From Job 42:5-6 this article shows how a deeper knowledge of God leads to a deeper knowledge of ourselves, and how this leads to a life of repentance and humility.

Source: Witness, 2016. 7 pages.

The Knowledge of God and of Ourselves

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

We hear two questions from Christians and read them in many Christian books. The first is: Why is the present generation of professing Christians so shallow? The second: How can I draw nearer to God; know more of Him and have a closer relationship with Him? We believe that the answer to both is found in the one word: repentance. A lack of repentance keeps many who profess, afar off. A lack of repentance prohibits and hinders closer communion with a God who is holy, holy and holy.

There are three doctrines in these two verses. First of all, we read of a deeper knowledge of God: ‘I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee’. Secondly, a deeper knowledge of God leads to a deeper knowledge of self: ‘Wherefore I abhor myself’. And thirdly, a deeper knowledge of self leads to a deeper repentance and humility: ‘and repent in dust and ashes’.

1. A Deeper Knowledge Of God🔗

‘I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear’. We believe that Job lived either approximately at the same time as Abraham or slightly before him. In either case, Job knew God although he was not of the line of Abraham. This is because the knowledge of God had come down through Seth and was not limited to the line of Abraham. Job, like Melchizedek, who was also not of Israel, had received instruction from his ancestors regarding how to approach God. For example, sacrifices were early instituted and Job knew of them. There was a knowledge of God; the very fact that his three so-called friends were able to debate regarding the character of God, shows that the knowledge of God was spread abroad. Job, while Abraham perhaps was still in idolatry in Ur of the Chaldees, was meditating on God. He had a true knowledge of God because faith comes by hearing: ‘I have heard of thee...’

Yet, his knowledge was not as deep at his beginning and before his suffering; it is deeper after his sufferings, after his humbling of himself in the sight of God. We often pray to be humbled but if you examine the New Testament, you will find that the emphasis is rather on our own responsibility: ‘Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord’ (Jas.4:10); ‘Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God’ (1 Pet. 5:6). Therefore, the responsibility is on us to humble ourselves.

Job had heard ‘by the hearing of the ear’, and there are many who enjoy reading the historical parts of Scripture, and many who enjoy reading systematic theology. However, the level of knowledge that comes by that reading is not to be compared with an experimental glimpse of the majesty of God to the soul. That is what Job was lacking: ‘I have heard of thee ... but now mine eye seeth thee’. Of course, we do not still live in the age of pre-incarnate visions of Christ — nevertheless the principle still stands: where the Holy Spirit grants an experimental acquaintance with the Being and Majesty of God, you will grow quickly and experimentally in your knowledge of God, more than if you had read and memorised all the books of the Bible, as the Pharisees had.

Of course, some people think if they read and say that they believe Genesis to Revelation then they will grow in grace. You must be careful there, my friend, because the devils also believe Genesis to Revelation and they are not growing in grace. What matters is a relationship with the Author of Genesis to Revelation. ‘Thou believest that there is one God’, says James, ‘thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble’ (Jas. 2:19). So there was a knowledge in Job, but this knowledge was deepened and surpassed the instruction gained from others, and arose from the direct instruction of the Lord Himself. It is written, ‘They shall be all taught of God’ (Jn. 6:45). Job had a heroic knowledge in the midst of his sufferings, ‘For I know that my redeemer liveth’ (Job 19:25). He knew of the Messiah: ‘My witness is in heaven’ (Job 16:19) — a reference there to Christ’s pre-existence as the Messiah. ‘Oh that I knew where I might find him!’ (Job 23:3), he cries out. Here he has the answer to his prayer: now he sees Him — ‘mine eye seeth thee’.

We are reading here of an appearance by God, therefore, it must be the Second Person of the Trinity. It is not the Father and it is not the Holy Spirit. All manifestations of the Trinity in bodily form, whether pre-incarnate or in the incarnation, are through the Son. It is the Son who took to Himself a true body and a reasonable soul. His delights were with the children of men and even before the incarnation proper, He was seen in bodily form. Stephen tells us in his defence, ‘The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham’ (Acts 7:2). He is talking about Christ. Joshua saw a Man who was more than a man — He was Captain of the Lord’s Host (Josh. 5:14-15). Abraham, when three men came to visit him concerning the future birth of his son Isaac and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, recognised one as the Lord (Genesis 18). Isaiah, when he saw the Lord high and lifted up — holy, holy, holy — saw a vision of Christ (Is. 6).We read that in the Gospel according to John chapter 12. All these pre-incarnate appearances of God in the Old Testament are of the Second Person of the Trinity. If you look in the New Testament you will see that the Father speaks only three times: at the Jordan, at the Mount of Transfiguration and in Solomon’s porch when some people thought it was thunder but Christ recognised it as the voice of His Father.

‘I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee’ — a deeper knowledge of the Godhead granted by the Holy Spirit and that is why we must be much in prayer, down on our knees, which seems to be implied in ‘with dust and ashes’. Just as water cannot rise above its own level, so the level of our spirituality does not rise above the work of the Holy Spirit within us. Many a monk, according to Martin Luther himself, tried to raise himself higher to God with his flagellations, fasts, duties, works of charity and even by his reading of Scripture; but in the final analysis, only God can raise up our souls nearer to Himself. The Lord said, ‘Without me ye can do nothing’ (Jn. 15:5) — nothing spiritual at all. Yet, we live in an age when many are still trying to do something. Faith does come by hearing and we must remember, as Hugh Martin put it: ‘the Word without the Spirit is dead, and the Spirit without the Word is dumb’. He wrote that in his book of sermons entitled Christ For Us. The Holy Spirit is necessary with the Word in order to raise us up to God. It is almost as if ears are turned into eyes: ‘He that hath an ear, let him hear’ (Revelation 2).Then the apostle writes to the Ephesians: ‘The eyes of your understanding being enlightened’ (Eph. 1:18) — seeing Him who is invisible. We cannot divorce, as some do, religion from morality. Repentance here comes in with the revelation — if we are to grow in grace and in knowledge, it has to be a holy growth and a holy knowledge. It must be experiential by the Spirit.

Stephen Charnock, in Volume 4 of The Knowledge of God, says that a man who is trying to learn more of God simply by reading and learning and meditating, without having recourse to the Holy Spirit, is like a sick man trying to work out and meditate what it is to be in health. You can have a theoretical knowledge, you can have speculation but you will learn more in a brief encounter with the majesty of God, just as Job did after all his sufferings, and even all his sufferings alone did not give that extra dimension to him. How many have gone through sufferings and have not grown in grace and in knowledge: ‘I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee’.

Job did suffer and the Lord sometimes uses suffering as a means whereby we do grow in grace. If there is one thing we notice about suffering, and you can see this in children, it is that we cry all the harder, we pray without ceasing. The difficulty is that sometimes your suffering is so great it is difficult to pray in the manner which you would desire. Nevertheless, there are strong cries and tears going up to God. God has said: ‘I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction’ (Is. 48:10). God refines His people in suffering. It is as if He produces a deeper capacity within them through suffering and that of course is the metaphor in ‘I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction’ (Isaiah 48:10). It is burning away all the dross. It is putting aside all the things we desired but which we did not need in order to draw nearer to God. It is interesting that the apostle, in Philippians, links together the excellency of the knowledge of God with the phrases ‘I have suffered the loss of all things’ (Phil. 3:8) ‘that I may know him ... and the fellowship of his sufferings’ (Phil. 3:10). There you have the excellency of knowledge: growth in knowledge with suffering the loss of all things and entering into the fellowship of His sufferings. This is a deeper knowledge of God.

2. A Deeper Knowledge Of Self🔗

Secondly, this leads to a deeper knowledge of self. The more we know God, the more we will understand ourselves. In fact, at the beginning of his Institutes, John Calvin declares this to be the key to true religion — the knowledge of God and of ourselves. ‘I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore (as a result) I abhor myself’. Is it not a great wonder that Job and those like him can actually hold discourse with a holy God; that God permits unholy sinners, not only to approach Him but also to talk to Him? He asks them to listen to Him. Of course, this is all possible through the mediation of Christ Jesus. And is it not a wonder that Job can speak to God? Perhaps we take that for granted but we shouldn’t.

God permits sinners to draw near and to speak, He even gives us the power within us to complain, to murmur, to criticise.  God permits us to draw near and to speak; this is not a small matter. With this increased knowledge of God there comes increased knowledge of himself and he says, ‘I know that thou canst do everything’ (verse 2). In other words, for the first time throughout this book he is acknowledging that God knows what he is doing. Part of his problem was that he could not put into proper words what was happening to him. You might say that this is the argument of the Book of Job. Job had a good case but it was badly argued. His ‘friends’ had a bad case but they argued it well. The trouble was that they were arguing from the covenant of works. Isn’t that quite common nowadays? In court cases for example: good cases are badly argued and lost, bad cases are well argued and won.

‘I know that thou canst do everything’ (verse 2). Here Job understands his own pride. God said, ‘Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not’ (verse 3). He sees his own pride. It wasn’t for the lack of being warned. In one of the earlier chapters, Elihu said to him, ‘Should it be according to thy mind?’ (Job 34:33).That may be put to us all: should it be according to thy mind? Should your own destiny, your own life, the universe, should everything go according to thy mind? Isn’t that a wrong attitude? Yet, in our unbelief and impatience, is that not what we are implying? A late minister once described the bearing of one’s cross as when your will and God’s will cross! — ‘Should it be according to thy mind?’ (Job 34:33).

This is the great problem in our lives — self. It was John the Baptist who said, ‘He must increase, but I (I, myself) must decrease’ (Jn. 3:30). Should that not be the prayer of our lives — that Christ would increase and self would decrease? Augustine prayed, ‘Deliver me from that evil man myself!’ — this evil man within me. There are some, of course, who understand that the old man refers to the unconverted man who dies and is buried at conversion (Rom. 6:3-6). They take Romans 6 to refer to what happened in the past but Romans 7:14-25 as the ongoing struggle in the Christian. There you have the experience of a godly man, the apostle Paul, who says that the law of sin, the flesh, is very much alive in him. It has lost its dominion but it is there inside rebelling: ‘Deliver me from the body of this death’.

I believe that when Paul says ‘our old man is crucified with Christ’ (Rom. 6:6) it means that the old man has received his deathblow: he will never be what he was before — in command, in dominion. Crucifixion is a slow lingering death and you will not be perfect in holiness until you reach that place where Christ is, at the right hand of God; it is only then, as the Psalmist says, ‘I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness’ (Ps. 17:15), that is His likeness in you. At present we go on looking for that moment of satisfaction when we shall see Him as He is, because at that time we shall be like Him. Meanwhile, ‘I abhor myself’.

You will notice that the centre of SIN, literally, is ‘I’. That is significant! That evil man, myself — ‘I abhor myself’. Some may think that the language is too strong. My friends, if you had a glimpse (and God has spared us this) of the full corruption and extent of sin within you then you would be overwhelmed and faint in your soul. God spares His people that; He alone knows and searches the heart. Mercifully, in one way, we see only part, ‘For we know in part’ (1 Cor. 13:9). It is questionable if we could stand the full sight of our own sinfulness. Sin is this selfish independence from God; that everything should be according to our mind (Job 34:33).

Job had been impatient and now he abhorred himself. We read: ‘Ye have heard of the patience of Job’ (Jas. 5:11). The word there means endurance. He continued with heroic outbursts of faith and trust — ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him’ (Job 13:15), but his fault was his impatience. However, he went on in the kind of patience that is endurance, literally continuing under something; bearing your load, your burden, but still going on. In Job’s case, crawling on in the dust — but he is still going on! He will go forward on his hands and knees, spiritually, rather than go back. Job had a good case but badly argued. James tells us that when we are suffering, patience is wisdom (Jas. 5:10). Job was lacking both wisdom and patience — he acknowledged this, ‘I abhor myself’.

3. A Deeper Repentance and Humility🔗

With this deeper knowledge of ourselves, resulting from a deeper knowledge of God, there is a deeper feeling of repentance: ‘I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes’.

What is unbelief? It is disagreeing with God and thus disobedience in the mind. What is repentance? It involves agreeing with God’s verdict; it is agreeing with God. Many have a sight of sin from the Scriptures. In the mirror of the Word they see themselves; they are taught; they have conviction. They have a sight of sin, but the Holy Spirit gives not only a sight of sin, He gives a sense of sin. You need both a sight and a sense of sin; you need not only the words but the Spirit. This is why there is so much shallowness nowadays; the latter is lacking. We read, ‘For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation’ (2 Cor. 7:10). There should be a sorrow according to God, a sorrow which God requires in repentance. Where is the sorrow nowadays, the sorrow according to God for sin: not for the results of sin but for the very presence of sin? It is agreeing with God. Luther said that we go on as we began, in repentance; our whole lives are filled with repentance.

Have you noticed in Scripture that the nearer a person comes to God, the more aware they are of their own sinfulness?

Abraham, speaking to the Lord said, ‘I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes’ (Gen. 18:27). Isaiah, speaking to the Lord in the temple said, ‘Woe is me! for I am undone’ (Is. 6:5). Peter, drawing near to Christ said, ‘Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord’ (Lk. 5:8). John in glory, in that vision said, ‘I fell at his feet as dead’ (Rev. 1:17). The nearer any person in Scripture comes to the Lord the more aware they are of their own sinfulness — and that fact cannot be changed, for He is holy. When you do draw near with a sense of God’s presence and nearness, there is simultaneously a sense of your own unworthiness, a sense of your own sinfulness. You are like Peter, you want to be near but you also hear this voice within, ‘Depart from me; for I am a sinful man’ (Lk. 5:8). But it is the Lord who takes hold of us and that is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; He brings sinners to Himself. What a wonderful feeling it was for the lepers to be touched by Christ — not only spoken to but also touched, brought near to Himself. This is how He receives us, while we are aware of our own sinfulness.

We have also to be aware of our unbelief. So often, we disagree with God’s verdict, with God’s descriptions of sin and of ourselves. These, remember, are the words of converted men: Abraham, Isaiah, Job, Peter, John — converted men. You see how the apostle Paul throughout his life talks about himself being the ‘chief of sinners’. Indeed, you may see his growth in grace by the expressions he uses concerning himself: ‘I am the least of all the apostles’; ‘who am not worthy to be called an apostle’; and at the end of his life — the chief of sinners. That is growth in grace and in knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and in self-knowledge; the chief of sinners. Many a godly person would have it in their heart to disagree with that description, i.e. that the apostle was the chief of sinners, because they believe that they are! This abhorrence of self is provided for in the covenant of grace. If you look at Ezekiel 36 you will read of the provisions of the covenant of grace; not works, but grace, when the Spirit is to be poured out. Those whom the Spirit then indwells, they shall ‘loathe themselves’. That is how sinners come to God — loathing themselves. Without this repentance, this self-abhorrence, you will never appreciate in a high sense the work of Jesus Christ. You will always have the nagging temptation that there is something in you which somehow makes you worthy of God’s grace. Such are those who are afar off, who have no deep repentance. You remember the Prodigal Son? He was in a far country, but when he came back he brought his repentance with him. ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son’ (Lk. 15:18-19). God the Father took him to Himself. It is like your qualification for the Lord’s Table: it is not your worthiness in a worldly sense; your worthiness is your sense of unworthiness. As Dr Duncan well said, ‘Take it woman, it’s for sinners’. So this is a provision of the covenant of grace — that we abhor ourselves and repent in dust and ashes.

Dust and ashes were the symbols that often accompanied repentance. However, we may also take it in a literal sense; that Job was on his knees at the appearance of God. When God does powerfully reveal Himself to your soul, it should put you on your knees. Regarding the shallowness nowadays, there are very, very few nowadays whose knees are hardened and calloused by the amount of time they spend on them. Without this deep sense of unworthiness and sin, you cannot appreciate Christ as you ought to. The darker the background the more the Jewel will shine. In the dark you see yourself like the church in the Song of Solomon, ‘Look not upon me, because I am black’ (Song of Sol. 1:6). But thus the more will you see the Pearl of great price. He will shine brighter in your estimation the deeper your sense of demerit and undeservedness is. Make much of sin but make more of Christ: ‘that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful’ (Rom. 7:13). Note, one word isn’t enough there — sin is ‘exceeding sinful’. ‘But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound’ (Rom. 5:20). The more we see that there is nothing in us, when we can say with the Psalmist, ‘He hath not dealt with us after our sins’ (Ps. 103:10), then our soul will not be forgetful of all the blessings and benefits which He has poured upon us (v. 2). So, ‘I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes’.

This is growth in grace — growth in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ — because it is the Son with whom he is speaking and it is the Son who is speaking to him. All the revelations of the Godhead to us as sinners come through the Son of God, all of them. He is the Mediator. This is a deep subject and no person is infallible. How can we apply this matter to ourselves? First of all, we read that Job was twice as blessed after his suffering, after his experience of the Majesty of God and self-abhorrence (Job 42:10). Do you believe that? Perhaps you are suffering in your body and in your soul; but remember, ‘weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning’ (Ps.30:5). James reminds us of the end of Job, how that the Lord is ‘of tender mercy’ (Jas. 5:11). Note also the blessedness of having this knowledge of God and of yourself: ‘flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee’ (Mt. 16:17). It is not an experience produced by flesh and blood alone. How can they teach you? It is God who has taught you this. As the Lord Jesus said, ‘blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear’ (Mt 13:16).

Notice also that the humiliation of Job was followed by exaltation. As said before, ‘Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up’ (Jas. 4:10). Perhaps you are saying, ‘But I have been doing this!’ My friend, go to Peter where it was also written, ‘Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time’ (1 Pet. 5:6), i.e. in God’s time! If we believe the revelation of God at all, by Word, by Spirit, should we not follow the example of Job and be down on our knees in the dust and in the ashes? ‘He remembereth that we are dust’ (Ps. 103:14). The word ‘Adam’ literally means the person taken from the ground. That is where we are: ‘I abhor myself and repent in dust’. Job submitted to God — a very hard thing. Sometimes we can go most of the way but there are very few who will, as John Calvin said, ‘put ourselves wholly in the hand of God’. We are always inclined to keep just a little back. Calvin said that he went about with his soul in his hand ready to offer it up to God. You can see why his biography was called ‘The Man God Mastered’.

So do you wish to be nearer to God? The Lord said we must count the cost (Lk. 14:28). If you have the Olney hymnbook, poetry by John Newton and William Cowper, you will come across a poem called ‘Prayer Answered by Crosses’; it sums up the experience of Job very well and it also was experienced by John Newton, obviously.

He says,

I ask’d the Lord, that I might grow
In faith, and love, and ev’ry grace,
Might more of his salvation know,
And seek more earnestly his face.            

Twas he who taught me thus to pray,
And he, I trust has answer’d pray’r;
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

I hop’d that in some favour’d hour,
At once he’d answer my request:
And by his love’s constraining power,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, he made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in ev’ry part.

Yea more, with his own hand he seem’d
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Cross’d all the fair designs I schem’d,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.      

Lord, why is this, I trembling cry’d,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
‘Tis in this way’, the Lord reply’d,
I answer pray’r for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ,
From self and pride to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou mayst seek thy all in me.

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.

God accepted and exalted Job.

If you look at the next two verses, 7 and 8, God says in commendation four times, ‘my servant Job; my servant Job; my servant Job; my servant Job’. ‘Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up’ (Jas. 4:10). To be the servant of the Lord is the highest honour.

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.