Here we have to consider thoroughly what is said of Job, for it is a common instruction to all the faithful. We see that the words spoken by the wife of Job are the common currency of the world. The standard question of those who are too arrogant to accept their own sinfulness, measured by God’s reasonable Holy standard, is ‘How can a God of love permit such suffering in the world?’ Such a question only ever springs from the lips of arrogant godless people; it is invariably a concrete proof that the person who utters the question is at enmity with God and God’s faithful. The question imports exactly the same as the words of Job’s wife. She is essentially stating that a God who permits you to suffer cannot have you under his fatherly protection and, indeed, has forsaken you. He is not a God of love, at least as far as you are concerned. Such speaking is the ordinary custom of the world. People are not at all ashamed to confess their own unbelief. Furthermore, Job’s wife uttered words that are very similar to the standard manner of speaking that is typical and characteristic of arrogant God haters. This gives a clear statement of where her heart lay.
Let us mark that since Job was tempted and provoked even by his own wife, we should conclude that Satan will have a store of people close to us to undermine us and lead us into temptation. We should therefore be armed and fenced to resist the temptations from Satan, even from those closest to us, whom we trust most.
Trouble often lies within ourselves. We see how even David confessed of himself that he stood upon ice and thought that he should have fled when he entered into discourse with himself and saw how the wicked were so well treated and glutted themselves with the pleasures of this world and did not pine as the good people do. On the contrary, the poor faithful ones drink the water of sorrow and God does not cease to afflict them. He concludes, ‘I have endeavoured to have clean and pure hands. Is it any better than lost time? Is it not an unprofitable labour?’ David confesses that he was encumbered by such temptation, but he was not overthrown by it. It came before him and he steadfastly resisted it. So then, let us mark that when the devil brings such flames to set us on fire against God for our afflictions, we must not give ear to him, lest he entrap us. The Psalm of David gives us the inspiration to resist such encounters.
Surely God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
They have no struggles;
their bodies are healthy and strong.
They are free from the burdens common to man;
they are not plagued by human ills.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
they clothe themselves with violence.
From their callous hearts comes iniquity;
the evil conceits of their minds know no limits.
They scoff and speak with malice;
in their arrogance they threaten oppression.
Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
and their tongues take possession of the earth.
Therefore their people turn to them
and drink up waters in abundance.
They say, “How can God know?
Does the Most High have knowledge?”
This is what the wicked are like –
always carefree, they increase in wealth.
Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure;
in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.
All day long I have been plagued;
I have been punished every morning.
If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
I would have betrayed your children.
When I tried to understand all this,
it was oppressive to me
until I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood finally their destiny.
Surely you place them on slippery ground;
you cast them down to ruin.
How suddenly are they destroyed,
completely swept away by terrors!
As a dream when one awakes,
so when you arise, O Lord,
you will despise them as fantasies.
When my heart was grieved
and my spirit was embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.
Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterwards you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion for ever.
Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.
When one sees all things so confounded, so that it appears that all order is turned upside down and that God favours the wicked and hates the godly, or rather that Fortune carries all the sway and that God is asleep in heaven and no longer governs the earth here below, yet we should always be assured of this; ultimately the righteous shall reap the fruit of their labours. It is true that there cannot be a worse temptation than to believe that we lose our labour when we serve God, in praying to him and in holding ourselves under him. It behoves us to be fully persuaded that God will in no way disappoint those who honour and serve him. If we do not hold to this, it is impossible that we should have the least desire to give ourselves unto God. If we imagine that God turns his back on us and makes sport with us, that it is a game to him to see us in turmoil, or that he shuts his eyes and that it is but lost time to walk in all carefulness, then who among us would be able to bend himself to serve God? It therefore behoves those who serve God to be fully resolved that God rewards those who fear him. We see that the worst and deadliest trump that Satan can put in our way is when he bears us in hand to convince us that we only waste time and effort when we pray to God and seek refuge in him. So much the more must we be watchful against such temptations, as they are wicked and dangerous. Note that the devil even used Job’s wife. Therefore, we must even be fenced against the greatest friends that we have; ultimately, we cannot be sure of wife, or neighbour or the person whom we trust best. Satan, our mortal enemy, is wily and spies out the best territory from which to attack us. The easiest entrance he has is by the love that a husband and wife have for each other. Satan sees well enough that we are more inclined to give way to those whom we trust most and he labours all the more earnestly to press those closest to us into his service. It therefore behoves a husband to pray particularly that his wife should be under the protection of God and numbered among the faithful and that she should not fall to being the instrument of Satan. It behoves a wife that she should pray the same of her husband. Moreover, when God has given us friends and acquaintances, it behoves us to pray to him that they may serve to his honour so that we may each further the way of the others to salvation and that we should not entice each other to wickedness, either willingly or inadvertently. The bonds of love and friendship are sweet when we see that God dwells within our friends and loved ones and that he uses them as if they were his own hands to guide us to him. But if a friend, or kinsman, or husband or wife go about to drive us to despair, then we know, as the apostle John tells us in his first letter, that they are antichrists, who never belonged to the number of the faithful in the first place. Out of all peradventure, we must renounce them, because God must be preferred and all our friendships must begin at him and level at him as their true mark. Job sets the example when he says,
Job 2v10 Job replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept the good from God, and not trouble?”
The word ‘foolish’ in Scripture denotes godlessness.
The fool says in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt and their ways are vile;
there is no-one who does good.
God looks down from heaven
on the sons of men
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
Everyone has turned away,
they have together become corrupt;
there is no-one who does good,
not even one.
When Job states to his wife that she has spoken foolishly, he is using one of the strongest pejorative terms that scripture has to offer. By his response, we are shown that we must reprove such blasphemies sharply, for they are, in fact, spewed directly out of the mouth of Satan. If we see a sword drawn against us, or an arrow cast at us to wound us to death, what would we do? Would we allow ourselves to be slain without making moves to avoid the sword or arrow? No, but we would take heed to parry the blow, or to avoid it, if we set any store by our life. In the same way, when Job saw himself so persecuted even by his own wife, and that she went about to harm him not only in his body, but also to send him into the deep pit of hell, he resisted her stoutly. Not only that, but even if Job was so fenced in his faith that the wicked words his wife spewed out against him would surely fall wide of their intended target, it does not behove a servant of God to sit back in silence when God is blasphemed. We see then the courage we ought to apply when we proceed in such cases and how there is no time for sweet parley with Satan. When faced with such wicked blasphemy against God, we should not proceed as if it were a matter of minor consequence.
If somebody upbraids us, claiming that it is vain to trust in God and accuses God of dealing wrongly with his servants and mocking them, and especially if God is accused of injustice, then all that is proper to God is taken from him. He shall no longer be God. If God is no longer regarded as judge of the world, ready to hear those who resort to him, if he is bereft of such virtues, then his glory and his Godhead and his very being are quite abolished. So then Job could not bear with such blasphemies. As it is stated in the psalm, zeal of God’s house ought to bite our hearts and consume us. The reproach that people offer to God ought to rebound on us, for it behoves us to be grieved when we see the honour of God impeached. As David writes in the sixty ninth psalm,
May those who hope in you
not be disgraced because of me,
O Lord, the Lord Almighty;
may those who seek you
not be put to shame because of me,
O God of Israel.
For I endure scorn for your sake,
and shame covers my face.
I am a stranger to my brothers,
an alien to my mother’s sons;
for zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.
When I weep and fast,
I must endure scorn;
when I put on sackcloth,
people make sport of me.
Those who sit at the gate mock me,
and I am the song of drunkards.
If we are God’s children, it becomes us to set ourselves against those who mock God. Thus we note that Job rebukes his wife stoutly when he says ‘you have spoken like a fool.’ This is the answer that ought to be made against all such assaults against God, no matter where they come from, or from where they are sent.
Above all, we should learn from Job how to deal with our own grief when God is under attack through us. We do not remain silent, as if blasphemy against God were a light thing. But we must also guard against the excesses to which we are tempted as a result of our righteous anger. While Job has a duty before God to rebuke his wife soundly, we go beyond our bounds if we think of the person who blasphemed God as someone without hope. What God has determined concerning a person is beyond our knowing and it is no less godly than humane to wish, hope and pray for the best for them, no matter how much they may be defiantly fighting against God at the present time. The difficult temptation here is not so much the temptation to renounce one’s faith; God fences us in so that ultimately this will not happen. But who, when someone whom we loved and trusted turns against God with such blasphemies can heed God’s instructions, as written by apostle Paul in the twelfth of Romans?
Romans 12v14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
Romans 12v17-21 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written “It is mine to avenge; I will repay” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him:
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals upon his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
This is the teaching of Solomon, from Proverbs 25v21,22.
Paul not only instructs, he also sets the example in his own life and work. As he writes in the fourth of his first epistle to the Corinthians,
1 Corinthians 4v12,13 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.
We are called upon to keep control of our reason and to bless those who persecute us. When enemies of God practise the evil of Satan against us, we are fain to be so carried away with the desire for vengeance that we find that we do not have a worse enemy than ourselves. That is, we discover that we have such an ungracious nature and that the wicked affections that we conceive within ourselves are an even greater enemy against our welfare than the servant that Satan sent to practise against us. Therefore, when such enemies come, let us learn from Job that we should withstand them stoutly without losing control of ourselves. We must not lose control and then flatter ourselves with such excuses as that it is but our nature and that we cannot amend it. Such excuses shall stand us in no stead. We must enter into combat and when we do so we must employ all our wit and endeavour, or else we shall be defeated, one way or another.
When Job adds, ‘seeing we have received good of the Lord, why should we not also receive evil?’ he sets down a natural argument to induce us to bear patiently the evil and adversities that God sends us. A child, having been nourished and sustained by his parents will bear with them through harsh treatment, knowing that ultimately the parents are trying their best to secure a proper loving upbringing and that this will, from time to time, involve a certain level of chastisement. A child is willing to bear with his father, knowing that he is his father’s child, and that his father has nourished him and sustained him, even if the father is rough towards him for a time.
If we grant this to fellow creatures, how much more ought we to grant it to our creator. We see that God does us many good turns. Are we not prepared to endure any evil at his hand when it pleases him? Ought he not to have such superiority over us that he may afflict us when he deems that it is for the good of his eternal purpose? This consideration ought to make us bow before him and hold us in quiet. That is the argument that Job makes here. Previously, he had given another reason, ‘The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away.’ By this, he meant that when God gives us goods, it is not as if he appropriates them to us and gives us sovereignty over them. Rather, he lets us have the use of them for a time; he lets us have them on condition that we should be ready at all hours to return them when he requires. He now adds ‘We receive goods at the Lord’s hands, why then should we not also receive evil?’ Since we are bound to our God, who loves us so much that he has procured our salvation, it would be vile and unthankful if we could not find it in our hearts to suffer even the heaviest affliction for his sake.
Furthermore, we should not compare the benefits of being well regarded by God, when we endure the trials that he sends us so that his name may be glorified, with the praises that we may receive from the people around us, when we show the qualities that they esteem. When God is the creator and all else are God’s creatures, how do these compare? The majesty of God surpasses all creatures. Above all, we must mark the gracious loving care that God extends to us continually, by his own hand, particularly in times of adversity, when he sends us trials by which his good name may be glorified.
Let us be assured that when we have considered all God’s acts of love towards us, we must confess with David, in the fortieth psalm, that there is neither number nor measure of them and that we are continually bestowed with grace upon grace from God. The fortieth psalm is worth repeating in its entirety; David writes down his mind towards God during a time of extremity.
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the Lord.
Blessed is the man
who makes the Lord his trust,
who does not look to the proud,
to those who turn aside to false gods.
Many, O Lord my God,
are the wonders you have done.
The things you have planned for us
no – one can recount to you;
were I to speak and tell of them,
they would be too many to declare.
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but my ears you have pierced;
burnt offerings and sin offerings
you did not require.
Then I said, “Here I am, I have come –
it is written about me in the scroll.
I desire to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.”
I proclaim your righteousness in the great assembly;
I do not seal my lips,
as you know, O Lord.
I do not hide your righteousness in my heart;
I speak of your faithfulness and salvation.
I do not conceal your love and your truth
from the great assembly.
Do not withhold your mercy from me, O Lord;
may your love and your truth always protect me.
For troubles without number surround me;
my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.
They are more than the hairs of my head,
and my heart fails within me.
Be pleased, O Lord, to save me;
O Lord, come quickly to help me.
May all who seek to take my life
be put into shame and confusion;
may all who desire my ruin
be turned back in disgrace.
May those who say to me “Aha! Aha!”
be appalled at their own shame.
But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation always say,
“The Lord be exalted!”
Yet I am poor and needy;
may the Lord think of me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
O my God, do not delay.
David trusts in God implicitly and looks to God and God alone for salvation in a time of utter extremity. David acknowledges that the extremity has been brought about by God, and by God alone.
Since the graces of God are so innumerable that we cannot comprehend them by any means, why should we not also be prepared to receive willingly the adversities that God sends us? Do not God’s benefits far surpass all the afflictions that we can suffer at his hands? Let us mark well the words of Job, so that whenever God afflicts us, we may bear all things patiently, assuring ourselves that it is with good reason that we should receive the adversity at his hands which, as the apostle Paul tells us, is a necessary part of the faith, as well as the benefits.
Prayer Now let us pray to our good God that it may please him always to regard our infirmities whenever he afflicts us and that we be conformed to patience while we remain in this world. Although we are forced to pass through many thorns and diverse heart griefs and vexations of mind, yet nevertheless, our good God will so arm us with his strength that we may not quail. Even though our life is but corruptible and ruinous, he will hold us up in our feebleness, right up to the end of our earthly sojourn and until such time as he has rid us clean of the infirmities of our flesh. We thank our good God that we have recourse to the fatherly goodness that he bestows upon us and that he succours us in all our necessities. We pray that we will not doubt that he will bring us to the salvation that he has promised us, thanking him for his assurance that, having believed on him, then through him we will persist in obedience towards him and we shall not be disappointed. We thank him that through him we will stick to his promises, so that he will never fail to have his hand stretched out over us to succour us. We pray that it may please him to grant this grace not only to us, but to all people and all nations of the world.