Job Lesson 5
CENTRAL THEME: God is just in His treatment of all people.
INTRODUCTION: Have you ever been mistreated or thought you were dealt with unfairly? Did you ever have to run wind-sprints because one person loafed during practice. Did you ever receive extra work because one classmate misbehaved? One thing common to every person is we want to be treated JUSTLY by others. While people may struggle to always do what is right concerning others, Job 36:8-23 reveals God is JUST in His treatment of all people. WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN FAIRNESS AND TRUST?
UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT:
This section of the Book of Job introduces us to a new character in Job’s life, a younger man named Elihu. It primarily consists of Elihu’s speeches that offer his perspective on Job’s situation. Not only did Elihu offer a charge against Job, he also refuted Job’s claims of innocence (chaps. 33–34). This is followed by an assertion of Job’s stance before God, along with a description of God’s majesty and the futility of turning from His discipline (chaps. 35–36). While Elihu’s speeches do contain general truths about God’s dealings with the righteous and wicked, he wrongly applied these truths to the situation of Job. In fact, later in the book, Elihu’s perspective is not mentioned or commended, which should lead the reader to assume that his reasons for Job’s suffering were not entirely correct.
What seems to give Elihu’s speech initial weight is his claim to speak on God’s behalf. One might be tempted to believe what he said in its entirety because of his claim. However, this section of the Book of Job reminds the reader that it is a dangerous matter to claim to speak on God’s behalf, even when such attempts are aimed at bolstering one’s arguments with authority.
Who would be so bold as to speak for God in areas where God has not clearly spoken? It is somewhat ironic that Elihu reminded Job of God’s majesty and unrivaled power, and he hastily claimed to represent God’s providential purposes in Job’s suffering. If wisdom is found in the fear of God, one might assume Elihu would be more careful in asserting divine support for his personal perspective. True fear of God should cause one to pause in making such claims. While Elihu claimed that Job was prideful (based on his refusal to repent), it is Elihu who comes across as arrogant. He accused Job of being judgmental, but it was Elihu who was being most judgmental. Before we hastily judge Elihu, much like he did Job, we should be reminded of our propensity to judge others on the basis of appearance. We must be careful not to make condemning judgments based on what we see. We only see in part. There is mystery in the work of God, especially when it comes to His providential permission of testing.
EXPLORE THE TEXT: JOB 36:8-23
Objective Statement: Every Christian should remember God is always just in His treatment of all people. God’s Justice is revealed in three reminders examined in our text today.
REMINDER #1 – PURPOSEFUL DISCIPLINE (vs. 8-11)
As chapter 36 begins, Elihu implied that his words for Job originated not from him but from God. We might assume that his speech is true and right, because he claimed to speak on God’s behalf (36:2-3). In some ways, his words reflect the truth in part. Certainly (as Elihu said), God is mighty and understands all things (v. 5). And God does watch over the righteous and ultimately brings justice to the oppressed (vv. 6-7). However, the general principles that Elihu applied to all people are unconvincing when the entirety of the Book of Job is taken into account. Things are not as clear-cut as he presumed. What Elihu didn’t account for is the fact that sometimes the righteous do suffer, and sometimes the wicked do flourish. As Job’s friends have done thus far, Elihu looked at Job’s suffering and claimed divine inspiration as the grounds to accuse him of sin.
Job 36:8-9 says, “And if they be bound in fetters, and be holden in cords of affliction; 9 Then He sheweth them their work, and their transgressions that they have exceeded.”
In verse 8, Elihu’s presuppositions began to fold as he returned to the idea of disciplinary suffering. We know from Scripture that God is holy and just and will judge all sin. Evil is present in the world due to human rebellion which demands divine punishment. Within the Bible we also find instances where divine discipline occurs within the context of evil. God disciplines His people—collectively and individually—that they may be brought to repentance and closer to Him. CAN YOU NAME SOME EXAMPLES OF WHERE GOD JUDGED HIS PEOPLE BECAUSE OF THEIR EVIL ACTIONS? In these cases, where God justly reacts to sinful behavior, the purpose of God’s discipline is often to teach a lesson—to train and to mature His children through suffering—but this was not the case with Job. Job maintained his innocence throughout the narrative. Despite his friends’ claims, Job argued that God would one day vindicate him and prove them wrong.
Elihu held strong to his position. In verse 8, he figuratively described sufferers as bound in fetters of affliction. (We can assume he meant self-imposed chains.) He further pressed in and maintained that God would explain why they were suffering. To put it simply, Elihu described affliction using the imagery of captivity: people are bound in chains, even more, God binds them. From Elihu’s perspective, God uses this imprisonment of affliction to bring people to repentance of their sin. It is their imprisonment that opens their ears to His correction. Again, Elihu was implying that Job was holding something back, namely, that he did indeed know why he was suffering and was hiding it from his friends.
Verses 10-11 – “10 He openeth also their ear to discipline, and commandeth that they return from iniquity. 11 If they obey and serve Him, they shall spend their days in prosperity, and their years in pleasures.” The solution then, was that the sufferer be brought to repentance. Those who repent will be delivered by God; those who do not listen to discipline and return from iniquity will be judged even in the circumstances of their death. If Job would simply repent, then the weight of his suffering would be removed and he would experience joy once more. According to Elihu, those who respond well to God’s disciplinary suffering will find pleasures again. Elihu was not wrong. As Psalm 30 reminds us, those who repent will find their lament turned to dancing! However, he wrongly assumed this was the case with Job and was the solution to Job’s problem. While Elihu misinterpreted Job’s situation, he was correct in explaining that God reveals to humans their need to repent. In fact, sometimes God uses trials and suffering to bring people to repentance, and if people in these situations repent then God will once again bless them. It is important to note that all suffering is the result of sin in general, but not all suffering is the direct result of a person’s individual sin in particular. Even more, while God permits all suffering, all suffering is not for the explicit purpose of discipline. There do remain some things that we do not understand completely. Such as the way God orders the world’s affairs. All of the solutions found in the Bible are legitimate approaches to the question of suffering and the problem of evil. Each principle has a specific application, but there is always an element of mystery. With this in mind, however, in some cases, suffering can be an opportunity for believers to examine their lives for sin of which they need to repent. What is always true, however, is that suffering is an opportunity to lean in and trust God deeply.
WHAT ARE THE DANGERS OF CLAIMING TO SPEAK FOR GOD WHEN TALKING TO PEOPLE GOING THROUGH SUFFERING OR ATTEMPTING TO MAKE SENSE OF A DIFFICULT SITUATION?
REMINDER #2 – JUDGMENT COMING (vs. 12-16)
12 But if they obey not, they shall perish by the sword, and they shall die without knowledge. 13 But the hypocrites in heart heap up wrath: they cry not when he bindeth them. 14 They die in youth, and their life is among the unclean. 15 He delivereth the poor in his affliction, and openeth their ears in oppression. 16 Even so would he have removed thee out of the strait into a broad place, where there is no straitness; and that which should be set on thy table should be full of fatness.
Elihu and his friends assumed Job had not repented because of his PRIDE. They thought Job had not learned his lesson. Because of his pride, his friends asserted he shall perish by the sword. In Elihu’s mind, Job had become hard of heart and resistant to repentance, so much so that God’s discipline had not softened him. This mentality is exemplified in the godless who harbor anger toward God. In cases where a person has hardened his or her heart against God, He will often bind them in discipline, and it is only God who can release them. But if, in their hardness of heart, they refuse to call out to the only One who can set them free, then they will end up in judgment. For this reason, their untimely death is likened to young men who die with the unclean, a shameful way to die.
In verses 15-16, after the warning of dying a shameful death, Elihu shamed Job further. According to him, Job should be rescued by his affliction. Even more, he surmised that Job should be instructed by his oppression. After all, isn’t God in the business of punishing the wicked and rewarding the innocent? Verse 15 encapsulates Elihu’s doctrine of disciplinary suffering. From Elihu’s perspective, Job’s suffering should have redirected his path through repentance. Through suffering, God was attempting to lure Job out of the strait into a broad place. If Job would just respond in repentance, he would not only be set free but would also enjoy the abundance of God’s blessings, like a table … full of fatness. The imagery painted by Elihu is stark—either remain bound in a self-imposed prison or repent and eat freely at a lush table.
Once again, we would affirm the general truth of Elihu’s words here, even though he wrongly applied them to Job. Elihu reminded Job that those who choose to ignore God face His righteous judgment and death. There are indeed times when God uses suffering as a means of inducing repentance. People must be informed of the consequences of choosing to ignore God. However, one must take precautions in wrongly ascribing meaning to a situation of suffering that is not explicitly revealed by God or the sufferer.
Elihu made the grave mistake of wrongly assuming a general principle in a particular case. This is instructive to us as Christians who will sometimes find ourselves consoling the suffering. Before making any assumptions about the reason for suffering, one must begin by weeping with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). The sufferer will often find it difficult to maintain a proper attitude toward God and may even be tempted to rebel against Him or give up belief in God altogether. In these instances, the best Christian response is not to offer philosophical enlightenment but loving care. Certainly, once the initial shock of suffering lifts, the sufferer may begin to ask questions. In those cases, one can provide care by answering according to Scripture and providing counsel based on God’s promises. However, we must remember that there is nothing more pointless than to answer a question that is not fully understood or fully posed.
There are times when God speaks through suffering. There are times when suffering and pain come to people not because of their sin. For this reason, the Book of Job reminds us not to draw hasty conclusions about a person’s spiritual condition based on the circumstances of that person’s life. This passage also reminds us that suffering is a complex situation that involves different perspectives on reasons and purposes. Most of which are not readily available to the human mind.
THERE ARE TIMES WHEN SUFFERING COMES ABOUT BY PEOPLE’S ACTIONS, THE ACTIONS OF OTHERS, OR CAUSE-AND-EFFECT CIRCUMSTANCES IN THE BROKEN WORLD. IN THESE CASES, WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR CHRISTIANS TO INITIALLY WEEP WITH THOSE WHO WEEP RATHER THAN JUMP INTO PHILOSOPHICAL EXPLANATIONS REGARDING SUFFERING?
REMINDER #3 – JUSTICE SEEN (vs. 17-23)
17 But thou hast fulfilled the judgment of the wicked: judgment and justice take hold on thee. 18 Because there is wrath, beware lest he take thee away with his stroke: then a great ransom cannot deliver thee. 19 Will he esteem thy riches? no, not gold, nor all the forces of strength. 20 Desire not the night, when people are cut off in their place. 21 Take heed, regard not iniquity: for this hast thou chosen rather than affliction. 22 Behold, God exalteth by his power: who teacheth like him? 23 Who hath enjoined him his way? or who can say, Thou hast wrought iniquity?
In his final plea, Elihu concluded by asserting that while Job understood with the justice due to the wicked, he failed to see his suffering as just. Elihu appealed to Job very directly at this point by describing the change in his circumstances and warning him against choosing to harden his heart rather than embracing the divine purpose of his affliction.
In verse 18, Elihu returned to the idea that Job only loved God because of the gifts of riches that had been bestowed from God’s hand. This is implicit in his warning to Job not to be lured away from God and his situation by riches. Neither riches nor self-effort could set his situation right again. Therefore, Job must be careful not to fall further, as Elihu assumed, into iniquity. According to his friend, if Job were to rely on his own resources and power, he would not find peace. Job should deem the greatness of the loss of his family, status, and belongings as the means by which God was pleading for his attention and calling him to turn from sin. From Elihu’s perspective, there was no shelter in the night in which Job could hide from his pain. Essentially, Elihu closed this section in verse 21 with an ultimatum. Either Job would charge God with wrongdoing in his suffering, or he would look at his own life and repent in order to restore his relationship with God.
In the transition of verses 22-23, Elihu began to remind Job of God’s greatness in order to paint a picture of the futility of turning from Him. The rhetorical questions have obvious answers. “Who teacheth like him (God)?” “Who hath enjoined him his way?” Finally, and more poignantly, “who can say to God, Thou hast wrought iniquity?” Elihu assumed this was Job’s attitude. He believed that rather than learning from his suffering, Job was choosing to harden his heart and would eventually reveal his trust in riches. Even though Elihu’s interpretation of Job’s life was incorrect, he was right to say that God’s greatness is the source of all hope and wisdom.
In this sense, we would also affirm that believers can trust God to be just in His dealings with humanity. In the Age of Grace, God’s actions are not always as they seem. God can and does work in difficult situations to bring about good. The ultimate example of this is the cross of Jesus Christ. The death of Jesus, which from a human perspective was a tragic injustice, became the means by which the sin of the world would be taken away. Even in the events of our lives we can affirm that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). The doctrine of God’s providence is the truth that He controls the circumstances of everyday history so as to work out His purposes.
There is nothing meaningless or out of control in human history that God did not sovereignly ordain or providentially will. In fact, there are three things we can affirm about God’s providential relationship to human history. First, we believe that God intervenes in human history. Second, we believe that God guides human history, even individual’s lives. Finally, we believe that God will bring history (even situations in our lives) to the conclusion He has planned. This is not merely an abstract academic or philosophical proposition but lies at the heart of our personal trust in God’s loving control over all things. When we experience difficulties, trials, or suffering, we might be tempted to think, where is God? What is He doing? Doesn’t He care? God does care, and He knows what He is doing. There are times when we may not understand what is happening in the moment, but we must reassure ourselves of the truth that God remains sovereign over every aspect of the universe and every detail of our lives. Most of the time, it’s hard to see God’s hand in difficult situations, so we must trust His heart. We can trust that God is in control—even in our trials. HOW CAN THE DOCTRINE OF GOD’S PROVIDENCE PROVIDE COMFORT IN DIFFICULT TIMES EVEN WHEN THE PURPOSES FOR OUR DIFFICULTY ARE NOT CLEAR?
Remember our Objective Statement: Every Christian should remember God is just in His treatment of all people. God’s Justice is revealed in three reminders examined in our text today.
REMINDER #1 – PURPOSEFUL DISCIPLINE
REMINDER #2 – JUDGMENT COMING
REMINDER #3 – JUSTICE SEEN