God’s Infinite Majesty and His Loving Closeness (Job Sermon 14)
June 06, 2021 | Andy Davis
Kindness of God, Majesty of God
Pastor Andy Davis preaches a sermon on Job 22-24. These chapters present God as both transcendent and immanent - majestic and close.
- SERMON TRANSCRIPT -
I. God’s Infinite Majesty and His Loving Closeness
Turn in your Bibles to Job 22. We'll be looking at three chapters this morning. And as we do, I want to bring before you the experience of the Apostle John, two different times in his life, the Apostle John. The first at the Last Supper. The Apostle John was reclining at table next to Jesus, and at a critical moment in the Last Supper, he laid his head on Jesus's chest, pillowed it, as it were, very tenderly on the chest of Jesus. It's an amazing picture of intimacy with God, of closeness with Christ. Though the text doesn't say, we could imagine Jesus resting his hand on John's shoulder, perhaps, or patting his head. There was just a closeness and an intimacy and a confidence that John had of love and friendship with Jesus Christ. That's the first vignette, the first scenario.
The second was at the end of his life. The Apostle John was in exile on the Island of Patmos, and he was in the Spirit on the Lord's day and was worshiping, and suddenly, he heard a voice behind him like a trumpet. Revelation 1:12-17 describes that encounter with Jesus, the resurrected glorified Jesus, "I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me…. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead."
These are the same two people, Jesus and John. Two different encounters. In this case, however, Jesus was revealed in infinite majesty and glory and power. Look at John now. He fell at his feet as though dead. Brothers and sisters, I believe to have a healthy relationship with Jesus, to have a healthy relationship with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we need to absorb both of those images completely. Take them into ourselves as we come to Christ.
Now, theologians use some big words to describe these themes. The words are transcendence and imminence. The transcendence of God and the imminence of God. What do they mean? Transcendence means that God is infinitely above and other than his creation. It really connects to his holiness. He is different than everything that he's made. It’s the gap between God and all creatures is infinite and immeasurable. So that's transcendence. Imminence is God's intimate closeness and connection with his creatures, especially his people, that God is close to us personally and intimately in a relational sort of way. Imminence.
Now, from the beginning of the Bible, the Bible establishes the transcendence of God as God created the heavens and the earth. After creating all things in six days, he sat down on a throne of glory and ruled over all of it, resting over it all as a king would reign over his domain. The book of Job has spoken of this infinite majesty of God again and again. For example, Job 13:11. There, it says, "Would not his splendor terrify you? Would not the dread of him fall on you?" And then earlier in Job 11:7-9, "Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens—what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave—what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea."
Now, here in this section, Job will speak of that transcendence in clear and terrifying terms. You just heard some of it. Let me read it again, Job 23:13-16. This is Job speaking of God, "But he stands alone, and who can oppose him? He does whatever he pleases. He carries out his decree against me, and many such plans he still has in store. That is why I'm terrified before him; when I think of all this, I fear him. God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me." Yet for all of this, it seems clear to me, not just in this chapter but in some that follow, that what Job wants the most is imminence. He wants closeness. He wants intimacy. He wants friendship with God. He wants God to talk to him. In these two chapters, it seems what bothers him the most is that God is nowhere to be found. He can't find him. He's aloof. He's distant from Job in the midst of his suffering.
Now, one of the greatest chapters on the mysterious union of imminence and transcendence of God is Isaiah 40. You don't have to turn there, but just listen. There's a couple of verses in particular that give us a sense of this Isaiah 40:11, "He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young." What a sweet verse that is. That's imminence. That's the closeness, the intimacy of God with his people. That gets perfectly fulfilled in Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who gathers us into his arms and carries us close to his heart, just like John laying his head on Jesus's chest. But the very next verse is one of the greatest transcendence verses in the whole Bible, Isaiah 40:12, "Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breath of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales or the hills in a balance?" A couple verses later, verse 15, "Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they're regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust." That's transcendence, infinite majesty, right after he's gathering us close and holding us tenderly.
Now, I personally yearn to understand both of these in Christ. I want both of those moments that John had fulfilled in my life. I want to be able to put my head on his chest and feel that intimate closeness with Christ, but I also want to understand how right it is for me to fall at his feet as though dead. Now, as we look at these three chapters today, these themes are going to come out. In a Eliphaz's speech, his third speech, and then in Job as well. So we're going to follow them and some other key themes as well. Let me warn you ahead of time, this is effectively three different sermons, but what could I do? I want to keep moving in Job, and so I think you can handle it, so we're going to do effectively three sermons in one.
II. Eliphaz’s Final Speech: Is Man of Benefit to God? Are Not Your Sins Endless?
So we begin with Eliphaz's statement in verses one through three. Here, you're going to hear the themes of transcendence, of infinite transcendence, "Then Eliphaz the Temanite replied, 'Can man be of benefit to God? Can even a wise man benefit him? What pleasure would it give the Almighty if you,'" speaking to Job, "'if you were righteous? What would he gain if your ways were blameless?'"
Now, let say to you, much of the purpose of God in Scripture, the saving purpose of God, I believe, is to level our pride. Our pride stands directly opposed to the salvation of our souls. As a matter of fact, probably the essence of our salvation is to have our pride leveled before the holiness of God so we realize who he is and who we are. So much of Scripture is given to make us deeply, completely humbled before God, first as creatures and then secondly as sinners. He wants to make us realize the truth of what he said, “It's not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I've not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” That's what he came to do. So he's not looking for healthy, perfect, righteous people—he can't help you if that's how you think you are.
"Our pride stands directly opposed to the salvation of our souls. As a matter of fact, probably the essence of our salvation is to have our pride leveled before the holiness of God so we realize who he is and who we are."
Instead, what he wants to do is make you realize the truth, which is culminated in one of the greatest statements he ever made, the first statement in the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the [spiritual beggars], for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." I will give you a kingdom if you'll beg, if you realize you have nothing to offer me whatsoever. That's what ptochos means in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The word poor really means somebody standing by the road who has nothing to offer. You realize that's you, I'll give you a kingdom forever. As the scripture says, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will [Be what?] exalted to the heavens.” It's the goodness of God.
So he's seeking to level us. Because honestly, it seems to me, the more I do evangelism and counseling and just live, this is the basic religion around the world. I am basically a good person who does basically good things. Everybody thinks that. And you're not and you don't, and we're all going to find that out on judgment day—it's the grace of God to find it out now. You're not basically a good person who basically does good things. In other words, you don't need a savior. We tend to minimize our faults with others and maximize the faults we see in others, and so God is going to level the pride of all of us.
So in this question, can man be of benefit to God? Can even a wise man assist God in any way? We must answer no to what Eliphaz is intending. We've learned with the friends don't just throw out everything they say, evaluate it. As I look at the point here, I must feel the weight of it. God doesn't need anything from any of us ever. There is nothing we can do, essentially, to benefit God, to improve God's situation. God doesn't need any advice, even from the wisest of us. The more we meditate on this, the better it is for us.
"God doesn't need anything from any of us ever. There is nothing we can do, essentially, to benefit God, to improve God's situation. God doesn't need any advice, even from the wisest of us. The more we meditate on this, the better it is for us."
This is an image I've used before, but it's still powerful and helpful to me. Think of the sun blazing away 93 million miles away, the center of our little solar system, little compared to the rest of the universe. The human race collectively, in total, can't do anything to the sun or for the sun. We cannot harm it in any way, we cannot help it in any way. We can't make it hotter or cooler, brighter or dimmer, nearer or farther. And the sun is a small creature in the hand of God, so it is with God in his infinite holiness, sitting on the throne of the universe. John Calvin, in his sermon on this text, said this: "We bring him no gain. He receives from us neither cold nor heat. Just as we cannot be profitable to him, neither can we do him any damage.” Therefore, we should get rid of all the bits of rubbish that we use to cover ourselves as we approach him, and simply fall down and in humility, plead guilty for our sins." John Calvin.
But instead, we tend to think that our works put God in our debt, like he has to repay us for something. This is cannot be, for it says in Romans 11:35-36, "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever." We really do need to meditate on this massively significant sermon and statement that Paul made in Athens in Acts 17:24-25. He said this: "The God who made the world and everything in it is Lord of heaven and earth. He does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands as if he needed anything, for he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else." So God doesn't need you to serve him. God is not lucky to have you on his team. Instead, we should realize everything we have with which we could serve God, he gave to us. We're just giving back to him what is his already, and instead, we should say in Psalm 116:12, "How can I repay the LORD for all his goodness to me?"
Now, Eliphaz also says effectively, none of God's communications to the human race is of any benefit to himself, including his law and his gospel. His laws and his gospel are not given to benefit God. He's fine. And as Eliphaz says, God is not benefited at all if we're righteous. It doesn't help him at all if we obey his commands. Actually, God's laws are given for our benefit, as helpful for our salvation and the fruitfulness of our lives, not because his throne would be in any way shaken if we don't obey them. All of God's commands, therefore, are displays of his goodness and kindness and mercy to us to help us and enrich us, not because in any way he needed us to obey him. God is amazingly selfless in all of this, not just in giving us the laws, but in goading us and speaking to us through the prophets, and urging us to obey them and bringing words of rebuke and correction when we don't. He doesn't have to do any of that. He's not benefited if we repent and come back and start obeying. He does it all for us. God will continue to be the same whether we are righteous or wicked.
So when we consider the infinite majesty of God and that he is not benefited by our service or obedience at all, should we not therefore be humbled and deeply in awe at God, at the transcendent majesty of God and his goodness to us? Should we not be ravished and astonished that God would lower himself so much to even talk to us or notice us at all? And yet for all of that, God actually invites us into his works and gives us eternally consequential good works to do by which, amazingly, he builds his eternal kingdom. It's incredible. He invites us into his eternally consequential works, and then he promises to honor us and reward us with glorious crowns and emblems of his favor for all eternity if we will serve him in Christ. "My Father will honor the one who serves me," Jesus said. Incredible.
Now, you think, how can this be? How can this God who needs nothing do this? Well, think of it like a wealthy art collector who has one of the largest collections of Renaissance oil paintings in the world. You go into his office and you find on the wall some framed pictures of his six-year-old daughter's colored pictures next to some Dutch masterpieces also, side by side. How could we understand? Well, all you parents know exactly how something that ridiculous can happen. It's not because there's any intrinsic worth or value to the child's colored picture. It's because of what that child means to the father and the love that he has for her and the picture that she has colored. That's what it is. And so God, in his grace and his mercy, is willing to put our pathetic artwork up on the wall for all eternity and somehow use it for his glory.
Even more than this, God voluntarily obligates himself to us in Christ by making promises to us that he must keep once he's uttered them. He has made so many promises to us, if I were to recount even a small number of them, it would take hours. But he has promised to raise us up out of the grave, out of the just penalty for our sins. The wages of sin is death. He's promised, Jesus has, "I am the resurrection in the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; whoever lives and believes in me will never die." He's made that promise and it's written in the blood of his Son, and he will keep that promise. Anyone who comes to Jesus in faith, he will raise us up at the last day in resurrection bodies.
So man is of no benefit to God, yet in Christ, he lowers himself to save us, and then by his Spirit, lowers himself more to use us and do good works in and through us. John Calvin put it this way. "God takes pleasure in stretching out his benefits to give us such enjoyment of them, that he joins himself to us and us to him. God, then, has had such care for us that it actually does matter to him how we live. But not because he gets by it either profit or damage."
Along with this statement, Eliphaz then goes on to say one of the worst things that has ever been said in the Bible to anybody. This is his nth degree accusation of Job's wickedness. This is as bad as it gets. This is Eliphaz at his absolute worst. Now, you're like, Pastor, how can you take Eliphaz's statement as though it's true, which I've done, and now we're going over here with Eliphaz's accusations of Job? You know what I'm going to do? I'm going to say in some sense, they are not at all true of Job. In another sense, it would do us good to think they're true of us.
What does he say? Well, look at verse four. He says, "Is it for your piety that he rebukes you and brings charges against you?" It's not because you're so godly that all this has happened to you. This is the same thing we've been seeing from the friends. It's because you're a great sinner. That's why all these terrible sufferings have happened to you. Now look at verse five. Here it is. This is something you circle in your... Or really, don't. This is such a bad statement. Look at it, "Is not your wickedness great? Are not your sins endless?" Now, we've come a long way from Job 1:1, "In the land of Uz, there was a man who was blameless and upright, who feared God and shunned evil." That's what Job... Now we've got, is not your wickedness great and your sins endless?
Now, we're going to absolutely refute Eliphaz's statement in the particulars, in the details, concerning Job later, but I still think it is beneficial for us to be humbled by these words, to try them on for size and wonder if they're true of us. Honestly, I don't think there's one among us that has a proper valuation of our own sinfulness. There's not one among us that says, "I actually do have a sense of how sinful I really am." We really don't. Even Christians, people who have been convicted our whole lives by the Holy Spirit, underestimate our sin debt.
When Jesus told the parable of forgiveness about the 10,000 talents, and then we learned some information about what that means, and a talent's 75 pounds of precious metal, let's say gold; 750,000 pounds of gold I owed, that was my sin debt? Greater than the entire tax revenue of the Roman Empire in a year, billions and billions of dollars I owed? Yes. Jesus valued your sinfulness at that level. Is this some gross overstatement by Jesus? Or could it be that we all underestimate our sin in the eyes of a holy God? We underestimate their number, and we underestimate their significance or their magnitude. David said in Psalm 40:12, "My sins have overtaken me and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me." So we should have a sense, my sins are more numerous than the hairs of my head. And not only that, they're massively significant, like a mountain range of wickedness, or like an Amazonian rainforest of sinfulness in which each leaf on every tree represents a sinful act or a sinful motive or a sinful thought. This will not prove in the end to, for ourselves, have been any great overstatement. It should lead us to deep humility and repentance. Is not your wickedness great? Yes, it is. Are not my sins endless? They really are. Our sins are vast in quantity.
Now, it will not do to pass lightly over this in a frivolous manner saying, "Oh, I know I have some faults. I don't deny I have some faults." That's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about a river of sin. We forget. We've been alive for years and years and years, we forget day after day after day of encounters horizontally and attitudes vertically. We forget the two great commandments and how we have not kept them. But the beauty is we can do all of this as Christians in the light of the cross, and realize however great is my wickedness and however endless my sins, the blood of Jesus is infinitely greater than all of them. What's going to happen if you do this properly is you'll just end up having a better estimation of Jesus and what he did for you, and a genuine peace with God and a genuine security that comes from coming to the cross in faith. As Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." He doesn't say, "Come all who admit that you are holding some difficulties in your hands or having some trouble walking down the road," something like that. He said, "No, you're crushed and burdened. You have a yoke of sin upon you that you can't throw off, and it's a crushing burden. Come to me, all you who are weary and crushed by your sins and your guilts, and I will give you rest." That's what he's saying.
Now, what are Eliphaz's false accusations? We'll look at the details, the particulars. Look at verse 6-9, speaking of Job, "You demanded security from your brothers for no reason; you stripped men of their clothing, leaving them naked. You gave no water to the weary; you withheld food from the hungry, though you were a powerful man, owning land—an honored man living on it. And you sent widows away empty-handed and broke the strength of the fatherless." So oppressive business practices, cruelty, withholding water from the thirsty and food from the starvings, stripping men, leaving them cold and naked. Basically, though the parable hadn't been spoken yet, it's like the rich man and Lazarus in Jesus's parable. You were the rich man and the poor men were right at your gates, and you did nothing for them day after day and defrauded them. That's where your wealth came from. That's why you're suffering. Look at verse 10-11, “This is why snares are all around you, why sudden peril terrifies you, why it is so dark you cannot see, why a flood of water covers you.”
Well, what I want to say to you is just hold on a minute. Eliphaz has no proof of any of these things. You know why? Because they didn't happen. None of them. Where did this come from? I have no idea. Coming from his surmising of what must have been the magnitude of Job's sin to result in such great suffering, just as theology carried to the nth degree here, but it never happened. Later, Job is going to specifically refute this. To some degree, he's going to refute it in chapter 24 that we'll look at in a minute. You know, he says, "I have an overwhelming concern for the poor and needy."
But in chapter 31, which is his final defense and his final résumé of his righteousness, this is what Job says. Job 31:16-23, "If I have denied the desires of the poor or let the eyes of the widow grow weary, if I have kept my bread to myself, not sharing it with a fatherless—but from my youth, I reared him as would a father, and from my birth, I guided the widow—if I have seen anyone perishing for lack of clothing or a needy man without a garment, and his heart did not bless me for warming him with the fleece from my sheep. If I have raised my hand against the fatherless, knowing I had influence in court, then let my arm fall from the shoulder, let it be broken off at the joint. For I dreaded destruction from God, and for fear of his splendor, I could not do such things." So no, I didn't do these things, Eliphaz, that you're saying I did. It just didn't happen.
But the question is, what about us? Friends, we're not Job. When you look at his résumé of mercy ministry, his résumé, the question is, what about us? What are we doing for the poor? What are we doing for the needy? What actual righteousness is there in our life? Don't go so quickly past what Eliphaz wrongly says concerning Job. We know that when the Lord comes, he's going to assemble all the nations and gather them before them. He's going to separate the people into two categories, sheep and goats, and he's going to talk about what you did. “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was a stranger and you invited me in.” He's going to talk like that to his sheep because they did those things. So it's not right for us to go so quickly and say, “Well, Job's innocent.” Well, he may be innocent, but it's good for us to look at our own lives.
Now, for the rest of this chapter, he says the way of the wicked will perish. These themes we've seen before. God is going to crush such a wicked man. Verse 12-14, he says, "Is not God in the heights of heaven? And see how lofty are his highest star?. Yet you say, ‘What does God know? Does he judge through such darkness? Thick clouds veil him, so he does not see us as he goes about in the vaulted heavens." What he's saying is, "Job, you think like this. You think God is so lofty, he can't see the wicked things you're doing." Lots of wicked people think that now. God can't see what I'm doing. They don't even think about God. In all their thoughts, there's no room for God. And Eliphaz warns Job as he has before, "The way of the wicked will perish." Verse 15-17, "Will you keep to the old path that evil men have trod? They were carried off before their time, their foundations washed away by a flood. They said to God, 'Leave us alone! What can the Almighty do to us?'" So eventually, judgment is coming.
And then he gives final advice. This is some excellent advice. I'd like you to hear this in light of the cross, hear this in light of Jesus, because this is about the best advice you're ever going to hear. Just Eliphaz is applying it wrongly to Job, in a faulty way. But to us, how sweet is it to see this through Christ? "Submit to God and be at peace with him." Be justified through faith in Christ and you'll be at peace with God. You'll have a right relationship with him. "[And] in this way, prosperity will come to you. Accept instruction from his mouth and lay up his words in your heart. If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored. If you remove wickedness far from your tent and assign your nuggets to the dust, [and] your gold of Ophir to the rocks and the ravines, then the Almighty will be your gold, the choicest silver for you. Surely then, you will find delight in the Almighty and [you will] lift up your face to God." All right. Well, that's Eliphaz.
III. Job’s First Lament: God Is Aloof to Me (Job 23)
Now Job responds, chapters 23-24. He does it in two laments. The first lament is God is aloof to me. The second lament in Job 24, we don't need to spend much time on because we'll circle back on all these themes in chapter 31, and that is God doesn't judge those that are pouring out injustice on the poor and needy. He finds, to some degree, fault with God. Now, this is a consistent pattern we see in Job, before he repents at the end of the book, of finding injustice with God. But it's very clear from chapter 24, he's intensely concerned with the sufferings of the poor and needy, and he just wonders why the wicked just seem to get away with it. So those are the two chapters.
Let's begin with God is aloof to me. He yearns to present his case to God in verses 1-7. He doesn't even address Eliphaz's slander against him; he's going to address it later. But he just turns his lonely and lamenting eyes up to God as if he's saying, there's no amount of logic or reasoning or any kind of prayer or debate that can heal my torn soul. What I want more than anything is to be close to God. I want to talk to him. I want to hear him talk to me. I want to be close to him, but the big problem for me here is I can't find him anywhere. He's aloof from me. He's distant from me. I cannot find him.
So he says nothing to his friends. He addresses his lament to God. Look at verse 23:1-7, "Then Job replied: 'Even today, my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning. If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling! I would state my case before him. I would fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what he would answer me, and consider what he would say. Would he oppose me with great power? No, he would not press charges against me. There an upright man could present his case before him, and I would be delivered forever from my judge.'"
So he's saying, “If I could just somehow find God,” and he's been saying this again and again, “I would present my case to him and he wouldn't be able to answer me. He would exonerate me. He would find that I'm innocent of all these charges. I didn't do these things that Eliphaz said I did. But I can't do that. That's what I would do. If I could get close to God, I would make my case and he would exonerate me, but I can't find him.” Look at verse three, "If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling!" I can't find him. And then verse 8-9, "If I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him." All four points of the compass, I cannot find God. He's distant from me in the midst of my suffering.
Now, how different is this than the language of Psalm 139:7-10, where David wrote this, "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast." How different are these words from that?
I think one of the hardest parts of trials, some of you may be going through this right now, is a sense of distance from God. You're going through physical trials, maybe cancer or some kind of physical trial, pain in your body, or for a loved one because you love that person. And you're wondering, where is God in all of this? I thought at least as we walk through this trial, he would be with us, hold us by our right hand. We would pass through the waters, through the fire, and he would be with us and we would sense that, but we don't sense it. We feel he is distant from us. Some of you may be feeling that right now. Job felt it. And he says in verse 10-12, “God knows very well how I lived, and I know how I lived. None of those things are true.” Verse 10-12, "But he knows the way I take; [and] when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. My feet have closely followed his steps; I have kept to his way without turning aside. I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread." Job knows that his huge pile of wealth, all of his livestock, his gold and silver, that wasn't his true treasure. Really, God was his true treasure. He knew that. And in terms of his own possessions, his own righteousness, his own blamelessness, the way he lived his life, that was the most valuable possession to him. He knew that.
Remember, this is the man that used to offer sacrifice for his children because he thought perhaps they sinned and cursed God in their hearts. He knew that what really mattered was heart religion, not just the external show like a whitewashed tomb. He knew that his children might look good on the outside, but might be corrupted on the inside. So how do you think he lived his own life? It was the same thing. And at the core of his piety, he said, was a deep love for the words of God. He treasured his words more than his food, more than his bread.
Now, this is a bit of a mystery. We don't know when the book of Job happened. Some people say it's the oldest book in the canon. We don't know that. It's an argument from silence. But some of you have the chronological Bible and you start with Job. I always find that interesting. I mean, there's no proof either way. It's just because it doesn't mention the law of Moses, it doesn't mention any of the prophets, it's just a standalone book, so it's assumed that none of those had happened yet. But I'm telling you, in every generation of redemptive history, God spoke to his people. They heard him speak. And God's people treasured the words God said to them, and Job was like that. It reminds me of what Jesus said in Matthew 4:4, "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." That was Job. He's fully confident that when all is said and done, when the refiner's fire is done testing him, he'll shine like pure gold.
But God is utterly aloof for me and I'm terrified of him. Look at verses 13-17, "But he stands alone and who can oppose him? He does whatever he pleases. He carries out his decree against me, and many such plans he still has in store. That's why I'm terrified before him; when I think of all this, I fear him. God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me. Yet I am not silenced by the darkness, by the thick darkness that covers my face." This is transcendence, friends. This is the infinite loftiness of God. He does whatever he pleases in the heavens and on the earth, and no one can oppose him. No one can call him to account. He doesn't have to give an explanation to anybody for what he does. This is all true. But Job says, "It makes me afraid. The transcendence of God, to me, is terrifying." He's saying, “It's terrifying.”
And so what he's saying is, "If I could find him, I would present my case to him, and I would win my case and he would exonerate me." But that's not really ultimately what he wants. He wants to remove whatever offense there is between them and return back to the way things used to be in his intimate friendship with God. Look ahead to Job 29:4. In Job 29:4, he says what he really wants. There he says, "O for the days when I was in my prime, when God's intimate friendship blessed my house." That's what he wants. “I want my paths drenched in cream and oil like they used to be because God was my friend. God talked to me and I knew he loved me, but now I don't know what to think. I can't find him and we can't have a conversation.”
I can't help but think of the infinite dimensions of what Jesus felt when he cried out from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" I don't know that we'll ever fully be able to plumb the infinite depths of that statement, that Jesus went to being forsaken by his heavenly Father, by God, so that he felt all of these things, that God is aloof and distant and not close to me, so that we who were distant from God through our sins could be brought near and have intimacy with God and friendship. That's what Jesus went through for us. He went through this, I can't find God anywhere, for us. That's chapter 23.
IV. Job’s Second Lament: God Is Aloof to the Poor & Oppressed (Job 24)
Chapter 24, the second lament, I've mentioned is basically a list of social justice issues, so to speak, or mercy ministry issues. The fault that Job was finding, again, is with God's justice. We saw this early in chapter 21, that God doesn't ever seem to judge the wicked. They get away with, it seems, murder. Look at verse 24:1, "Why does the Almighty not set times for judgment? Why must those who know him look in vain for such days?" So they get crushed by economic oppression. They get crushed and nothing ever seems to happen. So why doesn't God set times for judgment? I looked in one of my old Bibles, one of my first Bibles, this morning. And I wrote in the notes, I'd been a Christian for two years, it's like, but he does have a day. I was correcting Job, even back then. No, but he does, it's called Judgment Day. But at that moment, he wasn't feeling that. He was like, it doesn't ever seem to happen. God doesn't set times for judgment for these people.
Economic abuse of the weak, verses 2-3. “Men move boundary stones; they pasture flocks they've stolen. They drive away the orphan's donkey and take the widow's ox in pledge.” These are economic issues. Moving of boundary lines was stealing property. Stealing beasts of burden meant they couldn't have a crop, a harvest. Because of this economic oppression, the poor are driven into hiding, verse four, "They thrust the needy from the path and force all the poor of the land into hiding." He speaks of oppressive living and working conditions for the poor, verses 5-6, "Like wild donkeys in the desert, the poor go about their labor of foraging food; the wasteland provides food for their children. They gather fodder in the fields and glean in the vineyards of the wicked." This is what's done for people who have no resources. They glean a few heads of grain that are left in the stalks because of this kind of oppression.
He says the poor are naked. They're shivering in the cold grain at night. Verses 7-8, "Lacking clothes, they spend the night naked; they have nothing to clothe themselves in the cold. They are drenched by mountain rains and hug the rocks for lack of shelter.” Children are snatched away from their parents to repay debts. Verse nine, "The fatherless child is snatched from the breast; the infant of the poor is seized for a debt." So the poor work hard, they labor to the last fiber of their strength, but they can never get ahead because they don't get paid hardly anything. Verses 10-11, "Lacking clothes, they go about naked; they carry the sheaves, but still grow hungry. They crush olives among the terraces; they tread the wine presses, but they suffer thirst." So they're working hard, they just never get ahead. So the poor groan, desperately looking for help that never comes. Verse 12, "The groans of the dying rise from the city, and the souls of the wounded cry out for help, but God charges no one with wrongdoing." That's that same thing, that accusation of God's justice. God doesn't seem to do anything about it.
Now, in verses 13-17, he addresses unpunished criminal acts. The wicked love the darkness, which hides all of their dark deeds. Verse 13, "There are those who rebel against the light, who do not know its ways or stay in its paths." So murderers. Verse 14, "When daylight is gone, the murder arises up and kills the poor and needy; in the night he steals forth like a thief." Verse 15, the adulterer goes out at night, “The eye of the adulterer watches for dusk; he thinks, 'No eye will see me,' and he keeps his face concealed." Then thieves, burglars, in verse 16, "In the dark men break into houses, but by day they shut themselves in." They want nothing to do with the light. Verse 17, "For all of them, deep darkness is their morning; they make friends with the terrors of darkness." It's like Jesus said in John 3:19-20, "Men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. [Whoever] does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed."
And yet he ends the chapter saying they're still going to get it. The wicked are still going to be judged. So it's a bit of a turn, but he still believes that judgment's coming. Verse 18, "They are foam on the surface of the water; their portion of the land is cursed, so that no one goes into the vineyards. As heat and drought snatch away the melted snow, so the grave snatches away those who have sinned. The womb forgets them, the worm feasts on them; evil men are no longer remembered but are broken like a tree. They prey on the barren and childless woman, and to the widow they show no kindness. But God drags away the mighty by his power; though they have become established, they have no assurance of life. He may let them rest in a feeling of security, but his eyes are on their ways. For a little while they're exalted, but then they're gone; they're brought low and gathered up like all the others; they're cut off like heads of grain. If this is not so, who can prove me false and reduce my words to nothing?" So he says in the end, they're going to get judged, doesn't happen now, I wish it would, I wish that God would intervene and crush them, but they're going to get it in the end.
All right. So what applications can we take from this? I would like you to begin by just meditating, helpfully, on God's transcendence and imminence. There are two images of God that I think we should keep ever before us. Our God is a consuming fire, like the sun. That's transcendence and holiness. And the father of the prodigal son, who's waiting and waiting and waiting for his sinful son to come back, and when he does, he runs down and hugs him and gives him everything. These two images of God's overwhelming holiness and power and wrath and justice, and God's intimate compassion and tenderness and love must be held together. We can't choose one or the other. We'll be a holiness church, or we'll be a love church. It's both. So meditate on both for yourself. Some of you may need to hear more from one side than the other right now, I understand that. That happens in our sinfulness, that we need to hear more that God really does love us because we've been doubting that, or we need to hear more that God is holy and does not tolerate sin. We need to hear that. Both.
Secondly, ponder at length the question: Is man profitable to God? And answer no. Say, “God, I know that my service doesn't profit you at all. I know that. I know you don't need me to serve. I know even if you wanted to use a person, if I dropped out, you would find another person to do the exact same thing.” It's just good to be humble. That “God is not served by human hands as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.”
Thirdly, ponder the quantity and weight of your sin. Don't minimize it. Be like the tax collector who beat his breast and would not even look up to heaven, but said, "Be merciful to me, oh God, a sinner." Say, “My sins are more numerous than the hairs of my head and they're mighty like a mountain range.” Don't minimize it. Realize it's not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Understand your sickness and he'll heal you.
"Thirdly, ponder the quantity and weight of your sin. Don't minimize it. Be like the tax collector who beat his breast and would not even look up to heaven, but said, "Be merciful to me, oh God, a sinner."
Fourthly, seek salvation in Christ. Christ is, in every chapter of Job, the star, every chapter. Do you not see it? It is in Christ that God's infinite, transcendent holiness is addressed at the cross through the blood sacrifice, and it is in Christ that he draws very close to us in his incarnation. He is Emmanuel, God with us. We are able to pillow our heads on his chest because he loves us. So find salvation through repentance and faith in Christ.
Fifthly, just observe how Job's afflictions and sufferings made him feel that God was distant from him. Expect that to happen when you're suffering, but realize it's not true. That God is as close to you, or perhaps in some ways, even closer than ever when you're suffering. Intimately close. And then finally, know that the remedy is to draw near to the throne of grace. Don't let Satan trick you into staying distant from God. But as it says in Hebrews 4:16, "Let us approach the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."
Close with us in prayer now. Father, thank you for these three chapters, for all the things that we've discussed. So much in there. God, I pray that you would press these lessons, these timeless lessons, to our hearts, that we would understand them. God, I pray that you would save, that you would convert any that are here that walked in unconverted. Just work in them now that they would know the truth of the gospel. Help all of us, Lord, to see both your infinite, transcendent majesty and holiness, but also your intimacy with us in Christ. In Jesus's name, amen.