Rebuked in Suffering (Job 32:1-37:24)
A Perspective on Suffering
Rebuked in Suffering
Job 32:1–37:24
 
I'm always a little apprehensive when God guides me to preach on something like suffering because it makes me wonder what's about to happen. But as I said when we began, I am even more concerned about the way I see people who are perceived to be strong or at least growing in their faith respond when a crisis hits.
 
From my vantage point as a pastor and teacher, it is much better to prepare yourself for the experiences that come our way before they arrive, rather than trying to figure out what is going on and how I should respond when while it's going on. So to that end, we are considering a perspective on suffering from the book of Job.
 
Most of us are familiar with the first couple of chapters where Job and his family are hit by tragedy after tragedy that results in almost total loss. However, to Job's credit, he comes out of the mess with his faith intact and continuing to trust God, even though his wife wants him to curse God and die. And we need to remember, he was still suffering from a terrible skin affliction when he makes his statements of faith.
 
But as time drags on and the misery continues, Job begins to crack, and we find him growing more and more depressed, and in fact, questioning God as to why he had ever been born.
 
So to be of help to him, three of his friends decide to come and console him and bring him some encouragement. But their visit turns into an extended theological debate about why people suffer. And as we saw last time, all the way from chapter 4 to 31, Job and his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, go back and forth about the meaning of suffering. The upshot of it all was that the theory of his friends was unsatisfactory.
 
just to review for a moment remember their theory
 
1. The Theory of Job's Friends
 
They had argued that suffering is basically punishment for sin and prosperity is reward for righteousness. Now they do make some valid points.
 
For instance, Eliphaz admitted that some suffering was chastisement and could be good for us, but it becomes clear that for him this is the exception, not the rule, and that reason Job's suffering goes on and on is not for his good, but it is punishment for sin in his life.
 
In fact, before the argument is over, his friends will have accused him of being a thief, deceitful, unfait and filled with great wickedness, and by the way, your kids died because they were no count also!
 
So their conclusion is that Job's suffering can only be explained as the punishment of God for heinous, terrible sin.
 
 
Job argues that, contrary to his three friends' opinion, that there is good evidence from all over the world that the wicked often prosper and the righteous often suffer. And in his case in particular he was not an enemy of God and had not committed any grievous sin that would set him up for such suffering above others.
 
In the end, they come to an impasse. His friends are unable to prove their theory, and they wind up repeating themselves with less and less to say and the conversation comes to an end.
 
So in a sense, Job won the argument, but he still doesn't have any answers to why he's going through all the tragedy. He firmly believes he is not suffering because of sin in his life, but why is he suffering?
 
And what he comes to at the end of chapter 31 is that God is arbitrary. He is convinced that God is sovereign; He rules the affairs of men and He does it wisely, but he has no answer as to why those that love and serve God sometimes suffer, and in his case suffer terribly.
 
And I am convinced that where a lot of people, including most Christians, live their lives. They say, "I believe God rules over the world and controls what happens. I also believe that he is just and wise. And I believe that one of these days God will make it all right and set the record straight. And I know He loves me and sent Jesus to prove it and He is the only hope we have. And I'm going to trust God, but there are some things that we simply cannot understand. They are in the mind and heart of God and we can't know them."
 
And that is not a bad way to live, and maybe you're okay with living like that. But Job wasn't, and whomever wrote the book of Job, and we don't know who that was, maybe Moses or Solomon, but whomever it was, wasn't satisfied with living like that either.
 
If he was, he would have ended the book at chapter 31. But he wants his readers to know, and more importantly, God wants his hearers to know, that God has not concealed all of his ways. There is more to see and know about God's purpose in suffering than we may think.
 
So in chapters 32 through 37, a young man appears on the scene whose name is Elihu.
 
2. The Appearance of Elihu
 
And for five chapters, he makes a speech and through his sermon we learn something that neither Job nor his friends had discovered. He makes the point that the suffering of the righteous is not an expression of God's disapproval, but of his love. It is not a punishment for sins but a refinement of righteousness. It is not a preparation for destruction, but a protection from destruction.
 
And what he shows up to say is that everyone is wrong. Job's three friends are wrong to believe that all suffering is the proof of wickedness. And Job is wrong to believe that he suffering was random and God was arbitrary in what He did.
 
Now, before we listen to Elihu, let me suggest some reasons we should listen to him.
 
And I want to do that because some commentators think Elihu is no better than Eliphaz, Bildad, or Zophar. In fact, many label him as cold and cruel. And if you read his speech, you will find some of the same things the other three had to say. But remember, they were not totally wrong about everything. And it is also true that some of the things he says to Job do appear to be mean-spirited.
 
But there are at least five reasons why I take the words of Elihu to represent the truth as our inspired writer saw it. In fact, I think Elihu gives the first step in solving Job's problem, and prepares the way for what God has to say in chapters 38–41. SO let me just quickly list those five reasons.
 
Five Reasons We Should Accept Elihu's Counsel
 
1. His Speech Is Presented as Something New
 
I mean by that, there is a break between the arguments of the first three friends and what Elihu has to say and the words of Elihu are introduced to us in chapter 32, not as a continuation or repetition of what the three friends had said, but as something new.
 
Chapter 32,verses 1–3
 
In other words Elihu disagrees with both sides of the argument. So notice what he says, first of all to the three friends:
 
verse 14
 
 
He says, "I'm not going to answer Job the way you did. there is no need to continue that argument."
 
Instead, the writer wants us to listen to something new that takes us beyond the old argument.
 
The second reason I think we should listen to Elihu is because we have
 
2. Six Chapters Devoted to His Words
 
You might say, "But didn't the other three take up 29 chapters? Yes and no. Yes, the bulk of the book is their speeches and Job's response to them, but remember, they repeat the same arguments over and over and as they continue, their speeches get shorter and shorter, and ultimately, they are left with nothing to say. Bildad finishes with six verses in chapter 25, and Zophar can't even manage a closing comment.
 
It seems to me it would be very strange after that, to give Elihu six chapters to say the same things all over again and still wind up with inadequate theology and no answers to Job's questions.
 
Instead, I think the large amount of space given to his words indicates that something new and important is being said.
 
Thirdly, I want to listen to Elihu because of
 
3. Job's Response to Elihu
 
It's interesting to note that Job does not try to argue with Elihu.
 
He certainly did with the other three. In fact, he shut 'em up! But he does not say one word against Elihu even though Elihu challenged him to.
 
Chapter 33, verses 31-33
 
And as we'll see at the end of the book, Job eventually comes to a place of repentance, which shows that Elihu's rebukes are not out of line.
 
The fourth reason to listen to Elihu is
 
4. God's Response to Elihu
 
Again, at the end of the book, God reviews what has happened and rebukes Job's three friends.
 
chapter 42, verse 7
 
But God does not rebuke Elihu. Why not? I would assume there is no rebuke because Elihu's what he said was right. His words are not in the same class with the words of the other three. In fact, Elihu claims to be guided by the Spirit of God. In chapter 32, verse 8 he mentions the spirit of God in a man gives him understanding, then, in verse 10, he says, "And because of that, you need to listen to me."
 
And finally, we should listen because
 
5. He Offers Something New and Helpful
 
He really does offer a new understanding of the suffering of the righteous that Job and his three friends had not seen or understood.
 
And his insight does make some sense out of the apparently arbitrary suffering that Job and other righteous people go through.
 
So in the time we have left, let's take a look at what he had to say about why the righteous suffer. He begins with
 
1. A Rebuke of Job
 
In Elihu's opinion, Job has been wrong in some of what he has said. In fact, he senses some pride and arrogance in Job's attitude. Three times in the course of his speech, he brings up the subject of pride.
 
And he puts his finger on Job's error in
 
chapter 33, verses 8–12
 
So here Elihu is quoting what he's heard Job saying about God, and he calls him on it. Job is wrong to claim innocence at the expense of God's grace, and we know Elihu is right about this because in 42:6 Job does in fact repent.
 
His suffering had driven him to say things about himself that were shaded to his advantage and things about God that were disrespectful.
 
Even though Job was a righteous man, he was not a sinlessly perfect man. There was a lot of pride that began to cloud the purity of his life when it was stirred up by suffering.
 
After the rebuke, Elihu moves to
 
2. An Explanation of Suffering
 
I bring up the issue of pride in the life of Job because at least part of Elihu's understanding of why the righteous suffer has to do with pride in the life of the righteous. We see the first explanation of his view in 33:14–19.
 
He describes two ways God speaks to man. He speaks by His word and He speaks through their suffering.
 
And remember, these were the days before Scripture, so the word of God takes the form of visions and dreams.
 
chapter 33, verses 14-19
 
So there is a brand new thought for Job to consider. God speaks in more than one way. He uses the pain of sickness and suffering in the same way He uses visions of the night. Both are ways that God speaks to man for his good.
 
And as verse 17 says, God speaks in an attempt to keep man from destroying himself.
 
In other words God's purpose for the righteous in these dreams and in this sickness is not to punish but to save. He wants to save men from getting involved in evil and he wants to protect us from pride and eventually, death.
 
That means, contrary to what Job had said, God is not angry. He is not our enemy. And contrary to the three friends, He is not punishing evil.
Instead, God is pictured as Jesus is described in the New Testament. He is a Redeemer. He is a Savior. He is a Rescuer. He is a Doctor. The pain he causes is like the surgeon's knife, not like the executioner's whip.
 
Perhaps one of the most helpful things Elihu covers is the idea of
 
3. A "Righteous Sinner"
 
In chapter 36, Elihu continues his explanation of why people suffer by explaining that just because someone is righteous, that doesn't mean they are sinlessly perfect. There is such a thing as a "righteous sinner."
 
That makes a lot of sense, because, remember what we read in the opening verse of the book where God himself called Job a righteous man. After all, that's what initiated the whole episode. He was a righteous man who feared God and Satan though he could be persuaded to turn on God. Job won his argument with his three friends by maintaining he was a righteous man.
 
And yet, at the end of the book, we find this righteous man repenting in sackcloth and ashes and despising himself. So Job is righteous by the testimony of God even though he has sin remaining in him.
 
He is not among the wicked, but is still a sinner. So
Elihu looks at these two groups of people, the wicked and the righteous, and he makes the point that suffering places a different role in each.
 
We'll start reading at
 
chapter 36, verses 6-7
 
Now we've heard that before because that is exactly what Eliphaz said: the wicked suffer and the righteous prosper.
 
And there is a sense in which this is true in the long run. But the question plaguing Job is why the righteous suffer in the short run. He understands God will one day judge, but what about right now?
 
So Elihu continues in
 
verses 8-10
 
Now remember, he is speaking about the righteous. In fact, he's speaking directly to righteous Job and he wants Job to know that the righteous are far from perfect.
 
And even though the righteous are forever exalted and seated on the throne with kings, sometimes they get entangled in sin. And when they do, God will confront them with it, often through sickness or tragedy. And if they have enough sense to listen and be corrected by it, and obey and serve God, they can once again enjoy prosperity and pleasure.
 
And his point is that sometimes suffering is the tool that God uses to refines the righteous.
 
verse 10
 
It's what God uses to get our attention!
The psalmist said the same thing in Psalm 119:71, "It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes." There are dimensions of godliness that the righteous can only learn through affliction.
 
So the new slant that Elihu gives is that the suffering of the righteous is not the fire of destruction but the fire that refines the gold of their goodness. For the righteous, it is not punitive but curative.
 
And we need to make sure that we don't miss the distinction that is made between why the godless suffer as opposed to why the righteous suffer.
 
chapter 36, verses 13–15
 
Verses 13–14 describe one group of people for whom suffering results in nothing but destruction—they are the "godless in heart."
 
But then, in verse 15, he describes another group whose ears are opened in their oppression and those who experience deliverance by their affliction. These are not the godless or the wicked. They are the righteous. They are the people like Job, who are upright, and fear God, and turn away from evil, and have a blameless reputation. They suffer, too. But the divine purpose is not the same.
 
So what does Elihu teach us about why the righteous suffer? To answer that, let's return to the beginning of his speech. He begins with
 
4. Two Complaints
 
chapter 32, verses 2–3
Elihu is angry, first of all, because Job justified himself rather than God. And he was also angry at Job's three friends because they had found no answer, although they had declared Job to be in the wrong. And when you think about what he said in the chapters that follow, you can understand why he was upset.
 
He's upset with the friends because trying to explain Job's suffering by saying that God was punishing him for sin is not fair to God. It perverts the character and nature of God. That is not how God treats His children.
 
The righteous do suffer, but their suffering is not a punishment for sin but a refinement of their righteousness. Suffering opens their ears to God. It is God's way of confronting us to correct us to protect us. Suffering is intended to deepen faith and godliness and trust.
 
And the three friends of Job are wrong for suggesting otherwise, and Elihu is offended that they would insult God in that way.
 
But Job is wrong also. He had no better explanation of his suffering than his three friends did. His understanding of God's justice was basically the same as theirs.
 
The only difference was Job insisted he was righteous, and they insisted he was a sinner. In fact, his pride was insulted when they suggested otherwise. So to explain what's happening, he comes to the conclusion that God is his enemy and he should have never been born.
 
And Elihu is angry that Job would try to make himself look better by making God look bad. God was not Job's enemy and Job is not as pure as he claims to be. God is in fact Job's loving Father. He has allowed this sickness to drag on for months because he loves Job, not because he hates him.
 
What Job needs to do is get rid of the pride in his life, and open his ear to the correction of God so that he can repent and be cleanses and depend on God as he never had before. His suffering was not only an occasion for God to get glory over Satan (which we saw in chapters 1 and 2); it was also an occasion for God to deepen Job's insight and trust and godliness.
 
5. The Central Lesson
 
So the central lesson for us from the book of Job today is that the children of God—those who trust in God and are led by his Spirit and have their sins covered by the blood of Jesus—may indeed suffer. And when they do, it is not a punishment for sin. Christ has borne the punishment for our sin, and there is no double jeopardy!
 
The suffering of the children of God is evidence of God's judgment, rather it is an expression of His grace. God is committed to making us better. And if He has to hurt us to help us, so be it. Just remember, God is not out to injure you. Even when we suffer, it comes in an individually designed therapeutic package that is distributed by the loving hand of our Great Physician!
 
And its aim is that our faith might be refined, our holiness might be enlarged, our soul might be saved, and our God might be glorified.
Want proof? Take it from Peter who wrote:
 
On that day you will be glad, even if you have to go through many hard trials for a while. Your faith will be like gold that has been tested in a fire. And these trials will prove that your faith is worth much more than gold that can be destroyed. They will show that you will be given praise and honor and glory when Jesus Christ returns. (1 Peter 1:6–7)
 
Or the write of Hebrews:
 
Our human fathers correct us for a short time, and they do it as they think best. But God corrects us for our own good, because he wants us to be holy, as he is. It is never fun to be corrected. In fact, at the time it is always painful. But if we learn to obey by being corrected, we will do right and live at peace.
(Hebrews 12:10–11)
 
Or Paul:
 
My friends, I want you to know what a hard time we had in Asia. Our sufferings were so horrible and so unbearable that death seemed certain. In fact, we felt sure that we were going to die. But this made us stop trusting in ourselves and start trusting God, who raises the dead to life. (2 Corinthians 1:8–9)
 
Or James:
 
My friends, be glad, even if you have a lot of trouble. You know that you learn to endure by having your faith tested. But you must learn to endure everything, so that you will be completely mature and not lacking in anything. (James 1:2–4)
 
Let's pray.
 
 
 
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