Reversal of Suffering (Job 42:7-17)
A Perspective on Suffering
Reversal of Suffering
Job 42:7–17
I want to begin our final look at the book of Job tonight with a couple of observations. First, I began the study, as you can tell by the title, in order to discover and learn and teach about how we should respond when we suffering.
And there are some great things to discover from Job about that. He is forever the epitome of the right response to God when bad things happen. In fact, James mentions him in his letter as an example those who are blessed who endure suffering.
But I've become convinced that how endure and respond when sufferings is not the primary message of the book. In fact, that's not really what James says of Job either. Listen to the verse
James 5:11
There we read that the destination God had in mind through Job was not to give us a lesson about Job, but a lesson about God. We aren't learning how to endure suffering; instead, we are learning about the compassion and mercy of God.
So where do we see the mercy and compassion of God in the story of Job? Not in the suffering, obviously. In the thick of it, Job thought God was his enemy. He wouldn't commit suicide as his wife encouraged, but he sure did wish he'd never been born!
In all the losses and deaths and disease that Job experienced, we sure don't come away with a very compassionate and merciful picture of God! Even in the conversation God had with Job, He is very straightforward as he puts Job in his place for having the audacity to question Him.
Instead, we see the compassion and mercy demonstrated through God patiently and methodically working to rid Job of the pride that has caused him to think more highly of himself than he ought to think.
And that is the primary lesson from the book. God uses whatever means necessary to rid us of sin. You may say, "But wait a minute. Didn't God say Job was a blameless and upright man who hated sin and loved God?"
Yes He did. But that doesn't mean he was a perfect man, and some of what was deep down inside him only came to the surface in the heat of the persecution. And when he was accused of being sinful by his friends, his immediate response is to reject their accusations and defend himself. In fact, he winds up shifting the emphasis away from the possibility of sin in his own life and placing it on the random, unexplained actions of God.
But it's interesting, that in the end, he winds up repenting, indicating he wasn't as clean as he thought he was. But neither was his suffering the result of terrible sin as his friends suggested. God wasn't punishing him because He was angry; He was cleansing him because He loved him.
And that leads me to the second observation, and that is neither theology doesn't change a person's heart, and it doesn't matter if it's bad theology such as we see in the words of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, or good theology like Elihu shared.
As important as good theology is, it won't do for you what experience does. There is a knowledge that comes only through going through some trials and difficulties and persecution and suffering.
That's why the psalmist said, "Taste and see that the Lord is good!" (Psalm 34:8). There is a knowledge that only comes through tasting. Five seconds of honey on the tongue will show you more sweetness than ten hours of lectures about the sweetness of honey.
Until God gives you a taste of his goodness all the theology in the world will not give you a knowledge of his goodness that changes your heart and saves your soul. And that's what happened with Job. He "tasted and saw" that the Lord is good.
Think about what we see in chapters 3 through 41. When Job heard bad theology, he argued and debated and challenged what he heard. When Elihu was finished speaking the truth to Job, Job said nothing.
But after God spoke in chapters 38–41, what did Job say?
chapter 42, verse 5
When God himself came to Job and spoke and took the initiative to make himself known to Job, then Job tasted God and his eyes were opened.
And with that taste came a new sense of God's reality. It is more than head knowledge or hearing what someone else has experienced. It is the knowledge of the heart. He tasted, and as a result, of tasting, he sees, and as a result of seeing, he is a broken and changed man.
And from this heart that has tasted and seen and been changed comes three great confessions.
First, in verse 2 he confesses the truth that God is absolutely sovereign: "I know that thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of thine can be thwarted."
In verse 3 he confesses the truth that God's wisdom makes his own wisdom look like ignorance: "I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know."
And in verse 6 he confesses the truth that he is guilty of despicable sin in questioning the ways of God: "I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes."
Those are the confessions of a broken and changed man. No longer is he daring God to come out in the open and listen to his side of the story. No longer is he accusing God of being and doing things contrary to His nature. No longer is he making reckless statements about how it would have been better for him if God had never let him be born.
Everything has changed in how he sees himself and how he sees God. But that's what happens when you really see God.
It happened to Isaiah: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips . . . for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" (Isaiah 6:5).
It happened to Peter when Jesus showed his power: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:8).
It happened to the centurion when Jesus came to his house: "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof" (Luke 7:6).
Before Job saw God in this way, he though more highly of himself than he ought to. he was very quick to brag about his righteousness. But seeing the Lord caused everything else to come in focus and now he sees himself much more clearly. And what he sees drives him to repentance.
If we are not intimately aware of our own sin and grieved because of it, and therefore, unworthy of God's goodness, then we need to quickly and earnestly pray that God would show us Himself —that He would not simply be a doctrine or a teaching that we hear with our ear, but instead would become an awesome, infinitely holy, dreadful, and wonderful Sovereign God that we taste and see with our hearts.
Jonathan Edwards wrestled with God as a young man in New England 250 years ago. He wrote in his Personal Narrative,
"From my childhood up, my mind had been full of objections against the doctrine of God's sovereignty .
. . But I remember the time very well when I seemed to be convinced, and fully satisfied, as to this sovereignty of God . . . There has been a wonderful alteration in my mind in respect to the doctrine of God's sovereignty, from that day to this; so that I scarce ever have found as much as the rising of an objection against it, in the most absolute sense . . . The first instance that I remember of that sort of inward, sweet delight in God and divine things that I have lived much in since, was on reading those words in 1 Timothy 1:17, "Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen." As I read the words, there came into my soul, and was as it were diffused through it, a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense, quite different from any thing I ever experienced before.
Edwards was given a "new sense"—a "taste," as the psalmist would say—of the glory and sovereignty of God. It overcame all his objections and it humbled him to the dust. He spoke of his sense of sin in words that are almost unintelligible in our self-exalting culture:
I have had a vastly greater sense of my own wickedness, and the badness of my heart, than ever I had before my conversion . . . My wickedness, as I am in myself, has long appeared to me perfectly ineffable, and swallowing up all thought and imagination; like an infinite deluge, or mountain over my head. I know not how to express better what my sins appear to me to be, than by heaping infinite upon infinite, and multiplying infinite by infinite."
That's whay God wants us to taste and see. He wants us to tast the indescribable sweetness of His own nature so that we will udnerstand the awful poison of the sin in our own. And when that happens, we become a very different thing than what we were.
Edwards describes it beautifully when he says,
"The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires; their hope is an humble hope; and their joy, even when it is unspeakable and full of glory, is an humble, broken-hearted joy, leaving the Christian more poor in spirit, more like a little child, and more disposed to an universal lowliness of behaviour."
That is what God is after in all his dealings with his children—a brokenhearted joy that trusts like a little child in God and rests in His care.
And when the book ends, that's where we find Job. He lives in a brokenhearted joy that trusts God like a little child.
And to prove that he is pleased with Job's "brokenhearted joy" God reverses Job's losses, restores his health, gives him ten new children and twice as many possessions as before. But before he performs this reversal for Job, God has two more things to bring about by this experience of suffering.
The first one is
1. The Humbling of Job's Three Friends
chapter 42, verses 7–9
It seems to me God's aim is to put these three friends of Job in the dust also, and He does it in two ways. First, He corrects their bad theology, and second he makes them seek forgiveness through the very one they had reviled.
Notice verse 7
God says, "What you've said about Me is not right. Job was right and you were wrong."
Now we realize not everything Job had said about God was right either, but as far as the basic dispute between Job and these three friends, he was in the right.
They had said that the wicked suffer and the righteous prosper. Job had said that the world proves no such thing: the wicked often prosper more than the righteous and the righteous often suffer more than the wicked. Job was right.
Not only that, the three friends had a very short view of justice. Everything works itself out in this life. But Job argues there are some things that will only be made right in the life after death. And again, Job was right.
So God forces these three friends to see that the very one they condemned was, in fact, the better theologian even if he wasn't perfect or right about everything.
And that's not all. They're not going to get off by simply go to their prayer closets and asking for forgiveness and being done with it. Not only do they have to admit that Job was right and they were wrong, but God tells them they must go to Job with their sacrifices and ask him to pray for them.
verse 8
That must have been a deeply humiliating thing. The very one that they had accused of being far from God must become their priest to bring them near to God.
And what God is doing is forcing them to follow a New Testament pattern that was given centuries later. The only way the three friends can experience reconciliation with God is by being reconciled with Job. They must humble themselves before Job, not simply before God.
But it cuts both ways. Think about it from Job's point of view.
2. The Sincerity of Job's Repentance
verse 9
When these three friends show up to ask Job to be their intercessor before God, it's not just their humility that is on trial! Job is now being asked to love his enemies and pray for those who wrongly accused him. He is being asked to bless those who cursed him and not to return evil for evil.
And remember, as far as we know, at this point he is still a very sick man! God has not yet reversed his misery. Why? What is the lesson here?
It is exactly what Jesus said in
Matthew 6:14
"If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
In other words, it is repentance and faith that activate the forgiveness of God. But the genuineness of your repentance, the authenticity of your faith, the reality of your change of heart must prove itself in your willingness to forgive those who sin against you.
If the forgiveness of God that a repentant sinner claims to have received does not flow through him to others, the claim is false. He is still in his sins. He was just putting on a show. The sincerity of our repentance must be demonstrated.
So God puts Job to one last test. Will he lay down the weapons of revenge and accept the terms of God's treaty and extend amnesty to his three friends the way God has? Yes! That is exactly what happens!
verse 9b
Job passes the test. He is a broken man. His own sins have bent him down in dust and ashes. How can he exalt himself above another man! How can he not give the forgiveness that he has freely been given!
And verse 9 ends, "The Lord accepted Job."
So the book closes with the lies of Satan silenced, the root of pride strained out of Job's life through the filter of suffering, the bad theology of his three friends corrected and their foolishness humbled, God's servants restored and reconciled and purified, and the honor of God's name vindicated!
I like a happy ending, don't you?
May the Lord grant us grace to learn that while his ways may not be our ways and his thoughts may not be our thoughts, yet they are the wisest of all ways; and are full of mercy for all those who love God and are called according to his purpose.
No wonder James said,
Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.
Let's pray.
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