March 9, 2003

Job’s Credentials: Fearing God and Shunning Evil
Job 1:1-5

In one of my very favorite books, The Butter Battle Book, Dr. Seuss begins with these lines:
On the last day of summer,
ten hours before fall…
…my grandfather took me
out to the Wall.
Dr. Seuss never bothers to tell us where such a wall is located, nor does he provide the precise years when the events in question took place. Instead, Dr. Seuss creates a space in which he can then wrestle with what he and many others consider to be one of the most pressing issues of our lifetime—the military arms race. In this space, the Yooks and the Zooks butter their bread on opposite sides, and this noticeable difference leads to escalating conflict and the threat of nuclear disaster. Clearly, Dr. Seuss hopes that all of us readers will see in this bizarre conflict between the Yooks and the Zooks a reflection of ourselves—our own tendencies to magnify differences, dislike what is to us odd about other people, and respond with aggression. As we read The Butter Battle Book, we are to think carefully about the way we live our own lives as we learn of the way the Yooks and Zooks live theirs.

The book of Job begins in much the same way, although the issues are somewhat different. Once upon a time there lived a man named Job. No further genealogical information is provided, nor are we told if and when Job actually lived. We cannot even say for certain where the land of Uz is located, the two primary alternatives being in drastically different places. Clearly, the writer of this wonderful book seeks, not so much to tell us about the unfortunate experiences of this particular man—as overwhelming as those experiences will prove to be—but instead to describe a character with whom we ourselves are called to identify. This man named Job, in other words, is a mirror in which we see varying reflections of ourselves. We see in him some of our own hopes and dreams. We discover in him some of our deepest fears. We hear him ask some of our most troubling questions. In 1:1-5, we meet the man himself.

Job, first of all, was a profoundly religious man. According to this description, he was deeply religious with respect to both his position and his practice. With respect to position—his closeness with God—Job was blameless and feared God. He was whole—genuine through and through—right with God and right with the world around him. Job feared God, perhaps the ultimate compliment that our writer could attribute to him. To fear God has nothing whatever to do with the type of frenzied panic that one might experience were she jogging on Bishop Road, only to encounter a ravenous lion. “Perfect love,” John reminds us, “casts out that kind of fear” (1 John 4:18). Those of you who find it excruciatingly difficult to receive God’s grace and mercy—you’ve inherited or adopted these views of a diabolical deity who breathes terror into the hearts and minds of his subjects—find no support here. Job feared God, but as later chapters will indicate, he wasn’t petrified of him.
Rather, to fear God, as Job did, is to respect him and revere him. To fear God involves recognizing the vast distance between him and us, a distance that is bridged but not destroyed through Jesus Christ. To fear God is to affirm that he is infinitely greater than I am, and that my life, though of considerable importance to him, is but a speck in the grand scheme of things. Job lived his life with that type of perspective.

Job was also profoundly religious in terms of his practice. In the writer’s words, he was upright—he stood straight and tall while others were slouching in sin—and he turned away from evil. What a marvelous description. It brings to mind a BMW commercial. Weather conditions are unfavorable as this exceptionally well-crafted and high-priced automobile makes its way down the road. Suddenly, an object blocks its path, and the BMW swerves, avoids the object, and continues along unharmed. So it is with Job. Cain was enraged with envy and jealousy, and he murdered his brother. Job would have swerved and continued on. David saw Bathsheba bathing across the street, sought additional information, and committed adultery. Job would have swerved and continued on. Absolom lusted for power and rebelled against his father. Job would have swerved and continued on. Judas saw the opportunity to gain a few extra pieces of silver, and he betrayed the Lord. Job would have swerved and continued on. Job was profoundly religious in the best sense of the word. He was in fellowship with God and committed to living a holy life.

In addition, Job was unusually successful with respect to both his personal and his business life. The writer’s description of him here is fascinating, to say the least. You and I, even the most creative among us, tend not to use numbers in overly figurative or symbolic ways. We were raised to be hard-core rationalists, using numbers precisely and scientifically. How many places to the right of the decimal point do we go sometimes? But Hebrews were often different from us. Although they too knew how to use numbers carefully to make measurements, for example, they also attributed symbolic significance to particular numbers. Think, as a case in point, of the number 40. Noah sat on the ark for 40 days. Solomon ruled over Israel for 40 years. Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for 40 days. For Hebrews, the number 40 designated “a really long period of time.”

Likewise, 3, 10, and particularly 7 are numbers that signify completeness. Creation took place in 7 days. Nebuchadnezzar turned up the fiery furnace 7 times. And so it is here with Job. He had 7 sons and 3 daughters, totaling 10 children. He had, in other words, a perfectly complete family—it sounds like a lot of children to me! But look further. Job also had 7,000 sheep and 3,000 camels, totaling 10,000. He likewise had 500 yoke of oxen and 500 donkeys, totaling 1,000 (10 hundred). Job’s family and business ventures were ideal. Nothing was lacking.

It is interesting, however, to look at Job’s financial empire a bit more closely. From the ledger here, he had what Laird Gemberling and other financial planners might typically call a diversified portfolio. All financial planners encourage their clients to invest broadly rather than putting all of their eggs in one basket, so to speak. In Job’s case, sheep are grazing animals noted for their wool, suggesting that Job had a significant portion of his financial portfolio invested in shepherding and clothing manufacturing. Camels, by way of contrast, are nomadic animals, capable of traveling long distances without refueling. Job, by implication, had also invested considerable resources in caravaneering or trade. The modern day equivalent might be owning a major trucking company. Finally, oxen and donkeys are typical farm animals, indicating that Job operated a sprawling food production center. This man had his hands in a lot of things, and the large work force that he employed—the writer, in this case, doesn’t even attach a specific number to his servants!—is evidence of a massive human resources department that managed his corporation. Job, clearly, would have made Fortune 500’s list of the world’s wealthiest people had such a list existed in his day. No wonder the writer concludes that Job was the greatest man of all the people of the east.

Finally, Job was deeply devoted to his family. Nothing here in verse four suggests that his children were up to no good. They were fun-loving people who hosted rather festive celebrations from time to time. Perhaps they overate, as I have done on occasion—I know that none of you have!—and I’m sure they were rowdy on occasion. Boys will be boys, they always say. Job’s children were not trouble-makers, however, like Samuel’s pathetic sons. Job’s children were not incorrigible, like some of David’s seemed to be. Yet, Job quietly and intentionally fulfills the priestly responsibilities that went along with being a father in his day. He blessed his children, rose early in the morning to pray for them, and he offered sacrifices on their behalf, just in case they had sinned. Just in case they had sinned. Imagine what Job might have done had he heard that one of his children did in fact commit some evil deed. Surely he would have gone to great lengths to restore that son or daughter. Surely he would have set aside his other responsibilities and involvements so that he could tend to his hurting family.

Job was profoundly religious, but he was not a pastor who cared for his congregation at the expense of his own family. Job was profoundly religious, but he was not so caught up in prayer that his children struggled to gain his attention. Job was profoundly religious and a thoroughly godly man, but he was not so consumed with his own righteousness that he lost the respect and admiration of those living in his own household. How many stories have all of us heard about seemingly godly people who were next to worthless at home?

Job was also unusually successful at work, but he was not a business executive who placed his company before the welfare of his family. Job was unusually successful, but he never sought to climb the corporate ladder while leaving his wife and children behind. Job was unusually successful, but he was not so consumed with the bottom line that he forgot the far greater importance of tending to his and his family’s spiritual needs. Job, though profoundly religious and unusually successful, was thoroughly involved in the welfare of his family.

I’d like to be like Job. Wouldn’t you? I’d like to hear people say of me now and after I am gone: Terry was profoundly religious, both in terms of his position and practice. Terry was unusually successful—he did what God called him to do, and he did it well. Terry cared deeply about his family, and he always had time for his wife and children. I hope people can say some of those things about me in the days to come.

But, something is also very disturbing about all of this. Why does the writer even bother to describe Job in such a wonderful way? After all, he knows what comes next. He knows about all of the turmoil and the pain, all of the frustration and the anguish, all of the heartache and the chaos. Why does the writer bother to set Job up on an almost mythical pedestal, only to watch him fall? What is here for me? The nagging realization that, if everything that follows happened to so godly and successful a man as Job, then it could happen to me. It could happen to you.

I’d like to be like Job—religious, successful, and caring. But will I be able to cope with what might come next?