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Introduction to Job

April 19, 2020 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Job

Topic: Expository Passage: Job 1:1-5

 

Introduction

For several months I have been planning to begin a series on Job this spring. Of course, that was all before COVID-19 and isolation. So, on Sunday and Monday, I got a little nervous about my plan. Specifically, will Job be too heavy and complicated, while everyone is stuck at home? Maybe I should do something simpler and happier?

But as soon as I had that thought, it hit me, “Duh Kit, what study would be timelier during a pandemic than Job?” Job is literally the go-to book on unexplained suffering. And on Thursday, as I was watching a sermon on the goodness of God, it struck me that what we really need right now is not a trite, emotional pep talk but a weighty theology of God that offers substantive help. Therefore, I believe the Lord led me to plan and prepare for this series months ago, because he knew we would need the message of Job during these heavy days and for whatever hard times are ahead of us.

As I typically do when I begin a new book, I’d like to use our time this morning to lay an important foundation for the remainder of our study. I’ll tell you up front that I’m expecting you to put on your thinking cap today. We’re going to cover a lot of ground and some of it is a bit complicated.

But if you stick with me as we fly over the forest of Job, I’m hopeful that you will gain a better perspective on some of the confusing aspects of the book. And once you see how the parts fit together, hopefully, Job will come to life for you and make a powerful impact in your understanding of trials, the nature of God, and your life before him.

So, stick with me today, because the prize is worth the effort. Let’s begin by reading Job 1:1–5. I’d like to use this passage as an…

I.  Introduction to the Man Job (1:1–5)

These verses tell us 2 facts about Job that are essential to the book.

Job was blessed of the Lord. Verse 3 jumps off the page. Job had 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke/pairs of oxen, 500 female donkeys (plus male ones), and many, many servants. I grew up on a farm, and even by modern standards, that’s a lot of livestock.

And something that we might miss about this verse is Job’s diversified business. First, with 7,000 sheep Job had a thriving livestock business. But that wasn’t all. Camels were primarily used for long packing trips over the desert. Therefore, only reason anyone would have 3,000 camels is because he has a massive trading company. It’s like Job has a massive trucking fleet that moved all sorts of goods across the region to buy and sell.

Furthermore, the only reason you keep oxen is for cultivating crops. And 500 yoke/pairs of oxen, is a lot of horsepower. It’s the equivalent of a couple big tractors! Job must have farmed considerable acreage.

So, Job was an incredibly wealthy and diversified businessman. In fact, v. 3 ends by saying, “This man was the greatest of all thepeople of the East.”

Assuming that the author is writing from an Israelite perspective, the “East” could be anywhere from the Jordan River to Persia. Verse 1 says more specifically that he lived in Uz. The Bible calls 2 regions Uz. One area is southeast of Israel on the edge of Edom. The other region is northeast of Israel in Northern Mesopotamia (Gen 10:23; 1 Chron 1:17). We can’t know for certain, though I know that Dr. B would love to talk with you, if you are interested in learning more about this debate.

Regardless, v. 3 emphasizes that Job was extremely wealthy. And the author will note later in the chapter that Job’s wealth was due to God’s blessing.

One other symbol of God’s blessing was Job’s family. Verse 2 mentions that he had 7 sons. Now, at my stage of life, that sounds like a lot of chaos and dirty shoes, but in the ancient world sons were considered a great blessing of God. And Job also had 3 daughters, that I’m sure were the apples of his eye. So, God blessed Job with 10 children.

Now, if any of you are wondering why v. 2 doesn’t mention Job’s wife, it’s probably because she wasn’t a blessing. She’s going to encourage Job to curse God and die. But still, Job is blessed with a large family. Therefore, the author wants us to understand at the outset that God has blessed Job abundantly. The 2nd essential truth about Job that vv. 1–5 emphasize is that…

Job was godly. Notice the 4 descriptions of Job’s character in v. 1. Job was, “blameless and upright, and one whofeared God and shunned evil.” Both blameless and upright mean that there weren’t any obvious holes in Job’s character or life. He loved his family, he cared for his servants, he was an honest businessman, and he consistently lived a moral life. Job did all the right things.

Not only that, Job “shunned evil.” He remained separate from all sin, wickedness, and unholiness. And finally, he wasn’t just a moral man, he “feared God.” His upstanding life flowed from reverence and love for God. We’re going to see that Job had his faults, but he was a godly man who loved and trusted the Lord.

These 4 terms are also important for us. You should pray that God would make you someone that others would describe us as “blameless and upright, and one whofeared God and shunned evil.” We must pursue a visible godliness that flows from a sincere heart of devotion to God.

Then, notice in vv. 4–5 a basic example of Job’s piety (read). Most likely, v. 4 is saying that each of Job’s sons hosted a big birthday party each year and invited all of his siblings. There’s no indication that these parties were sinful in any sense. Rather, they actually speak to the unity and love in Job’s family. But v. 5 describes Job as the ultimate cautious, godly father.

Just in case his children had unknowingly “sinned andcursed God in their hearts,” he sacrificed a burnt offering at the conclusion of each feast. It’s a simple example of the fact that Job feared the Lord, he appreciated the wickedness of sin, he loved his family, and he cared for their spiritual well-being. He is a tremendous example of a godly father. All of this brings me to a final important detail regarding Job.

Job was a contemporary of the patriarchs. The Bible never explicitly says this, but a number of details in Job’s story indicate that he was a contemporary of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Like the Patriarchs, Job’s wealth is measured in livestock. The list of herds in v. 3, sounds like something right out of Genesis 12–50, and it’s very different from the biblical descriptions of the kings’ wealth. That tells us that Job lived in a very ancient world like the Patriarchs.

Job functions as a patriarchal priest. We just saw this in v. 5, where Job offered sacrifices on behalf of his family. Of course, this is very different from what we see after God instituted the Law at Mt. Sinai. After that, Israel had national (really worldwide) priests that represented everyone. The fact that Job is a family priest indicates that God had not given the Law yet.

Job makes no allusions to the Mosaic Law, even while the characters are staunch worshippers of Yahweh. This one is important, because the vast, vast majority of people in the ancient world were polytheists, who worshipped many gods, but Job and his friends all assume the existence of one God. So, if Israelite worship was in practice, Job would have surely sought them out. But Job doesn’t make any allusions to the Law or Levitical practices. This is a strong indication that God had not given the Law yet.

Job lived to be very old. Job 42:16 says that Job lived 140 years after the main events of the story took place, so you have to figure that he lived to be around 200 years old. Again, that sounds a lot more like the days of Abraham than of King David.

In sum, Job probably lived roughly 4,000 years ago. This is a really old story. But in 4,000 years, neither God’s nature nor the struggles of sinners have changed all that much. Therefore, this ancient, timeless, and inspired story has as much to say to us today as it has ever had. Now that we’ve been introduced to the man, Job, let’s look more broadly at an…

II.  Introduction to the Book of Job

Please note first of all that…

The author of Job is anonymous. This is not a big deal, because many other OT books are anonymous. But where it can become problematic is when liberals argue that the original story was passed down orally for generations and then passed through lots of editors once it was recorded, so that it is mostly a mythological tale, not an accurate record of history.

But the Bible won’t let us go there. Job is presented as true and historical. And James 5:11 assumes that Job is a true story. It’s very convenient in our day to try to make the Bible more palatable to the intellectual elite by considering much of the OT as inspired myth. But when you start down that road, you plant land mines in your faith, because it makes Scripture dishonest. We must read Job as a true story. BTW, there is nothing in the book that requires otherwise. Since Job is historically accurate…

Job was probably written near the actual events. Some scholars like to argue that Job wasn’t completed until 1500 years after the events, but if that’s true, it’s hard to take this story seriously. We are better off assuming that someone fairly close to the story at the very least mostly finished the book. There’s a long tradition that Moses wrote it or at least edited it, but we can’t know for certain.

Survey: Next, I’d like to give a quick flyover of the whole book, so that we can better understand how each part fits into the whole and especially so we understand the primary message of Job. As you can see on the screen, there are 8 basic sections to the book.

Most people are pretty familiar with the first and the last section. We know the story of how Job lost everything and then regained everything. Therefore, if you ask most people what Job is about, they would say it’s about trials or suffering. They assume that Job is in the Bible so that I don’t feel so bad about my problem, “At least I don’t have it as bad as Job.”

But the problem with this, is that it essentially ignores 39 of Job’s 42 chapters. Admittedly, these 39 chapters are oftentimes very complex, but they are essential to the book’s message. And when you understand them, the argument they make is profoundly rich.

Specifically, when you understand Job as a whole it becomes clear that Job is not fundamentally about human suffering, though suffering does play an important role. Rather Job is an exploration of the infinite wisdom of God and his incomprehensible ways.

This is why I’ve entitled the series, “The Wisdom of God and the Foolishness of Men.” Job is here to prove that God is infinitely wiser than I am; therefore, I must humbly look to him for wisdom and trust his purposes when I don’t understand his ways.

That’s a tough one, because we all like to think that we are wise, and that we can solve the world’s mysteries. Just take a look at social media this week and notice all the self-proclaimed infectious disease experts that think they know more than seasoned experts. But God demands that we live before him with a humble posture of faith. I’d like to take you on a quick survey of the book to demonstrate how Job makes this point. Job begins in chapters 1–2 with…

Satan’s Destruction (Job 1–2): You probably know that the story sours pretty quickly after Job 1:1–5. God allows Satan to take all of the blessings Job enjoys to demonstrate that Job doesn’t worship God only because of the blessings he enjoys. So, Satan takes Job’s wealth and his family, leaving him in grief and poverty. And Job has no idea why any of this is happening.

Therefore, Job despairs in chapter 3, to the point of wishing he had never been born. Then comes the longest and most confusing section of Job in chapters 4–27. In this section, Job’s 3 friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, argue for a strict retribution theology.

They believe that God blesses those who honor him, and he judges those who dishonor him. They are sure they know why Job is suffering. But Job adamantly maintains his innocence throughout. However, Job is not the hero of this section. Job grows more and more frustrated at his friends and more importantly, he grows frustrated with God. Notice his arrogance in Job 23:1–7. Job wants to prosecute God in a court of law, and he is confident that he would win. He thinks he knows better than God.

These debates lead into chapter 28, where Job praises the value of wisdom. This chapter is very important, because it demonstrates that the central concern of Job is the pursuit of wisdom. Job is not about trials or blessing; it’s about the perspective with which I look at life. Notice how Job concludes (28:28). Job sees that wisdom comes from fearing the Lord, not human knowledge.

That’s good, but Job is still not convinced that God knows best. In Job 29–31, Job again asserts his own innocence and mostly whines about how God has mistreated him.

Then the book takes a dramatic turn in Job 38–41, when God finally speaks out of the whirlwind. In a series of very pointed questions, God puts Job in his place. And what is particularly important about this section is that God never explains why Job is suffering. He never tells Job about his conversation with Satan or ultimately why he let Satan afflict Job.

Instead, God asserts his infinite wisdom and glory, and in the process, he puts Job in his place (e.g., 38:3–7). Essentially, God says, “Job, I am God, and I know infinitely more than you do, and you have no right to question me.” God asserts his infinite wisdom and man’s utter foolishness.

And Job is humbled. The climax of the book comes in Job 42:1–6. Job sees God’s infinite glory and wisdom. As a result, he wants God to instruct him. Then the book ends with God rebuking Job’s friends for their arrogance and restoring Job’s wealth. In light of that, I’d like to briefly highlight the major themes we are going to emphasize as we study Job.

Unexplained Suffering: It’s one thing to suffer when you know you deserve it, or you can clearly see a purpose for it. No one complains about how exhausting it is to play in the Super Bowl. But it’s very different, when, like Job, you don’t see any purpose for your suffering, and you have no idea when it will end. We’ve all been there to differing degrees. Job has a lot to say about how we respond to this sort of unexplained suffering. I’m really looking forward to thinking about this very difficult issue.

The Sovereignty of God: Did you know that theology of Job’s friends is alive and well today? Even secular people talk about Karma, and the roots of the prosperity gospel are everywhere, even among conservative Christians.

The reason is that we want control over our lives. In the words of the poet, William Ernest Henley, we all want to believe, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” But Job declares that we are not. Rather, God is “the master of my fate” and “the captain of my soul.” And that’s a good thing, because he is infinitely wiser than I am.

The Justice of God: Probably the greatest challenge to the biblical worldview is the Problem of Evil. It asks if God is good and sovereign, then why do evil and suffering exist? It’s a very difficult question. We’ve all wondered at times why a good and sovereign God doesn’t stop all of the madness in our world. Many people are asking these very questions right now. God never explains why in the Book of Job, but he does assure us that he is wise and that we can trust him. That may not satisfy our curiosity, but it’s the best our finite minds can comprehend. Our challenge is to trust our infinite God.

The Wisdom of God: Job argues that the final answer to all our questions lies in the infinite understanding of God. The reason we don’t understand is not because he doesn’t have a purpose; it’s because our finite minds simply can’t comprehend God’s infinite ways. I’m reminded of Isaiah 55:8–9, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” I’m so thankful that an infinitely wise God rules over my life and all the world.

The Quest for Wisdom: Job is going to teach us that we can’t answer our biggest questions on our own. Rather, “The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.” Every pursuit of knowledge and wisdom must begin with God. Therefore, if you want wisdom and understanding, it all begins with fearing the Lord and looking to his Word.

The Motivation for our Worship: Satan’s basic challenge to God in Job 1 is that Job only loves God, because God’s gives him so many things. And Satan is right that many people only serve God in hopes of what they will get in return today, which means that they ultimately worship themselves.

Therefore, Job challenges us to think about why we love and serve God. It challenges us to love and serve God simply because he is worthy of our devotion and because we trust him to do what is right.

This is a good challenge for all of us to consider. Why do I go to church, read my Bible, and obey God’s commands? Is it because I hope I will get something from him, or do I love God simply for who he is? It’s in uncertain times like we are currently facing that we really see what’s in our hearts. I pray that God uses this study to show us the true beauty and majesty of our God so that we learn to worship and obey out of sincere hearts of humility and love. Finally, I’d like offer 3 tips for helping you study Job well.

III.  Practical Tips for Studying Job

Keep a big-picture perspective. If you are a perfectionist, studying Job can drive you crazy, because you get stuck on every little detail you don’t understand. Don’t do that. Don’t get lost in the details. You have to see the trees in light of the forest. That’s why I’ve spent so much time today giving you an overview. If you discipline yourself to look at each part in light of the whole, Job will make a lot more sense and make a much greater impact.

Read Job with your head and your heart. All of us probably lean one way or the other. If you are like me, and you don’t have a heart, you can easily get totally caught up in the philosophical quest of Job. And this quest is very important. You can’t understand Job without it.

But we also must not miss the fact that 39 chapters of Job are almost entirely written in poetry. God did this because he doesn’t just want us to understand Job intellectually. Job is filled with sorrow, frustration, anger, and joy. God wants us to feel all of those things, and he wants us to enter the emotional struggle of the characters.

That’s essential if we are going to learn how to work through our own struggles and if we are going to come to love and trust God with our whole being, not just our intellect. So, make sure you do both. Read Job with your head and your heart.

Study Job in dependence on gospel grace. Job offers a vital perspective on our relationship to God, but we must not forget that it is incomplete without the NT gospel. The only way I can ultimately have a relationship with God is through Christ. I can never know him and pray to him in my own goodness. I need the grace that Jesus provided on the cross.

And the only way I as a Christian can believe everything that Job calls me to believe and obey everything that Job calls me to obey in the midst of the kind of overwhelming challenges that Job faced is through gospel grace.

I’m so thankful that God hasn’t left me alone in my hardship or in the quest to believe and practice the truth. Rather, I have every spiritual blessing in Christ. So, look to him for grace and faith and then ask the Spirit to change your head, your heart, and your walk through his Word.

More in Job

July 19, 2020

A Whisper of God’s Glory

July 12, 2020

My Redeemer Lives

June 14, 2020

Hope in Life and Death