“Behold, God does all these things … to bring back his soul from the pit….”
This would be the very definition of irony: “a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result” (according to the Google).
For example, in order to lose weight you have to eat. You would think that in order to lose weight you would have to not eat. But I have found that if I starve myself, I may lose some weight at first, but I’ll actually end up gaining weight because my body will go into “lifesaving” mode and start storing fat and what-not in order to survive.
In order to lose weight, I can’t stop eating. I have to eat better. Low-fat foods, foods rich in vitamins and low in cholesterol, that kind of thing.
What’s the point in this? Well, for one, it’s been on my mind for the last year or so in that I’ve begun to eat differently (per doctor’s orders) and have lost a significant amount of weight. God be praised!
But it is also a way to illustrate what we’ve been exploring in the Book of Job.
It appears that Job is being punished. He’s been wiped out financially. His children have been tragically killed in a storm. And his health has deteriorated to the point where he’s covered in sores and wants to die.
But this is not a result of God’s wrath, as his friends have been saying. They have spent some time putting forth their philosophy that God punishes the wicked, Job is being punished, therefore Job is wicked!
Job has been answering his three friends with a defense. He has not done anything wicked! Just the opposite, in fact. He’s been upright and blameless. He’s never turned away from God.
Then Job – in his despair – has turned to God and complained about the unfairness of it all.
And this brings Elihu on the scene. Elihu functions as one who prepares the way for God himself to speak to Job. A sort of “John the Baptist”-type of forerunner for God.
In Chapter 33 Elihu tells Job, in no uncertain terms, that what has happened to him has not been punishment. It is so that Job will not fall “into the pit” (a reference to not only the grave but to everlasting death). It is so that Job will be restored, will pray to God, and will be redeemed.
Here is the way Lutherans understand this and have for nearly 500 years:
“He calls it the ‘strange’ work of the Lord when He terrifies, because to make alive and comfort is God’s own proper work. But He terrifies, Isaiah says, for this reason—that there may be a place for comfort and making alive. For hearts that are secure and do not feel God’s wrath hate consolation. In this manner Scripture is accustomed to join these two, the terrors and the consolation. It does this to teach that there are these chief parts in repentance: contrition and faith that comforts and justifies. Neither do we see how the nature of repentance can be presented more clearly and simply. God’s two chief works among people are these: to terrify; to justify and make alive those who have been terrified. Into these two works all Scripture has been distributed. The one part is the Law, which shows, reproves, and condemns sins. The other part is the Gospel, that is, the promise of grace bestowed in Christ.” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XIIA, paragraphs 52-53, The Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, ©2005,2006 CPH).
This is what Elihu is telling Job. You have suffered because God wants to save you! “Behold, God does all these things … to bring back his soul from the pit.”
It’s ironic, but it is also true! It is also hard to understand. Strike that, it is next to impossible to understand.
And we’ll explore why in the next devotion.
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