‘The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.’ What was taken? and by whom?

The riddle

As a congregation we occasionally sing the lines: ‘He gives and takes away…My heart will choose to say, Blessed be his name.’ The song obviously derives its theme from Job’s initial response to the tsunami that ravaged his entire life without warning:

‘Then Job … worshipped. And he said, “…the Lord gave, and the Lord has  taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong’ (Job 1:21-22).

Recently this song has given rise to an interesting theological debate. One view strongly contends: ‘Lord, thank you that it’s not you who takes good things away, but the devil …’ Now, that cannot be denied, as James categorically states: ‘God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one’ (James 1:13). Ah, but I’ve just remembered that he adds: ‘But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. And desire … gives birth to sin …’ (James 1:14) – and ‘Job did not sin’! So that verse sheds no light on who ‘gives and takes away’.

How about another back-up argument that ‘it’s only said once in Scripture’? Maybe James does come to our aid on that issue: ‘You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful’ (James 5:11). So, the whole saga of Job is still relevant to us today.

One suggestion offered ‘The Reversed Version’ by changing the lyrics of the song to: ‘The Lord takes away, and later gives us something better’ as he did with Job eventually. Job 42:10 tells us: ‘The Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.’

The text in context

Job’s problems all started with God’s initiative. He asked Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, … who fears God and turns away from evil?” indeed, he’s “a blameless and upright man” … “there is none like him on earth” (Job 1:6). The adversary protested that the Lord had given Job comprehensive protection: ‘Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? … But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has and he will curse you to your face” (Job 1:9-11). Essentially, Satan was urging God to take away that protective hedge and to remove Job’s prosperous estate with which he’s been divinely blessed so that he could attack Job violently. (Yes, it was Satan who created the mayhem.) Yet, when stripped of every benefit, Job responded by worshipping in the words of our text, although completely unaware of the argument that had occurred in the heavenly realms.

Pruning by the divine vine dresser

The song enables us to state our own naked faith in adverse circumstances: ‘My heart will choose to say, Blessed be your name’, whether when ‘the sun’s shining down on me, and the world is as it should be’ or ‘on the road marked by suffering, and there’s pain in the offering.’ But I will let our Lord have the final word: ‘…my Father is the vine dresser. Every branch [he gives to be] in me that does not bear fruit he takes away [= barren wood], and every branch that does bear fruit [e.g. Job] he prunes [= he takes away fruitful wood!] that it may bear more fruit [= he gives more, for apart from me you can do nothing!] (John 15:1-5). So, yes, he gives and takes away in that order, even as the song says. I rest my case!

This entry was posted in Misunderstood Bible Texts. Bookmark the permalink.