Job: Sermon 8: Part 1

Job 1v22

In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with unreasonableness.

The devil, even though he is God’s mortal enemy, is obliged to yield obedience to his maker, to whom he is subject. He does not do this willingly, but by force. The devil is so enraged that he would destroy the whole world, but he cannot even attempt anything, let alone bring anything to pass that is contrary to the will of God. Satan is held in awe of God, as are all the wicked people of the world. It is true that they pass their bounds as far as they can. They believe that they can stand against God and they have the will to do so. But meanwhile, God accomplishes his own will through them. They are nothing but tools that God uses to serve his own purpose.

This point is well made by Job when he declares that God, who had given him all the goods that he ever possessed, has now also taken them away from him. For it was certain that Satan was the doer of all the evils perpetrated against Job. It was Satan who raised the horrible tempest. It was Satan who spoiled Job of his substance and it was Satan who killed his children. Why then does Job therefore impute these things to God? Especially as we have seen that it was thieves and robbers who spoiled Job of his goods, is it appropriate that God should be uttered as the author of such thieving and robbery? It may appear that we intend to wrap God in the sins of men and accuse him of wrong doing, for we cannot excuse those who came to invade the goods and cattle of Job; their acts were wholly wicked. We may certainly judge and condemn the thieves. Nevertheless, Job does not state ‘It is Satan who has spoiled me’ or ‘it is thieves who robbed me.’ Rather, he attributes it to God. He states that God did it. Does Job blaspheme God by saying so? Not at all. It is plainly written in the scriptures, as we have seen, that God affirms that he did not sin by saying this. The scripture states clearly that ‘he did not charge God with any unreasonable dealing.’ Job has confessed that God is righteous and full of equity. Job has glorified God as it was appropriate. Nevertheless, he states flatly that God was the doer of the evil acts carried out by the thieves and by Satan.

We see here that God is continually sovereign in guiding and disposing of all things here below, to lead them to the good end that he has purposed. This is not a matter for us to judge after our own understanding. To do so would be to be wise beyond scripture in making God and his whole world subject to our own fancy. As the apostle Paul writes in the ninth of Romans,

Romans 9v20-22 But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath – prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory – even us, whom he called, not only from the Jews, but also from the Gentiles?

And then, in the fourth of his first letter to the Corinthians,

1 Corinthians 4v6 Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.

This is no matter for us to judge after our own understanding. Yet one hears many people, with many arguments, that demonstrate that they have fallen into this sin. In so doing, they are wise in making God and the whole world subject to their own fancy. One question that illustrates this, which emerges from the godless is ‘How can a God of love permit such evil to happen in the world?’ One frequently hears this question phrased as a rhetorical question by people who are so arrogant in their godlessness that they refuse to accept their own sinfulness. Such people are beasts, yes, and as beetle-headed beasts as they can be. They have neither knowledge nor wit. They say that they see no reason why God should be the doer of all things, for then God would be the author of sin. They state that they do not accept that a God of love could have sovereignty over such things. And, by thinking or speaking in this way, they even judge the Holy Spirit himself.

But we cannot comprehend the greatness and height of God’s doings, further than the finite, limited insight that it pleases God to give us, according to the finite, limited capacity that he has given us. Nobody knows nor understands God’s works, except for God himself. They are as deep as a bottomless pit, as the scriptures say, and we have no means to attain to them or understand them. All who search them shall be confounded, unless they apply themselves with reverence and lowliness. That is, one does not start from a position of placing oneself as judge over God. It belongs to God and God alone to give us knowledge of what he does, how he does it and why he acts in the way he does. It behoves us to content ourselves with that which the scripture tells us. Although it seems strange to us and although we are unable to comprehend it by our own capacity and reason, yet we must confess that God is righteous. And as our understanding in this life is clouded and limited, let us look forward in hope to the day when we shall understand fully and not by piecemeal nor through dimness, but we shall behold those things face to face which now are shown us only as it were in a glass. As the apostle Paul writes,

1 Corinthians 13v9-12 For now we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I thought like a child and reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Thus, in the book of Job, we see an excellent text to show us how God guides and governs the whole world by his providence. But we have to note further the purpose to which the Holy Ghost tells us that God is the author of everything and that nothing can come to pass without the consent and indeed the authorship of God. It is to the end that we may spite Satan and all wicked men, when we see them practise and invent ever so many things. We are sure that they are not able to bring their enterprises about, or at least that they are not able to achieve their ultimate objective, which is to lead the faithful away from God. See then how God means to assure us of his protection and to show us how Satan is so far off from being master of himself that he is destined to serve God’s turn. Seeing that the case stands so, let us apply the holy scripture to such use as this: let it teach us that although we may be hemmed in by enemies all around, and we may be like sheep surrounded by wolves, nevertheless, we must not cease to trust in God and we must warrant ourselves that as long as we remain under the shadow of his wings, we shall be sure of our salvation. How so? Because he has sovereign dominion over all creatures, in such a way that he even holds Satan, and all wicked persons of the world, in awe of him. He leads all things to the good conclusion that he has ordained. We should mark this well, so that we may call upon God quietly, and when we have called upon him, we should assure ourselves that he will guide us. And it behoves us to bear in mind that we must not judge God, for that would be a preposterous presumption. It would be satanic pride for a person not to acknowledge God to be righteous unless they could perceive him to be so. This would be to demand that God humble himself before us. Those who advance themselves with such pride are well worthy to be overwhelmed by God. Those who searching God’s majesty beyond the bounds that God has set, shall be overwhelmed in their own pride and shall be confounded. Therefore, there remains nothing for us but to maintain the sobriety of praying to God that he teach us everything that behoves us and is for our benefit and that we should accept whatever he says as good and right, without pleading to the contrary.

There are many who have not understood this and who argue that God is not the author of everything carried out by Satan and wicked men. It is commonly argued that when the wicked carry out their evil, God is not the author of the work, but simply suffers the wicked and he merely gives them leave to perpetrate their evil. But since he has the authority and power to let them, is his suffering or his granting permission not all one, as if he himself were the author? Therefore, suggesting that God merely suffers evil to take place is simply a fond excuse. The Holy Scriptures state quite clearly that God not only permits the wicked to carry out their evil desires and he does not merely give them leave. Rather, in so doing, he actively executes his will. He executes his will through the devil and through wicked persons. Note well that the psalmist writes ‘You crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals’. The psalmist does not write, ‘You permitted us to be crushed’. The forty fourth psalm is very instructive.

Psalm 44

We have heard with our ears, O God;

our fathers have told us

what you did in their days,

in days long ago.

With your hand you drove out the nations

and planted our fathers;

you crushed the peoples

and made our fathers flourish.

It was not by their sword that they won the land,

nor did their arm bring them victory;

it was your right hand, your arm,

and the light of your face, for you loved them.

You are my King and my God,

who decrees victories for Jacob.

Through you we push back our enemies;

through your name we trample our foes.

I do not trust in my bow;

my sword does not bring me victory.

But you give us victory over our enemies;

you put our adversaries to shame.

In God we make our boast all day long

and we praise your name for ever.

But now you have rejected us and humbled us;

you no longer go out with our armies.

You made us retreat before our enemy,

and our adversaries have plundered us.

You gave us up to be devoured like sheep

and have scattered us among the nations.

You sold your people for a pittance,

gaining nothing from their sale.

You have made us a reproach to our neighbours,

the scorn and derision of those around us,

You have made us a byword among the nations;

the peoples shake their heads at us.

My disgrace is before me all day long,

and my face is covered with shame

at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me

because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge.

All this happened to us,

though we had not forgotten you

or been false to your covenant.

Our hearts had not turned back;

our feet had not strayed from your path.

But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals

and covered us over with deep darkness.

If we had forgotten the name of our God

or spread out our hands to a foreign god,

would not God have discovered it,

since he knows the secrets of the heart?

Yet for your sake we face death all day long;

we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.

Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep?

Rouse yourself! Do not reject us for ever.

Why do you hide your face

and forget our misery and oppression?

We are brought down to the dust;

our bodies cling to the ground.

Rise up and help us;

redeem us because of your unfailing love.

In another psalm, when David confesses his sins and offences after God had punished him grievously, he says, ‘Lord, of whom shall I complain? I see it is your hand.’ Although David was persecuted by wicked men, yet he attributed it to the hand of God. Behold how the Lord himself speaks. Will we be wiser than he? Shall we convince him that he has need of our bright colours? See how God speaks of his own works. When God was minded to punish David for his adultery with Bathsheba and murder (or as good as murder) of Uriah the Hittite, God states ‘You did it in secret, but I will make the sun bear witness of it before all Israel’ (2 Samuel 12v12). How was God to do that to David? The answer is that God raised up Absalom to commit adultery with his father’s wives and defile them in the presence of all Israel, in the sight of the sun. The story is related in the twelfth and the sixteenth of the second book of Samuel.

2 Samuel 12v11,12 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight, before all Israel.’”

2 Samuel 16v20-22 Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give us your advice. What should we do?”

Ahithophel answered, “Lie with your father’s concubines whom he left to take care of the palace. Then all Israel will hear that you have made yourself an offence to your father’s nostrils, and the hands of everyone with you will be strengthened.” So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof and he lay with his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.

The incest described here is horrible, perverse and against nature. Nevertheless, God states flatly, ‘I will do it’. Those are his very words. We see then how it is not in any way a leave or permission. Rather, God himself works in such a way that the wicked must needs be instruments of His will. Touching the office of judge, it is no more than to give a hangman leave to do his duty. When a judge passes judgement on an offender and gives sentence accordingly as law and conscience will bear, he does not say to the hangman ‘I give you leave to do what you will with this man.’ On the contrary, he pronounces the sentence and afterwards puts the offender into the hangman’s hands, putting the hangman under obligation to carry out the execution. Behold, God is the sovereign judge of the world and we dishonour him if we say that he only gives Satan leave to do what he wants. If we said so, we would mock God’s justice and pervert all order.

So then, let us mark that when the wicked run riot and seek nothing else but to put everything into confusion, God is above them. He is guiding and governing all things in such a way that nothing comes to pass without his providence; nothing comes to pass in any way other than the way that God has ordained.

And here we see why it is expressly stated in scripture that God incites those who are carried away by their own ambition or covetousness to make wars and to cause all the troubles of the world and that God himself entertains them in his service. For he even terms them his servants. Consider King Nebuchadnezzar, who, whatever conversion experience described in the fourth chapter of the prophet Daniel may have entailed, he was, at the time that Jeremiah wrote of him, an idolater who desired nothing but to shed blood and to put the whole world to turmoil, as much as it lay within his power to do so. There was neither uprightness nor equity within him. Nevertheless, God avouched him to be his servant, and avouched that he was doing these things in his service, as written in the prophet Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 25 v 8 – 11 Therefore, the Lord Almighty says this: “Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the Lord, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. I will banish from them all the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon for seventy years.”

In what way was Nebuchadnezzar God’s servant? Clearly, God did not only permit him or give him leave. Clearly, it would be beastliness to talk so. In fact, if donkeys could speak, they would behave themselves more reasonably before God than those who talk in such a way. We see the way in which God executes his commands and ordinances.

Yes, but let us bear in mind that evil cannot in any way be imputed to God. Satan must still bear the blame for his own wickedness. People are reproved and condemned by their own conscience, which shall be their judge. GOD shall be glorified in everything that he does. And how is that? We know that all things carried out by people ought to be esteemed according to the intent and end that people aim at. So although God placed Nebuchadnezzar in the office of hangman, we know that Nebuchadnezzar’s heart and mind, in carrying out his mischief, was not that of God’s righteous hangman.

Let us now consider the way in which God guides and governs the things that are done here below. It is true that Satan desires nothing less than to destroy everything and to bring all God’s good works to ruin. But God, on the other side, intends an entirely contrary conclusion. For the Holy Scripture describes all God’s works as judgements, and with that one word alone, the Holy Scriptures take away all idle thoughts and imaginations that may come into our minds. This is the mark that justifies all the works of God; they are righteous judgements. Who is able to argue that God does not do all things well? By his righteous judgements, he punishes the wicked and he leads his faithful to patience, so that they may mortify their sinful desires and learn lowliness. It follows that all God’s works are just and righteous, even though people cavil against them. It is true that the wicked do not cease to grunt and bark against God, even though they cannot bite him. Yet, it must needs come to pass (as David says in the fiftieth psalm) that God shall be found righteous in judging; the very heavens proclaim his righteousness in judging.

Psalm 50

The Mighty One, God, the Lord,

speaks and summons the earth

from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets.

From Zion, perfect in beauty,

God shines forth.

Our God comes and will not be silent;

a fire devours before him,

and around him a tempest rages.

He summons the heavens above,

and the earth, that he may judge his people;

“Gather to me my consecrated ones,

with whom I made a covenant by sacrifice.”

And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,

for God himself is judge. Selah.

“Hear, O my people, and I will speak,

O Israel, and I will testify against you;

I am God, your God.

I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices

or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me.

I have no need of a bull from your stall

or a goat from your pens,

for every animal of the forest is mine,

and the cattle on a thousand hills.

I know every bird in the mountains,

and the creatures of the field are mine.

If I were hungry I would not tell you,

for the world is mine, and all that is in it.

Do I not eat the flesh of bulls

or drink the blood of goats?

Sacrifice thank – offerings to God,

fulfil your vows to the Most High,

and call upon me in the day of your trouble;

I will deliver you and you will honour me.”

But to the wicked, God says:

“What right have you to recite my laws

or take my covenant on your lips?

You hate my instruction

and cast my words behind you.

When you see a thief, you join with him;

you throw in your lot with adulterers.

You use your mouth for evil

and harness your tongue for deceit.

You speak continually against your brother

and slander your own mother’s son.

These things you have done and I kept silent;

you thought I was altogether like you.

But I will rebuke you

and accuse you to your face.

“Consider this, you who forget God,

or I will tear you to pieces, with none to rescue;

He who sacrifices thank – offerings honours me,

and he prepares the way

so that I may show him the salvation of God.”

David speaks so with very good cause, for he knows that there is such boldness and wickedness in men that they desire nothing more than to lift themselves against God and to cast forth words against him at every opportunity. David, therefore, perceiving such things in the world says, ‘Very well, it is true that the creatures pass their bounds with such excess that they blaspheme and reproach God; God’s creatures even go so far as to judge God their creator. But yet, for all that, God shall be found true and righteous. When the wicked have grudged against God to their fill, in the end when everything reaches its conclusion, the righteousness of God will speak clear in spite of their teeth.

We should not marvel that people murmur against the clear teachings of the Holy Scriptures. It must needs be so, for the Holy Ghost prophesied it beforehand. But let us walk on in singleness of mind and keep to that which God has declared to us concerning himself. Thus we see how we ought to practise the lesson. Above all, let us hold fast to the comfort that we are given here and let us fence ourselves with it; that Satan and all the wicked people in the world may lift themselves up against us as much as they wish, but yet for all that, they must pass under the hand of God and they must execute his will, in spite of their teeth. It shall be so, because God has sovereign pre eminence over the whole world, so that the devil and the wicked are also subject to him; they can do nothing without his consent.

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