I am always meeting people who know more about the world than the Creator does. Or, more commonly, they suppose that they are more just or more merciful than God. "I cannot accept a god who allows innocent children to suffer," "My god is a god of love, the god of the Old Testament is a god of wrath and is harsh and cruel," "If there were a God He would step in and stop all the suffering and injustice." "It is clear to me that the universe is the product of random processes-of time plus chance-nothing more." "The cosmos is all there is."
The lie of the garden, "You shall be like God" (Gen. 3:5) is evidently widely believed in our time.
Job had similar complaints about God from the perspective of the devastating circumstances he experienced from the hand of God. Job was a devout believer in God-a righteous man. He was known for his impeccable conduct and his careful attention to living a moral life in every way (1:1-5, 31:1-40). Job lived shortly after Abraham's day (2:11) and his life span was very great-he lived another 140 years after the trials and tests described in the Book of Job (42:16). He must have known a great deal about God and creation-in some ways his knowledge of God may have been superior to ours. Indeed the book of Job is full of 4000-year-old scientifically sound information (see Ref. 1)-for instance there is a reference to the earth as hanging in empty space (26:7).
The Book of Job does not answer all possible questions concerning why the righteous suffer, but in Job's case, he believed he was righteous because his conduct was without blame (9:2, 21). This what the Bible calls "self-righteousness." It is a very common problem today, even among Christians. The reality is that men become righteous solely on the basis of their faith apart from any inherent worth or a track record of meritorious good works (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17, 3:20-28; Gal. 2:16, 3:11; Philippians 3:8-10; Heb. 10:38). Job also had failed to perceive and experience the presence of a human mediator between himself and God-One who empathizes with and understands the human condition (9:32-35, 1 Tim. 2:5). Though he knew God, Job was not only self-righteous, he was inwardly rebellious, and deeply proud. His young friend Elihu gently pointed these facts out to Job (32:1; 34:7-37), "speaking the truth in love." Job's three older friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had only made matters worse-they immediately assumed Job was suffering because of some sin. Their theology was incomplete and they lacked compassion and empathy-never once did they bother to stop and pray for Job. Their nine sermons all proved inappropriate and inapplicable to Job's situation. It was Elihu alone who correctly assessed the real cause of Job's suffering, The term "Job's friends" has come to have an undesirable connotation even for us today.
But the issues in Job's life that had not been faced were not fully grasped until Yahweh Himself spoke directly to Job. (38-41). Job's understanding of life was far too limited and in his heart he had accused God of being unjust. In actuality, the suffering which God brought into Job's life was corrective discipline from a loving heavenly Father who only desired to bless Job even more in the future than He had in the past. (2)
Chapters 38-41-containing Yahweh's direct speech to Job-are full of amazing insights not only to the Creation but also into the heart of the Creator. In his eloquent commentary (3) John E. Hartley begins discussion of this address by God,
A storm often attended Yahweh's coming. The clouds and mist both conceal and reveal the divine glory. A theophany is so portentous that nature presents an awesome display of power--thunder, and fire. This panorama of natural phenomena witnesses that Yahweh, the holy God, is actually present. The clouds protect the audience from being consumed by the divine holiness. Those who behold such a display are filled with dread and wonder. The awe strikes the beholder dumb. Each worshiper, drawn out of his self-centered existence as by a powerful magnet, bows reverently before his God...
Yahweh, the Wise Teacher, takes the offensive and interrogates Job, his complaining servant. Job has pondered his dilemma from many sides, and his questioning has led him to challenge the traditional belief that God governs the world in justice...Without presenting a self-defense against these accusations, Yahweh opens by putting Job in his place with a question that casts doubt on Job's insight. Without discounting Job's moral integrity, Yahweh challenges Job's perception of his governance of the world. By opening with the words Who is this?... it could be said that Job has complained and agonized out of a sincere heart with an increasing faith, but he has not discerned the judicious counsel of God that permeates all of his deeds throughout the world. Although Job has lacked insight, Yahweh does not say that Job has sinned. He never rebukes Job for swearing his avowal of innocence. But he contends that Job's limited understanding hinders him from disputing wisely with his Creator about his own fate...Job has not sought for the solution of his plight in God himself alone, but in the pursuit of his rights. In that search he has erred...
After his long trials and testings, God took Job on a tour of the universe repeatedly and pointedly questioning Job: "Where were you, Job when all these things were taking place? The angels were there, but you were not. Could you run the universe and mete out justice if I turned it all over to you?"
The universe, God said, was designed and build as a wise designer and craftsman might build a house. The seas were nurtured and brought forth using the metaphor of a woman bearing a child. The restless oceans, vast and deep have their limits set by the Creator. Beneath are the mysterious fountains and springs of the deep and beyond them--in gloomy darkness are the gates to Sheol.
"Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, that you may take it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home? You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great! "Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail, which I have reserved for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war? What is the way to the place where the light is distributed, or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth? "Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain, and a way for the thunderbolt, to bring rain on a land where no man is, on the desert in which there is no man; to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground put forth grass? "Has the rain a father, or who has begotten the drops of dew? From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven? The waters become hard like stone, and the face of the deep is frozen. "Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth the Mazzeroth in their season, or can you guide the Bear with its children? Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth? "Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go and say to you, `Here we are'? Who has put wisdom in the clouds, or given understanding to the mists? Who can number the clouds by wisdom? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cleave fast together? (Job 38:19-38)
Next Yahweh takes Job on a personal tour into the lives of ten representatives of the animal kingdom: the lion, the raven, the mountain goat, deer, wild donkey, the wild ox, the ostrich, the horse, the hawk and the eagle. God created each of them and each rears its young, hunts and lives according to God's designs. Does Job understand them, does he feed and care for them? Yahweh created the universe, but He also sustains it on a daily basis. All His works are done in love with careful attention to every detail.
Yahweh asserts that he rules supreme over the world he has created. He knows and controls all the recesses of the universe. No area or region is beyond his governance. Furthermore, he manages the various forces in the world for the benefit of all creation. For example, he commands the rain clouds to travel over the desert where no human being lives, and there he orders them to pour out their water. The implication of this point is that if human beings could direct the weather patterns, they would guide them for their own selfish benefit. They would preserve the precious rain solely for the cultivated land and neglect the barren steppe. But such an egocentric policy would upset the balance of nature and cause havoc to the cultivated lands. By contrast Yahweh manages these natural forces in a way that bears witness to his wise sustenance of the entire creation... (Ref. 3, p. 515)
Yahweh confronts Job with the major flaw in his accusations. In defending his own innocence so emphatically and lashing out so vehemently at God because of his suffering, Job has essentially charged God with acting unjustly. For a mortal to presume himself guiltless and to impugn God's just governance of the world approaches the sin of presumptuous pride.
...In his avowal of innocence Job places himself in danger of trusting proudly in his own righteous deeds, and in his complaints he seems to make himself appear more righteous than God. Pride is a treacherous attitude, especially when it arises from adherence to a correct position. One who glories in his good deeds is easily tempted to think of himself more highly than he ought. Pride distorts his perspective. While Job has the right to complain to God about his misfortune, he is now facing the peril of not assenting to God's purpose for him. Furthermore, Job's avowal of innocence and his complaint against God imply that he claims to know more than God. If Job knows so much, he should be able to rule according to the ideal he espouses. If Job can prove his superiority, Yahweh will acknowledge his complaint. If not, Job must acknowledge Yahweh's sovereignty. (Ref. 3. p. 519-520)
Next God introduces Job to a gigantic, fearsome land animal, the Behemoth and then to an equally invincible monstrous sea serpent, Leviathan. Can Job control or master these? If so, he can deal with his own pride and master his own passions.
Yahweh raises the key question for Job. Does he have to argue that Yahweh is guilty of governing the world unjustly in order to prove his own innocence? If Job thinks Yahweh fails to rule the universe justly, then he is setting himself up as wiser than God, even as one who could rule better than God. Yahweh thus exhorts Job to prove his claims by adorning himself in regal apparel and punishing the wicked. And Yahweh challenges him to show his mastery over the great primordial monsters, Behemoth and Leviathan, which are symbolic of cosmic forces that at times are hostile to Yahweh's rule. But if Job cannot subdue them, he is in no position to discredit God, his Creator and Master, for treating him unjustly. Furthermore, the only conclusion he can come to is that Yahweh is the supreme Lord of the universe. This means that all creatures must fear him....By questioning Job about the primordial monsters Behemoth and Leviathan, Yahweh is trying to persuade Job that he is Master of all powers in the world, both earthly and cosmic. Certainly then he is Lord of all forces, earthly and cosmic, that brought on Job's affliction. Therefore, if Job is to find Yahweh's favor again, he must submit to Yahweh as his Lord by relinquishing his avowal of innocence and by conceding his complaints against Yahweh's just governance of the world. Yahweh is thus calling Job to decide whether to argue his case and lose or submit to Yahweh, accepting in trust the blessing and the curse, the riches and the ash heap. (Ref. 3. p. 534)
At last Job comprehended the living God in his heart.
"I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes" (42:5,6 NKJV)
The book of Job is not only about a man who lived a long time ago, this story brings a serious indictment against modern man. Head knowledge about God is of little value. Talk is cheap. Science can not discover truth unless God allows it. What matters most is knowing God in one's heart through His Son Jesus Christ our Lord. All of life's problems and questions are ultimately moral questions-because God is a moral God. But "God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble."
Knowing God personally-and dealing with our own deep depravity in the process-brings an infinitely deeper and richer sense of wonder and worship of the Being who brought us all into existence-God is our Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer. He alone is worthy of our undivided attention and our full devotion all the days of our lives. Science may be giving us impressive insights into the things God has created, but when we touched directly by the Living God not only are we humbled and broken in spirit, we can worship Him with a restored sense of respect and marvel for Him.
Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. (Psalm 19:13)
1. Lang, Walter, Job and Science (Genesis Institute, 7232 Morgan Ave. S., Richfield, MN 55423, 1991). The author has for many decades been a strong apologist for Biblical creation.
2. Stedman, Ray C. Beyond Suffering, (Discovery Publishing, 3505 Middlefield Rd. Palo Alto, CA 94306. On line in print or RealAudio at http://raystedman.org/job). Ray Stedman takes the reader into the depths of the book of Job clearly and concisely.
3. Hartley, John E., The Book of Job (Wm. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids MI, 1988). An outstanding commentary by the Chairman of the Biblical Studies Department, Graduate School of Theology, Azusa Pacific College.
Added in 2006: Verse by verse Bible study of The Book of Job
June 16, 1997