The story of Job doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s full of extraordinary circumstances and ordinary men. It’s full of logical fallacies and eternal truth. It’s antiquated, yet still relevant. Try as we can to solve the riddle of Job – preachers, theologians, and everyday Christians still wonder – why do bad things happen to good people? Harold Kushner in his seminal book said, “the misfortunes of good people are not only a problem to the people who suffer, they are a problem to everyone who wants to believe in a just and fair and livable world. They inevitably raise questions about the goodness, the kindness, even the existence of God.”1 Thousands of years have passed since Job sat with his friends and here we are, still debating the purpose of suffering, still pointing fingers in the wrong direction, and still wondering, when will God answer me?
After years of study, one thing seems clear to me today. Job was an exceptionally normal man, but his story is anything but ordinary. He is the epitome of all God wants us to be in our worst moments. He is trustworthy without being perfect, frustrated without being disrespectful and patient without being a pushover. Job suffered, something that connects him to everyone else. His suffering might be a bit more graphic and immense than yours, or maybe it’s eerily similar. At the end of the day, that doesn’t matter. What mattered then and still matters now is how we face the suffering that’s an unavoidable part of our life.
It seems to me that God needed an ordinary man because suffering is an ordinary thing. It’s a part of every life in every age across every nation. Try as we might to run and hide from it, we can’t. It’s something we all face, like the patriarch Job before us. Between the two of us, that’s why I believe God picked this ordinary man to teach us an extraordinary lesson.
Job possessed many admirable traits that are worth praising, but none of them are confined to him alone. The book could easily begin with this line, “There was a man from the land of Monroe, his name was Neal,” and still come to the same conclusions about God, humanity, and our world. The characteristics that set him apart from the crowd are not supernatural, they are attainable because he is not superhuman. He is just a normal man facing abnormal circumstances and his heroic deeds are repeatable.
It’s those normal, attainable aspects of Job’s character that God used to reset the status quo and upend our expectations when it comes to suffering.
The very first verse in the book says Job was from “the land of Uz.” The importance of that place doesn’t lie in where it was, rather, where it wasn’t.2 It wasn’t Israel, and Job wasn’t a Jew. That led to years of unstated racism from the Jews who could have rightly been the children of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Job. He was worthy of praise like very few before or after and we must remember that God’s faithful come in different shapes and sizes from different backgrounds. Perhaps, this story demonstrates better than any other how God teaches the greatest lessons from people we’d overlook.
A careful examination of the first five verses of the book give us some amazing insight into the normal and abnormal qualities of this great man. Ironically, the Job we know isn’t the Job our hero knew. We see him as a man who possesses epic qualities of mythic proportions, yet Job never comes across as anything other than a normal man. The narrator of the story and even God Himself both assume to know things about Job that he does not know about himself.3 That makes our study of his qualities both pragmatic and important before we ever dissect a single solitary moment of his story.
1:1 says he was “blameless, upright, one who feared God and shunned evil.” Why do those qualities make him the perfect man for this story? That’s easy. They are the ideas that drove him to God in his suffering, not away from God because of his suffering. Ironically, the first quality we might look for in a man facing these circumstances is one not mentioned, patience. While Job is obviously a patient man (see James 5:11), not once in this book does God (or his friends for that matter) speak about his patience. I’d say it was implied by God’s actions and all He allowed Job to face, yet it seems to go unmentioned on purpose. I believe that happened because patience was the side-effect of Job’s ordeal. He was able to be patient because he was all the things mentioned and a little bit more. His suffering produced patience which enabled him to endure (see James 1:2-4).
God saw in him the right mix of faith, family, and fortitude and because of that, Job would be the man to teach us what it means to suffer righteously.
When it says Job was blameless, don’t ever think that means he was sinless. Romans 3:23 clearly states none of us hit that mark. To be blameless means his sin wasn’t easily seen. The Septuagint (a Greek Old Testament translated prior to Jesus’ birth) translated the word as “genuine.” Clearly, both translations imply he was a man of integrity. His sin wasn’t obvious and it wasn’t what introduced him every time he stepped into a room. It’s that characteristic that becomes a point of debate later in the book when his friends try to justify his circumstances and conclude, “you fooled us” (see Job 11:4-5). While none of us are perfect, we can be people who walk with integrity like Job, a man who remained blameless despite several opportunities to blame or curse God. This idea of integrity is the central issue of the dialogues that follow. Job maintains his integrity in spite of his suffering and the accusations of his (so-called) friends.4
Job was also upright. We must be careful and not assume that means he always did the right thing. Rather, he was a person who was honest, sure, and faithful to the path of righteousness (see also Proverbs 21:8).5 A passage in Romans 12:2 speaks to this quality better than most. We’re told there to not be “conformed to this world, rather be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Job was something different in a world of sinners. He had a faithful adherence to God’s statutes and an honest, compassionate manner in relating to others.6 His faith in God led him to different conclusions and led him down different paths than most. He was a square in a world of circles, a gentlemen in a world of cads, an admirer in a world of fanatics.
To be righteous isn’t easy. It takes more than most people are willing to give. It requires devotion to the difficult and obedience to overwhelming expectations.
Job was a faithful man, who stubbornly held on to God and said in spite of his heartache, “the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord,” in 1:21.
Job also feared God. Throughout Scripture, the fear of God is a noble characteristic reserved for those who best understand Our Creator. It is fear that led Adam and Eve to hide, Noah to build, Abraham to listen, Moses to bow, and David to fight. We must not appreciate the action of those heroes more than the object of their attention. They knew God is worthy to be feared because He is the anti-us. He is other and divine. We are all because of something, but He is the cause of everything. Job knew something we all should – God exists and I am not Him. That simple thought brought a righteous fear into his life and should bring one into ours. We sing the song, “I stand to praise you, but I fall to my knees.” That’s the healthy fear Job embodied. Even when he disagreed with God, he knew God would be the answer to all his problems. That allowed him to say, “though He slay me, I will hope in Him,” in 13:15.
Finally, Job shunned evil. To shun something literally means to push it or turn away from it. As Job felt a strong desire to avoid “the appearance of evil,” he set a great example for all of us. Romans 12:21 tells us to “overcome evil with good.” That would seem to describe the actions of our hero. He went to God with his frustrations. He didn’t trust in his own wisdom or the world’s wisdom. He didn’t repay evil for evil and he didn’t take it out on anyone.
Even though Job wondered why God would act so contrary to His expectations, he resisted the need to replace God with cheap imitations.
Job is a man we can learn from, and a man who did something noteworthy, but not impossible. He didn’t do something we can’t, because he wasn’t someone we aren’t. He is the embodiment of the human condition. To live is to grow old, to endure pain, to know God and learn His ways. Job shows us all of those things at a unique crossroad. He faced suffering and salvation head on by trusting in God without loving God’s ways. That’s something we can still do today because Job wasn’t a superhero, just a man facing horrific circumstances.
The statement in 1:3 that says, “he was the greatest of all the people in the East,” is a point of reference for Jewish people. It means the land east of Palestine. Even though the wise men who traveled to see Jesus were from there as well (see Matthew 2:1-2), the Jewish people would have generally regarded them as Gentiles, unworthy of God’s blessings. He might have well been the “greatest of the people of the garbage heap, the outhouses, or the graveyard” to them. It’s a description that befits Job, but also hints at the Jewish discrimination. To their own detriment, they didn’t always connect to him and his story because he wasn’t one of them.
The enormity of his blessings are truly exceptional. He was wealthy, make no mistake about it. Notice that it wasn’t those blessings that God respected, it was those blessings Satan used to attack him. They were the perfect component for Satan’s experiment, but they weren’t what made him great. When God spoke of Job, he didn’t mention his wealth or the size of his family. In fact, as God challenged Satan, the list of his blessings was nowhere to be seen, but his qualities were on God’s mind in 1:8 when He asked Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, there is none like him?”
Finally, don’t overlook the fact that Job was his family’s priest. Much like Abraham and countless others throughout the Old Testament, his spiritual leadership and intercessory work shows a father invested in the spiritual lives of those he loved the most. It is reasonable to assume Job saw himself as the one responsible to God for their behavior.7 The simple statement regarding his priest work in 1:5 “thus Job did regularly” shows the value he placed on constant sanctification and righteousness before God. Knowing that he offered those sacrifices, “in case” shows he understood the fickle nature of the human heart and its relationship to God.
Job is a man worth praising and a man worth emulating, so much so that Ezekiel mentioned him alongside other men of incredible faith in chapter 14 as he explained the depravity of Jerusalem.
Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in Jerusalem, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness,” says the Lord God.Ezekiel 14:14
If all we knew of Job was the statement of Ezekiel, we would know he was someone God thought highly of and someone who we should model our own lives after. He was after all, any of us and all of us. That’s why we will suffer like him and that’s why we can endure faithfully through all of it just like Job, a “blameless and righteous man who feared God and shunned evil.”
A hero God created and ordained out of an anybody.
1 Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, (New York: Schocken Books, 1981), 11.
2 David A. Clines, Job 1-20, Word Biblical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1989), 10.
3 Samuel E. Balentine, Have You Considered My Servant Job? (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2015), 15.
4 Don Shackelford, Job, Truth for Today Commentary (Searcy, AR: Resource Publications, 2010), 27.
5 Norman C. Habel, The Book of Job, The Old Testament Library (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1985), 87.
6 John E. Hartley, The Book of Job, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s, 1988), 67.
7 Clines, Job 1-20, 16.
All Scripture is taken from the New King James Version (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.