If we have been striving hard to do the Lord’s work and have taken the blame for something that has gone wrong, it is an experience that can leave a bitter aftertaste. We can find ourselves thinking, “This just isn’t fair!” At times like this, we need to be reminded of our Lord and the unprecedented trials he endured on our behalf. Peter tells us: “For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer for it, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (I Peter 2:19-21 NKJ).
Such difficulties may well be part of the discipline of the Lord as described in Hebrews 12. Christ’s disciples are taught to endure such things in hope, knowing that God will turn all hardships into a blessing in His own good time.
The experience of Job
The Lord described Job as: “a blameless and upright man, who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8). Yet in response to the conversation with Satan, God subjected Job to horrendous trials. He was deprived of every comfort, possessions, family, health and the respect and compassion of his friends. Everyone who thoughtfully reads the book will ask: “Why did God do this?”
The Lord Jesus taught the principle that: “Every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit” (John 15:2). In the case of Job, the purging was both physically and emotionally painful. But the process enabled this worthy man to have greater insight into his own nature in relation to the perfection of God.
Job repented, not from any sin that had incurred God’s punishment, but from the insistence that he deserved vindication. As the great Creator of the universe, God is under no obligation to vindicate even the most upright of men. It is not only unreasonable, it is unacceptable to dictate to the Almighty. When Job saw the power of God and the greatness of His creation, he must have felt like exclaiming: “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11). He came to understand that judgement and justice are the prerogative of God and that he had been presumptuous in his expectations.
It should be noted that in the final approving of Job, God did not repeat His initial assessment of his character. The accusations of the three friends and Job’s vigorous defense of his integrity are never dealt with by God; there was no need. Throughout his trials, Job never faltered. He remained blameless, and fearing God, he turned away from evil.
As for his friends, all the bitter things they said against Job were swept away in this overriding pronouncement: “The Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, My wrath is kindled against thee and against thy two friends; for ye have not spoken of the thing that is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7). Their terrible misrepresentations of Job, their slander and innuendo against this righteous man were all sinful and reflected an entirely wrong view of God’s behavior. Unlike Job, they had not confessed that no man can establish himself righteous before God. God is not in the debt of any person; no one is due divine blessing for his/her good deeds.
One of the most important aspects of the whole book is that God’s righteousness is supreme. Job came to understand this and expressed it, whereas Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar remained ignorant of the fact. Arrogantly they took it upon themselves to act as judge and condemn Job, earning the wrath of God.
Learning through adversity
In order to confess and acknowledge the righteousness of God we must first come to know Him. Job came to a more perfect understanding through adversity. He learned that all the blessings of life are given by God and may be taken away by Him at His pleasure and for His own purpose. The righteous may suffer evil, for God has every right to order His creation as He pleases. Man’s justification depends on submitting to the righteousness of God, not establishing his own. The whole focus of the book seems to pivot on these premises.
In some respects, the sufferings and consequent enlightenment of Job foreshadowed the experience of our Savior: “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and he was heard in that he feared; though he was a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered…” (Heb. 5:7-8).
Suffering on behalf of others
Why did God subject Job to the suggestions of Satan? Why, for that matter, did God bring Job to the attention of Satan knowing that it would produce problems for Job?
Here is another great point of the book: It is not about justification for the righteous, rather it is about reconciliation for sinners. Job was pronounced righteous, then subjected to evil, not only for his own sake, but to show Satan that the favor of God is not capricious. Although Job’s miseries were a catalyst to produce a change in his attitude, they were also used to educate Satan in the ways of God. If God favored Job he was righteous in so doing; equally he was righteous in his desire to save Satan from his sins. The Lord God of heaven and earth has the right to save whomsoever He will and by whatsoever means He chooses to employ.
The apostle Paul in his letter to the Roman ecclesia touched upon this subject when teaching of the method the merciful Savior devised in order to redeem fallen humankind: “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom. 3:24-26). Redemption is an act of grace dependant upon faith in the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God. The Almighty chose to put this plan into action and, in so doing, declared His righteousness, saving Jewish and Gentile believers on the same basis of grace.
Prayer offered for friends
We may have read Job in the past and had the impression God restored Job’s fortunes because he repented in dust and ashes. That is not what the text actually says however: “The Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:9). At the beginning of the book, God declared Job righteous; at the end, he was commended and accepted by God after he had confessed God’s righteousness. But God blessed him when he had prayed for his friends.
Note that the three friends, after being reprimanded, were instructed to collect animals for sacrifice and take them to Job. It seems very likely that Job acted in a priest-like capacity, presenting their offerings to God, praying and seeking for mercy on their behalf: “Therefore take unto you now seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you: for him I will accept…” (Job 42: 8).
Hence it was that Job became more fully a child of God after having experienced his trials than he was before all his troubles began. In this he stands as an example for later generations.
The perfect sacrifice
In the story of Job and his suffering it is possible to see a shadow of the one who: “endured such contradiction of sinners against himself” (Heb. 12:3). This is the one whom we have come to remember this morning, in partaking of bread and wine.
Jesus also prayed for his friends, including us: “neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word” (John 17:20).
Like Job, our Lord was despised and rejected of men and was tried beyond the usual realms of endurance. The great difference between the type and the antitype being that Job offered animal sacrifices on behalf of others but the Lord Jesus Christ offered himself as the supreme sacrifice.
From our perspective, life is in not fair. Like Job and his friends, it would be foolish to suppose that we can impose our own ideas about fairness or justice on our heavenly Father. Our place is to receive the discipline of the Lord in humility. By so doing, we will declare the righteousness of God in all His works, even in the depths of our trials and suffering.