The Book of Job
Job is a wealthy man living in a land called Uz,
with his large family and extensive flocks.
He is “blameless” and “upright,” always careful to avoid doing evil (Job 1:1).
One day, Satan (“the Adversary”) appears before God in heaven, God asks Satan, from where do you come? Satan says : From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.
God proudly reminds Satan to consider Job’s goodness, there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil.
Satan argues that Job is only good because God has blessed him abundantly, made a hedge around him and his household, and asserts that if he were to lose his posessions, surely
Job would curse you (God) to your face!
So God allows Satan to torment Job to test this bold claim, but he forbids Satan to even lay a hand on Job's physical body.
Job Loses His Property and Children
In the course of one day, Job receives four messages, each bearing separate news that his livestock, servants, and ten children have all died due to
marauding invaders or natural catastrophes.
Job tears his clothes and shaves his head in mourning, but he still blesses God in his prayers.
(Job 1:20) Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped.
And he said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked shall I return there.
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Job did not sin, nor charge God with wrong.
Satan appears to God again, and the Lord says, From where do you come? Satan answered: From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.
God proudly reminds Satan, Have you considered my Servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?
He still holds fast to his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to destroy him without cause.
So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life.
But stretch out Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will surely curse You to Your face!”
And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand, but spare his life.”
So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.
And he took for himself a pot-shard with which to scrape himself while he sat in the midst of the ashes.
Then Job's wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!”
But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?”
In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Job's Friends perspective: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar
Three of Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, come to visit him,
sitting with Job in silence for seven days out of respect for his mourning.
On the seventh day, Job speaks, beginning a conversation in which each of the four men shares his thoughts on Job’s afflictions in long, poetic statements.
Job curses the day he was born, comparing life and death to light and darkness.
He wishes that his birth had been shrouded in darkness and longs to have never been born, feeling that light, or life, only intensifies his misery.
Eliphaz responds that Job, who has comforted other people, now shows that he never really understood their pain.
Eliphaz believes that Job’s agony must be due to some sin Job has committed, and he urges Job to seek God’s favor.
Bildad and Zophar agree that Job must have committed evil to offend God’s justice and argue that he should strive to exhibit more blameless behavior.
Bildad surmises that Job’s children brought their deaths upon themselves.
Even worse, Zophar implies that whatever wrong Job has done probably deserves greater punishment than what he has received.
Job responds to each of these remarks, growing so irritated that he calls his friends “worthless physicians” who “whitewash [their advice] with lies” (Job 13:4).
After making pains to assert his blameless character, Job ponders man’s relationship to God.
He wonders why God judges people by their actions if God can just as easily alter or forgive their behavior.
It is also unclear to Job how a human can appease or court God’s justice.
God is unseen, and his ways are inscrutable and beyond human understanding.
Moreover, humans cannot possibly persuade God with their words. God cannot be deceived, and Job admits that he does not even understand himself well enough to effectively plead his case to God.
Job wishes for someone who can mediate between himself and God, or for God to send him to Sheol, the deep place of the dead.
Job’s friends are offended that he scorns their wisdom. They think his questions are crafty and lack an appropriate fear of God, and they use many analogies and metaphors to stress their
ongoing point that nothing good comes of wickedness.
Job sustains his confidence in spite of these criticisms, responding that even if he has done evil,
it is his own personal problem.
Furthermore, he believes that there is a “witness” or a “Redeemer” in heaven who will vouch for his innocence (Job 16:19, Job 19:25).
After a while, the upbraiding proves too much for Job, and he grows sarcastic, impatient, and afraid.
He laments the injustice that God lets wicked people prosper while he and countless other innocent people suffer.
Job wants to confront God and complain, but he cannot physically find God to do it. He feels that wisdom is hidden from human minds, but he resolves to persist
in pursuing wisdom by fearing God and avoiding evil.
Without provocation, another friend, Elihu, suddenly enters the conversation. The young Elihu believes that Job has spent too much energy vindicating himself rather than God.
Elihu explains to Job that God communicates with humans by two ways—visions and physical pain.
He says that physical suffering provides the sufferer with an opportunity to realize God’s love and forgiveness when he is well again, understanding that God has “ransomed” him from
an impending death (Job 33:24).
Elihu also assumes that Job must be wicked to be suffering as he is, and he thinks that Job’s excessive talking is an act of rebellion against God.
God Answers In a Whirlwind and Reveals His Omnipotence to Job
God finally interrupts, calling from a whirlwind and demanding Job to be brave and respond to his questions.
God’s questions are rhetorical, intending to show how little Job knows about creation and how much power God alone has.
(Job 38:2) Who is this who darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
God describes many detailed aspects of his creation,
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements?
Surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
To what were its foundations fastened?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
And God continues, explaining that he rules over two large beasts, the Behemoth and Leviathan.
Overwhelmed by the encounter, Job acknowledges God’s unlimited power and admits the limitations of his human knowledge.
This response pleases God, but he is upset with Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar for spouting poor and theologically unsound advice.
Job intercedes on their behalf, and God forgives them.
God returns Job’s health, providing him with twice as much property as before, new children, and an extremely long life.
The Book of Job is one of the most celebrated pieces of biblical literature,
not only because it explores some of the most profound questions humans ask about their lives, but also because it is extremely well written.
The work combines two literary forms, framing forty chapters of verse between two and a half chapters of prose at the beginning and the end.
The poetic discourse of Job and his friends is unique in its own right. The lengthy conversation has the unified voice and consistent style of poetry,
but it is a dialogue between characters who alter their moods, question their motives, change their minds, and undercut each other with sarcasm and innuendo.
Although Job comes closest to doing so, no single character articulates one true or authoritative opinion.
Each speaker has his own flaws as well as his own lofty moments of observation or astute theological insight.
The interaction between Job and his friends illustrates the painful irony of his situation.
Our knowledge that Job’s punishment is the result of a contest between God and Satan contrasts with Job’s confusion and his friends’ lecturing,
as they try to understand why Job is being punished.
The premise of the friends’ argument is that misfortune only follows from evil deeds.
Bildad instructs Job, “if you are pure and upright, / surely then [God] will rouse himself / for you” and he later goads
Job to be a “blameless person” (Job 8:6, 8:20).
The language in these passages is ironic, since, unbeknownst to Job or Job’s friends, God and Satan do in fact view Job as “blameless and upright.”
This contrast shows the folly of the three friends who ignore Job’s pain while purporting to encourage him.
The interaction also shows the folly of trying to understand God’s ways.
The three friends and Job have a serious theological conversation about a situation that actually is simply a game between God and Satan.
The fault of Job and his friends lies in trying to explain the nature of God with only the limited information available to human knowledge, as God himself notes when he
roars from the whirlwind,
“Who is this that darkness counsel / by words without / knowledge?” (Job 38:2).
The dominant theme of Job is the difficulty of understanding why an all-powerful God allows good people to suffer.
Job wants to find a way to justify God’s actions, but he cannot understand why there are evil people who “harm the childless woman, / and do no good to the widow,”
only to be rewarded with long, successful lives (24:21).
Job’s friends, including Elihu, say that God distributes outcomes to each person as his or her actions deserve.
As a result of this belief, they insist that Job has committed some wrongdoing to merit his punishment.
God himself declines to present a rational explanation for the unfair distribution of blessings among men.
He enlightens Job, “Have you comprehended the / expanse of the earth? / Declare, if you know all this” (Job 38:18).
God suggests that people should not discuss divine justice since God’s power is so great that humans cannot possibly justify his ways.
One of the chief virtues of the poetry in Job is its rhetoric.
The book’s rhetorical language seeks to produce an effect in the listener rather than communicate a literal idea.
God’s onslaught of rhetorical questions to Job, asking if Job can perform the same things he can do, overwhelms both Job and the reader with the sense of God’s extensive power.
Sarcasm is also a frequent rhetorical tool for Job and his friends in their conversation.
After Bildad lectures Job about human wisdom, Job sneers, “How you have helped one / who has no power! / How you have assisted the arm / that has no strength!” (Job 26:2).
Job is saying that he already knows what Bildad has just explained about wisdom.
The self-deprecating tone and sarcastic response are rare elements in ancient verse.
Such irony not only heightens the playfulness of the text but suggests the characters are actively responding to each other, thus connecting their seemingly disparate speeches together.
The poetry in Job is a true dialogue, for the characters develop ideas and unique personalities throughout the course of their responses.