Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Job Overview




THE interpretation of the Book of Job depends in its larger scope upon the answer given to certain fundamental critical questions. In the following commentary there is accepted as the basis of exposition the theory of Duhm, according to which the prose Prologue (chs. 1 and 2) and Epilogue (Job 42:7-17) are the surviving fragments of a "Volksbuch" or popular story of a comparatively early date; while the intervening poetical speeches are to be attributed to a much later age, and reflect a very different point of view from that of the Volksbuch.

It is probable that within the largest section of the book (Job 3:1 to Job 42:6) thus distinguished as of later date, there are a good many insertions themselves again later still. But for the moment we may confine ourselves to the broad contrast between the prose and the poetry, and explain why it seems necessary so widely to sever them from one another. The following is a summary of the reasons on which Duhm's theory is founded.

(1) The prose story, like J in the Pentateuch, makes Job speak of God as Yahweh; the poetry, in accordance with the practice of P, never allows him or his friends as Edomites to use this peculiarly Israelite name for God. (2) In the prose Satan's disbelief in Job is the cause of his trial in the poetry it is regarded as coming direct from God. (3) In the prose Job takes all his misfortunes with patience, and is finally recognised as having spoken rightly of God (Job 42:7 f.). In the poetry Job's attitude is precisely the reverse, and he ultimately admits that he has not spoken rightly of God (Job 42:6). (4) In the prose God is enraged with the speeches of the friends. In the poetry they represent an unsatisfactory theology; but speak like pious men, and recommend the very submission for which Job is commended in the prose. "This point alone," says Duhm, "altogether excludes the possibility, that the author of the popular story and the poet are one and the same." (5) The prose regards the misfortunes of the righteous as an exception. In the poem it is viewed as all too common—only the friends approximate somewhat to the standpoint of the prose. (6) Religion in the prose consists in reverence, above all in an anxious dread of offending God in word. In the poetry this idea is represented by Eliphaz: while in Job is represented man's moral independence of God, who is regarded, although He manifests His infinite superiority to man, as the comrade and friend of the pious. Moreover when the prose was written the supernatural world seemed very near: the poetry represents the view that God cannot be found in the world of men, but only in nature. (7) The prose itself avoids all objectionable expressions and substitutes euphemisms (Job 1:5, Job 42:8)—the poet is most free in his mode of speech. (8) The prose reflects an age when sacrifice was regarded as effective, but the technical sin-offering of the Law, and the restriction of sacrifice to the Temple and its priesthood, was still unknown; when the Sabeans were not as yet merchants, nor the Chaldeans a great power, and when an Edomite might in all simplicity be connected with the religion of Yahweh. In a word, it belongs to the pre-Deuteronomic period. On the other hand the poetry belongs to a later age which looks back upon the wars of great world-empires (Job 12:18 f.) and apparently the Jews themselves were groaning under the yoke of oppression (Job 9:24); ch. 3 depends on Jeremiah 20:14 f, and the glorification of God as revealed in nature reminds us of Deutero-Isaiah.

These reasons, if not all equally strong, taken together seem conclusive. As to the exact date of the poem, Duhm points out that Job 15:19 suggests that the days when no stranger was in the land were still vividly remembered, and that Job 38:4 f. displays views of the creation less advanced than those of P. He therefore dates the poem in the first half of the fifth century B.C.

[Possibly, however, we should accept a somewhat later date. If Job 7:17* is rightly, in spite of Duhm's denial, regarded as a bitter parody of Psalms 8:4, and that Ps. is dependent on P's creation story (Genesis 11-24 a), Job must be later than the publication of P (c. 444 B.C.), about the close of the fifth century B.C. at the earliest.—A. S. P.]

The popular story and the poem convey very different lessons. The Volksbuch teaches that a pious man may in spite of all scrupulosity of life fall into misfortune through the malice of the Satan, but that if he is submissive and patient God will in the end richly reward him. The poet conceives the subject of misfortune very differently. For him the misfortune of the pious is only too common. The prevailing doctrines of his age are that God invariably rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked (Deuteronomy 28, Psalms 37), or that if He sends misfortune to the pious it is as a temporary chastisement intended to withdraw him from some sin into which he has fallen. These doctrines, however, afford him no satisfaction. He sees no necessary connexion between character and misfortune. The whole of the working of God's providence has become to him an insoluble riddle. The current theory is represented in the poem by the friends, but denied by Job. The poem shows us the friends silenced. Upon Job himself, however, the doubt of God, occasioned by the break-up of the orthodox doctrine, presses keenly. What solution does the poet offer of the tremendous problem which he has hereby laid upon his hero? There is a double solution. (1) The personal solution is that of Faith, "the will to believe" (Job 19:25). (2) Such wider solution as there is is found in turning from the contemplation of God in history to that of God in Nature. There, at least, His Providence is visible. We are left, therefore, with Job bowing in humility before the greatness of God, and thence deriving a kind of freedom and ability to bear his fate. The origin of evil is not explained. That it comes from the Satan cannot be the meaning of the poet; though he has used the Volksbuch to give the setting for his poem.

The speeches of Elihu would appear to be an addition to the original poem. Elihu is unmentioned elsewhere in the book, and he repeats the point of view of the friends with practically no difference. There appears to be no room for his speeches between the challenge of Job (Job 31:35) and the Divine reply (Job 38:1 f.). Elihu quotes the preceding speakers so minutely as to suggest a reader of the poem rather than a listener to the debate. Moreover his language is unlike that of the rest of the book. It is strongly marked by Aramaisms, and uses words which rarely or never occur elsewhere in the poem" (Peake).

The poem on Wisdom (Wis 28) has no connexion with the context, and is also to be regarded as an addition. It is generally agreed also that Job 40:15 to Job 41:34 on Behemoth and Leviathan is not an original part of the Divine speeches. See the commentary, to which the reader is also referred for the discussion of other minor insertions and dislocations.

As regards the origin of the original story of Job, it is clear that even in the Volksbuch we are dealing with saga, not history; as the ideal character of Job's original prosperity, of his misfortunes and his restoration show (see the commentary). An historical basis for the story is hereby, of course, not made impossible. Ezekiel 14:14; Ezekiel 14:20 shows a knowledge of the story, perhaps of the Volksbuch.

Literature.—Commentaries: (a) Davidson (CB); Peake (Cent.B), Strahan; (b) Davidson, Commentary (on 1-14), 1862; (c) Dillmann, Budde (HK), Duhm (KHC). Other Literature: Cheyne, Job and Solomon; Peake, The Problem of Suffering in the OT J. E. M'Fadyen, The Problem of Pain; articles in HDB, HSDB, EBi, EB11, and Standard Bible Dictionary.

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Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Job". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.