Job Repents in Dust and Ashes

May 4, 2014 / No. 3722

Dear Radio Friends,
In our previous message we began to look at the last section of the book of Job, beginning in chapter 38, and we looked at the first segment, in which God answers Job.
Even though Job had asked God to speak, God’s answer was not what Job expected. But it was a gracious answer. At the outset, God speaks to Job and demands an answer of him. In Job 38:3, God says, “Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.” Then God sets before Job the attributes of His eternity, His wisdom, His power, and He does this by setting before Job a series of questions that demonstrate His own immeasurable greatness and the smallness, the puniness, of man. After God has spoken for two chapters, at the beginning of chapter 40, Job repents. He answers God with these words: “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken; but I will not answer: yea, twice; but I will proceed no further” (40:4, 5). Here Job acknowledges that he has said too much.
But God is not finished with Job. This is not sufficient repentance. And so, for two more chapters, beginning in chapter 40:8, 9, God puts more questions to Job. He says this: “Wilt thou also disannul my judgment? wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous? Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him?”
And then, in chapter 42, finally Job answers God again, this time with true humility.
Today, we look at these verses, chapter 42:1-6.
“Then Job answered the Lord, and said,
I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee.
Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.
Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me.
I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.
Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
In these words of Job we have the most complete of all his confessions. Earlier in this series, we looked at other of Job’s responses and confessions from his suffering. In chapter 1 he said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In chapter 2, to his wife, “Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil?” He said later in the book, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” Job confessed that God knew the way that he took, and that God was trying him to bring him forth like gold. And Job also, in chapter 19, made a beautiful confession concerning his resurrection hope: “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” and he says, “In my flesh will I see God.” And as we look at all those confessions of Job, we realize how far we fall short, how much we have to learn in order to be able to respond like Job.
But now, in the end of the book, in these verses we have a confession that rises above all those earlier words of Job. Then Job spoke amid the confusion of his suffering. Now Job speaks because he sees God clearly. And he responds now not only to his suffering, but also to God’s own explanation of this suffering. And that makes this the most important of all the confessions that Job makes, and the one from which we can learn the most.
There are three parts to Job’s confession here. What are they?
The first is this, that Job acknowledges God’s absolute sovereignty. In verse 2 he says to God: “I know that thou canst do every thing.” Job is saying here not only that all power in heaven and earth belongs to God, that God is able to do anything that He pleases because of His power, but Job is also saying that God will do as He pleases, when He pleases, how He pleases, and with whom He pleases. God is not only supreme in strength, but also in the use of His strength. He answers to nothing, and He answers to no one but Himself and His own purposes and His own will.
And so Job continues, in verse 2, “I know that no thought can be withholden from thee.” He means that nothing can stand in the way of any of God’s thoughts. When God thinks to do something, God accomplishes it and the outcome is always good. What a contrast to man. We have so many ideas and plans that, because of obstacles, we are never able to accomplish. Or we have plans that are not always wise and so we cannot carry them through. Not so with God. No one can stay His hand or say to Him, “What doest thou?” God’s plans and decrees are eternal and take in the end from the beginning. In wisdom God directs all things together perfectly. Nothing is ever out of whack. Nothing ever happens without a purpose. Nothing ever happens contrary to the wisdom and the being and the purposes of God. Nothing that God does contradicts His own justice and goodness. That is what Job now sees and confesses concerning God. God is absolutely sovereign.
And that is the key to the rest of Job’s response here. Seeing the sovereignty of God, Job comes to know himself, and he puts his trust in God.
So, second, Job humbles himself before God in confession of his sin and his sinfulness. In verse 3, Job confesses his actual sins, what he had done wrong. He does this when he says, “Therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.” He is saying, “Lord, I have sinned with my words. When I questioned Thy goodness and justice, when I asked for an explanation, when I wanted to call Thee, God, to account, then I said too much.” Notice how Job puts it: “I uttered that I understood not, things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.” You see, not only are God’s ways higher than our ways, but God’s ways are unquestionably wise and correct, they are wonderful, and they are unfathomable. We cannot and we do not know them. And so we ought never to speak against them. When we do, that is sin which we must confess. That is what Job had done. But with God, remember, there is mercy in the way of confession. There is forgiveness and restoration, as we will see in Job’s life.
But here Job confesses not only his actual sins in what he had said, he also confesses his sinful nature, his original sin, his total depravity. And that is a full confession. Not just, “I’ve done something wrong,” but “I am a sinner.” We see that in verse 6 when Job says, “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” When Job says he hates himself, he does not mean that he hates life or that he hates who he is because he lacks some qualities that he sees in other people, that he feels that he himself is a loser who does not measure up to others. No, this is not the language of a person who is going to commit suicide, who hates what God has made him and where God has put him. Rather, Job means that he hates his sinful self. As he speaks these words, he is not comparing himself to other people, but he is standing before the majesty of God that he has seen, and he realizes that he is a wretched sinner. Job’s words here, “I repent and abhor myself in dust and ashes,” are the equivalent of what Paul says in Romans 7:18, where he says, “For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.” That is why Job says, “I repent in dust and ashes.”
To repent is to change your mind, to change your mind about yourself, to see yourself not as you yourself may see yourself or as others may see you, but to see yourself as God sees you. It is to turn from your sins and sinfulness. Repentance is to anticipate and to experience the forgiving mercy of God. It is to endeavor to live in a way more pleasing to Him. The dust and ashes in which Job repents were not only a sign of his sorrow over his suffering, but they were now a sign of the blackness of his sin and the grief he felt for his sin. Job’s primary reason for grief now is not the trouble and suffering but his sinfulness.
Then we have the third part of Job’s confession, this, that he submits completely, with no further questions, to God’s way for him. When he repents of his words, Job implies that he will now be silent. This comes out more clearly in his previous confession in chapter 40 when he says, “I will lay my hand upon my mouth and proceed no further.” Job is saying, “Lord, I have nothing to say. I’m silent.” This is not the silence of resignation, but the silence of trust. When someone, in resignation, is silent, he is saying, “There is nothing that I can say that will make things go my way, so I’ll just be quiet and ride this out.” The silence of trust says, “Lord, Thou knowest what is best. Thou art in control. I will trust Thy way. Nothing that I can say will improve on it. And so, Lord, I submit unto Thy way.” In his silence, Job trusts God completely. He trusts completely in the sovereign good purposes of God.

Here we must remember that God never explained to Job why Job was suffering. All Job knew was that God is sovereign and that God was with him. And that was sufficient. Job did not have to know why. All he needed to know was who had sent him these trials and who God is—the sovereign over those trials.
Can you relate to this? Perhaps you are going through a trial and you are struggling to understand why. Now, God could explain everything to you about His workings behind the scenes, but we would not be able to understand it. How can God’s infinite wisdom and God’s sovereign power fit into our finite and weak minds? What we need to know is this, that God is in control of our lives and that God has a purpose for us in Jesus Christ. And so we need to look up to Him and, with Job, confess His greatness, confess our sin, and silently submit. That is Job’s response here. He comes to the end of himself. He confesses God’s absolute sovereignty, he acknowledges his sin and sinfulness, and he silently submits to God.
As I said earlier, this is the outstanding confession of Job in response to his suffering. How did Job come to this, and how can we learn from Job and learn from Job’s experiences so that we, too, come to this response in our suffering?
I want to point to two things here, two means that God uses to produce this confession and this response in Job, two ways that God will work in our lives as well.
First, God used the trials and sufferings that Job experienced to bring him to this confession. In verse 5 Job says, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.” Job means this: “Now that I have gone through this suffering and trial and now that Thou hast spoken to me, my eye seeth Thee.” He is saying this: “My vision of God now is so much clearer than it was before. I understand much better what it means that God rules over all things and what it means for me to trust in His sovereignty. Before I had heard of Him with the hearing of the ear. And with my mind I grasped the truth of God’s sovereignty. With my mouth I was able to express it, but now I see it. I know it experientially, I know it from my own life. Before I had heard about God, but now I see Him.”
And, dear believer, this is the knowledge of God that we as Christians should all desire, not just a knowledge in our head, not just something that we express on our lips, but something that lives in our life, something that is practical. God put Job through all these trials to help him to see the application of His sovereignty. Along the way Job learned many things about himself and his sin. And with the clouds of sin now removed, Job sees God.
And so, if you are going through a dark trial, understand that God sends it for your spiritual profit, so that you may learn more about Him, what it is to trust in Him, and that God is trustworthy. What a different man Job will be from what he was before—mature in faith now, grown up through difficult experiences. And that is what He is doing to each of us as His children in the troubles and the trials that He sends.
But, as you well know, trials and troubles all by themselves do not work this response and this vision of God. Even in Job’s life, as the pain became more intense and as things dragged on, Job became more and more confused. And we know that the unbeliever, when he goes through trials, will curse God. He will defy God. And he will rob God by refusing to acknowledge the sovereignty that belongs to God.
So we must see another way that God worked this response and this confession in Job, the way of divine revelation. In the chapters leading up to this confession in the beginning of chapter 42, God has spoken. And now, as Job looks at his suffering in light of God’s words, Job comes to this wonderful and this complete confession. This comes out especially in verses 3 and 4 when Job, in repentance over his sin, quotes God’s own words back to Him. In verse 3: “Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge?” And in verse 4: “Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak. I will demand of thee, declare thou unto me.” With these words Job is not now putting questions and demands on God, but he is saying, “Lord, this is what you said to me. And thou art right.” In verse 3 he quotes from the beginning of God’s speech in chapter 38:2: “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” And then in verse 4 he quotes back to God His own words in chapter 40:7: “I will demand of thee and declare thou unto me.”
We must learn that this is what confession is. Confession is not to come up with your own ideas about things. It is not to give your own explanation of circumstances in your life. It is not to invent your own ideas about who God is. It is not to give your opinion of yourself to God. But confession, true confession, is to repeat back to God what He has said to us in His Word about Himself, about us, and about all things. That is true confession—to say with God what He has said to us. God has spoken. God is a God of truth. And so, true confession is to tell back to God what He has said to us. That is what Job is doing here. After God has spoken, Job repeats back to God His own words. “Lord, you said that I darken your counsel without knowledge. You said those words, and, Lord, You were right. I confess Your word.”
Sadly, today many confess to be Christians, but they do not confess God’s Word. So their confession is not true. Today, we do not have to wait as Job did to hear what God will say. God has said it all. God has given us a complete accounting in revelation in the Bible. And when we take the Bible, which is God’s Word, and read it and learn it and look at this world and our circumstances and ourselves and God through the eyes of Scripture, then our confession will be true. Then we will come to the point that Job is at here, confessing, repenting, and submitting.
And so, in your sufferings and trials, you should turn to the Word of God. And what does God say? Does He not make promises to His people never to leave them or forsake them? Does not He say, “I spared not my own Son, but gave him up for you and so you can be sure that I will take care of you?” Does He not say that Satan and sin are overcome? Does He not say there is nothing in the world, in the heights or the depths, in time or eternity, that can ever separate us from His love? Does He not say, “I am God, absolutely sovereign over all?” Does He not say, “My counsel shall stand?” Does He not say that all things work together for good to them that love Him? Does not God say those things? Then, dear believer, take those things and, in your sufferings, say them back to God. Confess His Word. Then you will have peace that passes all understanding.
Job comes to that peace here, trusting in the sovereign God, acknowledging his own sins, submitting to God, and repeating God’s words back to Him. Job comes to a complete and overwhelming peace. We could even call it a confidence in the midst of his suffering.
Look at Job’s first words in verse 2. He said, “I know, I know that thou canst do every thing.” In his confusion and with his questions earlier, Job was saying, “I don’t know, I’m not sure.” But now, having heard God, he says, “I do know.” This is the knowledge of faith, of trust, and of confidence. Job is saying, “It’s enough, Lord. It’s enough that I know that Thou art sovereign over all things and over all the affairs of my life. That’s all I need to know.” That knowledge is supreme, that knowledge supersedes every other thing that we know in this world. God is sovereign. God is just. God is good. And God is over all. So, I will trust in Him.
Then we should think back to an earlier point in the book when Job used similar language, in chapter 19:25: “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” These two things Job says: I know that Thou canst do everything, and I know that my Redeemer liveth. Those two things are the foundation of our confidence and the content of our faith as believers. God is sovereign over all. And Jesus, our Redeemer, lives and rules today. Because we know these things, we can have peace amidst the storms of life.
Let us pray.
Father, we know that Thou canst do everything and that nothing can stand in the way of Thy purposes. And, Lord, that is our comfort and solace amid the troubles and trials of life, especially when we consider ourselves, and our sins, and our finite abilities and wisdom. Lord, we cannot and do not trust ourselves, but we depend on Thee, the one who loved us and doest all things according to His good pleasure and counsel, the one who decreed to send His Son and who wills to gather the church to be with Him in glory. We know that all things work together for good to them who love Thee, to them who are the called according to Thy purpose. Lord, increase our faith. We pray it for Jesus’ sake, Amen.