Welcome Back to the Bible Blog!
So we were supposed to be jumping in at Job 11 this week, but I got long-winded last week and didn’t even start into Job! So today we start at Job 1 and go all the way through Job 34. What a great story! Let’s go…
Job is one of the most intriguing books in the Bible. For many it is the ‘go-to’ book when you’re suffering from circumstances that you just can’t understand. You’re not suffering a broken leg because you’re 46 years old, but thought you were still 20 and could do that flip on the ski jump. That’s suffering we can understand. You’re not suffering lung cancer after a 2-pack a day habit for 30 years. That’s suffering we can understand. You’re not suffering a 2nd degree burn on your back because you laid out in the sun for 6 hours and fell asleep. That’s suffering we can understand. (Even in Wisconsin, that can happen!)
No, Job is a book about suffering that is NOT understandable. A child is born with spina bifida. A wife and mother of two suffers a ruptured cerebral aneurism in her early 40’s and is discovered dead on the kitchen floor (happened to a friend of mine in high school). A couple experience numerous pregnancies and miscarriages while friends all around them have normal healthy babies. Job is a patron saint, so to speak, of people who suffer for no understandable reason.
For those who are not directly impacted by these unexplainable situations Job provides an explanation in which we can say, “See there’s always a reason, even if we don’t know it. Phew! Now I have a comforting message for my friends who are suffering.” Hmm… How does Job’s story resonate with those of you who are suffering unexplainable conditions; an incurable disease, the loss of a loved one, the suffering of a child or the tragedy of bareness?
There is a temptation we can have regarding Job’s story with which I think we need to be very careful. My guess is when we attempt to comfort someone who is suffering an unexplainable loss or situation by reminding them that Job was blameless and upright yet he suffered many things that he didn’t deserve or understand, that is small comfort. I’ll readily admit that I am not the expert on how this feels, as by God’s grace I haven’t suffered much in the way of unexplainable suffering. I’m embarrassed to even write that sentence, because I don’t mean to say that God’s grace is poured out more abundantly on my life than someone who suffers for no apparent reason. That’s not the case. In fact, I fear that the more I attempt to clarify myself, the deeper the hole I dig. Do you understand? The point is, not all suffering is because of something we’ve done or deserve!
Before moving on, I have to point out that while God is in control He takes no pleasure in our suffering. God is not cruel or vindictive. This is not how He created the world originally. We messed it up! God created a paradise in which we were to live forever in perfect harmony with Him. He gave us everything and gave us dominion over everything. He created everything and kept calling it “good”, but when He created us, man and especially woman, He said it was “very good” and then He rested from all His work. Death was not intended to be a part of the picture.
Death entered, because of our sin. All of His creation is under a curse, because of what we did in our rebellion against Him. From that moment on everything began to degrade; our DNA, our hearts and attitudes, the world, everything. Not only did sin introduce death, but the degradation of all things means that disease entered the picture as well.
God has an ultimate solution for all of this and it’s not to simply address the symptoms of our sin-disease so that we can be comfortable. His plan was to send His Son to eradicate our sin problem and to offer us eternal life with Him in the New Creation that He will inaugurate one day, just as He is already inaugurating a New Creation in each and every one of us when we confess and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. In the ultimate New Creation we will hear a loud voice from the throne saying, “ He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 ESV)
We are still living in the times of the ‘former things’, but there are new things coming…
‘And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” ’ (Revelation 21:5-6 ESV)
Now back to Job…
While Job never is told the reason behind his suffering, we do get a privileged look ‘behind the scenes’ to understand what and why Job went through what he did. However therein lies another caution to us: Do not assume that the unexplainable suffering you may be going through is because Satan is challenging God and God is saying, “Sure! Afflict my beloved creature and see how they respond!” This is, as far as we know, a one-time occurrence.
However, what Job’s story does tell us is that we can’t always know the reason behind suffering. After all, Job never knew. However, we see the reason and purpose behind Job’s suffering as we get to ‘peek behind the curtain’. But there is soooo much more this book has to teach us than just the fact that there can be a reason behind our suffering. The book of Job tells us some important things about (1) our adversary, Satan, about (2) the proper response to suffering, Job’s, and about (3) the best way to comfort a friend in inconsolable suffering, shut-up!! Let’s jump in…
Job is introduced the way most people would want to eulogized, I think. He was a great man; ‘blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.’ He had a large family and was very wealthy. The concluding statement at the end of verse 3 is that, “this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.” He would even sacrifice and pray for his children after they had gathered for a feast in each others houses, just in case any of them had ‘cursed God’ in their hearts.
Soon into the story we see the ‘sons of God’ gathering before the Lord and Satan (הַשָּׂטָן – ‘ha satan’ or the satan – meaning, accuser or adversary) came with them. While this is an unusual circumstance, pay close attent ion to the dialogue. The Lord asks Satan, “From where have you come?” (Job 1:7a)
Why do you think God asks this question?
Do you think it’s because He doesn’t actually know?!
If not, then why did He ask?
(1) I think God wants us to learn something about Satan. Let’s listen to his answer…
Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” (Job 1:7b)
Hmm… God is omnipresent, meaning He is everywhere at all times. What does Satan’s answer indicate about him? He’s not omnipresent. He is not everywhere at all times. He is confined to a small space and has to travel back and forth, to and fro to be other places. Satan is not what God is. He is less than.
God asks Satan if he has considered His faithful servant, Job. God says there is no one like him on earth, a blameless and upright man. Now Satan throws down a challenge. He claims that Job is only faithful to God because God has blessed him tremendously. Satan predicts that Job’s heart will sour if God takes away all he possesses. What does this tell us about Satan? About God?
By the end of the book of Job we’ll see God praising Job for never speaking falsely about Him even in his suffering.
- God knows the hearts of all men. He knew Job would not curse Him, as Satan predicted.
- Satan does not know our hearts. He can only see us on the outside and hope to predict where a ‘sinful’ heart may go if pushed hard enough.
- God is in control of all things! He is sovereign over His creation.
- Satan has to ask for permission from God. He cannot go beyond what God permits.
- God does not inflict evil upon people, even though Satan tells Him to.
- Satan is the one who actually strikes Job, but only within the limits that God allows. ‘[God speaking] “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” ’ (Job 1:12)
We then see the tragedy strike Job as messenger after messenger comes to tell him of the destruction of all that he has and all that he loves, except his wife, in complete destruction. What is Job’s reaction? (2) He humbles himself by tearing his robe, shaving his and falling to the ground… to worship! He says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” And what do we read? “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” (Job 1:20-22)
Worship?! If we’re honest, can we truthfully say that would be our reaction? I’d like to think so, but can I really say that I wouldn’t pout and whine and cry and… blame?! I hope I never have to find out.
Now Satan comes back to God again and God asks him a second time from where did he come. I think God wants to make sure we recognize the limitations of our adversary. He is not omnipresent!
God again asks Satan if he’s considered Job and once again praises him, only this time adding, “He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” (Job 2:3b) Would God be justified in say, “I told you so!”? 😉
Satan decides to ‘double-down’ insisting the if God afflicts Job himself, that he will curse Him to his face. Again we see that Satan is not ultimately in charge. He must ask for permission for what he wants to do. He tells God to do it, but God is incapable of evil and reminds Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.” (Job 2:6b) God again sets the limits.
Seeing his misery Job’s wife says to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” (Hmm… sounds like what Satan was hoping would happen.) But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” And we read, ‘In all this Job did not sin with his lips.’ (Job 2:9-10) Yessss!!!! He’s a man of integrity!!
The end of Job 2 introduces us to three of Job’s friends around whom the rest of the story unfolds. Job’s friends were Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They came to show him sympathy and comfort. When they saw him they didn’t even recognize him (he looked that bad from the physical suffering) and wept, tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads in an act of humility. They sat with him day and night for a week, (3) “and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.”
Unfortunately this marks the end of the “comfort” that Job’s friends provide him for starting in chapter 3 they begin to speak. Listen to Job’s comments on their words of comfort, “As for you, you whitewash with lies; worthless physicians are you all. Oh that you would keep silent, and it would be your wisdom!” (Job 13:4-5) “…miserable comforters are you all.” (Job 16:2b)
At this point… for the sake of length (too late) I’ll quit commenting with a play-by-play, but I do want to point out a few things as we approach chapter 34:
There is a cycle of 3 rounds of questioning by Job’s “friends”. His friends make a case that I think I would probably be tempted to make if I, like they, were not aware of the back story going on between God and Satan. It makes sense that evil would be punished and righteousness rewarded, doesn’t it? Isn’t that how we would like the world to work?
I don’t think Job’s friends are heartless, condemning guys. I think they mean well and sincerely are convinced that there must be something wrong in Job’s life. They are pleading with him to repent so they can see their friend’s suffering end. They love Job. They are just very wrong about their theology. Have you ever misjudged God (or a situation) thinking that you must be correct? Some things seem obvious to us, especially when we don’t know what’s going on in the background.
Job makes some comments on the brevity of life that we would do well to pay attention to:
Job 7:6 – “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle”
Job 7:7 – “Remember that my life is a breath”
Job 8:9b – “our days on earth are a shadow”
Job 9:25 – “My days are swifter than a runner; they flee away; they see no good.”
Job 10:20a – “Are not my days few?”
and he asks a great question of God, “What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him?” (Job 7:17) Indeed! Who are we that God would love and care for us so much?
Job demonstrates his theology in some great statements about God…
“For He is not a man, as I am, that I might answer Him, that we should come to trial together.” (Job 9:32)
“From where, then, does wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding?… And He said to the man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’ ” (Job 28:20,28)
Then Elihu… who is Elihu and where did HE come from? (Elihu – means “He is my God”)…
Elihu says of God… “it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand” (Job 32:8)
“The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” (Job 33:4)
“If He should set His heart to it and gather to Himself His Spirit and His breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.” (Job 34:14-15)
Even though we just got up through chapter 34, I want to go back to one of Job’s statements, which may be one of his most brilliant and hopeful statements in the whole book; from Job 19:25-27…
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!
I know that my redeemer lives… Could there be a more hopeful statement? Yes, He lives! He is Risen indeed!
[ouch… this Blog entry is even longer than last week’s! I promise to keep in shorter next week. See you then, and don’t forget to comment below…]