There are plenty of sad stories in the news all the time, but sometimes the story is so jarring that it touches our collective consciousness in a way to bring out much commentary, expert and inexpert, about the problem of depression and what to do about it. I have to admit, I don’t have all the answers on the subject of depression but I think we can gain some insight into it by looking at the life of the man from Uz, that blameless victim, Job.
In order to learn from Job’s despair, I’d like to work through three passages from the book of Job (in upcoming posts) as we think about what kind of man he was and how his life informs us about living under pressure. But first, let’s introduce ourselves to the man Job.
Conservative Bible scholars suppose that Job probably was roughly a contemporary of Abraham. If that supposition is true, there are a couple of factors to hold in mind as we think about the success of Job’s spiritual life. First, Job lived out his life before God with precious little written revelation (in fact, probably none), even if he isn’t exactly a contemporary of Abraham. His instruction in the ways of the Lord could only have been word of mouth. Unlike Abraham, there is no record of any direct personal contact between Job and God until well after the disasters that befell him. A second thought we ought to keep in mind is that Job is not a New Testament Christian. We should not read back into Job’s life things that are familiar to us from our complete revelation and two millennia of Christian thought and practice. Nevertheless, the lesson of Job is the foundation of our Christian understanding of suffering and what we need to do when we go through the fiery trials that we know will inevitably come our way (1 Pt 4.12, Jas 1.2).
What kind of man was Job? What kind of life did he lead? We know very little, but we do have a few clues in the first two chapters of the book. Job appears to have had only one wife (Job 2.9). He and his wife had a fairly large family (Job 1.2), all of whom appear to have been adults, living in their own households (Job 1.4). Job was a successful man, possessed of much wealth (Job 1.3). Most importantly, however, Job was a spiritual man with a tremendous spiritual life (Job 1.1, 5), a testimony that is confirmed by no less than God himself (Job 1.8).
Job 1:1 There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.
I describe these terms as the “spiritual qualities” (not character qualities) of a model OT saint.
The idea of perfection speaks of completeness or maturity. The word used here holds a place in the lexicon of OT sacrifice, referring to the victims as “without blemish.” James uses a similar term in the New Testament to describe a perfect man, saying: “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” Paul speaks of the goal of sanctification as attaining unto the perfect standard: “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
It is remarkable to think of anyone whose life can be described as perfect as Job’s is. It is even more remarkable that Job attained this commendation for spirituality with no written revelation from God and no indwelling Holy Spirit.
“Upright” speaks of going straight or in the right way. It has an intensive form that means “to make straight.” Ethically the word describes someone who has integrity. It is a characteristic of a blameless man, describing that quality of mind and heart that sticks to commitments that are made. He is a man who is “on the level.”
“Fearing God” — The term used here is Elohim, perhaps emphasizing the superiority of God over all other so-called Gods. Its root communicates the idea of God’s might and strength. As a God-fearer, Job is a man who views God with an appropriate tension in his spirit between reverence and awe, the foundation of true worship. We are not surprised to find Job’s devotion to God highlighted as we carry on in the chapter. Matthew Henry said, “He feared God, had a reverence for his majesty, a regard to his authority, and a dread of his wrath.”
One has to delight in the kjv term, “eschewing evil.” It sounds like just the right kind of word to describe “turning away from evil.” If one “eschews” evil, could his determination and dedication be any less wholehearted? Job is a man who has committed himself to God’s way. There is no turning aside from God’s will or plans for life. This is instead the course of the wise man, turning away from evil to God.
Job is God’s man. His spiritual testimony is impeccable and he has a full and blessed life that seems in keeping with such devotion. He has a complete family – seven sons and two daughters; he has a complete estate for his day, called the “greatest man” of the east (1.3), and in his religion he is a man of complete devotion to God (1.4-5).
The picture we have is of a ‘perfect’ life – the ideal man. To all intents and purposes, Job has it all together. From the human perspective, all regard him highly. From the divine perspective, God regarded him highly as well (see v. 8).
The Greeks had some words for this. One word is “κᾰλοκἀγᾰθός … beautiful and good, noble and good … a perfect man, a man as he should be” This word is a combination of two Greek synonyms for “good” – perhaps you could call Job the “good, good man” or “the goodie-goodie.” Another word uses the number four as part of its form, because “among the Pythagoreans the number 4 was sacred, as being the first square number.” The word means ‘fourth’, when used in connection with ‘man’ it is proverbial for a perfect man.
When we look closely at the biblical description of Job, it is hard to grasp how well the Bible speaks of him. Perhaps there is no one in the Bible described more highly than this. He seems perfect in every way. We find it hard to believe, but Job’s life really was impeccable, he had everything in place, everything was moving along like clockwork.
The perfect order of Job’s life appears to have lacked one thing: trial. One commentator described Job at this stage of his life as an “untried man.” This is the basis of Satan’s charge against Job (1.9-11). And, in fact, God doesn’t dispute the facts of the charge – Job is untried, especially as to the common trials of life. He had it all, apparently, and he had it without effort.
What do you think of Job so far? Do you find his perfectly ordered life attractive? Our culture is preoccupied with wealth and all the accoutrements of success. The perfect life today, in the minds of many, is envisioned as living in a perfect home, filling it with the perfect furnishings, arriving in its drive in high-end vehicles, parking them in one of three (or more) garage stalls, dressing one’s self and one’s family in the perfect wardrobe… in short, our society is preoccupied with materialism. If we had Job’s wealth, we could envision a material paradise for ourselves. We may not be greedy, we say, but we wouldn’t mind trying that lifestyle out. Many lives are lived in the pursuit of that kind of perfection, or in its imitation, albeit on a smaller scale. If we had Job’s wealth, we reason, we could withstand any troubles of life that might come our way.
Many Christians have enough spiritual maturity to realize that the pursuit of pure materialistic perfection is folly. After all, Job’s troubles included the elimination of all his material possessions in one day. He went from king of the hill to sitting on a dung hill in twenty four hours. There isn’t much security in possessions and they cannot answer for every disaster that lurks around the corner.
But there is a kind of folly that seems to attach itself to Christians in their pursuit of their own perfect world. It may be that we are not after material perfection, but there is a sense that if I know God’s rules, follow God’s rules, I should be guaranteed God’s blessing. We may not consciously think as crassly as that, but in our pursuit of personal spiritual perfection (perfect doctrine, perfect standards, perfect fellowship [the “right associations”], perfect methods, and on and on) there is something of an expectation that our God should bless us (and not try us very hard). We even can have an expectation of blessing if we endure our trials with perfect grace, so we say the right things and live the right way and expect to emerge from trials even better than we entered them.
The key to detecting this spirit lies in the expectation of blessing. Our spiritual life may well look like dependence on God (faithful spirituality), but it can really be focused on self and what God ought to give us because of the nobility of our spiritual performance.
The Lord says a lot of commendable things about Job prior to his trial as we have seen. Job is a spiritual man. But we do not yet know the depth of his spiritual life. To be sure, when calamity strikes, we find Job saying the right things.
Job 1:20 Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, 21 And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. 22 In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.
But how deep is Job’s dependence on God? What will we find as he endures the many days of his trial, which includes the “comfort” of his friends? As Job argues with his friends, we find Job driven to challenge God (Job 31.35-40). It is almost like Job is calling God out. He wants to “duke it out” with God, demands that God stand up to him like a man and tell him what he has done to deserve such treatment. As the story unfolds in the book of Job, we will see that Job needs to come to absolute dependence on God where the truth of this claim will be real in Job’s heart: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13.15a). As Job begins, there is still an element of self in his protestations, his statement of faith is tempered by this expression of self: “but I will maintain mine own ways before him” (Job 13.15b).
One of the major messages of the book of Job is that you cannot control your life. You need to live in dependence on God. You need to get self out of the way. This is the lesson Job will have to learn. Whatever cards God deals you in life, they are good cards. They are for your good. You have to trust God.
Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.
- e.g. Ex 12.5 [↩]
- Jas 3.2 [↩]
- Eph 4.13 [↩]
- Job 1.7 [↩]
- Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996), 654. [↩]
- see Pr 3.7 [↩]
- H. G Liddell, A Lexicon : Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996), 397. [↩]
- A. M. Adam and J. Adam, Protagoras (Medford, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1893), 162. [↩]
- or, challenge to God [↩]