Job's Comforters

Scripture: Job 29:8-10, Job 1:1-22, Job 2:1-13
The story of Job teaches us some very important lessons in our Christian life. A very wealthy man who served God, the Lord allowed trials to come to his life that tested Job to the uttermost. Three friends came to encourage him, but their encouragement was not helpful. God honored Job's naked faith.
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The rugged, solitary country of northwest Arabia is the setting for one of the great epics of ancient literature. In this land of Uz there were no cities-only occasional tribal villages of desert herdsmen and traders. The conditions of the times are described elsewhere in the Bible, only in the book of Genesis. The hero of the drama, Job, may have been a contemporary of Jacob or Joseph. This locates the original story almost as long before Christ as we are after Christ.

Job was renowned for his wisdom. When he spoke men listened respectfully and received his counsel in silence. After he had spoken on a matter there was no further argument-he had the last word. He was a man of great power and dignity. When he appeared in the village square "the young men ... withdrew, and the aged rose and stood up; the princes refrained from talking ...; the nobles held their peace." Job 29:8-10.

He was also very rich. He probably owned several tribal villages. His herdsmen tended seven thousand sheep. His ownership of three thousand camels indicates that he may have been a large carrier of international commerce. With his five hundred donkeys, he was able to handle a large share of the local trade, as well. His five hundred yoke of oxen allowed him to farm on an extended scale. In these various enterprises he undoubtedly employed a very large number of people. For a man to operate on a comparable level in modern times, he would have to own a steamship line, a fleet of trucks, a platoon of tractors, and all the machinery, property, and maintenance facilities that these imply. The drama introduces its hero by the assertion that "this man was the greatest of all the people of the east." Job 1:3.

Job's standard of living was commensurate with his great wealth. His seven sons and three daughters indulged in a regular schedule of wild parties. As any godly father would, Job worried about his pleasure-loving and wayward children. He would rise early in the morning to remember them before God.

During his business trips and vacations he made friends in many different countries. Several of these came to visit him while he was sick. There was Eliphaz from Teman, a city near the impregnable natural fortress of Petra in south Edom. Bildad, possibly a grandson of Abraham by his second wife, Keturah, came from northern Syria. Zophar probably came from east of the Jordan. Elihu, perhaps a descendant of Abraham's brother Nahor, quite likely lived in northern Mesopotamia.

The book opens by taking us behind the scenes of life as we know it and permitting us to listen in on a magnificent celestial council. High on His infinite throne sits the God of the universe, and gathered before Him are those of His sons who were present at the creation of this world. It seems that each of these is the representative of an inhabited planet somewhere in space. Among them is Satan, prince of the planet Earth. When it came his turn to report, God asked of him, "Whence have you come?" Satan answered, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it." Job 1:7. Jehovah demanded that Satan be more specific, by asking, "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?" verse 8. Satan didn't deny that Job was a good man. However, he questioned his motives. "Job doesn't serve you out of the goodness of his heart," replied this father of all cynics. "You have surrounded him and all his property with a hedge so that I can't get to him. You have given him power. You have made him rich. He is well paid, indeed, for his service. He is in love with his wealth, not with You. Strip him of his property and he will curse You to Your face." There was a strained silence among the other delegates as they waited in embarrassment to see whether the Almighty would reply to this impudence. God calmly accepted the challenge and answered, "Behold, all that he has is in your power; only upon himself do not put forth your hand." verse 12.

Of course, Job knew nothing of this council. He was on earth enjoying business as usual. His children were throwing a big party. Then, suddenly, a messenger came running and told Job, "The oxen were plowing and the asses feeding beside them, when a band of marauders from the southwest murdered the workmen and stole the animals."

Before the man had quite completed his message another runner arrived to say that a brush fire on the prairie had consumed all the sheep.

As this one was yet speaking another rushed in with the information that three companies of Chaldean bandits had raided Job's caravan and had gotten away with all his camels.

Just as he finished delivering his communique, one of the waiters at the dinner being given at the house of Job's oldest son came running and breathlessly blurted out that a hurricane had swept across the desert and struck the house in which the party was being held, killing all of Job's children.

The hand of Satan had fallen suddenly and heavily. Within the period of a few moments the great, rich sheik learned that he had become a childless pauper. Overwhelmed and stunned, he numbly arose to his feet, rent his robe, drew his sword to cut the hair from his head, then fell to the ground and worshiped in anguish, "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." Job. 1:21. The dramatist added this aside, "In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong." verse 22.

At the next great council in heaven, the Lord asked Satan for a progress report on Job. Had he not maintained his integrity through impoverishment as well as in wealth? Was Satan prepared to admit that a man would serve God without pay? His reply was that Job was the sort of utterly self-centered egotist to whom possessions and even family didn't mean much. However, if his own person should be made to suffer, he would unhesitatingly curse God to His face. God countered by removing more of the protecting hedge about Job. "Behold, he is in your power; only spare his life." So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord, and afflicted Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head." Job 2:6, 7. This affliction was called by the ancients "black leprosy," a revolting and deadly disease that, to their minds, indicated a direct stroke of God which could be provoked only by the most heinous of sins. Job now became not only a pauper but also a social outcast. He moved from his house to the city dump, where he sat on the ash heap and scraped his festering sores with bits of broken pottery. Even his wife urged him to curse God and commit suicide.

The news of Job's degradation spread abroad. His friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu made the long tedious journey to extend their condolences and comfort. However, when they arrived they were shocked speechless. Things were much worse than they had suspected, How could they sympathize with one so obviously cursed by God? They decided to play it safe and not say anything. For seven whole days they camped at the dump without saying a word to their friend.

During this time Job took inventory of his position. His possessions were gone. His children were dead. He was driven from the society of mankind. His wife had turned against him. His friends were speechless in their abhorrence of him. Even he could not help despising his rotting body. Why should he live? Indeed, why had he been born? Finally he broke the silence with a cry bespeaking his wish that the moment of his birth could be blotted out of time. He would have God forget the day. He would have the night of his conception blanked out of the calendar. Bitterly he wailed, "Why was I not stillborn? Why couldn't I have starved in infancy? Then I would have lain down in permanent sleep and would now be a rest." His despair was so profound that he not only felt it preferable to die than to live longer but he even regretted living at all if it must end in this way.

Finally, after a week of silence, Eliphaz spoke up. Although he had come to sympathize, what he had to say was of little comfort. He declared that such tragedies as had befallen Job could not result from right living. A person simply reaps what he has sown. Obviously, Job had not sown in righteousness! In addition, this friend claimed to have had a vision in which it was revealed to him that man is essentially evil and therefore subject to the wrath of God. He advised Job to mend his ways and to seek forgiveness from God for his terrible sins if he expected to be restored.

Then Bildad ventured to add his counsel. He claimed that God had sent the hurricane against Job's children to punish them for their sins. He assured the sick man that if he were upright and pure his prayers would have been answered by now. He insisted that in this world there is sure suffering for the wicked and equally sure happiness for the righteous. Job ought not to cover his evil past any longer. His suffering was undeniable evidence that he must have been a great sinner through the years of his supposed piety.

Zophar was even more severe than the others. He bluntly told Job that his punishment was probably less than he deserved. He denounced as presumptuous his efforts to learn the ways of God.

All three companions agreed that affliction comes as a direct judgment for sin and that prosperity results as a reward for pleasing God. They were actually echoing the philosophy expressed by Satan when he charged God with buying the allegiance of Job.

His friends had urged him to confess his sins, but he was too honest to confess sins he had never committed. Because of his inability to enter the dwelling place of God and in the absence of a mediator between himself and God, there was but one course left for him-he would summon God from His abode in the heavens to the ash heap on which he sat. There he would defend his case himself before the God whose ways he obviously did not understand. He feared this to be a dangerous procedure. However, his faith in God's justness was greater than his fear of God's wrath. Some people's faith is aroused only by fear. They pray only when they are alarmed. Such are the weaklings, the midgets of faith, But from the abyss of despair, from the pit of fear, Job, a giant of faith, arose to affirm: Though he slay me; yet will I trust in Him. Hear diligently my speech ... . I have ordered my cause; I know that I shall be justified." Job 13:15-18.

It is a rare thing to find faith in God that is so entirely independent of one's personal welfare. With most people faith fluctuates in proportion to how well they feel that God lines up with their personal plans. Such faith is not in God, but in oneself.

When Job exercised his faith, it grew. From where he was sitting he could see the stump of a fallen tree. The tree was dead. The stump was rotting. Then he noticed that from the stump a sapling had sprouted! He knew that although the stump would completely decay, from the new shoot would grow a new tree. Could this be a parable of human life? Could it be that not all the rewards and punishments of man are received before death? He ventured to ask the question that was heavy on his heart, "If a man die, shall he live again?" Job 14:14. Was it possible that a new life would spring forth after his dying body had returned to the dust?

A question asked in such absolute faith did not go unanswered. Quick as a flash there came to Job the answer. As the fallen tree, so he would die. As the decaying stump, so his body would return to dust. And as the sapling brought forth new life out of death, so also new life would be his again. In joyous confidence he cried out to the God whom he recognized as giving him this assurance, "Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee." Job 14:15 K.J.V.

Thus, with both of his original doubts removed, Job ascended the pinnacle of faith and understanding. Although he suffered injustice on every hand, although wife and friends despised him, although his misguided friends were persecuting him, although he was staring into the grave that was about to receive him, he shouted his exalted declaration of faith, "For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God whom I shall see for myself and my eyes shall behold and not another." Job 19:25-27.

Job had vindicated God's trust in him. He had proved that it is possible for a man of faith to withstand every provocation to sin with which the devil can confront him. He had shown that a man can have an unselfish faith that will preserve its integrity regardless of the consequences. He had demonstrated that living by principle is more important than making a living, indeed, more important than living. He had given evidence that the ultimate punishments for evil and rewards for faithfulness are not to be expected in this life.

At the close of the drama we are assured that Job recovered from his dread disease and that through the generosity of friends he as given a new start in business. We are glad to learn that he again enjoyed prosperity, that he lived to beget other children, and that he lived long enough to see his grandchildren. However, all this came not as the final reward for faithfulness. Job had learned that the ultimate consequences of righteousness and evil will not be evident until the day of divine judgment. He knew that he would sleep for a time before that day would come. Above all, he also knew that he would answer the call of the Almighty on that day of judgment, and that with his eyes he would see God.

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