This week’s readings all came from the book of Job (Job 12-34). There are still a few chapters left to read next week but I’m going to discuss the book in its entirety in this post. Chronologically, the events in the book of Job appear to take place around the time of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). However, the book is placed in the Bible at the bridge point between the history and the wisdom books. The book depicts a tragedy which occurs in the life of Job and then explores the ensuing conversations that occur between Job and some acquaintances of his. The book is counted in the wisdom literature section of the Bible because it is written (in Hebrew) as poetry, and also offers a philosophical as well as theological look at the suffering of believers and how God might view that.
One word of caution that I like to give is that Job is a book (similar to Ecclesiastes, which we’ll examine later) which makes a lot of statements which may sound good, but are not all consistent with the theology of the rest of the Bible. We must be careful to take all of a character’s speech together as a whole and evaluate the wisdom which it presents (or not) in light of the character of God revealed throughout scripture. Both Job and his friends offer some conjectures on the reasons for Job’s suffering, and some of their observations could arguable be valid, but there are also a lot of misconceptions about the nature of God.
The story begins with a description of Job’s prosperity. Then we learn that Satan has been allowed by God to attack Job’s property, and then his health, with the stipulation that he not kill him. The remainder of the book is a series of dialogues between the various characters. The characters are identified below.
Job is the main character. It is his story. He is a prosperous man who trusts God and lives an upright life. After tragedy strikes, he gives an initial speech. His acquaintances take turns responding to him, and then he responds back, for a total of nine speeches by Job.
Eliphaz the Temanite gives three speeches in response to Job’s remarks.
Bildad the Shuhite gives three speeches.
Zophar the Naamathite gives two speeches.
Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite gives one speech.
God ends the discussion by challenging Job to see a bigger picture.
Job: The Short Version
Job is a very long book and can feel somewhat tedious. I encourage you to examine it closely, because there are some very interesting statements made, some of which I’ll discuss at the end of this post. For now, though, here’s the book in my own very brief summary.
Acting within the constraints that God has given him, Satan kills all of Job’s children and takes his possessions and then gives Job very painful maladies.
- Job wishes he had never been born (Job 3)
- Eliphaz accuses him of hidden sin because, obviously, good people will prosper. (Job 4-5)
- Job says that he has every right to complain about God’s treatment of him (Job 6-7)
- Bildad tells Job he just needs to ‘fess up and repent (Job 8)
- Job admits that he needs a mediator to help him plead his case before God (Job 9-10)
- Zophar tells Job that he actually deserves worse than what he got (Job 11)
- Job acknowledges that his troubles couldn’t have happened without God’s permission, and yet he commits to maintaining his trust in God (Job 12-14)
- Eliphaz tells Job that he doesn’t truly understand God (Job 15)
- Job complains that his friends are lousy comforters and are no help (Job 16-17)
- Bildad affirms his belief that God would only allow evil to afflict bad men (Job 18)
- Job again affirms trust that God will ultimately provide redemption from his sins (Job 19)
- Zophar agrees with Bildad that only the truly wicked will suffer as much as Job has (Job 20)
- Job counters with the observation that plenty of wicked people prosper during their life on Earth (Job 21)
- Eliphaz jumps on the anti-Job bandwagon and accuses him of wickedness (Job 22)
- Job now complains about the apparent silence of God (Job 23-24)
- Bildad suggests to Job that God will never be pleased with any human (Job 25)
- Job finishes his speeches with a long soliloquy about God’s majesty and his determination to stand firm in his faith in God (Job 26-32)
- Elihu, who has apparently been eavesdropping on these conversations, now steps in and rebukes Job (for self-righteousness) and his friends (for their incomplete and inaccurate understanding of God’s character and majesty) (Job 33-37)
- God now challenges Job to recognize that God is God and Job is not and God has a much broader perspective on the workings of the universe that Job does. (Job 38-41)
- Job repents, intercedes for his friends as well, and God restores to him greater prosperity than he had before (Job 42)
Words of Wisdom
First, notice that the book of Job begins and ends with God’s activity. Satan had to get permission from God to attack Job. And God’s words to Job at the end basically are to remind Job that God is Creator and Sustainer of all in the Universe. These “bookends” on the book serve as a reminder that through all things God is in control.
It is very interesting to note the theology that Job has developed which aligns with that of the rest of the Bible. First, in Job’s third speech, he recognizes the inability of humans to be able to righteously stand before the judgment seat of God. In other words, he agrees with King David, writing about a thousand years later, and quoted by the Apostle Paul almost thousand years after that, “none is righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). Job also realizes the need for a mediator between him and God.
… how can a man be in the right before God? If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times…. I become afraid of all my suffering, for I know you will not hold me innocent. I shall be condemned; why then do I labor in vain? If I wash myself with snow and cleanse my hands with lye, yet you will plunge me into a pit, and my own clothes will abhor me. For he is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together. There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both. (Job 9:2-3, 28-33)
However, in his next speech Job also recognizes that God’s love is for his image-bearers and that God’s desire is to reach out to his created beings and forgive them.
Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face. This will be my salvation, that the godless shall not come before him…. If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my service I would wait, till my renewal should come. You would call, and I would answer you; you would long for the work of your hands. For then you would number my steps; you would not keep watch over my sin; my transgression would be sealed up in a bag, and you would cover over my iniquity. (Job 13:15-16, 14:14-17)
In his next (fifth) speech, Job makes the observation that God himself will act as a human advocate, continuing on until after Job’s death when he stands before God.
Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and he who testifies for me is on high. My friends scorn me; my eye pours out tears to God, that he would argue the case of a man with God, as a son of man does with his neighbor. For when a few years have come I shall go the way from which I shall not return. (Job 16:19-22)
Finally, Job expresses the confidence and excitement (“my heart faints within me”) that this advocate will actually purchase (redeem) Job’s acquittal, enabling Job, after his death, to confidently stand in God’s presence.
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25-27)
This is the gospel, folks, played out in one of the oldest books in the Old Testament, and yet depicting the very thing that Jesus has done for us. God loves us … we blew it … Jesus paid the price for us … we must accept and receive that precious gift!