Book of Job: Part 1

October 3rd, 2021 homily on Job 1:1, 2:1-10 by Pastor Galen Zook

A No Good, Very Bad Day

In the 1972 classic children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Alexander knew from the moment he woke up that it was going to be a bad day. Upon awakening, he discovers that the bubble gum that was in his mouth when he fell asleep the night before had gotten stuck in his hair. When he gets out of bed, he trips on his skateboard. In the bathroom, he accidentally drops his favorite sweater into the sink while the water is on. At breakfast, his brothers, Anthony and Nick, find prizes in their breakfast cereal boxes, whereas Alexander only finds cereal in his box. And of course his day only goes downhill from there.

Throughout the book when all of this bad stuff happens, Alexander repeatedly says that he wants to move to Australia because he thinks it would be better there. But his mother reassures him that everyone has bad days, even those who live in Australia.

Some of us, like Alexander, know what it’s like to have a bad day – or week, or month, or year, or perhaps even decade. But hopefully none of us have had quite so difficult a time as the biblical character Job.

In Job chapter 1, we see that Job started out with a very good life. He was a wealthy man with many servants and a lot of livestock – 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, and hundreds of oxen and donkeys. He was married, and he and his wife had ten children who were all grown – 7 sons, and 3 daughters. And they all seemed to get along. In fact, they would all take turns hosting these lavish dinner parties, and inviting one another to feast and dine together.

Now, although Job was not an Israelite, he was known for being a good person – wife in Job 1 verse 1 that Job was “blameless and upright,” someone who “feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). And we see one example of why he was known for being righteous, and that is that every time his children would gather together to feast, Job would rise early the next morning and offer sacrifices to God, just in case his children had committed any sins – knowingly or unknowingly, in the midst of their festivities.

So we have here a righteous man, someone who was not a member of God’s “chosen people,” but he was a caring and loving father who had successfully raised ten children who enjoyed spending time together. And he was very rich – in fact the book of Job says that Job was the greatest of all the people of the east. Unfortunately, Job’s good fortune did not last, and unbeknownst to him, a horrific tragedy was awaiting Job and his family right around the corner.

Background on the Book of Job

But first, a little bit of background on Job, since we’re going to be diving into Job’s story for the next 4 weeks. The story of Job is written in the style of a fairy tale, or legend. That’s not to say that Job wasn’t a real person – he very well may have been. But the book of Job gives no historic references to let us know when he might have lived, and some of the details seem to be hyperbolic – sort of like some of the parables that Jesus told in the Gospels. But whether or not there was a real-life historical person by the name of Job who experienced the things that happened in this story, or whether it was intended more as a type of parable, the story does communicate truth. And it does so through the use of long philosophical dialogues that take place between Job and his friends surrounding the trouble that Job was experiencing in his life. These philosophical discussions are bookended by brief narratives of what happened before and after the tragic events of Job’s life.

The central question of the book of Job seems to be, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” And in truth, this is a question that is often asked even today. More people point to the problem of evil and suffering as their reason for not believing in God than any other reason — it is not merely a problem, it is the problem. A Barna poll asked, “If you could ask God only one question and you knew [God] would give you an answer, what would you ask?” The most common response was, “Why is there pain and suffering in the world?” And so the central questions addressed in the book of Job are pertinent and relevant even today.

Behind the Scenes

After the narrator recounts the wonderful life that Job had, and how wealthy and righteous he was, the scene switches to a heavenly courtroom-type setting, intended to provide a glimpse into what might have been happening behind the scenes – in the spiritual realm – during the events that took place in Job’s life. In the first scene, the heavenly beings (the Hebrew says “sons of God” – but these seem to be angels) present themselves to the Lord, and interestingly enough, Satan – “the accuser” – is there among them. God asks Satan where he’s been, and he answers that he has been “going to and fro on the earth.” (Job 1:7). God asks Satan if he’s noticed God’s servant Job, how upright and honorable he is, and how Job is such a faithful worshipper of God.

Satan responds by saying that of course Job worships God – God has given Job everything he ever could have wanted. Job had no reason not to worship God. Satan ventures to say that if God were to take away everything that Job has, then Job would curse God to God’s face. God says to Satan, “‘Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!’” (Job 1:12). And this is where Job’s life comes crashing down around him – and this is also why I really hope that Job was intended as a sort of parable, and that it’s not based on a true story, because the events that took place next were beyond tragic. In one day, Job lost everything. An enemy army came and stole his donkeys and killed the servants. Fire came down from the sky and burned up his sheep and the servants who were watching them. Another enemy army came and stole his camels. But most tragic of all, while his children were gathered together feasting in the elder’s brothers house, a strong wind came and knocked down the house killing every one of Job’s children instantaneously.

Job, wrongly believing that all of this was initiated by God (rather than Satan), and that it was God who had taken his livelihood and his family from him, said, “‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’” (Job 1:21). In the midst of all of this the narrator tells us that “Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing” (Job 1:22).

Round 2

But it doesn’t stop there. Now we come to chapter 2, which we read this morning, where the heavenly beings once again present themselves before the Lord, and God asks Satan if he notices that Job “still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason” (Job 2:3). Satan responds that if God were to take away Job’s health, surely then Job would curse God. God once again gives Satan permission to do as he pleases, asking only that Satan spare Job’s life.

And so Satan inflicts Job with “loathsome sores…from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” (Job 2:7). Job is so miserable that we see him scraping the sores from his skin and sitting among the ashes. Even Job’s wife suggests that Job should just curse God and let God take his life. But Job responds by saying, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (Job 2:10a). And again the narrator informs us that “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:10b).

Lessons from Job

After hearing all that Job went through, it’s really quite astounding that Job did not curse or rail against God. I get frustrated when I can’t find my keys or when I get a parking ticket! And one time when I was in college I got an eye infection that made my head hurt so badly that I was tempted to cry out to God, “God, just take me now!”

Although I hope that none of us have ever had a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day nearly as bad as Job’s, many (if not all) of us know what it’s like to lose people who are close to us, and many of us have experienced other significant losses in our lives. In those situations, it’s very easy for us to say, “God why are you doing this to me?” or to ask ourselves, “What did I possibly do to deserve this?”

And yet we see in the case of Job, that Job did nothing to deserve the pain that was inflicted upon him, just as Job had done nothing to deserve the riches that he had been given in the first place. As Job points out, we came into this world with nothing, and we will take nothing with us when we go. Or, as my childhood pastor used to point out, you never see a hearse pulling a u-haul behind it.

And so we learn from this part of the story, to hold our possessions, and even the people in our lives with open hands, recognizing that we have done nothing to deserve the blessings that we have been given. At the same time, we should not assume that the calamities that have taken place in our lives are because God is out to get us, or because we have done something wrong. The reality (as we’ll see as we go further along in our study of Job during the upcoming weeks) is that many times we will never know why bad things happen. We live in a world where bad things happen, and often there seems to be no rhyme or reason – at least from what we can tell. And in this, the story of Job can be an inspiration to all of us, as we see the ways in which Job maintained his faith in God in the midst of both the good and the bad that he experienced in his life.

The New Testament author James, whose letter we studied in our previous sermon series, said it this way: “You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11). May we too be inspired by Job’s story, to live life with open hands, thanking God for the blessings as well as the trials that we endure. May we learn to see the compassion and mercy of God no matter what we experience in this life.

World Communion Sunday

This morning is World Communion Sunday, when we celebrate our common humanity with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world by partaking in communion together. Later this morning as we partake together of the communion elements, we’ll be reminded that Jesus knew what it was like to suffer for no wrongdoing of his own. Jesus was mocked, and beaten, and scorned, even though he did nothing to deserve the way he was treated. Jesus knew also what it was like to be hungry. He knew what it was like to lose people who were close to him. He knew what it was like to be tempted by Satan. He knew what it was like to have someone who was close to him betray him, and to have one of his friends deny that he even knew him.

When we celebrate communion, we are reminded of God’s compassion and mercy, which is offered so freely to all. We are reminded that there is nothing that we could ever have possibly done to deserve the love and compassion that God showed the world through sending Jesus Christ to give his life for us.

When we celebrate communion with our brothers and sisters all around the world on this World Communion Sunday, we remember that Christ is present with us no matter where we are, and no matter what we’re going through. And we remember that Christ is especially present among those who are broken, or hurting, those who are hungry or poor. Those who are grieving or mourning. We’re reminded too that If we have material blessings, it is so that we can share with those around the world who are in need.

And so on this World Communion Sunday, let us be inspired by the patience and endurance of Job. Let us remember that everything we have comes from God – that there is nothing we have done to deserve God’s grace and God’s blessings in our lives. And even in the midst of pain and suffering, may we say along with Job, “Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Amen.

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