No suffering is easy to bear. The suddenness and successiveness with which blows can fall, coupled with an increase in their severity form one massive, insupportable burden. The account that we have of Job's afflictions in the opening two chapters of the book include all these features. The seemingly ordinary expression "There was a day" (1:6, 13) introduces what was extraordinary in Job's experience, and the echoing expression "Again there was a day" repeats the like but with an extra note of foreboding. There had never been a day like it before in Job's life, and there would be others that were worse. The recollection of his previous days only served to increase his grief (29:2-30).
The loss of all his animals and almost all the servants—those who survived the calamities only being spared to bring him the terrible news—amount to total impoverishment. Then comes the news of his children's deaths—and what are crops, animals and servants to children, those precious sons and daughters for whom he had prayed? By that report a far heavier blow falls on his already battered spirit. At least his body has been left unscathed, yet not for long. His health is now removed by a disease that will deprive him of all human society and solace, including even that of his wife, whose remark is perhaps "the unkindest cut of all" as she urges him to curse God so as to be cut off by him.
Yet Job "did not sin nor charge God with wrong" in all these reversals. Just as he had not sinned so as to deserve those calamities, so he does not sin just after they befall him. He maintains his faith in God, receiving "evil" from him in exactly the same spirit of thankful worship as he had received "good," and he encourages his wife to do the same. Such endurance is costly and hard. Being human, he is grief-stricken (1:20).
Soon he has to cope with his three particularly close friends (19:21) over some length of time. They are kind, wise, and good. They meet voluntarily and travel to bring him comfort when they hear of his circumstances, and they speak to him about God. But their instinctive reaction when they see him and their protracted silence as they sit with him conspires to increase his already great bitterness. Soon they are at loggerheads with each other, and that augments his anguish still further.
Death had crossed his path in the case of his animals, servants, and beloved children. We have noted how he responded to that, but bereavement cannot be shaken off overnight. But in the week of silence and sickness since the friends arrived, it seems that the reality of death is been very present to his thoughts, because when he next speaks in chapter 3, death is everywhere, and it is seen as something to be desired.
This points to his suffering, which has reached another dimension. Mental anguish adds to the physical pain and social ostracism. The mind has its own deep recesses and self-starting processes that can be beyond human knowledge and control, especially when the body is racked with discomfort. In the silence, Job desires death because he has become engulfed by a darkness of soul. Thoughts can be harder to cope with than sores, and a vent must be found for the anguish. He despises life and complains bitterly that he cannot be deprived of it yet; but strangely, he never thinks of ending it himself. From then on he is alone and in the dark.
It is a world in which God has turned against Job without just reason, refusing to explain his action, indeed refusing to speak to him at all, and instead keeps on hounding him to death. This is the antithesis of Eden; it is a kind of hell. This being so (or seeming to be so, for in the dark things are not what they seem), why should Job continue to serve God? It was fortitude indeed that Job did not renounce God.
This is indomitable faith even though it is mixed with sin. Job is later reproved by both Elihu and the Lord himself for calling God to account, but that is not the focus of this essay. Our attention is on Job's endurance against numerous and overwhelming odds, even from a position of weakness. He is engaged in an unequal battle against an unknown foe. Unaware of the immense honor bestowed upon him in being named God's champion against Satan, he is fighting the Lord's battle blindfolded and unarmed.
But there are two nonnegotiables in his mind and spirit. He cannot give up on the God he has known even though he no longer understands him, nor can he give in and believe that he himself is a hypocrite in order restore an idyllic past. There must be a resolution of the real facts of the situation. If only God would appear to defend himself against Job's accusations and to defend Job against the accusations of his friends. If only there was someone who could intervene and bring God and Job together once more. Job would wait and not give up.
Job's Precious Endurance
From what has been said it might seem as if Job is left unaided in his struggle with the powers of darkness. That is not the case. The Lord boasts of him to Satan and has his eye on him all the time. Throughout his struggle Job is graciously, though unconsciously, supported by God, and occasionally he is given some glimmers of light as he pioneeres his way toward God. His very persistence in addressing God by way of appeal and accusation and also arguing with his friends and rejecting their counsel is a manifestation of his being upheld by God. It is not only dark thoughts that spring up in the mind unbidden, but also thoughts that inspire hope, even if it is only faint hope. Finally and climactically, when he is sure that he is about to die, he is given to know that his "kinsman-redeemer lives," who will ensure that Job will see God again on his side. This is a sovereign intervention in a situation where Satan seems dominant. It is, as James says, great compassion.
Job has found solid ground under his feet. His outlook clears and he sees that the argument of his friends—that suffering is always traceable to sin—is a paper tiger, for the wicked do not always suffer (chapter 24). He gains the ascendancy in the argument and reduces his friends, and with them Satan the accuser, to silence. Job triumphs over Satan for God and godliness.
God therefore had his own purpose in allowing Satan to test Job. This is what James calls "the end of the Lord." It is to show great compassion and mercy and to bless Job more than he had previously done. When the Lord appears, it is to judge and to save as James declares (5:9 and 11). He humbles Job for his outspokenness but still owns him as he did before the trials began, calling him "my servant." Surprisingly, God says that Job had spoken what is right about him, whereas the friends had not.
This probably refers to the issue that is at the center of the debate between Job and his friends, namely whether God is punishing Job on account of his sin or not. God says that Job is not a hypocrite, and God further exalts Job by telling the friends to go to him as to a priest and that he will accept Job's prayer for them. It is striking that Job prays for them before he is restored, and that it is as he prays for them that he himself is restored. True piety is not self-centered. Satan's lie is exposed, and Job is not only restored to all that was taken away from him, but he is given twice as much as he had before in the way of external proof of God's favor. He has gained in every way in humility before God, assurance of his mercy, and love for his friends. Everyone wins—except Satan.
Job's Prophetic Endurance
Job is therefore a study of the kind of valiant endurance that Christians should display before the Lord's coming. This is what we believe the book is about. It depicts an individual believer undergoing trial, triumphing over it, and being gloriously honored. By extension, it is a book about the perseverance of the saints, of the church militant, and about the day when Christ, the kinsman-redeemer of his people, returns in glory. Job on the ash heap in Uz is an Old Testament counterpart of John in prison on the island of Patmos. He depicts all the suffering saints of the Most High awaiting the inevitable and approaching return of the Lord, the judge of his foes and of Satan and the vindicating deliverer of his people.