Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Book of Job is Not About Suffering

The book of Job is one of the most misunderstood books of the Bible.  Folks don't like to read it.  It pushes on raw nerves and calls into question the righteousness of God.  On the surface, it seems like a tragic Greek play, where the bored gods of Olympus decide to toy with a human to see how he handles the firebrands flung from On High for their amusement.

It opens with Yahweh, boasting to Satan of His servant Job, who is perfect and upright.  Satan taunts the Lord and scoffs at His boast; "Doth Job fear Elohim for naught?....Put forth thine hand now and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face." (Job 1:9, 11 KJV)

Satan loves to stir up trouble, and the thought of having God's righteous servant "curse Him to His face" is too much of a golden opportunity.  God, then, allows Satan to destroy all Job has, except for Job's own life.  Here's where the story goes sideways.

Satan brings the Sabeans to steal Job's livestock (Job 1:15), burns up his flock of sheep (Job 1:16), allows the Chaldeans to make off with his camels (Job 1:17), and kills all Job's children (Job 1:19).

In Job 1:20, he goes into mourning, tearing his clothing and weeping in the dust.  And then, we see something amazing - he worshipped.

Satan, not to be robbed of his opportunity for God to be mocked by His righteous servant, assumes that personal affliction will get Job to curse Yahweh.  Therefore God allows the Wicked One to smite him with boils, from the crown of Job's head to the soles of his feet (Job 2:7).  Even Job's wife is amazed he refuses to curse God and die (Job 2:9).

So there he is, his wealth gone, his health gone, his children gone, and his wife's integrity - gone.  All he has left is God, and even He is silent.  Why is this happening?  What has he done to deserve this?  He knows he's a good man, and yet he suffers.

After this, there is no more mention of God's Throne room or Satan at all.  The rest of the book is filled with chapter upon chapter of Job and his "friends" debating about what has happened to him.  Job insists he has remained righteous, and his friends assume he has sinned.  With accusations from those who should be comforting him, Job soon realizes that even HIS integrity is gone, at least in the eyes of these men.  The truth of his loyalty is known only to himself and to Yahweh.

The more these friends push, the more Job pushes back, declaring his innocence and righteousness before them.  He knows he will be justified (Job 13:18).  He is honest in his pain, wanting to know how he has sinned, wanting to know why God hides His face, and why God now holds him as His enemy (Job 13:23-24).  At this point, he's begging God to tell him what he's done wrong, and yet God remains silent, again calling into question the integrity of the Almighty.

Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar continue to argue with, instead of comfort, their friend.  If Job could only pinpoint where he went wrong, he could repent and get back into the blessings of Yahweh.  For God brings low the wicked, snuffs out his candle, and the wicked's own counsel shall cast him down (Job 18:5-7).  His friends are convinced this malady is due to God's judgment upon Job and try to convince him of it as well.  However, Job only sees iniquity in his friends for suggesting Job himself is a liar (Job 19:28).

In Job 31, he goes down a list of things he could be punished by God for - If he wasn't righteous; if he committed adultery; if he mistreated his servants; if he wasn't generous; if he wasn't considerate; if he beat anyone; if his hope was in his money; if he hated his enemies; if he feigned his uprightness; if he was a thief...  He declares in Job 31:35 that his desire is for God to answer him, that God, his Adversary, had written a book of his wrongs so that he would know why he was made low.

And finally...  Finally in chapter 32, we come to Elihu, the only one of the bunch who talks any sense.  He comes out of nowhere, the son of Barachel, who's not even one of the original three friends speaking with Job.  But he makes it known that he's held his peace because he is young, and he respected the elders to speak before him.  However he's aghast that no one has pinpointed the problem, and it is from the mouth of a "babe" (we don't know how old he is, maybe even a teen) that we hear any sense at all.

In Job 33:2 & 9-11, Elihu outlines Job's sin - that he claimed his innocence, without iniquity, yet Job time and time again declares God is against him and that Yahweh counts him as his enemy.  "Behold, in this thou art not just" he says in verse 12.

The sin in this story, therefore, is doubting the integrity of God.  If God is altogether good, just, and righteous, then it isn't "just" to accuse Him of falsehood, bloodlust, and error.

Job never cursed God, he continually honored God, and he obviously feared God, but there's one amazing truth I've never seen before.  In Job 34:35-37 and Job 35:16, Elihu reveals that Job (and by association with the original argument - his friends) do not KNOW God.  At all.  And that's not the end of it.  Along with Job's self-righteousness that he has done no wrong, he has added rebellion to the list for suggesting God was out to get him - and for believing that it profits a man nothing to delight himself in God (Job 34:9).

Even though Elihu rebukes Job, he is the only one who rebukes kindly, without being rude, and reminds Job of God's wondrous salvation in Job 33:27-28.  He also reminds Job of God's majesty and glory, of His amazing works, knowledge, and strength.  He reminds Job of the Holy Spirit's conviction to bring back a son from sin (Job 36:9-11), and he reminds Job of the sovereignty of God (Job 37:14).

After Elihu, it is GOD Himself Who speaks, for four whole chapters, chopping at the pride of Job until that old, rotted tree is felled.  Yahweh establishes that it is by His power and knowledge that He created the cosmos out of nothing.  God reminds that He provides for the plants and creatures of the earth.  He reminds that He alone orders the universe.  It is only to man He has given wisdom and understanding because we are made in His image, yet man continually honors the strength of the creature, not his Creator.  Ironically, the Lord then reminds Job that the strength and glory the creature was given by Him.

What does man know compared to what God knows?

Confronted by the glory and majesty of the Lord, as well as the understanding that he didn't really know God at all, Job finally repents and relents, giving over his life to the Sovereign of the universe (Job 42:6).

At the end of the book, God calls on Job's three friends to repent and ask Job to pray for them, because they too thought wrongly of God, that His grace is given by works of righteousness (Job 42:8).  Interestingly enough, Yahweh doesn't rebuke Elihu.  That means Elihu was right, and he was the spokesman for God in that moment - until Job's sin was ferreted out and God finally intervened.

While most people who have a problem with the book of Job dwell on his suffering, ultimately, Job's suffering was merely a backdrop to the true plot of the story.  God needed His most righteous servant to understand that his blessing wasn't a result of Job's performance, but rather, a demonstration of God's grace.  Grace, as defined, is undeserved favor.  God was making a point - that He has the power to do as He wills when He wills, and it is by His grace alone we have any blessings in our lives.  Job was taking God's credit for his blessings by believing his performance pleased the Lord.  God wanted him to know otherwise, that by God's grace, He gives as He wills.

Many people will tell you God has the power over life and death, and when someone dies, it was their time to go.  However, a casual reading of the book of Job and we're up in arms, claiming a dishonor on God's part in the death of Job's children.  We assume God is unjust in allowing them to die, not fully realizing that they wouldn't be dead if it wasn't their time to go.  Clearly it wasn't Job's time, or his wife's time, as God spared them from the hand of Satan.  However, the lesson found in Job is that everything under the whole heaven belongs to Yahweh (Job 41:11).  The moment we assume God's sovereign will is unjust, we are guilty of the same sin as Job - we disannul God's judgment and condemn Him that we may be righteous (Job 40:8).

And therein lies the genius of the book of Job.  It reveals within our hearts our own hypocritical tendency to elevate our judgment above that of our Righteous, Holy, Sovereign God -- just like Job did.  We assume God is unjust.  We assume God is unrighteous.  We assume God is the enemy.  We assume God is frivolously toying with Job's life rather than teaching him through a string of tragedies that He knew before the foundation of the world.

Along with our tendency to doubt the integrity of God, the book of Job also shines a bright spotlight on the state of our own spiritual condition.  When we doubt God's integrity, then like Job, neither do we know Him.  We've lost the sense of His Goodness, His Glory, and His Majesty.  We darken His counsel by words without knowledge (Job 38:1).  We think our own understanding is right, that our righteousness is greater than God's (Job 35:2).

This book unveils our natural propensity to demand and expect God's grace through our performance.  It seems an injustice that bad things happen to this "good" man.  God's response to Job is that no one deserves His grace, even when all the "rules" are followed.  By nature, grace is undeserved, it can never be earned.  And God freely gives to the heart that longs to please Him out of love and devotion, not out of an air of self-righteousness.  Finally, Job understands and knows His God.

When we get it, when grace no longer scandalizes us but invigorates us, when it excites us and compels us to dance and sing in the courts of the Lord, that's when we can finally say with Job, "Now mine eye seeth thee." (Job 42:5).



  1. Excellent, excellent study, Becka. I always gain a lot of insight through your writing, God bless you.

  2. Wonderful study. How dare anyone question Elohim's integrity! He shows us SO MUCH undeserved grace, it cannot be comprehended! He is our Creator, God, Saviour and our life. There is no human term, word or anything else than can explicate my love for Elohim! He truly showed me so much undeserved mercy, love and grace. He pulled me with a gentle hand from the darkness to the Light, which through His Begotten Son Yeshua HaMashiach who bore my punishment!