July 28, 2019 Receiving Evil from the Lord

 

Scripture reading: Job 2:1-10.

 

Job had been suffering greatly. All of his children, ten in number, were killed in one day. All of his servants were killed except one. All of his animals were stolen. And, as we read, painful boils afflicted him. Everything he had, everything he loved, was taken from him except one servant and his wife. And his wife was no help to him. She had an evil heart. She tells him to curse God.

 

Despite the unimaginable misery that he was in, he replies to his wicked wife and says, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God and shall we not receive evil?” (vs. 10) This is one of the most profound statements in the entire Bible. There is great wisdom in it. There is great truth in it. There is great assurance in it.

 

I wish us to see just two things about it. If we will see these truths and hold them, then our minds will rest in times of trouble. We all experience times of trouble, do we not? Some of us go through very long periods of difficulty. Some among God’s children will go through their entire lives in suffering. Think of Joni Eareckson Tada, the woman who was paralyzed from the neck down at the age of 17 in a diving accident. She has lived her whole life in this condition. Many believers in the Lord Jesus have debilitating and painful diseases. A friend of mine, who I loved and admired, suffered with Leukemia and finally died from it. He was an ardent and faithful follower of the Lord Jesus, as is Joni. Among God’s people, there are many who lose their children, they lose their spouses, they lose their siblings. Suffering is part of our experience in this fallen world. But the book of Job has something to teach us about this matter.

 

First, we can perceive from this short statement by Job that God is sovereign. Not only is he sovereign, he is absolutely sovereign. That is, God is in control of and even ordains all things yet, as the Scriptures make clear, he is not the author of sin (I John 1:5; Gal 2:17; James 1:13).

 

It is hard to understand how this can be. Therefore, let us see the clear testimony of God about this matter. All manner of events are under the direction of the Lord.

 

  1. Both good and evil events are under his direction.

 

I am the Lord, and there is no other,

besides me there is no God;

I equip you, though you do not know me,

6 that people may know, from the rising of the sun

and from the west, that there is none besides me;

I am the Lord, and there is no other.

7 I form light and create darkness;

I make well-being and create calamity;

I am the Lord, who does all these things. [1]

 

We see in verse 7 that the Lord makes both well being and calamity. He “does all these things!”

 

  1. Even sinful acts are part of his plan. Recall that, when Joseph was favored by his father, this aroused the jealousy of his brothers. They despised him. That was a sin in itself. Then they conspired to murder him near Dothan but his brother Reuben, the oldest, saved him. Instead, they threw him into a pit and sold him as a slave (Gen 37). How terribly they sinned against their own flesh and blood! Joseph suffered in Egypt but God’s favor was upon him and he eventually became the second in command of all Egypt. Years later, when he is finally reunited with his brothers and reveals who he is, he says this:

 

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. [2]

 

What people mean for evil God turns to good.

 

In 2 Samuel 24 we read that taking a census of Israel was a sinful act.[3] But verse one is shocking:

 

Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”[4]

 

Even though it was wrong, God incited David to do it through the devil influencing him (I Chron 21:1)!

 

What is the greatest sin of all time? Certainly, the greatest and most awful sin ever committed was putting the innocent, pure Lord Jesus, loved by the Father, to death on a cruel cross. But this is what we read about that sin:

 

for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.[5]

 

God predetermined for the betrayal and murder of Jesus to take place!

 

  1. The free acts of men are determined by God.

 

The heart of man plans his way,

but the Lord establishes his steps. [6]

 

People make plans, but what they actually do is established by God. But even the plans of man are under the direction of God!

 

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;

he turns it wherever he will. [7]

 

How people can be free agents and still have their decisions directed by God is a great mystery. It cannot be explained. Yet, both things are true. We freely choose to do the things that we do. We are responsible for our sins. God is greatly displeased with our sins. God hates sin. But in a mysterious way all our actions are under the control of God and he is not the author of sin.

 

The doctrine of total depravity partially explains this mystery. Our hearts are desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9) and we are prone to sin. Therefore, all God has to do is slightly remove the influence of his gracious Spirit and we will do those things that we will regret later. But this only scratches the surface. The compatibility of free will and divine sovereignty is still mysterious.

 

4. If we had time we would see that so-called “chance” occurrences and the small details of our lives are both under the Lord’s decree.[8]

 

Thus we see that all things are from the Lord. He is in control and is working things for our good! This is an assurance to us. We may not understand why we suffer, just as Job did not understand, but we will sometimes see it after the suffering has past. Sometimes we will not know in this life. We may have to wait until heaven before we know why we had to go through what we went through.

 

First then, God is sovereign.

 

Second, we need to be sanctified. Brothers and sisters, do you not know that we are not where we can be? Yes, we have come a long way from what we were when we first came to the Lord. But we still have a ways to go!

 

One of my favorite Christian songs is by Vineyard Music. It is called Take My Life, written by Scott Underwood. [Play]

 

We need holiness. We need faithfulness. We need righteousness. These are all imputed to us in Christ. This is why we will be able to stand before God on the final day. Because we have the righteousness and faithfulness of Christ applied to us[9], and God accepts us on his merits. Praise the Lord! But, we still need our own holiness, our own practical righteousness, and we have to be personally faithful. We lack these things.

 

I tell you, suffering cultivates these attributes! It is a fact! If our hearts are softened by the Spirit of the Living God, then suffering will do its work. Often, the hearts of unbelievers become more embittered, more cynical, and more rebellious by suffering. Don’t be like them. When trying times come, be pliable and humble.

 

The Lord has made us this way and this is the way he deals with his people.

 

26 “When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you, if they pray toward this place and acknowledge your name and turn from their sin, when you afflict them, 27 then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel, when you teach them the good way in which they should walk, and grant rain upon your land, which you have given to your people as an inheritance. [10]

 

When God dealt with Israel note that they were afflicted by drought (which for an agrarian society is life-threatening) and this affliction caused them to pray and turn from their sin! This is not simply an isolated incident. If you have read the Old Testament through then you know that this was a pattern that repeated over and over in the life of God’s people. Suffering came as a result of their disobedience and it caused them to repent and return to the Lord.

 

David experienced it.

 

It is good for me that I was afflicted,

that I might learn your statutes. [11]

 

This is a good memory verse! If we get this verse into us we will complain much less when affliction comes!

 

The Lord still deals with his people this way in our age of grace.

 

when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. [12]

 

When we are judged by the Lord in this life why are we not condemned along with the world? Because suffering causes us to cease an activity or practice that is contrary to God’s will or to begin an activity that we have neglected.

 

It is a fact that when things are going well for us we are not easily motivated to pursue sanctification and mortification (the putting to death of those things that are contrary to God’s will). Self-examination is needed. But we seldom engage in self-examination even though we need to do so.

 

But when a considerable conflict arises in our life and our spirit is grieved, we have the most effective motivation to search out the motives and attitudes of our heart.

 

The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord,

searching all his innermost parts. [13]

 

When evil comes what should we do? First, we must be like Job and not like his wife. When evil comes we receive it. We do not murmur or blame the Lord. We receive it because we know that God is in control and has our best interest in his heart.

 

Then we should examine ourselves to try and understand why the affliction has come. Many times it is precisely because the Lord is getting our attention about us. There is almost certainly something about us that we have either not seen or we have ignored.

 

Now, we must not lose sight of the primary message of the book of Job. The main message of the book of Job is that we cannot always know why suffering comes. There are hidden reasons not revealed to us. Innocent people, like Job, suffer and the reason is hidden.

 

Even though this is the primary message of the book, it is still a faithful revelation that affliction is often employed by the Lord to awaken us to our own condition. Therefore, examine yourself! Humble yourself and do not be surprised that, when you confess your sin and turn from it with a humble heart, you will see things change in your circumstances. It may not be for weeks or months. But, when the Lord’s work is done regarding a matter then the blessings begin to come once again.

 

Remember how the book ends:

 

And the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. (42:12, ESV)

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Is 45:5–7). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ge 50:20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] As to why it was sinful is unclear. It appears that only God had the authority to order a census (by considering these two passages together: Exodus 30:12 & Numbers 1:2). The king did not have the authority to do this of his own initiative. Also, Exodus 30 reveals that taking a census was a way to raise money. A half shekel had to be given by each adult. That is roughly $5 in today’s money. Since the census in 2 Samuel 24 revealed 1.3 million fighting men in Israel, David would have collected about six and a half million dollars! Ostensibly, this money was supposed to go to the treasury. But Israel was in the midst of a war with the Philistines. Was David intending on using this money to bolster the war efforts? Finally, because they were at war, it could be that David was not relying on the protection of Yahweh but on the number of his fighting men – trusting in man rather than God. Any or all of these reasons could be why taking a census was sinful.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Sa 24:1). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 4:27–28). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Pr 16:9). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Pr 21:1). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] I Kings 22:28-34; Job 5:6; 14:5; 36:32; Proverbs 16:23; Psalm 139:16; Matthew 10:29-30; James 4:15.

[9] Romans 4:6, 24; 5:19; 10:3,4; Philippians 3:8-9; I Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:21.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Ch 6:26–27). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 119:71). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[12] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 11:32). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[13] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Pr 20:27). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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