Job Lesson 1 - The Wise Man of Uz
If there is a single question that has rattled Christians' minds throughout the ages it is this: "Why do God's children suffer?" Everyone asks it at some point in their lives. It is a question that deals not only with the big troubles but also with little trials as well. So what is the answer? Stephen gives us some insight from the book of Job.
“The Wise Man of Uz”
There are several books that I have been reading that begin with words like,
- “Life is difficult; [this] blunt, three-word statement is an accurate appraisal of our existence on this planet.”
Charles R. Swindoll, Job: A Man of Heroic Endurance, (W Publishing Group, 2004), p. 1
One author began his book by quoting some proverbs with a hint of humor, like the French Proverb that says, “Life is like an onion which one peels while crying.” He added this one which I thought was both humorous and realistic; “Life is a tough proposition, and the first hundred years are the hardest.”
He went on to write the first words of his book which began . . . “Life and tough stuff go hand in hand; they typically appear as gradually intensifying storms.”
Charles R. Swindoll, Getting Through the Tough Stuff (W Publishing Group, 2004), p. ix
- Another book I recently began reading begins with the words, “Life is full of suffering.”
Steven J. Lawson, When All Hell Breaks Loose (Navpress, 1993), p. 9
By now, you’re probably thinking, “Stephen, you should read something positive for a change.”
Hey, these are Christian books I’m reading. Commentaries and devotional works that I’ve just quoted from were written by evangelical theologians and pastors who wrestled with their readers over the question of trouble in a world that God controls.
They’re trying to answer the question, “Why do the children of God have troubles?” It’s the age old question – and everybody has it on their mind sooner or later. Not just about big troubles – but little troubles! Everyday stuff.
One author of a student devotional put it in language students might understand – he entitled his book, “If God Loves Me, Why Can’t I Get My Locker Open?”
Ever felt like that? Maybe for you it wasn’t your locker, it was your car door. Or maybe you wondered why your washing machine decided to break down just before company arrived; or you slept through the alarm and missed your appointment – or your final exam. Or you tore your dress right before the big event.
Little stuff that is just so ill-timed and irritating. Why?
I came to pick up my daughter from a youth activity a few weeks ago – it was one evening. I walked all the way through the administration building – into the lobby and about then felt like I needed to tuck the back of my shirt in . . . you know, it’s one of those times when you just have this feeling . . . I reached around to tuck in my shirt and discovered that I had a split in my pants that went from the bottom all the way up the back to my belt. It was not a little tear, it was a catastrophic undoing. I wondered who’d seen me – I mean in a whole new light.” This wasn’t good. I spent 15 minutes in the lobby with my back to the wall, greeting people . . . if you were there and wondered why I was acting so weird, that was why. I stood and talked to one of the guys in our church and after the coast was clear I went out the front door into the night where I made it to my truck.
What was the purpose in that?!
A seminary student I attended school with told me one afternoon of a wedding he had just performed. It was at a small country church and it was in the dead of winter. He arrived and found that it was almost just as cold inside the little sanctuary. The janitor had been detained and arrived late – when he got to the church, there was about 30 minutes to spare and he went down into the basement and turned on the heater. The church had those heaters that ran along the bottom of the sanctuary, blowing warm, dry air. Problem was, he forgot to turn it off until it was too late. During the processional, the trumpet player fainted. A little later, a bridesmaid fainted and then the bride as well. She was revived with a cold cloth and stood back up on her feet. But she fainted again. The rest of the ceremony she and the groom knelt at the kneeling bench with a cold cloth at the back of her neck. He told me that after the ceremony, she refused to go on the honeymoon because she could not remember getting married. She had absolutely no recollection of any of it. She insisted that they watch the video so she could hear herself giving the vows; they did . . . and after the video, they sped off to their honeymoon destination.
There’s a wedding to remember.
What about more serious problems . . . what we would all call true suffering.
Jerry Bridges, long time missionary with the Navigators, prefaced his book, Trusting God When Life Hurts, by writing, “When I was fourteen years old, my mother died suddenly, without warning. I was in the adjoining room and rushed in just in time to see her gasp her last breath. I was stunned and devastated. My older brother was away at school, and my dad was too stricken with grief to help me. Worst of all, I did not know how to turn to God in times of trouble. I was alone in my adversity.
Jerry Bridges, Trusting God Even When Life Hurts, (Navpress, 1988), p. 9
What would you say to a 14 year old like that?
A few years ago a young man who once attended our church sensed the Lord directing him into vocational ministry. He and his wife were enthusiastic and made plans to eliminate debt and begin Bible College. After months of preparation they were accepted and left for an out-of-state school. During his first semester he developed a nasal infection that required surgery. The doctor blundered in surgery, cutting through sensitive nerves. What began as simple outpatient surgery became a nightmare. He was wracked with incredible pain in his face; eyes, nose, teeth, mouth, jaws all screamed with constant pain. He was told that surgery wouldn’t repair anything and that only time might heal him. After 2 years, his recovery was still incomplete. He had to drop out of school and was unable to work. They lost what little they had and eventually moved back home. When he came to see me, he could only sit for a few minutes; he was on the maximum pain medicine allowable – with a morphine pack on his hip. Even still, he sat in my office with a lollypop in his mouth, laced with more drugs to help the pain in his mouth and teeth.
Some pain is sudden, traumatic and devastating. Other adversities are chronic, persistent, seemingly designed to wear down your spirit over time.
Jerry Bridges, p. 14
What do you say to someone who’s lost their job . . . their mate . . . their health . . . their child . . . their dream?
What do you say to someone who is asking, “Where in the world is God.”
Certainly our world is mesmerized by this question. Every time a tornado strikes or a hurricane levels homes or a killer goes on a shooting spree or terrorists enact murderous plans, the question comes, “Why” “Why would God allow this to happen?” “Where is God anyway?”
Some authors try to answer the problem of suffering by saying God doesn’t exist, so He can’t help us anyway.
Like Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1986. His biographical work entitled, “Night” has sold hundreds of thousands of copies. In it he described his suffering as a Jewish boy in the concentration camp at Auschwitz. I recently read his book and it was truly tragic in the way he suffered at the hands of the Nazi’s who hated Jews with demonically inspired hatred; but it was even more tragic because Elie wrote that there in that concentration camp, standing below the limp body of a little Jewish boy how had just been hung by the neck, he wrote with finality that he was convinced that God was dead.’
Elie Wiesel, Night (Hill and Wang, 1972)
His solace was a retreat into practical atheism. There’s no way God could exist and something like this happen.
Another famous book by Harold Kushner attempted to answer the problem of evil in the world and the existence of God. His book, also a best seller, is entitled, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. I have a copy in my library and I’ve read most of it. In his book, Kushner offers something that seems better than a God who is dead, but not much better – in fact, in the end, you are left with just as much despair and confusion and doubt. Kushner writes that God exists and is very loving, but He isn’t sovereign; I quote, “God wants the righteous to live happy lives . . . but it is too difficult even for God to keep cruelty and chaos from claiming innocent victims.”
Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (New York: Avon Books, 1983), p. 43
His answer wasn’t atheism, but a version of God that is just as empty and hollow.
About now, halfway through this sermon, you’re beginning to wonder if I’m going to get to some answers.
In fact, I’m convinced that we’re too quick answers . . . with a happy verse or two . . . with a spiritual slap on the back that leaves the suffering believer just as cold as when he or she entered the sanctuary.
We’ll get to some answers . . . but first we need to identify the questions. Here are some for starters.
- Why do the righteous suffer?
- Where is God when tragedy strikes?
- If God is all-loving, how can he allow human suffering?
- Does God really care about us?
- Does God charge his children money and loyalty for His goodness?
- Where is God when it hurts?
- Why is God silent while we suffer?
Adapted from Holman Old Testament Commentary: Job (Holman Reference, 2004), p. 1
That’s just a beginning.
If I were to ask you where we should turn to hear both the questions and the answers, most all of you would say, “Turn to the Book of Job.”
I would agree. Job is universally recognized as the ultimate sufferer, and rightly so.
So turn there and let’s begin a study through the Book of Job that I plan to take about a year to finish. I’m serious.
I could do what one country preacher did. Chuck Swindoll wrote in his commentary on Job that he had a friend who was driving across Texas late one night searching for something to listen to on the radio to keep him awake. Finally, he tuned into a country preacher who was preaching on Job and his sermon title was, “I Can’t Eat by Day, I Can’t Sleep by Night, and the Woman I Love Don’t Treat me Right.” That’s Job in less than 20 words.
Charles Swindoll, Job: A Man of Heroic Endurance, p. 5
Before I read the first paragraph – we’ll cover verse 1 through 5 this morning as God sets the stage for the suffering of his servant Job – let me give you some highlights.
The Book of Job is really one very long poem. The poem stretches from chapter 3 all the way to chapter 42 and verse 6. Before the poetic form begins you have chapters 1 and 2 which form the prologue to the poem. After the poem is finished in chapter 42, you have 11 verses which form the epilogue.
J. Sidlow Baxter, the faithful pastor in Great Britain during the last century wrote that this inspired account was a dramatic poem framed in an epic story.
J. Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Book (Zondervan, 1960), p. 26.
It is believed by many to be the oldest Book in the world; in fact, while the Book of Genesis appears first in the Bible, and rightly so, the Book of Job may have been written years earlier and perhaps edited later by Moses.
Most conservative scholars believe Job lived during the days of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or perhaps somewhat earlier. The fact that he will offer sacrifices himself places him before the law of Moses, when only the priesthood of Aaron’s descendants could do so.
Before the law was given, men offered the sacrifices to God. This was true for Noah and Abraham and Job.
Henry Morris, The Remarkable Record of Job, (Master Books, 1988), p. 13
By the way, the Book of Job contains the longest place in the Bible where [God the Father] speaks – 4 chapters in all.
In fact, it is the longest place in the Bible where Satan speaks.
Job will use many Hebrew words not found anywhere else in the Bible.
Job will provide for us that rare inside look into heaven and a conversation between God and Satan in the presence of the angels around the throne of God . . . every time I read it, it leaves me amazed.
Holman, p. 2
Think about it . . . the book that is not only the oldest book in the Bible, but perhaps the oldest in the world, preserved to this day, is a book that deals with the issue that everyone still wants to know about – suffering and the endurance of life.
Let’s begin with verse 1.
1. There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job;
You read that phrase and you might wonder if this is indeed a true story, “There was a man in the land of Uz…” sounds sort of like the Wizard of Oz.
Job wasn’t the wizard of Oz, but he was the wise man from Uz.
And Uz was a real place. It appears first as the name of Shem’s grandson – the great grandson then of Noah. The land of Uz, more than likely named after Noah’s grandson occupied the southern region around the Dead Sea, later known as Edom.
If there was ever any doubt to the Jewish people that Job existed, the prophet Ezekiel settled the score when he referred to Daniel, Noah and Job as equally godly, righteous men. (Ezekiel 14:14)
Morris, p. 15
Now, as the book of Job opens, God wants to clear away any doubt that not only did Job exist, in actual time, in an actual region, with actual children and a wife and friends and possessions, God wants us to know, more importantly, that Job was everything you would expect a man to be to be incredibly blessed.
It’s as if God wants us to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Job will suffer and he did not deserve it.
If anybody ever had the right to say, “Life is unfair,” it would be Job.
I want to give you 6 words that characterize Job’s life that are remarkable – that set the stage for the shocking development of incredible suffering.
The first word is righteous.
Notice further in verse 1b. and that man was blameless,
This word doesn’t mean perfect, but it does refer to integrity. In fact, the noun appears twice more in Job; once when God is praising Job before Satan in chapter 2:3, and the second time when Job’s wife asks him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity?” (2:9)
The Hebrew word is also used in Genesis 20:5 in connection with moral innocence and later in Judges 9:16 where the word is related to somebody telling the truth.
John C.L. Gibson, Job (Westminster Press, 1985), p. 6
The second word that characterizes Job is not only the word righteous, but the word, real.
He’s called further on in verse 1 “upright . . .”
This Hebrew word – Yashar – indicates ethical behavior. In fact, it’s a word that refers to relationships.
David J. A. Clines, Word Biblical Commentary: Job (Word Books, 1989), p. 12
He wasn’t one thing on the Sabbath and another thing on the job site.
He was unlike one well-known executive who said, “On the weekend, my priorities are God, family and business; when I arrive at the office on Monday morning, the order is reversed to Business, family and God.
David McKenna, Mastering the Old Testament: Job (Word Publishing, 1986), p. 30/
Yashar is used by the Prophet Isaiah to refer to a straight path, a level road.
There wasn’t anything crooked about Job.
His handshake meant something. He was a man of his word, and people knew it.
He was righteous . . . he was real . . .thirdly, Job was reverent.
Verse 1 adds that Job fear[ed] God
Fearing God brings to mind someone cowering before a King. In the Old Testament, the concept of fearing God meant to hold Him in high esteem; to take Him seriously.
To honor who He is;
To obey what He says . . . it refers to being in awe and respect and reverence for Him;
In other words, Job did not take God lightly!
Lawson, p. 19
Here’s the key distinction: so often we treat God as if He wasn’t really important; we treat His word flippantly and we heed His commands casually – until we begin to suffer; until trouble comes; until pain comes through our front door uninvited . . . then we want to reverence Him; then we dust off our Bibles and become reacquainted with our Sovereign gracious Lord.
The significant thing to discover about Job is that he is that way before trouble comes.
He has not taken God for granted. He doesn’t need a trial to bring him to his knees. He does not need pain to focus his perspective on God’s greatness and glory.
Job reverenced God . . . now!
And one of the ways you reverence God is found in the next word – Job was resistant.
Verse one concludes – Job was turning (continuously) turning away from evil.
That’s not the way of the world. When you’re wealthy and powerful you experiment with sin . . . you deserve a little sin . . . you get away with sin . . . you have connections . . . things get shoved under the rug.
Everybody says, “Well he owns the place – this is his company; this is her shop – this is his business . . .”
Not Job. The more he owned and greater he became, the more concerned he was that he would sin against God.
Job was righteous, real, reverent, resistant . . . and now we’re invited onto His Biltmore estate where we discover he was incredibly rich.
2. Seven sons and three daughters were born to him. 3. His possessions also were 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and very many servants; and that man was the greatest of all the men of the east.
Here was a rare combination – a man who was both wealthy and godly. A man who had treasure in heaven and at the same time enjoyed treasure on earth.
Adapted from Lawson, When All Hell Breaks Loose, p. 21
It’s possible for someone to have treasures in heaven and none on earth – to die poverty stricken, yet godly in faith and character; it’s possible to have treasures on earth and none in heaven; to have lived only for self. It’s incredibly rare for someone to have both.
Job was that man.
He is called here in verse 3, “the greatest of all the men of the east.”
This is not the kind of person you would ever expect to experience incredible suffering, and a God who will remain, for a long time, silent.
One more word that characterized Job . . . he was a reformer.
Notice verse 4. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5. When the days of feasting had completed their cycle, Job would send and consecrate them, rising up early in the morning and offering burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually
You could call Job a reconciler . . . a revivalist . . . a reformer.
He cared deeply about the spiritual condition of his children. And mark this – they were grown and on their own.
They had their own homes . . . their own families.
The text says that they used to have a feast “on his day” . . . perhaps a reference to their birthday. They held birthday parties for one another.
Job was concerned that in the feasting and partying, that one of them or more, had sullied their minds . . . drank too much or said something wrong or off-color . . . something that would not be honorable to God.
And so, as in the days of the Patriarchs where the fathers served as priests, Job sacrificed on their behalf.
What an example to every father!
What a challenge!
In a generation where we’ve handed our children to youth leaders and Christian schools and Christian artists and camp directors and pastors and Sunday school teachers and AWANA workers with the attitude – here . . . you teach them . . . you train them . . . you instill godly values and character in them . . . you lead them . . . it’s your job.
Job becomes an example of a shepherd who cared about his own family . . . exercising a priestly example and a godly walk for them to follow.
1. Job was righteous
2. He was real
3. He was reverent
4. He was resistant
5. He was rich
6. He was a reformer
Do you see what God is doing in this introduction? He is introducing us to the best representative of God’s purpose for man on earth.
God’s people are not immune to trouble.
Christians are not inoculated at conversion against grief.
There is no guarantee to wealth and health and easy times.
Those who teach such nonsense will themselves experience their own chapter of suffering.
God’s people are not immune to trouble . . . we would probably all agree with that principle of application. Let me say it a little differently.
Godly people are not exempt from trouble.
This is why it seems hardest to take . . . it seems so unfair.
Maybe you’re there right now. You’ve wondered if it was worth the effort . . . the discipline . . . the commitment to marriage . . . your persistent resistance to sin . . . all the efforts at integrity and honesty . . . your reverence toward God & the things of God . . . the efforts of parenting with godly purpose . . . all of it answered with severe trials.
In Steven Lawson’s comments on Job he re-tells the tragic event that occurred at the 1991 U.S. Open at Hazeltine National Golf Course in Minnesota. It was a beautiful summer day at first, but the front wave of gray clouds rushed in and within minutes, turbulent skies blackened and swirling banks of electricity collected overhead. Lightning was spotted – a golfer’s worst nightmare. Storm sirens blasted as a fierce thunderstorm blew in, threatening the safety of one of the largest single-day crowds in the history of professional golf. Forty thousand spectators scrambled for any makeshift covering – a refreshment stand; an umbrella; a tree . . . anything.
One group of spectators sought shelter under a thirty foot willow tree near the 7th tee to keep from being drenched. At the height of the storm – BOOM – a lightning bolt struck that tree. A dozen bodies toppled like bowling pins. Six men got up. Six remained dazed on the ground. One died – with his hands still in his pockets.
One of the survivors recalled later, “Somebody said it would be just our luck if lightning hit this tree. We all laughed. Seconds later, we were hit.”
Suddenly, unexpectedly . . . the tallest tree drew the fire.
Could this be an analogy to the fires of hells attacks that Job will soon feel? The taller you stand, the more likely you are to feel the strike of the enemy.
Adapted from Lawson, p. 24.
God will say just a few verses later to Satan, – “Have you considered my servant Job? He’s the tallest tree around! There is no one quite like him . . .”
And lightning will fall.
And that tree with shudder and shake . . . and even split apart . . . but the roots will stay; deep . . . grounded in faith. And new life will eventually come.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves . . . we’re going fast, but not that fast!
Lightning is about to strike at this wise man who lived in the land of Uz.
The storm is already gathering against one of God’s tallest trees who lived 4,000 years ago.
Proving once and for all:
God’s people are not immune from trouble & even more significantly,
Godly people are not exempt from the storms of life.
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