Job 4:17

Sermon preached on June 5, 2016 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2016. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

In 2002 the BBC broadcast a series of programs called
100 Greatest Britons. Winston Churchill, who was Prime Minister during World War II was listed as number 1. He is without doubt one of the greatest Englishmen to have ever lived. He was also one of the wittiest. He had a great sense of humor. He was once asked,

"Doesn't it thrill you to know that every time you make a speech, the hall is packed to overflowing?" "It's quite flattering," replied Sir Winston. "But whenever I feel that way, I always remember that if instead of making a political speech I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big."

He had an ego but at the same time he had a humility about him. Such a saying obviously kept him from becoming too full of himself.

Churchill was also against those who held to the 'great man' view of history. That theory, put forth in the 19
th century, held that history can be largely explained by the impact of 'great men'— like Napoleon, highly influential individuals, who, due to either their strength of personality, charisma, intelligence, wisdom, or political skill utilized their power in a way that had a decisive historical impact. Of the British effort during World War II, at one time standing virtually alone against the Nazis, Churchill said, (on the occasion of celebrating his 80th birthday in 1954),

"I have never accepted what many people have kindly said – namely that I inspired the nation. Their will was resolute and remorseless and it proved unconquerable. It fell to me to express it… It was the nation and the race dwelling all round the globe that had the lion's heart. I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar."

He gave credit to the British people.

In those two examples Churchill is a good role model. In some ways he shows us the way of humility.

Eliphaz attempted to do the same thing with Job. He wants Job to be humble. He thinks that Job is a sinner, a hypocrite who is being punished for some great sins. He wants Job to repent and admit that he is a great sinner. In order to get Job to do that he tells him that everyone is a sinner and because of that suffering is often our lot in life.

To give authority to his words, Eliphaz points to what he believes is a supernatural vision he had. Eliphaz says that a spirit posed a question to him. In his vision he heard a hushed voice asking, (Job 4:17, ESV)

"Can mortal man be
in the right before God?
Can a man be pure
before his Maker?"

There is some debate about the exact meaning of the question. The NIV renders this a little differently. It says,

"Can a mortal
be more righteous than God?
Can a man be more pure
than his Maker?"

The NIV sees it as a comparison, can a mortal be 'more' righteous than God. That's a very literal translation. And that's the way the Hebrew preposition is most often used. But there's a problem with that translation here. Tremper Longman III asks, (Job, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, p. 120)

"But who would be making such a claim?"

Almost no one. Perhaps someone who was insane might make such a claim. But hardly a normal person.

But Job never made anything close to such a claim in his first speech. Job complained that he had ever been born. He only mentions God twice in his speech in chapter 3. In verse 4 he asked that God not care about the day of his birth and in verse 23 he asked why life is given to man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in. Nowhere in his speech did Job claim to be more righteous than God. He didn't even question God in his first speech in chapter 3. Rather Job complained about his suffering. Christopher Ash writes, (Job, p. 107)

"Although the word min is usually translated 'more,' it does seem to make better sense to follow the ESV here and take it in the sense of 'before.' It would be banal to suggest that anyone would assert that human beings could be more righteous or more pure than God. What is at issue is whether or not it is possible for human beings to be in right relationship with God, to stand before God clean and pure in his presence."

So I believe that the spirit speaking to Eliphaz is not asking whether a mortal can be more righteous than God, but whether a mortal can be righteous before God.

It's an important question. It's one that many people get wrong.

Can a mortal person be righteous before God?

That's a great question. But what Eliphaz doesn't realize is that the answer is not simple. There are different nuances to it.

In one sense, it's absolutely true. We are all sinners and none of us, even the very best, can be righteous before God on their own. Isaiah 64:6 tells us,

"All of us have become
like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts
are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins
sweep us away."

And Psalm 130:3 says,

"If you, O Lord,
kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?"

We all share in the fallen nature, and because of that we suffer. William Henry Green writes, (Conflict and Triumph, p. 62)

"All suffering has sin as its invariable and necessary antecedent. It is also true that the consciousness of sin and ill desert must for ever close the mouth of every sufferer from any well-grounded complaint against the righteousness of God. The holiest and best are sinners nevertheless; and, whatever sufferings they may endure in the providence of God, it cannot be said that they are unjustly treated…"

But Eliphaz is trying to use this truth in an attempt to get Job to repent. He is telling Job that none of us are innocent.

But Eliphaz is wrong in thinking that Job needs to repent of some specific sin. He thinks that Job is a great sinner. In verse 7 he said,

"Consider now:
Who, being innocent,
has ever perished?
Where were the upright ever destroyed?"

But Job is not suffering because he is a great sinner. Green continues,

"Eliphaz alleges that man suffers because he is a sinner; he knew not that a man may likewise suffer because he is a saint that he may thus exhibit more distinctly his saintly character; that he may be ripened still more in holiness; and that his final recompense may be proportionally increased. Suffering to Eliphaz, was ever and only a punishment, a judgment for sin, an infliction of the divine displeasure. He knew not that it might also be a token of love, a means of grace, a blessing in disguise…"

Job was not suffering because he had committed some specific sin. He was not suffering because he was one of the worst men on earth. No. He was suffering because he was the best of men, one who was devoted to God, one who shunned evil.

Sometimes God sends suffering to His people in order for them to grow in Christ, for their faith to be strengthened. Sometimes they suffer for God's glory. In John 9 when His disciples saw the man born blind, they asked who sinned, him or his parents. Jesus replied, (John 9:2-4)

"Neither this man nor his parents sinned.
But this happened
so that the work of God
might be displayed in his life."

The man was not suffering because of a sin he committed or because his parents sinned. Their integrity had nothing to do with his affliction.

In 1 Peter 1:4-5 Peter told Christians that they had been given an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, kept for us in heaven and that we are shielded by God's power through faith until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. He continues, (verses 6–7)

"In this you greatly rejoice,
though now for a little while
you may have had to suffer grief
in all kinds of trials.
These have come so that your faith—
of greater worth than gold,
which perishes even though refined by fire—
may be proved genuine and may result
in praise, glory and honor
when Jesus Christ is revealed."

And in James 1:2–4 the apostle wrote,

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers,
whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because you know that
the testing of your faith
develops perseverance.
Perseverance must finish its work
so that you may be
mature and complete,
not lacking anything."

Suffering come to Job for God's glory. Job was the recipient of God's grace. Satan had challenged God that Job was only serving God because God made it worth Job's while.

Job was placed in a position where he was on display, not only to people on earth, but to the whole heavenly host. He was put in that position to bring glory to God. It was God who brought all this trouble on Job. (Job 42:11) God did it for some very specific purposes.

In a very real sense, Job pointed his friends to Christ, to the coming of the One whose work would make us righteous before God. In a very real sense Job was a mediator for his friends. In chapter 42 God told Eliphaz that He was angry with him and his two friends, (verses 7–9)

"because you have not spoken
of me what is right,
as my servant Job has.
So now take seven bulls and seven rams
and go to my servant Job and
sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves.
My servant Job will pray for you,
and I will accept his prayer
and not deal with you
according to your folly.
You have not spoken of me
what is right,
as my servant Job has.'
So Eliphaz the Temanite,
Bildad the Shuhite and
Zophar the Naamathite
did what the Lord told them;
and the Lord accepted Job's prayer."

Job was the mediator for them, to save them from the punishment they deserved, to put them in right standing with God. There were sacrifices involved, seven bulls and seven rams, animal sacrifices that showed that our sins require death. These animal sacrifices also pointed to Christ and His work, where He would take our sins and pay for them; where His righteousness would be given to us.

Job knew about Christ. In Job 19:25–27 he said,

"I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end
he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him with my own eyes—
I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!"

All this was pointing to the fact that, in Christ, people can be righteous before God. Job, because of his faith, was righteous before God.

This means that

you who are Christians should rejoice at your standing in Christ.

Even in suffering you should rejoice. Even when your world seems to be crumbling around you, when your suffering is very great—know that you have the righteousness of Christ. We should be like the psalmist in Psalm 46. He knew that God was His refuge and strength. He said, (verses 1–3)

"Therefore we will not fear,
though the earth give way
and the mountains fall
into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake
with their surging."

Man can be righteous before God, not by their own efforts, but in Christ. Jesus supplies exactly what we need. As Paul wrote in Romans 3:20–24,

"Therefore no one will be
declared righteous in his sight
by observing the law;
rather, through the law
we become conscious of sin.
But now a righteousness from God,
apart from law,
has been made known,
to which the Law
and the Prophets testify.
This righteousness from God
comes through faith in Jesus Christ
to all who believe.
There is no difference,
for all have sinned and
fall short of the glory of God,
and are justified freely by his grace
through the redemption
that came by Christ Jesus."

He adds in Philippians 3:8–9,

"What is more, I consider
everything a loss compared
to the surpassing greatness
of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,
for whose sake I have lost all things.
I consider them rubbish,
that I may gain Christ
and be found in him,
not having a righteousness of my own
that comes from the law,
but that which is
through faith in Christ—
the righteousness that comes
from God and is by faith."

If you're in Christ His righteousness is yours. You have the wedding garment that you need.

For those of you who don't know Christ,

you should realize that you need the righteousness of Jesus.

No one, on their own, can stand before God and be righteous. In Luke 13 we read, (Luke 13:1–5)

"Now there were some present
at that time who told Jesus
about the Galileans whose blood
Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.
Jesus answered,
'Do you think that these Galileans
were worse sinners
than all the other Galileans
because they suffered this way?
I tell you, no!
But unless you repent,
you too will all perish.
Or those eighteen who died
when the tower in Siloam fell on them—
do you think they were more guilty
than all the others living in Jerusalem?
I tell you, no!
But unless you repent,
you too will all perish."

Everyone needs to repent. You need to repent.

No one can be righteous before God on their own merits. In Luke 18:9 Luke introduced the Parable of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee in the temple this way,

"To some who were confident
of their own righteousness
and looked down on everybody else,
Jesus told this parable:"

One of the lessons from the parable is that the Pharisee, who was confident of His own righteousness—wasn't righteous before God. Jesus said about the tax collector, (Luke 18:14)

"I tell you that this man,
rather than the other,
went home justified before God.
For everyone who exalts himself
will be humbled,
and he who humbles himself
will be exalted."

There are none righteous. Everyone needs to repent. If they don't they'll perish.

Many people in our society, if they believe in God at all, will tell you, yes, a mortal man can be righteous before God. They think that they're good people, that they have done a lot more good things than bad things and therefore they can stand, on their own merits, as righteous before God.

It's a given. They assume it. It's the most deadly assumption there is because it's totally wrong.

There are many passages that tell us that our works do not put us in good standing with God. You need Jesus. You need His righteousness. Make sure you believe in Him, that your hope is centered wholly in Him.