This is the last chapter of the book of Job, chapter 42 and I will read verses five and six: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” In this whole chapter we see that Job had been a sinner with imperfect views of himself and of God. Remember all that Job had lost? His possessions, his family, his health, the affection of his wife, and all he endured from the mischief and errors that his friends insisted on flinging at him. That is the background to all he heard and saw of God in these last chapters, that God alone is all-wise, that God is all-powerful and that God is all-holy. Not us. Not Job. Not any man save the Lord alone. He is the Creator who made the hippopotamus and the mighty Maker of the crocodile. He’s a God of design, a God of surprises, a God of delightful creativity. “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!” He is also a God of grace, in all the rich diversity of his creation. How surprisingly does this blessèd, almighty, sovereign God deal with every one of his people. There is not one loved by him who lives a mundane life.
So, when this God comes and finally speaks to Job he doesn’t say a word to him about Satan. He never explains to Job why Job has lost everything. Think of it! He is not bound to give an explanation to us, and so he chooses not to. Many things happen to us that are the will of God for us in our pilgrimage and we acknowledge that in theological terms, but then we meet them existentially and they make us tremble. Why are these the will of God? God chooses not to disclose to us the reason why. For some things never, not even in heaven, but there he will remove the pain of perplexity. Again, God doesn’t hint to Job what his plans are for the future. We memorise the fact that “all things are going to work together for our good” and we charge our hearts and emotions to bear that truth in mind. We know Romans chapter eight and verse twenty-eight for he has told us that truth, but the details and the reasons are secret things that he keeps to himself. He doesn’t tell Job, “I’m going to bless you; I’m going to restore you to prosperity; I’m going to give you children and a restored reputation.” There is not a word of this at all. All he tells Job is that he is in control; he has a plan for Job’s future as he had one for his past.
So it is that when no answers are given at all, then in Job’s ignorance about what has happened, why it happened, and in his total ignorance about what lies ahead of him, then, in his pain, and still on the ash heap, Job speaks those remarkable words of our text that say that God is almighty, and that God can do all things (v.2). God makes the world; God sustains the world; God can destroy the world; God will accomplish everything that his plans have made and Job bows before God saying, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (v.3). Job puts his hand over his mouth and acknowledges how foolish he has been contending with God, trying to correct God, accusing God of doing a bad job in governing us and his world. God silences Job by more than fifty questions and Job cannot answer one of them. There’s no friend he can telephone to help him to answer these questions at all. From what a tiny perspective on life does Job judge. What a little grasp of life Job has. He cannot understand the atom because no one can understand the atom. He cannot understand the universe because no one can understand the universe, but now he finds peace in knowing God does understand everything, and Job acknowledges he has been speaking out of turn, and posturing in ignorance. Job says, “I am the one who has obscured your counsel without any knowledge.”
Job has always known God and he’s always loved God and served God. Let not his outburst of anguish and despair make him ever doubt that he has pleased God for years, and let not his new vision of God make him deprecate all the glorious grasp of God he has known all his life. Now, however, Job says that this new intimate encounter that he’s had with God has lifted him up to a new dimension of humble confidence in him, for God has come really close to him and spoken intimately to him. What has happened now is like the difference between hearing about a person and spending time in his presence. Nothing was erroneous of your previous knowledge but the half had never been told. You know about a person through letters. Emails, and the testimony of friends. “I’ve heard much about you,” we say “but now I’ve sat in your presence for an hour and I seem to have discovered more of what you’re really like than in all those contacts over the years.”
That, then, is what has happened here. God has, in a spirit of revelation, spoke to Job, asked him these questions, extraordinarily raised the subjects of the behemoth and the leviathan, and the result of it was that Job despises himself and repents in dust and ashes. It is a great thing for a proud sinner to despise himself, beating his breast and looking down to the ground and saying “God be merciful to me the sinner.” Such men are justified. God gives grace to the humble but he resists the proud. Three facts, then, about the ending of the book of Job.
1. JOB NEEDED TO REPENT.
The first fact about the ending of the book is that one great goal of God in dealing with Job was to bring him to repentance. That’s the first fact. What were Job’s last words? He’s spoken so much, but what were his final words? “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (v.6). A repentant spirit in Job is onee goal towards which everything has been heading. Job needs to repent. I need to repent. You all need to repent. God commands all men everywhere to repent. Job’s image of himself has been far too positive. He’s had a good self-image, quite a guy. Job’s need was quite different, actually to despise himself. Job needed to repent in dust and ashes. It’s all so unfashionable, so absolutely objectionable. The Social Services, the educationalists and the counsellors, and modern man insists that people need their affections to be stroked, that there is no better help you can be to the mugger and drug-dealer and murderer than to give him a good self-image. He needs self-esteem, we are told, to bolster his self-image. But the great message of this book is that Job needed a new radical revision of himself, a different humble evaluation of his own life, and of his own attitudes. The message is not that Eliphaz needed to repent; and not that Bildad needed to repent; and not that Zophar needed to repent; and not that Elihu needed to repent; and not that Job’s wife needed to repent. Of course they all did need to repent, but that is not the message of the book, but it was Job, this extraordinary man of such stature and immensity, who needed to maintain a repentant spirit, for he was a sinner.
That’s the message of the book of Job, and I’d say to you, what a humble message. You say to me, “we’ve been looking at forty-two chapters of this book on twenty-one occasions in this lengthy and most profound of biblical books, and you’re telling me that its message in the end is that I need to repent? I need to be a repenter?” You’ve left your home for twenty-one Sunday mornings, and you’ve come here and you’ve listened intently, to be told simply that? I’d say to you, Job’s great Redeemer made a longer voyage, a far more traumatic and dangerous journey. From the right hand of God to the stable of Bethlehem, to the fields around Galilee and the hill of the skull. He came as one in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. He came in all the glory of his divine grandeur, all the profundity and the inerrancy of his thinking, his insight, and all the brilliance of his omniscient intellect, and he came to people to give them this message, “Repent.” He came from the ‘ivory palaces’ and he came to religious folk, and he said to them “Turn, you’ve got to turn. You’ve got to change,” he said. I’m saying today to all of you, to the wisest, to the most godly person in the congregation, yes, to every Christian this message reaches that you need to be a repenting man or woman, because our lives are not controlled as they ought to be controlled by the glory of God. We’re not handling our blessings, we’re not handling our knowledge, we’re not handling biblical preaching, we’re not handling God’s providential dealings with us in the little things and in the great things that happen to us as those things should be dealt with, because our discipleship lacks a decisiveness. It lacks sacrifice; it lacks commitment; it lacks edge; it lacks extravagance; it lacks the sheer abandonment of those who have fallen in love with Jesus Christ, and are totally captivated by God. There are few people who say, “For to me to live is Christ . . . this one thing I do.” There’s too much calculation; there’s too much looking to men; there’s too much sheer ordinariness and average-ism and the God we’ve heard about is speaking, and in particular he is addressing us this morning, as he does week by week. Every time he speaks to us we have to turn. Every time he speaks to us there are things that need to be done, to be put right in our lives. We need to change, we need to move, we want to move on. New levels of obedience; new levels of zeal; new levels of dedication, of aspiration; new levels of confidence in his service are required in every one of us.
I find, almost everywhere I go, a dumbing down of worship, a creeping paralysis, a lack of enthusiasm, a resentment with God that so little is happening, a spirit of disappointment, so few conversions, little growth. Satan seems to have so much power in the nation and plenty of voices to tell us whose fault it is. The trouble lies with our preacher; the fault is with the elders; the fault is with ‘Evangelicals’; the fault is with the ‘Calvinists.’ And it seems to me that these great words of repentance are not for them. But these great words of repentance are for me they are for me. They are not for the spiritually dead only, but they are for the living; they are for God’s real people, and I’m saying to you, let’s take what God gives; let’s accept God’s will; let’s embrace God’s decrees; let’s accept what God has in providence for me this year. Nothing can ever rob you of the providence of God. I’m saying to you, let’s put our back into the work. I’m saying, throw your support behind all that the church is doing in the cause of the sovereign, loving Christ. Don’t discourage. Don’t dispirit. There’s a work to be done. Are you concerned about a lack of evangelism? “The fields are white unto harvest.” Let’s put every ounce of effort and zeal into working for Jesus Christ. There are so many gifts that are just growing redundant.
The years are going by. Apply every charisma, apply every talent. Put it all in because Jesus Christ reigns. There’s a great phrase, isn’t there, about the Lord Jesus Christ, where he is today and what his concerns are today? We are told he is head over all things, that “all authority in heaven and earth has been given to him.” He is head over all things to the church”. That’s what we’re told; that’s his focus. It is now not upon the Milky Way, and the vastness of the universe. He is head because he has suffered exhaustively and comprehensively; he has been exalted so high, and he is head of all things to the church. That is, he is head to Job, he is head of the people of God. For them he is concerned; for them he is working all things together for their good; for them he numbers the hairs of their heads. So, I’m saying, he has left us this example. Whatever I have, my time, my money, my gifts and all that I am head over, that I present day by day to the Head of the church.
Let’s change our attitudes. The great message of Job is, “Let’s change”. We need to repent, right in the depths of our souls, in our understandings, in our emotions, in our decisions and in our choices. We have to change our minds – changing our minds about ourselves; primarily change our minds about our moral worth, about our religious attainments and about the spiritual quality of our minds. We have to change our whole attitude drastically. Move! Let’s move into the conviction that we are naturally indefensible. When God says in his Word, “There is none righteous, no not one”, then I’m included as being not righteous in the sight of God. It’s a wonderful discovery to make, and it’s no comfort to know that other people are not righteous.
Let me illustrate it like this, that there’s a man who goes to the doctor who says to him, “You’re seriously ill, in fact you’re a dying man.” Immediately he gets defensive, and he responds to the doctor, “Yes . . . but other people are dying, too.” Why, that’s no comfort to him, is it? He must ask,“Well, Doctor, is there a miracle drug? Is there an operation? What course of treatment can I take? Tell me, how can we do something?” So, it’s no comfort that all are sinners, that every other man is in the same plight as you are. The comfort is in finding the great remedy that God has provided in his blessèd Son Jesus Christ. The way to appropriate and receive those benefits is that I repent of my sin, like Job had to, and entrust myself to this great Keeper.
It’s evident, then, that in Job, because of all his attainments and his religious knowledge and his morality, a creeping self-righteousness had entered his life. Remember how often he talks about himself and his great attainments? There was too much of the spirit of the Pharisee in the temple about him. How much God alone knew, but God wanted much more of the spirit of the publican. Remember how the Pharisee could list, as Job listed, all his great attainments? But the man who went out justified from that temple was the publican who couldn’t bear to look up to heaven, who beat his breast and said “God be merciful to me the sinner.” Jesus saw him, and loved him when he acknowledged his sin in repentance. That is what God is always looking for, and that’s what God attained by such awesome providences in the life of Job.
2. JOB’S ACQUAINTANCES NEEDED JUDGING.
The second thing we see is how God passes judgement on Job’s friends, and that is described here in these three long verses: “After the Lord had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has’. So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the Lord told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer” (vv. 7 – 9).
All right, now in these sermons we have been negative about the four men. We have seen some fine things about them, some admirable feature. They had been in a nation where there had been an earlier grace to Abraham and his line, and they themselves were made in the image of God living in God’s creation, but we’ve been critical of them, and had licence to do that because of what God says here: “You have not spoken of me what is right. You’ve not, but Job has.” So God is not like the man in the street who does not even know that there are two testaments. God is unlike the churchmen who will tolerate any opinion. God is not like the policy-makers of the BBC who want to give equal airtime to every idea; they all have the same weight. The elephant of idolatry and the ant of uncertainty weighs the same. God is not into relativism. God tells Job that he is angry (v.7). Do you remember how the Saviour came? The children’s hymn describes him as gentle Jesus, meek and mild, but one day he came into the temple and saw the hubbub, what religious crooks were doing in the name of religion, and Jesus was angry. He was angry with men because of religious error. He wasn’t saying, “Well, what a fascinating amalgam the modern religious scene is.” God was the spectator at the dunghill listening to Job and the four men speaking. God didn’t sigh at the end, “What a lovely evening. We’ve had our own special edition of Any Questions tonight haven’t we? It came from this ash heap where we’ve had these four men and they’ve all been sharing, giving their opinions to us. We’ve had this lovely discussion on the problem of pain. Of course I wouldn’t agree with everything but the journey is better than the destination always.” The Almighty doesn’t say that. God said in fact, “You’ve been speaking in my name and you’ve been speaking falsehood.” The Lord Jesus warns his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount to beware of false teachers who come like wolves in sheep’s clothing.
God has made a special revelation of himself, who he is, what he’s like, how we may know him, and God tells these four men, “You must go to Job. You must acknowledge you’ve sinned, and you must say to him ‘We need sacrifice. We are the ones in need of sacrifice’” (v.8). Job had been telling them that God is perfect, that God is without spot; he is light. In other words, God is righteous and demands perfection. So the only way that such a God can be approached is a way he’s made open for us, and it’s by a sacrifice. In the very first chapter Job made sacrifice for the possible inward sins of his children. These men hadn’t liked the message of Job. Their resentment towards him showed itself all the way through. Now God is saying, “Eliphaz, you go to Job, and you go with your bulls. You go with your rams and you ask him to sacrifice a burnt offering for you. Cry to Job to pray for you. I’ll accept his prayer. I won’t deal with you according to your folly” (v.8). He tells them this again. God repeats it, and you see how in both verses at the end of the speech that he makes to these silly men, he tells them they’re in error. “You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (v.8). So in religion, it’s not all opinions. Religions are mankind’s greatest crimes. The cults and the sacerdotalists and the semi-pelagians and the liberals, might have equal right to their opinions in the public square. But not in Christ’s church. It is not like that at all. God says to Job’s acquaintances, “You have not spoken of me what is right”. My friends, we want to speak aright from this pulpit. Oh, we yearn for that in our own lives, in our own understanding. That we always speak what’s right to men and women. So that was God’s word to the three comforters and we have this wonderful phrase, “They did what the Lord told them” (v.9).
Have you done what the Lord has told you? He’s been speaking to us about repentance; he’s been telling us about a sacrifice, and a Great One who will pray for us. Are you changing your life, your beliefs, your attitudes in the light of this living, cleansing Word of God? What is the only way we can be forgiven? “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” One Lamb: Jesus Christ. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If anyone sins we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.” He prays for his people. He doesn’t pray for everyone. He says those words: “I don’t pray for the world”, he says, “but for those whom the Father has given to me”. Are you under the protection of the intercession of a great High Priest in heaven? Is there someone at God’s right hand who is whispering your worthless name in the ears of the Father in heaven? So he’s able to save to the uttermost those that come to God by him. He is able. “Father, do be with them now. Keep them. Help that young boy today to trust me. Help that old man with the struggles that lie ahead. Give wisdom, give strength, give patience.” My friends, there is no hope unless we do what God told these muddled men to do, to go to the sacrifice and seek the powerful prayer of the Suffering Servant. That’s what he told them to do.
3. JOB KNEW A BLESSED FUTURE.
The final striking fact that I want you to notice about the last chapter of Job is that it has a happy ending. We see that in verse 10: “After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before”. Verse 12: “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.” That’s what we’re told. It ends happily. It ends in the triumph of the will of God for his servant. Can I go back again to our own contemporary situation? You go to the world’s great literature and all that is not superficial is tragedy, isn’t it? Your Othello and your Lear and your Macbeth and your Hamlet. You go to the literature of the nineteenth century – Ibsen and Chekov and Hardy, and of course it is all tragic. You go to contemporary literature, the great American novelists, Hemingway and Steinbeck or the Englishman William Golding and his The Lord of the Flies. It is all sadness at the end. The famous science fiction writers, H.G. Wells and Orwell and Asimov. Oh what a grim future lies before the human race. The award winning movies are grim stories, but you write a modern play, a novel and you give it a happy ending and people will mock and treat it derisively. It is superficial because the only plays that are supposed to be happy are fantasies. They are considered escapism for the lovers of a six-pack, the armchair and escapism. That’s all it is, because reality, (we are told ten thousand times by the world without God) is despair. That’s the certainty of the world and the experience of many. Men without God are men without hope.
Unfortunately there are many Christians and they have the same view. I’ll tell you something, you come to this book of Job, this book with its analysis, then, of suffering, this description of a man grieving so much over the loss of his children, and his wife turning her back on him, and his struggling with his ill-health, it is so much heartache. But the book of Job has this great feature, it has extraordinary, wonderful happiness at the end. With all its analysis of evil, and with all its tremendous awareness of the power and subtlety of what Satan can do, yet the book of Job ends as it does. And that’s what we need to learn as Christians, that we’re not apostles of pessimism and apostles of despair, but we are the preachers of light and hope, that we’re the believers in a cosmic optimism.
What is true of the book of Job will be true for the life of everyone who knows and loves Job’s God, because they have all repented of their sins and they have gone to the Sacrifice and they are under the intercession of Job’s great Redeemer’s prayers. It’s coming out all right in the end. Where is evil going to be? It is going to be in the bottomless pit. It’s going to be falling, falling, falling further and further from us for all eternity. It’s going to be cast into the lake of fire, the cosmic incinerator. It’s all going to be dumped there forever. It will end ‘outside.’ God will over-rule all that the devil does, all that the curse has brought upon the creation. He will destroy it utterly. He will de-sin the universe, and he will make a new heavens and a new earth and it will be redolent with the righteousness of Christ. In the recesses of the universe, in the tininess of the atom, in the blades of grass, in the rain that falls, righteousness will prevail. It’s coming out all right, men and women, because God is King, because God is in control. It must end happily; God has placed everything under obligation to do so.
Where does this universe end? Have you ever considered that? Where does it end? Do you know where it’s going to end, this sad, groaning world? It’s going to end in worship. That’s where it’s going to end. It’s going to end where the book of Revelation ends, in singing. There’ll be singing to him who loved them and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and I’m longing for that, and I’m looking for that, and I’m anticipating raising my voice as I stand before the Redeemer who died for my sins, bringing my sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to him. Jesus Christ being all in all, the centre of the whole universe of God, receiving the glory that is due to him. That is the great message of the book of Job that it ends in bliss. The One who has bruised the serpent’s head is coming. He’ll arrive on the clouds with all his holy angels with him. He is going to be the Saviour of all whose faith is in him, a company of people more than any man can number, and our last days are going to be so much more glorious than these good days which we now enjoy. The first day in heaven, when we look back to this world, will make this world seem like hell in comparison to its beauties and glories and delights.
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared for them that love him.”
“In his presence is fullness of joy. At his right hand are pleasures for evermore.”
“To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”
“Today, thou shalt be with me in paradise.”
7th April 2002 Geoff Thomas