(watch here: https://youtu.be/mnnAUhH2E2k)
There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold feasts in one another’s houses in turn; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the feast days had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt-offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, ‘It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.’ This is what Job always did.
One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’ The Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.’ Then Satan answered the Lord, ‘Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.’ The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!’ So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
One day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, ‘The oxen were ploughing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.’ While he was still speaking, another came and said, ‘The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you.’ While he was still speaking, another came and said, ‘The Chaldeans formed three columns, made a raid on the camels and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.’ While he was still speaking, another came and said, ‘Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you.’
Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped. He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’
In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.
Though we’re just beginning to hear of the suffering of Job, I’m reminded of the one about a man who was suffering from a sore eye every time he had a hot chocolate. So the man went to see his eye doctor who performed a number of tests on his eye. It was red and inflamed but the doctor just couldn’t find the reason why. Baffled, the doctor analyzed the hot chocolate and had it sent off to the best labs to see if the man was suffering from an allergy. The results all came back inconclusive. Even more strangely, it wasn’t always the same eye. Frustrated, the doctor finally asked the man to talk through the whole process of making the hot chocolate with him. Was it the water? Was it the milk? Finally, the man said, “Look, come round the house. I’ll make a hot chocolate and drink it in front of you. Perhaps you can see what the problem is from that?” The doctor agrees and comes around. “Ah, I can see what the problem is,” said the doctor finally, as the man drinks his beverage in front of him. “You haven’t taken the spoon out.”
Ahh, who would’ve thought?! So much senseless suffering, so easily corrected. Just take the spoon out of the cup, friend! If only all suffering could be so easily remedied! If only we knew suffering was the result of a wager between God and Satan then perhaps it would seem a little more…justifiable? Sensible? It would certainly take a bit of the bite out of it, make it go down a little smoother. There are enough unknowns in life that it would sure be nice to have a reason for all the suffering in the world. A silly old wager between God and Satan, a test to see if our faith in God will endure. Simply hold on long enough and God will reward us for our suffering, or so the story of Job claims. But even he doesn’t get the reward he expected or felt he deserved. God rewards Job with deeper knowledge and restored riches as we hear later in the story. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We’re going to sit with Job for a few weeks so let’s take our time.
In this opening chapter, we hear of all the riches of Job: a wife, 10 children, 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 donkeys, and many servants to tend to such a large estate. We hear of Job’s “upright and God-fearing” character. Surely, he was a man who didn’t deserve to suffer. And yet God chooses him for Satan’s test. Why? Because God knows the faithful heart of Job. God knows Job could endure whatever test Satan could throw at him and still maintain his faith in God’s love and providence. God trusted Job just as much as Job trusted God so He let Satan take a stab at Job’s faith. Satan began by taking out Job’s livestock and children, a hard hit to his worldly possessions but not outside reasoning. In his grief, we hear Job famously declare, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Perhaps in his mind, Job viewed his misfortune as a sign of his impending death. It’s only fitting that God would take away Job’s possessions before Job died. God had entrusted them to Job and without Job around they were no longer necessary. Or worse yet, they were unable to exist without Job around to oversee everything. Of course, such thinking assumes a great deal of pride and arrogance on Job’s behalf, something we’d be wise to avoid. After all, this is one of God’s beloved servants, whom He trusted to steward such great wealth. Not only the wealth but also to be able to endure Satan’s test. Job was not a prideful, arrogant man. Heck, he offered God burnt offerings on behalf of his possibly sinful children! A prideful, arrogant person wouldn’t go to such lengths to appease God. Rather than suggest the pride and arrogance of Job, I think it’s safer to suggest that Job’s response was simply an attempt to make sense of his loss, to add reason to an unreasonable situation. And who among us doesn’t try to make sense of the senseless? It’s in our nature to try and make sense of the senseless. It reflects our utter fear and vulnerability. We need to make sense of the senseless world around us if we are to somehow survive it. We need to create order to the chaos around us, it’s our divine inclination. After all, that’s what God does and we have this inherent want to be like God. Some of us take it a step further and try to be God but all of us have this innate drive to be like God, to be with God. And Job is just like the rest of us, trying to make sense of a senseless situation and thus be like God and with God.
Now Job will continue to try and make sense of his senseless suffering for many chapters but at least in this opening chapter he seems to rest on a truth about life to help justify his suffering. It is true, we all come into this world with nothing and we leave this world with nothing so we should invest less of our hearts in our worldly possessions. Instead, we should be “laying up treasures in heaven” as we hear from Jesus elsewhere in Scripture. But why stop there with a truth about life? Are there any truths about suffering that would better serve Job in his situation…perhaps in our own situations of suffering? Of course there are! Peter writes in his first letter, “and after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.” (5:10) If only Job could have heard these words early on in his suffering! God WILL restore and support and strengthen, and establish! And all suffering is ultimately short-lived. It might not seem like it as we’re going through it but even suffering comes to an end eventually. No suffering lasts forever…well, suffering in this world. But take heart in knowing that suffering in this world is only temporary. And when it has come to an end, God will be eager to restore and support and strengthen and establish. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” (8:18) Paul knew that God’s full glory is revealed in his restoration and support and strengthening and establishment. And what a glory it is to behold! Everyone in Scripture who beheld God’s full glory was utterly captivated and transformed. God’s full glory is a mighty thing to behold! There is nothing as awesome as God’s full glory! And we can always seek comfort in the truth of the book of James that says, “my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” Ahh, to be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. Even in all his wealth and worldly possessions, I don’t think Job felt a sense of maturity and completeness. If only he considered his trial as nothing but joy perhaps he could have endured it better. Maybe with a little more contentment and resolution.
Nonetheless, we have begun our journey into the suffering of Job. I find it utterly fascinating that the book of Job is the oldest book of the Bible. We’ve been trying to make sense of the suffering of the world as long as, if not longer than, we’ve tried to make sense of God himself. I wonder how much clarity we’ll gain in the weeks ahead but I feel blessed to dwell in the suffering of Job in this time. Let us give thanks for Job’s witness and steadfast faith. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.