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The Lament of Loneliness

February 14, 2016 Speaker: David Gough Series: Job: Sitting in the Ashes

Topic: Affliction & Suffering Passage: Job 2:11–3:26

Introduction

The opening lines of a well-known poem read, “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone.” During times of joy and happiness, we often find that people are attracted to us and enjoy our company. In times of sorrow and pain, however, friends can sometimes be hard to find.

When we last left Job, we saw him sitting in the ashes of a garbage heap, racked with “loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” So painful was his affliction that we are told that he found “a piece of broken pottery,” and used it to “scrape” the sores that covered his body (cf. Job 2:7-8). Such adversity was but the capstone of a rapid and shocking series of events that had taken everything from this man, a man had not long before been considered “the greatest of all the people of the east” (cf. Job 1:3). Within a day he had unexplainably lost all of his possessions, many of his hired servants, and—most devastating of all—the ten children whom he loved with all his heart. In the blink of an eye, Job understood what it meant to be lonely.

What you and I are able to see that Job could not was the dialogue that had taken place between the Lord and Satan in chapters 1:6-12 and 2:1-6. Just as “the adversary” had tested Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, resulting in the entrance of sin into the world and the curse it brought, here again we find Satan taking dead aim on the one whom God refers to as “my servant Job” (cf. Job 1:8). Keep in mind that Job is described as one who was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (cf. Job 1:1). Perhaps the most shocking thing that we read in these first two chapters of the book is that the Lord would grant Satan permission to test Job to the extent that He allowed.

But God had a reason for Job’s suffering, but at this point of the story He has not yet seen fit to reveal it. Before we are told God’s purpose, you and I must sit a while “in the ashes” with Job. For how else will we ever be able to understand our own afflictions when they come? And, most assuredly, they will come.

For thirty-seven chapters in Job’s story, the voice of heaven will remain silent. And as it does, Job will be left to wrestle for understanding...not only within himself, but with four others who sought to offer him solace and comfort. You see, Job had friends. And even though those friends appear to have lived many miles away, when they heard of his plight they agreed to meet and travel together to be by his side in his hour of great need. We are introduced to three of them at the end of chapter 2. The fourth would arrive on the scene some time later.

Follow with me now as we resume our reading at chapter 2, verse 11. It is here that we first meet...

Job’s loyal companions (2:11-13)

[2]11 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all the evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. 12 And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. 13 And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

Although these friends of Job are mentioned by name, we really don’t know very much about them. There are differences of opinion as to what their names mean, as well as the locations where they are from. And while they each play leading roles in the chapters to follow, their identities are not what is important.

More to the point of who they were is rather what they were. It may have taken weeks or even months for the news of Job’s afflictions to have reached them. And yet when they heard, “they came.” That is what “friends” do. Of course in our day, thanks to social media, the word “friend” has been reduced to people we don’t even know. The Hebrew term that is used here (rea) refers to a “companion,” someone far closer than those whom we may have never met and yet call “friends” on Facebook. Perhaps Job’s friends were those with whom he had done business. And over the course of time, they had found him to be an honest and trustworthy friend.

Each having heard the news, these three—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar—agreed to pay their friend a visit in order to offer him “sympathy and comfort.” In other words, they hoped to share his grief and speak encouragement to him. But as they neared the place where Job was, they spotted a figure in the distance and they were not prepared for what they saw. We are told that “they did not recognize him.”

Some of us may have had the sad experience of visiting a loved one or a friend who has been battling a lengthy and serious illness. We go to their side to be with them, but we are taken aback when we see how their health and strength have vanished. They appear so different...“a shadow of their former self,” we sometimes say. We try our best to remain poised, but our insides are quivering. Our once vibrant loved one now looks like a stranger to us, and his once-strong voice is but a whisper. It is then that we realize, perhaps for the first time that despite having loyal companions near, suffering is something that is done alone.

If the friends’ not recognizing him was a painful thing for them, we can only imagine what it must have been like for Job. There would be no warm embrace or firm handshake...just unintentional stairs and awkward silence.

The text says that Job’s friends “ raised their voices and wept.” This was not the shedding of silent tears, but as their acts of tearing the garments and casting dust into the air suggests, it was loud, mournful crying. In his helpful commentary on Job, Christopher Ash explains it this way:

“This cannot be the ‘weep[ing] with those who weep’ of Romans 12:15. They cannot sit ‘with’ him in any meaningful sense. He is unrecognizable. He has been taken into a different realm, a realm of suffering so deep they cannot reach him.”

The fact that they “sat...on the ground” with Job without saying a word for seven days seems strange to us. In ancient cultures, however, such behavior was taken as an expression of respect during times of great trouble. But what we have here is a prolonged and extended silence, generally reserved for when someone had died. Consider that for just a moment...Job’s friends, who had come to comfort him, were grieving for him as though he were already dead! It doesn’t get any lonelier than that!

Unless you have suffered deeply, you may not understand—and you may even disagree with—what I am about to say. Those who suffer greatly, suffer with a sense of abject loneliness. And despite being surrounded by well-meaning friends, Job is terribly alone.

As chapter 3 opens, Job breaks the silence. The twenty-six verses that follow comprise a soliloquy...Job is speaking to no one in particular. What we have here is one of the saddest and soul-probing chapters found anywhere in the Bible. It is made up of two sections. In verses 1 through 10, we hear Job cursing the fact that he was ever born. No fewer than fourteen times—as indicated by the word, “let”—he calls imprecation upon his once-vibrant life. And then, in verses 11 through 26, Job asks a series of rhetorical questions in which he seeks a reason for his very existence. Clearly Job’s perspective of his tragic circumstances has shifted as his level of suffering has intensified.

We first read of...

Job’s lamentable curses (3:1-10)

...beginning in verse 1:

[3]1 After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. 2 And Job said:

3 “Let the day perish on which I was born,
and the night that said,
‘A man is conceived.’
4 Let that day be darkness!
May God above not seek it,
nor light shine upon it.
5 Let gloom and deep darkness claim it.
Let clouds dwell upon it;
let the blackness of the day terrify it.
6 That night—let thick darkness seize it!
Let it not rejoice among the days of the year;
let it not come into the number of the months.
7 Behold, let that night be barren;
let no joyful cry enter it.
8 Let those curse it who curse the day,
who are ready to rouse up Leviathan.
9 Let the stars of its dawn be dark;
let it hope for light, but have none,
nor see the eyelids of the morning,
10 because it did not shut the doors of my mother’s womb,
nor hide trouble from my eyes.

You will notice that the style of writing, beginning in verse 3 of this chapter, changes from narrative prose to poetic verse. In fact, we will not see another notable narrative section until we get to chapter 32. The reason for the shift is that emotions are more intimately stated and heard when expressed as verse, and obviously there is great emotion in the words of Job that are recorded here.

We are told in verse 1 that he “cursed the day of his birth.” In all but the last of these ten verses, the one in which he offers an explanation, the writer employs the imperative mood. But they are pleas that can never be granted. If Job were able to control his circumstances and turn back the pages on the calendar, what he expresses here is how he wished things could have been. But even more than that, there is the passionate expression of regret for having been given life in the first place. So, verses 3 through 10 could be summarized by the question, “Why was I ever born?”

This is a very dark passage. Notice the family of descriptive words found in these verses: “night,” “darkness,” “gloom,” “deep darkness,” “clouds,” “blackness,” “thick darkness,” and “dark.” There is no “light” here...no sense of understanding.

Job is able to see no hope in his circumstances and, therefore, is only able to look back and not forward. In addition Job has no rest because he is unbearably troubled in body and mind. And perhaps worst of all, Job can find no reason for his suffering. If this is the outcome of a “blameless and upright” life, then what does it all mean? Just a few verses ago, Job’s firm faith in the Lord was seen to be exemplary. Was it now wavering? You and I might ask ourselves at this point, is this the way a “real Christian” is to be acting?

Here is this passage, Job graphically not only curses “the day of his birth” (vs. 4-5), but the night in which he was conceived (vs. 6-10). Life is so painful for Job that he wishes the seed of his existence had never been planted and allowed to take root. If the clock could be rewound, he would long for his life to have never come into being. The mention of “Leviathan” in verse 8 is a reference to a mythical sea creature superstitiously thought to bring evil, chaos, and confusion upon the work of God. Job seems to be asking, why could not have this creature disrupted his birth so that it would never have happened.

Given his lamentable condition, one might have expected verse 1 to read, “After this Job opened his mouth and cursed God.” But it doesn’t say that. Instead Job appears to be a man in search of answers, but no answers are forthcoming. As C.S. Lewis would write during his own painful time of personal loss, “You can’t see anything clearly when your eyes are blurred with tears.”

Job would never have known the pain and affliction that he was presently enduring had he never been born. But, as we shall see, neither would he have come to know the Lord to the extent that he eventually would as the story proceeds. But for the time being he is a desperate and seemingly forsaken man.

His lament continues throughout the remainder of the chapter. Beginning in verse 11, we read...

Job’s languishing questions (3:11-26)

11 Why did I not die at birth,
come out from the womb and expire?
12 Why did the knees receive me?
Or why the breasts that I should nurse?
13 For then I would have lain down and been quiet;
I would have slept; then I would have been at rest,
14 with kings and counselors of the earth
who rebuilt ruins for themselves,
15 or with princes who had gold,
who filled their houses with silver.
16 Or why was I not as a hidden stillborn child,
as infants who never see the light?
17 There the wicked cease from troubling,
and there the weary are at rest.
18 There the prisoners are at ease together;
they hear not the voice of the taskmaster.
19 The small and the great are there,
and the slave is free from his master.

20 Why is light given to him who is in misery,
and life to the bitter in soul,
21 who long for death, but it comes not,
and dig for it more than for hidden treasures,
22 who rejoice exceedingly
and are glad when they find the grave?
23 Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden,
whom God has hedged in?
24 For my sighing comes instead of my bread,
and my groanings are poured out like water.
25 For the thing that I fear comes upon me,
and what I dread befalls me.
26 I am not at ease, nor am I quiet;
I have no rest, but trouble comes.”

Here we find a series of “why” questions...questions that can only be understood by someone who is undergoing a time of intense adversity. Even as I was working on this message this past week, I received a phone call from a man who lost his 18-year old son last year to a brain tumor. As we spoke, he struggled for words in his quest for answers. He and I both knew that his search might just as well been summarized in a single word: “why?”

Job’s desperate and lamentable attempt to curse his birth morphs into a series of rhetorical questions. “Can someone somewhere help me to make sense out of all that has befallen me?” A careful examination of this section reveals that there were three major questions for which Job sought answers.

  • In verses 11 through 15, he seems to ask, “If I had to be conceived and born, then why couldn’t I have died soon after birth?” “Why couldn’t I have just been another statistic of infant mortality?” The repeated imagery of death being a “restful” and “peaceful” state demonstrates that Job’s perception of the afterlife was limited. His longing for the place of the dead is without the revelation that the Lord progressively will make known later on. Even now in our own day, without having the full knowledge that we seek, there remain those who in lonely times of extreme suffering long to be removed from this life, believing it to be an “escape” from the present misery they have been called upon to endure. For those suffering, it is an understandable—but dangerous—place to be.

Could Job’s wife have been right? Since death eventually lays claim to everyone—rich and poor, strong and weak alike—why prolong the inevitable? Why not just “Curse God and die?”

  • The second of Job’s questions is found in verses 16 through 19, where his probe becomes even more intense. Here he wonders why he was not “stillborn...as infants who never see the light. ” To have been aborted—to never have drawn the first breath of life—would seem to have been preferable to the sorely tried Job. Such is distorted perspective of one who suffers with internal and emotional agony that no one else is capable of understanding. Yes, Job is alone...all alone. Though his companions are near, this is clearly something he must bear fully by himself.

Let’s take a step back for a moment and realize that much of the pain that we experience in life is brought on by our own foolish actions and unwise choices. But that is not the case with Job. Remember, the very first verse of this book told us that he was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” The deep reason for Job’s unrest is that he cannot understand the reason for his sufferings. He cannot comprehend why a man of godliness and integrity should be permitted to suffer to the degree that he is suffering. It is simply inexplicable! Job’s entire world has been shaken to its core.

  • And that brings us to the third of Job’s languishing questions, located in verses 20 through 26, and seems to be, “What is the purpose of life if it only ends in misery?” When Job speaks of “him who is in misery,” he no doubt has himself in mind. But not only himself. Those whose suffering has approximated Job’s can feel like being on a life-support machine and longing for it to be turned off.

The wording in verse 23 regarding the “man...whom God has hedged in” causes us to think back with irony to Satan’s diabolical assertion that the only reason Job feared God was because the Lord has “put a hedge around him” (cf. Job 1:10). What was once God’s protective border now seemed instead to him to be a trap from which there was no escape. He senses that God is somehow involved in the plight that has befallen him, but he does not know “why” or “how.” What is the point? Is there even a point?

Job has no immediate answer to those questions. In fact, in times of suffering, immediate answers are usually insufficient ones. One thing is clear, and that is even in the midst of his darkness, Job cannot avoid God. Even when He seems far away, God is not only present, but is the key Player in Job’s circumstances.

Conclusion

Charles Spurgeon has been quoted as saying that “He who demands an answer from God is not in a fit state to receive one.” Rarely do I question Spurgeon, but in this regard I do. In fact, there are times in Spurgeon’s own writings when he admits to facing severe bouts with discouragement and depression.

The question “why?” will resonate throughout the book, just as it echoes throughout every human life to one degree or another. The contrast between the Job we meet in chapters 1 and 2 and the one we encounter in chapter 3 could not be sharper. But before we draw “knee jerk” conclusions, we should recognize that asking “why?” is not always a sign of doubt. Often it is the first word in the search for truth. It is, therefore, a question that can be asked and should be asked when times of great trial befall us. But in order for our “why’s” to be fruitful rather than barren cries in the desert, we need to put ourselves in the position of listening for God’s responses. We must be willing to wait...and that can be hard. In fact, it may seem only to intensify the pain.

For now, we will leave Job alone, terribly alone at the end of this chapter. Not even his friends, who came to comfort him, have anything to say. Job is left with bitter regret that he was ever born and that he ever lived. He is mired in the deepest darkness that anyone can imagine. Is there anyone who could possibly relate?

Yes there is. You see, Job’s loneliness foreshadowed an even greater loneliness. His darkness anticipated an even deeper darkness. If we miss this, I believe we miss the key to understanding Job’s experience. Centuries after Job’s suffering, there was One who suffered to an infinitely greater extent when He hung on a cross in order to absorb the wrath of God in the place of guilty sinners like you and me. His loneliness was more lonely than any of us—including Job—could possibly imagine. He, too, asked “why?” in His hour of greatest need. As He hung upon the cross and His life ebbed out of His battered body, He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

As His followers, we know “why,” don’t we? Peter the apostle explained it this way:
“For Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). Job’s “dark night of the soul” was merely a foreshadowing of the darkness of the cross which our Savior endured. Therefore, even if our suffering should lead to death, there is a hope made possible for those who have turned from their sins and entrusted themselves to Him.

Perhaps you have recently been through or are currently going through a period of great affliction. If so, then you are likely filled with questions for which no answers seem to coming. Maybe you are even questioning if you are somehow the cause of the pain that you now feel. As you study this book along with us over these next several weeks, let me ask you to consider that the account of Job clearly demonstrates to us that the bad things that happen to us are not necessarily related to our sin anymore than the good things that happen to us are related to our righteousness.

One of the most satisfying, as well as encouraging answers that I have ever heard to the question, “Why do the righteous suffer,” was given by C.S. Lewis, who said rather matter-of-factly, “They are the only ones who can handle it.”

When times of suffering and affliction come, we—like Job—know what it means to be lonely. Even as Christians, fellow heirs of Christ, no one else is able to lift from us or share with us the pain we have been called upon to bear. But even in our loneliness, we are never alone. We have a Savior who, because He has suffered to an infinite degree, is able to identify with us in our every affliction. Therefore, we can draw near to Him with confidence in order to receive grace and mercy in our time of need (cf. Hebrews 4:15-16) And what’s more, He has promised to never leave us or forsake us (cf. Hebrews 13:5).

More in Job: Sitting in the Ashes

March 27, 2016

Rising From the Ashes

March 20, 2016

Perspective From an Unexpected Source

March 13, 2016

The Defense Rests Its Case

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