The most appalling grief and pain had come into the life of a man named Job who loved God with all his heart and loved his neighbours as himself. He lost in a short period of time, perhaps a matter of hours, his possessions and his family. He was reduced to poverty; he sat on a dung heap. In the days that followed his health went. He lost the respect and love of his wife. His former friends, who came to him with their advice, made things ten times worse. As they understood providence it was bad people who were punished by God in such ways, and so Job must secretly have been an evil man. “Confess your wickedness”, they said to him one by one, “and justify by this acknowledgment of your sin these actions of God in what he has done.” But Job searched his heart and his life, and that did not take long because his great motivation in all he did was the love of Jehovah, and he could think of no great wickedness commensurate with the sufferings he had endured. So, to his friends’ annoyance Job would not admit to things he had not done. These three men were totally relentless in their rejection of Job’s plea of innocence. When one stopped preaching to him another began and thrust his knife into the heart of Job. They sought to wear Job down.
Now all we readers know, from the first two chapters of the book, what his friends did not know, and what even Job did not know, that it was not because of anything wicked Job had done that God brought these troubles into his life, because God himself says, “This man eschews evil – he is always turning from evil, and he does righteousness”. We know that in fact God loved Job even though he inflicted him, that he had allowed him to get into Satan’s hands to show to Satan and to show to all mankind and the hosts of heaven and even a small congregation in Aberystwyth thousands of years later that sufferings are controlled by God and that he is able to keep every one of his people so that through this experience God can be glorified. God will most certainly keep them all. What encouragement we have facing our pain. We know that none has suffered as greatly as Job suffered, nor ever will, except for our Lord. We have the truth of the book of Job to help us handle our pain. More than that, we will have the New Testament to enlighten us us. Yet more still, we will have great Job’s greater God, Jehovah Jesus the Messiah, to help us in our infirmities with his marvellous sympathy stemming from his own experience of pain. We will have two thousand years of the knowledge and the observation of Christian people who have suffered mightily for their God through the most intense persecutions. They have gone to the stake and the gallows. They have been racked, hung, drawn and quartered. Intolerable cruelties have been wreaked upon them, and them doing it have thought they were honouring God by their horrific actions. God’s people have suffered enormously and scarcely as much as in the last hundred years, and yet have been kept strong in their trust and faith in him.
1. BILDAD NOW MAKES HIS FINAL SPEECH.
We are struck by how small it is – five verses in toto. It’s the third and last of the speeches of Job’s three friends, and Bildad is speaking for the last time. With these words all the speeches from the three friends come to an end. They never open their mouths again. What does Bildad say? He has exhausted all his thinking about sufferin in God’s world. Job hasn’t, for he has this extraordinary spiritual energy pouring into him from God. This is part of God’s sustaining power in him. Bildad feels, “Ahem . . . I feel it’s my duty to say a few words again,” but really the man has nothing more to say. Here is Job, and he is skin and bone; he looks as if he’s a Belsen victim. He’s seems a dying man to us, and yet he’s waiting on the Lord and the Lord is renewing his strength. He’s pouring upon Job discernment and energy. Here is Bildad and he is sleek, as fit as a fiddle; he’s fat and lacks no earthly prize and yet he’s absolutely exhausted. Bildad has no new insights at all into the problem of why holy people suffer. What does he say?
i] God is an awesome God.
For the umpteenth time, Bildad says, “Job, God is an awesome God. Do not deny this Job.” He doesn’t say, “God delays justice until after death.” Bildad doesn’t say, “We don’t find peace on earth. This earth in which we live is a groaning creation and the moment we come to some haven then the tranquillity of it, is soon disturbed by new news of grief around us in those we love. Sometime I feel I will collapse myself with the weight of the world’s pain.” If Bildad had said something like that, it would have been helpful. Merely such truths would have elevated the man to a compassionate wise believer. Yet all Bildad could do was comment on the dominion and awe of God: “How mighty is God over all the heavens and over every part of the earth, where his light shines”.
ii] God alone is righteous and we cannot be pure.
Bildad then makes an utterly irrational leap, and he says in verse 4, “How then can man be righteous before God? How can one born of woman be pure?” It is impossible to find a train of argument or a line of thought in what Bildad says, because Bildad ignores creation; he ignores man and woman made in the image of God; he ignores the fall of man into sin. Man WAS righteous; man WAS pure because God made him. God made him out of the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man then became a living creature. Man was upright. He was upright because of the creative power of God, and he chose to become a sinner defying God and falling into sin so that now all his sons in all of creation are groaning. It’s because of the Fall of man. “Man is like a maggot”, Bildad says (v.6). “He’s only a worm,” (v.6). One can take a biblical and spiritual assessment of man in the strongest terms because the Lord Jesus, his prophets and apostles are unsparing as they analyse the desperate wickedness of man. They do so in the structure of the forgiving grace of God as salvation is offered to them. The Holy Spirit comes and strips away our pride and takes the outer skins away, like an onion is peeled away, and we find the inner heart of man, of every man, of you and of me, rotten because of our sin. Bildad doesn’t speak like that. He hasn’t got the Creation, Fall, Redemption motif straight. He hasn’t got that basic foundation which all of us who are Christians possess. Bildad is proclaiming the basic impurity of creation; “Man is bad . . . a maggot . . . a worm,” and that’s no answer to Job’s lamentation. It’s no comfort to Job. Bildad affirms, “God is so righteous and all of us are like maggots, and so . . . God will accept lower standards, then, do what you will.” That’s the inference from what Bildad is saying, from what all Job’s friends have been saying. “Of course we must all do our best. We can’t be perfect — God doesn’t expect that. He alone is holy and righteous and we worms are not. It is pathetic that Job is obsessed with man’s sin and the need to take a sacrifice and make atonement for it for himself and for his children. Men are maggots.” So Bildad’s counsels to grieving Job are that God is awesome and we are sinners. What pastor would have merely those truths in his heart when pastoring a broken-hearted Christian?
Here is Bildad. He’s tired and old and he can’t understand how God can demand holiness and also provide a righteousness to those who seek forgiveness and mercy at the place of sacrifice. Bildad is as bankrupt as a modernist who glances at the cross of Christ on his way to the big things in life, doing his good works and accepting his fallenness. The problem with the suffering of Job the righteous one shrinks in the light of the problem of Jehovah Jesus suffering the naked shame and abandonment of Golgotha. Why should God allow his Holy One, this blessèd sinless one to die that death, to suffer in that way? God does nothing about it. The modernist hates the theology of substitution, that Jesus is in our place, that he’s the atoning Lamb of God, and that the death that is visited upon him in all its bleak, fearful anguish is really the death that we deserve, which he takes to himself. So the modernist says, “Well, here’s a great example. Jesus Christ stuck to his guns, he kept going and didn’t give up on his convictions till the very end, and he’s an example to us to keep on and do the same thing ourselves.” Men and women, you can see the terrible inadequacy of that. Why didn’t God spare his own beloved Son, Jesus Christ, from the death of the cross? Why didn’t he spare him from all that pain? And the only answer that exists to that is this; in love for maggots and worms like us God was sparing us from the judgment which he heaped on Christ. God took it from us and he imputed it to his Son Jesus Christ as the way of redemption, so that there is a purpose that comes to us, health and deliverance comes to us, because judgement came to the Lord Jesus Christ. Bildad can’t answer Job. Job says, “I am innocent, yet I have suffered”. And all Bildad can say is, “God alone is righteous, and there must be some sin in your life because all of us – and that includes you – are like maggots before God”.
We were talking yesterday to a man whose wife has cancer and it began at the bottom of the spine and now the cancer has spread along the whole spine. She’s going back and fore to a top London hospital, and last week they bumped into a religious man in town. The religious man – let’s call him Bildad – knew that there was some illness in the family, and he probed to finally say to them, “Ah, don’t you know there is healing in Christ’s Atonement for every Christian? What you have to do is claim that healing.” Such men and women are just like Zophar. They are the ignorant friends of Job who give simplistic religious answers to the most mysterious and deepest problems of personal anguish. Why do some people who’ve loved God with all their hearts go through such pain? All we can say is, God was in charge of his Son and all his sufferings on Calvary, and God was in charge of all that Job was passing through, and all that you pass through. God is in control and one day he’ll make these things perfectly plain.
2. JOB REPLIES TO BILDAD.
Well, what was Job’s answer? Job answers this tiny speech with his longest speech. He speaks for six chapters. It’s the longest speech in all the book and we’ll look at half of it today and half of it in the next sermon.
i] Job begins with ironic thanks.
Chapter 26 begins with high irony. “Thank you, Bildad,” Job says. “Thank you very much. Those few words have solved all my problems.” Job says, “How you have helped the powerless! How you have saved the arm that is feeble!” (v.2) What advice you’ve offered to one like me, lacking any wisdom at all! I had never thought on the perfection and justice of God and man’s own wickedness. “What great insight you have displayed! Who has helped you utter these words? And whose spirit spoke from your mouth?” (vv.3–4) What a damning inditement it is on religion! A spirit of blindness has come upon Bildad, hasn’t it? It was a spirit of prejudice, a spirit of ignorance.
ii] Job turns to the living God.
Job then says, “Well, let me tell you about the living God. You’ve told me about him, Bildad. Let me tell you about him. He’s not the Lord of the dead; he is the Lord of those who are in the grave (v.5). Nothing in the realm of the dead is hidden from God (v.6). He knows all about my seven sons and my three daughters so recently killed. He has them safely, and he’ll know about me when I die and when I go there. He’s mighty over the depths of outer space (v.7). He’s the God in charge of global warming and global cooling (v.8). When you watch the weather forecast and you see the isobars and the high-pressure areas, the numbered force of the winds, the rain and the snow, then please know that none of that is by accident. It all comes from God. He sends it, he withholds it. He gives an eclipse to the moon; he sends a cloudy night (v.9). God is in charge of the weather. He makes the line of the horizon over Cardigan Bay that separates the sea and the air, the light and the darkness. He makes heaven and earth shake and quake (vv.10–11). Then Job says, in verses 12–13, “You know about our pagan neighbours with their creation myths, their stories which talk about a bitter fight amongst the gods, that the triumphant one killed the evil one and out of the evil one’s body he made the heavens and the earth? You know those myths”, he says to Bildad and his friends, “that they’re all around us in Egypt and Assyria and Babylon, those myths of our Phoenician neighbours, the worshippers of Baal. They’ve got all these fantastic myths about the sun and wind and moon and stars. These powers, Rahab the gliding serpent (v.12), you know those myths? Their stories and their faith in their gods are all under the power of the one true and living Jehovah.” That’s what he says. Job will not allow the realm of mythology which dominates blinded nations to be some autonomous challenge to the Lord. God is in control even of all of that. Its lords and gods and story tellers will all answer to him. When you hear thunder roll and see the total eclipse of the sun, when you stand in the epicentre of a mighty earthquake (number 10 on the Richter scale), when you feel storm force 10 winds howling against you, then know at that time, when the whole earth seems to be trembling and the winds are howling and the heavens are black above you, know then you have been experiencing “the outer fringes of his works,” that’s all (v.14), a “faint whisper,” the flicker of his finger, and that is all. You’ve not felt the full power of Almighty God at all; you’ve faced something of the might of creation shaking and trembling, but it’s just a whisper, just a whisper of Almighty God. So, who can comprehend God, Bildad? You want to tell me about God, well I’ll tell you about the God I know, and one day you and I will face “the thunder of his power” (v.14) and then we’d better be safe in the arms of Jesus, or we are lost men.
iii] Job makes a statement of his own innocence.
We have come to chapter 27 and the first six verses are a beautiful statement of Job’s innocence. Innocence from any crime, any act of wickedness that he has secretly wrought resulting in a punishment of God. You may have read of the infamous show trials in communist countries. You read of one in Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, that marvellous dénouement of Marxism in Russia and the pressures brought to bear on a brave, moral Commissar who stands for the integrity and longing for social justice which gave birth to the Communist movement, which was hijacked everywhere by tyrants. Such pressures were brought to bear on men like him to confess some crime, and acknowledge they had done something wrong. “Sign a confession for the sake of mother Russia. Come on now, let’s be men of integrity for the great cause. Acknowledge you’ve done wrong.” One after another, night and day they were urged to “Sign this confession” and then shot for signing or for refusing to sign. Or more likely you have read the same horrors in Wild Swans, in the life of the incredible father of the authoress, and all he was forced to endure confessing his crimes against the communist people of China. Job here is under relentless pressure from these three men to confess his sin, and say that God was justly punishing him for his wickedness, but Job cannot and will not lie. If God should claim this is whey Job suffers then God would be unjust, because the Lord knows all about him and Job remains adamant that he has done nothing wrong. Job is going to maintain his righteousness. He is never going to let go of it. He will takes an oath on this fact and here are these words of Job; “As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice, the Almighty who has made me taste bitterness of soul, as long as I have life within me, the breath of God in my nostrils, my lips will not speak wickedness, and my tongue will utter no deceit. I will never admit you are in the right; till I die, I will not deny my integrity. I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live” (vv.2–6).
So, Bildad brings his religious platitudes and Job replies firstly by saying, “I believe God is Almighty. Let me tell you how great God is” and he crushes Bildad with his mighty theocentric vision. He affirms, “I’m blameless of secret wickedness” in the first six verses, and then for the rest of chapter 27 he speaks of the real judgements that are going to fall on the wicked in the day of the Lord.
iv] There are real judgements of God on the wicked.
So, in Job’s protestations that he’s not under the judgement of God for wickedness, he wants Bildad and the other men to know he does believe that it is appointed unto men once to die and after death the judgement. That theme, you know, is throughout the Bible but nowhere more plainly taught than from the lips of our gentle Jesus meek and mild. Again and again the Lord Jesus says, “At death you come and meet me. You receive your eternal destinies from my lips. There is either heaven or hell and nothing else.” Job is speaking of these wretched men who’ve been rejoicing in his downfall; Job has become the song of men in the taverns. They’ve come and they’ve laughed at him as they’ve seen him now a ruined man, scraping his skin with potsherds and sitting on a dungheap. “Oh, how the mighty are fallen,” said the drunkards. He’s become their taunt, and a confirmation that being over religious is foolish. So Job speaks now of the judgement that is going to fall on his enemies, and this chapter goes on: After death there’s no hope. “What hope has the godless when he is cut off?” (V. 8). If we cry in repentance now to God he will hear us, but not after death. There’s no joy in God for the wicked after death. The act of dying makes no difference; the unbeliever dies an unbeliever and remains in defiance of God. Now is the time for us to seek God (v.10). “I’ll tell you about the power of God”, Job says. “You’ll see it in the day of judgement (v.13). You’ll see it when a sinner is suddenly taken away and his children are left to starve and the plague comes and he can’t go off to a country free of the plague. Many of them die (vv.14–15). And all the possessions, all his gold and silver can’t save him (v.16). Others are going to enjoy the fruit of all his savings, all his possessions (v.17). His home will be decayed. Fungus will be growing all over his expensive dwelling (v.18). When he enters the grave he’s got nothing (v.19). Suddenly he’s terrified (v.20). Like a wind will pick up a feather and blow it away, so men will be carried away by the rushing, mighty wind of God’s power (v.21). He’ll be carried along headlong before it (v.22). And death will hiss and clap at him in its mockery (v.23). This is the judgement of the wicked. These are not the calamities that have come upon me. There’s a much worse fate before sinners.” You know that a man in hell, in the coolest part of hell, the happiest man in hell, (if there is such a person), would long to be sitting on the dunghill like Job, grieving for the death of his children, the loss of his possessions, the loss of his health and all men turning against him. They would think that Job there on the dunghill was the most blessèd and happy of men compared to their condition, the condition of the sweetest creature suffering the anguish of hell. Job on the dunghill would be a man in heaven compared to their condition in the pit.
v] There is wisdom that comes from God.
So, Job has been listening to these three men. Now you remember he’s been listening to the three wisest men in all the world, the top three. Here is Einstein, and here is Bronowski, and A.J. Ayre, and Bertrand Russell, and Isaiah Berlin, and all the newly rich atheists led by Dawkins, whose books have become best sellers in the western world, translated into German and Italian and French and Spanish and Portuguese. Consider all the great English Sophists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and what do they say? “There is no meaning to life and so no meaning to suffering. It is all a matter of fate.” That is the difference with Job’s religious friends. All that such men could say, in order to counsel Job was, “You must have deserved it”. That’s what they’ve been saying to him, “You’ve got what was coming to you from a God who knows everything about you.” Remember Aldous Huxley, that famous writer of the Huxley family, lecturer, thinker, and experimenter in drugs? Aldous Huxley, at the end of his life, summed up what he’d learned from life saying to thousand scientists who eagerly gathered to learn from his observations that he was embarrassed to say to them simply this, “Try to be more kind to one another.” That’s what he said. Stripped of an infinite personal Creator and relying on his wit then all the advice that the world had been able to teach him was, “Try to be more kind to one another”!
There was a book reviewed in The Times yesterday by a man called Christopher Ross. He had spent a year, the year before last, looking for wisdom on Platform 6 of Oxford Circus tube station, and he has written a book about what he learned there called Tunnel Vision. For more than a year he spent his mornings working there as Station Assistant, searching for truth and the meaning of existence; “Each day I’d reflect and compose lengthy dialogues in my mind while pacing up and down the platform or slowly ascending or descending escalators,” and then what he has learned he writes in this book. Mr. Ross had been a City lawyer, and then he’d gone around the world as a carpet smuggler, a camel cowboy and a soap opera star. Finally he comes back to London and he takes part-time work ending up underground wearing an orange high-visibility vest musing on the essentials of a considered life while fielding endless cries of “Call this a railway?” from hoards of irate commuters waiting ages for trains to turn up. He looked on platform 6 of Oxford Circus tube station and what did he find? What wisdom did he gain? What insights into the meaning of life? His reviewers say that he has a keen sense of humour, and they share with us what he discovered. It is a plea to be “calm and fulfilled in this accelerating world.” That’s it. No startling insights into man’s chief end. “Try to be a little kind to one another, try to be calm and fulfilled in an accelerating world.” Platform 6, Oxford Circus underground station. I read of a man who daily on his journey on the Underground into London reads aloud from the Bible to those who are standing around him. They are hearing far more of the meaning of life than Christopher Ross and the late Aldous Huxley have to offer the man on the tube.
Job is speaking here in chapter 28 and he wants to tell his friends about wisdom. He says, “There’s a wisdom that comes from God”. There is such a wisdom; it exists; it’s an entity; it is real; it’s totally outside ourselves, and it’s not our own wit that reveals it. This wisdom comes from God. “Think of men looking for gold”, Job says. “Where do men look for gold? Do they look inside themselves for gold? No, they go to a mountain, they go to a shaft, they go to a mine, they look for it in the designated place, they struggle, they dig for it.” So Job begins then, in the first 11 verses of chapter 28, and he speaks of the hard work and the dangers of mining. “Man puts an end to the darkness; he searches the farthest recesses for ore in the blackest darkness”(v.3). He takes a light where before there’s only been pitch darkness. “He tunnels through the rock; his eyes see all its treasures. He searches the sources of the rivers, he comes across a spring there in the heart of the mountain, and brings hidden things to light” (vv.10–11). Here is energy, industry, adventure and the search for riches.
Where will men and women find wisdom? Compare the wisdom of God with a lump of gold. What is more valuable? Everyone would say, “It must be wisdom. To have divine wisdom will tell you the value of gold and you’ll know where to find it, and you’ll know if it’s worth the effort, if you have wisdom”. So wisdom is more valuable than gold. Where can you find it? Not in the earth, not in a mine or cave in the Himalayas. Not in darkness. You can’t buy it for all the money in the world. Where does it come from? Will any be wiser after death? Are all men wise after death? No. “Destruction and Death say, ‘Only a rumour of it has reached our ears’” (v.22). “Wisdom is found”, he says, “only in the Lord”. God tells us what it is to be wise. “God understands the way to it and he alone knows where it dwells” (v.23). God takes a bird’s eye view (v.24) and sees everything in all creation, all the powers of creation. He can see the wind and the waters, the thunderstorm (vv.25–26). But he puts all in the heavens and the earth apart and he says, “It’s not in creation itself that you find wisdom.” He appraises it like a man will appraise a seam of shining metal, and he’ll say, “That’s fools’ gold”, but then he’ll appraise another seam and he’ll say, “This is true gold”. So God searches all creation; he’s powerful over it, and he says, “Here is wisdom”.
O please tell us what is this wisdom? “God said to man, ‘The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding’” (v.28), and that is what Job has done all his life. He that has ears to hear let him hear. God has said it to man. In olden times God spoke to our fathers by the prophets. In these last days God has spoken to us by his Son. He of God is made unto us wisdom. In Jesus Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and you begin to be wise when you come to him, when you come into his orbit, when you come into an association of people who know him and have had an experience of him and learned of him. People who know the Bible, the book that he has given to us become wise because there you learn of him and in the same way you learn about yourself. In fact, you can only learn who and what you are by knowing who he is. You can only learn to be wise yourself by receiving the wisdom that our Creator has given to us through his prophets and apostles and through his Son Jesus Christ. That is where wisdom begins. So this incarnation of wisdom, this Word made flesh, comes and he says, “Come unto me, learn of me.” He is willing to impart his wisdom to us. He cries aloud in the streets, “Learn of me”.
There is the great apostolic word of James, “If any of you lacks wisdom he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” And what is that wisdom like? James will also tell you its fruit, “The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere”. That’s what someone wrote who lived with Jesus for over thirty years and then followed him for the rest of his life (James 3:17). What is wisdom? Wisdom is to have the most awesome reverence of God, for the living God, the mighty Creator. In the beginning he made the heavens and the earth. This world made, sustained and continued by the work of God. This God put man under probation. Man fell into sin and defied God and brought death into this world. God still loved this world and sent his only begotten Son to be the Lamb of God, to be the Redeemer, to save us. This God did not spare his own Son, but spares all who hear his invitations and beseechings who come to him and put their trust in him. This God makes all those who come to him wise men and women.
This God warns us that we must flee from the wrath that is to come and prepare for the Day of Judgement by being clothed in the righteousness of Christ and washed from our sins in his blood. This God then teaches those who’ve come to him how to be wise. He says, “Fathers, act in this way; mothers, act in this way; husbands and wives, behave like this for this is wisdom. Children, act like this for this is wisdom. Christians, believe these truths. This is the way of salvation. Neighbours, love your fellow-neighbours in this way.” God spells out to us in his Word what wisdom is. He preaches it in his Law, he opens it out in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the great apostolic exhortations (Romans 12). If your enemy hungers, feed him. That’s wisdom. If he thirsts, give him to drink. You’ll pour coals of fire on his head. His conscience will trouble him so greatly. Don’t overcome evil with evil, overcome evil with good. That is wisdom, in fearing God, having the most awesome respect of God, of offending him, of grieving him in every way, being aware that we must all give an account to God and stand before him, and then learning from God how we should live, how we should suffer, and how we should handle pain. That is the fear of God. That is where wisdom is to be found, he says. He brings that word to us.
Job had it and Job is introduced to us at the beginning when God says to Satan, “Have you seen my servant Job? What a man he is! He eschews evil and he fears me and he loves righteousness. Have you seen such wisdom in a fallen man who has put all his trust in me?” The God who knew and loved Job knows all about us. God appreciates how you’ve been this past week. Nothing that we’ve done has been unknown to him. God rewards those who diligently seek him. God will say in that Great Day, “Well done. You feared me. You hated evil”. Wisdom isn’t to be found in chemicals; it isn’t to be found in pictures from the Hubble cameras in space. It is not to be found as you go in and in and into your heart. Men will spend themselves and exhaust themselves risking their own lives for gold, but here is something better than money. God is offering to us divine wisdom. Take it! Never let it go! Treasure it! Live in the light of it!
17th February 2002 Geoff Thomas