See Part 2 here

7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. 9 Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (James 5:7-11, NIV)

Patient Job

One of many proverbial sayings that came into the English language from the King James Bible (AV) is ‘the patience of Job’:

Ye have heard of the patience of Job. (James 5:11)

Such is the patience of Job, and it doesn’t stop there. For God has not finished ‘taking.’

Once, when a person was described in this way, it meant they were unflappable, even-tempered and self-controlled—a person who remained cool, calm and collected, even when facing extreme pressure, or on-going frustrations of various kinds.

And indeed, such a description fits with what we see in Job 1-2. When he loses everything in one fell swoop; when all ten of his children die in a terrible accident; when he is robbed by marauders and his live-stock are decimated by ‘natural’ disaster; when all his servants are murdered; how does Job respond?

Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.’ (Job 1:20-21)

Everything, including my very life, says Job, has been given to me by my Maker. I came into the world with nothing, and I will leave the world in the same way.

Such is the patience of Job, and it doesn’t stop there. For God has not finished ‘taking.’

More Dead than Alive

There is another proverbial saying—one not found in the Bible—‘As long as you’ve got your health, that’s all that matters.’ If that ‘saying is sure,’ there is no hope left in this story, because the next scene describes Job being afflicted with a disease that eats away at his flesh; leaving him feeling more dead than alive (2:4-8). Mrs Job, understandably, finds it hard to make sense of it all. She just wants it all to be over: ‘Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!’ she says (2:9).

Job has lost everything; and this now includes his health. How does patient Job respond this time?

You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?’ In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. (2:10)

The strength of the phrase, ‘Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?’ is something like, ‘shall we make use of/profit from only the good things that God gives us, and not (literally) ‘the evil’ He sends us as well?’

While the agency of Satan and his own destructive intention against Job and the Lord is plain in these chapters (1:6-12 & 2:1-7), Job firmly believes, and the book clearly teaches, that we do not live in a dualistic universe: God is in control; and Satan can only do what God permits him to do, and what finally serves the Lord’s good purpose (1:8, 11-12, 16 & 2:1, 3, 5-6 cf. 42:11).

As before, Job highlights God’s sovereignty—his lordship over all life and death. Everything the Lord gives to human beings is in line with His purpose for us—including any suffering we might experience. Job refuses to forgo the opportunity to profit from it—even from these terrible events.

Impassioned Job

When read in this light James 5:11, (‘ye have heard of the patience of Job,’ AV) does sound apt. This was the man that Job’s three comforters were happy to sit with, sharing in his time of mourning for seven days and seven nights (2:11-13). But when we turn the page to chapter three we seem to meet a very different person.

After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth …
Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb?…
Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul?…
Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?…
(Job 3:1, 11, 20, 23, NIV)

‘Why, why, why?’ Job’s testimony to God’s action in his creation and ongoing experience of life with God now sounds strained, confused, sad and angry. Job has a lot to say; and he doesn’t hold back from sharing it with his friends (and ultimately with his Maker).

All was well with me, but God shattered me; He seized my neck and crushed me.
He has made me His target …
I have sewed sackcloth over my skin and buried my brow in the dust.
My face is red with weeping, dark shadows ring my eyes;
yet my hands have been free from violence and my prayer is pure. (16:12, 15-17)

‘God has alienated my family from me; my acquaintances are completely estranged from me … My breath is offensive to my wife; I am loathsome to my own family.’ (19:13, 17)

What happened to ‘patient Job’? He used to be so godly, so measured and calm; in control. But now hear him; screaming out to God … It’s undignified, it’s embarrassing

What happened to ‘patient Job’? That’s what his friends want to know: ‘He used to be so godly, so measured and calm; in control. But now hear him; screaming out to God like a baby in his cradle screams out for his mother. It’s undignified, it’s embarrassing; and, what’s more, it’s impious. What a terrible example for this once great leader to be setting for God’s people. It’s downright ungodly! Job, do you really think that God is going to answer you when you talk to Him like that?’ (e.g. 4:1-6; 8:1-7; 15:1-6 etc)

This is all very confusing. The one crying out in chapter after chapter of the dialogues—seemingly skirting the knife’s edge of faith and unbelief: could this be the same pious person we met in the Prologue? Maybe James got Job wrong; or maybe he was only interested in the first part of the story?

‘You have heard of Job’s endurance’

The answer to this question comes in part when we take a closer look at James 5:11. The word translated in verse 11 of the AV as patience is different to that used in James 5:7, 8 & 10, and is better translated: perseverance (NIV) /steadfastness (ESV)/ endurance (NASB). That is, ‘you have heard of Job, the one who clung for dear life to God and refused to let go: the one who hung in there; he kept going.’

Job’s suffering included, first, a severe illness that resulted in relentless pain during the day and night and, second, what can only be described as deep dark depression. When Job did manage to sleep, he had fevered nightmares that left him even more exhausted when he awoke (e.g. 7:1-5). Job described his experience as one in which God, who once lovingly formed him in his mother’s womb, now seemed bent on dismantling him piece by piece (10:8-12). It is as though Job was gradually disintegrating; becoming indistinguishable from the rubbish dump on the outside of town that he sat on; returning to the dust from which he was formed (30:16-19). Job became unrecognisable to his closest friends (2:12 cf. 30:9-15). It was hard even for his wife to be in his presence because of his misery, and the foul stench of his living decay (19:17).

Job was a believer—his greatest torture was that of his doubt: his sudden uncertainty concerning his relationship with God.

Unsurprisingly, the person who went through all this was not always meek and mild-mannered; mister cool. He was not a passionless block of wood impervious to pain. Job was a believer—someone who had long known God’s holiness, mercy, justice and love (1:1-5 cf. chs 29 & 31)—so his greatest torture was that of his doubt: his sudden uncertainty concerning his relationship with God.

What does God think of Job?

Fast-forward to the end of the book; and we get another big surprise. God did finally break his silence. When He does so it is as the sovereign LORD; creator and sustainer of all there is (38-41). He then gives His verdict on all those many words spoken by Job and the friends:

After the LORD had said these things to Job, He said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.’ (42:7, repeated in v.8)

What about all of those complaints, those questions and accusations that Job directed towards God? They were the questions of a believer. They were questions that emerged from a genuine and sincere relationship with God. They were the words of one who (as God had said at the beginning) feared the LORD. They were the words of a desperate and dependent trust: of faith. As Don Carson writes,

Job wrestles with God, he is indignant with God, he challenges God to come before him and provide some answers; but all his struggles are the struggles of
a believer. This is why Job can be praised, by God Himself, for saying the right things; at least he spoke within the right framework. His miserable friends did not.

Lindsay Wilson agrees:

Job models turning to God, first in submission [1:21-22; 2:9-10], and then in lament and complaint. Yet he never turns away from God, for he knows that despite God’s apparent absence and silence, God is the one who can meet the sufferer’s deepest longings.[2]

The Lord is full of Compassion and Mercy

James’ explanation of the message of the book doesn’t finish with the example of the enduring faith of Job. Because, more than anything else, the book of Job is about the compassion and mercy of God.

As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (James 5:11)

Job is confronted, humbled and finally comforted by the awesome and sovereign ruler of creation. The last word of this God for His servant, as it is for all of His children, is not one of suffering and struggle, but of superabundant blessing; of life and fullness (42:10-17).

The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part …
And so Job died, an old man and full of years.’ (42:12, 17)

The LORD God, creator of heaven and earth, revealed in the book of Job—and more completely, in the person of Jesus—is the merciful and compassionate one. He is the one worth waiting for.

[1] D.A. Carson, How Long O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil, (Grand Rapids Mi: Baker Book House, 1992), 160-1.

[2] Lindsay Wilson, Job. (Grand Rapids Mi: THOTC; William B. Eerdmans 2015), 214.