The book of Job is one of the most heart-searching, heart-rending books in the Bible, or for that matter any other literature.
Who was this man, Job? Probably an Edomite! A what? Well, the Edomites were a small tribe living precariously on the edge of the desert to the south east of Israel and the Dead Sea during the Old Testament period. How do we know he was an Edomite? He is said to have been from Uz, which Lamentations (4:21) places in the area of Edom. This in itself is remarkable, for the hero of this story was not an Israelite, not one who lived among the favoured people of the covenant.
Job 1:1. Even more remarkable is the fact that he is described as "blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil". The Lord, the covenant God of Israel, shows a genuine pride in, and affection for, Job, when he says to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." This goodness and godliness, this hatred of evil, distinguishes the character of "the greatest man among all the people of the East".
Box 1 - The Lord's true servant
Job is a servant of the Lord. 'Lord' is the covenant name for God. A 'servant' of the Lord is one who has entered into willing service for him. God has offered a special relationship of mutual trust, and this man has accepted it. He may not belong to the people of the covenant - Israel - but he has his own unique covenant with the Lord. Twice the Lord himself called him by this title, and it is of particular importance to note that at the end of the book he is still the Lord's servant (42:8). Whatever may happen between the beginning and the end, Job comes through it all triumphantly as the Lord's faithful servant. This is a first clue to the meaning of the book.
Wealth and godliness do not sit easily together. Wealthy people often exploit the power which affl nce provides for their own ends. Not so Job, as he later demonstrates in chapter 29, a chapter well worth reading first since it sets out the character of a man whom God is happy to introduce as his friend.
Might this suggest to us that there are good people, even very good people, who do not knowingly respond to the Christian message? The men of the wisdom schools, the scribes of Israel, were conscious of this presence of God among the heathen, as is shown by the way they quote the wisdom of non-Israelites, in Proverbs 30 and 31.
1:4-5Not that Job had an easy way with life. He was pained by the conduct of his sons, who clearly were more interested in living it up on the basis of their father's wealth. Maybe the old man wouldn't spend much on himself, but his sons were determined to spend it for him, with constant parties and discos. Job would rise early in the morning to offer sacrifices, begging the mercy of God for the sake of his sons.
1:6From the revelry of the sons we are whisked to the heavenly court, where myriads of angels crowd surround the divine throne. Among these, "Satan also came with them". We are astonished to find Satan, the pinnacle of evil, lurking in the divine court. Perhaps we shall find many other surprises in this book. Be prepared!
He is asked what he spends his time doing, and replies that he comes from "roaming through the earth and going to and fro in it." He is the eternal tramp, with no fixed abode! That is not to despise all itinerants. Many take to this way because life has been cruel to them, and they merit our pity rather than our disdain. Others take to that life for sheer love of the freedom of the open road. But this vagabond has chosen that way of being because it suits his purpose to a 't'. He is utterly vicious in hisintentions.
What shall we make of Satan? It is important to notice that his attack on Job had to be cleared with the Lord. Satan could not touch this good man, unless God gave him permission. Satan is clearly not a free agent. These chapters show us that he can do no more than God permits him to do. There is a grave danger in some Christian circles of becoming so preoccupied with the Evil One, that he is pictured as though he were almost equal to God, so that the two are locked in eternal combat. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Lord will only allow him enough rope with which to hang himself, as he so often does.
Satan's belief is that no one would serve God from pure motives, "for nothing". In his eyes Job only serves God for what he can get out of the relationship. He believes that all humans are basically as false and self-seeking as he is. Integrity is not a word found in his dictionary. God had richly blessed Job, so that he was a rich and powerful man. No wonder he was happy serving God.
The unbeliever can rarely believe in the integrity of the Christian man. Let a dedicated evangelist loose, and they will accuse him of seeking material gain from his preaching. The covetous, self-seeking, self-enriching Christian worker is a well-trodden theme of the media. That is not to say that this never happens, but it is rare.
Satan now proposes a "bet" with the Lord. "Let me have him! I'll strip him of everything he has, then let's see if he will not turn violently against you." Frankly, I would have expected the Lord to have defended Job and warned Satan off, but instead he hands over the unsuspecting Job to the Tormentor, even though with certain restrictions, who sets off a series of events which strip Job of everything he has:
These four events happened in one day, from four different quarters. As one messenger brought bad news, "while he was still speaking," another messenger brought further disastrous news.
All this is set within the context of the drunken revelries of Job's ten grown children (vv. 13, 18), which must have heightened the feeling of guilt which the old man felt. Yet his reaction is one of humble piety. So far from cursing the Lord, he "got up and tore his robe... shaved his head... fell to the ground in worship". Here, indeed was a thoroughly godly man. Imagine coming home from church on a Sunday morning, and finding that your house, with all your precious belongings, has burnt to the ground. Would you worship God? Job did. What an incredible faith! He must surely be rated as one of the greatest believers ever. He clung tenaciously to the goodness of his God, convinced that the Lord was just as gracious in taking everything from him, as he was in giving everything to him in the past. Let us humble ourselves in the presence of such a believer, and seek to emulate his faith.
Naked I came from my mother's womb,
and naked I shall depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised (v. 21).
1:6-7: The expression, "roaming through the earth and going to and fro in it" is well captured in the New Living Version, where Satan says that he is "watching everything that goes on". He is ever open-eyed, seeking to destroy everyone who takes a stand for God. The apostle Peter affirms, "Be... alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Resist him" (I Pet. 5:8). James joins in thechorus, and exhorts us, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). It would appear that the old lion has false teeth! However, let us admit that it doesn't always seem like that, and sometimes he appears to hold the upper hand for a long time, as in this story of Job.
How do you think that your enemy, the Devil, seeks to destroy you? Or does he? Does he need to? This beginning of the book suggests that Satan primarily intends to attack those whom God describes as his servants. Are you God's servant?
Verse 8: Satan getting clearance from the Lord is a great consolation to the believer, of whom Jesus said, "even the very hairs of your head are all numbered" (Matt. 10:30). It is true that God "brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name" (Isa. 40:26), but just as surely he tots up the number of the hairs on your believing head. Satan will do nothing to you, except by the Lord's express permission, and that to achieve your Father's own purpose.
Do you think that Satan has ever overstretched himself in your own life, seeking to destroy you, but been foiled in the attempt?
Not content with having reduced Job to poverty and misery, and still unconvinced that a man can serve God with integrity, Satan decides to attack Job's physical and emotional health. He plans to reduce him to pulp, to a shivering mass of pain, fear and distrust. But once again he must seek permission from the Lord. He comes anew, measly-mouthed and drivelling, into the divine presence.
Once again, the Lord proudly points to Job's response: "he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason" (2:3). The great Detractor has a further proposal. He admits that Job has not been greatly affected by the loss of possessions, but touch his body, destroy the old man's physical health, "and he will surely curse you to your face" (2:5). Once again we are astonished at the readiness withwhich the Lord seems to concur with the desire of Satan, who went out and "afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head" (v. 7). Read Box 2.
Mankind has always had problems as to how to dispose of its waste. Towns and villages in biblical times disposed of rubbish and body waste by carrying it out to a common disposal point.
Box 2 - Satan the instigator?
Superficially chapter 1 suggests that Satan was the instigator of all Job's troubles. Yet curiously this is never suggested in the following discussion of Job and his friends, and in fact Satan disappears totally from view. If there is one thing on which Job and his friends agree, it is that God is the instigator and agent of his disastrous situation. That might sound hard to swallow, but think about it.
Yes, think about it. It was not Satan who brought up the subject of Job, but God himself, on both occasions (1:8 and 2:3). God presumably did not open his mouth and put his foot in it! We cannot imagine that he ended up kicking himself for having raised the subject of Job. Never! He knew perfectly well what Satan would request. So we must agree with Job and his friends that the Lord was the instigator of his problems.
Moreover, when Satan asked to be permitted to shake Job's life to its foundations, the Lord made no effort to defend Job from his attack, and casually agreed to give him up. Clearly God intended that Job should suffer. Furthermore, that Satan's act is the Lord's act is seen from the Lord's own words after the first attack: 'You incited me against him to ruin him without any reason' (2:3). We must add to this the fact that the conclusion of the whole story clearly attributes all of Job's trials to the Lord (42:11).
From time to time this would be set alight to reduce it to ashes. Lepers and other outcasts would come here to scrounge. In times of public or personal disaster men came to sit (Isa. 47:1; Jon. 3:6), to throw dust on their heads (Ezek. 27:30), or to roll in the ashes (Jer. 6:26).
So Job is an outcast. His festering sores are disgusting to see, and people want him out of sight. Plus, his desperate situation is, in their opinion, a sure sign of God's hatred, so people must equally repudiate him. There he sits, day after day, night after night, week after week, for how long we do not know. He lives among the rotting stench of decomposing waste, knowing his children are dead, whilst his wife rejects his company; he finds some relief for his sores by scraping their itching with dirty pieces of broken pottery (2:8); young men insult him (30:1), drunks sing songs in the taverns to celebrate his downfall (30:9), they spit in his face as they pass (30:10); his skin is burned black by the blistering sun (30:30) whilst at night, so far from relief in sleep, he is haunted by frightening nightmares (7:13-14). His humble response is to say: "Shall we receive good from God, and not trouble?" (2:10).
Here is the triumph of faith in the life of a thoroughly good man. Here is the true witness to Jesus Christ. For there is no one who receives a higher accolade (1:1, 8; 2:3), or can claim a loftier description of his character (ch. 29) in Scripture, than does this man Job, apart from Jesus himself. Maybe we should see him as a pale shadow of Jesus.
It is important to notice that Job knows nothing of what happened behind the scenes in heaven in chapters 1 and 2. We know, we are privileged observers of the story, sharers of a secret which Job, the hero, does not and must not know. But in his ignorance of the full facts he will experience distress and gain discernment which we will only experience at second hand. Verses 11-13 We note in passing the coming together of three friends to support Job in his suffering. They spent a week in agonised silence, broken only by the moans and sobs of Job, echoed by his friends. We shall not pause to consider them here,but shall return to them in chapter 4.
verse 4: The Voice of Satan. Dr. G. Campbell Morgan once wrote a booklet with this title. He pointed out that, while the footprints and evil tricks of Satan are to be found all over the Bible, he is heard to speak only three times.
In his accusation of God to Adam, suggesting that God was mean and stingy in not allowing Adam to indulge his appetites to the full (Gen. 3). Here in Job, where he accuses man before God, of a total lack of integrity. In the Gospels, where he confronts the God-man, Jesus Christ, in the crisis encounter between the thoroughly evil and the totally good beings.
How would you say that these self-same accusations and confrontations have occurred in your own experience, or in those of others known to you?
verse 4: So you think you've got problems? Compared with Job's they must be trivial. No, I shouldn't say that. None of our problems are trivial, but, again, none of them can compare with Job. What is more, when we suffer, our sufferings are usually alleviated by numerous factors. If it is physical suffering, for example, we are seldom abandoned by our family, we are surrounded by good hospital and nursing facilities, our society does show some amount of care, rather than thrusting us out to sit on the rubbish pit. It would appear to be a custom in the Bible to give us extreme examples, in order to enable us to get some kind of perspective on our own problems.
Name some problem, physical, social or mental, which you have experienced in life, and measure it by Job's. What relief did you have that Job did not? What lesson does this bring home to you?
The reader will be shocked to read chapter three. Without a word of warning the humble, believing, submissive Job has become a bitter rebel. The hero has fallen! God's 'bet' on his 'horse' has failed! Job crashes in despair.
There have not lacked those Bible students who have decided that these two pictures of Job are mutually inconsistent, that these writings come from different hands, who have different conceptions of how Job would have reacted, one seeing him as submissive, trusting, believing; the other seeing him as a rebel who is angered by the way God has permitted such a disaster into his life.
Are these two pictures of Job contradictory? Not at all. It reminds us of the account of Elijah defying hundreds of prophets of Baal, calling fire down from heaven, and seeing a whole people turn back to God. Here, indeed, was a man of power, of might, of life. Yet in the very next scene he is running for his life from the threats of Jezebel, and throws himself under a tree and contemplates suicide! (I Kings 18-19).
Box 3 - Did God lose his 'bet'on Job?
Could it be that this 'wager' between God and Satan, elaborated in chapters 1 and 2, is the key to the book's interpretation? It is natural to think that an author will indicate his theme at the beginning of the book. The reader instinctively feels that this is the theme. Indeed, chapter 3 almost makes us feel that God has lost the bet, his horse has fallen at the first hurdle! But we must tread carefully.
It's curious that in the very long discussion of the problem, chapters 3 to 31, this theme never enters into it. Indeed, Job never cursed God, and he clung tenaciously to the belief that the Lord is ultimately on his side. In this he came out victorious by the end of the book, so that the Lord proved his point, that Job did love and serve him 'for nothing'. So the answer to our question is, that, though the reader may be tempted in chapter 3, and on several other occasions, to think that Job has gone overboard in his highly emotional responses, in reality he has not. But only by reading the whole book can we be assured of that. We might at times feel as though Job has blown a gasket, and only the book as a whole can convince us otherwise. We shall see.
God then ministers to his weakness, for his servant has suffered burn-out in the midst of a seemingly victorious fight.
In Job's case his initial supercharged faith leads to the assertion of complete acceptance of God's will in chapter 2. But this is followed by a week on the rubbish tip, weeping and moaning his terrible distress, accompanied by the weeping of his friends, and the scorn of his fellow-citizens. They say a week is a long time in politics, how much more in Job's condition. A week to agonize in total misery. For a week Job wept without saying a coherent word. But what must have been the multitude of thoughts which crashed through his brain? Why? Why me? What have I done to deserve this? His mood must have fluctuated several times a day between the humble submission to the will of God, displayed in chapters 1 and 2, and anger at the seeming injustice of his suffering. Even within his recorded speeches his mood fluctuates violently between utter despair and soaring hope.
What is more, we must hear Job out. We must not react to one chapter, we must read the whole before we can determine the intention of the parts. The section will then fit into the mosaic of the whole, and each will be seen to be comprehensible.
Birthdays for us are an annual cause of celebration, for they remind us of our birth. In biblical days, when a girl was born it was announced in hushed tones, but when a boy was born it was a cause for jubilation. So here, at his birth, the cry went up around the neighbourhood, and among his family, "It's a boy!" (v. 3). But for Job the cry of joy has become the scream of pain. From the depths of pain and despair he curses the day he was born. He wishes that it could be erased from the calendar, a non-day. If that day had earlier been blotted out, Job would never have been born, and he thinks that would be a better condition than the present one. His former life, of material fortune, of high place in society, of sweet enjoyment, in which "my path wasdrenched with cream and the rock poured out for me streams of olive oil" (29:6), has faded from memory as the present reality dominates his every thought.
Job heaps line upon line, conjuring up to his imagination all the possible forces which might have enabled that day not to have existed. Since that day could not be blotted from the calendar, Job utters his own curse upon it, "May those who curse days curse that day" (v. 8). Enchanters had in biblical days the supposed power to curse particular days, making them unlucky. In particular the professional mourners at a funeral would curse the day of the funeral person's death. Job would rather they cursed his birth-day, than that of his coming death. He feels that his birth-day was not one of good fortune, being introduced to the joys of life, but one which held in store for several decades all his present suffering. Such is his bitterness of soul.
There is a striking similarity between this passage and that of another sufferer (Jer. 20:14-18). Jeremiah had recently been beaten up and put in the stocks for 24 hours by the temple police and had suffered deep hatred from the general public. Yet he was still able to go about his normal business, even to buy property (ch. 32). Job's sufferings are total. If ever there was a man entitled to rebel against life's harsh realities, it was Job. Once again we turn to our own suffering. It may be that protest is a legitimate part of all suffering. For some it may be possible to stifle the "Why?" (are they brain dead?) but for most of us this is impossible. And the "Why me?" may in the long-run be constructive, as it was for Job. God, however, may be long in replying to our question, so that we shall have to stick with it, as Job did.
Since it is not possible for his birth-day to be cursed with hindsight, Job wishes that he could have been still-born. Death would have been eminently preferable to life. Here we cannot but feel that he has the whole matter out of focus. Up till this terrible week, he had experienced a very happy, peaceful and fruitful life (which chapter 29 expounds in detail). But when we are plunged into a disaster like his, everything gets out of perspective. Our world, like his, comes tumbling down. We want to scream at the whole world.
The husband of a lady I know died whilst on a family holiday, suddenly, unexpectedly. As she watched people going past her house to work in the following days, she wanted to scream at them to stop doing these normal things. Didn't they know that her husband had died? We all feel like this when disaster strikes, and it is an indication of the way we make the world revolve around us, so that when our life stops, we want everyone else to stop with us.
This passage raises an interesting question about life after death. It is a striking fact that the Old Testament has little to say about this, though other peoples around them, e.g. the Egyptians, were intensely preoccupied with the subject. The biblical writers could not have been ignorant of this, yet they chose to downplay it. Why? Perhaps because they were conscious that everything the nations affirmed about that state was speculative, and often farcical. For Job the longing for death is the anticipation that essentially it offers a place where "the wicked cease from turmoil, and there the weary are at rest" (v. 17). In contrast with the present harsh realities it will be a place of peace and rest.
Note also that there is here "the democracy of death", where kings, cabinet ministers and billionaires rest alongside the wicked, the weary, the captives and the slave drivers.
Job's experience causes him to reach out beyond his own sufferings, to ask questions about the experience of humans in general. This becomes, as the story develops, an extremely important part of his thinking. The sufferer, whose life is unceasing pain and misery, longs for death, but an apparently compassionate God denies it to him, indeed he has "hedged him in", allowing him no escape route out of his misery.
It is here crucial for us to understand that Job's wholeconception of God has taken a very rude knock. He had spent his whole life, he was now approaching 'retirement' years, in the firm belief that if one lives a good life God is certain to bless him, and this had been his daily experience for decades before this terrible tragedy struck him. The very nature of the Lord, the covenant God of grace, seemed to hang in the balance now. But the God whom he now meets wears a different face. His smile has turned to a frown or, worse, a scowl, and Job knows no reason to justify this. It adds deep mental agony to the physical and social distress he already experiences. I suspect that we all go through this to some degree when we suffer. Augustine it was who declared that either God could relieve suffering but will not, or would like to relieve suffering but cannot. Augustine's little riddle is too simplistic for the author of this book.
Job will plumb the depths of suffering, both in himself, and in the world in general.
The final thing to notice in this chapter is the unexpected statement in verse 25: "What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me." Clearly in the midst of a prosperous, powerful and happy life there had lurked a hidden anxiety, that all of this might one day be lost, and that he might be reduced to poverty and misery. It is sometimes observed by the rich that the poor spend their time dreaming of being rich, which may well be true, as our modern fascination for getting rich quick, e.g. the lottery or "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire", proves to be true. Yet I suggest that very often the rich have horrific dreams of one day becoming poor, and the dreams of the poor are sweeter than the nightmares of the rich!
The cry of this chapter, the agonised despair of life, the longing for non-existence, is important for the whole book, since it sets the basic scene on which all later argument will be based. It is the shock of these initial words of Job which set his friends recoiling in anger at his gall in attacking God in this way.