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Life is difficult. That blunt, three-word statement is an accurate appraisal of our existence on this planet. When the writer of the biblical book named Job picked up his stylus to write his story, he could have begun with a similar-sounding and equally blunt sentence, “Life is unfair.”
No one could argue the point that life is punctuated with hardship, heartaches, and headaches. Most of us have learned to face the reality that life is difficult. But unfair? Something kicks in, deep within most of us, making it almost intolerable for us to accept and cope with what’s unfair. Our drive for justice overrides our patience with pain. A couple of examples come to mind.
You’re born and reared in Canada, and you’re on ice skates as far back as you can remember. Throughout your growing-up years, while skating along the ice, you are dreaming of someday making it to the Olympics. Skating is difficult. You fall more times than you can remember, but in every fall you learn another lesson, and every year you perfect your technique. Ultimately, you learn to skate very well. You get a special teacher and you find a skating partner, who is also from your homeland. The two of you skate toward your mutual dream of being at the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympics.
Finally, your moment comes. As your names are announced, you slide smoothly and gracefully onto the ice. Your dream has come true. You perform your routine to perfection—better than you’ve ever done it. And you know in your hearts as you finish that it was a gold-medal performance. Both of you are ecstatic . . . until you see the scores. Your heart sinks. As you read those numbers you realize that you’ll get the silver medal and another couple less qualified than you will win the gold. At that moment, life is difficult. In a few hours time, however, you will find out that the judging was skewed, that the competition was fixed. And in fact, one of the judges would later be removed. You didn’t know that at the time you saw the score. When you find all that out, difficult is changed to unfair, and that’s a whole different subject. Once you learn that the judging was deliberately unfair, you can’t tolerate the thought of accepting the silver medal.
My second example doesn’t have as good an ending. You’re a single parent living 1,200 miles from a job offer that comes to you from Houston. So you give serious thought to moving you and your three children (who are all under the age of fifteen) down south so that you might get a much better job working for a lot more money in a company that is really moving ahead. You make the move as you begin working for Enron. You find yourself fulfilled and stretched. Things are really looking up. You’re doing so well you decide to invest in the company’s stock. The money is good, your future is bright, and the news is out that this is the blue-chip company to be a part of. They’re even naming the new stadium in Houston after the Enron Corporation. Then one day you overhear some troubling comments at the water fountain.
The scuttlebutt around the office isn’t encouraging. You doubt it, you question it, and in fact you put it out of your mind because, after all, your entire retirement funds are there, your health benefits are there, and your financial security is there. Suddenly, almost before you can blink, you get a pink slip, and it’s all over. You lose everything. It’s not your fault—you were doing a good job. You moved for all the right reasons, and now there’s the threat of losing your house. Life is difficult as you ponder telling the kids.
A couple of days later you’re showering and you notice a small lump under your left breast. Your stomach turns. You can’t believe it. Two days later the biopsy reveals that you have an aggressive malignancy. Oh, I failed to mention, three years ago your husband ran off with his much younger and attractive assistant and, by the way, they’re doing great. Both of them have new cars, secure, well-paying jobs, and no kids. And you? You’re going to move in with your aging parents, neither of whom is all that healthy, and their little home has only three bedrooms. One day the full load hits you: Life is not just difficult, it’s downright unfair.
Welcome to Job’s world.
Without realizing it, you have just walked onto Job’s turf. (And to think some people believe the Bible is irrelevant!) Not only is Job’s story relevant, it represents one of the oldest and best pieces of literature in all of time. Some would date it back to the days of Genesis. In light of Job’s old age, it falls in the category of being written during the days of the patriarchs. Martin Luther once used these two words when referring to Job: magnificent and sublime. The nineteenth century Scottish essayist, Thomas Carlyle, wrote, “There is nothing written, I think, in the Bible or out of it, of equal literary merit.”1 Victor Hugo, the French poet and author, concluded that Job is perhaps the greatest masterpiece of the human mind.
Eugene Peterson, one of our contemporary writers, in his paraphrase of The Old Testament, says this in his introduction of Job:
It is not only because Job suffered that he is important to us. It is because he suffered in the same ways that we suffer—in the vital areas of family, personal health, and material things. Job is also important to us because he searchingly questioned and boldly protested his suffering. Indeed, he went “to the top” with his questions. It is not the suffering that troubles us. It is undeserved suffering. Almost all of us in our years of growing up have the experience of disobeying our parents and getting punished for it. When that discipline was connected with wrongdoing, it had a certain sense of justice to it: When we do wrong, we get punished.
One of the surprises as we get older, however, is that we come to see that there is no real correlation between the amount of wrong we commit and the amount of pain we experience. An even larger surprise is that very often there is something quite the opposite: We do right and get knocked down. We do the best we are capable of doing, and just as we are reaching out to receive our reward we are hit from the blind side and sent reeling.2
Those words describe precisely what happened with Job. Life was not simply difficult, it became absolutely unfair. You may not know about Job’s agony. It’s easy to think that a story this old is familiar to everyone, but it may be new to you. So, allow me a few lines to offer a quick and dirty analysis.
Job was a man of unparalleled and genuine piety. He was also a man of well-deserved prosperity. He was a godly gentleman, extremely wealthy, a fine husband, and a faithful father. In a quick and brutal sweep of back-toback calamities, Job was reduced to a twisted mass of brokenness and grief. The extraordinary accumulation of disasters that hit him would have been enough to finish off any one of us living today.
Job is left bankrupt, homeless, helpless, and childless. He’s left standing beside the ten fresh graves of his now-dead children on a windswept hill. His wife is heaving deep sobs of grief as she kneels beside him, having just heard him say, “Whether our God gives to us or takes everything from us, we will follow Him.” She leans over and secretly whispers, “Just curse God and die.” Pause and ponder their grief—and remember the man had done nothing to deserve such unbearable pain.
I have a friend who is also in ministry. When I e-mailed him recently, I mentioned my plans to write a book about Job, calling him “A Man of Heroic Endurance.” He quickly responded and warned me about taking on such subjects. “You never know what happens when you get into stories like Job’s,” he wrote. “How often you become a participant in the story that you’re writing.” Sort of put a chill up my back. To keep me from becoming grim, he added this touch of humor: “I have a friend who was driving across Texas late one night searching for a radio station to keep him company. Finally, he tuned into a country preacher who was beginning a series on Job. The preacher had titled his radio message, ‘I Can’t Eat by Day, I Can’t Sleep by Night, and the Woman I Love Don’t Treat Me Right.’ ”3
Not bad. That’s Job in less than twenty words. Only difference is there’s nothing funny in the real account. Unfair suffering is never funny. Misery and mystery are added to the insult and injury of Job’s real-life disasters. As he sits there covered with skin ulcers that have begun erupting with pus, swelling his body with fever and giving him a maddening itch that will not cease, he looks up into the faces of three friends who arrive on the scene. They sit and stare at the man for seven days and nights without uttering a word. Just imagine. First, they don’t recognize him, which tells you something of the extent of his swelling and the sores that covered his body. The sight causes them to be at a loss for words for a full week. Unfortunately, they didn’t remain silent. When they finally did speak, they had nothing to say but blame, accusation, and insult. “You’re getting what you deserve.” Though they shaped their cutting remarks in much more philosophical terms, they proved unmerciful. His pain only intensified.
His misery turns to mystery with God’s silence. If the words of his socalled friends are hard to hear, the silence of God becomes downright intolerable. Not until the thirty-eighth chapter of the book does God finally break the silence, however long that took. If it were just a few months, try to imagine. You’ve become the object of your alleged friends’ accusations, and the heavens are brass as you plead for answers from the Almighty, who remains mysteriously mute. Nothing comes to you by way of comfort. It’s all so unfair; you’ve done nothing to deserve such anguish. So much for openers.
The story begins with the remarkable résumé of a fine man. Job may become our hero of endurance, but let’s remember he’s only a man. He’s not superman. He’s not an angel in a human’s body. He’s just a man. “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless” (Job 1:1). It doesn’t mean perfect; it means he did not compromise with moral evil. He was a man whose business dealings were handled with integrity. He kept his word. He dealt fairly with others. As a result, he was respected by those around him, whether within or outside the family.
He was upright. He held God in respect, and he consistently eschewed evil. He was a man with character. And speaking of his family, Job was blessed with seven sons and three daughters. By the time Job’s story gets told, all ten are grown. His was a life at its zenith. By now he had amassed a remarkable number of possessions. Among them were 7,000 sheep. Much of the wool from the animals would have been sold. The portion held back could be woven into fabric that would be made into warm clothing for the cold winter days. The family’s food would be provided from these animals and acres of crops. There were also 3,000 camels. I would imagine Job “ran a trucking business” for the caravans that went from east to west. No doubt, his camels were for hire. And those camels became his personal transportation. There were 1,000 oxen, yoked together in pairs to plow the fertile fields, preparing the soil for planting the seed that was later harvested for an abundance of food. And then we’re told there were 500 female donkeys. In that ancient era, female donkeys provided the delicacy of the day—donkey milk.
Over and above all that was a happy, healthy family of ten adult children living nearby. No diapers to change. No baths to give. No carpools. No big meals to prepare. No lunches for school. No boys with big tattoos, driving sleek chariots, showing up and honking out front for the daughters. No teenaged daughters with nose rings and pierced belly buttons running around the house. All that’s now behind Job and his wife. Job’s got it made, and amazingly, no one was criticizing because there’s nothing about him to criticize. Job had it made.
The late J. Vernon McGee wrote this about Job: “This man lived in the lap of luxury. The last part of verse 3 would indicate to us that he was Howard Hughes, John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, and the oil men of Texas all rolled into one.”4 When I read that, the thought struck me that he wrote those words far back in the 1970s. Let’s face it, by the economic collapse in the late 1980s, the closest Texas oilmen got to money was when they pumped gas at the Texaco station on the corner. Today we might say he was Bill Gates, Donald Trump, and Ross Perot all wrapped up in one. Job was healthy, wealthy, good, and godly, but he was not out of touch. You will notice he did have his concerns.
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.
It came about, when the days of feasting had completed their cycle, that Job would send and consecrate them, rising up early in the morning and offering burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.
By offering up ten burnt offerings in the name of each young adult, he was concerned that in their hearts there may have been a hint of disobedience or perhaps one of them told an off-colored story during their frequent get-togethers. Job is diligent deep within—spiritually sensitive not only regarding his life, but for the walk and talk of his children. Praying man. Pure man. Priestly man. Faithful man. What a man!
Francis Andersen writes clarifying words in his fine work on Job.
We need not suppose that they spent all their time in roistering and did no work. There is no hint of drunkenness or licence or laziness. Job expresses no anxiety on this score, although he is aware of the danger that they might slip into profanity. These delightful family gatherings are part of the atmosphere of well-being that begins the story. They are a mark of good fortune, or rather of God’s blessing. . . .
The finishing touch to this happy scene is the godly parent making doubly sure that all is well.5
I say again, what a man!
At the end of verse 5 there must have been a pause. If this were a novel, you would turn the page and move into the next chapter of the story. If this were a film, it would be a slow fadeout. You would sit in darkness for a few seconds, then a bright scene would appear telling you that you were in another setting at another time. If this were a stage play, the curtains would close at the end of verse 5. The audience would be given a few moments to stretch and stand, then sit back down for the opening of the curtains after the stagehand changed the scenery from earth to heaven. But no such markings appear in the Bible. You simply move from verse 5 to verse 6. Verses 1 to 5 are full of good news, wonderful blessing, business integrity, purity of heart, faithfulness of life. The man is spiritually mature, domestically diligent, and professionally respected.
As he sleeps, another scene opens to us that Job knows nothing about. Similar things happen in our lives as well. When we’re not aware of it, God is carrying out a plan that would amaze us and, on occasion, shock us. He is permitting things to get under way that we would have never expected. Without Job’s knowledge, something is happening in the heavenlies. We are transported from planet Earth to the third heaven to witness its occurrence.
Ponder the difference between the opening lines of Job 1:1 and Job 1:6: “There was a man . . . there was a day.” There was a man who lived on this earth. There was a day in the throne room of God. We are lifted from earth’s familiar setting to the unfamiliar scene of God’s presence in heaven. The only ones comfortable there would be the seraphim who filled the presence of the living God with the movement of their wings. They are the ever-present attendants of the Almighty, called in verse 6, “the sons of God.”
As the Lord God looks about, He sees His angelic servants who have come to present themselves before Him. And why not? They’re accountable to Him. They do His bidding as they carry out His will.
Present among them is an intruder. There is one who is not among the elect angels. He is identified in the Hebrew text “the Satan.” HAA-SahTahn. (Every time the name Satan appears in the first two chapters of Job, it is HAA-SahTahn, meaning the SahTahn, “The Satan.” ).
What does it mean? SahTahn is a Hebrew verb. Most often Hebrew words originate with the verb form. SahTahn means, “to be an adversary, to resist.” Therefore, in noun form it is often rendered, the Adversary or the Accuser. Satan accuses God’s people day and night. Suddenly the Accuser appears among the other angels.
Pause and remember Satan is not a little imp with a red body, carrying a pitchfork and sitting on one of your shoulders whispering ugly little nothings in your ear. That’s a medieval caricature that Satan would love for you to believe. He is the most attractive, brilliant, powerful archangel that God ever created. He has not lost his brilliance. He has not lost his power. He has certainly not lost his appealing beauty. He is also insidious. Satan’s favorite method of working is behind the scenes. Because he is invisible does not mean he is not real. As we will see a little later, he has personality. And he is engaged in a relentless commitment to destroying God’s people and opposing God’s plan. It is this insidious Adversary we find standing in the heavenlies among the group of faithful angelic servants.
Beginning at verse 7 down through verse 12, we have a dialogue that is most interesting. You won’t find it anywhere else in the Bible. The Lord God sees the intruder and speaks to him. “From where do you come?” (Job 1:7). Please don’t misread that. Being omniscient (all-knowing), God knows everything. His question could be rendered, “Tell me what you’ve been about. What’s been going on?”
Satan’s answer is brief and seems impudent. “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it” (Job 1:7). The Adversary has access to this planet as well as the heavenlies. He moves all about earth as do his demonic forces. He has random access to wherever he wishes to go. The earthly elements that hold us in check do not affect him. Being supernatural, he can move instantly from Asia to America. He could leave Australia and be at the North Pole in a split second. When Satan says, “I’ve been roaming about on the earth,” he means that, literally.
The Lord then asks, “Have you considered My servant Job?” (Job 1:8). What a wonderful title God gave Job! “My servant.” He may have been considered the “greatest of all the men of the east” (Job 1:3), but the wonderful fact about Job is that he was God’s servant. Though well known far and wide, he was no celebrity in God’s eyes. There was no pride in the man’s heart. God’s evaluation is impressive: “For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil” (Job 1:8).
Hearing the word evil, the source of evil responds, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” (Job 1:9). In our words, “Look, God, talk about kid glove treatment! The man gets penthouse perks.” The Accuser continues, “Have you not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has?” (Job 1:10).
Consider the categories. “You have protected his body from illness. You have protected his family from harm. And, You have protected his possessions from destruction. He has it made on every side. The divine wall around this man’s life is nothing short of enviable. You have not only protected him, You have blessed the work of his hands. His possessions, as his fame, have increased in the land.” The Accuser is claiming divine favoritism. I mean— the audacity of that! “You have built a thick hedge around him. You have blessed him like no other. Who wouldn’t worship You?”
Here we witness the Accuser’s personality. We know that he has an intellect because he converses with the Lord. We see that Satan has emotions because he is antagonistic toward Job. He also has volition because he purposes to destroy Job in hopes of disgracing God. Satan’s great hope is to level Job. “But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face” (Job 1:11, italics mine). “You bring him down to the dirt like the rest of those humans have to live their lives, and You’ll see what he’s made of. He’ll turn on You in a heartbeat!”
It’s a clever plan. It is also unfair. Job does not deserve even the suggestion of mistreatment. Job has walked with God, certainly in his adult years. He is now the best of the best, “greatest of all the men of the east.” On top of all that, he is a servant of God. But none of that impresses Satan. Evil suspicions prompt his insidious plot: “You want to know what he’s really made of, remove all that indulged treatment and pervasive protection. Strip away the veneer of the man’s comfort, and You’ll see right away, he’ll turn on You. ‘He will surely curse You to Your face’” (Job 1:11). Satan’s prediction. “Instead of treating him like an overindulged child, why don’t you treat him like anybody else on earth? Let him know what it’s like to suffer the death of a child. Let him go through the loss of all those possessions. Let all that hit him full force, and You’ll see what Job’s made of.” His point is clear: Job is worshiping God because of what he gets out of it, not because the Lord is truly first in his life.
God has heard enough: “The Lord said to Satan, ‘Behold, all that he has is in your power ” (Job 1:12, italics mine). Don’t read any further for a moment. That’s a terribly frightening thought. Read the Lord’s words once again, only slower.
Look at the permission slip He hands Satan. “All that he has is yours to deal with.” He adds a caveat, “only do not put forth your hand on him” (Job 1:12). “Don’t you touch his life. Don’t touch his body or his soul or his mind. You can remove his possessions and you can attack his family, but leave the man, himself, alone.”
Satan departed from the presence of the Lord with a sinister grin. Keep in mind, Job knew nothing of that dialogue.
That’s enough for one sitting. We’ll return to Satan’s plan in the next chapter. Let’s pause here and give some thought to how all this relates to our world today. Four principles emerge that seem relevant.
Principle one: There is an enemy we encounter we cannot see . . . but he is real. We have a supernatural enemy, and we encounter him or one of his emissaries regularly. And never doubt it—all of that is real. He hopes that his deceptive strategy will play tricks on your mind and will weaken you and ultimately bring you down. The Accuser’s desire is to ruin your testimony as he destroys your life. In the process, if it means ruining your family relationships, he’ll go there. If it takes tempting you to secretly cut a few corners in your business which you would not have done in earlier days, he’ll go there. Whatever it takes to bring you down, he will try. Because we have an enemy we cannot see does not mean he is not real.
Principle two: There are trials we endure we do not deserve, but they are permitted. You read that correctly. Life includes trials that we do not deserve, but they must, nevertheless, be endured. At the beginning of this chapter I mentioned a woman who did not deserve to work for a company that turned against the very principles she thought they believed in. She did not deserve losing her retirement or getting cancer. After all, she was a hardworking, single mother trying to raise three kids under the age of fifteen. She may not have been dealt a fair shake in life, but it was all permitted. The same can be said about you. In the mystery of God’s unfathomable will, we can never explain or fully understand. Do not try to grasp each thread of His profound plan. If you resist my counsel here, you’ll become increasingly more confused, ultimately resentful, and finally bitter. At that point, Satan will have won the day. Accept it. Endure the trial that has been permitted by God. Nothing touches your life that has not first passed through the hands of God. He is in full control and because He is, He has the sovereign right to permit trials that we do not deserve.
Principle three: There is a plan we explore we will not understand, but it is best. Though each segment of it may not be fair or pleasant, it works together for good. The disease Job later endured wasn’t good in and of itself. Hardly! But it worked together for good. Our perspective is dreadfully limited. We see in the pinpoint of time, but God’s view is panoramic. God’s big-picture, cosmic plan is at work now, and He doesn’t feel the need (nor is He obligated) to explain it to us. If He tried, our answer would be like the confused teenager listening to his calculus teacher, “What?” You wouldn’t get it, nor would I. Just remember, the Father knows what is best for His children. Rest in that realization.
Principle four: There are consequences we experience, we could not anticipate, but they are necessary. I don’t know where you find yourself today, but I would be willing to wager that most of you reading this book are going through something that is unfair. Chances are good that you simply don’t deserve what’s happening. The consequences may have started to get to you. You didn’t anticipate any of this. You didn’t think it would come to this, but it has. Trust me here. What has happened is a necessary part of your spiritual growth. Yes, necessary. I’ve finally begun to accept that reality after all these years of my life.
As I close this chapter, I want to address you who have moved onto Job’s turf. If nothing else, it has prepared you to pay closer attention to the message woven through this book. You’ve seen only a glimpse of how things started. The story doesn’t end with Satan’s departing from the presence of the Lord. There’s a whole lot more to Job’s story. And I need to repeat what I said at the beginning: the more it unfolds, the more you will realize that life is not only difficult, it is unfair.
The silence of God’s voice will make you wonder if He is even there. And the absence of God’s presence will make you wonder if He even cares. He is. And He does.