I have never been much of a poet, nor have I ever gained much appreciation for poetry. A consequence of this, perhaps, is that the biblical books of poetry remain to me perhaps more obscure than others. Most obscure, in some ways, is the book of Job.
Don’t get me wrong: I know the basic story. I love reading the beginning and the end. It’s the middle chapters that tend to bog me down a little. In those chapters, Job’s friends say a lot of right things, even if they misapply their truths to Job’s situation. They speak confidently, if ignorantly.
In January this year, I set myself a Bible-reading goal. I want to read through the Bible in four months. That averages to around ten chapters a day. I finished Job yesterday, completing the reading over three days. As I read, I was impressed once again with the majesty of Job’s story. I recently listened to an interview of a man who walked away from the faith. He described his disillusionment with much of Scripture, though he believes that Job is a story that should be read and absorbed by all. I share his opinion of Job, even if I disagree wholeheartedly with his overall approach to Scripture.
Job lived thousands of years ago. Most interpreters believe that he lived before the giving of the law—roughly contemporary with Abraham. Chronologically, the story of Job might fit between Genesis 11 and 12. What does this book of ancient wisdom poetry have to teach us in the 21st century? As we move through the book in coming days, I hope that we will learn from it. As an introduction to the book, however, consider four overarching lessons the story of Job teaches.
First, Job teaches that God is sovereign. He gives and takes away (1:21–22). He ordained both Job’s prosperity and his calamity (2:10). Even Satan, Job’s great adversary, worked only at God’s bidding. The lesson Job learned from God’s speeches toward the end of the book was that God was sovereign and he was not. We desperately need to learn this lesson from Job.
Second, Job teaches that it is natural to ask why—though we should be careful that our asking does not become irreverent. When God rebuked Job’s friends at the end of the book, he said, “My anger burns against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (42:7). Job asked some straightforward and tough questions, but God determined that he had spoken rightly. Yes, he seems to have overstepped at some point, but he was right to wrestle with God over his calamity. It is natural to human nature to wonder why God allows calamity. The book of Job is honest about this, even if Job did not receive a direct answer.
Third, Job presents us with lessons of comfort for suffering believers. It shows us that we can and should labour to know God better in our suffering—whether or not we get answers. It reminds us that suffering is not always the result of sin, but that God allows even his righteous ones to suffer. It shows us that God is able, if he wills, to restore the fortunes of those he allows to suffer. There are few stories as comforting for Christians as the story of Job.
Fourth, as with all of Scripture, Job points us to our great Redeemer, who would suffer on our behalf even though he was more righteous than Job. As we suffer, and wrestle with God over our suffering, we dare not think that God is aloof to our suffering. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). There are glimpses of gospel hope even in the darkness of Job’s suffering and the reminder that stands tall above all else is that “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh and made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). We must look for Christ in Job’s suffering.
As we spend some time in coming days working our way through the story of Job, ask God to teach you the lessons that you need to learn from this majestic story. Trust that he is sovereign. Learn to lament. Find comfort in Job’s story. See Christ who suffered for you.
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