Over the last month I have been reading the story of Job. Some of you may be familiar with it, others not so much. Not so long ago, I didn’t have a clue what it was. Until college, I thought that the name of the book was “job”, as in, ‘I am applying for a new job.’ But it isn’t. It’s ‘Jo’ with a ‘b’ slapped on the end of it. I only stumbled upon the book when I first tried to read through the entire Bible.
Before I talk much more about it, though, I have a confession. I am smitten with poetry. And Job is a book of the Bible that contains page after page of poetry. The rhythm of the words, the flow, the allegorical language – I want to read them out loud every time. Somehow putting voice to poetry lends it experience and context and emotion. When I first read Job, that is exactly how I felt; raw, human emotion.
All that said, I can understand why most people would look over this book of the Bible. Most are not accustomed to thirty-something chapters of seemingly redundant conversation expressed via Hebrew prose. If you fall into that category (or simply have never read it), here is a short synopsis. Please don’t get upset by the lack of iambic pentameter.
So one day in heaven, the devil (Satan, Lucifer, that red dude) comes with a bunch of angels to the court of God. I picture it like a medieval movie – a majestic and smoky chamber, huge and filled with all sorts of mysterious people and objects. Perhaps similar to a Gothic cathedral. God is the king, so he is obviously front and center. At this moment he is talking to various members of his own court -friends.
In swaggers the devil – a brooding and handsome knight clad in layers of the finest silk, with a mischievous smile across his face and powerful charm to match it. The King notices his presence immediately, as does the rest of the court. He ceases his own conversation and engages the knight from across the room.
“What have you been up to,” asks the King as the knight proudly approaches. The authority behind the King’s words gently state, “what are you doing here?”
The devil smirks (since he knows he is getting the audience he wants), “oh, I have been here and there, roaming the earth.” His answer is coy and belies the destructive intent of this visit.
Yet the King sees through the deception and smiles as well. He knows that this knight has been looking for the weakest town to pillage, the most ignorant man to steal from, and the most honest man to betray. And his success at doing such things has lead him to conceit, so much so that he dares to enter the throne room of the most just King. But God, the King, knows how to knock the devil from his self-exaltation.
“Have you considered my servant Job?” God said. “There is no one like him in all the land. He is faithful to me.”
The knight smiles a most wicked grin; Job had already caught his notice. From afar the knight watched Job doing good – serving the poor, living honestly, even offering sacrifices and praying for his children. And he knew that however faithful Job seemed to be to the King, Job was also rich beyond compare. Who better to lose it all?
Quickly turning on the words of God, the knight crept even closer to the throne. “Of course Job is faithful to you,” he stated, turning to lecture the other members of the court. “You have given him all that a man could ask for; he is rich in every way at your hand. But take all of his wealth away, and he would turn from you.”
The King contemplated this in his heart. “Job is loyal and kind, generous and righteous,” he thought, “and most of all, a close friend.” Certain that he knew Job far better than the devil could imagine, the King realized how he would respond.
“You may take away all that Job has, but do not touch him.”
So the knight fled the court immediately, flooded with thoughts of greed and malice, lust and conceit. With a group of his men, he marauded Job, stealing all of the wealth he had and killing all of his children. Word of the horror reached Job, one servant at a time, while he was at his home. In anguish Job tore his fine robes and mourning loudly. Yet he did not turn from the King. In fact, he made an outrageous statement –
“The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
The evil knight was appalled when he heard this – how could Job be absolutely set on his loyalty to the King? Then he had a realization. If wealth was not where Job’s heart lay, it must be in another thing. He knew what Job’s weakness must be – so he fled back to the King’s court and made another appearance.
Seeing him from afar, the King sensed the devil’s anger. “Coming back from lurking the countryside again? Have you considered my faithful servant Job?”
Fuming, the knight charged up to the throne, his accusing finger leading the way. “You knew this would happen! But I know far better! Take away from Job his health and he will certainly curse you! What else has he to live for?”
The King knew the great cost this would have for Job, and He loved Job very much. But the King also knew that nothing would sway Job from his faithfulness, so he granted the devil his request.
Within hours Job is covered in boils that fill with worms, and he is thrown out of his own household because of the disease. Outside of his city, surrounded by trash, he has almost nothing left. Then his wife comes to tell him, “curse the king and die.” And Job is left to mourn.
The next thirty chapters are the words that Job shared with his friends while sitting in the trash heap, and they are not pretty. Job’s friends sit quietly for a week, and then they start to hurtle accusations at Job. In their eyes, only a really, really bad person would deserve this much punishment. Therefore Job must be hiding his evil behavior. Job tries to defend himself and ends up overwhelmed and appealing to God to speak on his behalf. Job also wishes that he wasn’t born. If only God would explain why all of this suffering has occurred.
And that leads me right back to where I began. Job is asking God questions because he doesn’t understand what is going on. What has happened is painfully outside of his life experience, and he is lonely, desperate, and perhaps even a little afraid. Job knows he deserves none of these tragedies. Is it too much to ask for some help from the King to clear it all up?
(part 3 coming next week, if not sooner)