We started this special series about the same time Covid-19 began to lock down communities and close schools. You’ll find our purpose statement here.
As we continue answering tough questions from Christian teens, we pray this series will be a blessing to parents and their children.
Even though this question comes from a teen, it’s one I’ve heard from adults for many years.
If you are a parent and talking through these questions with your teen, remember to let them know when you have similar questions or concerns. It helps young people to know that adults also struggle with questions about God.
An answer to all these questions is God’s rhetorical question in answer to Job: “Where were you when I created the foundations of the world?” the answer being that he did not exist yet and implying, it seems, either that humans are not intelligent enough to understand or that it is not right for humans to question God. This is, in my understanding, the same thing Paul implies when he asks why a clay pot should inquire of its maker why it was made thus, and explains that it is for the maker to decide whether or not the pot is devoted to destruction. Of course, this does not sit exactly right with me though I do see some of the sense in it.
The reason I do not totally get it is because it seems like an ad hominem argument—a smear against the inquirer that distracts from the question.
History of Job
Job most likely lived in the Middle East before the time of Abraham.
Here’s what we know about Job from the historical account in the Bible –
“There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil. And seven sons and three daughters were born to him. Also, his possessions were seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred female donkeys, and a very large household, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the East.”Job 1:1-3
- Job was a man
- Job lived in the land of Uz
- Job was blameless and upright
- Job feared God and shunned evil.
- Job had seven sons and three daughtersJob had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred female donkeys, and a very large household
- Job was the ‘greatest’ of all the people of the East
There is little archaeological information about the land of Uz. Based on what we know from the Bible Uz was most likely located south of Israel and east of Egypt – possibly in or near the land of Edom. You might look at Jeremiah 25:17-26 and Lamentations 4:21. Jeremiah mentions “all the kings of the land of Uz” as well as placing Uz in the same area as Edom.
We first learn about Uz in Genesis 10. Uz was the son of Aram, who was the son of Shem, who was the son of Noah. That would make Uz the great-grandson of Noah. The fact that Job lived in the land of Uz may indicate he was a member of the lineage of Shem.
We see from statements by Job and questions and statements by his friends that they lived sometime after the Flood and most likely after the confusion of languages.
For example, Eliphaz asked Job this question –
“Will you keep to the old way Which wicked men have trod, Who were cut down before their time, Whose foundations were swept away by a flood?”Job 22:16
The Flood was still fresh on the mind of people who lived during the time of Job. They called it the ‘old way,’ which means they viewed their current life as the ‘new way.’
There is no mention of a Levitical priesthood or Mosaic Law in Job. He offered up sacrifices to God similarly to how Noah did. Job’s wealth was measured by the amount of livestock he owned, which is similar to Abraham and other patriarchs. Job also lived to be more than 200 years old based on his having ten children who were able to eat and drink wine in their oldest brother’s house and his living 140 years after God restored his health and wealth.
“After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children and grandchildren for four generations. So Job died, old and full of days.”Job 42:16-17
Genesis 11 is a record of the lineage of Shem. Shem lived to be about 600 years old. His son Arphaxad was born a couple of years after the Flood and lived to be about 438 years old. Most of the men in Shem’s lineage were in their early 30’s when their first sons were born. Here’s a list of how long they lived. It demonstrates that Job’s living to be more than 200 years old was not outside the normal lifespan of men in his time.
- Arphaxad’s son Salah lived to be about 433 years old
- Salah’s son Eber lived to be about 464 years old
- Eber’s son Peleg lived to be about 239 years old (Genesis 10:25 says the earth was divided during Peleg’s lifetime .. possibly a reference to the division of the human race because of the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel .. lifespan dropped from the 400’s to 200’s within one generation after that event)
- Peleg’s son Reu lived to be about 239 years old
- Reu’s son Serug lived to be about 230 years old
- Serug’s son Nahor lived to be about 148 years old
- Nahor’s son Terah lived to be about 205 years old
- Terah’s son Abram (Abraham) lived to be about 175 years old
Job would have been one of the early inhabitants of the earth following the Flood and Tower of Babel events. It would be a century or two before God would call Abram to Canaan to make a covenant with him and many centuries before God would give His Law to Moses and Israel.
Things that are so familiar to us from Genesis and other writings of Moses did not exist when God spoke to Job. What Job would have known about worshiping God would be the covenant God made with Noah and his sons and what was passed along from parents to their children and grandchildren within his family lineage.
We also see other things Job and people of his time knew based on things said in the Book of Job. What we see at the end of the book is what Job didn’t know .. things only God knew.
The Book of Job is an amazing insight into the philosophy of the world at an early time in the history of Noah’s descendants. As we read the thoughts of Job (under extreme duress), Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar we see what people of that time thought about such things as evil and human suffering. They didn’t know what had happened in the spiritual realm (Heaven) that led to Job’s troubles. They didn’t know what God had said to Satan concerning Job –
“Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?”Job 1:8
God said that Job was blameless, upright, feared God and shunned evil. However, Job’s friends saw him as suffering for having done something wrong. They called on Job to repent of his sin so God would bless him again. That was their philosophy.
Here’s how God responded to Job’s friends –
“And so it was, after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has. Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, go to My servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and My servant Job shall pray for you. For I will accept him, lest I deal with you according to your folly; because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.’ So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did as the Lord commanded them; for the Lord had accepted Job.”Job 42:7-9
Job’s friends were wrong. Their philosophy was wrong. Even though Job spoke out of suffering, he did not blame God.
Job’s own philosophy had some errors in it, as we see in his speech in Job 31. That led a young man named Elihu to share a contradictory opinion (philosophy) with Job’s friends and with Job. Elihu spoke rightly of God’s character, which demonstrates that some people understood God’s purposes and actions.
As Elihu finished his lengthy speech, God spoke to Job –
“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: ‘Who is this who darkens counsel By words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know!”Job 38:1-5
What follows is a lengthy process of God asking Job questions and giving him the answers. Job responded once during the questioning –
“Then Job answered the Lord and said: ‘Behold, I am vile; What shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth. Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; Yes, twice, but I will proceed no further.”Job 40:3-5
Lack of Information
In your question, you wrote –
“An answer to all these questions is God’s rhetorical question in answer to Job: ‘Where were you when I created the foundations of the world?’ the answer being that he did not exist yet and implying, it seems, either that humans are not intelligent enough to understand or that it is not right for humans to question God.”
I don’t think the problem was lack of intelligence, but lack of information.
As we’ve already seen what people at that time (more than 4,000 years ago) knew about God came from the information passed along to them from their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Noah lived for 350 years after the Flood. His son Shem, who was probably an ancestor of Job, lived to be more than 600 years old. Shem’s sons lived to be more than 400 years old. What they knew about God, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, and life after that would certainly have been available to Job and his friends. Shem and his sons may have even been alive at the time of Job. People who had gone through the confusion of languages at Babel may have also been alive at the time of Job.
However, as far as we know from the Bible, God had not revealed new information about Himself to the human race. What God did for Job and others who would learn about Job was to reveal more about Himself to humanity.
Though Job’s troubles did not come from his sin against God, there were many things he did not understand about God. Job heard what God said and admitted his lack of knowledge and understanding. He spoke these words after hearing God’s revelation –
“Then Job answered the Lord and said: ‘I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’ ‘I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes.”Job 42:1-6
You mentioned the Apostle Paul’s statement concerning the potter and the clay. The context is about Israel’s rejection of the Messiah, Jesus Christ and God’s rejection of Israel –
“What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.’ So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.”Romans 9:14-16
Previous Tough Questions
You can read answers to other tough questions from Christian teens here.
In the next part of our special series, Tough Questions From Christian Teens, we will continue to look at answers about whether it’s right to question God.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.