We are now entering the section of the Bible called the poetry and wisdom section. These books have a more experiential tone than the other books of the Old Testament. In these books people express their joyful and troubled prayers (Psalms), offer wise advice for healthy living (Proverbs), struggle with the apparent unfairness of life (Job, Ecclesiastes), and celebrate God’s creation in marriage ( Song of Songs). Though these books are presented more from a human perspective than other parts of scripture, God’s voice speaks clearly and authoritatively. The first book we encounter is Job. The Book of Job examines suffering and it refutes those who say suffering is always earned or that God is unjust. At one time or another almost all of us have felt like Job. While going through trials and suffering we can be overwhelmed with self pity. We want an explanation. We want to know why. And we want to know right now. The Book of Job records the troubling questions, the terrifying doubts, and the very real anguish of the sufferer. Often when we ask the question why me or why us, the answer that is given indicated the sufferer has done something wrong and is therefore now paying the price. But, the Book of Job examines the suffering of one man who suffered precisely because he was blameless. Job had done nothing wrong. His friends assume he has done something horrible considering the suffering he knows. They tried to persuade him to repent of his wrongdoing but Job has no wrongdoing to repent of. Job knew he hadn’t sinned, so he questioned God. When God finally appeared, He did not give answers. Instead, God confronted Job, changed his perspective, and blessed him.
The Book of Job is anonymous, though several possible authors have been put forth, including Job himself and Moses. There is also great debate as to when Job lived and when the book was written. Some place Job before or during the patriarchs like Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. Others put the person and the writing closer to the reign of King Solomon. Arguments can be made quite convincingly for either time frame. So, here are some thoughts about the Book of Job. Chapters one and two, a narrative introduction to the book, provided a heavenly perspective on Job’s suffering. It also sets the stage for the human dialogue that follows. Job was a righteous man whom God allowed satan to test. Satan argued that if God were to remove His blessings from Job, he would curse God for his misfortune. Instead,Job responded with, “Praise the name of the Lord.” Job also asked the question, “Should we accept only the good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” Here God’s praise for Job is vindicated. But, the narrative then leaves the court of heaven and enters into the human realm.
Job experiences great misfortune and three of his friends come to sympathize and bring comfort. For seven days the four of them sat in silence, Job too overwhelmed to speak and the friends who knew it was bad manners to speak before the person who was suffering spoke. When Job finally did break his silence, it was with a bitter complaint. His friends immediately began to criticize and condemn him. From chapters 4-27 Job debated with his friends. As the debates intensified , the friends rhetoric escalated from innuendo to harsh accusation. His friends argued that since God is righteous, He rewards each person according to what that person has done. That means Job’s suffering must be just and God is punishing him for something he has done wrong, for some evil he has committed. With each response, Job insists he is innocent, he has done nothing evil or bad, and his suffering is undeserved and unfair. Chapter 28 is somewhat of an interlude where we read praises of how God is the sole source of wisdom. When Job made his final statement about both his misery and his righteousness, his three friends gave up on him. At that point a fourth person entered into the debate, Elihu. He too entered the struggle to explain Job’s suffering. Finally, God arrived and He challenged Job. But instead of hearing Job’s case, God demanded answers and asked questions that simply demonstrated His power and His sovereignty. Job responded with repentance and then acknowledged he had no right to question God. At the very end of
the book, God reaffirmed Job’s righteousness and faithfulness, pronounced judgement on Job’s friends, and poured out His blessings on Job once again.
But here’s the thing. The Book of Job does not explain suffering. That is not it’s purpose. What we see instead is a reminder that suffering is not necessarily God’s retribution for sin. Job did not get an answer as to why bad things happen to good people, and neither do we. The central conflict of the book is not between Job and his friends. It is between the integrity of the creator and the integrity of man. On some level it looks like heaven and earth are at odds. It is too easy to simply line up with Job’s friends in denying Job’s innocence. There is scripture that tells us no one is righteous, not one. But here, it seems that Job’s righteousness is genuine. His obsession with his own rectitude borders on self righteousness and he grew so adamant in defending his integrity he seemed ready to defy God. Job’s friends seemed to be fairly accurate in their way of explaining suffering but their applications fell far short. They insisted on a Quit pro quo view of retribution. In this view they believed and tried to convince Job, that all the good and all the evil that people experience is directly related to what they have earned or deserve. In the end, the Book of Job shows God defending Job’s innocence and rejecting the easy explanations of suffering. God also rejected Job’s demands for an explanation. Since Job could not possibly understand The whole universe, he should not demand an explanation of how his suffering fits into that order. Neither God nor the world He created can be explained in terms that humans can fully understand.
The Book of Job provides a complex picture of God. Rather than deciding he does not have to prove anything to satan, God chooses to get an open victory over satan for His own glory. God did not even explain His role to Job. Instead, God questioned Job’s right to question the integrity of divine justice. What we witness is that when challenges and struggles come, keeping a stiff upper lip is not the answer. Instead we are called to bow down before the Lord and trust in His sovereign goodness. Many of us are painfully aware that God’s holy purposes for human suffering are sometimes hidden. But in the end Job drew even closer to God. Job told God,”I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my eyes.”
It is clear Job was a man of means. It appears he was well respected and most likely prominent. But Job was also faithful and God fearing. He was blessed with 10 children, all of whom got along. After they had finished a feast, Job made sacrifices to the Lord for them. That was his regular custom. Job was a righteous and faithful man. In that time and place the patriarch of the family also acted as a priest, offering sacrifices for the family. Job lived in the land of Uz, which was most likely east of the Jordan River. It seems to have been a large territory that included Edom in the south all the way to the Arameans lands in the north.
One day the sons of God came into His presence. These were celestial beings or angels who were created by God to serve Him. It is not clear whether satan usually came with them to make a report or whether he was intruding as Job’s adversary. God asked where he had come from…the sovereign demanding a report from a subordinate. Satan was not out and about to implement anything good. He was trying to oppose and disrupt God’s purposes. Job had good reason to fear God. Wisdom tradition links piety with prosperity. Satan went one step farther insisting Job’s piety was contingent upon his affluence. At this point satan was God’s agent. The hand he put forth tested everything Job possessed and then later against Job himself. Later Job cursed the day of his birth but he did not curse God. The fact that satan had to receive permission from God to act against Job shows that God is sovereign and in control of everything. And once we finish with the prologue, verses 1-5, satan is not mentioned directly again. He is only a minor character compared to the Lord of the universe. Eventually Job was left alone with four ominous messengers who came to Job bringing bad news, and his wife who encouraged Job to
curse God and die. That each messenger came to Job saying I am the only one left to tell you only adds emphasis to the fact everything Job had was now totally obliterated.
One of the most amazing things we see is Job’s response to all the bad news. First he stood up and tore his robe. That was a sign of grief. Next he shaved his head. That also pointed to his grief. But Job fell to his knees not in grief but in worship. That Job could still worship is the sign God expected to see. He did not serve God for profit. He showed intense grief but he also humbly accepted God’s will without complaint or blame. By falling to the ground in worship Job acknowledged that God is sovereign and in control over all things. Listen to his words of faith, obedience and worship. “The Lord gave and the Lord took away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job didn’t fall to the ground by accident. It was a deliberate act of humility before the Lord. And as we will see, Job is the only one who understood this. By accepting the good and the bad Job demonstrated his righteousness and faith.
Job’s friends came from east of the Jordan River. Eliphaz the Temanite was from Teman in northern Edom. Teman was famous for its wise men. Bildad was most likely a descendant of Shuah, a descendant of Abraham through Keturah. It appears he had become an Arab tribal chieftain. Zophar, the Naamathite probably came from Naaman in northern Arabia. Eliphaz was probably job’s oldest friend and the most prominent of the three. When he began to speak, Job began with curses, mostly related to the day of his birth. But he did not curse the Lord. He cursed the day of his birth in great detail. Eventually his curses turned into a lament and seven times Job asked the question why. Job equated light with life, he longed for death and he bemoaned that God had hedged him in so that he could not die. The irony here is that we ask God to hedge us in for protection. Job saw this as God keeping him from a desirable death. We will see that Job’s fundamental complaint was that God did not give him a fair hearing to demonstrate his innocence. But we will see that eventually Job’s positive example is not so much in how he responded to his troubles or to his comforters, but in how he responded to God.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W