Book of Job | SummaryJune 6, 2017
This article will serve to provide a brief overview of the Old Testament book of Job. We will consider the historical, literary, and theological context of the writings. Before we can move forward we should first consider the authorship and its overall place is the Biblical cannon.
The book itself gives no indication of who the author might be, and there has been no consistent view by scholars to date. Of course, there have been various ideas put forth as to whom this mystery figure might be. John MacArthur’s commentary suggests:
Even though he lived long after Job, Solomon could have written about the events that occurred long before his own time, in much the same manner as Moses was guided by the Holy Spirit to write about Adam and Eve. Elihu, Isaiah, Hezekiah, Jeremiah, and Ezra have also been suggested as possible authors but without support.
Job himself is a candidate for authorship, however MacArthur states this is probably not the case because of Job’s ignorance of the events that were happening in heaven between God and Satan. Moses’ name has been tossed around by Talmudic tradition due to the proximity of Job’s home in the land of Uz and Midian, the location where Moses lived for some time. It has been suggested that the author was an Israelite due to the fact that God is referred to as Yahweh.
More often than not, scholars have suggested that it was written in a gentile hand because of the other names used for God in the book such as El Shaddai.
The book of Job is canonized as the first of the five wisdom books of the Old Testament between Esther and Psalms. The fact that it was canonized in the first place has been a topic of speculation due to its unique content and theological positions.
Without reference to historical events, it has been difficult for scholars to place a definitive date on the actual events described in the book. We are told that Job lived for more than 140 years which would place him in the age of the patriarchs with the likes of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The text also describes similar customs of that period. Job’s wealth was calculated in a way similar to the patriarchs, with his land and livestock being the source of his riches.
Conservative scholars have said that the events described in the book of Job are only predated by the events in the book of Genesis. Many suggest that the original recording of Job is the most ancient of literature in the Bible, predating the recording of the story of creation by Moses.
The story in this amazing book takes place in the days of the patriarchs. For all we know, this book may be one of the most ancient complete pieces of literature in existence. It is one of the oldest, if not the oldest book in the Bible.
Those critical of the text have stated that the book is only a folktale which was passed on orally and thus there are no actual events to date in the first place. However, we are told the genealogy of Job’s friends that reference men from the book of Genesis. Furthermore, Job is mentioned along with other historical figures in the book of Ezekiel. This lends evidence to the notion that Job was considered a very real historical person.
as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, even if Noah, Daniel and Job were in it, they could save neither son nor daughter. They would save only themselves by their righteousness. (Ez. 14:20 NIV)
To dismiss Job, one would also have to do away with the persons of Noah and Daniel. In addition to the Old Testament reference, Job is also referred to in the New Testament book of James.
As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy (James 5:11)
Another piece of historical significance is hotly debated, that being the area where the events occurred. We are introduced to this land in the opening verse:
In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job (Job 1:1)
Those with a high view of inspiration claim that Uz is a real place just as Job was a real man. It was located in what is now known as Arabia, east of the Jordan River. This territory included the land of Edom which was near the land of Midian as we noted earlier when we discussed possible authors. This area would be consistent with the groups of people we are told of that attacked Job’s family; the Sabeans and Chaldeans. (Job 1:13-17)
In contrast, those with a critical view of the text have claimed that there is no evidence for a historical Uz. Robert Alter makes this claim in his book, The Wisdom Books:
Uz. Many scholars have located this land in Edom, across the Jordan from the Land of Israel. But it is really a never-never land somewhere to the east, as befits the fable and the universalizing thrust of the whole book. In this regard, the fact that ‘uts in Hebrew means “counsel” or “advice” invites one to construe this as the Land of Counsel.
If Job’s home in the land of Uz is truly a never-never land as Alter suggests, then does it follow that the land of Uz mentioned in book of Lamentations is also fictional?
Rejoice and be glad, O Daughter of Edom, you who live in the land of Uz. But to you also the cup will be passed; you will be drunk and stripped naked. (Lam. 4:21)
It seems one would have to be overly critical of the text to assume the book of Job to be fictitious.
Literary Structure and Context
While the dates, people and places of the text are often a source of debate, the fact that the book is a literary masterpiece is not. The book of Job has received numerous praises as a work of literature, spanning perhaps from its original recording.
“Tomorrow, if all literature was to be destroyed and it was left to me to retain one work only, I should save Job.” (Victor Hugo)
“The greatest poem of ancient or modern times” (Alfred Tennyson)
“It is a greater poem than either the Aeneid or the Iliad and will better repay study.” (Daniel Webster)
“An extraordinary book, a book of which it is to say little, to call it unequalled of its kind, and which will one day, perhaps, when it is allowed to stand on its own merits, be seen towering up alone far above the poetry of the world” (James Froude)
As referenced in the several quotes above, the book of Job is mostly poetry. Its structure consists of 5 major parts consisting of the prologue, dialog with friends, monologues, dialog with God and the epilogue. Here again, it is widely debated on whether the book we have in our possession today was originally recorded that way.
Some charge that the framework narrative consisting of the prologue (Job 1:1 – 2:10) and the Epilogue (Job 42:7-17), was originally an independent legend that was filled in with the poetry at a later time. Critics also lay claim that other parts of the text are later additions; such as the speech by Elihu, mostly due to his presence not being accounted for in the beginning with Job’s other friends.
The conservative and traditional stance is that the book was originally recorded in its current structure. Examples like the Elihu speech are countered with good reason. Just because Elihu isn’t mentioned among the other friends at the start, does not warrant that his speech had to have been edited in. He being considered the least wise of the party, it is understandable why he wasn’t mentioned with his superiors at the start.
While Job was written in ancient Hebrew, thousands of years ago it holds many treasures in its literature apart from the obvious theological content of suffering. Topics like cosmology, creation and evolution are some of the jewels often overlooked or cast aside as mythical accounts. Consider what Hugh Ross writes in his book, Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job:
The book of Job, probably the most ancient book in the Bible, is a book for today, perhaps more so than for any day since it was recorded. Its prophetic accuracy in foreshadowing some of the most astonishing scientific discoveries of recent decades, even of the past few years, demonstrates its relevance to twenty-first-century issues.
There is no doubt that Job is a wonderful work of poetry and literature. However, we must be careful not to overly criticize the text, lest we miss out on its full majesty as handed down to us by the creator of which it speaks.
The major theme woven throughout the book is clear, and its message is applicable for all ages. Why do people, more specifically, righteous people suffer? It is a question that has echoed since the fall of creation in the garden.
We are told of the righteousness of Job and of his reputation and stature among his peers. That is followed with the account of the calamities that strike him and his family. Job suffers not only at the hands of the accuser, Satan, but he ends up having to endure false accusations from his friends. Through it all, Job is oblivious about the events and conversations taking place about him in the heavens and is left to wonder why. What had he done that would warrant this seemingly gratuitous suffering? This eventually leads to Job demanding explanation from God for his trials, for he feels as though he could argue his case successfully before God.
God grants Job the audience he sought and displays his omnipotence and majesty simply by questioning Job’s knowledge in comparison to his own. Job quickly understands his folly and acknowledges his error in thinking himself worthy of an explanation from the most high.
It is here that we find the main message that the author is conveying to the reader. We are not always going to know why we suffer. We are unable to fathom the ways and purposes of God. However, we must learn to trust in his perfect and divine wisdom through the course of our trials.
Job is never made aware of the events that led to his suffering. We are only told that he trusted in God. All that was taken was restored unto him, in even greater abundance than before. In addition to the major theme of suffering, we can find other underlying theological truths that the reader should pull from the text.
God’s faith in humanity is evident in his willingness to allow the accuser to inflect pain and suffering onto Job. Satan feels that Job is only devoted to God because he has lived the easy life and challenges that he can break Job’s faith with trials. Yes, Job questioned God, but he never cursed God or lost his faith. Satan has and will continue to attempt to destroy the relationship between God and man, yet he will be unable to do so as long as our trust remains with God.
We can also learn much from paying attention to the counsel that Job’s friends offer on their arrival. They think themselves wise enough to tell Job why he is suffering. They judge Job with limited human knowledge, also unaware of the events going on around them. Their false accusations only add to Job’s suffering and in doing so they incite God’s anger upon themselves.
We are to offer encouragement to our friends in times of trial, helping them hold fast to the hope they have in God. Elihu, who was considered the least wise of the friends, ends up offering the best council to Job. Elihu was not prideful in his own understanding but laid claim to God’s infinite wisdom and goodness. God can and will use the weak to lead the strong.
At one point, Job acknowledges the chasm that exists between himself and God. He voices his desire for a go between, or mediator between himself and God so that he can present his case. Likewise Elihu, in his speech, also makes reference for the need of a mediator. This has been interpreted by many as a messianic prediction for the coming of Christ in the role of our mediator.
God is able to take that which is purposed for evil, and turn it around for a greater good. We can’t always know what the greater purpose is for the things we endure. Our effort to gain insight into God’s understanding is often futile, if it is not willingly revealed to us. God desires that we continually trust, not question. Recall the words taught to us by Christ: “give us Lord, our daily bread”. Throughout Job and the rest of scripture a prevalent theme arises: Trust.
Alter, Robert. The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes: a Translation with Commentary. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010.
Faculty, Dallas Seminary. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: an Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1985
Lawson, Steven. Job. Nashville, Tenn.: Holman Reference, 2005
MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Bible Commentary: Unleashing God’s Truth, One Verse at a Time. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 2005.
Mears, Henrietta C. What the Bible Is All About: Bible Handbook. Rev. & updated, 3rd rev. ed. Ventura, Calif.: Regal, 2011.
Ross, Hugh. Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job: How the Oldest Book in the Bible Answers Today’s Scientific Questions. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2011.
Walton, Andrew E. Hill & John H. A Survey of the Old Testament. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2009
 John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary: Unleashing God’s Truth, One Verse at a Time (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 2005), Ebook accessed on December 3, 2011, from Google Books Database.
 Henrietta C. Mears, What the Bible Is All About: Bible Handbook, Rev. & updated, 3rd rev. ed. (Ventura, Calif.: Regal, 2011), page 200.
 All further scripture references will be taken from the New International Version
 Robert Alter, The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes: a Translation with Commentary (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010), page 11.
 Although this quote is found in numerous online articles and post, I have been unable to find a scholarly text referring to this quote.
 Dallas Seminary faculty, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: an Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1985), page 716
 Bangor. Central Congregational Church, George Warren Field (Bangor, Maine: General Books LLC, 2010), page 62.
 Hugh Ross, Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job: How the Oldest Book in the Bible Answers Today’s Scientific Questions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2011), page 16.