God Allows Job to Suffer at Satan's Hand (Job 1-2) February 21-22
As the book opens we encounter Job, whom God declares blameless and upright, fearing God and shunning evil (1:1, 8). This does not mean that Job was perfect—that he never sinned in any way. As Romans 3:23 tells us, all human beings have sinned—except for Jesus Christ, that is. As The Expositor's Bible Commentary explains: "That Job was 'blameless' (tam) and 'upright' (yasar) should not be construed to imply he was [utterly] sinless (cf. 13:26; 14:16-17). The former, from the root 'be complete' (tmm), usually refers to a person's spiritual maturity and the integrity (purity) of his inner being. The latter, meaning 'straight,' 'right' (ysr), is used in many contexts dealing with human behavior that is in line with God's ways. Together they provided an idiomatic way to describe Job's high moral character" (note on verses 1-5).
The translation "blameless" gives the sense of being beyond reproach—that is, having no obvious sins to criticize. In the New Testament, we find that John the Baptist's parents, Zacharias and Elizabeth, were blameless (Luke 1:6), as was the apostle Paul (Philippians 3:6). Indeed, all elders and deacons in the Church are expected to be blameless (1 Timothy 3:2, 10; Titus 1:6-7). In Job's case, it seems clear that it was difficult to find any specific transgressions of God's law of which to accuse him.
Job 1:6 tells us of a remarkable event—the "sons of God" coming to present themselves before the Lord. As the book later says that the "sons of God" were present at the creation of the earth (38:6-7)-, it is clear that the reference is to the angels—God's "sons" by virtue of His having created them. Even more remarkable on this occasion is that Satan comes among the angels appearing before God, leading to a dialogue between God and Satan. Many believe this event occurred in God's heavenly court. Yet it seems highly unlikely that God the Father would allow Satan to be in His direct presence and defile His celestial throne room. Indeed, nothing abominable or profane is permitted to enter the holy city of God, the New Jerusalem, that now waits in heaven (Revelation 21:27). God cast Satan down from heaven prior to man's creation and will later do so again at the end of the age in response to a last demonic assault. Why would the Father grant Satan casual access to heaven in between? In a related vein, some think Satan's constant accusation of God's people before God in Revelation 12:10 occurs in heaven. However, we should consider that whenever God's people pray to Him they are coming before His throne (see Hebrews 4:16). Surely Satan's words too, though spoken on earth, are heard before God the Father in heaven. Yet is that what was happening in the book of Job?
In considering the matter, it is nowhere specified that God in Job 1 was God the Father or that the Lord in this chapter was in heaven at all. It seems much more likely that the Lord here in the book of Job, who later spoke to Job, was God the Word (see John 1:1-3), the One who would become Jesus Christ (verse 14). The preincarnate Christ walked on the earth in patriarchal times. Recall that He was the Lord who walked and talked with Abraham while in the company of angels (see Genesis 18). God, as we know from other passages, has angels walking about on the earth who report back to Him. And consider that Ezekiel 1 and 10 portray the preincarnate Jesus in possession of a portable throne on which to travel about the world. With that in mind, it should be easier to imagine reconnoitering angels appearing before the preincarnate Christ somewhere on the earth and then Satan—whom God has allowed to remain as the ruler of this world for the time being—coming upon this gathering.
The Lord mentions the righteous life of Job to Satan, who is quick to argue that God has essentially "bought" Job's loyalty through protecting and blessing him (Job 1:8-11). Take away the hedge of protection, Satan argues, and Job will "curse" God. We should note that, oddly enough, the word for the verb "curse" used throughout this passage (verses 5, 11; 2:5, 9), barak, normally actually means "bless." Gleason Archer's New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties offers this possible explanation: "The verb berak means 'say goodbye to' in Genesis 24:60; [31:55]; 47:10; Joshua 22:6; 2 Samuel 13:25; and 1 Kings 8:66, generally with the connotation of invoking a parting blessing on the person taking his leave. From this usage we may surmise that an insolent sinner might say goodbye to God Himself, with the intention of dismissing Him from his mind and conscience, of totally abandoning Him…. [Commentator] Delitzsch (Keil and Delitzsch, Job, 2:51) calls this use of berak an antiphrastic euphemism. He feels that in Job 2:9 it clearly means…'say goodbye to'…as a benedictory salutation at parting. But in his general handling of these negative usages, he prefers to render it 'dismiss God from one's heart' (ibid., 2:49)" (p. 237).
Surprisingly, God responds to Satan's challenge by putting Job's possessions and family in the destroyer's power. Yet note that God does not at this time permit Satan to do Job any bodily harm (verse 12). This demonstrates that God has total power over what Satan is permitted to do. While this fact should provide us with comfort, for many it is extremely disturbing that God would allow Satan to hurt Job in any way, especially given the great loss of family he suffers.
Verses 16 and 19 apparently speak of lightning and a destructive tornado respectively, showing that weather calamities can be acts of Satan. Yet these events were by the express permission of God. Indeed, God later acknowledges this, saying to Satan: "…You incited Me against him, to destroy him without cause" (2:3). This may shockingly appear to say that there was no reason at all for what God allowed to befall Job—and that God can be prodded into doing things contrary to His will. But this is not what God is saying. He is simply saying that Satan presented no reason for any punitive action against this man. Moreover, the fact that Satan was provocative does not mean that this is what motivated God to act. Indeed, God initiated the discussion with Satan over Job—surely knowing what Satan's response would be.
Job 1:18-19 seems to say that Job lost all his children, though 19:17 may indicate that at least two of them were not in attendance at the ill-fated banquet and therefore survived. In any case, Job's loss of children and his wealth in a single day is difficult to fathom. Yet his reaction to it is stunning. Though he grieved deeply, Job's response was one of humbly worshiping God, acknowledging God's sovereignty over all circumstances (1:20-21). This is truly amazing considering that Job did not have the special knowledge the reader of the account has regarding the discussion between God and Satan. Despite the horror of what had happened, and the seeming abandonment by God that he must have felt, he did not sin (verse 22). Instead, God says that he held fast to his "integrity" (2:3), the Hebrew word here having the same root as the word for "blameless" in chapter 1. In fact, "when Job said, 'May the name of the Lord be praised' (v. 21), he was using…the same word that Satan used in v. 11 as an euphemism with the opposite meaning. The play on the root brk ('bless') is forceful. It stresses how the Accuser is foiled at this point. Instead of cursing God to his face, Job praised him" (Expositor's, note on verses 20-22).
Once again, Satan comes upon an angelic presentation before God and God presents him with Job's unswerving devotion. This time Satan presses the issue by saying that if God will remove His protection and allow him to attack Job's physical health, Job will reject God as he had predicted. God then allows the devil to cross that line. But, demonstrating his power and authority over Satan, He still imposes a limit—Satan is not allowed to kill Job. Yet what Satan is allowed to do—afflict Job with painful boils from head to toe—was no doubt extremely and unrelentingly agonizing. And on top of the psychological pain of losing his family, it must have been all the more excruciating.
Job's wife urges him to "curse God and die!" (verse 9). Many today imagine her as an impious, unsympathetic, bitter nag or even that she wanted to be rid of Job, thinking the loss of their children must have been his fault—that he had done something to deserve punishment from God. But it seems more likely that Job's wife, having been so close to him and witnessing his unceasing devotion to God even now, would have perceived him just as God described him—as blameless. We should consider that besides losing her family, she was now watching her husband suffer intolerable pain and anguish. It was no doubt difficult for her to understand why God would allow her faithful husband to be stricken. Indeed, it is difficult for most people today to understand it! She may well have been quite angry with God. Moreover, she perhaps said what she did thinking that Job's illness was terminal anyway and that he could with just a few words find immediate relief from his suffering. This great man, however, remarks on the foolishness of such a course and remains persistent in his faithfulness (verse 10).
Lastly in chapter 2, we see the coming of Job's three friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar (verse 11). It was evidently months before they got the news, arranged to meet and at last arrived (compare 7:3). Perhaps their initial intent was simply to go through a typical proper mourning ritual. But what they found made them aghast. It is evident that they cared for Job because they wept and remained close to him in silence for an entire week (2:12-13)—probably deeming it inappropriate to speak before Job himself spoke. Yet as we will see, these men will soon fail miserably in their role as Job's comforters, even wrongly accusing him of sin.
Finally, in looking at Job 1-2, people reasonably wonder why, if Job was such a devoted saint, God would allow Satan to harm him. The impression many have is that there was some kind of contest or one-upmanship going on between God and Satan—and that Job was just a pawn in this frivolous, heartless game. Indeed, many reject the story as fictitious for this reason, unable to accept that a loving God would ever hand his faithful servants over to Satan's abuses. But the perspective of Job as a pawn in some inane spiritual contest is totally off base. While the events of these chapters were probably intended to demonstrate God's sovereignty over Satan, we should note that the defeated enemy drops out of the account at this point—yet Job's suffering goes on. As we will see at the end of the book, Job, despite his upright character, still needed to grow spiritually and come to really know God. That being said, we should recognize that there is indeed an unwitting pawn in the story—Satan the devil. God, knowing Satan's nature and temperament, provokes him into taking action against Job—not to show Job's steadfastness off to His adversary but for the ultimate purpose of perfecting Job's character, making him an even better person than he was in preparation for a future in God's Kingdom.