Job 1:1-2:8 – God’s Sovereignty in Suffering

Considered to be both a theological and a literary masterpiece, the book of Job is an honest portrayal of God allowing a good man to suffer. The test of Job’s faith, allowed by God in response to a challenge from Satan, revealed God’s loving sovereignty and supremacy of divine wisdom over human wisdom.

Although there’s much debate as to the actual interpretation of the book of Job, one thing is agreed upon by all; this book’s special contribution to the canon, and to the topic of evil and suffering, is its treatment of what most of us would call irrational evil, or incoherent suffering.

Such evil and suffering do not easily fit into any glib “solutions.” So by the end of this series, my goal is not to have all your questions about evil and seemingly irrational suffering answered. Rather, my goal in this sermon series is to get you to start thinking rightly about God in the midst of seemingly irrational suffering and surrender to His sovereign power and goodness.

“It has become conventional to think as if we are all going to live in this world forever and to view every case of bereavement as a reason for doubting the goodness of God.” J.I. Packer, Facing Death With Courageous Confidence in God.

Believing that God is good despite the seemingly contradicting evidence, Job rested in faith alone. In the depths of agony he could still proclaim, “I know that my Redeemer lives” (19:25). In the end God silenced all discussions with the truth that He alone is wise (38–41). Yet God vindicated Job’s trust in him (42), proving that genuine faith cannot be destroyed. The unknown author was probably an Israelite writing sometime between 1500 and 500 b.c.1

“How could such a big, good and powerful God let bad things happen to good people?” The problem with this question is that is assumes that everyone deserves good things from God, or that there are inherently good people. Another problem with this question is that it puts this all-powerful God that you think is bad for allowing suffering on trial, and you (a small created being who may live 70-90 shorts years in light of eternity), become the judge of Him.

Do you see anything wrong with this question now? This questions exalts man and belittles God. I won’t even begin to address the answer to this question until we unpack the proper way that this question should be asked. What we all should be asking, right now, is this: “How in the world can a holy and good and all-powerful God who knows all things, including all the sin in my life, and not strike me dead?”

As long as we are asking the former question, we will always think the problem is out there. You see, the former question implies that the one asking the question believes themselves to be better than some people, and that the problem is those evil people, but not themselves. You tracking with me here? We are the problem!

We live in a sin-laden world. The effects of the fall are all around us and in us, and we were “never” given the promise that we would be protected from the effects of the fall.

Rather, the promise is that God will one day undo the curse of the fall and He will make all things new, and sin will be removed. In the end, the wicked will be tossed into the lake of fire for eternity, and the righteous (those who placed their faith in Jesus) will enter into and live forever in the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 20-21).

God sends afflictions to us because, since sin and evil have come into the world, they are the necessary means of purifying and testing us; both purifying and testing are a means of perfecting (sanctifying). These are explanations with which we can and we must comfort and reassure ourselves with. But this is still not the final answer of the book of Job to this great question.2

So the book of Job treats a fundamental question of our common humanity; and the poet has deliberately taken his hero not from Israelite history, but from extra-Israelite tradition.

From beginning to end he is conscious of relating a history handed down among the Arab tribes to the east of Palestine, which has come to his ears; for none of the proper names contain even a trace of symbolically intended meaning. The history and worship of Israel are nowhere introduced; even indirect references to them are nowhere to be found.

The author throws himself into the extra-Israelite position. His own Israelite standpoint is clear though, as we see from his calling God, Lord (Yahweh), throughout the beginning and the end of the book; but the non-Israelite character of his hero he maintains throughout the whole book.

I believe the author has intentionally done this to show the readers that God is known, acknowledge, and worshipped at this time outside of the people of Israel, or possibly before the Israelites were chosen by God.

Humanly speaking, Job is a book that essentially puts God on trial for why suffering happens, especially to good people. But from Satan’s point of view, his major indictment on God is that “His people only serve Him for what He can give them.” God is not satisfied with that; for God desires His people to love Him for who He is, not because He can do great things for them or allow them to prosper. With that intro said, let’s get into the text this morning:

Job 1:1-3: It is a large, princely household east of Israel and west of Babylon (Iraq). The author describes Job as “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” In four different ways he describes Job’s character.

The writer now takes a very characteristic feature from the life of Job, to show that, even in the height of his prosperity, he preserved and displayed the holiness affirmed of him.

Job 1:4-5: The text, understood simply as it stands, speaks of a weekly round (Oehler and others). The seven sons dined with one another throughout the week, and did not forget their sisters in their celebration.

There existed among them a family peace and union which had been enjoyed and cherished, in part because of the comfort of their father’s wealth. But early in the morning of every 8th day, Job instituted a solemn service for his family, and offered sacrifices for his ten children, that they might be forgiven for any sins of foolishness into which they might have fallen in the midst of the cheerfulness of their family gatherings.

Job is afraid that his children may have become somewhat unmindful of God during their family parties. Job has an earnest desire for sanctification, which was far from being satisfied with merely good manners externally. Sacrifice (which is as old as the sin of mankind) was to Job a means of grace, by which he cleansed himself and his family every week from inward blemishes. Job got God!

The point the author is clearly making right out of the gates is that Job is innocent before the Lord not because of his obedience, but because of his fear of God, his repentance, and humility before Him as the Creator.

The author now transfers us from earth to heaven, where everything that is done on earth has its unseen roots, its final cause; where all the unanswered questions on earth are answered. Whenever we are graciously given insight into the ways of God and divine dialogue, we better listen up and see what we can learn about what we hear.

Job 1:6-12: It’s an assembly day in heaven. All the spirits present themselves to render their account, and expecting to receive commands; and the following dialogue ensues between Yahweh and Satan:

God: Satan, where have you been?

Satan: Oh, I was just traveling around the earth checking out who your followers were.

God: Did you see my servant Job? He is a devoted follower of mine unlike any other.

Satan: Job doesn’t truly follow you? He fears losing all that you gave him, so he follows
you. You take from that man all that you’ve given him, and he will crumble and
run from you.

God: You are wrong, but to further glorify my name, to clarify to you and to teach others
on earth the fullness of my ways, he is yours to do what you will, only do not hurt
him.

God is setting Job up for trouble on earth. He is clearly proud of Job. Job’s fear of God has endeared God to Job in a very deep way and Satan is not impressed, or could we say, jealous. In verse 9 Satan insinuates that Job is not such a great specimen of reverence for God. He says that the only reason Job fears God is to get rich.

“Job fears God because it will mean health, wealth, and prosperity, that’s all.” So Satan says to God in verse 11, “Take away all that he has and he will curse you to your face.”

To that, God could have said, “I don’t need to prove anything to you or anybody else you dirty rotten liar and thief. I know the heart of my servant Job and that is enough for me.” He could have, but in this case he didn’t.

God chooses to get an “open victory” over Satan for His own glory, as well as to instruct His people (us included) of His character and divine will in suffering. A test will show that in the heart of Job God himself is more highly esteemed than any possession or any family member. So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and was free to harm Job’s life.

Job 1:13-22: Then the calamity came. It was on one of those feast days when all ten of his children were gathered in the home of the oldest brother. First in vv. 14–15 a messenger comes to Job and tells him that the Sabeans had attacked and stolen all his oxen and donkeys and killed all the servants with them.

Then in v. 16 another messenger comes and says that the fire of God has fallen and destroyed all his sheep and the servants with them. Then in v. 17 another messenger comes and says that the Chaldeans had raided the camel herd and taken them all and killed the servants. And finally in vv. 18–19 the message comes that all of his children were crushed to death when a tornado caused the house to collapse.

Notice two of the calamities were caused by evil men—Sabaens (v. 15), Chaldeans (v. 17). And the other two were caused by, what insurance adjusters would call “acts of God.” Probably lighting causing a fire (v. 16), and a tornado (v. 19).

Job loses all his wealth and his children! What in the world is happening here?

ANSWER: Something of divine importance is happening. God is in the process of demonstrating to the heavenly realms (and to anyone else who has eyes to see) that He Himself is supreme in the heart of Job. This means more than anything else to God, therefore it should mean more than anything else to us as well!

DO NOT MISS THIS! The revelation of this truth is so important that God is willing to ordain suffering and poverty to His beloved son in order to make God’s value and beauty known.

And verses 20-21 record the divine victory: “20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Satan was proved wrong. Job did not curse God when he lost his wealth and his children. He worshiped and he blessed God, and so the superior worth of God became evident to all. And the purpose of God in setting Job up was fulfilled… the revelation of the value of God. “22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”

Again, DO NOT MISS THIS! Do not let your mind and your eyes get so stuck on the fact that you could never do what Job did. That’s not the point! The focus is God’s worth to us. God is rooting out of us even now, as we read this, idols that we love more than Him.

I am pleading with you this morning, not to transfix your eyes and your mind on the earthly loss, which if you do, you will never stop to look up and realize the temperance of earthly things, and the eternality of the God Himself. Okay, let’s keep going:

Job 2:1-6: So now another heavenly meeting is arraigned and Satan is ticked. Now Satan’s excuse is that Job’s health is still in tact. So God grants permission again to Satan to take his health, but not his life. Again, let me remind you brothers and sisters, the demonstration of the worth of God in the faith and reverence of His people is the most important matter in the world! This is why God allows this to happen.

Job 2:7-8: So just as Job was recovering from the shock of losing his wealth and his children, he comes down with a terrible disease. It says that he was afflicted “with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes.”

According to 7:5, Job was covered with boil-like sores that opened and ran with puss and then got clogged with dirt and infested with worms. This was no chicken pox man! It was a terrifying thing from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet.

And in all this suffering, Scripture is crystal clear: comforts and calamities come from the hand of God.

“The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.” Proverbs 16:4

“I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.” Isaiah 45:7

“Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” Amos 3:4

“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Proverbs 16:33

“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” Psalm 115:3

Just picture Satan in heaven surrounded by 100’s of thousands of angels awaiting Job’s response (and our response). Then Job answers, unknown to him, 100’s of thousands of arms are raised, mighty voices shout, “Worthy is the Lord God of Job!” And what does Satan do? He flees from the presence of the praises of God. Oh that we would have eyes to see past this earth & hearts that love God’s kingdom more ours.

Did you ever wonder what Peter meant when he said in 1 Peter 3:8: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Resist him firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world”? Well, you have gotten your heavenly picture of this verse today. Be steadfast in your love and trust in God.

Brothers and sisters, your suffering is not in vain. Your suffering is not meaningless. Your suffering is not detached from God’s will.

You may not understand it as life goes on, but I pray that you can see the magnitude with which God is glorified in your faith in Him no matter the circumstance. I pray that we all can value God’s worth more than our earthly comfort.

Let’s close with a few important truths & observations about God and suffering:

Truth # 1: Satan’s deepest desire is to destroy our joy in God. He uses two weapons to do this: pain and pleasure. He uses pain to make us feel that God is powerless, mean, unloving, and not trustworthy. He uses pleasure to make us feel that God isn’t necessary or not worth our time and affections because we have all we think we need. Pain and pleasure keep us from the God who eternally eradicates pain and gives unending pleasure!

Truth # 2: God’s deepest desire is to display his beauty and worth in the lives of His people. The great aim of God in creation and redemption is to preserve and display the infinite worth of His glory and the beauty of redemption that His Son Jesus has accomplished.

The way he does this is by redeeming a people who love him and desire him and cherish him above all earthly treasures and pleasures. God desires a people who will not trade Him in for anything this world can offer, or turn from Him if any earthly thing is taken or withheld. God will display His beauty and worth to the nations!

Truth # 3: God grants to Satan certain and controlled power to cause pain. In Job 1:12, God says to Satan,“Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” And then in 2:6 God says, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.” It is God, not Satan, who sets the limits of Satan’s power to cause pain.

Our God is not frustrated by the power and craftiness of Satan. Satan cannot make one move without the permission of God almighty! He may be a lion, but he is a lion on a leash. God reins Satan in or gives him slack according to God’s own purposes!

Truth # 4: Satan’s work is ultimately the work of God. Now before you label me a heretic and cuss me out under your breath so no one can hear you or think you’re crazy, I want you to hear me out. Did you notice that in the two heavenly scenes God handed Job over to Satan’s power? But when Satan had done his work of taking Job’s wealth and family, Job said in 1:21, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job says that it was ultimately the Lord himself who took away his family and wealth. Then the inspired writer of the book makes a comment to avoid a misunderstanding. Unless anyone says that Job should not have attributed Satan’s work to God, he writes in 1:22, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” It is not sin and it is not crazy to say that what Satan did, God ultimately did, because God rules Satan!

Similarly in the second heavenly scene God says in 2:6 to Satan, “Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life.” Then verse 7 makes it very explicit that “So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and struck Job with loathsome sores.”

Think about the other answers we must give (make up) if we don’t agree that God rules Satan:

# 1: God can’t rule Satan and Satan is free to do what he wants or

# 2: God can only get Satan under control sometimes. These answers are biblically untrue & would be a scary truth if God didn’t have sovereign control over Satan.

In 2:10 Job says, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In other words Job again goes all the way up to the sovereignty of God over Satan and says that his suffering is from God. Satan may have been the secondary cause and the physical change agent, but ultimately it is from God.

And again the inspired writer warns us not to criticize Job here. He writes at the end of verse 10, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” It is not a sin to say that a sickness that Satan causes is “from the Lord.” Job’s firm refuge and unswerving hope when everything else seemed to be crumbling was the absolute sovereignty of God.

Truth # 5: God had the same kind of conversation with Satan when He sent His Son, Jesus, to die for the sins of many. Jesus is the perfect Job. Job eventually questions God, and then grows through some discipline and still needs God to be declared righteous. Not Jesus. Jesus is God. HE is the 2nd person in the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit).

Satan was given freedom to take from Jesus, to tempt Jesus, to cause great poverty and great suffering to Jesus. But this was all the divine plan of God from the very beginning of creation. God gave His Son up, Satan (nor sinful man) took Jesus’ life from Him. This was God’s plan. And we can trust God’s goodness in suffering because of this. He seeks to redeem your soul. To make you like His Son, Jesus. Do you see this?
God’s sovereignty causes truth (judgement for sin) and love (forgiveness for sin) to mysteriously crash together!

Closing: My prayer for us this morning is that we would join with Job and affirm with all our hearts the absolute sovereignty of God and surrender to Him as the High and Good King of Heaven. May we be able to say with the psalmist , “Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases.” (115:3). Let us say with Daniel, “He does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’ ” (4:35).

Let your tears flow freely when your suffering comes. Do not be a robot who feels no emotions. Wrestle out your anger and uncertainty with God. Don’t run from Him and stop dialoging with Him. Don’t stop fellowshipping with His people and don’t put on hold your worship of Him because you’re angry and confused.

That is the time to press into Him all the more. Remember Job after all the calamity in verse 20 says “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.”

The sobs of grief and pain are not the sign of unbelief. Job knows nothing of a flippant, insensitive, superficial “Praise God anyhow” response to suffering. The greatness of Job’s worship is because it was in grief, not because it replaced grief. Let your tears flow freely when suffering comes, and may we weep with those who weep.

Brothers and sisters, trust in the goodness of God, and let him be your treasure and your joy. When your calamity comes, may the Lord give you the grace to affirm the sovereignty of God, may He let your tears flow freely, and may He cause you to remember (or show you for the first time) that the Lord Jesus Christ has sealed our eternal comfort in Him through His assigned suffering on the cross!

You and I do not have the strength to respond to tragedy the way that Job did, neither did Job. Job believed God and God sustained Him. Strength through weakness. Be weak today and call on Jesus and be in it for the 100’s of thousands of voices that praise and glorify God in the face of the enemy, Satan!

Let’s pray!

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