Chapter 5 The Choice for Righteousness: The Life of Job
The Book of Job contains this interesting little vignette from chapter 1:
One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.”
Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. (Job 1:6-12)
What about this pesky opening scene from the Book of Job? What are we supposed to make of this peek behind the curtain, so to speak, of this conversation between God and satan? Job was not privileged to know about this conversation before his trials, nor did God inform him at the end of the story. It is only for the readers’ eyes. What are we supposed to think about the fact that God actually draws satan’s attention to Job, almost saying, “Make sure you don’t miss this one!”
Surely, God knows that satan will bring everything to bear in attacking Job, without mercy. Yet not once, but twice in the course of two chapters, God makes it a point to elevate Job so that satan can’t possibly miss him. If we only see Job as the suffering saint, then we might be tempted to feel sorry for him. We might even imagine Job as a defenseless pawn on the chessboard of the universe – not a high-value piece, but something that is sacrificed in the course of playing for the real prize.
And that raises an even more personal question: What about me? What about you? Could the same thing happen to us? What if God points us out to satan? The little drama in chapters 1 and 2 has also been called The Wager by Philip Yancey. It’s as if God is saying to satan, “I bet you can’t bring Job down, no matter how hard you try.” If we are to believe this is a wager, God is betting that Job’s righteousness will save him and that God’s cause will be advanced as a result, whereas satan is betting that Job’s righteousness will never make it past the loss of his possessions, his family and his health.
But none of these scenarios makes much sense to me. First, I can’t really imagine my heavenly Father regarding any of us as just a pawn – I think He loves us too much to do that. We are not something to be sacrificed in order to win the prize, because we are the prize. Otherwise Father God never would have sent His Son Jesus into the world to make the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. Second, I don’t believe the notion of The Wager, because I’ve never known a time in my life when God was out of control or when He played the odds with me. Even when I felt like my life was out of control, God always had a plan, and His plan was always accomplished, sometimes despite me. In the familiar verse from Jeremiah 29:11, God Himself says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
No, as Philip Yancey points out in his book Disappointment with God, Job was neither poker chip nor pawn. However, there was a pawn in the story. There was someone in the story of the Book of Job who understood even less than Job, and in the end was ruined as a result of his pride. It was satan, the one who thought he was in control and understood everything, but who did not understand the verse just mentioned from Jeremiah: God has a plan, and He’s been carrying out that plan since before the creation of the world, and God will see His plan to completion, and He, not satan, will be glorified. When God pointed Job out to satan, he wasn’t inviting satan to take advantage of Job; instead, I believe He was inviting satan to be taken advantage of, so that God would receive maximum glory. It has been said that Job was a type of Christ, foreshadowing the suffering and ultimate triumph of Jesus through His death and resurrection. And as it says in 1 John 3:8, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” It’s important to understand that because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we as believers have the same mission: destroy the work of satan and bring maximum glory to God.
There are many times in my life when I’ve felt like God’s been saying to satan, “Have you considered my servant Paul?” I’ve learned a lot of lessons, but one of the most life-changing is fairly simple: we are the army of God, and from time to time God chooses to send us on a dangerous mission, much like Job’s. But the key insight from the Book of Job is that God is not picking on us. Instead, it means our heavenly Father is proud of us, He trusts us, and He knows that we have what we need to defeat satan through our lives. This truth is echoed in 2 Peter 1:3, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” In other words, we were chosen for this mission because He knows that we will be victorious in His strength. That is total affirmation from our heavenly Papa, and I desire it. What about you? Are you ready to live with God’s choices? Are you ready for God to choose you, to point you out in a crowd and say to satan, “Have you considered my servant, (fill in your name)?” Are you ready for God to send you on a mission of cosmic importance, a mission that will bring maximum glory to our Lord while dealing yet another blow to satan’s schemes?
Sometimes, when believers talk about end times or tribulation or the persecuted church in the world, someone will inevitably comment, “I just don’t know what I would do in that situation; I don’t know if I would be able to remain obedient to God.” The truth is that we don’t decide to be obedient in that moment of trial. That choice was made long before: God’s choice to save and empower us, and our choice to pursue righteousness. What made Job ready for God to point him out? Simple things, really. He was a generous man who loved his family and the people around him, demonstrated through his care for them physically and spiritually. We hear this throughout the Book of Job. Eliphaz, one of Job’s “friends” says of him: “Think how you instructed many, how you have strengthened feeble hands. Your words have supported those who stumbled; you have strengthened faltering knees” (Job 4:3-4).
Later, Job fleshes out Eliphaz’ account with some details of his life and priorities:
Whoever heard me spoke well of me,
and those who saw me commended me,
because I rescued the poor who cried for help,
and the fatherless who had none to assist him.
The man who was dying blessed me;
I made the widow’s heart sing.
I put on righteousness as my clothing;
justice was my robe and my turban.
I was eyes to the blind
and feet to the lame.
I was a father to the needy;
I took up the case of the stranger.
I broke the fangs of the wicked
and snatched the victims from their teeth. (Job 29:11-17)
Job made a powerful choice for righteousness. It is what allows him to persist despite daunting circumstances. In the middle of his trials, berated by his companions, Job boldly proclaims to them, “I will never admit you are in the right; till I die, I will not deny my integrity. I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live” (Job 27:5-6).
Many hundreds of years later, the Apostle Paul writes about the importance of the choice for righteousness in Philippians 1:9-11:
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.
Ultimately, God validates Job’s choice for righteousness when He has Job pray for his so-called friends at the end of the story. Despite the intervening doubts and angry words Job has spoken about his life, God puts Job in the place of a priest or intercessor. This is yet another way in which Job’s experience foreshadows that of Jesus, our “great high priest” (Hebrews 4:14). Job, like Jesus, lived a righteous life, which eventually resulted in him being exalted before God. The importance of intercession was not an abstraction for Job. At different times, he makes reference to his advocate in heaven, though he never names this intercessor: “Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high” (Job 16:19) and, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth” (Job 19:25).” Job possesses an insight regarding Christ’s intercessory role that predates Jesus’ advent on earth by as many as two thousand years, and it is a rock solid assurance to him in the midst of the worst suffering of his life. In a remarkable turn of events, by the end of Job’s story, the suffering one in the greatest need of an intercessor himself becomes an intercessor who is able to influence God’s heart.
I don’t believe, as Job’s companions did, that Job had to go through some sort of exorcism in order to fulfill his calling on earth. Nonetheless, despite his choice for righteousness, it’s probably fair to say that before his trials Job judged his blessings (like all of us do) based on what he could see. We hear this in his words concerning his children at the beginning of the story: “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts” (Job 1:5, emphasis added). Job saw God’s blessings all around him, but feared that what he could not see would bring everything to ruin. Isn’t that true of all of us? For me personally, I think this is what God’s trying to break me of, and it seems to be a process, something like Job’s. Fear, at its essence, is a lack of faith and I have, and have had for much of my Christian life, a profound lack of faith. That was brought into sharp relief when I was a missionary in Ukraine, where so much of the Christian life must be lived in faith because of a repressive government and the moral depravity stemming from 70 years of Communist rule. The plain truth is, like Job, I need more faith; and apparently, like Job, God will stop at nothing to bring about that change in my life. That is His gracious choice. At the beginning of the story, Job acts obediently, but he does it out of fear of what will happen if he doesn’t. In Job 3:25, Job says, “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.” But by the end of the story Job has been forced to face his fears (in his trials, in the whirlwind) and he repents. So, the result of his tribulation was kind of a three for one deal: satan loses, God wins, and Job is delivered from his fears.
We get to peek behind the curtain in the first two chapters of Job, to understand how important Job’s suffering was to God. Job never got that chance. But Job got what he really needed to live his life here on earth, the thing we all need: deliverance from fear. Job went from “seeing is believing” to “believing is seeing,” all because of his choice to be righteous and God’s choice to be proud of him.