Many of us turn to the book of Job found in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament of the Christian Bible) when we encounter suffering. Some hope the story of Job will help them understand why they are suffering or why there is much pain and disaster in this world.
Brief Introduction to the Book of Job
- Author: Not Job but a skillful Jewish poet who used sources from patriarchal times (including some from Job himself) to compose the book.
- Date and Occasion: The events date from the patriarchal period and occur in a non-Israelite setting. The classical Hebrew of the prologue places the book after 1500 B.C. with its final form possibly during the time of Solomon.
- Purpose: How to think well about God in the midst of suffering.
During my most recent delving, I found five important lessons on suffering.
Lesson 1: Suffering is not always a punishment for sin.
I tend to blame myself whenever I experience life’s adversities. I connote suffering with sin, foolishness, and poor decision–making. When trials come, my automatic response is “What did I do wrong?” Suffering, however, is not always God’s disciplinary action.
“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:1–3 ESV)
Job suffered not because he had committed a specific sin.
“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?”” (Job 1:8)
When we face hardship, we should examine ourselves to correct any wrong conduct or thinking. But when we suffer, it is not always God’s discipline. So when others suffer, we should not quickly conclude that God is punishing them for sin.
Lesson 2: We need to calmly accept suffering from God.
Job lost almost everything in a short period of time. Onlookers presumed that his loss was supernatural and wrought by God himself. Note the four successive reports in Job 1:13-19.
- “Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and there came a messenger to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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, 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.”
In one day, Job lost his livestock, his houses, and his servants. Worst, all ten of his children died. No one can prepare for this catastrophe. But notice at how Job responded.
“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 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.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” (Job 1:20–22)
Job understood that God was the source of his blessing. God has the sovereign right to bestow blessing on whomever he chooses. He also has the rightful authority to withhold blessing and bring calamity on whomever he chooses. However God ordains, he remains sovereign and worthy of worship.
We need to be like Job. We need to calmly accept and submit to God’s sovereign will. When God blesses us, we rejoice in humility. When he brings tribulation, we trust God and bless him. We affirm God as infinitely powerful, wise, and good.
Lesson 3: We can express our grief to God through prayer.
In chapter 2, we see Job’s suffering intensify. God allowed Satan to attack Job with a painful skin condition.
“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. And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes.” (Job 2:7–8)
Job’s agony intensified. God brought no immediate relief. As Job’s affliction worsened, he became confused. Doubt crept into his heart, and he felt alone and helpless. Like any man, Job became disheartened.
When the heat comes, we can get discouraged. But see Job’s response.
First, Job resisted all temptation to curse and blame God.
“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2:10b)
Second, Job cried out to God in anguished prayer.
Job laments to God. His anguished prayers are recorded in poetic speech in the remainder of the book.
“Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” (Job 7:11)
Agonized prayer to God is not sin nor a sign of immaturity. It is a natural response of a child relying on his heavenly Father. God wants us to pray to him in dependence and humility.
Lesson 4: Friends and family may fail us in our greatest need.
“With friends like these, who needs enemies?” (Old English Proverb)
Job’s wife and three friends stood beside him at the apex of Job’s suffering. All of them failed to comfort Job. Read what Job’s wife urged.
“Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.”” (Job 2:9)
Job’s three friends also failed to help.
- Eliphaz told Job that the innocent do not suffer. (4:1-21) Therefore, Job must be guilty. He called Job foolish (5:1-7), and he encouraged Job not to despise God’s discipline (5:17-27).
- Bildad told Job that God does not reject the blameless (8:1-22), and God puts out the light of the wicked (18:1-21). He accused Job for being wicked and blameworthy.
- Zophar told Job that he deserves worse (11:1-20), and wicked men like him will suffer (20:1-29).
Neither Job’s wife nor his three friends brought any consolation. Their advice was neither helpful nor correct. Their words lacked encouragement and hope. They failed Job when he needed them the most.
Lesson 5: God uses suffering to teach us about him.
The book’s central theme is not Job’s suffering. Rather, the focus is God’s revelation of himself during Job’s suffering. God uses suffering to instruct us. In the last chapter, Job summarized what he learned about God.
“Then Job answered the LORD and said: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”” (Job 42:1–6)
Job learns six important truths about God.
- God is omnipotent. (42:2a) He can do all things. Therefore, he has the power to remove our suffering if he chooses.
- God is sovereign. (42:2b) His will is always accomplished. No purpose of God can be thwarted. He is always in control. Therefore, our suffering is a part of his sovereign plan.
- God is omniscient. (42:3) While our knowledge is limited, God knows everything. He needs no counselor. Therefore, he is perfectly wise as he allows our suffering to continue.
- God is independent. (42:4) He does not need anything. He does not benefit from our counsel and advisement. He does not need encouragement to increase His grace, mercy and love. However, we are completely dependent on God. Therefore, we must come to God with our questions, concerns, and needs.
- God has revealed himself. (42:5) God has made himself known to us through his creation, his providence, and his special revelation. Therefore, God uses suffering to reveal more of himself.
- God is holy. (42:6) We see our true standing with God when we understand his holiness. Therefore, he expects us to come before him in humility and repentance.
God wants us to learn what He had taught Job. Meditate on these basic truths about God when you face suffering.
Final Thoughts on Suffering from the Book of Job
The book of Job may not remove the sting of our present suffering. But I hope we can meditate on these truths to prepare ourselves for our next trial. The right perspective will help us respond properly to God in our time of need.
- Suffering is not always punishment.
- Suffering needs to be calmly accepted.
- God wants us to express our grief in prayer.
- Friends and family may fail you.
- God uses suffering to teach us.
Helpful Articles on the Book of Job
- Five Truths for Sufferers from the Book of Job
- How Should I Read the Book of Job?
- The Book of Job (Video Series by Derek Thomas)
- Suffering Wisely and Well: The Grief of Job and the Grace of God (Book)
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