Understanding Adversity—Lesson from Job
The experience of Job indicates that recognizing adversity as an attack from the devil is an important step in seeking God’s guidance and direction and ultimately defeating the adversity and the temptation that it represents. If a person lives in the image of God, representing God among other people and fulfilling his/her responsibilities as God’s provider assistant, then an adversity in the person’s life is more likely a temptation instead of punishment for wrongdoing. We learn from Job’s experience that the appropriate response is to declare war against the devil by renewing your commitment to worship and serve God.
We begin a bible study series on Responding to Adversity, with intention to study events and personalities described in the bible to gain insight into what a Christian should do when facing adversity. The current study examines the temptation of Job to expand understanding of the nature of adversity. Job was an upright, blameless, and successful man: “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil” [Job 1:1]. Yet, he suddenly came under a storm of adversity that included losing his children and every earthly possession.
Job’s experience indicates adversity may befall anyone, even a person that has done nothing wrong. His adversity was a temptation whereby the devil attempted to pull him away from God by destroying his earthly comfort and happiness: “But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face” [Job 1:11]. God permitted the devil to tempt Job within a wide but limited scope: “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person” [Job 1:12]. Therefore, we learn from this account that God protects us from temptation but may permit the devil to tempt a person. The devil may in that case choose how to tempt the person. He chose to rain adversity on Job in the study example.
Recognizing adversity as temptation will affect how a person responds. Because Job was upright and blameless, he most likely recognized the adversity as temptation and, thus responded by focusing on his relationship with God and leaving it all with him in prayer [Job 1:21]: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Also, we have encountered previous studies that showed adversity as a springboard to launch a person onto another phase of life with opportunities of great significance. Notable examples include the experience of Joseph in Joseph Called to Mission and Ruth in Ruth Joins Naomi, among several others. There also are cases of adversity befalling a person as punishment for wrongdoing: a possible example being the revolt in David’s family during his reign as king of Israel in Absalom Rises Against His Father David.
This study focuses on the experience of Job to learn that adversity may befall a person as temptation at pulling the person away from God. Recognizing the adversity as such will help fortify the person to respond by relying more on his/her relationship with God. A person that lives in the image of God (e.g., Job’s reputation as upright and blameless) will more likely recognize an adversity as temptation, instead of punishment for some wrongdoing. Thus, he/she will be better prepared to respond positively.
God Permits Satan to Tempt Job
Satan sought permission to tempt Job, claiming that Job’s commitment to God would crumble if his wealth and happiness were taken away. He roams through the earth and “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” [1 Peter 5:8] and selects potential candidates for temptation based on his chosen criteria. He selected Job because of his reputation of being “blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil” [Job 1:1]. God did not mind Satan tempting Job, gave him unlimited power over Job’s earthly possession, but no access to his body and soul: “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person” [Job 1:12]. Thus, God permitted Satan to tempt Job through everything he had but denied him permission to hurt Job’s body or soul.
He extended the permission later when Satan presented a second request on Job after a first round of temptation. This time, God gave him access to Job’s body but denied him access to his soul: “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life” [Job 2:6].
GOD PROTECTS FROM TEMPTATION The temptation of Job conveys a message that God protects us from temptation. He places a shield around every person that Satan cannot penetrate unless God permits him. Christ taught us to request the shield (renew our request for it) every time we pray: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” [Matthew 6:13]. He may permit the devil to tempt a person but defines limits for each temptation. Also, we learn based on Job’s temptation that God knows about every temptation. The temptation plan is hatched and delivered by Satan, but God knows about it. Therefore, although temptation comes from Satan, we can interact with and petition God directly regarding a temptation.
PURPOSE OF TEMPTATION God may permit the devil to tempt a person to accomplish a purpose. His purpose for Job’s temptation is not stated in the passage, but could have been to frustrate the devil, in this case by letting him try and fail to overcome Job’s faith. His purpose for temptation also could be to fortify a person spiritually while guiding him/her toward greater purpose.
For example, in Joseph Called to Mission, we recall Joseph’s experience through severe personal hardship as he transitioned from an ordinary teenager in Canaan to the highest administrative officer in Egypt under Pharaoh and conveyor of deliverance for the young nation of Israel. Also, in Ruth Joins Naomi, we recall a young woman losing her husband early in their marriage and choosing to live with her mother-in-law to face likely penury and perpetual unmarried life. However, her choice took her into marriage to a wealthy grain farmer and together they became grandparents in the lineage of the Messiah.
The temptation of Job indicates that God knows about, therefore, has a purpose for, every temptation. The examples from Joseph and Ruth indicate that a temptation could represent a great opportunity for a person. Every temptation is indeed an opportunity to interact with God. Because he knows about the temptation and may have permitted it to accomplish a purpose, it is important to seek his guidance and direction even for a temptation of great severity and pain. He will guide you through the temptation to accomplish his purpose if you seek his guidance.
Adversity through External Agents
The devil attacked Job through human and non-human agents that had access to him. He did not tempt him directly, such as trying to convince him to do something inconsistent with worshiping God. Instead, he used Sabean raiders against his oxen and donkeys [Job 1:14–15]; mysterious fire against his sheep [Job 1:16]; Chaldean raiders against his camels [Job 1:17]; and severe weather against his children [Job 1:18–19]. The events happened in quick succession, giving Job no time to respond. He did not go after the perpetrators, even where he could have, such as by ordering an army against the Sabean or Chaldean raiders. He apparently recognized the adversity as temptation and decided to respond by going to God in prayer.
If a person lives in the image of God, representing God among other people and fulfilling his/her responsibilities as God’s provider assistant, then an adversity in the person’s life is more likely a temptation instead of punishment for wrongdoing. Job readily recognized the rain of adversity as temptation. Because he lived upright and blameless, feared God, and shunned evil, we can surmise that he had no concern that any of the events might be a punishment for something he did wrong. Instead, he recognized them as temptation and, therefore, an opportunity to interact with God.
In complete surrender to God, he tore his robe, shaved his head, fell down in worship, and declared his resignation to God as follows [Job 1:20–21]: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” He knew God was aware of his temptation and had a purpose for it. He did not understand the purpose, but accepted it with faith. He responded as he did, because he recognized his adversity was not a random act of wickedness or hard luck but a planned attack by an enemy intent on disrupting his commitment to God. He also recognized that God was fully aware. Therefore, he decided to defend himself against the enemy by surrendering at God’s feet.
Recognizing an adversity as temptation affects the person’s state of mind in responding to the adversity. Adversity could represent punishment for wrongdoing, such as Prophet Nathan announced to David after his interaction with Uriah’s wife (as we discuss in David and Bathsheba). To respond to such adversity, one needs to repent and ask for forgiveness, thereby renewing your commitment to worship and serve God. However, when the devil delivers a temptation through adversity, such as he did to Job, then the adversity is a call to war. Recognizing an adversity as temptation will likely rekindle a desire to beat the temptation. Such adversity represents an attempt by the devil to draw a person away from God, by diverting or reducing a person’s focus on something good that he/she is doing or about to do. Recognizing an adversity as an attack from the devil is an important step in seeking God’s guidance and direction and ultimately defeating the adversity and the temptation that it represents.
Summary of What We Learned
The devil may tempt a person by generating adversity for him/her. For example, Job was tempted initially through the adversity of losing his children and all earthly possession in quick succession. He recognized the adversity as temptation and fought by renewing his commitment to worship and serve God. His experience indicates that recognizing adversity as an attack from the devil is an important step in seeking God’s guidance and direction and ultimately defeating the adversity and the temptation that it represents. If a person lives in the image of God, representing God among other people and fulfilling his/her responsibilities as God’s provider assistant, then an adversity in the person’s life is more likely a temptation instead of punishment for wrongdoing. We learn from Job’s experience that the appropriate response to such adversity is to declare war against the devil.