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Faith in the Lord’s Crucible - The Message of the Book of Job (3)

Malcolm C Davis, Leeds

"The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the Lord trieth the hearts" (Proverbs 17.3)

The divine answers to Job

The whole account of Job’s trial purports to be historically true, and is referred to as historical fact in a few other Scriptures. So there is no need to doubt the reality of the intervention of God at this point, in a whirlwind, to answer Job (ch.38). The Lord really did reveal Himself to Job to resolve the situation. But He neither explained to Job the reason for his trial, the scene in heaven at the beginning, nor did He argue with him about His own or Job’s righteousness. No, instead the Lord overwhelmed Job with dozens of questions about the natural world which he could not possibly answer. His purpose was to humble His servant into a quiet submission and acceptance of His own transcendent greatness and glory.

Faced with the omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Lord of all creation, Job realised that he was simply not qualified to question God’s moral government of His world. There is an element of irony in the Lord’s answers to Job, and even in a few places, such as the passage about the foolish habits of the ostrich (39.13-18), a hint of humour. After all, how must we puny and sinful mortals appear in the sight of an Almighty God, especially when we strut proudly about His creation as if we owned it, pretending to be the masters of our own destiny, and even sometimes raising our fists to Him in defiant rebellion? As in Psalm 2.1-4, in connection with the final future rebellion against Him at Armageddon, the Lord can afford to laugh at our insignificance and impotence to disturb His purposes.

The general effect of the Lord’s interrogation of Job was to cause him to realise that he was in the presence of One who was infinitely greater than he was, and therefore that he must cease his own questioning of God’s ways with himself, and listen only to what He had to say. The two parts of the Lord’s answer to Job gradually reduce him to silence and complete submission to His will. It is probably significant that the divine answers end with a description of Leviathan, a creature whom none could tame but God, and who is described in the last line of 41.34 as "a king over all the children of pride". Only the Lord is able and qualified to tame pride in any of His creatures, including Job and ourselves today. Accordingly, in 42.6, after seeing this overwhelming vision of the Lord for the first time, Job confesses and repents of his proud self-righteousness in the words, "Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes". Yes, the Lord had finally dealt with Job’s self-centredness, so that he saw himself as God must see all of us by nature. Job acknowledged that he was by nature just "dust", and, as a result of the Lord’s providential dealings with him, just "ashes", a burnt-out wreck of a man. Thus Job was brought at last to an end of himself and all his self-righteousness. The man who had been said by the Lord Himself to have been the best man on earth at that time (1.8), is found finally on his face before God in utter humility and repentance of his rash words against Him.

The divine purpose achieved in Job

But, as always, "Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity". Now that Job had learned his hard lesson, the Lord could restore His righteous servant to a place of even greater blessing than he had before his trial. For that had always been His "end", His loving purpose in view throughout the trial. "The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower", said William Cowper, although it is often also true to say that "God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform".

Swiftly after Job’s repentance, the Lord moves to rebuke the three friends for their misrepresentation of Himself, and to appoint Job to intercede for them as their priest. Then the Lord restored Job to health again, and blessed him with twice as much as he had had before his trial. His three new daughters bear names which reflect the spiritual graces which marked Job now after his trial. Suffering, it has been said, either makes one "bitter, or better" spiritually. May that be the effect of all our trials of faith through which the Lord may take us in our day.

What, then, are the major and timeless spiritual lessons which we may learn from the book of Job?

First, we learn not to pre-judge the reasons why many godly believers suffer as they do. Our thinking about this should be governed by all that the Scriptures teach concerning the possible reasons why God allows them to suffer. For sometimes He entrusts the godliest saints with burdens too great for many to bear precisely because they are living closer to Him and already producing the fruit of Christ-like character. Suffering refines their characters still further, and is thus a blessing, a privilege, and an opportunity for them to depend more fully upon God’s grace and learn more of their Lord than others could in easier circumstances.

Second, we learn that often we are not meant to know, this side of eternity, all the reasons why we suffer. Had Job known about the scene in heaven, it would have defeated God’s purpose in the trial, the humbling of self in His righteous servant. So there are some things about human suffering which God cannot explain to us now without destroying the very purpose which they are designed to fulfil. The Lord’s disciplinary chastening of His true sons is a sign of their genuine son-ship, not of His displeasure in them. He only designs to produce the peaceable fruit of righteousness and holiness in them in ever greater measure (see Hebrews 12).

Third, we learn from the fact that the Lord did eventually intervene in Job’s situation that He does have a loving and sympathetic concern for His suffering children. Though Sovereign, God is not an unfeeling tyrant, but a loving Father with our best interests at heart. We today have the supreme proof of this in the cross of Christ. Job did not have this in his day to convince him. For the fact that God "spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all", effectively "silences each rising fear", and "bids the hard thought" against a Sovereign God "disappear". In the light of God’s self-sacrifice at Calvary we cannot deny His love in all His ways with us.

Fourth, we learn that God’s purpose is to bring us to rest by faith in Himself alone in the absence of explanations. If we trust in the righteousness and love of God despite all unexplained suffering in our lives, then Satan’s slanderous accusations against us will be proved false, as they were in Job’s case. In this sense, our faith in God must be "blind", and expressed in implicit obedience to His will revealed in His Word to us.

Fifth, we learn that God’s purpose is to bring all of us, like Job, to the end of ourselves, so that we may find our all in Him. For through his dark and painful experience Job came to see both God and himself in a new way: himself as of no account at all, just "dust and ashes"; God as infinitely transcendent and glorious. Enough is now revealed to us in New Testament days in Christ to make faith more intelligent concerning the problems of life than ever Job could have been. But dark problems still sometimes persist. Remember that what is still un-revealed to us is withheld from us to give faith more scope for development.

Sixth, we learn that for the godly sufferer there is always an "afterward" of blessing, compensation, and reward for faithfulness in the trial. In Job’s case, it came in this life. In many saints’ experiences it does not come in this life, but must await a future day of glory in the next world. But come it surely will.

Finally, we learn from the inspired commentary on the trial of Job (James 5.11), concerning his patient endurance of suffering, despite everything that was against him, and concerning "the end of the Lord", that is, the Lord’s chief purpose in his life, that Job might come to appreciate the compassion and mercy of his God more fully than he had before. After all, what do even the godliest believers ever really deserve from the hand of God anyway? Nothing good at all; only judgment, because we are sinners. All we receive from God’s hand, whether good or bad, is a proof of His love and grace to us as His sinful creatures. Yes, we are meant to see God through the book of Job, the God who is absolutely Sovereign, yet has purposes of infinite love and grace for us one day. Are we willing, therefore, in accordance with 1 Peter 5.6, to humble ourselves under His mighty hand, that in due time He may exalt us to blessing as a result of our suffering? For He is ever a faithful Creator God, and a loving heavenly Father.



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