is important to remember that whereas up until now we have been considering human answers to the problem of suffering and the answers have been inadequate in both form and content, we now come to God’s own answer. It is, of course, a perfect one in both form and content. In one way we have come full circle, back to the place where the book began – the LORD’s court. The name the LORD (Yahweh) has only been used once (12:9) since the opening chapters. If you remember, the book begins in the courts of heaven where the angels of God are appearing before the LORD and he takes opportunity to speak about his servant Job and how upright and holy he was. This leads, of course, to sneers from Satan and the request to test his loyalty to God by afflicting him, which is granted. That is how Job ends up in the mess he did, with one disaster after another coming upon him. In the intervening chapters we have heard Job’s so-called friends dispensing their human answers to the problem of suffering with very limited success. Now it is time to listen to God and to what he has to say about all this and as we have said the answer is not what we might have expected.
Instead of giving an answer as such or dealing with the errors of Job’s friends, the LORD meets with Job in his own world, a world of beauty, order, mystery and wonder and asks a whole series of questions of his own. On reflection, this is perhaps what we might have expected – not more answers of the sort that man so readily gives but transcendental answers that lift us above our own little worlds to see the folly of our own wrong attitudes and harsh thoughts towards God. What we have here is a Spirit inspired answer to the problem of suffering that clearly transcends the human wisdom of Job’s day and also of our own. Right up to the end of the book God has things he wants Job to learn, things that have been re-enforced by his sufferings. He reduces Job to silence. If we want to be wise, especially regarding this matter of suffering, then we will pay close attention to what we read in these chapters.
1. Seek the right attitude to suffering – humility before God, silence and reflection before him
Verse 1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. The storm perhaps began further back when Elihu was speaking (37:1-5, 22) but now it comes to its height. The LORD’s coming is often connected with storms in the Old Testament. Think of Mount Sinai and the giving of the law. Ezekiel’s great vision of God begins I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north - an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. Psalm 18:7-13 is simialr The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry. Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it. He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him - the dark rain clouds of the sky. Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning. The LORD thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. Or what about Nahum 1:3? His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet.
The very name the LORD is important, of course, signifying not only the unique and self-existent character of God but his covenant commitment to his people. He is the God who revealed himself to Moses not only in the burning bush as the Great I AM but also (Exodus 34:6) The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
God spoke from the storm and said: Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Now this could be addressed to Elihu, the last speaker or to Job. It seems more likely that he is referring to Job who had also spoken with words without knowledge. He says, in 42:3, You asked, Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge? Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. God then says (3) Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. The term used refers to preparation for any hard work. Here it is for wrestling, for a fight. ‘You want a fight?’ says God, as it were, ‘then get ready for one’. You have heard of duels in days gone by, two men shooting at each other from 40 paces. Here is a duel then between God and Job and Job needs to be ready for the encounter. It’s going to be a rough ride. Here are two applications then
1. Consider what God thinks of our discussions of suffering. For the most part they are highly irrelevant and lacking in wisdom. They serve too often only to obscure his glory. We ought to feel rebuked for much of our grumbling and our pontificating on what we hardly understand. Do we?
2. Consider what God really wants from us in this matter. What he wants rather is for us to meet with him, to sit and listen, to be overpowered by his greatness and our smallness. Are you willing to do that?
2. Things to consider before you begin to ask questions about suffering
In 38:4-38 we have a series of questions that the LORD asks. The questions go on beyond that point but we will just concentrate on these first. They are all to do with nature, of course, here inanimate nature. I am sure there is a pattern but it is difficult to discern. We start with questions about the earth and then the sea. Then come questions about dawn coming on the earth and revealing its features. I suppose that the revelation of earth is then matched with revealing the depths of the sea but also the depths of the earth. Verses 19-21 are about light and darkness paralleling the previous verses about dawn. We then come onto a whole series of questions about the sky and its weather and where it comes from – first snow, hail, lightning and wind, then rain, dew, ice and frost. That leads on, finally, to questions about our control of the stars in the sky and the clouds and lightning bolts. So the general drift is from the LORD laying the earth’s foundation below us to us counting the clouds above.
1. Consider the earth’s foundation – who put it here and how does it stay put?
Firstly, God asks Job (4-6) Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone - while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Despite what some want to tell us we know that the world was created by God. He did it in the beginning when neither Job nor you or I nor any other human being was present. Only the angels saw it. They are the morning stars who sang together and the sons of God who shouted for joy. The earth’s diameter is apparently 7,920 miles across the middle and 7,900 miles top to bottom. Its circumference is around 25,000 miles. It has a mass of 6,600 million million million times. Who decided it should have those particular dimensions? Surely you know! Men have been measuring its distance since – the height of its mountains, the depths if its seas, etc, but who measured it out originally, who, as it were, set its footings and laid its cornerstone? Now do you think that the God who did all this makes mistakes or needs to be questioned or criticised about how he runs the universe and how he runs your life and mine?
2. Consider the sea – who put it there and what keeps it there?
The LORD continues in verses 8-11 Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt? We know that when God made the earth he made not only the land but also the sea. God was there when that screaming struggling baby burst forth from the womb. He put clothes on it at first – clouds and darkness. It was a monster that needed to be restrained. It is well known that there is more sea than land, so how come the sea (which can look so threatening at times) doesn’t completely drown the land as it once did at God’s command? It is because God has fixed limits for it and, as it were, set its doors and bars in place so that it cannot go any further. King Canute was famously unable to stop the tide coming in but when the King of Kings says This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt the sea listens. Do you not think he has the same power over Satan and over suffering? They can only do just as he wills.
3. Consider the dawn – who’s in charge of daily bringing it in?
More questions follow. Verses 12, 13 Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? We then have a beautiful description of the light revealing earth’s form (14) The earth takes shape like clay under a seal; its features stand out like those of a garment. When day dawns the righteous are glad but the wicked hate the light because it exposes their wicked deeds. Morning is like a great giant taking a sheet and shaking it. The wicked are revealed by it – they are shaken out. They are like nocturnal creatures. Darkness is their ‘light’ – their time to work and so when day comes (15) The wicked are denied their light, and their upraised arm is broken. They cannot do their evil deeds. Now the questions to us is whether we have ever been the ones to give the order for morning to dawn? There have been times when we have longed for it or wished for it not to come but our power over such things is non-existent. Only God can order the dawn about. It’s his army. It does his will.
4. Consider the remotest parts of earth – have you seen them and explored them?
More questions (16) Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Divers can go quite deep, of course, but only so deep. Beyond a certain depth divers are in danger of what they call ‘the bends’ and need to take great care. The bathysphere enables them to go very deep indeed but not to walk there. The deepest place in the oceans, indeed on earth, is probably the Marianas Trench, southwest of Guam in the Pacific Ocean. At 36,198 feet, it is deep enough to contain Mount Everest. No-one has ever plumbed such a depth. And, of course, beyond that is the depth of the earth itself. You have heard of Jules Verne’s Journey to the centre of the earth but that is fiction. Verse 17 Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death? Or (18) Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this. Think of the Sahara desert or the Gobi or Kalahari, the arctic Tundra, the vast mountain ranges of the Caucasus or the Andes, the jungles of the far east, the vast Australian outback. There are still plenty of virtually unexplored areas. With all this unexplored territory why should we be surprised that we do not know the answer to the problem of evil and suffering? We are surrounded by mystery.
5. Consider the light and darkness – with all your experience how well do you know them?
In verses 19-21 God asks What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Then with the most sarcasm we will find here Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years! Job demanded light on the subject of suffering, release from his darkness, but he hardly knows the first thing about light and darkness in fact and nor do we. We know that with a prism you can divide it up into its various colours but can darkness be divided in the same way? Although the study of light and darkness has undoubtedly made many strides since Job’s day, there are still many mysteries. Is light made up of rays or particles? How does light bend? It is able to pass through glass without loss of quality or speed but not through wood; why? If you have a dark room and put the light on there is light, but where does the darkness go? When you switch the light off again where does the light go? And what about the bounds of light and darkness? Is there a place in the universe beyond all light? What are black holes?
Do you know that by nature you are in the darkness of sin and death. When his light dawns then every shadow disappears. Jesus is the light of the world. Whoever follows him will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. Do you realise that?
6. Consider the snow, hail, lightning, wind – do you know where they come from?
Meteorology, the study of the weather, is an endlessly fascinating subject, especially for some. I picked up a best seller from the library this week called Encyclopaedia of snow. It’s not quite what the title may suggest but it is certainly about the endlessly fascinating subject of snow and is decorated with snow crystals each of which, as you know, God has made unique. The question then (22, 23) is Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? A man called Erich Durschmied has written a book on this called The weather factor showing how crucial it has been in determining the outcome of certain strategic battles. What is said of snow and hail can also be said of lightning (24) What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? How ignorant we are about all sorts of things.
7. Consider the rain, dew, ice and frost – do you know where they come from?
In verses 25-30 we consider several other aspects of the weather and are asked what we know about them. Here Job is not being asked about things outside his experience but things he knew well such as rain and dew. Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no man lives, a desert with no-one in it, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass? Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? The rain falls even in uninhabited lands. It is all part of God’s good purpose for this earth. Sometimes the waters are frozen, of course. Think of ice and frost (29) From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen? You have seen such a thing perhaps. Frost in the garden, ponds on the heath frozen over. Ice does not have a mother any more than rain and dew has a father, of course. God brings such things about. He can send a downpour or make lake solid at will. Remember his skill and his power.
8. Consider the stars – how much control do you have over them?
In verses 31-33 having thought of the snow and rain from heaven we turn from meteorology to astronomy and think of the stars. From time immemorial men have given names to the constellations. We cannot be sure exactly what figures are in mind here but the general point is clear. Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs? Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth? The Pleiades are the seven sisters, a cluster of seven stars often visible in our hemisphere. Orion’s belt is a distinctive line of three stars easily spotted and the Bear, also known as the Plough, is another distinctive formation. We don’t see the stars so well here in London but whenever it is not cloudy there is a wonderful display in the sky. Who orders it? Who brings it about? It is God. Look to the stars – see God’s skill and wisdom, his greatness and power.
9. Consider the clouds and lightning bolts – how much control do you have over them?
Finally, as we think of the sky let’s think of the clouds and the lightning bolts that come from them. Again clouds are an endlessly interesting subject. One can look at them for hours. They are ever changing. There was a famous artist, as you know, who used to paint in this area. He painted a picture of Childs Hill once. I’m thinking of John Constable. He was fascinated with painting clouds. I think they have some of his studies in Kenwood House. The study of clouds was developed in the 19th Century by a Luke Howard (as revealed in the book The Invention of Clouds: How an Amateur Meteorologist Forged the Language of the Skies). He gave names to the different sorts of clouds – cumulus, stratus and nimbus and so on. His ideas have been developed but there is still a lot to learn about clouds and even if we knew everything currently known we could not answer these questions. 34-38 Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water? They can send up planes to move clouds and to burst them now but to speak and to have a cloud burst …. Verse 35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, Here we are? This leads to verse 36 Who endowed the heart with wisdom or gave understanding to the mind? Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? And back to Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens when the dust becomes hard and the clods of earth stick together? How hard we find it to relieve one another, to help one another but God can pour a whole storm out in a moment. He can make clods of earth that have been stuck together for ages suddenly wet and muddy in a moment. What can he not do for you, if you look to him?
When Jesus died on the cross he is described in one place as saying (Psalm 22:14) I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. Why did God let him be poured out like that? He did it so that all who trust in him might be delivered from the deadness and dryness of sin. Trust in him and you will live. He will be like water poured out on dry ground to you. He promises to refresh the weary and restore the faint.

See God's Works; don't misapply truth

Text Job 36 37 Time 20/06/03 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church

We’re looking at the speeches of Elihu, an angry young man who speaks towards the end of the Book of Job, after Job and his three friends have all had their say in response to Job’s sufferings. We’ve already looked at the first four of Elihu’s six chapter speech (32-35). He begins very ponderously and longwindedly but at least with some compassion for Job. This seems to go out of the window in the middle chapters but towards the end (36, 37) he seems to get back on to a more even keel. At the beginning Elihu seems to be taking a fresh approach to Job’s problems. However, he soon descends back into the same approach Job’s friends had taken. All four make three big mistakes:
1 They overstate the sufferings of the wicked in this life. They seem unwilling to admit that many wicked people live outwardly happy lives in this world untouched by many troubles.
2 They believed that suffering is always a punishment for wrongdoing and that prosperity is a mark of righteousness. Elihu has some idea of suffering being a means of God speaking to men but he lines up behind the friends’ ideas for the most part.
3 Because Job was suffering they, therefore, concluded that he must have seriously sinned in some way. Elihu’s idea is that Job’s sin is perhaps his poor response to his troubles.
Here in Chapters 36, 37, Elihu closes with two final appeals to Job. As so often in this book, most of what he says is orthodox and sound. However, where the problem comes is in the application. In both chapters Elihu’s focus is rightly on God, God’s work in providence and in creation. This is in fact where the Book of Job turns in its final wonderful chapters. Elihu is almost there in one sense – but not quite. There are two sorts of teaching for us here –
1. Orthodox teaching about the character and work of God
2. Teaching by way of negative example warning us not to misapply the truth to those who seek help
1. A warning against claiming more for your belief than warranted
In the opening verses Elihu is back to his old bombast and posturing. 1-4 Elihu continued: Bear with me a little longer and I will show you that there is more to be said on God’s behalf. I get my knowledge from afar; I will ascribe justice to my Maker. Be assured that my words are not false; one perfect in knowledge is with you.
He makes several claims. He wants to speak on God’s behalf. He claims to have knowledge from afar – rare teaching, something exceptional and exclusive. He assures his hearers that what he has to say is reliable as he is one perfect in knowledge! Here is the last word on God then, the final and exclusive teaching necessary to be sure one has it right. Now when we hear people talking like that alarm bells should ring. Yes, it is right that those who preach should speak as though speaking the very words of God. However, we are all imperfect beings and none of us speak perfectly. As for the latest ideas, exclusive teachings, we should follow only what the Bible itself teaches, what godly men have taught down the centuries. The last thing we need is something new. It was the boast of Princeton Seminary when it was in its heyday that nothing new ever came out of it. While it stayed that way all was well. Once it tried to come up with something new and exclusive, it was in trouble. Let’s be modest about our claims where we can. This is the Word of God. I speak to you in the name of the Living God. What I have to say to you is not unique. It has been said before by many others and is being said by many more today.
2. A call to recognise God’s wonderful works in providence; a warning not to misapply this teaching
1. Consider God’s might as seen in his providence
Elihu begins what he has to say with a perfectly orthodox statement about God’s power. Verse 5 God is mighty, but does not despise men; he is mighty, and firm in his purpose. Such statements could be confirmed from many places in the Bible. God is mighty but he does not run roughshod over men. He is mighty and his purposes always prevail. This is seen on one hand in the way (6) He does not keep the wicked alive and on the other by the way he gives the afflicted their rights. Verse 7 He does not take his eyes off the righteous; he enthrones them with kings and exalts them for ever. There are many examples in the Bible and throughout history of God bringing down the wicked. Pharaoh is an obvious example or think of Herod Antipas who had James the Lord’s brother put to death and accepted the people’s verdict that he spoke like a god. God struck him dead there and then. Think more recently of tyrants like Hitler and Pol Pot and Ceaucescu and no doubt Saddam Hussein. On the other hand, think of the story of Joseph being preserved down in Egypt or of how God kept the Apostle Paul through all his troubles – shipwrecks and beatings and stonings and imprisonments, etc. Think today of all the many blessings and advantages that Christians so often have. Now, of course, it would be wrong to suppose that God always judges the wicked straight away or always preserves the righteous in the same way but there is plenty of evidence for God doing this at least in part. We should be keen observers of God’s providence and we should note well how he brings down the wicked and spares the righteous.
2. Consider how God can speak through suffering
From verse 8 Elihu seems to go back to the idea of God speaking through suffering. This is disputable but seems to make sense. In verses 8-10 he says But if men are bound in chains, held fast by cords of affliction, he tells them what they have done - that they have sinned arrogantly. He makes them listen to correction and commands them to repent of their evil. Suffering binds, it holds down. It happens, says Elihu, where men have sinned arrogantly and is a means of making them listen to correction and … repent of their evil.
There are two possible outcomes. 11, 12 If they obey and serve him, they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity and their years in contentment. But if they do not listen, they will perish by the sword and die without knowledge. Things just go from bad to worse for those who are unresponsive. 13, 14 The godless in heart harbour resentment; even when he fetters them, they do not cry for help. They die in their youth, among male prostitutes of the shrines. That is in the most shameful and degrading circumstances. 15 But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction.
As we have intimated this is a perfectly orthodox position. God does speak through suffering. However, as we have already said, this was clearly not the reason why Job was suffering and it was only a very limited answer to his tragedy. When you suffer you should ask ‘Is God teaching me something through this?’ but that will seldom explain why you are suffering as you are.
3. Consider how not to misapply truths to sufferers
Elihu tries to apply his teaching to Job. Verse 16 He is wooing you he says from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food. Now, of course, there was a grain of truth in that but if God woos with such violence it’s a strange sort of courtship wouldn’t you say? He goes on to say (17) But now you are laden with the judgment due to the wicked; judgment and justice have taken hold of you. This is again to put a very dark complexion on Job’s experience. It gets worse. Because Elihu thinks this suffering is designed to woo Job to God he warns against resisting it. 18, 19 Be careful that no-one entices you by riches; do not let a large bribe turn you aside. Would your wealth or even all your mighty efforts sustain you so you would not be in distress? Don’t think money is the answer, Job. Was there even a hint that Job thought that? 20, 21 Do not long for the night, to drag people away from their homes. Beware of turning to evil, which you seem to prefer to affliction. This is faintly ridiculous though there is a patina of logic there. Job had spoken about the way the wicked so often seemed to escape suffering. Elihu has interpreted this as indifference to sin and a warning sign that Job wants to turn to life of sin. And so the suggestion that Job might be tempted to so long for wealth that he drags people away from their homes in the night.
This is hopeless. Here is Eli. He wants to help his suffering friend Jeff who’s just lost his job. ‘God’s really working in your life’ says Eli to Jeff. ‘He really wants to bless you through this trouble.’ ‘You’re under his judgement at the moment and you’ve got to be careful not to give into any sinful desires like greed. You’ve sounded rather fed up at times and I’m worried that you’re going to break out in some way and start throwing your tenants out or something’. It’s bad counsel and it’s unlikely to help anyone. Let’s steer clear.
4. Consider God’s power and perfection and learn from him
Finally, in this section Elihu wants to keep the focus on God. He says (22, 23) God is exalted in his power. Who is a teacher like him? Who has prescribed his ways for him, or said to him, You have done wrong? God’s a great teacher, none better. He uses his power to raise up and to bring down. We don’t tell him what to do, he tells us.
Again this is very orthodox and correct but how is it supposed to help Job? ‘It’s God’s power that’s put you where you are, Job. He’s teaching you a lesson and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ Imagine saying that to someone in trouble.
So God is mighty, … and firm in his purpose. God is exalted in his power. He does speak through suffering too. It can be a wake up call to repent. It can be God’s megaphone to warn us, his rod to chastise us. The teaching is clearly there in Hebrews 12. However, knowing that is not everything. Knowledge puffs up but love builds up, says Paul. Let us be very careful when we apply this particular teaching to ourselves and especially to others.
3. A call to recognise God’s wonderful works in creation; a warning not to misapply this teaching
1. Consider this call to extol God’s works, which are much praised, known everywhere and reveal his greatness
In 36:24 we really start on a new line. Elihu calls on Job not only to recognise his works in providence but also in creation. He calls on him to extol these works. He says three things about these works.
1 They are much praised
24 Remember to extol his work, which men have praised in song. Even as early as Job’s day there were hymns and psalms praising God for his works. Many have praised God in the past and in Scripture and church history we have many, many examples of how to praise God. These can act as models for us as we seek to praise God also.
2 Known everywhere
25 All mankind has seen it; men gaze on it from afar. There are people who are famous in one country or another. There are extremely few who are known everywhere. God’s fame is, of course, throughout the world, and beyond. Think how it is today, especially. All over the world men and women are praising God, we ought to extol him too.
3 They reveal God’s greatness
In particular God’s works reveal his incomprehensibility, his eternal and then his sovereignty. 26 How great is God - beyond our understanding! The number of his years is past finding out.
It is good for us to extol God’s works whether we are suffering or not.
2. Consider God’s mystery and monarchy displayed in stormy weather
Elihu goes on to speak of God’s works in particular. He concentrates on stormy weather firstly. He describes the water cycle first (27, 28) He draws up the drops of water, which distil as rain to the streams; the clouds pour down their moisture and abundant showers fall on mankind. He asks (29) Who can understand how he spreads out the clouds, how he thunders from his pavilion? Meteorology has come quite a way since Elihu’s day no doubt and some things are better understood about the clouds. We have names for all the different types for example – cumulus and cirrus and nimbus, etc. However, the mystery itself – how God spreads out the clouds – is beyond us.
At this point, it would seem, as they are looking up at the clouds, a storm begins. Before the rain the lightning and thunder come. See how he scatters his lightning about him, says Elihu bathing the depths of the sea and everything else. It is a manifestation of God’s sovereign power. 31 This is the way he governs the nations and provides food in abundance. Without the rain food wouldn’t grow. 32, 33 He fills his hands with lightning and commands it to strike its mark. His thunder announces the coming storm; even the cattle make known its approach. The animals are restless.
Elihu continues At this my heart pounds and leaps from its place. Then he says (2-4) Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice, to the rumbling that comes from his mouth. He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven and sends it to the ends of the earth. After that comes the sound of his roar; he thunders with his majestic voice. When his voice resounds, he holds nothing back. Children sometimes ask whether the thunder is God’s voice. Well, yes and no. It is not God’s voice in the way you and I have a voice but it is one of the ways that God speaks. We ought to listen to that voice. Verse 5 God’s voice thunders in marvellous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding. Again the emphasis is on God’s incomprehensibility.
Creation is full of such things. Think of snow or rain storms. Verse 6 He says to the snow, Fall on the earth, and to the rain shower, Be a mighty downpour. Why does God do that? One reason is (7) So that all men he has made may know his work, he stops every man from his labour. He describes how (and it seems to be happening as he speaks) The animals take cover; they remain in their dens. The tempest comes out from its chamber, the cold from the driving winds. He thinks then of wintry conditions (10) The breath of God produces ice, and the broad waters become frozen. Breath is poetic. God speaks or breathes and ice forms. Ice, you may know, is one of creation’s great marvels. Most liquids contract when they get colder but water at a certain point expands. Because it is lighter than water it remains on the top. This is God’s doing.
Elihu goes on (11, 12) He loads the clouds with moisture; he scatters his lightning through them. At his direction they swirl around over the face of the whole earth to do whatever he commands them. At times God uses the weather to bring about judgements He brings the clouds to punish men, or to water his earth and show his love. Whole books have been written on the weather factor and how crucial battles have been won or lost.
We ought often to contemplate God’s creation. It should fill us with wonder.
3. Consider God’s wonders and our incomprehension
Elihu sums up his point in verses 14-16 Listen to this, Job; stop and consider God’s wonders. Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes his lightning flash? Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of him who is perfect in knowledge?
Paul tells us in the New Testament that God’s divine qualities, his eternal power and divine nature, can be seen from creation. Here are some examples. We ought to focus on such things. This is not the answer to suffering but the mystery and monarchy of God displayed both in creation and in suffering. There are things we do not understand about either. In both we have to humble ourselves before God and accept his sovereignty.
4. Consider God’s might and majesty displayed in sunny weather
Of course, it is not only wintry weather and stormy weather that displays God’s glory. Sunny weather also speaks of his might and majesty. Verses 17-20 You who swelter in your clothes when the land lies hushed under the south wind, can you join him in spreading out the skies, hard as a mirror of cast bronze? Tell us what we should say to him; we cannot draw up our case because of our darkness. Should he be told that I want to speak? Would any man ask to be swallowed up? Elihu is rather aggressive here and goes beyond himself again. God’s power over the weather does not mean that we cannot speak to him about it. We have often made it a matter of prayer and many times we have been answered. He controls the weather, however, not us. He is in control.
By this point the storm appears to be over. Elihu adds (21, 22) Now no-one can look at the sun, bright as it is in the skies after the wind has swept them clean. Out of the north he comes in golden splendour; God comes in awesome majesty. People have worshipped the sun. They certainly did in Elihu’s day. Some try and explain it away as a merely natural phenomenon. It simply happens to be the exact distance from earth that is necessary for it to be the blessing that it is. We know from the Bible, however, that God put it there. He made it and he sustains it day after day. Every time we see it we have reason to thank God.
Again then we say that whether we are suffering or not we ought to consider the might and the majesty of God as seen in the sun and in the warm weather he sends.
5. Consider the power and justice of God and revere him
Elihu concludes his speech (23, 24) The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress. Therefore, men revere him, for does he not have regard for all the wise in heart? Again this is a pretty orthodox conclusion. God is mighty and powerful but he is just. Any accusations of injustice are misplaced. People revere him because they know he regards the wise in heart. Of course, this is aimed at Job. The implication is that Job is both wrong and foolish for he is mystified at God’s dealings with him. Again this is unwarranted although the call to revere God is always right.
Elihu finishes speaking then. He has added very little in the end, despite some good points. Like the others because he is limited to creation and to experience, he cannot help Job very much. This underlines again the need for revelation from God. Without that, everything will be a mystery. We must look to what the Word of God says. It speaks first and foremostly of Christ who died for sinners. All who trust in him can know forgiveness of sin. Repent and trust in him.

Errors to avoid when counselling

Text Job 34, 35 Time 13/07/03 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church

I remember once seeing a comedy sketch featuring a supposed football match between Greek and German philosophers of old. It was a surreal piece of nonsense. You had people dressed up in flowing togas as Socrates, Plato, Pythagoras, etc, on one side, then men dressed in 18th and 19th Century costume representing Kant, Hegel, Nietszsche, etc, on the other. There was a football but there was no activity to speak of. All the philosophers, to a man, were simply thinking about what to do. The most boring match you could imagine. Then suddenly there is a substitution on the German side and they bring Karl Marx on. Marx is full of enthusiasm and runs round like a mad thing but never actually kicks the ball. He then simply falls into the thinking mode of all the others on the pitch.
I mention this because I think it well illustrates the role that Elihu seems to play here in the Book of Job. You know how the Book of Job begins with Job and his troubles and then proceeds with a series of speeches from his three so-called fiends. Elihu is a young man who is present throughout but doesn’t say anything until Chapter 32. And when he does he is like this Karl Marx figure, full of energy and running everywhere. But he soon slows down and falls into the same old routine as seen in the others.
We looked last week at Chapters 32, 33 and the beginning of his 6 chapter long series of speeches. We noted several good characteristics that seemed to display themselves at first – Elihu seems to be a good listener; courteous but passionate and boldly direct in speech; one who gave glory to God; showing a good measure of fairness and humility. We ought to be like that. We saw too how he tried to deal with Job’s complaints – that God wasn’t being fair; that he wasn’t answering his prayers and that no-one understood him. Elihu especially stressed that God was indeed speaking to him. In fact, he was speaking through his very suffering. Now that is far from being the whole answer to suffering but it’s an insight that none of the others seems to have had. As far as they were concerned, the fact that Job was suffering must be due to sin. If there was no obvious sin it must be a secret sin – and in light of Job’s troubles, clearly something very bad. Well, Elihu doesn’t go down that path, at least at first. Sadly, after his promising beginning, however, things go down hill. It is Chapters 34, 35 that I want us to concentrate on today, Elihu’s third and fourth speeches.
These speeches follow the pattern set in the first, in that Elihu quotes (or misquotes) Job and then goes on to deal with the arguments he has raised or is supposed to have raised. Sadly, the compassion of the first speech seems to have disappeared. Taken up with his own rhetoric and the fact he has the ear of others, Elihu becomes rather cold and analytical. He even repeats the charges already made by the others that we know are false. When it comes to suffering we tend to think first of our own sufferings but we must think too of how we’re going to help others in their troubles. There are several lessons for us to learn here about counselling those who suffer or are in trouble, by way of negative example.
1. When seeking to help those in trouble don’t have too high opinion of your own human wisdom
Elihu begins as before by asking for attention to what he has to say. Verses 2-4 Hear my words, you wise men; he says listen to me, you men of learning. For the ear tests words as the tongue tastes food. Let us discern for ourselves what is right; let us learn together what is good. Elihu believed that Job’s problem could be solved through human wisdom. He thought he had the answer and that anyone wise would see that he did. Yet for all his rhetoric he was only trotting out old arguments that we know are wrong because we are told so at the very beginning of the book. Elihu had spoken very humbly before (33:6) I am just like you before God; I too have been taken from clay but that seems to have been forgotten. We dare not forget our lack of wisdom if we are going to help those in need. Let’s avoid attitudes that say ‘Hey, you’re in trouble but don’t worry, I’m here. I’ll sort it out for you. Just listen to me and I’ll have you sorted out in no time.’ That is human arrogance and pride. It is misplaced.
2. When seeking to help those in trouble don’t be unfair to them
Elihu goes on to quote Job as saying (5, 6) I am innocent, but God denies me justice. Although I am right, I am considered a liar; although I am guiltless, his arrow inflicts an incurable wound. This is probably fair enough. Job had said these sorts of things. However, Elihu goes on to say (7, 8) What man is like Job, who drinks scorn like water? He keeps company with evildoers; he associates with wicked men. This sounds like the three friends again. What has prompted this vitriol? Verse 9 For he says, It profits a man nothing when he tries to please God. This is really unfair. This is not what Job was saying. Job had said that the wicked say (Job 21:14,1 5) Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What would we gain by praying to him? But he himself did not take that view.
A lesson we can learn here then is on how to quote people. We must be accurate. We must keep in mind the context. We must regard the state they were in when they spoke too. Job does say regrettable things – but it is not surprising when you think about it. We certainly must avoid the argument that says ‘the implication of what you say is …’ and then claim that is what the person is advocating. Let’s learn not to throw back things in the faces of those who suffer, trying to pick them up on what they’ve said. Sometimes it is appropriate to reason with people in trouble and point out logical inconsistencies but not always.
3. When seeking to help those in trouble don’t misapply doctrine
Having created this straw man, Elihu proceeds to demolish it with arguments that, though no doubt true, are not the answer to Job’s problems. Indeed they are things that Job fully agreed with. He begins (10) So listen to me, you men of understanding. He is not focused on Job but on proving his point. That is a mistake we must always avoid in counselling. He goes on Far be it from God to do evil, from the Almighty to do wrong. God is just (11) He repays a man for what he has done; he brings upon him what his conduct deserves. This follows from the fact that he is perfect in every way. As he says (12) It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice. God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things (13-15) Who appointed him over the earth? Who put him in charge of the whole world? If it were his intention and he withdrew his spirit and breath, all mankind would perish together and man would return to the dust.
God is the Almighty and he uses his power to bring about justice in his world. 16-20 If you have understanding, hear this; listen to what I say. Can he who hates justice govern? Will you condemn the just and mighty One? Is he not the One who says to kings, You are worthless, and to nobles, You are wicked, who shows no partiality to princes and does not favour the rich over the poor, for they are all the work of his hands. They die in an instant, in the middle of the night; the people are shaken and they pass away; the mighty are removed without human hand.
There’s more. God is omniscient. He knows all things. (21-23) His eyes are on the ways of men; he sees their every step. There is no dark place, no deep shadow, where evildoers can hide. God has no need to examine men further, that they should come before him for judgment.
He is also omnipotent (24-26) Without enquiry he shatters the mighty and sets up others in their place. Because he takes note of their deeds, he overthrows them in the night and they are crushed.
All this demonstrates that God must be holy and just. 26-28 He punishes them for their wickedness where everyone can see them, because they turned from following him and had no regard for any of his ways. They caused the cry of the poor to come before him, so that he heard the cry of the needy.
He adds But if he remains silent, who can condemn him? If he hides his face, who can see him? Yet he is over man and nation alike, to keep a godless man from ruling, from laying snares for the people. These verses could be taken in more than one way but the emphasis is again on God’s sovereignty. He rules. He governs his world justly.
So God is sovereign, omniscient and omnipotent, almighty. He is holy and just, perfect and fair. These are all truths that could be supported from many places in Scripture. If you have doubts about these truths you have no need for such doubts. But was this what Job needed to hear?
Here is Jed. He’s a believer but his young wife has just died. So Eric wants to comfort Jed and so he says ‘Don’t worry Jed. God is in control. He is working this out for his glory.’ Now that is true, of course, but it is unlikely that is the truth that Jed needs to hear at that moment. It is only an insensitive and unthinking sort of person who would think that this is going to help anyone. Yes, God is sovereign. He is in control of all that happens. Nothing happens except by his will. But that does not mean that we always understand why he does what he does. Many things are a mystery to us. We do not know why he allows many of things that he does. We do not rebel and say God is unjust or that things are out of his control. Rather we humble ourselves before him and we say The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised (Job 1:21).
4. When seeking to help those in trouble don’t misapply a word a practical exhortation
Having given us the benefit of his doctrinal knowledge, Elihu next begins to tell Job what to do. Verses 31-33 are difficult verses to understand for various reasons. The NIV has Elihu saying Suppose a man says to God, I am guilty but will offend no more. Teach me what I cannot see; if I have done wrong, I will not do so again. He then says to Job Should God then reward you on your terms, when you refuse to repent? You must decide, not I; so tell me what you know. Elihu feels, like the others that Job is suffering for something he has done wrong. His new so called insight is that this is not something that happened before the suffering but the bad reaction to the suffering itself. The way out of it, therefore, is repentance. Surely Job realises that is what God wants?
Elihu then appeals to his ‘wise’ audience (34-37) Men of understanding declare, wise men who hear me say to me, in other words ‘anyone with any brains will agree with me’ Job speaks without knowledge; his words lack insight. He’s got it all wrong. And then in rather vitriolic words Oh, that Job might be tested to the utmost for answering like a wicked man! To his sin he adds rebellion; scornfully he claps his hands among us and multiplies his words against God. Job is a rebel, says Elihu, he deserves all he gets and it ought to stay like this if he won’t repent!
So here is something else not to do seeking to hep others. And yet it is something that most of us have probably fallen into. I think the problem is that we’re all sinners, we’re all rebels and we all need to repent everyday. Therefore when someone’s in trouble we tend to think they must deserve at least to some extent and so we are tempted to urge repentance on them or something equally inappropriate such as more faith or more a patience or more thinking about others. Imagine the scene. Jill has cancer and is pretty ill with it. Edna goes to see her. Now Edna is sure that if Jill was more repentant for her sins then God would take the cancer away and so she broaches the subject. ‘Are you really sorry for all your sins, Jill?’ she says ‘Are you sure you’re really repenting? I’m sure that if you really repented God would take this cancer away?’. Would that help Jill? Somehow, I think not. It’s the same when people trot out the line that the problem is lack of faith. ‘If you had more faith, all would be well’ they say. Would it? Let’s avoid misapplied exhortations. Yes, we all need to repent from our sins and put faith in Christ more and more but that’s true of those who are not suffering as well as those who are.
5. When seeking to help those in trouble don’t overstate a doctrine and so distort it
In the third speech, which is in Chapter 35, Elihu again begins by quoting Job. 2, 3 Do you think this is just? he says You say, I shall be cleared by God. Yet you ask him, What profit is it to me, and what do I gain by not sinning? He also sums up what he thinks Job has said in Chapters 14 and 15 you say that you do not see him, that your case is before him and you must wait for him, and further, that his anger never punishes and he does not take the least notice of wickedness. Again this is not exactly what Job had said. Nevertheless, Elihu goes on to attempt to answer these related questions that he has partly touched upon before – what difference does it make to God whether a man sins or not and why does he appear not to answer the prayers of those in need?
Elihu begins I would like to reply to you and to your friends with you. He is still playing to the gallery. He has his eye not on Job but on others who are listening too. That in itself is a major failure. In answer to the question of what difference it makes to God whether a man sins or not he says (5) Look up at the heavens and see; gaze at the clouds so high above you. God is way above us. He is far from us in greatness and glory. And so he asks (6-8) If you sin, how does that affect him? If your sins are many, what does that do to him? If you are righteous, what do you give to him, or what does he receive from your hand? Your wickedness affects only a man like yourself, and your righteousness only the sons of men. The argument is a commonplace one and is not new. We heard the same thing from Eliphaz back in 22:2, 3 Can a man be of benefit to God? Can even a wise man benefit him? What pleasure would it give the Almighty if you were righteous? What would he gain if your ways were blameless?
The main problem with it is that it is an overstatement. Yes, we must accept the transcendence of God. God is in heaven and you are on earth. In Isaiah 55:8, 9 we read For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. We must recognize that God is high and lifted up and compared with him, we are nothing at all. However, we must not confuse transcendence and indifference. It is often useful to think of parents and children in this respect. Here are little children playing with cars and dolls and other toys. They are very interested in them. What about their parents, are they interested in them? Not really. Well, not in the way that the children are. They don’t mind if the red car is faster than the blue car or if dolly wears the green outfit or the white one. Are thy then indifferent to what the children are doing? Not at all. They are very interested. So it is with God. Can your sins affect God? Does it make a difference whether you are good? In the absolute sense, no. Yet to say God is indifferent would be very wrong. Elihu is badly mistaken. Isaiah 57:15 says it clearly For this is what the high and lofty One says - he who lives for ever, whose name is holy: I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. That is the right perspective. It should be ours too. Doesn’t the coming of Christ and the cross teach us that?
6. When seeking to help those in trouble don’t misjudge people
The second question Elihu attempts to deal with is why God appears not to answer the prayers of those in need. His answer is a simplistic one. 9-13 Men cry out under a load of oppression; he says they plead for relief from the arm of the powerful. But no-one says, Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night, who teaches more to us than to the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds of the air? He does not answer when men cry out because of the arrogance of the wicked. Indeed, God does not listen to their empty plea; the Almighty pays no attention to it. People cry out, he says, they demand relief, but they’re not really praying to God. Their pride stands in the way. He turns to Job and he says (14-16) How much less, then, will he listen when you say that you do not see him, that your case is before him and you must wait for him, and further, that his anger never punishes and he does not take the least notice of wickedness. So Job opens his mouth with empty talk; without knowledge he multiplies words. If Job did a bit more real praying and a little less belly aching then may be he wouldn’t have the troubles he does have!
Again you can imagine how insensitive and unhelpful such an approach would be. Here is Jackie. Jackie was born with a debilitating disease that cannot be cured but Jackie is a Christian and has gained great comfort from trusting in Christ. However, in more recent years Jackie has been very down and is finding it more difficult than ever. Prayer seems to be no help. There seems to be no response from God. So along comes Eryl to try and help. ‘The problem is that you can’t really be praying. Yes, I know you say your prayers but that’s not the same as praying. If you spent more time trying to pray than moaning about your situation I’m sure your problems would all be over.’ Yes, you can see that even if it were true it would not work. There is such a thing as saying prayers rather than praying. However, it will not explain the problem of suffering. There are people who want to say that when people are not healed it is probably a lack of faith. They’re not really praying or they are not praying hard enough or often enough. Such ideas show a great deal of misunderstanding about suffering and about prayer.
So when we endeavour to help those who are in trouble, these are good things to keep in mind –
Make sure your wisdom is from heaven not from earth; be fair to those who are in trouble; use doctrine and practical exhortations, but make sure they are appropriate and make sure that you keep a proper balance; assume the best of the person you are seeking to help. There may be a problem with a lack of faith or repentance but do not assume that is it. Above all look to the Lord Jesus Christ and learn from him to be compassionate and caring. May God use us to help the needy and may the Holy Spirit the Great Comforter use us to comfort others through him.

Suffering - a fresh but imperfect approach

Text Job 32, 33 Time 06/07/03 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church

With the ending of the speeches from Job’s friends we would suppose that we are coming to the end of the book and the words of God that close it but no, there is a whole section before that. God is very patient and often is slower than we want him to be. We will have to wait a while yet. But something does happen in Chapter 32. Here we suddenly realise that while Job and the three others have been talking and arguing about why Job is suffering, at least one other person has been listening to it all.
This man is called Elihu and here he begins to speak. He goes on speaking for the next six chapters, what one writer has called the book’s most interesting yet most difficult chapters. The difficulty is over exactly how to take Elihu’s contribution. Many think him self-opinionated, brash and egotistic (he uses the word ‘I’ 19 times in Chapter 32, plus 13 ‘me, my or mines’). On the other hand, others see him as angry, long-winded and inexperienced but want us to overlook his undoubted defects and appreciate his fresh insight as he challenges the accepted wisdom of his day. Certainly the fact that he is not condemned by God in the way the others are and there being six whole chapters of him speaking should be considered. I think we are best to see it indeed as a fresh but imperfect approach. Elihu does make some advances on the others but like them he does not, of course, truly know why Job is suffering. We should learn from him but see that he does not go far enough and is certainly not without fault himself.
Elihu doesn’t help himself by being so full of self-confidence and promising more than he can actually deliver. He sees that Job is not suffering because of some secret sin he has sinned but he also sees that Job is not perfect and so he advances the view that suffering is often for discipline or chastisement. God uses it not only to punish or correct the sinful but also to teach certain lessons to his people.
So here is an angry young man, Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite, of the family of Ram. The Buzites appear to be Arabs descended from a son of Abraham’s brother Nahor. His name and his father’s name suggest a godly upbringing – "Blessed God; He is my God".
In Chapter 32 we are introduced to this angry young man. We are told that he became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God and that He was also angry with the three friends, because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him.
His anger with Job is probably justified in part in that Job does display an element of self-righteousness. This blindness to the depravity of his heart is not a fatal flaw in Job. He is not unconverted. Rather, there is a serious spiritual need and Job’s suffering is, in part, sent to deal with that.
His anger with the three friends is even more understandable and justified. They have singularly failed to convince Job that God is wrong to make him suffer. They had also wrongly accused Job of sins he had not committed.
In chapters 32 and 33 I think we can learn at least two things about helping those who are suffering. Firstly, from Chapter 32, in the area of our approach.
1. Consider these marks of a helper of the suffering
If we really want to help those who are suffering and in need then there are certain things that we can learn here. If you want to help those who suffer then learn about
1. Good listening
Elihu had been listening for some time before he spoke. He had clearly been listening to all that was said. Verses 11, 12 I waited while you spoke, I listened to your reasoning; while you were searching for words, I gave you my full attention. But not one of you has proved Job wrong; none of you has answered his arguments. We need to cultivate the art of listening. Often we are too quick to speak when we should be doing more listening. ‘How are you?’ we say, without stopping for an answer.
2. Courteousy
The reason Elihu had waited we are told was (4) because they were older than he was. In verses 6 and 7 he says I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know. I thought, Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom. It sounds rather old fashioned to our ears. In my parents' generation children were to be seen but not heard and young people were urged to show deference to those who were older. Such etiquette is still observed in many parts of the world. It can have its downside but there needs to be order, there needs to be courtesy, good manners, decorum, respect, consideration of others. A society without these is in deep trouble. This is as true when we are dealing with suffering as with everything else.
3. Giving glory to God
In verse 8 Elihu goes on But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding. Elihu is not claiming divine inspiration here but he is speaking from his heart and in describing this he gives glory to God by remembering that his soul is something God given. Remember how God breathed into man at the beginning? In 33:3, 4 he also says My words come from an upright heart; my lips sincerely speak what I know. The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
4. Passion
Elihu speaks always with passion. In verse 5 we are told that when he saw that the three men had nothing more to say, his anger was aroused. Anger often turns to sinful anger. How sinful Elihu was is difficult to say. The Bible tells us to be angry without sinning. There are things that should arouse our wrath, our anger. We ought to be passionate about certain matters.
Look at verses 17-20 I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know. For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me; inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst. I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply.
5. Bold, direct speech
With that went bold, direct, speech. This too has its dangers. The Bible tells us to speak the truth but in love. Perhaps Elihu is not a perfect example again but he has something to teach us. In verses 9 and 10 he says rightly It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right. Therefore I say: Listen to me; I too will tell you what I know.
12-14 I gave you my full attention. But not one of you has proved Job wrong; none of you has answered his arguments. Do not say, We have found wisdom; let God refute him, not man. But Job has not marshalled his words against me, and I will not answer him with your arguments. 15, 16 They are dismayed and have no more to say; words have failed them. Must I wait, now that they are silent, now that they stand there with no reply?
He speaks to Job by name, something none of the others have done. (33:1, 2 But now, Job, listen to my words; pay attention to everything I say. I am about to open my mouth; my words are on the tip of my tongue.) In verse 5 he says to Job Answer me then, if you can; prepare yourself and confront me.
6. Fairness and Humility
Verses 21 and 22 I will show partiality to no-one, nor will I flatter any man; for if I were skilled in flattery, my Maker would soon take me away. This is the sort of approach we need when speaking to those who are suffering. Notice his humility in 33:6, 7 I am just like you before God; I too have been taken from clay. No fear of me should alarm you, nor should my hand be heavy upon you. He also gives Job opportunity to speak if he wishes, which is important.
2. Consider these complaints from a suffering man and the advice given here
What Elihu does in Chapter 33:8-33 is to deal with three common complaints that those who are suffering often make.
1. God’s not fair
Verses 8-11 But you have said in my hearing - I heard the very words - I am pure and without sin; I am clean and free from guilt. Yet God has found fault with me; he considers me his enemy. He fastens my feet in shackles; he keeps close watch on all my paths. Job certainly had said such things. In 9:21 he spoke of himself as blameless, in 10:7 as not guilty; in 27:6 it is I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live. In 13:24 and 27 he said to God Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy? And You fasten my feet in shackles; you keep close watch on all my paths by putting marks on the soles of my feet. 30:21 is similar You turn on me ruthlessly; with the might of your hand you attack me.
What is Elihu’s answer to this argument? Is God not fair? Nor are you! Verse 12 But I tell you, in this you are not right, for God is greater than man. Job had not got it right. Indeed, anyone who accuses God of unfairness, we know, is in the wrong. God is far greater than man and there is nothing unfair or unjust in him, quite the opposite. Of course, Job knew that God was greater than man. He says elsewhere (9:4-10) His wisdom is profound, his power is vast. Who has resisted him and come out unscathed? He moves mountains without their knowing it and overturns them in his anger. He shakes the earth from its place and makes its pillars tremble. He speaks to the sun and it does not shine; he seals off the light of the stars. He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea. He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the south. He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.
What Job had forgotten is that this great God is just and fair. We may forget it in the midst of our troubles but we ought not to. God is greater than us. He is the judge of all the earth and he always does what is right, even when there are times when we cannot see it. The illustration of the two sides of a tapestry is often used. What seems a mess on one side is very beautiful on the other. It is not the whole story but it is a part of it.
2. God doesn’t answer my prayers
In verse 13 Elihu moves on to another complaint of Job’s, typical of those in trouble. Why do you complain to him that he answers none of man’s words? Someone says they are suffering. You say "you must pray". They say, "I have but there’s no answer". That’s how Job had reacted. Think of 19:7 Though I cry, I've been wronged! I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice. 30:20 I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me. 23:8, 9 But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.
Elihu’s answer is that God does speak. He gives three examples.
1 In dreams
14-18 For God does speak - now one way, now another - though man may not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men as they slumber in their beds, he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.
2 Through suffering
19-22 Or a man may be chastened on a bed of pain with constant distress in his bones, so that his very being finds food repulsive and his soul loathes the choicest meal. His flesh wastes away to nothing, and his bones, once hidden, now stick out. His soul draws near to the pit, and his life to the messengers of death.
3 Through a messenger
23-28 Yet if there is an angel on his side as a mediator, one out of a thousand, to tell a man what is right for him, to be gracious to him and say, Spare him from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom for him - then his flesh is renewed like a child's; it is restored as in the days of his youth. He prays to God and finds favour with him, he sees God’s face and shouts for joy; he is restored by God to his righteous state. Then he comes to men and says, I have sinned, and perverted what was right, but I did not get what I deserved. He redeemed my soul from going down to the pit, and I shall live to enjoy the light.
3. No-one understands me
This not stated as such but it is implied. God does understand and patiently speaks. Elihu is seeking to help him too.
29-33 God does all these things to a man - twice, even three times - to turn back his soul from the pit, that the light of life may shine on him. Pay attention, Job, and listen to me; be silent, and I will speak. If you have anything to say, answer me; speak up, for I want you to be cleared. But if not, then listen to me; be silent, and I will teach you wisdom.
So here is a helpful though imperfect piece of reasoningthat we do well to consider.

Seek to be innocent before God

Text Job 31 Time 29/06/03 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We are looking this week at the final part of Job’s closing speech. Job is suffering and he wants to know why. Now, as you know, Job never gets an answer to his question. However, at this point it is still the main thing on his mind. He has spoken of his past and his present in Chapters 29 and 30 and now he makes a final protest of his innocence. He has entered into covenant with God and here he solemnly assures us that he is willingly to be cursed if he is guilty of any of the sins he mentions here. Job is not claiming to be perfect. He is simply underlining that his suffering cannot be due to his having sinned in some way.
In the course of his speech Job speaks of some 10 sorts of sins. Perhaps the best way for us to benefit from what he says here is to consider those sins and whether we are guilty of them and how we can avoid falling into them. There is full forgiveness for every one of these sins in Christ. All you have to do is trust in him. However, if we really trust in Christ then we will want to turn from every one of them. Job is able to help us in this as he is an innocent man. He is a wonderful example for us to follow. Although Job had many troubles at this time, one thing he did not have was a bad conscience. We can be sure that if we suffer in this life then one thought that we do not want to have in our minds is ‘I deserve this’. It will only add to the torment. A good conscience is like a soft pillow. It will ease your pain in suffering and help you on your deathbed. Seek it. Seek to be innocent before God.
1. Be innocent of lust Lust is mental adultery
It is sin. Job saw this and Jesus preached it in the Sermon on the Mount. Job knew what it was to be tempted and how to deal with temptation. Listen to how he begins I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl. This shows us that when the temptation to lust comes we must
1. Act to deal with it
Job didn’t just say ‘Well, it’s one of those things. There’s nothing you can do about it.’ No, he saw that, as it has been put, although you can’t stop the birds flying around your head, you can stop them making a nest in your hair. Sin isn’t something that will simply go away if you ignore it. Unless we act there will be no progress at all. As one Puritan put it, if we are not actively killing sin, sin will be killing us.
Are you acting on sin or is sin acting on you?
2. Guard heart and mind
Job knew that the way his mind thought would affect his heart and so lead him into sin. And so he made this agreement with his eyes not to look at a girl lustfully. He didn’t reason ‘I’m only thinking about it, where’s the harm in that?’ No, he saw the connection between the way we think and the things we do. Do you see it? James says (1:14,15) each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Have you seen those connections? Proverbs 4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.
3. Be practical
Sometimes people have romantic ideas about how to fight sin. It is a very practical matter. Job had learned that in certain situations if he saw certain girls he would be tempted to lust and so he made this covenant with his eyes to look away whenever such a temptation came near. If we are going to avoid lust and other sins we too need to take certain practical steps. You have to have rules for yourself about how you use the television or computer, what magazines and books you will read. Sometimes we will have to miss out on certain things for our own spiritual health.
4. Live conscious of judgement
Job goes on to ask (2) For what is man’s lot from God above, his heritage from the Almighty on high? And answers (3) Is it not ruin for the wicked, disaster for those who do wrong? Job was conscious of the judgement. He knew what every sin deserves. Do you?
5. Live conscious of God’s presence
Verse 4 Does he not see my ways and count my every step? He knew that God was watching him all the time. I’m sure we are all aware of what an influence the presence of others can have on us. There are certain things that we would not do if this person or that person were present. We need to be aware that God is always present. We are always in his presence and that should affect the way we act and speak and think. Does it?
2. Be innocent of dishonesty and adultery
Job goes on in verses 5-12 to protest his innocence in two other areas. Again what he says teaches us things about sin.
1. Live conscious of God judging dishonesty
Verses 5 and 6 If I have walked in falsehood or my foot has hurried after deceit - let God weigh me in honest scales and he will know that I am blameless -
2. Walk the straight and narrow with a true heart and clean hands
Job uses three images here to assert his innocence. He talks of turning from the path, which he has not done; letting his eyes lead his heart, which he had not done; his hands being defiled, which they were not. Is that you?
3. Are you dishonest?
Expect judgement. Job pronounces a curse on himself if he is guilty. Verse 8 then may others eat what I have sown, and may my crops be uprooted. He recognised that such sins deserve judgement. Do you?
4. Are you neglecting your heart or seeking sin? Expect judgement
Verses 9 and 10 If my heart has been enticed by a woman, or if I have lurked at my neighbour’s door, then may my wife grind another man’s grain, and may other men sleep with her.
5. See adultery as shameful, blameworthy and destructive
11, 12 For that would have been shameful, a sin to be judged. It is a fire that burns to Destruction; it would have uprooted my harvest.
3. Be innocent of oppression and selfishness
1. Expect to account to God for how you deal with others
Verses 13 and 14 If I have denied justice to my menservants and maidservants when they had a grievance against me, what will I do when God confronts me? What will I answer when called to account?
2. Never forget that we all have one Maker
Verse 15 Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?
3. Don’t forget yourself to help the needy
Verses 16-21 If I have denied the desires of the poor or let the eyes of the widow grow weary, if I have kept my bread to myself, not sharing it with the fatherless - but from my youth I reared him as would a father, and from my birth I guided the widow - if I have seen anyone perishing for lack of clothing, or a needy man without a garment, and his heart did not bless me for warming him with the fleece from my sheep, if I have raised my hand against the fatherless, knowing that I had influence in court,
4. Hate sin in the fear of God’s splendour and judgement
Verses 22 and 23 then let my arm fall from the shoulder, let it be broken off at the joint. For I dreaded destruction from God, and for fear of his splendour I could not do such things.
4. Be innocent of greed and idolatry
1. Don’t love money
Verses 24 and 25 If I have put my trust in gold or said to pure gold, You are my security, if I have rejoiced over my great wealth, the fortune my hands had gained,
2. Or worship false gods in your heart
26, 27 if I have regarded the sun in its radiance or the moon moving in splendour, so that my heart was secretly enticed and my hand offered them a kiss of homage,
3. See greed and idolatry as sins to be judged; be faithful to God
Verse 28 then these also would be sins to be judged, for I would have been unfaithful to God on high.
5. Be innocent of malice
1. Love your enemies
Verse 29 If I have rejoiced at my enemy’s misfortune or gloated over the trouble that came to him -
2. Guard your tongue
30 I have not allowed my mouth to sin by invoking a curse against his life -
3. Love those who serve you
31 if the men of my household have never said, Who has not had his fill of Job’s meat? -
4. Love strangers
Verse 32 but no stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveller -
6. Be innocent of hypocrisy and exploitation
1. Don’t cover up sins from fear of men
Verses 33 and 34 if I have concealed my sin as men do, by hiding my guilt in my heart because I so feared the crowd and so dreaded the contempt of the clans that I kept silent and would not go outside -
2. Be ready to meet God
35-37 (Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defence - let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing. Surely I would wear it on my shoulder, I would put it on like a crown. I would give him an account of my every step; like a prince I would approach him.) -
3. If you exploit others, expect judgement
38-40 if my land cries out against me and all its furrows are wet with tears, if I have devoured its yield without payment or broken the spirit of its tenants, then let briers come up instead of wheat and weeds instead of barley.
The words of Job are ended
and so are mine.

The suffering believer's past and present

Text Job 29-30 Time 22/06/03 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
When we come to the matter of true religion it is very important that we remember that at its heart is a personal relationship with God. It is not first and foremost a matter of believing certain things or living in a certain way, although that, of course, comes into it. Higher than that is the fact that true religion involves living your life in the conscious presence of God and relating to him through revelation and prayer.
I say this to begin because as we come to the final part of Job’s speech to his three friends, it is important to notice something. Job is no longer speaking to the friends as such. Rather he is speaking before God and to God. In 30:20 he says I cry out to you, O God. His speech is a little like a barrister summing up his case at the end of a long and dramatic court case. Just as the barrister addresses the jury so here Job focuses on God. In what we call Chapter 29 Job speaks about his past happiness and in Chapter 30 about his present troubles and sorrow. In the final Chapter (31) which we will look at again he once more protests his innocence.
What Job has to say is of great interest to all Christians who are in trouble - and we all fall into trouble at some point or other. First, we see how to look at the past and then how to look at the present. So we say
1. The suffering believer, consider his past. Avoid enervating nostalgia; seek worthwhile thanksgiving.
There’s a saying ‘You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone’. There are many things we take for granted.
1. Consider the nearness and blessing of God
Job begins his discourse (2, 3) How I long for the months gone by, for the days when God watched over me, when his lamp shone upon my head and by his light I walked through darkness! Of course, God was still watching over Job then, still guiding him. But he had lost the sense of it and that’s why he speaks as he does. He knew that in whatever he did God was observing him, the Lord was gazing down on him. You know how potholers and miners have lamps fixed to their helmets so that even in pitch darkness they can see where they are going. Job says that God was like that with him. At that times there were troubles but every one of them disappeared. It was not like that now.
He goes on (4, 5a) Oh, for the days when I was in my prime, when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house, when the Almighty was still with me. Again, we must say that God was still with Job, still his friend, but he had lost the sense of it. What close friendship is possible between God and man - and Job knew it to the full. Job walked with Almighty God. On his deathbed many tried to comfort John Wesley with promises but he responded, it is said, ‘Yes, all these promises are true but best of all, God is with us.’ Job had the greatest gift of all God with us – Immanuel. But it didn’t feel like that now.
Besides all this, not only was the Almighty … still with me but my children were around me, too. It was a time when (6) Job could say my path was drenched with cream and the rock poured out for me streams of olive oil. You remember how blessed Job had been materially – many animals and many servants. He was a rich man with a large and prospering family. He describes it powerfully here as having his path drenched with cream and olive oil pouring from the rock for him. But all that had been taken from him. He was to gain much more we know from the end of the book, but Job didn’t know that.
Here are some lessons then
1 Do you have any sense of God watching over your every move and guiding you through the darkness by his light? Do you have his friendship and blessing? Then be thankful to him. Don’t take it for granted.
2 Have you known it in the past? Be thankful for that too. Though it’s not there in the same way now it may come again and if you have faith you can realise that God is watching you, guiding you, near you and blessing you even though you have little sense of it or evidence for it at present. And one day in heaven you will see the Lord himself.
3 If you have never had a sense of this then be assured that it can be known. If you trust in Christ, you will have God watching over your every move. He will guide you through the darkness of this world with his light. Jesus will be your friend and many blessings will follow. It would be a lie to say you can guarantee riches or other blessings in this life but it is God’s usual way to bless in every way. Realise that. Do no hold back from faith in Christ.
2. Consider the honour and respect of people around you
Job had not only known God’s nearness and blessing on the vertical but also blessings on the horizontal. He describes how it was for him in verses 7-12. He remembers going to the gate of the city where the elders sat to make their decisions and taking his seat in the public square. He remembers how the young men saw him and stepped aside and the old men rose to their feet; the chief men refrained from speaking and covered their mouths with their hands; the voices of the nobles were hushed, and their tongues stuck to the roof of their mouths. What great respect they all showed. Whoever heard me spoke well of me, and those who saw me commended me. Rich men we know were often disrespected in those days as they often made their fortunes in wicked ways. At the root of the honour and respect shown to this rich man was the fact that Job rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist him. But, alas, all that was now gone.
Again there are lessons for us
1 Do you have any respect from others? Are you honoured in any way? Then be thankful to God. Don’t take it for granted. Not everyone has the honour and respect you have. Not all deserve it.
2 Have you known this in the past? Be thankful for that too. For some reason you feel it’s not there now but it may come again. God still sees your integrity as he saw Job’s. And never forget that one day in heaven you will reign with Christ, if you are truly his.
3 If you feel have never been shown respect or honour it may be that you don’t deserve it. It doesn’t come easy. Even those who deserve it sometimes miss out. If you trust in Christ, God will deal with all that. You do not have to worry about it. A day of judgement is coming when all honour and all respect will be paid as due.
3. Consider the help and blessing of the needy
In verses 13-17 Job elaborates on his rescuing of the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist him. He says The man who was dying blessed me; I made the widow’s heart sing. Using the picture of clothing he says (14) I put on righteousness as my clothing; justice was my robe and my turban. He continues with what could sound like boasting but is in fact the accurate memory of a now broken man (15-17) I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger. I broke the fangs of the wicked and snatched the victims from their teeth. Job was a champion of the needy, disadvantaged and oppressed. He strove for justice and did all he could to provide for the forgotten and neglected in his society. This is how Job used the advantages that his wealth brought to him.
What a challenge such a litany is! Okay, we may not be as rich as Job was but we all have some resources. How are we using them? Do we care about the homeless and poor; the elderly, single mothers, fatherless children, unborn babies, the deprived and needy in our society? Have you ever made a poor woman’s heart sing? Have you ever done anything to help the disabled or the immigrant, legal or illegal? Have you done anything to help those in need of justice? If we can think of anything that we have been able to do, then we ought to be thankful to God that he has used us in such ways. If we feel that we are restricted in what we can do now because of our present circumstances, as with Job, then we must be determined to make better use of any future opportunities we may have. Part of being a Christian is receiving the will and the strength to live in such ways – putting on the topcoat of righteous working, the baseball cap of justice.
4. Consider the expectation of future blessing
Verses 18-20 are very poignant. Job describes how he used to think before disaster came upon him. I thought, I shall die in my own house, my days as numerous as the grains of sand. My roots will reach to the water, and the dew will lie all night on my branches. My glory will remain fresh in me, the bow ever new in my hand. Job never guessed what was going to happen. He assumed things would carry on as they always had. He expected a long life, continued blessing, lasting strength. But that was not the way it turned out, as we know.
Haven’t we all thought the same sort of thing? Yet there is no guarantee of any of it. No-one wants to die young. We all want to have good health, peace of mind and dignity. We need to learn that these are all gifts from God and just as he gives so he can take away.
Calvin says
"If God sends us any prosperity, let us not be too sleepy but let us consider this mortal life is subject to all the changes we can devise … And although the whole world seem to favour us and that we have a hundred thousand shoulders to bear us up yet must we nevertheless think that there is no settledness here below but that all things are transitory, so as all things are changed in the turning of a hand … For there is nothing easier with a man than to make himself believe that he shall always continue in a happy state when he is once in it."
5. Consider the expectation and confidence of others
What added to Job’s confidence about the future was the positive vibe he got from everyone else. Verses 21-25 Men listened to me expectantly, waiting in silence for my counsel. After I had spoken, they spoke no more; my words fell gently on their ears. They waited for me as for showers and drank in my words as the spring rain. When I smiled at them, they scarcely believed it; the light of my face was precious to them. I chose the way for them and sat as their chief; I dwelt as a king among his troops; I was like one who comforts mourners. Everyone thought Job was wise. They all knew he was morally upright. Everyone looked to him. It gave them confidence just to think that Job was there as their leader. There are people like that aren’t there? You think to yourself, well as long as he’s there, then we can be confident. But then God removes them in some way. I remember feeling like that about the late Bob Sheehan (of Welwyn) who died a few years ago. He was a great man but God chose to take him while he was still young. Sometimes it’s not death but illness, as in Job’s case. When everyone looks up to you and is confident in you, it is easy to suppose that you are invincible. Job fell into that trap. We must not. No-one is indispensable. No-one is invincible. We can all be brought down in a moment. We should remember that.
Are you in trouble? Be thankful for past blessings. Do not let nostalgia overcome you. Are things well? Be very thankful. Realise all your blessings are from God and can be removed in a moment.
2. The suffering believer, consider his present. Avoid gnawing despair but do face everyday reality.
Although the things that Job recalls from the past are all good, what makes them a problem to him is the fact that, as far as he is concerned, they are all gone now. As we have suggested, Job is overstating the case but it is fair to say that when we have had something good and then lose it there is a poignancy, a heartbreaking quality that is so much greater. Which child will cry most, the one who doesn’t get an ice cream or the one who does but it drops in the sand? It is important when we are suffering to see this and not let the Devil take advantage. As for suffering itself, there are many things to consider.
1. Consider the derision from others
One of the most hurtful things for Job about his change of situation was the way he lost his dignity in the eyes of many. 1-8 But now they mock me, men younger than I, whose fathers I would have disdained to put with my sheep dogs. He describes such men, Of what use was the strength of their hands to me, since their vigour had gone from them? Haggard from want and hunger, they roamed the parched land in desolate wastelands at night. (Like animals) In the brush they gathered salt herbs, and their food was the root of the broom tree. They were banished from their fellow-men, shouted at as if they were thieves. They were forced to live in the dry stream beds, among the rocks and in holes in the ground. They brayed among the bushes and huddled in the undergrowth. A base and nameless brood, they were driven out of the land. And yet the sons of these very people were deriding Job and mocking him. Now not everyone who suffers in the ways Job suffered suffers like this but it can happen. Sometimes it is not open like this. Sometimes it is imagined rather than real. However, what we must avoid doing in such a situation is letting it drag us down further. Yes, people will mock openly or secretly, intentionally or sometimes unintentionally, but we must bear it. Isn’t this what happened to the Lord himself? On the other hand, there is, of course, never any place to mock the afflictions of others and we must be careful not to.
2. Consider the contempt from others
Job goes on (9-15) And now their sons mock me in song; I have become a byword among them. They detest me and keep their distance; they do not hesitate to spit in my face. Now that God has unstrung my bow and afflicted me, they throw off restraint in my presence. Whereas they once would have held back, now they are full of contempt. On my right the tribe attacks; they lay snares for my feet, they build their siege ramps against me. They break up my road; they succeed in destroying me - without anyone’s helping them. They advance as through a gaping breach; amid the ruins they come rolling in. Terrors overwhelm me; my dignity is driven away as by the wind, my safety vanishes like a cloud. It is as though they have launched a military assault against poor Job. He feels besieged, beset by foes, under attack at every point. We little consider just how much worse a situation can be made by our thoughtless or devil-inspired contempt for a person. Some of you can identify with Job here. Your bow has been unstrung and everything is loose. You feel afflicted. The walls are down and you feel overwhelmed with terrors. Dignity is gone; any sense of security you once had has vanished. What makes that sense of indignity so much worse is the real or perceived contempt of others. Again, we must not let such thoughts drag us down further. Even if people do hold us in contempt, we must bear it. Again this is just what happened to the Lord himself. Again, there is, of course, never any place to show contempt to others or to deny them their dignity and we must be careful not to.
3. Consider the suffering at God’s hands
Job elaborates further on his sufferings in verses 16-23. He is not only mocked and afflicted, trapped and attacked, overwhelmed with terror and robbed of his dignity. He goes on (16,17) And now my life ebbs away; days of suffering grip me. Night pierces my bones; my gnawing pains never rest. What makes this so hard to take for Job is not simply the derision and contempt of others but the fact that it is God who has brought this suffering on him. 18, 19 In his great power God becomes like clothing to me; he binds me like the neck of my garment. He throws me into the mud, and I am reduced to dust and ashes. Job uses powerful metaphors - he is entwined and swathed by God’s grip on him; thrown down in the mud, crushed and burnt to dust and ashes. Verse 20 I cry out to you, O God, he says but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me. Isn’t that the most distressing thing for the Christian who suffers? You pray, but there seems to be no answer. He says to God (21-23) You turn on me ruthlessly; with the might of your hand you attack me. You snatch me up and drive me before the wind; you toss me about in the storm. I know you will bring me down to death, to the place appointed for all the living. Job feels like he is being threshed and winnowed like grain and God doesn’t care. I think there are four things to note here.
1 Trust in God will in some ways make our situation worse. Job’s wife told him at the beginning to curse God and die. He refused to. In one sense, that made his situation worse. Why does God let him suffer so?
2 Keep speaking honestly to God. Job hasn’t stopped praying. We must never do that. Whatever doubts we have about God’s ways with us we must still look to him. Didn’t Jesus even when forsaken?
3 We don’t know the whole story. Job was sure he was going to die in this state. He was wrong. God restored him. We are very ignorant about many things. We must recognise this and humble ourselves.
4 Often in suffering we grow stronger without even realising it. As the husbandman prunes the vine branches so they are enabled to produce more fruit.
4. Consider the unjust disappointment and anguish
Finally, Job protests against the injustice of it all. Perhaps I should say the apparent injustice. Why would God treat a man like this? 24-26 Surely no-one lays a hand on a broken man when he cries for help in his distress. It is unfair surely to treat such a broken man like this, especially in light of his past uprightness. Have I not wept for those in trouble? Has not my soul grieved for the poor? Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness. Isn’t that what makes inexplicable human suffering so difficult. Why pick on me? What have I done to deserve this? It seems to me that the more good you do, the more you suffer. Such thoughts are most understandable. They are to be expected. However, they are not helpful. Better to think of the suffering of Christ first and recall that as meaningless and pointless as it may have seemed it is what saves all who trust in him. There is some purpose for my suffering and yours too we can be sure, though we cannot see it.
Finally, we see Job suffering. He describes it in verses 27-31 The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me. He is in mental anguish. I go about blackened, but not by the sun; I stand up in the assembly and cry for help. There is no-one to help, it seems. I have become a brother of jackals, a companion of owls. How lonely he feels. My skin grows black and peels; my body burns with fever. There was the physical suffering too, of course, let’s not forget that. My harp is tuned to mourning, and my flute to the sound of wailing. We are so used to seeing films about people with a musical soundtrack that people talk sometimes today about the soundtrack to their lives. For Job it was the most mournful music. It was his faith in God that made it so. But there is something about the minor key, don’t you think? How stirring such music can be. We must see that this is the Christian life too and produces music that praises God. Apart from anything else it brings us near to the cross which is at the heart of the gospel.