Having traveled through the first 8 chapters of Job I think it’s safe to say that so far we have learned a few things. We’ve learned the book of Job speaks honestly about our suffering, it speaks honestly about the limits of our ability to understand our suffering, and it speaks honestly about the overwhelming need to trust God in our suffering.I think we see these three things come out clearly in Job’s own words and in the words of his friends. We need to keep these things in mind as we jump back into the middle section of Job, because as Job responds to Bildad in chapter 9-10 we see him bump up against the limits of his understanding and make some weighty claims. We’ll look to chapter 9 tonight and chapter 10 next week.
Eliphaz and Bildad have both said that God is absolutely sovereign and absolutely fair, therefore innocent people never suffer. This means the counsel to Job is simple: you are suffering because you’re in sin, so turn away from evil and turn back to good and God will bring you out of your suffering. Before his suffering began Job would’ve agreed with them, but now that no longer seems a valid option. It’s in this light we must read v2. When Job begins by saying, “Truly I know that it is so…” he does not intend to communicate agreement with what Bildad and Eliphaz have said so far. Rather it is likely something of a “Ah yes, I once knew these things to be true…but I can no longer affirm this system of belief.”The rest of v2-4 shows us what he’s really beginning to believe these days, “But how can a man be in the right before God? If one wished to contend with Him, one could not answer Him once in a thousand times. He is wise in heart and mighty in strength-who has hardened himself against Him, and succeeded?” Job’s present longing isn’t to have his family, servants, animals, or possessions back but to (1) figure out how to stand before God guilt free, and (2) truly discern the character of God in his confused and disordered state. If Job had these two things he would be a happy man, but as we’ll see throughout chapter 9 Job cannot get these things he so wishes to have because God is God and he is not.
This is made explicit in v5-12, “He who removes mountains, and they know it not, when He overturns them in His anger, who shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble; who commands the sun, and it does not rise; who seals up the stars; who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea; who made the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the chambers of the south; who does great things beyond searching out, and marvelous things beyond number. Behold, He passes by me, and I see Him not; He moves on, but I do not perceive Him. Behold, He snatches away; who can turn Him back? Who will say to Him, ‘What are you doing?’”
In this cascade of powerful imagery Job portrays incomparable God’s strength.Starting with v10 Job says God is the One who works marvelous wonders, and v9 back to v7 he tells of God’s power to create constellations, put them in place, walk on the waves of the sea, stretch out the heavens, and command the sun and stars. Then in potent words Job describes God as the only One who has the ability to unmake all He has made. God can shake the earth out of its place in v6, and overturn or remove mountains in v5. What is Job’s conclusion after noting the potent power of that belongs to God alone? In v11-12 he mentions he believes in God’s power and even in God’s nearness. But he also mentions that because of his suffering he cannot see God, perceive God, or ask God why He does what He does. It’s as if Job is contrasting a new dilemma he feels present within himself. He is truly aware of God’s almighty power and unmatched strength, but he is no longer aware of God’s tender goodness.It is precisely this point that Job latches onto as he continues for the remainder of chapter 9.
v13-15, “God will not turn back His anger; beneath Him bowed the helpers of Rahab. How then can I answer Him, choosing my words with Him? Though I am in the right, I cannot answer Him; I must appeal for mercy to my accuser.” Because of all Job’s said before about God, he believes God is angry with him and will not turn His anger away from him. The mention of Rahab’s helpers here is telling. In Job the many references to Leviathan and to Rahab are telling the same story. Both speak of storybook monsters of evil, and if they in their massive power cannot even contend with God how can Job expect to be able to?Indeed, even though Job still believes himself to be innocent or ‘in the right’, Job’s only course of action is to plea for mercy to God (whom he sadly refers to as his accuser).
This continues on in v16-20, “If I summoned Him and He answered me, I would not believe that He was listening to my voice. For He crushes me with a tempest and multiplies my wounds without cause; He will not let me get my breath, but fills me with bitterness. If it is a contest of strength, behold, He is mighty! If it is a matter of justice, who can summon Him? Though I am in the right, my own mouth would condemn me; though I am blameless, He would prove me perverse.” Job speaks in these verses of what would surely be the most anticipated court case in history. Job vs. Godand each time he speaks of it he knows that he wouldn’t even stand a chance. Even if God does things without cause (unjustly) no one is able to summon God to the dock and force Him to give a defense for His actions. God is mighty and no one can prevail upon Him. Even though Job believes himself to be in the right he knows he’d lose that court case.
So Job laments over these things, continuing to hold himself guiltless and calling God unjust again in v21-31, “I am blameless; I regard not myself; I loathe my life. It is all one; therefore I say, ‘He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.’ When disaster brings sudden death, He mocks at the calamity of the innocent. The earth is given into the hand of the wicked; He covers the faces of its judges—if it is not He, who then is it? “My days are swifter than a runner; they flee away; they see no good. They go by like skiffs of reed, like an eagle swooping on the prey. If I say, ‘I will forget my complaint, I will put off my sad face, and be of good cheer,’ I become afraid of all my suffering, for I know you will not hold me innocent. I shall be condemned; why then do I labor in vain? If I wash myself with snow and cleanse my hands with lye, yet you will plunge me into a pit, and my own clothes will abhor me.” No matter what Job does to show his innocence, to him, the outcome is fixed and immovable, God will be victorious and Job will be condemned.
All of this leads to what is probably the most redemptive moment in all of Job’s first nine chapters. It is bleak for Job, don’t hear me wrong, he’s realizing the difference between he and God and shows his awareness of his weakness in the face of God’s strength. But because God is this much stronger than he is in v32-35 Job cries out longingly for a mediator to restore he and God, “For He is not a man, as I am, that I might answer Him, that we should come to trial together. There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both. Let Him take His rod away from me, and let not dread of Him terrify me. Then I would speak without fear of Him, for I am not so in myself.” Again the courtroom comes into view in that which would be the most famous of cases. Because God is not like Job, a man, there is no hope for Job in the case Job vs. God. So Job longs for another to be present in the court laboring in his behalf. This arbiter (or mediator) isn’t there for Job, but if he were Job believes he would be able to lay his hand on both of them, remove God’s wrathful rod from him, and take away his terror of God. Then because of the work of this mediator Job would happily speak of God without dread.
What Job longs for he doesn’t have. There is no mediator to do this courtroom legal work, so Job is left hopeless as chapter 9 ends and chapter 10 begins. But we do not remain in Job’s despair. Why? Because “…when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). Or as 1 Timothy 2:5 states, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” So what Job longed for God has, in His perfect time, given His people. And it is no coincidence that the imagery of a courtroom is used once more the work of Christ. 1 John 2:1 calls Him our “righteous advocate with the Father.” And when we speak of Christ’s advocate or mediatorial work, in the courtroom of God, in our behalf it is His priestly work that comes into view.
Think of the Old Testament priest. God has ordained and commanded that His people Israel be active in the sacrificial system. This meant that on varying holy days, Sabbaths, festivals, and celebrations the people would be engaged in ritual sacrifice where God’s wrath would be satisfied through the offering up of an animal functioning as a substitute for the people and their sin. These sacrifices were meant to be moments of worship for Israel. Who was it that God called to lead the sacrificial system and tend and keep the tabernacle and temple? It was the Levites, the priests. As Adam was to tend and keep the garden within Eden, so too Aaron (the first priest) and his descendants were charge with tending and keeping the worship of God for God’s people.By leading the priests were literally ‘standing in the gap’ between God and His people. The people brought animals or wheat or grain for an offering, and it was the priest who actually made the offering. Year after year these offerings would have to be repeated, and in particular once a year the high priest would make an offering inside the holy of holies. The priest would get dressed up in holy garb for this occasion and included in his garb was various gems and jewels that signified the people themselves, meaning that the priest entered the holy of holies as the representative or in behalf of the people of God. Contrast this role of priest with that of a prophet. The prophet was to be God’s representative to the people, while the priest was to be man’s representative to God.
This is of course where we see the glory of Jesus Christ being our Priest. Listen again to the first part of the Shorter Catechism’s answer, “Christ executes the office of priest, in His once offering up of Himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and reconcile us to God…” Held within this answer are three important truths about Jesus functioning as our priest: substitution, satisfaction, and reconciliation.
In His Priestly work of substitution Jesus as Priest not only made an offering as our representative before God, He was the offering itself. He was the ‘sacrificial animal’ or the ‘unblemished Lamb’ that bore our sins. No other Priest ever did such a thing. There was always an animal or something other than the priest himself that he would offer to God. Not so with Jesus. He was the offering. In our place, as our substitute He bore the wrath of God that we deserved.
In His Priestly work of satisfaction we see the first result of Jesus’ substitution. Just as the unblemished animals offered up to God would satisfy God’s wrath and justice on the people’s behalf, so too, when Jesus offered Himself up as our substitute He satisfied God’s wrath and justice on our behalf. That His bloody sacrifice satisfied God’s wrath means His sacrifice is sufficient for all, and efficient for the elect. Nothing else need be added to the work of redemption, Christ’s work alone is able to save all those He intends to. I said sufficient for all, but only efficient for the elect because we must remember the extent of the atonement. The atonement in the Old Covenant sacrifices extended only to the Israelites. No Canaanites, or Jebusites, or Moabites were covered by these sacrifices at all. In the same manner, but largely greater, the New Covenant sacrifice of Christ on the cross extends only to the elect from every nation. Many people say Jesus died for the whole world but this is simply not true biblically. Anytime Scripture says Jesus died for all, or for the cosmos, it refers to all of the elect throughout all of time not every single person who ever lived. If all men were in view we’d have to embrace universalism or a deficient view of the atonement which believes the work of Christ on the cross doesn’t actually save us, but only makes salvation possible. We reject both universalism and this low view of the atonement. That Christ’s substitutionary atoning sacrifice satisfied God’s wrath means it actually saves us.
In John 12:24 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Think about those who heard this. Perhaps they heard Him say the hour of His glorification had come and thought it meant something else, that Jesus was about to set up His dominion on the earth and crush Israel’s enemies once and for all. To them, this would’ve been confusing and disappointing.‘What? The hour of your glorification has come and you’re speaking of dying?’ What Jesus implicitly stated with the donkey in His triumphal entry He now explicitly states here in an agrarian paradox. For Jesus, the way to fruitfulness lies through death, the way to gain lies through loss, the way to glorification lies through humiliation. Or to say it another way, like the seed whose death is the germination of life for a great crop, so too Jesus’ death produces an abundant harvest.When you hold a kernel of wheat (or an acorn) in your hand you cannot see all that is in it. It looks rather small and unimpressive but it contains a world of life on the inside. How does all that world of life get out? By the kernel being shoved beneath the ground. Then, and only then, life breaks forth out of it for all to see as new plants burst upward out of the ground. By speaking like this in v24 Jesus is saying that by dying He will bear much fruit. He will be plunged beneath the ground in death and put in the tomb. From the appearance of things this will look very unimpressive and disappointing. But this death will cause the life within Him to burst forth from the grave in resurrection power which in turn causes more resurrection fruit to come forth all over the globe.
You cannot believe this verse if you entertain or believe Jesus’ death on the cross just made salvation a possibility. Put away from you any doctrine of the atonement you have that involves any kind of possibility. Possibility is not present here. Christ, the seed in view in v24, does not get plunged into the ground in death in hopes that it might bear fruit. Jesus didn’t come, live, die, rise, and ascend to sit on the throne and fret anxiously hoping that someone will take advantage of what He did and be saved. This is what Jesus wanted Philip and Andrew, and these Greeks, to know. That His Kingdom doesn’t begin with a coronation, but with a crucifixion.That He, the great Seed of eternal life will be plunged into death, not to make a harvest possible, but to secure a harvest plentiful.
In His Priestly work of reconciliation we see yet another result of Jesus’ substitution, that because Jesus bore God’s wrath in our place as our substitute God was not only satisfied but was also reconciled with His elect. Due to sin all men are not merely separated from God, we’re alienated from God. Because of the blood of Jesus, the elect who were once alienated and far off have been brought near and have been reconciled. That we’re reconciled to God means that all believers now have been given the ministry of reconciliation, spreading this message to the ends of the earth through any and every means we can.