In The Everlasting Man, G. K. Chesterton calls Job “one of the colossal cornerstones of the world,” and in his brief introduction to the book of Job (read it!), he calls it one of the most interesting not merely of all ancient books, but of all modern books as well. And the more I think on it, the more I am forced to agree. The book of Job, one of the most ancient of texts, remains to this day one of the most immediately relevant and applicable books of all time.
And it is not merely because of the ending. It is not merely because Job does not fail. It is because of the sense, inherent in the book of Job, that at any moment Job might fail. At any point in his trials and dialogue with his friends, Job might “curse God and die.” Everything hangs by a thread, and all the heavenly beings are on the edge of their heavenly seats, waiting to see what this man of clay will do.
The first five verses serve to establish the upright character of Job, who “feared God and turned away from evil.” He does sin occasionally (see 7:20-21), but on the whole, as far as Old Testament man can be, he is “blameless and upright.” We have this from the mouth of God Himself, and we err if we forget this or relativize it into meaninglessness.
The next verse, 6, marks a change of setting. We are no longer looking at Job on earth, but are at the day “when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.” Supernatural beings, fallen and/or unfallen, have come before God, and God asks Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan responds, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”
It is impossible for me to read this as anything other than a challenge. Satan replies very specifically and even redundantly: God asks “Where have you come from?” and Satan says, “Oh, you know, walking around on the earth–remember the earth, that place where I do whatever I want? Where I stole all those people from you? Yeah. That’s where I’ve come from, God.”
And if it is a challenge, God ups the ante. “Have you considered my servant Job?” Or, to paraphrase: “Oh, you’ve been walking around on earth? You must have seen Job there. You know Job…blameless? Upright? Turns away from all evil? Did you see him while you were doing all that walking?” God refuses to let Satan’s implicit claim to the earth stand, and instead presents him with proof that, although Satan may walk the earth, he doesn’t control it.
It’s clear from Satan’s response that he has considered Job, and that it’s a bit of a sore spot, because he instantly goes on the defensive. “Does Job fear God for no reason?” Satan asks. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side?… But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” Satan admits God’s initial premise–that Job fears God and avoids evil–but then makes a counter-argument. “You’re so proud of Job? You think he loves you, that he serves you selflessly? Is it not because you’ve made him rich? Take it all away, remove your protection, and then we’ll see what happens to your precious Job.”
We can picture the rest of the sons of God chuckling to themselves when God mentions Job: They know Job, especially those whom God may have tasked with rewarding Job for his faith. And then, as Satan snarls back with a dare and a challenge, the angels fall silent. God allowing Satan to harm Job? Surely not!
All eyes turn to the glorious, radiant throne. But immediately comes the response, and the angels gasp and the devil, almost disbelieving his good fortune, leaps: Satan’s request is granted, and all that Job possesses, save his own person, is in the hands of the Accuser. Satan wastes no time: Immediately he leaves the heavenly court and, upon arriving once again on earth, completely destroys everything that Job has–all his property, all his livestock, but more importantly, all his sons and daughters. The angels are struck dumb, the devils cheer, but the throne of Yahweh is silent. As my favorite Job commentary says, Satan uses “not only the robber tribes of the desert, but the very lightning, the fire of God from heaven, and the mighty rushing wind that comes up from the desert. These calamities may be natural in their kind, but they are supernatural in in their intensity and in the rapidity of their succession.” There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that this is the work of God.
And all the angels in heaven and all the devils in hell watch as Job cries in pain, rips his robe, shaves his head, and finally collapses into the dust. His lips quiver. His words catch in his throat. Finally he gathers the strength to speak, face streaked with tears and muddy dust. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. Jehovah has given, Jehovah has taken: The name of Jehovah forever be…” There is complete and utter silence in the universe, as every unseen spirit huddles close around to hear what his next word will be. Satan is poised to begin his celebratory journey to Jehovah’s court. The angels are nervous, comforted only by the still-radiant throne of Jehovah.
But Satan has chosen poorly. The Great Cynic has met his match. “The name of Jehovah forever be blessed.” And the cheers from heaven drown out the shrieks and howls of hell, and Satan staggers back, puzzled and furious. Job blesses God, despite his knowledge that God could have protected him. Satan can take Job’s possessions, his livestock, even his family away: But he cannot take God away, and it is to God that Job clings.