No one is exempt from the storms of life, not even the most righteous people, the most faithful ones, or the most devoted biblical characters. The opening words of the book of Job introduce us to a life well lived and a man whom God marked out for his upright character (job 1:1–5). Whatever else is true of the biblical character named Job, he was not an ordinary man, and his was not an ordinary life. And profound as the book is, it does not attempt to answer all of our questions about the mystery of evil.
There is much that we do not know about Job. We are not told when he lived, how he was connected to the people of Israel, or even who wrote the book attributed to his name. But the message the Holy Spirit intends us to learn from Job’s story does not depend on these things. It does, however, require us to consider carefully the information we are given about the man described in these opening verses. As we read his story, we must recognize that he is an exception, not the norm.
Job was a person of impeccable character, a man of integrity, “blameless and upright.” This was not just the human author’s opinion. Remarkably, it was the opinion of God, who challenged Satan with Job’s character: “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (job 1:8). No higher affirmation can be imagined. “The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding” (job 28:28). Job was a sinful human being, but he towered above his contemporaries in the integrity of his inner life.
Job was also a person of substance. Job, in the currency of his day, was a successful and prosperous man. Family was considered wealth, and a man with seven sons was rich indeed. Seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred working teams of oxen, five hundred donkeys, a large retinue of servants—these were all marks of power and prominence. Job was a man to be reckoned with; a man who was not only personally prosperous but who also wielded great economic influence in his region. He was not merely successful; he was “the greatest man among all the people of the East” (job 1:3).
Job was a man with a vigorous and authentic spiritual life, combined with a deep concern for his family. His wealth had not made him self‑indulgent or self-sufficient. He was a man of prayer who upheld his children before the Lord (job 1:5). Job did not take his wealth for granted and forget God. Nor did he believe his children were entitled to live the good life, indifferent to God. We begin with a clear picture of the man at the center of the action. He was the kind of person people admired and God marked out as special.
Then, suddenly, unpredictably, everything changed. Job’s life was torn apart, and he had no way of knowing why. He was living at ground level as one disaster after another tore apart his carefully constructed life.
As readers, we are given the advantage of seeing Job’s life from a heavenly perspective. But as we live our own lives, we live where Job did, at ground level, unable to see things from above. And that is the heart of the life of faith—trusting when and where we do not see or understand.
Round one of Job’s troubles began with the sudden arrival of one of his servants with the report that all of Job’s oxen and donkeys had been stolen and the rest of his servants killed (job 1:13–16). It isn’t clear whether this was an act of war or a brutal robbery, but it’s an act that combined terror with massive personal and financial losses. Job barely had time to catch his breath when the second blow fell. This time it was some kind of natural disaster, perhaps a massive lightning strike that caused a fire to destroy his sheep and his shepherds. But once again, Job had no time for the bad news to sink in before more troubling news arrived. The raiding parties of the Chaldeans had swept down, stolen Job’s camels, and killed his herdsmen (job 1:17). Once again, he had no opportunity to process the information. Another messenger arrived with far worse news. Of all the news Job received, none was worse than this. A tornado-like wind had taken the lives of all of his children (job 1:18–19). Combined with the other messages, this made Job’s life a waking nightmare. His prosperity, his security, his lifestyle, his social standing, and his family had vanished in a moment’s time. Within minutes, he had been transformed from the greatest man of the East to the most desolate man on Earth. Harsh as Job’s nightmare day was, however, this was only round one.
Round two of trouble targeted Job’s personal health and well-being (job 2:7–9). The specifics of Job’s disease aren’t clear, but his condition was extremely painful and socially isolating. He was reduced to a beggar-like existence, sitting on a garbage heap, surrounded by broken pottery and the ashes of burned-out fires. He had lost everything of value to him: family, health, property, social standing. Even his wife, traumatized by her grief, was in no condition to give him support. Nothing in life made sense to Job at that moment, although something of value did remain—his view of God. It had been threatened, but not lost. In fact, as we shall see, it was Job’s focus on God that enabled him to navigate the storm.
Not many have experienced what Job did. But we can identify with the feeling of being far out at sea in a life-threatening storm with no familiar landmarks in sight. As I write this, I am about to visit a young woman whose husband suddenly collapsed during a workout, leaving her a widow with two small children. Her clearly envisioned future has come to a sudden and painful end. How do I go on? That becomes the fundamental question when we are faced with situations we can hardly imagine and cannot change. The book of Job is intended to help us answer that question, but not in a theoretical way. Although the book confronts us with the problem of evil, it does not intend to give us a philosophical resolution.Instead, it challenges us, in the face of unexplained and unexplainable tragedies, to fix our eyes on God.