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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

The Awe of God and Human Words


"Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?" Job 38:2

We should be very excited, I think, about this point in the book. If you’re like me, the middle chapters of Job are like a war of attrition – they take a lot endurance. And so, I’ve certainly been eager to arrive at this point.

We should be excited about these chapters, chiefly because God is going to speak. All those preceding chapters have been a tussle between peers, but now God is going to speak. Job’s been telling us what he would say to God if God appeared before him, well now we’re going to see how that goes.

So, I think it’s time to get on the edge of our seats, because God doesn’t do hot air. Every word of his is true; is measured, and will stand. Not one of his words will fall to the ground.

I’m confident that if we have ears to hear, he will speak to us too, right now, through these chapters.

As Elihu finishes speaking into the situation, there’s a storm brewing, verse 1 of chapter 38 says. Remember when Elijah was in the mountain and God wasn’t in the storm. Well he’s in it here. He speaks out of it. And that means something. It means, I think, that he’s angry.

Let’s see if his opening words bear that out. Verse 2, ‘who is this?’ Of course, God knows who it is, he was the one who pointed Job up at the beginning, if you remember. When he asks who this is, it’s not a question about the identity of Job; his question is about the stature of Job. Is Job anything more than a man? Is Job God? God is saying to Job, ‘let’s see’.

And what is God’s starting place with Job?

He says,

Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge’.

I don’t think you can read these words and think God is impressed with Job. According to God, Job’s words have hindered God’s plans. Job’s words seemed so knowledgeable to himself, but according to God they’re the opposite - they veil God.

So, God says that he will question Job and Job will answer him. He prepares Job for what’s coming by telling him to ‘brace himself’.

What kind of questions will he ask him? Will he scrutinize Job’s many words maybe? Or will he ask him how he’s feeling in light of the suffering that he’s still going through? Or, will he ask him what it was that he wanted to tell God, when Job was imagining his court hearing with him?

Here’s a sample of questions he does ask Job in chapters 38 & 39:

Where were you, Job, when I laid earth’s foundation?...Who marked off its dimensions?...On what were its footing set?’

If not the origin of things Job, then what about the cycle of things?

What about the sky, Job?

Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn it’s place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?

Or the sea, Job?

Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?

Or how about the weather?

Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war or battle?

What is the way to the place where the lightening is dispersed?

Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm?

What about beyond this terrestrial ball, Job?

Can you bind the chains of Pleiades? Can you loosen Orion’s belt?

Come back down to earth with me Job, what about the animal kingdom?

Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of lions?

Do you give the horse its strength or clothe its neck with a flowing mane?

Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom?...Does the eagle soar at your command?

These are all rhetorical questions, God knows the answers. And he knows that Job knows the answers too. And we know the answers. The answers are all ‘no’ of course. But more than that, the answer to every question is not just ‘no’, but ‘no, it wasn’t me, God, it was you!’

All the questions that God is bringing to Job are questions about real things. Like the sun rising and the path of the storm and the eagle soaring. And the question is ‘how do they happen?’

God is saying he makes them happen – not just once; every day.

The effect of this way of speaking, is to put Job in his proper place. Job’s pride has puffed him up and made him think of himself as God’s peer, but God is saying to him: ‘Job you’ve lost sight of reality. Can you make even the most basic things about the earth, the sea, the sky, the heavens, the animals come about? You can’t, but I can! You see, we’re not equals at all.’

How does Job respond? At the beginning of chapter 38, God told Job that he would ask him questions and Job would answer. So, what’s his answer? Chapter 40, God tells Job to speak:

The Lord said to Job: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”

God has Job pegged as an adversary - a person who thinks he can go toe to toe with God and state his case. The case that says that God has been unjust to bring all this calamity on a righteous man like him.

God thinks Job wants to correct him – to put him straight. And he’s right of course. We’ve heard, with our own ears, Job saying that he wants to do that. God regards Job’s rash words as accusatory, in spite of the suffering he’s been going through and in spite of the fact that the friends have been mistreating him.

So, you might think that Job would say to God, ‘Contend with you, yes I was minded to do that. Correct you, yes, I had my argument ready. Accuse you, yes, my case was ready. But that was the pain and anguish and the suffering speaking. And, I was incited, you know, to speak those things by a bunch of rotten friends who kept falsely accusing me. Do you see, God, there’s a reason for things I said?’

But that’s not how Job replies. Listen to what he says:

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 will say no more’.

Is that not amazing?! Our natural instincts are always looking to excuse our behaviour. There’s always a reason in our minds for why we acted the way we did.

I would have totally expected Job to play the suffering card here. I would totally have expected him to play the victim card, but he doesn’t. Why doesn’t he? The answer is, he can’t. He can’t because it’s not a peer who is questioning him – it’s God. God is the standard of both truth and justice.

Job’s pride has been dealt a massive blow here. He’s been humbled in the presence of the Almighty creator, sustainer and end for which the universe was created.

God owes Job nothing and Job owes God everything. So what excuses would be sufficient to cover over the offence his words and attitude have caused? Answer, ‘none’.

Job has impugned the character of God, the justice of God and the ways of God with his rash words. And no amount of suffering can justify that, and no amount of inciting can justify that. Job simply, at this point, knows that to be the case. Therefore, he puts his hand over his mouth and admits ‘I have no answer for your questions Lord’.

So, we’ve seen how God approaches Job and we’ve heard Job’s response. Now, I want to draw out some things from all this for us. I’ve got one observation to make about a category that we need to have in our minds about God. And then 3 implications for our own lives.

The category, first.

You could read chapters 38 and 39 and end up saying, ‘I didn’t know that God was such a bragger. Look at the way he shows-off to Job and squashes Job like a pea, boasting about how much greater he is than Job.

When I see that in other people it looks ugly to me, so why is God doing it? I thought he’s meant to be so pure and so perfect.’ What should we make of that?

The category I want us to grasp is this: It is wrong for human beings to brag (I hope we know that), but it is not wrong for God to brag. God can brag and simultaneously hold us accountable for bragging, without being unjust or inconsistent. That’s what I want us to develop a category for in our minds. I’ll try to explain why it’s good for us that this is true about God, and then I hope you will see why the category is right.

If we ask the question, what is the greatest good that any human being can receive? Then the answer that the bible is giving us consistently is ‘God’.

Psalm 16:2 for example, ‘I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing”’.

Or Psalm 35:10, ‘those who seek the Lord lack no good thing’.

Or, when the rich man came to Jesus, he asked him, ‘teacher what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’ Jesus replied, ‘there is only one who is good’. And he went on to say, ‘sell everything you have, give to the poor, and then follow me’.

The psalmist thinks his greatest good is God and Jesus seems to be telling the rich ruler that he himself – Jesus – is his greatest good. So, I think God is telling us that God is every person’s greatest good.

If that is true, then the greatest kindness God can show people is to present all his qualities of goodness to them – that they might embrace him as their ultimate good.

In fact, unless he reveals his goodness to us, we will not have him. We will run after a thousand things that look good but which are ultimately empty, but we will never go after the one good that can satisfy our souls forever.

So, for God to show us how good he is – how superior he is to all others, is him loving us. Therefore, God’s showiness is the very thing that is good for us.

By contrast, the greatest damage we can do is to rely on ourselves and reject him as our greatest good. In the garden of Eden - in the beginning – Satan tempted Eve into disobedience by telling her that if she ate what God had expressly told her not to eat, that she would be like God. She believed that lie. She ceased to regard God has her greatest good; she turned her focus on herself; she relied on herself to be her ultimate good and ate in order to become like God – to become a god in her own right. And all was lost. All was broken. Her self-reliance was her greatest damage. And Adam’s too. And by extension ours too. We are all born into this way of thinking.

Here’s how the Apostle Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 4:

The god of this age [the devil – who was there with Eve in the beginning] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays what? That displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God’.

According to Paul, Jesus is glorious – so glorious! – and he is the image of God.

The good news, called the ‘gospel’ that Daniel was reminding us of last week, displays that glory. Jesus wants it to be displayed. God the Father wants it to be displayed. Why? Because in verse 3, Paul tells us that those who don’t see the glory of God in the face of Jesus and who don’t want him as their ultimate good are going to perish! They’re going to die rejecting their greatest good. And that rejection – just like in the garden – is the greatest sin. Because the good that is rejected, is the greatestgood, the rejection of it becomes the greatest sin.

Jesus wants you to see the glory of God and receive him as your greatest treasure, so that you might not perish. To reject Jesus and rely on yourself instead, is the greatest damage you can possibly do to yourself because it leads to eternal death; it leads to hell.

So, all that to say, if God sounds like he’s bragging here to Job, that’s because he is. We don’t get to encounter God out of the storm the way Job did, but we do see Jesus (Hebrews 2:9) if we have eyes to see. And in beholding him, we behold the glory of God.

I would just plead with you all – I know there are some here who are totally self-reliant – I would plead with you, look unto Jesus; behold the glory of God in his face and find your greatest good in him.

Now quickly, 3 implications to take away from these chapters.

Number 1 – the knowledge of God is crucial. God says that Job ‘darkens or obscures his plans with words without knowledge’. We haven’t got to chapter 42 yet, but Job says there that he ‘spoke of things [he] did not understand, things too wonderful for [him] to know’.

If Job had known God better, then he wouldn’t have spoken such impetuous words, I think is the implication of what both God and Job are saying. Job didn’t have a bible like we do, but notice that everything God says to Job and which causes Job to put his hand over his mouth is observable from nature and every day life.

It’s not as if Job couldn’t have arrived at these conclusions himself – he could. But he didn’t. He hadn’t meditated on the ways of the Lord as he should have done. If he had, he wouldn’t have been puffed up in his own pride and he wouldn’t have said the things he said.

We have bibles. We have a more complete revelation about God than Job could have ever found in the rhythms of nature. The testimony of nature about God was enough to put Job in his place, how much more then will the complete Word of God put us in ours, if we meditate on it and take it to heart.

We live busy lives, but if we neglect to meditate on God, we will slowly and subtly become gods in our own eyes all over again. I urge you, therefore, to take up the Word of God daily and ask God to put you in your rightful place daily, by revealing himself in his glory to you through it.

Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. God took bread away from the Israelites to teach them that lesson – Deuteronomy says, he humbled them. Be humbled then, by reading every word that comes from the mouth of God and it will keep you from Job’s error.

Number 2 – Words matter, so be careful how you use them.

Job, got on his high horse and said things that he’s now regretting. We can see that, God knows what Job has said. God wasn’t there, but he heard every word. He knows about Job’s contentions and corrections and accusations. And he determines that they matter.

There really are no throw away words. We might consider them throw away, but God doesn’t. He’s holding Job accountable to his words now. The words that tripped off Jobs lips earlier, God says ‘obscure his plans’.

You see, God expects his people to speak words that shine a light on his awesome plans for the universe. Words that endorse and promote his works and his ways. Job’s words, he says, do the opposite – they obscure and conceal God’s ways and works. And that’s a big deal to God.

Jesus is zealous about it too:

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give an account on the day of judgement for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned’.

That’s very sobering don’t you think? Don’t regard your words as throw away. Think about them before you let them trip off your tongue. And if in doubt, don’t say them!

Number 3 – Let Job remind us that one day we will meet God face to face.

Out of nowhere, Job finds himself one on one with God – and he’s speechless. God is the one calling all the shots now. Job is the one having to give account.

Praise God that Job is one of God’s people - he is a delight in God’s sight – remember chapters 1 & 2. Yet here God is examining Job. The examination isn’t punitive – for punishment; the examination is purifying – for weeding out the rubbish.

We believe in Jesus - we believe there is no condemnation for those who are in him. Amen and hallelujah! And, we believe that we must all appear before the judgement seat of Jesus, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done in the body, whether good or bad – because that’s what 2 Corinthians 5:10 says.

We believe that that appearing, face to face with Jesus, will not be punitive – not for punishment, but will be purifying – for sifting out the rubbish.

1 Corinthians 3:12-13 shows us this reality for teachers in the church:

If anyone builds on this foundation [namely Christ] using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is [like Job is being shown – we will be shown], because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality if each person’s work’.

So, the testing fire is purifying fire – it burns off the dross and leaves the precious metals which is what God wants from our teaching.

Now, I know that the context here in 1 Corinthians 3 is Christian teachers and their work of teaching in the church. So, these verses don’t appear to immediately apply to most Christians – they apply to Paul and I here at Riverside for example, which is very humbling in itself.

However, Hebrews 4 broadens things out, we must all give an accounting of ourselves to God. And Ephesians 6, verse 8, says, ‘because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free’. And John, in his second letter, reminds his readers to ‘watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully’.

What is the effect then of knowing that we will meet Jesus face to face and our words and our works be rewarded? 2 Corinthians 5 says, ‘we make it our goal to please God’. Jude, verse 20 says it like this, ‘But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life’.

So, being reminded that, how we build on the foundation of Christ, matters, is motivating for us in our ongoing Christian walk.

I think that is humbling, and helpful, and worthy of our further consideration. We are meant to be ambassadors for Christ in this world. We’re not meant to obscure him. Job made that error, let his mistakes instruct us, so that we don’t make the same ones.


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