Trusting God in the Fog
Topic: Expository Passage: Job 4–7
Remember that the title of our series in Job is “The Wisdom of God and the Foolishness of Men.” I included “The Foolishness of Men” in the title because of what’s coming in Job 4–27. This section records Job’s conversations with his 3 friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. The 4 men take their best shot at explaining God and the purposes of God, but in the end, it’s mostly foolishness, because their understanding is so limited.
It’s sort of like listening to small children try to explain how a car runs or why chickens lay eggs. They think they have it figured out, but you have to laugh, because their explanations makes no sense. As such, one of the primary purposes of Job 4–27 is to point out man’s limited ability to understand God.
As such, while Job 4–27 is inspired and profitable, we must remember the distinction I made last week between descriptive and prescriptive revelation. There is a lot of truth in the speeches, but a lot of error is mixed in. Therefore, we need to always remember the author’s broader purpose, which is to point out the foolishness of men. And we need to examine everything that is said in light of the broader testimony of Scripture, so that we see the errors, and so that we can spit out the bones and only swallow the meat.
You might be wondering, “Why would God make it so difficult on us? Why can’t he give us boneless meat, without any false statements, because it’s a lot easier to eat?” The answer is that the bones, or the errors of these men, force us to think about some hard questions and some difficult truths in a way that we wouldn’t do otherwise.
Specifically, Job and his friends are wrestling with one of the hardest questions in the world, “Why do people suffer?” By recording their raw conversation, God is saying, “I know you have these questions, and I want to help you address them.” God cares about our questions! This morning, I’d like to push through the first of 8 exchanges between Job and his friends in Job 4–7. My title is “Trusting God in the Fog.” Job 4–5 begin the exchange with…
I. The First Speech of Eliphaz (Job 4–5)
Remember that Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar have been sitting with Job in complete silence for 7 days and 7 nights. They are stunned by their friend’s loss, and they want to know why all of this has happened. Then Job breaks the silence in chapter 3, with a hopeless complaint. He doesn’t have any answers, and he has no hope of restoration; therefore, he just wants to die. But Eliphaz is not satisfied. He wants to know why this is happening and how to fix it. He wants man to be in control of his own destiny. Therefore, he foolishly attempts to explain what’s happening. In doing so, he makes 3 major assertions, which Scripture corrects.
Human suffering is always God’s judgment against sin (4:1–11; 5:1–7). (Read 4:1–5) Eliphaz tries to begin gently. He asks Job for permission to speak, and in vv. 3–4 he points out that Job has been a voice of wisdom for others in the past. He’s probably referring to Job’s role as a respected elder in his community (Job 29:7–10, 21–23). But now, Eliphaz says it is time for Job to be the student and to hear what he has to say.
(Read 4:6–11): Verse 7 summarizes Eliphaz’s basic argument. He claims that innocent people don’t suffer and that the upright will never be cut off, before their time. In contrast, vv. 8–9 claim that those who plant evil will reap evil.
So, Eliphaz affirms a strict retribution theology. He believes that good things always happen to good people and that bad things always happen to bad people. And he is not thinking of eternity; rather, he believes that we always get what we deserve in this life.
He restates this claim in 5:1–7. Verse 4 must have particularly stung, because Eliphaz says that it is the evil man’s sons who are crushed. What is he implying? He’s implying that it is Job’s fault that his children are dead.
Then notice that there is an element of truth in v. 6. Our suffering doesn’t randomly spring from the ground. We don’t live in a world of chaos. However, Eliphaz isn’t declaring the sovereignty of God; rather, he believes that man is sovereign over his destiny.
This morning, I’d like to focus on just one of several biblical correctives.
God has many purposes for suffering. Eliphaz only sees one purpose for suffering—judgment for sin. Now this is A purpose. God judged Israel many times for disobeying his will. But the Bible also teaches that God has many other good reasons why he allows us to endure hard times.
I’ll just give one example. In John 11, Jesus’ good friend Lazarus becomes severely ill. He’s suffering, as are his sisters, Mary and Martha, whom Jesus also loved dearly. But Jesus doesn’t rush in to heal Lazarus. Instead, he waits 2 long days before going to Bethany. In the meantime, Lazarus dies, and Mary and Martha are left grieving.
Was Jesus judging them? No, he said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4). Later after Lazarus died, Jesus told his disciples, “I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe” (John 11:15). Jesus is clear that Lazarus’s death was not the result of sin. Rather, Jesus used it to glorify himself and to create faith among his disciples. Of course, Jesus fulfilled these purposes when he raised Lazarus from the dead.
Scripture is clear that God has many purposes in suffering. We can’t assume that there is a direct cause and effect relationship between evil and suffering. This is important, because just like Eliphaz, how many of us have ever cried out in the midst of a hard time, “What did I do to deserve this?” Often, the answer is “Nothing.”
So, when you are suffering, don’t assume that God is judging you and as a result go on some unhealthy search of your past. He might be chastening you, but he might be doing something very different. And be especially careful about drawing the same assumption when others suffer. God has many purposes in suffering. Eliphaz’s 2nd major assertion is…
Man can achieve ultimate understanding through observation and mystical experiences (4:8–21). Remember that in 4:7 Eliphaz strongly asserts that suffering is always the result of sin. But why is he so sure? Notice his reasoning in vv. 8–21.
Did you catch why he is so confident? In v. 8 he says, “I have seen,” so Eliphaz claims that his observations prove his retribution theology. Then he proceeds in vv. 9–11 to explain some ways he has seen the evil suffering, including lions that torture other animals.
His logic is rather dumbfounding, because there are examples everywhere that contradict his thinking. Eliphaz is guilty of confirmation bias. In other words, he knows what he wants to think, so he finds evidence to support it, and ignores everything else. He sounds like a master of Facebook.
Then he proceeds in vv. 12–16 to claim that he had some kind of mystical revelation that proved his viewpoint. He gives some interesting details. He claims his bones began to shake, that a spirit passed in front of him, and his hair stood up. We’ve all heard that kind of thing before. How many cults have been started because some guy had an experience like Eliphaz? And many Christians have claimed a lot of authority based on a dream or some other kind of revelation they claim to have had.
Then he tells us about his revelation in vv. 17–21. Now, I must say that there is an element of truth here. Eliphaz has a decent understanding of depravity. But he used it to draw a wrong conclusion about Job. We know that God was pleased with Job; therefore, Eliphaz has totally missed the reason behind Job’s suffering, no matter what kind of experience he had. Therefore, the biblical corrective to Eliphaz’s assertion is…
The Bible is God’s authoritative and sufficient revelation (Gal 1:8). When Paul wrote Galatians, he was very concerned that they were being pulled away by a false gospel. And notice what he says about our loyalty to the true gospel, and really to all of God’s revealed Word in Scripture. “Even if we or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:8).
If “an angel from heaven” told you something, you’d be pretty inclined to believe it. But Paul is clear. The Bible is more trustworthy and clearer than any experience or revelation. Therefore, our confidence must always be in the Bible, and we must interpret every observation and experience based on what the Bible clear says.
And if the Bible doesn’t clearly answer one of my questions, like why I am suffering, then I need to be very careful about drawing unwarranted conclusions. I must believe that God has told me what I need to know, and I can trust him with the rest. Stay anchored to Scripture. Eliphaz’s 3rd assertion is…
If you repent, God will restore your fortune (5:8–27). This section is fascinating, because Eliphaz sprinkles in a lot of wonderful truth. He declares that God graciously gives rain to the fields (v. 10). He also cares for the weak and the oppressed (vv. 11, 15–16). And v. 17 is very biblical. Proverbs 3:11–12 and Hebrews 12:5–11 both say that we should embrace God’s discipline as for our good.
So Eliphaz has some great theology; the problem is that he thinks he understands more than he does. Tremper Longman nails it when he says, “Eliphaz’s mistake is not in the principle but in believing that it is always true and, in particular, that it is true in the case of Job.” Therefore, in vv. 18–27, he makes some incredible claims about how God will bless Job, if he embraces God’s correction and repents. How does the Bible answer Eliphaz?
God is compassionate; therefore, he seeks our eternal good above our temporal good (Phil 3:20). Eliphaz was right that God is compassionate. The problem was that he was only looking for God’s reward in this life. He didn’t see with the same eyes of faith as Paul, who said in Philippians 3:20, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Eliphaz did not understand that God’s blessing is fundamentally in eternity. It’s so important that we remember where our hope truly is. So, if God gives me good things in this life, great! But if he withholds them, that’s okay too, because I have all eternity to enjoy his reward. Therefore, I will not live for temporal blessings; rather, I will seek treasures in heaven. Christian, keep that focus. Do not forget that you are an alien and a stranger on earth. Eliphaz has finished his first speech. In Job 6–7, Job gives his first reply.
II. Job’s Reply (Job 6–7)
He sort of answers Eliphaz, but he mostly just says what he wants to say. I’d like to divide his speech into 3 assertions and 3 correctives.
God is unkind in making me continue (6:1–13). Job starts with some agonizing pictures. He says that his grief is heavier than the sand on the seashore (vv. 2–3). And then he pictures God as piercing his body with poison arrows (v. 4). What a miserable picture! And vv. 8–10 are especially heartbreaking. He wishes that God would just crush him and let him die.
There is some debate about how to translate v. 10. It could be that Job wants God to kill him now, while he still has his integrity and before he is weakened to the point that he curses God. It could also be that he is pleading for God to answer his prayer for death as something of a testimony of God’s approval. Either way, Job is saying, “All I have left is my integrity. Oh that God would just honor it a little bit and let me die now.”
Then he follows by saying, “I’m not made of stones or bronze. I don’t have any more strength to continue” (vv. 11–13). So, what do you say to someone in such terrible despair? The only thing you can say is….
God is always good (Matt 7:9–11). Jesus gives us a wonderful picture of our Father’s goodness, when he says, “What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him” (Matt 7:9–11)!
Jesus is clear that God only gives good gifts. Of course, they don’t always feel good, just like parental discipline doesn’t always feel good, even though it is full of love. And we don’t always see why God is allowing us to suffer.
But we know that God is good. And when you are confused like Job was, you must cling to this truth. “If I don’t know anything else, I know that God is good, and God only gives good things.” Job’s second assertion is…
My friends have abandoned me in my time of need (6:14–30). Job begins by saying that a man ought to be able to count on his friends in his time of need, but Job’s friends had seriously disappointed him. Then in vv. 15–20, he compares them to a mountain stream. It flows rapidly when the winter snow is melting, but when the summer sun gets hot and people really need it refreshing water, the stream dries up. As a result, the traveling caravans are severely disappointed when they come to the stream and it is dry.
Job’s disappointment in his friends is sort of like when you open the freezer and see an ice cream container. You’re so excited to have some, but when you pick it up, it’s empty. Job’s friends did not come through in his time of need.
As a result, Job goes after them in vv. 21–30. He challenges them to say anything of true value (vv. 24–26). And then he closes in vv. 28–30 by reasserting his innocence and by challenging them to prove his sin, not just assume there must be something that’s wrong. Job is obviously very frustrated with Eliphaz’s speech, and his frustration is only going to grow as the dialogue continues in Job 8–27. So what do you say to someone in Job’s position who feels like his friends have abandoned him. My response is…
Christ will never abandon his children (Heb 13:5; 4:16). Let your conduct be without covetousness; becontent with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb 13:5).
People let us down all the time. They abandon us in our time of need. They say or do hurtful things, when we really need to lean on them. It hurts. But I am so thankful that even if everyone else abandons me or disappoints me, Christ will never forsake me. He will always be at my side. Therefore, God commands us, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16).
So, run to the Savior for every need in every situation. If you are in Christ, you can be confident that he sees your need, he is near, and he will give “grace to help in time of need.”
And let’s also be challenged not to be like Job’s friends. Sometimes it’s very difficult to minister to people who are grieving and suffering. It’s time consuming, it’s painful, and it’s awkward. But let’s be ready to sacrificially move toward each other out of Christ-like love. Job’s 3rd assertion is…
God’s attention brings pain, not grace (7:1–21). In this chapter, Job now addresses his complaint directly to God. He begins by bemoaning his miserable existence (vv. 1–10). Again, it’s heartbreaking to read of Job’s condition. Job says “I have been allotted months of futility” (v. 3). His nights are long and miserable, because he can’t sleep (v. 4). His body is crawling with maggots and open sores (v. 5). As a result, Job has no hope other than death (vv. 7–10).
Then he follows with some pretty strong words for the Lord. Job asks why God feels the need to hover over him as if he were a threatening sea monster (v. 12). Then he complains that when he wants to sleep, God sends nightmares that terrify his soul (vv. 12–15). And vv. 17–20 are particularly troubling, because Job complains about the nearness of God.
What’s particularly fascinating is that v. 17 sounds almost identical to Psalm 8:4, which states, “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that Youvisit him?” But David has a very different perspective from Job on God’s nearness. He is amazed and thankful that God is near and cares for his people. But Job sees God’s nearness as oppressive and mean. He wants God to “look away from me and let me alone” (v. 19).
Then he concludes in vv. 20–21 by asking God what he has done to deserve this? If there is some sin, he pleads with God to reveal it and forgive it. In response, I want to affirm…
The nearness of God is always for our good (Ps 84:10–11). I should note that many people agree with Job about the nearness of God. They are afraid of his holiness and they want freedom to do what they want to do, so they want God to leave them alone. And if someone is not in Christ, God’s holiness should be scary. Psalm 130:3 states, “If You,Lord, should mark iniquities,O Lord, who could stand?” The answer is no one. God’s presence means judgment for everyone who does not stand in the righteousness of Christ.
But v. 4 states, “But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.” Jesus took our punishment in himself on the cross, so that God could be just and also forgive our sin. Therefore, Romans 10:13 promises, “Whoever callson the name of the Lord shall be saved.” When someone believes on Christ, he is forgiven of all his sin and placed in the righteousness of Christ, and we forever stand in his finished work. If you’ve never received Christ, please do so today.
Because when you receive Christ, the nearness of God is transformed from your worst enemy to your greatest joy. The true believer can say, “For a day in Your courtsis better than a thousand.I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Ps 84:10–11).
I don’t need to fear his presence or be intimated by his watchful eye. Our God is good, and his every purpose for me is good! Therefore, there is no greater blessing than to be near to God in the security of Christ. Praise the Lord!
In conclusion, the question that dominates these four chapters is what causes human suffering. The text doesn’t give a complete answer. All it says is, We often long to understand the reason for our suffering, but God’s purposes remain hidden. So what do we do? We must trust that God’s purposes are wise and good even when we don’t understand them. May God help us this week to rest in what we know to be true about God from his inspired and inerrant Word, and may God help us to what we don’t know in his perfect hands.