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The Book of JobMost of us are familiar with the concept of first impressions. You always want to make a great first impression since those tend to linger in people’s minds. Consequently, since the book of Job appears to be the first work of Scripture, I will begin by focusing on what precisely that book tells us about the nature of God in His first impression to us.
Of course, that task is made more difficult by the fact that most of us already have an idea of the events of Job, even if we haven’t read the book ourselves. If you have a basic Sunday school knowledge, you know that a lot of bad things happen to Job, but that he stayed faithful to God and, in the end, was rewarded for his faithfulness. But for a moment, try to put yourself back in the role of our hypothetical time traveler who has come across the document for the first time. This time traveler recognizes that the book of Job is divinely inspired and, as such, is telling us about who God is. What does he learn in the pages?
We begin with the introduction Job as well as a brief description of where he lives and his character: “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). The land of Uz was most likely located in what would later become the land of Edom. On today’s map, it would constitute part of the south of Israel that extends eastward into Jordan. Its western border was probably Egypt.
We see Job described as “blameless and upright.” We are further told he “feared God and turned away from evil.” So Job is a sympathetic character. Surely, our first thoughts will be that this man must be blessed by God.
And sure enough as the book of Job continues we discover that he had a large family (seven sons and three daughters), he had thousands of sheep and camels, many oxen, donkeys, and servants. His children would attend parties frequently, and Job would pray and offer burnt sacrifices for them: “For Job said, ‘It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts’” (Job 1:5). Job shows obvious concern and care for his children, interceding on their behalf, further solidifying his righteous state, and also showing how important his children are to him.
It is also interesting that at this point, we already have several important religious truths unveiled for us. We see that burnt offerings are offered to God from Job, and since Job is righteous we can conclude that these offerings are righteous behavior to do. We see that Job also prays, and that both of these actions are motivated because of the possibility of sin. The sin is likely given the fact that Job’s children are party-goers, and people focused on entertainment are often less focused on God. But the particular sin that Job is most concerned with appears to be that they may have sinned by “cursing God in their hearts.” We can conclude therefore that sin ultimately boils down to an attitude toward God consisting of cursing Him. Job is in contrast to this, because Job feared God.
Immediately after introducing Job, the narrative brings in two more of the main participants: God and Satan. The word used for God is YHWH (Yahweh or Jehovah, rendered in English as LORD) although these events occurred well before Moses saw God in the burning bush and learned His Name. This seeming anachronism is part of the reason why the belief that Moses edited Job seems so likely to some. However, it is also possible that the name YHWH was widely known throughout the region (possibly even due to the events described in the book of Job). Under this second scenario, God giving Moses the name YHWH was confirmation to Moses that the real God was the One who was already being worshiped in Midian, where Moses fled after murdering the Egyptian.
In any case, let us turn our attention to the text:
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD (Job 1:6-12, ESV).Let us take it apart piece by piece and examine the particulars. It begins by speaking of “a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD.” Now, it is unclear from the context of the passage what precisely the phrase “sons of God” means here, but because Satan is one of the “sons of God” the probable understanding is that these are angels giving reports to God. If so, it is interesting to note that Satan is one of those giving the report to the LORD, even though we know from other places that Satan has already rebelled against God (since he did so before the Fall). Even in rebellion, Satan must present himself before God and give an account of what he has been doing.
After Satan responds about where he has been, it is interesting to note that it is God, not Satan, who brings up Job: “Have you considered my servant Job?” (verse 8). We have to ponder this for a moment. Satan was not looking for Job. Satan was wandering around the earth, almost in purposelessness, like a listless teenager. Then, it is almost as if God Himself paints a target on Job’s back.
The devil responds by pointing out that God has blessed Job immensely. It would be easy to pass over these words too quickly and miss the implication. Satan’s response is as follows:
1) That God has put a hedge around Job;
2) That God has blessed Job and made him prosperous.
Now the passage treats these comments as if they are true. That is to say, Satan’s first mocking question is “Have you not put a hedge around him and his house…?” Had the LORD not done so, the question would make no sense. So this means that Job’s immense possessions are being credited to God. This is not to say that Job had no part, for his work is also mentioned. Recall the specific line: “You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.” So it is true both that Job engages in the work of his hands and at the same time God is blessing it.
This is an important theme that will come up throughout Scripture. There is something going on wherein the same results can be attributed both to God and to man. That is, Job has because God made him prosperous, but at the same time Job has actually done work. These two concepts are compatible to each other.
Naturally, Satan concludes that those who are blessed by God would serve God. “But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face” (verse 11). Now this particular phrase is very interesting, because Satan is taking it for granted that if God stretches out His hand and touches what Job has, it will be a negative experience for Job. In today’s culture, we believe that being touched by God would be a blessing, but this is obviously not how the phrase is used here in Job. Satan is hereby stating (and the rest of the text will confirm) that God’s touch is destructive.
This paragraph ends with God telling Satan to go forth, “Only against him do not stretch out your hand” (verse 12). Thus, God has given Satan free reign over Job’s possessions and family, and it is only Job’s body that the devil is ordered to refrain from touching.
This interchange is critical to get right. Satan is an adversary against God. He would long for nothing more than to tear down all that God would build up. Yet Satan cannot make a move against Job until after God says, “All that he has is in your hand.” By himself, Satan is impotent—he can do nothing until God Himself puts Job into Satan’s hand.
But likewise note how the passage considered this putting of Job into Satan’s hand as equivalent to God’s stretching out His hand to touch all that Job has. Whatever Satan does against Job is not merely the act of Satan, but also considered the act of God. Just as Job’s increased possessions are seen as an interplay between Job’s work and God’s, the passage clearly links what Satan does to what God does.
And the interplay does not end there. The very next paragraph tells us of the day when Sabeans killed the servants tending oxen and donkeys, stealing the livestock, and only one servant remained alive to tell Job of this atrocity. And while he was still speaking, another servant ran up and told Job that “The fire of God” had burned up all the sheep and servants, leaving only the one servant to report to Job what had happened. And then, while that servant was still speaking, a third servant ran up to say the Chaldeans had raided the camels and killed all the servants, save the one left to make the report. And finally, while that servant was relaying his report, a fourth servant ran up to say that all of Job’s children had been killed when a wind struck the house, collapsing it upon those inside, and sparing only the life of that single servant.
Now, who or what actually acted during these events to destroy all that Job had? The Sabeans, natural events (“The fire of God”—possibly a lightning storm—and the great wind), and the Chaldeans. Yet look at Job’s response. First, he “fell on the ground and worshiped” (verse 20). Then he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (verse 21, emphasis added). Job said that it was the LORD who had taken everything from him, and just to make sure that we don’t miss the point it is important to note the conclusion of the narrator: “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (verse 22).
This is rather astonishing to us today. All that Job had is taken from him, and it is said to be an act of God? Surely Job must have been mistaken, and yet Job’s claim is measured to be a righteous response! He did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing, even though Job’s response indicated that it was the LORD, not the Sabeans or Chaldeans, who had done these things to him: “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away.”
Did you catch the significance of that? What God is telling us in the book of Job is that when we acknowledge that He is sovereign over the evil that happen to us—to the point that we can attribute them directly to His hand—we are not sinning. Job knew that he had been blessed of God in the first place, and he knew that God could remove His blessing at any time.
At this point, therefore, the evil actions that happened to Job have been described equally as the result of three different things:
1) God stretched out His hand against Job.
2) Satan acted as he pleased against Job, being restricted from harming Job physically.
3) The Sabeans, Chaldeans, and natural events.
But are we perhaps reading too much into it? Let us read on:
Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD. And the LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason” (Job 2:1-3)Let me interrupt the narrative for just a moment here. Up to the last sentence, this is a direct copy of what we saw in the first chapter. But note carefully how God concluded: “He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” If it wasn’t enough for Job to say that God did these actions, here God says it is He, not Satan, who destroyed Job!
If you are not flabbergasted at this, I’m not sure that you grasp what is going on here. God takes full responsibility for what happened to Job. We know that God did not act directly, for He put all of Job’s belongings into Satan’s hand who himself then used other means to carry out his own wicked plans, but somehow it is equally certain that God could rightly be said to be the one who destroyed Job. And not to belabor the point too much but it must be observed that God doesn’t mind taking ownership of His sovereignty, even during times when we would try to soften what has happened with platitudes about God “allowing” evil. Indeed, we can see in the events that God actually did do what we would commonly describe today as “allowing” Satan to destroy Job—but God considers permission equivalent to destroying Job Himself.
This cannot be overstated. God allowing an action is treated the same way, by God Himself, as God doing the action.
Frankly, this astonishes me. It seems so radically different from the concepts of God that we usually have in mind. Yet the text seems to be quite plain about it.
Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life” (Job 2:4-6).Once again, we see Satan ask for God to stretch out His hand against Job, this time touching his very flesh and bones. And once more we see that God does so by placing Job into Satan’s hand. And once again this transaction cannot in any way be seen as lessening God’s role in the events. The text plainly shows that Job being in Satan’s hand is equivalent to God stretching out His hand against Job. And how bad was it for Job at this point? He was struck with boils so severe, his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9). But Job’s response is equally strong: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (verse 10). This rhetorical question yet again affirms that what has been done to Job was due to God. It is God who is responsible for the evil that happens to Job, per Job’s own words.
Now some have argued that this merely expresses Job’s opinion, and that it is not “good theology” because he is in pain and not thinking straight. We know that much of what will happen later in the book, when Job’s “comforters” speak verifiable lies, is just reported verbatim. The narrative doesn’t agree with everything that the speakers say. The problem with holding on to the view that Job is speaking in error is that the book not only reports the statements, but passes the following judgment: “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”
This is in stark contrast with our attitudes today. Put it this way. How many of us would ever say, “This evil thing that just happened to me came from the hand of God” because of fear that we would be blaspheming? And if we heard someone else say God brought the evil as well as the good, how many would shush the speaker and tell him or her not to bash God? Yet we are told explicitly that Job did not sin by saying that God had just done the evil actions to him.
Satan could not harm Job on his own. Satan required permission from God. God granted that permission when He did not have to, and therefore He accepts responsibility for what happened to Job. (Of course, we must take pains to differentiate between responsibility and culpability, which we will explore in detail in later chapters of this book, but just to be clear here I am saying that while God is responsible for what happened to Job, He is not culpable. God acted righteously with Job and had a morally sufficient reason to allow the evil. On the other hand, Satan is culpable for what he did since he intended evil and had no good purpose in mind when he acted.)
Think on the importance of this view of sovereignty before we continue. God has no problem with the implications of His sovereignty. We often do; but He does not. Anything Satan does can be traced back to the sovereignty of God. And God doesn’t mind this. In fact, God treats it as a given and explicitly states in the book of Job that those who point this out are not sinning.
Let that sink in before we continue.
After all these events, Job has three friends arrive who try to comfort him in his pain. The next three dozen chapters go through those interactions. At the end, Job finally breaks down and begins to demand a reason for why God did what he did. After all, Job maintains his innocence even while his friends contend that only a sinner would be punished the way Job was. Job does so with some “If” statements, stating that he would accept his punishment if he had done these things, but he had not:
If I have walked with falsehood and my foot has hastened to deceit; (Let me be weighed in a just balance, and let God know my integrity!) if my step has turned aside from the way and my heart has gone after my eyes, and if any spot has stuck to my hands, then let me sow, and another eat, and let what grows for me be rooted out.Job states he was innocent of all the sins listed, and in fact we know from the text that he was innocent. It is understandable that he would be frustrated and looking for answers. But how does God responds to Job in chapter 38 of the book? We read:
If my heart has been enticed toward a woman, and I have lain in wait at my neighbor’s door…
If I have rejected the cause of my manservant or my maidservant, when they brought a complaint against me…
If I have withheld anything that the poor desired…
If I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing…
If I have raised my hand against the fatherless…
If I have made gold my trust or called fine gold my confidence…
If I have rejoiced at the ruin of him who hated me…
If I have concealed my transgressions as others doo…
If my land has cried out against me and its furrows have wept together…
(Job 31:5-9, 13, 16, 19, 21, 24, 29, 33, 38).
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens my counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:1-7).God’s response continues in a similar vein for the next two chapters. The rhetorical questions He poses are all unanswerable for Job. In responding this way, God essentially “tells Job off.”
And remember, this is God’s first impression to mankind! It is very possible that for hundreds of years, this was the only text giving any insight at all into His character. This was the first thing He wanted us to know about Him.
This attitude may seem rude at first glance, but when we think about it there’s good reason for it. Job, in demanding an answer from God, put himself on equal footing with God. Recall how the book of Job began. God was in heaven and was taking a report from the angels. The angels had to give details to Him as to what they were up to.
Whether Job knew it or not, by demanding answers of God he was placing himself on the throne in heaven and treating God as one of the angels. This precisely reverses the role of Creator and creation.
It is that reversal of the Creator and creation that seems to have generated God’s appeals to the works of creation (i.e., “Where were you when I created all this?”). As Creator, God gets to make the rules. He does not owe an explanation to anyone. God does not give a report to His creation, but His creation must report to Him. And in these lines, God establishes that He can do what He wants with His creation—including being sovereign over the evil events that befall innocent people—without giving any justification to the people who experience those wrongs. God is an absolute sovereign, and that which He has created has no basis to talk back.
Indeed, to talk back is to impugn God. In chapter 40, God describes Job’s behavior thus: “Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?” (Job 40:8). And ultimately, Job confesses:
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. “Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes (Job 42:2-6).This reaction from Job is once again viewed by the text as the right response, for God immediately says of Eliphaz the Temanite, one of Job’s friends: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7, ESV). And the phrase “For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” is repeated again in verse 8.
Because we know Job’s response is correct, let us look at it again. He says of God, “you can do all things” and furthermore “no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” Job has proclaimed God’s sovereignty clearly here, asserting He can do whatever He pleases. Job admits he did not have the right to demand answers from God: “I have uttered what I did not understand.” And therefore he repented when his behavior was made known to him.
God had brought a great evil upon Job. This is confirmed by the fact that the text says it was God stretching His hand out against Job, by the fact that Job says that God was the source of the evil along with the good (and immediately after, the narrator says Job has not sinned or blamed God), and even later in the chapter we are now examining: “And they [Job’s brothers, sisters, and neighbors] showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him” (Job 42:11). God was responsible for what happened to Job, and yet God was not answerable to Job for what He had done.
This presents a view of God that can be extremely difficult for some of us to wrap our minds around, especially since many of us approach the Scriptures primarily with the focus of Christ. Most of us who read the Bible are not like our hypothetical time traveler who has no preconceived notions about who God is. Rather, we have subtle biases, even biases that arise from facts about God that are included in the New Testament. It is for that reason that the God of Job needs to be more fully proclaimed, for that God is the same God whom we worship today. If your God would not bring all of these actions upon Job and offer him no answer at all for why He did so, then to put it bluntly, your God is not the God of the Bible. If your God would never respond to your plea for understanding by stating that He created all things and is not answerable to you, then your God is not the God of the Bible.
Before concluding, it is perhaps worthwhile to examine a common objection. Some people, having trouble with the idea that God would behave the way He is depicted behaving in this book, assert that the book is not truly dealing with history. It is claimed that Job did not really exist; that this is instead a metaphor or allegory. I don’t agree with that, but even if we grant it for the sake of argument, I don’t see how it alters the lessons we glean from the text. The book was written for a reason: to tell us something about the nature of who God is. That is the book’s intent whether the events are real or allegorical. Either way, they tell us the same lesson: that God is sovereign and has the right to do with His creation as He pleases. Either way, we learn the same facts about God’s nature and character, and it seems to me that it is those facts that people have an issue with, not whether or not the story really happened.
It is imperative that we grasp these concepts about God’s character. All the more so because this is the first impression that God has given us. This text was the first inspired text, and yet the view of God it proclaims is completely alien to much of modern Christianity. Even if we do not understand why, there was a reason that God wanted this to be the first thing He was known for, and we must bear that in mind as we continue.