Book of Job. Photo by Leigh An Coplin

Day 19 (Jan. 19): Job — Satan challenges God, Job tested, Job’s friends offer “help”

Welcome to Livin’ Light’s Bible-In-A-Year challenge of discovering God’s love for us and His purpose for our lives. Here is the format for this great adventure: The daily reading assignment is posted at 5 a.m. After each day’s reading, Leigh An Coplin, the blog host, shares observations and poses questions about difficult passages to Rob Fields, who studied Christian Education at Asbury Seminary and currently teaches Biology in the Orlando area. To start from the beginning, click on 365 Bible Readings and scroll down to Day 1. The reading schedule is taken from The One Year Chronological Bible NLT. 

Today’s Reading
Job 1-4
(Before 2100 BC) Click here for a timeline of the whole Bible
The book of Job may be out of chronological order, but that is because its timeframe is uncertain.  According to the NLT The One Year Chronological Bible, p. 72: “The account of Job is traditionally thought to have taken place around the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (2200-1800) BC), or shortly thereafter.  However, it could have occurred as late as the Exile (during the sixth century BC). 

Questions & Observations

O.  How can anyone possibly own this much property?  He has all these riches and still praises God.

Q. (Job 1:5): After his children had been celebrating for several days Job made it practice to purify them by offering a sacrifice for each one in case they had sinned against God.  How does God view routinely sinning and then asking for forgiveness — taking Him for granted?

A. What you are describing in your question is what Bonheoffer (a church father during the Nazi rule in Germany) called cheap grace: the idea of taking God’s forgiveness for granted, and going on to make bad decisions.  This, frankly, is a very tempting option for a lot of people, and it also can be hard to avoid, since many of us have “pet” sins that we struggle with.  But part of what it means to be a maturing Christian is our gradual efforts to change our bad habits and to be increasingly repulsed by our defiant sin choices.  It should be a daily part of our walk with God to ask for His guidance in the ways that we are taking advantage of His grace and working to remove them.

As it relates to the story, I honestly don’t think this is what the author is talking about.  The writer is trying to show that Job is such an upright man, that he even offers up sacrifices for things his kids MIGHT have done.

Q. (1:6): Can you tell us anymore about this meeting?  Who is the heavenly court?  What is Satan doing with them?

A. While this is not the only glimpse into heaven that we get in the Bible (at least that’s what it appears to be), this is the only time that such a description is given to us.  My assumption is that the heavenly court is made up of angels (including at least one fallen one), but it doesn’t exactly tell us the “roll” of who is there.  The word Satan means “accuser”, which is exactly what he is doing in this scenario: accusing God of protecting Job, and accusing Job of being a “fair weather” person who only loves God because God has been so generous to him.  This is not the last time in the OT that we will see Satan accuse.

One other note that warrants mentioning here: there is a fair degree of variation between what Christians and Jews have to say about Satan and his “role”.  Many Jews do not see Satan as the great enemy of God, but rather an angel who serves the important role of “testing the mettle” of God’s faithful: he does so on God’s side, so to speak.  Passages like this one can point in that direction: the passage does not make God and Satan to be completely antagonistic.  Satan is testing Job, but only with God’s permission.  This image of Satan being a servant, rather than an enemy of God, varies greatly from the picture that is painted by the New Testament.  Keep in mind: much of what the Bible says about the devil (and hell, by the way) comes directly from Jesus Himself (see John 8:42-47 for example), and this obviously would lead to a very different interpretation of Satan’s role between Christians (who follow Christ) and Jews (who reject Jesus as Christ or Messiah).  We will continue to get glimpses into the spiritual realm of angels, demons, and Satan, so see how these two visions line up with what you’ve been taught.

Q. (1:20): I know there is a larger question to ask here.  I’ll get to it.  But, I want to ask about the tearing of clothes.  We have seen Jacob do this, Joseph’s brothers, and here Job tore his robe and shaved his head in despair.  Is there symbolism here?

A. Tearing (or rending) one’s clothes was a way of showing great distress, in this case mourning for Job’s dead children and servants.  Shaving the head would have also been seen as a sign of mourning: it was very uncommon for a man to shave his head (which probably included shaving off facial hair) in this period, and it would have made the man stand out.  If you wanted to bring attention to the fact that you were in mourning, shaving your head and beard would have been a great way to do it.

Q. (1:13-2:10): After reading this, I just said “whew.”  How could anyone take this and why would God test Job so harshly?  In 2:4, it says “you (Satan) urged me (God) to harm him (Job) …” saying God did the harming.  But in 1:12, God said he would allow Satan to test him.  So, who tested him?  Is this a slip of translation?  I bet you’re going to say that what we need to glean from this is that Job was faithful to God no matter what happened to him or who harmed him.  So, here we are again at: “Does God cause bad things to happen?  Or just know about them and allow them to happen?”  I think it’s clear here that God made the bad things happen.  What significance does this have in God’s battle of strength with Satan?  To me, this is a battle between God and Satan and Job is the pawn.  Again, I feel like I’m going to get struck for saying that!  Just trying to understand.

A. Lets pull back a bit.  Job is basically an extended narrative essay on the eternal question of theodicy: basically, if a loving, all-powerful God exists, why do bad things happen?  So in the first few chapters, we already have one part of the answer: part of the reason that we suffer is that God is not the only powerful entity in our universe.  There are other entities whom desire to harm God’s children because doing so harms the God who loves them.  If Satan cannot confront God directly, he surely can target God’s children to gain (in his mind) some measure of revenge.  So, God does not choose our suffering, but allows it for us to be tested just as Job is being tested here.

I think the verse you are pointing to does not say that God harmed Job directly, but as you clearly state, He does allow the harm of Satan.  Is that exactly the same as saying “God harmed Job” because He allowed it to happen?  Well, that’s up to you to decide.  Part of what this story builds up to in the late chapters is that we must be VERY cautious in assuming anything about the mind of God.  We make a lot of presumptions about God’s justice (or lack there of as we see it), but ultimately, God does not have to answer to us, as we shall see.

O. (1:1-26): Job is obviously beside himself, hurt to the core.  He seemed calmer when he told his wife that we need to accept the good and the bad — all that comes from God.  Here, it finally hit him.  His ranting reminds me of when something is troubling me and I have crazy thoughts running through my head as I struggle to see the light of it.  His problems are much more devastating than anything I have faced, but I can still relate.

Q. (4:9, 4:19):  When I first read this, I thought it was God talking.  Then, I looked back and was relieved when I saw that it was Eliphaz.  I imagine most people listening to this response of his friend and thinking, “He’s got a point.”  However, we learn that Job does not forget who his Creator is.  We are told that God is loving, yet he can come down on people severely.  We are merely dust, purely disposable.  From my perspective, it seems that the Old Testament is harsher, but the New Testament is the new law and shows much more affection.  Do you feel God can have a change of heart?

A. That is, of course, a classic debate that has been going on for centuries.  Certainly the relationship between man and God changed through the actions of Jesus in the New Testament, but I do not feel that the OT paints God as any less loving and faithful to His chosen people.  It’s just that in the NT, everyone — Jew and Gentile alike, becomes His chosen people if they are in Christ.

Book recommendation: I have this great book called Grace in a Tree Stump by one of my professors at Asbury (Ellsworth Kalas — one of my favorite writers), that talks about the many ways that God shows mercy and grace to people throughout the Old Testament.

We should be careful about saying God is more or less “harsh” in the Old or New Testaments.  One thing to remember that frequently gets cast aside in such discussions: while the Old Testament certainly comes across as harsh, it is the New Testament that has the most to say about hell, its reality, and the reality that people will end up there if they do not trust Christ for their salvation.  The Old Testament has a some instances of God striking people down or “causing them suffering” as we’ve been talking about, but the New Testament has a lot more to say about the ETERNAL destiny of sinners.  Is that ultimately more harsh and cruel?  Something to think about.

For further study: If I follow God, won’t He protect me from bad things? Look at this article on syllogism.

Blog: Want to build your life on a solid foundation? See https://livinlight.org/blog/give-yourself-a-solid-foundation/

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Tomorrow’s reading: Job 5-7:21

J Jacob leaves Laban, taking Rachel, Leah, their herds and belongings and returns to his home in Canaan. Courtesy: Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org

Day 11 (Jan. 11): Jacob leaves Laban, Laban follows Jacob, Jacob and Laban make covenant

Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org

Welcome to Livin’ Light’s Bible-In-A-Year challenge of discovering God’s love for us and His purpose for our lives. Here is the format for this great adventure: The daily reading assignment is posted at 5 a.m. After each day’s reading, Leigh An Coplin, the blog host, shares observations and poses questions about difficult passages to Rob Fields, who studied Christian Education at Asbury Seminary and currently teaches Biology in the Orlando area. To start from the beginning, click on 365 Bible Readings and scroll down to Day 1. The reading schedule is taken from The One Year Chronological Bible NLT. 

Today’s Reading
Genesis 30:25-31:55
(1916-1908 BC) Click here for a timeline of the whole Bible.

Questions & Observations

O. (30:30): Jacob gets it.  Remember how God told Abraham that He was his protector?  Here, Jacob is telling Laban that God has blessed Laban with good fortune, all through the hard work of Jacob.  Jacob gives the glory to God.  In Gen. 15:1, God tells Abram (Abraham) that He will protect him and “your reward will be great.”  Look at this story where Laban deceives Jacob again, yet God is with Jacob and helps him succeed — his reward.

O. (30:35): I just realized that Rebekah deceived her husband, the nearly blind Isaac, into thinking Jacob was Esau, resulting in Esau losing his blessing.  Here, Rebekah’s brother, Laban, tricks Jacob by taking the speckled goats and the black sheep.  Deception must run in their family.  Jacob is related too.  He seems to be the ultimate outwitter, (31:20) but has learned to use his gift wisely with the God’s guidance.

O. (31:3): God keeps His promises.  In Gen. 28:15, God said He would be with Jacob.  In 28:21, Jacob says that if God returns him safely to his father’s home, He will be his God.  Jacob and God have built a strong trust, like God did with his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham.  The legacy has been established.

O. (31:12): Jacob has basically been a slave to Laban, but God was watching how poorly Laban treated him.  We can apply this to our own lives.  When you don’t understand why you are going through a difficult time, God is paying attention. And if you stay loyal to Him, He will reward you.

Q. (31:19): Why did Rachel take the idols from Laban’s house?

A. There’s a few theories since the story doesn’t explicitly tell us.  One of the theories is that Rachel is getting back at her dad for mistreating her, which the text seems to support by saying that they felt their father denied them an inheritance.  Another theory is that she didn’t want her father to continue in idolatry (which I confess I don’t see much support for).  One other idea is that she didn’t believe in Jacob’s god, and was trying to steal the source of her father’s power and influence.

Q. (31:26): OK, what’s up with Laban?  He is so two-faced, he almost seems schizophrenic.  He is horribly unfair to Jacob and then asked Jacob why He snuck away.  He bargained away his daughters, then asked why Jacob dragged his daughters away like prisoners of war.  In 31:43, Laban is still delusional.  He thinks the flocks are his even after Jacob explained that the flocks grew because God blessed him.  Then in 31:48, when he makes a covenant with Jacob, he says God will be the witness if Jacob mistreats his daughters.  How can he say this when he is the ultimate abuser?  And, does he think God will truly respect him, given his treatment of Jacob and worshipping other gods?

A. I think you’ve summed it up well.  Laban is an odd character and this is a very weird story.  I honestly don’t know a lot about Laban and his motivations (he’s not a well studied character).  One thing he does do, whether he believes in the God of Jacob or not, is call this god as a witness in the covenant between himself and Jacob.  In addition to the aspects of covenant ceremony we have already discussed, another important aspect would be witnesses to the ceremony itself, who would have been responsible for its enforcement.  So what Laban is wisely doing here is calling on Jacob’s God to keep Jacob honest.

Q. (31:36):  This is the first time that I can remember that one of God’s chosen has lashed out at someone.  Most of the stories so far show how God’s power settles an argument.  Disagreements always make me question if I am supposed to speak up or let God do my fighting for me.

A. As we discussed yesterday, it is our duty as Christians to be at peace with those around us, so resorting to this type of outburst (or even to violence) is not in keeping with the heart of the Christian message.  But we must, reasonably, be willing to speak up for God when we feel that the character of God is being challenged.  Ultimately, I believe that we are called to listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and be wise when it comes to the times to speak (or yell I guess) and the times to be silent.

Q. (31:39): I know many of the Bible’s characters stories foreshadow our Savior, Jesus Christ.  When Jacob said He owned the responsibility for Laban’s sheep:  If one was missing, from no fault of Jacob, Jacob would have to pay for it.  Is this foreshadowing Jesus taking the punishment for our sins?

A. Certainly Jacob’s role as shepherd and protector of the sheep is in keeping with our understanding of the way Jesus spoke about himself as Good Shepherd (John 10).  And while I am not especially familiar with this particular instance of foreshadowing, you could certainly make the argument that Jacob’s actions symbolically match the way that Jesus took the “payment” for those that he considered His sheep.

O.  I joined Bible Study Fellowship (there are groups all over the nation and in many other countries) this week, which is a great study!  The speaker talked about false promises and how we set our kids up for false hope.  God tells absolutes like, “you will be the father of many nations,” “I’ll be with you,” and that He’ll give them a certain land.  God doesn’t’ say, “if we have time,” or “if we can afford it” or “we’ll have to wait and see.”  Telling kids something may or may not happen, gives them something to hope for. Of course, I’m the master of saying “we’ll have to see.”  I always thought that was a great response to the many requests of young children.  I tested this new way of answering my daughter when she asked to get a pedicure with me.  Instead of telling her, “we need to watch our money” or something valid like that, I told her that we definitely would do it.  I don’t know when, but I know we will get a pedicure together again in the near future.  Instead of hanging her head from a vague answer, she held her head up and smiled.

Book recommendation: Speaking of children, I bought my daughter a devotional book for Christmas, 365 Bedtime Devos for Little Girls.  It has a one-page reading every day.  It is fabulous.  It opens up conversation.  One “virtue” is presented, then you can tell about how that virtue has applied to your life.  Then she offers up and creates a scenario for the virtue also.  It is a real conversation starter.  (Update: unfortunately, this book is out of print.  I did see it on ebay.  However, there are numerous other devotional books with which you can engage your child practicing virtues.

For further study
— Check out this list of covenants of the Bible: https://www.gcu.edu/blog/theology-ministry/theology-thursday-what-are-biblical-covenants
— God’s role in supporting Jacob in the midst of Laban’s deception: https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/19697/Labans-Deception-Jacob.htm

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Tomorrow’s reading: Genesis 32:1-35:27