What are the characteristics of a righteous person in the book of Job, in situations prosperity? (Part 1 of 2)

The book of Job begins by telling us who Job was. He was described as a man of “righteousness” — he was “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (1:1, NIV). Even prophet Ezekiel described Job as a wise and godly man (Ezekiel 14:14, 20).

The concept of righteousness in the book of Job is introduced in the prologue (1:1-2:13) and once again in the epilogue — the final chapter of the book (42:7-17). In the prologue, Job was ‘blameless and upright’ who loved the Lord and feared the Lord.

In the epilogue, when God had spoken to him, he humbled himself before God and worshipped Him, confessing that he had sinned against God. And in the chapters in between, Job demonstrated faith in God despite not understanding why he was inflicted with such sufferings.  

Job lived in the land of Uz. He was not an Israelite and therefore, his faith in God was purely based on his human faith, and not bounded by God’s covenantal relationship with the Israelites. God was so confident in Job’s righteous character that He boasted to the Accuser that there was no one as righteous as he (Job 1:8). The Accuser challenged God that perhaps his righteousness was because God had been blessing him. If family and wealth were removed from him, would Job still remain righteous? (Job 1:9-11). “Is Job righteous because he is blessed or is he blessed because he is righteous?” the Accuser asked. To prove that He was right, God allowed Job to be tested, including taking away from him all the things that the Accuser thought characterised his righteousness: his wealth, his family and his health.

Gladly do right

Righteousness in the Old Testament

Righteousness is being in a right relationship with God

In the Old Testament, righteousness has a relational concept. God was the One who initiate this love relationship with mankind when He created Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:4-3:24). When they disobeyed God, God provided a way: He said an offspring from the woman would crush the head of the evil one (Genesis 3:15), that was, referring to Jesus Christ. In the New Testament, we have a clearer picture of God establishing a relationship with us through the salvation offered by His Son, Jesus Christ.  

A righteous man is in a right relationship with God. A righteous person would know what are the things that displeased God and avoid doing them, for example, the righteous person would love holiness, help those in need and hate corruption, abuse and injustice. 

Righteousness are actions that pleases God 

Both the Old and New Testaments describe a righteous person as one who trusts in God (Psalm 31:17-19; 33:18; Micah 7:7-9), humbles himself in the presence of God and His judgement (Psalm 143:1,2), repents of his sins and asks God for forgiveness as well as expecting deliverance (Psalm 32; 103:10-13; 118:18-21). A righteous person acts in accordance to what he says.

Some Old Testament passages which connect righteous behaviour with actions:

  1. Deuteronomy 6:25, “and if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”
  2. Ezekiel 3:20 connects a righteous person with righteous actions.
  3. Isaiah 64:5 says that the righteous are those who “gladly do right”.
  4. Habakkuk says that “the righteous person will live by his faithfulness” (Habakkuk 2:4).

In short, righteousness is actions that pleases God and living by faith (Romans 1:17).

Righteousness as communal

In the prophetic and psalmic literature, righteousness and justice are often paired together. It is a communal thing. It involves the community. Righteousness involves ethical relations between an individual and the community (e.g. Isaiah 1:21). The righteous person shows loyalty to the community.    

Job was the greatest man among all the people of the East (Job 1:3b). Yet, he kept himself morally pure. He kept himself pure from the effects of power, wealth and fame. Job lived with a clean conscience before God and before others in his community. He blessed others with loving deeds and is blessed in return with the respect and honour in the community from the young to the old.

1. Righteous

A righteous person does not mean he is without sins. Rather, righteousness means that a person’s heart is honest and his intentions are pure. Job, although he was a righteous man, admitted to sinning (Job 6:24; 10:14, 7:20,21; 14:4; 14:16,17; 21:16). He knew it would be impossible not to sin before God (Job 14:4) but he was righteous because he confessed his sins and repented before the Lord. 

2. Righteousness in the family

Job functioned as a priest for his family which was a typical role in the patriarchal days. Not only did he embody righteousness, his whole household too, were moving in the same direction towards righteousness. Job had rituals to purify his 10 children, lest they had inadvertently sinned and cursed God in their hearts (Job 1:5).

He was righteous not only in the society, but also in his family as well. We can be busy with the things in the community and in the workplace but let us not forget to teach our children and lead them to the path of righteousness.

3. A heart of Thankfulness

With the abundance of wealth and all that he had, and then they were suddenly gone, Job still acknowledged that these blessings came from God. They were God’s goodness and grace in his life. Job said of God, “You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit” (Job 10:12). This is something remarkable for someone to say in the midst of utmost suffering and pain.

4. Communal 

Despite having his abundance, Job lived righteously in the society and the community commended him for his righteous living. 

“11 When the ear heard, it commended me, and when the eye saw, it approved; 12 because I delivered the poor who cried, and the orphan who had no helper. 13 The blessing of the wretched came upon me, and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy. 14 I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban. 15 I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame. 16 I was a father to the needy, and I championed the cause of the stranger” (Job 29:11-16, NRSV)

In his wealth, he remained humble. He had compassion for the weak in the society and extended his helping hand to them.

Job lived in a right way with other people and it was not because he was required to follow certain laws or keep certain commandments in the Torah. He lived in a patriarchal age[2], which was a long time before Moses receiving the 10 Commandments from God at Mount Sinai. Job must not have been taught the Torah.

Righteousness and justice were so important to Job that he clothed himself with them.  Job’s righteous can be seen in his behaviour towards those who were oppressed in the society. He fought against social injustice. He came to the help of the poor who were crying for help, extended his hand to the orphans, blessed the widows, cared for those in need and defended the weak. Job did not close his eyes to the needy or shut his heart to the cries of the oppressed. Rather, he reaches out to the underprivileged and strived to improve the quality of their lives and livelihood.  He defended the weak. He despised and wrestled with unrighteousness, He said of himself, “I broke the fangs of the unrighteous, and made them drop their prey from their teeth.” (Job 29:17, NRSV).

5. Respectable

Job was a respectable man. He kept his eyes pure, and made a covenant with his eyes not to lust after a young woman (31:1). He was faithful in marriage and guarded his heart so that he would not be enticed by another woman (31:9). He knew God was watching his every step so he was careful not to do wrong (31:2-4).

His heart too, was pure towards God. He did not practice falsehood or deceit (31:5), nor did he commit crimes or corruption or practise bribery (31:7).

His hands too, were pure towards God. He treated his servants well, knowing that they were created by the same Creator (31:13, 15). Job shared his food with the poor (31:16-17), helped the needy (31:18) and clothed the poor (31:19).

He put his trust in God, and not in his wealth, knowing that his wealth was from God, not just from his work (Job 31:24). He did not worship other idols but his heart was set on God (31:26-28). He walked in humility by not allowing himself to rejoice over his enemy’s misfortune or let his mouth sin (31:29-30).  

God noticed how rare this righteous person was and said to the Accuser, “There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.”  (Job 1:8).

Job showed us the example of living a life of righteousness during times of prosperity. Let us not forget God when we are enjoying good times.

Desire God

When bad things happen to bad people, most of us think they deserve it. It is their punishment for what they have done. But what if punishment happened to the righteous people who did not deserve it?

The book of Job begins by telling us who Job was. Job was depicted as embodying “righteousness” — he was “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (1:1, NIV). Even Ezekiel described him (Ezekiel 14:14, 20) as a wise and godly man. This showed that Job was well known at that time for his righteousness and for his wisdom.

Job adored God and trembled with awe at His holiness. He did not participate or commit evil things. He lived a respectable life and was honoured by the old and the young within his community. He provided care to the needy and helped the poor.

Job lived in the land of Uz. He was not an Israelite so he was not bounded by the covenantal relationship the Israelites had with God. Job had 7 sons, 7 being the perfect number and 3 daughters. A total of 10 children. In Hebrew, the number 10 means wholeness. God had blessed Job with a good family. His children were in good relationships with one another. Whenever the sons had birthday parties, they would invite their sisters to join them. The family lived in harmony.

Apart from enjoying a wonderful family, Job had great wealth. He owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. That meant a lot of money. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East (Job 1:2–3).

The land of Uz was known for its wisdom. Referring to Job as the greatest man may not only include his great wealth, this might also portray him as having great wisdom. He could be the wisest man in the East.

Job, being an upright and blameless man, found favour with God. God was so confident of Job’s righteous character that He boasted to the Accuser that there was no one on earth as righteous as he (Job 1:8). The Accuser then said to God: perhaps he was righteous because God had been blessing him; if family and wealth were removed from him, would he still remain righteous? (Job 1:9-11).

To prove that He was right, God allowed Job to be tested, including taking away from him his wealth and his family.

Then, it happened. His wealth was taken from him. But he did not sin against God by cursing God. Next, all of his 10 children were killed at a birthday party. Again, Job did not sin against God. He remained righteous and blameless before God.

Reverent awe before God

Instead, he said, “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” (Job 1:21). As the greatest man in the East, Job understood one thing —everything that he had came from God alone. His wisdom came from God. His wealth came from God. His children came from God. These were blessings from God. Therefore, Job believed that God had every right to remove them from him as He saw fit.  

Job also understood that he could not take his riches with him when he died. We came into this world with nothing, and when we leave this earth, we can not take anything physical with us. The thing that we can live behind is the memories others have of us and the legacy we leave behind.

What legacy are we leaving behind? Let us leave an example for them by showing our children what it means to be disciples of Christ in this world. May your example give them the courage to persevere in their faith journey with Jesus.

For Job, the most important Person was God. He was the greatest man in the East for his wealth and for his wisdom. Yet, he did not put his hope in his wisdom. He did not put his trust in his wealth.

God was so pleased with Job that He boasted to the Accuser that Job “still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason” (Job 2:3). In his great loss, Job maintained his reverent awe before God. 

He was confident in who God was—that God was faithful and righteous in all His ways. Can we say the same when we are facing struggles in our lives. Will we still trust God if we experience great loss?

God is still a faithful God. Ask God for eyes of faith to trust Him even when we are in difficult circumstances. The pandemic take things away from us: freedom to travel, freedom to see our family and friends, and it also strike us economically. We have been hit economically, emotionally and mentally. Let us not let it take away our faith in God.

Job remained faithful to God despite losing his wealth and children. God then allowed the Accuser to afflict Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. They were so painful, that he had to scrap them with a piece of broken pottery. His skin split open because of the boils. Maggots were crawling around his wounds. Pus and blood oozed out from his wounds. He was so afflicted that he couldn’t eat, he couldn’t sleep well and his breath stunk.

Yet, he did not curse God. He maintained his reverence for God. He rebuked his wife, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10). Job “did not sin in what he said” (Job 2:10).

In his affliction, Job maintained a thankful attitude towards God. He remembered that everything he had were God’s providence to him. He said of God, “You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit” (Job 10:12). He remembered God was the one who gave him his life, showed him kindness and provided for him.

For us today, it is easy to succumb to the temptation that we do not need God—we can manage our lives. Well, isn’t it the human condition since Adam and Eve?

But Job showed us what it meant to put our trust in God. Even when all that he had was gone, he could still praise God. If all that we have is gone, and all that we consider as precious, such as our children, are gone, can we still say that God is good? Can we still worship God and say He is good? 

There are things in our lives that we will never understand why they happened. Job never did understand why these calamities happened to him.

Job’s lament

 Job lamented. He lamented that God had shattered their relationship by tormenting him. He wondered if God loved him anymore. He felt as if God was waging a battle against him (Job 3:23), gnashing his teeth at him (Job 16:9). He said God has turned him over to the ungodly and thrown him into the clutches of the wicked (Job 16:11). God had crushed him (Job 16:12). He felt God was like an archer who was using him as target practice; or a warrior that has slashed open Job’s kidneys and spilt his gall on the ground (Job 16:12-13).

Job lamented over the loss of relationships. His relatives and closest friends had forsaken him (19:14). His guests and servants considered him as a foreigner (19:15). His own family too, turned away from him: his wife found him repulsive, his family loathed him and young children despised him (19:17-18). Those he loved had turned from him (19:19).

Desire God

Yes, Job was lamenting but in his lament he had faith in God. He said, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God” (19:25-26). He knew that things on this earth are fleeting, but Someone remained unchanging, that is, God.

In his great loss and suffering, he yearned for God. He said, “I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:27).

He did not understand God’s plan for him yet he held on to God. He yearned for his relationship with God to be restored. He yearned that God would remember him (Job 14:3), “If only you would hide me in the grave, and conceal me till your anger has passed! If only you would set me a time and then remember me!”

Imagine that. In the midst of his great loss and deep suffering, as the greatest man in the East, he did not ask for everything to be restored to him. He did not ask for his wealth to be restored. He did not threaten God to bring back his 10 children to him or to give him another 10 children. All he really wanted was that God would remember him. Job wanted God Himself. That was the only greatest desire of his heart. He knew that his wealth, his servants, his children, would not match with what God meant to him. He wanted more than anything to be in a restored relationship with God once again. In his pain and suffering, he never gave up on God.   

This is such an important lesson for us today. Will we really acknowledge that God is our all?

Yes, we all need to work for food on our table. We need to feed our family. We need pay for our children’s education or to think about our retirement. Especially in this pandemic, there may be more expenses for gadgets, and internet connection and so on. But let us not forget God.

Thomas Merton, a Catholic writer, once told a story. A person was climbing on the ladder of success, each rung brought him closer to the top but once he reached the top, he realised the ladder has been leaning against the wrong wall. He had been climbing on the wrong ladder.

“People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.” 

Thomas Merton

May the ladder that we are climbing be the ladder that brings us closer to God.

God’s Purpose

God finally spoke to Job but in the whirlwind. When God questioned Job and showed him His sovereignty, Job realised that he had a narrow view of God. In the past, Job thought God functioned in a way that He rewarded the righteous and punished the wicked. But when God showed Job His Creation, Job finally understood that God’s purposes for this world (and even universe) are far bigger than just punishing the wicked and blessing the righteous. God as the sovereign Creator had a purpose for all of His created beings which we human beings are incapable of understanding (Job 39). 

The book of Job is not about suffering.  It is about God—His character, sovereignty, justice, faithfulness, goodness and love. Our lives are not solely about us. God’s plan is for the humanity and the universe.

We see the pains and the sufferings of this world. We are helpless when natural disasters strike or we feel hopeless with the choice of the world leaders. We think that we would do a better job at running the world than God. God’s ways are higher than our ways. There will always be issues that we will not fully understand from the limited perspective that we have.

Let us learn from Job. Instead of demanding answers from God for his pain, he humbled himself before God (Job 28), acknowledging that there was so much that he did not know and understand. “The fear of the Lord — that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding” (Job 28:28).

Job never got answers for his suffering. But from his suffering, he experienced God in a fresh way and re-established the Creator-created relationship. Suffering does not necessarily mean punishment from God. One thing for certain that God is with us every day. He is the Creator, and He is love. The world is God’s — it is His property and it is in His hands .

The book of Job ended with God restoring all that Job had lost. He had 10 more children, his daughters were the most beautiful in the land and he received double the wealth than before.

Job never let God go. Let us not be so carried away with ourselves that we forget the sovereignty of God. He had a wonderful plan for us. He sent His One and only begotten Son Jesus Christ to die for us.

Charles Spurgeon said, “Nothing puts life into men like a dying Savior.”

We have a new life and new meaning to life because of Jesus Christ.

 We live a reasonably comfortable life. Do we desire God? Do we yearn for Him? May our hearts not get so crowded that it crowd God from the centre of our lives.

Job never got the answer to why he suffered. He did not know the contest between God and the evil one. But what was more important to him was that his relationship with God was restored. He got a clearer sense of who God is.

Job humbled himself before God and worshipped him.  

There are so many things in this life that we will not understand. There are questions in our head that will not be answered. Job persisted to live a meaningful life, because God is the Creator. Let us remain steadfast in our faith, trust and love to our God like Job did.