Well Good morning everyone. My name is Tyler Ferneyhough and I’ll be filling in for Ryan again this week. Hope you are all having a good new years; hope you’re all keeping up your new years resolutions. Well, today I am going to be preaching out of Job, so turn there with me if you would like, to Job 42:1-17; that’s Job 42:1-17.
Then Job replied to the Lord: I know that You can do anything
and no plan of Yours can be thwarted. You asked, “Who is this who conceals My
counsel with ignorance?” Surely I spoke about things I did not understand, things
too wonderful for me to know. You said, “Listen now, and I will speak. When I
question you, you will inform Me.” I had heard rumors about You,
but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I take back my words and repent in dust and ashes. After the Lord had finished speaking to Job, He said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken the truth about Me, as My servant Job has. Now take seven bulls and seven rams, go to My servant Job, and offer a burnt offering for yourselves. Then My servant Job will pray for you. I will surely accept his prayer and not deal with you as your folly deserves. For you have not spoken the truth about Me, as My servant Job has.” Then Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite went and did as the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer. After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his prosperity and doubled his previous possessions. All his brothers, sisters, and former acquaintances came to his house and dined with him in his house. They sympathized with him and comforted him concerning all the adversity the Lord had brought on him. Each one gave him a qesitah and a gold earring. So the Lord blessed the last part of Job’s life more than the first. He owned 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. He named his first daughter Jemimah, his second Keziah, and his third Keren-happuch. No women as beautiful as Job’s daughters could be found in all the land, and their father granted them an inheritance with their brothers. Job lived 140 years after this and saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. Then Job died, old and full of days.
This morning I want to talk about faith—its essence and nature. This morning I want to answer the question: what does biblical faith look like, practically worked out? What does it mean to live by faith? What are the intellectual and volitional qualifications? Again: what is the essence of biblical faith. I think that nowhere else in scripture do we see a more clear and relentless explanation of the nature and essence of faith than right here in the book of Job. Here we see faith presented nakedly before us with unflinching clarity; in short, I think that Job tells us that the essence of faith is that we acknowledge God’s right over us and submit to his wisdom even—or, for that matter, especially—when we don’t understand his dealings with us. The theology of the book of Job is the theology of the whole Bible: God is sovereign and he is always right, and he will always do as he pleases; saving faith acknowledges this fact and submits to it—and the primary way that God brings the heart to this submission of faith is by suffering.
Now, as you have probably noticed, the key passage I am preaching from this morning is the last chapter, so I will need to set the stage just a little bit before we get to the actual passage for today. Most of you, I am sure, already know the story of Job, so I will not explain it in too much detail, let I put everyone to sleep; but just really quickly let’s go over the story. Job is described as being a just man with many cattle, as well as sons and daughters; in fact, it says that he was the greatest man in wealth in the east. On top of all that, he feared the Lord; the text says that he would regularly offer burnt sacrifices for his family in case they had sinned against God; it says he did this regularly. So Job is a good man, a just and righteous man who fears the Lord.
But then notice what happens next; you all know the story. Satan and his angels come to God and God asks them what they’ve been doing; they say they’ve been wandering the earth. Now notice here what happens next: God himself mentions Job to Satan, not the other way around. God says, “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?” So notice this: God himself singles Job out for suffering, not Satan. God does what he wants to who he wants to do it to; this is the God of the Bible: untamable and sovereign. But next we see the cynicism of Satan; Satan replies, “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.” Satan is a cynic. Satan believes that Job only loves God for what God does for him, not for God himself. And while God will ultimately prove Satan wrong, I think we will see that to some extent Satan was actually right about Job—again, to some extent—and he is also right about us, probably more that we would all be willing to admit. Suffering, as we will see, is how this mercenary attitude is exposed in us and remedied. So God gives Satan permission to devastate Job’s family and property on the condition that he doesn’t harm Job himself.
And so—we all know the story—the servants start flooding in to report the news: the Sabeans have killed all his servants and taken his oxen; then another servant comes and says that fire has come from heaven and destroyed his sheep; another servant says the Chaldeans have done similarly; then, worse yet, another servant comes and says all of Job’s children are dead, destroyed by a great wind. At this point, Job keeps his faith pretty strong and bows down and worships; yet again God provokes Satan against Job once more, giving him permission this time to even attack his health, only on the condition that Satan not take his life, so Satan devastates Job even more, this time with terrible sores on his whole body. It’s at this point that Job starts to break a little bit, and his wife, if you will recall, tells him to curse God and die.
Next his three friends show up on the scene, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar; all three of them essentially say to Job that the reason he is suffering is because he has sinned against God or has rebelled against him in some way. Job, of course, defends his righteousness, arguing that he has committed no explicit, defiant sin that would warrant such deep suffering—and, as we’ll see, he is largely correct about this. However, though the course of Job’s defense of himself against his moralistic friends, Job begins to justify himself before God, demanding to have a hearing before God so that he can make his case and prove himself innocent. In chapter 13, he says,
Behold, I have prepared my case; I know that I shall be in the right. Who is there who will contend with me? For then I would be silent and die. Only grant me two things, then I will not hide myself from your face: withdraw your hand far from me, and let not dread of you terrify me. Then call, and I will answer; or let me speak, and you reply to me. How many are my iniquities and my sins? Make me know my transgression and my sin. Why do you hide your face and count me as your enemy? \dat
Later Job says in 23,
“Today also my complaint is bitter; my hand is heavy on account of my groaning. Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat! I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would know what he would answer me and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; he would pay attention to me. There an upright man could argue with him, and I would be acquitted forever by my judge.”
And so here, I think, we begin to see certain truths come to the surface: for one, Job was right to say that God was not punishing him for his sins; indeed, he was relatively innocent in that regard; and secondly, that nevertheless, God was chastening Job so that he would come to see the pride that was in his heart nonetheless. Though Job started off well, the prolonged and deep nature of the suffering eventually brought him to a place where the pride in his heart that success and ease had hidden for many years was pressed to the surface, and we see that when Job starts to justify himself before God. Finally Elihu comes and chastens all parties involved, but ultimately he doesn’t settle anything. In short, in the face of Job’s great suffering, human wisdom has reached its limit; only God himself can now settle this issue.
Finally, God comes out of the whirlwind, the text says, to settle this issue once and for all. It is, I think, important to note here that Job’s family was killed by a great wind, so I think here God is purposefully presenting himself in a way that is intended to, at least on a certain level, demonstrate his own sovereignty and power in a way that, particularly for Job, would be terrifying; but notice also that when God comes down in this way, he does not crush Job, but speaks with him and enters into what will become a very intimate relationship with him. Then, very famously, God says, “Who is this that darkness counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” Then God begins to speak—perhaps even sarcastically—to Job, asking him rhetorical questions about nature: “Where were you, Job,” he asks, “when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding…” God says these things for two whole chapters, things like: “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it?” Or “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that a flood of waters may cover you?” And so on. God asks these questions for two whole chapters, at the end of which Job covers his mouth and says he is of small account and he cannot answer God’s questions, and that though he has spoken once, he will speak no more. And God’s response? Two more chapters on his sovereign power over nature; once again God tells Job to dress himself like a man and answer his questions, but this time his questions pertain to the Leviathan and the Behemoth. Why these two animals? Well, I think plainly the point of this is that both of them are mega-big monsters, the types of creatures that even the strongest and bravest of men wouldn’t dare challenge to a fight, yet to God they are like pets, like lapdogs; thus the reasoning here is that just as it would be stupid for even the best and bravest of human heroes to challenge one of these two ancient beasts, then a fortiori it would be inordinately more stupid for any man to challenge God, for whom these beasts are as nothing.
So this is where we find Job in chapter 42; he’s lost his property, his family and his health, his friends are telling him to repent of sins he never committed, the anguish of his condition has driven him to justify himself before God, and now God himself is talking to him, lecturing him on how much more powerful he is than Job. Job is having a bad time, shall we say. But things are not as bad as perhaps they seem. For now Job has learned in these verses (1-6), a major point about faith that we must all learn: That faith acknowledges the power of God and yields to his wisdom. Think for a moment why God would berate Job with four chapters worth of diatribes about his power over and perfect understand of nature. Was God simply trying to boast and show off? Did God simply want to humiliate Job and make him feel bad about himself and have low self-esteem for the rest of his life? No, I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think the major point that God is driving home to Job is that there is a major gap that exists between God and himself; someone like Job, who is qualitatively and mentally finite, is in no position to demand that God explain himself to him; God, after all, is omnipotent and omniscient—ie, perfectly powerful and perfectly knowledgable. With regard to the ordering of our lives, that means that God has sovereign, perfect control over everything that happens in our lives, and further, that God understands with perfect clarity everything that happens in this world. You know what it means to be omniscient? It means that you understand perfectly the causal relationship between a butterfly flapping its wings in the time of Abraham and the massive earthquake that happens in the year 2030—that’s what it means. How many trillions of causal relations does God have in his head at all times? And if he is omniscient, doesn’t he understand perfectly how all those causal relations are interwoven and producing however many billions of outcomes—all of them working toward his good purpose? We should not be surprised, therefore, when God’s dealings with us don’t make sense, or perhaps even seem flawed or mean—or even evil; if we are God’s children, God is always working our circumstances for our ultimate good (if we trust him) and his glory, even if we can’t see his purposes working out in a way we can understand, or even if they seem utterly unredeemable. No doubt the cross seemed gratuitous and unfixable, yet it was there on the cross, humiliated and abused, that God was performing his greatest achievement in human history. Thus we should say, along with Job, “You are powerful and none of your purposes can be thwarted; you are perfectly knowledgable, and thus I am in no position to question the wisdom of your dealing with me.”
It is important to note here that faith does not operate by sight; we believe in what we cannot see. Look at verses 5 and 6; Job says to God,
“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.”
Does Job say here that he sees why God has allowed all this suffering to enter into his life? Does God ever tell Job about the conversations he had with Satan? Does God ever tell Job even that he’s going to use his suffering to write one of the most fundamental theological documents in human history? No, no, and no. God never tells or shows Job why he’s suffering; rather we see in verse five that instead Job sees God himself in the whirlwind; God shows himself to Job. I think quite plainly this means that Job is seeing God nakedly and intimately in all his glory for who he really is: sovereign, wise, loving, and unquestionable. Job, having seen God and being also his child, doesn’t need to know why he’s suffering to know that God is doing perfectly right by him: he only needs to see God. This is key: if God had told Job why he was suffering, then Job would never have had to learn to trust God’s wisdom instead of his own; you’ll notice at the end of the narrative that God never tells Job why he suffered—not even after the trial is all over; this is intended by God to keep Job walking by faith and not by sight. For consider: suppose that Job had not learned to trust in God’s infinite wisdom: this would have essentially amounted to Job trusting in his own wisdom, and so he would have been implicitly charging God with acting unjustly by him—in other words, he would have been accusing God of being evil and vindicating himself of being morally superior to God; in short, Job would have become evil himself. The same applies to us: when we are suffering, we must choose to trust God and yield to his wisdom over ours, even when we don’t understand the why.
God is painting a grand picture on a massive, complex canvas, and we are parts of that painting; yet we can only see but a microscopic bit of its surface area; thus it is absurd for us, who can only see one millimeter of a fifty foot canvas, to complain that the painting makes no sense; from our perspective it certainly does, but from God’s—the master painter—it is perfect and beautiful, and when we see him at the end of the age, we will see it too; but until then, we must be content with our one millimeter perspective and trust God with the rest. And so, lastly, before I move on, I want to ask this question: what was Job really repenting of in verse 6? He says that he despises himself, and repents in dust and ashes. Again, does that mean that from here on Job has low self-esteem, that he’s going to be beating himself up for the rest of his life? No, I don’t think that’s it at all; I think here Job is simply expressing his new-found humility at having now seen God as he really is. Now that Job has seen God for who he truly is, he now understands how he ought to relate to him: with supreme humility. NOTE THIS: It is his personal, intimate knowledge of God himself—his nature, his personality—as revealed to him by God himself, not his knowledge of the reasons why God has allowed his suffering, that brings Job to a place of true faith and submission to God’s will. Job has come to realize that he has no right to question God, someone whose understanding and wisdom is qualitatively infinite; telling God he doesn’t know what he’s doing, or that he should have done things differently in our lives is like a toddler telling his parents that he knows better than them—it just don’t work that way. Those of you who have seen God’s glory in your heart and mind know what I am talking about. Have you ever had a time in your walk with God where he has shown you his great strength and glory, and you littleness in his presence? Doesn’t this experience illicit a spirit of awe, worship, and submission in us? I think that is what Job is experiencing in the whirlwind; he is put in his place for sure, but in a healthy, soul-enriching way. Have you ever experienced God’s glory in your spirit? If not, why not? Do you know him this morning?
A second major point I want to make this morning comes from verses 7-9. Here the vestiges of pride have already been pushed to the surface of Job’s soul, and he has now officially repented of his efforts to justify himself before God, putting himself in the right and God in the wrong. Also by this point—and I think this is really important to understand—Job’s relationship with God is deeper and more intimate now; the two of them have seen face-to-face. Notice that God came down in a whirlwind of power and terror, yet it was in this act of glorious condescension that God establishes a deepened relationship with Job, resulting in Job’s soul-nurturing humility—but I leave it alone. Note here what happens next: God tells Eliphaz and Job’s other two friends that his anger burns against them because they have not spoken correctly of him as Job has, and so he tells them to offer up seven bulls and seven rams as sacrifices to atone for their folly; but get this: God then says that Job his servant will pray for them, interceding for them, so that God will not deal with them according to their folly—that is, according to what they deserve. I want us to appreciate the irony here: for probably more than twenty chapters, these three men have been accusing Job of wickedness, saying essentially that the reason why he was suffering was because he had sinned, or was just plain wicked, and needed to repent; yet here in this final chapter it is actually Job who is vindicated before God and the three friends—Job’s accusers—who now stand under the threat of God’s chastening. What are we to make of this? In the main, I think a major point we should get from these verses is that God cannot be controlled or manipulated, not even by moral or religious behavior; biblical faith obeys God not out of obligation, or out of some sense of transaction, or with a mercenary’s mindset, but simply out of love for God himself, for who and what he is.
So, what did Job’s three friends get so wrong that Job got right? Quite simply, they had been operating under the premise that All suffering is God’s punishment for a person’s sin; thus, when they saw their friend Job suffering egregiously, they all inferred—validly by the lights of their starting premise—that he must be guilty of some personal sin or wickedness. But this premise is false, and dangerously so, and it is founded on human pride; it is a theology of suffering that subtly but undeniably seeks to put the human creature in the driver’s seat instead of God, the creator. Why do I say that? Well, think about it this way: If God is obligated to reward me for good behavior, then I can control God’s actions (and, specifically, his dealings with me in my own life) by my moral or religious actions; but if that is the case, then it is I who controls my destiny, and not God; and furthermore, on this system, if I do behave myself and God does not reward me in the way I expect, then he owes me something—or at bare minimum I can say that God has morally wronged me in some way since, after all, “we had an agreement and he failed to come through! He owes me!” Such a theological paradigm appeals to the pride of the unregenerate heart of the natural man because it gives him the illusion that he is in control, that God can be manipulated, that God can be in the wrong, and that he can get God into his debt; brothers and sisters, this was the theology of Job’s friends, and it is poisonous and evil.
How many people—even in our churches—will die and be filled with rage against God himself when they find themselves in hell? I mean it. How many? They lived good lives; they were good citizens; they paid their taxes; they raised their kids right; they did right by their spouse; they went to church every Sunday; they gave to the offering plate; they even gave to charity elsewhere—yet they never knew God; they had never been humbled in his mighty presence like Job; they had never been brought to that wonderful place of being low in God’s holy presence and taught by the Holy Spirit to beg for the bleeding charity of Christ in total poverty of spirit. Christ had never become their treasure; they had lived their entire lives as respectable, pleasant-to-be-around, nice, moral idolaters. I am serious here. Have you experienced this? Have you experienced the depth of your own sin, tasted the glory of Christ, and begged for his bloody grace? Faith begins when we see that God owes us nothing and we owe him everything. Jesus said that in hell there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Do you know who will be doing the teeth gnashing? It will be those shaking their fist at God demanding that God give them a place in heaven, yelling “I lived a good life, God! You owe me! I don’t belong here! I want what you owe me!” This was the attitude of Job’s self-righteous friends, and thus they incurred God’s anger upon themselves. This is the attitude of the natural man, and in most cases it takes suffering to cleanse our hearts of this disposition, to show us our own moral and spiritual weakness and teach us to cling with joyful, grateful hearts to God’s strength and moral perfection. It is a beautiful thing to cling to Christ in the darkness—truly it is—but oh how necessary sometimes is the darkness to bring us to that place! We see then that, though Job was correct in saying that he wasn’t being punished for any particular sin, he was nevertheless being chastened by God to root out what remaining, transactional, pride-based morality still remained in him.
Just as a practical point, let me say this before moving on: if you have this transactional attitude toward God—this attitude that says, “I will behave, God, and be moral in this way or that way, but in return you owe me such and such, this job, this relationship, this solution to my problem”—then when things inevitably go wrong, you will either hate God, believing that somehow he has failed to give you what he owes you, or hate yourself, believing that the reason why you’re suffering is because you somehow failed to behave—or perhaps you may alternate back and forth between the two. The only way to avoid this vicious trap is to know God personally and to learn, as Job did, to love him simply for who he is; we must understand that in this life there will always be brokenness, suffering, and sin because of the Fall, and not all of our problems are always because of sin—though sometimes they certainly are! We must learn to cling to God and love him and depend on him, to crave his Holy Spirit above all else, if we are to survive the sufferings of this world with our souls intact. And by the way, God knows what men say when they are desperate. Read the psalms; you will see many examples of men crying out to God in helpless desperation, sometimes even accusing God of mistreating them or being unreasonably cruel to them; one psalmist even tells God that darkness is a better friend to him that God is. The Bible—and thus its author—is realistic about the effects that suffering can have on people. Remember that Job himself accused God when he was suffering so deeply, yet God said of Job here that he had actually spoken correctly of himself, unlike his three friends, so don’t think I am arguing that God never gives you permission to tell him how you feel; quite the contrary, the Bible gives us brutal permission to express the state of our souls to God in prayer—even if it’s white-hot resentment against God himself. If the feeling is there, it’s there; God already knows about it; pour out your souls to him when you suffer; tell him how you feel and ask him to give you a spirit of trust, reverence, and loving submission—honesty and struggle with God is often what relationship with him is all about.
Lastly, let me say this, and with this we’re done: look at verses 9-10. It says that Job’s three friends actually obeyed the Lord and brought the sacrifices and burned them as the Lord had told them to do—that is, they repented of their shallow moralism—and it says that the Lord accepted their sacrifices because of Job’s intercessory prayers for them. I have already noted the irony of this in my previous point, so I will not go into it again here; but note what happens in verse 10: it says that “The Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave him twice as much as he had before.” What does this mean? I think it means this, and this is my last point: that true faith forgives, and we can only be right with God, and receive his forgiveness in our lives, if we are willing to forgive our fellow sinners who have sinned against us. Now, in the case of Job, the text seems to imply that God gave Job all these new blessings—indeed, twice what he had before!—simply because Job had forgiven his friends; but I do not think that is what is really going on here. For starters, I think that the reason why God restores to Job double what he had before was simply because God is gracious and he does what he pleases; that is to say, I do not think that God is giving Job back a double portion of all that he lost as some kind of reward for Job’s righteousness, since such a theology would almost feed into the moralism of Job’s friends; rather I think here God is blessing Job simply because it pleased God to do so; he was not obligated to bless Job in this way and he did not owe Job any manner of prosperity—even after all the horrendous things God had sovereignly allowed Job to go though; no, God blessed Job with double portion because it pleased God to do it and God does what he pleases—period. Job’s forgiveness of his friends in his heart was, I think, a necessary condition of Job’s salvation, perhaps, but not a determining factor in the material blessings he received back from God.
Well, that is all I have. Let us pray.