My servant Job
God spoke of Job as His servant in chapter 1, when He spoke to Satan. His love for Job never changed, and in the last chapter (42), He spoke lovingly of “My servant Job.” God speaks of people as servants only when He knows that they love Him as He loves them, and when He knows that they are willing to obey Him in anything He tells them to do. As we come to the end of our study, we can see that God is esteeming Job very highly by bestowing this greatest of honors on Job. He would now speak of Job, and also of all His servants, with the same words He spoke of His Son, the Suffering Servant. “Behold My servant, whom I uphold, My chosen, in whom My soul delights.” (Isaiah 42:1)
Job, a man of faith
As we conclude our study of the Book of Job, we must remember that Job was a man of faith. He never stopped trusting in God or obeying whatever God told him to do. Perhaps we need to be reminded of what faith really is. John Bright, in his classic book The Kingdom of God, explains it well. “Faith is not that smug faith which is untroubled by questions because it has never asked any; but true faith is that which has asked all the questions and received very few answers, yet has heard the command, Gird up your loins! Do your duty! Remember your calling! Cast yourself forward upon God!” (p. 119-120) This is what Job did: He cast himself completely on God.
The big Question
Yet he was left with the big question; he struggled with the question of the ages: Why, God, am I suffering? Why do the righteous suffer? Perhaps you have asked the same question. Jesus gave credibility and even dignity to the question “why” when He cried out to His Father on the cross: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Psalm 22:1) Did God answer Job’s question? Yes, He did, but not in the way Job expected. God Himself became the answer. When Job heard God speak in the whirlwind, his whole being was shaken to its depths. God’s word came as fire, consuming everything. Job’s response was to fall on his face and repent.
But we have learned that God did not speak only of Job’s sin. He spoke of Himself as light that conquers darkness; He spoke of His loving care for all His Creatures, of His wisdom that directs and upholds the universe. The eye of a hurricane is quiet and peaceful. Out of this stillness, this incredible silence, God spoke to Job. God speaks in two ways: by His words and by His silence. When Job heard God speak to him not only through the words He spoke, but also through His silence at the heart of the whirlwind, he began to understand that God is love. God’s love, not His judgment, brings us to repentance. God is wholly other; yet He loves and cares for all His creatures, especially for those who suffer.
God’s everlasting, unconditional, transforming love is revealed in the four words that bring the Book of Job to a close: majesty, mercy, mission, and mystery. I am grateful to Dr. Gary Parrett, a dear friend and former professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and who is greatly loved by his disciples around the world, for introducing these four words. These four words were the title of a sermon he preached some years ago at Biola University, with the text Isaiah 6:1-13 and Romans 12:1-2. They are used here with his kind permission. (You can listen to his sermon on YouTube. He was not preaching about Job, but these four words enable us to see God’s amazing love.)
Job did not find the cause of his great suffering. No easy intellectual answer to the question of why God allows the righteous, or innocent, to suffer sprang up. He discovered that there is no philosophical answer to one of the greatest questions humans can ask.
Instead, Job found himself standing in the presence of God in all of His majesty and glory. The all-powerful, all-knowing God, who created the universe and all that is in it and who holds all things together with the word of His power, who controls the destiny of every creature on earth and gives them breath without which they could not exist, appeared to Job in His holiness. Job could only respond in one way, by repentance. “I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6)
Others who came face to face with God reacted in the same way, for no human can stand before the majesty of God without becoming aware of his own smallness. God appeared to Moses in a burning bush, and told Moses to take off his shoes because he was standing in a holy place. In the year King Uzziah died, Isaiah saw the Lord. King Uzziah died because he dared to enter boldly, even arrogantly, into the presence of the holy God to burn incense. Only priests were allowed to enter God’s presence, and Uzziah was stricken with leprosy and died. That very year, Isaiah saw the Lord, sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up. His immediate reaction was to fall on his face in repentance, saying, “Woe is me! For I am lost.” God later spoke to Isaiah, saying, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)
It is said that Rabbi Bunam, the great Hasidic teacher, once made this remark: “A man should carry two stones in his pocket. On one, ‘I am but dust and ashes.’ On the other, ‘For my sake the world was created.’ And he should use both stones as needed.”
Repentance is the key that opens the door into God’s presence. God showed mercy to Job and welcomed him into His presence, just as Jesus would later welcome the repentant criminal who died next to Him on the cross. The door into God’s presence was immediately opened to this man. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) Repentance leads to God’s loving care for us.
God delights to forgive. God forgave Job and restored him completely. The prophet Micah says it this way: “Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity, and passing over transgression? . . . He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in steadfast love.” (Micah 7:18-19)
Job’s sin was not in the words he spoke about God. God said Job “spoke of me what is right.” (42:7) Job’s sin was evident in the words he spoke about himself. Pride was Job’s greatest sin. Job could easily recognize pride in his three friends, but “if we wish to look on the face of sin, we will see it most clearly in ourselves.” (Henry Fairlie, The Seven Deadly Sins Today, p. 17) Job was a man of self-respect and self-esteem, but he failed to realize how easily those good qualities could turn into pride. Some have called pride the “sin of the noble minded person.” Job could see his friends’ spiritual sickness, which he did not share. But beyond that sickness lay an evil which he did share. But God’s mercy enabled Job to repent.
Psalm 104 gives us an important clue as to what happened in Job’s life after he repented. Remarkably, the psalmist sings about what happened to Job when God appeared to him (as recorded in chapters 38-41). When God appears to a person, the only response is worship. Another psalm, Psalm 95, explains the meaning of worship. Worship begins with praise, shouting, leaping for joy (Psalm 95:1-1-5). But praise is not the end of worship; rather, it is the beginning. As we continue to worship God, we “kneel before the Lord, our Maker.” (95:6) When Isaiah saw the Lord, he fell on his face, in repentance, yes; but also in worship. Our whole life is worship to the Lord. Isaiah’s response was, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)
What is the mark of true repentance? Joy! Repentance and joy are not opposites; we often repent with tears of joy. Job knew that he was completely forgiven. He could now call himself the greatest of sinners but at the same time confess to loving God with his whole heart. We are not told about Job’s future life, other than the fact that the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. (Job 42:12) But we can be sure that Job became a worshiper. He would have understood the words of the psalmist who later wrote, “I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken . . . In Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:8,11) These are words of a true servant of the Lord.
God gives a new mission to His servants. He sends us into the world to proclaim His love and forgiveness, and to invite all people into His Kingdom. Are you aware that the Great Commission to extend God’s Kingdom throughout the world, that we read about in the last chapter of Matthew is actually given in all four Gospels? (In fact, God’s Great Commission can be found in every book of the Bible!) Each account of the Great Commission in the Gospels has a different focus. The Great Commission in the Gospel of John can be found in John 20:19-23. Jesus’ first words to His disciples were “Peace be with you.” He breathed on them and told them to receive the Holy Spirit. Then He commissioned them and sent them out to forgive the sins of all people they met. This is the Great Commission in John’s Gospel: Forgive everyone! Not just to pronounce God’s forgiveness, but you yourself must forgive everyone who has sinned against you. Forgiveness brings reconciliation, and when we forgive everyone, regardless of their sins against us, we become God’s instruments of reconciliation.
God gave Job the mission of forgiving his brothers who had sinned against him, and of praying for them that God might also forgive them. This was the first thing Job did as a true servant of the Lord: he forgave those who had cursed him. “And the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.” (42:9)
We are left with a mystery. But it is no longer a mystery that has to be solved by human logic. We are invited into the great mystery of God.
The mystery of the Godhead is that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. The writer of Hebrews tells us what happened: “Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” (Hebrews 2:14-15 NASB))
But the way God chose to enter into our suffering is also mysterious. He entered the world as a completely helpless baby, dependent on his parents whom He had previously prepared in a supernatural way. He grew up “like a sapling, like a root in arid ground. He had no beauty, no majesty to attract us, no appearance to win our hearts.” As Jesus grew up, He was “despised, shunned by the people, a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering.” (Isaiah 53:2-3a NJB)
The mystery goes deeper. God came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, and shared our sufferings, indeed all the sufferings of all mankind, by becoming the Suffering Servant, as described in Isaiah chapters 40 through 66. Nothing could have been more shocking to the Jews of Isaiah’s day: Their victory would come through suffering! We can almost imagine Isaiah’s reaching beyond the Old Covenant into the New Covenant, for he was prophesying about the coming of the Messiah. Jesus the Messiah overcame the sin, sickness and suffering of the world by taking it upon Himself and destroying the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8) He was crucified in weakness, but raised by the power of God! Although He was the Son of God, Jesus “had to be made perfect through suffering.” (Hebrews 2:10) He made the perfect sacrifice, His death; He won the perfect victory, His resurrection.
Great indeed is the mystery of godliness. “He (Jesus) was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16) We share in this mystery of godliness. We abide in Jesus, God’s Suffering Servant who suffered beyond human recognition, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)
Job’s story had a happy ending. Everything was doubled. The Lord gave him ten more children and blessed his latter days more than his beginning. But suffering does not always play out this way in the lives of millions of refugees who were seeking a better country but who died at sea or at the hands of border guards, or of prisoners who die in concentration camps, or of those who end their lives on beds of pain.
The mystery of suffering does not end with Job’s restoration. And it does not end for us when we receive the gift of salvation, eternal life that will never end. We know what Job did not know. God is with us, He has entered into our suffering; He continues to enter into the suffering of the millions who suffer today. He daily bears our burdens. (Psalm 68:15) He comforts us by His Holy Spirit so that we might comfort others who suffer.
Jesus calls us to die to ourselves daily, and to take up our crosses and follow Him. We who abide in the risen Lord also abide in the Suffering Servant; we also must become “suffering servants” to rescue a dying world.
Do you ever use your imagination to consider what Job’s life might have been like after God restored him completely? The Book of Job does not invite us to imagine this. But we read that Job forgave his three friends who had condemned him. He could not have done this without in some way entering into their suffering and bringing release and comfort to them. Perhaps God had a greater plan for Job, a greater mission than that of simply being a righteous person. Job learned what it was like to suffer even though he had lived a righteous life. We know nothing of Job’s life other than what we have learned in the Book of Job. But we do know that God wanted to use Job to bless the world. Perhaps this is why we now have the Book of Job. God is preparing us through suffering to bless the world by revealing to them who God is. “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29)
We mentioned as we prepared to study the Book of Job that we would find a treasure hidden in suffering. Now we can understand the words of Mother Basilea Schlink, founder of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary. “The treasure is hidden in the cross. This treasure is the gift of God’s love.”
Job was one of the men God used to advance His Kingdom on earth. We are members of the Kingdom of God; we know the power of Jesus’ resurrection, but we also share in the “fellowship of His sufferings.” (Philippians 3:10-11) We are joined by a great crowd of witnesses in heaven as we live our lives as His suffering servants.
Sometimes we share in Jesus’ sufferings through intercession, identifying with those in sorrow, danger or pain. At other times we share in Jesus’ sufferings by becoming “risk takers” like those “parabolani” (the Greek name for risk-taker, or “gambler”) who entered the city of Carthage in 250 A.D. to care for those dying of the great plague, while all the pagans and leaders deserted the city. Most of the Christians who entered Carthage died in serving suffering people whom they did not even know. These Christians belonged to what I would call “the community of the holy fire,” that demands all things and consumes all things. We see such “risk takers” today among those who dare to enter the covid-19 battleground to care for those who are dying.
The mystery is that God chooses to work through us by the power of His Holy Spirit to pray for the suffering people of the world, to remove the barriers of injustice and unrighteousness that cause millions of people to suffer unnecessarily, and to serve those who are suffering. Thousands of Christian missionaries continue to spread this treasure of God’s love among the nations today. Many have suffered martyrdom, but all have suffered willingly so that people of all nations may know Jesus Christ and become members of His eternal Kingdom.
“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1b-2 ESV)
Some things to consider
Now is the time to look back over the Book of Job and ask ourselves these questions:
1. What did Job learn about suffering, and how did his life change as a result?
2. As you studied the Book of Job did you discover some of the precious gems that lead us to find the treasure in suffering? Consider some of the following gems:
- Job’s deepening relationship with God through suffering
- Job’s enlargement through suffering
- Job’s being molded into Christ’s image through his suffering
- Job’s new humility which he acquired through humiliation
- Job’s newly discovered compassion that gave him renewed strength to comfort others, even those who had judged him
- Job’s new outlook on the world, including power that comes through weakness, letting go of his own work to allow God to work through him
- Job’s new understanding of the power of hiddenness, especially God’s hiding him so that Satan could not destroy him
- Job’s discovery that he was “standing in grace” because of God’s love and mercy
- Job’s new understanding that God, even while He was testing Job, was walking with him through the valley of the shadow of death
- Job’s newly gained ability to place his sufferings under his blessings
- Job’s discovery of a new community – koinonia, beginning with his three friends and extending far beyond
As you look back over the Book of Job, seek to understand how God was ministering to Job in the midst of his testing, and how God’s purpose in testing Job was to prepare him for greater service in His Kingdom.
3. Notice that Job broke the current tradition of only sons receiving their father’s inheritance. Job gave his daughters an inheritance along with their brothers! (Job 42:15)
4. Have you discovered in your own life that when you hit “rock bottom” God is there? Remember Corrie ten Boom’s sister Betsie’s last words before she was executed at Auschwitz: “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” Remember also the words of Elisabeth Eliot, whose husband was martyred along with four other missionaries by the Auca Indians, as they were trying to take the Gospel to this unreached people group. “Faith’s most severe tests come not when we see nothing, but we see a stunning array of evidence that seems to prove our faith vain. If God were God, if He were omnipotent, if He had cared, would this have happened? Is this that I face now . . . the reward of my obedience? One turns in disbelief again from the circumstances and looks into the abyss. But in the abyss there is only blackness, no glimmer of light, no answering echo.”
But then she says in conclusion, “It was a long time before I came to the realization that it is in our acceptance of what is given [whatever that might be], that God gives Himself. This grief, this sorrow, this total loss that empties my hands and breaks my heart, I may, if I will, accept, and by accepting it, I find in my hands something to offer. And so I give it back to Him, who in mysterious exchange gives Himself to me.”
5. What have you gained through this study that will help you minister to suffering people around you, or to suffering people in the world? Can you now understand Paul’s words in Philippians 1:29? “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake.” Do you believe that God sometimes leads people to choose suffering to reveal His love to the world?
6. Are you a worshiper of God?
You have completed your study of one of the greatest books ever written. Begin now to prepare to teach the Book of Job to at least one other person.