It’s not every day we see a new commentary on Job, and to see one released with the glowing endorsements that accompany Crossway’s newest addition to their Preaching the Word series is rare indeed. So I was eager to read Christopher Ash’s new sermon-commentary, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross. And I have to say, this is not just another good commentary – it is stunningly good. I had barely begun reading it before my heart was jumping as I called to my wife, “Oh, this is really good. You have to read this!”
A Few Observations
Our blogs are not usually book reviews, as such, but more like brief notices and reflections on new books of significance, and here I will highlight just a few features about this book that stand out. First, as you would want in any commentary, Ash displays a very close acquaintance with the biblical text. He has very clearly spent much time working carefully through the arguments of each character and scene of the book of Job, and his remarks are consistently tied tightly to the text. Here and there he offers a larger biblical and/or theological excursus that is related to the passage at hand, but never a rabbit trail. The preaching here simply declares and applies the text of Job. (Isn’t that someone’s definition of preaching?)
Second, perhaps more consistently than any I have heard or read before, Ash reads Job as a Christian. That is, he reads and expounds this Old Testament book as one deeply informed and appreciative of the full redemptive revelation that is in Jesus. At every turn our attention is “updated” from Job’s time and experience to our own gospel-informed age and standing. Moreover, at no point does the connection to Christ and to the gospel reflect a hermeneutical “stretch” – a fanciful or imaginative (mis)handling of the text – but the mature whole-Bible-read reflections of a Christ-loving theologian. Ash does not “find Jesus” behind every unsuspecting verse, but consistently each passage is grasped and presented in its relation to Christ. As a result, the reflections on suffering are heart-warmingly gospel flavored, and each chapter leaves you with your attention turned trustingly to the Lord Jesus.
Third, some may think that Ash is (dis)proportionately long on exposition and short application. This thought did not strike me until late in the book. Each chapter-sermon is given in largest measure simply to explaining and expounding the text, with only few of the more typical “pause here to apply” paragraphs sprinkled in, and with most personal reflection reserved to the end of the chapter. Yes, but that observation does not begin to do justice. Throughout the book the expositions themselves move so seamlessly from text and Job to you – the reader – and to Christ that you will never sense that you are lost in expositional detail. It is much too warm and engaging for that. And (Did I say that this observation didn’t even dawn on me until very late in the book?), there is never the feel that application has been lacking; to the contrary, the net effect is a wonderfully uplifting and closely personal ministry of the Word. This is a commentary on Job, but it is no less the “sermonizing” for it.
In short, Christopher Ash’s Job: The Wisdom of the Cross is a model of pastorally-flavored theological exposition. As such it is both superb for personal devotional reading and a must for preachers and teachers working through Job. It is easy to predict that this book will remain a “first pick” for many for years to come. Your only frustration will be the likely temptation to plagiarize!
No list of “sound bites” will do justice to the book itself, but below are some sample appetizers, the last of which (the long one) is among my very favorite. Enjoy!
It is not self-centered of God to desire his own glory. For us it is an inappropriate megalomania; for God, it is to desire the most deeply right thing in the world. (p.46)
There are three vital truths they (Job’s friends) don’t believe. [For them, there is] no Satan … no waiting … and no cross. (p.94-97)
Since the message of Eliphaz is a message of piety and religion rather than the gospel of grace, Job will be driven to despair if he believes it. Any message other than the gospel of the cross will ultimately lead suffering men and women to despair. Only the gospel of the cross can bring true comfort. (p.115)
The burden of Job’s protest is this: “If I am as insignificant as I appear to be, why do you pay me so much hostile attention?” (p.131)
Job may be wrong in his perception of God and of the reality of his situation, but he is deeply right in his heart and the direction of his turning and his yearning. (p.151)
There is a divine necessity about the sufferings of Job. There is something so deeply necessary that it justifies injustice and the unanswered prayer of a righteous man. (p.306)
The point here is that God’s apparent inaction does not contradict his justice. (p.350)
We have seen that one of the great motifs of Job’s laments is that he longs to bring his perplexity to God himself. Job cannot be satisfied with any system: he must know God and speak to the living God. He must, for nothing else will satisfy him. (p.429)
The book of Job is not about Job but about God – his character, sovereignty, justice, goodness and, yes, even his love. (p.435)
(And my personal favorite … )
This poses a problem for us as we read the book. However deep our suffering, it is unlikely that our experience can ever do more than very approximately mirror Job’s. We have neither been so great as Job, nor so fallen, neither so happy, nor so lonely, neither so rich, nor so poor, neither so pious, nor so cursed. All of which points to a fulfillment greater and deeper than your life or mine. Job in his extremity is actually but a shadow of a reality more extreme still, of a man who was not just blameless but sinless, who was not just the greatest man in a region, but the greatest human being in history, greater even than merely human, who emptied himself of all his glory, became incarnate, and went all the way down to a degrading, naked, shameful death on the cross, whose journey took him from eternal fellowship with the Father to utter aloneness on the cross. The story of Job is a shadow of the greater story of Jesus Christ.
And yet we cannot stop there. For the story of Job is, in a measure, your story and mine as Christian believers, as men and women in Christ. Before the cross Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you [“you” here is plural, referring to all the apostolic band], that he might sift you like wheat.” Just as the Satan demanded to have Job to sift and test him, to see if he was – as it were – wheat or chaff, so he demanded to sift the apostolic band. And just as God the Father sent Satan off to do that to Job, so he does with the apostles. Jesus does not go on to say, “But my Father has forbidden Satan from doing this.” Rather, he says, “But I have prayed for you [“you” here is singular, Simon Peter specifically] that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31, 32). Clearly Satan’s demand is to be granted; the apostles are to be sifted by Satan, to see if their faith is genuine. And their faith will prove genuine, not least because God the Son prays to God the Father for Peter, and then Peter becomes the instrument to strengthen the faith of the others. (p.54-55)
Fred G. Zaspel
Buy the books
JOB: THE WISDOM OF THE CROSS