It’s something of a modern day proverb. “Three things must never be discussed in polite company: politics, religion, and death.” Well, I’ve noticed Christians talk about all those things because they matter a great deal. We believe it’s sometimes appropriate to be impolite for the sake of truth and love. But sometimes I suspect Christians have their own proverb. Perhaps it goes something like this. “Three books must never be preached in my church: Leviticus, the Song of Solomon, and Job.” Am I right? Job in particular because it’s a long, difficult, and terribly disturbing book. If the book of Proverbs is for freshman learning how to live well in a world that is mostly predictable, and Ecclesiastes is for sophomores with just enough knowledge to believe life is utterly meaningless, then Job is for graduates who have finally figured out that they’ll never figure it out. Sometimes life is hard, and it hurts.
Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Really bad things. Evil things. Evil from outside us, that we didn’t toy with, or wink at, or invite into our lives. How do you explain such evil? Deep down you know it’s true when the Bible says “there is none righteous, no not one” (Rom 3:10) or when the Catechism for Young Children says every sin deserves “the wrath and curse of God” (Q 37). Nobody is off the hook. Nevertheless, you still get the sense your sins, and other people’s sins, don’t comprehensively explain the evil you see and experience in the world. Can you explain it? Can you fix or fight it? If God can, do you think he should do a better job? Do you think your brilliant ideas could help God?
No one is righteous enough, strong enough, or knows enough to blame God for mishandling the terrifying evils we face, so it is best to repent of our human pride, acknowledge our creaturely limitations, and justify God who is supremely righteous in his grace, power, and privilege.
The book of Job (which is 95% poetry) is an ancient literary masterpiece about human suffering and the unsearchable wisdom of God. Satan challenges God regarding the integrity of Job’s life as a servant of God. So God permits Satan free reign to torment Job with only one rule—Satan can’t kill him. So Satan manages to destroy Job’s family, wealth, and health. Then Job’s friends come to sit and comfort Job. Here the poetry begins as the story unfolds through a series of conversations between Job and his friends trying to make sense of Job’s terrible and undeserved suffering. Maintaining his innocence as a righteous man suffering for no good reason, Job eventually demands his day in God’s court. At the end of the book, God arrives and replies to Job twice. Job 40:6-42:6 is the second reply and the magnificent climax of the book when Job, who had heard of God before, now encounters the Almighty and Omniscient One.
The Achilles Heel of a Suffering Righteous Man
Self-justification that dabbles in judging God (vv. 40:6-9)
Job assumed a measure of divine knowledge and strength. Many people, even Christians, fall into this self-justification trap because they have a faulty view of the foundation of justice. Like you and me, Job was inclined to think there is a “law of fairness” that resides outside God and thus stands over God judging his actions. In this view the Law of Justice is more absolute than God, and therefore God must act in accordance with that higher law to be fair. Job revealed he believed in such a Law of Justice when he appealed to that law and charged God with being wrong. Isn’t it true that sometimes when you suffer, especially when it appears you’re not at fault, your first inclination is to cry out to God for relief? But if God doesn’t give you relief quickly enough, you’re tempted to dabble in judging God. “God I don’t deserve this! You’re not being fair!” And once you appeal to a Law of Justice that governs God, then you start wondering how you might deal with suffering if you were in charge. In Job’s case, God decided to humor him.
“I just can’t wait to be king!” (vv. 40:10-14)
So you want to be king of the proud? Let’s have you try on my royal robes then we’ll see how you look and handle yourself? If you can do it, then I will admit you can save yourself! Job had spoken some true and right things about God’s character. But when he extended the topic to God’s justice throughout the whole earth, Job ventured into matters of which he was ignorant. God’s providential rule of the world is vastly complex and extensive. No man could possibly comprehend or accomplish what God does because, compared to God, human knowledge and power are puny.
Me and my college roommates used to stay up late at night lamenting the problems of the world and pontificating with our sophomoric wisdom. “If only we were in charge, then the world would be a better place. Why can’t other people see the genius of our superior ideas?” In his unfathomable wisdom, how did God choose to teach Job he’d make a lousy king? Not with a college lecture on the problem of evil and suffering (although such discussions have their proper place). No, God used poetry. The Lord stimulated Job’s imagination and tickled his funny bone. Why? To both terrify and comfort Job at a deeper human level than the intellect. To get deep into his heart to change Job’s understanding and affections. In other words, to help Job grow in the fear of the LORD.
The Evil Threats to a Suffering Righteous Man
There are two main interpretations identifying Behemoth and Leviathan. The first says they are particular animals you might see at the zoo, but described as they appear in the wild. The second believes they are fantasy monsters with some poetically embellished characteristics of large fearsome creatures in the natural world.
Behemoth, the Super-Beast (vv. 40:15-24)
Some see a hippopotamus here. Let’s take a look and you decide if that’s plausible. Behemoth (“beast” in the plural form) is large, powerful, and has an insatiable vegetarian appetite. He is big-boned and unapproachable. His “tail” is stiff and virile (v. 17; if this is an actual tail then he’s not a hippo). He lays low in the marsh but gets his food in the mountains where wild animals play. He is immoveable when facing rushing water and cannot be caught with a snare. He holds primacy over God’s creative works. But he is vulnerable, for the Creator is able to subdue him with sword. This is a beast of magnificent power and untamable by man.
Civilized people far removed from the wildness of the animal kingdom have a hard time imagining this. If we’re afraid of dogs, we don’t keep one for a pet, and we expect your dog to be on a leash. We put animals in zoos where we can gaze at a safe distance. On safaris we hunt with expert guides who promise to protect us from harm. But now and then we’re reminded of the primal fear stoked by Man vs. Beast. Near the end of my studying last week, a large, black bug (sort of a wasp?) landed next to me on my desk. Instinctively I sprang back and quickly grabbed a tissue to squash the insect with my hand. But it flew to the window sill, so I waited for it to land and then sprung with tissue in hand to get it. But time after time it resisted my attempts to kill it, walking and then flying away again! Then it landed on the floor so I lunged at it again with tissue in hand, determined to smush it. I did, but it didn’t work! Still alive, I dropped another tissue on top of it then stepped on it. When I lifted the tissue, the uncovered mini-beast was still alive and flopping around with lots of angry energy. Finally, I covered it again and stomped on it. When I heard that familiar sound of a juicy bug being crushed, my adrenaline ceased rushing and I noticed my heart thumping. I had won! Then it dawned on me. Such a struggle with a non-Behemoth, a puny Leviathan, was pathetic. Who are we kidding to think we can subdue the Lord’s proud beasts?
Leviathan, the Dragon (vv. 41:1-34)
Some think Leviathan is a crocodile in this poem, but ancient Near East mythology and the Bible both attest that Leviathan can be a horrible sea monster you’d find in a storybook (Pss 74:12-14; 104:24-26; Isa 27:1). Notice his fantasy-like attributes: many heads, breathing fire, called a “monster” and a “dragon,” “playing” in the deep waters. There is dark humor in this poem, more absurd than morbid. Think of Gary Larson’s comic strip The Far Side, how it often explored what the collision of human and monster worlds might look like in everyday life situations. Can you see those kinds of jokes here (vv. 41:1-8)? It is as if God is chiding Job. “This is not your friendly neighborhood petting zoo. More like Jurassic Park!”
Storybook symbols of spiritual realities
Leviathan is Job’s adversary, Satan (Rev 12:9; 20:2). This view recognizes completion and climax in the book of Job. If Satan was the primary cosmic adversary who inflicted terrible evil on Job at the beginning of the story, then why would Satan disappear from the end of the book? But if Satan is Leviathan, there is literary symmetry and climax. Additionally, if Job’s Achilles Heel is his overreaching claim to administer divine justice, then how exactly do the examples of a hippo and a croc provide climactic evidence of Job’s inability? Ancient hieroglyphs confirm Egypt boasted of their ability to capture and subdue those animals. If human power and knowledge were able to conquer those mighty wild beasts, then what exactly is God’s advantage over Job? Why this peculiar divine coup de grâce? Remember that while God is speaking Job is still suffering the effects of Satan’s attacks and of misguided yet well-intended friendly fire. Without the poem ending with Satan the king of pride on God’s leash (vv. 41:33-34), the whole story feels a bit unresolved, anti-climactic, even unintelligible. Why? Because in the book’s epilogue Job’s friends are rebuked (check), and his family and fortune are restored (check), but there is no explicit mention of Satan. Is that what you’d expect from such a divinely inspired, marvelous book on wisdom? But if Satan is Leviathan, then he is identified as God’s creature. He’s on God’s leash.
Admittedly Behemoth’s symbolism is less clear from our passage. But other Bible passages reveal clues that Behemoth may be the power of Satan, that is, death (Heb 2:14; Rev 11:7; 13:2, 7, 10). The sting of the apocalyptic beast is death for all who do not curse God and worship the dragon. With God’s permission Satan tormented Job, but God prevented Satan from killing him. However, Job’s predicament has been his facing all the terrifying power of Satan, including quite possibly death as far as he knew. Death and Satan are Job’s greatest foes, just as they are your greatest foes. And not coincidently, here in God’s final answer to Job, the LORD climactically presents the two fiercest examples of Job’s adversaries in monster-like imagery that also happen to be under God’s sovereign authority and control: Behemoth and Leviathan. Death and Satan. Do you see the connection?
The Godly Response of a Suffering Righteous Man
Humbly confess your creaturely limitations (vv. 42:1-3)
Job eventually learned there is no Law of Justice external to and higher than God. True justice is rooted in God’s character. Thus, whatever God does is just and fair because he cannot do otherwise. When God demonstrates his justice it is merely God being God. Not only that, Job admitted his ignorance. Essentially he confessed, “You’re God and I’m not. You can do whatever you want, no one can stop you, and now I see that’s a good thing because I understand your ways are higher, better, and too wonderful for little old me to grasp.”
Take comfort in seeing God’s grace and power (vv. 42:4-6)
God changed Job when he showed up in the whirlwind. Before Job had merely heard of God. But now that Job has verbally interacted with God, it is as if he has seen God face to face with his own eyes. Although his vision could not penetrate the veil of the storm cloud, he did witness God arrive and hear him speak. Formerly Job understood God in a rational and verbal way, but when he encountered the living God, the relationship was transformed. And he was “comforted.” The same word translated “repent” in 42:6 is used by the friends to “comfort” Job in 2:11. Hence there is a word-play giving a sense of closure, of coming full circle for Job seeking comfort. Job is finally comforted in dust and ashes. What is his comfort? Not that he now has answers to all his “why” questions. But that he knows that God knows. And that is enough.
There is a danger here, the Achilles Heel that tempts you to despise God as the cosmic bully pulling rank on poor righteous Job. Remember the theme of the book is not God’s superior power, nor Job’s humble confession, but God’s wise justice. The way to avoid condemning God to justify yourself is to see Jesus Christ as the key to Job’s suffering. God claims to be the only one able to defeat Behemoth and Leviathan, Death and Satan. But how? How does God ultimately save Job and make sense of his suffering? How does God save you and make sense of your suffering? Do you see and understand yet? He gave his Son who is the Greater Job. Job points finally to Jesus. How? Jesus Christ was the only absolutely righteous man who ever lived. He never sinned, never complained to his heavenly Father when Satan tormented him, when his friends despised him, and when death like a beast devoured him on the cross. Like with Job, God allowed Satan to ravage Jesus with every terrifying evil imaginable. But unlike with his servant Job, God handed over his one and only Son to death. And Jesus died willingly and obediently, subjecting himself to all the horrible, fantastical powers of hell in order to conquer Satan and Death in his resurrection so he might save those who suffer. He died not just for the Jobs of the world (those who suffer for righteousness’ sake), but for sinners because he loves them and he hates to see us suffer alone without hope. In his resurrection from the dead Christ stands victorious over Behemoth and Leviathan who have been forever leashed by God’s authority and power.
When you look at Job you see a man who understands your suffering and empathizes, right? Now when you look at Jesus Christ, do you see the suffering righteous man who not only understands but shoulders your suffering? Who stares down terrifying evil with the almighty power of God? Who died to take away your sin which is the sting of death? When you encounter Christ the Greater Job, and as you humble yourself before him as Savior and Lord, you will find comfort while sitting on the ash heap of your suffering. And comfort to sit on the ash heap of someone else’s suffering to offer the hope of Christ. Whether it’s an unending illness, a broken heart, or a tragic mass shooting, the hidden answers to suffering belong to God. We are ignorant of his counsels. They are too wonderful for us. But thanks be to God we possess things he has revealed. The Bible says, “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (Jas 5:11). In light of God’s compassion and mercy revealed in Christ, the famous Bible commentator Matthew Henry wrote, “Let us leave it to God to govern the world, and make it our care, in the strength of his grace, to govern ourselves and our own hearts well.”
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