Know Your Bible

VOL. 10                           August 7, 2011                           NO. 31


Do you desire the GIFTS or the GIVER? What circumstances in life could destroy your faith? Loss of wealth? Death of loved ones? Poor health? In His wise providence, Jehovah has preserved the account of a man who wrestled successfully with these issues. His name is Job. His story is in the book that bears his name.   

What do you know about Job? Most people know he had boils and was patient. But, there is far more to his story. Many believe that Job was written to explain why we suffer. But, Job will disappoint those who study him with this objective. Yes, suffering is a prominent theme in the book. But, it is not the central issue.   

Job is about faith. It is the story of a man chosen to experience a devastating trial of his faith. Briefly, in chapters 1-2, heaven's curtain is raised to give us a glimpse behind the scenes. We, as readers, are entrusted with information hidden from the actors. They must play their roles in this drama without insight that could radically affect the nature of their responses. Yet, it is important that they be deprived of it.   

Job is the greatest man of his time. Wealthy and influential, he is also godly and righteous. Jehovah is proud of his servant and brags on him to Satan. "Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil" (Job 1:8).   

Satan's slanderous response contends that the only reason Job (or anyone else for that matter) serves Jehovah is because they are bribed to do so by gifts (1:9-10). Take away the gifts and he will curse the Giver (1:11). God's reputation hangs in the balance. Is He worthy simply because of who He is? Or must He pay us to serve Him? 

God accepts this blasphemous challenge. He honors Job by selecting him as His personal representative in this test case. Job's response either vindicate God or add credence to Satan's insult. For the test to be valid, Job cannot be told of the contest or his role in it. 

Satan is given permission to strip Job of his possessions, but not to touch him. One day, servant after servant comes into the presence of Job delivering, with lightning speed and sledgehammer blows, the tragic news of the loss of all his possessions and, worst of all, his ten children. Bankrupt and childless all in the same day, Job falls on his face in grief, not to curse, but to worship. "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord" (1:20-21). Job didn't curse or charge God with wrongdoing. Jehovah's reputation remained intact.   

As we are allowed another peek behind heaven's curtain, we find Jehovah again bragging on Job to Satan. "Have you considered My servant Job? For there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man fearing God and turning away from evil. And he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to ruin him without cause" (2:3).   

Satan is still unconvinced. The first test wasn't tough enough. If only he could attack Job's body, he could prove his charge. That would make Job quit. The enemy is granted permission to take Job's health, but not his life.   

Job quickly finds his body racked with excruciating pain. Boils cover him from head to foot. He rejects his wife's urgings to give up on God and be through with Him. He tells her that such talk is foolish. "Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity" (2:10). Rather than pushing God away, Job clings tighter.   

When news of Job's tragic circumstances reaches his friends (Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu), they come to comfort him. Their comfort soon degenerates into bitter debate and insult. They contend that God follows strict rules in governing this world. They say that God rewards good behavior and punishes wicked. They are convinced (as are so many of us today) that a man's standing with God can be discerned by observing his physical circumstances. Judging from Job's current plight, it was obvious to them that he was a vile sinner.  If he would only confess his sin, God could again bless him.   

The central part of the book (chapters 4-34) contains three rounds of debate between Job and three of his friends. It ends in an exasperating stalemate (32:1). Each, in turn, accuses him of terrible sins. Job steadfastly maintains his innocence. He knows he has done nothing to deserve what he is experiencing.   

The fourth friend, Elihu, finally breaks his silence (chapters 32-37) leveling angry accusations at everyone (32:2-3). He accuses the friends of continuing to condemn Job when they cannot answer his objections. Later, God will say that these men have not spoken the truth about Him as Job has (42:7-8). (Yet, men today continue to use their arguments in discussions about suffering, as though this is what the Bible teaches about why men suffer!) 

Elihu says that Job is so determined to exonerate himself that he is willing to accuse God of wrongdoing (34:5,6; 35:1-3). He contends that there are other purposes for suffering besides punish-ment of the wicked. Though he comes closer to telling the truth than the others, I do not believe that even he discovered the real lesson God wants us to learn.   

The stumbling block impending the arguments of each of these men was their lack of ALL the facts. They are unaware of the contest. Here is a drama within a drama. Job thinks God is on trial. (Can He justify Himself in the eyes of Job? Can He give good and sufficient reasons for how He is dealing with Job? Can Job continue to believe in God's goodness?) 

But, we know there is something bigger going on. When Job shouts, "Why me? What have I done?", we want to shout back, "Nothing! This isn't punishment." 

We know that it is really Job who is on trial. The issue is not "why does God allow me to suffer?", but, "what will Job do when he loses every reason to believe in God's goodness?" 

Job desperately wants answers to his questions (as do we when faced with suffering). Oh, for his day in court. He would ask hard questions and demand that God answer and explain. We often believe that if God would just appear and tell us "why" we are suffering, we could endure it.   

Eventually Jehovah does appear, but not to answer Job's questions. Instead, by means of a science quiz (chapters 38-39), Job becomes convinced that his knowledge of the physical universe is so inadequate that he is certainly in no position to sit in judgment on God or to fairly evaluate how well He is running the moral universe. (If God were to appear to us in the midst of our sufferings, might He not do the same with us?) 

The lesson Job needed to learn (as do we) was that man just doesn't have ALL the facts. We are in no position to put God on trial. Job agrees to shut up. "Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to Thee? I lay my hand on my mouth. Once I have spoken, and I will not answer; even twice, and I will add no more" (40:3-5).   

However, God isn't interested in Job's SILENCE. He wants his TRUST. In chapters 40-41, He tells Job of Behemoth and Leviathan. If Job would not dare challenge these (who are mere creatures), why will he challenge their Maker? God controls the universe and is doing a good job of running it despite what we may sometimes think.   

Job is never given an explanation for his suffering. He is never told why these things happened. Yet, he goes away satisfied. He decides that he will continue to serve God despite his circumstances. He will continue to trust Him even when there seems to be no reason to (and perhaps even good reasons not to). 

He thus, disproves Satan's slanderous charge, and brings well-deserved glory to the name of the Lord. "I know that Thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 'Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask you, and you instruct Me. ' I heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees Thee; Therefore, I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes" (42:2-6).   

God is more concerned with Job's trust than his pleasure. We are not here on earth to have fun. We are here to learn to trust God and desire Him above all else (Psa. 73:25-28). Whenever tragedy comes into our lives, our reaction reveals our motive in serving God. It either shows that our real interest is in Him or that our real interest is in what He gives us.   

Is He worthy of our praise and worship even without His gifts? The issue here is bigger than the nature of "suffering." It is the issue of "faith." Your reaction to adversity reveals whether you agree with Job or with Satan. "I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised ... " (Psa. 18:3). Why do you serve God?

---David West

Searching The Scriptures,

April 1992, Volumne 33, Number 4

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