After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the LORD had told them, and the LORD accepted Job’s prayer. And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. (Job 42:7–10, ESV)
I finished reading the Old Testament book of Job in my Bible reading this morning. For some reason I thought this season of pandemic and social upheaval would be a good time to read Job. Well, maybe not. It was a hard journey through a book during a season of difficulty in life. As a Biblical book, Job deals with the issue of suffering, pain, loss, hardship while really never giving an answer to why these things happen. In fact, you read the book of Job thinking it will answer the question “why”, but you find that rather than given the answer to this, God eventually gives Himself in the midst of Job’s loss. In other words, we ask “why” and God answers with a “Who” by giving Himself. I could go on here, but that is not the point of this post.
As I was reading the final chapter something jumped off the page and caught my heart. It was honestly something I never noticed, and it struck me. Job 42:10 says, “And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, WHEN (emphasis mine) he had prayed for his friends…” At the beginning of the book Job lost everything in a very short time, including his wealth, his comfort, his family, and even his health. I always knew that the storyline of this book included God speaking to Job, Job repenting, God blessing him and restoring his fortunes. What I had never seen is how this verse connects these blessings to Jobs willingness to pray for his friends and stand in the gap between them and God as their mediator.
To get this, you have to understand what happens with these friends. When Satan brings all the disaster on Job at the beginning of the book, these three cats show up, and at first they do exactly what they are supposed to do. As his friends they sit in the ashes and weep with Job. But eventually they turn in to religious nut jobs and become the personification of legalistic religious zealots who continually condemn Job rather than loving him and offering him the grace and comfort of the Lord. For almost 30 chapters they debate Job with self-righteous words and eyes. They represent a posture that I have found so often in the Christian church. One that sees the world through religious eyes that view people as good or bad based on their behavior and agreement with certain moral ideals. This religious posture begins with something good, which is that religious people know that God is holy and therefore good. But the problem is that they then apply that by seeing people through this lens, that a good and holy God must love and bless the good people, and they now get to be the judge of who is good and bad. In the whole argument, Job keeps telling his friends that he knows God is good, and that to the best of his ability he has trusted in the Lord. But their condemning words keep telling Job, “Nope, there has to be a reason all of this awful stuff is happening, and it has to be because you are evil and sinful.” Their claim is that good people will get good stuff from God, bad people will get suffering and hardship. As you continue to read this banter, you quickly discover that the friends cease to love Job and stand in self-righteous condemnation over him. And in doing so they deeply wound Job. By the end of this argument the pain of having friends lack compassion has added insult and injury to his grief.
The core problem with this approach to people in the world is that it lack compassion. Job’s friends are not necessarily always wrong, in fact there are places where they express ideas that are consistent with several other passages of Scripture. Yet, at the core, the failure of the religious and legalistic worldview is that it begins with a position of self-righteousness. Job’s friends could easily condemn Job, but they did so while also telling him that if he did what was right, and if he honored God, then God would love him. So the junk Job was experiencing had to be proof that Job was sinning against God and lying about it. But their posture toward him caused them to see what they believed was Job’s sin without the glaring understanding of their own. This is the central failure in the legalistic religious posture, we can see the sin in the lives of others so clearly, but tend to be unaware of our own sin and need for redemption.
Therefore they reduced suffering and hardship in the world to God’s judgment on an individual is merely proof of their wickedness and guilt. Yet, this worldview is never affirmed in Scripture, and Job is the beginning point of this truth. When we begin to believe we are the good people, and then look at any individual, any group, any lifestyle choice or worldview while determining that they are the bad people, it is proof that we have bought into the lie that God loves us because we are lovable. When we start accepting that God is good, so he must love good people, we have subtly embraced one of the wicked lies of the the Evil One and we will always misrepresent God. Worse, in doing so we will wound the very people who need our compassion and grace. Job’s friends represent this awful approach to God and religion, and personally I have encountered lots of self-righteous angry “Christian” who were quick with condemnation toward anyone who did not live up to their definition of Christian goodness. Yet, in doing so they completely lost sight of the reality that they too are deeply sinful people always in need of grace. And I have dealt with lots of people who have been deeply wounded by people in the church who come at others with this posture. One last thing before I move to the point of chapter 42, an honest confession. I too have been this person. It is so easy for us to see others sin so clearly and be so blind to our own, and therefore lose sight of the universal need for Christ’s compassion and grace.
But grace is beautiful. God expresses His anger toward Job’s friends and exposes their sinful religious hearts and words. God tells them that in their religious zeal and desire to show God to Job, they actually completely misrepresented God and ended up with a false God. “You have not spoken of me what is right,” God said to them. Wow. This may be the most dangerous sin of all, to claim we speak for God and are proclaiming God to others, yet, we are misrepresenting God completely. Yet, God offers them grace and atonement for this sin. He tells them to go to Job and make sacrifices. As with all sacrifices, the picture is that they deserve God’s just wrath, and therefore death, yet God receives a substitute in their place while giving them forgiveness. He then tells them that Job will interceded for them, standing between them and God as a mediator on their behalf. This too is a picture of Christ, who is our mediator, sitting on the Throne in the presence of His Father, continually making intercession for us as our mediator (Romans 8:34).
But it is the next line that caught me. Job had lost everything, and then was deeply wounded by his friends. Now God was asking him to stand before them, and act as their priest by receiving their sacrifices and praying for them. Man, I don’t know if I could do it. I do know it would take unbelievable grace to pray for the restoration and forgiveness of friends who had so deeply wounded me. Yet the text makes a clear connection between Job’s willing forgiveness and prayer for his friends and the restoration God brings to his life. Now, I have to be careful here because if I am not, I will end up exactly where his friends landed. It will sound like I am saying, Job prayed so he did the right thing, therefore God loved him and blessed him. That is not what happened. If you read the whole book (or at least the last couple chapters) you will find that God spoke directly to Job, and as a result, the most righteous man on earth was confronted with the holiness and sovereignty of God which led to a clear understanding of himself and Job’s need for redemptive repentance (see Job 42:1-6). Upon his repentance, God calls out Job’s friends, and then calls Job to stand in the gap for them. What we see here is the exact opposite of the worldview of the friends. Job had seen God clearly and received grace. Now he is going to be human instrument giving grace to these friends so that they can experience the forgiveness of God. What we find is that loved people love, people who have been given mercy will give mercy, and forgiven people forgive. When grace flows to Job he is now free to pray wholeheartedly for his friends and forgive them in deep love. But this also puts him in a position to live under the abundance of God’s blessing. It is prayer, and specifically prayer flowing out of his forgiveness for his friends that opens the blessing of God in Job’s life.
So here is why it impacted me. The text is making a clear correlation between the blessing of God and the prayer of Job. That blessing reached to these wounding friends through the prayer and sacrifice he made on their behalf. But it also flowed to Job through the promised blessing from God into his life. So it was a reminder again of the importance of prayer, and especially the intercessory prayer for people who are far from God. It is a call to pray for people who have wounded us and left us struggling in our own journey. And it is a call to live as a conduit of grace that does flow to us, but flows through us when we pray for the world around us.