If someone were to take a poll of the least favorite books of the Bible, Job would probably land toward the top of the list, right alongside other popular contenders such as Leviticus and Ecclesiastes. However, the 42 chapters of this Old Testament work have great and significant teaching which should not be ignored. Job has been on my mind this week (I’m sure that the approaching start of the school year has nothing to do with it!) and this month’s newsletter will be a short survey of this important portion of Scripture.
“S”urprise (Job 1 and 2)…The book of Job opens by describing its namesake as a man who was upright and blameless, fearing God and turning away from evil. As one might expect, he was thusly greatly blessed, enjoying great family and great fortune as the good fruit of his genuine faith. Man serves God and God blesses that man abundantly. Then verse 6 of the first chapter makes a transition with the recounting of a conversation that occurs between God and Satan. The evil one had been wondering to and fro around the Earth, undoubtedly seeking to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). The Lord asks the devil if he has considered His servant Job and brags about the fact that this man is one who follows after righteousness and turns away from sin. Satan rejects the nobility of Job saying that the man only serves God because the Lord has blessed him so mightily; surely no one would serve God for nothing! The devil defiantly declares to the Almighty that if He took away Job’s family and fortune, then the man would curse God to His face! The Lord answers this charge by allowing Satan to bring all kinds of suffering upon Job, the taking of his fortune and family and eventually even the taking of his health through terrible boils on the skin, stopping the enemy’s assault only with the prohibition of the taking of his life…If I were to ask a group of professing Christians if they wanted to be the one that God would point out as being the most notable follower of Jesus in the world, one that was tried and true, faithful and fruitful, a standout servant, everyone would surely raise their hand! Most, in fact nearly all, of those hands would quickly go back down to their sides however if I told them it would mean losing everything, perhaps even their health. After all, we are constantly barraged with the false theology that if we follow God close enough, if we believe strong enough, if we read our Bibles long enough, if we pray hard enough, and if we give abundantly enough then all will go well with us and we will be blessed with favor that extends to everything from fame and fortune to the best parking spots at the Wal-Mart! However, a true reading of Scripture that does more than pull proof texts out of context actually reveals that the prophets of the Old Testament and the Apostles of the New Testament were largely penniless and persecuted. Being God’s choicest servant and going through Job-like troubles may seem surprising to us, but it shouldn’t! In fact, quite the contrary, we should be surprised, indeed alarmed, if our Christian commitment is so weak that no one takes notice of it and that there’s no price to pay for it (1 Peter 4:12-13).
“S”ilence (Job 2:11-13)…Three of Job’s friends hear about all the adversity that has come his way and go to see him. As is often the case with many tragedies, it’s one thing to hear of it but quite another to actually see it. When the men arrive and behold their friend with their own eyes, they are so overwhelmed by the devastation before them that they can’t even speak. After weeping, tearing their robes, and throwing dust over their heads towards the sky, they sit on the ground in silence for seven days and seven nights…There are many people, most of them well-meaning, who seem to have a lot to say when they encounter someone going through a tragedy. However, many times it’s not words that people need at the height of devastation; it’s simply the presence of someone who cares. I remember often feeling at a loss for words during a time of ministerial work with the chaplain’s office of Tulsa Regional Medical Center. A pastor is in contact on a regular basis with people going through difficult times of loss, but the chaplain of a hospital daily sees individuals and families walking through “the valley of the shadow of death.” Knowing there weren’t any magical things to say to take away their pain and make everything alright, I found myself constantly praying that somehow and someway the Lord would allow the presence of the Holy Spirit Who indwells the lives of all believers (including me) to bring comfort and strength. There is certainly a time for words, but there’s also a time for silence. I’ll close this section with some song lyrics written by Larnelle Harris (who incidentally sang tenor for the Gaither Vocal Band during the mid-80’s!), “I’ll help you cry, just lay your head on my shoulder and I won’t let you shed tears alone, take my hand, only say the word and I’ll stay right here by your side, I have no words to ease the pain, I don’t know how it all will end, but I’m your friend and I’ll help you cry.”
“S”ound (Job 4:1ff.)…After the seven days, Job breaks his silence with a lament bemoaning his condition and cursing the day that he was born (though he does not curse God nor sin with his lips throughout his whole ordeal-Job 1:22; Job 2:10; Job 42:8). Beginning with chapter 4 Job’s “friends” begin to take multiple turns expressing their thoughts on the matter, mostly accusing their friend of some secret sin or lack of faith that has brought this devastation. One by one they urge Job to confess the hidden iniquity that must be the source of such great calamity. These “friends” made the common misjudgment that any “bad” thing that happens must be traced to some wrong thing in the life of the one who suffers…Even the disciples of Jesus were prone to similarly make such a hasty estimation. John chapter 9 tells the story of a man born blind. When the disciples encounter the man, they ask Jesus if the blindness was due to a sin that the man himself committed or a sin that his parents performed. The Lord tells them that neither was the case but rather that the man’s blindness was “that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Now, do sin and lack of faith bring dire consequences? Absolutely! Do we want to keep our sin meter low and our faith meter high? For sure! That having been said, we need to be careful not to automatically assume that tough times in life are due to transgressions in behavior or iniquity in a heart. We would not know of Job in Scripture were it not for his suffering. We would have no biblical record of the blind man from John 9 were it not for his being born without sight. Sometimes tough times grow us the most and are the instruments through which God causes all things to work together for our good (Romans 8:28). Though we may not understand it in this life, there will be a time when we will know as we are known and will see clearly what we now view through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12).
“S”overeignty (Job 38:1ff)…After much speaking by Job and his friends, God finally steps in and has His say. If Hollywood were scripting these final moments, we might expect that the Lord would now let Job know the real reason why he was suffering and might even offer him an apology. But that’s not at all what happens. Far from being apologetic or even explanatory, the Lord doesn’t answer the questions that have been posed to Him and about Him for the past 30 or so chapters but instead tells Job to gird up his loins like a man and begins questioning him! The Almighty asks Job where he was when the worlds were made, or the seas were measured out, or the stars set in motion. The Lord queries Job if he could make it rain, or start a flood, or change the seasons, or guide the constellations across the canvas of the sky. The answers to all of these questions of course are meant to lead Job to the conclusion that God is great and he, in comparison, is insignificant and should place his hand over his mouth when it comes to laying accusations or questions at the feet of the Lord (see Job 40:3-5). That God should respond in such a way strikes us as harsh and possibly even wrong. Doesn’t Job deserve our expected explanation if not an all-out apology from the Lord for all the trouble that he’s been put through?…Let me pose something that may hit a little hard. The reason we think Job deserves an explanation and an apology, why we believe God should be “nicer” and why we feel that Job has gotten the short end of the stick is because we think God owes us explanations and apologies for bad things that have happened in our lives and we believe that we have not received all that should have been ours. However, God is the Sovereign, He is the King, He has made all that is, including us, and who are we to instruct Him as to what He should do, much less what He could do, with what and who are His! I encourage you to read that last sentence slowly two or three times through; not because I wrote it, but because it is a truth of which we humans, who tend to want to make ourselves the king of the world and the center of the universe, need to be reminded. God’s sovereignty is indeed a hard doctrine that assaults our desire to be in control, but it is also a comforting doctrine that edifies as it reminds us that our Heavenly Father, Who while being incredibly powerful is also incredibly loving, is in utmost control!
“S”alvation (Job 42:5-6 and Job 19:25-26)…Ask most people what the main theme of the book of Job is and they will likely tell you that it’s about suffering. Now suffering, while not being an “S” word that I chose for one of my main points in this article, is certainly a major factor in Job. However, it is my contention that all of the books of the Bible, in both Old and New Testaments, while they may deal with several aspects of the Christian life, ultimately have as their main goal to point to Jesus the Savior. The book of Job is certainly no exception. Job 42:5-6 sees the title character repenting in dust and ashes in awe of the greatness of God. Job 19:25-26 finds him declaring that “I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God.” I don’t believe that Job had a full revelation of the person and work of Christ during his day, but the book that bears his name without question emphasizes the requirements of salvation, that of repentance from sin and faith in Jesus!