June 11, 2017
As you have probably surmised from the Call to Worship and the Scripture readings, today’s message is about Job. But before I get into the main lesson I want to present, I would like to tell you about something that came up last year when I was at licensing school. As one of my lessons, I wrote a Bible study based on the first couple of chapters in the Book of Job. My instructor “corrected” me on what he felt was my misled assumption that Job was a real person. He pointed out the since Job is classified as one of the poetic books of the Bible, that Job was merely a character in a fictitious story written for our learning. Now you all know me well, and know that when I strongly disagree with someone, no matter who it might be, I am generally not shy about speaking up. I was quick to point out that Ezekiel mentioned Job along with Noah and Daniel as righteous men (Ezekiel 14:14,18). And James said in the New Testament, “You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.” (James 5:11). On top of that, just because the book is classified as poetry, so is Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. Does that mean that David and Solomon are also fictitious? But once I had my brief say, I respectfully thanked him… and continued to believe in the reality of Job. After all, the Bible also tells us we shouldn’t have an unhealthy desire to quibble over the meaning of words because its stirs up arguments ending in jealousy, division, slander, and evil suspicions. (Read 1 Timothy 6:4).
So on to today’s lesson… what can we learn from Job’s suffering and despair, his three friends’ vain attempt to counsel him, the young man who was wiser than them, God’s response, and then Job’s change of heart? First of all, keep in mind that Job was indeed a very righteous man. From a human standpoint, he did nothing to deserve the fate that fell upon him so suddenly. God Himself said of Job, “There is no one on earth like him. He is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 2:3). Yet even so, his three so-called friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, insisted to Job that he must have done something to deserve God’s judgment. While not everything they proclaim about God is false, it is in the way that they present it to Job, that renders it as merely useless diatribe. In chapter 16 Job responds to these three and says, “I have heard many things like these; miserable comforters are you all! Will your long-winded speeches never end? What ails you that you keep on arguing? I also could speak like you, if you were in my place; I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you, but my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief.” Yet they continued… By the time we get to chapter 26, Job responds with sarcasm that would rival Randy’s! He says, “How you have helped the powerless! How you have saved the arm that is feeble! What advice you have offered to one without wisdom! And what great insight you have displayed! Who has helped you utter these words? And whose spirit spoke from your mouth?” So what can we learn from this? Just as it would have been pointless for me to continue to argue with my teacher, and might have even cost me my grade, or even my license; all Job’s three friends did was make Job even more convinced that God was unjust, cruel, and wrong for allotting him such a fate. In fact, he was beginning to hold his own righteousness above that of God’s!
That’s when Elihu stepped in. In chapter 32 we read, “So these three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. But Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. He was also angry with the three friends, because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him. Now Elihu had waited before speaking to Job because they were older than he. But when he saw that the three men had nothing more to say, his anger was aroused.” I won’t read you all of Elihu’s discourse, although I urge you to on your own. I’ll just give you the highlights… In chapter 33, verse 8, he says to Job, “But you have said in my hearing – I heard the very words – ‘I am pure and without sin; I am clean and free from guilt.’” Then in chapter 34, verse 5 and 6, he says to Job and his friends, “Job says, ‘I am innocent, but God denies me justice. Although I am right, I am considered a liar; although I am guiltless, his arrow inflicts an incurable wound.’” Now are you starting to see the important lesson that is contained in the book of Job? It is more than perseverance in suffering. It is more than not adding insult to injury when someone is despairing. It is even more than the foolishness of calling a righteous God unjust, and a merciful and loving God cruel.
There are a few verses in the entire book of Job that highlight not only the underlying message throughout the whole book of Job, but the underlying message of the entire Bible! I read them during our last Scripture reading (Job 9:27-35). In chapter 9, starting at verse 32, Job is talking about God, and he says, “He is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court. If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot.”
Job did not know it yet, but what he was asking for, is what God had planned since the beginning of time. The mediator Job longed for is Jesus! 1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” And Ephesians 3:12 says, “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God's presence.”
Job was wrong in trying to justify himself before God by his own righteousness, as is everyone else who thinks they should receive God’s blessings on earth, and then entrance into heaven, because they are a good person. The apostle Paul told the church in Galatia, “Know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16).
In chapter 40 and 41 of the Book of Job, God himself replies to Job. Finally, in chapter 42, Job drops the cloak of self-righteousness, he humbles himself, and he repents. Then God asks Job to pray for the three friends that had spoken harshly to him, that God would forgive them. And Job did. And you all know the happy ending… in verse 10 we read, “After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again, and gave him twice as much as he had before.”
So remember, God is never unjust, friends don’t often say the right thing, and we are only justified before God through Jesus. We will still go through trials and tribulations, but we’ll understand it better by and by! Amen.