Hope in Life and Death
Topic: Expository Passage: Job 11–14
When I began planning this series, one of my biggest unknowns was how to handle Job’s conversations with his friends. I know that many of the same themes get repeated over and over and it’s easy to get lost in these conversations. Therefore, I want to be careful not to let my sermons and my applications become too repetitive.
This concern was on my mind on Monday as I began studying Job’s conversation with Zophar in chapters 11–14. I quickly noticed that this section repeats many of the same ideas that have already discussed. Zophar adds nothing to the conversation. But Job responds with a glimmer of hope that we haven’t seen since chapter 2.
Specifically, during a gloomy time, Job rises up and gives a weak but faithful testimony of hope that he will live again on the other side of the grave and that God will give him justice. And Job’s hope in death gives him hope to keep going in life. In the process he sets a powerful example of how the nearness of death and the hope of eternity must shape my life today. So, my title is “Hope in Life and Death.” To appreciate Job’s testimony, we first need to consider Zophar’s speech, which provides the context for Job’s response.
I. Zophar’s Speech (Job 11)
Remember that Zophar is the third and final friend to speak, probably because he is the youngest. And like younger people often do, Zophar talks the biggest, but he actually has the least to say. He adds little of value to the conversation. In this vein, he asserts…
“God is infinite, but I have him figured out” (vv. 1–12). You’ve probably noticed that these guys are not having polite dinner conversation. The gloves are off, and they are going after each other. Zophar calls Job “a man full of talk” (v. 2) and “empty talk” (v. 3). In vv. 4–6 he essentially says, “I have God figured out, and God really needs to just slap you silly, Job.”
He even says in v. 6b that Job deserves more suffering than he has endured. And he is not saying that in order to point Job to the hope of the gospel. He’s just being mean. Now I have to say that v. 12 is kind of funny (read). But Zophar is being nasty. His point is that a pea-brain like Job will become wise when a wild donkey gives birth to a human. It’s not happening.
Now, in between, Zophar makes some tremendous statements about God’s glory. Verses 7–9 declare that God is infinite that and that we will never comprehend “the limits of the Almighty.” And vv. 10–11 declare that no one can resist God’s sovereign power. Praise the Lord for these realities.
But the context is clear that Zophar’s heart is not to bow with humility and worship before Infinite God. Instead, Zophar has an arrogant tone. He believes that he has Infinite God figured out. This becomes painfully obvious in vv. 13–20, where he asserts…
“I know you need to repent” (vv. 13–20). Zophar sounds like a good televangelist, giving an emotional invitation. Zophar promises that if Job will repent, God take away Job’s misery (v. 16), and a new day will dawn (v. 17), that is characterized by peace and security (vv. 18–19). It sounds great! All that’s left is for Zophar to give his altar-call and to put up the phone number where you can send your donations.
But what’s the problem? He has put words into God’s mouth that he never said. God is not judging Job for his sin, and Job doesn’t need to repent. And Zophar has no authority to promise these blessings. It’s all empty of truth. So, what can we learn from Zophar’s presumptuous assertions? 2 warnings…
Be careful about putting words in God’s mouth. I hope we all agree that’s a bad thing. But I’ve heard many Christian make bold claims on God’s behalf, but I’m left thinking, “Um…God never said that.”
We start passionately talking about politics, standards of holiness, parenting practices, or financial stewardship. In our passion, we become reckless with our assertions. We may have something really good to say, but we aren’t careful to articulate where the Bible ends and my conviction begins. We speak presumptuously and divisively, and it dishonors the Lord.
We need to be very careful about putting words in God’s mouth. Instead, we must carefully articulate God’s Word in a manner that honors him and his Word. And a 2nd warning that relates specifically to Zophar’s speech is…
Be careful about assuming that you know why God allows someone to suffer. Job gives an important warning in 12:5. I think the NKJV misses the translation here, but the NIV expresses the sense well, “Men at ease have contempt for misfortune as the fate of those whose feet are slipping.”
Job’s point is that it is very easy for people whose lives are going well, to look down their noses at people who are struggling and be critical without really understanding the situation. We look at poor people and assume they must be lazy and irresponsible. If your kids didn’t turn out well, it must be that you were a bad parent. If you struggle with depression, there must be some sin down deep in your heart that you need to confess.
Any of those things might be true, but we shouldn’t assume that they are true. We especially need to be very careful about drawing a straight line from suffering to God’s judgment, because that is a big claim to make.
In sum, be very careful about claiming to speak for God as Zophar did. His presumptive speech missed the mark by a wide margin. As a result…
II. Job rebukes his friends (12:1–13:19)
I’ve been fascinated this week with Job’s reply. Ever since Job lost his health, we’ve watched his spirit crumble into despair and bitterness toward God. But it’s as if Zophar pushed a little too hard. Therefore, even in a very weakened state physically and spiritually, Job determines to rise up with a spark of faith and hope.
So, Job 12–14 is far from being greatest testimony of faith in Scripture, but Job’s faith shines through, just a little. Job begins by declaring…
“God determines our destiny, not us” (12:1–25). (read vv. 1–6) To be fair, Job’s friends have said some great things about God, who do they really believe determines our fate? They believe that man controls his destiny, because they believe that God always brings swift consequences for our actions. But Job argues that it’s not so simple; instead, our fate rests in the sovereign purposes of God.
For one, Job mentions his own story in v. 4. He has a long testimony of being someone who loves the Lord, talks to the Lord, and has received answers from the Lord. So, Job’s story contradicts his friends’ theology.
And v. 6 offers a 2nd major problem with retribution theology. Job says, “If God always brings swift justice, then why do ‘robbers prosper and those who provoke God are secure.” That’s a big issue that Job’s friends have just chosen to ignore, because it doesn’t fit their narrative.
From there Job spends the rest of the chapter arguing that everyone and everything, including the animals, knows that our lives are in God’s sovereign hands (read vv. 7–25). Job says that Gold’s sovereign control is powerfully displayed all around us. He ends in vv. 21–25 by saying that even the mightiest princes and nations are subject to God’s sovereignty. “He makes nations great, and destroys them” (v. 23). We serve a mighty God.
That’s so encouraging, because we can all get easily discouraged by how powerful evil seems to be, whether it be evil leaders or evil philosophies. But God reigns over them all, and someday he will make everything right.
But the main point Job wants to make is that this mighty God is sovereign over me. I am not sovereign over my destiny. Yes, it’s true that God often blesses obedient, wise living, but at the end of the day, I’m not in absolute control of my health, my finances, my children, my job, or my country.
And this would be frightening except for the fact that God is in control of all of them. He reigns over the just and the unjust. And his every purpose is good. Therefore, rather than being anxious and clinging to the hope that I can control my destiny, I can humbly cast my cares on him and submit to his will knowing that he will do what is right. Then in 13:1–19, Job adds…
“I will appeal to God rather than trying to speak for God” (13:1–19). In other words, Job is done arguing with his worthless friends. They don’t understand God, and all their efforts to explain his ways are empty.
So, Job rightly says, “We need God to speak.” (read vv. 1–12). Job is obviously not impressed with his friends. They have tried and tried to explain God, but Job concludes, “Your platitudes are proverbs of ashes (I imagine him holding up a pile ash), your defenses are defenses of clay” (v. 12). They’re worthless. The same is true anytime people try to go beyond Scripture in explaining God.
For example, back in March, when the world was grieving over the effects of COVID-19, N. T. Wright, who is one of the most famous NT scholars in the world, wrote an article in Time Magazine, where he attempted to give a Christian explanation for the pandemic. At first, we might think, “How cool that Time Magazine included a Christian testimony!” But the article was very disappointing. The title was, “Christianity Offers No Answers about the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed to.”
You see, Wright embraces a theology known as Open Theism. In the 80’s and 90’s several theologians developed this theology to answer the problem of evil. Their answer was that God doesn’t know the future, and he is not sovereign over the future. In essence, evil exists, because God doesn’t know what’s coming, and he is adapting like the rest of us.
So, Wright’s “Christian” explanation of COVID-19 is that God is grieving like the rest of us, because he didn’t see this coming or cause it to happen. It’s heresy, and it’s what happens anytime, we push our thoughts on Scripture rather than submitting to Scripture.
So, Job is absolutely right to tell his friends to stop trying to defend God. God can defend himself; he doesn’t need you to do it for him.
And then Job makes a powerful statement in vv. 13–19. Verse 15 is particularly well known, though it’s often taken out of context. Based on v. 14, Job is saying, “I am willing to risk my life in order to appear before God. God might slay me, but I trust that he is just. I believe that he will see that I am righteous, and he will be my ‘salvation.’” Similarly, he says in v. 18, “I know I shall be vindicated.”
Again, this is not the most glorious testimony of faith in Scripture, but considering Job’s plight, it’s very significant. Job speaks before there is any inspired Scripture, and his friends are sure that he is suffering under the wrath of God. He’s weak, and he’s broken down, but he believes that God is just and that God is good and that in the end God will save him.
And when we are walking in darkness, it’s essential that we maintain the same faith that God sees, and God will do what is right. I’m reminded of Jesus’ promise in Matthew 19:28–30. Looks can be deceiving. Sometimes hypocrites look blessed, and the righteous look broken. But even if we don’t see it today, God’s smile is often on the “last” people, and at the judgment, he will make all things right.
The challenge for us is to not lose heart, in the face of suffering. Hold fast to your faith, and know that God will do what is right. Believe that, “He shall be my salvation.” Having said that, Job begins to address God in v. 20.
III. Job addresses God (Job 13:20–14:22).
Job is not out of the woods. He’s still struggling, so he begins by saying…
“I don’t understand what you are doing” (13:20–28). Again, you can feel the pain, exhaustion, and confusion in Job’s voice. And since he is certain that death is near, he proceeds to reflect on the fact that…
“Life is a vapor (14:1–12). Verses 7–12 are particularly interesting. Have you ever cut down a tree only to have it shoot up again? Or you pull a weed, and it digs down in the soil and greens up. Some plants refuse to die.
But not people. Verses 10–12 say that when we die, that’s it. That’s humbling reality, because like Job’s friends, we want to be in control. But nothing in life says more loudly that I am not in control than the reality of death. Therefore, to try it out of our minds. Our society works hard to forget that death is coming to us all, because death defies our dreams of sovereignty.
But we are not sovereign. Death is coming, and as Christians we need to embrace this reality so that we walk in humility before God and with our hope in eternity. The great Puritan pastor Cotton Mather once said, “When we sit at our Tables, Let us think, I shall shortly be my self a morsel for the Worms. When we rest in our Lodgings, Let us think, A cold Grave will shortly be my Bed. And when we view the Chests, where we put our Treasures, Let us think, A little black Chest is that wherein I myself shortly may be Locked up.” We all need to be humbled by the reality of death.
But as Christians, the reality of death doesn’t just humble me; it also turns my attention to eternity. And Job ends with this hope in vv. 13–22.
“Let me rest in the grave until you are ready to speak” (14:13–22). We need to remember that Job is speaking before there is any written Scripture, so his theology of the afterlife is very rudimentary. But even though he doesn’t know much, he knows that God is faithful and just, so he is hopeful that even if he doesn’t get justice in this world, he will get it in the next.
Therefore, in v. 13, he wishes that God would hide him in the grave until his “wrath is past.” And when God’s wrath is complete, he prays that God would remember him and resurrect him. This is very significant, considering the fact that he just spoke of the finality of death in vv. 1–12.
But again, Job believes in the justice of God, so notice his hope in v. 14. His “change” is clearly a reference to resurrection. And then notice how he further imagines his resurrection in v. 15. Job says, “God made me, and he will surely desire his creation, so you will speak to me, and I will answer.” Even in the midst of awful suffering, Job imagines a day when he will stand peacefully before his Maker and fellowship with him.
But Job gets the fact that he won’t stand before God on his own 2 feet, based on his righteous deeds, because no one is truly righteous or able to stand before God on his own (vv. 16–17). The point of v. 17 seems to be that Job knows he is a sinner. But he is hopeful that God will seal up his sins in a bag and graciously not hold them against Job at the final judgment.
Again, Job’s understanding of resurrection, judgment, and atonement is very basic, but the seeds of the gospel are all there, and they are all rooted in Job’s understanding of God as just, faithful, and gracious.
Job knows that he is a sinner in need of grace. He needs God to seal up his sins. And thankfully, Jesus did this, when he died on the cross. Colossians 2:14 states of Jesus, “Having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”
And after Jesus conquered our sin, he conquered death in his resurrection. Because Christ lives, everyone who is in Christ can look forward to the day when we will see Christ, and we will be glorified. As Job said in v. 15, “You (God) shall call, and I (Job) will answer You.” God will look at his children with grace and love, Jesus will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Then we will live in the Lord’s presence for all eternity, and the hardships of this life fade more and more into oblivion compared to the glory of heaven.
Again, Job didn’t get all of that, but with eyes of faith, he looked for a heavenly city whose builder and maker is God. He’s still weak. After this incredible testimony, he ends the chapter by sinking back into despondence. But he’s going to hold on by the grace of God, and in Job 19, he will articulate a more potent hope.
Maybe there is someone here who doesn’t have any of that hope. You don’t know that your sins are covered by the blood of Christ, and you don’t know that you will be received into heaven. I pray that you will see that your sins can be “sealed up in a bag,” if you will repent of your sin and receive Christ as your Savior. You can leave with a sure hope in death that will sustain you in life. Please come to Christ and be saved.
And if you are saved, be reminded that both the hardships of life and the pleasures of the flesh are all temporary. The Lord’s path for you in this life may be littered with pain and hardship, but God will remember you, and he will vindicate you. Therefore, may we all commit with Job in the words of 14:14, “All the days of my hard service I will wait, till my change comes.”