Jehovah Gave, Jehovah has Taken Away; Blessed Be Jehovah’s Name

In a single day, Job’s wealth and livelihood, as well as his ten children about whom he cared very deeply are simply gone. In light of these enormous tragedies, what is his response?

Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. Jehovah gave, and Jehovah has taken away; blessed be the Name of Jehovah.” In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong. [Job 1:20-22]

Even when afflicted by the painful boils, he simply says, “’Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips” [Job 2:10].

Is this truly a realistic response to such heartbreak, or is this simply a contrived scenario merely as a tool to set the scene for the rest of the book? A more modern example might be found in the story of the hymn “It is Well with My Soul”:

As a young man Horatio G Spafford had established a most successful legal practice in Chicago. Despite his financial success, he was described by George Stebbins, a noted Gospel musician, as a “man of unusual intelligence and refinement, deeply spiritual, and a devoted student of the Scriptures.”
Some months prior to the Chicago Fire of 1871, Spafford had invested heavily in real estate on the shore of Lake Michigan, and his holdings were wiped out by this disaster. Just before this he had experienced the death of his son. In 1873, he attempted to lift the spirits of his family by taking them on a vacation to Europe and also to assist Moody and Sankey in one of their Great Britain evangelistic campaigns. Due to unexpected last minute business, he had to remain in Chicago; but sent his wife and daughters on ahead, planning to follow in a few days.
Off the Irish coast, the Villa du Havre was struck by the Lochearn and sank in twelve minutes. All four Spafford daughters drowned. Finally landing at Cardiff, Wales, Mrs. Spafford cabled her husband, “Saved alone.”
Spafford left by ship to join his bereaved wife. As the ship passed about where his daughters had drown, with the verse, “He makes all things work together for good to them that love the Lord” (Rom 8:28) in mind, Spafford penned this hymn with words so significantly describing his own personal grief, “When sorrows like sea billows roll…” Yet Spafford focused attention in the third stanza on the redemptive work of Christ and in the fourth verse anticipated His glorious second coming. Able to overcome such personal tragedies and sorrows, Horatio Spafford could still say with such convincing clarity, “It is well with my soul.”

Another example is the hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God”:

Martin Rinkart was called to pastor his native town of Eilenberg in 1617, just as Europe’s 30 year religious war began. Famine and deadly diseases raged throughout the land. As a walled city, people from all around sought refuge in Eilenberg and overcrowding exaggerated the famine and pestilence. The Rinkart home served as a refuge for afflicted victims, even though it is said that Martin Rinkart often had difficulty in providing food and clothing for his own family.
The plague of 1637 was particularly severe. The superintendent left and two other clergymen died, Rinkart alone was left to minister to the city, sometimes preaching burial services for forty or more persons in one day. His wife died from the pestilence, and he himself fell ill, but survived. That year he buried 4480 people, indeed the population of Germany itself was reduced from 16 million to 6 million during these years. So when Rinkard wrote, “guide us when perplexed,“ truly he was not talking about minor inconveniences. Yet, he remained a faithful and caring pastor, tending to the sick and hungry.
Twice he dissuaded the Swedish army from imposing excessive tribute on these already impoverished people, yet he received little gratitude by the city authorities and was much harassed by them. He died exhausted on December 8, 1649. In the midst of suffering and death, looking to his Savior, he wrote sixty-six hymns, particularly this one thanking God for the many blessings given to His People, the so-called Te Deum of Germany: “Now Thank We All Our God.”

So can the story of Job’s submission to God’s will, moreover his praise of Him, be humanly possible? The answer is a quite pronounced “yes!” However, “submission” is a rather fickle word. One might see “submission” as a feeble resignation of a hopeless victim to what can seem to be a capricious God. After all, the Creator can and will do whatever He wishes – who is to stop Him?

But that interpretation of Job sells him short. Him response can also be one of confidence, the assurance of a person who knows with Whom he is dealing. In Chapter 19, on one hand he describes his feelings in that his three “friends” persecute him as God does [v 22], and yet he responds to this his very own statement declaring:
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Oh that my words were now written; oh that they were inscribed in a book and were engraved with an iron pen and lead in rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and in the end He shall arise over the dust; and after my skin is destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see none other than God (Whom I shall see for myself and my eyes shall behold). How my heart yearns within me! [vv 23-27]

Just like with Spafford and Rinkard, the edge of suffering is very real to him, yet it is also blunted by how the picture is far greater than just these surrounding moments. Although there is a very great unknown to his suffering (Jehovah never tells him why all this is happening to him), there is also resurrection and eternity to be factored in and he expects this same God to be his Redeemer.

The Hebrew word for “Redeemer” is an interesting one: it is used for the special “family office” of what might be called the “Blood balancer,” the Go’el. This is the person who redeems a family member who has been sold into slavery and is the “avenger” when life is taken from the family [Numbers 35:12-27; Deuteronomy 19:1-12; Joshua 20:1-9]. It is the world of choice when God declares He will “redeem” Israel from the slavery of Egypt [Exodus 6:6; 15:13]. In the Book of Ruth, Boaz holds the office and his task is to see that the Bloodline of Elimelech is restored [Ruth 3:9, 12-13; 4:1-8], and the baby that now reestablishes the Bloodline is himself called a Go’el [4:14]. Of course, the Psalms use the word especially in regard to the Lord [for example, 69:18; 74:2; 103:4; 106:10]. The Go’el’s mission is not so much focused on retribution but rather to return life and the family back into balance.

Job therefore indicates that there will come a day in which all shall be brought back into balance: the loss of life, the suffering, the grief, and especially his own life – he will be redeemed so that he for himself shall see God; and will also be avenged against the one who has brought such suffering and loss of life to his family.

As a contemporary to Abraham, is he also given the awareness which Abraham is given [Genesis 22:1-19], where the Redeemer will ultimately be God’s own only Son as the Lamb of sacrifice – where Jehovah here, although not doing the deed (and Satan will ultimately be punished), still in the end holds final responsibility and therefore will avenge the loss of life upon Himself to bring life back into balance?

This may express the thought in Hebrews 6:13, “For God, having made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore on His own Self,” where the Lord makes Himself both Participant and Overseer of His relationship to Abraham, where He holds Himself accountable for His promises and relationship to humans, even to where it ultimately will cost Him His own Life. With humans being both participant and overseer does not work very well, but God demonstrates that He will not back down from either role.

Of course, we have no idea about what knowledge concerning God’s activity and messianic promises which Job has at his fingertips, yet we must be careful about ascribing too much ignorance to him. His responses seem to indicate a great maturity of awareness of Jehovah even though he does not understand what is happening and as he struggles with the meaning of it all.

The fact that he has the confidence as expressed in his statements of God’s sovereign action still does not take away the power of grief. CS Lewis, after the death of his wife, recorded his struggles in the small book, A Grief Observed, and it identifies the bewilderment, loss, emptiness and all the rest that grief encompasses. Although he did not expect to lose his faith, he still felt in chapter one:

But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once.

In this, Lewis and Job sound so similar. Yes, one can have powerful assurance of how God will indeed “make all things work together for good, for those who love Him, who are called according to His purposes” to the degree that Job, Spafford and Rinkard have not just the ability but also the motivation to praise Him. Yet simultaneously there is enormous pain – and with Job the physical pain is not even close to the mental and spiritual pain that racked his soul. Can pain and praise coexist? Yes, they do.

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