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Insights from the Book of Job

The people of Faith Church have been journeying through the Old Testament Book of Job over the past few weeks as part of our 4-Year Bible Reading Plan. The Book of Job is relevant and interesting because it addresses a topic that we all need to consider -- suffering, and in particular, suffering of a person who has not done anything wrong. However, I would be the first to admit that it can be difficult to read, but there are great benefits and insights once you work your way through it.

Acknowledging Challenges in Reading 

There are a number of reasons why the Job can be so difficult to read. Although there are books in the Bible that are longer,Job is on the longer side (42 chapters), and modern readers often have difficulty reading longer works. It does not have much action outside of the opening and closing chapters; much of the book is a dialogue between Job and his friends (chapters 3-31, followed by a monologue of Elihu in 32-37), and as you read through them, the speeches seem redundant (the friends say similar, or even the same, things). The format of the book can also be challenging, as much of it is poetry. (If you think it is tough to read in English, you should read it in Hebrew, as it is also one of the most difficult books to translate since there are places where the meaning in the original language is a bit unclear). The contents can be hard, as you first see Job go through unthinkable tragedy and suffering, and then you see insult added to injury as his “friends” accuse him of having done evil (when he has not) and call him arrogant. Figuring out how this book connects and relates to other parts of the Bible can also be a challenge. In light of the way Job makes sacrifices for his children (chapter 1:5), it seems that Job lived around the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as this would be before there were priests in Israel.  Also, his wealth is measured by the number of animals in his possession and the servants he had (1:3; 42:12), which is similar to how people’s wealth was measured back then. According to chapter 42:16, Job lived 140 years after the end of the book which also matches the longer lifespan of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In addition, while the book addresses suffering, which is relevant and important for every single human, the topic is complicated, so the subject is one destined to present difficulties.

The church leader Augustine pointed out that challenging passages should not cause us to give up reading the Bible or trying to understand it, but rather should cause us to dig deeper, as we might gain even more when we ponder things more deeply. I wanted to highlight some key insights I drew from the book as I read through it this time. 

Remember To Read The Whole Book

I have recently been leading a group through some principles in interpreting and teaching the Bible, and one of the things I have highlighted has been the need to read an entire book; when we just look at certain passages, we can miss the point of what they are saying and even use them incorrectly (remember that when the devil tempted Jesus in Matthew 4 and Luke 4, he quoted scripture). This is especially true of the Book of Job. In order to interpret the book correctly, you have to read from beginning to end to see that Job is a righteous man (which is also confirmed in other parts of the Bible, as Ezekiel 14:14, 20 and James 5:11 talk about Job being a righteous man). This means that the advice of his friends might sound correct at times, but is in fact wrong (which is made clear at the end Job 42:7-9).They continue to say that Job has sinned and is being punished, but this is simply not true. (Their example may be illustrations of how we can misuse principles and ideas when we don’t consider the entire context.) Therefore, we need to be careful in quoting the speeches of the friends; while they might have some truth in them, their point of recording their words might not be to give us insight into truth, but rather to make sure we don’t believe false truths or cite them to others when they are suffering. In fact, the Book of Job is a great illustration of the principle I have learned from groups such as Leadership Resources International and Simeon Trust -- the beginning and end of books (tops and tails) can be so useful in interpreting the middle of a book. 

In fact, the Book of Job is a good reminder that the books of the Bible are books. Just as a scene in a movie or show makes sense in light of the whole work, so a passage in a book of the Bible makes sense in light of the whole work. For example, I think a major point in the speeches of the friends is that they don’t say anything new; we should grow frustrated with them. They repeat the same thing over and over again, and thus their ideas don’t solve the problems. We need to look beyond our wisdom and understanding and need the voice of God to speak to us in our suffering. Therefore, look at passages in light of the whole book and think not just about the words themselves, but also how they might be functioning and what they might be doing in us.

Remember Why There Is Evil and Tragedy

As I reflected on the Book of Job through this reading sequence, something that stood out was that the book does give an explanation for why there is suffering and evil that should not be overlooked -- it comes from the work of an adversary who both seeks to defeat God and also to hurt humans. This is what we see in the opening chapters; while Job does not know or understand that (and it does not enter into the conversation of the friends or even in the words of God), it is a takeaway we should gather from the book. All suffering is not tied to the sins of a person, but we know that suffering happens because of the cosmic conflict that is taking place between God and Satan.

Two Other Questions to Remember

After reading the Book of Job, should this cause us to live differently? One question that always comes to mind in reading Job is one posed by one of my college professors in describing the book:  the question is, “will we be good for nothing?” That is at the heart of Satan’s accusation, as he says Job only worships God because God gives him things, but when these things are taken away, Job still worships and keeps struggling with God rather than turning his back on Him. In fact, Job’s greatest struggles seems to be that he thinks God is now against him; it is not the loss of possessions or family, but the loss of closeness that bothers Job. Do I worship God because I love Him and have a relationship with Him, or only as a way of making sure that He keeps giving me what I need and want?

The other question I am asking myself after reading Job again is, “Will I be humble in my thinking?” Job’s friends think they have all the answers (and aren’t afraid to make that known to others). That is my natural tendency as well. Job struggles because he doesn’t have the answers, and it seems that it is okay to struggle as we seek answers. We need to acknowledge the mystery of suffering (as we discussed in a sermon series at Faith last year looking at the book of Job) and turn to God. His ways are not always our ways. In fact, we should expect there to be things we do not fully understand in light of the fact that we are finite beings and God is infinite; if we had all the answers, that might be a problem!

Job trusted God to be his Redeemer even in the midst of his suffering (Job 19:25-27). On this side of the cross, we have an even greater picture of how God works in the mystery of suffering, as our Redeemer suffered for us and rose from the dead. We can trust God and worship Him not only because He provides for us, but because of who He is.

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