The history of Job is fairly familiar to most Bible students. By the permissive will of God, the great sage of Uz suffered grievously. When three of his friends heard of the patriarch’s misfortunes, they came to comfort him. But because of their flawed theology, namely that all suffering is the result of personal sin, they turned out to be “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2).
Sometimes we are inclined to cast Job’s friends into an entirely negative light. After all, did not Job characterize them as “forgers of lies ... physicians of no value” (13:4)? Yes, he did. But one must remember that the gentleman had some pretty strong things to say about the Lord as well. Not understanding what was happening in his life, he accused God of being a terrorist who harassed him night and day (6:4; 9:21-24,34). Later, he would repent of those rash charges.
In the New Testament, James reminds us of the “patience of Job” (5:11); but one of the more remarkable things about this book is its portrait of the patience of God!
The fact of the matter is, Job’s friends basically were good men. They believed deeply in God. They extolled his wonders in creation and his benevolence in the affairs of men. They acknowledged the moral purity of the Creator and the justness of his dealings with humanity.
Their problem was one of application; they applied their cause-and-effect argument (suffering is caused by personal sin) to Job. They had no clue as to what God was doing in the patriarch’s life — that his suffering has been allowed as a tribute to his faith. Nevertheless, they were willing to generalize, and accuse Job of dark and secret sins.
And so they “hounded” God’s servant relentlessly; if he would just “repent” of his terrible sin, God would remove his hardships, and all would be well again. Aside from that blunder, they occasionally made some remarkably insightful statements. To one of these — from Zophar — we now direct attention.
“If you set your heart aright, And stretch out your hands toward him; If iniquity be in your hand, put it far away, And let not unrighteousness dwell in your tents. Surely then shall you lift up your face without spot; Yes, you shall be steadfast, and shall not fear: For you shall forget your misery; you will remember it as waters that are passed away, And your life shall be clearer than the noonday; Though there be darkness, it shall be as the morning. And you shall be secure, because there is hope; you will look around, and take your rest in safety. Also you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid; Yes, many will court your favor (Job 11:13-19).
In this delightful paragraph, several truths shine forth.
- The first thing the sinner must do is “set his heart aright.” If one is not sincerely sorry for his sins, everything else that follows is futile. The “heart” is the heart of the matter (cf. Psa. 34:18)!
- Forgiveness must be sought from God ultimately; while we must solicit forgiveness from those against whom we have sinned, in the final analysis, sin is an attack upon God; he must be entreated — and without equivocation. Moreover, forgiveness must be sought in the divinely prescribed way. For New Testament references pertaining to this, see Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27, etc.
- There must be a change in life; as long as one clings to his old ways, he will find no relief. It is the epitome of folly to contend that one may “repent,” and yet continue in the very practice of which he has repented. The divinely oriented life is one of transformation (Rom. 12:2).
- Following the reception of forgiveness, an exhilarating refreshment will come. Guilt will be “water under the bridge.” Life will be brighter; the dark depression that accompanies guilt will vanish. Peace of mind will be one’s companion — day and night.
The problem with many is this: we attempt such a shallow repentance. We want to do as little as we can — that which we hope will merely placate others — when we need to bow in humble contrition before God, yielding wholly to his will (Heb. 5:8-9).
Even long-time members of the church sometimes attempt to slip by with only minimal submission to the will of God. Those provisional, “generic” confessions — “If I have done something, I am sorry,” — when many know very well what their problem has been, ring hollow. Do we not recall those ridiculous “confessions” (word parsings) of the former President? There will be no real soul-satisfaction in halfhearted acknowledgments.
We would do well to master the wise words of Zophar — at least in this instance.