The Living Message of Job
Because of Job's vital role in the drama of human suffering the message of the book bearing his name is of vital importance. Though it is not possible to deal with, or answer all the questions relating to it, an attempt will be made to deal with some of them. It is almost impossible to treat our theme without taking into consideration the book of Job. Hence, this is our place of beginning.
The book of Job is an interesting book. It is an unusual book and most difficult, to say the least. This is due to the fact that while the book itself is an inspired message, the philosophical conclusions of the four men involved with Job are not inspired and/or revealed conclusions. It is like the "thou shalt not die" of Genesis 3:4 which is recorded by inspiration, but the lie itself is of the devil. So some of the things found in the book of Job do not constitute truth, but they are recorded by inspiration so that man might have complete knowledge (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The fact that Job himself makes some statements that are not true caused R.L. Whiteside to say, "Job is inspired to some degree." We have to take careful note of Job's incorrect conclusions. Therein lies the difficulty: the problem of weeding out Job's religious theories from the truths of inspiration and revelation.
The book of Job deals with a most perplexing problem: "Why do good people suffer?" The book raises the question, but it does not answer it. It only deals with why one man (Job) suffered. Job slipped into what Bunyan called "slough of despond," wishing that he had never been born and complaining that he cannot get a real hearing with God. He felt he could not even "find" Him. He revolted against the accusation of his three friends that he must be guilty of some dreadful sin, since God is righteous and could not allow a guiltless man to suffer (as was believed in his day). It does not give an absolute answer to why good people suffer. The book deals with the matter in a general way.
You no doubt ask, "If there is no absolute answer to the problem of human suffering in the book, why write about it?" Simply because there is enough information given in the book to give us the proper outlook on suffering sorely needed in today's society. The book of Job contains the most complex and lengthy treatment of the subject in the Bible. We err when we read the first two chapters and conclude that the only message in the book is that Job suffered to disprove Satan's accusation that the only reason he served God was for what he could get from God (ease and prosperity). This goal was accomplished for, when Jehovah restored Job to honor and wealth, no objection was heard from Satan. But in going beyond chapter 2 one observes other elements taking prominence. While Job had not turned from God and desperately wanted His approval in moments when faith was made strong (13:15; 19:25), he was somewhat self-centered. God wanted him to see that his success was a cosmetic happiness that lay beneath the surface of a successful life and honorable religious practice. So, a second lesson in the book is that God allows suffering to break up that smooth exterior and to bring out into the open pride, self-pity and implied self righteousness. It is after this sovereign grandeur of Jehovah swept over him, that Job said, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eyes seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myelf, and repent in dust and ashes" (42:5-6).
The Setting Of The Book
The first two chapters consitute a historical introduction to Job. His secular prosperity and spiritual well-being is brought to our attention (1: 1-5). Then the circumstances of his trial by affliction are introduced (vv. 6-19). After this we are presented with an account of his behavior in the midst of his afflictions (vv. 20-22; 2:7-10). We are introduced to his three friends and their conduct (2:11-13). The Pulpit Commentary aptly states, "The narrative is characterized by remarkable simplicity and directions. It has a decided air of antiquity about it, and presents but few linguistic difficulties" (vol. 7, "Job," p. 2).
When Satan appeared among the "sons of God" who presented themselves before Jehovah, he was asked, "Whence cometh thou?" Satan answered, "From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it" (1:6-7). This is perfectly consistent with the nature of the devil who "as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet. 5:8). Satan challenges Jehovah's claim that man is a creature of integrity (1:8-11). Would man serve God without material or personal gain? The Sovereign God knows that some will and with certain stipulations allows Job to become a test case (1:2; 2:6). Job then comes to swift, complete ruin. It is pitiless in its devastation. Satan is cunning in his contrivance, making even the report of certain losses appear as if the very Deity Job served was responsible (1:13-22). Simply reading of the penitential sorrow of Job causes one to cringe in pain. You name it, Job suffered it.
Three Friends Misjudge Him
As seen by the names they wore, the three friends who appear as counselors were honorable men. They were thinkers of no mean capacity. As the drama unfolds the reader is able to discern certain characteristics about them (2:11-13). Eliphaz was a possible theologian of his day (definitely possessing profound spiritual reflection). Bildad, unlike Eliphaz, was not a pragmatist, but a legalistic historian. Zophar is more dogmatic and arrogant than the other two, and somewhat moralistic. Another way of describing them is: Eliphaz was considerate, Bildad was argumentative and Zophar was very blunt.
The three friends are to be commended for the special susceptibility of heart displayed when they learned of the patriarch's welfare. They did not neglect Job now that he was poor and diseased. One is touched by the tearful sympathy and profound sorrow. But as is often the case good men misconstrue God's providence and misjudge His people. They each held to the theory of retribution, and each felt that Job must be a sinner to suffer so. They even implied that he was covering it up (11:1-6). This obviously made matters worse for Job (6:14-30). Job, you see, believed in this theory too, but when applied to himself he could not harmonize it with fact and reality. He never denied that he had sinned (that he was not perfect); he simply denied the vileness with which he was charged. This made the appearance of hypocrisy more pronounced.
Elihu The Intellectual
After the three friends had run out of argument, a young intellectual by the name of Elihu stepped into the picture (32:2-22). While not denying the position of the three friends, this young theologian added a second concept to the cause of suffering: "God chastens with suffering those whom he loves." He is therefore, not only a judge (the position of the three friends), but a father as well (the position of Elihu).
When Jehovah steps into the picture we are confronted with certain, undeniable conclusions, namely, that human wisdom and philosophy cannot answer the problem of human suffering satisfactorily without the help of God. Men through the years have added little, if anything, by way of human intellectualism to the total situation. We should not, therefore, turn to liberal theology and depend totally on this in order to answer one of mankind's basic questions. In times of grief, Christian friends are of immeasurable spiritual assistance. But they often say things that are either unhelpful or untrue, i.e., "God gives people what they deserve," "The righteous will eventually prosper," "God has a hidden purpose," "A part must suffer for the whole," "Suffering is educational," etc. While some of these concepts contain truth, they are not always true. We don't always get what we deserve, for example. Such statements are made because of the belief that God causes the misfortune and Christians must justify divine actions.
"Who Is This That Darkeneth Counsel?"
When God finally speaks to Job he had lost all the basic things upon which human beings ordinarily lean. He has lost his (1) possessions, (2) his children, (3) his wife, (4) his friends and (5) his health. All of these have been swept away. All he has left is his own integrity and faith in Jehovah which he is trying to maintain. At this point he has vindicated the confidence that God has in him, though he has complained bitterly and is still very much perplexed. He asks, "Why does God not answer my questions?" and "Is God unjust in allowing a righteous man like myself to suffer?" After all of this, God answers out of the whirlwind, and said, "Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?" (Job 38:1).
The purpose is clear; God's purpose is to bring Job to the truth of the fact that as far as ultimates are concerned, no human being is qualified in and of himself to be a true judge of God's creative ways (i.e., it is wrong to even begin to think that God was wrong to have created man or the world for that matter). "Thus, in this section now under consideration, God makes it clear to Job (and to all other men who may read the book) that while man may properly exercise his mind in the attempted solution to many questions, it is simply beyond man's ability and prerogative to question whether God's creative activity (including God's right of disposition of what he had created-including the eternal disposition of wicked men) is proper (right)" (The Living Messages of The Old Testament, p. 204). Since man cannot explain the things which he sees as having been created by God, how can he possibly think that he is capable of questioning whether God did the right thing or not? Who is Job, Eliphaz, Elihu, or anyone else to criticize God's operation in the universe? Does Job condemn Jehovah while attempting to justify himself? This seems to be what God is telling Job.
God's Blessings of Job
After the three friends had been instructed to intercede to God in their behalf (Job 42:8-9), "the Lord turned the captivity of Job" (v. 10). God now restores Job's blessings twofold: material possessions, family (wife and children), and friends (42:10-17). He lives many years afterward (42:17). This writer likes to think that God looked the world over for a man to demonstrate integrity and found Job!
Some Purposes For Which The Book Was Written
(1) Man will serve God though he does not gain anything personally. As the book of Job teaches, this is the opposite of Satan's contention. The Bible teaches that if we serve God, He will bless us in return (Lk. 6:38; Matt. 6:33). But if we serve Him in order to get something from him (salvation based on merit), we sin! We should serve God whether we get anything from Him or not. This spirit of service will be rewarded by God as a fruit of our labor. We err when we make the fruit of our labor a motive.
(2) Suffering is not retribution. It is not the result of and in proportion to sin as a punishment. Positively and forcefully does this message come forth from the book of Job. God, in His wisdom, saw that this fact needed correcting throughout all ages and so He designed the book of Job to get the message across.
(3) We can trust God though we have no immediate answers to our concerns. One needs to realize that if we could see every step of our future, our walk would not be by faith (2 Cor. 5:7). Let it be remembered that Job said, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him" (Job 13:15).
(4) Suffering for righteousness sake has a purpose. When Peter said, ". . . if you suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye" (1 Pet. 4:14; 2:20). We may, like Job, lose a battle, but we will not lose the war (Job 42:1-6). "Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord . . ." (Jas. 5:10-11).
(5) God is aware of our suffering though we see no evidence of it. The story of Jesus and Lazarus is a good illustration of this point (Jn. 11:2-42). Though in the tomb for four days with what appeared to be unconcernedness on the part of the Lord, Jesus demonstrated that He did indeed care! "For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers (1 Pet. 3:12).
It would have been nice, if at the beginning of his ordeal, Job had understood all that was taking place. Unlike Job we have the whole picture. Should our attitude be less than that of Job? The Bible furnishes man completely unto every good work and we have everything that pertains to life and godliness (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3). God certainly expects more of us as we face suffering than he did of Job. Job longed for a "daysman" (Job 9:33); we have one in Christ (1 Tim. 2:6). Job desired life after death (Job 14:14), but it was Christ who brought it to light by the gospel (2 Tim. 1:10). Job begged to see God (Job 23:1-9). We see Him in the person of Christ (Heb. 1:3). How Job longed to hear God (Job 31:35). You and I can hear Him anytime we wish (Heb. 1:1-2). It is no wonder, with his limited knowledge of God's ways, that Job had a low estimate of himself (Job 40:4). The problem with most people is that they are a people with low esteem. Man's worth is seen in what Christ has done in providing salvation (Rom. 5:8; Matt. 16:26). God cares for us and if we trust Him enough to obey His Son from the heart He will see us through it all (Rom. 6:17, 1-6). "Blessed by God, even the father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of a comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God" (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 10, pp. 291, 309-311