I’ve just finished reading Toby Sumpter’s outstanding commentary on the book of Job, Job Through New Eyes: A Son for Glory. Sumpter works hard to understand Job in terms of God’s declaration that Job has “spoken of me what is right” (42:7), and he makes a compelling case for his reading.
Sumpter’s thesis draws on the observation that, at the outset, the righteous Job is conspicuously absent from God’s courtroom, where the sons of God stand before him. But at the end of the book, Job is now one of these sons of God, standing before God in the position of a prophet. This is the inspired assessment of James (James 5:10-11), but we see it in the book of Job itself. God’s arrival to speak with Job is exactly what he does with his prophets (Amos 3:7). At the end, Job stands in the position of an intercessor for his friends and God has accepted Job himself (literal rendering of Job 42:9). It is the mark of a prophet to stand in the council of God, to hear God’s decrees and speak to his face. Consider Abraham’s conversation with God in Genesis 18:22ff, and his later intercession for Abimelech in Genesis 20:7, where God himself identifies Abraham as a prophet. Moses the prophet similarly intercedes for Israel before God in Exodus 32:11ff.
Seen in this light, the book of Job is the story of God’s wrestling with Job to draw him up into his presence. Job’s suffering is a sort of sacrificial ascension that carries him up to God. Job’s patient suffering and persistent wrestling are the very things that qualify him to stand before God. God’s calls to Job to “dress for action” (38:3, 40:7) are not part of some plan to put Job down into his place; they really are invitations from God as father to his son Job to come up and continue to wrestle. We are reminded of Jacob and Jesus at the Jabbok river (Genesis 32). Job does not model for us a perverse desire for death or to second-guess God; he models a godly desire for resurrection, vindication, and participation in God’s council.
It is interesting to me that the first of the kingly wisdom books thus anticipates the prophets. It is a peek ahead in history, showing that the ultimate purpose of kingship and dominion is not merely to be thrifty assistant managers of creation, but to grow to stand before God as junior co-creators with him. A king brings things to pass by the re-forming work of his hands, but a prophet speaks new things into being with words. As wisdom literature, Job is not a scholarly treatise on God’s sovereignty; it is a kingly training manual, teaching us how to wrestle with the Spirit’s whirlwind. Job teaches us to plead with God, like Moses (Exodus 33:15), for his presence and nearness. Like other wisdom literature (consider some of the Psalms, the Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes), this manual is a tough nut to crack, a hidden treasure requiring kingly persistence (Proverbs 25:2).
There are two levels at which this applies to the church today. First, it is still the case that one of the surest paths to maturity and to deeper fellowship with Jesus is fellowship with him in suffering. We must, like Job, hold fast in faith to the almost childlike desire to meet with Jesus in our suffering, to see his face.
But at another level, we all enjoy the privilege of standing in God’s council as prophets (Acts 2:17) because we are united with Jesus. It is his suffering and ascension that qualify us to this position (Ephesians 2:4-7), so that we can plead to God with even greater boldness than Job. However, even this calls us to a kind of suffering and deprivation. Whether or not we actually lose everything for Jesus’s sake, we are to count everything as a loss (Philippians 3:7-8, Luke 14:26). If we thus identify with him in his death, we enjoy his resurrection and vindication, and are brought up with him to stand in his presence. The king calls us his friends, his counselors, because he has made everything known to us (John 15:15).
Christians enjoy this status at all times, but we experience it most powerfully every Lord’s day when Jesus holds court with us. We stand before him to dialog with him: receiving his invitation, calling on him in worship to act for his people, bringing tribute to him, hearing a word from him, eating a meal at his table, and being commissioned afresh to our weekly work.
Thus, in one sense, Christians now enjoy the fulfillment of Job’s pleading and prayer, and we are to the world what Job was to his friends: those who bring life in Jesus. Jesus, the latter Job, has even cast Satan out of the heavenly court. But in another sense, we are not satisfied, and we plead with God, like Job and Moses, to see his face more brightly.