The Prologue of the book of Job, chapters 1 and 2, tells the story of Job, a rich man who was blessed with divine favors, who was known for his righteousness and for his integrity. However, the Adversary, in the divine council, contended that Job’s faith was not sincere. The Adversary contended that Job’s faith was self-serving for he served God because of the riches he had received from God. It is this situation that prompted the trials of Job’s faith in God.
The Divine Council
The book of Job begins with a description of a man who lived in the land of Uz. Job is introduced as a man of faith, a man whose integrity was unquestionable, and who lived a life of righteousness by staying away from evil.
Job was also a family man. Job had seven sons and three daughters. In the Ancient Near East, the numbers three and seven were signs of perfection: Job was a man highly blessed by God. Job had the ideal family. Job was also a very rich man. Job had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yokes of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and many servants. The large herds that Job possessed made him one of the wealthiest men and one of the most influential persons in the East.
The writer also emphasizes that Job was a very religious man. Periodically, his sons would come together for several days for a time of feasting and celebrating. They also invited their sisters to come and celebrate with them. As the leader of the clan, Job felt responsible for his children and for their relationship with God.
At the end of the celebration, Job would offer a sacrifice of burnt offerings for each one of his sons. Job feared that they might have sinned and cursed God in their hearts. Job acted as the priest of his family by offering sacrifices for them. By this gesture, Job’s action reveals his devotion to God and his love for his family.
The beginning of Job’s story takes place in the divine council. The “sons of God” came to an assembly before God. These servants of God came before the Lord to present a report of their activities. Among them was “the satan,” the Adversary.
The role of the Adversary is debated. John Hartley writes that “some scholars conjecture that Satan may be the prosecuting attorney of the heavenly council. If this view is correct, his task on earth was to discover human sins and failures and to bring his findings before the heavenly assembly. But his role in this scene deviates from this explanation. Instead of uncovering disruptive plans, he acts as a troublemaker, a disturber of the kingdom” (Hartley 1988:81–82).
When the Adversary presented himself before God, God asked Satan “Where have you been?” Satan answered, “I have been patrolling the earth, watching everything that’s going on” (Job 1:7 NLT). God praised Job before Satan: “He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless – a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil” (Job 1:8 NLT).
Satan challenged Job’s faith and commitment to God by saying that Job feared God because God had prospered and blessed him with riches, health, and a large family. Satan questioned the sincerity of Job’s faith and his commitment to God.
The First Trial of Job
Satan then placed a challenge before God, “reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face” (Job 1:11 NLT). God accepted the challenge presented to him and gave Satan the power to test Job: “All right, you may test him. Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don’t harm him physically” (Job 1:12 NLT).
The reason for Job’s suffering is revealed to the reader, but not to Job. The reason for Job’s suffering was Satan’s challenge to God, that Job’s faith and commitment to God were superficial. Job only served God because of the many blessings he had received from the hand of God. But, Satan said, if Job were deprived of everything he had, Job “will curse you to your face” (Job 1:11).
God’s acceptance of the challenge shows that Job’s suffering was not because he had sinned or because he had done something evil. The reason for Job’s suffering was to prove to the Adversary that Job’s faith was not based on his riches or possessions. God allowed Satan to take away Job’s possessions in order to show that a human being can be faithful to God even when deprived of earthly riches.
Satan departed to do his work. First, Job lost all his oxen, all his donkeys, and his servants who were taking care of the herds. Then Job lost all his sheep and the servants who watched over them. Then Job lost all his camels and all the servants who cared for them. Job’s greatest loss was the loss of his sons and daughters. They were killed when a mighty wind came from the desert and destroyed the house in which they were celebrating a feast.
In a moment Job lost everything he had. It is in this kind of situation that many people curse and reject God. When deprived of earthly goods, people lose their faith, curse God, and terminate their relationship with God by turning their backs on him.
It is here where Job can teach people of faith a great lesson. Instead of cursing God and turning his back on him, Job accepted his fate by turning to God, “Job fell to the ground to worship. He said, ‘I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The LORD gave me what I had, and the LORD has taken it away. Praise the name of the LORD!’ In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God” (Job 1:20–22 NLT). Job did not blame God for his suffering because he knew that the God in whom he had placed his faith and trust was “a God merciful and gracious” (Exodus 34:6).
The Second Trial of Job
The attitude of Job, as he faced the calamities that took away all he had, proved that Satan’s view of Job was wrong. Job remained faithful to God even when he lost everything he had. But Satan was not happy; he demanded more.
“Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD” (Job 2:1). This indicates that many months had passed since Job had lost his possessions. Jewish tradition says that the divine council met on New Year’s Day.
When Satan once again came before God, together with the other divine beings, God told Satan that Job still remained a blameless and upright man, a man who feared God and who turned away from evil. “He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason” (Job 2:3).
Satan was not yet convinced that Job’s faith was genuine. Satan told God: “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives” (Job 2:4). The expression “Skin for skin” is a proverbial expression whose origin is unknown. This proverb is saying that people will give everything they have in order to save their lives.
Satan was saying that Job was willing for God to take away all that he possessed because he still was healthy and alive. So, Satan placed another challenge before God, “But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face” (Job 2:5). Once again, God expressed his confidence in Job by accepting the challenge Satan placed before him, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life” (Job 2:6).
In his discussion on God’s decision to allow Job to be tested a second time, Hartley wrote”
Although Yahweh rejected the Satan’s reasoning, he released Job into the Satan’s power for further testing. But again he set a boundary to the affliction by prohibiting the Satan from taking Job’s life. This concession reveals the full extent of God’s confidence in Job, namely, that Job’s basic commitment is to God alone. This means that Job, being ignorant of this dialogue, is about to experience the most dire circumstances. The shadow of death will fall over him so heavily that he will think that he is afflicted by a terminal illness with no hope of recovery. In this way God allows Job’s faith to be tested to its innermost core (Hartley 1998:81).
Satan departed from the presence of God and struck Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head (Job 2:7). It is impossible to diagnose Job’s illness, but Job describes the results of his affliction. Job said that he was afflicted with painful sores (Job 2:8), his body was covered with scabs, his skin was cracked, his flesh was covered with worms and oozing with pus (Job 7:5). His body burned with fever (Job 30:30). He had diarrhea (Job 30:27), many sleepless nights (Job 7:4), and much weeping (Job 16:16).
When Job’s wife saw how much her husband was suffering, she said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die” (Job 2:9). The words of Job’s wife may be interpreted in two ways. First, her words could be understood as another trial of Job since her words reflect Satan’s words to God. Was she telling Job that it was acceptable to compromise his faith in order to put an end to his suffering?
Second, her words could also be understood as the words of a loving wife who was deeply affected by her husband’s illness. She too had lost much. The death of her children had deeply affected her. Now the illness of her husband had made her see that death would put an end to his misery.
Job’s response to his wife reflects his unwillingness to compromise his faith in order to find a solution to his problem. Job told his wife, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (Job 2:10). Job told his wife that her suggestion was a false way of dealing with his problem.
Confronted with the loss of his fortune, his children, and his health, Job remained faithful to God and “did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:10). Notwithstanding his painful condition, Job remained faithful to God regardless of the calamities that he had to face in his life. Job was willing to submit to the will of God, in good times and in troubled times.
In the beginning of his suffering, Job accepted his fate, but after months of suffering, Job changed his attitude. After his friends came to comfort him, in their presence, Job cursed the day he was born, even the night in which he was conceived:
After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. Job said: Let the day perish in which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man-child is conceived.’ Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, or light shine on it. Let gloom and deep darkness claim it. Let clouds settle upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it. That night – let thick darkness seize it! let it not rejoice among the days of the year; let it not come into the number of the months (Job 3:1–6).
In addition, Job also expressed his desire to die, “Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire? Why were there knees to receive me, or breasts for me to suck? Now I would be lying down and quiet; I would be asleep; then I would be at rest” (Job 3:11–13).
Tired of suffering, Job wished that God would end his suffering by taking his life. Job was not willing to deny God, but he was willing to die in order to put an end to his misery. Job’s curse and his words about God prompted his three friends who had sat in silence with Job for seven days to respond to Job by offering words of comfort and at the same time to rebuke Job for sinning against God.
Job’s initial words came at a time when he was struggling with intensive suffering and grief for the loss of his children and his health. Job was a man who had feelings, and his personal situation reflects the agony people face when they encounter the dark night of the soul.
Job remained strong in his faith and trust in God, but the long nights of agony and the many days of pain and suffering took a toll on Job. Job’s words reveal the inner life of a man who believed in God but who could not cope with the agony of his painful situation.
For all nine lessons on this series, visit my post on Studies on the Book of Job.
Hartley, John E. The Book of Job. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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