We’ve been studying the people of the Old Testament for quite some time now. Abraham and Sarah. Isaac and Rebekkah. Jacob, Leah, and Rachel. Miriam, Aaron and Moses. Ruth. Saul. David. Abigail. Solomon. Elijah. Elisha. Jonah. Josiah. Daniel. Jeremiah. Esther. These are all people we have studied, all people whose stories and lives we’ve examined and learned about. But at the heart of every single one of these stories there is one other character—one who is the same in every single story, present in every single story, shaping the story in every single story and that character is God.
God is the point of all of these stories. We don’t study Moses to know about this random guy who was a Hebrew raised as an Egyptian who later freed his own people. I mean it’s a nice story about a deliverance and freedom from oppression, but…that’s not why we study the story. We study the story all these stories to know more about God.
That is the purpose of the entire Bible, to tell us who God is. The Bible is not God, but it tells us about God. It is the book God has chosen to use to tell us about him. So we study these stories to learn not about Moses or David or Esther, but to learn about God and what he’s like.
So we’ve been studying these stories for a while. Tell me guys: what is God like?
[Let them answer…write up God’s qualities on the board, read over them and see what it means]
Sometimes when we study certain stories we can get an impression that God is like some Santa Clause in the clouds, giving presents to the good children and coals to the bad children. The good get rewarded and the bad get punished. Some of the stories we’ve studied seem to uphold this theory. And I think it’s because that’s the way some of the writers of the Bible viewed God. But does that mean God is that way? Does the entire Bible uphold that God is like this? Some heavenly Santa Clause?
If that’s true it means God people should prosper and bad people should suffer, right? Well, there is one story in the Bible that deals with this particular question, and that is the story of Job.
It’s a story about a man named Job but its mostly a story about God and his policies.
So let’s open our Bibles to the book of Job. It’s going to be in the middle right before Psalms. Someone please read Job 1:1-5.
1 There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. 2 There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. 3 He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. 4 His sons used to go and hold feasts in one another’s houses in turn; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5 And when the feast days had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” This is what Job always did.
There once as a man named Job. The Bible says he’s blameless and upright—in a word he’s righteous, always doing what is right in God’s eyes and not doing evil. The Bible describes him as insanely wealthy—both in family and money. He has children that he loves and who love each other, they get together, even inviting their sisters, which back then wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Boys tended to ignore the girls in their lives. This is a happy family that loves each other and tries to do what is right, but just in case they haven’t done what is right, Job offers sacrifices and prayers to God for each of his children, just in case they are sinning in their hearts.
Job is a good man, doing everything right. Everything.
By the rules of God being some Santa Clause he should just get more wealth and more reward, right?
Well let’s see. Read Job 1:6-12.
6 One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 8 The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” 9 Then Satan[f] answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Have you not put a fence 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. 11 But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
There is a lot we need to break down here. First off there is an implication here that God is at the head of a heavenly council, that there are other heavenly beings who come and report to God. Is this the case? Does God sit at the head of a heavenly council where other lesser gods or high angels report to him? Maybe but maybe not. There are a couple of other verses in the Old Testament that imply God sits at the head of a heavenly council, and I think that’s Israelite’s “monolatry” seeping into the pages—remember the ancient Israelites believed all gods were real, they just thought that their God was the biggest baddest God on the block. So some of them thought that the other gods had power and that the God of Israel was the head God.
And this is a good spot to bring up that there is a reason that the book of Job is set with the wisdom literature like Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. The book of Job is a work of literature. There may have actually been a man named Job that these events happened to. But this is a work of literature written to teach us about God. The writer of this book was not in heaven when these events unfolded—he was not sitting there like a court stenographer recording all the conversations between God and his minions. This is the writer supposing what heaven is like as he sets up the scenario for Job’s life. He’s setting up the question he wants to answer.
So this writer imagines that God has a heavenly bureaucracy where his minions—whether they be angels or lesser gods—come before him and report things and help him keep the business of heaven and earth running. And one of these heavenly bureaucrats your version of the text calls “Satan.”
The name “Satan” is very loaded, it carries a lot of connotation and meaning. Most of the time when we say “Satan” we mean an evil fallen angel who works in opposition to God. But that’s not what “Satan” means here and I would argue that translating it as the proper name “Satan” right here is not the best translation. Some have translated it the “adversary,” others as “the Challenger.” And really you should imagine this less as the evil Satan coming before God and more as a bureaucratic lawyer type in heaven. God’s not surprised to see his bureaucratic lawyer—that’s not what the phrase “where have you come form?” means—it’s not a surprise that this guy suddenly appeared. He’s instead asking his bureaucratic lawyer guy to report.
And this guy he’s been walking around the earth and God is like “Oh, did you see Job while you were on earth? He’s a cool guy is he not?”
And our lawyer guy here, he asks a question of motivation. He’s like “sure Job is righteous, but…that’s because he knows if he’s good he’ll get rewarded from you. So his motivation is just to keep his good and right life and continue to prosper, and maybe…maybe he doesn’t actually care about pleasing God but just keeping his good life.” The lawyer guy proposes a test for Job—that they take everything away from him. And the lawyer guy says if they do that, then without his prosperity, Job won’t be so righteous anymore.
Our lawyer guy is not an evil devil gleefully imagining a the destruction of Job’s life. He instead a philosophical guy posing a question—a question that really at its root is about God’s entire system. If the righteous get rewarded and the evil get punished, then are people only good for a reward? That’s not good for the sake of goodness then. That’s good for the sake a present.
And God in this story thinks this is a question worthy of answering, a question worthy of exploring. Will people continue to be righteous and love God if there is no reward at the end? God is confident in Job. He considers him good and blameless, but the lawyer wants to test the system, and God agrees to this test. He tells the lawyer that he can do whatever he wants to Job—as long as he doesn’t harm Job himself.
And thus the test of Job begins.
Someone please read Job 1:13-22.
13 One day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, 15 and the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 16 While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 17 While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three columns, made a raid on the camels and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 18 While he was still speaking, another came and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, 19 and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you.”
20 Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.
Everything is taken from Job. He loses his wealth—his animals and servants. But worse, his children were all together at a party at the oldest brother’s house, and all his children died. All ten of them dead.
A parent losing a child is literally the worst pain a parent can go through. Most people would rather die than lose their child, they would rather die than see their child come to harm. Job doesn’t lose just one child. He loses them all. All ten of them.
If ever there would be a time where Job would curse and hate God, this would be it, but instead, Job mourns and says, “I came into this world with nothing, and I shall leave the world with nothing. God gave everything to me that I have, and he can take everything I have away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Despite this worst thing imaginable happening to Job, he still blesses God’s name and worships him, and does not sin or say God has done anything wrong.
Someone read Job 2:1-9.
One day the heavenly beings[a] came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan[b] also came among them to present himself before the Lord. 2 The Lordsaid to Satan,[c] “Where have you come from?” Satan[d] answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 3 The Lordsaid to Satan,[e] “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” 4 Then Satan[f] answered the Lord, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives.[g] 5 But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” 6 The Lord said to Satan,[h] “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”
7 So Satan[i] went out from the presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. 8 Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.
9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse[k] God, and die.” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Again the heavenly bureaucratic council convenes. And again God is like, “Isn’t Job still awesome? All this terrible stuff has happened to him and he still blesses me.” And the lawyer is like, “Well, ultimately people only really care about themselves, and you said I couldn’t touch him. So I couldn’t really hurt him. So Job still has his health.”
And God is like, “That’s a fair case, lawyer guy. Do what you must to his health, but don’t kill him.”
So lawyer guy inflicts sores on Job all over his skin. Which must be terribly painful. And his wife, who is the only person left to him, is like, “Why don’t you just curse God and die.” Now that seems like really harsh, but this is a woman who just lost all ten of her children. Cursing God and dying is probably how she feels.
But Job says, “We receive good and bad from God. This is the nature of life.” And Job still doesn’t sin.
Okay now someone read Job 2:11-13.
11 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to go and console and comfort him. 12 When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. 13 They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.
Job has three friends. They’ve heard what happened to him. So they come with him to comfort him. He’s lost everything—his family and his health. So they sit with him in mourning for seven days and seven nights. And then…they start talking and it doesn’t go well. Because Job’s friends, they believe in the Santa Clause version of God.
Someone read Job 4:1-9.
4 Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered:
2 “If one ventures a word with you, will you be offended?
But who can keep from speaking?
3 See, you have instructed many;
you have strengthened the weak hands.
4 Your words have supported those who were stumbling,
and you have made firm the feeble knees.
5 But now it has come to you, and you are impatient;
it touches you, and you are dismayed.
6 Is not your fear of God your confidence,
and the integrity of your ways your hope?
7 “Think now, who that was innocent ever perished?
Or where were the upright cut off?
8 As I have seen, those who plow iniquity
and sow trouble reap the same.
9 By the breath of God they perish,
and by the blast of his anger they are consumed.
Eliphaz says that Job must have sinned. That it must be his fault. That he brought this destruction on himself by sinning. And there is a large section of Job that is like this. His friends telling him over and over again that he did something wrong and he must repent of his wrong doing.
But…did Job do anything wrong?
No! We know he didn’t! We know Job is blameless and all of this was a test—a test to see if the cosmic system worked. If people would still love God even in the midst of pain and suffering, even if they weren’t rewarded for it. But Job’s friends don’t know what we know about the divine council set up at the beginning of this book, so they try to find a theological reason why Job is suffering. They try to say it must be because of sin—because of Job’s sins.
Pages and pages of Job’s friends trying to convince him that he needs to repent for a sin he hasn’t committed. Job stands up for himself, he says he’s blameless that he did nothing but they don’t believe him. They tell him over and over again that it is Job’s fault his kids are dead. His sin. His fault. He has brought this suffering on himself.
But it’s not true. And Job is not able to make his friends see that. Their theology is bad and they stand by it. Bad things only happen to bad people, so therefore Job is bad.
In the end, God himself shows up again in the narrative. He comes to Job and they have a bit of a conversation. Someone read Job 38:1-7.
38 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3 Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
7 when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings[a] shouted for joy?
God spends two chapters asking Job who exactly is it who runs the universe. His friends? Job? No. It’s God. God runs the entire universe.
God doesn’t really answer the question of why Job had to suffer—of why there is suffering. He just points out that its God who runs the universe. Because remember this was all about the adversary, that lawyer guy, basically questioning how God runs the universe, and how he was running Job’s life. It was never Job who was on trial in this story. It was the idea of what I’m going to call the Prosperity Gospel: the idea that God rewards the good and punishes the wicked and that’s how the universe works.
That’s not how the universe works, that’s not how God works. And if someone tells you that if you do the right thing you will be prosper, because God prospers the good, they have a misunderstanding, and Job’s story flies in the face of that. Suffering happens to everyone. Not often because God is talking things out with a lawyer in heaven. We don’t know why suffering happens, to be honest. Other than there is sin and evil in the world. We don’t understand why God lets the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper. And the writer of Job doesn’t know why either. What the writer of Job knows is what we know: that God made everything, controls everything, and he runs the universe in the way he sees fit.
And in Job’s case God restores him. Someone please read Job 42:10-16.
10 And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11 Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money[a] and a gold ring. 12 The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. 13 He also had seven sons and three daughters. 14 He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. 15 In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. 16 After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations.
God gives Job twice as much as he had before. The second half of Job’s life is blessed more than the first. And while having more children doesn’t replace the ones he lost, it does show his suffering wasn’t forever.
The story of Job is a hard story for us to study, because it doesn’t answer the questions we want answered about why suffering happens. It just affirms to us that if we suffer it’s not always because we sinned or because God is mad at us. I mean we can definitely suffer because we did bad things—we all have to suffer the consequences of our own actions. If you murder someone, you are going to jail. But sometimes bad things happen, and there is no reason for it—you didn’t bring it on yourself and you didn’t deserve it. That’s just the way life and the universe works.
God is not a cosmic Santa Clause. However, this book like much of the Bible can still be confusing about the nature of the God and what he’s like. In this book it makes it seem like God treated Job like a science experiment.
So who is God? What is he like? Which of the descriptors we discussed are the ones that are appropriate for God?
Well, we’re about to start studying the New Testament, and that is where we’re going to meet God incarnate, God who chose to take human form and come down and walk among us. We’ll study Jesus who is God, and discover him personally. And we’ll see the nature of the God we choose to follow.