I repent in dust and ashes

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From the very first verse of the book, Job is presented as a blameless and upright man.

The LORD is proud of Job’s matchless virtue (1:8; 2:3).  Job fears God and shuns evil.  And even when calamity falls he does not sin by cursing God (1:22; 2:10).  Instead, through all his laments and complaints, the LORD is still able to conclude in chapter 42 and verse 7 that His servant Job has spoken what is right.

And yet, in chapter 42 verse 6, Job says

I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes!

Uh-oh, we think.  Someone’s got self-esteem issues!

But no.  In fact Job hasn’t been esteeming himself at all.  He hasn’t been contemplating himself.  His appraisal has not been the fruit of lengthy meditations upon his sins or even upon his sufferings.  Job has not been sat in a spiritual sulk cursing himself because he’s stupid, fat, ugly, unpopular, awkward, friendless or smelly.

In fact Job hasn’t had a single thought about himself for four solid chapters.

That’s because from chapter 38 to 41, the Almighty has been answering Job out of the whirlwind.  So in chapter 42 and verse 5 Job summarizes exactly where his self-appraisal has come from:

5I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. 6 Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.  (Job 42:5-6)

“I abhor myself” says Job.  By comparison with the LORD – upright Job falls flat on his face and confesses total unworthiness. And that’s a good, right, true and psychologically healthy thing to do.  Not that Job wondered to himself “What would be the correct response to meeting my Maker?” It just came out.  But as it came out it was extremely healthy.

Now there is a wrong despising of self.  There is someone who is not looking at the LORD at all.  Instead they look at themselves.  They are self-absorbed and with their gaze fixed firmly on their belly-button they are despising themselves.  We’ve all been there to some degree or another.  And it’s wrong.  But mainly it’s wrong for where the self-hater is looking.  It’s the object of their gaze that is the issue.  But when people truly see Christ they have a very different self-appraisal to the one recommended by popular psychology.

Think of the prophet Isaiah.  In Isaiah 6, he sees Jesus in the temple seated on the throne (cf John 12:30f).  He is “high and lifted up,” the angels are calling out ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’, the temple is shaking, smoke is everywhere and Isaiah cries out:

5 “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.

Isaiah wasn’t feeling particularly sinful that morning.  He wasn’t running through a list of his prior misdemeanors.  No-one was reminding him of past sins.  Isaiah felt no guilt at all that morning… until he saw the King.  Then he said “Woe is me, I am undone!”

Or think of Peter fishing with Jesus in Luke chapter 5.  He’s in the boat with the LORD of Isaiah chapter 6.  And they have a miraculous catch of fish. And Luke 5 verse 8 says:

“When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

Peter confesses to being a sinner when he sees the glory of Jesus.  Peter hasn’t just remembered some sins from his murky past.  He’s not even thinking about his sins, he is simply looking at Jesus and saying “I do not match up.”

This is how to get a true estimation of yourself.  Don’t look at yourself.  Don’t look at your achievements, don’t look at your failures.  Look at Christ!  And as soon as we see in ourselves the awful chasm by which we fall short of Him, then we hear Him say to us:

They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.  (Mark 2:17)

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