Job 20-28

We ended last week with Job’s certainty that he needed more than an advocate to plead his case or an intermediary to come between him and God. So that is why he calls for a Redeemer.  

“Job is no longer asking for an intermediary or someone to plead his case but for a Redeemer to rescue his life. He is not asking for a friend but for a family member who will claim him before God. While everyone in his immediate family has either been taken from him or deserted him he is asking for a family member he cannot see not just to plead his case before God but to take responsibility for his life – to save him from destruction.”

Job 20:10-22

His children must make amends to the poor;

    his own hands must give back his wealth.

He will spit out the riches he swallowed;

    God will make his stomach vomit them up.

What he toiled for he must give back uneaten;

    he will not enjoy the profit from his trading.

“Surely he will have no respite from his craving;

    he cannot save himself by his treasure.

Nothing is left for him to devour;

    his prosperity will not endure.

In the midst of his plenty, distress will overtake him;

    the full force of misery will come upon him.

But Job is not convinced it is that simple – even though his friends keep coming back to that argument hoping to convince him of his hidden sin that has found him out.  Job’s question is more like ours.  It is the question of experience that says there is no mathematical formulae  for life as the wicked do not receive what they deserve and the righteous are often left with little.There are no cliches or catchy phrases that can explain this.

Job 21:7-15

Why do the wicked live on,

    growing old and increasing in power?

They see their children established around them,

    their offspring before their eyes.

Their homes are safe and free from fear;

    the rod of God is not on them.

They spend their years in prosperity

    and go down to the grave in peace.

Yet they say to God, ‘Leave us alone!

    We have no desire to know your ways.

Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him?

    What would we gain by praying to him?’

You may have heard the often quoted phrase of Martin Luther King, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” People cling to that when they think about punishment for those who have been wicked but never punished. In fact, just the opposite. They seem to thrive in spite of their wrongdoing. They attract supporters who prop them up at the expense of their own integrity. If we are holding on to the hope that someday they will receive the exposure and shame they deserve we should be prepared to wait for a very long time – perhaps not in our lifetime. Real life is not that simple.

But then his friends continue to return to the same old and worn ways of thinking about God. Do good and you will be rewarded. Do evil and you will be punished. It is almost like karma, isn’t it? Even as Christians we sometimes think this way. If we do enough good things then we will be rewarded but if we slip and do something bad then God will expose and punish us by taking away points we have earned.  It is cause and effect but not a genuine relationship.  His friends cannot see that life is more complicated than that.

Even Job reverts to it when the weight of the enigma and the ambiguity of God is too much for him. He, like many, is desperate to find a logical reason for how God deals with good and evil.  The gravitational pull of our needing to see justice this way is too strong for us to resist. There must be retribution – otherwise nothing makes sense. It does not matter how we live. But it must somehow.

Job 24:12-25

The groans of the dying rise from the city,

    and the souls of the wounded cry out for help.

    But God charges no one with wrongdoing.

“There are those who rebel against the light,

    who do not know its ways

    or stay in its paths.

For all of them, midnight is their morning;

    they make friends with the terrors of darkness.

But God drags away the mighty by his power;

    though they become established, they have no assurance of life.

He may let them rest in a feeling of security,

    but his eyes are on their ways.

For a little while they are exalted, and then they are gone;

    they are brought low and gathered up like all others;

    they are cut off like heads of grain.

Eliphaz goes a step further and says that having a relationship with God that is more than cause and effect is only a dream. God has no interest in it. 

Job 22:2-3,14,21

Can a man be of benefit to God?

    Can even a wise person benefit him?

What pleasure would it give the Almighty if you were righteous?

    What would he gain if your ways were blameless?

Thick clouds veil him, so he does not see us

    as he goes about in the vaulted heavens.’

“Submit to God and be at peace with him;

    in this way prosperity will come to you.

Do you see the emptiness of that relationship with God? It is a twisted version of the sovereignty of God. He is all-powerful, all knowing, all seeing. He needs nothing from us. Sovereignty is true but to say that we are of no benefit to God is to misunderstand what God desires. It is to say that God is so totally self sufficient that it does not matter at all to him what becomes of us. He could care less. All we need to do is submit to him without pressing for a relationship and then prosperity will come to us. We just need to “get right with God.” But prosperity – even happiness – is not enough for Job any longer. His suffering has awakened something in him that may not have been there before. He wants to know God and not just resign himself to the ways of a God who has no need of him. Even though he is terrified of an all powerful God he wants even more to see him face to face. 

Job 23:13-17

But he stands alone, and who can oppose him?

    He does whatever he pleases.

He carries out his decree against me,

    and many such plans he still has in store.

That is why I am terrified before him;

    when I think of all this, I fear him.

God has made my heart faint;

    the Almighty has terrified me.

Yet I am not silenced by the darkness,

    by the thick darkness that covers my face.

And then Bildad takes it a step further.  Not only is there nothing we can do to be of benefit to God and not only does he walk around above the clouds oblivious to us but compared to him we are nothing – maybe less than nothing.

Job 25:2-6

How then can a mortal be righteous before God?

    How can one born of woman be pure?

If even the moon is not bright

    and the stars are not pure in his eyes,

how much less a mortal, who is but a maggot—

    a human being, who is only a worm!

For many, that is the issue of their lives. “How then can a mortal be righteous before God?” 

I believe that was the question that drove Paul finally in desperation to grace where he discovered there is nothing a mortal can do to be righteous before God. 

Romans 3

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.

You could say that the whole book of Romans is Paul’s answer to this single question and it is Paul’s answer to ours as well. 

But his answer does not say that we are maggots or worms – even though some have lifted this verse from Job to say we are. We are God’s creation created in His image. We are a little lower than the angels in one sense and yet so much more than angels in another. We have souls and spirits. We are fallen and broken but not maggots.

Joni Mitchell in her song about Woodstock sang this:

We are stardust

We are golden

And we’ve got to get ourselves back

To the garden

I like that. We are such a combination of stars and dust, good and evil, purity and corruption.We are all trying to get ourselves back to the garden – and there is only the one way back.

Romans 5:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

2 Corinthians 5:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

That is Paul’s answer to all of Job’s friends. It is not anything we can do or not do to reconcile us to God. It is the work of Christ on the cross that has bridged the gap between God and mortals.

We are not maggots for whom God has no regard. We are part of a broken and groaning creation waiting for restoration.

So, we come to Chapter 28 – the assigned lesson. It is the climax of the last several chapters. There is something magnificent about us. Look at the powers we have been given:

Mortals put an end to the darkness;

    they search out the farthest recesses

    for ore in the blackest darkness.

Far from human dwellings they cut a shaft,

    in places untouched by human feet;

    far from other people they dangle and sway.

No bird of prey knows that hidden path,

    no falcon’s eye has seen it.

Proud beasts do not set foot on it,

    and no lion prowls there.

People assault the flinty rock with their hands

    and lay bare the roots of the mountains.

They tunnel through the rock;

    their eyes see all its treasures.

They search the sources of the rivers

    and bring hidden things to light.

This is not just about mining, is it? It is about our ability to search out and capture everything in creation – not just gold and silver. It is about our ability to discover, invent, control and overcome obstacles. It is a poetic tribute to the powers of mankind. We are not maggots. We are, as one hymn puts it, “glorious ruins” given dominion over the earth and even though we have often misused those powers we are still marvelous creations.

But there is one thing that cannot be discovered or invented. It can only be revealed.

Job 28

But where can wisdom be found?

    Where does understanding dwell?

No mortal comprehends its worth;

    it cannot be found in the land of the living.

The deep says, “It is not in me”;

    the sea says, “It is not with me.”

It cannot be bought with the finest gold,

    nor can its price be weighed out in silver.

Where then does wisdom come from?

    Where does understanding dwell?

It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing,

    concealed even from the birds in the sky.

God understands the way to it

    and he alone knows where it dwells,

for he views the ends of the earth

    and sees everything under the heavens.

When he established the force of the wind

    and measured out the waters,

when he made a decree for the rain

    and a path for the thunderstorm,

then he looked at wisdom and appraised it;

    he confirmed it and tested it.

And he said to the human race,

    “The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,

    and to shun evil is understanding.”

These may be Job’s finest words. In a sense it is Job’s sermon to Satan. What is worth more than anything in the world is something that cannot be found in the world. But we long for it because just as Job knew without seeing that there was a Redeemer in heaven there is a world that we belong to that is unseen for now.

C.S. Lewis wrote:

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water…If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.

And that is where we leave Job this morning. He has arrived – but without his friends coming with him – to the realization that he – like all of us – was made for another world and that our true country is where our Redeemer lives. 

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