Thursday, February 11, 2010


At times when we are suffering or in some sort of trial, we, like Job, begin to make demands of God. We, as he, cry out with “Why?” questions. And when God is silent, as He usually is, we cry out more loudly and make greater and greater demands. We want answers! We want God to show Himself! But what if He did answer audibly? What would we do?

Job, through all his dialog with his friends, has become increasingly more demanding of God. Sometimes he appears to be confusing God with his friends as he makes greater and greater demands. He wants to stand before God and plead his case. Or perhaps he feels that God should stand before him and make His case. And he seems to have a growing conviction that this is going to happen!

But when it does happen – when God does speak – it is not to justify His ways to Job. It is to interrogate Job and to quiz him on matters of physics and zoology, rather than to answer any of Job’s questions.

In chapters 38-41 of the book of Job, God speaks out of the whirlwind -- the storm that had been approaching while Elihu spoke. And the name that is used here is not one of the names usually translated God, that Job and his friends have been using – EL, ELOAH, ELOHIM or SHADDAI – the Almighty. It is His covenant name YAHWEH – the LORD.

And what beautiful sarcasm is used! Some of us blush to think that the LORD would speak that way! But He does! And He tears into Job!

He introduces His quiz with a challenge to the one who had been challenging Him.
“Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Now gird your loins like a man,
And I will ask you and you teach Me!
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding!
Who set its dimensions? Because you know!” (38:2-5)

The LORD batters Job with question after question, concerning creation, meteorology, astronomy, zoology, pointing out that Job has little knowledge of, and no control over nature. Then He concludes His first set of questions with another challenge.
“Will the fault finder complain against the Almighty?
He who reproves God must respond!” (40:2)

The LORD sounds to me like an indignant parent or school teacher reprimanding a smart-aleck kid. I believe that what He is saying is something like this. “You want to tell Me how to run My universe? Fine! Just show Me that you have knowledge of a few details of its operation and I’ll let you take control!”

But Job can’t or won’t answer any of the questions. Rather, he sees who he is and Who God is and answers accordingly.
“See, I am insignificant; what can I answer You?
I put my hand on my mouth!
Once I have spoken and I won’t answer,
Twice and will say no more!” (40:4, 5)

But the LORD is not through with Job yet! He challenges him that if he, Job can demonstrate the attributes of God, then the LORD will let him take control (40:6-14).
“Would you question My justice?
Would you condemn Me that you may be right?” (40:8)
“ … Then I will confess to you
that your right hand can save you!” (40:14)

There follows a boast and a quiz on two powerful creatures of the LORD’s creation: Behemoth and Leviathan (most likely the hippopotamus and the crocodile).

Excursus: there are a number of different views as to what these creatures are:
1. They are mythological;
2. They are real creatures that existed in Job’s day, but are extinct (mammoths? dinosaurs?);
3. They are real but other worldly creatures, like cherubim and seraphim;
4. They are literal creatures that still exist today.
I take view four as being the simplest and most plausible. According to 40:15, they had some similarities to Job (“I made with you.”) and apparently could be seen by him. All the other descriptions are from nature and we need to recognize that some of the language is hyperbole.

He says of leviathan:
“No one is so fierce as to arouse him;
So who is he who can stand before me?
And who is he who has given to Me that I should repay him?
All that is under the heavens is Mine!” (41:10, 11)
“He looks on all that is high,
He is king over all the sons of pride!” (41:34)

The LORD appears to be saying to Job, “You can’t even wrestle a crocodile – one of My creatures; how dare you think that you can wrestle with Me – the Creator?” Job and we are confronted with a rather unfamiliar and uncomfortable attribute of God, an attribute for which I don’t have a word – His ferocity? God is to be feared! He is Awesome – not in the bland sense that the word has presently come to have, but in its original meaning of inspiring awe. The LORD is at least as uncontrollable as Leviathan!

I am reminded of the passage in C. S. Lewis’, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where Mr. and Mrs. Beaver are telling the children about Aslan, the coming deliverer of Narnia. Mr. Beaver informs them that Aslan is not a man, but a lion.
“’Ohh,’ said Susan … ‘Is he – quite safe? …’
‘Then he isn’t safe?’ said Lucy.
‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver … ‘Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe.
But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’”

Perhaps Job’s first reply to the LORD was simply the reaction any child would make when getting a chewing out – anything to get out of this verbal attack. But his second reply is that of a true penitent.
“I know that You can do all things
And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” (42:2)
“ … I declared what I didn’t understand,
Things beyond me, which I didn’t know!” (42:3)
“With the hearing of the ear I have heard of You.
But now my eye sees You;
Therefore I recant,
And repent in dust and ashes!” (42:5, 6)

I don’t believe Job literally “saw” the LORD. He is saying that his knowledge of Him has been, up to this point, second hand. Now he has experienced God first hand. “He does not say in the end, ‘Now I see it all.’ He never sees it all. He sees God.” (F. I. Anderson, Job)

But of what is Job recanting and repenting?
 His ignorance? Yes, he confesses his ignorance of God.
 His too quick assumptions? Yes, he’d spoken beyond his understanding.
 His sin? But if he sinned, the LORD lost His bet!
 His sinfulness? Yes, though Job had not sinned in the particular way that his friends accused him of, or that Satan predicted he would, he recognized his own sinful state. Sin is not simply an act; it’s a condition that all human beings share. As Isaiah the prophet declared when he saw the Lord (Isaiah 6:5).
“Woe is me, I’m ruined!
For I’m a man of unclean lips
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of Hosts!”

The story quickly winds down: the three friends get their comeuppance. Job is blessed again, “And Job died, an old man and full of days” (Job 42:17). We should not take from the happy ending the idea that this is universal nor that happy endings are a “promise.” Not all tales of suffering have a storybook ending, and were we to draw that “moral” from this story, we would have missed the point and pretty much wasted our time in reading the book.

There are many lessons and principles to be drawn from the book of Job and I hope I’ve touched on more than a few of the prominent ones.

But I believe the main thesis of this book is that suffering is designed by God to draw the sufferer closer to Him – to a deeper knowledge of Him. Job needed to wrestle with his questions and was permitted to think deeply on them. Job needed to hear the arguments of his “friends,” no matter how inane they may have been. But finally he needed to see God. Job started this adventure as a man of faith. We’re not told in so many words, but I believe he ended as a man of deeper faith.

The question asked throughout the book was “Can a man be right with God?” (4:17 – see: JOB, GOD AND SUFFERING) Job was right with God. He was a man of faith which is what I believe the Old Testament expression “fearing God” (1:1) means.

Some might question my conclusion. What about Job’s ten children? What about his servants? They were snuffed out without an opportunity to question their fate. What about the people of Haiti? Those who went through the tsunami of a few years ago? The holocaust? I don’t know. To attempt to sum it all up in a few sentences would be calloused at best.

All the person of faith can do is to lean harder on the only One who has all the answers.

Bill Ball

No comments: