The Man from Uz – Part 3

job 3(11)Job has lost his ten children, all his property, and even his own wife had advised him to just “curse God, and die!” (Job 2:9). He responded with a theologically correct statement (“shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” Job 2:10) that makes us both wonder at his faith, and become suspicious about false piety. Almost despite ourselves, we’re tempted to be skeptical:

  • Can a man in Job’s position really just ascribe everything to God’s providence? Is this a realistic response? Would you respond this way?

I don’t think this is false piety, or a pathetic show of “simple faith” in the face of a ruined life. As we’ll see, Job quickly loses the ability to say the “right things” and degenerates into a man who accuses Yahweh of uncaring fatalism:

It is all one; therefore I say,
he destroys both the blameless and the wicked.
When disaster brings sudden death,
he mocks at the calamity of the innocent.
The earth is given into the hand of the wicked;
he covers the faces of its judges—
if it is not he, who then is it? (Job 9:22-24)

Even worse, he later seems almost eager to stand before God to plead his case, even as he resigns himself to death:

Behold, he will slay me; I have no hope;
yet I will defend my ways to his face (Job 13:15)

 

He even rehearses the questions he plans to demand that God answer:

Behold, I have prepared my case;
I know that I shall be vindicated (Job 13:18)

He continues:

How many are my iniquities and my sins?
Make me know my transgression and my sin.
Why dost thou hide thy face,
and count me as thy enemy?
Wilt thou frighten a driven leaf
and pursue dry chaff? (Job 13:23-25)

We’ll look at all this in the chapters to come. But, for now, I think we can dismiss all notions that Job is putting on a false front. He truly believes what he said:

… the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD, (Job 1:21).

He knows God is there, God is sovereign, and God controls the course of human history – including the details of our own small lives. He knows he belongs to God through faith; “This will be my salvation, that a godless man shall not come before him,” (Job 13:16). And, he actually believes God has the right to give and take away from His children, and that He must have a good and holy reason for doing it.

Job’s first statement

But, for Job, all that is more theoretical right now. It’s not so much disbelieved, but rather pushed far into the background. Basically, Job wants to die.

Let the day perish wherein I was born,
and the night which said,
‘A man-child is conceived.’
Let that day be darkness!
May God above not seek it,
nor light shine upon it (Job 3:3-4)

He wishes he hadn’t been born, or even conceived. But Job’s motivation is rather different than poor old George Bailey’s, from the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life. In the film, George finds himself in a sticky financial situation after his uncle misplaced $8,000. But, this is really just the final straw in George’s increasingly bitter and disillusioned view of his life.

George wishes he’d never been born because he’s feeling sorry for himself. Job wishes the same thing, but for a very different reason – he’s tired of the pain.

Why did I not die at birth,
come forth from the womb and expire?
Why did the knees receive me?
Or why the breasts, that I should suck?
For then I should have lain down and been quiet;
I should have slept; then I should have been at rest,
with kings and counselors of the earth
who rebuilt ruins for themselves,
or with princes who had gold,
who filled their houses with silver (Job 3:11-15)

If Yahweh had ended his life before birth, then Job could have been at rest, and skipped the difficulties of “real life.” There is no injustice, no pain, no toil – the grave is a place of rest, where all people wait for their final judgment (cf. Job 14:7-17):

There the wicked cease from troubling,
and there the weary are at rest.
There the prisoners are at ease together;
they hear not the voice of the taskmaster.
The small and the great are there,
and the slave is free from his master (Job 3:17-19).

Consider this:

  • Have you ever felt the same way? Have you ever felt so beaten down by life that you longed for death?

One thing the Book of Job does is give us an “everyman” whose own struggles echo our own. We understand Job’s pain, because some of our lives have been turned upside down, too. We feel the force of Job’s questions, because we’ve asked them, also. They’re our questions, because they’re real questions.

Even more interestingly, the author doesn’t bother to answer these questions now. Like Job, we’re left to ponder the answer. We know the Lord allowed this to happen. We also know His character, and that means we know He had a good and holy reason for doing this. Why did the Apostle Peter tell Christians to submit themselves to all human authorities (1 Pet 2:13-17)? Why did he tell Christian slaves that God had called to salvation to do right and endure hardship while suffering unjustly (1 Pet 2:18-25)? Why did he counsel Christian wives to not leave their pagan husbands, but to stay in the hopes they’d become Christians, too – even in the face of hostility (1 Pet 3:1-6)?

The truth is that God’s people are not called to a life of leisure and comfort. God calls us to Himself, gives us salvation, and puts us in specific place, in particular circumstances, to be witnesses for Him throughout our lives, in whatever way He decides we should be.

The Belgic Confession says this about God’s providence (Article 13):

We believe that this good God, after he created all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement.

Yet God is not the author of, nor can he be charged with, the sin that occurs. For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible that he arranges and does his work very well and justly even when the devils and wicked men act unjustly.

We do not wish to inquire with undue curiosity into what he does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend. But in all humility and reverence we adore the just judgments of God, which are hidden from us, being content to be Christ’s disciples, so as to learn only what he shows us in his Word, without going beyond those limits.

This doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort since it teaches us that nothing can happen to us by chance but only by the arrangement of our gracious heavenly Father. He watches over us with fatherly care, keeping all creatures under his control, so that not one of the hairs on our heads (for they are all numbered) nor even a little bird can fall to the ground without the will of our Father.

In this thought we rest, knowing that he holds in check the devils and all our enemies, who cannot hurt us without his permission and will.

And yet, Job isn’t in the mood for deep theological reflection just now. He gave the “correct” answer to his wife, earlier (Job 2:10) – and he believed it, too. But, there are times when we’re tempted to put the theological treatises away and ask questions we often assume we “shouldn’t” ask. Job isn’t accusing God of anything yet, but he’s on his way. And, to be honest, do you blame him?

In a backhanded way, he accuses God of being unfair (Job 3:23). Yahweh has “hedged” us all in and set us on a particular path, so why does He continue to “give light” (i.e. life) to His people after they endure all the pain, sorrow and misery He Himself determined they’d suffer?

Indeed, the very thing Job has feared the most (destruction from the Lord) has come to pass (Job 3:25-26). But, like his three friends, Job has always tied personal calamity to God’s displeasure. If you do what God wants, life is good. If you fall short, life will be bad. This is incorrect. There seems to be no room in Job’s world for the concept that God may have a holy purpose for our own sufferings; a purpose beyond our limited perspective to understand. This idea is distasteful to many people (sadly, even to some Christians), because we don’t want to admit our perspective is very, very small.

We’re like slobbering babies, flailing around in our cribs, drooling on ourselves, helpless to understand the wider world. Yet, so many of us are indignant at the very idea that Yahweh, the Creator, Sustainer and Governor of all creation, may have a holy purpose for our own discomfort which is beyond our ability to understand.

A 6-month old doesn’t understand why he has to go down for a nap, and Job doesn’t understand why this has happened to him. The issue is perspective. Presumably, the parent has a good reason for putting her baby to down for a nap. Likewise, we know the Lord has a good reason for putting one of His children through trials and tribulations.

Job’s friends aren’t buying any of this; their perspective is very simple:

  1. Job is suffering
  2. God disciplines His children when they sin,
  3. So, Job must be a sinner
  4. Therefore, Job must repent

They’re are both wrong and right. We’ll chat about this next time.

The Man from Uz (Part 2)

job2
“God Speaks to Job,” from an illuminated Byzantine manuscript (ca. 12th century)

Read more from the series on the Book of Job here.

In the space of one day, in the space of perhaps less than one terrible hour, Job’s entire life has fallen apart. This good man, “the greatest of all the people of the east” (Job 1:3), has been brought low by God. To be sure, it is Satan (whose name actually means accuser or adversary) who has done this, but only because God gave him permission (Job 1:12).

This conundrum raises all sorts of disturbing questions for the thinking Christian, and every serious Christian must deal with this text. Life is hard, and bad things do happen to Christians. Why? That is the question this wonderful book addresses. This is the reason God gave us this book.

In the second chapter, the author brings us back to God’s throne room, in the heavens above. Satan has returned, and Yahweh cannot help but reminded him about Job’s steadfastness, “He still holds fast his integrity, although you moved me against him, to destroy him without cause,” (Job 2:3).

  • Is God being flippant about a truly tragic situation?
  • Does God consider us to be disposable pawns, fit to be used for silly demonstrations, then tossed aside like soiled Kleenex?
  • Does God’s way of speaking to Satan reflect badly upon Him in any way?
  • When Christians are suffering through some terrible ordeal, and bearing the strain without cursing God (just as Job has done thus far; cf. Job 1:20-22), is God speaking this way about us?
  • Is it inappropriate to even ask these questions about God? Is it somehow more pious to pretend we have no questions about the justice and rightness of His actions, here?

Satan responds with a pretty shrewd insight,

All that a man has he will give for his life. But put forth thy hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face (Job 1:4-5).

Satan has failed to get Job to curse God so far. But, he’s convinced that a deliberate attack on Job’s physical health will achieve the desired result. God had previously denied this to Satan (Job 1:12), but now He’s lifted that restriction. “And the LORD said to Satan, ‘Behold, he is in your power; only spare his life,’” (Job 2:6).

  • Do you agree with Satan, here? Do you think most professing believers would give anything in exchange for their lives?
  • What does the Bible teach us about suffering for the Lord’s sake? What are some good passages to consider, here?
  • Again, Satan can only harm Job with God’s permission. What does this tell us about the ultimate cause of physical ailments in human beings? Can we extrapolate out from this account, and directly attribute all physical sufferings to the deliberate intention of God? Why, or why not?

The text tells us,

So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD, and afflicted Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes. Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God, and die,” (Job 1:7-10).

Here are some things to consider:

  • Why does the text say Job was “among the ashes?” Does this mean he’s just sitting among the ashes he’s heaped upon his own head in mourning? Or, because of his skin disease, has Job been cast outside the city to the “dump” to be quarantined. This is the place where, among other things, dung is taken by the population to be burnt. If this is indeed the place Job has been cast out to, then perhaps we can understand his wife’s despair even more keenly.
  • Do you think Job’s wife deserves a bad reputation? Why, or why not? We understand, from a cold and intellectual perspective, that her reaction is “wrong.” But, can you understand why she would respond the way she did? Can you put yourself in her context, suffering the sudden death of 10 children and loss of all earthly possessions, watching her husband crippled from a debilitating sickness, and sympathize with her?
  • Have you ever swore at your spouse in a moment of extreme anger, frustration or sorrow, and regretted it? As you later apologized, did you say something like, “I didn’t mean it! I was just so angry . . . I’m sorry!”
  • Is the wife’s reaction something Satan would have liked? Why or why not? What does this tell us about how Satan feels about our own inappropriate reactions to trials and hardships?

Job’s response is interesting:

But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips (Job 2:10).

He refuses to curse God, or blame Him. As we’ll see, Job never curses God, but he accuses God of injustice in a roundabout way. But, his response is intriguing:

  • Is Job right? Does God have the right, as the creator of earth, the heavens, and every single man, woman, boy and girl on earth (whether they acknowledge it or not), to dispense good and evil to His people?
  • Why would God dispense evil to His covenant people? What insight does this give us about our own problems?

The core of the book begins next. Job’s three friends arrive, and the real conversation begins (Job 2:11-13). They have many things to say, and not all of it is bad. Some of it is bad because it’s just, well . . . bad. Other times, they say things that are right sometimes, but wrong for Job’s situation. God in His providence, chose to preserve the book in this format so we can see real people, asking real questions, and struggling to find real answers to real problems in the real world.

Why do the righteous suffer? Why does God permit this? What does He want from His people as He allows them to suffer, through no fault of their own?

The book of Job is one place to go for some answers.

The Man from Uz – Thoughts on Job (Part 1)

jobMy family and I are working through the Book of Job together, several nights per week. I’ll be posting some questions, thoughts and reflections on the text as we go through the book. I’ll briefly address some of the questions, and I’ll leave others alone. Perhaps they’ll encourage you to think about this wonderful book, and the timeless questions it raises about God’s eternal purposes in our lives!

The opening sentences establish Job as a good and godly man. He “was blameless and upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil,” (Job 1:1). This doesn’t mean he was perfect, of course – just that he was a godly man. In an economy based largely on agriculture, he was clearly a very wealthy man (Job 1:3). His wealth and character marked him out as “the greatest of all the people of the east,” (Job 1:3). He was the proud father of ten adult children.

This book is likely set before the Old Covenant era,[1] perhaps in the aftermath of the Tower of Babel incident. Job acts as the priest for his family, and routinely brings burnt offerings to the Lord on his children’s behalf; “for Job said, ‘It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.’ Thus Job did continually,” (Job 1:5).

Why does Satan have direct access to Yahweh’s throne room, in heaven (Job 1:6)? What does this tell us about fallen angels? Is this still normative today? It at least tells us Satan had access during this particular time. We have no idea if this is normative, or if all fallen angels have this privilege. The author of Job isn’t interested in this detail, so I’m not too interested in it, either.

Why does Yahweh even mention Job to Satan (Job 1:8)? His tone sounds sarcastic and taunting – what’s His point? Satan responds with a bit of commonsense logic:

Does Job fear God for nought? Hast thou not put a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth thy hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse thee to thy face (Job 1:9-11).

How many alleged “Christians” today only claim to love and worship God because their lives are comfortable? If circumstances change, what will happen to their “love” and “devotion” for the Lord? I think, for many professing Christians, Satan’s words are perfectly applicable.

Satan acknowledges Yahweh has “put a hedge about him and his house,” (Job 1:10). Is this normative? Can Christians expect God has done the very same thing to them? What does this “hedge” consist of? An angelic host of bouncers? Restraining the evil impulses of those who would do us harm? All of the above? Or, is this not a normative thing? How does the notion of “common grace” fit in, here? Does it?

The text tells us Satan can only attack Job because God permits it:

And the LORD said to Satan, ‘Behold, all that he has is in your power; only upon himself do not put forth your hand.’ So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD (Job 1:12).

What does this tell us about God’s power, in relation to Satan’s – who is in charge? What are the implications for our lives? Does anything happen unless God specifically permits it? So, why do bad things happen to Christians? What does this say about God? What does this say about our perspective, that we would ask this question and implicitly doubt God’s holiness and goodness? Are we offended by the idea that God might intend that His people suffer through difficult times?

Is God’s goal to make our lives comfortable; or, are we supposed to serve Him in whatever way He wants us to serve? The Book of Job is one long treatise about God’s sovereignty and human suffering; this means it’s probably the most extended teaching God has given us on this subject. How should this inform how we read and understand the rest of the Bible, particularly when it comes to the issue if God’s sovereignty and the nature of evil?

In rapid succession, on the same day, all Job’s children die and all his world possessions are stolen or destroyed (Job 1:13-19). Take a moment and think about this. Think about your life, and your possessions. Really think about it, and imagine this happened to you. Then, imagine you’re Job – how would you feel? What would you be tempted to say? What would you be thinking about God? About His goodness, holiness, and righteousness? About fairness? Is He cruel for allowing you to raise ten children, only to snatch them away in an instant?

Job responds with mourning, which is to be expected (Job 1:20). However, what he says is not expected:

And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong (Job 1:21-22).

What is his point? What does Job seem to think about God’s goodness, holiness and fairness? What does he think about God’s sovereignty, and His providence?

Notes

[1] The date for Job is widely discussed, and I have no interest on weighing in on this. I believe Job lived sometime during the era of the patriarchs.

“Scholars have traditionally placed the events of this book in the patriarchal period, citing the absence of any reference to covenant or law. Two facts join to support the conclusion that the book is set before the time of Moses: Job’s service as the family priest and the lack of reference to a sanctuary. Against such an inference, we need only note that Job is not an Israelite (he is from the land of Uz, 1:1). We would therefore not expect any reference to covenant or law, priest, or temple,” (John H. Walton and Kelly Lemon Vizcaino, Job, in NIV Application Commentary [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012], 23).

Likewise, Elmer Smick concluded, “It seems likely that Job himself lived in the second millennium B.C. (2000 – 1000 B.C.) and shared a tradition not far removed from that of the Hebrew patriarchs,” (Job, in EBC, vol. 4 [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988], 853).

Robert Alden summarized, “The facts about him, which are mainly in the first two chapters, suggest that he lived around the time of the patriarchs. His wealth was measured in cattle rather than in the precious metals of the time of Solomon. He reflected no knowledge of organized religion, Mosaic, Levitical, or otherwise. Like the patriarchs he was a priest to his own household (1:5). The only other explanation for this absence of anything from the Pentateuch in Job is that he lived outside the promised land and beyond the influence of the law of Moses. Probably both explanations are correct; that is, Job was very early and he lived in a region well outside Canaan,” (Job, in NAC, vol. 11 [Nashville, TN: B&H, 1993], 26).