The Book of Job has long been praised as a masterpiece of literature. Consider these quotes:
"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, whether of ancient or modern literature." (Tennyson)
"The Book of Job taken as a mere work of literary genius, is one of the most wonderful productions of any age or of any language." (Daniel Webster)
What is it about the book that prompts such praise? Most Christians I know don't feel that way about the Book of Job. Perhaps it is because many tend to neglect the Old Testament altogether. Yet Paul wrote of the value of the Old Testament scriptures:
For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. (Ro 15:4)
Note that the Old Testament was written for our learning, that it provides patience and comfort, and as such can be a source of hope. This is especially true with the story of Job, to whom James referred when seeking to instill patience (cf. Jm 5:10-11). Because the Book of Job is so often neglected, yet presents a valuable lesson and is so highly praised by even people of the world, Christians should certainly take the time to study this portion of God's Word!
[Jas 5:10-11 NASB] 10 As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and [is] merciful.
THE PLACE OF JOB IN THE OLD TESTAMENT: Job is the first of five books commonly referred to as "The Books Of Poetry". These include Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. Called such because they are written in poetic style in contrast to the narrative style of most other books, they are also often referred to as "Wisdom Literature" (especially Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes). Oswald Chambers (1874-1917) offered this concise summary of the five books:
* Job - How to suffer
* Psalms - How to pray
* Proverbs - How to act
* Ecclesiastes - How to enjoy
* Song of Solomon - How to love
Now let's take a look at the Book of Job in particular...
AUTHOR AND DATE OF WRITING: Who wrote the book, and when? No one really knows. Jewish tradition attributes the book to Moses, and other authors have been suggested (Job, Elihu, Solomon, Isaiah, Hezekiah, and Baruch, Jeremiah's scribe). "All that can be said with certainty is that the author was a loyal Hebrew who was not strictly bound by the popular creed that assumed suffering was always the direct result of sin" (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown). Because the author is unknown, it's date has been hotly debated among scholars. Some think it was written before Moses (pre 1500 B.C.). Others put it at the time of Solomon (ca. 900 B.C.), and some even as late as the Babylonian Exile or later (post 600 B.C.).
The uncertainty of author and date does not nullify the book's inspiration, for it is affirmed in the New Testament. Paul quotes from it on several occasions in his writings (cf. 1Co 3:19 with Job 5:13; and Ro 11:35 with Job 41:11). For the Christian who accepts the inspiration of the New Testament, such evidence is sufficient.
THE HISTORICITY OF THE BOOK: Even though inspired, are we to take the events described in it as historically true? There are several reasons for believing that they are:
* In Ezekiel 14:14, Job is mentioned along with Noah and Daniel, two other figures of history.
* James, the Lord's brother, refers to Job as an example of perseverance (Jm 5:11).
THE SETTING OF THE BOOK: The historical events appear to be set in the "Patriarchal" period (i.e., sometime between Noah and Moses). There are no allusions to the Law of Moses in the book, but there is a mention of a flood (22:16). Job functions as a priest in offering sacrifices for his family (1:5), similar to what we find with Abraham (cf. Gen 12:7). His longevity is typical of the patriarchs (42:16; cf. Gen 11:22-26,32). For such reasons I would place him somewhat contemporary with Abraham (i.e., ca 2000 B.C.).
THE PURPOSE OF THE BOOK: It is common to suggest that the purpose of the book is to answer the age-old question, "Why does God allow the righteous to suffer?" That is certainly the question Job raises, but it is worthy to note that he himself never receives a direct answer. Nor is one given by the author, other than to answer Satan's challenge, "Does Job fear God for nothing?". We are privileged to know of the challenge of Satan, and that God allows Job to suffer in answer to that challenge, but Job is never told of this. Therefore, I suggest that the purpose of the book is:
To answer the question, "How should the righteous suffer?"
While Job's questions and complaints often come close to charging God with wrong, he never crosses the line and humbly submits to God when told that the answers to his questions are beyond his ability to understand. Thus the book shows us how the righteous should bear up under suffering ("You have heard of the perseverance of Job" - Jm 5: 11)
SOME LESSONS FROM THE BOOK: In his study on the book (The Book Of Job, Quality Pub.), Wayne Jackson offers the following lessons to be gleaned:
* The book defends the absolute glory and perfection of God - It sets forth the theme echoed in Ps 18:3 ("I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised"). God is deserving of our praise simply on the basis of who He is, apart from the blessings He bestows. Satan denied this (1:9-11), but Job proved him wrong (1:20-22; 2:10).
* The question of suffering is addressed - Why do we suffer? Who or what causes it? Why doesn't God do something? Not all questions are answered, but some important points are made:
- Man is unable to subject the painful experiences of human existence to a meaningful analysis - God's workings are beyond man's ability to fathom. Man simply cannot tie all the "loose ends" of the Lord's purposes together. We must learn to trust in God, no matter the circumstances.
- Suffering is not always the result of personal sin - The erroneous conclusion drawn by Job's friends is that suffering is always a consequence of sin. Job proves this is not the case.
- Suffering may be allowed as a compliment to one's spirituality - God allowed Job to suffer to prove to Satan what kind of man he really was. What confidence God had in Job!
* The book paints a beautiful picture of "patience" - The Greek word is "hupomone", which describes the trait of one who is able to abide under the weight of trials. From the "patience of Job", we learn that it means to maintain fidelity to God, even under great trials in which we do not understand what is happening.
* The book also prepares the way for the coming of Jesus Christ! - His coming is anticipated in several ways. Job longs for a mediator between him and God (9:33; 33:23), and Jesus is one (1Ti 2:5). Job confessed his faith in a Redeemer who would one day come (19:25); Christ is that Redeemer (Ep 1:7)!
BRIEF OUTLINE (adapted from Warren Wiersbe)
I. JOB'S DISTRESS (1-3)
A. HIS PROSPERITY (1:1-5)
B. HIS ADVERSITY (1:6-2:13)
C. HIS PERPLEXITY (3)
II. JOB'S DEFENSE (4-37)
A. THE FIRST ROUND (4-14)
1. Eliphaz (4-5)_Job's reply (6-7)
2. Bildad (8)_Job's reply (9-10)
3. Zophar (11)_Job's reply (12-14)
B. THE SECOND ROUND (15-21)
1. Eliphaz (15)_Job's reply (16-17)
2. Bildad (18)_Job's reply (19)
3. Zophar (20)_Job's reply (21)
C. THE THIRD ROUND (22-37)
1. Eliphaz (22)_Job's reply (23-24)
2. Bildad (25)_Job's reply (26-31)
D. YOUNG ELIHU SPEAKS (32-37)
1. Contradicting Job's friends (32)
2. Contradicting Job himself (33)
3. Proclaiming God's justice, goodness, and majesty (34-37)
III. JOB'S DELIVERANCE (38-42)
A. GOD HUMBLES JOB (38:1-42:6)
1. Through questions too great to answer (38:1-41:34)
2. Job acknowledges his inability to understand (42:1-6)
B. GOD HONORS JOB (42:7-17)
1. God rebukes his critics (42:7-10)
2. God restores his wealth (42:11-17)
REVIEW QUESTIONS FOR THE INTRODUCTION
1) What are Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon, often called?
- Books of Poetry
- Wisdom Literature
2) Who wrote the book, and when?
- We do not know
3) What evidence is there that this book describes an event that actually occurred?
- It both starts and ends like other books of history in the Old Testament
- Job is included with Noah and Daniel, as figures of history, in Ezek 14:14
- James refers to the example of Job in teaching on perseverance (Jm 5:11)
4) In what historical time frame is the story of Job possibly set?
- During the period of the patriarchs, perhaps contemporary with Abraham
5) What is the purpose of this book, as suggested in the introduction?
- To answer the question, "How should the righteous suffer?"
6) According to the outline suggested above, what are the three main divisions of the book?
- Job's Distress (1-3)
- Job's Defense (4-37)
- Job's Deliverance (38-42)