Sermonette: Where Does Righteousness Come From?
A Look at Job
David C. Grabbe
Given 28-Mar-15; 19 minutes
In the 14th chapter of Ezekiel, God issues a decree of destruction against the persistently unfaithful nation. Our focus today is not going to be on that prophecy, but rather on an example God uses. Two different times in Ezekiel 14, God singles out the righteousness of Noah, Daniel, and Job. If God holds them up as examples of righteousness, it is certainly worth the time and effort to understand why.
So where did the righteousness of Noah, Daniel, and Job come from? This is not just an esoteric question, but rather it is one that is foundational to understanding our walk with God. Each of the accounts of Noah, Daniel, and Job answer this question in their own way, but we are going to concentrate on Job’s account because of the wealth of instruction it contains.
The very first verse (Job 1:1) says that Job “was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil.” Then in Job 1:8 and also in Job 2:3, God Himself repeats that Job was “a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil.” God also adds in both places that “there is none like him on the earth.” This was a man whom God praised highly.
Job’s righteousness went beyond the letter of the law. Just as Jesus magnified the Seventh Commandment in the Sermon on the Mount, so Job says in Job 31:1 that “I have made a covenant with my eyes, why then should I look upon a young woman?” He understood the intent of the law. Throughout chapter 31 is a record that his righteousness was not Pharisaical law-keeping. His approach to life was one of justice, mercy, compassion, and defending the poor, even while he shunned greed, covetousness, and materialism.
You might recall that James defines “pure and undefiled religion” as “visit[ing] orphans and widows in their trouble, and keep[ing] oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). God Himself declared that Job “shun[ned] evil,” so we know that he kept himself unspotted from the world, and the record in Job 29 shows that “visit[ing] orphans and widows in their trouble” was a regular part of Job’s life.
This man was avoiding all the wrong things, and doing all the right things. Even Satan did not bring a charge against Job when given the chance. Satan, the accuser of the brethren, who accuses them before God day and night, had nothing with which to accuse Job. This does not mean that Job was without defect, but it shows that Satan had to silently agree that Job was upright and blameless. There was an accusation that perhaps Satan could have made, but there may have been a good reason that he did not, as we will see.
As we know, most of the book consists of a heated conversation between Job and his so-called friends. Job protests his innocence while they accuse him of being a secret sinner. Job was sure that he had done nothing to deserve what had happened. While he is defending himself, he repeatedly states his desire to hear from God—to hear the charges against him and be able to present his side. Much to Job’s terror, he received what he asked for.
After 34 chapters of point-and-counterpoint, God finally answers Job. His answer is similar to Jesus Christ’s many responses: His words had the effect of putting a hostile questioner in his place, and in most cases His responses at first did not seem to have much to do with the questions being asked. In reality, His responses did answer the questions, but they did so at a much higher level than the questioner was thinking.
It is in God’s response that we can discern the answer to our question of where Job’s righteousness came from, though it is implied rather than directly stated. Many have interpreted God’s words as simply a rhetorical blast, intended to cut Job down to size. God certainly did that, but He also provided the answer that Job was seeking, because God wanted Job—and us—to understand. God pointedly and powerfully reminded Job of the vast difference between God and man, and God gave just a sampling of ways that Job was essentially insignificant. But this did more than just put Job in his place. God indirectly gave an invaluable explanation of Job’s life, Noah’s life, Daniel’s life, and our lives as well.
It is imperative to recognize that allof God’s examples in Job 38 and 39 draw attention to the fact that He is the Creator. In response to what Job asks, God basically says that He is Creator, and Job is not. In Job 38:4-11, God points to laying the foundation of the earth, and setting the boundaries of the oceans. In Job 38:12-21, He says that the morning, the light, and the dark are all creations and servants of His. In Job 38:22-30, He shows that the weather patterns have their genesis in Him, and are under His authority. In Job 38:31-33, He reminds Job of the stars and constellations, and the interstellar distances and forces which are all in His Hand.
Throughout Job 39, He describes the uniqueness of the donkey, the ostrich, the horse, the hawk, and the eagle—the strengths that He gave each one, as well as those He purposefully left out. In other words, everything that God has put His Hand to is the way it is because He has made it that way.
What is curious is that even as God explains His sovereignty over the weather, the animals, the tides, and all of the stars of heaven, He is completely silent about the pinnacle of the physical creation. It is like God elaborates on the first five days of creation for Job, and then abruptly stops without mentioning the sixth. I do not think that silence was lost on Job. For a man so concerned about his own plight, I am sure he was evaluating everything he heard from the perspective of how it related to him. And when no mention was made of the glory of mankind, I would hazard a guess that Job’s mind quickly took the next logical step to concluding that Job, too, was the way he was because of the work of the Creator.
This is where we begin to get our answer about Job’s righteousness. His uprightness was not the product of evolution, nor was his blamelessness the result of some intrinsic goodness. Rather, God formed Job’s righteousness out of nothingness, just like He did with everything else He called into existence. However, God creates righteousness over time, rather than all at once. Job was exemplary because of what God had done—because God had known him since before the foundation of the world, and was guiding events even before Job’s birth that would facilitate the creation of Job in God’s image.
It was God who had put a hedge around Job and protected him every second since birth. It was God who was merciful in not blotting Job out when he sinned. Everything that Job was can be traced back to something that God did or provided. Job had free moral agency, but his morality would have been anemic without God supplying the choices for Job to make.
It was God who provided the environment in which Job’s character was formed. It was God who created the circumstances for Job to learn self-control, to develop empathy and pity, and to learn true justice. Job would not have even been aware of God’s standard of righteousness unless God had revealed it to him first!
God’s answer is a reminder that His creative efforts do not stop when a person is born. As impressive as Job was, he could not take credit for it. To paraphrase Paul’s question to the Corinthians, how could Job boast in something that had been given to him? This also gives a basic answer to Job’s burning question of why this calamity had befallen him: God was still creating Job. God was not simply overwhelming Job with His sovereignty; He was continuing His creation. Job was righteous, blameless, and upright, but he was not yet perfect. Job’s apparently undeserved suffering was a major part of his perfecting.
Fully one-quarter of God’s answer to Job was a description of “Leviathan,” a fearsome creature, akin to a dragon, that clearly represents Satan. God does not speak superfluous words. His words are always appropriate and perfectly measured. Everything He says is deliberate and meaningful, and thus there is something crucial to glean from God’s spotlighting of Leviathan.
This final topic is what was left ringing in Job’s ears. This was God’s ultimate point, and we can be sure it hit its mark. God describes the ferocity and unassailable strength of this beast, and He uses the contrast between man and Leviathan to further underscore the vast difference between man and God. As God says in Job 41:10, “No one is so fierce that he dares to stir [Leviathan] up. Who then is he who can stand before Me?”
There are several possible reasons why God emphasizes Leviathan this way. One is to remind Job of his defenselessness against this creature, and thus his weakness in general. The beginning of the book shows that God alone limits what Satan can do. God’s continual protection of His people is easy to forget without occasional reminders. God’s description of Leviathan was a warning that Job could not claim personal greatness when God was continually defending him against a foe which would easily and gladly crush him.
Will Rogers once commented, “If you get to thinking that you are a person of some influence, try ordering someone else’s dog around.” In this case, Leviathan is the dog that no man can order around. This is alluded to in Job 41:5, which implies that even with all of Job’s merits, he could not play with Leviathan as with a bird, or put a leash on him for the enjoyment of one of his daughters. Job had the temerity to think he could meet with the Almighty on essentially equal terms, and God was reminding him that he was far down the ladder of greatness in the universe.
Perhaps God’s answer also contained so much about Satan as a reminder that without God’s intervention and adoption, we are all children of Satan. God describes the archangel, prior to his rebellion, in glowing terms, much like His praise of Job. In Ezekiel 28, God calls him “the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.” God says he was “perfect in [his] ways from the day [he was] created, till iniquity was found in [him].” It says his heart was lifted up because of his beauty, and all of his wisdom became corrupted because so much thought was given to his own splendor (Ezekiel 28:12-15, 17). The archangel was a created being like Job, and was a truly impressive being. The problem was that as he began to pay heed to his merits, he began to think as highly of himself as of God. His feeling of equality then turned into a feeling of superiority.
It is possible, then, that God ended His response to Job with a description of Satan because Job’s praiseworthy qualities were leading him down the same path that Satan walked. This may be why Satan did not bring an accusation against Job: because what Job was beginning to do was essentially the same thing that Satan had done before. Satan could not admit that he had taken the wrong path, so he would not say that Job was wrong.
Somewhere in the mix, Job lost sight of the fullness of God’s sovereignty. It is not that Job was ignorant of God’s sovereignty. If we were to read through Job chapters 12, 23, 26, and 28, we would see that Job did have a good grasp of God’s sovereignty. But it seems that his understanding was incomplete, because Job seemed unable to allow that God’s sovereignty would extend to his own life as well. Rather than accepting this, Job proposed or even demanded to meet with God as essentially an equal. In fact, in challenging God to explain Himself, and in subtly implying that God had made a mistake, Job was acting as God’s adversary—and “adversary” is what the word “satan” means.
Now, notice God’s description of Leviathan:
Job 41:15-17 His rows of scales are his pride, shut up tightly as with a seal; one is so near another that no air can come between them; they are joined one to another, they stick together and cannot be parted.
His scales were impervious to assault. They were so hard and so close-fitting that nothing could get through. It was a waste of time to try to touch the core of this being. But Satan was not the only character this could describe. Job, too, had formidable defenses. He had hardened enough that the verbal swords and spears of his companions had absolutely no effect on him. He had decided he was above reproach, and could not be wrong. Nothing was going to get through to him—nothing, that is, except a loving act of God. Job endured a crushing personal catastrophe, but it was not until God’s devastating revelation of Himself that Job’s hard scales dissolved, and he became vulnerable, and pliable, and willing to yield.
God’s final words must have rung in Job’s ears with painful clarity:
Job 41:34 He beholds every high thing [meaning he looks it in the face, as an equal, and without flinching]; he is king over all the children of pride.
Job was blameless, upright, and righteous, but in losing sight of the immense difference between himself and his Creator, he resembled a child of pride—a son of the adversary—rather than a son of God.
I Corinthians 1:26-31 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, "He who glories, let him glory in the Lord."
Who would Noah, Daniel, and Job have been without God’s calling, grace, and gifting? They would have been just like every other man, and just like you and me before God’s intervention. The raw material that God works with leaves no room for boasting. As Jesus said, without Him, we can do nothing.
The righteousness of Noah, Daniel, and Job was the result of God’s work in their lives, and not something they had brought about on their own. Certainly, we each have the choice of yielding to God’s creative works in our lives, but the final product will be for God’s glory and not our own. As with Job, it is when we start thinking too highly of ourselves that we open the door to all manner of evil.