On Job: An Introduction

 1. Lecture notes on Job[1]

Deuteronomist theology assumes that God rewards right actions and punishes evil actions. The implication is that anyone flourishing is righteous while suffering persons must have done wrong based on either one’s flourishing or suffering. The entirety of this problem is known as “theodicy”—explaining undeserved suffering in light of God’s justice. The belief that God is all-powerful and righteous creates a problem when just people suffer thus rejecting the original premise. Possible answers to this dilemma are to deny the reality of evil,[2] believe the creator of the material world must be evil (agnostic view), think suffering is a test for good people for personal growth, move the problem forward to the afterlife so that apparent injustice ends, or state that there is no answer, and this issue cannot be figured out.

The book of Job suggests that the test of Job is one of righteousness. Ha-Satan (the accuser) was a member of the heavenly court who wanted to try Job. God gave the permission to Satan to afflict Job, and the result is that he is most well-known for the phrase, “The patience of Job” (James 5:11). However, the word translated “patience” (hupomonē) is more accurately understood as “endurance,” and “steadfast.” Patience in modern English doesn’t have the right resonance. In spite of all the terrible things, Job is “steadfast” and “endures.”

Eliphaz advocated that Job’s suffering was the direct result of sin (cf. 4:7–8). Bildad suggested that Job’s children were wicked and this was why they perished (cf. 8:3–4). If Job were indeed righteous, God would rescue Job. Zophar echoed Eliphaz’s sentiments (cf. 11:4–6). Job refused the evaluations of his friends because he insisted on his own righteousness. Elihu was angry at Job for arguing with God and Job’s friends for not directly answering Job. Elihu observed that no man can be pure before God and suffering was a form of discipline that God uses to teach humanity.[3]

At the heart of the belief that man suffers for his sins is the acknowledgment of the repercussions of sin.[4] The benefit is seen in the importance of self-evaluation while enduring what may be perceived to be unjust suffering (cf. 31:33–37). Job, in searching his own heart, yearned to find his sin that would have been conducive to God’s actions against him, but Job could see nothing. In the absence of personal sin as a cause for the evident effect of suffering, Job pined for what it might have been that caused such terror to befall him. Hence, the theodicy brought about by his circumstances.

What this viewpoint failed to consider is that one may not suffer because of their own sins, but that the sinful nature that permeates within the world provokes the immoral acts of others that cause the righteous to be victimized. For example, the Sabeans (1:15) and Chaldeans (1:17) that stole Job’s livestock had sin within their hearts which provoked them to carry out their lust for possessions. Their actions affected Job, but he did nothing to warrant their deeds. Therefore, the sin behind their actions was unrelated to Job; instead, their sins manifested the reality of living in a sinful world. In layman’s terms, “Bad things happen to good people.”

The most significant value of this viewpoint is seen when Job, who deemed himself unworthy of his suffering, questioned God’s rationale for inflicting such pain upon him. Job challenged God with legal terminology to force God to defend His own position. God appeared after Elihu’s speech by offering Job rhetorical questions: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (38:4). God mentioned many wonders and elements of creation; therefore, God was asking, “How can you question?” God never addressed Job’s suffering or dared to give an explanation. Augustine said this was the reason for Job’s sufferings: for testing and discipline. God ratified Elihu’s contention: humans are too small to understand the nature of the universe and therefore suffering.

If God is just, why does underserved suffering occur? God seemed to advocate that He is not bound by the rules of creation as man is since He created such rules. “It’s just the way the universe has to function.” Archibald MacLeish (in JB play circa 1958) had a character say, “I heard upon his dry dung heap, that man cry out who cannot sleep; ‘If God is God he is not good, if God is good He is not God.”

Compositional and textual difficulties exist in the book. For example, there is no named author, the date of composition is debated (most date it between 7th–4th century BC), the final form implies a complicated history of writing, some suggest that the folktale came first and then the question of theodicy later, and the middle section is stylistically poetic. Elihu’s part is stylistic differently—this may have been an edited text, a text written by multiple authors, or a compilation of other ancient sources (cf. Babylonian Theodicy c. 1100–1000 B.C.; Behemoth and Leviathan compare to Egyptian imagery such as Horas and Seth [4th century B.C.]).

In 13:15 the traditional composition is, “Though he kill me, yet will I trust in him.” The New Oxford Annotated Bible reads, “See, he will kill me; I have no hope.” Robert Gordis translated it, “Yes, he may slay me; I shall not be quiet.” The final clause of each leaves a different impression as to his intentions. In 19:25–26 the text is traditionally rendered, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God.” The New Oxford Annotated Bible notes that “Redeemer” could be rendered “Vindicator” and “in my flesh” could be rendered “without my flesh.” “I shall see God” is obscure. Gordis renders these verses, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, though he be the last to arise upon earth! Deep in my skin this has been marked, and in my very flesh do I see God.” The alternate translations of 13:15 may speak more to Job’s despair in the NOAB (cf. 6:11; 7:21), or his willingness to defend his innocence according to Gordis (13b; cf. 10:17; 16:17). The alternate rendering of 19:25–26 seems to still speak of a resurrection according to the NOAB, but one in the spiritual realm where the wager originated. Gordis’ rendering seems to emphasize Job’s recognition of God’s sovereignty (cf. 1:21; 2:10).

2. Some Questions to Consider 

            First, why do Job’s friends condemn Job if they came to comfort him?

            Second, how might what occurs in 42:7–9 affect our reading of the entire book of Job?

            Third, do we serve God unconditionally and without ulterior motives?

            Fourth, respond to the following: “The problem of evil, of suffering, of injustice in a world ruled by an all-powerful and all-just God, is life’s darkest problem.  Job offers us no clear solution, no philosophical formula, no bright little concept, but an infinite mystery.  God Himself, rather than any idea God teaches, is Job’s answer.” (Peter Kreeft, You Can Understand the Bible, 79).

3. The Rich, Righteous Man 

Within the prologue of Job’s story, the reader observes first the character of Job as it is defined by the author—a righteous man who was very wealthy (cf. 1:1–5). The exact identity of Job is somewhat inferred from passages contained within the narrative of his story. For instance, Job appears to have been of noble birth given specific descriptions of his person: his nobility is inferred in his plea to have been a stillborn and buried among kings and princes (3:13–15); his loss of glory and crown (19:9; this may be a reference to his baldness [cf. 1:20]); and his purported seat among the council of his city (29:7, 21–25). Concluding that Job was of some nobility, one is given a comparison of the modern idea of a wealthy noble and their character.

Those who enjoy the stature of wealth and position are often thought to be egocentric and selfish. The circles in which they mingle are the upper echelon of society, and the attention they pay to the lower classes of man is at best from a distance. The scathing accusation by Eliphaz was that Job was a man whose power led to corruption because he exacted unjust pledges, deprived the naked of clothing, and suppressed the downtrodden. The source of Job’s sins were his power (22:5–11). Job acknowledged that injustices were performed by many (24:1–21), but he contrasted himself from those who did such deplorable acts (24:22–25; 27:1ff).  Job rejected Eliphaz’s evaluation, and rightly so. The view Eliphaz held of Job was not his initial view. Interestingly enough, Eliphaz’s first observation of Job was built upon Job’s benevolence (4:3–6), and Job reiterated his charity towards others before his friends and after Eliphaz’s more recent diatribe (29:12–17; 30:25). The sentiments of Eliphaz towards Job are the same stereotype that is held by many in regards to those of stature and wealth. How often is the phrase heard from the lips of those less fortunate that “the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer?” The core of this assumption has to do with humanity’s inherent belief that the wealthy see to their desires rather than the needs of those less fortunate. Only humble servants like Christ look after the poor. Class warfare is escalated because the connection between a person’s and their character are viewed in such a way as Eliphaz sought to later portray Job.

While it is true that many in positions of influence and prestige act in such ways as Eliphaz accused Job, the opposite was exact for Job. Although born in a favorable position, Job extended his hand to the poor and less fortunate. While some connection may be made between one’s character and their identity, there is also a factor of contrast from one’s character based on their status. The nucleus of this distinction had to do with Job’s personal view of God (cf. 42:7). In spite of being seemingly born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Job knew the Lord God and the justice he required of those who were in such positions to be a blessing to others.

 Job’s relation to God is first observed when Job cautiously and carefully acted as a loving but concerned patriarch (1:5). His primary concern at that point was with the prospect that his children’s behavior may have in some way offended the holiness of God; therefore, Job resolved to intercede through sacrifice and cleansing so that his children would stand approved in God’s sight. These actions may be related to Job’s identity and they may not. What is not told is whether Job’s parents were as faithful to God as he was. If so, Job’s fidelity maintained his favor in God’s eyes, and he was further endowed to steward. If not, the lack of a contrast between his identity and character prove that one may overcome or contradict the supposed impression of the relation between the two. Just as much as one who is born into wealth is perceived as a selfish snob, so is one who is born in the ghetto seen as a drug dealer with no decorum. However, the view of those persons towards God permits their conduct to defy the perceived notion of what their character ought to be. Job may have challenged this very bigotry.


[1] These notes derive from a lecture delivered by Elizabeth Vandiver for The Great Courses.

[2] Something infamous of the Stoics.

[3] Many scholars believe that Elihu’s section was later grafted in apart from the original text.

[4] Although outside this work, the pains and woes of the world were ultimately ushered in through sin. Thorns, thistles, and pain in childbearing were consequences of sin (Gen. 3:16-19). Since it was a man who acted to bring about sin through his own freedom, man must bear sin’s consequences —which is attributed to suffering.