Job 29–31

Introduction

It’s been a few weeks since our last sermon on the book of Job, so let me take a moment to review what we’ve seen so far.

In the first two chapters, we learned that God regarded Job as blameless and upright. However Satan was not so impressed. He claimed that Job only worships God for what he can get from God in this life. And so, he wanted permission from God to attack Job’s life in order to see whether he could destroy Job’s faith. And God gave Satan the permission he wanted and Satan lost no time and soon Job’s possessions were either stolen or destroyed; all his children were killed in a freak accident; and painful sores covered Job’s body. And yet, despite all his suffering, Job continued to worship God. Instead of cursing God, he remained God’s faithful servant.

In chapter 3 Job cursed the day of his birth. He wished he’d never been born. And if he had to be born, he wished he had died at birth. And if he had to survive birth, he wished he would die soon. While he did not consider suicide — and the thought of taking his own life never once entered his mind — he nevertheless longed for death, because he thought that, by dying, he would have peace from all his troubles. However, even though he wished he was dead, he did not curse God.

That was in chapter 3 which was a dark, dark chapter. And then from chapter 4 to chapter 26 we had three cycles of speeches involving Job’s three so-called friends who came to comfort him, but they were really no help to him at all. In the first cycle of speeches in chapters 4 to 14 Eliphaz speaks and Job responds; and Bildad speaks and Job responds; and Zophar speaks and Job responds. The cycle is repeated in chapters 15 to 21. So, Eliphaz speaks and Job responds. Bildad speaks and Job responds. Then Zophar speaks and Job responds. And in chapters 22 to 26 we have a third cycle of speeches, but it’s truncated. It’s shortened. Eliphaz speaks and Job responds. Bildad speaks and Job responds. But Zophar doesn’t speak again. He’s got nothing more to say.

After those three cycles of speeches, Job speaks again in chapters 27 and 28. And this is his summing up speech to his friends. He once again declares his innocence: he’s done nothing to deserve his suffering. And then, in chapter 28, he explains to his friends what true wisdom is. What is true wisdom? It’s to fear God and to shun evil. That is, we’re to worship God and keep ourselves from sin. This is what we’re to do when things are going well for us and when things are doing badly for us. This is what we’re to do when God sends good things into our life and when God sends affliction in our life. So, whatever happens to us, our response must always be the same: worship God and shun evil.

That’s as far as we’ve got in our studies in the book of Job. Along the way, we’ve seen that Job’s three friends believed in vending machine theology. When you put money in the vending machine, out comes a snack. Always and immediately. And according to vending machine theology, when you do evil, God will punish you. Always and immediately. And when you do good, God will bless you. Always and immediately. That’s the way the world works, according to Job’s three friends. And that means Job must have done something to deserve his suffering, because only the wicked suffer in this life. He must have done something evil. Therefore he should repent in order to receive God’s blessing again.

But we know they’re wrong, because God himself has declared Job to be blameless and upright. And we know they’re wrong, because the Lord’s parable of the wheat and the weeds teaches us that the day of judgment has been delayed until the time when Christ comes again. And so, in this life, the wicked may prosper, while the righteous may suffer. According to the friends, only the wicked suffer. But they are wrong, because the book of Job makes clear that God may also cause the righteous to suffer in this life.

And we’ve thought about how Job’s extra-ordinary experience points us to Christ. When the story began, Job was highly exalted. Then he suffered terribly when he lost his family and his possessions and his health. But the book will end with Job being highly exalted again. And so, the pattern of his life foreshadows what happened to our Saviour, because, as God’s Eternally Begotten Son, he was highly exalted. But then, he left the glory of heaven and came down to earth as one of us, where he lived a life of sorrow and suffering before dying on the cross and being buried in the ground. However, after his suffering, he was exalted to the highest place and received the name that is above every name. Job’s extra-ordinary experience foreshadows the humiliation and exaltation of our Saviour, who suffered and died to pay for our sins and who was raised to give us life.

On one occasion Job expressed his wish for an arbiter to come before him and God. And on another occasion he spoke of his witness in heaven, his advocate on high, his intercessor and friend. And we know that we do have an advocate and intercessor in heaven, because the Lord Jesus Christ is now interceding for us in heaven. And he’s a true friend who is able to sympathise with us, because, when he was on the earth, he suffered as one of us and he knows what it’s like for us when we suffer. And so, we can look to him for the help we need to bear our suffering.

And with God-given faith, Job also spoke of the hope of the resurrection, because he spoke about the possibility of life after death; and he declared that his Redeemer lives and that after he — Job — dies, his Redeemer will stand on his grave and he — Job — will see God in the flesh. And so, Job spoke of the resurrection, because we know that one day, the Saviour will return to earth and he will raise us from our graves to live with him forever in body and soul.

And we’ve also thought about the spiritual battle which lay behind Job’s suffering. Job was not suffering because he was a sinner, but because he was a saint. And Satan wanted to destroy his faith in order to prove that we only worship God for what we can get from God in this life. He was saying we only worship God for what we can get out of God. But Satan was wrong, because even though Job lost everything, he remained God’s faithful servant. He did not curse God. He did not abandon his faith. He continued to believe and to worship God. He was willing to serve God for nothing. He was willing to worship God ‘come what may’, because ‘come what may’ God is still God and worthy of our worship. And we too are involved in the same spiritual battle; and we need to look to the Lord to strengthen our faith so that we will worship him ‘come what may’.

And so, those are some of the things we’ve been thinking about as we’ve worked out way through this book. Today we come to chapters 29 to 31 which contain Job’s last words. In chapter 29, he describes his former happiness. In chapter 30, he laments his present suffering. And in chapter 31, he once again protests his innocence.

Chapter 29

Let’s turn now to chapter 29 where he describes his former happiness.

And he begins by saying how he longs for the months and days gone by when God watched over him. In those days God’s lamp and light were on him. These words recall the words of the Aaronic Blessing: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you….’ When God blesses us, it’s as if his face is shining on us. He’s smiling on us and he’s looking on us with his favour. And Job longs for those days, but it seems to him that those days are now past. And he remembers the days when he was in his prime and he enjoyed God’s intimate fellowship and God’s blessing was on him and his household. He remembers those days in the past when the Almighty was still with him and his children were still with him and his path was drenched with cream and olive oil. The image of cream and olive oil is similar to the image of Canaan as a land flowing with milk and honey. God has abundantly blessed Job in the past. And he now longs for those days when God was with him.

And before his suffering, he was highly esteemed in the community. So, when he went to the city gate and took his seat in the public square, where business was transacted and the issues of the day were discussed, the young men used to step aside and make way for him. And even the old men rose to their feet to show him respect. He was respected by all. And when he appeared, even the chief men fell silent and the voices of nobles were hushed. We can imagine a room full of people, chatting away to one another. But then, when the king arrives, they all fall silent. That’s the way the people used to be when Job appeared. And he tells us in verse 11 that whoever heard him spoke well of him; and those who saw him commended him. They didn’t complain about him. They didn’t criticise him. No, they praised him. And they praised him because of the good things he had done.

What had he done? What kind of man was he? He was the kind of man who rescued the poor when they cried for help; and who helped the fatherless orphan who had no one else to care for them. The dying man blessed him and he caused the widow’s heart to sing because he was kind to them. And he was the kind of man who was dressed in righteousness and justice so that he typically did what was right and fair. And he acted as eyes to the blind and as feet to the lame so that he helped them instead of taking advantage of them. He acted as a father to the needy and instead of defending in court only his friends, he was prepared to take up the case of a stranger so that justice would be done.

That’s the kind of man he was. And because he was that kind of man, he was honoured among the people. He was highly esteemed and praised. And now Job remembers those days and longs for them. That’s the way his life used to be: people treated him with respect.

And in those days he expected that he would die in his own house after a long and happy life. I sometimes say that there’s really no good way to die. But if there was a good way to die, it would be to die with your family around you. That’s the best way to die. And that’s what Job means here and that’s what he once expected would happen to him.

The image of roots reaching to the water and dew lying on his branches in verse 19 conveys the idea of life and vitality. So he did not expect to wither and shrink, but to grow and prosper. He expected his glory to remain fresh and not to wilt and wane. He expected his bow — which was a symbol of strength — to remain new so that his powers would not diminish over time. That’s what he once expected, when everything was going well in his life.

According to verse 21, when he spoke, men listened expectantly. They waited in silence for his counsel and advice. And he was the last to speak in any discussion or debate, because once he spoke and gave his opinion, that settled the matter. Everyone was satisfied that he was right. And the people were pleased when he smiled on them, because they felt honoured. He says in verse 25 that he chose the way for them. In other words, they followed his advice. And he sat as their chief. He dwelt among them as their king. They all looked up to him and respected him. And he was kind and gentle, because he was like one who comforts mourners.

And so, he remembers those days when all was well and he was well respected by the people around him. And they honoured him because he did what was right and fair and he was kind to the poor and needy. He remembers those days and he longs for them. That’s the way things used to be for him.

Chapter 30

And having described his former happiness, he goes on in chapter 30 to lament his present suffering.

Whereas once he was well-respected and the chief men and nobles fell silent in his presence, now Job is mocked. And who mocks him? He’s now mocked by men younger than him. And it’s worse than that: he’s mocked by young men whose fathers Job would have disdained to put with his sheep dogs. Whereas many of us love dogs, people in Bible times despised them. And so, when Job refers to people he would not even put with his sheep dogs, he means these people are contemptible. These people are more despised than dogs. And so, he’s gone from being honoured by princes and nobles to being despised by the lowest members of the community.

And in verses 2 to 8 he describes what these people are like. These are people without any strength and they are haggard and unwell and roam around in desolate wastelands, scavenging for food. And this is so because they are social outcasts. They have been banished by their fellow men. And so, they’re forced to live in dry stream beds and among the rocks and in holes in the ground. They are a base and nameless brood who were driven out of the land. They are the lowest of the low. They are down and outs. They are social outcasts. They are nobodies. They are despised by all. And yet it’s their children who are mocking Job. Job has fallen so low that even the sons of the lowest men think they’re better off than Job. Their attitude is: My life is bad, but at least I’m better off than Job.

And their sons have made up songs to mock Job. And his name has become a byword among them. So, when they want to make fun of someone, or when they want to insult someone, they might call them ‘a Job’. These detestable people detest Job and keep their distance from him. In fact, they don’t hesitate to spit on him. Since God has clearly given up on Job, they’re not afraid to mock Job. And he complains in verse 12 that on his right the tribe attacks him and they lay snares for his feet. Comparing himself to a besieged city, he says they build their siege ramps against him and they break up his road. They’re attacking him with their words and they’re able to succeed on their own. They don’t need anyone to help them, because his life is already in ruins. He’s an easy target for them.

And in verse 15 he refers to terrors overwhelming him and how his dignity is driven away and his safety vanishes like a cloud. Indeed he feels his life ebbing away as days of suffering grip him. He refers to gnawing pains which never rest. So, Job’s pain will not go away. And he knows that God has sent this trouble into his life. God’s great power has become like clothing to him. It’s not clear what that means, but perhaps he means that he can feel the effect of God’s power over his whole body as God presses down on him. Or if the collar of a man’s shirt is too tight, it’s uncomfortable to wear; and God has made his life uncomfortable. In fact, it’s as if God has thrown him into the mud and has reduced him to dust and ashes.

And in verses 20 to 23, Job addresses God. He says that he has called out to God, but God has not answered. I stand up, but God just looks at me. He means that he stood up to appeal for help, but God just looked at him with indifference. He’s not responding to Job’s cry. He’s not getting up from his throne to help him. He’s just looking at him with indifference. In fact, it’s worse than that, because God has turned on him ruthlessly and has attacked him. God snatched him up, not to comfort him, but to toss him away. He expects God to bring him down to the grave.

Surely no one lays a hand on a broken man? Who would hurt a man who is in pain? Who would kick a man when he is down? Job himself has wept for those who were in trouble. He has grieved for the poor. He has shown them sympathy. Yet, when he himself looked for good, evil came. When he looked for light, only darkness came. So, you wake up in the morning and you hope that this day will be better than yesterday. But it turns out to be worse. Or something happens one day to encourage you and you’re hopeful that things will get better. But they only get worse. You hoped for good, but only evil came. And he describes his inner suffering in verse 27 when he refers to that inner churning which never stops. And he says that days of suffering confront him. So, when he looks ahead of him, that’s all he can see in his future: more days of suffering. He goes about blackened, but it’s not caused by the sun, but by his suffering and grief. He stands up in the assembly of the people and cries for help, but he’s all on his own. His body is rotting and if he were to pick up his harp and flute to play a tune, the only sound he would make is the sound of mourning and wailing.

Chapter 31

And so we come to chapter 31. We can deal with this chapter briefly because the whole point of it is to make clear Job’s innocence. He lists various accusations and makes the point that if he’s guilty of it, God should punish him, because that’s what he would deserve if he were guilty. But he’s not guilty. He hasn’t done any of these wicked things.

And so, he made a covenant or promise with his eyes, not to look lustfully at a girl. That’s verses 1 to 4. In verses 5 to 6 he refers to walking in falsehood and going after deceit. In verses 7 and 8 he refers to being led astray from the right path. In verses 9 to 12 he’s talking about adultery. Verses 13 to 15 are about denying justice to his servants and verses 16 to 23 are about turning a blind eye to the poor and needy. Verses 24 and 25 are about trusting in his wealth and verses 26 and 27 are about worshipping the sun and moon as the pagans did. In verses 29 and 30 he refers to being vindictive and rejoicing at his enemy’s calamity and gloating over their misfortune. Verses 31 and 32 are about showing hospitality, which was an important duty in biblical times. In verses 33 and 34 he refers to concealing sin and hiding his guilt.

And having referred to all these charges and accusations, he declares his innocence in verses 35 to 37. And he wants someone to hear him and he’s prepared to write down a statment of his innocence and sign his name to it. He says: ‘I sign now my defence’. And this is his final word. He has nothing more to say. He’s innocent of all charges. Full stop. And so, it’s up to God the Almighty, his accuser, to respond. And the challenge he’s making to God is this: If I’m guilty, then punish me accordingly. That’s what I deserve if I’m guilty. But if you do not punish me, then that implies that I am innocent.

And he imagines himself wallking around with something on his shoulder like a badge or on his head like a crown. It’s not clear what he’s referring to, but perhaps he’s referring to the charge sheet against him. And he’s not afraid to wear it, because he knows the charges are false. He can give an account of all his steps and of everything he had done.

And you’d expect the chapter to end there, but he mentions one most accusation in verses 38 to 40 and it’s about cheating the tenants who farm his land. Does the land cry out against him? Has he devoured what it has produced? Has he broken the spirit of the tenants by taking their food? If he has, then let weeds come up. But he has not done these things either. I am innocent.

And so, the words of Job are ended.

Unanswered prayer

I want to take you back for a moment to verse 20 of chapter 30 where Job said: ‘I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer. I stand up, but you merely look at me.’ Christopher Ash, one of the commentators, said something important about this verse. Referring to the suffering of God’s people, he says that it is a suffering which is so necessary that God will not heed the calls of the sufferers until it is accomplished.

So, God rules over the world. Everything that happens, happens according to his will. And so, when we suffer, it’s part of God’s plan. It’s his will for us. And there’s a purpose to it. And therefore God will not heed our cries for relief until the purpose of our suffering is accomplished.

And, of course, that applies supremely to the suffering of our Saviour. And I should point out that these three chapters which we’ve studied this evening foreshadow the suffering of the Saviour. Chapter 29 points to the eternal happiness of God’s Only Begotten Son. Chapter 30 points to his suffering on earth as one of us when he left the glory of heaven and became flesh so that he could give up his life for our salvation. And chapter 31 points to the innocence of our Saviour, because he never did anything wrong and did not deserve to suffer and die, but he suffered and died for us and for our salvation. And in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he asked the Father to take the cup of suffering from him, God the Father did not heed his prayer. And when he cried out to the Father from the cross, asking why the Father had forsaken him, God the Father did not heed his prayer. God the Father did not take away the cup of suffering and he did not rescue him from the cross because it was necessary for the Saviour to suffer and to die to pay for our sins with his life and to cleanse us from our guilt with his blood. He had to suffer and die.

And though we may not understand why we have to suffer, we should remember and believe that everything happens according to God’s will; and he is in control of all things. Nothing happens apart from his will. And therefore, when we suffer, there must be some reason for it. God has some purpose for our pain. He is working out his plan. And therefore, he will not heed our cries for relief until his purpose is accomplished.

We cry out to God, but it seems he does not answer. We stand up to appeal to him, and it seems he merely looks at us. We hoped for good, but only evil came. When we looked for light, then came darkness. But it’s not because God is cruel or mean. It’s not that he is indifferent to us. It’s not that he does not control what happens to us. Our God is in control of all things in heaven and on earth. And he’s working out his plans and purposes. And his plans and purposes are always good, because he is always good. And until his purposes are accomplished, he will not answer us.

But we need to keep trusting in him. And we need to pray for his will to be done. And we need to wait patiently for his purposes to be accomplished.

And think of how the story of Job ends. After his days of suffering, the Lord blessed him once again and filled his life with good. And think of how the story of the Saviour ends. After his suffering on the cross and his burial in the ground, he was raised from the dead and exalted to heaven. And while we don’t know how long we may have to suffer in this life — because only God knows — we know that it’s all in God’s hands; and in the end, he will bring us to that new and better world to come, where we will never suffer again, but where we’ll have perfect peace and rest and joy in the presence of our God.