The question of our text was put by Job when he first opened his mouth in the extreme bitterness of his anguish: “Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?” His case was so sad and so trying that life itself became irksome to him.The patriarch was weary of living; and perhaps we shall not wonder so much at his pitiful lamentation if we recollect the extreme distress into which he had been brought. He had lost all his property; by stroke upon stroke, all his wealth had been taken away from him. He might have borne that if it had been his only loss; but, close upon the heels of it had come sore bereavement. His happy children, for whom he daily cared, and whom he had tenderly loved, were all destroyed in a moment, while they were feasting in the house of one of their brothers. The calamity seemed all the greater because it came in the very midst of their joys. Then, as if that was not trial enough, Job was himself smitten from head to foot with sore boils. If you have ever seen a person in that condition, I am sure that you must pity him.
I will warrant that, if we had suffered as he did, and been brought to poverty, and left childless, and then been tortured as he was from head to foot, and even his wife rendering him no comfort, but, on the contrary, adding to his grief and woe, we might have said even worse things than Job did. For remember, dear friends, that he said nothing against God in the time of his deepest sorrow. He cursed most vehemently the day of his birth, and wished that he had never existed, or that he might speedily pass away to sleep with the generations that are dead; and he used unwise and foolish expressions, but any of us might have used far worse words if we had been in his case, so we will not condemn him, but we will see what lessons we can learn from his experience.
Small value of temporal things
I think that Job’s experience teaches us the very small value of temporal things. To have spiritual blessings, and to enjoy them, is one thing; but to have earthly things, and to enjoy them, is quite another thing. Job had once enjoyed every comfort that heart could desire, and he still had this blessing of life left to him; but even that had become curdled and soured, the last thing to which a man usually clings had become distasteful and disgusting to him, so that he set no store by it, but longed to get rid of it. O beloved, seek eternal treasures, for there is no moth that can eat them, no rust can mar them, no fermentation or corruption can injure them; but, as for the things of time and sense, if you do possess them, use them as though you had them not, and never make them your gods, for they are but as a shadow that passeth away in a moment. They come, and they are gone; and if you make idols of them, the Lord may permit you still to retain them, but take away from you all power to enjoy them. You may have abundance, and yet not be able to relish even the bread you eat, or the drink that refreshes you. You may have a loss of health, or a loss of all power to be happy, though everything that men think to be the cause of happiness may be laid abundantly at your feet.
Job remembered how he had fed the widow, and succoured the fatherless, — how he had acted justly towards his fellow-creatures in the midst of an unjust generation, — and how, amidst a mass of idolaters, he had worshipped God, and God alone. He stood alone, or almost alone, in that age, as a true and faithful servant of Jehovah; yet his sorrows and trials were multiplied. And so, his way was hidden, he was hedged in by God, and he could not make it out. You know, dear friends, that it is often a great aggravation of our troubles when we do not know why they come. It was equally trying to Job that he did not know what to do. There seemed to be nothing that he could do. He was stripped of all his earthly possessions. Those ashes where he sat formed his uncomfortable couch. True, there were his three friends; but all that they could do, or, at least, the best thing they did, was to sit still, and say nothing. When they opened their mouths, it was only to pour vinegar into his wounds, and to increase his agony tenfold. What could poor Job do under such circumstances? His very helplessness tended to increase his wretchedness.
Am I addressing anyone who is in that kind of perplexity? I think I hear someone moaning, “I don’t know which way to turn. I have done everything I can think of, and I cannot tell what is to come next. I sit in darkness, and can see no light. Why I am brought to this pass, I cannot tell; or what is the reason for it, I cannot make out anyhow. If that is the way you talk, you are in very much the same sort of plight that the patriarch was in when he uttered the mournful question which forms our text. What was still worse to Job was that he could not see any way out of his trouble. Whatever he tried to do, he found himself obstructed in doing it. And there are men, now in this world, whose sorrows are the more grievous because everything they do to alleviate their distress seems only to increase it. Their efforts are all fruitless.
Well, first, let me say that it is a very unsafe question for anyone to ask. Brethren, we are sure to get into mischief as soon as we begin catechising God, and asking “why?” and “wherefore?” Such questioning comes not well from our lips. He is the Potter, and we are the clay in His hands. “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?” God’s eternal purposes are a great deep, and when we try to fathom them, we utterly fail. Divine Sovereignty is an ocean without a bottom and without a shore, and all we can do is to set our sail, and steer by the chart which He has given us, and all the while believe that, God is wisdom, God is love.”
Voyaging in that fashion, we shall be safe indeed. Job received his answer when the Lord spake to him out of the whirlwind, and said, “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” What God said to him was not so much a vindication of the ways of providence, but a revelation of His matchless power as the Creator and the Ruler of the universe; and, though men may not like to hear it, yet there is, in the thunder of God’s power, an answer, which, though it may not always answer the sceptic, must ultimately overpower and silence him.
Next, it reflects upon God. In this question of Job, there is really a reflection upon the wisdom of the Almighty. Is God to stand and answer to you and me for what He does? Is He bound to tell us the reason why He does it? Job’s friend Elihu said, “God is greater than man. Why dost thou strive against Him? for He giveth not account of any of His matters.” If there be His equal anywhere, let him meet Him in the field, and they shall speak together; but to us worms of the dust answers shall not be given if we haughtily put questions to Him of “what?” and “why?” and “wherefore?” To accept the Lord’s will with absolute submission, is after the manner of the Son of God Himself, for He prayed, in the hour of His greatest agony, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” But to cavil, and to question, is after the manner of the prince of darkness, who is ever seeking to dispute the sovereignty of God. Therefore, beloved, let no question of ours reflect upon the Lord’s love, or the dispensations of His providence.
Further, we may rest quite certain that there must be an answer to this question, a good answer, and an answer in harmony with the character of God. There is a reply possible to that enquiry, and a reply consistent with boundless grace and infinite compassion; but, mark you, that reply may never be given, or, if it is given, we may be incapable of understanding it. There is much that God does that could not be understood, even by those great men, of modern times, who would fain sit on the throne of the Eternal, and judge Him, —
“Snatch from His hand the balance and the rod,
Rejudge His judgments, be the god of God.”
I must often come to a point where we have to stop and say, “We cannot understand this;” and we shall be still wiser if we add, “Nor do we wish to do so.” Brothers and sisters, I, for one, have had enough of searching into reasons; I am perfectly satisfied to accept facts. I am ready to bow my reason before the Lord, and to accept whatever He says.
I confess that I see profound mysteries about the commonest phenomena around me; I cannot fully comprehend anything when I get right to the bottom of it. There is, on every hand, a deep which I cannot fathom; how, then, shall I understand the ways of God, and measure Him with my finite mind, comparing so many inches with the Infinite, weighing so many ounces against the Omnipotent, and reckoning so many seconds in contrast with the Eternal? No, brethren, for such calculations, you have nothing to measure with; you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep, yea, bottomless. So, the less of such questions as Job’s any of us ask, the better, for, even if we had the answer to them, we might not be able to understand it.
Let me remind you also that, however important this question may seem to be, it is not the most profitable question. I have heard of a farmer, whose boy said to him, “Father, the cows are in the corn; however did they get there?” “Boy,” he replied, “never mind how they got there; our work is to get them out as soon as we can.” That is our main business also, to get the cows out of the corn; how they got there is a matter that can be thought of by-and-by when we have nothing else to do. The origin of evil is a point that puzzles a great many people; but I hope you will not worry your brains over that question; if you do, you will be very foolish. But if you are wise men, you will not trouble yourself so much about the origin of evil, as about how to conquer it, in yourself, and in others. Get the cows out of the corn, and then find out how they got in, if you can, by so doing, prevent their getting in again.
God comes to you in this time of suffering, that He may; stop you in your sin, and make you think. “Arise, and go unto thy Father, for He will receive thee.” This is one answer to your question; the Lord lets you live, even though it is in pain and grief, because He has purposes of love and mercy towards you. Therefore, be not anxious to die; but be thankful that you are still permitted to tarry upon gospel ground.
Often, our trials bring us very near to our God. Though you are a child of God, sometimes forget Him. Sorrowfully must you remember that sad fact. But now the night comes on, and there is danger all around you; so you begin to cry for your Father, and you would fain be back to fellowship with Him; and that is a blessed trouble which brings us near to our God. I have had my share of physical pain, and perhaps more of it than most who are here; and I bless God for it. If it comes again, I ask Him for grace to bless Him for it then; and now that it has gone for a while, I freely bless Him for it, for I cannot tell you all the good that it has wrought in me. Oh! how often a proud spirit has been cut back by affliction and trial, like a vine that is made to bleed, that the clusters that followed the pruning might be all the better and richer! The mown grass is very sweet and fine; and so, often, are believers who have been deeply tried. This tribulation, as Paul says, “worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” Wherefore, bow humbly before the Lord, my tried and afflicted friend, and see at least some of the reasons why He thus puts you in the dark chamber of tribulation.
Perhaps, dear brother, you are being very greatly tried, more than most people, to fit you to be an example to others. The Lord means to make a veteran of you. Job would have been much the same sort of man as that, — an Oriental magnate, who would have lived, and died, and been forgotten; but now his fame will last as long as the world endures, and “ye have heard of the patience of Job.” You have all heard of it, and Job is one of the undying names. So it may be with you, beloved. You are, perhaps, to sail through seas of trouble to reach your crown. God means to use you in His service, and make you a blessing to others, and a teacher of others, by passing you again and again through the fire.
Perhaps, dear friend, the Lord is putting you through all this trouble— (only I hardly like to say it aloud, I must whisper it in your ears somehow, —) because He loves you more than anybody else. So the Lord loves you much, and He is testing you to set whether you can bear His will, — whether you love Him so much that you will take up your cross, and deny yourself.
It is very possible, dear friend, also, that God is putting you through all this trouble that He may enable you to bear great prosperity. Job was to have twice as much as he had ever had before, and that was a very great deal. Job was hardly fit to manage such a large estate as that until he had been made to see the vanity of it all, and to get nearer to his God. So, dear friends, you are going to be pressed, and squeezed, and tried, in order that you may be fitted to come right out into the front rank, and to be magnified and made much of by the Lord your God.
Finally, if I cannot tell you why all this trouble falls to your lot, I know it is right, for the Lord has done it, and blessed be His name. Aaron held his peace when his two sons died. He got as far as that in submission to the will of the Lord; but it will be better still if, instead of simply holding your peace, you can bless and praise and magnify the Lord even in your sharpest trouble. Oh, may you be Divinely helped to do so! Let every troubled soul march out of this place feeling, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted.” Rise, dear friend, out of all despondency and despair, shake yourself from the dust, and put on your beautiful garments of praise and joy, remembering that—
“The path of sorrow, and that path alone,
Leads to the land where sorrow is unknown.”
You can see the tracks of the martyrs along the road you are journeying; better still, you can see the footprints of the Son of God, your Lord and Saviour. Therefore, you may rest assured that you are on the right road, so press bravely forward on it, and, in due time, you will come to that place of which Job said, “There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest;” and you shall be forever without fault before the throne of God. May He grant this happy portion to you all, for His dear Son’s sake! Amen.
Excerpted from the sermon titled “The Sorrowful Man’s Question” (Job 3:23) by CH Spurgeon dated 8 October 1882. You are encouraged to read the full text of this sermon from https://www.spurgeon.org/