In January, I resolved to read through the Bible. My journey began well. I cruised through several chapters each day, visited many strong characters en route: Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua. Naomi, a bitter woman turned sweet, grabbed my attention. As she rocked an unexpected grandson on her knee, I waded into Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Esther, and finally, Job.
I’d heard enough depressing sermons from this book to last a lifetime. Its forty-two chapters loomed like a haunted, forbidding forest.
Spring arrived. On sunny days, I read by the river or in the backyard. Job’s dreary story seemed out of sync with buds and birds. So I detoured around it and went straight to the Psalms. Before long, I reached Isaiah. What a prophet and what a writer. Isaiah’s beautiful word pictures encourage and comfort the reader. By summer, I’d reached Malachi, the end of the Old Testament, and congratulated myself.
How can you say you’re reading the Bible through if you skip Job? That niggling question interrupted my back-patting. I’d placed a mental tick beside each book as I’d completed it. No tick beside Job.
Seeking shade from the sun, I moved my lawn chair under a maple tree. My fingers leafed through the pages of a worn Amplified version of the Bible. “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job . . .” (1:1). With that, my mind left the heat of the backyard and dove into the dark, cold waters of this troubling book.
At the outset, Satan seeks God’s consent to test Job’s faith. Permission granted. Nobody relays this information to Job, which might seem an injustice. Before the end of the first chapter, invaders have stolen his livestock and killed his servants, and Job’s ten children have died in a windstorm. Satan, upset by Job’s positive response, challenges God to afflict his health and gets the go-ahead. The poor man’s body breaks out in boils from head to toe. Grief angers his wife; she turns on him. By this time, Job’s neighbors are crossing the street to avoid him.
As if his troubles weren’t stacked high enough, Job’s long-winded, self-righteous friends arrive to console him. These three “wise men” badger troubled Job to confess his sins and renounce pride. Their platitude-ridden speeches exasperate him:
“Wearisome and miserable comforters are you all! Will your futile words of wind have no end? Or what makes you so bold to answer [me like this]? I also could speak as you do, if you were in my stead; I could join words together against you and shake my head at you” (16:2-4).
Job’s rebuke insults his comforters. They retaliate by predicting more suffering for their beloved friend. I ached for Job and wearied of his friends and their endless conversation. My journey slowed. Anything that bloomed, moved, or spoke distracted me from reading.
By mid-August Job concludes his three friends are hypocrites. Without a lawyer to represent him, he defends himself and swears he’s innocent of breaking God’s laws. Then a fourth, younger friend, Elihu, takes five chapters to defend God. The engine of my Bible reading sputtered uphill — until the first chill of fall began turning the leaves of my maple tree golden. That’s when I reached chapter 38 and discovered I wasn’t the only one fed up with the philosophizing of Job and his tedious friends.
Worshipping with Job
God seizes Job (and the reader) by the collar. He forces our noses to the ground to consider whose hands laid earth’s foundation. Then with Superman flash, He circles the constellations and asks, “Can you bind the chains of . . . Pleiades?” (38:31).
Breathless, Job stutters, “Behold, I am of small account and vile!” (40:4), then clasps his hand over his mouth. But his spiritual awakening isn’t finished. The Lord plunges Job to ocean depths and challenges him to take on the sea monster. He wisely declines.
The grand finale — another question, paraphrased: “So you’re afraid to awaken a crocodile but not afraid to disrespect Me, the beast’s creator?”
Remorseful Job recognizes his sin and confesses; he sees God and worships. So did I.
“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
But now my eye sees You.
Therefore I abhor myself,
And repent in dust and ashes” (42:5, 6, NKJV).
I’d forgotten, or perhaps never grasped, what A. W. Tozer calls the Oh! of God. In Born After Midnight, he writes: “When God Himself appears before the mind — awesome, vast and incomprehensible — then the mind sinks into silence and the heart cries out, ‘O Lord God!’” Call it reverence, the fear of God, or awe, discovering God’s Oh! is glimpsing His incomprehensible power in a way that reveals our true feeble state. Oh! immobilizes. It quakes the joints and dizzies the mind. It reminds us that without a Savior, Jesus Christ, we are completely lost. Knowing this, we worship.
I had jogged through the last five chapters of Job, lost track of time in wonderment. As the cover closed, I felt a sadness that comes with saying goodbye to a loved character in a novel. Before moving on, I promised to return often, to keep God’s awe — His Oh! — aflame in my heart.