Why Did God Scold Job?
By Dr. Brad Cole
“… we needn’t be too afraid of questionings and expostulations: it was the impatience of Job not the theodicies of Elihu that were pleasing to God. Does He like us to ‘stand up to Him’ a bit?” C.S. Lewis
Imagine that you are a physician assigned to care for a patient in the hospital. You are told that the patient has painful wound infections that are too numerous to count. After introducing yourself, you begin to take a history from a disheveled man with disfiguring skin infections who grimaces in pain with every movement. After a few minutes of conversation, you begin to recognize the face buried deep within the sheets. Listening more carefully to the tone of voice, your ears now perceive a ring of familiarity. You glance down at the name on the chart and realize that this is no ordinary patient. He is known to all, but not for the usual reasons. He is not an athlete, movie star, or politician. This man is rather known for his charitable contributions, humility, grace, kindness to the poor, and wisdom. For obvious reasons, we’ll call him “Job.”
You’ve never been asked to care for such a famous individual and his story now takes on more interest. What happened to such a great and humble man? Job recounts his story to you of how, within days, he lost everything: cars, houses, money, even his health – all gone. Worst of all his entire family, except for his wife, was now dead. Through choked tears, he recounts that the sons and daughters he prayed for every day were suddenly no more. You wonder how one man could be so unlucky? As you finish your examination, his wife who was at the bedside cries out, “You are still as faithful as ever, aren’t you? Why don’t you curse God and die?” Job’s answer to his grief stricken wife is hard to believe, “You are talking nonsense! When God sends us something good, we welcome it. How can we complain when he sends us trouble?” (2:9-10)
As a physician, you have witnessed much suffering, death and challenges to faith, but never something like this. Job has lost everything and the only remaining family member tells him just to end it all—even to give up his hope in God. Yet, in the face of all this, the pitiable one in the bed doesn’t cry “why me?” but rather maintains his confidence in God. Remarkable!
As you leave the room, three of your patient’s friends file in. Wondering if they will heap on more bad news and discouragement, you are encouraged to observe their body language of sympathy and support as they tearfully stand around Job in prayer.
Now our story takes a bizarre turn. On falling asleep that night you experience a vivid dream of a heavenly realm with countless angles. At the center of it all, you see all eyes fixed on God as he initiates a conversation with Satan. “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil” (1:8). Based on your bedside observation, you agree with God’s assessment of Job as “blameless and upright.” Satan then accuses God of unfairly protecting and blessing Job whose obedience he says is merely a charade, “only because he gets something out of it.” You are amazed to hear God give Satan permission to destroy his family and everything that he had. Now you understand what really happened to your suffering patient! You wonder in your dream at the fairness of it all, “Was Job the victim of a heavenly chess match?”
You watch as Satan returns from destroying Job’s family and possessions. His head is held a little lower, however, as God once again initiates the conversation by saying, “Did you notice my servant Job? 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!” (2:3-5)
Once again, you wonder at God’s purpose in all this. You think of Jesus who spent his entire ministry healing people of every condition, even some ungrateful people who didn’t ask to be healed, and yet in this story he would allow the physical body of such a “faithful and good” man to be directly attacked by the Devil.
One thing is clear, Satan has challenged God and his reputation before the entire heavenly council. Was God correct in saying that faithful Job will not let him down?
Turning to an angel in your dream to ask what is going on, he agreeably pulls back a curtain to reveal Satan’s activity as he leaves God’s presence and you observe the Adversary as he crafts a more subtle approach. His next scheme involves three of Job’s “friends” who “go and comfort him” (2:11). They reveal apparent sincerity by weeping when they see his condition. They even sit by Job’s bed for 7 days without saying a word. After a while, one of the men, Eliphaz, timidly begins, “Job, would you mind if I speak?” (4:1). But as you listen to the words you understand who provided the inspiration for Eliphaz:
“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: ‘Can anyone be righteous in the sight of God or be pure before his Creator?’” (Job 4:12-17)
Of course, God had just declared Job to be “perfect and upright” (NKJV) and “blameless” (NRSV) before his Creator but the three friends did not know this. Neither did poor Job. All he could say was that this eerie dream was creepy, “But you – you terrify me with dreams; you send visions and nightmares…” (Job 7:14).
Awakening from your own dream, you return to the hospital with a sense of urgency. There you find Job and the three friends engaged in dialogue. You long to enlighten Job with the knowledge that God had not abandoned him, but rather that he was looking on with great compassion as Job weathered assaults from all sides. You listen to the friends’ subtle and crafty speeches and become convinced that every word is designed to break Job’s trust in God.
The friends make God out to be distant and stern. “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?” (4:17-19). Eliphaz 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” (15:14, 15).
Is Job “worthless” in God’s eyes? You also remember that this dispute began in the heavenly counsel with angels as a central part of the encounter. You wonder if these words about God not even trusting his angels were designed to create doubt in their minds as well. You can almost hear Satan himself speaking through the friends to accuse God before the entire universe. In the friends’ discourse with Job your ears are now primed for lies and distortions such as the words that, “Good people are glad and the innocent laugh when they see the wicked punished” (22:19). You are surprised that God does not step in and put an end to the relentless attacks against a man who is already so broken.
As the conversation continues, you notice a central theme of the three friends. The major point of attack against Job is that such disasters would not have happened to him unless he had sinned against God. “Think back now. Name a single case where someone righteous met with disaster” (4:7); “Happy is the person whom God corrects! Do not resent it when he rebukes you” (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 in the heavenly counsel, you know that Satan was the one who claimed Job to be unworthy – not God.
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” (6:20). You can’t help but chuckle as Job sarcastically asks, “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?” (21:17, 18).
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” (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 finally result to ad hominem attacks and, in the process, reveal their true character:
“But now you are being punished as you deserve” (36:17); “
“God is punishing you less than you deserve” (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” (34:34-37).
Job seems to recognize that since God is all-powerful, he did in a sense, permit this tragedy to occur 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” (19:5-7,9,13-21).
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 “chiseled” for eternity.
You wonder if Job is about ready to give up and renounce God and you have an intense desire to step in and to explain to Job what is happening. But after the harsh words of complaint to God, Job continues, now remembering the One 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…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” (19:25-27; 23:1-7).
You wonder at Job’s boldness. Can one speak to God like this? Can one demand to reason with God? Job’s friends believe that God zaps people on the spot for such language. But Job refused to let go of his belief that God was his Friend and that, as a Friend, he was not easily offended by honest and heartfelt questions, especially in such a predicament. Perhaps Job reflected on the honest words of Moses when, in his frustration, he also 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).
Perhaps Job was thought about 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, that everything would make sense.
And this seemed to be 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” (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” (29:1-3); “I call to you, O God, but you never answer; and when I pray, you pay no attention” (30:20).
Yet, even through this trial where God seemed absent, Job still held on to his Friend, and was able to say, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15).
If you were the physician at the Job’s bedside, listening to the accusations of the friends and hearing Job’s defense that he was in the right, would you cringe at Job’s harsh words directed toward God? Would you feel that under the circumstances of losing everything and now being bombarded by the accusations of three “friends” that Job went too far and that God was upset as his grumbling? Despite Job’s words about his friendship with God, his trust in God, and his desire to reason with him once again to sort out this mess, would you feel that God was upset that Job dared to complain? Has Satan won the victory and proved God wrong when he said that Job would not let him down?
As you wonder about these things, another person enters the room. His name is Elihu and he seems to you to represent the very embodiment of arrogance,
“My knowledge is wide; I will use what I know to show that God, my Creator, is just. Nothing I say toyou is false; you see before you a truly wise man” (36:3,4).
He also has some unusual theology.
“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” (33:19-22).
And, like the 3 friends, he heaps on the same accusations against Job which had been refuted by God in the heavenly courtroom. “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” (34:7-8).
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” (34:31-36); “But now you are being punished as you deserve” (36:17).
Has Job really fallen all the way from “perfect and upright” to an “evil man”? Does the person that God declared as “perfect and upright” really “mock God” and “enjoy the company of evil people”?
Elihu’s argument seems to be that God is powerful and “who are you 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” (36:23,25,26).
And finally, these words of Elihu are a direct contrast to the attitude that Job has toward God:
“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.” (37:20,23)
All the way through, Job has defended God as someone who is approachable. Elihu, on the other hand, goes even further than the three friends in saying that the greater distance between him and God the better!
Finally, Job presents his last 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” (31:35-37).
You are exhausted from this entire encounter and wonder if any human has ever been put through the wringer like Job. At that moment the hospital doors suddenly burst off their hinges, a great light fills the room and everyone recognizes the overwhelming presence of God. You are afraid and can hardly bear the intensity of the situation, but yet you are sure that God must be stepping in to make things right and to say something like, “Well done my friend Job. I love you and I am proud of you!”
Instead, God comes to Job in overwhelming power and with words of rebuke. He seems to agree with Elihu who even compared God’s activity in the world as like a storm (36:9, 37:1, 37:9).
“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?” (38:1-6).
God continues, now even 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!” (38:19-21).
After detailing his great power, God now turns to Job, “Job, you challenged Almighty God; will you give up now, or will you answer?” (40:1, 2).
You are too afraid to speak, but can’t help thinking, “Did Job really challenge you, God? Isn’t Satan the one who challenged you? Why are you now appearing to fault a “perfect and upright” man who had the worst calamities befall him, not because he was bad, but because you removed your protecting hand? You become angry. Should you now counsel your suffering patients in the hospital, “Whatever you do, don’t ever question God.”
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” (40:3). But God was not finished, and you cannot help but wondering if you were wrong in assuming that the friends were on Satan’s side. God seems to suggest that they were right.
“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” (40:5-14).
Job was apparently defeated. Elihu and the three 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’” (42:1-6).
Imagine your discouragement if the story had ended there. First, God allows your patient to be relentlessly attacked in every way possible and then the story ends with God blaming him for honestly voicing his thoughts. Is that what God is like? Did God bring this trial on Job to force words of repentance from his lips?
But then, in a remarkable twist, God suddenly ends the debate by declaring that what Job said of him was true after all.
“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” (42:7-9).
You cannot help but gasp with amazement! Now you understand that the last trial for Job was to be utterly forsaken – even by God. There was no longer any room for doubt among the heavenly counsel that God had unfairly blessed Job to “pay off” his devotion. Job’s faithfulness to the end vindicated God and defeated the mud-slinging Adversary. Job proved that God is someone who values the loyal friendship of his creatures. He was not offended by Job’s complaints because an important quality of friends is that they are honest and open with each other.
Now breaking from the physician narrative, a few more comments on the story of Job.
God, the iconoclast
“My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? The incarnation is the supreme example. It leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins.” – CS Lewis
God has used this method of contrast and sudden change of events several times in the Bible as an effective teaching method. He essentially builds up the false picture in order to shatter it. In the Old Testament, he revealed himself to Abraham just like the “gods” in that day were generally believed to be – demanding the death of the firstborn. Although it caused him great agony, God’s request to sacrifice Isaac did not seem unreasonable to Abraham and he was on his way to the mountain. God temporarily built up the false image only to shatter it and the story of Abraham should have revealed to anyone living in that time, “There is at least one unusual feature of the God of Abraham: he does not desire child sacrifice.”
There are several other examples of this principle in the OT, but it’s worth noting that Jesus used iconoclastic methods as well.
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, ‘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). Did Jesus really want this woman to beg like a dog for healing? No! He was building up the false image that his disciples had constructed in order to shatter it. 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.
While God publically rebuked Job, he also described a great beast called Leviathan who seems to exhibit qualities of the Adversary. It’s almost as if God is telling Job: “There is just one piece of the puzzle you are missing – a cosmic conflict 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 41:24-34).
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.”
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 many “slippery” and “twisting” snakes do you know in the Bible?
Job, a type of Christ?
There are also similarities between Job and Christ.
The stories both begin with God’s declaration of innocence and approval. In the case of Jesus, his ministry began with baptism and God’s words, “You are my own dear Son. With you I am pleased.” (Luke 3:22)
- After God’s words of approval, both Jesus and Job were tested by Satan. Immediately after his baptism, the Spirit “drove” Jesus into the wilderness where he was physically deprived and then tempted by the Devil.
- Satan’s accusation against Job was that God unfairly blessed him compared to everyone else and that this was the only reason he was faithful to God. Likewise, Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness also suggested that he was unfairly priviliged. “You’re the son of the Godfather aren’t you? You can do whatever you want. You have special powers that others don’t have. In fact, why don’t you prove how unfair your special advantages are by creating breakfast for yourself right here on this rock? Or, why don’t you defy the laws of gravity and fly off this cliff? No one else on this planet can do that.”
- Job was repeatedly told that he was nothing special to God. Likewise, Satan’s accusations to Jesus also denied his special relationship with the Father, “If you are God’s Son…” (Luke 4:3). This temptation was pressed on Jesus to the very end, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah whom God has chosen!” (Luke 23:35)
- Jesus and Job exposed and defeated Satan by vindicating the character of God before the on-looking universe.
- Jesus and Job both experienced complete God-forsakenness, “Why have you forsaken me?”, yet neither relinquished their trust in God. Most people stop reading the book of Job after God comes and seems to accuse Job. They miss God’s final words of commendation to Job and rebuke to the friends. This seems like listening to Jesus’ words, “Why have you forsaken me?” and then not reading on to the resurrection.
Job’s final defense – a few more unanswered questions…
It is also fascinating to read the more literal translations of Job’s final response to God before he collapsed 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.”