If we were to summarize the overall force and power of the Book of Job, it would be with this phrase: “Prepare to meet thy God”. That’s exactly what we’re about to do, through the eyes of one of the greatest men that ever walked the face of this earth – the man of whom it is said that he was “A perfect man, an upright man and a man that feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1).
So what do we know about the Book of Job? It forms part of the “poetry” section of the Bible, that is – that segment of the Old Testament that begins with the book of Job and ends with the Song of Solomon. On the face of it, it might appear to be a book all about suffering – a story written in a dialogue fashion, where various people wrestle with the problem of Job’s suffering and each looking for their own answer.
There are differences of opinion as to who the “Yahweh” (the LORD) in the story is; how much of what Job’s friends said was actually true; about whether the Elihu character who appears toward the end, was helpful or not. But unless you have looked at the Book of Job closely, it may be that your knowledge doesn’t extend much beyond those superficial questions.
Perhaps we have consoled ourselves with this thought, ‘Well … whatever the answer may be to the riddle of the book of Job, at least it has a happy ending. Job was more blessed at the end than he was at the beginning. Everything that he lost was returned to him and doubled.’
It’s alright for us to say these things from where we stand. The person living through the trial, Job in this case, didn’t know how things were going to end. He didn’t know how the story would finally turn out.
Not only that but in Job 1:6-12 there is a discussion between Yahweh and Satan that results in the affliction of Job. That’s what caused the whole problem at the beginning of the book. Job was never part of that discussion. He never knew that this discussion ever took place and throughout the story of Job he never, ever, finds out.
As readers of the book, we learn the real reason for Job’s sufferings, given to us right at the outset of the story. Job won’t find out about this reason until he rises from the dead.
So here is a man who is going to endure unimaginable trials. He doesn’t know what he has done wrong. He doesn’t know the purpose of the trial. He doesn’t know how it’s all going to work out – and he has to deal with that and come to terms with it.
It’s important that we appreciate the fact, that by the end of chapter 2, there is no happy ending in sight. There won’t be for another 40-odd chapters. Consequently, an extremely godly man is going to be placed in an unimaginable position – losing everything that ever meant anything to him, right down to his health and his children – wishing chapter after chapter for death and being denied it … and then forced in the extremity of that situation to confront questions like,
“What ‘s the point of the truth if the wicked prosper unhindered?”
“Why does God make people suffer and not answer their prayers?”
“Is there any value in itself in living a righteous life?”
“Does righteousness have any intrinsic value that makes it worth living no matter what happens to you.”
This, you will appreciate, is an epic story – a monumental addition to the Old Testament Scriptures and a marvelous insight into the relationship between God and His people.
That’s what the Book of Job is to us.
A Book With Design and Symmetry
The Book of Job is a book of design and symmetry. It divides into three sections:
1. An introduction
2. A conclusion, and
3. A central section of speeches.
That central section, itself, divides into three sub-sections:
1. A discussion between Yahweh and Satan
2. A discussion between Job and his friends, and
3. A discussion between Job and Yahweh.
The discussion between Job and his friends, divides into two sub-sections:
1. Job and his three friends, and
2. The speech of Elihu.
Each of them give four rounds of speeches. The structure of the book is very simple, It is poetic so there is a symmetry, an impressive symmetry about the book of Job.
The first section is the introduction, followed by 2 sections, because there are two speeches between Yahweh and Satan, followed by 4 speeches, 3 rounds between Job and the friends and then some monologues by Job himself, that’s the 4 speeches of Job and the friends, followed by 4 speeches of Elihu, 2 speeches between Yahweh and Job and 1 section of conclusion.
When Did the Story of Job Occur?
As far as dating is concerned, it is one of those subjects that seems to be shrouded in mystery until you look closely. Then you find that it is really not that complicated. We see references throughout the book of Job to the Fall in Eden, to Cain killing Abel, to the Great Flood of Genesis 6-9, to the destruction of Sodom. These are all things that occurred before the giving of the Law of Moses.
There’s no mention of the Law of Moses itself, which would infer that the story of Job was prior to the Law of Moses being given. Moreover, Job acts as a Priest for his family in Ch 1:5, which was the custom in Israel prior to the Levitical priesthood being established.
Finally, in Ch 26:12, from a modern translation like the RSV, you will see a reference to God destroying the dragon called Rahab (Egypt) when he divided the sea. This appears to be an allusion to the Red Sea crossing under the leadership of Moses, in Job 26:12. If that reference is accepted, then that would place the events of the book of Job during Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness before they colonized the land of Israel under Joshua.
As far as the authorship of the book of Job is concerned, the best evidence we have, is that it was probably Elihu.
But that’s not all. In Genesis 36, we have the genealogy of the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother. In Genesis 36:4 we learn that Esau had a son called Eliphaz. In Genesis 36;11,15 we are also told that the children of Eliphaz were Teman, Omah, Zepho, Gattan, and Kenez – and that these sons were “chiefs” of Edom. So “Eliphaz the Temanite” from Job 2:11 appears to be Eliphaz from the region of Teman in Edom.
The Septuagint version suggests that the “Zepho” in Job 36:11, is none other than Zophar of the book of Job. It is a possibility. In Genesis 36:28 we have mention of the children of Zipan as including Uz and Aran. Uz is the location where Job lived – “the land of UZ”. Uz is one of the sons of Esau who gave his name to the land in which Job lived.
Lamentations 4:21 says, “Rejoice and be glad O daughter of Edom that dwells in the land of Uz“. So you see, Uz was a specific area associated with the wider territory of Edom, East of the Jordan River. One other very interesting point we find in Gen 36:33 is “Bela died and Jobab the son of Zerah of Bozra reigned in his stead”. The Septuagint version suggests that that is none other than Job himself – the “Jobab” of Gen 36:33.
Given this evidence – the predominant references to the sons of Esau in the book of Job and the possibility that the “Jobab” of Genesis 36:33 was in fact Job, it would mean that Job was a descendant of Esau. Contrary to everything we learn about the Edomites and their spirituality, or lack thereof, this Job, or Jobab, was an extremely faithful man.
As for the other characters in Job’s life, we know some of them as well. Elihu the Buzite was a descendant of Nahor the brother of Abraham. Bildad the Shuhite was a descendant of Shua one of the sons of Abraham by Keturah. Remarkable isn’t it? So if you examine the family genealogies of Genesis, our conclusion is, that we are well into the time that Israel was in Egypt, perhaps now having even crossed the Red Sea and are now in the wilderness under Moses.
The Man Job and His Character
So what do we know about the man himself? No doubt he is one of the greatest men that ever lived and this is how we find him in Job 1:1 – “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was perfect and upright, one that feared God and shunned evil”.
The name “Job” means “hated” or “persecuted” – so Strong’s concordance tells us. In this, we can immediately recognize a type, or pattern, of the Lord Jesus Christ – the one “despised and rejected of men” from Isaiah 53:3. Moreover, he was “perfect” so the record tells us. The word means “complete” – he wasn’t perfect in the sense of being “sinless” but he was “complete” in a moral sense. He was “true” or “sound” or “blameless” and so perfect in that sense.
Job was “upright” – the word means “straight”, “unwavering”, “consistent”. He “feared God”, that is, he was a man of unqualified personal reverence. He “shunned evil”. He hated iniquity, the record means. In 1:8 God Himself repeats the assessment of Job from verse 1 – the only difference being the addition of the phrase “my servant”.
In Ch 42 when the whole drama of the book of Job has played out, God says to Eliphaz, “You shouldn’t have said that about my servant Job” … “You haven’t spoken that which is right like my servant Job has” … “You go and offer a sacrifice Eliphaz, and my servant Job will pray for you and I will accept his prayer”.
“My servant Job” is emphatic. This man has a remarkable relationship with God. This is no ordinary man.
In Ezekiel 14:14, when speaking of the iniquity of the city of Jerusalem, Ezekiel says that “even if Noah, Daniel or Job were here, they could only deliver themselves by their own righteousness”. So wicked was the city of Jerusalem in Ezekiel’s day, that even if Job were to intercede on their behalf, God would still destroy the city.
So many years later, we have God’s continuing assessment of Job. He’s on a par with Noah and Daniel – men who led their generation; men who were preeminent examples in the world of their time. They were all men who delivered others by their righteousness, who interceded for others and God heard them.
As far as Job himself was concerned, it appears that because of his character, it followed naturally that he was very richly blessed in everything that he did. Job 1:2 “There were born to Job seven sons and three daughters. His substance also was seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, 500 she-asses, a very great household, so this man was the greatest of all the men in the east”. Everything speaks of completeness – ten children, ten hundred oxen and asses, ten thousand sheep and camels.
Job’s Life and Family Before His Suffering Began
Job was living what could be described as idyllic prosperity. He is enormously wealthy, like a multi-multi-millionaire. Job himself comments later, on his own lifestyle, when he looks back at everything he’s lost. In Job Ch 29:6, he says this: “I washed my steps in butter and the rock poured out to me rivers of oil.” He was spectacularly wealthy. He could turn straw into gold, as it were. Everything he touched succeeded so that in reputation and in substance, he was one of the greatest of the men of the East.
Job’s family also enjoyed the benefits of his greatness. Job 1:4 – “And his sons went and they feasted in their houses, every one his day and they sent and called for their three sisters to eat and drink with them”. So each of his sons owned their own home. They were all affluent men in their own right and each one on “his day” entertained the rest of the family.
Since there were seven sons, it is likely that “his day” referred to a day of the week. Each one of them provided, across the seven days of the natural week, a feast for the rest of the family. So they would start in the house of the oldest and move to the home of the youngest across that week, probably repeating the custom a number of times in a year.
There’s nothing to suggest that there was anything excessive or questionable about their practice. These are not drunken feasts; they are not children living in the frivolity of their wealth. In Job 29:5, when Job speaks about how things were in the past, he says that “the Almighty was with me and my children were about me”. The evidence is, that they were family gatherings undertaken with the highest integrity.
This was a model family in the community. They followed the example of a model father, a model spiritual leader, and an example to all.
We read in Job 1:5 that, “it was so, when the days of their feasting had run their course, that Job would send and sanctify them. He would rise up early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all, for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually”. So at the end of that festive week, Job ministers to his family as the priest. “He sanctifies them”, the record says – probably by washings and changes of garment.
So Job offers sacrifices for his children in case they’ve cursed God. Now to curse God is to abandon God, to take leave of God as a deliberate sin. There was always a risk that in this sort of prosperity, Job’s children could succumb to the temptation of riches, and lean on their own finances and depend upon themselves, and cast God aside. Job was very aware of that in his family and no doubt talked to his boys about being circumspect about the origin of their wealth.
Job’s Wider Influence and Status Before His Trials
But Job’s influence isn’t restricted to just his own family. In Job 29:7 we get a glimpse of how far Job’s influence actually extends. We have there, words from his own mouth. “When I went out to the gate through the city, when I prepared my seat in the street, the young men saw me and hid themselves, and the aged arose and stood up”, says Job.
The young men – those likely to be brash or impulsive, stepped aside when Job appeared. The old men – those who people stand up for … they stood up for Job. “The Princes refrained talking, they laid their hand on their mouth, the nobles held their peace, their tongue cleaved to the roof of their mouth” (v9).
Those men known for their patronizing conversation, for their aloof behavior, are silent in the presence of Job; they say nothing at all. And why? Why do people act like this around Job? Because he was rich? Because he was influential? Because he was powerful? No! Because “he delivered the poor and fatherless”(v12). He “cared for the widows and those dying” (v13). He cared for the blind and the lame (v15). He “looked after the poor and the stranger” (v16).
Anyone in trouble could appeal to Job. In return, they’d receive compassion; they’d get a fair hearing and they would also receive, if they needed it, material assistance. Job says in 24:29 “When I smiled on them they scarcely believed it. The light of my face was precious to them. I chose the way for them and sat as their chief. I dwelt as the king among his troops. I was the one who comforts mourners” (NIV). They loved him; they loved him.
Everyone loved Job … well everyone apart from one person, it seems.
Next: The Discussion Between the LORD and Satan