Job: Reverent in Suffering
One of my duties as your pastor is to preach and pray in such a way that you are prepared in mind and heart not to curse God in the day of your calamity. But even more: that instead of cursing, you might worship God and bless him as your free and sovereign Father no matter how intense the grief or deep the pain he brings into your life.
So for the next five Sundays I would like for us to try to understand the message of the book of Job, and be changed by it.
Baffling and Unexpected Grief
Virtually everyone in this room will experience a bitter calamity sooner or later. And you can mark it down ahead of time: it will almost certainly seem absurd and meaningless and undeserved when it comes.
You may be sitting in a restaurant in El Salvador or walking along a street in Paris or making a flight connection in Athens. You may be shaving and singing a hymn when you feel the lump on your neck. You may be buying supper for the family at the Country Club when all of a sudden you realize your two-year-old is gone.
“Job’s story is recorded so that we can have help living through calamities while trusting God.”
It will seem very absurd, and you will cry out, “Why?” a hundred times before the cloud passes over. Most of our grief and pain does not come as a clear punishment for sins. Most of it comes out of nowhere and baffles our sense of justice.
That’s why the book of Job is so relevant. Job’s suffering seems to come out of nowhere and have no connection to his character. His story is recorded for us so that we will have some help in living through these calamities — and not just keeping a stiff upper lip, but bowing reverently and trustingly before the sovereign goodness of God.
Today we will look at the section of Job that extends through Job 2:10. Let’s walk through it first to get an overview, and then stand back and draw out some truths for our lives.
Job’s Character and Blessing
Job 1:1 introduces to us the man Job and his character. He was “blameless and upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil.” If suffering is intended as a punishment for evil, Job is not a likely candidate. He turns away from evil because he fears God. He pursues right and avoids evil. His reputation is blameless. His reverence for God governs all he does.
Verses 2–3 describe the way God had blessed him (see Job 1:10) in his righteousness. He had seven sons and three daughters and huge numbers of sheep, camels, oxen, and servants. He was the greatest of all the people of the east.
Verses 4–5 describe a specific instance of Job’s fear of God and uprightness toward his children. Every time that his sons and daughters gathered for a feast, Job would get up early the next morning and offer burnt offerings for each one just in case any of them had sinned or cursed God in their heart. In other words, he was extremely jealous for the honor of God’s name, that it not be profaned, and he was extremely vigilant for the sake of his children, not wanting any of them to come to ruin. He was a good man.
Then the calamity came. Skip down to Job 1:13. It was on one of those feast days when all ten of his children were gathered in the home of the oldest brother. Then a messenger comes to Job and tells him that the Sabeans had attacked and stolen all his oxen and asses and killed all the servants with them.
Then in verse 16, another messenger comes and says that the fire of God had fallen and destroyed all his sheep and the servants with them. Then in verse 17, another messenger comes and says that the Chaldeans had raided the camel herd and taken them all and killed the servants. And finally in verses 18–19, the message comes that all of his children were crushed to death when a tornado caused the house to collapse.
Notice that two of the calamities were caused by evil men: Sabaens (verse 15) and Chaldeans (verse 17). And two were caused by, what insurance adjusters would call “acts of God,” probably lighting and fire in verse 16 and a tornado in verse 19.
A Glimpse into Heaven to Understand Events on Earth
All Job’s prosperity is gone in one afternoon. What in the world is going on here? To see what is going on we have to look outside the world. This world alone never answers the great questions of life. The answer is found in heaven. So the writer gives us a glimpse into heaven to understand better what is happening on earth.
A Meeting Between God and Satan
Job 1:6–12 describe a meeting between God and Satan. In verse 7, Satan says that he spends his time going to and fro on the earth. Then God puts on display a trophy that he delights in very much. He says, “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?”
It’s as though a diamond thief should meet the owner at the back of a jewelry store late at night. The owner says, “What are you doing?” And the thief answers, “Just walking around in your store.” And then the owner says, “Did you see our most precious diamond up there at the front?”
God Sets Job Up for Trouble
Now I rule out the possibility that God is a bumbler. God never says, “Oops.” That leaves us with one possibility: He is setting Job up for trouble. He is manifestly proud of Job. Job’s fear of God has endeared God to Job in a very deep way.
Satan is not impressed. In verse 9, he insinuates that Job is not such a great specimen of reverence for God. He says that the only reason Job fears God is to get rich. “Does Job fear God for naught?” Job fears God because it will mean health wealth and prosperity, that’s all. So Satan says to God in verse 11, “Put forth thy hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse thee to thy face.”
God could have said, “I don’t need to prove anything to you or anybody else. I know the heart of my servant Job and that is enough for me.” He could have, but in this case he didn’t. God chooses to get an open victory over Satan for his own glory. A test will show that in the heart of Job God himself is more highly esteemed than any possession or any family member.
So God says in verse 12, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only upon himself do not put forth your hand.”
Job’s Reverent Response
Then come the calamities. Job loses all his wealth and his children. What on earth is happening? The answer is that something of immense heavenly significance is happening. God is in the process of demonstrating to the heavenly hosts (and to any others who have eyes to see) that he himself is paramount in the heart of the man Job.
“Job’s reverence is not mercenary. No, Job’s reverence is based on the value of God.”
Job’s reverence is not mercenary, as though God himself were of no value. No, Job’s reverence is based on the value of God for who God is in himself. The revelation of this truth is so important that God is willing to subject his prize servant to grief and poverty in order to make it known. Verses 20–21 record the victory:
Then Job arose, and rent his robe, and shaved his head, and fell upon the ground, and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Satan proved to be wrong. Job did not curse God when he lost his wealth and his children. He worshiped and he blessed God. And so the superior worth of God became evident to all. And the purpose of God in setting Job up was fulfilled — the revelation of the value of God.
But just as Job was recovering from the shock of losing his wealth and his children, he contracts a dreaded disease. In Job 2:7–8 it says that he was afflicted “with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.”
According to Job 7:5, Job was covered with boil-like sores that opened and ran with puss and then got clogged with dirt and infested with worms. It was not a mild case of measles. It was a horrid thing from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet.
Another Glimpse into Heaven
Is this the reward of Job’s reverent response to the loss of his children? Again we ask, “What in the world is going on here?” And again the answer is not given in the world but in heaven. In Job 2:1–6, the Lord again puts Job on display before Satan. Verse 3:
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? He still holds fast his integrity, although you moved me against him, to destroy him without a cause.
And again, Satan challenges the authenticity of Job’s reverence. He says that Job is only reverent because God preserves his health. Verse 4: “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But put forth thy hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face.”
“The demonstration of the worth of God in the faith and reverence of his people is the most important matter in the world.”
So again, the worth of God is challenged. Is it God himself that Job cherishes or is it the earthly pleasures of family and possessions and health? Job has shown that God is more valuable to him than family and possessions. But what about health? So to show that he alone is Job’s treasure, God gives his servant into the hand of Satan for the destruction of his flesh. Verse 6: “Behold, he is in your power; only spare his life.”
In other words, behind these apparently absurd earthly calamities, there are heavenly transactions of infinite importance. When Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev meet to confer in Geneva next November, the whole world will be watching because they know such a conference must be about important matters. How much more important must be the matter at stake when God himself meets to confer with his archenemy Satan!
The demonstration of the worth of God in the faith and reverence of his people is the most important matter in the world.
Job’s Victory of Faith
But when Job’s health fails, it proves to be too much for his wife. She had endured with him the loss of her children and wealth. But now with the life of her husband draining away leaving her utterly destitute, her faith collapses. Job 2:9: “Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God, and die.’” This must have made a hopeful smile come across the face of Satan.
But then comes the shattering victory of Job’s faith. Verse 10: “But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?’” Comforts and calamities come from the hand of God. This rock solid confidence in the sovereignty of God Job will not relinquish — and neither should we!
Picture Satan in heaven surrounded by ten thousand angels awaiting Job’s response. Then Job answers, and, unknown to him, twenty thousand arms are raised and ten thousand mighty voices shout, “Worthy is the Lord God of Job!” And what does Satan do? He flees from the presence of the praise of God. Did you ever wonder what Peter meant when he said in 1 Peter 5:8:
Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Resist him firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world?
He means that when you suffer, the way to resist Satan is to be like Job and hold fast your confidence in the free and sovereign goodness of God — not to curse him, but to revere him. When you do, all heaven shouts the victory and Satan is defeated. “Let those who suffer according to God’s will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19).
Four Theological Truths
Now let’s stand back and draw out from the text four theological truths and three personal implications.
1. Satan’s aim is to destroy our joy in God.
Satan uses two weapons: pain and pleasure. He uses pain to make us feel that God is powerless or hostile. He uses pleasure to make us feel that God is superfluous.
He had failed to turn Job away from God in the days of his pleasure and prosperity. So he attacks Job’s God-centered joy through pain. He fails again. But there is no doubt what Satan is after in our life: his aim is to destroy our joy in God and to replace the treasure of God with the earthly treasures of wealth or family or health.
2. God aims to magnify his worth in the lives of his people.
The great aim of God in creation and redemption is to preserve and display the infinite worth of his glory. The way he does this is by redeeming a people who love him and cleave to him and cherish him above all earthly treasures and pleasures. The mirror he has chosen for the reflection of his worth is the indestructible joy of his people. They will not trade him for anything this world can offer.
3. God grants to Satan limited power to cause pain.
In Job 1:12 God says to Satan: “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only upon himself do not put forth your hand.” And in Job 2:6 God says, “Behold, he is in your power; only spare his life.”
God sets the limits of Satan’s power to cause pain. Our God is not frustrated by the power and subtlety of Satan. Satan cannot make a move without the permission of God Almighty. Satan may be a lion, but he is a lion on a leash. And God reins him in or gives him slack according to God’s own sovereign purposes. William Henry Green, in his great book, The Argument of the Book of Job Unfolded, says of Satan:
With all his hatred of God and spite against His people, he cannot emancipate himself from that sovereign control, which binds him to God’s service. In all his blasphemous designs he is, in spite of himself, doing the work of God. In his rebellious efforts to dethrone the Most High, he is actually paying Him submissive homage.
“Satan may be a lion, but he is a lion on a leash.”
In moving heaven and earth to accomplish the perdition of those whom Christ has ransomed, he is actually fitting them for glory. Fiend as he is, full of bitterness and malignity, and intent on every form of mischief, he is constrained to be that which he most abhors, and is furthest from his intentions and desires, helpful and auxiliary to the designs of grace.
Like the sons of God who assemble in the presence of the Infinite Majesty to receive the commissions of the King of kings, prompt to do his bidding and to execute his will, Satan is, though most reluctantly, and in a different sense from them, yet as really and as truly, in the case of those who, like Job, steadfastly resist his insidious assaults, a ministering spirit sent forth to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation.
4. Satan’s work is ultimately the work of God.
Did you notice that in the two heavenly scenes God handed Job over to Satan’s power? But when Satan had done his work of taking Job’s wealth and family, Job said in 1:21, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Job says that it was ultimately the Lord himself who took away his family and wealth. Then the inspired writer of the book makes a comment to avoid a misunderstanding. Lest anyone say that Job should not have attributed Satan’s work to God, he writes, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (Job 1:22). It is not sin to say that what Satan did, God ultimately did, because God rules Satan.
Similarly, in the second heavenly scene, God says to Satan, “Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life” (Job 2:6). Then verse 7 makes it very explicit that “Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord, and afflicted Job with loathsome sores.”
But again in verse 10 Job says, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” In other words, Job again goes all the way up to the sovereignty of God over Satan and says that his sickness is from God. Satan may have been the nearer cause, but ultimately it is from God.
And again the inspired writer warns us not to criticize Job here. He writes at the end of verse 10, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” It is not a sin to say that a sickness that Satan causes is “from the Lord.” Job’s rock of refuge and hope when everything else seemed to be crumbling was the absolute sovereignty of God.
Three Personal Implications
All this leads me to three personal implications.
1. Let us join with Job and affirm with all our hearts the absolute sovereignty of God.
Let us say with the psalmist, “Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases” (Psalm 115:3) Let us say with Daniel, “He does according to his will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What doest thou?’” (Daniel 4:35). Let us make the absolute sovereignty of God the rock on which we build our lives and our church.
2. Let your tears flow freely when your calamity comes.
“The magnificence of Job’s worship is because it was in grief, not because it replaced grief.”
“Job arose, rent his robe, and shaved his head, and fell upon his face” (Job 1:20). The sobs of grief and pain are not the sign of unbelief. Job knows nothing of a flippant, insensitive, superficial “Praise God anyhow” response to suffering. The magnificence of his worship is because it was in grief, not because it replaced grief. Let your tears flow freely when your calamity comes. And let the rest of us weep with those who weep.
3. Trust in the goodness of God, and let him be your treasure and your joy.
Even if God had let Satan take Job’s life, we know what Job would have said. He would have said Psalm 63:3: “The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life.”
When your calamity comes, may the Lord give you the grace to affirm the sovereignty of God, let your tears flow freely, and let God himself be your treasure and your joy.