The Saving Purpose of the Great Physician’s Knife


For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men while they slumber on their beds, then he opens the ears of men, and terrifies them with warnings, that he may turn man aside from his deed, and cut off pride from man; he keeps back his soul from the Pit, his life from perishing by the sword.

Man is also chastened with pain upon his bed, and with continual strife in his bones. —Job 33:14–19

John Piper comments on Job 33:

At least part of Elihu’s understanding of why the righteous suffer has to do with this residue of pride in the life of the righteous. We see the first explanation of his view in . He describes two ways God speaks to man: by his word and by suffering. These were the days before Scripture, so the word of God takes the form of visions and dreams….

Not to Punish but to Save

So Elihu puts the pain of sickness and visions of the night side by side as two ways that God speaks to man for his good. Verse 17 describes God’s purpose: “That he may turn man aside from his deed, and cut off pride from man, and keep back his soul from the Pit.”

In other words God’s purpose for the righteous in these dreams and in this sickness is not to punish but to save—to save from contemplated evil deeds and from pride and ultimately from death. Elihu does not picture God as an angry judge but as a Redeemer, a Savior, a Rescuer, a Doctor. The pain he causes is like the surgeon’s knife, not like the executioner’s whip.

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