Rising From the Ashes
Topic: Affliction & Suffering Passage: Job 38:1–42:17
If you happen to be visiting with us this morning, then I need to take a moment to bring you up to speed. For the past eight weeks our church family has been studying the Book of Job together. Job was a man who had lost everything—his family, his wealth, and his health—through a series of sudden, shocking events. Once referred to as “the greatest of all the people of the east” (Job 1:3), he has been reduced to nothing.
Making matters even more perplexing is that in the opening sentence of his story we read that Job “was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). That this man—this “good” man”—had suffered such loss seems to be inconsistent with the way we believe life is supposed to work.
After all, isn’t it the wicked who suffer and the righteous who prosper? That’s what Job’s three friends—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar—had repeatedly told him. And so you are I are told as well. But as most of us have learned, reality often paints a vastly different picture. Life isn’t that simple. In fact, often the reverse is true. Frequently it is the evildoer who prospers the most, and it is the God-fearing person who is afflicted with the greatest degree of adversity. Christians know that God is just, but it is erroneous to think that the sin-cursed world in which we live will always be “fair”...because it won’t be.
Therefore, when we see “unfair” things happening, some are tempted to conclude that God is so remote from our circumstances that He pays little attention to our lives and intervenes inn them in no significant way. Those of us who are here this morning and believe the Easter story know that to be the farthest thing from the truth.
As Job “sat in the ashes” (Job 2:8) and contemplated the misery and misfortune that had befallen him, he repeatedly counters his friend’s accusations that his suffering was the direct cause of some hidden sin in his life that had not been confessed and forsaken. Their presuppositions concerning him were incorrect, and so were their conclusions. Repeatedly, Job maintained his innocence and held fast to his integrity (cf. Job 27:6). Job believed that God was good, but he struggled to understand why he was being subjected to the level of suffering that he was. In other words, he was faced with the age-old dilemma, “where is God when it hurts?”
What you and I know that Job didn’t know was what had gone on behind the scenes in the first two chapters of the book. There, in what initially strikes us as quite shocking, we find Satan being granted permission by the Lord to attack Job on every side...stopping just short of taking his life. But as we learn, God had a providential purpose in Job’s suffering, one that remains unrevealed to Job until the very end of the story. First, Job must sit a while “in the ashes.” And in a sense, we with him, for how else will you and I learn the lessons behind the suffering that we will be called upon to endure?
Here in these closing chapters of Job’s story, he will meet God in a way he could have only imagined. Remember, he has already been pointed out as a “God-fearing” man, but now he is about to meet this God in a dramatic and completely life-transforming way.
The name of God had been floated about quite freely in the three rounds of debates between Job and his comforters, the final defense by Job, and the lengthy discourse of a fourth friend named Elihu. But now God Himself is about to personally enter the story. By means of a theophany—which is a manifestation of the invisible God to the human senses—He speaks to Job in a manner that renders Job and his friends silent and informed.
God’s revelation of Himself has two major parts, both to which Job offers very brief responses, and then the book concludes with an epilogue that brings the story to its climactic conclusion.
The first part of God’s speech covers chapters 38 and 39 and reaches into chapter 40. It contains a series of rhetorical questions and series of challenges intended to silence Job and his friends. It might be called...
How God rules His earth (38:1-40:2)
As we neared the end of Elihu’s speech in chapter 37 last Sunday, a storm had quickly gathered and surrounded Job and his friends. That storm was the harbinger of God’s grand entrance into the story. At last He arrives and we read in verse 1, “Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said...”
What is most noteworthy in this statement is the name by which God is identified. He is called “the LORD”—“YHWH”—the God who reveals Himself and keeps covenant with those who are His. It is the first time since early in the book (cf. Job 12:9) that title has been used of Him. He is about to speak directly to Job in an unmediated manner. This, you may recall, is what Job had passionately desired, but it was also what He feared most deeply. We are reminded here that God will speak whenever and to whomever He chooses.
So the Lord begins by asking, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” And then He sarcastically challenges Job, saying, “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” “Dressing for action” means literally to “gird the loins,” a familiar biblical phrase which alludes to tucking one’s robe into his belt in order to be ready for vigorous activity (cf. Ephesians 6:14, NASV). Job is told do this “like a man.” Today, we would use the expression, “man up!” The Lord is inviting Job to enter a contest of words—to engage in a verbal wrestling match, so to speak. But it is God who will be asking all the questions. Job, as well as his friends, are forced to be still and listen.
Both chapters 38 and 39 are packed with questions intended to declare God’s providential control over His creation. Verse 4 of chapter 38 establishes the tone: Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” The implication is that the Lord alone is God, and that no one else could have created and sustained the world as He has done.
Notice the directness of God’s questions with respect to the mighty works that He has performed. “Have you...?” and “Can you...?” challenges permeate this chapter. These are interspersed with “Who...?” and “What...?” queries that are meant to set Job back on his heels and render him helpless in crafting a response. The entire inanimate world runs like clockwork because an intelligent Being created it so. No thinking person is able to mount a retort to God’s claims. He made all things and He rules over all that He has made.
In chapter 39, the argument for God’s sovereign rule extends to the animate world as well. Again we find the Lord posing a series of questions that leave His critics silent. “Do you...,” “Can you...?,” and “Will you...?” inquiries are scattered throughout this chapter. They become even more direct in verses 26 and 27, where God sarcastically asks, “Is it by your understanding...?” and “Is it at your command...?” Job’s silent answer, of course, would be, “No, Lord, it is all your doing.”
As chapter 40 opens, we find the most direct question of all, “And the LORD said to Job: Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” I can just imagine Job thinking, “Faultfinder? Lord, I never meant to find fault with You or any of Your ways.” But isn’t it interesting how a direct confrontation with God is able to expose the most hidden motives of our hearts? Clearly Job was not only meeting the Lord, but himself in a new way. And you know something...whenever we see God as He really is, we see ourselves as we really are.
I find it interesting that the Lord employs rhetorical questions rather than direct statements when confronting Job. That’s because questions force us to think and to reason. Job is being challenged to consider that if all things are in the hands of God, then perhaps even his suffering has served and is serving a divine purpose. As he ponders that, we find...
Job’s first reply (40:3-5)
...in verses 3 through 5 of chapter 40:
“Then Job answered the LORD and said:
Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but I will proceed no further.”
As if Job had not been humbled enough by his circumstances, this direct confrontation with the Lord has reduced him still further. He has become merely a spectator in this unfolding scene. There is room for only one Leading Actor in this play, and it isn’t Job or any of his friends. One of the most important lessons that we will ever learn in life is the ability to distinguish between our role and God’s
That brings us to part two of God’s speech, where we discover...
How God overrules His enemies (40:6-41:34)
We begin in verse 6. The storm has not yet subsided, for we read, “Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said...” And then He repeats the challenge to Job: “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” Next, He throws down the gauntlet with even greater force:
“Will you even put me in the wrong?
Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?
Have you an arm like God,
and can you thunder with a voice like his?”
The answer is, of course, “No!” And God is about to explain how He not only rules His earth, but He also overrules His enemies. Part one of His speech focused on God’s government of the world; part two is concerned with His sovereign justice in that world.
Chapters 40 and 41 are built around the extended discussion of two creatures identified as “Behemoth” and “Leviathan.” The identity of these two beings has been the subject of much debate for centuries.
The “Behemoth” is introduced in verse 15. As noted, the meaning of this term is unclear, but the description suggests a large and strong beast that is ever present and possesses an insatiable appetite. It is described as being untamable by man. Only God—because He made this beast—is able to break it. And while the author may be speaking of an actual animal with which Job and his friends would have been familiar, I believe he is using the imagery of that beast to portray an even greater enemy.
The same is true of the “Leviathan,” who is described in detail in chapter 41. We were first introduced to this creature in chapter 3, verse 8. There we noted that it was likely a mythical sea monster superstitiously thought to bring evil, chaos, and confusion. The reference would have been a familiar one that conjured up thoughts of terror and dread.
The Book of Revelation repeatedly takes the imagery of beasts, dragons, serpents, and sea monsters and applies those images explicitly to Satan. Because the Scriptures are always their own best interpreter, we don’t need extra-biblical sources to provide the identification of “Leviathan.” For example, in Revelation 12:9 we read, “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.” It, therefore, seems reasonable to conclude that Leviathan is a strange and terrifying creature who represents the dread and evil of Satan himself. In the very last phrase of chapter 41(:34) as “the king over all the sons of pride.”
That “Leviathan” would be a reference to Satan makes sense in the account of Job because his two appearances in the book—and its beginning and at its end—would stand as “bookends.” The adversary made his proud introduction in chapters 1 and 2, and he is still present in all of his evil character in chapter 41. Clearly, the grand narrative will not culminate when we read its final chapter. The last verse of the book tells us that “Job died” (Job 42:17), so there is more to come. Job’s suffering will end, but the battle rages on.
But what about the “Behemoth”? It has been suggested by some that this hungry, always-devouring beast is a portrayal of death. Proverbs 27:20 immediately comes to mind. The New International Version translates that verse this way: “Death and destruction are never satisfied.” In other words, they lay claim to us all.
But there is Good News! What God has been pleased to reveal to Job is that both “Leviathan”—the beastly embodiment of terror and undiluted evil—and “Behemoth”—the personification of death itself are under God’s sovereign control. They have no power to inflict pain and loss apart from the Lord’s providential permission. These two figures are not merely colorful figures used to bring this story to a dramatic conclusion, but they are here to make the point that God—and only He—is able to keep evil on a leash.
As those who have read and studied this book, you and I already know that, don’t we? Back in chapters 1 and 2 we saw that Satan was limited in the degree he was able to afflict Job. And here at the end of the story that truth is confirmed. As Martin Luther put it, even “The devil is God’s devil.”
Granted, it is not until the New Testament that we learn what it cost God to win the final victory over Satan and death. Sin can never defeat sin, and evil is unable to overcome evil. The greatest enemy of our souls can only be defeated through the redemptive suffering of pure goodness, absolute righteousness. Enter Jesus Christ.
As the writer of Hebrews (2:14-15) explains, the reason the Son of God became a man was so that He might “destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” That victory was won at the cross, where “the last enemy” (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:26) was dealt a fatal blow.
By now Job has been sufficiently humbled. He recognized his presumption for having ever questioned the ways of God. So in deep contrition he manages a brief response. We see...
Job’s second reply (42:1-6)
...in the opening verses of chapter 42. Notice these selected phrases:
“Then Job answered the LORD and said:
‘I know that you can do all things
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
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.’”
When the text says that Job “repented,” it is not implied that his friends had been right all along. Rather, Job’s repentance was for his presumptuous words in speaking of that which he did not understand. Now in the presence of God, he bows humbly in silent worship.
I trust the reference to “ashes” doesn’t escape you. What for nearly forty chapters had been the setting of grief and pain has now become the scene of worship. What has made the difference? Job had met the Lord face to face, and now he shares the intimate relationship with Him that he had longed for. Job recognized that God does not arbitrarily permit evil, but in many cases commands it, controls it, and even uses it for his good purposes.
The most despicable deed in history—the death of Jesus Christ—took place “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23), and it resulted in the definitive defeat of death and the devil. This God who knows how to use even supernatural evil to serve his good purposes can and will use the darkest invasions in our lives for our good and His glory. Let us be mindful that “it takes fire to refine gold.”
We must learn that lesson in unforgettable ways. That is why I believe the book ends the way it does. In verses 7 through 17, we are given an illustration of...
How God restores His elect (42:7-17)
You will notice that the writer reverts to narrative form at verse 7 as he brings the story to a conclusion. Job’s friends are severely reprimanded by God for their shallow and error-laden counsel given to Job during his time of trial. In contrast, God refers to Job four times in verses 7 through 9 as “my servant Job.” In fact, it is through the intercession of Job on behalf of his friends that they are restored. Verse 9 adds the exclamation, saying, “And the LORD accepted Job’s prayer.” Perhaps you recall from chapter 1(:5) that Job used to intercede for his children in a similar way.
We are told that the Lord “gave Job twice as much as he had before” in terms of possessions, family, and length of days. The text adds that “The LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning.” As his story comes to a close, we find him surrounded by family and friends and enjoying a meal. It is perhaps a foreshadowing of the heavenly banquet that all of God’s elect will one day feast upon in the presence of their Lord, the One whose own suffering gives meaning to theirs.
It is highly significant that the blessing does not come until the end of the book. The normal Christian life is one of warfare and waiting in the here and now. And it is the expectation of blessing at the end that allows us to persevere in faith. There are times when God sees fit to bless us now, but even those blessings are but a tiny foretaste of the blessings to be poured out at the end.
Job may well be the oldest book in the Bible and it deals with mankind’s two most pressing issues: the problem of suffering and one’s relationship with God. How interesting that as we come to the end of the story we find the Lord offering Job no theological reason for his distress. You and I have been told why in the first two chapters, but that was so that Job’s innocence and integrity might be established with the reader. It was never explained to Job personally “why” he had been struck with such adversity and affliction. Had he been told, the book would have immediately lost its message to all others who suffer without apparent reason.
The attitude proposed by the three friends toward Job’s suffering was one of self-accusation...their “retribution theology” demanded a seamless link between “cause and effect.” The righteous are blessed and the wicked are cursed. The posture assumed by Elihu was one of self-discipline...it was good and helpful advice, but it didn’t go quite far enough. But God’s position—the only fully correct one—was that of self-surrender...trusting Him even when the facts seem to favor otherwise. With regard to that, John Stott has exhorted, “The only right attitude toward suffering is worship, which is humble self-surrender to God.”
Job knew nothing of the “heavenly wager” that had taken place between the Lord and Satan. Without even knowing it, Job had the honor of being used by God to refute the adversary and to silence the slanderer. Job did not receive explanations regarding his suffering, but he did come to a much deeper sense of the majesty and loving care of an omniscient and omnipotent God.
The fact that God does not explain the mystery of suffering indicates that He wants us to trust Him, even when clear answers are not forthcoming. As someone has pointed out, “Suffering and adversity can sharpen your awareness of how thoroughly God has already and always been at work in every detail of your life.” To that I would add, only if you’re willing to see that to be the case.
John Hartley concludes his commentary on Job with these words: “The Lord may withdraw his favor for a season, but his love is for a lifetime.”
As we have said throughout our study, there is more to the story of Job than initially meets the eye. It is about true worship...even in the darkness. It is about bowing down to the unseen One and leaving our most agonizing questions at his feet. It is about remembering that He is the Creator and we are His creatures. In other words, it about recognizing and accepting that He is God and we are not.
And that brings us to the most significant aspect of the story. This book is about Job, and in a manner of speaking it is about us as well. But ultimately this is a book about Jesus Christ. Job foreshadowed Christ in his blamelessness and perseverance through undeserved suffering. Therefore, as the ultimate blameless believer, Jesus fulfills the story of Job.
In His passion, the suffering of Jesus reached deeper depths than even Job experienced. The drama, the pain, and the perplexity of Job find their climax at the cross of Jesus Christ. Try to imagine the darkness and the horror of Jesus’ God-forsakenness during those terrible hours of lonely agony as He hung upon the cross, pouring out His life in exchange for yours and mine. It was there that he absorbed the full wrath of God in the place of sinners like you and me. And it was then that Job’s “why” questions finally received their answer. As the blameless believer—despised and rejected by men, but ultimately vindicated by God through the resurrection—Jesus fulfilled the drama and longings of Job for justification. He answered the question, as no one else could, as to why the righteous suffer.
What’s more, because Job is about Jesus, it is also about Jesus’ followers as well. He has issued the call for every disciple to, “Deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me,” adding, “Whoever will save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Luke 9:23 and 24). Therefore, every Christian can expect in some measure to walk in the footsteps of Job...as well as those of Jesus (cf. 1 Peter 2:21). No wonder the Savior cautions us to “count the cost” (cf. Luke 14:28) before committing to Him. The Bible makes it clear that our final justification is demonstrated through our willingness to bear in our own lives the suffering of the Savior (cf. Galatians 6:17).
May grace be granted to each of us, enabling us to bow down—especially during times of deep darkness and great affliction—to the One who endured greater suffering than we can possibly imagine in order to bring us to Himself. Together with Job, and even more specifically with our Savior, let us rise from the ashes on this “Resurrection Day” and give God the glory so that we may worship His name forever.