1 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.” 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.” 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. 11 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. 12 And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. 13 And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.
Stephen Crane, the author of The Red Badge of Courage, had numerous Methodist pastors in his family tree. Even so, he lived a rough and free life and, in many of his poems, expressed his anger at God and perception of God’s cruelty to man. For instance, here is his 12th poem from The Black Riders and Other Lines (he included the verse at the beginning of the poem).
“And the sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the heads of the children, even unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.”
Well, then, I hate Thee, unrighteous picture;
Wicked image, I hate Thee;
So, strike with Thy vengeance
The heads of those little men
Who come blindly.
It will be a brave thing.
And again, in his 19th poem:
A god in wrath
Was beating a man;
He cuffed him loudly
With thunderous blows
That rang and rolled over the earth.
All people came running.
The man screamed and struggled,
And bit madly at the feet of the god.
The people cried,
“Ah, what a wicked man!”
“Ah, what a redoubtable god!”
At the heart both protests is his perception of God as beating man and treating man cruelly. Then, to, Crane’s amazement, men still persisted in worshipping this God.
It is an interesting and very real question: is God worthy of worship if men suffer? Perhaps that is another way of putting the central question of Job.
Interestingly, another famous poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson, called the book of Job “the greatest poem of ancient and modern times.” I suspect that is true. Job, as we have said, remains tethered to current human experience by the timelessness of suffering and man’s need to understand this in the light of the presence and goodness of God. As Susan E. Schreiner has written:
A pawn in a contest about which he knew nothing, the beneficiary of ‘friendly’ advice he refused to accept, the target of suffering he could not understand, and a victim in a universe that threatened to overwhelm him, Job has been a man for all ages. Ever since the biblical era…[Job’s story] has forced its readers to wrestle with the most painful realities of human existence.
This theme of suffering was introduced in the first chapter of Job, but it is heightened in the second chapter when the intensity of the conflict is ratcheted up by God’s further permission for Satan to strike Job more directly.
The book of Job takes us deep into the conflict that caused Stephen Crane and many others to curse God but caused Job and numerous others to refuse to do so. Both of these realities are present in Job 2.
The perseverance or lack thereof of God’s people in the midst of suffering speaks to the reality of our relationship with God.
We should recognize at the beginning of chapter 2 that our response to suffering reflects upon the reality of our relationship with God.
1 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.”
In this fascinating second conversation between God and Satan in the throne room of Heaven, we note that God points joyfully to the quality of Job’s relationship with Him and the fact that Job remains “a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil” and who “holds fast his integrity.” Job’s faithfulness in the face of suffering is used by God as a rebuke to the devil. We have no reason to think that such is not the case even today.
We must approach this idea carefully, however. We must not take this to mean that genuine human struggling with pain and suffering and loss and grief means in and of itself that one does not truly love God. We must not take this to mean that God expects a kind of extra-human stoicism and lack of struggle in His people else Satan gets the glory.
Against this idea I will remind us that the Lord Jesus sweated agonizing drops of blood in Gethsemane and did not sin. The Lord Jesus asked if the cup of the cross might pass Him by and did not sin in doing so. We have no reason whatsoever to believe that Christ’s agony in Gethsemane in any way diminished the glory of God or disappointed God or gave the Devil props. Why, because at the end of His agony Christ yet said, “Nevertheless, not my will but thy will be done.”
It is Job’s ultimate faithfulness in the face of the initial assault and even his grieving faithfulness in the midst of the second assault to which God points and of which God speaks. It is not the absence of struggle or grief but the refusal, ultimately, to abandon our faith that God uses to rebuke the devil.
The fact that God does so should give us pause. If the scenes in Job 1 and 2 are considered normative, then we must realize that our walk with God is likewise being pointed to by the Devil and by God. Approached form a different angle, ask yourself this: if God and Satan were to discuss your walk right now, what would that conversation sound like? Could God point to you as he pointed to Job and say, “See? He has remained faithful? She has remained faithful?”
What about our church? If God and Satan were to discuss the reality of Central Baptist Church, what would they say? Would God say, “See? Central Baptist Church has remained faithful? Have you considered Central Baptist Church?”
May we live in such a way that our testimonies provide further ammunition for the arsenal of God against the wicked intent of the Devil.
Satan assumes that while a man may endure the loss of all he has, he will not endure an attack upon himself. Thus, Satan may attack what we have, but it is us that he ultimately wants.
Again, God pointed out Job’s faithfulness and again Satan asked permission to strike. And again, God granted the permission, this time for Satan to strike Job deliberately so long as he did not kill Job.
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.” 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.
Here we see the brutal nature of Satan’s second attack. Job is struck and wounded and marred with disease. Didymus the Blind, the fourth century Alexandrian commentator, memorably referred to Job as “an expression and image of perseverance – like a marked pillar.” He was a pillar, but he was indeed a marked one.
Job’s body is covered with sores. The wording suggests something like boils. The exact nature of this illness is a mystery. Some have traced the symptoms of Job’s illness throughout the book to try to figure out what the disease was. When you do so, you find the following marks of the disease:
- Breeding of worms, 7:5
- Horrible dreams, 7:14
- Sensation of choking, 7:15
- Fetid breath, 19:17
- Corrosion of the bones, 30:17
- Blackening and falling off of the skin, 30:30
In the ninth century, the bishop of Hedatta, Isho’Dad of Merv, said that Job’s disease was elephantiasis, a disease which “when it strikes someone, his whole body putrefies, his flesh melts away, the features of his face decompose, his nostrils disappear, and a filthy, sour and corrosive pus constantly oozes from his body.” Others have opted to say that precisely identifying this disease misses the point and that Job may very well have been struck with something the exact nature of which the medical books have never seen. Regardless, he was struck.
The idea behind Satan’s request to strike Job is interesting. Satan’s eruption, “Skin for skin!” is notoriously difficult to understand. Some interesting proposals have been put forward as to its meaning.
- Some translate it as “skin after skin,” suggesting that Job’s outer skin was his possessions and family but his inner skin is his actual life. In this translation, Satan is asking to “get under Job’s skin.”
- Some liken it to the lex talionis, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” “That is, the accuser believed that Job would give another person’s skin (his servants and children) in exchange for his own.”
- Yet another view proposes that the saying, “Skin for skin!” “does not look back and compare the first and second test but rather looks forward and states that if Job’s skin is harmed, then Job will be after Yahweh’s skin.”
Whatever its exact meaning, it clearly rests at the heart of Satan’s challenge and must in some sense mean that the striking of Job’s own skin and life will break Job and destroy his trust in God. Thus, Satan assumes that while a man may endure the loss of all he has, he will not endure an attack upon himself. Thus, Satan may attack what we have, but it is us that he ultimately wants.
Whether or not Satan’s assumption is correct is beside the point. For the record, I suspect Satan’s assumption is not correct. Ask anybody who has lost a child or a spouse if they would not willingly choose to suffer if by so doing it would bring their child back or their spouse back. I suspect that most people would say their personal sufferings could never match the suffering they felt when losing a loved one.
Even so, the truthfulness of the assumption is beside the point because, at least in Job 2, this seems to be Satan’s assumption: that people’s faith can survive the loss of their loved ones but their faith cannot survive the loss of their own health and peace and comfort. As a result, Satan is ever and always wanting to strike us directly and as deeply as possible.
Satan wants our skin.
There is a saying in our culture that seems to apply. We might say of somebody, “He’s got no skin in the game.” That phrase seems to be linked to Warren Buffett and it refers to a person who has no personal monetary risk in an investment or financial venture. Thus, they have nothing personally to lose. They have no skin in the game.
This seems to be what Satan is saying. He is saying that Job has no skin in the game. If Job had skin in the game, then it would really matter to him. So Satan asks permission to strike Job’s skin and the Lord grants that permission.
Job’s view of God did not allow only for blessing and he rejected the assertion that it should as foolish.
Permission is granted and Job’s skin is struck.
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.” 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. 11 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. 12 And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. 13 And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.
Yes, Job’s skin is struck, but obviously not just his skin. The words of Job’s wife strike deeper than his diseased skin. “Do you still hold fast your integrity?” she asks. “Curse God and die.” What a blow. What a devastating blow.
We know very little about Job’s wife. It has been suggested that Job’s wife (who Jewish tradition knows as Dinah or Sitis) was offering Job “a theological way of committing suicide” by suggesting to Job that he should curse God and let God kill him as a result. St. Augustine referred to Job’s wife as diabolic adjutrix (the Devil’s advocate), John Chyrostom called her “the Devil’s best scourge,” and John Calvin called her organum Satani (the instrument of Satan). In 25:1-8 of the 1st century BC or AD apocryphal work, The Testament of Job, Job’s wife is depicted as lamenting her situation.
Who is not amazed that this is Sitis, the wife of Job?
Who used to have fourteen draperies sheltering her chamber and a door within doors, so that one was considered quite worthy merely to gain admission to her presence:
Now she exchanges her hair for loaves!
Whose camels, loaded with good things, used to go off into the regions of the poor:
Now she exchanges her hair for loaves!
Look at her who used to keep seven tables reserved at her house, at which the poor and the alien used to eat:
Now she sells outright her hair for loaves!
See one who used to have a foot basin o f gold and silver, and now she goes along by foot:
Even her hair she gives in exchange for loaves!
Observe, this is she who used to have clothing woven from linen with gold: But now she bears rags and gives her hair in exchange for loaves!
See her who used to own couches of gold and silver:
But now she sells her hair for loaves!
That is fascinating in the way that legendary apocryphal works often are, but one does rather suspect that Job’s wife’s anger is linked not to her personal loss of social status but to the devastating blow of having lost all of her children. She spoke therefore out of a broken heart. She spoke out of her pain and she challenged Job’s faith depicting it as absurd. Job’s response was powerful.
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.
Job’s wife calls him foolish. Job, in turn, calls her foolish. Then he offers his critically important insight: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In saying this, Job was not calling God evil. That is not what he says. He is simply saying that God is ultimately sovereign and thus all things happen either directly from Him or because He allows it, even evil things. That is clearly the intent of chapters 1 and 2 and it would seem that Job understood this point. So Job trusted in God and refused to allow the presence of evil and suffering to obliterate his faith.
“In all this,” the author of Job writes, “Job did not sin with his lips.”
Amazingly, some have viewed the wording of verse 10 as a subtle suggestion that Job sinned inwardly but not outwardly. The Rabbi Rashi, “following the Talmud, said, ‘But in his heart he sinned.’”
It is admittedly difficult for us to understand how Job could actually have held firm to his faith at this point, but it should be noted that reading secret sin into Job on the basis of that verse makes us no better than his friends at their worst. True, Job will indeed break beneath the pressure and not always remain a marked pillar, but there is no evidence that here he did so. Here, Job trusted yet in God. He trusted in God because he rejected any theology that only had room for blessing and not for cursing.
For our purposes, despite the fact that we have not (and cannot) answer all of the questions surrounding human suffering, is it not enough for us to see that the goodness of God is not assailed because He allows evil to happen or because He does not stop all evil from happening? Can we not see even here that God, while allowing Job to experience suffering, does indeed keep Satan from taking his life, that God still puts a limit on the Devil even while allowing the Devil to strike?
Emotionally, we struggle to understand, but please note that Job yet trusted God.
We point often to this text, but it seems appropriate once again to remember the amazing story in Mark 9 of the man with the demon possessed son.
20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
“I believe; help my unbelief!”
This man is the patron saint of all who suffer yet believe and his statement is the creed of all who suffer but refuse to abandon their faith. Most gloriously, Jesus does not begrudge his struggling confession, but rather receives it, blesses it, then delivers his son.
Do not let go, dear friends. Do not let go of the loving hand of God. Even through your tears and pain and questions and doubts, do not let go. Even by the graveside or the hospital bed or the tragedy that has knocked you flat. Do not let go.
Do not let go.
Jesus has not let go of you.
Jesus will never let go of you.
 Stephen Crane. Stories and Collected Poems. (New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1997), p.14.
 Stephen Crane, p.21.
 G. Henton Davies, Alan Richardson, Charles L. Wallis, eds., Twentieth Century Bible Commentary. (New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1955), p.229.
 Quoted in Steven Chase, Job. Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), p.23.
 Manlio Simonetti and Marco Conti, eds. Job. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament. Vol. VI. Thomas C. Oden, Gen. Ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006), p.12.
 John D.W. Watts, John Joseph Owens, Marvin E. Tate, Jr., “Job.” The Broadman Bible Commentary. Vol. 4 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1971), p.41.
 Manlio Simonetti and Marco Conti, eds., p.12.
 Tremper Longman III, Job. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), p.88.
 John D.W. Watts, John Joseph Owens, Marvin E. Tate, Jr., p.41-42.
 Francis I. Andersen, Job. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. 14 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2008), p.97.
 E.O. Gravett, “Biblical Responses: Past and Present Retellings of the Enigmatic Mrs. Job.” Biblical Interpretation 20 (2012), p.113.
 Francis I. Andersen, p.99.