June 15, 2003

God’s Declaration: Speaking Rightly
Job 42:7-17

It happened at the 1992 summer Olympics in Barcelona. Beneath a scorching August sun, several young men, driven by their passion to be champions, ran full throttle in the 400-meter semifinals. Suddenly one runner, Derek Redmond, fell to the ground, the victim of a ruptured hamstring. As the medical team scurried onto the track, Redmond waved them off. Trouble with his Achilles tendons had prevented him from running in the 1988 Olympics, and five operations and considerable rehabilitation later, he was not about to give up now. “There ain’t no way I’m getting on that stretcher,” the English athlete called out. “I’m going to finish my race.”

Quickly, high up in the stands, someone else began running. He darted past security guards, scaled the wall surrounding the track, and ran toward the injured sprinter. As the crowd watched in utter surprise, Jim Redmond lifted his son and supported the young runner’s body with his own. Clinging to his father, Derek hopped the last half of the race on one foot. As you might imagine, the crowd screamed frantically as the two of them crossed the finish line.

Derek, of course, was the last of the aspiring champions to finish the race that day. But, given the support and strength of his caring father, he did finish. He ran the race through overwhelming—seemingly insurmountable—difficulties, and he crossed the finish line in his father’s arms.

Job was hardly an Olympic athlete, but he encountered obstacles even more overwhelming than any that Derek Redmond faced. As a means of evaluating or measuring the severity of his struggles, I administered the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory on Job. In this social readjustment rating scale, 43 life events are listed that can cause considerable stress for anyone who experiences them. The list includes such things as death of a spouse or other close family member, marital separation, major personal injury or illness, drastic change in one’s financial situation, trouble with your boss, and major change in working conditions. Each of these 43 items is then assigned a point value, depending upon the severity of the event. Once a person completes the inventory, her total points are tabulated. A score of 150 or less indicates a relatively low amount of life change and an equally low susceptibility to stress-induced health breakdown. A score of 150 to 300 implies about a 50 percent chance of a major health breakdown in the next two years. A score of above 300 raises the odds to 80 percent.

By my somewhat conservative calculations, Job scored 485 points! 485 points! He is not only on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but a total physical, emotional and spiritual meltdown. Yet he finishes the race. And what position do we find him in as he crosses the finish line? Leaning on his father, who ran down from the stands to help him along.

I am struck by the support and care that God provides to Job here in this brief closing section of the book. God, first of all, exonerates Job in the presence of his three friends turned accusers. God addresses Eliphaz, the oldest and therefore primary spokesperson for the three friends, and accuses them of speaking falsely about him. In their rigorous attempts to defend God and to correct Job, they actually defended their own faulty theology and insulted God. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar committed a grievous but common sin—they equated the God of the universe with their own feeble understanding of him. They had constructed a graven image, not with stone, but with words. How easy it can be to think that God is little more than our own modest and at times even pathetic conceptions of him.

To add insult to the friends’ injuries, however, God next applauds Job for the way in which he has just spoken, and he asks Job to pray for his friends. Can you even begin to imagine how that must have felt, given everything that has just transpired? Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar had accused and ridiculed Job, and they stubbornly insisted that he had committed some atrocious sin to bring about his pain and suffering. The distance between Job and his friends seemed to grow wider by the minute, resulting in a total breakdown of communication by the end of the dialogues. Everyone, even his friends, were against him, or so it must have seemed to Job. And now he has been exonerated. His name has been cleared. As Job stumbles along in the race, his reputation ruptured, God clears his name and declares him innocent.

God further carries Job across the finish line by restoring his fortunes. It is at least interesting to note that this act of restoration occurs when Job had prayed for the welfare of his friends. There is no indication anywhere that Job asked God to replenish his bank account. He was praying for his friends—praying outside of himself—when his investments took a major upswing.

And notice just how much his financial resources ballooned. The writer informs us that God gave Job twice as much as he had before, and the list in verse 12 bears this out. Whereas Job originally had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred donkeys, he now owned fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. What we might fail to notice here, however, is a rather subtle but astounding admission on God’s part. According to Exodus 22:4, a person who steals animals from someone must repay the owner twice over: “When the animal, whether ox or donkey or sheep, is found alive in the thief’s possession, the thief shall pay double.” God, in essence, is acknowledging that Job had done nothing wrong to deserve his great losses. On the contrary, the animals were virtually stolen from him—taken from him for no reason. As a result, they are paid back double.

Finally, God carries Job by restoring his family and community. Not only is he visited by his siblings and neighbors, who provide the genuine comfort and sympathy that neither Eliphaz, Zophar, Bildad nor Elihu were able to, but he gains yet another “perfect” family—seven sons and three daughters. Two things further accentuate the magnitude with which Job’s family is restored. His daughters, for one thing, were the most beautiful women in the land, a fact alluded to even in their names. Jemimah, rather than referring to a maker of pancakes, means “turtle-dove,” and turtle doves were symbols of beauty and love (Song of Songs 2:14). Keziah means “cassia,” the name of an aromatic plant used in perfumes (Exod. 30:24; Ps. 45:8). And Keren-happuch refers to black rouge used to highlight the eyes (Jer. 30). Job’s daughters were beautiful, smelled beautiful, and looked beautiful.

In addition to being extraordinarily beautiful, however, Job’s daughters are named while the sons are not, and the girls receive an inheritance along with their brothers. Typically, the names of only the sons appear in such records. Furthermore, the law in Numbers 27:8 specifies that a daughter receives an inheritance only if no male heir exists. The implication seems striking. If God followed the law in returning Job’s financial fortunes twice, now he violates the law—on the side of grace. God doesn’t simply meet the standard expectations that are placed upon his people. Instead, he gives more and more and more.

After applying the finishes touches on his description of God’s remarkable act of restoration, the writer provides a concluding note. Job, having had the pleasure of watching his children and grandchildren grow up, go off to college, and get married, finally died of natural causes, “old and full of days.”

I remember an occasion when my son and I were driving home after I had preached at Roxbury several years ago. He was sitting in the front seat right beside me, just a little guy, and he asked me to tell him a Bible story. I proceeded to tell him the story of Job, and he listened with great interest and even a sense of concern. After he heard how the story ended, however, he glanced up at me and said, “Life doesn’t always turn out that way, Daddy, does it?”

Life doesn’t always turn out that way. Many people reading through the pages of Job over the years have concluded the same thing, and for good reason. After all, Job’s family and fortunes are now restored as abruptly as they were taken away earlier. Job “lived happily ever after,” to borrow a line from various familiar fairy tales, and we all know that that just isn’t the way things always work. People, even Christians, get gravely ill, and when they do, they often die. People, even Christians, experience financial set-backs, and when they do, they rarely win the lottery. People, even Christians, lose children in severe accidents, and when they do, they seldom have others to take their places. The ending of the book of Job is unrealistic, at best, because we all know that life simply does not and will not turn out this way for most of us. At worst, the ending is cynical and even harmful, for it sets up false expectations and inevitably leaves people disappointed with God. That’s what many people think. That’s what I used to think. “Some unknown scribe who couldn’t swallow the sheer agony of Job’s experience added the ending to smooth everything over,” I thought.

Perhaps the ending to the book was added later—that’s a question for another day. But in truth, the impact of the epilogue is much more in tune with the overarching themes of Scripture than such reactionary comments suggest. The ending of Job, as I have come to believe, is but a microcosm of the grand biblical promise that, in fact, everything does work out in the end for those who love the Lord. Such hope and confidence is the very foundation upon which we stand. It is a theme that increasingly appears in many of the visionary sections of the Old Testament, and both Jesus and many of the New Testament writers spoke of it. “I go to prepare a place for you,” Jesus promised his disciples, and “I will come again and take you there (John 14:3).” On another occasion, he assured his followers that none of them who has lost houses and family for his sake will go unrewarded in the life to come (Mark 10:29-30).

Paul expressed the same thought this way in Romans 8:18: “I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” And Peter phrased it this way:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy
he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus
Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled,
and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of
God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this
you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials,…
(1 Peter 1:3-6).
Finally, in the book of Revelation, people from all over the globe gather and sing, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb (7:10),” people who I am sure had been sick and lost family members and experienced financial setbacks somewhere along the way. What is it, then, that they are singing about? Everything works out in the end for those who love the Lord and who serve him with all of their hearts and minds.

It was 11 years ago that Derek Redmond ruptured his hamstring and fell to the track in Olympic Stadium in Barcelona. He was in great pain, but he refused to quit the race. Suddenly, his father ran to his side and picked him up. Jim Redmond did not repair his son’s ruptured hamstring that day, but he did carry him across the finish line. So it is with God, our heavenly father. I may not be cured of all of my diseases here on earth, but I will be healed over there. I may lose a parent or a child or a sister here on earth, but I’ll be a shouting member of an eternal family over there. I may not be freed from all struggles and temptations here on earth, but I’ll run through a troop and leap over a wall over there. I may not understand everything that happens to me here on earth, but I’ll live in the light over there. Perhaps the closing section of the book of Job doesn’t fit at first glance, but the idea is right. God’s people do live happily ever after.