Reading Job


ORIENTING DATA FOR JOB
  • Content: a brilliant wrestling with the issue of the suffering of the righteous and justice of God, while also speaking to the large question, "Where is wisdom found?" 
  • Date: the story takes place in the period of the patriarchs; various suggestions have been offered regarding the composition it self.   
  • Emphases: wisdom is ultimately found in God alone; human wisdom cannot on its own fathom the ways of God; undeserved suffering has no easy answer; God is not obligated to fallen human beings to explain all things; the fear of the Lord is the path to true wisdom. 


OVERVIEW OF JOB

    The book of Job is one of the literary treasures of the world' The central issue is the struggle over the ways of God especially his justice when the godly suffer not from human hands but from "acts of God'" At the same time, the author raises the question, "where is wisdom found?" which in the end is powerfully answered in terms of God alone, as each of the participants-the three friends, the younger Elihu, and Job himself-in turn is silenced before the ultimate wisdom of God'

    The structure of the book, important to the author's purposes, is easily discernible. The two larger parts (chs . 3-27; 29-42:6) consist of three sets of speeches. part 1 is a series of dialogues. Framed by Job's lament (ch. 3) and closing discourse (ch. 27), the dialogues are also
arranged in a three-cycle pattern-speeches by Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, with a response to each by Job. The dialogue cycle gets shorter by a third each time-as they run out of anything new to say and as they all become increasingly blunt in disagreement. Part 2 consists of three monologues: by Job (chs. 29-31), Elihu (chs. 32-37), and God (chs. 38-41)-who has the last word. All of this, except for the narrative framework, is expressed in superb poetry.

    The poems are skillfully framed by their narrative setting (chs. 1-2; 42:7 -17), which gives the reader an access to what's going on that is not given the participants themselves: Job's suffering is the result of a contest in the heavenly court, where Satan has argued that people are
righteous only if they get "paid" for it-the crucial theological issue being put to the test. A second framing device can be found in the central position of the author's own wisdom discourse (ch.28), which anticipates the answers given in the speeches by God at the end,  with respect
to "where is wisdom found?" Thus:
  • chapters 1-2. prologue
  • chapters 4-27. the three dialogue-disputes
  • chapter 28. the discourse on "'Where does wisdom come from?"
  • chapters 29-41. the three monologues 
  • chapter 42. epilogue
    The four who dispute with Job all express a stark form of conventional wisdom-that a just God would not allow the righteous to suffer unjustly and that Job's suffering, therefore, is the direct result of specific sin. Job knows better, but in the end he has protested too many other things as well. So God speaks out of the storm and calls him and- the whole world- to a humble recognition that human wisdom amounts to nothing before God



SPECIFIC ADVICE FOR READING JOB

    Crucial for your reading of Job is to understand what the author is ultimately about, through both his arrangement of things and the content of the various speeches. His concern lies at two points: (1) the challenge to God by Satan (1:9): "Will [a person] fear God for nothing?" and (2) the question the author himself asks (28:12,20): "Where can wisdom be found?" The issues are two: As creatures wholly dependent on God for well-being, will the godly love God for himself or only for his benefits? As creatures endowed with creaturely wisdom ) are the godly willing to live within the bounds of creaturely wisdom (which is to be one who "fears God and shuns evil," 1:8; 2:3;28:28), or will they demand to participate as equals in God's wisdom? Thus creaturely
dependence and creaturely wisdom are the points at issue' What will bring these questions to the fore-and will dominate most of the human speeches-is the question of theodicy, namely, how to reconcile undeserved suffering with a God who is both almighty and just. Each of the participants has a significant role to play in this divine-human drama.

    Satan plays the crucial role of putting God on trial, as it were, about the basic relationship between God and his human creatures-whether their reciprocal joy in each other is only the result of what the human creature gets out of it. Job's wife plays Satan's role on earth by urging Job to "curse God and die" (2:9).You can imagine Satan whispering, "Do it, do it!" At issue is whether human beings love God not for his own sake, but for what they get out of the relationship-which puts them in the driver's seat. But whatever else Job does or says, ho will not curse God as God in his wisdom knows.

    Eliphaz, Bildad,and Zophar play the (likewise) crucial role of one form of  "conventional wisdom" -the unbending, have-it-all-together theologians who believe their wisdom sufficient to understand the ways of God in the world: God is both almighty and just; suffering is the result of human sin; therefore, there is no such thing as undeserved suffering, and Job should own up and confess his (hidden) sins so that he will be restored.

    Elihu plays the role of the overconfidence of youth, who think they really are wiser than their elders. At the same time, ironically, he does in fast have an additional point to make that the other three do not - that beyond Job's obviously deserved punishment there is a chastening value to such punishment that Job ought to be willing to accept.

    Job plays the central role. For him it is all a frustrating enigma. He believes that his calamities ultimately come from God yet there is no clear cause-and-effect correlation. But that is also his problem, since at issue for him is his integrity-recognized by God in the opening narrative. He is thus both the innocent sufferer and the one for whom the easy answers do not work anymore. Although he knows that no one is without sin (9:2), nonetheless, in his case, there is no correlation between the enormity of what has happened to him and his sin, and to confess sins not actually committed would be to lose his integrity-and thus take from him something far more than life itself. So he continually seeks an explanation for his suffering, and many of his speeches are pleas for the right to defend himself before God.

    Yahweh, of course, plays the ultimate role. As the initiator of the story, he is thus in charge from the beginning, including getting Satan to think about Job-not the other way around. In the end, the tables are completely turned: (1) The question of where wisdom is found is answered not only in terms of God alone but also by silencing all human voices that would insist that God must explain himself to them, and (2) the question of whether one will serve God without receiving benefits is answered with a resounding yes !-the crucial role Job will play in the story. The brilliance of this book lies in the fact that although it looks as though it were a theodicy (human beings putting God on trial, insisting on explanations for his actions), it turns out in fact to be a theology (God putting human beings on trial as to whether they will trust him not only when they receive no immediate benefits but also when he does not give them the explanations they demand-and thus as to whether they will live within the bounds of creaturely wisdom). The whole point of the final speeches to Job is that God's wisdom evidenced in the created order is both visible to the eye and yet beyond human understanding (with no explanations given). If that be so, then Job should trust God and his wisdom in the matter of his suffering as well-to which Job offers the ultimate response of humility and repentance.

    One final matter. With regard to the long speeches by the five disputants (including Job), we need to be reminded that these are not to be thought of as a word from God. Even though Job is more on target than the others (42:8), they all say things that carry enough truth to be dangerous.
But their speeches are not God's words; he speaks only at the end, when all human voices have been silenced. Your concern as you read these dialogues is to be aware of their measure of truth, but also of their false suppositions.

    You might try reading the poetry aloud. It is much too good for you to let your eye skip over it lightly. The speakers are wrestling with deep issues, and they also have a sense of the power of words, so they often both phrase and rephrase their thoughts. Note, for example, how often a
point of comparison is made and then elaborated considerably, even though the elaboration is not strictly required to make the point at hand. Thus, in complaining that his friends are of no help (6: 14-23), Job likens them to intermittent streams (v. 15), which he then elaborates richly and
eloquently for several lines before returning to their non-help (v. 21).All of it is a wonderful read, even in the midst of so much pain and anguish.


A WALK THROUGH JOB

 1:1-2:13Prologue
 
    This opening narrative rs not the point of the book; it is rather the essential framework within which you are to understand the speeches that follow. Note that it has four parts (marked off by the NIV headings): 1:1-5 gives the essential information that makes the story work; Job is then tested as to whether he will serve God if his possessions are stripped from him (w. 6-22); when Satan loses that round he tries again (2:1-10)-and loses, even though Job's wife sides with Satan; the visit by the three friends (vv. 11- 13) then sets the stage for the dialogues.

 3:1-26Job's Lament
  
 
    Job finally breaks his silence with a curse against both the day and light of his birth (vv. 3-10); note how the whys in the following lament (vv. 11-26) tie it closely to the curse. Job may wish he had not been born, but neither will he take his own life. Thus pain is his only option.

 4:1-14:22First Cycle of Speeches

    Job's lament launches the first cycle of speeches, in which each friend speaks in turn and in turn hears Job's response. Note that Eliphaz's speech is the longest of the three, while Job's speeches increase in length as Bildad's and Zophar's get shorter.
    Chapters 4-5. Eliphaz begins the dialogue with an eloquent recital of the basic theology of "the wise." Not yet accusatory (see 4:1-6), this speech prepares the way for the rest. Divine retribution is certain (4:7 -11), since no one is innocent before God (4:12-21). Job should therefore appeal to God for help (5:1-16); he is further urged to recognize his calamity as correction and to seek God for his benefits (5 :17 -26)-thus siding with Satan! Note Eliphaz's supreme confidence in his own wisdom (5:27).
    Chapters 6-7 . Job responds by defending his opening lament (6:1- 13), accusing his friends of being no comfort to him (vv. 14-23), protesting his innocence (vs. 24-30), and finally appealing directly to God for the comfort lacking in his friends (7:1-21), concluding again with "whys."
    Chapter 8. Bildad takes up Eliphaz's position, arguing that God is just, and thus calamity is punishment for wrongdoing (w. l-l), basing  it on traditional teaching (w. 8-10) and the laws of nature (w. 11-22). Note how verse 20 states his basic position: Good and evil are clearly defined by what happens to people.
    Chapters 9-10. Job's friends are no help, so Job agonizes over bringing his case before God, because he is unsure of its outcome (ch. 9); thus he bursts into lament (ch. 10).Note in passing that much of 9:1-10 anticipates chapters 38-39.
    Chapter 11. The truth that Zophar finally speaks about forgiveness (vv. 13-20) unfortunately follows from his assumption that Job's calamity must be the result of Job's sin (vv. 1- 12). How harsh the "righteous" can sometimes be!
    Chapters 12- 14. Job has been stung (12: 1 -3); to follow their advice (which continually sides with Satan) means to cash in his own integrity. So after defending his skill in wisdom equal to theirs (12:4-13:12), he mulls over bringing a legal case before Go{ which is his only hope (13:13- 14:22), but again it is an agonizing alternative.

 15:1-21:34Second Cycle of Speeches  

    In this second round of speeches, the three accusers all play variations on a single theme-the present torment and final fate of the wicked. Job's responses show faint glimpses of hope, which are dashed by the others, so he points out finally that the wicked do not always suffer.
    Chapter 15. Eliphaz appeals once more to their traditional wisdom: It is the wicked who suffer torment, so Job must be wicked and his own mouth condemns him automatically when he questions his suffering. Chapters 16-17. Job agrees that his affliction is from Go4 but he is also at a loss as to why. His only hope lies in a heavenly advocate (16:18-21).
    Chapter 18. Bildad can hardly take it (w. 1-4),so he picks up from Eliphaz by pointing out the terrible fate of the wicked-like Job!-and thus God will not hear him (w. 5-21). 
    Chapter 19. Job complains about his friends (vv. 1-6) and about God's treating him as an enemy (vv. 7 -12) with the result that his alienation is total (vv. 13-20). His plea for help is accompanied by another note of hope (w. 21-27) before warning his friends (w. 28-29).
    Chapter 20. Zophar rejects Job's note of hope, repeating the refrain
about the fate of evildoers.
    Chapter 21. Job now calls into question his counselors' insistence on
God's speedy retribution of the wicked (w. 7 -33), complaining about
his friends on either side (w. 1-6, 34).

22:1-26:14 Third Cycle of Speeches 

    The debate is now winding down. Note (1) that this final cycle is a third the length of the first one, (2) that there is no speech from Zophar, and (3) how much repetition there is of former arguments.
    Chapter 22. Note Eliphaz 3 false accusations against Job (vv. 6-9; cf. 31:13 -23), assumed to be true because Eliphaz's theology demands it; so after instructing Job on God's ways once more (22:12-20), he again calls him to repentance (vv. 21-30).
    Chapters 23-24. Job again expresses a desire to plead his case before God (23:1-7), indicating both hesitant confidence (vv. 8-12) and trembling fear (vv. 13-17).In any case2 Eliphaz ts simply wrong. The world is full of injustice (24: 1- 17); may the wicked be cursed (24:18-25).
    Chapter 25. Bildad utters the counselors' final word: God is too great for Job to question him.
    Chapter 26. Job agrees about God's majesty, but (in what follows) not the implications they draw from it.

 27:1-23Job's Closing Discourse  
    Note the introductory formula (v. 1), indicating that these verses will serve (with ch. 3) to bookend the discourses. After arguing that integrity demands that he protest his innocence (27: 1-6), Job then turns the tables on his friends, who have become his enemies (vv. 7 -12), finally-and ironically-reminding them of the fate of the wicked (vv. 13-23)!

28:1-28 Raising the Question of True Wisdom  

    Read this pivotal chapter carefully. Here the author-not Job or his "friends"-raises the essential questions: Where can wisdom be found (v. 12)? Where does it come from, and where does it dwell (v. 20)? The answer of course is "in God" (vv. 23-27), and human wisdom is to be found in the fear of the Lord (v.28). This insertion between the two sets of discourses clearly anticipates the final answer of chapters 3 8-41.

 29:1-31:40Job's Call for Vindication
 
    In this first of the series of three monologues, Job presents his final case before God. He points out first his past honor and blessing (ch. 29) and then his present dishonor and suffering (ch. 30) before turning to a specific listing of his uprightness with regard to truth and marriage (31:1-12). He concludes with deeds on behalf of the people God himself cares for-widows and orphans (vv. 13-34; over against Eliphaz's accusation in 22:6-9)-before making his final appeal (31:35-40).
 32:1-37:24The Elihu Speeches  

    After an introduction (32:1-5), Elihu speaks (overconfidently),for the young, making four speeches whose basic point is found in the first one (chs. 32-33, esp. ch. 33)-that rather than protest his innocence, Job should learn about the disciplinary nature of suffering. With this insight, Elihu advances several steps beyond Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, acknowledging at least that the righteous do sometimes suffer. But in his second speech (ch. 34), he agrees with his three elders that God governs a fair universe without exception; so in the third speech (ch. 35), he points out the uselessness of Job's appeals of innocence. In the fourth (chs. 3 6-37 ), he concludes by returning to the theme of his first speech (36:6-26) before extolling the majesty of God (ch. 37), which (ironically) prepares Job for what comes next.

 38:1-42:6God Speaks and Job Responds  

    Here you come to the climax of the book. God speaks out of the storm, breaking silence in fulfillment of Job's deep yearnings. But rather than vindicate Job (as Job had hoped) or reprove him (as his friends expected), God simply calls human wisdom into account, powerfully demonstrating over and over again from creation-both its origins and his care for it-that wisdom lies with him alone.
    In the first speech (chs. 38-39), God begins with the basic question for all human wisdom: "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?" (38:2). The rest is a litany of questions about creation intended to give Job (and his friends) perspective: o'Where were you when all of this was set in place and carefully watched over?" At the end Job properly responds with shame and silence (40:3-5).
    The second speech (40:6-41 :34) recounts God's mighty powers and then challenges Job to demonstrate his own prowess if he could-by defeating the two beasts, behemoth and leviathan. The great issue raised by the book finds its answer in Job's twofold response (42: 1-6), namely, his admission that he has spoken without understanding, and his repentance once he has truly "seen"Yahweh! And this, of course, is what the author intends that others should do as well.

 42:7-17Epilogue 

    Note that the epilogue is in two parts: First (w. 7 -9), God pronounces his verdict in favor of Job over against his friends; second (w. 10-17), God finally vindicates Job-who has maintained trust in God whether he receives benefits or not-with a double portion of everything.


The book of Job has an important place in the biblical story, not only
by calling us to total trust in God even in the most trying of situations
but also by preparing the way for Jesus Christ, who as the incarnate God
gives the ultimate answer to Job's question by assuming the role of innocent
sufferer-only in his case to bear the sins of the entire world.