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ARCANE AND GERMANE BOOK REVIEWS #8

“After reading a new book, never allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”
“All that is not eternal is eternally out of date.”
(C.S. Lewis)


Made, Known and Loved by God

Professor Francis Ian Andersen who went to be with his Lord last month, was ‘Frank’ to everyone he met. I first met him as a student in 1994 when he was guest lecturing at Melbourne University. My honors supervisor arranged the introduction because I was working on the Book of Job. Frank became my co-supervisor, and this began a conversation which lasted for more than 25 years. Right to the end Frank loved to talk about the Scriptures, the different forms of Hebrew that could be seen in the books of the Bible, and what was going on in the world of scholarship. He bemoaned the fact that ‘most modern commentators seem to comment on other commentators rather than grapple with the actual text of Scripture.’

Job

Tyndale.
Tyndale.

He bemoaned the fact that ‘most modern commentators seem to comment on other commentators rather than grapple with the actual text of Scripture.

Frank was converted in the 1940’s as an undergraduate, and was always concerned to hear about the progress of the gospel and the work of the Christian Union and other Christian groups on campus. He would say that, ‘the most important thing that I learnt in the EU was learning the daily discipline of Bible reading and prayer.’ Receiving God’s word every morning and evening throughout his life was the food that sustained him in all his relationships and writing and teaching ministry. He wanted to make sure that this priority was being passed on to every new generation.

But most of all, Frank wanted to talk about the goodness and love of God who made us in his image; who loves, cares and provides for us in every moment. Frank never ceased to be amazed at the wonder and privilege of being made imago Dei; and by the fact that our mighty Creator is also our great Saviour. He rejoiced that the Lord Jesus Christ redeemed us by his death, gave us new life in his resurrection, and made us dearly loved children of God who share in the gift of his Spirit. Frank loved studying the Hebrew and Greek names in Scripture; but more thrilling still, was the certain confidence he had that those whose faith is in Jesus Christ have their names written in the Lamb’s book of life. These truths reverberate through his commentary on the book of Job.

Job (Tyndale; IVP, 1976)

Out of all of Frank’s books, perhaps the most well-known and widely read is his contribution on the book of Job in the Tyndale series of Bible Commentaries. One of the bitter-sweet developments of this long-term series is that older volumes are gradually being replaced by newer generations of scholars. It is of course wonderful to see new and updated commentary on the Bible, and we should be very thankful for these excellent new additions to the series. But at the same time it is sad to see outstanding commentaries by older writers such as Derek Kidner, F.I. Andersen and Leon Morris gradually go out of print.[1]

Commentaries such as these, which combine a deep love for God with careful yet accessible scholarship, are a rare jewel, and Andersen’s on Job is one of that select number that can profitably be read from beginning to end. While a book such as this is a very useful tool in the preparation of sermons or Bible studies, it is also beneficial in daily Bible reading when used alongside the primary activity of prayerfully hearing God’s word; the Bible itself.

While we have a new replacement commentary on Job to look forward to in this series, I would strongly recommend grabbing a copy of Andersen’s while you still can. This is a highly readable book, which faithfully and expertly handles the Hebrew text of Scripture for English readers in a very accessible way. Andersen helps us engage not only in discreet sections of biblical text, but also come to terms with the message of Job as a whole. The introduction is quite detailed for a commentary of this size (76pp), providing clear guidance in navigating this wisdom text which at times has proven an intimidating book to study.

The Creator God in the Book of Job

From the beginning to the end, the book of Job, reveals the LORD as the sovereign and sustainer of his creation. Job fears the LORD, turning from evil and serving him with complete integrity (1:6-8; 2:3 cf. 29:1-20). This wise and faithful servant of the LORD who ‘had it all,’ loses everything in one fell swoop (1:9-19; 2:4-8). Though unaware of Satan’s agency and negative purpose in proceedings, Job believes that the LORD is the one who works out his sovereign purpose in the world—even in the complete devastation of Job’s life.

The hand of God is concealed; the hand of the Satan unsuspected. Desert brigands, lightning and cyclone are all part of man’s life in the East. Things like this happen to everyone, if not always on the same scale. The intense faith of Job immediately sees the hand of God in every ‘natural’ event. There are no ‘accidents’ in a universe ruled by the one sovereign Lord. Hence Job’s problem. [2]

Job will spend the rest of the book grappling with this problem; learning again to the core of his being that this all-powerful God is ‘mysteriously good, and not mysteriously evil.’[3] Through the suffering Job experiences and through his response and perseverance, God will prove the genuineness of Job’s faith and his own purposefulness and goodness. God will be vindicated, not only in Job’s life, but in every facet of the world which He has made and maintains. As Andersen writes:

‘[Job’s] own vindication [in the face of the accusations of Satan and his unwitting allies; Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar]’ and God’s will go hand in hand … ’[4]

‘Job’s expanding faith will come to embrace his sufferings as something between himself and God within that right relationship.’[5]

Daring Faith

Job feels that he is being slowly dismantled by the one who first formed him in his mother’s womb (e.g. Job 3:1-10; 7:17-19; 10:8-12). This coupled with God’s long silence, forms the large part of Job’s agonising fight of faith.

Job’s believes in God’s justice but cannot see it…[6]

… his will for fellowship is strong … Job is all the time approaching and speaking directly to God.[7]

Job’s pain has the authenticity of all who have been injured in their wrestling with God … If he seems defiant, it is the daring of faith. All Job has known about God he still believes. But God’s inexplicable ways have his mind perplexed to breaking-point. Job is in the right [1:8; 2:3 cf. 42:7]; but he does not know that God is watching with silent compassion and admiration until the test is fully done and it is time to state his approval publicly (42:8).[8]

Frank Andersen was no ivory tower theologian and no stranger to suffering and the fight for faith over unbelief. Not long after its publication, he lost his son who was in his early teens. For him Job was no theoretical philosophical text, but the yearnings of a believer; a cry for assurance that the Creator is for and not against his beloved suffering servant.

A calm and heavenly frame for ‘a closer walk with God’ is not the uniform standard for biblical religion. Hannah prayed with the incoherence of a drunken woman (1Samuel 1:13). ‘Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears … and he was heard’ (Hebrews 5:7). So Job makes his way to God with prayers that are sobs. Narrow and inhuman is the religion that bans weeping from the vocabulary of prayer.[9]

Job – Early Sketch of the Greatest Sufferer

Significantly, Andersen does not shrink back from reading the Hebrew Bible as the Old Testament which is fulfilled in the New. He encourages us to read it as Jesus taught us to read it; recognizing that the Scriptures are only rightly received as God’s Spirit breathed word to us, when we are led by them to find life in Christ (e.g. John 5:31-47).

If the passion of Job was an early sketch for the greatest Sufferer, it remains for his later followers to enter into ‘the fellowship of his sufferings’ (Philippians 3:10, AV) … Christ’s Gethsemane was a human experience, but it exceeds all others in its intensity and in its healing power. The full burden of our anxieties crushed him. What Job longed for blindly has actually happened. God in Christ has joined us in our hell of loneliness, and acquired a new completeness through what He endured (Hebrews 5:7-9). All the ‘meanings’ of suffering converge on Christ. He entered a domain of suffering reserved for him alone.

No man can bear the sin of another, but Jesus carried the sins of all. As the Substitute for all sinners, his sufferings were penal, a bearing of the death penalty for sin. They were also a full and authentic sharing of our human condition with a love that gave itself completely into the furnace of affliction. That the Lord himself has embraced and absorbed the undeserved consequences of all evil is the final answer to Job and to all the Jobs of humanity. As an innocent sufferer, Job is the companion of God.[10]

 

Real and Lasting Hope

Unlike some twentieth century commentators, Frank rejoiced in the ‘happy ending’ to the Book of Job—seeing it as an Old Testament anticipation of the New Heavens and the New Earth described in the closing chapters of Revelation.

God does what He pleases. It would be absurd to say that He must keep Job in miserable poverty in order to safeguard the theology. These gifts at the end are gestures of his grace, not rewards for virtue. It is an artistic, indeed a theological fitness, if not necessity, that Job’s vindication be not just a personal and hidden reconciliation with God in the secret of his soul, but also visible, material, historical, in terms of his life as a man. It was already a kind of resurrection in flesh, as much as the Old Testament could know. Job’s complete vindication had to wait until the resurrection of Lazarus, and of a Greater than Lazarus.[11]

Frank encouraged Christians to see that the LORD we encounter in Job is not coldly aloof to our suffering, but a good, just and powerful God. Neither suffering nor death nor the Devil, will have the last word. Our loving heavenly Father provides us with real and lasting hope that in the end is stronger than all our doubts, fears, disappointments, sin and even death; ultimately through the life, death and resurrection of the suffering servant; our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Frank encouraged Christians to see that the LORD we encounter in Job is not coldly aloof to our suffering, but a good, just and powerful God.

As Frank’s favourite ‘commentator’ on Job teaches us, we learn that genuine persevering faith in God is possible when it is founded in the only true and living God who made us and who saves us through his Son. It is only fitting that we should finish this review in a way that Frank would surely approve; with the word of the Lord through his Apostle James.

For we consider blessed those who endure; you have heard of the endurance of Job, You know the goal of the Lord, that the Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (James 5:11)


[1]In 2014 a fully revised and updated edition was prepared by Frank for the Japanese Tyndale edition, but sadly it is not available in English.

[2] F.I. Andersen, Job, (Tyndale; Leicester: IVP, 1976), p.86.

[3] Brane Zelenjak in a personal conversation.

[4] Andersen, op.cit, p.164.

[5] Ibid, p. 209.

[6] Ibid, p.140.

[7] Ibid, p.167.

[8] Ibid, p.139.

[9] Ibid, p.136.

[10] Ibid, p.73.

[11] Ibid, p.294.

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