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The Book of Job

Sabbath School Lesson Begins

The Book of Job

by: Clifford Goldstein

The Perennial Question

Despite all the popular propaganda to the contrary, Christians have very logical and rational reasons to believe in God. Though assured by some of the "best and brightest" that the evolutionary concepts of "natural selection" and "random mutation" can explain the complexity, wonder, and beauty of life, many people don't buy it and logically so. And despite the latest "scientific" pronouncements that the universe arose from "nothing," most people find the idea of an eternally existing God, as opposed to "nothing," the more logically satisfying explanation for Creation.

And yet, even with logic and reason firmly on our side, there's still the ever-present problem of evil. And thus the perennial question: If God exists, and is so good, so loving, and so powerful, why so much suffering?

Hence, this quarter's study: the book of Job. How fascinating that Job, which deals with the perennial question, was one of the first books of the Bible written. God gave us, early on, some answers to the most difficult of all issues. Some answers, but not all. Probably no one book of the Bible could answer them all; even the Bible as a whole doesn't. Nevertheless, Job pulls back a veil and reveals to the reader the existence of a reality beyond what our senses, even those aided by scientific devices, could show us. It takes us to a realm that, while far removed from us in one sense, is incredibly close in another. The book of Job shows us what so much of the rest of the Bible does, too: the natural and supernatural are inseparably linked. Job is a portrayed drama of the principle and warning that Paul expressed ages later: "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12, NKJV).

Though mostly about one man, the book of Job is the story of us all in that we all suffer in ways that often seem to make no sense. And even the story of the four men who come to him reflects our situation, too, for who among us hasn't tried to come to grips with the sufferings of others?

Yet, we'd miss a crucial point about the book of Job if we limited it only to suffering humanity's attempts to understand suffering humanity. The story appears in a context, that of the great controversy between Christ and Satan, which is portrayed here in the most literal of terms. And that's because it's the most literal of battles, one that began in heaven and is being played out here in the hearts, minds, and bodies of every human being.

This quarter's studies look at the story of Job, both close up, in the immediate drama of the narrative, and from a distance, in that we know not only how the book ends but also the bigger background in which it unfolds. As readers, then, with the knowledge not only of the book of Job but of the whole Bible, one crucial issue for us is to try and pull it all together. We try to understand as much as possible, not only why we live in a world of evil, but more important, how we are to live in such a world.

Of course, even after we study Job, even in the context of the rest of the Bible, the perennial question remains. We are assured, though, of the perennial answer: Jesus Christ, in whom "we have redemption through His blood" (Eph. 1:7, NKJV)-the One through whom all answers come.

Clifford Goldstein is the editor of the Adult Bible Study Guide. He has been at the General Conference since 1984.

Lesson 1 September 24-30

The End

Sabbath Afternoon

Read for This Week's Study: Job 42:10-17; Gen. 4:8; Matt. 14:10; 1 Cor. 4:5; Dan. 2:44; Job 14:14, 15.

Memory Text: "Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live' " (John 11:25, NKJV).

In writing classes, students are taught the importance of a good ending to their pieces. Particularly in fiction, where the whole thing is made up, the author needs to bring the end to a satisfactory close. But even in nonfiction, a good ending is important.

But what about reality? What about life itself, lived not in the pages of a book or in a film script but in flesh and blood? What about our own stories? What kind of endings do they have? How do they wind up? Are the loose ends tied together nicely, as in a good piece of writing?

This doesn't seem to be the case, does it? How could they end well, when our stories always end in death? In that sense, we never really have happy endings, do we, because when is death happy?

The same is true with the story of Job. Though its conclusion is often depicted as a happy ending, at least in contrast to all that Job had suffered, it's really not that happy, because this story, too, ends in death.

This week, as we begin the book of Job, we will start at its end, because it brings up questions about our ends as well, not just for now but for eternity.

Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, October 1.

Sunday September 25

Happily Ever After?

Oftentimes children's stories end with the line, "And they lived happily ever after." In some languages, it's almost a cliché. The whole idea is that whatever the drama-a kidnapped princess, a nasty wolf, an evil king-the hero and perhaps his new wife triumph in the end.

That's how the book of Job ends, at least at first glance. After all the trials and calamities that befell him, Job ends on what could be described only as a relatively positive note.

Read Job 42:10-17, the final verses of the entire book. What do they tell us about how Job ended his days?

No question: were you to ask someone about a book of the Bible that ended well for the main character, a book that had a "happily ever after" ending, many would name the book of Job.

After all, look at all that Job had as the story closes. Family and friends, who weren't around during the trials (with the exception of Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, Elihu, and Job's wife), come, and they comfort him. They were generous, too, giving him money. As the story ended, Job had twice as much as he had at the beginning of the story, at least in terms of material wealth (compare Job 42:12 with Job 1:3). He had ten children, seven sons and three daughters, to replace the seven sons and three daughters who died (see Job 1:2, 18, 19), and in all the land no women were "found so fair as the daughters of Job" (Job 42:15), something not said about his first ones. And this man who had been so sure that death was right before him, lived on another 140 years. "So Job died, being old and full of days" (Job 42:17). The phrase "full of days" in Hebrew (sometimes translated, interestingly enough, "full of years") is used to describe the last days of Abraham (Gen. 25:8), Isaac (Gen. 35:29), and David (1 Chron. 29:28). It gives the idea of someone in a relatively good and happy place at the time of a decidedly unhappy event: death.

We all like stories with happy endings, don't we? What are some stories with happy endings that you know of? What lessons can we take from them?

Monday September 26

Unhappy Endings

The book of Job concluded with things going well for Job, who died "old and full of days." As we all know, and know all too well, that's not how the story ends for so many others. Even those who were faithful and honorable and virtuous didn't always wind up in a situation such as Job's.

How did the story end for the following Bible characters?

Abel (Gen. 4:8)

Uriah (2 Sam. 11:17)

Eli (1 Sam. 4:18)

King Josiah (2 Chron. 35:22-24)

John the Baptist (Matt. 14:10)

Stephen (Acts 7:59, 60)

As we can see, the Bible is full of stories that don't have happy endings. And that's because life itself is full of stories that don't have happy endings. Whether martyred for a good cause, or dying from a horrible disease, or having a life reduced to pain and misery, many people don't come through their trials as triumphant as Job did. In fact, to be honest, how often do things work out well, as they did for Job? And we don't need the Bible to know this terrible fact. Who among us doesn't know of unhappy endings?

What are some stories with unhappy endings that you know of? What have you learned from them?

Tuesday September 27

The (Partial) Restoration

Yes, the story of Job ended on a positive note, in contrast to the story of other Bible characters and often of other people in general. Bible scholars sometimes talk about the "restoration" of Job. And indeed, to some degree, many things were restored to him.

But if that were the complete end of the story, then, in all fairness, would the story really be complete? Certainly things got better for Job, much better, but Job still died eventually. And all his children died. And all his children's children, and on and on, all died. And no doubt to some degree all of them faced many of the same traumas and trials of life that we all do, the traumas and trials that are simply the facts of life in a fallen world.

And, as far as we know, Job never learned of the reasons behind all the calamities that befell him. Yes, he got more children, but what about his sorrow and mourning for those whom he lost? What about the scars that, no doubt, he carried for the rest of his life? Job had a happy ending, but it's not a completely happy ending. Too many loose ends remain, too many unanswered questions.

The Bible says that the Lord "turned the captivity of Job" (Job 42:10), and indeed He did, especially when compared to all that came before. But much still remained incomplete, unanswered, and unfulfilled.

This shouldn't be surprising, should it? After all, in this world as it is now, regardless of our "end," whether good or bad, some things remain incomplete, unanswered, and unfulfilled.

That's why, in a sense, Job's ending could be seen as a symbol, however faint, of the true end of all human woe and suffering. It foreshadows the ultimate hope and promise that we have, through the gospel of Jesus Christ, of a full and complete restoration in ways that will make Job's restoration pale in comparison.

Read 1 Corinthians 4:5. What does this text tell us about how, for now, in this life, some things will still remain unanswered, unfulfilled, and incomplete? To what hope does it point us instead?

Wednesday September 28

The Final Kingdom

Among other things, the Bible is a book about history. But it is not just a history book. It tells about events in the past, historical events, and uses them (among other things) to give us spiritual lessons. It uses events in the past to teach us truths about how we are to live in the here and now. (See 1 Cor. 10:11.)

But the Bible doesn't just talk about the past. It talks about the future, as well. It tells us not just about events that have happened but about events that will happen. It points us to the future, even to the end of time. The theological term for last-day events, about end times, is "eschatology," from a Greek word that means "last." Sometimes it is used to encompass belief about death, judgment, heaven, and hell, as well. It also deals with the promise of hope that we have of a new existence in a new world.

And the Bible does tell us many things about the end times. Yes, the book of Job ended with Job's death, and if this were the only book one had to read, one could believe that Job's story ended, as do all ours, with death-and that was it, period. There was nothing else to hope for, because, as far as we can tell and from all that we see, nothing comes after.

The Bible, though, teaches us something else. It teaches that at the end of time God's eternal kingdom will be established, it will exist forever, and it will be the eternal home of the redeemed. Unlike the worldly kingdoms that have come and gone, this one is everlasting.

Read Daniel 2:44, 7:18. What hope do these verses point to about the end?

"The great plan of redemption results in fully bringing back the world into God's favor. All that was lost by sin is restored. Not only man but the earth is redeemed, to be the eternal abode of the obedient. For six thousand years Satan has struggled to maintain possession of the earth. Now God's original purpose in its creation is accomplished. 'The saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever.' Daniel 7:18." - Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 342.

Indeed, the book of Job ended with his death. The good news for us, and for Job, is that the end of the book of Job is not the end of Job's story. And our death is not the end of ours, either.

Thursday September 29

The Resurrection and the Life

Read Job 14:14, 15. What question is Job asking, and how, in his own way, does he answer it?

One of the themes in the book of Job deals with the question of death. How could it not? Any book that looks at human suffering would, of course, have to look at death, the source of so much of our suffering. Job asks if the dead will live again, and then he says that he waits for his change to come. The Hebrew word for "wait" also implies the idea of hope. It's not just waiting for something, it is hoping for it.

And what he was hoping for was his "change." This word comes from a Hebrew term that can give the idea of "renewal" or "replacement." Often it is the changing of a garment. Though the word itself is broad, given the context-that of asking what "renewal" comes after death, a "renewal" that Job hopes for-what else could this change be but a change from death to life, the time God shall "desire the work of Your [God's] hands" (Job 14:15, NKJV)?

Of course, our great hope, the great promise that death will not be the end, comes to us from the life, death, and ministry of Jesus. "The [New Testament] teaches that Christ has defeated death, mankind's bitterest foe, and that God will raise the dead to a final judgment. But this doctrine becomes central to biblical faith . . . after the resurrection of Christ, for it gains its validation in Christ's triumph over death."-John E. Hartley, The Book of Job, NICOT, Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), p. 237.

"Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live' " (John 11:25, NKJV). What is Jesus telling us here that gives us a hope and confidence about "the end"? That is, what do we know that Job didn't know?

Friday September 30

Further Thought: Despite all the horrific calamities that befell Job, not only did he stay faithful to God, but he was given back so much of what he had lost. Yet even here, as with much of the book of Job, questions remain unanswered. Sure, Job is just one book of the Bible, and to build an entire theology on one book would be wrong. We have the rest of the Scriptures, which add so much more understanding regarding many of the difficult questions addressed in the book of Job. The New Testament especially brings to light so many things that couldn't have been fully understood in Old Testament times. Perhaps the greatest example of this would be the meaning of the sanctuary service. However much a faithful Israelite might have understood about the death of the animals and the entire sacrificial service, only through the revelation of Jesus and His death on the cross does the system come more fully to light. The book of Hebrews helps illuminate so much of the true meaning of the entire service. And though today we have the privilege of knowing "present truth" (2 Pet. 1:12) and certainly have been given more light on issues than Job had, we still have to learn to live with unanswered questions, too. The unfolding of truth is progressive, and despite the great light we have been given now, there's still so much more to learn. In fact, we've been told that "the redeemed throng will range from world to world, and much of their time will be employed in searching out the mysteries of redemption. And throughout the whole stretch of eternity, this subject will be continually opening to their minds."-Ellen G. White, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, March 9, 1886.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does the idea of progressive revelation mean? What are other examples of how the idea works? For example, one begins arithmetic by learning the numbers, how to count. We then learn how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide those numbers. We then can move on to deeper things such as algebra, geometry, and calculus, all still working with those basic numbers. How does this analogy help us understand the idea of progressive revelation in theology, as well?
  2. Read Job 42:11. Commentators through the ages have asked the question about where Job's relatives and friends were during the times of his greatest need. That is, they came after his fortunes had turned around and things were going better for him. What's wrong with this picture?
  3. How many bad endings do you know of now, and what hope does the Cross give you that these bad endings do not truly end the story?

Inside Story~  Inter-European Division

The Conversion of a Convict, Part 1

Alexandru Marin was known among law enforcement officers in much of Romania. His name and picture appeared in police stations throughout the country. He spent more than a third of his life in prison.

Marin didn't fit the typical image of a hardened criminal. Well-educated, multilingual, a promising artist and designer, Alexandru's future was full of promise. His older brother was a national champion athlete before he committed suicide at age 18. Marin was only 15 at the time. His grieving parents showered all their love and hopes for the future on their younger son. But he made friends with the wrong young people.

His friends delighted in breaking the law. "We knew what would happen if we were caught," he said. Eventually Alexandru was captured and imprisoned. Prison was an excellent school for crime, and soon he was released, wiser in the ways of criminals. He indulged in more illegal activities, and eventually made connections with the Mafia.

Alexandru married a former schoolmate. She knew his past, but hoped to reform him. But Alexandru didn't want reform. He decided to escape to Yugoslavia and later send for his wife, who was expecting their child. He made it safely across the border, but had no money. "We had to steal to eat," he said. Again he was arrested and imprisoned.

The day before he was to be released, a woman who worked in the prison told him of plans to deport him to Romania. To be returned to Romania could well mean the death sentence. She gave him a metal file, and he and his cellmates began filing through the metal bars of the high security prison. They sang and made noise to conceal the sounds as they cut the steel bars on the window. The window was very small, and Alexandru had to remove his coat and shirt and put shaving cream on his body to help him slide through the tiny opening. He tells what happened next:

"Four of us tried to escape, and three made it out of the prison and into the neighboring cornfield. It was late autumn, and I had no shirt or coat. I shivered in the cold. We could hear the guards and police dogs searching for us. The dogs found my cellmate. I could tell by the cries. That's when I prayed my first prayer. 'Help me, God,' I prayed. 'If You will let me escape, I will change my life.' I meant that prayer, but after I escaped, I forgot my promise to God."

To be continued. 

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