Why? (Job - Part 1)
Topic: Expository Scripture: Job 1:1–2:13
Synopsis: This is the first in a series of three messages from the Book of Job. Entitled “Why?”this message from Job 1-2 sets the stage for the rest of the book. The book raises many questions in our minds that begin with the word “Why?” Life itself presents us with many of the same questions. But in this message we will discover that this book was not written to answer our questions. It was written to ask us a question. How will we answer?
Two weeks ago I preached a message entitled “Why Am I Still Sick?” At the conclusion of that message I promised that we would follow up with a 3-part series on the Book of Job. The reason for that connection is because the question of sickness in the life of the Christian is part of a larger question of pain and suffering of all kinds; grief and loss, tragedy and disaster.
We have all known pain and suffering. We have suffered losses that we did not think we could endure. We have felt pain, either physical or emotional, that we did not think we could bear. And in our pain and suffering we have wrestled with the question: “Why?”
It is a cosmic and global question. It is also a deeply personal question. And it is at its core a profoundly theological question and a faith question. If God is good, if God is on his throne, if he is a loving God, and if he is our God, why does he permit such suffering and pain to come into our lives? Why? Why? Why?
In the Book of Job, the characters wrestle at length with these questions of pain and suffering and devastating losses. And the wrestle very specifically with the question: Why do the righteous suffer? We kind of get the “Bad things happen to bad people” kind of suffering. That’s justice. They get what they deserve. But when bad things happen to good or seemingly innocent people, we struggle and want to know why. Particularly when bad things happen to us, we want to know why. The main character, Job, wrestled mightily with this question. So did his friends. And so do we.
But even as we begin our study, I need to offer this disclaimer. The Book of Job does not ultimately answer the question. The question is asked repeatedly in the book. There is much discussion on the matter. There are long discourses seeking to unravel the mystery. But when all is said and done, the question will remain unanswered.
Because, you see, the Book of Job was not written to address this particular question. It was written to ask and ponder another even more profound and fundamental question. The Book of Job was not written to answer the question: Why do the righteous suffer? In fact, I believe it was not written to answer a question at all but to ask a question. That question is this. Why do the righteous worship? Why do God’s people worship and serve and obey him?
Let’s set the stage. The Book of Job is a part of the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament, along with other books like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. These books deal with some of the basic issues of life. Job is unique in the Scriptures as it is written in the form of a drama or play. It is based on real life events, but the telling is stylized to fit the dramatic setting, with long speeches and dialogue.
The drama that is described takes place on two different sets or settings. One setting is on earth. The other is in heaven. We as the readers or the viewers of the play are privileged to see what goes on in both settings. It is as though we are watching events taking place on the stage, but there is curtain running, across the stage perpendicular to those of us in the audience. We can see what is going on on the stage on both sides of the curtain.
But it is vital to our understanding for us to realize that while we can see both settings and know what transpires in heaven as well as on earth, Job and his friends are never permitted that glimpse. In fact, even at the end of the story, Job still does not know about the discussions that took place in heaven. We must keep that in mind as the drama unfolds.
The story begins with a description of Job, the main character in the drama in Job 1:1-5:
There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. 2 There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. 3 He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. 4 His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5 And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.
Job was not perfect. He will admit that in his own discourse later in the dialogue. But he was living an exemplary life; a life of faith and obedience to God; a life of godly leadership in his own family.
That is the scene on earth. Now the drama shifts to the scene in heaven.
6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 8 And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”
Do you ever think of God bragging? It is not a term we often use in reference to God. But there is something that God takes pride in; something that gives him great satisfaction. That is the righteous lives of his people and the trust and confidence they demonstrate in him. “Look at Job!” God says to Satan.
Now comes Satan’s cynical challenge in verses 9-11:
9 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”
This is the fundamental issue of the entire book. Why do the righteous worship? Why do they serve God? Why did Job fear God? Why did he live such a life of righteous before God? Or let’s make it personal. Why do we worship? Why do we serve God?
There are two theses or answers offered to that question. God’s answer is this: “My people serve me because I am God. They worship me because I am worthy of worship. They obey me out of love and reverence for me.”
Satan snorts with cynical disgust. “No way! People only serve you, God, because you pay good wages. People are mercenary. They only obey you because of the blessings you give. You can only win and keep human allegiance through bribery.”
Did you ever hear the phrase “rice Christians”? It came out of the early missionary efforts in India. As they preached the Gospel, the early missionaries also offered food or rice to feed the hungry. Over time the need became overwhelming, so they limited their food distribution to those who joined the church. Suddenly lots of people were coming to join the church. Only their faith was not sincere. They simply wanted to benefit from the rice distribution. Hence the term “rice Christians.” Essentially, Satan is accusing all who worship and follow God of being “rice Christians.”
He is saying, in essence, “Take away your hand of blessing and protection and Job’s faith and obedience will evaporate like the morning dew when the sun begins to shine.”
So who is right? God or Satan? Whose prediction would stand up in Job’s life? Whose prediction would stand up in your life and in mine?
So the stage is set and the trial is about to begin. But there is one very important principle or limit set before it begins. We see this in verse 12: And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
God sets the limits of the test. God is still sovereign in all that happens. Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 10:13: No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. There we see the limits set and God’s provision for us to endure the test triumphantly.
Watch what happens next.
Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house,14 and there came a messenger to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, 15 and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 16 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 17 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 18 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, 19 and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”
It is almost beyond imagining. The scale of the disasters that fell upon Job are almost beyond comprehension. I am reminded of some of the recent pictures in the news of the tornadoes in the US, and the utter devastation – homes shredded and destroyed in an instant.
So, in the midst of the disaster and incredible grief, pain and loss, who was right about Job? God or Satan?
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.
21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
I don’t know about you, but I get a lump in my throat when I read that. This is faith in action. God’s own reputation and claims have been vindicated. I suspect, if I may take some liberties, that God also had a lump in his throat and a tear in his eye when he heard Job’s response.
And so the great test was passed. But Satan is not through yet.
Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord.
2 And the Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 3 And the Lordsaid to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.
God expresses his joy and pleasure in Job once again. But now Satan make an even more awful accusation.
Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. 5 But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.”
Here is what Satan is actually saying: “Job is even worse than I thought. He doesn’t even care about his family or anyone else. All he cares about is his own skin, his own body, his own physical health. But take that away from him and he will curse you.”
And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.”
Notice again that God set the limits.
So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. 8 And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes.
There Job sat, outside the city, in the city garbage dump. Everything is gone. He is now in great physical agony, scraping his boil-like sores with a broken shard of pottery. And then to top it all off, his own wife turns against him.
Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.”
It would be hard to imagine greater human misery. But look at Job’s response in verse 10.
But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Simply put, Job says, “I will accept whatever God brings into my life, both the good and the bad, both the joy and the pain. I will trust in him because he is my God and he is worthy of my trust.”
And so Job demonstrated that God is able to evoke love, obedience and trust in his people apart from material considerations and physical blessings.
Job never led an army. He held no political office. He passed no laws. He never sat on a throne. He never even pastored a great church or led a great Christian organization. But he won one of the greatest victories ever recorded for the Kingdom of God. And he won that victory, not in front of a cheering multitude. He won that victory while seated on an ash heap outside the city and with tears streaming down his face.
And even more ironically, when he won that victory, he didn’t even know it. I suspect a great cheer may have gone up in heaven. But Job didn’t hear it. No trumpets sounded in his ears. No bells rang. He sat alone in great pain. Yet by his faith response, God’s reputation and claims had been vindicated in the spiritual world.
In 1985, my brother Lanny and his wife Janis were serving as missionaries in Southern Sudan. One day while they were driving between two of their mission stations, their Land Rover was ambushed by bandits. Two shots were fired. One of the bullets struck Janis in the back. They managed to escape the bandits, but the wound was too serious and Janis died almost ten hours later, while being medevac’d to Kenya.
Lanny later put his memories of that awful day into writing and I want to quote part of what he wrote:
“About two hours into the three-hour flight, the doctors sensed a change in Janis’ condition. They both knelt beside her and did whatever doctors do in a life-threatening emergency. I, sitting just beside where she lay, prayed. Suddenly I felt a huge void open up in me, and I knew that she had died.
“As I sat there and the doctors continued to work the Lord spoke to me. The words were not audible. They were spoken on a much deeper level. But they were very clear to me. ‘The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’
“I recognized this as a verse from Job. But what the Lord emphasized upon me was my need to respond to that verse by blessing the name of the Lord.
“‘How, God, can I bless you now?’ I asked. ‘Janis has just died. Life has no meaning at all. Why should I bless you?’
“But the answer came back, ‘Bless the Lord.’
“I didn’t even know how to bless the Lord, I was in such a state of shock. But I sensed that if the faith for which Janis and I had come to Sudan was worth anything, I had to obey. I started very unsurely, ‘Bless you, Lord.’
“Then a song, one of Janis’ favorites, came to mind: ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul, And all that is within me, bless his holy name.’ For the hour remaining of that flight, I sang that song over and over to myself.”
How about you and me this morning? When and why do we trust and worship the Lord? When do we sing our praise songs? When are we able to say, “Bless the Lord”? When the going is good? When the sun shines and all is well? I hope we worship and bless the Lord then. But what about the hard times, when the pain and the loneliness and sense of loss seem almost more than we can bear? Can we bless him then? Can we trust him then? Can we worship him then?
The worship that comes from a joyful heart is music that gladdens the heart of God. But it is the worship that comes from a broken heart that really makes God proud.
- What was your initial reaction when you heard that Pastor Cam was going to preach on the Book of Job? Do you find the Book of Job comforting, disturbing, comforting or ?
- Read Job 1-2.
- What stands out to you in the story?
- Why is it important to keep in mind that Job (and his friends) were not aware of the scenes in heaven? How does keeping the invisible (spiritual) world in mind influence our response to events in the visible (physical) world?
- Read Satan’s accusation in Job 1:9-11 again? Is his thesis accurate in reference to the faith of most people? Is it accurate in reference to your faith?
- As you are comfortable, share a situation in which your faith was tested. How did you respond?
- Pastor Cam made the statement that: The Book of Job was not written to answer the question, “Why do the righteous suffer?” It was written to ask the question: “Why do the righteous worship?” Do you agree with him? How does this affect the way you understand and respond to the story?
- For next week – read as much of the rest of the Book of Job as you can. Always try to keep in mind who the speaker is!