Reflections on Job, Part 3: Are God and Satan Playing a Game with Job’s Life?

If you read the first two chapters of Job from a cynical vantage point, it would be easy to conclude that God and The Accuser are playing a game with Job’s life. The LORD asks The Accuser to consider His servant Job, The Accuser responds by claiming that Job is only pious because God gives him stuff, and the LORD says that The Accuser is free to take away that stuff. But where does Job fit into this apparent contest? What about the horrible toll he will pay, not to mention his children? It almost sounds like Job is nothing more than a pawn in a celestial chess match.

That isn’t what’s going on here, though. The events of this book have a higher purpose than a mere contest between The Accuser and God. And to explain what that purpose is, consider this prayer from Psalm 139-

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24)

Last spring I had some heart palpitations that led to a series of tests. First an EKG, then a stress test, and finally a heart cath. I’ve reached the age in life where I now have a cardiologist! Those tests were nerve wracking, and in the case of the heart cath, quite invasive. But I was happy to go through that battery of tests because I wanted to know if there was a serious problem with my heart, and to get it fixed if there was one. Fortunately the tests revealed nothing but a slight arrhythmia.

The psalmist in these verses is pleading with God to test his inner, spiritual heart. And his motives were much the same as mine in my medical tests – he wants to know if there is any “grievous way” in him, so that ultimately he can walk in “the way everlasting.” So he virtually demands that God try his deepest motives.

But what does it look like for God to test our heart? May I suggest that it sometimes looks just like the story of Job. Later in the book Job expresses some sense of awareness that he is being tested –

But he knows the way that I take;
    when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.
My foot has held fast to his steps;
    I have kept his way and have not turned aside. (Job 23:10-11)

Adversity is not the only way that God tests us. His word is so powerful that it can dissect our deepest motives (Hebrews 4:12-13). But adversity provides another means for God to test us – not to crush us, but to purify us.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

In suggesting that Job’s suffering was a means by which to demonstrate the purity of his faith, I don’t mean to sound insensitive to what Job or his family suffered. Anguish drips from nearly every page of the book. But if it is important to have a pure heart (and it is), and if the way to know whether our heart is pure is to test it (and it is), then we must acknowledge that more is going on here in Job than a crass game of wits between the LORD and The Accuser. We are seeing a godly man’s golden faith pass through the fire to be proven and purified.

I bet that everyone who reads this post can describe a similar episode in his or her life, some painful experience that led to deep introspection. And by sifting the motives of the heart before the Lord, your faith became purer and richer. I’ve had this kind of heart test as well, and it was even more invasive than the cardiologists (!), but it was worth it. And by the end of the book, Job will say the same.

Aside from the value of this experience for Job, let me suggest one other perspective to consider. It is only a hunch, really, since the text doesn’t explicitly deal with it. But I am thinking of the purpose of Job’s suffering as it relates to The Accuser. The Accuser maligned God as well as Job when he declared that Job’s piety is due only to God’s blessings. After all, the implication of such a charge is that God, in and of Himself, is not worthy of love and reverence. By the end of the book, The Accuser is totally undermined. God is indeed worth love for His own sake.

And so maybe there are two grand purposes to this story. One is for God to test Job’s heart to vindicate Job, and the other is for God to refute The Accuser to show him how wrong he is about Job (and us!), and about God. If this idea has merit, then what we have in Job is a “preview of coming attractions.”

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.” (Revelation 12:10)


Reflections on Job, Part 2: The Key Question of the Book

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” (Job 1:6-11)

I used to think that the Book of Job was the inspired answer to the problem of evil. Why do bad things happen to good people? If God is all-powerful, He could prevent evil and suffering. And if God was totally good, He would prevent evil and suffering. Yet evil and suffering exist. How can this be? The Book of Job will answer this question, I once thought.

But approaching the book this way always left me a little unsatisfied. I don’t mean that Job has nothing to say about these issues. It certainly does. And later in this series I will touch on some of those lessons. But as the comprehensive solution to the problem, the Book of Job is lacking. The book does not end with a great epiphany in which Job says, “Now I completely understand why there is pain and crime!”

The book does end with a great epiphany, though, one that directly relates to what I believe is the real focus of the book. And that focus is the question posed by “The Accuser” (Hebrew הַשָּׂטָן, haśśāṭān), who asks, “Does Job fear God for no reason?” By posing this question, The Accuser maligns Job, and he maligns God.

In the first place, he maligns Job. He insinuates that Job’s fear of the Lord is motivated only by self-interest – God gives him lots of stuff. In the words of John Mark Hicks, Job is a consumer rather than a communer. Job doesn’t love God for God’s sake, but only for his own sake. God means nothing more to Job than Walmart or McDonalds – He is a source of goods and services. But take those away, says The Accuser, and Job will curse You!

In the second place, The Accuser maligns God. By asking, “Does Job fear God for no reason,” he is implying that God is not worthy of such love and devotion in and of Himself. God has to “buy off” human beings to fear Him. Otherwise, no one would have any reason or desire to serve God. “In Satan’s warped mind and total rebellion against God and all that is good, there is no such thing as a pure and holy life, nor is there a service apart from pay. He sees no love in the world except self-love” (Homer Hailey, A Commentary on Job, p. 36).

The Messengers Tell Job of His Misfortunes, by William Blake (1826)

Perhaps the reason The Accuser makes these assertions is because he is projecting his own motives on Job. If we agree with Homer Hailey’s identification of The Accuser as the one called “Satan” in the New Testament, a strong case can be made that The Accuser did not believe God was worthy of adoration and devotion. No text spells this out explicitly, but putting the pieces of data together (on the basis of passages like Colossians 1:15-16; 2 Peter 2:4; 1 Timothy 3:6; Ezekiel 28:1-19), Scripture suggests that Satan fell because of pride. In the words of Satan in John Milton’s Paradise Lost (or, for the culturally sophisticated, Khan in The Wrath of Kahn), “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.”

So is God worthy of our commitment? Is it possible to be a communer with God, to seek His presence, even if we do not have any tangible rewards from Him for doing so? Or does God have to entice us to fear Him with wealth and health and happiness? Is God great enough to be desired for His own sake, or must we be bribed to bless Him?

That is what I think the book is all about.


Reflections on Job, Part 1: Reaping What You Sow

 There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually (Job 1:1-5).

Job and His Family, by William Blake (1826)

The Book of Job begins by presenting Job as “Exhibit A” of what a godly man should be. His character is unassailable as a “blameless and upright man.” He fears God – the foundational quality of a wise man according to Proverbs 1:7.  And he possesses the rewards of integrity and piety, a large family and abundant wealth. These blessings reflect many promises in the Old Testament that God will bestow favors on those who love and fear Him-

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
    the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
    are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
    who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
    when he speaks with his enemies in the gate (Psalm 127:3-5).

The reward for humility and fear of the Lord
    is riches and honor and life (Proverbs 22:4).

If you are good, good things will happen to you. Job’s station in life reflects this simple premise. Other passages in the Bible describe this in terms of reaping what you sow (Galatians 6:7), what some commentators refer to as the principle of retribution. Job’s abundant wealth, flourishing family, and sterling reputation (“greatest of all the people of the east”) all testify to the validity of this principle.

And Job takes the principle of retribution very seriously – not only for himself, but also for his family. So concerned is he that his children may speak unwisely about God that he offers a sacrifice on their behalf any time they all get together on the mere possibility that any of them had cursed God. And he did this “continually.” After all, “He who sows iniquity will reap vanity” (Proverbs 22:8, NASB).

So now we have the underlying principle that defines Job’s view of the world. If you are righteous you will be blessed, and if you are wicked you will be curse. As we will see, this is also the mindset of Job’s friends. It is undoubtedly true that Scripture teaches this principle. But does the principle of retribution comprehensively explain everything that happens? Are there ever any exceptions? Is it possible for those who fear God to sometimes experience tragedy instead of blessing? And if so, why?

That’s what the rest of the book is all about.


God is With Us on the Lonely Mountain

By Niagara66, via Wikimedia Commons

This past Saturday I was honored to speak at the funeral of one of the most beautiful people I have ever known, Sylvia Chapman. Sylvia loved the Smoky Mountains, and so I decided to center my remarks around the theme of God’s presence with us during times we may otherwise feel alone. Kristi and I will miss Sylvia very much. Continue reading