What Am I Supposed to Learn?
This study will serve for the weeks of July 11th & July 18th
As a Prelude to God’s sudden appearance to take up Job’s request for a personal audience with his Maker, Elihu gives an extended proclamation of the Majesty of God (chapter 37). God is mysterious and unpredictable but always just. Elihu uses the lightning and thunder as an image of the unpredictable but precise purpose of God [“He covers his hands with the lightning and commands it to strike the mark. Its crashing declares his presence.” 36:32, 33.] Though to us this phenomenon of nature may seem random, yet God controls each of the flashes and consequent rolls of thunder as his servants to do his bidding. “They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world. Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen” (37:12, 13) Because he uses these things for his purpose each aspect of “natural” activity serves the cause of justice and righteousness. “God is clothed with awesome majesty. The Almighty—we cannot find him; he is great in power; justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate.”
I. Now the encounter for which Job has yearned comes crashing in upon him (31:35-37) and God begins his own defense.
A. Verse 1 – Whereas later God came to Elijah in a still small voice and not in whirlwind or fire (1 Kings 19:12,13), to Job he arises with power and might out of a whirlwind.
B. Verse 2 – He challenges Job’s perception of the strength of his case before God and says that by his words he “darkens counsel” and that his words themselves are “without knowledge.”
C. Verse 3 – So If Job believes that he will stand before God like a prince, God himself challenges him to “Dress for action like a man.”
II. God challenges Job to show that he is qualified to stand toe-to-toe with God on the issue of his purpose in the world. If Job is on parity with God for this, he will show his competence by demonstrating his knowledge of the created order. If Job believes that he can question the moral purposes of God, then surely he will be able to answer a few questions about the mysteries of the natural order.
A. Verses 1-11 – God begins with creation by asking the very basic question as to where Job was when God laid the foundations of the earth?
- Can Job relate to God any of the dimensions of the earth or the reason for its specific measurements?
- How is it stable? On what were its bases sunk? This implies that the earth is sustained in its steadiness and equilibrium by some unseen forces, as it indeed is in its gravitational relationship with all other bodies.
- Apparently angelic beings were created before the creation of the earth and the universe. These intelligent beings witnessed God’s power in speaking and bringing into being the entire cosmos from nothing. It was sheer delight; as the stars and planets and all the wonders of the heavenly bodies appeared, these beings shouted for joy.
- Verses 8-11- Next God confronts Job with the depth and power of the mighty seas of the world and asks if Job has any power to control them. As fierce and powerful as the oceans are during a storm and as daunting as they are in their vast expanse, God has set a limit to them and at the shore line their power is tame and fit for children and babes to wade in and build sand castles. Unless God himself infuriates it with his winds, the shore line tames the vast oceans. Can Job do any such thing as this? Can he understand and deal with this single created entity?
B. Verses 12-41 and Chapter 39 – God challenges Job to give his knowledge of the mysteries of nature.
- Can he tell how God controls them and has designed them to accomplish their purpose? Often, he uses these things of nature for specific moral purposes. (13, 15, 23)
- Job is challenged with darkness, light, snow, hail, rain, ice, dew, frost, the heavenly constellations, and lightning.
- Can Job tell how God has put wisdom in the mind of man or how his intellect achieves understanding? (38:36).
- Verses 39-41 – Both the lion and the raven, a ferocious beast and a bird, are carnivores. Does Job provide their prey for them? Does Job create the marvelous balance of predator and prey within nature?
- In Chapter 39 God challenges Job to explain to him the peculiar characteristics of a wide variety of animals that all conduct themselves in different ways and yet all are provided for in their unique circumstances: mountain goats, deer, wild donkeys, the wild ox, the stupid ostrich, the strong matchless horse both in nature and as trained for war, the soaring hawk, and the rock-dwelling eagle with his magnificent eyesight and his uncanny instinct. If Job is able to discern how each of these creatures, so distinct, has its respective quality of strength and ability to cope, even thrive, in an exposed environment then God will consider consulting with Job about the wisdom of His moral purpose in the world.
C. 40:1-14 – God challenges Job to match him in extending his moral purpose into the world.
- God reprimands Job for the parts of his speeches in which he found fault with God for apparent injustices – e.g. 30:21 “You have become cruel to me; with the strength of your hand you oppose me; . . . You spoil my success” (NKJV).
- Despite all his previous bravado of being able to bring his case before God, he now simply recognizes his smallness and that he has nothing more to say. He can answer none of God’s questions, so why should he think that his questions will have any legitimate challenge to present to God?
- Verses 6-14 – Now, instead of merely implying Job’s incompetence to the test for which he has been crying, God gives an immediate challenge for Job to govern the hearts of men. He repeats the challenge, “Dress for action like a man (40:7 cf. 38:3).
- By his personal challenge, what does Job intend? Does he really think that God is unaware of his response, or his call for justice? Is Job seriously convinced that, if he just has the opportunity, he can convince God that his method of dealing with him has been misguided; that he has miscalculated what is best for him? Does Job think that he has a more effective and just idea of how he should be treated?
- Job, cringing in a miserable condition, reeling under the events that have crushed him, and simmering in his emotion from the accusations of his friends, yet powerless to reverse anything about his condition or about their evaluation of his standing, now hears God say, “Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity.” These are completely stripped from him and he can do nothing to alter the moment.
- Come now, Job, show that your own response to the events around you can bring the proud to humility. Show that your judgments can halt the wicked in their destructive course.
- Show that you can judge and bring evildoers to naught in this world, bring them to death, and then bind them to eternal judgment.
- When you do this, Job, I will acknowledge that you have the wisdom and power to determine and perform the thing needed for your salvation.
- God now continues the challenge to Job by pointing to two prodigies of Creation, Behemoth and Leviathan (40:15-24 and 41) Various identities have been speculated for these two grand animals: hippopotamus, giant crocodile, or even a fire-breathing dragon that had been saved in the ark and would soon be extinct, but at this time was known. The point is that again, Job cannot cope with, or explain, the delicate balance of creative instincts in the animal kingdom or match its power. How much less can he comprehend both the infinite rational wisdom and the inexhaustible power of the God that has made all these things and controls them from moment to moment.
III. Chapter 42 – Job has listened with awe and humility and now confesses a fresh understanding of his position before God
A. Now that Job has had God appear before him and gives him a chance to speak, what does he say? Is it the bold defense of his righteousness and his demand that God show him exactly what he could find against him?
- He first acknowledges that God is sovereign and may do with his own as he sees fit, and that none can interrupt or change his purpose. “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (42:2). Divine sovereignty does not eliminate the reality of divine justice and righteousness but makes us recognize that the spheres of goodness and righteousness that he determines to display in a sovereign manner do not always fit our preconceived categories. Paul employs this revealed truth, gained through Job’s great suffering, in his question concerning the objection of man to divine sovereignty, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Romans 9:20)
- He now acknowledges that his position was arrogant and he embraces God’s judgment on him: “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge” (cf. 38:2). Job confesses that he had too narrow a view of God and thought that he knew himself better than he did. “I have uttered what I did not understand” (42:3). God’s righteousness and wisdom exceeded the most extended concepts of Job and Job’s sinfulness penetrated his whole being more profoundly than he had perceived. Later David would be brought to confess, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived” (Psalm 51:5 NKJV).
- Now, his words with which he desires to come before God to receive an answer are words of wonder at his majesty and deep repentance in light of his new view of himself. There is nothing like a revelation to the soul of the wisdom and beauty of God’s character to quiet our complaints and enhance our worship – verses 5, 6.
B. God reprimands Job’s friends
- God said that they had not spoken what was right as Job had (verses 7 and 8). This is difficult to discern how this is so, for they began with the same premise. It is clear that Job disagreed with the analysis of his friends, but God also challenged the assumptions of Job. Job’s trial did cause him to forsake the common view that prosperity equals a life pleasing to God and tragedy equals punishment for an evil life. He knew that there was more to be learned from these events and it drove him to embrace the need for a ransom-mediator. By divine grace the entire event brought Job to a deeper frame of personal repentance and resignation to the wise purpose of God. Here we see a clear example of the comprehensive biblical principle that God rewards his people for the fruit of his own grace in their lives. “He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’ . . . What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 1:30, 31; 4:7)
- For their sin, the three friends had to offer sacrifices and ask for Job’s intercession. God had already humbled Job by his overpowering appearance in the whirlwind to bring about his repentance. Matthew Henry points out that now God “takes another course to humble them,” that is, to make them not only offer burnt offerings but to ask Job, whom they had condemned as offensive to God, to intercede for them before God. This is both a matter of humiliation and a matter of redemptive grace. He does not cast them off, but makes a path of restoration.
- Wrong ideas about God and his children are not amoral but are positively sinful. They were abusive toward Job because of narrow and uncritically received views of God and his ways. They told Job that God was his enemy because of his wickedness, when all along Job was a delight in God’s affections. He did not intend destruction by his dealing with Job but to bring him to deeper knowledge, more pure worship, and a more profound sense of grace. Making assertions that present false views of God, his purpose, his character, and his ways with men are not harmless. Those who set themselves forth to speak on behalf of God and present themselves as authorities must realize that their opinions and words are susceptible to judgment. James warned, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (James 3:1)
C. God restores Job to greater status than before – Doubtless, this is to demonstrate not only to Job but to those around him that his trials were not those of an enemy of God under wrath but of a favorite of God being brought to greater purification and blessing. With the further revelation that we have of the shortness of this life and the glories of living in the presence of God, a truth that occurred to Job in the midst of his own trials, we are not to expect the temporal manifestation of favor through the increase of material things as a mark of divine favor. We have the complete revelation of God’s redemptive grace in his Son and the promise of eternal life verified by the resurrection of Christ so that we live under the objective impression of a living hope. Christ and all his appointed apostles died ingloriously in the eyes of the world but they had a better hope stored up for them in heaven. The evidence of God’s favor toward us is so sufficient in Christ that no other evidence is needed. “He who spared not his own Son but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). When James applies one of the lessons we are to take away from Job he reminds his readers of the patience of Job and the purpose of God in manifesting his compassion and mercy. He used that example in service of an admonition to “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.” (James 5:7-11). We are not promised the gift of grace in the splendor of our temporal situation, but in the imperishable glories of heaven.
IV. Again I close with the lessons we are to derive from this study with some final reflections on the necessity of increase in the knowledge of God.
A. Embrace and absorb into your central spiritual world view that Providence and Redemption are no less in the control of God and under his ultimate purpose than was the immediate operation of creation. Wisdom always resides in submission to the divine will.
B. The driving passion of our lives should be a reverent and filial fear of God that leads to discernment and enjoyment of the attributes of God.
C. Don’t allow some knowledge of God and his ways to drive you to arrogance, judgmentalism, and sinful over-confidence. We must not retreat from what we know to be true, but must also realize that other dimensions of present knowledge will constantly flow into our heads and hearts.
D. We must value spiritual knowledge and holiness of life above all earthly advantage. If God will teach us more of Himself and his purity through the loss of what can be lost then the loss is a great advantage.
E. While maintaining integrity in individual cases as each relates to the judgment of men, we must submit to God’s prerogative to design any event for our overall sanctification. True godliness always involves resignation.
F. Be thankful for the progressive nature of revelation—learn to admire the divine wisdom in the gradually unfolding of layer upon layer of truth—as well as the immediate perfection of the redemptive action of God.
G. We should contemplate the importance of the question, “How can a man, sinfully despicable from the sole of his feet to the crown of his head, be in the right before God?” Where will we find a ransom? Of what honor must such a ransom be?
H. There is no such thing as innocent suffering. When we proportion temporal suffering to apparent temporal evil, we might be puzzled as to why the apparently good suffer and the apparently less-good prosper; but this sense of disproportion finds plausibility only because of our limited and dull reflections on divine holiness. If our knowledge of the moral character of a fallen world and fallen human beings were truly commensurate with the reality, we would immediately concede the justice of God in any infliction of punishment or discipline.
I. We must not forget that God’s granting of pleasure in this life should drive us to see the bountiful nature of his goodness and mercy, and any interruption of our pleasure in this life, whether mild or severe, is designed to bring us to a knowledge of sin and the need for a mediator that can restore righteousness, for God will not be finally reconciled to us apart from true and complete righteousness.
Postscript on the Increase of Knowledge of God
One of the lessons of Job is this: everyone must increase in the knowledge of God Colossians 1:9, 10). Among the many affirmations made about God in the Second London Confession are these: “whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself; . . . who is immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, every way infinite, most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the councel of his own immutable, and most righteous will.” His incomprehensibility is directly the result of his infinity. We are finite and will, therefore, never reach exhaustibility in the knowledge of God. Job, his friends, Elihu, Job’s wife, and all their friends in the town were put through a process of increasing in the knowledge of God. The friends who had such absolute confidence in the level of their knowledge were reprimanded for such arrogant deductions derived from extremely partial knowledge. Many of the concepts they held about God were true, but they refused to examine their understanding with openness to expansion. Their single stringed lyre could not harmonize with the rich and complex chords being created at the joining point of Job’s suffering and God’s apparent silence. Even Job was too sure of himself in his ability to call God to account for not giving him a platform for dialogue and explanation. Elihu’s remonstrations called Job to account for his implication that God was somehow being unfair to him: “I have heard the sound of your words, saying, ‘I am pure, without transgression; I am innocent, and there is no iniquity in me.’” They were filled with the elevation of mystery without any suspicion cast on the goodness and justice of God. All of them were stretched beyond their present state of knowledge to an increase that necessarily altered their views of sin, righteousness, personal piety, and the mercy, grace, sovereignty, goodness, justice, patience, and lovingkindness of God. So, three brief observations about the knowledge of God.
Increase in the knowledge of God is connected without exception to his pleasure in revealing himself to us. In this process, God himself reveals truth through the struggles of Job, the observations of Elihu, and his won awesome appearance in chapters 38-42. We will never exhaust the richness of Scripture revelation of God in this life and so must with unbroken consistency apply our minds to mastering its contents. By this revelation we grow in the knowledge, and thus love, of God.
Increase in the knowledge of God is painful but edifying. For Job, as well as for Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz the learning curve about the purpose, character, and wisdom of God caused pain. For Job the pain was exquisitely physical as well as emotional. But the three friends also had to learn the error of their ways, repent, be instructed, change their perceptions and train themselves to meditate, consider, and speak in a different. These intellectual changes can be painful. We must be ready with unwavering fidelity to undergo such pain regularly.
Increase in the knowledge of God is necessarily unending and is simultaneous with increase of joy and delight. Though growth often involves pain in this life, in heaven it will take the form of unending increase of joy and fulfilled capacity for delight. The increase of knowledge will truly be unending and we will increasingly grasp the power of infinity and the richness of immutability. The trinitarian expression of God’s attributes—sameness of all attributes yet coexisting in the distinctly personal properties of Father, Son and Holy Spirit—seen and experienced as one God yet eternally perceived in the distinctness of persons will never cease to excite amazement, wonder, and intellectual fascination with the singularity and simplicity of this eternal threeness of God.