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  • Writer's picturePaul Cottington

The Perseverance of Job

The piece that I did two weeks ago was based on Romans 15:4 - 'For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.' We looked at how this ties in with James 5, particularly with regard to what James says about Elijah. He tells us that Elijah was 'as human as we are' (James 5:17 NLT). The implication is that this is the case with all the Old Testament prophets. They weren't made of something different from you and me. They were just like us.

In chapter 5 of James' letter he mentions two Old Testament characters, Elijah and Job. I want to look at both of these characters. I plan to save Elijah for next time. This time we will look at Job.

People will tell us that the bible is becoming increasingly irrelevant. They say that it is outdated, not having the necessary teaching for a modern age. It just hasn't anticipated the problems that we face today.

But that is simply not true. The bible is the word of God. It is the word of a God unto whom nothing is not revealed. Hebrews 4:12-13 tells us that, 'the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.'

It is because of the bible's relevance to today that I want to focus on Job and Elijah. We are currently experiencing social isolation, due to the restrictions in place to deal with COVID-19. Did we see this coming even 6 months ago? I think that it was probably beyond our imagination. Yet nearly two thousand years ago, when James penned his letter, led of God's Spirit, our 'today' was fixed in the mind of the Lord. Both these characters experienced isolation and with both of them it was extreme.

So, 'everything that was written in the past was written to teach us', that 'we might have hope'. But consider this; the Lord didn't just record the story of the events of Job's life to give us hope. He actually ordered those events. This can be clearly seen as we read the book of Job. The Lord authors this whole story. He makes it happen. He controls the events. Jehovah God has something to teach Job. Through the record of Job's life there is also teaching for us.

We may feel that our lives have changed greatly in the last few months. Relatively speaking, in the context of Job chapters 1 and 2, have they really changed that much? Job experienced a chain of events, an unravelling of his life's circumstances, that will have few parallels.

Before this, Job had been a rich and successful man. What is more, he was a man who delighted in the ways of God. Some commentators seem to make much of Job's apparent 'self-righteousness'. The greater reality is the fact that Job was a truly righteous man. At the end of Job's discourse, he details the way that he had behaved in his life. I think that we are correct to assume that this account is true. When the Lord finally speaks, and corrects Job and his friends, he doesn't tell Job that Job was wrong in his assessment of Job. Rather, Job was wrong in some of his appraisal of the Lord.

Read chapters 29 & 31. Does your life look like this? Mine doesn't. The account in chapter 29 is so good that we see, in it's details, prophesy about the coming Messiah. Job, in his life, reflected Jesus Christ.

Back in chapter 1, when, on top of the catalogue of disaster that Job had just been told about, another messenger arrives with the awful news that all of his ten children have perished, Job's response is to fall 'to the ground in worship'. What would our reaction be?

Also in chapter 1, we have the conversation between the Lord and Satan, about Job's very substance. The Lords says, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.’

Have you ever considered what would be said if you or I were found in Job's shoes. I think the conversation would be very different. I think the Lord would be forced to speak very different words about me. 'Have you considered my servant Paul? He's got the substance of an ice cream left outside on a summer's day.'

But, despite his exemplary character, Job had something that he needed to learn.

How was Job isolated? Well, he was isolated from his former way of life. His previous existence was gone. It was over. Done and dusted. He couldn't get it back. But Job retains his character. He isn't isolated from that. Job's wife is evidently not so noble. She says to Job 'Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!' This must have isolated Job even further.

Consider the attributes that we would most like in a life partner, in a husband or wife. Surely, integrity is right up towards the top of that list. Integrity is the practice of being honest and showing a consistent and uncompromising adherence to good principles and values. It is a most desirable characteristic. But here, in the mind of Mrs Job, in these circumstances, integrity is getting in the way of the best outcome. 'Give up your principles', she is in effect saying. 'Curse God' and all this misery will be ended. It's in your power. It was in Job's power, but it wasn't him.

How isolating must this have been? To be told to 'stop being you!' This goes to the very root of a person. This is important for us as believers in our changed circumstances. Yes, our lives have been altered. We cannot necessarily do the things that we desire to do. We cannot do the things that we desire to do, in the way that we desire to do them. What is important is that this doesn't lead to a change of principles. In our new situations we are still called upon to follow the example of Jesus Christ our Lord. Our circumstances have changed. God has not changed. What he desires to see in us is unaltered.

Then Job is isolated further. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar arrive on the scene. They have a genuine care for Job. It is important that we realise this. Their subsequent actions aren't on the basis of not liking Job. They did like him. I think they loved and respected him. We read (Job 2:12-13), 'When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognise him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.' Even though people were around him, he was still isolated. They weren't speaking and he was, though surrounded by people, very much alone. When they began to speak, things went from bad to worse.

His friends decide 'to go and sympathise with him and comfort him.' They set off with good intentions, but lose those sight of their objective on the journey. What a lesson is here for us? They want to help but end up being frustrated, they get angry and make Job's situation worse. Job's friends lead him into error. Job says of them in chapter 13:4-5, 'You, however, smear me with lies; you are worthless physicians, all of you! If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom.' Can we learn from this? Not speaking can impart more wisdom than our words! Ecclesiastes (3:7) tells us that there is, 'a time to be silent and a time to speak.' Job's friends chose the wrong time. Job's friends chose the wrong words.

In chapter 16, Job references this. He says that, if the roles were reversed, he would behave differently to them. Verses 4-5 say 'I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you. But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief.'

I had a conversation with a believing friend this week. In that conversation we were both able to sound off. I felt able to say things as they came to mind. Why? Because of trust. I knew that some of the things that I was saying were the result of emotion. Actually, I knew that I may not feel quite the same way tomorrow, in the cold light of day, so to speak, with the benefit of, perhaps, more prayerful consideration. But I knew that I wouldn't have my thoughts too critically judged. I knew that my friend would see them for what they were. I knew that they would understand that we need this process sometimes, to iron out things in our own minds. I knew that they were unlikely to phone me up tomorrow and say, 'Yesterday, in the heat of the moment, you said that you were going to do such and such. Have you done it yet? If you haven't then you are a liar.' No, they listened and they understood. Job's friends didn't.

Job's friends were zealous for the truth of 'God'. Unfortunately, this turned out to be their truth, rather than the truth. And they soon forgot their first intent to sympathise and comfort their friend. They did the exact opposite of what they had purposed to do. They isolated Job from themselves with words. In doing so, they contribute to Job's decline, to where he feels even more isolated from God himself.

Of course, he isn't isolated from God. Job thinks that the Lord has deserted him. He thinks (Job 13:24) that the Lord has hidden his face and considered Job to be his enemy. As onlookers, with the wonderful vantage point that God's word gives us, we know that this is not so.

In the message that Tim posted last week, he spoke of the apostle Paul's words to the people of Athens. Paul told them that God is not distant. He is the sustainer of life. 'In him we live and move and have our being' (Acts 17:28). Tim mentioned the errors of the Athenians in their understanding of the nature of God. Some people believe that they deserve better. They think that God owes them something. Job, in his suffering, reached this point. In fact, I believe that this is one of the things that lies behind this whole account of Job. For all the good things in Job's life, and there were many, he needed to learn this. God did not need Job. Job did not deserve anything of good from God. God owed Job nothing.

The Lord reminds Job of this when he speaks to him, in the record of chapter 38 onwards. He asks Job many pertinent questions to make his point clear to his servant. 'Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?' '‘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 and battle?' He asks Job if Job has the power to 'look at all who are proud and bring them low...and humble them...crush them where they stand.' He says to Job that if he can do this, 'then I myself will admit to you that your own right hand can save you.' (Job 40:11-14).

Job cannot. Job is humbled before his God. He confesses (Job 42:5-6) 'My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.’

Job learns that the only way to approach God is not on the basis of what we deserve, but on the basis of what he has promised to those that humble themselves before him. Job learns, more completely, the reality of the Lord's plan of salvation. Job learns the gospel. Job's God is big on relationship. He does not desire to be isolated from his people, to stand at a distance from them for ever. 'He commands all people everywhere to repent' (Acts 17:30). Repent of your sin, he tells them. Let go of your pride, your sense of deserving. Humble yourselves before me and put your trust in my Son whom I sent. This is not 'a truth', a version of 'truth' like Job's friends had. This is the essence of truth. This is the truth as it is in Jesus.

Jesus himself promised us, 'Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth' (Matt 5:5). Unlike Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, and all others like them, who are worthless physicians, Jesus is the good doctor. He is able to heal all who come to him for healing. Every single one.

The apostle James (ch.4) tells us that 'God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble... come near to God and he will come near to you...humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.' Job's right hand could not save him. Neither can yours, neither can mine. But the right hand of God could save Job, and it can save us, if we humble ourselves before him and trust completely in Jesus.

Job persevered through the harshest of trials. It involved extreme isolation. But Job's faith was precious in the sight of his God and so his faith was refined by that trial. His understanding of himself was improved. His appreciation of his God was increased. In his persevering, he wasn't always right in what he thought or said or did. But, by God's grace, he did persevere.

At the end we are told this. '...The Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring. The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. And he also had seven sons and three daughters. The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers. After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so Job died, an old man and full of years (Job 42:10-17)

What conclusion can we reach then, when we consider the perseverance of Job. I think the best conclusion is to conclude with the word of God, and with the words that the apostle James speaks in our chosen text today, 'brothers and sisters.'

'As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.


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