The End of the Lord
We have all “heard of the patience of Job” (James 5: 11; AV), and if that had been all there was to hear, it would only exacerbate our own disappointment, for in adversity we conspicuously fail to produce patience like his. But the verse does not end there: “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”. Thus there is something for us to see as well as to hear; and that thing to see is “the end of the Lord”, even that “the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy”. But this end is only seen by those who have been made broken in heart and contrite in spirit under the Lord’s mighty hand (see Ps. 34: 18). Yes, the patience (or endurance) of Job is proverbial but this is not the point of the book. The paramount question is this, ‘Have we seen “the end of the Lord” that He had in view in all His dealings with Job and which He brought about in His own perfect way?’ There is just one grand objective in the book of Job. Whatever is said and done, whoever speaks or acts—all has reference to one person, and all is designed to bring about one “end”. Heaven and Earth, Jehovah and Satan, the Chaldeans and the Sabaeans, fire from heaven and wind from the wilderness, Job’s friends, Job’s wife and Job’s children—all are engaged in order to secure this one object.
Job is a wonderful book in itself, apart from either the patience of Job, or the end of the Lord. We might study it with respect to its place in the canon of Scripture, its structure, the time when it was written, its language and the references to zoology, meteorology and astronomy. All these and more might well form subjects of separate study, but we leave them aside, because, however interesting each might be in itself, they are not the “end” for which the book is given to us.
That the book is ancient is beyond all dispute—it probably belongs to the period covered by Genesis. Its lesson is the oldest we could have for it takes us back to the very first lesson taught in the Bible. In Genesis 3 we have the fall of man, and that chapter ends with man being driven out of the Garden of Eden (see v24). Then in chapter 4 we are shown the way back to God in grace, and man’s reaction to it. God’s way is the way which Abel took, and man’s way, is the way which Cain invented. This, therefore, is the oldest lesson in the world. Now the book of Job follows this up and expands the lesson by answering the solemn question: “How can man be just with God?” (Job 9: 2). This matter is not only the oldest lesson, but it is the most important one that it is possible for us to learn. Indeed, if we do not understand it, then it does not matter what else we may know. Our knowledge may be vast, extensive, and deep on all other subjects, but it will never secure eternal blessing. No wonder then that at the very opening of God’s Word we have the foundation of eternal truth securely laid. The “end” which the Lord had in view in Job was to enforce this great lesson in such a way that it should serve as an object lesson for all time.
Job was “perfect” (Job 1: 1)—the Hebrew means upright, sincere without guile. He did possess that wisdom and understanding which fears the Lord, and departs from evil, but that is only a beginning (see Prov. 9: 10), and is not enough. Job was a stranger to the wisdom which always justifies God and condemns oneself, and to teach him that important lesson was the “end” of all that we read in the book that carries his name. Until man knows what is “a broken heart” and “a contrite spirit” (Ps. 34: 18) he cannot know either God or himself.
To bring about this objective, Satan was allowed to be the willing instrument to disturb Job’s nest. And yet infinite love controlled, permitted and overruled all, and caused all things to work “together for good” (Rom. 8: 28) to one who loved God, and who was called according to purpose. This was why the Devil was allowed access to our first parents. It was to bring forth the precious promise of the seed of the woman, and the announcement of Satan’s doom (see Gen. 3: 15). This was why Satan was allowed to bruise the heel of the Lord of glory, so that not only might men and women be saved, but that “through death” he who had the power of death might be ultimately defeated (see Heb. 2: 14), and his head crushed for ever. The Devil may intend one thing, but God uses him for another. In all these things satan is a minister—used for the ultimate blessing and comfort and help of God’s people, and for their present spiritual profit. He cannot go beyond the limits assigned to him (see Job 1: 12; 2: 6). Although allowed to be the author of Job’s trials and losses, all his labour was wasted, for it ended in Job receiving a double blessing for time and for earth, and the blessing of God for eternity.
In response to the first assault of the Enemy, designed to get him to curse God (see Job 1: 11), Job instead uttered those memorable words “Jehovah gave, and Jehovah hath taken away; blessed be the name of Jehovah (v21). When tempted a second time to curse God (see Job 2: 9), he replied “We have also received good from God, and should we not receive evil?” (v10). These are the sentiments of a pious, God–fearing soul but there is, as yet, no understanding of that deeper wisdom that justifies God, and condemns oneself. It is to arrive at this “end” that the rest of the book of Job is written, both for his blessing and ours. Divine love ruled and overruled all. It wounded that it might heal, it brought low that it might lift up, and it humbled that Job might be exalted. May we have the grace to learn the same precious lesson, and receive the same everlasting blessing! May our eyes be opened to see the great lesson of this book, and the perfection of the divine words and ways which brought about “the end of the Lord”.
The largest section of the book (chapters 2–31), records the conference of Job with his three friends, the design of which is to show that man, apart from divine revelation, has no real wisdom and cannot know God or find out himself. He may understand Jehovah’s “works” but Jehovah’s “ways” he cannot know. God’s works are seen by all but His ways are secret and hidden and can be known only by revelation. Hence we read “He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel” (Ps. 103: 7, my emphasis).
Too much importance may be placed upon the utterances of the various speakers for they are merely the gropings of the human mind to “find out the Almighty” (Job 11: 7), the vain opinions of a darkened understanding. We must not quote the sentiments, either of Job or his friends, as though they were necessarily Bible–truth. We have the exact, and truly inspired, record of what these men said, but it does not follow that what they said was necessarily either true or inspired.
The reasonings of the three friends are the same as those of men today. Eliphaz largely reasons on human experience (see Job 4: 8; 5: 3, 27; 15: 17), Bildad reasons on human tradition (see Job 8: 8), while Zophar reasons on human merit (see Job 11: 13, 14). If we look at the three speakers as a whole, the one great lesson for ourselves is this: man, with all his wisdom, and all his powers, cannot get to know God, and cannot meet man’s need. He can neither satisfy the righteous claims of God, nor heal the wounds of the sinner’s heart. All the reasonings of the three friends were false in their premise and wrong in their conclusions. The friends reasoned from the particular to the general: that is, they argued that what they had seen and observed in their own respective spheres was also true universally. They may have spoken truly of the “acts” of God, and of what they had seen in the case of individuals, but it did not follow that they could gather from these few instances what the law was that regulated the “ways” and dealings of God with mankind.
The theme of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar is natural religion. Though proceeding on different lines, using different arguments, and appealing to different evidence, they were all agreed, as all false religions are today, in one thing. That one thing is that man must do something to merit God’s favour and that if he does not do it, he will be punished. They cannot agree as to what that something is to be, but they are agreed that it must be something (though if your something is not like theirs, they may perhaps kill you as Cain killed Abel).
Man is fallen. He cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith, and calling upon God. What is he to do? Ah! That is the very thing that Job’s friends cannot tell him. They can talk of everything else, but, when it comes to this, they stop short, or speak words that are utterly vain and useless. Hence, neither Eliphaz’s experience, nor Bildad’s tradition, nor Zophar’s merit, could bring relief to Job. Job and his three friends all spoke “without knowledge” (Job 38: 2 etc.). They said many things that were true and sublime, eloquent and beautiful, but they did not know the truth of God, and therefore could not speak it. True wisdom always justifies God, and condemns oneself. In NT language: “let God be true , and every man false … that he should be just, and justify him that is of [the] faith of Jesus” (Rom. 3: 4, 26). One may reverence the Lord and yet not justify Him. One may depart from sin, and yet not condemn oneself, but rather, find in this very departure a ground for self–justification, instead of self–condemnation. The great “end” of the book of Job is to show that divine wisdom is evidenced by a broken heart and a contrite spirit. There can be no true fear of God without the one, and no effective departure from evil without the other. At the “end” of the whole matter Jehovah tells the three friends that “ye have not spoken rightly of me” (Job 42: 7). Neither had Job, until he confessed himself a sinner. Then, and only then, could Jehovah say “ye have not spoken rightly of me, like my servant Job” (v7, my emphasis). But that is not yet—at this stage the three friends did not really know God, and Job did not really know himself.
Elihu’s ministry occupies the central section in the structure of the book (see chapters 32–37) because it is the explanatory link between what has gone before and the preparation for what is to follow. This section is necessary, so that Elihu may show us where Job was wrong and where Job’s friends were wrong: “Against Job was his anger kindled, because he justified himself rather than God; and against his three friends was his anger kindled, because they found no answer, and [yet] condemned Job” (Job 32: 2, 3). Elihu shows Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar that they had not answered Job, points out to Job his fundamental error in justifying himself, and, most important of all, justifies God and speak on His behalf. Elihu’s ministry has this one peculiarity, which makes it stand out in sharp contrast with other ministries, ancient and modern: it is all for God. Elihu does not reason, as the three friends of Job had done. He used no arguments based on human experience, tradition, or merit, for in all this could be found no answer to Job’s great question “How can man be just with God?” (Job 9: 2). The three friends had condemned Job but had not convicted him. This has always been man’s method from that day to this. But God’s way is first to convict a man, so that man may then condemn himself. Unless, and until that is done, nothing will be achieved. Truly, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor our ways His ways (see Is. 55: 8).
Truth soon exposes folly. Job had said “I am clean without transgression; I am pure, and there is no iniquity in me” (Job 33: 9), while in the very same breath, he brings utterly false charges against God: “Lo, he findeth occasions of hostility against me” (v10). In one sentence Elihu lays the sharp axe of truth at this corrupt root when he says, “God is greater than man” (v12). How simple and yet how powerful! It follows, of course, that, if this be so, God must be the judge as to what is right and wrong, and not man. He alone can determine the standard of righteousness which He demands. But this declaration is the very truth that man will not have, either then or now. Whether he be infidel or religious, whether he speak from the university chair or the pulpit, man constantly sits in judgement on God: on His works, on His Word and on His ways. Man presumes and dares to decide what God has said, what God has done, what God will do, and what God ought to do. He gives high–sounding names to his philosophising—as if that gives it credence, whereas it only makes clear his stupidity. He assumes the position of judge, and decides what is, or is not, worthy of God. None of this is new. It is exactly what God has given us in this book of Job. There we are shown that what is, has ever been. Job and his friends utter the same follies as those we hear on all sides today. But there is also something else that is not new and that is that “God is greater than man”. Oh that there were more men and women like Elihu, able to speak “on God’s behalf” (Job 36: 2, AV) and point men to the living God!
God Himself now speaks (Job 38–41). Let us note, and mark it well: Jehovah’s address is entirely about Himself. No other subject is allowed to share or distract our attention. This is what brings about “the end of the Lord”. What an important lesson for all who would minister or speak for God! He Himself is to be the one great theme of all testimony. Nothing lower, nothing else and nothing different. How solemn that the pulpits of today are occupied with the praises of man! It is the gospel of humanity that is preached, rather than the Gospel of God. His Word, instead of being proclaimed, is criticised. Instead of obeying Scripture, man sits in judgment upon it. The oldest lesson in the world therefore comes like a lightening flash, exposing the vanity of much of what passes for ministry today, and illuminating the darkness by which we are surrounded. No wonder that instead of the sinner being humbled in the dust before the mighty God, he is exalted with self–righteousness and pride. No wonder that instead of being brought down, he is puffed up. No wonder that the results of man’s ministry are so opposite to the results of Jehovah’s ministry, as we see it in this book. The gospel of humanity lifts man into a temporary sense of being more or less right, while the object of the Gospel of God is to convict him of being altogether wrong. Man must be humbled before he can be exalted. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar are as busy today as ever—trying to make men good, by reasoning and persuasion. But they only “darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge” (Job 38: 2). This is the lesson which we learn from the fact that when God intervenes, and undertakes to accomplish everything where all others have failed, He speaks only of Himself. The effect of the first address of Jehovah (see Job 38: 1–40: 2) is to bring forth this first sign of conviction from Job’s heart. The very man who had said he was “pure” and “clean” (Job 33: 9), now calls out “I am vile” (Job 40: 4; AV). What has brought about this great change? Only the ministry of Jehovah. We must have a true sense of the glory and greatness of God. That alone will show us, and convince us, that we are “nought” (Job 40: 4). Yet God’s work with Job is not yet complete. He who had begun this good work will finish it (see Phil. 1: 6) and hence Jehovah continues to speak, demanding of Job “Wilt thou also annul my judgment? wilt thou condemn me that thou mayest be righteous?” (Job 40: 8). How important it is to get true thoughts of God! This is to get right indeed, and, if we are right here, we shall be right about other things. Finally, Job confesses “I had 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: 5, 6).
No more contention with God or with man. No more self–justification. All such things are lost in a true apprehension of the greatness and glory of the living God. This is far more than assenting to the doctrine of ‘moral depravity’. It is far more than saying we are ‘miserable sinners’. It is the experimental realisation of the accomplishment of a divine work: “Mine eye seeth THEE, wherefore I abhor MYSELF” (my emphasis). These two things are insuperably linked together. It is impossible to do the one without the other.
When Job got right with God and had new thoughts about Him, he not only had new thoughts about himself but also got new thoughts about his friends, and much else. In Job 42:10 we are told that he “prayed for his friends”. He interceded for those with whom he had so bitterly contended, and toward whom he had used such vitriol. All Eliphaz’s experience was gone. All Bildad’s tradition was flung to the winds. All Zophar’s merit was now seen to be of no avail. All alike are now humbled before God. All contention was over. The revelation of the glory of God, followed by the manifestation of His grace, has ended in conviction of sin, tears of repentance, the sweet savour of the burnt–offering, and the voice of prayer.
What more is there for us to be told? The overthrow of the Adversary! At the beginning he had robbed Job of all his possessions; at “the end”, “Jehovah gave Job twice as much as he had before” (v 10) and we are told “Jehovah blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning” (v12). This is “the end”. It was not Job’s wisdom, or Job’s good works, it was not Job’s merit, or Job’s repentance, but “Jehovah gave” (v10) and “Jehovah blessed” (v12). Job had been brought to the end of himself, and was thus in a right position to see the “end of the Lord”, that, though God is very great, yet He is also “full of tender compassion and pitiful” (James 5: 11). May we have the grace to learn the same precious lesson, and receive the same everlasting blessing! May our eyes be opened to see the great lesson of this book, and the perfection of the divine words and ways which brought about “the end of the Lord”. May it indeed be so!