In writing classes, students are taught the importance of a good ending to their pieces. Particularly in fiction, where the whole thing is made up, the author needs to bring the end to a satisfactory close. But even in nonfiction, a good ending is important.
But what about reality? What about life itself, lived not in the pages of a book or in a film script but in flesh and blood? What about our own stories? What kind of endings do they have? How do they wind up? Are the loose ends tied together nicely, as in a good piece of writing?
This doesn’t seem to be the case, does it? How could they end well, when our stories always end in death? In that sense, we never really have happy endings, do we, because when is death happy?
The same is true with the story of Job. Though its conclusion is often depicted as a happy ending, at least in contrast to all that Job had suffered, it’s really not that happy, because this story, too, ends in death.
This week, as we begin the book of Job, we will start at its end, because it brings up questions about our ends as well, not just for now but for eternity.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, October 1.
Oftentimes children’s stories end with the line, “And they lived happily ever after.” In some languages, it’s almost a cliché. The whole idea is that whatever the drama—a kidnapped princess, a nasty wolf, an evil king—the hero and perhaps his new wife triumph in the end.
That’s how the book of Job ends, at least at first glance. After all the trials and calamities that befell him, Job ends on what could be described only as a relatively positive note.
No question: were you to ask someone about a book of the Bible that ended well for the main character, a book that had a “happily ever after” ending, many would name the book of Job.
After all, look at all that Job had as the story closes. Family and friends, who weren’t around during the trials (with the exception of Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, Elihu, and Job’s wife), come, and they comfort him. They were generous, too, giving him money. As the story ended, Job had twice as much as he had at the beginning of the story, at least in terms of material wealth (compare Job 42:12 with Job 1:3). He had ten children, seven sons and three daughters, to replace the seven sons and three daughters who died (see Job 1:2, 18, 19), and in all the land no women were “found so fair as the daughters of Job” (Job 42:15), something not said about his first ones. And this man who had been so sure that death was right before him lived on another 140 years. “So Job died, being old and full of days” (Job 42:17). The phrase “full of days” in Hebrew (sometimes translated, interestingly enough, “full of years”) is used to describe the last days of Abraham (Gen. 25:8), Isaac (Gen. 35:29), and David (1 Chron. 29:28). It gives the idea of someone in a relatively good and happy place at the time of a decidedly unhappy event: death.
The book of Job concluded with things going well for Job, who died “old and full of days.” As we all know, and know all too well, that’s not how the story ends for so many others. Even those who were faithful and honorable and virtuous didn’t always wind up in a situation such as Job’s.
Abel (Gen. 4:8)
Uriah (2 Sam. 11:17)
Eli (1 Sam. 4:18)
King Josiah (2 Chron. 35:22–24)
John the Baptist (Matt. 14:10)
Stephen (Acts 7:59, 60)
As we can see, the Bible is full of stories that don’t have happy endings. And that’s because life itself is full of stories that don’t have happy endings. Whether martyred for a good cause, or dying from a horrible disease, or having a life reduced to pain and misery, many people don’t come through their trials as triumphant as Job did. In fact, to be honest, how often do things work out well, as they did for Job? And we don’t need the Bible to know this terrible fact. Who among us doesn’t know of unhappy endings?
Yes, the story of Job ended on a positive note, in contrast to the story of other Bible characters and often of other people in general. Bible scholars sometimes talk about the “restoration” of Job. And indeed, to some degree, many things were restored to him.
But if that were the complete end of the story, then, in all fairness, would the story really be complete? Certainly things got better for Job, much better, but Job still died eventually. And all his children died. And all his children’s children, and on and on, all died. And no doubt to some degree all of them faced many of the same traumas and trials of life that we all do, the traumas and trials that are simply the facts of life in a fallen world.
And, as far as we know, Job never learned of the reasons behind all the calamities that befell him. Yes, he got more children, but what about his sorrow and mourning for those whom he lost? What about the scars that, no doubt, he carried for the rest of his life? Job had a happy ending, but it’s not a completely happy ending. Too many loose ends remain, too many unanswered questions.
The Bible says that the Lord “turned the captivity of Job” (Job 42:10), and indeed He did, especially when compared to all that came before. But much still remained incomplete, unanswered, and unfulfilled.
This shouldn’t be surprising, should it? After all, in this world as it is now, regardless of our “end,” whether good or bad, some things remain incomplete, unanswered, and unfulfilled.
That’s why, in a sense, Job’s ending could be seen as a symbol, however faint, of the true end of all human woe and suffering. It foreshadows the ultimate hope and promise that we have, through the gospel of Jesus Christ, of a full and complete restoration in ways that will make Job’s restoration pale in comparison.
Among other things, the Bible is a book about history. But it is not just a history book. It tells about events in the past, historical events, and uses them (among other things) to give us spiritual lessons. It uses events in the past to teach us truths about how we are to live in the here and now. (See 1 Cor. 10:11.)
But the Bible doesn’t just talk about the past. It talks about the future, as well. It tells us not just about events that have happened but about events that will happen. It points us to the future, even to the end of time. The theological term for last-day events, about end times, is “eschatology,” from a Greek word that means “last.” Sometimes it is used to encompass belief about death, judgment, heaven, and hell, as well. It also deals with the promise of hope that we have of a new existence in a new world.
And the Bible does tell us many things about the end times. Yes, the book of Job ended with Job’s death, and if this were the only book one had to read, one could believe that Job’s story ended, as do all ours, with death—and that was it, period. There was nothing else to hope for, because, as far as we can tell and from all that we see, nothing comes after.
The Bible, though, teaches us something else. It teaches that at the end of time God’s eternal kingdom will be established, it will exist forever, and it will be the eternal home of the redeemed. Unlike the worldly kingdoms that have come and gone, this one is everlasting.
“The great plan of redemption results in fully bringing back the world into God’s favor. All that was lost by sin is restored. Not only man but the earth is redeemed, to be the eternal abode of the obedient. For six thousand years Satan has struggled to maintain possession of the earth. Now God’s original purpose in its creation is accomplished. ‘The saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever.’ Daniel 7:18.”—Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 342.
Indeed, the book of Job ended with his death. The good news for us, and for Job, is that the end of the book of Job is not the end of Job’s story. And our death is not the end of ours, either.
One of the themes in the book of Job deals with the question of death. How could it not? Any book that looks at human suffering would, of course, have to look at death, the source of so much of our suffering. Job asks if the dead will live again, and then he says that he waits for his change to come. The Hebrew word for “wait” also implies the idea of hope. It’s not just waiting for something, it is hoping for it.
And what he was hoping for was his “change.” This word comes from a Hebrew term that can give the idea of “renewal” or “replacement.” Often it is the changing of a garment. Though the word itself is broad, given the context—that of asking what “renewal” comes after death, a “renewal” that Job hopes for—what else could this change be but a change from death to life, the time God shall “desire the work of Your [God’s] hands” (Job 14:15, NKJV)?
Of course, our great hope, the great promise that death will not be the end, comes to us from the life, death, and ministry of Jesus. “The [New Testament] teaches that Christ has defeated death, mankind’s bitterest foe, and that God will raise the dead to a final judgment. But this doctrine becomes central to biblical faith . . . after the resurrection of Christ, for it gains its validation in Christ’s triumph over death.”—John E. Hartley, The Book of Job, New International Commentary on the Old Testament, Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), p. 237.
Further Thought: Despite all the horrific calamities that befell Job, not only did he stay faithful to God, but he was given back much of what he had lost. Yet even here, as with much of the book of Job, questions remain unanswered. Sure, Job is just one book of the Bible, and to build an entire theology on one book would be wrong. We have the rest of the Scriptures, which add so much more understanding regarding many of the difficult questions addressed in the book of Job. The New Testament especially brings to light so many things that couldn’t have been fully understood in Old Testament times. Perhaps the greatest example of this would be the meaning of the sanctuary service. However much a faithful Israelite might have understood about the death of the animals and the entire sacrificial service, only through the revelation of Jesus and His death on the cross does the system come more fully to light. The book of Hebrews helps illuminate so much of the true meaning of the entire service. And though today we have the privilege of knowing “present truth” (2 Pet. 1:12) and certainly have been given more light on issues than Job had, we still have to learn to live with unanswered questions too. The unfolding of truth is progressive, and despite the great light we have been given now, there’s still so much more to learn. In fact, we’ve been told that “the redeemed throng will range from world to world, and much of their time will be employed in searching out the mysteries of redemption. And throughout the whole stretch of eternity, this subject will be continually opening to their minds.”—Ellen G. White, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, March 9, 1886.