The book of Job is a wonderful exposition of how the love of God can be shed abroad in our hearts through a deep appreciation of His mercy. When we read of Job experiencing great troubles and eventually being delivered from evil, our minds are expanded and our faith is increased as we see the extent to which our loving Father is prepared to go to bring His “sons unto glory” (Heb 2:10).

This message was given to a descendent of Esau who lived about six generations after Abraham, while Israel was in Egypt. The Truth probably arrived with the sons of Abraham and Keturah as they travelled east from Canaan. The land of Uz is situated in Idumea (Lam 4:21) and in this ecclesia in the wilderness were some descendants of Esau—Eliphaz (Gen 36:10; Job 2:11), probably Zophar and Seir the Horite (Gen 36:21,28; Job 1:1)—along with Abraham and Keturah’s son Shuah (Bildad was a Shuhite—Gen 25:2; Job 2:11) and Abraham’s brother Nahor’s son Buz (Elihu was a Buzite— Gen 22:20-21; Job 32:2).

The central message of the book of Job is an explanation of the gracious process by which the salvation of mankind is being accomplished and how the quality of faith the Father seeks is developed. This is a book about the atonement, something we are all recipients of by “the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 2:1).

The story is told through the eyes and experience of a faithful man who suffers terribly to demonstrate there is value in clinging to faith and persistently maintaining a righteous way of life. Along the way, Job learns to put his trust wholly in his God, to learn that He is faithful, He is in control and will cause all that He has spoken to become reality. Job learned that righteousness is a gift of undeserved mercy because, in the end, man cannot defeat pride and sin by his own strength.

Messiah’s sufferings are also typified in the life of Job; the righteous suffering for the unrighteous, the demonstration of God’s true love to His creation and His overriding care for all its elements. Job is portrayed as a type of Christ in his intercessory work when he prays for his brethren. He also leaves us an example to endure unto the end.

Job’s name means “hated” (that is, persecuted) and comes from a root word meaning “to hate” (as one of an opposite tribe or party); hence to be “hostile”. In Genesis 3:15, the word “enmity” (or hostility) comes from the same root word, indicating how the drama unfolding in Job’s life illustrates the extreme lengths God goes to in eradicating the stain of man’s rebellion about 6000 years ago.

That Moses wrote Job is supported by the genealogies that show Job and Moses are almost certainly contemporary. Job’s trials would have taken place around the time Moses was in Midian or just prior to Israel being brought out of Egypt. Uz is located in the territory of Edom between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aquba bordering the Arabian Desert (Job 1:3,19; Gen 36:28; Lam 4:21).

In chapter 1:1 we read Job is perfect (“complete in sense of morally pious”; RSV “blameless”), upright (“straight”), one who feared (“morally reverent”) God, and eschewed (“to turn off ”; RSV “turned away from”) evil. God confirms this in chapter 2:3 describing Job as “my servant”. Job is not sinless, but he towers above his generation in his reverence for God and his morally upright life. He was “the greatest of all the men of the east” both spiritually and materially.

In chapter 1:6 we see an ecclesial scene where “the sons of God” have gathered together to worship before Yahweh and among these believers comes “the satan”. “This adversary is a man; nominally in the Truth, but not a regular attender at meetings (1:7; 2:2—“whence comest thou?”) and represents the carnal mind in the parable of the book.

“The satan” is asked in verse 8 whether in all his travels and self-professed broad experience he has ever come across a man like Job. The enmity of the carnal mind towards the spiritual mind is evident in his responses. He is filled with bitterness and jealousy and a strong desire to harm Job. In verse 9 he accuses God of protecting Job from trial and worry and giving him wealth in return for an outwardly Godly lifestyle: “Does Job serve God for no reason?” (ESV ) (Heb “gratis” i.e. for nothing).

In verse 12, God accepted the challenge of this evil man, causing his wicked desires to be outworked on Job. Four great strokes come upon Job in verses 13-19: oxen and asses, sheep, camels and finally his 10 children are taken in a moment.The blows occur deliberately one after another; four times a servant comes panting into the room saying, “I alone have escaped to tell you,” to illustrate beyond doubt these are acts of God.

Job’s reaction was total, unhesitating acceptance and a desire to bow in worship. In verse 20 he rose, tore his robe, indicating his heartbreak, and shaved his head to symbolise mourning. Then he fell to the ground in surrender and worship to God (vv 21-22).

In chapter 2:3 God states that Job still held “fast his integrity, although thou movest me against him, to destroy him without cause”. The satan’s contention that Job observed religion for financial gain is manifestly false. God is appealing to the adversary to repent of his chosen course and to turn to Yahweh’s service as Job had. But the satan disagrees with God’s assessment of Job, refusing to respond to the appeal. His hard heart, maliciousness and enmity are on full display in verses 4-5, suggesting that Job is so selfish he would sacrifice anything as long as he is not hurt personally. God again accepts the challenge in verses 6-8 and Job contracts a terrible disease that causes him to seek separation from others.

The adversary asked two key questions in these interactions:

  • Chapter 1:9 – will a man serve God and live a righteous life without being rewarded for it?
  • Chapter 2:4-5 – will a man hold on to belief that a righteous life will ultimately benefit him if he is severely tested – even to the point of death?

These are valid questions and so God agreed to deprive Job of his wealth, his health and what he treasured most of all, his children—for two reasons:

  1. To prove that maintaining a righteous way of life does have value in God’s eyes.
  2. To inspire others. If some one universally known to be righteous is tried and demonstrates they are prepared to hold on to what they believe is right, then others may be inspired to take the same position in their own lives.

God allowed Job to suffer because He was trying to reach the wayward brother and transform his thinking—He is trying to soften his hard heart and bring him to repentance.

The enemy’s questions are actually answered by the end of chapter 2 and the book could have ended there. But a third question is posed by God Himself, which takes the remainder of the book to answer. Along the way, our understanding of the way God works and of His character is considerably broadened. God’s question is:

  • Is it possible for a man to achieve righteousness independently of God?

Job’s three friends are introduced in chapter 2:11-13; they are genuine friends with Job’s best interests at heart who each travelled about 160 km to comfort and mourn with Job. They are sincere in their walk in the Truth and love Job deeply. They shed tears, tear their clothes and put dust on their heads on seeing an unrecognisable figure sitting on a rubbish heap. Then they sit for seven days in silence (the mourning period for the dead) out of consideration for Job and his affliction.

To properly understand the depth of feeling in chapter 3 and the reason for Job’s reaction to both the friends and to God, consider the impact his calamities have had on Job. He has lost his:

  • Wealth (ch 1)
  • Health (ch 2)
  • Children, wife, extended family, friends, servants, all acquaintances (ch 19:13-19)
  • Social position (ch 29:7-13,21-25)
  • Relationship with God (ch 12:4; 30:20-21)

He feels the last four particularly keenly. According to the conventional theology of the day, Job was being cursed by God in exact retribution for his sins. As his suffering was huge, his sin was proportionately huge. In chapter 19:13-19, everyone had completely deserted him so that since the disasters had struck he was suffering universal social isolation and condemnation.

But now his three friends have arrived and for the seven days of silence Job believes they are identifying themselves with him in the face of the social stigma that clung to him! This explains the sudden, violent outburst of Job’s grief in chapter 3 and the shock and outrage we see in his response in chapter 6. For seven days he had thought his friends believed in him, that they were prepared to stand by him, that they don’t believe it was possible God was cursing him for something he has done. Tragically this is not the thoughts of the friends at all; they have joined with the rest of the world in condemning Job as a hypocritical sinner.

Chapter 3 highlights the heartbreak Job has been suffering since the death of his children. After seven days and nights of silence, believing his friends were in tune with his thoughts and grief, Job opens his heart in chapter 3 and pours out a tortured and heartfelt plea to God for death. He doesn’t curse God—he curses the day of his birth and the perplexing injustice of his present circumstances. This cry is wrenched out of him by lack of understanding—he cannot reconcile his past life and his experience of God with his present.

This is the opportunity Eliphaz has been waiting for. Far from being in tune with Job, he thinks Job has a major problem. With such terrible calamities befalling Job and the state of his health, the three don’t know how long is left to convince Job to repent of his sins and be reconciled to God. Eliphaz establishes the case argued by the three and Bildad and Zophar follow along and support him.The argument is in three parts; two propositions and a logical conclusion: 1) all suffering is the punishment of sin, 2) Job is a great sufferer, therefore, 3) Job is a great sinner.

In the first cycle of speeches (ch 4-14), the speakers approach Job as friends seeking to help. They speak generally using broad principles, explaining God’s character and dealings with man through exact retribution, and highlighting the fate of the wicked in the wake of that supposition. Job is presumed guilty, and exhorted to repent of his evil ways and reform his life accordingly.

In the second cycle of speeches (ch 15-21), the friends’ pride is wounded by Job rejecting their wisdom. They restate their case in more specific and blunt terms. Eliphaz directly attacks, Bildad is deliberately cruel and Zophar is coarse and macabre as they try to frighten Job with the wicked man’s fate. The descriptions of the wicked are designed to reflect Job’s situation and no mention is made of repentance or the blessings that would follow.

In the third cycle of speeches (ch 22-26), the friends are desperate. Eliphaz attacks Job cruelly, accuses him of specific sins and appeals for repentance. Bildad repeats an argument of Eliphaz and Zophar declines to comment. The debate is over; the friends haven’t proved their case and Job is left wondering what the real answer is. He has won the argument, but he is no closer to finding the truth of the matter.

The arguments of the friends is summarised below:

SpeakerView of GodKey points of argumentConclusion
EliphazGod is righteous• If you sin
• Only the wicked suffer
• Man can’t please God; God is supremely righteous, man supremely unrighteous
Repent and be blessed
BildadGod is just• You must have sinned
• The wicked are destroyed first
• God gives you your just deserts; God is supremely just, rejoice in His justice
Repent and be blessed
ZopharGod is all knowing• You are a sinner
• You deserve more than you’ve received
• God sees and knows all; He sees through hypocrisy and judges man even if man cannot discern the sin
Repent and be blessed

(to be continued)