Emotions and Fear (Job 23)

Reading through the book of Job can seem like an arduous task, but for those who will persevere through the book and who will carefully consider the dialog among the characters, it will be a richly rewarding experience.

In my annual reading through the Bible, I recently found myself in the middle section of the book of Job. Job is the story of a righteous man who is suddenly devastated and loses all his wealth and all his children. He is left destitute, sitting in ashes as he scrapes the scabs off his skin. His three friends come from afar to comfort him and thus ensues a debate about the nature of God and about how He metes out His rewards and punishments. And here in this middle section, the dialog between Job and his friends intensifies as Job continues to assert his innocence despite his wretched circumstances and his friends insist that his suffering is irrefutable proof of his wickedness. According to the theology of Job’s three friends, “Everyone knows that, in this life, God always rewards and prospers the righteous and punishes and casts down the wicked.” And so, this fascinating theological drama unfolds, and the heat of the debate steadily escalates.

In this escalation, then, we come to chapters 20, 21 and 23. I want to talk about each of these chapters separately and reveal some insights out of each chapter. This will be the third and final article in this series and will cover chapter 23.

As the chapter opens, Job has just endured another verbal pummeling from Eliphaz, in which his “friend” has accused him of gross sin and told him that the Lord would give him blessings if he would just confess his iniquities. Job is reaching a point of despair as he begins to see that his circumstances are not going to change, and his only “consolation” is going to come from these friends who accuse him of wickedness. He feels abandoned by the Lord and unfairly punished and, in the midst of his confusion and pain and loss, he pours out his emotional complaint.

“Oh, that I knew where I might find Him! I would lay my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would know what He would answer me and understand what He would say to me (23:3-5).” Job desires to have an audience with the LORD so that he can make his case before Him. Surely the LORD would remove His hand of judgment if He only understood more about Job’s case!

The LORD will, indeed, test Job with fire, “But He knows the way that I take; when He has tried me, I shall come out as gold (23:10).” The refiner’s fire is a painful place to be, both because of the burn of the flame but also because of the obvious need for refining. For it seems that no sooner has the dross been removed than the refining begins again. When will the refiner’s work be done? But Job is confident that the LORD’s refining fire will have its perfect result and that he will eventually emerge from the testing as pure gold.

After expressing his resolve to obey the LORD (23:11-12), Job confesses that he is terrified of the LORD. “Therefore, I am terrified at His presence; when I consider, I am in dread of Him. God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me; yet I am not silenced because of the darkness, nor because thick darkness covers my face (23:15-17).” Job lives in that place where he feels a ferocious love for the LORD and an attraction to Him, but at the same time is terrified by the LORD’s power and holiness and glory. Job longs to draw near to the LORD, but he fears that if he did, he would be consumed.

REFLECTION

There is some sense in which the disciple of Jesus Christ also lives in a state of reverential fear, trembling before the Lord as we contemplate His power and glory. Here is the One who sovereignly rules the universe and in whose presence the seraphim cry out, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” Who are we that we should approach His glory and come into His presence? Surely, we, too, should be terrified!

But there is an immense difference between Job’s understanding of the LORD’s grace and ours. According to Job’s understanding, the LORD was only a Judge who issued laws and meted out punishment for those who violated His laws. The LORD was holy, and man was not. Although he could not articulate why he believed it to be so, Job believed that a man could somehow be considered righteous before the LORD, even though he was not. And, strangest of all, Job believed that the LORD was merciful and was forgiving, although he could not tell you why he believed that. Much of this thinking was because Job lived long before the Incarnation and the Cross and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Now that the Messiah has come for His First Advent and has accomplished His work on the cross and has been raised for our justification, this relationship between the disciple of Jesus and the Lord is radically different. Now we are invited to His throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16) to receive mercy. We call the Lord our “Abba, Father (Romans 8:15),” and we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:5). We have been wrapped with a robe of Christ’s righteousness (Isaiah 61:10) so that we no longer appear before God in our filthy garments (Zechariah 3). While we were formerly enemies (Romans 5:10), Christ has now abolished the enmity that lay between us and God by His death on the cross (Ephesians 2:15), so that we have peace with God (Romans 5:1). The Lord delights in us (Psalm 147:10-11); He rejoices over us with singing (Zephaniah 3:17). Now we know that the Lord is certainly a Judge, but that He is not OUR Judge, for Christ has propitiated God’s wrath against us by His atoning death on the cross (Romans 3:25). For those who do not receive Christ as Lord and Savior, God is still their Judge and they  will be judged and condemned on the last day, but to those who have received the Lord Jesus, they are children of God (John 1:12) and will certainly be saved (Romans 10:9-10, 13).

Perhaps this will make the distinction clear: The LORD spoke to Job out of the whirlwind (Job 38:1; 40:6) and spoke to him out of darkness and turmoil. The LORD was far away and was not well understood and He had not demonstrated His mercy at this point in redemptive history. But for us, God has spoken to us in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:2-3) and has been pictured to us as a father welcoming back a prodigal son (Luke 15). He has demonstrated His love toward us by Christ’s death on the cross (Romans 5:8) and now He invites us into His throne room by extending the scepter of his grace (Esther 5:2) to us in the gospel. Now the Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price (Revelation 22:17).

SDG                 rmb                 4/30/2020

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