This is my first attempt to preach a whole book, something I have been thinking about since New Wine in the summer. It was preached at 'Come Together', our monthly evening service.
Aim: To look at what Job learns from his suffering
Job 1:6-12 – The situation
Job 1:20-22 – Job's reaction
Job 2:9-13- wife and friends
Job 27:1-6 – Job final response to his friends
Job 38:1-5; 31 God speaks to Job
Job 40:1-2 God speaks to Job
Job 42:2-6 Job's final response to God
I'm going to look at the book of Job. I'll do this by using some of the book to tell the story, and then look at what it says to us about God.
The story of Job refers to a time, probably before Abraham, certainly before the establishment of the Kingdoms. We have no way of knowing whether this is a cleverly constructed story or that Job was a real person who really experience the disasters that we will see were brought upon him. We can be sure that the telling of the story is very well constructed, it consists of a prologue, followed by a series of poems in which the causes of suffering are debated, and an epilogue which provides us with a startling answer.
Why this book – because it is written like a parable.
Let’s start with the first reading.
Job 1:6 One day the angels 1 r came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan 2 s also came with them. t
Job 1:7 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” u
Job 1:8 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? v There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God w and shuns evil.” x
Job 1:9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” y Satan replied.
Job 1:10 “Have you not put a hedge z around him and his household and everything he has? a You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. b
Job 1:11 But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, c and he will surely curse you to your face.” d
Job 1:12 The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has e is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” f
Disaster follows. Immediately we hear of the death of his 7 sons and his daughters and the loss of his wealth. Satan, though is not satisfied, so at another meeting of the Angels, where God is even more proud of Job, Satan asks to be allowed to affect Job as well. Then Job is covered in boils.
I expect we have all experienced some disasters in our lives, but probably not of that magnitude. Today it would be something like: Your children have all been killed in a road accident, when you went to the bank someone had withdrawn all your money, but the bank were convinced that it was you. Then you found you credit cards were maxed out and again the companies said that it was definitely you. Then your house was destroyed in a fire.
Well I've never experienced anything like that, and I hope you haven't, but we have all had bad things happen to us. Think back a moment and remember a time when something awful has happened.
I think the worst thing that happened to me was while my Mum was in the hospital, shortly after she'd been told that the leukemia was terminal. Dad was visiting her and had a massive heart attack. It felt as though both my parents were going to die within days of each other and was a horrible shock.
My reaction wasn't that great, in my shock I buried my head in the sand and mechanically went about my business, with just the odd pleading to God that they wouldn't die at the same time.
I hope that you react to better to your disaster?
Job's reaction was very different, after his first disaster he
Job 1:20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship
Job 1:21 and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. 3 The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; w may the name of the LORD be praised.”
Job 1:22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
Later on he asks “Why is God tormenting me?”
Other people’s reactions aren’t good either. Even Job's wife turns against him:
Job 2:9 His wife said to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!”
Job 2:10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.
Then Job's three best friends turn up and when they see the condition Job is in they too tear their robes and sprinkle dust on their heads. They sit with Job for 7 days. Then the arguments begin. Each of them in his turn puts forward the belief of the day. The righteous prosper and the evil are punished. Therefore, Job must have done wrong. Some say it more gently that others asking where did he 'go astray', rather than making direct accusations, but the message is essentially the same. Each of these accusations take the form of a poem, and so do each of Jobs responses.
All job wants now is to be vindicated, for God to agree that what has happened to him is not his own fault. He has said that he would like to question God:
Job 10:2 I will say to God: r Do not condemn me, but tell me what charges s you have against me.
Job 10:3 Does it please you to oppress me, u to spurn the work of your hands, while you smile on the schemes of the wicked? w
When the three friends have run out of ways of convincing Job that he has done evil, Job has a final response:
Job 27:2 “As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice, t the Almighty,
u who has made me taste bitterness of soul, v
Job 27:3 as long as I have life within me, the breath of God w in my nostrils,
Job 27:4 my lips will not speak wickedness, and my tongue will utter no deceit. x
Job 27:5 I will never admit you are in the right; till I die, I will not deny my integrity. y
Job 27:6 I will maintain my righteousness z and never let go of it; my conscience a will not reproach me as long as I live.
Then a fourth voice – Elihu, who has not been introduced to us speaks even more harshly to Job, saying that Job's insistence that he is righteous is in itself wicked (because clearly he is not, or he would not be afflicted!)
Job continues to defend himself. All throughout his defence he has varied back and forth from despair to a very clear self defence and a demand to be able to question the unjust God who has afflicted him.
Finally, God speaks.
What do you think God says? Will he agree with Job?, will He comfort Job?
Job 38:1 Then the LORD answered Job a out of the storm. b He said:
Job 38:2 “Who is this that darkens my counsel c with words without knowledge?
Job 38:3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.
Job 38:4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? f Tell me, if you understand.
Job 38:5 Who marked off its dimensions? h Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?
Job 38:31 “Can you bind the beautiful 95 Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion?
Job's response is to withdraw his question, but that is not enough, God continues to ask why He should be questioned, and whether His justice is to be condemned. Job responds:
Job 42:2 “I know that you can do all things; i no plan of yours can be thwarted. j
Job 42:3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. l
Job 42:4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’
Job 42:5 My ears had heard of you n but now my eyes have seen you.
Job 42:6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
In the epilogue Job is vindicated, which in reality is all he ever asked for. God expresses his anger at Job's three friends and they are told to make sacrifices for their wickedness because they have not spoken truthfully in the presence of God. Job prays for them and God accepts his prayer. Job is fully restored and given a new family and equivalent wealth, which is not something He had asked for.
Job's three friends learnt a hard lesson about how to respond to someone who is suffering. Platitudes, and simplistic philosophies just don't cut it. Sticking to the dogma that only the wicked are punished with suffering is in itself wicked. This is their wickedness: not speaking the truth in front of God.
We often hear it said today that God will not give us more to deal with than we can cope with. This is clearly not true. Do you think Job could cope with what happened to him? I believe that it comes from a misunderstanding of 1 Cor 10:13 which is talking about avoiding temptation, not suffering.
Job has learnt a lot about God. The most important lesson is that God is God, and cannot be made into anything that is imaginable by humans. God is also impossible to understand.
To put it another way some mysteries are just that – mysteries, they are unfathomable to the human mind and probably always will be. The book has looked at the suffering of the innocent and come to the conclusion that our only possible response is to trust our awesome God.
Typhoon Haiyan – opportunity to do good.
Job never knew that he suffered because God was proud of him, had he found out it would have ruined the exercise, and Job would have been unable to prove himself. The book of Acts picks up the same idea. After the Apostles have suffered a flogging and ordered not to speak in Jesus name it says (Ac 5:41) “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”