“There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil…”. So commences that ancient, epic book which is the subject of our daily attention as this far-off year of 2004 comes to its close.

Tradition suggests that the book of Job was written by Moses, and that Job himself existed somewhere between the times of Joseph and Moses. We can be sure that the timesetting is patriarchal, for like the Fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we have Job performing the role of a priest and offering sacrifices for himself and his family. Whatever the case, it is a book of antiquity, and we cannot reasonably dispute the fact that Job existed as a historical figure. He is mentioned by Ezekiel (14:14,20), in company with Noah and Daniel, as a righteous man whose intercession saved others: and he is also cited by James as an outstanding example of patience under trial (James 5:10,11).

Background

Brother Thomas comments: “Job was a man of substance and power, being ‘the greatest of all the men of the East’. He was one of ‘the sons of the Deity’ belonging to that generation. There was among them also another man of power, an oriental, who was nominally a co-religionist, but full of envy and unfriendly feeling towards Job. This is not an unusual circumstance, even in societies reputed apostolic. In these, Satans too often abound, and become the adversaries of those they cannot imitate. In Job’s day, there were general gatherings of the Men of the East, with the sons of the Deity, at the place where the symbol of Yahweh’s presence was established. If I might hazard a conjecture I should say, they assembled at Salem, in the days of the High Priesthood of Melchizedek. Be this, however, as it may, ‘the sons of the Elohim came to present themselves before Yahweh, and the Satan, came also among them’. Here were two classes of worshippers, the nominal and the true; the former constituting the Satan; the latter consisting of the Sons of Deity, of whom Job was most eminent and conspicuous” (Eureka vol 3, pages 63,64 old edition).

The book of Job deals with the problem of evil  as it relates to the righteousness of God. It attempts  to demonstrate, for the benefit of “the adversary” in  the first instance, that righteousness is of value in  itself, apart from what may come to a man because  of it. Paul confirms this proposition when he says  “… godliness is profitable unto all things, having  promise of the life that now is, and of that which  is to come”.

Apart from the prose of the Prologue and  Epilogue, Job is a poetic work and the book may  be analysed in the following manner.

Characters in the Book of Job

1:1 Job

1:6 Yahweh

1:6 Satan

2:11 Eliphaz the Temanite

2:11 Bildad the Shuhite

2:11 Zophar the Naamathite

32:2 Elihu the Son of Barachel the Buzite

38:1 The Almighty

Structure of the Book

Prologue                                              Chapters 1 and 2

Debate between Job and

his three friends                               Chapters 3 to 31

Speeches of Elihu                            Chapters 32 to 37

Voice of the Almighty                     Chapters 38 to 41

Epilogue                                           Chapter 42

1 The Prologue—Chapters 1 and 2

In the Prologue, which is in prose, we are given the historical background and circumstances surrounding the events of the narrative and are introduced to the characters involved. It should be remembered that the discussions between “Yahweh” and the “Satan” were not known to Job and his friends during their subsequent debate.

Three important principles emerge from this prologue—they are:

  • righteousness is of value in itself, apart from what may come to a man because of it. (“Doth Job fear God for nought…?” 1:9)
  • to induce the wicked to forsake sin, the righteous may have to suffer
  • out of the trial of suffering can come a better appreciation of the righteousness of God.

2 The Debate—Chapters 3 to 31

Job’s three friends based their argument on the erroneous belief that since all suffering is the punishment for sin, and Job was a great sufferer, then obviously Job must be a great sinner. This, of course, was based on a false assumption—all suffering is not punishment for sin, but may be sent to test and improve a man.

The Characters of the Three Friends

We may, at times, lose sight of the fact that these three men were Job’s friends. However harsh and blunt their comments may appear, they had travelled far to be with their beloved friend in his adversity. Whilst still “afar off” they sought for him and wept bitterly and mourned when they failed to recognise his changed appearance (2:11,12). They actually sat with him in silent, heartfelt sympathy for seven days and seven nights with not a word spoken, “for they saw that his grief was very great” (2:13). This surely was the behaviour of true friends.

Eliphaz—represents the more refined, grave and dignified patriarch, believing in the doctrine of exact retribution and therefore reluctantly concluding that his friend, Job, must logically be a great sinner. He is the “condescending egotist”—“wisdom will die with me…” (12:1).

Bildad—shows little originality and bases his case on the “wisdom of the ancients”. His remarks are often cruel and cutting.

Zophar—differs from both the others in that his language is coarse and offensive. He abandoned logic and resorted to emotional attacks on Job’s arguments, pointing out that Job’s sufferings were really less than he deserved. His remarks are generally irrational, and often crude and abusive.

A Summary of the Arguments

Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar hung tenaciously to the theory of exact retribution, and in each successive speech became more pointed in their remarks to Job—firstly implying his sin and then eventually even detailing what they imagined to be his crimes. They appealed to him to repent and confess his sins before God and then he could expect to be relieved of his suffering. Whilst the doctrine is, of course, true as a general principle, it does not apply in a universal sense or in a particular sense as far as Job was concerned.

In reply, Job maintained his innocence and whilst his friends made no progress in their understanding of Divine principles, Job did. At the outset, he had believed in the “retribution theory” but at the end of the debate he had demolished the old theory but nothing concrete had been put in its place. He therefore determined to make a final personal appeal to God, and wait quietly for the revelation of His wisdom and mercy. Even if he could not be vindicated in this life, he knew that one day he would stand again upon the earth in the presence of his vindicator and he would be seen to have been guiltless (19:25–27).

3 Elihu—Chapters 32 to 37

Job had destroyed the “retribution theory” but had produced no new theory to account for his suffering. It was Elihu’s task to draw attention to the fact that suffering can be for the purpose of character development and to prepare the individual for a deeper appreciation of God.

Elihu very quickly drew attention to an important feature missing from both the arguments of Job and his friends. He showed that they had all overlooked the righteousness of God in their attempts to establish the righteousness of man. He demonstrated God’s righteousness in His determination to be just and endeavoured to rectify Job’s thinking about Divine injustice in his own case.

Elihu enforced two lessons:

  • it was the “righteousness of God” rather than the “righteousness of Job” that was to be upheld.
  • suffering was often intended not so much to prove a man as to improve him.

4 The Voice of The Almighty—chapters 38 to 41.

From the preceding speeches, it is obvious that many important principles have been developed in discussion and great advance made toward the understanding of doctrines yet to be revealed and at this stage known only to God.

The position of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar is seen to be untenable; the views of Job himself to be imperfect, and even Elihu gives no indication that he perceives one special reason for Job’s sufferings. This reason was to test his sincerity and to demonstrate (for the benefit of the “Satan”) that righteousness and integrity can exist independent of external circumstances. This reason never occurs to the mind of any of the speakers nor could it have been proved without a revelation. Hence, the necessity for the Voice of the Almighty to sound forth.

In language of incomparable grandeur, He reproves and silences the murmurs of Job. In two speeches, He deals with the marvels of inanimate nature (38:4–38) and animate nature (38:39 to 39:30), and then proceeds to reveal to Job His universal care (40:6 to 41:34). The Almighty’s speech proves that a charge of injustice against God implies that the accuser is more competent than He to rule the Universe. This declaration suffices to bring Job to a right frame of mind.

5 The Epilogue—Chapter 42

In the epilogue there is a return from poetry to prose. The Almighty demonstrated that if man is to be saved, it is God’s righteousness that must be declared. He showed the folly of Job’s attempts to vindicate himself and the error of the position of his three friends.

As a result of Job’s acknowledgment of the Righteousness of God, he was then placed in the position of being an intercessor for his three friends. So that “God might not deal with them after their folly” (ie visit upon them what “exact retribution” required), they were commanded to offer burnt offerings, that they might be saved by Job’s intercession. Job himself was restored when he prayed for his friends.

The above comments have been drawn to a large extent from notes on “The Book of Job” produced by Brother EM Spongberg for the Fourth Australian Christadelphian Bible School in 1965.