Sermon prepared by Rev. Dale Melenberg, Calgary, Alberta
Dear People of God:
Before we get into the message proper, we need to make two observations:
- This message has been adapted from the Old Testament Challenge series of sermons as written by John Ortberg and published by Zondervan. (Volume 3: Developing a Heart for God; Chapter 7, Job: Where is God When It Hurts, 2003)
- This message deals with the question of suffering as this is manifested in the life of the Old Testament saint, Job.
I invite you to keep your Bibles open, so that you are able to follow this message biblically as we explore God’s dealings with Job, Satan’s evil involvement, the reaction of Job’s friends, and Job’s response to God and to his own suffering.
Let us, first of all, observe the CONTEXT in which all of this takes place. The book of Job begins like many well written books today. It provides the context: the land, the person, and the conflict.
Job 1:1In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. “
In the land of Uz,” – yes Uz is a real place. “A man named Job.” We are told two things about him. He was blameless and upright. And we are given a glimpse of the conflict that is about to occur; we are told that both God and evil exist. The introduction continues.
Job 1:2-3 He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.
Job was blessed: 7 + 3 = 10; 7 + 3 = 10; 5 + 5 = 10! Ten is the number of completeness, perfection! And Job was the greatest of them all!
But now the plot thickens.
Job 1:4-5: His sons used to take turns holding feasts in their homes, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, ‘Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’ This was Job's regular custom
Job loved his family. He was a family man! Job loved his family so much that he was prepared to do anything for their wellbeing – even to offer sacrifices on their behalf – in case they sinned. And in this action we discover something else about Job... in addition to fearing God, he also feared punishment.
Secondly, we observe the TESTS Job had to undergo. Our text now takes us to an upper stage if you will – a cosmic perspective.
Job 1:6-8: One day the angels (the sons of God) came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan (means accuser) also came with them. The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
God is proud of Job – proud of Job’s devotion to God! Shunning evil and fearing God.
Job 1:9: “Does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan replied.
This is a rhetorical question that Satan counters with ... Job is blessed because you love him back!
Job 1:10-11:"Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face."
Satan, the Accuser, has just challenged God.
So how does God respond?
Job 1:12: The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger." Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.
God allows calamity to fall upon Job. In verses 13-19 calamity falls upon Job in reverse order of how it was depicted he was blessed. Now death strikes.
13oxen and donkeys and servants (7+3)
15sheep and servants (7)
17camels and servants (3) = 7+3
18sons and daughters (7+3) = 10 ... complete calamity!
Job’s worst fears have come true. Calamity has fallen in the land of Uz.
Has calamity ever fallen on you?
Some of you are in Uz right now...
Some of you have travelled through Uz and still feel the sting of it all.
The rest of us may have a land of Uz on our horizon, we just don’t know it.
The loss of material possessions is one thing: You may lose your job; you may lose your life savings. But the harder of the losses is the loss of sons or daughters. I suspect that I do not need to go into great detail about losing a child... suffice it so that it’s really hard. How do you respond to this depth of loss?
A couple lost a child at the age of two. At the graveside they were faced with the question, “Do I believe in God or not?” How did Job respond?
Job 1:20: At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised."
This is how Job responds... in worship! In acknowledging God as God, and man as man! Job knows his place in the world. And verse 22 says this:
In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
But the drama continues to unfold: Chapter 2. We return to the upper stage – the cosmic perspective.
Job 2:1-3: On another day the angels (the sons of God) came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. And the LORD said to Satan, "Where have you come from?" Satan answered the LORD, "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it." Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason."
God is still so very proud of Job! God wins!
But Satan counters again:
Job 2:4-5: "Skin for skin!" Satan replied. "A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face."
Satan ups the ante! He is saying, Quid Pro Quo! Something for something! Satan is basically saying to the Lord that Job knows this is a give and take world! So all Job has to do is give you his devotion and you will return it all! One thing in return for another! You scratch his back, he scratches yours! But threaten his very life, and he will turn his back on you!
The conversation continues.
Job 2:6:The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life."
God allows the furthering of calamity on Job – verse 7 and 8... Calamity comes in the form of painful sores all over his body. And Job sits in the ashes and scrapes his sores. And then his wife speaks up!
Job 2:9:His wife said to him, "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!"
You really can’t blame his wife for her outburst. After all she is human too. She too has lost her status, her wealth, her children – all ten of them! So she says what she says! Basically she is saying, “Judge God to be the perpetrator! Go ahead, put God on trial! I am sure that he is guilty!”
This happens all the time when suffering comes our way.
· Where was God when Haiti got hit with the earthquake?
- Where was God when my child died?
- Where is God now?
And the unspoken answer to the questions is that he is not here! And so we judge God. We put him on trial and we accuse him of being negligent! “It’s his fault – he could have stopped it – but he didn’t!” And so the first response to suffering is to say it is God’s doing!
But what does Job say?
Job 2:10:He replied, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?"
Job responds by saying, NO! This is not a quid pro quo world, especially when it comes to God. Yes, God gives and takes away, but this is not God’s fault. God is too good for this – he could never do this to us! I believe in God! Then note Job 2:10:
In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.
Thirdly we observe that Job is visited by THREE FRIENDS.
Job 2:11-13: When Job's three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.
There are two ‘S’ words worth noting here. The first one is sympathize. The Hebrew word for sympathize is NUD, and it means to rock back and forth; like a person would do who is in great agony or like a mother does who seeks to comfort her child (rock back and forth). Job’s three friends rock back and forth in agony, trying to comfort him.
The second ‘S’ word is not actually in the text, but it is the word silence. The 3 friends are silent for seven days and seven nights.
· Silence ... they do not speak...
- Silence ... they do not seek to fix him...
- Silence ... they wait for Job to speak...
Finally Job does speak,
Job 3: 1-5: After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. He said: "May the day of my birth perish, and the night it was said, `A boy is born!' That day--may it turn to darkness; may God above not care about it; may no light shine upon it. May darkness and deep shadow claim it once more; may a cloud settle over it; may blackness overwhelm its light.
Job curses the day he was born, He does not curse God. Only that he was born and that he is suffering so much. I imagine that many of you know exactly how Job is feeling.
Fourthly, we listen to The DEBATE that transpires between Job and the three friends. It is now that the 3 friends speak; first to speak is Eliphaz, then Bildad, and finally Zophar. They have heard what Job has said. They have heard that Job is maintaining innocence. And so they begin to convince him otherwise.
Job 4:7: "Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?
Basically Eliphaz is saying, “The innocent do not suffer, but you are suffering. Therefore, you are not innocent!” Bildad deepens the wound by saying this to Job:
Chapter 8:8: When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.
Ouch! What if you were told that every person who dies a tragic death got exactly what they deserved, that they were punished for their sins! This was especially hurtful to Job as he tried to purify his children. Inside he must have been reeling – NO! It can’t be true. And then Zophar minces no words, he speaks it plainly:
Chapter 11:13-15: "if you devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, then you will lift up your face without shame; you will stand firm and without fear.
Job, Zophar says, you have sinned! Remove the evil from your heart and remove the shame of it all!
So together the three friends who have come to comfort Job have decided to challenge him, to accuse him! So what’s going on here? What is the issue? The question I believe they are dealing with is this: Is suffering a direct result of sin? All three friends have answered this question in the affirmative; they have nailed Job with it.
You know, our contemporary thinking is not much different that in Job’s days. Philip Yancey listed our responses to suffering and healing like this: (count these out as reading holding up a finger at a time)
1) If you would only walk in the power of Jesus you would be healed!
In other words, there is a spiritual warfare going on and you must be bathed in the power of Jesus to be victorious!
2) If only you had enough faith, then you would be healed. If you are not healed, well, I guess you don’t have enough faith.
3) You must suffer for his glory! The reason you are suffering is so that you can give glory to God.
4) Your suffering is a wakeup call! Repent and be healed, for you have sinned.
There is a grain of truth in each of these responses to the question of suffering, but they are not the whole truth! The result of these partial truths is that they are a call for moral obedience. If only you would behave properly then you will not suffer. But then you are back to a Quid Pro Quo world again! Something for something! Be good and God will bless you with good health and wealth. This is called Prosperity Theology. And it is wrong, fundamentally wrong! It’s legalism by another word!
Fifthly, observe Job’s CHALLENGE to God. Twice the three friends take a stab at Job, condemning him. And then after Eliphaz speaks for a third time Job responds by saying this;
Chapter 23:2-6: "Even today my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning. If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling! I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what he would answer me, and consider what he would say. Would he oppose me with great power? No, he would not press charges against me.
Job has turned a corner so to speak. He hasn’t turned his back on God, but he does take a turn in his thinking. He begins to doubt. His friends are wearing him thin (if he wasn’t thin already). Job’s friends have been accusing Job and God of being in a Quid Pro Quo relationship... that God is demanding obedience! So Job is wondering, can God be trusted? Job is saying this; I want to put God on trial! See Job 23:4-6:
I would state my case ... and he would not press charges against me. Would God oppose me with his great power?
Have you ever heard the phrase, “be careful what you ask for”? God hears his plea, and God shows up in great power, recorded in chapters 38 & 39. The Lord responds with stating his infinite wisdom, and challenging humanity’s finite knowledge. The creation, God says, is witness to his greatness. The creation is God’s witness to God’s sovereignty over all things.
And so in chapter 40, God puts Job on trial.
Job 40:1-2: The LORD said to Job, "Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!"
And Job responds in humility.
Job 40:3-5: Then Job answered the LORD, "I am unworthy--how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer -- twice, but I will say no more."
Job is struck by the power and majesty of God.
In the sixth place we observe Job’s RESPONSE. In the rest of this chapter and on into the next, God declares his infinite wisdom again. This time in direct challenge to Job! And Job responds.
Job 42:1-6: Then Job replied to the LORD: "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. [You asked,] `Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. ["You said,] `Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.' My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."
In the end, Job repents of his challenge to God. Job acknowledges that he does not know all things – that he spoke of what he cannot understand. Job returns to the place he started – in dust and ashes. From ashes to ashes, dust to dust, was I created by you O Lord.
So how does this answer the question of suffering, you ask? Well, in Job’s repentance he is making a statement. Job is saying that he trusts God. He despises himself after seeing God in all his glory. And Job resigns to trust in God, by returning to dust and ashes. That recalls Genesis 2:7 where we are told that we are created from the very dust of the ground, and God knelt down and breathed into our nostrils, giving us life!
This is what we are called to do in the trial of suffering.
· Yes we might be empowered to stand and walk in the power of Jesus.
- Yes, we may be endowed with enough faith to be healed.
- Yes we may suffer and give glory to God.
- And Yes, we may have sinned and repented,
But that is not the point! Neither of these are the point all by themselves. Trust is what undergirds it all – trust in God!
Trust in God with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding.(Prov.3:5)
There is finally an EPILOGUE to Job`s story. This has been the story of Job for our benefit in understanding suffering. But the story is not finished and we must clarify the ending, lest in your own readings of it, it unravels everything we have said so far.
Chapter 42:12-16 depicts that Job is doubly blessed. And if we are not careful we could read that as Quid Pro Quo all over again. After all, Job proved to be faithful, so God repays him! Doubly to boot! Is this Job’s reward for fearing God and shunning evil yet again? Well maybe, and I mean that, maybe, for we have to leave that in God’s hands to answer. Truthfully, this is the grace of God as to how he causes the sun and the rain to fall on all of us alike. That is God’s prerogative, not ours to judge.
What we need to do, in the final analysis, is observe two details that reflect Job’s heart. In the outcome of these events, after all is said and done, Job has an enlarged view of God and gratitude.
Firstly, Job is given back seven sons and three daughters, (7+3) they are not doubled, but this time the daughters are named. This is highly unusual, girls are seldom named, but here we have it, and what beautiful names too.
· Jemimah means dove – a most highly prized bird in that time.
- Keziah means cinnamon – a most highly prized spice in that time.
- And Keren-Happuch, which means ‘horn of eye shadow’ – a most highly prized virtue that a woman could have in that time – beautiful eyes! Especially when you consider that the women wore veils and all you could see of a woman was her eyes!
And the second detail that shows Job is dealing in gratitude and a new perspective is not only that his daughters are named, but more so that they too are included in the inheritance. Daughters in that day and age were a resource to make more money for the father – chattel like cattle. But not Job’s daughters. There is no bride price for them! Job is so grateful for his blessing that he wants to share it with his future sons in law. Job’s gratitude spills over into the community!
Such is Job’s perspective of God: He is blessed to be a blessing.
May God be praised! Amen.
Order of Worship
GOD GATHERS US FOR WORSHIP
Welcome and Announcements
Call to Worship: Psalm 95:1-2
Opening Song: “Now with Joyful Exultation” PsH # 95:1,5
Grace and peace to us from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings on earth. Amen.
Songs of Praise:
“Praise the Lord, Sing Hallelujah” PsH # 188
“We Praise You, O God” PsH # 237
SERVICE OF RECONCILIATION
Prayer of Confession: Psalm 51:1-2
Assurance of Pardon: Colossians 1:13-14
God`s Will for Our Lives: Colossians 3:1-17
Hymn of Response: “Oh, for a Closer Walk with God” PsH #551
WE HEAR THE WORD OF GOD
Prayer for God`s Guidance
Scripture Reading: Job 23:1-6
Sermon: The Great Suffering
Prayer of Application: “Teach us to be patient in suffering and that in our suffering you be praised. Amen.”
WE RESPOND TO GOD’S WORD
Song of Response: “How Great Thou Art” PsH #483
WE DEPART WITH NEW HOPE
God’s Blessing: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be and abide with us all. Amen.”
Doxology: “Father, We Love You” PsH #634