So, we left off with satan cackling and rubbing his hands together with glee, thinking God had taken his bait and he now had the power to mop the floor with Job.
so he plans. And waits. He takes his time and plots to strip Job inch by inch, the least important to the most important. Making it as painful as he can, building the ripping to pieces of Job's heart in the most exquisitly heartrending manner he can think of, one torturous layer at a time.
He waits until all the kids have gathered for a feast at the firtborn son's house (the firstborn son was considered especially precious because he was the "proof of Job's manhood.")
He waits until the flocks are out in the fields
Waits for the oxen, the donkeys feeding beside them.
Waits for the camels.
Then he begins.
Unsuspecting Job has probably had one of those mundane mornings -morning prayers and sacrifices, a leisurely breakfast with his wife, reports from his foremen on how things are going, perhaps a small walk around the fields, rejoicing in God's rich gifts to him, the fierce Mediterranean sun still shining warm and gentle on his cloak in the early morning, birds singing, frogs croaking, a little zippidy doodah comes wafting over the hills... uh, oops. wrong movie. but I'm sure the equivalent was in there somewhere, because Job's life at this point truly was idyllic.
Then, suddenly, the needle scratches across the record and the music stops. A messenger (vv. 14 and 15) comes running in - sweaty, disheveled, clothes torn and dust upon his head and breathlessly, sides heaving, blurts out "The oxen were plowing, the donkeys eating beside them and the Sabeans fell upon them like locusts and took them away. Then they killed everyone -everyone!They have slain your servants with the edge of their swords and I alone escaped to tell you!"
The Sabeans were known for their cruelty, their "slash and run" raids on people, their brutality. And this time they scored 1000 animals: 500 donkeys, 500 oxen.
As the first messenger finishes his story, still trying to catch his breath, yet another messenger arrives on his heels
The Word tells us "While he was yet speaking" another chest heaving, hard breathing lad arrives to say, "The fire of God fell on your flocks and burned up all the sheep and the servants and consumed them - and I only am escaped to tell you!"
Notice here, satan influences this messenger to say "the fire of God" - he made the lightning so fierce that not even the bodies of the sheep (which could have been used for food and clothing) are left. And the servants used for watching the sheep were most often the younger boys, given their first "job" in the household, early adolescence. It must have struck Job with sadness at the loss of the boys as well as the sheep. I was struck by the heartlessness of the attack. We do well to remember there is no compassion in the heart of the evil one, no holding back. He goes to the very edge of what God allows him to do.
Just as this news is being told, another comes "while he was yet speaking" to say the Chaldeans, another fierce people, came in 3 bands and took every single camel, all 1000 of them - a tremendous amount of wealth! - and then killed every servant but one "with the edge of the sword" and "I only am escaped" to relay the news. Camels were their transportation - so even if they were afraid the Chaldeans would return to slay them, they couldn't flee.
The word used for "servants" also means "youthful, boys". These could have been the ones just learning their jobs in Job's household or it could have been the "cream of the crop", young men who excelled at their tasks - his hope for the future. For some, it was undoubtedly their first day on the job, so excited to be trusted by a benevolent master to be learning their work. Their families anxiously awaited their return at evening to hear all about it, doubling the pain of their deaths. So the servants Job had left, the ones who did the household chores, may have been grieving losses right along with Job.
And then the kicker: "While he was yet speaking there came also another, and said, Thy sons and thy daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother's house, and behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee."
Up until this point, Job had listened stoically as his fortunes disappeared with the dust, but the loss of his children pierced his soul. In verse 20 we read (emphasis mine) "Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped."
All of those things - tearing his clothes and shaving his head - are signs of deep mourning. He didn't wail, he didn't get melodramatic or angry or rail against God.
There are times when grief floods the soul so deeply that the heart is overwhelmed. The feeling of loss pierces so deeply and is so deeply felt that the soul itself staggers. Simply to take a breath is difficult. The heart feels hollow, ringing with the echo of the voice you long for, but will never hear again this side of heaven. In the end, there is nothing else you can do, except to worship the One Who has allowed this to happen and trust through the darkness that He will enable you to bear the pain.
And so Job falls to the ground and worships. The word used for worship implies that he fell prostrate before his Lord.
The cry from his heart to the One Who owns his every breath, is wrung from the depths of his soul. This is a man who knows that everything - every single thing - that we have has been given to us. And so he speaks that eloquent, broken hearted declaration that submits and blesses, praises and worships, all in a handful of words: (v.21)
"...Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked I shall return thither; the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD."
And God records of his hurting child v.22: "In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly."
The scene opens again in heaven, where satan puts in another appearance, no doubt disgruntled that his carefully prepared plan to get Job cursing God "to his face" was a colossal failure. So filled with anger and hatred himself, he couldn't conceive of being plunged into pain and not reacting with acidic anger and brutal rage.
God's grace enfolded Job. God's love held his hurting child in a tender embrace. And it was enough for Job.
But seeing Job in such deep anguish was not enough for satan.
God again praises Job and points him out to satan. He uses extraordinary words to describe him in verse 3: "...Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that fears God and eschews evil? and still he holds fast his integrity, although thou moved me against him, to destroy him without cause."
No one with a heart like Job in the whole earth, perfect, upright.
What a description! In the midst of profound suffering, Job reacts in a way that no one else in the earth would. In God's eyes, he is perfect, he is upright, he is one of a kind and treasured by His maker.
To which satan replies (my interpretation), "yeah, yeah, yeah. so he can stand losing his stuff. He's still healthy and can start again. Give him a sickness and lots of physical pain and then he'll curse You to Your face."
So God says, " Ok, you can do anything but kill him."
Notice, once again, that satan is on a tight leash. He is allowed to touch God's children only in ways allowed to him. On his own, he would have attacked Job in retaliation immediately, searching for the most painful and long-lasting method of suffering and wiped Job off the face of the earth. But he can't.
And there is the mystery of iniquity in a nutshell. Evil entered the world with the infamous bite of the apple. But that doesn't mean there is open season on mankind. There is a limit to what can come against us, and we are reassured of this in 1Cor 10:13 (Strong's definition in brackets) "There is no temptation ["putting to proof by experiment (of good), or experience (of evil)] taken you [gets hold of you] but such as is common to man; but God is faithful [trustworthy] Who will not suffer you [allow you] to be tempted [test, assay, examine, scrutinize] above what you are able [can do], but will, with the temptation, make a way of escape [exit. way out], that you may be able to bear [bear by being under, to undergo hardship] it."
Satan, however, being full of hate, can't comprehend how Job can keep from sputtering with rage. So he immediately goes out and zaps Job with "sore boils [very painful, malignant inflamed spots] from the bottom of his foot to the top of his head."
Then, we are told, Job took pottery fragments to scrape out the boils with, and sits down on the ash heap.
This tells a lot about his suffering.
The ash heap is the place where the ashes are dumped (surprise!) But the ashes do not attract flies, and help to keep wounds from being infected. Later on we are told that Job's boils were filled with maggots. So walking would be pretty impossible ("from the soles of his feet")
The maggots eat only infected tissue, so they are actually helping Job, but feeling something crawling around in your skin must be a horrific feeling.
And then we come to the infamous wife, who tells Job, "Do you still retain your integrity? curse God and die."
It seems like every sermon speaks of her with disdain, snide remarks and disparaging words about her ability as a helpmeet.
I think she gets a bad rap.
Here is a woman who has also lost everything. Along with Job she has watched their fortunes be annihilated - and the young men who worked in the fields die. And then her children, the joy and pride of a woman at that time, her whole value as a helpmeet, are taken away in one unbelievable moment. And now she has to watch her husband, her beloved, become a crawling mass of pain, being spat on by the worthless men of the town who wouldn't have been even recognized by one of Job's stature before. He is being tortured by endless and painful boils, crawling with maggots which make things awfully smelly, he probably can't eat much (I can't imagine how filthy he feels, and how do you lift food to your mouth when your hand is crawling with maggots and you are in unending pain?) and to top it all off, he is being laughed at and denigrated as a secret sinner whose sins have finally caught up with him.
I think she simply can't bear to watch it anymore.
And so she tells him to end it. Get it over with.
But Job is faithful and true to his God. As he later says, "Though He slay me, yet shall I trust Him."
For those of us who are chronically ill, with painful and/or limiting illnesses, Job is an amazing role model. Like Job, we have no idea what is going on behind the scenes. But this we do know: God knows. Each bolt of pain or nausea or weakness is measured by God to the last drop. Whatever path He gives us has His footprints there where He has gone before. He is not removed from our suffering. He spent 6 hours in unspeakable agony, in anguish so deep that His Father could not watch a second longer and turned away, leaving Him totally alone for the first and last time in all eternity. He knows. And because of those 6 hours we are assured of a place in His kingdom that nothing can take that away from us.
We have something Job didn't have - we have the Comforter, the indwelling Holy Spirit. He ministers to us in our pain, lifts us up, intercedes for us with groans too deep for utterance (Romans 8:26.) So there is one thing we will never have to fear.
We will never, ever, be alone.