A Domesticated God (Job 23:1-17)
by Dan Vander Ark
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Geologists have discovered a massive deposit of precious metals in an area known as “The Duluth Complex.” This area, running across northeastern Minnesota from Virginia to Ely-Babbitt, represents the largest untapped non-ferrous metals resource in the world. Experts have already identified enough deposits of nickel, copper and platinum to mine for 100 years. Potentially, the mining operations of these deposits could rival that of iron ore during its heyday.
The Bible contains a wealth of precious ore and gems just waiting to be mined by anyone willing to put forth the effort and dig. And Job chapter 23 contains one of the richest veins within the massive deposit of God’s Word. We could read through this chapter 100 times and the 101st time we would discover something new.
23:1 Then Job replied, 2 “Even today my complaint is rebellion; His hand is heavy despite my groaning.”
It’s easy to dissect these passages and forget that there is a real person with terrible pain in a wretched ash heap existence around which these verses are wrapped. Job is continually racked with fever and his blackened skin flakes off. Perhaps Job is saying here that, “You (Eliphaz/Bildad/Zophar) may interpret my complaining as rebellion (and I may be complaining a lot), but it in no way matches the depth of my pain.”
23:3 “Oh that I knew where I might find Him, That I might come to His seat! 4 I would present my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments. 5 I would learn the words which He would answer, and perceive what He would say to me. 6 Would He contend with me by the greatness of His power? No, surely He would pay attention to me. 7 There the upright would reason with Him; and I would be delivered forever from my Judge.”
“Oh that I knew where I might find Him!” Job had lost everything, but His greatest loss was God’s presence. Francis I. Anderson writes, “His consuming desire is to come face to face with God.” Job’s great longing is to meet God in a legal setting. When you read through these verses from different versions, courtroom-style language abounds with such words as dispute, argue, convict, present his case, and rebuttal.
The New Living Translation puts verse 4 this way, “I would lay out my case and present my arguments.” And notice vs. 6 from The New International Version, “Would he oppose me with great power? No, he would not press charges against me.”
23:8 “Behold, I go forward but He is not there, And backward, but I cannot perceive Him; 9 when He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him; He turns on the right, I cannot see Him. 10 But He knows the way I take; When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.
As I mentioned at the outset, this is one of the greatest chapters in the Bible, and these are three of the most memorized verses. For all appearances, it seems that God has utterly forsaken Job. Notice Job’s struggle:
I go forward, I go backward, I turn left and I turn right.
Forward to the east…He is not there.
Backward toward the west…I cannot perceive Him.
On my left toward the north…I cannot behold Him.
And on my right toward the south…I cannot see Him.
No matter where I look, I cannot perceive Him, I cannot behold Him, and I cannot see Him. Grace seems to have ended; God’s presence has vanished from Job’s life. He used to sing, “When darkness hides His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace…” But the hymn now just seems so hollow. Darkness was not only hiding the face of God, it was enveloping Job.
He knows! He knows my journey, my path, and my struggles. He knows intimately the way that I take, and when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold!
God’s goal for Job was not maggots and destruction and pain and darkness and despair. The goal is gold! In the previous chapter Eliphaz had wrongly accused Job of greedily clinging to his gold and riches as one of the reasons for his awful plight. God would heal him, so said Eliphaz, if Job would just give up his lust for gold. But Job replies, “My character is my gold! And the fire will only result in the proof of my integrity.” The emphasis in this passage is not so much on the removing of dross as it is on the revealing of the precious metal. You’ve heard the saying, “Garbage in, garbage out.” (You only get out what you put in). Job seems to be saying, “Gold in, gold out!” Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and the rest of the community of Uz may view Job as the dross – the useless leftovers of the refining process – but Job sees it differently.
When God tests or tries us, the motive isn’t, "Let's see how much this guy can endure.” It’s always done out of the motivation of love with a view to the end result. Job had no idea that the first storm of trial was coming in chapters 1-2, and he has no idea that the second storm of blessing is coming in chapter 37.
23:11 "My foot has held fast to His path; I have kept His way and not turned aside.”
This is a very interesting verse. It’s sort of the idea of putting my feet into the imprints of God’s footsteps (like following someone’s footsteps in the snow). But that’s not the total idea. “Held fast” has the idea of grasping. In many societies in the world today, the toes are almost as nimble as the fingers. In the West we wrap our feet in little containers called shoes almost from birth. But in some societies where shoes are not constantly worn, people become quite good at grasping with their toes. We would normally stoop to pick up an object; they may however just grasp it with their toes and then lift it up to their hand. So Job seems to be saying, “I not only put my foot into His footsteps, I hold tenaciously to Him…I grasp God with my toes!”
23:12 "I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.”
In the previous chapter Eliphaz had urged Job to “get into the Word.” But Job answers Eliphaz’s implied charge, “I not only hold firm to God’s path, I also hold fast to God’s Word!”
23:13 "But He is unique and who can turn Him? And what His soul desires, that He does. 14 for He performs what is appointed for me, and many such decrees are with Him.”
Francis I. Anderson writes, “And how different Job’s God is from the domesticated God of his friends.” The God of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar has been tamed by their theology; they’ve corralled God! But Job’s God is unique: majestic in His power and matchless in His wisdom and planning. What a tragedy it is when our God is no larger than what our intellect can comprehend.
23:15 “Therefore, I would be dismayed at His presence; when I consider, I am terrified of Him. 16 It is God who has made my heart faint, and the Almighty who has dismayed me, 17 but I am not silenced by the darkness, nor deep gloom which covers me.”
Job feels as if he is hemmed in by darkness and gloom. Hartley has some interesting things to say concerning the latter portion of this chapter, “(Job) cannot detect God’s grace anywhere…His struggle for faith reaches its severest test when his confidence in God collides with his fear of God…The ever-present God, from whom the troubled Psalmist cannot flee in Psalm 139, is hidden from Job…God’s distancing himself from Job’s consciousness reflects his trust in Job.”
Many people today face their own Job-like situations. A former coworker emailed a couple of us this past week and asked us to pray for her brother. I said that I would and asked for her permission to share her email on this blog. She gave her permission, but I have changed the names and circumstances around to keep it anonymous:
As you both know, my brother lost his wife in a car accident 10 years ago. He is remarried, and two years ago his wife Barb’s oldest daughter died unexpectedly. Recently they had a grandson who has major health issues – he has already spent several months in the hospital and Barb has taken a lot of time off from work to care for their granddaughters while the parents are with their son in the hospital. Barb’s employer would not give her any more time off and forced her to quit. My brother has been unemployed for two years now. He has now trained in a new career area, but is finding no job opportunities.
To say he is depressed is a gross understatement. He is suicidal and has told me that he is ready to kill himself. He no longer believes in God. He will not listen to me or anyone.
I fear for him as well as his family, who are all struggling. Please keep them in your prayers if you would.
Please remember to pray for this family.
(The previous chapters of this series can be viewed on http://conversationsfromtheashheap.blogspot.com)
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