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Introduction to Job - When Your Faith Is Tested

Updated: Jun 9, 2021

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.


Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Job 1

We are introduced to one of the most famous stories in the Bible, a story that resonates with people from all times and places. Job experienced an unimaginable tragedy; his response to it will both inspire us and challenge us.

Throughout all this Job did not sin or blame God for anything. Job 1:22

Getting Started: Things to Think About


Questions Your Kids Ask

Kids are great about asking questions that are the worst -- maybe the timing's bad, or maybe there's just no good answer. What are some questions you've been asked by kids that have stuck in your brain? Here are some possibilities to help spark your memory:

  • "What's that smell?" Maybe it's not a hard question, but depending on your company, maybe it's not a question you want to answer.

  • "Where do babies come from?" This question is inevitable. And it's only slightly better than the alternative, "Did you swallow a baby?"

  • "Why is the moon called the moon?" Great question.

  • "Do mermaid fingers prune from being in the water all the time?" Warning: once you open the floodgates about real/not real, you never know what will come out next.

  • "If you have one Ritz cracker, is it called a Rit?" Kids are great. Runner-up: "Is it called sand because it's between the sea and the land?"

  • "What's an A-section or a B-section?" If you don't think kids are always listening, you're doomed.

(In my life, it's "Are we there yet?" and "Why?")


(In a survey on NY Post, they reported these common questions asked of parents:

  1. Is Santa real? 37 percent

  2. Where do babies come from? 36 percent

  3. Why do we have to recycle? 29 percent

  4. Do animals get married? 27 percent

  5. What does ‘green’ mean? 27 percent

  6. What does [expletive] mean? 26 percent

  7. Why is the sky blue? 26 percent

  8. Why can’t I stay up as late as you? 25 percent

  9. What does love mean? 25 percent)

As they say, kids ask the darndest questions.


As an adult, wouldn't it be nice to have a person you could ask your every question to? Regardless of how silly or trivial it might turn out to be? We all have questions, and sometimes it's hard to find an answer (or to know who to ask). The book of Job is filled with some of the toughest questions ever asked, and that makes it a priceless resource for Christians. It will make us uncomfortable at times, but so does life.


Questions You'd Like to Ask

Maybe you aren't entertained by questions kids ask. But I know that you have questions! What are questions you've had that you would like answers to? Perhaps a discussion of Job would best be started by acknowledging the various questions we've all had at some point or another. Some might be silly, some might be work-related, and some might utterly impossible to answer. Here are some ideas to get you started:


Social questions:

  • Why exactly does baseball get to be "America's Pastime"?

  • Why does nodding your head mean "yes"?

  • Why does music in a minor key make your feel sad?

  • What accounts for changes in fashion?

  • How do we know if a joke is funny?


Scientific questions:

  • What is gravity?

  • What is the unified theory of existence?

  • Can the speed of light be broken?

  • How does quantum entanglement work?

  • How do we explain particles flowing upstream?


Philosophical questions:

  • What is truth?

  • What is time?

  • What are dreams?

  • What is more powerful: love or fear?

  • Can God make a rock so heavy that He can't lift it?


If you're brave, you can find an endless list of difficult questions online. (Just be prepared to reckon with how little we actually know.)


The point? In the Book of Job, Job wrestles with the fundamental question we all have about everything: why? The way people try to answer it and the way God answers it are profound. Yes, we're going to travel through some depressing events and deep thoughts, but we're going to come away with knowledge that we want and need.

 

Everything We Know About the Book of Job

Less than we'd like.


Author and Date

There are no indications in the text about either the author or the date of writing. The story pretty clearly takes places during patriarchal times (in the time of Abraham). In the first few verses of the book, we learn that Job's wealth was measured in livestock, and also that he served in a priestly role for his family. That's Abraham era-stuff.


The text itself is actually very difficult to translate. It's filled with dense poetic constructions, and the grammar and syntax is unusual. There are also a bunch of words that are rarely found in ancient Hebrew texts. This might indicate that Job is quite ancient, maybe even originally written in a more ancient Semitic language and translated into Hebrew. (If Job lived during Abraham's day, then he couldn't have been a Jew, right?)


A number of scholars have suggested that someone like Solomon might have edited the text (it's difficult to imagine that these were "transcripts" of conversations), and there's no sure way to prove or disprove that theory. But it would make sense. The high point of Jewish "wisdom literature" came during the reigns of David and Solomon -- the books of Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. At the very least, someone like Solomon might have revived interest in this book and its powerful presentation of wisdom.


We do know that Ezekiel mentioned Job (Ezek 14:14, 20), so his story was known before the 6th century BC. But I believe that Job is ancient -- probably the oldest book in the Bible. Below, we will ask the question of if this book is historical or just a parable. If it is historical, then the easiest conclusion is that Job the man wrote/guided the earliest draft, which would mean that this story has existed in some form since Abraham's day (older than 2,000 BC).


Location

The land of "Uz". Your guess is probably as good as mine. "Uz" was used to refer to a son of Aram (Gen 10:23), a son of Nahor (Gen 22:21), and a son of Seir (Gen 36:28). This could imply a location anywhere from northern Syria to southern Edom. We know that his flocks were attacked by Chaldeans (nomadic tribes from around Babylon), and by Sabaeans (nomadic tribes from southern Arabia). One of Job's friends was from Teman, which was in Edom. Finally, in Lamentations 4:21, Uz was associated with Edom.

As you can see, this map puts Uz south of Edom. Other maps put Uz more East of Edom on the northern border of Arabia.


It seems that the vagueness of time and place is intentional. The Bible wants us to know that anyone, anywhere could ask the same questions Job is asking and get the same answers. This is a human situation, not a Jewish one.


And it does beg the question, why would the Bible include a story about someone who wasn't even a Jew? Think of it this way: what did Noah and Abraham and Melchizedek have in common? They weren't Jews. They were men who had a relationship with God, and God made sure that Moses (who compiled the first five books of the Bible) knew and included their stories. I would not be surprised if God brought the story of Job (which had been circulating in the region) to Moses' attention to make sure that the people knew it.


Is Job Historical? Does That Even Matter?

The biggest question people have about this book is if it really happened. Did Job really exist? And does that really matter? If Job was written as a kind of parable, wouldn't it still be helpful? After all, we still get all sorts of profound truths out of Jesus' parables.


I understand why people would wonder that -- how in the world do we know about a conversation that took place between Satan and God, right? But I think we are in our right mind to believe that the events in the book of Job really happened.

  1. Later biblical authors like Ezekiel (Ezek 14:14) and James (James 5:11) refer to attributes of Job. If Job didn't exist, then those references are silly. Why should anybody care about "Job's patience" if he was made-up?

  2. If this is just a fictional story, then the real power of the story -- its insight into grief and suffering -- disappears. If some poet made everything up, then its no different than a Shakespearean play. But because Job and his friends (and also God) speak from their hearts, we can look to this book for deep and profound insight.

Because I believe this book is based on real conversations that happened between real people, I believe we can mine its words for real truths about the human condition (inspired by God Himself). I think we can even learn something important about Satan's power on earth (see below). This is a real window into the human heart, and it gives us meaningful perspective on the ultimate questions of life.


Primary Themes and Purpose

At first blush, we tend to think that this book gives us answers to the age-old question about "why bad things happen to good people". But there's so much more going on than that. In the first place, it explains that blessings/curses in this life are not necessarily tied to our righteousness. In the second place, it explains how God is with people in their suffering and helps us understand God's "role" in those events. But most importantly, it paints the clearest picture as to why and how we must trust God. You'll note that God never fully answers Job's questions, and that's obviously intentional. Will we only trust God when we completely understand and endorse God's every action in our history?


The Bible Project does a great job weaving the fuller picture of wisdom together from Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes.

  • In Proverbs, we learn that good things tend to follow when we act wisely.

  • In Ecclesiastes (this in a few weeks), we confront the fact that the world does not always operate according to the principles in Proverbs. Sometimes foolish people seem to prosper and wise people suffer. How should we respond to that?

  • In Job, we confront the most difficult question of all: how can we trust God when it looks like a righteous person suffers needlessly? Is God still in control?

The three books together provide us a strong, nuanced understanding of wisdom, life, and suffering. In the book of Job, God Himself gives us the final answers -- God is in control of a universe far more vast than we could ever comprehend, and He is bringing it to the best conclusion for a free and self-responsible humanity.


Here's a great overview of the book. What I really want you to notice is that the bulk of the book -- the arguments of Job's friends -- is really just a small part of the true meaning. The crux of the book is the final chapters in which God speaks. That doesn't mean you can skip the arguments! Those arguments describe what people think -- what we think. God is responding to human perspectives and those chapters force us to be honest with ourselves.


About the Man Named Job

First, don't lose any sleep trying to look up what the word "Job" means. We don't know for certain what language it is! If it were Hebrew, it might mean something like "persecuted". If it were Arabic, it might mean something like "one who returns to God". We don't know.


The word used to describe Job ("pure") has the connotation of being even-tempered. It doesn't mean that Job was "sinless", but it means that he wholeheartedly sought after God and to please God. In his relationship with God (what we might call his "religion"), he was complete and blameless in the sense of having integrity. In other words, he followed God with his whole heart. An analogy might be David, who was considered a man after God's own heart.


But where we remember Job for being patient, the book of Job presents a man who is angry and argumentative, even caustic. In other words, he's a real person -- someone we can relate to. He was a good man who wanted to please God and couldn't for the life of him understand why these things were happening to him, and he was mad at God about it. And God was more than able to handle Job's questions.


The Structure of Job

If you look at the outline of our 7 lesson in Job, you'll see a lot of skipping. Well, that's because the book is extremely long, and we only have 7 sessions to cover it. Here's how Job is put together and how our lesson plans intersect it. Each "cycle" includes a statement by each of Job's three friends and a response by Job. The final cycle is different -- there, Job's arguments are answered by an angry young man (who is cut off by God).


(I was writing my own outline and decided that I preferred the one in the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Here's a condensed version of that; I encourage you to check out the original.)

  1. The Prologue and Job's Lament (chs 1-3)

  2. The Dialogue among Men (chs 4-27)

    1. Cycle 1: Will God answer a righteous sufferer's questions? (chs 4-14)

    2. Cycle 2: Does the fate of the wicked prove God's justice? (chs 15-21)

    3. Cycle 3: Can a sufferer ever know God's will and way? (chs 22-28)

    4. Cycle 4: Job and Elihu (chs 29-37)

      1. Job: Let God answer my complaint (chs 29-31)

      2. Elihu: Don't complain to God (chs 32-37)

  3. The Dialogue with God (chs 38-41)

  4. The Epilogue: God brings forgiveness and reconciliation (ch 42)

That "dialogue" with God is really more a "God speaks and Job is humbled". But the amazing fact is that God chose to intervene at all.


Here's how our lessons intersect (to encourage you): we have one lesson on the Prologue (this week), one lesson from Cycle 1, one lessons from Cycle 2, one lesson from Cycle 3, one lesson from Cycle 4, one lesson from God's statements, and one lesson from the Epilogue. That's not so bad.

 

This Week's Big Idea: What Is Satan's Power on Earth?

The opening chapter of Job begs a number of big-picture questions. We really don't have time to cover each of them in depth, but here's a summary. If you have further questions, always feel free to contact me at the church.


Is this "Satan" Satan or some other being?

Some of your translations might just have this as "the accuser", which is what the word "Satan" means in Hebrew. However, this word has the definite article in front of it, indicating a specific accuser in mind, and so it is almost certainly the same "Satan" that becomes better-known in Zechariah 3 and Revelation 12. Remember that Job was written a long time ago, long before this information became more familiar.


Who is Satan?

I'll let this Bible Project video answer that.


What is Satan doing in God's presence?

God is not afraid of Satan. God cast Satan down from heaven after Satan's failed rebellion, and Satan was condemned to "roam the earth", but that doesn't mean that God couldn't call Satan to account. Satan was still a "son of God" in the sense of an angel.


Why would God bring attention to Job?

This is one of those times in the Bible when my initial reaction is to be upset with God -- "God, couldn't You just leave Job out of this?" That, of course, is the whole point of the book. I see three things coming out of this exchange:

  1. Satan ultimately learns that people do in fact love and serve God with the right heart -- he will not be able to manipulate everyone.

  2. Job ultimately becomes a model and a messenger of patience and faith. We would not have this incredible story if Job had not suffered.

  3. God reveals that all things happen under His superintendence and according to His purposes. This most-senseless-seeming event was allowed by God.

Because of Job's experience, we can learn that (1) sometimes we simply won't understand why things happen, and (2) sometimes we won't like why things happen, but (3) God is always aware of our circumstances and is with us. In this book, we are never told "why". We are told to trust God despite not knowing why. (And most importantly, He will bring His children to an eternity where those things don't happen anymore.) All of this was terrible for Job and his family, and I really kind of hate that they suffered for my benefit, but that makes me want to learn this lesson so as to bring the most good out of their tragedy.


How much power does Satan have on earth?

Because I believe this book is based on history, I actually think we can learn things about Satan. First and foremost, Satan has real power on earth. Look at these events:

  • Satan stirred up two tribes to steal livestock and kill people.

  • Satan caused two natural disasters that destroyed people and property.

  • Satan afflicted Job with severe disease.

That is nothing to scoff at. While this doesn't mean that Satan is behind every war or plague or disaster, it means that Satan can be involved in those things. But here's the most important conclusion: Satan only has the power that God allows him to have. Satan cannot step beyond the bounds that God allows him. And so you might ask, "Why does God give Satan any power at all?" Well, it's a consequence of our sin. God gave Adam true free will, and Adam chose freely to listen to Satan instead of God. And so today, people are given a genuine opportunity to follow God or someone else, like Satan. Satan is the father of lies and only wants to steal and destroy (like he did in Job's life), but people are sinful.

 

Part 1: Permission Granted (Job 1:8-12)

8 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? No one else on earth is like him, a man of perfect integrity, who fears God and turns away from evil.” 9 Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Haven’t you placed a hedge around him, his household, and everything he owns? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and strike everything he owns, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 12 “Very well,” the Lord told Satan, “everything he owns is in your power. However, do not lay a hand on Job himself.” So Satan left the Lord’s presence.

Above, I gave some background information on this passage that might help you. Also, just read the first few verses -- we learn that Job is a very wealthy, righteous, and complete man (note the use of "7" and "3" and "10" in the description; a "yoke of oxen" refers to two oxen).


I'm fascinated by how Satan tries to manipulate God in the exact way that he manipulated Adam and Eve. Reading it for the first time, you might even wonder if it's working! Of course, God only allowed it because it would demonstrate Satan's failure and defeat. God was always in control of the situation.


Satan raises a good question that each one of us should consider: how many people worship and serve God because of what they think it will get them in return? We've asked this question many times in other contexts. People join a church because they are told it will make them rich. Or because they think it will give them social status. Or whatever. It's all about them. And what will happen to such a person's faith when they face a crisis?


And Satan is correct in his next accusation: hasn't God blessed Job? Yes! Every blessing we have -- every "good and perfect gift" -- comes from God! But isn't it fascinating to see how Satan twists the connotations to his own ends? Isn't it frightening the mastery he has of manipulation? (Again -- no one can manipulate God.)


This book does not tell us why God allowed Satan to attack Job. In that way, it forces us to ask ourselves if we are willing to trust God when we don't know the "why". (And you'll notice that above I actually tried to give some potential reasons why; take those with a grain of salt!) That said, I believe that this book shares the conversation between God and Satan (which means that God must have eventually told it to Job) in order to give us a partial reason why, even if we don't fully understand it. God was allowing Satan to test Job.


We can be sure that Satan is coming after every follower of Jesus Christ (we talked about this a few weeks ago how Satan asked permission to "sift" Peter and the apostles). We can also be sure that God only allows tests and trials that we can endure --

No temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity. But God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to bear it. 1 Cor 10:13

Let this book put us on our guard!

 

Part 2: Attack Executed (Job 1:13-19)

13 One day when Job’s sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger came to Job and reported, “While the oxen were plowing and the donkeys grazing nearby, 15 the Sabeans swooped down and took them away. They struck down the servants with the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you!” 16 He was still speaking when another messenger came and reported, “God’s fire fell from heaven. It burned the sheep and the servants and devoured them, and I alone have escaped to tell you!” 17 That messenger was still speaking when yet another came and reported, “The Chaldeans formed three bands, made a raid on the camels, and took them away. They struck down the servants with the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you!” 18 He was still speaking when another messenger came and reported, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house. 19 Suddenly a powerful wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on the young people so that they died, and I alone have escaped to tell you!”

This should be absolutely terrifying. I've talked about Satan, the Sabaeans, and the Chaldeans above. A couple of notes:

  • The mention of "God's fire" should really catch your attention. Satan is quite able to disguise his attacks as having divine origin -- "Hey, Job, that God you think is so good is the one who is coming after you". Job really wondered if God must be the one attacking him! But he never sinned against God; he just wanted to know why.

  • The mention of the wind and the four corners is interesting and kind of implies a tornado. Those are extremely rare in the Near East (which might explain why they didn't have a name for it). Otherwise, this would have to be a very strong wind; we can assume that Job's son was wealthy enough to build a sturdy house.

This is basically supposed to be your worst nightmare and then more. I hesitate to ask about the worst tragedies you've experienced ; sometimes they're still too fresh to talk about calmly, and sometimes they're too personal to talk about in a group. Be cautious with this section. But we are encouraged to remember times when we have asked "Why has this happened to me?" Whatever our worst tragedy, Job is right there with us. We can definitely learn a lesson from his restraint. He did not shy away from his hurt and his doubt, but he did keep himself under control.


I think of people in our church family who have suffered terrible tragedy, and my heart breaks for them all over again. We need to be aware of and in prayer for our church members who are going through terrible times. And our study of Job is going to give us very helpful lessons of how we should and should not be there for our friends in their grief.

 

Part 3: Trust Maintained (Job 1:20-22)

20 Then Job stood up, tore his robe, and shaved his head. He fell to the ground and worshiped, 21 saying:
Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
22 Throughout all this Job did not sin or blame God for anything.

As far as I'm concerned, this is really where the book begins. Everything before is just setup. Now, we get to the drama -- how will Job respond to his tragedy?


Here's the logical discussion question: when you suffered a tragedy, how did you respond in the moment? (Be circumspect with that question -- it's very personal, and sometimes people are embarrassed by how they behaved after a tragedy.) Were you as self-controlled as Job? (Note: Job wasn't "calm" -- he was very agitated.) As you have gotten older, has your response to tragedy changed? Let's look at Job's initial reaction:

  • Tearing one's robe was a display of grief, reflecting how one's heart was torn in two, so to speak. We see this throughout the Bible.

  • Shaving one's head was an action of mourning, reflecting the loss one felt. People would put away everything they had of value, including their own hair.

  • There's just one verb used that's translated "fall to the ground and worship". It actually just means "to bow low to the ground" and is most often associated with worship, although this action might be more about Job's humiliation than worship in our modern sense.

So, Job is utterly consumed by grief and loss. And we learn that it is possible to feel those emotions without sinning against God.


Job's words are some of the most powerful in the Bible, and something I always recall at a funeral. Even as we mourn a loss, we should be disciplined to acknowledge the blessing of having gained at all. We have some more crass ways of saying things like this today -- "You can't take it with you" "He who dies with the most toys still dies" -- but I think that people all over the world resonate with what Job says here. It all comes from God; it all goes back to God. My body is the stuff of the earth; my body will return to the earth. As morbid as those thoughts are, I believe they help us keep perspective. What's most important in life?


But we aren't quite to "what's the meaning of life?" yet. The point of this first lesson is to establish that Job lost everything yet chose not to sin against God. He never lost faith in God's sovereignty over the earth. He was upset with what it meant for him! And I think it will be an important lesson for us that we can be upset with God and yet not sin against Him!


(Note that we skip over the next section in which Satan afflicts Job with disease, and Job's wide tells him to curse God and die. So, yes, it can always get worse.)


(And then we are introduced to Job's three friends -- but more on them next week.)


Summary statements:

  • Tragedies happen even to the people of God.

  • Satan is out to destroy all people.

  • Job was genuinely heartbroken and upset but kept his faith.

Finally, we can find inspiration from how our Christian brethren have handled tragedies in their lives. Equally importantly, we need to be there for our friends going through tragedy.

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