Job (Overview)

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A:  Prologue – Job’s Suffering (Job 1-2)
B:  Job’s Introductory Speech (Job 3)
C:  Cycle of Speeches by Job and His Three Older Friends (Job 4-27)
D:  Interlude On Wisdom (Job 28)
C′:  Cycle of Speeches by Job and His Younger Friend (Job 29-37)
B′:  God’s Closing Speech (Job 38-42:6)
A′:  Epilogue – Job’s Suffering Reversed (Job 42:7-17)

Speech Cycles

First Cycle (Job 4-14)
A: Eliphaz (Job 4-5)
A′: Job’s Response (Job 6-7)
B: Bildad (Job 8)
B′: Job’s Response (Job 9-10)
C: Zophar (Job 11)
C′: Job’s Response (Job 12-14)

Second Cycle (Job 15-21)
A: Eliphaz (Job 15)
A′: Job’s Response (Job 16-17)
B: Bildad (Job 18)
B′: Job’s Response (Job 19)
C: Zophar (Job 20)
C′: Job’s Response (Job 21)

Third Cycle (Job 22-25)
A: Eliphaz (Job 22)
A′: Job’s Response (Job 23-24)
B: Bildad (Job 25)
B′: Job’s Response (Job 26-27)

Introduction to Job

The book of Job is usually numbered amongst the wisdom books of the Old Testament. Together with Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, Job explores some of life’s most difficult questions: Why do we suffer? Is God just? Is God good? Where is God in the midst of our pain?

One way of situating Job is as the third installment in a trilogy of wisdom. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job build upon one another as they tell a great coming of age story.

  • Proverbs is a training curriculum for a young prince, it is a K-12 education in how to fear God and keep His commandments. You can read it and come away with lots of advice for how to exercise dominion and be successful in the world.
  • Ecclesiastes then takes everything you learned in Proverbs and turns it on its head. These are the musings of a king who has accomplished everything he set out to do, but now he’s wondering, what is the point of it all? Where does wisdom fit into this reality? And is there anything solid in this world of vapor?
  • Job then picks up where Ecclesiastes left off. Job is an actual king (Job 29:25), and he is blameless and upright in the eyes of God. He has seven sons and three daughters, an enormous household, and he is called “the greatest of all the people of the East” (Job 1:3). Job will then face the final test in the school of wisdom, this is the capstone of his curriculum. What do you do when God takes everything away?

Before we get to how Job handles this, let’s look more closely at who Job is, and what his name means.

Who Is Job?

The meaning of Job’s name is a sort of riddle. There is no agreement amongst scholars on its derivation. The church father Jerome said that it signifies a magician, and some Jewish writers have even placed Job amongst the magicians of Pharoah who dueled with Moses (but I think that is an absurd notion). Some like Erasmus have said that Job’s name is derived from the word “love” or “desire.” While others take it to be a compound with the negative particle and thus make it to mean the opposite, “not loved” or “without desire.”

In Hebrew, the name of Job can sound like a few different words, but the spelling of his name is identical to the word for enemy. There is actually a wordplay on Job’s name in Job 13:24, where he says to God, “Why do You hide Your face, And regard me as Your enemy (לְאוֹיֵ֣ב)?” In other words, why are you treating me as a “Job?” This suggests that Job’s name is intentionally ambiguous and is meant to characterize the identity crisis that Job is experiencing. Is Job the beloved אהב (ohev) of God? Or is he God’s אִיּוֹב (iyov) enemy? This is one of the questions that Job wrestles with throughout the book.

Historical Context of Job

One of the other questions we have about the book of Job, is its time and setting. When did Job live, and was he even a real person? Against the idea that Job is just a parable or an allegory, the prophet Ezekiel mentions Job amongst other historical figures such as Noah and Daniel. These three men are held out as the most righteous men to ever live (Ezek. 14:14). In the New Testament, the book of James also regards Job as a real historical person when it says, “Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful” (James 4:11). This insight from James also points us to a proper interpretation of the book. Whatever lessons we learn from Job, the central theme is Job’s perseverance in suffering, and God’s compassion and mercy. John Piper has poetically summarized the message of Job when he says, “God is kind in ways that do not fit our mind.” This is what Job is all about.

As far as the historical setting goes, placing Job within the timeframe of Abraham and the patriarchs seems to fit best with the details we are given. The names and locations, along with the sacrificial worship Job offers to God, suggests a time before the Exodus, when Edom refused to give passage and support to Israel on their way out of Egypt (Num. 20). There is also no citation of Scripture in Job’s arguments with his friends, something that we might expect after the giving of the Law. We are also told that Job lived 140 years after his sufferings, which is an age that comports with the lifespan of other men like Abraham, who lived to the age of 175. This is further strengthened if Job is the same Jobab that is listed amongst the Edomite kings in Genesis 36:33-34 and 1 Chronicles 1:44-45. Taking this all together, I believe Job takes place in the age of the patriarchs.

The Literary Structure of Job

There is an obvious literary structure to Job that gives rhythm and flow to the book. Job is a chiasm that is bookended by a prologue and epilogue that mirror each another. For example, the book begins with Job’s righteous life, and ends with Job’s peaceful death. It begins with seven sons, and three daughters, and ends with seven sons and three daughters. It begins with 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 donkeys, and then those numbers are doubled at the end of the book. Job also begins with a party and ends with a party. It begins with three friends coming to “help” Job and ends with those same three friends coming to Job for help.

Job’s opening speech in chapter 3 is matched by God’s closing speech in chapters 38-42. At the center is Job 28, which is an interlude on wisdom, and there is debate here about who is speaking. Is it Job? Is it Bildad or Zophar? Or is it the author’s own voice from outside the dialog? Some would argue this is the central message and key to unlocking the book, and I would encourage you to pay special attention to this chapter, because it harkens back to how Proverbs begins and Ecclesiastes ends, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28).

On both sides of Job 28 are speeches from Job’s friends. Chapters 4-27 record three cycles of speeches wherein Eliphaz speaks, then Job responds, Bildad speaks, then Job responds, and then Zophar speaks, and Job responds. One exception to this is in the third cycle (Job 25), where Bildad speaks and is (possibly?) cut off by Job’s response. There is no 3rd speech from Zophar and that is the end of Job’s dialog with these three men. On the other side of Job’s final speech (Job 29-31) is a long uninterrupted speech from Elihu (Job 32-37), and this sets up and anticipates the climax of the book, where God finally answers Job out of the whirlwind (Job 38-42).

Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar

At the end of chapter 2, Job’s three friends travel from their own lands and come to mourn with Job. They tear their robes, sprinkle dust on their heads, and sit with him in silence for seven days and seven nights. This is more than probably any of us have ever done for a grieving friend, so whatever folly they speak after this, we can at least grant that they started out on the right foot. There are worse ways to comfort someone than silence and solidarity. Nonetheless, they eventually open their mouths and by the end of the book, God says to Eliphaz, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has. Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, go to My servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and My servant Job shall pray for you. For I will accept him, lest I deal with you according to your folly; because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.”

This reproof from the mouth of God helps us interpret the speeches of Job’s three friends. For whatever truth was in their arguments, it was ultimately folly in the eyes of God. In 1 Corinthians 3:18-21, the Apostle Paul quotes from Job 5:13 saying, “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” Therefore let no one boast in men.”

This is an interesting quotation by Paul because it is Eliphaz who originally says, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness.” The irony is that Eliphaz is blind to his own folly. He can speak words of wisdom but is himself unwise. Eliphaz is a parable of Paul’s main point, “The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God…Therefore, let no one boast in men.” Paul is placing the boastful Corinthians in the place of Job’s counsellors. This is why he says a few verses later, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God” (1 Cor. 4:5). Job’s friends were making a foolish judgment according to worldly wisdom, and at the end of the book, God does indeed come and “reveal the counsels of their hearts.” Paul is then a guide for us in how to interpret these speeches from Job’s friends. There are many true premises but no good arguments, and ultimately it is just worldly wisdom that is full of self-deception.

What About Elihu?

The character of Elihu is one of the most controverted questions of interpretation in Job and has spawned a wide range of competing and antithetical views. Some see him as a proud and arrogant buffoon, while others seem him as a young, wise, and true friend to Job. Elihu’s name literally means “he is my God.” We are told that Elihu was “the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram” (Job. 32:2). It is possible this is the same Buz that is Abraham’s nephew in Genesis 22:20-22, which would make Elihu a distant relative of Abraham.

Elihu As Jester
Robert Alter has pointed out that the poetry of this section is unimpressive and is not up to the level of the previous speeches. Other scholars have argued along similar lines that Elihu’s speeches are a later addition to the book. As someone who holds to the inspiration, preservation, and unity of the Scriptures, I do not find these arguments persuasive. I think a better explanation is that Elihu is a sort of jester figure, he is purposefully bombastic and over the top in his claims to wisdom, and yet at the same time is self-deprecating. He likens the words within him to constipation, he is full of gas and it is ready to burst out of his body (Job 32:18-20). There are also echoes of Elihu in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians.

Elihu says in Job 36:2,
“Bear with me a little, and I will show you That there are yet words to speak on God’s behalf.”
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:1,
“Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly—and indeed you do bear with me.

Like Paul, Elihu has made himself a fool for God’s sake. Like Paul, Elihu is not actually “inferior to the most eminent apostles,” even if as critics argue he is “untrained in speech, yet he is not in knowledge” (2 Cor 11:6). The charge that Elihu makes against Job is the same charge that God gives, and the same sin that Job confesses at the end: “speaking words without knowledge” (Job 34:35, Job 35:16, Job 38:2, Job 42:3). So I believe Elihu is a fool, but he is God’s fool. And because he is God’s fool, he is actually wise. For as Paul says in 1 Cor. 8:2-3, “If anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.”

The End Of The Matter

In the end, loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, is the path to true knowledge and true wisdom. It is also the path to eternal life, as Jesus says in John 17:3, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” So when we are suffering, or life feels unfair, or when God seems distant, or when injustice appears to run the world, we should remember God’s words to Job, and Job’s faithful response:

Then Job answered the Lord and said:
“I know that You can do everything,
And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.
You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
Listen, please, and let me speak;
You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’
“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
But now my eye sees You.
Therefore I abhor myself,
And repent in dust and ashes.”
(Job 42:1-6)

God did not tell Job why he was suffering, He did not tell him about the wager with the Accuser, or try to explain how in Job’s situation, perfect justice would be meted out. Instead, God gave Job a theology lesson, a tour of the cosmos, a revelation of who God is. We might summarize God’s response to Job from Isaiah 55:8-9,

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.

God is God and we are not. Wisdom begins there. But it must not end there. God must be our God, and we (like Job) His servants. And more than that, we are loved by the one who made Behemoth and Leviathan and can tame them both. He tamed death itself and will one day rid this world of all that is wrong. That is what the end of Job is a foretaste of, a family together, seven sons, and the three most beautiful daughters in the land, all together feasting in the kingdom of heaven. God is kind, in ways that do not fit our mind.