Job finished his lament with a stirring defense of his character, and all the good he has done throughout his life. What stands out to me is the nature of this ethical life he claims he’s lived. It sounds like it’s right out of the Pentateuch, although many think this is the oldest book in the Bible and thus pre-dates Moses. The poor, orphans, widows, homeless, all the weakest of society, and Job helped them. In the ancient world this ethic among the people who “called on the name of the Lord” had to be unique, and if it is prior to Moses and the Law, then God had to communicate it some way. I just don’t know what to make of it, how Job and his “friends” would be so familiar with a way of life that seems to need to be revealed.
Same themes continue, and will until God puts the kibosh on all of them. But there are a few verses in chapter 23 I memorized on the Nav days (in college when I was involved with the Navigators at Arizona State) that are worth pondering:
10 But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.
11 My feet have closely followed his steps;
I have kept to his way without turning aside.
12 I have not departed from the commands of his lips;
I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.
Back in those Nav days when I was a good fundamentalist, albeit an uncomfortable one, I would have focused on keeping his ways without turning aside. And when I didn’t because I couldn’t, perfectly, I would wallow in guilt. But now in light of my Reformed understanding of the gospel, his testing is bound up in his Fatherhood, and in the righteousness of Christ.
This is critically important to understand; most Christian in some way think they can work their way into the favor of God. But that is simply impossible. What changed in the relationship I have with God is that because of Christ’s work, and because of the Holy Spirit applying it in my heart, God’s wrath and justice have been satisfied, once for all, his anger eternally assuaged, and now he is my loving Father. And I have been transformed from and enemy of God, alienated from him, now reconciled (Col. 1), free from accusation, not because “my feet have closely followed his steps,” but because of the hope held out in the gospel in which I trust.
Thus I treasure his Word “more than my daily bread.” In it is found all the treasures of fellowship with my Creator, my Lord and King. A response of his work in me, and not my striving for him. Amen!
In chapter 18 one of the “friends” says it even more strongly, if that were possible: You are wicked, Job, that is why you are suffering, period. Job himself doubles down on God being the one who is doing all this to him:
21 “Have pity on me, my friends, have pity,
for the hand of God has struck me.
22 Why do you pursue me as God does?
Will you never get enough of my flesh?
The irony is that, as we learn in chapter one, the exact opposite is in fact the truth, that both Job’s “friends” who blame him, and Job who blames God are wrong:
8 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.”
Both perspectives are understandable, not only given the ancient times, but given what only seams intuitive, seams reasonable. We know in our being that sin is wrong and that it must be punished; that is what we call conscious. We are fallen moral beings, and the idea of right and wrong is sown into our nature, as is the straight line we automatically compare it to. Yet as we get a peak behind the curtain we see that our suffering isn’t necessarily the result of our wrong doing. There are bigger things going on in the universe that are simply beyond our purview.
Yet because of the fall, of Satan’s temptation that we will “be like God, knowing good and evil,” we want to call the shots, we want to know how everything works and why, instead of doing what Job finally does even while thinking God is his tormentor: he trusts God. These words later in chapter 19 are among the most profound in all of Scripture:
23 “Oh that my words were written!
Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
24 Oh that with an iron pen and lead
they were engraved in the rock forever!
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
I’m reading your book, Job! Several thousand years later, and in the perennially best-seller, the Bible, which I think counts as close to “forever” as you’re ever going to get. Somehow Job knows this is not it, that we are much more than merely temporal creatures, that there is something “forever” about us. He also knows he needs a redeemer; in Hebrew this word means several things: Vindicator, defender; lit kinsman. I found an excellent piece that explains this word:
The “nearest kinsman” or “kinsman redeemer” is a Goel. The word means to redeem, receive or buy back.
Provision was made in the Law of Moses for the poor person who was forced to sell part of his property or himself into slavery. His nearest of kin could step in and “buy back” what his relative was forced to sell (Leviticus 25:48f). The kinsman redeemer was a rich benefactor, or person who frees the debtor by paying the ransom price. “If a fellow countryman of yours becomes so poor he has to sell part of his property, then his nearest kinsman is to come and buy back what his relative has sold” (Leviticus 25:25; cf. Ruth 4:4, 6).
Job knew that we can’t redeem ourselves, that we are slaves to sin, in debt to God, but somehow God himself would have to buy us back, which of course he did in Christ. This Redeemer, Job knew would stand upon the earth. To the Jews this must have seemed a mystery, but with Christ it all makes sense. And most of the OT is earthly oriented, yet here we see a clear eternal perspective, reference to what can only be called a resurrection. Job’s confidence in God would eventually be vindicated, and that forever.
Another “friend” speaks, and this one is more harsh than the other two; Job is deceived, a sinner through and through deserving everything he gets. Job’s reply in the first verse of chapter 16 is classic:
2 “I have heard many things like these;
you are miserable comforters, all of you!
3 Will your long-winded speeches never end?
What ails you that you keep on arguing?
And given what we know from chapters 1 and 2, it is interesting to see Job here talk about God afflicting him. In fact, although God allowed it, it is actually Satan doing the afflicting. But since God is all powerful and sovereign, that really is a distinction without a difference. If God “allows” it when he doesn’t have to, then in effect he himself does it. That’s why the problem of evil will always be a problem, whose ultimate solution is trusting in the character of God a la Deut 32:4.
Then there is this prophetic utterance a little later in chapter 16:
19 Even now my witness is in heaven;
my advocate is on high.
20 My intercessor is my friend[
as my eyes pour out tears to God;
21 on behalf of a man he pleads with God
as one pleads for a friend.
There is an alternative translation to that first part of verse 20, “My friends treat me with scorn,” but this is an amazing revelation of who will one day be our advocate before the Father, Jesus Christ our Savior. And this from what many think is the oldest book in the Bible. It is incredible, in hindsight, that this pleading our advocate does for us is not based on our own works, but on his! Not our own righteousness or lack thereof, but on his righteousness!
Then in chapter 17 more prophetic insight from Job:
3 “Give me, O God, the pledge you demand.
Who else will put up security for me?
Basically he gets it, that he, or we, cannot meet God’s demands, that He will have to provide what He requires. As Abraham somehow understood before he went up the mountain to sacrifice Isaac:
6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac,and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
God himself will provide, the very essence of the gospel. Anyone who truly knows himself knows it could be no other way.
Job speaks again, and then another of his friends challenges him. “So you think you’re blameless, Job, and this suffering has nothing to do with your sin? Repent!” I paraphrase. But Job stands his ground, even as he implores God to just wipe him out once and for all. In chapter 13 he tells his interlocutors how he really feels:
As for you, you whitewash with lies;
worthless physicians are you all.
5 Oh that you would keep silent,
and it would be your wisdom!
The overarching question in Job’s mind is why, why, why? What have I done to deserve this. Yet he says something that really gets to the nature of his heart, and why God so honored him to let Satan at him. Later in chapter 13:
Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.
Job believes strongly that whatever happens, whatever he sees or thinks about, this one thing he knows is true: God cannot do wrong. As Moses declares in Deut. 32:4, “A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” Throughout these chapters, and no doubt the rest of the book, Job looks at the finitude of man and compares it to the majesty of God. The first verse of chapter 14:
Man who is born of a woman
is few of days and full of trouble.
2 He comes out like a flower and withers;
he flees like a shadow and continues not.
In the whole chapter Job screams man’s futility. It all appears so meaningless. We know Job comes to a different conclusion, but he’s not there yet.
In chapter 3 Job begins his complaint. He refuses to accuse God of wrongdoing, but of course he wonders why this is all happening. If only he had never been born. Then one of his friends speaks up in chapters 4 and 5. His argument? His comforting words to Job? You did something to cause this to come upon you, and in chapters 6 and 7 JOb denies it. In 7:20 Job says this:
If I have sinned, what have I done to you, you who see everything we do? Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you?
As we know and Job didn’t, he isn’t God’s target but Satan’s. And contrary to his friends claims that it is his sin and wrongdoing that have caused God to visit all this suffering on him, in fact in chapter 1 we read this in verse 8:
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.”
So in fact it was Job’s righteousness, ironically, that brought on him all these calamities. How’s that for upside down. In chapter 2 we read again about Job’s uprightness:
3 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.And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.”
Again, ironically, if Job had just cursed God, like his wife implored him too, he could have avoided all this physical suffering, but he refused, and God let Satan at him again. So both Job and his friends get it exactly opposite of the truth.
These first two chapters are hard. They challenge our notion of the person of God, of what is fair, right, just. It almost appears as if life is a game, with God and Satan calling the shots, and people are the chess pieces. To those who are skeptical by nature, this will simply confirm their assessment that religion is a fictitious invention of man. Reading these two chapters seems like that can actually be a plausible conclusion. The book itself sets out the address the problem of evil, and it doesn’t give us any easy answers, or any answers at all, as we know.
We tend to think that human happiness and human suffering are the ultimate arbiters of meaning on the earth, which is of course understandable given we experience reality through our own consciousness. This of course goes back to the fall and Satan’s temptation that if we just disobeyed God we could know or determine good and evil. Unfortunately for us and fortunate for the universe, we are not nor will we ever be “like God.” So Job’s suffering served some larger purpose to which we are only partially privy in these first two chapters.
I like the way Charles Hodge puts it in his Systematic Theology regarding how people deceive themselves by depending on what seems to be true to them. This is on page 531 of the second volume:
Men constantly deceive themselves by postulating as moral axioms what are nothing more than the forms in which their feelings or peculiar opinions find expression. To one man it is an axiom that a holy God cannot permit sin, or a benevolent God allow his creatures to be miserable; and he, therefore, infers either that there is no God, or that He cannot control the acts of free agents. To another it is self-evidently true that a free act cannot be certain, and therefore that there can be no foreordination, or foreknowledge, or prediction of the occurrence of such acts. To another, it is self-evident that a merciful God cannot permit any portion of his rational creatures to remain forever under the dominion of sin and suffering. There could be no end of controversy, and no security for any truth whatever, if the strong personal convictions of individual minds be allowed to determine what is, or what is not true, that the Bible may, and what it may not, be allowed to teach.
Either we commit ourselves to our own subjective moral axioms, or that there is such a thing as absolute, objective truth that is revealed to us in nature and scripture, and that we can know it as far as it has been revealed to us. In a thoroughly secular post-modern culture we know where most people come down on this, but as we see here, Hodge was writing in the mid-19th Century and personal, subjective moral opinions were common then as well.
Where does that leave us with these first two chapters of Job. We know from the writers of the NT that Satan has a measure of power and God-granted autonomy in this world. Here are some that come to mind:
- I Peter 5:8 – Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
- Ephesian 2:2 – in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience
- Ephesians 6:12 – For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
- i John 4:3 – This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
And in these two first chapters of Job we read this about Satan:
6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan[b] also came among them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”
And in chapter 2
2 And the Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”
I found this commentary from Adam Clark excellent on this point about Satan, the Adversary:
From going to and fro in the earth – The translation of the Septuagint is curious: Περιελθων την γην και εμπεριπατησας την ὑπ’ ουρανον, παρειμι; “Having gone round the earth, and walked over all that is under heaven, I am come hither.” The Chaldee says, “I am come from going round the earth to examine the works of the children of men; and from walking through it.” Coverdale, who generally hits the sense, translates thus: I have gone aboute the londe ond walked thorow it. Mr. Good has it, from roaming round the earth, and walking about it.
St. Peter, as has been already stated, Pe1 5:8, refers to this: “Be sober, be vigilant; for your Adversary the Devil Goeth About, as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” I rather think, with Coverdale, that ארץ arets here signifies rather that land, than the habitable globe. The words are exceedingly emphatic; and the latter verb התהלך hithhallech being in the hithpael conjugation shows how earnest and determined the devil is in his work: he sets himself to walk; he is busily employed in it; he is seeking the destruction of men; and while they sleep, he wakes – while they are careless, he is alert. The spirit of this saying is often expressed by the simple inhabitants of the country: when they perceive a man plotting mischief, and frequent in transgression, they say, The devil is Busy with him.
For whatever reason in the infinite wisdom and knowledge of God, he allows Satan to do evil, and here he utterly destroys Job’s life. Not only does he take his children and all his material possessions, but God allowed Satan to afflict Job with horrible sores. His wife’s response is classic and well known:
9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.”
That is just funny. But unlike Adam, Job chooses not to listen to his wife:
10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Then his three friends come to mourn for him for seven days, and the dialogue trying to figure all this out begins.