Over 60 years ago, Albert J. Nock wrote an essay titled “Isaiah’s Job.” In this timeless essay, Nock describes Isaiah’s career as a prophet, beginning near the end of King Uzziah’s reign – about 740 B.C. At the end of Uzziah’s long reign of prosperity, which led to the king’s death on the throne, the Lord commissioned Isaiah to go out and warn the people of the wrath to come. Nock describes the Lord’s task for Isaiah:
Tell them what a worthless lot they are. Tell them what is wrong, and why, and what is going to happen unless they have a change of heart and straighten up. Make it clear that they are positively down to their last chance. Give it to them good and strong and keep on giving it to them … I will tell you that it won’t do any good. The official class and their intelligentsia will turn up their noses at you, and the masses will not even listen. They will all keep on in their own ways until they carry everything down to destruction.
Isaiah contemplated what the point of this exercise and effort was if the message was doomed from the start and the result will be a complete failure of the people to realize the necessity of change. “Ah,” the Lord said,
you do not get the point. There is a remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it.
A couple of decades after this Nock essay, Gary North wrote the essay “Jeremiah’s Job” describing a similar task given to the prophet Jeremiah, who lived about 125 years after Isaiah. Jeremiah was told to go to the highest leaders in the land, to the average man in the street, and to everyone in between, and proclaim that they were in violation of basic moral law in all they did. If they did not change their ways, they would see their society totally devastated.
Unlike Isaiah, Jeremiah wanted to record the sad message of how the people would not listen and refused to turn away from false beliefs, which he did in the Book of Lamentations. Jeremiah was saddened that the masses wanted to have all the benefits of principled action, but also wanted all of the benefits of their unprincipled ways. They wanted the fruits but not the roots of morality.
People need to know that all is not lost forever just because everything seems to be lost today.God’s message to Jeremiah was that there is hope in the long run for those that are faithful to his message. Eventually there will come a day when truth will win, when the law will reign supreme and contracts will be honored. However, the prophet’s job is not to imagine that all good things will come in his own day. There is no need for the short-term optimist. He is told to look at the long-term, to preach in the short-term, and to go about his normal business. People need to know that all is not lost forever just because everything seems to be lost today. The prophet’s job is to be honest and realize that the truth needs to be preached for is its own justification – whether people listen or not is irrelevant. A messenger must not water down the truth for the sake of mass appeal. God encourages Jeremiah to keep plugging away; shed tears if you must, but most importantly, plan for the future. Never give an inch.
North emphasizes in his essay that the Remnant is there and in numbers beyond what most people would imagine. The Remnant will survive. Eventually, the Remnant will become the masses, since truth will win. But until that day, the prophet must do his best to understand reality and present it in the most effective way he knows how. That is Jeremiah’s job. Jeremiah realizes the burden of this thankless task, yet also becomes secure in the fact that it is a critical job to be done.
The Trials of Job
Job, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, also had a seemingly impossible task thrust upon him by God. A little background is necessary: Job lived in a town called Uz near Midian (east of the Sinai Peninsula). He was a contemporary of Abraham and lived well before Isaiah and Jeremiah. Job was a reverent man and a faithful follower of God who regularly conducted priestly obligations on behalf of his 10 children and extended family. Through most of his life, he was trouble-free and prosperous and owned large herds of sheep, cows, and camels. God rewarded him with a long life of almost 200 years. But during that life, in a short span of time, Job’s world came crumbling down.
What resulted in such an immediate change to Job’s fortunes? The answer lies with a test of faith. Satan assumed that Job’s faithfulness existed only because God had blessed his life. God knew this to be false and so allowed Satan to take all that Satan thought Job held closest to his heart. As a result, Job lost his children and other family members, his wealth disappeared, his friends abandoned him, and his influence in his community was no more. Even Job’s good health was lost to him as he was afflicted with boils covering his entire body.
Job's pride was wrongfully placed in his own righteousness.Surely Satan believed Job would renounce God once these calamities happened. However, to Satan’s shock, Job continued holding his faith and trust in God. Three close friends of Job attempted to convince Job to repent, assuming he had some hidden sin he was paying for with his suffering. Job argued back that no such sin existed and that he did not deserve his tragedies.
God addressed Job with unanswerable questions, leading Job to admit he knew nothing of God’s ultimate plans. This exchange humbled Job, making him realize his pride was wrongfully placed in his own righteousness. Finally the story comes full circle with the return of his wealth, now doubled, and Job having a new family of seven sons and three daughters.
Job’s Job – and Ours
Many questions naturally flow from the book of Job: what can we learn about the trials of Job? Is Job’s experience relevant to us today? How should we respond to difficulties – do we question our actions or do we stoically move forward? Does adhering to the laws of the land and being faithful offer protection from loss and problems? What exactly was Job’s job?
Albert Nock wrote years ago about society and civilization depending on the Remnant as the preservers of what was once universally treasured – a society of right laws and justice. A society dedicated to a universal legal system, a limited, honored, and time-tested set of laws, in conformity with the natural inclinations of human nature, guided by tradition, which allows for the sustenance of civilization.
Societies that function at the whimsy of elected and appointed leaders historically fail to preserve a moral civilization and an economically growing culture. Mankind is eternally flawed and, like Job, is often self-deceived by believing they are righteous. Without timeless laws that are limited, proven, and evenly enforced, the corruption of mankind’s leadership will be exhibited. Arbitrary and capricious leadership leads to the degradation of society.
Leonard Read liked to stress that "the truth will out" – truth will win the future and cannot be extinguished.Job went through trials that very few individuals would ever endure. Job questioned “Why me?” yet he persevered through all the tests and losses he faced. When we go through difficult times, whether they are personal, political, or economic, we feel a sense of isolation. Often, we see only the temporary troublesome issues in our lives rather than hold fast to faith in the longer outcome. We wonder why this pain is necessary to God’s great plan for our future, my family’s future, and our nation’s future.
The answer may be analogous to the same reason a person occasionally prunes trees to stimulate their growth in the direction that is best for that tree. Job, being human, did not see this at first. In fact, he did not even consider this pain as having a purpose until he had experienced a multitude of tragic difficulties.
Job, as righteous a man as ever was known, possessing as deep a faith, still lacked the span of vision beyond a few years. It is difficult to move forward with sustained productive energy if you believe in the application of honorable laws and in a universal truth, yet see so much destructive and immoral leadership.
The founder of FEE, Leonard Read, liked to stress that “the truth will out,” meaning that the truth will win in the future, and, in the end, cannot be extinguished. As the conclusion of the book of Job states, “Now the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning” (42:12).
God wants us to follow his lead and example as presented in word and deed. Job, despite being a model human in many respects, had an error in his thinking – an error so subtle that it went unnoticed by everyone around him. Job was righteous in his own eyes rather than placing his mental and emotional focus on being righteous in God’s eyes.
Only the severe trials he went through allowed Job to eventually see his human nature honestly and to put his periods of suffering in the perspective of a longer view. Without the trials he experienced, Job would not have found a deeper appreciation of the truth and his faith in the future. So that was Job’s job – to persevere, to keep the faith, and to trust that “the truth will out.” The same is true for us, living as a remnant in our own society.