John Bradshaw - Great Characters of the Bible: Job
This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. For many people it's a troubling book of the Bible. It's twice as long as the Gospel of John and almost as long as Ezekiel at 42 chapters. In 41 of those chapters, 98 percent of the book, the main character of the book suffers, so much so that he wishes he'd never been born. His losses begin mounting up just 15 verses into the book. Yet reading the book of Job is like climbing a mountain; you get to the end, and you're standing on the summit; you see the view that God wants you to see. You get the point. You understand what the book is all about. Maybe that's why one scholar described the book of Job as "the Matterhorn of the Old Testament".
The book of Job has challenged a lot of people, but it was written to encourage you. It answers a lot of Christianity's toughest questions, in reality some of life's toughest questions. And it helps you understand the character of God like almost no other book in the Bible. The book of Job is a must read. We're continuing our ongoing series "Great Characters of the Bible". There's no doubt Job is one of those. So who was Job exactly? Well, not a lot is known about him. He wasn't an Israelite, and he lived in an Arabian desert setting. After that, specifics are hard to come by. It's likely Job was the first book of the Bible to be written, and many scholars believe it was written by Moses. Moses lived for four decades in Midian in northwestern Arabia, so he understood the culture.
The book of Job emphasizes God as Creator. And Moses wrote Genesis and the Creation story. There are words in the book of Job that are used in the book of Genesis and nowhere else. So, it's reasonable, then, to believe that Moses wrote Job. The oldest book of the Bible helps us understand one of the oldest stories of all: the story of the battle between good and evil, the story of tragedy in this world, of why pain and hardship happen. And it's a how-to book. It shows us how we can survive the severe challenges we often have to face. Everyone has witnessed suffering and asked, "Why"? A child dies in a drive-by shooting. Teenager gets cancer. A drunk driver takes the lives of parents who leave little children behind. Someone's diagnosed with early onset dementia, cruel stuff. And the question that gets asked is, "Why? Why, Lord"? That's the question.
Well, Job tells you why. How do you deal with those things, and, and how do you relate to a God who surely could have prevented them? What the book of Job does is it takes you behind the scenes like no other book of the Bible. It gives you the best possible understanding of the cause of sin and suffering. In literary terms, the book of Job is a book of poetry, and the poem, well, that is, the book, starts by saying this: "There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil". We learn he had 10 children, seven sons and three daughters. He owned thousands of animals: 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, hundreds of oxen and donkeys.
The Bible says Job was "the greatest of all the people of the East". He took an active interest in the spiritual welfare of his children. But here's where it gets really interesting. "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, one who fears God and shuns evil?' ...Satan answered the Lord and said, 'Does Job fear God for nothing?'" The devil suggested that if Job were to suffer, he would curse God to His face. He was saying, "Job is a hypocrite and only serves God because of what God gives him".
Now, let's pause for a moment. That's worth thinking about. I wonder if it's true today, people following God only because of what they think they're going to get, like those in Jesus' time who followed Him for the loaves and fishes. If your motivation for following God is what you hope to get, Christianity has, for you, become a selfish enterprise. Faith isn't about what God gives us in the here and now, but really about what He has done for us in Jesus. Christ died for you. That's what attracts us to the God of heaven. How did God respond to Satan's accusations? Well, He did so in a way that troubles a lot of people.
"And the Lord said to Satan, 'Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person.' So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house; and a messenger came to Job and said, 'The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, when the Sabeans raided them and took them away, indeed they have killed the servants with the edge of the sword; and I alone have escaped to tell you!'"
What a disaster. Job's oxen, donkeys, and the servants who managed them were all taken by raiders. But no sooner had Job heard this then there was more bad news. In a separate incident his sheep were destroyed along with more of his servants. And while Job was reeling from that news, he was informed his camels had been taken and more servants were killed. Thousands of animals and many servants, all gone. And it got worse, much worse. "While he was still speaking, another also came and said, 'Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, and suddenly a great wind came from across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; and I alone have escaped to tell you!'"
His livelihood, his servants, and now...his children...gone. And how did he respond? Well, he "arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.'" Moses wrote, "In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong". What a response, what a depth of character! What spiritual maturity, what equanimity. Now, you might say, "Well, at least now it can't get worse for poor Job". But it did. His toughest test lay ahead. Back with that in just a moment.
Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. We're looking at Job in our ongoing series "Great Characters of the Bible". The book of Job is raw; it's gritty; it's real. It's not sugarcoated. Satan claims that Job is faithful to God only because of the blessings he receives. God allowed Satan to afflict Job, and what you think of God doing that might be related to how well you understand how this whole thing works. So let's look. Job 2, verse 5: "'Stretch out Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will surely curse You to Your face!' And the Lord said to Satan, 'Behold, he is in your hand, but spare his life.' So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head".
Job's suffering was intense. "He took for himself a potsherd with which to scrape himself while he sat in the midst of the ashes". To make matters worse, his wife, the only family he had left, added to his anguish by telling her husband to "'Curse God and die!' But he said to her, '...Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?'" Job understood what a lot of people don't, and that is, it's important to trust God even when things aren't going well. Job lost everything. It looked like he was going to lose his life. But his trust in God was still strong. We can learn from that. But then...three of Job's friends came to visit. At first they didn't even recognize him, such was Job's affliction. And it's when these "friends" arrive that we get to the crux of the issue in the book of Job.
The first to speak was Job: "Why did I not die at birth? Why did I not perish when I came from the womb? ... Or why was I not hidden like a stillborn child, like infants who never saw light"? That's in Job, chapter 3. What follows is 35 or so chapters of back and forth, Job and his three friends, and eventually a fourth, discussing the reasons for Job's suffering. Job couldn't understand it, but his friends could, at least in their minds. Job was, they believed, suffering because of his sinfulness. And they were going to tell him. "Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright ever cut off? ... Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty".
"Job," Eliphaz was saying, "You're suffering because of your sins". Bildad said, "How long will you speak these words, and the words of your mouth be like a strong wind?... If you would earnestly seek God and make your supplication to the Almighty, if you were pure and upright, surely now He would awake for you, and prosper your rightful dwelling place". The message is clear: "Job, this is on you". And this is the question that gets batted back and forth throughout the book of Job. The thing is, both sides are right, and both sides are very, very wrong. Job says, "I've done nothing wrong". God Himself said that Job was "perfect" and "upright," which can be translated "complete and straight".
In fact, God said that twice. Job handled himself with integrity when he lost everything he had, and he finds himself suffering, evidently without cause. He, he's right, kind of. He hasn't been wallowing in sin. He has lived with integrity before God. But he forgets something. He lives in a sinful world, and he's a sinner. Things happen, even to people we think don't deserve it. And in Job we find out why. Job's friends say, "You must have sinned. This doesn't happen to righteous people. You've offended God, and you're getting what you deserve". Well, yes, "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God". Romans 3, verse 23 tells us that. But they're forgetting that bad things do happen to what we might term "good people".
Jesus spoke of some people from Galilee that Pilate had killed, saying, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no". Then He mentioned 18 people who died when a tower fell on them: "Do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem"? Jesus asked. "I tell you, no".
And this is where we wrestle. AIDS and COVID and cancer and Alzheimer's and cardiovascular disease and tornadoes, they happen, and the knee-jerk reaction is often to look to God and say, "Why"? Especially if we think it's unjust. A child dies. That teenager dying in a car accident, a child seriously injured in a playground accident, say. Freshman college student goes away to college to pursue her dreams and loses her life. You hear these heartbreaking stories, and there's no good answer, until you read the book of Job. Job lets you see behind the scenes and shows you that the devil is behind the sin and suffering in this world. He afflicted Job, and he took away Job's possessions and Job's family.
Now, there are times people manufacture their own misfortune, true. You smoke, and the likelihood of getting lung cancer skyrockets. It's hard to blame God for that. Same with drinking alcohol, you can't fault God when someone gets drunk and loses control of their vehicle. But, of course, Satan is behind that, too. In the parable of the wheat and the tares, a man whose field is sown with destructive weeds says, "An enemy has done this". An enemy caused Job's suffering.
It's the same enemy who brings pain and sadness and suffering and illness and grief to people today. The devil is trying to destroy every marriage, break up every home, ruin every life. It's interesting that Job and his friends don't mention the devil, who doesn't appear in the book after chapter 2. The Bible writer establishes that the devil is the cause of misery and suffering, but this behind-the-scenes battle wasn't a concept they readily understood. Their question was, what do people do to deserve it? And where is God when people suffer? The book of Job rises to a dramatic crescendo and, in doing so, helps us make sense of the big questions everyone's going to wrestle with at some stage. We'll answer them straight ahead.
The book of Job isn't all suffering and gloom. The point of the book is to answer the question of human suffering and to explain to us that there's a vast spiritual battle going on behind the scenes. The death and war and disease and catastrophic loss we see today tell us we're in a spiritual battle. Paul wrote in Ephesians 6 that "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places". Ephesians 6, verse 12. There's a spiritual battle going on that we can't see, but we can and do experience its effects. Sitting on a village dust heap, his friends adding to his anguish,
Job can't make sense of his situation. His friends tell him the cause of his desperation is sin that he's not admitting to. He lashes out at his accusers: "No doubt you are the people," he says, "and wisdom will die with you"! He calls them "worthless physicians" and "miserable comforters" who speak "windy words". But his friends were relentless. "This is your fault, Job". Job responds by saying, "How long will you torment my soul, and break me in pieces with words"? Now, on our way to the mountaintop, and we're getting there, Job gives us some magnificent views. He says in Job 13:15, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him". Powerful! "The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding." - Job 28:28.
As you read chapter 19, you can hear Handel's Messiah playing. "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh I shall see God". Job lived in the hope of the advent of the Messiah. People have commented about the book of Job and said it tends to get repetitive. Well, sure. Job's descent into misery starts in the first chapter, and for almost 40 chapters he deals with people telling him it's all his own fault. But that might just be the point. Job's so-called friends wouldn't let go of their idea that bad things happen to bad people, none of them aware of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that was taking place.
There's another place we see that. After three weeks of prayer and fasting, Daniel is visited by an angel who says to him, "The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia". That's Daniel 10:13. What Daniel couldn't see was that there was a spiritual conflict taking place unseen to the human eye, but as real as anything visible. But after almost 40 chapters of back and forth between Job and his visitors with absolutely nothing resolved, God speaks. And what He says settles it all for Job. "Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: 'Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?'" In other words, "You don't know what you're talking about". God says to Job, "Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me".
And then God begins what might be the most remarkable speech of the entire Bible: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it"? How do you answer that? Job couldn't. "Or who shut in the sea with doors, when it burst forth and issued from the womb? ... When I said, 'This far you may come, but no farther, and here your proud waves must stop!' Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place? ... Have you entered the springs of the sea? Or have you walked in search of the depths? Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Or have you seen the doors of the shadow of death? Have you comprehended the breadth of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this".
God is helping Job and his friends understand something, something that if we understand will change everything. "Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that an abundance of water may cover you? Can you send out lightnings, that they may go, and say to you, 'Here we are!'? ... Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions"? These are statements to which Job has no response. In fact, he says, "I lay my hand over my mouth," in Job 40 in verse 4. For almost 125 verses across four chapters, God speaks to Job. And finally...Job gets it: God is God. Here's that high point I said the book was building towards. It's Job 42, Job speaking: "I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, 'Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know".
Now, don't miss this. Job says, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You". That statement, it'll make sense of everything, if you let it. "I've heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You". I'd heard about You, but now I know You. What changed everything for Job was a simple potent realization. God is God. There are things that we don't know. Job admitted to that. But he came to a realization: God is God. We don't always understand, but we can trust. You may suffer, but there's no reason to think God has abandoned you or that God doesn't exist or that God is unfair. Nothing could be further from the truth.
This is a sinful world we live in. And with the devil on the attack, people go through stuff, everyone. Death comes to all. Grief and loss affect everybody. But what doesn't change is that God is God. He's not the architect of pain and misery. He's the One whose mercies are "new every morning," according to the book of Lamentations. Yes, of course, it's human to wonder why God allowed some, some, some desperately difficult experience. God hurts when you hurt. He feels your pain. He bears our griefs and carries our sorrows. Can you trust Him even when things aren't good? That's the question. The book of Job says, yes, you can. And what became of Job? "The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; for he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand female donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters".
Does that mean that if you go through hardship and loss, you'll get it all back? It does. If not in this world, then definitely in the world to come. Life is challenging. Things go awry. But you can choose to trust God. Are you in a situation now, some, some difficult place that doesn't make sense to you? If not, you can remember when you were. Well, where was God? He was with you, right there, upholding you, sustaining you, and clearly, God doesn't allow a person to endure more than they can bear. He took a risk, didn't He, allowing Job to be taken so low. But He was confident Job would maintain his faith, even if he didn't have all the answers. The only one with the answers is God, and if you choose to trust Him, He'll see you through.
Let me pray for you now. Let's pray together:
Our Father in heaven, what a story. Thank You for showing us what the story reveals about a loving God. Thank You for helping us to understand that behind the scenes, away from our view, there rages a spiritual battle, where an ugly, malicious enemy seeks to distract us, to discourage us, to lead us out of the pathway of faith. And, Lord, You know it's a challenge. When life presents its difficulties, we find it so hard sometimes to bear the weight. This is where we need You, Lord. We need faith, and we need Your Presence. We need a firm grip on Jesus, and we need Your Spirit upholding us.
Friend, can you choose to trust the God of heaven today? Can you say now, "Lord God, I will trust You. I yield to You. I believe that You are"?
Lord, that's our prayer today: You are. We know. We believe. Lord, take us and never let us go, and give us Your grace so that we would never let You go. We thank You, and we pray in Jesus' name, amen.
Thanks so much for joining me. I'm looking forward to seeing you again next time. Until then, remember: "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'"