Eld Goh Kee Tai
God’s discourse with Job in his afflictions
Job, a godly and righteous man in full fellowship with God, was suddenly and unexpectedly afflicted with a series of extraordinary calamities coming in quick succession one after another with total loss of all his possessions and his ten children. He was alienated and despised by his wife, loved ones, friends, and servants (Job 19:13-19). In the darkest hours of such horrible ordeals, he did not sin against God but confessed his profound faith in his sovereign Maker, and sharply rebuked his wife who urged him to curse God and die (Job 1:21; 2:10).
However, Job was also a man of like passion as we are. His pride was deeply hurt and his integrity had to some extent been shaken when he was reduced from the greatest of all men in the east (Job 1:3) to the poorest and most miserable state. He was frustrated, angry, impatient, and despondent, and complained bitterly, cursing the day of his birth and repeatedly wishing for death (Job 3:3-12;7:15;10:18,19).
To further aggravate his misery, his three eminent friends from afar who came to comfort him turned out to be the most ‘miserable comforters’ and ‘physicians of no value’ (Job 13:4; 16:2), as they insisted that his afflictions were due to divine judgment for his gross hidden crimes (Job 4:8; 8:20;11:6).
Job was confident of his innocence (Job 23:10-12) and had spoken boldly his desire to argue his cause before a judicial tribunal, directly up to God and was confident that he would secure a favourable verdict (Job 13:3,22; 23:3-7).
Job longed for relief of his prolonged sufferings, but it never seemed to come (Job 7:3-5). He felt that God had deserted him (Job 19:7; 30:20), and it seemed that there was no advantage of having a good relationship with Him as it did not secure him from afflictions (Job 34:9; 35:3). Job sinned by uttering rash and irreverent words against the Almighty and accused Him for being cruel and targeting and punishing him unfairly as an enemy (Job 13:24;16:9; 19:11; 30:21). In defending his own integrity, he implied that God was unjust in His providential dealings (Job 27:2). He had been very presumptuous in finding fault with God and instructing Him how He ought to govern the world and His creatures, and boldly censured His ways and works. He had passionately quarrelled, contended, strived and carelessly reproached Him and His providence.
Elihu, a young bystander who witnessed the counselling by the three friends, was moved by the Holy Spirit to address the perplexities of Job and to correct his wrong perception on the character of God and His providential dealings with him. He pointed out his pride of self-righteousness. The consciousness of his integrity had caused him to be presumptuous to enter into a controversy with God (Job 10:7;16:19; 23:11,12; 27:2-6). Elihu seemed to have convinced Job of his sin of contending with God and in questioning His divine justice and righteousness. He was preparing the way for Job to humble and repent before God. This appeared to close the controversy.
God’s first speech
God had heard Job’s complaints and the false accusations of his friends. He was fully mindful of his sorrows, self-righteousness and lack of humility. The Almighty was gracious, merciful and condescending. He appeared in power and glory and spoke to Job out of the whirlwind (Job 38:1).
What the Lord said was not what Job had expected. He thought that he would be allowed to question Him concerning why he was suffering. God presented the real problem which was his pride and self-righteousness, and his attitude towards Him in his suffering.
God rebuked Job for his unwise speeches: ‘Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?’ (Job 38:2). Job had cast doubt on His lovingkindness, justice and providence which seemed to be dark, severe and unjust e.g. by permitting the wicked to prosper and the righteous to be afflicted (Job 21:7-16).
The Almighty demanded him to answer a series of questions on His greatness as displayed in His mighty works of creation in the heavens and on earth (Job 38:4-38). The design was to humble Job, by reminding him that God is eternal, omnipotent, omniscient and infinitely wise and good in His works of creation and that He is in absolute sovereign control over all His creatures. This should impress his mind and cause him to elevate to a more glorious view of His Creator and to stand in awe, in reverence, adoration and bow in humble worship.
God further illustrated His infinite wisdom, sovereign control and providential care which reach beyond men to the inferior creatures, such as the lion and raven (Job 38:39-41), wild goat and hind, wild ass, unicorn, peacock and ostrich, horse and eagle (Job 39:1-30).
Job was convinced that he was totally ignorant as he knew nothing of the creation of the earth, separation of light from darkness and the sea from the land, and formation of clouds. He could not comprehend such great universal power of God that directs the production of rain, thunder and lightning, and the movements of different constellations of stars.
God’s marvellous creation and His works in nature are infinitely far above Job’s knowledge and power, full of things mysterious and incomprehensible.
Job also could not conceive the wisdom and power of the manifold works of God in creating a large variety of animals of the earth and birds in the air. They had different distinctive natures, characteristics and behaviours, some could not be tamed or domesticated. The Lord provides each of them with natural instinct, skill and strength for survival, and protection of their young.
If Job did not know perfectly the particular characteristics of the creatures of the animal kingdom, he would be unable to search into and find out the cause and reason of God’s providential dealings with him. God’s superintending tender care and mercies for His children is definitely far exceeding that of the inferior creatures.
Moreover, if Job was perplexed in the ordinary works of nature, he should not dive into the counsels of His government and judge them. God’s eternal counsel is secret and His providence mysterious. The infinite wisdom and power of God both in creation and providence are far beyond the comprehension of finite man. He is the Fountain and Giver of all wisdom and understanding: ‘Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts? or who hath given understanding to the heart?’ (Job 38:36).
Job was convinced that he should not question God's divine counsel and His government of the world, and expected His providence to be altered in his favour. He had no reason to find fault with and oppose His divine counsel.
Job remained silent throughout God’s speech. The Lord demanded a speedy reply: ‘Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? he that reproveth God, let him answer it’ (Job 40:2).
Job realised his worthlessness, ignorance and folly, and admitted that he was in the wrong. He submissively yielded to the grace of the Lord and repented with godly sorrow in finding fault with Him, instructing Him, and questioning His dealings with him. He condemned himself in humility as a penitent sinner that he was vile, a despicable and contemptible being, abominable in his own sight. Having repented, he declared that he would not repeat his folly again, but be silent and suppress all passionate thoughts before God: ‘Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken; but I will not answer: yea, twice; but I will proceed no further’ (Job 40:4,5).
God’s second speech
God who knows the very thought and intent of Job's heart, wanted the last remnant of his sin of pride and self-confidence to be broken down, and be moved to further confession which brings restitution. Job had to be brought to complete submission and total dependence on His divine will. To give him a fuller confession and repentance of his sin, for saying things of God which he ought not to have said, and which he could not understand, the Lord had more to say to Job to enlighten his mind once again, where sin had made it dark.
God proceeded to reason with Job, for his conviction, his folly and the enormity of such a sin to question the irreconcilable divine justice by permitting the wicked to prosper. He rebuked Job for contending with Him for justice and his efforts to justify his own righteousness while condemning Him: ‘Wilt thou also disannul my judgment? wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous?’ (Job 40:8).The decree and purpose of God concerning His dealings with Job, particularly his afflictions, were framed with infinite wisdom and strictest justice and reason. They cannot be altered, hindered or made void.
Job did not explicitly condemn God and find fault with His justice. However, in his complaints, he had regarded himself as being punished and suffering in a manner far beyond what he deserved. This is sin for questioning the justice of God. It implied that God’s dealings with him should have been different.
God then attempted to convince Job that he could not contend with Him for superior power and justice to govern the world (Job 40:9,10). He was unable to judge the methods and designs of divine providence, nor could he govern the world more righteously.
To humble Job’s proud and self-righteous heart still more, God challenged him to take His place as Ruler and Judge of the world, to cast down and abase proud men and evil doers, and to make them forever harmless (Job 40:11-14). God must have a purpose for not pouring down His wrath on these wicked people immediately. Job should not prescribe to God or teach Him how to govern the world. He ought to completely submit to His sovereignty and providence.
To further prove His own almighty power and majesty, and to rebuke Job’s pride, God described the wonderful design and structure of two powerful giant beasts (behemoth and leviathan), which are definitely dinosaurs, which He made on the same day as man, and were under His control and totally dependent on His providential care (Job 40:15- 41:34). He could dispose of them with as much ease as He does the smallest and weakest creatures at His pleasure. Job was admonished for being so presumptuous to contend with God, when he dared not even go near the strong, fierce, and formidable leviathan (Job 41:10). How abominable Job’s pride and self-righteousness appeared in the sight of God!
God reminded Job of His absolute sovereign, unimpedible dominion over all His creatures: ‘Who hath prevented me, that I should repay him? whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine’ (Job 41:11). He is the Creator, Lord and Owner of all the creatures under heaven. He created them at His command, He gives them life and breath and the comfort and preservation of life, and may dispose of them at His own will. He owes no creature anything nor indebted to any one of them.
In such awesome presence of the Lord, Job’s pride vanished into nothing. He could not comprehend the infinite wisdom of his Maker both in creation and providence. He was completely overwhelmed by God’s infinite wisdom and unlimited supreme power, knowledge and dominion, and was convinced of His justice and providential dealings. God has the power and right to do everything as He pleases to His creatures, even to deliver Job out of his afflictions which he had foolishly despaired as impossible. Nothing is too hard for the Lord. He can cast the mighty down and He can also lift the helpless up. The purpose of God cannot be withheld.
Job was also convinced that God is infinitely perfect and all-sufficient within Himself. He cannot be unjust to him as He had no obligation to him, and never did nor could receive anything from him. He can accomplish His purpose by His own power. God owed him nothing, nor in any way obligated to him, even though he had been a godly man, one that feared God, and eschewed evil (Job 1:1). God did not have to justify Himself in His dealings with him, to keep him away from afflictions and calamities, and to make him happy.
Job submitted to the rebukes from God and admitted that he had passed judgment upon the divine counsel and dispensations of His providence by foolishly and presumptuously speaking of that which he did not understand: ‘I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not’(Job 42:2,3). He then made an earnest plea for divine illumination of his spiritual darkness concerning the things of God (Job 42:4).
Job openly declared that formerly, he had heard of God by the hearing of the ear but now the eyes of his mind, enlightened by the Spirit of grace, had seen God: ‘I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee’ (Job 42:5). By reflecting on his own meanness and weakness compared to God’s power, glory and majesty, Job’s mind was reversed from that of presumption and pride to that of submission and humility. He repented for what he had said amiss. He humbled his pride and self-confidence even more submissively and surrendered unconditionally to God. He confessed his sin with shame and godly sorrow in his heart, abhorred himself and humbled in dust and ashes of contrition before God in repentance: ‘Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes’ (Job 42:6). It was from what he had heard and seen that he realised his errors and repented. This was the effect of having seen God and of finding himself in His presence.
The purpose of God’s discourse was to convince Job of his folly in contending with Him, to humble him, to deliver him from his pride, self-righteousness, vanity and presumption, to restore him to a proper state of mind, to completely submit to Him, and to bring him to repent and recant his passionate irreverent expressions concerning His providential dealings with him and unjust aspersions cast upon His righteousness and justice.
With the object of divine discipline attained, God delivered Job from his afflictions and surrounded him with more blessings than before (Job 42:10-17) He was completely vindicated from the false accusations of his friends who were severely rebuked by God (Job 42:7).
The first speech of God focussed on His government of the world (Job 38:2) and the second on His justice (Job 40:8). Job was humbled and silenced after the first speech (Job 40:4-5). After the second speech, Job was affirmed of a truth that God can do anything (Job 42:2), and he had a qualitatively deeper experience of God (‘seeing’ rather than ‘hearing’) (Job 42:5). It resulted in a radically deeper and stronger response in humbling himself in explicit repentance.
God did not reveal something new or profound. Job already knew the almighty power, infinite wisdom, awesome majesty and righteousness of God as shown in His works of creation and providential care of His creatures (Job 9:4-10; 12:7-25;26:5-14), and that His counsel is incomprehensible (Job 9:10). Job did not need new knowledge, but to put into practice that which he already possessed. He had an indistinct view, indirect and imperfect acquaintance with God, unenlightened by the Spirit of grace, and failed to recognise His almighty power and justice as it applied to his life in his afflictions, and had fallen into sin by questioning His divine justice and righteousness. Until he had a clearer perception and a deeper apprehension of God and His perfection, revealed in His power, majesty and glory out of the whirlwind, he lacked the element of submission, and complained rather than adored.
God did not deliver Job until he was brought to complete submission and repentance. He submitted to the sovereignty of God over him and to all the dispensations of His providence. He was humbled under the mighty hand of God, and acknowledged the transcendent glory, greatness and unsearchableness of His works and ways.
Unknown to Job, it was God who permitted Satan to afflict him. The hand of the Lord was with him throughout the trial, and enabled him to hold fast his integrity. He was completely transformed by the insight gained from the divine teaching. At the end of his trial, he had a practical experiential knowledge of God and saw the Almighty with the spiritual eye of understanding, and realised that all that had fallen him was according to the wise counsel of His divine will. His inner man was strengthened. He knew himself better, and had entered into a new relationship with the Lord in a deeper and fuller way. Job had endured the furnace of afflictions and 'come forth as gold' for the glory of God (Job 23:10). Amen.