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Job and the fear of God

February 2014 | by Ian McNaughton

Life is always changing, and in the book of Job we have the history of one man and his family and the events that changed their lives for ever. Those unexpected changes were unpleasant and painful, and none more so than the sudden deaths of all Job’s children.

 

The problem of suffering is very real, especially when death or illness confront us. Job’s family and business life went into meltdown, and his wounds were deepened by his multiple bereavements.

In a matter of moments, his world was turned upside down and inside out. But he did not take the name of the Lord God in vain; he did not blaspheme or curse God. Instead, he blessed his Lord without reserve.

Later he asked frank questions, but his first reaction was to worship (1:21). He showed that he was fully resigned to God’s holy will for his life. He did not ‘fight’ God or accuse him of wickedness. He acknowledged God’s sovereignty and mysterious providence.

‘Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshipped. And he said, naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. In all this, Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong’ (Job 1:20-21).

Faith

Job’s strong faith showed in his instinctive spiritual response to tragic loss. He accepted that the Lord was in control over all circumstances. He believed that God has a right to be feared, esteemed and praised. He recognised that God is holy and the same yesterday, today and for ever. Job’s theology was in tune with the rest of the Bible.

His doctrine of sin and the Fall in the Garden of Eden made him accept humanity’s depravity and moral inability. He realised that death is God’s penalty for sin (Genesis 3:3; Romans 3:23). Not for Job would have been the errors of Pelagius who viewed humanity as good and morally unaffected by the Fall. Job was a fundamentalist of the best sort!

This godly patriarch feared God and knew him personally. The name of God (‘Yahweh’) is used three times in these verses to emphasise Job’s dependence on the true God. Although Job was not an Israelite, having lived in Uz centuries before the nation of Israel came out of Egypt, he worshipped the God of Israel.

This was because he believed the evidence for the existence of the one true God and heard his Word to him with personal faith.

God allowed these terrible disasters to take place, but it was Satan who was the executioner. God allows evils, but is not to be accused of evildoing or being Satan’s accomplice in crime.

Job did not know that Satan was behind these harsh providences. However, Christian believers know the devil goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, even though they are not always aware of his subtle actions and wicked schemes. It is important for Christians, therefore, to put on the whole armour of God (Ephesians 6).

With the shield of faith lifted up, Job put these disasters down to God’s dealings with him and did not charge God with wrong. When he reached rock bottom, he rested on God as his solid rock.

This is indeed the believer’s true response to bereavement and pain. He falls back on the unchanging nature of God. When Job could do nothing else, he was supported by the ‘everlasting arms’ (Deuteronomy 33:27). All who face trials must do the same.

Consistency

Job never relinquished his faith in God. In fact, the paradox is that his faith became stronger as a result of his trials. This is always so when God’s people let sufferings draw them nearer to God, to receive grace and hope in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

In the midst of grief, Jesus Christ offers peace instead of turmoil, strength in spite of weakness, and hope for tomorrow. Remember, Christ has said to his people, ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’ (Matthew 11:28-30).

These words are a wonderful invitation from God’s Son. I once heard someone say to a bereaved mourner, ‘I wish you all my strength’. I thought it a touching expression, but also rather useless, as the friend in question although sympathetic to the mourner’s pain could not transfer his strength in any way.

In contrast, the help that Jesus Christ gives is both spiritual and effective, and it flows from the grace of God that is in Christ.

Job had thought about suffering, but when it came, he was not prepared for the shock. In fact, he had always feared the disaster which befell him: ‘For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me, and what I dreaded has happened to me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, for trouble comes’ (3:25-26).

Grace

This very rich man came to poverty and was left without offspring or heirs. Add to this, the plague of boils on his body and the pain inflicted on him and we see a man suffering greatly through emotional pain combined with physical pain. Nevertheless, ‘in all this Job did not sin, nor charge God with wrong’ (1:22).

Job was a godly man with a godly way of life, fearing God and shunning evil (1:8). He was possessed of a reverential respect for Jehovah and had turned away from a godless lifestyle. God calls him ‘blameless and upright’ (2:3).

His heart and soul were wholly fixed on the things of God, through faith and through love for God, in sanctification of the Spirit. Like Noah, he had found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6:8).

Job’s living matched his words. He taught through both lip and life. You can be sure that Job’s children knew where their father’s priorities lay. Three times God says that Job was ‘blameless and upright’ (1:1, 8; 2:3) and we are told that, ‘Job feared … God’ (1:1, 9).

With New Testament light, we can say that his fear was born of an evangelical faith. His sufferings are, therefore, to be seen in the light of the sovereign providence of God and not the result of Job’s personal sins. The opening chapters of the book make it clear that Job’s sufferings were ‘innocent sufferings’.

We are not saying, of course, that Job was without sin (Romans 3:9-18, 23), but we are saying that he was reckoned righteous in God’s sight because of his faith in Christ. Although Job’s sufferings fall within the sweep of God’s sovereignty, it is Satan who is to be blamed for Job’s pain and sorrows.

Fearing God

The book of Job makes it clear that in God’s universe Satan’s actions are limited by the permission of God (1:12; 2:6). So we must not fear the power of evil. Instead, we must look to God in Christ for grace in time of need, as it is to the Lord we will answer and give account at the last day.

To impute unholy actions to God is a common failing. To be God’s judge and jury, as so many people attempt, and to pronounce a bitter, unforgiving verdict on the Lord and his actions, is utter folly. It is lacking the fear of God that Job exemplified.

Job was not hypocritical or fanatical in religion, but believed that God has a right to be feared, esteemed and praised. And so should we.

Ian S. McNaughton