The book of Job is one of the greatest literary works of all times. The plight of Job deals with questions and issues people face in their daily lives. The suffering of Job in many ways, speaks to the suffering of people throughout the ages.
The book of Job reflects the struggle of many people who grapple with the easy answers to problems they face in their daily lives. When people are suffering, when they are seeking answers to the problems they are facing, they come to the conclusion that those easy answers are useless and of no help.
Job’s friends came to comfort him and give him words of encouragement to help him deal with his suffering. Instead, they made Job’s agony worse. Job’s friends sat down with him and gave him the same useless answers, without taking the time to hear the issues Job was raising about his suffering and about God.
The book of Job is classified differently in the English Bible and in the Hebrew Bible. In English Bibles, the book of Job is classified among the poetical books of the Old Testament. In the Hebrew Bible, the book of Job is classified among the Kethuvim or the Writings.
The book of Job tells the story of Job, a man whom God called “a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8). The etymology of the name Job is disputed. Some scholars have derived the name Job from a Hebrew verb which means “to be an enemy.”
If the name Job comes from a verb that means “to be hostile” or “to treat as an enemy,” then the name can have two possible meanings. The first meaning would be, “The enemy of Yahweh” (if the verb is an active form). The second meaning would be “The one whom Yahweh treats as an enemy” (if the verb is a passive form). This etymology for the name Job, however, is doubtful. It is also doubtful whether the name Job derives from the Hebrew word meaning “to treat as an enemy.”
Job lived “in the land of Uz” (Job 1:1). The precise location of Uz is not known. According to the genealogy of Esau in Genesis 36, Uz is listed as one of the clans of Esau, also known as Edom. Jeremiah speaks about “all the kings of the land of Uz” (Jeremiah 25:20). The book of Lamentation refers to Uz being in Edom, “Rejoice and be glad, O daughter Edom, you that live in the land of Uz” (Lamentation 4:21).
In discussing the Edomite background of Job, James Crenshaw wrote, “In accord with the universality typical of early wisdom, the hero seems to have been an Edomite, famous for the wisdom of its inhabitants” (Crenshaw 1992:3:858).
Outside of the book of Job, Job is mentioned in Ezekiel 14:14, 20, together with two other “righteous men,” Noah and Daniel. Ezekiel said that when divine judgment comes against Jerusalem, only these three persons, Noah, Daniel, and Job “could save themselves by their righteousness” (Ezekiel 14:14).
The book of Job can be divided into four sections:
1. The Prologue.
This section of the book consists of chapters 1 and 2. In this section of the book, the Satan or the Adversary, with the permission of God, puts Job to the test in order to ascertain whether Job’s faith was genuine or whether his faith was motivated by the blessings God had bestowed upon him.
2. The Dialogue.
This section of the book consists of chapters 3–37. This section can be subdivided into four parts:
a. Chapter 3 presents Job’s lament for his misfortunes.
b. Chapters 4–27 present the dialogue between Job and his three friends, Eliphaz Bildad, and Zophar.
c. Chapter 28 presents a hymn to Wisdom.
d. Chapters 29–31 present Job’s closing statements.
e. Chapters 32–37 present the five speeches of Elihu. Elihu was a bystander who was angry at Job’s friends for their failure to convince Job that he was wrong. He was also angry at Job for trying to justify himself by accusing God of wrongdoing.
3. The Theophany.
This section consists of chapters 38–41. This section of the book consists of God’s speeches in which God speaks to Job about the mysteries of creation. This section also includes brief replies by Job to the questions God asked him.
4. The Epilogue.
This section consists of chapter 42. This section of the book deals with the restoration of Job and God’s rebuke of Job’s friends.
The book of Job introduces a man who lived in the land of Uz whose name was Job. The book presents Job as a man of integrity, a righteous man who had great wealth and a large family.
The book describes how Job lost all his wealth, his family, and all his possessions. The reason for Job’s heavy calamities was due to the Satan questioning Job’s faith before God in the Heavenly Council. The Adversary questioned the sincerity of Job’s faith. Satan said that the only reason Job believed in God was because of the prosperity God had bestowed upon him.
Satan receives God’s permission to try Job’s faith by afflicting him with the loss of his wealth, his family, and eventually, the loss of his health. Throughout his ordeal, Job does not deny God nor curse God for the calamities with which he was afflicted. Job accepts God’s will for his life. Throughout his ordeal, “Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing” (Job 1:22).
The book of Job tells the story of a righteous man, a man of integrity, a man who fears God, and he stays away from evil (Job 1:8) and his three friends who wanted to help Job but who end up accusing him of being a great sinner who had offended God by his actions.
In his response to his friends, Job criticizes them for accusing him of wrongdoing against people and against God. At the same time, Job accuses God for the misfortune and for the suffering with which he has been afflicted. In attributing his suffering to God, Job questions the goodness and the justice of God. Job is impatient with his friends and critical of God’s silence.
Throughout the book Job gives a defense of his integrity. He called God his adversary, “He has torn me in his wrath, and hated me; he has gnashed his teeth at me; my adversary sharpens his eyes against me” (Job 16:9).
Job declares his innocence and puts his case in writing, sealing it with his own signature, “Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defense” (Job 31:35). In turn, Job wants God to write down on a scroll the complaints he has against him, “Oh, that I had the indictment written by my adversary” (Job 31:35).
When one reads the book of Job, one discovers that the book of Job does not solve the problem of suffering. Suffering will continue as long as people live their lives on this earth. What the book of Job does is to change one’s focus from suffering to faith in a personal God who is present in human suffering even when people live in the valley of deep darkness.
When a person struggles with the dark night of the soul, it becomes more important than ever to believe, to trust, and to be faithful to God. The prophet Habakkuk speaks out of his own experience with doubts: “he whose soul is not upright in him shall fail, but the righteous person is rewarded with life for his fidelity” (Habakkuk 2:4).
The posts below deal with several aspects of the book of Job. I hope you will enjoy these studies on Job. The problem of innocent suffering continues to raise questions about God. How can a gracious and merciful God allow a righteous person to suffer so much?
STUDIES ON THE BOOK OF JOB
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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