The Testing of Job’s Integrity
Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek
This morning we are continuing our sermon series through the book of Job. We’re in the second week of ten. I’m going to preach through the better part of chapters 1 and 2, which means we have a lot to talk about. In fact, I was meeting with someone from our church this week, and when I mentioned what section I had, his response with a chuckle was, “Good luck.” He said this because it’s a tall order. These are the passages when calamity falls upon Job like an avalanche. And not only that, but one modern author has pointed out that the book of Job is something like 95% poetry, with the other 5% being narrative. This means as we cover the better part of chapters 1 and 2, I have about 4%, which is almost all the narrative sections of the book.
Rather than reading all the passage now, I’ll read it as we move through it. But I do want to read one verse before we pray. I’d like to read from a letter written to struggling Christians. In a section on suffering, the New Testament author James writes this:
Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (James 5:11)
James writes to those who have “heard of the steadfastness of Job.” That may or may not be true for you before this morning. But in 30 minutes, we will have heard. And it’s my hope and prayer that we will come to the place James invites us: beholding the mercy and compassion of the Lord.
Would you join me in praying that this God, a merciful and compassionate God, would be our teacher? “Heavenly Father . . .”
If we were to think about it like scenes in a movie, the first two chapters of Job have eight scenes: scene 1, scene 2, scene 3, and so on. The first scene is the prologue that Jason covered last week. A prologue is the opening of something. Prologues are often short when compared to the whole. Some of you know I love the Tour de France cycling race, which often has a prologue stage that’s very short compared to the rest of the race. Last week Jason very helpfully set us up in the prologue to meet this man from the land of Uz whose name was Job and to see what made his life so beautiful.
But between the first prologue scene and the last narrative scene in chapter 2, scene 8, a lot happens. In scene 8 we find Job sitting with his three friends. From scene 1 to scene 8, the bottom falls out in Job’s life. The middle scenes, scenes 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 can be looked at as two cycles of similar events. There is a scene with a conversation between the Lord and Satan, then a scene where calamity ensues, and then a scene with Job’s confession. This happens cycle happens twice—a conversation scene, then a calamity scene, and then a confession scene; conversation, calamity, and confession.
Jason preached the first, prolouge scene last week, so I won’t attempt to restate all that he so helpfully said, but I do want to read the prologue, scene 1, another time because what is said of Job in these opening verses, becomes the very thing that is called into question in the rest of the scenes, and for that matter, the rest of the book, namely, Job’s integrity.
Scene 1: Setting, 1:1–5
Follow along with me as I read.
1 There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. 2 There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. 3 He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. 4 His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5 And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.
The picture here is, as Jason pointed out, of a beautiful life. As the passage says, Job is the greatest man in all the East—and with such a description of wealth, we would hardly contest that title. But Job’s life is a beautiful life not merely because it’s a wealthy and abundant life, but because it’s a pious life. It’s a life lived unto God. It’s not a perfect, a sinless life; that’s not what blameless means here. But it does mean Job’s devotion to God is authentic.
You did notice this devotion, didn’t you? What is Job’s preeminent concern? His children have feasts and parties and live their lives as recipients of Job’s protection and Job’s prosperity. And Job’s chief concern is that his children might have possibly cursed God in their hearts. Job’s highest concern, so it would seem, is God—that God’s majesty, God’s honor, God’s glory would be esteemed in the lives of those he loves, that God would not be belittled or cursed.
This is, at least, what seems to be the case. This sets us up for a central question to be explored in the next six scenes: Is what seems to be true, true? Is who Job seems to be, who he actually is? The passage says he has his wealth, not from highhanded wickedness, which is how some people get wealth. And the passage seems to show that Job loves God for God’s sake. But is what seems to be true, true?
“Integrity” is the word the passage will use over and over again. Is there integrity to who Job is on the outside with who he is on the inside?
Nearly a dozen years ago, a bridge in Minneapolis along I-35 seemed to be sturdy, but during rush hour it collapsed. This last year a very prominent church in Chicago that has seemed to do so much good in the world has been in a storm because of issues of integrity in its founder and leadership. Is this what’s going on with the man from Uz, “the greatest of all the people of the east”?
Before I read the next scene, let me point out that these questions are not easy to answer when we point the questions back at us. Why do we love God? Why do we follow God? Is it because God gives me stuff, or do I love God because God is God and the main thing I love about God is God, not stuff? In our own lives, though we chafe at this, it’s often difficult to know why, deep down, we treasure God. Our hearts and faith are complex. But when suffering comes in Job’s life, the answer gets more clear. Let’s look at the next scene.
Scene 2: Conversation, 1:6–12
6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. 7 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.” 8 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?” 9 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
Scene 2 is, as is also scene 5, a conversation between God and Satan. There are several things that might strike our ears as odd about this conversation. Just to mention one thing might be that Satan seems to come out of nowhere. It’s like in Genesis 3 when all a sudden the serpent is slithering through Paradise, just as he oddly seems to stroll through this angelical council meeting here in v. 6. And it’s similar to the way Satan seems to just slide up to Jesus in the wilderness temptations.
Scene 2 begins with the line, “Now there was a day…” It all feels so ordinary, but it’s not. And how about Satan’s non-answer answer? “Whatcha been up to, Satan?” “Oh you know,” he says. “Same old, same old—going to and fro on the earth.” This all feels a little odd.
But let’s focus our attention on the central question, the question of Job’s integrity. Perhaps we might have had doubts about Job. The narrator called him blameless. The narrator says he’s upright and fears God and makes sacrifices for those he loves, and he does this continually. But is it true?
What does God say? God says it is true. Reading v. 8: “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?’” God and the narrator speak in unity, which is important to note both for now and later.
Satan is not so convinced, at least he’s willing to wager God is wrong. It still only seems true that Job loves God for God’s sake. Satan says to God, “He doesn’t love you. He loves stuff. And you give him stuff. You give him prosperity and protection. Stretch out your hand against him, and then we’ll see. All the piety and devotion are not for you, God, but for what you can give him—indeed do give him.”
Scene 3: Calamity, 1:13–19
We turn to scene 3, in which four rounds of imaginable calamity cascade upon Job.
13 Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, 14 and there came a messenger to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, 15 and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 16 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 17 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 18 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, 19 and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”
We don’t know how much time is between scene 2 and 3. The conversation in one scene fades to black and montage of calamities fades into view. “Now there was a day…” the scene begins again. And oh, what a day.
First, it’s an army. Then lightning, which is called—not without meaning— “the fire of God.” Then comes another army. With these, all the animals are gone. We don’t even live in a country where this type of invasion is even possible, not immediately anyway. My home is two minutes form here and never will Hershey or Hummelstown or Linglestown or Swatara Township invade us. Some of our church members from war-torn countries do know this fear.
But with these events all the servants are gone, except for the few messengers that escaped. Then comes the wind, which is a strange wind even as it is describe. It’s said that the wind hits all four corners of the house at once, which is not, as we might say, natural. And with this unnatural wind—would call it a supernatural wind?—all of his children he so dearly love are gone.
There’s an ice cream place just down the road that my family loves. This spring and summer we tended to be there on a certain evening, I believe several Thursdays in a row. And there was a man and his wife and their children that were there on many of those Thursdays. One night he sort of chided me for only having six children, which seems like a lot to me. But he has fifteen, so I guess six isn’t that many. So we asked, “I only see some of them. Where are your others—too much to bring them all out for ice cream?” As he hands the cashier his card, he looks me in the eyes and says, “Well, a few years ago seven died in a fire.” “Oh my,” I say. Unimaginable calamity.
In chapter 9, Job says that God “won’t let [him] get [his] breath” (v. 18). Even as readers we feel this when we read this scene. These messengers come running up to Job, each barely able to wait as the messenger before him finishes delivering his news.
This passage, in particular, raises many questions. I’m persuaded that we are better trying to press on with more of the story than to even mention all the questions, let alone attempt to answer them. The book of Job, after all, has 42 chapters. So, whatever questions God does answer in this book—and he answers some and not others—God seems to be pleased to do so slowly, over time. This is perhaps why when John Calvin preached through the book, he gave it 159 sermons. We’ll just try for 10.
Scene 4: Confession, 1:20–22
Now we come to scene 4 and Job’s confession. When I say confession, I don’t so much mean the type of confession when someone says, “I’m sorry.” What I mean by confession is what Christians sometimes speak of when they speak of “confessions of faith.” Scene 4 is a confession of Job’s faith, and the narrator’s divine estimation or appraisal of his confession of faith.
20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” 22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
Here we have Job’s first words in the book. He’ll have a lot more to say. He’ll speak 522 verses, which means exactly 50% of the book is filled with his words. In his first words, though, he doesn’t say much.
Or does he? His words are few in number, but his confession is profound. The way he began his life and we began ours, is the way his life will end and we will end ours: naked. And when the end does come, Job says that God is not less than God because what he gave he took away. This is his confession—a confession made with tears and ash and grit.
How are we to feel about those words? Sure, Job says them, but are we to believe that they are right, that they are the view of God that we should also have? The narrator says so. In v. 22 he says, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”
To say the Lord was involved in some way shape or form in “giving and taking” is not to charge God with wrong. To be sure, all the ways in which the Lord is involved in “giving and taking,” and all the purposes that the Lord has in his “giving and taking,” are mysterious to us. There is a troubling aspect to mystery. I understand that. I won’t minimize that concern. But as I said before, I’m persuaded that we are better if we press on.
But before we press on, I will ask one question. Would the alternative view be better? Would it be more satisfying to you intellectually and emotionally if God were not able to stop things, if most of the time God could defeat Satan but not all the time? Would it be better if God wanted to help you, but couldn’t always deliver? This view—which is not the view of Job or the rest of the Bible—would be very unsettling to me.
Scene 5: Conversation, 2:1–6
And so we press on. This time we’ll go more quickly through the final scenes. Scenes 5, 6, and 7 are a second cycle that assaults Job’s integrity. Again, we have a conversation, followed by calamity, followed by a confession. Let’s look at the conversation.
2 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. 2 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.” 3 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.” 4 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. 5 But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” 6 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.”
This should sound familiar. “You considered Job?” “Why yes I have,” says Satan. “But he doesn’t love you.”
I think something very sinister is being implied here by Satan with the phrase “skin for skin,” which shouldn’t surprise us that something sinister is coming from Satan. The New Testament calls him the “accuser” (Revelation 12:10). This phrase “skin for skin” seems to apply that what Job lost was to him nothing more than skin. It implies that Job is still holding onto a faux-piety toward God so that Job can somehow manipulate God into protecting him and prospering him. Sure, Job will trade a little skin, so long as he keeps his life. That’s a sinister claim, which, again, is what we should expect from the evil one.
Here Satan seems to be doubling down on his initial wager, that Job’s integrity is mercenary integrity. A mercenary does something to get something else. Job loves God to get stuff. Yes, he lost the outside prosperity and protection, but he still wants the inward prosperity and protection of health. “If you take that away,” Satan says, “he’ll curse you.”
So, God allows Satan to afflict Job. That’s an important point. Satan wanted God to do it directly, but God doesn’t. And when God does allow it, he sets clear boundaries that Satan must follow. That’s an important point too—I mean that to be encouraging. Satan may be a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8), but he’s on a choke-collar leash that God holds firm.
Scene 6: Calamity 2:7–9
As with the other, this conversation now fades to black, and we fade into scene 6 where Satan inflicts his calamity.
7 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. 8 And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes. 9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.”
I include what is said here by Job’s wife with the calamity because I think that’s the right place to put it. Part of his suffering is that he is so alone. She tells him to curse God and die, which is the very thing that Satan wanted Job to do.
I certainly won’t be too harsh with her, though. I might put it like this: She was just at a funeral service in a church where she sat on the front row as a minister fumbled to speak words of comfort while on the stage there were ten coffins. And then she went to the graveside and put her ten children in the ground. And seemingly no sooner than they come home, her husband is so sore-infested that she cannot even hug him. He scrapes himself with broken pieces of pottery because the pain in scraping is better than the pain of not scraping. I won’t be harsh with her. And one of the more beautiful aspects of Job’s integrity of character is that he is not harsh with her either.
Scene 7: Confession, 2:10
We come to the final scene, scene 7, which is Job and the narrator’s confession.
10 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.
Let me point out three little details. First, there is a footnote in the ESV, which is the version of the Bible we are using, that notes the word “evil” can also be translated “disaster.” I think this is the right sense here. This happens several times in the Bible, including a place like Jonah 3:10.
Second, note specifically that Job says she is not foolish, but rather that the way she is currently acting is beneath her. She’s better than this—and he knows that about her. And he loves her. What a gracious response.
Third note that, again, Job’s confession ascribes the calamity he’s experiencing to God, which the narrator again adds that Job is not wrong when he does this. To be sure, all the ways in which the Lord is involved in “giving good and giving disaster,” and all the purposes that the Lord has in his “giving good and disaster,” are mysterious to us.
So, there we have it. The first seven scenes in the book of Job, from great wealth to great poverty. I’d love to try to answer all your questions. But I can’t. Though I will return to where I began. At the start I read from James 5:11, which says,
Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (James 5:11)
I hope that we could come to this place that James invites us into, namely, beholding the mercy and compassion of the Lord as we behold the steadfastness, or integrity of Job.
But how—how do we get there? Probably many things are required to get us there, actually. More time, more pressing into the Bible, more searching out the goodness of Jesus, more and more and more. I can’t give you all of that now. But I will try to give you one thing that has helped me behold the compassion of the Lord from these scenes.
To do so, we need to know have the answer to one question firmly fixed in our minds: How does Job live like this? How is his integrity—at least at this point in the book—so impeccable? If you go looking for the answer to this, and you believe the only answer for how Job can be so unbelievably full of integrity is to look within Job himself, then you’ll won’t see the compassion of the Lord.
It’s my proposal to you that Job is Job—grieved but gracious toward his wife, suffering but not swearing toward God—not because Job is holding on to God, but God is holding on to Job. We don’t see this overtly in these verses, but it is certainly hinted at as God prescribes the exact boundaries of Satan’s calamities. And the answer that “Job is Job because God holds him” is certainly the answer the whole book gives, and it’s the answer the whole Bible gives, and it’s the only answer that is any good news to us.
Front and center in these scenes is the question of integrity—does Job have it or not? But the real question is deeper than this. When the bottom seems to fall out in our lives, we can be tempted to think that the bottom has fallen out in God—that God has no integrity. The book of Job as a whole, and even these opening chapters, show us that when the bottom falls out in our lives, God will still be God. When are at the end of the rope and our strength gives out, God’s strength sovereignty do not.
I had wanted to tell you a few stories from my own life about times I’ve experienced the hope of God being God. Perhaps there will be a time to do so later in the sermon series. But as I look back on my life, which has certainly not had the magnitude of suffering of Job’s, I really find this to be my only hope. I’m not so encouraged when I look in the mirror that tomorrow, should everything be taken away, that I’ll be full of integrity and hope and trust. But I am sure that when I look to God, that God will be God tomorrow, and that he will hold me.
I’d like to leave you with words of Jesus. In the book of John, Jesus says,
27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27–28)
If you are trusting in Jesus as your savior, you won’t know all the reasons that God allows you to suffer. Job didn’t know. But God loved him. And God loves you. And when home and health collapse, or whatever tempts befalls, know that God will hold you.
Pray with me as Matt and the music team come back up. Let’s pray . . .