Job’s Prosperity Acknowledged as God’s Blessing (Job 1:1-12)
At the beginning of the Book of Job we are introduced to an exceptionally prosperous farmer/rancher named Job. He is described as “the greatest man among all the people of the East” (Job 1:3). Like the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, his wealth was measured by his many thousand head of livestock, numerous servants and large family. His seven sons and three daughters (Job 1:2) are both a personal joy to him and an important foundation of his wealth. In agricultural societies, children supply the most reliable part of the labor needed in a household. They are the best hope for a comfortable retirement, the only pension plan available in the Ancient Near East, as is in many parts of the world today.
Job regards his success to be the result of God’s blessing. We are told that God has “blessed the work of Job’s hands, and his possessions have increased in the land” (Job 1:10). Job’s recognition that he owes everything to God’s blessing is highlighted by an unusual detail. He worries that his children might inadvertently offend God. Although Job takes care to remain “blameless and upright” (Job 1:1), he worries that his children may not be so fastidious. What if one of them, addled by too much drink during their frequent days-long feasts, should sin by cursing God (Job 1:4)? Therefore, after every feast, to forestall any offense to God, “Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all” (Job 1:5).
God recognizes Job’s faithfulness. He remarks to his Satan (a Hebrew word meaning simply “accuser”), “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8). The accuser spots an opening for mischief and replies, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” (Job 1:9). That is, does Job love God only because God has blessed him so richly? Is Job’s praise and his burnt offerings “according to the number of them all” just a calculated scheme to keep the goods flowing? Or to use a modern image, is Job’s faithfulness nothing more than a coin fed into the vending machine of God’s blessing?
We could apply this question to ourselves. Do we relate to God primarily so that he will bless us with the stuff we want? Or worse yet, so that he won’t jinx the success we seem to be achieving on our own? In good times, this may not be a burning issue. We believe in God. We acknowledge him — at least theoretically — as the source of all good things. At the same time, we work diligently, so God’s goodness and our work go hand in hand. When times are good, and we do in fact prosper, it is natural to thank God and praise him for it.
In Job, the Hebrew term ha-satan (“the accuser”) seems to be used as a title referring to the function performed by of one of the “heavenly beings” in God’s retinue (Job 1:6), rather than a personal name for the devil. The meaning of this is much debated among scholars. It not our purpose to take a stance in this debate, so we have accepted the term used in all the major translations, namely, “Satan.”