I was tramping around down by the creek that runs at the back of our property in mid-March of this year and was surprised to discover a sudden hint of green amidst the dismal shades of brown and tan comprising the late winter landscape. The ground was still frozen as the temperatures had hovered below freezing, and spring seemed yet a faraway dream. But here among the dry grass and brittle branches were a dozen bright green vines already several feet tall and climbing hungrily for the faint, dim warmth trickling down through the cold. It took me several minutes to identify these aggressive mercenaries that were bristling with a phalanx of the densest and sharpest thorns I have ever seen. I shuddered in unbelief as the realization struck that these new and bellicose outgrowths were the offspring of the giant vine I had attacked and ‘beaten’ more than a year before.
In the fall of 2012, I had observed that a particularly large specimen of an invasive variety of briar vine had engulfed several trees in the aforementioned wooded area . One tree had already succumbed and two others were fighting for their lives; a conflict, that unless I intervened, they were destined to lose. I wasted no time and began attacking its many trunks and branches with my bare hands, which was no easy task. Each mature tendril was intertwined with those of its hapless host, cleverly camouflaged in imitation of the genuine. Only after failing to do little more than injure myself repeatedly on the knife-like thorns, was I awakened to the magnitude of the difficulty and the true nature of the enemy I was facing. Not only were the thorns intimidating, but the vine had grown up from not one, but three huge trunks, the largest as big as a small tree, its texture mimicking the bark of its host perfectly. Realizing it would not be over quickly or easily, I retreated back to the garage and returned fully prepared, armed with saw, loppers, hatchet and axe. Then the battle began in earnest. After three hours of cutting, chopping, hacking and sawing, I felt victorious. Until I discovered those evil-looking shoots this year, I thought I had won the war.
I would like to draw an analogy between the behavior and attributes of this troublesome plant with those of one of the most insidious of human weaknesses, using the story of Job as a basis. Whether or not this ‘insight’ is actually helpful, will depend mostly on whether any of us are able to reach the point that Job reached, and follow his example.
The book of Job introduces us to the man Job, and drops us down right into the middle of his life. The first thing we find out about him is that he was an all around excellent human being.
There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil. Seven sons and three daughters were born to him. His possessions also were 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and very many servants; and that man was the greatest of all the men of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When the days of feasting had completed their cycle, Job would send and consecrate them, rising up early in the morning and offering burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually. Job 1:1–5 NASB
We find out later, during the extensive dialogs Job has with his friends (Ch. 4-37), other important characteristics of his life, so I will only summarize them here. Although Job was exceedingly successful, he was neither greedy nor miserly and was always honorable and pure in his personal affairs. In business, he was a man of conscience who worked hard to cultivate and maintain his sterling reputation. He was widely admired, wielded considerable power and influence in local civic and social affairs, yet he was always just and gracious. Even though he and his many children were wealthy and lived handsomely, Job was far from being indifferent, but instead always acted toward those in need with benevolence and generosity. A devoted advocate of the downtrodden, he counseled those who needed it and labored tirelessly in the cause of justice. Before God, he was reverent; his trust and faithful obedience to God was sincere: he was no hypocrite.
The next thing we are introduced to is a very different scene. It is one that Job is completely oblivious to, yet one that is crucial to Job and critical to our understanding of the dilemmas we face.
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it”. The LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil. Then Satan answered the LORD, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face. Then the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So Satan departed from the presence of the LORD. Job 1:6–12 NASB
Soon after this, Satan inflicted financial ruin on Job by orchestrating the loss of all of his herds and his servants, and crushing him personally by causing the death of all Job’s children in a single tragic accident. When Job remained steadfast amidst this grievous loss, Satan once more appeared before God, this time receiving permission to strike Job’s body. Only restricted from taking Job’s life, Satan loosed a nightmare of pain and suffering upon Job. Described as some possible type of infectious disease, Job was smitten with “painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” (2:7). This virulent affliction was physically debilitating, so much so, that Job became literally unrecognizable (2:12). Having been granted great latitude over Job by God, Satan took merciless advantage of every physical, mental and emotional tool at his disposal, and Job endured the loss of virtually everything he had. Job’s riches, his family, his position and even his health fell before Satan’s assault. When Job’s wife, who alone of his family was still alive and who had also suffered great losses, came to him in his misery, she had nothing left but bitterness:
Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. Job 2:9–10 NASB
Coordinating their efforts when they heard of the calamities befalling him, Job’s friends soon arrived to personally comfort and console him. Sitting by his side amidst the remains of his shattered life, they waited in silence for seven days and nights mourning his loss with him and sharing his grief.
Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, they came each one from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite; and they made an appointment together to come to sympathize with him and comfort him. When they lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept. And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky. Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great. Job 2:11–13 NASB
Finally, Job broke the silence and while they listened, he lamented his fate, cursed the day of his birth and vented his mental turmoil, confusion and despair.
Why did I not die at birth,
Come forth from the womb and expire?
Why did the knees receive me,
And why the breasts, that I should suck?
For now I would have lain down and been quiet;
I would have slept then, I would have been at rest.. Job 3:11–13 NASB
He longed for the release of death and began to question why he was kept alive at all:
Why is light given to him who suffers,
And life to the bitter of soul,
Who long for death, but there is none,
And dig for it more than for hidden treasures,
Who rejoice greatly,
And exult when they find the grave? Job 3:20–23 NASB
The sudden obliteration of virtually everything he loved and cherished compounded by the blows to his health, status and livelihood had left Job staggering under a mountain of mental and physical anguish and pining for the relief that death would surely bring. He had lost his will to live, but somehow was still holding on to his faith and trust in Jehovah. Job knew beyond all, that God was sovereign no matter the circumstances, but he still had his questions; and as we shall see, he also had his doubts.
In fact, Job has something inside himself more damaging to him than all he has suffered. Something that he had forgotten about or possibly thought he had disposed of long ago just like those briar vines. The identity and source of the real problem had not been beaten and had instead been quietly, secretly and stealthily growing almost undisturbed and unnoticed in his deepest soul. It is only during these fiery tribulations that Job will encounter the problem face to face, and in utter desperation, appeal for a hearing at the court of the Most High.