Affliction in Verse: Whoever Perished Being Innocent

Sermon by David Strain on January 28, 2018

Job 3-7

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Now please take your Bibles in hand or turn with me in one of the church Bibles to the book of Job; page 418 in the church Bibles. The book of Job. We have been introduced to Job in the opening chapters of the book as a remarkable man of God who has been terribly afflicted in the mysterious, sovereign purposes of the Lord. God has given permission to Satan to assail Job and all his riches have been stripped away, his ten children killed, his wife holds him in contempt. And his so-called friends, when they show up at last, they really don’t know what to say. And yet through all of this, we saw how Job clung to his integrity. He was enabled, actually, to sing a doxology in the ashes of his ruined life. He was helped so that he could kiss the hand that afflicted him and to honor the one who gives and who takes away and to say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”


And so chapter 2 ends with Job sitting in the rubble of his ruined home, amidst the awkward silence of his horrified, so-called “comforters,” until at last, in chapter 3, he bursts into a song of mourning and despair. And so begins the large, central section of the book of Job that runs from chapter 3 through chapter 37 and comprises a number of cycles of dialogue between Job and one of his so-called friends. Now if you’ve ever tried reading through the book of Job for yourself, you may have experienced just how long and complex and at least superficially apparently repetitive these cycles of dialogue can seem. So that some of us, as we launch into a study of the book of Job, don’t make it to the end of the book of Job and miss some wonderful truth and teaching along the way. And so to help us see the argument of the book as it unfolds, to avoid losing sight of the forest because we’re paying too much attention to the trees, we’re going to try each sermon, in this large central section, to consider one entire cycle of speech, of dialogue. That’s usually three or four chapters at a time.


And to do that, adopting that strategy is going to impose some constraints, some limits upon us. For example, we’re only going to be able to read little portions of the dialogue just to give us a flavor of the material that you will find in this cycle of speech. And we’re going to have to, as we explain the message, engage in some summary and to move fairly quickly. And so there may be some wonderful passages in here you would like for me to linger over that I will have to barely touch upon. And so to help us, all of us, get the most out of the book of Job, let me encourage you, if you would, to take time perhaps during the week or maybe in your preparation for evening worship on a Sunday afternoon, to read through the speech, the cycle of dialogue between Job and his friends that pertains to the evening service so that you can track along well and understand where we are as the book unfolds.


Now given that that is the strategy we are adopting, tonight we are considering the first cycle of speech in the book in chapters 3 through 7 between Job and Eliphaz the Temanite – one of his friends. We're going to think about it under three headings. First, in chapter 3, there’s a song of lamentation as Job pours out his grief. A song of lamentation. Then in chapters 4 and 5, there’s a word of denunciation as Eliphaz offers his take on what is happening. And then finally in chapter 6 and 7, a song of accusation as Job responds. Okay? So lamentation, chapter 3, denunciation, 4 and 5, and accusation, 6 and 7. Before we turn to the Scriptures, however, let me ask if you would to bow your heads with me please as we pray.


O Lord, we cry out now for You to come and take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and wield it in our lives to wound and to heal, to comfort, to instruct, to rebuke, to train us in righteousness that we may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. And as you do, would You point us again to our Savior who is Your final answer, your “Yes” and “Amen.” And we ask this, therefore, in His name. Amen.


Job chapter 3. We’ll begin reading in verses 1 through 11 of this first section. This is Job speaking; a song of lamentation. Job chapter 3 at verse 1:


“After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. And Job said:


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


Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire?’”


And so on through the rest of chapter 3 is a song of lament. And then Eliphaz responds in chapter 4. We’re going to read a part of his response looking at verse 1:


“Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said:


‘If one ventures a word with you, will you be impatient? Yet who can keep from speaking? Behold, you have instructed many, and you have strengthened the weak hands. Your words have upheld him who was stumbling, and you have made firm the feeble knees. But now it has come to you, and you are impatient; it touches you, and you are dismayed. Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope?


Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?’”


And then turn over to chapter 6. After Eliphaz speaks a word of denunciation, rebuking Job for what Eliphaz perceives to be his sin, Job then responds. We’ll take up the reading at verse 24 of chapter 6:


“Teach me, and I will be silent; make me understand how I have gone astray.  How forceful are upright words! But what does reproof from you reprove? Do you think that you can reprove words when the speech of a despairing man is wind? You would even cast lots over the fatherless, and bargain over your friend.”


And then chapter 7 at verse 17, Job turns his accusations not just against his friends, but now even against God Himself. Chapter 7 verse 17:


“What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, visit him every morning and test him every moment? How long will you not look away from me, nor leave me alone till I swallow my spit? If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of mankind? Why have you made me your mark? Why have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? For now, I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be.”


Amen, and we praise God for His holy and authoritative Word.



So here they all are, these four friends. All of them are covered in the ashes of mourning, sitting in the ruins of Job’s home, three of them desperately searching for something to say and finding nothing. One of them covered in suppurating sores, almost unmanned by his grief, and for seven days the futile silence stretches on until Job can stand it no longer. The cold, comfortless quiet is shattered as Job begins to sing. It is as stark and despairing a song as you will ever hear. It’s a song of lamentation. Look with me at chapter 3. He begins in verses 3 through 10 expressing a longing that he had never even been born. “Let the day,” verse 3, “Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man is conceived.’” Or verses 11 through 19, he asks why, if he had to be born, did he not just die after birth? “Why,” verse 11, “Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire?” And then finally look at verses 20 through 26. He has had enough. He wants to die. Verse 20, “Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who longs for death but it comes not, who dig for it more than hidden treasures, who rejoice exceedingly and are glad when they can find the grave?”



This is hard stuff to read, isn’t it? Life has lost all luster for Job and he doesn’t understand what is going on. You noticed, perhaps, the recurring question that sums up his inner confusion over and over again. He asks, “Why?” Verse 11, “Why?” verse 16, “Why?” verse 20, “Why?” He’s overwhelmed with a need for answers to ultimate questions. “Why this suffering and why me?” And while those questions likely reach us from an abyss of pain in Job’s experience that is deeper by far than any we have known, his questions are not unfamiliar to us. We’ve asked them ourselves, haven’t we? “Why this suffering? Why me?”


Reverse Creation

But for all the familiarity of the questions, there is a darkness to Job’s song we rarely see. Take another look at verses 3 through 10. I want you to notice what’s been called a kind-of nihilism in Job’s song. He has had it with the world. His despair is so pervasive, as one of the commentators, Bob File, puts it, "He wants the tape rewound on creation itself." Look at verses 3 through 10. If you read it closely, you will notice the repetition of day and night, light and darkness, the role of God. It is intended to be a kind of mirror image of the creation narrative of Genesis chapter 1. In Genesis 1, you will remember, God speaks and there's light as evening and morning pass and day succeeds today; God pronounces His benediction upon creation and it is all very good. But here is Job now, and he would prefer it if God began to pull on the thread of creation so that the very fabric of reality came unraveled. He wants the day darkened. He wants God to reject it. He wants chaos and death to replace order and life. He wants creation itself reversed and undone.


What has happened to him? How would you describe his condition? It's clear he has been plunged into the darkest depression, isn't it, as many of you will immediately recognize who have ever endured it. And because some of us have endured it, or perhaps are still enduring it, we do need, I think, to pay careful attention to the way Job responds to it and articulates it. And on the one hand, we really can't say that Job's words here are healthy or wise or godly. Can we? When we hear people talk, even slightly like this, we're right to be concerned; we're right to be worried about them. In fact, even Job himself, when we get to chapter 6 verse 3, will admit that his words were rash. They were wrongheaded. And yet, we mustn't overreact to his unhealthy rashness and swing to the opposite extreme. There is a school of thought that advocates, in the midst of suffering, a kind of stiff upper lip in the suppression of feelings and the avoidance of any expression of sorrow that seems to suggest you’re not being godly if you’re not happy, even in the face of tragedy and loss and pain.


Tradition of Lamentation

But we need to say, don’t we, that that way of thinking that suppresses the expression of confusion and hurt and pain, that way of thinking is every bit as rash and wrongheaded as Job’s equally unguarded frustration in chapter 3. It has nothing at all to do with Biblical Christianity. Job’s song here may seem shocking to us as we read it over than the sheer depth of the despair that it expresses. But if we’re shocked by it, it may be because we have lost sight of an entire tradition, a seam that runs through the bedrock of the holy Scriptures. It is the tradition of lamentation, of which Job chapter 3 is an integral part. It is echoed in various places in the Scriptures. You find it perhaps exemplified in Jeremiah chapter 20 where the prophet, very like Job here, curses the day of his own death. Or in the book of Lamentations itself. As a whole, perhaps most of all the language of Job is echoed in the Psalms, many of which are expressly and explicitly songs of lamentation, songs of spiritual complaint. The bleakest of them, for example, Psalm 88, begins, “Lord God of my salvation, I have cried out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you. Incline your ear to my cry, for my soul is full of grief and my life draws near the grave.” So it begins near the grave and it ends, “Loved ones and friends you have put far from me, and my acquaintances into darkness.” It begins near the grave and it ends in the darkness and there’s no resolution at all. Psalm 88 could very easily have been spoken by Job himself. Couldn’t it?


And yet, Psalm 88 was sung by the people of God in the worship of God in the temple of God.

Think about that. When last did you sing a lament? In an important essay entitled, “What Can Miserable Christians Sing?” Carl Trueman, who was here not so long ago, wrote this. “I would like to make just one observation. The Psalms, the Bible’s own hymnbook, have almost entirely dropped from view in the contemporary western evangelical scene. I’m not certain about why this should be, but I have an instinctive feel that it has more than a little to do with the fact that a high proportion of the Psalter is taken up with lamentation, with feeling sad, unhappy, tormented, and broken. In modern western culture, these are simply not emotions which have much credibility. Sure, people still feel these things, but to admit that they are a normal part of one’s everyday life is tantamount to admitting that one has failed in today’s health, wealth, and happiness society.” He goes on, “A diet of unremittingly jolly choruses in hymns inevitably creates an unrealistic horizon of expectation, which sees the normative Christian life as one long triumphalist street party; a theologically incorrect and pastorally disastrous scenario in a world of broken individuals.”


We are, I suspect, squeamish about lamentation. But the saints of Scripture brought their lamentations with them into the presence of God and sang them before His throne. Job may have been overwhelmed with wrong thinking, plunged into despair, but he seems to know what to do with his despair. He pours it out before God in lamentation. I think Job is teaching us. He reminds us. He's showing us the way. And in this, he is actually much more like Jesus than he is like us. It was, after all, a very Job-like cry of lamentation drawn from the Psalter that escaped Jesus’ lips in Mark 15:34 when, in anguish, He cried out, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” That it should be in a moment of deepest personal sorrow and lament that our salvation and God’s great victory was won for us by Christ, ought to give us pause whenever we are inclined to dismiss the depression of others as sinful and wrongheaded. Job sings his despair in a song of lamentation.



But his song doesn’t go unchallenged or unanswered. Does it? It seems that Eliphaz the Temanite cannot contain himself any longer either, although I think it says something about these so-called friends of Job that they have nothing to say to him in the silence of his suffering and pain but they have plenty to say to him by way of correction and rebuke. Look at chapters 4 and 5 with me. Here now is a song of denunciation. Chapter 3 a song of lamentation; here now is a song of denunciation. And if you scan over the material that is recorded here as Eliphaz’s speech, we have to confess that much of what he says commends itself to us as true and helpful and right. He seeks to aim at the glory of God. He exalts God as uniquely righteous and merciful. Eliphaz is clear that the universe isn’t arbitrary, that morality is important and valuable, that Job’s nihilism is out of place. Good and evil, Eliphaz understands, are real, and rewards and punishments are also real.


Suffering Due to Sin

But look at chapter 4 verse 8 for a moment. Chapter 4 verse 8: "Those who plow iniquity and sow trouble, reap the same." Now Eliphaz grasps an important truth clearly. You reap what you sow. Moral accountability is built into the way God governs His world. Eliphaz has that much quite correct. The problem is, Eliphaz takes that truth and he twists it subtly. It is true that what you sow you will reap, but Eliphaz goes further than that. He tries to deduce from that principle that everything you reap must be and can only be a consequence of what you have sown. You see the difference? We are accountable for our actions. God will and He does judge us for what we do. We do indeed reap what we sow. But it doesn't follow that everything that happens is traceable back to something I did as its cause. Not all my blessings are rewards for my obedience nor are all my trials judgments on my sin. But Eliphaz simply does not understand that at all. He looks at Job's suffering and he concludes Job must be reaping what he has sown. He must deserve what he gets. The only explanation for suffering in Eliphaz's theological grid is sin.


Look, for example, as his questions in chapter 4 verse 8; chapter 4 verse 7, I beg your pardon. “Whoever perished being innocent? Where were the upright ever cast off?” But he anticipates of those questions negative answers. Doesn’t he? He expects Job to say, “You know, Eliphaz, you’ve got a point. Innocent people never perish. The upright are never rejected; they're never cut off." And then, of course, he wants Job to look in the mirror and think to himself, "But I am perishing. I am being cast off. If only those who deserve it suffer, and I suffer, then I must conclude that I'm suffering because I deserve to suffer! There's no great mystery; it's all my fault!" That's the logic of the theology of Eliphaz the Temanite.


And he has many descendants alive and well, repeating his theology in the church today. People who think we ought to be happy and healthy and prosperous if we’re Christians. They say to us, “Jesus died to give us those things.” They say, “God doesn’t want sickness or sorrow for anyone ever. And when those things do come your way, you have the power to overcome it by an act of faith. Claim the promises,” they say, “and your sickness will leave you. Your financial situation will be reversed. Your depression will be transformed into joy.” But if after naming it and claiming it, health, wealth, and prosperity still eludes you, like Eliphaz, they explain that it must be because of one of two things. Either there is unrepented sin in your life or you do not have sufficient faith. Either way, do you see, the fault lies with you.

Word from God

Well let me say that the figure of Satan may have disappeared from the book of Job at the end of chapter 2, but we still smell the stench of hellish teaching in the words of Eliphaz the Temanite. Don’t we? This is a fatal distortion of the methods and the ways of God in holy Scripture. And in chapter 4:12 through verse 17, Eliphaz actually, he even goes on to tell Job that what he’s saying has the force of divine revelation. He describes a supernatural encounter in the night that verse 15 makes the hair on his body stand on end. He says that he “heard a voice,” verse 16. And no surprise, all the voice says to him is, “Can a mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his maker?” Talk about confirmation bias. It’s amazing how often those who belong to the God-has-told-me brigade get words from the Lord that coincide perfectly with their agenda. You really can’t argue with, “God has told me.” Can you? It gives divine sanction to my private opinion. And that makes people like Eliphaz extremely dangerous indeed. Beware of people coming to you with, “God has told me.”


Now the remainder of chapter 5 extols God is generally accurate, even beautiful language. Eliphaz seems to be a real believer. He loves God and His glory, but he misuses it, do you see, when he presses on Job the duty of repenting for sin he hasn't committed. He wants Job to go and confess the sin that must be at the root of his suffering. But Job can think of no such sin. And we know from chapters 1 and 2 that Job is right and Eliphaz is wrong. The force of Eliphaz's song is really to denounce Job as a failure who's only getting what he deserves. This is a song of denunciation. It's like a knife twisting in the heart of this poor, suffering saint.



And then finally in chapters 6 and 7, Job responds. He responds with another lament, but it’s more than a lament; it’s also a song of accusation. Lamentation, denunciation, accusation. In chapter 6, he complains that his friends have failed him. Look at chapter 6 verse 14, for example. “He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.” Or you could translate it, “To him who is afflicted, kindness should be shown by his friends, even if he forsakes the fear of the Almighty.” “So suppose I am guilty, suppose I have in fact wandered away from God. Even then you ought not come to me with that kind of speech, with talking to me like this! Don’t you see the depth of my pain and loss and grief and suffering? There’s nothing of the compassion of real godliness about the way you’re dealing with me here,” he says to his friends.


That’s actually a rebuke some of us may need to hear as we deal with hurting friends. Some of us don’t know what to do with brokenness when we meet it. We want to say to people, “Pull yourself together!” That’s all we’ve got. And even in those circumstances when it’s clear there is in fact sin that needs to be addressed, I think the pattern here is reminding us that before we address sin in their lives, let’s be aware of what else is going on. A response to sin that isn’t informed by love and compassion and understanding and sympathy, by solidarity and support for suffering, is always, ultimately going to sound like a smackdown and end up hurting more than it heals.


Teachable Character

And yet amazingly, verse 24, Job is willing to be teachable. You see that in verse 24? “Teach me, and I will be silent; make me understand how I’ve gone astray. How forceful are upright words!" That, by the way, that's the right way to deal with the "God-has-told-me folks." Ask them to prove it, to demonstrate the rightness of their arguments. Open the Bible and ask them to show you where in holy Scripture God exactly said what they are saying He has said. Even in his suffering, I think Job is a model of godly faithfulness for us. Like Luther, our consciences are to be captive to the Word of God. Here is where we must stand. We can do no other. "God has told you? That's great! Give me chapter and verse please, and I will gladly submit to the clear teaching of God in His Word and not till then. Teach me! Show me with authoritative truth! Guide my steps and I will go where you point me!" His friends have let him down.


Accusing God

And even more starkly in chapter 7, Job turns his accusations upon God Himself. Look at verses 17 to 21. “What is man, that you make so much of him,” he asks of God, “that you set your heart on him, visit him every morning, test him every moment? How long will you not look away from me, not leave me alone till I swallow my spit? If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of mankind? Why have you made me your mark? Why have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? For now, I shall lie down in the earth, I'm going to die, and you will see me and I shall not be." So here’s that note of complaint and lament and protest. There’s lots of the echoes of Job’s song here in the Psalter, in the Psalms. Verse 17 echoed in Psalm 8, for example. “What is man that you are mindful of him? The son of man that you visit him?” Fourteen times in the Psalms, the psalmist cries out with the same plea that we hear from Job’s lips in verse 19. “How long?” Over and over you hear that plaintiff cry.

Then, there’s the cry that protests his innocence. Verse 20, “Why have you made me your target? Eliphaz is wrong!” he is saying. “I didn’t deserve this for any particular sin I have committed. Where have I gone wrong that this should fit my crimes?” Job accuses his friends, but he’s also pressing his lawsuit against Almighty God Himself.


God Still Loves Him

And yet, for all of that, for all his pain, for his obvious frustration, his confusion, even anger, there is a tell at the end of verse 21, did you see it, that reveals where Job is really at. Look at the end of verse 21. “For now I shall lie in the earth and you will seek me, but I shall not be.” “You will seek me.” He’s angry at God, and yet even in his anger, he can’t help confess a truth about Him. “Like a child who is angry with his parents and storms out,” Derek Thomas says, “Job seems to say, ‘You’ll be sorry when I’m gone.’ He’s bruised his relationship with God under severe strain and he throws out one final retort to the Almighty knowing that God essentially cares, Job says, ‘You’ll be sorry when I’m gone.’” He knows, despite all that’s happening, even amidst his confusion and his sorrow, God still loves him. He’ll never stop seeking him and pursing him. It’s the anger of a child, hitting back at his parents, even as he presupposes their love.


You may wander off. You may still yet descend into the darkest pit of suffering or regret. Do not forget, never forget, that God will never stop pursuing you. He will never stop pursuing you. He loves you and He will never let you go. You see, suffering for a Christian is actually, it’s part of our relationship with God. It’s not an intrusion. It’s not a distraction. It’s part of it. That’s what Job has not fully yet grasped. And yet, even he seems to sense while he is protesting and singing his psalms of lamentation, that it belongs to the dynamic of any real living relationship with God that in God’s inscrutable wisdom and fatherly love, He sometimes allows seasons of sorrow and hardship and pain to come our way. You see, our Father is at work in us to develop in us the family likeness. Isn’t He? To transform us into the reflection of Jesus Christ, the Man of Sorrows, the Suffering Servant. Sorrow is part, a normal part of the Christian life, part of belonging to the family. God is making us look like Jesus.


That’s what Paul means in Philippians 3:8 when he talks about suffering the loss of all things, counting them rubbish, in order to gain Christ and be found in Him, that he might know Him, sharing in the fellowship of His sufferings, become like Him even in His death. That is God’s painful project in our lives, in your life, in the suffering He sends you. He’s making you like His son, the Suffering Savior. That’s why, as you read through the book of Job, Job reminds us over and over again of Jesus. That’s why some of the greatest saints you may have had the privilege of knowing, people who put us most in mind of Christ by their gentleness and their devotion and their joy, are often the very ones who have endured the deepest trials of suffering in their lives. You see, the two things are generally connected – deep suffering and deep likeness to Jesus, the Suffering Savior.


Job isn’t able to see it yet, but that is what God is doing in his life, perhaps what He’s doing in yours. Brothers and sisters, if He has not already done so, it may yet be that God will guide you down into some dark valley of affliction or pain, and when He does, will you remember what’s really going on? It’s not that you’re reaping what you’ve sown. Rather, it is that God is at work to make you like Christ, who died that you might live, to bring you into the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings that you might be like Him one day. Not only in the likeness of His death, but in the glory of His resurrection.


Let’s pray together.


Our Father, we confess that we often misunderstand what You are doing in our trials, in our sufferings. We sometimes look for sin in others to explain their sufferings. We sometimes are the recipients of denunciation, when what we need is a word of comfort and consolation. And often, we forget what You are really doing – slowly making us like Your Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus. Would You be pleased, O Lord, to wield such trials as You have ordained for us in our hearts, to kill our sin and to make us like Your Son. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.

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