Why Is the Book of Job in the Bible?
A New Look at Job's Story
What kind Of man was Job, really? Job's three friends argued
with him that he was a great sinner -- that something just had to
be wrong in his life, or else God would not have punished him so
severely. But God Himself declared: "There was a man in the land
of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was PERFECT" (Job 1:1).
Do any of us dare to disagree with God? But if Job was righteous,
why did God punish him so? The baffling mystery of the life of
Job deserves careful inspection and analysis -- its lessons for us
are mind-boggling and very relevant to our lives, today!
William F. Dankenbring
In the book of Job, we read an amazing, incredible story -- a story that has baffled, perplexed, and astonished men and women for scores of generations. It is, simply put, the story of a good man, a man who has no equal when it comes to being good, who suddenly loses almost everything. His life at first seems to be coasting along well enough. He is blessed with lovely children, a wonderful wife, many friends, and incredible wealth, public esteem, honor, fame, fortune, and power. He is a godly and a good king, and feeds the poor, helps the widows and orphans, and -- when his life is analyzed and weighed in the balances -- it seems he is the most upright and honorable of men.
Yet in an amazing sequence of events, staggering the imagination, bandits and gangs of thieves stole all his cattle and killed or put to flight all his servants and hired hands. The same day, lightning struck, and burned up his sheep and herdsmen -- which the sole survivor called "the fire of God from heaven" (Job ). And, to top it all off, suddenly a tornado roared down from the sky and killed ALL of his children in one fell swoop.
Imagine the devastating grief! O the pain, the misery, the calamity of it all! O the horror and shock!
Yet, in the midst of these awesome adversities, we have the testimony of God: "Then Job stood up, and tore his robe in grief and fell down upon the ground before God. 'I came naked from my mother's womb,' he said, 'and I shall have nothing when I die. The Lord gave me everything I had, and they were his to take away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.' In all of this Job did not sin or revile God" (Job -22).
Can you imagine it? Such horrible trials and calamities -- and yet Job blessed God! He did not accuse Him. He did not rail upon Him, or shake his fist at Him, or criticize God for having allowed these horrible events to take place. Job meekly surrendered, accepted his calamity, as the will and doing of God. He did not understand it, as the story will show -- but nevertheless, he accepted it and did not accuse God of breaking His promises, or failing to fulfill His Word. He did not attack God in any manner or fashion.
Put yourself in Job's place, for a moment. How would you react, if God struck you down, all your children suddenly died in mysterious "accidents," or were gunned down by thugs and gangsters; your home burned to the ground; a flood swept away your business and possessions; and your bank account was cleaned out by your trusted financial accountant who fled to Brazil with all your millions, leaving you penniless, destitute, and poverty-stricken! And, on top of this, you were then struck down with a terrible skin condition for which there was no cure. How would you feel? How would you react?
Even Job's wife finally had enough. She turned on him with rage and fury, and scolded him, "Are you still trying to be godly when God has done all this to you? Curse Him and die" (Job 2:9). Even his wife turned against him!
But Job remained faithful and trusting in God. Can you comprehend it? He replied to his sorely stricken wife, whose grief was more than she could handle, "You talk like some heathen woman. What? Shall we receive only pleasant things from the hand of God and never anything unpleasant?" The Scripture then states: "So in all this Job said nothing wrong" (Job ).
At this point, Job's three friends visited him, to attempt to comfort and console him in his misfortune and tragedy. But when they saw him, "Job was so changed that they could scarcely recognize him. Wailing loudly in despair, they tore their robes and threw dust into the air and put earth on their heads to demonstrate their sorrow. Then they sat upon the ground with him silently for seven days and nights, no one speaking a word; for they saw that his suffering was too great for words" (v.12-13).
Truly, Job's story -- and his suffering -- have no equal in all the annals of human history. Often people think they have it rough. But they have seldom considered the sufferings of Job! He makes most of us look like pikers!
Job and the Nazi Holocaust
When millions of the Jewish people were herded into concentration camps, by the Nazis during World War II, and lost all their possessions, were transported cooped up in cattle cars on the railroads, with no facilities for going to the toilet, but had to pee or defecate while jammed up alongside other people, this seemed bad -- horrible -- too horrible to describe. But it was only the beginning of their sufferings.
In the Nazi death camps, many were forced to live on gruel, a pittance of soiled bread and thin soup, and to perform slave labor, wearing rags and filthy garments. Disease killed multiple thousands, and others died of malnutrition, wasting away until they were barely skin and bones. Families of course were torn apart, children separated from their parents, husbands and wives separated from each other.
these conditions were, the German extermination camps, like
But how soon we forget.
As a result of what the Jewish people refer to as "The Holocaust," which is a term that means, literally, a "fiery offering or sacrifice," in which an estimated six million of them perished as a result of Hitler's "Final Solution" to the "Jewish problem," many Jews today, and their relatives, have had a very difficult time dealing with the tragedy. "Where was God?" they wonder. "Why did He allow this?" And many as a result, have turned their backs on God, embraced atheism, or become agnostics, doubting and questioning the very existence of God.
Why can blame them? Humanly speaking, I surely cannot. However, I see an anomaly here. In the case of Job, when his tragedies occurred, he never questioned God's existence, nor did He accuse God or blame Him or curse Him -- but he did acknowledge that God had all power, and that He was ultimately responsible for Job's sufferings. And God's Word says that he was right on target! Even though it was the devil who caused the disasters to strike, it was GOD who allowed the devil to do it! (Job 1:6-18; 2:1-7).
Obviously, when disasters of this magnitude strike, men and women seek answers. Sometimes, or even often, such answers do not seem to be readily forthcoming. People cry out to God. There is no answer. They complain bitterly to God. There is still no response. God is holding His peace. He is waiting. Time passes on. People become impatient. They lose faith. They begin to think maybe there is no God. Or they begin to think God is a sadistic, callous, inhuman Monster -- as bad as the Nazis themselves! So they fall into the trap, and unlike Job, who refused to curse God, they turn on God, and blot Him out of their lives, and refuse to have anything whatsoever to do with Him!
Isn't this often the case, when really severe trials come, and there seems to be no let up, no relenting, no intermission, no cessation -- they just keep on coming, like the waves of the ocean, one right after another, crashing into our lives without remorse or respite.
Many, under such circumstances, would "curse God and die," as Job's wife suggested. That would be the "human" thing to do. When innocents suffer, when really good people incur great tragedy and grief, that is the "last straw" to most people. They throw up their hands, cannot understand how God could allow such things, and decide to have nothing to do with such a God! They don't merely "question" why God allows such things, but they cannot "forgive" Him -- and so they "curse" Him and put Him out of their lives!
And so they never learn the deep, penetrating, awesome lessons taught by a true understanding of the book of Job -- they don't understand why it was written, and what it has to do with you and me!
The Facts of the Case
Job was an amazing man! He really was upright -- honest, compassionate, merciful, a very good man. He feared God and worshipped Him. Although his trials were a tremendous grief to Him, and he didn't understand them, nevertheless he did maintain faith in God. Some of the most inspiring words ever written are found in Job, where he said from the depths of his personal "hell": "For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God" (Job 19:25-26). one of the most inspiring passages from Handel's Messiah is an oratorio based on this verse.
What kind of man was this fellow called Job?
His friends kept on insisting he must have sinned; but Job was a tenacious, bold man. He did not compromise with their arguments, or assume that they must be right. He was honest with himself, and before God. He refused to compromise with his
conscience -- and this was right in God's sight. This was not self righteousness, but honest integrity. If you were falsely accused, should you meekly assume that your accuser is right? Absolutely not! Solomon wrote, "A righteous man falling down before the wicked is as a troubled fountain, and a corrupt spring" (Prov.25:26). It was right for Job to honestly defend himself in this case, before his friends. His mistake was not that he maintained his righteousness -- but that he succumbed to the temptation to blame God, to falsely accuse Him, and to condemn Him.
Job would not compromise with evil. He said to his friends, "God forbid that I should justify you: till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me. My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go: my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live" (Job 27:5-6).
Job was a truly noble man. He bore witness, "For I, as an honest judge, helped the poor in their need, and the fatherless who had no one to help them. I helped those who were ready to perish and they blessed me. And I caused the widows hearts to sing for joy. All I did was just and honest, for righteousness was my clothing! I served as eyes for the blind and feet for the lame. I was as a father to the poor, and saw to it that even strangers received a fair trial. I knocked out the fangs of the godless oppressors and made them drop their victims" (Job 29:12-17, The Living Bible).
What a wonderful man! Here is an example we should all emulate. Remember, God Himself said that Job was "PERFECT."
Job was a very wise man. He knew the place of wisdom. He said, "Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding" (Job 28:28).
These are not the words of a self-righteous man. Not at all! These are the deep sayings of a truly converted, sincere, dedicated man -- a true worshipper of God! This is not the "Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous" of the world around us, but rather the "Lifestyle of a True Servant of God"!
So, the question -- the riddle -- the enigma -- remains.
Since this was the case -- and God Himself bore witness to the fact that Job was indeed a righteous man -- a man that was, in God's own words, "perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil" -- then the mystery remains. Why did God allow Satan the devil to afflict him?
It wasn't because of any sins in Job's life. Whatever sins he had, he had repented of. He truly sought God with all his heart and soul. He was called "righteous" even by God Himself!
It wasn't because of his attitude. Job had a fine, wonderful, humble, perfect attitude! Notice! Even when stricken down, and devastated, he still worshipped God, and said: "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." And God's word goes on to say: "In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly" (Job -22).
No, despite the self-appointed critics, who would attempt to find some fault with Job, some blemish in his life or heart, the simple truth is that Job was a righteous man!
God again bears witness to this fact in the
book of Ezekiel. God told the prophet,
"And when I pour out my fury by sending an epidemic of disease into the
land, and the plague kills man and beast alike, though Noah, Daniel and Job
were living there, the Lord God says that only they would be saved, because of
their righteousness" (Ezek.14:19, TLB). Also, in verse 14, God says: "Son of dust, when the people of this
land sin against me, then I will crush
them with my fist and break off their food supply and send famine to destroy
both man and beast. If Noah, Daniel and Job
were here today, they alone would be saved by their righteousness, and I
would destroy the remainder of
Thus God Himself places Job in the highest spiritual company, with both Daniel and Noah! Why, then, did a loving, merciful God give Job all these horrible trials?
Job Was a Righteous Man
Notice, again, the very opinion and declaration of the Living, Almighty God about His servant Job. "And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a PERFECT and an UPRIGHT man, one that feareth God and escheweth evil?" (Job 1:8).
God Himself gave witness that Job was "perfect and upright," a man who feared God and shunned evil!
What greater witness can we have than that of God Himself?
But if Job was a GOOD man, then WHY on earth did God allow the devil to strike at him, kill his children, destroy and remove all his wealth and possessions, and even to plague Job himself with a horrible disease?
Indeed, the thundering question remains, roaring to be answered: WHY?
In the same way, true Christians often wonder WHY does God sometimes allow great and heavy trials to come into the lives of His servants, who are doing their best to obey and serve Him?
Why is it that sometimes true Christians go through great and horrendous pain and suffering and physical afflictions? Why does God allow some of His very own people to suffer cancer, lingering illnesses, or go through horrible accidents? Why does He even sometimes allow them to die from illness, diseases cancer, heart attacks or accidents?
This is the paradox of the ages! This is the question that philosophers and ministers have puzzled over with great head-scratching perplexity! Why must good men suffer?
Even after Job lost his possessions and his children, he still did not turn against God. We read: "Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped. ,And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly" (Job -22).
Although Satan the devil brought these trials upon Job, God Almighty is the One who permitted him to do so! God, in effect, sent them! Job did not sin in holding God responsible for his trials. Nor did he curse God, or refuse to worship Him, or turn his back on Him, because of them. What a man!
After this, we read: "And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a PERFECT and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? and still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause?" (Job ).
Did you get that? God Himself admitted that Job was "blameless" -- that he was "innocent"! God admitted that there was NO JUST CAUSE for Job's misfortunes and trials! God admitted that He had allowed the devil to afflict Job "WITHOUT CAUSE"! That is, God admitted that Job was righteous, and did not deserve to be treated this way!
What a shocking admission! Why, then, did God DO it?
I am sure that many Jewish victims of the
Holocaust wonder the same thing about the Holocaust. God certainly ALLOWED the Holocaust. I have visited Yad Vashem, the
WHY Did Job Have to Suffer?
We know that "sin" -- that is, transgression of the laws of God (I John 3:4) -- brings about a penalty -- a curse -- in the lives of those who transgress God's laws (see Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28). Sin incurs a penalty. Ultimately, that penalty for sin is DEATH (Rom.6:23).
But in Job's case, we have the witness of God Himself who said that he was a "perfect" man, who feared God and shunned evil! Therefore, it is a waste of time to try to figure out what "sin" Job committed to incur such wrath from a righteous God! Yet this is the very thing most people do! Job's three friends, for example, just could not believe that such tragedies and suffering could befall a righteous, innocent man. They just KNEW in their hearts that Job MUST have had many horrible secret sins that he was covering up, to bring about such calamities! So in the remainder of the book of Job, from chapter 4 to chapter 31, we have the record of the tussel -- the wrestling match -- the argumentation between Job and his three friends, who insisted he must be a wretched and miserable sinner, and Job who insisted that he was a righteous and an innocent man, and that God has sent these trials on him regardless of that fact!
Does this mean that the statements and reasonings of Job's three friends are foolishness, a waste of time, and useless? A former professor of Old Testament Survey class once said that he thought the vast majority of the book of Job was useless and should be scrapped! But if that is the case, why did God Himself have it included as Scripture?
The truth is, every statement of Job's three friends was TRUE! Their reasoning was impeccable. They said that God punishes sinners -- and they were right. They said that none could hide his sins from God -- and they were right! Where then were they wrong?
At the end of the book, we read this profound statement: "After the Lord had finished speaking with Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite: 'I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not been right in what you have said about me, as my servant Job was. Now take seven young bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer a burnt offering for yourselves; and my servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer on your behalf, and won't destroy you as I should because of your sin, your failure to speak rightly concerning my servant Job" (Job 42:7-8).
They were in error because they ASSUMED that Job was an evil man -- based on the "evidence" of his sufferings alone! They had NO PROOF of any of Job's alleged sins that they accused him of -- but they just could not believe that he was guiltless, and so they tried with all their might to convict him of sin, when he was sinless! They missed the whole point of Job's sufferings, just as most people do, today!
One minister, Herbert W. Armstrong, used to say that Job really was a sinner, after all -- that he was guilty of the sin of "self-righteousness." He used to say that even Satan could not spot this sin, because it was his own sin, and therefore he could not recognize it! This, however, is sheer nonsense. How can we say Job was "self-righteous" when God Himself says that Job was "perfect," a man who "fears God" and "shuns evil"? If we say Job was self-righteous, then we make God out to be a liar -- we accuse His Word of being wrong -- and we become JUDGES of God Himself -- a very wicked thing! By accusing Job of being self-righteous, the truth is that Herbert Armstrong put himself right there beside Job's three friends -- Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar -- and will one day have to repent, and ask Job's forgiveness, just as they did!
We read at the conclusion of the book of Job, these remarkable words: "Then, when Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his wealth and happiness! In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before! Then all of his brothers, sisters, and former friends arrived and feasted with him in his home, consoling him for all his sorrow, and comforting him because of all the TRIALS the Lord had brought upon him. And each of them brought him a gift of money, and a gold ring. So the Lord blessed Job at the end of his life more than at the beginning. For now he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 teams of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. God also gave him seven more sons and three more daughters" (Job 42:10-14, The Living Bible).
The REAL Lessons of the Book of Job
What, then, is the REAL lesson of the book of Job? The first lesson, I would say, based on what we have already discussed, is do not get angry with God, and falsely accuse Him, when He allows TRIALS to come into your life. If He allows them -- and He often does, as we will see -- there has to be a REASON!
Secondly, when trials befall others, do not be quick to JUDGE them, and condemn them, for "imagined sins" and transgressions, ASSUMING they must be great sinners before God! Like Job, they may not be sinners at all. Their trials may be due to altogether different reasons! Therefore, do not be quick to judge your brother! Rather, as Jesus Christ declared, "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment" (John ). And, as the apostle Paul wrote: "But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ" (Rom.14:10).
These are two of the greatest lessons we can learn from the book of Job. However, there is a greater lesson, still, that we must learn from the example and experience of Job. That is, the answer to the age-old question: Why do bad things sometimes happen to good people?
Let's be sure we understand this truth -- the trials that came upon Job -- and great and sore trials they were -- were not due to any imagined SELF RIGHTEOUSNESS that some people think he was guilty of! They were not due to any SIN at all!
This is a very important point! Because it is at this very point that most people stumble -- and many lose heart, become discouraged, or bitter, when trials seem to balloon up and blow up in their lives, unexpectedly, and seemingly without any just cause -- and they lose faith in God, condemn Him, and put themselves out of the Church of God!
They have never learned the deep lesson of the book of Job. Like most people -- and like Job's three friends -- they have ASSUMED that Job was really only "getting what he deserved!" Even Herbert W. Armstrong, when all was said and done, thought the same thing, by accusing Job of the sin of self-righteousness!
Therefore, when such people find themselves being mistreated, as Job was, they cannot understand it. When things don't seem to go right, even though they are tithing, and obeying all God's commandments, they become discouraged. Some become angry, resentful toward God, and become bitter, lose faith in God, and leave the Church in bitter anger and hostility!
Remember this vital point: NOTHING IN THIS WORLD CAN HAPPEN WITHOUT THE FOREKNOWLEDGE AND PERMISSION OF ALMIGHTY GOD -- NOTHING.
Therefore, learn this lesson well: If God allows anything at all to happen in your life, to you or your loves ones, He must have a very good reason,, even if you are temporarily blinded, and don't see what it is, or understand it at the time!
The apostle Paul stated this lesson -- this fundamental truth -- plainly. He declared: "And we know that ALL THINGS work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" (Rom.8:28).
When we understand and grasp the profound wisdom and truth of this simple statement, then we realize that even such things as the Holocaust during World War II happened at the express will of God and WILL WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD to all those who love God, and who called according to His purpose. This truth means that even such horrible nightmarish events have a righteous and holy purpose in the sight of God. Humans may not, at the time, understand why God allows some things, but that doesn't mean He doesn't have a reason. Ultimately, that reason is to bring us to Him, to teach us to re-evaluate our lives, and where we may have been wrong, and to use introspection into our own lives, motives, and hearts. Some suffering may well be due to our sins. Other suffering may be totally undeserved and unearned. Nevertheless,
God has a reason for allowing ALL suffering!
Let's understand this fundamental, basic, foundational TRUTH!
Is It a Mistake to "Serve God"?
Is it a mistake -- to serve God? Is it a shortcut to "failure" to devote your life to God and His Work?
The Psalmist wrote of the wicked who seem to have it so good -- who own vast plantations, wineries, thousands of acres of prime agricultural lands, oil wells, oil companies, huge corporations, thousands of head of cattle, and so forth. David wrote of the wicked: "For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men. Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment. Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish" (Psalm 73:4-7). Doesn't that often appear to be the truth? The wicked get rich; and the righteous suffer.
It doesn't seem fair!
your attitude ever been affected, because you saw the wicked "getting
ahead"? Have you noticed the wicked
even rise to high positions in the
Have you seen those playing party politics, flattering the boss, getting promoted over you? Why does it happen? Have you ever wondered whether it really makes sense doing things God's way, since it always seems to end up in more trials? Has your faith in God been sorely tested by what you have seen in the Church of God, in your business, or around you?
Notice what the Psalmist says about the wicked, who seem to "have it all"! David wrote: "They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily, they set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth" (vs.8-9).
Have you at times been a victim of such oppression?
The Psalmist, inspired by God Himself says, "Behold, these are the UNGODLY, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches." He goes on to lament, "Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning" (Psalm 73:12-14).
Is that the way you sometimes feel?
"Tote dat barge! Lift dat bale! Get a little drunk, and you land in jail!" go the words to the old song, "Old Man River." Do you sometimes feel oppressed -- afflicted -- smitten down to the ground? Have the ungodly persecuted you? Has your employer sometimes mistreated you?
The truth is, no matter where you work on the face of the earth, you cannot escape the oppression of the wicked. It even occurs right in the end-time churches of God! Satan the devil has had his instruments, doing his work, even in the midst of God's own Work, during these "last days"!
The wicked seem to get away with everything. But if you are a servant of God, a true Christian, it seems you can't get away with anything! Your life is like that of a fish in a goldfish bowl -- everybody sees everything you do! But the wicked can hide their devious schemes and dastardly plans and pull the wool over the eyes of even some of God's own servants in high places!
But, the Psalmist goes on, "If I say, I will speak thus [i.e., complain about it!], I should offend against the generation of thy children [that is, righteous brethren -- who ought to be encouraged by what we say, and not discouraged]. When I thought to know this [i.e., understand why it is this way], it was too painful for me; until . . ."
"Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end," David cried.
The Psalmist continues, "Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction [eventually, when God decrees, they will pay for their evil ways and wicked deeds and heinous attitudes and sins!]. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when one awaketh; so, 0 Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image [the whole life of the wicked has been a mere image, an illusion; a vaporous, shifting desert mirage]" (Psalm 73:l5-20).
By the end of this Psalm, the writer's attitude is golden -- he has admitted his error in thinking -- in having been envious of the wicked. But now he rejoices, "Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins. So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee. Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsels and afterward receive me to glory" (vs.21-24).
Here is the vital lesson -- the key to proper understanding! The wicked may indeed prosper for this life, for the temporary moment, as the rich man in the parable of Jesus about the beggar Lazarus and the rich man. But, even though God's servants have a tough time of it during this life, and have constant trials and tests, straining and stretching their faith, these trials actually strengthen us -- teach us important spiritual lessons. One of these lessons is that our reward -- our inheritance -- is not now, in this life, but in the world to come -- the world tomorrow! As David declared -- "Thou shalt afterward receive me to GLORY"!
Therefore the Psalmist writes, "'Whom have I in heaven but thee, and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but GOD is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish; thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee. But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works" (vs.25-28).
All these trials and troubles and tests of faith are meant for one basic, underlying purpose: To cause us to draw near to God. They are meant to teach us to learn to RELY on God when trouble comes -- to teach us to DEPEND on Him-- to LOOK to Him, eyes fixed on Him, riveted on Him, locked in on Him, sighted in on Him -- when trouble strikes, and when we don't know what to do otherwise!
"Of All Men Most Miserable"
There are those who think that because Christians obey God's laws in this life, that they will be enormously blessed, and be much better off than their counterparts in the world, who trample on God's laws. I heard a minister in the Worldwide Church of God, Richard Plache, many years ago claim this as a fact, in a sermonette he gave at Pasadena.
But this idea is a total fiction! It simply contradicts human experience. In this life, it is the wicked who really prosper -- just as David wrote in the Psalms!
In the long run, of course, as Solomon wrote, is it true that eventually, all things will work out for the good of the righteous! Solomon declared: "He that feareth God shall come forth of them all" (Eccl.7:18). He added, with keen insight, "Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him" (Eccl.8:12).
Nevertheless, although God may bless His people in many ways, as they obey Him, yet their lives will also be filled with trials and troubles. We must never forget this! We must never be led into complacency, thinking that no further trials can come because we are obeying God! Job's example should print this lesson indelibly upon our minds forever!
The Trials and Troubles of Abraham
Abraham was a man who obeyed God from the heart. God said of him, "Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws" (Gen.26:5). And God did bless Him as He obeyed, and prospered him, and he became a wealthy man (Gen.13:2-6). However, he went through times of famine with his family (Gen.12:10). He almost lost his wife to an Egyptian Pharaoh (Gen.12:11-15), except for God's intervention (vs.17-20). He lost his nephew Lot to an armed invasion of the land, and had to go and rescue him (Gen.14:12-16). His faith was tested and tried, and he waited twenty five years before God fulfilled His promise and gave him a son.
But toward the end of his life, after he had obeyed God for many years, and after Isaac was finally born, as a gift from God, Abraham entered upon the greatest trial of his life! You might think that by now surely he had proven himself to God. Why, hadn't he obeyed God throughout his life? But now God required that he take his only son Isaac, and to go to Mount Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering (Gen.22:2).
"Wha-a-a-t?" Abraham might have exclaimed. "That's it! I've had it with you! You are impossible!!! Who can serve You??? This is preposterous -- I flat out won't do it!"
At this point, after a life of total obedience to God, Abraham might have put his foot down, and argued with God. He might have said, "No, Lord, that is ridiculous -- nonsense. No loving God would require that of a father! Why, you made me wait for 25 years, before you gave me Isaac, the son of your promise! Surely you don't want me to kill him, now! Have you lost your mind? Have you gone crazy? I won't do it!"
And humanly speaking, Abraham's arguments would have made perfect sense, wouldn't they? Would you be willing to obey God in a matter such as Abraham's trial? This was undoubtedly the greatest trial of his life, and it came after a lifetime of trials, and obedience to God!
Do you think Abraham was feeling the "abundant life," as he trudged up to Mount Moriah, leading his son, knowing that soon he would be plunging the knife into his body? It was the lowest point of his life. He must have experienced immeasurable grief -- the greatest misery any man can ever know!
Yet this trial, like all trials, worked out for the best -- God did intervene, and save Isaac (Gen.22:1-14)! And by this example of obedience, God revealed His awesome plan to sacrifice His own Son, Jesus Christ, for the sins of the world! God, the Father, revealed how much grief, and misery, and loving compassion, He felt, as His own Son went to the stake on the hill, and gave up His life for our sins!
Because Abraham was faithful in this trial, God blessed him more than ever, and confirmed and magnified the promises which He had made to him, and Abraham became the "father of the faithful," because he steadfastly obeyed God's voice (Gen.22:16-18).
The Trials and Tribulations of the Apostles
The apostle Paul also had a life filled with trials and troubles. Did he experience all the "good things" of life, and grow incredibly rich, because he was a servant of God? Not at all! Paul confessed, "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair [in other words, sometimes things happen in our lives which perplex us, which we cannot understand -- but even so, we never give up!]; persecuted but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed" (II Cor.4:8-9). Did Paul experience what most would call "the abundant life" here and now? It depends on what you mean by "abundant." His trials were abundant enough!
Paul said, in recounting his own life's experiences, and that of the other apostles of Jesus Christ: "We patiently endure suffering and hardship and trouble of every kind. We have been beaten, put in jail, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, stayed awake through sleepless nights of watching, and gone without food" (II Cor.6:4-5, TLB).
Paul added, "The world ignores us [they received no fame, no honor, no glorious position!], but we are known to God; we live close to death, but here we are, still very much alive. We have been injured but kept from death. Our hearts ache, but at the same time we have the joy of the Lord. We are poor [he didn't have much in the way of money, unlike some ministers today, who seem to live high off the hog!], but we give rich spiritual gifts to others, We own nothing, and yet we enjoy everything" (vs.9-10).
What was Paul's life really like? He said, "I have worked harder, been put in jail oftener, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again and again. Five different times the Jews gave me their terrible thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I was in the open sea all night and the whole next day. I have traveled many weary miles and have been often in great danger from flooded rivers, and from robbers, and from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the hands of the Gentiles. I have faced grave dangers from mobs in the cities and from death in the deserts and in the stormy seas and from men who claim to be brothers in Christ but are not. I have lived with weariness and pain and sleepless nights. Often I have been hungry and thirsty and have gone without food; often I have shivered with cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm"
As I said, I once heard a minister -- Richard Plache -- give a sermon where he claimed that those who obey God are better off in this life than those who do not, because they obey God's laws. He said that even if we only have a reward in this life, and there is no world tomorrow, then we are still better off obeying God and serving Him! Can you imagine that?
What did the apostle Paul say to such reasoning? "But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: and if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain." Paul went on, "For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of ALL MEN MOST MISERABLE" (I Cor.15:13-19).
The Living Bible has that last verse: "And if being a Christian is of value to us only now in this life, we are the most miserable of creatures."
No, contrary to the blandishments of Richard Plache, the truth is, if there were no heavenly rewards, no promise of eternal life and eternal glory in the Kingdom of God, it would be foolish to go through all the trials of the Christian life, and put up with all the suffering, pain, affliction, and death!
If we only had hope in this life, then why sacrifice, why give up prosperity and riches now in order to help others hear the Gospel? Why scrimp and save and give your all to God? If this life is all there is, then why not go out and live it up, and "eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die"?
The minister who made the foolish statements mentioned in the previous paragraphs, sad to say, left the Church of God when things got "too hot" for him to handle in his own life. He became confused, disoriented spiritually, and in great bitterness and self-righteousness, left God's Church! Later, in an investment scam, he was arrested and put in prison, and served out his sentence behind bars! How little he ever learned! How little he ever understood!
Do not be deceived. Do not be misled. The-words of the apostle Paul are inspired Scripture, and reveal the TRUTH of God! (II Tim.3:16). God did not intend this life to be the time of our blessings and reward, although He may give us various blessings during this life, as we obey Him. But, along with whatever blessings He gives us, besides the blessings, most of which will be spiritual and not physical in nature -- He promises trials and afflictions, to test our character, and to strengthen us!
During this life, most of our blessings are spiritual, not physical! We can have spiritual joy, and love, even though we may be experiencing abject poverty, sickness, heartache, sorrow, and even though we may come face to face with death.
Job, a righteous man, was certainly not experiencing the "abundant life" when he was undergoing trials and afflictions -- only his trials and troubles were "abundant"!
The book of Job is not the story of a self-righteous man being punished by God for his sins. Not at all! It is the story of a righteous man undergoing trials and troubles! These troubles and trials were brought upon him by God. We read in Job 42:11, after Job's trials were over, "And the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before."
Job had virtually been "held captive" by these sore and horrendous trials. They were a virtual "TRIBULATION" for him. To put it another way, Job went through his own personal "great tribulation"! He was "IN CAPTIVITY"' to these trials for a period of time -- probably lasting several years!
After it was all over, "Then came there unto him all his brethren and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him" (Job 42:10-17.
Notice once again! God Himself had brought this trouble -- this evil -- upon Job!
The Living Bible puts it this way: "Then all of his brothers, sisters, and former friends arrived and feasted with him in his home, consoling him for all his sorrow, and comforting him because of all the TRIALS the Lord had brought upon him." The Moffatt translation says "miseries." The Good News Bible says "troubles." The Amplified Version says "distressing calamities."
The Hebrew word in this instance is ra and means "adversity, afflictions, bad, calamity, distress, evil, grief, harm, hurt, mischief, sorrow, troubles, wretchedness, vexation." In Job's case, it refers to the great and sore personal tribulation and distress, dire calamity and heavy affliction, and God sent upon him.
Before we discuss the case of Job further, let's notice a few Scriptures which perhaps we have overlooked, and never before properly applied to Job's story, and see what we can learn. Notice how the afflictions and sufferings of Job parallel those
of the Christian, in the Christian life of overcoming!
The PURPOSE Behind Trials and Tribulation
Was the Christian life meant to be smooth sailing? Did God intend that once we repent of our sins, that we could easily coast into His Kingdom? Would all our troubles be over, at least for the most part, once we repent of our sins and are baptized? Is this what God promises?
Many have assumed that once we are converted, and begin living obedient to the laws of God, that nothing but blessings will come our way -- at least for the most part. This was the thinking of Richard Plache, apparently. But is this so? Not at all!
God reminds us nonetheless that Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel, "Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much TRIBULATION enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).
How soon we forget!
Somehow we think that if we obey God, the path before us will be smooth and easy going, like a Sunday picnic. We think that Jesus said His yoke is easy, and His burden is light, and we remember that He promised that He came to bring us the "abundant life" (John 10:10; Matt.11:28-30). We forget that this same Jesus told us: "Enter ye in at the strait [(narrow] gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat; because strait [narrow] is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matt.7:l3-14).
We so easily forget that Jesus foretold about His disciples, including those of us of this present generation: "And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved" (Matt.10:22).
We forget so easily the words of Christ, "And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it" (Matt.10:38-39).
If you desire to be a Christian, and to inherit eternal life, then you must be willing to shoulder your cross, even as Jesus Christ did, and suffer whatever you must, even unto death, if necessary!
Paul expressed it this ways "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside ever weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the JOY that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin" (Heb.12:1-4).
Yes, Jesus set us an example of patient, humble suffering. The life of Job was merely a TYPE -- a figure for us -- of the kind of suffering, affliction, and reproach that we as Christians must go through in order to build the kind of perfect, righteous character so that we may be worthy of God's free gift of eternal life and sonship in the Kingdom of God,, and to rule with Him for ever in His Kingdom! Job's life was the picture of the true Christian experience with griefs, trials and tests, undeserved, but necessary for the building of holy, righteous, perfect CHARACTER!
Notice how the apostle Peter expresses this profound truth. "Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward" (I Pet.2:18). This is speaking of those called into God's Church while being slaves in ancient times. However, in type, it can apply to all of us who are under another man's authority -- whether wives, under the authority of their husbands, or men under the authority of their supervisors or employers.
Peter goes on: "For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief suffering wrongfully" (verse 19).
Now isn't this exactly what Job did? He endured grief, and misery, suffering wrongfully But when we as Christians suffer wrongfully, what is our attitude to be? Are we to become angry, and resentful, as Job was at first? Are we to feel sorry for ourselves, and bemoan our fate, losing sight of God, forgetting His awesome mercy, and the fact that He loves us, and that He would bring nothing upon us if it were not for our own eternal good?
Peter goes on, "For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for you faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God" (verse 20). Peter continues "For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that YE SHOULD FOLLOW HIS STEPS: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously" (I Pet.2:21-23).
Job, also, was an example of a man who suffered wrongfully. He did not deserve the afflictions and trials that God brought upon him. But that is not the point. The point is that he did not deserve them, but he needed them!
Yes, he needed them to shape up, purify, and refine his own spiritual character, being made into God's own character image and reflection! He needed trials and tests so that he could develop the very attitude of Jesus Christ and God Almighty toward trials, sufferings and afflictions!
These trials and tests are FOR OUR OWN ETERNAL WELFARE -- for OUR OWN GOOD! Through them, and building righteous and holy character, we qualify for greater positions and higher rewards in the Kingdom of God! In the Kingdom, would you rather barely "make it" and scrape by, and receive the least reward -- maybe to rule over one tiny hamlet or village? Or would you rather develop shining, holy, righteous character, though being refined by many trials and tests, and qualify for a much higher position and reward -- perhaps to rule over ten or twenty or fifty cities, or over a whole nation? God says, "And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give POWER OVER THE NATIONS" (Rev.2:26).
Yes, even our sorest trials work together for our own good! Trials are NECESSARY to shape and create righteous, godly, holy character. They are necessary to teach us how to apply and to manifest the FRUITS of God's Holy Spirit in our lives!
We are not by nature men and women who naturally possess the qualities of love, joy, patience, gentleness goodness, kindness faith, meekness, and self control. No, our very nature tends only to love ourselves and those who are our friends; we tend to have joy only when someone gives us something, or some matter works out well for us. We are by nature very impatient. Don't you feel impatient when you get stuck behind a slow driver in the fast lane, or when the person in front of you just sits there when the light turns green?
Human nature is not normally kind,, or gentle, or good to others, unless it expects some kind of reward. It believes that "seeing is believing," and does not exercise or possess the quality of FAITH. It wants to "see the evidence," and to have security, before it commits itself. You notice how true that is when you ever apply for a loan. Doesn't the loan officer demand a detailed financial statement, plus plenty of security, before making the loan?
What about meekness and humility? Are these traits normal to human nature? Not at all! Human beings love to be looked up to, to be respected and highly honored. They are mortified when people laugh at them, or scorn them, or ridicule them. Their pride is punctured when people reproach them and slander their reputation! Oh how angry they become when unjustly accused or when someone assassinates their integrity or character behind their back!
And what about self control? Does human nature naturally practice self control? Of course not! No, the truth is, human nature is not, by its own nature, GODLY! It cannot be! It can only masquerade as being godly; it can only "put on" the appearance of godliness, and then only for a short time, before its true nature manifests itself.
The devil can only "act holy" for a short time, relatively speaking before his true nature reasserts itself in all its gruesome wickedness and vileness!
The apostle Paul explained it this way: "For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the CARNAL MIND [that is, the natural mind you were born with -- the fleshly mind, which is self-centered, and thinks about the things of this life -- the natural mind of man] is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his" (Rom.8:6-9).
All of us, of our own selves, without God's Spirit -- are nothing. We are nothing in the sight of God. We cannot please Him. We are carnal, selfish, self-centered, proud, vain, arrogant, haughty, conceited, egotistical, foolish, and driven by lustful and sinful impulses. We always wonder, "What's in it for me?" We naturally believe in the motto, "Look out for number one"!
"Many Are the Afflictions of the Righteous"
There is a most important vital purpose behind every single trial of a true Christian! David wrote, "MANY are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all" (Psalm 34:l9). It is time we really understand this!
We must all remember that is we are, at best, still human. We are fallible. We make mistakes. We are inclined to error. We sometimes tend to make wrong decisions. Also, we become complacent easily. When things seem to be going well, we tend to take prosperity for granted. It is easy for us to slack off in prayer and diligent Bible study when times are good. How easy it is to find ourselves "too busy" to pray as we ought, or "too tired" to pray as fervently as we should! How easy it is for us to neglect daily Bible study, and personal time spent in spiritual meditation and prayer!
When was the last time you got down on your knees three times in a single days as David and Daniel did? With them it was a matter of habits or custom -- they had overcome the inertia to neglect prayer. Have you yet mastered this vital habit, this powerful tool to sustained spiritual growth?
Ah, we are so human -- so weak. When Jesus was praying His heart out to the Father, as He faced the imminent prospect of His own impending crucifixion, He came back to His disciples and found them asleep. Jesus admonished Peter, "'What, could ye not watch with me one hour?" He continued, "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak"' (Matt.26:40-41).
Spiritual strength only comes from God's Spirit. We receive more of God's Spirit only as we are in communion and contact with Him. We are in close and intimate communion and contact with God as we humbly pray, on our knees, and as we humbly study His word -- His written message for our daily lives!
Wouldn't it be interesting to actually hear the voice of God -- speaking to you, personally? But stop and think! God DOES speak to you -- you personally -- every time you stop, pick up His Word, the Bible, and begin to READ IT! The Bible is the living Word of God. Whenever you read it, God is speaking to you! Did you ever think of it that way before?
That is why it is such a crime, and such a tragedy, for people to NEGLECT daily Bible study and prayer! This is also why people ought to study the Word of God daily on their knees before the throne of God.
Trials Teach Us to Draw Nigh to God
There are many reasons God allows trials to enter our lives. One of the basic, underlying reasons is simply to cause us to want to draw night to God -- to seek Him -- in times of trouble. God wants to deliver us from all our trials. But for Him to deliver us, He must bring the trial upon us in the first place! He must allow us to get into "hot water," so to speak. He allows us, therefore, to make mistakes, in order to teach us lessons.
An old familiar saying has it that a successful man learns more from his mistakes and his failures than from all his successes put together! There is a great deal of truth in that statement.
God allowed Israel to flee from Egypt, but He led them right up to the brink of the Red Sea. On two sides of them were steep, precipitous mountains. And behind them was Pharaoh's army, with horsemen and chariots of war, galloping hard after them, weapons in hand. The position of the Israelites looked utterly hopeless. How would you like to have a huge army chasing after you, and every avenue of escape cut off? How would you like to be trapped in a box canyon, with no way out?
But just when things seemed the worst they could imaginably be, Moses told the people, "Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace" (Exodus 14:13-14).
Have you ever recognized that your trials are meant to show forth the GLORY OF GOD? That's right. Your trials are to teach you, and every one who sees your situation, that God does care -- that God does intervene -- that God does deliver us from impossible-looking situations, from seemingly hopeless odds, from frightening encounters, no matter how bleak and hopeless our plight looks, humanly speaking!
To put this sublime truth in a nutshell, our trials are meant to teach us to forever RELY UPON GOD -- to TRUST in the Lord at all times!
At one time in his life king Hezekiah was very ill. God sent Isaiah to warn him to get ready for he was about to die. However, Hezekiah didn't want to die just yet. So he prayed fervently, and God changed His mind.
God was moved by his prayer. So God sent Isaiah back, before he had even left the courtyard, saying, "Go back to Hezekiah, the leader of my people, and tell him that the Lord God of his ancestor David has heard his prayer and seen his tears. I will HEAL him, and three days from now he will be out of bed and at the Temple" (vs.3-5).
Sometimes God allows trials to come upon us -- He allows sickness, or disaster to come upon us to motivate us to PRAY FERVENTLY, as Hezekiah prayed. Yes, God wants to hear our prayers. He wants to see our tears. He wants to see if we REALLY love Him! So He puts us in a situation where we will either trust Him, and turn to Him in desperate prayer -- or else we will ignore Him, and try to work things out ourselves. He allows trouble to come upon us to see whether we will CRY OUT, ALOUD, to Him, from the bottom of our hearts, or whether we will lose faith, succumb to temptation, and curse God and reject His way!
Did you ever think of that before? Every trial is in reality a TEST. God is testing you, even as He tested Job! God wants to see haw you will respond, how you will react, whether you will endure the trial or affliction, whether you will CRY OUT to Him or not. He wants to see what kind of spiritual mettle you are made out of! He wants to see what kind of spiritual backbone and fiber you have! God wants to see whether you really love Him!
God told Isaiah to report to Hezekiah, "I will add fifteen years to his life and save him and this city from the king of Assyria. And it will all be done for the GLORY OF MY NAME and for the sake of my servant David" (v.7).
This is one of the greatest lessons that our trials teach us!
God commands us to learn to trust in Him. This is the key essential of the Christian faith! Without faith in God, we are nothing -- nothing at all. The apostle Paul wrote, "But without FAITH it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God MUST BELIEVE that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Hebrews 11:6).
As Jesus went about healing the sick, He said, "According to your faith be it unto you" (Matt.9:29). He added, in another instance, "Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole" (v. 22). Yes, trials teach us the lesson of faith.
The Lesson of FAITH
One of my favorite Psalms is the 37th Psalm. In it David wrote: "Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday. Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil. For evildoers shall be cut off; but those that WAIT upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth" (Psalm 37:3-9).
Trials teach us to trust in God, to commit our way, and our problems, to Him. They teach us to wait patiently for Him. They teach us faith.
How important is faith?
Abraham is known as the "father of the faithful." He believed God, had faith that God would keep His promises, and was found pleasing in God's sight. A good definition of faith is simply the belief that God will keep His promises -- the belief that God's Word is true, and that God will do everything He says He will do.
Notice the power of Abraham's faith! The apostle Paul writes, "So, when God told Abraham that he would give him a son who would have many descendants and become a great nation, Abraham believed God even though such a promise just couldn't come to pass! And because his faith was strong, he didn't worry about the fact that he was too old to be a father, at the age of one hundred, and that Sarah his wife, at ninety, was also much too old to have a baby.
"But Abraham never doubted. He believed God, for his faith and trust grew ever stronger, and he praised God for this blessing even before it happened" (Rom.4:18-20). "He was COMPLETELY SURE that God was well able to do anything he promised" (v.21).
Can we learn from Abraham's example? Trials make our faith grow stronger. Faith is like a spiritual muscle. It doesn't grow unless it is exercised! The more it is exercised, the more it grows -- the more it can accomplish and do!
Notice that Abraham believed God even though the thing he sought was humanly impossible. But remember, God is not human -- He is divine! Notice, too, that Abraham didn't worry about it, or fidget, and "sweat it out." He never doubted God's ability to do what He had promised. When trials come upon you, are you prone to worry, to doubt?
Notice, also, that Abraham even PRAISED GOD for His answer, even before he got the answer! He thanked God, and praised Him, for the answer, even before it happened. This is a sign of real, believing, confident FAITH! Do you often praise God, and glorify Him, for the answers to YOUR prayers, even BEFORE you receive them?
This is another key to the development of real, living, dynamic, believing FAITH!
Finally, notice that Abraham was "completely sure" that God was able to keep and perform anything that He had promised. God does not make promises that 1) He is unable to keep, or 2) that He is unwilling to keep. God means what He says. Real faith is simply believing that simple statement. If you don't believe, if you don't have faith, then you are in fact calling God a "LIAR," and that is certainly not pleasing to God!
Trials help us to develop and grow in faith.
The apostle Peter wrote, ""So be truly glad! There is wonderful joy ahead, even though the going is rough for a while down here. These trials are only to TEST YOUR FAITH, to see whether or not it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests gold and purifies it -- and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold; so if your faith remains strong after being tried in the test tube of fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day of his return" (I Pet.1:6-7).
Did you notice it? Trials refine, purify, and strengthen faith. They test it, as fire tests gold. We receive faith from hearing the Word of God. As Paul wrote, "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom.10:17). Faith is one of the precious GIFTS of the Holy Spirit of God. As Paul also wrote: "But the FRUIT of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, FAITH, meekness, temperance (self control)" (Gal.5:22-23).
This wonderful attribute of faith is not something we must work up ourselves, by our own human efforts. Not at all. But as Paul tells us, "For by grace are ye saved through FAITH; and that not of yourselves: it [the very FAITH itself!] is the GIFT OF GOD; not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph.2:8-9).
This faith is the very faith of Christ put within us by the Spirit of God. It is the very same faith Jesus had! It is the very faith that performed the MIRACLES He performed -- raising the dead, healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, turning water into wine, feeding 5,000 with just a few loaves of bread and fish, casting out demons, restoring the legs and arms of the lame, speaking and hearing to the dumb and the deaf, and full use of the hands to those with withered hands!
As a Christian, you should have this very same FAITH dwelling in you, even as Christ Himself dwells in you. Paul wrote, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but CHRIST LIVETH IN ME: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:19-20).
Does Christ live within you? Do you live "by the faith of the Son of God"? Are you exercising that very same dynamic, powerful, mighty FAITH?
The truth is, our trials are necessary for the perfecting of our faith. Peter wrote, "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the FIERY TRIAL which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you. But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, you may be glad also with exceeding joy" (I Pet.4:l2-13).
Trials Develop PATIENCE
Another one of the fruits of God's Spirit is the quality of "longsuffering," or "patience" (Gal.5:22). There is nothing that helps develop patience so much as a heavy trial.
Being forced to wait for the expected answer to prayers, teaches the quality of patience. Patience is utterly foreign to human nature! We live in a "push-button" society, where patience is not encouraged. If you want something, you just go get it at a local store or supermarket. If you want a drink, you just put 50 cents in a machine -- and clunk! A can of soda is produced by the machine -- instant service! We have "instant milk," "instant potatoes," "instant pudding," "instant Quaker Oats," "instant pancake mix," and any number of items.
Through all his excruciating trials, Job was forced to learn the lesson of patience. This was one of the most essential and vital character traits that God sought to build into Job's character, that was lacking. Although God had said that Job was certainly a righteous man, and shunned evil, this does not mean that he was yet a "seasoned veteran" of the spiritual wars. Job was lacking in patience, as all human beings are, by nature, and so God used the vehicle of sore trials in order to teach this crucial lesson. And so we read in the book of James, this salient commentary on Job -- this pithy, cogent remark: "Ye have heard of the PATIENCE of Job" (James 5:11). Nothing more. Just: "Ye have heard of the patience of Job."
The word translated "patience" here, in the original Greek, is hupomone and means "cheerful (or hopeful) endurance, constancy -- enduring, patience, patient continuance, waiting" (Strong's Concordance, #5281). Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon to the New Testament defines it as: "steadfastness, constancy, endurance" -- "the characteristic of a man who is unswerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings."
This describes Job perfectly. Despite his enormous trials, and even despite the caustic and depressing commentary of his supposed "friends," Job remained constant in his faith, constant in his obedience to the laws of God. He questioned why the trials were sent upon him, he complained about them in the bitterness of his very real and human spirit -- but he never lost faith and he never stopped obeying God! Therefore, James holds him out as an example of a man of God who has endured great hardships and remains faithful and persevering in faith -- an example placed in the Bible for our edification, our instruction, so that we also may be faithful and constant and unswerving in purpose and spiritual direction, despite the most intense and painful of whatever trials life may have in store for us!
All of God's true servants have had to learn patience. Abraham had to wait twenty five years, before God finally answered his prayers and fulfilled His promise of giving him a son. Moses had to wait forty years before God used him to bring Israel out of Egypt -- and then he had to endure another forty years, because of the sins of the people in the wilderness, before the nation was allowed to enter the Promised Land. David had to endure many years of fleeing from king Saul, his life in jeopardy ever moment, official persecution from the very king of Israel, until God removed Saul and appointed David to be King of Israel at the age of 30. Then David had to endure another 40 years, as king, fighting wars, opposing enemies who sought his life, even insurrection and rebellion of his own beloved son Absalom!
The apostle James encourages us to appreciate the character trait of patience. He writes: "Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it., until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh." The Greek word for "long," in "long patience," is makrothumeo and means to be "long spirited, forbearing, patient, be longsuffering, have long patience, patiently endure." Says Thayer's of this word, "to be of a long spirit, not to lose heart," "to persevere patiently and bravely, in enduring misfortunes and trials," "to be patient in bearing the offences and injuries of others; to be mild and slow in avenging; to be long-suffering, slow to anger, slow to punish."
James continues, "'Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the PATIENCE OF JOB, and have seen the end of the Lord that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy" (Jas. 5:7-11).
Job was one of the greatest examples of patience, and patient endurance, in the entire word of God. When we see what afflictions and trials he went through, it should encourage us to see the real reason for our own trials, and it should help us to fortify ourselves, to strengthen our faith, and to build patience. There is nothing like having a good example to follow, to encourage us not to lose heart or give up! The book of Job was placed in the word of God to give us just such a powerful example of faithful endurance and long-suffering patience!
James wrote: "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations [i.e., trials, afflictions, troubles]; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh PATIENCE." Faith and patience go hand-in-glove. One builds upon the other, even as two muscles used in opposition to each other builds both of them!
James continued: "But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be PERFECT and entire, wanting nothing" (James l:2-4). The Living Bible makes this even clearer: "Dear brothers, is your life full of difficulties and temptations? Then be happy, for when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow. So let it grow, and don't try to squirm out of your problems. For when your patience is finally in full bloom, then you will be ready for anything, strong in character, full and complete."
Patience develops faith, and faith increases patience. They work together, in harness like two mighty Clydesdale horses, pulling a loaded sled. Faith feeds patience, and patience nurtures faith. They augment each other. They work synergistically together, each multiplying the value and strength of the other.
Faith plus patience equals endurance -- perseverance -- stick-to-it-iveness -- bull-dog tenacity of spirit! Faith is audacity -- the boldness of believing in God's promises. Patience is tenacity -- hanging on to those promises, through thick and thin, fair weather and foul weather, through storm and tempest. Faith plus patience is like audacity plus tenacity. It is a mighty combination that achieves MIRACLES and makes it possible for us to enter the Kingdom of God! We must have both. Just one or the other is not enough. But both of them in combination equals strength of character! And both of them are strengthened by having to face trials, tests, obstacles, disappointments, injuries, oppression, mistreatment, unfair reverses and condemnation of others, the onset of all kinds of trials, tribulation, troubles and afflictions!
"Quitters Never Win; Winners Never Quit"
Can you imagine how ludicrous it would be, in God's sight, for a man or woman to pray to God, at the beginning of a trial or test, to endure but a short time, and then to suddenly GIVE UP and QUIT, perhaps just moments before the answer comes? If our faith gives out, when troubles come, then we lose out. To quote an old expression: "Quitters never win; winners never quit."
Paul wrote to the Hebrews, "Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him" (Heb.10:35-38).
To quit -- to shrink back -- to give up, when the going gets a little tough -- is to brand oneself a loser, a spiritual "COWARD," a lily-livered yellow-bellied skunk! To throw in the towel when the fight looks desperate is to allow oneself to be an abject failure -- a real "loser" for all eternity! There is no way you can win, if you quit before the game is over. If you do that, you forfeit the game! But if you hang in there, and never give up, even though you are behind, and you never give up, then you will finally win, no matter what the "score" may be at the worst moment of the contest. Why? Because God has all power, and loves you, and if you remain faithful, He will eventually intervene on your side, and grant you the victory, and the reward of entrance into His Kingdom!
The apostle Paul said, "We are pressed on ever side by troubles, but not crushed and broken. We are perplexed because we don't know why things happen as they do, but we don't give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. These bodies of ours are constantly facing death just as Jesus did; so it is clear to all that it is only the living Christ within (who keeps us safe).
"Yes, we live under constant danger to our lives because we serve the Lord, but this gives us constant opportunities to show forth the power of Jesus Christ within our dying bodies. Because of our preaching we face death, but it has resulted in eternal life for you" (II Cor.4:8-12, TLB).
Paul continues, "That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our inner strength in the Lord is growing every day. These troubles and sufferings of ours are, after all, quite small and won't last very long. Yet this short time of distress will result in God's richest blessing upon us forever and ever!" (verses 16-17).
The precious value of these temporary trials and afflictions is inestimable! Because of them, our inner strength grows every day. Because of them, we will receive God's richest blessings for ever and ever in the Kingdom of God! They help perfect and shape our spiritual CHARACTER, and character is the only thing we can take with us when we die!
Our Future Glory Has a Price Tag
For this reason, no matter how serious or painful or trying our present difficulty is, we can say with Paul: "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the GLORY which shall be revealed in us" (Rom.8:16-18).
Or, as the Living Bible puts it, "Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the GLORY he will give us later" (Rom.8:18).
Says the apostle Paul concerning this comparison of our trials with our destiny: "For our light affliction which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of GLORY; while we look not at the things which are seen [such as our trials], but at the things which are not seen [we focus on our future destiny and glory, and on the invisible God who is at our side, rooting for us, and encouraging us, through His Word]: for the things which are seen are temporal [temporary]; but the things which are not seen are eternal" (II Cor.4:17-18).
In our trials, then, we must develop faith with patience -- enduring faith. Jesus says of the Philadelphia phase of His true Church, "Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown" (Rev.3:10-11). The Living Bible translates
this verse: "Because you have PATIENTLY OBEYED me despite the persecution, therefore I will protect you from the time of Great Tribulation and temptation, which will come upon the world to test everyone alive. Look! I am coming soon! Hold tightly to the little strength you have -- so that no one will take away your crown" (vs-10-11).
Remember, Jesus said: "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62). He also said: "If any man come to me, and hate not [or, love less by comparison] his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26).
Jesus continued,, "And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. . . . So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke l4:27-33).
When push comes to shove, when the petal hits the metal, when all is said and done, in the final analysis -- as Christians, as true followers of Christ -- we are called to give up everything, to forsake all that we have -- period -- that is the sum total of it all! We must be prepared to just "walk away" from the things of this life, at any moment, as God may require! We may be required to give up even our long-time BEST FRIEND, our "soul brother," if at any time he goes astray, and would threaten our relationship with God and Jesus Christ!
Are you willing to literally "follow Christ" -- through trials and tests, through thick and thin, even if it requires separation from a mate or loved one, family, close friends, and a complete redirection of your life? Are you ready to forsake all, for His sake? House, home, possessions, family, friends, job -- any thing and everything that could stand between you and eternal life, between you and your crown of salvation?
The apostle Paul wrote, "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ" (Phil.3:7-8). The word for "dung" here is skubalon in Greek and means "what is thrown to the dogs, refuse, dung." Thayer's adds, "any refuse, as the excrement of animals, offscouring, rubbish, dregs" -- that which is "worthless and detestable."
As the Living Bible puts it: "But all these things that I once thought very worthwhile -- now I've thrown them all away so that I can put my trust and hope in Christ alone. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have put aside all else, counting it worth less than nothing, in order that I can have Christ" (same verses).
How much value do you place upon the temporary baubles and thrills and bangles of this physical life?
In the life experience of Job, obviously, he lost it all -- everything -- except his wife, and she even turned against him and scorned him and told him to curse God and die! But Job remained faithful, even though he even lost every one of his friends, and those who came to comfort him falsely accused him of the greatest of sins!
Moses, also, considered the service of God, with afflictions and trials, as being worth more than all the riches and honors of this world. The apostle Paul wrote in Hebrews: "By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ GREATER RICHES than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king, for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible" (Heb.11:24-27).
Jesus said, "And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold and shall inherit everlasting life" (Matt.19:29).
This promise means that even though you may suffer great affliction now, in this life, your reward in the Kingdom of God will be ONE HUNDRED FOLD -- besides eternal life! It does not mean that you will necessarily receive a hundredfold during this life, compared to what you would have received if you did not give up the ambitions and goals of the world. No, you cannot have both. Jesus said it plainly: "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon [money]" (Matt.6:24). If your heart is still wrapped up in the things of this world, then you have not learned the real meaning of what it is to be a Christian.
If you have one foot in the world, and one foot in God's Kingdom, you will fall off the fence for sure. That is a state of disequilibrium which cannot endure. You will lose your balance, and fall into the worldly sphere, completely, unless you get both feet out of the world, and its desires, goals, and ambitions!
Paul put it plainly. He said: "If ye then be risen with Christ, SEEK those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Col.3:1-3).
If we truly put God first in our life, then we can endure all trials, tests, troubles and afflictions, and come out WINNERS -- more than conquerors -- triumphant in Christ!
Paul wrote: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulations or distress or persecution, or famines or nakedness, or perils or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in ALL THESE THINGS we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of Gods which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom.8:35-39).
As Paul also wrote: "Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to TRIUMPH in Christ" (II Cor.2:14). And as he also wrote: "But thanks be to God, which giveth us the VICTORY through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Cor.15:57).
Through Christ, we can be true "winners." We can become true OVERCOMERS!
The Creation of "Diamonds"
Trials develop within us the diamond-like qualities of character of God's Holy Spirit. Each one of us is like a spiritual diamond in the rough, lying in the cone of an extinct volcano. If an untrained passerby dug us up out of the earth, and glanced at us, he would cast us aside. We would have the appearance of a soapy kind of stone -- nothing very valuable at all. But a trained diamond expert, would know better. He would know that if we were cleaned up, and freed from all the clinging impurities, and that if we were properly cut, that we would shine brilliantly, radiating light magnificently from every facet!
What does it take to form a diamond -- the hardest substance known to man? What does it take to create such a masterpiece of Creation, which has the unique property of radiating light -- reflected light -- in a million cascades of iridescent, sparkling magnificence?
Diamonds are formed in the heart of the earth -- in the deep innermost bowels of volcanoes. Their creation requires four things: 1) the long duration of time -- diamonds cannot be created instantaneously; 2) extreme and unrelenting pressure; 3) intense and remorseless heat -- very high temperatures; and 4) the proper material to be acted upon -- that is, carbon crystals.
Diamonds are crystals formed almost entirely of carbon. Most diamonds have eight sides, forming double pyramids; but some have twelve sides, and some six. They were formed millions of
years ago when carbon was subjected to great heat and pressure. Diamonds are very rare. They are among the most costly jewels in the world because of their beauty and brilliance and rarity.
Diamonds have great power to reflect light, bend rays of light, and to break light up into all the colors of the rainbow. But to produce the greatest possible brilliance in a diamond, many little sides, or facets, must be cut and polished on it, and each tiny facet must be exactly the right size and shape and must be placed at exactly the right angle. The style of cut often seen today is the round shape with fifty-eight facets, which is called the brilliant cut.
Gem diamonds can be graded and judged according to their weight, purity, color, and cut. The weight of the diamond is measured by the carat, one carat weighing 200 milligrams. A flawless diamond should have no physical defects, such as cracks, spots, scratches, blemishes, or cloudy texture. Cutting and polishing a diamond is a slow process requiring great patience and skill.
We, as Christians, are actually "diamonds in the rough." In this present life, to the naked eye, we don't look like much. The world despises us. But God has given us His Spirit, and we are developing the very characteristics of God Himself! This can only be done if we, like the diamond, are subjected to the elements of 1) extreme pressure, and 2) intense heat, 3) over a long period of time. This process is what produces brilliant spiritual CHARACTER!
This is the simple reason for the trials of Job, mentioned in the book of Job. Job was not being punished by God for being self-righteous, or for any sins he had committed. Rather, his character was being purged, purified, refined, and shaped AND PERFECTED, into a brilliant, flawless spiritual diamond that will shine forever, through all eternity!
Daniel expressed this sublime, beautiful truth this way: "And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever" (Daniel 12:3).
The Essence of Job's REAL Problem
Job's real problem was not some sin or sins he had committed, and refused to acknowledge, and "covered up," as his three friends so seriously assumed and believed. It was, rather, that he was simply in God's sight still untested. He was a potential diamond (interestingly, carbon forms the basic structure of human beings, even as it is the basic substance of a physical diamond), but he had never been subjected to the heat and intense pressure to bring out the brilliance of character, and to harden that character so that no force can change it!
God does not want wishy-washy, spineless, cowardly, indecisive, hesitant., weaklings in His Kingdom. He is training us to become His very Sons -- with the attributes of GOD HIMSELF -- to become very divine members of the Family of God! To do this, He must subject us to intense pressure, trial, trouble, temptations, and the heat of fiery trials, to purge and purify and strengthen and harden us, so that our character for righteousness will become tough, rocklike, the hardest and most impermeable substance in all Creation!
The Jews have an expression which hints at the purpose of human life in a very interesting way. They tell us that God intends human being to be "partners with God" in creation. That is, we are to be working in partnership with God to perfect the world. The expression they use for this is the Hebrew tikum olam -- the "perfecting of the world."
But, even the Jewish people don't understand the full scope of this purpose and plan. To really become God's "partners in creation," we must become JUST AS HE IS -- on the same God-plane relation -- as His very spirit-born Sons! This life is merely the training and testing ground. But when we are born of God, at the resurrection, we will become HIS UNIVERSE-RULING DIVINE FAMILY -- PARTNERS OF HIS IN CREATION AND RULING EVERYTHING THAT IS OR WILL BE CREATED!
What a calling! What a destiny! No wonder David wrote: "What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thine hands; thou hast put ALL THINGS under his feet" (Psalm 8:4-6).
What is David talking about here? In verse 5 he relates, "When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained." He then goes on to state that God has -- or intends to put -- ALL THINGS UNDER THE DOMINION OF MAN!
How often have Jews and Christians read right over these verses and missed their real meaning! God intends to put MAN eventually, when he is perfected, over all the "works" of God's hands -- ALL THINGS! That must of necessity include the HEAVENS, WHICH DAVID SPECIFICALLY MENTIONS HERE, as well as the moon and STARS -- the entire STARRY UNIVERSE!
The apostle Paul took note of this. He quoted David's words in the second chapter of the book of Hebrews, in the New Testament. He then added, "Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection
under him, he left NOTHING that is not put under him. But NOW we see NOT YET ALL THINGS PUT UNDER HIM" (Heb.2:8).
"ALL THINGS" which God created, all the "works of his hands," would include THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE, with all its stars, galaxies, star clusters, planets, and the entirety of the COSMOS! What a breath-taking, mind-boggling future God has planned for mankind -- when his character has been shaped, refined, and perfected!
The Danger of Sin and Rebellion
But God does not intend to give such incredible, awesome powers to just "anybody." We must first qualify, and prove ourselves, be tested, trained, and our character must be perfected, so that we will never succumb to temptation, as Lucifer did, and rebel against God's authority, and turn against Him in hostility, rage, and enmity!
Therefore, God created us of the dust of the ground -- flesh and blood. He created us with free moral agency -- the ability to CHOOSE which direction we will go -- whether to obey God, or to SIN, and follow lawlessness (I John 3:4). God commands us to CHOOSE -- and He tells us, for our own eternal good, to choose GOOD -- the way of obedience to Him -- the way of LIFE (Deut.30:19-20).
Each one of us has the potential to sin at any time. What keeps us from sinning? Since we are free moral agents, created with the powers of free and independent choice, there is only one thing that can keep us from sinning; that is our own character! God Himself cannot sin because He will not sin! Even so, the only thing in all creation that can keep us from sinning is our own will, motivation, and desire and self restraint -- our very own personal character and will power -- to resist the temptation to sin, whenever it comes along!
In Real Estate, it is said that there are three major elements in choosing a home to purchase. They are: 1) location, 2) location, and 3) location! Even so, in the Christian life, there are three things that God is most concerned with in each one of us. They are: 1) character, 2) CHARACTER, and 3) CHARACTER!
The Counsel of a Wise Friend -- Elihu
Elihu, a young man, was a righteous and godly man who did not join in with Job's other three friends, and condemn him for imagined sins and hidden transgressions. He was the one man among Job's friends who did not sin and falsely accuse Job. In fact, he was used by God to point out Job's true problem. He said to Job that his real problem was not some imagined previous
sin that brought on his trials, but rather his attitude of complaining and sitting in judgment of God, during his trials!
Elihu said to Job, "You have said it in my hearing, yes, you've said it again and again -- 'I am pure, I am innocent; I have not sinned.' You say God is using a fine-toothed comb to try to find a single fault, and so to count you as his enemy. 'And he puts my feet in the stocks,' you say, and watches every move I make.'
Elihu goes on: "All right, here is my reply: In this very thing you have sinned by speaking of God that way. For God is greater than man. Why should you fight against him just because he does not give account to you of what he does?" (Job 33:8-13).
Job's problem was that God allowed trials to come upon him -- very serious trials and severe injustices -- and did not give Job an explanation for WHY He was doing it. Job's attitude in his trials was his problem. He wanted answers from God, and he groused, groaned, and complained that God refused to answer him!
Elihu went on, "For God speaks again and again, in dreams, in visions of the night when deep sleep falls on men as they lie on their beds. He opens their ears in times like that, and gives them wisdom and instruction, causing them to change their minds, and keeping them from pride, and warning them of these penalties of sin, and keeping them from falling into some trap" (vs.14-18, TLB).
Elihu pointed out to Job, reminding him of the foundational, fundamental fact, that God is just, He is fair, and He never commits sin. He declared:, "There is no truer statement than this, God is never wicked or unjust. He alone has authority over the earth and dispenses justice for the world" (Job 34:12-13).
Since this is true, God had a divine reason for permitting Job's trials! They were to TEACH him, to INSTRUCT him -- they were a valuable object lesson in character training!
Elihu told Job, "Turn back from evil, for it was to PREVENT you from getting into a life of evil that God sent this suffering. Look! God is all-powerful. Who is a teacher like him? Who can say that what he does is absurd or evil? Instead, GLORIFY HIM for his mighty works for which he is so famous" (Job 36:21-24).
This is one of the fundamental lessons taught in the book of Job! GOD RULES! And He is perfectly JUST! Therefore, whatever He does is FOR OUR GOOD, including allowing us to go through horrendous, mind-boggling trials!
At this point, Job's armor of self-defense and self-justification began to crack. His defenses were stripped bare by the wisdom of Elihu. He ALWAYS had an answer for the criticisms of his three friends. Their comments, though often true enough in general principle, simply did not apply in Job's case, because they argued from a false premise -- the premise that Job was a terrible sinner, despite his outward appearance of being "righteous."
However, Elihu nailed Job's problem -- and Job knew it. He had no answer. After Elihu's remarks, contained in chapters 32 through 37, Job was silent. God had given him his request. He had asked that someone speak with him, and show him the reason for his sufferings, without terrifying him with awesome power and majesty, as God Himself possessed. God sent Elihu to speak with him -- a young but wise man, wise beyond his years. Elihu said to him, "Behold, I am according to thy wish in God's stead: I also am formed out of the clay. Behold, my terror shall not make thee afraid, neither shall my hand be heavy upon thee" (Job 33:6-7).
Elihu said to Job, "Behold, God exalts by his power: who teachest like him? Who hath enjoined him his way? or who can say, Thou has wrought iniquity? Remember that thou MAGNIFY HIS WORK, which men behold" (Job 36:22-24). "Behold, God is GREAT," Elihu declared (v.26), and went on to demonstrate and expound on the incredible greatness of God! He asserted, "Hearken unto this, O Job: stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God" (37:14).
You see, Job had allowed his severe trials to get his mind off of God, and His majesty, His greatness, His goodness, His infallible perfection. Job had allowed his afflictions and his suffering to turn his thoughts and his emotions to a negative bitterness and condemnation of God, for the trials which he was unjustly suffering, and he knew they were unjust. The point is, God was teaching him a great lesson, and he just didn't get it -- yet! God was fashioning and shaping and perfecting his ENDURANCE -- his faith -- his spiritual character!
When Elihu was finished speaking, Job finally knew his problem, his fault, where he had gone wrong in complaining and finding fault with God, falsely accusing Him. Even as Job's friends had falsely accused Job, not knowing the truth, even so Job had falsely accused God, not understanding what He was doing! In that sense, Job was as guilty as they were -- he was committing the same sin toward God as they were committing against him! He was assuming that God had no good reason to allow him to suffer his horrible trials! And therefore, he was missing the point of the trials altogether -- he was assuming they had no spiritual value -- he did not grasp that our trials and afflictions work in us to shape our character so that we can one day shine like spiritual DIAMONDS IN THE SKY -- as the stars for ever and ever!
When Job finally got the picture, he shut up. He had no more words to defend himself, or his actions. He was quiet as a church mouse! At this point, then, God Himself DOES begin to speak with Job, challenging him, and testing him, and finally explaining His own actions in a way that Job would really get the picture, get the point of the lessons and the time God has spent with him, dealing with him, out of divine love. Job was greatly humbled by it all. He finally saw himself for what he really was in God's sight, compared to God.
Elihu's Insight into Job's Real Problem
Elihu told Job, "God is so great that we cannot begin to know him. No one can begin to understand eternity" (v.26, The Living Bible). He then goes on to describe the greatness and majesty and awesomeness of Almighty God.
What was Job's problem? His view of the world and the universe began with himself. He had a very limited perspective. Because of his trials, he was led to deny the providence and love of God, and even began to falsely accuse God. Because of Job's own ignorance, and limited understanding, He didn't understand why he had such trials, and it blew his mind. In his pain and suffering, he finally succumbed to the temptation to accuse God of being unjust and unfair, and he actually criticized God.
Aren't there times in our lives, when all of us are tempted to do the very same thing? Don't we at times become "critical" of God, the way He allows certain things, or because of certain trials we go through, and which He does not remove from us?
We are just like Job!
At one point, Elihu asked Job, "Must God tailor his justice to your demands? Must he change the order of the universe to suit your whims? The answer must be obvious even to you! Anyone even half bright will agree with me that you, Job, are speaking like a fool. You should be given the maximum penalty for the wicked way you have talked about God. For now you have added rebellion, arrogance and blasphemy to your other sins" (Job 34:33-37).
Do you see how a negative attitude feeds on itself, nurses its wounds, and grows? Job's trials finally got to him, and caused him to speak negatively about God. Rather than find fault with himself, he found fault with God. He became self-righteous. Elihu declared, "For Job has said, 'I am innocent, but God says I'm not. I am called a liar, even though I am innocent. I am horribly punished, even though I have not sinned.'
"Who else is as arrogant as Job? He must have spent some time with evil men, for he said, 'Why waste time trying to please God?'” (Job 34:5-9).
But when he saw he had falsely judged and confessed his true condition, and his weakness, and how God was righteous, after all, Job repented from his innermost heart, and turned to God completely broken up as the picture he saw of his own wickedness in falsely accusing God!
Job finally said, after hearing God's own testimony of His righteousness and power and good works, "I heard about you before, but now I have seen you, and I loathe myself and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5-6).
In the final analysis, Job finally came through his trials with shining victory! When he came to really see himself for the sawed off piece of rotten refuse that he really was, in comparison to God, when he finally came to see his true relationship with God, and his own puny smallness, and the incredible greatness of God, he thoroughly repented, abhorred himself, and had a complete remake of his attitude -- a completely new attitude of worship and praise for God. "Then Job answered the LORD, and said, I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee . . . 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" (Job 42:1-6).
A miracle was accomplished in Job's life. He finally saw himself for the bag of bones that he was. He finally saw that he was nothing but a piece of flotsam and jetsam floating on the river of life, bobbing up and down, carried along. He saw his own utter human unworthiness. He saw, finally, as Isaiah declared, "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. . . But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand" (Isaiah 64:6-8).
The tools God used to bring Job to this new awareness, were his trials and sorrows, and the tests God had put upon him. These helped develop and perfect his character. They were the thing we all enjoy the least in life -- the experiencing of trials and troubles. We forget the important lesson that Elihu told Job about God: "He delivers by distress!" (Job 36:l5).
Has God been testing your patience? Are you still waiting for "God's time" to deliver you from some trial to finally come?
God's Name is Redeemer, Deliverer, Sustainer! Have we forgotten that? God enjoys delivering His people! He loves to sweep away all trials and problems, and to rescue us from all disaster! He teaches us by means of our trials and troubles.
God's Personal Character-Building Program
King David wrote, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might LEARN thy statutes" (Psalm 119:71). David confessed, "Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word" (verse 87).
Yes, our trials are for our GOOD! We must get that into our heads! It bears repeating over and over again, until we get the message! They are GOOD for us! Every trial is a divine messenger sent by a loving God to help us overcome and to grow, so that we can qualify to be in His Kingdom! The more we overcome, and endure, and the more character we build, will determine our position and reward in His Kingdom!
When I have been humbled, or chastened before God, by the whip of some sore trials, with tears flowing from my eyes, my cheeks stained from crying, it has taught me to love God all the more -- and to appreciate His kindness all the more. My heart is overwhelmed with love, because God takes the time to teach me, and to spank me, and to soften up my hard heart, and to bring me into a closer and more intimate relationship with Him.
Paul put it plainly. He wrote, "And have you quite forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you, his child? He said, 'My son, don't be angry when the Lord punishes you. Don't be discouraged when he has to show you where you are wrong. For when he punishes you, it proves that he loves you. When he whips you it proves you are really his child. Let God train you, for he is doing what any loving father does for his children. Whoever heard of a son who was never corrected? If God doesn't punish you when you need it, as other fathers punish their sons, then it means that you aren't really God's son at all -- that you don't really belong in his family. Since we respect our fathers here on earth, though they punish us, should we not all the more cheerfully submit to God's training so that we can begin to really live?" (Heb.12:5-9, The Living Bible).
Yes, trials are for our TRAINING! God is operating a "Spiritual Fitness and Training Program" and it is a very intensive course of study. It requires diligent 24 hours a day work-outs, and exercise programs. God is the "Coach" or "Trainer," and we are the "class." Just as in a human fitness dance class, or a Karate class, the students must learn the basics, and work out, and practice their routines and moves, so in God's Spiritual Fitness Class, we must "work out," and develop godly, holy, righteous CHARACTER!
No trial is enjoyable when we are suffering it -- it hurts!
"But afterwards we can see the result, a quiet growth in grace and character" (Heb.12:11).
God's Tremendous Concern for You
How much does God CARES for His children? The truth is, nothing happens in our life, without God knowing all about it, from stem to stern, from top to bottom! He knows EVERYTHING! He knows if you've been mistreated, slandered, falsely accused, or hurt by others. He knows who every one of your enemies are -- even the ones you don't know about yourself! He knows your problems, trials, difficulties intimately -- for He put them there! He is working with you. He is shaping your character. He is shaping your destiny!
Therefore, as the apostle Peter wrote, "Dear friends, don't be bewildered or surprised when you go through the fiery trials ahead, for this is no strange, unusual thing that is going to happen to you. Instead, be really glad -- because these trials will make you partners with Christ in his suffering, and afterwards you will have the wonderful joy of sharing his glory in that coming day when it will be displayed" (I Pet.4:12-13).
David put it plainly, and eloquently. He wrote, "O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit or stand. When far away you know my every thought. You chart the path ahead of me, and tell me where to stop and rest. Every moment, you know where I am. You know what I am going to say before I even say it. You both precede and follow me, and place your hand of blessing on my head.
"This is too glorious, too wonderful to believe! I can never be lost to your Spirit! I can never get away from my God! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the place of the dead, you are there. If I ride the morning winds to the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, your strength will support me" (Psalm 139:1-10).
David adds, "You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Every day was recorded in your Book! How precious it is Lord, to realize that you are thinking about me constantly! I can't even count how many times a day your thoughts turn towards me. And when I waken in the morning, you are still thinking of me!" (v.16-18).
"I Know that My Redeemer Liveth!"
We should see clearly from the book of Job, and the other Scriptures, that trials and tests are an integral part of the Christian life. God intends them to help us to grow in spiritual character. God commands us, through the apostle Peter, "But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (II Pet.3:18).
God tells us, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Phil.3:12-13).
Jesus told His followers that they would have trials. He warned, "They shall put you out of the synagogues; yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them" (John 16:2-4).
Jesus added, "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).
Jesus Himself went through tribulation, trials and suffering, setting us an example. He promised that we, His followers, would also experience tribulation and suffering, if we truly follow Him. But He encourages us to be happy -- to be cheerful -- to rejoice! Why? Because He overcame every obstacle, every trial, and He is living His life in us, today, through the Holy Spirit, and He will give us also the power to overcome!
As Paul wrote to the Philippians, "I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Phil.4:12). Do you have that solid conviction? Do you have that kind of tenacious, grappling, intense faith?
Jesus Christ is with us in all our trials! He suffers with us. He loves us very dearly. He is ever-present in our difficulties and sufferings. He told His disciples, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. . . . " He added, "Lo, I am with you always even unto the end of the world" (Matt.28:19-20).
With Jesus Christ within us in Spirit, and at our sides, we can overcome every trial and affliction. We can endure all things, and overcome every problem, and conquer every obstacle, and enter God's glorious Kingdom!
The story of Job paints the picture for us. In his latter end, after he had endured suffering and travail and tribulation, God blessed him as never before. And he, along with us, now looks forward to with great anticipation, the coming of the Kingdom of God!
"If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will
I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou
wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands" (Job 14:14-15).
"For if a man should die, shall he live again, having accomplished the
days of his life? I will wait till I exist again? Thou shalt call, and I will
hearken to thee: but do not thou reject the work of thine hands" (LXX).
Showing his enduring faith, amidst sore trials, Job asserted:
"For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day
upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in
my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall
behold, and not another" (Job 19:25-27).
"For I know that he is eternal who is about to deliver me, and to raise up
upon the earth my skin that endures these sufferings: but these things have
been accomplished to me of the Lord; which I am conscious of in myself;
which mine eye has seen, and not another, but all have been fulfilled to me
in my bosom" (LXX).
The story of Job is a testimony of the love God has for each one of His sons and daughters. It is an epic, gripping story of faith in the face of death, endurance despite harrowing sufferings and trials. It is the saga of the character of man being perfected -- like a brilliant, shining diamond.
Yes, our Redeemer lives -- and He will finish the "work of His hands"!