Job is one of the all time heavy books of the Bible. It deals with the prickly question of suffering, and after all is said and done, gives us an absolutely legitimate answer to the question of suffering, but one that we are usually not satisfied with. Today’s reading starts things off with the circumstances of Job’s suffering and his first complaint to his friends who have come to comfort him.
Before we launch off into there are some details that you might find useful as you read through and try to understand these first chapters. First, where is Uz? There are two plausible locations that have been suggested. The first is in what is in modern day Golan Heights or possibly nearer Damascus. The other is possibly in ancient Edom, modern NW Arabia. Personally, I favor the Golan Heights possibility most, because it could be raided by both the Chaldeans and the Sabeans (men from Sheba, modern Yemen), it has adequate grazing lands for a wealthy man like Job, and it has sizable cities at which Job could sit at the city gates.
Second, Job is not a Jew. This may not be news to you regular Bible readers, but there might be others you have never noticed this detail. Job is the greatest “man of the east” (1:3). And yet he is a worshipper of God. You may not have known this, but God (El or Elohim) was in fact worshipped across the Fertile Crescent — it’s just that He wasn’t often worshipped as the only God. He was usually worshipped as one among many other gods, though possibly as the king of the gods, which is why Nebuchadnezzar had no problem calling Him “the Most High God”. Even Jethro (aka Reuel), Moses’ father-in-law, was a priest of God (El or Elohim).
Third, the name Satan means “Accuser” or “Slanderer”, and it is used of the Devil here in the book of Job 11 of the 15 times that it is used in the entire Old Testament, and all within the first two chapters of Job! Why? Because that is exactly what Satan is doing in this book, slandering Job to the LORD — something he does against us, too. And, by the way, he slanders God in our ears a lot, too.
And fourth, Satan’s slander is the chief theme and pursuit of the whole book: “Then Satan answered the LORD, ‘Does Job fear God for nothing?’” Job 1:9, NAS95. The meaning of the book revolves around and stems from this question.
OK, so I assume you’ve read the first three chapters; what lessons are there here for us.
Do you fear God for nothing? — Satan’s slanderous accusation actually asked a legitimate question that may, in fact, need to be answered in the life of each Christian man and woman. Especially we who are flooded with material blessing, do we fear God only because He blesses us? If God were to allow Satan take away your home, your job, your car, your wardrobe, your family, would you still serve Him? If not, what does this say about our loyalty to Him? Perhaps that we’re only loyal as long as the good times roll? If our loyalty to God is really tied to our blessings, are we not merely “bought friends”? Would you want that sort of loyalty in your friends? In your spouse? In your family? In the end, Job passed the test; would you? Would I? The last couple of lines from the hymn, O Sacred Head, go like this…
O, make me Thine forever;
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
Outlive my love for Thee.
Naked I came…naked I shall return — Job is mourning how much he had lost in one fell swoop, but takes a philosophical approach by noting that it was all a gift from God who has the perfect right to take it away at His pleasure. He repeats a version of this wisdom in the second round of Satan’s evil work, when he reasons with his wife, “Shall we accept good from God and not accept adversity?” These various material things and even our health aren’t owed to us, they don’t become our actual possessions over which God has no rights; yet look at how we howl and speak of the unfairness of it all, when these things are taken away! Job had it right!
Seven days of silent comfort — As a minister I spend more time than most folks with people in mourning over a deceased loved one. When I was new in ministry, I used to search and grope to choke out a few words of comfort to people who were beside themselves in grief. I observed as my words fell on polite but deaf ears, and wondered if I would ever come up with the right scripture, the right words, the right tone of voice to make some difference to those suffering deep grief. And then I began noticing how my silent presence was often better than anything I might have said. Although we rightfully chide Job’s friends for blaming the victim by telling Job that he needed to repent, when he’d done nothing wrong; they at least did something right, when they came to Job and sat silently with him for 7 days and nights! It’s only when they opened their mouths that they started sticking their foot in.
Despair in suffering — Suffering causes us to want to escape the source of the suffering, and in many cases that suggests suicide. Job, in his deep suffering, spoke about how he wished he’d never been born and how good death was seeming to him. But suicide was not the answer, even though Job’s wife seems to have suggested it. Through all of his suffering, Job knew that in God there was still hope (that’s why he continues to ask God to “review his case” and reverse this situation). Where there is God, there is always hope! Always!
See you tomorrow, Lord willing
Thank you Rabbi. I enjoyed reading your commentary on Job 1-3. I learned about the ministry pf presence from a Lutheran pastor while dealing with a family in our church who had a still born loss. No words… no words. Suit up and show up.