After the formal introduction of Job 1:1-5, the first action in the book of Job occurs outside of our view. In a world beyond ours, the throne of God becomes the center of attention. It’s the home of God and His company and while we can’t completely define who the “Sons of God” are, it’s obvious they were some form of servant to the Most High. The possibility of being angels is a strong one, but there is no need to be dogmatic about it.1 As Satan appears, the events swing into full motion and our story begins in earnest. Then and there, a conversation between the divine and the demented unearths an idea that will bring calamity to our hero, confusion to his friends, and eventually, a timeless lesson for all of mankind. Please take the time right now to read that conversation in Job 1:6-12 before we dissect it below.
While we have no reason to believe this was a normal, everyday occurrence, and no evidence to suggest these two ever had this conversation before (or since). But doesn’t it seem possible? The lack of formality between the two surely imply some familiarity between them. Maybe, they had this type of conversation constantly, maybe they have it still to this day? Maybe even about you and me? We’ll never know, but what we do know is quite clear – Job was about to unwillingly become the object of God’s praise and Satan’s wrath and become the center of the heavenly council’s gaze.
We need to stop for a moment and talk about Satan. That specific name is a title, not a personal moniker (i.e. Admiral, Mr. President, or the GOAT). The Hebrew is hasatan and implies by its selection the function of this being. He is a “person, thing, or the set of circumstances that frustrates a person’s purpose or creates an obstacle.”2 Even though the word Satan is more about the idea than the persona, don’t be confused, this is the “father of lies” (John 8:44), the “roaring lion” (First Peter 5:8), and the “evil one” (Matthew 13:19) who tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Jesus in the wilderness, and each of us today.
When the Lord asked Satan, “where have you been?” don’t assume He didn’t know. It seems to be nothing more than a conversation starter and doesn’t imply anything about our Creator (or anything about Satan). I think we should notice that Satan’s description of his work (see 1:7 – “walking back and forth on the earth”) fits nicely along the title John gave him in his gospel. Satan is the “prince of this world,” (John 12,14,16). It’s his dominion, the place of his work and his terrible influence. He walks it hoping to influence us and drive us from our Heavenly Father.
The key verse to the entire book is found in this exchange. It’s a foundational moment full of irony and insight. It’s a moment frozen in time when God displayed His foresight and wisdom. It’s the moment Satan lost and the moment this story became life-changing for countless generations. In 1:8, when the Lord asked Satan, “have you considered (literally, “set your heart on”) my servant Job, there is none like him on the earth,” the problem of suffering was put on notice. Humanity was about to see from God’s perspective. He was about to enlighten us and unfortunately, most of us still don’t see it today.
That verse implies our Creator not only knows who Job was and what he’s been, He also knows who he’ll be in the future.
Special attention should be paid to the fact that God called Job his “servant.” That title is reserved for those who do His will (see Exodus 14:31; Second Samuel 7:5; and Isaiah 20:3).3 Following the question and God’s proposal, the book’s eternal implication begins to take shape. What God proposes is simple – who knows mankind better, their Creator or their enemy?
When God made His thoughts about Job public knowledge, Satan pounced, as if God had messed up. He attacked Job’s character and suggested foolishly that people like him only love God because “he has blessed the work of our hands,” (1:10). He couldn’t have been more wrong if he tried.
As a side note, please don’t think the compliment itself implied Job was the only one who could endure the upcoming onslaught. It meant he was the one God would use to overcome the problem of suffering for all time. He was the man God used that day, yet there are many Jobs scattered throughout history who would have and could have endured Satan’s best efforts as well.
The wisdom God displayed in setting the terms, players, and circumstances of this spiritual battle is something we should appreciate deeply.
He understands better than anyone the competition and the competitors. Satan’s arrogance was his ultimate downfall. He agreed to wage war against a situation he couldn’t control and a foe he couldn’t beat. His misguided conclusions about God and Job were woefully inept and they are still his blindspot today. He constantly underestimates God and His children and wages a never-ending war He’s already lost. Not surprisingly, our key to overcoming his power resides in the ability to see how impotent he truly is compared to our Heavenly Father. After all, doesn’t James 4:7 say:
Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
Notice that Satan needed God’s permission to inflict Job. Satan’s own words betrayed him. When he described the “hedge God put around Job,” (1:9) he was actually declaring God’s power. I hope that reading those verses show you how misguided our fear of Satan truly is. He was powerless to enact his plan without God’s permission and he is still powerless today. He can hurt us, but he can’t destroy us. Never forget that.
Mistakenly, Satan also believed Job’s piety was tied to his enormous blessings. He essentially said, “Every man has his price!”4 In fact, Satan clearly stated Job was only pious because of his prosperity.5 Since he couldn’t see a reason to serve God without incentive, neither should Job or you or me for that matter. Solomon spoke about that idea in Proverbs 3:9-10, which says:
Honor the Lord with your possessions,
And with the firstfruits of all your increase;
So your barns will be filled with plenty,
And your vats will overflow with new wine.
However, Job is a special case. He’s the exception to the rule and while blessings do often produce faithfulness, it’ not always true.6 His faith wasn’t tied to his blessings, or he would have thrown it away with the calamity and taken his wife’s advice. Instead, Job shows us something incredibly ironic – our troubles don’t have to create bitterness and betrayal. They don’t have to fester our soul with open wounds of doubt and despair. They can be overcome. While Satan may have been on to something about most of us, he couldn’t have been more wrong about Job.
Too many believe God is behind Job’s suffering and by implication, our suffering. Nothing could be further from the truth.
God didn’t bring the pain upon Job, Satan did. Sure, Satan was impotent and couldn’t do anything without God’s permission. But it was not God who struck Job, it was not God who hurt Job, and it is not God who brings pain into your life. Satan has always been the source of temptation in this world, and as we listened to him instead of God, we’re the reason pain became a part of this world. It had to accompany sin, there’s no way around it. Simply put, “the wages of sin are death” (Romans 6:23). That has always been true.
While that is troubling to many, it is consistent with our creation and situation in this world. When God made this world, He made it a world that creates disciples. For that formation to occur, suffering (and the ability to overcome the consequences of temptation and sin) has to be a part of the process. We have to know there is something better when we sin. We have to know God is the answer to our problems. We have to choose right when we can choose wrong.
We need to know this world isn’t perfect and we have to know this world isn’t our eternal home. If we don’t see the shame and imperfection of this world, we’ll never truly appreciate the glory and perfection of Heaven. We have to know this is a land of “sin and suffering” that paves the way to our home in glory. Unfortunately, Job was about to suffer immensely to teach mankind that truth once and for all.
If we like it or not, suffering has purpose.
It has from the beginning and still does today. We don’t always see that purpose clearly, however, with time, we can see the value of our trials. Remember, it’s loving parents who let their children fall off a bike, fail the test, and get sick. They do it so their children can build toughness, knowledge, and immunity. Parents know their children need those experiences, that doesn’t mean they actively seek them out. If they could shelter their children from all the pain of life they would. Since that’s impossible, they let their children grow and learn from their mistakes and accidents alongside their success and accomplishments. I have no doubt, most parents would wrap their children in a bubble wrap if it were possible but that would be mistake. We should not shelter them from failure, pain, and the experiences that test them. Doing so would produce children unable to cope with life. It would make them weak, feeble, and unprepared for the moments that matter. Instead, parents must prepare their children to face the trials of life, and by doing so, echo God’s treatment of Job.
As our Father, God wants to protect us, but even more than that, He wants to see us grow and become healthy well-adjusted sons and daughters ready to tackle this world and all of its challenges. That requires suffering be a part of our life and it means there really isn’t needless suffering. Every bit of it has a purpose, if we see it or not.
Job and the circumstances surrounding his frightful ordeal echo through eternity as a measuring stick of faithfulness. They began because he was faithful. He endured because he was faithful. His doubts and frustrations are treated with patience because God is faithful. When his story finishes, Job stands faithfully with God through the suffering because of his faithfulness. That’s means we can as well.
The challenge is simple. Can you suffer? Of course. Does God want you to? Of course not? Will He guide you through it? Absolutely. Don’t forget any of that when the Satan brings calamity to your door. Rather, believe it’s another moment when God knows better because He knows what you can handle.
Accept the challenge of being faithful, because God is faithful.
1 These beings are not God, but also not human. They seem to be the same “divine council” or “heavenly cabinet” of Psalm 29, 82, and 89. John Hartley in his commentary believes “they are the celestial beings whom God created as His servants. On this day they came and presented themselves as courtiers to give an accounting of their activities to God,” (NICOT, 71). Robert Alter, translates Job 1:6 this way, “And one day, the sons of God came to stand in attendance before the Lord…” (The Writings, 466). I personally love the idea that they didn’t just come to report, but also to stand in unison with God and in their place by His side.
2 Robert Alter, The Writings from The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2019), 466.
3 Tremper Longman III, Job, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 83.
4 Don Shackelford, Job, Truth for Today Commentary, (Searcy, Ark: Resource Publications, 2010), 31.
5 David J.A. Clines, Job 1-20, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1989), 42.
6 Longman, Job, 84.
All Scripture is taken from the New King James Version (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.