QUESTION: In a children's Bible story book called The Action Bible (David C. Cook, 2010), the story of Job is entitled "God's Wager." Did God make a bet with Satan over Job?
I was at first startled, then disturbed, by that two-word title. But it wasn't long afterwards that I heard a sermon on Job in which the speaker referred to God's "cosmic bet" with the devil. Perhaps this is an attempt to make God more relatable, by humanizing Him a bit. But, if so, I believe the idea is seriously misguided.
The Dark Associations of Betting
One dictionary says betting is, "an agreement between two parties that a sum of money or other stake will be paid by the loser to the party who correctly predicts the outcome of an event." Another defines betting as "a pledge of forfeit risked on some uncertain outcome." So is that what God did? Are we to picture Satan saying to the Lord, "I'll bet you a million dollars that Job will cave in a week, if you let me at him," and God responding, "You're on!"? Is that what we see happening in Job 1:6-12, and 2:1-6? No, it is not.
In spite of those upbeat television commercials in which every gambler seems to come out a winner, gambling is a curse on society. Its negative associations are such that they cling to words such as wagering and betting like cancerous sores. What we see in Job isn't like a bunch of grimy street urchins shooting craps in a back alley, or men grimly playing poker in a dingy, smoke-filled den. Or hardened soldiers who, with a careless throw of the dice, are trying to win the robe belonging to a Man dying in agony above them.
George Washington once declared, "Gambling is the child of avarice, the brother of iniquity, and the father of mischief." The description is apt. The gambler bows to the god of chance. Who is given the credit, if a bet is won? It's not likely Jehovah God. No, it's either the winner himself, for being so clever, or it's Lady Luck (the goddess Fortuna, to the Romans). These are the trappings of an activity that some wish to ascribe to the Almighty.
The Experience of Job
Many conservative scholars date the events of the book of Job back around the time of Jacob, in Genesis. That Job predates the days of the Levitical priesthood is borne out by the way he himself acts as a family priest, offering sacrifices on behalf of his children (1:5).
Job is one of the greatest saints in all the Bible–indeed of all time. This is implied by Ezekiel's "even if," when mentioning him along with Noah and Daniel (Ezek. 14:14, 20). He's also commended as an example of persevering faith by James (Jas. 5:1). But most significant of all, the Lord declares, "There is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil" (1:8; 2:3).
We also learn that Job experienced many blessings from the hand of God. He had a large family, was incredibly wealthy (1:2-3), and was being protected by the Lord (1:10). His later description of his life, before calamity struck, suggests he may have served as an elder or a respected judge in his home city (29:7-17).
All of this the devil had been observing with great cynicism. We must not forget that Satan, though extremely powerful and intelligent, is self-deceived. He sees us through the grid of his own corrupt and selfish desires. Thus he cannot conceive of a faith in God that is without the kind of self-serving motivation he himself would have.
This is revealed in the question he poses to God: "Does Job fear God for nothing?" (1:9). The implied answer is no. The devil believes Job is only faithful to the Lord because it's profitable for him. That his is a religion of expediency. If all the good things he enjoys were to be taken from him, Satan is convinced Job would turn his back on God in an instant. This is an issue of great importance to us all. And it is the reason the book of Job is in the Bible.
Acting on permission given by an all-wise and sovereign God (1:12; 2:6), Satan launches a series of vicious attacks on godly Job. All his great flocks and herds are destroyed, his children are killed, his health suddenly deteriorates, and his wife turns against him (2:9). When this great servant of the Lord becomes an outcast, we find him sitting alone in a garbage dump, scraping the putrefying sores that cover his body with a piece of broken pottery (2:7-8). Then, three of his friends come to call (2:11).
The Great Debate
Through an intense and lengthy debate, the three accuse Job of committing some terrible wickedness. In their narrow and simplistic theology, God blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked, period (e.g. 4:7; 8:6). Therefore, since Job is suffering greatly, he has committed some great sin. But he has not. The Lord Himself declares that Job's suffering is "without cause," in those terms (2:3; cf. 9:17), though it does have a sublime purpose in God's plan that Satan cannot foresee.
In all his suffering, though Job is perplexed as to its meaning, he never turns his back on God. His strong words represent not rebellion, but the anguish of a saint determined to remain faithful to God, and find Him again through the daunting mists of pain (6:1-3, 26). "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him," he says (13:15). And he's convinced that if answers do not come in this life, they will in the next, when he stands before his "Redeemer" (19:25-26).
Job knows nothing of the heavenly conferences between Satan and God. In fact, there is no clear evidence that he ever learned about that, other than what is found in the first two chapters of the book. That account was based on divine revelation. Perhaps it was given to Job at some later time, but it may have been given to some unknown biographer who recorded his story after his death.
The Purpose of the Book
To call God's challenge a "bet" almost suggests that the God and the devil are equals, which they are not. To call it a bet makes Job a mere poker chip in a game–like the man who, it's reported, offered his wife as collateral in a game of chance. To call what God did a bet trivializes an eternally significant series of events. This heavenly confrontation is neither a game, nor is it a matter of luck or chance. The outcome is not in doubt from God's point of view. It wasn't even a near thing. In His omniscience, He always knew what the end would be, to His greater glory.
As to the purpose of the book of Job and its main thesis, some have said it is: Why do the righteous suffer? But if that's the case, the author has failed to answer the question. Rather, I believe the central issue of the book is: What is God like? If an individual can be righteous one day, and enjoying the blessings of God, and also be righteous the next day but suffering dreadful and multiplied disasters, apparently coming from His hand, what does that say about the Lord?
That is the heart of the matter, and there are two vitally important answers provided in the book. They are part and parcel of why I say that God and the devil are definitely not betting one another in some cosmic game of chance at Job's expense.
Two Tremendous Truths
Throughout the book that bears his name, Job is a redeemed saint, infinitely loved by the Lord, one whose eternal future was secure, even during his days of struggle. At a deeper level, it is Satan and his false philosophy that is on trial, not Job. To call God's dealings with the devil a bet misses the real point. There are two things that Job learns, through his trials, that are demonstrated for us beyond question, for all time.
1. "God is greater than man" (Job 33:12).
This statement is made by Elihu, a fourth man who speaks to Job. Though Elihu adheres to the same notion as the others, that Job is suffering because of some great sin (34:7-8), he has a somewhat higher view of God than they do. In the five words quoted, he presents a key tenet of the book.
Job seeks–even tries to demand–an explanation from the Lord as to why he is suffering. He seems to assume that God owes him an explanation, and that he would be able to understand it, if one were offered. But slowly Job realizes that God is infinitely above and beyond him. On his groping path toward an answer, he becomes aware that there is always much more to God beyond his knowing. "Indeed these are the mere edges of His ways," Job says, "and how small a whisper we hear of Him!" (26:14).
"Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable [unfathomable]" (Ps. 145:3). And attendant on this understanding is another: that the Lord is sovereign over all, and does not owe us an explanation for what He allows to touch our lives. Though He may, at times, explain Himself, through His Word, or reveal something of the reasons behind what happens to us, it is not our right to demand and receive such information. God knows what He's doing, and it will always be for the best. God is greater than man. That we can take as a certainty.
2. God is enough (cf. Job 42:6).
Even if we have only God, we have enough. It's not God plus a proper explanation of what He is doing that we need. Or God plus the love of family and friends, or God plus the assurance of material wealth, or God plus our own good health. It's simply God. Job signifies as much when he "repents in dust and ashes," in the final chapter.
But that is a statement that's been greatly misunderstood. Some take the position of the three friends, and think that Job is finally admitting and repenting of the sins that brought on his great trials. One commentator says that here "Job repents of his pride and rebellion." Another says he abhors "his wicked, proud self." But what a sad distortion of Job's actions this is!
The "dust and ashes" may refer to the ancient symbol of humble submission, putting dust and ashes on one's head (cf. Gen. 18:27). Or Job may simply be speaking of the ash heap on which he sits (Job 2:7-8), in which case it would be a graphic recognition and acceptance, on his part, that he is left with nothing–nothing but God alone.
The Hebrew word for "repent" (nacham) is actually used a couple of times in chapter 42. In vs. 6, Job is made to say (by the translators) "I...repent." But the same word is translated quite differently in vs. 11. There we are told that Job's family and friends gathered round and "comforted him [same word, nacham] for all the adversity that the Lord had brought upon him."
The Hebrew word can mean either to be sorry, or to be comforted, depending on the context. It is translated "comfort" in Ps. 23:4, "Your rod and your staff, they comfort [nacham] me." Found seven times in Job, it is translated "comfort" six times (2:11; 7:13; 16:12; 21:34; 29:25; 42:11), as it should be here. In the view of the present writer, the main reason nacham often is translated "repent" in Job 42:6 is because of certain presuppositions of the translators. But given what we know of godly Job, and of all that happened to him, this, I believe, is an appropriate paraphrase of verse 6:
"Lord, I humbly withdraw my insistence that You explain the reason for my trials. I am satisfied that You know what You are doing. Even here, in the dust and ashes, I find comfort in You alone. I need nothing and no one but You."
That is the point of the book. God is enough. Job did not need to know all the answers.
In the end, he gained far more than material wealth–which was restored to him doubled (42:12). His confidence in God was stronger and deeper than ever. Just as we can see the stars more clearly when we get away from the lights of town, so we can more fully appreciate the glory of heaven when the glow of earth's passing treasures is removed. The removal of temporal distractions, even for a time, undoubtedly sharpened Job's vision of eternal things.
For You and Me
There is a great cosmic purpose in Job. For all time, it provides a unique validation of creation. God made man "in His image" (Gen. 1:27), to love and enjoy blessed fellowship with Himself forever (cf. Jn. 17:3). And man's love for God is to be a reflection of His own–the kind of love eternally shared within the Trinity. Not an "I'll love you if..." kind of love that insists on getting something in return. But a selfless love, resting solely on an appreciation of what God is in Himself.
Job's steadfastness shows us that God was right in how He made us. It is totally possible to love and serve God for who He is, and that alone. Before angels and men, Job suffers in extremis–to the point of death. And in his suffering he demonstrates that it is possible to love and worship God simply for who He is in Himself. If Job had continued to be wealthy and successful, Satan's question, "Does Job fear God for nothing?" would have remained unanswered. But now we know.