The problem of Suffering

Poetic-Philosophic Meditations on the Ways of God

The Poetical Books

Job is the first of the so-called poetical, or Wisdom, group of Old Testaments books, the others, being Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon.. Many of the Wisdom sections are written in Poetry.

This group of books, mostly,. but not altogether, belongs to the Golden Age of Hebrew history, the era of David and Solomon, except Job, is generally assigned to an earlier dare. and some of the Psalms, are later. But many of the Psalms are assigned to David; and Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song are attributed to Solomon. So, as these five books stand grouped together in the Bible, and as they are largely to the work of David and Solomon, it is not out of the way to speak of the group as, roughly, though not exclusively, being of the age of David and Solomon.

Hebrew Poetry did not have metre or rhyme, like the poetry of our language. It consisted rather of parallelisms, or thought rhythm, in synonymous or antithetical couplets, "The sentiment of one line echoed in the next." "Sometimes the couplets being doubled, or trebled, or quadrupled, making 2-liners, 4-liners, 6-liners, or 8-liners."

Literary Merit of the Book of Job

Victor Hugo said: "The Book of Job is perhaps the Greatest Masterpiece of the Human Mind."

Thomas Carlyle said: "I call this book, apart from all theories about it, one of the Grandest things ever written. Our fist, oldest statement of the never-ending problem: Man's Destiny, and God's Ways with him in the earth. There is nothing written, I think, of equal literary merit."

Philip Schaff said: "The Book of Job rises like a pyramid in the history of literature, without a rival."

Scene of the Book

The Land of Uz (1:1), is thought to have been along the border between Palestine and Arabia, extending from Edom northerly and easterly toward the Euphrates river, skirting the caravan route between Babylon and Egypt.

The particular section of the land of Uz which tradition has called the home of Job was Hauran, a region east of the Sea of Galilee, noted for its fertility of soil and its grain, once thickly populated now dotted with the ruins of three hundred cities.

The Man Job

The Septuagint, in a postscript, following ancient tradition, Identified Job with Jobab, the second king of Edom (Genesis 36:33). Names and places mentioned in the book seem to give it a setting among the descendants of Esau (see under chapter 2). If this is

correct, and if Hauran was Job's home, it would indicate that the early kings of Edom may, at times, have migrated from the rock cliffs of Edom northward to the more fertile plains of Hauran. At any rate the book has the atmosphere of very primitive times, and seems to have its setting among the earlv tribes descended from Abraham,

along the northern border of Arabia, about contemporary with Israel's sojourn in Egypt.

Author of the Book

Ancient Jewish tradition ascribed the book to Moises. While Moses was in the wilderness of Midian (Exodus 2:15), which bordered on the Edomite country, he could easily have learned of the story of Job from Job's immediate descendants. Or, indeed,

Job himself may have still been alive, and may have personally related the story to Moses, giving him a copy of his own family records. Job being a descendant of Abraham, naturally Moises could recognize him as being within the circle of God's revelation. Modern criticism, with its great show of scholarship, guesses at a much later date for the book of Job, but it is only a guess. We believe the traditional view is more likely to be correct.

Nature of the Book

It might be called an Historical Poem, that is, a Poem based on an event that actually occurred. Job was the greatest and most widely known man in his part of the world. All at once, in one day, he was crushed with a number of overwhelming calamities. His vast herds of camels were stolen, and their attending servants killed, by a band of Chaldean robbers. At the same time, his herds of oxen were stolen, and their attending servants killed, by a band of Sabean robbers. And, at the same time, his 7000 sheep, and their attending servants, were killed by a thunderstorm. And, at the same time, his family of ten children were all killed by a cyclone. And, a little later, Job himself was smitten with the most hideous and painful disease known to the ancient world.

It became known far and wide, and was a subject of public conversation everywhere, for months (7:3). Some wrote their opinions (13:26). The book contains some of the things that Job, and his friends, and God, said, or wrote. They must have been brilliant men. Some of the language is grand, though, in places, somewhat obscure.

Subject of the Book

The Problem of Human Suffering. Very early in history men began to be troubled over the Awful Inequalities and injustices of Life: how a Good God could make a world like this, where there is so much Suffering, and so much of the Suffering seems to fall on those who least deserve it.

And I don't know that we understand the problem one bit better than they did in Job's day. We come into life, having nothing whatever to do with bringing ourselves here. As we grow up, we open our eyes, and look around, and we are just a great big. question mark: What's it all about? And the older we grow, and the more we see of the world's Inequalities and Injustices, the bigger grows the question mark, How a Good God could make a world like this.

But, even though we may not understand the problem any better than they did in Job's day, we have more reason to be reconciled to it. For, in the meantime, God Himself came down here, and, in the Person of Jesus, became a Partaker with us of our Suffering. The story of Jesus, the world's most Righteous man, and the world's Greatest Sufferer, is an illustration of God Suffering With His Creation. And we ought not to have any difficulty in believing it is all for some Good Purpose, even though we cannot now understand. And, one day, when all is come to fruition, we shall never cease our Hallelujahs of Praise to God for having given us such an existence.

Chapter I. Job's Sudden Affliction

The book opens with an account of Job, a patriarchal Chieftain, a desert Prince, or what was in those times called a King, of immense wealth and influence, famous for his Integrity, his Piety and Benevolence: a Good man, who suffered fearful reverses that came so suddenly and overwhelmingly that it stunned all that part of the then known world.

Sabeans (15), were from the land of Sheba, in South Arabia, descendants of Shem (Genesis 10:28). Chaldeans (17), were from the East, land of Abraham.

Chapter 2. Satan's Hand on it

Satan accused Job of being Mercenary in his Goodness. Then God permitted Satan to test his accusation. Job stood the test, and in the end was blessed more than ever.

Job's Disease (7), is thought to have been a form of Leprosy, complicated with Elephantiasis, one of the most Loathesome and Painful Diseases known to the oriental world.

Job's Three Friends. Eliphaz the Temanite (11), was a descendant of Esau (Genesis 36:11), an Edomite. Bildad the Shuhite was a descendant of Abraham and Keturah (Genesis 25:2). Zophar the Naamathite was of unknown origin or locality. Nomad Princes.

Elihu the Buzite (32:2), was a descendant of Abraham's brother Nahor (Genesis 22:21).

Chapter 3. Job's Complaint

He wishes he had never been born, and longs for death. In the conversations that follow. Job speaks 9 times; Elifhaz, 3 times; Bildad, 3 times: Zophar,2; Elihu, 1; God 1.

In the main, their discussions are dispassionate, but sometimes with greet feeling. Sometimes it is not easy to see the Point. In some of their passages we are tempted to wonder whether they themselves knew exactly what they were aiming to say, except to see which could use the finest rhetoric, and indeed many of their passages are simply superb. On many things they seem to be in harmony. Their main contentions may be detected to be these:

Job's Three Friends seemed to think that all Suffering is sent upon men as a Punishment for their Sins: and, if we are great Sufferers, that, on the face of it, is proof that we have been great Sinners; and, if our Sins have been Secret, then Suffering is evidence of our Hypocrisy.

Elihu's idea seemed to be that Suffering is sent upon men, not so much as a Punishment for Sin, but rather to Keep them from Sinning; Corrective rather than Punitive.

God's speech, at the end of the book, seems to indicate that God's idea is that men, with their finite minds, ought not expect to understand all the mysteries of God's Creation and Government of the Universe.

The grand lesson of the book, as a whole, seems to be that Job, out of the Patient Endurance of his Sufferings, in the end comes to See God, and is abundantly rewarded with greater Prosperity and Blessedness than he had at first (42:12-16).

Chapters 4 to 7

Chapters 4, 5. Reply of Eliphaz. His night vision of God is sublime (4:12-19). Advises Job to Turn to God (5:8); and suggests if Job would Repent his Troubles would Disappear (5:17-27).

Chapter 6, 7. Job's Second Speech. Job is disappointed in his friends. He longed for sympathy, not stinging reproof (6: l4-30). He seems dazed. He knew full well that he was not a Wicked man. Yet his flesh was clothed with worms (7:5). He just could not understand. Even if he had sinned, it surely was not so heinous as to deserve such terrible punishment. He prays that he might die (6:9).

Chapters 8 to 21

Chapter 8. Bildad's First Speech. He insists that God is Just; and if Job's Troubles must be evidence of his Wickedness, and that if he would only Turn to God, all would be well again.

Chapters 9, 10. Job's Third Speech. He insists that he is Not Wicked (10:7); and that God sends Punishment on the Righteous as well as the Wicked (9:22). He complains bitterly, and wishes he had never been born (10:18-22)

Chapter 11. Zophar's First Speech. He brutally tells Job that his punishment is less than he deserves (6); and insists that, if Job will put away his Iniquity, his Sufferings will pass and be forgotten, and Security, Prosperity and Happiness will return (13-19).

Chapters 12, 13, 14. Job's Fourth Speech. He grows sarcastic at their cutting words (12:2); and asks them to let him alone (13:13). Insists that the Wicked Prosper, and that the Righteous Suffer. Seems doubtful about Life after Death ( 14:7, 14). Yet, later his Assurance was magnificent (see on chapter 19).

Chapter 15. Eliphaz' Second Speech. His sarcasm becomes bitter. They become excited and angry. Job's eyes flash (12). He tore himself in his anger (18:4). They shook their heads at him (16:4).

Chapters 16, 17. Job's Fifth Speech. If you were in my place, I could snake my head at you (16:4). Job continues his complaint. His eves red with weeping (16:16). His friends scoff at him (16:20). He is a byword among the people, and they spit in his face (17:6).

Chapter 18. Bildad's Second Speech. In a fit of anger, he cries to Job. Why do you tear yourself in anger? (4); and, assuming Job's Wickedness, he tries to frighten Job into Repentance, by depicting the awful doom of the Wicked.

Chapter 19. Job's Sixth Speech. His friends abhor him (19); his wife a stranger to him (17); children despise him (18); broken on every side, he appeals for pity (21).

Then, suddenly, out of the depths of despair, as the sunlight breaks through a rift in the clouds, Job bursts forth into one of the Sublimest expressions of Faith ever uttered: I KNOW THAT MY REDEEMER LIVES, and at last He will Stand upon the Earth; and, after my body is destroyed, apart from my flesh, I SHALL SEE GOD, and that not es a stranger (25-27).

Chapter 20. Zopher's Second Speech. Assuming Job's Wickedness, he lays himself out to portray the deplorable fate in store for the Wicked.

Chapter 21. Job's Seventh Speech. Agreeing that, in the end, the Wicked Suffer, he insists that they are often prosperous.

Chapters 22 to 42

Chapter 22. Eliphaz' third Speech. He bears down harder and harder on Job's Wickedness, especially naming his cruel treatment of the poor.

Chapters 23, 24. Job's Eighth Speech. He protests his Righteousness. The expression, "Words of God's Mouth" (23:12), indicates that in Job's day there were Writings which were recognized as God's Word.

Chapter 25. Bildad's Third Speech. A very short speech. Bildad was through.

Chapters 26 to 31. Job's Last Speech. He grows more confident in protesting his Innocence. "Till I die I will hold fast my Integrity" (27:5). He contrasts his past Prosperity, Happiness, Honor, Respect, Benignity, Kindness and Usefulness (chapter 29), with his present Cruel Sufferings (chapter 30); a "Song of the Rabble," a "By-word" (30:9, 12); they "Spit in his face" (10); he is a "Brother to Jackals" (30:29). Then he specifically denies that he had ever Oppressed the Poor, or had been Covetous, or had been Immoral, or had Covered his Sins (chapter 31).

Idolatry. The only hint of Idolatry in the book of Job is in 31:26-28, which seems like a reference to Sun-Worship. This is one of the indications of the Primitive Date of the book, written while the tradition of Primeval Monotheism was still widely held.

Chapters 12 to 37. Elihu's Speech. Job had silenced the three Friends. Elihu was angry at them, because they were too dumb to answer Job. And he was angry at Job because Job seemed to him to be righteous in his own eyes, and justified himself rather then God. And now it was Elihu's turn to tell them a thing or two. And was he conceited? Let all the earth keep silence: Elihu is about to Speak.

Much of his speech consisted in telling them what Wonderful Things he was going to say. But, like the others, his chief wisdom was in the use of words which concealed rather than made plain his meaning. His main contention seems to have been that Suffering is intended of God to be Corrective rather than Punitive.

Chapters 38 to 41. God's Speech. He spoke our of a Whirlwind, dwelling on the Ignorance, Impotence, Helplessness and Infinitesimal Smallness of Man compared to God, asking question after question, that awed Job into silence, and drove him to his knees. These are grand, sublime chapters.

Chapter 42. Job's Repentance and Restoration. God endorsed the ideas Job hat expressed, rather than the ideas of the others (7). Job was not a Wicked man, as they had contended, but a genuinely Righteous man, who, when brought face to face with God, cried out "I abhor Myself, and Repent in Dust and Ashes."

Job stood his Trials Magnificently, and God Blessed his Old Age with Magnificent Rewards (42:12-17) .