Book of Job

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Blake 1793 Jobs Tormentors.jpg

Grief works

A student entitled a paper on the book of Job "Good Grief."

That certainly captures the essence of the book!

God Himself is the answer to innocent suffering (Job 42:5). God accepts responsibility for Job's suffering. Seeing God face-to-face is what satisfies Job. There is no single verse that answers Job's question about why he has suffered. The answer is given in Person to Job by His Creator.

Job's claim that his suffering is all God's fault is not contradicted by saying, "God has a reason for everything He does." That cliché concedes the point, but without addressing the scandal that a perfectly good God allows perfectly good people to suffer grievous evil. Yes, God always has good reasons for allowing innocent people to suffer — but He allows innocent people to suffer!

Saying carelessly, "Oh, I'm sure God has His reasons" suggests to me that the person who says this has stopped seeking the face of God, has stopped believing that God can make His reasons known, or does not want to know what God is doing in and through innocent suffering. People who take this view are turning away from any further thinking on the subject. They are closing the blinds and draping the windows to keep the light out. They are done pondering all these things in their heart (Lk 2:19). They have their answer — but they do not have Job's enlightenment. They want the problem to go away. They do not want to live with the koan until light dawns within them.

"When a man dies his life is revealed. Call no man happy before his death. For by how he ends, a man is known" (Sirach 11:28).

Misreadings of Job

  • "It is all Satan's fault."
  • "All of our suffering is from our own choices. Good comes to the good, evil to the evil. You brought this on yourself, dolt!"
  • "God won't let bad things happen to good people."
  • "We're supposed to have 'the patience of Job.' Don't question God. Just shut up and suffer. If you question God, He will become even angrier at you than He already is."

Plot Summary

Chapters 1-3 Background Information
1:1-6 Job lived in Uz. It's not clear whether he was an Israeli. There is no mention in the book of any specifically Israelite/Jewish customs (e.g., worship in the Temple, Israelite feasts, covenant theology). The Divine Name is used in the book.

Job was rich and good. He let his kids have parties — the seven boys would even let the three girls come to the parties. Next morning, Job would get up early and bribe God with holocausts (whole burnt offerings) for his seven sons, just in case they might have offended God as they emptied the kegs of beer Job had provided for them.

The First Bet
1:6-12 The Sons of God were meeting with God in His courtroom, and the District Attorney (the DA) was there with them. "Hasatan" is a job description, not a name and most certainly not what the later tradition came to call "the Devil." God asked the DA where he has been. "I've been roaming and patrolling the earth, of course." God noted what a splendid person Job is. The DA disagreed: "The only reason Job loves you is that you have purchased his affection. Five bucks says that if you strip him of all his wealth, he'll curse you to your face." God took the bet — "But don't hurt him personally. That would spoil the experiment. If you hurt him, we won't know whether it was losing his wealth or the pain that made him curse me."
1:13-22 So the DA stripped Job of all his wealth: all his oxen and asses were stolen, the herdsmen were murdered; lightning killed all his sheep and their shepherds; all his camels were stolen and the camel drivers were all murdered; the house where his ten children were having another one of Dad's Famous Keggers collapsed on them, killing them all.

Job said, "I was born naked and I'm going to die naked. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed the name of the Lord." In all this Job didn't sin nor did he say anything disrespectful of God.

The Second Bet
2:1-6 The Sons of God gathered again in God's courtroom, and the DA was there with them. God said, "Isn't Job a great man? Look at all the evil you incited me to do to him without cause — and he still is as pure as the driven snow. What a man!" But the DA had a new theory of the case. That's how lawyers are, you know. He said, "Double or nothing! Ten bucks says that if you strip him of his health, he'll curse you to your face." God replied, "OK, you're on. But don't kill him. That would ruin the experiment. If the lab rat dies, we won't know how the experiment turns out."
2:7-10 So the DA covered Job's body with boils — huge, pus-filled pimples that covered Job's skin from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet, and all over his front, back and sides. Job took a piece of broken pottery and went out to the garbage pile to pop the boils and let the stinking pus come out of them. His wife suggested that he ought to stop thinking that he was a good man, then curse God, and die. Job replied: "We accept good things from God; should we not accept evil?" Through all this, Job said nothing sinful.
2:11-13 Three friends of Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, come to comfort him. They are so overcome by his suffering that they can't speak for a full week.
Job Wishes He Were Dead
3:1-26 Job curses his birthday. He suggests that it was such a bad day that no more children should be born on it. Perhaps it should be removed from the calendar; better yet, get rid of the whole month when he was born. He runs out of curses and asks for help from the sailors. They really know how to cuss. Job wishes that he had never come out of his mother's womb or that he had had the good sense not to nurse at his mother's breasts. If only he had died as a baby, he would have been so happy! "It's all God's fault. He's the one who keeps people alive who would be better off dead."
Note well: Suicide is not an option for Job, for Jews, or for Christians. Suicide is "a permanent solution to temporary problems." It is understandable, but evil. Don't hurt yourself, and don't let your friends hurt themselves (if at all possible). Life is hard, but "life is worth living" (Ven. Fulton J. Sheen). If, God forbid, a friend or family member has committed suicide, let us pray for the repose of their souls with compassion, by all means, but let us steadfastly resist the temptation to think that they have acted wisely or well.
Chapters 4-31 Three cycles of speeches

These 28 chapters are structured very carefully. They consist of three cycles of speeches. Each cycle has the same form:

  1. Eliphaz speaks;
  2. Job replies;
  3. Bildad speaks;
  4. Job replies;
  5. Zophar speaks;
  6. Job replies.

The three friends make three speeches each, for a total of nine attacks on Job; Job makes a total of nine rebuttals. Beautiful and difficult poetry is found in all eighteen speeches. Despite the complexity of the three cycles of speeches, we can reduce the entire dialogue to two sentences:

Friends: "Your suffering is all your fault; God is innocent and you are guilty."
Job: "My suffering is all God's fault; I am innocent and God is guilty."
4:8-9 Eliphaz: "Evildoers suffer evil" (karma, justice).
4:17 "God is righteous; humans are not."
6:4 Job: "God shoots at me with poisoned arrows."
6:10 "I'm innocent."
6:28-30 "I'm not lying."
8:3 Bildad: "God is not a pervert."
8:20 "Good people get good things; bad things happen to bad people" (karma).
9:21-24 Job: "I can't prove I'm innocent. It doesn't matter. God kills both the innocent and the guilty. When the scourge slays suddenly, God laughs at the despair of the innocent. He has given the earth into the hands of the wicked. If not He, then who?"
9:34-10:2 "I'm afraid. I loathe my life. I say to God: 'Don't treat me like an evildoer! Tell me why I'm suffering!'"
11:4-6 Zophar: "It's all your fault, Job. Evil people suffer" (karma).
12:2 Job: "You guys are so smart, when you die, the world will be stupid" (sarcasm).
16:2-3 "Have you got diarrhea of the mouth? I'm not getting much comfort from you 'comforters.'" [Hence the expression, "Job's comforters": People who increase the suffering of the person they are purportedly trying to comfort.]
16:13-17 "God is using me for target practice. He's run a sword through my stomach and all of my digestive juices are pouring out through the wounds. My face is all red and puffy from crying and I've got dark circles under my eyes. Why is this happening to me? I haven't done anything wrong!"
23:2-7 "I feel bitter. I wish I could take God to court. I'd tell him how I felt. I'm ready to argue with him. I would listen to what He says in reply. I wouldn't care if He got angry. I've got to stand up for myself. What's happening to me is not fair."
31:35-37 "I wish I could get someone to hear my case! I wish God Himself would tell my why he hates me so. I'd pin the list of reasons to my shoulder or wear them like a crown on my head. For my part, I'd stand up to God like a man, like an innocent man who has been wronged. OK, I'm done. I've had my say. The ball is in God's court now."
Chapters 32-37 Elihu's interruption

These six chapters, although part of the canonical book, are negligible for my purposes. A new person, Elihu, speaks up to condemn both Job and the three friends. Elihu is nowhere in chapters 1-31 or in 38-42. If these speeches had been written by the original author, there would undoubtedly be a rebuttal from Job, as in the three cycles of speeches with Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, and Elihu would also be included in the denouement (final resolution) of the story (42). The absence of Elihu from the rest of the book suggests that these speeches were a later addition to the manuscript.

Elihu is angry that Job thought that he was right and God was wrong, and Elihu also angry with the three friends for failing to prove that Job's sins deserve punishment (32:1-4). If we take a mental razor blade and cut these chapters out of the book, nothing is lost; we would never know that the chapters had ever existed. With the Elihu chapters cut out, Job stops speaking (31:37), then God starts speaking (38:1).

Elihu's interruption does summarize chapters 4-32 exactly as I have: the contest is between God and Job. One or the other is in the wrong.

Chapters 38-42 Job's Case is Tried in God's Court
38:1-40:2 God: "I'm the God of the Heavens and the land and the seas and all that fills them."
40:3-5 Job: "ACK! I wish I hadn't said anything. I'm gonna hush my mouth!"
40:6-41:26 God: "Don't I do nice work? Look at the hippopotamus and the crocodile!"
42:1-6 Job: "You know, God, I'd heard about you by word of mouth. Now I have seen you with my own eyes. I withdraw my case."
42:7-8 God: "I'm angry at you three guys. Job was right. You were wrong. If Job doesn't pray for you, I'm going to show you, up close and in person, how evil comes to evildoers."

The Greatness of Job

Job — while he was still poor, sick, confused, friendless, and thunderstruck from his encounter with the Creator of everything — prayed for the three men who had tormented him with the repeated and merciless accusation that his suffering was all his fault.

Then God restored Job's health and sent many people to comfort and console him "for all the evil which the Lord had brought upon him" (Job 42:11). And then Job lived long and happily ever after.

It is extremely important that we understand this plot sequence correctly. Job is not rewarded with double for all he lost until after he overcomes his last temptation, the temptation to take revenge on his enemies. If, by accident, we tell ourselves the story in the wrong sequence, thinking that Job's forgiveness comes after his reward, then we would be back at chapter 1 of the book with the original accusation still intact, namely that the only reason Job is good is that God has bribed him to be good.

If we could get Job to give us an interview today, I think he'd tell us that what he went through was all worthwhile because he met God face-to-face — he saw GOD. Through his suffering, Job gained enlightenment (Zen Buddhism: satori). Job's suffering was a gift to him because it opened his eyes to the reality of God as Creator (change from notional apprehension to real apprehension [Newman]). In a sense, he was given the "beatific vision" that will fill the whole world with joy in the consummation of creation. Seeing God face-to-face and being personally illuminated by His knowledge and wisdom is a gift given to a few mystics in every age, but the mystical communion with God is our common destiny, the final cause of the whole of our existence.

By personally revealing Himself to Job, God doubled Job's wisdom and goodness along with doubling all of his other gifts (wealth, children, health, friends).

For those who have "eyes to see," chapters 38 to 42 are a theophany, a revelation of God's glory.

Some Morals of the Story

It's OK to tell God that you don't enjoy suffering.
It's OK to tell God that you feel hurt, wounded, angry, and afraid.
It's OK to say that life hurts so bad you wish you'd never been born (chapter 3).
"Father, let this cup pass from me; but Thy will, not mine be done" (Mt 26:39).
"My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?" (Mt 27:46).
It's OK to realize that your suffering is all God's fault.
If it was not God who allowed you to suffer, then who did (9:24)? If God is not in charge of everything that happens in the universe, then He is not God. God permits both natural and moral evil because this is the price of His gift of freedom to us. Natural evil is the consequence of the universe behaving according to its own nature. The laws of nature do not suddenly change when a human is about to be hurt. Such a stable and lawful nature is the theater within which we may make free choices whose consequences are predictable, for good or for ill.
It is evil to tell people who are suffering that their suffering is all their fault and not God's fault. Over the short run, life is not fair. Good people suffer innocently and the wicked get away with murder, rape, theft, lying, and bribery. All too often, the good die young and the evil live long and prosper.
See God's hand in creation.
When your life is filled with misery and you feel all alone and abandoned by everybody, when all your days are dark and joyless, when you don't understand what is going on and everybody is looking down on you, when you're sick and tired and tired of being sick, when you wished that you had never existed and can't wait to die, ponder the hippo (40:6-41:2).
Don't blame Job.
If at any time in the book Job had committed a sin, then the DA would win the bet. The fact that the DA disappears from the story after chapter 2 and never reappears means that Job never sinned — not before, not during, not after being tormented by God.
In the denouement (resolution of the story), God twice says that Job "has spoken rightly concerning me" and that the friends, by contrast, did not speak rightly (42:7-8).
The man who said that God was guilty is declared innocent; the men who said that God was innocent are found guilty.
The man who said that God does evil to innocent people is a good man; the men who said that God does not allow evil to come to good people are bad men.
Go back and read all of the shocking accusations Job made about God in the cycle of speeches (chapters 4 to 31). Nothing Job says in these passages is sinful.
We know that Job was chosen to suffer because he was GOOD. He was "blameless and upright" (1:1). This is what attracts God's attention: "There is no one on earth like him, blameless and upright, fearing God and avoiding evil" (1:8). When Job blamed God for taking away his wealth, he "spoke rightly" (42:7-8); "in all this Job did not sin" (1:22). In the same way, while he was suffering physical torment, he attributed his ills to God's action without offending God: "'We accept good things from God; should we not accept evil?' Through all this, Job did not sin in what he said" (2:10). When he cursed his birthday and wished for death (3:1-26), he did not sin; if he had, Hasatan would have won the bet at that point.
Job did not know that the reason for his suffering was that he was a good man. God reveals this to the readers, but not to Job.
Suicide is not an option.
Despite his grief, Job knows that the life that was given to him by God is not his to end (3:21). If you or someone you love is depressed, find help. Suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems. It is a sin against life — a truly mortal sin.
Demythologize the story.
Separate the religious truths from the story-telling elements in which they are embedded.
- Don't blame the DA. He is a minor character in this book. All he does is help to get the story rolling (chapters 1-2). Once it is underway, he disappears completely from the stage. In the central debate in the book, there are only two choices: either Job is at fault or God is at fault. In the end, God accepts responsibility for allowing Job to suffer (42:7-8).
- Don't worry about the dead children. This story is theological fiction. It was all made up in order to make the point that God does allow innocent suffering, and takes full responsibility for it. The fictional deaths of the fictional children are necessary so that Job may be reduced to poverty.
- If the character of Job had not been provided with a large family, the audience would not have considered him a truly wealthy man in the first place. A poor man who has seven sons and three daughters is a rich man, no matter how many other things he loses, so Job had to be stripped of that most precious treasure; a rich man with no children is truly poverty-stricken.
- No harm was done to actual children in the making of this piece of theological fiction, and no conclusion about how God feels about the deaths of His sons and daughters can be drawn from this aspect of the story.
- Don't confuse story with history. There may well have been a human being who once was rich, became poor, then became rich again. Such things do happen, and not infrequently. Many people emerge from terrible suffering healthier, happier, and holier than they were before. There are wonderful people who are just as good as Job, people who are innocent, pious, and merciful toward their enemies. I think I may have met a few of them. But the story as it stands is a parable, just like the parables of Jesus, except much longer and with a lot more poetry.
Biblical literalists think the only way to take the Scriptures seriously is to interpret them literally; I respectfully disagree. I think it is very wrong to read a parable as if it were history. If we do not see the creative, story-telling genius of the author of this book, we will systematically mis-read it.
See Job's goodness.
It is very important to get the story straight. If you tell it to yourself in the wrong order, you will completely misunderstand the structure of the story that reveals the quality of Job's character. He suffered five trials:
  1. Loss of his health.
  2. Loss of his wealth.
  3. Loss of support from his wife (2:9) and his three friends (4-31).
  4. Loss of understanding (38:1-41:26). God refuses to give a simple, straightforward, propositional (notional, verbal) explanation of His actions in Job's life.
  5. Lure of taking revenge. God gave Job a choice to pray for his tormentors or to allow them to suffer just punishment for not "speaking rightly" about God (42:7-8).
At the time that Job forgave his friends and interceded for them, he was still poor, sick, lonely, and confused. What a man! How much more could we ask him to endure? What further proofs do we need of his abiding goodness?
If, by accident, we wrongly think that Job prayed for his friends after he was rewarded with double health and double wealth, then the whole book has been wasted. We would simply be back at square one, with Hasatan's questions unresolved. On this mis-reading, it would seem that Job acted in a kindly fashion toward his friends only because his health and wealth were greater than they were before.
See how much Job profited from suffering.
Even though he was a thoroughly good and upright man, Job became a much better man because of what he learned through his suffering (Heb 5:8). God was not using him as a tool to teach Hasatan a lesson — Hasatan disappears from the book after chapter 2 and has nothing to do with the great debate in chapters 4 to 31 or in the great theophany of 38 to 42. With the Psalmist, Job could say, "You turned my mourning into joy; you took off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness" (Ps 30:11).
Job's suffering was a gift to him. It was an eye-opening experience that brought him to meet God face-to-face.

We all suffer

The world is filled with innocent suffering. The children of men suffer greatly, both from natural and from human evil. God Himself is the answer to all of our questions about suffering. We can't put this truth into words. If, like Job, you seek God, you will find Him in the midst of your trials in life.

Theology of the Three Friends

There are many passages in the Scripture that support the view of the three friends of Job (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) that God punishes evildoers and rewards those who do good. I have chosen a few at random to illustrate this point.

Note well: It is not wrong to think that evildoers will be punished and that the virtuous will be rewarded. The mistake of the three friends — and many well-intentioned Christians — is to think that we can tell who is loved or hated by God by the state of their health or by their wealth or by their popularity. We see other people from the outside. Only God sees the inner life of each one of us; only God knows the secrets of the heart. We will not know the full outworking of God's personal love for each one of us until Judgment Day. To see how all evildoing is punished and all innocent suffering is rewarded will, I think, be one of the great joys of that great and terrible Day. The issue is not whether God is just — He is! — but when He will reveal the fullness of His justice and mercy.

Is 26:3-4,7

3 You keep him in perfect peace,
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.

4 Trust in the Lord for ever,
for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.

7 The way of the righteous is level;
you make smooth the path of the righteous.

Is 48:17-19

17 Thus says the LORD, your redeemer,
the Holy One of Israel:
I, the LORD, your God,
teach you what is for your good,
and lead you on the way you should go.

18 If you would hearken to my commandments,
your prosperity would be like a river,
and your vindication like the waves of the sea;

19 Your descendants would be like the sand,
and those born of your stock like its grains,
Their name never cut off
or blotted out from my presence.

Ps 5:5-7, 12-23

5 You are not a god who delights in evil;
no wicked person finds refuge with you;

6 the arrogant cannot stand before your eyes.
You hate all who do evil;

7 you destroy those who speak falsely.
A bloody and fraudulent man
the LORD abhors.


12 All who trust in you will be glad
and forever shout for joy.
You will protect them and those will rejoice in you
who love your name.

13 For you, LORD, bless the just one;
you surround him with favor like a shield.

Psalm 11:5-7

5 The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked,
hates those who love violence,

6 And rains upon the wicked
fiery coals and brimstone,
a scorching wind their allotted cup.

7 The LORD is just and loves just deeds;
the upright will see his face.

Psalm 15:5

Whoever acts like this
shall never be shaken.

Psalm 34:16-22

16 The eyes of the LORD are directed toward the righteous
and his ears toward their cry.

17 The LORD’s face is against evildoers
to wipe out their memory from the earth.

18 The righteous cry out, the LORD hears
and he rescues them from all their afflictions.

19 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted,
saves those whose spirit is crushed.

20 Many are the troubles of the righteous,
but the LORD delivers him from them all.

21 He watches over all his bones;
not one of them shall be broken.

22 Evil will slay the wicked;
those who hate the righteous are condemned.

Psalm 40
Happy the man who considers the poor and the weak.
The Lord will save him in the day of evil,
will guard him, give him life, make him happy in the land
and will not give him up to the will of his foes.
The Lord will help him on his bed of pain,
he will bring him back from sickness to health.
But you, O Lord, have mercy on me.
Let me rise once more and I will repay them.
By this I shall know that you are my friend,
if my foes do not shout in triumph over me.
If you uphold me I shall be unharmed
and set in your presence for ever more.
Psalm 91:3-13

3 He will rescue you from the fowler’s snare,
from the destroying plague,

4 He will shelter you with his pinions,
and under his wings you may take refuge;
his faithfulness is a protecting shield.

5 You shall not fear the terror of the night
nor the arrow that flies by day,

6 Nor the pestilence that roams in darkness,
nor the plague that ravages at noon.

7 Though a thousand fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
near you it shall not come.

8 You need simply watch;
the punishment of the wicked you will see.

9 Because you have the LORD for your refuge
and have made the Most High your stronghold,

10 No evil shall befall you,
no affliction come near your tent.

11 For he commands his angels with regard to you,
to guard you wherever you go.

12 With their hands they shall support you,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.

13 You can tread upon the asp and the viper,
trample the lion and the dragon.

Prv 3:31-34
Envy not the lawless man
and choose none of his ways:
To the LORD the perverse one is an abomination,
but with the upright is his friendship.
The curse of the LORD is on the house of the wicked,
but the dwelling of the just he blesses;
When dealing with the arrogant, he is stern,
but to the humble he shows kindness.
Galatians 6:7
Make no mistake: God is not mocked, for a person will reap only what he sows.