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Holman Bible Dictionary
Job, the Book of
The Book of Job presents many problems concerning the person, time, and nature of its composition. First, the text does not indicate in any way its author. The text never speaks of Job as its author, just its subject. Thus, many have concluded that Job was written by Elihu, one of the three friends, or simply some anonymous writer of that or some other age. Second, though most will agree that the character Job lived in patriarchal times, many believe that the book was written many years later. The dates of such a composition will vary from the time of Abraham to that of the Greek Empire. Third, to further complicate the issue, many believe that Job is a compilation of several different stories coming from several different ages. As one can readily see, the question of date and authorship is a very complex issue that cannot yet be settled with certainty; however, the fact that one cannot identify the human agent in no way means that the book if not inspired, for it is God's Word and is a unit as it now stands.
Job is a Perfect Illustration of True Faith. Through the years, many purposes have been suggested for the book. Perhaps the one that has been mentioned more often than any other is that of answering the question of why the righteous suffer. Certainly this question was prominent in Job's day, for ancient society believed that human suffering was the result of one's sin or at least a god's displeasure. Even the meaning of the name Job (the persecuted one) seems to support this suggestion, but that may not be all that is involved in the book. Another popular suggestion is that the book has been preserved to illustrate for us the nature of true faith both from the point of view of people and of God. For humans, it is trusting in God as the Creator and Sustainer of life even when all is not going well and when He is not visibly present to help us. From God's point of view, the story proves His faithfulness to His creatures despite their weaknesses and inability to understand what is happening. Another, and much less frequently suggested purpose, is that of a parable concerning the nation Israel. In this case, Job becomes the nation Israel. Though this approach is possible, it seems unlikely for most parables have some type of interpretation close by which helps to explain them. Thus, perhaps it is best just to take the book as an illustration of the nature of God and His justice in dealing with humankind, a justice people often cannot recognize and never fully understand.
Job Is Unique in World Literature. Though Job shows many similarities with other Ancient Near Eastern texts, none come near to Job's beauty and message. Because the three friends have Edomite backgrounds, some have speculated that Job may have been an Edomite and that the setting for the book may have been Edom. However, there is not enough Edomite material available at this point to make any conclusions. Others have seen similarities between Job and the Egyptian poems concerning “The Protest of the Eloquent Peasant” and “A Dispute Over Suicide” or the Babylonian poems of “The Babylonian Theodicy” and “I Will Praise the Lord of Wisdom.” In each of these cases, what similarities exist seem minor, indeed, and deal more with the topic than its content or form. Still others have suggested that Job is written in the form of a court room trial. No doubt, many legal terms appear in the book; yet we still know too little about ancient legal procedure to make any such conclusions. Thus, it is best to simply take the book as a unique work depicting the life of one man and his efforts to understand his God and his own situation in life.
Job's Encounter with Life Brought Him Face to Face with God. The Book of Job is most frequently pictured as a drama with a prologue (1–2) and an epilogue (Job 42:7-17 ) enclosing three cycles of poetic speeches between Job and his three friends (3–27), a beautiful wisdom poem from Job (28), Job's concluding remarks (29–31), the mysterious Elihu speeches (32–37), and God's whirlwind speeches (Job 38:1-42:6 ).
The prologue describes the setting for the ensuing drama. Job was a very wealthy and religious man who seemed to have life under control (Job 1:1-5 ). However, unknown to him, Satan challenged his righteousness. God allowed the challenge, but limited Satan's power to Job's possessions (Job 1:6-12 ). In quick succession, Satan destroyed all of Job's possessions including even his children. However, Job did not blame God nor question His integrity (Job 1:13-22 ). Satan then challenged God to let him attack Job's personal health. God agreed, but warned him not to kill Job (Job 2:1-6 ). Without warning, a loathsome disease fell upon Job; yet he still refused to blame God (Job 2:7-10 ). Job's friends were shocked and dismayed, but nevertheless came to encourage him and offer their help (Job 2:11-13 ). To this point Job displayed a traditional faith accepting suffering as inevitable and patiently enduring it.
After the traditional time of mourning had passed, Job cried out wondering why he was ever born or allowed to reach maturity (Job 3:1-26 ). Job's faith turned to a challenging, seeking faith, confronting God, demanding escape and explanation. In all the bitter questioning, faith lived, for Job turned only and always to God for answers. At this point, Job's friends could remain silent no longer and thus began to speak. The first to speak was Eliphaz who told Job that he must have sinned for God was surely punishing him. However, there was still hope if he would confess his sin and turn to God (Job 4:1-5:27 ). Suffering did not have to endure always. Job was stunned and assured his friends that he was ready to meet God and work out any problem that he might have (Job 6:1-7:21 ). Bildad added that if Job had not sinned it must have been his children, for obviously God was punishing him for some wrong. However, he, too, held out hope if Job would just confess (Job 8:1-22 ). Job was deeply hurt and wondered aloud whether or not he could get a hearing before God (Job 9:1-10:22 ). Zophar, the most brash of the friends, called upon God to meet with Job, for he was sure that when the two met, Job would see the error of his ways and repent (Job 11:1-20 ). Job held to his integrity, but continued to seek an audience with God so that he could come to understand what was happening and why (Job 12:1-14:22 ).
Job's friends were not satisfied, so Eliphaz spoke again and reminded him that all people (including Job) had sinned and needed to repent. Thus, if he would just repent, God would forgive him (Job 15:1-35 ). Job realized that he was getting nowhere with his friends, so he called upon the rest of creation to witness to his integrity (Job 16:1-17:16 ). Bildad reminded Job of the many proverbs which spoke of the fate of the wicked. In so doing, he was implying that what had happened to Job was the result of his sin (Job 18:1-21 ). Job was becoming increasingly frustrated, for his friends and family seemed to have abandoned him; yet he was unwilling to give up on God. Thus, in a most beautiful way he affirmed that he would be vindicated, if not in this world, then in the world to come (Job 19:1-29 ). Zophar was hurt, for he and his friends were being ignored, if not toally disagreed with. Thus, he declared that the wicked would suffer great pain and anguish and that all the forces of nature would turn against them. No doubt, Zophar included Job in this group (Job 20:1-29 ). Job turned to Zophar and harshly said, “No”; for as he observed, sometimes the wicked did prosper. However, that did not mean that God was not in control or that He would not one day bring about real justice (Job 21:1-34 ).
Though they listened to him patiently, Job's friends were also becoming increasingly frustrated. Thus, Eliphaz intensified his charge that Job's suffering was the result of his own sinfulness by listing the various sins of which he thought Job was guilty. Then he called upon Job to repent (Job 22:1-30 ). By this time Job was in such pain that he all but ignored Elipaz's comments and cried out for relief (Job 23:1-24:25 ). Bildad, not to be outdone, reminded Job again to consider the nature and character of God, for since He was not unjust, Job surely must have sinned (Job 25:1-6 ). Job, in sarcastic tones, asked the friends where they got their wisdom and then pleaded with them to look to God for real understanding and faith (Job 26:1-27:23 ). Apparently, at this point, the three friends, having exhausted their arguments, once again became silent.
Job then turned and reflected both upon the true nature of wisdom and his own place in existence. In one of the most beautiful descriptions of wisdom found in the entire Bible, Job concluded that real wisdom (or meaning to life) can only be found in a proper faith relationship with God (“the fear of the Lord”) (Job 28:1-28 ). Though Job knew this was true and though he sought to live a righteous life, he was still hurting and did not understand why. Thus, in a beautiful soliloquy he cried out unto God, reminding God of how he had lived faithfully in the past and had been respected for it (Job 29:1-25 ), but now when he was suffering everyone had turned against him, and death seemed very near (Job 30:1-31 ). Thus, Job issued a final plea for God to vindicate him (Job 31:1-40 ). With this, Job's case was made. He paused to await an answer from God.
At this point, a young man named Elihu rose to speak. Though most of what he had to say had already been said, he gave four speeches, each of which sought to justify God's actions. First, Elihu contended that God speaks to all people, and thus, even though he was a young man, he had every right to speak and even had the understanding to do so (Job 32:1-33:33 ). Second, he reiterated the view that God was just and thus what had happened to Job was well deserved (Job 34:1-37 ). Third, he sought to show that God honored the righteous and condemned the prideful, just like He had Job (Job 35:1-16 ). Fourth, he then pleaded with Job to accept what had happened to him as an expression of God's discipline and to humbly repent and seek His forgiveness (Job 36:1-37:24 ). Finally, Elihu realized that Job really was not listening, and so he stopped speaking.
Suddenly, out of the midst of a whirlwind, God began to speak. Basically, God said two things. First, He described the marvels of creation and then asked Job if he could have done any better (Job 38:1-40:2 ). Job quickly responded that he could not for he, too, was just a creature (Job 40:3-5 ). Second, God described how He controlled the world and everything in it and then asked Job if he could do a better job (Job 40:6-41:34 ). Job admitted that he could not and that he did not need to for now he had seen God and clearly realized that God had everything well under control (Job 42:1-6 ).
God was apparently very pleased with Job and his responses. However, He rebuked the three friends and commanded that they ask Job to seek intercession for them (Job 42:7-9 ). Then, God restored all Job's fortunes and even gave him more children (Job 42:10-17 ). In the end Job found meaningful life, not in intellectual pursuits or even in himself, but in experiencing God and his faith relationship to Him.
Job's Message Is Still Relevant for Us Today. The Book of Job thus wrestles with issues all people eventually face. Such issues do not admit of easy answers. The different speakers in Job address the issues from different perspectives, forcing us to admit the complexity of the issue before we accept simple answers. Two important issues are the cause and effect of suffering and the justice and care of God. Job begins by accepting suffering as a part of human life to be endured through trust in God in good and bad times. He moves to questioning, facing the theological issues head on. He illustrates human frustration with problems for which we cannot find answers. Yet, he refuses to accept his wife's perspective of giving up on God and life. Rather, he constantly confronts God with cries for help and for answers. He shows faith can be more than simple acceptance. Faith can be struggling in the dark for answers, but struggling with God not with other people. Eliphaz notes that suffering will not last forever, especially not for the innocent. Bildad notes that Job's punishment is not as bad as it could have been; after all, his children died. Being alive means Job's sin is not unforgiveable and his suffering can be endured.
Zophar emphasizes Job's sin but notes that he could suffer even more. He should give God credit for mercy in not making him endure all the pain his sin deserves. Elihu pleaded for Job to listen to God's word in the experience, for his suffering should become a means of seeing God's will and God's way in the situation. This should lead Job to confess his sin and praise God. Job's complaint is that he cannot find God. He wants to present his case to God but cannot do so, for he is unequal to God. He cannot present his claims of innocence and get his name cleared and his body healed.
God's appearance shows that God cares, that He still controls the world, even a world with unexplainable suffering, and that His creative acts and the mysterious creatures He has created only prove that humans must live under God's control. The human mind cannot control all knowledge nor understand all situations. People must be content with a God who speaks to them. They cannot demand that God give all the answers we might want. God can be trusted in the worst of circumstances as well as in the best. See Wisdom; Suffering; Faith .
I. Prologue: A Righteous Man Can Endure Injustice Without Sinning (Job 1:1-2:10 ).
II. First Round: Will a Just God Answer a Righteous Sufferer's Questions? (Job 2:11-14:22 ).
A. Job: Why must a person be born to a life of suffering? (Job 2:11-3:26 ).
B. Eliphaz: Do not claim to be just, but seek the disciplining God, who is just (Job 4:1-5:27 ).
C. Job: Death is the only respite for a just person persecuted by God (Job 6:1-7:21 ).
D. Bildad: A just God does not punish the innocent (Job 8:1-22 ).
E. Job: Humans cannot win an argument in court against the Creator (Job 9:1-10:22 ).
F. Zophar: Feeble, ignorant humans must confess sins (Job 11:1-20 ).
G. Job: An intelligent person demands an answer from the all-powerful, all-knowhying God, not from other humans (Job 12:1-14:22 ).
III. Second Round: Does the Fate of the Wicked Prove the Mercy and Justice of God? (Job 15:1-21:34 ).
A. Eliphaz: Be quiet, admit your guilt, and accept your punishment (Job 15:1-35 ).
B. Job: Oh that an innocent person might plead my case with the merciless God (Job 16:1-17:16 ).
C.Bildad: Wise up and admit you are suffering the just fate of the wicked (Job 18:1-21 ).
D. Job: In a world without justice or friends, a just person must wait for a Redeemer to win his case (Job 19:1-29 ).
E. Zophar: Your short-lived prosperity shows you are a wicked oppressor (Job 20:1-29 ).
F. Job: Lying comforters do not help my struggle against the injustice of God (Job 21:1-34 ).
IV. Third Round: Can the Innocent Sufferer Ever Know God's Ways and Will? (Job 22:1-28:28 ).
A. Eliphaz: You wicked sinner, return to Almighty God and be restored (Job 22:1-30 ).
B. Job: I cannot find God, but evidence shows He pays undue attention to me but gives no attention to the wicked (Job 23:1-24:25 ).
C. Bildad: No person can be righteous before the awesome God (Job 25:1-6 ).
D. Job: Neither your meaningless counsel nor God's faint word helps the innocent sufferer (Job 26:1-27:23 )
E. Job: Humans cannot know wisdom; only God reveals its content: Fear the Lord (Job 28:1-28 ).
V. Job's Summary: Let God Restore the Good Old Days or Answer My Complaint (Job 29:1-31:40 ).
A. In the good old days I had respect and integrity (Job 29:1-25 ).
B. Now men and God are cruel to me (Job 30:1-31 ).
C. In my innocence, I cry out for a hearing before God (Job 31:1-40 ).
1. I have not looked with lust on a maiden (Job 31:1-4 ).
2. I am not guilty of lying or deceit (Job 31:5-8 ).
3. I have not committed adultery (Job 31:9-12 ).
4. I have treated my servants fairly (Job 31:13-15 ).
5. I have been generous and kind to the poor and the disadvantaged (Job 31:16-23 ).
6. I have not worshiped gold nor celestial bodies (Job 31:24-28 ).
7. I have not rejoiced in others' ruin (Job 31:29-30 ).
8. I have not refused hospitality to anyone (Job 31:31-32 ).
9. I have nothing to hide, but I wish God would give me a written statement of charges (Job 31:33-37 ).
10. I have not withheld payment for the laborers on my land (Job 31:38-40 ).
VI. Elihu: An Angry Young Man Defends God (Job 32:1-37:24 ).
A. Elihu is angry with Job and with the friends (Job 31:1-22 ).
B. Elihu speaks to Job as a man; God speaks through dreams, visions, pain, and deliverance (Job 33:1-33 ).
C. God is just; Job speaks without knowledge (Job 34:1-37 ).
D. Is there any advantage in serving God? Human sin is no threat to God; human righteousness is no gift to Him (Job 35:1-16 ).
E. God is just, all-wise, mysterious, and sovereign over humans and nature (Job 36:1-37:24 ).
VII. Dialogue: Prove Your Wisdom Is Sufficient to Contend with the Eternal Creator (Job 38:1-42:6 ).
A. God: Can you control the inanimate and animate creation? (Job 38:1-39:30 ).
B. Job: I am overwhelmed and powerless to answer (Job 40:1-5 ).
C. God: Will you condemn God to justify yourself? (Job 40:6-9 ).
D. God: Take charge of the universe. (Job 40:10-14 ).
E. Two inexplicable creatures illustrate God's unfathomable ways (Job 40:15-41:34 ).
F. Job: Seeing God, I confess His power and repent of sin (Job 42:1-6 ).
VIII. Epilogue: Prayer Brings Reconciliation, Forgiveness, and Restoration (Job 42:7-17 ).
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Job, the Book of'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/j/job-the-book-of.html. 1991.