Job 29-38

Job 29-38

As we have done each week, let’s look at the context of the assigned verses this week.  We left Job in Chapter 28 having moved past the loss of everything in his life and 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. For the moment his eyes are off his loss and focused on the hope of once again having a relationship with God that will be beyond his suffering.

But the opening verse of Chapter 29 tells us that he is not yet fully reconciled to his suffering because he longs for the past when he was in his prime. It doesn’t take but a breath for him to begin to remember the days that were not only good but perfect. This is not simply reminiscing about the good days. It is a deep and painful longing for what has been lost forever to him. Not just possessions but relationships and his entire public life.  It is a longing for the time when God’s intimate friendship blessed his house, when the Almighty was still with him and his children were around him. 

His path was drenched with cream and when he went to take his place at the gate of the city the young men stepped aside in respect. Everyone kept silent until Job spoke and everyone spoke well of him.  Why? Because he had earned it.

And here is his list of his virtues – and they are virtues. Job is not a hypocrite and he is not claiming virtues for himself that are not his. He is telling the truth about himself. He is not just a leader in the community. He is The Leader in the community.

I rescued the poor who cried for help,

    and the fatherless who had none to assist them.

I was eyes to the blind

    and feet to the lame.

I was a father to the needy;

    I took up the case of the stranger.

“People listened to me expectantly,

    waiting in silence for my counsel.

After I had spoken, they spoke no more;

    my words fell gently on their ears.

They waited for me as for showers

    and drank in my words as the spring rain.

When I smiled at them, they scarcely believed it;

    the light of my face was precious to them.

I chose the way for them and sat as their chief;

    I dwelt as a king among his troops;

    I was like one who comforts mourners.

Who would not long desperately for the return of such a life?

But they are gone.  In Chapter 30 we read that the sons of men who waited for him to speak now treat him with disrespect:

And now those young men mock me in song;

They detest me and keep their distance;

    they do not hesitate to spit in my face.

Now that God has unstrung my bow and afflicted me,

    they throw off restraint in my presence.

Terrors overwhelm me;

    my dignity is driven away as by the wind,

    my safety vanishes like a cloud.

And now my life ebbs away;

    days of suffering grip me.

And how does God respond?

I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer;

    I stand up, but you merely look at me.

Do you remember the scene from “The Great Gatsby” where Gatsby throws elaborate parties but does not join them? He stands above looking out his window with no connection to the people below. He merely looks at them almost in amusement. Job must feel the same. Here is the God who once seemed so close and now God merely looks at him when he cries out. There is nothing there – no expression. No words. No connection. It would be one thing to have an enemy be so cold but why one who was once a friend.

David says the same in Psalm 55:

Listen to my prayer, O God,

    do not ignore my plea;

  hear me and answer me.

My heart is in anguish within me;

    the terrors of death have fallen on me.

If an enemy were insulting me,

    I could endure it;

if a foe were rising against me,

    I could hide.

But it is you, a man like myself,

    my companion, my close friend,

with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship

    at the house of God,

as we walked about

    among the worshipers.

No betrayal hurts worse than the betrayal and estrangement of a friend.

And so Job again pleads his case.  This time he is reminding himself, his friends and God of his carefulness to be righteous. It is a series of questions asking when he has ever stepped outside his covenant with virtue.

I have never thought about adultery or even looked with lust on a woman.

I have never denied the needs of the poor.

I have never taken advantage of widows or the fatherless.

I have not put my trust in wealth.

I have not rejoiced over my enemy’s misfortune or gloated over the trouble that came to him.

I have paid for everything I have received.

“Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defense – let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing.”

And with those words Job falls silent until the very end of the book. He has said everything he knows to say and there has been no effect on his friends or God. There is nothing left but to suffer in confusion and then die.

But then in Chapter 32 we meet a new character – Elihu.  He is a young man who has been listening to every word spoken by Job and is friends. Unlike the other young men he is not here to mock Job or spit in his face.  He is here to correct the counsel of his friends and the words of Job himself.

“I am young in years,

    and you are old;

that is why I was fearful,

    not daring to tell you what I know.

I thought, ‘Age should speak;

    advanced years should teach wisdom.’

But it is the spirit in a person,

    the breath of the Almighty, that gives them understanding.

It is not only the old who are wise,

    not only the aged who understand what is right.

“Therefore I say: Listen to me;

    I too will tell you what I know.

I waited while you spoke,

    I listened to your reasoning;

while you were searching for words,

    I gave you my full attention.

But not one of you has proved Job wrong;

    none of you has answered his arguments.

Do not say, ‘We have found wisdom;

    let God, not a man, refute him.’

I too will have my say;

    I too will tell what I know.

For I am full of words,

    and the spirit within me compels me;

inside I am like bottled-up wine,

    like new wineskins ready to burst.

I must speak and find relief;

    I must open my lips and reply.

And for the next several chapters Elihu lectures Job and his friends on how they are mistaken in their understanding of justice, God, the world, and Job’s defenses. In fact, none of the friends in all of their arguments and age have been successful in proving Job wrong. Moreover, in failing to disprove Job’s claims about his blameless life, they have succeeded in condemning God. Elihu is here to correct them. He cannot keep from speaking.

And Elihu is not a man of few words. Without a pause and almost without a breath Elihu speaks uninterrupted. While some of his arguments are similar to those of the friends, he introduces something they have not – an element of grace and mercy. “God is mighty, but does not despise men…but those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction.” He believes that God does, in fact, speak if we are open to listening.

For God does speak—now one way, now another—

    though no one perceives it.

In a dream, in a vision of the night,

    when deep sleep falls on people

    as they slumber in their beds,

he may speak in their ears

    and terrify them with warnings,

to turn them from wrongdoing

    and keep them from pride,

to preserve them from the pit,

    their lives from perishing by the sword…

God does all these things to a man

 – twice, even three times – 

to turn back his soul from the pit,

  That the light of life may shine on him.

Then he says, 

But if he remains silent, who can condemn him?

    If he hides his face, who can see him?

God is not just a larger, more powerful, more intelligent version of us. All of our images and words of his perfection and majesty are merely our words and ideas. It’s all we have. But they are only comparisons of him to us and in our desire to make him perfect we can only use imperfect ideas and comparisons. In all of our words we cannot describe the mystery of God. We can only make God into our image but a bigger version. 

Elihu gets close. While the other friends, even Job, are still locked into a judicial – even cause and effect model – of the way the world works, Elihu says, “How great is God – beyond our understanding!” Yes, it is God that has planted wisdom and understanding in the hearts and minds of men but even then we cannot fathom God. Language is not sufficient. Our minds are too small. Our understanding is incapable.

And with that, Elihu says in Chapter 37:

Listen to this, Job; 

Stop and consider God’s wonders..

Tell us what we should say to him; 

We cannot draw up our case 

because of our darkness.”

A storm is brewing. Lightning is flashing and thunder is roaring.

God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; 

he does great things beyond our understanding.”

This is not just a storm. It is a torrent of sound and fury. The sky is darkened. Rain is pounding them. Lightning striking around them. Thunder breaking over them.

And just as Elihu said, God does speak to men.

And not only in Chapter 38 but for the next four chapters Job is pummeled with questions that no living mortal can answer.  

How can we understand the complexity and beauty of creation? How can we comprehend the creation – much less the Creator?

Everything in creation points to a Creator. As Francis Collins, the head of the National Institute of Health has said, “It is obvious that the universe was prepared for life.” 

We are neither random nor a surprise but all of it has been designed to fit together. 

Amir Aczel wrote in Time magazine several years ago:

Why is our universe so precisely tailor-made for the emergence of life? This question has never been answered satisfactorily, and I believe that it will never find a scientific solution. For the deeper we delve into the mysteries of physics and cosmology, the more the universe appears to be intricate and incredibly complex. To explain the quantum-mechanical behavior of even one tiny particle requires pages and pages of extremely advanced mathematics. Why are even the tiniest particles of matter so unbelievably complicated? It appears that there is a vast, hidden “wisdom,” or structure, or knotty blueprint for even the most simple-looking element of nature. And the situation becomes much more daunting as we expand our view to the entire cosmos.  

Why did everything we need in order to exist come into being? How was all of this possible without some latent outside power to orchestrate the precise dance of elementary particles required for the creation of all the essentials of life? The great British mathematician Roger Penrose has calculated—based on only one of the hundreds of parameters of the physical universe—that the probability of the emergence of a life-giving cosmos was 1 divided by 10, raised to the power 10, and again raised to the power of 123. This is a number as close to zero as anyone has ever imagined. 

That is the science and it is awe inspiring but cannot compare to the poetry of the author of Job.

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:

Who is this that obscures my plans

    with words without knowledge?

Brace yourself like a man;

    I will question you,

    and you shall answer me.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?

    Tell me, if you understand.

Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!

    Who stretched a measuring line across it?

On what were its footings set,

    or who laid its cornerstone—

while the morning stars sang together

    and all the angels shouted for joy?

Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? 

What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside?

What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed?

Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons?

Do you know the laws of the heavens?

Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?

Our response this morning should be the same as Job’s. 

Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.

We should be silent before him.

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