Job 1: When the Storm Breaks
During the years 1643-1666 (almost 24 years) Joseph Caryl, a Congregationalist minister who was present at The Westminster Assembly, preached some 250 lectures on Job! In the final lecture he apologizes, saying: “I have not attained so clear an understanding of some passages…” That may be your verdict on Job, too. You have read it, but what does it mean?
There is perhaps no greater, and certainly no more moving story in all the Bible than the one that unfolds here: the story of Job and his trial. Everyone can relate to some degree with this story.
There is a marker in the opening verse that helps us understand what kind of book this is. We read that Job “feared God” (1:1) Later, in Job 28:28 we learn that to fear God is an act of wisdom. The Book of Job is about wisdom; it is, along with Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, part of the Wisdom Literature of the Bible. But what does that mean? It means more than knowledge (facts and figures); wisdom books show us how to live as God intends us to live. Job, then, is a “practical” book. It deals with life-issues and tells us how best to respond to them.
When life turns bitter, where is God?
The first chapter brings into sharp focus three characters: Job, Satan and God.
A two-fold testimony as to the character of Job is given, one by the author (1:1f), and another by God himself (1:8). God tells us that Job was a godly man. We need to remember that. Four words describe his godliness: blameless (wholehearted would be a better translation), upright, feared God and shunned evil.
Job had a healthy respect for God. Not to fear God is a sickness of the soul. The fear of God is “the soul of godliness,” wrote John Murray. It is an apprehension of God in majesty held before our eyes as we live our lives each day. Job had a great God and he knew it! When we fear God, as a rendition of Psalm 34 puts it, “we will have nothing else to fear”!
All of this provides for us corroboration to Job’s plea of “innocence.” Later on in the book, his friends will accuse him of all kinds of sins and indiscretions; but we know that whatever the reason for Job’s suffering, it is not directly connected to any sin of his.
We all know that behind every evil lies the figure of Satan. We know this, but we are often prone to forget it, too. That’s why the Bible keeps reminding us that from the beginning, when sin entered the world and pain and sickness along with it, the devil was there. He had something to do it. It is still surprising, though, that Satan does not loom large in Old Testament. Apart from here in the opening chapters, the only other chapters that mention his work in any detail are Genesis 3 and Zechariah 3.
One of the first things that puzzles us about this story is the fact that Satan is in the presence of God!
Satan, along with the “angels” (Hebrew reads “sons of God”) came to “present themselves before the Lord” (1:6). Satan has to give an account of himself! (1:7). He does not have ultimate authority. He is “reporting” to God. He is not autonomous. His power is a delegated one. That should tell us immediately that his power is curtailed. He cannot do as he pleases. His malice is under check. It may not appear like that to us, but whatever wickedness he can design, it is always less than he might desire.
The answer Satan gives betrays something about him: he is a vagrant, a vagabond. He roams through the earth and goes back and for in it (1:7). He spends his time wandering to and fro. He can never say, This is my home.”
But, trials cannot simply be attributed to Satan. They can be attributed to him, but not solely to him. It is God who brings up the possibility of Job’s temptation to Satan (1:8; 1:12; 2:3). This is so very important to understand. The ultimate authority for this trial is God’s, not Satan’s. When bad things happen to God’s people, God did it! That is the disturbing message. We get the impression that Satan hadn’t even thought about Job until God mentioned him.
Satan is a cynic. He always misreads and twists everything. He lies because he is “the father of lies.” “Does Job fear God for nothing?” (1:9) he says. In effect, the only reason why Job doesn’t curse You is because of the things You have given to him, he suggests. Take these away and Job will curse You to Your face. That gives us a clue as what Satan is about. His ambition is to curse God. He will do it himself, and he will attempt to get others to join him. That’s what he lives for. It is hard to imagine a being so utterly given over to evil as to make this the goal of everything one does.
But the eternal frustration that Satan has to live with is that he can never accomplish what he desires. His is limited in his abilities. He is not omnipotent. He is a finite creature. God sets boundaries around what he can and cannot do (1:11; cf. 2:6). Job can be tested domestically and circumstantially but he himself must remain unscathed. There are “rules of engagement.” Satan can only stand and wait. At the close of the Bible we see it again: in Revelation 20, Satan is “released” but only to fulfill God’s plan and his defeat is certain. Lewis again: we can make too much of the Devil.
The disturbing thing for some of us is the realization that behind what happens here¾ Job’s loss of his family and goods¾ lies the hand of God. That’s the problem, isn’t it. It isn’t so much that Job suffered. We are used to that. We see examples of that every day. And, it isn’t the so-called “problem of evil” either¾ solving the issue as where did sin come from.
Stating it that way reminds us again that the Book of Job is primarily a book about God. It is the issue we shall have to return to again and again as we unfold its message. It is not so much, why do we suffer? But, why does God make us suffer?
When we come full circle to the end of the Book, we shall observe that Job is given a revelation of the majesty of God rather than an answer to his many and pointed questions. “There is nothing better,” observed Calvin, “than to be subject to the majesty of God.” But more of that later. For now we need to look at Job’s initial response to his trial. And it is breathtaking!
His response is to “worship” (1:20). It is always appropriate to worship. Job seems utterly submissive and servant-like. It is the epitome of trust. The beautiful words of verse 21 are stunning:
All of us who love God desire to respond to trials like this. It could be a prayer that we make each day: “Lord, when difficulty comes, no matter what it may be, help me to say what Job said.”
These words recognize…
But wait a minute! Have we not already seen that God is the one who instigates this trial? Indeed we have, though Job did not know that. Nevertheless here is a mystery:
Sometimes all we can do is state the principle; logic evades us.
A few weeks later he writes again:
Job would have said the same.