Devotional: Job 1 – A Crushed Life

The book of Job in the Bible has always fascinated me. Very few books of the Bible have such a wide and extremely varied interpretation among both pastors and church members. I have heard people accuse Job of pride and others accuse him of various sins. Most people read the narrative sections at the beginning and end of the book, but skip the harder poetry section in the middle.

I remember one time being at a birthday party and an atheist asked me if God was real, then what was the book of Job’s point. I was 16 at the time and cockily replied that the answer was easy. It was a good thing that the rest of the party chided the man and I wasn’t allowed to give my reply. The fact is that it isn’t easy. The more I live life, the more I see that in many ways there is no answer. As I go through trials, I am not Job and the world is his bitter friends. No, instead, I am both Job and his friends at the same time. The book of Job is the inner dialogue we have as we suffer. The point of Job is to have that dialogue and bring it to God directly… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

For this series of posts on the book of Job, I will use many translations of the Bible (below is King James this week). My main commentary is The Pulpit Commentary Series by Eerdmans with the Job section written by G. Rawlinson. I will also use Mathew Henry’s commentary online and Clark’s Commentary online. Most of the devotional thoughts, though, are mine from just close reading and reflection.

As I mention above, Job is divided into 3 sections. The beginning narrative, the poetic middle, and a narrative ending. Many people have speculated that the narrative sections were tacked on at a later date, but this is not a universally accepted idea. In commentaries as old as the 1950s, scholars in both the US and Europe have concluded it was composed together. There is also a debate about whether the book is about a historical person or is a parable. Personally, I think this is irrelevant to the message and point of the book. Still, I probably lean towards Eerdmans commentator who states that since it was seen as historical by both Jews and Christians until a couple of centuries AD, it is probably an elaboration on a historical figure. Finally, in engaging this book, I have found that most scholars agree that Job is probably one of the oldest texts we have in the Bible. This point becomes more important as we discuss some of the imagery.

1)There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.

We are introduced to Job. Name meanings are significant in the Bible and Job,s name means sorrowful or he that weeps. He is from Uz. The Clark commentary says that Uz is north of Edom and southeast of Isreal. This isn’t really important since the book is not concerned with whether Job is a descendant of Abraham or not. Either way, Job is described as being perfect (meaning complete -maybe complete in virtue-rather than sinless) and a follower of God. This description is extremely important. As with the rest of the Bible, the narrator’s judgment on a character’s virtue is unquestionable in understanding the theological point of the story. Unlike today’s literature, the narrator is not only reliable but is not supposed to be doubted in their conclusion. If we pull back from our western tendencies to doubt what we are told about historical figures and look at this as a parable that is to teach us about life, we will understand this book much better.

2) And there were born unto him seven sons and three daughters.

Numbers in the Bible are significant. Seven means completion. Then, on top of a completed family of boys, girls are listed. It really doesn’t take an in-depth reading of scripture to notice how unusual it is for daughters to be mentioned. The three daughters, three being also a positive and complete number in the Bible, brings the total to ten. In many ways, Job is described as having the perfect family sized for the ancient world.

3) His substance also was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she asses, and a very great household; so that this man was the greatest of all the men of the east.
4 ) And his sons went and feasted in their houses, every one his day; and sent and called for their three sisters to eat and to drink with them.
5) And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually.

In my reading of this section, Job is a very rich man whose children has really wonderful relationships with each other. As a side note, the lack of horse in the list of animals also dates this story as being old since horses were not mentioned in Egypt until a later date. Job’s children each owned a house, not tents, and had their parties in them. Some pastors I have heard like to make it sound like all Job’s children did was party. This would have been seen as very foolish and evil in the ancient world. Job’s sacrifices were “just in case” which implies that his children seemed to be doing well on the surface. Many commentators note that the parties that they had “on their day” were probably birthday parties. With ten children, parents, and holidays, there would have been many parties every year that would still be socially accepted. Even so, Job, with the cooperation being of his family, ensured the purity of his family.

6) Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them.
7) And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.
8) And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?
9) Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?

The question Satan asks is an important one for the story and for us personally. Why does Job serve God? Many people serve God because they grew up serving God or because of God’s love. These are not bad reasons no matter what some people say. The truth, though, is that we often need to develop more reasons, or at least a complex understanding of our reason, as we grow and mature in our faith.

10) Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land.
11) But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.
12) And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.

The name Satan is used today to specifically talk about a single spiritual being who is wholly evil. In Some ancient courts, a position in the court of “a satan” was given to an individual to act almost as a prosecuting attorney and they were to given a ruler the opposite side of any case to help the court see the whole issue. We today will talk about being “the devil’s advocate” in a debate and so actually full the ancient role of a court’s satan.

The image here in this passage is explicitly a royal court in which God is bringing up the life of Job intentionally. In the Christian world, we chafe at the idea that God allows evil to happen because the Bible is clear that God is good and does not do evil. This passage explicitly shows that God does allow evil to happen. His allowing evil is not the same thing as him doing evil. Why? We see in the book of Genesis in the story of Joseph that what man or satan (in this case) means for evil, God will use for good. This doesn’t make evil suddenly good. Evil and bad things are always evil and bad things. What the Bible is saying, though, is that there is a purpose for everything even if we as finite human beings can’t see it. One of the many reasons for allowing us to endure hardship for a while is to answer Satan’s first question: why are we serving God at all? This is not the only purpose, but one of many purposes we will talk about in future chapters. Still, Even if hardships have a purpose, we cannot escape the fact that God is responsible for our suffering in this life. This central issue that is so hotly debated in the world is also the central debate between Job and his friends later in this book. As far as the narrator is concerned in this specific passage. God is sovereign and responsible. What does that mean? Well, we must journey on in the story and wrestle with it.

13) And there was a day when his sons and his daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house:
14) And there came a messenger unto Job, and said, The oxen were plowing, and the asses feeding beside them:
15) And the Sabeans fell upon them, and took them away; yea, they have slain the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.
16) While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The fire of God is fallen from heaven, and hath burned up the sheep, and the servants, and consumed them; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.
17) While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The Chaldeans made out three bands, and fell upon the camels, and have carried them away, yea, and slain the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.
18) While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, Thy sons and thy daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house:
19) And, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.

When I was a child, I was always told that things always happened in threes, whether bad or good. For Job, this was much more than three bad things; he just lost everything.

20) Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped,
21) And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.
22) In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.

So here at the beginning of our story, Job has lost everything and has still remained faithful to God. Many people fall apart at this point, but many also do what Job does as well. Throughout the Bible, many of the heroes of scripture also go through difficult times and remain faithful to God. If the story ended here, it would not be unusual from any other story. Instead, it continues on and in that we learn so much about the messiness and complexity of suffering in our day to day lives.

One last thing I want to notice in Job’s response to the horrible things that happened to him is that he fully expressed his grief in the custom of his time. He tore his clothes and shaved his head. I have known many people, both in the church and non-Christians alike, who are uncomfortable with grief. People justify this by saying that it is unhealthy to grieve too much or to get stuck in grief. Job was able to express his grief fully and yet express trust in God. Grief is not the same as hopelessness and the opposite is also true: hopelessness is not the same as grief.

Thank you for reading this devotional. Feel free to comment below what you think or any questions. Next week I will cover chapter 2.