Wednesday Evening Prayer Meeting
March 24, 2010
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Now turn with me if you would to the book of Job, the book of Job. I had been in the ministry just a few years, well less than a year, and a lady, a young woman, the age of myself and Rosemary approximately, she began to attend the church. She was related to other members of the church and she had a little girl. At this time the girl was oh, two or three years of age. This little girl would have seizures. Ken can give me the medical term. I've forgotten what it is. But she had multiple tumors on her brain. She would have these seizures three or four times a day and she would be out for fifteen or twenty minutes each time. The doctors said when she was born she wouldn't live past six or seven. She's thirty five now. The day after she was born her husband left, never came back, never provided so much as a penny. I would go and see her about once a month or so and I would visit her in her home. We would sit down and she would make a cup of tea and she would say three times out of four, she would begin the conversation in exactly the same way — “I know you can't answer this question but I'm going to ask it anyway…Can you tell me why?” And I would say, “No, I can't.” And she’d say, “I knew that.” And then she’d ask about me and my family. And we did that for seventeen years I'm sure.
Why? Why suffering? Why divorce? Why do friends of ours lose their loved ones in terrible circumstances? It's the question the book of Job asks. Let's read it together. Let's start reading from chapter one. Let's pray together.
Father, we thank You for the Scriptures and pray now for the blessing of the Holy Spirit that we might read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
“There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, ‘It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.’ Thus Job did continually.
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, ‘From where have you come?’ Satan answered the Lord and said, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’ And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?’ Then Satan answered the Lord and said, ‘Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.’ And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.’ So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, and there came a messenger to Job and said, ‘The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.’ While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, ‘The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.’ While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, ‘The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.’ While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, ‘Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.’
The Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’
In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”
Amazing, isn't it? We all pray that we might be enabled to respond to trial and devastation as Job did. We all want to be able to say in that moment of crisis, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
The book of Job opens with a prologue. It's not something that Job himself knows. It's not part of information — some of this information for example is not given to Job — the meeting for example of Satan with God is not something that Job knows anything about. This is information given to us by the author of the book of Job. And these first two chapters record for us this cataclysmic catastrophe that befalls this godly man.
Why do bad things happen to good people?
Well okay, you’re Calvinists, you say, “No one's good, everyone's fallen, everyone's a sinner including Job,” and you are correct. Well done. Except the three times, not just by the author of the book of Job who may or may not agree with what Job himself is saying in the course of the book remember, but by God Himself who is the Author of the book of Job. God Himself, in the mouth of God, we are given this testimony — that he was a man “blameless and upright who feared God and turned away from evil.”
Three times in chapters one and two we are told that this man may well be a fallen son of Adam for sure, but he is a godly man. He's the godliest man on the face of the earth.
So I ask again, why do bad things happen to godly people?
You see, we can understand why bad things happen to bad people, in fact we want bad things to happen to bad people. Sometimes we have to confess our sins that we wrongly want bad things to happen to bad people instead of praying for their conversion sometimes. But why do bad things happen to godly people? Dear, dear friends of ours who have experienced terrible loss and suffering and trial — why?
There are three characters here that we are introduced to in this first chapter. The first, of course, is Job himself. This godly man, father of ten children, a wealthy man. The second is God, the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth. The third is Satan. There comes a day when the sons of God gather in God's presence and Satan is among them. Now you ask me, “Where is that?” And I'm going to say, “I have absolutely no idea, somewhere in this universe.” What it does say is that even Satan has to give an account of himself to the Lord. This isn't dualism, that Satan and God are equally ultimate. This is the perspective of Scripture that God alone is sovereign and Satan is a finite being. And he's more powerful and more evil and more destructive than we could ever, ever imagine, but even he cannot lift so much as a finger without the permission of God. Isn't it interesting when God says, “Where have you been?” And Satan says, “From prowling about on the face of the earth,” he says. Satan has no home. He's a vagabond.
You know that's what hell is — never being able to say “I'm home.” Do you know what heaven is? Do you know when you get to heaven what the first thing you’ll say is when you get to heaven? “This feels like home.” But never in hell.
Satan offers a wager. He offers a wager. He says, you see, “The only reason why Job retains his integrity, his godliness, is, well look at him, he's rich. He's got everything. It's easy to be godly when you’re rich. But take things away from him, take everything from him, and you’ll see what he's made of.” It was an assault as much on God and God's ability to preserve Job as it was an assault upon Job himself. And in one fell swoop he loses everything, everything. And you get all bent out of shape because the Dow Jones has slipped a few points on the market, and I understand that I think, but Job loses everything. You understand that camels and sheep and stuff are his 401K, they are his stocks and shares, and he's lost them all. But that's nothing, that's nothing. He loses all ten of his children in one go, in one fell swoop.
In the next chapter of course it gets worse because he loses his health. He contracts a disease in all its description that it's so like AIDS. He withers away. He's covered in sores, Elephantiasis, or whatever it is you want to call it. He's at death's door before the end of this book. He's skin and bones — that's a phrase that comes from the book of Job. You know Mrs. Job says, “Curse God and die.” Calvin called her organum satani. Now you don't need to know any Latin to know that's not a compliment. She is the tool of Satan. Well perhaps let's be kind to Mrs. Job, she's lost all ten of her children too. Perhaps she's saying, “I don't want to see you suffer so get it over with — curse God and die.” Job says she speaks like a foolish woman in the Bible sense — the fool who says there is no God. “Shall we not accept good at the hand of God and not evil” he says. Job believes in the sovereignty of God, the absolute, total sovereignty of God. The problem that Job has is he has seemingly no idea of the existence of Satan. There are times in this book and you want to just get hold of Job and say, “Job it is Satan you need to be getting angry with!”
So three friends come, Eliphaz and Bildad and Zophar. There's been a seven day period of mourning, of quietness. The best thing these three friends ever did was to say nothing, was to keep their mouths shut. Sometimes the best counseling is to be with someone and say nothing because as soon as you begin to talk things go south. Have you read Job chapter 3 recently? You know it's that chapter where Job descends into the abyss, wishes he had never been born, wishes he had died in his mother's womb so that his mother's womb would be his grave forever. Jeremiah in chapter 20, after he had spent the night in the stocks, quotes Job chapter 3 almost word for word. Maybe you've never been in Job chapter 3, maybe you've never experienced the experience of the psalmist in Psalm 88 when he says at the end of that psalm, “Darkness is my only friend.” That's pretty dark. You know maybe you’re one of these jovial people who never seems to see the dark side of anything. You know the rest of humanity envies you, that perspective.
Now I have to confess that I've never ever been in Job chapter 3. I don't think I've ever said, “I wish I had never been born.” I don't think I've ever said some of the things Job has said, but boy I'm glad it's there, that the very darkest experience of all is there for me in the Bible because Jesus has been in the darkness where He has been bereft of the fellowship of His Father in heaven and He has cried, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” We do not have a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.
And then from chapter 4 to chapter 31 of the book of Job you have the contribution of these three friends, Eliphaz and Bildad and Zophar. Eliphaz is the first one to speak. He's the dreamer. He's the visionary. He has these feelings and experiences of spiritual visions and he's a spouter of words for sure. Bildad is orthodox, rigidly orthodox, but utterly irrelevant. And Zophar is Mr. Angry. Do you know Mr. Angry? Children have these little toys you know — Mr. Happy, Mr. Sad, Mr. Angry. Zophar is Mr. Angry.
Now what do they say? Calvin says, “They only have one song and they sing it to death.” And their song goes like this — well, let's have a look at it. Chapter 4 and verse 17; here it is — “Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker?” Now that sounds pretty orthodox. You know, everyone's a sinner, everyone has fallen short of the glory of God. Can mortal man be in the right before God? You can imagine using that as a text and as a basis for preaching the Gospel, that no man can be right in the sight of God apart from faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, but that's not what he's saying.
Eliphaz is saying in verse 17, that the reason why Job is suffering is because he's a sinner. You get out of life what you put into it. You reap what you sow; you reap what you sow. Suffering is always invariably without exception at the judgment of God because we are sinners. That's their song. They sing it to death. They say, “Job, search your heart. You will find sin there. It will be a big sin, it will be a medium sized sin, it will be a small sin, it will be a sin that you've forgotten about, it will be a sin of your youth, but search your heart and you will discover sin and repent of it and you will see God returning to you again.”
Now much of what they say is perfectly orthodox. They believe in the sovereignty of God. They believe in a somewhat deterministic view of God for sure, but they believe in the sovereignty of God. They believe in justice. They believe in a concept of right and wrong.
Many of the things these three friends are saying are perfectly true except they’re utterly irrelevant.
A thing can be true but it's utterly irrelevant to the context because God has told us, God has told us that Job is not suffering because he's a sinner.
On the contrary, he's a godly man and the reason for Job's suffering must lie outside of any context of his own personal sin and failure.
Now let's think about that for a second. Let's think about the doctrine. You reap what you sow. That is true. Didn't you tell your children that, that there are consequences for their actions? Of course you did. “If you do such and such this is what you can expect.” We do that all the time. Do you not tell with that? Of course you do. There are consequences for our actions. Take, let's take some of the big ones. Take Uzzah — I'm doing the sermon here. You know the man who put out his hand because the arc was being taken back to Jerusalem. It was on a road like Mississippi and it was about to fall and he puts out his hand to steady the arc and what happens? God struck him dead. All he did, all he did was touch the arc except he wasn't supposed to touch the arc, no one was supposed to touch the arc. The Kohathites, a subdivision of the tribe of the Levites were the only ones who were allowed to handle the arc, and even they weren't allowed to handle it, they were to use poles. God struck him dead. He reaped what he had sown. It was instant retribution. It was the theology of the three friends. They’re right. But you see that's Old Testament. You know, things like that happened in the Old Testament but we're in the new covenant now.
Okay — let's go to the Acts of the Apostles and Ananias and Saphira and they tell a white lie about the price of a piece of real estate which the church perhaps had no business of knowing anyway. And what happens? God strikes both of them dead. That's New Testament, within weeks of Pentecost. You don't want to be in the Old Testament. You don't want to be in the New Testament either. The doctrine of instant retribution is partly right. Doesn't Paul write to the Corinthians and say, “Some of you are sick and some of you have died” and what's he saying? “It's because of your behavior.” Isn't that what he's saying in Corinth? You reap what you sow. But you see my friends, the doctrine of instant retribution is also partly wrong. It's not always true. It isn't true in this circumstance because God has already told us it's not true.
Take a man who contracts AIDS because he lives a profligate, sexual life. Do you feel sorry for him? Of course. Do you sympathize with him? Of course. Do you minister to him? Of course. But you say to him, “You've reaped what you've sown. I'm sorry. I’ll do all I can for you, but you've reaped what you've sown. You have no one else to blame here but yourself.” Is that hard? No, it's realistic. But take somebody who contracts AIDS because of a bad blood transfusion, and that happens, thankfully not as much now as it did, but it can happen. The same result, but they were entirely innocent. They were entirely innocent.
Then there's Elihu — begins in chapter 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37. I'm not going to spend a great deal of time on Elihu. Elihu begins well and ends badly. He begins with something not altogether new and fresh because it has been heard before by the three friends, but Elihu seems to have caught sight of one important principle that sometimes suffering comes because God wants to teach us lessons, and that's true. Paul's thorn in the flesh was to teach him to be humble. Sometimes you deprive your children of certain things, don't you, because you want them to learn gratitude. It's not good for them to have everything they ask for. If they've never known what it is to need and to want chances are they’re never going to learn gratitude. Nothing is said about Elihu, either positively or negatively, and that can work in both directions I understand.
So turn with me to chapter 38 — “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind.” Out of the whirlwind? This man is dying, this man has lost all ten children, and God is speaking to him out of a whirlwind? Wouldn't you have expected God to come and whisper, whisper in his ear? And all of a sudden you realize that when God finally speaks there's something about God that's altogether different, that He can't be managed and boxed up and contained and caged.
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” Well the answer of course is Job. “Dress for action” — the Hebrew has the connotation of a fight, a wrestling match. You know, Job's been asking for a fight. It's an epistemological fight. It's a fight about ideas and concepts. “What right does God have to make me suffer?” is what Job has been asking. “Okay,” God says, “you want to fight? Let's have a fight. Here are the rules for the game — I will question you and you will make it known to me.” And you’d say, “That's not fair. That is not fair.” Because who is it that's been asking the questions? Job. Who is it that should provide the answers? God. And God says, “No. Here are the rules — I'm going to do the asking. You do the answering.” Do you get the point? This thing is loaded from the start.
What's the first question? Question number one — Did you ever watch Who Wants to be a Millionaire? It says everything that's wrong about America. Who Wants to be a Millionaire? I watched that program just a couple of times and I happened to watch one evening when a little lady, she was from Iowa or somewhere, some post office out in the boonies in Iowa. And you know the first few questions you’re meant to get right. You’re meant to go home with a thousand dollars. What color is blue? A hundred dollars. She couldn't get the first question. You know, you sort of imagine going into the post office and saying, “She's the one that couldn't get the answer.”
What's the first question? “Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?” And you’re saying, “That is not fair. What kind of question is that? I mean what does that have to do with Job's suffering? What does that have to do with the ten children that he's buried, to a man who's just seconds away from dying? What does that have to do with anything?” And then sixty-five, seventy questions later, all of which Job cannot answer, not a single one, not a single one can Job answer. Not about the stars or the depths of the ocean, about caves deep underground where man has never gone — Job hasn't got a clue about any of these questions.
So in chapter 40 and verse 15 we have Behemoth and in chapter 41 and verse 1 we have Leviathan. Do you see them? Behemoth and Leviathan. What are these? Now my time is going so let me just tell you what they are. I know there are lots of opinions. Some people say they’re prehistoric, you know, brontosaurus-rex and tyrannosaurus-rex and that's a possibility. Aquinas said it was an elephant and a whale and Calvin went along with that, too. And then in the seventeenth century there came an interpretation that said Behemoth and Leviathan were a hippopotamus and a crocodile. Now, we've only got a couple of minutes. Just for the sake of argument — oh please don't email me afterwards! I know there are lots of opinions but it doesn't matter. You’re missing the point. Just for the sake of argument, let's go with a hippo and a crocodile.
Now, here's the question — Why did I (God) make a crocodile? I have absolutely no idea. My world would not go out of joint if there were no crocodiles tomorrow. You know I'm not going to give any money to save the crocodile. I’ll save the elephant perhaps, but if crocodiles go extinct, I'm not going to miss a beat. I don't like them. I think they’re ugly, vicious. I don't care. Why does God make a crocodile and what does this have to do with anything about Job? Well, I know the answer. I know the answer. I've written a book on Job. Why did God make a crocodile? I know the answer to this question. I know, please, please, please, I know the answer. The answer is — I don't know. No, the answer is — for the glory of God. Remember your Catechism — for the glory of God. That's the answer.
Why does God send pain? Why does God send suffering? And the answer is — I don't know, but for His glory, for His glory. Do you know what Job does? In the middle of this final debate with God do you know what he does? He does something extraordinary. He does something that you and I need to do all the time. He does this — he puts his hand upon his mouth. He stops talking. He stops arguing and he submits. He submits. He says, “God is sovereign.”
“God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.
He plants His footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines of never failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs and works His sovereign will.
Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain.
God is His own interpreter and He will make it plain.”
Right in the very center of my Bible is a book that says, it says something that every single one of us need to hear — that there are circumstances of life that are so difficult and so complex that we do not have an answer to them and pain is one of those.
Things happen that we have no explanation for except that God is in absolute and total control. He never lets go of the tiller, ever. Let's pray.
Father we thank You now for the book of Job and pray that we might be given grace to do what Job did, to put our hands upon our mouths and acknowledge Your sovereignty. You are the one, true, and living God. Your ways are not our ways, Your thoughts are not our thoughts. Help us to submit knowing that You will never love us more than You already have in the Gospel. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.
Please stand. Receive the Lord's benediction. Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
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