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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Satanic Opposition and Human Holiness


"Surely, I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know…My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." Job 42:4, 6

I feel, as we embark now on the climax of Job’s experience in this book, that we need to catch our breath and remind ourselves of what’s happened so far. I feel that in order that we might understand the significance of Job’s final remarks here in chapter 42.

So, if you remember, God and Satan had a conversation of sorts. God said to Satan ‘have you considered my servant Job, he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil’.

And because God pointed Job out to Satan, Satan – by God’s own admission – incited God against Job. Satan said, Job fears God because of the good things God has given him. And then he said, Job fears God because of the health God has given him. So, God turned Job over to the special attention of Satan - not once, but twice.

As a result, Satan killed all Job’s children. He wiped out his wealth, he took away his reputation, he destroyed his health, he brought Job pain day and night, and he reduced him to the ash heap of sorrow and suffering.

What was Satan’s ultimate design? It was that Job curse God. He wanted Job to walk away from God once and for all. But when induced to do that very thing, by his wife, Job would not curse God. Instead, he cursed the day of his birth. In fact, in the face of months of suffering, nowhere in this book does Job curse God and walk away. He endures patiently for a conclusion.

And the story could have ended there. God would have been vindicated, Job would have been faithful, Satan would have been proved wrong. But, there are bigger designs at work and they require more time to play out.

God pointed Job up to Satan as righteous, but where did his righteousness come from? It came from the same place that all righteousness comes from – it came from God.

God is able to take a damnable, self-serving sinner - like Job, like you, like me – and make him or her righteous. That is what Jesus came to do. He came to make unrighteous people, righteous. Even though, Job lived before Jesus – long before – yet Jesus came to die for Job. And God, seeing ahead to what Jesus would do for Job received Job as righteous. And because of that, he delighted in him – just like he delights in all Jesus’ blood-bought people!

What does it mean then that Jesus made Job righteous before God? It means that there is no condemnation for Job. It means God’s anger against Job’s sin has been satisfied. It means that he is declared innocent in the courtroom of heaven – as if he had never sinned. Jesus became sin for Job, so that no sin might be found in him.

However, receiving a declaration of innocence, is not the same as living a life of innocence. God saw fit to leave in people who he declares innocent, fleshly, sinful desires. And he saw fit to give them a new preference against those desires called ‘the Spirit’. So that, Paul could say that in a Christian - like Job – ‘the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.’ (Galatians 5:17).

The way we see the flesh warring in Job, is in his responses to the speeches of his friends. To be sure, the speeches his friends have made have been in error and have been unjust. But Job has said things about God that God is now telling him ‘obscure his plans and are words without knowledge’. And God is taking him to task for his words. Job should not obscure God with his words, he should promote God with his words. So, God is angry with Job because Job has sinned against him in this way.

At this point you should probably say, ‘Hang on, you said that God saw what Jesus would do for Job and he counted Job righteous. You said, Jesus absorbed God’s wrath on the cross. But now you’re saying that God is angry with Job for his sin. What’s going on?’

Well, one day, God is going to give us a perfect life as well as the declaration of perfection we already have. But in his all-wise, and good, and inscrutable ways, he has seen fit to leave us with our flesh – our sin nature. To contend with it. To learn to hate it. To learn to live against it.

In Job - and in all of us - the way our sin nature displays itself, is in all kinds of pride. As we considered last time, Adam and Eve’s disobedience – which established in all of us our sin nature – was a disobedience driven by pride. The words that Job has used against God have been proud words.

One of the ways they have been proud, is that they have given the impression that Job is righteous because of himself – because of his works and his ways.

His words have failed to acknowledge that his righteous works and ways are the fruit of a deeper righteousness that he did not create in himself. God created it in him. Therefore, his words have obscured God’s plans.

God’s plans are that, through the cross of Jesus, he should receive the glory as the source and supply of righteousness that he is, and which is the root and the reason for Job’s righteous fruit.

So, Job – just like all of us – needs to learn the way of righteousness. He has been made holy, and now God is teaching him holiness.

All of the Christian life is a training in holiness. Peter said, ‘But just as he who calls you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written be holy as I am holy.’ (1 Peter 1:15-16).

Suffering is not the only tool God uses to teach us holiness, but it is one of them. And it is a very effective tool, because in the midst of suffering we see our own weakness better than, perhaps, any other way. And that brings our pride down. It humbles us. And it shows us how much we need God. In seeing that truth he gets put back in his rightful place, in our lives.

That is what holiness is. Holiness is getting God always in the right place in our lives. He’s not the cherry on the cake, he is the cake. He’s not the ribbon on the present, he is the present. But pride constantly seeks to demote him; to make him a convenient life-supplement, and nothing more.

Paul says that ‘now we have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God the benefit we reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.’ (Romans 6:22) - Jesus made you holy, now become holy, Paul says.

This is what God wants us to be like. And he wanted Job to be like it. He wanted Job to see his own pride, so he used suffering to stir it up. Then he took him to task for the pride. And now Job is learning that it needs putting to death and that God needs putting back in his rightful place in Job’s estimation.

Now, last time we saw God show Job how different he and Job were. He did it by pointing out 2 chapters-worth of creative works, way-beyond Job’s expertise and power. And at the end of those two chapters we heard Job answer God with these words, ‘I am unworthy-how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer-twice but I will say no more’.

But, despite Job’s admission, God’s not done with him yet. He seems to be looking for something more. And so, he now continues to question Job in chapter 40. Again, just like at the beginning of God’s first speech, he prepares Job for what is about to come. ‘Strap in Job, I will question you and you will answer me’.

Verses 8 to 14 set the tone for this second speech. Verse 8 is God reminding Job how his pride has exhibited itself so far. ‘Would you discredit my justice? And would you condemn me in order to justify your own righteousness? That is pure pride Job.’

Verse 9, ‘Job, do you have an arm of power like I do, or do you have a voice of authority like mine?

Verse 10, ‘If so, then show off your glory and splendour, your honour and majesty by unleashing the fury of your wrath’. In other words, ‘Job whatever would stand against you – all proud and haughty-like – bring it low, if you can’.

‘If you’re so righteous Job, take all the unrighteous who stand opposed to you and crush them – reduce them to nothing. Can you do that Job? If you can, then I will admit your own right hand can save you. I’ll admit Job that you are mighty enough to contend with your adversaries and prevail Job.’

Now, the rest of chapter 40 is about a creature called Behemoth. God has pointed out creatures to Job before. Back in chapter 39 especially, he used created animals to make his point. But this is not a creature like them.

According to verse 15, God made this animal with a tail like a cedar tree, and with bones like tubes of bronze. Other wild animals play in its shadow, because there’s safety there. Why? Because no one dares to come near this animal. A raging river doesn’t bother it, so when people try to trap it, or pierce it’s nose to subdue it, they are fighting a losing battle.

According to God, Behemoth ranks first amongst the works that he has made, and yet he has no problem approaching it with his sword (verse 19 says). Behemoth is a mighty foe for mankind, but he is no problem for God.

What we’re seeing here is a new angle from God. In the first speech, all the works he spoke of were awesome, but they were all relatively benign – gentle, non-confrontational. But Behemoth is the embodiment of pride, that God just spoke about in verses 10-13. Behemoth is a major opponent. And actually, Behemoth is just a stepping-stone to an even more ferocious foe God wants to bring to Job’s attention - namely Leviathan.

Behemoth sounds like it could be a dinosaur of some kind. But Leviathan, is a creature unlike any records we are aware of. It has a double coat of armour, and its mouth is ringed with teeth. The shields on its back are so closely sealed that air can’t pass between them – so no hope of getting a javelin in there!

Its eyes flash and flames come from its mouth like a dragon. Its chest is solid – the sword that reaches it, has no effect. You can try arrows, or sling stones, darts or javelins, but iron is like straw to it and bronze like rotten wood.

It goes on the land with its legs, churning up the ground as it moves. But it goes best in the water, leaving a glistening wake behind it and churching up the deep waters.

What is the effect of it on people? Well there’s no taking it for a pet that’s for sure. In fact, no one dare even arouse it from its sleep. No one is fierce enough to contend with it. The very sight of it is overpowering. Dismay goes before it. The mighty are terrified in the face of it. According to God nothing on earth is it’s equal – it is a creature without fear.

That description has led many to conclude that this is a mythical creature or a literary device God is using to up the stakes in his argument. I don’t think that’s the case. The strength of God’s argument is in the strength of the creature. And that strength must be real for the argument to take effect in Job’s mind.

In verses 1-8 of chapter 41, God is asking Job, repeatedly, if he can contend with this creature. Those questions are weak if the creature is merely mythical.

And besides, Psalm 104, verse 26 attributes the formation of Leviathan to God. I don’t see how that’s any different from God saying that Behemoth ranks first amongst his works.

In short, I don’t think that we should limit God. He can make a creature like this if he wants to. And his point to Job is, he can subdue it too.

‘Behemoth and Leviathan are proud opponents of people like you Job, so the question is: not only are you not the all-powerful creator – we saw that already – but can you rule over and subdue the greatest enemies of mankind? Or, Job, are your enemies - Behemoth and Leviathan - too much for you to handle, also?’

God’s argument in verses 10 and 11 of chapter 41 is, ‘you Job cannot stand against your proud adversaries, but I made them, and I can. So, Job, can you really stand against me?! Do you still think you have a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven – even the most powerful rivals – belong to me Job, because I am supreme.’

What is God showing? Well, we saw last time that God is good. God is the whole world’s greatest good. So now imagine if, though being the greatest good, he was not the greatest ruler also. Imagine if, though being the greatest good, a great evil was the greatest ruler in the universe and not God. Imagine a Leviathan or a Behemoth of a being who was not good, ruling supremely and combatively and unpredictably. What would that be like?

And now, remember that, we have seen and understood Satan’s role in Job’s calamity as this story has unfolded. Job has not. So, God is opening Job’s eyes to the fact that there are very powerful, proud and adversarial forces at play in the universe who Job cannot contend with.

They are his enemies. And were it not for God, they would have killed him already. But God said, ‘No! This far you may go and no further’. And because God is both the greatest good in the universe and the greatest ruler in the universe, he can tell that fiend what to do, and Satan cannot lay another finger on Job. So, ‘Job are you sure you want to put God in this little puny place where you can order him around, when you can’t even go toe to toe with Leviathan?’

Job does not want, what he thinks he wants, because if he had it, the consequences would be diabolical. God is the one who opposes the proud. And he can do it because no one is strong enough to contend with him, not even Satan himself. Imagine if that were not the case!

Job recognises the fact, and his response demonstrates it. Chapter 42, ‘Then Job replied to the Lord: I know that you can do all things (make everything and control everything); no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely, I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know…My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.

There’s a sorrow, according to 2 Corinthians 7 that is worldly and leads to death. Judas had it. And there’s a Godly sorrow that brings repentance and leaves no regret and which leads to salvation. Job has that kind of sorrow.

He really does feel the weight of the offence his pride has caused God. He owns it. He hates it. He’s bold with it. He confesses it. And he repents of it. He has learnt a massive lesson, and he has no intention of repeating his error.

He doesn’t feel sorry for himself like Judas did. He doesn’t try to ease his conscience by working off his guilt. He just lays it all at God’s door and stands firmly on one thing: the grace of God.

And it’s clear from what happens next, that God accepts his repentance and is gracious towards him. The lesson is over. That particular pride problem is purged. God has been good to Job. He hasn’t left him to the power of his flesh, he has helped Job to recognise it and to hate it.

So far as Job is concerned, God has performed on Job what Hebrews 12:10 says, ‘God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness’. And in verse 11, ‘No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it’.

Job’s suffering has proved to be two things then, that it didn’t look like. To Job it looked like punishment, but actually it was purifying. And to us it looked like God handing the reigns over to Satan, but actually, God never let go of the reigns for one second. It’s like Joseph said to his brothers at the end of Genesis, ‘you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done’.

Job is more holy now than he was at the beginning. His standing with God hasn’t changed - no one can make a person more holy than Jesus has made them. But the measure of the greatness of the cross is demonstrated in practical holiness as well as legal holiness. God is glorified by both. And so, he wants to see us advance holiness.

That’s why Jesus and the apostles spend so much time talking about killing sin, and tearing out eyes, and cutting off hands, and striving for holiness. ‘No one born of God keeps on sinning’ John says. He means, the one born of God contends with their sin, they don’t sit comfortably with it.

Sometimes God uses suffering in our lives to help us do that. Paul tells the Corinthians that to keep him from pride and boasting, because of the surpassingly great things God had shown him by revelation, he was given a thorn in the flesh – he calls it ‘a messenger from Satan’. And though he pleaded with God 3 times to take it away, God said that his grace was sufficient. (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)

But on top of the good God has done Job in this great overarching plan that included suffering, he’s dealt Satan a blow too. Satan made a claim about Job’s faith that was false. And God has proved it to be false. Satan can touch your stuff and he can touch your skin, but he is powerless to overturn the cross of Jesus.

Every time Satan tries to take one of God’s people down – like he did with Job – because God is very pleased with Jesus and his cross work on their behalf, he protects his children from the faith destroying-effects of Satan’s temptations.

And every time, one of his children resists the devil in that way, it’s like a reaffirmation of Colossians 2:15, ‘Having disarmed the powers and authorities, Jesus made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross!’ Job’s repentance is like a restatement of that reality.

So, God’s purpose in the suffering is both to purify Job and to publicly defy Satan. In this we can take great comfort. We are not on our own. God is working for us against our greatest adversary. And he is working in us to will and to act according to his good pleasure. Therefore, there is much to give thanks for.

When suffering comes - and it will - remember, Satan intends it for harm, but God intends it for our good. And God will win out because he supremely good and he is supremely sovereign. Even though it doesn’t seem pleasant at the time, it will reap a harvest of righteousness and peace for us.


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