Monday, 4 July 2011

Job's "Redeemer" and his "double portions"

When traumatic events shake the life of a decent, God-fearing person to its very foundations, the age-old questions of "why me?" and "where are the promised blessings?" almost inevitably arise. Well, for me anyway it has lead to serious doubts - if not depression - and a real questioning of the basic issues of faith. The last place in the Bible anybody in that situation might turn to for comfort is the Book of Job. It seems to present a God who was prepared to devastate an innocent and 'blameless' rich man (Job) just to prove a point to Satan - that Job's faith was not simply a natural result of his blessings (as Satan had alleged). If God would only permit Satan to remove the blessings, Satan had said, "he will surely curse you to your face". And Job's 'comforters' - his friends and his wife - are proverbial because of the bad advice and sanctimonious comfort they bring him.

But God had declared "my servant Job" to be "blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil". The accolade from God when he tells Satan about Job and that
"there is no one on earth like him" is made all the more poignant when we realise that Job was not an Israelite, and that he was singled out as the model of 'election', by redemption, into the future messianic Kingdom of God.

The 'testing' of Job began when he was afflicted by the death of all his children and livestock in five separate incidents (7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 oxen, 500 donkeys, 7 sons and 3 daughters), and then in a second 'testing' when he was given "painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head", he still refused to question the authority and goodness of God.

The main section of the book is written as a poetic "dialogue" between Job and his three Edomite "friends" who (along with his wife) try to comfort him - mostly by pointing out that he must have sinned to merit such punishment. But Job has two, oft-quoted responses. In the first place he says:
"The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised",
But Job's response to Bildad the Shuhite's argument that every wicked person gets paid in full, in this life, for his wicked deeds, while the righteous prosper, is one of the most dramatic and prophetic in the Old Testament. Indeed it is the central theme of the aria "I know that my Redeemer lives" in Handel's Messiah. I don't think there is anywhere else in the Old Testament that the resurrection of the righteous dead with the future coming of the Lord is articulated as clearly (Job 19, 25-27):
"I know that my Redeemer lives, and in the end he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him with my own eyes".

Of course, with the poetic dialogue between Job and his comforters taking up almost 39 of the Book of Job's 42 chapters, it is hardly surprising that there are many, many other gems giving revelation of the nature of God, the nature of His desired relationship with all, and the nature of his planned 'Kingdom' including the reward of everlasting life.

Apart from the message of 'redemption' mentioned briefly here - Job also talks about it in chapter 14 ("If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come. You will call and I will answer you") - I have come across many things that I thought were 'new' revelations through Paul, or at least 'New Testament' concepts. The righteous will indeed suffer in this life and be persecuted; their afflictions are not a 'punishment' for sin; but if 'tested' it is to spiritually prosper the individual as in the refining and purification of gold in the fire ("When he has tested me, I will come forth as gold").

When Job finally ends his often angry arguments with his friends, he still maintains that he had not sinned. At this point a fourth, younger friend joins in the dialogue to show that both Job and the three other counselors are in the wrong. In four short poetic speeches, Elihu considers Job's insistence on vindicating himself rather than God reprehensible, and that the friends' inability to refute Job or to understand the extent of God's wisdom and sovereignty was a twisted condemnation of God.

Then God himself then enters the debate, asking Job "who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?" God had not, as Job alleged, wronged him. The Lord asserts his justice as sovereign, and Job is told to leave all this, including his own vindication, under God's control.

The penultimate test for Job is passed when he accepts with remorse that he had spoken "of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know ... therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes". Here we see Job, with Satan out of the picture, still being refined as gold towards perfection in God's sight.

The final test, and for me the most revealing one, comes in the final section of the last chapter. The Lord had said to one of Job's friends,
"I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly".

When this happened (and Job's own forgiveness of them was prayed to God) , and only then, do we see the restoration of Job's prosperity and blessings (Job 42, 10):
"After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before".
So the Lord "blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first. He had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1000 oxen and 1000 donkeys. And he also had seven sons and three daughters". Only the daughters are named, interestingly enough, and Job lived to see his grandchildren to the fourth generation. It is also significant that although Job's possessions were all doubled, only seven sons and three daughters were then given to replace those that had been killed previously. His conviction of a future resurrection (when he would see his "Redeemer" face-to-face) was not something only for himself, but also for his doubled family of 14 sons and 6 daughters.

The Book of Job is known as one of the "wisdom" books of the Bible. It is too easy to miss the message when we bring our own wisdom to reading it. The real 'prosperity gospel' that it teaches only begins with a belief that the Redeemer lives and having a desire to serve him that is greater than the value we place on family, health, possessions or even life itself. The final stumbling blocks (as if the first weren't enough) are to repent humbly of self-righteousness and to be forgiven as we forgive others. Is this message from Job different from that of the New Testament?