(19) The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised – Job 1:21

The history books form the backbone of the Old Testament. The first five books of the Law take us up to the formation of the nation of Israel around 1400 BC, Joshua, Judges and Ruth cover the period before Israel had a king, and 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings  document the period of the Kings from 1000 BC to the time of the exile in 586 BC. 1 & 2 Chronicles then cover the same period as Samuel and Kings but from a different perspective and the final three history books – Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther – deal with the time after the exile.

In Old Testament times it was recognised that some people were particularly wise, meaning that they had insight and understanding that made them valuable as advisors to kings and for educating the young. Wisdom literature contains teaching on practical matters, providing guidance for everyday life, and the Old Testament contains five wisdom books – Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs – which come after the history section. The Wisdom literature forms a substantial section of the Old Testament as you can see from the Bible Bookcase.

Because a lot of this material was written around the time of David and Solomon we will look at these books now before returning to the history of the kings.

The first wisdom book is Job and this is a philosophical book about the problem of suffering. Why do bad things happen to good people? And how should we react to personal suffering?

The book of Job feels as though it is written as a play. Act 1, Scene 1 introduces us to Job. In a short scene we learn that he is an upright man who is blameless before God, has a large family and is very wealthy.

Scene 2 is set in a heavenly courtroom where God, the king, is receiving reports from the angels about their activity. Among them is Satan – the name means ‘the accuser’ – and when he appears God gives him a challenge. He points to Job as an example of an upright man who shuns evil. Satan responds by saying that it is not surprising that Job serves God given his comfortable lifestyle, and if all this was taken away then Job would curse God to his face. To our surprise, God gives him permission to take away everything that Job has, as long as he doesn’t harm him physically.

In Scene 3 we return to earth and read of the darkest day in Job’s life. His flocks, herds and servants are destroyed by raiding parties and fire from heaven, and before he has time to draw breath he hears that the house where his children were feasting collapsed killing all ten of them. His response to this series of disasters is an extraordinary outburst of worship. “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21). Job asserts that he will praise God in all circumstances. Everything he had was from God and if God chooses to remove everything from him, then that is his right. His name is still to be praised.

Act 2 is very similar to Act 1, and opens with God seated in heaven once more with Satan coming to give an account of his actions before him. Again God initiates a conversation about Job and points out that he has remained faithful to God despite Satan’s unwarranted attacks on him. This time Satan answers that Job’s ongoing trust is simply due to his continuing health, so God gives him permission to take this away too, although he is not to take away his life. God continues to put boundaries around what Satan is permitted to do.

Act 2, Scene 2 returns to earth where we now see Job afflicted with dreadful sores, sitting among a heap of ashes in desperate pain. Even despite this and his wife’s encouragement to “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9), Job continues to worship God. He is joined by three friends who, when they see his suffering, sit with him in silence for seven days, offering wordless comfort for their friend in his need, a great example of how to be a good friend to those in pain.

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