“You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
– James 5:11
We remember that our Lord Jesus Christ said at the end of the 11th chapter of the book of Matthew,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Anyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ must trust these words as true. Jesus gives us true love, joy, and peace, peace that passes all understanding.
Still… we also realize that what Jesus says doesn’t negate our epistle text for this morning. There, James, Jesus’ own blood-brother, is talking about having “patience when persons abuse us”, and “brave perseverance under things that distress us” (Lenski).
Trusting and being patient is not always easy for any of us. This is in part why, for example, in 1st Peter 5:7 the Apostle Peter says “cast all anxiety on God because he cares for you.”
It is said that the 16th-century Church reformer Martin Luther once wrote some comments on this passage in somebody’s Bible, to encourage them. He wrote:
“If God provides for his believers (as Saint Peter here quotes from Psalm 55:22), how, then, does it happen that they, more than other people on earth, are burdened and oppressed by so much misfortune, misery, fear, and trouble from the devil and the world, who incessantly plague them with cunning and treachery and physical tyranny and persecution too, who strive to get their body, honor, and goods, and every hour would gladly have them be dead? This certainly looks and feels as if God were angry with believers, had forsaken them and subjected them to the power of the devil in every respect, to say nothing of any intention to care for them and provide for them in a fatherly way.”
Luther goes on to say words that he hopes will always encourage his beleaguered Christian friend:
“…to accept it as true and certain that God provides for us and loves us as his children calls for faith, which alone is the master who looks aright at God’s word and works and teaches us thoroughly to understand them. Now the word clearly testifies that God chastens those whom he loves and scourges every son whom he receives (HEB. 12:6), as scripture everywhere proclaims… Faith holds two words such as these, directs its course accordingly, allows God to manage and provide, and says with Job: though God were to slay me, yet I will hope in him and rely on his grace.” (What Luther Says, 3688)
Just as we read in the book of James today, Luther knew that we would need examples of steadfastness in the face of suffering.
That is why he references Job…
We’ll talk about Job quite a bit today, but let’s first begin by quickly scanning the book of James again, from which we get our text for this morning….
How does the Book of James begin, right in the first chapter? Like this:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything…”
Just a few sentences later, we read this quote that seems a bit odd… “Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position…“
Also in chapter one:
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him….”
And finally, we heard our text from the Epistle of James this morning, which also talked about perseverance in the face of great difficulty.
Again, our reading ends by saying, “You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
How much do you know about the book of Job?
Some consider it to be one of the most shocking books of the Bible. For example, I’ve heard it asserted that most of the arguments against belief in God you might hear from atheists today already appear in the book of Job!
Also, I used to teach a beginning theology class at the college level, and I will always remember the student who said that in the book of Job God himself appeared to him as a kind of evil figure, putting Job and other believers through scientific experiments of sorts…
Let’s start our look at Job with a quick summary of the book’s content.
We are told that in the Land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job, and he had quite a reputation!
Later on in the book, when he would recall his earlier days, Job said this:
“Oh, for the days when I was in my prime, when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house…”
He then continues to talk about his beloved children – and how “the rocks poured out streams of olive oil” for him.
Job not only had a large family and wealth, but honor and status in the world… and this was certainly valued and appreciated by him!
He says “whoever heard me spoke well of me, and those who saw me commended me.” He also says “men listened to me expectantly, waiting in silence for my council,” and “when I smiled at them, they scarcely believed it; the light of my face was precious to them.”
Then, suddenly, it was all taken away from him…
He goes on to say, “but now they mock me, men younger than I, whose fathers I would have disdained to put with my sheep dogs…”
He would talk about how all his intimate friends detested him – and that his breath was even now offensive his wife… (19)
What happened?! Why did these things – and other bad things – happen to Job?
Well, we, the reader (or listener) get a view that Job didn’t have…
We are told that one day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord God, and Satan (the Fallen Angel and accuser), also came with them.
And the Lord, in effect, begin to brag about Job to Satan:
“Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
In these first two chapters, Satan counters God’s boast, saying that Job is only faithful because God has blessed him so much.
Finally, the devil says “stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
God takes the challenge.
Confident of the loyalty and integrity of his servant Job, God allows Satan to do all kinds of terrible things to him.
Job’s oxen and camels are carried off by raiding parties, fire falls from the sky and burns up his sheep and his servants, and a mighty wind sweeps in from the desert and causes his house to collapse, killing his many sons and daughters…
After this, Job is afflicted with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head.
His wife says to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!”
Job famously responds, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
Shortly after this, three of Job’s friends hear about all the troubles he is experiencing and set out from their homes to meet together and to go and sympathize with him and comfort him…
They start out well, weeping for him, tearing their garments in that ancient cultural practice of mourning and emotional distress, also sprinkling dust on their heads… They sit on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights in silence, because they saw how great his suffering was.
That said, their help pretty much ends at that point, as the talking begins, and Satan perhaps finally begins to find chinks in Job’s armor (Franzmann, CSSC).
Job’s friends reason that because God is almighty, that he is perfectly just, and that no human is wholly innocent in his sight, and so come to the conclusion that “every person’s suffering is indicative of the measure of his guilt in the eyes of God” (Introduction, NIV Study Bible).
At first, Job’s friends’ theology is bad, but they are still nice about it.
For example, One of Joe’s friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, says that mortals cannot be more righteous than God (which is correct) – but then also tells Job that his comfort should come from his own blamelessness…. His own piety (4)… “blessed is the man whom God corrects, so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty” (5:17).
So, in Eliphaz’s reasoning, if Job would simply be blameless and pious and sufficiently humble himself before God, the blessings would flow for him again… (5) for example, “you will take stock of your property and find nothing missing” (5:24b).
Job’s friend Bildad the Shuhite also pitches in, implying that Job has forgotten God – and that if he will just look to Him, plead with Him, and be pure and upright God will be roused on Job’s behalf… (8)
But his comments then get pretty rough. Quite confidently hitting Job with, “When your children sinned against [God] he gave them over to the penalty of their sin” (8:4)
Eliphaz is also not only not impressed, seeing great evil at work, but also says “[Job,] you even undermine piety and hinder devotion to God. Your sin prompts your mouth; you adopt the tongue of the crafty…”
Perhaps his harshest comments come in chapter 22 when he bombards Job with a series of absolutely stinging accusations:
“Is not your wickedness great?
Are not your sins endless?
You demanded security from your relatives for no reason;
you stripped people of their clothing, leaving them naked.
You gave no water to the weary
and you withheld food from the hungry,
though you were a powerful man, owning land—
an honored man, living on it.
And you sent widows away empty-handed
and broke the strength of the fatherless.
That is why snares are all around you,
why sudden peril terrifies you,
why it is so dark you cannot see,
and why a flood of water covers you…”
For Job’s part, he is not having any of his friends’ “support” or advice!
At one point, he cries out “a despairing man should have the devotion of his friends, even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty. But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams….” (6:14-15)
Not only this, but Job goes on to say some pretty remarkable things about what he thinks God’s role is in all of this….
And, in many ways, it is not difficult to understand why Job’s friends were so distraught and scandalized by his defending himself… his integrity. It is because Job, to them, seemed like he was full of sinful self-righteousness (being “righteous in his own eyes”, 32:1), and did not fear and submit to God. He thereby undermined God and other people’s piety as well.
Perhaps Job’s friends could have sympathized when he just talked about his lack of sleep, relating how he asked “how long before I get up?”, and also complaining how “the night drags on and I toss till dawn”…
But Job went much further than this!
He, for example, curses the day that he was born and says “may those who curse days curse that day.”
Further, when Job thinks about the presence of God he is not comforted but feels distraught, saying “what is man that you make so much of him, that you give him so much attention, that you examine him every morning and test him every moment? Will you never look away from me, or let me alone even for an instant?” (7:17-18)
At the end of chapter 10, he goes so far to say “turn away from me so I can have a moment’s joy…”
He also complains “Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my offenses and forgive my sins?”
Even more: “the arrows of the Almighty are in me, My spirit drinks in their poison…”
There are many more passages I could recall similar to this one. As time wears on, Job’s feelings and thoughts about God seem to get even edgier and more scandalous still…
At one point, he simply wishes that God would “loose his hand and cut him off” so that in the end he will not finally deny the words of the Holy One!
In spite of making all these statements, Job is, believe it or not, confident that he will be vindicated by God before his faltering friends and others.
He says, for instance, “He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me I will come forth as gold” and “I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread…” (23:10,12)
So, just how wrong were Job’s friends? Were they wrong?
Well, Job is adamant that they are very, very wrong. Not only about him, but in their heart of hearts….
At one point in chapter 8, he says “you would even cast lots for the fatherless and barter away your friend…” and he also implies that his friends say what they say not from love but from evil, when he says “can my mouth not discern malice?”
In Chapter 13 he erupts “I desire to speak to the almighty and to argue my case with God. You, however, smear me with lies; you are worthless physicians, all of you!”
He also says, perhaps almost sounding a bit paranoid, “I know full well what you are thinking, the schemes by which you would wrong me…”
So Job is confident that something odd is going on with the whole situation with his suffering – even if his friends are confident they have the answer.
And so, again, secure in his relationship with God, he insists that all will turn out for his deliverance… “for no godless man would dare come before God…” like he has (13:15-16).
He knows that he will be vindicated of the false charges against him that he has not been blameless, and that he has suffered as he has because of a supposed lack of blamelessness…
Hence Job even says “though [God] slay me, yet will I hope in Him; I will surely argue my ways before Him” (13:15; see Biblehub)
Blamelessness, by the way – what exactly is this?
It means that one cannot really point out unrighteousness in one’s fellow man; it does not mean sinlessness before God – for no except Jesus Christ can be this – but blamelessness means that one’s words and actions before other people are, well, blameless. There is no proof otherwise.
And while it does not mean that one’s thoughts, desires, and motivations are entirely pure – for again, no one’s can, for no one is good but God alone! – it does also imply that someone really is attuned to God’s will, His purposes, and walking with Him…
And Job says “This is me.”
For instance, in a moment not of defiance, but more of brokenness and humility, Job cries out to God in this way….
“Surely no one lays a hand on a broken man when he cries for help in his distress. Have I not wept for those in trouble? Has not my soul grieved for the poor? Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness….”
In the end, Job is, in fact, vindicated by God.
It is not that God has no beef at all with Job.
He pointedly rebukes Job for trying to correct Him, accusing Him, and even condemning Him in order to justify himself.
Job is silenced and repents in dust and ashes.
At the same time, He also says that Job’s three friends “have not spoken of me what is right as my servant Job has….” And registers his displeasure with them.
For again, Job was, according to God Himself, His upright and blameless servant – innocent of his friends’ accusations – and so the Lord then blesses the latter part of Job’s life even more than the first!
And He is not without compassion and mercy to Job’s awful and faithless friends either!
He says that “my servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly.”
That is most fitting, because Job had also confessed that his own offenses would be “sealed up in a bag”… and God would cover over his sin (14). He can now extend this fulfilled promise to his friends.
What should all of this mean for us?
What should we take away from the book of Job today?
A few important things come to my mind.
First, Job was exceptional. And when we think of him, we should always remember that God will not give anyone of us more than we can bear.
Second, exceptionalness aside, we should realize that God is also exceptionally keen to hold up Job, a sinful man, before us as a great example and model of faithfulness and loyalty.
Contrary to what my past student thought, God allowed Job to experience what he did, because He knew that, ultimately, Job would be pleased to have been chosen for such a task.
Are not the toughest battles kept for the best soldiers, and are not such soldiers greatly honored to have been chosen for the battle?
What was that task or battle? It was to show that fallen man, empowered by his confidence in God’s promises, is indeed the absolute crown of God’s creation and can overcome anything in the world, never failing to to proclaim the truth of the Source of all Life, Light, and Love: the greatness and glory and faithfulness and compassion and mercy of our awesome God!
Third, the book of Job also shows us one promise in particular that even Job, one of the Bible’s earliest characters, knew well.
“The idea of a mediator, someone to arbitrate between God and [man], is an important motif in the book…” (NIV study Bible; see 5:1; 9:32-35; note 10:4-7!; 16:19-20; 19:25).
Many of us are probably very familiar with the famous hymn I know that My Redeemer Lives, which was a real favorite of my late mother-in-law.
The words from that hymn come from Job and even though when he speaks them they seem to come from a place of both faith and defiance, the Holy Spirit nevertheless inspired James to write in his epistle about the perseverance or steadfastness of Job.
Let’s look at those words. In Job chapter 19, we read:
“Have pity on me, my friends, have pity,
for the hand of God has struck me.
Why do you pursue me as God does?
Will you never get enough of my flesh?
“Oh, that my words were recorded,
that they were written on a scroll,
that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
or engraved in rock forever!
I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!”
Brothers and sisters, our Redeemer lives indeed!
He is the true and better Job!
He is the truly innocent one who suffered and was raised from the ashes!
The One who saves His faithless and betraying friends by His intercession for them!
Do not doubt that the Lord, as with Job, also has a goal set for you…
…and that His great mercy and compassion and reward are extended also to you, to yours, and beyond…
and that He will at last bring you out of all your suffering into the blessed goal in, with, and through our Lord Jesus Christ… (paraphrasing Lenski).
 We see Job dealing with both of these things…
 That student wrote: “God plays the role of administrator of all people. I also see God as a scientist performing experiments on his people. He conducts tests specifically of evil and suffering. For example, in the chapters of Job, he granted Satan permission to torture Job. All for a test, to see if he will curse God’s name. If God knew that Job was a blameless and upright man, what was the point of making him suffer? A believer such as Job saw his suffering as a blessing. He was convinced that God cannot do any wrong. It seems God thinks he constantly needs to prove that he is almighty. Which he has time after time. I don’t understand why the experiments need to keep happening. Especially if God is all-knowing. So I would say God is an additional source of evil and suffering, but he is not the main source as Satan is.”
 Likewise, later on Eliphaz says: “Submit to God and be at peace with Him; in this way prosperity will come to you” (22:21).
 Those opposing Job also get in these zingers:
– beware of turning to evil, which you seem to prefer to affliction
– Job opens his mouth with empty talk; without knowledge he multiplies words
 Chapter 27:
“As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice,
the Almighty, who has made my life bitter,
3as long as I have life within me,
the breath of God in my nostrils,
4my lips will not say anything wicked,
and my tongue will not utter lies.
5I will never admit you are in the right;
till I die, I will not deny my integrity.
6I will maintain my innocence and never let go of it;
my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.”
 Speaking out of his distress in chapter 10 Job says to God “does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands, while you smile on the schemes of the wicked?”
And the shocking claims and even accusations from Job come fast and furious:
-God fastens on him His piercing eyes and tears him in his anger like a lion…
-While all was well with him God shattered him, seizing him by the neck and crushing him… (18)
-God tears him down on every side; till he is gone. He uproots his hope like a tree (19).
-The hand of God has struck him. God has wronged him and drawn his net around him (19)
-God has turned on him ruthlessly; with the might of his hand he has attacked him (30:21).
-He has bound Job like the neck of his garment and thrown him into the mud (30:18-19)
From chapter 19:
10He tears me down on every side till I am gone;
he uproots my hope like a tree.
11His anger burns against me;
he counts me among his enemies.
12His troops advance in force;
they build a siege ramp against me
and encamp around my tent.
13“He has alienated my family from me;
my acquaintances are completely estranged from me.
 In chapter 9, Job says:
32 “He is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer him,
that we might confront each other in court.
33 If only there were someone to mediate between us,
someone to bring us together,
34 someone to remove God’s rod from me,
so that his terror would frighten me no more.
35 Then I would speak up without fear of him,
but as it now stands with me, I cannot.
 The note in the NIV Study Bible says that chapter 42 of the book implies that Job persevered, but chapters 9-10 show that he did so with impatience, which speaks of Job’s perseverance but not his patience (which people traditionally speak of). The notes also comment that Job voices awful complaints against God even if he does not abandon Him (see, e.g., 9:16-18, 23-24; note also 13:26).