Job Overview: Wisdom in Suffering


1. Name

The book takes its title from the name of its main character. The same title appears in the Greek and Latin versions of the Old Testament. The meaning of “Job” is debatable. Some think that it is derived from a root meaning “to be an enemy.” If so, it may mean either one who opposes God, or one who God opposes/treats as an enemy. Others trace the root to a word meaning “one who repents,” making the title signify “one who turns back to God.”

2. Purpose

To explore the limits and proper uses of traditional proverbial wisdom in the case of a righteous individual’s suffering.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 748.[/footnote]

3. Theme

Wisdom to face the mystery of suffering.

4. Key verses

But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold (Job 23:10).

I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes (Job 42:5-6).

5. Key truths

• God has purposes behind all suffering, but these are largely hidden from us.
• Conventional proverbial wisdom applies easily to some situations but not to the suffering of the righteous.
• Righteous sufferers must humbly join their laments to affirmations of God’s goodness and justice.
• Human grasp of wisdom is limited and always begins with the fear of God and obedience to his commands.[footnote]Ibid., 748.[/footnote]


I. Author

As well as direct divine revelation of heavenly events (Job 1-2) and heavenly words (Job 38-41), the Holy Spirit also guided the author in the selection and accurate reporting of Job’s friends’ speeches which contained a mixture of truth and error.
Regarding the human instrument which the Holy Spirit used to record these inspired words, the book of Job is anonymous, and there are few external or internal clues. The name of a possible or likely author is connected with the next question, the date of the book.

II. Date

The question of when the book was written is tied up with when the events narrated actually took place. We will mention five views.

1. Patriarchal Age

Events: Patriarchal
Composition: Patriarchal/Mosaic (up to 1450 BC)

a. Argument

(i) The patriarchal family-clan organization is more like Abraham’s time than Moses’.

(ii) The offering of sacrifice by the family head instead of an official priest is pre-Mosaic (Job 1:5).

(iii) Job’s long life (140 years) is patriarchal, as is the measuring of his wealth by livestock (Job 1:3).

(iv) If Israel had already settled in Canaan then we would expect Job, the monotheistic worshipper of God to at least refer to the one nation who worshipped the same God. Every other Old Testament book shows awareness of the importance of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses. But Job does not even allude to them

(v) There is no clearly demonstrable knowledge of the Mosaic law. Although Job 24:2-11 has been used to suggest influence of the Mosaic law, it is merely a description of what was happening, not a record of legal sanction. Also, the boundary stones mentioned were widely used in pre-Mosaic Near Eastern cultures.

(vi) The names fit a patriarchal period.

(vii) The closer the writing of the book is to the events of the book, the more accurate the record.

(viii) The divine name Shaddai (Almighty) so characteristic of the patriarchs, occurs thirty one times in Job and only sixteen times in the rest of the Old Testament

(ix) The likelihood of Mosaic authorship is heightened by the fact that Uz is adjacent to Midian where Moses lived for forty years. The details of the debates between Job and his friends would virtually demand that the writer was actually involved in the experience recorded.

b. Difficulties

(i) If the setting was Edom in North Arabia, then clan type societies and family priesthood may have continued there even after the establishment of the Hebrew monarchy. This geographical setting would allow a much later date for the events

(ii) The developed angelology, including Satan, may suggest a later stage in God’s progressive revelation.

Jewish tradition held to this early date and assigned authorship of the book to Moses. Others have suggested that Moses found the book in its original Aramaic (perhaps using memoirs of Job) and thought it worthwhile to translate into Hebrew. Although the style of the book is not Mosaic, certain factors do support a Mosaic involvement. It would explain how the Hebrews came to possess a “foreign” book and how it was given a place in the canon of Scripture.

2. During the reign of Solomon

Events: Patriarchal
Composition: Solomon’s reign (c. 950 BC)

a. Argument

This theory proposes that while the events were probably patriarchal (see argument above), the book was not composed until the time of Solomon’s reign.

(i) During Solomon’s reign writing and literature flourished, creating suitable conditions for such a composition as Job.

(ii) Solomon’s reign was characterized by the exploration of hokma “wisdom” and the practical problems of life.

(iii) Proverbs 8 and Job 28 have many similarities.

(iv) The evident wide knowledge of foreign countries is incompatible with a patriarchal North Arabian setting.

(v) There are linguistic similarities between the Psalms of Solomon’s contemporaries (Heman and Ethan: Ps. 88, Ps. 89) and Job.

b. Difficulties

(i) None of these factors are conclusive in arguing against a pre-Mosaic setting or composition.

(ii) If the events took place 400 years or more before Job was written it is difficult to see how accuracy of transmission could have been preserved up to the Solomonic period. It is for this reason that some scholars, including Delitzsch, propose that the book was not intended to be a historically accurate report but rather a drama based on the life of Job which the original readers would have understood.

(iii) Sumerian wisdom literature has been found dated back to 1700 BC.

3. During the reign of Manasseh

Events: Patriarchal or during Manasseh’s reign
Composition: Manasseh’s reign (c. 680 BC).

a. Argument

The moral degeneracy and social injustice of Manasseh’s day have been proposed as a suitable backdrop for a book about the suffering of the righteous and the triumphing of the wicked (Job 9:24).

b. Difficulties

Almost every period of history would furnish a similar backdrop, Moreover, the sufferings of Job are very personal, and there seems to be no reference to national misfortunes.

4. During Jeremiah’s ministry

Events: Patriarchal or during Jeremiah’s ministry
Composition: Jeremiah’s ministry (c 600 BC).

a. Argument

(i) Similarity between Job and Jeremiah in contents and language (Jer. 12:1-3 and Job 21:7; Jer. 20:14-18 and Job 3:3 ).

(ii) The only other places Uz is mentioned are in Jer. 25:20 and Lam. 4:21.

(iii) The worship of the sun and moon in Job 31:26 is due to the influence of the Mesopotamian cults in the later days of the Jewish monarchy.

b. Difficulties

(i) The similarities referred to are vague and are also found commonly in other authors.

(ii) The problem of the prosperity of the wicked (Job 21:7-15) was discussed hundreds of years before Jeremiah (Ps. 73).

(iii) Jeremiah’s curse on the day he was born (Jer. 20:14) is more likely to have been based upon Job (Job 3:3) than vice versa.

(iv) The mention of Uz in Jer. 25:20 is only significant if it can be proved the name had not arisen until the age of Jeremiah or else was completely unknown to the Hebrews before his time.

(v) Archaeologists in Arabia are finding evidence of sun worship dating back to the very earliest times.

5. The Babylonian Exile

Events: Probably mythical
Composition: Long evolution of text but completed after the exile.

This is usually the view of the critics, many of whom also view it as a work of fiction.

a. Argument

(i) It reflects the long imprisonment and eventual release of King Jehoiachin

(ii) Job 12:17-25 describes the deportation of nations and peoples and would suggest the backdrop of some national catastrophe.

(iii) Job is similar to Isaiah in its morality and doctrine of God and in its suffering servant motif.

(iv) The belief in an afterlife was a late development in Israel’s religion

b. Difficulties

(i) Jehoiachin’s life is quite dissimilar to Job. It does not seem that he was godly and he was only given more pleasant living conditions in Babylon rather than being restored to the throne of Israel.

(ii) Such scenes were common and repeated throughout the time of the ancient Near East.

(iii) Isaianic comparisons are based upon Welhausen’s theory of evolutionary development of Israel’s religion. They propose that the book evolved from a central core (Job 3-31) over a number of centuries.

(iv) While there is a superficial resemblance between the sufferings of Job and Isaiah’s suffering servant, unlike Job, the suffering in Isaiah’s servant is vicarious and redemptive.

(v) There is biblical evidence, and also much non-biblical evidence, for a widespread belief in the afterlife in the ancient Near East.

(vi) The discovery of fragments from Job among the Dead Sea Scrolls has ruled out attempts to date the writing of Job in the postexilic period or later.

6. Conclusion

Most Conservative scholars opt for a patriarchal setting but a later composition. We see no reason for rejecting a composition nearer to the time of the events.


III. Historical Analysis

1. Historicity

Many have questioned whether Job was a real historical character or simply a fictional character whom the author used to give theological instruction. A modified view of this is that the author used a historical and biographical core and added poetic speeches from other individuals to discuss the theology of suffering.

The main reason for believing that the speeches are literary creations rather than actual orations is that they are poetic in form and that people did not ordinarily speak like this, especially when they were suffering.

The following factors favor the historicity of Job.

a. The name has been found in Egyptian texts dated around 2000 BC, and also in the Amarna letters (c. 1350 BC). In these documents, the name is given to tribal leaders in the Palestine area.

b. The Bible usually bases revelation on historical events. The first verse of Job is similar to the opening verses of Judges 17 and 1 Samuel 1, two clearly historical passages.

c. Job is mentioned twice in the Old Testament, each time in the same breath as Noah and Daniel (Ezek 14:14, 20), who are unquestionably historical figures.

d. James uses Job as an example of patience in suffering (Jas. 5:11)

e. The culture and personalities involved do not rule out poetic speech.

One would certainly have to concede that western people in the twentieth century do not ordinarily speak to one another in poetic verse, especially in times of distress. The main characters in Job, however, are wise men, living in the patriarchal world at least two thousand years before Christ. In oral societies speech tends to be more rhythmic and poetic. One of the subplots in the book is the contest in wisdom between Job and the other speakers. This was not just a contest of logic and theology; wisdom required artistic expression. Wise men competing in the field of wisdom might well have communicated with one another in poetic form, even in a time of distress, especially if the distress was the very point under discussion. The conclusion then is this: there is no good reason for not regarding the poetic sections in the book as transcriptions of what was actually said in a concrete historical situation.[footnote]J E Smith, The Wisdom Literature and Psalms (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co., 1996), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

2. Geographical Setting.

Different scholars have proposed different geographical settings including Egypt, Arabia, Edom, and Israel.

a. Egypt

Egyptian wisdom literature has nothing similar in its profundity to Job.

b. Arabia

Arabia had a polytheistic religion and primitive culture, which does not seem to be reflected in the book.

c. Edom

In Lamentations 4:21 Uz and Edom seem to be identified as one place. Also, the proper names in the book are associated with Essau’s genealogy (Gen. 36:4,11). It was not unknown for Israelites to take up residence in a neighboring country (Ruth 1:1). The Septuagint locates the book in Aisitai which is thought to have been an area adjacent to the Edomites of Mt Seir. Job’s friend Eliphaz came from Teman which is known to have been in Edom. A Hebraic religious background would fit the monotheism of the book. Yahweh, the special Israelite name for God, is used very rarely in the book with the most common divine name being the general Semitic term Elohim.


IV. Literary Analysis

1. Comparative Outlines

Nelson Murray Murray

Dilemma of Job
(Job 1:1-2:13)

Debates of Job
(Job 3:1-37:24)

Deliverance of Job
(Job 38:1-42:17)

Controversy between God and Satan
(Job 1:1-2:13)

Controversy between Job and friends
(Job 3:1-37:24)

Controversy between God and Job
(Job 38:1-42:17)

Prologue: Satan peaks
(Job 1:1-2:13)

Dialogue: Man speaks
(Job 3:1-37:24)

Epilogue: God speaks
(Job 38:1-42:17)

a. Satan speaks: The Dilemma of Job (Job 1:1-2:13)

The Circumstances of Job (Job 1:1–5)
The First Assault of Satan (Job 1:6–22)
The Second Assault of Satan (Job 2:1–10)
The Arrival of Job’s Friends (Job 2:11–13)

b. Man speaks: The Debates of Job (Job 3:1-37:24)

First Cycle of Debate (Job 3:1-14:22)

Job’s First Speech (Job 3:1–26)

Eliphaz’s First Speech (Job 4:1–5:27)

Job’s Reply to Eliphaz (Job 6:1–7:21)

Bildad’s First Speech (Job 8:1–22)

Job’s Response to Bildad (Job 9:1–10:22)

Zophar’s First Speech (Job 11:1–20)

Job’s Response to Zophar (Job 12:1–14:22)

Second Cycle of Debate (Job 15:1–21:34)

Eliphaz’s Second Speech (Job 15:1–35)

Job’s Response to Eliphaz (Job 16:1–17:16)

Bildad’s Second Speech (Job 18:1–21)

Job’s Response to Bildad (Job 19:1–29)

Zophar’s Second Speech (Job 20:1–29)

Job’s Response to Zophar (Job 21:1–34)

Third Cycle of Debate (Job 22:1–26:14)

Eliphaz’s Third Speech (Job 22:1–30)

Job’s Response to Eliphaz (Job 23:1–24:25)

Bildad’s Third Speech (Job 25:1–6)

Job’s Response to Bildad (Job 26:1–14)

Final Defense of Job (Job 27:1–31:40)

Job’s monologues (Job 27:1-31:40)

Elihu’s solution (Job 32:1-37:24)

c. God speaks : The Deliverance of Job (Job 38:1–42:17)

The First Controversy of God with Job (Job 38:1–40:5)

God’s First Challenge to Job (Job 38:1–40:2)

Job’s First Answer to God (Job 40:3–5)

The Second Controversy of God with Job (Job 40:6–42:6)

God’s Second Challenge to Job (Job 40:6–41:34)

Job’s Second Answer to God (Job 42:1–6)

The Deliverance of Job and His Friends (Job 42:7–17)

2. The God Speeches

Throughout the book Job is looking for an interview with God (Job 23:2-7). At the end he gets his wish but the interview does not go as Job planned. Instead of Job challenging God as to His ways, God challenged Job’s ignorance and frailty. All along, the book has been crying out for God to answer. Finally, the Lord broke his silence and answered all objections.

Just as there were two speeches between Satan and God in the prologue, there are two speeches between Job and God in the epilogue.

a. God challenges Job’s ignorance (Job 38:1-40:2)

Job was absent at creation and he cannot explain the forces of nature (Job 38:1-40:2)
Job admits his ignorance and becomes silent (Job 40:3-5)

b. God challenges Job’s frailty (Job 40:6-41:34)

Job cannot overrule God’s ways and he cannot control the forces of nature (Job 40:6-42:1)
Job admits his presumption and repents (Job 42:2-6).

The God speeches lead to three vindications. First of all Job vindicates God, then God vindicates Job (Job 42:7). Above all, God vindicates God. In a very real sense God had hazarded his reputation on Job in response to Satan’s “bet” that Job would curse God if God took away his blessings.

As overwhelming as the divine speeches appear to be, they are not intended to totally exclude any human understanding of God. Rather, in keeping with the wisdom view that creation has something to say that humanity needs to hear, the display of the wonders of nature suggests that all creation remains in the hands of God. Providence rules over all. The whole world is put back into the care and keeping of God. Job now recognizes, at least more keenly than ever before, that his destiny is well protected by this mysterious God.[footnote]L Ryken and T Longman III (Editors), The Complete Literary Guide to the Bible (Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 1993), 236.[/footnote]

These wondrous words of the Lord constitute both the answer to Job’s prayer and the desire that he might confront God and also the true answer to the problem. By constant appeal to the creation and the incomprehensible nature of the created universe God brings to the fore the infinite, absolute distance between the Creator and the creature. Man, being a creature and hence finite, cannot comprehend the infinite wisdom of God or the mystery of His rule. By these words of the Lord Job is more and more abased to the point where he sees that it is futile for man to think that he can penetrate the mysteries of God’s providential dealings with His creatures. He has found peace – a God-given peace – even though all his questions have not been answered. He now knows that “all things work together for good (even though he cannot understand how) to them that love God, to them that are called according to His purpose. His pride has been abased and his spirit humbled, but by beholding God affirm his integrity, Job has by God’s grace attained to a true victory and triumphant faith. Job breaks completely with the narrow theology which he had once held. He now sees that God is sovereign. Job and his sufferings have their place in God’s all-wise, incomprehensible, disposition of things, hence, all is well. Why should Job seek to penetrate the mystery? God is upon the throne. That is enough. Hence, Job abhors his words and repents.[footnote]E J Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (London: Tyndale Press, 1953), 320-321.[/footnote]

3. Original Audience/Message

Like all the Poetic and Wisdom books, the original audience is not certain. However, we have seen strong evidence for a patriarchal setting and a pre-Mosaic or Mosaic writing. If this is the case, then it is easy to see how well suited the message would be to Israel either in Egyptian bondage or wandering through the wilderness. Even if we accept later authorship, the history of Israel was so full of suffering at the hands of their enemies that the book would have had a timeless message for them: submit to the wisdom of God when you are baffled by personal and national injustices.

4. Genre

a. Poetry

Job is a lengthy poem of dialogue bracketed by two prose narratives, the prologue (Job 1-2) and the epilogue (Job 42:7-17). The book has many poetic characteristics including Hebrew parallelisms, metaphors, and emotive expressions

Beyond agreeing to the poetical genre, it is difficult to find agreement between scholars. Opinions include an epic, a lament, a tragedy, a legal disputation, a parable, a drama (see above), a myth.

b. Myth

The mythological view is supported by an appeal to the mention of Behemoth and Leviathan in the God speeches (Job 40:15–24; Job 41:1–34). Some think that they are creatures of Ugaritic or Babylonian mythology.

In light of the highly poetic nature of both these passages, we must reject the mythology approach and align ourselves with those scholars who view Behemoth as the hippopotamus and Leviathan as the crocodile. A further reason for viewing these creatures in this manner is a theological one – if they are mythological, this destroys the validity of the God speeches. If God was so badly informed about His own creation, then He had no right to speak at all. If, however, one objects that the author was limited by his own time and world view, then we are hardly dealing with a genuine divine revelation, but rather with a literary composition that rises no higher than the author’s own world view.[footnote]C H Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1993), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

c. Ancient Near Eastern Comparisons

There are examples of “Righteous sufferers” in ancient Near Eastern literature (eg. The Babylonian Theodicy). However there is no need to connect Job with these texts. There are differences in theology, ethics, tone and mood. Indeed, Job really is quite unique.

Job stands far above its nearest competitors, in the coherence of its sustained treatment of the theme of human misery, in the scope of its many-sided examination of the problem, in the strength and clarity of its defiant moral monotheism, in the characterization of the protagonists, in the heights of its lyrical poetry, in its dramatic impact, and in the intellectual integrity with which it faces the “unintelligible burden” of human existence. In all this Job stands alone. Nothing we know before it provided a model, and nothing since, including its numerous imitations, has risen to the same heights. Comparison only serves to enhance the solitary greatness of the book of Job.[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 206.[/footnote]

5. Wisdom

The book falls into the category of reflective or philosophical wisdom literature, as it teaches how to react to the difficulties of life.

The poem on “Wisdom” (Job 28) is suitably placed near the centre of a book which deals generally with “wisdom.” The poem teaches that God’s ways are incomprehensible to man and that only God knows the way to wisdom. This is also Job’s final conclusion as he repents at the conclusion of the “God speeches” (Job 42:3).

The central message of the book is implied in the hymn to wisdom (Job 28). Wisdom belongs ultimately to God (Job 28:20-28), and all human attempts to grasp it or contain it are doomed to failure. This is Job’s confession and ultimately his salvation. Rather than assume false guilt and live a lie, Job waited on God’s vindication.[footnote]B Arnold and B Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 296.[/footnote]


V. Thematic Analysis

We shall explore the theological themes in the book by considering the four main characters, Satan, Job, the “friends,” and God.

1. Satan

a. Enmity

The book instructs us as to the frightening enmity and hostility of Satan towards God’s people. Our look “behind the scenes” in the prologue explains much of what happens not only in Job, but in the rest of the Bible and, indeed, the rest of history. Satan hates God and all who bear His image. His great aim is not so much to get Job to commit sin but to get him to deny God.

b. Limitation

If the enmity of Satan is a source of terror to the righteous, this is balanced by God’s sovereign control over Satan. He is always subordinate to God and subject to the divine control. Satan can do no more than he is permitted by his creator to do (Job 1:12; Job 2:6). In Job, he is shown to be a servant of God and even made subservient to the greater good of God’s people. This is a clear rejection of dualism, the idea that there is an equal fight between good and evil in the world.

c. Defeat

In the end Satan loses his challenge that he can get even the most righteous to curse God if only they would suffer enough. He is proven wrong and Job remains faithful to God. God does have at least one servant who serves Him with no ulterior motive. By the end of the book, Satan is so completely vanquished he has vanished from the story.

2. Job

a. His sufferings

The sufferings of Job are notorious and fearful. Gareth Crossley enumerates them as follows:[footnote]G Crossley, The Old Testament Explained and Applied (England: Evangelical Press, 2002), 248.[/footnote]

He scrapes his body with a broken piece of pot to bring some kind of relief (Job 2:8).
He suffers insomnia, with constant tossing and turning through the night, longing for the dawn to come. His flesh is covered ‘with worms and dust’. His skin is ulcerated and constantly breaking out afresh (Job 7:4-5).
The pain is so intense at times that he bites his flesh (Job 13:14).
His body is rotting. He is like a moth-eaten piece of clothing (Job 13:28).
His whole body is wrinkled and emaciated. He is like a walking skeleton (Job 16:8).
His face is red with crying. His eyelids are dark and shaded like death (Job 16:16).
He has one foot in the grave (Job 17:1).
His bones cling to his skin and flesh (Job 19:20).
He has pain in his bones, and constant gnawing pains in his body (Job 30:17).
His skin turns black and peels away. His bones burn with fever (Job 30:30).

b. His righteousness

Job’s repeated claim to righteousness is also supported by the author’s inspired testimony (Job 1:1). However, neither Job nor the author was claiming sinless perfection for Job. What then was being claimed? There are two explanations.

Firstly, Job’s righteousness was not an absolute righteousness, but a relative righteousness and perfection. He was righteous and perfect compared to all others in his day.

Secondly, Job never denies he was a sinner, only that he has not sinned to the degree that would merit the treatment he was receiving from God. However, from this “righteousness” Job jumped to the conclusion that he must therefore prosper and must never suffer. In this, Job was simply embracing the common belief of the day. Job strenuously held on to his false principle. His only alternative, as he saw it, was to give up all confidence in a moral order (Job 9:22-24). The whole point of the book is to make him abandon his original view and cause him to see that for the “righteous sufferer” there is an alternative to the conclusion of “no moral order” and that is the divine order and divine wisdom.

3. The Friends

Beside Job’s repeated claims and protestations of righteousness were his friends repeated accusations of his sinfulness. They shared the same mistaken belief of Job – the righteous always prosper and the wicked always suffer. The friends represent the age-old wisdom of rigid and mechanical retribution theology. If Job suffers, he must be a sinner in need of repentance (Job 4:7-11; Job 11:13-20).

It is true that the Pentateuch (Deut 28), and other Wisdom literature (Prov. 2:33) teach the general truth that obedience will be blessed and disobedience will be punished. This was “retribution theology.” However, the three friends went far beyond the general truth that sin leads to suffering.

They actually reversed the cause and effect to teach the belief that; If you suffer, then you have sinned. By reversing the cause and effect, they were saying that all suffering is explained by sin. Suffering becomes a telltale sign of sin. Job suffers; therefore he has sinned.[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 209.[/footnote]

But this doctrine of retribution is a general moral principle of God’s administration of justice, not a hard and fast rule to be applied to every individual case. Job’s friends failed to understand this. Job’s case was exceptional. He needed compassion, not advice. But Job’s friends are not the only ones who failed to understand the limits to retribution theology, for Job himself was also committed to it as the orthodox approach to suffering.[footnote]B Arnold and B Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 298.[/footnote]

The friends were different characters. Eliphaz was a mystic who based his argument on a vision of God which he claimed to have had. Bildad was a traditionalist who based his argument on orthodox and time-honored concepts of justice: if you sin you will be punished. Zophar has been called a rationalist. He was the blustering dogmatist who stressed the consensus of human wisdom on the subject. Young Elihu comes closest to the biblical view and, at one point, stressed the educational effects of suffering.

However, though they differed in character and mindset they all based their life upon the belief that if you live a good life you will avoid disaster. Throughout the cycles of speeches and debates their argument remains the same. Job’s experience contradicted this and shook their sense of security to the core. If Job was godly and righteous, and yet suffered so much, what hope did they have of living a peaceful and comfortable life? Their only hope of restoring their peace of mind was to wring out of him a confession of well-hidden sin which would confirm their view that the righteous prosper and the wicked suffer. Their theology bears similarities to Satan’s in the early chapters. Satan was saying that if Job suffers he will be unfaithful, and the friends were saying that Job is suffering because he was unfaithful.

The book of Job is a canonical corrective against this type of faulty reasoning. It guards against an over-reading and mechanical application of a proper biblical retribution theology. It does so by showing us a man who is suffering for a reason other than his sin. The reader has known since the prologue that Job’s suffering is not caused by sin. He rather suffers for the same reason as the man who was born blind as recorded in John 9. Here the disciples see a blind man and their question reflects the same kind of retribution doctrine as that of the three friends: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus’ response could also be applied to Job: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” The difficult truth of Job and John 9 and 10 is that God is glorified through the suffering of his faithful servants. The book of Job does not begin to explain all the reasons for suffering in the world. It rejects the retribution theory of the three friends as the only explanation of the origin of suffering. Job establishes once and for all that personal sin is not the only reason for suffering in this world.[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 209.[/footnote]

4. God

In some senses the book is not only a test of Job but of God. At stake, in the sufferings of the righteous, are the omniscience, omnipotence, sovereignty, wisdom and, especially, the justice of God. This problem is commonly known as theodicy, the investigation of how God justly governs the world. If God is both all-powerful and all-loving, as the Bible everywhere claims, then how can evil exist in the world? How can the wicked prosper if God is just? Why do good people suffer, and how could God let it happen?

Ancient Israel’s monotheism raised this question. Since the only true God is both all-powerful and all-good, the presence of evil in the world creates a philosophical quandry. If God were perfectly good, he would not allow evil to exist in any of its various forms (wars, famine, crime). Therefore, there must be some limit to his ability to control the circumstances of the world, and he is not all-powerful. On the other hand, if God were all-powerful, the fact that evil events and circumstances occur must mean he sees nothing wrong with them. Therefore, he is not all-loving. The Book of Job is one man’s search and discovery for the answer to this dilemma.[footnote]B Arnold and B Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 294.[/footnote]

[Job] is our prime biblical example of a theodicy, a work that seeks to investigate the problem of divine justice. The wisdom schools of ancient Israel were known for this intellectual and spiritual exercise. Job is that exercise incarnate. The philosophical and theological dimensions of divine justice are given a personal and experiential form, thus bringing the hypothetical into the practical arena of life. It is on that level that the discussion must eventually take place, and only at the point where the theoretical touches the practical can man find ease for his aching heart and satisfaction for his questing spirit. The book of Job provides a real example of extreme suffering, and it is precisely its reality (as well as the profound faith of its hero) that has been a source of comfort and reassurance to those who have suffered through the ages. In Job the suffering saint has one with whom to identify.[footnote]C H Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1993), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

The book of Job presents at least three possible explanations for the suffering of the righteous. First, God is not just and good. The faithful endure hardship because God is at least partly evil. The book rejects this possibility, forcefully affirming God’s goodness in both the prologue and the epilogue. The prologue depicts Job’s affirmation of God’s goodness in the midst of suffering (Job 1:1-2:13), and in the epilogue (Job 42:7-17) God honors Job’s trust in his goodness and justice by restoring him. Second, the righteous suffer because God is not sovereign, and suffering is beyond his control. Yet the book of Job also dismisses this possibility, attesting that God is omnipotent and all-powerful and that he sovereignly controls all things (Job 37:14-24; Job 42:2). Third, God is both good and sovereign, but mere creatures cannot always understand the outworkings of his sovereign goodness. His ways are so far beyond human analysis that they cannot be fully fathomed (Job 28). In Job’s case, the opening chapter gives readers a minuscule glimpse into God’s reasons for Job’s suffering. God and Satan were engaged in a challenge that involved the testing of Job’s faith. Yet, as in most cases, Job suffered without a hint of what was going on in heaven. Although God welcomes the laments and cries of his people (Job 36:14-15), the righteous understand themselves and God aright when they balance their honest complaints with humility and reverence for God.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 748.[/footnote]

In Job, the theological question “Why do the righteous suffer?” is not the most important question. Rather, the most important question is practical and experiential. It is, “How should the righteous react to suffering?” or, “How should we relate to God in suffering?”

5. Summary of Suffering

A “theology of suffering” is found throughout the book and especially in the concluding “God speeches.” A summary of the main points is now given:

a. God is worthy of love even apart from the blessings He bestows.

b. God may permit suffering as a means of purifying and strengthening the soul in godliness

c. God’s thoughts and ways are moved by considerations too vast for the puny mind of man to comprehend. If man cannot understand the natural order how can he begin to understand the principles of God’s government in the spiritual realm?

d. God knows what is best for His own glory and for our ultimate good.

e. God is not bound to act in certain ordered and predictable ways.

f. God does not need to explain Himself to us.

g. Job must submit himself to the mighty, mysterious and irresistible will of God.

h. Suffering is a test of trusting God for who He is, not for what He does.

i. The book does not purport to give the final answer.

The book reveals enough to permit the believer to cope with disaster. Suffering fulfils a divine purpose and exercises a gracious ministry in the godly. Behind the suffering of the godly is a loving Father with a high purpose, and beyond this veil of tears is a glorious “afterwards.” Such suffering “is not judicial, but remedial; not punitive, but corrective; not retributive, but disciplinary; not a penalty, but a ministry.” This is the interim solution to the problem of suffering. The ultimate solution awaits that day when Christ comes to be glorified in his saints, and all the mysteries of life will be unlocked.[footnote]C H Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1993), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

A complete human explanation of the compatibility of divine sovereignty and goodness, and the existence of human suffering cannot be given because of the limitation of human knowledge and the true character and extent of God’s power over creation. But neither can it be demonstrated that the two are incompatible. Job finally finds rest in the realization that while God’s ways are sometimes incomprehensible, He can always be trusted.[footnote]Nelson’s complete book of Bible maps and charts (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

6. Who is wise?

The book is really a debate about who is the fount of wisdom. Most of the book is taken up with the argument between Job and His friends as they each lay claim to being the source of true wisdom. The book’s conclusion is that God alone is wise, a fact acknowledged by Job himself in at one point in the debate. In chapter 28 Job meditates on the difficulty of searching for wisdom (Job 28:1-11) and its inaccessibility (Job 28:12-19). Only God knows wisdom, and God alone can reveal it (Job 28:20-27).

While virtually all the characters of the book claim wisdom, it is only at the end that God speaks out of the whirlwind to settle the issue once and for all. There is no contest; no human has a legitimate claim. God alone is the source of wisdom, and he distributes wisdom as he sees fit. The proper human response, then, is repentance and submission (Job 42:5,6).[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 208.[/footnote]

To put it another way, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Job 1:1; Job 28:28).


VI. New Testament Analysis

1. Need or prediction?

Job sees his need of a redeemer (Job 19:25-27), an advocate (Job 16:19-21), an interpreter (Job 33:23-28), a mediator (Job 9:33; Job 25:4). To what extent he predicts this is debatable, but he certainly sees his need of such a person, and only the New Testament fully reveals that person fully (1 Tim. 5:2)

That Job wished fervently for an intermediary is undeniable. That he predicted our intercessor, Jesus Christ, is not so plausible. Yet he drew attention to the vacuum that existed, the need that every troubled heart recognizes. In this respect he anticipated the incarnate Savior. Yet there is an important difference between anticipation and prophetic prediction—the one a fervent wish, the expression of a void needing to be filled, the other a promise, the intangible presence of a future reality. The latter is not found in Job. The former definitely is.[footnote]C H Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1993), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

2. Victory over suffering

a. Christ’s sufferings

Through his own suffering on the cross, Christ provided the ultimate victory over the plague of evil, pain and death itself.

Jesus Christ is the true innocent sufferer, the only one completely without sin. He voluntarily (as opposed to Job) submits himself to suffering for the benefit of sinful men and women. As Andersen states it (73), “That the Lord himself has embraced and absorbed the undeserved consequences of evil is the final answer to Job and all the Jobs of humanity.” In Jesus, God enters into the world of human suffering in order to redeem humanity. Jesus experienced the height of human suffering on the cross and he did so without complaining. The early Christian community saw the connection between Job and Jesus and so it was a common practice to read the book of Job during Passion week.[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 210.[/footnote]

Job is incomplete without the rest of biblical revelation. For it is in Jesus Christ that the greatest evils the world can offer – betrayal and crucifixion – meet with the ultimate good – forgiveness, and cleansing.[footnote]B Arnold and B Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 301.[/footnote]

b. The Christian’s sufferings

Jesus’ sufferings did not end Christians’ sufferings. There are many Christian Jobs in the world even today. However, the Christians’ sufferings should lead them to Christ who identifies with and sympathizes with our sufferings (2 Cor. 1:3-11; Phil. 3:10; Heb. 4:15).

3. Resurrection

The one passage in Job which may be regarded as predictive of Messiah is Job 19:23–27 . Job here expresses confidence that his redeemer would one day stand upon the earth. Job anticipated his personal resurrection to life in connection with the appearance of this redeemer.

4. Defeat of Satan

Job makes the believer long for the day when the accuser of the brethren will be cast out, never to trouble them any more (Rev. 12:10).

5. Christ the wisdom of God

The wisdom which Job and his friends searched for and longed for can ultimately only be found in Christ (1 Cor. 1:24; Col. 2:3).


VII. The Message of Job

Original Message: Israel should submit to and trust in the Wisdom of God when baffled by personal and national injustices.
Present Message: The Church should submit to and trust in the Wisdom of God when baffled by personal and national injustices.