When Things Go from Bad to Worse

February 9, 2014 / No. 3710

Dear Radio Friends,
How do you respond to death and disease when it comes into your life, personally? When you lose a loved one, maybe your spouse, a close friend or sibling, or even one of your children, then what do you say about God? When you get so sick that you cannot sleep and you become depressed, how can and do you respond in a biblical and Christian way?
When we are struck by pain and grief, often one of our first responses is anger. How can God do this to me? How can this be fair and loving? We rage against God. And even though in sympathy we might say that such a response is understandable, we have to see and say also that such a response is sinful, that it arises out of a lack of trust in God, and a weak view of God.
This was the response of Job’s wife when they had lost everything, including their ten children. She said to Job, “Dost thou still retain thine integrity? Curse God and die.” But Job, instead, made a wonderful confession concerning the sovereignty of God. He said, “What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” And the Holy Spirit notes that “in all this did not Job sin with his lips.”
These words of Job and his wife are recorded for us in the book of Job, chapter 2 and in today’s message we are going to be looking at the first ten verses of this chapter. For Job, things have gone from bad to worse, from very bad to extremely worse. Back in chapter 1 Job, in one day, lost all his assets, all his servants but a few, and all ten of his children. Standing among ten freshly dug graves, Job made this beautiful confession, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
Behind Job’s suffering was Satan, attempting to get Job to curse God. Satan’s contention had been that Job feared God only because of how good he had it in life. Satan was saying that Job’s faith, and God’s sustaining grace, were not sufficient to preserve Job in his trust in God. But Job’s confession proved otherwise, and, in round one of Job’s suffering, Satan is defeated.
Chapter 2 begins with Satan appearing again with the other angels in God’s presence in heaven, a scene very similar to that in chapter 1, verses 6 through 12. In these two scenes we get a glimpse into heaven, and the invisible war that is constantly going on between Satan and God.
But why are these recorded in Scripture? That is an important question. The reason is not simply so that we know about the reality of Satan and his demons and their attacks on God’s people, but especially to show to us that God is absolutely sovereign over the works of the Devil. Satan cannot move or lift a finger apart from God’s will.
We see that in Job 2. Already in verse 1, Satan presents himself before the Lord. Does not that tell us who is the superior here? This is not a contest of equals, but with all the other angels who are servants and messengers of God, Satan also comes.
And then in the following verses we see that God issues a challenge to Satan. Often we think of Satan as the one who is challenging God and challenging Job, but if we read the passage closely, we see that in actuality it’s the other way around. God challenges Satan. Verse 2, “The Lord said unto Satan, whence comest thou?” You see, God takes the initiative here. Satan has already been challenged once and has been defeated. He is hardly ready to bring this up to God. But it is God’s will that things get worse for Job, and God is going to use Satan as the instrument to bring that on Job. He initiates the conversation with Satan by asking “From whence comest thou?” God is not afraid of Satan or of what Satan has been doing.
And then you have Satan’s very evasive answer. “From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.”
You ask your children who are not making any noise, “What are you doing?” and the answer is, “Oh, nothing,” and you know that means they have been up to something.
Satan’s answer is like that. “Oh, I’ve just been wandering around, checking things out,” when in fact he has been going around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he might devour, and his latest attack has been on Job.
In chapter 1, it was Satan, yes, by God’s permission, but it was Satan who had brought all Job’s misery on him in an attempt to get him to curse God. He is the accuser of the brethren. His name, Satan, means adversary. And now, defeated after round 1, he says, “I’ve just been wandering around in the earth.” He does not dare to bring up the name of Job.
But God does, and continuing His challenge, He says to Satan 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 feareth God and escheweth evil? And still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause.”
What we should see here is the confidence of God in His challenge to Satan. God is saying to Satan, “See, My grace is sufficient to sustain and to give strength to My people in the troubles of life. See, Satan, My love is stronger than any trouble that comes. See, Satan, My people have a confidence and a hope and faith that supersedes all the troubles of life. See Job, Satan, you said he would curse Me, but he has not. He still fears Me, he still hates what is evil, and he has retained his faith through immense trial.”
Is this not a beautiful truth, the truth of God’s preserving grace? In the New Testament, in Romans 8:35-39, it is stated in a very positive way, when Paul says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is what God has demonstrated in Job’s life.
Now, you would expect Satan to stop right here and to admit defeat, but no, he will never admit he is wrong or weak or defeated. In defiance of God, he says, “Skin for skin, yea all that a man hath will he give for his life. But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face.”
Sometimes, after we lose our possessions maybe in a house fire or car accident, we will say, “Well, at least no one was hurt, and we still have each other.” Or, maybe we lose everything, and then we say, at least I still have my health. Satan’s contention is that this is how Job is thinking—he still has his health, so of course he is still faithful, but take away his health, and he will curse thee.
And confidently again God says, “Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life.”
With this, Satan has unrestrained power to harm Job himself, only he must not bring anything on him that will threaten his life. And so Satan goes out from God’s presence to assail Job. He wants to prove to God that Job will indeed curse him, and so he comes with a two-pronged attack. All that Job has left is his health, his wife, and his life. Satan cannot touch his life, but he will use his health and his wife now against him.
Job 2:7-8, Satan “smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown. And he took him a potsherd to scrape himself.”
What exactly this disease was we do not know, but its symptoms were terrible. The boils themselves covered Job’s entire body and produced a hot, searing, and penetrating pain. They broke out into sores that scabbed over and became incredibly itchy, and Job, having no ointment or medicine to ease the pain, scraped at his body with a broken piece of a pot. That was his only relief. With this disease came insomnia, worms, nightmares, bad breath, weight loss, chills, diarrhea, and blackened skin (Job 7:4-5, 13-14; 19:17, 20; 21:6; 30:27). So severely was Job smitten by this disease that he was forced, as an unclean man, to sit outside the city in a pile of ashes, and when his friends came to see him, they were so shocked at his appearance that they did not recognize him (Job 2:12). Already reeling in grief and loss, Satan attacked him with this incurable disease with its insufferable pain.
And now, understand, that Satan’s attack on Job is not only physical. No, whenever we are sick or in pain, we are usually pretty cranky too. And, not just cranky with people, but also with the sickness itself, and we start to feel sorry for ourselves. Why me? Why is God doing this to me? There is a spiritual assault, an assault on our souls, a challenge to our faith, that comes with physical illness. And Satan is bringing those things to Job too. In these moments when he is physically weak, his faith is being challenged. Satan wants Job to curse God to His face. That is Job’s temptation here. Those are the thoughts that Satan is putting into his mind.
We know that from what Job’s wife says to him. Here is the second prong of Satan’s attack. Now, understand, that Mrs. Job had experienced the same loss as Job. Her wealth and status were gone in a day. Her mother’s heart was torn by grief in the loss of her children. And understand, too, that she is not an evil woman, but rather the beloved wife of the godly Job, who with him had raised ten godly children, and who would be the mother of the children God would again later give to Job. But now under her grief, she is broken, and she becomes an ally of Satan, to tempt Job to give up and to curse God. We can feel the intensity of the moment, and can understand her anger and grief. But we do not justify it. It was sinful and wrong.
There is a double caution here for us. On the one hand, just because someone is a sincere Christian who cares about us does not mean we should always follow his advice when we are in trouble. Good people, who love us, can give very bad advice. Our counsel, ultimately, must be from the Word of God. And then, on the other hand, we must be very careful not to tempt others by what we say, or by how we respond to a situation. That is why the best response to a severe trial is to be silent, as Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Otherwise we respond out of pain and emotion, out of what we are feeling and experiencing, as did Job’s wife.
How does Job respond? Or we could say, What kind of response does God’s unfailing grace produce in His dear child, Job?
We point to four things here in Job 2.
First, Job acknowledges that he is a sinner who deserves nothing more than what God is giving to him here. At the end of verse 8 we read that Job sat down among the ashes. To sit in ashes, and to smear the ashes on one’s face and body, was a sign, not only of grief, but also of personal humility. It was to say, I am black in my sin before God. Later, in chapter 42:6, Job will say, “I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.” In sitting in ashes, Job shows that his heart is still ruled by the confession he had made in chapter 1, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” He did not deserve anything more from God.
Second, in answer to his wife, Job is amazingly tender. When we are sick and tired we become impatient especially with those who are closest to us. Here is Job, racked with pain, and the one who should have been his support and help turns against him. What does Job do? He rebukes her, yes, but he does not berate her or call her a fool, rather he says to her, “That’s not how a child of God speaks. What you’ve said is what a fool, who denies God, would say.” It shows us that Job himself is thinking of how he as a child of God should respond to what has happened in his life.
Third, Job does not blame others for what has happened to him, but instead receives it from the Lord. He could have. He does not know of Satan’s conversation with God, but he does know how Satan works, and he could have said, good things come from God and this evil must come from Satan. He could have said, it was the Sabeans and the Chaldeans that took all my stuff. But he does not do this. Instead he rests in the truth of God’s sovereignty, even when the evils come at the hands of others. He realizes that God is in control.
And so, fourth, he makes another beautiful confession concerning the sovereignty of God. “What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God and shall we not receive evil?” In his loss, and now in his sickness, he says, “This is all from God. And I accept it as such.” That is one of the strongest statements of faith ever uttered about God and suffering. Stronger even than his confession at the end of chapter one. There, he said, “God gave and God has taken away.” Now he says that evil in his life, and by evil he means the bad things that happen in this life, evil is from the hand of God.
Many today will not say this. Instead they have a dualistic view, which says that all evil comes from Satan, and they would say that we blaspheme God to say that He sends evil. But here, the Holy Spirit tells us that Job did not sin with his lips by saying that evil is from the hand of God.
We ask, how can evil come from God? The answer is that He is sovereign over even the devil, and He uses Satan to accomplish His purpose in our lives. Satan does not see it that way. He thinks that he can tempt and hurt and destroy God’s people. But the truth is that whenever he brings evil and temptation into our lives, he is simply being used by God to test us and to build up our faith. We see here the victory of God’s grace in us over the assaults of Satan.
And so Job rests here in the truth of the sovereignty and goodness of his God. Yes, as we go on in the book we will see that he is going to wrestle with his suffering, but never does he deny or curse God. Job teaches us where to look in our pain and grief.
But now, if all we had in the Bible was the story of Job, we would easily become discouraged, because, well, we just do not measure up to Job. In the troubles that come in our lives, which are not nearly as severe as Job’s were, we are not always patient and God-honoring in our responses.
Then we must learn to look away from Job, to perhaps the only one who ever suffered more than Job, that is to Jesus Christ. He was blameless, there was never one like him in all the earth. He feared God, He hated evil, He was sinless, and yet He subjected Himself to a level of temptation and suffering much greater than Job ever knew. His adversary, like Job’s, was Satan. His suffering, like Job’s, came with an increasing intensity throughout His life. All through His life the shadow of the cross hung over Him. And as He suffered, physically, mentally, spiritually He was being prepared for the final hour of His suffering, on the cross. In the crucifixion He suffered intense physical pain, He suffered the reproach and rejection of men, and, on top of it all, in a way we can never understand, He suffered the agonies and torments of hell in our place.
And because He has done this, we who believe on Him, we His people, are able to endure whatever evils God sends to us in this life.
By His death, Jesus lifted God’s curse and God’s heavy hand of wrath from our lives, so that all things under God’s sovereign guidance work for our eternal good.
And in His resurrection life, Jesus comes by His Holy Spirit to dwell in us, and to give us the strength we need for every trial. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
And today, Jesus lives at God’s right hand as our ready helper—the one who has endured every trial, who was tempted in all points like as we are, and who is able to help us in time of need.
Let us go to Him. Yes, here you have Job. You see in him a wonderful example of a child of God enduring suffering. But looking to Jesus we see how that is possible.
Let us pray,
Father, we know and confess that Thou art sovereign, absolutely sovereign, over all our sufferings. Even Satan is used to carry out Thy eternal purposes. Father, we rest in Thy sovereign power and control. Teach us, Lord, to accept everything that comes into our lives, the evil as well as the good, from Thy hand. Give us grace to be like Thy servant Job, who, though he did not understand what was happening, trusted in and confessed thy goodness. Lord, dwell in us by the power of Jesus Christ, who has overcome all evil, for our sakes. In His name do we pray. Amen.