Job Chapter 4-5: The Two Sons

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The Two Sons

We can compare the story of Job to Jesus’ parable of the two sons in Matthew 21. One son says to his father, “I will not obey you,” but in the end, he changes his mind and does what his father asked. By contrast the other sons says, “I will obey,” and then forgets all about it and does what he wants. Their words obviously do not match their hearts. In fact in each case what they say is exactly opposite of what they believe. The real nature of their convictions shows up only in their actions because our actions will always follow our beliefs.

In the same way, the friends of Job all represent themselves as being upright and godly men. Repeatedly and in various ways, what they say is that they believe in a God who is good and merciful, and they exhort Job to believe the same. Yet we cannot help wondering: if they really believed that God is merciful, could they also be expected to show that same mercy to others? But they fail to do this. Instead of mercy, they bring condemnation. Instead of compassion, they demonstrate a rigid doctrine. Their actions speak louder than their words. They obviously believe that people should be good. Do they really believe in a good God? As G. K. Chesterton observed, perhaps what they really believe is “not that God is good, but that God is so strong that it is much more judicious to call Him good.”

From this point on, Job has very little good to say about God. Instead he rants and raves against His cruel silence and injustice, repeatedly calling God his “foe.” In the end, however, when the Lord finally breaks His silence and speaks to him, Job immediately softens and repents. So at the end he turns out to be very much like the first son in Jesus’ parable, who initially dug in his heels and cried, “I won’t!” and yet who, when it came down to brass tacks, submitted. Job’s character under extreme pressure does not conform to the popular image of saintliness. However, the Lord knows what is in his heart, and Jesus’ question at the end of the parable is not, “Which of the two sons had the more correct theology?” but, “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

Much of the theme of Job revolves around the reality that what people say they believe is often not what they really believe. Why is that? It is because people really do not know themselves. On the other hand, it was said of Jesus “He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he know what was in a man” (John 2:25). To know what people really believe, don’t simply look at what they say about themselves, look at what they do. As Jesus instructed the Pharisees, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment” (John 7:24)

Do you remember when the newly sworn in, former President Clinton testified that his would be the most “ethical administration”? His actions spoke much louder than his words.

Ultimately, the little-known parable of the two sons has much in common with the more famous story of the prodigal son. In either case, Jesus used two brothers to draw a distinction not just between two different kinds or degrees of faith, but rather between belief and unbelief, between living faith and dead legalism. In both parables, the son who initially rebels is the one who, deep down is being intensely honest with his father, while the other son, though he makes an outward show of conforming, is being fundamentally dishonest. In each story, the point is that straightforward dealing with God leads to eventual obedience and right action, while an insincere compliance with God—no matter how well meaning or well-seeming—results in alienation.

If you are interested, you can download the whole study of Job.

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