I come from the land of Uz, a large territory east of the Jordan, opposite what is now the Nation of Israel. The area was named after a son of Seir of the Horite people, who shared the land with Esau’s clans during the time Jacob and his family were returning to Canaan after their long stay in Paddan Aram. Today this land belongs partly to Jordan and partly to Syria.
While my story appears well into the first third of books in the Bible, it’s actually the first one ever published, done so by Joseph while he was Prime Minister of Egypt. In many ways our stories are similar, and I guess he thought reading about my experiences would be helpful to others in times of trouble.
While not part of the people who would eventually come into a national covenant with God, I certainly was one of His followers, and always tried my best to obey His laws. You must remember that in the beginning, everyone alive knew the LORD and understood His requirements. It was only gradually that people began going off on their own, rebelling against Him and inventing false gods and counterfeit religions in their vain attempts to replace Him. No one can live without God. So if you reject the real one, you have to come up with a false one. (It’s also important to remember that the truth always precedes the lie, or else how would you know the difference? Every successful false religion has always used a grain of truth to attract people, and then played on their ignorance to promote the lies that lead them astray.)
So I was one who had stayed with the Truth, obeying God’s laws and living in ways that were pleasing to Him. There was even a time when I believed I was doing a pretty good job of it, and it’s that kind of thinking that got me into trouble. As the LORD Himself would later reveal to me, it started like this.
One day in Heaven, God summoned all his angels to give their reports, and among them was the one we call Satan, the first to rebel against God. Satan had illegally gained possession of Earth by deceiving Adam and Eve, and has been actively engaged in stealing the rest of God’s creation, humanity, ever since. He’s the real source of all false religions—the author of all their lies. If nothing else, my story will show you how ingenious his plans are for stealing us away from God, and how well they work.
When He asked Satan what he’d been doing and was told he’d been roaming around on Earth, God asked if he’d run across me. He told Satan I was the most righteous man on the whole planet.
Well this made me an enemy of Satan’s and so he told God that the only reason I obeyed Him was because of all the blessings I’d received. In truth I was a wealthy man, with a large and loving family, and huge herds of animals. In essence Satan said I was obedient because it was profitable. “Take away his possessions,” he said, “And then we’ll see how faithful he is.” And so God agreed, on the condition that I not be harmed.
Satan lost no time at all. In the span of one short day, all my herds and all my children were taken from me. I was devastated but intellectually at least, my faith in God wasn’t shaken. “I came into this world with nothing and that’s the way I’ll leave it. The LORD has given and the LORD has taken away,” I reasoned, “Blessed be the Name of the LORD.”
But how could God permit this? That’s always the first question people ask. And sadly they often conclude that either God loves us enough to keep us from harm but lacks the power, or else he has the power but doesn’t love us. I now know what an arrogant self-centered conclusion that is even though at the time I considered it myself.
As I was soon to learn, it’s not our righteousness that protects us from the forces of evil, but God’s Grace. Moreover, in my righteousness I had become self-righteous, a grievous sin made all the more so by my unwillingness to admit it. Had I been truly righteous (only one man has ever been so in all creation) God, who is neither arbitrary nor capricious, could not have permitted Satan to afflict me. As it was, even though by God’s account I was the most righteous man on Earth, my unconfessed sin left me exposed, and the LORD needed to take some drastic action to get my attention before I became totally insufferable. Satan was simply a convenient, if unknowing, tool in His hand.
When I adopted a philosophical response to my great loss, the LORD knew it would take another attack to force me into reality, and so He agreed to let Satan afflict me personally, requiring only that he stop short of taking my life. Now even my wife, seeing me in my agony said, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die.”
Please understand this. The LORD takes no pleasure in seeing us afflicted, but my sin gave Satan an opening the LORD was required by His own law to permit. He is absolutely just in these matters, as I was to learn in no uncertain terms, and any attempt to justify ourselves only serves to condemn Him. Another sin.
As the Apostle Paul would one day say, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” That’s not a New Testament idea by the way; he was quoting Isaiah 64:6. And John agrees. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) The only difference between you who live after the cross and we who lived before it, is that the penalty for your sins is already paid. This allows God’s Grace to flow ever more abundantly since the cross has reconciled us to Him. (Col. 1:19-20) You have only to ask for forgiveness to receive it and be restored immediately to righteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Now don’t get me wrong. We’re still responsible for our behavior and must expect to bear the physical and spiritual consequences of our actions. It’s just that consignment to Hell is no longer one of the consequences for any who accept the pardon He’s provided, and purification from all our unrighteousness is as easy as asking. For all who ask will receive, all who seek will find, and to all who knock the door will be opened. Praise the LORD.
As for me, the LORD still had much to teach me, and through me, you. Remember what one of your modern-day humorists, Mark Twain, had to say. “The only time experience is the best teacher is when it was somebody else’s experience.” Please learn from mine.
So there I was, sitting on the ground scraping at the case of boils that had broken out all over my body, lamenting my great loss. All I owned stolen from me, and my children killed when the house they were partying in collapsed on them. With seven sons and three daughters, there was a birthday almost every month, and it was their habit to celebrate them together. They happened to be at one of these celebrations when Satan attacked and killed them all.
Even in this, I maintained my philosophical frame of mind saying, “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” (Job 2:10) At least in saying this, I didn’t sin, but God knew the hidden thoughts of my heart. He knew that I believed I didn’t deserve to have these things happen to me. After all, I wasn’t some blatant public sinner, openly violating His law. I hadn’t learned yet that one of the worst sins we can commit is to convince ourselves that we’re not sinners, and that even though we look for all the world to be good and kind and just, our inner selves are rife with sin. It’s our nature, inherited from our father Adam, and it’s as natural to us as breathing.
Well, when three of my best friends heard what had happened they hurried over to console me. They were shocked to see me, and for seven days and seven nights, we all sat there in the dirt not saying a word as the awful reality of recent events in my life sank in.
Finally, I spoke up, cursing the day I was born and pouring out all the anguish I felt. This released my friends to speak as well and let me tell you a few things about that. It’s human nature to reason through difficult things and find justification for them in our own minds, so I shouldn’t be too harsh in my criticism. Suffice it to say that these friends of mine summarized the three major components of humanism in their reasoning: human experience, human tradition, and human merit. All are wrong in their conclusions and false in their logic, since they all contend that man must do things to earn God’s favor and therefore suffering is a sign of His displeasure. The overriding problem with the humanist view is that we see the world the way we are, not the way it is. All of our perceptions are distorted either by our experience, our traditions, or our presumed merit. I learned from this encounter not to ever again ask my friends for their opinions, but to join me in asking God for His. As He was soon to show me, only God’s opinion is free of human distortion and therefore void of any gap between perception and reality.
Eliphaz the Temanite sprinkled his opinion with phrases like “I have observed” and “I myself have seen” in an effort to lend credibility to his view that the law of cause and effect could be applied to my situation. Correct my behavior, he reasoned, and change the outcome. Interestingly, he wasn’t far off the mark, but his error was in telling me to evaluate my actions when it was my motives that needed examination. His advice had the effect of wounding me with false accusation. I was doing good things to earn my position before God, and in his observation, my tragedy proved it wasn’t enough. He had seen others punished for their foolishness and disobedience, and so I must be suffering a similar fate.
Well, this made me feel even worse, and the question “With friends like this who needs enemies?” came to mind. I was actually on the brink of suicide, not knowing if I could go on another day, and he’s telling me I’m not measuring up.
Then Bildad the Shuhite put in his two cents worth, wasting neither time nor words. “Your children sinned, and God punished them with death,” he said, (Job 8:4) “and it’s been that way since the beginning of time.” He suggested I search our history. Every time man departed from God the end result was the same; judgment. But I was being given another chance. Learn from the past and make myself blameless and upright. Succeed where others had failed, and God would be pleased with me.
I could accept the logic of his position. History was on his side, and my children were sinners. I had prayed for them on many occasions (Job 1:5). But how does a mortal man become righteous before God? This was a question Peter would ask the Lord many years later. “With man it is impossible,” the Lord replied, “But not with God. All things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27) Of course, I hadn’t learned this yet. But I would.
For now, I could only reason that if someone who had tried to please God as hard as I had could suffer like this, what hope is there for anyone? In my self-pity, I cried out to God to show me where I had failed. I simply could not understand what I had done to deserve such treatment when it seemed that others around me got away with much worse crimes against Him. Surely He knew I wasn’t as bad as them. It just wasn’t fair! Again I cursed the day I was born.
Zophar the Naamathite weighed in. My third so-called friend said he wished God would speak to me, and then maybe I could understand the simplicity of it. If I deserved better, I would receive better! “Devote your heart to Him and stop sinning. Then you’ll be able to hold your head up high, and put all this behind you.” (Job 11:13-16)
By now I had really had it with this group. Didn’t they think I knew all this? Did they really believe they were that much smarter than me? They seemed to have forgotten I had a relationship with God. I spoke with Him, and He answered, and now I was the laughingstock of all who knew me. Criminals in our land were more secure than I was, and even the animals in the fields knew that God had done this to me.
I was done listening to these “friends.” God owed me an explanation, and I was going to get it! He knew I trusted in him, and even if He killed me, I would place my hope in Him. Surely we could discuss this face to face without these friends of mine presuming to speak for Him. Let Him speak for Himself. I wasn’t afraid to defend myself before Him. He could even bring witnesses against me if He wanted. I knew that if given half a chance I could vindicate myself.
I said, “Man is more like a flower than a tree in that his days are numbered and when he lies in death is no more. But even a tree that’s been cut down can grow again and with a little water will bud and put forth shoots. If God is so mad at me, then let him kill me so I can lie in my grave till He gets over it. Then He’ll miss me and long to hear the sound of my footsteps. Then when He calls, I’ll answer, and he’ll forget all about my so-called sins. That’ll teach Him to think twice before punishing someone who doesn’t deserve it.”
The truest things are often said in the heat of passion, and I’ll be darned if my little tirade wasn’t a pretty good summary of God’s plan for man. He’s even gone so far as to arrange the death of His own Son as a means to getting over His anger. Someday soon now He will call and when He does, we’ll all answer. And when we rise from the grave to join Him in His Kingdom, we’ll find He’s forgotten all about our sins just like I predicted.
King Solomon would one day write, “Respect for the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and training.”(Prov. 1:7) Ever notice how the lack of knowledge rarely prevents people from expressing an opinion? In fact, some of the most opinionated people I’ve met have been the least knowledgeable.
For example, my “friend” Eliphaz now launched into a scathing attack against me, basing it on the so-called wisdom of man. He claimed it proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the wicked are always punished in this world, in effect trying to convince me that the good guys always win and the bad guys always lose. If I’m losing, his reasoning went, then I must be one of the bad guys. “God doesn’t even trust His angels,” he claimed, “And if even the heavens are not pure how much less so is man who is vile and corrupt?” (Job 15:15) It was another vain attempt to motivate me to do a better job of earning my position before God.
At least on one point, he was right. Man is vile and corrupt. And since that’s true, then who doesn’t deserve punishment? We should all be sitting in the dust with nothing like I was. We shouldn’t be shocked and surprised when bad things happen. We should be surprised when they don’t!
But in the way of man, Eliphaz was differentiating between himself and me. He wasn’t suffering, so by his reasoning, he must be righteous. Applying the wisdom of man in the world imputes righteousness to the fortunate, and there’s the flaw. It’s not our righteousness that protects us—it’s God’s grace. True wisdom always justifies God and condemns self! Man’s wisdom justifies self and condemns God.
But I myself was contaminated with this false wisdom. I felt that the LORD had turned me over to the Evil One without justification. And while I sat in the dust wrapped in sackcloth, my eyes red from weeping, I still contended that my hands were clean and my motives pure.
The ancients had long taught of a Redeemer Who would come from the very throne of God, so I knew I had an intercessor in Heaven, an Advocate who was my Friend and who would plead with God on my behalf. Centuries later, the Apostle Paul would identify this intercessor as our Lord Jesus Who is always at the right hand of the Father pleading for us (Rom. 8:34-35). Problem was, he hadn’t died for me yet, and so there were limits on God’s Grace that only His death could remove. You who live after the cross simply have no idea how much different things are now that God is free to love you without restraint. Sure the world is still an evil place, and still under the control of the Evil One. But as sin has increased, Grace has increased even more, sparing you from the awful judgments due an unbelieving and disobedient people. Even the best of you is guilty of sins folks in my day never considered.
Your age is far more advanced in science and technology than mine, but don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that you’re spiritually more aware as well. The opposite is true. As man has become more self-reliant, his understanding of and respect for his Creator has diminished accordingly, until many in your day see no need for God at all, and some who even think they are God. This attitude has eased the restraints on evil until behavior that’s common in your day even for comparatively moral and upright people would have been unthinkable in mine. Man has not evolved from my time to yours. Man has devolved. It’s the predictable and dreadful outcome of his desire to be free from accountability to his Creator.
Well, these friends of mine seemed determined to go on confessing my sins while I begged them to show even a little pity. I was wronged, unjustly accused and punished, and no one seemed to care. I was embarrassed, dishonored, and abandoned. Even my employees no longer obeyed me, and my wife detested me. As the Lord Jesus would one day say to His disciples, “There will come a time when those who attack you will think they’re doing God a favor.” I sure could understand that feeling.
But often in our darkest hours, the Lord brings clarity and insight. And so it was with me. As everything on earth was taken away, I began to understand I had a Friend in Heaven that I could neither leave nor lose. He would not forsake me.
“I know that my Redeemer lives,” I declared, “And that 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 — I and not another. How my heart yearns within me.” (Job 19:25-27) Even if my punishment killed me, I would live again and stand face to face with God in peace and harmony!
Some say that this was the earliest declaration of the bodily resurrection of man. I honestly don’t know. But for me, it was a truth emblazoned as if in fire in the sky. No matter what happened to me here in this evil place where calamity befalls the just and the unjust seemingly without rhyme or reason, there is a place where hope prevails and where we’ll be free from uncertainty. And one day soon now, our Father in Heaven will send His Son to collect His own and take us there. And so shall we ever be with the Lord. No wonder you call it our Blessed Assurance. How my heart yearns within me.
Even so, I was still angry and still insistent on my day in court. As they say, “Be careful what you pray for, you just might get it.” The LORD would grant me an audience in due time. But I still had much to learn, and He wasn’t done using my friends to teach us all.
Round and round we went; these three friends and me, the discussion becoming less diplomatic and the accusations less subtle with each turn. They were determined to convince me that I was some great sinner who deserved what I had gotten, and I was just as determined to convince them of my righteousness. Finally it was obvious to all of us that we’d come to an impasse.
Then a young man who’d been standing on the sidelines listening spoke up. He said his name was Elihu, a Hebrew word meaning “He is my God.” He was the son of Barakel whose name means “God blesses.” Elihu was obviously angry with me for asserting my own righteousness and also with my friends for failing to persuading me otherwise, condemning both God and me in the process. Being younger than the rest of us, he had held his tongue out of respect, but now seeing that we had exhausted all our arguments, he took a deep breath and joined our conversation.
He paid due homage to our greater maturity, saying that while he’d been listening for some time he’d kept quiet out of respect for our presumed wisdom. But then he reminded us that true wisdom comes not from the advanced years of the speaker but from the Spirit of God dwelling within him.
Then he politely but clearly rebuked my friends for failing to prove me wrong, and informed them that he would now do so. He wouldn’t be using their tired old arguments, he said, but would use mine, turning my own words against me.
“You have said in my hearing,” he began, “That you are pure and without sin, clean and free from guilt, and yet God has found fault with you. But I tell you that in this you are wrong.”
Then he told me that God speaks to us in many ways, warning us of the dangers of our attitudes and actions in dreams and visions as well as through others. The problem is that we often don’t perceive it. When push comes to shove He’ll even use the calamity that is the consequence of our behavior to chasten us. But if even one angel in Heaven intercedes for us, having seen a spark of repentance, He’ll restore us. He does this so that in our relief we’ll extol God’s greatness and mercy proclaiming to our brothers, “I didn’t get what I deserve!” where before we had complained. “I don’t deserve what I’m getting.” All I had accomplished by my loud complaints and protestations of innocence was to condemn God!
“Far be it from God to do evil,” Elihu said. “It’s unthinkable that He would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice. He’s the one protecting you from the judgment you deserve. If He decided to withdraw that protection every single person on Earth would immediately perish. To your sin of self-righteousness you’ve added rebellion against God’s justice. You should be tested to the utmost for answering God like a wicked man. He doesn’t need to convene a court and hear witnesses to determine if you’re guilty. He sees every move you make and hears even the thoughts of your heart. There’s nothing you can do that escapes His notice and nowhere you can hide that He can’t see.”
“You complain that the wicked prosper while you get punished, in effect saying, ‘What’s in it for me to be righteous?’ but let me ask you this. What’s in it for God? How do you hurt Him by sinning? And how do your good deeds help Him? Is He not God whether you’re good or evil? Do you think you have anything He needs? Your sin only hurts you and your good deeds only benefit those few recipients around you (Job 35:8). Your belief that you can affect the Creator of the Universe on His Throne in Heaven one way or another is simply another sign of your arrogance and pride.”
“But by His actions He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction. Are you naive enough to believe that no matter how much wealth you acquire, it would be sufficient to gain entry into such a place without Him? He loves you enough to go to any length to bring you there, not because you have anything He needs, and not because your absence would somehow deprive Him, but because He knows how much being there would bless you.”
Where did this guy come from? Though young in years, he certainly had things pegged when it came to our position before God. His claim that one perfect in knowledge was among us, and that his knowledge had come from afar has led many who have read this account through the years to wonder if Elihu wasn’t sent straight from the Throne of God Himself! Maybe he was the angel mediator he had spoken of, or even our Great Intercessor, the Son of God.
Regardless of who he was, all my friends had done was make me angry but this kid’s words had pierced my very soul and I could tell by the way he was spinning up that he was far from finished. Little did I know that my comeuppance was just beginning. When he was done the LORD Himself would have a turn. Well, I can’t say I didn’t ask for it.
When my three so-called friends had lit into me, it served only to polarize our discussion and make me mad. Elihu, though much younger, at least proved that he was wise beyond his years. But now my direct appeal to the LORD was coming and it would be nothing like the display of righteous indignation I had rehearsed in my mind.
He wasted no time in niceties. “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” He demanded. “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.”
Then with eloquence only the Almighty can muster, and sarcasm enough to rip even the strongest of men to shreds He compared His skills and ability, His wisdom and experience to mine. Needless to say I came out on the short end of that one, and wound up being put firmly in my tiny little place in the grand scheme of things.
Then He demanded of me, “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”
Meekly I answered the LORD: “I am unworthy-how can I reply to you? (I put my hand over my mouth.) I spoke once, but I have no answer – twice, but I will say no more.”
Then the LORD spoke to me again. “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?”
Well that was the heart of the matter wasn’t it? Because when confronting the Almighty there are only two alternatives; condemn Him to justify yourself, or condemn self and justify Him. And of the two which is correct? Is the infallible, all knowing God ever wrong, standing in need of correction from fallen, sinful man? Get real! I was devastated, totally without merit or position before Him, and painfully aware of the incredible patience He had shown by just agreeing to answer me. Talk about embarrassing!
Humbly I replied to the LORD. “I know that You can do all things; no plan of Yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”
“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’ My ears had heard of You but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
When you go from an intellectual understanding of the existence of God, as I had just done, to an emotional experience of His Presence, your perspective changes. It ‘s hard to explain. Suddenly I felt so small and insignificant, and His Presence so overwhelming. My emotional state was one of intense regret, shame and sorrow for the trouble I had caused Him.
In his infinite love He wiped all that away and filled my heart with gratitude for our relationship. Not that I would want to repeat them, but the painful lessons I had learned now seemed worthwhile. Then He chastised my three friends for misrepresenting Him in their criticism of me. (In all His correction, He had neither humiliated nor condemned me like they had.) He said He would have me offer an intercessory prayer so that He wouldn’t have to deal with them according to their folly. This was to show them that while they were out of His favor, I was not. I prayed and they were forgiven.
In the aftermath of my object lesson the LORD made me prosperous again, and as that happened all the friends and relatives who had abandoned me reappeared to congratulate me on regaining my former stature. Isn’t that the way of friends? I lived for another 140 years, had seven sons and three daughters and twice the herds and flocks as before.
Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as my daughters, and in an act of love unheard of in those days, I granted them an inheritance along with their brothers. All in all, I lived to see my children and their children to the fourth generation, a great honor in my time, and a sure sign of the LORD’s blessing.
I never forgot my experience in getting to really know the LORD; and His words still ring in my ears. “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?” I hope that in hearing my story you will always remember them as well. May He continue to bless you as you walk in His ways.