For Reasons We Cannot See
February 7, 2016 Preacher: David Gough Series: Job: Sitting in the Ashes
Topic: Affliction & Suffering Passage: Job 1:1– 2:10
1There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. 2 There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. 3 He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. 4 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. 5 And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.
6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and from on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 8 And 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, who fears God and turns away from evil?” 9 Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.
13 Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, 14 and there came a messenger to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, 15 and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 16 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 17 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 18 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, 19 and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”
20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 221 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.”
22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
1 Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD. 2 And the LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 3 And 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 who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast to his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” 4 Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. 5 But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” 6 And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.”
7 So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. 8 And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes.
9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
The drama being played out in the first two chapters of Job not only sets the stage for the rest of this book, but addresses a question that has troubled men and women for centuries...namely, “If God is good, then why do the righteous suffer?” And while there is no simple answer to that question, no single book of Scripture speaks to that matter more directly than does Job.
Many of us are familiar with this ancient story. It is an honest portrayal of God allowing a righteous man to suffer, and to suffer beyond the level of what most of us are able to comprehend. The testing of Job is permitted by God in response to a challenge by Satan. But why? Therein lies the real dilemma. For what possible reason could there be for God to consent to the suffering and affliction of a man who is described three times in the verses I just read as “blameless and upright”? Such a scenario runs counter to our “cause-and-effect” logic.
Many answers have been proposed, including the ones put forth by Job’s well-meaning but misguided friends whom we get to meet at the end of chapter 2. It is their dialogues with Job that comprise the largest section of the book. The ultimate answer to the haunting question that permeates this book is not revealed until the concluding chapters. There the voice of the Lord Himself breaks into the conversation and removes any doubt that He has not been in control of Job’s circumstances all along.
But before we can adequately see the hand of God, we must walk Job’s journey with him. Some of us will do that as we trace his personal story through these pages, but others of us will more directly relate with Job because we have either been through or are going through our own experiences of suffering and affliction. One thing is certain. All of us will experience pain and affliction in one way or another. Therefore, we can all learn from what the Lord is pleased to show us here.
In fact, you and I have a better vantage point regarding the matter of suffering than what Job had. That is because he was not aware of what was going on behind the scenes in these first two chapters. He had no idea that he was the subject of conversation taking place between the Lord and Satan, and that the intense series of trials that he was enduring—though brought on by the hand of Satan—were actually part of the Lord’s sovereign plan. You and I have been made privy to that dialogue, and while we struggle to understand what it all means we are able to see that God is playing an active part in what befalls the one He calls, “my servant Job.”
In the first five verses of chapter 1, we are introduced to Job and told of the impeccable character of this unique man. Then beginning in verse 6 and extending through verse 10 of chapter 2, we find this man suddenly and unexpectedly being stripped of his possessions, his family, and his health—everything that was dear to him—in what appears to be an inexplicable “game of wager” between the Lord and Satan.
We’ll begin by meeting Job. Here in these first five verses of the book, we have...
The introduction of an honorable man (1:1-5)
The book opens with the words, “There was a man,” and we learn five things about Job in these opening verses:
- To begin with, we are told that he lived “in the land of Uz.” Based upon what we read in Lamentations 4:21, Uz was believed to have been located southeast of Canaan in the area of Edom. The importance of that bit of information is not so much of where it was but where it wasn’t, namely that is wasn’t in Israel. What that suggests is that Job was probably not a Jew. In fact, there is reason to believe that Job predated Moses and may have lived in the time of the patriarchs.
- Next, we are told that his name was “Job.” We know nothing about his background or parentage. He is simply known to us as “a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job.”
- In the third place, we learn “that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” The first really significant fact we learn about Job is that he possessed impeccable integrity. There are actually four descriptors of Job’s character contained in this single phrase.
The word “blameless” speaks of his “genuineness” and “authenticity.” There was no pretense or hypocrisy about him. Job was a man shot through with moral integrity.
He is also said to have been “upright,” a word that suggests that he treated other people fairly. He was a “straightforward” man to do business with.
What’s more, Job is said to have been “one who feared God.” We have no way of knowing how much Job knew about the Lord, but he possessed a respect and a piety that caused him to bow before the Lord in honor and with great reverence.
And then we are told that he “turned away from evil.” This phrase suggests that Job sought to habitually avoid sin and to “repent” of it whenever he encountered it.
We do well to remember these aspects of Job’s character as we read of the experiences he is about to go through.
- The fourth thing that we learn about Job in these introductory verses is that he was a great and powerful man. In fact, after describing the size of his family and the abundance of his possessions, the text says that “this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.” He seems to have had an exemplary home life and was a highly influential man of business. From all appearances, his success in life was the natural and right consequence of his moral uprightness before God and his fellow man.
- But the fifth and final thing we learn about this man is at least a little surprising. Despite all of the harmony and happiness on the surface, there seems to have been a deep anxiety and care in Job’s heart. Look again at chapter 1, verses 4 and 5: “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. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, ‘It may be that my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’ Thus Job did continually.”
The phrase “on his day” probably suggests “on each one’s birthday.” It would seem
that early on the day following a time of family celebration and merriment, Job would gather his family around him for a religious ceremony of sacrifice. Keep in mind that this was well before the days of the Jewish sacrificial system, which speaks of Job’s sensitive spiritual conscience. Why would he do this for each of his children? He tells us in his own words in verse 5: “It may be that my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.”
Despite having very little divine revelation to go on, Job sensed that what mattered most was not the outward appearance of success and prosperity, but rather the make-up of the heart. Even then, this “blameless and upright (man)...who feared God and turned away from evil” understood something about the atoning power of sacrifice.
While verses 1 through 3 are descriptions of Job and his character, and verses 4 and 5 tell us what this man habitually did, this is not the beginning of his story. This introduction merely sets the stage before the story actually starts. It describes a pious and prosperous man. At this point, we cannot envision the circumstances that are about to suddenly and unexpectedly fall upon him. Life isn’t supposed to be that way. And yet, even Job seems to have understood that the world in which we live isn’t always as it appears to be. He seems to know that something lurks deep within the best of human hearts that only sacrifice can atone for.
Having been introduced to the main character of this book, we are somewhat shocked when we next encounter...
The interruption of an ordered life (1:6-2:10)
The tragic circumstances of Job’s life, as they unfold in the rest of chapter 2 and the first ten verses of chapter 2, take place in a series of four acts. What we find here is a real-life play in which the main character, Job, experiences a series of devastating blows for which there is no reasonable explanation. What he is unable to see—and, therefore, to understand—is what takes place behind the scenes...something which we, the readers, are made privy to.
As this four-act drama plays out, the scene shifts back and forth between heaven and earth. For the most part, these transitions are marked off by the phrase, “there was a day.”
- Act 1 occurs in verses 6 through 12 and takes place in heaven. Here we are told that “the sons of God,” a probable reference to “angelic beings,” appear to have been summoned by the Lord for the express purpose of doing His bidding. Among them was one who is literally described as “the adversary,” translated in most Bibles as “Satan.” One writer suggests that Satan may not have been invited, but was instead something of a “gatecrasher” to this heavenly council. During an interrogation, we learn that Job has been the object of special attention of both the Lord and Satan...but for two different reasons. Whereas the Lord boasts of Job’s “blameless and upright” character, Satan counters by saying that the only reason Job was living such a righteous life was because the Lord had treated him with “kid gloves” and had not allowed him to experience the least degree of adversity. In response, Satan is given permission by the Lord to test Job in every area of his being, stopping short of inflicting him bodily injury.
As we are about to see, Satan will relentlessly and mercilessly try Job, and yet in doing so will paradoxically be serving the very purposes of the Lord. So this opening act closes with these words: “So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.” Unknown to Job, a relentless series of trials is about to unfold.
- Act 2 is described in verses 13 through 22 and is being played out on the earth. Keep in mind that Job is completely unaware of the conversation that has taken place in heaven between the Lord and Satan. This act opens with festive merriment. It was the oldest son’s birthday. All of a sudden, a messenger interrupts the party bringing horrible news. A group of marauders had attacked a corner of Job’s vast land holdings, hauling off his oxen and donkeys, and slaying his servants with the sword. Any “hedge” of protection around God’s servant had suddenly been breached.
Before Job is even able to process this first piece of bad news, a second messenger appears in the doorway bringing word that “The fire of God fell from heaven”—probably a reference to a severe lightning storm—destroying Job’s sheep and the servants who tended them. The devastating loss of Job’s vast number of flocks and herds—not to mention many servants—would have been enough to traumatize the strongest of men.
Remarkably, the onslaught of Job’s troubles has just begun. The trauma is far from over. While the second messenger is still telling his story, a third bursts in describing what appears to be a deliberate premeditated act of aggression. A nomadic invasion in three waves attacked and took possession of Job’s camels, leaving his servants for dead. First, the oxen and donkeys with their workers...then the sheep and their shepherds...and now the loss of his camels and servants. Job is now bankrupt! “The greatest of all the people in the east” has been stripped of all his wealth in a single day.
Even as we read this account, we cannot help but wonder along with Job, “What’s next?” Perhaps at that instant he thought of his family, who at that very hour were engaged in celebration of his oldest son’s birthday. And that’s when his greatest fears were realized, for before the third messenger was finished his report, in came a fourth with the most devastating news of all. Something on the order of a tornado swept through the land and the house in which his children were partying collapsed, killing them all.
Two terrorist attacks and two natural disasters had deprived Job of everything. Go back and read verses 2 and 3 again and realized that now all that was described there—everything that had defined Job—was gone! His well-ordered life was suddenly and permanently interrupted. Nothing would ever be the same.
Before looking too quickly at Job’s response, we do well to linger here for just a moment or two and feel within ourselves something of the weight this man must have felt. And the only way I know to do that is to imagine what your reaction would be were you to unexpectedly lose everything that was dear to you and everything that defined who you are. The truth is, none of us can fully and adequately prepare for such days, but in one measure or another they will come for all of us.
Verses 20 through 22 tell us how Job handled his unbelievably great losses. These words need to be read slowly and their emotion fully felt: “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and (don’t miss this) 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.’ In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” That is remarkable! Job knew that eventually he would die, and when he did he would take nothing away. In one sense, he did die that day, and in the process he realized that all of his possessions—including his children—had been gifts from a gracious God. He realized that the Lord both gives and removes at His sole discretion. He knew that was part of “being God.” Therefore, even in the depths of his mourning, Job blessed the Lord.
- As chapter 2 opens, the scene shifts back to heaven. Here in Act 3, we find ourselves peering once again into the council of heaven. What we find here is almost a replay of what we saw in Act 1. This time, however, the Lord grants Satan permission to test Job even further by attacking not merely his possessions but his person. Not just his wealth, but his health. The repetition of Satan’s accusations of Job before God should remind us of how persistently are his sinister charges against each of us. He is relentless and will stop at nothing to get us to “curse” God. But let us never forget that Satan is subservient to the Lord. He can do nothing beyond what a sovereign God permits him to do. Satan is out to prove a point, but bear in mind, so is God!
- Act 4 begins midway through verse 7 of chapter 2. If you have ever been afflicted with physical illness beyond what is normal, then you may be able—to some degree—to relate to what is being described here. Let’s read these words again: “Satan...struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he (Job) took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes.” It was a total and intimate affliction with no reprieve. All of Job’s person was invaded and, as one commentator has written, “the last vestige of protective hedge has been destroyed.”
And so he sits “in the ashes.” This is probably a description of the local garbage dump where the rubbish is continually burned in a heap. “The greatest of all the people of the east” has been reduced to nothing in a heartbeat. Everything about him is broken now, and he is all alone. So, what will Job do? Nothing more could be taken from him except his life. But if that were to happen, we would never know the end of the story. Therefore, Job must live.
But there is one more trial Job must face. We read of it in verses 9 and 10: “Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.’ But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” Thus far we have read nothing of Job’s wife, but now she appears on the stage offering words that are far less than comforting. But before we are too hard on her, we need to realize that she is likely bearing grief of her own...grief which, except for the physical suffering, that is similar to that of her husband. Nevertheless, her counsel is far from being Godly. If anything it is devilish. “Curse God and die”? Isn’t that the very goal at which Satan is aiming (cf. Job 1:11 and 2:5)? Not even his wife—his soul mate—is fully able to empathize with Job’s awful plight.
But Job’s reply affirms that he has passed the test. The text is clear...he “did not sin.” The initial impact of the trial has concluded, and Job has emerged testifying that God is good, and that He is the Author of everything. He has acknowledged that the Creator is worthy of being worshiped, both in good times and in bad.
It was a remarkable declaration of faith. Obviously, he had no tangible evidence to go on. In fact, heaven will remain silent until the voice of God breaks through at the end of the book and offers divine perspective and vindication. Until then, you and I are asked to sit with Job “in the ashes,” and to contemplate what it all means. Shortly Job’s well-intentioned friends will arrive to offer comfort, but instead will only add to his misery. In the mean time, you and I enter into the experience of a man suffering through the process of a terrible and life-changing breakdown.
The Book of Job is going to teach us that God’s glory is more important than our individual comfort. In order to demonstrate that, God has ordained that there will be some who suffer and are afflicted in extraordinary ways, and will still worship Him...worship Him for no other reason than that He is God and worthy to be worshiped.
For most of us, Job is an extreme book. No matter how deep our suffering, it is unlikely that our experience will ever approximate the compounded nature of what Job endured. We have never been as “great” as Job; therefore, we have never been as fallen or as cursed. His story, therefore, points to a fulfillment that is greater than your life or mine.
Job, for all of his extreme affliction, is only a shadow of a suffering even more extreme Centuries later, a Man who was not just “blameless,” but sinless...who was not just “the greatest of all the people of the east,” but the greatest human being who ever lived, would suffer in a far greater way. He, the “God-man” would empty Himself of all His glory, step with both feet into the human experience, allow Himself to be led away to a degrading and shameful death on the cross in order to reveal God’s glory by redeeming a host of sinners for His name’s sake. You see, the story of Job is actually a foreshadowing of the greater story of Jesus Christ.
And yet Job’s story is our story as well. To one extent or another, we have each experienced—or are experiencing—our own measure of affliction because we follow Christ. To this day, Satan remains a “deceiver” and the one who “accuses” God’s people (cf. Revelation 12:9-10). But there is a huge difference. You and I live on this side of the cross, the cross from which Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” (Colossians 2:15). Through His death, He “destroy(ed) the one who (had) the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver(ed) all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14-15).
As a result of the victory of the cross, Satan is no longer present in the council of God. He no longer has access to the throne of God. His accusations against God’s people, therefore, are no longer heard and responded to by God. Oh, you and I may hear them and feel threatened by them, but God is not listening to our accuser. That is because, in the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
So as we enter into the story of Job, let us be reminded first and foremost of the greater story of the Lord Jesus. It is He who walked the way of Job for us, who plumbed the depths of suffering for us, and who was vindicated for us. Satan’s methods and motives remain unchanged. He maintains his relentless attacks against the people of God, and you and I are still called upon to endure. The Book of Job has been left for us to discover how one man—having far less divine revelation to go on—did that...and to learn to do the same.
More in Job: Sitting in the Ashes
March 27, 2016Rising From the Ashes
March 20, 2016Perspective From an Unexpected Source
March 13, 2016The Defense Rests Its Case