Read the Bible in 2011–2021* ◊ Week 20: Thursday
Then the Lord said to Job,
“Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
Let him who reproves God answer it.”
“Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
Once I have spoken, and I will not answer;
Even twice, and I will add nothing more.”
Today’s Bible reading is Job 40–41. Before you read these chapters, pray and ask God to teach you. Ask Him to help you learn and see more of who He is as you read.
After His deluge of questions about creation to Job in chapters 38–39 , God now asks Job if he wants to contend with Him. Francis Andersen describes Job’s response as subdued and humble, however, he goes on to say:
“Job has nothing to say. But does declining the invitation [to speak] admit ‘defeat’? Misunderstanding at this point has made it difficult for some commentators to see why a second speech from God should be needed…we suggest that Job’s reply is somewhat evasive, and not at all a satisfactory end to the matter. The gesture of placing the hand over the mouth could be a mark of respect (cf. 21:5, 29:9) or a sign of silence. Job admits he cannot answer, but he still does not admit to any sin, so there is no confession. Nor does he retract any of his former statements, so there is no ‘submission’. On the contrary, he seems to be sticking to his guns. He has already spoken once, and need say no more. Indeed he has already repeated himself (twice) and will not ‘add’ anything. This suggests that Job has nothing to say that he has not already said. But it would be going too far in the other direction to find defiance here, or even a complaint that God has still not answered his questions. But even if that were so, the words of God which immediately follow supply this lack.”1
E. S. P. Heavenor also sees Job as humble, but goes further in his conjecture of Job’s reaction:
“…the revelation of heaven has made the defiant combatant a humble worshipper…I am of small account [NASB: insignificant]. It is not a confession of sin, although there is no doubt that Job would have immediately acknowledged the sinfulness of some of his words and attitudes. It is rather a confession of insignificance. As he looked away from himself to God he was seeing in a more impressive way than even before, he saw himself in a new perspective.
“The Word in the vision convinced Job that he could trust such a God. It brought home to his heart the realization that providence was a much more involved and painstaking affair than he had imagined it to be…
“The thought now swings from the natural order of the universe (chs.38–39) to the moral order.2
I think Job has realized God’s providence in more involved, painstaking, and beyond his understanding, but Job has yet to retract anything he says (as he does in the next chapter). I think Andersen has a more accurate assessment of what Job is thinking here.
God has more questions for Job, and He begins as He did in Job 38:3.
“Now gird up your loins like a man;
I will ask you, and you instruct Me.”
The questions God asks in this central set of questions in Job 40:8–14, are at the heart of God’s answer to Job because here, as Heavenor said, they are about the moral order of the world: justice and judgment of the proud, and the wicked.
Will you condemn Me that you may be justified?
Or do you have an arm like God,
And can you thunder with a voice like His?
Adorn yourself with eminence and dignity,
And clothe yourself with honor and majesty.
Pour out the overflowings of your anger,
And look on everyone who is proud, and make him low.
Look on everyone who is proud, and humble him,
And tread down the wicked where they stand.
Hide them in the dust together;
Bind them in the hidden place.
Then I will also confess to you,
That your own right hand can save you.”
From David Atkinson:
“In many ways, this passage is the centre of the Lord’s word to Job.
“God is here responding to Job’s arguments about theodicy [see below], in which Job complained about the way God governed the world (cf. Job 21). All right, says God, you rule the world. You deck yourself with glory and splendour, you clothe yourself with honour and majesty (cf. 40:10). You pour forth judgments against evil-doers, bring down the proud, hide the wicked in the dust (cf. 40:12–13). You govern the world in justice, Job, and then I will acknowledge you.
“This is a further response to the question of 10:8: ‘Would you discredit my justice?’
“The judge who gives the verdict has to see that justice is done. If you are going to pass judgment, Job, can you ensure that justice is carried out? You have insisted on your own vindication, Job, but do you have the power to vindicate yourself?
“Now we begin to see how the concentration on God’s wisdom and power throughout the natural world takes on a further significance. Job must realize that he is no more able to exercise judicial power in the moral realm than he can understand the workings of nature in the natural realm. That is the point of the question in verse 9: ‘Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his?’ (40:9).
“God is reminding Job that he, God, is — despite appearances sometimes — unfailingly just. Here is the book of Job’s reply to questions of theodicy.”3
If you’re unfamiliar with the word, theodicy, it is:
“A response to the problem of evil in the world that attempts logically relevantly and consistently to defend God as simultaneously omnipotent, all-loving and just despite the reality of evil.”4
Francis Andersen writes this:
“…passage deals more directly with the moral issues that Job has raised. As such it may be the heart and pivot of the Lord’s reply, as befits its central placement within the contrasting nature-poems.5
“To take over the management of the universe, Job would have to be as splendid and majestic as God (10). These are the great attributes of Psalms 21:5; 93:1; 96:6; 104:1; etc. Is he equal to the task of bringing down the wicked (11–15), the thing that everyone has been looking for as proof of the presence and justice of God?…
“If spite of its aggressive tone, this speech is not really a contradiction of anything that Job has said. In many respects it is very close to his own thought, and endorses his sustained contention that justice must be left to God. But it brings Job to the end of his quest by convincing him that he may and must hand the whole matter over completely to God more trustingly, less fretfully. And do it without insisting that God should first answer all his questions and give him formal acquittal.
“Here, if we have rightly found the heart of the theology of the whole book, is a very great depth. There is a rebuke in it for any person who, by complaining about particular events in his life, implies that he could propose to God better ways of running the universe than those God currently uses.”6
Stop and think about what God has said up to this point.
God’s first group of questions were about creation, and in the last set of questions in Job 40:15–41:34, God returns to creation with questions about two specific creatures: Behemoth and Leviathan. Atkinson sees two themes in the creation passages:
“We have been given a vision of God’s wisdom [Job 38–39]. Now, Behemoth, the hippo (40:15) and Leviathan, the crocodile (41:1), raise the question of God’s power…There is a great deal about these two strange creatures which Job does not know and could not control. Here in your world, Job, are inexplicable, unfathomable and fearful mysteries. Here is a power beyond human power. Before Behemoth and Leviathan, you are powerless. And yet both of these are under the control of God. Even the most fearful and monstrous and powerfully terrible things are held within the Creator’s hand.”7
In his commentary Atkinson dealt with both nature passages before the middle passage on God’s justice. He then pulls all three together (my emphasis):
“God is a God of wisdom (nature reminds us), of power (the monsters remind us), and of justice (as God now says to Job [40:8–14]). With this assertion of divine wisdom, power and justice, we have a description of the character of God in whose hands lie the mysteries of this world’s suffering. Before such a God every escape hatch is closed to the human logic which would play one part of God’s nature off against another. God is all-knowing, all-powerful and all good.”8
Job will never rest in his suffering until he can rest in who God is. This does not diminish the grief and anguish of Job. It does not negate Job’s need of consolation and comfort. What it means is that under the depth of loss are the everlasting arms of a God he can trust.
We don’t begin to comprehend the cataclysmic effect of sin upon us and upon our world. We are called to trust God in His care for us with all that happens in this world. We may not know why, but we must learn why we trust our God who knows why.9
Os Guinness wrote:
“Suffering is the most acute trial that faith can face, and the questions it raises are the sharpest, the most insistent and the most damaging that faith will meet…The basic principle is the same (we do not know why but we know why we trust God who knows why) and our basic prayer is the same (‘Father I do not understand you, but I trust you.’), but the price we are asked to pay is unique.
“Can faith bear the pain and trust God, suspending judgement and resting in the knowledge that God is there, God is good, and God knows best? Or will the pain be so great that only meaning will make it endurable so that reason must be pressed further and further and judgements must be made?…To suffer is one thing, to suffer without meaning is another, but to suffer and choose not to press for any meaning is different again.
“…To suspend judgement and simply trust is the hardest thing. Faith must reach deep into its reserves of courage and endurance if the rising panic of incomprehensible pain is not to be overwhelming.
“In Job we have the world’s classic sufferer, the one in whom every sufferer knows he has at least one brother. But much of Job’s agony was that he was racked by this very dilemma. Was he to trust God and suspend judgement, or was he to doubt in pressing for an explanation?
“Each degree of mounting pressure served to heighten the dilemma. If he trusted God and suspended judgement, he had to be silent. But every moment he continued in silence was taken as a tacit admission of his guilt. Yet to defend himself he had to explain the suffering, and to do this he had to press reason to conclusions he had no desire to entertain and no right to make. This tension was the torturous rack on which Job’s faith was stretched to the breaking point. It is little wonder that his self-defense is a demonstration mixed with doubt.
“Job’s friends believed that God in his justice pays every man his desserts in this life, and therefore they presupposed a one-to-one ratio between sin and suffering: Job was suffering; Job must have sinned. Job roundly denies this. But in the absence of any knowledge of a final judgement after death he has no way to deny it. So in defending himself he demands from God a one-to- one ratio between suffering and explanation, between pain and meaning. Thus Job and his friends press reason too far and make judgements they have no right to. The two errors lead in opposite directions, but they are both minted from the same coin.“10
God’s wisdom, justice, and power is beyond Job’s ken. In a sense I think the book of Job is beyond our ken. We look at all that Job lost and think was that necessary? Would Job have learned this with a little less suffering? Could Job’s story have encouraged us with a little less drastic measures? I think the answer lies in whether or not you believe God is all-knowing, all-powerful and all good. God purposes for Job, for us, indeed, even for the angels who looked on, were accomplished through the catastrophes He allowed to happened to Job.
Christians are called to love, encourage, and pray for each other: showing lovingkindness to the “despairing man…Lest he forsake the fear of the Almighty.” We walk with each other, but there’s also the reality that in suffering we individually walk by faith in learning to trust God.
Os Guinness’ words in his book, Doubt, have helped me immensely.
“Not surprisingly it is those whose faith in God is anchored in the incarnation—God become flesh, crucified, risen—whose faith can pass through the fires of suffering. For there is no question however deep or painful which cannot be trusted with the God who is the Father of Jesus Christ.”11
“Anchored in the incarnation—God become flesh, crucified, risen—” “no question however deep or painful which cannot be trusted with the God who is the Father of Jesus Christ.”
This is why I can trust God. He sent His Son to die in my place. Such great love brings me to continue to trust Him when I hurt and don’t know the why of my days or understand the times of my suffering.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may prove genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.
May God use His Word to heal your heart and to entrust the whys of your suffering to Him.
Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications. (Site has been deleted since posting).
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1,5,6Francis Andersen, Job (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1976) 307–308, 308, 309–310.
2E. S. P. Heavenor, “Job,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, third ed., D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds. (Inter-Varsity Press, London 1970) 442–443, 443.
3,7,8David Atkinson, The Message of Job: Suffering and grace (Inter-Varsity Press: Leicester, England; Downers Grove IL: 1991) 153, 151, 153.
4Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1999) 112–113.
9,10,11Os Guinness, Doubt (Lion Publishing plc, England: 1976; Third Edition,1987) 211, 206–208, 212.
12Edmund Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1988) 43, 47, 51. This is Clowney’s translation of 1 Peter 1:3–9.
*In 2011 I started a year-long series of posts, “Read the Bible in 2011.” You can find the other posts in the navigation menu in the header. If a day doesn’t have a link to a post, the post was simply a brief reminder about the reading. I’m filling in some of those gaps with new posts with “Read the Bible in 2011 Redux” as a category.
Copyright ©2011–2021 Iwana Carpenter