18-9

“Hast thou considered my servant Job…”

For a man famous for his patience, it was far from  his defining characteristic. In fact Job could be quite impatient. Rather, there were two other qualities he  possessed above all else. Faith and endurance. The first was total, but neither blind nor unquestioning.  The second grew out of the first, to an extent almost  unique in all of human history.

Job was an extremely successful businessman, the greatest in his region. His wealth was tied  up mainly in livestock and he owned large herds  and flocks of sheep, camels, cattle and asses. His autobiographical account of his early life (eg Job  29–31) told of a religious man with a very happy  home life. Job 1:1–5 provides a summary, as well as  a divine character reference. By any definition, Job  was a faithful brother.

Commentary on the events that followed in Job’s  life has filled many volumes. It can be a difficult book  to follow in some parts, and it is a good idea to have a  more modern translation to accompany the AV when  reading it. The structure of the book is as follows:

Job 1–2 Narrative about Job’s life, character and trials

  Job 3–42:6 Poem about Job’s conversations with his  friends, and with God.

Job 42:7–12 Narrative about Job’s life after his trials  were over

The poetic section  consists of:

Job 3–26 Series of three  sets of discussions  between Job and his three  friends, Eliphaz, Bildad  and Zophar

Job 27–31 Monologues  from Job

Job 32–37 Elihu’s  Intervention

Job 38–41 Yahweh speaks

Job 42:1–6 Job answers

Often much discussion centres on who ‘Satan’ was in Job 1 and 2. Several different opinions exist as to who this adversary was, but  almost all agree on one point. The statement that Job only served God for what he could get out of  it in material wealth (Job 1:9–10), was a very real  view held by at least one disgruntled adversary in  the ecclesia at the time. The primary reason given for  what happened to Job was to thoroughly disprove this erroneous view. Job’s motives for serving God  are given in his character reference, and were not  selfish. He respected and revered his Creator. God  knew he was a man of integrity, and by Job 2:3, that  had been proved. This should never be lost sight of. Faithful men and women throughout history have served, and continue to serve God, for the same reasons.

By the end of chapter 2, Job had lost almost  everything. His children were all dead, his wealth  and possessions were gone and his wife had  despaired. He was suffering from a horrific disease that caused him physical and mental anguish  almost beyond comprehension. He stunk, and an  infestation of worms was literally eating him alive.  He lived in a rubbish dump and his only relief was  to scratch his itching, rotting flesh with broken  pieces of pottery. He was stared at, talked about,  laughed at and mocked, but no-one could help him. His three friends, who arrived to comfort him, were  speechless at the sight of him. The words of Isaiah  53:1–3 could well be applied to Job: he had been  “cut off out of the land of the living.”

The words of Job

By the start of chapter 3, Job was a broken man. He  lamented the day of his birth and looked forward  only to death. As his discussions with his three  friends developed, he became increasingly frustrated  by them. They accused him of committing great sins  which resulted in his great suffering. Job denied  these allegations, though he never claimed to be  without sin. He was, however, prepared to stand on  his own record to justify himself before his friends.  He became tired of their baseless allegations and  turned to God to try and find answers. He longed for an opportunity to state his case directly to the divine Judge and was confident his case was sound.

Job sometimes spoke unwisely, and God eventually told him so. But in the end, God judged  the words of Job as “the thing that is right” (42:7).  This faithful, courageous brother had still been able  to say, when all hope seemed lost, “I know that my redeemer liveth” (19:25).

The three friends

The speeches of Job’s three friends contained  many truisms, but in the end were judged to be  false (42:7). We can learn much from them about how not to deal with people who suffer! For all of  their high sounding words, the three friends of Job  actually said very little.

Elpihaz began politely enough, but very quickly cut to the chase: “Whoever perished being innocent?”  (4:7). This theme sadly developed into outright  accusations against Job of sins he never committed  (eg 22:5–9). Along the way Zophar said that Job  was actually suffering less than he deserved (11:6).  As they became more frustrated with Job, the list of  dire consequences for sin became longer and more colourful, as if he must crack and confess if he could  be scared enough. Finally, though, they ran out of  energy, imagination and adjectives.

Another theme sounded highminded enough:  “Shall mortal man be more just than God?”(4:17).  The greatness of God, the power of God, man’s  uncleanness in His sight, were all presented. Job didn’t disagree with these in principle, but what  answers did they provide of themselves? None in the  end, because the fact is there is a way of approach to  God; He does have a purpose with man, and what  Job needed was direction along that path. All the  friends put before Job was a dead end (see 25:4–6).

They also tried ‘the carrot and stick’ routine: “If  thou return unto the Almighty, thou shalt be built up”  (22:23). Confess, and all will be well! This produced  in Job the other extreme of self-justification, which was necessary for God to be able to bring  to light vital principles of the way of salvation. But without God’s intervention they would simply have alienated a faithful brother.

Their simplistic theory of ‘exact retribution’ was  finally shown to be false.

The words of Elihu

Another subject often discussed is whether Elihu was harmful or helpful.

It seems that Elihu sought to fulfil the role of  ‘go between’ that Job had been requesting (9:33).  At times over-exuberant and not always entirely accurate, he nevertheless moved the discussion in the right direction. This he did with three clear differences:

  1. He didn’t contend that Job’s sufferings were the result of past sins. The only criticisms he levelled at Job were based on what he had  said to his friends.
  2. He contended that God does communicate with man (eg 33:14–16)
  3. He said God is working to a plan to provide salvation for man (eg 33:23–28)

Whether we consider Elihu abrasive or not, whether everything he said was perfectly expressed, the fact is that he re-started a discussion that  had run out of ideas. He began to bridge the  gap between an all powerful, harsh God Who is unapproachable, to the loving God Who cares for all His creation. He prepared the ground and when  it was ready, God took over in a remarkable way.

God’s answer

When God finally spoke, Job finally understood. He said as much in Job 42:5. What he had only heard before, he now saw clearly.

And yet, some have claimed it was no answer  at all. There was not one word spoken of what we  would commonly call sympathy, no expressions  of tender consolation, not even an explanation of why the trials had occurred. But in the end, the  Apostle James concluded that what was seen was  that the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy”  (5:11). Enlightened by this inspired conclusion, it is  our privilege to read the longest divine monologue recorded in human history, and to conclude for ourselves what it meant for Job.

Broadly, God’s answer to Job was in three parts:

  1. Job 38:1–38 God’s wisdom in the inanimate world
  2. Job 38:39–39:30 God’s wisdom in the living world
  3. Job 40–41 God ’s control over the Uncontrollable

It commenced with a very strong statement of  the power of God. As Job had sought for answers, at times he spoke almost as if God could be  challenged like a fellow human being. As mortals,  we must remember the greatness of our God: “The  fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom” (Job 28:28Prov 9:10).

With this foundation laid, God moved on to  show that Job could have total confidence in divine  care, even if he didn’t always understand it. The  created universe demonstrates the genius of God.  All is well managed, everything is done properly.  The vast majority of events take place outside the  view or knowledge of human beings, but all are  under perfect control. God manages eternity in  time and space.

The view then moved to the living world on  earth. Every creature is provided for, all reproduce, their babies survive, and their species continue.  There is enormous variety, animals of completely  opposite nature are all catered for. God’s care is  shown to be universal, and along the way a vital  principle is established. Some creatures suffer so  others can live. God presents the example of the lion (38:39). If man was in control, they would be wiped out as a threat to his own existence. History  has proven the assertion correct, with some species  destroyed entirely, and others reduced to zoos and  game parks. But God cares for all His creatures and  has provided for all, even if that sometimes means some suffer that others may survive. If God take  such care kind of the animal world, how great must his care be for mankind.

Every type of person has the potential of the hope of salvation (“there is neither Jew nor Greek…”),  and God provided the life of His own Son to make that possible.

By the start of chapter 40, Job had been  overwhelmed with what he had been shown,  but there was a final point to be made. God controls what is uncontrollable for man. Pride and  wickedness (40:11–12). To illustrate this, God uses  two deadly and untameable animals, behemoth  and leviathan (possibly the hippopotamus and the  crocodile). Though man can cage them and predict  their behaviour, he cannot tame them. But God made them.

Conclusion

Job was humbled and enlightened by what God  had said to him. Though his problems remained,  his confusion was gone. In his own words, he could  now “see” (42:5). Job didn’t say exactly what he saw, but surely James provided the inspired answer. In  the infinite wisdom of creation, and the careful  provision for every creature, including man, Job  saw a God of love and tender mercy. The God he  had always feared was also the One he could trust.

One final matter remained. Salvation! Job’s friends had been wrong and they were in a position  of great need. Those who had condemned Job  were themselves now condemned, by their own  flawed theory! (42:8). But God offered them the  solution they had failed to find for their friend.  And how wonderful, how ironic, that the solution  involved the very subject of their condemnation.  The innocent victim of their cruel taunts would  be the path to their salvation. Job prayed for his  friends and the way of salvation was opened for them, and they gratefully took it. In so doing, Job  himself was delivered from his suffering. His disease was healed, his losses were reinstated and he and  his wife were blessed with ten more children, with every indication they will yet be reunited with the first ten in the Kingdom.

Job is the story of a servant of God who suffered greatly because of a cruel adversary, but through whom God was able to bring about salvation and restoration. The very world we live in speaks the  same story, if we care to look carefully. All around us there is life, seemingly caring for itself without any  help from man, but able to do so only because it has been so carefully created by a tender, loving Creator. And nowhere is that better illustrated than in the  pinnacle of that creation, the Son of God himself.

“Behold my servant…”