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"The book of Job," wrote Heinrich Heine, "is the Song of Songs of skepticism, and in it terrifying serpents hiss their eternal question: Why?" Why do we ask "why" upon reading the book of Job? Simply because what happened to Job and what happens to so many of us seems so utterly inconsistent with what we know to be true of God. If God is good and great, as we believe He is, how can He stand idly by and permit a righteous man like Job to suffer so horribly? This is a book that chronicles the human response when one's experience conflicts with one's expectations.

There is one thing about the book of Job that makes it easy for us: one need never struggle to make it relevant. Even if we ourselves have never experienced the agonizing tragedies described in this book, all of us know someone who has, whether it be the shattering news of terminal cancer, devastating loss of all one's possessions in a flood, tornado, fire, or earthquake, the unexpected death of a child, financial bankruptcy, an adulterous affair that destroys a marriage and devastates children, a teen-age son on drugs or a daughter who secretly has an abortion.

Simply put, life is not fair, Injustice often seems to triumph. Good people suffer indescribable pain and bad people prosper with baffling regularity. No, I don't know why, and as best I can tell, no one else knows either. But whenever such issues arise, people invariably turn to the book of Job.

Who was Job? When did he live? Who wrote the book that tells his story? The opening words of v. 1 tell us little. Most believe he lived during the time of the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, although there is no way to be certain. He was probably a Jew, although nowhere in the book is his ethnic heritage mentioned. Some have suggested that the opening description of Job is phrased in such a way to make it appear that he is representative of all who suffer, whether Jew or Gentile. A biblical patriarch is usually introduced in Scripture with a full genealogy. But Job has neither a genealogy nor any reference to his tribe or clan. This makes it possible for us all to identify with him.

Job 1

A.        Job's Character - 1:1-5

Our author mentions three things about Job's character.

1.         His piety - v. 1

a.         "blameless"

This word was often used to describe a sacrificial animal that was "spotless and without blemish." When used of a person it referred to personal integrity, not sinless perfection. Job was a man without overt blemishes on his public record. Whereas "blameless" does not mean guiltless, it does mean he is forgiven and consistently obedient. His reputation was impeccable.

b.         "upright"

This word describes someone who is faithful to observe the law of God: just, fair, honest.

c.         "feared God" and “shunned evil” - To "fear God" and to "shun evil" were a familiar pair in the OT (cf. Prov. 3:7; 14:16 ["the wise man fears the Lord and shuns evil"]; 16:6). These phrases refer to someone whose loving reverence and holy awe of God lead him/her to hate and turn away from sin.

In sum: these words are designed from the outset to highlight the fact that Job's suffering was not the result of Job's sin.

2.         His prosperity - vv. 2-3

Observe the use of the numbers 3, 7, 10, all symbolic of completeness, wholeness, which highlights how God had richly blessed his servant.

Although it may sound strange to refer to his children as an example of his prosperity, we must remember that in the OT "sons" (children) were a heritage from the Lord, a gift of grace, a boon (cf. Ps. 127:3). The fact that Job had seven sons and three daughters implies he had the "perfect" family. In addition to this, he was richly blessed with abundant livestock: sheep, camels, oxen, and donkeys.

3.         His posterity - vv. 4-5

Each son hosted a seven-day feast at his own house, together with their sisters. These were not continuous rounds of feasting, but most likely were non-religious festivals, perhaps birthday celebrations. There is no indication of laziness or moral license or drunkenness on their part. No word of condemnation is spoken against them. What we read here is a mark of divine blessing and prosperity. They enjoyed life to the fullest by virtue of God's favor.

Yet another noble feature of Job's character is his fervent spiritual leadership in the home. Just in case any of his children had inadvertently and unknowingly sinned, he was careful to offer the appropriate sacrifice. He didn't want some hasty curse to fester in the conscience of any of his children. Job took his role as spiritual head of the family quite seriously. Again, our author's point is to emphasize that Job's suffering is not the result of Job's sin.

N.B. See Ezekiel 14:14,20.

B.         Job's Calamities - 1:6-22

1.         Satan's accusations - vv. 6-12

a.         v. 6 - The "sons of God" refer to the angelic host (cf. Job 38:7). They constitute the heavenly council, God's courtiers surrounding the throne ready to obey His every command. See also 1 Kings 22:19 and Daniel 7:9-14. With them was "the Satan". Everywhere this word appears in Job it has the definite article ("the"; cf. 1:6,7(2),8,9,12(2); 2:1,2(2),3,4,6,7). Hence, it is a title, descriptive of his function and character. The word "Satan" literally means one who opposes at law, an adversary (see Zech. 3:1-2).

b.         v. 7 - The question here does not indicate a lack of knowledge, but was a customary way of saying: "State your business!" Satan was a "restless, shiftless, roving hoodlum" (Mike Mason).

c.         v. 8 - With what can only be called "fatherly pride," God boasts about Job! He endorses the characterization of Job found in v. 1, using the same terminology. He also calls Job "my servant," a designation reserved for such as Abraham and David. He is unequalled, says God. "No one is like him" on the earth.

d.         vv. 9-11 - Satan was at a loss. Job was a complete puzzle to him. He didn't doubt that Job was obedient and upright. There was no mistaking his godliness. But the devil just couldn't bring himself to believe that anyone would want to be holy for nothing. The only thing left is to launch an assault against Job's motives. Whereas he could hardly question Job's righteousness, he did wonder about the reason for it. His diabolical conclusion was that Job served God for what he could get out of him. Job's piety, reasoned the devil, must be a calculated effort to milk God of his gifts. "Take away the pay and he'll quit the job," he thought. Satan was persuaded that worship must be fundamentally selfish, that it is nothing more than a man-made device to flatter God into generosity. If God's generosity were cut off, thought Satan, Job's praise would turn to cursing.

In sum, Satan accuses God of having bought Job's loyalty with health and wealth: "Job doesn't serve you for free. Don't flatter yourself, God! No one else does either." In effect, he says: "He doesn't love you for who you are but only for what you've given him." In other words, it isn't Job that Satan accuses, but God!

The question that Job will face, the question we all face is this: "Is God worthy to be loved and deserving of our obedience for who he is, irrespective of all other considerations?" Is Job sufficiently dedicated to remain loyal if no benefits are attached? Satan says no. He accuses God of being a deceptive fraud and Job of being a selfish hypocrite.

Note also how abrupt and rude Satan is. Traditional court etiquette in the ANE avoided the use of personal pronouns when addressing a superior. Courtiers would say, "my lord" instead of "you" and "your slave" instead of "I/me." But not Satan. He also uses imperative verbs, as if to command God what to do.

v. 12 - Satan has no power or authority beyond that which God grants or permits. Derek Kidner makes it clear, however,

"that this is indeed permission, not abdication; for in both these chapters [Job 1-2] it is God who sets the limits of the test. The conditions are all that the challenger could desire (for nothing would be proved or disproved by Job's death, 2:6), but they are of God's choosing, not his. Likewise, at the end, it will be God who calls a halt to it --- as it will be also (we may add) at the end of history" (59).

For a NT parallel to this, see Luke 22:31-32.

2.         Satan's assault - vv. 13-22

No sooner had Job concluded offering his sacrifice on behalf of his children than he hears the stunning news of their demise.

a.         Woe - vv. 13-19

1)         Sabeans - vv. 13-15

2)         the fire of God - v. 16

3)         Chaldeans - v. 17

4)         a great/mighty wind - vv. 18-19

Notice that when given permission by God, Satan is able to exercise tremendous destructive influence on both nature and nations.

Here we see the alteration between "human" and "natural" disasters. Note also how they strike or converge from all four points of the compass: the Sabeans come from the south, lightning (probably from the west), the Chaldeans from the north, and the treacherous sirocco out of the east.

b.         Worship - vv. 20-22

To this point Job hasn't had a chance to respond. With quick-fire rapidity, one after another, before the depth of one tragedy has time to sink in and without so much as a moment's break to catch his breath, the bad news breaks on him. Finally, though, . . .

1)         he tears his robe - a common ritual of mourning and grief (cf. Gen. 37:29; Joshua 7:6);

2)         he shaves his head - another symbol of sorrow, later forbidden by the Mosaic law;

3)         he falls prostrate to the ground - not in despair but in reverence; touching his face to the earth in silent submission, nose and forehead pressed to the ground.

Observe three things in what he says.

First, "naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there". The phrase "mother's womb" is often a symbolic reference to the earth (cf. Ps. 139:15; in the ANE they would customarily bury a corpse in the fetal position, suggesting a return to the womb). His point is: "I didn't bring it with me when I came and I won't take it with me when I leave. All I own is on loan from God."

Second,"the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away." He doesn't say, "the Lord gave and the Sabeans have taken away," or "the Chaldeans have taken away," or even, "Satan has taken away." He acknowledges that whatever secondary causes may be involved, ultimately nothing could touch him apart from the permissive will of God. As one commentator has put it:

"Job sees only the hand of God in these events. It never occurs to him to curse the desert brigands, to curse the frontier guards, to curse his own stupid servants, now lying dead for their watchlessness. All secondary causes vanish. It was the Lord who gave; it was the Lord who removed; and in the Lord alone must the explanation of these strange happenings be sought" (FA/ 88).

Third, "may the name of the Lord be praised" or "blessed be the name of the Lord". God is blessed not only for the giving but also in spite of the taking. In every circumstance he is to be honored. Thus, although Job knows nothing about Satan's involvement, he in effect says: "Satan, you are wrong. God is still worthy of worship even when life is hard."

Concluding observations:

First, Job's faith in God does not relieve his agony. If anything, it only serves to intensify it. What will plague Job's thoughts throughout the book is the apparent inconsistency in the suffering of one who does trust God. If he had lacked faith, his suffering would not have been so confusing. But everything that happens to him appears on the surface to be a contradiction of all he knew to be true about God. Unbelievers, materialists, atheists, secular humanists all suffer, but for them such tragedies, though an inconvenience, are not a moral problem. What happens to Job is a moral problem that creates turmoil and confusion only for those who believe that the universe is owned and operated by an infinitely good and powerful God.

Second, what is this book about? It is not primarily about who is responsible for suffering (the sinner, Satan, God, none of the above). Nor is it primarily about why the righteous suffer. Nor is it primarily a theological debate about the goodness of God and the existence of evil. Rather, it is about faith in the midst of unexplained and undeserved suffering. It is about God: is He really worthy of our adoration and devotion and love even when He is silent, hidden, and declines to put an end to our pain?

Third, the calamities that overwhelmed Job came as complete surprise to him. Such things were not expected to happen to godly people. In general, they don't! In other words, this book portrays the exception to the general rule. The book presupposes that God blesses the righteous and curses the unrighteous. So why, then, does Job suffer?

* What God allows is not indicative nor characteristic of His nature or His dealings with His people.

Fourth, note well that God refuses to afflict Job directly. He grants permission to another. But He himself will not do it. See 2:3-6.

Fifth, Job never discovers Satan's role in this affair! We know from the beginning what is at stake and who is responsible for Job's horrible agonies. Thus we are in a privileged position in comparison with Job. Before we too quickly criticize him, let us remember that he never is told that Satan has approached God with his "wager". As far as Job is concerned, it is God and only God who has caused his sufferings. What might have been his response had he been informed of the heavenly conversation described in chapter one?