Lord God, You have created us in Your image, to reflect You in the world and ultimately bring about Your glory and praise and worth. And yet because of our sin, we have marred and distorted that image so greatly, we fall short of Your glory daily and are subject to Your wise justice and resulting judgment for how we have turned from You and treat our fellow humans. For all the ways we’ve fallen short, have mercy upon us, as we know You are ready and willing to do. Thank You Jesus for Your perfect law keeping in our behalf, Your sacrifice on the cross in our place and Your glorious resurrection for us, that we would behold Your face in glory forever and be satisfied for all eternity.
In response to the worldly “wisdom” going around these days that says entertaining doubt and questioning the Lord’s righteousness in trial and His infinitely sovereign wisdom and control of all things, something that is beyond comprehension in how and why He carries out or permits what He does, as something that should be encouraged, I present to you, Job.
Up to this point, Elihu has just finished rebuking Job and his friends. He then exhorts Job to glorify the Lord. Previous to Elihu’s response, Job had just finished taking up his own defense and questioning God in light of the very weighty trials permitted in his life, by essentially asking, “Why God? What is it I’ve done to deserve this?” (Indicated by the fact he tries to draw conclusions from his own works that he lists) This is just a portion of God’s response in Job 38-40:1-2 (I’ll just quote portions):
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:2-7)
“Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place,that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it? It is changed like clay under the seal, and its features stand out like a garment. From the wicked their light is withheld, and their uplifted arm is broken.” (Job 38:12-15)
“Who can number the clouds by wisdom? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, when the dust runs into a mass and the clods stick fast together?” (Job 38:37-38)
“Do you give the horse his might? Do you clothe his neck with a mane? Do you make him leap like the locust? His majestic snorting is terrifying. He paws in the valley and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons. He laughs at fear and is not dismayed; he does not turn back from the sword. Upon him rattle the quiver, the flashing spear, and the javelin. With fierceness and rage he swallows the ground; he cannot stand still at the sound of the trumpet. When the trumpet sounds, he says ‘Aha!’ He smells the battle from afar, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.” (Job 39:19-25)
Finally the Lord says:
“Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it. (Job 40:1-2)”
“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” (Job 40:4-5)
God then responds again:
“Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his? “Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe yourself with glory and splendor. Pour out the overflowings of your anger, and look on everyone who is proud and abase him. Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low and tread down the wicked where they stand. Hide them all in the dust together; bind their faces in the world below. Then will I also acknowledge to you that your own right hand can save you. (Job 40:7-14)
Job finally responds with a final expression of his complete submission to the fact that “all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?'” (Daniel 4:35)
Job’s response that submits and rests in the fact that God’s wisdom is enough, though it may not be comprehensible:
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6)
Humility. One of the points for trials in our lives is for the formation of humility. Job exhibits it here as a result of wrestling with God. There are tons of unanswered questions about why things happened the way they did for him. But it all comes down to resting in the truth that it is enough for God to be God, for His choices to be in the right and know that in spite of the pain, He is for you and knows what’s best to make you into His image as His child. Questioning God, shaking your fist at Him is easy. Trusting that He’s for you in spite of what you see and feel that’s faith, and opposed to all doubting.
Interestingly enough, as it relates to the aspect of God’s sovereignty (particularly as it relates to election and predestination), Paul follows a similar pattern of God’s response to Job in Romans 9:19-24. Paul has just laid out the truth that God chooses some to become children of God and not others, not based on works but on His own purpose and will, and that He’s perfectly righteous in doing so. So Paul begins verse 19 by preemptively asking a seemingly logical question from a fictional human questioner:
“You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:19-24)
In both of these contexts, both with Job and the readers of Romans, the response should be the same: put your hand over your mouth. Stop questioning (in the rebellious sense). Submit to His sovereign rule and grace. It is counterintuitively comforting (from the world’s standpoint). The world’s answer these days, especially in our liberal democracies (or what’s left of them) is to “question everything.” Faith doesn’t question, it submits in humility. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t probe to understand, but the type of questioning I’m referring to is asking God to give an account of Himself, putting him in the dock of human courts and thinking. As you can see, He doesn’t take too kindly to our sinful human questioning.
Now in dealing with people in trials, patience needs to be exhibited in their wrestling. People aren’t going to automatically come to this view. If they do, praise God, but most people have wrestling to do, even as believers. That doesn’t negate any of the aforementioned, but it is to say we need to be patient and understanding, sometimes not saying anything, especially if a trial or traumatic event is very fresh.
Aroused consciences, when they have to do with God, feel this [free justification in Christ alone] to be the only asylum in which they can breathe safely. For if the stars which shine most brightly by night lose their brightness on the appearance of the sun, what do we think will be the case with the highest purity of man when contrasted with the purity of God? For the scrutiny will be most strict, penetrating to the most hidden thoughts of the heart.
“And he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.’ And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.'” (Mark 14:34-36)
Reading through this passage this morning presented me once again with the awful reality of what Jesus was staring into in the garden, looking into the dreadful cup of God’s wrath that He would have to endure if we were to be saved. The Father’s justice had to be satisfied if we were to be counted righteous. What lied in that cup of God’s just anger is terrifying beyond all of the physical torment He experienced. Its contents more hopeless and painful than any situation we could find ourselves in upon this Earth. What lied in that cup was hell. And He drank it down to the dregs.
Jesus was stricken for our sins, smitten and afflicted on our behalf, as prophesied in Isaiah 52:13-53, amongst other places. Jesus was looking into being cut off from the land of the living, taking on the curse that rightfully should fall on us sinners, becoming the final sacrificial lamb for all time, that we may be made right with God through faith alone, apart from works.
And not only did He endure the curse for us, but He prevailed triumphant in the resurrection, raised to life and thus sealed the hope of our salvation. He defeated sin, death and hell. What love must this be that would motivate the God of the universe to become a man, to bear our punishment though guiltless in Himself, and take on the very judgment our sins deserved? What a wonderful Savior!
Job’s Suffering Under a Sovereign God
In the Book of Job, Job is essentially sifted like flour at the hands of Satan, by the permission of God. Job loses just about everything except his life and his wife. He loses his children, houses, live stock, servants, everything. He even loses his health for a time.
From the very beginning of the book, in the first chapter, it is clear God is the one in charge and in control of Satan’s sifting, using it and even purposing it for His good, just and right purposes that are pure and free from evil. In fact, God initiates the conversation with Satan, the one who would perform this very sifting. He says to Satan in Job 1:8, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” He then goes on later to give Satan permission, as well as boundaries, of what he can and cannot do to Job.
While all of this is true, God cannot be charged with evil or injustice of any kind. He is pure and holy, wise and almighty. There are no evil motives with God in this. And yet, to the difficulty of our understanding, He permits and even asks Satan to consider Job as a target for calamity. He initiates and prompts Satan to strike Job. This is hard to swallow. What is God up to? What is His goal in this?
Close to the end of the book, after all the calamity of the first two chapters Job experienced, he goes through a list of sins and trespasses to try and figure out what he has done to have received such calamity. It seems he assumes those things happened because of something wrong he had done.
This isn’t a portrayal of Jesus we like to ascribe to Him very often because, frankly, it is terrifying. Tim Keller has concisely and eloquently said, “If we play down ‘bad’ or harsh doctrines within the historic Christian faith, we will find, to our shock, that we have gutted all our pleasant and comfortable beliefs, too.” And this is certainly true with how we envision Jesus. Jesus is fully God and as such He is the same God of the Old Testament. Yes Jesus is fully loving as clearly demonstrated in His very condescension to man, His whole life lived, His death, and His resurrection for sinners! Yet He is also fully just and is the very One who will judge the world. This seems to easily slip past us very often. There is simply no way to escape this picture in the Scriptures. And it’s either true or it’s not.
“Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” – Genesis 18:14
My Bible reading plan for the year has started over and I am currently in the books of Genesis and Matthew. This verse made me stop and ponder for a second how absurd it is that I ever question God’s authority but also doubt His ability to carry out the impossible (or even sometimes the possible, sadly). Considering the fact that God is omnipotent, possesses infinite power to do whatever pleases Him, this question is a no-brainer, lay up shot of an answer. Of course, nothing is too hard for Him. We can answer this in an instant from our minds and our hearts be far from resting in that truth.
How often my own heart forgets this truth throughout the day! May the Lord have mercy on me. Is this not the very root of sin itself, that is, doubt and unbelief that it is within God’s power to do the impossible, let alone just doubt and unbelief alone? Many times, the skepticism and practical atheism of our culture seeps into our own thinking and we can doubt God on a personal level which leads to anxiety and misery, a heart that ceases to be at rest in Christ Himself who controls all things with His powerful word. In many (if not most) spiritual circles of our society now, doubt is a virtue! Yet if doubt and unbelief are the roots of sin, our society is openly embracing unbelief.
“O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem…” – Daniel 9:16
In light of God’s justice and righteousness in the Old Testament, how he poured out his wrath on the nations surrounding Israel and even on Israel herself, this verse is such a radical, seemingly contradictory statement. If you simply do a surface-level study of what justice and righteousness actually means in theological terms, and particularly what it means for us sinners, it is goosebump-frightening to consider its reality. It should make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Seriously.
Think back to, or look up, Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1 and John’s response in Revelation to see what the reaction to God’s justice and holiness looks like. Or read this Jonathan Edwards sermon. It was one of His most famous. In it, Edwards expounds upon the awful wrath and fury of God we all deserve for our sin and how Christ is the only protector and shield from its horrors.
Tonight, I was reading through chapters three through five of Lamentations and Hebrews eight and I noticed a giant correlation between these chapters in both the Old and New Testaments. The lesson of Lamentations, or at least one lesson amongst many, is that God is serious about sin and its resultant judgment. If you test Him with your unrepentant sin, He will bring you to nothing, mercifully emptying you in hopes that you will see His faithfulness to keep you from pursuing that which injures the glory of God and thus you. Yet if you continue in it, He may be done mercifully intervening with trials that He means to move you toward repentance and faith and trust in Him and thus leave you to your sin. This is a frightening prospect and is in itself judgment.
This should give us great pause and reflection upon our own lives and the wickedness therein. We are depraved sinners, who, even in good things transgress His holy law with motives that are not set on exalting Christ and the glory of His grace in every way. We infinitely fall short of the glory of God. Praise Him there is mercy in Christ! But may we not be evil and abuse it to our detriment! We must be on our guard.
So the overall theme of Lamentations is that God does judge sin (being that the book was written in the aftermath of God’s punishment against Jerusalem), even in those He had made a covenant with. Yet He is faithful to those who mourn their sin and seek Him, who wait on Him to act in their hearts and thus turn from those things which displease Him, only by His power. He is faithful to forgive us our debts, yet He is a just judge who rightfully acts for His own glory and name (for what in the universe is there that is better to stand up for than the glory of God and His honor?).
In Hebrews, we have an excellent picture of Christ fulfilling the old covenant within the new. But before I get to that, we must understand the old covenant first. The old covenant, the very covenant that the people of Jerusalem had broken prior to God judging them, which happened right before the context of Lamentations, is where God said, “If you are faithful and perform all that I have commanded according to this covenant, things will go well with you; if you don’t, they won’t go well with you and I will inflict my wrath upon you (my paraphrase if you can’t tell).” And that is exactly what God does.
Prior to Lamentations, Jerusalem had done what was evil in the sight of the Lord and their hearts were far from Him, disbelieving Him and turning to worthless idols and wickedness. Therefore, in anger that the Lord slowly and patiently held back, not desiring to inflict wrath on them from His heart because He loved them, He waited no longer and punished them to defend the honor of His name. And this wasn’t just a quick deal. He inflicted wrath on them worse than that of Sodom! With Sodom at least the Lord consumed them with fire and that was it. But with Jerusalem, their pain and misery lasted a long time. And it was ugly. People died of starvation and even ate their own children, amongst other things. Yeah, it was bad. People that had lived in luxury were now begging on the streets and their children were starved with no where to turn. The Lord had brought them to nothing and they were the scorn of the nations.
The Lord takes His glory, honor and name seriously. He is just. This is little studied attribute of God these days, yet it is vital to get this before we can get His amazing grace. If we defile His glory and honor with our words, thoughts, actions, and deeds, He will consume us with His burning anger. Even now, in the time after Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, is this the case. He is the same now as He was then. This is very sobering and should display to us the unfathomable justice of His character and the utter wickedness and proneness to sin of our own hearts.
Yet, the whole reason Christ came was precisely because the old covenant with all of its regulations and stipulations, could never be upheld by mankind in order to attain salvation. We are a doomed people if we attempt to win favor with God through our religious working and toiling. Just look at Jerusalem in Lamentations!
But why is this so? Because by our works, even the best that we can offer for a lifetime of good deeds, cannot make us right with this just and holy God presented to us in Lamentations (who is the same God today). Our offense against God is infinite, so even one transgression is punishable forever. Yet how many sins do we commit every minute? “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). So without faith, even our good deeds are filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).
But Christ came and fulfilled the covenant from our side precisely because we were unable to. All religions, in some measure, say the exact same thing, just in different ways. “Do this to get right with God, or to become (a) god,” or some other variation. And in fact, the first covenant said something to this effect. Regardless, the message is the same. But in the Gospel that God had unraveled over the course of history, by the work of Christ, the Son of God becoming a man, He did everything perfectly on our behalf and even took the punishment that we deserve in Himself at the cross, and rose from the grave proclaiming victory over death – all this for those who believe and trust in Him alone.
Without Christ we are hopeless, just as Jerusalem was in Lamentations, save God’s mercy toward them. As Hebrews 8:7 says, “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.” Indeed. Then as it says right before this verse in Hebrews 8:6, “But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.” And that promise is the hope of the glory of God for all eternity. Nothing can satisfy the human soul more. It is what we were made for!
The new and final covenant is a covenant in which instead of God telling us to do this and do that to get right with Him (as in the first covenant, the old one), Christ Himself fulfills and does it all perfectly on behalf of those who trust Him for salvation! And not only so, but He also takes the punishment that we earned for our wrong-doing against God in Himself on the cross, removing all obstacles between us and Him forever. And you think the picture in Lamentations of God’s judgment is dreadfully awful? We have absolutely no idea how infinitely and dreadfully awful the cross was for Jesus who experienced the wrath of God for us who believe in Him. And He did all this in love toward us, that we might glorify and enjoy Him forever, the very hope of heaven itself.
Christ is our only hope of salvation, for it is He who attained it for us. And this very grace in the Gospel is the only way to change from the heart and grow in His grace. May we turn to the Lord and seek His infinite grace to save and deliver us, both those who have yet to trust Him, as well as those who have.