So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.
His wife said to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!”
He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.
When God withdraws his hand from us, we must prepare ourselves to suffer much greater miseries than we could ever expect. The ultimate aim of our suffering is that our faith is proved and, though this, God is glorified. We see how God proceeds when he afflicts his servants. If we are but novices who are unacquainted with the sufferings of adversity, he spares us. He would not send as great a burden on a little child as he sends on a mature servant. God has regard to our ability to bear suffering and he sends us small or great troubles according to how practised we are with enduring them. But when we are once under affliction, he may lay the full load upon us, to the full extent that he has given us the ability to bear out. We see how he speaks to Peter, saying that when he was young, he was left at his own ease and rest, ‘but when you are old you will be tied and bound and someone will lead you where you do not want to go.’ This is from the twenty first of the gospel according to the apostle John:
John 21v18-19 “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.
We see then what regard God has to hold us up while we are yet tender. Afterwards, when he has made us strong, he sends us more grievous and heavy afflictions, for which we have been strengthened beforehand, through which he may be glorified. This has already been shown in the person of Job, to the end that each one of us might receive instruction by it for ourselves. The afflictions send on Job were truly horrendous. He was spoiled of his goods, he lost his children and he was brought to poverty. But it was yet another manner of work when Satan smote him in his body, so that he was full of painful sores, in a way that looked like leprosy. The Holy Scriptures show us that the disease must needs have been extreme. Here we see Job cast out of all human company. Previously, he had been honoured by everybody, but now he is considered as a piece of rotten carrion. Furthermore, such sores were in all likelihood accompanied by great burning, which tormented him to the uttermost. This latter misery seems to be far more excessive than all the miseries that had happened before. This is what Satan meant when he said, ‘skin for skin! A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones and he will surely curse you to your face.’ Satan’s subtleness here is grounded on the nature of man. Although he did not succeed with Job, he understands, nevertheless, that we are all inclined towards such a mind. Our life is precious to us and it is easier for us to bear everything else, rather than the misfortunes that afflict our own physical health. But in Job, we see invincible constancy in a servant of God. He continued in his soundness when God punished him in his goods and in his children. So also he continued in his soundness when he was persecuted so roughly in his body that he was continually in extreme torment. But no matter what happened, he continued to praise God. If God grants us escape from one inconvenience, we should be prepared to suffer three or four more, each greater and more excessive than the first. And it is with good reason that God should increase the weight of our burden according to the strength with which he has endowed us to bear these burdens; in so doing, he has an eye to our welfare.
It behoves us especially to mark that Job did not have long respite between the miseries that befell him. God often gives us some respite. When he has tried our patience in adversity, we may have the leisure to take breath again and to assuage the grief and heaviness that we endured. Afterwards, God sends us some other burden. With Job, God laid it on stroke after stroke. For as soon as Job had been visited by robbers, lightning immediately came from heaven and disposed of the rest of his goods. Immediately, his children died as if the hand of God had been their enemy. And shortly afterwards, he is plagued in his own person. This should have been enough to overwhelm Job, even though he had a wonderful stoutness within him. It was God’s will to work in such a way within Job; in all this God did not cease to have an eye to Job’s ultimate salvation. Therefore, each one of us, when we are afflicted, should consider that God does not cease to be our father, for God never forsook his servant Job. When we suffer even the tenth part of what Job endured, shall we be excused if we murmur against God? Not at all. Rather, we have cause to thank God for watching over us in our infirmity, even when he afflicts us. We should note that he afflicts us strictly according to that which he has enabled us to endure, even though it may not seem like that at the time. And why should we not be afflicted as much as Job? God has absolute authority over us. We can be sure that Satan rages as much now as he did in the days of Job. Satan is still of the same mind and he is still like a roaring lion with open mouth to swallow us up, as the apostle Peter declares. If God gives him leave, we may be sure that we should endure as much, or even more than Job. But our afflictions are indeed gentle compared with those described here.
Let us therefore conclude that God shows himself courteous and compassionate towards us, and that we are afflicted only gently at his hand. He keeps such a measure that we are not racked to the uttermost, nor does he use such excessive rigour as we see in the person of Job. Furthermore, it is shown here that people ought to renounce themselves so that they may give themselves wholly over to God. But as long as a person stands in his own conceit, even though he may be well accustomed to serve God, he is certain to go backwards rather than forwards. A person standing in his own conceit delights in his own pleasure and his own ease. But God intends to handle us differently. It is not for his own delight that God troubles us. Rather, it is because it behoves us to be tamed and brought low so that we may understand the subjection that we ought to yield to God. If God should frame himself to our own will in the things he sends upon us, we could not discern what it means to be obedient. But when he handles us clean contrary to our appetite, and yet we still subject ourselves to him so that we hold all our affections under his bridle and we frame ourselves to his will and yield him the honour of governing us after his own good will, it is only then that we show that we are obedient to him.
Thus, we see what is declared to us in the text. We see how Job has to fight against all his own affections, to bereave himself of them and to hold himself as a prisoner. Otherwise, he should leap out of his bounds. He should lift himself up against God, or at the very least fall into such anger that he should do nothing but storm within himself so that God should have neither credit nor superiority over him. Job resists all his affections and brings them underfoot. We should take heed of this example and do likewise, for it is impossible that God should have the full use of us until we have come to the same point. That is, we must renounce ourselves to such an extent that we do not lay any store by our own life. Rather, we should find it within our hearts to yield ourselves subject to our God and dedicate our lives to him, rather than to be given to our own comfort and ease. It is good that we should desire that God assist us by sending us comforts that we may enjoy. Nevertheless, we must keep ourselves within bounds and be prepared to serve God in whatever way God sees fit. We should be prepared that God may bring troubles that are wholly against our appetite, because we know full well that he will grant us the grace to frame ourselves to him and to follow him through, wherever he calls us.
We have to practise this continually throughout our entire lives. When a trade, occupation or handicraft is hard, we need to take more time to learn it and it has more skill belonging to it. The lesson here is hard for us to learn and too hard for us to put into practise. It is true that we can confess well enough that it is reasonable that God should be our Lord and master and that he should reign over us, and that we should not strive against him. But when it comes to the deed of doing, there are very few who are capable of it. Let us all the time of our lives hold to this lesson and continually apply ourselves to it and to learn from it as we need to.