Job Learns About God

Do not be rash with your mouth, And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; Therefore let your words be few. –Solomon, Ecc. 5:2


Job was a good man. So good that God called him blameless and upright. But one day Satan went to visit God, and God told him about Job’s goodness.

Satan wasn’t impressed. He sneered at God’s description. “Oh, sure. It’s no wonder he serves you. You’ve put a hedge around him so that I can’t get at him. And you’ve made him rich—he’s the richest man in the east. Let me take away his blessings and then we’ll see what he’s really like! He’ll curse you to your face.”

“Okay,” God replied. “I’ll let you test him. You can do anything you want to his belongings, just don’t touch him.”

Satan was sure he could knock Job off his pedestal.


It all happened on the same day. First a servant came running to tell Job that a band of raiders had swooped in and stolen his oxen—all five hundred teams—and killed the men who were plowing with them. They also took five hundred donkeys from a pasture beside the field they were plowing.
But that wasn’t all. Before the first man was finished talking a second man came running up to Job. “Fire fell from heaven,” he said. “It burned up all your sheep and the shepherds.”

Seven thousand sheep, gone in the snap of a finger. But Job had no time to even think about it, because a third man rushed up. “Master, the Chaldeans have stolen your camels and killed the herders!”

Three thousand camels gone, on top of all the other losses, and in the distance, Job saw another man running and waving his arms. He had just lost all his wealth. What else could have gone wrong? He soon learned.

The man collapsed at his feet, weeping. “Master,” he said. “Your ten children were feasting in your oldest son’s home and a storm came up. The house collapsed and all your children are dead.”

It was too much. How could a man handle such devastation? Job’s cry of anguish came from deep inside. He tore off the robe he was wearing. He shaved his head and fell to the ground in utter grief.
His servants didn’t know what to say. They too were devastated. But to their astonishment, Job began to pray. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.”
The servants looked at each other, shocked.

Satan went back to see God. His plan had failed, but he had another idea.


God looked at him. “Job is still blameless and upright, despite your actions against him.”
Satan sneered again. “Sure, a man will give everything he has to save his life. But if you touch his body, you’ll see what he’s like. He’ll curse you to your face!”

God looked at him. “Okay, he is in your hand. Do what you want, but don’t kill him.”

This was what Satan wanted and he went directly back to earth to find Job. He struck him with the most painful affliction he could think of. He covered Job with painful boils; from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet. Everything Job did hurt. He couldn’t walk, he couldn’t sit, he couldn’t lay down—he even had boils in his mouth. Finally, in agony, he sat in the ash pile—the softest place he could think of and scraped the boils with a broken piece of pottery.

But Satan wasn’t done. He had thought of another way to increase Job’s agony.
Job’s wife broke under the pressure. She walked up to Job and lashed out at him. “What good does it do you to be such a good person? Curse God and die! How can you keep your faith in Him when He treats you like this?”

Job looked at her a moment before replying. “Your words are foolish,” he said. “Why should we accept good things from God but reject adversity when He sends it?”

Satan wasn’t about to give up now. It had become a personal vendetta for him. He came up with another plan. But first he let Job stew for a while.


Job had three close friends—men that he trusted, even though they were younger than he was. When he saw them coming to visit him, his heart must have warmed a little. They sat down beside him and mourned with him. For a whole week no one said anything. Then Satan lit the fuse on his final bombshell.

Job could take no more. “Why didn’t I die when I was born?” The question came from the depths of his heart, and it seemed like a dam had burst.

“Why wasn’t my mother barren? Why wasn’t I stillborn or miscarried? Why doesn’t God kill me and put me out of my misery?”

And he wept.

Eliphaz, Job’s best friend took a deep breath and started to talk. “Can I tell you the truth? You have taught many others; can I teach you?” He paused and looked at Job searchingly. “Why are you in such despair? You have told others that God doesn’t destroy the innocent. You need to accept what He sends you.”

Job had expected sympathy. He caught right away what Eliphaz was telling him.

“I surely thought that my friends would be kind to me.” Bitterness filled his voice. “I’m innocent and you know it! Admit it, rather than undercutting me.”

He looked at the sky and addressed God. “Why do you bother with me? Have I sinned?” His voice rose. “Well then, pardon my transgression and let me die!”

Bildad, his next friend, shook his head. “God is fair and just. Your children must have sinned that God destroyed them. God would never have destroyed them otherwise. And if you would repent rather than blaming God, He would heal you. God doesn’t punish righteous people.”

Job shrank visibly, and his reply was muted and cloaked in despair. “I know that you are right,” he said. “But how can a man be righteous before God? If I’m such a bad person, why doesn’t he show me what to do about it?”

He shifted on his bed of ashes, trying vainly to find a more comfortable position. “Surely this ought to be a two-way street. Why doesn’t God do His part?”

Zophar, Job’s third friend, look horrified. “You are full of words,” he said. “Words won’t vindicate you, nor will empty talk.” He shook his head at the very thought.

Job clenched his fist, then released it as the pain from the boils shot through his hand. “Oh, you are such wise men, you three,” he said bitterly. “When you die all wisdom will have left the earth.”

He ignored the pain for a moment and said upright, his eyes flashing. “I’m not inferior to you, and you know it. You forge lies. You are worthless physicians. Why don’t you just be quiet?”

He slumped again, then continued more quietly. “A man is like a flower. He lives only a short while, then fades away and dies. But I know that this isn’t the end. Even a tree will sprout again if it is cut down. I will die but that won’t be the end. I will see God face to face.”

His three friends weren’t ready to accept Job’s answers and the conversation became more and more heated. Angry words flew back and forth, as Job tried to understand and make his friends understand. “How long are you going to torment me? Even my wife despises me. Can’t you have any pity on me, your old friend?”

It was a cry of anguish, but his friends were relentless.

“Your wickedness is great…”
“Your iniquity is without end…”
“You have sent widows away empty…”
“God sees your sins; you can’t hide them from Him…”

Job would have torn out his hair, but he had shaved his head. “If I could only go back to the old days. Then younger men hid themselves because of my greatness, instead of accusing me. I helped the blind and the poor. Men listened to my counsel.”

His voice rose. “Now you mock me. You are younger but you think you know more than your elders.
“I tell you, I’m not a wicked person. I won’t even look at a woman! I’ve given to the poor and the widows. I’ve avenged the downtrodden.”

He shrieked his final words to them. “I want God to answer me! Let him write a book about me, if I have done so many bad things!”


A fourth man had joined them during the discussion, another friend who had come to see Job. He had listened, astonished at the heat of the discussion. He looked at Job, but he had buried his head in his hands. He looked at Job’s three friends, but they had run out of arguments.

So Elihu began to talk…

Job heard very little of what Elihu said. He rebuked Job and his friends for their presumption about God. He waxed eloquent in his defense of the character of God.

“Behold, God is mighty, but despises no one…”
“Stand still and consider the wondrous works of God…”
“God is awesome majesty…”
“He is excellent in power, in judgment and justice…”

His voice droned on, and on, and on, increasing in volume as he tried to get through to Job. But Job was beyond understanding him or responding.

Of course, God was great. Of course, God was good. Of course, God was majestic. Of course, God was powerful…. He knew all of that.

If only they would all go away and leave him to die.


But suddenly the wind picked up. The ashes started to fly. The temperatures start to chill noticeably. Something unusual was happening and even Job looked up.

A whirlwind. Like the one that destroyed my son’s house, Job thought. What is going to happen now?

The wind picked up and started to whistle. Grass and sand started to fly, and a miniature sandstorm of ashes whirled around them, causing all five of the men to cover their faces.

Then….

“Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”

The Voice came from within the whirlwind; deep, majestic, and demanding attention.
Is He speaking to me? Job eyes widened, but he had no time to answer before the Voice continued.

“Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.”

Job shuddered and bowed his head. The other men did the same.

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”
“Who shut in the sea when it broke forth?”
“Where does light dwell?”

The questions continued. Questions that Job had no idea how to answer. He slumped lower and lower, until suddenly…

“Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it.”

Job knew he had gone too far. In the heat of the argument he had assumed that he understood more than he did.

But the voice was waiting for his response. He almost whispered. “Behold, I am vile; What shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth. Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; Yes, twice, but I will proceed no further.”

The Voice wasn’t finished.

“Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me: Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified?”

The questions went on, and on. And Job knew that he had no recourse. In comparison to God, he was nothing, a nobody. He was ignorant and helpless.

When the Voice stopped again, he prostrated himself painfully before the whirlwind. “I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

“But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God?” (Romans 9:20)

Love of Money Corrupts (Ecc. 5:8, 9)

Adapted from Where Is God, When Life Doesn’t Make Sense?

If you see the extortion of the poor, or the perversion of justice and fairness in the government, do not be astonished by the matter. For the high official is watched by a higher official, and there are higher ones over them! The produce of the land is seized by all of them, even the king is served by the fields. (Ecc 5:8-9, NET)

Solomon looked at this subject from a philosophical perspective, not a human rights perspective. The poor were oppressed by those who were stronger than they were or who had more authority. Those people in turn were oppressed by those above them. The chain of oppression reached all the way to the top and may have even included the king.

The perversion of justice is common. In some countries of the world, a person is better off to accept oppression than to report it or to try to get justice. Solomon wasn’t commenting on the right or wrong of this (it is obviously wrong). Instead, he was describing a basic reality of life along with giving a little lesson on economics.

Solomon used a field as a simple example of economic supply and demand. Many people needed to live from the economic product of the field. The people who planted the field, watered it, and harvested it were the most obvious economic beneficiaries. In Bible times these people didn’t own the field or finance the crop, they were just laborers who were paid for their work. So they needed to get enough of the field’s economic product to live on, probably in the form of wages. The man who owned the field financed the crop and paid the laborers. He too needed to receive a benefit because he also had to eat and probably had a family to support. He may have sold the crop to a miller, who produced flour from it. That man also needed to make some income from the field’s product to feed his family. So he sold the flour to a baker, who baked bread and sold it to a local store. The local store finally sold it to the person who ate it. So the laborers, the farmer, the miller, the baker, and the store all needed to have a share of the economic product of the field to live.

But the process goes beyond that. Some of these people might have borrowed money to finance their operations, so the economic product of the field also paid the interest on their loans. And finally, the government collected taxes from these people. So even the government lived from the field’s economic product.

Now none of this is wrong. But it does give a lot of opportunity for doing wrong. At any link of this economic chain, someone could oppress the person who depended on him for his income. The most obvious point was at the bottom of the ladder. If the farmer was greedy and many people were looking for work in the fields, he could make extra money by paying unfair wages. The laborers had little recourse because they had less money and less authority and fewer powerful friends than the farmer did.

Some people try to take advantage of others by bribing them. Some threaten them by using their authority. And on and on it goes. The king (i.e., the government) was at the top of the ladder and had the most power and authority of all. It is very easy for government to use this power to take advantage of the population.

The process of corruption is prompted by greed, of course. But it is also prompted by the fact that the economic resources of the field are limited. Finally, you can only stretch a natural resource so far. The people in the line for getting a piece of the pie are afraid that the economic profit won’t reach around, and so they fight over it. In cases like this it isn’t the early bird that gets the worm. Rather, the biggest bird gets it, even though he may the last one to reach the table.

People living in democratic countries like to think that these things only happen in third world countries or countries run by dictators or crooked governments. But anyone studying the effects of capitalism, lobbying, and big money in our time will soon realize that these things happen to us as well.

Corruption is one of the realities caused by the love of money. If we depend on money for happiness or meaning in life, we will be disappointed—which, I believe, was Solomon’s point in these verses.

Watch for more excerpts from this book in future blogs...

Solomon’s Trying Day…

Solomon loved beauty. But lately he had been too preoccupied to enjoy the natural beauties that infused even the bleak Judean landscape surrounding Jerusalem. He hadn’t even gone for a walk in his gardens or orchards for months. But tonight, he felt a need to be distracted from his thoughts and he took a moonlit stroll through the palace grounds before going to bed.

It had been a particularly trying day. He had needed to settle a boundary dispute between two important landowners, both of whom were sure that their neighbor had moved the boundaries between their holdings for their own favor. He had been tempted to expropriate the disputed strip, along with a generous addition on each side, and build a road on it, and let them stew. But the road wouldn’t have led anywhere particularly useful, and would have cost a lot of money. So, he swallowed his testiness and sent several of his engineers to survey the strip and divide it in half. Presumably this would just place the boundary back where it had always been, but it would at least ensure that the quarreling stopped.

And then the matron of the woman’s quarters came to him for help in settling an upheaval amongst his wives. The Egyptian princess had decided that she needed some extra servants to give her house its annual cleaning. She had always considered herself to be Solomon’s queen, since she was the first of his wives with royal blood. She descended on the women’s quarters in the form of a one person press-gang intent on conscripting several of Solomon’s concubines for temporary service in her private quarters. Most of the wives were antagonistic to her already, given her superior attitude, and didn’t take kindly to this hostile takeover.

The matron tried to settle everyone down. But the Egyptian princess insisted that she had the right to conscript anyone she wanted. Since she wouldn’t accept the matron’s authority, Solomon ended up going to the quarters himself and settling them down. He pacified the spluttering princess with the promise that she could have several of the palace servants to help her in the morning. He also suggested to her that in the future she might want to take any such requests to his household manager, who could deal with them. He pointedly reminded the rest of the women that the matron was in charge and that it would be in their best interests to listen to her.

He pushed aside his memories of the day’s events and stopped for a while to watch the moon rising over the Mount of Olives. “I should do this more often,” he thought. “This is like a balm for a troubled soul.”

He remembered a song his father had written years ago, and quoted the words softly…  “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?”

He slept well that night.

SOLOMON’S STUDY…

Solomon did his writing in a little cubicle he would have called his study, had there been such a thing in his time. It was little more than a cell, furnished with a writing table, a chair, and some rudimentary writing materials. His working area was lit by several candles, since he did most of his reading and writing either late at night or early in the morning.

One wall had a window, of sorts, facing west. Mostly it was just a hole in the wall, with shutters that he could close if the breeze was too cold, or the sun too bright. It was big enough that he could see out without needing to stand up.

The door in the side wall opened into his sleeping quarters, and was the only way to enter the room. The room was heated through the door, by the fireplace in the next room.

The other two walls were the most important. They contained his library of scrolls, stored carefully on roughhewn shelves. Some of the scrolls were obviously quite old and fragile. Others were newer, and several were written by Solomon himself. Perhaps the most important scrolls in the collection were the copy of the Pentateuch Solomon had copied painstakingly in his own handwriting during the first years of his reign.

That library would be worth a king’s ransom today if we could recover it somehow. It contained writings of wise men, and scholars, as well as scientists and political gurus of the time. Some were old and some were new — the king’s men had collected them from far and wide. They contained the wisdom of the world at that time

Solomon had just taken a scroll from his library and was looking through it. According to the title at the beginning of the scroll, it was a collection of wise sayings that he had been working on for years. Some of the sayings he had gleaned from his collection of writings. Others were original with him. It contained, in a series of nutshells, an overview of the wisdom of the wisest man who ever lived.

Carefully, Solomon rerolled the scroll and replaced it on the shelf. “I wonder if these writings will survive,” he mused to himself. “Maybe people will read them a thousand years from now and wonder what kind of person wrote them.”

“If only they could also know how hard it is for this ‘wise man’ to live up to his own wisdom…”

Naamah

Naamah watched through the window as her husband helped the Queen of Sheba descend from her litter. She noted the smiles they exchanged. The Queen didn’t veil her face as Naamah was accustomed to when she was in public. But Solomon seemed more gratified than horrified at the omission.

“I wonder when the last time was that Solomon looked at me like that.” She didn’t say the words out loud, but the wistful look on her face would have clued in anyone watching the scene.

She continued her inner dialog. “I wish he would never have become king. We were so happy when we first married.” She thought back to when her son, Rehoboam was born and the happy times they had as a little family. “I was an outsider, but no one cared back then.”

She shook her head as her thoughts meandered on. “But everything changed when he became king. Suddenly I was the ‘commoner’ and not quite good enough to be the wife of the king. Even Bathsheba, his mother, changed at that point. She, of all people, should have known how I felt. She was an outsider too. But that changed once she was the ‘Queen mother.’”

“I remember when Solomon married that beautiful Egyptian princess. She was the first one, and I didn’t see him very much after that. She was always flirting with him and he forgot all about me, even though he assured me he still loved me, that he only married her for a political alliance.”

She watched Solomon and the Queen walking to the palace. “How many women does he have by now? It must be close to a thousand.” Her eyes narrowed and her lips tightened. “He’s putting on a pretty good front with the Queen, but I know how much he’s changed. Unless I’m really wrong, he’ll rope her into being another one of his wives or concubines before she leaves.”

Legend has it that the Queen bore a son to Solomon when she returned home. He went on to become the Emperor when he grew up.

 

Disillusioned with Life

The king was all alone in his study. Anyone who needed to pass by the little room did so on tiptoe. They knew from experience how Solomon felt about being distracted when he was writing. 

Not that he was doing very much writing this evening – he was watching the sunset instead.

The sunset was worth looking at. The setting sun had painted a flaming panorama of color in the western sky — a fiery scene you could almost warm your hands at. But the king didn’t seem to be enjoying the sight. His face was gloomy, as if he were brooding over some unhappy thought.

“The sun rises every morning,” the king said. He didn’t wait for an answer, since no one else was around to hear him. “And it sets again every evening.”

“It’s done that about…” He paused and cogitated a moment before finishing, “It’s done that almost 20,000 times since I was born. Why?”

The king rose abruptly to his feet, pushing aside his quill pen and the scroll he had been working on. “Everything is like that. The sun, the wind, the rivers — all of them keep on going, doing the same things mindlessly over and over.” 

He stood for a moment, deep in thought. “It just doesn’t make sense. It seems so meaningless — just an endless, vicious cycle.” He turned to leave the room. 

Yet he hesitated at the doorway and looked once more at the now fading sunset. The frustration on his face had given way to an expression that was harder to read. A searching look, trying to penetrate the meaning of what he had seen. Almost an imploring look. A sort of God-why-won’t-you-answer-me kind of look.

His shoulders sagged as he entered the palace.