Job, An Exhortation
No matter how many times I read the Book of Job, and as much as I might understand it on an intellectual level, there’s something about it that fundamentally bothers me. How could God treat someone who has lived as faithfully as a person could possibly live, like He does? It doesn’t seem fair.
The Book of Job explores the erroneous theological premises of Job’s friends, namely, that righteousness begets tangible blessings and sinfulness begets tangible hardship. Sure, it exposes Job’s pride and his misunderstanding of how righteousness can be earned, as opposed to being imputed or granted. But ultimately, that’s all very academic.
Job, I believe, was a real person, like you and me. God devastated every aspect of his life. By the end of his testing, he had nothing left. Everything he had—his children, the support of his remaining family and friends, his business, his possessions—all of it was gone.
The Bible presents the story as something of a wager between God and an adversary (“Satan”). Will Job crack under pressure or not?
God devastated every aspect of Job’s life. By the end of his testing, he had nothing left.
It’s not a conventional wager since the Biblical record indicates that no bets are laid. But it does seem to be a wager of principle. Also, at the end, Job’s perseverance in faith, despite his suffering, is rewarded in a tangible way. God doubles the volume of material things which he had before, and all his friends come and give him money and gold rings. Isn’t that contradictory, given the rebuke to his friends for their “prosperity theology”? Job just had to tweak his intellectual understanding of God, and, bingo, blessing restored?
Clearly, we understand that God specifically tests us to prove our faith. This is a pattern that’s borne out through the lives of all faithful people in Scripture. We also understand that sometimes we suffer simply due to our mortality and the state of the world under sin. Job’s case was of the former type; God was specifically testing him. But why was Job tested to this extent? Was he so stubborn that testing to this extent was required to change his heart?
These are honest thoughts that cross my mind while reading the Book of Job. I’d like to explore my unease about this book and present a perspective I’ve found compelling to better understand Job and address my unease with the story. On Sunday mornings, we meet specifically to remember our Lord and Savior through the breaking of bread. How does this relate to the Book of Job?
Consider the possibility that Job is not primarily a book about Job! Rather, I’d suggest it is primarily aimed at helping us to better understand Jesus and his trials: his life and redeeming role in God’s plan. Let’s explore three topics from the book through the lens of it concerning primarily Jesus Christ: first, the wager between Satan and God; second, the spiritual journey of Job; and third, the redemption of Job and his friends.
THE WAGER BETWEEN SATAN AND GOD
At first read, this seems a bizarre situation. I understand it to be figurative, for a few reasons. First, there’s no support in Scripture for the existence of a rebellious, supernatural being opposed to God. Second, God seemingly gives Satan permission to “reach out and touch” all that Job has. So, the circumstances Job faced were not perpetrated by an evil mastermind but allowed by God’s authority and power.
I suggest Satan is a personification of God’s testing of Job. There are two narratives, in Genesis 3 and Matthew 4, both related to Jesus Christ. In both, consider the testing, the response of those being tested and the outcome of their responses, respectively. I suggest the testing is equivalent in all of them.
Genesis 3 describes a response and outcome different from Job’s. Matthew 4 depicts a similar response and outcome to Job’s
Many of the same elements are here in Genesis 3 as in Job—the serpent personifies external testing. The test is whether Eve and Adam will remain faithful to God, as it was with Job. Although the serpent personifies God’s testing, we know from James 1 that temptation is an internal process. We are deceived in our own minds, not by some external power. The serpent appears as an external source of testing, much like Job’s calamities came from external testing sources. But I think many would agree that, Adam and Eve—like Job—weren’t ultimately tested by some rogue evil power outside of or beyond God’s control.
Likewise, the serpent’s punishment and the enmity described in Genesis 3:15 is not a description of some enduring literal struggle between mankind and snakes as animals. Rather, the text informs us of spiritual enmity, an enduring battle of humanity against their natural propensity to sin, with the inevitable consequence of death.
There are many similarities between Genesis 3 and the imagery in Job; however, there is also a major difference in the outcome. Job remained faithful to God throughout his testing in contrast to Adam and Eve who did not. The outcome of this failure? They would surely die as God had warned them in advance. The consequence of their disobedience and unfaithfulness was dire for all humanity.
In contrast, the outcome of Job’s faithfulness was a doubling of many blessings. Let’s look at a similar connection in Matthew 4 where Jesus was tempted in the wilderness:
Again, a personified tester (referred to as “the devil”) tests Jesus’ faith. Hebrews 4:15 teaches it was the same internal process that James 1:14 describes. But, in contrast to Adam and Eve, Jesus remained faithful during his wilderness experience, and the remainder of his life. Consequently, the outcome of Jesus’ faithfulness was the blessing of eternal life in the presence of his Father (Psa 16:11).
We understand this triumph over sin ultimately will remove the curse wrought by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, with powerful implications for all of us. But there is a connection to Job here, as I will illustrate in the following few verses. The Apostle John, in Revelation 1, describes the blessing given to Jesus for his perseverance in faith:
The “firstborn of the dead.” This title has many scriptural connections, but let’s stay focused on Job and consider a connection in Deuteronomy 21.
Leaving aside the problematic practice of polygamy in Israel, the key thought contextually as relates to Job is the so-called “right of the firstborn.” Consider this in light of Job 42:
And if that description of Job receiving twice as much as he had before wasn’t enough, look at verse 12:
Each of these livestock counts are exactly doubled from the counts presented in the first chapter of Job, which suggests the whole purpose of listing the numbers—to illustrate the principle of doubling. This associates Job with the right of the firstborn and, I’d suggest, specifically with Jesus Christ.
THE SPIRITUAL JOURNEY OF JOB
First, it’s clear Job doesn’t fully measure up to Jesus Christ’s example—he’s an imperfect type, just like all the other types in the Old Testament. Job’s recognition of his limitations and finiteness admittedly illustrate his imperfection (Job 42:1-6).
Think about Job’s final discussion with God. He finally gets to speak with God about his situation, but he still yearns for an explanation for his plight, demanding an answer from God for his suffering. This is something I think we all experience. When we suffer loss or any testing in life, we want to understand. We want there to be a specific reason. We want there to be a very specific purpose for the pain and to fully understand every little part of it. Job illustrates this human desire clearly.
So, Job, who arguably suffered as much loss and pain as a person could possibly suffer under testing, is satisfied with God’s response.
He got to speak one-on-one with God about it—very literally it seems. But the encounter appears to be anticlimactic. God seems to give him one of the most elaborate and profound non-answers to his quest for a specific purpose for his suffering. It’s a beautiful answer, full of powerful imagery of God’s sovereignty over creation, but it does not directly address Job’s direct concern. Or does it?
We know in hindsight from James 5:11 that Job perhaps did gain the answer he was looking for:
Though God’s answer in Job 40-42 may seem anticlimactic, it also illustrates a very comforting and liberating principle of trials and suffering. Consider what Job takes away from God’s answer:
So, Job, who arguably suffered as much loss and pain as a person could possibly suffer under testing, is satisfied with God’s response. Job’s longing was to see his Redeemer—that in his flesh, he would see God (19:26). God appeared to Job in a tempest, and he is overwhelmed with the vision, reducing all his complaints to insignificance.
He realizes something I suppose we all need to learn. A key component of faith is that we don’t need to understand every detail about all that happens in our lives. First, we’re not capable of that level of understanding; second, the reality of God’s presence and creative power and plan is overwhelming; and, third, the ultimate blessing is trusting in and embracing the “peace of God that surpasses all understanding” (Phil 4:7) which can provide us with peace and contentment, in spite of our trials and circumstances. John 9 provides a more practical example of this principle:
Like both the patriarch Job and ourselves, the disciples desired a reason for this blind man’s suffering—“Who messed up here?” they ask. And Jesus’ answer is very similar to God’s. The purpose of all creation is to display the works of God; that’s the purpose behind absolutely everything, whether it’s in joy or in pain and suffering.
In the case of this man, his suffering and subsequent healing directly led him to understand who Jesus was. He concludes in verse 33: “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
I suggest this principle extends beyond the specific healing of this man. Rather than there being some hidden reason behind every event in our lives, be it joyful or painful, perhaps the purpose of these events lies in our interpretation of them. If we interpret them in faith, we give them their intended purpose, by bringing glory to God. If we don’t, they truly will have no purpose.
And like this blind man, we don’t need to understand absolutely every detail of the how and why the events of our lives bring glory to God. His response to the Pharisees as they continued to grill him about the details: “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” (John 9:25).
He didn’t know all the details, but it didn’t stop him from recognizing that Jesus was sent from God. This recognition provided his healing with purpose, namely, to glorify God. Not that this realization is an easy one to come to in practice, especially when we’re in the throes of loss or pain, but when we do eventually reach this point, like Job did, what an antidote to bitterness this can be.
Jesus himself illustrated this understanding, too, as we’d expect. He uses the phrase “that God might be glorified” to describe Lazarus’s death, as well as this blind man’s blindness. But even more so, Jesus’ entire sinless life was a glorification of God. “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” he said (John 14:9). This is exactly what Job sought—to see the Father. And through Jesus, we too have seen the Father.
THE REDEMPTION OF JOB
We’ve already considered one aspect of Job’s redemption—the double portion he received, bringing our minds to the right of the firstborn and to Christ, the firstborn of the dead (Col 1:18). Not that Job himself died, but he experienced a spiritual death of sorts. Job was humbled and recognized his own limitations and fallibility, and therefore repented. His pride was crushed, his sin forgiven, and through repentance, he was spiritually reborn.
There are a few more details that are particularly interesting. First, Job originally had 10 children—seven sons and three daughters—all of whom died (Job 1:2). Now, as God restores the repentant Job, we might think that like his possessions, his children might be doubled as well—maybe 20 children (which would seem to put a nice bow on the doubling symbol). But no—Job is blessed with exactly 10 more children. Not just 10 children, but once again, exactly seven sons and three daughters (42:13).
I suggest the exactness of this restoration may be an image of the resurrected saints at Jesus return. Consider Job 42:15, where we are told,
The inheritance is shared amongst all his children, including his daughters, which was certainly not the common practice in his day. This final blessing of his entire family—sons and daughters—foreshadows the blessings that would be brought forth by Jesus, the Messiah, who harnessed the greatest of all blessings by overcoming sin and death.
Finally, and I believe this stands out as one of the strongest supports of Job as a type of Jesus Christ, there’s one more detail in verses 8-10. God addresses Job’s three friends this way:
A vital component to Job’s spiritual rebirth was that he interceded on behalf of his friends, even though their behavior had not been that of true friends. This is, of course, the role of Jesus Christ that unites all of us, his intercession on our behalf.
When I read Job, I usually identify most with Job out of all the characters in the book. Perhaps you do too? In many respects, it’s completely valid to identify with Job’s weaknesses. We all face difficulty in navigating loss and pain. But I confess I’ve never seen myself in his friends—these “miserable comforters.”
Thinking of Job as a type of Christ, and his intercessory prayer on behalf of his friends, reminds me of Christ’s words in John 15:14: “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
I’m also reminded of his words to his closest friends on the night of his betrayal:
Though I fail to keep his commands, though I fail to be his true friend, through my sincere efforts and repentance (displayed in type in the burnt offering offered by Job’s friends), Jesus still intercedes on my behalf.
In conclusion, I began by describing how the Book of Job has often bothered me, that despite an academic understanding of the book, the treatment of Job in his corresponding trials just doesn’t seem fair to me. However, thinking of it through the lens of Jesus Christ, one purpose of Job’s story and of his loss and pain was to bring glory to God through a living parable of the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, even though the treatment of Job is indeed unjust, the Book of Job may have helped Jesus to understand and overcome the unfair treatment he received from those who persecuted and crucified him. The behavior of his friends was also unfair. In his hour of greatest need they were miserable comforters. Even Jesus looked for comforters and did not find them in his greatest hour of need (Psa 69:20).
Perhaps I’m just identifying with the wrong character. I’m not Job. I’m certainly not Jesus Christ. I’m not the wronged party. Jesus Christ was, on my behalf.
1 All scriptural references taken from the English Standard Version.