The Real Story Behind Job (A Man Who Experienced The Darkest Night of The Soul)August 11, 2008
Job experienced a shot to the heart in catastrophic proportions. In an instance, he received the most devastating news. Within one fell swoop he was stripped of his livestock, his servants, and worst of all, his beloved large family. However, amidst all this, Job remained upright. His reply was, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (1:21) Perhaps Job said this in tears.
Soon after Job experienced a second hardship; that of his health. From head to toe he became covered with horrible soars. But even to this he replied “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (2:10)
There are many misconception about the story of Job. What is the book about? Is it about the problem of evil and why God allows it? Is it really true that Job somehow brought his suffering upon himself? What was it about God’s answer that satisfied Job? Did God even give an answer?!!! Many remain confused by this Biblical story.
The majority of the book, chapters 3 to chapter 31, lays out the discussion between Job and his 3 fiends. Job’s friends have 2 primary arguments and Job has 2 primary arguments. Job’s friends argue 1. that Job has sinned somehow, thus God is punishing him, and that 2. he needs to say he’s “sorry” so that God will restore him again. Job argues that 1. he hasn’t done anything to deserve so great a punishment, and 2. wishes to take up his case with God directly.
We have all experienced suffering and turmoil in one shape or form. However, our tragedies probably can’t even compare with Job’s. Thus, all that can be learned from this story ought to apply to us all the more.
To get started, let’s first peer into how Job is feeling because of his great suffering. In chapter 3, Job wishes he was never born. Why? His tragedy is too painful to bare. He believes God has completely wasted His time by letting him live at all. He feels his past good life was worthless in comparison to his present anguish.
3:3-4 “May the day of my birth perish,
and the night it was said, ‘A boy is born!’
That day—may it turn to darkness;
may God above not care about it;
may no light shine upon it.”
And so after one week of remorse with Job, Eliphaz begins his response. He bluntly tells Job that he has brought all this upon himself somehow. Like the other two friends, Eliphaz believes that Job has unknowingly let sin slip through the cracks. Thus, God is punishing him.
Again, this is the first argument that is raised in the book of Job. Wouldn’t it be nice to be suffering like Job and have your three legalistic friends come up to you and accuse you?! The rest of the story will unfold whether or not his friends portrayed God accurately.
4:7-8, Eliphaz says
“Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished?
Where were the upright ever destroyed?
As I have observed, those who plow evil
and those who sow trouble reap it.
“Can a mortal be more righteous than God?
Can a man be more pure than his Maker?
If God places no trust in his servants,
if he charges his angels with error,
how much more those who live in houses of clay,
whose foundations are in the dust,
who are crushed more readily than a moth!”
This leads us to the second argument that is taking place. Job is absolutely sure that he hasn’t done anything wrong.
7:17-20, Job says
“What is man that you make so much of him,
that you give him so much attention,
that you examine him every morning
and test him every moment?
Will you never look away from me,
or let me alone even for an instant?
If I have sinned, what have I done to you,
O watcher of men?
Why have you made me your target?
Have I become a burden to you?
Even Bildad and Zophar accuse Job of doing wrong in some way. This is supposedly why God has brought suffering Job’s way.
The third argument is as follows. The three friends admonish Job to say he’s “sorry” to God and apologize for his overlooked sin. Then God will give him back what he had before.
In 11:13-18 Zophar says
“Yet if you devote your heart to him
and stretch out your hands to him,
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 your face without shame;
you will stand firm and without fear.
You will surely forget your trouble,
recalling it only as waters gone by.
Life will be brighter than noonday,
and darkness will become like morning.
You will be secure, because there is hope;
you will look about you and take your rest in safety.”
Now this leads us to the fourth argument. Job believes he hasn’t deserved his suffering and challenges God’s ways. Job wants God to answer him for why He’s treating him so harshly. Job eventually does get an answer, but it is an answer he would have never expected!
13:3-5, Job says
“But I desire to speak to the Almighty
and to argue my case with God.
You, however, smear me with lies;
you are worthless physicians, all of you!
If only you would be altogether silent!
For you, that would be wisdom.”
“Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;
I will surely defend my ways to his face.
Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance,
for no godless man would dare come before him!
Listen carefully to my words;
let your ears take in what I say.
Now that I have prepared my case,
I know I will be vindicated.
Can anyone bring charges against me?
If so, I will be silent and die.
“Only grant me these two things, O God,
and then I will not hide from you:
Withdraw your hand far from me,
and stop frightening me with your terrors.
Then summon me and I will answer,
or let me speak, and you reply.
How many wrongs and sins have I committed?
Show me my offense and my sin.”
And so the same arguments carry on and carry on. In chapter 34 Elihu speaks. He has been listening to the entire discussion. Elihu sees that Job and his friends have a misconception about God’s character. He understands that they perceive God as very predictable, or cut and dry. To them, God is just a responder to our actions. He stands holy and powerful only to punish those who lack what He demands, and only to bless those who are quick to say they’re “sorry”.
But before we focus on Elihu’s response, let’s balance Job’s understanding. Job does understand that he is not perfect. He is not as upright as God, thus a sinner. He acknowledges his need for some type of mediator (Christ) between himself and God.
9:32-35, Job says
“He is not a man like me that I might answer him,
that we might confront each other in court.
If only there were someone to arbitrate between us,
to lay his hand upon us both,
someone to remove God’s rod from me,
so that his terror would frighten me no more.
Then I would speak up without fear of him,
but as it now stands with me, I cannot.”
Nevertheless, Job believes God has treated him wrong and owes him an apology. What God has dealt him is off the charts. Therefore, Job believes that he has a valid case before God and demands an explanation from Him.
31:5-37, Please read Job’s last argument of despair
“If I have walked in falsehood
or my foot has hurried after deceit-
let God weigh me in honest scales
and he will know that I am blameless-
if my steps have turned from the path,
if my heart has been led by my eyes,
or if my hands have been defiled,
then may others eat what I have sown,
and may my crops be uprooted.
If my heart has been enticed by a woman,
or if I have lurked at my neighbor’s door,
then may my wife grind another man’s grain,
and may other men sleep with her.
For that would have been shameful,
a sin to be judged.
It is a fire that burns to Destruction;
it would have uprooted my harvest.
If I have denied justice to my menservants and maidservants
when they had a grievance against me,
what will I do when God confronts me?
What will I answer when called to account?
Did not he who made me in the womb make them?
Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?
If I have denied the desires of the poor
or let the eyes of the widow grow weary,
if I have kept my bread to myself,
not sharing it with the fatherless-
but from my youth I reared him as would a father,
and from my birth I guided the widow-
if I have seen anyone perishing for lack of clothing,
or a needy man without a garment,
and his heart did not bless me
for warming him with the fleece from my sheep,
if I have raised my hand against the fatherless,
knowing that I had influence in court,
then let my arm fall from the shoulder,
let it be broken off at the joint.
For I dreaded destruction from God,
and for fear of his splendor I could not do such things.
If I have put my trust in gold
or said to pure gold, ‘You are my security,’
if I have rejoiced over my great wealth,
the fortune my hands had gained,
if I have regarded the sun in its radiance
or the moon moving in splendor,
so that my heart was secretly enticed
and my hand offered them a kiss of homage,
then these also would be sins to be judged,
for I would have been unfaithful to God on high.
If I have rejoiced at my enemy’s misfortune
or gloated over the trouble that came to him-
I have not allowed my mouth to sin
by invoking a curse against his life-
if the men of my household have never said,
‘Who has not had his fill of Job’s meat?’-
but no stranger had to spend the night in the street,
for my door was always open to the traveler-
if I have concealed my sin as men do,
by hiding my guilt in my heart
because I so feared the crowd
and so dreaded the contempt of the clans
that I kept silent and would not go outside
Oh, that I had someone to hear me!
I sign now my defense—let the Almighty answer me;
let my accuser put his indictment in writing.
Surely I would wear it on my shoulder,
I would put it on like a crown.
I would give him an account of my every step;
like a prince I would approach him.”
So now Elihu will bring balance. He explains that God does not treat everyone the same. God does not deal with people in a predictable cookie cutter fashion. He explains that God deals with everyone on an individual bases. He does have mercy even on those who are openly and continually wicked. In fact, sometimes it is God’s hidden purpose to lead such wicked people to repentance.
33:8-18, Elihu responds to Job
“you have said in my hearing—
I heard the very words-
‘I am pure and without sin;
I am clean and free from guilt.
Yet God has found fault with me;
he considers me his enemy.
He fastens my feet in shackles;
he keeps close watch on all my paths.’
“But I tell you, in this you are not right,
for God is greater than man.
Why do you complain to him
that he answers none of man’s words?
For God does speak—now one way, now another—
though man may not perceive it.
In a dream, in a vision of the night,
when deep sleep falls on men
as they slumber in their beds,
he may speak in their ears
and terrify them with warnings,
to turn man from wrongdoing
and keep him from pride,
to preserve his soul from the pit,
his life from perishing by the sword.”
“Yet if there is an angel on his side
as a mediator (Christ), one out of a thousand,
to tell a man what is right for him,
to be gracious to him and say,
‘Spare him from going down to the pit;
I have found a ransom for him’- (Christ)
then his flesh is renewed like a child’s;
it is restored as in the days of his youth.
He prays to God and finds favor with him,
he sees God’s face and shouts for joy;
he is restored by God to his righteous state.
Then he comes to men and says,
‘I sinned, and perverted what was right,
but I did not get what I deserved.
He redeemed my soul from going down to the pit,
and I will live to enjoy the light.’
“God does all these things to a man—
twice, even three times-
to turn back his soul from the pit,
that the light of life may shine on him.”
Elihu exhorts that God must and does judge fairly.
“Far be it from God to do evil,
from the Almighty to do wrong.
He repays a man for what he has done;
he brings upon him what his conduct deserves.
It is unthinkable that God would do wrong,
that the Almighty would pervert justice.
Who appointed him over the earth?
Who put him in charge of the whole world?
If it were his intention
and he withdrew his spirit and breath,
all mankind would perish together
and man would return to the dust.”
35:5-8, Elihu explains that it is of no benefit to God for anyone to be good! God is self-sufficient. He needs nothing from us. We only need Him.
“Look up at the heavens and see;
gaze at the clouds so high above you.
If you sin, how does that affect him?
If your sins are many, what does that do to him?
If you are righteous, what do you give to him,
or what does he receive from your hand?
Your wickedness affects only a man like yourself,
and your righteousness only the sons of men.”
37:19-20, Elihu tells Job how foolish he is to think that he can demand an answer from God on his own terms.
“Tell us what we should say to him;
we cannot draw up our case because of our darkness.
Should he be told that I want to speak?
Would any man ask to be swallowed up?”
Now… the moment we’ve all been waiting for! The Lord DOES respond to Job!!! Remember that up to this point Job has been demanding an answer from God. God grants Job his request.
Yet, God turns the tables a bit. Instead of Job questioning God, God questions Job. In fact, Job gets 4 chapters worth of questions which are impossible for him to even answer!!!
Here’s a foretaste:
38:3-31, The Lord said
“Brace yourself like a man;
I will question YOU,
and you shall answer ME.
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone-
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?
“Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?
“Have you ever given orders to the morning,
or shown the dawn its place,
that it might take the earth by the edges
and shake the wicked out of it?
The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
its features stand out like those of a garment.
The wicked are denied their light,
and their upraised arm is broken.
“Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been shown to you?
Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death?
Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
Tell me, if you know all this.
“What is the way to the abode of light?
And where does darkness reside?
Can you take them to their places?
Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
Surely you know, for you were already born!
You have lived so many years!”
I’ll let you open your Bible and read the rest of the impossible questions the Lord raises to Job. Not once does Job ever ask God a question. Not once. And not once does Job ever answer one of God’s questions because in his humility he couldn’t. If God humbles even the most righteous, not much more everyone else?!
So in a sense, God does answer Job, but not directly. Rather, He answers Job indirectly. How does God answer Job? He answers Job, not by answering Job’s questions, but by questioning Job with things Job could not answer. Job is given an answer because he is given the right perspective of both himself and God.
God makes the Creator/creation distinction utterly apparent to Job. God answers Job with questions. The questions are in relation to Himself, namely, who He is and what only He can do.
Have you ever heard to phrase, “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know”? Well it was almost backwards for Job. The more Job realized he didn’t know about God, the more he realized about God.
And here is Job’s response to all this
Job sees God in a way that he never ventured to see Him before. As C.S. Lewis put it, “God is not safe… but He is good.” It is obvious that Job struggled with the Lord not being safe.
“But he stands alone, and who can oppose him?
He does whatever he pleases.
He carries out his decree against me,
and many such plans he still has in store.
That is why I am terrified before him;
when I think of all this, I fear him.
God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me.”
The Lord is not safe, tamable, or manageable. His ways are a mystery to us. Take hope in the fact that God reserves a hundred questions for you that you can’t answer. Let this perspective humble you because God is the most righteous one, excite you because he’s beyond your ways, and give you rest because in all things he has a good purpose.
The Lord is good to his redeemed children. Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
And we know that we love Him because He first loved us in His Son Jesus Christ. 1 John 4:10 “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Job suffered more than any of us ever will. If Job could take comfort in the Lord, then we surely can too. After it was over God blessed Job ten fold. We must remember that no matter what happens, God will surely bless us with Himself. It may be sooner than later, or later than sooner. Either way, God will prove Himself good to those whom He specially loves. If you’re a believer, you can take great hope in that fact. If you are not a believer, then you will know you are right with God if and when you confess Jesus Christ as Lord.
For Job, it wasn’t long after when God proved Himself to be good.