Today I finished reading the book of Job, which means I’ve been thinking about Job and his sorry friends of late. For one thing, the real subject of the book of Job seems to be God’s character. I’ve read snatches of commentary about the book and heard sermons and even read fiction based on Job’s story and much of it seems to focus on the “wager” between God and Satan.
Oddly, I don’t see a wager. That would reduce the exchange to a “betcha he will/betcha he won’t” argument. There is no “betting” when it comes to omniscience, as if God might actually be wrong in His assessment of Job.
Instead, He pointed out Job to Satan as an example of righteousness, and Satan turned around and accused God of buying Job’s loyalty. Job only loved God because of all the good stuff God gave him—wealth, a loving family, protection, health.
God basically said, See for yourself if that’s true, which it wasn’t
Here’s the part that I’ve come to understand. Job’s friends, perhaps the first health-and-wealth theologians, in essence agreed with Satan, though they came at it from the opposite side. They said, Job, you’re suffering because you did something wrong. If you will just do right (or stop doing wrong), God will reward you for it. Which is another way of saying, God pays people to love Him.
In other words, they were putting God in a box and telling Job he had the capacity to manipulate God into blessing him and prospering him.
Job countered by saying, No, he hadn’t done anything to bring down God’s wrath. He still loved God, still believed in doing what was right, but God was punishing him anyway.
Here’s where Job sinned. He accused God too. Accused Him of wronging Job, to the point that he justified himself at God’s expense. (God even asked him, “Will you condemn Me that you may be justified?” – Job 40:8b)
But the critical point comes when God spells out for all of them the truth about Himself:
Who has given to Me that I should repay him?
Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine. (Job 41:11)
Satan was wrong in his accusation of God. God doesn’t need to pay off His creatures to love Him. Job’s friends were wrong in their description of God. He can’t be manipulated into giving us good things as payment for our obedience. Job was wrong because He said God had turned against Him for no reason. He was measure God’s goodness by how He treated Job.
Of course, God also called Job to account for his pride.
His description in verses 12 through 33 of chapter 41 sounds like that of a dragon, the very term used of Satan in the book of Revelation. Then God adds verse 34:
He [the creature He’s just described] looks on everything that is high;
He is king over all the sons of pride.
Did Job at that point see himself as a son of pride? as a son of Satan? Most definitely he saw God aright, and I think that must have also made him see himself aright. As a result he retracted his accusations and repented “in dust and ashes.”
One more cool thing. The message of Job seems clear: God doesn’t pay us for right behavior. He doesn’t owe us anything nor does He need anything from us. He is over all and owns all. But He juxtaposed this book with the book of Psalms, so full of promises like
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked …
He will be like a tree firmly planted by water
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
So which is it? God doesn’t repay or God blesses the person who doesn’t hang with the wicked? Both.
It’s like the parable Jesus told about the landowner who hired workers at different times during the day. When those who worked all day received the same pay as those who worked only one hour, they were miffed and accused the owner of wrong doing. But he said, are you mad because I was generous?
God can be generous to whomever He wishes, to whatever degree He wishes.
The thing we too often miss is that His greatest gifts aren’t the external things that make this life more comfortable. The real gifts are the spiritual things that are eternal, and those we have no way of measuring here and now.
This post is a revised, updated version of one that first appeared here in January 2009.