Job: God's Sovereignty in Suffering
Reformed Free Publishing Association
At Sinai, in the wilderness, in the pillar of cloud and fire, in his coming with clouds at the end of all things, the power and ferocity of storms announce his presence both as judge and as savior of his people. In this case he comes as savior of Job and his three friends.
From the storm God speaks, and if the storm were not enough to silence every mouth, God holds before his servant Job his unspeakable and incomprehensible glory as creator and upholder of all things. He does so in language that is unparalleled in the rest of scripture, in language that leaves no doubt as to the origin and existence of all things visible and invisible. This is the meeting with God that Job had desired, but how different in reality from anything Job imagined.
He had said, “O that one might plead for a man with God, as a man pleadeth for his neighbour!” (Job 16:21), and, “Oh that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat! I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would know the words which he would answer me, and understand what he would say unto me” (23:3–5). Getting what he wished, Job finds he has nothing to say. When God reveals himself to Job in thunder, speaking of his mighty works, Job finds that God is more than a neighbor.
God speaks to Job of things great and small, near and far, earthly and heavenly and otherworldly, of things we think we know and of things that all the efforts of science have still not puzzled out. He speaks of his work as creator and ruler of all things, but also of his sovereignty over hell and over the hearts of men. He speaks of beasts and of angels. Some things of which God speaks we can name ourselves, but there are things of which God speaks that leave us wondering, the unicorn and behemoth and leviathan.
It would require an encyclopedia to summarize the knowledge that all the efforts of men and six thousand years of history have gathered of the few things of which God speaks. Yet all the knowledge men have gained leaves mankind merely poking at the edges of God’s works, and they do so without ever seeing God’s handiwork in the things he has made. Job had confessed earlier, “Lo, these are parts of his ways: but how little a portion is heard of him? but the thunder of his power who can understand?” (26:14). So it will always be with man and his investigations.
God’s words concerning his work as creator are all designed to teach Job how small he is in relation to God, and so God asks: “Who are you? What do you know? Where were you when I created all things?” God’s words not only put Job to shame, but put to shame the folly of those who believe that things exist of themselves and who, by positing billions of years, think they have answered all questions concerning the origin of this universe. They put to shame those who think that they by scientific investigation and experiment or by philosophic argument have ruled God out of existence. They put us to shame also when we think we know anything at all. Solomon, the wisest of all, says, “As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all” (Eccl. 11:5).
Men have begun to explore the depths of the sea (Job 38:16), but they know only a little of what the oceans hold and that without truly understanding what they find. All men die but have not yet been able to define the moment of death (v. 17). All the efforts of science have failed in understanding what light is (vv. 19–20). An examination of the snow shows us the unvarying pattern of every flake, but who can fathom the difference between every flake that has ever fallen on the face of the earth (v. 22)? Science gives us the means to learn about the stars and other wonders of the universe, but God knows their names and number (vv. 31–33). Man gives his weather reports but can do nothing to change what God has decreed (vv. 25–30). Man gives his weather reports but can do nothing to change what God has decreed (vv. 25–30).
The mountain goats, the deer, the lion, the raven, the wild goats, the wild asses, the unicorn, the peacock, the ostrich, the horse, the hawk, and the eagle (Job 39) all display God’s power and divinity, as do all created things (Rom. 1:20). Yet who is able to explain the migration of the hawk, the folly of the ostrich, the hunting prowess of the lion, the beauty of the peacock? Only the creator of these things knows the why and how of what he has made.
Why does God speak of these things to Job? We expect to read of God’s power and wisdom and grace as savior, even of his sovereign right as judge, but instead he speaks of his works as creator and as the God of providence. Why?
We must understand that God did not come to Job to answer his questionings, his “why?” A careful reading of Job 38–41 will show that God gives no explanation at all of Job’s trials. He does not tell Job what went on in heaven before Job’s troubles began. He never speaks of Satan’s part in Job’s losses. He does not even repeat what Elihu had said about his gracious purpose in affliction. What Elihu had said was true but was not an explanation of God’s ways. Indeed, though Elihu has confessed that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Rom. 8:28), the question of how they work and why they work for good remains unanswered. God’s revelation of himself and his works to Job is God’s way of saying to Job, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isa. 55:8).
Green puts it well:
“The fact is, this discourse is not directed to an elucidation of that mystery at all. It is not the design of God to offer a vindication of His dealings with men in general, or a justification of His providence towards Job. He has no intention of placing Himself at the bar of His creatures, and erecting them into judges of His conduct. He is not amenable to them, and He does not recognize their right to be censors of Him and of His ways. The righteousness of His providence does not depend upon their perceiving or admitting it. The Lord does not here stand on the defensive, nor allow it to appear as though He were in any need of being relieved from the strictures of Job, or it were of any account to Him whether feeble worms approved His dealings or confessed the propriety of His dispensations.”2
Job has already profited from his trials. He has come through them to a stronger faith in his redeemer and to a greater assurance of eternal life. Though unwittingly, he has disproved Satan’s slander and proved that God’s grace makes friends and lovers of God, not mercenaries. He has by his patience proved the efficacy of God’s electing purpose, the cleansing power of the blood of Christ, not yet shed, and the sovereignty and graciousness of the Spirit’s work.
Job’s piety, his integrity, and his trust in God have been abundantly and unquestionably evident, but God has a further purpose with Job. Job’s relationship to God had been set askew by his questions, and his sins had come between him and God. He had to be brought to repentance that that relationship might flourish once again. He had to learn that God is the great redeemer of his people, not in spite of their trials and afflictions, but in their trials and afflictions. All this God shows to Job by the revelation of his incomprehensible works of creation and providence.
Job’s questions had been out of place and were sin against God, but God does not want mere stoical submission from Job. He wants from Job a living trust that rests always and in all circumstances in the confidence that God is gracious and good in all his works and ways, though without understanding God’s works and ways. That is the point of James 5:11: “Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” The “end” of the Lord is his purpose, always merciful and gracious. Job finally saw that “end” of the Lord and saw that God’s “end,” his purpose, was merciful both in prosperity and in affliction, and so must we.
What a lesson for us who are far behind Job in experiencing God’s gracious purpose in affliction! If Job still had to learn these lessons, then where are we in comparison to him, to whom there was not like in all the earth (Job 1:8)? If Job had to suffer such appalling loss to teach him these lessons, then what lies ahead for us? Only God knows, of course, and we must read the story of Job, applying it to ourselves in the confidence that God who has begun a good work in us will finish it as he did with his servant Job.
2. William Henry Green, The Argument of the Book of Job Unfolded (New York: Robert Carter and Bros., 1874), 286–87.