"The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the Lord trieth the hearts" (Proverbs 17.3)
The book of Job, which was probably one of the very earliest books of the Bible to be written, stands in our Christian canon at the head of the third major division of the Scriptures, the poetical books. These are the books which concern our spiritual experience with God, and within their compass we can observe a certain progression and development of thought. For, if Job teaches the truth of "blessing through suffering", the Psalms teach the truth of "praise through prayer", Proverbs teaches the truth of "prudence through precept", Ecclesiastes that of "verity through vanity", while the Song of Solomon teaches the consummating truth of spiritual experience - "bliss through union". In fact, the whole division can be seen to form a kind of Pentateuch of spiritual truth which in some significant ways corresponds to the salient truths taught in each of the books of the Mosaic Pentateuch respectively. Viewed thus, we see that Job corresponds to the book of Genesis with its emphasis on foundational truths, including creation, the entrance of sin into the world and its effect, the sovereignty of God in choosing certain individuals to fulfil His purposes, and the detailed history of those men of faith and promise. For the book of Job contains much about creation, concerns the problem of sin and suffering, and relates the sovereign dealings of God with one particular man of faith to produce in him, in even greater measure than at the beginning of the story, the peaceable features of true holiness and a deeper knowledge both of himself and also of his God. If we are to begin to make progress in the development of our Christian characters and relationship with God, we need to understand the main features of the message of Job for ourselves today. It is the aim of this study to explain this.
Summary of the Message
In a word, therefore, we should say that the message of the book of Job is that we need to come to the end of ourselves, however righteous we may be in this world's view of things, and to see ourselves in the light of a new vision of God in all His transcendent greatness and glory. The old nature, the flesh, self in all its many forms, needs to be judged by us individually in the light of God's presence. Only so will the features of our new life in Christ be able to develop and grow to maturity. God used a severe trial to bring His purpose to fulfilment in the case of Job. He may well do the same in our lives. But, as Job said in a moment of spiritual insight in 23.10: "when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold"; our hearts will be humbler before Him, and our faith purer, stronger, and sweeter than ever before.
1. The Divine Trial of Job Initiated
It is important to notice, first of all, that it was the Lord Himself who initiated this trial of Job, for it was He who first asked Satan if he had considered His righteous servant Job. We are not told whether or not Satan already had evil designs upon Job as God's servant. The emphasis is upon the Lord's initiative throughout the Prologue to the book. The Lord is always in complete control of Satan, despite every appearance to the contrary. His attitude towards evil is at present permissive and longsuffering. He is waiting to see if men will repent of their sin and turn to Him in faith. And He simply overrules evil to achieve His own purposes of grace and redemption. He will judge one day, but not until evil has developed fully and there is no further hope of repentance by His creatures.
Second, it was vitally important to the accomplishment of the Lord's purpose in trying Job that he never knew of the scene in the heavenly court described in the Prologue. Had he done so, that purpose would have been frustrated, because Job would probably have become quite conceited about the fact that his righteousness was being admired in heavenly places. Self in Job would have been encouraged to manifest itself. But the humbling of self was the whole purpose of the trial. Unless the Lord makes us walk by faith, which involves not knowing the whole picture as the Lord sees and knows it, but simply trusting and obeying His word to us in the absence of tangible evidence of His working, He cannot fully develop our characters as believers. It is usually only after we have come successfully through a severe trial of faith that the Lord may reveal the whole picture to us. And often we shall not know the reasons for our trials this side of eternity and the Judgment Seat of Christ, for only then will faith give place to sight and full understanding of the Lord and His ways with us in time. Our trials, brought upon us by a loving God, are in His hands the crucible in which He tests our faith and purifies it from all impurities caused by our old nature, the flesh.
But let us note that we believing Bible readers today have been privileged to see the whole story of the trial of Job by the Lord, so that we may learn from it how to respond to and benefit from such trials by a shorter, and perhaps easier, route than Job did in the early patriarchal period. For our warfare likewise originates in heavenly places with spiritual foes, although our daily walk is on the earth. If we are forewarned that we could suffer in this way also, we should be better prepared to endure with patience our own particular trials of faith.
Third, the effect of the succession of calamities which befell Job was to remove totally from him the "hedge" of special favour and protection with which, Satan complained to the Lord, He had surrounded Job, and so had effectively "bought" his worship. These calamities left Job completely exposed to the misunderstanding of well-meaning friends, and wondering why the Lord whom he trusted and worshipped had allowed him to suffer in this evidently undeserved way. Whilst Job's initial reaction was to accept all his calamities quietly as from the hand of a sovereign God, and to continue to bless the Lord for all His good gifts, the combined tests of time, misunderstanding, and physical suffering soon began to have a deep effect upon him in his utter weakness and perplexity. This left him completely dependent upon his God, a position which the Lord had allowed to occur so that He might work a deeper work of grace and spiritual education in His godly servant. Likewise with ourselves; only when we have all human, carnal, and worldly props removed from our lives by some misfortune, are we in a position in which we can learn more both concerning ourselves and concerning our Lord. For we, like Job, are in the Lord's school of faith throughout our earthly lives. There is divinely-designed blessing behind all the buffetings we receive in daily life.
To be continued.