Some Bible scholars think that the Book of Job is the oldest part of the Biblical record. In fact, it may be the oldest book in the world. It is certainly one of the most profound treatments in exploring the mystery of suffering, especially in the life of the godly. The Book is an extended dialogue between Job and his 3 friends who presumably have come to comfort Job in his great suffering.
As we seek to grasp the teaching of this Book, it is very important to realize that Job did not have privy to the conversations between God and Satan in Job 1 &2. The reader has background information that Job does not have. At the beginning of Job’s ordeal, we have Satan challenging God by saying that the only reason why Job serves Him is because of the gifts and protection the LORD has bestowed on Job (Job 1:9-11). Take these away, and Job would curse God to his face.
This is a foundational issue in the Biblical record. Do God’s people serve Him only because of what we can get out of Him and out of cringing fear of Him? Or do we serve the LORD out of genuine love and reverence? The only kind of service that is worthy of God and which stems from a mature relationship would be the latter. The LORD allows Satan to take away his children, material goods and health to reveal Job’s true heart.
As mentioned before, Job does not know the reason why he is suffering. This is part of the test that he is going through. Alfred Eldersheim writes: “We cannot understand the meaning of many trials; God does not explain them. To explain a trial would be to destroy its object, which is that of calling forth simple faith and implicit obedience. If we knew why the Lord sent us this or that trial, it would thereby cease to be a trial either of faith or of patience”. In this Book, the LORD does not give Job a reason of why he is suffering. We know, but not Job. In the end, Job comes through the testing process refined as gold (Job 23:10). Satan is proven to be a liar and the LORD is vindicated regarding His assessment of Job’s integrity and true worship.
A major part of the Book of Job is taken up with Job’s dialogue with his 3 friends. They come to comfort him but only make Job feel more miserable. These 3 friends are guilty of a stiff orthodoxy that crumbles under real-life situations. They believe “that calamity is always the direct outcome of sin, and that Divine favor or disfavor is indicated by a man’s material prosperity or adversity”. (Baxter) The 3 friends have a far too narrow and rigid view of God’s providence. Zophar’s words in Job 11:14,15 are typical of their reasoning with Job: “If you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, then you will lift up you face without shame; you will stand firm and without fear”. The 3 friends all want to prove that goodness and wickedness are always rewarded and punished in this life. There is no room for divine reward and retribution in the life to come.
I think the Book of Job is a good complement to God’s dealings with Israel in the historical books that we have spent looking at in the last 3 weeks. In these books, we have been emphasizing how Israel was in a covenant relationship with the LORD. We have highlighted how covenantal blessings accompanied obedience and judgment followed repeated and unrepentant disobedience. But this doesn’t mean that ungodly people never prosper in this life. Nor does it mean that godly people never experience misfortune and tragedy. If “godly” people always prospered in this life, and ungodly people always suffered disaster, then it would set up a situation where people would follow the LORD for the wrong reasons. Would true godliness and a pure heart be possible with such a fixed theory of life? Satan and unbelievers could always use the argument that the Adversary used in Job1 & 2 regarding the true motives of God’s servants.
Let us love the Giver more than His gifts. Let us serve Him out of a pure heart of love and reverence. We can be confident that whatever unexplained suffering we are undergoing serves a Divine purpose in our life. It will exercise a gracious ministry in our lives as we trust the LORD through it. In Christ’s love and service, Pastor John