Introducing The Book
Today we begin our study of the book of Job. The book of Job is a fairly neglected book. I should clarify what I mean by that. Chapters 1,2, and 42 are frequently read but the other 39 chapters are regularly ignored. I know I have personally made this mistake. We know there is a reason why these 38 chapters are in the book. We deeply shortchange the book when we summarize the book as simply Job losing everything but getting it all back at the end. This is truly not the message of the book at all. There is a reason why this is a long book. Any summary study of just three chapters is completely insufficient. At minimum, the size of the book of Job is showing us that answers are not fast nor easy when it comes to the topic of suffering and God’s authority over these things. It is a long book because it invites the audience to reflect on the answers it gives. The issue of suffering and the questions that suffering raises about God cannot be resolved with cliche answers or a postcard summary. Trying to take such shortcuts defeats the purpose of a deliberately long book like Job. The book does not arrive at simple conclusions or easy answers, which you notice when you read through the book. Rather, the book explores the process of loss and grief, the reworking of faith, and the transformation of Job in the process. This gives us our first lens for the book. We need to read the book truthfully, honestly, and fully with the expectation that our faith will be torn down and built back up. Our easy answers to suffering and God will be dismantled by this book. We need to be ready to be made uncomfortable by what the book teaches. We need to be ready to change our thinking about suffering and God as we read this book. We do not need to defend God but must listen to what God is telling us.
The second lens is the kind of book this is. Notice where the book of Job is located in the Old Testament. It is located among the wisdom books. Not only is this book considered wisdom literature, but you will notice that this is not a history book. Turn to chapter 3 and notice in your scriptures how the format of the text block changes. From Job 3:1 to 42:6 you will see that the text is indicating Hebrew poetry. Almost the whole book is written in poetry. Only the first two chapters and the very end of the book are written in prose. This is not book of history as if you were reading Genesis or 1 & 2 Kings. You are to read this book of Job like you were reading the Psalms or Lamentations. It is poetry. This is why we see these cycles of speeches in the book. You are reading poetry.
The third lens is important before we encounter this book. The book does not tell us why Job or any of us suffer. Do not come into this book thinking all of your answers about suffering will be solved. They will not be. The book of Job does tell us about how we should think about God when we are suffering, which is really what we need to know. The purpose of the book is to explore God’s policies with regard to suffering in the world, especially when the righteous or innocent suffer. This book will revolutionize our thinking about God and the way he runs the world. The book will shift our thinking from the way we likely think God runs the world to the actual way he runs the world. We will encounter these answers as we study through the book. Ultimately we will see that the way God operates the world is more complicated than people can imagine and God’s way cannot be reduced to a simple formula or principle. For now, we will leave the introduction to these concepts. We will offer for introductory concepts as we are introduced to various characters in the text and the declarations they make.
The Setting (1:1)
The book opens with a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. The land of Uz is important for the setting of the book. This is not happening in Israel. This is not a message to Israel only. The book is a universal book written to all people for all time about the problem of suffering and how God runs the world. There is nothing in this book that we will say, “This point only applies to Israel and the laws it was governed by under the Law of Moses.” Sometimes we rightly say this when we are looking at the prophets or some of the historical promises God made to Israel. But not this book of Job. It is written to all people for all times in all places.
The Man (1:1, 4-5)
Next, the text wants to emphasize the righteousness of Job. Job was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” Job is a man who is wholeheartedly trying to please God. He has integrity. He is not false or hypocritical in his faith. Not only was Job personally upright, he also was concerned about the righteousness of others. He offered burnt offerings on behalf of his children in case they had sinned in their lives. Job takes the initiative in spiritual leadership. The point of the text is not to analyze the righteousness of Job and explain all he was doing. The point of the text is to emphasize that what is about to happen to him is not because of personal sins. There is nothing more that we should do with what is recorded about the righteousness of Job. Sin is not the reason for the suffering of Job. Or, to state this point more accurately, Job is not the one on trial. Job is a man of complete integrity. This is a key foundation to the book of Job.
The Blessings (1:2-3)
The other important point about the life of Job is to know that God has richly blessed him. Job is rich. He is the greatest person in all the east. He has 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys. Not only this, but he also had 7 sons and 3 daughters. We need to see that these are full, perfect numbers. The number 7 and the number 3 are perfect and complete numbers and these numbers add up to 10, which is another complete number. You will also notice that the text does not say that he had these ten children but “there were born to him” these children, indicating how God had blessed him with these children. This is what we would call the ideal family.
This is the obvious message that is not so obvious in the religious world or in society. Righteous people suffer. Joseph suffered unjustly. Daniel and his three friends suffered for righteousness’ sake. All of the prophets of God suffered for God’s sake. All of the apostles suffered for the sake of Jesus. Stephen suffered and was killed for preaching the gospel. The ultimate example is Jesus who suffered and lived a perfect life. Sin is not absolute reason for suffering. You do not have to do something wrong to suffer. Suffering does not mean you have sinned. Jesus clearly taught this truth to his disciples.
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:1–3 ESV)
Notice that the assumption is sin for the suffering this man has experienced. But consider that Jesus nullifies that way of thinking. This man did not sin. His parents did not sin. No one sinned that made this man blind. Being born with a disability or experiencing physical suffering in life does not mean that someone sinned.
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:1–4 ESV)
Jesus makes the same point in John 11. Lazarus did not sin so that he died early in life. Mary and Martha did not sin so that Lazarus died. Jesus said, “It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Notice that Jesus addressed this in Luke 13 also.
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1–5 ESV)
Again, the implication is that those who were killed by Pilate must have been worse sinners than those who were not killed. Jesus again dismantles that kind of thinking completely. They were not worse sinners. But Jesus uses this to remind the people to be prepared in their lives through repentance or else they will suffer the judgment of God.
So this is the message that we must learn and repeat to ourselves again and again. You cannot look at your life circumstances and determine that suffering means you have sinned. God did not establish a life principle that says that if you suffer, you must have sinned. The book of Job starts us with his righteous life so that we would clearly see that this is not how God ordered the universe. Job 2:3 makes this truth even more clear when God says that Job was afflicted “without reason” or “without cause.” So often we want to assume that suffering means sin was committed. Yet we are taught here in these first few verses of Job that our suffering does not equate to a hard fast rule that you must have sinned. Jesus, the perfect and sinless Son of God, suffered and died. You cannot look at his life and say that this is the reason for his suffering and death — he committed this sin. This is not how God runs the world. May we never tell other people that their suffering is certainly caused because of their sins. May we not think in our own lives that if we have suffered that sin must be the cause of that suffering.