by Rev. Antony W. Ball
Job is my, perhaps surprising, choice as a ‘Biblical Hero’ – but he does seem to me to satisfy the heroic criteria listed in the first article of this series. Apart from in the book which bears his name, he’s mentioned only twice in the OT (Ezek 14:14,20), where there are passing references to his righteousness, comparable with that of Noah and Daniel, but it is really only in the Book of Job that we find his life story, told there in extraordinary detail.
Job is introduced as ‘blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil’. He was exceedingly prosperous and ‘the greatest of all the people of the east’, with all the conventional trappings of prosperity: seven sons, three daughters, plenty of slaves (whom he treated well) and thousands of sheep, camels, oxen and donkeys. He was such a devoted, pious father that he even offered sacrifices each morning just in case any of his sons might somehow have sinned against God.
His story really begins in ‘the court of heaven’ with the LORD asking Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? You will find no one like him on earth, a man of blameless and upright life, who fears God and sets his face against wrongdoing.’ Satan replies that it’s easy to be like that while you’re blessed and prosperous, but Job would not be so otherwise. God challenges that by allowing Satan to have his way with all of Job’s possessions, providing Job himself is not touched. A series of accidents deprives Job of his children and his livestock but Job remains faithful: ‘The LORD gives and the LORD takes away; blessed be the name of the LORD’, he says. Satan then attributes Job’s continuing faithfulness to God’s proviso that Job himself not be touched, so the LORD concedes ‘So be it. He is in your hands; but spare his life’ and Satan ‘smote Job with running sores from head to foot’. Job still remained faithful.
Three of Job’s friends arrive to console him. They sit with him in silence for a week – just ‘being there for him’. Job himself breaks the silence by cursing the day of his birth, his very existence, but he will neither deny God nor admit that his suffering could be a consequence of anything he has done. The first of the friends trots out the traditional line that suffering is God’s response to sinfulness, so Job must have sinned. Job becomes angry, both with his friends and with God, whom he accuses of being unjust and uncaring, even irrational and vindictive. He thinks death would be preferable to his present situation, but will not commit suicide – still claiming that he has done nothing to deserve death. (It helps at this point to remember that this is the Old Testament and there was no clear conception or even hope of eternal life – death was considered ‘the end’ in a way disproved by Jesus’ resurrection.)
Job doesn’t try to debate with his friends – his theology is similar to theirs – but he remains confident that any inadvertent sin which he may have committed would certainly not have merited the suffering he is enduring. A just God should surely appreciate that, so Job decides to take his case directly to God – but that is going to be easier said than done, for who but God could possibly judge a case between Job and God Himself? God agrees to engage with Job, providing only that Job concedes that he would not be able to create and rule the entire world in the way God has to do, to which concession Job readily agrees. Once Job has engaged with God, he ‘repents’, not in the sense of turning away from his sins (which he still doesn’t acknowledge) but in the sense that he, a mere mortal with such limited understanding, should not have challenged the Creator God.
The story has a wonderful ‘fairy tale’ ending in which Job’s possessions are more than fully restored (as is his health, presumably) and he has a further seven sons and three beautiful daughters before dying at a very great age, having seen his sons and grandsons to four generations.
I’m still not sure that ‘hero’ is an appropriate word, but I admire Job for his steadfast faithfulness, his perseverance and, above all, his determination to engage with God.