Saturday, July 11, 2020

Job: A Journey through Suffering – Part I (Job 1:1-22)

Note: I usually post an initial sketch on Monday or Tuesday of each week; then, I come back with a revised piece on Fridays. I hope my thoughts nourish your thoughts, that something here helps you think in the right direction for the congregation you serve. Cheers!


I. Introduction
Today, we begin a journey in a new direction. We travel back in time to the Old Testament to one of the most read books, Job. Job himself is someone who has drawn us in for centuries. We talk about ‘the patience of Job.’ We know the book has to do with suffering—something common to all of us. Let’s journey into this ancient word to see what God teaches us about Himself and about us.

Scripture: Job 1:1-22 (NIV)
1In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. 2He had seven sons and three daughters, 3and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.
4His sons used to hold feasts in their homes on their birthdays, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would make arrangements for them to be purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom.
6One day the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and the Adversary—Satan—also came with them. 7The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”
8Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
9“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10“Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
12The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
13One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 14a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, 15and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
16While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
17While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
18While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 19when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
20At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
22In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

What a contrast between the song we sang just before the sermon and the text of this passage. “How He Loves Us”…and then the words of Job? Are we talking about the same God here? What a contrast between a loving God and this seemingly capricious God! What is going on? Well, that’s what we’re here to find out!

II. The Story of Job
In order to understand the beginning of this book, we need to know the whole story. Without knowing the whole story, we cannot make sense of the beginning. Have you ever watched one of your favorite television shows…in the opening scene, the door opens and the main character is standing there over a dead body with a bloody knife in his hand with a stunned, shocked look on his face. You know there has to be more than meets the eye, there has to be some explanation for what you’ve just seen. After the commercial, the show resumes with “12 hours earlier….” You have to watch the whole show to make sense of the first five minutes. The same is true of the book of Job—we can’t just read chapter 1 and say, “Ah! Wow! I got it!”

Job begins as we read this morning—a story of loss, pain and destruction. And, it gets worse! After Job loses almost everything—his health included—his three ‘friends’ come to bring him counsel, to help him through this all. Their worldview is one of ‘cause and effect.’ Good things happen if you are good; bad things happen if you are bad. So, they spend chapters trying to get Job to admit he has some sin in his life. Job gets frustrated with them and they with him. Finally, God steps in to the picture and shows Job that he really has no clue as to what is going on in the world, that his understanding of things is so shallow, so limited. In the end, God restores all of Job’s fortunes and more besides…gives him a new family…and thus ends the book.

The very important thing to see in this story is that in the beginning Job is wrong. He is wrong about God. He is wrong about how the world works. He is wrong about himself. Now that we know Job is just plain wrong, we can come back to the beginning and deal with what we find there….
III. Sovereignty ≠ Universal Cause
One of the key doctrines or teachings of the Church is the “sovereignty of God.” We talk about our God as “omnipotent”…all-powerful. We claim this truth and we find a great deal of assurance and security in such a statement. However, we then make a great leap of logic—and a false one. If God is all-powerful, if God is omnipotent, then God must control everything that happens in this world. That is, everything that happens is because our omnipotent God is making it happen. This, my friends, is a false assumption…and a dangerous assumption. And, it’s the assumption Job made here at the beginning of this narrative.

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.

At best, Job is half right in this statement. Yet, I’ve heard Christians quote this bit of bad thinking so many times. As one writer has pointed out, if we console someone with a lie, in the end there is no real consolation. We have said these words—with the very best intentions—to those we’ve known, hoping to provide a bit of comfort to someone in a time of loss. “God is in control…the Lord gives and the Lord takes away.” We need to read this passage again and see what is REALLY going on here…to see who is giving and taking.

IV. God is Challenged
In the opening part of this chapter, the ‘sons of God’ have come before the LORD…and the Adversary is there. He taunts God regarding Job…saying that Job is faithful only because God is protecting and blessing him, that if God’s protection and blessing were not there, Job would curse God. And then what happens? Well, if God ignores and dismisses Satan, it’s the same as admitting it’s true—Job is faithful only because all is well with him. So, what does God do?

12The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

First, going “out from the presence of the Lord” is not a good thing. It’s to walk in darkness. It’s to be in a way that God is not. And, when we think of Satan, this exactly what we expect—the Adversary, the Satan, is one who operates outside the will of God.

Then—and this is very important—we need to see who is doing what in the life of Job. “…Everything he has is in your power….”  Who is the cause of the Sabean raid? Who is the source of the devouring fire? (The servant says ‘fire of God,’ but he’s living in the same delusion as others, thinking everything is from God!) Who is the source of the Chaldean attack? Who is the source of the desert winds? Not GOD. Satan is the one who brings all of these calamities to bear on Job.
A better utterance on the part of Job would have been, The Lord gave and the Adversary has taken away….

This is not the only occasion in which God allows Satan to test to His people. Look at Luke 22:31. Jesus is speaking here to his disciples just before his crucifixion, just before they arrive at that garden for that agonizing time of prayer. Jesus says, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Again, Satan comes before God and asks to test the faith of God’s people.

As I read this first chapter of Job again, as I read through this passage in Luke, I kept asking, Why? Why would God allow Satan to do this? What is going on? And then it hit me. It’s right there in those last words of Jesus on this topic: “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers….”
Not “if” you turn back, but “when” you turn back.

You see, we talk a lot about trusting in God, of having faith in God. What the book of Job teaches us, what Jesus show us, is that God has faith in us. God was so confident in His servant Job that He could allow Satan to do his foolishness…and He was confident that Job’s faith would not fail—regardless of the circumstances of life. Jesus was so confident in his band of disciples that he could allow Satan to “sift them as wheat.” God has faith in us—in you, in me. Let that sink in. God…has…FAITH…in…US! Even though Job was wrong in his understanding of God, he was confident in God. Even though his worldview was simplistic and incomplete, his simple faith in God—in the goodness and rightness of God—was sure.

V. Conclusion
Perhaps some here have made that leap that Job did, believing that EVERYTHING that happens is from God. Job teaches us—better, reminds us!—that there is an ‘adversarial’ power who wants to see us fail and fall. Satan is the one who takes, divides, destroys and kills. On top of that, God—the sovereign, omnipotent, all-powerful God—has given us ‘free will’—the ability to make choices that are with or against that same God. So, the Adversary can act against us, we can act against God…and the results are NOT God’s will or God’s doing. God is exactly who we find in Jesus Christ—How He Loves Us! God is exactly as James describes Him—Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change (James 1:17).

That same God, in whom we trust, in whom we place our faith — that God has faith in us, trusts us to trust in Him. How shall we now live knowing that the God of the universe has faith in us? The Creator has confidence in us!

When we encounter the trials and pains and hurts of this life, let us not make the mistake of Job and think God is the cause of our suffering. Let us claim the truths we find in Scripture today…that God is on our side, that He is the author of all goodness and blessing.

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