Job Was Righteous and a Gentile.
“In the land of Uz [modern day Saudi Arabia], there lived a man whose name was Job” (Job 1:1). Job was not an Israelite. “His non-Israelite status explains the absence of many key theological elements in the book, including law, covenant, temple and reference to Yahweh,” according to the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible.
Other than being from Uz, the first thing the Bible tells us about Job is that he was righteous and godly, “blameless and upright,” a man who “feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:2). One might assume from these first two verses that Job was a simple man of humble means because it’s a rare person whose heart is fixed on God and also has everything this life has to offer. But Job was a very rich and great man by the world’s standards.
Job Was Wealthy.
He had 10 children, many servants, and his livestock numbered in the thousands. “He was the greatest man among all the people of the East” (Job 1:3): great by man’s standards and by God’s. Incredible. We can surmise that every need Job had was met and every desire was fulfilled.
Job 1:4-5 tells us that Job’s sons were also rich and would annually, on their birthdays, invite their sisters to partake with them in lavish feasts lasting for days. Job served as the family priest. He feared God so much that he made sure his children were purified following the feasts in case, in their revelry, they sinned against God. “Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, ‘Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’ This was Job’s regular custom” (Job 1:5).
Job’s life, depicted in the exposition of the story, is picture-perfect. The unknown author is depicting the main character’s goodness and innocence, setting the audience up for the climax in which “Satan” is granted permission by the Lord to test Job’s faith and faithfulness.
“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” (Job 1:9-12).
And then later in the story…
“Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life” (Job 2:4-6).
Innocent suffering was common in other ancient Near Eastern stories. In The Babylonian Theodicy (c. 1000 BC), a character similar to Job discusses his suffering with his friends. According to Zondervan’s Cultural Background Study Bible:
“The sufferer expresses this wish: ‘May the god who has cast me off grant help, may the goddess who has [forsaken me] take pity.’ … In the polytheistic religions of the ancient Near East, innocent suffering could be attributed to another deity or to demons. There were protective deities to whom one could turn when the main deities could no longer be relied upon. For Job, the situation is more complicated: If there is only one God, what do you do if he has become your enemy?”
How Did Job Suffer?
Job then experiences ultimate human suffering at the hand of Satan but allowed by God.
- The Sabeans attacked and stole all of Job’s oxen and donkeys and killed a portion of his servants (Job 1:14-15).
- Fire fell from the sky “and burned up the sheep” and more of Job’s servants (Job 1:16).
- The Chaldeans attacked and stole Job’s camels, killing even more of his servants (Job 1:17).
- “A mighty wind swept in from the desert” and destroyed the house where all of Job’s children were gathered for a feast, killing all of them (Job 1:18-19).
- Satan “afflicted Job with painful sores” from the bottoms of his feet to the top of his head (Job 2:7).
How Did Job Respond?
Following the first four tragedies, Job mourns (“tore his robe and shaved his head”) and then worships (Job 1:20-21) uttering the words of this famous passage of Scripture: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
After Satan afflicts him with a flesh-eating disease, Job sits in a heap of ashes, scraping himself with shards of pottery and wishing he had never been born (Job 2:8; Job 3:1). His theology, however, remains intact even after his wife encourages him to “curse God and die!” (Job 2:9).
“He replied, ‘You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?’In all this, Job did not sin in what he said” (Job 2:10).
Job’s Friends Come to Comfort Him.
When his friends “Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite,” hear about his unthinkable calamities, they pay him a visit to “comfort him,” but they find him nearly unrecognizable, so they sit on the ground with him for a week not speaking because his suffering is so great (Job 2:11-13).
“Job’s friends come from places or regions that are impossible to identify with certainty, but they are presumably situated in the region of Edom,” according to Zondervan’s Cultural Background Study Bible.
This was the right response. When a friend is suffering greatly, be there for them. Don’t say much, if anything, just be there, and pray. Unfortunately, Job’s friends finally start talking.
For 34 chapters, Job and his friends discuss suffering. Job’s suffering must be the result of his sin, his friends assume. Job, however, as we learned in chapter 1, feared God and shunned evil. Certainly, his suffering was not the result of a sin he had committed against God. He was even careful enough to make sure his children were pure before God. What sin could he have committed that would cause God to punish him worse than every other human being he knew?
Discussing it with his friends did not help. Clearly, Job needed to talk it out with God Himself. “I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God” (Job 13:3).
God Answers Job and Restores His Fortunes.
Ultimately, Job gets his conversation with God. God reminds Job of His deity and authority, of His eternality and power over creation, of His wisdom and omnipresence, of His understanding and supremacy (Job 38-41). Job’s response to the character of God is:
“I know that you can do all things,and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:1-3).
After Job was blessed by the reminder of God’s character, he was further blessed as “the LORD restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before,” (Job 42:10).
His brothers, sisters, and other friends gathered around Job to comfort him. They even gave Job money to help during his hard time (Job 42:11).
God restored Job’s fortune with “14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys” (Job 42:12). God restored Job’s family with seven sons, three daughters, and four generations of grandchildren (Job 42:13-16).
“And Job died, an old man, and full of days” (Job 42:17).
What Can We Learn from Job’s Suffering?
1. Suffering is a way for God to display His power and glory.
“…Suffering cannot be explained by the simple principle of retributive justice, where each person gets what he deserves: suffering for the evil and prosperity for the good,” John Piper said. Often in life, it is the righteous who suffer and the wicked who prosper.
“Why do the wicked live,reach old age, and grow mighty in power? They spend their days in prosperity, and in peace they go down to Sheol. They say to God, ‘Depart from us! We do not desire the knowledge of your ways. What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? And what profit do we get if we pray to him?’” (Job 21:13-15).
In the following New Testament story of suffering, we see that suffering can mean that God is wonderfully at work in a person’s life, producing something miraculous.
“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him’” (John 9:1-3).
2. Suffering is a result of God’s love.
God was not Job’s enemy, as he may have wondered. God had a purpose and a plan, Job simply didn’t know it yet.
“Suffering is not dispensed willy-nilly among the people of God. It is apportioned to us as individually designed, expert therapy by the loving hand of our great Physician. And its aim is that our faith might be refined, our holiness might be enlarged, our soul might be saved, and our God might be glorified,” Piper said.
Who was Job? Job was a man greatly tested by God and even more greatly blessed by God!
Photo Credit: Ilya Repin [Public domain]