That Job was put on trial was not stated to himself, for it was not the truth he needed to hear. But, now that he has successfully borne the test, he needs to know the end of his infliction, not so far as Satan was concerned, but its end for himself. He needs to know that it was sent with a gracious design and that it enclosed a real benefit. It was necessary that he should understand this in order that he might be thoroughly released out of the tempter’s snare and might receive the full profit that was in store for him.
Elihu’s doctrine of suffering is not hampered by the rigid and inflexible rule of exact retributive justice maintained by the friends nor does it conflict, as that did, with the general facts of providence or with the consciousness of Job. Job’s arguments and protests against the friends do not lie against it. It is a view, in fact, against which he has no disposition either to argue or to protest. It is not only consistent with, but gives a satisfactory account of the inequalities of the human condition.
The unbending rule of strict justice would have required a uniform and precise correspondence of men’s fortunes with their characters. It admitted to no deviation. There might, indeed, be temporary delays. The divine retribution might be, for a while, postponed, but it must never fail to be, ultimately and palpably, meted out to all in the true proportion of their merits and demerits.
But a gracious purpose is, from its very nature, free. It can be bound by no rule but the disposition and will of Him who exercises it. The only limitation upon a providence so conducted is God’s good pleasure, and none can prescribe, in advance, where He shall send joy or where He shall send sorrow. He may, by His goodness, lead men to repentance. He may employ chastisement to wean them from the love of this world or to turn their hearts from sin. The method employed in each particular instance depends solely upon His sovereign will. This admits all the free variety found in the actual experience of men while, at the same time, it neither divorces the world from God nor represents His dealings as capricious and arbitrary. He, without whom not a sparrow falls, numbers the hairs of our heads, directs all that concerns us, appoints all our lot. He governs in all the affairs of men and He does so in a manner worthy of Himself.
There is a method in all that occurs, and a purpose and a divine intelligence. Providence is harmonized with the infinite rectitude and the universal moral government. It becomes, in fact, the expression, the visible manifestation of God’s holiness as well as of His grace, for it is directed with the view of reclaiming men from sin and training them in holiness and virtue. It is not graduated by any formal mechanical rule of correspondence with men’s deserts, but it is wisely adapted, nevertheless, to their multiform needs by Him whose resources are endless and whose understanding is without a bound.
This doctrine, likewise, supplies the hitherto undiscovered key to the enigma of Job’s sufferings. No reflection is cast upon his integrity or the genuineness of his piety. His afflictions are neither an indication of the Lord’s displeasure nor of His wanton hostility. A gracious God is, by this severity of discipline, purging away the dross which still adhered to His faithful servant and refining the gold to a higher measure of purity.
From: The Argument of the Book of Job Unfolded by William Henry Green, pp. 132-133. William Henry Green (1825-1900) taught at Princeton Theological Seminary for many years. His wise and valuable volume on Job was published in 1874.