Tuesday, March 7, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 3, The Devil Went Down To Uz

When Bad Things Happen To Good People:
A Study Of The Book Of Job
Day 3
The Devil Went Down To Uz

In yesterday's passage Satan accused Job of being faithful to God only because God has blessed him in every way. The devil went out from the presence of the Lord with permission to remove these blessings. Today Satan goes down to Uz where Job lives and begins taking the good things from Job's life, thinking to himself, "Now let's see how much he loves God!"

"One day when Job's sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother's house, a messenger came to Job and said, 'The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!'" (Job 1:13-15) We learned yesterday that Job's sons were in the habit of throwing great feasts on their birthdays, so when verse 13 tells us all his children were feasting at the oldest brother's house, it's possible they were celebrating the oldest brother's birthday. A day of joy is soon to turn into a day of mourning.

A raiding party from the region known as Saba/Sheba falls upon Job's servants in the field, killing all but one and taking the livestock. This is bad news, but not such bad news that Job can't recover from it. He is grieved by the senseless taking of lives. He is faced with the financial setback of the loss of the livestock. There will now be a delay in getting his crops planted, and in the desert lands of Midian and Edom where Uz may have been located, getting crops planted in time for the early rains was crucial. But none of this is insurmountable. A wise man like Job would have been smart with his money, saving and investing it, and we would expect him to be able to at least go out and buy enough oxen and hire enough servants to sow part of his fields.

But while he's still absorbing this troubling turn of events, more bad news arrives. The first servant isn't finished with his dramatic tale of woe when another one comes running in. "While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, 'The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!'" (Job 1:16) This servant witnessed an unusually devastating lightning storm, referring to it as "fire of God" because it came from the sky. Sheep will often bunch up together in a tight mass when frightened, so when the lightning began repeatedly striking the ground, it killed them all. It also killed the servants who had gathered around the sheep to try and lead them to safety. 

Job's bad day isn't over yet. Before the second servant can finish his dreadful tale, another servant appears with bad news. "While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, 'The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!'" (Job 1:17)

I picture Job thinking to himself, "Alright, this is bad. This is very bad news. Almost all of my servants who have worked so faithfully for me have lost their lives. I've been good to my servants and they've been good to me; what has happened to them hurts my heart. And now my livestock is gone. How am I going to feed my family this winter if we can't get the crops in the ground? How am I going to clothe my family without the wool from the sheep? How am I going to make the long trips to town for supplies without camels or donkeys? How am I going to provide for the widows and orphans of my servants who have perished this day? This is bad, but it's not as bad as it could have been. At least I and my wife and my children are okay. Things can be replaced, but the lives of my family can't be replaced."

Job is like a man in modern times whose house, which includes a home-based business, has just burned to the ground. He's lost nearly all his worldly goods and he's lost his livelihood. But like a man who looks around at the charred remains of all he owns but sees his family standing safe and sound on the lawn, he experiences the comforting feeling of knowing that the people he loves the most are alright. Together they can rebuild.

But even this momentary feeling of comfort is shattered. Another messenger arrives while the third servant is still telling of the loss of the camels. "While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, 'Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother's house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!'" (Job 1:18-19) A tornado sprang up in the middle of this pleasant spring afternoon, causing the house to collapse and bury Job's children in the rubble. 

Up til now Job has been able to maintain his composure before the onslaught of disastrous news, but when he learns his children are dead, "At this, Job got up and and tore his robe and shaved his head." (Job 1:20a) He performs the age-old Jewish custom of making his outward appearance match his inward appearance. He is overcome with grief. He feels torn apart on the inside, so he tears his robes. He is in such anguish he could almost tear the hair from his head, so he shaves himself bald. I've experienced some days of mourning when I could sympathize with the custom of tearing the clothes or the pulling of hair or the applying of ashes to the head. I bet you've had some of those days too.

I have to confess, though, that Job now does something I've not always felt like doing while in the throes of grief. "Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.' In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing." (Job 1:20b-22) Job says, "I came into this world with nothing. The Lord didn't have to bless me, but He did. The Lord didn't have to give me wealth and a fine home and a huge estate, but He did. The Lord didn't have to fill my pens with sheep or my stalls with donkeys and camels, but He did. The Lord didn't have to give me ten precious and beautiful sons and daughters, but He did. Though He has taken all this away, still I praise Him for the years I enjoyed these blessings. A holy and righteous God didn't owe anything to a weak mortal being like me, so I bless His name for all the people and things with which He enriched my life. The Lord owns these blessings and He has the right to do with them as He pleases. He gave. He took. Blessed be the name of the Lord."

It doesn't sound to me like Job is cursing God to His face, as Satan predicted he would. If we could see into the spiritual realm I think we could see the devil down in Uz, standing in shock by Job's side as he hears words of praise instead of words of cursing falling from Job's lips. Satan is like the Grinch who perched on his mountaintop lair and cocked his ear toward Whoville expecting cries of dismay at the loss of their Christmas goodies only to hear a song of thanksgiving rising up. "But I've taken all he has!" Satan shrieks. "I brought this man to ruin and killed all his children. How can he praise God? Why would he praise God? How can he thank God for all these blessings now that they are gone?" Unlike the Grinch, who came to the conclusion that Christmas means more than gifts and decorations and holiday dinners, Satan never gains any spiritual insight. He is just as puzzled as he ever was when we stand in the ruins and lift hands of praise to God. He still has no true understanding of the workings of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He cannot fathom a faith that is based on a relationship with God rather than a relationship with worldly goods and pleasures. 

I wish I could say I've always reacted to my troubles as Job reacted to his troubles, but I haven't. But I can say that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, there have been days of loss in which I still felt overwhelmed by the love of Christ, when I could still raise my hands to Him and thank Him for all He's done, when His presence in the room with me was so overpowering I had no doubt that if I could see with spiritual eyes I would be able to see the Son of God right there in front of me. This is something Satan has never understood, and will never be able to understand, because his rebellious spirit has never experienced the Holy Spirit. He has never worshiped God and will never know why we want to worship Him. He has never been saved from his sins by God and will never comprehend the joy we feel in having our sins forgiven and our souls saved from death. This is why he will never raise joyful hands to the Lord and praise Him in the storm.

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