The Mystery of Affliction --Part 1

The Mystery of Affliction
Part 1

J. Boyd Nicholson

It is an alarming fact of our day that among believers there is hardly a life that is not touched by affliction in some form. There is hardly a home that has not known some crushing blow of the enemy. Perhaps as never before has Satan attacked the saints so persistently, so methodically, so mercilessly. Many cry out of anguished and sometimes perplexed hearts, “Will the sun ever shine again?” There are many questions, but not always answers, so there is the danger of giving up, just fainting under it all.

While none of us have ever been called to suffer as did Job, yet an examination of his experience can be a help and a cheer to many a suffering saint.

Lest some untried and unscarred believer, setting out in life, think that such a study of grief and sorrow be somewhat gloomy or irrelevant, may it be said that every child of God sooner or later will bury a tear-stained face in the bosom of the Father and sob, “Why, oh why, oh why?”

The book of Job is unsurpassed as a piece of literature for its eloquence of language and poetic style. But more, it is a living, throbbing masterpiece on human experience, divine faithfulness, and satanic activity.

It is a treatise on “the mystery of affliction”. By this book out of the far distant past, God draws aside the veil between time and eternity. He permits us to view the royal court of heaven in session, the mighty power of Satan in action, and the whole gamut of human emotion, as a suffering man reacts to the deepest experiences of life.

It is not our purpose in this article to spend time critically examining this exquisite piece of ancient literature to discover who exactly Job was, nor when exactly he lived, nor who was the scribe inspired to pen the words. It is sufficient for the present purpose to affirm that Job was a real man. He was a man who lived and breathed, a man who passed through the mystifying experience of deep and seemingly unanswerable suffering.

It can also be affirmed that every saint whether now suffering, presently going to suffer, or who has gone through deep waters, may derive comfort for the soul, assurance for the mind, and revival for the heart by an examination of what God has revealed in this ancient book. It is, in fact, as up-to-date as tomorrow’s newspaper.

The book opens significantly and simply with the statement, “There was a man.” A simple division of it may present Job in four ways: JOB the MAN, JOB and his ENEMY, JOB and his FRIENDS, Job and his GOD.

Job The Man

As we read this book, we get to change the emphasis of the opening words. As we begin, we tend to stress the word “was”. There WAS a man…” But as we get into the book and come to its victorious conclusion, we find it better to put the stress on the first and the last words, “THERE was a MAN…” If ever there was a real man, it was Job. He surely was an outstanding specimen.

MORALLY, he was a man of INTEGRITY. These words are God’s testimony to his character. In relation to himself, Job was “perfect”. That does not mean at all that he was without sin. Only one man was ever impeccable — our beloved Lord Jesus. It simply means mature, fully developed, not only physically, but intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. He was, we might say, a well-rounded personality. In relation to other people, it is said that he was “upright”; that simply means that in all his dealings he was straight up and down. In relation to God, he “feared God”, a much needed emotion in our day, when men are seeking to humanize God and deify man, a day when familiarities are thrown at the Almighty as though He was but a man. We need a fresh view of the majesty and immensity of the God of the Bible.

The argument for familiarity is that we in this dispensation have an intimacy with God as a Father, and therefore can be more free with Him. It is doubtful if that reasoning would have impressed Saul of Tarsus as he lay blinded by glory on the Damascus turnpike, or old John, prostrate as dead on the Patmos rocks. No, the men who knew God as none of us have ever known Him — Moses, Isaiah, Daniel, and others — knew what the fear of God was. F.W. Faber wrote about it well:

My God, how wonderful Thou art,
Thy majesty how bright!
How beautiful Thy mercy seat,
In depths of burning light!

How dread are Thine eternal years,
O everlasting Lord,
By prostrate spirits day and night
Incessantly adored!

O how I fear Thee, living God,
With deepest, tend’rest fears,
And worship Thee with trembling hope,
And penitential tears!

In relation to the world around him, he “shunned evil”. His whole life was in balance. His relationships were right and mature.

MATERIALLY, he was a man of WEALTH. His treasures included a happy family, for God had given him seven sons and three daughters. Seven times a year they feasted, likely a kind of celebration on the birthday of each of the sons. Their closeness as a family is seen in that they never failed to invite their sisters. A close and happy family is great wealth indeed. He had also material wealth; sheep, camels, oxen, and asses in great numbers represented his worth. To administer and care for all this, he had a staff of servants — “a very great household.”

SOCIALLY, he was a man of RANK, “the greatest of all the men of the east.” SPIRITUALLY, he was a man of GOD. He sanctified his family. They all respected him, for when he sent to do this, they did not mock him nor scorn his spiritual exercise. He sacrificed for them; he interposed continually and realistically for them. He honestly recognized the possibility of their hearts. He had no blind infatuation for his family; he deeply loved them.

Now this was the man who came under such trial and perplexity, not because of his wealth, his standing, nor his lovely family. It was because of his spiritual character.

It becomes clear as we read this book that there is a lesson for us. If we seek to live for God, to have our lives developed and brought to maturity, if we endeavor to be righteous before men and shun that which is evil, then we virtually attract the attention of the enemy, and will come under attack in some way.

Job And His Enemy

At the very opening of this ancient book, we have seen a real man brought before us, “There was a man…” Now in verse six of chapter one we read, “There was a day…” What a significant day that was in the life of this man, but he did not know it then. We do, because God here draws aside the veil between time and eternity. We are permitted to view a session of the royal court of heaven.

Representatives of the angelic corps of ministering spirits present themselves before their Sovereign. It would appear that these angelic beings, “the sons of God,” have some sort of ministry relative to the human race and that they must give account of their activities.

In the midst of these appears a sinister figure, Satan himself. The words “in the midst” seem to imply or suggest concealment. But God knows he is there and calls him forth to answer some questions.

All unknown to Job, he became the battle ground between God and Satan that day. It is one thing to be IN the battle. But it is quite another to BE the battle. So God singles Satan out and challenges him with respect to Job. “Hast thou considered my servant Job …?” is the question. Now this “considering” is not simply a passing glance. It is a deep word with some feeling. “Hast thou watched him, examined him, walked around him, set thy heart on him?” What a picture of the adversary as a slavering lion, walking round the intended victim, seeking for an opening.

Some time ago, representatives of the World Council of Churches met in Florida. It was reported in the secular press that a poll had been taken of these religionists on certain Biblical matters. One question posed these people was, “Do you believe in a personal devil?” Over 80 per cent denied the reality of Satan. The reporter then went out on the streets of the city to ask the public the same questions. Overwhelmingly, the people acknowledged belief in the real personal presence and activity of Satan. The reported concluded that he had found more faith on the sidewalks of the city than in the representatives of the W.C.C. It is only half a step from denying the existence of Satan to denying the existence of God. It is the same volume that informs us of both.

Here is one man who had no doubts about the wiles and reality of Satan. While Job did not know at the time why he was suffering, God has revealed to us all that went on behind the scenes.

The Enemy

This is no mere influence, but a being with all the attributes of real personality. He is evil. Satan is no joking matter. He is no cartoon figure, dressed in red tights with pointed ears and a black mustache. He is mighty. Make no mistake about it. Satan is still the mightiest created being. Thank God, he is not almighty, but none-the-less he is invested with powers far beyond human capacities either to apprehend or overcome by ourselves. Even Michael, that great angel, would not bring a railing accusation against this evil one but said, “The Lord rebuke thee.” (Jude 9).

He is pictured in various ways in Scripture. At the beginning, we see him as a serpent, beguiling and defiling with the poison of sin. As a lion, he is frightening and devouring, walking about and roaring. As a wolf, he is scattering and destroying. But his most frightening and most dangerous aspect is as an angel of light, diverting and deceiving.

Satan has certain prerogatives still. He can enter the presence of God to rail against the saints. He attacks the people of God personally and directly or through his minions. He denies the proclamations of God. He still says today as he did at the beginning, “Yea, hath God said?”

As to his program, it is one of constant activity. His response to God’s first question was, “…going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it.” A spirit being alone does not walk, having by itself no body and therefore no legs. How then does he move? He “goes” as a spirit being and he “walks” in the bodies of all who are under his dominion and directives. His program is also one of cruel malignity. As an adversary, he speaks against the Lord’s own. Slander and lies and calumny are his stock in trade. Innuendo and gossip and clandestine and he operates mostly under a cloke of concealed identity. When the servant who escaped the fire that consumed the sheep and the other servants reported to Job, he called it “the fire of God… fallen from heaven.” But it was not divine, it was Satanic. So we should not be surprised in our day of unusual manifestations to hear again the ecstatic cry of some who are void of spiritual discernment, “the fire of God is fallen from heaven” when, if the truth were known, not all fire is of God and not all that is in the heavenlies is heavenly in character (Ephesians 6:12).

Satan’s prelude to the attack is first to malign Job’s motives. He insinuates that Job’s piety is dependent on his profit and his spirituality is bound up with his substance. Never-the less he acknowledges God’s protective barrier around His servant. He calls it a hedge. The word is a primitive one — to entwine, to fence in. Job uses it to describe his body as it hedges in his inner man (ch. 10:11). None can penetrate into the person within, and the man cannot, at will, step out beyond that fence. Now God gives Satan permission to attack all that surrounds Job, but “himself,” the person within, was to be preserved.

The First Attack

Satan begins by attacking Job’s source of commerce, his oxen and his asses. Thus he sought to ruin Job FINANCIALLY. Next Satan attacks Job’s source of comfort, his sheep, from which he derived both warmth and food. Thus he sought to distress Job MATERIALLY. The attack was on Job’s source of conveyance, his camels. He sought to isolate Job COMMERCIALLY. Next it was Job’s source of cooperation, his servants, that was destroyed. Now Satan seeks to disturb him DOMESTICALLY. Then the most cruel of all blows, Satan attacked Job’s source of consolation, his family. Now Satan seeks to wreck him EMOTIONALLY.

All that on one day! Little wonder that we read, “There was a day”! What a day! Job would never forget it as long as he lived. First in chapter one, the veil is withdrawn, then the hedge is withdrawn, then the blessings are withdrawn. Poor Job! What a sight that day as the sun went down; there is Job prostrate on the ground, head shaven and garment rent. Now surely Satan’s aim will be realized. What was that? The destruction of a man? No, more than that; it was to bring God under the curse of a man. It was really to rob God of praise and worship and the honor due to His holy name. Satan doesn’t mind what means he uses to gain his end, to rob God of His glory. He doesn’t mind how many humans suffer, nor how deeply they are brought into anguish, if only they will blaspheme God. Every attack on a child of God is really an attack against his God.

What then is Job’s initial response in that dark day of sorrow? How beautiful! “(he) fell down upon the ground and worshipped … blessed be the name of the Lord. In all this Job sinned not, nor attributed folly to God” (margin). Satan said he would curse God. But in Job’s heart there was humiliation, in his spirit worship, and on his lips blessing. Now we see the proper emphasis of verse one, “THERE was a MAN”.

“In all this…” — all this financial ruin, all this material loss, all this personal grief — “Job sinned not”.

So the initial attack failed. But the enemy does not give up easily. So we read in chapter 2:1, “Again there was a day…”, another day of challenge. This was not Satan challenging God, but God challenging Satan. God challenges Satan as to Job’s integrity (2:3), Now Satan responds by challenging God as to Job’s intentions.