JOB’S ANGUISH Job 1–14
“I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil” (Job 3:26).Job’s inner anguish mirrors our own when we are struck by some unexpected tragedy and struggle to understand why.
The Structure of the book. Job begins and ends with brief prose sections. The opening portrays God giving Satan permission to attack Job in an effort to make Job curse the Lord. Satan stripped Job of his possessions, family, and health, but failed the challenge as Job worshiped rather than cursed God. The book then moves to an extended poetic exploration of God’s role in human suffering. Job and his three friends believed God punishes sin. Job’s friends concluded that Job had sinned. But Job was sure he had not knowingly done wrong. As the dialogues probed the question of suffering, Job found himself confronting not only his three friends but his own assumptions about God. The dialogue ended in an impasse, which was broken by a younger listener, Elihu. He pointed out that God sometimes uses suffering to instruct, not to punish. Thus Job’s suffering did not necessarily mean he had sinned, nor did it mean God is unjust. God Himself then spoke, not to explain what He had done, but to point out that His nature is beyond human comprehension. Job then repented and was commended by God. The Lord restored Job’s health, doubled his wealth, and blessed him with a new family and lengthened life. While the outline of this story is simple, the contents of the book are profound, probing as they do one of the most basic issues in human experience.
The setting is established: God permitted Satan to take Job’s wealth, his family, and his health (1:1–2:10). Job shared his feelings with three friends (v. 11–3:26). In a cycle of attacks and defenses, each friend proclaimed God’s justice, and suggested that Job deserved what had happened to him (4:1–5:27; 8:1–22; 11:1–20). Job defended himself against all of their charges (6:1–7:21; 9:1–10:22; 12:1–14:22).
Understanding the Text
“This man was blameless and upright” Job 1:1–5. The phrase does not mean Job was sinless. The Hebrew word for “blameless,” tamim, indicates a person whose motives are pure and who lives a good moral life. Job’s wealth may have impressed his neighbors. But his reverent awe for God and his decision to shun evil are keys to his character. What shocks us is that terrible trouble could strike such a godly man. We feel that if Job is vulnerable, surely each of us is. This is one of the important messages of Job. Relationship with God does not guarantee an easy life. Our relationship with God is more significant than that! “Have you considered My servant Job?” Job 1:6–2:11 God is the One who drew Satan’s attention to Job, and gave him permission to cause the devastating series of tragedies that struck Job on a single day. Satan contended that Job honored God only because God had given him material blessings. Satan claimed Job would “curse You to Your face” if God permitted Satan to take those blessings away. Job did not act as Satan expected, but instead worshiped, acknowledging God’s right to take what He had given (1:20–21). Satan then claimed Job would curse God if his own life were threatened. So God permitted Satan to afflict Job with a painful and loathsome disease. Again Job refused to curse God, saying, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (2:10) At this point Satan passed from the scene, defeated, and is not mentioned again. But Job’s suffering continued, showing us that God had His own purposes in permitting the satanic attack on Job. One reason that God permits Christians to suffer is to display the reality of relationship with the Lord. Believers suffer when hurt, as other human beings do. But our continuing faith in God’s goodness testifies to all that God does make a difference. God is glorified as Christians continue to hope in the Lord despite suffering. Like Christ, at this stage of the story Job has “entrusted himself to Him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). “Why did I not perish at birth?” Job 3:1–26 Three friends who visited Job were so shocked at his condition that they sat, silent, for seven days. At last Job opened the dialogue. Job’s earlier words had expressed his beliefs. Now he shared his feelings, and we discern an anguish so great that Job wished he had never been born. It’s not wrong for a gap to exist between what we believe and our emotions. Intellectually Job realized that God is free to act as He chooses. Emotionally Job was in the grip of anguish and fear. When suffering strikes us, we often respond as Job did. We do trust in God. But our emotions are in turmoil, and we have “no peace, no quietness, no rest” (see v. 26). Such emotion is natural, for at best we human beings are finite, limited, and weak. How encouraging to realize through Job’s experience that faith and fear can be present at the same time. Emotional turmoil is not evidence of a lack of faith, but rather an opportunity for us to affirm the reality of what we believe despite our feelings. “Who, being innocent, has ever perished?” Job 4:1–5:27 Eliphaz, one of the three friends, was unable to respond to the powerful emotions Job had shared. Instead he brought up a point of theology. It’s not the upright who are destroyed, but those who “plow evil” (4:7–8). Job must appeal to the God who corrects, and who can heal (5:17–18). If Job were right with God, the Lord would have protected him from disaster and Job would know peace (vv. 20–27). Many of us, like Eliphaz, listen for concepts and not feelings. Eliphaz did not respond to Job’s feelings or even acknowledge them. He might have said, “Job, I know you’re hurting. I hear how devastating this is to you, and I do care.” Instead Eliphaz jumped in with an oblique accusation, suggesting that Job’s suffering must be his own fault. When you or I respond to a person who is suffering with a theological statement, even with pious reassurance that “God must have a purpose in something so terrible,” we miss our opportunity to minister. What a sufferer needs to know is that someone cares. An experience of the love of God through a caring friend is the first and greatest need of those who suffer. “If only my anguish could be weighed” Job 6:1–7:21. Job tried again to share his feelings and his tormented thoughts. He felt cut off from God, and crushed by Him (6:8–10). As a despairing man Job had hoped for a sign of devotion from his friends, not accusations. Job continued to focus on his feelings, speaking out “in the anguish of my spirit” and complaining in the “bitterness of my soul” (7:11). Life had lost all meaning for Job. He could not understand what he had done to God to deserve what had happened, or why, if he had sinned, God did not simply forgive him (vv. 17–21). In this speech, part of which is directed to the Lord, Job expressed the doubts and uncertainties which tormented him even more than the loss and pain. Job’s experience again helps us identify what happens within us when tragedy strikes. The very foundation of our existence—our conviction that God is good—is brought into question. If we understand this we can accept our own doubts and uncertainty without feelings of guilt. And we can empathize with others who experience tragedy. “How long will you say such things?” Job 8:1–22 Bildad was uncomfortable with Job’s self-revelation. To protect himself from the flood of emotions, he too turned to theology. Bildad was unwilling to accept what Job felt because those emotions seemed to imply that the Almighty “pervert[s] what is right” (v. 3). Bildad’s solution? “Surely God does not reject a blameless man” (v. 20). If Job got right with God, the Lord would “yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy” (v. 21). Bildad’s error was a common one. He assumed that he knew so much about God he could speak for Him! “God doesn’t reject the blameless” is transformed from a general truth to an unbreakable rule, binding God’s own freedom of action. Bildad never once imagined that he might not know God well enough to explain the Lord’s purposes in Job’s life! When you and I know others who suffer, we must avoid Bildad’s error. We can’t explain “why” because we are not wise enough to grasp God’s purposes in another person’s life. All we know for sure is that God loves all human beings, and that He does have a purpose in what happens to each one. “I know that this is true” Job 9:1–10:21. Job was aware that what his friends had said was true. But this only made his torment greater. Job believed himself blameless (9:21), and thus had no explanation for what had happened to him. It was this that made his anguish so bitter! He couldn’t even plead his case with God, for God had not brought any charges against him. Again Job was forced to question the meaning of life itself. Why had he even been born? How much better it would have been if Job had died in infancy! “Will no one rebuke you?” Job 11:1–20 Job’s third friend was outraged by this talk. God must not be questioned! But Zophar couldn’t resist suggesting that Job must have sinned to suffer so, and that if Job would only “put away the sin that is in your hand” life would be brighter, for God would relieve his suffering. Again, be warned. The person who assumes that he knows another individual’s heart, much less understands all of God’s ways, is almost certain to be wrong. To take such a position is spiritual pride, surely as great a sin as any we accuse others of committing. “What you know, I also know” Job 12:1–14:22. Job responded with sarcasm. Job too knew the general truths about God that his friends had used against him. But Job also knew that in his case suffering could not be punishment for some known sin. Again Job addressed his complaint to God. Human beings are so weak. Why did God do this to him? Why not just permit Job to die and so avoid the brunt of what he experienced as the anger of God? Again we sense the anguish that any believer experiences when his or her suffering cannot be explained. We know general truths about God. But we cannot know the specific reasons for what is happening to us. And suffering feels like God’s anger, directed against us, rather than feeling like love. How important to remember at such times that God does love us still.
God’s Hedge (Job 1–2)
The doctor happened to look in on her as she lay in the labor room. What he saw brought a half dozen people on the run. My wife had suffered a massive placental separation, and only quick action by the doctor saved her and our daughter Joy. There was only one problem. Joy had been without oxygen for several minutes. When she was born her face was blue, and the doctor warned that there might be brain damage. There was. Today Joy, at 28, lives in a community for retarded adults in Arizona’s Verde Valley. She will live there or in a similar facility all her life. It’s hard to express the bittersweet experience of bringing up a daughter who is strong and healthy, and yet suffers from irreversible retardation. Each visit is a reminder of what might have been, but can never be. Yet at the same time each visit is a reminder that Joy is who God intended her to be. A young, strong, loving girl, who laughs and cries, rejoices and complains, who prays and sings and works up to her limited capabilities. Each visit is a reminder of Satan’s complaint, recorded in Job 1:9. “Have You not put a hedge around him [Job]?” Haven’t You protected him from me, so that I can’t touch him or anything that he owns? Satan’s complaint portrays an important reality. God has put a hedge around every believer. He actively protects us from the dangers that threaten on every side. Only if God lowers the hedge—and that for His own purposes—can disaster strike. When Joy was born, God lowered the hedge. I don’t know why. But I believe He had His own good purpose. And I know that God raised the hedge again. God has protected our Joy, and given her as blessed a life as she could expect to live. I can identify other times when God lowered the hedge around me. But each time the hedge has gone up again, and blessing has followed. Each time the hedge has gone down, I’ve become more aware of how often God’s hedge has surrounded me and guarded me from harm.
When God lowers the hedge around you, consider the many more times you have had His protection.