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Doug Van Meter - 15 May 2022

When Affliction Boils Over (Job 2:1–13)

The Roman philosopher, Seneca, once said, “The bravest sight in the world is to see a great man struggling against adversity.” If that is true, then Job serves as a fitting example. He was a great man (1:3). Even more so, he was a truly good man (1:1). The book of Job asks, “Will a great man continue to be a good man even when he ceases, in the eyes of the world, to be a great man?” After the events of chapter 1, so far, so good. How will this great and godly, and therefore good, man respond in chapter 2 when his afflictions boil over?

Scripture References: Job 2:1-13

From Series: "Job Exposition"

A devotional exposition of the book of Job by Doug Van Meter.

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The Roman philosopher Seneca once wrote, “The bravest sight in the world is to see a great man struggling against adversity.” If that is true, then Job serves as a fitting example. He was a great man (1:3); but even more so, he was a truly good man (1:1). The plot of the book of Job is concerned with the question, will a great man continue to be a good man even when he ceases, in the eyes of the world, to be a great man?” Will this once prosperous man remain a truly pious man when his prosperity is no more? Will he keep loving and trusting God or will he prove the Satan’s point?

After the events of chapter 1, it was so far, so good. But how would he fare in chapter 2 when his afflictions boiled over? If you’ve read the end of the book, you know the answer. But remember that Job had no idea about chapter 42. In fact, he had no idea what was causing the events of chapters 1–2.

This matter of a good man being afflicted by God is essential to understanding Job. The book raises the legitimate question, why do bad things happen to good people? It wrestles with this particular matter rather than with the problem of suffering in general, and one reason is that, unless one is a believer, there really is no problem of suffering.

The reason there was such confusion in Job’s mind, and the reason for the simplistic yet erroneous counsel of his friends, is because, generally speaking, those who live wisely (biblically) are blessed while those who live foolishly are cursed (see Proverbs 1:33; 2:7; 3:9–10, 16–18; 8:17–18, 35; 10:27; 11:8; etc.). That is, God generally favours those who fear him while he generally dismisses, if not destroys, those who defy the him. The wages of sin has always been death. But Job was blameless. God said so! No wonder the wise man of Uz was confused.

This wise man, a friend of God (29:4), was seemingly being treated by God like a fool and an enemy. Now, in chapter 2, while scraping his boils, Job was also vigorously scratching his head. Only when God appeared (chapters 38–42) was it more fully revealed that “God allows in his wisdom what he could easily prevent by his power” (Belcher). But that was yet in Job’s future.

In chapter 2, Job experienced even more affliction—this time bodily, physical affliction. To the unthinking, it might seem that this affliction is no comparison to the affliction in chapter 1 of losing fortune and family. Yet, as someone recently pointed out to me, the kind of affliction in chapter 2 must be of a more intense kind because God had refused it in chapter 1 but now allowed it as a final test. There is an escalation of affliction in the two chapters of this prologue, from destruction to devastation to desolation and disillusionment. We will look this intensifying affliction under three headings.

  1. Blameless Affirmation (vv. 1–3)
  2. Bodily Affliction (vv. 4–10)
  3. Brotherly Affection (vv. 11–13)

Blameless Affirmation

Chapter 2 opens similarly to chapter 1, with God calling to account his heavenly court/counsel.

Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD. And the LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.”

(Job 2:1–3)

Satan, though God’s arch enemy, is nonetheless, accountable to present himself before Yahweh. The Lord enquired what he had been up to and, as in chapter 1, he again set forth the challenge: “Have you considered my servant Job?” He bragged on his faithful child with the affirmation, “No one else on earth is like him, a man perfect in integrity, who fears God and turns away from evil.” But this time, the Lord added another commendation of Job’s blamelessness: “He still retains his integrity even though you incited me against him, to destroy him for no good reason.” The proud Father commended his son as one in whom he was well pleased. Even amid horrific calamity, Job continued to trust in God, which is precisely what Satan desired to destroy. But Job was not for sale. His devotion to the Lord remained despite devastation and disaster. If, as some commentators suggest, there is a cosmic wager, Yahweh, of course, had emerged the victor. But the conflict was not yet over.

The words “without good reason” can be translated “in vain.” This may imply the Lord highlighting Satan’s failure to achieve his diabolical cynical goal. Job had passed the test. Job continued to rest in God’s love for him and continued to love God.

When Christians undergo fiery trials, we must not allow ourselves to be pulled from the truth of God’s love for us. We should pray more fervently that the Holy Spirit will continue to spread abroad God’s love in our hearts, so that our experience of his love is more than exegetical (Romans 5:5). The more we know of his love, the more we will respond with love (1 John 4:19).

We do well to meditate upon the fact that Job’s victory was not merely one of self-effort. Rather, in all of this, the Lord sustained him, as he does for his people today (2 Corinthians 12:7ff; see Genesis 6:8). As when the Lord Jesus permitted Peter to be sifted (Luke 22:31–32), he intercedes for his own (John 18:1–9; Romans 8:31–39).

As a final application at this point, let us remember that, when the church is under pressure, the angels (including fallen ones) are watching for our response. And as we respond by relying on the Lord, he is glorified, his enemies are silenced, and his worshippers are encouraged (Ephesians 3:10–13; 6:10–13).

Bodily Affliction

As we have seen, the affliction in this chapter is largely bodily in nature.

Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.”

 

So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes.

 

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”  In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

(Job 2:4–10)

The Relentless Adversary

Satan proved to be a relentless adversary (vv. 4–5). His blasphemous slander persisted. He was relentless in his cynicism both towards Job and towards the Lord. Here, he suggested that all that Job had suffered thus far was, in a sense, superficial, and that Job was just as self-centred as ever (see 1:9–11). His use of the phrase “skin for skin” may allude to this. Though there is debate about its exact meaning, it might be a cynical statement to the effect that all that had happened thus far was merely skin deep. Or it may imply that Job was ultimately concerned only about his own skin. Though he might be grieving over the loss of family and fortune, he was, according to Satan’s accusation, nonetheless relieved that he had not been physically affected. Once he had skin in the game, he would reveal the superficiality of his devotion to Yahweh.

Regardless of the precise meaning of that phrase, Satan clearly challenged God to allow him to afflict Job bodily, alleging that once Job personally suffered physical affliction, then he would surely curse God to his face.

Someone recently commented to me, in the context of this chapter, that the most severe trials are often those of a physical, bodily nature. After all, the Lord had restrained Satan from touching Job’s body in the first attack (1:12). I think there is something to this.

Though financial destitution, and especially the death of loved ones, is devastating—and the latter is something that, in some ways, stays with you the rest of your life—life goes on and one can still fruitfully function. But when it comes to physical affliction, there is often a relentless reminder of discomfort, which can be extremely debilitating.

I think of Joni Eareckson Tada, who testifies that, each morning, she awakes and is reminded by the pain, debilitating discomfort, and physical limitations that she has been afflicted. It is a daily struggle for her to find her joy in the Lord and to be fruitful (which she does and which she is!). Nevertheless, the physical affliction is a moment-by-moment reminder that all is not well. And for many, like Joni, there is no realistic hope for improvement until the receiving of a glorified body. We should keep this in mind as we observe what happened to Job.

The Restraining Authority

Verses 6–9 reveal the Lord’s restraining authority. Yahweh gave permission to the Satan for this trial, but note that the Lord at the same time restrained him. The Satan was permitted to touch Job’s body, but he was not allowed to take his life. As we saw in chapter 1, the sovereign Lord rules—always, over all things, and over all beings.

Be careful of a wrong reverence. We are to fear the Lord, not Satan. God gives and takes life. God gives and takes health. Though, as we see here, he may (and often does) use secondary agencies, nevertheless our lives are in his hands (Acts 17:28). The church would do well to stop giving the devil more credit than his due. The Lord reigns (Psalm 97:1; 99:1) supremely and sovereignly.

Verses 7–8 describe a pathetic scene. A once noble and happy man was now covered from head to foot in “loathsome sores.” Perhaps these were boils or something like leprosy. Some have suggested elephantiasis. Whatever the exact nature, these sores were so painful, discomforting, distracting, and humiliating that Job now sat outside the camp on discarded ashes, scraping his body with a piece of pottery. His condition probably persisted over a long period of time. “This self-abnegation was more likely his own sorrowful way of accepting his new status as a piece of human trash to be thrown out with other refuse in the place of discarded things” (Anderson). And God knew all about this. God could have stopped it yet, in his wisdom, he permitted it.

When our afflictions boil over, we (understandably) want to know why. But the proper interrogatives are “What?” and “How?”

The Reverent Acceptance

Job reverently accepted what came from Yahweh’s hand (vv. 9–10). In these verses we read words of both despair (v. 9) and devotion (v. 10). “When the bad as well as the good is received at the hand of God, every experience of life becomes an occasion of blessing” (Anderson).

Words of Despair

Verse 9 is the first and last we read of Job’s wife (though her presence is implied in chapter 42, assuming she is the mother of the ten additional children). She does not appear at her best, though, as we will see, perhaps we should not be too hard on her. In what appear to be words of rebuke, she questions why Job continues to remain blameless. After all, in the light of these three tumultuous afflictions, would Job not be better off dead? Therefore, “Curse God and die.” These are words of despair and certainly also of doubt in God’s goodness.

It may be that she was perhaps among those for whom the Satan’s accusation was true: that she served the Lord only for what she could get. She was perhaps a fair-weathered Christian. Job’s rebuke that she was behaving like a “foolish woman” (i.e. as one who lives without a true knowledge of God [Psalm 14:1]) reveals that this was not one of her more faithful days.

However, remember that she, too, had lost everything, including her financial security. Worse, she had stood beside Job as they had buried their ten children. Furthermore, her despairing response may also be the response of someone who cannot bear to see her loved one suffer. As has been observed, “It is so hard to live near someone who is suffering and to not be utterly able to do anything to help them” (Atkinson).

Belcher summarises well: “When people lose their security, it is easy to respond out of panic because life is no longer sure and the future is uncertain…. She responds out of desperation to Job’s situation and says some things that she might not normally say.”

Caregivers of the chronically ill face a difficult time and, without a sense of calling, it can seem almost too much to bear.

Words of Devotion

Remarkably, as his words of devotion (v. 10) reveal, the disposition of Job’s heart had not changed at all. Though his afflictions were boiling over, nevertheless he remained adamantly devoted to the Lord. He was no mercenary when it came to serving the Lord. Whether he received good or bad from God, he would not curse God or deny God or depart from worshipping or serving him. He was not like so many people over the centuries who have turned back from the Lord Jesus Christ (see Matthew 13:18–22).

When trials come, a person’s spirit is revealed. When afflictions boil over, the genuineness of one’s profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is put to the test. Far too many people turn from the Lord after miscarriages or failed marriages or flailing finances or disappointments in church life. But these things are part of living in a fallen world. This is partly why Paul exhorted that it is “through many tribulations [that] we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). If we are not willing to share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, we have no part in the power of his resurrection. One cannot but help to think of Jesus Christ and his continued trust when all heaven and hell broke loose upon him.

Brotherly Affection

Finally, in vv. 11–13, Job’s friends come onto the scene. Amid his “agony and anguish” (Ash), he is visited by a band of brothers.

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognise him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

(Job 2:11–13)

These now infamous friends are here presented in a somewhat favourable light. In their initial encounter with Job, they displayed compassionate concern and empathetic effort. We therefore should be careful of “cancelling” here them based on what we know to be their later folly.

These men cared about their friend. And though their theology which, incomplete as it was, resulted in them slandering Job while misrepresenting God, needed help, and while they could have benefited from a good biblical counselling course, nevertheless, initially, they did well. We can learn from their faithful presence among one whose afflictions were boiling over. “This probably was the finest demonstration of love these three could have shown” (Alden).

Notice three things about them in this interaction.

They Came

First, they came (v. 11). The ESV Study Bible notes, “The three friends of Job all have southern origins known in the OT. Eliphaz is from Teman, an important city in Edom (Genesis 36:11, 15; Ezekiel 25:13; Amos 1:11–12)…. Bildad is from Shuah, a name of one of the sons of Abraham from his marriage to Keturah (Genesis 25:2; 1 Chronicles 1:32) [a place located in Edom or Arabia]… Zophar is from Naamah,” perhaps located in Midian.

This region was known for its wisdom (Jeremiah 49:7; 1 Kings 4:30; Obadiah 8). These geographical mentions affirm further the historicity of this book, but most importantly these facts indicate the effort these friends made to come to Job’s aid. With affliction boiling over in Job’s life, these friends refused to selfishly keep their distance. Rather, they apparently communicated with each other, making a plan (“an appointment”) to come together to go to their friend in need. One wonders where Job’s siblings were (42:11).

When people undergo affliction, many are tempted to keep a “safe distance” out of fear of not knowing how to help, or out of fear that their own lives will be disrupted by getting too near the problem. True friends, however, stick closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24).

Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with hospitals. While I am grateful for the services they render, the sights and smells make me uncomfortable. Yet, to minister to those in need, I have needed to overcome my own discomfort. That is what Christians do.

When affliction boils over in a friend or a church member’s life, be willing to be inconvenienced. When troubles come, come. This is partly what it means to love one’s neighbour.

They Comforted

Second, they comforted (v. 11). The word translated “sympathy” means to grieve with, to console, or to pity (Jeremiah 15:5; Isaiah 51:19; Psalm 69:20), while the word translated “comfort” perhaps refers to sympathy in action.

The Hebrew word for “comfort” is first found in Genesis 5:29, where it describes Noah’s parents naming him at birth. We are told there that his name spoke of relief. In Genesis 50:21, Joseph comforted his brothers by speaking encouraging, forgiving words to them. He practically engaged with them. In Job 42:11, his siblings and former acquaintances came and practically comforted him. This is what these three friends were doing: They were bringing him relief. Though he would later assail them as “miserable comforters” (16:2), don’t miss that they were here seeking to do a good thing.

We can learn from this that, when others are afflicted, we need to at some point do what we can to offer practical relief—without them asking for it. Though there is no iron-clad rule, nevertheless, be careful of asking sufferers to let you know if there is something you can do when there are things you observe that you can do right now: making a meal; offering childcare; transporting; financial assistance; etc.

They Commiserated

Third, they commiserated (vv. 12–13). Job was in really bad shape—so much so that his friends did not recognise him from a distance. Yet they approached him and, like him, exercised a common ancient ritual displaying their grief (Genesis 50:10; Lamentations 2:10; Ezekiel 3:15; 1 Samuel 31:13).

They identified with him in his sufferings. But, perhaps most strikingly, “they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights”—silently. Their display of sympathy and their decided silence was because “they saw that his suffering was very great.” Sometimes we say the most when we say nothing at all. Silent presence is often the best of sympathetic presence. Just being there is often, initially, enough. And, as most are aware, continued silence would have done more for Job than the words his friends would soon speak.

So, what are we to take away from this chapter? Let me suggest four things.

First, note that affliction often boils over in the lives of those whom God loves. Job cautions us against the prosperity gospel. The New Testament concurs: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12–13).

Second, take care to grow in your knowledge, adoration, and trust in God before afflictions boil over. Job was prepared to face affliction because he walked so closely with God before affliction came. Learning to trust God in affliction is harder if we do not learn to trust him before affliction strikes.

Third, when affliction boils over, enter into the sufferings of the one for whom the worst of affliction boiled over. Remember: As terrible as your suffering might be, Christ suffered far worse on your behalf. Listen again to the counsel of the apostle Peter:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And

 

“If the righteous is scarcely saved,

what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

 

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

(1 Peter 4:12–19)

Jesus was desolate so we would not be. “The cross is the pulpit in which Jesus Christ preached the love of God” (Augustine).

Fourth, living in a sinful world means God’s judgement inflicts sometimes collateral damage. But it is intentional, designed collateral damage. Its intention is conformity to Jesus Christ (Romans 8:18–39). Ask God for the grace to embrace your suffering as a means of growth to Christlikeness.

AMEN