The first few times I read through Job as a young person, I was a little…dismayed, or at least perplexed at how God responded to him near the end. I understood that God was displaying His wisdom, majesty, power, creativity, and other attributes. Job was humbled and repented and God restored him and blessed him, so the book had a happy ending. But I remember feeling that if I had been in Job’s sandals, I would have wanted an encounter with God that seemed more warm and comforting.
Then I discovered the passage in James 5 where James is encouraging Christians to be patient and stand fast in the face of suffering.
As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
I believed that God was compassionate and merciful: I had seen that in many other places in the Bible. But where did one find that in Job?
Our church has been reading through the Job together the last few weeks, and I’ve been doing my reading from the ESV Study Bible. Their study notes brought out some points I had missed.
Of chapter 38, verse 1, they say:
God reveals himself to Job in a display of both majestic power and relational presence: “the LORD” (Hebrew YHWH), the name most used to signify God’s covenant character and promises (see. Ex. 3:14-15), was used in the prologue where God describes Job’s relationship to him (see Job 1:8; 2:3); the fact that the Lord “answered Job” contrasts with what the friends…indicated he should expect (see 35:9-13)…It is a covenantal gesture when the Lord reveals his power and his presence as he speaks to Job “out of the whirlwind.” While he does not come simply to justify Job, the Lord’s presence shows that his reproof comes in the context of steadfast love toward Job and not as judgment for what the friends assumed was Job’s repudiation of the path of righteousness (p. 926).
The fact that God came to Job personally indicates His care, and the use of His covenantal name shows He is speaking to Job out of a loving relationship.
Part of what God is getting across to Job includes this:
Job had drawn conclusions about the about the nature of God’s rule from what was revealed on earth in his and others’ circumstances. However, [Job] did not account fully for what is hidden from him, and thus his words cast a shadow on the wisdom and righteousness of God’s rule. In his speech, God will question Job in order to remind him that, even in what is revealed of God’s powerful and majestic governance of the natural world and its inhabitants, much is still hidden. And if this is true for creation and its creatures, how much more is it true in relation to the wisdom and purpose of the Creator? (p. 926).
The notes point out later on that Job had experienced what it was like “to have what was hidden about him (e.g., the state of his heart before God) questioned and judged by those who had drawn wrong conclusions from what was visible in his circumstances. The Lord now questions Job for overextending his judgment of what his suffering meant about the Lord’s just governance of the world” (40:6-9) (pp. 929-30).
We don’t think of getting dressed down as a mercy, but it is if that’s what we need, isn’t it? A wise father corrects his child. He does not let his child continue in wrong thinking about God. Sometimes we need to feel our smallness contrasted with God’s immensity. When we’re questioning what God is doing in the world and our lives, we need to be reminded that He knows what he is doing, has everything under control, and has a reason for what He allows, even if we don’t know that reason.
All of those details God gives about the animals displays not only His wisdom, but His care of them. This reminds me of what Jesus said in Matthew 10:29-31: ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Layton Talbert says in Beyond Suffering: Discovering the Message of Job: “The Lord is powerful and majestic and wise beyond man’s comprehension, but He is also compassionate…even towards beasts. He talks as if He has intimate knowledge of their nature and needs because He does. That’s the point” (p. 206).
God displayed compassion and mercy in many ways throughout the book:
- His limitation of what He allowed Satan to do
- His unseen presence with Job through everything that happened
- His physical manifestation to Job
- His fatherly correction of Job.
- His vindication of Job against his friends’ accusations
- His wisdom and care of the animal kingdom highlighted His care of Job
- All was done within the context of God’s relationship with Job.
That last point is in fact part of what the whole book was about: that Job wasn’t serving God just for God’s blessings, that he wasn’t being “pious for pay” as Dr. Talbert put it (Beyond Suffering , p. 40).
Sometimes I think I’ll feel better if I know what God is up to and why, and sometimes He graciously shares that. But other times, as in Job’s case, comfort does not come from full disclosure of what was going on behind the scenes and why God allowed it. Job did not get all the answers he wanted, but he got God’s presence, a fuller understanding of Him, and a manifestation of His care. And he was satisfied.