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
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.