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Job

Job is set in ancient times, before the structures of modern society. The main character, a man called Job, asked why there is pain and suffering in God's world. He rejected the answers of his friends, looking instead to experiences of God's power in natural features such as whirlwinds (37:9), and it is from the whirlwind that God replied (38:1). The book concludes with such a glorious vision of God that the question seems irrelevant, and Job realises that his challenge to God's ways was sheer arrogance based on ignorance.

"The ancient book of Job is an extended reflection on the vexed question of why bad things happen to good people. It is a story that challenges approaches to life and faith that are based on simplistic religious equations: do good and you will be blessed; do wrong and you will be cursed. The very fact that a traumatically painful personal story of undeserved tragedy is at the centre of this poem means we can never hide behind abstract theories or debate human suffering at a safe distance." [2]

In the Book of Job, "everything human-centred falls away: comfort, health, dogmatic theologies." [5] It becomes clear that neither human righteousness nor wealth gives protection from suffering.

The book is dominated by the unhelpful comments of Job's friends. The first to speak is Eliphaz, who is sure that the innocent do not suffer (4:7) but the guilty get from God what they deserve (4:9). This leads inevitably to his conclusion that, despite the evidence, Job must have sinned. And so he urges Job to accept his suffering as chastisement from God, sent to make Job holier (5:17). But Job challenges any accuser to show his fault (4:24). Then Zophar has his say (11:1): he doesn't believe that Job is innocent, because he accepts the dogma that all are sinners. He reaches the same conclusion as Eliphaz, but from a different starting point.

Some commentators question the book's unity on the basis that the narrator and the speakers have different undertandings of the character of God[7]. I disagree, seeing this a a sign of its subtlety. None of the theological viewpoints can answer the problem of why God allows pain.

See also Barry Stronge's paper on this book, making the point that Job should be read in the light of other passages such as James 1:13.

Commentary

1:5

Job seems to have assumed that sacrificing on somebody else's behalf was valid. Also he seems to have assumed that he was a proper person to do it, thus adopting a priestly role for himself.

1:6

This verse indicates that the book comes from the ancient period when heaven was imagined as the court of God the great king (YHWH Elohim), who supervised various lesser deities. The scene described here is invisible to humans, so the source of this material is a complete mystery.

1:11

We speak of Job being "tested"; butwhat do we mean by that? This verse indicates that it is easy to love God when things go well, but when he doesn't give us what we want, or obedience is shown to be selfish or not.

1:12

cf. Luke 22:31. The English translations of this verse fall into two distinct camps. In some translations God says "Behold..." (a simple statement, defending Job from Satan's accusation of favouritism) while others make it sound as if Satan has persuaded God to decide against Job. But in any case, God does not harm Job, but he removes his protection and thus allows Satan to harm him. This should be a warning to those who disobey God.

2:6

God limited the extent of Job's testing, cf. 1 Corinthians 10:12–13.

2:11

"Although it does not last, the first response of Job's friends is possibly their most appropriate. They arrive together, seeking to be a source of comfort to him. What they find totally overwhelms them. So grotesquely ravaged is Job that they actually do not know him at first ... The first task in the place of human pain is just to be there. That is harder than it sounds. It requires the willingness to be helpless and beyond words. We must resist the need to have the 'answers'. 'Weep with those who weep,' wrote Paul (Romans 12:15). He did not tell us to cheer them up. While our responses are driven by our anxiety to solve the problem (and so not to have to face it any more), we will not be truly present or listening." [4]

The tradition of sitting quietly when visiting those bereaved within the last week survives in Jewish culture as the time of Shiva.[1 p.94]

4:3

Eliphaz refers to how Job has been a blessing to others; perhaps this is to counter Job's "I wish I had never been born" speech (Chapter 3), by saying that others are thankful for Job. This seems a good point, but unfortunately he keeps talking...

4:5

Unfortunately, after saying how Job has a good man and a blessing to others, Eliphaz turns the argument against Job. Despite the evidence, Eliphaz simply cannot let go of the idea that God blesses the good and punishes sinners, so Job's suffering must point to some sin on his part. This is implicit in his speech right up the the end of Chapter 5, and most clearly stated in 4:17.

4:15

Apparently a spirit, and angel perhaps, tried to explain the truth to him, but he had to work through many more chapters before hearing it from God at the end of the book.

4:17

Eliphaz says that no-one is holy compared with God (which is true) but the implication is that Job's suffering must point to some sin on his part. That causality need not indicate that God was punishing him; he might have brought it on himself, whether he could understand the mechanism of it or not.

9:8

cf. Matthew 14:24.

9:33

See comment on 19:25 and Appendix 2 Paraclete.

10:8

cf. Psalm 139:13–16.

13:19

See comment on Isaiah 53:7.

14:14

This is said to be the earliest hint of personal forgiveness and resurrection in the Bible.

17:12

cf. Psalm 139:11–12.

19:25

This verse is much quoted by Christians as if it was a reference to Jesus Christ. Actually the Hebrew word translated "redeemer" is "Go-el", the kinsman-redeemer, the nearest male relative who was expected to avenge his relative's blood, marry a childless widow in order to father children, recover stolen property, or buy the relative back from slavery.[3]

This is not a prophecy about Christ "but it is certainly, in my view, a wistful longing for such a person...He longs for someone to arbitrate or mediate between himself and God (9:33)".[8]

21:1

cf. Psalm 73.

23:1

cf. Psalm 139.

33:18

This is a clear description of the concept of redemption.

37:9

Job sought wisdom in the whirlwind, and it is from there that God spoke in 38:1.

38:1

cf. Isaiah 40:12–14. God met Job in the very place where he had sought wisdom: in the whirlwind (37:9).

38:2

cf. Job 40:2, Romans 9:19.

38:3

"Gird up your loins" means, prepare for struggle by hoisting your coat clear of your legs. The word "gird" is used similarly in Psalm 45:3.

40:2

cf. Job 38:2, Romans 9:19.

41:18

The word "neesings" in AV means nostrils.[6 p.184]

42:3

cf. Mark 12:34b: when we get the opportunity to question God we discover we are totally out of our depth. This is the lesson an angel (?) apparently tried to teach Job starting at 4:15 but he did not accept that message.

References:

  1. Ainsworth-Smith, Ian and Speck, Peter Letting go—​Caring for the dying and bereaved London: SPCK, 1982
  2. Runcorn, David writing in New Daylight 26 November 2016
  3. Barton & Muddiman Oxford Bible Commentary p.342–3
  4. Runcorn, David writing in New Daylight 30 November 2016
  5. Starkey, Mike "Why your God is also too tame" (a review of "God Untamed" by Johannes Hartl) in Church Times 29 May 2020 page 23
  6. Campbell, Gordon Bible—​The Story of the King James Version (Oxford: OUP 2010)
  7. Paul Cho "Job 2 and 42:7–10 as Narrative Bridge and Theological Pivot", in Journal of Biblical Literature Vol 136 no 4 2017 (Atlanta, USA) p.857
  8. Horsfall, Tony writing in New Daylight 15 November 2021

© David Billin 2002–2021