God Allows Satan to Destroy Job’s Prosperity (Job 1:13-22)
The problem of pain comes when times are hard. When we are passed over for promotion or lose a job, when we become chronically ill, when we lose people we love, what then? We face the question, “If God was blessing me during the good times, is he punishing me now?” This is a hugely important question. If God is punishing us, we need to change our ways so he will stop. But if our difficulties are not a punishment from God, then changing our ways would be foolish. It might even oppose what God wants us to do.
Imagine the case of a teacher who gets laid off during a school budget cut and thinks, “This is God’s punishment because I didn’t become a missionary.” Taking her layoff as a sign, she enrolls in seminary and borrows money to pay for it. Three years later, she graduates and begins trying to raise support for her mission. If indeed God caused the layoff to punish her for not becoming a missionary, she has ceased the offense. She should be in good shape.
But what if her layoff was not a punishment from God? What if God actually has no intention for her to become a missionary? While in seminary, she may miss an opportunity to serve God as a teacher. Worse yet, what happens if she fails to raise support as a missionary? She will have no job and tens of thousands of dollars of debt. Will she then feel abandoned by God if her mission plan doesn’t work out? Might she even lose her faith or become bitter towards God? If so, she would not be the first. Yet it would all be because she mistakenly assumed that her layoff was a sign of God’s punishment. The question of whether adversity is a sign of God’s disfavor is no light matter.
The accuser — Satan — hopes to set just such a trap for Job. Satan says to God that if he removes the blessings he has so richly bestowed on Job, “He will curse you to your face” (Job 1:11; 2:4). If Satan can get Job to believe he is being punished by God, Job may be caught in either of two snares. He may abandon his righteous habits in the mistaken assumption that they are offensive to God. Or, better yet from the accuser’s point of view, he will become bitter at God for his undeserved punishment, and abandon God altogether. Either way, it will be a curse in the face of God.
God allows Satan to proceed. We are not told why. One harrowing day, nearly everything Job treasures is stolen and the people he loves — including all his children — are murdered or killed in violent storms (Job 1:13-16). But Job neither assumes God is punishing him nor becomes bitter over God’s treatment. Instead he worships God (Job 1:20). At his lowest moment, Job blesses God’s authority over all the circumstances of life, good or bad. “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord”(Job 1:21).
Job’s finely balanced attitude is remarkable. He rightly understands his previous prosperity as a blessing from God. He does not imagine he ever deserved God’s blessing, even though he recognizes he was righteous (implicit in Job 1:1,5 and stated explicitly in Job 6:24-30, et al.). Because he knows he didn’t deserve his former blessings, he knows he does not necessarily deserve his current sufferings. He does not take his condition to be a measurement of God’s favor. Consequently, he doesn’t pretend to know why God blessed him with prosperity at one time and not at another.
Job is a rebuke to the so-called “prosperity gospel,” which claims that those in right relationship with God are always blessed with prosperity. This is simply not true, and Job is Exhibit Number- One. Yet Job is also a rebuke to the “poverty gospel” which claims the opposite, that a right relationship with God implies a life of poverty. The idea that believers should intentionally emulate Job’s loss is too far-fetched to appear even on the fringe of discussion in Job. God might call us to give up everything, if doing so were necessary under the circumstances to serve or follow him. But the book of Job makes no suggestion that God inherently desires anyone to live in poverty. Job’s original prosperity was a genuine blessing of God, and his extreme poverty is a genuine calamity.
Job can remain faithful under adversity because he understands prosperity accurately. Because he has experienced prosperity as a blessing from God, he is prepared to suffer adversity without jumping to conclusions. He knows what he doesn’t know, namely why God blesses us with prosperity or allows us to suffer adversity. And he knows what he does know, namely that God is faithful, even while God allows us to experience great pain and suffering. As a result, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong-doing” (Job 1:22).