“There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil. 2 And there were born unto him seven sons and three daughters. 3 His substance also was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she asses, and a very great household; so that this man was the greatest of all the men of the east. 4 And his sons went and feasted in their houses, everyone his day; and sent and called for their three sisters to eat and to drink with them. 5 And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually.” ~Job 1:1-5
Perhaps an appropriate introduction to the study of this suffering saint named Job is to provide some background information. Consider then, the location of the book, the author of the narrative, and the time period in which the book was written.
First, the location of the book. Job is placed before Psalms and Proverbs. There is a good reason for this. In Job the believer learns something about the majesty of Almighty God. Over thirty times the term Shaddai (the Mighty God) is used in speaking of the Lord. The soul learns that our God is an awesome God.
He speaks and the universe springs into existence.
He looks in a certain direction and the mountains melt.
He raises His hand and the hearts of kings are changed.
He is answerable to no one and does all things according to the counsel of His own good pleasure.
With proper respect, with holy fear and flesh that trembles, the believer is invited by the Psalmist to worship the One known as El Shaddai. The saints are invited to sing the songs of Zion. And, with wonder in the heart and a song upon the lips, the believer is instructed by the Proverbs how to walk before the One who is exalted above all things and worshipped.
There is a logical progression reflecting life itself from Job to Psalms to the Proverbs. The proper plan of life is to know God, to enjoy Him forever, and to walk before Him in righteousness.
Consider the human author of this sublime poem. Tennyson said that Job was “the greatest poem of ancient or modern times.” And yet its author remains anonymous.
Perhaps it was Moses who caught the words of faith from the lips of the suffering saint and wrote, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord” (1:21). Certainly, the ancient rabbis, according to Talmudic tradition, attributed the authorship of Job to Moses. It was said of Moses that, “God spoke mouth to mouth, even apparently” (Num. 12:8 cf. Deut. 34:10).
If Moses did not write this book of the Bible, perhaps David did. According to 2 Samuel 23:2 (Acts 2:29.30) David was authorized to pick up the pen of a prophet and write down those truths which will live and abide forever. “The spirit of the Lord spake by me, and His word was in my tongue.” The tongue of David was at times touched by poetry of the highest order. His imagination could soar to places beyond the sun and moon and stars even into the very throne room of God. His heart could beat with the hope of seeing the Messiah.
It is not hard to believe the Psalmist, with the skill of a scribe, could remember a man saying, “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:25ff).
Carlyle was right. The Book of Job is grand in its sincerity, majestic in its simplicity, melodic in its epic narrative and repose of reconcilement. The book of Job expresses sublime sorrow and sublime reconciliation, which is the oldest choral music as of the heart of mankind; so soft, and great; as the summer midnight, as the world with its seas and stars!
“David, are you the author of Job?”
If not, “Elihu did you write it?” Matthew Henry believes that he sees in Job 32:15-16 the words of a historian being mixed with the rhetoric of a self- righteous hysterical assault upon the holy man who is at the mercy of God.
Elihu may have come to comfort Job, but perhaps he went away to record the contest of ideas he had with the suffering saint who would not concede a vital point. Job would not admit to a wrong doing to the point that he deserved his dilemma. Elihu was convinced that Job had done something to merit misery or else he would not be going through such a terrible ordeal, and Elihu was a Wise Man. It is not being facetious to say that Elihu was a Wise Man, for others called him that in society.
In the ancient world The Wise, as a special group, were highly honored in the community. In Jeremiah 18:18 they stand beside the priest and the prophet. Then said they, “Come, and let us devise against Jeremiah; for the Law shall not perish from the Priest, nor counsel from the Wise, nor the word from the Prophet.”
The Wise in society were the schoolmasters and the court counselors of the ancient world (“Revelation in Jewish Wisdom Literature”, Rylaarsdam). The Wise could lay down the general method of God’s workings, if they were humble. People would listen to them. The Wise were asked to write down the lessons of life they had learned, much like Solomon wrote the Proverbs and the Ecclesiastics. When trouble came to individuals counsel would be sought from The Wise. They would come and they would sit. Then they would speak and give their opinion.
Elihu was among The Wise. “Elihu, did you write down the conversations you and your friends had with Job?” The answer is silence. It is not known. And it does not matter, for the lesson is remembered once more in respect to holy things that the message is always more important than the man.
The great evangelist George Whitefield said, “Let the name of Whitefield perish from the earth, but let the name of Jesus be proclaimed.”
It is the gospel which is most important and, as we shall see, the message of the gospel shall shine forth from the Divine narrative. In this manner a movement is made from the author to the message so that, by the grace of God, we read of a man named Job.
The name “Job” means literally “foe”, or “hostile.” Spiritually, it is an appropriate name, for Job was a good soldier of Christ, which means he was foe of the enemies of the Cross.
Job was an enemy to senseless arguments. When Elihu and others talked about life as it should be ideally, Job spoke of life as it is really. “Man [said Job] that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay” (Job 14:1f).
There is an old saying that some people are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good. While that is not a very kind thing to say, it does communicate a certain facet of the truth. Job was a foe to foolishness.
He was also a foe to the world, as will be all who live in Christ Jesus. Because this is true, the Lord has given to His followers the Sermon on the Mount to live by, and Apostolic Counsel “love not the world nor the things that are in the world” (1 John 2:15).
What are the things in the world the Christian is not to love?
Illegitimate access to money comes to mind, as well as a longing for social security.
The pursuit of pleasure, at the expense of others, is inappropriate as well as an inordinate striving for power.
Maneuvering for position and power that is driven by Inordinate pride is also of the world, along with inappropriate expressions of sensual passions.
The demand for respect and recognition is worldly in nature.
These are the things that war against the soul.
These things are the foes of faith.
These are the things that God will crucify in His own.
Job was a foe to the world, and he was a foe to the flesh though he was a rich man. The Bible says that Job had 7 sons and 3 daughters. In addition to a large family, he had 7,000 sheep,3,000 camels, 500 oxen, and 500 she-asses.
Job was a rich man. He could have been richer for money begets money. But what did Job do? Every day he sacrificed animals to the Lord. He slaughtered expensive and innocent animals in order to seek after righteousness before God, make an atonement for sin and lay up treasures in heaven.
When the gospel touches the heart, it touches the pocketbook as well. There is a natural and joyful giving to advance the gospel.
Job was a powerful man. He could have been more powerful, for power begets power. But what did Job do? He shared his authority with others by not lording it over them. He helped the weak rather than exploit them.
Job was an enemy to the world, he was hostile to the flesh, and he was a foe to Satan. Though he may never have realized it clearly, Job became part of a great angelic conflict. At one point it seemed that the Old Serpent would win the cosmic contest. The battle was fierce.
The warfare was prolonged.
The flesh of Job grew weak, and his spirit sagged.
His wife came to him one day and said, “Job, curse God and die”(Job 2:9). She was only a hollow echo of the voice of Satan from hell. But Job did not curse God. Though all of life’s circumstances sought to destroy his faith, Job delighted in El Shaddai. Job stood steadfast.
He was bowed, but not broken.
He was beaten and he was bruised by
a Fallen Angel named Lucifer.
His body became bloody with running sores,
However, his heart remained strong in the Sovereign. The sufferings of this saint are designed by God to teach many things, only a few of which can now be mentioned.
First, there are exceptional experiences in life. While man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards, not all of life is suffering. Hopefully, there are good days. But there are exceptional experiences that the soul must endure and the book of Job tells us how. The Psalms teach us to think in a worshipful manner. The Proverbs teach us to consider the general principles of life. Ecclesiastes teaches us to think soberly.
Only Job has the clearest word for the exceptional, traumatic experiences of life when our world falls apart. At such times, a second lesson the saint learns is that no-one can dictate to God whether these Exceptional Experiences shall be endured. The heart may try. The natural mind of man may start to seek every way to avoid the deprivation of good health, the agitation of losing a job, the termination of income, the slander of a solid reputation, or the destruction of a secure future.
However, when God decides that an exceptional experience is to take place, He may allow a sudden blast from the abyss to destroy everything of human value and leave the soul astonished in the ashes of agony. When these exceptional experiences arise a third lesson is learned, wisdom is worthless unless it is linked to true godliness. In simple language, it is one thing to pray like a true Christian and to profess faith, but it is something else to live out the ethics of the Christian faith.
El Shaddai wants to know if there is a vital godliness to accompany the understanding of wisdom.
Solomon was a wise man. The king possessed so much wisdom that he was able to impress the Queen of Sheba, but there came a time when his wisdom was no longer linked to godliness. The Bible is very clear in stating that the many foreign wives of Solomon turned his heart away from the Lord.
In the end Solomon lost his vital godliness. How many people do you know that, in the end will have no vital godliness? They will have a lot of Bible knowledge, but it will avail nothing.
Having said this, caution should be taken with this point because it is possible to consider that some excessive sin is the cause of an Exceptional Experience—when just the opposite is true. It was because Job was righteous that he had to endure a great spiritual ordeal—and the thought is established.
In the mist of untold misery, the true value of the soul shall be made manifest.
Those who are cast into the furnace will come forth as gold in the nobility of the soul. And wisdom will be justified of her children.
In the days to come, you are encouraged to read as often as possible in the book of Job. There may be some hard thoughts to understand, but other thoughts will be a source of spiritual strength. Remember that Job has been written to help those who are struggling with the mystery of affliction.
It has been written especially for the righteous.
If the heart remains open, the Christian will discover afresh two great themes throughout the Divine narrative:
First, the manifestation of God’s care. El Shaddai still cares even when it seems He has turned away His ear from the cries of His people.
Second, the majesty of the Messiah. Christ will be seen, for there are many parallels between Job and Jesus.
Job suffered greatly, and Christ went to Calvary.
Job was humbled, and Christ made Himself of no reputation.
Job was pressed down by circumstances, and His enemies pursued Jesus unto death.
Job’s friends falsely accused him, and Jesus was called the child of Beelzebub.
Job’s wife railed against him, and the brothers of Jesus did not believe in Him until after His resurrection.
Job had to learn patience, and Jesus endured the Cross for the joy that was on the other side. Look for the love of El Shaddai behind the world, the flesh, and the Devil as you read the book of Job.
Most of all, look for Christ.
John and Betty Stam had finished years of preparation in college and Bible school. God had brought them together to complement each other in a work which seemed to lie before them for years in China, where they had learned the language and were prepared for an unusual service for the Lord. Their first baby was in their arms as they were captured by a band of teenage Communists in the mid-thirties. How could it happen to such a lady as Betty Stam who wrote the poem with the title, Afraid? Of What?
“Afraid? Of What?
To feel the spirit’s glad release?
To pass from pain to perfect peace,
The strife and strain of life to cease?
Afraid? Of What?
Afraid to see the Savior’s face,
To hear His welcome, and to trace
The glory gleam from wounds of grace
Afraid? Of What?
A flash, a crash, a pierced heart;
Darkness, light, O Heaven’s art!
A wound of His a counterpart!
Afraid? Of What?
To do by death what life could not—
Baptize with blood a stony plot,
Till souls shall blossom from the spot?
Only with such deep understanding could Betty Stam endure being led through the streets almost unclothed, along with her young husband, hands tied behind their backs. Their baby was left in her “snuggle bunny” on the bed in the room where they had been imprisoned for the night.
How could it be that this well-prepared missionary couple, with so many praying for them, have their heads placed on a chopping block with a sharp knife at the back of their necks? Suddenly they were absent from the body and present with the Lord as their heads were severed and rolled in the dust! How could it be that an old Chinese Christian willingly offered to take the baby’s place and placed his own head where the baby’s head would otherwise have been? A life for a life—and two others snapped off. Martyrdom. How could it be possible? Why? That is part of the mystery of suffering.