The Book of Job: Was Job Innocent or Being Punished?

[This is a reprint from the old blog site.]

There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.

~Job 1:1

Sometimes events happen in such a way that I just feel compelled to think, meditate and write about them.

A few weeks ago, I was listening to a couple of messages in Church.  One was about the Parable of the Ten Virgins and the other was about the Book of Job.

At first glance, you wouldn’t think that they have anything to do with each other.  However, the person giving the message about the Parable of the Ten Virgins mentioned that the five who ran out of oil in their lamps did so because they had the wrong doctrine.  Huh?  Now, that was both strange and (in hindsight) ironic.  It was strange because of all the explanations I had ever heard about the Ten Virgins, that was the first time I had ever heard that explanation.  Ironic because it planted a seed in my mind that I could not shake off while listening to the message about the Book of Job.

I think we may have been going about it all wrong for all these years.

Earlier this week, I was listening to Focus on the Family.  Steven Curtis Chapman was on for a three-part interview with Dr. James Dobson.  If you don’t know, earlier this year, his oldest son was involved in a vehicle accident where he accidently backed over the youngest daughter, Maria aged four,  in the driveway.  To say this was a tragedy is an understatement.  He ran through all of the emotion at the time, the cries of "Why?" by various in the family.  Steven pointed out that God doesn’t mind us asking "Why?"  What God wants is us to have the faith to ask Him the questions.  It really was an amazing story, and it was evident that it was faith in God that brought them through all of this.

Of course, his theology probably doesn’t match your own if you are reading this blog.  His story was also full of seeing Maria again in Heaven, them dancing together in Heaven, her accepting Jesus into her heart at a young age and how she was being prepared for an early departure from an earthly existence at so young an age.  Then, he mentioned that he and his family had had a "Job experience".  This is an obvious reference to Job’s suffering.  Job suffered even when he was not guilty of any particular sin, and thus it is often pointed to whenever "bad things happen to good people."  However, there again was the references to Job and alongside a theological outlook.  Maybe it was a Job experience, but not in the way he meant the phrase.

Let me pause here to ask you something:  Does God get angry when His name or His character are maligned?

What is the story of Job all about?  It is pretty amazing when you think about how one of the most well known books in the Bible is so altogether misunderstood.  I could list twenty things off the top of my head that people have said about the book.  Some are silly, some are contradictory, some are partially correct and some are just plain wrong.

The Book of Job itself takes on the form of Hebrew poetry.  Indeed, this is part of the difficulty in interpretation.  It begins with a prologue that sets up the scene for the rest of the story, and it has an epilogue that closes out the story.  The prologue has two exchanges between God and Satan, and you see the double pattern working throughout the book.

The main portion of the book is called the "Dialog", and it consists of "interviews" with Job, and Job answering.  Each of Job’s friends take a crack at identifying and fixing Job’s problems.  Each is a double interview followed by Job’s reply, meaning that Job responds once for each two of one of his friends’ volleys.  There are three rounds of this, so Job gets worked over 2 * 3 * 3, or 18, times!  Then, the final round is God speaking to Job twice, but the structure is different and Job’s replies are very brief.

All in all, Job gets worked over twenty times.  Since each is a double interview, you could say it was ten times.  Ten is a number of perfection and completion in Hebrew literature, so it is is significant to show that Job’s innermost being is left bare by the barrage of questions and accusations at the end.  It is too easy to focus on the trial of his loss and his physical condition and forget that his trial was ongoing and intensified throughout the story.  I believe it is important to realize that Job’s trial was thorough, his interrogation complete and his heart ripped completely bare of external trappings.

Because of all of this, many focus in on the suffering part.  It is often pointed to in order to answer the question, "Why do the righteous suffer?"  However, is that really the point?  Mark A. Copeland writes on his site Executable Outlines in the article "The Book of Job":

THE PURPOSE OF THE BOOK:  It is common to suggest that the purpose of the book is to answer the age-old question, "Why does God allow the righteous to suffer?"  That is certainly the question Job raises, but it is worthy to note that he himself never receives a direct answer.  Nor is one given by the author, other than to answer Satan’s challenge, "Does Job fear God for nothing?".  We are privileged to know of the challenge of Satan, and that God allows Job to suffer in answer to that challenge, but Job is never told of this.  Therefore, I suggest that the purpose of the book is:

To answer the question, "How should the righteous suffer?"

I think he brings up a good point the question of why Job was suffering was never answered directly.  In fact, there is no indication that Job was ever made aware of the conversations between God and Satan in the beginning, either during or after the trial.  When you read God’s answer at the end, you pretty much walk away with the thought that God answers Job by simply saying, "I am the Creator God.  Any more silly questions?"  This has led to some other interpretations about the main point of the book:  1. God’s ways are so high above our ways that we cannot understand them, 2. God is the One in control and that is all that matters, and 3. Stuff happens.  I will show that these are pretty incomplete answers.

  1. God’s ways are higher than ours.  We cannot possibly understand His reasons.

    Isa 55:8 is usually trotted out at this time.  In fact, if that truly were the point of the book, it seems odd that it would take forty-two chapters to elaborate on that one verse.  In fact, just stating that one verse would have cut off any further discussion from Job, would it not?  Instead, what we see are discourses of theology.  Job is told that if he repents, then he can have his old life back.  Job’s friends keep probing him, looking for some secret sin that does not exist.

  2. God is in control.  Nothing else matters.

    This is similar to the first argument.  Why spend forty-two chapters to tell us that God is in control, end of story?  Yes, it does expand on that in that it shows Satan has no power except what is granted by God.  However, God still allowed Satan to strike Job, not once but twice.  Just to say God is in control and nothing else matters is like saying God is unjust and we cannot rely upon Him to do the right thing.  Tyrants are in control and do what they want, but the God of the Bible has given us free will (in spite of what Calvanists like to teach).

  3. Stuff happens.

    This, too, falls way short.  In fact, if God is truly in control, then nothing happens unless He allows it to happen.  In fact, Ro 8:28 tells us "all things", not some things but all things, work together for good.  It still points to God being in control.  Therefore, why did He allow Job to suffer?

Here is the one question that most do not seem to address:  Why was God so angry at Job’s three friends?  If you read their statements and then read Job’s statements, their theologies don’t seem much different than one another.  In particular, their theodicies, their beliefs about God’s justice, seem very closely aligned.  Given that, why was God so angry at Job’s three friends and yet vindicated Job to them in the end?

I believe it was in the application of their beliefs.  Job agreed with them on many points, but he would not concede that he was a sinner.  Rather, he was very confused on what his sin might be.  Job’s friends, however, attacked and accused his character mercilessly.

  • (Job 4:7) [Eliphaz the Temanite says,] Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? or where were the righteous cut off?

  • (Job 4:17) Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty:

  • (Job 7:21) [Job] And why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away my iniquity? for now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be.

  • (Job 8:3-6) [Bildad the Shuhite] Doth God pervert judgment? or doth the Almighty pervert justice?  If thy children have sinned against him, and he have cast them away for their transgression; If thou wouldest seek unto God betimes, and make thy supplication to the Almighty; If thou wert pure and upright; surely now he would awake for thee, and make the habitation of thy righteousness prosperous.

  • (Job 8:20) Behold, God will not cast away a perfect man, neither will he help the evil doers:

  • (Job 9:1-2) Then Job answered and said, I know it is so of a truth: but how should man be just with God?

  • (Job 10:14-15) If I sin, then thou markest me, and thou wilt not acquit me from mine iniquity. If I be wicked, woe unto me; and if I be righteous, yet will I not lift up my head. I am full of confusion; therefore see thou mine affliction;

  • (Job 11:1, 4-6) Then answered Zophar the Naamathite, and said, … For thou hast said, My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in thine eyes.  But oh that God would speak, and open his lips against thee; And that he would shew thee the secrets of wisdom, that they are double to that which is! Know therefore that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth.

  • (Job 11:14-15) If iniquity be in thine hand, put it far away, and let not wickedness dwell in thy tabernacles. For then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot; yea, thou shalt be stedfast, and shalt not fear:

When Job said, "I know it is so of a truth," he is agreeing with the belief that God rewards the righteous and curses the sinner.  You know what?  Many would agree with that statement today!  I have heard and read sermons where it was stated that Job was full of pride or that Job was self-righteous, and, therefore, he was justly punished for his sins.  Nonsense!  Frankly, people who say Job deserved punishement really need to think about how Job’s three friends accused him of sin and how angry God was with them in the end.  They truly are missing the point of the entire book!

  1. Was Job full of pride?

    And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?

    ~Job 1:8

    God Himself declared Job as righteous.  Now, we all know that all have sinned, so Job was like Abraham in that he was saved because of his belief in the coming Messiah that would save the world from its sins.  However, if Job were hanging on to pride, wouldn’t God point that out?

    Some have argued that Satan did not accuse Job of pride because Satan is also full of pride.  Satan’s pride blinded him to Job’s pride.  More nonsense!  If anything, pride usually leads people to accusing others whenever a perceived fault is seen in the other.  That’s why Satan is the accuser.  Humans, who are also full of pride normally, have no problem with spotting pride in others.  I doubt Satan has such a handicap.  Saying that pride blinds us to pride is a lot like saying adultery blinds us to spotting adultery in others.

  2. Was Job self-righteous?

    This camp has a better case.  After all, the story is about what sin did Job commit in order to deserve such punishment, but Job does not admit to any.  However, remember, Job asks for pardon of transgression (7:21, quoted above).  Moreover, there are three things Job asks of God:

    Then call thou, and I will answer: or let me speak, and answer thou me[:]

    [1] How many are mine iniquities and sins? make me to know my transgression and my sin.

    [2] Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and holdest me for thine enemy?

    [3] Wilt thou break a leaf driven to and fro? and wilt thou pursue the dry stubble?

    For thou writest bitter things against me, and makest me to possess the iniquities of my youth.

    ~ Job 13:22-26

    Far from the type of self-righteousness that Jesus accused the Pharisees of, Job wanted to know what his sins were.

Of course, Job might easily appear self-righteous because he could not respond to his friends as to what his sins were.  In fact, Elihu points out:

For he hath said, It profiteth a man nothing that he should delight himself with God.


Thinkest thou this to be right, that thou saidst, My righteousness is more than God’s?

For thou saidst, What advantage will it be unto thee? and, What profit shall I have, if I be cleansed from my sin?

I will answer thee, and thy companions with thee.

~ 35:2-4

It is important to note that Elihu plans to answer Job and his companions.  Why?  They had the same philosophy!  When you truly look at their arguments, then it becomes evident that they believed if a man does righteously, then God "owes" them blessings.  The problem, of course, is that Job was a righteous man (at least until he began to justify himself more than God) and he was not being physically blessed.

From all appearances, he was being punished.  Job felt he "deserved" to be blessed, while his friends insisted he must be a sinner.  In a very indirect way, they all were accusing God of injustice.  Job’s friends went further by accusing the innocent.  They were bearing false witness (Ninth Commandment), presuming to speak for God (Third Commandment) and judging another with unrighteous judgment (Mt 7:1-2; Jn 7:24).  Job’s sin was using his faulty theology to elevate his sense of righteousness above God’s, but it was tempered by seeking the truth.  Job’s friends’ sin was to use their faulty theology to accuse the innocent of crimes he did not commit.  Job viewed God as One to trust (13:15).  Job’s friends viewed God as One to obtain blessings from.

This is not pure conjecture.  What did Satan tell God?

Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?

Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land.

But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.

~Job 1:9-11

Satan’s philosophy was that man only served God to get blessings from him.  Job’s three friends certainly seemed to subscribe to that philosophy.  Job, however, seemed to have a sense that there was something more.  Yet, he did not completely break from that philosophy until he met God in the whirlwind.

This is why God was angry with Job’s three friends, but not with Job.  Job asked and probed.  Job’s three friends falsely accused Job and impugned God’s name at the same time.  They made out God as unjust, and they forgot about mercy.

What happened to Maria Chapman was about as bad as it gets.  Even the manner of her death multiplies the guilt feelings of the family, I am sure.  We in the COG realize that Maria will sleep until her time comes.  She will be raised up, and she will live a full life in a very different world.

By contrast, mainstream Christianity teaches that she confessed Jesus, let Him into her heart and went to Heaven at death.  This raises the question: What if she had not accepted Jesus?  Well, the same people who say Jesus is the only way will suddenly change their tune.  There is another way, see, for the innocents.  Yet, the innocent in China who never heard Jesus name but was grownup will go to hell for an eternity.

You see, the mainstream Christian God is either a evil monster that sends innocent children to hell or is an unjust and inconsistent monster who punishes for forever those who have never heard of Jesus’ name.  Either way, their theology is flawed.  God is made out to be a monster.  You have to follow the consequences of your beliefs!

So, perhaps the Chapmans did have a "Job experience" in that they were confronted with a flawed theology.  Of course, it isn’t likely they will recognize that here and now, but someday they will understand.  That shows God is a merciful God.  God desires mercy above sacrifice even; that’s something Job’s three friends did not realize!

But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.

~Mt 12:7

Theology does matter.  Doctrine does matter.  God will not hold His anger from those who blaspheme His name forever.

And, no, I don’t believe that the five foolish virgins had the wrong doctrine.  But, that is the topic of another thread …

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