JOB is speaking:—
Those of us who take upon ourselves to write and speak about our God, His Word and His Ways, must (if we are honest and not seeking merely to provide material for readers and listeners) often pause to wonder at our temerity in doing so. So often it seems like walking roughshod over Holy Ground and it would be so indeed were it not that added to the instruction "Preach the word" is the command to reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine, which seems to lay on us the onus of trying to explain as well as expound. Where the danger lies is that an attempted explanation may so easily go beyond what is revealed, for all men are by inclination prone to indulge their own imaginings.
Theology is a difficult study. So is philosophy difficult, and so are the intellectual processes called for in understanding higher mathematics, relativity and other dark matters. No one expects us to understand them unless we are qualified, but everyone would be equally surprised if we airily dismissed them without understanding by remarking, for instance, that we did not believe a word of Einstein's theories. Much greater freedom, amounting to license, is allowed to those who are sceptical about the Divine Revelation. They appear to be exempt from the duty of making a positive examination of the beliefs they categorically and boldly declare to be without foundation in truth. But all through the centuries defenders of the faith have maintained that the existence of God is certain from reason even apart from revelation. They have given proofs of the historical accuracy of the miraculous birth of Christ and of His resurrection, and they have maintained the scientific accuracy of Creativity from science itself as evidence.
The only way to reach truth is by becoming qualified (as Paul exhorts Timothy to do) for if we seek to justify our explanation of Scripture by argument, then we must submit to strenuous exercise of the mind. It is too often forgotten that man was exhorted to love the Lord his God also with "all thy mind", and the contemporary short-cut method to a kind of semi-faith which inevitably borders on agnosticism simply will not do.
We should be clear in our minds that the FACTS of revelation are never open to argument, for the declarations of God not only mean what they say but also say what they mean. There can be no dispute about the facts but there can and must be debate about the precise significance of those facts and their application to the various individuals and times to which they respectively refer.
There CAN be this kind of debate because this is the only way by which understanding can be obtained by those who seek it. Such debate is necessary because, among all who claim to be Christians, misunderstanding was never more prevalent than now. Every sect has its own crystallised creed, always a mixture of truth and error. It is said that in the United States alone there are over five hundred contending sects! But truth, like God who gives it, is One.
It is when we seek to "explain" God that we tread not only upon holy but also dangerous ground. To quote Romans 11:33, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out..."
But to read some expositors one might be forgiven for thinking that they fully comprehended the nature and ways of God; as if, from their personal understanding of Scripture, they could forecast His course of action in almost any set of circumstances; as though to say "God must act in such a way because we know He is committed by certain Divine principles which we have studied and which we thoroughly understand".
Job's three friends were rather like that; they argued along the lines of their preconceived ideas of God, and it must be admitted that many of the things they said were true, although they were not the truth, for when Jehovah finally addressed Job and then spoke to his friends He said "Thou hast not spoken about Me the things that are right, as my servant Job hath"•
When we enquire about Job's reply to these learned men who were ready to explain God to him we find that he expressed his opinion of their philosophies in the words with which this paper commences, "How small a whisper do we hear of Him!"—In other words, how little do we really know! And if someone should object that men of Job's time (he was probably contemporary with Joseph, and when he died Moses was fifty-five and possibly an eyewitness of the events recorded in Midian) were very limited in their knowledge of Divine truths, since they lacked the full-orbed revelation which it is ours to enjoy in the Greek Scriptures and the setting forth of God in the person of our Divine Lord, let him be reminded that Paul (who by the Holy Spirit gave men more knowledge of God than any man before him) wrote "And if any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know" (I Cor. 8:2). Paul, with his vision of the third heaven and his knowledge of "unutterable words", still looked forward to the time when he would know as he was known, and spoke of seeing now "as through a glass darkly, but then face to face".
When Dr. Bullinger published his fine study of the Book of Job he named it "The Oldest Lesson in the World" and indeed that title is most appropriate, for although Job is too often neglected by Bible students, it is as Dr. Stier wrote, "the Porch of the Sanctuary", since it contains the fundamental wisdom of original revelation, and it explains the basic truth which every man has to learn before he can appreciate the saving-work of God. James refers to this (5:11) in the words "Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord." But it is true that while almost everyone has indeed heard of the patience of Job, few have seen the "end of the Lord", the conclusion of the debate.
"How should a man be just with God?" is the question posed by the book, and Job's friends each attempt to answer it by appealing first to human experience where the argument is from personal knowledge to general conclusions and consequently faulty. The second friend bases his argument on tradition, and on the "authority" of his predecessors, while the third argues forcefully regarding the need for human merit. Job does not have much difficulty in dealing with these arguments, and indeed becomes sarcastic about them, but although he demolished them so long ago the same theories are still advcanced even in this day and age. Human nature does not change, and men never learn!
As Elihu, the mediator, says to them, "None of you convinced Job" (32:12), the great lesson of the book is for men to learn that true wisdom, the wisdom that is from above, is evidenced not by self-righteousness but by a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and (as James also writes) "the LORD is very pitiful and of tender mercy".
But the Book of Job is full of lessons for men, if only we would read and heed. The whole book brims with revelation concerning God and His works, and great attention should be paid to the words of Elihu (whose name means "My God is He") who "speaks for God", and is thus necessarily against Job as well as being against Job's friends; but despite all his words he can find no answer to the question "How can a man be just with God?" nor is there any indication of an answer until Jehovah Himself speaks.
Job was righteous in his own eyes, and the Lord confirmed that Job was "a perfect and an upright man, one that feared God and eschewed evil" but Elihu pointed out his great and fundamental mistake in justifying himself. He showed Job's friends that their arguments were no answers; furthermore that they had condemned Job (32:2,3). It is wonderful to read Elihu, for his words stand out in contrast to most preachings, both ancient and modern, in that they are ALL FOR GOD. As he says, "For God alone can put him right, not man". And perhaps the primary lesson we should learn from Elihu comes in Chapter 33, verse 12, "How great is God compared with mortal man!"
God is greater than man: these words should ring in the ears of each one of us; we who think we know a great deal, and presume to debate about Him! He is so immeasurably greater than man that He is the only One who can inform us concerning Himself, or determine the standard of righteousness which He demands. Man with his foolish talk about Science and Philosophy and Higher Criticism has the insolence of trying to decide what sort of God should conform to his notions of Deity, but once we begin to learn the lesson that "God is greater than man" we begin to see things in true perspective.
One of mankind's fundamental mistakes is that they assume all activities of God are centered on this Earth, whereas in fact it is but a small part of His dominion. In view of the Earth's special creation as a habitable home for mankind and one forever sanctified by the Incarnation of our Lord,it may well be the most important part of God's creation, but this we cannot know. We are aware that the Cross of Calvary is the focal point of God's universal and multifarious activities: moreover, that our Risen Lord is the One to Whom has been given "all power" with all the glittering honors set out in Colossians one, leading onward toward a future in which He dominates the entire universe. As the poet writes:—
How can we possibly imagine that we can know more than a fraction of God's power? And how dare we discuss Him in terms other than those of awe-inspired wonder? Job says that we have heard only a small whisper of Him, and Jehovah confirmed that Job was right!
The Book of Job tells us facts of physical science (which is only another form of truth about God) which Job could not possibly have learnt from contemporary sources, so he must have uttered them by inspiration. In Job 28:25 we have reference to atmospheric winds as having constant existence and of having weight, for we read:
Again, in 1630 Galileo discovered that the winds whirl about in regular circuits and that rain clouds were only evaporated water; but for many centuries earlier God had put this fact on record in His revelation:
Water is heavier than air, yet God balances the clouds in such a way that they do float, a balance which depends upon the way in which certain atoms combine; this is called their "combining affinity", but science does not give a reaso~ for it—the atoms must have had these affinities from the beginning, were indeed created thus, by "Him Who is perfect in knowledge".
The Scriptures tell us a great deal about God, if men would only listen and not discount Scripture as being merely symbolical or poetic or, even worse, as if its meaning must be "spiritualised". There is indeed symbolism an poetry in Scripture, but there is much pure science also; physical facts which proclaim-God's imperceptible power and divinity, as Paul declares inRomans one:
Scripture testifies that "he that cometh to God must believe that He is" (Heb. ll:6. While many people no doubt do believe that there is a God, we are told more importantly that "He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him". None of us need any further evidence of the rewards bestowed on those who seek His truth but, despite their munificence, those rewards do not include an exhaustive and comprehensive knowledge of the Deity and all that the Word implies. No mortal brain could comprehend such a revelation, but the contemplation of its potential does indeed leave us "lost in wonder, love and peace".
We who are Gentiles by birth should remember that Israel as a nation had a knowledge of God literally written into her history, yet she was unable to learn the lesson of His greatness. For different reasons, we are exposed to the same danger. Israel's place of privilege was her snare, for she thought she as a nation personally "owned" God. The Christian, even if he is free from the folly of believing himself to be "spiritual Israel", also inclines to a similar fault by imagining he has some claim on God. No one has any claim on Him; He has claims on us! The fact that we may rely utterly upon every statement He makes, as Israel did upon His national promises to her, is in neither case based upon anything within humanity but upon the fact that God is God and cannot lie; what He has said He will perform. We may rest in the acts of God!
All through Scripture in words of ponderous significance humanity is warned that all its ideas of God are pitifully inadequate. Examples are so numerous that there is no point in enumerating them; sufficient to let Job's words linger in our minds as a corrective to our many follies. And to listen to Isaiah as he announces (not only to Israel) some facts about God:—
Speaking through Isaiah, God makes claims for Himself saying, "I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded" (Isa. 45:12). Yet this greatness of God is beyond the prophet's understanding, as it is beyond that of any man, for he says "Verily Thou art a God that hidest Thyself, O god of Israel, the Saviour" (45: 15).
And it is in Isaiah's last word, "Saviour", that the secret of true understanding lies. God's greatness, His power, His creative and sustaining genius, is something He reveals only in part, a mere whisper. Even what He reveals the mass of men do not believe; how pointless it would be for Him to reveal more. But as Saviour, as the One who was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, He does not hide Himself and speak in whispers. He reveals His heart. He comes to men by His Anointed, revealing His heart to our hearts; a broken and contrite heart He does not despise. God is Love, and He seeks for love responsive. He is a Father Who longs for sons.
Isaiah knew the secret of "the High and Lofty One Who inhabits the ages" but Who also dwells "in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit" (Isa. 57:15).
Job, in the end, gained a right relationship toward the God Whom he had so faithfully served, as he said, "Now mine eye seeth Thee, and I abhor myself". David knew the secret of a sinful man's true attitude towards a mighty and unknowable God, for the Psalms are full of the expressions of a humble and a contrite heart which this God will not despise. The words of our Lord direct us constantly towards a God Who "speaks to us in a Son" (Heb. 1:2 CLNT). Well may we worship Him in wonder and seek to find the mighty hand of the Ordainer in the scientific order of creation, but better still is to know Him in the intimate manner which enabled Paul to say "MY GOD shall supply all your need". In that sense we hear far more than a whisper of Him for,as Paul also says, this God is "for us—who can be against us?"
In Acts 17 Faul does not tell the clever Athenians that they were wrong- in erecting an altar to an "unknowable" God, for in many ways He is far beyond mortal understanding. He makes the vital point that men look for Him in the wrong way, for "God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that He is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands, neither is worshiped by men's hands as though He needed anything, seeing that He giveth to all life and breath and all things". The Apostle points out that all the creative wonder of God is for one purpose, that men "should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him". And then Paul gives utterance to the really great secret (v. 28) "He is not far from every one of us: for in Him we live and move and have our being ....for we also are His kin". We are His offspring! We are of the Divine race! How great a wonder do we hear of Him!
We worship Him in the greatness of His power, which sends forth the lightning-flashes which obediently return to Him saying "here we are!" We worship Him in the knowledge that the whole universe is sustained by "the word of His power". But we both worship and love Him in the Living Lord, Who, by the blood of His cross, has given us access to the very heart of the Father's love. This does not call for whispers on our part but for the thanksgiving of those who are always "caused to triumph in Christ Jesus, our Lord".
With such an aim in view for the human race, is it any wonder that as God's great purpose began to unfold the very morning stars sang together for joy? For, as the poet celebrates:—