Job 32:1-37:24 – A Good Theology of Suffering

Last week we covered chapters 2:11-31:40. In those chapters, Job conversed with his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar about the meaning of suffering. The outcome of it all was that the theory of his friends was unsatisfactory. The Retribution Principle, which essentially says God blesses/protects the righteous, and curses/punishes the wicked. This is a dangerous half truth that we unpacked last week, and I consider it to be a terrible theology of suffering.

Today, we are going to hear from Elihu whom I believe had a much better theology of suffering. All three of Job’s friends obeyed God out of fear of being punished and not getting “good” from God, thus they were essentially obeying for their own good. And they all argued that al this suffering has come upon Job because he was being punished for all of his sin.

Job had defended himself all along by saying, contrary to his three friends’ opinion, that there is good evidence from all over the world that the wicked often prosper and the righteous often suffer (21:29–30). And in his case in particular he was not an enemy of God and had not committed any grievous sin that would set him up for such suffering above others (1:8).

But we also see that Job wavers in his belief in God’s goodness and approachableness during this time as well. (Read excerpts from Job 9)

None the less, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were not able to sustain their theory in the face of Job’s realism and integrity. Their speeches became repetitive, hostile, and shorter as the conversation comes to a close. Finally, only Job was left speaking, but there still was no answer as to the problem of righteous people suffering and wicked people prospering.

We do hear very plainly from the book of Job so far that God governs the affairs of men, and no doubt He does so with great wisdom (28:12-28). And this is not that bad of an answer. I suppose many people could (and do) live their whole lives with this under-standing (that God is sovereign and don’t question Him), but the writer of the book of Job gives us more. God wants us to know that there is so much more purpose in suffering than we may think.

And this is where the young, bold, shameless, and angry Elihu breaks into the picture. Let’s pick it up in 32:1: 1 So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. 2 Then Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, burned with anger. He burned with anger at Job because he justified himself rather than God. 3 He burned with anger also at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer, although they had declared Job to be in the wrong. 4 Now Elihu had waited to speak to Job because they were older than he. 5 And when Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouth of these three men, he burned with anger.

6 And Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite answered and said: “I am young in years,
and you are aged; therefore I was timid and afraid to declare my opinion to you. 7 I said, ‘Let days speak, and many years teach wisdom.’ 8 But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand. 9 It is not the old who are wise, nor the aged who understand what is right. 10 Therefore I say, ‘Listen to me; let me also declare my opinion.’

So Elihu clearly has an opinion and demands to be heard, but why should we listen from him more than we should the other three friends? Shouldn’t we clump him together with Job’s three friends because of his retribution principle statements (Job 34:10-12)?

Let’s quickly discuss why Elihu’s response should be received by us:
1) His response is separate from the 3 cycles of responses, indicating that what he is saying is different from that of Job’s 3 friends. It also says in 32:2-3 that Elihu burned with anger toward Job and his 3 friends, which tells us that he believes their responses not only fall short of the truth, but to be detrimental to their understanding of God in the midst of suffering.

2) The inadequacy of the theology of the three friends was demonstrated by the fact that their speeches got shorter near the end, and then died out completely. Bildad finishes with six verses (25), and Zophar can’t even manage a closing comment.

It would be very strange, then, if Elihu were given 6 chapters at this point to say all the inadequate things all over again and make no advance on the inadequate theology of these other 3 friends. Surely this large space given to his words signals that something crucial is being said here.

3) In 33:32-33, Elihu says to Job: 32 “If you have any words, answer me; speak, for I desire to justify you. 33 If not, listen to me; be silent, and I will teach you wisdom.” Job was successful in silencing his other 3 friends, but he remains silent with Elihu, indicating that he agrees with Elihu. In fact, in 42:6 Job does repent for some of the things he said, which shows that Elihu’s rebukes are not all missing the mark.

4) In 42:7, God rebukes Job’s 3 friends: 7 After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Then God goes on to tell them how to appease Him with repentance and sacrifices, but no rebuke to Elihu is recorded. It seems as if Elihu’s words are true and pure, and they prepare the way for the final words from God.

5) He was moved and prompted by the Spirit of the Lord (32:18: For I am full of words; the spirit within me constrains me. // 33:4: The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.)

So with that, I believe we should receive Elihu’s words this morning and unpack his wisdom and fresh take on suffering. It is clear that Elihu thinks that Job has been wrong in some of what he has said earlier. In 33:8-12, Elihu points out Job’s main error:

8 “Surely you have spoken in my ears, and I have heard the sound of your words. 9 You say, ‘I am pure, without transgression; I am clean, and there is no iniquity in me. 10 Behold, he finds occasions against me, he counts me as his enemy, 11 he puts my feet in the stocks and watches all my paths.’ 12 “Behold, in this you are not right. I will answer you, for God is greater than man.

Whoa! What an indictment! And what a good and loving friend to care enough to speak this truth: “You are not right Job! Is not God greater than man? Then why would you claim innocence before the sight of God even in the midst of your obedient life?”

Again, we can look at 42:6 and see that Elihu was right by Job’s repentance. Job’s suffering (much like us in our suffering) has driven him to an overly optimistic view of himself, and created a disrespectful attitude and toward God. Even though Job was a righteous man, he was not perfect. This is clear in Scripture that we can be righteous in Christ, but we will not be perfect while we are still in the flesh.

So what is Elihu’s view of suffering? What is his answer to the problem of suffering?
Turn to Job 33:15-30 and let’s unpack what Elihu says:

God uses suffering to save, not punish.
vv. 15-16: Elihu here explains the way in which the Lord speaks to man. In his day, there were no written Scriptures yet, so God revealed Himself through speaking to mankind in dreams and visions and also through suffering. God’s purpose in these night terrors and in this painful sickness and soars is not to punish, but save.

– To save us from selfish or arrogant pride that destroys our lives, others lives, and our fellowship with God (v. 17). The righteous still have sin that needs to be rooted out.
– To save us from the pit, or from perishing by the sword of God’s wrath (the promise of God sanctifying his people, if God stops sanctifying, we are not saved) (vv. 18, 30).
– To save us from the love of the world (vv. 19-20).
– To save us by sending a mediator (which is fully realized in Jesus) (vv. 23-24).
– To save us from our self-righteousness (vv. 25-26).
-To save us from depression/hopelessness (vv. 27-28).
– To save us from our false views of Himself (v. 27)

Elihu has showed Job’s three friends to be wrong. They said that the only way to explain Job’s suffering was to say that God was punishing him for sin. Elihu shows that this is not the way to explain Job’s suffering.

The righteous do suffer. And their suffering is not a punishment for sin but a purification of their holiness. Suffering awakens their ears and eyes to new dimensions of God’s reality and new depths of their own imperfection and need. Suffering deepens their faith and godliness. So the three friends of Job are wrong.

But Job is wrong too. He had no better explanation of his suffering than his three friends did. His conception of God’s justice was basically the same as theirs.

Only Job insisted he was righteous, and so he could not make his suffering fit with the justice of God. He became so irritated at times that he thought of God as his enemy. (chapter 9; 13:23-24: 23 How many are my iniquities and my sins? Make me know my transgression and my sin. 24 Why do you hide your face and count me as your enemy?)

Job tried to justify himself by his own righteousness, and became upset at God’s treatment of him because he has slaved and labored for God and this is what he gets?! (the story of the gardener, the king and a nobleman in the courts of the king)

So Job was well on his way to being a Pharisee who trusted in his own righteousness, thus needing no savior.

Jesus would have been a good guy, a friend, a role model, but not a savior to Job. And God saved him from that! Job’s suffering has brought out the hidden sin of pride, self-righteousness and ultimately self-reliance.

Now Job’s ears and eyes are open to 2 things in a radical way:
His sinfulness even among his strict obedience to God’s law. God’s holiness and perfection that cannot be attained through his own obedience to the rules of God.

He needed a rescuer, a redeemer, and he must look outside of himself to be saved.

So the central lesson for us from the book of Job today is that the children of God (those who trust in God and are led by his Spirit and have their sins covered by the blood of Jesus) may indeed suffer.

And when they do suffer, it is not a punishment for sin. Christ bore all of the punishment for our sin, and God does not double dip. 1 John 4:18: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment (Jesus took the punishment of sin), and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

John Piper: Suffering is not dispensed willy-nilly among the people of God. It is apportioned to us as individually designed, expert therapy by the loving hand of our great Physician. And its aim is that our faith might be refined, our holiness might be enlarged, our soul might be saved, and our God might be glorified.

Suffering is not based on the retribution principle. Rather, it is the “free” application of sovereign grace principle. God, the Righteous One has chosen us freely from before the foundation of the earth. He has regenerated us (made us come alive) freely by the work of the Holy Spirit. He has justified us (declared us righteous before God) freely through the gift of saving faith in Jesus. He is now sanctifying us (making us like Jesus) freely by His sovereign grace through His word and through suffering, according to his infinite wisdom and grace! Praise be to God! May this cause us to break out in worship of Him!

James 1:2-4: 2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

1 Peter 1:6-7: 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you `have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Let’s Pray!

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