When my kids were younger we’d play a simple game called “Would You Rather?” The point of the game is simple. You’d be given two options and would have to choose one over the other. For example, would you rather lose your eyesight? Or your sense of hearing? Another example might be, would you rather be the poorest person on earth with excellent health? Or be the wealthiest person on earth with terrible health?
As I read Job chapter 2, I think Job would rather be the poorest person with excellent health. In chapter 1 he lost all of his material possessions and all ten of his children in a quick and sudden series of tragedies. But he still had his health, and he still maintained his faith. But check this out:
On another day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. And the Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. (Job 2:1-8, NLT)
Job’s suffering had reached unparalleled levels. In the first “test,” he experienced external loss. But in this second test, his loss touched him physically. Those who have experienced loss will acknowledge that there is a big difference between tolerating loss and tolerating pain.
The accusation of Satan was relentless. Having lost the first round, Satan redoubled his efforts by claiming that deep down, Job (or any of us, for that matter) only cared for himself. The idiom “skin for skin” can be understood as “life for life.” In other words, Satan wagered that if Job had to pick between his personal faith and physical suffering, he would pick himself. Guaranteed. Furthermore, he inferred that Job had not really been tested, given his clean bill of health.
So Satan was released to harm Job with the limitation of taking Job’s life.
A careful reading of the text reveals at least three ways Job suffered. First, and most obviously, he suffered physically. Scholars have debated for centuries what this illness may have been. Some suggest leprosy, others elephantiasis. No one is certain, but Job is described as covered with boils, which would have inflicted a great deal of pain and discomfort.
He also suffered materially. If you think about it, the medicine of choice in ancient times was olive oil. But like today, medicines cost money. Having lost everything financially, Job is reduced to “self-medicating” and does so by taking the refuse of the common man, broken pottery, and using that broken shard to lance and scrape the boils hoping for relief. Think for a moment how your suffering could be compounded without access to health insurance!
Finally, he suffered socially. Job is pictured as sitting in ashes. I believe these were the ashes of the local landfill which served as the location of burning piles of garbage as well as the home of those declared “unclean” due to their physical disease.
Its hard to identify with such suffering. But Jesus can. There is no mistaking the amount of physical suffering Jesus endured on the cross, where he is pictured as stripped of the only earthly possession he claimed–the clothes on his back. Jesus not only suffered in destitution, he suffered alone, having been crucified on the outskirts of Jerusalem near the local garbage dump. (Hebrews 12:12-13)
Jesus identified with Job’s suffering, and he identifies with your suffering, whatever that may be. No one is comforted by stories of those who have it worse than you, for your suffering is your suffering and it is difficult. But we can all be helped by the stories of those who have walked similar roads, for it is in knowing those stories that we are reminded that we are not alone.