A Lesson for the Praying Parent from the first chapter of the Book of Job
It was an annual tradition. The seven sons each successively hosting a party at their homes on their appointed day. They invited their siblings, including their three merry sisters, to gather and celebrate.
He knew when all had had their turn, the cycle of banquets completed. Iyov (translated “Job” in English) marked his calendar, prepared for the solemn occasion. He selected seven choice animals from the herd, instructed his herdsmen to keep them separate. Later, by the light of the candle, he wrote the invitations. “It is time. Come, join us at our home.” He called his servants, gave them the letters, and sent them away to the homes of the seven sons and their sisters.
Like a Christmas gathering, they showed up, one by one, on the appointed day. That evening was a chattering of voices, happy greetings, tales of the years’ events. It was late before they all turned in.
They rose early, washed the sleep from their eyes, and gathered outside in the cool air at the family altar. A solemn occasion. The herdsmen brought the seven animals, bound them, and laid them on the altar. Job was quick about it. His cutting knife was swift. Blood flowed, the life escaping. One sacrifice for every child. A mournful reminder of the weighty ramifications of sin. One for one, the sons saw an animal die on their account. As Job performed each sacrifice, he whispered to himself the prayer. “Forgive them, Adonai. Perhaps they have sinned against You, brought shame to Your name. Perhaps they have cursed You privately, in their hearts. Have mercy on them, I beg You.”
There was no evidence of immorality or wickedness in any of the sons, but Job knew that the human heart is deceptive and desperately sick, capable of hiding unsavory motives, thoughts, and desires under a pretentiously happy countenance. Without knowledge of any specific sin, Job offered sacrifices for each son, in case their dark, deceitful hearts had stirred up some form of enmity against God.
Thus, Job “consecrated” his sons. To consecrate is to set apart for a holy purpose, to separate the unclean from the clean. Job was atoning for months’ worth of sin in his sons, and sanctifying them for the time ahead. To accomplish this consecration, he offered the only redeeming agent suitable to atone for sin–the blood of a live animal. Job knew well His Lord’s opinion in this matter–the lesson of Abel’s blood offering being preferred to Cain’s (Genesis 4:3-5) passed on for generations. And as the scriptures tell us, ”the redemption of the soul is costly” (Psalm 49:8), and, ”without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).
As each son watched his father offer the sacrifice on their behalf, a mournful feeling crept upon them. In the solemness of the occasion, they whispered their own prayers, prayers of confession, of recommitment to Jehovah.
When the ceremony was complete, the rose, hugged each other, gathered their things, and returned to their own homes.
To the sons, this ritual may have been inconvenient. They had their own lives, their own herds to care for. But they knew this was important to their father. They saw how he loved them. They saw his dedication, his desire to satisfy God on their behalf and to appeal for His mercy on them.
At the start of one particularly hard year, tragedy struck. Job suffered a more devastating loss than any parent in history. In a singular horrifying day, Satan unleashed his fury. Job lost everything–his livestock, most of his servants, and worst of all–he lost all his children. The house in which the children had gathered suddenly and violently collapsed, killing them all. A witness who escaped the tragedy reported the news:
“Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came from across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people and they died…” (Job 1:18-19).
Such an epic, untimely loss would ruin most people, driving them to bitter resentment. To his credit, Job did not blame God (Job 1:22). Somehow, in his sorrow, he recognized that God gives and takes away. And he blessed God’s name.
For his part, Job was a God-fearing man, blameless, upright, and hating of evil (Job 1:1). This suggests there was nothing wrong with his prayers. In fact, it is arguable they were the best prayers a parent ever prayed, deep, consistent, and theologically accurate. Yet, God let Satan destroy the very children Job so diligently consecrated, all in a single moment.
Some might argue that Job’s prayers did not “work”. His children did not grow old and become prosperous, so Job’s prayers went unanswered. Perhaps he didn’t offer the sacrifices correctly, or say the right words. Hopefully these ridiculous arguments sound as silly to you as they do to me as I type them. We should never expect that perfect prayers for our kids guarantee good outcomes. One who believes this is naive, immature in his thinking.
If there is one thing to take away from the book of Job it is this: God is never obligated to do what we think is best. No amount of good deeds on our behalf requires Him to respond. No amount of prayer guarantees the outcome. This world is God’s. It is His plan, His story. In God’s world, the demise of Job’s children was an important part of the unfolding drama of His world. In God’s script, it had to be done.
We should not think that Job’s prayers were somehow inadequate. Job’s prayers were perfect, exactly what they needed to be. God heard them and was pleased with them. Job’s diligent consecration, his prayers for God’s mercy on his kids–these things were exactly what he needed to do. They are the kinds of prayers godly parents pray for their kids.
Job has thus set the example for all men who desire to be blameless, upright, God-fearing, and evil hating men. God-fearing fathers pray for God’s mercy on their kids. They do it regularly. They do it with a proper appreciation for the devastating effects of sin in their kids’ hearts–even the kind of sin that is unseen. They do it with a mournful and healthy appreciation that the only redeeming agent suitable to save their children is the shedding of blood; a sacrifice of redemption. They do not pray to get results. They do not expect their children to turn out well because of their prayers. Godly men gather their kids under the sheltering umbrella of God’s protective mercy. It’s what God-fearing parents do for their children.