Arthur M. Cook, Exeter
Most will agree that it is undesirable to single out any particular person in the Bible as having the most outstanding character, because God chooses His servants with fitting capacities for the experience and service that they will be asked to undertake for Him. Nonetheless, all would agree of Job that he was a very outstanding character.
The book of Job is said to be, by many, the oldest book in the Bible, but, alas, it is seldom the subject of ministry. Unlike any other book, its entire contents of forty-two chapters mainly concern God's dealings with one man - Job. Here, as elsewhere, "whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope", Rom. 15. 4.
Job stands out as a monument of faith and patience, from whose experiences and dealings with Almighty God we can learn much to our spiritual good. Like so many Old Testament characters, his ancestral background and upbringing are obscure. Such details could not have been relevant or instructive. Suffice it to say that he feared God, he was highly respected by men, and he was also very rich. These details arc essential to our understanding as we follow the remarkable events in this man's life. At the same time, we must keep in mind God's thoughts and appraisal concerning him.
Job was not a "rustic", lacking knowledge, but a highly intelligent and articulate person. He had a profound knowledge of God's creation and, in a limited sense, the world in which he lived. He also had that valuable gift of being able to interpret other men's thoughts and motives. Yet, in spite of these attributes all of which were to his credit, Job was a very bewildered and unhappy man, and he longed for peace of mind and deliverance from the intolerable position in which he now found himself. After all, how was he to know that this calamity which had befallen him was according to God's permissive will, and would finally work out for his blessing? We might well wonder how we would react under similar circumstances, despite our knowing that "no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby", Heb. 12. 11. But in the case of Job, he had no knowledge of such teaching.
Quite early in the story Satan is introduced not in the form of some indefinable spirit or influence, but as a very real and powerful adversary. In the opening chapter, we sec that this is the one who is going to make his onslaught on Job. Yet even this will be only so far as God will permit, as the Psalmist reminds us in the words, "Touch not mine anointed", Psa. 105. 15. What consolation the Christian has, knowing that God always was, and always will be, sovereign, and by Him alone actions are weighed, 1 Sam. 2. 3. After God permits Satan to attack Job, the scene is set for the most disastrous catalogue of calamities which has befallen any man.
The calamities only revealed what a remarkable man Job was, for instead of cursing and blaming God for it all, we read that he "fell down . . . and worshipped". His wife took a different view of all this and urged him to "curse God, and die"; she was prompted, no doubt, by Satan. But Job still resisted the temptation to lay the blame on his Creator God. Instead we read, "In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly"., Job i. 22. Job's friends, too, as many do today, thought that trials and calamities are a punishment for sin. In their eyes, Job must have been a very wicked man,, and was only suffering the just punishment meted out to him by God. This was a very limited and incorrect assessment of the case, because God had told even Satan that Job was "a perfect and upright man, one that feareth God, and cscheweth evil", r. 8. So Job was able to counter their statements that he was resisting God's dealings with him, and setting himself up as wiser and greater than his Maker, by penetratingly intelligent and spiritual answers.
None of us has been called upon to pass through such trials as Job. We may well ask ourselves how our faith would have withstood such an ordeal, in spite of the fact that we have a far greater knowledge of God's way and purposes of grace than did Job. We, as Christians, should take heart, for "all things work together for good", Rom. 8. 28. And the Word of God means what it says - all things - even the not-so-pleasant things in life. If a mother loses her child, a wife her husband, a man suffers disastrous business losses (through no fault of his own), or if those near and dear to us are maimed or killed in an accident, would we, though Christians, unwittingly offend God by questioning His all-wise purpose and will? Would we think or say, "Why has this happened to me?", dismissing the fact that He is still sovereign, and Lord of our lives? He alone never makes mistakes. When dreadful calamities do overtake us, how very hard it is for most of us to say, "Thy will be done".
Job knew little of the grace and infinite mercy of God, and by reason of this his assessment of God's dealings with him was very limited. From this arose most of his grief and misery. In the extremity of his anguish of soul he cried out to God, "Oh that I might have my request; and that God would grant me the thing that I long for!", Job 6. 8. What this urgent request was is not indicated, but it appears in verse 9 that Job would have been content if God had taken his life. No Christian need cry to God, "Oh that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat!", 23. 3. We know where we may find Him, even our Great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, It is our great privilege and joy to approach Him in holy boldness, in die sure knowledge that His ear is ever open to our prayers and praise, and His outstretched arm is ever ready to help if our need is according to His good pleasure and perfect will.
In his anguish of soul, Job longed for the privilege of meeting God in person, and it appears from his many statements that he had almost a "prepared speech" if the occasion was granted to him. Here he would gain the peace of mind and heart for which he craved; this would solve all his doubts and problems. Yet in the midst of his testing, and temptation to deny or even curse God, he uttered that remarkable prophetic statement, "For I know that my redeemer liveth"; see 19. 25-27.
Job's experiences and mental anguish do not provide a complete answer to that age-old question, "Why does God allow suffering?". But they do remind us that God rules and over-rules in the lives of all, and that He will in His own time, and according to His good pleasure, work out His purposes of grace. Consequently, our prayer should be, not only that we might know the mind and will of God, but that He should also give us the grace to submit ourselves to it.
Finally, in chapter 38, God breaks His long silence and speaks to Job in a most dramatic manner. In a whirlwind, God reminded Job of His omnipotence and majesty, whilst making Job aware of his own impotence and helplessness. He then had something to say in judgment on Job's three so-called friends. His wrath was kindled against them, for He will not have His loved ones spoken of in this way by those so out of sympathy with His mind and purpose. God then crowned His ways with Job by heaping upon him rewards and blessings. In the last chapter, He blessed Job beyond his wildest expectations, and for full measure he permitted him an extra one hundred and forty years in which to enjoy it.
What, then, is the lesson for us in this day of grace? Surely, we should never pre-judge God's immediate dealings with us, for these finite minds of ours cannot possibly grasp His whole mind and will at a given time. Is it not written, "For my thoughts arc not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord"?, Is. 55. 8. Whatever the future holds for any one of us, we do well to remember that the Lord is sovereign, and that He alone knows the end from the beginning, doing that which He considers will be to our eternal blessing and lasting good.