Friday, August 01, 2003

Job: Appealing the Verdict

This is an ongoing series of essays on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning. At the end of each essay there is a link to the next.

Chapter 1 ended with Job blessing the name of the Lord after the brutal destruction and seizure of his children and business property. In this, job showed great discernment and faith. Faith in God and, perhaps, faith in himself. I will speculate some here. In the introduction to Job, I offered evidence that Job was a self-made man. More than one businessman has faced the loss of all things and recovered. Job was the kind that would do it again if at all possible. He probably would have had help. He faced no more than an temporary setback.

It is gratifying to see that Job did not define himself in terms of his wealth. That, of course, is part of being pure, upright, god-fearing, and one who turns from evil. Job defined his life in reference to his God. 

Satan, who had bet that Job would curse the Lord to His face, lost a round. But, then the day came when the court in heaven convened again:

Again the day came when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. And the Lord said to Satan, “Where do you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roving about on the earth, and from walking up and down in it.” 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.” But Satan answered the Lord, “Skin for skin! Indeed, a man will give up all that he has to save his life! But extend your hand and strike his bone and his flesh, and he will indeed curse you to your face!” So the Lord said to Satan, “All right, he is in your power; only preserve his life.” (Job 2:1-6,  The Net Bible)

As before, the Lord completely controlled the exchange between Himself and Satan. He initiated the conversation, "Where do you come from?" and channeled the conversation according to His own ends, "Have you considered my servant Job?" The Lord proclaimed the verdict of the test, "He still holds firmly his integrity, so that you you stirred me up to destroy him without reason." The Lord said in effect that Job had blessed rather than curse. There is still no one like him on earth. 

I have already pointed out that the book of Job is, in part, about God's sovereignty. In the first court encounter, Satan asked the Lord to "put forth your hand now and touch all that he has." He did not ask, "Let me put forth my hand and touch all that he has." In this second exchange, the Lord accepts responsibility for destroying Job. The Lord did not say, "even though you destroyed him without cause." This makes perfect sense. If Satan could do nothing without the Lord's permission, then anything the Lord permitted is from the Lord regardless of the mediator. Later on, Job would say:

“It is all one; therefore I say, ‘He destroys the guiltless and the wicked.’ If the scourge kills suddenly, He mocks the despair of the innocent. The earth is given into the hand of the wicked; He covers the faces of its judges. If it is not He, then who is it?" (Job 9:22-24)

At this point, you should have a better feel for what Job is about. This is why the mainly unread chapters are so important. Was Job correct in his assessment? Is God the source of evil in the world? If so, what does this tell us about God? The dramatic movement in the main section of Job is to raise these questions in their full force.

In any case, once again Satan asked, "Skin for skin! Indeed a man will give up all that he has to save his life! But extend your hand and strike his bone and his flesh, and he will indeed curse you to your face!" Satan asked the Lord to strike Job and the Lord gave Satan the authority to strike. But He again restricted the scope, "Preserve his life." This last bit was highly ironic. As the horrors of the disease gripped him, Job wished and prayed for death to come over and over. Indeed, I can imagine Satan responding to "Preserve his life" saying to himself, "Just what I was thinking."

Poor Satan. These past two days the story of the white witch in C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe has been popping into my head. In this short novel, the white witch invoked the "deep magic from the dawn of time" by which if she did not have the now repentant Edmund as a human sacrifice, all the land of Narnia would perish. That deep magic was built into Narnia by its Creator-the Emperor Across the Seas. The lion, Aslan, offers himself instead and thereby invoked the "deeper magic from before the dawn of time" by which his death was reversed. By analogy, Satan was all about whether Job could be brought to the point of cursing the Lord to His face. The Lord was interested in deeper things, the unfolding of which will occupy the rest of the book.

So Job lost his health in a horrible way. As Job progresses we get more and more details about his condition:

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and he afflicted Job with a malignant ulcer from the sole of his feet to the top of his head. Job took a shard of broken pottery to scrape himself with while he was sitting among the ashes. (Job 2:7-8)

But when they gazed intently from a distance but could not recognize him, they began to weep loudly. Each of them tore his robes, and they threw dust into the air over their heads. (Job 2:12)

My body is clothed with worms and dirty scabs; my skin is broken and festering. (Job 7:5)

My breath is repulsive to my wife; I am loathsome to my brothers. Even youngsters have scorned me; when I get up, they scoff at me. All my closest friends detest me; and those whom I love have turned against me. My bones stick to my skin and my flesh; I have escaped alive with only the skin of my teeth. (Job 19:17-20)

My skin has turned dark on me; my body is hot with fever. (Job 30:30)

Job had that kind of skin disease that excludes you from polite society. Job sat "among ashes" not because that is all that was left of his house. He was outside the city where the citizens burned their trash and dumped their garbage. What ever hope Job might have had for rebuilding his life was gone. The greatest in the east was now the least of all. His wife, eager to move on to new life, was the first to make a suggestion:

Then his wife said to him, “Are you still holding firmly to your integrity? Curse God, and die!” But he replied, “You are speaking like one of the godless women would speak! Should we receive what is good from God, and not also receive what is evil?” In all this Job did not sin by what he said. (Job 2:9-10)

Now we can note some subtle change in Job. When he had lost his property and children, he had blessed the name of the Lord. The Hebrew here for Lord is YHWH, God's personal name. It is the Name always used to denote God's covenant relationship with His people. Disease stricken, Job said, "Should we receive what is good from God, and not also what is evil?" He does not appeal to the name. It is the difference between someone referring to me as "Don" or "that man." Job has distanced himself from the Lord. Job spoke correctly maybe even religiously about the new circumstances, but something was happening to his heart. We are told that "Job did not sin by what he said." Somewhat different from saying, "Job did not sin."

The Stage is Set

The greatest man in the east, the one about whom the Lord said, "There is no one like him on earth." has been crushed to the point of death. We know how the Lord views him, but he does not. We know about the exchange between the Lord and Satan. Job does not. The righteous man is suffering in a bad and hopeless way.

However, even knowing the exchange between the Lord and Satan is not especially satisfying. Is the lot of mankind nothing but pawns in a verbal game between two heavenly beings? I do not think so.

For Job, each day was another day of pain without improvement. Perhaps he thought things could not possibly get worse.

He was wrong.

Monday: Three Friends

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


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