We often hear people ask, “If God is a God of love, why does He allow His people to suffer.” The book of Job gives us some insights into the life of Job, what was behind the trials he had to endure, and what others thought and how they reacted to his suffering. More importantly, we discover how Job himself handled a time of intense suffering as we observe his reactions and listen to what he said. Job And His Family First of all let’s look at Job himself to see what made him think and act the way he did. In the opening chapters we learn that Job was a man who feared and trusted God. This human interest story was one of the earliest Bible books written, and the fact that Job did not have the same knowledge of God that we have today gives us a deeper appreciation of his attitude and responses to the adverse circumstances in his life. Today, we have the complete Bible which opens to us fresh views of a loving Father who not only knows all about our trials, but also really cares about us in our times of need. Job’s knowledge of God was limited, but it was based on a profound trust that God was over all things, and that obedience to God, and genuine fear of God, were paramount.
Job was a caring family man. He had seven sons and three daughters who enjoyed being together. Their genuine companionship is a good indication that they had a happy and well-balanced home life. Even though they were adults, Job cared enough to offer extra sacrifices for them, just in case they had sinned by saying or thinking something blasphemous about God. While we can’t save any of our children, as God-fearing parents we should pray daily for them and bring them up in the fear of the Lord, so that they will grow to make good choices.
Job And Satan
As we read on in chapter 1 we learn of another set of circumstances in operation. We are taken behind the scenes to see the governmental dealings of God with the angelic hosts. The angels had to give an account of their activities before God. Even Satan and his demons had to present themselves and tell of their doings (Job 1:6). When Satan was questioned about his whereabouts, God asked him what he thought about the upright life of His faithful servant Job.
What follows helps us understand Satan and his schemes. While we do not want to become unduly occupied with Satan, we need to have some understanding of him so “that Satan might not outwit us,” and so that “we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11; Eph. 6:11 NIV). From the book of Job we get insights into Satan’s activities, but we also learn that God puts binding restrictions upon him. Satan responded to God’s question by stating that Job only feared God because Satan could not get near him. He knew that God had put a hedge of protection around Job and God was honored by Job’s life. Satan challenged God to take away His protection so that he could attempt to break Job and turn him against God. God responded to that challenge by allowing Satan to touch Job’s possessions, but limited Satan so that he could not touch Job himself.
What we see in this situation is a one-sided battle in which God knew Job’s heart and just how far his faith would go, while Satan thought he could bring Job under his control through devastation, loss of wealth, and depression. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13). Job did not know this verse, but we have it to show that God knows just how far we can go before caving in. It’s good to notice from the verse above that God not only knows our limits, but also has promised to provide a way out of every trial and temptation.
Satan’s first attempt to break Job’s faith in God began by causing marauding Sabeans to steal all his donkeys and kill his servants, except one who would bring this bad news. This was followed by another survivor who came to tell how a horrific electrical storm, described as “fire of God,” had burned up all his sheep and servants. If this weren’t enough, another came with news that the Chaldeans had killed his servants and carried off his camels. The ultimate blow came shortly after, with news that all his sons and daughters, who had been eating together in the oldest brother’s home, were killed by a tornado.
Can you imagine the anguish Job experienced as his work animals (donkeys), his food and clothing, sheep and wool, marketing and business transport (camels) had been taken? He was now totally ruined and bankrupt. But wait, that’s not all! His children were killed. Grief over the death of one loved one is heavy enough, but to lose ten children in one day! I don’t think anyone reading this can say that they are suffering, or have suffered, to that extent.
At this point we begin to learn of Job’s unwavering faith. All this tragedy fell on him in one day and his response was: “‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.’ In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (Job 1:20-22). I recently heard a man say, “I was so angry at God when my mother died.” This is the reaction many have when a loved one dies unexpectedly. However, for believers walking with the Lord, even though there might be confusion along with the pain of loss, knowing that God is in control of all the circumstances helps us submit to Him and trust Him in every situation, so that as we work through our grief we can glorify God by our attitude and actions.
Job had no idea that all these disasters were satanic attacks and that his reactions would either bring glory or dishonor to God. Later, Satan was called to give account, and God manifested His delight in Job’s steadfast faith by asking Satan again: “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited Me against him to ruin him without any reason” (2:3). In the midst of depression, Job had no idea that God was proud of him. Think about this if you are going through some trial today.
Satan responded that Job was only interested in his own well being, and again challenged God to let him touch Job himself. Letting him do this would give Satan the opportunity to afflict Job with bodily suffering, assuming that this would cause Job to curse God. God again gave permission to allow Satan to work against Job, with a well-defined restriction that he could not take his life.
This time Satan instigated terrible physical suffering with painful boils from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Can you imagine Job’s pain as he sat in ashes scraping open the boils with a piece of pottery, seeking to get some relief? There were no antibiotics in those days!
Job’s wife worsened the situation by telling him to curse God and die, rather than ministering to his needs and comforting him. A godly wife or husband should play a positive role in helping when the spouse is discouraged or sick, and shouldn’t make matters worse by harsh criticism or lack of loving concern. Ecclesiastes says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! … Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Eccl. 4:9-12).
Job And His Friends
At this point we enter into a lengthy dialogue between Job and his three “friends” who came to “comfort” him. They tried to get Job to admit to some secret sin, believing that God was punishing him for some evil he had committed, and that he was covering up through intellectual debate done in a spirit of pride and egotism.
Job’s friends said a lot that is true about human nature and even about God, but they failed to see that Job’s troubles were not caused by his sin. Instead, there was a spiritual battle going on in heaven, and Job was the target. They totally misapplied their wisdom and accusations, and rather than helping, their harsh words and critical spirit had the opposite effect, further exacerbating the situation. Their actions should teach us not to judge those who suffer.
It is true that some suffering is a result of sin, but when that sin is known it should be repented of so that fellowship with God can be restored. For example, after David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then murdered her husband, he was estranged from God, depressed, and sick. Psalms 32 and 51 tell us what he felt and how he dealt with his sin. Also, in the early Church, some were abusing the Lord’s table by eating in a way that resulted in sickness and even death (1 Cor. 11:29-30). When sin is known it should be confessed and judged so that fellowship with God can be restored (1 Jn. 1:8-9).
However, as Job shows us, not all sickness and trials are the result of personal sins. Usually they are a natural part of life because we live in decaying bodies affected by sin, and we also live in a sin-sick world. We need to understand that at times there are Satanic attacks against believers, and for this reason we need to put on the whole armor of God so that we can stand against these attacks (Eph. 6:10-18). Satan would love to destroy all believers, because those who stand for God are lights in a dark world. And as light we have a definite effect against darkness and corruption. Whenever we suffer we should seek to stand for God so that He’ll be honored and glorified by our witness to others who will see our steadfastness and be influenced by our faithfulness (Mt. 5:16).
Job was steadfast in his faith. Even though he couldn’t understand why he was under such pressure, he never doubted God. Even though Job wished he had never been born, and wanted to ask God why He allowed so much suffering, he did not shake his fist in God’s face, or deny that God is over all.
Job was submissive to God. In spite of all his loss, he stated: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, may the name of the Lord be praised” (1:21). He recognized the fact that he had no claim to anything material in this life. All that he had came from God and was God’s: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart” (1:21). It’s important for us not to become so attached to material things that they become gods in our life. Jesus said that we couldn’t serve both God and money (Mt. 6:24). And Paul stated that godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Tim. 6:6).
Job maintained his integrity, fearing God and shunning evil. In spite of the trials and accusations of his friends, Job did not cave in to wrong advice. Neither did he take punitive action against those who were slandering him. He stated his case and continued to seek knowledge as to what God was doing in his life and how he should react. In his own defense, it was obvious that Job had no idea that it was Satan and not God who had caused all his grief. Needless to say, Job came to know God in a much deeper way than he ever could have imagined, because he submitted to and accepted all that was happening as part of God’s plan.
Job And God
God made Himself known to Job and his friends, speaking of things that revealed Him as the Almighty Creator, and causing them to bow in acknowledgement of His sovereignty (Job 38-40). Job, who earlier had a lot to say in self-defense, humbly replied to God: “I am unworthy – how can I reply to You? I put my hand over my mouth” (40:4). While God recognized Job as blameless and upright (1:8), Job still had many lessons to learn about God’s greatness and power, and went on to say, “My ears had heard of You, but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (42:5-6).
When we begin to understand the holiness, power and greatness of God, we begin to have more understanding of our own sinfulness and frailty. One of the results of gaining deeper knowledge of a Holy God will be that we’ll want to bow and worship a loving God who would condescend to receive sinners such as us.
It would be good for us to follow Job’s example when trials come, and we can do this by maintaining spiritual integrity in all of life’s circumstances. We need to acknowledge God’s sovereignty in these situations, knowing that He loves us. When God allows a trial it is either a natural part of living, or an attack from the enemy who constantly seeks to destroy our testimony and dishonor God. When we stand firm and depend on God, He is honored by our constancy.
When we experience trials, like Job we too can gain a deeper knowledge of God’s strength and care. When we lean on Him and allow Him to order our steps He’ll guide us through every difficult circumstance. We should always remember that Satan can never go beyond what God allows. So we should always look to God for His strength, comfort and direction in every trial. “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Ps. 18:2).
By Ian Taylor
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org