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JOB'S IMPORTUNITY, THE DIVINE OPPORTUNITY
AND THE PURITY OF WISDOM
Job is especially famous. The book of the Bible which bears his name is eloquent, insistent, persistent, personal, probing, and its resolution is both dramatic and decisive. The characters who argue in it make one wonder if Dostoevsky has some awareness of this work. There is a total unwillingness to be diverted, a resolution of utterance, a fearlessness of criticism together with an earnest and even zest of quest which, though obscured at times by the emotion of doubt and frustration, the hurting of heart which is associated with the ostensible injustice of a phase of life, is yet even in this apparent enough. Job for his part is constrained by his convictions, thrust by his principles, troubled by his griefs, astounded at the treatment he receives and inveterate in a purer conception of God, despite momentary lapses at times, than is to be seen in the three companions whom God rebukes, and not without reason.
Their idea was so often that sinners get it, the good don't, you have to take your rebuke and get on with it, and far more sickening in view of the actual case of Job, which the reader learns from Chapter 1, right at the start, that SINCE Job suffered, then obviously sin had caught up with him and he might as well confess the stuff!
In fact, Job was BY GOD (as we see in Ch. 1) attested as a righteous man of all but incomparable purity and he became, in view of the Satan's lust, a test case. DID Job serve God for NOTHING ? was it not a merely patient waiting for a good return on the investment of life, in the hereafter, rather in the present that he was seeking AND GETTING!
This was the gist of the devil's lore, and it is often seen in those who hate both God and His servants, this desire to bring spiritual smut to the summit of life, by false imputations. Once and for all the Lord allowed the very EXCELLENCE of Job's spirit to be a ground for letting the devil test him to the uttermost - though not by death, perhaps since the case was a living one, and death would solve nothing.
Hence he suffered loss of wealth and of (relatively undisciplined ADULT) offspring, his sons and daughters, and further later on, of health, till scratching and itching, reduced and a ruin in all appearance, like a trailer on Christ, yet not for redemption but in this case merely for illustration of the principle and truth that is so vital to human life, he was almost in despair.\
made me a byword of the people,
Job 19:13ff. pursues this theme and quasi-messianic language.
So profound is his suffering that it becomes almost in form, slightly reminiscent of Isaiah 50 and Psalm 22, concerning the Messiah; though with HIM, it is made clear that although men regarded Him amiss, as if afflicted by God and smitten, in the course it seems of sin, yet it was BY GOD indeed that He was smitten, and that for vicarious bearing of sin for those whom God loved, to be saved by grace through this sacrifice meeting justice (Romans 3:23ff.). ]
Indeed, Job, to use theological terminology, here becomes a type of Christ, not in redemption but in affliction for purposes other than rebuke. The case is strongly put and leaves no room for those who declare that some case is too much, goes too far. With Job, it went so far that the agony of living augmented by the scarification of his false friends, doubting him without ground, and making of him a mere butt for simplistic and unbiblical theology, that it nearly broke his heart. Let us then consider the course of events as his sufferings, his test, came on him like a tornado, and then remained in the vicinity, like one reluctant to leave.
His friends came, astounded that such wealth and prowess, such reputation and so assured a life could so soon be reduced so much; and for long, they sat silent. Then they spoke, and they make their tongues into spiritual spikes, as if in order to open his wounds. There is no reason to assume it was envy, long suppressed, since they seemed on the whole just simplistic. God blessed the righteous, cursed the sinner; Job appeared well and truly cursed, and so was a deep sinner, conniving with his guilt in apparent innocence, merely to augment it! A rather desperate case of guile and guilt, or folly and sin was he!*1
Long the battle raged, Job trying to maintain that he had not engaged in secret vices, in making the destitute suffer, but on the contrary, had sought to walk before the Lord and at considerable cost implement mercy and yield to pity for those who were distressed. They would urge that sin should not talk so loudly; and before long, Job was almost made to appear a self-righteous prig, incapable of confession or inert to his own condition... or both!
In fact, of course, Job was a
sinner, as all are; and in his zeal to justify his ways,
"Yet they say to God, 'Depart from us, for we do not desire the knowledge of
Who is the Almighty, that we should serve Him ? and what profit do we have if we pray to Him ?"
Then he declares that if only he could come before God, he would fill his mouth with arguments,
and present his case to the Lord (Job 23). Indeed, in Job 19 we see him feeling the need for a
daysman, a mediator who would play the role of intermediary and represent him before God
(cf. Job 9:19,23ff.).
More, he actually states this:
"There the upright could reason with Him, and I would be delivered forever from my Judge."
In his exasperation, Job, as we know because of our awareness of the real nature of the case from Job Ch. 1, is approaching dangerous territory. He is assuming that there is nothing that could justify what is happening, and that there is in appearance at least, yes and perhaps in actuality as well, some flaw in the treatment he is receiving, making it wholly unjustifiable, ostensibly at least, a divine lapse. Unthinkable though this was (Job 9:1-14), suffering lead his tongue a little.
Like an aircraft beginning to show cracks in the tail-shaft after much use, Job here begins to become what one might call philosophically tremulous. That is, he is beginning to make SIN something which can be dealt with before God, so that acquittal is simply a matter of course. Doubtless, in his extreme suffering under duress, his mouth is beginning to carry him too far. He might rather have sought to indicate that while of course a sinner, his treatment is inordinate. As to his being a sinner in his own eyes, though feeling grossly afflicted out of all proportion, this seems admitted in his awareness of his case before the Most High God in Job 9:13-20.
"Though," he confesses,
"I were righteous, my own mouth would condemn me; though I were blameless,
it would prove me perverse."
Indeed, he goes even further than this:
"If I wash myself with snow water, and cleanse my hands with soap,
yet You will plunge me into the pit, and my own clothes will abhor me."
It is moreover apparent that they are quite conversant with sacrifices to God from Job 42, where these are prescribed FOR JOB's friends, not for himself!
However, Job becomes intemperate in the heat of his affliction, and his righteous soul is so mutilated that he all but mutinies. "Therefore I say, 'He destroys the blameless and the wicked' ...The earth is given into the hand of the wicked. He covers the Faces of its judges. If it is not He, who else could it be ?"
Here we must notice at once two features. As the NKJV perhaps indicates, with its inverted commas, this may be seen as a quotation or citation of the sort of thing the wicked say, as noted earlier. In this case, it could be seen that Job is repeating these words, in the extremity of his grief. However, secondly, we must note that he is merely presenting this putatively. Job is nothing in reasoning if not a discursive speaker, and he is presenting what is admittedly an outrageous proposition, yet as one resolution of what he is finding. It is not given as a DICTUM of his own, or a final determination of the case.
It is indefensible, but it is not a direct and final judgment. It is a quest which goes beyond the evidence since he does not actually know all of it; and it perhaps gives him some satisfaction to mouth it even in this temporary and imaginative way. No doubt this is one of the reasons why he gets rebuke (Job 38), but in much milder form that do his ill-spoken friends, who show but little of that compassion of heart which looks for good in their friend, rather than providing mere summary judgment as if they knew all!
Nevertheless, as we see in Job 19, Job does not cease to realise, or possibly only now most acutely realises, that HE HAS A REDEEMER, yes there IS a daysman, though for now He is in heaven, and he declares that God Himself is his warranty and ground of assurance. Now, not merely does he declare the truth that he is not a secret sinner by nature, righteous only in name, but the assurance that as a sinner, he has God's own cover and gift of righteousness, as is the case in spiritual redemption, where another pays for the want of perfection or freedom in oneself. I KNOW THAT MY REDEEMER IS LIVING! he asseverates. This stands, whatever falls, including his own body.
Further, Job there shows that he is assured absolutely and utterly that this Redeemer will come to the earth, and that he - Job - will see Him with his own eyes, even though his body would be destroyed in the interim. In short, he believes in resurrection and in redemption, and despite his extreme utterance on occasion, he is by no means becoming paganised. He stands. HIS OWN EYES will behold this Redeemer even after his very body is gone!
There is faith! Whatever his affliction, whatever for such acrid experience, the deficit in hedonism for those who love it, whatever the stress and the obloquy he suffers, with not only his body in ruins, his property and his family devastated, but his reputation through insidious insinuations from his 'friends', he will not move. His trust is in God and in His righteousness, yes even His sacrificial service and in His mercy. Suffer he may; keep to Him who IS righteous he also will, and that in the end, with an impermeable resolution that transcends the darkness and has confident expectation of the reliability and desirability of God for the One who He IS!
Now we turn to Elihu. While the other three friends of Job are as noted above, lacking in tact, in reserve and in friendship, and make unseemly assumptions which are neither true nor cordial, concerning Job in his affliction, Elihu is rather different, and is in fact not mentioned in the final rebuke from the Lord.
It must be confessed that he is far from being perfect in his utterance (Job 36:17), yet for all that he brings in matters of deep propriety and seemliness, even some worthwhile contributions indeed. In fact, even in 36:17, there is the general context of Job's being too forward in the face of the mysterious dealings of the Almighty, and in this is sin, since Job does all but indict Him, although in one PHASE, as we have seen, not so much categorically as in the musings of his thoughts as he seeks to find what on earth or in heaven CAN be happening.
Elihu is in fact a most interesting exhibit, for of the four friends or associates of Job, three are rebuked by the Lord, and Job, at the end of the tempest, is asked to pray for these when they come to him with sacrifices to the Lord!
The fourth is Elihu, a young man, whose concern is the name of the Lord, and despite some infirmities, his words have considerable force at times, so that we can see why he is not rebuked by the Lord when He Himself speaks as in Job 38ff.. Thus, with a gifted student who has the root of the matter in him, a teacher may see fit not to speak to him personally about any errors, when there are vast disorders in the others. The points to be taken by that student can be covered in the general address. The failure either to commend or to condemn Elihu in this case speaks volumes, and is part of the beautiful tact of the presentation from the Lord in Job.
Let us then consider Elihu's contribution further. He aptly points out that because in Job's tortured words, he has gone too far without being instantly corrected with affliction from the Lord, in precisely those terms, therefore he has carried on: having boldness in the wrong place, he multiplies words. Thus in Job 35:15-16:
|"And now, because He has not punished in His anger,|
|Nor taken much notice of folly,|
|Therefore Job opens his mouth in vain';|
He multiplies words without knowledge."
In fact, the Lord brings this criticism to bear in Job 38:1-2:
"Who is this who darkens counsel
By words without knowledge ?"
"Although you say you do
not see Him,
Yet justice is before Him, and you must wait for Him," Elihu points out.
Further his point seems excellent in Job 34:31-33:
"For has anyone said to God,
'I have borne chastening,
I will offend no more;
Teach me what I do not see;
If I have done iniquity, I will do no more' ?
Should He repay it according to your terms,
Just because you disavow it "
You must choose, and not I;
Therefore speak what you know."
In other words, it is all very well to approach God with a measure of humility, acknowledge sin and ask for an investigation by divine X-ray, as it were, of any other sin, and say, Well let's get on with it, that's that!
In fact, one should expect the Lord who took the initiative in our creation, to take it again at His own will, in handing down what is to be done. One remembers how He disciplined both Moses and David, the former by refusing him entry into the promised land (though not of course into heaven), in view of his lordly seeming act in saying, in effect: MUST WE bring forth water for you rebels! instead of giving the glory to God.
In this case, one can well see the significance of it, for there is an utter abhorrence made manifest in the word of God (as in I Peter 5, Matthew 23:8-10) of lordliness among the saints. Elders must be helpful not harassment, and not use authority in a personally weighty way; and NO ONE must be 'master' but Christ, be it pope or assembly. We are ALL who are His, under HIM, who alone is Lord, and need to remember this in the fear of the Lord. As to that, it is very far indeed from a craven fear, just as far as is the East from the West, but it is a diligent reverence, offered allied with bold assertion for the Lord, but not at all with bold self-assertion.
Hence Moses lost the opportunity to enter the promised land. David in turn, though forgiven after his marvellous outpouring of importunity concerning his crimes and sin, seen to the naked eye in Psalm 51, was taught a lesson also, as were some who witnessed the events. Having hurt a nestling family unit through over-reaching with his regal power, David found his own family vastly harassed in the matter not only of Absolam, but in what preceded it, in the virtual rape of his sister by another of the family, who in turn was murdered by Absolam, for his defilement! David delighted in Absolam, despite his sin, and receiving him back after a time, was to find his own son to be a deceitful and devious plotter, seeking to dethrone David by becoming King himself!
At this, David left Jerusalem rather than mar things by internal war there, and in vast humility suffered someone even to throw dust at him while he went, calling him a murderer. When his commander, Joab, heedless of the tender-hearted father's advice or command, killed Absolam on the battle-field, when he could well have taken him captive, David's grief knew no bounds, to the point that he was in danger of alienating his people, who rejoiced in the victory for which they had fought, in restoring their King.
Accordingly, then, in this portion of Job, we see this point of Elihu to be sound, that one must not seek to dictate to God in just what way He should handle things. His pardon and His chastening are two very different things. Thus a teacher may excuse a student for impertinence, but seeing a vulnerability in mathematics, seek after school coaching in order to fix it. The impertinence in turn, could have come from student exasperation with that subject, and thus been merely a symptom of the real need.
Again, Elihu is apt as seen in Job 33, when he takes up Job's point that he is afraid to seek to justify himself before God, because of His greatness and power, and would like someone to undertake for him, so that both might appear before some bar!
Well, Elihu seems to be saying here, HERE I AM, a mere man! See, you do not fear me, do you ? I will speak to you on God's behalf, and then you can answer me with no such impediment as that which you have stated when you had to answer Him direct. You surely do not fear ME!
This has in turn a significance in typology, for while Elihu could not really serve in this way, being merely a man versed in many of the ways of the Lord, he did act in a vein which is the Lord's as the Messiah, when HE did indeed 'speak' for sinners by a blood more eloquent than words, sating and satisfying justice with an offering more apt than talk. In this way, we find aspects of the character of Christ foreshadowed, not only in Job 19, where the Redeemer Himself is foreseen as coming to this earth, and available for the believing eyes of the redeemed, and not only in the Job 9 thrust for a kinsman who could handle events for Job, a go-between: but here, with someone seeking to give opportunity for one to be justified before God, even if it was here in a more combative than compassionate style.
Christ, when as in Job 19, He came, was indeed One to speak for God to us, indeed in Him was God reconciling the world to Himself, and this spoke with salvation the justification which no words without it could secure.
Thus does Job, the book, gleam with divine messages, using the aspirations, the importunity and the seeking, the searching and the trial situations of man as sinner on earth, to depict the need, the necessity for action to be undertaken, if man would be rescued. Job's exemplary function of showing that righteousness is NOT, is certainly not another name for ethical self-advantage, though he laboured hard at the ways of mercy and integrity. Rather does it come to its essence and necessity in seeing the Redeemer as that glorious figure came to be seen, as his only hope and sheer necessity, if he is to stand before God, his Judge. This historical procedure with Job, set out as a test, thus in the divine wisdom merely heightened the sense of the gift of God, by showing that up in this dramatic way.
Job's importunity was God's opportunity to show PURITY! It was so not only for the devil, for it has direly direct teaching also for us.
One cannot help but admire Job for his insistent persistence, his unfettered searching, his passionate seeking instead of merely collapsing in a mess, overcome by events. If he shuddered at times, so does a car when the brakes are applied too heavily; if he quivered on occasion, consider the torture of heart and spirit, as well as the humiliation of a ravaged body. Yet in his distress he became father of an utterance in Job 19 which hardly a Christmas season can pass without multiplied statements, in the form of Handel's Messiah, sung in Town Halls, filled with vigour, exquisite in sincere tenderness, robust in realisation of realities for man, direct from the Bible, and including this: I KNOW THAT MY REDEEMER LIVETH. Surely this is the fulfilment of Job's request that his words, as it were, should be inscribed in rock with an iron pen and lead ink, for ever!
The issue arose: Would God ever afflict the upright while the sinner flaunted his prosperous condition! Life however is not about money or pride, and the ostentation of false philosophy even in religious clothes, does nothing to alter the requirements of purity (cf. Psalm 73). The issue would soon be resolved before their eyes, in a most practical light, on this occasion as often enough, on others; but here it was presented in depth, uncovering the whole arena of the motivation for relationship with God, and life for Him.