Does God Bet Satan in Job 1-2?

JobThe Accusation of Atheists

Among atheists it is common to hear the accusation that God jeopardized the lives of Job and his family for the sake of a bet with Satan. The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, for instance, summarizes the main events under consideration as follows:

God makes a bet with…Satan, telling Satan to do nasty things to Job to see if he can get Job to curse God to his face. 1:6-12[1]

God and Satan play a little game with Job. God allows Satan to torment Job, just to see how he will react.[2]

The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible’s interpretation of these interactions between God and Satan being “[a] gruesome game”[3] is a staple feature of atheist rhetoric. However, is there any truth to it? Did Godbet Satan? Did God and Satan play a game with the lives of Job and his family?

Before answering this question, it is crucial to establish that the atheist’s diatribe against the moral value of God’s actions is irrational, for it is an example of begging the question. One can only assert that God is responsible to some standard of morality assumed by the atheist if God is not Transcendent, Sovereign, the Creator of all to whom all are accountable. And if God is not Transcendent, Sovereign, the Creator of all to whom all are accountable, then he is not God. The atheist’s attempt to impugn the character of God, therefore, in order to justify his belief that such a God does not exist presupposes that the God of the Bible does not exist. This is question begging.

Beyond this, however, the atheist’s imaginative interpretation of the book of Job has more in common with Goethe’s Faust than with the Scriptures themselves. A brief review of the book’s first two chapters will clearly demonstrate that the atheist’s understanding of what occurs in Job is rooted in either the ignorance or malevolent intentions of the atheists, perhaps both. What follows is a brief review of the relevant Scriptural data.

Sovereignty & Irony: Making a Fool of Job’s Accuser

In Job 1:6-12 & 2:1-6, God is approached by the Sons of God, a title which was “generally understood of the angels” in the Old Testament.[4] Satan, although an angelic being, is fallen, sinful, reprobate and so had “no proper business there,” as John Gill notes.[5] After this, it is God who asks Satan:

“Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”[6]

God initiates the course of events that will take place in the life of Job, not Satan. God is in control of the events to come, not Satan. God unilaterally decides what will occur by asking this question of the accuser. Satan’s role is not that of an equal with whom God decides to place bets, but is that of a lesser enemy who foolishly thinks himself wiser than God.

“Irony,” as George W. Parsons notes, “is a significant literary feature which saturates nearly every portion of the book [of Job].”[7] Among such ironic events in the book, the reader may properly place the interaction between God and Satan. Satan believes himself to be accomplishing his own purposes in destroying Job “without reason,”[8] i.e purely out of his hatred of the Righteous God and his righteous servants; however, Satan’s attack on Job serves as the grounds upon which God establishes Job’s steadfastness and reiterates his own divine compassion and patience and mercy. Accordingly, James 5:11 later identifies the events which transpire in the book of Job as being “the purpose of the Lord.

In a classic ironic reversal of intended goals, God uses Satan’s hatred of righteousness and the righteous saints against Satan himself. Satan, however, is ignorant of what God is doing, all the while thinking himself wiser than God.[9] To reiterate, therefore, this is not a bet, nor is it a “game.” God and Satan are not equals. God is the Sovereign King who uses his enemy’s malevolence against his enemy and in favor of his people’s prosperity. This is a common Scriptural depiction of God’s Sovereign control of all things, and appears in the Scriptures as early as the book of Genesis.[10]

Satan Challenges God

Despite the above paragraphs clearly demonstrating that the exchange between God and Satan is in no way a bet or a game, the unconvinced reader may still believe that God makes a bet with Satan “telling Satan to do nasty things to Job to see if he can get Job to curse God to his face.”[11] There is no textual warrant, nevertheless, for such a belief. God does not challenge Satan; Satan challenges God. Satan wishes to demonstrate that Job’s faith is wrongheaded, sinful, in order to demonstrate that God is unworthy of faith/trust/worship. The text does not even supply the careful reader with prima facie evidence of God telling Satan to hurt Job in order to see if Job will remain faithful or not.

A Final Problem

This article began with a brief logical criticism of atheistic attacks on the moral character of God, demonstrating that all such attacks must first presuppose atheism and, therefore, cannot be arguments against the existence of God. In closing, this article will offer another brief logical criticism of atheistic characterizations of God and Satan’s interaction as being nothing more than a cosmic bet.

The book of Job gives emphasis to distinctions of levels of knowledge between God and his creatures. Satan is ignorant of God’s purposes in allowing Job to suffer; Job is unaware of his future restoration; Job’s friends are ignorant of Job’s righteousness, God’s purposes, as well as their own sin in falsely accusing Job of sin.[12] From beginning to end, God is the only omniscient character in the book of Job. To suggest, as many atheists have done, that God is betting against Satan is to suggest that he is lacking knowledge of the future. However, the author of Job repeatedly describes God as omniscient. For example, he records Job as rhetorically asking: “Will any teach God knowledge…?”[13] The implied answer is no. There is no living, rational being who will (i.e. can/has the authority to) teach God knowledge. This universal “any” includes Satan.

Thus, the atheist is again left presuming his own position when he asserts that God can and does make a bet with Satan. An objector might reply that God sought to gain from using his omniscience in an underhanded way, but this impugns the moral character yet again and is, as has been demonstrated early on in this article, an example of begging the question.

Conclusion

The accusation that God bets against Satan in a cruel game wherein the lives of Job and his family are jeopardized is entirely irrational and unbiblical. Logically, the atheist who makes the accusation must pressupose his own atheistic stance in order to deny that God is all good (i.e. that God is himself) and, therefore, that God exists. This is question begging, and it cannot serve as an argument against the existence of the Christian God. Moreover, betting is an action only non-omniscient beings can engage in, for betting implies the finitude of the parties involved. Finally, God cannot use his omniscience deceptively, as some atheists would respond, for this would mean, again, that he is not himself (i.e. good), and this implies that God does not exist. The atheist would be question begging yet again.

Expositionally, it has been demonstrated that the book of Job does not grant the reader textual warrant for claiming that God bet Satan or played a cruel game with his life and the lives of his family members. James 5:11, in fact, states rather straightforwardly that the suffering and restoration of Job were the purpose of the Lord. Textually, it is clearly the case that God is omniscient, Sovereign over Satan’s actions, and using his enemies’ attacks in order to achieve exactly the opposite goal than that which they are trying to achieve. God revels in irony, using the wicked intentions and actions of men to accomplish his good purposes for his people.

The god who bets Satan is the god of Goethe’s poem/play Faust, not the God of the Bible.

-Hiram R. Diaz III


[1] http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/job/intro.html

[2] http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/job/2.html

[3] http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/job/1.html

[6] Job 1:8

[7] “Literary Features of the Book of Job,” in Bibliotheca Sacra 138 (551) (July, 1981), 215.

[8] Job 2:3

[9] In fact, the same may be said of Job’s “comforters” who are unaware of the fact that Job has already been identified by God as righteous, blameless, etc. For more on this topic of privileged knowledge and its relation to irony and the structure and interpretation of the book of Job, see Wilson, Gerald. “Preknowledge, Anticipation, and the Poetics of Job,” in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Vol 30.2 (2005): 243-256.

[10] E.g., Gen 50:20 reads: “ As for you, you meant evil against me [Joseph], but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” In this passage, God explicitly uses the sin of Joseph’s brothers to bring about a goal completely contrary to what they intended.

[11]  http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/job/intro.html

[12] For more on this subject, see Diaz, Hiram. “Perspectival Knowledge in the Book of Job.” Involuted Speculations. https://involutedgenealogies.wordpress.com/2009/10/22/perspectival-knowledge-in-the-book-of-job/.

[13] Job 21:22

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2 thoughts on “Does God Bet Satan in Job 1-2?

  1. wynn says:

    Hiram, good, thanks. I was wondering too what is the atheist’s basis for claiming cruelty is immoral.
    Anyway, as I see it, if we take an early understanding of Job, as taking place in the time of the patriarchs, it gives great insight to what’s happening.
    The nations are spreading over the earth in Genesis 11 following the flood and the great question is, “what will God do”? Chapter 12 begins with the call of Abraham and the promise to bring those nations back under one Head. Satan sees this, the plan of redemption unfolding before him and bites back at God. It’s not so much a bet or even a contest to see how Job turns out as it is Satan’s claim that God’s plan will never work. If Job is the best He has to offer then to cause him to renounce his faith in God will prove Satan correct and God a fool for believing He could create a redeemed humanity that loves Him for His own sake and not just for
    the fringe benefits. The real theme of the book is not “how do the righteous suffer” or even “what is God doing in our pain” but “is salvation real?”. Can God really pull this off? A redeemed people who love God out of this bunch of cutthroat humanity. Satan says “no”, God says “yes”. This point is even more poignant if placed in the era of the patriarchs when God’s plan is still getting off the ground so to speak. Just my thoughts, thanks.

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