Good morning once again everyone. Last week we left off with the ending of Genesis in our Gospel Story sermon series. We looked at the life of Joseph and how he faced a lot of closed doors, but ultimately God used those closed doors for his glory and purpose which allowed Joseph and his entire family (along with all of Egypt) to survive an extreme famine. One of the main points we talked about was how there are times we are able to look back on the closed doors in our own lives and see how God redeemed them and brought something good out of them.
This morning, we are going to consider almost the exact opposite of that as we consider the book of Job. Job is a wisdom book in the Bible, in the same way that Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are. And when I say that Job is the opposite of Joseph, I mean that Job doesn’t really get a moment where he looks back on the suffering that he faced and goes, “Oh! I see how God was at work, I see that it all worked out for my good!”
As we look at Job this morning, we are going to examine why there is suffering in the world and why suffering happens to good people. But even as we prepare to do that, I want to prepare us for the end result. There are no clear cut answers in Job. God doesn’t reveal exactly why suffering happens, he doesn’t provide a nice little fact sheet about why these things happen in life. But he reminds us of who he is, and this book invites us to wrestle with these questions that we have with God just as Job does.
Engage / Tension
Engage / Tension
As we begin with Job, let’s set the scene a little. Scholars typically believe that the story of Job takes place during the time setting of Genesis. Job is also not an Israelite and does not live in Canaan, in fact he lives in the land of Uz. Even though Job and he friends are not Israelites, they believe in the God of Israel. One line of thought suggests that some people in this area would have known God because they would be descendents of Esau, (This is Jacob / Israel’s brother that wanted to kill him at one point but eventually showed him mercy) and might have carried on knowledge of God. We obviously aren’t going to be able to cover the entirety of Job, but we are going to start at the beginning so we are introduced to Job and his situation.
1 In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. 2 He had seven sons and three daughters, 3 and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.
As we are introduced to Job, we want to make special note of the kind of man he was. Job is described here and in vs 8 and chapter 2 as “blameless and upright.” In the later two instances it is actually God describing Job this way.
Job 1:8 “8 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.””
Job is a good man and even God says so. We are going to need to remember that fact as we look at Job’s story.
But what ends up happening is one day the angels present themselves before God and Satan comes with them. There is some debate on what this actually means. The Hebrew word for Satan used here means “adversary”. Some scholars believe this is a reference to Satan as we commonly think about him, the devil, and others think this is simply an angel who is questioning God. Ultimately this doesn’t change how we look at the story of Job. When we consider the book of Job we need to know that the book doesn’t exist to explain how Satan and God talk about humans, it isn’t even to show us how God and the angels interact. The book is meant to ask the question, “Should God reward all good deeds and punish all bad ones?” The book invites us to look at suffering and how we should respond to it. But, let’s see how the story of Job begins in this God and angels board meeting.
6 One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” 8 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” 9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 12 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
The Satan figure here brings up an interesting question. “Doesn’t Job only do what is right because you have blessed him? Job is only a good man because he knows that if he is good he will be rewarded.” This raises a question about Job then for us. If that is the case, if Job is only good because he knows God will bless him as a result, does that really make him a good man? Or does that actually mean that Job is selfish and looking out for himself?
Kanan and M&M’s
As a silly but hopefully helpful example, I want to bring up Kanan and how he doesn’t want to eat supper really well some nights. There are times when we have food that we know Kanan likes, but yet he still won’t eat. If he really won’t eat anything, we sometimes say “If you eat supper, you can have an M&M!” (We have a Star Wars M&M vending thing on our counter) Often when we do this, guess what Kanan does…he eats! Now, is Kanan eating because it is the right thing to do? Not really, he is only eating because we have bribed him with an M&M.
This brings us to a theological idea called the Retribution Principle. The retribution principle is pretty simple for us to understand. The Retribution Principle : God has ordered the world so that good deeds are rewarded, and evil deeds are punished.
I would say that this is how we sometimes view suffering, just as some of the Israelites viewed it. If we face suffering in life (which we all do at some point or another) we can begin to ask ourselves, “What did I do to deserve this? Is there something I did that was wrong and now God is punishing me for it?” Now, there are times when we face consequences to our sin, but we know that God doesn’t operate according the retribution principle because we can look at others in our world. We can see really evil people doing really evil things, yet it appears like they are prospering and that instead of being punished, they are actually thriving!
If God actually ran the world by the retribution principle, people would be doing what Kanan does at supper! We would be doing what we are asked not because we are good, but simply because we want a treat!
So God then allows Job to go through some intense suffering. The Satan wants to see if Job is really a good man, or is he just good because things are going well for him in life. This begins Job’s suffering. In a single day Job loses pretty much everything. Job’s oxen and donkeys are killed and stolen by a group of people who also kill the servants that were watching them, fire falls from the sky and kills all of his sheep and servants, another group shows up and steals all of his camels, and the last thing that happens is that while all of his children were in a house, a wind sweeps through and destroyed the house and killed all of them.
Job has a bad day. He loses pretty much everything he has, his livestock, his servants, and most importantly all of his children. Yet, despite this, we see an amazing response from Job.
20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” 22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
Despite what he has gone through, Job is able to praise God and worship Him. Because of his response, the Satan says that he is only able to respond that way because he himself was not affected. As a result, Satan afflicts Job with sores all over his entire body. Job’s wife enters the conversation, and tried to tell Job what to do.
9 His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” 10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.
Think about how bad Job’s life must be at this point. He has lost pretty much everything except his wife, his wealth, possessions, children, and now even his health. And his wife comes out and says, just curse God already because life is so bad and die! What an encouragement! But once again Job responds faithfully. We accepted all of the good from God, should we not also carry on through the trouble?
This is all just the beginning of the book. The vast majority of Job details the conversations Job has with three of his friends. At first his friends mourn with him, they weep, tear their robes, and sprinkle dust on their heads. They then sit with him for seven days and nights, not saying anything. (This is about the best thing his friends do) Eventually Job and his friends have a very lengthy conversation, mainly revolving around the retribution principle. His friends believe that God runs the world according to the retribution principle, which means that Job must have done something wrong and he just doesn’t realize it. Job has to have committed some great sin because that is why he is suffering. And so most of the book details these conversations Job and his friends have where they are trying to convince Job that he has done something wrong and should repent.
BUT, go back to the first important fact that we pointed out about Job. We know that his friends aren’t right because we are told by the author and by God himself that Job was a good man! He is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. Job constantly tells his friends that he hasn’t done anything wrong, but they don’t believe him.
When their conversations end, Job demands that God provide an answer to him. He can’t take it anymore, he laments the days of his past and demands that God tells him what on earth is going on.
35 (“Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defense—let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing. 36 Surely I would wear it on my shoulder, I would put it on like a crown. 37 I would give him an account of my every step; I would present it to him as to a ruler.)—
Job wants God to tell him what he did, tell him why he is suffering like this. After a long speech from a man named Elihu, God himself speaks and responds to Job.
1 Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: 2 “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? 3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. 4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. 5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? 6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone— 7 while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? 8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, 9 when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, 10 when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, 11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?
God gives Job this speech, essentially reminding Job who he is as God. God asks Job many impossible questions, “Where you there when I laid the foundations of the earth? Do you know how there is light and dark? Do you command the stars and sun? Did you set the limit for the oceans? God is asking Job all of these questions because he is reminding Job of a simple, but important fact. God is God, and Job is not. Job might have thought that God was being negligent in the world, that he wasn’t paying attention to what was happening, but God quickly corrects him. God knows everything because he has created everything. Job answers that first speech in Job 40.
3 Then Job answered the Lord: 4 “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. 5 I spoke once, but I have no answer— twice, but I will say no more.”
Job is humbled a bit in the speech from God. He is reminded of who God is and even though he was blameless, he was beginning to make wrong claims about God in his suffering.
God then responds again to Job and invites him to run the universe for the day. Let Job enforce this retribution principle on the world so that everything is fair. This of course would be impossible for Job and it would eventually lead to there being no more humans on the earth considering we all sin and do evil things in life. In theory the retribution principle sounds good to us, but it doesn’t allow for humans to make mistakes, to mess up, or to be able to grow and change from our mistakes.
After this speech from God through chapter 41, Job responds by saying, Job 42:1-6 “1 Then Job replied to the Lord: 2 “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. 4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ 5 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. 6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.””
Job repents of his accusations against God and acknowledges that truth that we mentioned earlier. God is God, and we are not.
The book ends with a surprising twist of events. His friends are forgiven for the wrong things that they said to Job after they repent and even Job is restored to an even better state that where he was at previously. He is blessed with more livestock than he had before and he and his wife are able to have more children.
(Brief tangent here, lets look at Job 42:13-15 “13 And he also had seven sons and three daughters. 14 The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. 15 Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.”
This is good for us to pay attention to because we are given Job’s daughters names and information about them. This was not typical in these culture and context, most times daughters weren’t even recorded by name. But here, we see that Job’s daughters are mentioned by name and included in the inheritance along with their brothers. This was not normal at that time. I bring this up because the Bible does not favor men over women, God has always valued women and continues to. I say this because there are some who might attempt to get people to think that men are superior to women, but I just want to point out that all the way back to the time period of Job, God has valued women.)
Despite all the new livestock and children though, we can’t pretend like life just goes back to normal for Job. You cannot replace children who have died simply by having another child. Job still suffers because of what he experienced during this time. It’s also good for us to know that God doesn’t give these things to Job because he has earned them. This isn’t a reward from God for good behavior, instead it is a gift from God.
So what does this wisdom book about suffering have to teach us today? First, it demonstrates to us that we don’t always get answers for why we go through things in life. Job never learns the reason behind his suffering. God never reveals to him the meeting that he has with the Satan at the beginning of the book. The book also doesn’t explain how suffering and God’s sovereignty can be reconciled.
But, what this book does explain and demonstrate to us is how we should respond when we face suffering in life. The main question of Job is not, “Why is this suffering happening?” Instead the question posed to all of us is, “Is God still worthy of our worship in the midst of suffering?” Like Job, I hope that we would be able to say yes. No matter what we go through in life, no matter what kind of unbearable heartbreak we face, I hope we believe that God is God and we are not. The book of Job doesn’t reveal to us why bad things happen to good people, but it does invite us to trust God’s wisdom when we face suffering instead of trying to figure out the reasons for it. We can ultimately trust God in our suffering because he is the one in control. He is the one who laid the earth’s foundation and causes our universe to exist. As we go through times of suffering in life, whether you are in one right now or not, trust in God. Know that he is not blind to the suffering that you are facing and remember that he is in control.