In this week’s sermon, the historical dating and literary criticism is commented on in the beginning. For the rest of the lesson, the role of Satan in the Book of Job is covered.
To review the last lesson in one sentence, Job is a book about why evil exists and how God works it for His glory. Remember, “evil is bad, but it is good to have evil.” We will explore how God makes this work.
This is a very difficult topic, so I ask that you prayerfully consider the teaching of the Scripture here and to ask questions in light of what is being taught. Please pray for me, that I may be teaching truthfully.
The Book of Job is not about a man who sinned against God, and God punished him; or about a man whose faith necessarily needed pruning at the moment. Rather, Job is a man who is clothed in the righteousness of Christ and has confidence that he has a righteousness that is not his own, and yet by God’s sovereign hand is thrusted into suffering. The book is about why righteous people suffer. This is something that many faithful Christians with sick children, money problems, and other issues deal with on a daily basis.
Job shows us what happens behind the scenes. Unbeknownst to us as well as Job when we suffer, all of us are in the middle of a gigantic spiritual battle between God and Satan. When God asks Satan what he is up to, he replies that he is merely “roaming about on the earth and walking around on it” (Job 1:7). Just what does he mean? The Scripture says, “The devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We should presume “roaming” is a euphemism for prowling.
Who is Satan? He is “the Accuser,” which is what “Satan” means in Hebrew. Living up to his name, he accuses Job’s piety of being phony when God broaches the topic:
The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him” (Job 1:8-12).
God is the instigator. It may seem odd that God and Satan appear to be getting along at some level–this implies that this whole episode has happened more than once. God asks a leading question to Satan and being that He knows the future, already anticipates Satan’s response. The conclusion is inescapable: God had sought to create this whole episode around Job while Satan seeks to exploit God in His “moment of weakness” and prove God wrong. Of course it is foolish that Satan thinks He could prove the One whose “understanding is infinite” (Psalm 147:5) wrong, but apparently he views this as an opportunity too good to pass up.
Satan’s motivation is obvious: he wants to drag Job to Hell with him and prove that his temptation to sin by turning his back on God is stronger than the resolve God puts in a man to be faithful.
God’s possible motivations are not as clear, though from other parts of the Scripture we can infer the following possibilities:
- God had Job go through this experience knowing that it would be instructive. Oftentimes, we suffer because it puts us in the position to help others when they go through suffering. Elsewhere in the Scripture it says that bad things have happened to people in history so that it can teach us:
For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea…Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved (1 Cor 10: 1, 6).
- The episode with Job was an opportunity in which to glorify Himself and deal Satan another defeat. We do not always view the world this way, but that’s because we wrongly think the world revolves around us.
Let’s take an opposite example: our election. We may feel that God elects us because He loved us too much to go to Hell. However, God desires that all men come to repentance (1 Tim 2:4), so He has compassion for everyone. Yet, not all men are saved.
What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory (Rom 9:22-23).
In other words, God puts up with those who will not be saved so His glory is seen in all its greatness in the eyes of those in whom God had mercy. Hence, He saved whom He wills for His sake, not ours. God reminds us again and again that He does not show mercy or love to us “for your sake, people of Israel, … but for the sake of My holy name” (Ezek 36:22).
So, if God forgives us not because we are more deserving of compassion but rather for His glory, why can’t God cause us to suffer also for His glory? It’s a two way street.
Satan’s accusation is simple: “[N]o one is doing right who acts unwillingly, even if what he does is good in itself” (Saint Augustine, Confessions). Anthony Burgess had the same idea in A Clockwork Orange. People are not good even if their works are, because if someone is good out of compulsion then he is just acting out of fear of punishment or desire for reward. Hence, the accusation is that Job is acting pious, but his motivations are not. True piety would mean loving God whether or not He blessed you.
If Job is a phony, then can any man ever offer God true worship and devotion? Satan’s accusation, if true, destroys any pretense of a legitimate relationship man can have with God. These are very high stakes.
Why would God allow such a devious accuser to exist? Satan [unbeknownst to him] works for God. It appears when God intends for trial or evil to befall a man, God takes an active role in regulating the extent where Satan can operate. So, this means that evil itself is not outside the control of God.
God is “not the author of evil,” so He created Satan so that he would do evil and that it could be regulated in the sense that good could come out of it. Even though this is true, we can be assured of His perfect righteousness and total lack of evil: “For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil dwells with You” (Psalm 5:4).
Remember, God is not evil, because he brings good out of evil. However, we cannot avoid the clear Scriptural teaching that God wants the temporary existence of evils. For example, though we know that He does not take pleasure in wickedness, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so as to bring judgment upon him. It would seem to us that the better course, and thereby less evil one, would be to not harden his heart so he would have been less evil to the Israelites.
Some people are not comfortable with the idea that God directly hardens hearts, because that sounds like God is directly causing evil instead of indirectly using Satan to entice men to do the evil that they want to do anyway. Theologians R.C. Sproul and Mark Kielar argue that God does not actually harden anyone’s heart, rather, He withdraws grace from the unbeliever so the depths of the already present evil in that person’s heart in effects harden’s that own person’s heart. “All that God must do to harden anyone’s heart is to withhold His own grace; that is, He gives a person over to himself,” says Sproul. So, God really initiates the hardening, but doesn’t really do it.
Is there truth to this? Martin Luther made an useful illustration of how this all works in accordance with God’s will:
Since, therefore, God moves and does all in all, He necessarily moves and does all in Satan and the wicked man. But He so does all in them, as they themselves are, and as He finds them: that is, as they are themselves averse and evil, being carried along by that motion of the Divine Omnipotence, they cannot but do what is averse and evil. Just as it is with a man driving a horse lame on one foot, or lame on two feet; he drives him just so as the horse himself is; that is, the horse moves badly. But what can the man do? He is driving along this kind of horse together with sound horses; he, indeed, goes badly, and the rest well; but it cannot be otherwise, unless the horse be made sound (Section LXXXIV, Bondage of the Will, emphasis added).
Total Depravity is an essential doctrine. Luther’s, Sproul’s, and Kieler’s contention is God can shove the man to the left, to the right, or in any way. The man’s response, in his natural state, is only evil. So, the default response of man is evil and if God merely taps him, under this theory, the reflex to the tap will be evil. If man is always evil, apart from God willing by His grace to create a new nature in a man that is not evil but good, then God is totally unconnected to the evil that exists in the heart of man.
How do we break the chain of total depravity? The opposite of our total depravity is what Augustine calls “Grace Upon Grace.” In Augustine’s On Free Will and Grace, Augustine exegeted John 1:16, which states that “we all have received grace upon grace,”to mean that God gives us the grace of faith, which is a good work. God blesses those who do good. So, as a response to the good He put in the man, He gives the man more grace to do even more good as a reward for the good within man. It becomes a beneficial snowball effect in man and God is just in His blessing.
Back to Total Depravity: the opposite of grace upon grace is punishment upon punishment in Rom 1. The men who “though they knew God, they did not honor Him” were punished for this lack of honor by having God “darken” their hearts (Rom 1:21). As a result, those men “[p]rofessing to be wise…became fools” (Rom 1:22). In response, “God gave them over in the lusts” already existing in “their hearts to” increased “impurity” (Rom 1:24). As a response to impurity in their hearts God “gave them over” to acting upon “their degrading passions” (Rom 1:26). So, man starts out as evil. In response to this, God punishes the man by allowing the man to act upon the lusts in his heart. Because that lust is itself wicked, God punishes the man yet again by handing the man over to increased evil.
Nothing separates those with grace or punishment. Those with grace upon grace were changed by the grace of God, and therefore reaped good fruits. Otherwise, they would be like the men of Rom 1, who without grace will dishonor God.
It could be any one of us. Don’t say, “I can’t be that stupid and let myself hate God and be dragged through the gutter like that.” No! Apart from the grace of God, we are all that stupid. Look at the Apostles:
Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again.” But the disciples understood none of these things, and the meaning of this statement was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said (Luke 18:31-33).
Left to ourselves we cannot understand. By simply not giving us knowledge, God can withhold the meaning of statements to us. In the same way, without giving us grace, we are handed over to our own evil.
This is how God exploits Satan: He permits him to tempt men that want to be tempted and sin. The Biblical explanation is very close to what Luther talks about when he says, “He necessarily moves and does all in Satan and the wicked man.” God unleashes Satan on those in whom He wishes to harden. So, God does not do evil, but he allows Satan to tempt the man to evil by affecting his physical circumstances and playing to his emotions.
Our clearest example of this is 2 Samuel 24:1 where it says:
Now again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”
The parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 21:1 gives us even more insight:
Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.
What do we know from this? God desired to punish Israel, so the Lord’s anger incited David to commit sin and do a census. The parallel passage in Chronicles tells us how: Satan moved David’s heart to do so.
Remember, “God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13). This interpretation allows God to use Satan to tempt people to sin, but God does not directly do it Himself. “The Tempter” is a name for Satan in Matt 4:3 and 1 Thes 3:5, after all.
Satan is an idiot. He is not trying to purposely accomplish the purposes of God. He is in the business of tempting and devouring souls. Yet, God puts limits on Satan’s power in the world. Even though Satan is “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4) and “ruler of this world” (John 12:31), he can’t do absolutely anything he wants here.
In the Book of Job Satan accuses God of putting a “hedge” (Job 1:10) around Job, in effect protecting Job from demonic assaults. To test Job’s resolve, God purposely removes the hedge (Job 1:11, 12) knowing what Satan would do. God often does this to all of us, to see what is in our hearts. This happened to Hezekiah when he sinned by proudly showing his wealth to Babylonian emissaries, who would later report about it and marshall forces to conquer Jerusalem: “God left him alone only to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart” (2 Chron 32:31).
Hedge Removal and Grace Withdrawal. This should give us a window into what God’s “withdrawal of grace,” that R.C. Sproul speculates of, is all about. The removing of the hedge is the removing of grace. The protective hedge, therefore, is the grace God gives to protect people from demonic assault.
In fact, what happened to Job also happened to Peter too. In Luke 22:31-34 Jesus says:
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” But he said to Him, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!” And He said, “I say to you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.”
In both events, Satan asked for permission to destroy the respective Saint. God interceded for both (for Peter so that his faith may not fail) and Job (that he may be preserved him from death.) Both performed wickedness when grace was withdrawn (Peter denied Christ and Job impugned God’s motives.)
As a side note, even though God is sovereign over whether we will commit evil, it is only because He can prevent us from doing it. So, our responsibility is to pray “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” and to “resist the devil” so that “he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
Take confidence, we can overcome temptation by God’s grace like Job. There may be no hope for unsaved people like Pharaoh to resist demonic temptation, but this is not true of God’s people. The Scripture says: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13).