My Mother in law had a bird feeder in her backyard and when Joanna and I were staying with her we would fill it from time to time, especially if it was something that Declan wanted to do. But it didn’t always have food in it. And when the bird feeder was empty, of course you would watch birds fly over to it, look for food and then fly away and it made me wonder… do the birds ever consider why it’s empty? Do they look for patterns or connections? Do they notice that it’s only filled on Sunday, or that it doesn’t have food when it’s raining, and more importantly, do they ever wonder ….if the bird feeder is empty, is it because of something that they’ve done?
Doubtful. What more than likely happens is, birds fly over to find food in our backyard, don’t find any and then fly on to another spot without ever giving it a second thought.
But human beings are different aren’t they? “Human beings are meaning -makers.” When something happens, we look for patterns, for reasons, for explanations. When Edward Jennifer noticed that milkmaids seemed less vulnerable to small pox, he fashioned a vaccine that virtually eliminated the disease. Alexander Fleming noticed that mold in bread kept his bacteria from reproducing and that led to the creation of penicillin.
If something happens to a stranger, we don’t look for meaning, right? It’s just life. But if it happens to us – we say, “I wonder what this means…” If that event is bad, then we might even assume that we caused it. And we’ll say things like, “I wonder what I did to deserve this.”
We question bad things. “Why? Why did this happen to me? At this time?” Because if we can come up with an answer, for some reason, then the misfortune and the heartache doesn’t seem so bad. We feel better… we feel better even if we believe that we caused it.
Because, I think, people would rather feel anything else …than feel powerless. And we want so much to believe that we live in a world that makes sense. The book of Job is a conversation about God, about good and evil and about punishment, but before we begin, we need to understand the challenges. As a reader, and as you approach the book of Job you may already be thinking:
1. God is all-powerful
2. God is completely good
3. Evil exists
And so here is my question, can all three of those statements be true at the same time? Because that is a hard thing to process. Why does evil exist if God is all-powerful? Can’t he eliminate it? And if he can’t… than is he all powerful? Maybe evil doesn’t exist. Maybe it only appears evil to us because we’re mortal and finite?
This is one of the challenges the book of Job wrestles with.
In the book, the characters have a challenge of their own and it looks like this:
1. God is all-powerful
2. God is completely good
3. Job is a good person
Because would an all powerful God, who is wholly good, let an innocent man suffer? Was Job a blameless and upright man as the Bible depicts? These are the challenges that lie before us for the next 6 weeks of lent.
And we will try to answer the question: Why do bad things happen to good people?
land Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. 2 There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. 3 He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. 4 His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5 And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.
If you can imagine combining a college philosophy text book with a Shakespearean play, that would get you close to the complexities of the book of Job.
In the Hebrew bible – Job falls in the Ketuvim (writings) of the Tanakh, in our Bible it is placed in the Wisdom literature.
Job may in fact be the oldest book in the Bible – with the exception of the first eleven chapters of Genesis. Job is older than Moses, and probably even older than Abraham. Scholars calculate that while he was alive, Job would have lived during the ancient patriarchs (maybe at the time of Noah) of about 2000 B.C.
Job lives in Uz (pronounce Ootz) but we don’t know where that was. It seems to be somewhere close to Edom just East of the Jordan valley.
We also don’t know who wrote the book of Job, all that we know from what is mentioned in the book and of course what isn’t mentioned, is that the author lived sometime before Moses. It’s been speculated that while the Israelites were traveling through the desert during the Exodus, maybe they passed through Uz and Moses met some of Job’s children or grandchildren and they gave him this story.
It is also highly probable that Job wrote the story himself, or at least the narratives that take place between chapters 3 and 41. The book is written in Hebrew, but the language of course is very old and in many cases hard to translate certain words.
In fact the book of Job contains more “unknown words” than any other book of the Bible. The book also seems to be comprised of two documents that were merged together; the prologue of chapters 1 and 2 and the epilogue (chapter 42) are all written in story form and seem to be connected. Chapters 3-41 (the middle) are all written in poetic form and sound as though they were penned by a different hand.
It’s been thought in some circles that the book of Job is fictional or perhaps a play – there are others who would disagree saying that the book describes Heaven and words that God has spoken, and for someone to “invent that” would have been blasphemous. Not to mention that the book of Job records events from Biblical history, like creation, the fall, the flood, the end of the flood and even the tower of Babel.
The prophet Ezekiel thought Job was a real person…
“Or if I send a pestilence into that land and pour out my wrath upon it with blood, to cut off from it man and beast, 20 even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, declares the Lord God, they would deliver neither son nor daughter. They would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness.
Job’s name means “hated” or “persecuted.” (thanks Mom and Dad) In the story we see him as a prosperous farmer with thousands of sheep, camels and various animals. He has a large family, many homes and several servants; and the Bible says he lived over 100 years.
v3 it says that Job “… possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys…” Notice that he has 500 “female donkeys” meaning he possessed a lot of animals that reproduced and made more – female animals are worth more than male, so the idea that he has so many female animals is another indicator of his wealth and prosperity.
Also notice, that these are all round numbers. Verse two says Job has 7 sons and 3 daughters – so how many kids does Job have? 10! Again, a round number – it means Job’s life is whole. His world is complete. His life is perfect – yes?
The Bible says that Job was “blameless and upright” so much so, that even though Job never did anything wrong, and he never heard of his kids doing anything wrong, as the patriarch and priest of the family, he would offer sacrifices for them “just in case.”
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 8 And the Lord said to Satan, “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?” 9 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
Job has a lot of textual evidence to the being known as the Satan (or the accuser). But this is not the red headed pitchfork wielding monster in Milton’s Paradise Lost or Faust or Dante’s Inferno. And we should never confuse them. The Satan of the Bible, is much different that the Devil of Mythology.
Here, the Satan seems to be “God’s spy.” Along time ago, there used to be men who were called “the eyes and ears of the King” and it was the job of these men to wear disguises and infiltrate the shops and markets and to “listen” to common talk, to put an ear to the ground to listen for dissension and discord. “Are the people complaining about the King?” Maybe they don’t like the rulers? Their local officials? They’re complaining about taxes? Or welfare or medi-care? All of this was recorded and taken back to the King.
It is from this that the Satan gets his name…
v7 says“From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”
The phrase “from going and coming” is the word “shoot” or shattat in the Bible and it’s very possible that this is the etymology for the title of “Satan.” In the Greek, the word for “informer” is diabolos where we get the name Devil and the English word “diabolical.”
In our scene God holds court, all of the heavenly beings are there and the Satan gives his report on who is cheating on their wife, who is over charging their customers and who is mocking God – God takes it all in and says “ok, enough bad news… what about Job? He would never do ANYTHING wrong.”
To this the Satan kind of laughs and says… “Well, of course he is a goody-goody you bless him! He’s wealthy! What has he got to be upset about?” So God says, “I don’t believe you – and I’ll tell you what – do you what you want to take away Job’s blessings in life, but you are not allowed to touch his life.”
And this says a lot about the real Satan of the Bible. Because when you or I are looking for meanings in life, and when bad things happen, I think a common explanation is to say that “Satan is attacking me.” or “The Devil made me do it.” Sometimes in finding meaning to bad times, we place the blame on Satan.
But what do we see from the book of Job?
1. Satan is on a leash. God binds him and releases him. Satan does not exist or act outside of the will of God. If Satan could do whatever he wanted, then God would have no control and thus God would not be God. God puts limits on what Satan can do and how he is involved in the world. What else do we learn?
2. Satan is not all present -Satan is limited by space and time. In other words, he can only be at one place in the word. Here in the passage, the Satan tells God that he has had to travel back and forth from the world. Look, if Satan has time to mess with your one individual life – that means he cares more about you than the other 313 million people in the United States.
3. Satan is not all knowing, in other words – he can’t read your mind. Satan “assumed” that this first attack would cause Job to say something bad about God, but it was just his best guess. And in the end, he was wrong. Satan does not know the future.
4. Satan is real and he is active upon the earth. They say, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” The Barna group polled born again believers and found that 60 percent of believers either strongly agree or somewhat agree that Satan isn’t “a living being” but rather “a symbol of evil.”
The Bible says that Satan is the “prince of the power of the air” in Ephesians 2:2 and that he is the “ruler of this world” in John 12:31.
But all of these things should not drive us further into hiding, or fear, rather they should push us deeper into the arms of God who has the power to bind Satan and who is greater than Satan.
Let’s continue…. Job 1:13-19
Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, 14 and there came a messenger to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, 15 and the Sabeans (probably Arabians) fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants[c] with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 16 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven (probably lightning) and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 17 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans (probably ancient Babylonians) formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 18 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, 19 and behold, a great wind (probably a tornado) came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”
So Armies sweep in and steal Job’s animals and kill his servants, and a tornado takes the house where his 10 children were celebrating and now they’re all dead.
…And it’s very hard for you and I to read this and not feel uncomfortable. Did God and Satan just make a bet, over a man’s life and then kill his 10 children? All for what? To make a point?
This image of God, a God who plays games with people’s lives is reminiscent of the gods of the Greek plays. There is a line in King Lear that says, “As flies to wanton boys, are we to gods; and they kill us for sport.” In fact, if this weren’t a story in the Bible, this would be a hard thing to believe, wouldn’t it?
But look at how the first chapter ends….
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
and the Bible says…. 22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
Was Satan right? No, he was wrong. And we see that WOW! Job is a man of unshakable faith. No matter what life throws at him – but this first chapter raises even more questions, right?
Is life fair? Do we live in a world that rewards people for being honest and charitable? Or does God even care about what kind of person I am? In the end, Job didn’t blame God or curse God, but can a religious person be angry with God?
And the question of God’s power is still there – the questions about his goodness. Is God all-powerful if he can’t stop children from getting cancer, and he can’t stop bullets from flying? Is God good, if he allows planes to crash into buildings?
After an event like this – wouldn’t we be justified to say… “Where are you God?” or that “God doesn’t care?”
Because Job looses everything! The worst experience a parent can endure is the loss of their own child during their lifetime, and Job looses ten children in the same day. Where was God when that happened?
What about all of those prayers and sacrifices Job offered up for his children? Don’t those account for anything? Was that all wasted? Was that all meaningless?
I mean as a pastor, I have had people tell me that they’ve driven through a parking lot and prayed for a space and when one opens up – they say that it is a “God moment” and yet, I have seen entire communities rally around a family and pray for their baby – and hundreds of people are praying – and loving that family and it does no good – right? The baby dies. Does that make sense in a world where we try to find meaning? Why does God help find parking spaces, but He doesn’t have the time to heal babies?
And I’m sure Job has these same questions, he’s human, he’s flesh and blood like you and me, but what do we see Job do? Doubt? Curse? Give up?
No, the Bible says that Job worshiped God. The words of Job almost seem to say, “Even though, tragedy has struck my life and I’ve lost it all, I trust God and I know that everything will be all right.”
For Job there is comfort in placing his faith in God. And at this point in chapter one, we must acknowledge that there are no answers and perhaps no answers are coming later, there is no sense to be made, no connections, and no lines drawn – but Job is still able to find comfort. You see right now, Job has made no connections or assumptions. He has not tried to “piece together” the meaning of this. He has not looked for a reason and yet – he can still find peace.
For Job peace comes without answers, rather he finds peace in placing his life further into God’s care.
So in consideration of this first chapter there are a few things I want to point out.
1. It may be bad now, but we can trust that it will get better.
Whatever is going on right now, we have to remember that God is working it out for our good. True, it may not feel good now. Yes, there is hurt and suffering, but God will take those tears of yours and soften them with grace. Job sits in the ashes and he prays, “God, I don’t understand, God I don’t like it, but I trust you and I know that good will come from this.”
And the Bible is full of difficult times and terrible situations – Job is not alone or unique in his suffering, but what we see from the men and women of the Bible is their steadfast faith and their undying hope. During these dark moments, don’t run to man-made explanations – run to God’s word.
You see the world tries to have answers, but the Bible has something better – the Bible has the power to transform your life and to give you the courage to go on.
2. It may be broken now, but we can trust God to fix it.
I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
God does not leave things unfinished, nor does he leave things broken. God is complete in nature, He is whole in nature, so He will always be working towards a resolution. Sure, when you open the box and spill all of the pieces out on the floor, that is when it looks the worst – but we can trust that God will fix it.
3. It may be silent now, but we can trust the Spirit to speak for us.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Often times in trials, our spirit seems alone, things are quiet and it appears that we have no one to speak for us. And often, we might even long for the days when Jesus was here on the earth because now it feels as though we’ve been abandoned. But before Jesus left, he promised…”
John 14:18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
And the truth is the Spirit of God has not left us. Jesus has not left this world in “worse shape” then when he walked it. He has left his Spirit here with us, and the Spirit of God will never leave us.
4. It may be lonely now, but we can trust that God will always love us.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
You know the simple matter is, no matter what is going on in your life right now, God still loves you. And no matter what happens tomorrow, horrific or blessing, God still loves you. I know it’s not always easy to hear, and it’s not always believable, but it’s true.
I want to tell you a story and we’ll close with this….
Singer and songwriter Jeremy Camp fell in love with a young woman named Mellissa, and like most relationships it had its up and downs and it was during one of their low points, that Mellissa discovered that she had cancer. And it was that valley in Jeremy’s life that drew him back to Mellissa and they both fell more deeper in love.
They got engaged and were married. But while they were on their honeymoon, Mellissa was beginning to have stomach pains and they had to take her to the hospital and it was then that they discovered that her cancer had taken a turn and that she might only have weeks to live.
Jeremy and Mellissa retreated into very private lives where they spent every moment together. His band would come by their apartment and play music and eat and they would all laugh and enjoy life together.
All in all, Mellissa and Jeremy were married for five months and Jeremy Camp was a widower at age 23. That is not supposed to happen. A famous Christian songwriter who is changing hearts and lives – a man who has written so many of the songs we sing in church – found the love of his life – and she died. What is the meaning of this? What do we do with this?
Well, Jeremy did what he does best. He wrote music. One of the songs was this next one “I still believe” and I want to read you one of the lines from the song…
Scattered words and empty thoughts seem to pour from my heart
I’ve never felt so torn, seems I don’t know where to start
but it’s now that I feel Your grace falls like rain, from every fingertip, washing away my pain
I still believe in Your faithfulness, I still believe in Your truth
I still believe in Your holy word, even when I don’t see, I still believe
You see that’s the trick isn’t it? When there are no connections and no answers – when there is no sense to be made – the bird feeder is just empty and that’s all there is – are you still able to run to God in those moments and throw your arms around him and find comfort in his love? Because I would argue that for something’s there will never be a good reason.
Typically we take communion at the end of the service, but I am going to have Joanna & Brent come up and here and sing this song for us and while they are singing for us just use these moments to perhaps find peace like Job did – offer these hurts and pains to God and release your need to figure it all out – ? Because I would argue that for something’s there will never be a good reason - maybe the only good reason is to love God more.