I’ve read the book of Job repeatedly, in multiple translations. I’ve studied commentaries on it. I made my iPad and my phone read it to me. I’ve preached on parts of it, but…I could never see a satisfactory reason for God doing Job like He did him.
Yeah, I know all the super-pious clichés about “mysterious ways” and what’s “not for us to know,” but why, I’d always wondered, would God deliver a 42 chapter story with more dialogue than the gospels (which contain Jesus’ dialogue) if the moral of the story was, “None of your business”? That’s a loooot of space for “None of your business.”
But this week in Sunday School at Miles Chapel CME Church, the Holy Spirit showed us. It’s the difference between CONFESSION and REPENTANCE.
In the final chapter, after God had just verbally spanked Job, the Lord turned to the head of the little delegation of friends who’d been arguing with Job since chapter 4.
The Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends (Job 42: 7)
Class, how many friends came to visit Job?
The answer is 4.
Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar came over while Job was depressed and self-cutting in a pile of burned trash. But somehere around chapter 32, a guy named Elihu showed up. He was late, but he was young. (Now, kids, being young is no excuse for lack of punctuality.)
Elihu thought of Job and the other 3 guys as mentors (Job 32: 6, 7), but he was seriously disappointed that none of his role models had given a satisfactory answer to Job or gotten one out of him (Job 32: 3). In Elihu’s eyes, the 3 other dudes had condemned Job without a conviction. And so Elihu went off on Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, but mainly Job----- for 5 chapters straight.
Job never replied to Elihu. He didn’t get the chance, because the next voice we hear after Elihu’s argument is God ripping Job a new one in chapter 37.
Oh, here’s the thing. Remember, God rebuked the THREE friends because their theology was wrong. The Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right (Job 42: 7) Chapters 37-41 was God rebuking Job for coming at Him wrong. But God just let Elihu-------- go.
Because Elihu WAS RIGHT.
Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar assumed that Job must have done some wrong thing for God to send the tsunami of tragedy that had washed over his life. So, they argued and argued trying to verbally beat a confession out of Job. A CONFESSION.
They wanted Job to name the sin he had committed.
But Job had not done any thing wrong. He had no sins to confess. God Himself called Job a blameless man like none on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil (Job 1: 8)
Whatever you and I may speculate Job used to be, by the time his book started, Job was living right.
Period. Nope. That’s what the Book says.
Job didn’t need to confess. The 3 musketeers were wrong.
Elihu was the only one of the 4 friends to say the right thing about God. Elihu said: For God is greater than man. (Job 33: 12)
Moreover Elihu answered and said: “Do you think this is right? Do you say, ‘My righteousness is more than God’s’? (Job 35: 1,2,)
Elihu didn’t accuse Job of incurring God’s wrath for doing some wrong thing. Elihu simply said that compared to God, Job wasn’t righteous. Elihu argued that regardless of whether Job had or had not committed an explicit sin according to the pre-Mosaic law, Job had developed a seriously over-inflated sense of his own goodness.
If you sin, what do you accomplish against God? Or, if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to Him? If you are righteous, what do you give Him? Or what does He receive from your hand? (Job 35: 6-7)
I’ll concede that Elihu was kinda iffy about whether Job really was as sin-free as he insisted.
Take heed, do not turn to iniquity, For you have chosen this rather than affliction. (Job 36: 21)
But that was after Job had basically said that it didn’t matter whether he was good or bad since God was gonna hurt him anyway (Job 10: 15).
Job’s problem wasn’t the absence of CONFESSION. Job’s problem was a lack of REPENTANCE.
The Sunday school lesson for October 26, 2014 quoted C.S. Lewis’ explanation of REPENTANCE.
“Lewis said that we are not simply imperfect creatures who need improvement; we are rebels who must lay down our arms:, ‘Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realizing that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the gound floor.’
This process of surrender is what we call repentance… ‘Repentance… is not something God demands of you before He will take you back and which He could let you off if He chose: it is simply a description of what going back to Him is like.’ “
Confession is about our actions. Repentance is about our selves: our status as human being born in sin, shaped in iniquity, and prone to screw up at any moment; standing in the light of God who is holy and perfect in every way. We confess because we’ve DONE wrong. We repent because we ARE wrong.
When an army loses a war, all the soldiers surrender, even the ones who were just drafted and never got to fire a shot in combat. They all recognize their lost state and lay down their arms.
Job wanted to fight with God instead of lay down his arms and surrender.
Job believed that if God would play fair, then he could argue the Lord into submission.
For He is not a man, as I am, That I may answer Him, And that we should go to court together. Nor is there any mediator between us, Who may lay his hand on us both. (Job 9: 32-33)
But I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to reason with God. (Job 13: 3)
That’s not surrender. That’s not submission. That is UN-REPENTANCE.
In chapter 29, Job described the one in whose presence,
the young men saw ..and hid,
And the aged arose and stood;
…The voice of nobles was hushed,
And their tongue stuck to the roof of their mouth.
When the ear heard, then it blessed …
And when the eye saw, then it approved …
Because [that one ] delivered the poor who cried out,
The fatherless and the one who had no helper.
The blessing of a perishing man came upon [him]
And caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.
[He] put on righteousness …
justice was like a robe and a turban.
[He] was eyes to the blind,
And was feet to the lame.
..a father to the poor,
…broke the fangs of the wicked,
And plucked the victim from his teeth. (verses 7-17, edited)
Reads like a Psalm to God, doesn’t it? Only, Job wasn’t talking about God. Job was talking about Job.
Isaiah hadn’t been written at the time of Job’s story, but the principle was already true. Compared to God, we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away. (Isaiah 64: 6)
Job wouldn’t have thought that verse applied to HIM. Job thought more of himself than he ought.
And God knew it.
Why did God let the devil reach into Job’s life---- this time? Satan had tried to get at Job before, but God’s “hedge” kept him back. So why did God let satan through--- this time?
God didn't just let the devil sneak through, God provoked satan to take another shot at Job.
And the Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?”
So Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.”
Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” (Job 1: 7-8)
Apparently, the devil had given up on Job and was looking for easier targets, but God basically dared the devil to mess with the man who was blameless like no other.
It’s like God saw something at that particular moment in Job’s life that required (pardon the pun) a Hell of a response.
Never forget that God understands us, our situation, and our needs better than we do. And, never forget that God understands us, our situation, and our needs better than the devil does.
While satan was trying to get Job to abandon God, God was using the suffering satan delivered to draw Job even closer.
The devil meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.
Oh, but what about all the other people who suffered? Job’s employees and children who were killed. Job’s wife who experienced the death of all her babies, the loss of all her money (her husband’s money was her money, too--- at least according to my wife), and the sudden decline of her husband’s health.
That part, the Bible doesn’t answer directly. But the Bible does provide an answer in principle that’s a little better than “none of your business.”
The answer is: Faith.
Not just saving faith but living faith. Faith (as the examples in Hebrews 11 demonstrate) is trusting that God knows what the crap He’s doing in our lives and in everyone else’s life, too.
We aren’t told the details of Job’s children’s lives. We don’t know their righteousness or sinfulness. We know they were all adult enough to be at a house party thrown by the oldest brother (Job 1: 18, 19), and we know that Job was concerned enough about their lifestyles to worry that they might curse God in their hearts. Worried enough to do make that sacrifice EVERY DAY (Job 1: 5).
We do know, by the testimony of God’s Word, which we believe by FAITH, that God God knows and understands, and that He uses even tragedy to make all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8: 28).
Left alone behind an unbroken hedge of favor and prosperity, Job would have continued exalting himself in his heart until he began to justify himself to himself. And that’s the point at which “good, successful” believers begin to sin and think it’s all right.
Once you think that you wear righteousness and justice like a robe and a turban; you’re not very far away from using your wealth, power, and religious cover to do something terrible.
Just look around. “Preachers of L.A.” Catholic sex abuses. Pastoral scandals.
As good as good Job was, how bad would a rich, evil Job with 10 grown, rich, and evil children have been?
In the end, from the very beginning of the story, God saved not only Job, but countless others. BECAUSE GOD LOVED THEM.
God loved Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, Elihu, Job’s wife, Job’s relatives, and Job’s community so much that He was willing to pick a fight with the devil to save Job from the darkness of self-righteousness and bring him back to repentance.
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
When Job came to repentance, God restored and doubled his wealth, his influence, and his position in the community. God restored Job’s relationships with his wife (cause they had 10 more children) and his children (now with the hindsight to raise them better). Most importantly, God returned Job to a place of spiritual favor, so that Job was God’s preferred intercessor on behalf of the 3 theologically wrong-minded friends.
My servant Job shall pray for you. For I will accept him, lest I deal with you according to your folly; because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has. (Job 42:8)
Job finally spoke the thing of God that was right. The last words of Job in his book are: I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, And REPENT in dust and ashes. (Job 42: 5-6)
Job got it and now I finally get it.
Trust God, and never forget that God is God, and you and I are not.
p.s. I bet that when the devil realized how God had played him, he was pissed.
---Anderson T. Graves II is a writer, community organizer and consultant for education, ministry, and rural leadership development.
Rev. Anderson T. Graves II is pastor of Miles Chapel CME Church in Fairfield, Alabama; executive director of the Substance Abuse Youth Networking Organization (SAYNO); and director of rural leadership development for the National Institute for Human Development (NIHD).
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