Spiritual War

The Great Cynic Defeated (Job, Part 3)

This is the last in a 3-part series on Job, by Mackenzie Mulligan. Click here to read posts one and two. 


Satan is unflagging in his attack on Job. He first takes Job’s riches and family, but Job remains strong. Then Satan takes Job’s very health and begins the long game of persistent torment. Job is in emotional and physical agony, and Satan even deprives him of rest (7:3-4). He tosses and turns, tormented with visions and nightmares (7:13:15). And to the boils and wrestles sleep, Satan adds another thorn: Job’s friends have arrived.

Job receives his friends without words, but their presence has not gone unnoticed, and they are doubtless welcome (at first). When he finally speaks after seven days and nights of silence, it is to curse the day of his birth. He has lost everything, and even God seems to have forsaken him: Surely, in this circumstance, it would be better not to have been born. God has smitten him and closed him in, and he has no rest.

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Job (oil on canvas) by Bonnat, Leon Joseph Florentin (1833-1922). Modified.

Immediately Eliphaz responds: Calmly, patiently, lovingly… and yet, he says to Job, you do know why all this is happening to you, don’t you? “Who that was innocent ever perished?” Come now, Job! Innocents do not suffer like this! No, no… you know why you are being punished. Come, tell us your sin, confess it, and God will be merciful! Eliphaz seems shocked that someone so knowledgeable as Job could have forgotten this basic theological truth.

But that is not the worst of it. Eliphaz, attempting to comfort Job, asks, “Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope?” Job might answer with a resounding “Yes!”… and that is also the reason Job is so troubled. His fear of God, his upright integrity, is so exceptional that it is known to the sons of God and Jehovah himself. Why, then, has Jehovah forsaken him? Why has Jehovah set himself against Job, his most loyal and faithful servant?

That is the question Job asks, again and again. And each time he asks it, the angels grow more worried, and Satan give another leap of demonic joy. Because each time he asks, his friends chide and rebuke him. With “friends” like these, Satan chortles, who needs enemies? As they attempt to comfort and help him, each friend wounds Job to his very heart.

In 5:3-4, Eliphaz proclaims, “I have seen the fool taking root… his children are far from safety: they are crushed in the gate, and there is no one to deliver them.” This, to a man who only days before had lost all his children as they were crushed to death by the very winds of God. There was, indeed, no one to deliver them… and Eliphaz does not even realize what he has said. Instead, he continues: the offspring of the righteous man is many, he says, forgetting that he is speaking to a man who is now childless. Each one of these friends does the same thing. Is it any wonder, then that Job, fed up with their arrogance and condescension, says, worthless physicians are you all! Oh, that you would keep silent, and that be your wisdom!”

It is here that we must be careful, for the words of God at the end (42:7) makes it clear that when these friends speak of God, they are not to be trusted. They are right occasionally, but they are often wrong, their words guided by a false understanding of God and how he interacts with us. In fact, it is exactly this false understanding that Job finds so horrifying. If we find ourselves quoting Job’s friends either to reassure ourselves or to comfort those in mourning, we have gone far wrong indeed. 

These friends, far from helping Job, only remind him again and again that his children are dead; he is dying; and God has apparently turned away from. And they tell him to repent… from what? There is nothing to repent of, as we see from the mouth of God himself–Job is blameless and upright. Satan laughs every time one of his friends opens their mouth, and cackles every time he sees Job wince. Any moment now, he thinks.

Any moment, Job will break.

And at times he seems about to. He despairs of his life. He wishes to die, and then wishes that life was longer. He wishes the pain to leave him, and he wishes his friends would leave him. But above and beyond all, he wishes for God to be near him. Because contrary to all his friends, and contrary to Satan, Job is no blasphemer. Job shouts at God louder and fiercer than any atheist… because he desires an answer. As Chesterton points out:

“He wishes the universe to justify itself, not because he wishes it to be caught out, but because he really wishes it to be justified… He speaks of the Almighty as his enemy, but he never doubts, at the back of his mind, that his enemy has some kind of a case which he does not understand. He is anxious to be convinced; that is, he thinks that God could convince him… he lashes the stars, but it is not to silence them; it is to make them speak.”

He is confused and lost, but he is not hopeless. The pain and anguish strip him to the core… and there, at Job’s very heart, we find the brightest glimpses of a hope that shatters, if only for a moment, all the pain and shadows of the world. “Though he slay me,” Job says of God, “I will hope in him.” Although he falls again into sadness and loss, he always rises. “Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and he who testifies for me is on high.” Again he slips. Again he cries out “All my intimate friends abhor me, and those whom I loved have turned against me. My bones stick to my skin and to my flesh…Oh that my words were written,” Job cries, “engraved on a rock forever, For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God!
Against all physical evidence, against all the signs of heaven and earth, against the testimony of all his friends, Job insists, again and again, that God is his Redeemer and friend. Job will not despair, though the whole world is against him: Job will not despair, though God himself is against him.
We can imagine the heavenly scene. Jehovah on his throne, the angels on one side, and Satan and his demons across from them, all looking down at Job. And Satan begins to lose his surety. Job will not break. Satan doesn’t understand. What more does Job have to live for? Why does he cling to his faith in God when it has gained him nothing except pain and disease and loss?
Satan does not understand, and with each restatement of faith he grows more and more confused. And although we see no more of the heavenly court, it is not difficult to imagine the absolute silence in heaven following Job’s final statement of innocence and faith in the righteous judge, and Jehovah’s voice breaking that silence: “Hast thou heard of my servant Job? He is blameless and upright, fearing God and turning away from all evil.” And as Satan flees the heavenly court in shame, Jehovah himself descends to earth to bring the test to an end.
And so the Great Cynic is beaten. Job loved God not for his wealth, not for his children, and not for his health. He loved God for God. And Job is not singled out for punishment or improvement. He is heaven’s champion, dueling against Satan for the glory of God. But we must never forget that at any moment he might have fallen, just as we, Christ’s champions on earth, might fall on any given day of the week. We are not required to perform so admirably as Job… but if  we fall, we must get up again, for the glory of God, to show that his faith in us is not misplaced.

You can read more from this author at his home blog, “Imperfect Reflections,” or see his work “Simon, Who is Called Peter” published by Wipf and Stock Publishers and available at Amazon.com

7 replies »

  1. This page’s commentary reminds me of the simple, but deep, principle that pain can lead to salvation, kind of like acknowledging Jesus’ stripes on us. This seems fairly thorough for its short length, too. An interesting commentary, for sure. I must say that I kind of expected it to mention that Job was released from the torment after forgiving his friends/accusers. To be in that painful state and yet have the power to forgive seems so akin to the Holy Spirit. Truly, Yahweh had not left him to endure on his own.

    Lastly, and not so importantly (but it’d be an interesting tangent), I had to dwell on the writer’s choice of words in the last phrase. To focus on God’s faith in us can, on one hand, relate to God as our Father and our choice to make Him proud (seems solid); but on the other, it can seem pride-based in a “don’t worry, God, I got this” kind of way. I would like to peruse Biblical references which support the claim that God has faith in us to do our part and to count on us to “maintain our end of the bargain” so to speak–not for argument’s sake, but rather for clarification.

    Still, overall, a good read. Thanks for posting! (What a cool site!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • The last line makes me think of the reciprocal (though unequal) love that God desires to characterize our relationship. He initiates, to be sure, but He expects and desires us to respond, to be faithful to Him. I think of God’s desire that through the riches of Christ in the Church, “God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10). It is as we obey and are faithful, that God’s wisdom in making the Church is shown forth to the spiritual rulers.

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  2. I love the realism this author brings to Job. I’m so quick to turn things biblical instead of actual.

    Also, I wonder what the author would have to say on the end of Job where God speaks. It’s my favorite part of the whole book 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for the comment! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. You’re right that Job’s ability to forgive his accusers (and even intercede on their behalf) is incredibly impressive after the abuse done to him.

    On your second point, you’re right that it certainly CAN lead to personal pride in our own achievements (which is probably why the Bible is full of warnings AGAINST that pride). However, as I stated in Parts 1 and 2, I think that God himself boasts of Job as “blameless, upright, and turning away from all evil.” I can’t see any other way of reading it: God is proud of his servant, and he opens Job to attack because he is confident that Job can stand firm.

    As for “our part”, I think the Bible as a whole is very clear that our part is nothing more (but also nothing less!) than faith. That is what was required of Job, and that is what is required of us. Faith is the condition God has set for receiving his blessings (and particularly his salvation).

    Liked by 1 person

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