By Simon ManchesterSunday 30 Aug 2015Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes
St Thomas’ Anglican Church
Job – Miserable Comforters
I thought I’d begin by telling you that this week I was catching a train, not very far, just from Town Hall to Artarmon and I have no mobile phone so I didn’t know really what to do on the train and I had no book with me. So I reached for one of the MX Papers and that took about a minute and then I did one of the puzzles, one of the jumbled puzzles on the train paper. And then because I was really stuck to know what to do, I decided to read for the first time for a very long time, my stars! So this is what I discovered.
It was amazing, it was amazing. This was my Stars – “Self Discipline is at an all-time low. The need to pursue pleasure is at an all-time high”. And I thought – how did they know that? That’s exactly right. It could not have been truer, uncanny. They I decided to read some of the other stars.
“Be careful what you say – chose words wisely”
“Be positive – don’t believe everything you hear”
“The more loving you are – the better the day will be”
“If you are travelling – except mix ups or delays” – (there’s a profound thought)
“It is a great time to re-decorate your work space”
“The more you support others – the more productive you will be”
(And this is my favourite – I can’t remember which star, which sign this was)-
“There’s a hint of magic and mystery in the air – so make sure you enjoy the day to the max”
And then it suddenly struck me that somebody is being paid probably good money to write what is really rubbish – absolute rubbish – just sentences which will always be vaguely and moderately helpful.
And I thought about that as I was preparing because we come to a long section in the Book of Job which is just lots of sentences said by a bunch of men – some of which are helpful and some of which are not helpful and they are not really scratching where Job is itching and yet we have got chapters 4 to 27 of dialogue. And I was asking myself the question – you know why is this here, this great big chunk of Bible which is longer than a letter like Romans or 1 Corinthians? Why is it in our Bibles?
I mean here are 3 friends who know nothing about why Job is suffering but they want to say everything. And therefore are these chapters are just hot air and a waste of space? The answer very quickly I want to say is that God has been pleased to give us these chapters because they are part of Scripture and here are 3 very able men doing their best to counsel and comfort Job and Job is doing his very best to defend himself and keep crying to God.
So these men, these friends – their names are Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar – friends of Job, Job who is suffering, bring all their genius and all their reason to try and say something helpful. Some of it is very moving. One writer says ‘the Bible gives us the language of lament, language for our feelings’. Some of the Psalms you may know say things which we are feeling and which we cannot quite put into words. Or we read the Psalm and say ‘that’s exactly what I am feeling’. And Job puts into words and into some extent his 3 friends put into words what many people are longing really to say when life gets difficult.
Now much of the speeches are just plain wrong. These men are in the dark, their attitude gets nasty but these words are not meaningless as we will see. And their words are very big on feeling and very little on fact. Thank God that at the end of the Book of Job we will get the facts.
So by way of introduction – I tried to point out last week that Job is a man in the Old Testament – (you will know this I think) who loses everything in chapters 1 and 2. He doesn’t lose everything because of chance nor because of fate nor is it just a test to make him strong. He loses everything because of a cosmic issue which we are told about in the heavens where Satan asks the question of God – If you take everything away from Job will he stay faithful or will he curse you to your face? And God gives permission for everything to be taken away. And so the suffering of Job is the answer to the bigger question – a very very important question which is – Is faith just a natural thing which we do because we want to play a game? And is God somebody worthy of our praise and glory and honour or is he just convenient? That’s the big question in the Book of Job. Who is worthy and who will sustain us whatever happens?
Well the 3 friends they don’t know what has taken place up in heaven – they don’t know about Satan’s question. Job doesn’t know what has taken place in heaven – he doesn’t know about Satan’s question. And so they have a wrestling match for what is that – 24 chapters – and they are trying to explain something that they just do not understand. They are in the dark. They try to do it with what we would call reason or intelligence which can never get up to heaven. That’s why we need God to come down and we need God to speak down to us. We need the word of God, the Bible and we need the word of God, Jesus to come down to us because we cannot get up.
Now as I say the friends’ names are Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar and there are 3 rounds of speeches.
So Eliphaz speaks up – then Job answers.
Then Bildad speaks up – then Job answers.
Then Zophar speaks up – then Job answers.
And although this is quite a fast journey tonight and quite a difficult sermon for you to follow, what I have tried to do is pick out key lines in their sentences and I want you to see something of the dialogue and get a taste for it and if you get nothing out of tonight, I would recommend to you sometime when you are feeling brave to go back and open up Job and look at chapters 4 to 27 and see what it is like when 4 men are trying to grapple with the grief and the sadness and have no answers.
So let’s think about ROUND 1. If you remember from last week Job’s property, children, health and everything are taken away. And after a week of complete silence (this is Round 1) ELIPHAZ the first of the friends, speaks up. He says in chapter 4 verses 7-8 “Do good people suffer”? That’s the question – he says “No you are reaping what you have sown. Somewhere Job you have done something terrible and you are now being punished – this is the way God works”. This is karma coming back to bite you.
One of the reasons it’s so great to be a Christian is because grace beats karma (Psalm 103 – God does not treat us as our sins deserve). So although sowing and reaping is a very real principle in life –
You know if you put certain stuff into your mind it will come back to haunt you.
If you put stuff into your lungs, it will affect you.
If you put stuff into your body, it will have its impact
But not all suffering is because of sin. Jesus met a man in John chapter 9 who was blind and the disciples thinking along the same line said “Who sinned, him or his parents?” Jesus said “Neither – this is for the glory of God”.
Well this formula from ELIPHAS – sow and reap – is often true but it’s not always true. We need to be very careful that we don’t assume that we are suffering because of what we have sown and we certainly want to be very careful that we don’t tell other people that the reason that they are suffering is because of something dreadful and sinister.
JOB replies in chapter 6 verse 4 and says “God is firing arrows at me – he’s attacking me”. He goes on to say in chapter 7 “I can’t sleep. My whole body is suffering”. We discover in chapter 30 his sickness is so bad that his skin has gone black. I don’t really know what Job is suffering from but it’s a terrible terrible illness.
Then BILDAD speaks up in chapter 8 verse 3 and he says “Look God doesn’t make mistakes, look at what happened to your children, they must have sinned and they’ve been killed – God judged them”. And therefore chapter 8 verses 4-5 “You should turn to God quickly before something worse happens and plead for mercy”. It’s a fairly heartless speech.
JOB says in chapter 9 verses 2-3 “Look here is my question – how can I face God, not only is he perfect and I am not perfect – but who can argue with him – he is beyond an argument – who can teach him anything?” And he says in chapter 9 verse 33 “I wish I had a mediator, I wish I had an arbitrator, I wish I had a referee”. This is a really loaded comment isn’t it? In the whole of the Bible when you consider that the New Testament tells us that we need a Mediator with a holy God and there is one Mediator, says the Bible, Jesus Christ, the one Mediator between God and men.
But God is not against Job, God loves Job, God is committed to Job and Job belongs to God. These friends are putting a wedge between Job and God – a wedge that shouldn’t be there.
Then ZOPHAR speaks up. He is the cruellest of the 3 friends and he says in chapter 11 verse 6 “You know I think God has actually forgotten some of your sin”. In other words, I think you should be getting worse than you are getting. “But if you repent” verse 14 “all will be well”. Remember that Job is not pretending to be sinless. He just can’t work out why so much has come upon him and that’s the end of ROUND 1.
ROUND 2 – In Round 2 JOB gets sarcastic and bitter. He says in chapter 12 verse 2 “Well you are the clever people. When you go from this world, wisdom will go from this world”. And in chapter 13 verse 4 he calls them ‘worthless doctors, worthless physicians’. And in chapter 13 verse 12 he says “your words are proverbs of ashes”.
And then suddenly from this moment of pain and despair THERE IS A GREAT HIGH in chapter 13 verse 15 and he says “Though God slay me, I will trust him”.
I want you to notice, friends that the emotions of Job are going up and down. Don’t try and work him out from one sentence. One day he is saying everything is great and one day he is saying everything is terrible. Do you not know people like that? Job of course feels as though God is with him one minute and then he has completely abandoned him another minute. That’s how his feelings are going.
And maturity in the Christian life as we know and we heard this and we were reminded of this in our Prayers – maturity is learning to live by the promises. It’s learning to take a promise and cause the promise to answer the feeling.
Well then ELIPHAZ speaks up and he asks the million dollar question in chapter 15 verse 8. He says “Who do you think you are Job? Have you been up into heaven? Have you been in God’s counsel?” This is the sixty four thousand dollar question! Have you been listening in on God’s wisdom? And the answer of course is that Job has not but he might equally say to his 3 friends – “have you?” And they would have to say “No”. And they think they have got the answers.
In chapter 16 verse 2 JOB calls them “Miserable Comforters”. He says to them in verse 5 “If I was in your place, I’d comfort you”. And then in verses 19-20 he says “But my advocate, my intercessor is on high there is someone who will plead my cause”. Isn’t that interesting? Chapter 9 “I wish I had an advocate”. Chapter 16 “I have an advocate”. “I wish somebody was with me” “He is with me”. “I can’t trust him” “I will trust him” – very interesting emotions.
It is the work of the devil to work on vagueness. I don’t know if you have noticed this? The devil works on vagueness. In other words, it’s his job to work on your mind so that you’re vague or confused about where you stand. When you are vague or confused about where you stand – that’s the work really of the devil. He works so that you will say things to yourself like this:-
“I feel unsure about where I stand”
“Things seem to be pretty bad”
That’s the territory of the devil – he unsettles with sort of fog. When God’s spirit is at work on God’s people, he puts his finger on the very thing that you must deal with. It’s basically ‘this is the thing – stop dancing around it’. ‘This is the thing to be repented of’. ‘Stop pretending that you can hold on to this sin and have a really good Christian life’. – NO the Spirit says ‘that’s the thing – get rid of it’. The devil works on vagueness but the Spirit puts his finger on the specific issue. And of course Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar are really doing the devil’s work.
BILDAD goes back to the guilty theme in chapter 18 verse 5. He says “you know the lamp of the wicked gets snuffed out. Why is your life fading fast, Job? Well it’s because of sin, it’s because you are wicked”.
I was asking myself as I was preparing this sermon – are these men, these 3 men really nasty? And the answer I think is that they can’t really be sheer nastiness – they are working within their limits. This is all they have got. They have got a tiny little formula which says:- “Be good – get the blessing – Be bad – get the trouble” and now they’ve got a man in front of them who is in trouble. The problem is that not that they are nasty – the problem is not even that Job is sinful – the problem is that they are working with a tiny little frame – an unworkable frame and they lack serious maturity which makes them incapable of being good comforters.
JOB comes back in chapter 19 verse 6 and he says “God has wronged me”. This is a very serious thing that Job says. “God has done the wrong thing to me”. Back in chapter 16 he says “I am God’s target” and now he says “God has wronged me”. And when we get to the end of the Book and God gets Job to repent – he’s not going to get Job to repent of the things that the 3 friends say he has done – he didn’t do those things – but he will get Job to repent of the things that he said which were wrong.
And this leads me to say to you that you may hear in Christian circles every now and again that you can say whatever you like to God. You know I’ve heard people say ‘if you want to be angry at God, if you want to be mad at God, if you want to tell God off – you just do it – he’s big enough – he can take it’.
I want to say to you to be very careful about that. You and I have got an obligation, Lord’s Prayer, to “Hallowed the name of God all the time”. We may be feeling very angry and we may need to say to him:-
“Heavenly Father, I am feeling so angry – I need your help. I need to remember the Cross that I am a forgiven child of God and I need your Holy Spirit to subdue the flesh and promote what’s godly”. OR
“Heavenly Father, I am feeling so lustful – it’s everywhere”.
It’s not abusing God, it’s not yelling at God but it’s asking him to help us with great reverence and great respect. At all times in our prayer we can say what we want is going on but we need to do it with reverence.
We then come to a jewel in chapter 19 verse 25 and I think this is a sensational verse and so did Handel – the composer because JOB says:-
“I know that my Redeemer lives,
And that in the end he will stand
Upon the earth.
And after my skin has been
Yet in my flesh
I will see God”
I think that’s outstanding! There it is in the Old Testament pulling together all this New Testament theology in the Old Testament – it’s a jewel that’s come up from the pit beautifully set to music by Handel.
Well ZOPHAR has the last word and again he is just an obnoxious friend and he says in chapter 25 “You are wicked – you are godless and you are proud”. He then goes on to say a little bit about evil. He says “you know evil is sweet to taste but then it turns sour and then if you don’t turn from evil there will be darkness for you”. And he’s absolutely right but it just doesn’t apply to Job. That’s the end of ROUND 2.
ROUND 3 – Wonderful, wonderful chapter 21 verse 7 where JOB suddenly turns around he says “you know the wicked often do really well”. “ Here you are coming and saying wicked get trouble and I want to tell you” says JOB (and he is absolutely right) “that the wicked in this life often do really well – what are you going to do about that?”
He says in chapter 21 “they have long pain free lives often. Their kids do well. They have a home and a holiday home. Their business goes really well. Little Charlie wins the music prize. Suzie wins a ballet scholarship – everything goes wonderfully for them”. “And you know what?” says JOB “these people” chapter 21 verse 14 “say to God – leave us alone, we have no desire to know your ways”. And Job is absolutely right. This is a subject that comes up again and again and again in the Bible – why is it that the wicked, the people who turn their back on God can have sensationally wonderful lives? And godly people who really take Jesus seriously can suffer dreadfully.
And you see as you read your Bible that godliness is no passport to glory and crown in this world. And ungodliness is no pathway to punishment and judgement necessarily in this world. And we ask ourselves every now and again when we see a godly man struck down and an ungodly man go from strength to strength and we ask ‘what is God doing?’
And JOB says to Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar ‘now you answer the question – what is God doing?’ And the answer of course is that God’s dealings are eternal. God’s people need to be patient because not everything is going to be solved and fixed and decided and judged and vindicated in this world.
‘But’ says the Bible ‘the wicked – look at their foundation – that’s the question – don’t ask yourself whether they are happy and successful – but ask yourself what’s their foundation? And if it is sand then it’s only a matter of time. And if it is the rock of Christ and the word of God then it’s for eternity.
ELIPHAZ in chapter 22 then tries to list Job’s sins. He says ‘you are greedy, you are aggressive, you are stingy, and you are heavy handed’. I wrestled with this chapter trying to work out whether it is true. I mean if Eliphaz has seen Job do all these dreadful things in chapter 22 I wonder why God would assess him so differently at the beginning of the Book. Why would God look at Job and say “blameless – upright”. So I am assuming, you see, that Eliphaz is inventing sins which he wants to say Job did because he wants to say that’s why Job is suffering. But I see no clear connection between what Eliphaz is saying and what Job did.
JOB comes back not defending himself in chapter 23 – he says ‘I want to know how to find God’. He feels (this is very sad – chapter 23 verse 8) that God has left him and Eliphaz is there like an accuser adding to his pain – but God has not left Job.
Now friends what will you do when you feel like God has left you? And it happens in the Christian life. What will you do when either because of neglect or because of God’s sovereign purposes the feeling comes over you that you have been deserted by him and left by him – what will you do? And the answer is simply you’ll have to go back to a couple of anchors. You’ll have to go back to the anchor of the Cross and say to yourself ‘this is where God proved his love for me and it doesn’t change’. And you’ll have to go back to the promises and say ‘this is where God promises his love for me and he doesn’t break his promises’.
Well BILDAD finishes ROUND 3 with an insult – chapter 25 verse 6. He says ‘this is how you counsel people if your counselling is going really badly’. He says ‘you are maggot and a worm’. That’s really hitting the real bottom of the barrel, isn’t it? He’s got down to name calling.
Well JOB comes back sarcastically again in chapter 26 verse 2 and he says “well, how helpful you have been, how comforting, what great insights, where did you get this genius” says Job in chapter 26.
And then in chapter 27 he sins again because he accuses God of being unjust. He says ‘I have been faithful, God has wronged me. He’s been unfair’. He is going to have to repent of those words. This is where Job steps over the line. But you notice that he is dealing with God. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar are just sort of talking pagan talk referring to God but not communicating with God.
So the 3RD ROUND is over and you’ve got to now picture these 4 men –
they don’t like each other –
they are frustrated –
they are like 4 wrestlers in the ring –
none of them were able to pin anyone to the ground –
none of them were able to throw anybody out of the ring
and this is human wisdom failing to solve a divine problem – a divine issue because we desperately need revelation from God.
Now in chapters 28 – 31 which I wasn’t going to tackle tonight but I will just summarize them very quickly.
In CHAPTER 28 there is a kind of an interval – you can almost imagine somebody walking around the wrestling ring with a big card and on the card it says ‘WHERE WILL WE FIND WISDOM’? We didn’t find it with Eliphaz, Bildad or Zophar. We didn’t really find it with Job. Where will we find wisdom? That’s the interval. The answer at the end of the chapter is ‘it’s going to be found in the fear of God’ and that’s as much as we can hope for.
In CHAPTER 29 Job looks back over his life – it’s a very sad chapter and it’s a very moving chapter. He says ‘I wish I could go back in time when God’s light was on me, when I had intimate fellowship with God, when he was with me, when my children were with me, when people respected me – he lost such a lot.
In CHAPTER 30 Job looks at the present and he says ‘now people mock me, they show no restraint. My life is slipping away and my nights are terrible and God is saying nothing to me – chapter 30 verse 20.
In CHAPTER 31 he says ‘you know I made a commitment that I would not fall into unjust business, I would not fall into lust, I would not treat people badly, I would share everything I have and I have kept my trust in God and that’s all I have and I am now signing my defence and I am asking God to come and answer me as I have nothing more to say, I have nowhere else to go, I have said all I can – God must say something – otherwise there is nothing to say’. It’s a very unusual situation to be in but remember Job is not only feeling attacked by God but he is being attacked by his friends. What can you do but sign his defence?
Well I want to finish by just telling you some things that I think these men could have actually come up with but they didn’t. It’s hard to appreciate these friends. I mean who among us tonight would go to somebody in hospital and sit by the bed and say to them “I don’t know where this has come from but I know that it must be sin. And this is what’s happening – God is punishing you”. Who would do that?
1. Part of the answer is that the legalist will do that. The heartless person will do it and the careless person will do it. Here are some fast things to say which these so-called comforters failed to provide. They failed to provide humility.
Where is the guy who says to Job ‘we don’t know what’s happening.
We are in the dark but we are with you,
We do not know,
We weep with you,
We feel with you,
We want you to know we are with you.
We don’t have any easy answers.’
Where is that kind of humility?
Where is the person who says
‘We don’t know why you are suffering
But we do know God loves
We do know he is wise
We do know he is powerful
We do know he is sovereign
So we are going to keep asking God to show his faithfulness to you?
Where is that person?
Job does not have anybody like that. This is the Deuteronomy 29:29 principle – “the secret things belong to the Lord our God. The things that are revealed are for us and our children”.
Many many times in your life and in helping other people you are going to have to take hold of the Deuteronomy 29:29 and say ‘I don’t know why this is happening but I do very much know this’.
2. The second thing which these friends failed to provide is steadfast love. There is little love presented by these three friends. They treat God as if God is utterly unpredictable – as if he is turning on them like a sort of a tiger or a lion. These men have got no grasp of Psalm 103 – ‘he does not treat us as our sins deserve – do not forget his benefits’. They’ve got no grasp of the steadfast love of the Lord that we were saying in Psalm 136. They have no grasp of ‘and I am with you always’ which comes up again and again in the Scriptures. There is no steadfast love.
3. Thirdly, they have no place for the devil. The devil gets no mention. They see the battle in sort of natural terms not supernatural but from Genesis to Revelation the devil is real and influential and he takes things of the world and he takes things of the flesh and he mixes them for disobedience and unbelief and doubt and all sorts of problems. And if you don’t think I am telling the truth – just look back over your week and ask yourself if the devil had no place in your past week? I am sure he did. I am not saying that the devil is in charge of anything but he is influential and we forget him. Packer said “he fits the facts”.
There is no prayer from these men. They don’t ask to pray for Job at any point. They don’t actually pray to God at any point. Their religion is rational, religious but it’s not supernatural and it’s not relational. Why don’t they pray for him? Why is there no crying to God on behalf of Job? Why is there no joining with him in prayer to God? Sometimes when you are really bad, you can’t pray – you need somebody to come and pray. How helpful it is when you really can’t think, to have somebody who can think.
4. And the last thing is that these friends have no place for suffering. I said last week that the Cross of Jesus tells us that God definitely has a place for suffering in his world – a good place for suffering, a wise place, a powerful place and a glorious place for suffering. These men have no place for suffering.
It’s as if suffering doesn’t exit to them except because ‘you have sinned’. They have no mention here of Joseph and all the suffering he went through. They have no mention here of the Wilderness Wandering. And if this Book of Job is much earlier, they don’t even have any mention of Noah.
But to be a comforter, friends, which is a very important role because all of us need comfort and all of us need to be comforters to one another, we are going to be clear that suffering has a place in God’s purpose. It’s not an attack by God. It’s not necessarily a judgment by God. It’s not God showing anger towards his people. It could entirely be a fire which is sifting, purifying and blessing. It could be a pruning (John 15) which is cutting back a branch for something much more fruitful and wonderful. There is a loving hand behind the furnace. There is a loving hand behind the clippers. And we will need to be more when we go to comfort people than just attached talkers like these 3 friends.
I want to finish with some words of John Newton. John Newton, the Amazing Grace writer who was an amazing letter writer and wrote scores of letters which brought tremendous comfort to people. And I just want to finish by reading a letter or part of a letter which he wrote to a lady whose sister was going through terrible sickness. And I just wonder whether these sentences might give you and me a model of what it is to speak effectively. He says this:
“Your sister is much upon my mind. Her illness grieves me. Were it in my power I would quickly remove it, feel the with you. The Lord can and I hope will remove it when it has answered the end for which he sent it. I wish you may be enabled to leave her and yourself and all your concerns in his hands. His sovereignty is exercised in a way of grace. All shall work together for good. Everything is needful that he sends. Nothing can be needful that he withholds.
You have need of patience and if you ask, the Lord will give it but there can be no settled peace until our will is in a measure subdued. So hide yourself under the shadow of his wings. Rely upon his care and power. Look upon him as a physician who has graciously undertaken to heal your soul and when you cannot see your way (and this is really beautiful) when you cannot see your way, be satisfied that he is your leader.
When your spirit is overwhelmed within you, he knows your path; he will not leave you to sink. He has appointed seasons of refreshment and you shall find that he does not forget you.
Above all, keep close to the throne of grace. If we seem to get no good by attempting to draw near him, we may be sure we shall get none by keeping away from him.”
And there are the ingredients that the 3 friends, dreadfully omit.
Now next week in our 3rd and the last of the series, we will see how God responds and satisfies Job deeply.
Let’s bow our heads and pray together –
Our loving Father, we thank you for giving to us this portion of your word where we see men at the very limitation of their own minds. And we pray that you would have mercy upon us or any who do not look to you for answers. We pray that you would help us to be those who trust your promises and trust your work at the Cross and represent you well in bringing comfort to those who are needy.
We pray for us this evening that you would minister to us through the work of Christ and through the word, those things that we need as rock and anchor to keep trusting you, to keep obeying you, keep rejoicing in you and keep praising you.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.