I Know Job!
Our reading plan brings us out of the Old Testament books of history and into the first of the five Old Testament books of prophecy today. That first book is Job.
Now you may think you know Job. I certainly did when I read through the Bible for the first time as a 19-year-old. And I did know Job to some extent. I had heard his story taught in Sunday School many times. I knew that the man Job was at the center of some sort of contest between God and Satan, a contest which resulted in his losing his great wealthy, his family, and his body. I knew also that Job never cursed God during this contest and was ultimately rewarded with twice of everything that he had prior to the contest.
Or Do I Really?
What I didn’t know was that there was a whole lot more to the book of Job than that. I distinctly remember discovering this as a 19-year-old. I remember laying back on my parent’s couch to read Job for the first time and discovering with great surprise that it had 42 chapters. I remember this great surprise increasing when the part of Job I knew, the contest between God and Satan, was over by the end of chapter 2. “How can this book be so long?” I asked myself. “What’s in the rest of these chapters?”
That question was answered for me as I continued to read. I discovered these 40 other chapters contained a lengthy argument between Job, his three “friends” Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, a younger man named Elihu, and ultimately God Himself. This argument is carried out in a series of speeches or, more accurately, cycles of speeches between these characters. It is those speeches which make up the bulk of the book.
I didn’t understand those speeches when I first read them as a 19-year-old. I wasn’t even sure what they were. Days after reading Job, I asked a believing co-worker if the book was history or fiction. I thought it was possible that the book was simply a play with a meaning rather than a record of actual events.
Eyewitness to a Trial
Today, I’m still not sure I completely understand those speeches. I do believe they are historical. In fact, I believe Elihu wrote them down as they occurred. I believe that this argument was not just something that happened in the ruins of Job’s house, as my 19-year-old self originally thought, but was actually a trial carried out in public and witnessed by all the people in Job’s neighborhood (this sounds strange to us, but apparently this was something which happened in that ancient society, and there are remarks in Job which have led scholars to think that is exactly what is happening here). But I’m still not sure I completely understand them.
The Message of Job
What I do understand, though, is the main message of the book. And that main message may not be what you think it is. If you think the message of Job is that we should endure hardship without giving up or questioning God (as I once did and as it is taught in Sunday School), you are only partially correct. Job’s enduring of his hardship is the plot of the book, but it is not the story. The story is something even greater and grander. The story is not about Job but about God Himself.
We see this in the verses we read today. When Satan appears before God and God tells him about Job’s righteousness, Satan replies, “Does Job fear God for nothing?…Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” (Job 1:9-11)
God on Trial
To us, that may seem like a statement against Job; it may seem like Satan is questioning Job’s heart. But it is not. It is a statement against God. Satan is actually questioning if God is worth loving. No, not just questioning it. Denying it. Satan is literally saying that God is not worth loving, that humans love God not because of who God is but because of what God gives to them and would not love Him if He did not give to them.
That is what is really on trial in this book. Not Job or Job’s faithfulness or Job’s perseverance (although all those things are legitimately on display here and can be used to encourage us to be likewise faithful and persevere today), but God. God is the one who is really being tried here. God’s worthiness is what is really being questioned here. To appropriate a line from C. S. Lewis, Job is “God in the dock (that is, the defendant’s chair)”. And as we are going to see by the time we finish, it is also God being vindicated, God winning, God’s worthiness and loveableness being proven.