Job, an epic sufferer in the Bible, was both confronted and affirmed by God. God confronted him as a “faultfinder” (40:1) but he also affirmed Job for having “spoken of me what is right” (42:7) in contrast to Job’s moralistic friends.
God’s contrasting references to Job invite attention.
First, what in Job pleased God? A clue comes in Job 23:12 where late in the story Job’s ultimate focus was still clear: “I have treasured the words of [God’s] mouth more than my portion of food.” Job said this even as he complained about his divinely disrupted life.
Job’s terrible circumstances were a key feature. The book began with a conversation between God and his archenemy Satan. Job’s devotion to God was the issue. God pointed to Job’s character: “there is none like him on the earth” and that’s where the disruptions began for Job.
Satan’s ready answer to God was that human comfort always explains faithfulness. If Satan could turn Job’s happy life upside-down he would be predictably human: he would blame God. This was and still is central in Satan’s arsenal of big ideas. We humans, he believes, can all be controlled by our ambitions for security and comfort. When things go well we’re happy with God. If, on the other hand, we aren’t happy and well fed we will be hostile to God.
In Job’s case Satan was wrong.
As we get into the account we find an illustration of divine double-agency. The dark events—including the loss of Job’s children in a storm—belonged both to God and to Satan. Satan initiated Job’s losses but in Job 2:3 we read that God also owned them. Satan, in other words, was the immediate cause or agent as he acted with an evil intent. God, on the other hand, was the greater agent and his purpose was to use Satan’s evil actions for good.
The reality of double-agency in the Bible is critical in grasping how a good God deals with evil: God intends everything for good for those who love him, even things that his enemies intend for evil. Both the patriarchal story of Joseph—see Genesis 50:20 here—and the happy tragedy of Christ’s crucifixion illustrate this. Paul also took up this truth in Romans 8:28.
In the overall story what separated Job from his unhelpful friends was his recognition of God’s double-agency. He hated his painful experiences but he also recognized that in the end he would come out “like gold” (23:10). There is, in other words, always a benefit in suffering. His friends, by contrast, saw a strict sin-and-punishment linkage: Job’s dramatic suffering could only be explained by his equally terrible sins.
We readers now know Job was right and they were wrong.
Even more to the point was Job’s confidence in God’s character and his word. He remained certain that God is trustworthy. And with that confidence he also had grounds for treasuring God’s words.
What explained Job’s confidence? If a reader goes through the book at a pace certain qualities in Job stand out. Three of these invite comment. First, Job relied on God’s full engagement with him in his plight: everything he was going through ultimately came by way of God. Second, he still trusted God’s goodness. And third, he was so sure of God’s engagement and goodness that he regularly pressed God for an explanation of, and solution to, his pain.
Job’s complaints were sharp enough to invite the confrontation as a “faultfinder” from God. Job was particularly pained to have his authentic faithfulness to God challenged by his friends. So while he wasn’t perfect he kept his confidence in God’s ways and words. Even in his suffering he knew God is always achieving good.
By the end of the account God gave him relief and Job’s character was reaffirmed. But the reader is left wondering, what happened to Satan after chapter two?
Here’s a guess. Satan had an empty hand with Job so he folded his cards and left the table. Job’s friends then took up his cards. Satan’s departure reminds us that Job was written in the shadow of Genesis chapter three.
Then Satan used the same two devices: he first challenged God’s character by focusing on God’s single restriction—not to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—to portray him as unfair. The restriction blocked Adam from being “like God.” Second, and tied to the first, Satan held God’s word to be false. While God promised death if Adam ate from the tree, Satan promised, “You will not surely die.”
God, of course, came and confronted the lying Serpent. Adam did, in fact, die spiritually that day. And God promised Satan his end was on the way. So Satan went silent and disappeared from the scene.
What does Job offer us here? At least this: even in the face of Satan’s twin lies he still trusted God’s goodness and his words. As a result Job’s response to suffering makes more sense: “I have treasured the words of [God’s] mouth more than my portion of food.”
Satan was silenced; Job’s faith in God is now legendary; and we who know Christ are certain to have our own opportunities to live like Job.
Let’s be sure to take up Job’s treasure.