Words Of Wisdom From A Young ManErwin W. Lutzer | April 23, 1995
Selected highlights from this sermon
In Job 32, we’re introduced to a young man named Elihu. He’s angry with Job and his friends, but up until this point, he was hesitant to speak because of his youth. And yet this young man had a grasp of God that none of the others seemed to have.
He pointed out that God is sovereign, trustworthy and very difficult to figure out. As you read through his soliloquy, you will find gems of truth about God and walk away with an awe-inspiring view of the Almighty. Though we may not see God and figure out His plans, it doesn’t mean that He isn’t there and that He doesn’t care. He is simply working out His plan to take us to His Son.
We need to understand that God has an agenda that is being worked out and we are a part of it, and even when he does what we think he shouldn’t, God is still in control.
I don’t think that any Christian has ever lived for any period of time without somebody saying to him, “Well, what about the Holocaust, or how can God allow somebody to plant a bomb that kills innocent children and to see them taken from the rubble of a building? Where is God when all that happen?”
Well, you know the book of Job was written to deal with that question at least partially. There’s much more that can be said about that problem that is recorded in the book of Job, but the book of Job looks at the problem through the narrow lens of the experience of one person, namely Job himself who was a righteous man, and yet who suffered very tragically, interestingly because of his righteousness and not because of his unrighteousness.
Now I am assuming in this message that you know something about the part of the book of Job that leads us finally today to chapter 32, which is the story of this young man by the name of Elihu. And if you do not have in your mind some of the history of the book and some of the dialog that has gone on before, you might want to catch up on that through cassette tapes which are available to help us put all this together in one whole piece of cloth. But in Job 32 we are introduced to a young man by the name of Elihu who is an interesting theologian. And in order to pick up the text I want us to understand now that Job and his three friends have basically exhausted themselves, having said everything that they knew about the problem, and Job being condemned by his friends because they said, “Job, you are being punished.” You see, they had a view of God that says that if anybody endures tragedy it is because he is being punished, and Job was being punished, and so they had to say that the reason was because “You’re a sinner, Job.”
And this young man has been listening in to this conversation and he can’t take it anymore, and he is going to say something, and he says many profound things. Job 32 is his introduction to his message. You know, most messages have an introduction and he goes on for a whole chapter before he gets down to the nitty gritty. There are three things about the mood that he has as he speaks to Job. First of all he is very angry. Over and over again it says that Elihu’s anger burned within him. Notice the last part of verse 2. His anger burned against Job because he justified himself before God. If we had time to read it, and remember we’re doing only a survey of the book of Job, we discover that Job did make some very self-righteous statements. In fact, Elihu is going to quote some of them back to Job.
You know when we are attacked you and I have a tendency always to respond and to try to justify ourselves. Has anybody, incidentally, ever accused you of being defensive? That’s one of the most difficult things that you can ever be accused of and the best way to respond is to say nothing because the moment you speak somebody says, “See. Notice you are proving exactly what I’ve said about you.” So if you are ever accused of being defensive say nothing.
But here’s what happened to Job. As he was being criticized he began to go through his life and think of all the righteous things that he did, and in his own mind he became more and more righteous all the time, and he began to sin because he claimed so much righteousness. And young Elihu points that out.
Not only that but this young man is angry with his three friends. It says in verse 3 that Elihu’s anger burned against his three friends because they had found no answer, although they had condemned Job. He’s saying, “Job, you are wrong because you are self-righteous, and yet these three friends are wrong because they are making unjust accusations about you, Job, because you are not as bad as they say you are. They’re just trying to fit you into their theology.” And you’ll notice as we shall see, Elihu is going to take a middle path here and shed a little bit of interesting light on Job’s predicament.
So first of all, he’s angry. He is also very hesitant to speak. In verses 6 and 7 it says Elihu said, “I am young in years, and you are aged; therefore I was timid and afraid to declare my opinion to you. I said, ‘Let days speak, and many years teach wisdom,’ But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand.” And he goes on to say that just because you are old that doesn’t mean that you are wise.
I want to say this to the young people who are here. And I consider that to be anything under the age of 25. Actually anything under the age of 65 seems younger and younger to me. But you know, young people have a great sense of justice and they spot hypocrisy, and you’ve got a hero in this young man who could see more than his elders could. So he is hesitant but he is just filled with what he has to say, and he is just forced to say it.
He reminds me of a garden hose when you try to put your thumb on the end of it and finally you just get tired and say, “I can’t take it anymore,” and you just let all the water come out. It says in Job 32:18-20, “For I am full of words; the spirit within me constrains me. Behold, my belly is like wine that has no vent; like new wineskins ready to burst. I must speak, that I may find relief.” I’ve got to say what I have to say.
Well, that’s the introduction, and now what is it that he is going to say that is going to be very profound even though it will be incomplete, because remember we are dealing with the Old Testament? He did not have the benefit of the New Testament revelation.
First of all, he’s going to say, “Job, I want you to understand one thing. You have been accusing God of various things but God is sovereign.” We pick up the text in Job 33:8-13. He says, “Surely you have spoken in my ears,” and then he quotes the words of Job for about three verses. He says, “You say, ‘I am pure, without transgression; I am clean, and there is no iniquity in me. Behold, he finds occasions against me, he counts me as his enemy, he puts my feet in the stocks and watches all my paths.’ (He says, “Now Job you’ve said that. You’ve said that you are innocent.”) Behold, in this you are not right. I will answer you, for God is greater than man. Why do you contend against him, saying, ‘He will answer none of man’s words’?”
And so Elihu says, “First of all, God is greater than you are, and he doesn’t reveal to you what he’s doing. Don’t get angry just because you can’t read his diary, because you can’t read the fine print of his plan. There’s no use getting upset with that because God can do as he wishes.” In fact do you know what Elihu says? He says in American terminology, “God can, if he will, plead the Fifth Amendment.”
Notice what he says in Job 34:29. “When he is quiet, who can condemn? When he hides his face, who can behold him, whether it be a nation or a man?” You know, if God wants to talk, he’s going to talk. If he wants to remain silent he can remain silent, but God is greater than man, and God is different from man. He really is.
You know we think to ourselves that God is a being just like us except he’s raised to a higher power. He is greater in strength, but apart from that he feels the same way. He thinks the same way, and the answer is “No, God is greater than man and he is wholly other from man.” And that’s why the text (Is. 55:9) says, “My ways are not your ways, neither are my thoughts your thoughts,” says the Lord, “for as the heavens are higher than the earth, that’s the distance between my thoughts and your thoughts.” You know, that in itself would make an entire sermon sometime.
Have you ever thought that not all of the Ten Commandments apply to God? God is so different from us. For example, he gives us a commandment that says, “Thou shall not steal.” That commandment applies to you and to me but it does not apply to God. God can’t steal. He owns everything so the commandment has no application to him. Whatever he takes he owns and therefore theft is impossible for God but it is certainly possible for you and for me.
God says in the book of Proverbs, “When you see somebody being dragged off to jail unjustly, if you don’t intervene you become a partner in the sin that is being committed,” and you know that applies to you and to me, but it certainly doesn’t apply to God because God sees all of this injustice and he doesn’t necessarily intervene. He will eventually but not at the moment that it’s happening.
God is different from us. He is greater than us. No wonder Solomon said at the dedication of the Temple, “Behold the heaven of the heavens cannot contain how much less this house that I have built.” God is great.
Now, you know what the implication is, don’t you? You are reading the fine print. What Elihu is saying is, “Did you know that God is not accountable to you, Job?” You know as human beings we fear not being accountable. If I were a pastor and I were not accountable to the church board, you might worry about me. And we always say in human relationships, “Accountability is so very important,” and so it is, but it’s scary to think of the fact that God is not accountable to anybody. God doesn’t have to check with a board. He doesn’t have to go through the process of committees.
I heard the other day that Winston Churchill was taken to a football game in America (or at least he saw one) and said, “It’s just like rugby. The only thing I can’t figure out is why all those committee meetings.” Well, the fact is that God is able to run his universe without all those committee meetings. Is that frightening?
Well, the second thing that I want to say that Elihu says about God is, “God is sovereign. God is trustworthy.” Job 34:10-12 says these words. “Therefore, hear me, you men of understanding; far be it from God that he should do wickedness, and from the Almighty that he should do wrong. For according to the work of a man he will repay him, and according to his ways he will make it befall him. Of a truth, God will not do wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice.”
One day my daughter came home from college with a whole notebook of questions that she had thought up and she came and sat in my study at home and question number one was, “Dad, what if God wants to be alone again?” Well, if God wants to be alone again I think that some of us are in trouble. We’re on our way out. The text says as much - that if God were to withdraw, then all flesh would simply die. But here’s the point. God is trustworthy. He is good. Shall not the judge of all the earth do right? Job asked God and the answer is yes. Far be it from God to do wickedness.
Now mind you again we get into some very interesting philosophical speculation, don’t we? Because you see wickedness is simply defined as anything that comes short of the glory of God, and so God is his own standard and there is no standard independent of God by which he must be judged. But he is trustworthy. He is not going to pervert justice. He is not going to overlook anything, and he acts with knowledge. For example, he says in verse 21-22, “For his eyes are on the ways of a man, and he sees all his steps. There is no gloom or deep darkness, where evildoers may hide themselves.” Somebody can run away from the FBI. Somebody can do something at night to cover himself, but what does it say in Psalm 139? It says, “In the presence of God even the night shall be light about me. The darkness and the light are both alike to thee.” Think about that. The next time you want to do something in darkness because you want to be shielded from the eyes of men remember to God you are doing it in broad daylight. The darkness and the light are both alike to him. But he’s trustworthy. He can be believed to do what is right.
By the way, one of the things that Elihu points out to show the purposes of God and his trustworthiness is this. You see, all of Job’s friends said, “Job, you are being punished and that’s why you are going through this experience, and if you were really honest you’d tell us about all those sins you committed as a boy that are finally catching up to you.” That’s about what they are saying, whereas Job is saying that he is righteous.
This young man has an interesting way of looking at what is happening. He is saying there is such a thing as punishment but there is also such a thing as refinement. Now that’s an important thing for you to get a hold of. That’s why God is so trustworthy and doing right. We can’t always know whether it is punishment or not but it is always refinement. For example in Job 36:22 it says, “Behold, God is exalted in his power. Who is a teacher like him?”
People come to me and they say, “You know I have this tragedy that is taking place in my life. I have this problem. Is it because long ago I committed this sin or that sin, or even that crime?” The answer is we may not know that connection. What we do know is that God is refining all of us and that’s why he usually brings enough trouble into all of our lives to bring about refinement, and he is trustworthy.
Well, look at how far we have come. God is sovereign and God is trustworthy, but there’s another thing, which Elihu emphasized which is really true, particularly in the Old Testament but true even today, and that is that God is hidden. He is very difficult to figure out. Notice in Job 37 he begins by saying that God speaks through nature – through lightening and thunder. Do you believe that God speaks through lightening and thunder? You know it is interesting that this should occur in the book of Job because you remember that it was lightening that killed Job’s children, and lightening is called in the first chapter the fire of God because interestingly yes, God speaks through nature. Through thunder we are reminded of the strength of his voice. Through lightening we are reminded of his judgment even if it comes discriminately. All of those things should make us realize that God is a being to be feared. It’s frightening when you stop to think of workers trying to work to pull dead bodies out of rubble, and realize that when that is happening it is rainy and it is windy, and all the things that God could control to make life easier seem to be against the rescuers and we tend to say, “Where is God?” Well the answer is God is speaking. He’s reminding us how wrong the liberals are, for one thing, to think that God is just a God of love and he’s sitting in heaven thinking of ways to make life easier for us. If that’s your picture of God it’s a wrong picture and in the end it will bring you to ruin. God is to be feared.
Well, notice what he says, “My heart trembles and leaps out of its place. Keep listening to the thunder of his voice and the rumbling that comes from his mouth. Under the whole heaven he lets it loose, and his lightning to the corners of the earth. After it his voice roars; he thunders with his majestic voice, and he does not restrain the lightnings when his voice is heard…he does great things that we cannot comprehend,” and then he goes on to say that God speaks to the snow, and he speaks to the water, and he speaks to the rain, and God has all these things in his hands.
When you stop to think of it he knows the longitude and the latitude of every drop of water in his universe and he knows exactly all of the particles and how they are combining in the waves of the oceans. All that is present to him, and think of how well he knows you and me.
But here’s the point now. Don’t miss it. When God speaks through nature he sends mixed messages, which we do not know how to interpret. If all that we had was the glory of God (“The heavens declare the glory of God, the firmaments show of his handiwork.”} we would know that God is great and powerful, but when a storm comes and lightening comes, and when tragedy comes, and when tornadoes come, we would never guess that he was also a God of love. The mixed messages confuse us.
Now there is some revelation in nature. I’m reminded of a little girl who looked up into the starry heavens. By the way have you ever been in real darkness so that you could see the stars properly? I don’t know if that’s possible here in the city of Chicago with all of its bright lights and all of its noise. I do know that when you get further north, the stars get better and better, and when you get to Canada it’s almost as if you can just pluck those stars out of the sky and put them in your pocket.
A little girl, seeing those stars, came to her mother and said, “Mother, heaven even looks beautiful on the wrong side,” and that’s right. Think of what it’s going to look like on the other side. The heavens declare the glory of God, but they send forth mixed messages.
So God is hidden, but not only that, he speaks to us in our suffering. It was C.S. Lewis who said that God speaks to us in our joys and shouts to us in our sufferings, but even there his message is often hidden. And that’s why this young man, not having the revelation of the New Testament concludes what he has to say. His speech ends in Job 37:23-24. He says, “The Almighty – we cannot find him; he is great in power; justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate. Therefore men fear him; he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit.” Answer: it is best to fear him because it is very difficult to figure him out.
Now this young man did what he could with what he had, and so much of what he said is true but it’s unbalanced because he didn’t have the New Testament.
Now what I’d like to do as we try to conclude and bring some relevance and some closure to the various points that we have made, especially about the hiddenness of God, is I’d like to challenge you with three statements that I hope that you remember. Possibly you can write them down and think about them as you have opportunity.
First of all, God hides. That is true! God hides, but he also exists. What I’m trying to say is, “Don’t take the hiddenness of God and therefore conclude the absence of God. That would be a wrong step in logic. The fact that God exists, the evidence for it is overwhelming and powerful, and the more you argue against it the more you really prove that only he could have created you.
Years ago when I used to teach at Moody Bible Institute, I taught what was known as apologetics, the defense of the faith, and we used to discuss the arguments for God’s existence. There are four or five of them as to whether or not they are really logical and all those other things. I don’t do that anymore, not only because I don’t teach that particular subject, but also because the older I get the more I begin to realize something. To try to prove that God exists is something like trying to bring out a candle to light it to see whether or not you can find the sun. That’s about the way I look a it.
The fact is that the sun is there. It may be confusing to us. We may not understand it but our very breath and all that we are affirms the existence of light and the sun, and in the very same way, God is everywhere, and if you are here today and you deny the existence of God, you are like a fish swimming in an ocean, affirming vehemently that water does not exist. The fact that God is hidden does not mean that he is non-existent. The fact that God is is overwhelming, powerful and logically undeniable.
There’s a second statement I’d like to leave you with. It is true that God hides. It is very baffling to us, but he also cares. So do not ever interpret the hiddenness of God as the indifference of God. You’ll notice that even young Elihu points that out. He says, for example in Job 34:21, “His eyes are on the ways of a man, and he sees all his steps.” God is with us. God is protecting us. God is keeping us. God is giving us breath. We see God in circumstances if we have the faith to see him in those circumstances.
Yesterday a friend of mine and I took another friend to the hospital. This other man who was admitted was very, very depressed, and I asked him whether or not there was anything that he had seen in the last few days that reminded him that God did care. And he talked about seeing a Dunkin’ Donuts store and he just craved one particular donut, and he went there and he discovered that they had one left, and he just took that as an indication of the fact that God does care. I hope that he cares about his weight but that’s another story.
Now, sometimes we can see God in those little things. The Lutzer family has had a number of “I spy’s” recently. When we were younger we used to play a game called “I spy with my little eye something that begins with the letter “d.” How many of you have ever played that game? Well I spy with my little eye lots of people who have never played that game. That’s what I begin to see, but sometimes what we do is we can see the providential hand of God. Even though God is baffling to us he is there.
Just over a month ago my wife called me at 4 o’clock in the afternoon here on a Monday, and she said that she could smell gas in the basement, and I just assumed that there was nothing wrong. She said that both pilot lights were on, but she had the presence of mind to call the fire department, and the fire department came with all of their gadgets and as they got closer to the furnace indeed their little indicators began to go off the charts because all kinds of gas was leaking into our furnace. And you know that if that had continued to happen there would have been a massive unbelievable explosion maybe that evening, maybe that night or whenever. And we as a family give thanks to God because we can see that God cares even when it appears at times as if he doesn’t do what he should. He constantly is reminding us that his hiddenness does not mean a lack of concern.
But there’s a third statement I’d like to leave you with, and that is God hides but he also reveals. He’s not just playing hide and seek with us. He does show himself. In the Old Testament he showed himself through nature. In the very next chapter we are going to see in the message next time that God is going to come on the scene and reveal himself directly to Job, and what an experience that is going to be. And I hope that you will be here next time so that you can pick up on one of the most breathtaking passages in all he Bible when God comes out of the whirlwind and talks to Job directly, and everything shakes.
So God did reveal himself in the Old Testament, but I want you to know today that there is nothing in the Old Testament that compares to the revelation of God in the New Testament. If, in the Old Testament, we were to say that we had a candle, in the New Testament we really do have a bright light because Jesus appears on the scene. And you know the Bible says regarding Jesus that no man hath seen God at any time, but the only begotten son who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him. And on the pages of the New Testament suddenly God’s hiddenness is revealed to such an extent that when Philip says to Christ, “Show us the Father and it sufficeth us,” Jesus makes that astounding statement which I have quoted often, but I still can’t get over it. He said, “Philip, have you not met me because he who hath seen me hath seen the Father?”
And in the New Testament the hiddenness of God finally is exploded and Jesus Christ reveals the Father and says, “This is what the Father is thinking. This is how much the Father loves you. This is what the Father is doing. If you see me you see the Father at work.” And I couldn’t help but be reminded of Ingmar Bergman going into that cathedral in Europe and looking at a picture of Christ and saying, “Speak to me,” and there was dead silence, and then he came up with a movie called “Silence” in which people are groping for God but they cannot find him. Poor Ingmar Berman! Oh, if only he had left that cathedral in Europe and gone to the pages of the New Testament he would have discovered there that God has spoken and he has not stuttered. He has spoken with clarity and even Elihu with all of those great insights, though they are wonderful, did not understand grace because grace and truth came in full bloom in Jesus Christ.
You see, I mentioned a moment ago that all of us think of God as being just like us only somewhat greater. I want you to know that God is different and Jesus explained that and you can’t understand God apart from grace. And there’s some grace in the book of Job as we shall see in the final message, but nothing like it is in Christ. See, we think to ourselves, “You know we have secret sin in our hearts that we keep confessing to God over and over again,” and we think, “You know, if people really knew what was in our hearts they’d reject us, wouldn’t they?” Isn’t that true that we would end up really rejecting one another if we really knew what was in our hearts? Our mothers might reject us. Our wives might reject us. Our husbands, our families, our friends and our church friends would reject us if they knew what was within us. And then we think to ourselves that God is the same way, and God is tired with me, and he’s tired of putting up with me, and he hides his face from me because he is so upset with me, and we take all of these human characteristics and we apply them to God. And we forget that Jesus Christ taught that God is different from man, and God is a God of grace and forgiveness and he can put up with human beings. He can put up with them because of the wonder of the sacrifice of his blessed Son.
I don’t know if I told you this story but several months ago I was on a radio talk show here with someone. And he and I spent an entire hour on the issue of the Gospel. It was a secular radio station and I won’t tell you who it was but I was having this toe-to-toe spirited discussion, and I thought that the hour went so quickly. I wished for another hour, but the hour ended. But as it was ending the questions were asked, “Could God forgive a John Wayne Gacy if he believed in Christ? Could God forgive somebody who plants a bomb that kills a couple hundred people and then walks away? Is God that gracious? Do you mean to say a person like that can believe in Jesus and go to heaven, whereas good, sane, decent people, some of whom died in that bomb blast, go to hell? That’s the question, and I said to this man, “The answer is yes, and I’ll tell you why the answer is yes. It magnifies the incredible wonder of God’s grace, because do you know what God said? God said, ‘I think so much of what Jesus Christ did on the cross that I can forgive a wicked evil criminal if he believes in my son, but I can’t forgive a good, sane, decent man who doesn’t believe in my son.’”
I asked this person over the radio, “Why don’t you rejoice with me over the wonder and the glory of Christ’s cross?” And he said, “Well you know, you and I are just on two different sides of this question.” I said, “No, it’s not a matter of us being on two different sides.” I said, “Between you and me there is an infinite unbridgeable chasm. Either salvation is a free gift of God through Christ, or it is of works, and you must make your choice.”
Now I’ve told you something that Elihu did not see with clarity because I think that when I have the responsibility of teaching the Bible, I should preach the Old Testament but I should also run quickly to the New so that we might understand God better because it is there that he has spoken with clarity, a clarity that not even Elihu had.
In the next message God appears, and talks to Job directly. Wouldn’t you be shocked if he did that to you?
Let us pray.
Our Father, we want to thank you today for Elihu, for all the truth that he saw. And we thank you today that God is indeed greater than man. We admit that you are hidden and yet you are revealed. You are both, and we’d like to change that because we’d like to understand you better, and someday you will change it for us, but until that time we pray, oh God, that you might give us the faith to know that the way in which we see you is enough for us in this day and age. We see through a glass darkly, but Father, we do thank you that we do see. And we pray today for every hurting heart. May they see you in a new light and know that you care. And for those who have never believed on Christ may this be a moment when they come to personal faith and the only one qualified to save them. We pray in his matchless name, Amen.