If you have been following the M’Cheyne Bible reading plan in 2010 you will be part way through the book of Exodus, Job, Luke and 2 Corinthians. Reading Job for the first time can be difficult as the speech moves between Job and his “friends”. This is one of those books in the Bible where you will benefit more if you read it in entirety in one sitting. This will allow you to place the conversations in their context. Depending on your reading and retention ability it may be quite a foreboding task to tackle 42 chapters in one hit. However for the average reader who is probably versed in the likes of Rowling, Clancy, Meyer, Gabaldon, Patterson, and others, Job barely compares in quantity.
The book opens with an introduction to a man named Job (pronounced “joh-b” not “job” as in what you do for a living). He is identified firstly as a righteous man (1:1) and then as a rich man (1:2). He was a man of prayer who cared deeply for his family and was concerned for their spiritual and temporal welfare (1:4-5). The scene switches to an encounter between God and Satan. They discuss Job and God permits Satan to harass him (1:12). Job loses his family, his fortune, but not his faith as he looks to God in worship and blesses his name (1:20-21). Another interchange between God and Satan ensues and this time God permits Satan to afflict him personally, but is not permitted to kill him (2:6). Job receives a plague of boils as a result. Following this Job is visited by three “friends” who decided together “to go and sympathize with him and comfort him” (2:11). The next twenty-nine chapters relate an interchange between Job and the friends. What this amounts to is a series of accusations by the friends that Job is guilty of some heinous sin and Job’s response or defense that he has “maintained his integrity” (2:3, 9, 27:5, 31:6). This is followed in chapters 32-37 by an outburst by a fourth, younger friend. Were the book to end there you might assume that the four “friends” had made a good case against Job. However in chapter 38, God himself joins the conversation and sets everyone straight.
Taken in isolation, the content of chapters 3-31 seem to provide sound and pithy counsel. Although the counsel sounds biblical and orthodox, it is given independently of God and without reference to the limitation of understanding the “friends” have concerning God’s sovereignty. Chief amongst their mistakes is trying to figure out “why” these calamities had befallen Job. Surely there must be some secret sin he is harboring, he has blasphemed or done some other evil to warrant his affliction. Why else would God allow this to occur? Job also, at first, seems preoccupied with the “why”. His response to the accusations is introspection and review and he concludes that he is not in the wrong, that God is acting unfairly (27:2) for not explaining (30:20, 31:35) “why” he was suffering.
However when God speaks, he reveals something of himself and his majesty, might and power and then demands Job answer him why he thinks he is a qualified judge.
“Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?” 40:8 (NIV)
When God finishes his cross examination of Job, Job realises his response ought to have been “How” not “Why”. How do I respond you Lord, no matter what the circumstances are that you bring me into? Job answers the question himself in 42:6 when he repents and worships. God then appoints Job as an intercessor or mediator for his three friends. Once their understanding is corrected they are able to genuinely comfort and console him (42:11) along with the remainder of Job’s extended family.
What do we make of this book? Hopefully we realise that regardless of our circumstances, wisdom, insight, understanding, length of time we have been a Christian, amount of Bible College or Seminary we have attended or any other attainment we’ve achieved, we don’t know the full story of what is happening behind the scenes and we don’t have to. The response to any condition we find ourselves, poverty or riches, health or sickness is not pondering “why”, rather asking “how”. Job started out on the right track.
At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 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.”
In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (1:20-22 NIV)
It wasn’t until some well meaning, albeit, self-righteous friends threw in their graceless reasoning that Job became confused and turned his “worship” into a “why”. Which brings out another application from this book. When others around us are suffering, our response should be comfort and consolation not presumption and judgement. Likewise in reverse for those that might be experiencing an “up” moment – don’t assume this makes them more spiritual or blessed than you are. In both cases, neither the suffering nor the surplus is conclusive proof of the state of their heart and what purposes God is working in their lives (Philippians 4:12-13). In either case we are called to encourage, comfort and strengthen our brothers and sisters. All too frequently if someone has a bit of a rough time and shows no sign of improvement we are tempted to write them off as deserving their plight. Indeed, we ALL deserve damnation (Romans 3:23, 6:23a). Isn’t it a tad arrogant to think yourself above reproach if you’re in a slightly better state than someone else? How sad that the saying, “There, but for the grace of God go I” has become a trite cliche and we have become callous to the opportunities to show mercy and kindness to others.
However the most valuable understanding of any book of the Bible comes from asking how it speaks of, or illuminates the person and gospel of Jesus. Just as God allowed Satan to afflict Job, so too he allowed the outpouring of his wrath against sin to be poured out upon Jesus. Jesus is the suffering servant, the one who, unlike Job, willingly laid down his life for our sake. (John 10:11, 17-18) Jesus had God’s perspective on his suffering and was able to approach the cross with joy (Hebrews 12:2) knowing the reward of the righteous awaited him as he provided for our redemption. Through his suffering Job came to a point of personal repentance and worship. Through suffering for our sins, Jesus enables us to repent and worship.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16 NIV)
As you read and “consider Job”, make sure you also “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3 NIV)