Job: When the Righteous Suffer, Part 2

Desiring God 2008 Regional Conference | Austin

I invite you to open your Bible to the book of James for a moment, if you would like to follow along in looking at several verses. I’ll be going to Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, and 2 Peter.

The Purpose of the Lord

James is the one book in the New Testament where Job is explicitly referred to. James 5:11 says:

Behold, we consider those blessed who remained 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.

So James is explicit in saying, the book is designed to describe the purpose of God in suffering. Go back to chapter one of James. You might even say that much of James is a meditation on the book of Job. James 1:2–3 says:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

Now drop down to James 1:12. It says:

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

So standing steadfast under the trial is an evidence that we love him, and that’s what’s going on in the battle between Satan and God in the heart of Job. It’s the question, “Do you love your children more than me? Do you love your health more than me? Do you love your possessions more than me? If everything is taken away from you and all you have left is me, are you going to curse me or are you going to love me?” The book of James is built in large measure around his reflection upon the book of Job.

Triumph in the Heart of Job

Now what we’ve seen several times is that God has come and Satan has come, and there’s been a conflict, and Job has triumphed. First, all of his possessions were taken away and his children were killed, and he said, as he fell down, ripped his clothes, shaved his head and worshiped, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). And that’s a great victory because there you see him loving God more than he loved his children. Second, he lost his health. He had these horrible sores, or boils, from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet, and they were so horrible that his wife said, “Curse God and die.”

And he triumphed again by saying, “Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord and not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). And in both cases, the writer says he did not sin with his lips. In fact, the stress falls on the sovereignty of God in Job’s suffering. Job 1:16 says:

The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants …

Job 1:21 says that it was the Lord who took away the children, and then Job 2:3 says that Satan incited God against Job. Then in Job 2:10, Job says to his wife:

Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?

And finally, in Job 42:11 Job’s friends comfort him about “All the evil that the Lord has brought upon him.” So Job leaves no doubt in our mind that the one thing that may not be called into question in our suffering is the absolute sovereignty of God over it. Even though Satan is deeply involved in it, he can go this far and no farther. And that is a great comfort in our lives. If you feel yourselves being harassed and beaten up by Satan, know that God at every moment says, “Thus far and no farther.” And he will not let you be tested beyond what you are able.

You know that text in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that we usually translate, “He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability”? There is no difference in the Greek word between test and tempt; they are the same word — peirazo. And therefore you may legitimately say, “God will not let any test befall me which he will not give me the grace to endure.” He may let the jaws of the lion clamp down on my neck, but he will say, “Thus far and no farther lion.” So this is a great comfort to the writers of the Bible and to many people in my church, and to me personally as I face the challenges of my life.

My Redeemer Lives

Job faces months of dragged out suffering. I say months because in 7:3 he says, “I am allotted months of emptiness.” We’re not told exactly how long this lasts, but it goes on and on, these sores are horrible and they don’t seem to come to an end, and Job begins to despair at first, and begins to speak of death as just swallowing him up, and that’ll be the end of that. And he shouldn’t have been born anyway, and it’s all meaningless and capricious and willy-nilly. His faith is starting to break under the strain of this ongoing disease.

The friends hammer him harder and harder but, as their speeches get shorter and their words get more vicious, Job begins to rise out of his questioning and despair. He questions in Job 14:14, “If a man dies, shall he live again?” It’s only a question in chapter 14. But turn with me now to chapter 19 where I told you in the previous session we would pick it up. This is one of the most famous passages in the book of Job. Many people know this from Handel’s Messiah, and they don’t have a clue where it comes from. Here he’s no longer asking the question, he’s making the affirmation. Job 19:25–27 says:

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
     and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
     yet in my flesh …

You might see a little footnote there in your Bible that it could be translated “in my flesh” or “from my flesh” — that is, from outside my flesh. It means, “I might be dead without my flesh,” or it might be the resurrection after his flesh. In either case, he is saying, “Once this disease has had its destructive effect, I will see God whom I shall see for myself and my eye shall behold and not another. My heart faints within me.”

And so Job, as many struggles as he has to maintain his faith, rises to the level that he has a redeemer — God is not ultimately an enemy, but he is his redeemer — and this disease will not have the last word. God will have the last word and he will be delivered.

So, we come to the end of this long set of cycles of bad theology from Job’s friends, and Job struggling to maintain his faith under the barrage of their wrong criticism, along with their wrong interpretation of his life, constantly saying, “The only solution for your horrible suffering is horrible sin.” And Job, protesting his innocence, sometimes says it way too strongly and says that God has become his enemy when he knows deep down, God hasn’t become his enemy.

When they come to the end and there’s been that fierce battle, Job has silenced his friends and their bad theology, but Job doesn’t have an answer at the end of that set of dialogues. As far as that set goes, it looks as though God is capricious. He is thinking, “I don’t know what you’re doing. You’re God, you’re wise. Deep down I feel at times like you're my redeemer, but this is making no sense and I can see no purpose in it.” That’s pretty much all we have by the end of chapter 31.

Elihu the Buzite

Now, a man arrives. He’s been there all along and his name is Elihu. He’s a young man. I preached a whole sermon on this one time on how the young relate to the old in my church, because Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar are old men and they’re dead wrong. Elihu is a young man, and this time the young get it right. Now that’s not always the way it happens. But I preached it because my church — this was about 25 years ago — was filled with gray heads and a lot of young people starting to come to church, and I didn’t want these old people to think that young people never have anything to contribute. I didn’t want them to think, it is always the old who have the wisdom, and the younger people are knuckleheads.

That’s not the way it is. In fact today, it’s clear that many young people are studying their Bible so hard and so well that they are far surpassing their elders in what they know of God. We are to learn from the old and learn from the young. At any rate, Elihu is young. And he has kept his tongue because he respects the old as we certainly should. And now he’s just burning inside to speak. And he’s going to speak, and he’s going to say, “Job, you’re wrong, and friends, you’re wrong.”

And he’s going to say that they’re wrong because they have this superficial, naive, simplistic theology that says the righteous prosper and the wicked suffer. That’s not going to cut it. Elihu knows that. And he says that Job is wrong because he’s found fault with God, and he’s protested his own innocence way too much. Job’s view of himself has gotten too high at times, and Job’s view of God has gotten too low at times, and so he wants to correct both of these. He has some very hard things to say, and on the face of it, some of them look a lot like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, and that raises the question, “Is Elihu just another person in the line of bad theology?” That’s the way many interpreters take this book.

I’ll give you a heads up, my interpretation of what you’re going to hear for the next 15 minutes or so is different from some, not all. I’m going with one school and not another school on interpretation here. Some say Elihu is just more of the same, but I want to argue that Elihu is not more of the same. He brings us to a new level in the argument, and God approves of what he says.

Elihu’s Speech

Now I’m going to give you five reasons for why I believe that real quick. Number one, the words of Elihu are introduced in chapter 32, not as a continuation or a repetition of what the three friends have said, but as something new. Let’s read Job 32:1–3. You can go there with me if you want. It says:

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, burned with anger. He burned with anger at Job because he justified himself rather than God. He burned with anger also at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer, although they had declared Job to be in the wrong.

Do you see what he’s being introduced as? He’s not just another one of them or Job, he’s different. That’s the way he’s being presented.

Number two, Elihu is more than a continuation of this bad theology because the writer devotes six chapters to him. Picture that. The cycles of the bad theology went around three times and the speeches got shorter and shorter and shorter until Zophar had nothing to say. Now, if the point of that deep, decreasing ability to address Job was that bad theology is running out of gas in this book, why would he give it six more chapters? It doesn’t make any sense. So, I think the very fact that Elihu is allowed to speak for so long is an evidence that he’s going to take us somewhere fresh. He’s going to give us something new.

Number three, Job does not try to argue with Elihu like he did with the other three friends. In Job 33:32, Elihu pauses and says, “Job, if you have anything to say, answer me.” And there’s not a word out of Job’s mouth. Now Job wasn’t silenced with those other three friends, he grew stronger and stronger in addressing them, but he has not one single word to say in response to Elihu, except to join at the end in chapter 42 and repent in dust and ashes, and despise himself because of his sin.

Clarity in the Chaos

Number four, in Job 42:7, God looks back over the period of this suffering and he rebukes Job’s three friends explicitly but not Elihu. It might be good to read that just so you feel the force of it. Job 42:7 says:

After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.

There’s not a word about Elihu — no criticism of Elihu.

Finally, number five, Elihu really does take us forward. He really says some new things. Elihu is the one who introduces, before God speaks, what Job’s suffering is all about, what God is doing in this suffering, and why it is lasting as long as it is lasting. Elihu has a category for the righteous who suffer, whereas the other friends didn’t have one, at least it wasn’t a functional one. So, let’s read one of the main sections back in chapter 33 of Elihu’s interpretation of what’s going on with Job. What was Job’s error? In Job 33:8–12, Elihu speaks to Job and says:

Surely you have spoken in my ears,
     and I have heard the sound of your words.
You say, “I am pure, without transgression;
     I am clean, and there is no iniquity in me.
Behold, he 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. I will answer you …

So two things are not right. Job’s protests of innocence, and his accusing God of being his enemy. Elihu is saying, “You’re wrong on both counts. And I’m here to explain an alternative way of seeing your life. You’re overly optimistic about yourself under suffering, and you’re overly critical of God in your suffering, and therefore, I’m angry that you didn’t give the right answer to Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar.”

Addressing the Soul

How does Elihu do this? How does he explain what’s going on in Job’s suffering? He does it in a passage of Scripture that I think is the key one in his long speeches. He does it by describing two ways that God addresses the soul — the suffering soul and the proud soul. Elihu believes — and I think this is true of all the righteous people on the earth — that there’s a sediment of pride at the bottom of the clear water of our righteousness.

Your life in its best moments is like a beaker, or a glass that’s clear, but it’s not perfect. Down here at the bottom there’s some sediment. And what gets the sediment to be visible is when the glass is bumped or shaken — this is the suffering. Then stuff starts to come up and come out of your mouth. And it’s more visible now than it ever has been because suffering is drawing out the sediment. You looked like such a good person when all was going well, but then when things started to go bad, stuff started to come out of your mouth, and attitude started to come out of your mouth.

Now, Elihu is drawing attention to this, and he’s telling us how God gets at that sediment of pride. So let me read this key section. This is Job 33:14–18. It says:

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 on 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 conceal pride from a man;
he keeps back his soul from the pit,
     his life from perishing by the sword.

The first way God does this is in a dream. Now, I don’t know when this book was written, nobody knows when this book was written. But there is significant evidence that it’s very early, like way early — pre-Scripture early. And so this may be the only way in those days that God had to address the soul directly. It wasn’t necessarily in Scripture. I don’t know that for sure, but dreams here are highlighted.

So the first way that God addresses the soul of man who’s on the brink of sinning, or some deed, or some proud attitude, is by terrifying him in a dream to bring him back from some direction he was going. He shakes him up with a nightmare of the outcome of his life. He could still do that today. He has other more precise means, but that was one way. Now here’s the second one in Job 33:19:

“Man is also rebuked with pain on his bed
     and with continual strife in his bones …

What Elihu is saying is this. When pain comes in to the life of a person, you should not jump to the conclusion, “Here’s a wicked person under the punishment of God,” but rather, “Here’s a person who may be very righteous with a sediment of pride and he needs to be rebuked, and he needs to be cleansed and healed from all of his ways.”

I think Elihu argues that God’s purpose in Job’s suffering is not to punish him, but to save him, to rescue him from deeds and from pride and from death. He doesn’t picture God as an angry judge here, but as a doctor, a redeemer, a healer who is going after Job to heal him.

The Suffering of the Righteous

Now, let me give you another passage. Let’s go to Job 36:6–15. We’re still with Elihu. What I want to do here is show that Elihu has a category that the friends didn’t, namely of the suffering righteous, or the sinful righteous who need ongoing purification. The righteous sinner or the sinful righteous — he has a category for that, just like we Christians do. So let’s read Job 36:6–15. It begins:

He does not keep the wicked alive,
     but gives the afflicted their right.

That seems like he’s contrasting the wicked and the afflicted. Which means, if he is, that he’s got this category for righteous afflicted, because it’s different from the wicked. Then he continues in Job 36:7:

He does not withdraw his eyes from the righteous …

So now we know that the afflicted are the righteous. That’s a new category. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar didn’t think that way — the afflicted righteous. Job 36:7 continues:

He sets them forever, and they are exalted.

Now, if you stopped right there, it would sound a little bit like Eliphaz. It is kind of like, “Really? They’re always exalted?” But then you keep reading. Job 36:8–10 says:

And if they (the righteous) are bound in chains
     and caught in the cords of affliction,
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.

Now focus on that little phrase, “he opens their ears.” This is Elihu’s fundamental contribution to suffering and our understanding of it. He’s saying, “Yes, the righteous suffer. Yes, they are sometimes bound in chains. Yes, they endure affliction. What is God doing for the righteous? For those who have a sediment of pride and wickedness in their lives, but they’re basically good people, what is he doing? Elihu is saying, “God is opening their ears to instruction so that they can know the rest of their sin, so they can know their true condition, so that they can know God at a new level.”

Meditation, Supplication, Suffering

Drop down to Job 36:15. It says:

He delivers the afflicted by their affliction
     and opens their ear by adversity.

That’s his theology of suffering for the righteous. The righteous suffer, and they are delivered by their affliction. He delivers the afflicted by their affliction. How is that? Well because he opens their ear by their affliction. Do you remember that section in Psalm 119:71 that Martin Luther loved? Martin Luther said there were three ways to handle the Bible and to grow in grace: Meditation, supplication, and suffering. You want to know your Bible? Meditate, pray, and suffer. He based that on Psalm 119:71, which says:

It was good for me that I was afflicted,
     that I might learn your statutes.

Luther made a huge deal out of that for his own discoveries. He thanked God for the blessed papacy and all their attacks on him because he said, “They’ve made me a right good doctor of theology.” That’s what suffering does. I think that’s Elihu’s theology here. He delivers the afflicted by their affliction. How so? By opening their ears through adversity.

I mean, who of you who’s lived long enough to suffer some, would not say with the Bible, “I have discovered more of God, more of his sovereign goodness, more of his grace, more of his wisdom, more of his preciousness, and more of his shepherd-care in my dark days than all my bright days combined?” Who would not say that? That’s the way it works. We sometimes wish that on vacation when we’re at the beach, the sun is shining, and we’re totally healthy that we would have our deepest insights into the glory of God — actually, we see too much skin.

But in the hospital room, sitting beside a dying child, mother, father, or friend, or walking with people, or ourselves walking through the darkest nights, oh how our ears are open and our eyes are open, and God draws near and revelation is shed abroad. Elihu is onto something that the other friends just did not seem to understand at all. So Elihu’s basic message, I think, to us and to Job is that Job was wrong to get in God’s face and criticize him. And Job was wrong to keep saying, “I’m not sinful. I’m not sinful. I’m not sinful,” which was a knee jerk response to their accusation that the only possible solution to this great suffering is great sin.

The Love of God for Sufferers

Elihu has another thing to contribute — namely, God loves you. He’s not your enemy. He’s coming to not only vindicate his worth in your life, but he’s also coming to purify you more deeply than you’ve ever known and reveal more things of himself than you have ever, ever seen.

So, what have we seen so far in this book by way of God’s purposes in suffering? We’ve seen two things. In the first two chapters the main point was this: When we suffer, God is testing us to see whether or not we value him and will display his superior worth above whatever we lose in suffering. That’s the first one. God’s glory goes on display when his people hold fast to him as their supreme treasure, when all around their soul gives way. That’s the first thing.

And now with Elihu’s help, we’ve seen that also what is happening in our suffering is that God is not only vindicating his superior worth, but he is cleansing us and purifying us of the sediment that everybody has. You’re not being picked on here, everybody has this. It is to our great delight that remaining corruption can be taken more out of our lives, and we see God with more clarity. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8).

If God will undertake to get rid of some more of John Piper’s impurity, I should not begrudge the scalpel because then I’ll see him better and I’ll know him better. This is why we want to be pure. We don’t want to be pure to show off. We’re not into a legalistic scheme here; we’re into a hedonistic scheme here that wants more of God. And if we can get more of God and enjoy more of God, and see more of God, then let the scalpel be applied.

God Speaks

So much for Elihu. Now God shows up. This gets really good. God doesn’t talk like anybody. Nobody talks like God talks. It just blows me away the way God talks about ostriches and wild donkeys. I mean what God is about to do is totally unpredictable and unexpected. I mean, Job is still sick, give him a break, God. What are you talking about animals for? Constellations like the Bear and Orion? What are you doing? So I’m jumping the gun here. I’m just so excited about God’s talk that we just better let him do it. Okay? So here he comes, this is Job 38–41.

There’s a thunderstorm on the horizon that Elihu sees, and he quickly is done because out of the storm comes another voice. And it’s now the voice of God. This is what we want. I mean, though we will tremble and we’ll go on our faces — if we are unbelievers, we will pray for rocks to fall on us and kill us. But if we are his, though it’s like going through a hurricane, it’s like ending up in the eye of the hurricane so that we can really enjoy the wind from a safe place. That’s what we want.

We want to be put in the covert of a rock so that as the storm passes by, we can say, “That’s a storm. That’s a storm. I like that storm, I just wouldn’t want to be in there getting blown around. I want to watch the storm from a safe place.” And I think we have a safe place here, so let’s watch it. I’ve got a lot to cover, and I’m going to go really fast. I’ll just say the verse and give you some things because I want you to get the big picture of what God has to say to Job. In Job 38:1–2, it starts:

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”

Now don’t think he’s talking about Elihu there. Some people say, “There. He’s setting Elihu straight.” No, no, no. That’s not what he’s doing; he’s answering Job. He didn’t have a word to say about Elihu — no criticism, no commendation, nothing. And we know that because not only does he say he’s answering Job in Job 38:1, but also in Job 42:3, Job quotes this statement, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” And then he confesses.

So He’s talking about Job here, and he’s going to try to brighten his counsel, which has been dark. How does he do it?

I Will Question You

Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me (Job 38:3).

I’m going to put you on trial and ask you some questions. Now let’s follow his interrogation. What kinds of questions does God ask Job? In Job 38:4–7, he 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. In Job 38:8–11, he focuses on the sea. He’s going to these different parts of nature:

Or who shut in the sea with doors
     when it burst out from the womb …

In other words, “It was me. It wasn’t you. You didn’t set any of this up. You didn’t set its limits.” In Job 38:12–15, he focuses on the dawn:

Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
     and caused the dawn to know its place …

No, Job, you never did that. You weren’t there. You didn’t have anything to do with it. In Job 38:16–18, he focuses on the depth and breadth of the sea and the land. Job has never been to the bottom of the ocean and he’s never been around the world.

Do You Know Where Light Dwells?

Now, he moves up above the world into the sky. Which is a good thing to do, especially today if you have a Hubble telescope — then you could really impress Job. But it’s impressive enough without it. What about the origin of light and dark? Job 38:19–21 says:

Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
     and where is the place of darkness?

Do you know, Job, where light dwells? With this mystery called light, does anybody understand it? Job 38:22–30 covers snow, hail, rain, and frost, and God asks Job, “Do you know anything about how to store up hail for the day of battle?”

You could pause here. I’m blown away by rain. I mean, have you ever tried to measure the weight of rain? Suppose it rains an inch over about 100 square miles in Texas. An inch multiplied by 100 square miles is a lot of water — millions and millions and millions of tons of water. Where does that come from? How do millions of tons of water float in the air? Nobody has ever explained this. It was up there and now it’s down here. We couldn’t lift it up there for anything. I don’t care what it’s made of, it still weighs that much. I think this is amazing.

He’s spoken of snow, hail, rain, and frost, then he goes up higher. Now he’s up into constellations in Job 38:31–33. He is saying, “Look at the constellations — the Pleiades, Orion, the Mazzaroth, the Bear. Do you know the ordinances of heaven? Can you establish their rule on the earth?” You really should go online and look at some of these absolutely mind boggling little YouTube videos that take you from earth, going at the speed of light until you’re 500 billion lightyears out there. And what they know now.

I just saw on the internet yesterday that they’re going to now map the edges of the universe. I said, oh really? That’s clever, but I’m impressed. I’m going out there with them as far as I can go with the Hubble telescope and letting God be God. The heavens are telling the glory of God, and more and more and more as we go farther and farther out there. So he’s trying to say to Job, “You don’t know anything — earth and sea, dawn and snow, hail, constellations and rain. The upshot of this all, Job, is that you don’t know anything. How in the world can you call me into question when I know everything about everything, and I run the world according to all of my infinite knowledge and wisdom?”

You might think, “Oh, but we’re 21st century people.” Oh really? Have we advanced so far in our catching up to God? I don’t think so. Take the last 200 years of scientific discovery and what does that amount to? It’s like sand pails and salt water hauled up from the ocean of God’s wisdom and dumped into a little hole on the beach while the tide is coming in. It’s not impressive.

Impressed with the Right Thing

I hope when you look at God and then look at science that you are not wowed with science and bored with God. If you are, you’re blind. That is ridiculous. God is impressive. He made it all. He knows it all. He runs it all. He understands everything about it. Over here you have sand pails of salt water being poured in a little hole on the beach while the tide of God’s wisdom is coming in. You better be impressed with the ocean, because science is nothing by comparison. And that’s what God’s trying to say to Job.

Job, all these scientific new atheists — those like Dawkins, or Hitchens, or Harrison — don’t know anything. They don’t know anything. They seem so impressive when you’re not comparing them with the right person.

Do You Give the Ravens Their Food?

Now he comes to the world of animals. You would think, “Really, you’re going to go to the world of animals?” And the reply from this book is, “Yeah, I’m going to go to the world of animals.” In Job 38:39–41, he asks Job about the lions and the birds:

Who provides for the raven its prey,
     when its young ones cry to God for help,
     and wander about for lack of food?

Do you do that, Job? Do you give the ravens their food?

In Job 39:1–4, he talks about the birth of the young:

Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
     Do you observe the calving of the does?

You don’t, Job. Do you know how they do that? They do that without any of your help at all. I think the point here is that when a man sees a work of God like suffering, he should remember it has connections to 10,000 realities he does not know. God is doing 10,000 things in your life at this moment. At this moment, he’s doing 10,000 things, not one thing.

When you suffer or your loved one suffers, you see one, two, or three things, maybe 10. You don’t see millions of things flowing into it and millions of things flowing out of it. That’s the feeling he’s trying to create.

In Job 39:5–8, he asks about the wild donkey. Job, who has let the wild donkey go free?

What about the wild ox? In Job 39:9–12, he says, “You don’t know how to bind him or use him. He’s mine.”

Or what about the stupid ostrich? Job 39:13–18 says: “She walks away from her eggs. She treats her young cruelly.” Who made her forget wisdom? God is saying, “I did. When you see stupid things in the world, Job, I did that. I’m not being taken off guard by the ostrich. The ostrich’s behavior is my idea. Go to the ostrich, oh fool, and learn something.” It’s just like, “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.” (Proverbs 6:6–11). Go to the raven, go to the lily, and go to the ostrich. The camel drinks a lot before he heads into the desert; learn things.

Do You Give the Warhorse His Might?

All these animals are foolish, some of them even useless, but not the war horse (Job 39:19–25). Do you give him his might? Do you cloth his neck with strength?

What about the Hawk. Job 39:26–30 says:

Is it by your understanding 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?

He speaks of 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 warhorse, and the flight of the hawk and the eagle, and the upshot of all this is, “Job, is that you don’t understand any of this. You don’t know how this works. This is all something outside of your kin, and I do it. I understand everything.”

We were talking last night over at IHOP about squirrels. I have a desk in my study and a window to my left. I can see the city and there’s two trees. I’ve watched the trees over the last 15 years meet together. This was the first season when the two branches touched. I planted this one tree, and it has grown for 15 years. I would look out every season and say, “Someday, the two tree branches are going to touch.” But in the meantime, guess what? Squirrels launch themselves between these trees, and I watch them. Now here’s the deal.

This little squirrel never went to school. He didn’t learn anything about how every force has an opposite counterforce. And he’s sitting on this branch and somehow he’s calculating how thin this branch is so that when he pushes off of this branch, he knows this branch is going to go backward. Like when you jump off a raft in the water, you push and you flop on your belly because the raft went away and you went nowhere. So why don’t these squirrels flop on their belly? Who told them this branch is now big enough, and their muscles must twitch exactly this much, and that little branch over there is good enough to hold them?

He grabs and goes, “Whoo, whoo, whoo!” Where did that come from? That’s the point. You don’t have a clue where that came from, Mr. Scientist. How did a squirrel ever arrive at the point where he could make those calculations? And I’ve never seen one bump his belly at all.

Shall a Faultfinder Contend with the Almighty?

Well, Job, pause and reflect on how little you know. He gives Job a chance to respond in Job 40. It might be good to look at that. Job 40:1–5 says:

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 and said:

“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
     I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
     twice, but I will proceed no further.”

He’s not going to try to challenge God. He’s not going to argue with God. He said one time, “I want to make my case before God,” and now God’s here and Job knows better than to do that. So he’s silent and God continues in Job 40:6–8. It says:

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

“Dress for action like a man;
     I will question you, and you make it known to me.
Will you even put me in the wrong?
     Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?
Have you an arm like God,
     and can you thunder with a voice like his?

Now here’s a problem in that text. When he says, “Have you an arm like mine?” is he saying, “You can’t ever argue with me because I’m strong.” That would sound simply like “might makes right.” This is why some people are not impressed with the argument of God here. God is coming to Job, who’s suffering, and feels like he’s suffering unjustly — righteousness is the issue — and God says, “Look at my arm; it’s strong.” Is that what He’s saying? Is that an adequate response to say, “Keep your mouth shut because I’m stronger than you are?”

I don’t think God in his speech means for us to end there with “might makes right,” as if he’s saying, “I’m stronger than you are, therefore, I’m always right. Therefore, keep your mouth shut.” In a sense that’s true. There is nobody outside God who can bring to God any counsel or any law to which God must submit. God is the final court of appeal. God does decide what’s right. But he’s not capricious, as if he doesn’t want you to come to him. When he says, “I am good,” you should think all he means is, “I am God.”

Does Might Make Right?

Good is meant to mean something, and yet the good can’t be defined from outside him. Well, there we are. Does might make right, and that’s just it, or is there something outside of him so that he can say, “I’m good like that”? It’s neither of those, so it has to be something in between them that I think God wants us to see. So I’ll read you the passage in God’s words that I think gets at it. Let’s go to Job 40:10–14. It says:

Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity;
     clothe yourself with glory and splendor.
Pour out the overflowings of your anger,
     and look on everyone who is proud and abase him.
Look on everyone who 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 save you.

Now, I think God is drawing attention to the fact that he uses his power, not capriciously, but that he has a purpose for his power. His right arm is not an arbitrary arm, it’s not a capricious arm. It does things that have design and purpose that accord with his excellence. And what accords with his excellence is that those who exalt themselves against him should be humbled, and that those who reverence him and delight in him should be exalted. And therefore, he humbles the proud and he abases him, and he lifts up the downcast.

When God says that I think it’s basically his way of saying, “My righteousness consists in my purposeful way of acting in accord with my supreme value and excellence. And the way I do it is that I make sure that my value, my beauty, my excellence, my knowledge, my wisdom, my justice, my truth, my grace, my wrath, and my knowledge are lifted up, and that people who see them, delight in them, and treasure them are affirmed and embraced, and those who despise them are brought down.”

There’s a complete coherence, wisdom, and purposefulness to the way God uses his power, so God’s two answers to Job’s mistake of criticizing God and exalting himself are number one. And he’s simply saying this in addition to what Elihu said, which still stands. And now God adds, “Job, you don’t know anything.”

He would say to me, “John Piper, when it comes to grumbling, or murmuring, or criticizing me, you don’t know anything about what I’m doing. You’re so ignorant of the vastness of what I’m up to in the world.” That’s the first response — “Close your mouth until you have 0.001 percent of the total knowledge and wisdom of what I’m up to. Don’t criticize me.” And the second thing he said was, “I always act purposefully. I’m not capricious. I’m not whimsical. I don’t flip coins. I act in accord with my excellence, and I do things with purpose. And if you can’t see them, wait, and in due time you will know them.”

Lessons from God’s Speech

Here’s just a few lessons before we turn to the resolution of everything in chapter 42. Number one, believe with all your heart in God’s absolute power and sovereignty over all things. Pray that God would give you that conviction. If you didn’t come to this conference with that conviction and you find it troubling, ask the Lord simply to help you embrace it. Nobody is born a lover of the sovereignty of God. We are born lovers of our own sovereignty. We all come to love the sovereignty of God through crises. It’s never easy.

I remember days in the fall of 1968, coming back from classes in seminary when I was simply being shown this from the Bible. Nobody was pushing a theology on me. They were just reading texts to me from Romans, Galatians, the Sermon on the Mount, and Job. And I was coming back, putting my face in my hands on my desk and crying because I felt my world was coming undone. I had not seen these things. They felt painful at first, not pleasant. Through the crises and through enough suffering of your own, certain things in the Bible that at one time had seemed distant and foreign — as if to say, “why would anybody go there?” — become the most precious of all things.

You’ve been there. You understand why God would reveal these things to us. So if you came like that, pray that God would help you see what’s really there. Believe with all your heart that in everything he does right, and he does good. It doesn’t do any good to believe in the sovereignty of God if you think he’s evil. He has to be sovereign and good, sovereign and wise, sovereign and merciful, which is the word that James 5:11 says is the point of the book. Repent of all the times that you have questioned God and found fault with him. It isn’t right to question God. God can handle it and he can forgive it, but it’s just not good, and we should repent of it.

And we should be satisfied. Be satisfied with his holy will in your life. Let me read you a little quote from George Müller, one of my heroes. This is the man who, in Bristol, England, two centuries ago, built all the orphanages. His wife died after 39 years of marriage, and he preached her funeral sermon. And this is what he said:

Please let nothing that I say in these hours together in any way imply that you shouldn’t feel the full force of the pain of loss, and weep, and shave your head, and tear your clothes, and fall on the ground. I will 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.

That was a very common phrase two centuries ago. Sarah Edwards used it when her husband, Jonathan, was taken away at age 54 because of a Smallpox remedy that backfired, and he couldn’t swallow water and they watched him die of dehydration. And she said, “I kiss the rod who has thus struck me.” May the Lord give us the grace to do that.

Reversal and Restoration

There’s one final little section here. Reversal comes, but the point of the reversal in Job 42 is not that everybody gets a reversal in this life. That’s not the point. It would make the whole book superficial if that were the point. He said in Job 19:25–27, “When this disease has done its work, then apart from my flesh I will see God. I have a redeemer, there’s going to be life beyond this.” That’s the word addressing death. But God did grant Job a reversal. He had his sons and daughters back, not the same ones, just new ones. Jemima was one of them, the little girl that I talk about in the poem. And God doubled his animals. It was an amazing reversal.

But I don’t think that’s not the main point of the last chapter. I think there are two other things going on that have to happen before the reversal. And these are beautiful things.

Relational Healing through Suffering

Oh what God often does in our suffering relationally. I don’t know if you’ve experienced it yet, but you will. In the midst of suffering, amazing healing can come in relationships.

I got a phone call a few years ago from an old professor at Bethel. We worked together for six years and we just knocked heads continually, because he said so many off the wall things. And I was right! Oh we just locked horns over and over again. I loved him, and I think he loved me. He moved and he retired, and I left and became a pastor. One day, I read that he had a heart attack. He didn’t die, but he had a heart attack and he recovered. It was a pretty serious one. And he called me one day. We hadn’t talked for 15 years, I suppose. He called me, and he said, “Hi John, this is so and so. Did you know I had a heart attack?” And I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “I feel very, very fragile, like I could die any day, and I just want to make sure you and I are okay. I love you. Are you okay? Do you have any grudges?”

I just laughed out loud, “Grudges? I love you, guy, what’s the deal? You’re cool. I loved to argue with you.” And we had a good talk and he died, not on the phone but a few weeks later. So he is in heaven now, but do you see what that heart attack did? How many of you become really good witnesses for Jesus in the hospital because you feel how bad you have been the whole rest of your life, and you know you’re going to meet Jesus soon so you better start telling people about him?

Everybody has that experience and a lot of other sweet things, relationally, happen. One of the simple reasons for that is that the air clears and what matters is left. And all the little stuff that you’ve been beefing with about your wife and you think, “Why did I constantly get on her case about that?” or, “Why did I constantly get on his case about that?” It doesn’t matter in the big picture, and now you’re seeing the big picture because you’re about to go to the big God. So, we got some relational things going on here in chapter 42.

The Humiliation of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar

The first thing God needs to deal with is to bring Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar to the dust along with Job. He’s brought Job down and gotten him fixed, humbled him to the dirt so that he can repent, get right, and enjoy God again, and he’s got to do the same things with Eliphaz and his friends. They’re not evil people, they’re just stupid about their theology. They’re so ill-taught and they’re so insensitive. You know people like this. They’re badly taught and they’re pastorally insensitive, and they’re just bumbling through life hurting people. And that’s the way these poor blokes are. So let’s read Job 42:7–8. It says:

After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns 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 a burnt offering for yourselves. 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.

Now he’s already said much to criticize Job, but there he’s commending Job. Not everything Job said was wrong, and in regard to what these fellows said, what Job said was right. They had said, “You’re only suffering greatly because you’ve got great, hidden wickedness.” And Job was saying, “I don’t. I haven’t done those horrible things you say I did.” And that was true. Job spoke what was right at that point. Now, what is God doing here? He could have said to Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, “Okay, you guys have sinned. You’ve hurt my servant. Your theology is poor. If you are going to get right with me, you take seven bulls and seven rams, and you go to an altar up on the mountain and you get on your face and you offer those bulls, and I will receive their blood, and I will cover your sin.”

That’s what he could have said but he didn’t. He said, “You take those seven bulls and those seven rams, you go to my servant Job and you offer them with Job. And you tell Job, ‘God said to us that you have to pray for us in order for us to be accepted with God, so would you please pray for us?’” That’s humiliating. The very man that they said was far from God, out of touch with God, and sinning against God has become their mediator with God, their priest. Why did he do it that way? Because, the way back to God, folks, is very often through a healed relationship.

You can’t do an end run around the relationship that you’ve messed up. You can’t say, “Okay, I spoke all kinds of horrible things and I did all kinds of horrible stuff, and God now convicted me of my sin, so I will go into my closet and repent and we will get on with life.” It doesn’t work like that. Jesus said, “If you forgive your debtors their sins against you, your father will forgive your sins against him” (Matthew 6:14–15). So they do. Job prays, “God, accept them.” And God does. So God humbles his three friends and he restores them to Job.

Love Covers a Multitude of Sins

But there’s more, what about Job himself? What’s required of Job? Let’s read his humiliation. Job 42:1–6 says:

I know that you can do all things,
     and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
     ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
     things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
     I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
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.”

Now you would think that’s enough. Job says, “God, my words were so wrong in the way I called you my enemy, and my words were so wrong when I said, ‘I’m innocent, I’m innocent, I’m innocent. I don’t have any sin.’ I overstated that. I minimized my sin and I maximized your fault, and I am just despising myself. I feel horrible about what I did in response to those men.” Now you think that would be enough, but it isn’t enough because now what he’s calling on him to do is love his enemies. It’s a relational thing that has to happen here, not just a vertical thing.

God is saying, “When they come to you in lowliness and humiliation saying, ‘God said you have to pray for us,’ you pray for them. You love them. You ask me to bless them and ask me to forgive them.” This is Jesus talking, right? He said:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you … (Matthew 5:43–44).

This is early Jesus. He is saying, “You go to them. I have appointed their humbling before you, and I have appointed your humbling before them. Both of you are sinners, you know.” And if James is right, the whole point of the story is mercy. Will you show it as well as receive it? That’s where the book ends. Yes, his life is restored, but it’s restored after that magnificent reconciliation through a sacrifice to his enemy.

A Redeemer for Job and the World

In summary, the book closes with a sediment of pride substantially strained out by the sieve of suffering. The book closes with bad theology rebuked and corrected in the three friends. The book closes with a brotherhood of servants restored. They were introduced as friends. They came from long distances. They loved Job. What happened to this relationship? It was a horrible thing.

Those things happen and God doesn’t like it when they happen. And He uses suffering often to restore us to our friends that we have become alienated from. And the book ends with God’s name honored and vindicated as of superior worth, and in all of this, the purpose of the Lord, James says, is compassionate and merciful because Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, Elihu, Job’s wife, and everybody else, are all righteous sinners now. How can that be? Because he had a redeemer and he had a savior. How will he redeem Job? How will God redeem him and save him? How will he pass over his sins? How will he remove his guilt? How will he satisfy his own righteousness? How will he not crush him for his God-belittling attitudes? How does God rescue you and me from Satan’s legitimate accusations?

And the answer is, for Job it was in the future but for us it’s past. God will send his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to die in Job’s place, Eliphaz’s place, Bildad’s place, Zophar’s place, Elihu’s place, Job’s wife’s place, and your place. Jesus Christ has come into the world to deal with sin, guilt, wrath, and Satan. How?

Canceling Our Record of Debt

Let me close with two passages of Scripture, and I’ll just recite them briefly and try not to say too much about them. One passage is a new and increasing favorite, and the other is an old, old favorite. The new favorite is Colossians 2:13–15. This is how God did it for Job, you, and me. It goes like this:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him …

How did he do that?

Having forgiven us all our trespasses …

And how can he do that?

By canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands …

So there’s a record, a record of all Job’s sins, and all your sins — a long record — and Satan loves to read from it in the presence of God, and your own conscience. And this text says in Colossians 2:14 that he canceled it. And the question rises, “How can you do that? How can you just cancel the record of my debts?” And he gives the answer:

This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

So where is the record of all Job’s debts and all my debts? It’s nailed into the hands of Jesus Christ, who bore our debts. He died for my debts. The record of my debts is nailed through his feet and his hands.

Now what about Satan still coming in the presence of God, still marauding throughout the world like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour? What about him? Then comes Colossians 2:15. It says:

[God] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Now what’s the connection between the disarming of the devil, who brought all this mess on Job, with his disarming in Colossians 2:15 and the canceling of the debts in verse Colossians 2:14? There is one damning weapon, which the devil has in his hands in the courtroom of heaven, and that is the record of your unforgiven debts. If he could stick your conscience with that, or if he could put it on the bench of God on the last day, we would go to hell. But he can’t. He’s disarmed. God has nailed that on the cross, and the one weapon with which the devil condemned Job, or you or me, is taken out of his hand.

No Condemnation in Christ

Now finally, my deep, old favorite. Romans 8:33–37 says:

Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn (Job, or you, or me, or Job’s wife, or Eliphaz, or Bildad, or Zophar, as they trust in Christ)? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
     we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

What does that mean? It means that our enemy, Satan, doesn’t just lie defeated our feet, but he serves our sanctification. He’s a lacky in the hand of our loving, compassionate, merciful, murky-cleansing-out-of-my-life God.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37–39).