Introduction. The reader who desires to unlock the rich theological treasures contained in the Book of Job should assume its literary unity. Also he or she must interpret each part in light of its whole.
Although the Book of Job is a complex work composed of many different speeches, its almost architectonic symmetry argues for a literary unity. The prose framework (prologue[chap. 1-2] and epilogue [ 42:7-17 ])encloses the intricate poetic body (3:1-42:6). After Job's initial monologue (chap. 3) a dialogue of three cycles occurs between Job and his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar (chapt. 4:27 ).Since Job's response to each friend is always longer than the corresponding speech, the short speech by Bildad (chap. 25) and the absence of Zophar's speech in the final cycle may indicate Job's verbal victory over his friends, who fail to refute him (see Elihu'sremarks in Job 32:3 Job 32:5 ).Chapter 28, a wisdom interlude between the three cycles of dialogue and the three monologues by Job, Elihu, and the Lord, marks the futility of dialogue as long as Job and his friends rely on human reasoning (see vv. 12-13, 20-22). Job's closing monologues (chaps. 29-31) ignore the friends and appeal to God for legal vindication (see 31:35-37 ).Elihu's speeches (chap. 32-37) foreshadow theological concepts in and prepare the way for the Lord's speeches (chap. 38-41).
Critics interpret the inconsistency between the "patient Job" who never complains (see 1:21-22 )and the "impatient Job" of the poetic body who curses the day of his birth (chap. 3) and considers God an enemy ( 6:4 ; 16:10-14 ) as indicating "sloppy editing" by the final author. It is better to view these two contrasting portraits of Job as intentionally displaying that Job was no "plaster saint" who suffered stoically. Rather, he was a real person struggling with emotions and feelings believers still have today.
Since most of the Book of Job contains human reasoning, one must interpret each individual unit within the contest of the book as a whole and of the main purpose of the book. The reader must pay special attention to the prologue (chap. 1-2) and the Lord's speeches (38:1-42:6) to avoid erroneous conclusions. The former notifies the reader (like the narrator in a dramatic production) that Job is innocent and that Satan is the instigator of Job's sufferings. The latter is the most determinative part, since God himself addresses Job.
Though many suppose that the main purpose of the Book of Job is to explain the mystery of the suffering of the righteous, it does not provide a definitive answer to this matter (and neither do the Lord's speeches address it directly); therefore, it must notbe the main issue. Rather, the problem of innocent suffering serves as a catalyst for the question of the proper motive for man to relate to God (see 1:9 ). Thus the main purpose of the book seems to be to show that the proper relationship between God and humankind (in all circumstances) is based solely on God's sovereign grace and the human response of faith and submissive trust.
The Doctrine of God (in the human speeches). The Friends' Doctrine of God.Though the three friends basically have an orthodox view of God, they often misapply the doctrine to Job's situation. Eliphaz acknowledges that God does great and inscrutable deeds in governing the world ( 5:9 ). God utilizes his power and wisdom to bring about social justice, whether delivering the lowly or thwarting the schemes of crafty criminals ( 5:10-16 ).Sometimes he disciplines humans through suffering ( 5:17 ). Eliphaz accuses Job of possessing a distorted view of God's transcendence ( 22:12-14 )tha the is so lofty in heaven that he cannot see what is happening on earth.
Bildad emphasizes that God is just because he never rejects an innocent man ( Job 8:3 Job 8:20-22 )but punishes the wicked ( 18:5-21 ). He lauds God's sovereign power and awe-inspiring rule over the cosmos ( 25:2-3 ).
Job's View of God. Job possesses an ambivalent view of his Maker. Having carefully constructed him and infused him with life, the Almighty used to watch over him and his family ( 29:2-5 ).Now he believes that God has turned against him ( Job 10:8 Job 10:17 ; 30:11 ) and treats him as an enemy ( 6:4 ; 13:24-28 ; 16:9-14 ; 19:8-12 ). This belief affects Job's understanding of God's attributes and actions.
Although Job acknowledges that God is wise and so mighty in strength ( 9:4-6 ; 12:13 ) that he is omnipotent ( 9:12 ; 23:13 ; 42:2 ), he seems to abuse his power in an arbitrary way ( 9:13-24 ; 12:14-25 Job 25 ; cf. 30:18-20 ). The Almighty uses his power indiscriminately to mistreat innocent Job ( 6:4 ; 27:2 ) or to punish the wicked who deserve it ( Job 21:15 Job 21:30 ; Job 27:10 Job 27:11 Job 27:15 ).Also Job portrays God as unjust Judge ( 9:22-24 ) who is cruel ( 30:21-22 )and unfair to him ( 19:6-22 ) and to many innocent victims of social injustice ( 24:1-12 ). Job depicts the Lord as an angry God who punishes him harshly ( 9:13-24 ; 10:17 ; 16:9-14 ; 19:11-22 ). On the other hand, he perceives God as a hidden and invisible Judge ( Job 9:11 Job 9:15 ; 23:7-9 ) who would listen fairly to his case if he could be found ( 23:3-7 ; cf. Job 13:3 Job 13:15-24 ).
On a positive note, Job agrees with his friends that God is sovereign Creator and Ruler who has done unsearchable things ( 9:10 ) in the creation and control of the cosmos ( 9:5-9 ; 26:7-14 ). He realizes that all things are in God's hand ( 12:9 ), includingJob's persecution ( 30:21 )and his disease ( 19:21 ).Job has believed from the outset that God is responsible for his circumstances (see 1:21 ). Yet the prologue reveals that this was only God's permissive will since he had given limited authority over Job into Satan's hand ( 1:12 ; 2:6 ). Since the life and breath of all humankind are in God's hand ( 12:10 ) he is ultimately responsible for all things, including calamities ( 12:16-25 ) and the prosperity of the wicked (whose circumstances are not in their own hand(s) [ 21:16 ]). Thus, Job trusts that god's hand controls the elements of chaos in creation such as the sea, the storm cloud, and the cosmic sea monster Rahab ( 26:12-13 ).
Elihu's View of God. Preparing the way for the Lord's appearance, Elihu presents a more balanced view of God and his relationship to humankind. He corrects Job's view of God's hiddenness by arguing that God reveals himself in mysterious ways (including dreams, pain and illness, and angels) ( 33:13-23 ).Supplementing Eliphaz's teaching about pain and suffering, he mentions a preventive purpose (to help keep a person from sinning and himself Job 33:17-18 Job 33:30 a) as well as a disciplinary and educational objective ( Job 33:16 Job 33:19-22 Job 33:30 b; cf. 36:10 ).Elihu calls God the sovereign Teacher ( 36:22 ) who will instruct Job (chaps. 38-41) with dozens of rhetorical questions. God uses affliction to get man's attention concerning pride ( 33:17 ; 36:8-10 ).Although Elihu errs in assuming Job has had pride from the beginning of his suffering, the speeches of Job and of the Lord reveal the subsequent pride of Job.
Elihu states that the Almighty does not pervert justice ( 34:12 ) but is a sovereign (v. 13), immanent (vv. 14-15), just (vv. 17-18), and impartial Ruler (vv. 19-20)who does not reward on man's terms (v. 33). As omniscient Judge who sees all the ways of humankind, he often brings judgment ( 34:21-28 ) but must not be questioned when he does not decree speedy retribution ( 34:29-30 ). One reason God seems cruel in ignoring cries of the afflicted is that he does not hear the insincere cries of the proud ( 35:9-13 ). God's transcendence means that he is not affected by a man's righteousness or sin ( 35:5-6 ). However, this does not mean that he is impersonal ( 36:7 ). Anticipating the Lord's teaching of 41:11, Elihu states that a person (no matter how righteous) cannot put God under obligation ( 35:7 ; cf. 34:33 ).
Elihu corrects Job's theology by arguing that God is mighty but not arbitrary in his power ( 36:5-6 ).He is the exalted and sovereign Teacher whom Job should not try to correct; rather Job should magnify his strength and power through song ( 36:21-24 ) and meditate reverently on his awesome majesty and wonderful works in nature ( Job 37:1-2 Job 37:14-18 Job 37:22-24 ). God is great beyond understanding in the mighty thunderstorm and snowstorm (36:26-37:13). He is the great and sovereign Warrior who commands the thunderstorm as he dispenses lightning (like arrows) from his hands ( 36:32 ). He lifts up his majestic voice in thunder ( 37:2-5 ). This metaphorical description of God counteracts the pagan myths, which depicted the Canaanitestorm-god Baal-Hadad and the Mesopotamian counterpart Adad holding a flash of lightning asa weapon. The clouds and lightning obey the sovereign command of the true God ( 37:11-12 ).
The Lord reinforces this teaching ( Job 38:22-30 Job 38:34-38 ) by demonstrating his unique sovereignty over the weather. Only the Lord (not any so-called god, much less any human) can lift up his voice to command the thunderclouds and to dispatch the lightning ( 38:34-38 ).
Elihu emphasizes the divine attributes of omnipotence. Three times he states that Godis "mighty" or "great" ( 34:17 ; 36:5 [twice]). Ahalf-dozen times he utilizes the divine title "Almighty" ( 32:8 ; 33:4 ; Job 34:10 Job 34:12 ; 35:13 ; 37:23 ). This epithet is used in the Book of Job by all the characters in the poetic body for a total ofthirty-one times in contrast to seventeen times in the rest of the Old Testament. Though its etymology is disputed, the Septuagint translation (pantokrator [pantokravtwr],"all-powerful") and its usage in parallelism with the divine name El [lea]"God, the strong one" (see Job 27:2 Job 27:13 ; 33:4 ; Job 34:10 Job 34:12 ; 35:13 ) support the traditional translation "Almighty."
Lord's View of Himself and His Relationship to Humankind. Because of his omnipotent work of creating and sustaining the order of the universe, Yahweh alone is its sovereign and benevolent Lord who relates to finite humankind only on the basis of his own sovereign grace and man's joyous trust in him.
Ignoring Job's cries for a verdict of innocent or an indictment of specific charges, the Lord confronts Job with his ignorance of Yahweh's ways in governing the universe ( 38:2 ). Utilizing dozens of rhetorical questions, he documents human ignorance of and impotence in controlling each domain of inanimate ( 38:4-38 ) and animate (38:39-39:30) creation, which are under the sovereign care of the all-knowingLord. Almost all the rhetorical questions beginning with "who?" (Heb. mi[ Job 38:5 Job 38:6 Job 38:25 Job 38:28 Job 38:29 Job 38:36 Job 38:37 Job 38:41 yim], Job 38:5 Job 38:6 Job 38:25 Job 38:28 Job 38:29 Job 38:36 Job 38:37 Job 38:41 ; 39:5 which expect the answer"none but Yahweh" ) emphasize the incomparable sovereignty of Yahweh as ruler of the uNIVerse. No human or any so-called god can usurp his role. Questions beginning with"where?" ( Job 38:4 Job 38:19 Job 38:24 ),"on what?" ( 38:6 ), and sentence questions including the pronoun "you" or "your" ( Job 38:12 Job 38:16 Job 38:17 Job 38:18 Job 38:22 Job 38:31 Job 38:32 Job 38:33 Job 38:34 Job 38:35 Job 38:39 ; Job 39:1 Job 39:2 Job 39:9 Job 39:10 Job 39:11 Job 39:12 Job 39:19 Job 39:20 Job 39:26 Job 39:27 ; Job 40:8 Job 40:9 ) exposeJob's impotence and finiteness in light of God's sovereignty and infinite greatness. Since God is nobody's equal, Job's audacious attempt to subpoena God ( 31:35 ) and to wage a "lawsuit" to enforce his rights ( 40:2 ) is absurd.
The Lord demonstrates his wise and sovereign control over things humankind has considered chaotic or evil. He has restricted the chaotic sea with its proud waves ( 38:8-11 ) yet provides the precise amount of rain to inhibit the encroachment of the desert ( Job 38:26-27 Job 38:37-38 ). By daily commanding the sun to rise ( 38:12-15 ), he limits darkness and the wicked who operate at night. Thus he has assigned places for both light and darkness ( 38:19-20 ) and sovereignly controls the dark underworld ( 38:16-17 ). He is master of the wild animals, which man can seldom tame and often fears (38:39-39:30). He benevolently provides food for the mightiest carnivore (the lion) to the weakestcarrion-eating raven ( 38:39-41 ). The Lord's dominion allows room for chaotic forces (cf. 4:7-11 , where Eliphaz employs the lion as a symbol of the wicked ). But the Lord also protects the weak and vulnerable deer and mountain goat (the prey of the lion 39:1-4 ). He has created vultures with the instinct to feed on the wounded (including humans slain in battle 39:30 )to help prevent the spread of disease. Since Yahweh wisely supervises the balance of nature, which includes chaotic forces, humankind should trust him to restrict properly the chaotic and evil forces in society.
Yahweh confronts Job's prideful questioning of his justness as ruler of the universe (see 40:8-14 ).He ironically challenges him to clothe himself in the divine attributes of kingship (vv.10-12) in order to subdue Behemoth and Leviathan (40:15-41:34), which represent the proud and wicked elements in the cosmos (see 40:11-13 ; 41:34 ). Since Job does not dare rouse Leviathan ( 41:1-10 a), how much more absurd that he has challenged the authority of Yahweh, the maker and ruler of Leviathan ( 41:10b-11 ).
Fundamental Issues Concerning God's Relationship to Humankind. Theology of Retribution. One common denominator between the theology of Job and his friends is a belief in the retribution dogma, a simplistic understanding of the principle of divine retribution: God (without exception) punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous. Since the righteous are always blessed and the wicked always receive God's judgment, Job must be a sinner since God has removed his physical blessings. Because God never punishes the godly man or preserves the evildoer, all three friends contend that Job's suffering is a sign of hidden sin ( 4:7-11 ; 5:8-16 ; 8:11-22 ; 11:4-6, 14-20 ; 18:5-21 ).Eliphaz implies ( 4:11 see the context of vv. 7-10) and Bildad ( 8:4 ) states thatJob's children were killed as punishment for their sins. In the second cycle of speeches, all three friends emphasize God's certain punishment of the wicked. Both Eliphaz ( 15:17-35 ) and Zophar ( 20:4-29 )explain Job's initial prosperity by the prevailing idea that the wicked many enjoy temporary prosperity before God metes out retributive judgment.
Job denies the accusations of his three friends that he is being punished for sin and openly questions the validity of the retribution dogma by citing counterexamples of the prosperity of the wicked ( Job 21:7-16 Job 21:31 ).Furthermore, he properly challenges the corollary that God punishes children for the sins of their parents ( 21:19-21 ; see also Deut 24:16 ).Yet, when Job accuses God of unjustly punishing him for sin (in order to maintain his own innocence 9:20-23 ; 40:8 ), he unconsciously retains the dogma of divine retribution.
Even Elihu argues that God operates according to retribution so that he ought not be accused of perverting justice ( 34:11-12 ).
The purpose of the Book of Job (negatively stated) involves the refutation of this retribution dogma, which assumes an automatic connection between one's material and physical prosperity and one's spirituality. Both Job and his friends unknowingly restrictGod's sovereignty by their assumption that he must always act according to their preconceived dogma. Because of this dogma, Job impugns God's justice in order to justify himself (see 40:8 ).Though divine retribution is a valid principle (see Deut. 28) the error is making it an unconditional dogma by which one can predetermine God's actions and judge a person's condition before him. God is not bound by this man-made dogma but normally will bless the righteous and punish the wicked.
The Book of Job also refutes the corollary that God is obligated to bless man if he obeys. This issue surfaces in the prologue, when Satan claims that Job serves God only for profit ( 1:9-11 ).After Job's numerous possessions are removed, Job demands that God give him a fair trial in court ( 10:2 ).Because God does not answer his plea to specify charges against him, Job dares to challenge the sovereign power of the Almighty by trying (as it were) to subpoena him for testimony ( 31:35 ).He accuses God of oppressive tactics ( 10:3 ), including apparently the forcible removal of what rightfully belongs to him. When Job assumes that God owes him physical blessing since he has been obedient to Him, he was imbibing a concept that undergirded ancient Near Eastern religionsthat the human relationship to the gods was like a business contract of mutual claims that was binding in court. The Book of Job shows the absurdity of demanding that God operate in this manner since he is obligated to no one: "Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me" ( 41:11 ). Thus,God's free sovereignty is independent of all human rules, including those imposed by any religion.
Need of a Mediator. Since Job perceives of God as unjust and inaccessible, he expresses a desire for an impartial mediator ( 9:33 Heb. mokiah,the probable term for the ancient Near Eastern judge who functioned like a modern arbitrator) between God and himself.
The identity of Job's "witness" or "legal advocate" ( 16:19 ) in heaven is disputed. Job's appeal to God ( 17:3 ) to act as his advocate by laying down a pledge (i.e., to provide the bail or surety needed in his desired court case) may support that Job refers to God in 16:19. However, Job's wish for an impartial "mediator" between God and himself ( 9:33 ) and the context of 16:21 suggest that Job is using a legal metaphor for an advocate who would plead for him with God. Since he believes strongly in his innocence, there must be someone pleading his case in the heavenly court just as in an earthly court. This anticipates the role Christ now plays as intercessor (see Heb 7:25 ) and advocate ( 1 John 2:1 ).
In 19:25 Job expresses his confidence in his living redeemer. Although he may be referring to God (see mention of "God" in v. 26 and the prior context of 17:3 ), the context of 9:33 (his desire for a neutral party) and of 16:19-21 implies that Job more likely refers to someone other than God. By again using the legal metaphor, Job expresses his conviction that he would be vindicated as innocent (which in an earthly lawsuit would require a vindicator or legal advocate). Job believes that surely there is a legal advocate in his "lawsuit" against God. Though Job probably uses a legal metaphor for someone other than God, his longing for a "vindicator" is eventually fulfilled in God (see 42:7 , where God says his servant Job spoke what was right about him ). One must not assume that Job had any knowledge of Christ as his Redeemer (a truth revealed only in the New Testament); nonetheless the paramount fulfillment of Job's need for a mediator and legal advocate has now been found in the person of Jesus Christ.
Concepts of Death and the Grave. Job longs for death as an escape from God and the unrelenting trouble that God has caused him ( Job 3:10-13 Job 3:20-22 ; Job 7:15 Job 7:19-21 ).At first Job perceives of the grave as a place of rest and quiet ( Job 3:11-13 Job 3:17 )in contrast to life ( 3:26 )and as freedom from bondage ( 3:18-19 ) and as separation from God ( 7:21 ).He compares death to sleep ( 14:12 ) and wishes that the grave could hide him from God's wrath ( 14:13 ). Yet Job stresses that it is dark, gloomy, and without order ( 10:18-22 ).
Sheol is a land of no return ( 10:21 ) and a place without hope ( 17:15-16 ).The dead person is oblivious to life on earth ( 14:21 ), and those on earth quickly forget him ( 18:27 ). Job portrays Sheol as a house (or home 17:13 ) and a meeting house appointed for all the living ( 30:23 ). He realizes that in the grave the pit and the worm ( 17:13-14 ) would become deadly relatives, consuming both the righteous and the sinner ( 17:13-14 ; 24:19 ). Bildad portrays disease as the "firstborn of death" ( 18:13 ) and death as "the king of terrors" ( 18:14 ).
Though Sheol is very deep and far away ( 11:8 ), dark ( 10:21-22 ), and sealed up ( 7:9-10 ),Job believes that Sheol is not concealed from God's purview ( 26:5-6 ). Though he has wished that he could hide from God there, he acknowledges the reality that even the dead are not immune from God's all-pervasive sovereignty. The Lord confirms this truth ( 38:16-20 ).
Thus, Job expresses confidence of seeing God after death ( 19:26 ).Interpretation of the difficult phrase (Heb. mibbesari) "from [or apart from] my flesh" determines whether Job conceives of bodily resurrection or merely conscious awareness of God after death.
Conclusion. Practical Theology. The Book of Job presents a lofty view of God as One worthy of our worship and trust no matter how enigmatic our circumstances. A person ought to trust God even when his ways are inscrutable ( 42:2-3 ; cf. 5:9 ; 9:10-12 ; 11:6-9 ). Yet the book also teaches that we may ask honest questions of God when we do not understand"why?" ( 3:11-20 ; 10:18 ; 13:24 ; 24:1-12 ) or even express strong emotions such as bitterness ( 7:11 ; 10:1 ) or anger. The Lord does not give a direct answer to Job's question "why?", but communicates that when things seem chaotic and senseless he himself is still in charge. The book as a whole teaches that God is ultimately the author of pain and suffering ( 5:18 ), which he may use for various purposes (see 5:17 ; 23:10 ; 33:16-30 ).Since Satan cannot inflict suffering without God's express permission ( 1:12 ; 2:6 ), believers can find strength from the assurance that God sovereignly limits Satan's evil activities.
The heated debate between the impatient Job and his dogmatic "friends" must not overshadow Job's overall example of practical holiness and ethical purity. Job's model of a blameless servant fearing God ( Job 1:1 Job 1:8 ; 2:3 ; Job 42:2-6 Job 42:7-8 )and the message of the book demonstrate that reverential submission is always the proper response for believerswhether in prosperity or tragedy. Job's blameless record as a neighbor and city official ( 29:12-17 ; 31:16-23 ),including pure inward motivations ( Job 31:1-2 Job 31:24-25 Job 31:33-34 ) and attitudes (see Job 31:1 Job 31:7 Job 31:9 Job 31:26-27 Job 31:29-30 )toward God and neighbor, are lofty ethical standards to emulate. This example is unique and unparalleled until the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7).
Greg W. Parsons
Bibliography. G. L. Archer, Jr., The Book of Job: God's Answer to the Problem of Undeserved Suffering; E. Dhorme, A Commentary on the Book of Job; J. E.Hartley, The Book of Job; G. W. Parsons, BibSac138 (1981): 139-57; R. B. Zuck, A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, pp. 207-55.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Job, Theology of'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".