Open your Bibles to the Book of Job. The 18th book of the Bible.
We’re going to be embarking on the study of this ancient wisdom book in the Old Testament.
And it’s always dangerous to make predictions about the length of these studies, but I would guess that we’re going to be studying this book somewhere between 26 and 42 weeks.
Why Study Job?
And that leads us to our first question – why study the book of Job?
Why take the time in Sunday School to week-after-week devote ourselves to this book and to trying to understand it better?
It’s because we all sense that there’s something we need from this book – but we might not understand what that is, really.
It’s probably been the case in your life – as it has been in mine – that as soon as you’re struggling with the seeming injustices of life that you reach for this book – either with your hands or in your heart.
Your spouse is physically not well – or your children have gone astray from the Lord – or someone close to you dies tragically – or you experience persecution – or you find yourself in a country and a world where mass murders are committed with increasing frequency – or things happen in the broad context of the Church that you just can’t understand…
And we all turn our focus to a God that we know is all-powerful – and he’s good. And yet… evil is a reality in this world that he created as good.
And we can’t fathom why a good and powerful God allows evil.
And we think to ourselves – doesn’t the book of Job say something about that??
And so, we reach for the book of Job. And we start reading. And… it’s confusing.
Why Studying Job is Hard
And that brings us to consider why the book of Job is confusing and why we often can’t seem to really profit from it as we turn to it in our times of struggles and trials and needs.
We tend to start off in the book of Job pretty well as we’re immediately confronted with narrative – a story – in the first two chapters of Job. Who doesn’t love a story? Everyone loves stories. And that’s what we’re met with immediately in the book of Job.
But then…chapter after chapter of poetry given by men with unusual names – like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. And some of what they say sounds true and right. But then it appears that what they’re saying doesn’t apply to Job’s unique situation.
And then – of course – we have Job who starts off with not sinning with his mouth. But as we go along in the book it seems like maybe he does sin with his mouth. And yet at the end of the book God says that he spoke what is right – in contrast to his three friends.
And what do you do with Elihu? He’s the younger man that starts speaking toward the end of the book after the three friends can’t seem to find anything more to say to Job. Is Elihu right? Or is he just as wrong as the friends? Or… is the truth somewhere in between?
Then – after that – God appears in a whirlwind to Job and we expect to hear him answer some of Job’s accusations – or at least explain to Job why he was suffering. But all God does is ask Job a bunch of questions. He never explains his ways in Job’s life.
Lastly, without explanation, God restores everything that Job had at the beginning of the book.
And that’s the end.
And so, I think we’re still left wondering why a powerful and loving God allows for evil in this world. The book of Job has done nothing – in our minds – to address that issue.
Or has it?
Structure of Job
This book has a definite message to those who suffer – and really, to everyone.
But to get to that message we need to examine the structure of this book. This book does have a structure! You and I might tend to get lost in the trees and not be able to see the whole forest as we’re trudging through this book of 42 chapters. So, let’s get the structure of the book of Job in our minds so that – as we’re in any one particular area of this book – we’re able to see where we are in the context.
You can turn to these passages as I note them if you’d like or you can just jot down notes or just listen and try to comprehend the outline of this book.
Chapter 1 and verse 1 starts the book with a narrative – a story. And this continues to the end of chapter 2. This story starts out highlighting how totally righteous and good Job is. There’s no question about Job’s integrity. From there we have God assembling angelic beings and Satan is there. God brings Job to Satan’s attention and Satan accuses Job of worshipping God for what God gives him. So, the Lord allows Satan to destroy his possessions and children.
And Job responds righteously to these trials.
So, we have a second instance of God gathering angelic beings together and once again asking Satan to consider the righteous Job. Satan now asks to afflict Job’s body. Surely then Job will stop worshipping the Lord. So, God allows him to touch Job’s body. And even though Job’s wife wants Job to abandon God, Job will not.
Chapter 2 ends with Job’s three friends coming to comfort him. And they sit silent with him for seven days.
That’s where the story ends at the close of chapter 2.
From there to the end of chapter 31, we have poetic dialog and debate.
So, chapter 3 has Job cursing the day of his birth. It’s his bitter lament.
Then starting in chapter 4 we witness the start of three cycles of debate between the friends and Job.
Cycle 1 takes up chapters 4-14. Cycle 2 is chapters 15-21. And Cycle 3 is chapters 22-27.
And each cycle goes in order. First Eliphaz speaks. Then Job responds. Next, Bildad speaks. Then Job responds. And finally, Zophar speaks. And Job responds.
Except, actually in the third cycle, Job doesn’t let Zophar – the last of those three speakers – talk at all.
So, let’s quickly run through the dialogs of these three cycles so that we can note them in our minds and – if it’s helpful – in our Bibles.
Cycle 1 – Chapters 4 – 14.
Look at chapter 4, verse 1. “Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said…” And he’ll speak to the end of chapter 5.
Then Job responds in chapter 6, verse 1. “But Job answered and said…” And he does so to the end of chapter 7.
And in this section, Job accuses God of scaring him with dreams and terrifying him with visions. He asks when God will just leave him alone. And he asks God why he’s set him as his target. But what Job doesn’t realize is that – although God allowed for these things to happen – God is not the one doing it. Job, then, is accusing God wrongfully.
Next, it’s Bildad’s turn. Chapter 8, verse 1 – “Then answered Bildad the Shuhite, and said…” And he takes up all of chapter 8.
And Job responds to Bildad in chapter 9, verse 1 – “Then Job answered and said…” And that goes to the end of chapter 10.
In this section we see Job accusing God of “multiplying [his] wounds without cause,” not letting him breathe, and filling him with bitterness. Job claims that God laughs at the trials of the innocent. He also pictures himself in a court setting with the Lord wherein he would defend himself before the Lord. He wants to appear before God and demand to know why God is contending with him. Job accuses God of oppressing him. And Job says that God hunts him like a lion.
Last, in this first cycle of debate and dialog, Zophar speaks starting in chapter 11 and verse 1 – “Then answered Zophar the Naamathite, and said…” And he finishes out chapter 11.
Then Job responds to him in chapters 12-14 as verse 1 of chapter 12 tells us – “And Job answered and said…”
And what Job ends up saying among other things is that he demands to have his case heard by God. And yet – Job here also expresses faith in the Lord – that though God slay him, yet will Job trust in him.
And so, that’s the end of the first cycle of speeches from these four men.
Next, Cycle 2 – Chapters 15 – 21.
And just like in the first cycle, we have Eliphaz start this one in chapter 15, verse 1 – “Then answered Eliphaz the Temanite, and said…”
Job’s response starts in chapter 16, verse 1 – “Then Job answered and said…”
Here, Job accuses God of making him weary. He also seems to call God his enemy who gnashes his teeth upon him – or at least that God has given Job over to such people that are his enemies. He says again that God has made him a target. Job even says that God pierces his kidneys and pours out his gall. But on the other hand, Job expresses his belief that he has an intercessor in heaven.
So, then, Bildad gives it a second try in chapter 18, verse 1 – “Then answered Bildad the Shuhite, and said…”
And Job responds to him in chapter 19, verse 1 – “Then Job answered and said…”
And here, Job says that God has wronged him. He says that God’s anger burns against him and that God considers him his enemy. He says that the hand of God has struck him. But this is also the section in which Job utters his confidence that his redeemer lives and that in his flesh he will see God.
And the last of the three friends – Zophar – starts giving his opinion once more in chapter 20, verse 1 – “Then answered Zophar the Naamathite, and said…”
And then Job responds in chapter 21.
And very interestingly, I can’t find a single accusation against God in that chapter. Job is just directly addressing Zophar’s inaccurate statements.
And that’s the end of the second cycle of speeches by Job and his three friends. It’s the same exact pattern as we saw in the first cycle. Eliphaz first, then Job – second is Bildad, then Job – and last is Zophar, and then Job.
And last, Cycle 3 – Chapters 22 – 27.
As you can guess, Eliphaz begins this last cycle in chapter 22, verse 1 – “Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said…”
And, of course, Job has a rebuttal in chapter 23, verse 1 – “Then Job answered and said…”
And in this section, Job says that he wishes he could find God’s residence so that he could come with his arguments and argue with God. He laments that God is so hard to find. Job accuses God of terrifying him once more. Job then overviews the injustice of this world and then accuses God of basically ignoring it.
Then, Bildad chimes in once more in chapter 25, verse 1 – “Then answered Bildad the Shuhite, and said…”
And Job for the last time responds in chapter 26, verse 1 – “But Job answered and said…”
And you would then expect Zophar to have one last thing to say. But actually, it seems that Job doesn’t let him express his wrong opinions in this third cycle. We don’t hear from Zophar again.
Rather, Job’s last message extends from chapter 26, verse 1 to the end of chapter 31. Now, some have said that the author of this book – whether it’s Job or Elihu – whom we’ll see in a little bit – or even Solomon perhaps takes a chapter in this section to praise wisdom. But others think this is Job himself speaking all the way through these six chapters.
At any rate, in this last speech of Job, he accuses God of denying him justice and making his life bitter. He says that God has afflicted him. He accuses God of flinging him into the mud and of not hearing Job. He says that God is cruel. Job calls God his adversary and demands to be heard by him.
And that’s the end of the three cycles of dialog and debate.
Then something unexpected happens. A man named Elihu – whom we knew nothing about – shows up and starts talking in chapter 32, verse 1 where we read…
So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. 2 Then was kindled the wrath of Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the kindred of Ram: against Job was his wrath kindled, because he justified himself rather than God. 3 Also against his three friends was his wrath kindled, because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job. 4 Now Elihu had waited till Job had spoken, because they were elder than he. 5 When Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouth of these three men, then his wrath was kindled. 6 ¶ And Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite answered and said, I am young, and ye are very old; wherefore I was afraid, and durst not shew you mine opinion…
Now, some think that Elihu speaks the truth. Others think that he’s just as wrong as Job’s three friends. And still others think that there is some mixture of truth and error in what he says. So, discovering what Elihu is saying and evaluating whether he’s right or not will be one of the joys of studying this book.
And there’s plenty of material to evaluate with Elihu – because he speaks for six chapters from chapter 32 to chapter 37.
Well, finally, what we’ve all been waiting for – and what this book and it’s seemingly-unending cycles and dialogs seem to build an anticipation for in us is that God speaks. He does so from chapter 38 to chapter 42, verse 6 – which starts like this – “Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said…”
And whatever else was said in this book to this point and however we’re supposed to interpret the comments of Job, his friends, and Elihu in the dialog section – we know this – that what is said in this section from the Lord is absolutely correct. The three friends are all wrong in how they apply truth to Job’s situation. Elihu may or may not be correct. On a number of occasions, we’ll see that Job isn’t right – insofar as he accuses God of being unjust. We’ve seen some of that. But what God says here is infallible.
And here’s what’s so strange for us about this section of God’s speech. If this book is all about why the righteous suffer, then God doesn’t say a word about this supposed central question of this book. Which is why this book is NOT about seeking to answer the question of why the righteous suffer. God just asks a bunch of questions that are intended to show Job that Job himself is limited in his understanding.
So, why does God want Job to see that he’s limited in his wisdom and understanding?
Well, it’s because Job – through those cycles of dialog that we’ll give careful attention to in the weeks to come – he starts questioning God’s handling of his situation.
He questions God’s justice. If Job is righteous – and we know that he is from the first two chapters of the book already – then why is he suffering? Because in Job’s mind and in the minds of his three friends and probably even in Elihu’s mind – if you’re righteous, God should bless you. If you sin, then your reward is what happened to Job.
But Job is righteous. And yet, he’s suffering like a sinner would supposedly suffer. And there are two tracks to take from there. Either Job is really an awful sinner – and we know he wasn’t. Or God is unjust. Because he’s treating Job as if Job were a sinner.
And that’s why God needs to break in on the scene and set the record straight. God doesn’t respond to Job’s accusations of his being unjust in his dealings with Job. God doesn’t let Job in on Satan’s challenge. God doesn’t tell Job anything.
Instead, God points to himself and contrasts himself with Job. God shows Job that he knows everything – whereas Job is so limited in his knowledge.
And it’s not only knowledge wherein Job is deficient. Job is also far inferior to God in power – in ability.
God is all-powerful and he’s all-wise. He understands everything. He knows what he’s doing.
In contrast – Job – who started to accuse God of injustice in this book – is limited in his knowledge and in his ability – which led him to accuse God in the first place.
Message of Job
And so here is the message of the book of Job – to everyone – including those who are suffering in this world.
There are times in life when we just don’t get it. We don’t understand why evil wins. We don’t understand why sweet innocent babies sometimes meet an untimely end in the grizzliest of ways. We don’t know why God allows his servants to experience hardships and sorrows and hair-rising perplexities.
And we never will know in this life – and we never will understand – and this book of Job is not going to explain it for you.
Instead, this is what God through the book of Job is going to teach you and me. When we can’t understand God’s ways, we must trust his wisdom.
Neither Job, nor his friends, nor Elihu understood God’s ways. But that’s not where they all go wrong in this book. Where they all go wrong is that they don’t respond to their lack of understanding by trusting God’s wisdom.
Just over two months ago, a family that we know in Watertown was driving to a wedding up north. They had three children. I coached the oldest in soccer. He was a sweet boy. But his dad – who knows Christ – ran a stop sign at just the wrong time and a van hit their vehicle and killed their oldest and youngest children.
I tell you – I didn’t understand God’s ways in this incident. And I still don’t. But – when I can’t understand God’s ways, I must trust his wisdom.
Was God in control of that tragedy? Yes.
And we see that in Job’s life. Could God have stopped Satan? Yes. In fact, God could just have not mentioned Job at all. Instead, God puts Job before Satan so that Satan is given the opportunity to attack him.
When tragedy strikes – God is still in control.
But why does he do it? You don’t know and I don’t know – and we never will. And the book of Job teaches us that that’s OK.
And when we can’t understand God’s ways – they are God’s ways – when we don’t understand them, we trust God’s wisdom.
When we don’t understand our current political climate – we trust God’s wisdom. When we don’t understand why we don’t seem to have enough money – we trust God’s wisdom. When our kids stray from the truth – when people leave our church – or even leave the faith completely – when we’re slandered – we must trust God’s wisdom.
When we can’t understand God’s ways, we must trust God’s wisdom.
That’s the message of the book of Job that we’ll constantly be reminding ourselves of in the next several months of studying this book. And I trust it’s the message that each one of us will be constantly living out more and more in our lives by God’s grace.