Chapter 7: The Wisdom and Power of God (Job 9:1-31)
Our faith in God is most needed when it is most difficult to believe. Our faith in God’s good providence and holy purposes are truly needed in suffering. It puts to test our confidence and reliance on Him. Are we to suppose God is good while we suffer? If so, are we to believe suffering is directly related to any unrighteousness in us? Certainly our poor choices may cause painful consequences, but does God ever visit us with pain for reasons other than our sinfulness? Do we need, somehow, to become better people so we can escape adversity? Then what do we need to do to become more righteous? Or are we to believe that the righteous can expect trials and tribulations not necessarily because they have sinned but even because they are righteous? Is it possible that God is pleased to crush and chasten His righteous ones even using Satan’s enmity against them for a greater good? Suffering, like nothing else, tests what we know to be true about God and ourselves. The Scriptures frequently speak of God-designed benefits of suffering for the righteous. It can be a unique opportunity to magnify Christ’s worth, as well as a time to increase our capacity for joy in the sufficiency of God’s grace. More than any other experience, suffering exposes our human frailty and God’s faithfulness.
John Bunyan’s Example
Before the author of “Pilgrim’s Progress” had a settled faith in Christ, John Bunyan struggled deeply with his unrighteousness. One day while walking through a field, this thought came to his mind: “Thy righteousness is in heaven.” With thoughts about heaven, he believed that Jesus Christ sat at God’s right hand. It dawned upon him, like a bolt from heaven, that Christ was the Righteous One! If He placed his faith in Him, then Christ’s righteousness became his (Bunyan’s) righteousness. He then admitted, “I saw it wasn’t my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself” (Bunyan 90-91). His awareness of his righteousness in Christ led him to live a godly life, even suffering for the glory of God. He believed suffering came not because he was not righteousness enough, but because God was pleased to use his suffering for a greater good. Therefore, any suffering he endured only taught him to count it all loss for the joy of knowing Christ. But there will be more about this at the end of our study.
Back to Job
Job predated the life of Jesus Christ by more than a thousand years. He had a faith in God that rivals anything we have today. He believed that God was infinitely righteous and that all men are unrighteous. The great need was a righteousness that could give man acceptance before God. But how was this righteousness gained? Did it come through works or through faith? Both these notions were tested in Job’s saga.
In Job’s suffering, he was surrounded by so–called friends. They came with the stated purpose of mourning and comforting him. Instead, they troubled him with unfounded accusations and theological half–truths. Two of these men have spoken thus far.
The first friend, named Eliphaz, blamed Job for his own problems. He insisted good things happen to good people, while bad things happen to bad people. His diatribe was a reflection of “retribution theology”. He argued that men receive exactly what they deserve in life from Godjustice, not mercy. Job’s plight had to be a cause and effect result of some secret, unconfessed sin. Job responded in self-defense, claiming he knew of no sin worthy of such consequences.
The second so–called friend, named Bildad, also piled on Job with the same attacks. He maintained that God does not subvert judgment nor pervert justice. Then he applied his theology to the death of Job’s children. Eliphaz explained their death as God’s justice on Job for some secret sin. Bildad explained it a little differently. He asserted that it must have been the sins of Job’s children that caused God to cast them away. It is one thing to call a father a sinner but it is another to falsely malign his children. If Job had had sufficient physical strength, he probably would have jumped up and beat that man. Job’s faith, however, was being tested.
You may remember he had obediently offered blood sacrifices for each of his children, according to the ancient ordinances of God, on the day of their birth. So was there adequate saving power in the blood of the lamb to make one righteous, or was there more that men must do to be righteous in the sight of God? Bildad never blinked an eye or hesitated to bombard Job with more self-righteous dribble. He said, “Behold God will not cast away the blameless, nor will He uphold the evildoer” (Job 8:20). He concluded that God had cast Job and his children away because they were evildoers. They got what they deserved because God is just and he always responds with justice, not mercy.
In Job 9, Job responded to these painful accusations. He accepted the notion that God does not cast away the righteous or uphold evildoers, but he maintained he was blameless and that his children were not evildoers who deserved this punishment. His response was pensive and provocative. His first question was the question every man and woman must ask, “Does God, in His wisdom, have the power to make men righteous or is righteousness left up to man’s wisdom and works?”
How Does One Become Righteous?
Job asked, “How can man become righteous before a holy God?” (Job 9:1-3). Job certainly was not a “GodShrinker”. He believed God was too immense for any man to contend with Him. In God’s sight, no one living is righteous, no not one (cf. Psalm 143:2; Romans 3:2-26). He also acknowledged God was too wise in heart to be out-reasoned by man. God is eternal, immortal, invisible, and all wise (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:20-21; 1 Timothy 1:17). God’s wisdom made foolish the wisdom of the world and through it no man knew God. Therefore, Job was resigned not to argue with God’s wisdom and power, but he was still struggling to discern how a man can become righteous in the sight of God.
He further asked, “Who has hardened himself against God and prospered?” (Job 9:4-13). In other words, who could contend with God and win because God’s visible wisdom and power are seen throughout all creation (Job 9:4-9; cf. Psalm 19:1). Psalm 19:1-2 affirms God’s handiwork in creation: “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge.” He removes mountains with ice glaciers and makes the earth quake when He speaks. Only His eternal kingdom will not be shaken or be removed (cf. Isaiah 2:19; Hebrews 12:26-29). He commands the sun to eclipse and shuts out the light of the cosmos. He spreads out the heavens like a canopy (cf. Job 37:18; Matthew 14:26). He surfs the mountainous waves that peak and crash on the beaches. Jesus demonstrated what Job described when he walked on the troubled sea. He created the lights in the firmament for signs and seasons (cf. Genesis 1:14). Job mentions several of these signs in the firmamentthe Bear, Orion, and the Pleiades. To grasp the enormity of God’s power, imagine that in the constellation of Orion’s sword there is one nebula which is two trillion, two hundred thousand billion times larger than our sun. Who is man that God is mindful of him?
God’s invisible wisdom and power are all around us (Job 9:10-11; cf. Romans 1:20; John 3:8; Colossians 1:16). The visible creation reveals the invisible attributes of God. Every man is without excuse for doubting the eternal power of God. God’s power is like the wind that swirls around us but cannot be seen by human eyes. It is by God’s invisible power that every child of God is born again by the Holy Spirit. Paul, in Colossians 1:16-17, attributed creation to and for Christ: “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.”
Gods’ wisdom and power can never be thwarted or hindered by any man (Job 9:12-13). The Lord spoke in Isaiah 46:9-10, “Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, 'My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure.’” Job had already confessed after hearing of the death of his children that “the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Who are we to argue with God and ask, “What are You doing?” He is free to do whatever He pleases. The proud will bow before Him if not in worship, then certainly in fear. So Job cautions those in adversity, “What profit is it to harden your heart against God?” “What good is bitterness?” It accomplishes nothing.
The Appointed Day Before God
But Job pondered how he could reason with God (Job 9:14-19). “I couldn’t answer Him even if I were righteous” (Job 9:14-15; cf. Isaiah 41:1). What he meant was that no man is righteous in himself and even if he were in the presence of God, he could not argue with the Almighty. All things fall silent before Him. He knew he could not argue but he said “I could only beg mercy of my Judge.”
Here is a breakthrough for Job and his friends to contemplate: “Can man impartially judge himself?” Job said, “No!” He might over or under judge his righteousness, perhaps basing his estimation upon feelings of good in prosperity and feelings of guilt in adversity. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 4:4-5, helps us discern ourselves: “For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God.” Our temptation is to either rationalize away our shortcomings, or to focus on them so much that we beat ourselves up rather than building ourselves up on God’s grace.
Job was convinced that God would not answer him even if He heard his prayer (Job 9:16-19). The reason he gave for such pessimism was the belief that God had already spoken in his suffering and grief. What more could He say? God crushed him and multiplied his wounds without cause. His words came perilously close to cursing, but he was resigned to the fact that God does what He does because He is much bigger and stronger.
That is why he questioned, “Who will appoint me a day in the Court of Justice?” (Job 9:19-24). But he realized even if he had an appointed day before God, he could never argue about being blameless. He knew once he started to defend himself before a Holy God, he would only condemn and deceive himself with his own words. He would dig a ditch in God’s presence that he could never get out of. It would be like being accused for speeding 100 miles an hour in a school zone. When the judge asks for your plea, you piously claim the truth, “Your honor I vehemently object to this charge. I wasn’t going 100 miles an hour. I was drunk, going 80 miles an hour.” That is why Job earlier admitted, “I would just cry out for mercy to His Judge.” He knew enough about his human righteousness that he desperately needed God’s grace, not His justice.
Think for a moment about any hurt, pain, or suffering that God has allowed into your life. Are you prepared to argue your case against God? Are you ready to accuse God of being unjust or uncaring? Any bitterness or anger towards God accomplishes nothing except our own hurt and the hurt of others around us.
Job saw a very perturbing reality that caused him to question God’s purposes. He realized God destroys both the blameless and the wicked, often without explanation or apparent reason (Job 9:22-24; cf. Ecclesiastes 9:2-3; Luke 13:1-5). Solomon discovered this same reality as well in Ecclesiastes 9:2-3, “All things come alike to all: One event happens to the righteous and the wicked; to the good, the clean, and the unclean; To him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As is the good, so is the sinner; He who takes an oath as he who fears an oath. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: that one thing happens to all. Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.” This is an important truth in refuting “retribution theology”. Bad things can happen to good people as well as to bad people.
Hurt, pain, and suffering do come upon the righteous for purposes only God knows. But was Job’s accusation true that “God laughed at the plight of the innocent”? Even though the wicked may seem to prosper at the expense of the righteous, will the proud inherit the earth? Will God cover the face of judges so they blindly condemn the innocent and reward the guilty? Job questioned God’s wisdom in ruling the universe. He did not know who else to blame for his suffering other than God. If it was not God, then who could it be? We could have said to Job, “God did not strike you, it was Satan.” But we would still have had to add, “But God was pleased to allow Satan to strike you for greater good that will be revealed when you see God.” Maybe this is all we can and should say to anyone suffering pain and grief today.
Job wanted to know how any man could be righteous before God but now he ponders, “What can I do to become righteous in God’s sight?” (Job 9:25-31). He knew his life was passing too swiftly for him to try harder to become more righteous (Job 9:25-26; cf. 1 Peter 1:24). His days were withering as the winter grass falls in the heat of summer. There was not enough time left to become more righteous even if he tried.
His suffering did not let him escape his sense of condemnation (Job 9:27-29; cf. Psalm 119:120). Even if he stopped complaining and started putting on a fake smile, it would not solve his problem of guilt before God. He knew God would not judge him to be innocent if it depended upon his own righteousness. He was afraid of God’s judgments and especially his suffering because he did not know why he was suffering. He was wondering why he was still laboring if he were already condemned.
He also recognized any attempt at self-cleansing works would only fail him (Job 9:30-31). Even if he repeatedly and fastidiously washed himself in the purest water and used the harshest hand soap, it could not cleanse him and make him righteous (cf. Psalm 26:3; 51:7; 73:13; Isaiah 1:18). Righteousness, he realized, was not a work of man, but a work of God by grace. And if God did not cleanse him, he would be plunged into the pit. His righteousness was as the filthy rags he wore on his diseased body. Psalm 51:7 echoes the cry of a sinner before a holy God, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
Those who honestly face their unrighteousness will see the futility of the human attempt at works and merit to find acceptance with God. Fortunately, the Lord offered hope that He would cleanse us of our sin and give us His righteousness. Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, and let us reason together,” says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” We leave Job, clothed in the filthy rags of his unrighteousness and convinced that he needed a mediator to present his case before a holy God.
Job Is Not Alone
Others, like Job, have pondered these same questions and found hope. They have learned invaluable lessons about God through their sufferings. Such a man was John Bunyan. He was born in 1628 in a small town south of Bristol, England. Tragedy first struck his family when he was fifteen. Both his beloved mother and his younger sister died within a month of each other. His father married again within a month and John was estranged from his own family. To make matters worse, he was drafted into the military in the midst of his grief. At the age of twenty, he was married and had four children. Tragedy struck again when his first child was born blind. During these early family years, he began to search the Scriptures for explanations to life. After five years, he was converted to Christ. He was a man who discovered the joy of knowing that Christ was his righteousness. This joy gave him the desire and courage to give up all for the cause and glory of Christ. He was a man who found God through years of suffering, hardship, and heartbreak. In 1655, he was asked to be the preacher of the Bedford Church. His testimony and preaching were mightily used of God. But after ten years of marriage, his wife unexpectedly died leaving him with four motherless children. In 1659, he married a wonderful woman by the name of Elizabeth. She was God’s great provision in his grief and need. After only a year of marriage, he was arrested for preaching the gospel. To make things even worse, while in prison his new wife miscarried. She and his four children suffered alone in deep grief.
Now, to put perspective into Bunyan’s predicament, all he had to do in order to be released from prison was to sign a confession recanting his beliefs. He was determined never to do this. For twelve long years he was imprisoned in dark dungeons and cells. During this time, the Lord worked mightily through these years of suffering. He wrote “Pilgrim’s Progress” as well as other wonderful books. Always thinking of others, he wrote to encourage them to surrender to God’s will. He wrote, “I was made to see that if ever I would suffer rightly, I must first pass a sentence of death upon everything that can be properly called a thing of this life, even to reckon myself, my wife, my children, my health, my enjoyment, and all, as dead to me, and myself as dead to them. The second thing I was made to see was...to live upon God that is invisible.” (Bunyan) He never complained or bemoaned his plight, but believed these were days appointed by God for good.
In a book entitled, “Advice for Suffers”, he offers this perspective: “It is not what enemies will, nor what they are resolved upon, but that God wills, and what God appoints; that shall be done... No enemy can bring suffering upon a man when the will of God is otherwise, so no man can save himself out of their hands when God will deliver him up for his glory. Let me beg of thee (my church) that thou wilt not be offended either with God, or men, if the cross is laid heavy upon thee. Not with God, for he doth nothing without a cause, nor with men, for they are the servants of God to thee for good. Take therefore what comes to thee from God by them, thankfully.” (Bunyan)
Like Job and Bunyan, we too are learning that our faith in God is most needed when it is most difficult to believe. Our faith in God’s good providence and holy purposes are truly needed in suffering. Suffering puts to test our confidence and reliance on Christ and His grace. But every man must also appear before a holy God. What will be our righteousness? Will it be Christ’s, or our filthy rags? Is Christ’s righteousness our righteousness? If not, then call on the name of the Lord! “Come now, and let us reason together,” says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).