Job, Part 1: Job's Suffering

In times of suffering, where do we place our hope? Is our hope in our own goodness? Do we think that our goodness deserves reward from God? It is easy to place our hope and faith in a loving Heavenly Father when things are going well for us, but what happens to our hope when we face disaster and suffering? The book of Job gives us an important example of remaining faithful and righteous in the face of suffering, tragedy, and great loss.

Many scholars consider Job to be the oldest book of the Bible, written between 1900-1700 BC. Eusebeis, the early historian, fixes it two ages before Moses, that is, about the time of Isaac: eighteen hundred years before Christ, and six hundred years after the flood.

Their reasons include considerations such as::

1. Job's length of life is patriarchal, two hundred years. The Septuagint makes Job live a hundred seventy years after his calamity, (Job 42:16) and two hundred forty in all. This would make him seventy at the time of his calamity, which added to a hundred forty in Hebrew text makes up two hundred ten. This is just slightly older than Terah, the father of Abraham, making them perhaps contemporaries. The length of man's life gradually shortened, till it reached threescore and ten in Moses' time. (Psalms 90:10)

2. Riches or wealth in the book of Job are reckoned by cattle, rather than by money or gold.

3. There is never any mention of Israel, Moses, or the promised land. It appears to record events that took place before the time of Moses or the exodus from Egypt and to the miracles that accompanied it; nor to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. These events, had they already occurred, would be the proof of God's intervention in destroying the wicked and vindicating the righteous and would surely have been mentioned.

4. There is no mention of the Law given to Moses, or to the Jewish priesthood and rituals. There is no mention of priests or tabernacle. Job offered sacrifices for himself and his children, rather than priests doing so as designated in the Pentateuch. This form of sacrifice by the head of the family prevailed among the patriachs prior to the law.

5. This book contains no reference to any other books or events in the Bible.

6. The language is different than the Hebrew used in the rest of the OT. This form of Hebrew is called Paleo-Hebrew, and is even older than the ancient Hebrew that makes up most of the Old Testament.

7. The text and the questions it raises are similar to that of an ancient Babylonian text and is sometimes considered to have been based on that text.

For these reasons, most scholars believe the book was written before the time of Moses, during the era of the Bible’s Patriarchs. There are still some, however, who consider the Pentateuch to be older, since it describes the creation of the earth and all living things, including man. They date Job at about 1500 BC, like Genesis. The fact is, however, these Biblical books were handed down by mouth for untold years before they were ever written down.

Job is also considered to be one of the most controversial parts of Bible, as the book is dealing with some of the most serious and difficult issues concerning the faith. The book contains the eternal questions of people concerning suffering, things like, “Why do innocent people have to suffer?” and “Why does God allow His children to suffer?” These questions have plagued mankind from the beginning of time, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

Job was a righteous man, had lived his life to please God, and had been greatly blessed by God. Unbeknownst to him, Satan was granted permission by God to test him, to see if he would remain faithful to God when his blessings were removed. His premise was that Job only worshiped God because of the blessing God gave him; thus, if those blessings were taken away, Job would no longer worship God.

Job repeatedly proclaimed his innocence before God and his friends. He also repeatedly contrasted the feebleness of man and short duration of man's lifespan with the greatness of God and His eternality.

Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not. And dost thou open thine eyes upon such an one, and bringest me into judgment with thee? Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one. Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass; Turn from him, that he may rest, till he shall accomplish, as an hireling, his day. (Job 14:1-6)

Job refers to the short duration of man's life first as a flower, that blooms and then quickly dies, and then as a shadow, which just fades away. And yet, during this short span allotted to man, his life is full of trouble. Jesus said the same thing when He told His disciples: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Knowing God's character, Job doesn't understand WHY God has allowed these calamities in his life, when man's life is already so fragile and his days are fleeting and full of trouble. Job asks God three questions:

1. Do You open Your eyes to one like this? That phrase “Open your eyes” means to watch intently with intent to punish. He is not asking if God is even paying attention to man's calamities, but rather why God would be looking for a reason to punish man by allowing all these catastrophes, since man's life is so short and troubled anyway.

2. Will You bring him into judgment before You? Job held the common belief that such catastrophes as he had experienced were God's judgment of sin. He is astonished that such an almighty and all-powerful God should try, pass judgment on, and punish such a weak, worthless, and transitory a creature as himself. Job knew that no matter how righteous and upright he tried to live – and he asserted his innocence all along - no one can stand before God's judgment without a mediator. In 9:33 Job expressed his need for a mediator.

3. Who can bring out clean from unclean? By this Job acknowledges the doctrine of original sin: all human beings are born sinful. Job also acknowledges that man cannot turn his own impurity into purity, only God can do that. His only hope was for God to do for him him what he could not do for himself: make him pure.

Job acknowledges that it is God alone who sets the duration of man's life, and no one can change the limits God has set. He pleads with God to “turn away from him” - not as in turn His back, but as in turn away His wrath and stop allowing this suffering, and just let him rest. Job longed for death like a worker longs for the end of his workday. He is not suicidal, and never indicates a fesire to circumvent God's timing and take his own life; he is just longing for relief from his troubles, even if that can only be found in death.

For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground; Yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant. But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up: So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep. (Job 14:7-12 )

Job compares man's life to a tree: A tree, when cut down, will produce shoots from it's roots, that will actually grow into another tree. Unlike a tree that will sprout again after it is cut down, man's life is over when he dies. From a human perspective, it may seem like there is no possibility of life after death. At first glance, it seems he is expressing despair and hopelessness over death. But then he adds the phrase “until the heavens are no more”. The doctrinal truth of the resurrection had not yet been fully revealed, yet Job refers to it here.

On this side of the cross, we know that Jesus rose victorious over death; He overcame death and promised that we could also have eternal life. But Job didn't have that full picture. Faith is trusting God even though we don't have the answers, even when human “wisdom” tells us there is no hope. The apostle Paul instructed us not to grieve as others did, who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13) How a Christian handles the struggles of life and death can show our faith in God. Sometimes our strongest witness is when we aren't even aware that others are watching.

Sometimes, people suffer as the direct result of their own poor choices, sinful actions, or willful irresponsibility. At times like that, we are sometimes just like Job's friends, thinking “Well, he got what he deserved” or “He had it coming”. Other times, we don't understand the reason for pain and suffering, and search for a reason: we want to know WHY? We want to believe that all goodness is rewarded and all evil is punished. We want it to make sense to us. It is our human nature to try to find a correlation between bad behavior and bad circumstances and, conversely, between good behavior and blessings. But this isn't really very Biblical.

Jesus himself dealt with this desire to connect suffering to personal sin at least twice. Once, when they saw a man blind from birth, his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus” The disciples made the mistake of assuming that the innocent would never suffer and assumed that either the blind man or else his parents were guilty of some hidden sin. Jesus corrected their thinking, saying, “This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). The man’s blindness was not the result of personal sin, neither of the man nor his parents; rather, God had a higher purpose for the suffering.

Though we know Satan was the instrument of his sufferings, Job did not. He was fully unaware of the conversation between God and Satan. Likewise, we don't know what is taking place in the spiritual realm when we are going through our trials and tribulations in life. Job viewed his trials as coming from God; and as such, he humbly submitted to them. He recognized the truth that God is wise and good, not only in the mercies which He bestows, but in the trials which He sends or permits. Job demonstrated that we should not only be grateful for God's mercies, but that we should also be submissive under our trials, and thus strive to honor God in both good times and bad. He said as much to his wife in Job 2:10: “What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?”

O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me! (Job 14:13)

Here Job has reached a new level of despair. He wishes to be kept hidden in the grave until God's wrath against him shall have passed away, hidden until a set time when he will once again enjoy God's favor. He recognizes that his only hope is in God's goodness and faithfulness. Once again Job refers to a resurrection, when he would be changed and renewed, saying he is willing to endure his struggles until that relief comes. He understood his sufferings would pale in comparison with an eternal life with God. We have that assurance too, that one day our sufferings will pale in comparison to the glory awaiting us. assures us:

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)

Next: Job, Part 2: Job's Friends

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