Great art retains its appeal through time. This is true even with works created for children – including cartoons such as The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. The success of this cartoon classic is due to the things children appreciate: outrageous characters, simple story lines, a make-believe world that mirrors real life, and just enough irreverence to entice the mischievous streak in every youngster. And yet those who grew up with Rocky the flying squirrel and his friend Bullwinkle J. Moose continue to appreciate the show because of its sophistication. As children we could not possibly understand the clever references to the Cold War then raging between the United States and the Soviet Union, nor the endless puns and jabs at politics, literature, and popular culture.
As children we did not need to know those things. All we needed to know was that Bullwinkle and Rocky were funny. Even the villains were funny. Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, along with their Fearless Leader, soon acquired fame that rivalled the title characters. As caricatures of Soviet spies and political figures they were the perfect foils. Moreover, they established a clear line between good and evil for young viewers. Every child knew that Boris and Natasha were bad. Their ceaseless efforts at killing Bullwinkle to advance their evil country’s fortunes originated from nothing else than pure meanness (as explained by Fearless Leader himself in the story “Goof Gas Attack”). If the plot were exceptionally evil the spies would receive orders not only to deal with Bullwinkle, but to kill moose and squirrel. Even when they received a note from Fearless Leader saying, “DO NOT kill Moose and Squirrel”, we knew that this apparent kindness occurred only because at that point the evil plans would best be served by keeping Rocky and Bullwinkle alive.
Children may not understand such things completely, but they grasp them instinctively. Understanding comes later, after they have become adults and acquired years of knowledge and experience, not all of which is good or pleasant. Children in their innocence discern good and evil, but they take as established fact that there is no gray area between the two. After a few significant encounters in the real world they begin to learn that people and things can be confusing mixtures of good and evil. Some appear to be good, but are evil at the core. Some may do evil things, but for good reasons – or so they maintain. Some do good for selfish reasons. The sad reality is that children soon learn there is no absolute good among human beings, which makes navigation of this world exceedingly hazardous. It is easier to revert to childhood innocence and attempt to stay there as long as possible.
The childlike place is comforting and safe. There we recognize that good and evil exist, but all we need do is cling to the one while avoiding the other. We need not seek the origins of evil, nor try to understand why evil and good seem to be intertwined in every heart. A child will take the word of its parents in faith and act accordingly. If they say a thing is good or bad, the child will act on that. It is only later that the child begins to inquire into the nature of good and bad. In time that path of inquiry leads to a line that should never be crossed: the point of defining good and evil on his own terms. Unfortunately, it seems that this very line has marked the boundary between childhood and adulthood since the time of Adam and Eve. That may be why Messiah Yeshua said this:
And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:2-4 NASB)
Our first ancestors crossed that line when they disregarded the word of their Heavenly Father and chose to redefine the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil according to their own desires. They did not invent evil, but they did fall prey to its deceptive elegance. Their descendants to this day have been born into that same web of deception. Most probably never give this much thought, but those who look up long enough from the urgency of each day’s toil have asked some variation of the question, “How did things get to be this way?”
We will not find an answer in Job. What we find is assurance that a Creator exists Who has power over all of this world, including the evil parts. In one sense it is cold comfort: if this Creator is all-knowing and all-powerful, why does He permit the evil to continue, or permit it to come into existence in the first place? That is the jarring question posed by the first action scene in the book, when we see Satan himself not only having access to the throne room of YHVH, but actually entering into negotiations with Him (Job 1:6-12, 2:1-8).
The object of their negotiations is Job himself. In the first two chapters of the book (Job 1:1-2:13) we learn enough about the man and his situation to help us endure the poetic mêlée of the next 39 chapters. Job, the Scripture tells us, lived in the land of Uz, but it does not say when he lived. The best understanding from Jewish tradition indicates that Job lived sometime in the days of the Patriarchs, and that his residence was a region in the neighborhood of Edom. Henry Halley cites a reference in the Septuagint that, according to ancient tradition, Job was Jobab, the second king of Edom (Genesis 36:33). Halley also cites a tradition that Job’s home was Hauran, east of the Sea of Galilee. The connection of Job and his companions with Abraham’s family is clear enough. Job 2:11-13 introduces Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. There is no further identification of Zophar in the Bible, but we know from Genesis 36:10-11 that Eliphaz was a son of Esau, and Genesis 25:1-2 indicates that Bildad was descended from Shuah, a son of Abraham’s second wife, Keturah. Later we will meet Elihu the Buzite (Job 32:1-2), a man whose lineage originates with Abraham’s brother Nahor (see Genesis 22:20-21).
As the book opens (Job 1:1-5), we learn that Job is immensely rich, possessing enormous herds of sheep, camels, oxen, donkeys, and servants, and revered as the greatest of all the men of the east. He has many children: seven sons and three daughters, all of whom seem to enjoy one another’s company. They gather frequently at one another’s homes on their birthdays (as some interpret the phrase “each one on his day”). That they may have engaged in some sort of naughtiness at those gatherings is apparent in Job’s actions and comments:
When the days of feasting had completed their cycle, Job would send and consecrate them, rising up early in the morning and offering burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually. (Job 1:5 NASB)
Any responsible father would seek to protect his children from evil consequences, particularly those resulting from their own mistakes and negligence. The loving parent is the one who intercedes with the creditor, the police officer, the outraged neighbor, and even the avenger of blood to spare his child from the worst of what may be due them. That same parent, if he is truly loving, will then turn to his child and discipline him appropriately to ensure he understands the error of his ways and learns to overcome such error in the future. Yet there comes a time when even the most protective and well-intentioned parents can no longer intercede and intervene for their children. If the children prove recalcitrant and incorrigible, then they have no choice but to leave them to their own devices, or turn them over to proper authorities in the hope that somehow the wayward young people will come to their senses before their transgressions take them to an early grave.
But in the end each person must stand on his or her own before society and before their Maker. No human being, not even Moses, nor righteous Job, nor even the Apostle Paul, can provide any kind of mediation or covering for another person before Almighty God (Exodus 32:31-33; Ezekiel 14:12-20; Romans 9:1-5). Nevertheless, the fact that he did intercede at such cost for his children indicates the character of the man which the Bible describes as, “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil” (Job 1:1). His righteous reputation gained attention in heaven. As we soon learn, such attention is not necessarily a pleasant thing:
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.” The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about 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. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So Satan departed from the presence of the Lord. (Job 1:6-12 NASB)
Do we accept this account of events in heaven as truth? Yes, we do. If we do not then we must discount similar accounts recorded by Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, Paul, and John (Exodus 24:9-11, 25:40; Numbers 8:4; Isaiah 6:1-8; Ezekiel 1:1-28, 10:1-22, 43:1-3; Daniel 7:1-12; Zechariah 3:1-10; II Corinthians 12:1-4; Hebrews 8:4-5; Revelation 4:1-5:14). If we do not regard those accounts as factual, then we cannot say for certain that we have any revelation about the nature of the Lord God, nor that we have any knowledge of what is truth. Either it is real, or it is a fable, and if it is a fable, then we have no reason to pay any attention to anything in the Bible. If we are to proceed with this inquiry into the book of Job and the lessons it imparts, we must begin with the assertion that the book is truth, not allegory. The writer of Job may have been a contemporary of the man or a chronicler many centuries later, but that writer did not make up either this account of the heavenly interview or the second iteration of YHVH’s conversation with Satan in Job 2:1-7.
Which brings us to a very unpleasant realization: Not only does YHVH tolerate the existence of evil, He permits it to operate and even enables it. How could He do such a thing? In Job’s case, the consequences are immediate. At Satan’s instigation, marauding bands of Sabeans and Chaldeans steal his oxen, donkeys, and camels and kill his servants. Simultaneously, Satan somehow engineers fire from heaven to consume all the sheep, and a tornado to strike the home of Job’s oldest son and kill all of Job’s children (Job 1:13-19). The last two spectacular events might seem extraordinarily unreal were it not for the Apostle John’s vision of a false prophet who will call down fire from heaven and do great wonders to persuade humanity to worship the one called Antichrist (Revelation 13:11-18). Each event testifies to Satan’s very real power, but the heavenly interviews testify that such power has limits; he acts only within the limits God Himself allows, or to the degree with which human beings – even the people of God – cooperate with him.
Whenever and however Satan acts, he leaves destruction and death in his wake. The pinnacle of his cruelty is not the death of the innocent, but the insidious, incessant seepage of life’s essence from those who witness and survive his outrages. It is the calculus of hell which compels us to inquire which is the more fortunate: those who perished in Hitler’s ovens, or those who survived to mourn them.
Was it then a mercy for YHVH to restrict Satan from touching Job directly? Would it have been better had he perished along with his daughters and sons, rather than suffer the endless grief of burying his children? Job alone can answer that:
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God. (Job 1:20-22 NASB)
Did he have a right to blame God? Perhaps; we shall encounter dialogue to that effect soon enough, in the second round of Job’s trials, and afterward from Job’s own lips. But he did not utter that accusation against the Almighty, and thus Satan remained unsatisfied. Perhaps Job might have been spared further trials had he succumbed, but his persistence in clinging to YHVH inspired another heavenly negotiation:
Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.” The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man fearing God and turning away from evil. And he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause.” Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. However, put forth Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will curse You to Your face.” So the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life.” (Job 2:1-6 NASB)
Again we must ask, was this mercy for the Lord to prevent Satan from taking Job’s life? We cannot answer that completely until we get to the end of the book. That, in fact, is a long-term lesson of Job and of all the Bible: we cannot know the answers until the end of time, and even then we will not know everything. The question is whether we will believe God or not. If we do, if we really cling to Him and His Word, then we can endure. If not, then we will settle for anything that makes us feel better, or at least makes us feel a little less bad.
Even had YHVH permitted Satan to take Job’s life, the evil one likely would not have done so. He wanted to see Job suffer, and through that suffering cause him, the most righteous man on the planet, to blaspheme the Holy Name. This was not merely a duel of words between God and Satan, with Job as their pawn. YHVH’s very Name, His character, and His sovereignty were at stake. Satan could have played for a lesser quarry easily enough. A compromised “good” man, like Balaam son of Beor, or perhaps even Moses’ father-in-law Jethro, could have been turned from the path of respectable righteousness with less effort than Satan expended on Job. He chose Job precisely because of his standing with the Lord, knowing that if he could compromise such a person, he could cause YHVH’s covenant partners among Abraham’s descendants to doubt the ability of the Lord to come through on His promises. With such an opening, who knows what mischief the deceiver could inflict on the Creator’s plan of redemption.
With that for motivation, Satan inflicted Job with “sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” (Job 2:7-8). No one knows for certain what ailment this was. Perhaps it was leprosy, but whatever it was it hurt terribly, it sapped Job’s strength, it robbed him of dignity, and it left him longing for death without the comfort thereof – much like those diabolical locusts of the Fifth Trumpet judgment (Revelation 9:1-11). The poor man was left with no alternative but to scrape his flesh with a shard of pottery while sitting mournfully in ashes. And yet Satan was not finished. He had one more poisoned dart to fling:
Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9 NASB)
We dare not judge this woman. No doubt she had been everything a noble man would want in a wife: beautiful, charming, gracious, kind, and strong. She had shared in his triumphs and setbacks in the years of building his fortune, and shared as well in the many acts of charity which welled up from his righteous nature. Yet she, like Job, had suffered immeasurably. The lost wealth was just as much hers as his. The dead servants were men and women she knew and had supervised with orderly kindness. Most importantly, the ten dead children had been carried in her very body for the better part of ten years, and for a third of a century she had defined her existence by their upbringing and welfare. And now, just as her years of labor were on the verge of bearing the fruit of a new generation, that labor, that definition of her very life, was gone forever. How could she hope to duplicate that work at her age? Even if she herself were able by some miracle to overcome the ravages of age, she saw before her a wreck of a man rolling in the dirt, hardly capable of tending to his own bodily functions, much less fathering and raising a new crop of offspring. No wonder she advised him to do what she no doubt had already done in her heart.
It is a testimony not only to Job’s integrity, but to the thoroughness of YHVH’s graceful provision that the man withstood even this satanic onslaught:
But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (Job 2:10 NASB)
We can imagine how Job uttered these words. Anger and bitterness no doubt lanced his soul, but his words would not have carried such harsh emotions. Job the righteous spoke with compassion – the compassion born of deepest sorrow. He loved this woman; he had shared his everything with her, and he desired to share what was left of his shattered life with the only human being who could possibly understand his plight. Perhaps they could comfort one another and hold each other up a little longer. Her harsh words robbed him of the only comfort he could expect from any person, but they did not evoke an embittered response. His answer may have been a rebuke, but it was a gentle rebuke intended to remind his beloved of the reality of her existence. Life comes only from God Most High, and thus her identity must be in Him alone. How could one curse oneself? If perhaps she could understand this, in time, of course, after the searing shards of her grief had subsided a bit, then they might be able to continue with their story together. Until then, all they could do was endure, holding fast to what little they had until relief came from the only possible Source.
Not unlike a child clinging to the only bit of truth she understands: the word of her parent, which she knows to be true no matter what her eyes tell her.
Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come. He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father; and I will give him the morning star. (Revelation 2:25-28 NASB)