Introduction. The reader who desires to unlock the rich theological treasurescontained in the Book of Job should assume its literary unity. Also he or she mustinterpret each part in light of its whole.
Although the Book of Job is a complex work composed of many different speeches, itsalmost 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) adialogue of three cycles occurs between Job and his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, andZophar (chapt. 4:27 ).Since Job's response to each friend is always longer than the corresponding speech, theshort speech by Bildad (chap. 25) and the absence of Zophar's speech in the final cyclemay 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 threemonologues by Job, Elihu, and the Lord, marks the futility of dialogue as long as Job andhis 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 forthe Lord's speeches (chap. 38-41).
Critics interpret the inconsistency between the "patient Job" who nevercomplains (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 ) asindicating "sloppy editing" by the final author. It is better to view these twocontrasting portraits of Job as intentionally displaying that Job was no "plastersaint" who suffered stoically. Rather, he was a real person struggling with emotionsand feelings believers still have today.
Since most of the Book of Job contains human reasoning, one must interpret eachindividual unit within the contest of the book as a whole and of the main purpose of thebook. The reader must pay special attention to the prologue (chap. 1-2) and the Lord'sspeeches (38:1-42:6) to avoid erroneous conclusions. The former notifies the reader (likethe narrator in a dramatic production) that Job is innocent and that Satan is theinstigator of Job's sufferings. The latter is the most determinative part, since Godhimself addresses Job.
Though many suppose that the main purpose of the Book of Job is to explain the mysteryof the suffering of the righteous, it does not provide a definitive answer to thismatter (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 forthe question of the proper motive for man to relate to God (see 1:9 ). Thus the mainpurpose of the book seems to be to show that the proper relationship between God andhumankind (in all circumstances) is based solely on God's sovereign grace and the humanresponse 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 thedoctrine to Job's situation. Eliphaz acknowledges that God does great and inscrutabledeeds in governing the world ( 5:9 ). God utilizeshis power and wisdom to bring about social justice, whether delivering the lowly orthwarting the schemes of crafty criminals ( 5:10-16 ).Sometimes he disciplines humans through suffering ( 5:17 ). Eliphazaccuses Job of possessing a distorted view of God's transcendence ( 22:12-14 )thathe 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 ). Helauds 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. Havingcarefully constructed him and infused him with life, the Almighty used to watch over himand his family ( 29:2-5 ).Now he believes that God has turned against him ( Job 10:8 Job 10:17 ; 30:11 ) and treatshim as an enemy ( 6:4 ; 13:24-28 ; 16:9-14 ; 19:8-12 ). Thisbelief 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 isomnipotent ( 9:12 ; 23:13 ; 42:2 ), he seems toabuse his power in an arbitrary way ( 9:13-24 ; 12:14-25 Job 25 ; cf. 30:18-20 ). TheAlmighty uses his power indiscriminately to mistreat innocent Job ( 6:4 ; 27:2 ) or to punishthe 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 iscruel ( 30:21-22 )and unfair to him ( 19:6-22 ) and tomany innocent victims of social injustice ( 24:1-12 ). Jobdepicts the Lord as an angry God who punishes him harshly ( 9:13-24 ; 10:17 ; 16:9-14 ; 19:11-22 ). Onthe other hand, he perceives God as a hidden and invisible Judge ( Job 9:11 Job 9:15 ; 23:7-9 ) who wouldlisten 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 Rulerwho has done unsearchable things ( 9:10 ) in thecreation and control of the cosmos ( 9:5-9 ; 26:7-14 ). Herealizes 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 theprologue reveals that this was only God's permissive will since he had given limitedauthority over Job into Satan's hand ( 1:12 ; 2:6 ). Since the lifeand breath of all humankind are in God's hand ( 12:10 ) he isultimately responsible for all things, including calamities ( 12:16-25 ) andthe prosperity of the wicked (whose circumstances are not in their own hand(s) [ 21:16 ]). Thus, Jobtrusts that god's hand controls the elements of chaos in creation such as the sea, thestorm cloud, and the cosmic sea monster Rahab ( 26:12-13 ).
Elihu's View of God. Preparing the way for the Lord's appearance, Elihu presentsa more balanced view of God and his relationship to humankind. He corrects Job's view ofGod'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 preventivepurpose (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 willinstruct Job (chaps. 38-41) with dozens of rhetorical questions. God uses affliction toget 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, thespeeches 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 asovereign (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 ofhumankind, he often brings judgment ( 34:21-28 ) butmust not be questioned when he does not decree speedy retribution ( 34:29-30 ). Onereason God seems cruel in ignoring cries of the afflicted is that he does not hear theinsincere cries of the proud ( 35:9-13 ). God'stranscendence 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 ). Anticipatingthe Lord's teaching of 41:11, Elihu states that a person (no matter how righteous) cannotput God under obligation ( 35:7 ; cf. 34:33 ).
Elihu corrects Job's theology by arguing that God is mighty but not arbitrary in hispower ( 36:5-6 ).He is the exalted and sovereign Teacher whom Job should not try to correct; rather Jobshould magnify his strength and power through song ( 36:21-24 ) andmeditate 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 andsnowstorm (36:26-37:13). He is the great and sovereign Warrior who commands thethunderstorm as he dispenses lightning (like arrows) from his hands ( 36:32 ). He liftsup his majestic voice in thunder ( 37:2-5 ). Thismetaphorical 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 (notany so-called god, much less any human) can lift up his voice to command the thundercloudsand 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 ). Thisepithet 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. Thoughits 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 thetraditional translation "Almighty."
Lord's View of Himself and His Relationship to Humankind. Because of hisomnipotent work of creating and sustaining the order of the universe, Yahweh alone is itssovereign and benevolent Lord who relates to finite humankind only on the basis of his ownsovereign 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 ). Utilizingdozens of rhetorical questions, he documents human ignorance of and impotence incontrolling each domain of inanimate ( 38:4-38 ) andanimate (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 ofthe 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 sentencequestions 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. SinceGod is nobody's equal, Job's audacious attempt to subpoena God ( 31:35 ) and to wagea "lawsuit" to enforce his rights ( 40:2 ) is absurd.
The Lord demonstrates his wise and sovereign control over things humankind hasconsidered chaotic or evil. He has restricted the chaotic sea with its proud waves ( 38:8-11 ) yetprovides 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 ), helimits darkness and the wicked who operate at night. Thus he has assigned places for bothlight and darkness ( 38:19-20 ) andsovereignly controls the dark underworld ( 38:16-17 ). Heis master of the wild animals, which man can seldom tame and often fears (38:39-39:30). Hebenevolently provides food for the mightiest carnivore (the lion) to the weakestcarrion-eating raven ( 38:39-41 ). TheLord's dominion allows room for chaotic forces (cf. 4:7-11 , whereEliphaz employs the lion as a symbol of the wicked ). But the Lord also protects the weakand vulnerable deer and mountain goat (the prey of the lion 39:1-4 ). He hascreated vultures with the instinct to feed on the wounded (including humans slain inbattle 39:30 )to help prevent the spread of disease. Since Yahweh wisely supervises the balance ofnature, which includes chaotic forces, humankind should trust him to restrict properly thechaotic 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 proudand wicked elements in the cosmos (see 40:11-13 ; 41:34 ). Since Jobdoes not dare rouse Leviathan ( 41:1-10 a), howmuch more absurd that he has challenged the authority of Yahweh, the maker and ruler ofLeviathan ( 41:10b-11 ).
Fundamental Issues Concerning God's Relationship to Humankind. Theology ofRetribution. One common denominator between the theology of Job and his friends is abelief in the retribution dogma, a simplistic understanding of the principle of divineretribution: God (without exception) punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous. Sincethe righteous are always blessed and the wicked always receive God's judgment, Job must bea sinner since God has removed his physical blessings. Because God never punishes thegodly man or preserves the evildoer, all three friends contend that Job's suffering is asign 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 ) andZophar ( 20:4-29 )explain Job's initial prosperity by the prevailing idea that the wicked many enjoytemporary prosperity before God metes out retributive judgment.
Job denies the accusations of his three friends that he is being punished for sin andopenly questions the validity of the retribution dogma by citing counterexamples of theprosperity of the wicked ( Job 21:7-16 Job 21:31 ).Furthermore, he properly challenges the corollary that God punishes children for the sinsof their parents ( 21:19-21 ; seealso Deut 24:16 ).Yet, when Job accuses God of unjustly punishing him for sin (in order to maintain his owninnocence 9:20-23 ; 40:8 ), heunconsciously retains the dogma of divine retribution.
Even Elihu argues that God operates according to retribution so that he ought not beaccused of perverting justice ( 34:11-12 ).
The purpose of the Book of Job (negatively stated) involves the refutation of thisretribution dogma, which assumes an automatic connection between one's material andphysical prosperity and one's spirituality. Both Job and his friends unknowingly restrictGod's sovereignty by their assumption that he must always act according to theirpreconceived dogma. Because of this dogma, Job impugns God's justice in order to justifyhimself (see 40:8 ).Though divine retribution is a valid principle (see Deut. 28) the error is making it anunconditional dogma by which one can predetermine God's actions and judge a person'scondition before him. God is not bound by this man-made dogma but normally will bless therighteous and punish the wicked.
The Book of Job also refutes the corollary that God is obligated to bless man if heobeys. This issue surfaces in the prologue, when Satan claims that Job serves God only forprofit ( 1:9-11 ).After Job's numerous possessions are removed, Job demands that God give him a fair trialin court ( 10:2 ).Because God does not answer his plea to specify charges against him, Job dares tochallenge the sovereign power of the Almighty by trying (as it were) to subpoena him fortestimony ( 31:35 ).He accuses God of oppressive tactics ( 10:3 ), includingapparently the forcible removal of what rightfully belongs to him. When Job assumes thatGod owes him physical blessing since he has been obedient to Him, he was imbibing aconcept that undergirded ancient Near Eastern religionsthat the human relationshipto the gods was like a business contract of mutual claims that was binding in court. TheBook of Job shows the absurdity of demanding that God operate in this manner since he isobligated to no one: "Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything underheaven belongs to me" ( 41:11 ). Thus,God's free sovereignty is independent of all human rules, including those imposed by anyreligion.
Need of a Mediator. Since Job perceives of God as unjust and inaccessible, heexpresses a desire for an impartial mediator ( 9:33 Heb. mokiah,the probable term for the ancient Near Eastern judge who functioned like a modernarbitrator) between God and himself.
The identity of Job's "witness" or "legal advocate" ( 16:19 ) in heavenis disputed. Job's appeal to God ( 17:3 ) to act as hisadvocate by laying down a pledge (i.e., to provide the bail or surety needed in hisdesired court case) may support that Job refers to God in 16:19. However, Job's wish foran impartial "mediator" between God and himself ( 9:33 ) and thecontext of 16:21 suggest that Job is using a legal metaphor for an advocate who wouldplead for him with God. Since he believes strongly in his innocence, there must be someonepleading his case in the heavenly court just as in an earthly court. This anticipates therole Christ now plays as intercessor (see Heb 7:25 ) andadvocate ( 1 John 2:1 ).
In 19:25 Job expresses his confidence in his living redeemer. Although he may bereferring to God (see mention of "God" in v. 26 and the prior context of 17:3 ), the contextof 9:33 (his desire for a neutral party) and of 16:19-21 implies that Job more likelyrefers to someone other than God. By again using the legal metaphor, Job expresses hisconviction that he would be vindicated as innocent (which in an earthly lawsuit wouldrequire a vindicator or legal advocate). Job believes that surely there is a legaladvocate in his "lawsuit" against God. Though Job probably uses a legal metaphorfor someone other than God, his longing for a "vindicator" is eventuallyfulfilled in God (see 42:7 , where Godsays his servant Job spoke what was right about him ). One must not assume that Job hadany 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 hasnow been found in the person of Jesus Christ.
Concepts of Death and the Grave. Job longs for death as an escape from God andthe 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 asseparation from God ( 7:21 ).He compares death to sleep ( 14:12 ) and wishesthat the grave could hide him from God's wrath ( 14:13 ). Yet Jobstresses that it is dark, gloomy, and without order ( 10:18-22 ).
Sheol is a land of no return ( 10:21 ) and a placewithout hope ( 17:15-16 ).The dead person is oblivious to life on earth ( 14:21 ), and thoseon earth quickly forget him ( 18:27 ). Jobportrays Sheol as a house (or home 17:13 ) and ameeting house appointed for all the living ( 30:23 ). Herealizes that in the grave the pit and the worm ( 17:13-14 ) wouldbecome deadly relatives, consuming both the righteous and the sinner ( 17:13-14 ; 24:19 ). Bildadportrays disease as the "firstborn of death" ( 18:13 ) and deathas "the king of terrors" ( 18:14 ).
Though Sheol is very deep and far away ( 11:8 ), dark ( 10:21-22 ), andsealed up ( 7:9-10 ),Job believes that Sheol is not concealed from God's purview ( 26:5-6 ). Thoughhe has wished that he could hide from God there, he acknowledges the reality that even thedead 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 consciousawareness of God after death.
Conclusion. Practical Theology. The Book of Job presents a lofty view ofGod as One worthy of our worship and trust no matter how enigmatic our circumstances. Aperson ought to trust God even when his ways are inscrutable ( 42:2-3 ; cf. 5:9 ; 9:10-12 ; 11:6-9 ). Yet thebook 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 evenexpress strong emotions such as bitterness ( 7:11 ; 10:1 ) or anger. TheLord does not give a direct answer to Job's question "why?", but communicatesthat when things seem chaotic and senseless he himself is still in charge. The book as awhole teaches that God is ultimately the author of pain and suffering ( 5:18 ), which he mayuse 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 canfind strength from the assurance that God sovereignly limits Satan's evil activities.
The heated debate between the impatient Job and his dogmatic "friends" mustnot overshadow Job's overall example of practical holiness and ethical purity. Job's modelof 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 properresponse for believerswhether in prosperity or tragedy. Job's blameless record as aneighbor 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 uniqueand 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 Problemof 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
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Job, Theology of'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".