The book of Job is a unique book in the Bible for many reasons. It is set in a land far away from Israel named Uz. The main character is not an Israelite and the anonymous author does not set the story in any clear period of history.
All of this appears to be intentional. It’s as though the author wants us to focus on the point and the message of the story, the questions raised as a result of Job’s suffering rather than the historical detail.
These conversations are then concluded by a series of poetic speeches given by God to Job.
Proverbs showed us that God is wise and just. God has ordered the world so that it is fair. The righteous are rewarded and the wicked are punished. That you get what you deserve.
Then we go into Ecclesiastes who observes that actually the world is not always fair. That life is unpredictable and hard to comprehend. It is like smoke, a vapour, a mist. So this makes you wonder, is God wise and just?
So this is the question that is being explored in the final book of wisdom.
Job begins with a strange story which takes place up in the heavens which is described like a heavenly command centre. God is there with Angelic beings called “the sons of God” all reporting for duty. God points out Job, his servant. He shows how righteous and good he is. Then one of these angelic beings approaches. He is referred to in Hebrew as “the Satan”, The word is actually a title rather than a name. The title means “the one who is opposed” or “The accuser” or the “prosecutor”
So out of this angelic assembly, he is the one questioning how God is running the world. He proposes that Job might not actually love God and that he is only a good person because God rewards him. That if he took everything away from him then we would see his true colours.
So he thinks that Job is working the system and only obeying God to get what he wants. God agrees to this apparent social experiment and allows the Satan to inflict suffering on him. Job loses everyone and everything he cares about.
This is not a punishment that he deserved, in fact quite the opposite. God himself said so.
It’s at this point in the book that we typically respond with a question. Why did God do that? and we assume that this book is going to answer that question and the broader question of why God allows good people to suffer. A question that has perplexed people through the ages.
The book however, does not answer that question. Nothing in the book answers that question. The prologue is setting up the real questions that the book is trying to get at: Is God Just? and whether he operates the universe according to the strict principle of justice. The response to those questions come as you read through to the end of the book. The ultimate reason for Job’s suffering is never revealed.
—at least for the first two chapters!
Having been rebuked by his wife to curse God and die, his friends Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Na’amathite represent the best of Ancient near East thinking about God and suffering and the human condition.
First Job speaks followed by a response from one of his friends. Job responds to that response and then the second friend responds to Jobs response to the response of the first friend. This goes on for three cycles. Chapter 3-14, Chapter 15-21 & Chapter 22-28.
His friends start speculating about why God might have sent such suffering and they even start making up list of hypothetical sins that Job must have committed. After each accusation Job defends his innocence. Job is after all innocent. He is also on an emotional rollercoaster. There are moments that he is very confident that God is sovereign and just. Other moments he is doubting God’s goodness. He even comes to accuse God of being reckless, unfair and corrupt.
Some of the highlights include accusing God of being a bully (16:9) and orchestrating all of the injustice in the world (9:22-23). Job and friends are working from a huge assumption about what God’s justice ought to look like in the world. There is learning for us in that. We are after all made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) but most often the battle of the human condition is that we want to make God in our own image. We invent the God that pleases us and our view of the world. …but the problem is that it’s not our world. We did not create it and we do not understand it’s DNA and how it works.
Job is eventually worn down and arrives at a conclusion that God does not run the world according to principles of justice or even worse that God himself is unjust. He concludes by accusing God on these points.
His friends however, do not accept that God runs an unjust world or is unjust himself and their accusation lands squarely on Job.
Job is exasperated by his friends and gives up on them. He has only one place now to take up his case. He makes one last statement of his innocence (Chapters 29-31) and then Job demands that God come and explain himself in person. At this point (Chapters 32-37) we get a surprise appearance of another friend Elihu who is not an Israelite but has a Hebrew name.
Elihu has the same assumption of Job and his friends. His assumption is that God is just and runs the universe with justice but he draws a more sophisticated conclusion about why good people suffer.
He concludes that it may not be punishment for sin in the past. God might afflict suffering as a warning for people to avoid sin in the future, that he might use pain and suffering to build character and teach people valuable lessons.
Elihu doesn’t claim to know why Job is suffering but one thing he is certain of and that is that Job is wrong to accuse God of being unjust. Job doesn’t even respond to Elihu and the dialogues come to a close. It is as though the wisdom of the ancients has been spent and the mystery remains.
All of a sudden God comes in the form of a great storm cloud. God doesn’t give Job a direct answer but he does respond to him personally. He doesn’t tell Job about the conversation with the Satan. He is not privy to what is going on in the heavenly realms. He does something very different.
He takes Job on a virtual tour of the universe. He shows Job how amazing the world is and he asks if Job is capable of running it or understanding it. He shows Job, how much detail there is in creation. Things that we might see every day but we really don’t understand at all. Job of course doesn’t have a clue but God does … he knows it all intimately.
He pays attention to the beauty and operations of the universe in ways that we haven’t imagined and in places that we will never see.
Then to conclude God shows Job two wondrous beasts and brags about how great they are. They are dangerous beasts that would take the life of a man without thinking about it. God says that they are not evil. They are a part of his “good” world and then that’s it. That’s God’s whole defence. It’s kind of weird. What was that all about?
From Job’s point of view it looks like God is not just but God’s view is infinitely bigger. He is dynamically interacting with the whole universe of complexity when he makes decisions. This virtual tour deconstructs the assumptions of Job and his friends about what the justice of God looks like in the world.
The point is made: All of the complexity of the universe versus Jobs’ limited view based on his own life experience.
So Job asking God to defend himself is absurd. He couldn’t comprehend for this kind of complexity even if he wanted to. This leaves Job in a place of humility. He never learned why he suffered and yet he is able to live in peace and in the fear of the Lord.
God has made the point that Jobs’ friends’ conclusions were too simplistic and black and white. They were wrong to arrive at such conclusions. He then says that Job has spoken rightly about him.
Now we know that not everything that Job spoke was accurate but God still approves of Jobs wrestling with all his emotion and pain, coming honestly before God and wanting to talk with God directly about these things is the right response.
But that’s not where the book ends because God restores to Job double everything he had lost and this again is surprising. Is it a reward? Is it an approval from God? Congratulations Job you passed the test?
No, the whole book just made the point that losing everything was not a punishment and getting it back by natural deduction is not a reward. Apparently God, in his wisdom decided to give Job a gift. But we know that through the whole story that Job is the kind of man that no matter what comes good or bad, he can trust God’s wisdom.
The book of Job doesn’t unlock the puzzle of why bad things happen to good people but it does invite us to trust God’s wisdom when we do encounter suffering rather than try and figure out reasons for it. When we search for reasons we tend to simplify things like the friends or accuse God with a limited perspective and information. The book is inviting us to honestly bring our pain and grief to God and to trust that God actually cares and he knows what he is doing.
At its beginning, Job seems to be a book about human suffering. By its conclusion, the true subject of the book emerges: God’s sovereignty. In a matter of probably hours, Job had lost everything that was important to him except his wife and his own life. But he held fast to his integrity, determined to unravel the mystery of why he, a man who had done his utmost to live an upright life, was being treated by God as the chief of sinners. If he was a sinner deserving divine punishment, he demanded his friends tell him what he had done – which they could not. He also asked the same of God – and received more silence in response.
The truth is, Job never received an answer as to why he suffered. But more importantly, he received a deeper understanding of who God is. The Bible is unique because the reader knows, at least in part, what the main character would have loved to know: Job suffered because Satan accused him of a self-serving devotion to God, claiming that Job was not really righteous but was simply manipulating God.
God used the accusation as an opportunity to prove Satan wrong, and all the hurtful events in Job’s life unfolded from there. In the Old Testament, sin and suffering were connected because of the nature of the covenant. It was believed that keeping God’s statutes resulted in blessing, and not keeping them resulted in a curse (Lev. 26:1-46); Deut. 28:1-68).
Even though Job lived in the patriarchal period (before the Law was given), such a natural law would have been understood. So Job’s friends could be excused from assuming Job guilty of a secret sin – secret and serious, given the level of calamity that befell him. But the Bible adds more ingredients to the recipe for suffering, all of which are found in this book.
To begin with, righteous people like Job do sometimes suffer. Righteous does not mean totally being without sin, but living upright in God’s sight or having the right heart and attitude. The book portrays Job as a faithful man who honestly tried to do right before God, and who acknowledged his errors and sought to correct things when he faltered (42:1-6). Still, he suffered, but not because of sin. So deeper questions must be asked and answered. Job asked, but he got an answer he was not expecting.
Second, a third party operates between God and man, with God’s permission. In Job, we see Satan’s primary method of spiritual warfare: attempting to discredit God in man’s sight. Satan cannot harm God, but he can attempt to influence how man perceives God, whether as unjust, unfair, or unloving. Satan causes Job to suffer unjustly in an attempt to get Job to attack God. He also accuses Job of being self-serving, trying to make God look unjust in the eyes of the heavenly hosts for not punishing a sinner like Job. But Satan’s plot was foiled by the third variable, that there can be godly purposes in suffering unrelated to sin or punishment.
Job suffered so he might have a deeper and more accurate knowledge of God. This happened without him even knowing about the precipitating conversation between Satan and God. This is poignant as I know that from my own limited experience of 53 years of life on this earth and from what I have observed in my closest friendships is that spiritual growth, a deeper understanding of God and self are always accompanied by suffering of some kind. It seems to be that way in the Biblical accounts no matter what period of Biblical history we are looking at. It seems to be that way in human history and church history and it is that way in my own life. I never had a spiritual revelation or broke new ground when things were going well for me in life or ministry. I don’t know anyone who had a spiritual revelation in time of tranquillity and peace in the soul. Growth comes from turmoil, suffering, being out of our depth, being naked and exposed being put into a situation where there is nothing for a man to hold onto except God.
In August 2015, as a result of my thievery, relentless sexual immorality, dishonesty, cruelty in my relationships I found myself living in my car in a supermarket car park with no access to money, a mere £3 in my pocket. It was at that time that I began to walk with God again, it was at that time that wrestled with who I am and who God is and it was at that time, the greatest spiritual change in my life to date was formed. I began to live with authenticity rather than religiousness, I began to live with gratitude rather than resentment, I began to love people rather than use them, I began to live with courage rather than fear, I began to be ruled by desire to walk with God rather than be manipulated into religiousness by shame, I had nothing to prove and nothing to lose or gain. The pedestal on which my reputation was placed had crashed and smashed into so many little pieces that it no longer had any value to me or anyone else.
It was the Spring of 2016 that I was able to begin to repair a relationship with one of my daughters. My 18 year old daughter said to me “I never really had a relationship with you dad. My relationship was with your reputation… but it’s okay we can start now!”
It was painful and beautiful. Human authenticity comes from suffering. The trauma I put my family through was immense and I will forever be wounded by that as we all will but what emerged from this brokenness, this devastated mess is priceless and has taught us much about who God is and our place in relation to him.
“Authorship”: The book does not name its author. Job is an unlikely candidate because the book’s message rests on Job’s ignorance of the events that occurred in heaven as they were related to his ordeal.
One Talmudic tradition suggests Moses as author since the land of Uz (1:1) was adjacent to Midian where Moses lived for 40 years, and he could have obtained a record of the story there. Solomon is also a good possibility due to the similarity of content with parts of the book of Ecclesiastes, as well as the possibility that Solomon may have written the other Wisdom books.
Job, on the other hand, seemed to know about Adam (31:33) and the Noahic flood (12:15). These cultural and historical features found in the book appear to place the events chronologically at a time probably after Babel (Gen. 11:1-9, but before or at least the same period as Abraham (Gen. 11:27).