TRIBULATION THAT IS NOT JUDGMENT
D. M. PANTON, M. A.
A lesson which is fearfully urgent for us all to learn today is a lesson which not only has a whole book of the Bible devoted to it alone, but that book of the Bible which is supposed to be the first book of Scripture ever written. In a challenge of God to Satan, and Satanís answering challenge to God, the Most High selects one man, one of the greatest patriarchs in the dawn of the world, to sum up for all time one fact: that a child of God of the highest character can suffer indescribable loss - property, family, health, all wiped out exactly as an air raid can do it - and it is no judgment on sin in character or service; but simply the profound plan of the Most High serving purposes of which that child of God is totally ignorant.
A PERFECT MAN
The book opens with a definition of Job by God Himself. "Hast thou considered my servant Job? For there is none like him in the earth" - Jehovah has selected the highest character to be found then on the earth - "a perfect and an upright man" - Ďperfectí in the Scriptural sense: not sinless, but fully mature, no blossom but a full-blown flower - "one that feareth God, and escheweth evil" (Job 1: 8). God then gives Job into the power of Satan, short of killing him;* and the afflictions fall like lightenings. No sooner is his wealth vanished, than his sons and daughters are wiped out, and then grim disease wrecks the body. Instantly Job became one of the saddest sufferers in the Bible short of martyrdom.
[* It fits all aptly to our own day when we recollect that while Satanís original power is described as dunamis, inherent power (Luke 10: 19), since Calvary, when his power was paralyzed (Heb. 2: 14), it is exousia, a purely granted authority (Eph. 2: 2; Acts 26: 18).]
FAITH IN AGONY
Now we face - as Satan did, and was planned to do - the reaction of a faithful servant of God to infinite sorrow. After the smashing out of his home and loved ones Job exclaims, "The Lord gave, and the lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (1: 21). Faith rests, not on what God does at this moment or that, but on what God is: God is love; and the golden faith of Job triumphs over all darkness, mystery, and death. So Jehovah challenges Satan again: "Hast thou considered my servant Job? He still holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movest me against him, to destroy him without cause" (2: 3). In the end Job had lost all the things which Satan said were the sole ground of his loyalty to God; but in that very loss his loyalty to God remained a golden halo round the sick manís brow. And this is the more wonderful because, so far as we know, Job had no such clear revelations as we have. "Our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4: 17). "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom. 8: 18).
Nevertheless, simultaneously, Job is for ever our warning. Fundamentally he never wavered in his trust in God, as is beautifully proved when his wife said, "Curse God, and die," and he replied, "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" (2: 9). Yet he sank into a pessimism which bitterly resented his afflictions. "He destroyeth the perfect and the wicked" (9: 22). It never dawned on Job that the enormousness of his misfortunes revealed the estimate that God put on the strength of his character: even as Paul says, "There hath no temptation taken you but such as man can bear: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able" (1 Cor. 10: 13). So all his words of disgust and despair need never have crossed his lips according to the Divine estimate of his character. "Job could never have displayed a patience [perseverance] which rings down the ages, till we have heard of it, if he had not known extraordinary affliction" (C. H. Spurgeon).
We now arrive at the heart of the problem in the gigantic (though very natural) mistake made by Jobís friends. All of the stress that personal sufferings has but one explanation - personal guilt. "Know that God exacteth of thee," Zophar says, "less than thine iniquity deserveth" (11: 6). Yet Jehovah says at the close: "Ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right" (42: 7). The principle for which they contended, that sin brings judgment on the servants of God, is absolutely true, and it applies to countless believers: the enormous mistake they made, which is equally our danger as days of increasing tribulation approach, is that suffering is necessarily judgment.* Throughout Job never hesitated for a moment in asserting his integrity, for he knew it to be a fact; yet his friends never nailed down one single sin on his past life, nor even attempted to do so, while attributing his whole suffering to a life so sinful as to deserve overwhelming judgment.**
[* While this unguiltiness can apply to those converted during the Great Tribulation it does not apply to Christians who enter it, since these, if worthy, would have escaped (Luke 21: 36; Rev. 3: 10).]
[** They rightly spotted Jobís broken-hearted criticism of Providence, but this sin was after the disaster, and therefore could be no cause of it.]
Jehovah Himself now intervenes in this tremendous drama; and He answers Job with one word alone - God. In the most wonderful description of creation ever given, He challenges Job - "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (38: 4). Are you competent to criticise God? Our profound ignorance of the marvels of creation, and therefore the unfathomable plans and purposes still more marvellous that lie, invisible, behind creation, makes all judgment of Godís actions nothing short of absurd. God reigns through confusion and terror and death as completely as when all is in perfect order. Even while Jehovah was speaking to Job, the cause of his suffering was still utterly unknown to the patriarch: Job was totally ignorant of the drama in which he was the central figure and the chief actor; still less could he know that, watched by Heaven and Hell, this drama, recorded in the Bibleís opening book, was to prove for ever that a child of God, stript of everything, can be as gold purified by fire.
So now we learn the reaction of Job. Though Ďperfect,í as far as humans can be, he required a fresh spiritual experience. Repeatedly, and almost defiantly, Job had asked the Most High to grant him an interview, that he might plead his cause: now that he has come face to face with God, he exclaims, "I uttered that which I understood not: I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee." At last it has dawned on Job that his afflictions was just one of the exquisitely planned thoughts of God such as had made creationís wonderous loveliness: now he saw God in everything; and that vision solves every problem. And a far deeper revelation of self accompanies the heavenly vision. "Wherefore," Job cries, "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." The despair with which he had met the Lordís mystery in handling him, and the cursing of the day of his birth, reveals to this noble servant of God what Paul had learnt, - "In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing" (Rom. 7: 18); and so the very tragedy of his agony completed the sanctity of Godís saint.
So now we arrive at what is always the goal of God. "So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning: the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before" (42: 10, 12). * Job had been no fair-weather professor, but a loyal follower of his Lord in spite of fearful catastrophe, thus completely confuting Satan; and, in spite of his passion and hasty speeches of despair, he had not lost Godís favour, and had now confessed and abandoned his sin. In the words of the Apostle James: "Behold, we call them blessed which endured: ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord, how that the Lord is full of pity, and merciful" (James 5: 11). Godís summary of Job, centers after, is given in Ezekiel: "When a land sinneth against me, though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness" (Ezek. 14: 14). So here the whole doctrine of reward dawns in the first book of the Bible. As our Lord expresses it, though far more amply than a double recompense: "Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or mother, or father, or children, or lands, for my sake" - Job had lost all for Godís sake, in the Divine controversy with Satan - "and for the gospelís sake, but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; AND IN THE AGE TO COME eternalĻ life" (Mark 10: 29) - IN THE GLORY OF THE KINGDOM.**
[* It is beautiful to note that his sons and daughters also were exactly doubled, inasmuch as the former five were still his, though in Paradise ( that is, in Hades/Sheol.) with their Lord.]
[** It is intensely profitable to note that in the very dawn of the Bible the drama closes on the earth that all sin has but one pardon - blood sacrifice. Jehovah says to Eliphaz: "My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: therefore offer up for yourselves a burnt offering" (42: 7). Wrath and blood: the Blood of the Lamb is the sole refuge to which, if unsaved, we can flee from the wrath to come.] - D, M, Panton.
The Greek word "aionios," translated "eternal," can also be translated "age-lasting," if the context so indicates as above. Life must follow DEATH and RESURRECTION. Therefore Job must be RESURRECTED at the time of "the FIRST RESURRECTION," to enable him enjoy LIFE "IN THE AGE TO COME." Rev. 20: 6.
And so it is stated: "I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end HE WILL STAND UPON THE EARTH. And after my skin has been destroyed [i.e., after my death], yet IN MY FLESH [i.e., in my resurrected body] WILL I SEE GOD; I MYSELF WILL SEE HIM WITH MINE OWN EYES - I AND NOT ANOTHER" [That is, upon this EARTH in the age to come, after the resurrection of the righteous.] Job. 19: 25-27. - Ed.