Victorian author Thomas Carlyle once said, “Job is the grandest book ever written with pen.”[i]In the introduction to Job the recently published Systematic Theology Study Bible says, “Job is a literary and theological masterpiece. It combines surprising narratives and heated conversations that test the mettle of its main characters. The book’s goal is wisdom, which here and other OT books amount to balanced living based on a proper understanding of God and people.”[ii]And lastly, in the introduction to Job the also recently published Spurgeon Study Bible says, “The book of Job teaches that suffering comes to everyone, the righteous and unrighteous alike. God does not always keep the righteous from danger or suffering. Ultimately God controls all of life’s situations, including limiting the power of Satan. God’s comfort and strength are always available to the trusting soul.”[iii]
First, Job is a very long book, forty-two chapters to be exact. And while we are very familiar with the beginning and end of the story, most of us have no idea what to do with the middle. But ask a question here at the start, ‘Why is Job so long?’ Perhaps the answer is that God wants to take us on a journey. A journey that will take some time. Through this journey God intends to make you into a different person. How? By entering into, becoming familiar with, and being unsettled by the suffering of Job. And learning that when suffering is in view, there is no easy answer. There is no quick fix. So rightly handled, Job cannot be distilled to a few sermons and general application. You must enter it and listen carefully. But not only is Job’s suffering in view, Christ’s suffering is also in view. Indeed without Christ’s suffering coming into view in Job’s suffering Job would only be a record of unanswered agony.[v]
Second, Job is poetry. Other than chapter 1, 2, and 42 all the rest of Job is poetic and we must remember that. Poetry always has a personal take on something, aiming not just at the head but at the heart of the reader. Because of this on one hand poetry is well suited to speak to the needs of the whole person. But on the other hand we must recognize that poetry doesn’t often sum things up in neat and clearly defined categories. Rather it tends to slowly work on us, revealing deeper and deeper layers as we dive deeper into it again and again. Christopher Ash on this very point says, “You cannot ‘do’ Job as a one-day tourist might ‘do’ Florence.”[vi]
As you can imagine there have been many commentaries, books, sermons, and songs produced from these forty-two chapters. A glaring omission in most all of them is Christ. How are we to see Christ in Job’s suffering? To see this, I’ve chosen Christopher Ash’s commentary to be our guide. It is careful, compelling, and Christ-centered. I encourage you get a copy of it and read it devotionally at some time in your life. I promise, you’ll find it very worth your time.
So without further ado, let’s look into Job 1:1-5.
If I were to ask you ‘What kind of world would you like to live in?’ what would you say? We’d eventually all come around to similar answers I think. We’d like to live in a world where that isn’t fallen, a world where the wicked don’t prosper and the good aren’t trampled on. Our friends across the pond in the U.K. have a saying to describe a gathering or meeting of important people. When talking about it they say ‘the great and the good were there.’ Isn’t that the kind of world what we want? Where the great men and women leading our world always do good, governing with justly and humbly? This well run world is what we find as Job begins.
Job lived “…in the land of Uz…” We don’t know much of Uz in Scripture. We read of it in Lamentations 4:21 which says, “Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, you who dwell in the land of Uz…” So from all we can gather it seems Uz was a city in Edom, a pagan land east of the promise land. Notice here not mainly where Uz is but where it is not. It isn’t in Israel and Job’s story never really comes into anything having to do with Israel at all. Most think Job was a contemporary of Abraham so remember the Jewish people hadn’t become a people yet, they weren’t enslaved in Egypt yet, God hadn’t given His Law yet, and He hadn’t brought them into the promis land yet. Before all these things, here is a man named Job who should’ve known almost nothing of God, yet truly does know God, trusted in God, and worshipped God.
Of all the things we hear of Job in v1-5 one of the most important things we hear of is his godliness. v1 says it, Job was, “…blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” This same word that shows up here as blameless is used elsewhere in Scripture. In Joshua 24:14 it is translated as sincerity. In Judges 9:16 it is translated as integrity. God calls Abraham to walk in this blameless way in Genesis 17:1, and in Psalm 119:1 we find that blessing will come to those whose way is blameless. So when Job is in view, what you see is what you get. This is the opposite of hypocrisy, a pretending to be something outwardly while knowing it’s a different story inwardly. Centuries later Paul had to counsel Timothy on how to pastor those who “…had the appearance of godliness but denied its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). Job is refreshing for us to see, for he has the appearance of godliness because there was real godliness about him.
He feared God and turned away from evil meaning verticallyhe had a true devotion/love for God. He was an upright man meaning horizontallyhe was honest and moral in his dealings with others. Job was a man you could trust to give you counsel and a man you could trust to do business with. Job was a man with true piety, and is certainly an exemplary model for Christians in all ages.
In v2-3 we learn Job has seven sons, three daughters, 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 oxen, 500 female donkeys, and many servants. From these things there is only one conclusion we can arrive at, Job “…was the greatest man of all the people of the east.”
Seven sons was seen as something of a goal to aim at. Naomi’s friends describe Ruth as “…being more to you than seven sons” (Ruth 4:15). When the formerly barren Hannah has children she praises God saying in 1 Samuel 2:15, “The barren has born seven!” The number seven symbolizes a complete number, and in this culture sons were not only a help with daily work but were also a promise of an extended family lineage. What more could you want then seven sons? Well, how about daughters? Three of them to be exact, which is also seen as a number of completion. Job’s quiver is full and his life is blessed for it. And in addition to his children we see him having an enormous amount of possessions. When you combine all his animals and servants that manage his entire estate we come to see that Job is a man of great wealth and power. So great and so powerful that there is no one like this man in all the east.
On this point Christopher Ash says of Job in his commentary, “Job was, on a regional or local scale, what Adam was meant to be on a global scale – a great, rich, and powerful ruler.”[viii]Pause on this and note. Job was enormously blessed by God, and Job was immensely faithful. But we also notice that there’s another thing about Job we see in v4-5 that shows us more of the story.
In v4-5 we see that each time his sons and daughters got together for one of their birthdays, a festivity, or a feast day Job grew anxious. He would call each of them to his house for a ceremony. Rising early in the morning he prepare a burnt offering for each one of them. As God’s people would come into being, be rescued from Egypt, and be given God’s Law, they were commanded to do burnt offerings as well. This offering was an expensive ceremony, where a whole animal was burned up in fire. The fire symbolized God’s anger toward sin, the animal symbolized the sinner, and that the fire would then consume the animal entirely symbolized what God would do to sinners for their sin unless redemption occurs. As Job did this for each one of his children, perhaps he pointed to it and said, ‘This one is for you’ until all his children would be represented in their own offering. Seeing this we can rightfully ask, ‘Why go to all this trouble and expense to do this after each family get together?’ v5 tells us, Job would think, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Job had a deep integrity that is clear, but he isn’t so certain about his children. This, Job did continually.
So, in v1-5 the stage set for what is to come. In v1-3 we meet the man himself and in v4-5 we see what he did continually. “This sets a happy scene with one shadow. The happiness consists in a good man being good, a pious man being a prosperous man. It is a picture of the world being as the world ought to be, a world where the righteous lead. It is ironically a world where the prosperity seems to be true.”[ix]The shadow is that even in this seemingly perfect setting something dark lurks beneath the surface. Job is anxious about it after every family gathering. Even in this perfect scene we learn two great truths. First, in the best and most materially abundant of environments the possibility still exists for men and women to curse God in their hearts. Second, only sacrifice – bloody, gory, wrathful, substitutionary, atoning, sacrifice – can cover such sinful hearts.