The Book of Job - Part 15
Series: My Preaching Bucket List
February 18, 2018
The Book of Job - Part 15
Can you believe today’s message will be the 16th I’ve preached from the book of Job?
Many of you have expressed what a blessing it’s been (me as well), but I’m sure there’s so much I’ve missed! I don’t know how many times I’ve sat at my desk with my head in my hands wishing I were smarter! Aren’t you glad the power of God’s Word does not ultimately depend on the preacher but the presence of the Spirit who makes the Word alive and active and sharper than any two-edged sword?
What a journey, what a story is found in this rarely preached wisdom book of the OT. Job was a man blameless before God, a man who feared God and ran from evil, a man who enjoyed great blessings of wealth and family and influence, a man who, because of his exemplary love for and service to God was offered as an example of what a servant should be.
Satan, the great accuser, disagreed and made a wager with God: he bet Job would curse him to his face if his blessings were taken away. And God said, “go ahead,” leaving only one rule: you may not touch his life.
Suffering so severe came, though, Job wished he were dead.
Added to Job’s difficulties were the accusations of his three friends (talk about salt in an open wound). They all agreed Job must have sinned, because in their view, only the unrighteous suffer. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar preached long and hard as Job staunchly proclaimed his innocence, begging for a chance to plead his case before God. The story climaxes as Job, desperate for his pain to end, swears an oath to God, asking to be cursed if he’s guilty or released from suffering if he’s not.
We all held our breath with this cliffhanger of a move (along with his three friends who fell silent), waiting to see what God would do. Out of nowhere came this young fellow named Elihu, who preached even harder than the others at Job. His theology was better but his motives were off. He didn’t realize it, but that pompous young fool taught us God is just as concerned with how we live out His truth as he is with what we hold to be His truth.
So now, finally we get to see what happens! The suspense comes to an end. Well, hang on a minute. What?! Pastor, are you stalling? We are sixteen messages in! You scared, boy?
I kind of am stalling and scared. What’s coming is pretty tough. We are going to learn something about God most folks never do and don’t really want to, something that is, well, unsettling. We need to prepare for that. If we don’t, we’ll trip on our way out of the book and miss something profound.
To get ready, let’s look a little closer at where we’ve come from and make an important observation. From the very first chapter we were confronted with things about God difficult to swallow, things we could call gobstoppers. Do you know what they are? Hard pieces of candy about the size of a softball that will either choke you to death or break all your teeth, or both.
One gobstopper… how and why Satan was allowed to enter God’s presence.
Job 1:6–12 (ESV) — 6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”
Six verses in and we’re troubled. If God were going to operate according to how we think, this would never happen. But here it is. And if we’re not careful, we’ll choke on it.
Another gobstopper was how God seems to cause all of Job’s problems from the start…
8 And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” 9 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”
If God were going to operate according to how we think, He’d have hidden Job from Satan. He’d never have pointed him out.
And maybe the most enormous gobstopper of all…
12 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
If God were going to operate according to how we think, He’d have never allowed Satan to bring suffering into Job’s life. He would have protected him.
Even Job found himself choking on the way God acted (or better to say didn’t act). At the time of his greatest need, God seemed to have abandoned him. At the height of his devotion to God, God seemed to have punished him, with no explanation.
If God were going to operate according to the way Job thought, he would have at least stepped in and explained himself.
Even though this makes us nervous, we can take away an important truth about God (a truth I’ve hinted at from the beginning but is about to start tailing us, sirens blaring):
God’s ways don’t always line up with how we think.
This ties in closely with truths we’ve met time and time again as we’ve gone through the Scripture together: God does not like to be squeezed into formulas, or books, or denominations, or theological bents, or anything else.
If we ever get to a place where we think we’ve figured him out, watch out! He hates that. That was the sin of the Pharisees. That was the sin, I believe, of Elihu (and the three friends). And that was the failure, as we’ll see, of Job, even though I’ll go ahead and tell you, in the end, he remains in God’s good favor.
I’m not saying we can’t know anything about God, that we can’t be sure of anything about him, heavens no (that’s the error of liberal theology). The Bible tells us everything we need to know (or at least are capable of knowing), but it doesn’t tell us everything there is to know about him!
One of the biggest temptations of God’s people is to make him too common, too understandable, too familiar. That’s what the second of the ten commandments is really all about. This is shocking since so many who claim to follow God, like the Pharisees, find the commandments very comforting because they are a list, a set of concrete rules God gave making it all very clear.
What is the first commandment?1. You shall have no other gods before me.
Easy enough. But what is the second?2. You shall not make for yourself an idol.
What’s the difference? The word “idol” literally means “carved image.” The people of ancient times worshipped false gods by making representations of them in wood or stone. They offered sacrifices and bowed down to these carved images. They knew these idols were not actually the god, but they believed the god inhabited the idol when they worshipped it. So in a way, the idol was the god.
So the second commandment is about making an idol. Wait a minute. Wasn't that what the first commandment was about? Doesn’t “having no other gods before me” mean not having idols in our lives?
Wouldn’t commandment one negate the need for two?
Though some lump them together, they’re actually two different ideas. Phillip Ryken explains:
“The first commandment has to do with worshiping the right God. We must reject every false god in order to worship the true God, who alone is our Lord and Savior. The second commandment has to do with worshiping the right God in the right way.”
In Deuteronomy 4, Moses explained the second commandment. His time with them was drawing to a close as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. Like a father, he gave them advice on how to worship the one true God because he knew they were entering a land that worshipped many false gods.
He reminded them how they encountered God in the past, when they camped out at the foot of the mountain while God was giving Moses the Ten Commandments…
Deuteronomy 4:12 (ESV) — 12 Then the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice.
And then in 15-19...
Deuteronomy 4:15–19 (ESV) — 15 “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, 16 beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, 17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, 18 the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. 19 And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.
Whatever man could fashion into an image of God would have to be made by God. Think of the offense! How can we possibly stuff God into any his creation? Wise old Solomon said as he dedicated the temple…
1 Kings 8:27 (ESV) — 27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!
One fellow said…
When God declared, “You shall have no other gods before me” (v. 3), it was because He is the only God. There is no one like Him.
[but] God tells us that we must not make any images of Him because when we attempt to shape physical representations of Him, we only succeed in detracting from His greatness and His glory.
If the second commandment is about worshipping the right God in the right way, then the right way to worship God must include not limiting him in any way. It requires all our thoughts and questions and ideas about him be left open-ended.
Conclusion: This understanding of God is a gobstopper for many of us. We get very uncomfortable with a God we cannot contain or explain. Like Job, and his three friends, and Elihu, we want God to come to us and treat us the way we expect him to. And though sometimes he does, when he doesn’t we get disillusioned.
Nothing leads to disillusionment with God more than suffering.
That’s what happened to me in my season of suffering. I had tried to neatly wrap God in this package of expectations that didn’t allow for intense trials. I choked.
If God’s people have trouble with this, then you can imagine how those who don’t follow him feel about it.
The presence of suffering in the world is a major reason many reject God altogether.
Stephen Frye is a British actor and avowed atheist who raised quite a stir some ago when asked in an interview what he would do if he died and discovered it was all true? What would he say to God as he stood before him?
“How dare you? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain. That’s what I would say. ”
We are tempted to judge him, but we shouldn’t. He and others like him do what we all do: expect God to act in ways we understand, ways that make sense to us.
At least he’s honest. He’s figures if there is a God he must be good. If he’s good he won’t allow suffering. There is suffering, so he’s either not good, not able, or not there.
Frye, like the rest of us, wants a God of the shallows (ocean illustration).
But is it possible God, if he’s all-powerful, might bring good from suffering? Might suffering have a purpose? Now we’re getting into deep waters, which means we are talking about the real God, and getting closer to the message of Job.
Oswald Chambers said: ‘A man up against things feels that he has lost God, while in reality, he has come face to face with Him.’
I’ll go ahead and warn you, the huge gobstopper coming is not only the way God approaches Job, but the answer he gives. Just like most else in his story, it’s not what we expect from Him (Job either). And if we’re not open, we’ll choke.
God not fitting into formulas, God not acting towards us the way we expect can be difficult, but it can also be glorious…
Romans 5:6–11 (ESV) — 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Ephesians 1:3–14 (ESV) — 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
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