Affliction in Verse: Is There No Arbiter Between Us?

Sermon by David Strain on February 4, 2018

Job 8-10

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If you would, take your Bibles in hand and turn with me to the book of Job. We have been working through the book of Job on Sunday evenings together and you will remember that Job is sitting with his three friends in the ashes, in the ruins of his life, amidst great grief and terrible loss. And the large, central section of the book of Job that runs from chapter 3 all the way through chapter 37, is taken up with a series of conversations, with cycles of dialogue between Job and those three, so-called friends. And the approach we adopted, beginning last time with the first of those three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, is to take one entire, one complete cycle of speech at a time, usually three or four chapters, in which one of Job’s interlocutors speaks and then Job responds, so that we see a complete conversation each time. And so that means tonight that we are turning our attention to the second cycle of speech in the book that begins in chapter 8 and runs through chapter 10, as now Bildad, the Shuhite, takes his turn in addressing Job.


As we’re going to see is a normal pattern in these Sunday evenings, we’re not going to be able, just simply because of the constraints of time, to read everything that Bildad says and that Job says in response. What we’ll do instead, if you’ll bear with me and practice some patience, is we’ll try to take a few verses here and there from different parts of their addresses to give ourselves a flavor of the material and to understand their respective points of view. And all we’re going to do tonight – a very simple outline. We’re going to think about Bildad’s position; Bildad is a traditionalist and so he cites traditional wisdom to back up his case. And then we’re going to think about Job’s response. And Job is sort of conflicted. He, on the one hand, acknowledges that God is great and glorious and mighty and sovereign. He reveres Him. He almost speaks in doxological terms. He’s almost singing praises. And yet, at the same time, he is suing God; he’s bringing his complaint. He uses explicitly legal language as he presses his lawsuit against God, whom he considers to be unjust. And yet in the middle of all of that, as we’ll see, Job’s fingers, as one commentator puts it, Job’s fingers barely brush against, and yet they do brush against some of the keys that can unlock his prison. He doesn’t quite understand them all yet; he will eventually. But even here at this early stage of the story, he begins to glimpse, and he even uses language that points us to where hope can be found.


Before we turn our attention to the Scriptures, let me ask if you would first of all please bow your heads with me as we pray.


We remember the story of those who turned from Jesus at His hard saying and He asked His disciples, “Will you also turn back?” And the reply came, “Lord, to whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” You have the words of eternal life. Here they are; the living Word, spoken for us and to us in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So now we pray, O Lord Jesus, that You would give us ears to hear what Your Spirit is saying to the church, that by believing the truth we may live and persevere, even through the darkest trials. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.


Job chapter 8. We’ll begin by reading verses 1 through 10 of Job chapter 8; page 421 in the church Bibles if you don’t yet have it open before you. This is God’s holy Word:


“Then Bildad the Shuhite answered and said:


‘How long will you say these things, and the words of your mouth be a great wind? Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right? If your children have sinned against him, he has delivered them into the hand of their transgression. If you will seek God and plead with the Almighty for mercy, if you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you and restore your rightful habitation. And though your beginning was small, your latter days will be very great.


For inquire, please, of bygone ages, and consider what the fathers have searched out. For we are but of yesterday and know nothing, for our days on earth are a shadow. Will they not teach you and tell you and utter words out of their understanding?’”


So that’s Bildad’s point of view. Then, we’ll look down at Job’s reply in chapter 9. Several portions of text to read here, beginning in verse 1:


“Then Job answered and said:


Truly I know that it is so: But how can a man be in the right before God? If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times. He is wise in heart and mighty in strength – who has hardened himself against him, and succeeded?’”


Then verse 13:


“God will not turn back his anger; beneath him bowed the helpers of Rahab. How then can I answer him, choosing my words with him? Though I am in the right, I cannot answer him; I must appeal for mercy to my accuser. If I summoned him and he answered me, I would not believe that he was listening to my voice. For he crushes me with a tempest and multiplies my wounds without cause; he will not let me get my breath but fills me with bitterness. If it is a contest of strength, behold, he is mighty! If it is a matter of justice, who can summon him?”


Then verse 32. Verse 32:


“For he is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together. There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both. Let him take his rod away from me, and let not dread of him terrify me. Then I would speak without fear of him, for I am not so in myself.”


Then chapter 10 at verse 11. Speaking to God:


“You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit. Yet these things you hid in your heart; I know that this was your purpose. If I sin, you watch me and do not acquit me of my iniquity. If I am guilty, woe to me! If I am in the right, I cannot lift up my head, for I am filled with disgrace and look on my affliction. And were my head lifted up, you would hunt me like a lion and again work wonders against me. You renew your witnesses against me and increase your vexation toward me; you bring fresh troops against me.”


And so on, to the end of the chapter. This is the Word of Almighty God.


Dustin Shramek was living with his family in the Middle East. In 2003, his wife, Kelly, went into premature labor and they were medically evacuated to Istanbul. Their son, Owen, was born on October 3, 2003, and he died twenty minutes later. Dustin wrote, "The pain was unlike anything we had experienced. We felt alone. A few nights after Owen died, my wife stayed up for hours scouring the Scriptures for hope and comfort. She finally fell asleep more discouraged than ever because she found none. Of course, it was there, but when we are in the depths of pain we often can't see it, let alone feel it. We struggled with anger toward God, wondering why He didn't comfort us. We had prayed; indeed, people literally all over the world had prayed for the life of our son. But God chose a different path for us. So why wouldn't He comfort us on this path?"


There are times when the depths of our tragedy and our sorrow and our pain are so acute that we cannot see the hope and the comfort that God does in fact provide, and anger and confusion instead overwhelm faith. The “Why?” question dominates in those moments. Shramek himself, actually goes on to point to the truths that did, in time, bring him comfort. He points especially to the sufferings of Jesus Christ, the Mediator between God and man. When God seems far away and our sufferings so profound and dark, it’s then, Shramek says, “that the cross of Jesus Christ becomes precious to us in new ways. Because there, we find one who has entered deeply into the reality of sorrow and divine abandonment and forsakenness, and yet who is Himself the God we so badly need.”


In many ways, the experience of Dustin Shramek and his family echoes the experience of Job in the passage we have been reading together this evening. He too, Job feels alone. He feels unbearable pain. He wrestles with anger at God. He wants to know why God does not comfort him. But as we will see, there are hints, small, unclear, not terribly bright or hopeful hints, but hints nevertheless, at an answer for Job that actually echoes the answer that Shramek found, that points us to the Lord Jesus Christ, the suffering Savior.


Bildad’s Position

Before we get to Job, however, we do need to listen to Bildad. Bildad is a piece of work. Unlike Eliphaz – you remember Eliphaz last week – Eliphaz is measured and subtle. Bildad, however, seems to go right for the jugular. He makes essentially the same argument that Eliphaz made – that Job is suffering because God is punishing him for some specific sin. But Bildad does it with all the sensitivity of a sledgehammer. Queen Victoria is said to have accused Gladstone, the Prime Minister of Great Britain at the time, of addressing her “as though she were a public meeting.” And that’s what Bildad does to Job. He’s not really thinking about Job; he’s simply making, or maybe better, he’s simply scoring his points with brutal and loveless force.


Word of Insult

Look at chapter 8 verse 2 first of all. He begins, notice, with a word of insult. “How long will you say these things, and the words of your mouth be a great wind?” Now just remember the situation. Get the scene clearly pictured in your minds. Job is sitting in the ashes of his own ruin, he’s covered in agonizing, seeping sores; he is disfigured, overcome with sorrow, mourning the loss of his ten children. He is the epitome, the embodiment of human misery – psychologically, spiritually, physically. Pouring out his grief in songs of lamentation, protesting his innocence and the essential righteousness of his life and of his conduct in the fact of what he considers to be a real injustice. And what is Bildad’s response? It is to cruelly mimic Job’s own songs of lamentation. Job himself, in the previous chapter to this one, chapter 7 verse 19, had prayed to the Lord, as you see echoed again and again in the psalms. When the psalmist takes up a song of lamentation, his cry is, “How long, O Lord?” So Job says, “How long will You look away from me?” Well Bildad, when he gets his turn at Job, mocks Job by taking up Job’s own language and turns it against him. “How long will you speak nothing but hot air, Job? You are an insufferable windbag!” That’s what he says to Job. “Why don’t you be quiet for a moment. Enough with your lamentation.” Not the best approach to counseling a grieving parent and such a suffering man.


Bildad’s Interpretation

And then in verse 3, notice that Bildad provides his interpretation of what is going on in Job’s suffering. Verse 3, “Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right?” That is Bildad’s position. It’s not new. In fact, as we’ll see, Bildad eschews anything new. He is a traditionalist and his view, substantially the same as that of Eliphaz, he is saying to Job, “You’re wrong. God is right. And you’re getting what you deserve. God doesn’t do this to the innocent and the righteous. He only does it to people that deserve it.”


The Cruelest Line

And then he applies that conviction in what is probably the cruelest line of all. If you’ll look at verse 4. You see verse 4? Stunning, isn’t it? “If your children have sinned against him,” – these ten children who all lost their lives – “If your children have sinned against him, he has delivered them into the hand of their transgression.” Here’s the knife twisted in Job’s heart with satanic efficiency. “Your kids, those seven boys and three girls, that you took such good, constant care” – you remember in the opening five verses of chapter 1, he was offering sacrifice and seeking to point them to God’s method of atonement and deliverance in case they sin; so concerned for the spiritual welfare of his children. He’s saying to Job, “These children over whom you were so solicitous, so careful, so prayerful, always pointing them to the mercy and grace of God, you have failed them because they clearly are only getting what they deserve. They’ve fallen into sin and God has destroyed them. And now it’s your turn!”

Appeal to Tradition

Then in verses 8 through 18, he backs up his argument with an appeal to tradition. Eliphaz, you will remember, back in chapter 4 verse 12 and following, backed up his words with a claim to divine revelation. Eliphaz says, “I had a vision.” Bildad, on the other hand, says his point of view has the backing of the fathers. Verse 8, “Inquire, please, of bygone ages, and consider what the fathers have searched out." And in verses 9 through 19, he, therefore, uses traditional wisdom language; the kind of language you find in the book of Proverbs. For example, he uses this traditional wisdom language to make his point, a point he sums up in verse 20. Look there with me. In 21 and 22, it looks as if Bildad ends his monologue, his diatribe against poor Job, with this wonderful word of hope. Doesn’t it? In verses 21 and 22, he almost seems to say, “Look, it’s all going to be okay. You’re a good guy, after all, Job. God is going to make everything work out in the end.” But it all rings so horribly hollow in the light of everything else he’s been saying. It sounds like an empty platitude, which is what it is. His real perspective you see in verse 20. “God will not reject a blameless man, nor will he take the hand of evildoers.” “God is really rejecting you, Job. It’s your own fault.”


The Danger and Power of Words

Now let me say before we move on that Bildad’s example here reminds us of the danger and of the power of words. “Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.” What nonsense. Right? What nonsense. Words are powerful weapons that can wound profoundly and we need to take care how we use them. We need to learn from Bildad’s wickedness, his verbal brutality. We need to listen again, don’t we, to James chapter 3 verse 5 and following. James 3 at verse 5 – the tongue, James says, is a small member, yet it boasts of great things:


"How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire. And the tongue is a fire; a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life and set on fire by hell. Every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature can be tamed, and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it, we bless our Lord and Father, and with it, we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be! Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water."


Job Needs Correcting

James is saying, do you see, one of the marks of authentic Christianity is that by the grace of God and not by our own strength, we are increasingly enabled to do what no one can do on their own – to tame the tongue. A spring doesn’t bear both fresh water and bitter. That ought not to come from a Christian’s lips – blessing and cursing. Fig trees don’t produce olives; grape vines don’t produce figs. No spring yields both salt water and fresh water. True Christians use words differently. Not to wound, but to heal; not to curse, but to bless. It’s an evidence of knowing Christ that we are made increasingly like Him in our speech as well as in our actions. Well, so much for Bildad. What a piece of work, right? His basic perspective is that Job, Job needs correcting.


Job’s Response

But in chapters 9 and 10, as Job responds and we hear his perspective, we learn something surprising. Job does not agree that he needs correcting. Job thinks God needs correcting. Notice how chapter 9 is bracketed in verse 2. Job seems to agree with Bildad. "Truly I know it is so," he says. But then look at verse 35 of chapter 9. "But I am not so in myself." Or, "It is not so with me." Job agrees with Bildad that yes, God does punish sin and bless righteousness, "But that's not what's happening in my case," Job is saying. Bildad's reasoning is flawed; his diagnosis of the problem is inadequate. For Job, you see, the whole difficulty lies not with his failure to understand the just judgment of God, but with what seems to Job to be the failure of justice altogether. That's the problem for Job. Job makes that really very clear with a fascinating mixture of doxology and litigation, of almost liturgical speech and overtly legal speech; with the vocabulary of the law court and the language of worship.


Awe and Reverence

Let’s look at the note of awe and reverence that we hear from Job first of all. Even as he rails against God for what he considers to be a failure of justice, he can’t help himself but speak of God in terms of awe and reverence and wonder. Look at chapter 9, verses 4 through 10. Chapter 9 at verse 4. Speaking of God:


“He is wise in heart and mighty in strength – who has hardened himself against him, and succeeded? – he who removes mountains, and they know it not, when he overturns them in his anger, who shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble; who commands the sun, and it does not rise; who seals up the stars; who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea; who made the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the chambers of the south; who does great things beyond searching out, and marvelous things beyond number.”


He’s almost bursting into a hymn of praise as he thinks about the greatness of God. God, to Job, is rightly confessed to be the true and living Lord who rules over creation and providence. All things are His. He upholds and governs and orders all His creatures and all their actions by the word of His power. It’s almost a song of praise. And yet, for Job, rather than God’s might and sovereignty bringing him comfort, it only brings him deeper distress because he reasons all of this puts God out of his reach. God’s might and God’s wisdom are such that He is virtually unknowable. Chapter 9 verse 11, “Behold, he passes by me, and I see him not; he moves on, but I do not perceive him. Behold, he snatches away; who can turn him back? Who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’” Or verse 19, “If it is a contest of strength, behold, he is mighty! If it is a matter of justice, who can summon him?” The chasm between Job and God, Job feels, is so great he has no chance, none, of approaching God. No way to plead his cause; no opportunity to have his voice heard in the court of heaven. He confesses the truth about God rightly, but it is a truth about God that seems only to deepen his distress and his confusion rather than relieve it.


A Dark Valley

And hard as it is to watch a soul like Job in torment, it is, I think, nevertheless important for us to hear these dissonant cries and these complaints and these expressions of confusion in the Scriptures. We mustn’t whitewash them. They help us not to think that we have fallen into a unique and anomalous situation when our turn comes to walk into the dark valley. One of the great dangers of depression, if you’ve ever struggled with depression, it can be overwhelmingly insular. It can blot out almost anything else. All you can see is your own darkness and pain and wound. And we can begin to think no one else really gets what we’re going through. We think we’re all alone enduring what we endure. And then, we open the Scriptures to passages like these that we have been studying together and it’s all there – in all the ugliness and confusion and despair and heartache; unabridged, unvarnished human sorrow and pain and loss. As though to remind us, as we hear Job’s cries and we hear in them the echo of our own, that we are not alone. And the very Word of God itself, the means by which He will reveal Himself to us and speak to us, recognizes the dark places into which we may descend. This is a word, the Scriptures are a word not just for the sunshine days, but for the fog of depression or the darkness of grief. A word for the real world. And it tells us we are not alone.


Is God Unjust?

Like Job, we may think God far away, aloof and uncaring sometimes. His own Word names and describes and gives voice to our own cries as though to say to us, “Though we may not see Him, He still sees us. And we have not and cannot stray from His sight. He knows. He understands. And He gets it.” But so far, thus far in the story, Job doesn’t quite grasp all of that. He will eventually, but not yet. He’s still in the same situation as C.S. Lewis, reflecting on his own bereavement in A Grief Observed. Have you read, A Grief Observed? A marvelous account of Lewis’ own journey with grief. Lewis puts his struggle in a very Job-like way. He says, “It’s not that I am, I think, in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not, ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but, ‘So this is what God is really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’” That was his real anxiety. That he would discover in his suffering that God is, in fact, unjust; He’s a monster.


That’s precisely where Job is. He doesn’t yet understand the plan of God. He can’t see God. He doesn’t know where to turn for an audience with Him. He feels lost and helpless, even while he’s confessing the truth truly about God. And it all horrifies him.


The Legal Theme

But then there’s another theme in these chapters. There’s this almost doxological theme where Job is confessing the truth about God and then there’s another theme. There’s the legal theme. You see it beginning in chapter 9 at verse 2. “How can a man be in the right before God? If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times.” It’s a legal debate he wants. He wants to contend for his own innocence. He says, “Since I am righteous, since I’m not guilty of any crime deserving this particular treatment from God’s hand, how can I get God to see that and reverse His judgment on me and stop condemning me?” Or look at chapter 9 verse 14. Job asks, “How then can I answer him, choosing my words with him? Though I am in the right, I cannot answer him; I must appeal for mercy to my accuser.” Or at the end of verse 19, he makes it all explicit. “If it’s a matter of justice, who can summon him?” One translation puts that last phrase, “Who will appoint my day in court? Who can bring a subpoena to God to compel testimony from Him?”


I was once given a DVD entitled, “The Man Who Sued God.” The story is of a man who loses his home and everything he has to a freak storm. And the insurance won’t pay out saying it is an act of God. And so the central character in the story sued God by prosecuting His representatives on earth, the Church. The film was, I’ll only say, the film was so offensive I turned it off halfway through. But Job’s story here brought it all back to mind because there’s a very real sense in which that’s what Job’s trying to do. He wants his day in court. He feels like God has been his Judge, Jury, and Executioner and that justice has evaded him. And so he wants to sue God. He wants to prosecute his case in the courts of heaven.


And that is, in fact, what he begins to do in chapter 10. Look at verses 1 and 2 of chapter 10. “I loathe my life,” he says, “I will give free utterance to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God, Do not condemn me; let me know why you contend against me.” He can’t conceive and is frankly terrified at the prospect of a confrontation with God, and yet he presses the charges nonetheless. And nestled right in the middle of these two strands of thinking – the awe Job has before God and the legal prosecution of his case, demanding his justice – there are a couple of notes of hope that we mustn’t miss. They are muffled, incomplete; maybe like a musical theme. You know when a great piece of classical music gets first introduced subtly, quietly; you almost miss it unless you’re listening out for it. But it will build eventually as the story unfolds, as the symphony progresses. These grace notes will become clearer.


Job Wants to Persecute God

The first of them has to do with who’s really to blame for Job’s trials. Look at chapter 9 verse 24. While Job is exalting God, he asks the question of Bildad and his friends, “If it is not He, if it isn’t God who is behind all of this, who is it?” Job wants to prosecute God, but only because he has forgotten God isn’t the agent of spiritual evil. Bob File, one of the commentators, says this. “The key to unlock the dark prison lies tantalizingly close to Job’s hand. Indeed, his fingers brush against it in verse 24.” Job has overlooked the truth that Satan is real and active. It is not God he ought to prosecute, but the enemy of his soul, the devil, who has conspired against him from the first.


The Devil is God’s Devil

And look at verse 13. “God will not turn back his anger; beneath him bowed the helpers of Rahab.” Rahab there is not a reference to the prostitute in the town of Jericho who helped the spies who were engaging in the conquest of the land. Rahab, rather, is one of a number of mythical, demonic figures revered in the pagan religions surrounding God’s people. Leviathan is another one of them. They are images, they’re used in the book of Job as images of darkness, of Satan and his minions. And Job mentions these demonic powers almost as a throwaway line. But if he would pause to think about what he’s just said, he might find part of the key for hope. You see, Satan is real and he acknowledges that. His powers are real and he is his true enemy and tormenter. And he acknowledges that Rahab, this demonic figure, and those who serve her, even they must bow before the sovereign God. Remember Martin Luther’s statement that there is a devil, he is real, but “the devil is God’s devil.” He’s not free. He’s not unconstrained. Yes, he is an implacable enemy, but he is still under the rule of a sovereign God who loves us and will work even the malice of our great enemy together for our good. He will not and cannot win because the Lord our God is on the throne.


Job Longs for a Mediator

And finally, and even more importantly, look at chapter 9 verses 32 and 33. In the midst of all this legal language about pressing a lawsuit against God, Job, do you see Job is longing for a mediator? God, he says, "is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together. There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both.” Job needs an arbiter; he needs a mediator, a go-between. God isn’t a man like himself. He’s transcendent and high and exalted. Job has no hope of having his puny voice heard in the courts of such a God seated on His throne. He needs a go-between who can lay his hands on both God and man; one who can stand in the company of both and effect reconciliation.


Back in verse 2 of chapter 9, Job asked Bildad, “How can a man be right before God?” The thing Job doubts is even possible, the provision of a mediator between God and man, is exactly what God will do to provide the answer to that question. “How can a man be right before God?” God will provide a mediator who will ensure we can stand in the sight of a just and holy God. In verse 2, Job is assuming his own righteousness. He’s looking for someone to plead his case on the basis of his merits, to point to Job’s innocence and say, “Because Job is right and good, he ought to be vindicated.” What Job doesn’t understand, what we should understand, is that the mediator God does in fact provide does something far more wonderful. He does not plead our case on the basis of our merits. He doesn’t point to your goodness, your righteousness, and say, “Father, he’s such a good guy! Won’t You cut him a break?” No, He points to His own righteousness, His own obedience and blood. He points to the cross and He says, “Father, I am righteous for him. For My sake, have mercy and blot out his iniquity.”


There may yet be a day when God takes you all the way down into the darkest night of sorrow or loss or grief or pain. Do not descend into that valley without knowing what Job did not yet know. There is a Mediator between God and man who can lay His hand on your both, you can bring you together. There is a Mediator in the Lord Jesus Christ who will be your comforter; who has Himself, remember, gone all the way down into the darkness and plumbed the depths of suffering that trusting Him, knowing Him, walking with Him, clinging to Him, resting on Him, we might have hope. And so, brothers and sisters, let me point you there through the gloom of all of Job’s suffering to the only Savior, the suffering Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. In the darkness as well as in the sunshine, He is the One your soul needs. Will you trust in Him?


Let’s pray together.


Father, we confess that we have sometimes been terribly wounded. Words have cut us deeply and we have used words to cut and wound others, like Bildad with Job. Would You teach us and grow us and shape us that our speech, as well as our actions, might be Christlike, and so be instruments not of wounding but of healing? And some of us are in the darkness right now. Some of us have loved ones who are in the darkness. And we hear much of their cries in the cries of Job. Would You open their eyes to see the Mediator You have in fact provided that they need – One who is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses, who has been touched with the feeling of our infirmities, that leaning on Him we might have hope, they might have hope, and so press on. Would You do that please, for Your glory? In Jesus’ name, amen.

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