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Job and his friends

None of the books in the Bible were written because something happened by chance first, and God found it interesting enough to record it and put it in the Bible.

All of them were done according to God’s plan. God’s plan was that man, who was temporarily smaller than the angels, would receive the life of the Son of God in Jesus Christ and become sons of God to glorify God, the Creator of all things. (“Man” represents both male and female; see Adam, man and woman.)

So, every book in the Bible is a deliberately designed revelation of God’s plan and His relationship with man.

The Book of Job

The Book of Job in the Bible is widely read and quoted but very often misunderstood. The book is not about moral and inspirational teachings about dealing with disasters and suffering. It is about the relationship between God and man and God’s plan for man.

What is God’s purpose in allowing all that happened to Job and, particularly, recording all the conversations between Job and his friends?  

One can give an easy answer by saying that God wants Job’s faith to be tested. That’s true, but again, why does God want Job’s faith to be tested? And besides, why Job? And why those particular conversations? If it were merely a test, it could be done in many ways, but why the particular way with Job?

Indeed, we don’t need all the answers. In fact, needing all the answers before settling with God is detrimental and not helpful because when there are all the answers, there is no place for faith.

However, not all questions we ask are the same. If we ask out of curiosity only, our questions are not good for faith. Curiosity may be good for science, which is a different matter. 

But not all questions are based on curiosity. Curiosity is in the middle, and there are two opposite ends:  One is enmity (hatred), and the other is love.  

And out of the two opposite ends come two entirely different types of questions.

We ought to desire to understand God’s heart, mind, and character, not as those who interrogate God but as those who love God and desire to know more about God.

God has a plan for mankind, and Job was chosen as a representative at that particular point in human history (after the flood but before the election of Abraham, through whom the law was given and Jesus Christ came). See God’s plan and the history of man.

The book of Job reveals a controversy between Satan and God. This is a central point of the book, but unfortunately, many people read the controversy as if it were a mere play.  But nothing was more serious and critical than that controversy and its result. The whole Bible and the entire human history are about how God resolves this controversy about man in Christ.

In the book of Job, we see how Job finally came to know God more in the midst of an extraordinary encounter. Job’s experience and revelation are not just about Job himself but about God’s plan for all mankind, the children of Adam. (See Job and people of the heavenly kingdom)

Thus, the story of Job and the revelation therein is relevant to every one of us today. The depth and height of this relationship go far beyond what is normally thought of. If we read the book of Job today as an “inspirational” story that teaches people how to deal with suffering but do not see the most fundamental aspects of the relationship between man and God and God’s plan for man, we are missing the revelation in this book.

The trials of Job through his friends

At the same time, Job’s story is not just things that happened to him. The book of Job takes up a tremendous amount of the conversations between Job and his friends.

The friends are Job’s “environment,” the echo and mirror of Job’s self as well as his conscience.

In a sense, Job’s friends were the hardest and highest points of the trials Job experienced and thus carried with them their unique revelations.

A person who can get through alone in a “human vacuum” may not get through in front of his friends.

Although we all know that our friends are our helpers in the ordinary affairs of life, the hardest thing for a person to get through is actually his “trial” in front of his friends because it touches our pride and self-esteem.

For Job, this judgment is not only a social judgment but also a judgment on the conscience.

Job did not only experience the loss of his possessions and children, but his greatest difficulty was when all this was exposed to his dear friends, and his righteous friends judged him.

For if you are like Job, you can stand to suffer personal loss, but you cannot stand the judgment of your righteous friends.

What is meant here is not a betrayal by friends but the contrary. It is those faithful friends, those who have the most integrity, and those whom we respect the most, that will be the most difficult test to pass in a lifetime of trouble if God reveals to them what has actually happened to us and our real situation, which seem to have no honorable explanation.

They, our friends, only see God’s judgment on the unrighteous. It is hard precisely because they have not betrayed us but are faithful and upright, except that they don’t know God’s true heart.

The Premise of Man’s Ignorance of God’s Righteousness

We have to see that Job and his righteous friends had one thing in common: They all recognized that God is righteous and that God has the right to execute righteousness in man on earth. In this, they were all right.

But they differed in their understanding of the fundamental question: In what way is God’s righteousness manifested in man on earth?

Job’s three friends represented the knowledge of God in man’s conscience and experience. They did not have direct knowledge of God in heaven, so they formed a premise in their hearts from their own understanding of righteousness. This premise is common to all those who seek righteousness and truth in themselves on earth. But it is false.

This false premise is that, since God is righteous, all the causes, effects, and retributions that can be seen by the naked eye of man on earth must be the total manifestation of the entire authority (government) of God to enforce all righteousness. That is, they think that there must be a one-to-one equivalence between the two.

From this false premise, they then draw the simple and inevitable false conclusion: since God must reward the righteous and punish the wicked, it must be the reward of his righteousness when a person seems blessed, and conversely, it must be the retribution of iniquity in him when a person suffers a calamity.

The above is only the direct proposition of this false premise. Satan can cause man to fall even further from this premise. For this, Satan uses people’s experiences in this world (outside of divine revelation) as his false witnesses.

Assuming God’s judgment, people find more and more that this proposition contradicts their actual life experiences. But they do not understand why. Those who still have a remnant of conscience in their hearts will try their best to hold on to a little bit of this premise of a righteous God, no matter how much conflict they feel in their hearts. But many will abandon the positive proposition of this premise and enter into its negative side, concluding the opposite: Since there is no obvious “reward for good and punishment for evil” on earth, there must be no God at all.

This is exactly what Satan wants. The story of man at this more depraved level is the story of Satan’s triumph. It is the scenario of man having fallen under the dominion of sin, becoming a victim of sin, and dying in sinful transgression.

However, the Book of Job deals with the issue from a specific angle. In the book of Job, the bottom line of man’s position about righteousness is Job’s friends, who were ignorant but not corrupt.

Although Job’s friends did not really know God, they represent the minimum position of the human soul toward God: They still hold on to God in their intuition and conscience. Their words and thoughts, despite their misunderstanding of God, are the highest level of a person who can explore, think, and test the meaning of life in accordance with the remaining conscience.

The philosophers and thinkers who do not know God do not surpass Job’s friends on this ground of conscience.

Job’s friends not only respected Job but also loved him very much. But when they saw what had happened to Job, they could not help but conclude that Job must have been punished for his iniquity.

But when we read this book in the light of the New Testament today, we know this understanding is not true. The truth is even made clear at the beginning of Job’s story,

Job’s story begins with a controversy, a confrontation between God and Satan in heaven, caused not by any fault of Job but the opposite: his righteousness in his fear of God. After God challenged Satan by pointing to Job’s righteousness, Satan counter-challenged that Job’s righteousness was entirely self-serving and could not stand the test. He boldly challenged Job before God.

Satan does not challenge God directly. Instead, he challenges man’s position before God, for in the case of man (Adam and his children), Satan’s purpose was to compel God to accept the unfortunate fact that man is hopeless because he (Satan) had succeeded in bringing sin into man and that man was so thoroughly corrupted that there was no longer a genuine place in his heart for God, and therefore not worthy of a special (glorious) place in God’s plan.

Satan wants to persuade God to give up His plan for man.

But God already formed His view and conclusion about man, as represented by Job.

Job was a part of God’s plan and revelation. God must have had a plan in mind when He permitted Satan to bring the plagues on Job. (See Job and people of the heavenly kingdom)

Job himself reflected on his own behavior in the midst of the plagues, and he concluded that he had not been unrighteous in the way his friends had accused him.

This conclusion he made about himself was both right and wrong. He may have been blameless in his external behavior, but he did not really know himself, much less God. If he had known this just a little, he would have known immediately that he was a sinner in the nature of his life, and how great, holy, and mysterious God is.

But Job, reflecting on himself, retorted angrily against his friend’s accusations against him. His anger was not unreasonable, much less sinful, for he had a factual basis, and he knew that his friend’s groundless suspicion of him was not right.

Neither Job nor his friends knew that the attitude of Job’s friends had inadvertently taken the side of Satan’s accusation against Job.

However, unless they knew the grace of God in Christ, they had no other place to stand as representatives of the conscience of righteous men. This is the plight of the conscience of all who are the captives of sin on earth. This plight of conscience precludes man’s plight of the law, which will be unfolded subsequent to the story of Job. Both are part of God’s plan.

The Truth

Job and his three friends did not understand the truth:

Although God must reward righteousness and punish sin, and this is the consistent way of God’s plan, God’s plan is not accomplished in the way that man imagines.

This earth is only a stage in time where God carries out His eternal purpose, one step at a time.

What happens on earth, including all experiences, encounters, and rewards, is not immediately the full manifestation of God’s righteous authority. The full manifestation will be revealed in the future at the end of time in heaven, when time is fulfilled.

Today on earth, in time, is only a process in which the wisdom of God is gradually revealed in the hearts of men. Behind this is the mysterious way of God’s work, and it is definitely not the superficial karmic retribution that man has imagined.

Today, the kingdom of heaven, the power of the kingdom of God, is revealed from those who have received new life in Jesus Christ, little by little, person by person.

Job is not the ultimate answer

Job is not God’s ultimate answer to Satan about man. Job was the preparation for a redemptive act that God was about to begin through Abraham to Christ.

God’s ultimate answer to man is finally found in Christ.

Job was the representative of man’s conscience positioned before God until Christ came to earth and finished His work.

God’s message to Job was very simple: God recognized his integrity (the conscience and behavior of his heart), but God wanted him to realize his ignorance of God and be aware of God’s infinity and mystery.

Job’s righteousness, as recognized by God, was not reflected in the perfection of his life (i.e., sinlessness) but in a tried conscience with tested faith in God and his sincere adherence to it.

For this reason, we see that Job’s three friends, although they were all righteous men, were wrong in their knowledge of God, and God appeared to rebuke them.

Elihu, God’s “interpreter”

At the same time, we see Elihu, the fourth man who appeared at the end of Job’s friends. God did not rebuke him.

The difference between Elihu and Job’s other three friends was revealed before Elihu came out to speak. Job 32:2-3 says that Elihu was angry with Job because Job thought he was righteous and did not regard God as righteous. Elihu was also angry with Job’s three friends because they could not think of a word to answer but condemned Job without reason.

Elihu saw clearly in his eyes the error of each man, Job, and his three friends. Although they reached different conclusions, the root cause of their mistakes was ignorance or misunderstanding of God.

Job, on the one hand, knew that he had acted cleanly in fear of God and could not directly accuse God of injustice, but, on the other hand, his ignorance of God’s divinity and plan led him to no way out. When he could not explain what had happened to him, he naturally entered into a kind of self-righteousness that he did not even realize.

But his self-righteousness could not escape the eyes of his three friends, much less Elihu. Again, because of their ignorance of God, Job’s three friends condemned Job.

Since Job was self-righteous, what was wrong with his three friends condemning him? The trouble is that the condemnation spoken of here is not against Job’s self-righteousness but a deeper condemnation that does not correspond to the facts about Job the man that had already been presented before God and acknowledged by God.

The accusation actually stands with Satan’s accusation against Job, even though they themselves did not realize that was their position.

All this was clearly seen in Elihu’s eyes.

Elihu is called in the original text to be the “interpreter,” that is, he was the “interpreter” of the conversation between God and Job.

Although Job, who was in the midst of the scourge’s torment, still had the last bit of faith in God and the last bit of defense of his conscience (i.e., not completely broken), he was unable to talk and communicate with God because of his ignorance of Him, like they spoke two completely different languages to each other.

So Elihu came to be the “interpreter”.

How this is also true of us today! It is the way that we communicate with God. The Holy Spirit translates things we experience, even things we think, according to the thought of God so that we can understand them spiritually. The Spirit also translates the thoughts of God to us. The Spirit may do this directly with us individually, but it also does it in many ways through the body of Christ, the church.

However, such messengers who can “translate” the thoughts of God well are very few and far between. “If there be a messenger with him, an interpreter, one among a thousand, to show unto man his duty,” Job 33:23.

It was only after Elihu spoke that God Himself appeared.

God Appears to Job, but His Plan Remains Hidden

What God told Job after He appeared was not the whole of His plan. God only revealed who He was so that Job would know that His ways are higher than the ways of men, and so that Job would confess his ignorance and sin in the dust and bow down before God.

God’s final blessing to Job was God’s reward for a man who is justified before God. Material blessings there are only symbols of life and spiritual blessings. These were in the pre-salvation sense, when Christ had not yet appeared, and man’s justification before God was only a symbol.

It is only in Christ that we are justified by faith.

In this sense, we realize that God’s personal words to Job in the last chapters of the book of Job, although they are the revelation of the Most High God, are not the highest revelation of God. The revelation there must be seen in the context of the whole Bible, in the context of God’s eternal will. His will is fully revealed in the New Testament through Jesus Christ.

The Position of the Righteous

At the same time, in all of Job’s encounters, we should note a very important fact:

Although all his original children died, his wife was still alive. And, of course, he himself was still alive because he was the symbol of faith.

The result has a very basic and important spiritual meaning.

In the spiritual principles established in the Old Testament in figures, the wife represents the position of man. Husband and wife are one, representing the same interest, the same purpose, the same witness, and the same position. The man himself may be found at fault in his acts, but God, in His grace and mercy, will keep the wife, his basic position before God. This is the same principle in the case of Abraham later on, as well as in the case of Isaac.

The children, on the other hand, represent the work, the testimony, and the reward of man.

The same is true today for those who are in Christ. Our works, testimonies, and rewards may be incomplete and, in some sense, may even suffer devastating blows and destruction, but our person, that is, the life in us, and our position in Christ where we can stand before God, are always under the keeping of God (see Romans 8:33-39).