Job: Reversal in Suffering

Neither bad theology (in the words of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) nor good theology (in the words of Elihu) gives us the knowledge of God which changes a person's heart. "Taste and see that the Lord is good!" (Psalm 34:8). There is a knowledge that only comes through tasting. Five seconds of honey on the tongue will show you more sweetness than ten hours of lectures about the sweetness of honey. "Taste and see that the Lord is good." Until God gives you a taste of his goodness all the theology in the world will not give you a knowledge of his goodness that changes your heart and saves your soul.

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 (in chapters 38–41) 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. And the result is a broken and changed man.

Job Confesses Three Great Truths

In 42:1–6 Job bows in reverent submission to confess three great truths.

  1. In verse 2 he confesses the truth that God is absolutely sovereign: "I know that thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of thine can be thwarted."
  2. In verse 3 he confesses the truth that God's wisdom makes his own wisdom look like ignorance: "I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know."
  3. And in verse 6 he confesses the truth that he is guilty of despicable sin in questioning the ways of God: "I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes."

A Broken and Changed Person

Job is a broken and changed man. That's what happens when you really see God. It happened to Isaiah: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips . . . for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" (Isaiah 6:5). It happened to Peter when Jesus showed his power: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:8). It happened to the centurion when Jesus came to his house: "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof" (Luke 7:6).

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.

Jonathan Edwards' "New Sense" of God

Jonathan Edwards wrestled with God as a young man in New England 250 years ago. He wrote in his Personal Narrative,

From my childhood up, my mind had been full of objections against the doctrine of God's sovereignty . . . But I remember the time very well when I seemed to be convinced, and fully satisfied, as to this sovereignty of God . . . There has been a wonderful alteration in my mind in respect to the doctrine of God's sovereignty, from that day to this; so that I scarce ever have found as much as the rising of an objection against it, in the most absolute sense . . . The first instance that I remember of that sort of inward, sweet delight in God and divine things that I have lived much in since, was on reading those words in 1 Timothy 1:17, "Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen." As I read the words, there came into my soul, and was as it were diffused through it, a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense, quite different from any thing I ever experienced before.

Edwards was given a "new sense"—a "taste," as the psalmist would say—of the glory and sovereignty of God. It overcame all his objections and it humbled him to the dust. He spoke of his sense of sin in words that are almost unintelligible in our self-exalting culture:

I have had a vastly greater sense of my own wickedness, and the badness of my heart, than ever I had before my conversion . . . My wickedness, as I am in myself, has long appeared to me perfectly ineffable, and swallowing up all thought and imagination; like an infinite deluge, or mountain over my head. I know not how to express better what my sins appear to me to be, than by heaping infinite upon infinite, and multiplying infinite by infinite.

What God Is After in His Dealings with His Children

When God has given us a taste of his own majesty and our own wickedness, then the Christian life becomes a thing very different than conventional piety. Edwards describes it beautifully when he says,

The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires; their hope is an humble hope; and their joy, even when it is unspeakable and full of glory, is an humble, broken-hearted joy, leaving the Christian more poor in spirit, more like a little child, and more disposed to an universal lowliness of behaviour.

That is what God is after in all his dealings with his children—a brokenhearted joy that trusts like a little child in God and returns good for evil.

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.