There is plenty of trouble and heartache to go around in this world. It comes unbidden into every life, one way or another, and when it leaves, it is only to return again in some other form, perhaps more grievous than before. Who can escape trouble?
Our trouble in trouble is that in our flesh, we are tempted to instruct the Lord with our complaint, calling into question His wisdom and judgement, or at least His justice. That was the experience of the man Job. Job’s testimony is perhaps the first Scripture ever to be written, certainly he lived in a time of great antiquity, likely long before Moses came on the scene. Most believers are familiar with his initial response to his troubles, the response of faith, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13.5). We are less familiar with his later complaints against the justice of God. His stubbornness on this point contributes to the length of the book.
Job attempted to instruct the Lord about his trouble. Finally, the Lord had some thing to say to him.
Interestingly, the Lord uses almost identical words in the preamble of each part his two-part rebuke of Job. The first: “Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.” (Job 38.3) and the second: “Gird up thy loins now like a man: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me.” (Job 40.7) The word “answer thou me” in the first and “declare thou unto me” in the second is identical – the verb yada’, to know, to instruct. It is a very common word in the Old Testament. It generally refers to the knowledge gained by experience, often intricate or intimate knowledge. Here it is an imperative. God is challenging Job: “You there, instruct me!” The earlier part of God’s challenge calls on Job to “be a man” – the Lord’s words are bracing.
And the Lord’s words may be ironic as well. The first time the word is used in the same form in Job, we find it on the lips of Job where he says, “I will say unto God, Do not condemn me; shew me wherefore thou contendest with me.” — “You there, instruct me!” says Job. That’s the temptation we all face when we are in distress, especially those troubles that seem so senseless, undeserved, pointless – especially when we are Christians, serving God, enduring hardships as a Christian … why us? Why now? Tell me, God, teach me, instruct me, show me how I deserve this!
God rehearses his eternal power and godhead to Job in his response (Job 38.1-40.1 and 40.6-41.34 – see Rm 1.20). He challenges Job to instruct him. “Be a man, now, Job, it is my turn to demand, and I demand that you instruct me.” These four chapters of Job give us some of the most sublime descriptions in the Bible of our God’s power over the created universe and his wise administration of it. They are thrilling passages, worthy of much meditation. Since the day Job first picked up his potsherd, no man can answer the questions God poses. Men without God today will incredibly answer them with their own boasts, but hearing them, as Job heard them, standing in the presence of the living God, can only elicit one response from the lips of man: “Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me.” (Job 42.4) The words are almost identical to God’s challenge, but there is a significant difference.
The difference is there is now no boasting on Job’s part of his manhood in speaking up to God. Instead, there is a prayer: “Hear, I beseech thee.” Instead of pride there is humility. Instead of a demand for justice there is confession and surrender.
When we are in deep waters, we are not much interested in God’s instructions. It might be that we have to wallow through the morass of our discontent before we are ready to be instructed. It might be that our pride has to flaunt itself against our God before he can expose the fraud of our behaviour. I am not sure, but it seems that I am well able to be God’s agent of instruction when someone else is hurting, but woe betide the one who would instruct me!
I have found that when I despair, grow hopeless and sullen before God, that I have to talk to myself, not listen to myself (as Jim Berg is wont to say). I make myself turn to the Scriptures. Or I make myself turn on some psalms and hymns and edifying songs. I don’t want to. But the best way to carry on for God is to make myself submit to His word, yielding “by force” before I can get myself in the frame of mind where I can pray to God, “Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me.”
Now I am ready for the next step. “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.