Read: Job 1:1–22; 38:1–39:30
Job is set up in the beginning of the book as “blameless and upright” (1:1) and is even described by God as “my servant” and “none like him on the earth” (1:8). Job’s many blessings are listed, but when calamity comes upon him, the progression of the list is reversed. In Job 1:2–3 Job’s blessings are listed in the sequence of 1) sons and daughters, 2) herds of sheep and camels, 3) oxen and donkeys, and then 4) servants. In the first test of Job the satan suggests God to remove His hedge over all that Job has (1:11). Regarding the messengers’ reports of disasters (1:13–19), the above sequence is almost in a reverse order. With the destruction of the servants being reported throughout the four incidents, the disasters are announced in this order: 1) oxen and donkeys, 2) sheep, 3) camels and 4) children. The progression proceeds from the most distant to the most intimate. The severity of calamity increases one after another and reaches its peak when Job is utterly bereft of all his children. The cumulative force of the four successive disasters in a single day thus heightens the impression of the suddenness and completeness of the calamity.
Job doesn’t just lose possessions and family; he also loses his health, courtesy of “loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” (Job 2:7). It is in this condition that the vast majority of the rest of the book takes place. A large portion of the words of the rest of book are given to Job’s three friends who show up in 2:11: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. They start out very well: they sit with him in his sorrow for a full week, not speaking a word (2:13). It is after Job starts to speak in chapter 3 that they start to answer him—and that’s where the trouble begins.
Near the end of the book (42:7), God declares that the friends of Job have not spoken rightly, but Job has. What did the friends do that was so wrong? The dispute between Job and his friends is in large part a conflict between tradition and experience. The friends harden tradition into dogma that admits no exceptions. Job insists on the particularity of his experiential situation, which does not fit the expectations of tradition. The exception does not necessarily invalidate the tradition entirely. It may still be true in broad outline. But exceptions must be acknowledged. To gloss over them or explain them away is to lie for God, and if the book of Job is to be believed, God does not appreciate dishonest testimony on his behalf, however well-intentioned it may be.
Believing that one is speaking for God is no match for God actually speaking. God takes nearly four chapters speaking directly to Job (chapters 38–41) on topics that seemingly have little connection to Job’s complaint. But what God’s words about the cosmos and animals do is reveal God’s presence with Job. The key verse seems to be in Job’s last speech is 42:5: ‘I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.’ Words are not enough; rather, it is presence that makes the difference. Yes, Job is encouraged to move from silence to speech, but the move from despair and abandonment to peace and acceptance comes because Job has finally been made aware of God’s presence with him. We should remember that this speech takes place before Job is publicly vindicated and before his health and fortune is restored. So peace and acceptance are possible in suffering (as Jesus will show us as well) as long as we recognize the presence, or even participate in being the presence to others, of God.
- What is one thing that stood out to you from this week’s story?
- What can we learn from how Job handled the suffering he faces?
- What do we learn about God from how God assess Job’s friends? Why is the difference between tradition and experience significant?
- How can we grow in our faith in seasons of pain or difficulty?
- How does God’s presence in Job’s situation give us peace when we face difficult seasons?
- What would it look like for us to practice seeing the presence of God in our lives on a daily basis?