Historical Background:

The book of Job is notoriously hard to date as a piece of literature. It may have some parallels to mythic epics in Babylon, but nothing as close as the Gilgamesh epic to the Flood story of Genesis. Goldingay points out that Job is written as an epic poem rather than a narrative, which indicates this story likely is not a historical account, even if it is loosely based on the unfortunate events in the life of a real person. Job is intended to draw back the curtain on why suffering occurs in the life of humanity, specifically those who are faithful worshippers of God. Theologically, this type of work would be categorized as a work of theodicy. The genre of Job being a theodicy, and the possibility of Babylonian parallels leads me to tentatively date its composition in the early post-Exilic period, composed somewhere between the Late 6th century through the 5th century BCE. This era of theology was when the Jews were seeking to make sense of the theological tensions created by 1) their belief in an all-powerful and all-good Creator who had specially chosen to be the God of Israel and 2) the horrific events of the Exile in the previous generation when it seemed like God did not, or could not protect, his people. After the Exile some of the Jews returned to Jerusalem to rebuild their capital city and temple, and after their divine disciple were wholly dedicated to living according to the teachings God had given through Moses and the Prophets. But as time went on the expected blessings of living right with God according to his wisdom revealed by the teachings of Moses and the Prophets (this is the definition of righteousness or righteous living) and the people of God began to worry that their extended sufferings meant that sin, like idolatry, was still plaguing the Israel.[1] Job would fit well into this time period to teach Jews about how to handle suffering in the midst of righteous living.

Literary Synopsis:

Job is a beautiful and profound theological work that takes the form of a conversational debate between friends. There is a short story at the beginning of Job which creates the setting for this theological conversation. Satan, the Accuser, is seen as a submissive but pernicious son of God, a powerful angelic being in the council heaven. Satan wants to prove to God that humans do not worship the Creator because they know him and are faithfully dedicated to him, rather they simply worship because they believe gives them good things. The Accuser proposes to God that if Job, a seemingly faithful man who has been greatly blessed, suffers at all he will be a good example of how humans will simply reject the Creator and stop submitting to him. God agrees to this and Satan is allowed to make Job suffer by destroying his animals (end of wealth), killing off his children (end of family), and inflicting Job’s body with a sickness (end of personal health).

There is too much in Job for me to easily write a few paragraphs that would summarize the books. Instead, I will provide my notes from my study of the book. This outline is fascinating to read through. Particularly, the increase in Job’s theological negativity towards God.

1:1-5, Introduction to Job

1:6-2:13, The Setting of Job

  1. Satan is a submissive, pernicious son of God under the Creator’s rule. 1:6-12, 2:1-6
  2. Job’s initial theology: God gives good and evil so I must accept this. 1:13-22, 2:7-10
  3. There is a foreshadow of what should be expected of Job in the book in 1:22: He will sin in his responses to suffering somehow and he will charge God with wrongdoing.
  4. Job’s friends come to comfort him by participating in his mourning and suffering for a week, and then to offer him words of friendly wisdom. 2:11-13

3:1-26, Job speaks and curses the day he was born/created.

4:1-6:30, Eliphaz’s Teaching and Job’s Response

  1. There is hope in fearing God as Creator because it means his able to make all things right in his creation. 4:6
  2. Humanity as a whole, and each man in particularly, brings suffering upon itself. 4:17, 5:6
  3. God works justice for the poor and weak, but if the rich and powerful accept discipline from him and repent God will bless them again. 5:8-27
  4. Job rejects the idea that he has done anything wrong against the poor or weak as a rich and powerful person to deserve the suffering he is experiencing. 6:24

7:1-21, Job pleads for Death to come and hide him from God.

8:1-9:35, Bildad’s Teaching and Job’s Response

  1. God is just because gives what is due to both the wicked and the righteous. 8:1-7
  2. Traditional theology offers us a correct way to understand circumstances in life. 8:8-10
  3. Our theology would teach us that if a person is righteous God will bless the righteous suffering because they are living according to God’s teachings. 8:11-22
  4. Job seems to mock/mimic Eliphaz’s point that no man is able to be righteous before God, so how can Bildad be correct in saying “God will bless a righteous man”? 9:1-3
  5. Job seems to agree with Bildad that God does treat all equally in his justice, but God is equally just by causing all humans to suffer. In this way, God might be just but he is not good. 9:4-35

10:1-22, Job charges God with being an oppressor of humanity because as a god the Creator doesn’t understand what it means to experience suffering in a temporary existence. God is unjust because he created humanity in order to judge them and make them suffer.

11:1-12:6, Zophar’s teaching and Job’s Response

  1. God’s ways may be unknowable, but they are still merciful and never unjust! 11:1-12
  2. Job is told he must examine his life closely to find his elusive sin and address it! God will bless Job richly for such repentance. Only the wicked long for Death because they don’t want to repent! 11:13-20
  3. Job rejects Zophar’s teaching saying that such a theology is common foolishness. 12:1-3
  4. Job insists that he has lived the righteous life and that means his life reveals the foolishness of Zophar’s common theology. Only those who have an easy life can contemptibly turn on those who suffer and offer such a paltry theology. 12:4-6

12:7-14:22, Job’s charge and challenge against God

  1. All Creation know that the Creator is behind the suffering within Creation since as the ultimate and all-powerful source of all things creation can only be as he desires. God deceives humanity by emptying what seems to be wisdom of all truth, and overturns all common theology or philosophy in this world with unjust and arbitrary judgments against his created humans and nations. 12:7-25
  2. Truthful theology reveals God is against creation and humanity. God knows that if he was a truly just Creator then Job would be vindicated as innocent against the suffering God has brought upon him. So Job challenges God to be just! 13:1-28
  3. The Creator’s real and true work isn’t creating, it is bringing death! And Death is the only relief from this God who brings such suffering. If God was good then he would simply leave humanity alone during the few days each person has in this world. 14:1-17
  4. Death is the end of human existence. True theology reveals that the one called Creator is really the Destroyer. 14:18-22

15:11-17:6, Eliphaz’s Rebuke and Job’s Response

  1. Job your words are empty, twisted, and foolish! 15:1-16
  2. Job you’ve allowed your heart to turn you against God and it is blinding you to your own corruption! 15:12-16
  3. Only the truly wicked are terrified of death. Their fear is revealed in their fear of losing their riches and power on account that their existence is wrapped up in those things. To lose them is to begin to die. So they seek to deceive themselves that they are judged into death by seeking comfort in this world while they live. Therefore, Job asking God for a comfortable life in this world is giving into a fear of death, a lack of faith in God, this the sin of the wicked. 15:17-35
  4. Job angry replies that Eliphaz is no friend to a man in suffering! As a victim of suffering Job demands that he has a knowledge unknown to his friends. A wisdom beyond their traditional teachings! 16:1-6, 17:6-10
  5. Job declares that his innocent blood will cry out against God when he dies. Even in heaven his blood will proclaim God’s injustice against him. This is hope in death! 16:18-17:5, 17:11-16

18:1-19:29, Bildad’s Rebuke and Job’s Response

  1. Wisdom and Creation, taught by the traditional teachings, do not change just because a man is suffering. 18:1-4
  2. Death is the consequence of the wicked. They know it and are terrified. They know they will lose their life, family, even memory of them will be obliterated as they are un-created by entering into death on account of their wickedness. 18:5-21
  3. Job admits his theology might be wrong about God, but how might he know anything else about God except by the way he has treated Job by causing him suffering even when he lived the righteous life? If Job’s theology is wrong, it is God’s fault for causing him to suffering to begin with, which is why he has developed such a theology of God! God is still in the wrong. 19:1-12
  4. Job laments that all of his relationships have been turned against him in his suffering. He feels utterly isolated and alone, even though they are with him. 19:13-22
  5. Job hopes that someday after his death some person will hear of his story as a man made to suffer by God unjustly and redeem or restore Job’s reputation as innocent. Job admits that he is scared to see God in Death, especially since God only brings wrath-filled suffering for every man since none can be righteous before him no matter how a person lives. 19:23-29

20:1-21:34, Zophar’s Rebuke and Job’s Response

  1. God does not allow the greedy and the wicked to enjoy their wealth. They are plagued by paranoia of the mind, deteriorating health of the body, or to be plundered by others. Your paranoia towards God must mean wickedness in you, Job. 20:1-29
  2. Job simply rejects Zophar’s rebuke. It is wrong. God allows the wicked to prosper in this world and humanity venerates the wicked as great men on account of their wealth and power! 21:1-34
  3. Only Death treats the righteous and the wicked equally, not God. 21:23-26

22:1-24:55, Eliphaz’s 2nd Rebuke and Job’s Response

  1. Great punishment in this world must mean great wickedness in you, Job. 22:1-11
  2. God is not ignorant of wickedness and suffering. You, Job, are not smarter than the Creator god. 22:12-20
  3. Learn from God’s discipline! Become blessed by repenting and seeking righteousness. 22:21-30
  4. Job laments that if only he could find God that he would present his life before him and prove his innocence. What is more, he would win in his charge against God! 23:1-7
  5. But Job admits that since God is the Creator, more powerful than any created thing or being, he is able to do whatever he wants with his creation. It does not matter if Job is innocent. Job is resolute that he will not swayed to admit to a wickedness that he has not committed simply because he fears God’s power and his judgment of Death. 23:8-17
  6. Job is more convinced than ever that God does not enforce justice in creation against the wicked. Instead, God supports the wicked! Job this challenges his friends to prove him wrong! 24:1-25

25:1-26:14, Bildad’s 2nd Rebuke and Job’s Response

  1. No man is ever innocent before God the all-powerful Creator! 25:1-6
  2. Job simple responds that for all the stories speaking of God’s great power and acts as the Creator he seems to be a rather quiet God now. He cannot be found and he answers no one. 26:1-14

27:1-31:40, Job’s self-righteous justification

  1. I am indeed righteous, even before the Creator! 27:1-6
  2. You, my friends, only have said that God is against the wicked because that is the common theology and traditional knowledge you have been taught this. 27:7-23
  3. Humanity has searched and found may great things in Creation but not the ways of wisdom. God himself told us that wisdom is righteous living in his creation. 28:1-28
  4. I, Job, lived the righteous life and was blessed and honored in it. 29:1-25
  5. Even though I lived that righteous life God has now turned against me and has destroyed me. 30:1-23
  6. Suffering was supposed to be for the wicked, but righteous living did not stop God from giving to me great suffering. 30:24-31:4
  7. Let God prove that I, Job, am a wicked man, then I will accept this punishment of suffering. I have lived a righteous life in these twelve ways: in sex, with my servants, towards the poor, the orphans, the widows, with my wealth I was not greedy, I do not enjoy the failure of my enemies, I am generous and hospitable, I do not hide my failures to protect my honor, I have not mistreated the land, and I am good and honorable business partner. 31:5-40

32:1-37:24, Elihu’s Rebuke and Teaching

  1. Elihu is a younger man than the others and he has been quiet out of respect for those who are his elders. But he has become appalled and angered that Job’s friends cannot answer Job’s challenges and statements about God. 32:1-5
  2. This inability by these older men openly proves that age and life experience are not the same as wisdom. 32:6-10
  3. Elihu has decided he must be bold and blunt to address this situation. 32:11-22
  4. Job’s self-righteousness is a form of wickedness itself but that does not mean God has become wicked in his actions towards Job. God is just because he never acts wickedly, and by creating and sustaining all life God reveals himself to be good and merciful as Creator. 34:1-15
    1. The mighty and powerful are disciplined. 34:16-30
    1. No one naturally seeks repentance and so God must discipline humanity. 34:31-33
    1. Whatever sin Job may have done to deserve his suffering discipline, Job now openly rebels against God! If only Job could be proven to be righteous or wicked. 34:34-37
  5. Humanity’s wickedness and righteousness does not change who God is. God created humanity as the greatest creature in creation, but the Creator does not respond to foolish human claims about him. 35:1-16
  6. God uses suffering to discipline the wicked into repentance. While the godless reject God’s discipline, there is salvation through suffering for those who learn to give up their sin and live righteously. So, Job has sinned against God by turning against God in the midst of suffering. Truly, God is so great that all we know of God is not really knowing him at all, so honor and obedience should be the human posture towards our Creator. 36:1-26
  7. God is the all-wise and all-powerful Creator. 36:27-37:13
    1. You, Job, cannot be wiser than God. He is not obligated to respond to your self-righteous foolishness. 37:14-24

38:1-41:34, God rebukes Job

  1. Is a man anything compared to the Creator? 38:1-39:30
  2. Can man prove himself right and God wrong? If you, Job, can prove yourself innocent then I will recognize your innocence! 40:1-14
  3. A man cannot overcome the beast of the land or the beast of the sea, which the Creator has made, therefore a man could never overcome God. 40:15-41:34

42:1-6, Job confesses his foolishness and repents.

42:7-9, God rebukes Job’s friends for misrepresenting that God causes suffering in people’s lives for specific sins always. Suffering alone does not mean there is sin as God’s reason for discipline.

42:10-17, God blesses Job by repaying double for his willingness to repent and live the righteous life even through his suffering.

Observations:

  1. There is an assumption in Job that the intentions of the heart are what drive us to act. In 1:5 Job does sacrifices on behalf of his children to cover the possible sins they did while celebrating on one another’s birthdays. Throughout the conversations the issue of sin or repentance is determined by whether Job turns against God or if he still intentionally submits to God’s teaching even in the midst of suffering.[2]
  2. There is an uncomfortable statement made by God in 2:3. Here God says that Satan’s actions against Job were God going against Job. We can take this two ways; either God was enticed by Satan to directly act against Job and so God is the direct source of Job’s suffering, or God’s allowing Satan to make Job suffer is still seen as God indirectly contributing to Job’s suffering. The depiction of God as the king-god over the sons of God, powerful angelic beings, in the heavens would have us lean in the direction that God’s confession that he was involved in Job’s suffering is based on him being the all-powerful, sovereign Creator god. If God is the Creator no creature is able to act outside of the freedom or power, which God himself gives to the creature by its nature or empowerment. To recognize this gives hope to the people of God because no amount of suffering is outside of the control of our God, and as Creator his able to help us through it and bless us beyond it.
  3. Death is seen as the return into the primordial, darkness of Nothing out of which the Creator made all things.[3]
  4. Job’s critique that common philosophy, or we might call it natural theology, is not enough to actually know God (exactly what Elihu states in 36:24-26) is crucial to these theological conversations. No one is able to answer Job’s statement. Even in the end, God does not tell Job that it was Satan who was the source and origin of the suffering. Instead, he calls Job to repentance and righteousness through recognizing that as a creature he is simply not going to understand why exactly God is disciplining him. God in fact rebukes Job’s friend for assuming that all suffering is a directly linked to sin in the person’s life. Only the audience of the story know that Satan is actively against the righteous in this world. Only the audience of the story know that God chooses to allow suffering so that the righteous can prove their righteousness even more in the face of malevolent spiritual beings like Satan. Through the story about Job these things are revealed to the people of God. God must reveal himself to his people through his teachings in order for us to know what he is really like. Job assumes that God is behind all good and evil in this world,[4] while the readers of Job’s story already know this is a faulty assumption in his theology.
  5. There is also an encouragement in Job never learning that it was Satan who was behind his suffering rather than God. God’s people learn from Job’s story to live righteously even if our hearts try to turn us against God on account of our sufferings. God may be punishing us for particular sins, or he could be disciplining us into further righteousness. Either way, the posture of the righteous is to repent of all (possible) wrongdoing and dedicate to the teachings that God has revealed to us. The people of God are only expected to obey the things they know of God.[5]
  6. The challenge by Satan is that righteous humans are only righteous because they believe that buys the blessing of the Creator god, just like pagans do when they obey their false gods and idols.[6] There are major statements throughout the conversation of Job that declares that God is so far beyond creation in his greatness and wisdom. While these would be statements made by other religions about their own gods, these seek to show the distinctive qualities of early 2nd Temple Judaism’s theology about the God of Israel as the Creator.
  7. Lastly, the Jews of Jerusalem after the Exile seem to be struggling with the type of wisdom theology they had before the Exile. This point is tightly linked to the insufficiency of common or natural theology to actually explain God’s actions. In the past, books such as Proverbs or Ecclesiastes, taught a wisdom that if simply obeyed would lead to a righteously blessed life but if rejected by foolishness would lead to ruin. After the Exile, especially after decades of struggle to rebuild in and around Jerusalem, the righteous life of Jews in the land does not seem to be leading to direct overwhelming blessing. This concern comes out in the promises made by the prophets of era.[7] Such easily interpretation of a person’s life is not possible anymore for the Jews. If a person is suffering the old wisdom would tell us that the person has acted foolishly and needs to eradicate sin in order to become blessed again, but now that many are living righteously after the Exile suffering has not ceased so suffering must be rooted in something other than foolishness and sin. The story of Job begins to locate that source of sin in an angelic being called the Accuser, the Satan. He seeks to make the people of God suffer to show their weakness, but God allows Satan to create suffering for his people so that through suffering Satan can be proven wrong by the strength and endurance of his righteous people.

***************************

This post is a part of a Read-Through project in which I am reading through biblical and extra-biblical literature. I’m reading the texts in an order based on a couple of timelines I compiled. If you would like to join me on this journey the timelines are available, as well as my prior posts. Each one gives some historical background, a literary synopsis, and a few observations I found interesting enough to share about the examined text.


[1] This could help make sense of Hosea’s composition that so tightly links sexual purity and idol worship. If the people are having sex wrongly such wrongful use of the body at home might be interpreted by the Creator of as a wrongful use of the body in liturgical worship.

[2] 15:12-13; 11:13-20.

[3] 10:18-22

[4] 1:20-21, 2:10b

[5] Dt. 29:29.

[6] 1:9-12; 2:4-5

[7] Zechariah passim; Obadiah 19-21; Mal. 3:6-11

Posted by Justin Gill

One Comment

  1. This is great, full of lessons. I love it.

    Like

    Reply

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