God is Greater than Man

April 6, 2014 / No. 3718

Dear Radio Friends,
Today we’re going to consider some of the words of Job’s wise friend, Elihu, recorded in Job chapter 33 verses 8 through 13. Before we get to them, though, I want to put Elihu’s words in context in the book of Job.
Up to this point Job and his three friends have had an extended argument trying to explain the reason for Job’s suffering. Job’s friends argue that his suffering is punishment from God for particular sin that Job has committed, and Job insists that this is not the case and that in fact God is his Redeemer who knows what Job is experiencing and is using it for his profit. However, Job is still quite confused by his suffering, and has repeatedly made request to God for an explanation.
Apparently, while they’re speaking, Job and his friends have an audience, and one of those who has been listening is a younger man by the name of Elihu. When we come to chapter 32, Job’s friends have fallen silent, most probably because they are beginning to realize that their argument for Job’s suffering is not the proper explanation, that Job, as God had said, is indeed a perfect and an upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil. And it’s at this point that Elihu, the younger man, speaks.
Now, there are a lot of things we can learn from the manner of Elihu’s response, especially in chapter 32 and the first seven verses of chapter 33. Elihu shows just anger, he shows true compassion, he is humble, he is a good listener, he’s sympathetic, sincere, earnest, clear, and helpful. The Bible calls us as Christians to mutual admonition, and Elihu is a great example to us of how we should go about this, of how we can counsel one another effectively as believers. And there is a striking contrast between Elihu’s manner and that of the other three friends of Job, who are proud and hyper-critical and censorious and, as Job says, miserable comforters. But in today’s message, we want to focus on what Elihu says to Job, not so much how he says it, and that’s what we have in Job 33:8-13, where we read:
Surely thou hast spoken in mine hearing, and I have heard the voice of thy words, saying, I am clean without transgression, I am innocent; neither is there iniquity in me. Behold, he findeth occasions against me, he counteth me for his enemy, He putteth my feet in the stocks, he marketh all my paths. Behold, in this thou art not just: I will answer thee, that God is greater than man. Why dost thou strive against him? for he giveth not account of any of his matters.
In these verses Elihu identifies where Job has gone wrong in his thinking and gently rebukes him for this. In his thinking and defense Job has become too focused on himself and his own innocence, and as a result Job is not thinking correct thoughts about God, and he misjudges God and what He has done. The thing for us to learn today from these verses is this, that when we come into painful trials we must be very careful not to misjudge God.
In verse 8, Elihu begins his rebuke of Job by establishing that he has listened to Job, and that what he is going to say to Job is based only on what he has heard. He is not going to accuse Job of imagined wrongs and he is not going to talk past Job in abstract terms. No, he is going to be fair. “Job, this is what you have said, and I want to respond to that.” From this we learn the importance of listening to others, and not prejudging or forming answers for others without hearing them. One of the most important things in helping and counseling and showing sympathy to others is that we listen to them.
Then in verses nine, ten, and eleven, Elihu points to two faults in what Job has said, two complaints that Job has made. Before we explain them, let us understand that these are common complaints, and by that I mean, these are complaints that we are all guilty of making when God in His providence brings trouble in our lives.
What are Job’s two complaints that Elihu has heard?
The first in verse 9 is this, “I am clean without transgression, I am innocent; neither is there iniquity in me.” We immediately ask, is Elihu being faithful to what Job has said or is he putting words in Job’s mouth? He seems to be quoting Job as saying, I am a man without sin, but Job had never said that. Job was always ready to confess his need of justification and forgiveness, his need of a Redeemer and a Mediator. So, is Elihu right to say this? Has Job really said, I am innocent and clean and without iniquity?
What Elihu is doing here is taking Job’s response to his three friends, and putting what Job had said to them in defense of himself, before God. The friends had said Job was being punished for his sin. They had gone to one extreme. And then, in his self-defense, Job had gone to the other extreme, to say not only that it wasn’t his sin that brought this suffering, but that in fact he didn’t deserve this suffering, that God was not being fair to him. Job had become too self-focused, and though he still had an amazing faith in God that preserved him, so that he never forsook or cursed God, still in his defense of self he did speak inappropriately about God. Job, confused by his circumstances, and focused on himself as he responds to his friends, accuses God of being unfair in His dealings with him.
We see this, for example, in Job 10:15-16, where Job says that it makes no difference if he is wicked or righteous, because still God hunts him like a fierce lion and still God’s indignation is upon him. We see something similar in chapter 9:22, where Job says, “He destroyeth the perfect and the wicked.” And you see, Job is not saying he is without sin, but this, that he did not deserve what was happening to him. That he would understand it if he was being corrected for some sin, but he was not, so what was God’s purpose. It seemed to him that what God was doing to him was pointless, that God was acting without reason.
And in thinking this way, Job really has bought into the theology of his three friends, that we judge the attitude of God according to what a man receives; that God’s grace is in good things and His wrath and judgment in bad things. Now sometimes Job corrects himself on this, but in the pain and confusion, he has this short-sighted theology.
We can and do fall into the same thinking and the same responses, very often and very easily. When we say or think, “This isn’t fair” or “I didn’t deserve this,” or “I don’t need this in my life right now,” we are guilty of the same thing. And it is something we give expression to, not just under heavy trials, but even in the simple things that interrupt our daily life. We get a phone call that takes up an hour of our time, or we hit a red light, or we’ve got to fix someone else’s mistake, and we get exasperated, we focus on ourselves, and we think, I don’t deserve this. And what we fail to see is that we’re forgetting about the sovereign rule of God over all things, and we are accusing God of being unjust and unfair in the way He deals with us. What we need to remember is this: That even if we live the most sanctified life, we still live by grace, and that God never actually deals with us according to what we deserve. It is His grace that sustains and keeps us in the way of purity and holiness.
The second complaint of Job addressed by Elihu is in verses 10 and 11, “Behold, he findeth occasions against me, he counteth me for his enemy, he putteth my feet in the stocks, he marketh all my paths.”
These words are almost a direct quote from the speech of Job in chapter 13:24-28, and in them Job accuses God of at least four things: 1) digging up things from his past and holding them against him now, 2) turning and fighting against him as an enemy, 3) torturing him in order to drag a confession out of him, and 4) putting him under constant surveillance and scrutiny in order to trap him in a sin. In summary Job is saying that God is being too harsh, that He is treating him roughly and not dealing with him in love.
And again, we do the same thing, when under our trials we focus on our own guilt and begin to question the love of God to us. Is God really a Father? Does He really love me? If He did, why does He afflict me? What have I done that brings this on me? Is God my enemy?
And then we’ve forgotten something. Hebrews 12:5, “Ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faith when thou art rebuked of him, for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.”
When Job complained this way, he had forgotten that God was his loving Father, and that in love and faithfulness, and with a sanctifying purpose, He brings afflictions on His people. This is something Elihu develops in the rest of the chapter. One of Job’s complaints is that God has not spoken, that He has not explained Himself, and Elihu contends that, yes, God has spoken, that God is speaking to Job through his afflictions, even on the bed of his suffering. You see, Job’s problem, and ours, is that we become so focused on ourselves and our pain, that we block our ears to the loving and correcting voice of God. And so we have to learn, in affliction, to respond to God and not to circumstances, to think of God’s glory and not of our own peace and happiness, and then we will grow through our trials.
These are the two common complaints that Elihu addresses, God is not fair, and God is harsh and unloving. These complaints come from focusing on ourselves, and so Elihu helps Job by shifting his focus heavenward, to God. In verses 12 and 13, he says to Job, “Behold, in this thou art not just: I will answer thee, that God is greater than man. Why dost thou strive against him? for he giveth not account of any of his matters.”
And again here, we see the gentleness of this wise counselor. He doesn’t use strong words to accuse Job of wickedness, but, because he wants to help Job and to keep Job listening, he appeals to him: “Behold,” he says, “in this thou are not just,” or, “Listen to me, here in your thinking and talking, you’re not right.” Then he reminds Job of two important truths that will help Job to shift his focus heavenward.
First, he says, “God is greater than man.” He is saying to Job, Remember, God is greater than you. Now perhaps you think that is simplistic, that Elihu is telling Job something that Job obviously knows and already confesses. But Elihu is reminding Job of this in connection with Job’s complaints. Job, he is saying, God is greater than man, not just in His power and position, but also in His wisdom and justice. He is telling Job, you must confess not only that God in His power and sovereignty has brought this suffering into your life, but also that God is just and right in what He has done and God knows what He is doing; He is not being unfair; He is not making mistakes; He is not being harsh and unloving. God is greater than man, so man should not question God’s integrity and purposes.
How important that is for us to remember when we are afflicted. God is greater than man. We must say that in our afflictions, not in resignation, but in faith, with the same posture of worship that Job had when first he was afflicted. In chapter 1, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord”; and in chapter 2, “What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” Because God is greater than man, His ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts, His purposes are greater than our own, His timetable is not ours, He executes everything perfectly, and we do not and cannot always know why, and what we need to learn to do, more and more, is to get our eyes off ourselves and our suffering, and onto God. Our question in suffering should not be “why?”—why is this happening to me? but “who?”—who has sent this to me? And our answer as believers is, God. God who is greater than man!
Or as Paul puts it in Romans 11:33-34: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?”
God knows what He is doing, and He does not need man’s input. God is greater than man.
Later in the book, God will answer Job exactly in this way, chapter 40:2: “Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? He that reproveth God, let him answer it.” And Job responds by covering his mouth and being silent. That is the appropriate response. Do not say, God is not fair, or God is harsh and unloving, but be silent before God. In Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.”
And then, the other thing that Elihu reminds Job of is this, that God does not always give explanations for what He does, and that He is under no obligation to explain Himself to man. In verse 13, “Why dost thou strive against him? for he giveth not account of any of his matters.”
And again Paul understood this well. In Romans 9 he uses this same language and applies it to the matter of predestination, of God choosing to save some and bring them to glory, and at the same time choosing to make some as vessels of wrath fitted for the destruction of hell. People hear about this, and say, “That’s not fair,” and they want to hold God to account. The Bible says, Romans 9:20-21: “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” And back in verse 18: “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.”
Any man who makes something has the right to make it as he pleases. An artist can deliberately make his art beautiful or ugly, and when he’s done putting hours of work into it, he can tear it up, break it in pieces or burn it, if he pleases. That is his prerogative. It was his creation. That is what Elihu is teaching us: God doesn’t answer to man, so do not strive or fight with Him. We must content ourselves with what God has revealed, and know that there are many things we do not and will not understand in this life. God is sovereign, He works all things after the counsel of His sovereign will, and in Christ Jesus He has revealed Himself in love to His elect people, has made them His children, and promises them that He works all things for their eternal profit.
We must be content with knowing that. And as Elihu proceeds in the chapter, he tells Job, God is not silent as you contend, but He has revealed certain things, in other ways, and you must hear His voice in those things and believe His revelation. And for us, this is a reminder to believe what God has taught and promised in His Word, the Bible. We have much more than Job did. God has given us His Word, which contains all we need to know for our salvation, and every answer and promise that we need for our life in this world. We must trust His Word, believe His promises, and depend on His grace, not judging God by the pain or inconvenience of our circumstances.
It is important for us to remember this in the events of our lives from day to day. We are always in the school of chastening, and God uses the little things that He daily brings into our lives—the traffic jam, the interruption to our work, the unexpected visitors, the leaky plumbing, the insensitive comment of another—I say, God uses all these things to prepare us and to train us to look to Him and to respond to His sovereignty and love. We have to learn that God is God over all.
And the way to do this is to look to Jesus Christ, who gives us the perfect example of submission to the will and way of the Father. In His suffering there is an untold pain, and a deep mystery, that we can never understand, and concerning which He also asked, “Why? Why hast thou forsaken me?” But as He suffers, and even as He, in the garden of Gethsemane, contemplates the bitterness of what lies ahead, He never contends with God. Rather, He prays, “Father” (note that word) “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” And from the cross: “My God,” not simply “Oh God,” but “My God, My God, why?” Through the torment, He cries out to God, not against Him.
And, in this, He is not just an example, but through His suffering He guarantees that God does indeed always love us. He spared not His own Son, for us. He laid our sins upon Him. And God, having pardoned and forgiven, makes us His children. He loves us with an eternal love, the same love that He has for His own dear Son. And out of that love, He directs all things for the good of His own.
We mustn’t question God, or charge Him as treating us unfairly. But as His dear children, sometimes with our hands over our mouths, receive in faith what He sends, believing it is for our good. God is greater than man!
Let’s pray,
Our loving heavenly Father, we are thankful, Lord, for Thy patience with us. We are not worthy of the least of Thy mercies. We are guilty. We have complained against Thee. We have slandered Thy love. We have maligned Thy purposes. We have been self-absorbed in our problems. We are like Job. And so we pray for forgiveness, and for grace. Help us to look heavenward, not asking why, and expecting an answer, but asking, who, and believing and trusting in Him. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.