Throughout the course of the monologues and dialogues in the book of Job there are at times points of wisdom and clarity and at other times less than helpful opinions and poorly applied theology. Utilizing one of our interpretive keys of holding onto the good and leaving bad, as it pertains to the speeches, allows the reader to comb through them gleaning truths that are rightly applied in the case of Job’s affliction and similarly may be applied to situations of affliction in our lives.
One such example are the references to God’s purposes in bringing about affliction. Sometimes these occur as a passing reference intermingled in the midst of rambling speeches, which may be largely unhelpful, while other times they are the focal point as part of a larger discourse on God’s good designs. Below is a list of these occurrences with a brief discussion providing context of the speaker and their implied purpose
“Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal.”
Ironically, the first clear explanation of God’s designs in affliction comes from the mouth of Eliphaz, Job 5:8-16, in the first response to Job. Here, Eliphaz offers advice for Job to seek the face of God, which is followed by an excellent discourse on the wisdom and supremacy of God. In verses 17-18, cited above, the direction shifts towards the circumstances of the afflicted as a result of the discipline of God.
Here, as in Proverbs 3:11-12 as well as Hebrews 12:5, God has designed affliction to serve as a disciplinary action for His children. Remember that this discipline is not punitive, but corrective.
2. Job 17:9
9 Yet the righteous holds to his way,
and he who has clean hands grows stronger and stronger.
Though perhaps more obscure than the previous purpose, we find in the midst of Job’s lament from Chapter 17 that his affliction is being observed by others, the righteous, who see him as an encouraging example of perseverance in the midst of affliction. God’s design for affliction among His children is to be exemplary, either as a model for how to suffer or to serve as a warning to others.
3. Job 23:10
“But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.”
Here we see the refining purpose for affliction, to purify the child of God, burning off the dross of sin resulting in a purer gold.
4. Job 30:11
“Because God has loosed my cord and humbled me,
they have cast off restraint in my presence.”
In this next example, we find the words of Job concluding that his case of affliction has served to humble him.
5. Job 33:17-18
17 that he may turn man aside from his deed
and conceal pride from a man;
18 he keeps back his soul from the pit,
his life from perishing by the sword.
In this passage, God’s mouthpiece for declaring His purposes in affliction shifts from those brief mentions in the speeches of Job and Eliphaz to Elihu. This begins a string of declarative purposes for affliction by him, perhaps providing us another clue as to the helpfulness of his speeches.
In this first purpose for affliction from Elihu we find that it serves as a corrective to turn a child of God from wickedness, pride, and ultimately death (as a result of sin).
6. Job 33:27-30
29Behold, God does all these things,
twice, three times, with a man,
30 to bring back his soul from the pit,
that he may be lighted with the light of life.
Again, a word from Elihu, he now states the purpose of God in affliction is preventative, specifically from total destruction of the soul. Not only that, but to set the soul on the path of life.
7. Job 34:26-27.
He strikes them for their wickedness
in a place for all to see,
because they turned aside from following him
and had no regard for any of his ways
Our third purpose from the mouth of Elihu provides for us, in context, a focus now upon the wicked, or more clearly, the apostate whom God afflicts because they have turned aside from following Him. As we know, affliction is not limited to the righteous, nor is it exclusive of the wicked, but God applies it to both according to His own plan and purpose.
8. Job 36:10-11
10He opens their ears to instruction
and commands that they return from iniquity.
11 If they listen and serve him,
they complete their days in prosperity,
and their years in pleasantness.
12 But if they do not listen, they perish by the sword
and die without knowledge.
Here our context, again in a speech from Elihu, shows God’s purpose in elevating the righteous to the status of kings, yet then by necessity afflicting them to expose pride. In essence, when God pours out blessings on the righteous and they in turn become arrogant and prideful, God is pleased to afflict them in order to instruct them and turn them from their sins. Interestingly, with this particular application of affliction we find that it has a tendency to bring one to a crossroad. On the left, the response of the righteous to God’s affliction by listening and serving Him resulting in a complete, full life. On the right, the response of ignoring God, resulting in death (here by the sword) and dying without knowledge, perhaps affirming their false confession of faith.
9. Job 36:15-16
“15He delivers the afflicted by their affliction
and opens their ear by adversity.
16 He also allured you out of distress
into a broad place where there was no cramping,
and what was set on your table was full of fatness.”
Again we read the words of Elihu and find now God’s purposes in affliction described as discipline and educative.
10. Job 36:22
21Take care; do not turn to iniquity,
for this you have chosen rather than affliction.
22 Behold, God is exalted in his power;
who is a teacher like him?
As this speech from Elihu concludes, we enter into three less direct descriptions of God’s purposes in affliction beginning here with its use as a teaching tool. In our cases of affliction, as with Job, God uses it to teach us about Himself first, and then subsequently about ourselves.
11. Job 37:7
He seals up the hand of every man,
that all men whom he made may know it.
The second implied purpose from Elihu’s latter speech is to hedge in man. Sometimes God may use affliction as a form of restraint, in a sense to protect us from ourselves.
12. Job 37:13
Whether for correction or for his land
or for love, he causes it to happen.
Finally, the context for this last purpose places us in the midst of a section describing God’s superintendence of nature. We find here the whirlwind, cold, ice, clouds with moisture, and lightning. God’s usage of these may be for correction, for (maintenance) of the land, or simply for love. In short, nature is at his beckoning call to do His will as He sees fit.
Certainly we may search the Scriptures and find further examples of God’s purposes in afflicting either His saints or the wicked. But suffice to say, those who have walked away from Job unsatisfied with answers to why God afflicts the righteous, have simply not seen clearly both the explicit and implicit purposes described throughout the book. Drawing our minds to these will provide comfort and wisdom for those occasions when we are faced with our own afflictions.