Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Sermon: Job 38-41 Out of the Storm - Job's Confrontation

Have you ever wished that God would speak to you? In our church prayer diary, it’s something that we regularly pray for - that God would speak to us, as we gather around his word. Hopefully it’s what you pray as you sit down to read your Bible at home as well, recognising that this isn’t like any other book you might sit and read; that this is God’s word; that God will speak to you as you read it.

But I wonder if you’ve ever wished that God would speak to you, audibly, clearly, and directly. Wouldn’t it make things so much easier, you’re trying to make a difficult decision, and a voice from heaven tells you who to marry, or what job to take, or which car to buy. Or perhaps you want God to speak to you, to explain himself for what he’s doing in the world, or in your life. To hear why you’ve gone through such a difficult time recently; why this happened or that didn’t happen. A word directly from God, that’s what you’d want, and everything would be better, or at least more bearable?

That’s what Job thought, and what Job wanted. Throughout his conversation with his comforters, Job has maintained his innocence, and repeatedly expressed his desire to confront God. He wishes there was some way of having his day in court; of charging God with unfairness; of appealing his innocence, and receiving vindication. And when you remember Job’s story, you might think he’s justified.

Job was a wealthy man, the greatest man in the East. Camels, livestock, you name it, he had it. But suddenly, like a number of dominos falling, disaster struck. His livestock were killed or captured. His ten children all perished. And as if all that wasn’t enough, he then suffered ill health. Sore sores all over his body. Job maintained his innocence, but his three so-called friends knew there must be some secret sin from which he needed to repent. So the conversation goes back and forward between Job and his three friends. Eventually in chapter 31, Job finishes his plea, and then a younger man, called Elihu speaks up (ch 32-37). But we didn’t look at him, because he doesn’t really add anything new, and he’s ignored in the rest of the book.

In chapter 38, Job gets his wish. ‘Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ God is speaking to him, directly, but it’s not quite what he expected. You see, Job thought that he would get answers to his questions; but instead, God has some questions for Job. It’s as if Job wanted to get God onto the TV programme Question Time, to get answers from him; and Job finds himself on Mastermind - with a ‘pass’ for every question he’s asked.

Now, sometimes when I’m asked why it’s raining or cold, I joke that I’m in sales, not management; I’m representing the Lord in the world, not running the whole world. But that’s what’s going on here. Job thinks that he would do a better job of running the world; he thinks he would be fairer, would be better at being God than God, so God asks a few simple questions about how the world works.

‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.’ (38:4). ‘Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place?’ (38:12). ‘Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail?’ (38:22). God even gets a little bit sarcastic in verse 22: ‘You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great!’

God then goes into specifics of the management of his creation. He talks about the stars and constellations (Pleiades and Orion - 38:31-33); clouds, rain and lightning (38:34-38), lions, ravens, mountain goats, wild donkeys, wild ox, the ostrich, the horse, the hawk and eagle (38:39-39:30). It’s like an entire series of David Attenborough programmes, and even then, you wouldn’t have the insight God wonders if Job has.

Question after question. Pass after pass. The Christian author JB Phillips once wrote a book ‘Your God is Too Small.’ Even five minutes with these questions helps us see the almightiness of God, how big, powerful, and wise God is. God increases in size, and we are aware of how small, powerless and insignificant we are in God’s great universe. That’s the conclusion Job comes to at the start of chapter 40. ‘Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.’ ‘Behold, 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 I will proceed no further.’

You’d think Job has learnt his lesson, but God knows he hasn’t. And so, ding ding, round two. Here, the issue at stake isn’t who rules; but who saves. Is Job able to save himself? (40:14) God gives two case studies; two examples of mighty, fearsome beasts, and the simple question is this: could you save yourself from them? Could you control them?

The two beasts are the Behemoth and the Leviathan. Behemoth on the land, and Leviathan in the sea. Now, the commentators are divided about what exactly is being talked about here. Behemoth sounds a bit like a rhino, or a mammoth; some think it might be a dinosaur. Whatever it is, though, the description is fearsome - but look what God says about it: ‘Behold Behomoth, which I made as I made you.’ God made it; God has control of it. ‘Can one take him by the eyes, or pierce his nose with a snare?’ (40:24). Not likely!

And then we come to Leviathan. Again, we’re not sure - it sounds like a crocodile, with its rows of shields on its back; its power, its terror. And look at the questions about it (41:1-8). Will you put him on a leash for your girls to walk? Will you make him your servant? Now, if that’s a crocodile, then the answers are no, no no! But there’s a fair chance that the Leviathan is even more terrifying than a crocodile - that this may well be the devil being described (because of other references to Leviathan in and outside Job). Either way, God is saying that he is powerful; that he has the devil on a leash; that God is in control. The devil may be hostile; may be fearsome, but God has him on a leash. Your God is too small? Hopefully not after all those questions.

So Job did have God speaking to him directly. But it wasn’t at all what he expected. Rather than receiving any explanations or any answers, God only had questions for him. Questions which showed Job just how small he is; how much he doesn’t know; and therefore how little he really would understand the workings of the universe. God didn’t even say, here’s what’s been happening, just a wee chat between the devil and me.

Perhaps you’re still wanting to have God speak to you; to explain to you what’s going on. What God seems to be saying here is that we may not get the answers we want; we certainly don’t know how the universe works; but that we know the God who does. Can you trust God Almighty, confident that he is indeed Almighty God, and he is in control?

This sermon was preached in the Out of the Storm Lent Midweek series in Aghavea Parish Church on Wednesday 9th March 2016.

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