Revelation through Suffering (Job 38:1-42:6)
A Perspective on Suffering
Revelation Through Suffering
Job 38:1–42:6
When we come to the 38th chapter of Job, he has been lying in unrelieved misery for months with open sores all over his body. In addition to the physical pain, he carries the grief of the loss of seven sons and three daughters. All of his wealth vanished in one afternoon. He has become repulsive to his wife and a target of theological abuse to his friends.
And at first, Job held up pretty well. He stands up to the losses as would be expected from any of God's children by saying, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord . . . Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil?" After all, his faith would declare that God is good, fair and just .
But as the misery drug out over the months, Job wavered in his confidence that God was on his side. In fact, in defending himself against the bad theology of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, he said things about God that were not true and began to insist on his own righteousness at the expense of God's justice.
As an example, listen to what he said in
chapter 13:23–24
In the heat of the battle, Job begins to believe that God was ignoring his faithfulness and treating him as an enemy.
He did reach the point where he confessed that after he died, he would see God as his Redeemer. But for now, God is treating him as an enemy, not a friend or a child. At least that's what Job thought, and it's easy to see why he might think that way. Maybe up until the point that the first messenger showed up, all Job had ever known was the blessing and goodness of God, and because of that, his understanding of God's goodness is skewed.
Bu the way, that would describe a lot of Christians. God's been good to them, they've been above average in their commitment, therefore if bad things happen, they are left to doubt God's goodness. So for whatever reasons, Job begins to complain to God..
chapter 23:3–4; 24:1
Complicating his experience, Job's three friends show up and take the position that the severity of Job's suffering must be the sign of some grievous sin in his life. God is punishing Job.
But Job responds by showing that there is no credible examples in the world between righteousness and prosperity or between wickedness and suffering. The righteous often suffer more than the wicked and the wicked often prosper more than the righteous. So job quietens his friends bad theology.
The with his next visitor, he is not so successful. In chapters 32–37 another friend named Elihu shows up and rebukes both Job and his three friends.
The three friends of Job were not able to explain why a good man like Job is suffering, but Job had an overinflated opinion of himself and in his attempts to make himself look better than he was, he had actually said some things about God that weren't true.
So Elihu's point of view is that Job is a righteous man, though not perfect, and that he is loved by God. And God is not treating him as his enemy but as his child and friend.
And in words, we discover that God actually had two purposes in bringing all these difficulties to him. His original purpose was to prove to Satan that Job loved God more than anything else. And God was proved to be right. Job came through it all, and fell on his face while he was still suffering and worshipped God.
  1. after that, when we would expect things to eventually get back t normal, God has another purpose in mind that and that's why he let the suffering continue for several more months.
And that purpose, according to Elihu, was to rid Job of the residue of pride that was still quietly resent in his life. And sure enough, after Job suffered long enough, the pride began to rear its ugly head. And it presents itself by Job trying to justify himself at God's expense.
So why did Job suffer? So far we've seen two reasons.
First, God wanted to prove how much Job loved Him, and second, God wanted to prove how much He loved Job.
And to be honest, the first one is much easier to see than the second. For a person to hold on to God and even worship God when they are hurting is understandable. After all, especially for a mature believer, it is the most logical response we could ever give.
OF course Job doesn't desert God when tragedy comes. It would be foolish to quit on God after God's has been so good. Where else would he go? The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Now let's go to church and worship like we've always done.
There is no question that Job loves God.
But seeing God's love in the story is not so easy. After all, in and through all the opening tragedies and especially through the ongoing pain and sickness, we don't see much evidence of God's goodness or even of His comfort and care.
So where is God's love? And yet, that is exactly the argument Elihu brings. What Job is going through is not punishment. It is not a sign of God's anger. It is the hand of a loving God at work. In fact, the removal of the disease of pride is the most loving thing God could do, no matter what the cost or haw bad it hurts.
Is that really the way God works in the lives of those He loves? Let's let Jesus answer:
Matthew 5:29-30
So here's what Job is dealing with: It is really better to suffer physical pain if it makes us more like God? And if you answer no, it's just proof that we don't hate sin and value holiness the way God does and the way you should. And it would probably be good for us to think about ourselves and be honest about the way we deal with our own self-righteousness.
  1. I want to return to the close of Elihu's speech and in particular, see the way it prepares Job and us for the arrival of God. Toward the end of Elihu's speech, a thunderstorm had gathered and filled him with awe.
It is as though he senses the approach of God in this storm and brings his words to a close. And sure enough, somehow, out of the whirlwind comes the voice of God to Job (chapters 38–41).
God's Rebuke
chapter 38, verses 1–2
Someone might think that God is criticizing the words of Elihu here, but that is not the case. He is speaking to Job and criticizing Job.
We know this because in 42:3 when God is through speaking, Job quotes these words from 38:2 and applies them to himself. He says, "Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?" That is a quote from God in 38:2. And then Job responds (in the second half of verse 3), "Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know."
So the words of God in chapters 38–41 are not a rebuke of Elihu. Nowhere does God rebuke or criticize Elihu. Elihu had been right. Job listens in silent agreement. And when Elihu is finished, God speaks to Job and not to Elihu. And so now we want to know what more God has to say to Job. Let's look and see.
Job on Trial Before God
Job 38:3
God has been questioned by Job long enough. Now it is time for Job to be put on trial. It's time for God to be the questioning attorney.
Let's try to summarize the interrogation without reading the whole thing. It is not exactly what you would expect.
Questions About the World Below
First, in 38:4–7 God focuses on the earth: "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding." You weren't there, Job, and you don't know how I did it.
In 38:8–11 God focuses on the sea: "Who shut in the sea with doors, when it burst forth from the womb?" It was I, Job, I set its limits not you. You weren't there and you don't know how I did it.
In 38:12–15 the Lord focuses on the dawn: "Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place?" You never did it. You can't do it. You don't know how to do it. I have always done it. I always will.
In 38:16–18 God focuses on the depth and breadth of the sea and land. Job, you have never even been to the bottom of the ocean or around the world. And you think you know enough to argue with God.
Questions About the World Above
Then in the last half of chapter 38 God takes his focus off the world below and turns it to the world above.
First, in verses 19–21 he questions Job about the origin of light and dark: "Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness?" You don't know where it is or how to get there. But I do, Job. I made the light.
Then, in verses 22–30 God asks him about snow and hail and rain and frost: Do you know anything about how to store up hail for the day of battle? Would you know how to cut a channel in the sky to make it rain on a land where no man is?
Or lift your eyes even higher, Job, (verses 31–33) and look at the constellations: Pleiades, Orion, Mazzaroth, the Bear! "Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth?"
If not, come back down then and we will just talk about the rain again (verses 34–38). Can you make it rain? Do you know how to whistle for the lightning so it comes and says, "Here we are!"? Can you count the clouds with your wisdom? Or do my earthly pastimes stretch your mind a bit too far?
So whether we focus on the earth or the sea or the dawn or the snow or hail or constellations or rain, the upshot is that Job is ignorant and impotent. He doesn't know where they came from. He doesn't know how to make them work. He is utterly surrounded, above and below, by mysteries.
And so are we, because the scientific advancements of the last two hundred years are like sand-pails of saltwater hauled from the ocean of God's wisdom and dumped in a hole on the beach while the tide is rising. God is not impressed. And we should be overwhelmed with our ignorance, not impressed with science.
Questions About the World of Animals
Then come the queries about the world of animals.
In 38:39–41 God asks who Job thinks provides lions and birds with their food? "Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?" I do, Job—all over the world. Can you do that?
Or consider the birth of the young (39:1–4). "Do you know when the mountain goats bring forth? Do you observe the calving of the hinds?"
Think of it, Job! I am on top of all these things. Every wild deer in northern Minnesota that gives birth—I am there. Every mountain goat in Switzerland and Nepal—when they bring forth, I am there; I know their months. I care for the young.
Think of it, Job! When a man sees a work of God, like your suffering, can he see its connection to ten thousand other realities in the world like I can? If not, how will he dare to judge its wisdom!
Consider the wild donkey (39:5–8). "Who has let the wild donkey go free?" Do you think there are wild and unpredictable creatures in the world, Job? Guess what? I set them loose. I give them a wilderness for running and the mountain for pasture. They are the work of my hands. Things are quite in order! And you have nothing to do with it.
And so it goes. The wild ox (39:9–12): you don't know how to bind him or use him. He is mine.
The ostrich (39:13–18): she walks away from her eggs; she forgets about them. Who made her like that? It was me, Job. Even the foolish things are by design. Ostriches and Oklahoma mosquitoes. I govern them all by perfect design.
Of course not all animals are foolish and useless. Take the horse (39:19–25), for example. "Do you give him his might? Do you clothe his neck with strength?" You don't know how to do it, Job. I am the only one who does.
Finally, Job, (39:26–30) "Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars, and spreads his wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?"
No! Whether we consider the prey of lions, the birth of mountain goats, the freedom of the wild donkey, the insubordination of the wild ox, the stupidity of the ostrich, the might of the war horse, or the flight of the hawk and eagle, the upshot is the same: Job is ignorant and weak. He did not make them. He does not know how to control them. He cannot see what they are doing. And yet this ignorant Job presumed to question the ways of God!
God Pauses for Job's Response
So at the beginning of chapter 40, God pauses in his interrogation to give Job a chance to respond.
verses 1-5
Job is getting the point: a finite creature who has no wisdom to run this world and is utterly ignorant of 99.999% of its processes has no business instructing his Maker and Ruler how to run the world, even condemning God for the way he runs it.
Bur God's not through.
God Continues His Case Against Job
God presses his case further against Job in 40:6–9 as he speaks again out of the whirlwind.
verses 6-9
Now this argument is rather disturbing:
Are God's Ways Right Simply Because He Is Almighty God?
Are we to submit to God just because He's powerful? Is something right and good just because God does it?
I think the answer to that question is yes and no. On the one hand, there is no greater reality than God with which we can judge God's actions. He would not be God if he submitted to something outside himself.
But on the other hand, when we say the sentence, "God is good," or, "God always does what is right," God wants us to mean more than simply, "God is God." He wants us to see that his might does not make right in the sense that it could be arbitrary and irrational and nevertheless right. Instead he wants us to see that his might is purposeful.
God's Holy and Purposeful Might
So in 40:10–14 he challenges Job to join him in this holy and purposeful might.
Deck yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe verses 10-14
This is very different from saying, "Acknowledge that my might is right no matter what I do." Instead, God says, "I use my power to clothe myself with splendor and to abase the proud and (by implication) to exalt the humble." In other words the rightness of God's might is not merely that it is God's, but also that its purposes are consistence with his excellence.
The goodness of God is just this: that he upholds his glory by bringing down the proud and giving the humble delight in his excellence.
Job Brought to Submission and Worship
So in bringing Job to submission, God did not simply say, "Might makes right. So stop condemning my ways." He said, in the first place, there are ten million things about running the world of which you don't know the first thing, but I know perfectly. So it is presumptuous to assume you can counsel me about how to run a more just world. You can't begin to know all that has to be taken into account in making decisions about how to run the world for my glory and for the joy of my people!
And in the second place, God showed that his might is not arbitrary but purposeful. And the purpose is to uphold his glory by abasing the proud and blessing the humble.
Therefore Job should not presume to accuse God of being arbitrary or capricious or irrational. He should submit to the wisdom and goodness of God's dealings and hold fast to the promise that "God withholds no good thing from those who walk uprightly" (Psalm 84:11).
Three Acts of Job's Submission
Which in fact he did in Job 42:1–6. Notice the three acts of submission:
Verse 1–2
First, He submits to God's absolute sovereignty. He acknowledges that God can do whatever He pleases, and is not constrained by anything outside himself.
Verse 3:
Next, he quotes God and then gives his response by submitting to God's infinitely greater wisdom and knowledge. He has spoken about things of which he is very ignorant.
Then, in verses 4–6, he again quotes God and then gives his own response.
verses 4-6
Four Lessons
The lessons for us are plain and simple and profound:
1. Believe with all your heart in the absolute sovereignty of God.
Pray that God would give you that conviction.
2. Believe with all your heart that everything he does is right and good.
Pray that God will give you that assurance.
3. Repent of all the times you have questioned God or found fault with him in the way he has treated you.
Pray that God would humble you to see these murmurings as sinful.
4. Be satisfied with the holy will of God and do not murmur.
Instead, be like the great George Mueller of Bristol England. On the Lord's Day, February 6, 1870, his wife Mary died of rheumatic fever. They had been married 39 years and 4 months.
The Lord gave him the strength to preach at her memorial service. He said,
"I miss her in numberless ways, and shall miss her yet more and more. But as a child of God, and as a servant of the Lord Jesus, I bow, I am satisfied with the will of my Heavenly Father, I seek by perfect submission to His holy will to glorify Him, I kiss continually the hand that has thus afflicted me."
Let's pray.
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