Part 4: Key Passages in the Book of Job Addressing the Cause and Alleviation of Affliction

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The Book of Job is a profound book of Scripture with tremendous riches, only a mere handful of which we will mine. It is regarded as a literary masterpiece by notable poets and writers. Its magnificent poetry is set between a historical prose prologue and epilogue, with a brief five-verse segment of prose implanted in chapter 32 (cited shortly). Many of our colorful everyday expressions of speech are derived from the Book of Job, such as these two in one verse: I am nothing but skin and bones; I have escaped with only the skin of my teeth. (19:20).

Astounding catastrophies came upon the patriarch Job in one day roughly four thousand years ago; painful boils then came upon his entire body on another day. The two-chapter prologue makes it absolutely clear that neither set of afflictions came as a consequence of his sin, but rather, Satan incited God against Job to ruin him without any reason (2:3), and the sovereign Lord allowed it. This upright man that God Himself held in highest regard suffered under His sovereign hand, and Job knew it, but he would not curse his Lord for it. His righteous response to the affliction was Shall we accept good from God and not trouble? (2:10). Note that Job did not ever mention Satan, nor rebuke him. This blameless and upright man (1:1) rightfully ascribed all his afflictions to His Lord, for He knew God is sovereign. He knew to express lamentations to God, and not to curse Him. What an example Job is for us!

As Job lamented with his three friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, they reasoned about God’s purposes and condemned Job, thus adding to His afflictions. Deep-seated sin was eventually brought to the surface in Job, including bitterness and accusation toward God (7:11; 30:21; 40:1-2), pride, and self-justification (29:11-25; 32:1-2; 41:34). Note that this godly, afflicted man did not recognize a core of sin within him until after the Lord spoke from within the storm and confronted him about it (chapters 38-41). Given that God held Job in higher regard than any other man on earth, this is quite revealing about our sinful condition, isn’t it? God implants His Holy Spirit in us when He saves us (our new self) but intentionally leaves the sinful nature on the outside (our old self). He does this so that Christ is glorified day by day as we grow in the knowledge of Him, allow Him to break down the old sinful nature, and learn to depend on Him as our All in all. Sanctification is a process….

God’s two-part revelatory discourse of Himself was vital to expose Job’s sin and humble him, illuminating how ignorant, insignificant, powerless, and finite this beloved servant of God really was. Only divine revelation can ever raise us above what remains of our deceived natural condition. We are utterly incapable of reasoning or thinking our way out of darkness, but oh, how the Light of the world progressively exposes what dwells in that darkness as He incrementally reveals Himself and His holiness! Having gained the heavenly vision, Job repented and confessed that he had spoken of things he did not understand (40:3-5; 42:1-6).

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Praise God for progressively revealing Himself and exposing our sinful nature, so that we may continue to overcome it and grow in intimacy with Him as Job did. And thank God for His principle of multiplication: not only did God bless Job with a double portion of what he’d had before his afflictions, but, after this righteous man prayed for his three friends, they also were forgiven their sins (42:7-17). Just like the brothers of another patriarch, Joseph, intended to harm him, Satan intended to harm Job, but God intended it for good to accomplish… the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20). May we pay tribute to our brother Job by earnestly pressing on to learn from the sufferings he incurred in part for our redemptive benefit today….

We will direct our attention to the remaining key, yet often overlooked, section of the Book of Job: the discourse of the wise young man, Elihu, in chapters 32-37. Elihu neither speaks nor is mentioned outside these chapters. Notably, he is not one of Job’s three friends that God rebukes (see 42:7,9). The opening nine verses of chapter 32 paint a clear picture of Elihu (they are set as prose, just as the prologue and epilogue):

1 So these three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. 2 But Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. [he does not sin in his anger, though] 3 He was also angry with the three friends, because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him. 4 Now Elihu had waited before speaking to Job because they were older than he. 5 But when he saw that the three men had nothing more to say, his anger was aroused. [This brief segment of prose ends, and the poetry resumes]

6 So Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite said:
“I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know.
7 I thought, ‘Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom.’
8 But it is the Spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding.
9 It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right.”

The younger, Spirit-filled Elihu then sets the stage for what is about to come forth over the next five chapters:
18 “For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me;
19 inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst.
20 I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply.
21 I will show partiality to no one, nor will I flatter any man,
22 for if I were skilled in flattery, my Maker would soon take me away.”

Elihu, we realize, is God’s mouthpiece, crafted to have experiential knowledge of the Almighty in order to effectually convey His thoughts to others, not just by words but by example: a prophet. We will be blessed to study his words of wisdom and renew our minds with them, particularly two pertaining to the cause and alleviation of affliction.

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The first passage we’ll mine is in chapter 33, as Elihu addresses Job’s complaint that God does not answer for any of His actions (vv. 14-30):
14 “For God does speak – now one way, now another – though man may not perceive it.
15 In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men as they slumber in their beds,
16 He may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings,
17 to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride,
18 to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing from the sword. [now note what follows – it branches off verse 14]
19 Or a man may be chastened on a bed of pain with constant distress in his bones,
20 so that his very being finds food repulsive and his soul loathes the choicest meal.
21 His flesh wastes away to nothing, and his bones, once hidden, now stick out.
22 His soul draws near to the pit, and his life to the messengers of death. [The wasting sickness is brought by God, just as in Psalms 106:13-15,43 and 107:17-18, discussed in Part 3].
23 Yet, if there is an angel on his side as a mediator, one out of a thousand, to tell a man what is right for him,
24 to be gracious to him and say, ‘Spare him from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom for him’ – [Jesus Christ]
25 then his flesh is renewed like a child’s; it is restored as in the days of his youth. [complete healing]
26 He prays to God and finds favor with Him, he sees God’s face and shouts for joy; he is restored by God to his righteous state.
27 Then he comes to men and says, ‘I sinned, and perverted what was right, but I did not get what I deserved.
28 He redeemed my soul from going down to the pit, and I will live to enjoy the light.’
29 God does all these things to a man – twice, even three times –
30 to turn back his soul from the pit, that the light of life may shine on him.”

God tells Job through Elihu that He chastens men with sickness, and will restore them to physical health and spiritual well-being when they confess their sin to both God and men, rejoicing in the purification. It is those who confess their sin who receive God’s free gift of grace through His Mediator, Christ Jesus.

In Job’s case, God lovingly draws him to repent by teaching Job about His ways through his servant Elihu, taken from clay as Job was (33:6). This renewing of Job’s mind enables him to discern the presence of the Almighty, who, of course, has never left him nor forsaken him (Deuteronomy 31:6). God is thus revealed (“unveiled”) within Job’s spirit, and Light Himself illuminates the sin: Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. …My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. (42:3b,5-6).

The second passage of godly wisdom pertaining to affliction spoken through Elihu is in chapter 36, wherein he addresses how God corrects the righteous who are afflicted by their sin (vv. 7-16):
7 [God] does not take His eyes off the righteous; He enthrones them with kings and exalts them forever.
8 But if men are bound in chains, held fast by cords of affliction,
9 He tells them what they have done – that they have sinned arrogantly.
10 He makes them listen to correction and commands them to repent of their evil.
11 If they obey and serve Him, [these are His righteous servants who did evil], they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity and their years in contentment.
12 But if they do not listen, they will perish by the sword and die without knowledge.
13 The godless in heart harbor resentment; even when He fetters them, they do not cry for help. [note it is the sovereign Lord who fetters people; more on this in Part 5]
14 They die in their youth….  [now the two key verses:]
15 But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction.
16 He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food.

The righteous are bound by afflictions because we sin arrogantly (vv. 8-9). God lovingly makes us listen to correction, and commands us to repent of our evil (v. 10). His correction may come in sickbeds of affliction (33:14,19-22). Whatever the nature of the affliction, we are assured that it is He, our loving heavenly Father, speaking to us in it, wooing us to repent so as to be set free from our self-inflicted restrictions (36:15-16). Those who do not listen, who harbor resentment and do not cry to God for help in the affliction do not fare well (vv. 12-14). Those who listen, however, will hear Him, for He is always speaking. When we hear Him speaking in the affliction/storm, we hear His call to repent, as illustrated with His servant Job.

It takes God’s revelation of Himself – holiness! – within our spirit to demolish the strongholds of deceit (2Corinthians 10:4). We are oh so incapable! We are utterly dependent on His mercy and grace. Upon receiving the heavenly vision, we fall down, humbled and reverent, like so many in the great cloud of witnesses in Scripture who have gone before us, including Job. We apprehend our sin and our absolute nothingness apart from Christ. We repent, confess our sin to God and men, and rejoice in apprehending the healing, the spaciousness, the freedom of deliverance. We receive a double blessing, and rejoice in our inheritance (Isaiah 61:7).

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Yes, we are to receive and submit to God’s dealings with us not only in spite of our lack of understanding, but because of it. We have sinned against a holy God, eating fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, reasoning our way along without God, not apprehending Truth. God alone understands the way to wisdom, He alone knows where it dwells (Job 28:23). As King Solomon, the wisest man who ever walked the earth besides Jesus, said: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:5-8).

... the Lord accepted Job’s prayer. After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before. (42:9b-10). This infers that health was restored to Job’s ravaged body, although it is not directly stated, and that his healing did not come through physicians in the natural realm (they indeed existed in his day, for they are referred to in the oldest such reference in Scripture, Job 13:4). As noted earlier, because of Job’s prayer, blessings were extended to his well-meaning but sinful friends who had been part of the storm against him.

By the grace of God, the blessings of Job have also been multiplied to us, roughly four thousand years later, for we know our Lord better through apprehending some of the wisdom of this book. What might repentance and prayer regarding our afflictions bring?

link to Part V

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