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. The essence of this claim is that no free being would willingly follow God for any motive other than bribery; conversely, if the immediate benefits of following God were removed, if prosperity were replaced with suffering, then allegiance to God will be jettisoned.
The claim is therefore that there is no intrinsic value in knowing and serving God, and that the value for allegiance to God is solely in extracting prosperity from him. The result of this accusation is that God gives Satan permission, in two stages Job and again in to destroy Job's prosperity and replace it with intense physical and psychological suffering.
Job is left in a state of terrible physical pain, also facing the total destruction of his wealth, the death of his children, and the loss of the respect of his society. The position of the narrator, then, is that Job was righteous, that Job's initial prosperity and his restored prosperity at the end of the book are from the hand of God, and finally that his righteousness lead directly to his temporary though severe loss of prosperity and his suffering. The narrator's position is, via the evidence for the inspiration of scripture, correct and affirmed by God, and therefore becomes a key component of the message of the book as a whole.
Satan's voice is in agreement with the narrator on these points. He explicitly claims that God is the source of Job's prosperity and he does not contest God's claim of Job's righteousness. He of course is perfectly aware that Job's suffering is allowed by God and caused by Satan himself as a result of Job's righteousness and the provocation it represents to Satan.
Job's three friends present a unified message. They are rebuked by Elihu more on Elihu later for providing no answer to Job, and are roundly condemned by God in this passage:. Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves, and my servant Job will pray for you. For I will accept him so that I may not do with you according to your folly, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. The key question is, what is it that these three say that is incorrect?
Much of what they say sounds quite right and reasonable, and even harmonizes with statements by Elihu who is not rebuked and other passages in scripture. For example, consider this passage, spoken by Eliphaz. He gives rain on the earth, and sends water on the fields, so that he sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety. He frustrates the plotting of the shrewd, so that their hands cannot attain success. He captures the wise by their own shrewdness and the advice of the cunning is quickly thwarted.
By day they meet with darkness, and grope at noon as in the night. But he saves from the sword of their mouth, and the poor from the hand of the mighty. So the helpless has hope, and unrighteousness must shut its mouth. Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves, so do not despise the discipline of the almighty. The essential claims here can be backed up from numerous other passages in scripture. What then is wrong with Job's friends? We need to clarify this question before we can correctly use their material in defining the message of the book of Job.
Consider the following typical passages which expose the heart of the arguments of the three "friends":. Eliphaz: "Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright destroyed? According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble harvest it.
By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of his anger they come to an end. Bildad: "Does God pervert justice or does the almighty pervert what is right? If your sons sinned against him, then he delivered them into the power of their transgression. If you would seek God and implore the compassion of the almighty, if you are pure and upright, surely now he would rouse himself for you and restore your righteous estate.
Zophar: "If you would direct your heart right, and spread out your hand to him; if iniquity is in your hand, put it far away, and do not let wickedness dwell in your tents. Then, indeed, you could lift up your face without moral defect, and you would be steadfast and not fear. For you would forget your trouble, as waters that have passed by, you would remember it. And your life would be brighter than noonday; darkness would be like the morning. Then you would trust, because there is hope; and you would look around and rest securely. You would lie down and none would disturb you, and many would entreat your favor.
But the eyes of the wicked will fail, and there will be no escape for them; and their hope is to breathe their last. Note the consistent claims these are representative of many other examples that Job would be fine if he would repent of his sinfulness. Bildad goes so far as to claim that the death of Job's sons was a result of their own sins Job Their evaluation of Job's situation is based on the belief that the world is a perfect ongoing reflection of God's justice, and therefore that suffering in the world comes only as the result of God's judgment on individuals for their sinfulness.
The message of the three friends is then to deny that Job is righteous, and to argue that actually his loss of prosperity, the suffering now present in his life, comes directly from God's hand in response to particular sins committed by Job. The view of the three friends is not only incorrect in Job's situation, but is clearly a terrible slander against God when extended to all of the evil and suffering present in the world. It is clear that throughout human history good people often suffer at the hands of evil people who themselves prosper.
To describe the present state of affairs, the events of human history including each deprivation and painful experience, as an illustration of the ongoing justice of God against particular sins of individuals is indeed to speak incorrectly of God's character.
The result is to describe God as unjust, inconsistent, and ultimately evil.
We can distill what we are to learn through God's condemnation of the message of Job's friends this way: prosperity and suffering in this life are not necessarily the result of God's intervention of blessing or judgment due to the righteousness of individuals. When we see someone suffering, we can not conclude that God is judging them for particular sins.
God's justice is not now being exercised in any complete sense. Elihu is the fourth of Job's friends. He remains silent until chapter 32, when the other three friends give up their arguments with Job. He tells us that he is younger then the others, and so has waited until last to speak. His speech is lengthy, consuming chapters Like the other three friends, Elihu rebukes Job.
Unlike the other three friends, however, he is exempted from God's rebuke. The reason is that Elihu's issue with Job is substantially different from that of the other three friends. Elihu begins his speech in chapter 32 by pointing out that the other three friends have accused Job and yet failed to answer his arguments. Elihu then says that Job is wrong to accuse God of injustice, as these examples show.
Behold, he invents pretexts against me; he counts me as his enemy. He puts my feet in the stocks; he watches all my paths. Why do you complain against him, that he does not give an account of all his doings? Notice that unlike the three friends he never disputes Job's claim to essential innocence; however he does dispute Job's complaint that God is unjustly causing his suffering. The basis of his argument, developed across these 5 chapters, is an appeal to God's power and his just character.
These are the same points that God himself makes when he intervenes personally in the final chapters of the book. Elihu's message is part of the message God wants us to take away from the book of Job: God may allow suffering for righteousness' sake, and may not explain the exact reasons behind the turn of events.
In such situations, God's wisdom and power provide a sufficient basis for trusting him. Distilling the message of Job's own words in the book of Job is even more challenging than doing so for his three friends, for two reasons: first, Job is less consistent throughout the book on some issues, and second the verdict by God and the narrator on Job's statements is less clear-cut than their verdict on Job's three friends. I have not departed from the command of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my necessary food.
Far be it from me that I should declare you [the three friends] right; till I die I will not put away my integrity from me. My heart does not reproach any of my days. In addition, chapter 31 is a detailed description of his merciful and generous life, free from sexual impurity, greed, and idolatry.
As we have seen, the narrator affirms that Job is initially in a state of righteousness. Further, we have these two statements by the narrator given at the conclusion of Job's first two speeches:.
Curse God and die! Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity? However, it is apparent that some time after this point Job does begin to stray. We know this because the narrator ceases his affirmations, because Elihu rebukes Job for his accusations against God, and most importantly because when God appears in person and addresses Job, he says this:.
If God himself clues us in that Job has strayed, Elihu's rebuke brings Job's problem into clear focus, namely that Job is wrong to accuse God of injustice, as we saw earlier. And indeed Job, after his first two speeches, begins to ascribe injustice to God, as in this example:. He will not allow me to get my breath, but saturates me with bitterness. If it is a matter of power, behold, he is the strong one!
And if it is a matter of justice, who can summon him? Though I am righteous, my mouth will condemn me; though I am guiltless, he will declare me guilty. I am guiltless; I do not take notice of myself; I despise my life. It is all one; therefore I say, 'He destroys the guiltless and the wicked. Job then rightly maintains that his suffering was not the result of God's judgment against his sin. He is wrong, however, to claim that his suffering is the result of injustice from God against him. When he is finally given a personal revelation of God, he retracts, and asks only to be taught by God:.
Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask you, and you instruct me. I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees you; therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes. In spite of Job's rebuke at the hands of Elihu and God himself, Job is given an overall commendation by God. We already cited the passage in which God contrasts Job to the three friends in chapter ff, claiming that Job has in general spoken rightly of God.
This overall commendation is due to his refusal to jettison his personal commitment to God. We see this especially in these three outstanding statements of faith:. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God Job is a righteous man, who correctly understands that his suffering is not the result of God's justice, but falls into a trap by assuming his suffering is the result of God's injustice.
However, he remains an outstanding example of faith in the midst of suffering.
Satan's hope, that in the face of suffering Job would curse God, was shattered. By now we have touched on the important points made by God in his personal appearance in chapters He rebukes Job for his accusation of injustice against God. He makes a long and effective contrast between Job's power and knowledge and God's, and in essence argues that God has good reasons for the decisions he makes, including those impacting Job.
Interestingly, Job is never given the information that we, through the narrator, are given for the specific reasons in Job's case. Instead, God's solution for Job is to reveal himself personally to Job. In summary, the message of the book of Job is that the issue of righteousness, prosperity, and suffering is complex.
On the one hand, righteousness brings God's support, which in general includes prosperity. We see this in the fact that Job's prosperity, both before and after his suffering, is ascribed to God. On the other hand, the state of affairs in this world is not the result of God's just intervention, but is instead impacted by God's enemy, Satan. The wicked do indeed prosper in some cases, and in others righteousness itself brings suffering, as in the case of Job, at least temporarily.
In such situations God may not explain the reasons for these things; however he has reasons and may be trusted based on his wisdom and power. As noted in the introduction, there are some apparent conflicts between Job and Proverbs, with selected passages from Psalms falling on both sides of the divide. The conflict can be summarized this way. Some passages seem to claim that prosperity is the result of righteousness and God's resulting support, while other passages claim that prosperity is enjoyed by wicked people who grasp for wealth and oppress others to get it.
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The best way to begin the harmonization of these passages is by summarizing the teaching of the book of Proverbs on the issue of righteousness, prosperity, and suffering. The result will be the clear emergence of a unified and harmonious set of teachings on this issue across the wisdom literature. A survey of the book of Proverbs uncovers the following themes that touch on the topic of righteousness, prosperity, and suffering.
Proverbs teaches that in general, a righteous life will tend to bring prosperity. It is this point more than any of the others in Proverbs that appears difficult to reconcile with Job. However, the difficulties disappear with a clear understanding of what this teaching is and is not. First, Proverbs teaches what we sometimes call "work ethic". Here are some examples of this very prominent theme in Proverbs. He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men. The observation is simply that godly character, which includes the ability to perform consistent, quality work, has the result of increasing prosperity.
On the other hand an unrighteous character includes laziness or sluggardliness, to use the favorite term of the Proverbs which has the opposite result, namely poverty. In addition, as we noted in the introduction, there is a set of proverbs we cited , , , , and that make the general point that prosperity is a good thing, a blessing from God. By way of reminder, here is Proverbs Having a sufficiency for physical needs, along with the other elements of prosperity as we've defined it, is pleasant and enjoyable, and it is God's ultimate plan that people have prosperity.
We wonder: does God's basic plan for people include an abundant provision for physical and emotional needs? Proverbs as well as the rest of scripture answers that yes it does. This point is almost self-evident, and yet it is important to be clear because there is sometimes a suspicion against God that his desire for human beings excludes prosperity and is only suffering.
In summary, then, prosperity is a good thing, providing it as a blessing is part of God's general intention toward human beings, and it will tend to come from righteousness. Now if Proverbs is saying that prosperity will always come from righteousness in this life, then we do indeed have a contradiction with Job. However, if we take into account the context of the entire message of Proverbs, it becomes clear that we cannot make Proverbs say either that all prosperity comes from God due to people's righteousness, or that righteousness will always result in prosperity in this life.
We need to examine the other major teachings in Proverbs on the issue of righteousness, prosperity, and suffering. In Proverbs the explicit goal of gaining wealth is roundly condemned, as is the attempt to place one's security in wealth. This is a critical practical balance to the previous point. Consider these examples:.
When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings, like an eagle that flies toward the heavens. In other words, don't make wealth an idol, whether or not you have it. It should not be the center post of life, but only a peripheral though good aspect of life. Proverbs also makes a strong point that those with wealth have a responsibility to be generous with it, particularly toward the poor.
Consider the following examples:. Based on the view of human nature seen here in Proverbs as well as in the rest of scripture, namely that human beings are all of high and equal value before God, it is inconceivable to advocate enjoying prosperity without attempting to do something about the inequality present in this life.
Prosperity is a stewardship fulfilled by generosity toward others who lack even basic sustenance and cannot help themselves. An important part of the teaching of Proverbs on this subject, especially in terms of harmonization with Job, is the theme that although prosperity is a good thing, righteousness is more important when it comes to a choice between them.
As important as this teaching is from a practical standpoint, it is critical from a harmonization standpoint. The reason is that even though Proverbs doesn't teach explicitly that in some cases righteousness may bring suffering rather than prosperity, yet this set of passages makes it clear that Proverbs acknowledges these categories of the righteous poor and the prosperous wicked. Proverbs contains a prominent theme that ultimately God will punish the wicked and they will lose their prosperity.
Of all the themes in Proverbs noted so far, this one has the most references. Here is an assortment of examples:. In many of the passages on this theme in Proverbs, it is not clear whether these outcomes of judgment against the wicked are the result of the direct intervention of God or the natural outcome of living contrary to God's will and design. A survey of all this material leads to the conclusion that both are being taught, as they are through the rest of scripture. Some aspects of judgment are worked out as the natural results of wicked behavior.
Other aspects are from the intervention of God in judgment. We can now stand back and see that there is no conflict between any of these teachings in Proverbs understood in light of the full context of the book and those in the book of Job. Just as God is the source of Job's prosperity, both before and after his time of suffering, so Proverbs affirms in a general sense that prosperity is a good thing in God's view, and that a righteous character will tend to bring a life of prosperity.
The teachings in Proverbs that wealth should never be an idol and should be used as an opportunity for generosity are also present in Job as well. Consider this example Job is speaking :. Did not he who made me in the womb make him, and the same one fashion us in the womb? If I have kept the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail, or have eaten my morsel alone, and the orphan has not shared it but from my youth he grew up with me as with a father, and from infancy I guided her , if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, or that the needy had no covering, if his loins have not thanked me, and if he has not been warmed with the fleece of my sheep, if I have lifted up my hand against the orphan, because I saw I had support in the gate, let my shoulder fall from the socket, and my arm be broken off at the elbow.
For calamity from God is a terror to me, and because of his majesty I can do nothing. If I have put my confidence in gold, and called fine gold my trust, if I have gloated because my wealth was great, and because my hand had secured so much; if I have looked at the sun when it shone, or the moon going in splendor, and my heart became secretly enticed, and my hand threw a kiss from my mouth, that too would have been an iniquity calling for judgment, for I would have denied God above. Most importantly, Proverbs has no quarrel with the assertion from Job that at times the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer.
While it is not a major theme, yet we have seen that the category exists in Proverbs for the righteous poor and the prosperous wicked. Proverbs is not therefore teaching that the righteous will always be prosperous, nor that the wicked will always be suffering; there is therefore no contradiction between Proverbs and Job on this point.
Finally, there is no conflict with Job on the teaching of Proverbs that God will judge the wicked, to some extent through the natural results of their wickedness, as well as by the intervention of God, to some extent in this life, and to a complete extent at the end of this life. God intervenes in the book of Job to rebuke Job's three "friends" and to restore Job's fortunes.
In addition, Elihu affirms that God will indeed bring about complete justice on the earth. In Proverbs, as in Job, we see that the relationship between righteousness, prosperity, and suffering is complex, and that there is a harmonious teaching on the issue. The material in Psalms on this topic of righteousness, prosperity, and suffering affirms all the points we have listed so far, and provides some clarification on the issue of the ultimate judgment of the wicked.
Here are some examples from Psalms which serve to demonstrate that the same teachings seen so far in Job and Proverbs are present. But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever. Do not trust in oppression, and do not vainly hope in robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart upon them. Once God has spoken; twice I have heard this: that power belongs to God; and lovingkindness is yours, O Lord, for you recompense a man according to his work. Here is an example of a prominent theme in the Psalms, which is the converse of the theme of God's judgment of the wicked, namely that God will support the righteous, delivering them from trouble.
Psalms abounds with statements like this one:. Psalms also contains this excellent passage exploring the tension we have been examining so far between two themes. It acknowledges, as do Job and Proverbs, that God's justice is not being done perfectly on earth, and thus we find not only the wicked sometimes prospering but also the righteous suffering, even for their righteousness. It makes the same claim that God will ultimately cause the righteous to prosper and the wicked to come under judgment:.
They are not in trouble as other men; nor are they plagued like mankind When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight until I came into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end. Surely you set them in slippery places; you cast them down to destruction. What do you do with the dust jacket from a hardcover book?
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