COVID-19 has brought the whole world to its knees. It is a world-wide pandemic in which none of us are completely immune: not to the disease itself nor to its effects. The novel coronavirus is fearful for many reasons. We face the loss of economic health and activity, the loss of social comfort from our friends and family, and for our loved ones or ourselves, perhaps the loss of the ability to breathe, which is life itself.
These same catastrophic losses that we are facing mirror the biblical story of Job. The story of Job seems almost surreal. In one day, he lost all of his wealth and all ten of his children. A few days later he was sick on his death bed—except things were so bad he didn’t even have a death bed … just a pile of ashes.
The book of Job doesn’t just tell the story of natural disasters but also reveals what was behind the scenes—a very real Devil. At this point, many people may scoff and dismiss the book of Job as outdated. After all, this is a day where we believe in science. Christians do not and should not discount science. But if we are paying attention, we realize that science isn’t enough. Science is observation in its simplest definition. The book of Job invites us to consider that there is more to calamities than what meets the eye.
The Godly Job
The setting of Job is east of Israel in the land of Uz, which is present-day Jordan. The time period is not stated but appears to be before the time of Abraham, around 2000 B.C. Job was known as a righteous man (blameless), a rich man (many herds of cattle) a respected man (the greatest among the people of the east) (1:1-3). But more than that, he was a religious man. He had a regular custom of praying and sacrificing burnt offerings for each of his children, in case they might have inwardly cursed God (1:5).
The action of the story begins, not on earth but in heaven, where Satan and other angels are in the presence of God. God brings up the subject of Job and asks Satan:
Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him. He is blameless and upright; a man who fears God and shuns evil (1:8).
In answer, Satan expresses his doubt about Job’s real motivation for serving God. Then the devil makes a bold wager: “Strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face” (1:11). Satan is implying that Job’s devotion is based on temporal blessings and not on God’s own intrinsic value. Satan is not just attacking Job’s character but God’s worth. Satan repeats this wager again in the next chapter and both times God accepts the challenge. God permits Satan to deprive Job of every earthly blessing.
The Fiery Trial
Leaving the scene of heaven the story now plays out on earth. Wave after wave of bad news hits Job, starting with the news that he has lost his wealth and ending with the news that all of his children have died a tragic death. Yet Job remains loyal to God and declares “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. May the name of the Lord be praised” (1:21).
But the tragic story doesn’t stop there. Next Satan afflicts Job’s entire body with painful boils (2:7-8). Then his own wife advises him to curse God and die! But Job maintains his loyal devotion to God and rhetorically asks: “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” (2:10) In both of Job’s responses, the author reveals the theme of this book: God is worthy to be trusted, served, and praised, whether he gives us temporal blessings or not.
Satan has not won his wager, but he is not yet done trying. Job now has to endure perhaps the worst trial yet: his three friends come to visit him to “comfort him” (2:11-13). The next thirty-one chapters of the book consist almost entirely of poetic dialogue between Job and his friends. Perhaps the speeches of the three friends are less like dialogue and more like a diatribe. The friends may have meant to offer comfort but instead, they verbally assault Job. In essence, they say the cause of Job’s suffering must be that Job is covering up some sin (5:1-7, 17-28; 8:11-22; 15:17-35; 18:5-21; 20:4-29; 22:21-30). Not only did these lectures discourage Job, but they are also very annoying to read. (Vaguely reminiscent of today’s news media!)
Job responds with his own (ten) speeches and disagrees vehemently, yet struggles transparently. He knows he isn’t holding on to some sin, but he questions why the Lord is afflicting him. He feels like even the close presence of God has been taken away from him (23:8-9). Yet in the middle of such physical and emotional and spiritual pain, Job never completely loses sight of God’s goodness (13:15; 16:19-22; 19:25-27; 23:6-7).
Finally, Job’s last speech uses a legal metaphor and files a formal complaint with the court of heaven. He includes a rehearsal of his blameless life (ch. 29), a complaint against the false accusation of his friends (ch.30), and a self-maledictory oath (ch. 31).
After “the words of Job are ended” (31:40), a young man named Elihu enters the scene. In some ways, he sounds like just more “noise” and unwanted echoes of the friends’ speeches. In other ways, he seems to be appropriately preparing the way for God to speak. Theologians may disagree on the exact nature of Elihu’s contribution. The fact is that while he is waxing eloquent on the clouds and rain, thunder and lightning, wind and storm …“then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm.”
The Lord’s Speech
Job had wanted more than anything for God to listen to him and answer him. The Lord did listen, and He does answer. But He answers by asking Job a series of questions. The questions are all designed to underscore Job’s ignorance and to highlight God’s wisdom, power, and control. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” Using questions like these, the Lord reminds Job that He made the ocean, the sky, and the sources of light. He commanded the clouds, snow, and rain. He leads the stars in their constellations. He provides for the lions and the ravens, the goats, deer, and donkeys. He gives strength to the horse the eagle and understanding to the eagle.
God is even in control of the cosmic forces of evil. At the end of His speech, God refers to a dragon-like creature called Leviathon. Some scholars believe God is referring to Satan himself. Leviathon is God’s slave and does exactly as God orders. Even though Leviathon has no equal on earth and is king over all of the proud (41:33-34), yet God holds him on a rope, a hook, a cord … yes, a leash! (41:1,2,5).
The End of the Story
Job responds to God’s words with humble worship. He retracts his complaint, repents of his demands for vindication, and resumes his original attitude of trust in God (42:1-6). Only now, Job worships God with even deeper conviction than before: “My ears have heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you” (42:5). Contrary to Satan’s accusation, Job is willing to serve God for “nothing.” More precisely, Job was serving God for “something.” But that something was ultimately God Himself and the future life with Him (14:14; 19:25-26).
Job returns to his attitude of satisfied worship, though he is still in a state of total loss of health and wealth. The devil has lost the wager, and the Lord has won. Yet the story is still not over. The Lord now vindicates Job’s innocence and rebukes his friends (42:7-8). And the Lord restores to Job double of all of the possessions he had lost, as well as ten more children (42:12-13). Time to celebrate! “And all of his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted him and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him” (42:11).
But there is something else. Something back in the darkest time of Job’s trial deserves our attention. Job had come very close to despairing. However, it is in that moment, exactly in the middle of the ten speeches, that he reveals the source of his undying hope:
He (God) has blocked my way so I cannot pass; he has shrouded my paths in darkness … he uproots my hope like a tree …. My relatives have gone away; my closest friends have forgotten me …. Oh that my words were recorded … or engraved in rock forever! I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end, he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes.
The term “redeemer” refers to someone, usually, a close relative, who buys back another person from slavery (Lev 25:25; Ruth 4:14) Job is the earliest character in the Old Testament that mentions this term, but after him, many others refer to God as the redeemer who buys back his people from slavery and from death (Deut 7:8; Isa 43:1; Pss 103:4; 106:10; Hos 13:14). And in the New Testament we find out exactly how God does it: He comes down from heaven, becomes a man, and then gives his own blood in the death of the cross to redeem his people from sin and death.
For you know it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestor, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world (1 Pet 1:18-20).
Not only did Job put his hope in a redeemer but in a resurrection. The Redeemer lives and so will Job. After his body is destroyed, yet in his resurrected body Job will see God. Many centuries after Job, the apostle Paul said that if we only have hope for this life and not for a future resurrection, we are absolutely pathetic (1 Cor 15:19). But no! Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, and he is the first fruits of all those who believe and will be raised like him on the last day (1 Cor 15:20f).
How can this story benefit us in our present situation? We can recognize that there is more than meets the eye. Behind the virus that we can see are the spiritual forces that we cannot see. We can acknowledge that God is sovereign over all. He not only controls natural forces but also the malevolent forces in our world. He holds the world in his hand and has the devil on a leash. We can know that God is good and has a loving outcome in store for his children. We can place our hope in the Redeemer who died and rose again and will raise us at the last day.
The theme of the book of Job is the wager: Shall we praise and honor God only for what he gives us in this life, or shall we praise him when he takes it all away and all we have is our hope in Jesus who died and rose again? May our response be that of godly Job: “Though God slay me, yet I will trust him” (Job 13:15)!
Bob and Becky Gonzales
Dr. Robert Gonzales (BA, MA, PhD, Bob Jones Univ.) has served as a pastor of four Reformed Baptist congregations and has been the Academic Dean and a professor of Reformed Baptist Seminary (Sacramento, CA) since 2005. He is the author of Where Sin Abounds: the Spread of Sin and the Curse in Genesis with Special Focus on the Patriarchal Narratives (Wipf & Stock, 2010) and has contributed to the Reformed Baptist Theological Review, The Founders Journal, and Westminster Theological Journal. He blogs at It is Written.