READ : Job 1:20-21
Then Job arose, and rent his robe, and shaved his head, and fell upon the ground, and worshiped. 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.
Job 1:20-21 rsv
Do you know about this person: Job? He was a good man. The Scriptures say that Job feared God, with mingled trust and reverence. He turned away from evil; that is, he lived a life of genuine repentance. That was the reputation Job had on earth and, more importantly, that was the word about him in heaven.
Job had a deep and abiding concern for his children. Even after they were gone from the family home, he prayed for them. He offered sacrifices on their behalf. It was his way of offering them up to God. He wanted so much for them to be faithful. He remembered them in that way every day. Some father!
In God’s eyes, we learn, Job was blameless and upright, a man of integrity. To the Lord who searches all hearts, Job was one in a million. There wasn’t another like him to be found on the earth. Some man!
One day, the roof fell in on Job’s life. You know the story. His oxen and donkeys were carried off by the Sabeans, his herdsmen slain. Then Job’s sheep, with their shepherds, perished in a lightning storm. Three bands of Chaldeans made off with his camels, murdering those who tended them. Job, a really prosperous man, was financially destroyed in one day. Talk about Black Monday!
That was only the beginning. All ten of his children were together in the eldest son’s house when a whirlwind out of the desert flattened the dwelling, killing them all. In this unimaginable tragedy, Job lost in one stroke every child he had. As we read the book, we learn that all of this was a strange and terrible kind of testing to see how Job would react. But he, of course, knew nothing about the cosmic background for what had happened. He only knew what it was like to be crushed.
What did he do? Part of it was what any one of us would have done. He grieved. He got up, tore his garments in agony, shaved his head and threw himself down on the ground. He was a pitiable, broken man, wretched and forlorn. As we see him lying there on the ground, we wonder if he’ll ever get up again.
But wait, he’s saying something, something about nakedness. “Naked I came from the womb, and naked I’ll return there . . . Naked I was born,” he says, “naked I’ll die.” He had nothing when he came into the world and he’ll have nothing when he goes out. Overwhelming losses squeeze everything in life together, don’t they, accordion-like? They remind Job of his birth. They prepare him for his death. He’s got nothing now, nothing, that is, but God.
Flying home from a trip to Russia some years ago, I was on a Scandinavian airliner. The stewardess commented on the fact that I was flying out of Russia. She asked me about my experience there. I told her about the churches I had visited, about the reverence, the spiritual vitality, the vision for God’s kingdom that I had experienced, the loving welcome from Russian Christians. The stewardess didn’t seem impressed. With an air of some contempt, she said, “Those Russians, they don’t have anything but religion.” I thought about that for a while. In effect, she was saying, “They don’t have anything but God!”
Now here’s Job, utterly crushed, lying on his face in the dust, and yet he’s talking about God. Listen: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
For Job the whole story is the Lord’s. Everything he had before had been God’s gift. All he had lost was God’s taking. There was no more to be said. God filled the whole horizon of life for this broken man.
That’s not how the popular writer, Rabbi Kushner, sees it. He can say, “The Lord gave,” but not, “The Lord has taken away.” His God, he says, is too good for that. Maybe it’s the Sabeans and the Chaldeans that caused the tragedy, maybe a freak of nature or the malice of the devil. Kushner thinks bad things happen because the good God can’t be everywhere, and some evils slip in that He can’t prevent.
But that doesn’t seem to be Job’s God. Job’s God gives and takes. Job is a fairly sophisticated person. He knows about second causes, and understands better than we do that there are a lot of unsolved mysteries. He knows one thing for sure: that God is the Lord of this universe, and everything that comes to us comes somehow through His hands. “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.”
But Job isn’t finished. He has something else to say. We’ve heard about his understanding of providence, his philosophy of history. We may not agree with that, but we can understand it. Here’s something harder to take in: Job is praising God and inviting others to do the same: “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” As though to say, “God, You are worthy. Let all the earth honor Your great name! Alleluia!”
Job was on trial here, wasn’t he? Or was it God? Job passed the test, I guess. Or was it God that did? You know what the devil’s taunt to God had been: “Put forth thy hand now and touch all that [Job] has, and he will curse thee to thy face” (1:1). For Job, the test came along those lines. Would he curse God? Or would he keep his integrity? Job was a man in covenant with God, committed to Him. He had made his vows to be faithful, to trust and obey, to keep the Lord always before him. Would he go back on that now? If he did, it would cost him his integrity, the continuity of his life, what held it together.
Remember Sir Thomas More in Bolton’s play, A Man For All Seasons? His daughter is pleading with him to recant and save his life. Thomas says, “When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own self in his own hands, like water. If he opens his fingers then, he needn’t hope to find himself again.”
Later, in the second round, after Job loses health also, his wife says, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God, and die” (2:9). “Why,” Job says, “I can’t do that. You speak as one of the godless women. Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord and not evil?” We’re ready to accept from God the things that build us up. What about brokenness?
God has been on trial too. He’s taken the devil’s challenge, taken the risk that Job, His choice servant, may succumb to the pressures and renounce God. Something to think about – that God’s honor is on the line when His people go through the fire. There’s a verse in 1 Peter that can be translated this way, “When you do good and suffer for it, God says thanks” (2:20).
Now for the question: How was Job able to react in this way? It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? How do we account for behavior like that? I’ve got a hunch. I don’t know for sure, but I know some things from personal experience. Let me tell you a true story. It was in the summer of 1959. I was a young pastor in Lodi, New Jersey. We had four sons. Chief of the pack was Billy, our oldest, my namesake. He was bright, athletic, with a great running stride. Billy was a born leader. We dreamed that he might some day become a mighty servant of God.
Helen and I were blissfully happy together and with our boys. The Lord was blessing the work of our little church. We were serving the Lord, preaching the gospel. We had everything in the world we wanted. I remember saying to Helen about that time that we had already been so blessed that if the rest of our lives should bring nothing but trouble, we’d still be ahead of the game, still debtors to God’s grace.
That spring, Helen had a renewed bout with rheumatic fever and two of our younger boys caught measles. Billy woke up during two nights complaining of a severe headache. We decided that Helen and the boys would go up to her folk’s farm in upstate New York for a while. Helen could recuperate there. The boys would have the run of the farm and I would take care of the Daily Vacation Bible School at our church.
On the second day I got a phone call. Billy was sick. Could I come? I headed up the New York Thruway as fast as I could, heavy in heart, praying, wondering, longing, worrying. When I got there, Billy was lying so small on a big bed, trembling violently. I tried to get hold of a doctor. It was the doctor’s day off. I tried again. Finally, I found someone who would admit him to a hospital. My father-in-law and I drove him down to Schenectady. Billy was still shaking, his fever shockingly high.
When we got there and the doctors could attend him, the prognosis was grim. He might not survive. And if he did, all his powers might be taken from him. We got things settled at the hospital. There was nothing more to do there at the time. I rode back to the farm in my father-in-law’s car. The tears were spilling down into my lap over what had happened to our son. I’ve never been so sad. Yet I knew, down deep, something else. God loves me. He loves my son. Somehow, it’s going to be all right.
Why did I feel that? Why do I feel it still? Why did Job react as he did? It’s not strength of character, friends, not superior virtue. It’s not heroic sainthood. When it happens to you, it feels much more like grace, like a surprising, beautiful gift.
We don’t know exactly what Job knew about the Lord in his time, but we surely know some things today that he didn’t. We know how vulnerable God Himself became when He chose to enter our life in Jesus. We know how He became like a Job. He lost everything. He was rejected, shamed, spit upon. We know how He endured the most terrible tortures, the most agonizing forsakenness, all because He loved us so much.
And we know that out of the crucifixion of Jesus, arguably the most terrible deed ever done, God somehow brought the best. So we’re sure now that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love, and we can face anything through Him who strengthens us. That’s our clue: the cross, in a world where we sometimes get crushed, where we suffer in the dark, not knowing why.
Do you want to be prepared, friends, for the very worst that life can ever bring you? In one sense, you can never fully prepare. You can never imagine in advance how you’ll handle some devastating blow. But you can get in training, as it were. Here are a few thoughts about that, for vulnerable strugglers like you and me. First, hold all your possessions with a light grasp. Remember what Job said, “naked we came into the world, and naked we’ll leave it.” So hold onto those lightly. Next, treasure your loved ones and offer them up each day to God. Remember how precious they are and be thankful for every day you have with them. Here’s another thought: cultivate a thankful spirit for all you have. Remember Paul’s word, “Give thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God the Father” (Eph. 5:20). Work at that. It can do wonders for you.
Finally, hold onto God with your heart. That’s a phrase the Tzeltal Indians in Mexico sometimes use. It’s their translation of what it means to believe, to have faith. It’s “hold onto God with your heart.” That is, dwell much on the Savior’s love for you. Get to know Him better every day, listening to His Word, calling on Him in your prayers. Hang onto Him with all your heart, and when the time comes, if it does, when you’re really crushed, you’ll make a great discovery. The Lord will be holding onto you.
The word is that He’s near to the brokenhearted, that He saves the crushed ones in spirit. You see, in Jesus, He has been there, and He’ll be there with you. And maybe you too, by some miracle of God’s grace, will be able to say in your worst hour, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” It’s possible – because of Christ.
Prayer: Father, I want to pray especially today for anyone sharing this message who is really broken in heart, crushed in spirit. Will You minister the comfort of the gospel to that person? May each one know how much You gave and suffered on our behalf. And in our brokenness, Lord, may we so taste Your grace that we’ll be able to say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord!” Amen.