“I’m re-reading the Bible (in a year) and am questioning why during God & the devil’s conversation about Job, why did God even have this conversation? It sounds like there was bargaining/betting going on with Job’s terrible obstacles even though he was told not to touch Job himself?”
This is called Stump the Rector and allow me to say from the outset, YOU WIN!
That said I still would like to offer some comments but they are only comments and not definitive answers.
I studied under a scholar who spent 40 years studying this book. He even learned the languages of the area during the period when Job was written in order to find idioms and nuances of the other languages in the story. It was his contention that this may well be one of the first books of the Bible written since Job predates Moses. If so it is fascinating to me that among the first things that God speaks to us about is why bad things happen to good people. (Yes I know the text that there is none good no not one, but you get the point.) Life can seem very unfair and how merciful of God to address that fact. So while I believe that Job was a true historical figure, this story acts as a parable to address the bigger questions of life.
The first thing to note is that God is in charge. Satan tagged along with the sons of God to present themselves to God. Just as you don’t barge into the White House to see the President, so subjects do not willy nilly appear before the King. They are summoned and they present themselves. Thus these are not equals meeting one another. These are subjects appearing before the King.
God is also shown to be in control when He sets limits on what Satan is allowed to do to Job. Lesson: While we still live in a fallen world and evil is very real, God is in ultimate control.
Second, God is not the author of evil. It was Satan and not God who struck Job. Yes God allows evil to continue but He is not the author of it. Jonathan Edwards put it this way. God is “the permitter of sin; and at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes…” The most vivid example we have of God permitting sin but using it for His excellent ends and purposes is the crucifixion of our Lord. Satan entered Judas to betray our Lord. Jesus was unjustifiably executed and yet His death was the very thing that God used to take away the sins of the world. Lesson: When bad things happen to us rather than blaming God for them we place our trust in Him to work even the bad things to our ultimate good. God has the last word, not Satan.
Third. If we accept the premise that God is not the author of evil but nevertheless permits it, then the $64,000 question is, “Why does God permit it?”
If you read the end of Job that is the question that in essence Job asked the Lord. And God answers Job by first saying “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” Translation. “Put on your big boy pants this is going to get rough.”
Then God begins to asks scores of rhetorical questions like, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth.” Translation: (think Jack Nicolson… “You want the truth, you can’t handle the truth!” Lesson: His ways are above our ways and His thoughts are above our thoughts therefore we must be humble and admit there are some things (many things) beyond our ability to grasp.
Fourth. Job’s response to God is noteworthy. He says “I have uttered what I do not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I do not know.” Translation. “Well shut my mouth.” Lesson: While it is not wrong to question the ways of the Lord we need to accept that there are some things above our pay grade. In this case our response is simple trust. Job came to this earlier in the book when he said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”