Preaching workshop illuminates book of Job
While Christians often appeal to the book of Job for wisdom in the midst of suffering, David Allen asserted that this Old Testament wisdom literature is not actually about suffering.
“It is, but it’s not,” Allen said. “In fact, Job is a book about God.”
“Job focuses primarily on the sovereignty of God,” he continued. “If ever there was a book in the Bible that uplifts the sovereignty of God, it is the book of Job.”
Job was the focus of this fall’s Text-Driven Preaching Workshop at Southwestern Seminary. Throughout this daylong workshop, Oct. 8, Southwestern’s School of Preaching faculty provided insight on this Old Testament book as well as guidance for how to share the riches of the text with their congregations.
David Allen, dean of the School of Preaching, began the conference by providing an annotated bibliography on helpful commentaries for the book of Job. He also provided an overview of the book’s purposes and themes, noting its emphasis on God’s sovereignty.
Allen specifically identified fives purposes of the book: to address the problem of human suffering, to challenge the assumption that personal sin is always the cause of suffering, to explore human limitations in probing the issue of divine justice, to demonstrate God’s sovereignty and inscrutability, and to teach us to trust God when disaster strikes.
Denny Autrey, former dean of the Havard School for Theological Studies in Houston, spoke next, focusing specifically on the book’s prologue. Autrey said the book’s central question lay in verse 9, wherein Satan asks God, “Does Job fear God for nothing?”
“In other words, the center of the book is this: Is Job only good and righteous because of what he can get out of it? This question speaks to us all,” Autrey said. “Why do we serve Jehovah God? Is it because that’s our profession, or is it because we desire communion with Holy God?”
Autrey noted that Job continued to hold fast to God even after multiple disasters struck, thus proving God right when He said that Job was “blameless and upright” (verse 8). This insight into God’s viewpoint concerning Job is essential for understanding the entire work, Autrey said, particularly regarding how to interpret the counsel of Job’s friends.
“You are going to me maligned, misunderstood, misconstrued, and at that point, you need to simply stand on the integrity of your call and your willingness to stand on the Word of God,” Autrey said. “Job is doing that, and he is going to do that all the way through, from the very beginning, not knowing what God has already said about him. Isn’t it good to know God loves us, called us, gifted us, and He’s going to use us just like we are?”
Following Autrey, Deron Biles, professor of pastoral ministries and preaching, presented on the topic of Job’s friends. Though Biles acknowledged that Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar did some things right (they came to their friend when he was sick, for example), they nevertheless betrayed a shallow theology.
“The book of Job resists easy answers and exposes lazy application,” Biles summarized. “It challenges our opinions that health and wealth and children and long life are necessarily God’s intention for you. In fact, the book confronts us with the uncomfortable reality that sometimes our happiness is not God’s immediate purpose. That is the tension of the book of Job.”
Biles drew three applications from the dialogue between Job and his friends: pastoral care is more about being present than it is about being right, pastoral care recognizes that pain speaks more candidly than does peace, and pastoral care is dangerous apart from the wisdom of God.
“God’s Word is inerrant, but you and I are not inerrant interpreters of God’s Word,” Biles said. “Be humble in our understanding, our interpretation. Presuming to know the mind of God is careless theology.
“Far better is the humble ‘I don’t know’ when it is accompanied by a faith-filled hopeful confidence in the One who does.”
In his session entitled “An Interlude and a Bad Idea: Understanding and Applying Job 28-31,” Associate Professor of Preaching Matthew McKellar identified several key points that pastors can use to call their congregations’ attention to the greatness and majesty of God, and its implications for their lives.
While illustrating sermon examples from chapter 28, McKellar pointed to what he described as the climatic verse of the passage, which states, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom” (verse 28). McKellar explained that the proper response to God is one of awe and reverence, and even emotion.
“The fear of the Lord should encompass all of who we are,” he said, adding that this includes one’s mind, will and emotions. “And when you meet the living God, the response is one of reverential awe, a trembling at the word of the Lord.”
The book of Job, McKellar concluded, is a reminder that the contemporary church is often missing a “reverential awe” and fear of God that trembles at His Word. “We have some really anemic, sub-biblical, pitiful thoughts of God, and too often those thoughts of God are in the pulpit. If you want your people to believe in a big God, preach a big God!”
Next, Professor of Preaching and Rhetoric Barry McCarty discussed and delivered several preaching ideas from Elihu’s speeches in Job 32-37. McCarty noted that the important takeaway from Job’s story is its foreshadowing of the coming of a perfect heavenly mediator. Although Job believed God was silent in his suffering, Elihu responds that He is indeed there and is not silent. In fact, “He speaks so that He might save,” McCarty said.
“Elihu is an imperfect shadow or type of mediator,” McCarty said regarding Elihu’s role in the story. “He is doing half the job. He is arbitrating from God to Job, but he can’t pull off the other end. We are going to have to wait for the perfect God-man, Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully man, to be able to do that. Elihu can only suggest it, and perhaps be a shadow of it.”
McCarty co-presented alongside Associate Professor of Old Testament and Archaeology Eric Mitchell, who shared his own findings from his study of the Hebrew text, specifically analyzing Elihu’s rhetoric and what Elihu is trying to communicate in his speech. Together, they shared the conclusion that while Elihu acts as a mediator, Elihu is “setting things up for God, who appears out of the storm after Elihu gives his speech.”
In the final session of the day, Kyle Walker, vice president for student services and assistant professor of preaching, spoke on the final five chapters of Job and how they reveal God’s wisdom.
Walker gave a detailed analysis of each chapter and discussed how the book reveals Job’s suffering to be a means of drawing closer to and entering into a deeper relationship with God.
“Though God is not obligated to speak, God does answer Job,” Walker said. “God chooses to speak, He speaks only truth, and what does truth do? It sets us free. It’s where true wisdom is found. It’s where true comfort comes from when God speaks.”
In conclusion, Walker offered application and preaching tips for these passages, particularly as they relate to the correlation between Job and the Gospel.
“Jesus is the embodiment of God’s wisdom,” Walker said. “The final word on suffering is none other than the resurrection. That’s the final answer this side of heaven that death is not the end. Job establishes where true wisdom and comfort are to be found: They are found in a personal relationship with Yahweh.”