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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Job

- Job

by Thomas Constable

Introduction

TITLE

This book, like many others in the Old Testament, got its name from the central character in it rather than from its writer. While it is possible that Job may have written it, there is no concrete evidence that he did.

"Job" means "hated" or "much persecuted." Perhaps "Job" was a nickname his friends gave him during his suffering. Job is the title of the book in the Hebrew, Greek (Septuagint), Latin (Vulgate), and English Bibles.

DATE

Concerning the time the events recorded took place, there have been many views, ranging from the patriarchal age of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (beginning about 2100 B.C.) to the second century B.C.

Internal evidence suggests that Job lived in the patriarchal period. The length of his life (he lived 140 years after his trials ended, Job_42:16) is similar to that of Terah (205 years), Abraham (175 years), Isaac (180 years), and Jacob (147 years). The writer measured Job’s wealth in terms of his livestock. This is how Moses evaluated the wealth of Abraham and Jacob (Job_1:3; Job_42:12; cf. Gen_12:16; Gen_13:2; Gen_30:43; Gen_32:5). The Sabeans and Chaldeans (Job_1:15; Job_1:17) were nomads during the patriarchal period, but not later. Job was the priest of his family (Job_1:5), a custom that became less common when nations in the Near East developed more organization. Names of people and places in the book were also common in the patriarchal age (e.g., Sheba, Tema, Eliphaz, Uz, Job). Genesis, the Mari documents, and the Egyptian Execration texts, all of which refer to life in the Near East at this time, also refer to these names.

"The idea that Job has an Edomite background is as old as the LXX, which equates Job with Jobab, king of Edom (Gen_36:33)." [Note: Francis I. Andersen, Job, p. 58.]

If Job lived in the patriarchal period, as the evidence seems to suggest, what clues are there that someone did not write it then or very soon afterwards? The detailed recounting of the conversations that took place certainly suggests a composition date fairly close to that of the actual events. That has been the position of Jewish and Christian scholars until critical scholarship became popular in the last few centuries. Critics point to the fact that oral tradition was very exact in the ancient world and that people could have transmitted Job’s story by mouth for generations and retained its purity. With the Holy Spirit’s superintending work it could have been, but there is no evidence that this is what happened. Literacy was widespread in the ancient world in the patriarchal period. [Note: Alan R. Millard, "The Question of Israelite Literacy," Bible Review 3:3 (Fall 1987):22-31.] Critics further point out that in the process of social evolution, composition of a work such as this book was more typical at a date much later than the patriarchal period. Yet again there is no evidence that someone wrote it later. The simpler explanation is that someone wrote it early. Since there is no proof that someone wrote it later, most conservative scholars have continued to prefer the traditional early date of composition theory.

"Most recent writers are agreed that in its original form the book was of post-exilic origin, and the secondary parts of later composition." [Note: H. H. Rowley, Job, p. 21. Rowley published this opinion in 1970.]

"Fortunately, nothing significant is at stake in our lack of knowledge of an author or a date of composition for the book." [Note: Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 226.]

WRITER

The book does not identify its writer. Furthermore, the ancient Hebrews could not agree on who wrote it. Consequently many different scholars have made guesses as to who the writer was. Internal evidence has led many careful students of the book to conclude that it was the work of one person. Perhaps someone else added a few minor touches later under divine inspiration (e.g., Job_42:16-17).

From the patriarchal period Job himself is the favored candidate, though some scholars have nominated Elihu. These men seem to be the most likely of the chief characters to have preserved the record of Job’s trials. There are many examples of ancient extra-biblical writings in which the author spoke of himself in the third person, so we need not eliminate Job on that ground. The book reads as though an eyewitness of the events wrote it.

Jewish tradition favored Moses as the writer. [Note: Baba Bathra 14a (in the Babylonian Talmud).] In the Syriac Peshitta, Job follows Deuteronomy, reflecting belief that Moses wrote Job. Moses recorded other events during the patriarchal period in Genesis, he was familiar with desert life, and he had the ability to write such a book as this one.

Solomon has supporters mainly because he composed other poetic biblical literature (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon). Moreover there are some similarities between Job and Proverbs, such as the relationship between fearing God and being wise. There are also similarities to Isaiah and Lamentations. [Note: See John E. Hartley, The Book of Job, pp. 11-12, for a chart of Job’s affinities with other Old Testament books.]

Other scholars have suggested later writers, including Hezekiah, Isaiah, and Ezra. John Hartley noted that the author wrote in a dialect closer to Aramaic than to the Hebrew of Jerusalem, which many of the Old Testament writers used. [Note: Ibid., p. 6.]

Of course, the writer may have been none of these individuals. No one knows for sure who wrote Job. I tend to prefer a contemporary of Job, or Job himself, because of the antiquity of this view, and the fact that no one has proved it unsatisfactory.

PURPOSE

God inspired this book to reveal answers to questions that arise from God’s nature and His ways with human beings. Specifically, what is the basis on which God deals with people? Elsewhere in the Old Testament we find God typically repaying good with good and evil with evil, but that is not how He dealt with Job.

"How can a God who elsewhere in Scripture is described as the very essence of love and grace initiate or even allow suffering in the lives of His saints? How can His attributes be reconciled with His actions, especially when those actions appear to run counter to all He claims to be?" [Note: Eugene H. Merrill, in The Old Testament Explorer, p. 376.]

SCOPE

It is also difficult to determine how much time the events narrated in the book cover.

The first chapter tells about Job’s life before his trial, and the last chapter reveals what happened after it until Job’s death. The chapters in between deal with a relatively short period in Job’s long life. How long was this period?

We have a few clues. Job referred to months when he spoke of his sufferings (Job_7:3; Job_29:2). In view of Job’s physical symptoms his ailments seem to have bothered him for several months at least. He may have suffered for years. The apocryphal Testament of Job says Job suffered for seven years (Job_5:9). However, Job said the same people who had respected him previously had come to reject and avoid him. He implied that his rejection was fairly recent.

The main part of the book contains dialogue that took place between a few individuals. There is no indication in the text that extended periods of time interrupted Job’s sojourn at the city dump where these conversations took place. They seem to have continued for a few days at the most, though the conversations may have stopped and then restarted. The writer may have telescoped the events to keep the narrative flowing smoothly. It appears that the scope of the main scene at the city dump lasted no longer than a few days or possibly weeks.

GENRE

Job is primarily a combination of at least three literary types: lawsuit, [Note: See Sylvia H. Scholnick, "Lawsuit Drama in the Book of Job" (Ph.D. dissertation, Brandeis University, 1975).] lament, [Note: See Claus Westermann, The Structure of the Book of Job: A Form-Critical Analysis, pp. 1-15.] and controversy dialogue. [Note: See James L. Crenshaw, "Wisdom," in Old Testament Form Criticism, pp. 228, 254. Gregory W. Parsons, "Literary Features of the Book of Job," Bibliotheca Sacra 138:551 (July-September 1981):213-29, argued for all three.] The larger category that includes all three is wisdom literature.

"Within the canon of Old Testament Scripture, the distinctive contribution of the Wisdom books is that they expound the relevance of the foundational covenant revelation through Moses to the great issues of man’s life in this world, more specifically, of man’s life apart from the peculiarly theocratic context of Israelite history." [Note: Meredith G. Kline, "Job," in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 459.]

"In terms of content, the book could be called a theodicy, a justification of God’s way in the world. . . .

"Perhaps a better designation of the genre of the book is ’wisdom debate.’ This describes both its form and the content (Zerafa)." [Note: Longman and Dillard, p. 232. Their reference is to P. Zerafa, The Wisdom of God in the Book of Job.]

There are so many different types of literature in this book that many writers despair of assigning one type as the dominant one.

"The book of Job defies all efforts to establish its literary genre. While it has been viewed as an epic, [Note: Nahum M. Sarna, "Epic Substratum in the Prose of Job," Journal of Biblical Literature 76 (1957):13-25.] a tragedy, [Note: Horace M. Kallen, The Book of Job as a Greek Tragedy, pp. 3-38.] and a parable, [Note: Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, p. 486.] upon close analysis it is none of these even though it exhibits properties belonging to each of them. As Robert Gordis observes, the author of Job has created his own literary genre. [Note: Robert Gordis, The Book of God and Man, p. 7.] The book is didactic in the sense that the author seeks to teach religious truth, a task which he executes primarily by means of lyrical poetry expressive of deep emotions." [Note: C. Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Poetic Books of the Old Testament, p. 69. See Daniel J. Estes, "The Hermeneutics of Biblical Lyric Poetry," Bibliotheca Sacra 152:608 (October-December 1995):413-30.]

"The book of Job is an astonishing mixture of almost every kind of literature to be found in the Old Testament. Many individual pieces can be isolated and identified as proverbs, riddles, hymns, laments, curses, lyrical nature poems." [Note: Andersen, p. 33.]

"One should think of this aspect of interpretation [i.e., genre] as being like the Olympics, a grand occasion made up of a variety of sports. Though it is all sport, each game is played by its own rules and has its own expectations about how to play the game. The variety of literature is the same way. It all has a message, but it conveys that message in a variety of ways and with a variety of expectations. To try to play basketball with soccer’s rules will never work, though both use a ball and require foot speed. Or think of musical instruments, they all make music, but in different ways with different sounds. One cannot play the violin like a piano or drums; nor should one expect a violin to sound like either a piano or the kettledrum! In the same way, to read the poetry of the Psalms like a historical book is to miss the emotional and pictorial impact of the message, though both genres convey reality about people’s experience with God." [Note: Darrell L. Bock, "Interpreting the Bible-How Texts Speak to Us," in Progressive Dispensationalism, pp. 85-86.]

". . . if all the poetry [in the Old Testament] were gathered together into one location, the corpus would be larger than the New Testament." [Note: Longman and Dillard, p. 29.]

Is the Book of Job a piece of history writing, or is it historical fiction? Did the writer accurately transcribe everything that the book records as it happened, or sometime thereafter, or did he embellish an event and add non-historical material? There are a number of factors that indicate that Job is not a complete fiction. First, the book opens with a statement that is very similar to others that introduce historical events (Job_1:1; cf. Jdg_17:1; 1Sa_1:1). Second, other Scripture mentions Job as though he actually lived (cf. Eze_14:14; Ezekiel 20). However, there is another indication in the book that exact historical accuracy was not the intent of the writer. The dialogues are in poetic form, and people do not communicate with one another in poetry, especially when they are in extreme distress, but in prose. The dialogues do not appear to be transcripts of what the characters actually said. They may be accurate without being precise. Therefore, I would conclude that Job really lived and went through the crisis that this book describes, but that the writer of the book took liberties and reworked some of the material. Putting the dialogues in poetic form has the effect of elevating the book from a story about one event to a story with universal application. I believe the story is rooted in history but told with literary embellishment. [Note: See ibid., p. 233.]

OUTLINE

I.    Prologue chs. 1-2

A.    Job’s character Job_1:1-5

B.    Job’s calamities Job_1:6 to Job_2:10

1.    The first test Job_1:6-22

2.    The second test Job_2:1-10

C.    Job’s comforters Job_2:11-13

II.    The dialogue concerning the basis of the divine-human relationship Job_3:1 - Job_42:6

A.    Job’s personal lament ch. 3

1.    The wish that he had not been born Job_3:1-10

2.    The wish that he had died at birth Job_3:11-19

3.    The wish that he could die then Job_3:20-26

B.    The first cycle of speeches between Job and his three friends chs. 4-14

1.    Eliphaz’s first speech chs. 4-5

2.    Job’s first reply to Eliphaz chs. 6-7

3.    Bildad’s first speech ch. 8

4.    Job’s first reply to Bildad chs. 9-10

5.    Zophar’s first speech ch. 11

6.    Job’s first reply to Zophar chs. 12-14

C.    The second cycle of speeches between Job and his three friends chs. 15-21

1.    Eliphaz’s second speech ch. 15

2.    Job’s second reply to Eliphaz chs. 16-17

3.    Bildad’s second speech ch. 18

4.    Job’s second reply to Bildad ch. 19

5.    Zophar’s second speech ch. 20

6.    Job’s second reply to Zophar ch. 21

D.    The third cycle of speeches between Job and his three friends chs. 22-27

1.    Eliphaz’s third speech ch. 22

2.    Job’s third reply to Eliphaz chs. 23-24

3.    Bildad’s third speech ch. 25

4.    Job’s third reply to Bildad chs. 26-27

E.    Job’s concluding soliloquies chs. 28-31

1.    Job’s discourse on God’s wisdom ch. 28

2.    Job’s defense of his innocence chs. 29-31

F.    Elihu’s speeches chs. 32-37

1.    The introduction of Elihu Job_32:1-5

2.    Elihu’s first speech Job_32:6 to Job_33:33

3.    Elihu’s second speech ch. 34

4.    Elihu’s third speech ch. 35

5.    Elihu’s fourth speech chs. 36-37

G.    The cycle of speeches between Job and God Job_38:1 to Job_42:6

1.    God’s first speech Job_38:1 to Job_40:2

2.    Job’s first reply to God Job_40:3-5

3.    God’s second speech Job_40:6 to Job_41:34

4.    Job’s second reply to God Job_42:1-6

III.    Epilogue Job_42:7-17

A.    Job’s friends Job_42:7-9

B.    Job’s fortune Job_42:10-17

A structural outline of Job [Note: Elmer B. Smick, "Architectonics, Structural Poems, and Rhetorical Devices in the Book of Job," in A Tribute to Gleason Archer, p. 88. Cf. Westermann; and J. F. A. Sawyer, "The Authorship and Structure of the Book of Job," Studia Biblica 1 (1983):253-57.]
PrologueJob’s opening lamentDialogue-dispute
(3 cycles)
Interlude on WisdomMonologues (3 cycles)Job’s closing contributionEpilogue
Chs. 1–2Ch. 3Chs. 4–14
Chs. 15–21
Chs. 22–27
Ch. 28Chs. 29–31 (Job);
Chs. 32–37 (Elihu)
Chs. 38–41 (God)
Chs. Job_40:3-5; Job_42:1-6Ch. Job_42:7-17

Conclusion

I believe the primary application of the Book of Job is that we do not need to know why God does what He does if we know Him. Job is a book that deals with persevering faith (cf. 2Co_5:7).

"Job’s central question is: . . . How can I go on believing in God?" [Note: Henry McKeating, "The Central Issue of the Book of Job," Expository Times 82:8 (May 1971):246, See also R. A. F. MacKenzie, "The Purpose of the Yahweh Speeches in the Book of Job," Biblica 40:2 (1959):435-45.]

"To sufferers in all ages the book of Job declares that less important than fathoming the intellectual problem of the mystery of suffering is the appropriation of its spiritual enrichment through the fellowship of God." [Note: Rowley, p. 21.]

In this book, the writer clarified the basis of human relationship with God. It is not retribution. Retribution is the theory that before death, God always pays someone in kind according to what that person gives Him, blessing for righteousness or suffering for unrighteousness. We should not return to God what God sends us either, worship for blessing or cursing for pain. Rather, the basis of our relationship is grace. God owes people nothing. Because people are sinful creatures God can justly curse us. However, because God is a loving Father, He chooses to bless us in many cases. People’s response to God’s grace should be trust and obedience.

Why do the godly suffer?

Person(s)AnswerEvaluation
Job’s wifeGod is unfair.Never
Job’s three friendsGod is disciplining (punishing) them because of sin.Sometimes
JobGod wants to destroy them because of sin.Sometimes
ElihuGod wants to direct (educate) them because of ignorance.Sometimes
GodGod wants to develop them and to demonstrate His glory.Always

The different characters in the book based their understanding and their convictions on different sources of knowledge.

Person(s)Epistemological base
Job’s wifeEmpiricism
Job’s three friendsRationalism
JobRationalism
ElihuHuman inspiration
GodRevelation

Job’s three friends each had a different basis of authority.

PersonAUTHORATATIVE BASE
EliphazExperience
BildadTradition
ZopharIntuition

Some of the practical lessons the Book of Job teaches include the following. God is in control even when He appears not to be. The good will of God includes suffering. Bad things happen to good people sometimes because God allows Satan to test them so they will grow, not because God seduces them to do evil (cf. Jam_1:13). God is just in spite of appearances. Whatever God does is right because He does it. We can and should worship God even when we are suffering. We can trust God even when we have no explanation for what is happening to us. It is futile and foolish to criticize God or to challenge Him. We create problems for ourselves when we put God in a box. When we feel anxious we should seek to get to know God better by consulting His special revelation, the Bible. [Note: Greg W. Parsons, "Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Book of Job," Bibliotheca Sacra 151:604 (October-December 1994):393-413, suggested four hermeneutical and four homiletical guidelines to encourage the teaching and preaching of Job.]

"In conclusion, the book of Job teaches that a person may serve God faithfully, whether his circumstances are bleak or filled with promise, for he has the assurance that God is for him, seeking his ultimate good. A person can triumph over suffering through faith in God." [Note: Hartley, p. 50.]

"The book of Job makes an outstanding contribution to the theology of God and man. God is seen as sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent, and caring. By contrast, man is seen as finite, ignorant, and sinful. And yet, even in the face of suffering, man can worship God, confident that His ways are perfect and that pride has no place before Him." [Note: Zuck, "A Theology . . .," p. 232.]

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