The book of Job presents a series of reflections on the meaning of life. One of its main emphases is the problem of the suffering of the innocent. However, the book of Job does not provide an answer to the problem of human suffering.
The book of Job is also a testimony on behalf of the intrinsic value of stubborn faith. The main issue of the book deals with a person’s relationship with God. The Adversary suggested that Job’s faith and relationship with God were not sincere. Job only served God in order to obtain God’s blessings and enjoy a life of prosperity.
Job’s friends misunderstood the reason Job was suffering. They believed in the doctrine of retribution. This doctrine teaches that obedience to God brings prosperity, health, and a long life. They also believed that sin brings poverty, sickness, and suffering.
The three friends believed that Job’s suffering was the result of his sins. Their words of comfort failed to comfort Job because their words reveal what can happen when the easy word of orthodox piety fails to grasp the significance of the human predicament.
The Composition of the Book of Job
The meaning of Job’s name in Hebrew אִיּוֹב (’iyyôb) is unknown. Some scholars believe that the name means “Where is my Father?” Others believe that the name comes from a Hebrew word which means “to be hostile.”
If the name comes from a verb that means “to be hostile” or “to treat as an enemy,” then the name Job can have two possible meanings: “The enemy of Yahweh” (if the verb is an active form) or “The one whom Yahweh treats as an enemy” (if the verb is a passive form). It is possible that the real meaning of Job’s name is “Where is my Father?” This name may reflect a parent’s appeal to God for help.
The book of Job is composed of three sections. The Prologue, chapters 1 and 2, is written in prose. The poetic section of the book, chapters 3–42:1–6, includes three cycles of dialogue between Job and his friends and Yahweh’s answer to Job from the whirlwind. The Epilogue, Job 42:7–17, is a prose section describing Job’s restoration.
The Dialogue Between Job and His Friends
1. The Speeches of Eliphaz: Chapters 4–5, 15, 22
Job’s Response, Chapters 6–7, 16–17, 23–24
2. The Speeches of Bildad, Chapters 8, 18, 25
Job’s response, Chapters 9–10, 19, 26
3. The Speeches of Zophar, Chapters 11, 20, [Third speech is missing]
Job’s Response, Chapters 12–14, 21, 27:1–12
4. The Speeches of Elihu, The Bystander, Chapters 32–37
The Provenance of the Book
The book does not say whether Job was an Israelite. It is possible that by omitting Job’s nationality, the author of the book was implying that Job’s experience reflects the experience of many people who are unable to find a reason for their misfortune.
Job lived “in the land of Uz” (Job 1:1). The precise location of Uz is unknown. According to the book of Lamentation, the land of Uz was in Edom: “Rejoice and be glad, O daughter Edom, you that live in the land of Uz” (Lamentations 4:21). In one of his oracles, Jeremiah mentions “all the kings of the land of Uz” (Jeremiah 25:20).
In addition, Job’s friends have Edomite names. Job’s friend, Eliphaz, was a Temanite (Job 4:1). In Genesis 36:4, Eliphaz was an Edomite and the son of Esau. In Genesis 36:11, Teman was an Edomite; he was the son of Eliphaz.
If Job was an Israelite, Job was living in a foreign country, possibly in the land of Edom. If Job was an Edomite, he was a descendant of Abraham through Isaac, who was the father of Esau.
The Date of the Book
The date of the book is unknown. Some scholars place Job in the pre-Mosaic period. The reason for the early dating is because the book uses two ancient names for God, Eloah and El Shaddai. In addition, the book does not mention a central sanctuary or the presence of priests.
Other scholars date the book to the monarchic period because the language of the book of Job is similar to some of the Psalms and Proverbs or because the ethical teaching of the book reflects the preaching of the prophets. Most scholars believe that the advanced development of wisdom in Israel provides the context for a postexilic date. The problem of innocent suffering presupposes a Deuteronomic background of the doctrine of the two ways. Also, the possibility that Job could be identified with the suffering of Israel requires a postexilic background for the book.
The Authorship of the Book
The author of the book is unknown. The author probably was an Israelite who had a strong view of the divine sovereignty of God. The author used the experience of a man living in Uz in south Edom, because it was the original source of the story and because of the universality of human suffering.
The author of the book experienced either the suffering of Job and sought to share his experience to help others, or he wrote the book because he was at odds with the teachings of his days that emphasized divine retribution.
The Divine Assembly
The Prologue of the book takes place in the divine council: “One day the divine beings presented themselves before the LORD, and the Adversary came along with them” (Job 1:6). In the book, God is introduced as the heavenly king who is surrounded by his host, that is, other heavenly beings described as “the sons of God.”
The Hosts of Heaven. In the Bible, the God of Israel is known as Yahweh, the Lord of Hosts. “So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from thence the ark of the covenant of the LORD of Hosts” (1 Samuel 4:4). The hosts of the Lord are all the divine beings: “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, with all the hosts of heaven standing beside him to the right and to the left of him” (1 Kings 22:19).
As God’s attendants, these divine beings are called “messengers” or “angels.” “Praise the LORD, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word” (Psalm 103:20). These divine beings are also called “sons of God.”
The assembly of the divine beings receives different names in the Old Testament: “the divine council” (Psalm 82:1); “the assembly of the holy ones” (Psalm 89:5); “the council of the holy ones” (Psalm 89:7).
The function of the holy ones is to be “watchers” (Daniel 4:13) and to be active in the affairs of human beings, patrolling the earth (Zechariah 1:8–17; 6:1–8).
The Adversary. When the sons of God presented themselves before God, “the Adversary came along with them” (Job 1:6). In the book of Job, “the satan” is the Adversary who accuses Job. The Adversary is a member of the divine council, he acts as the messenger of God and as one who does his will.
In the Old Testament, “the satan” is an adversary, a person who could be a foreign enemy: “Then the LORD raised up an adversary [Hebrew: “satan”] against Solomon, Hadad the Edomite” (1 Kings 11:14). In Numbers 22:22, “the satan” is the Angel of the Lord who is sent to stop the false prophet Balaam. In Zechariah 3:1-2 “the satan” is the accuser. He accuses the high priest Joshua of his human frailty. Eventually, the people of Israel recognized that Satan was an agent of evil.
The Monsters in the Book of Job
Leviathan: “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook?” (Job 41:1).
Leviathan is presented in the Old Testament in different ways. Leviathan was a primeval dragon who lived in the seas. Isaiah says that Leviathan was a sea monster: “Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will kill the dragon that is in the sea” (Isaiah 27:1). The psalmist says that Leviathan was a monster with many heads: “You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the dragons in the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan” (Psalm 74:13–14).
Behemoth: “Look at Behemoth, which I made just as I made you” (Job 40:15).
Behemoth was a primeval sea monster created by God at the beginning of creation. In the book of Job, Behemoth has been identified with the hippopotamus.
Rahab: “By his power he stilled the Sea; by his understanding he struck down Rahab” (Job 26:12). Rahab was a sea monster: “You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them. You crushed Rahab like a carcass” (Psalm 89:9–10).
These animals were unknown sea monsters who brought fear to the Israelites. These animals are mentioned in the book of Job to show Job the greatness of God’s creation and to address Job’s self-righteousness. God wanted Job to realize just how insignificant he was when compared to the many amazing things found in God’s creation.
The book of Job relates the story of a man of integrity who feared God, and who stayed away from evil. The book tells the story of a man named Job who lost his fortune, his family, and his health. Job was afflicted with loathsome sores from head to foot. The book is the story of a man who in his suffering, refused to “sin with his lips” (Job 2:10) by cursing God.
The book of Job tells the story of a man who went from despair to faith. The story of Job is a challenge to anyone who attempts to provide an easy answer to the ways of a good God who allows human suffering in a world controlled by God.
The mystery of human suffering is left unanswered in the book of Job. The main issue of the book of Job is not suffering. The main issue of the book is an individual’s relationship with God. The book tells the story of a man whose knowledge of God was based on tradition, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear” (Job 42:5) and whose suffering brought him into a personal relationship with God, “but now I have seen you with my own eyes” (Job 42:5).
For all nine lessons on this series, visit my post on Studies on the Book of Job.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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