Why do the righteous suffer?
The Apostle Paul tells us that “tribulation worketh patience.” The fact is, we are all such sinful and hard-hearted creatures that we cannot and will not learn patience by any other means. Were you asked to give an example of patience, probably the first name that would come into your mind would be Job. No man is more famous for the exercise patience. "Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy" (James 5:11).
But patience was no more natural to Job than it is to you and me. It was something he had to learn by tribulation, great tribulation. It was a hard lesson, but a lesson he learned. He expressed that patience the Lord taught him, displaying confident faith in the wisdom and goodness of God. He said, "He knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (23:10).
That which is revealed in the Book of Job is a gripping story, a fascinating drama. But it is much more. The Book of Job is an inspired narrative of the life and trials of a righteous man in this world. Here we begin a new section of Scripture. Genesis through Deuteronomy, the five Books of Moses, are commonly referred to as “the Law.” Joshua through Esther are “Historic Books.” In these we have seen, in the events of history, living parables that designed and worked out by God’s good providence that explain and illustrate what is going on in our own lives.
In the Poetic Books (Job through the Song of Solomon, and Lamentations) we see God’s saints in worship. Perhaps that is what makes them the most commonly read portions of the Old Testament. In these Books, we are allowed to go with God’s saints into their private closets, as they pour out their hearts to their heavenly Father, and put into words the very things we often want to say, but simply cannot find either the words or the honesty to speak before the throne of grace. That makes them both precious and instructive as well as comforting and inspiring.
The Book of Job is a great poem. Tennyson called it, “the greatest poem whether of ancient or modern literature.” Martin Luther considered the Book of Job “more magnificent and sublime than any other book of Scripture.” It reads like a drama, an epic drama much like Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.
The Book of Job is also historical. Job was an actual, living person and these events actually took place, but God recounts them for us in this beautiful style so that we might have an answer to the age-old question, "Why do the righteous suffer?"
Job suffered by the assaults of Satan. He suffered by the words of his wife. And he suffered by the accusations of his friends. But if you asked Job why he suffered as he did, what the source and cause of his sufferings was, he looked past all those secondary sources to the Lord his God.
At the very beginning of the Book, we see clearly that the righteous suffer by the hand and will of the God we worship, trust, love and serve.—Everywhere we turn in these 42 chapters, when Job speaks of that which he suffered, he declares that he suffered because the Lord God ordered it. He said to his accusing friends, "Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me…But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (19:21; 23:10)
Though the Word of God is neither a book about science or history, whenever it speaks of scientific and historic matters, it is always precise and accurate. We have before us, in the Book of Job, that which is probably the very first Book of the Bible to be written. Job lived during the days of the patriarchs, probably about the time of Abraham. So this Book was written more than 3000 years ago, slightly before the invention of modern scientific technology. Yet, no other Book of the Bible contains as much scientific data as Job.
"He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing" (26:7). What could more accurately describe the position and stability of our planet in space? Job's neighbors all believed that the earth was flat, that it rested on the shoulders of one of the gods, or the back of an elephant or giant sea turtle. Not Job. He believed God and worshipped him as the great Creator of all things.
The Lord asked Job, "Where wast thou…when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (38:4-7). I am certain there are spiritual lessons to be gleaned from this passage; but there also a startling scientific fact spoken of that cannot be explained apart from the fact that the Book of Job was written by divine inspiration. No one in the world of “all-wise” scientists ever dreamed that rays of light give off sound that no human ear can hear, until modern times; but Job declared it, and it was written down in the Book of God, more than 3000 years ago by the Spirit God to whom the morning stars sing praise.
Again, the Lord asked Job, "By what way is the light parted, which scattereth the east wind upon the earth?" (38:24). Reading those words, you would think Job had distinct knowledge of spectrum analysis. But this was written more than 3000 years ago.
The Lord God asked Job, "Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?" (38:31). Pleiades is a group of seven stars in the constellation of Taurus. Pleiades and Orion no man can control. Contrary to the modern environmentalists’ proud thoughts, the seasons are not to be altered by men. Job was taught by God that it was not in his power to make any change in the dispensations of providence; to turn the winter of adversity into the spring of prosperity, or the spring of prosperity into the winter of adversity. Providence is God’s dominion, not man’s. All we can do is submit to God’s work and walk quietly before him.
The Bible is the Word of God. That fact cannot be denied by any reasonable person. "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard" (Ps. 19:1-3). But it is not my purpose merely to demonstrate the veracity of Holy Scripture. My purpose is to show how this Book speaks of Christ and to set forth some of the lessons it teaches about our Redeemer and our relationship to him.
Behind the Scenes
In the first two chapters of Job (1:1-2:8), we are allowed to look behind the scenes to see what was happening and why. Remember, when you read these chapters, that Job did not have this luxury. It is written here for our learning.
Here we are told, and told by God himself, that Job was a righteous man, a believer, a saved sinner. Many have misjudged Bro. Job, asserting that he was a lost, self-righteous hypocrite, as his three friends accused him of being. But the Lord God asserts otherwise (1:1, 8; 2:3; Ezek. 14:14, 20). He was not a righteous, or perfect man by nature. And we see clearly that he was not perfect in his personal conduct and behavior. He was, just like you and me, a sinner saved by grace. His only righteousness was the righteousness of Christ imputed to him in free justification and imparted to him in regeneration. Christ was made unto him righteousness; and he had no other righteousness. When Job defended and maintained his righteousness before his friends, he was not boasting of righteousness before God, but simply declaring that he was not guilty of the hypocrisy of which his accusers charged him. Without question, as Elihu declared, Job should have spoken more to justify God before his friends than himself (32:2); but God himself verified Job’s claims of innocence regarding the things his friends slanderously charged against him.
Job was a man who had been greatly blessed of God with grace and one to whom God had given greater wealth and honor than any other in the East (v. 3). He worshipped God and interceded for his sons and daughters at the throne of grace continually (1:5).
In the first two chapters We see that the Lord God is the absolute Monarch of the universe, ruling and controlling all things in heaven, earth and hell, even Satan. I do not know what to make of or how to explain everything written in these chapters; but I do know that this passage is an assertion of God’s dominion and sovereignty. The angels came to give report to God; and Satan came among them. It was God who took the initiative in challenging Satan, regarding his servant Job, not Satan (vv. 7-8). It was God who gave Satan permission to do what he did to Job and God who told him exactly what he could and could not do. The devil was allowed to roar against him and afflict him tremendously, but not to harm him. Satan is not a rival to the Almighty, but his servant. He is God’s devil. God does with him exactly what he will. When the Lord God gets done with the old serpent, he will cast him into the pit and shut him away forever (Rev 20:10).
Satan accused Job, as believers are always accused, of serving God for gain. And the Lord turned the fiend of hell loose on him both to prove otherwise and to improve his beloved servant Job (1:9-12).
As we read the first two chapters of this Book, it is impossible for us to put ourselves in Job’s place and form any right idea of what he felt. One day all his children were having dinner at the oldest son’s house. Suddenly a messenger came to Job and told him the Sabeans had slain all his servants and took all his oxen and asses. He alone was spared so that he could come tell Job the good news. Before he was finished, another messenger arrived to tell Job that lightning fell from heaven and killed both his flocks and herdsmen. He alone was spared so that he could come tell Job the good news. While he was still talking, a third messenger came to report that the Chaldeans had taken all his camels and slaughtered all his servants who were tending them. He alone was spared so that he could come tell Job the good news. Then, while he was still telling the story, a fourth messenger ran in to tell Job that God had sent a tornado and killed all his children and all his servants who were with them. Mercifully, he alone was spared so that he could come tell Job the good news (1:13-19). All this happened in one day! How did Job react? What did he do? What did he say? Read verses 20-22.
“Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly."
Soon Satan appears with the angels again before the throne of God to give report of what they had been doing. When they did, the Lord God again raised the issue of Job faith and faithfulness with Satan. “And Satan answered the LORD, and said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life. But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life” (2:4-6). Remember, the fiend of hell can neither roar nor wiggle without our heavenly Father’s permission. And it is our Father who tells him exactly how loud he can roar and where he can wiggle.
“So went Satan forth from the presence of the LORD, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown. And he took him a potsherd to scrape himself withal; and he sat down among the ashes. Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die” (2:7-9). Imagine that. No doubt this was the most difficult of all the trials. Job’s wife, the woman he loved, the woman who loved him, the one person he had always been able to count on, the one person he knew would stand by him turned on him in disgust, venting her anger against God and against him for worshipping God. How broken his heart must have been! “But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women (like one of our idolatrous neighbors who do not know God) speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” Still, Job persevered in faith. “In all this did not Job sin with his lips” (2:10).
Beginning at verse 11 in chapter 2 and going through chapter 31, we see Job’s conflict with his friends. Wonderful friends they were. Who has not had more than a few like them? With friends like these, who needs enemies?
When Job's three friends heard about all his woes, they got together to discuss them and set a time to go see Job and comfort him. Sadly, too often, when friends get together to discuss a friend’s troubles his troubles are multiplied. When these three miserable friends came and saw Job, they were utterly astonished at his pain and grief. They sat before him for seven days and nights in astonished silence (2:11-13).
Then, Job’s friends went to work on him. Satan’s work was nothing compared to the work of these three, self-righteous, reformed legalists. Job’s name means persecuted, and they made sure he lived up to his name. Their doctrine was not wrong. It was as straight as a steel beam, and just as hard. These three men were severe, judgmental, heartless religious Pharisees.
Eliphaz, whose name means “my God is fine gold,” was the first to speak. He had a vision, and assumed that his vision gave him authority to sit in judgment over God’s servant (4:12-16). Bildad, whose name means “confusing love,” thought himself a scholarly intellectual, and backed his words with the authority of a long list of forefathers, who could not be mistaken (8:8). Zophar, whose name means “little sparrow,” was as worthless as a little sparrow. He was described by someone as one of those irksome people we all hope never to meet again, fresh out of Bible college or seminary, who knows everything about everything.
Job described them considerably more pleasantly than I would, as “miserable comforters.” They were all fully convinced that Job was a hypocrite and that he suffered divine judgment because he was, after all, a man with secret sins God was determined to expose by his afflictions. There are multitudes like them around the world in every age and in every church.
Roger Ellsworth wrote, “These three men stand as lasting reminders of the need to handle suffering friends with great care and to refrain from giving quick and easy solutions to complex and trying problems…to speak little and listen much in our dealings with those stricken by calamity.”
Elihu, whose name means “he is my God,” comes on the scene in chapter 32 (32:1-37:24). Elihu was a young man, but a man with a message from God. He rebuked Job’s miserable, tormenting comforters for their accusations, and rebuked Job for spending more time justifying himself before them than in justifying God before them. He spoke of God’s incomparable greatness. In chapter 33, verses 13-30, Elihu gives us a marvelous picture of God’s method of grace, by which he delivers chosen sinners from going down to the pit (vv. 13-30). This is the way God deals with his elect both in effectual calling and in his wise and good chastisements, fatherly discipline (Heb. 12:5-11).
First, he tells Job not to strive against God, but to hear his instruction (vv. 13-15). Then, when God speaks by his messenger, one sent of God to interpret his words and his works (a gospel preacher) who shows us God’s uprightness, he opens our ears that we may hear his voice. This is the way God keeps his chosen from their own devices, breaks our pride, and keeps us from perishing. Such a messenger is truly “one among a thousand” (vv. 16-23).
Elihu told Job that God chastens the objects of his mercy with pain upon their beds, sometimes great pain, causing them to abhor all natural, creature comfort, until their flesh is consumed and their souls draw near to the grave. At that point, when all hope is gone, when we are utterly stripped of every hope and refuge but Christ, God’s grace appears, he causes us to seek him, causes the glory of God in the face of Christ to shine into our hearts, shows us his favor, and speaks peace to our hearts assuring us that Christ is indeed our Righteousness. Thereby, he delivers his own from going down to the pit, because he found a ransom for our souls in his own dear Son.
“He looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; He will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light. Lo, all these things worketh God oftentimes with man, To bring back his soul from the pit, to be enlightened with the light of the living" (33:27-30).
Elihu’s instructions in this passage are very much like the instructions given in Psalm 107. "O give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy…Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!…The righteous shall see it, and rejoice: and all iniquity shall stop her mouth. Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the lord."
God Confronts His Servant
In chapter 38 (38:1-42:17), the Lord God himself confronts his servant out of the whirlwind, by the irresistible, convincing power and grace of his Holy Spirit. Here, the Lord God effectually applies to Job what his messenger, Elihu had declared (Rom. 10:17). The Lord graciously showed Job his greatness, glory, and solitary majesty as God. Job was broken before God, humbled and contrite. He confessed and repented of his sin.
"Then Job answered the LORD, and said, Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken; but I will not answer: yea, twice; but I will proceed no further" (40:3-5) "Then Job answered the Lord, and said, I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto meI have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (42:1-6).
Job forgave and made intercession for Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar (42:7-9). Grace experienced makes sinners gracious to one another. And the Lord blessed Job (42:10-17). When the gold was refined, God took him out of the furnace. His riches and honor were doubled. His children were added in the same number—(7 Sons and 3 Daughters)—as before.
"And the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then came there unto him all his brethren, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him: every man also gave him a piece of money, and every one an earring of gold. So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning: for he had fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she asses. He had also seven sons and three daughters. And he called the name of the first, Jemima; and the name of the second, Kezia; and the name of the third, Kerenhappuch. And in all the land were no women found so fair as the daughters of Job: and their father gave them inheritance among their brethren. After this lived Job an hundred and forty years, and saw his sons, and his sons' sons, even four generations. So Job died, being old and full of days" (Job 42:10-17).
Though mistaken in many things, Job’s doctrine was pure, gospel doctrine. He acknowledged and trusted the Lord his God as the sovereign Monarch of heaven and earth. He knew and confessed his need of Christ as his Mediator and Kinsman Redeemer (9:29, 32-35).
Job understood and rejoiced in the hope of the resurrection. Too much is made, in my opinion of Jobs cursing the day of his birth and expressing a desire to die. I grant, he expressed much self-pity in his words. In that he was wrong. But who has not said much the same thing when enduring great, heart crushing pain, but pain that cannot be compared to Job’s? I say that not to justify Job’s behavior or our own, but to express some understanding of his experience. Yet, even while wallowing in self-pity, Job understood that in the grave “the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest" (3:17). He knew that the grave is the resting place for the bodies of God’s saints. He understood that in the last day our great God will call the bodies of his saints out of the grave and raise us up in resurrection glory (14:13-15). Job had this confident hope because he knew that Christ was his Redeemer.
"Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me. Why do ye persecute me as God, and are not satisfied with my flesh? Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book! hat they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever! For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me. But ye should say, Why persecute we him, seeing the root of the matter is found in me?" (19:21-28).
Why do the righteous suffer? The Holy Spirit shows us the answer in these forty-two chapters. Job himself understood the reason. He said, the Lord my God "knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold." The apostle Paul gives us the same explanation, more fully in Hebrews 12:5-11—"And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? or they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby."