I have been reading the story of Job lately, and God has once again given me a new perspective on beauty. Often, the book of Job is presented as a beauty-from-ashes-story in that Job lost everything, but was restored to greater abundance than he had ever experienced.
The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part…After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so Job died, an old man and full of years.(Job 42:12, 16-17, NIV)
But I haven’t even gotten to that point in the story yet!
I’m still in the middle of the story. Job is still sitting on the ash-heap. And here I found incredible and unexpected beauty!
Job lived in very early days following the flood. He had not had the advantage of listening to generations of prophets give us glimpses of our coming Savior. Job lived in a time when people understood that evil was present in the world, and that one day God would restore all things, but they had very little idea what that might begin to look like. In fact, Job’s three friends lived under what seems to be a widespread impression of the time that God simply delivered judgment upon the earth by prospering the righteous and punishing the wicked.
“Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it. At the breath of God they perish; at the blast of his anger they are no more…”(Job 4:7-9, NIV, Eliphaz)
Behold, God will not cast away a perfect man, neither will he help the evil doers…(Job 8:20, KJV, Bildad)
Knowest thou not this of old, since man was placed upon earth, That the triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment?(Job 20:4-5, KJV, Zophar)
But Job recognized that real life did not fit this paradigm at all. Rather, the wicked often prospered; and the righteous often endured hardship and misery and died young. And beyond that, though Job is consistently declared righteous in God’s sight, he recognized that even the righteous were not righteous before the Lord. Who can stand?
Even if I washed myself with soap and my hands with cleansing powder, you would plunge me into a slime pit so that even my clothes would detest me.(Job 9:30-31, NIV)
Job never blamed or criticized God for this circumstance, but neither would he ignore the truth of it. He simply determined that God was both able and entitled to do whatever God decided to do with His creations. And he longed for someone to stand for him and deliver him from the great weight of unabsolvable sin that remained even in his best efforts at holiness in his righteous life.
“He is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court. If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot.(Job 9:32-32, NIV)
And here, on the ash heap, in the midst of his great anguish and distress, in the face of friends who insisted that his direct, individual sin had led to these direct, individual consequences in his life, Job began to glimpse the greater wonder of a Savior.
In scenes that brought tears to my eyes, Job began to share in the sufferings of a Messiah Who was generations distant…
People open their mouths to jeer at me; they strike my cheek in scorn and unite together against me. God has turned me over to the ungodly and thrown me into the clutches of the wicked. All was well with me, but he shattered me; he seized me by the neck and crushed me. He has made me his target; his archers surround me. Without pity, he pierces my kidneys and spills my gall on the ground.(Job 16:10-13, NIV)
A vivid parallel with the arrest and sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ, chilling in similarity, heart-rending in contemplation, to think of our precious Lord suffering these very things on our behalf, many years after Job sympathized with these pains here.
“I have sewed sackcloth over my skin and buried my brow in the dust. My face is red with weeping, dark shadows ring my eyes; yet my hands have been free of violence and my prayer is pure…”(Job 16:15-17, NIV)
Another stunning parallel, this time drawing us to the scene of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, lying facedown in pure and urgent and obedient prayer, in preparation for His perfect sacrifice, many generations after Job wrestled in similar prayerful distress here.
And in the midst of sharing these sufferings, Job also began to glimpse our Lord’s great glory.
Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as one pleads for a friend.(Job 16:19-21, NIV)
What incredible comfort, in the midst of incredible suffering! Immediately following the pain of these pitiless attacks and the depths of this pleading sorrow, Job now glimpses the victorious outcome. Our Advocate is on high! Our Intercessor is our Friend, and He pleads on our behalf!
This is an intricately profound level of beauty from ashes. Beauty while we’re still on the ash-heap. While the ashes are still thick and there is no deliverance in sight for the entirety of this life. Yet we know that our Redeemer lives. And He is on the throne. And our hope is eternal.
Job would one day be delivered from the worldly ashes of his sufferings into the worldly beauty of a life and property and family abundantly restored.
But I venture to say that the heavenly beauty that he glimpsed here while still in the fat-middle of the ash-heap eclipsed and outshone every worldly beauty that followed it, and must have kept his eyes joyfully fixed ahead upon the wonder of the eternal hope that he had seen here. Indeed, in the light of this beauty, I would propose that Job could have remained on the ash-heap to his dying day and remained content!
I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.(Job 42:5-6, KJV)
What an awe-inspiring beauty. Not just the beauty that delivers me into greater abundance than I had previously experienced…but the beauty that delivers me into grateful worship in the midst of an earthly ash-heap!