In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.
Then the Lord said 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.”
“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
– Job 1:1-3, 8-12
“Some commentators treat chapters 1 and 2 [of Job] with a tone of mild embarrassment, giving the distinct impression they would prefer it if Job began with chapter 3. Novelist Virginia Woolf wrote to a friend, ‘I read the book of job last night – I don’t think God comes well out of it.’ The prologue shows God and Satan involved in – and you can almost see blush marks on the commentary pages – well, something resembling a wager. The two have a kind of bet going, in which God has stacked the odds against himself. Poor Job must undergo a terrible ordeal in order to determine the winner between the two heavyweights. In a sense, Job must replay the original test of the garden of Eden, with the bar raised higher. Living in paradise, Adam and Eve faced a best-case scenario for trusting God, who asked so little of them and showered down blessings. In a living hell, Job faces the worst-case scenario: God asks so much, while curses rain down on him.”
“At root, Job faced a crisis of faith, not of suffering. And so do we. All of us at times find ourselves in a Job-like state. We may not face the extreme disasters that befell Job, but a tragic accident, a terminal illness, or the loss of a job may have us shaking our heads and asking, ‘Why me? What does God have against me? Why does God seem so distant?”
– Philip Yancey, The Bible Jesus Read
After the Scripture above, God allows Satan to touch Job’s body, but not take his life.
Virginia Woolf has a point. God does not look good, unless you understand the characteristics of God and the drama that is each believer’s life. We all have our tests of faith.
It is interesting that the first disciples were four fishermen: Andrew and Peter, James and John. When you are fishing with a line and a hook, you play with the fish a little. You make the lure or bait seem real. Once the fish nibbles, you wait. If you reel the fish in too soon, they could slip off the hook. You must ensure the hook is set. And Jesus said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
So, it is with us. When we make the statement, “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior,” there will be a cosmic contest. God will give Satan limitations, and Satan will do his best to have you spit out the hook.
I have had friends that never had any reason to doubt God. They seemed to be faithful followers. But then when their Job moment (and sometimes a rather wimpy, insignificant moment) comes along, they reject God and fall away. One of my best friends in all the world was a faithful follower until his daughter contracted a deadly disease. To prolong her life, he moved to the north for a cooler climate. He changed his career also, but his daughter died at roughly the age of 22, having suffered with the disease for over fifteen years. He could have thanked God for those 22 years of being with his daughter, but he rejected a God who would allow this suffering into his life. Oddly, his wife and their daughter were both believers.
He had nibbled on the hook, but spit it out at the first sign of trouble.
I know others, but the stories are similar. They may all ask the question, “Why?” Just as Job did.
Let’s boil down this drama of Job, but we’ll start with God, before Genesis 1.
God is. God has certain rules that He follows. He would not be who He is if He didn’t follow His rules. In creating the heavens and the earth, he also created the rules of Nature.
When He placed Adam and Eve into the Garden, He established rules. They did not follow those rules. When rules are violated, there are consequences.
The serpent was cursed. He then had to crawl on his belly. Hmmm. A serpent that did not have to crawl on its belly sounds like a dragon, just thinking to myself.
The woman will have pain in childbirth, and the man (actually all who work, regardless of gender) will have ‘thorns’ in their workplace. Making a living will be painful.
But the world is also cursed. When Adam and Eve are thrown out of the Garden, they may have experienced earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and hailstorms. Things that did not exist in the idyllic Garden.
So, God has this man, Job, who is as perfect as a human can get, but Job lives in a fallen world. Satan challenges God that ‘sure Job is ideal, but that’s because Your helpful hand has protected Job from the natural disasters.’ God allowed the ‘contest’ to occur, because the rules of this fallen world were set when Adam and Eve left the Garden. But in all of Job’s suffering, God was protecting him the entire time – within the rules of the ‘contest’. God knew the outcome of the ‘contest’, but Satan did not. Job is tested, and Job won. The hook was set. Job remained faithful. In an earlier Yancey quote, he said that God and Satan had a contest and the deck was stacked in the favor of Satan. But God had His hold-card. God, knowing all, knew that Job would be faithful. It just looked like the deck was stacked the other way.
Then Job replied to the Lord:
“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
After the Lord had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the Lord told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.
– Job 42:1-9
Notice that God tells Job’s friends that they did not speak the truth. Yet, their speeches are often quoted by Christians today. But the key is what Job did. He first repented, being ashamed of his temerity in demanding an audience with God. He then forgives his less-than-helpful friends.
The ‘contest’ was over. God’s love is shown in restoring Job.
Sometimes, our tests of faith aren’t over until death, but, for those, our reward awaits on the other side of the river.
I am now unbefuddled, if that’s a word, regarding the book of Job. We may stumble along the road toward the ending of our personal drama, but we must keep our eyes on Jesus. We must follow Job’s lead. We must repent of our own sins, forgive others, and always be faithful to God, even when things don’t make sense.
Soli Deo Gloria. Glory to God Alone.