Before we begin, let us pray:
“God our helper, show us your holy ways and teach us your paths. By your Holy Spirit open our minds that we may be led in your truth and taught your will. Then may we praise you by listening to your Word and by obeying it. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen (Worship Sourcebook).”
We are going to study another difficult and yet helpful book and it is the book of Job. Studying this book about suffering which deals with the problem of pain will definitely challenge series students of God’s Word. But just like in our study of the book of Revelation, this book about Job and his suffering helps Christians who face difficult trials and tribulations in their lives. Christians can receive comfort from the fact that while life here on earth is often riddled with pain and suffering, God who is both our Creator and Redeemer is sovereign and enables believers persevere in the end. Yes in eternity past, God decrees everything that will come pass. Moreover, he also rules, sustains, and concurs. God appoints the end and he also provides the means to his appointed end.
So in order to study well this book, we need to understand first its historical and literary background. Then as in Introduction, we start by exposing the first pericope in chapter 1, verses 1 to 5. From here, we will know about the man who God tested Job. We will learn about his life and condition prior to going through his trial. We will understand from these passage the meaning of godliness and wisdom. This will help us, by way of introduction, see for ourselves and pray to also understand the work of God in our own lives.
Let us read Job chapter 1, verses 1 to 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. 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. 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. 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.”
Book of Job
The writer and even the writing of this book is relatively unknown. Some scholars places this book historically either prior to Moses which is the patriarchal period of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or during the peak of the unified kingdom of Israel under Solomon, or after exile during the period of Ezra and Nehemiah. All these are possibilities for the occasion of the book and important to determine in order for us to intelligently ascribe any meaning to it. So in order for us to study this book together, we need to have a common reference as to its historical and literary context.
I agree wit the assessment of other scholars that the book may probably exist, either by oral tradition or writing, during the patriarchal period and given to us by God’s providence in this final book form during the time of king Solomon as part of the Wisdom books of the Old Testament. I think the narrative section at the beginning of the book in chapters 1 and 2 gives us hints of its own historical context that mirror the times of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Job living in the land of Uz as a nomad, his character and wealth, his manner of worship offering burnt sacrifices to Yahweh bears a striking resemblance the way of life during the patriarchal period. The last item of list, animal sacrifices, I think explains why even though Job calls God Yahweh in the book, and Yahweh is the personal and covenant name of God exclusively for Israel, we still cannot consider it as a historical book that happened during the period of the Mosaic Law primarily because it seems to have a priesthood outside of the Aaronic priesthood of Israel. Therefore, we need to consider the historical context of the book not primarily applied to the nation as a whole but to an individual believer of Yahweh who represents the structure of the biblical authority of family. As head of the household, Job is the spiritual leader of his own family just like in the New Testament, we have male leaders in the household both in the church and even in their own families. Going back, the occasion of the book is personal rather corporate.
Now while the historical period of its writing may have come from the period of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the book in its final form may have come to us during the period of King Solomon. The literary genre of the book is poetical and the aim is to impart Wisdom. It is a Wisdom book together with Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Songs of Solomon. I think having the poetical form composing the major section of this book, we can say that it is the interest in the interest of this writer of the book of Job to impart wisdom to his fellow congregants.
Now as wisdom writer, it seems to follow the pattern of Ecclesiastes which challenges the assumptions of the normative or standard view of godly living as we can read and understand from Psalms and Proverbs. Yes, the book of Psalms is prayer hymn book of the Old Testament, and even a prophetic book from the point of view of the New Testament but like the book of Proverbs it contains insights and promotes understanding. The conventional view of wisdom in a normative sense is basically this: The righteous prosper while the wicked suffers. However, the difficult topic of the problem of pain seems to escape this usual understanding because we know from experience that the righteous also suffers, experience trials, and even martyred to death.
How can this be? How can we understand this from the point of view of man’s wisdom? It is actually a surprising thought to some but the suffering of God’s people is not so surprising to Scripture after all and the book of Job is an enduring testament to this truth. While I would not like to preempt the journey and our collective discovery of this truth, I think is best to state as summary the conclusion of the book. In our quest for knowledge and wisdom, man is limited. God who is our Creator and Redeem alone is perfected wise and good and wise man understands his own frailty and limitation. You and I are not God. We are creatures and wholly dependent in God for our whole being. The book while ventures to seek and understand the answer to the question why does God’s people suffer in the end it teaches us that the answer lies in God and we simply need to submit to will and take comfort from the fact that we are in good hands because he alone is both wise and good. I know it is a bit anticlimactic to reveal that in the end Job did not know why he suffers. And for us as God’s people we cannot simply cannot fully comprehend the reasons for it but one thing is for sure: God is sovereign, good, and wise and as his people, we are called to submit in humility to him. And this is good for us.
The book of Job is a book for God’s people in all generation who wrestles and ask questions about pain and suffering. It offers wise counsel and even helps us arrive in the same conclusion as Job, God is God and we are not. He is the Creator and we are his creatures. He alone rules, provides, and concurs and we as his creatures are called to submit humbly before him. This is the way to godly living.
Job the man God tested
Before we end our preaching, let us summarize some important details verses 1 to 5 gave us about Job. We need to know them in order to help us understand the background of this man’s story so we can emphasize with him as he goes through with all the ordeal God puts him in. Empathy means understanding from the point of view of the one who suffers. It will be difficult for us to understand if we do not know important matters about this man that we can about to study.
So Job is a non-Israelite who lives in Uz. It means he lives outside Israel and possibly a nomad. His household seems to mirror one like the patriarchs and we know like Abraham, Job’s way of living is like a nomad. Is Job a historical figure? Yes, we know both in the Old Testament and even in the New Testament, Job was mentioned. This is a testament to the fact that while we do not know per se who was the writer of this book, we know from Scripture that the writer was writing about man in history. In Ezekiel 14:14, Scripture says, “…even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord GOD.” It is reasonable to conclude that if Ezekiel considers Daniel as a man who lives in history including Noah, then mentioning Job there in the same list makes him also a historical figure. And then in the wisdom book of the New Testament, James wrote, “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful (James 5:11)”. This further cement Job as important figure in Scripture and our studying his life brings encouragement and comfort to God’s people even in our age.
Now Job was described as someone who is “blameless and upright”. I think we need to clarify that it does not mean sinless perfection. In the book, we will understand that Job’s sin, on this particular period of his trial, did not cause his suffering, yet he is far from perfect. Theological, we can compare Scripture with Scripture and conclude with Paul that “None is righteous, no, not one (Romans 5:10)”. Therefore, blamelessness and uprightness here means other than sinless perfection. It means Job is a God-fearing man. He is a godly and mature believer. In verse 1, it says Job fears God and shuns evil. Yes, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom but it does not mean fear in sense he flees from God and despises his presence. Fearing God here means submitting to God and his laws as both wise and good. Job lives in the normative wisdom of walking with God. He is a worshipper of the one and true God, Yahweh, his Creator, Provider and later on in the book Job calls him as his Redeemer.
But Job not only lives positively in righteousness, he also mortifies sin and shuns evil. He lives in self-denial and keeps watch over himself and his family against the devil. He protects himself from committing any known sin before God and man, publicly and privately. He has integrity in character and lives morally in conduct. In sum, we can say he is a mature believer.
This is the backdraft of the story that will help us understand and emphasize with Job as he goes through the testing of his faith. From his we can learn with him that being wise does not merely the attainment of theoretical knowledge about God. As reformed Christians, we are often charged of being egg heads “all knowledge but no heart” and often we can discover that this is true. I am privilege to have been a community of believers so does not only cherish the Word of God as something to be true only in theory but also in practice. As some of you may know, most of us here suffers immense suffering and pain and we are privilege to share this experience and wisdom to the whole community. I often easy to say we believe in the doctrine of Providence but in our daily lives we fear men rather God and we embrace evil rather than mortify it. And yet reading God’s word, studying his work in providence, in fellowship with his suffering people, takes us away from the theoretical and brings us to the practicality of godly living. And this the aim of this book that we will study and I pray that God will bless us with presence as we go through it every Lord’s Day.
ZCRC (Imus), God alone is wise and good. He rules, preserves, and concurs. So let us continue to live in humble submission to God and his will. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.