The book of Job contains an extended case study of the outworking of the decree and consequent providence of God in the life of one of God’s elect. It provides background for an answer to the question posed in Romans 9:19, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” Paul’s answer is “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” Transcending all the purposes and complaints of man is the unchallengeable and invincible purpose of God in creation. That he brought all of this into existence with a specific purpose in his eternal mind, that he will by no means fail to accomplish his purpose, and that we are incapable of sorting out all the individual events of the world to satisfy our impertinent questioning of God is the big lesson of this book. It moves toward that lesson with one of the most poignant stories in all of human literature.
As a setting, we are given a portrait of a conscientiously devoted man whose name was Job. That he was blameless and upright does not mean that Job stood outside the universal verdict, “There is none righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10; Psalm 14:3). It means that he regarded the law as a lovely standard of righteousness, and desired conformity to it as an expression of his love for God and the moral beauty that he relished in the divine character (Psalm 119:159, 160). If Job lived before Moses, this is an example of the reality of a concept of righteousness that existed before that time as Paul argues in Romans 5:12-14. It illustrates the meaning of the Psalmist who wrote “Every one of your righteous rules endures forever.” He does not consider God’s character or the righteous expectations of his creature as an intrusion upon or an impediment to his life but as a lovely privilege.
Job feared God. His desire for uprightness was not based on self-righteousness or a low standard of expectation but on a reverence for the holiness of God and a desire to worship him in the beauty of holiness. Since the fear of the Lord constitutes the foundation of both wisdom and knowledge (Proverbs 1: 7; 9: 10), Job had his mind and his heart filled with the proper equipment to endure and benefit from the upcoming events. In the cycles of speeches that follow, the reader finds great fluctuation in Job’s analyses of his situation as it relates to the justice of God, but the shift moves from a rather simplistic quid pro quo view also held by his friends to a more complex view in which divine justice in this life had the quality of ineffability.
Job turned away from evil. Job was not oblivious to the aggressive nature of the attempts of the unholy to rob God of his glory. He knew that evil can creep in through carelessness and what begins in apparent innocence and entertainment can degenerate to sinful worldliness. The moment of levity might encourage a mindless encroachment on God’s purpose that his creatures regard him as holy. Throwing aside sober discipline robs a person of the circumspect caution needed to reflect in words, actions, and thoughts a self-conscious knowledge of being responsible to reflect God’s glory. Job sought to keep himself from ideas or situations that could degenerate into evil. Far from being naïve about the reality of the pervasive tendency of evil in the human heart, he was deeply sensitive to it.
To appreciate the radical dimension of this assault on Job, the reader is given a description of his earthly status. His possessions are given in portions that sum 10. He had seven sons and three daughters, more than twice as many sons as daughters so that his name could be carried into the future by his sons. His possessions could increase and the fame of the family be secured for generations. He would be able to show his generosity through the dowries he gave his daughters. He had massive possessions in livestock to provide food, clothes, labor, transport, and travel. They are listed as seven thousand sheep and three thousand camels. Then five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred female donkeys. He had a vast number of servants that doubtless would employ these animals in their pursuit of Job’s interests. In short, “This man was the greatest of all the people of the east.”
This is given briefly but impressively to set the stage for the debate about earthly possessions and comforts in light of how pleasing one’s life was to God. Another book of wisdom literature, putting spiritual blessing as infinitely superior to any earthly status wrote, “Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation because, like a flower of the grass, he will pass away. For the sin rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits” (James 1: 9-11).
Future posts will unpack how godliness affects reasoning and leads the godly sufferer to a wide range of considerations as he closes in on a true perception of the ways of God with men.
Dr. Tom Nettles is widely regarded as one of the foremost Baptist historians in America. He joined the faculty of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary after teaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was professor of Church History and chairman of that department. Previously, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. He received a B.A. from Mississippi College and an M.Div. and Ph.D. from Southwestern. In addition to writing numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles has authored or edited nine books including By His Grace and For His Glory, Baptists and the Bible, and Why I Am a Baptist.
Courses taught: Historical Theology of the Baptists, Historical Theology Overview, Jonathan Edwards & Andrew Fuller.