The book of Job is one of the most fascinating and challenging books in the Bible. Job went from having everything: a large family, wealth, health and great influence in the world to a position of nothing — living in a garbage dump and picking his sores.
This book reveals that the central issue in the great controversy is over the character of God. In the end, Job said of God what was right! Specifically, what did Job of say of God that was right?
This article will address the following questions:
- What did the friends say of Job that was wrong?
- Why did God come to Job with power and and rebuke, rather than with words of love and encouragement?
- Did Elihu speak for God or Satan?
- Why did God spend so much time talking about Leviathan?
Job and the Great Controversy over the Character of God
Infiltration of God’s messengers
When Satan accuses us before God, as he did with Joshua the High Priest, it is perhaps the one time all he needs to do is tell the truth. It would not be difficult to present us as we are, “standing there, wearing filthy clothes” (Zechariah 1:3). Then, our guardian angel could stand up and say, “Satan has left out several things.” And finally, God, who reads our deepest thoughts and motives could add, “Sadly, you’ve both forgotten a few details”.
When Satan accuses God, however, he must resort to lies and distortions. He does this by presenting a false picture of God, ideally from the lips of those who claim to be God’s closest followers. Character assassination is much more powerful when it is given by someone who claims to be an intimate friend of the accused individual, which is why Satan must have been so influential with the other angels as he deceived them about God. God says of Satan, prior to his fall, “I ordained and anointed you as the mighty angelic guardian” (Ezekiel 28:14).
Satan has used this same practice to deceive those on earth who are desirous of knowing God. By corrupting the ones who claim to know God and speak for him, he knows that the people will be like sheep without a shepherd. “Because the sheep had no shepherd, they were scattered, and wild animals killed and ate them” (Ezekiel 34:5). Again and again, the prophets in the Old Testament lamented the fact that the spiritual leaders did not represent God correctly to the people:
“The Lord spoke to me. ‘Mortal man,’ he said, ‘denounce the prophets of Israel who make up their own prophecies. Tell them to listen to the word of the Lord.’ This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘These foolish prophets are doomed! They provide their own inspiration and invent their own visions. People of Israel, your prophets are as useless as foxes living among the ruins of a city. They don’t guard the places where the walls have crumbled, nor do they rebuild the walls, and so Israel cannot be defended when war comes on the day of the Lord. Their visions are false, and their predictions are lies. They claim that they are speaking my message, but I have not sent them. Yet they expect their words to come true! I tell them: Those visions you see are false, and the predictions you make are lies. You say that they are my words, but I haven’t spoken to you!’” (Ezekiel 13:1-7).
“The priests did not ask, ‘where is the LORD?’ My own priests did not know me” (Jeremiah 2:8).
“The LORD says, ‘Let no one accuse the people or reprimand them – my complaint is against you priests. Night and day you blunder on, and the prophets do no better than you… My people are destroyed from a lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests” (Hosea 4:4-6, NIV).
“My people are deceived by prophets who promise peace to those who pay them, but threatened war for those who don’t. To these prophets the LORD says, ‘Prophets, your day is almost over; the sun is going down on you. Because you mislead my people, you will have no more prophetic visions, and you will not be able to predict anything’…The city’s rulers govern for bribes, the priests interpret the Law for pay, the prophets give their revelations for money – and they all claim that the LORD is with them. ‘No harm will come to us,’ they say. ‘The LORD is with us’” (Micah 3:6,11)
“It is the duty of the priests to teach the true knowledge of God. People should go to them to learn my will, because they are the messengers of the LORD Almighty. But now you priests have turned away from the right path. Your teaching has led many to do wrong” (Malachi 2:7,8).
The Old Testament description of Satan’s methods and of his success has not changed with time. When Jesus came, his worst enemies were the pious Bible teachers of the day, and those who burned the martyrs at the stake did so in the name of Jesus. Satan will always concentrate his greatest efforts at the church, because this is where people come to know God. How many have been forever turned against God because of the cruel actions and false teachings of his professed followers?
Satan’s accusations vs. God’s evidence
What lies would Satan most desire us to believe about God? What could he insinuate that would most easily destroy our trust in God, and lead us to serve him for the wrong reasons? One of the best illustrations of Satan’s lies and accusations against God is found in the book of Job. Rarely has God had friends on earth with whom he could speak with pride. Job, however, was one such friend and his story reveals that what Satan wants the most is to destroy God’s reputation – to bring us to false picture of God’s character. At the conclusion of the story, God rebukes Job’s friends, “you did not speak the truth about me, the way my servant Job did” (Job 42:7). The issue of the whole book, as God said, is “the truth about me”. Our answers to Satan’s deceptions are to know this truth about God. Do we believe God to be an angry and vengeful tyrant? Then we will never come to him in true love and trust, and Satan has gained the victory over us.
The book of Job begins with God, in front of all the angels, initiating a conversation with Satan: “When the day came for the heavenly beings to appear before the Lord, Satan was there among them. The Lord asked him, ‘What have you been doing?’ Satan answered, ‘I have been walking here and there, roaming around the earth.’ ‘Did you notice my servant Job?’ the Lord asked. ‘There is no one on earth as faithful and good as he is. He worships me and is careful not to do anything evil.’ Satan replied, ‘Would Job worship you if he got nothing out of it? You have always protected him and his family and everything he owns. You bless everything he does, and you have given him enough cattle to fill the whole country. But now suppose you take away everything he has—he will curse you to your face!’ ‘All right,’ the Lord said to Satan, ‘everything he has is in your power, but you must not hurt Job himself.’ So Satan left” (Job 1:6-12).
Terrible calamities soon follow, and we see the power Satan has when God removes his restraining control: “One day when Job’s children were having a feast at the home of their oldest brother, a messenger came running to Job. ‘We were plowing the fields with the oxen,’ he said, ‘and the donkeys were in a nearby pasture. Suddenly the Sabeans attacked and stole them all. They killed every one of your servants except me. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.’ Before he had finished speaking, another servant came and said, ‘Lightning struck the sheep and the shepherds and killed them all. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.’ Before he had finished speaking, another servant came and said, ‘Three bands of Chaldean raiders attacked us, took away the camels, and killed all your servants except me. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.’ Before he had finished speaking, another servant came and said, ‘Your children were having a feast at the home of your oldest son, when a storm swept in from the desert. It blew the house down and killed them all. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.’ Then Job got up and tore his clothes in grief. He shaved his head and threw himself face downward on the ground. He said, ‘I was born with nothing, and I will die with nothing. The Lord gave, and now he has taken away. May his name be praised!’ In spite of everything that had happened, Job did not sin by blaming God” (Job 1:13-22).
Again God initiates a very public conversation with Satan. “When the day came for the heavenly beings to appear before the Lord again, Satan was there among them. The Lord asked him, ‘Where have you been?’ Satan answered, ‘I have been walking here and there, roaming around the earth.’ ‘Did you notice my servant Job?’ the Lord asked. ‘There is no one on earth as faithful and good as he is. He worships me and is careful not to do anything evil. You persuaded me to let you attack him for no reason at all, but Job is still as faithful as ever.’ Satan replied, ‘A person will give up everything in order to stay alive. But now suppose you hurt his body—he will curse you to your face!’ So the Lord said to Satan, ‘All right, he is in your power, but you are not to kill him’” (Job 2:1-5).
What would it be like to know that God had given our “enemy, the Devil, [who] roams around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8), complete power over us, except to kill? Poor Job! “Then Satan left the Lord’s presence and made sores break out all over Job’s body. Job went and sat by the garbage dump and took a piece of broken pottery to scrape his sores. His wife said to him, ‘You are still as faithful as ever, aren’t you? Why don’t you curse God and die?’ Job answered, ‘You are talking nonsense! When God sends us something good, we welcome it. How can we complain when he sends us trouble?’ Even in all this suffering Job said nothing against God” (Job 2:7-10).
Why would God allow such punishment to be brought upon a man of whom he just said, “there is no one on earth as faithful and good as he is” (Job 1:8)? Who was watching? The angels are described as present in these conversations between Satan and God, and since only 2/3 of them remained loyal to God, even the good ones evidently had much to learn about the true character of God. This earth is a “spectacle for the whole world of angels…” (1 Corinthians 4:9) and the angels are even described as learning from the experience of God’s followers (the church) on earth: “God, who is the Creator of all things, kept his secret hidden through all the past ages, in order that at the present time, by means of the church, the angelic rulers and powers in the heavenly world might learn of his wisdom in all its different forms” (Ephesians 3:9, 10). Even the Good News is not only for us, but for angels as well. “God revealed to these prophets that their work was not for their own benefit, but for yours, as they spoke about those things which you have now heard from the messengers who announced the Good News by the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. These are things which even the angels would like to understand” (1 Peter 1:12).
It becomes evident that God is teaching the sinless angels, who need no correction in their legal standing before God, and perhaps even a vast on-looking universe, through the experience of this earth. God, despite having all power, chose to achieve victory over Satan by humbly taking his case to the court of the universe. Paul says of God, “Though everyone else in the world is a liar, God is true. As the Scriptures say, ‘He will be proved right in what he says, and he will win his case in court’” (Romans 3:4, NLT). God could have exercised his infinite power and eliminated Satan and his followers before the rebellion spread, but this would have been the worst way to restore the trust of the loyal angels. They would agree that God was all-powerful, but could any real love come towards a God who would eliminate an angel who stepped out of line? How much love would there be in a family, if the father announced that if anyone sinned that day, he would kill them? The behavior of the children may be very good for that day, but on the inside they would grow to hate their father. It is remarkable then how free God has made his children – even free to rebel and suffer the consequences if we choose. “Very well, then, I will give you freedom: the freedom to die…” (Jeremiah 34:17).
God could have, instead, had a meeting with the angels and proclaimed, “Satan is telling lies about me. They are not true. I am a God of love.” But, why should the angels have believed mere claims, even though they came from God? Satan could just as easily have stood up and said, “God is lying. He can’t be trusted”. God could then have said, “Yes, I can be trusted…and I’m stronger than you!”, but again, trust would not be restored. So God saw that the only way to bring lasting peace throughout the whole universe was to bring convincing evidence, demonstrated on this earth and preserved in the Biblical record, of his trustworthiness and love in contrast to the lies and hatefulness of Satan. The story of Job is a part of this evidence.
Since Satan could not, by force, shake Job’s trust in God, he chose a more subtle strategy – distortion of the truth. Three “friends”, who claimed to represent God, came to Job. They even showed apparent devotion to Job. “While they were still a long way off they saw Job, but did not recognize him. When they did, they began to weep and wail, tearing their clothes in grief and throwing dust into the air and on their heads. Then they sat there on the ground with him for seven days and nights without saying a word, because they saw how much he was suffering” (Job 2:12, 13). During the conversation that followed, many things that the friends said were true, but that is the cunning way of Satan who even quoted scripture when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness.
From reading the entire book of Job, we know that God declares Job to be good at the beginning of the book, “there is no one on earth as faithful and good as he is” (Job 1:8). And, after the conversation with the friends is over, God says to the friends, “you did not speak the truth about me, the way my servant Job did” (Job 42:7). God says that Job told the truth about him, while the friends didn’t. The friends’ words, though mixed with truth, represent Satan’s lies about God’s character. As Satan masterfully quoted scripture in tempting Jesus in the wilderness, the friends’ are all the more subtle and deceptive because of the truthful statements.
The inspiration of the friends becomes evident as the first, Eliphaz, speaks: “Once a message came quietly, so quietly I could hardly hear it. Like a nightmare it disturbed my sleep. I trembled and shuddered; my whole body shook with fear. A light breeze touched my face, and my skin crawled with fright. I could see something standing there; I stared, but couldn’t tell what it was. Then I heard a voice out of the silence…” (Job 4:12-16). Job later declared that this “vision” is a nightmare to him, “But you – you terrify me with dreams; you send visions and nightmares…” (Job 7:14). Would not Satan, who has done everything thus far to shake Job’s trust in God, be the author of this eerie vision and the false message which followed?
Is God distant, cold, and severe?
Eliphaz continues, “Can anyone be righteous in the sight of God or be pure before his Creator? God does not trust his heavenly servants; he finds fault even with his angels. Do you think he will trust a creature of clay, a thing of dust that can be crushed like a moth?” (Job 4:17-19). He repeats this assertion later, “Can human beings be really pure? Can anyone be right with God? Why, God does not trust even his angels; even they are not pure in his sight. And we drink evil as if it were water; yes, we are corrupt; we are worthless” (Job 15:14, 15). But yet, hadn’t God just declared Job as “good”? The King James Version uses “perfect and upright” (Job 1:8). Does God refer to the children who love him as worthless and untrustworthy? He specifically refers to Moses and Abraham as his friends; David is referred to as “a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14, KJV); the angel tenderly tells Daniel “O Daniel, man greatly beloved” (Daniel 10:11, NKJV); and Jesus tells us “I do not call you servants any longer because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends…” (John 15:15). Job’s friends say that God doesn’t trust any of his creatures, even sinless angels, but the rest of scripture does not support this view. Does the picture of God that Eliphaz presents sound like a God who is capable of having a trusting relationship with his creatures? Would you want to spend eternity with a God who would even view his sinless angels as impure, and who views us who have rebelled as “worthless”? Later Bildad adds, “Then what about a human being, that worm, that insect? What is a human life worth in God’s eyes?” (Job 25:6). Job’s response, “Who inspired you so speak like this?” (Job 26:4). Who indeed! But doesn’t the love that God showed by coming to this earth in human form reveal the infinite value God places on each of his children? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). “The world” that God loves so much would include both his good and bad children.
The comment “He does not trust his heavenly servants; he finds fault even with his angels” (Job 4:17), occurs several times in the book of Job and is directed specifically to the angels who were evidently watching this whole conflict, as the first two chapters of the book would indicate. These lies were intended to distort the true picture of God in the minds of the angels – “God doesn’t care that much about you…he doesn’t trust you…” We can imagine that these were the methods Satan used to pull 1/3 of the angels to his side when this war began.
Is God pleased with the suffering of his rebellious children?
Satan’s lies are sprinkled throughout the friends discourse with Job. Eliphaz says, “Good people are glad and the innocent laugh when they see the wicked punished” (Job 22:19). Using Jesus as our model, can we imagine him laughing over the suffering of his children? Of his rebellious children God says, “The people I love are doing evil things” (Jeremiah 11:15). When Israel went into Assyrian captivity, God cries, “How can I give you up, Israel? How can I abandon you?” (Hosea 11:8). And, God describes how he feels about the final death of his rebellious children, “Tell them that as surely as I, the Sovereign LORD, am the living God, I do not enjoy seeing sinners die. I would rather see them stop sinning and live. Israel, stop the evil you are doing. Why do you want to die?” (Ezekiel 33:11). The picture of God as glad or laughing as his children suffer is certainly devilish, and the “good people” Eliphaz refers to as laughing at the wicked, would be good only because they are imitators of God, who is sad when bad things happen – even to bad people.
Is suffering evidence of God’s curse?
But, the major point of attack against Job is that such disasters could not have happened to him if he were a good man. He obviously sinned to have received such treatment. Eliphaz asks Job, “Think back now. Name a single case where someone righteous met with disaster” (Job 4:7); “Happy is the person whom God corrects! Do not resent it when he rebukes you” (Job 5:17). The latter statement is true and could be quoted in church, but does it apply to Job? Is God correcting or testing Job in this story? From God’s own statements at the beginning and the end of the book, we know that this is not the point. Job defends himself continually against the accusations that he deserved this treatment. “You have gone far enough. Stop being unjust. Don’t condemn me. I’m in the right” (Job 6:20).
Do good people ever suffer loss? Many of God’s special friends through the years have endured the worst treatment. Paul writes of the prophets in the Old Testament, “Some were mocked and whipped, and others were put in chains and taken off to prison. They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they were killed by the sword. They went clothed in skins of sheep or goats – poor persecuted, and mistreated. The world was not good enough for them! They wandered like refugees in the deserts and hills, living in caves and holes in the ground” (Hebrews 11:37, 38).
Paul describes the suffering he endured, “Five times I was given the thirty-nine lashes by the Jews; three times I was whipped by the Romans; and once I was stoned. I have been in three shipwrecks, and once I spent twenty-four hours in the water. In my many travels I have been in danger from floods and from robbers, in danger from my own people and from Gentiles; there have been dangers in the cities, dangers in the wilds, dangers on the high seas, and dangers from false friends. There has been work and toil; often I have gone without sleep; I have been hungry and thirsty; I have often been without enough food, shelter, or clothing” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27).
And Jesus tells us, “Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!” (Matthew 5:10). From a worldly point of view, the lives of God’s best friends on earth often appear to have been a complete failure and Job knew that temporal blessing in this life is not necessarily an endorsement of God’s favor. He sarcastically asks the question, “Was a wicked person’s light ever put out? Did one of them ever meet with disaster? Did God ever punish the wicked in anger and blow them away like straw in the wind or like dust carried away in a storm?” (Job 21:17, 18).
The idea that riches are equated with God’s blessing, while tragedy is due to his punishment, persisted to the time of Jesus, who had to remind them that God loves all of his children. “For he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil” (Matthew 5:45). Of the man born blind, his disciples asked him, “Teacher, whose sin caused him to be born blind? Was it his own or his parents’ sin? Jesus answered, His blindness has nothing to do with his sins or his parents’ sins” (John 9:2, 3). Later, Jesus again completely turned their philosophy upside down when he said, “How hard it is for rich people to enter the Kingdom of God! It is much harder for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. The people who heard him asked, ‘Who, then, can be saved?’” (Luke 19:24-26). This statement was confusing to the disciples because, if it is difficult for a rich man to be saved (who, in their minds, was obviously blessed by God as evidenced by his riches), then who can? The idea that material wealth is not necessarily evidence of God’s blessing was incompatible with their theology.
Job’s friends are persistent, hammering his sinfulness again and again. “Put your heart right, Job. Reach out to God. Put away evil and wrong from your home. Then face the world again, firm and courageous. Then all your troubles will fade from your memory, like floods that are past and remembered no more” (Job 11:4-6). It sounds like good advice, but the friends obviously do not know what began up in heaven between God and Satan that had led to this tragedy! In their frustration, the friends result to insult and, in the process, reveal their true character: “But now you are being punished as you deserve” (Job 36:17); “God is punishing you less than you deserve” (Job 11:6); “Any sensible person will surely agree; and the wise who hear me will say that Job is speaking from ignorance and that nothing he says makes sense. Think through everything that Job says; you will see that he talks like an evil man. To his sins he adds rebellion; in front of us all he mocks God” (Job 34:34-37).
Job recognizes that, since God is in control, he is, in a sense, responsible for his personal tragedy and could have prevented it. In his deep depression, he wonders how God could have allowed this to happen. “You think you are better than I am, and regard my troubles as proof of my guilt. Can’t you see it is God who has done this? He has set a trap to catch me. I protest his violence, but no one is listening; no one hears my cry for justice. He has taken away all my wealth and destroyed my reputation. God has made my own family forsake me; I am a stranger to those who knew me; my relatives and friends are gone. Those who were guests in my house have forgotten me; my servant women treat me like a stranger and a foreigner. When I call a servant, he doesn’t answer— even when I beg him to help me. My wife can’t stand the smell of my breath, and my own brothers won’t come near me. Children despise me and laugh when they see me. My closest friends look at me with disgust; those I loved most have turned against me. My skin hangs loose on my bones; I have barely escaped with my life. You are my friends! Take pity on me! How I wish that someone would remember my words and record them in a book! Or with a chisel carve my words in stone and write them so that they would last forever” (Job 19:5-7,9,13-21).
Can we talk to and know God as a friend? Is he offended by our questions?
Job obviously did not know that what he was going through was being watched closely by God, Satan, and the entire on-looking universe and that his words would be preserved for eternity. Was God offended by Job’s accusation and complaint? Was Job about to renounce God? How God must have wanted to wrap his arms around Job in love at this point and explain why this was happening to him. But Job still had important things to say in defending God before the universe. He continues, now remembering the God whom he had known as his friend: “But I know there is someone in heaven who will come at last to my defense. Even after my skin is eaten by disease, while still in this body I will see God. I will see him with my own eyes, and he will not be a stranger” (Job 19:25-27).
What a remarkable picture of God Job had! “I still rebel and complain against God; I cannot keep from groaning. How I wish I knew where to find him, and knew how to go where he is. I would state my case before him and present all the arguments in my favor. I want to know what he would say and how he would answer me. Would God use all his strength against me? No, he would listen as I spoke. I am honest; I could reason with God; he would declare me innocent once and for all” (Job 23:1-7). Can one speak to God like this? Job’s friends believe that God zaps people on the spot for such language. And wouldn’t Satan be pleased to have us believe this as well? What would it say about God if he did not allow the honest expression of emotions from his children, especially at a time of great tragedy? Elihu declares, “I won’t ask to speak with God; why should I give him a chance to destroy me? God’s power is so great that we cannot come near him…” (Job 37:20,23).
But Job, like Abraham and Moses, knew God as a friend, and he knew that God is not offended or miffed by honest and heartfelt questions, especially in such a predicament. God did not rebuke Moses when, in his frustration, he complained, “Lord, why do you mistreat your people? Why did you send me here? Ever since I went to the king to speak for you, he has treated them cruelly. And you have done nothing to help them!” (Exodus 5:22,23). God did not rebuke Abraham when he said, “Surely you won’t kill the innocent with the guilty. That’s impossible! You can’t do that. If you did, the innocent would be punished along with the guilty. That is impossible. The judge of all the earth has to act justly” (Genesis 18:25). Job knew that if he could just talk to God, his Friend, everything would make sense.
And this was the most painful aspect of Job’s experience. God, who he had known as a Friend, was no longer talking to him: “I have searched in the East, but God is not there; I have not found him when I searched in the West. God has been at work in the North and the South, but still I have not seen him. Yet God knows every step I take; if he tests me, he will find me pure” (Job 23:8-10); “If only my life could once again be as it was when God watched over me. God was always with me then and gave me light as I walked through the darkness. Those were the days when I was prosperous, and the friendship of God protected my home” (Job 29:1-3); “I call to you, O God, but you never answer; and when I pray, you pay no attention” (Job 30:20). Yet, even through this trial where God seemed absent, Job still held on to the truth about God, his Friend, and was able to say, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15, KJV).
Job’s vindicates the truth about the character of God before the universe
If we could step back and imagine God and the loyal angels watching this battle continue, what would be said? The three friends believe that humans are of no use to God, “Is there anyone, even the wisest, who could ever be of use to God? Does your doing right benefit God, or does your being good help him at all? Do you help God by being so righteous? There is nothing God needs from you.” (Job 22:1-3, 7). But isn’t Job, in this story helping God in the vindication of his character before angels and men? He is resisting Satan’s strongest deceptions, and in the process is revealing convincing evidence of God’s character in contrast to the false picture of God presented by the three friends. His only weapon is a deep knowledge of his Creator – an intimate friendship with the God of love. Satan could not break Job’s trust by leading him to concede on a single point, as to the true picture of God.
There was one subject, however, that Job and the friends were in agreement. Both acknowledged that God is all-powerful. The friends, however, believed that God, as the Sovereign One, can do whatever he likes because he has all the power and who are we to question God? In their mind, there is an infinite distance between God and his sinful children. “God’s power is so great that we cannot come near him” (Job 37:23). But God always had been near to Job. Job agrees that God’s power is without limits, but he disagrees with the friends’ picture of a vengeful, distant, and severe deity. Job knew God as a Friend and understood the kind of relationship he desires to have with his children, which wasn’t fully revealed until Jesus came in person. “I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends…” (John 15:15).
Job presents his final argument. “Will no one listen to what I am saying? I swear that every word is true. Let Almighty God answer me. If the charges my opponent brings against me were written down so that I could see them, I would wear them proudly on my shoulder and place them on my head like a crown. I would tell God everything I have done, and hold my head high in his presence” (Job 31:35-37).
God was now ready to answer Job. If Job was right in what he said about God, wouldn’t we expect God to come to him gently and with comforting words, as Jesus did when he preached the Sermon on the Mount? “Happy are you poor; the Kingdom of God is yours! Happy are you who are hungry now; you will be filled! Happy are you who weep now; you will laugh! Happy are you when people hate you, reject you, insult you, and say that you are evil, all because of the Son of Man! Be glad when that happens and dance for joy, because a great reward is kept for you in heaven” (Luke 6:21-23). Wouldn’t that have been a happy ending to the story, followed by Job receiving his health and family again? Yet, almost as if there were still some angels not convinced, possibly agreeing with the friends’ picture of God more than Job’s, there was still another trial for Job to endure.
God comes to Job in overwhelming power. “Then out of the storm the Lord spoke to Job. Who are you to question my wisdom with your ignorant, empty words? Now stand up straight and answer the questions I ask you. Were you there when I made the world? If you know so much, tell me about it. Who decided how large it would be? Who stretched the measuring line over it? Do you know all the answers? What holds up the pillars that support the earth? Who laid the cornerstone of the world?” (Job 38:1-6). God continues, now using sarcasm, “Do you know where the light comes from or what the source of darkness is? Can you show them how far to go, or send them back again? I am sure you can, because you’re so old and were there when the world was made!” (Job 38:19-21).
After many verses of God detailing his great power, he turns to Job, “Job, you challenged Almighty God; will you give up now, or will you answer?” (Job 40:1, 2). Did Job really challenge God? Why is God now appearing to fault a “perfect and upright” man who had the worst calamities befall him, not because he was bad, but because God had removed his protecting hand? All poor Job can say is, “I spoke foolishly, Lord. What can I answer? I will not try to say anything else. I have already said more than I should” (Job 40:3). But God was not finished, and the angels were perhaps siding with the friend’s arguments as this point. “Then out of the storm the Lord spoke to Job once again. Now stand up straight and answer my questions. Are you trying to prove that I am unjust— to put me in the wrong and yourself in the right? Are you as strong as I am? Can your voice thunder as loud as mine? If so, stand up in your honor and pride; clothe yourself with majesty and glory. Look at those who are proud; pour out your anger and humble them. Yes, look at them and bring them down; crush the wicked where they stand. Bury them all in the ground; bind them in the world of the dead. Then I will be the first to praise you and admit that you won the victory yourself” (Job 40:5-14).
Job was apparently defeated and the friends must have been feeling quite pleased. “Then Job answered the Lord. ‘I know, Lord, that you are all-powerful; that you can do everything you want. You ask how I dare question your wisdom when I am so very ignorant. I talked about things I did not understand, about marvels too great for me to know. You told me to listen while you spoke and to try to answer your questions. In the past I knew only what others had told me, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. So I am ashamed of all I have said and repent in dust and ashes’” (Job 42:1-6). Did God bring this trial on Job to force these words of repentance from his lips? God may have turned to the angels at this point and said, “Do some of you think I am this way – all-powerful, but cold, distant and insensitive to the sufferings of my children?” Perhaps some even wondered if God had made a mistake in declaring of Job, “There is no one on earth as faithful and good as he is” (Job 1:8). Satan appeared victorious. Yet, God knew his friend Job, and “he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm…” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Then, in a remarkable twist, God suddenly ends the debate by declaring that what Job said of him was true. “After the Lord had finished speaking to Job, he said to Eliphaz, ‘I am angry with you and your two friends, because you did not speak the truth about me, the way my servant Job did. Now take seven bulls and seven rams to Job and offer them as a sacrifice for yourselves. Job will pray for you, and I will answer his prayer and not disgrace you the way you deserve. You did not speak the truth about me as he did.’ Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar did what the Lord had told them to do, and the Lord answered Job’s prayer” (Job 42:7-9). A collective “gasp” of amazement is heard in heaven! What drama!
God has used this method of contrast and sudden change of events several times in the Bible as an effective teaching method. A Canaanite woman once asked Jesus to heal her daughter. The disciples looked on this heathen woman with scorn. “But Jesus did not say a word to her. His disciples came to him and begged him, ‘Send her away! She is following us and making all this noise!’ Then Jesus replied, ‘I have been sent only to the lost sheep of the people of Israel’” (Matthew 15:23, 24). The disciples must have felt that they were correct in their air of bigotry and superiority as they saw Jesus give her the cold shoulder. But Jesus knew this woman’s heart and he was to demonstrate an important lesson for his disciples. “At this the woman came and fell at his feet. ‘Help me, sir!’ she said. Jesus answered, ‘It isn’t right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs’” (Matthew 15:25, 26). Most would have given up at this point, but not this woman. ‘That’s true, sir,’ she answered, ‘but even the dogs eat the leftovers that fall from their masters’ table.’ So Jesus answered her, ‘You are a woman of great faith! What you want will be done for you.’And at that very moment her daughter was healed” (Matthew 15:27, 28). The fact that Jesus led the disciples down the road of believing that they were correct in their self-righteous attitude, made the rebuke all the more striking.
When Moses was on Mount Sinai with God receiving the 10 commandments, God informed Moses that the people had rebelled and were worshiping a golden calf, “The Lord said to Moses, “Hurry and go back down, because your people, whom you led out of Egypt, have sinned and rejected me. They have already left the way that I commanded them to follow; they have made a bull-calf out of melted gold and have worshiped it and offered sacrifices to it. They are saying that this is their god, who led them out of Egypt. I know how stubborn these people are. Now, don’t try to stop me. I am angry with them, and I am going to destroy them. Then I will make you and your descendants into a great nation” (Exodus 32:7-10).
God appears ready to destroy this entire nation of “about 600,000 men, not counting women and children” (Exodus 12:37), completely out of existence. This nation, of whom he had promised to Abraham, “I make this covenant with you: I promise that you will be the ancestor of many nations. Your name will no longer be Abram, but Abraham, because I am making you the ancestor of many nations. I will give you many descendants, and some of them will be kings. You will have so many descendants that they will become nations. I will keep my promise to you and to your descendants in future generations as an everlasting covenant. I will be your God and the God of your descendants. I will give to you and to your descendants this land in which you are now a foreigner. The whole land of Canaan will belong to your descendants forever, and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:4, 5). Is God going back on his promise? Does a creature need to step in to talk down the Creator from his anger? Did Moses, in this instance have greater control over his emotions that God? As with the story of Job, this conversation between God and Moses makes so much more sense, and places God in a much better (and true) light, if it is seen with all of us and an on-looking universe watching as God reveals the truth about his character through this conversation with his friend Moses.
God’s emphasis to Moses is that they are his people, not God’s. But just 40 days earlier he had claimed them as his own in very tender language. “The whole earth is mine, but you will be my chosen people, a people dedicated to me alone, and you will serve me as priests” (Exodus 19:5, 6). Is this an opportunity for Moses to rid himself of these rebellious people and start up a proud country of his own children? What an honor, and who would dare argue with God?
“But Moses pleaded with the Lord his God and said, ‘Lord, why should you be so angry with your people, whom you rescued from Egypt with great might and power? Why should the Egyptians be able to say that you led your people out of Egypt, planning to kill them in the mountains and destroy them completely? Stop being angry; change your mind and do not bring this disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Remember the solemn promise you made to them to give them as many descendants as there are stars in the sky and to give their descendants all that land you promised would be their possession forever.’ So the Lord changed his mind and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened” (Exodus 32:11-14).
Moses recognized that these are not his people as God suggested; they are God’s, and their success or failure rests solely on the trust that the people and Moses place in God. And, perhaps more importantly, the angels, who were all watching this scene unfold, can witness a remarkable thing. Moses, who spoke with God “face to face, just as someone speaks with a friend” (Exodus 33:11), could not be led away from the truth about God, even by God himself! Moses is more concerned about God’s reputation than any personal honor. He knows the ideals God had for this nation: “You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead it is put on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). What would killing his chosen people say to the rest of the world, and to the on-looking universe, about God? Moses says to God, in essence, “God, as I know you, you couldn’t do that. What would it do to your reputation?” God used his friend Moses to declare of himself, by means of contrast, “I am not this way, and I wish that all of you knew me as well as my friend Moses”.
In a similar way, as the angels saw that God was actually on Job’s side in the end, they could not help but see the teaching point – that God is not the kind of person Satan has perversely made him out to be. He is not vengeful and severe. God is, through eloquent teaching and demonstration, proving that Satan’s lies about him are false. God allows people who know him intimately to speak the truth about his character. If God were to make the claim himself, the Bible could be a one-page statement by God
– “I am love. These lies that Satan is circulating about me are false.” Instead, he provides persuasive evidence in these stories that we may be fully convinced as to the kind of God he is while, in contrast, we see the methods and character of Satan – power, cruelty and lies. God’s ideal is that we, like Moses and Job, are completely settled into the good news about his character. This distortion of the “Good News about the grace of God” (Acts 20:24) receives the strongest rebuke from Paul, and we are reminded in this verse, that it was an angel from heaven who was the first to tell a different version of the good news about God: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel that is different from the one we preached to you, may he be condemned to hell!” (Galatians 1:8).
Could we ever be so convinced about the kind of person God is, that though an angel from heaven would come in great power, mixed with apparent love and sincerity, but at the same time preaching subtle lies about God, we could reject him, despite the show of force? Could we stand like Job and Moses and declare, “You are not describing the God that I have come to know as a Friend?” A reliance and confidence in this truth about God, not miracles and wonders, is our only hope as this great conflict builds to its climax, and this verse now rings with greater meaning having described the experience of Job. “The Wicked One will come with the power of Satan and perform all kings of false miracles and wonders, and use every kind of wicked deceit on those who will perish. They will perish because they did not welcome and love the truth so as to be saved. And so God sends the power of error to work in them so that they believe what is false. The result is that all who have not believed the truth, but have taken pleasure in sin, will be condemned” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12)
It’s been at least 3 years since I wrote this article about the experience of Job. Since then, I wanted toadd a few additional thoughts as well as to answer a few questions that some have raised about this article.
But Job admitted that he was wrong!
Some have taken the position that since Job must have been in the wrong since he repented when God revealed himself – “I spoke foolishly, Lord. What can I answer? I will not try to say anything else. I have already said more than I should.” (Job 40:3) But yet, this is the consistent responds of even the most upright mortals when brought into the immediate presence of God.
For example, righteous Isaiah saw God in all of His glory and said, “There is no hope for me! I am doomed because every word that passes my lips is sinful, and I live among a people whose every word is sinful. And yet, with my own eyes I have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5 – GN)
There is no better saint in the Bible than Daniel, yet when he saw God glory he said, “Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me. For my beauty was turned within me to corruption, and I kept no strength.”(Daniel 10:8-9 – MKJV)
Paul was caught up into the seventh heaven and yet would say “I am less than the least of all God’s people” (Ephesians 3:8 – GN)
And John, who walked with God in human form for 3 and 1/2 years, yet when he saw Jesus in all His glory his response was, “When I saw him, I fell down at his feet like a dead man.” (Revelation 1:17 – GN)
In the presence of God we become acutely aware of both God’s great goodness, and at the same timeof our own sinfulness. And so, Job actually falls into good company with the likes of Daniel, Isaiah and John.
Wasn’t Elihu God’s agent sent to correct Job?
From my perspective, Elihu was arrogant. For example:
“My knowledge is wide; I will use what I know to show that God, my Creator, is just. Nothing I say to you is false; you see before you a truly wise man.” (Job 36:3,4 – GN)
I also have problems with the theology of Elihu. Are these words true?
“God corrects us by sending sickness and filling our bodies with pain. Those who are sick lose their appetites, and even the finest food looks revolting. Their bodies waste away to nothing; you can see all their bones; they are about to go to the world of the dead.” (Job 33:19-22 – GN)
And, these accusations against Job are refuted by God Himself!
“Have you ever seen anyone like this man Job? He never shows respect for God. He likes the company of evil people and goes around with sinners.” (Job 34:7-8 – GN)
“Job, have you confessed your sins to God and promised not to sin again? Have you asked God to show you your faults, and have you agreed to stop doing evil? Since you object to what God does, can you expect him to do what you want? The decision is yours, not mine; tell us now what you think. Any sensible person will surely agree; and the wise who hear me will say that Job is speaking from ignorance and that nothing he says makes sense. Think through everything that Job says; you will see that he talks like an evil man. To his sins he adds rebellion; in front of us all he mocks God.” (Job 34:31-36 – GN)
“But now you are being punished as you deserve” (Job 36:17 – GN)
And, most significantly, Elihu’s argument is basically that God is powerful and who is Job to question God!
“Remember how great is God’s power…Everyone has seen what he has done; but we can only watch from a distance. We cannot fully know his greatness or count the number of his years” (Job 36:23,25,26 – GN)
And these are verses are most remarkable of all!
“I won’t ask to speak with God; why should I give him a chance to destroy me? God’s power is so great that we cannot come near him…No wonder, then, that everyone is awed by him, and that he ignores those who claim to be wise.” (Job 37:20,23 – GN)
This is the counter opposite to the reality! They are worth repeating: “I won’t ask to speak with God; why should I give him a chance to destroy me? God’s power is so great that we cannot come near him.” All the way through, Job has defended God as someone who is approachable. Elihu believes that the greater distance between he and God the better!
And so, after Elihu finishes, God almost seems to mirror the false picture of God that Elihu had erected – only to shatter it into pieces at the end of the book.
I am intrigued with the possibility that God’s description of the great beast Leviathan is a description of Satan. It’s almost as if God is telling Job: “There is just one piece of the puzzle you are missing – a great controversy and an adversary!” Listen to how God describes this monster:
“Can you catch Leviathan with a fishhook or tie his tongue down with a rope? Can you put a rope through his snout or put a hook through his jaws?…Touch him once and you’ll never try it again; you’ll never forget the fight! Anyone who sees Leviathan loses courage and falls to the ground. When he is aroused, he is fierce; no one would dare to stand before him. Who can attack him and still be safe? No one in all the world can do it. Let me tell you about Leviathan’s legs and describe how great and strong he is….His pride is invincible; nothing can make a dent in that pride. Nothing can get through that proud skin— impervious to weapons and weather…” (Job 41:15-16)
“Even angels* run for cover when he surfaces, cowering before his tail-thrashing turbulence.” (Job 41:25) *gods, or “the strongest”
“His stony heart is without fear, as unyielding and hard as a millstone. When he rises up, even the strongest are frightened; they are helpless with fear. There is no sword that can wound him; no spear or arrow or lance that can harm him. For him iron is as flimsy as straw, and bronze as soft as rotten wood. There is no arrow that can make him run; rocks thrown at him are like bits of straw. To him a club is a piece of straw, and he laughs when men throw spears. He churns up the sea like boiling water and makes it bubble like a pot of oil. He leaves a shining path behind him and turns the sea to white foam. There is nothing on earth to compare with him; he is a creature that has no fear. He looks down on even the proudest animals; he is king of all wild beasts.” (Job 41:1-34 – GN)
The NIV translates verses 33 and 34 this way: “Nothing on earth is his equal— a creature without fear. He looks down on all that are haughty; he is king over all that are proud.”
And, I think it is significant that Leviathan elsewhere is described with these words: “On that day the LORD will use his fierce and powerful sword to punish Leviathan, that slippery snake, Leviathan, that twisting snake. He will kill that monster which lives in the sea.” (Isaiah 27:1)
How man “slippery” and “twisting” snakes do you know in the Bible?
Job’s final defense
It is very fascinating to read the more literal translations of Job’s final response to God before he collapses in despair.
“Then Job answered the Lord and said. ‘I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Hear, now and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.* I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You.” (Job 42:1-5, NASB)
“Listen now, and I will speak. I will ask you, and you will teach me.’ (Job 42:4, GOD’S WORD)
“Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.” (Job 42:4, NRSV)
It’s almost as if Job maintains to his dying breath, “I can question God. I know that He will not be offended. The God that I have come to know as a Friend can be reasoned with. Though He slay me, and though I do not fully understand what is happening to me, yet I will still trust in Him!”