Lisa Harper spoke at our church on Sunday; she is a well-known national speaker, Bible teacher and a friend. I have heard her video lessons on the biblical Book of Job, and they are very good, especially considering it is not an easy book to interpret and apply to people today. This week she used Job and related it to her own life experiences.
Just in case my readers are unfamiliar with the OT Book of Job, let me encourage you to imagine that, by NO fault of your own, you lost everything: your job, your house, all your money and possessions, your health, and all your children! How would you view God? What would you say to God?
This is exactly what happened to Job. Under the cloud of suspicion, he was left with painful skin boils (2:7-8; 7:5), a cranky wife who rejects him (2:9; 19:17) and three friends, who were “miserable comforters” (2:11-13; 16:2; 19:19). Scholars are not exactly sure when it was written, but the unknown author of Job appears to be writing to godly people who were struggling with a crisis of faith as the result of prolonged, bitter suffering. When good people (1:1, “those who fear God and shun evil”) suffer under circumstances beyond their control, they try diligently to understand why. “If God is so good, why am I suffering like this” (poverty, poor health, natural disasters….)?? Humanity then questions God’s power, justice and maybe his very existence. How can we contend with a God that we cannot see (Job 22:12-14)? Doesn’t he understand my situation? Are you really there, God?
Maybe we don’t really understand him. In ancient Israel, God was indisputably almighty as well as just. Certainly, it was human beings that were at fault. Thus, every person’s suffering was an indication of his/her guilt before a perfect God. We are all fatally flawed, and we cannot understand the ways of God, so the Israelites reasoned that human sin caused human suffering. The degree to which one suffered indicated the degree to which one had sinned (see Job 19:28; 20:27). If this were true, Job did a lot of sinning! But, the author of Job said, “No; not true.” It was this traditional theology of Job’s day that was rebuked by the author. He tells a story about human suffering, but he twists the ending. The character of Job is not a bad person, and God is not punishing him. The author encourages his readers, using a story to show what true godliness really is, and who God really is.
One more player is added to the story – Satan (2:6-8; 2:1-7). Satan is a great wedge between God and human beings. In the Hebrew language, “satan” means “the accuser,” or “the adversary” (always used with the article “the”). He is “the tempter” and his goal is to alienate people from God to the greatest extent possible. However, God testified to the righteousness of Job, as one who was “blameless and upright” (1:1; 2:3). As the story goes, Satan is given the power to inflict Job (1:12a; 2:3), but he had limitations (1:12b; 2:6). Satan suggests that the righteousness of Job (in which God delights) is really self-serving, and that given enough suffering, Job will curse God (1:11; 2:5).
In spite of everything, Job never did curse God. Imagine that. After all the personal tragedies, all the “friendly” advice and judgment, after all the mocking and terror, all the complaining and groaning, Job refused to profane God’s name. In the ancient days, blessings and curses had a kind of magical power. People thought that by pronouncing a curse on someone, they could bring down the power of the gods on that person (see 1 Sam 17:43). In effect, Job refused to recognize his power over God by cursing him. Furthermore, Job refused to curse Satan, recognizing that God’s power was ultimately greater than anything or anyone else.
For many people, the climax of the story is found in Job 19. Verses 19:23-27 may be the best known and loved passage in the Book of Job, because this is the high-point of the story. Chapter 19 details all of Job’s severe troubles: his physical, mental and emotional agony. Nevertheless, Job declared, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I, not another. How my heart yearns within me!”
This is Job’s confession of faith. Regardless of his circumstances, Job trusted God and had faith in God’s power. While his friends insisted on his hidden guilt and the impossibility of his reconciliation with God because of his sins, Job knew that he – yes, he, could be redeemed by God.
The word “redeemer” is fascinating. This is how Job understood God, and how we are to understand him. Christians celebrate redemption because of Jesus, the “Redeemer,” who gave his life to redeem us from our sins, guilt and judgment. The Hebrew word can also be translated as “Vindicator.” Job had the confidence that ultimately God would vindicate his faithful servants in the face of any and all false accusations. And finally, after Job’s life was ended, he knew that he would “see God” face-to-face, not because of who Job was, but because of who God is.
In Matthew’s Gospel we read, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (5:8). In the NT, “blessedness” is not the opposite of a curse – it is the crucial sense of well-being (“shalom”) and characteristic joy for those who are redeemed and restored by the grace of God.
Does the Lord Jesus appear in the OT? You bet. As the Redeemer, he is also the Defender (Pro 23:10-11), the Guardian, Protector and Vindicator of those who love and trust him. In the OT Book of Ruth, Boaz, the “redeemer-kinsman” (Hebrew, “go’el”) is a type, or a foreshadowing of Christ, as he voluntarily redeems the destitute women. The theme of this OT book is redemptive, messianic theology. Thus, Jesus is our “go’el”, the “Redeemer-Kinsman” of Christians. The idea of deliverance, restoration, release and reconciliation is apparent in the OT, even back to the time of the Egyptian Exodus. Redemption is a promise for individual people who follow God, both literally and metaphorically. It is also a promise for the collective nation which fears God!
And, the end of Job’s story is all about the magnificent glory, power and worthiness of God. Chapters 38-41 are beautiful, and are truly some of the finest poetry ever written. Yes, Job’s life was fully redeemed physically (Job 42:1-17), but only after he repented and came to the full understanding of who God is. Job prayed for his “miserable” friends, and the cosmic competition with Satan, the accuser, ended. God is not a punitive God; he does not “keep score” of our faults and make us suffer for our failings. He does not allow anyone to suffer without reason. However, the “why” of our suffering may not be totally clear in this life. Like Job, we must learn to trust him as a God who only does what is right and gracious and loving to all those who love and fear him:
“But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in the famine. We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you” (Psa 33:18-22). Amen.