PENTECOST 22B – 28th October, 2012 – St Matthew’s, Guildford
“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”
After several weeks, we have come to the end of the story of Job.
We first encountered Job as the object of some apparent cosmic bet, with the Satan confident that Job would stop serving God if God were to take away all the good things with which God had showered him. God is equally confident that nothing will make Job turn away from him, and so allows the Satan to take everything but Job’s life and wife.
So in very quick succession, the oxen and donkeys are taken by the Sabeans; the sheep are consumed by a fire-storm; the camels are taken by the Chaldeans; and in each case all the servants but one are killed. Then – to crown it all – Job’s seven sons and three daughters are all killed when a huge wind destroys the house in which they are all feasting. Sounds like good material for a country and western song, except there’s no dog!
And we read:
Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped. He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’
Satan now attacks Job’s body. He breaks out in “loathsome sores … from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head”, and we find him sitting on a rubbish heap scraping his sores with a shard of broken pottery. His wife – in a proper country song, he’d have lost her too! – encourages him to “curse God and die”. But he doesn’t. This man genuinely serves God out of loyalty and not on account of the blessings he has received.
In the next thirty-odd chapters of the book, Job and his so-called “friends” try to work out why God is doing all this to him. (Unlike us, they don’t know that God is not the agent of the evils occurring to Job). And the “friends” are not helpful. They can only assume – quite forcefully – that Job must have done some great evil to bring about such great disaster.
That’s their theology, and we know that it is still quite common in popular mythology. We live in a culture which is constantly seeking to find and shift blame. And, when all else fails, why not blame God? But you’ve heard me say it, and I’ll say it again, “Stuff happens; but God is in charge”. Not God doing the bad stuff to people – mostly it’s people doing bad stuff to people, or at least not doing the good stuff we should for people.
Last week, we read of God’s patience with Job running out. It’s God’s turn to speak and Job is to shut up and listen!
“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.
‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
And so it goes, as God gently, but firmly, puts Job in his place. God has the whole picture; Job – along with all of us – is limited by his humanity, his mortality, to small glimpses of what God is about in the world – let alone the whole universe which God created and upholds.
We continue to read:
Then Job answered the Lord:
‘See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but will proceed no further.’
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
‘Gird up your loins like a man;
I will question you, and you declare to me.
Will you even put me in the wrong?
Will you condemn me that you may be justified?
Have you an arm like God,
and can you thunder with a voice like his?
Following another of God’s lectures to Job, we come to
Then Job answered the Lord:
‘I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
“Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?”
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
“Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.”
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.’
Job never learns of the reasons behind his sufferings. Presumably God doesn’t consider that necessary. All that is necessary is that Job trust God. The cosmic battle is not to be his concern; simply the knowledge that God is in charge of all creation and all that happens within it.
Job’s “sin” is his presumption of knowing more than God and being what we might call self-righteous. The writer of the First Letter of John tells us,
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” and adds “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
And so Job confesses his sins of arrogance and self-righteousness. And it is clear that he is forgiven, as we’ll see in Round Seven.
But first, Round Six:
This passage, headed “Job’s Friends are Humiliated” in my Bible, is missing from our Lectionary reading for this morning. It’s the verses 7-9 of chapter 42, and is worthy of our hearing.
”After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: ‘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. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt-offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has done.’ So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.”
This is important for at least two reasons. Job’s “friends”, described ironically in the King James Translation of the Bible as “comforters”, are brought to account by God. They have really got their theology of God wrong – God actually calls this “folly”, you note? They must, as must we all, account for their thoughts and actions. And their sin must be dealt with.
The second important point is that God provides a way for the sins of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar to be dealt with. In this case, sacrifice and the prayers of Job. Job is the “priest” who offers prayers and sacrifices for the “salvation” of Job’s friends.
In the New Testament, we see this grace poured out for all the world in the sacrifice of Jesus, God’s own Son, on the cross of Calvary. Today’s Epistle has it thus:
“It was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself.”
“Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”
All of our sins – “in thought and word and deed and in what we have failed to do” – are covered and dealt with once and for all through the death and intercession of Jesus.
Back to Job and the final Round:
“And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.”
14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 donkeys! And another seven sons and three daughters! And, presumably, the same wife! It’s worth noting that Job was way ahead of his time in his attitude to women. His daughters are specifically named – unlike his seven sons.
“He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers.”
No “misogyny” here, whatever your definition!
Job has been to the edge of Hell and back and remained loyal to God and receives great blessing. We may well experience bad things in our own lives, and wonder what God is doing, just as did Job. But his story assures us that God is still in control and is bigger than anything which comes against us. And our confidence is that Jesus our great High Priest, has given his life as the sacrifice for us; he has been to the gates of Hell and overcome; and he lives forever to pray for us.
Let’s finish with those lines from Hebrews:
“He is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”
The Lord be with you!