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.