The Suffering of Job and Divine Justice – Part 1

The book of Job has fascinated readers over the years because the book deals with the problem of suffering, a problem that sooner or later will touch every human being. The plight of Job has a universal appeal because it raises the question of how a just God can allow a good man to suffer so intensively.

The message of the book is focused on the issue of God’s justice: why must a good and devout man suffer undeservedly? However, although the book of Job is a study of the suffering of the righteous, the book also deals with the character of God, primarily in God’s dealings with Job. Three aspects of God’s character are dealt with in the book.

The first is the justice of God, which is the focus of Job’s argument. The second is the sovereignty of God, which is demonstrated in God’s dealings with the adversary. The third is God’s treatment of Job, an issue that is raised by those who read the book.

At the conclusion of the book, although these issues were not fully addressed and remain partially unsolved, the sovereignty of God was affirmed and divine justice was upheld and it was recognized by Job. The conclusion of the book of Job shows that, although the reader and even Job himself cannot fully comprehend what happened and why it happened, God holds and controls the events in absolute sovereignty, wisdom, and justice.

The story of Job’s suffering begins with a brief introduction of the man Job, who is presented as a righteous and devout man, one who fears God. According to the introduction of the book, Job was “a man of perfect integrity, who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1 HCSB). In addition to being an upright man, Job was also very rich and “greatest man among all the people of the east” (Job 1:3).

According to the text, Job was blessed with a large family of seven sons and three daughters (Job 1:2). The writer of Job stresses these moral and religious aspects of Job’s life in order to demonstrate his righteousness. Job’s wealth was evidence that he was blessed by God. Job’s righteousness was constant, essential, and stable. Job’s wealth was temporary, accidental, and not essential to his righteousness. What the writer of the book was trying to demonstrate was that without his righteousness Job was nothing; without his wealth Job remained everything.

The word tam in Job 1:1, translated “perfect integrity” (“blameless” in other translations) comes from a Hebrew word taman, a word that suggests completeness. The reason the writer used this word was to introduce a person who had integrity and who tried to please God. Thus, Job was not the kind of person that Satan, and after him Job’s three friends, insinuated Job was: one kind of man on the surface and another man in his real self. Although Job was not a sinless man, Job was a righteous man whose integrity of character showed itself in his relationship with God and in his dealings with people with whom Job came in contact.

It was important for the writer of the book to establish the upright character of Job, for had Job not been righteous and blameless, there would be no meaning to the book because Job’s suffering could have been understood by the reader as God’s judgement on Job’s iniquity. But Job was a righteous man, and the fact that Job was blameless and righteous gives rise to the puzzle of the book of Job. Since Job’s suffering was not the judgement of a righteous God on a wicked man, what then was the purpose of Job’s suffering?

In the prologue of the book, the author introduced his readers to a part of the big picture of the story which Job and his friends never saw. The story of Job begins when the sons of God appear in heaven to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came and joined the assembly of the sons of God. In the ensuing conversation between God and Satan, the Biblical writer emphasizes the subordination of Satan to God.

The text shows that the adversary was subject to God and could not act without the approval and permission of the Lord. The text also shows that it was Satan and not God who caused the disasters to Job’s life that caused his suffering. As a member of the divine assembly, Satan was the accuser of human beings before God, and it was in that role that he came to report human failures to God. To Satan’s accusations of the failure of human beings, Yahweh addressed the adversary with a pointed question: “Have you considered my servant Job?” (Job 1:8).

God’s question was important to the development of the story because it was God who drew Satan’s attention to Job’s character. So confident was God of Job’s perfect integrity that God challenged the accuser to find any flaw in Job’s blameless character. Satan knew that Job was a righteous man but contended that Job was a mercenary behind his upright behavior. Satan said: “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land” (Job 1:9-10).

Satan insisted that Job would not be so stupid as to do anything that would compromise a relationship that worked so well in his favor. The adversary believed that if Yahweh would change his treatment of Job that Job would certainly reverse his conduct toward Yahweh, that is, when piety would no longer pay, Job would become defiantly profane and would deny and even blaspheme God.

The adversary then proposed a challenge to God: “But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face” (Job 1:11). This proposition of Satan was a challenge which God confidently accepted. Yahweh knew the heart of Job and demonstrated his faith in his servant by staking his honor on the way Job would respond to the loss of his children and all his possessions. The development of the story affirmed God’s confidence in Job. Job’s integrity held strong and God’s honor was upheld by Job’s righteous words: “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1: 21b).

After Satan’s first attempt at forcing Job to deny God, the author returns to the scene in heaven. Satan and the sons of God came again to present themselves before the Lord. Although no time is given, it is possible that one year had passed. As the accuser again prepares to list the failures of human beings, the Lord asked Satan: “Have you considered my servant Job?” (Job 2:3).
God again expressed his confidence in Job: “He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason” (Job 2:3).

Satan, however, was not convinced. He wanted nothing less than to impute God’s honor by demonstrating that Job served God only out of selfish motives. So the accuser proposed another challenge to Job’s integrity: “Skin for skin! All that Job has he will give to save his life. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face” (Job 2:4-5, slightly paraphrased). Once again the Lord agreed to Satan’s evil request. Satan immediately proceeded to inflict Job with inflamed loathsome sores all over his body, which eventually become breeding places for worms (Job 7:5), gnawing pains (Job 30:17), blackened, scaly skin (Job 30:30), intense pain, and feelings of terror that lasted many excruciating days.

As the story progresses, the writer begins to describe the different aspects of Job’s response to the sufferings and the terror he faced. Initially, Job remained steadfast in accepting his suffering: “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (Job 2:l0). As time passed, however, two issues became the focus of his dialogue with his friends: his misery and his view of God’s justice. All that Job said in chapters 3 to 31 of the book are the result of his pain and suffering and his bewildered spirit.

At first Job desired the escape of death, even wishing that he had never lived. The life he once lived was now reduced to months of futility and nights of suffering (Job 7:3). He failed to understand the reason God considered him so important that he would not let up on his desperate situation. Job began to believe in the hopelessness of his situation. He also began to believe that he could not contend with the Almighty, although he desired to defend himself by presenting his case before the Lord. Job declared: “If it is a matter of strength, he is the strong one! If it is a matter of justice, who can summon him?” (Job 9:19).

As his suffering increased and his requests for an audience with God remained unanswered, Job became more and more convinced that God was against him, that God had become his enemy: “My enemy sharpens his eyes against me” (Job 19:11). In the midst of his doubts and suffering, Job clung to his integrity. In his misery Job’s consolation was that he had “not denied the words of the Holy One” (Job 6:10). Confident of his innocence, Job declared: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face” (Job 13:15).

Read: The Suffering of Job and Divine Justice – Part 2.

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Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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6 Responses to The Suffering of Job and Divine Justice – Part 1

  1. >Awesome exegesis! I think Job holds so much great insight for us today for deepening our relationships with God and one another. In this book, we also get to see how to comfort people who are suffering and how not to comfort them. I think its a shame that some Christians try to dodge the issue this story raises by trying to figure out what Job's sin was. They reason he had to have done something…God does not allow us to suffer unless we have done something wrong. I've heard many Word of Faith teachers try this tactic. Dr. Mariottini, I was wondering if you have ever read Bart Ehrman's sttempt of dealing with these issues raise by the "Problem of Evil"? The book I think he wrote was God's Problem I was wondering what you thought about it? Thanks for this! I can't wait for part 2!

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  2. Anonymous says:

    >You might be interested in this online commentary "Putting God on Trial: The Biblical Book of Job" (http://www.bookofjob.org) as supplementary or background material for your study of the Book of Job. It is not a sin to question God, to demand answers from God. There is a time and a place for such things. It is written by a Canadian criminal defense lawyer, now a Crown prosecutor, and it explores the legal and moral dynamics of the Book of Job with particular emphasis on the distinction between causal responsibility and moral blameworthiness embedded in Job’s Oath of Innocence. It is highly praised by Job scholars (Clines, Janzen, Habel) and the Review of Biblical Literature, all of whose reviews are on the website. It is also taught in 262 US high schools in 40 states through Chapter 17 in The Bible and Its Influence. The author is an evangelical Christian, denominationally Anglican. He is also the Canadian Director for the Mortimer J. Adler Centre for the Study of the Great Ideas, a Chicago-based think tank.Robert Sutherland

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  3. >Marcus,The book of Job is a fascinating book. The issued addressed by the book, the problem of innocent suffering, is a theme that resonates with many people. I have not read Ehrman's book, so, I cannot give my evaluation of his views.Claude Mariottini

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  4. >Robert,Thank you for the link on the book of Job. I will surely visit the site and look at the book.Thank you for visiting my blog.Claude Mariottini

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  5. >A question was asked of me by one of my church members regarding beginning of Job 1: "If Satan was cast down from heaven before this, how was he able to stand in heaven before God?"Could you give some insight to this, please?

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  6. phil says:

    >Excellent!!! Listening to the faith teachers, one would come to the conclusion that Job brought this calamity on himself because he said, "The thing I have greatly feared has come upon me." (Job 3:25) As you have explained, the text does not even suggest that it was Job who brought this calamity, but Satan, ONLY with God's permission. Some say that the opposite of faith is fear. I disagree. The opposite of having faith is NO FAITH..and many people live their lives without any faith at all, and have no fear. A criminal does not fear the law, and demonstrates no faith either. Fear is a natural part of life, however God does not want his children to operate or live in fear because our faith in him should be unshakable, just as was Job's, even throughout this trial Even Jesus was afraid in the Garden. I do believe that we should speak "Faith filled Words," and keep a Godly confession at all times, and when things go different that what we have confessed, remember God is sovereign and knows what's best for his children. That alone is comforting. Looking back on my 59 years of life, I am so glad that I didn't always get what I prayed, confessed and believed for, and there were times that I did not "Walk by Faith," operated in fear,and in my own wisdom, and missed God's blessings. Faith is not just believing in God, but trusting him to do his perfect will in our lives, even when things don't always go like we want them to. God is not in the business of conforming us to this world with lots of things and wealth, but transforming us into the image of his dear son so we can carry out the great commission and lead the lost to a saving knowledge of Christ. Calamity has a way of showing us who we really are, and what we really believe, and who we trust. I knew a wonderful Pastor of a large N.Y. congregation. He taught Faith, and believed what he confessed. In the height of his Pastorate, he died from Cancer, only 58 years old. I know he confessed God's Word daily over his condition, believed God for his healing, but still died, and some would say he didn't have enough faith, he must have sinned, operated in fear, etc.. No one will ever know, but he never lost his faith in God. I know he had questions just like Job, maybe was even upset with God, and that's a natural response, but nothing can come to us a a Child of God, except by his permission, not our confession. The truth is, one day we are leaving here and should put our affections on things above. I love the story of the little boy who went to the pet store to pick out a new puppy. He looked own into a box of about a dozen furry puppies all clambering over each other. There was one little puppy looking up at him wagging his tail furiously. The little boy said, “I want the one with the happy ending!” When you choose Jesus, you choose the life with trials and tribulations, but it's the only life with the happy ending.

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