Is This Really Happening to Me?

Heavenly Council and Earthly Events

Tom. J. Nettles

The book of Job contains an extended case study of the outworking of the decree and consequent providence of God in the life of one of God’s elect. It provides background for an answer to the question posed in Romans 9:19, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” Paul’s answer is “Who are you , O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” Transcending all the purposes and complaints of man is the unchallengeable and invincible purpose of God in creation. That he brought all of this into existence with a specific purpose in his eternal mind, and that he will by no means fail to accomplish his purpose, and that we are incapable of sorting out all the individual events of the world to satisfy our impertinent questioning of God is the big lesson of this book. It moves toward that lesson with one of the most poignant stories in all of human literature.

According to R. K Harrison, this book is structured into five divisions

1. Prose Prologue – chapters 1 & 2

2. The Dialogue – Chapters 3-31

3. The Speeches of Elihu – Chapters 32-37

4. The Theophany and divine speeches – 38:1 – 42:6

5. Prose Epilogue – 42:7-17

This Lesson explores the prologue in which the issues to be discussed in the next forty chapters are introduced.

I. A Portrait of a Conscientiously devoted man whose name was Job – Job 1:1-3

A. His character –

1. That he was blameless and upright does not mean that Job stood outside the universal verdict, “There is none righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10; Psalm 14:3). It means that he regarded the law as a lovely standard of righteousness, and desired conformity to  as an expression of his love for God and the moral beauty that he relished in the divine character (See Romans 7:22; Philippians 3:12-14; Psalm 119:159, 160) If Job lived before Moses, this is an example of the reality of a concept of righteousness that existed prior to that time as Paul argues in Romans 5:12-14, and illustrates the meaning of the Psalmist who wrote “Every one of your righteous rules endures forever.” He does not consider God’s character or his righteous expectations of his creature as an intrusion upon or an impediment to his life but as a lovely privilege.

2. He feared God. His desire for uprightness was not based on self-righteousness or a low standard of expectation, but on a reverence for the holiness of God and a desire to worship him in the beauty of holiness. Since the fear of the Lord constitutes the foundation of both wisdom and knowledge, Job had his mind and his heart filled with the proper equipment to endure and benefit from the upcoming events. In the cycles of speeches that follow, the reader finds great fluctuation in Job’s analyses of his situation as it relates to the justice of God, but the shift moves from a rather simplistic quid pro quo view also held by his friends to more complex view in which divine justice in this life had the quality of ineffability.

3. He turned away from evil. Job was not oblivious to the aggressive nature of the attempts of the unholy to rob God of his glory. He knew, as indicated in verse 5, that evil can creep in through carelessness and what begins in apparent innocence and entertainment can degenerate to worldliness and mindless encroachment on God’s purpose that his creatures regard him as holy and that they reflect in their words and actions and thoughts a self-conscious knowledge of being responsible to reflect his glory. Job sought to keep himself from ideas or situations that could degenerate into evil. Far from being naïve about the reality of the pervasive tendency of evil in the human heart, he was deeply sensitive to it.

B. His status –

1. His possessions are given in portions that sum 10. Seven sons and three daughters, more than twice as many sons as daughters, so that his name could be carried into the future by his sons and his possessions could increase and the fame of the family be secured for generations; he would be able to show his generosity through the dowries he gave his daughters. He had massive possession in livestock to provide food, clothes, labor, travel, and  a vast amount of servants that doubtless would employ these animals in their pursuit of Job’s interests. In short, “This man was the greatest of all the people of the east.”

2. This is given  briefly but impressively to set the stage for the debate about earthly possessions and comforts in light of how pleasing one’s life was to God.

II. A conference with Satan – 1:8-11

A. The Lord Himself asked Satan if he had considered the character of Job. The contest against Job, therefore, comes from the suggestion of God himself. God had singled out Job for this question and bringing him to the notice of Satan. God does not merely desire to show the character of Job in this, but to show how God himself sustains his people under the most trying and devastating circumstances.

B. Satan indicates that Job serves in sunny weather, for God has given him an abundance of earthly comforts. Job’s love for God and his efforts to sacrifice for any possible dereliction of proper deportment is not, so Satan argues, from any disinterestedness, but merely a self-protection device. God is a means for Job’s preeminence and comfortable circumstance; but if those go away, so also will Job’s apparent piety and worshipful submission to God.


C. Satan believes Job will curse God if he loses his earthly comforts. All of this piety will flee in a moment when Job discovers that it no longer serves to protect him from harm. Then his true feelings will come out. God will be dismissed from his concerns and appear to his mind and proceed from his mouth only as a curse—a bitter reminder of his foolishness for ever having given himself in so demeaning a way to such a cruel and unloving sovereign.

D. This lesson focuses on the afflictions Job received as a result of this heavenly council. Luke 22:31-34 gives us the record of another of these. Jesus, on earth,. lets Peter know the event that has transpired in Satan’s asking to sift Peter like wheat. Jesus, however, interceded for Peter. We may well believe that this interaction happens with regularity (1 Peter 5:6-9). We learn that Satan is consistently used as an instrument to deceive the wicked and test the righteous for their greater sanctification (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12; Ephesians 6:16). On the one hand, he presently hold the unregenerate under dominion as his proper vassals (1 John 5:19; Ephesians 2:1-3; Hebrews 2:14, 15). Among other things, salvation involves a rescue from this dominion (Colossians 1:13, 14).

III. Job’s recognition of the sovereignty of God -1:20-220 – Job receives 4 messages in which every evidence of his great status in the eyes of men is removed and the objects of his natural affection and concern are swiftly snatched away. One escaped messenger fled to report to Job that the oxen and donkeys were taken by the Sabeans and the servants were killed. A second messenger escapes a calamity to report that  the “fire from God” burned up the sheep and the servants. A third reported that three raiding parties from the Chaldeans stole the camels and killed the servants. Finally, a fourth escapee tells Job of a great wind that destroyed the house of his eldest son while all his children were inside and killed them. Two groups of marauding enemies succeeded against Job’s interests, and two “acts of God,” fire and wind, leveled all of Job’s earthly evidence of the blessing of God on his life.

A. Job went into a position of mourning and worship –

1. Job placed himself in a posture of abject humility. Torn clothes and bald-headedness were symbols of being outcast and disrespected in society. Every earthly value was now gone, except for the wife that soon would upbraid him,  and his actions indicate personal abandonment of any appearance of earthly status.

2. In that attitude of loss of all personal advantage, he also worshipped. His most basic reflex was to put his trust in God when his own soul was downcast.

B. He recognized that as the creature he has no right to make demands or have expectation of the creator. “Shall the thing formed say to its maker, “Why did you make me like this?” (Romans 9:20) When he came into the world, his very birth showed his utterly dependent position. “Naked came I into the world.” Thus all that he had accumulated, like life itself, came to him from God. When he leaves this world in death, none of these earthly accumulations will go with him. Thus he is stripped to the most fundamental contemplation of his soul in the presence of God. No attraction of any worldly thing can now intrude on that attempt to gain a vision of the sovereign disposer of all things.

C. The name of the Lord is to be blessed

1. We remember that this situation came from a challenge God gave to Satan who then made a counter challenge. “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil.” Satan’s rebuttal that this loyalty would not endure hardship led to the divine permission for these tragic events in the earthly life of Job. He exhibits no doubt, however, that at the root of this great alteration of his earthly circumstance is God. “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.”

2. In spite of these losses, Job confesses “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Throughout the book we see Job provoked to deep reflection on these events, but these reflection do not depart from this basic instinct of worship.

IV. Even with personal affliction, Job recognizes that God is in control – 2:7, 9, 10

A. When God’s evaluation of Job is the same after these things having happened, Satan challenges God to go right to Job’s own physical comfort and well-being.

1. God puts a perspective on this that is quite different from the perspective of the three friends. “He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” That means that the peculiarities of this testing were not a divine judgment for a particular sinful act of Job. The change from earthly blessing to earthly disaster had not been provoked by any change in the moral integrity and redemptive outlook of Job.

2. Thus to show that Job could not be driven to curse God, but would only be driven to look more intently for the glorious manifestation of God’s presence and purpose. God loosed Satan to inflict him physically, short of taking his life.

3. Now Job, inflicted with the mental and emotional devastation of having lost all possessions, all servants, and all children, also faces that there is not a spot on his body that is not filled with burning pain and is loathsome in appearance—“loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.”

4. His wife no longer can tolerate the strange piety of Job, who refuses to recognize that he no longer has any favor with God. “Do you still hold fast your integrity?” Are you still refusing to admit that something about you is loathsome to God and he is showing to the world that you have aggravated his anger against you. Are you the only one that sees correctly? Do you still think that this is not divine punishment for your own personal transgressions?” In her opinion, Job is so God-abandoned that he might as well curse God and receive the final blow of his displeasure—death itself.

B. Job responds to the taunt of his wife.

1. Had his own wife capitulated to the common foolishness, that if bad things happen it is a direct manifestation of divine anger for a particular offense. If that is so, then it must mean that the former prosperity was because Job (and she) were so good. That is nonsense! “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak.”

2. Both the blessing and the discipline of God come from his own sovereign goodness and pleasure. Shall we received good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”

C. In all this Job did not sin with his lips. As we will learn as we travel further into Job, the  ways of God with men are explored with deep seriousness and Job goes through some transitions. Are we merely subject to God’s power? Do we look also for God to just? If he is just, can we observe within each event an immediate manifestation of judgment and/or reward? Are God’s ways so far beyond ours that we search in vain for any meaning? We have to bear in mind that these questions are being discussed on the other side of the cross and resurrection. Many of the struggles of the saints prior to that event are settled with great clarity by Christ’s substitutionary death, his resurrection, his ascension to the Father, and the certain hope of his return. We are not left, therefore, without any revealed answer to the perplexities that arise in the energetic dialogue between Job and his friends. The issue that remains is this: Do we see and feel God as our greatest good even if knowledge of him means the loss of all earthly things; or do we revel in God because of the status and things that we associate with a life of devotion. Is that  knowledge of God Himself of such gripping excellence, that loss of all things besides is no loss at all?

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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