Job - Why Things Go Wrong
Part 2: "A Narrator Mistake"
The First Mistake is In the Very First Verse
"There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and abstained from evil." Job 1:1
Young's Literal Translation renders it like this: "...and that man has been perfect and upright - both fearing God and turning aside from evil."
That sounds like a good man indeed, but there is a problem: can any human be that perfect?
If that verse was true then Job would be unique among men and women with human parents; in fact, he would have surpassed Jesus in perfection, because Jesus had the seeming advantage of one supernatural parent.
Jesus had a perfect record - He was tested in every area like we are, but without sin, in spite of but through His humanity. (Hebrews 4:15)
Job, on the other hand, was not Jesus, although I have seen a suggestion that he was representing a type of Jesus. That, also, is wrong, because Jesus never had to be corrected by His Father as Job was in Chapters 38-41.
Psalm 53:3c puts it like this: "...there is none who does good, no, not one."
Paul asserts in Romans 3:23 that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." That "all" would surely include Job.
Well, we know it does because the narrator very clearly lists Job's mistakes without realising or referring to them as such, in verse 5! Incredibly, it seems that no one else notices those same mistakes, but they are clearly there as we will see.
Story Error 1: The Narrator Says That Job Was Perfect and Blameless - the Rest of Scripture Teaches That Is Impossible for Mankind
This is the first sign, right at the beginning of the book, that we have to look very carefully at the contents.
What if the narrator was speaking figuratively and using antiphrasis (saying the opposite to draw attention to some truth or other) to make his point? If that is the case then it has successfully blinded the eyes, not only of the unbelievers, but also the believers.
What if the narrator was using another figure of speech, hyperbole (exaggeration for effect), just to show that Job stood out from others around him? If that was the case then this verse should still make us sit up and pay attention to what follows.
Righteousness, Then and Now
This isn't the last time that we read something like this - when talking about the parents of John the Baptist, Elizabeth and Zachariah, Luke 1:6 says:
"And they both were righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord."
On first glance we could easily get the impression that righteousness comes through behaviour, through doing the right thing. It doesn't. It never has been that way.
Abraham showed the way, or at least the author of Genesis showed that Abraham's way was the way, in Genesis 15:6. This verse provides the ultimate definition of salvation, which is the way we become righteous, that is, right with God. The method of salvation has not changed over the years, the centuries or millennia of time.
"And (Abraham) believed God, and He counted (or credited) it to him as righteousness."
Righteousness (being right with God, from Their viewpoint) starts with believing something They have said. What we believe affects our actions, but our actions do not affect our righteousness. Instead, our actions affect our reward, either here on Earth, or later in Heaven on Judgment Day. There is more on this in Salvation and Inheritance (Reward).
Abraham's salvation fits in perfectly with Paul's description in Ephesians 2:8-9.
"For by grace (a free gift from God, not earned in any way) are you saved (made right with God) through faith (believing in something that cannot be seen or known through our physical senses). And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God;
"Not a result of works, so that no one may boast."
Righteousness: Faith at Work
As well as becoming known as the father of faith, Abraham made some serious blunders that showed that, at times, he didn't really trust God.
In Genesis 12 he had two profoundly life-changing encounters with God. After the second one this previously-heathen man (Joshua 24:2 points out that Abraham and Nahor came from beyond the Euphrates River where they served other gods) built an altar to the Lord who had appeared to him. When they moved again he built another altar and started preaching in the name of the Lord.
But some time after that second encounter in Genesis 12 they had to move again because of drought, and headed for Egypt. On the way Abraham asked his wife to say that she was his sister, lest he be killed so that she could be taken from him by the pharaoh. This was partly true because they had the same father, but different mothers, but it was also quite false, designed to deceive, since she had become his wife. A half truth is always a whole lie.
In spite of those two encounters with the living God and the promises which resulted Abraham chose not to believe that God could bring them to pass no matter what, and so missed out on seeing God's exciting, powerful deliverance for him. Many of us make the same mistake and shirk (avoid) the truth when that would otherwise set us free.
God did not make an issue of this with Abraham, neither at the time, nor later. It was much the same with Adam and Eve - there was no confession (saying what they had done wrong), no contrition (expressing sorrow for what they had done) and no repentance (a change of mind to enable different actions in the future), yet God forgave both parties and continued on as if nothing bad had happened. (See also the Love chapter, which covers the events in Genesis 3.) While Contrition, Confession and Repentance are crucially important in changing the outcomes of wrong behaviour, as we will see later, they don't affect God's attitude towards us.
For confirmation that this is how we are meant to understand these events we have this interesting verse from Romans 3:25.
"This was to show God's righteousness, because He had passed over former sins without punishment."
After, and in spite of this mistake from Abraham, as a follow-up we have the remarkable passage describing Abraham's righteousness through faith in Genesis 15:6. "And Abraham believed God, and He credited it to him as righteousness." In other words, righteousness now and in the past comes from believing God, not from "doing the right thing." This is a great challenge to many people who want to make righteousness ongoing as a result of the way someone lives, instead of as a permanent result of a unique relationship with the Godhead that does not depend on us.
Still, Abraham himself did not learn to trust God more from this incident. In Genesis 16 he did not hesitate to follow his wife's advice to have sex with her maid to bring the promised son to pass. For God, though, the Egyptian maid was not the intended mother and, although Abraham once again suffered no ill effects from this mistake, Ishmael his son ultimately became the father of Islam, a religion that tends to be in conflict with both Christianity and Judaism.
The story of Abraham's righteousness (and ours) being independent of his unrighteous behaviour doesn't end with the events of Genesis 12 and 16. Many years later, in Genesis 20, we have a similar situation where Abraham once again feared for his life because of the attractiveness of his wife. Once again he persuaded her to say that she was his sister, rather than his wife. Once again he was prepared to trade his wife's sexual favours (she was attached to the king's harem) for his own safety. On this occasion the king and his entourage were afflicted, even though they did not touch Sarah. On no occasion do we see that Abraham was penalised or punished for his wrong behaviour.
Righteousness, Not Affected By Our Behaviour or Actions (Works)
Paul sums this up nicely in Romans 3:28
"For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from good deeds."
With these three massive blunders under his belt Abraham needed an opportunity to see if he really was going to trust God in major things, and so the testing scenario in Genesis 22 (the command to sacrifice the promised son) was set up. Here was a challenge, not to his life, but to his son's life. Which way would Abraham go?
God did not set up this event for Their sake, so that They could see whether Abraham would follow through with this most difficult task - They already knew. Instead, they set up a new, challenging choice for him to make - he had failed in three previous opportunities - to give him an opportunity to prove to himself whether he would now believe God. And he succeeded.
In reading God's response to Abraham's decision to finally trust what he had heard rather than what he could see, it would be easy again to think that God was confirming Abraham's destiny as "the father of a nation" based on his actions.
"I have sworn by Myself, says the Lord, since you have done this...That in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your descendants..." Genesis 22:16-17a
That is the same promise given in Genesis 12:2-3, but extended in depth. If we look at the other times that God spoke about the promises with Abraham (Genesis 12:7; 13:14-17; 15:1-18; 17:1-17; 18:10) we can see that He was gradually giving more and more detail, rather than increasing or extending the promises.
What about the next part of the verse?
"And your Seed shall possess the gate of His enemies."
That wasn't something new - that is straight from Genesis 3:15, which is a promise to the enemy leader that the offspring of Eve would exercise control over them, the enemy.
Somehow Abraham knew from whence his right standing with God came.
If we look at both incidents where he attempted to pass his wife off as his sister (Genesis 12 and 20), the two times he sent her off to have sex with the ruler of the land where they had journeyed to, we will see that on both occasions, even though his behaviour had been so bad, both rulers rewarded him highly to cover or correct or cancel out any fallout from his deception. Abraham received their extremely valuable gifts without demur.
Now contrast these two incidents with what happened in Genesis 14, where Abraham took his 318 trained servants, born in his household, and rescued a whole bunch of people including his nephew Lot and his family, who had been taken captive during a war, and recovered the goods that had been stolen along with the people.
As they returned they were met by the king of Sodom, one of the five kings who had been initially defeated and whose people and possessions thad been aken.
"And the king of Sodom said to Abram, Give me the persons, and keep the goods yourself." v21
What an offer - surely Abraham had earned a big reward for the tremendous rescue and recovery he had wrought?
"But Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have...sworn to the Lord God Most High...that I would not take a thread or a shoelace or anything that is yours, lest you should say, I have made Abram rich." v22-23
Here Abraham has done a good deed, but recognises that any reward coming his way because of that would look as if it originated with man. Instead, he was living on the promises of God to make him prosper, and he knew that when the other rulers wanted to reward him after he had deceived them, that only God could move their hearts like that in those circumstances. Righteousness, as Paul declares, and the blessing of God, are independent of our good deeds.
And so it was also with Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist. They were right with God because they believed Him, and they also followed all the practices of the law and the requirements of God as a result of their belief.
It is absolutely certain that Job was far from perfect because Chapter 1 shows five serious mistakes that he made in dealing with his children alone.
Whatever the case, this is not the last opposite or false claim made by the narrator. At the very least it is a sign from Holy Spirit to look carefully at what follows.