God Answers Job: Something Bigger than Yourself – A Sermon on Job 31:35-37; 38:1-11

Preached at United Reformed Church of Clifton
on Sunday, July 5, 2020 on Facebook Live.

Sermon #4 in a Series on the Book of Job: “What Good People Do When Bad Things Happen.”
To hear the sermon preached follow this link https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=625736171380109 . The sermon begins at the 18 minute mark.
William Blake, The Lord Answering Job out of the Whirlwind, 1826, Linell Set #13

 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
    I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
(Job 38:1-3)

We are continuing our sermon series on Job: “What Do Good People Do When Bad Things Happen?”  This morning we come to the climax of the story.  After 30 chapters of suffering and argument Job makes one final plea, to speak to God face to face.  God grants Job’s request, but it doesn’t work out the way Job thought it would.  Instead, he discovers that God is still there for him and that Job needs to have a change of perspective.

Our scripture lesson falls into two parts.  In chapter 31, Job makes his closing arguments and demands to speak with God.  In chapter 38, Job gets his wish and God speaks to him out of the whirl wind.  Let’s take a closer look at each of these chapters.

Job’s Closing Arguments (Job 31)
In chapter 31, Job does three things as he makes his closing arguments. .

First, Job makes a strong claim to be innocent of any and all moral failures or wrong doings.  Rabbi Robert Gordis points out that chapter 31 contains a list of 14 different sins all of which begin with the phrase, “If I have…” He calls this a “double heptad” or a set of two lists of seven.  Gerald Janzen says, that “This ‘double heptad’ is an emphatic way of signaling a complete catalog of sins and of asserting Job’s total innocence.”

If you have your Bible turn to Job 31 and let’s briefly go through this list of 14 things proving Job’s innocence.

  1. Verse 5 “If I have walked with falsehood.” In other words, I have never lied or tried to deceive anyone.
  2. Verse 7 “If I have turned aside from the way.” I have never done anything contrary to God’s law.
  3. Verse 9, “If my heart has been enticed by a woman.”  I have never committed adultery.
  4. Verse 13, “If I have ever rejected the cause of my male or female slave.”  I have never taken advantage of my employees.
  5. Verse 16, “if I have withheld anything that the poor desired.” I have always provided food for the poor.
  6. Verse 19, “if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing.”  I have always clothed the poor.
  7. Verse 21, “If I have raised my hand against the orphan.”  I have never taken advantage of the powerless.

    That’s the first set of 7.  Pretty impressive, but Job isn’t done yet. Here comes the 2nd set of 7
  8. Verse 24, “If I have made gold my trust” I trusted in God and not in wealth.
  9. Verse 25, “If I have rejoiced because my wealth is great.” I never looked down on those who had less than I did; I did not engage in conspicuous consumption.
  10. Verse 26, “If I have ever looked on the sun when it shone or the moon moving in splendor… and my mouth has kissed my hand.” 

    This is a little hard to understand at first glance.  In the ancient Near East, it was common to worship the sun and moon as gods.  Kissing the hand would have been a sign of reverence similar to our making the sign of the cross. 

    So Job is saying, I have never worshiped any false gods. I have always been loyal to the Lord God.
  11. Verse 27, “If I have rejoiced at the ruin of those who hated me.”  I never took pleasure in anyone’s misfortune.

    That was easier to do in the days before Facebook, but now we gleefully gloat anytime someone is shamed publicly. We have developed a whole genre of memes to shame entitled “Karens” and we delight in doing so.
  12. Verse 31, “If those of my tent ever said, ‘O that we might sated with his flesh.”  Again this is a bit  hard to understand but the context can be paraphrased this way, “I never let anyone in my family or my employ take advantage of the homeless or the immigrant.”  I made sure my people are as generous I am.
  13. Verse 35, “If I have concealed my transgressions.”  I haven’t been a hypocrite hiding my sins behind a public mask of respectability.
  14. Verse 38, “If my land cried out against me.”  Good grief! He’s ahead of his time; he’s even an ecologist! He’s the first “green” warrior. He’s been a good steward of the land God entrusted to him.

In short, Job is perfectly innocent.  Since 7 is a perfect number, and since 2 times 7 is doubly perfect, this chapter is a poetic way of emphasizing what we have known from the very beginning of the book.  “Job was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.“ (Job 1:1)

The second thing Job does is demand a formal hearing with God.  In chapter 31, verse 35, Job says, “O that I had one to hear me! (Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!) O that I had the indictment written by my adversary!”

Tremper Longman, comments

Job’s language is appropriately legal here. He has been accused and believes that God is his accuser. Now Job is wrong about that, but he still wants a written indictment. He wants to know what he has been charged with.

(Commentary on Job, Baker Book House)

And so Job signs an affidavit and files a formal lawsuit against God and wants his day in court.

That’s a very bold thing to do.  However, the third thing I want you to notice is that Job is confident of vindication.  In verses 36-7 Job says, O that I had the indictment written by my adversary! Surely I would carry it on my shoulder; I would bind it on me like a crown; I would give him an account of all my steps; like a prince I would approach him.

Gerald Janzen points out that this is a complete reversal of Job’s earlier demeanor. 

In 19: 9 Job had complained that God had stripped him of his glory and crown. Now he finds another crown to wear. That crown will be an indictment empty of true charges. For he is convinced that when God tries him he will come forth as gold (23: 20). Even if God should bring a bill of particulars, they will be so patently false that Job will wear them proudly as, one might say, a crown of thorns.

(Jansen, p. 214)

Job is a changed man who plans to approach God like a prince, confident of his acquittal.  As Professor TJ Johnson says, “This new Job is no longer a defeated man longing for the grave, he is a man who has parried the arguments of his friends, been emboldened by a revelation of cosmic wisdom and is now ready to speak directly with God.” (quoted by Longman).

God’s Response (Job 38-40)

In chapters 38-40.  Job gets his wish to meet God, but it doesn’t turn out exactly the way he thought it would.  I want you to notice three things about God’s response to Job. 

First, the God that Job was expecting didn’t show up.  God showed up alright, but it wasn’t the God Job was expecting.

In chapter 31:35 Job had demanded “Let the Almighty answer me.”  Now the Hebrew word for Almighty is Shaddai and it is a name that describes God in all of his power.  Interestingly, it is never used in the narrative prologue where Job begins to experience all his troubles (chapters 1 & 2) nor in the epilogue where God restores Job’s fortunes (chapter 42) . But it is used some 30 times in in chapters 4-30 when Job is arguing with his friends. Both Job and his friends see God as primarily powerful, “Almighty.”

In his closing statement, Job demands to demands to have it out with the Almighty, with Shaddai. However, Shaddai never showed up. Instead we read in Chapter 40:1, “Then the “LORD” spoke to Job out of the whirlwind.” 

Now what’s interesting is that the word for LORD here is Yahweh, the covenant keeping God.  Certainly Yahweh is Almighty as is evident from the fact that he speaks to Job from out of the whirlwind, a symbol of wild and reckless power.  But what is unique about Yahweh is his mercy and his faithfulness.  When God revealed himself to Moses on Mount Sinai, Exodus 34:5-6 says this.  “Yahweh descended in the cloud and stood with Moses.  Yahweh passed before him, and proclaimed, “Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”

What that means is that God didn’t show up as Shaddai to beat Job into bloody submission.  Rather he showed up as Yahweh, in order to show Job mercy and to restore him.  So even though chapters 38-40 sound like God is browbeating Job, he really isn’t.  Rather, as we shall see, God is trying to broaden Job’s perspective and help him to see things in a different light.

Second, God basically acquitted Job of any wrong doing.  Better than that, God shows Job that he was never even charged with any wrong doing. 

In chapter 31 Job had demanded a bill of indictment listing all his sins.  But not once in chapters 38-40 does God charge Job with a single sin.  There is no bill of indictment.  Instead God ignores Job’ s so-called “sins”, because he has none. 

Instead God takes Job on a wild ride through God’s wonderfully wild creation.  God talks about the morning stars singing together and the weather.  He talks about lions and ostriches, mountain goats and hawks. He even talks about Leviathan and Behemoth—creatures so powerful that no one can tame them, but God plays with them like a master throwing a ball for his pet dog. 

It’s as though God is saying, “Job can you do all that? Can you make and enjoy such a wonderful world as I have made.Through this long safari through the created world, God shows that he cares not only for Job but also for this wild and wonderful world. 

However, (and this is very important) in all this long discourse about the creation, God does not speak a single word about any alleged sin of Job. His friends kept telling him.  Job you must have done something wrong.  But by his silence, God acquits Job.

Instead of giving Job a bill of indictment, he indicts Job’s three friends, and finds them guilty of bearing false witness towards Job and of lying about God.  In chapter 42:7, God tells Eliphaz as the leader of the three prosecuting attorneys, “My wrath is kindled against YOU! and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” And then he tells them they had better ask Job to sacrifice and pray for them so that God wouldn’t give them the punishment they so richly deserved. Job has gone from being persecuted and prosecuted to becoming a priest for the very people who had sinned against him.  You can’t get any more innocent than that.

Third, notice that God is trying to broaden Job’s perspective.  God wants Job to see that everything doesn’t revolve around Job and his suffering.  God is the center of the universe, not Job.  Katherine Schifferdecker, professor at Luther Seminary says this,

God does not address Job’s suffering directly, but in this vision of creation, Job’s vision is expanded. He is invited to take his eyes off himself and his suffering, and to see the world around him. 

Katherine Schifferdecker, WorkingPreacher.org

When we are suffering, we stop seeing the beauty around us, we stop seeing the people around us, we stop seeing the God around us.  But if we take our eyes off ourselves we can have an encounter with Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.  By celebrating the wonders of God’s creation, God invites Job to stop focusing on himself and get a new frame of reference.,

Conclusion.

What do good people do when bad things happen?  When suffering and trouble overtake us we have two choices.  We can, and some people do, give up on God and say I don’t believe anymore.  But if we stay focused only on our suffering, we will wither and die. 

However, there is a second thing we can do: We can pound on the gates of heaven until we encounter God.  That’s what Job did, and God invited Job to discover that there was more to life than just his suffering. God invited Job to have a life changing encounter with himself.  And he invites you to do the same.

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