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The Book of Job: Questions of SufferingPractical Applicationt 1

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The Book of Job: Questions of SufferingPractical Applicationt 1 Why do bad things happen to (so-called) good people? This is a question for the ages, which every person on earth will face sooner or later.
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The Book of Job: Questions of SufferingPractical Applicationt 1 Why do bad things happen to (so-called) good people? This is a question for the ages, which every person on earth will face sooner or later. Those who have not had their own experiences in suffering know someone who has. So when calamity strikes, many are inclined to ask, Why me, Lord? Author: Date: Recipients: Key Word: Key Verses: KEY FACTS Anonymous Uncertain Suffering believers Reject or Take back (Hb. mâ as) I had heard rumors about You, but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I take back my words and repent in dust and ashes (42:5 6). Suffering draws out the deepest human emotions, which are best communicated through the literary form of poetry. God has provided the story of a man who suffered more than anyone can even imagine. Through the avenue of poetic expression, the reader is drawn into the heart of Job to feel his frustration and pain. Furthermore, as wisdom literature, the book of Job deals with some of life s most important philosophical questions. How can an all-powerful God allow the righteous to suffer? Ultimately, God s sense of justice is called into question, and the book of Job provides a wisdom-based response to these most pressing and relevant issues. The book of Job addresses these questions of human suffering from five perspectives to help the reader grapple with these issues. Norman Geisler summarizes these by the following: 1. Author: Suffering is pernicious (satanic). 2. Job: Suffering is a puzzle (serious). 3. Friends: Suffering is penal (sinful). 4. Elihu: Suffering purifies (shortcomings). 5. God: Suffering is providential (sovereignty). Geisler adds: There is some truth in all these views of suffering. But as applied to Job s situation, the friends were wrong. Job was not suffering because of his sins. 1 God s providential purposes were being accomplished by His sovereign permission to allow Job to suffer so that he, his friends, and all who read this amazing story may benefit from it. Author and Date The authorship and date of composition for Job are shrouded in mystery. Significant clues in the book provide evidence of an early setting for the events surrounding the narrative of Job. Some believe Job lived during the time of the patriarchs because of the total lack of Mosaic references within the book. Job was a priest 1 Ed Hindson, Elmer L. Towns, and Ed Hinson, Illustrated Bible Survey: An Introduction (Nashville: B&H, 2013). to his family; his age was that of the patriarchs; and there are no references to the tabernacle, temple, feasts, or sacrifices that accompanied the Mosaic law. 2 Additionally, the various places and names within the book reflect a setting prior to the conquest of Canaan. 3 Therefore, the internal evidence supports an early setting for the narrative of Job, but the actual time of the writing remains uncertain. Structure and Style The book of Job is a literary masterpiece with an unusual structure of poetic dialogue set within a narrative framework. While many Bible readers are familiar with the narrative story line of Job, this only provides the background for the dialogue itself, a dramatic roller coaster of rich lament, forceful accusation, and biting sarcasm. The literary genius of Job is characterized by the unique mixture and wide variety of literary forms employed, including the narrative prologue and epilogue (1:1 2:13; 42:7 17), Job s initial speech of lament (3:1 26), and a self-contained poem expressing the virtues of wisdom (28:1 28). The poetic dialogue between Job and his three friends contains three cycles of speeches, each using rich examples of metaphor, hyperbole, sarcasm, irony, and a host of word pictures. The God speech (38:1 41:34) contains more than seventy rhetorical questions aimed at expressing in no uncertain terms God s unfathomable wisdom. 4 Outline The changes in genre and style reveal a number of clear structural breaks within the book that are indicated by introductory references to a new speaker. Based on these indicators, the following outline may be helpful in discerning the flow of the book of Job: I. Prologue: Opening Narrative (1:1 2:13) II. Dialogue: Job and His Friends (3:1 27:23) A. Job s Lament (Job 3:1 26) B. First Cycle of Speeches (4:1 14:22) C. Second Cycle of Speeches (15:1 21:34) D. Third Cycle of Speeches (22:22 27:23) III. Interlude: Poem on Wisdom (28:1 28) IV. Monologues: Job, Elihu, and God (29:1 42:6) A. Job s Closing Oration (29:1 31:40) B. Elihu s Speeches (32:1 37:24) C. God s Response to Job (38:1 41:34) D. Job s Reply to God (42:1 6) V. Epilogue: Closing Narrative (42:7 17) I. Prologue: Opening Narrative (Job 1:1 2:13) Message The narrator introduces the reader to Job, a man whose righteous character is affirmed three times in the first two chapters of the book (1:1, 8; 2:3). Job is also described as a wealthy man from a distant land, the greatest man among the people of the east (1:3). Taking the reader into the realm of supernatural conflict, the narrator sets the stage with the first test as the Lord presents his servant Job as a model of righteousness before Satan. Satan replies with the accusatory challenge, Does Job fear God for nothing? (1:9). God then allows Satan to take from Job everything he has but sets limits by not allowing Satan to take his health (1:12). Next the author takes the reader into a second cosmic test, with Satan charging that Job will indeed curse God if his health is taken. The Lord in turn allows Satan to take his health, but he must preserve his life (2:4 6). In the midst of his physical affliction, the response remains the same; Job does not curse God (2:10) even though Job s wife says, Why don t you curse God and die? (2:9 GNT). This is not necessarily a statement of unbelief but the realistic agony of a woman who has lost all her children and is about to lose her husband. The opening narrative concludes with the introduction of Job s three friends: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. While these friends came to sympathize with and comfort Job, they would later become adversarial as they accuse Job of heinous sins in the dialogue that follows. II. Dialogue: Job and His Friends (Job 3:1 27:23) Job s lament breaks the silence between Job and his three friends and introduces the dialogue that follows. Job curses the day of his birth (3:1 10) and questions why God would allow him to be born if His only plan was to bring him to a place of such intense suffering (3:11 26). While still not accusing God of injustice, Job indicates that he wishes he had died at birth. Structured around three cycles of speeches, the poetic dialogue in chapters 4 27 is a literary masterpiece that communicates the full range of emotions experienced by the afflicted. Additionally, the dialogue calls into question widely accepted assumptions regarding the reason people suffer, namely, the retribution of a just God against the sinner. Job s friends assume he must have done something terribly wrong, unjust, or unwise to experience such an incredible tragedy. 6 REFLECTION Why Me? Life s deepest suffering causes us to ask life s toughest questions. Why me? Why this? Why now? The agony of suffering rips away our self-sufficiency. When the bottom falls out of our lives, we tend to curse God, question God, or pray to God. You may have already suffered deep emotional anxiety, physical pain, or spiritual despair, but for most of us, the worst is yet to come. We have no guarantees of avoiding pain and suffering in a fallen world, but we can prepare our minds and hearts for the inevitable. When suffering comes, what will you do? Run away from God or run to him? Question His wisdom or cling to His sovereignty? Throughout their speeches Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar mount various arguments in support of their theological position, ranging from a vision to experience and tradition, or reason and speculation; but in the end they are unable to mount any evidence to prove that Job is suffering because he is a sinner. As Job responds to each of his friend s speeches, he maintains his innocence in the midst of many accusations to the contrary (9:21; 16:17; 23:10). Instead of confessing to a sin he did not commit, Job calls into question the justice of God, which only heightens the ire of the three friends. s. Apparently Job is not aware of the heavenly test in which he is a participant although a slight hint of this comes in the vision in 4:17 21 when God indicates He cannot trust some of His angels because they do evil things. In keeping with his desire to know what charges God has against him, Job desires an opportunity to have his day in court with God (9:32; 13:6 19; 31:35 37). Job is convinced that if he could only have the opportunity to present his case to God, then God would realize he is judging the wrong man, and Job would be proclaimed innocent (13:3 27). However, God is not immanently present, and Job s frustration mounts as he longs for an encounter with God but finds no way to confront the Almighty (23:1 17). Nevertheless, Job holds on to his faith, hoping that one day he will be vindicated as he stands before his God (9:33 35; 16:18 22; 19:25 27). In this context Job states his faith in the resurrection when he says: I know that my redeemer lives.... And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God (19:25 26 NIV). III. Interlude: Poem on Wisdom (Job 28:1 28) The book deals with one of wisdom s most pressing questions: the apparent inequity of divine justice and retribution. Understanding the issue of divine justice as the driving theological question in the book, it is only fitting that a poem praising the virtues of wisdom is included. Comparing the search for wisdom with the difficult endeavor of mining for precious metals and gems under the surface of the earth, the poem suggests that the value of wisdom far exceeds that of riches, and its gain is far more elusive. Nevertheless, in keeping with Proverbs, the poem concludes that wisdom ultimately rests in the fear of the Lord (28:28), even when man is unable to comprehend the activity of God (Eccl 3:14). IV. Monologues: Job, Elihu, and God (Job 29:1 42:6) A. Job s Closing Oration (Job 29:1 31:40) Job concludes his speeches by reflecting on his life prior to his suffering (29:1 25) and by contrasting that with the plague of despair that now accompanies his every hour (30:1 19). With one last affirmation of his innocence, Job challenges God to judge him honestly, even suggesting appropriate punishments for various sins; and yet in all of this, Job affirms that he is innocent of all such iniquities (31:1 40). B. Elihu s Speeches (Job 32:1 37:24) Elihu s speeches begin with a short narrative commentary introducing the young man Elihu, who up until this point has remained silent. Elihu was angry at Job for justifying himself rather than God and was upset with the three friends because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him (32:2 3 NIV). His entrance into the dialogue remains somewhat of a mystery, and as quickly as he enters the scene, he exits without further reference in the epilogue. The justice of God is clearly affirmed in Elihu s speech (37:23), and God s ways are deemed beyond our understanding (36:26; 37:5 NIV). Furthermore, within his speech Elihu introduces a middle ground in understanding the purposes of God in suffering, suggesting that God may use suffering as a means to keep men from sin (33:29 30), to chastise (33:19), and to maintain a healthy degree of reverence before the Almighty (37:24). In other words, God may permit suffering to mature and grow our faith. C. God s Response to Job (Job 38:1 41:34) At long last the Lord replies to Job and brings clarity concerning the misconstrued theology of the three friends and, more particularly, the misconceived accusations of injustice mounted against God by the suffering Job. Although Job looked forward to a day when he would question God and God would answer him, God now questions Job. Through the use of more than seventy rhetorical questions, God appeals to creation as a demonstration of his unfathomable wisdom. The main point expressed through God s speech is captured by Job 41:11 (NIV), Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything in heaven belongs to me. God does not explain the rationale or the reason behind Job s suffering, and He reveals no compulsion to justify His actions before Job. God reminds us, as He did Job, that He is God and we are not. D. Job s Reply to God (Job 42:1 6) In response to God, Job repents of his wrongheaded thinking and the fact that he spoke of... things too wonderful for me to know (42:3 NIV). There is no indication in Job s response of any awareness regarding why he suffered. Rather, Job simply responds in faith knowing it is enough that God is in control. As a true believer Job submits to God s sovereign will and stops questioning His intentions. In so doing, Job remains a powerful example to all of us who struggle with the seemingly insurmountable questions of life, only to fall in faith, exasperated, into the arms of God. V. Epilogue: Closing Narrative (Job 42:7 17) In the narrative epilogue to the book, Job is vindicated, and his health is restored to him. The three friends are condemned for their false accusations and misguided theology, and Job is called upon to serve as a priest and pray on their behalf (42:7 9). As for Job s restoration, God prospers him once again and blesses him with twice the wealth he had prior to Satan s challenge (42:10, 12). Practical Application The epilogue of Job makes clear that the strict retribution theology of the three friends was wrong in Job s case, and this certainly holds true in many cases of suffering experienced throughout history. Their wrong perspective reminds us not to judge others too quickly else we fall into the same hypocritical trap. Elihu s suggestion that suffering can be used as a preventative measure against sin is certainly valid. Scripture clearly affirms that suffering can be chastisement for sin (Heb 12:7 11). But it can also be permitted by a loving God as the apostle Paul attests in 2 Cor 12:7 9 when he affirms God s promise that His grace is sufficient for our every need. In the end the main point in the book of Job is that God is just, even when people do not understand their difficult circumstances. Thus we are called to trust God in spite of our circumstances. The Book of Job: Study Questions Name Period Date Directions: After reading the chapter above, answer the following questions. Write or type your answers in the space provided below. 1. Describe the enormity of Job s losses. Why did God allow this to happen to him? 2. How did these tragedies impact Job s wife? 3. What was wrong with the advice of Job s three friends? 4. How was Elihu s perspective different and unique? 5. Is God really the final answer to the problem of suffering? How do you know? 6. What is the most serious challenge you have faced with the issue of personal suffering? How are you handling it
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