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The book of Job, named of course after its central figure, is the account of someone whose life is made an example of righteousness and faith, in spite of having no advance warning from God that he was to be tested.

Job probably lived in the time of the patriarchs, and since his name means persecuted, it’s likely a nickname acquired after this ordeal. Some speculate that he was actually the builder of the great pyramid of Egypt, which by most accounts was done around 2350 b.c., but that was probably at least 400 years before Job was born. Though it seems to be one of the earliest books of the Old Testament written down, that doesn’t mean the events it describes happened earliest.

Overall, the book is a long discourse over the problem of the suffering of the righteous, and the supernatural war between good and evil. But there are also some very interesting sections about the sons of God and powerful creatures God made. So the goal of this lesson will be to highlight those points rather than walk through every chapter in detail.

There is an important principle to remember from the examples of the book studies before this: God does indeed bless or curse on the basis of behavior overall, but he also makes concessions out of his mercy and patience. The idea that every righteous act is rewarded in this life, and every unrighteous act is punished in this life, is not a rule but a generality, and even less so in this age of faith rather than sight. Yet this idea has been held to be true, not only by people but also angelic beings, as we’ll come to see in this study. Scripture always emphasizes the relationship of trust from us to God, even when things don’t make sense. Neither prosperity nor hardship are necessarily deserved.

Job 1

The opening of the book introduces us to Job as a wealthy man with ten children. Even so, he was very conscientious about pleasing his Creator, to the point of offering sacrifices just in case one of his children had a sinful thought against God. Notice that it says he was pure and upright, the epitome of a righteous person. This flies in the face of the badly-misinterpreted phrase There is none righteous, not even one in Rom. 3:10. That verse quotes from the Psalms— which are poetry, which in Hebrew culture tended to make generous use of hyperbole or exaggeration.

Now the text says that the sons of God were in the habit of presenting themselves before God, and that Satan came with them. Clearly this refers to angelic or supernatural beings, since mortals could never do this. Reference along with this 38:7, where it says these same beings shouted for joy at the time God created the earth and sky, before any humans existed. We recall as well in our study of Genesis that sons of God married human women and produced offspring that by description were not ordinary humans. It simply cannot be denied that this phrase in these contexts refers to angelic beings.

Notice also that Satan has been in the habit of roaming the earth, which matches 1 Peter 5:8’s statement that the devil goes around looking for someone to devour. This is evidence that Satan does not reside in hell nor have any jurisdiction there. It will not be until the end of history that he is thrown into the Lake of Fire, and he will not be the one dishing out torment. We could add Rev. 12:10 as well, which describes him as like a prosecuting attorney who continually brings charges against us before God.

Recalling the erroneous belief that blessing and cursing always have a direct correlation with our deeds in this life, we see that Satan believes Job only serves God because of his blessing and protection. What Job has is from God, so Satan is sure that he will abandon God if those blessings are withdrawn. God essentially says game on!, though he doesn’t give Job any heads-up for what’s about to happen. In fact he couldn’t, because that’s the whole point of the test. So God allows Satan to attack all that Job has, including his family, but forbids him to attack Job himself. Most of us would consider that the worst situation, as any decent person would rather take suffering themselves than see it fall on those they love. But the point is that Satan is on a leash and can only do what God permits.

Still, critics take such permission as evil, since God allows suffering that he has the power to prevent. The book When Bad Things Happen to Good People wrestled with this same criticism, concluding that God must be either evil or powerless. But the great error of that book and criticism is first of all that prosperity is as undeserved as hardship, and second, that just because there is no justice in this life doesn’t mean there will never be justice at all. And we’ve already made the point that God has purposes for our experiences in this life, so we must trust him regardless.

So off goes Satan to wipe out all Job’s wealth, and his entire family except his wife. But verse 22 tells us that Job held on to his integrity and refrained from charging God with being unjust. That is what faith does; this is evidence of relationship.

Job 2-5

So Satan tries again, this time asking permission to strike Job himself, but God will not allow him to be killed. Then Job is stricken with painful sores, and to add insult to injury, his wife tells him to curse God and die, just like the critics of our day say. But Job’s response is exactly what’s been said so far in this commentary: Both prosperity and hardship are God’s prerogative. She, like the critics, assumed that God is unjust and there’s no point in trying to please him.

Now when Job’s friends hear about the disaster that had befallen him, they come to comfort him, and they’re so horrified at his situation that they sit with him in silence for seven days. The culture held that the one suffering should be the first to speak, out of respect and compassion. Speaking too soon can be devastating to a soul already suffering, so the silence itself is often the most compassionate way to help someone.

Ch. 3 begins the long debate between Job and his friends, with Job lamenting that he was ever born. Then in ch. 4 his friends begin to respond, but their responses do more harm than good, since they, with one exception, assume Job has committed some terrible sin to deserve this tragedy. This is what we mean when we refer to people as Job’s friends; the people we expect to sympathize with us turn out to be the most heartless antagonists, because they kick us when we’re down. This is not the time for lectures but support.

Job 6-9

As Job says in 6:14 and forward, such friends they are, as if he isn’t suffering enough already! They undoubtedly thought, as many Christians do today, that since they all agree about Job’s guilt, then Job must be guilty. Guilt by concensus rather than evidence is all too common.

Then in 7:11 Job turns his attention to God, who in his opinion owes him a fair trial. Who can blame him for thinking this? We suffer far less but are much quicker to fault God ourselves. He asks for an advocate, a defense attorney, which we know would eventually turn out to be Jesus.

Now in ch. 9 we see some interesting statements about cosmology, though we must keep in mind that this is wisdom literature. Verse 6 speaks of the earth’s pillars, and verse 8 says God spreads out the heavens and walks on the sea. But who is Rahab in verse 13? It certainly can’t be the woman we’ve read about before, who at this point was not even born. Rather, it is the name given in the ancient near east for a sea monster that symbolized evil.

Job continues in 9:14 with the understanding that even though he’s innocent, his only plea on trial before God would be for mercy, since no one can sit as God’s judge— though anti-theists consider themselves worthy to do so.

Job 10-11

Now Job, though powerless before God, at least wants to know why this happened to him, and why life is so unjust and God seems so arbitrary in his blessing and cursing, since the innocent suffer and the guilty prosper. On one extreme is Job’s friends’ belief that prosperity and hardship have direct results in this life; on the other is Job’s belief that God is simply raw sovereignty without justice or compassion. But both extremes come from ignorance of God’s overarching plans which include reward in the afterlife, and of the unseen cosmic chess match between God and Satan.

Notice in verses 21-22 that Job believes the afterlife to be an existence in darkness, no matter how anyone lived. Such a view leads inevitably to despair over the injustices of this life. But Job is not charging God with wrongdoing, because we’ve just seen how he understands that no one can sit as God’s judge. His friends are equally ignorant of God’s ways, but their sin lies in the fact that they keep falsely accusing Job of having deserved his suffering.

In ch. 11 another friend speaks up, and this one accuses Job of arrogantly claiming perfection, showing no compassion at all for him as a friend. He thinks he can shock Job into confessing, because he presumes to be Job’s judge on the basis of mere suspicion rather than evidence.

One must stop and wonder at this point why many theologians can see so clearly the heartless legalism here against Job, but be totally blind to their own heartless legalism against fellow believers over just about any and every disagreement. This is especially despicable in the case of women suffering abuse from husbands wielding proof-texts like weapons against them. The same Pharisaical legalism was used at one point in American history to justify slavery. But the Bible’s condemnation of lording over proves that no genuine Christian can put the letter over the spirit, especially when the letter is so badly twisted.

This so-called friend of Job stoops to the level of saying Job deserves even worse punishment than he’s received, per his statement that God has forgiven some of Job’s sins. Then he thinks he’s showing compassion by telling Job that he can still be forgiven if he repents of his presumed but never-proved sin. This haughty attitude is seen on a daily basis in the Christian community, where in a twisted pretense of concern some believers tell other believers that they need to humble themselves, all because of a mere difference of opinion on a secondary teaching.

Job 12-25

From this point Job keeps trying to deal with the clash between his friends’ obvious false charges and God’s apparent injustice. He knows he’s innocent, but he has no answer for what has happened. Yet he is sure, in spite of everything, that God must be just, so there must be an answer, even if it can’t be seen at the moment; he just wants to know what it is. His point in ch. 14 about the shortness of life is proof enough that we are in no position to demand anything from God, and he will indeed have his day in court, per 14:13-15. To be fair, his friends have not been able to explain why the wicked so obviously prosper and the innocent suffer.

Then in ch. 16 Job sums up his friends once more: What miserable comforters are you all!, and in verses 19-21 he reiterates his belief that God will ultimately vindicate him. The more his friends pressure him to admit to some presumed sin, the more confident he becomes that God will declare him innocent. But like anyone in dire circumstances, Job rides an emotional roller-coaster between the heights of ultimate vindication and the depths of despair.

Job 26-37

Here we see some interesting descriptions of the realm in which we live, and for this chapter especially I highly recommend checking many commentaries. But the overarching point Job is making is that he is the one in a position to educate his friends about the power of God; the friends have only scratched the surface.

Verse 5 speaks of the dead beneath the waters, and the meaning is somewhat obscure. Do the souls of all the dead reside beneath the seas? Do only the souls of the Rephaim reside there, since they were linked to the great worldwide evil that God had to destroy with the Flood? Is it all just a reference to the abode of the dead in general and not just under the sea, or the bedrock beneath the sea? Souls under the earth are also referenced in Phil 2:10 and Rev. 5:13 for two examples, and in all cases they seem to be speaking literally.

Now on to verse 7, and what can it mean that God spreads out the northern skies over empty space and suspends the earth on nothing? The commentaries offer various explanations, but the most plausible understanding of the northern skies in my opinion is that Job, from his location, could see the constellations revolve around Polaris (the North Star). Being high in the sky, a void or empty space was between people and the stars, not space per the modern technical definition. Job is describing the power of God to do such a thing as to stretch out the vast array of stars.

As for the earth, the idea seems to be of something that is normally suspended from something above it, like a lamp hanging from a ceiling by a cord, but there is no such cord for earth. Yet as the Cambridge commentary points out, this does not rule out any support under the earth, since scripture is replete with references to the earth being on pillars, stable and unmovable. Pillars are also mentioned in verse 11, but as holding up the heavens from below, which the ancients believed to be the great mountain ranges.

Keep in mind also that this is in poetic form, such that the two lines express the same thought in different form:
— northern skies over the void
— earth suspended on nothing

Though commentators often find it tempting to use such terminology to claim that God was telling the ancients that earth is a spinning ball in a giant vacuum, we must guard against porting any modern ideas into ancient texts, even the Bible. Certainly we don’t need such things to prove the Bible is infallible; that is best accomplished by fulfilled prophecy, what I call the fingerprint of God. And why would scripture only specify the northern skies, if modern cosmology had been God’s intent to convey?

Verse 9 is just as intriguing: that God conceals the face of the full moon with clouds. The NET Bible differs from other translations and commentaries here. But though both the Hebrew and Greek use a word meaning throne, the moon seems a much better fit in the context, and the use of throne can be explained as a euphemism.

Now to verse 10 and the phrase about God marking out the horizon on the waters as a boundary between light and darkness. Most commentators understand it to refer to the circular horizon one would observe out at sea, reaching to the point where sunlight gives way to darkness. The ancients seemed to believe that the earth was in the center of the celestial sphere, with the sun on one half and the moon and stars on the other, such that day and night was simply the revolving of this sphere around the earth.

In verse 12 we see Rahab mentioned again, and if one insists that it’s merely a metaphor for the raging sea, they should consider that this begs the question of why such a comparison would be made if monsters never existed. It cannot refer to Egypt as some commentators do, since Job lived before the Exodus.

Now who is the fleeing serpent in verse 13? Some translations render it crooked rather than fleeing, and thus that it referred to jagged lightning, which seems to match with the first line of this verse about God making the skies fair. But as with Rahab, we need to consider why the writer of Job would compare lightning to a serpent or dragon, and some commentators hold that it’s a reference to Satan’s ultimate defeat. Yet it seems a stretch to think that Job would have this in mind in his discourse.

Job 38

Skipping more verbal sparring, we come to the point where God finally steps in. We might find it disturbing that God chooses to begin his rebuke with Job, who has had enough of being grilled by his friends. But though his friends had only charged Job with sin, Job had essentially charged God with sin for punishing him for no reason. This is the great downfall of those who blame God when suffering comes to them. This is where we see what God thinks of anyone so presumptuous, so he demands that Job put his money where his mouth is.

God’s first rhetorical question: Who are you? As another scripture puts it, the clay pot cannot critique the potter who formed it, yet that’s what people do. Though Job had demanded a fair trial, God demands to know his right to ask this of his Creator.

In verse 4 is the second question: Where were you? God now points out that he alone made the world, so no other being has a right to claim to be his equal. God’s description of what he created is all in terms of a strong, stationary realm with a foundation, measuring line, bases, and cornerstone.

Verse 7 is the reference we checked briefly before about the sons of God shouting for joy, and it’s paired with morning stars. Many are tripped up by the term morning star, as if every instance means either Jesus or Satan and they can substitute whichever meaning they choose into all contexts. But here, the phrase clearly indicates angelic beings, and in that sense could actually fit all contexts since the second person of the trinity is often called the angel of the Lord. Remember that both good and evil angels are angels nonetheless.

Now back to God’s description of creation, and we see things like shutting up the sea with doors, which bursts out as if from a womb, the clouds and darkness as clothing for the sea, putting bars and gates around the seas to contain them, and so on.

38:11 speaks of God commanding the morning and the dawn to know their places, the corners of the earth, and earth taking shape like clay under a seal and being dyed like a garment. So far, everything God has used as analogies we can understand has been in terms of a motionless realm. While the reader can still invoke poetic license, conspicuous by its absence is any hint of a spinning sphere in a vast vacuum chamber, spiraling behind the sun at breakneck speed. Analogies are meant to bring understanding, not hide it.

In 38:16 God continues by mentioning the springs that fill the sea, expanses of earth unknown to the people of the Middle East, the paths of light and darkness, and storehouses of the snow and hail reserved for days of battle. We’ve seen God’s use of those terms in some of Israel’s battles, and they were quite literal. More descriptions include the direction of lightning, channels for the rain and thunder, and the fact that God sends rain on places where no one lives.

In 38:31 God turns to the night sky with its constellations following laws and schedules, which is exactly what we read in Gen. 1 about their purposes. The heavenly luminaries serve as a clock and calendar along with giving light, and it stretches credulity to think that this timepiece is as large and scattered as modern cosmology asks us to believe.

Job 39-41

In ch. 39 God turns Job’s attention to animals, and in ch. 40 Job briefly expresses his shame before God. But God isn’t finished yet. In 40:15 we meet the famous Behemoth, which many commentators dismiss as hyperbole. Yet as we’ve learned before, analogies are made to real things for the purpose of bringing understanding, not mere exaggeration to make oneself appear greater than they are— which here, in God’s case, is impossible.

Behemoth, which in the Greek means beast, is described as eating grass yet very powerful, with a tail compared to a cedar tree, bones to bronze tubes, and limbs to iron bars. God calls it pinnacle of his works, then adds that it rests among reeds in marshes, telling us of its habitat. And it cannot be captured.

Then in ch. 41 we’re introduced to Leviathan, a terrifying creature impossible to capture as well. It’s description is most certainly of a dragon: scales harder than the strongest armor, so tightly meshed that nothing can get between them, fearsome teeth, rows of shields on its back, breathing smoke and fire, glowing red eyes, impervious to spears and swords, and its habitat is the sea, which it turns to thick white foam in its wake.

Most commentaries present some laughably pathetic attempts to write off these animals as hippos or elephants or crocodiles, but again we must remember that myths and legends have a basis in ancient reality. God is using them as proof of his infinite superiority to Job and his demands for justice. The details of the description certainly defy all ordinary animals, with more similarity to what are called dinosaurs. But the dragon is in many cultural records, which is no less worthy of note than such records describing the great Flood.

In all of this, the point God makes is that our realm is divinely and expertly designed, as opposed to the heathen evolutionary belief of some kind of cosmic egg that hatches out an expanding and growing universe. Whether the bars, gates, storehouses, and channels are physical realities or analogies of incomprehensible forces, the fact remains that this realm is designed by God, and there is no hint of any gradualistic progression, as if a building constructs itself. Even if it were programmed to do so from elementary building blocks, an intelligent being wrote the code and provided the materal.

Job 42

After all that, finally Job responds by admitting he had been arrogant, and then God has words for his so-called friends. He defends Job compared to them, saying that Job had spoken accurately albeit presumptuously. Then he tells them to humbly take an offering for Job to make on their behalf, as their intercessor or priest in this situation.

Then God restores everything to Job: his health, a replacement family, and more wealth than he had before. Notice also that in spite of the time and culture, Job’s daughters are named and honored with inheritances on a par with their brothers. But we should not jump to the conclusion that everything we suffer in this life will be rewarded in this life, as it was for Job.

It should be obvious that God must have eventually told Job the reason all this happened, since it was written down for us. But it’s a lesson in humility and the testing of our faith, even when all supports for faith are knocked away. Job is indeed an extreme example, but he proved that it’s possible to pass the test regardless.

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