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The Greatest Man in the East

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Job 1:1–5

It is an age-old question: “Why do the godly suffer?” The book of Job addresses this issue through the sad experiences of the godliest of the godly—a man named Job.


There’s a rather humorous proverb that says, “Life is a tough proposition, and the first hundred years are the hardest.” One author put it this way: “Life and tough stuff go hand in hand; they often appear as gradually intensifying storms.”[1]

And that raises a question, doesn’t it? In fact, it is probably one of the oldest questions in human history: “Why do we experience trouble, sorrow, and pain?”

Such trials can come through a natural disaster, an illness, a bankruptcy, or a broken relationship. Some troubles are sudden and devastating. Other problems in life are ongoing—almost as if they want to wear your spirit down over time.

What do you say to someone who asks, “Where in the world is God?”

Well, let me tell you, Christians tend to be too quick with answers to that question. They offer some trivial reminder that God is always good, maybe a happy verse or two, a promise that, “I’ll pray for you!” and a slap on the back that leaves the sufferer still confused and lonely.

These are the age-old questions, beloved:

  • 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?
  • Why is God silent while we suffer?[2]

Now, if I were to ask you where I should turn to find answers to those questions, and you said to me, “Let’s turn to the book of Job,” you would be heading in the right direction. The book of Job tackles the toughest questions in the human heart.

One author wrote about a country preacher on the radio, preaching on the book of Job. 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.”[3] Well, that’s a pretty good summary of Job, in less than twenty words.

Now before we dive in, let me give you some observations about this book.

First, the book of Job is mostly a long poem. The poem starts in chapter 3 and goes all the way to chapter 42 and verse 6.  Before the poetic form begins, we have chapters 1 and 2, which form the prologue; and then after the poem ends, the final eleven verses in chapter 42 give us the epilogue.

Job more than likely lived during the days of Abraham or perhaps even earlier. The fact that we see him here in chapter 1 offering burnt offerings to God on behalf of his children places him before the law of Moses. That is because after the law, only the priesthood can offer sacrifices. However, before the law was given during the days of Moses, Job—just like Noah and Abraham—is seen offering sacrifices to God.

Let me also mention that the book of Job contains the longest passage in the Bible in which God the Father speaks—four chapters in all. Job also contains the longest passage in the Bible in which Satan speaks. You see, Job is going to pull back the curtain and give us an eyewitness account of a conversation between God and Satan—and every time I read it, I am amazed.

So, this old book, composed by Job and more than likely edited later by Moses, deals with the age-old questions we still ask today—questions about suffering and pain and the troubles of life.

Now verse 1: “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job.” You might read that statement and wonder if this is a true account—a man living in the land of Uz sounds more like the Wizard of Oz to some people.

Well, Uz was a real place. It was named after Noah’s great-grandson through the line of Shem, who settled in this southern region around the Dead Sea, later known as Edom. And if there is any doubt that Job existed, Ezekiel the prophet wrote that Daniel, Noah, and Job were all godly men (Ezekiel 14:14).

God describes Job for us here in verse 1 as “blameless, and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” It’s as if God wants us to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Job is not going to suffer because he lacks faith; he is about to suffer because of his faith.

And now we are invited onto his estate, where we discover his incredible fortune here in verses 2-3:

There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants [or household staff], so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. 

Everybody knows Job. And he is that rare individual who is both wealthy and godly.

Next, we are told about his spiritual interest in his children: 

His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day [that’s a reference to their birthdays], and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them.  And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” (verses 4-5)

In other words, Job cares about the spiritual condition of his children. They are grown and on their own. They have their own homes and their own families. But Job still cares!

We live in a generation when we too easily hand our children to youth leaders, schoolteachers, and camp directors with the attitude, “Here, you teach them; you instill godly values and character in them; you lead them.” There’s nothing wrong with collaborating with other godly leaders, but Job becomes an example of a shepherd who did not hand off his responsibilities to others—and he certainly had a busy life.

Do you see what God is doing here? God is introducing us to the best representative of a godly man living on Planet Earth. He is going to teach us two life-changing, perspective-changing lessons.

First, God’s people are not immune to trouble. I know what others might be saying, but beloved, according to God’s Word, Christians are not vaccinated at conversion against suffering. And those who teach that nonsense are going to experience their own chapter of suffering—because we all do.

But let me say it a little differently, and this is what causes us so much trouble: second, godly people are not exempt from trouble. Not just God’s people, but godly people suffer. And that’s when Satan whispers in your ear, “God isn’t fair,” or “Maybe you weren’t godly enough.”

Maybe you are there right now. You are wondering if living for the Lord has been worth the effort—the commitments you made to marriage and family, the efforts you made at integrity and honesty, your reverence toward the Lord, the efforts of parenting with biblical purpose. All of it just seems to be unraveling, and you’re wondering why. You were expecting a soft cushion right about now, but instead, you’ve been placed in the furnace of affliction.

Well, hang on; without Job knowing it, there is a conversation taking place beyond the constellations—a conversation between Satan and God that is about to change Job’s life forever.

And we will listen in on that conversation in our next Wisdom Journey.

[1] Charles R. Swindoll, Getting Through the Tough Stuff (W Publishing Group, 2004), ix.

[2] Adapted from Steven J. Lawson, Holman Old Testament Commentary: Job (Holman Reference, 2004), 1.

[3] Charles R. Swindoll, Job: A Man of Heroic Endurance (W Publishing Group, 2004), 5.

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