By Mark Mayberry
“God washes the eye by tears until they can behold the invisible land where tears shall come no more” (Henry Ward Beecher).
We cannot know for a certainty when Job lived, but there is compelling evidence to believe that his name should be included among the ancient patriarchs. He could easily predate the time of Abraham. His home was in the land of Uz, which was probably in the northern Arabian desert in a territory that came to be known as Edorn or Idumea.
Job was blessed with great abundance and a large family. Most importantly, Job was a righteous man, respected by his peers and servants alike. However, calamity struck Job: all his flocks, herds, and possessions were swept away through a succession of disasters. Even worse, the children whom he adored were all killed. Finally Job himself was beset with a terrible and painful disease. Although he questioned why such calamity should befall him, Job still maintained his faith in God. In the end, his wealth was restored to twice its original value, more children were born unto him, and he died a happy man.
Job struggled with the problem of suffering. Every person will eventually wrestle with the same questions that he faced. We all must come to grips with the problem of suffering and sorrow, pain and agony, disease and death. Thus, the Book of Job is a cherished treasure; its message is timeless. Little did this humble man know that the story of his personal adversity would become a source of comfort to countless millions who, down through the centuries, have faced tragedy themselves. This fact alone might well have been why Job was called upon to endure adversity. Humankind has been taught a valuable lesson from his example.
Summary of the Book
The Book of Job takes the form of a historical poem. The first scene opens with a picture of Job’s great prosperity, and then quickly turns to a discussion between God and Satan. God proudly points to Job as an example of a righteous man. However, Satan challenges God by suggesting that Job is faithful only because of the cornucopia of blessings he has received. The Lord permits Satan to test his theory by removing Job’s abundance, but this honorable man’s faith remains intact. Next, Satan suggests that physical suffering will cause man to curse God. Yet when Job is tried again, Satan is disappointed.
In the second scene, Job still does not curse God, but he does put some hard questions to the Lord. Bewildered and confused, he asks, “Why must I suffer such loss? What have I done to cause God to punish me so severely? What sins have brought on this calamity? Why is God so inconsistent in his punishment of the wicked? Why do the righteous suffer while the wicked prosper? Is there justice with God?” Thus Job challenges God, demanding to know why he has experienced such misfortune.
While Job presents this case to God, three of his friends – Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar – argue against him. Their approach is based on a simple syllogism: God always punishes sin; suffering is the result of sin; therefore Job is more of a sinner than he is willing to admit. They demand that Job confess his misdeeds. Yet, throughout it all, Job maintains his innocence. His faith has not been a put-on; his fidelity has not been a sham. There must be some other answer.
The third scene introduces a young man named Elihu who claims that neither Job nor his friends are correct. God does not act capriciously, as Job claims. Neither is suffering necessarily the result of sin, as his friends claim. Rather Elihu argues that suffering is often used by God to teach man certain lessons and to strengthen a person’s character.
In the final scene, it is God’s turn to speak. The Master of the Universe challenges Job: “What right do you have to accuse God? What power do you have? What understanding? What control? What authority? What wisdom?” The Lord God demands a response, but Job is dumbfounded. God continues to confront Job. He points out the paltry dominion of man. If man fears the large animals of the field, how much more should he manifest awe and respect for the Creator of all things? Through example after example, Jehovah sets forth the overwhelming difference between man and God. Finally, the Lord turns to Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. Job’s three friends are rebuked for having spoken falsehood. “My wrath is kindled against thee, ” said God, “for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right” (Job 42:7).
Job learned his lesson. In the end, he confessed the greatness and majesty of God; he repented in deep humility (Job 42:16). Job’s humble response demonstrates the depth of his righteous character. This indeed was a man of faith. The book closes with a picture of Job’s restored prosperity.
Then Job answered the Lord, and said, I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not, things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak., I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear. but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes (42:1-6).
Still we are left with the quandary, “Why does man suffer?” Even this masterpiece of literature does not answer all of our questions. Job was never given a direct answer as to why he suffered adversity. However, that itself is part of the lesson. True faith does not require an immediate or complete understanding of the workings of God. We cannot know all of God’s wisdom. In some respects we are not even in a position to ask “Why?”
However, the Scriptures do make several matters clear. First, we are reminded that all men, righteous and wicked, will one day stand before God in judgment. Evil men may prosper in this life, but their crimes will be exposed on that final day and they will be swept away like a flood. Secondly, we learn the fallacy of believing that suffering is always the result of sin. Job was a righteous man; he was not being punished for his wrong doings. Finally, it becomes obvious that man is in no position to accuse God of injustice. Man must learn not to blame God for all human suffering. We cannot plumb the ways of God; instead, “the just shall live by faith. ” When all was said and done, Job gained an understanding of the overwhelming might and majesty of Jehovah.
An awareness of these truths will not stop the tears of one who is suffering heartache or facing calamity. But they do challenge us to recognize the sovereignty of God. We must trust in his wisdom and understand that he has a time and purpose for all things, including adversity and suffering. It may not be apparent, but God works providentially’ in life to bring his people into a closer relationship with him, and thereby into greater harmony within themselves and with each other. Through faith, we can triumph over difficulties, even though we may not fathom all the circumstances of suffering (by Mark Mayberry. Adapted from The Narrated Bible by F. LaGard Smith [Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1984], p. 22,1155-1209).
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 14, pp. 424-425
July 20, 1989