Job’s three questions
Job asked many questions of God and of the people who were around him. Some were rhetorical queries, some were philosophical in nature, and some, perhaps most, were either convergent or leading questions. Of all the questions he asked, he answered but only three of them for himself, interestingly one for each of his three friends with whom he debated.
The first self Q&A is in Job 14:4, buried toward the end of his reply to Zophar the Naamathite: Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one! Initially, Job directed the long response to his friend but by the time he concluded his remarks, he was speaking to God. And, indeed, the question above is in conversation with God yet intentionally in the hearing of the gathering.
To be clear, only God can create. And only God can declare that which He has created to be clean. It reminds me of Peter’s vision in Acts 10. Assuming that many of the animals in the revelation were considered by the Jews to be common or unclean, Peter learned instead that God has authority to declare those things to be clean. Shortly after that, Peter’s eyes, and mouth, were opened to the meaning of the vision: Then Peter opened his mouth and said, “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality” (verse 34). He went on to preach Jesus to a house full of “unclean” Gentiles; and, as Paul put it, “Salvation has come to the Gentiles.” (Romans 11:11)
As Job suffered cruel, satanic afflictions, he found himself entertaining some intellectual, theological misfits who wrongly questioned Job’s Godly credentials. Indeed, no one can bring something good from something vile and filthy. If his friends thought that he was unclean, nothing they could say or do could bring him out of that condition.
But Job was not unclean, whatever its spiritual meaning was in those pre-Law days. He was a clean man already brought out of that which was unclean, done so by God Himself, the only One who could perform such a feat. He feared God, shunned evil, and walked blamelessly and uprightly before his Maker (Job 1:1, 8). And in Job’s words, “He shall be my salvation for a hypocrite cannot come before Him.” (Job 13:16)
You can almost hear Job asking, “Do you really think you guys can clean up this mess if I were indeed sinning against God? No one can do that but God Himself, and I’m already His.” Job’s question, then, makes one consider his relationship with God, and Job’s answer calls for faith alone in God alone to do what no one or nothing else can do. I’m not sure how Zophar reacted to this but I’m sure it made his head hurt.
The second self Q&A is in Job 23:6 and was made during another long response after Eliphaz the Temanite spoke: Would He contend with me in His great power? No! But He would take note of me. The context here is in light of what Eliphaz had just spoken to Job when he reminded Job of having said, “What does God know? Can He judge through the deep darkness? Thick clouds cover Him, so that He cannot see, and He walks above the circle of heaven” (Job 22:13-14). On the other hand, perhaps Eliphaz took Job out of context.
It’s as if Eliphaz chose to “rub it in,” to blame Job for believing that God had removed Himself from his presence and would not dare to look upon His debased servant. Yet Eliphaz committed a bit of double speak here, for previous to this, he admitted Job’s blamelessness and righteousness before God (Job 22:3). One could understand why Job got tired of listening to his friends, or as he labeled them, miserable comforters (Job 16:2)!
Eliphaz wasn’t finished. He implied that God had entered into judgment with Job, setting the stage for contention (22:4). Job apparently agreed with this assessment. In his rebuttal to Eliphaz, Job confidently begged for a hearing with the Almighty. And here is where he asked his question: Would He contend with me in His great power?
Job was well aware of the heights to which God attains and the depths in which God immerses. He was well aware of God’s omnipresence in infinite spaces and finite hearts. Perhaps David reflected on this, too, when he sang, “If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there” (Psalms 139:8-9). Yet men of God like Job and David also know that no matter what or where, God sees them and knows them intimately (Psalm 139:1-6). Would the Almighty One come against His own son with overwhelming power and ruthless prosecution? “NO!” Job says, “But he will take note of me.”
And indeed, God takes note of His children. The Great Creator of the universe, the Heavenly Father of fathers, the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Unbegotten One who from the beginning sent His Begotten Self to be one with gotten men – He takes note of His frail, hurting, suffering kids. We beg for a hearing and God hears. We beg to be seen and understood, and God sees and sympathizes. We beg for hope and God gives it, and more, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us even the kingdom (Luke 12:32).
That, my friend, is hope, that expectation of something really good to come to us, and indeed, with us already. Would God contend with us in His power? We hope not. Does He pay attention to us? We hope so. And He pays more than attention. He paid for our sins with the blood of Jesus. As the old hymn goes: “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe; sin had left a crimson stain, He washed me white as snow.”
Job’s question, then, makes one wonder how he can survive standing before Almighty God as a sin-creature hoping beyond hope to come into the presence of death-defying hope. In His great power, God contends with the works of Satan. Actually, that contest is already settled. God won. And in His great peace, He cuddles the one who comes to Him. Now may the God of hope fill you will all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)
The third self Q&A is in Job 31:2-3 and, as usual, was during a lengthy rebuttal following a very short speech, this time by Bildad the Shuhite: What is the allotment of God from above, and the inheritance of the Almighty from on high? Is it not destruction for the wicked and disaster for the workers of iniquity?
Job’s answer is a question in itself, and is initially directed at those who do not love and obey God. What is the allotment for the wicked?: destruction. What is the inheritance of those who work sin?: disaster. In this, his last speech, Job magnifies the magnitude of Almighty, Eternal God. Bildad asked, “How then can man be righteous before God?” (Job 25:4), and Job laid it out for him and for everyone else to hear. He made it clear, too, that “As long as my breath is in me, and the breath of God is in my nostrils, my lips will not speak wickedness, nor my tongue utter deceit. Far be it from me that I should say you are right; till I die I will not put away my integrity from me. My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go; my heart shall not reproach me as long as I live.” (Job 27:3-6)
Job loved God even in his suffering and anguish. Job loved God enough to wonder and question why calamity had befallen him. Job loved God even enough to cry out to him with all of his human emotion, to spill his guts as we would say.
For the disobedient, God-unloving person, the dual question here, “What is the allotment?” and “What is the inheritance?” is easy to answer. If you do not repent, you will perish, as God told His own people: “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” says the Lord God. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin.” (Ezekiel 18:30)
It is only when one turns his love and affection on the Lord that his allotment and inheritance is reversed. A new heart and a new spirit within bring new life to a man, as Ezekiel went on to say. One’s love interest, spiritually speaking, is forever sealed in a “marriage” between the renewed man and the Lord God. Marriage never exists outside of love, whether or not it is between a man and a woman, a wooden structure joined by a dovetail cut (not that there’s love here!), or an eternal relationship with Jesus. Haters will fall, Job asserted. Lovers will flourish, Job attested.
Job’s question was fully answered by Job’s consistent, stubborn gaze on God and not on wealth, women, or wickedness; not just in this discourse but throughout all of his talking. The more Satan hit him, the more Job loved his Maker, though his love met unprecedented challenges. Job was not looking forward to destruction and disaster. Far from it. That was for the unbeliever, the unlover. Job was looking forward to his eternal Redeemer: For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27). Now that is love.
Without straining too hard on a gnat and swallowing so cleverly a camel, I found faith, hope, and love in these three questions. These are the things Paul declared as all-important, ever-abiding matters: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13:13). Clearly, Job knew these things: faith leading to hope leading to love. Job knew these things before Satan tried to claim him, for God had already laid claim on His man. He used these things to beat down the destruction and disaster that reared their ugly heads in his life. And he modeled these things in the presence of gawkers and grandstanders.
In the end, God declared that Job had spoken of Me what is right, even as Job confessed his smallness before the Great I AM (Job 42:1-7). God knows His own because of their abiding faith in Him. God comforts His own when they need steadfast hope over their circumstances of life. God loves His own above all else, above all things, above and beyond all that can be imagined. He brings down challenges to our faith. He tears up obstacles to our hope. Because we love Him, He loves us – actually, He loved us first (I John 4:19) – for He is love. And the greatest of all things is Love.