Today we are beginning an 8-week series overviewing often neglected books of the Bible, the ones we don’t typically get around to when we’re thinking through sermon series. I get to kick us off with a single sermon on 42 chapters of the book of Job. A large task, and one that I’ve really enjoyed digging into in the last couple of months.
Of course 40 minutes on this book is going to be totally insufficient for an in-depth exploration of everything that is here, but my goal this morning is to orient you to the book’s structure and its major themes, such that the next time you undertake a study you have some rails to run on.
I have created a small handout for you that should be in your bulletins to help remember some of the things we’ve discussed, and to provide some guides for further exploration of the book. It might be helpful to have as a reference, along with notes that you take today, as we walk through the book together.
One of the things that makes the book of Job unique is that it is very likely the first of the scriptures to be written. Job most likely lived shortly after Abraham, maybe only a few generations, and well before Moses and the Exodus and the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy).
What is interesting about this is the theme. The first revelation man had from God in scripture is about the themes of God’s holiness, power, and glory, and man’s suffering. The oldest and most persistent question we have, the problem of pain and suffering in the world, is (in one sense) the very first question the Scriptures address.
And it is the way that the scriptures go about addressing this problem that is going to be my focus today.
Most notably, when we ask the question of pain and suffering to God, He does not give us a short, canned, three-bullet-point answer on a postcard or coffee cup or motivational poster.
He gives us a forty-two-chapter epic poem.
This is significant.
We are meant to dwell in this book, and wrestle through its twists and turns and ins and outs, as we wrestle through this question. We are asked by God to cast our minds out into the farthest reaches of heaven and consider the constellations, out to the ends of the earth and consider all the wild animals and far-flung reaches of the oceans, and down into the very depths of the sea and the abyss, as we consider this question.
It takes hours to sit and read Job through in a single sitting. It is meant to, and we should do it more frequently. And if you get nothing else out of this sermon today, get that. You must work into your life enough time and space to allow yourself to spend hours at a time wrestling through these questions with the scriptures.
Let’s make a pass at laying down some tracks for your reading. We will start at the beginning with Job.
We are introduced to Job, the greatest of all the people of the east. Blameless and righteous, wealthy and pious. Master of many servants and steward of many resources. This man was well respected, well liked, well spoken of, and for all the right reasons.
And then the story gets really weird.
Job 1:6–12 (ESV)
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
And then Satan wipes out all of Job’s possessions, all of his children, all but three of his servants (only just enough so that these things could be reported to Job).
I’m going to pause for only a moment here and comment on something that should give us days of pondering as we read this. What is going on here? Why is God allowing Satan to speak to Him, much less to unleash on Job’s family and possessions? Can we admit for a second that this is really really weird?
Even weirder is Job’s response:
Job 1:20–21 (ESV)
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Satan’s ploy failed. Remove all of Job’s possessions and he still remains a worshiper of The Lord. So Satan asks for another try, “take away his health” and see what happens then? And again, God allows it, and Job is absolutely devastated.
Job 2:4–6 (ESV)
4 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. 5 But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” 6 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.”
7 So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. 8 And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes.
And again Job’s reply.
Job 2:9–10 (ESV)
9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”
The narrator, after both of Job’s replies takes time to note that Job’s replies to the situation were flawless. “In all this he did not sin with his lips.”
And then Job is left alone to suffer. We have a clue later on in one of his speeches that he suffered, alone, for months, in this condition.
And then his friends show up.
Job 2:11–13 (ESV)
Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.
These are good guys. Good friends. Come to mourn with Job in silence. To try and comfort him with their presence in his pain and loneliness. And they do well. They sit with him, in silence, for an entire week.
And then Job opens his mouth.
Job kicks off the meat of the book, twenty-nine chapters worth, by cursing the day he was born. His suffering is so great, so disorienting, so confusing, that he wishes he had never been born. What follows is an epic argument. The friends, who so dutifully had been sitting there mourning with him, now felt a compulsion to respond. Which I think we can all relate to.
In fact, I think we’re meant to relate to the friends here. These guys are trying to be helpful. Job has finally spoken, so they get a window into his mind. Now they think they can help fix things!
So they offer what amount to trite, theological platitudes. Some of them are true, some of them are false. However with each pass, Job grows more confident in his position, and more sure that what the friends are offering is utterly unhelpful. (And he’s right.)
Job’s arguments show that he is confident of five true things:
- God is totally in control
- God is righteous and just
- God cares
- Job is innocent!
- This suffering is actually happening
And Job is utterly confused as to why any of this has happened to him. In the three cycles of the argument, he gets more and more confused, and more and more irate at God. None of what he is experiencing makes any sense to him. His five premises do not seem to all fit together.
His friends try to argue that one of his premises is incorrect, namely his innocence. “Job, you must have done something to deserve this. Just admit it, and let’s be done here!”
Don’t let my brief treatment here today underplay the weight of the fact that this goes on for twenty-nine chapters. Eliphaz speaks, Job responds. Bildad speaks, Job responds. Zohar speaks, Job responds. Repeat. And repeat again (with a few differences the final time).
The friends become more and more accusatory, from saying “perhaps you are guilty” to blatantly falsely accusing him of crimes. However, through the cycles, Job crushes their argument and shatters their flawed theology that God only brings suffering to the unrighteous. This crushing is actually shown in the structure of the poem itself.
Job clings to his innocence, God’s justice, God’s sovereignty, and God’s caring goodness, but also clings to his confusion about what is going on. And he actually oversteps. He accuses God of being out to get him. Of being arbitrary in who he decides to visit with suffering. He says the world doesn’t make any sense and that he might as well have been bad, rather than good, for all the difference it makes.
Like many in the middle of an extreme trial, also Job overplays his self-defense. And demands a hearing with God. He wants to put God on the witness stand so that God will answer Him. And this is a step to far.
So in steps Elihu. Elihu is an interesting character, and some commentaries I read had a hard time knowing what to do with him. Is he just another one like Job’s three other friends? What he says doesn’t seem too far distant from them.
To be honest it’s a little difficult to know what to do with him. However, because God does not rebuke Elihu like he does the other three friends, and Job does not argue with Elihu, even though he is given a chance, and because of the overall structure of the book, I believe it is safe to conclude that we should listen to him. And when we do, we find some interesting things.
Elihu steps in just in time to pull Job back from overstepping into sin in his response to God. It is as though God sends in Elihu just at the breaking point, and says “I’m going to stop you right there, Job.”
Job 33:8–14 (ESV)
“Surely you have spoken in my ears,
and I have heard the sound of your words.
You say, ‘I am pure, without transgression;
I am clean, and there is no iniquity in me.
Behold, he finds occasions against me,
he counts me as his enemy,
he puts my feet in the stocks and watches all my paths.’
“Behold, in this you are not right.
I will answer you, for God is greater than man.
Why do you contend against him,
saying, ‘He will answer none of man’s words’?
For God speaks in one way, and in two,
though man does not perceive it.
Elihu goes on to tell Job, and us, how God does speak and answer us. And in so doing explains the purpose of suffering.
Job 33:15–30 (ESV)
15 In a dream, in a vision of the night,
when deep sleep falls on men,
while they slumber on their beds,
16 then he opens the ears of men
and terrifies them with warnings,
17 that he may turn man aside from his deed
and conceal pride from a man;
18 he keeps back his soul from the pit,
his life from perishing by the sword.
Elihu here is describing a work of the Holy Spirit in convicting our souls of our sin, and the reality of judgement. He is also speaking of revelation, which in Job’s day was primarily supernatural through the prophets, of which Job is one. As is Elihu. In our day those prophecies have been recorded for us in the scripture and are primarily shared by Christians with the world through evangelistic proclamation!
19 “Man is also rebuked with pain on his bed
and with continual strife in his bones,
20 so that his life loathes bread,
and his appetite the choicest food.
21 His flesh is so wasted away that it cannot be seen,
and his bones that were not seen stick out.
Elihu is describing the purpose of physical suffering in this world. He says “loathing bread and choicest food” to represent a lot of our appetites. A good way of saying this is that God uses pain and suffering to loosen our grip on our idols: our reliance on finding satisfaction and fulfillment in the things of this world.
If you are finding yourself troubled with thoughts, and in the midst of suffering, God is trying to get your attention.
22 His soul draws near the pit,
and his life to those who bring death.
23 If there be for him an angel,
a mediator, one of the thousand,
to declare to man what is right for him,
24 and he is merciful to him, and says,
‘Deliver him from going down into the pit;
I have found a ransom;
25 let his flesh become fresh with youth;
let him return to the days of his youthful vigor’;
26 then man prays to God,
and he accepts him;
he sees his face with a shout of joy,
and he restores to man his righteousness.
27 He sings before men and says:
‘I sinned and perverted what was right,
and it was not repaid to me.
And just in case we still aren’t sure what Elihu’s point is in all the preceding, he sums it up nicely for us.
29 “Behold, God does all these things,
twice, three times, with a man,
30 to bring back his soul from the pit,
that he may be lighted with the light of life.
God does bring suffering into our lives. And he does it to spare our soul from the pit, and to turn us toward the light of life.
OBSERVATION: GOD INFLICTS THE SUFFERING (for a purpose)
Notice how verse 29 is adamant that “God does these things with a man.” Throughout the whole book, none of the friends, in all their error, nor Job, nor Elihu for a second entertain the most popular explanation for suffering and pain that we give in our culture. That somehow God is not in control. Or somehow He looses His control and stands by and “allows” and watches suffering passively, rather than, as this scripture says, “does it.”
If that is the view you hold, you will never reach a satisfactory answer for your suffering and pain, or the suffering and pain of anyone you are trying to help, or the suffering and pain in the world.
All the speakers in this book know the truth that God is absolutely in control of every moment of Job’s suffering. Satan could not have touched a hair on Job’s head apart from God’s command, and was unable to an inch farther than God commanded. This is probably the hardest truth to chew on in the entire book. It is at the very root of Job’s confusion and argument. He is asking God “why?” and demanding an answer.
And God gives him one.
Elihu and God’s speeches almost blend together in their content. For the next five powerful chapters we have wave after wave of truth crashing over our souls reminding us of God’s greatness,
- His vast power,
- His absolute perfect knowledge of all things happening everywhere at the universe,
- His absolute command and control over the minutest details of life,
- His initiating and creative power at the foundation of the world,
- His restraining power in the shaping of the oceans and the dry land,
- His determining power in the course of the earth, sun, moon, and stars
- His providing power of the rain and snow and hail
- His caring power for the wild animals
And lest we fear that he wields this power is randomly, unjustly, or unrighteously, He clarifies for us how He uses it.
Job 40:7–14 (ESV)
“Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.
Will you even put me in the wrong?
Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?
Have you an arm like God,
and can you thunder with a voice like his?
“Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity;
clothe yourself with glory and splendor.
Pour out the overflowings of your anger,
and look on everyone who is proud and abase him.
Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low
and tread down the wicked where they stand.
Hide them all in the dust together;
bind their faces in the world below.
Then will I also acknowledge to you
that your own right hand can save you.
He goes on about the behemoth and leviathan, the most terrifying beasts he can list. And says he not only created them but delights in them and is in absolute control of them.
He says, you can trust me, Job. I’ve got this. And Job repents.
Job 42:1–6 (ESV)
Then Job answered the Lord and said:
“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel
Therefore I have uttered
what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me,
which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”
Job is showing us the right response to God’s display of what we call “His Glory”. God has revealed to Job more clearly who God is what God does, and how God operates. And this revelation leads Job to a quiet trust in whatever it is God has allotted for Job.
God is after something much bigger than Job’s comfort in this life. And that is true for all of our lives as well. God is after the most valuable, most important thing in all the universe. And He enlists Job in that cause: the display and proving of the worthiness of God Himself. All of creation is aimed at this central purpose. And Job, having seen God, is a happy and willing participant, even in the midst of an excruciating trial.
Notice that God never tells job why he is suffering.
God never reveals to Job the spiritual reality and Satan’s accusation. Job has no clue about that through the entire book. This is significant! I have a feeling that if Job would have been tuned in to that from the beginning, there would have been no complaining whatsoever. In fact, Job says this!
Job 31:35–37 (ESV)
Oh, that I had one to hear me!
(Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!)
Oh, that I had the indictment written by my adversary!
Surely I would carry it on my shoulder;
I would bind it on me as a crown;
I would give him an account of all my steps;
like a prince I would approach him.
God does not offer Job a simple explanation yet because that would not prove the genuine of Job’s faith. The accusation of the Satan at the very beginning of the book is that no one will worship God sheerly for God alone. God offers the perfect test, in full confidence, and Job’s faithfulness and perseverance and right response to God’s revelation absolutely crushes the snake.
Job the Prophet
Does this sound familiar? Perfect obedience to God’s will, in spite of undeserved suffering and pain, resulting in the crushing of Satan? It is supposed to.
Can you think of anyone else in the Bible who:
- Was the one righteous one out of the whole earth?
- God points out as his faithful servant with whom He is pleased?
- Is tested by Satan?
- Suffered pain and sorry without deserving it?
- Is disfigured beyond recognition?
- Has no worldly possessions?
- Was faithful and without sin in the test?
- Cried out to God for deliverance?
- Had friends with terrible theology who just couldn’t get it?
- Falsely accused of things he did not do?
- Prays for his sinful friends so that God would restore them through his work?
- Exalted after persevering through the trial?
In James 5:11, James calls Job a prophet. And like Hosea’s life prophesying to Israel about God’s faithfulness to them in their unfaithfulness, Job’s life is meant to point us forward to something. Namely, Jesus. We don’t know his name yet, but we are shown something about what pure worship of God looks like. We are shown what Christ’s like will be like, and have hints of what it will accomplish, in the very first book of scripture ever written.
The book ends, rather abruptly, after God tells Job’s friends to ask Job to pray and sacrifice for them so that they can be restored. God giving back to Job double everything that was taken, and Job living a long and happy life after this with these words:
Job 42:17 (ESV)
And Job died, an old man, and full of days.
The book leaves us longing for the hope of something more. Even the reward on this earth that he is given is temporary. But Job’s words remind us that there is something more coming. Something permanent. Job clung to this hope toward the end of his arguments:
Job 19:25–27 (ESV)
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!
Rejoice in the hope of the resurrection that Job speaks of. This hope is exactly what Peter has in mind when he writes:
1 Peter 1:6–7 (ESV)
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 5:6–11 (ESV)
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
And James says
James 5:10–11 (ESV)
As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
We have the big picture now! With the full revelation God has given us in the Bible we see the spiritual reality that Job had no clue about. We are tuned in to what God is up to in the universe, and this should give us strength to persevere with joy in our suffering!
See that you can trust God in the midst of all circumstances. He is completely in control. Realize that we are not in a position to judge God! He knows what He is doing, and He will accomplish His purpose. For His Glory and for our joy!