The first chapter of the Book of Job gives us great insight into the nature of evil, how Satan works, and the righteousness of God.
Chapter 1 (For Previous Chapter Click Here)
In Chapter 1 we are told that Job “was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). Now, this was not an absolutely perfect man like Jesus Christ. But the key word here is “blameless.” He committed no act that deserved blame/punishment. So, this is key in understanding the story.
Now, it is Christian dogma that “there is no one righteous, not one.” (Romans 3:10) The whole Jesus-died-as-a-ransom-for-your-sins thing makes no sense if “we did not all sin and have fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23) in some way and needed a ransom.
Yet, Job is a blameless man, so does this create a problem? Our advice is not to read too into it. First, Job admitted to being sinful in his youth (Job 13:6) and regularly made sacrifices for others, and thereby presumably himself if the occasion necessitated it (Job 1:5).
More importantly, as Christians, Job confessed a Christian faith knowing that “my redeemer lives” in chapter 18. So, Job is ultimately not righteous in God’s eyes because, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). But, without getting all complicated Job is for all intents and purposes a really good guy who has faith in God. It is the piety of his faith that saves him, but Job’s good works and blamelessness are a reflection of that faith (James 2:18). Hardly someone who should have his whole family killed, his property taken away from him, and then some as punishment for his sin. There would seem to be worse sinners who “have it coming to them.”
The sacrifices to God in verse 5 are worth some explanation:
Job would send and consecrate them [his children], rising up early in the morning and offering burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually (Job 1:5).
First, we can see that Job understood that sins are not merely doing bad things, but thinking them as well. Lusting in one’s heart (Matt 5:28) or coveting (Ex 20:17) are sins where one such thought makes the thinker guilty of breaking the entire Law. Job was aware of this and knew that “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb 9:22).
So, Job saw the need for sacrifice. Before the advent of Christ, sacrifices had to be made again and again for sins, because there was no final sacrifice. However, because of Christ’s work on the cross His sacrifice was “once and for all” (Heb 9:28, 1 Peter 3:18) for all sins. Job, nor anyone else before Christ’s time, fully understood this. Yet, it was “by faith that the men of old gained approval” (Heb 11:2). So, in many ways he looked to Christ, but he did not have a full understanding.
Another observation that can be made was that because Job was not an Israelite, nor did he live during the time in which the Levitical priesthood existed, he served as the family’s priest. This is an obscure topic, as there are pre-Israelite priests such as Melchizedek (Gen 14:18) and non-priests who when called to by God executed priestly functions, such as when Abraham sacrificed the Ram in place of Isaac (Gen 22:13; it is also worth mentioning that Isaac expected his father to sacrifice a lamb, Gen 22:7, so family sacrifices must have been a common occurrence).
The former observation gives us a look into what the so called “priesthood of all believers” (1 Peter 2:5, 9) looks like. One is not a priest because of being born into a family of priests, rather by faith one is a priest and intercedes spiritually for others through prayer. Job, not a member of the priesthood in the Old Covenant, is a prototype for this because the revelation of the Law on Mount Sinai had not yet occurred.
The Law was given as “our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24). Hence, though Job might have benefited from knowledge of the Law, he is being more obedient to a New Covenant understanding of priesthood. After all, the Levitical priesthood as part of the Law was a mere “shadow” (Col 3:7, Heb 10:1) of the true priesthood, which is that of Christ and His people. We don’t need to be Jews stemming from Levi to be a priest. Rather, all we need to do is believe in God Almighty and give our petitions to Him. In this way, we are all a royal priesthood.
While all of this is occurring on Earth, unbeknownst to Job he is in the middle of a gigantic spiritual battle between God and the Satan. When asked what he is up to, the Satan says slyly he is merely “roaming about on the earth and walking around on it” (Job 1:7). Just what does he mean? The Scripture says, “The devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We should presume “roaming” is a euphemism for this.
“The Accuser” (which is what “the Satan” means in Hebrew) then takes this opportunity to accuse Job’s piety of being phony. In fact, there is so much in this short exchange, it is worth quoting it in full:
The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 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.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him” (Job 1:8-12).
It seems quite odd to notice that God and Satan appear to be getting along at some level. God asks a leading question to Satan and being that He knows the future, already anticipates Satan’s response. The conclusion is inescapable: God had sought to create this whole episode around Job while Satan seeks to exploit God in this “moment of weakness” and prove God wrong. Of course it seems rather foolish that Satan thinks He could prove the One whose “understanding is infinite” (Psalm 147:5) wrong, as if Someone who knows the future will somehow mess up, but apparently he views this as an opportunity too good to pass up.
Satan’s motivation is obvious: he wants to drag Job to Hell with him and prove that his temptation to sin by turning his back on God is stronger than the resolve God puts in a man to be faithful. God’s motivation is less obvious, but there are few likely reasons worth considering:
1. God had something to teach Job through suffering and was merely manipulating Satan to unknowingly accomplish His purposes. John Piper speculates in his sermon series on the subject that Job was becoming a tad self-righteous because of the realization of his own piety.
It is our opinion that it is not necessary to read into the text that Job had a hint of self-righteousness. For one, if Job did have this and for this reason needed correction, it would to some extent vindicate Job’s friends later in the book. Further, God’s delight in Job appears to preclude this. Instead, we should fault Job with what God faults Job with later, an incomplete understanding of the nature of God.
Certainly, even if this angle is ultimately wrong, Job was closer to God than ever before thanks to this experience. It is worth noting this is Elihu’s explanation later in the book.
2. God had Job go through this experience knowing that it would be useful to other believers. Oftentimes, we suffer because it puts us in the position to help others when they go through suffering. So, Job going through this and having a book written about Him certainly seems to serve that purpose. The Bible also makes it clear that bad things have happened to people in history so that it can be put in Scripture to teach us:
For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea…Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved (1 Cor 10 1:6).
3. Most importantly, God saw in fomenting this episode with Job has an opportunity in which to glorify Himself and deal Satan another defeat. We do not always view the world this way, but don’t be mistaken. We are in the middle of a massive spiritual war between God and Satan:
Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph 6:11-12).
However, God knows that He will defeat Satan and greater magnify Himself in the process. In fact, the reason why some sinful people, which is everyone, are shown mercy is not merely out of compassion: for all have fallen short of the glory of God and God desires that all men come to repentance (1 Tim 2:4), because He loves them. God reminds us again and again that He does not show mercy or love to us “for your sake, people of Israel, … but for the sake of My holy name” (Ezek 36:22).
It is not His will that all be saved. Why?
What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory (Rom 9:22-23).
In other words, God puts up with those who will not be saved so His glory is seen in all its greatness in the eyes of those in whom God had mercy. Hence, He saved whom He wills for His sake, not ours.
If we understand these reasons, it should not surprise us that God would foment such an episode. Nonetheless, Satan is not cognizant of God’s reasons, but merely thinks of his own. As an accuser, he makes a very serious, but ultimately false accusation against Job. This accusation is as follows:
Does Job fear God for nothing? 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 (Job 1:9-11).
Satan’s point is simple: “[N]o one is doing right who acts unwillingly, even if what he does is good in itself” (Saint Augustine, Confessions Book 1:12). Anthony Burgess had the same idea in A Clockwork Orange. People are not good even if their works are, because if someone is good out of compulsion then he is just acting out of fear of punishment or desire for reward.
Hence, the accusation is that Job is acting pious, but his motivations are not. True piety would mean loving God whether or not He blessed you. It seemed apparent to Satan that Job loved the blessings more than the One who blessed him, making his piety not something to behold as God did, but rather radically selfish and sinful.
Satan’s accusation then turns man’s relationship with God on its head. Can man ever offer God true worship and devotion? If man cannot worship God out of true devotion, then the whole Christian religion is a sham and a waste of time.
A question more specifically relevant to the events unfolding in the book is whether Job himself is as blameless and devoted as he seems to everyone, including God.
Granted, if Job is good to his family and loyal servants, his good acts are not turned into evil ones. However, he is not a good person merely because he does good things. Paul relates to the Phlippians a very similar situation:
Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife … [they] proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice (Phil 1:15-18).
Obviously, just as Paul disapproves of the people while approving of the end result of their actions. In the same way, God would ultimately disapprove of such false piety even when coupled with good works.
Satan’s accusation, if true, destroys any pretense of a legitimate relationship man can have with God: if even the best example of a pious man, Job, is ultimately not faithful in God at all, but rather cynical and self-serving, then even all of God’s faithful would be actually in league with demons.
Thankfully for us, we find out later on that Satan is wrong. However, the Book of Job focuses on other matters in addition to this.
One is the true nature of Satan. Yes, he is evil, we know that. However, he also apparently works for God in some way.
In fact, it is seems pretty clear that in the Book of Job, God ordained that evil would befall Job and played an active role in it. God incited the conversation with Satan and removed the hedge that protected Job from Satan touching all that he had. As God Himself says, “You incited Me against him to ruin him without cause” (Job 2.3). We will go into more detail about this verse in a little bit, but it is apparent that God Himself does not shirk that the responsibility was His in the whole episode.
Therefore, it should not surprise us that elsewhere in the Scripture, it appears when God intends for trial or evil to befall a man, God takes an active role in regulating the extent where Satan can operate. So, this means that evil itself is not outside the control of God.
Now, some commentators want to avoid some of this language, because they believe it makes God “the author of evil” or “the author of sin.” The Scripture never directly answers this question. Instead, it reassures us of His perfect righteousness and total lack of evil: “For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil dwells with You” (Psalm 5:4).
How should we understand the existence of evil personified in Satan, and God employing him to exercise evil, and not accusing God of being evil Himself?
For example, we know that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so as to bring judgment upon him. It would seem that the better course, and thereby less evil one, would be to not harden his heart so he would have been less evil to the Israelites.
Some try to avoid God’s connection to evil altogether. R.C. Sproul and Mark Kielar argue that God does not actually harden anyone’s heart, rather, He withdraws grace from the unbeliever so the depths of the already present evil in that person’s heart in effects harden’s that own person’s heart. So, God really initiates the hardening, but doesn’t really do it.
Martin Luther made an useful illustration of how this all works in accordance with God’s will:
Since, therefore, God moves and does all in all, He necessarily moves and does all in Satan and the wicked man. But He so does all in them, as they themselves are, and as He finds them: that is, as they are themselves averse and evil, being carried along by that motion of the Divine Omnipotence, they cannot but do what is averse and evil. Just as it is with a man driving a horse lame on one foot, or lame on two feet; he drives him just so as the horse himself is; that is, the horse moves badly. But what can the man do? He is driving along this kind of horse together with sound horses; he, indeed, goes badly, and the rest well; but it cannot be otherwise, unless the horse be made sound (Section LXXXIV, Bondage of the Will, emphasis added).
Luther’s, Sproul’s, and Kieler’s contention is God can shove the man to the left, to the right, push him in any way. The man’s response, in his natural state, is only evil. So, the default response of man is evil and if God merely taps him, under this theory, the reflex to the tap will be evil. If man is always evil, apart from God willing by His grace to create a new nature in a man that is not evil but good, then God is totally unconnected to the evil that exists in the heart of man.
Some commentators argue that because the depths of a man’s heart is evil, that every one of us would be “worse that Hitler” if God withdrew His grace from us. Usually, this theology is put forward to help explain double predestination while avoiding making God the author of evil. “All that God must do to harden anyone’s heart is to withhold His own grace; that is, He gives a person over to himself,” says Sproul.
It is my contention that we do not need go so far all the time. For one, it would appear to undo the Scriptures where it is God’s will to have evil occur, such as the hardening of hearts, the deliberate rising up of enemies to attack Israel, and the example of David conducting the census, which we will discuss soon. It is apparent that it is God’s understanding, in the words of R.C. Sproul, “Evil is not good, but it is good to have evil.”
Nonetheless, how does God will men to be evil without making them puppets and hence being an accomplice in their evil acts? The Biblical explanation is very close to what Luther talks about when he says, “He necessarily moves and does all in Satan and the wicked man.” God unleashes Satan on those in whom He wishes to harden. So, God does not do evil, but for those He intends for evil to occur to (for reasons of judgment, divine discipline, or whatever else) he uses Satan to tempt the man to evil by affecting his physical circumstances and playing to his emotions.
Our clearest example of this is 2 Samuel 24:1 where it says:
Now again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”
The parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 21:1 gives us even more insight:
Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.
What do we know from this? God desired to punish Israel, so the Lord’s anger incited David to commit sin and do a census. The parallel passage in Chronicles tells us how: Satan moved David’s heart to do so.
So, did God do it or Satan?
Being that we need a consistent hermeneutic that makes sense of both passages, the simplest explanation is that God purposely unleashed Satan, who somehow tempted David to sin by conducting the census. Remember, “God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13). This interpretation allows God to use Satan to tempt people to sin, but God does not directly do it Himself.
After all, “the Tempter” is a name for Satan in Matt 4:3 and 1 Thes 3:5, which accords with the interpretation that God does not directly tempt anyone, but Satan can tempt someone to sin from the desires in his own heart. We may conclude that though God tempts no one to sin, there is no contradiction when Satan does and in so doing accomplishes the purposes of God.
Now, Satan is an idiot. He is not trying to purposely accomplish the purposes of God. He is in the business of tempting and devouring souls, actively trying to take everyone down with him. How can God control someone evil who always wants to do evil and never wants to do His will?
The Book of Job gives us an answer: God puts limits on Satan’s power in the world. Even though Satan is “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4) and “ruler of this world” (John 12:31), he can’t do absolutely anything he wants here.
In fact, in the Book of Job Satan accuses God of putting a “hedge” (Job 1:10) around Job, in effect protecting Job from demonic assaults. The Hebrew word of hedge is “sook” which means to “entwine” or “shut,” as in setting up a fence. Translators note its defensive nature. The term is used in only two other parts of the Bible: Job 10:11 and Hosea 2:6. The verbal form “hedged” (“sawkak” in the Hebrew) is used many more times, including in Job 3:23.
God, to test Job’s resolve, purposely removes the hedge (Job 1:11, 12). God says specifically to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.”
This should give us a window into what God’s “withdrawal of grace,” that R.C. Sproul speculates of, is all about. The removing of the hedge is the removing of grace. The protective hedge, therefore, is the grace God gives to protect people from demonic assault.
Using this hedge, God can literally restrain Satan and place certain measures of power in his hand. This obviously is not passive at all, and while it is not active in the sense that God literally forces people to do evil, the obvious answer is that God permits Satan to tempt a man to do evil, and being that God has perfect foreknowledge, the end result of the man’s decision in response to his temptation is in accordance with God’s will.
Yet, the responsibility is with the man not to give into temptation to sin when tempted. Even if tempted, like David was before he conducted the census, the moral responsibility is not on the tempter, but on the one who makes the sinful decision. For this reason, Christians pray “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” You need help from God to “resist the devil” so that “he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
It is very important to know that with the proper Biblical understanding, while there is little hope for unsaved people like Pharaoh to resist demonic temptation, this is not true of God’s people. If Job is tempted to sin by Satan, thanks to God removing the hedge protecting him, we should remember the following promise: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13).
Further, God gives believers “new hearts” and “new spirits” that cause us to walk in His statutes (Ezek 36:26-27). Hence, Christians are “new creations,” and the nature of the Christian is no longer depraved because “the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor 5:17). To sin is against the nature of the Christian (Rom 6:2), though Christians do sin because their new hearts battle with the old flesh (Rom 7). Exactly how this is the case is a divine mystery.
However, this is not true of the unbeliever, because they do not have such new hearts. Instead, “the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21). We don’t want to think about it this way, but the hearts of faithless people we think are “nice” are actually continually evil (Gen 6:5).
So, God does not need to withhold grace to make these people “more bad.” Anything and everything that “is not of faith is sin” (Rom 14:23). “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Is 64:6) apart from those we do in faith in Christ. All the good-intentions and love apart from Christ, that seems normal in the world, in alienation to God is wickedness.
Even though there is latent evil in the flesh of all men inherited from Adam, in order to make “grace-withdrawal” theology work, we have to assume that non-believers are active participants in God’s grace. While the Bible is clear that He makes it rain on the just and unjust (Matt 5:45) and He keeps all of us breathing every second (Job 34:14-15), nowhere does the Scripture say that God spiritually sustains non-believers.
This means it is possible God places hedges in front of unbelievers as well as believers to accomplish His will, but we do not know this with any certainty. There are certain situations where we can infer such a thing, for example Saul being given God’s Spirit to accomplish great victories only to have His grace leave him. In fact, God intentionally handed Saul over to demons, in which Saul left to his own succumbed to.
Some may assert that this is “unfair.” However, everyone can see from creation itself that God exists and that they are sinners before Him, yet in their natural state they turn their backs on Him. As judgment for this, God gives unbelievers over to depraved minds for punishment.
…which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them (Rom 1:19-24).
Hence, the picture we see here is of a people that by virtue of that they should know better, deserve judgment, leading to God giving them over to lust as punishment. We can speculate that the “handing over” is the removal of the hedge.
The lusts that God gives people over to are “of their [own] hearts” and originate in the depraved nature of man. Man is no better if he never acts upon them, simply because they are already in his heart and mind. Nonetheless, God hands the sinner to his own lust as punishment, likely through manipulation of the demonic realm to entice the man to act upon the evil in his own heart.
This may be highly speculative, but Satan when given the opportunity to assault Job when the hedge was removed was likely used to this. Unbelievers wilted before him all the time. He expected the same for Job. But, what he didn’t count on, is that God preserves his saints: “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39). Job would not be tempted by anything more than he can handle and his new heart, given to him by the Holy Spirit, would not permit him to curse God.
Many of these concepts can be difficult if we do not understand central Christian doctrines, such as “preserverance of the saints” and predestination. It is great comfort to a believer that they are not one by their own power, or otherwise, they really do not know if God will really get them through a tough spot. There is no assurance of it, even though promises such as 1 Corinthians 10:13 would appear to preclude such an understanding. However, we know, that for the believer suffering has a purpose and God will not allow a believer to forsake Him as a result of suffering.
In summary, God apparently has full “control” over Satan. Like a mad dog on a leash, He lets him loose on Job. So, the Bible is not shy about making God complicit in making an evil event occur. God controls Satan by placing limits on what he can do. By doing this, God can harden a man’s heart to do evil and play an active role in it without actually compelling the man Himself to do evil. Here, God willingly and knowingly allows it to happen. The immediate purpose is to make known that mankind can be faithful in the Lord without a hint of self-interest.
God doesn’t shake His fist at Satan, complaining that He cannot stop Satan from doing all sorts of bad stuff. In fact, God knows He will crush Satan and throw him into the lake of fire for eternity. The best interpretation we can draw from the relatively chummy conversation Satan and God have is that Satan thinks he is getting the better of God, but God knows where this all leads and that it is really the other way around.
After God puts everything in Satan’s power other than to physically harm Job (1:12), the hedge is removed and Satan gladly kills Job’s children, servants, and herds. Job and his wife lose all their material blessings essentially at once.
The way the events are told in verses 13 to 19 come across as myth. It is very unlikely that as one surviving servant begins to tell Job what has occurred that before he can finish speaking, the next servant literally gets into the middle of the previous conversation and while gasping for air reports another calamity while interrupting the report of the previous one. For one, how could the Bible record one servant completing his sentence as the next servant begins his? While the legend of Job is surely historical, as it was legendary in Ezekiel’s time in the 6th century BC (Ezek 14:14), it is important to note that the Bible does not always seek to convey historical truths the way that a modern day history textbook would set out to. The Scripture is “able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15), not necessarily help you ace an Ancient History 101 exam. God has given us His revelation to suit a different, more important purpose: to give us wisdom that leads to salvation through His Son.
It is also worth noting that though the Book of Job is probably not historical in every way, that translators note that the Hebrew used in the book is very ancient. There are terms in the book that would have been archaic even by the time the Psalms were written. Further, when the Greek translation of the Hebrew Canon, the Septuagint, was made (second century BC) there were many words the translators did not even know any more, so they skipped over them. There might have been even more ancient source material used in the writing of the book, but ultimately we do not know.
Nonetheless, to the chagrin of Satan, Job passes the test. After disaster after disaster befalls Job, he still worships the Lord and without any sarcasm declares, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). There are commentaries that make note that Job is being naïve or shallowly rationalizing evil. However, such an interpretation is necessary. In the next verse it says that, “Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God” (Job 1:22). Hence, the Bible tells us that in such a situation, Job’s response was quite proper.