Overview of the Book of Job

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Overview of the Book of Job
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Overview of the Book of Job

Author: The author is unknown.

Purpose:

To explore the limits and proper uses of traditional proverbial wisdom in the case of a righteous individual's suffering.

Date: c. 970-586 B.C.

Key Truths:

  • God has purposes behind all suffering, but these are largely hidden from us.
  • Conventional proverbial wisdom applies easily to some situations - but not to the suffering of the righteous.
  • Righteous sufferers must humbly join their laments to affirmations of God's goodness and justice.
  • Human grasp of wisdom is limited and always begins with the fear of God and obedience to his commands.

Author:

Although the book contains many speeches by Job, the book contains no indication that he is the author. An unknown poet of Israel, a sage who probably used earlier source material (oral and written) from the patriarchal times, was most likely the author of this book. We learn that the author was an Israelite by observing that he called God by his covenant name Yahweh (LORD).

Time and Place of Writing:

We do not know exactly when the author of Job lived and wrote. Although the prologue places the events of the book during the patriarchal times, the final form of the book probably took shape during or soon following the era of Solomon (c. 970-586) in the region that later came to be known as Palestine. The discovery of fragments from Job among the Dead Sea Scrolls has ruled out attempts to date the writing of Job in the postexilic period or later.

Purpose and Distinctives:

Among the wisdom writings of the Old Testament (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes) the book of Job stands with Ecclesiastes as an exploration of the limits and proper uses of conventional, proverbial wisdom. Conventional proverbial wisdom describes the ideals of life and gives guidance for navigating through the normal course of human experience. Yet it is possible to misunderstand and wrongly to appropriate proverbial wisdom as though the ideal and the ordinary were always applicable. For instance, the writer of Proverbs 22:29 stated that "a skilled man . . . will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men." This proverb describes the way life "ought" (in a perfect world) to be and, indeed, sometimes is, but it does not deal with the reality that many highly skilled people go unnoticed. Many circumstances arise that call for deeper reflection and struggle beyond the guidance of proverbial wisdom. This is especially true of the suffering of the righteous. The book of Job counters a nave reliance on proverbial wisdom by wrestling with questions raised about the goodness and justice of God as he allows his faithful people to suffer.

The book of Job presents at least three possible explanations for the suffering of the righteous. First, God is not just and good. The faithful endure hardship because God is at least partly evil. The book rejects this possibility, forcefully affirming God's goodness in the prologue and epilogue. The prologue depicts Job's affirmation of God's goodness in the midst of suffering (Job 1:1-2:13), and in the epilogue (Job 42:7-17) God honors Job's trust in his goodness and justice by restoring him.

Second, the righteous suffer because God is not sovereign, and suffering is beyond his control. Yet the book of Job also dismisses this possibility, attesting that God is omnipotent and all-powerful and that he sovereignly controls all things (Job 37:14-24; 42:2).

Third, God is both good and sovereign, but mere creatures cannot always understand the outworkings of his sovereign goodness. His ways are so far beyond human analysis that they cannot be fully fathomed (Job 28). In Job's case, the opening chapter gives readers a tiny glimpse into God's reasons for Job's suffering. God and Satan were engaged in a challenge that involved the testing of Job's faith. Yet, as in most cases, Job suffered without a hint of what was going on in heaven (even the reader is left wondering how Satan entered heaven to challenge God, and why God agreed to test Job). Although God welcomes the laments and cries of his people (Job 36:14-15), the righteous understand themselves and God aright when they balance their honest complaints with humility and reverence for God (see note at Job 28:28).

This perspective on suffering develops slowly as the book unfolds. The prologue provides a heavenly viewpoint (Job 1:1-2:13). God chose Job to be one of his suffering servants, an instrument through whom he would accomplish a spiritual triumph: "Have you considered my servant Job?" (Job 1:8; 2:3). The accuser (Satan) falsely accused Job of serving God only on account of the material blessings he enjoyed (Job 1:9-11). So Job was granted the dubious honor of being tested to see whether he would remain true to God even when all was taken away and only horrible suffering became his daily lot in life.

While the prologue gives us a heavenly perspective, the Dialogues present an earthly outlook (Job 3:1-27:23). Like most people who suffer, Job knew nothing about what took place in the divine council. He struggled with his friends' misuse of conventional proverbial wisdom as they claimed that all suffering is a direct result of human sin (compare John 9:2). Job's counselors believed that Job's affliction was in proportion to his sin. But as the book explains, they were wrong. They commonly misunderstood and misapplied Scripture - even Job himself fell into this trap. As a result, neither Job nor his friends are trustworthy as independent sources of Old Testament or Christian theology. When Job or the counselors are in agreement with normative theology, their statements can be accepted. But when their theology runs counter to that of the rest of Scripture, it must be rejected as erroneous.

As Job confronted his heartless friends, he said some things for which he later had to repent (Job 42:5-6). He believed deeply that the counselors were wrong but could offer no alternative explanation as to why a righteous person should suffer so much while the godless around him enjoyed health and material blessings (Job 12:6).

Like the psalmists, Job habitually complained to God in the language of a legal dispute. Job wrestled with God and shared openly with him his every doubt and fear. His relationship with God was vibrant, while his friends reduced their faith to platitudes. They were insensitive and theologically presumptuous (Job 13:4-5; 16:2, 19:21). Job was not presumptuous, as some may suppose, when he called for vindication. Even as he imagined God as angry with him, he clung to the resolution that God is just and would provide a Vindicator, a Champion, a Redeemer (Job 16:19-21; 19:23-27).

This hope became a reality when God appeared in the storm (Job 38:1-41:34). Job was not rebuked as one suffering for his sins but was humbled before the Lord as one who struggled too much for his own vindication and not enough for God's vindication (Job 38:2; 42:2-3). Job never found out precisely why he was suffering, only that his pain was within the scope of God's sovereign will and that God expected his trust and loyalty. After his eyes had seen the Lord and he had repented in dust and ashes, Job came to understand the good news that God sits sovereignly on his throne and that he does finally reward those who hold fast to him through periods of distress.

Christ in Job:

The book of Job anticipates the person and work of Christ in a number of ways. The most direct connection between Christ and this book lies in the fact that Christ is "the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1:24) and that in him "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:3). This identification of Christ with wisdom stems both from the fact that he is the eternal Logos through "whom all things were made "(John 1:3) and that as the incarnate Messiah he is the One on whom rests "the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD" (Isa. 11:2). That for which Job and his friends yearned, namely understanding and wisdom, is found in Christ. When we look for wisdom apart from him, we are doomed to find only worldly foolishness (1 Cor. 3:19). When men and women are united with Christ, he grants them wisdom. The grace given to those who believe is poured out "with all wisdom and understanding" (Eph. 1:8). That is to say, wisdom begins with faith in Christ and derives from the grace that is found in following and trusting him. Any believer who "lacks wisdom . . . should ask God, who gives generously to all" (Jas. 1:5). Even so, unlike the contentious spirit that Job and his friends exhibited as they dialogued, "wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere" (Jas. 3:17).

Second, the book of Job insists the human ability to understand wisdom is so limited that for us wisdom may be summarized in two elements: fearing God and obeying his commands (see note at Job 28:28). This theme is fulfilled in Christ in that wisdom from God amounts to submitting to Christ in reverence and obedience.

Third, on a number of occasions the book of Job acknowledges the desperate need that humans have for a mediator between themselves and God (see Job 5:1; 9:33; 16:20; 19:25; 33:23). The predicament of fallen humanity is so horrendous that we need someone with access to the throne of God to plead our case. We are helpless in ourselves. Christ fulfills that need as the only Mediator between humanity and God (1 Tim. 5:2).

Fourth, as a righteous man whose loyalty to God was tested through suffering, Job anticipated the fulfillment of testing in Christ. Christ far exceeded Job's righteousness in that he was entirely without sin. Yet he suffered temptation in the wilderness and throughout his entire humiliation only to endure all without fault (Heb. 4:15). For this reason, when the faithful fail to be perfect in their sufferings, they may rest assured that Christ has suffered on their behalf and that his righteousness and reward are imputed to them through the grace of God.

Introduction Material:

Introduction to the Poetic and Wisdom Books

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).