Thursday, July 31, 2003

Job: The Court in Heaven

Yesterday I wrote of Job's character. The Lord, Himself, declared that there was no one on the face of the earth with the moral character of Job. Furthermore, in terms of status and possessions, Job was the greatest of all the people in the east. These facts drive the message and drama of this book.

No sooner have we met this man, Job, than his fortunes begin to change.

Now the day came when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord—and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” And Satan answered the Lord, “From roving about on the earth, and from walking up and down in it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a pure and upright man, one who fears God and turns away from evil.” Then Satan answered the Lord , “Is it for nothing that Job fears God? Have you not made 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 cattle have increased in the land. But extend your hand and strike everything he has, and he will indeed curse you to your face!” So the Lord said to Satan, “All right then, everything he has is in your power. Only do not extend your hand against the man himself!” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. (Job 1:6-12, The Net Bible)

This is an intriguing passage. In it, we are given information that Job never receives. In particular, we must note that when the Lord later addresses Job (Chapter 38-41), He never mentions this event. As important as this encounter is between God and Satan, it had no bearing on what God wanted to accomplish in Job's life. Indeed, I have concluded that such knowledge would have interfered His purposes.

The sovereignty of God is one of the great themes in Job. Read the above passage carefully. Who initiates and who responds? Who has authority? Who is in control? The answer, of course, is the Lord. From His opening challenge, "Where have you come from?" to His final, "Do not extend your hand against the man himself," the Lord is Master. Some have said that He is drawing out Satan, but I disagree. The Lord is directing Satan towards a conclusion that fits His purposes for Job's life! The Lord asks, "Have you considered my servant Job...," knowing what effect such a question would have. God knew how Satan would respond to this question. God knew and He wanted that response.

Does such a conclusion surprise you? It shouldn't. As the story of Job unfolds, you will see that the Lord saw a small change in the heart of Job and moved to counter it. Satan was His foil for the task. Do not make the mistake of thinking that Satan ruined Job. Look at Satan's request, "But extend your hand and strike everything he has." Satan did not say, "Let me strike everything that Job has." Rather he requested, "Extend your hand." The Lord directed Satan to do the deed, but in chapter 2 assumed all responsibility for the destruction:

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a pure and upright man, one who fears God and turns away from evil. And he still holds firmly his integrity, so that you stirred me up to destroy him without reason.” (Job 2:3)

So the first real lesson that we can glean from Job is that God is Sovereign over His creation. He initiated the exchange with Satan and placed strict limits on what Satan could and could not do.

The other lesson, which is hardly obvious now, is that the Lord was acting from a motivation of mercy. If this were not so, this pure, upright, god fearing, turning from evil man would not find final consolation in the words, "I repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:6) 

Satan challenged, "Is it for nothing that Job fears God? ... strike everything he has, and he will indeed curse you to your face?" Are we to think the Lord so arbitrary that He would accede to such a request without His own higher motives? Did He have any doubts about the outcome? No: the Lord was even at the beginning seeing the end of the book.

But for Job a dark time was about to begin:

Now the day came when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and a messenger came to Job, saying, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys grazing beside them, and the Sabaeans swooped down and carried them all away, and they killed the servants with the sword! And I—only I alone—escaped to tell you!”

While this one was still speaking, another messenger arrived and said, “The fire of God has fallen from heaven and has burned up the sheep and the servants—it has consumed them! And I—only I alone—escaped to tell you!”

While this one was still speaking another messenger arrived and said, “The Chaldeans formed three bands and made a raid on the camels and carried them all away, and they killed the servants with the sword! And I—only I alone—escaped to tell you!”

While this one was still speaking another messenger arrived and said, “Your sons and your daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and suddenly there came a great wind across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they died! And I—only I alone—escaped to tell you!”

Then Job got up and tore his robe. He shaved his head, and then he fell down to the ground with his face to the ground. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will return there. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. May the name of the Lord be blessed!” In all this Job did not sin, nor did he charge God with moral impropriety. (Job 1:13-22)

The intensity of this onslaught is horrifying. The repeated phrase "While this one was still speaking..." hammers away and we know that Job had no time to comprehend one tragedy before news of the next arrived. The foreshadowing of the line, "Now the day came when his sons and daughters ..." creates a tension all the while we are told of loss after loss. What about the children we ask until we learn that they too have perished. Two of the catastrophes came from bands of men and two came from heaven.

Satan waited for the curse and Job spoke blessing instead. In this we see the moral strength and the faith of Job. He had endured great loss, but blessed the name of the Lord. Smaller men and women have done less.

But the Lord had only just begun His work.

Friday: Appealing the Verdict

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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