Therefore, I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands...  1 Timothy 2:8

Prayer Challenges

The Mystery of Suffering and Blessing in the book of Job from Doug Knox.

November 2022 - September 2023

The Mystery of Suffering and Blessing, Part 1

Job 1:1-12

The Mystery of Evil in Job


Introduction: The Mystery of Evil
A few years ago, a student at the university where I worked posted a philosophical challenge on his dormitory room door. It was titled “The Problem of Evil.” The exhibit was an attempt to pose the mystery of evil in the form of a logical riddle. The challenge went like this:

A good God would want to prevent evil.
An all-powerful God would be able to prevent evil.
Yet there is much evil in the world.
Therefore, either God is not all-powerful, or he is not good.

The problem of evil is a familiar mystery for those who worship the God of the Bible. Evil runs throughout history from Genesis to Revelation. Further, the Bible teaches clearly that God will eradicate all evil from the world. The student, however, ignored that reality. According to his argument, the mere presence of evil in the world makes the presence of an all-powerful and good God impossible. The first statement in the argument attacks God’s nature. If God were good, he would want to prevent evil in the world, but he obviously he has not done so. That fact at least suggests that he might not be a good God. The second statement allows for his goodness but attacks his authority. If he were all-powerful, he should have done something about all the evil in the world. Since he has not, he may lack the power to do anything about it.
The third statement goes for the theological carotid artery. One way or another, the mere presence of evil supposedly removes God from his throne. God must be either uncaring, morally impotent, or both to allow evil to continue to exist. On the surface the argument on the problem of evil is formidable, even from a Christian perspective.

The Mystery of the Evil and Piety in Job
The student’s argument is penny ante compared to the mystery of evil as the Book of Job (rhymes with lobe) reveals it. In this book, the LORD drags a devout man through horrendous suffering and loss without a word of explanation. The questions in Job only begin with the issue of suffering. The deeper issues revolve around Job’s relationship with his God. They touch on blessing, worthiness, and faithfulness. The book of Job reads like a fairy tale in reverse. At the beginning of the book, Job looks like the picture of a man who has obtained God’s happily-ever-after. Not only is he an honorable man, but he is an blessed man as well.

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate 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.” Thus Job did continually.

--Job 1:1-5

Job is a man in harmony with God, nature, and his fellow man. He is a man at peace.

The Mystery of the Evil One in Job
Such a pastoral picture at the beginning of the book makes the next scene even more sinister. Satan appears uninvited among the heavenly court.

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge 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. But stretch out you hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has in in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.

--Job 1:6-12

Consider the student’s argument for a moment. There, evil remains a vague term that means, more or less, “bad things,” without defining why they are bad. Are they evil because they cause pain? Surgery does the same, but it is a life-saving practice. Therefore, we cannot assign evil to all pain. A second question: Is moral evil the same as calamity? The student ignores this problem with his argument. If God does not exist, then morality cannot exist. In a world in which evil is reduced to “bad things,” no one can judge why they are bad. They just exist. We cannot point the finger at some and say, “You cannot do that.”

Two More Mysteries
In the book of Job, evil is not just something bad. It is personal. Satan is a conscious being who is bent on discrediting God. Further, he has no hesitation about using Job as his pawn to prove his point. In the original language, the being we call Satan is ha-satán, meaning “the accuser.” The Apostle John appears to have this picture in mind when he writes about “the accuser of our brothers…who accuses them day and night before our God” in Revelation 12:10. Satan’s reality in Job opens at least two mysteries beyond the mystery of evil. One, with his appearance as a hateful moral creature, evil grows from an unconscious force to a raging personality. Two—and worse—God is neither surprised nor troubled by Satan’s appearance. In fact, he draws his attention to Job. Why is he so eager to allow Satan to have his way with Job? These are questions that we will continue to pursue in future studies.


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The Mystery of Suffering and Blessing, Part 2

Job 1:13-22

The Foundations for Drama


Insubordinate, Willful, Arrogant, and Tethered
For me, one of the most puzzling questions in the book of Job revolves around why God grants Satan as much latitude as he does at the beginning of Job. After all, Job himself means nothing the Accuser. His only interest in Job arises from the fact that God has noticed him.

Satan appears only in the first two chapters of Job, and he is insubordinate, willful, and arrogant. When the LORD asks him, “Have you considered my servant Job,” he counters with the claim, “Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side?... But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face” (Job 1:10a, 11).

To our horror, God lets him have his way, and Satan dismisses himself to pursue Job’s doom.

The unresolved mysteries become part of the reason why the book of Job is such masterpiece. They defy easy solutions.

  • Why does God give Satan an audience before him even after he barges in uninvited?
  • Why does God maintain his silence when he could defend Job?
  • Why does he give Satan such wide latitude when he knows what he will do?
  • Why does he allow Satan to set the rules of the game?

The book is content to leave those questions unanswered. The only reality that saves us from complete chaos is the realization that Satan is tethered. He can do only what the LORD allows.

The Invisible Drama Behind the Curtain
The writer’s skill in building the drama in the first two chapters is remarkable. All dramatic stories, whether they are fictional or historical, begin with two essential characters. The first character, called the protagonist, is motivated by a desire that comes from within. Whatever his desire is, it arises from an ambition, a dream worth pursuing.

Drama emerges when a second character, the antagonist, opposes the first. His ambitions drive him to try to shut down the protagonist’s goals.

In the end, only one of the two characters can succeed, and one of them must succeed. If the protagonist wins, the fruits of his achievement grow. His success brings benefit for himself and others. But if the antagonist succeeds in thwarting the first, then only destruction results.

Virtually all the dramas in history boil down to these two unstoppable drives: One character says, “I must…” and the other declares, “You cannot…”

  • The LORD God: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it…” (Genesis 2;16).
  • The woman: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that it was to be desired to make on wise, she took of its fruit and ate…” (Genesis 3:6)
  • Moses: “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a fast to me in the wilderness” (Exodus 5:1)
  • Pharaoh: “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go?” (Exodus 5:2).
  • Jesus: “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21).
  • Peter: “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you , Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22).

In each of these cases, the stakes are clear. The protagonist must win if we are to achieve a satisfying ending.

The Protagonist and Antagonist in Job
When Satan comes before the LORD at the beginning of the book of Job, God opens the dialogue before Satan can speak. His question lays down the gauntlet. “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (Job 1:9).

Satan counters that the game is rigged. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has on every side?” (Job 1:10).

These two lines of dialogue reveal much about God and Satan.

  • God maintains unflinching confidence in Job’s integrity, even in the face of the Accuser.
  • Satan is equally confident that he can break Job’s integrity if he has the chance.
  • Job, meanwhile, is unaware that he is about to become the lynchpin in a conflict in which God’s integrity lies at stake.

For reasons that remain mysterious to the reader at this point, God appears to abandon the very man who has given him such satisfaction. His parting words to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand…” (Job 1:12), are ominous. Job is about to suffer before an invisible but violent adversary.

Looking Ahead: Character Arc and the Mystery of Relationship
We have a lot of ground remaining in the first two chapters, but I want to take a moment to look at what lies beyond them.

The book of Job does not offer answers to our questions. When Job’s three friends enter at the end of chapter 2, the four will argue about issues surrounding suffering, blessing, righteousness, spirituality, and the meaning of knowing God. These are important matters, but they are not the crucial matter. We will look in vain to find anyone breaking into the narrative to say, “Answers over here!”

The guiding theme that I want to pursue in this series revolves around the mystery of relationship. We will watch it grow in Job’s character arc. Character arc is simply the term used to describe a character’s moral growth as he learns to set aside what he wants and embrace what he needs.

Job wants answers. Throughout the course of the debates between the man and his friends, he insists that answers to his questions will fulfill what he believes is missing in his relationship with his God. By the end of the book, he will come to understand his deeper need, to trust God for what he is unable to see, even when that mystery takes him through suffering.


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The Mystery of Suffering and Blessing, Part 3

Job 1:13-19



The Father of Lies
In John’s Gospel, Jesus gives an important insight into Satan’s character. “When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Jesus hammers a single point three times in his one-sentence description:

  • “When he lies…”
  • “He is a liar…”
  • “He is…the father of lies.”

In the middle of these three statements on what Satan does, Jesus where his scheming nature comes from. “He speaks out of his own character.” We see precisely that person at the beginning of Job. The Accuser’s cynicism toward Job is absolute. He has become so enamored with his own lies that he has lost any understanding of truth and what it means. His own lies have consumed his character.

What Character Reveals about the Self
Character reveals what we do when no one is looking. It is the quality of being drives our most basic motivations. Some men make the effort to build their characters on principle, and they stand on their morals. Their moral strength is evident. Others spend lifetimes in self-deception, believing in their personal uprightness while their practice is shot through with holes. They know how to recite the words, but they fail to deliver. An unfortunate few embrace the lie and make it their own. They use deception willfully as a tool to manipulate whomever they can. Satan stands at the head of the third category. He is the all-time master of the lie. His problem is that he has immersed himself in the lie so deeply that he has lost all ability to recognize genuine truth. Ironically, he knows enough to manipulate it to his own ends, but he does not believe that it is real. To borrow an expression from the twentieth-century Christian apologist, Cornelius van Til, he views the world through jaundice-colored glasses. As a result, he falls victim to the very lie that he spreads through the world. His mission to reduce Job to a man who curses God to his face will fail.

The Lie Played Out
When the LORD grants Satan permission to attack Job, the Accuser leaves God’s courts. Following his exit, we witness a gruesome series of events:

Now there was a day when [Job’s] sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and there came a messenger to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell upon them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consume them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell down on the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.

--Job 1:13-19

This is heartbreaking. The second-by-second revelations drive Job beyond human endurance. Beyond the human element, the text gives us some subtle hints regarding Satan’s tactics. First, we see an indication of his planning in the break between verses 12 and 13. Verse 12 concludes, “And Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.” Verse 13 begins, “Now there was a day when…” Notice that the text is silent about any direct meddling by Satan. Clearly, though, he stands behind the events and the way that they turn out. Second, Satan’s timing inflicts the greatest possible amount of pain into Job’s life in the shortest amount of time. As the events unfold, the surviving servants who bring Job the news arrive within seconds of each other. The revelations alternate between human violence and supernatural events:

  • First, a tribal attack: The Sabeans
  • Second, a supernatural event: “The fire of God”
  • Third, a tribal attack: The Chaldeans
  • Forth, a supernatural event: A great wind

Adversity and Character
Satan’s attacks drip with hatred. Nothing eclipses his lust for supremacy over God. So, why does God grant Satan so much latitude when he knows how destructive he will be? The full answer to this question stands among the other mysteries in the book. The Lord sees no obligation to explain it to us. This does not mean that he will leave us adrift in mystery, however. Even at this early point in the book, we can perceive a glint of the resolution that will come. On the one hand, Satan knows that he understands Job better than God does. He is certain that God has bought Job’s loyalty. In Satan’s mind, God has coddled Job, and Job’s devotion is as short-lived as the morning fog. However, the lie that has become the Accuser’s calling card will betray him in the end. God, on the other hand, knows Job’s character because he has created it. Satan’s challenge becomes the opportunity for God to show that Job’s character is genuine. Character does not mean rigid perfection. Every man stumbles—Job included. His circumstances will break him, as they can and do break us. But the very circumstances that cause the deepest damage carry the potential to build the deepest character. True strength of character arises from the intimacy that we discover during crisis. When God’s presence becomes the only reality that stands between our circumstances and despair, we hold onto that trust with all our strength. The relationship that develops is stronger than any steel cable. It is also the very thing that Satan misses. The concept of relationship is as invisible to Satan as infrared light is to human vision. In his mind, blessings are only bribes. Loyalty is no more real than a fairytale ending. This is the reason that the LORD gives him such a wide berth. Even though Job is about to undergo inhuman physical and psychological suffering, the Lord knows that he will remain ultimately true to his Lord. The depth in the story grows from Job’s living relationship to his God. The truth in the Old Testament is the same as the New. “Lord knows those who are his” (2 Timothy 2:19).


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The Mystery of Suffering and Blessing, Part 4

Job 1:20-22



Piety under Stress
The previous segment looked at Satan’s house of lies. He lies to his victims, and he lies to God. The truth is toxic to him. For him, truth’s only value rests in his ability to twist it to sweeten the lie. Ironically, he builds a world in which he lies even to himself. In this chapter, I want to concentrate on Job’s reaction to crisis. How does a man who lives honorably prepare to meet crisis in a way that honors the truth? The more obvious answer is to know the truth well enough to maintain his stand on his foundation. The less obvious reality is to recognize that crises will occur, regardless of our efforts to insulate ourselves from them. Several years ago, I had a good friend who taught self-defense and martial arts. His first lessons always involved two points. One was to develop an attitude of awareness, while the other was to learn how to fall and to roll with the punches. Job illustrates both of these abilities when his world implodes. His reaction when he hears the news that his fortunes are gone and his children are dead is remarkable.

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.

--Job 1:20-21

Worship in Crisis
Job’s reaction to the shock is physical as well as mental. He knows how to fall. In the original language, the wording is purposefully repetitive:

And Job got up…
…and he tore his robe…
…and he shaved his head…
…and he fell to the ground…
…and he worshiped…
…and he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb…”

When biblical narratives list a series of actions in short succession as the text does here, the actions indicate a sense of purpose. Notice that Job’s initial expressions of grief are physical rather than verbal. Four actions occur before the Bible gives any indication of verbal activity in worship. The first two actions— “And Job got up, and he tore his robe…” —become in-the-moment reactions to the devastating news. They are spontaneous, but they are equally purposeful. In the biblical context, getting up is far more than an incidental reaction. It is preparatory in nature. Job’s rising and tearing of his robe not only reveal his shock at the news, but they also move him forward. The next three—“…and he shaved his head, and he fell to the ground, and he worshiped…” —are also physical. The order of the three is peculiar from our perspective. Why, for example, does falling to the ground come after the shaving of the head? Wouldn’t it make more sense to put it immediately after the robe tearing? At least then, it would fit as part of the initial shock sequence. I believe that the sequence shows us a noteworthy truth about Job’s worship life. In our culture, falling on the ground is a demonstration of abandonment. The person who falls on the ground in grief has relinquished even muscle control. We must help the person up. In Job’s sequence, falling on the ground signifies an act of submission. He puts himself on the ground to prepare for worship. It is a physical expression of reverence toward his God. Rather than indicating his being slain by grief, it becomes an expression of worship in grief. The entire sequence shows Job’s sense of purpose during this crisis. As his act of standing signifies the beginning of his worship sequence, falling on the ground shows his reverence as he prepares to speak. Finally, his words, “Blessed be the name of the LORD,” bury Satan. The Accuser has assured God, “He will curse you to your face,” but when he attacks, Job blesses. Job’s statement of worship forms a stunning blow to Satan’s ego. The section closes with the laudable words, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”

Messy Worship versus Tidy Spiritualty
The way that Job meets this crisis proves that his worship has far deeper roots than what Satan understands. Despite the severity of Satan’s first strike, he remains true to his God. Job’s actions reflect an understanding about the reality of grief that modern Western culture has lost. Western culture, including the Christian culture, has come to a place where grief is more of a problem to be eliminated than a part of life to be affirmed. Here is an observation from a recent Christianity Today article.

We live in a culture that tries to avoid grief. We've discarded many of the cultural indicators of mourning: Widows don't wear black for a year; mothers who lose their children no longer cut their hair; we've given up on sackcloth and ashes....Christians have participated in this denial. Mortality and grief are rarely mentioned from the pulpit. Many churches have moved their graveyards from the center of town to the suburbs so we don't have to be reminded of death as we walk into the sanctuary on Sunday mornings.[1]

Job does not avoid these realities. He addresses them with a language of action. We can wring the grief from his affirmation of God’s name. He speaks in the language of lament, an act of worship that arises from grief. Contemporary Christianity has substituted tidy spirituality for messy worship, and we suffer for the trade. Tidy spirituality pushes grief out of bounds. On the surface, all-praise-all-the-time appears to be an affirmative action, but it is a lie. It robs us of the deep fellowship that grows from seeking God’s presence during our darkest moments, it disallows us the opportunity to extend loving care to those who mourn, and it denies reality. The book of Job shows us that crisis is inevitable in this world. And Job the man teaches us how to handle crisis in faith. It drives us to sever our too-close attachments to a world that cannot last while it encourages us to set our minds on a God who cannot fail.


[1]Amy Julia Becker, “Boundaries in Grief: Why Medicine Should Never Trade Places With a Time to Properly Mourn,” Christianity Today Online, August 22, 2010. Accessed from, August 22, 2010.


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The Mystery of Suffering and Blessing, Part 5

Job 2:1-10



The Brokenness Behind Character
Whoever came up with the saying, “God will never give you more than you can handle,” should be arrested and tried for moral insurrection. The notion is not just wrong. It is a lie from God’s enemies. If a man endures only what he can handle in the first place, he remains where he started. Men grow when they meet challenges that drive them beyond what they can handle. Find a man with genuine character, and you will see someone who has been trampled. The thing that defines character-establishing situations is their thoroughness. New character grows only when the old is broken. We find this kind of trampling in Job 2 when Satan approaches the LORD a second time. Job is broken already with the loss of his ten children. His grief is incomprehensible. Yet Satan is about to launch another attack. pile on dark months of physical suffering from what appears to be leprosy and psychological abuse at the hands of his friends.

Preparations for the Second Onslaught
The structure and wording of Satan’s second audience with the LORD unfolds almost identically to the first.

Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before e LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself among them to present himself before the LORD. And the LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come? Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason. Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.”

--Job 2:1-7

Both scenes open with Satan’s uninvited visit to the LORD, and both feature the LORD’s leading question, “Have you considered my servant Job…?” Each time, Satan boasts that he can bring Job down. In both confrontations, Satan lays out his strategy as a win-win situation for himself. When he challenges God’s integrity, he makes sure that any blame will go to God. “Stretch out your hand and touch all that he has…” (Job 1:11 and 2:6). On the other hand, if he wins, he reserves the right to tell God, “See, I told you so.” On the surface, Satan appears to dictate the rules and change them when the situation suits him. Even worse, God appears to be passive toward Satan and indifferent toward Job. However, we see a different story when we dig deeper.

A Glimpse into the Mystery of God’s Providence
The doctrine of providence speaks to God’s invisible daily care over us. Perhaps the highest biblical expression of his providential care lies in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Paul does not mean that the man of God will experience continual health, wealth, and happiness. To the contrary, the context includes a quote from Psalm 44 that describes a far different experience in the spiritual man’s life.

“As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long,
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’”

--Romans 8:36, quoting Psalm 44:22

The passage that Paul quotes is significant. Psalm 44 describes the conditions in Jerusalem during the time when the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to the city prior to 586 BC. According to the prophet Jeremiah, some resorted to cannibalism to survive (Lamentations 2:20). Therefore, when Paul mentions “all things,” he means that God directs everything, evil and otherwise, to bring about his ultimate good among the history-long march of believers. This is the mystery of blessing. The blessing that we experience leads us to trust him when our world collapses around us.

The Mystery of Providence in Job
This is the situation in Job. The book does not care about satisfying our intellectual curiosity as it calls us to trust. Yet even with its unanswered questions, it provides some valuable insights into the dynamics of the cosmic battle For example, Satan’s fault-directing challenge, “Stretch out your hand…” is only half the truth. God willingly takes responsibility for his actions. Notice his words in the second encounter with Satan. “Have you considered my servant Job…? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason” (Job 2:3). The other side of the truth is that Satan is bound by God’s permissions. The Master of the Universe reins in the master of evil. Further, God uses the very evil that he permits to produce good. Job’s breaking ultimately will result in even deeper reverence for his God. Satan is blind to this truth.

The God who Carries Us and Cares for Us
This leads us into the heart of the mystery of blessing. Though God will remain silent over the next long months, he never abandons Job. He will bring his servant through though the hellish experience that is about to take place, regardless of the cost to himself. His pronouncement to Satan carries the implication, “Behold, he is in your hands at my expense.” The Accuser thinks he owns the moment, but as we saw earlier, he lives in the lie. When he denies even the existence of truth, he loses sight of the fact that the God who is truth will direct all things in heaven and hell to prove his glory.
Every man experiences suffering beyond his endurance at some time in his life, but providence protects us. We may be helpless, but our helplessness works for our good. God never gives us anything that he cannot handle.


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The Mystery of Suffering and Blessing, Part 6

Job 2:7-13



Satan’s Second Attack
The first chapter of Job establishes the conflict between the LORD and Satan. Because it involves our first introduction to the Accuser, it takes its time to set up the terms of their conflict. By contrast, Satan’s second attack proceeds more quickly. Its brevity is only partly due to the material that carries over from chapter 1. We also see a much more determined adversary in the second attack.

So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes.

--Job 2:7-8

Satan’s first attack develops in the background. The text says simply that he went out from the presence of the LORD (Job 1:12). Now, he attacks Job directly, with a severe skin condition. Bible translations split between describing the condition as sores or boils. Regardless of which word they use, Job’s condition is likely a form of leprosy. In Scripture, leprosy always carries severe implications.

The rotting appearance of the skin associated with a variety of disorders lumped together under the heading of “leprosy” is another potent source of uncleanness. This condition is closely connected with death...and the focus for its diagnosis is the erosion of the surface and the loss of integrity to the body’s outer boundary.
(David A. deSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004), 121.)

The physical characteristics of leprosy—rottenness, degeneration, uncleanness, and death—make it a heinous disease for an Old Testament audience who is called to ceremonial cleanness before their God. Unfortunately, human nature is quick to take the additional step to count this kind of suffering as evidence of God’s curse. Job’s three friends will do this very thing.

Still a Man of Integrity
Before the friends begin their psychological warfare on Job, his wife enters the scene with a final enticement to curse God. The author writes,

Then [Job’s] wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

--Job 2:9-10

Her call to her husband to curse and put a premature end to his life lacks any sensical basis. But her opening question, “Do you still hold fast your integrity?” connects directly to the LORD’s earlier assertion to Satan, when he said, “Have you considered my servant Job…? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason” (Job 2:3 emphasis added). Satan lurks behind Job’s wife. Walton and Longman share an insight on her outlandish challenge.

She serves as an instrument of the challenger’s expectations just as the friends do…. The challenger said that Job would curse God to his face, and that is precisely what Job’s wife advises him to do. If Job does so, his motives will be shown to be flawed—he is only committed to being righteous if he is receiving benefits for doing so.
--John H. Walton and Tremper Longman III, How to Read Job, (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015), 72.

Job proves his loyalty to God in his reply to her. “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Once again, the Bible affirms Job’s character. “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”

Permissions and Cautions in the Final Paragraph
The final paragraph in the introduction draws our attention to Job’s three friends, who come from three different regions. The shock when the men see him is clear. They cannot recognize this once respected brother.

Now when Job's three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And 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 2;11-13

Their silence may look like compassion, but a magma dome grows underneath them. A theological volcano is about to explode when they take up their discourses against Job.
The paragraph anticipates the conflict that is about to take place between Job and his friends. As a close to this segment, let me suggest three permissions and cautions that the final paragraph of the introduction anticipates:

  • Permission: We are allowed to talk about the presence of bad things.
    The book does not hesitate to mention “the evil that had come upon [Job]” (Job 2:11). Sorrow is a reality in this life. To approach another man who suffers requires us to be vulnerable. Empathy requires a willingness to be grieved by another man’s pain.
    Caution: Repeating a false message does not make it true.
    In popular Christian culture, the call to “Take it to Jesus” carpet bombs us. While it may be popular, it is the theological equivalent of, “Let them eat cake.” It lets us walk away and provides absolutely nothing to the man who shivers in the dark alone. Christ has called us to be his presence among the hurting (Mathew 25:36-40).
  • Permission: Reaching out to a suffering man is almost always appropriate.
    The book gives us permission “to show…sympathy and comfort” (Job 2:11), as Job’s friends do at first. Genuine empathy emerges through our presence as much as anything.
    Caution: Talk is cheap.
    From the moment they open their mouths, Job’s friends will surrender to a craving to hurl easy theological barbs and clichéd answers at him.
  • Permission: We are allowed to admit that we lack all the answers.
    One of the beauties of Job is that it drives us to the awareness that we cannot know everything. Without mystery, faith would be impossible.
    Caution: God does not call us to be fixers.
    For me at least, one of the ugliest realities in the book of Job emerges from his three friends’ lust to be right. They know that he has sinned (which the reader knows not to be the case), and they become progressively angrier when he refuses to grovel before them.

From this point on, we will look at selected passages of Job. The angry human dialogue that extends from chapters 3 – 34 will give us plenty of material to examine. The questions that arise will be demanding. The answers that seem obvious at first will become fuzzy. And—thankfully—we will read some of the loftiest expressions of worship in Scripture. If we persevere to the end, we will learn that life mysteries come to resolution by seeking the who behind the questions rather than what in the questions.


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The Mystery of Suffering and Blessing, Part 7

Job 4:1-6



Introduction: Job’s Lament in Chapter 3
At the end of the prose section in Job 2, the writer observes, “And [Job’s three friends] sat with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great” (Job 2:15).

This is a commendable act on the part of Job’s friends. I cannot say enough for their willingness to sit with him in silence for an entire week.

Unfortunately, it is the last positive thing that the writer will say about them. Once the dialogue begins between Job and his friends, the fangs come out.

Appropriately, Job is the one who breaks the silence.

After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. And Job said:

“Let the day perish on which I was born,
and the night that said,
‘A man is conceived.’”

--Job 3:1-2

Job complaint is dark, and it questions God’s wisdom in creating us. But anyone who has undergone significant suffering finds his thoughts falling in lock step with Job’s. He captures the poetry of despair. Who has been able to avoid the question,

“Why is light given to him who is in misery,
and life to the bitter in soul,
who long for death but it comes not,
and dig for it more than hidden treasures…?”

--Job 3:20-21

Whether or not we say the words out loud, we have felt the pain. Even one as celebrated as the Apostle Paul wrote, “We were so utterly burdened beyond out strength that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). It is not wrong to admit our thoughts, even if the thoughts themselves push the boundaries.

The Visible Loss of Blessing
Job closes with a comment that foreshadows the debate to come.

For the thing that I fear comes upon me,
and what I dread befalls me.
I am not at ease, nor am I quiet;
I have no rest, but trouble comes.

--Job 3:25-26

What exactly does Job fear?

It is the loss of his good standing with God. Because he suffers, Job concludes that God has turned against him.

Job and his friends all share a mistaken notion about their relationship with God. It is a two-part moralistic formula that assumes that God always rewards good and punishes evil in this lifetime. This is works theology, and it is wrong. However, both sides hold onto their position. Job’s friends reason this way:

God rewards good works and punishes evil.
Job is suffering.
Therefore, Job must have done evil.

Job begins with the same assumption, but he adds a step to arrive at a different conclusion:

God rewards good works and punishes evil.
I am suffering.
However, I know I have not sinned.
Therefore, God must be acting unjustly toward me.

Enter the Easy Answers
When the dialogue begins, Job’s friends speak in turn and then wait for Job to reply. In their minds, if Job only confesses his secret sins, then God will bless him again. All they must do is convince him to come clean, and everyone can go home happy.

Eliphaz speaks first. His reasoning falls directly into blessing-by-works theology.

Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said:

“If one ventures a word with you, will you be impatient?
Yet who can keep from speaking?
Behold, you have instructed many,
and you have strengthened the weak hands.
Your words have upheld him who was stumbling,
and you have made firm the feeble knees.
But now it has come to you, and you are impatient;
it touches you, and you are dismayed.
Is not your fear of God your confidence,
and the integrity of your ways your hope?

--Job 4:1-6

Eliphaz’s opening lines expose his impatience. He has waited in silence with Job for seven days, but now he must speak. He must fix Job.

Even though Job has instructed many, strengthened weak hands, encouraged many, and brought the fragile to stand, “it has come to you… it touches you…”

Eliphaz’s back-door entry condemns Job without ever saying the words out loud. So, what exactly is this unidentified malady that has brought Job to dismay?

“It” is God’s judgment. Eliphaz’s perfect world is perfect still. The jig is up for Job. God has lifted the curtain on this deserving sinner.

Further, Eliphaz knows this is true by the evidence that languishes before him. Job himself is Eliphaz’s chief exhibit. “Is not your fear of God your confidence, / and the integrity of your ways your hope?

Eliphaz’s words are meant to lacerate. When he slashes Job with “your fear” and “your ways,” he does not praise the qualities that have marked Job’s high character in the past. He declares them to be marks of Job’s counterfeit righteousness. Job has generated his own fear of God. He has built the ways that have formed his hope. And now, in Eliphaz’s mind, God has brought down Job’s house of straw and exposed his airy self-righteousness.

Conclusion: Two Truths
Eliphaz’s loveless logic will become obvious as he continues as he continues to castigate Job.

As we press on in Job, we must keep two truths in mind. First, the opening chapters have shown that Job character is stellar. God has allowed the Accuser to attack Job because he intends to prove him before all. In the end, Eliphaz and his two friends will turn out to be the foolish ones.

Second, we will see that Job will fall into his own lies. His defense will begin with, “I have not committed unrighteousness,” which is mostly but not entirely true. There is a difference between righteousness in gratitude and self-generated righteousness. He will move to, “God is treating me unjustly,” which is untrue. The belief that God owes us blessing for our righteousness falls squarely in works righteousness’ territory.

Both Job and his friends run toward a collision with God, and ultimately, both will experience God’s grace. First, they must explore uncharted territory.


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The Mystery of Suffering and Blessing, Part 8

Job 4:7-21



On Being Right
Sometimes I think that the most annoying people in the world are the ones who insist they must be right on others’ behalf. “Got a problem? I’ll fix it for you, and it won’t cost you a thing. You’ll just be morally indebted to me from now on.” This is Eliphaz the Temanite, the spokesman for Job’s three friends. In his mind, all wickedness comes to judgment and all righteousness reaps reward in its time. His speech over the course of chapters 6 and 7 drives his message home. Here is his introduction:

“Remember, who that was innocent ever perished?
Or where were the upright cut off?
As I have seen, those who plow iniquity
and sow trouble reap the same.
By the breath of God they perish,
and by the blast of his anger they are not consumed.
The roar of the lion, the voice of the fierce lion,
the teeth of the young lions are broken.
The strong lion perishes for lack of prey,
and the cubs of the lioness are scattered.”

--Job 4:7-10

O, the beauty of easy answers, especially when we can reduce the issue to rhetorical questions. Eliphaz’s first statement, “Remember, who that was innocent ever perished?” is not open for discussion. It is worded to stop Job in his tracks. The answer is so obvious that the mere mention of the issue closes the debate. And how does Eliphaz know this lofty truth? He is a man of deep experience. “As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.”
The issue is settled. Eliphaz, the expert panel of one, has spoken. We can throw out the remainder of the book of Job and call an end to our study. Or can we? What if we asked the question, “Who has perished in his innocence?” A long list comes to mind. Abel, the first man ever to have his life end before his time, died at the hand of his jealous brother. Five generations later, Cain’s descendant Lamech committed murder and boasted over his deed (Genesis 4:23-24). These happened before Job’s time. Following Job, a world of misery erupted. In the days when Moses came into the world, for example, the Egyptian Pharaoh commanded his people to help him commit genocide on the male Israelite children by drowning them in the Nile (Exodus 1:22). In Judges 19:22-26, a brutal gang rape results in an innocent woman’s death. Of course, we must remember Jesus’ death, in which the innocent died on behalf of the guilty. If Eliphaz were right, if God judged all sin and rewarded all righteousness, our redemption would not be possible.

A Nightmarish Story
Unfortunately, Eliphaz plows ahead in his error. Following the lesson on moral equity in God’s judgment, he goes on to recount a nightmare that he experienced, along with the revelation that he claims came with it.

“Now a word was brought to me stealthily;
my ear received the whisper of it.
Amid thoughts from visions of the night,
when deep sleep falls on men,
dread came upon me, and trembling,
which made all my bones shake.
A spirit glided past my face;
the hair of my flesh stood up.
It stood still,
but I could not discern its appearance.
A form was before my eyes;
there was silence, then I heard a voice…

--Job 4:12-16

Notice how he describes this revelatory truth. It was brought to him stealthily through a whisper in his ear. An ordinary man would have missed the message, but he was aware enough to see it. His revelation comes through a nightmare. He is thrown into dread and trembling. His bones shake. A spirit passes in front of him, and his flesh stands up. Though it stands still, he is unable to discern a form. Nor is he able to flee this state of paralyzed terror.

A Declaration of Divine Distance
The apparition is only the beginning of his revelation. While he cowers, a voice speaks. The fact that the voice is disembodied only makes its message more profound.

“‘Can mortal man be in the right before God?
Can a man be pure before his Maker?
Even in his servants he puts no trust,
and his angels he charges with error;
how much more those who dwell in houses of clay,
whose foundation is in the dust,
who are crushed like the moth.
Between morning and evening they are beaten to pieces;
they perish forever without anyone regarding it.
Is not their tent-cord plucked up within them,
do they not die, and that without wisdom?’”

--Job 4:18-21

Let’s analyze what the voice says first and then go back and weigh its strength or weakness.
The first double statement—“Can mortal man be in the right before God? / Can a man be pure before his Maker?”—pits mankind in his natural state against God in his holiness. The theological term for God’s greatness is transcendence. In simple terms, the word means that God is separate in every way from his creation. He is all-powerful, uncontaminated by sin, and infinitely wise. Man, on the other hand, is bound by weakness, crippled by sin, and innately foolish. The voice goes on to make a two-tier comparison. Beginning with God and “his servants,” the angels, the voice declares that God is infinitely greater than these beings. Though they inhabit his realm, they fail to earn God’s trust. God charges them with error. The second tier of the comparison grows out of this. If the angelic beings are unable to achieve God’s trust, how much less “those who dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust”? In other words, if God finds fault with his angels, as glorious as they are, mortal men do not stand a chance before the Almighty. They “die, and that without wisdom.”

Finding the Holes in the Airtight Speech
Like Eliphaz’s opening volley, this speech pitches the issue around two rhetorical questions whose answers are presumed to be true. As we did before, let’s ask them as actual questions. Can a man be right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker? We can grant Eliphaz a concession. On his own, he cannot be pure. No one can. That is only half the truth, however. Eliphaz’s argument recognizes God’s transcendence, the “otherness” of God in comparison to mankind. If that describes the entire truth about God and his relationship to mankind, then God is forever separate from us. Any hope for becoming reconciled to God is lost. That fact raises a question for Eliphaz. If God is so distant from humanity that no one has access to him, how does Eliphaz rate this special revelation from God? He does not deserve it any more than anyone else. Like everyone else, he remains ignorant of the entirely transcendent God. He kills his own argument on the cross that he has built. Thankfully, we have an answer. While the Bible teaches God’s separateness from sinners, it also teaches that God reaches out to us in his mercy. The balancing teaching to the doctrine of transcendence is the doctrine of immanence. This simply means that God makes himself known. He reveals himself to us through grace. This is the element that Eliphaz misses. We already have an indication of God’s grace toward Job at the beginning of the book. The author describes Job as “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). Further, God describes him as “my servant Job” (Job 1:8), a high honor.
Finally, remember why Job suffers in the first place. It is not because Job has brought judgment upon himself but because God does trust him. The main point of Eliphaz’s argument lies in skepticism:

Even in his servants he puts no trust,
and his angels he charges with error;
how much more those who dwell in houses of clay,
whose foundation is in the dust….

--Job 4:18-19

God in fact does trust his servant, so much so that he rests his standing as God in Job’s obedience. The future of the book stands on this one factor. If Job fails, God fails. But God trusts in his servant enough to make the jump himself without a safety net.


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The Mystery of Suffering and Blessing, Part 9

Job 5 –Excerpts



Have you ever noticed that some of the most appalling advice comes from people whom nobody asked? In terms of unwelcome friends, Eliphaz stands at the head of the line. He continues to speak in chapter 5, and the entirety of the chapter jumps between easy answers and cliched advice.
One of the least spoken but most universally assumed moral principles in history is the belief that people generally get what they deserve. Eastern religion calls it karma. Christians call it justice. The most successful stories and movies rest on that reality. Almost everyone cheers when the good guy finds vindication while the bad guy goes down. After all, this is a biblical theme. The entire Bible stands on the clear declaration that God ultimately will execute vengeance on his enemies and prove the righteous. However, the operating word in the cosmic drama is ultimately. Job and his three friends all believe in the principle that God always defeats his enemies and justifies the righteous. They cannot imagine a universe where God would allow injustice to continue without doing something to stop it. As we follow Eliphaz’s speech toward its crash and burn, let’s lift Job and his friend from their ancient setting into the twenty-first-century advice blog. Eliphaz shows us how to kill a friendship in five easy steps.

One: Demean your Friend to Prove your Point
If Eliphaz is anything, he is confident in his ability to fix people. The “advice” section in his speech covers all of chapter 5 and is longer than the entire case that that tried to establish his authority in chapter 4. Like he does in the opening, he begins by talking Job down.

“Call now; is there anyone who will answer you?
To which of the holy ones will you turn?
Surely vexation kills the fool,
and jealousy slays the simple.

--Job 5:1-2

Job’s three friends know judgment when they see it. The loose paraphrase to these verses is, “You are inferior to me, so listen while I lecture you.”

Two: Make Sure your Audience Understands your Authority
Since Eliphaz speaks a prophetic message to Job, he must show that he owns the credentials to deliver it. In his case, he takes on the role of a prophet.

“I have seen the fool taking root,
but suddenly I cursed his dwelling.
His children are far from safety;
they are crushed in the gate,
and there is no one to deliver them.
The hungry eat his harvest,
and he takes it even out of thorns,
and the thirsty pant after his wealth.

--Job 5:3-5

In this passage, Eliphaz looks more like a bouncer than a servant of God whose heart breaks at the sight of injustice in the world. What actual good does his boasting do? How does it help Job?
Beyond that, he appears to be unconcerned about the injustice that continues when “the thirsty pant after [the fool’s] wealth”? If he really were God’s enforcer, should he not consider the evil that they do as well? Eliphaz is silent about this problem.

Three: Make your Case with Overgeneralizations
Overgeneralizations are handy because they cover such a wide range of problems. They also have a built-in safety feature. If someone questions the case, the defender has a trove of examples from which to choose. He can pick any obviously true example and overgeneralize on it.

“For affliction does not come from the dust
nor does trouble sprout form the ground,
but man is born into trouble
as the sparks fly upward.

--Job 5:7-8

Eliphaz’s reasoning stands on a mechanical understanding of justice. In his understanding, certain “facts” are always true. One is that God faithfully blesses righteousness and curses sin. The other is that man’s predisposition lies in rebellion. He is “born into trouble.” (Except, of course, for the fortunate few, like Eliphaz, whose veins course with virtue.) Thus, the world moves on in harmonious, mechanical balance. Ironically, the man who interprets the world on his personal story “as I have seen,” fails to see evil men prospering at the expense of the innocent. Job will mention this point when he speaks, but his case will fall on deaf ears.

Four: Offer Insulting Solutions
Once Job’s friend lays out his oversimplified reasons, he jumps to an equally oversimplified conclusion. The solution to Job’s problems is as simple as A-B-C:

As for me, I would seek God,
and to God would I commit my cause,
who does great things and unsearchable,
marvelous things without number:
he gives rain on the earth
and sends waters on the fields;
he sets on high those who are lowly,
and those who mourn are lifted to safety.
He frustrates the devices of the crafty,
so that their hands achieve no success.

--Job 5:8-12

Talk about an insult to a man of integrity. Of course, Job should seek God. No one would disagree with that admonition. But when Eliphaz speaks down to him with grade school platitudes, he dishonors a man far greater than he. And by the way, God does do the things that Eliphaz describes. The Psalms are full of praises for these things. However, he is not an on-call deity. He does not live to make life comfortable for us every time we snap our fingers.

Five: Reduce the Message to a Four-piece Jigsaw Puzzle
Eliphaz’s just-so application to his sermon drones on for another fourteen verses, all the way to his happily-ever-after ending. Job, come back to the fold, and you can get all this

For you shall be in league with the stones of the field,
and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with you.
You shall know that your tent is at peace,
and you shall inspect your fold and miss nothing.
You shall know also that your offspring shall be many,
and your descendants as the grass of the earth.
You shall come to your grave in ripe old age,
like a sheaf gathered up in its season.

--Job 5:23-26

Once again, Eliphaz and his friends defend a mechanical understanding of God’s relationship with men. In their minds, God brings only blessing to the righteous and only retribution on the wicked. This is the furthest thing from grace. Eliphaz believes that he teaches Job something new, but all the while, he bangs away at clichés. We see the extent of his pride in his concluding admonition to Job:

Behold, this we have searched out; it is true.
Hear, and know it for your good.

--Job 5:27

I see two red flags emerging from Eliphaz’s speech. One rises from his standard for truth, “As I have seen….” The standard ignores any kind of principle that we could trace back to Scripture. His experience governs the way that he understands the world. It governs his understanding of the fate of the wicked (Job 4:7-11), the way that he interprets his nightmare (Job 4:12-21), and the way that he responds to evil taking root in the world around him (Job: 5:1-7). The other red flag rises from the pride that he betrays in his concluding line, “We have searched it out; it is true.” The statement is a case study in self-obsession. Yes, the Bible calls us to stand on the truth, but it does not call us to brag about our knowledge. Greater understanding never makes us authorities. It makes us more responsible. Truly godly men speak with authority garnered from Scripture and compassion gained from humility.


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The Mystery of Suffering and Blessing, Part 10

Job 6 – 7—Excerpts



How Dare He?
When we consider Eliphaz’s opening speech in Job 4 – 5, two points become obvious. One, Eliphaz is the spokesman for the group. Not only does he jump in before the other two friends have a chance to say anything, but he speaks for all of them in the final statement of his speech. “Behold, this we have searched out; it is true. / Hear, and know it for your good” (Job 5:27, emphasis added). Two, he is certain that he is right, and he expects Job to submit to his authority. His reasons are ironclad. He knows that the wicked never prosper because he has seen the evidence of their demise. Besides that, a poltergeist experience during a nightmare has reinforced his authority. And if those two reasons were insufficient, he testifies of his personal curse on the wicked. What can Job do but grovel. To his friends’ surprise, however, Job does the unthinkable. He speaks. On his own behalf. This man who is clearly under judgment for secret sins dares to claim moral ground for himself. The nerve.

Job’s Response
About eighty percent of Job’s speech (Job 6:1 – 7:16) is a response to Eliphaz’s criticism, while the remainder addresses God directly. Job begins with two wishes that prove to be very insightful. Here is the first:

Then Job answered and said:

“Oh that my vexation were weighed,
and all my calamity laid in the balances!
For then it would be heavier than the sand of the sea;
therefore my words have been rash.
For the arrows of the Almighty are in me;
my spirit drinks their poison;
the terrors of God are arrayed against me.”

--Job 6:1-4

When a man endures deep suffering, regardless of the reason, his pain drives his perspective inward. His focus and thinking are different during times of suffering. We cannot expect a person in pain to reason like one who is free from suffering. During the first two thirds of his speech, Job tries to convey that fact to Eliphaz. He gives a vivid voice to his pain. He endures more than ordinary discomfort. His pain is “heavier than the sand of the sea.” He also defines his suffering in moral terms. He pictures it as “the arrows of the Almighty,” tipped with poison.

He also hints at a long duration for his suffering:

“My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt;
my skin hardens, then breaks out afresh.
My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle
and come to their end without hope.”

--Job 7:5-6

Job has lived alone with his pain for weeks and perhaps months, even in this early part of the drama. That fact explains his second wish:

“Oh that I might have my request,
and that God would fulfill my hope,
that it would please God to crush me,
that he would let loose his hand and cut me off!”

--Job 6:8-9

To state the wish flatly, “Please, let me die.” Part of the reason why the book of Job inspires so much interest despite its difficulty is because Job is as honest as he is eloquent. He speaks his heart. In our modern praise-all-the-time culture, where only happy words are permitted in public, he becomes a companion for those who find themselves shunned into silence.

The Beginning of the Unanswerable Questions
Job stands as a heroic figure in the Scripture. The prophet Ezekiel mentions him in the Old Testament to describe him as righteous (Ezekiel 14:14 and 20). In the New Testament, James honors him for his patience (James 5:11). On a human level, Job resides in the no man’s land between warring companies. He suffers deeply but has no idea way. He pleads for God to end his suffering, only to meet silence. Perhaps worst of all, he tries to defend himself against his friends’ verbal onslaughts, only to see them become more entrenched in their certainty that his misery has arisen as righteous punishment for secret sins. Job is heroic, but he is also human. He will cross a very definable line. When we get into the heart of the book, Job will make indefensible charges against God. Even now, though, Job begins to lean toward self-justification at God’s expense. For example, his comment about the arrows of the Almighty clearly grows out of a heart of worship. That much is good. At the same time, his comment pushes the envelope concerning who is at fault. While he does not openly blame God—yet—the seed of that poisonous fruit has begun to germinate.

Honoring Job the Man
Let me move to Job’s concluding words at the end of the seventh chapter. In the last part of his speech, he turns from his friends to plead directly with God. His words reveal his desperation:

“If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of mankind?
Why have you made me your mark?
Why have I become a burden to you?
Why do you not pardon my transgression
and take away my iniquity?
For now I shall lie in the earth;
you will seek me, but I shall not be.”

--Job 7:21-21

Obviously, the background events in Job 1 – 2 are invisible to him. He does not understand what we readers do, that his assumptions are untrue. God has not made Job his mark. The Accuser has.
Nor has Job become a burden to God. To the contrary, God takes special notice of him. But again, Job’s voice rises from suffering. When he asks why God has refused to pardon his transgression, he strikes an empathetic chord. Anyone who suffers can feel the same absence when we languish in God’s apparent absence from our lives. Job feels utterly abandoned by his God. Right now, Job’s plea arises from his desperation. As the drama moves deeper, and his friends bear down on him, he will begin to question God’s justice. His demand for an audience with God will result in an appearance he desires. Before we examine that, however, we will need to see the explosive tension that escalates when Job’s human detractors continue to bear down on him.


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The Mystery of Suffering and Blessing, Part 11

Job, Excerpts



The Slippery Slope of Rightness
In this segment, I want to look at Job’s friends’ Bildad and Zophar and their line of thinking. Eliphaz’s misdirected admonition in his opening speech lays a sinister groundwork for the other two characters. The threesome’s assaults run from chapter 4 through 25 and form a slippery slope of condemnation. Bildad makes the second appearance. Where Eliphaz speaks from experience, Bildad resorts to tradition.

“For inquire, please, of bygone ages,
and consider what the fathers have searched out.”

--Job 8:8, emphasis added

So, what have the fathers have searched out? Bildad offers these comforting words:

“Does God pervert justice?
Or does the Almighty pervert the right?
If your children have sinned against him,
he has delivered them into the hand of their transgression.”

--Job 8:3-4

According to Bildad, we live in a clockwork universe. When people sin, God punishes them. All the old sages have said as much. Therefore, Job’s children received exactly what they deserved. These words constitute cruelty that borders on fanaticism. Zophar is the last to enter the fray. He believes Job is guilty from the beginning, and he in angry.

“Should a multitude of words go unanswered,
and a man full of talk be judged right?
Should your babble silence men,
and when you mock, shall no one shame you?
For you say, ‘My doctrine is pure,
and I am clean in God’s eyes.’
But oh, that God would speak
and open his lips to you,
and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom.
For he is manifold in understanding.
Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.”

--Job 11:2-6

Execution by a Thousand Cuts
Obviously, Job’s friends’ minds are made up. Despite Job’s unanswered challenges to support their accusations, the three men continue to tag-team him. In their minds, the proof of his guilt lies in his condition. Throughout the three cycles of debates with Job in chapters 4-31, they pursue their goal to make him confess. When he resists, their anger skyrockets like a lunar launch. By the time we reach the final round, Eliphaz hurls these accusations against Job:

“Is not your evil abundant?
There is no end to your iniquities.
For you have exacted pledges of your brothers for nothing,
and stripped the naked of their clothing.
You have given no water to the weary to drink,
and you have withheld bread from the hungry.
The man with power possessed the land,
and the favored man lived in it.
You have sent widows away empty
and the arms of the fatherless were crushed.”

--Job 22:5-9

The baseless references to exacting pledges, securing the clothing from those who were devastated by the violation, withholding bread from the hungry, and sending the widows away empty-handed are purposeful. The Old Testament moral codes define social justice in these terms and mark them as the boundary among God’s people between garnering God’s blessing or cursing. Despite the absence of evidence, Eliphaz declares Job of the most fundamental miscarriages of justice.

At the Bottom of the Slippery Slope
Zophar, the third friend, drops out at the end, leaving Bildad to level this final assault on Job. His brief speech shows us what the bottom of the slippery slope looks like:

“Dominion and fear are with God;
he makes peace in his high heaven.
Is there any number to his armies?
Upon whom does his light not arise?
How then can man be in the right before God?
How can he who is born of woman be pure?
Behold, even the moon is not bright,
and the stars are not pure in his eyes;
how much less man, who is a maggot,
and the son of man, who is a worm!”

--Job 25:2-6

Besides being an overcooked rehash of Eliphaz’s first speech, Bildad’s affront is an example of theology gone rogue. His declaration that God “makes peace in his high heaven” appears to have more to do with God bringing all the sinners to justice rather than accomplishing redemption. Why? Because in Bildad’s mind, man is beyond redemption. We see it in his double rhetorical question, “How can man be right before God? / How can he who is born of woman be pure?” The question speaks in rigid absolutes. Man is “a maggot,” and the son of man “a worm.” If humanity is hopelessly unjust, how is God supposed to make peace? We have reached the bottom of the slippery slope that Eliphaz introduced at the beginning. In their zeal to prove Job wrong, the three attempt to topple the entire human race.

Grace Greater than Condemnation
How do Job’s friends arrive at their dismal conclusion? They put all the weight on one truth while they ignore the counterbalancing reality. In other words, they are partly right. From a doctrinal perspective, every person is born in sin. In the words of that beautiful hymn, “Wonderful, Merciful Savior,” we have “hopelessly lost our way.” These simple lyrics describe the human condition perfectly. No one, in his natural state, can please God. This is a sloid biblical principle from Romans 8:8. However, the most convincing lies always begin with an element of truth. Bildad thinks that our brokenness places us beyond God’s reach. For Bildad, the meaning of the hymn reduces to “hopelessly lost,” period. If God is as separated from man as Job’s friends claim, the three are “dead” right. They run their victory lap on a sinking ship. They have forgotten that God’s grace is greater than condemnation. Salvation by grace through faith is as true in the Old Testament as it is in the New. Job has been saved by grace, and at the end of the book, God will correct him through that same grace. He will even invite Job’s three friends to shed their pride and embrace that same salvation.

A Kinder Way…From the Start
What should we have expected from Job’s three friends? Allow me to borrow from Paul’s words in the New Testament.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

--Galatians 6:1-2

This teaching reflects a principle that stands true in both Testaments. The emphasis is on restoration rather than ferreting out others’ sin. Those who are spiritual—and yes, we are called to acknowledge this reality in ourselves—should find their greatest joy in the triumph of grace. Three realities from Galatians apply to Job’s friends. First, Paul talks about being caught in a transgression, not assuming its existence from the circumstances. Second, a spirit of gentleness needs to temper zeal. The other person’s restoration counts more than a guilty verdict that cuts him from the fellowship. Third, assistance toward our brothers should be cloaked in an awareness of personal frailty. Every one of us is capable of stumbling. Job’s three friends show none of these characteristics. Their desire to fix Job lacks the slightest compassion for the man or the facts. Their counterfeit humility is a smokescreen that fails to disguise their fervor to be right. And their disregard for self-examination leads them to rage. Brothers, we must uphold the truth in courage, but we must never take our eyes from the need for compassion.


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The Mystery of Suffering and Blessing, Part 12

Job, Excerpts



The Never-ending Question
Centuries after Job, the prophet Jeremiah opens one of his discourses with these words:

Righteous are you, O LORD,
when I complain to you;
yet I would plead my case before you.
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
Why do all who are treacherous thrive?

--Jeremiah 12:1

Both Jeremiah and Job wonder about the same large issue. How can God allow evil in his creation while he lets the righteous suffer? In that sense, their questions are similar. However, the way each man faces his question is distinctive. A brief look at Jeremiah’s question will take us a long way in understanding the thornier issues that Job raises.

Jeremiah’s Question Up Close
Two critical characteristics mark Jeremiah’s complaint. First, the prophet frames it under the umbrella of absolute principles. “Righteous are you, O LORD, / when I complain to you….”
This declaration is more than window dressing. Jeremiah’s statement that God is righteous places everything he is about to say within the boundaries of that acknowledgement. He understands that God declares right and wrong, and he pleads with them in mind. The second point to notice is the nature of the complaint. It is a straight-up, I-want-to-know question about the state of the world. “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? / Why do all who are treacherous thrive?” In other words, if God is just, why does he allow injustice to run rampant? Ultimately, God declares Jeremiah’s question to be out of bounds and leaves it unanswered (Jeremiah 12:8). But regardless of God’s response, the point for us to see is that Jeremiah’s concern is about objective issues.

Job’s More Ambitious Demands
When we look at Job’s speeches, we see him run into a moral bog. Where Jeremiah reins himself in, Job jumps into the deep end of the pool without thinking about how long he can tread water. Additionally, Job’s concern focuses on personal fairness rather than divine justice. Here are two excerpts from Job’s response to Bildad’s first speech:

Truly I know that it is so:
But how can a man be in the right before God?
If one wished to contend with him,
one could not answer him once in a thousand times…

“God will not turn back his anger;
beneath him bowed the helpers of Rahab.[1]
How then can I answer him,
choosing my words with him? Though I am in the right, I cannot answer him;
I must appeal for mercy to my accuser.”

--Job 9:2-3 and 13-15, emphasis added

Before we examine Job claims, let me affirm my love for this man. He is one of my favorite characters in Scripture, but here he is out of bounds. Where Jeremiah was careful to acknowledge God’s righteousness before waging his complaint, Job runs straight to self-defense.
His challenge to Bildad, “How can a man be right before God?” has nothing to do with the New Testament theological question, “How can a man be just before God?” That question recognizes that sinful human beings are unable to meet God’s requirement of holiness. Job’s question means, “How can a good man like me vindicate himself before God? Why doesn’t God recognize my righteousness?” He sees God as a cosmic bully who shoots him down before he can defend himself. “If one wished to contend with him, / one could not answer him once in a thousand times.” This is wrong, but before we become tempted to hurl too much blame at him, we must remember that Job suffers unbearable physical pain as well as emotional anguish over the loss of his ten children. Further, his three friends are fueled by Satan’s twisted manipulations. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar are nothing more than pawns at Satan’s hands. Nonetheless, his desire for personal vindication is out of bounds. Notice how he phrases his appeal. “Though I am in the right, I cannot answer him; / I must appeal for mercy to my accuser.”

Crossing Boundary Lines
Job crosses a line here. Where Jeremiah affirms that God is righteous, Job places himself at the moral center of his universe. In his mind, blessing is a matter of fairness rather than grace. He believes that God is punishing him without cause. To state Job’s issue in contemporary terms, “If I, as a righteous man, am supposed to be blessed, then God is at fault for punishing me without reason.” Job’s logic drives him to a dangerous conclusion: God, he believes, is without morals. “It is all one; therefore I say, / He destroys both the blameless and the wicked…” (Job 9:22). That is, God makes no moral distinctions between the right and the wicked. Later the dialogues, he seeks an audience with God. If only he could talk to him personally, he is certain that God would show pity and bless him as he had in the past. He expresses a wish with a fairytale ending. Here is his wish:

Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
that I might come even to his seat!
I would lay my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would know what he would answer me
and understand what he would say to me.

--Job 23:3-5

His fairytale ending emerges from his confidence in his case before God:

Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
No; he would pay attention to me.
There an upright man could argue with him,
and I would be acquitted forever by my judge.

--Job 23:3-7

Near the end of the arguments, he pits himself against God:

“As God lives, who has taken away my right,
and the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter,
as long as my breath is in me,
and the spirit of God is in my nostrils,
my lips will not speak falsehood,
and my tongue will not utter deceit.

--Job 27:2-4

Just-so Theological Expectations
I want to back away from the characters for a moment and consider our assessment of Job. Many authors and Bible teachers have maintained balanced approaches toward the man and the book. I have learned much from them. Unfortunately, some judge Job without grace. Frankly, these authors have little more patience with Job than his friends. Sometimes this looks like they have mounted him on a dissection table and fileted him layer by later to examine every character flaw they can find. He is more than a cadaver. Yes, Job is wrong to his moral compass on himself rather than on God. But he is in the middle of the forge. Mature theology emerges after God completes the smelting process. As Job predicts,

“But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.”

--Job 23:10

When he makes this statement, he looks forward to receiving moral vindication. He will receive that very wish at the end of the book when God exonerates him (Job 42:7). However, his emergence “as gold” will not come from his character but from repentance for speaking out of line (Job 42:1-6). The gold that will be revealed at the end will emerge from the lessons learned through grace.
[1] Here, Rahab is a term that means pride or arrogance rather than a reference to the woman who sheltered the spies in Joshua’s day.


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The Mystery of Suffering and Blessing, Part 13

Job 19:21-27



Faith’s Taproot in Longing
We know that Job sometimes speaks without knowledge, but despite the fact that he blames God for his suffering, his essential faith continues to shine. In this segment, I want to examine two expressions of longing. These lie in Job 19. The reason why I believe that his faith remains intact is because he voices his frustration in terms of longing rather than despair. Despair surrenders. Longing continues to search.
Throughout history, men have met and overcome impossible odds. Their stories become heroic. Job’s struggle only begins in his pain. The psychological warfare that his three friends wage is his real adversary. They dehumanize him. To them, he has become someone to be persuaded, a man whose only potential value lies in his compliance with their beliefs.

Job’s First Plea: Mercy from his Friends
Out of the tension, a plea emerges.

Have mercy on me, have mercy on me, O you my friends,
for the hand of God has touched me!
Why do you, like God, pursue me?
Why are you not satisfied with my flesh?

--Job 19:21-22

No one’s faith is perfect, and Job’s imperfections are clear in this passage. Certainly, “the hand of God” has touched him, but God’s purpose for his ordeals is far deeper than what Job understands. When we consider how easy it would be for Job to lash out, the depth of his plea to his friends is heartbreaking. He gives us a call to show mercy when God calls us to bring correction to someone else.

Job’s Second Plea: Longing for Significance
Job’s second plea emerges from the depths of his heart:

Oh that my words were written!
Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
Oh that with an iron pen and lead
they were engraved in the rock forever!

--Job 19:23-24

I still remember the wonder that came over me the first time I read this passage through Job’s eyes. He addresses an issue that matters to all of us. His life needs to be significant. If he suffers this deeply, his pain needs to matter. Job’s wish to have his words “inscribed in a book” is a longing expressed out loud. And God honored his wish. Job’s trials meant enough for God to God to record them. Now, thousands of years later, we can connect to this man because God reveals a deeper meaning behind the suffering. The truth that our lives must matter reflects the reality that God has created us with purpose. This point is generalized, but I must say it. Following Darwin and others of his day, evolutionary biology denied the reality of our God-created purpose. Denying God’s existence was academic and easy. Library shelves are full of those books. But the effort to deny human purpose caused an internal infection that could not be stanched. Crises of identity have arisen repeatedly. I believe that the modern gender identity crisis is only the latest sign that that tumor hemorrhaged. Now, we deny our biology in a vain effort to discover our identity. Our lives will never find meaning until we seek our purpose from God’s word.

A Significant Prophet Word
Job continues his plea with an equally remarkable prophetic utterance. God has provided a mediator.

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.

--Job 19:25-27

People from my generation remember the solo from Handel’s Messiah, “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth.” Younger members of the audience may think of the equally beautiful song by Nicole C. Mullen, “Redeemer.” Both musical numbers base their lyrics on this passage from Job. They also draw their theology from the New Testament reality of the risen Christ. In both these songs, the redeemer is Christ, who rose from the grave and now lives to make intercession for the saints whom he purchased on the cross. Job predates Jesus’ death and resurrection, so he cannot share our modern perspective. He looks forward in a prophetic perspective to the final consummation of his Redeemer’s rule on the earth. When Job declares, “For I know that my Redeemer lives,” he does not yet know his name. His statement means, “I know that a Redeemer exists who will vindicate me.” He is right in his assertion. But the remainder of his prophecy becomes even more significant when we understand the spiritual boundaries of the age in which he lived. If we accept the conservative understanding that Job lived around the time of Abraham around 2000 BC (more on this point in the closing episodes), the extent of his knowledge would encompass what God had revealed about himself over the course of Genesis 1-11. He would have known about the creation, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel. He would have understood that God was creator and judge, and that he had promised a redeemer who would save his people. A concrete hope in the resurrection of the dead would not enter biblical theology for some time. Even 1300 years later, during the prophet Isaiah’s time, the idea of hope lay more in the expectation of deliverance from danger than in a future resurrection. For example, around 702 BC, King Hezekiah declares this in his psalm of praise after being delivered from a fatal disease:

For sheol [the grave] does not thank you;
death does not praise you;
those who go down to the pit do not hope
for your faithfulness.
The living, the living, he thanks you,
as I do this day:
the father makes known to the children
your faithfulness.

--Isaiah 38:18-19, emphasis added

King Hezekiah’s declaration, “The living, the living, he thanks you,” stands on an unspoken notion in the Hebrew mind. The dead are unable to fulfill their fundamental reason for living, which is to give praise to God for his works. According to biblical scholar Claus Westermann, “The conclusion is not expressed in the O.T. but it must be drawn. There cannot be such a thing as a true life without praise. Praising and no longer praising are related to each other as are living and no longer living.”[1]
In other words, praise belongs to the living. The dead, by nature, are silent. This thought also underlies Psalm 118.

I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the LORD.

--Psalm 118:17, emphasis added

Death-defying Hope
The Old Testament reality that hope is tied so closely to life—that God must be praised, and only the living can praise him—is what makes Job’s prophecy so remarkable. Hope in the simple sense of returning to praise no longer exists for Job. He sees only the end of his life. Death and decay stand before him like a widening sinkhole, and his demise appears to be immanent. Yet into Job’s despair, God plants death-defying hope:

And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.

What remarkable grace! What great mercy! God gives the man who accuses him of injustice (see Job 19:6-12) a revelation that would remain veiled until Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Praise God for his mercy.


[1] Claus Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms, (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1981), 160.


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The Mystery of Suffering and Blessing, Part 14

Job 32:1 – 34:37



Elihu, A Modified Understanding of God’s Justice
Job and his friends argue until they drive themselves to a stalemate. In chapter 32, a new voice enters, a younger man named Elihu. Because of his youth, he has kept silent, but by the end of the screaming match, he can contain himself no longer. According to the text, he “burned with anger at Job because he justified himself rather than God. He burned with anger also at Job’s three friends, because they had found no answer, although they had declared Job to be in the wrong” (Job 32:2-3). Here we have a young man who can state the reasons for his indignation. And his reasons are right. In this regard, Elihu is a breath of fresh air. He is a zealous young man who has something to say, and in many ways, he has much to teach Job and his friends. His is the confident wisdom of the young. His case is certain, his arguments are insightful, and his focus remains fixed on God’s integrity throughout his speeches. He aims for the heart of the issue. At the same time, his speech lacks the acquired wisdom that age brings to the thoughtful person. In his youthful confidence, he overgeneralizes. For that reason, I call his contribution to the dialogues “simple wisdom.”

The Positive Attributes in Elihu’s Opening
Elihu’s opening words go straight to the issue. The arguments between Job and his friends have failed to bring reconciliation. Now that they are over, Elihu is free to enter the debate. He introduces his case as an outlier.

I am young in years,
and you are aged;
therefore I was timid and afraid
to declare my opinion to you.
I said, ‘Let days speak,
and many years teach wisdom.’
But it is the spirit in man,
the breath of the Almighty that makes him understand.
It is not the old who are wise,
nor the aged who understand what is right.
Therefore I say, ‘Listen to me;
let me also declare my opinion.’”

--Job 32:6-9

I must admire Elihu’s boldness. To be willing to step into such angry debates with a voice of reasonableness requires courage and confidence. Elihu shows both. He also demonstrates unusual restraint for a man his age.

  • He respects those who are older and more experienced (Job 32:6).
  • He listens (Job 32:6-9).
  • He withholds his opinion until everyone else is done (Job 32:10-11).
  • He refuses to regard Job’s defense as a personal insult (Job 32:14).
  • He is committed to speak in kindness, without accusation (Job 33:2-7).
  • He will respond to Job’s words rather than terrifying him (Job 33:8-11).
  • He will defend God (Job 33:12).

Elihu’s Speeches
When he begins, Elihu engages in a four-part defense of God’s integrity that runs for six chapters. The series begins in job 33:1 with his opening. The remaining parts are flagged by the words, “Elihu answered/continued and said…” Here are the four sections in his long speech.

  • Part I: God’s Communications to Mortals, (Job 33:1-33)
  • Part II: God’s Justice among Men, (Job 34:1-37)
  • Part III: God’s Resistance to Human Influence, (Job 35:1-16)
  • Part IV: God’s Ultimate Greatness, (Job 36:1 – 37: 24)

This segment will look at the first two sections.

The First Speech
In his first speech, Elihu summarizes his understanding of evil in the world. God employs it to speak to mortals.

“For God speaks in one way,
and in two, though man does not perceive it.
In a dream, in a vision of the night,
when deep sleep falls on men,
while they slumber on their beds,
then he opens the ears of men
and terrifies them with warnings,
that he may turn man aside from his deed
and conceal pride from a man;
he keeps his soul from the pit,
his life from perishing by the sword....

“Behold, God does all these things,
twice, three times, with a man,
to bring back his soul from the pit,
that he may be lighted with the light of life.”

--Job 33:14-18, 29-30

One of the most admirable points about all four of the speeches is their gentle language. Unlike Job’s friends, who point the finger at Job, Elihu universalizes his points. God speaks “when deep sleep falls on men, / while they slumber on their beds, / then he opens the ears of men / and terrifies them with warnings….” Elihu’s description of nightmarish warnings probably stands in response to the nightmare scene in Eliphaz’s first speech. But where Eliphaz intended to terrify, Elihu eliminates the graphic details. Still, his basic point differs little from Eliphaz’s. Like Job and his friends, he also lives in a morally simple universe. For Elihu, evil exists for a humanly discernable reason, which is to allow God to seek our attention so he can rescue us from destruction. On the surface, this point sounds like a reasonable assessment. If Elihu lived in our time, for example, he probably would point out that 9/11, the Sandy Hook school shootings, and the Boston Marathon bombing caused people to turn to God. Historically, these three events did just that, at least for a short time. But did God cause the disasters so that we would turn to him? Of course not. The three modern examples came about because evil men acted in hatred. The same is true for Job. The Accuser has attacked Job to prove his belief that he can thwart God’s work in his saints. His motives are purely evil and exist only through his own plans. The interplay between good and evil in the world resists an easy resolution. As we will see when we look at God’s interrogation of Job, his ways are deeper than what we can understand using simple morality tales.

The Second Speech
Elihu’s second speech defends God’s justice. In it, he declares,

“For according to the work of a man he will repay him,
and according to his ways he will make it befall him.
Of a truth, God will not do wickedly,
and the Almighty will not pervert justice.”

--Job 34:11-12

Again, he is right in principle, but he makes little progress beyond what Job and his friends understand. Certain matters of faith remain true for believers because they must, even when they do not appear to be true. To deny them is to deny the faith itself. The issue of justice is one of these matters. Of course, God will act in a way that preserves justice. Psalm 9:7-8, for example, declares that his stated mission is to do just that. This is where Elihu’s simple faith becomes overly simple. Yes, God will bring justice to the earth, but the resolution that every saint craves remains a future one. We cannot count on “happily ever after” in this life.

Back to the Big Issues
The question in Job is not whether God brings justice. Job, his three friends, and Elihu all believe that. The debate is about how God accomplishes the task. Until the Lord returns, we will see justice in incomplete terms. Our hope needs to rest in promise rather than outcome, and that requires mental discipline. In the next segment, we will look at Eliphaz’s final two speeches. There we will observe some additional points that will help us further in unraveling the puzzles in the book.


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The Mystery of Suffering and Blessing, Part 15

Job 35:1-14 and 36:11-12



Elihu’s Third Speech
In many ways, Elihu’s third speech is the most subtle of his four responses to Job. It deals with God’s immunity from human influence. He touches on a profound truth, but at the same time, he misses something deeper. First, let’s look where Eliphaz is right. He is spot on when he challenges Job’s earlier egocentric question on how God can be so unjust when he allows Job to suffer.

“Do you think this to be just?
Do you say, ‘It is my right before God,’
that you ask, ‘What advantage have I?
How am I better off than I had sinned?’”

--Job 35:2-3

Elihu’s challenge refers to Job’s claim in Job 9:20-24 that God’s actions are morally neutral, that he fails to take Job’s high moral behavior into account while he torments hm. Elihu’s paraphrase of Job’s complaint, “How am I better off than I had sinned,” points to the level of Job’s cynicism. The complaint means, “My moral uprightness has gotten me no more blessing than if I had continued to sin.”

The Doctrine of Immutability
Elihu follows with two pairs of rhetorical questions, one referring to Job’s sin and the other referring to Job’s righteousness.

If you have sinned, what do you accomplish against him?
And if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to him?
If you are righteous, what do you give to him?
Or what does he receive from your hand?

--Job 35:6-7

These questions focus on the theological doctrine of immutability, the principle that the infinitely powerful God is immune from change by his creatures. This means that moral evil cannot devalue his glory, nor can moral righteousness make him better. As the Apostle Paul writes, “Who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” (Romans 11:35). The reality that Elihu voices is stated in the Westminster Confession of 1646. Chapter II, Section 1 reads that God is “a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions” (emphasis added). The Confession has a specific meaning for the term passions. It does not deny that God feels love, joy, or anger. It says that he is not driven by these things. In his commentary on the Confession, Kevin Craig writes,

To say that God is without passions is to say that God cannot be acted upon by an external agent. There is nothing in the universe powerful enough to change God from what God wants to be or from what God is by His very nature. Nor would we want there to be an external agent more powerful than God, nor would we want God to change.[1]

Emotional or Emotionless Involvement?
While Elihu is right to ask Job the questions that he does, he appears to believe that God’s immutability expresses the whole truth about God. When he does this, he reduces God to a preprogrammed machine. The conclusion to his argument a few verses later describes an emotionless God who renders his verdict, shakes the dust from his hands, and walks away.

“Surely God does not hear an empty cry,
nor does the Almighty regard it.
How much less when you say that you do not see him,
that the case is before him, and you are waiting for him!”

--Job 35:13-14

These are cold words. Ultimately, Elihu’s conclusion sounds like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar’s God. “This is how God works, Job. Deal with it.” Where is the man who said in Job 32:14 that he would resist the tactics that Job’s friends used? The close of his third speech unfolds exactly like Bildad’s final comments:

[Bildad said,]
“Behold, even the moon is not bright,
and the stars are not pure in his eyes;
how much less man, who is a maggot,
and the son of man, who is a worm!

--Job 25:5-6

What ultimate difference is there between Elihu’s conclusion and Bildad’s final verbal berating? When both speeches introduce their conclusions with the phrase, “How much less…,” the words turn Job into a target.

The Neglected Truth: The God of Emotions
While it is true that God cannot be manipulated by emotion (“Now you pushed me over the edge!”), we lose something profound in our understanding of God when we deny that he acts with emotion. While the book of Job remains largely silent on the issue of God’s emotions, it does touch on the subject. To show this, we need to preview the end of Job. Following Job’s repentance speech in the final chapter, God speaks to Eliphaz, the leader of the group of three. His words teem with emotion:

After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite:
“My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

--Job 42:7

Two emotions appear in this verse. The stated one is the anger that God directs against Eliphaz and his friends. God’s reaction is more than a momentary negative reaction. It is a settled disposition against them— “My anger burns against you….” The inferred emotion springs out of the contrast that God draws between Job and his three adversaries, “for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” The statement batters Job’s friends with its irony. After all the self-righteous vitriol that they have poured out against him, God declares that he alone has spoken the right thing. The emotion appears in God’s expression, “my servant Job.” Since it stands in opposition to his anger, it is an affirmation of his pride in Job. Emotionally, God’s approval is every bit as genuine as his anger toward Job’s accusers. This raises a question. What exactly is the rightness that God sees when he declares that that Job has “spoken of me what is right”? It cannot be Job’s theology in his self-defense. That line of reasoning will become the subject of God’s rebuke in chapters 38-41. Job speaks rightly of God when he repents in Job 42:1-6. When this occurs, God’s immediate response is to welcome his repentance. This is what grace is about. God exercises grace because he loves it. He achieves glory in justice, but his greatest glory arises from his passion to forgive. His forgiveness of his people makes him eternally famous and eternally joyful.

A Brief Summary of Elihu’s Furth Speech
Elihu’s fourth brings his case to a close. In essence, it carries two thoughts. One, God is just. Two, for those who fear him, life is good. We see the couplet in a brief quote:

If they listen and serve him,
they complete their days in prosperity,
and their years in pleasantness.
But if they do not listen, they perish by the sword
and die without knowledge.

--Job 36:11-12

Elihu falls into the same oversimplified line of thinking that Job’s three friends have embraced. They all claim that God is great, but they reduce his greatness to a formula: ignore him and suffer; obey him and prosper.

The Final Fury
The human debate ends with Elihu’s speeches. The arguments have failed to unravel either the wonder of who God is or the mystery in how he works. Beginning in chapter 38, God himself appears to Job to demand an answer from him. The tables are about to turn.


[1] Kevin Craig, “‘Without Passions,’” Westminster Standards in 180 Days,, accessed January 11, 2017.


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The Mystery of Suffering and Blessing, Part 16

Job 38:1 – 40:5, Selected Passages



The Unsafe King of Creation
One of my favorite lines in all fictional literature comes from C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I know I have quoted the line before, but it is too good to ignore. When Susan Pevensie, one of the four children that are transported to Narnia, learns about Aslan the Lion, the Christ figure in the book, she replies, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion….” Mr. Beaver, who knows Aslan, corrects her. “Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” Susan speaks for all of us in our human inclinations. We want a safe, just-so God who orders his cosmos according to our demands. We want a god who gives simple answers about what is right and who protects us when we are afraid. We want a god we can control. Job described this god earlier in the book:

Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
that I might come even to his seat!
I would lay my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would know what he would answer me
and understand what he would say to me.
Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
No; he would pay attention to me.
There an upright man could argue with him,
and I would be acquitted forever by my judge.

--Job 23:2-7

Two Interrogations
In Job 38, The LORD enters, but not as a wiser equal who pats Job on the shoulder to say, “There, there….” He appears in a tempest as the King who comes to address Job’s disparagement of his authority. The section ranging from Job 38:1 – 42:6 contains two speeches. In each set, the LORD asks a series of rhetorical questions that that move to issues that Job has ignored.

  • The author introduces each speech with the words, “Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said...,” (Job 38:1 and 40:6)
  • Both speeches contain commentary on elements in the created world.
  • Each concludes with the refrain, “Then Job answered the LORD and said…,” (Job 40:3 and 42:1).

The first speech cycle (Job 38:1 – 40:5) uncovers Job’s incomplete knowledge of the universe. If he cannot understand the creation, how will he be able to defend himself before the God who made it? The second speech (Job 40:6 – 42:6) addresses Job’s presumption to challenge God’s righteousness. As a mortal, he is powerless to execute earthly justice in majesty. How dare he question God’s kingly authority?

The Opening Volley
We will look at the first speech in this installment. God’s opening challenge presses Job on his ignorance:

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.

--Job 38:1-3

Words that confront our cherished ideas about God seldom emerge from contemporary Christian leaders. The popular voices in Christian media proclaim a god who whose greatest joy is to allow human beings to pursue their lifelong courses of self-obsession. The contemporary god is safe, and a safe god is a convenient god. It is the very god that Job thought he could persuade by reasoning. If we read the Bible carefully, we discover a different kind of God altogether. God is obsessed with his own name. “The LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14, emphasis added). This jealous God bursts into Job’s world in the form of a whirlwind. He does not appear with hat in hand in response to Job’s demand. He enters as the King to defend his sovereign right to rule.

The First Interrogation: The Challenge of Creation
God is unlike anyone or anything else. Under our New Testament perspective, we the fact through Jesus’ claim to be the sole redeemer. “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). In the Old Testament perspective, God’s claim to exclusivity grows out of his role as Creator.

For thus says the LORD,
who created the heavens
(he is God!),
who formed the earth and made it
(he established it;
he did not create it empty,
he formed it to be inhabited!):
“I am the LORD, and there is no other….”

--Isaiah 45:18

Both these realities—divine creation and redemption—remain true throughout all history. Jesus is both Creator and Redeemer. In the first interrogation, the LORD defends his superior status as Creator.

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

--Job 38:4-7

The LORD’s demand, “Where were you…,” kicks Job’s feet from under him. This man, who thought he could demand an audience with God because he was “upright” (Job 23:7) now lies defenseless at the feet of the King who calls for answers from him.

TThe Significance of Creation in the Old Testament
The Creator theme is a strong one in the Old Testament. The earlier Bible contains several creation accounts, and each of them focuses on at least one of three issues. The first involves praise and gratitude for God’s work in creation (Psalm 104). The second defends God as the Creator, the only being who has this ability (Isaiah 40:25-26 and 44:21-28). Finally, the third involves the declaration that the fixed order in the cosmos exists because God has made it so (Jeremiah 31:35-37). Calls for joyous gratitude are absent from God’s interrogation of Job. His demands focus on the second and third issues. He defends his authority as the Creator who fixes order in his universe. The LORD’s argument begins with a summary about his carefully planned and constructed universe. Notice the terminology in verses 4-7: stretching the line, sinking the bases, laying its cornerstone. These signify careful planning and expert craftsmanship. The remainder of the first interrogation shows Job that he cannot begin to understand the order in the cosmos. Job 38:8-38 focuses on the physical universe—the boundaries for the sea, the “dwelling of light” and the “place of darkness” (Job 38:20), the place for the rain, clouds, and snow. Following this, Job 38:39 – 39:30 moves a series of zoological examples, from lions, wild donkeys, and wild oxen to something as stunted as the ostrich, who abandons after she lays them.

No Room for Negotiation
The LORD’s first interrogation closes with these words:

And the LORD said to Job,

Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
He who argues with God, let him answer it.

--Job 40:1-2

In response, Job replies in repentance:

Then Job answered the LORD and said:

“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but I will proceed no further.”

--Job 40:3-5

Job’s issues remain unanswered. Yet he repents. This is not an idle point. Patty and I had a friend in a former church whose salvation testimony arose from these chapters. She had been an atheist for much of her adult life but came to belief when she grappled with these interrogations in Job. As she should. When the Apostle Paul proclaimed Christ in Athens, a pagan city that knew nothing about the Christian God, he began with the declaration, “God, who made the world and everything in it…” (Acts 17:24, emphasis added). The God of the Bible is first our Creator. That position gives him the right to summon us to hear the message of salvation.


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The Mystery of Suffering and Blessing, Part 17

Job 40:6 – 41:34, Selected Passages



The LORD’s Second Challenge to Job
God’s interrogation of Job in chapters 38-39 is brutal, and Job surrenders. “I have spoken once, and I will not answer; / twice but I will proceed no further” (Job 40:5).

However, while Job may be done, the LORD is not. With the same words as the first pronouncement (Job 38:3), God announces a second,

Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.

--Job 40:7

Why does God call for this second round? For Job to claim the right to question God’s moral authority requires two qualifications. The first is intelligence. Unfortunately, the bar requires a comprehensive understanding of the universe itself. That is why God demanded the answers that he did in Job 38:1 – 39:38.

The second qualification involves authority. If Job demands a position as God’s moral advisor, he must be big enough for the task—not as a cosmic bully but as one who demonstrates majesty:

Will you even put me in the wrong?
Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?
Have you an arm like God,
and can you thunder with a voice like his?

Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity;
clothe yourself with glory and splendor.
Pour out the overflowings of your anger,
and look on everyone who is proud and abase him.
Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low
and tread down the wicked where they stand.
Hide them all in the dust together;
bind their faces in the world below.
Then will I also acknowledge to you
that your own right hand can save you.

--Job 40:6-14

Notice exactly how the LORD describes his office as Judge of the World: he acts in majesty and dignity; glory and splendor. He pours out overflowings of anger. He looks on everyone who is proud to bring him low and to tread down the wicked where they stand.

We find God’s creatures in rebellion throughout the Scripture, but nowhere do we find anyone who dares to mock God when he stands in his presence.

God’s justice designed to redirect embezzled glory back to his him, where it belongs. Could we imagine ourselves, puny creatures that we are, in God’s position?

God’s Demonstration of Majesty
The LORD shows his majesty by returning to his creation, this time to feature creatures that the book calls Behemoth and Leviathan. Both these terms are transliterated from the Hebrew language. He begins with Behemoth. The Hebrew word means “majestic animal.”

Behold, Behemoth,
which I made as I made you;
he eats grass like an ox.
Behold, his strength in his loins,
and his power in the muscles of his belly.
He makes his tail stiff like a cedar;
the sinews of his thighs are knit together.
His bonds are tubes of bronze,
his limbs like bars of iron….

--Job 40:15-18

Opinion varies as to whether they are literal or mythical creatures. In my opinion, the text requires them to be literal. For one thing, every point from the first interrogation describes elements of God’s created order. We would expect the same in the second.

Beyond that, God’s own words describe an animal “which I made as I made you.”
A God who would have to hang his majesty on mythical creatures would be only a poser.

No one can say with certainty what Behemoth is. God describes a huge, apparently marsh-dwelling creature. His sheer size places him completely apart from ordinary (if we can use that term) animals.

As a side note, some, including myself, read the book of Job in the light of literal creation history. We cannot be dogmatic, but Job appears to have lived around the time of Abraham, who lived a few generations after Noah. The possibility that God might be describing a sauropod dinosaur—the giant, four-legged with long necks and counterbalancing tails—has remained an intriguing one for me for much of my life.

The other creature is Leviathan, a violent, sea-dwelling creature. The description is a long one, covering 34 verses. Once again, God introduces the creature with a series of rhetorical questions directed toward Job:

Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook
or press down his tongue with a cord?
Can you put a rope in his nose
or pierce his jaw with a hook?
Will he make many pleas to you?
Will he speak to you soft words?
Will he make a covenant with you
to take him for your servant forever?
Will you play with him as with a bird,
or will you put him on a leash for your girls?
Will traders bargain over him?
Will they divide him up among the merchants?
Can you fill his skin with harpoons
or his head with fishing spears?
Lay your hands on him;
remember the battle—you will not do it again!
Behold, the hope for a man is false;
he is laid low even at the sight of him.

--Job 41:1-9

Obviously, Leviathan is a violent creature. What is the point of the commentary on it?

In the previous segment, I mentioned the three purposes for the Bible’s teaching on creation, which are praise for Gods work, declaration of his sole standing as the creator, and the declaration that the fixed order in the cosmos exists because God has made it so.

Here, God returns to the first purpose, to demonstrate his glory. He closes the first part of his rhapsody on Leviathan with these words:

No one is so fierce that he dares stir him up.
Who then is he who can stand before me?
Who has first given to me that I should repay him?
Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.

--Job 41:10-11

We know that God is glorious because his creation testifies to his glory.

Verses 10-11 form the thematic conclusion for God’s interrogation of Job. He could stop here, and we would understand the message. He owns the judge moral matters.

A Divine Indulgence
But God adds continues to show off Leviathan—for 23 more verses. Nothing else exists in this final section. He even begins the section with a statement of indulgence. He is the master craftsman who displays his work for all to admire:

“I will not keep silence concerning his limbs,
or his mighty strength, or his goodly frame.
Who can strip off his outer garment?
Who would come near him with a bridle…?”

--Job 41:12-13

I believe that a subtle connection exists between Job 41:12-34 and the conclusion of the book. We will discuss that in the next segment.


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The Mystery of Suffering and Blessing, Part 18

Job 42:1-6



The Two Interrogations in Comparison
I mentioned before that God’s interrogation of Job falls into two parts. An interesting connection between them lies in the way that God conducts them. The purpose for the first interrogation is to knock Job down to a level of humility that will allow him to shut up and listen. The first interrogation (Job 38:1 – 39:30) is broad in scope. It presents examples from the creation like a movie trailer, panning from the cosmological scale of the creation to the earth in its biodiversity. The entire interrogation consists of rhetorical questions, as the selected bullet points below show:

  • “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4)
  • “Have you commanded the morning since your days began…? (Job 38:12)
  • “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds…?” (Job 38:34)
  • “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth…?” (Job 39:1)
  • “Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars…” (Job 39:24)

The barrage in the first interrogation pins Job against the wall. When God finishes, Job has no room to move. He is incapable of answering a single question. In the end, God renders his verdict in the form of a final rhetorical question. “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? / He who argues with God, let him answer it” (Job 40:2).

The Second, Toned-down Interrogation
The second interrogation differs from the first in three respects:

  • Where the first wave sweeps across the cosmos like an IMAX presentation, the second focuses on two animals—Behemoth and Leviathan.
  • Rhetorical questions define the first wave. The questions appear briefly in the second wave as well, but they are directed at Leviathan rather than Job. The arrangement of the second wave looks like this:

    --A description of Behemoth, “Majestic Animal,” (Job 40:15-24)
    --Introduction to Leviathan, with rhetorical questions about him, (Job 41:1-7)
    --Commentary on the majesty that reflects the God who created this great creature, (“No one is so fierce that he dares to stir him up. / Who then is he who can stand before me?” Job 41:8-11)
    --Closing description of Leviathan, (Job 41:12-34)

  • The final difference between the two interrogations is the most curious. Where the first wave concludes with a crashing demand, the second simply stops. God’s final line reads, “He [Leviathan] sees everything that is high; / he is king over all the sons of pride” (Job 41:34).

Sifting Through the Debris
In other words, the character of the first wave is far stronger than the second. At close of the first, Job lies bleeding on the ground. However, Gods’ monologue in Job 40:7-14 shows the kind beginnings of grace following judgment. It is as if God tells Job, “I know that you are wounded, and I know that you confessed, but I must remind you of these two animals that testify to my majesty.” If God were an ordinary tyrant who wanted to show his power, he would continue to brutalize Job until the end. For a tyrant, majesty means nothing more than power. The greater the show of power, the less likely his subjects would rebel again. Power leads only to fear. We see the opposite of that in Job. By the time we reach the second scene, God tones down his language considerably. He knows that Job is repentant. And while he must testify to his majesty, he uses Behemoth and Leviathan as mediators. This act not only shows incredible restraint on God’s part, but it also foreshadows the path that he lays toward grace. By the time he finishes his speeches, he essentially tell Job, “Look to these two great animals and see me behind them.”

Job’s Final Recorded Words to God
In other words, far from being the last word, the closing of God’s speech becomes an invitation for Job to come and receive grace. The two speeches that he has delivered to Job do exactly this. We see Job’s response in the beginning of the final chapter. It is a masterpiece of humility:

Then Job answered the LORD and said:

“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’

Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.’

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

--Job 42:1-6

When Job utters these words, he still lies in his suffering. Nothing has changed physically for him, nor has he received a single answer to any of his demands. Instead, his perspective on his God has changed. The LORD, who knows his creation intimately, clearly knows what is best for Job, and Job admits this. Part of Job’s speech repeats God’s challenges against him, but in his newfound humility, he answers with two statements that are striking in their theological insight. The first is, “I know that you can do all things, / and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” At the very least, this statement speaks to God’s omnipotence, his complete authority over everything and everyone; and his immutability, God’s ability to bring his will to pass in earth and heaven. Job’s second statement refers to his relationship with God. “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, / but now my eye sees you.” From the beginning, his reverence for God has been evident. Now, however, he comes to know God on a depth that exceeds anything he has known in the past. Through the witness of Behemoth and Leviathan, Job has seen God’s majesty. Through the witness of forgiveness, he has learned about the far greater majesty of grace.

The Mystery of Grace
Grace is borne out of compassion. It is the essence of God’s being. Who else is there who can pronounce a rightly deserved death sentence, only to take it away and say, “Come to me and receive pardon”? Human sensibility is unable to comprehend this. God, who is altogether holy, has every right to drive his anger forward until he is satisfied. But his compassion stops him from doing that. It is a beauty whose depths we will spend eternity exploring.


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The Mystery of Suffering and Blessing, Part 19

Job 42:7-9



The second-to-last paragraph in Job puts Job’s conflict with his friends to rest. While the paragraph is straightforward, its content, it reaches deep into mystery.

After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the LORD had told them, and the LORD accepted Job’s prayer.

--Job 42:7-9

The Mystery of God’s Search for His Own
Notice that the paragraph begins, “After the LORD had spoken these words to Job…” The phrase obviously refers to the entire discourse with which God, during which time God spoke and Job repented. Why, then, is the book silent on Job’s repentance? I see two reasons for this. The more obvious truth is that God held the podium during the interrogations. He delivered a lecture rather than a dialogue. Job spoke only as God allowed him to do so. The more subtle reason, I believe, goes to God’s larger purpose for confronting Job in the first place. God never meant to cancel Job. He intervened to rescue him. The rescue has been successful, and now that Job has repented, God defends him before his friends with the highest accolades for Job. “You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

Who Seeks Whom?
This truth highlights the mystery of God’s search for his own. One of the realities that the book of Job touches is the inability for human beings to find their way to God. Job’s three friends relied on theology. They pummeled him it, only to hear God’s rebuke at the end. As important as theology is, by itself, it is unable to bring us to God. Even when someone “feels their way toward God” (to use Paul’s term from Acts 17:27), it is God who directs his search. No one finds God by figuring him out. He discovers him because God does the searching. The Scripture is clear on human inability. Jesus, for example, explained to the crowd who returned the day following the feeding of the five thousand, that he is the bread of life. They want another free meal, but such a thing will give them nothing of eternal value. The only way they can recognize Jesus as the Bread of Life is if the Father grants them that privilege. Here are three snapshots from his Bread of Life discourse. In this section, Jesus focuses on the ministry of the Father:

Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day….”

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it…?” And [Jesus] said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

--John 6:43-44, 60, 65

Paul draws on the Psalms to demonstrate the truth in a theological manner:

What then? Are we Jews any better off [than the Gentiles]? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:

“None is righteous, no not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”

--Romans 3:9-12, quoting Psalm 14:1-3

Again, when the LORD promises to show his glory to Moses on Mount Sinai, he makes this declaration with his promise:

And [the LORD] said, I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”

--Exodus 33:19

I do not believe that the final statement to Moses is arbitrary. God’s right to be gracious to whom he wishes is a necessary part of his being. He is our Creator, Sustainer, and Savior. The mystery of his mercy includes his sovereign right to choose whom he will. The reason why the book of Job remains silent about Job’s two speeches in the passage above is because they would not exist had the LORD not sought him. Job’s confession takes place in response to God’s seeking. God is not merciful to Job because Job repents. Job repents because God has sought him in mercy. The LORD’s entire discourse is designed to call Job back to a worshipful heart.

Making Our Smallness Great
When Job finds himself laid bare before the LORD, his self-vindication turns to self- denunciation. “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore, I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job42:5-6). As the case is with any truly repentant heart, recognition of God’s infinite greatness next to our unworthiness makes us shrink from ourselves. We find glory when we minimize ourselves.

Vindication through Mercy
The first thing that God does after he accepts Job’s confession is to display the fruits of his mercy to Job’s friends—in a way that makes them lose bladder control. “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” Ironically, “what is right” refers to God’s mercy, and now the LORD extends it to them as well. However, the three angry men must eat crow to receive it. “Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves.” This is a strange picture—men offering burnt offerings to another man who prays for them—but it shows God’s extremely high regard for Job. One more question, this time about Job’s three friends: Is their offering an indication of genuine salvation or only conditional pardon? I do not know for certain. All we have is God’s response to the offerings, “…and the LORD accepted Job’s prayer.” We hear nothing about any change of heart that may have taken place. For now, we have plenty to consider. We will bring the study to a conclusion in the next segment.


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The Mystery of Suffering and Blessing, Part 20

Job 42:10-17



Job’s Turning Point
The book of Job closes as mysteriously as it opens. The two-paragraph epilogue ends on a note that, if not exactly happy, at least communicates a sense of blessing.

And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the LORD gave twice as much as he had before. Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house. And 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 and a ring of gold.

--Job 42:10-11

This and the next paragraph are as notable for what they leave unsaid as for what they tell us. For example, the paragraph opens with the words, “And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends.” What exactly does the clause at the end mean? Was Job’s prayer for his friends the cause for God’s act of restoration? Did God wait for that act to say, “There you go, Job. You’ve arrived”? I do not think so. The text from Job 42:7 is clear that God’s acceptance of Job came from his repentance. Job’s act of praying for his friends appears to be more of a signpost to mark Job’s change of status. For Job to be an intercessor for his friends, he must possess a standing before God already. The restoration of his fortunes becomes a mark of vindication for him.

Family Restoration
Most of the paragraph deals with Job’s family relationships. “Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house.” This is a more important statement than we realize. In the psalms of lament, one of the key causes for lament is the sense of shame that arises from the loss of public respect. For example, David writes,

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads.

--Psalm 22:6-7

Similarly, the sons of Korah write this concerning abandonment:

You have caused my companions to shun me;
you have made me a horror to them…

--Psalm 88:8a-b

Job reflects the level of anguish that he experiences at his loss of respect:

I am a laughingstock to my friends;
I who called to God and he answered me,
a just and blameless man, am a laughingstock.

--Job 12:4

No wonder, then, that the writer would devote so much space to that single point.

Blessing During Job’s Timeline
What does Job’s timeline look like? From our perspective, he begins and ends in wealth and comfort, while he suffers through the middle part of the book. Further, his suffering, along with God’s silence, endures for months if not years.

Was the blessing that he sought from God limited to those two periods of his life?

We might be tempted to think so. After all, the book uses the term in both of those contexts:

Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge 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.”

--Job 1:9-10, emphasis added

And the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. He had also seven sons and three daughters.

--Job 42:12-13, emphasis added

In this context, blessing clearly refers to tangible wealth and comfort. This is often the case in Scripture. But is it the only case?

A Deeper Sense of Blessing
Of course not. If it were, the bulk of Job would have involved an arguable abandonment by God during his suffering. But human suffering alone does not imply abandonment. For example, Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). The Apostle Peter also wrote to his fellow countrymen who suffered under Roman persecution, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:14). In cases like these, blessing means being recognized by God. This is the primary meaning of blessing rather than the secondary. Look at the way that the LORD takes notice of Job at the beginning and end of the book. To Satan, he said, “Have you considered my servant Job…?” (Job 1:8). And at the end, he tells Eliphaz, “You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7). God never forgot his servant. When we follow the course of the book from this perspective, we can come to only one conclusion. From the moment that the LORD gave Satan permission to attack Job—thus putting his divine reputation on the line—he had his servant under his care. What, then, does the text mean by blessing the latter days of Job more than his beginning? Physical blessings are under God’s authority as much as his right to put us to the test is. The greater blessing at the end of the book stands as a testament to God’s pride in Job’s perseverance and confession.

The Mystery of Blessing
This brings us to my final observation, one that I pull from another Scripture. In Revelation 12:10, John refers to “the accuser of our brothers…who accuses them day and night before our God.” The book of Revelation speaks to a history-long obsession on Satan’s part. What if Satan’s single play in his playbook involves the challenge that he used against Job. Earlier, we discussed the fact that Satan knows nothing of loyalty. Instead, he believes his own lie. Might the case be that he continues to hold onto his losing strategy because of what he sees as good odds? Satan needs to cause only one failure to win against God. When Satan fails with Job, he moves on to the next man or woman, and the next, around the world. “If you let X happen to Daniel/Martha/Yuri/Alina/Carlos/Lucia…he or she will curse you to your face.” Satan is certain that he will win at some point, but he is blind to the fact that God’s salvation is perfect. In Jesus’ words, “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15).
To borrow a couple theological terms, our calling and regeneration (the process by which the Holy Spirit brings us from spiritual death to being made alive to God—Ephesians 2:1-5) is monergistic, that is, and act of God alone. From the moment we respond in faith, however, our salvation and sanctification becomes synergistic, meaning a shared process. The LORD’s true saints are not only passively preserved by God. They also actively persevere in their faith (Philippians 2:12-13). Satan cannot comprehend God’s faithfulness in salvation. The Lord will lose none of his sheep because they are all continually blessed through his saving grace.


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