I believe that the book of Job was written with the knowledge in mind that its first readers held to what today we would refer to as “prosperity theology,” the idea that God wants us to be rich, that if one lives a godly life he will prosper and if one doesn’t live a godly life he will suffer. Job and his three friends seem to agree on this philosophy.
If we put ourselves in the place of those who were reading the book for the first time, we would assume from the first few verses, that this is the author’s stance. We are told that Job was “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil” (1:1). Then we are told that he had seven sons, three daughters, a plethora of sheep, camels, oxen, donkeys and servants and that he was “greater than all the sons of the east” (1:2, 3).
Of course, we would expect a man of Job’s character to be wealthy; after all, isn’t this what was promised in the Bible?
“How happy is the man who fears the LORD …
His descendants will be mighty in the land …”
Wealth and riches are in his house …” (Psalm 112:1-3).
“How happy are all those who fear the LORD,
Who walk in His ways” (Psalm 128:1).
The story seems to be going the way we would expect. Job is an example of that “happy” man, of the truth of God’s promise. But then we get a glimpse into heaven, into the workings of God, and we find out that these “promises” don’t always come (or at least, continue) true. We see a meeting between the LORD and Satan, the Adversary, an angelic being opposed to the LORD and Job. The LORD brags on Job, using the same words that we see in verse 1.
Satan argues with the LORD that it’s not the way we might think. It’s not that God blesses Job because Job fears Him; it’s rather, he asserts, the other way around! Job fears God because God blesses Him! That’s a big difference. God has purchased Job’s loyalty. This is an attack on the character of God, rather than the character of Job. Take away the blessings, says Satan, and instead of fearing God, Job will curse Him. The LORD takes the challenge and gives Satan free reign to put his hypothesis to the test. A cosmic bet!
But Job has no idea of the heavenly events, of the workings of God; he hasn’t a clue. There follows a series of horrid events, occurring in rapid succession, in which all of Job’s possessions, even his children, are taken away. Prosperity theology has failed him!
So what does Job do? He goes through the rituals of mourning – tears his clothes, shaves his head and falls to the ground in grief. We can picture him lying there before the rubble in his agony. But then we are told that he “worshipped.” We can almost hear his words (1:21):
“I came naked from my mother’s womb,
And naked I shall return.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away.
Blessed is the Name of the LORD!”
We might have reacted differently, but we’re told that “Job didn’t sin nor put the blame on God” (at least not yet).
Then a second heavenly bet – same dialog – only this time Satan is permitted to “touch” Job with anything short of taking his life. Satan hits Job with a horrible skin disease (much greater then “boils” as it’s called in the King James Version). We get descriptions of the symptoms throughout the book: loss of appetite (3:24); worm-eaten, hardened and oozing skin (7:5); breathing problems (9:18); decaying, putrid flesh (13:28); pain, exhaustion, weight loss (16:6-8) and more (16:13; 18:13; 19:17, 20; 30:17, 18, 30; 33:19-22). The sight of Job would be repulsive to us.
Again, Job reacts in faith. Mrs. Job begs him to “curse God and die!” (I believe this was a cry of loving despair; in modern terms, “pull the plug.”) But Job answers her with words of faith: “You’re talking like a fool! Should we accept good from God and not accept evil?”
We are assured again that Job still “didn’t sin with his lips.”
Contrary to our way of thinking, it is not Job’s suffering that calls into question the character of God, it is Job’s blessings – his “prosperity”! Satan accuses God of being a sort of doting old grandfather who has to buy his grandchildren’s love. The “bet” seems concerned more with who God is, than with who Job is.
And even though Job has no idea of the events in heaven, he appears to have some understanding that what is happening is more about God than him.
We’ve seen similar scenes of Haiti on our TV screens. People are pulled bruised and bleeding from beneath rubble after days of suffering and they burst into song, praising God.
We modern Americans have a hard time with this. It offends our concept of justice. It offends our view of God. We like to think of God as that doting gramps that Satan accuses Him of being. But He’s not!
He’s so much more!
And apparently Satan realizes he’s lost this bet. We never read of him again after the first two chapters.
Still more to come.