"I KNOW who you are," Job told the man. "You are one of the servants from the household of my oldest son. What unhappy news have you to give me?"
A Grievous Tragedy
"You must not have heard what I just said, sir," the woeful-faced servant observed. "It grieves me to repeat that all your sons and daughters have just been crushed to death in the collapse of your oldest son's home!" (Job 1:18-19.) This was the supreme blow to Job, though by this time he wasn't too surprised at the terrible news. Painfully he raised his gaze to meet the eyes of the trembling servant. "How did it happen?" Job asked. "All your sons and daughters were gathered for a dinner party at your oldest son's home," the servant explained. "All of them were inside, happily eating and drinking. Suddenly a whirlwind descended on the house, snatched it up from its foundation, then dashed it with such force that it was smashed flat. I was only a short distance from the house, bringing in some fresh fruit for the diners, and I was knocked to the ground. I struggled up, rushed to the wrecked home and tore away enough debris, with the help of neighbors, to find that your seven sons and three daughters were all dead!" Job rose shakily to his feet and walked slowly toward his home. On the way he ripped his coat open. At that moment his wife looked out of the house to view this act, which in the ancient East was a sign of great grief.
"What's happened?" Job's wife called out as she ran to meet him. When Job told her, she sobbingly accompanied him to the house. Job tried to comfort her, but he wasn't very successful. He left her by herself, shaved his head, went outdoors and prostrated himself on the ground. The headshaving was also an ancient sign of grief, though no more peculiar, perhaps, than our dwindling present- day custom of wearing black clothes and black armbands during and after funerals.
Job Refused to Grumble
"I came into this world naked and without possessions," Job murmured. "It's only fair that I should go out of it without possessions. While I have been here, God has allowed me many good things, and I thank Him and bless Him for all of them!" Job had a good attitude toward God, even though God had allowed Satan to snuff out his wealth, his children and his happiness. Satan had not been able to make Job commit the sin of complaining. (Job 1:20-22.) Some time later, when the angels again came before God to report their activities, God questioned Satan as He had before. "I am well aware of what you have done to my servant Job," God reminded Satan. "No doubt you have noticed that his grief at the loss you have caused him has not resulted in his cursing me, as you said it would." "He has remained faithful only because you haven't allowed me to afflict his body," was Satan's reply. "If a man is suffering great physical pain, insomuch that he thinks that death might result, he will do anything to save himself. Allow me to bring sickness on Job and he will quickly give up his obedient ways and turn to cursing you. " "We shall see if you are wrong again," God said. "You may do what you choose with Job, except that you may not bring him to his death." (Job 2:1-6.) Dismissed, Satan returned to Earth, pleased because he once more had been given an opportunity to see if he could turn Job against his Creator. He now had permission to take away Job's health and his last remaining source of income. One morning when Job awakened he was alarmed to find that he was extremely sore all over his body. At first neither he nor his wife had any idea why he felt so lame, but within a few hours his skin was lumpy with swelling boils!
Agony Added to Grief
This was how Satan had chosen to strike at Job, though Job had no knowledge of why or how the terrible agonizingly painful sores had so suddenly developed from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. The mere sight of the skin eruptions was so offensive that Job was embarrassed even in the company of his wife. And he was in such pain he could not even think of fulfilling the duties of a king. And while another man ran the king's business, Job could not collect the revenues due the king. Thus Job became completely destitute. He didn't want to sit or lie around his home and see his wife's expressions of disgust. He decided to leave his home and go to an ash dump not far away. Sitting in ashes in those days was a sign of humility, and Job had no intention of lacking for ashes. (Job 2:7-8.) Job and his wife now had a very bitter life, what with no children and no income—and with Job's health gone. Whereas Job had previously been a very prominent man, he now found himself not only destitute and without a kingdom, but also almost completely without friends. Even his relatives had nothing more to do with him. He had suddenly become a social outcast because his friends thought God had put him under a curse, and his acquaintances could no longer regard him as wealthy. True to his promise, God had allowed Satan to take everything away from Job. (Job 2:6.) In spite of his wife's arguments that he was being silly, Job continued to stay at the ash heap. Even on that soft mound he was miserable, because whether he sat or sprawled, the boils were intensely painful with the slightest pressure on them. Late one night Job's wife went out to the ash heap. She was ashamed to go during daylight because Job had been such a prominent man and had suffered such great loss that it seemed to some that he might have lost his mind. Job's wife would have been distressed to know that neighbors were watching her. Instead of comforting her husband, she started railing at him.
And Now—A Nagging Wife!
"Why do you insist on squatting there in the filth of this dump while I am at my wits' end wondering how to make ends meet?" she scolded. "Why must you embarrass me this way? If you think that you are about to die, why do it in a place like this?" Job continued to sit in silence, which was soon broken again. "I should think you would have more consideration for me, the woman who gave you ten children," Job's wife went on. "What would you have done without me in those days when you were a king, and when you became famous as the builder of that great pyramid? Is this any place for such a man, even though a lot of people have forgotten you by now?" Job said nothing. "You're hopeless!" cried his wife. "Go on with your prayers! You're only adding to your misery by being out here. And no matter how many days you sit here blessing God, you'll die! Why don't you curse God so He will destroy you and put you out of your misery?" (Job 2:9.) Job not only had lost his wealth, children, health, power, influence, honor, dignity and friends, but had now lost the respect of his wife, Job's wife sobbingly turned to leave, but Job straightened up and spoke sharply. "You talk foolishly," Job told her sternly. "You sound as shallow as a young woman who has grievously sinned while still in her father's house. Why should we complain when troubles come? God has done many wonderful things for us. Should we expect to go all through our lives without any troubles? Do we believe that God should shower us with nothing but the pleasant things? Should we shake our fists at our Creator whenever He temporarily takes back some of the many good things that belong to Him in the first place? No! We should be thankful and uncomplaining, no matter what happens!" (Verse 10.) Job's wife realized that it would be a waste of any more effort to argue with a man with such a good attitude toward God, and she walked away into the darkness.
A Few Friends Remain
Because of his high office in life, Job had many acquaintances who were prominent, wealthy and well-educated. When word went around the land about Job's condition, most of these acquaintances of Job wondered why a man who was so obedient to his God should fall into such misfortune and misery. Almost all of them had felt obligated to desert him. However, of the many who knew him well, three men from other lands, who were close friends of Job, planned to meet and visit him together. (Verse 11.) The names of these men were Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, and they came from territories not far distant. The combined caravans of the three arrived at Job's rather neglected home to find that only his wife was there. "You'll find my husband sitting or lying out in the city ash heap not far from here," she stiffly instructed the visitors. The three friends of Job instructed their servants to encamp not far from the ash dump. Then they set out afoot toward the lone figure they could see in the distance. They were accompanied by a younger man named Elihu who was also well-educated and intelligent, and who, because of his great admiration for Job's well known accomplishments, had asked to join the three friends. (Job 32:2.) Even when the visitors were only a few yards from Job, they couldn't recognize him because of the boils on his face and the amount of weight he had lost. His condition was so much worse than they had imagined that they couldn't help but conclude that he was very close to death. They wept with grief at the sight of him. Now they could understand that there was more than one reason why Job had chosen to spend his time on an ash heap. His hundreds of very sore running boils made it almost necessary. According to the customs of the times, the three men ripped their tunics and tossed dust on their heads. (Job 2:12.) Elihu respectfully stood close by while Eliphaz, Zophar and Bildad—who were older men — Stepped close to Job. Job peered up through swollen eyelids at his friends. He could not touch them in welcome, and it was too painful for him to show his appreciation for their presence by trying to leap up. He was touched that they had come to comfort him, but all he did was lift his hands and nod to each. Then he lowered his head and sat in silence. Job's friends were so stunned to see how horrifyingly miserable he was that they sat down with him in shocked silence to share his agony. That silence lasted a whole week, during which the men sat with Job both day and night. (Verse 13.) At the end of seven days and seven nights of no conversation, Job painfully straightened up and suddenly spoke from swollen lips. "Let the day perish and be forgotten when I was born! " he cried out. "Let that day be cursed! Let not God include it in the days of the month or year!" (Job 3.)
Controversy Over the Cause of Suffering
Job's friends were surprised at this sudden outburst, but they were also relieved to know that Job had at long last chosen to speak. Job continued to talk for several minutes, eloquently describing how death would be more pleasant than the bitter grief of his condition. Some of his remarks caused his friends to suspect him of some hidden sin, and as soon as Job had finished, Eliphaz spoke out. "I must say what I think," he started out. "You have instructed my people in living and in building character, but now that trouble has come to you, you faint. If you are being punished because of some kind of trouble you have run into, turn to God. If God is correcting you, don't be unhappy about it. He will see you through adversity, and you shall be full of years before you die." (Job 4 and 5.) Eliphaz had much more to say, some of which, in turn, roused Job to more speech. "I thought you came here to comfort me," he declared, "but now you are reproaching me and charging me with being a wicked man!" (Job 6 and 7.) Job continued for a time, and when he had temporarily finished, Bildad had much to say in reproving Job. As soon as Job had answered him, Zophar spoke out. He, too, reproved Job, who promptly defended himself. This ended the first of three series of unusual controversies. During the next two of these debate-type discussions there was more reproof from Job's friends and more defense from Job. These three friends insisted God was punishing Job for being sinful. Job insisted God was punishing him without a reason. Job was about like many deceived people today who say they don't need God's commandments — that they are so good they always do what is right just because they love God. The Bible says this is not true. (Jeremiah 17:9; Jeremiah 10:23; Proverbs 12:15; Psalm 39:5; I John 2:4; John 14:15.) Throughout these controversies between Job and his three friends, which were written in the Bible in a splendid poetic form, Job steadfastly contended that he was without sin and had no reason for repentance. (Job, chapters 8 through 31.) At last the three older friends all gave up trying to answer Job because of his self-righteous attitude. (Job 32:1.) This gave young Elihu an opportunity to say what he thought. "You have tried to justify yourself instead of God," he courteously and respectfully but bluntly told Job. "As for you three friends, you have condemned Job without being able to answer his self-justification." (Job 32:2-22.) Elihu went on to disclose much wisdom for one so relatively young, reminding these older men that the Spirit of God, not human reason, gives us the true answers to problems. He continued to reprove all four men for being in error in some of the things they had said. Yet he did not deal harshly with Job. (Job 33:7.) His marvelous remarks, as written in chapters 33, 34, 35, 36 and 37 of the Book of Job make up some of the most profound sayings in the Bible. He showed these men that Job's error was not in some secret sin he was hiding — as they supposed—but in giving credit to himself, instead of God, for the righteous deeds God had inspired him to do, and in thinking he could earn salvation by good works. Elihu knew that man's righteousness is no better than filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6.) The three older friends had spoken of God's right to punish men for sins. Elihu spoke of God's willingness to be merciful and give salvation to those who repent. (See also Psalm 103:10-14.) There seemed no more to say or do, SO the four men wearily prepared to leave. Although it was daytime, the sky had been turning dark for some time. It was evident that some kind of rough weather was about to occur. Overhead the clouds began to whirl and boil. Then they dipped earthward with great speed. The mounting moan of whirling winds broke suddenly on the ears of the little group on the ash heap. Job looked up, and he didn't move. Realizing the futility of running, the other four men stood rooted, though not without fear. Curious onlookers who had gathered near the ash heap ran for their lives, however.
God Convicts Job
Somehow the winds seemed to envelop the five men—not to harm them, but to gently cut them off from their surroundings. There was turbulence all around, but not on the ash heap. (Job 38:1.) Then a great voice clearly came out of the encircling wind. (Verse 2.) Startled, Job started to get up, but tremblingly fell with his face down when he realized that he was being addressed. The other four men also fearfully prostrated themselves. "Who is it who pretends to speak about the most profound matters of God, but who lacks knowledge of such things?" the mighty voice asked. (Job 38; 39; 40:1-2.) Job cringed under stinging words as the Creator of the universe went on to compare the puny learning and undertakings of man with the all-knowing wisdom and tremendous creative power of God. He reminded Job that only God is a great Creator. When God at last stopped speaking, Job cried out: "I admit I am evil and defiled, God, and I don't have the wisdom to answer you!" (Job 40:3-5.) God then reminded Job that he could not save himself—that only God has salvation to give — and that all of man's power comes from God, and man amounts to nothing. (Job 40:6-14.) God continued to point out how much man has yet to learn, even about the creatures that exist on this planet, and that no one except the Creator has any real conception of what is required to create and control such creatures. (Job 40:15-24; Job 41.) When God ceased speaking, Job finally saw himself as a very worthless sinner, who needed God's mercy just as much as anyone else did. Job then took the opportunity to express himself again, at the same time continuing to prostrate himself on the ash heap.
Job Finally Repents
"I repent that I spoke as I did, God," he said. "I realize now that you know everything and can do everything and that I said things I did not understand. I abhor myself for considering myself too wise, too creative and too righteous, when I am really nothing more than dust and ashes!" (Job 42:1-6.) God then spoke to Eliphaz, who was the oldest of Job's three friends. "I am very displeased with you three," He said. "Job has made some wrong remarks and he has had a self-righteous attitude, but he has finally spoken more correctly of Me than you three did. You used false arguments to try to prove that he had committed great sins and that his suffering meant he was more evil than other men. Job accused Me of punishing him without a cause. Job saw his error and repented. You didn't. Now get seven bullocks and seven rams and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering. My servant Job will then pray for you. If you fail to do this, I shall deal harshly with you!" (Verses 7-8.) The three men obeyed. The burnt offering was made, Job prayed for his friends and God accepted all that was done. (Verse 9.) As for Elihu, he had neither falsely accused Job nor misrepresented God's justice. He had spoken well, and God didn't require an offering from him. Job's miserable condition left him as suddenly as it had come on. Immediately after he prayed for his three friends, the sore, itching, running boils dwindled away and were healed without scars. Job once more was comfortable and healthy. From then on, as though by a miracle, everything came his way. His brothers, sisters and friends who had left him turned back to him to visit and comfort him and brought gifts of money and jewelry. He bought livestock, and they increased so well that in time he was twice as wealthy as he had ever been before! (Verses 10-12.) Besides doubling the number of animals he had owned, an even greater physical blessing came upon him. It was a new family. God gave Job and his wife seven more sons and three more daughters, and his daughters were known as the fairest in the land. (Verses 13-15.) Job had grown children when this great trouble happened to him, but after that he lived many more years to see his children's children to the fourth generation. (Verses 16-17.) Down through the centuries Job has become known as the most patient man who ever lived. It would be more fining, however, to recognize him for what the Bible points him out to be — perhaps the most self-righteous man who ever lived. Being self-righteous doesn't always mean being pompously pious and looking down on others as being miserably low sinners. In Job's case, it meant that he was so conscious and proud of being obedient that he felt he was without sin, and that his great suffering came without a reason. The happy ending to this story was that after much trial he was able to see in himself this hard-to-recognize sin and be willing to repent. It was his repentance that brought an end to his great trial. This important human experience might have been totally lost to us today. But God instructed Moses, during the wilderness wandering, that Job's account of his suffering should become Holy Scripture — a vital part of the Bible's "Old Testament," for our use today.