Job: When the Righteous Suffer, Part 2
Desiring God 2008 Regional Conference
Job: When the Righteous Suffer
(These are notes from the session, not the manuscript that the message was preached from. They are adapted from the sermons "Job: Rebuked in Suffering," "Job: The Revelation of God in Suffering," and "Job: Reversal in Suffering.")
What we've seen now is that Job has triumphed in the conflict that Satan brought against him. His possessions and health were taken from him, but he did not curse God—he worshiped him.
Then he endured months of terrible suffering. In chapters 4 to 31 Job conversed with his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, about the meaning of suffering. The upshot of it all was that the theory of his friends was unsatisfactory. It is not the case that the wicked always suffer and the righteous always prosper.
A Change in Job's Talk About Dying
Something happens to Job through this long conversation with his three friends. He begins in chapter 3 with utter dismay and he cries out against the wisdom of God in giving him birth. The duration of his disease had almost defeated the initial stand of faith that he took at the first (1:22; 2:10). But little by little you can watch his faith regaining its strength as he fights against the superficial theology of his friends. His faith finally breaks out into victory in chapter 19.
In every speech up till then Job had expressed the conviction that he would certainly die and go to Sheol in misery. He longs for it. But there is a gradual change in the way he talks about dying. At first in 7:9–10 (his response to Eliphaz) he is sure that death is the end of everything, "As the cloud fades and vanishes, so he who goes down to Sheol does not come up." In 10:20–22 (his response to Bildad) he is still sunk in despair about death, "Let me alone, that I may find a little comfort before I go whence I shall not return to the land of gloom and deep darkness, the land of gloom and chaos, where light is as darkness."
Then in 14:7–14 (his response to Zophar) Job again faces the certainty of his death in suffering and cries out to be released to die (v. 13). But this time he asks a question in verse 14: "If a man die, shall he live again?" Also in his second response to Eliphaz (17:13–16) the reference to Sheol is one of question rather than despair.
In 19:25–27 Job reaches an answer. "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh (or: apart from) I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side and my eyes shall behold, and not another."
Job is finally sure that beyond the grave he will meet God as a Redeemer and not an angry Judge. He will be redeemed from all his misery—even if it will only be after death. There will be life and light not just death and darkness.
This confidence does not answer all Job's questions or solve all his theological problems. He still is utterly perplexed as to why he should have to suffer as he does. His suffering goes right on. God seems utterly arbitrary in the way he parcels out suffering and comfort in this life.
Job Silences His Friends
But Job's confidence of new life after death does enable him to hold fast to three of his cherished convictions, namely, the sovereign power of God, the goodness and justice of God, and the faithfulness of his own heart. With those convictions he holds out against the simplistic doctrine of justice in the mouths of his three friends. He finally puts them to silence.
The Argument Won, the Question Unanswered
He has won the argument. But he has not answered his question. He has shown that suffering cannot be explained by the simple principle of retributive justice, where each person gets what he deserves: suffering for the evil and prosperity for the good. But he has found no other answer.
We are left at the end of chapter 31 with the apparent capriciousness of God. All seems to be arbitrary. God rules the affairs of men. And no doubt he does so wisely (28:12–28). That Job never doubts. But why the righteous suffer—so far he has no answer.
Elihu Breaks In
A young man named Elihu appears on the scene in chapter 32 of the book of Job. His speech goes all the way through chapter 37. Through him, we learn something that neither Job nor his friends had discovered, namely, that the suffering of the righteous is not a token of God's enmity but of his love. It is not a punishment of their sins but a refinement of their righteousness. It is not a preparation for destruction, but a protection from destruction.
However many interpreters understand Elihu as no better than Job's friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.
I admit that there are some things in Elihu's speeches very hard to understand. And it is true that when you read his speeches, you hear some of the same things the friends said. (They weren't totally wrong!) And it is true he is tough with Job, perhaps too tough sometimes.
5 Reasons to Accept Elihu's Speech as True
But there are at least five reasons why I take the words of Elihu to represent the truth as our inspired writer saw it. In other words, I think Elihu gives the first step in solving Job's problem, before God gives the final conclusive word in chapters 38-41.
1. His speech is presented as something new.
The words of Elihu are introduced in chapter 32 not as a continuation or repetition of what the three friends have said, but as something new.
So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became angry. He was angry at Job because he justified himself rather than God; he was angry also at Job's three friends because they had found no answer, although they had declared Job to be in the wrong. (32:1-3)
In other words Elihu disagrees with both sides of the argument. So he says in verse 14 to the three friends, "[Job] has not directed his words against me, and I will not answer him with your speeches." Elihu has no intention of trying to settle the matter the way the three friends did.
The writer wants us to listen to something new that takes us beyond the old argument.
2. Six chapters are devoted to his words.
The inadequacy of the theology of the three friends was demonstrated by the fact that their speeches got shorter near the end, and then died out completely. Bildad finishes with six verses (chapter 25), and Zophar can't even manage a closing comment.
It would be very strange, then, if Elihu were given six chapters at this point to say these inadequate things all over again and make no advance on the theology of these other three friends.
Surely this large space given to his words signals that something crucial is being said here.
3. Job's doesn't argue with Elihu.
Job had been successful in silencing Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, but he does not say one word against Elihu even though Elihu challenged him in 33:32, "If you have anything to say, answer me."
The easiest explanation for this silence is that Job agreed with him. In fact, in 42:6 Job does repent for some of the things he said, which shows that Elihu's rebukes are not all wide of the mark.
4. God's doesn't rebuke Elihu like he does the other friends.
In 42:7, God looks back over the period of suffering and rebukes Job's three friends,
After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: "My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has."
But God does not rebuke Elihu. Why not?
Probably because Elihu's words are not in the same class with the words of those three. Elihu's words are true and prepare the way for the final, decisive words of God.
5. Elihu Offers Something New and Helpful
Finally, Elihu really does offer a new understanding of the suffering of the righteous that Job and his three friends had not perceived. And his insight does indeed make sense out of the apparently arbitrary suffering that Job and other righteous people go through. So it's important to learn what this young man has to say.
Elihu's Rebuke of Job
Elihu thinks that Job has been wrong in some of what he has said—indeed, he sees pride and arrogance in Job's attitude (see 33:17; 35:12; 36:9). In 33:8–12 he puts his finger on Job's error:
Surely, you have spoken in my hearing, and I have heard the sound of your words. You say, "I am clean, without transgression; I am pure, and there is no iniquity in me. Behold [God] 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.
Job is wrong to claim innocence at the expense of God's grace. We know that Elihu is right about this because in 42:6 Job does in fact repent: "I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." His suffering had driven him to say things about himself that were overly optimistic and things about God that were disrespectful. Even though Job was a righteous man, he was not a sinlessly perfect man. There was a sediment of pride that began to cloud the purity of his life when it was stirred up by suffering.
Elihu's Explanation of Suffering
At least part of Elihu's understanding of why the righteous suffer has to do with this residue of pride in the life of the righteous. We see the first explanation of his view in 33:14–19. He describes two ways God speaks to man: by his word and by suffering. These were the days before Scripture, so the word of God takes the form of visions and dreams. He says,
For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men while they slumber on their beds, then he opens the ears of men, and terrifies them with warnings, that he may turn man aside from his deed, and cut off pride from man; he keeps back his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.
Man is also chastened with pain upon his bed, and with continual strife in his bones.
Not to Punish but to Save
In other words God's purpose for the righteous in these dreams and in this sickness is not to punish but to save—to save from contemplated evil deeds and from pride and ultimately from death. Elihu does not picture God as an angry judge but as a Redeemer, a Savior, a Rescuer, a Doctor. The pain he causes is like the surgeon's knife, not like the executioner's whip.
The "Righteous Sinner"
Elihu explains his view of suffering in one other place, namely, 36:6–15. The helpful thing in these verses is that Elihu makes clear that there is such a thing as a righteous person who still has sin that needs to be revealed and rooted out. To call a person righteous does not mean that the person is sinlessly perfect. There is a "righteous sinner."
This is helpful because God himself called Job a righteous man in 1:1, and Job won his argument on the basis of his reputation as a righteous man. And yet at the end of the book Job repents and despises himself. So Job is righteous (by the testimony of God!) even though he has sin remaining in him. He is not among the wicked.
Elihu looks at these two groups of people, the wicked and the righteous, and he distinguishes the different roles that suffering has in each. We'll start reading at verse 6:
He does not keep the wicked alive, but gives the afflicted their right. He does not withdraw his eyes from the righteous, but with kings upon the throne he sets them for ever, and they are exalted.
Now if he had stopped there, he would have sounded like Eliphaz: the wicked suffer and the righteous prosper. There is a sense in which this is true in the long run. But the question plaguing Job is why the righteous suffer in the short run. So Elihu goes on in verse 8:
And if they [that is, the righteous] are bound in fetters and caught in the cords of affliction [so Elihu admits right away that the righteous are not always with kings on the throne; they do suffer], then he declares to them their work and their transgressions, that they are behaving arrogantly. He opens their ears to instruction, and commands that they return from iniquity.
In other words, the righteous are far from sinlessly perfect. There is much of the old nature left in them, and from time to time this old nature of pride breaks out in actual sinful behavior—as it did with Job when he accused God of being his enemy. This is what Job repents of at the end of the book.
Suffering Refines the Righteous
Elihu's teaching, then, is that affliction makes a righteous person sensitive to his remaining sinfulness and helps him hate it and renounce it. Suffering opens the ear of the righteous (v. 10). The psalmist said the same thing in Psalm 119:71, "It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes." There are dimensions of godliness that the righteous can only learn through affliction.
So the new slant that Elihu gives is that the suffering of the righteous is not the fire of destruction but the fire that refines the gold of their goodness. For the righteous it is not punitive but curative.
The Purpose of Suffering for the Godless and the Righteous
Verses 13–15 describe the same contrast between the purpose of suffering for the godless and the purpose of suffering for the righteous.
The godless in heart cherish anger; they do not cry for help when he binds them. They die in youth, and their life ends in shame. He delivers the afflicted by their affliction, and opens their ear by adversity.
Verses 13–14 describe one group of people for whom suffering results in nothing but destruction—they are the "godless in heart." But then in verse 15 he describes another group whose ears are opened in their affliction and who experience deliverance by their affliction. These are not the godless or the wicked. They are the righteous. They are the people like Job, who are upright, and fear God, and turn away from evil, and have a blameless reputation. They suffer, too. But the divine purpose is not the same.
God is in fact Job's loving Father. He has allowed this sickness to drag on for months because he loves Job, not because he hates him.
The suffering has brought out the hidden sin of pride in Job. Now Job's ear has been opened to his remaining imperfection. Now he can repent and be cleansed and depend on God as he never had before. His suffering was not only an occasion for God to get glory over Satan (which we saw in chapters 1 and 2); it was also an occasion for God to deepen Job's insight and trust and godliness.
The Central Lesson
So the central lesson for us from the book of Job today is that the children of God—those who trust in God and are led by his Spirit and have their sins covered by the blood of Jesus—may indeed suffer. And when they do, it is not a punishment for sin. Christ has borne the punishment for our sin, and there is no double jeopardy!
The suffering of the children of God is not the firm application of a principle of retributive justice. It is the free application of the principle of sovereign grace. Our Father in heaven has chosen us freely from before the foundation of the world, he regenerated us freely by the work of the Holy Spirit, he justified us freely through the gift of saving faith, and he is now sanctifying us freely by his grace through suffering according to his infinite wisdom.
Suffering is not dispensed willy-nilly among the people of God. It is apportioned to us as individually designed, expert therapy by the loving hand of our great Physician. And its aim is that our faith might be refined, our holiness might be enlarged, our soul might be saved, and our God might be glorified.
A Gathering Storm and God's Rebuke of Job
Toward the end of Elihu's speech (32–37) a thunderstorm had gathered and filled him with awe. It is as though he senses the approach of God in this storm and brings his words to a close. And sure enough, somehow, out of the whirlwind comes the voice of God to Job (chapters 38–41).
In 38:1–2 God begins: "Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: 'Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?'" Someone might think that God is criticizing the words of Elihu here, but that is not the case. He is speaking to Job and criticizing Job.
We know this because in 42:3 when God is through speaking, Job quotes these words from 38:2 and applies them to himself. He says, "Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?" That is a quote from God in 38:2. And then Job responds (in the second half of verse 3), "Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know."
So the words of God in chapters 38–41 are not a rebuke of Elihu. Nowhere does God rebuke or criticize Elihu. Elihu had been right. Job listens in silent agreement. And when Elihu is finished, God speaks to Job and not to Elihu. And so now we want to know what more God has to say to Job. Let's look and see.
Job on Trial Before God
Job 38:3, "Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me." God has been questioned by Job long enough. Now it is time for Job to be put on trial. It's time for God to be the questioning attorney.
Let's try to summarize the interrogation without reading the whole thing. It is not exactly what you would expect.
Questions About the World Below
In 38:4–7 God focuses on the earth: "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding." You weren't there, Job, and you don't know how I did it.
In 38:8–11 God focuses on the sea: "Who shut in the sea with doors, when it burst forth from the womb?" It was I, Job, I set its limits not you. You weren't there and you don't know how I did it.
In 38:12–15 the Lord focuses on the dawn: "Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place?" You never did it. You can't do it. You don't know how to do it. I have always done it. I always will.
In 38:16–18 God focuses on the depth and breadth of the sea and land. Job, you have never even been to the bottom of the ocean or around the world. And you think you know enough to argue with God.
Questions About the World Above
Then in the last half of chapter 38 God takes his focus off the world below and turns it to the world above, the sky.
First, in verses 19–21 he queries Job about the origin of light and dark: "Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness?" You don't know where it is or how to get there. But I do, Job. I made the light.
Then, in verses 22–30 God asks him about snow and hail and rain and frost: Do you know anything about how to store up hail for the day of battle? Would you know how to cut a channel in the sky to make it rain on a land where no man is?
Or lift your eyes even higher, Job, (verses 31–33) and look at the constellations: Pleiades, Orion, Mazzaroth, the Bear! "Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth?"
If not, come back down then and we will just talk about the rain again (verses 34–38). Can you make it rain? Do you know how to whistle for the lightning so it comes and says, "Here we are!"? Can you count the clouds with your wisdom? Or do my earthly pastimes stretch your mind a bit too far?
So whether we focus on the earth or the sea or the dawn or the snow or hail or constellations or rain, the upshot is that Job doesn't know anything.
He doesn't know where they came from. He doesn't know how to make them work. He is utterly surrounded, above and below, by mysteries.
And so are we, because the scientific advancements of the last two hundred years are like sand-pails of saltwater hauled from the ocean of God's wisdom and dumped in a hole on the beach while the tide is rising. God is not impressed.
We should be overwhelmed with our ignorance, not impressed with science.
Questions About the World of Animals
Then come the queries about the world of animals.
In 38:39–41 God asks who Job thinks provides lions and birds with their food? "Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?" I do, Job—all over the world. Can you do that?
Or consider the birth of the young (39:1–4). "Do you know when the mountain goats bring forth? Do you observe the calving of the hinds?" Think of it, Job! I am on top of all these things.
Think of it, Job! When a man sees a work of God, like your suffering, can he see its connection to ten thousand other realities in the world like I can? If not, how will he dare to judge its wisdom!
Consider the wild donkey (39:5–8). "Who has let the wild donkey go free?" Do you think there are wild and unpredictable creatures in the world, Job? Guess what? I set them loose. I give them a wilderness for running and the mountain for pasture. They are the work of my hands. Things are quite in order! And you have nothing to do with it.
And so it goes. The wild ox (39:9–12): you don't know how to bind him or use him. He is mine.
The stupid ostrich (39:13–18): She walks away from her eggs; she treats her young cruelly. Who made her forget wisdom? I did, Job. Even the foolish things are by design.
Of course not all animals are foolish and useless. Take the war horse (39:19–25), for example. "Do you give him his might? Do you clothe his neck with strength?" You don't know how to do it, Job. I am the only one who does.
Finally, Job, (39:26–30) "Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars, and spreads his wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?"
No! Whether we consider the prey of lions, the birth of mountain goats, the freedom of the wild donkey, the insubordination of the wild ox, the stupidity of the ostrich, the might of the war horse, or the flight of the hawk and eagle, the upshot is the same: Job doesn't understand any of this. He did not make them. He does not know how to control them. He cannot see what they are doing. And yet this ignorant Job presumed to question the ways of God!
God Pauses for Job's Response
At the beginning of chapter 40, God pauses in his interrogation to give Job a chance to respond.
And the Lord said to Job, "Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it." Then Job answered the Lord: "Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer thee? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further."
Job is getting the point: a finite creature who has no wisdom to run this world and is utterly ignorant of 99.999% of its processes has no business instructing his Maker and Ruler how to run the world, even condemning God for the way he runs it.
God Continues His Case Against Job
God presses his case further against Job in 40:6–9 as he speaks again out of the whirlwind.
Gird up your loins like a man; I will question you, and you declare to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be justified? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?
Are God's Ways Right Simply Because He Is Almighty God?
This is disturbing argument. Does God mean that we are to submit to the justice of his ways simply because he has a powerful arm? Are we supposed to acknowledge his right simply because he has might? Is something right and good just because God does it?
I think the answer to that question is yes and no. On the one hand, there is no greater reality than God with which we can judge God's actions. He would not be God if he submitted to something outside himself.
But on the other hand, when we say the sentence, "God is good," or, "God always does what is right," God wants us to mean more than simply, "God is God." He wants us to see that his might does not make right in the sense that it could be capricious and arbitrary and irrational and nevertheless right. Instead he wants us to see that his might is purposeful.
God's Holy and Purposeful Might
So in 40:10–14 he challenges Job to join him in this holy and purposeful might.
Deck yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe yourself with glory and splendor. Pour forth the overflowings of your anger, and look on every one that is proud, and abase him. Look on every one that 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 give you victory.
This is very different from saying, "Acknowledge that my might is right no matter what I do." Instead, God says, "I employ my might to clothe myself with splendor and to abase the proud and (by implication) to exalt the humble." In other words the rightness of God's might is not merely that it is God's, but also that its purposes are consistence with his excellence.
The goodness of God is just this: that he upholds his glory by abasing the proud and giving the humble delight in his excellence.
Job Brought to Submission and Worship
So in bringing Job to submission, God did not simply say, "Might makes right. So stop condemning my ways." He said, in the first place, there are ten million things about running the world of which you don't know the first thing, but I know perfectly. So it is presumptuous to assume you can counsel me about how to run a more just world. You can't begin to know all that has to be taken into account in making decisions about how to run the world for my glory and for the joy of my people!
And in the second place, God showed that his might is not arbitrary but purposeful. And the purpose is to uphold his glory by abasing the proud and blessing the humble. Therefore Job should not presume to accuse God of being arbitrary or capricious or irrational. He should submit to the wisdom and goodness of God's dealings and hold fast to the promise that "God withholds no good thing from those who walk uprightly" (Psalm 84:11).
Four Applications from God's Response to Job
The lessons for us are plain and simple and profound:
- Believe with all your heart in the absolute sovereignty of God. Pray that God would give you that conviction.
- Believe with all your heart that everything he does is right and good. Pray that God will give you that assurance.
- Repent of all the times you have questioned God or found fault with him in the way he has treated you. Pray that God would humble you to see these murmurings as sinful.
- Be satisfied with the holy will of God and do not murmur.
Be like the great George Mueller of Bristol England. On the Lord's Day, February 6, 1870, his wife Mary died of rheumatic fever. They had been married 39 years and 4 months. The Lord gave him the strength to preach at her memorial service. He said,
I miss her in numberless ways, and shall miss her yet more and more. But as a child of God, and as a servant of the Lord Jesus, I bow, I am satisfied with the will of my Heavenly Father, I seek by perfect submission to his holy will to glorify him, I kiss continually the hand that has thus afflicted me.
Job Tasted and Saw That the Lord Is Good
When Elihu was finished speaking the truth to Job, Job said nothing. Only after God spoke did Job say, "I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee" (42:5). When God himself came to Job and spoke and took the initiative to make himself known to Job, Job tasted God! And his eyes were opened.
Now Job has a new sense of God's reality. It is more than intellectual or speculative knowledge. It is the knowledge of the heart. He has tasted. And now he sees.
A Broken and Changed Person
The result is a broken and changed man. That's what happens when you really see God.
Before Job saw God in this way, he had esteemed himself somewhat highly and had not hesitated to assert his righteousness. Now he sees himself more clearly. And what he sees drives him to repentance.
If we don't feel grieved for our sin, and deeply unworthy of God's goodness, then we need to pray earnestly that God would show us himself—that he would cease to be a mere doctrine that we hear with our ear, and instead would become an awesome, infinitely holy, dreadful, and wonderful Sovereign that we taste and see with our hearts.
Two More Things God Does in Job's Sufferings
That is where God has brought Job now; and to prove that he is pleased with Job's "brokenhearted joy" God is going to reverse Job's fortunes and give him his health and ten new children and twice as many possessions as before. But before he performs this reversal for Job, God has two more things to bring about by this experience of suffering.
1. The Humbling of Job's Three Friends
First, he aims to bring Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar to the dust along with Job. Let's read 42:7–9,
After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: "My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has." So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them; and the Lord accepted Job's prayer.
God seeks to humble these three friends of Job in two ways. He tells them they are theologically wrong, and he makes them seek forgiveness through the very one they had reviled.
In verse 7 God says, "You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has." Now God had accused Job of darkening counsel without knowledge (38:2; 42:3), so he doesn't mean that everything Job said had been right. But when it comes to the basic dispute between Job and these three friends, he was in the right.
They had said that the wicked suffer and the righteous prosper. Job had said that the world proves no such thing: the wicked often prosper more than the righteous and the righteous often suffer more than the wicked. Job was right.
Not only that, the three friends saw all justice working itself out in this life. But Job eventually broke through to the truth that much that is amiss in the world would be made right in the life after death (19:25–27). Job was right.
So God humbled these three friends by showing them that the very one they condemned was in fact the better theologian even if he was not perfect.
But their humbling is not yet complete. They cannot simply go to their closets and say a simple prayer for forgiveness and be done with it. They must go to Job with their sacrifices and ask him to pray for them. This must have been a deeply humiliating thing. The very one that they had accused of being far from God must become their priest to bring them near to God. In other words God is seeing to it that the only way the three friends can experience reconciliation with God is through experiencing reconciliation with Job. They must humble themselves before Job, not simply before God.
But it cuts both ways.
2. The Proving of Job's Repentance
There is a second thing that God is doing before he restores the fortunes of Job: he is proving the repentance of Job. When the three friends come to Job seeking his intercession with God, it's not just their humility that is on trial! Job is now being asked to love his enemies and pray for those who abused him. He is being asked to bless those who cursed him and not to return evil for evil.
And he is still a very sick man! God has not yet reversed his misery. Why? What is the lesson here? Isn't it the same as Matthew 6:14?
If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
In other words, it is repentance and faith that receive the forgiveness of God. But the genuineness of repentance, the authenticity of faith, the reality of your change of heart must prove itself in your willingness to forgive those who sin against you. If the forgiveness of God that a repentant sinner claims to have received does not flow through him to others, the claim is a delusion. He is still in his sins.
So God puts Job to one last test. Will he lay down the weapons of revenge and accept the terms of God's treaty and extend amnesty to his three friends the way God has? Yes. Job passes the test. He is a broken man. His own sins have bent him down in dust and ashes. How can he exalt himself above another man! How can he not give the forgiveness that he has freely been given! So verse 9 ends, "The Lord accepted Job's prayer."
So the book closes with the sediment of pride strained out of Job's life through the sieve of suffering, the bad theology of his three friends corrected and their foolishness humbled, the brotherhood of God's servants restored and purified, and the honor of God's name vindicated over against the accusations of Satan.
May the Lord grant us grace to learn that while his ways may not be our ways and his thoughts may not be our thoughts, yet they are the wisest of all ways and are full of mercy for all those who love God and are called according to his purpose.
The summary of the book in James 5:11 is on target:
Behold, we call those happy who were 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.
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