From Saplings To Sycamores
Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek
This morning we continue our sermon series through the book of Job. The book of Job tells the story of a believer in God who had everything but then lost nearly everything. It also tells how he related to God during that struggle, and more importantly, how God relates to him. Our series is in the eighth week of ten.
I’m going to preach a very short sermon this morning, giving perhaps half of the time of the normal sermon to interview Tim and Cindy Cole. The Coles have attended our church for several years. They will tell us that they have not had Job-like suffering. And that’s true. Their suffering has not been exactly Job-like. But their trials have been very real. And so has their faith in God. I think what they’ll have to say to us will encourage you.
I’m going to begin by reading just two verses from our passage, vv. 1, 5. After I read them, we’ll pray that God would be our teacher.
42 Then Job answered the Lord and said . . .
5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you.
This is God’s Word. Thanks be to God. “Heavenly Father . . .”
In college I bought a fancy mountain bike; a Cannondale Lefty, it was called. At the time I was athletic and fit, so when I met some new friends at a local bike shop, I thought, You know, I’m sure I can ride with them. We met at a trailhead. As I struggled to clip into my pedals, I look up. One guy made four swift revolutions of his pedals, and bunny hopped over a mound of gravel up to our thighs, twisting his bike on an angle. Oh no, I thought. And it only got worse. Every five minutes they had to wait for me. I’d catch up but never catch my breath. I really enjoy cycling, but I’ve learned many times over, that it’s very possible to undersell the distance between you and those better than you. If this is possible on a human level, imagine the vast gulf that exists between our human-ness and God’s God-ness.
When we come to chapter 42 of the book of Job, we are near the end. But what has happened just before the end is significant. God has asked Job a series of questions that he cannot answer—and that’s the point. God asks,
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding. (38:4)
“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place . . . (38:12)
“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
that a flood of waters may cover you?
Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go
and say to you, ‘Here we are’? (38:34–35)
“No, Job, can’t do this or that or a billion other things that only I can do.”
As the questions keep coming, the point God seems to be making to Job, and the point he seems to be making to us, is this: We can mistakenly minimize the great distance between us and God.
The good news for Job and for Christians is that whatever the depth of your knowledge of God, God is committed to taking you deeper in him. And that’s a good thing, even when it’s a hard thing. God could have just let Job go. But he didn’t. God pursued him. He’s pursuing you.
Let me go back through the passage, quickly giving the sense of each cluster of verses.
42 Then Job answered the Lord and said:
2 “I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
Job speaks of knowing. That’s important. The word know keeps popping up in these six verses. If we had pulled Job aside before all the calamities back in chapters 1 and 2 to interview him, I think he would have said he already knew that God can do all things. And he did. But the way he knows God now is deeper.
3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
4 ‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
Notice the repetition of our word: knowledge, then the word understand (which is similar to the word know), then the word know, then known. In both verses, Job quotes back to God questions that God asked him previously. “Who is this who darkens counsel without knowledge?” God asks. “I have—I have done this,” says Job. He confesses that as he tried to make sense of everything hard in his life, he didn’t know what he was talking about.
5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
6 therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”
You can stand in line watching people get on Sky Rush at Hershey Park. You can interview people about what it’s like to ride Sky Rush. You can even watch YouTube videos, hearing people scream and seeing the camera jerk about. I’ll never know, but I’d venter to say that it’s a different thing to ride Sky Rush for yourself than it is to watch a video.
This is Job. He knew God, but not as deeply as he does now. One paraphrase of the Bible says it like this: “I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay” (The Message).
And so Job repents. Now, that’s what we need to spend the rest of our short time discussing, Job’s repentance.
1. What Job’s repentance does and does not mean
Let’s talk about what Job’s repentance does and does not mean. If you’ve been here over the series, you might be struck by the fact that Job repents. This should leap off the page to us because it’s the very thing that Job’s friends told him he had to do if he wanted his suffering to end because all his suffering came, they said, because of his sin. “Job, you’re a sinner,” they say. “Repent, and God will restore you.” This is their message in chapters 4–37.
Well, Job does repent, and God does restore him, but his repentance doesn’t mean what they might have thought it meant.
I don’t have time to re-read all the verses that help us see this, but I’ll mention them briefly. In chapter 1, God speaks of Job as a godly man. Then, when everything falls apart, Job still exalts God’s goodness. The same thing happens in chapter 2. God praises Job’s character, and when Job loses his health, Job doesn’t sin in what he says of God’s goodness.
But somewhere between chapter 3 and chapter 31, Job slips, though we hardly blame him; Job is poked by his friends in such unhelpful ways, which we talked about extensively. I want to be a church that, by God’s grace, does better than Job’s friends!
But regardless of how he got there, what seems to happen is that Job’s questions about life and his struggles to understand God’s ways become, at least at times, accusations. And Job’s appeals to speak with God face to face about his struggles seem, at times, to become demands to speak with the Almighty face to face.
In Job 32:1, we read,
So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes.
I’m not so sure that Job is actually as “righteous in his own eyes” as his friends think he is righteous in his own eyes. But look how God begins his speech to Job in chapter 38:
38 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3 Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
God says Job has darkened counsel with words without knowledge. There’s our word again: knowledge and known.
At the start of chapter 40, God pauses for a moment, and Job responds.
40 And the Lord said to Job:
2 “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
He who argues with God, let him answer it.”
3 Then Job answered the Lord and said:
4 “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
5 I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but I will proceed no further.”
But God keeps going with his questions. There’s a Round Two. What was the effect on Job by another round of impossible questions? His knowledge of God went deeper.
Job’s repentance, contra what Job’s friends said, was not for things he did before his suffering. We’ve seen this week after week. Job didn’t suffer the calamities of chapters 1 and 2 because of his sin. But Job’s suffering does expose cracks in his godliness, which is what happens to the very best believers. Job knew God, but now he knows God more deeply. We titled this sermon “From Saplings to Sycamores” because the knowledge Job had of God grows substantially. And that’s a good thing, even when it’s a hard thing.
2. What our repentance means
If that’s what Job’s repentance means—that he had begun to minimize the vast distance between he and God—let me give just a few minutes to the last point, namely, what might our repentance mean.
One of the challenges of teaching this passage is showing how this moment is a good thing for Job. In fact, that’s something at our church that we want to show with each passage we preach. Why are we looking for the positive in each passage? We don’t want to be looking for the good news in each passage because we have some rosy commitment to positivity—as though, each passage may or may not be good for us, but if we look for a silver lining, well, then we might be able to see something marginally encouraging. No. We look for the good news in each passage because of our conviction that God is good and what he tells us is for our good, even when it’s hard.
Job is undone. He now knows at the emotional and experiential level that he’s not God. He’s a human. The more he knows God, the more he knows there is more to know. Job knows he wasn’t there when the foundations of the world were set. Job knows at the emotional, experiential level that he doesn’t call lightning bolts out of the closet and send them to the skies. He doesn’t tame the sea. He doesn’t provide food for the wild elk in parts of Montana where no on lives. He doesn’t control the orbit of the moon around the earth or the number of hairs on your head. But God does these things. God is God, and Job is Job. How could this knowledge not be a good thing for him?
When was the last time you were in awe of God? When was the last time you put your hand on your mouth and said, “I was going to talk, but now I can’t say—I won’t say—a thing.”
God gives Job the gift of awe. And if we don’t value that same gift, it’s probably because we never felt it before, or if we have, it’s been too long that we don’t remember the joy of feeling small before a big, gracious God.
Another reason it’s good for us to repent of minimizing the distance we perceive between ourselves and God is because when we know we are humans and not gods, it’s very freeing.
As I talked with Jason about this passage, he mentioned to me the joy of knowing where the sphere of one’s responsibility starts and stops. I can’t fix evil dictators in third world countries or prevent mass shootings in California. And I don’t have to. I can vote, I can love my wife, I can raise my kids, I can support missions, I can pray and be active in my local church, but I can’t stop evil everywhere. And God doesn’t require this of us. If God calls you to be a school teacher, then you don’t have to be a pastor to “really” follow God. And if you’re a stay-at-home mom, you don’t have to be a Senator. Be a human. Be the Christian that God calls you to be.
One of my favorite books in the last few years is called The Imperfect Pastor. It’s by Zack Eswine. He writes,
You were never meant to repent for not being everywhere for everybody and all at once. . . . You were never meant to repent because you can’t fix everything . . . . you were never meant to repent because you don’t know it all. You are meant to repent because you’ve tried.
― Zack Eswine, The Imperfect Pastor
The last reason this kind of deepening of the knowledge of God is a good thing, is because of something Jesus said in the gospels. In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus told us to “consider the lilies” (v. 28) so that we would realize that God is the one who clothes them. He tells us to “look at the birds of the air” (v. 26) so that we would know that God is the one who feeds them. Jesus ends that teaching by saying that if he cares for the flowers and he cares for the birds, how much more will he care for us. When God takes us on a tour of his creation in the book of Job, and we are undone, and it’s a good thing because we know the God who did all that is a personal God, the God who loves, the God who sends his only son to be our Savior. Do not be anxious. The God who rules over all cares for you.
Pray with me as Tim and Cindy come up for the interview. Let’s pray . . .