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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Spiritual Warfare at the Highest Level

Okay, Job’s great trial ended well for him, things turned around completely, and his hard work paid off for him once again, But, why all of those months and months of agony? What was the point and why didn’t God step in and rescue Job, if He wasn’t interested in preventing the calamities altogether?

Lay aside your preconceptions of what you have decided may be the reason, keeping an open mind to what is about to be presented, please. Folks have written books about this very issue, and have drawn all sorts of conclusions.

Most common is the simple statement that no one really knows why bad things happen to good people, but, obviously, they do. Another conclusion is in agreement with Job’s friends…there is unconfessed sin somewhere and Job just needs to ‘fess up and repent to make everything better. A third view is that we were all born into a sinful world, so we can’t expect things to go smoothly for us during our sojourn on earth; it’s a training ground for Heaven, after all.

Actually, all of those points are valid to some extent; as is the point that God made it all, and God can do whatever He pleases with whatever he has made.

There is one view that has not been addressed in those possibilities. It is the one about which God shared with me long ago when I was going through my own Job-experience in an African jungle. God called it, “Spiritual Warfare at the highest level,” which is why I have changed the title of this post in the “Did God Abandon Job?” series.

The starting point for my presentation is the following important point: We live in the midst of two dynamic worlds—one the physical, we can see, and the second the spiritual, which is unseen, but frequently interfaces with our physical and emotional lives.

The spiritual world is not a belief system that you may choose to accept or reject. It is a real world, with real beings, created by the same God Who designed our physical world. God never intended the spiritual world to contain beings committed to evil and overthrowing Him. However, in that world, as in ours, those created by God have been given free will. To obey God is a matter of choice. If one chooses not to obey, then one has chosen to be thrown out of Heaven—or not inherit it, as is the case with those of us born into the physical world for the sojourn here.

Lucifer was the head of God’s worship team and of the same rank as Michael and Gabriel. However, that wasn’t enough for him. He wanted to be worshipped, not to lead others in worship of the Creator God. Lucifer’s name was changed to Satan when God threw him out of Heaven, though he was behaving like a Satan before the change of location.

Satan, which literally means adversary, made a decision to try to overthrow God. Sadly for one-third of the angels God had created to live with Him in heaven from the start, Satan’s charismatic persuasion drew them into his plan. They refused to repent, so God threw them all out of Heaven, with their leader—the former Lucifer.

Interestingly, when God called the angels to a meeting where each one gave an account of their activities, Satan was also there. That’s comforting on so many levels, not least among them the understanding that God was in control of what Satan did here on earth, even if Satan was thrown down here. Satan was never out of God’s control, even here on earth.

So, let’s see what happened that really started all of Job’s troubles.

One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”
Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:6-8)

Hmm? We all know what it is that Satan is doing as he roams around here on earth; he’s looking for God’s people to corrupt to bring them to his rebellious side. He’s out to prove to God that people really don’t want to submit to God’s authority, anymore than he and the other angels did.

God knows this, and God also knows the heart, as well as the practices of Job. God will prove that, once again, Satan is wrong. God does have people on earth who obey Him and recognize him as the almighty.

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” (Job 1:9-11)

At this point, we picture God shaking His head, saying something like, “No way, Satan; Job doesn’t deserve what you are proposing. He’s innocent of wrongdoing, and I’m committed to protecting him from you.”

But, alas, that’s not at all what happened. God didn’t push Job behind His back and stand between Job and the evil adversary, though God certainly could have done that. God had another plan.

What a painful decision this must have been for God. He loved Job so much, and knew that it would be a really hard thing for Job to go through; but God also knew that his faithful servant would come through it with his integrity intact. God accepted Satan’s challenge, though God set a limit to what He would let  His adversary do. The battle had begun, and Job’s heart for his possessions and children was the battlefield.

The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. (Job1:12)

Satan rallied his former-angelic troops, now called demons or evil spirits, and gave them specific instructions. At the end of one day, Satan and his forces had totally decimated Job’s life. All of his thousands of sheep and camels were gone; all of his hundreds of oxen and donkeys taken. The human toll was even greater as only one servant of all his workers in each of the four areas of loss survived to tell him. Job’s own children—all seven sons and three daughters—had died when his eldest son’s house collapsed on them.

How, but by God’s grace, did Job keep from having a heart attack at such catastrophic devastation happening in one, single day? Truly, God must have strengthened Job. Satan was commanded not to lay a finger on Job’s body, but such incredible news would have been the death of a man under normal circumstances, without any additional help from the adversary.

Regardless of the pain this would cause the man God so loved, He didn’t step in and stop the carnage or thieving marauders.  He’d given His word to let Satan take all that Job had; it was Satan who was the deceiver, not Almighty God.

Job did tear his clothing at the news of the loss of his children, but the words out of Job’s mouth were to worship God. Job accepted that God had taken back all that He had given to him. At the end of the account, the Bible records the following:

In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (Job 1:22)

God had been proven right about Job. He didn’t curse God or leave his own integrity behind when all of his material possessions were lost, or when the human toll included his own children. Job passed the test and the first battle over Job’s loyalty to God was won.

That would have been enough for me, but the war between good and evil was not over yet. The next battle was right around the corner. The bible doesn’t tell us how much time elapsed between the first and second battles, but Chapter Two recorded Round Two.

On another day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. And the LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”
Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” (Job 2:1-3)

Now would be a great time for God to puff out his chest and brag on Job just a bit, but He didn’t do that. God just stated the simple facts. He knew what was coming.

“Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” (Job 2:4-5)

Things were about to get even worse for poor ol’ Job! At this point, I saw clearly just what I wanted God to do. I mean, I had once rammed a large splinter of  wood under my fingernail-from the tip right down into the nailbed—and I knew I’d confess to whatever anyone wanted me to say, if they only promised to get that agonizing splinter out of my finger. (Take note here: Never tell me any secrets.)

But God knew Job. I picture God taking a deep breath here and then speaking, but it’s the writer in me, nothing to verify that He did.

The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”
So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. (Job 2:6-7)

God set Job’s continued living as the boundary, but when Job was in such agony, I’m pretty sure Job meant it when he cried out to God to end his life so the suffering would stop. In any case, the Bible records Job’s response to his wife’s suggestion that he curse God and die with the following question:

“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. (Job 2:10)

How God must have longed to step in and relieve Job’s pain! But, God had given His word that Satan could afflict Job, sparing only his life. God was confident that Job would pass the test; He knew him inside and out. That didn’t mean that God felt nothing at the sight of Job’s misery. We understand that God’s compassionate character dictates He suffered, too.

Since we’ve read the end of the story already, we know that Job succeeded in finishing his great trial well…he never said anything that offended God. Never.

The previous post dealt with God’s response to Job, as well as His handling of the sin of Job’s three friends, so it won’t be repeated here. Since God was responding to what each man said, we know that God hadn’t abandoned Job, technically. God was there watching and listening from the moment He gave Satan permission to attack Job.

The fact that Job could live through such calamity with his integrity intact, continuing to worship God through every trial, encourages us that God was strengthening Job.

In II. Chronicles, we read that God’s own eyes search the whole world, strengthening the hearts of those who are fully committed to Him. (II. Chr. 16:9) There was no one on earth more fully committed to God than Job, so we can be sure God was right there, strengthening him during the trial. God didn’t remove it; God didn’t interrupt it, but God strengthened Job to make it through to victory.

Again, for the third and final man featured in the question of God and Abandonment, the answer is a resounding, “No!” God never abandoned Job.

The issue for Job was one of spiritual warfare. The battle was going on between God and the adversary, and Job was, in fact, the battlefield. God trusted Job to hang in there and not deny Him.

In the next post, we’ll see how the adversary persuaded Job’s three friends to aid in the battle against God.

****Spiritual Warfare at the Highest Level, Conclusion…Next Post

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