UNDERSTANDING THE BOOK OF JOB
PREFACE: Before we will commence our study of the Old Testament Book of Job in the next quarter, a little groundwork in advance will improve our understanding of the bookl. First off, the Book of Job comes to us as kind of a "sidebar" to the other 38 books of the Old Testament. A sidebar is an extra story that supplements a main story, in this case the covenantal theme-i.e, that Israel prospered when it obeyed God and suffered when it did not-that permeates the rest of the OT.
AUTHOR: No author is named, but the most likely candidates are Job, Elihu, Moses, or Solomon.
DATE OF WRITING: The date of the authorship of the Book of Job would be determined by the author who wrote it. If either Job or Elihu were the author, the date would be before 1800 B.C., making it the oldest book of the Bible; if Moses wrote it, the date would be around 1440 B.C.; and if Solomon, around 950 B.C. Since we cannot prove authorship with any certainty, the date remains unknown. Even so, because the style of writing and terms used are so distinct from the Mosaic writings (Pentateuch), modern Bible scholarship (i.e., DTS) leans more toward a patriarchal (pre-1800 B.C. era) date of writing.
JOB'S BACKGROUND: Let's back up a minute-so, just who was Job and where did he come from? According to Job 1:1, Job lived in the land of UZ (see map), which was located southeast of Palestine in what was known as the kingdom of Edom. If you take the position that the book was most likely written during the patriarchal/pre-1800 B.C. timeframe, Job would have descended from the lineage of Esau (son of Isaac and twin of Jacob), who founded the kingdom of Edom, and would place him approximately five generations from that of Abraham. The similarities of Job's language, culture, and education to that of the Patriarchs is clearly apparent from the speech and actions recorded in the text of the book.
BIBLICAL CLASSIFICATION: In the Hebrew Bible , the Book of Job was one of 11 books within the "Writings." which was further sub-divided as a poetical book along with Psalms and Proverbs. In the Christian Bible, Job is organized as one of five poetical (or wisdom) books, and grouped with Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs.
BIBLICAL CANONICITY: The canonicity (i.e., rules by which the internal and external evidence of a writing demonstrates itself to haven been inspired by God) is derived from proof that Job spoke directly with God (Job 38-42). The prophet Ezekiel lists Job along with Noah, Moses, and the prophet Daniel as men who spoken directly with God (Ezek. 14:14, 20), it was an accepted part of the 39-book OT Canon at the time of Christ; and was subsequently confirmed by James (the later Apostle) in his epistle (Js. 5:11).
PURPOSE OF WRITING: The Book of Job helps us to understand the following truths: (1) Satan cannot bring financial and physical destruction upon us unless God allows it; (2) God has power over what Satan can and cannot do; (3) It's beyond our human ability to understand the reasons behind all the suffering in the world; (4) The wicked will ultimately receive their just dues; (5) We can't always blame suffering and sin on our lifestyles; (6) Suffering may sometimes be allowed in our lives to purify, test, teach, or strengthen our souls; and (7) in the final analysis, the person of God remains enough for us and He deserves and seeks our love and praise for Him in any and all the circumstances of our lives.
SYNOPSIS OF NARRATIVE IN A NUTSHELL: The book of Job opens with a scene in heaven where Satan comes to accuse Job before God. Satan insists that Job only serves God because God protects him and asks God's permission to test Job's faith and loyalty. God grants His permission, but only within certain boundaries. So, why do the righteous suffer? This question rises to the forefront after Job loses his family, his wealth, and his health. Job's three friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, come to "comfort" him and deliberate the crushing series of tragedies that have befallen him. They argue that his suffering is punishment for sin in his life. Job, in spite of all this, remains steadfastly devoted to God and insists that his life has not been one of sin. A fourth man, Elihu, advises Job that he needs to humble himself and submit to God's use of these trials to purify his life. Job finally questions God Himself and learns valuable lessons about the sovereignty of God and his need to totally trust in Him. In the end, Job is restored to health, happiness, and prosperity beyond his earlier state.
FORESHADOWINGS: As Job was pondering the cause of his misery, three questions came to his mind, all of which are answered only through accepting Jesus Christ as Lord. These questions occur in chapter 14:
• First, in v. 4, Job asks, "Who can make the clean out of the unclean? No one! (referring to humankind)." Job's question comes from a heart that recognizes that humans can never achieve God's standard of holiness or become justified in His sight. God is perfect and we are not. Therefore, a great gulf exists between man and God, caused by sin. But the ultimate answer to Job's anguished question is found in the person of Jesus Christ, who has paid the penalty for our sin and has exchanged it for His righteousness, thereby making us acceptable in God's sight (Heb. 10:14; Col. 1:21-23; 2 Cor. 5:17).
• Job's second question, "But a man dies and lies prostrate. A person passes away, and where is he?" (v. 10), is another question about eternity and life and death that is answered only in Christ. With Christ, the answer to "where is he?," is eternal life in heaven. But without Christ, the answer is an eternity in the "outer darkness" where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Mt. 25:30).
• Job's third question, found in verse 14, is "If a man dies, will he live again?" Once again, the answer is found in Christ. We do indeed live again if we are in Him. "When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory.' 'Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?'" (1 Cor. 15:54-55).
PRACTICAL APPLICATION: The Book of Job reminds us that there is a "cosmic conflict" going on behind the scenes in the spiritual realm that we usually know nothing about. Often we wonder why God allows certain things to happen, and we are tempted to question or doubt God's goodness because we don't see the full picture. Here's the bottom line: The Book of Job tells us to trust God under all circumstances. We must trust God, not only when we do not understand, but because we do not understand.
HARD QUESTIONS: The Book of Job raises some very difficult questions for our consideration, like:
1. In Job 1:9, Satan asks God, "Does Job fear God for nothing?" In other words, does Job maintain his faithfulness only because he expects God to reward him for doing so?
2. If God is both good and all-powerful, why does he permit suffering?
3. What is the relationship between sin and suffering?
4. Why do good people suffer? Why do bad people prosper?
5. Are good people vindicated in the end? In this life, or only in the life to come?
6. Where does evil come from? If God created all things, did He create evil?
Note: Although the book of Job raises these questions, it's a lot different from saying that it provides clear answers to them. Instead, it forces us to wrestle with these questions without giving us neatly packaged, simple answers to them. It doesn't offer simple generalizations that bear little or no resemblance to the reality of our lives but tells a story that honestly portrays life and asks us to examine real life in all its messiness and chaos. Here are some observations raised by several topics:
1. FAITHFULNESS: Is the faith of godly people self-serving? Certainly! People do serve God because they expect better lives through their relationship with God. But that's only part of the answer: People also serve God because they love God and feel drawn to His holiness and righteousness.
2. SUFFERING: Why does God permit suffering? The easy answer is that our suffering comes as punishment for ours sins; however, this book doesn't allow such a simple answer, because Job suffers in spite of being described by God Himself as "blameless and upright" and a man who "feared God, and turned away from evil" (Job 1:1, 8).
3. WHY DO GOOD PEOPLE SUFFER?: The book of Job sees life quite differently from the Mosaic (i.e., Torah) view of history that pervades much of OT Hebrew Scripture. In particular, the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, and 1-2 Kings interpret events in terms of adherence or disobedience to the Mosaic law. They inform us that Israel prospered when it obeyed God and suffered when it did not, and in general, promised prosperity to the faithful (see Deut 28:1-2, 7-8; Ps. 34:15-22). However, the overall message of the New Testament is quite different: The NT places emphasis on service and sacrifice to cause of Christ in this world but promises eternal rewards in the next. The book of Job addresses the questions raised by a world where the righteous don't always prosper and the unrighteous sometimes do. Its a messy world-one that is hard to understand and even harder to appreciate-yet, its the world in which we live, and its that real but messy world that the book of Job invites us to examine.