1. THE SETTING
The time and place of the events recorded in Job are important to our understanding and appreciation of the significance of those events.
We don't know the location of Job's home and should emphasize the fact that Job could have lived any place in the East and could represent any man that has been well-blessed of God. He may or may not have lived in an area that God later gave to Israel but knowing for certain where he lived wouldn't help our understanding of the book.
There are several indications that the time period was before God established the Old Testament with Israel. There is no mention of the tabernacle, the temple or the Levitical priests. Job offered only the sacrifice known as the burnt offering and the only sin he seemed to consider was the worst: blaspheming God.
2. THE BURNT OFFERING
Even though most of the sacrifices were at least partly burned on an altar, there was one class of offerings that is referred to as the burnt offering and the procedures for making burnt offerings are related in the first chapter of Leviticus. The burnt offering is the only sacrifice mentioned before God gave the Ten Commandments through Moses and the rest of the offerings were described in subsequent scriptures.
As far as the record goes, Job didn't make burnt offerings for himself. He offered for his sons in case they had cursed God in their hearts. There are at least two errors in Job's reason for offering the sacrifices. There is no indication that any sacrifice was to appease God and God didn't instruct his people to make offerings on behalf of other people except for certain ones offered by the Levitical priests.
The description of the burnt offering in the first chapter of Leviticus doesn't include the word sin (or trespass). In order to understand the typology of the burnt offering, we have to know the true meaning of the phrase of his own voluntary will in Lev. 1:3 of the Authorized Version. And, according to Strong's Hebrew Dictionary, the primary meaning of the word is acceptable or acceptance. In this context, the proper translation is for his acceptance. In other words, the burnt offering was the method God had prescribed for performing acceptable worship before he instituted the Old Testament. The point of all this is that an offering in worship and thanksgiving is not comparable to an offering made to appease a vengeful God.
In the New Testament, we find such passages as Hebrews 12:28 that speaks of serving God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. So, God's acceptance of worship through the burnt offering is a shadow of God's acceptance of our worship through preaching the good that God has promised in Christ.
3. WHY JOB SUFFERED
Most commentaries present the book of Job as an example of God's rewarding people for remaining faithful while he allows them to suffer so that he can reward them. But, those commentaries fail to provide any scriptures that would support such a view. Satan's proposition that Job would curse God if God quit protecting him doesn't mean that was why God allowed Satan to harm him. And, it doesn't mean that God allowed Job to go through tribulation so that he could reward him when he proved to be faithful.
There are several passages in the New Testament stating that Christians will suffer persecution in this life and we will have glorified bodies in the resurrection, but we aren't promised those bodies contingent on our having to suffer. We will receive glorified bodies because God has redeemed us from the curse on our earthly bodies due to Adam's sin and we put our faith in the promises of God.
In Job 19:25, Job said I know that my redeemer liveth. He further said that in my flesh shall I see God. Taking those two statements together, we should realize that at some point Job saw that his resurrection will be because of God's redemption. And, implied is Job's realization that the burnt offering was to praise God for his redemption but not to effect that redemption for him or anyone else.
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In order to understand why Job suffered, we need to consider God's comments after the four "miserable comforters" had spoken. God didn't say you've passed my test so now I'm going to reward you. He did say to three of the men, ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath. And, by comparing Job's apparent attitude in the first chapter concerning the burnt offering to his statement in the nineteenth chapter about his redeemer, we should be able to discern the reason why God allowed Job to suffer: so that he could learn something. Further, the severity of Job's suffering should cause readers to realize the importance of our understanding the attributes and works of God. Thank God we have the example of Job so we can profit from his experience.
Job said in verses 5 and 6 of chapter 42,
I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.
Job had seen the power of God displayed in creation, so hearing God speak from a whirlwind probably wouldn't be enough to make him say now mine eye seeth thee. He meant that God had opened his spiritual eyes and he now could begin to appreciate the majesty and goodness of God. God had called Job his servant since chapter 1, so this isn't an example of a lost sinner's being saved. Job was expressing what many believers feel as they learn about the nature of God either through the study of his word or by hard experience. Job learned the painful way.
Let's consider an implication of God's statement ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right. God said to the three men, in polite terms, that they had lied about him by expressing their misconceptions. They had said in several different ways that God deals with us strictly according to our works and Job seemed to think that his offerings were protecting his sons from a God of vengeance. The difference between Job and the others is that Job sought to worship God even though he was confused about the meaning of the mode of worship that was acceptable at the time. There is no indication that Job's friends had tried to approach God in worship and God didn't refer to them as his servants. It must have been a blow to their egos when God instructed them to ask Job to pray as their intercessor after they had spoken many words to accuse Job of being the worst kind of scoundrel. And, God gave no guarantee that he wouldn't deal with them severely if they didn't get their thinking straight.
God did use Satan's lack of regard for Job's capacity for perserverance to show that God-given faith is sufficient for any situation. But, that doesn't mean that such a result has to be the reason why God allowed Satan to afflict Job. And, we can be grateful for the reassurance that the faith God has given us is sufficient for any circumstances that we might face.
4. THE MAIN THEME
The words of men make up almost all of thirty-five of the forty-two chapters in the book of Job. Of the thirty-five, twenty consist of the words of Job. Considering God's statement about the words spoken by Job's visitors, perhaps the most obvious conclusion is that some untrue statements are included in the Bible and we need to consider the context in order to determine whether words spoken by a man are true or not. But, we don't need fifteen chapters of hot air to let us know that.
The discourses of Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and Elihu are instructive because we can relate them to most of what ignorant people believe about God today. And, they are a pattern for what many people today believe about why some of God's people are suffering. Eliphaz implies that Job is secretely wicked by saying that wicked people are always punished in this life. Bildad calls Job a hypocrite. Zophar calls him a hypocrite and a liar. Elihu says that Job claims to be more righteous than God.
Eliphaz feels superior because he thinks he had a personal visit from God in a vision as many people now think that they get direct revelations from God even though we have the entire revealed word of God in written form. Eliphaz was convinced that experience is more important than logic in understanding God. He also thought that God's angels protect only those that are completely righteous and the righteous receive only blessing.
Bildad informs Job that God blesses the righteous when they request blessings and he seems to think that reciting of proverbs is what afflicted people need.
Immediately after Job speaks of his redeemer and the certainty of the future judgement by God, Zophar says in verse 2 of chapter 20, Therefore do my thoughts cause me to answer, and for this I make haste. Could it be that Zophar wasn't listening? Maybe he and many other people are so consumed by their own thoughts and imaginations that they have not time for the truth about God.
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The Lesson Of Job (cont)
Elihu claims the right to speak for God because he, being a man, has the God-given breath of life but doesn't explain why Job wouldn't have the same assumed right. He thinks, as Job apparently did, that God blesses people only as a reward for their being righteous. And, he thinks that God micro-manages the universe instead of having established physical laws and then putting his creation under a curse because of Adam's sin. Job, before he was afflicted, demonstrated that he believed God operates on a reward and punishment basis. By chapter 19 he had realized that, not only is the creation under God's curse, God himself would one day fully redeem his accursed creation along with all that put their trust in God's promises. But, Job's miserable comforters didn't seem to get the message as of the end of the narrative.
We probably shouldn't be so hard on those men because they didn't have the written word of God that we have. The sad part is that many people today have similar, if not the same, delusions because they don't put forth much effort to study that written word. Many people seem to think of studying as finding passages, verses or parts of verses that might be referenced as support for their preconceived notions.
The book of Job contains a stark comparison of the truth about God with the endless jabbering of self-centered, greedy men. God has provided us with a library of sixty-six books that we should study for what it is: the very revealed word of God. If we treat that library as a decoration for a table (or a book shelf or a desk or a pulpit, etc.), we'll probably be among those doing the jabbering.
The experiences of Job can be very instructive for those that refuse to accept the popular opinion as to what Job's afflictions are intended to teach. In James 5:11 we read,
Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.
And, most people seem to remember only the phrase patience of Job from that verse. However, Job was more than a little bit impatient and his patience consisted of holding to his faith in God without sinning. If we remember only the phrase patience of Job, we miss the point.
James didn't write that Job was rewarded for not sinning, but that God had ended his suffering by blessing him out of compassion and mercy. But, the only way God's actions could be understood as being compassionate or merciful would be to realize that God relieved the suffering after Job had gone through what God knew was necessary to get Job's attention. We can't infer from Job's experience that God will bless us with material riches after we learn where our thinking is wrong, but we can say that an improved understanding of God and his works is a blessing well worth seeking. It might be that God chose to do more than restore Job's previous material wealth so that we could see that Job was reconciled to God in an even closer relationship than before his suffering. Compare Job with the prodigal child of whom Jesus spoke in the parable of the three lost things. Even though the prodigal one was a grown man when he left his father's house, he was emotionally a child. After he saw his own sorry condition and repented, his father welcomed him as a son.
James didn't intend to praise Job, but to declare that the Lord is good. And, as Job learned, God blesses us in a cursed world because of his goodness, not because of our goodness or patience. Jesus settled any question about conditional blessings in Matthew 5:44,45:
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."
These days there are many people peddling God's word. That is, they are selling information that purportedly is derived from the Bible and that will give the buyers a quick path to material blessings. However, Jesus said in Matthew 6:33,
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
As the previous verses indicate, he was speaking of the basic necessities of physical life. We shouldn't expect great material wealth as a reward for serving or just being patient. It is our great privilege to have God accept our praise for his goodness.
As Paul wrote in Phillipians 3:7,8,
But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ....
May God bless us with the attitude of Paul without having us go through the sufferings of Job or of Paul.