THERE are many reasons why men suffer, but the believer has the comfort of knowing that in his case God can use the suffering both for his own education and for the blessing of others. This was true in the case of Job, but there was an additional and very important explanation of his sufferings, and this is that he was a battlefield between God and Satan. It is this kind of suffering into which God sometimes calls His people.
There is a war on in the spiritual sphere, and when we commit ourselves wholly to the Lord Jesus, it means that we are allowing Him to put us into the battle and even to use us as His field of operation. If we do not realise this we may find ourselves in an experience like that of Job, and then be tempted to cry out, feeling that we are being unfairly treated. In this way we can even contribute to our own suffering by the pain of misunderstanding God and His ways. We therefore consider Job’s story in the hope that it will help us to know what it involves to be one of God’s battlefields.
“… The Lord said to Satan …” (1:8)
You remember how Job’s story runs. He was not a bad man. In fact he was such an unusually good man that God Himself described him as “a perfect and an upright man”. Moreover it was not Job’s fault that the whole business began. Neither, in the deepest sense, was it Satan’s fault, since he does not like being dragged on to a battlefield where he senses that he might not win. No, it was God’s initiative, for it was He who said to Satan: “Hast thou considered my servant Job?”. In this conflict it was the Lord, therefore, who precipitated the issue of the [101/102] conflict as to whether His kingdom is really a kingdom of love. Satan poured scorn on the idea that Job could love God just for what He is, asserting that this man, like the rest of humanity, only served God for what he could get out of Him. He challenged God to take everything away from Job, and prophesied that this would explode the myth that love is the final word in this universe. Satan was really insinuating that God is not so lovable as all that, and that the idea of Love ruling the universe was absurd.
Satan’s attack is really concentrated on the throne of God. Deceived humanity is all too ready to take up his sneering assault on the idea of love ruling this world. Have you never found it hard to believe in the love of God in our sort of world? Yes, this is the battlefield for us all. Satan failed to move Job by robbing him of all his possessions, but came back again to the fight by asserting that Job had not been proved an unselfish lover of God by his reaction because he had not been touched where it really hurt. Now God could have used this world’s philosophy that might, not love, is on the throne, by driving Satan from His presence; but this would have been no real answer and would have left the issue of love undetermined. So He moved out against the devil by permitting him to make Job’s very body a battlefield, allowing him to afflict the bereft man with new and more personal, bodily sufferings. The Lord clearly relied on the power of His own love to sustain His servant even in the face of such adversities. God is love. Satan denies this, and God chooses men to be the battlefields upon which the issue can be decided. This explains the story of Job.
“Who can withhold himself from speaking?” (4:2)
For the poor patriarch, the carrying of the battle into the realm of the body was bad enough, but then it was pressed into the realm of his soul. Even with his boils and the foolish attitude of his wife, Job still loved and worshipped God. But then the real satanic onslaught came, and this time it was through his so-called comforters. They were the trouble. It is the theologians who are the trouble; not necessarily the university graduates but the self-appointed experts who feel so confident that they know all about the person and the ways of God, and are ready to give a pious, short-cut answer to a man under trial. These three all attacked Job, instead of comforting him and, roughly speaking, they all said the same thing. The first of them, Eliphaz, was a man who based all his arguments on a personal experience. He had had a supernatural visitation which had made him tremble and made his hair stand on end. On the basis of this he felt qualified to condemn Job. He gave the impression — as such people do — that if only Job had had a similar experience to his, then he would understand and would be one of the ‘in-group’. Of course it is possible that the wise and true things which Eliphaz said could have been applied to many others, but they did not fit Job’s case. Instead, they hurt him so much that he began to wonder, according to the reasoning of Eliphaz, whether he had even lost his God. It was bad enough to lose his possessions, his children and his health; but it was infinitely worse to lose his God. Satan is fiendishly cruel and causes us dreadful agony of soul by insinuating — sometimes through well-meaning friends — that God is somehow against us.
“Inquire, I pray thee, of the former age …” (8:8)
The next one to come on the scene was Bildad. He was one of those orthodox traditionalists who can think and talk only of the past, seeking to apply theology in a second-hand way. He wanted to refer everything back to ‘the fathers’, imagining that there was something sacrosanct about the men of the past. ‘They understood it all’, he said to Job, ‘but we who were born but yesterday cannot expect to do so!’ He represents the kind of traditional applier of Bible verses who knows all the answers, using the wisdom of the men of old to assure Job that he was suffering because he was a sinner. ‘I know all that’ Job said in a pained voice, ‘I know it all, Bildad, but it does not apply in my case which is different from the stock examples which you have in mind when you quote the old sages. Go easy on me! My circumstances cannot be explained by what men have said in the past.’
“My understanding answereth me …” (20:3)
Then Zophar broke in. He was a bombastic windbag, just waiting for his opportunity to speak bluntly. He weighed in against Job, insisting that he must be a sinner and that if he were not so obstinate and ignorant he would admit as much. Zophar was the kind of man who prided himself on his commonsense. To him Job’s fault was obvious if only he would listen to some plain speaking from a candid friend. So it is that we [102/103] may be buffetted by Satan, who can use superficial theology, passed on in a second-hand way, to oppress us with that which may be correct and orthodox but does not apply to us. Or he may use the down-to-earth commonsense which offers its stock religious remedies which bring us no easement at all.
“Then was kindled the wrath of Elihu …” (32:2)
But this was not the end. These three were followed by the angry young man, Elihu. It is sometimes good to be challenged by the intolerance of youth; it demolishes complacency and sometimes unearths things which have been neglected or overlooked. So Elihu swept aside the unhelpful counsel of the old men, and claimed that he had up-to-date inspiration from God. This is exactly what we need — not the well-worn catch phrases of dogma, but the fresh awareness of the reality of God and the fact that He can speak to us today. Elihu was right enough and stressed a very important truth, but he still pursued the same line as the other three and perhaps was inclined to mistake emotion for inspiration.
All this shows us the intensity of the battle which went on in Job’s soul. He might have said nothing if he had not been stung into replying by these attacks of his would-be ‘comforters’, who implied that he had lost his experience, lost his theology, lost his commonsense, his inspiration and his God. We must never forget that Job was not in a position to read the first two chapters of his book; so he did not know what was going on behind the scenes, he did not know that his experiences were the expression of a battle between God and Satan. We who have the book, and the New Testament too, do know, but when the trials come to us we are apt to forget this aspect of them and are found in much the same condition as Job was. And too often we have to listen to the same sort of comment and advice as was given to that long-suffering saint.
“Then the Lord answered …” (38:1)
Suddenly, as Elihu was in full spate, continuing his attack on Job’s integrity and pressing home the very non-Christian idea that God’s greatest attribute is a brute force which men must learn to submit to, God Himself broke in on the discussion. His first words were rather ironical, as He pretended not to be sure whether Job had been present with Him when He formed the creation, and asked if it was perhaps Job who commanded the dawn to come every day. This irony was important, for it not only reminded Job that there are lots of things in this majestic universe that he did not understand at all, but also called upon him to trust God when he did not understand His ways, still believing that He was on the throne. Part of Satan’s tricks in this battle is to try to lodge in our minds the idea that there are some areas in this world where Jesus Christ has not been made Lord. Is not this the case? We are constantly tempted to accept the thought that there may be some area in our life, in our assembly, in our circumstances or in the spiritual world where He does not reign supreme. We can only overcome this temptation by faith in God’s absolute sovereignty. To a modern Job, the Lord might well have spoken in scientific terms, reminding him of the much that is still unknown. If so it would be to the same effect, pointing out the areas of man’s ignorance in order that we might realise more of the mystery of divine wisdom and majesty, and might trust when we do not understand. This is the great message of the cross.
The second line taken by God was to enumerate proofs of the consistency of His works — the way the eagle flies, the behaviour of the ostrich and her young, the sequence of nights and days, etc. We have not got a capricious God! We have not got a God who changes His mind every day, but one who is always consistent in upholding His universe. And as, by the words of the Almighty, the wonders of nature came before Job’s eyes, he had to realise that there must be suffering in a consistent universe like this. If God were constantly changing things and doing miracles just to keep us happy, the whole of life would be resolved into meaningless machinery instead of being composed of men and women who make responsible choices. In the second part of God’s explanation to Job it was pointed out that there has to be suffering, because only so can we live and love as freewilled human beings, and stand for God in His battles.
The third section concerns the hippopotamus and the crocodile. The point of the detailed description of these two fearsome creatures seems to be to remind Job that God could easily have made him as tough and formidable as these brutes. But did he want to be like that? Did he want a God like that? Take a good [103/104] look at them, Job, and then say if that is your idea of life as you would wish to know it.
“… now mine eye seeth thee …” (42:5)
Of course it is not. We all agree that we are glad that God has made us in His own image, with all the challenge, the joy and perhaps the pain of being able to choose to keep in the battle as well as to opt out of it. God is not only almighty power: He is almighty love. That is why the twelve legions of angels did not descend to prevent Calvary, and why He allowed His dear Son to bleed on the cross. And that is why we sometimes bleed, because our reigning God is not the god of this world, whose philosophy is that might is right, but the God whose glory it is to rule by love. So God did not intervene to shield His servant Job from trials. And in the end Job vindicated his Lord’s trust, for he said: “though he slay me, yet will I wait for him …”. Job will still serve his God, come what may. In this way, then, God was able to show through His suffering servant that His kingdom is not based on the obedience of expediency but on the obedience of love.
“… him will I accept …” (42:8)
We find that Job was doubly blessed at the end. This is not just to make a happy ending to a sad story, but to remind us that the man who goes through the battle with God will come out with a double portion of glory at the end. In Job’s case the double portion had to be in this life so that we could all learn the lesson, but ours will await us on the great day when this groaning creation enters into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. In that day we will all agree with Paul that our present suffering is only a light affliction when compared with the great weight of glory which we shall enjoy.
The Lord Jesus was the great battlefield for the fight of God, and Calvary the scene of an eternal triumph of faith in the Father and love to Him which completely defeated Satan. The cross was the place where the full victory was finalised and is therefore infinitely precious to God. But we are to share His cross and ourselves be battlefields where deep down within us there is a victory for the love of God. One day, when all the scars of suffering have been covered over with glory and we stand in the presence of our Creator and Redeemer, God will find joy in us, and we shall thrill at the wonder of His joy. Do you believe this? Then say ‘Amen’ when next you have to pass through the fires. This is the real meaning of the cross. It means that I do not understand what is happening here in the earth, but I trust that in everything God works good with those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. This is victory.
I want to conclude by pointing out the immediate blessing which came to Job. When God had spoken to him, he was able to reply: ‘Oh, God, I can see You now. I do not necessarily understand it all, but I see You’. If we see God in this way, then we can trust Him in the sufferings and go right through to the end of the battle. Do you want to know God? Look at Jesus Christ. Do you want to know man? Look at Jesus Christ. Do you want to understand the problems of man? Look at Jesus Christ. Do you want to understand the problems of God? Look at Jesus Christ. Do you want to understand the problems of God and man? Then look again at Jesus Christ.