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The Ideal of Submission (Job)

The Message of the Book of Job233

Introduction

The Apostle Paul writes in the Book of Romans:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from the bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:18-21)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those whom God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither heights or depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:28-39). 234

There are many question words in any language. In English, most of the question words begin with WH: “What,” “When,” “Where,” Who,” and “How.” Much knowledge is gained by asking these questions. However, the question that troubles us the most is the one that I did not mention: “WHY.” This is the one we ask each other more often than any of the other questions. We want to know the reason behind every event under the sun and rhyme for everything that happens. Why did you forget our anniversary? Why were you not present at our junior’s baseball game? Why did you go there? Why did you do this, and why did you not do that?

But all these WHY questions pale when compared to the “WHY” question that we are sometimes forced to ask God.

Imagine, for example, you have three sons. Of course, you love them all. But the youngest is the most cherished one. It is the hardest to let him go. He leaves home after high school for college. He is just about done with college – one more year to go. He calls you to tell you that he will be coming home for Thanksgiving. You are eagerly waiting for the time when he will be home. Just a week or so before he comes home, you get a phone call from his roommate. Your son had a motorcycle accident . . . . He was killed. What kind of parents would you be if you did not raise your fist before God and ask “WHY? Why did You let this happen?”

This, of course, is not an imaginary example. It happened in my own family when my sister’s
21-year-old son was killed in a motorcycle accident. Every person reading this would have many personal stories like this, if not far more tragic than this.

The age-old question that man has raised is this: why would an all powerful and loving God allow such things? An atheist, of course, would have a ready answer: “There is no God. If there was a God, certainly He would not allow such things.” In anything and everything, an atheist finds proof for denying the existence of God because “In all his thoughts there is no room for God” (Psalm 10:4b).

On the other hand, it is an enigma for the believer to see all the misery and suffering in the world while he continues to believe in God. The question for the believer is: “Why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer?” As the Psalmist said:

The wicked have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills (Psalm 73:4-5).

This is what the wicked are like – always carefree, they increase in wealth (Psalm 73:12).

On the other hand, seeing all his trouble, the righteous person thinks:

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning (Psalm 73:4, 5, 12-14).

Or, another Psalm where the Sons of Korah, after describing all their troubles, raise their cry of anguish to God:

All this happened to us,
though we had not forgotten you
or been false to your covenant.

Our hearts had not turned back;
our feet had not strayed from your
path.

But you crushed us and made us a
haunt for jackals

and covered us over with deep
darkness.

If we had forgotten the name of our
God

or spread out our hands to a foreign
god,

would not God have discovered it,

since He knows the secrets of the heart?
Yet for your sake we face death all day long;

we are considered as sheep to be
slaughtered.

Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us
forever.

Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and
oppression?” (Psalm 44: 17-24).

The Book of Job

For many people, especially believers, when they go through intense pain and many problems, the book in the Bible that they go to find comfort and encouragement is the Book of Job. It is not because in this book they find the resolution to the problem of pain, but when they are going through intense pain, they can identify themselves with the person of Job.

This is considered the oldest book in the Bible (the books in the Old Testament are not ordered chronologically, but thematically). There are indications in the book that Job lived during the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Also, the events in the book are real events; it is not a parable or a myth. Actually, it is an autobiography where the author refers to himself usually in the third person, a practice which was not unusual in ancient literature (for example, Moses’ account about his personal life in Exodus to Deuteronomy). After his suffering was completed, Job lived 140 years and had enough time to ponder all the events of his life and write down his own story (Job 42:16).

The Man

The Book of Job describes a man who went through more intense pain that most of us can only imagine. He was a blessed man in every respect. His wealth was unparalleled. After describing his wealth, the book says, “He was the greatest man among all the people of the East” (1:3). He had a very happy family life. He not only had seven sons and three daughters, but the love among them was as ideal as any man could covet for his children (1:2, 4). Job’s concern for his family is seen in the fact that he would offer sacrifices for even the remotest possibility of them offending God.

He was most respected person in the society. Reminiscing about his past honor, he says:

When I went to the gate of the city and took my seat in the public square, the young men saw me and stepped aside and the old men rose to their feet; the chief elders refrained from speaking and covered their mouths with their hands; the voices of the nobles were hushed, and their tongues stuck to the roof of their mouths. Whoever heard me spoke well of me, and those who saw me commended me.
. . . men listened to me expectantly, waiting in silence for my counsel. After I had spoken, men spoke no more; my words fell gently on their ears. They waited for me as for showers and drank in my words as the spring rain. When I smiled at them, they scarcely believed it; the light of my face was precious to them (29:7-10, 21-24).

Most of all, Job was a very devout man. He feared God more than anything or anyone. The book begins with a certificate about his character, “This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (1:1). Speaking to Satan, God Himself gives him the same commendation, not just once, but twice:

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” (1:8; 2:3).

In these four characteristics, two are related to his human relationships. In his relationship to others, Job was blameless and upright. No one could point a finger at him and accuse him of any wrong he had committed. Later, he himself denies committing any wrong or ever depriving anybody of justice and fairness (chapter 31). The other two characteristics refer to his relationship to God. He feared God, and because of that, he would shun evil at any cost. Whether in his relationship to man or in his relationship to God, he had spotless character and unblemished integrity. It is almost like Jesus Who “grew in favor with God and with men” (Luke 2:52).

What would you expect for this kind of person other than blessing from God? It is true that God blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked. Scripture is replete with the promises and examples of such things. Yet God is not bound by our expectations; God does not owe us a thing. We owe Him everything, even the very breath that we take.

The Troubles

For Job, everything changed overnight – literally. See how fast things happen:

One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, and the Sabeans attacked and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” (Job 1:13-17)

And the greatest blow of all:

While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you" (1:18-19).

And as if these were not enough:

The Lord afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes (2:7-8).

Although the loss of all his wealth and all his sons and daughters were some of the greatest blows that any human being can suffer, Satan’s argument was, “Skin for skin! A man will give all he has for his own life” (2:4).

And Job is alone in all this! None of his sons or daughters is left. The only survivor from his family is his wife, and she does not seem to have any sympathy for him or understanding of his commitment to the Lord. She talks like a “foolish woman” (2:10). She is surprised that Job can still hold on to his integrity, and her advice is, “Curse God and die!” (2:9). This is exactly what Satan’s claim was: “Take away all these things and he will surely curse you to your face” (1:11; 2:5).

The Puzzling Question

The question in the background of the Book of Job is, “Why do the righteous suffer?” The major part of this book is a description of man’s efforts to find an answer to this puzzling question.

The Popular Answer

The easiest answer from a human perspective is that God brings trouble in man’s life as a consequence of his sin. Trouble indicates some sin in man. If we believe that God is love and God is all-powerful, then the source of pain cannot be in God; it must be in man. Man brings pain on himself because of his sin. God is holy and so cannot tolerate sin in a man’s life, and He cannot let any sin go unpunished. There is a cause and effect relationship between pain and sin. Every effect has a cause behind it; every trouble and pain has a sin behind it. According to this law of cause and effect, there is no pain without sin.

This is seen in the speeches of Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar beginning from chapter 4 all the way to chapter 31. There are three cycles of the dialogue between these friends and Job. Eliphaz speaks and Job responds; Bildad speaks and Job responds; and Zophar speaks and Job responds. The same thing happens in the second cycle. In the third cycle, only Eliphaz and Bildad speak.

Their basic argument is that there is no pain without sin in a person’s life. God punishes sin, and the person is seemingly being punished by God, and so he must have sinned. Job must have committed some terrible sin; now finally God has caught up with his sin, and he is now suffering the full reward of his sin.

Eliphaz says:

Consider now: who being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it” (3:7-8).

Or,

All his days the wicked man suffers torment, the ruthless through all the years stored up for him (15:20).

In his final speech, he comes out straightforward without any pretense:

Is it for your piety that He rebukes you and brings charges against you? Is not your wickedness great? Are not your sins endless? (22:4-5).

Then he goes into describing Job’s alleged sins (22:6ff).

Bildad has the same argument:

Does God pervert justice? Does the Almighty pervert what is right? When your children sinned against him, He gave them over to the penalty of their sin. ...Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the Godless (8:3, 4, 13).

And,

Surely such is the dwelling of an evil man; such is the place of one who knows not God (18:21).

Zophar strikes a direct blow: “Know this, God has even forgotten some of your sins” (11:6). That is, God has punished you far less than you deserve! His advice is:

If you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil in your tent, then you will lift up your face without shame; you will stand firm and without fear (11:14-15).

We cannot really blame Job’s friends for assuming that he must have sinned; otherwise, why would God bring such a terrible punishment on him? As we can see from their arguments, they were just following an age-old belief system. Eliphaz cites dreams and visions to support his view (4:12-16). Bildad presents the age-old experiences of former generations and forefathers to prove his point (8:8-10). Zophar’s argument is, “Surely you know how it has been from of old, ever since man was placed on earth” (20:4).

Such thinking was not just during Job’s time. We see that assumption thousands of years later during the time of Jesus. In John 9, the disciples saw a man born blind and asked, "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1). The question is not whether there was any sin behind his being born blind. That is taken for granted. Their question was, “WHO sinned?” It is also obvious that it must not be his own sin, because he was born blind, and a person cannot sin before he is born. Also, Jewish theology does not believe in reincarnation, which would allow one to assume sin in a previous life. So they have to assume that it must be his parents’ sin. But one thing is for sure: he could not have received this punishment if there was no sin involved, whether his own or his parents’ sin.

For Job’s friends, there are two reasons for assuming Job’s sinfulness and his troubles as a result of some sin in his life. One is the principle of cause and effect. In Hindu theology, the principle of cause and effect is so airtight that the person has to suffer consequences, good or bad, for anything he does, for many lives to come. So the pain in a person’s life is an effect connected with the cause: some sin, either in this life or in some previous life. Although Jewish theology does not believe in reincarnation, it does allow this cause and effect relation with sin and its consequences. The reasoning is this: God punishes sin. The person is seemingly punished, and so he must have sinned. In Hindu theology, and also in most of the other religions, forgiveness of sin is not available, and so this is a logical argument.

The second reason for assuming a person’s sin is man’s attempt to plead God’s case and to clear Him of any wrongdoing. This is especially true of Job’s three friends. The argument is, “If God is bringing all these troubles on Job without him having committed any sin, that would not be just, and a righteous and holy God cannot do anything that is unjust.”

Bildad follows this thinking when he raises this question:

Does God pervert justice? Does the Almighty pervert what is right? When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin. But if you will look to God and plead with the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself on your behalf and restore you to your rightful place (8:3-6).

The logic is clear, however faulty. God punishes sin and rewards righteousness. If the person is punished, he must have sinned. If you want to be rewarded, you must repent, and then you will be reassured. God follows a particular justice system: “Surely God does not reject a blameless man or strengthen the hands of evildoers” (8:20).

Elihu, who is on a much higher plane than Job’s other three friends, has the same argument:

Far be it from God to do evil, from the Almighty to do wrong. He repays a man for what he has done; he brings upon him what his conduct deserves. It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert Justice (34:10-12).

Seeing Job’s situation, his friends see only two options: either Job has sinned and God is punishing him justly, or, Job has not sinned, and God is punishing him unjustly. Obviously, for any religious person there is only one choice left: Job has sinned, and God is punishing him justly, because the other choice would be tantamount to blasphemy. In their airtight religious thinking, God is confined in a box from which He cannot escape. He has to follow the justice system that we think is right.

Support From the Scriptures

The Scriptures seem to support this argument, and it is true that God does bring affliction as a result of a particular sin in a person’s life.

In the Old Testament, God clearly warned the people of Israel of the consequences of their sins. “If you obey Me, you will be blessed” (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). “But if you disobey Me, you will be punished” (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). Leviticus 26 also spells out the rewards of obedience and punishment for disobedience. In both Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26, the list of punishments for disobedience is much longer than the list of rewards for obedience!

There are also many individual examples in the Bible in which a person received punishment for a particular sin in his life. For example, God punished David for his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, and the child born of this relationship died (2 Samuel 12:15-20). In another case, David took a census against the will of God, and 70,000 of the people died by the plague that the Lord had sent as a punishment for David’s sin (2 Samuel 24:1-17). Elisha’s servant Gehzi, because of his greed, took presents from Naaman the Syrian and was struck with leprosy (2 Kings 5:19-27). King Uzziah was one of the good kings in Judah. He reigned in Jerusalem for 52 years and, “he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” But after he became powerful, he became proud, and in his pride, he entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar. He did what only priests consecrated to burn incense could do. As a result, he had leprosy until the day of his death
(2 Chronicles 26:1-21).

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18). And, “Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for the perversion” (Romans 1:27). Ananias and Sapphira lied to God, and they both received instant punishment of death (Acts 5:1-11).

So, it is clear from the Scripture that God does sometimes bring calamity in a person’s or nation’s life as a result of some particular sin. However, obviously this does not apply in every situation where a person is suffering. Because God does punish sin and sometimes brings calamity as a result of a particular sin in a person’s life, this does not mean that whenever a person is in a difficulty or is suffering, it must be a result of his sin. Whenever we see suffering, we are tempted to apply the faulty logic of Job’s friends: God brings suffering as a punishment for sin. The person is suffering, so he must have sinned and is being punished for his sin.

This theory obviously does not answer Job’s situation. The question is not “why do the wicked suffer?” We have a seemingly logical and plausible answer to that question. Our question is: “Why do the righteous suffer?” In Job’s case, it is so plain that he was not suffering as a result of a particular sin in his life. His character was spotless – as much as a human being’s character can be. As we noted earlier, the book opens with a statement that gives an excellent commendation on his character: “This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (1:1), and God Himself uses exactly the same words for him in front of Satan.

So, our problem of pain is not solved by the popular argument represented by Job’s three friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. It is too simplistic and does not apply to Job’s and many other situations in our own experience. When a person, who has lived his whole life doing what is pleasing to God and has been a blessing to all the people around him, is overwhelmed by insurmountable suffering, we cannot help but wonder about God’s justice system and ask Him “Why?” Job’s friends do not have the answer. They are convinced that troubles inevitably indicate a presence of sin. Whereas Job’s question (and ours too) is: “He destroys both the blameless and the wicked” (9:22). Why?

The Problem of Pain: Theological Answer

Apart from these three friends, Job had one more friend named Elihu. He too expresses his opinion, which is noteworthy. He goes beyond the argument presented by the three friends. So far he had kept quiet and had not said anything. He kept silent because the three friends were older than he and also because he had hoped that they would present some solution to Job’s problem. Finally, he says:

I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know. I thought “Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom” (32:6).

He could wait no longer; he was angry with the three friends because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him:

I waited while you spoke, I listened to your reasoning; while you were searching for words, I gave you my full attention. But not one of you has proved Job wrong; none of you has answered his arguments (32:11-12).

Elihu has sometimes been blamed for being self-conceited and over-confident by those who have not understood his long speech. However, he does go beyond what the three friends have said and, instead of presenting age-old arguments, he attempts to suggest a solution to the problem of pain. He is not a self-conceited babbler, but presents good and sound advice.

First, Elihu notes, in a manner similar to the other three friends, that suffering may indicate hidden or unconfessed sin in a person’s life. He argues that through suffering, God gently guides man and turns him away from a wrong and puts him on the right path. Elihu says when there is sin in a person’s life, God deals with him in one of two ways. One of these ways is:

In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men as they slumber in their beds, he may speak in their ears and terrify them with the warning and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword (33:16-18).

Another way God speaks to a person is through suffering:

Or, a man may be chastened on a bed of pain with constant distress in his bones, so that his very being finds food repulsive and his soul loathes the choicest meal. His flesh wastes away to nothing, and his bones, once hidden, now stick out. His soul draws near to the pit, and his life to the messengers of death (33:19-22).

As a result, the man who has been afflicted by suffering comes to other people and gives his testimony that:

I sinned and perverted what was right, but I did not get what I deserved. He redeemed my soul from going down to the pit, and I will live to enjoy life (33:27-28).

God does all these things to a man, sometimes speaking to him in pain, “To turn back his soul from the pit, that the light of life may shine on him” (33:30).

Elihu’s opinion is that out of these two ways God has been speaking to Job through pain. So his advice to Job is that he should listen, repent, and be restored. Instead of repenting of his sin, Job keeps saying:

I am pure and without sin; I am clean and free from guilt. Yet God has found fault with me; he considers me his enemy (33:9-10).

And,

I am innocent, but God denies me justice. Although I am right, I am considered a liar; although I am guiltless, his arrows inflict an incurable wound (34:5-6).

Elihu’s argument is that we cannot tolerate Job blaming God for injustice. Because: “It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice” (34:12). Instead, “He repays a man for what he has done; he brings upon him what his conduct deserves” (34:11).

It seems that Elihu has the same argument as the other three friends. Like them, he too tries to justify God and accuses Job, who “keeps company with evildoers and associates with wicked men” (34:8). However, he does not assume a particular sin in Job’s life as the other three had done. He only presents it as a possible reason.

Also, unlike the three, instead of assuming a sin in Job’s life in the past which has brought the present suffering, he directs Job’s attention towards his present attitude because of his intense suffering. He is not sure, unlike the other three, if Job has committed any particular sin in the past. But he can clearly see what Job is doing now. He is: “answering like a wicked man. To his sin he adds rebellion; scornfully he claps his hands among us and multiplies his words against God” (34:36-37). His advice is that it would have been better for Job to trust God and patiently endure the pain, rather than blame God for injustice. “Beware of turning to evil, which you seem to prefer to affliction” (36:21).

Elihu provides a significant insight as to what kind of response we should have when we are going through suffering. It is best for a person going through suffering and pain to examine himself and to evaluate his own life and see if there is any particular sin in his life which may be the cause for his suffering. If he finds it, he should confess and repent and be reconciled to God. Even though the suffering may not be removed immediately, he will find peace in his soul and see God’s love even through suffering (Psalm 51:1-12). However, this has to be done by the person himself, not by anyone else, like the three friends are doing for Job.

Elihu’s second argument is that suffering does not always indicate God’s wrath, but sometimes God’s love as a gentle teacher. He says; “Who is a teacher like him?” (36:22). Describing how God teaches through suffering, he says:

The godless in heart harbor resentment; even when he fetters them, they do not cry for help. They die in their youth, among male prostitutes of the shrines. But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction. He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from affliction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food (Job 36:13-16).

But the fact is, Elihu observes, Job has not listened to God’s instruction, and so “judgment and justice have taken hold of you” (36:17). Like Solomon, he seems to be telling Job, “Do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in” (Proverbs. 3:11-12).

Elihu’s third argument is that God is not bound by our expectations. Unlike the other three, he does not want to put God in a box so that He has to punish the wicked and reward the righteous. The other three had set up an air-tight rule of cause and effect, sin and punishment, that even God Himself cannot supersede; He is bound to follow it, whereas Elihu’s argument is we cannot make God follow the rules and regulations that we set up with our limited understanding. God is sovereign. He can do whatever He likes; He can behave in any way He chooses. Nobody can stop Him or restrain Him. “Who has prescribed his ways for him, or said to him, ‘you have done wrong?’” (36:23). And, “If he remains silent, who can condemn him? If he hides his face, who can see him?” (34:29).

Elihu’s fourth, and the most important argument, is that we cannot fathom God’s ways and cannot comprehend His words, so it is not proper for us to accuse God of injustice. Rather, we should submit and wait patiently. “How great is God – beyond our understanding! The number of his years is past finding out” (36:26). And, “God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding” (37:5). Like Paul, who after describing God’s marvelous grace in His work in salvation, bursts out in doxology:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord! Or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:33-34; cf. Isaiah 40:13).

Since we cannot fathom God’s ways and cannot comprehend His works, Elihu’s argument is that we cannot blame God for injustice. We have to assume that He can do no wrong, even when it does not make any sense to us. “It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice” (34:12). And, “The almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in his justice and great righteousness he does not oppress” (37:23). Not only does God do only that which is good, we have to go a step further and assume that whatever He does is good, even when it does not make sense to us and does not seem to meet our standard of right and wrong. Again, “It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice” (34:12).

So, the only thing left for man to do is to trust and obey – to submit and wait patiently. It is better to submit than demand explanation. It is better to fear Him than to be wise in our own eyes, . . . “for does He not have regard for all the wise in heart?” [for those who think they are wise, 37:24]. Elihu sees only two alternatives for man before God: obey and be blessed, or disobey and perish:

If they obey and serve him, they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity and their years in contentment. But if they do not listen, they will perish by the sword and die without knowledge [die because they did not have knowledge, 36:11-12].

Elihu in his arguments has gone much further than the other three friends. First, instead of assuming a particular sin in the past, he scolds Job for the present sinful and self-righteous attitude. Second, he points out that troubles do not always indicate God’s wrath, but sometimes God’s love as a gentle teacher. But, third, and most important, he brings out God’s character and His sovereignty over a person’s life. God is not bound by our expectations. We cannot fathom God’s ways, and we cannot comprehend His works fully. And so, we cannot blame God for injustice, but we submit to Him and wait patiently until He takes us out of the suffering and pain. It is better to submit than to demand explanation; it is better to fear Him than to be wise in our own eyes.

J. Sidlow Baxter provides a beautiful summary of Elihu’s speech:

He sees a different and superior purpose in suffering from that which Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar have seen. It is a much higher and more spiritual purpose. The other three speakers have all been bound hand and foot by the theory that suffering is the punishment of past sinning. Elihu goes beyond that, to a truer and wider meaning. Suffering is not exclusively punitive; it is also corrective. It is not only penal; it is moral. It does not only come to requite man; it comes to restore man. It does not always come just to chastise; it often comes to chasten. It is not only the judge’s rod; it is the shepherd’s goad. 235

To this, Job does not have any response; he keeps quiet! Also, Elihu’s speech prepares the way for God’s speech. Some of the things that Elihu has tried to emphasize on God’s sovereignty are exactly what God is about to say to Job!

In spite of all this, Elihu does not have the complete picture. He cannot have a complete picture, because “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror . . . ” (1 Corinthians 13:12). He does not and cannot provide the solution to man’s age-old problem of pain. He does not have a satisfying answer for Job, or for us. Ultimately, it is only God Who can provide it.

The Problem of Pain: God’s Answer

The question to which we seek to find an answer in the Book of Job is, “Why do the righteous suffer?” The solutions offered by Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, do not fit Job’s situation, nor do they explain the suffering of many of God’s people today. Elihu’s answer may be too theological for most people. We want real answers. We want a practical solution, not a theological treaty. We may agree with Elihu wholeheartedly, but he does not provide a solution to the problem of pain. Job, too, agrees with what Elihu has to say and does not provide any rebuttal, as he did to the other three friends. However, he is still looking for the answer to the problem of righteous suffering.

Now, when no one has been has been successful in finding the answer, we must look to God for the ultimate solution. Job is not looking to his friends for the answers. They are uninvited guests and make unwelcome and unpleasant comments. For Job, and for us, if there is anyone who can provide an acceptable solution to the problem of pain, it has to be God. Job is looking to God for the ultimate and satisfying answer. His question to God is, “How many wrongs and sins have I committed? Show me my offense and my sin. Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy?” (13:23-24). Addressing his friends, he complains, “Know that God has wronged me and drawn his net around me. Though I cry ‘I have been wronged!’, I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice” (19:6-7).

He is looking for God to present his case before Him, but he cannot find Him;

Even today my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning. If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling! I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what he would answer me, and consider what he would say (23:2-5).

But the problem is he cannot find God; he does not even know where to look for Him:

But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him there. He is at work in the north, I do not see him; when He turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him (23:8-9).

His problem is, “I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you look at me. You turn on me ruthlessly; with the might of your hand you attack me” (30:20-21). His misery is beyond measure, and it is God, he complains, Who has inflicted it, and it is God from Whom he demands an answer:

If only my anguish could be weighed and all my misery be placed on the scales! It would surely outweigh the sand of the seas – no wonder my words have been impetuous. The arrows of the Almighty are in me, my spirit drinks in their poison; God’s terrors are marshaled against me. Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul (6:2-4; 7:11).

Finally God speaks! Now we should have all the answers! Are you anxious to hear what He has to say? Imagine you are reading this book for the first time in your life and are not familiar at all with the Book of Job. You would be touched not only by the poetical beauty of the book, but far more than that by the intense pain that Job has been going through. Although you do have some idea of what is going on in the heavenly places, you would still be anxious to know what God is going to tell Job. Then you come to the point in the book where it says, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm” (38:1). You would hold your breath to hear what that answer would be.

But, there is no answer! Only questions! And more questions! Lots of them! Not less than 70 of them! If you read God’s speech expecting to find the answer to Job’s problems, or to the problem of pain in general, you will be greatly disappointed. There is no mention whatsoever of Job’s troubles or of his miserable condition or his cries for help and demands for explanation. There is a beautiful and poetic description of God’s power revealed through various natural elements, but no explanation of the problem of pain.

The language, the poetry, the rich imagery, the universal sweep of ideas and illustrations – all these certainly eclipse everything that has preceded, and probably they are unsurpassed in all literature, ancient or modern; but there is neither explanation nor argument. 236

Through His speech, God wants to remind Job, and us, of several things. He is telling Job, “I am the eternal God, are you eternal?” He asks, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell Me, if you understand” (38:4). And:

What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years! (38:19-21).

God names various creatures, small and large, and describes His control over and care of each of them: mountain goats (39:1-4), the wild donkey (39:5-8), the wild ox (39:9-12), the ostrich (39:13-18), the horse (39:19-25), the hawk (39:26-30), behemoth (40: 15-24) and leviathan (41:1-34). All these receive their strength, power, abilities and skills from God. Even the stupidity of the ostrich is not without God’s plan and purpose, “for God did not endow her with wisdom or give her a share of good sense” (39:17). God seems to be telling Job, “I have created all these creatures; can you do such things? I exercise authority and control over all these things; can you do so on any of the smallest of these things? How can you comprehend My ways with man, when you cannot comprehend and control the things I have made? Who are you to ask an account of My actions?”

God not only describes His power and control over the natural elements, but also over the moral government. He can unleash the fury of His wrath and humble the proud and crush the wicked. God’s question to Job is, “Can you do that?”

Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his? Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself in honor and majesty. Unleash the fury of your wrath, look at every proud man and humble him, crush the wicked where they stand. Bury them all in the dust together; shroud their faces in the grave. Then I myself will admit to you that your own right hand can save you (40:9-14).

But if you cannot do that, you do not have any right to question my justice to justify yourself (40:8).

Problem of Pain: My Quest Satisfied

It is interesting to note Job’s response to God’s speeches. From Job’s two responses it is obvious that he was satisfied with God’s answer (40:3-5; 42:1-6). If God did not answer his questions or give explanation to his suffering, how can he be satisfied? What did he hear or see in God’s response that he was satisfied? We will note five things:

    • 1. 1. Now I know you.

After hearing God speak, Job came to know God in a real and intimate way. He says, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you” (42:5). He did know God before this; he feared God and lived a life that was pleasing to Him; he worshiped God in truth. However, now he has a far more real and intimate knowledge of God than ever before. It is one thing to accept God’s existence, know of His power and worship and fear Him, but it is another thing to experience God personally in such a way that the person would be willing to submit to Him, no matter what. After going over the details of some of the wonderful creations of God, Job learned about God's character and understood that he can take God at His word, while hardly understanding any of the mysteries of the universe and workings of God and the reasons why he was suffering.

Personal and intimate knowledge of God is God’s priority for any of His disciples and many times God uses suffering and pain to draw His child closer to Him. As Peter notes:

Though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials, these (trials) have come that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:7).

Sometimes suffering can be a blessing in disguise as it leads us closer to God and to a deeper knowledge and understanding of Him. As Paul said:

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecution, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Or, as James notes:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).

2. Now I know myself.

When Job knows God, he knows himself. When God revealed Himself and displayed His splendor in the creation before Job’s eyes, he came to realize who God is and who he himself is before God. As a result, he confesses, “I am unworthy” and “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (40:4, 42:6). Here he does not despise himself because a mountain of troubles had come upon him, as he did in chapter 3. Neither is he repenting for a particular sin in his life. But after he comes to know God intimately, he comes to realize who he is before God and despises himself for asking God for an account of His actions and repents for that sin. “Who am I before you that I would ask an account of your actions?” “Who am I that I would blame you for injustice?” He despises himself and repents for these things. This is exactly what Elihu’s rebuke was:

But you have said in my hearing—I heard the very words—I am pure and without sin; I am clean and free from guilt. Yet God has found fault with me; he considers me his enemy. He fastens my feet in shackles; he keeps close watch on all my paths. But I tell you, in this you are not right, for God is greater than man (33:8-12).

Man does not know himself until he knows God. Compared to the other people, he may have a reason to boast or to feel superior, like the Pharisee who compared himself with the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). But when man knows God and puts himself in the light of that knowledge, he comes to realize where he stands. When Moses stands before God, he realizes, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11). When the prophet Isaiah stands before the holy God, he realizes, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5). When Simon Peter realized who he was standing before, “He fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man’” (Luke 5:8).

Before the Most High and Sovereign God, man is insignificant. Before the Holy God, man is sinful. Before Him Who gives and sustains life, man has no rights or claims, even to ask an explanation for His actions. As God said, “Who has a claim against Me that I must pay” (41:11, NIV, or, “Who has given to Me that I should repay him?” NASB). He is not my servant that He would obey my commands. He does not have to give an explanation or ask my forgiveness if He does something that I do not like. Job says, “Now I know you and so I know myself. Who am I that I should ask an account of your actions or an explanation for your dealings with me? I am unworthy and I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes for doing just that.”

    • 2. 3. You can do all things.

Job now comes to realize that God is sovereign. No one can stop Him from doing whatever He wants to do, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted” (42:2). If God is God, who can stop Him from doing what He wants to do? Through displaying His power over the creation and moral order of the universe, God seemed to be telling Job, “I am a sovereign God and I do whatever pleases Me.” As the psalmist declared, “Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases him” (Psalm 115:3), and “The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths” (Psalm 135:6). Nebuchadnezzar confessed:

All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:35).

Of course, Job himself had said earlier, “He stands alone, and who can oppose him? He does whatever he pleases” (23:13). But there it was in the form of a complaint. Here it is as a confession of the truth; he comes to realize that truth in a very personal way. He acknowledges God’s sovereignty over his own personal life and relinquishes all his rights and demands before the Sovereign Lord.

So, there is only one thing that remains for Job and for us: submit – complete, unreserved submission – submission without any questions or complaints. As the hymn writer wrote, “Have Thine own way, Lord, have Thine own way,” and “There is no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.” As Peter commends:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).

    • 3. 4. Things too wonderful for me to know.

Not only is the sovereign God not bound to give an account of any of His actions, but even if He did, we would not understand. God declared through the prophet Isaiah:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher that the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Or, as Solomon said:

When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe man’s labor on earth--his eyes not seeing sleep day or night – then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it” (Ecclesiastes 8:16-17).

Elihu had said this repeatedly, “How great is God – beyond our understanding! The number of his years is past finding out” (36:26). And, “God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding” (37:5). “The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power” (37:23). Job himself had said, “He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted” (9:10).

We do not know, and cannot fully know, the works of God because we do not have the complete picture. We do not know what is going on behind the curtain in the heavenly places. As Paul says, “For we know in part,” and “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:9, 12). We cannot fully know God and his workings as we are fully known by Him, and we cannot fully comprehend the purpose and reason behind everything that He does.

Man trying to comprehend the works of God is like the story of the blind men trying to figure out what kind of creature the elephant is. One grabbed its tail and argued that the elephant is like a rope. Another grabbed its legs and argued that the elephant is like a pole; and so on. But none of them had the faintest idea what kind of creature the elephant is. Each had a partial knowledge, but none of them had the full picture. The interesting thing is that if some seeing man had tried to describe an elephant to these blind men, they could not have comprehended his description; it probably would have raised more questions in their minds.

We all are like these blind men in relation to our knowledge of the Most High. If we experience some problems or trials and sufferings, we judge God from that experience and doubt His love for us. When we see wickedness and injustice all around us and see the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer, we are inclined to question God’s justice system. When we see wars, famines, earthquakes and other widespread destruction and pain, we are likely to question God’s control over the universe. We judge God, His character, His love, or lack of it, on the basis of what we see around us without having the complete and overall picture about Him and His purposes behind everything that happens under the sun. We, with our puny minds and limited comprehension, will never be able to understand God’s complete plans and purposes, either with the things happening around us in the world or with what God is doing in our own individual lives. Job finally came to realize, “I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (42:3).

God always has a purpose in not revealing all His plans and purposes for our lives. In Job’s case we, the readers, are given the glimpse of what is going on in the heavenly places. But the question is, “Why did God not reveal that to Job? Would it not have been much easier for Job to go through the intense pain if he had been aware of God’s purpose behind it?” But that is exactly the point of the whole book! Then it would not be a real test of his character, nor would there have been any place for the genuine exercise of his faith. Imagine, for example, God asking Abraham to offer his son Isaac and telling him that he will not have to kill him. As Baxter notes:

There are some things about human suffering which God cannot possibly explain to us without destroying the very purpose which they are designed to fulfill. 237

    • 4. 5. It is enough that I have seen your face.

All the things mentioned above are important to know for Job, and for us. However, the most important thing that Job comes to know firsthand from his experience is that God loves him; He is concerned for him, and He cares enough for His servant to speak to him.

For a long time, God was silent. He seemed to be hiding His face from Job. Because of this, Job had assumed that God did not care, that He had become his enemy. Job had said:

God assails me and tears me in his anger and gnashes his teeth at me; my opponent fastens on me his piercing eyes (like a lion on a prey before pouncing upon it). All was well with me, but he shattered me; he seized me by the neck and crushed me. He has made me his target; his archers surround me. Without pity he pierces my kidneys and spills my gall on the ground. Again and again he bursts upon me; he rushes at me like a warrior” (16:9, 12-14).

Job thought God was hiding His face from him (23:8-9) and did not want to talk to him (19:7; 30:20).

The most difficult thing for Job was not that everything he owned was gone overnight, or even that all his ten children were destroyed altogether. To this, his response was, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (1:21). It was not even that his body was afflicted with painful sores. His response to his wife about that was, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (2:20). He was able to stand firm even before his accusing friends. But the most unbearable thing for Job was that God had become his enemy, and He had turned His face away from him.

His friends found the reason for all his troubles in Job himself. But he, after many self-examinations, does not find any cause in himself for all his troubles. He confidently tells his friends:

I will never admit you are in the right; till I die, I will not deny my integrity. I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live” (27:5-6).

Consequently, he assumes the cause of all his problems in God. God has become my enemy!

Finally when God speaks to him, he is satisfied. As a result of his encounter with God, Job learned that God had not abandoned him. He came to realize that even without knowing the reason behind his suffering, he could face it, so long as he was assured that God was still his friend. It is enough for him that the Creator of the whole universe is ready to talk to him personally. He meets God in Whom all his questions are answered. All his doubts are gone. Expectations are fulfilled. Longings are satisfied. Now there is no need for any explanation.

So far, Job’s complaint was that he was looking for God but he could not find Him anywhere (23:3-9). But was he really looking for God? He was not looking for God; he was looking for answers, for explanations, for vindication. And yet, because of His love for His servant, God reveals Himself to His servant even when he is not looking for Him. As in Isaiah, God speaks of His people Israel:

I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, “Here am I, here am I” (Isaiah 65:1).

That’s grace! And when Job experiences that grace, there was no need to ask anything more.

The Solution to the Problem of Pain

Why do the righteous suffer? Job’s friends do not have the answer. (Actually, their answer is that the one who is righteous does not suffer, and if he does suffer, by his suffering, it becomes evident that he is not really righteous!). Job does not have the answer. We do not have the answer. God does not answer this question, nor is He bound to answer. Then, where do we find the answer to the problem of pain? It is found in Job’s response to God.

From the encounter with God, Job comes to realize that rather than finding the solution to our pain and suffering, it is far better to submit to God and trust Him, in Whom the ultimate solution is found. Rather than question God’s love, God’s justice, and the appropriateness of His actions, it is far better to trust Him completely. It is not enough to believe that God does only what is good; but we have to accept that whatever He does is good even when, and especially when, it does not seem so. The Psalmist said, “You are good, and what you do is good” (Psalm 119:68). God does not answer Job’s questions, but seems to be telling Job, “For I know the plans I have for you . . . plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

In Summary

1. Pain is a part of God’s plan and program. It does not always indicate His wrath, but His love.

2. We cannot ever fully comprehend God’s works; we see but dimly as in a mirror.

3. God is God; we cannot put Him in a box.

4. God can never do anything that is bad for His people. In time of trouble, it is better to trust Him fully rather than doubt His love.

The Book of Job does not solve the problem of pain, but it tells us about God, about His sovereignty, His goodness, and His love. When we realize these things, we do not need all our questions answered.

The Problem of the Heart

The Book of Job, as we noted previously, does not answer the question, “Why do the righteous suffer?” It only leads to the conclusion, based on Job’s experience and his final response to God’s speech, that rather than trying to find the solution, it is better to submit and trust God in Whom the ultimate solution is found. The reason the Book of Job is a source of consolation to many believers going through intense pain is not that this book gives some reason behind their difficult experience, but because we can identify with Job. The tragedies and sufferings in our lives, no matter how grave, would pale compared to what Job experienced. Knowing that others have suffered like we have, or even much more severely, can be a source of real comfort. As Paul mentioned in relation to temptation, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man" (1 Corinthians 10:13a). Or, as Peter said in relation to persecution, “Resist him (Satan), standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Peter 5:9).

The Book of Job does not answer the question, “Why do the righteous suffer?” because that is not the question in the background of the book! All human characters in the book try to answer the wrong question! The question the Book of Job raises and answers is not, “Why do the righteous suffer?”, but “Why do the righteous serve God?”

Satan’s Argument

What is the point behind Satan’s argument? What is his challenge to God? His question is:

Does Job serve God for nothing? 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. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face” (1:9-11).

God takes up the challenge and takes away everything from Job, including all his ten children. Job’s response, unlike what Satan had expected was, “May the name of the Lord be praised. In all this Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (1:21-22).

Satan persists in his accusations. “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you in your face” (2:4-5). When God allowed Satan to strike Job’s body, Job’s response was, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble? In all this Job did not sin in what he did” (2:10). Satan’s accusation against Job was that he was serving God with a selfish motive. His heart was set on material blessing, on his family, on his own well-being, and not on God Himself. Why would he not serve God since God had blessed him so much?

Also, there is an accusation against God Himself and on His character. Satan dared to claim that God bought Job’s worship by giving him so many material and other blessings. “Nobody worships God,” Satan accused, “for the sake of worship. People worship God for selfish motives.” And, God is so naive that He does not even know how people take advantage of Him and deceive Him by an outward show of worship for the benefit they receive from Him. How easily is God duped, Satan implied!

Why Do the Righteous Serve God?

Through Job’s response, the Book of Job clearly answers this question. Job was serving God not for any of the blessings he received from God, but because of his pure, unselfish devotion to God. Job, through his response, showed that the true believer is committed to serve God not because of the blessings he receives from God, but in spite of any and every difficult situation he may have to go through because of his commitment to God. He says, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in him” (13:15). When everything is taken away, including all his children and his own health, his wife’s advice is “curse God and die” (2:9). This was exactly the same thing Satan had accused that Job would do! But he stands firm to the end in spite of all the suffering he goes through.

Of course, Job demands an explanation, he challenges God in a court case, he defends himself with the skin of his teeth, and he stands firm on his claims of integrity and blamelessness. He puts all the blame of all his troubles at God’s feet. But nowhere does he turn himself away from God or curse God for all his troubles, as Satan had accused and expected.

The Book of Job tells us that the true worshiper worships God in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers God seeks. “God is spirit and his worshipers must worship him in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). God blesses those who worship Him with true devotion of the heart and who want to live a life that is pleasing to Him. The heart of the true worshiper is not set on those blessings, but on God, Who is the source of all blessings. The attitude of the true worshiper is:

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

Or, again, as Job says, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in him” (13:15).

The Problem of Pain: Satan’s Role

From the prologue of the Book of Job, it may seem that Satan was behind all the troubles of Job. God Himself tells Satan, “You incited me against him to ruin him without any reason” (2:3). It creates the impression that if Satan had not raised the question about Job, Job would not have suffered.

However, it is obvious that God is not working under Satan’s direction; Satan is working under God’s control. We have to note that it is not Satan who begins to ask about Job; it is God Who raises a question about him: “Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered My servant Job?’” (1:8). And again, “Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered My servant Job?’” (2:3). God already knew what Satan was thinking, and God Himself raised the issue and gave Satan an opportunity to prove His servant.

From the book, it is also clear that it was not Satan who inflicted suffering on Job; it was God. Since Satan was working under God’s control, he could not do anything without God’s permission and could not go beyond the limitations set by God. At first, he could only touch Job’s wealth and family, not his body. Then he could touch only Job’s body, not his life. It was God Who stretched out His hand and struck everything Job had (1:11), and then stretched out His hand and struck Job’s flesh and bones (2:5).

All the human characters in the book rightly assume God’s hand behind all the troubles of Job. His wife assumed that God was behind all the troubles, and so her advice was “Curse God and die,” since God, she assumed, did not reward Job for his righteousness and faithfulness. All Job’s friends assumed God was behind all this, and they tried to find a justifiable reason behind it.

Job, too, assumed God’s hand was behind all his sufferings. When everything is taken away and all his children are destroyed, he says, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away” (1:21). When severe physical pain is inflicted upon him, he accepts it as from God’s hand (2:10). Nowhere in the book does he blame anyone for all his troubles, except God:

He destroys both the blameless and the wicked. When scourge brings sudden death, he mocks the despair of the innocent. When a land falls into the hands of the wicked, he blindfolds the judges. If it is not he, then who is it? (9:22-24).

Job blames his friends for not understanding his situation, for not having any sympathy for him, and for falsely accusing him of wickedness, but never for his troubles.

It is true that Satan was behind the original sin of Adam and Eve that brought the curse on the earth and on human beings and also that he continues to work today leading people astray. He blinds the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4). Nevertheless, Satan works under God’s control, and he cannot do anything without God’s permission. Unlike some eastern religions, the Bible does not allow the duality of good and evil, both being coequal and coexistent. Although the Scripture does depict the tension between good and evil, even in a believer’s life (e.g., Romans 7:14-25), evil is subservient to good, and God is in control of the evil. He allows suffering, even in the lives of some of His choicest servants, for some positive and beneficial purposes (see Romans 8:28-39, quoted in the beginning).

Considering suffering and adversity from our limited perspective under the sun, we may feel, like Job, “He destroys both the blameless and the wicked” (9:22). Or, like Solomon:

There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous men get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked men get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless (Ecclesiastes 8:14).

However, the Book of Job shows that God always has a good purpose behind it and that He uses suffering and pain to bless and build up His servants.

Satan Has Only Limited Power

The Book of Job clearly brings out the limitations of Satan’s power.

First, he works under the spatial limitations. Unlike God, Job is not omnipresent. When God asks him where he had come from, his response is, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it” (1:7, 2:2). Roaming means going from one place to another, from the place he is to a place where he is not. He can only be at one place at a time. Since he is a spiritual being, his going from one place to another can happen almost instantaneously. That may create the impression that he is everywhere. But in reality, he is not, and he cannot be. The Book of First Peter gives the purpose of his uneasy roaming; he “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He had his sights set on Job, and God knew it; that is why God was the One to raise the question about Job.

Second, Satan cannot do anything without God’s permission. That means, unlike God, he is not omnipotent. Initially, he was able to touch only Job’s property and family; he could not touch Job’s body. The second time he was able to touch only Job’s body, but not his life.

Third, he does not truly know Job’s heart and his true unselfish devotion to God. This indicates that Satan is not omniscient, as God is. Satan boldly argues that Job was serving God because God had immensely blessed him. Satan claimed that if God took away the blessings, “he will surely curse you to your face” (1:11). Even after Job remains firm in the first round of tests, Satan does not lose his confidence. His claim is, “stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face” (2:5). From the rest of the book, we know how wrong Satan was. On the other hand, God knew whether His servant would withstand the test or not, and so He takes up the challenge.

The limitations of Satan have two implications for a believer: First, it brings tremendous comfort to know that God is in control, Satan is not. God would not allow Satan to do anything to His servant that is beyond his ability to bear; “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Second, however, this puts a tremendous responsibility on the believer. He cannot blame Satan for sin in his life. He cannot say, “The devil made me do it.” God has taken away that excuse. Like John says in one of his epistles, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them (false spirits), because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Satan gets far more credit for all the troubles in a believer’s life than he deserves!

The central idea of the Book of Job is that though the evil and suffering may seem to have an upper hand, God is still on the throne, and He remembers His own. His love is never ending, and His grace is sufficient for all our needs; His promises remain true. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. As Paul writes:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).

And as Peter notes:

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever (1 Peter 5:10).

FINALLY:

The purpose for studying the Book of Job is:

To see who God is

To see who we are

To see that all our problems are solved in Him

To see that all our questions are answered in Him even when He is silent

To know God and to realize that even when everything (and, everyone) else is
gone, He is still there, and HE IS ENOUGH.

The Final Question

The question every believer has to ask himself is this: “If Satan brings a similar accusation against me before God, would God be able to take up the challenge?” Where is my heart set? Is it set in God, or in all His blessings? Jesus demanded unrivaled commitment from His disciples:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life . . . he cannot be my disciple. Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26, 33).

We have far more revelation than Job had. We have the witnesses of so many people in the past from Job to Jesus. As the author of Hebrews said:

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, Whom he appointed heir of all things, and through Whom he made the universe (Hebrews 1:1-2).

And so,

Therefore because we are surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:1-6).


233 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Imanuel G. Christian, guest speaker at Community Bible Chapel, on May 6, 2001.

234 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission.

235 J. Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Book (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1960), vol. 3, p. 57; emphasis in the original.

236 J. Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Book (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1960), vol. 3, p. 68.

237 J. Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Book (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1960), vol. 3, p. 70.

Related Topics: Suffering, Trials, Persecution