The Character of Job
In the midst of all the major issues touched on in the book of Job, we mustn’t lose sight of another crucial theme: that of Job himself.
Who was this man whom the Lord trusted so much that He challenged the devil over his faithfulness and integrity? Who was this man who did not understand why all this was happening to him, who knew that what was happening to him wasn’t fair, who expressed anger and frustration over it all, and yet stayed faithful right through to the end? While the essence of the book of Job dealt with Job after the calamities struck, from this story we can pick up information about Job’s earlier life. And what we learn about Job’s past and the kind of man he was gives us a greater understanding of why Job stayed faithful to the Lord, even amid all the terrible suffering, even amid everything Satan did to try to turn him away from God.
What was Job like, and what can we learn about how he lived that can help to make us be more faithful followers of the Lord as we live our own lives?
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, December 24.
Though Job had been told all through the dialogues that he must have done something wrong in order for all this evil to come upon him, the opposite appears to be the case. It was his goodness, his faithfulness, that made him the special target of Satan.
How good and how faithful was he? First, the text tells us that he was “perfect.” This word does not have to mean “sinless,” as was Jesus. It comes, instead, with the idea of completeness, integrity, sincerity, but in a relative sense. The person who is “perfect” in the sight of God is the person who has reached the degree of development that Heaven expects of him or her at any given time. The Hebrew word for “perfect,” tam, “is equivalent to the Greek word teleios, which is often translated ‘perfect’ in the [New Testament] but which is better translated ‘full grown’ or ‘mature.’ ”—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 499. Job’s later experiences revealed that he had not reached the ultimate perfection of character. Though faithful and upright, he was still growing.
Second, the text says he was “upright.” The word means “straight,” “level,” “just,” “right.” Job lived in a way that he could be called “a good citizen.”
Third, the text says he “feared God.” Though the Old Testament portrays the idea of “fearing” God as part of what being a faithful Israelite was all about, the phrase also was used in the New Testament for Gentiles who faithfully served the God of Israel (see Acts 10:2, 22). Finally, Job “eschewed,” or shunned, evil. This characterization of Job was affirmed by the Lord Himself, when He said to Satan, “Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?” (Job 1:8).
In the end, Job was a man of God whose faith was revealed by the kind of life he lived; and thus, he truly bore witness “to angels, and to men” (1 Cor. 4:9) about what a person can be in Christ.
As Job struggled to come to terms with the calamity that befell him, he did think about his past life and how good it had been for him and how he had lived. Talking about the earlier days, Job said that in this time “ ‘my steps were bathed with cream’ ” (Job 29:6, NKJV).
For instance, in Job 29:2, Job talked about the time that “ ‘God [has] watched over me’ ” (NKJV). The Hebrew word for “watched over” comes from a common word used all through the Old Testament to talk about God’s watchcare for His people (see Ps. 91:11, Num. 6:24). Beyond question, Job had the good life. The important thing, too, was that he knew that he had the good life.
We can see here just how much Job was respected. The phrase about his taking his “ ‘seat in the open square’ ” (Job 29:7, NKJV) brings in the idea of some sort of local governance, of which Job was obviously a part. Such seats would usually be given to the senior and respected members of the society, and among them Job was highly esteemed.
But we can see that even the “lowest” members of the society loved and respected him. The poor, the perishing, the blind, the widow, the fatherless, and the lame—those who had not been blessed as Job had been blessed were the very ones to whom he gave aid and comfort.
“God has given in His word a picture of a prosperous man—one whose life was in the truest sense a success, a man whom both heaven and earth delighted to honor.”—Ellen G. White, Education, p. 142. Verses like these and others (as we will see) show us why Job had been a very successful person in every way, both in the sight of men and of God.
At first glance, it could sound as if Job were bragging, as if Job were parading his holiness and virtue and good conduct before others. This attitude, of course, is precisely the kind that the Bible condemns (see Matthew 23). But that’s not what was happening here with Job. Again, it is crucial to remember the context: he’s being told that his past life, a life assumed to have been pretty evil, is the cause of his suffering. Job, meanwhile, knows that this simply cannot be true and that nothing he had done made him deserve what had come upon him. So he spends this time recounting the kind of life he lived and the kind of person he was.
Notice, too, that Job wasn’t dealing only with his outward actions. The text “ ‘my heart followed my eyes’ ” (Job 31:7, NASB) shows that Job understood the deeper meaning of holiness, the deeper meaning of right and wrong and of God’s law. Job apparently knew that God cares about the heart, about our thoughts, as well as our actions (see 1 Sam. 16:7, Exod. 20:17, Matt. 5:28). Job knew that it was wrong to lust after a woman and not just to commit adultery with her. (Again, what powerful evidence for the fact that knowledge of the true God had existed even before the Lord called the nation of Israel to be His covenant people and a witness of Him.) Read what Job said in Job 31:13–15. Why is this message so crucial?
Here Job shows an amazing understanding, especially for his time (any time, really) about the basic equality of all human beings. The ancient world was not a place where concepts of universal rights and universal laws were understood or followed. People groups thought of themselves as greater than and superior to others, and at times thought nothing of denying basic dignity and rights to others. Here, though, Job shows just how much he understands about human rights and that these rights originate in the God who made us. In some ways, Job was ahead of not only his time but ours, as well.
No wonder the Lord said what He did about the life and character of Job. This is a man who clearly lived out his faith, a man whose works revealed the reality of his relationship with God. This, of course, made his complaint all the more bitter: Why is this happening to me? And, of course, it made the arguments of his friends as vain and hollow as they were.
But there’s a deeper and more important message that we can take from the reality of Job’s faithful and obedient life. Notice how closely the life he lived in the past was tied to how he responded to the tragedies that befell him later. It was not by chance or luck or sheer willpower that Job refused to “ ‘curse God, and die’ ” (Job 2:9). No, it was because all those years of faithfulness and obedience to God gave him the faith and character that enabled him to trust in the Lord, regardless of what happened to him.
The key to Job’s major victory here was found in all the “smaller” victories he had before (see also Luke 16:10). It was his faithful adherence to right, without being willing to compromise, that made Job what he was. What we see in Job is an example of what the book of James says about the role of works in a life of faith: “Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?” (James 2:22, NKJV). What an important principle of the Christian life is revealed in this text. In the story of Job we see this principle played out in a powerful way. Job was made of the same flesh and bone as all of us; yet, through the grace of God and his own diligent effort, he lived a life of faithful obedience to God.
Earlier in the book of Job, amid the back and forth between the characters, Eliphaz the Temanite said to Job: “ ‘Is it any pleasure to the Almighty that you are righteous? Or is it gain to Him that you make your ways blameless?’ ” (Job 22:3, NKJV). That’s a very ironic question, given what we know about what was happening behind the scenes in heaven. Yes, it is a pleasure to God if Job was righteous, and it was gain to Him if Job made his way blameless. And this is true not just with Job—the same goes for all of those who claim to be followers of the Lord.
The immediate issue in the book of Job was, would Job be faithful?
Satan said he wouldn’t; God said he would. Job’s faithfulness then was definitely to God’s advantage, at least in this specific battle with Satan. This story, though, is just a microcosm of bigger issues. The first angel’s message tells us, in part, to “give glory” to God (Rev. 14:7), and Jesus explained in Matthew 5:16 that by our good works we can bring glory to God. This is what Job did; this is what we can do too.
What we see in this text, and in the book of Job, are expressions of the fact that God is working in the lives of His followers to change them, for His glory, into His own image. “The very image of God is to be reproduced in humanity. The honor of God, the honor of Christ, is involved in the perfection of the character of His people.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 671. The life of Job was an example of how human beings may reveal this principle, even though Job lived many thousands of years ago. God’s people in every age have the privilege of living in the same way, as well.
Further Thought: The Protestant Reformation reclaimed the great truth of salvation by faith alone. This truth was first intimated in the Word back in Eden itself (see Gen. 3:15) and then given fuller expression in the life of Abraham (see Gen. 15:6, Rom. 4:3), before being successively revealed in Scripture up through Paul. Yet, the truth of salvation by faith alone always included the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, not as the means of salvation but as the expression of it. In the life and character of Job, we find a great example of what this work looks like. Theologians sometimes call this work “sanctification,” which means basically “holiness.” It is so significant in Scripture that we are told to strive “for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14, ESV). The basic meaning of sanctification is “set apart for holy use,” an idea seen, for example, when the Lord said to His covenant people, “ ‘ “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” ’ ” (Lev. 19:2, NKJV). Though the word and concept appear in various ways in both the Old and New Testament, they deal with what God does in us. It can be seen as a moral growth in goodness and toward goodness. It is “a progressive process of moral change by the power of the Holy Spirit in cooperation with the human will.”—Handbook of SDA Theology, p. 296. Though this work is something that only God can accomplish in us, we are not forced into sanctification any more than we are forced into justification. We give ourselves to the Lord, and the same Lord who justifies us by faith will sanctify us as well, molding us, as He did with Job, into the image of God, at least to whatever degree is possible this side of eternity. So, Paul writes, “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you” (Gal. 4:19, NKJV), and Ellen G. White writes: “Christ is our pattern, the perfect and holy example that has been given us to follow. We can never equal the Pattern, but we may imitate and resemble it according to our ability.”—That I May Know Him, p. 265.