The Biblical books known as “Wisdom Literature” (Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon and Job) display an intercultural flavor that all nations can relate to. When we open the book of Job, we are transported into an ancient world. However, it is one that reflects human fears, joys, hope and the deep questions of life today. Every human being who has ever suffered deeply can relate to Job, especially those who have felt they have suffered unjustly.
The land of Uz where Job lived is not the mystical land of Oz with its Emerald City. Uz was a real place and Job, his family and friends actually existed. Uz may have been in Arabia or Syria but in any case, we must go outside Palestine to find this obscure land in the post-flood, pre-Abramic era. They were not Jewish, for there are no references to the laws of Moses, the tabernacle or the priesthood. We must conclude that they were Gentiles, for the book tells us the area in which they lived. In addition, the big questions addressed in the book of Job would be out of place in the era of Moses in which these questions are addressed.
When we open the book of Job, we are struck with its monotheism. There is no mention of heathen gods or idolatry. Though the writer is monotheistic, as yet there is no covenant relationship with Jehovah, for God is not described as gracious or merciful. The basic, pre-Mosaic commonly-held theological concept was that prosperity followed faithfulness and that calamity followed unfaithfulness. The question in Job is one of divine retribution—of punishment and reward. In this book, this pivotal question is answered through the battle raging in Job’s mind.
Job and the date of his book
It seems clear that Job was written during the Patriarchal Era (circa 2000 BC) for several reasons:
- The length of Job’s life is similar to those of the patriarchs. His children were grownups when they died, so we assume Job was about 60 years old at that time. We find in 42:16 that he lived an additional 140 years. Thus, his age of circa 200 is comparable with that of Terah, Abraham’s father, who died at age 175. Isaac died at 180, Jacob died when he was 147, and Joseph lived to be 110.
- Jobs wealth was reckoned in livestock (1:3), as was Abraham’s (Genesis12-13). Thus, we can conclude no monetary system had yet been established. This tells us that Job’s era was a very early one.
- The Saebeans and Chaldeans were nomads in Job’s day (chapter 1), but were not later in world history.
- Job served as the spiritual head or “priest” of his family, which was typical prior to the establishment of the Aaronic priesthood. (1:5).
- Various musical instruments (21:12 and 30:31) were similar to ones mentioned in Genesis.
- Job’s daughters were heirs of his estate. This was not possible under the laws of Moses later established in Israel.
- Job makes no mention of ritual sacrifices, which points us to an era prior to Moses and Aaron.
- The name of God used in Job is usually “Sahddai”, a name familiar to the patriarchs (Genesis 17:1). It is used 31 times in Job and only 17 times in all other books of the Old Testament combined.
- Some personal names (and places) associated with the patriarchal age are mentioned, such as Sheba and Tema, Abraham’s grandsons; and Uz, who was a nephew of Abraham.
- There are no quotes from any other Old Testament book, for there were no other canonical books as yet extant.
Job and his personality
Job is presented to us as an overcomer. From the first verse, we find Job to be a God-fearing, righteous man. We know he had ten children, seven sons and three daughters (1:2-19). We also find him to be a very wealthy man, with seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys. The loss of all of this makes the story of Job intriguing. Throughout Job’s long ordeal, he faced lightening strikes, a wife who misunderstands him, dead children and servants, crippling disease, and bad counselors. He gets mad at God, but he doesn’t stay mad. He feels his situation is undeserved, unfair and unwarranted. He seeks for someone to understand—for some moral support—but finds none. Everyone around him says his sufferings are due to his sins.
When someone dies prematurely, a house burns down, there is a car wreck, a flood occurs, there is a divorce, a child is born with a birth defect or one faces major surgery, most people conclude such troubles are undeserved. They ask, “Why did this happen to me, of all people? What did I do to deserve this?” Thus, the book of Job addresses one of the world’s oldest questions: Why the righteous suffer. The book of Job begs the questions: “How do we reconcile suffering with faith in God? Why do bad things happen to good people? Is success always an indication of God’s favor? Is there any merit to the so-called “prosperity theology?”
Job is the classic case of undeserved suffering and he asserts his own righteousness throughout the book. Though Job seems convinced the problem must somehow lie with God, Job’s friends are convinced the problem lies with Job. The foundational dilemma of the book is reconciling these two views. When Job says, “It would have been better if I’d never been born,” it is a cry of despair caused by his confusion. It seems clear Job did not anticipate restoration to health and wealth, but rather saw his afflictions as proof of God’s estrangement. Job felt God could not have seen him as innocent if He continued to afflict him. This seems to make sense, but Job never saw Satan accusing and afflicting him behind the scenes in the spiritual realm. Job was never aware of the hatred of Satan for God and his people. Job and his friends seem to agree that ones current life on earth is all that is important—that riches or poverty is proof enough of God’s favor or disfavor. But because Job thought his illness was permanent, he was forced to think beyond this life into the supernatural world. Sometimes it takes hardship and trials to get one to ponder eternal questions. Job exclaimed that he knew that his Redeemer lived—and that he would see Him—but his portrait of God is hazy and obscured by pain, doubt and despair. As one studies these many chapters with its cyclic speeches, it seems unlikely Job believed God would ever show up and vindicate him.
Job and typology
Job is not a type of Christ. Though Job does suffer, it is not vicarious suffering. While it is true that Job suffers nobly, he is not in the Garden of Gethsemane or on the cross of Calvary. Job was focused on himself, with no thought of suffering for others. Job suffered as a man, not as the Messiah. Indeed, messianic concepts were not yet written in Job’s day. Jesus understood why He was betrayed and forsaken by His disciples, but Job didn’t like it that his friends were adding to his misery with their warped theology. Job’s buddies proved powerless to explain his afflictions, let alone help him. Job did not know why he was suffering – but God did.
Job and his book
Job is probably the oldest book in the Bible. It is a biographical, non-fiction drama, yet is a masterpiece of world literature. It stands alone in poetical excellence. It is a theodicy, a Greek term that means “to justify God”. Webster defines a theodicy as “the defense of God’s goodness in view of the existence of evil.” Job and his friends assume we suffer for our own sins and that we are individually accountable to God for them. However, the question of original (inherited) sin is not directly addressed. The book of Job is a classic study of man’s logic and reasoning regarding the question of suffering. The more important questions addressed are, “Is God fair if the innocent suffer with the guilty?”, and “If I am suffering unjustly, is God just?” When we read Job, we find ourselves pondering these universal questions.
Buddha has pity for the world’s pain, but has no empathy and is powerless to help. Is Jehovah any better? Is all suffering the result of sin? Job’s book shows human reasoning verses God’s reasoning concerning sin. In John chapter nine, Jesus’ disciples assume the man born blind owed his affliction to either his own sins or the sins of his parents. They fully ascribed to this ancient belief that physical suffering is the result of sin.
The book itself has a wonderful simplicity. There are only a few characters, so it is easy to follow the flow. The Hebrew is ancient, but its prose and poetry have a unique structure. The book of Job is original in every way. It is rich in words. It has 110 hapax legomena. These are words found no place else in the Bible, and it has more of these words than any other Old Testament book. There is a generous use of similes and metaphors. For example, life is like a weaver’s shuttle (7:6), wind (7:7), a cloud (7:9) or a shadow (8:9).
The book opens with a series of calamities. First, Job loses all his children, servants and possessions (1:13-22). Still, Job blesses God. Then, Satan attacks Job with physical affliction. Job lives as an outcast (2:4-8). Add to all this, the frustrating remarks of Job’s wife (2:9-10). Lastly, Job’s “friends” arrive with their free counseling services (2:11-12). Most of the rest of the book (over thirty chapters) consist of three cycles of speeches between Job and his friends.
The book can be briefly outlined in this way:
Chapters 1-2: Prose Prologue
Chapters 3-42: Poetical Dialogue
Chapter 42: Prose Epilogue
Note that the prologue and epilogue, the beginning of Job and the end, are both prose. The heart of the book is pure Hebrew poetry.
Throughout the entire book, neither Job, his family or his friends seem to have the slightest clue that God and Satan have been discussing his case. As readers we are admitted backstage to see how Job’s circumstances are orchestrated.
Job says, “It is true that I am afflicted, but I have not sinned so as to deserve this!” Thus, the book introduces a new concept: even the godly suffer. It also verifies suffering is worth the pain, for God has an unseen purpose below the surface. Suffering can be to one’s advantage, for it can help rid us of self-love and self-complacency. It can cause us to not take God’s mercy for granted. He forces us to work through our pain and ponder His purposes.
Job and his friends
The “sunshine seminarians” arrive to straighten out Job’s theology. They have the answers to the questions no one is asking. What do all three of Job’s friends have in common? Their philosophy is based on private views and experiences. They each have a personal eclectic. All say Job has sinned and therefore deserves to suffer. All imply wealth is mark of divine favor and poverty is a mark of divine displeasure. All try to prove that sin is punished in this life and that goodness is rewarded in this life as well. Each of them is convinced that he alone is right and the others are wrong. All of them fail to convince Job (32:1). In essence, they all condemned him. None of Job’s friends indicate God may send undeserved misfortune upon an individual. Job was right when he began his dialogues, indicating that God is just to send both good and evil upon a person (2:10).
Within the poetical sections of the book we find Jobs initial dialogue, three cycles of six speeches by Job and his friends, then a separate speech by a fourth friend. These three cycles are found in chapters 4-14, chapters 15-21 and chapters 22-32. Each cycle contains six speeches: one from a friend followed by Job’s reply. The first three friends have a lot of theology in common: “God is great. Man has no right to question God. God will speak, if man will listen.” Although most of what Job’s fourth friend says is relatively sound advice, it too is flawed. One perverted theological concept can negatively impact sound doctrine.
There is a great applicable truth here for twenty-first century Christians. Although you may get lots of opinions, the ultimate Counselor must be God Himself, speaking to you through His Holy Spirit. God’s counsel should be sought right away in any crisis. Never settle for advice that does not agree with the Spirit of God. In the last round of speeches, the fourth friend fails to respond, probably as an admission of defeat. Finally, God speaks to set everyone straight, clearing the air when He talks to Job in chapters 38-42. Nothing in Job is put into clear focus until this point in the story.
Although the characters are each a separate study within themselves, the four friends do have a bond of commonality. All four sought to bring God to human level to make Him more comprehendible. Their pious platitudes seem to irritate Job more than his boils. Their lack of comfort and lack of answers are anemic attempts to help Job through cold orthodoxy. When one is hurting, superficial religion will never suffice. When we finish the book, we find all four have accused him of hypocrisy. Though he sought for sympathy, he received only disappointment. None of the four ever came close to seeing through God’s eyes, for they felt that God’s true feelings toward a person was only expressed by how He treated him.
Job was in the doldrums to begin with, but added to his anxiety was the trashy theology dumped on him by his friends. In the end, Job rebukes them all. Though in pain and impoverished, Job tends to defend God’s actions. Job may have felt like a victim in the beginning, but he becomes the victor in the end.
Job and God
What can we learn about Jehovah through the book of Job?
- God doesn’t sugar-coat the facts. In the last chapter, God tells it like it is.
- God is behind the scenes everywhere; everything must be traced back to Him, never Satan.
- God is just.
- I must get my mind right toward God while living here on earth.
- God allows suffering that is not always disciplinary, but it is always educational.
- In the end, Job still did not know why he suffered. God never feels the need to justify His own actions.
Job and God’s answers
Chapter 38 marks the beginning of God’s reply. At the point of exasperation with his four friends, Job is now ready to hear whatever God has to say. Prior to this, Job attempted to put words in God’s mouth. Job had charged God with injustice: God charges Job with ignorance of His global plan. Note that God speaks from a whirlwind. Everything in this scene is significant. The control of the whirlwind indicates the majesty of the Speaker. Man’s counsel has failed. Job had four amateur psychiatrists counsel him, but he was still hurting. Job could not reason out his solution, but God had the answers all along. The Lord usually does not speak until we are ready to listen. What is confusing to Job is not confusing to God. His wisdom is too vast to be comprehended—Job’s friends were right about that—but His wisdom is too wonderful not to be trusted.
It is interesting that God never answers the pivotal question concerning why the righteous suffer. God feels no compulsion to defend His own conduct, for only God can judge His own motives. Job has questioned God. Now it is God’s turn to ask some questions. God’s only attempt to comfort Job is by providing some answers.
Each question is a separate study within itself. Incorporated within God’s response to Job is the short story of creation told directly by the Creator. He paints a dynamic picture of creation to make the point that His creation is far too vast for man to comprehend. Any theology which seeks to clear up how God deals with humans will end with humans being unable to understand His vastness. We must accept His wisdom by faith. Paul had a lot of unanswered questions – until He met Jesus on the Damascus Road. It was only after that experience his cloudy theology began to clear up. At the end of his book, Job admitted, “I have spoken in ignorance” (42:2).
Job and the lessons we can learn
The book of Job serves many purposes:
- It is a rebuke to Satan’s slander and lies.
- It teaches us patience amid trials.
- It motives us to seek direct dialogue with God.
- It teaches that only after God’s direct communication with Job did he repent.
- It shows that people with good intentions can give bad counsel.
- It teaches us that we must pray for our friends, even though they may disappoint us. It was only after Job prayed for his friends, that God blessed him abundantly.
- It teaches us patience.
- It teaches us that the end result of suffering, even unjust suffering, is blessing.
- It shows the protection of God’s saints, for Satan’s attacks were restricted.
- It provides us with insight about how God thinks: that suffering is not always punishment…and can even serve to mature us.
- It tells us that suffering is not always the result of sin, regardless of what our friends may think.
- It shows that bitter trials can produce sweet revelations.
- It teaches us that no man should pass judgment on another’s afflictions.
- It shows us that there are some things God cannot explain without destroying the purpose they are designed to fulfill.
- It sets forth the truth that we must trust God, despite His lack of explanations.
- It teaches that we must trust God, despite unexplained afflictions.
- It shows Satan is a liar, because Job did stay true to God.
- It teaches that our trials are designed to allow us to come to the end of ourselves, for when we are at our wit’s end, we must turn to Jesus.
- It teaches that half-truths are still lies, whether uttered by Satan or Job’s friends.
- It shows that God can be loved for Who He is, without anterior motives, though Satan may accuse otherwise.
- It teaches that God is just, even when it seems He is not.
- It teaches that we must not allow our friends and relatives to “define” us, to provide our identity. Our identity must be with God personally through the Lord Jesus Christ.
- It shows that God is the real hero of the book, not Job—and certainly not Satan
In the end, Job received twice as much as he had before. In that era, this was the way God’s favor was generally expressed, so God worked within that framework to express His love for Job.
But Job did not just get more children and material possessions, he received a new view. Gradually, throughout his book, Job seems to get closer to the truth: that his first duty is to trust God, despite bad circumstances and bad advice. We leave Job a better man – not a bitter man. But he is better because of God, not because of his theologian friends. Had Job known the outcome of the situation, he might have acted differently. The whole point of the book is to trust God despite explanations. Human logic must respectfully take the back seat.
Food for Thought
The book of Job generates many points to ponder. Answer the following short-essay questions.
1. Why do bad things sometimes happen to good people? Why do good people suffer?
2. How can we reconcile suffering with faith in God?
3. Are success and prosperity always signs of God’s favor? If not, why not?
4. If we suffer for no apparent reason, why are sufferings often accompanied by feelings of guilt?
5. Is God really fair if the innocent suffer along with the guilty?
6. Is all physical suffering the direct result of sin?
7. List some things Job’s friends have in common.
8. Comment on the statement, “No one has a right to question God.”
9. All four of Job’s friends sought to bring God down to human level in order to comprehend Him. Why do human beings tend to do this?
10. God’s true feelings toward an individual are only expressed by how He treats them.
True or False? Why?
11. Why is God not obligated to defend His own conduct?
12. What does James state concerning Job (James 5:11)?