Job Lesson 19 - The Learning Curve
After enduring bad advice and heartless accusations from his so-called friends for nearly 30 chapters, Job finally receives a real word of wisdom.
“The Learning Curve of Life”
A common expression in our generation is the allusion to a “learning curve.” It’s a reference to certain times in life when life is hard because you have new things thrust upon you.
A new job has a steep learning curve. You have to learn an awful lot in a short period of time until eventually things settle down.
Showing up as a Freshmen in college, or a first year student in seminary puts you on a learning curve.
The concept of the learning curve was introduced in 1938 by an engineer as a way to estimate the cost and efforts of airplane assembly.
His theory of a learning curve was simply this – the more you repeat a series of operations, the less time and effort will be expended in order to achieve the result.
In other words, the first time you do something, the harder it is; the 5th time you do it, the easier it gets.
Do you remember the first time you swung a golf club? You wish that day had never happened. You’ve been cursed ever since. My roommate in college was talking about taking up golf and how hard it was to hit a golf-ball. I said, “Naah, it can’t be that hard.” He said, “Oh yeah?” And I said, “Oh yeah.”
He took me out to the front yard of the dormitory we were living in, brought along his driver. He said, “Now here’s how you hold the club . . . here’s how you stand . . . I felt like I was playing a game of twister . . . he then put an orange down on the ground and said, “Okay . . . hit it.” I swung as hard as I could. Missed. He said, “Keep your head down.” Like that would help. I swung again . . . and again . . . that orange was completely safe. It was making faces at me. Mocking me. I missed again and again. I finally hit it – only because I swung down like this out of exasperation. That orange never left the ground.
There’s a learning curve involved where you feel like you have to remember 1,000 things at the same time, until you repeat that golf swing a 1,000 times and it becomes second nature; for some people.
You remember the learning curve of driving?
I learned on a Volkswagen bug . . . it was baby blue with four on the floor. What fun. My parents let me practice in front of the house. You had to remember several things at once . . . give it some gas, let off the clutch slowly until it engages, then let off the gas, then clutch, change gears by putting the clutch back in, letting off the gas, shifting, etc. etc. etc. I learned pretty well. No one got hurt. The neighbors stayed indoors.
When I arrived at my first driver’s lesson, I couldn’t believe it – we could choose a small Buick or a Volkswagen bug. What luck! I mean - what good fortune through the providence of a gracious God. I hopped in the driver’s seat with the instructor beside me; slammed it in first gear, thought to myself, this instructor is gonna be impressed . . . we took off without a hitch. Shifted into second gear and suddenly our car screeched to a halt – my instructor had brakes on his side of the vehicle. He looked at me and said, “Son, you’re here to learn, not race.” He took all the fun out of it.
What about the learning curve of marriage; but you had premarital counseling; four sessions and a notebook . . . with charts and everything . . . what more was there to learn?
The learning curve of marriage becomes very apparent as soon as the wedding is over. You’ve got a lot to learn. One author said marriage is like getting on a plane heading for the Bahamas. You’ve got all your shorts and Hawaiian shirts packed along with plenty of sun screen and even a snorkel and fins. Then the plane lands and you get off to discover you’re at the North Pole. Instead of a breeze, it’s a blizzard. You need a fur coat, not a swim suit. You need skis instead of fins and a snorkel.
Talk about a learning curve. You thought you were ready . . . well, ready or not, there you go.
Maybe for you, you are buried in diapers . . . there’s the learning curve like none other as you arrive home from the hospital with a newborn baby. Life is a whirl of activity, the only thing missing in the whirlwind is sleep.
There is so much to learn. And you stay out of the way while your wife learns it, right? Talk about a learning curve.
But there’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when they’re bathed, all lotioned up . . . they’ve had that bedtime bottle of milk laced with Ni-Quill . . . just kidding . . . they are snuggled into their Winnie the Pooh pajamas with little footies . . . . they are clothed and for the moment in their right mind; and finally asleep.
Nobody breathe . . . the baby’s asleep. Praise God. Now please, Lord, let this be a deep sleep – like hibernation – let it last 3 months long.
Maybe your learning curve is a major move . . . maybe it’s forced retirement or a new job.
There is at least one learning curve that occurs to all us – whether you’re old or young; married or single; children or no children; rich or poor . . . employed or unemployed . . . you never know when you’re gonna be put on this curve . . . you’re never quite fully prepared.
David wrote, “It was good that I was afflicted that I might learn thy statues.” In other words, the challenges of life put you on a learning curve which develops godly living, according to God’s wisdom. Psalm 119:71
There’s a sharp incline of alertness and even desperation to learn from God when in the valley of affliction.
The writer of Hebrews tells us that even Jesus Christ, though fully God, yet fully man – as a man, He learned obedience through the things He suffered. (Hebrews 5:8)
If affliction introduces the believer to a learning curve, then Job has been riding one of the fastest curves you will ever see. And he’s been on this learning curve for many months now; maybe as long as a year or two.
By now, we’re ready for the hush of heaven to broken by the voice of God.
And we’re just studying this . . . Job’s been living it!
Job has said his final words . . . he’s appealed directly to heaven. He’s waiting on God to speak.
But instead of hearing God’s voice, there is a brand new voice heard at the ash heap.
Beginning in Job chapter 32, a young man by the name of Elihu steps forward to deliver a speech that will take up the next 6 chapters of this record.
Elihu will actually introduce some brand new concepts that are much closer to the truth than the counsel of Eliphaz and Bildad and Zophar.
In fact, Elihu will introduce the idea that God might have sent Job this suffering, not because he sinned, but to keep him from sinning.
That certainly hadn’t been bantered around the town dump.
Job, perhaps God is protecting you from greater sin by sending you affliction.
By the way, this was exactly the testimony of the Apostle Paul who wrote, “Because of the amazing greatness of the revelations given to me, for this reason – to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh. A messenger of Satan to torment me – to keep me from exalting myself! (I Corinthians 12:7-8)
In other words, suffering kept Paul spiritually minded.
Elihu suggests this possibility to Job, which would have been tremendously encouraging.
Elihu will also suggest another new concept that suffering not only keeps a person from sin, it causes them to learn the ways of God.
There is a learning curve that affliction encourages and promotes.
As Elihu begins to speak in chapter 32. In fact, all he does in chapter 32 is introduce the fact that he’s going to speak and why. He admits that he’s angry. At first you think, “Oh no.” What good can come from unrighteous temper. However, you soon discover that Elihu is wrong for the right reason.
Look at verse 2b. His anger burned against Job because he justified himself before God.
In other words, Job was leaning toward self-righteousness.
Elihu was also angry with Job’s three friends. Notice verse 3. And his anger burned against his three friends because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job.
Elihu is angry because he’s watched and listened as these three men, without any objective evidence, have determined that Job’s sufferings were the result of great sin.
Aristotle wrote that righteous anger was, “to be angry with the right person to the right extent at the right time with the right motive and for the right reason.” That is not easy, and it is not everyone who can do it.
Adapted from Warren Wiersbe, Be Patient: Job (Victor Books, 1991), p. 123
Elihu was, for the most part, a wonderful counselor who not only challenged Job’s wrong attitudes, but encouraged Job with new insights. In fact, Elihu did what every great counselor will do – he prepared Job to hear from God.
And it is certainly a long speech: 6 chapters long.
While he was president, Ronald Reagan loved to tell the story of the young, country boy who had just finished Bible college but had never before preached a sermon. When he arrived at this rural church where he had been scheduled to preach, he walked in and to his disappointment, there was only one rancher present. The church was empty except for this one man. The young preacher walked back there, shook the man’s hand and asked, “Well, what do you think I oughta do?” The old rancher said, “Well I don’t rightly know son, I’m just a cowpoke. But if I went out in my field and found only one steer, I’d feed it.” That’s all the young preacher needed. He delivered a sermon that went on and on and on – and on. Over an hour later he finally ended the marathon message. He walked back to the rancher and asked ‘What’d you think?” The old cow-hand replied, “I don’t rightly know, son, but I’ll tell you this. If I went out in my field and found only one steer, I wouldn’t feed him the whole load.”
Charles R. Swindoll, Job: Man of Heroic Endurance (W Publishing, 2004), p. 248
Well that’s how you’re gonna feel when we’re done.
So buckle up.
Elihu actually begins his counsel in chapter 33.
In order for you to hang your cowboy hats on some obvious pegs of truth, I wanna go through this text by bringing out the four major points of Elihu’s counsel.
Here’s the first one.
- Even when life is confusing, God is still communicating.
Job . . . God is speaking! Not like you wanted . . . not through channels you expected . . . but He’s speaking.
First, through dreams, Elihu says, in verses 15-18.
In Job’s era, before the Bible was completed, or perhaps even begun – if indeed Job was the first book ever compiled and edited by Moses, as many Bible scholars believe – God spoke through dreams.
For us today, God does not deliver revelation through dreams but has already revealed His word through the prophets and apostles who composed the book you’re holding in your lap.
The trouble with our evangelical world is that it is so bored with the spoken word of God, they are now attempting to organize and sell ways for you to interpret your dreams and all sorts of confusion and chaos will be the result. You can pick up your manual on how to interpret your dreams from your local Christian bookstore.
Listen, finding some hidden spiritual truth in a dream opens the door to subjective departure from the truth of God’s word.
That’s why even the prophet Isaiah challenged his people to stick with the, “law and the testimony: if men speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. (Isaiah 8:20)
Today, dreams are not new revelation from God. They are nothing more than our subconscious minds at work and those thoughts can certainly impress us, even when we’re asleep.
If they distract us from the truth of God’s revealed word they are to be discarded. If they support the truth of God’s word, then you’re really not following a dream, you’re following the word of God, right?
I can remember as a rebellious 17 year old, running from God, living the life of a hypocrite even though I was in a Christian school and in church every Sunday morning and Sunday night. I was wrestling over the demands of following Christ. I knew what they meant and I refused to surrender. One night as a 17 year old I dreamed I was in hell. It was vivid. I woke up, covered in sweat, trembling from the affects of that nightmare. It was the truth of God’s word already implanted in my heart that came to my mind and the fear that I was already living under invaded my sleep. I ended up getting out of bed and kneeling there, surrendering my life to Christ.
The truth is, my dream did not add to the word of God or contradict what God’s word had already said or take anything away.
The troubling thing to me is that people are going outside the word of God, delving into their dreams to find answers to decisions or direction for their lives and they’re getting involved in all sorts of strange diversions from the truth.
For us, we have been told that the inspired word of God is sufficient to equip us for every aspect of life – every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
For Job, God could and perhaps did speak through dreams.
Secondly, Elihu reminded Job that God was speaking through suffering.
In chapter 33 verse 19 Job is told that mankind is chastened – disciplined – instructed with pain on his bed.
Suffering is often the doorway to great learning.
C. S. Lewis wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. Pain is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Steven Lawson, When All Hell Breaks Loose: Job (Navpress, 1993), p. 206
God has been speaking to you Job through dreams and pain and finally, through others.
Messengers from God – he says in verse 23. Could be translated “angel”, but more broadly believed to be a messenger who comes, Elihu says in verse 23, to “remind a man what is right for him.”
Job . . . even when your life has been most confusing, God has indeed been communicating.
- Secondly, even when life seems unfair, God is never unjust.
He quotes Job’s own words in chapter 34 and verse 9, where Job had earlier said, “It profits me nothing when he is pleased with God.”
In other words, life is unfair . . . God is rewarding the wrong man.
And Elihu will simply repeat the truth that God always does what is right, even when we don’t see it.
Notice verse 10 of chapter 34. Therefore, listen to me, you men of understanding, far be it from God to do wickedness, and from the Almighty do wrong. For He pays a man according to his work, and makes him find it according to his way. Surely, God will not act wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice.
Throughout this chapter, Elihu will defend the character and nature of God.
And when you are discouraged and life seems unfair, the best thing a counselor can do is remind you that God always does what is right – even though He chooses not to explain Himself.
Elihu describes the facts about God:
He is just Rewarder (verse 11)
He is the sovereign Authority (verse 13)
He is the independent Sustainer of life (verses 14-15)
He is the impartial Ruler (verse 16-20)
Adapted from Roy Zuck, Job (Moody Press, 1978), p. 150
Notice chapter 34 verse 19, “Who – that is God – shows no partiality to princes nor regards the rich above the poor, for they all are the work of His hands.
- We play favorites . . . God doesn’t.
- We show partiality . . . God never has.
- We skewer the scales of justice with highly paid lawyers – God judges one and all with the same scales of perfect justice and perfect holiness and perfect judgment.
Job, even if life seems unfair, God is never unjust.
Oh yea . . . well, it’s possible for someone to be just and still be unkind.
It’s as if Elihu anticipated that kind of response from Job’s heart and so he moved to his third major point.
Here it is:
- Even when life seems hard, God is not heartless.
God is not distant when we suffer . . . in fact, one of those precious texts arises from the ash heap of Job’s suffering, this time from the lips of Elihu as he describes God as the one who gives us songs in the night – chapter 35 and verse 9. God He gives to those who look to Him, “songs in the night.”
Elihu says, “God makes us wiser than the birds of the heavens and He teaches us more than He ever teaches an animal in the field.” And above all, God is able to give us songs in the night.
Listen, there is quite a difference between whistling in the dark and a song in the night, right?
I come over here sometimes at night to pick up a book – no one’s around – the place is dark . . . and big and sometimes I whistle.
That’s not bravery, it’s fear.
But to be in a dark place and all alone, suffering whatever suffering brings and begin to sing praise to God – that is the courage of faith.
That’s Paul and Silas singing in the jail cell in Acts 16.
This is the singing of our Lord who sang with His disciples in the upper room – knowing He was about to enter the Garden of Gethsemane and on to the cross.
Matthew records in chapter 26 and verse 30, “And after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”
It’s one thing to sing in the sunshine . . . it’s another thing to have a song in the night.
Perhaps for you to sing as you did earlier in this service and as you will in a moment or two sing the doxology, it meant for you nothing less than a declaration of your faith in the heart of God.
Joni Erickson Tada and John MacArthur collaborated together on a book of hymn histories and some of the theology behind these great hymn texts of the church.
For those of you who don’t know, Joni broke her neck in a diving accident and has, now for several decades, served Christ through a variety of ministries, although paralyzed from the neck down. Her pastor, John MacArthur, worked on a series of books that I’ve enjoyed reading from time to time.
In one particular chapter, the story wasn’t about Joni’s suffering, but the home going of the mother of James Dobson. Let me read a paragraph or two;
In a few minutes we were sitting on the edge of Myrtle Dobson’s bed. Suffering from Parkinson’s disease, which rendered her confused, she was unable to speak more than a word or two at a time. Dr. Dobson spoke kindly to his mother, reminding her who we all were, even though we had known her very well. She just nodded and smiled. After a few minutes of small talk, Bobbie (one of the guests) spoke up, “Why don’t we sing. Myrtle loves to sing.” So we did.
O worship the Kin all glorious above,
O gratefully sing his power and his love;
Our shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.
For the first few lines of the hymn, she silently smiled back at us. Could she understand? Was she listening? We really couldn’t tell. But as we sang the final verse, her mouth began to form the words; then she joined in with each unforgettable word. What was even more amazing than Myrtle’s remembering the lyrics was the fact that she sang a perfect alto. The music may not have landed a record contract, but it was good enough to fill our hearts with enough gratitude and praise to last a lifetime.
Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail;
Your mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer and Friend!
Dr. Dobson wept almost uncontrollably at the familiar sound of his mother singing this great melody of faith.
This hymn includes (one of the most) powerful four-word summary of the character of the Sovereign God ever recorded: “Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.” Think of it. Maker: He created us. Defender: the forces of evil melt at the sound of His name. Redeemer: the death of His own Son was not too high a ransom to pay; Friend: A woman too weak to set without help had Someone reassuring her of His everlasting presence.
John MacArthur, Joni Eareckson Tada, Robert & Bobbie Wolgemuth, O Worship the King (Crossway, 2000), p. 33
This was their song in the night.
Part of what silences our songs in the night is that we refuse to travel up the learning curve.
It’s too fast . . . it’s too much . . . it’s too hard.
But this learning curve of suffering:
-deepens the depth of our faith. (James refers to trials testing our faith in chapter 1 verse 3 of his letter)
-it teaches us about the character of God.
-the learning curve of suffering develops in us a longing for the things of God.
-it teaches us to desire the glorification of our bodies;
-it causes us to yearn long for the coming kingdom of Christ;
-it makes us long for heaven.
It elevates our thinking from the trivialities of this temporary world to the glory of our
Maker, Defender, Redeemer and Friend!
What seems heartless on God’s part is actually helping us onward and upward.
No wonder Martin Luther, the reformer would say, “I have found affliction to be one of my best schoolmasters.”
Derek Thomas, The Storm Breaks (Evangelical Press, 1995), p. 279
Listen Job, Elihu counsels:
Even when life is confusing, God is still communicating.
Even when life seems unfair, God is never unjust.
Even when life seems hard, God is not heartless.
And finally, this major point:
- Even when life becomes unsettled, God has not been unseated.
In this last section of Elihu’s speech, he will declare two things:
- The power of God over sinners
Earlier in chapter 36, Elihu has declared the terrible end of sinners – those who refuse to follow after God.
They do not listen to God – verse 12 – and die without knowledge.
Listen, Elihu reminds Job, in verse 17, judgment and justice will take hold of you – if you, like them – scoff at the wrath of God, v. 18. Who let riches keep them from considering their end – verse 19.
God will be exalted in His power over all who challenge His authority – verse 22 and 23.
This is the power of God over sinners.
- Elihu also reminds Job of God’s power over seasons.
I found Warren Wiersbe’s outline intriguing as he highlighted the weather conditions of the four seasons as further proof of God’s sovereign and creative control over all His creation.
In verse 27 of chapter 36 down through verse 5 of chapter 37 you have the weather conditions of Autumn.
Chapter 37 verse 6 through 10 you have the conditions of winter with snow and sudden icy storms from the north.
Verses 11-20 reveal the weather of Spring with rain showers.
Then in verses 14-18, God’s control over the Summer season is revealed, with the heat of the sun in verse 17 that heats up your clothing and the sky seems like a brass mirror.
Adapted from Wiersbe, p. 139
If you simply listed Elihu’s declarations of God’s control in chapters 36 and 37 over the weather conditions of our planet, you find him referring to God’s control over:
All these elements of nature are not haphazard – that are secondary effects that bring about God’s primary purposes.
Which is the ultimate and only true comfort to Job whose children died in a tornado. That God has a purpose and His purposes are never trumped, even by the devil himself.
Listen, we have a family in our church that just a few months ago had their beautiful home in Cary struck by lightning while they were away. The lightning bolt had fried the alarm system and no fire alarm had sounded or signal sent out. Their home and everything in it burned to the ground.
I went over there and stood in the front yard the next day and a couple of firemen were sitting off to the side yard . . . the only thing they could do was guard the property . . . even though it was a day later, there were still little flames here and there finishing off whatever was left in the structure. What an eerie sight to see the columns of their porch still standing and fireplaces at both ends still standing but the house in the middle gone; just one huge mountain of ash.
But listen, the lightning had struck their home while they were in the hospital with their teenage daughter who was in critical condition with an infection. She had just come out of ICU when they got the news that their home was on fire and nothing could be done.
A few days later, I told them that of all things, our book was being delivered that same week on this first section on Job . . . and I had entitled it, “When Lightning Strikes.” The picture on the cover is a bolt of lightning streaking from the sky to earth. I said to them, if it hadn’t already been printed, I would have dedicated it to them.
I was writing about it . . . they were living it. A lot like Job.
They told me interestingly enough, they weren’t Job . . . they still had their daughter and their health; and they expressed to me how they were trusting God and His purpose for their lives, in spite of what was happening all around them.
When life is unsettled, God has not been unseated.
So Job, Elihu intimates . . . stay the course. And so should we. Let’s practice applying the truth of these four declarations to our own lives.
- Is God silent? Where is He communicating right now that you might be ignoring . . . or overlooking . . . or missing.
- Is life unfair? Will you remind yourself that God is never unjust and He will make everything right – not always settling the score on planet earth – but ultimately everything will be made just in His righteous judgment preceding the new heaven and new earth. (Revelation 20:11-15)
- Is life hard? God is not heartless . . . in fact there is a song for you in the night. The question is not, “Lord, do you have a song for me?” the question is, “Lord, I am willing to sing . . . which one will praise you best?”
- Is life unsettled? He is still enthroned. Like that widow whom I used to greet every Sunday morning with, “And how are you doing?” And she would always respond, “He is still on the throne.” Amen? He is still on the throne.
Life may be unsettled, but God has not been unseated – His is the Kingdom forever and even now He is seated upon the pinnacle of His universe where He reigns supreme.
And we . . . We are frail children of dust and feeble as frail;
But in Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail;
Your mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer and Friend.
O Worship the King, Robert Grant, 1779-1838
Here’s another great song to sing when you’re in the night time of affliction.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below,
Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts,
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost; Amen
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