A Semi-Scholarly Analysis of the Book of Job
Anytime you start proclaiming to fellow believers of other doctrinal persuasions that God is a good God and doesn't go around inflicting disaster, death, and destruction upon His children to "teach them something," almost always the first objection you will encounter is this challenge: "Well, what about Job?" This challenge is waved as if a magic wand to dispel all arguments challenging their deep-seated religious traditions and doctrinal prejudices without them realizing how Christ-followers are an entirely different spiritual demographic than Job and his contemporaries.
Most people think Job was some sort of prophet and casually cite a few verses taken out of context from the book written about him without really knowing a thing about the man and his story. It is this typical lack of understanding which causes so many doctrinal problems.
But here is, as Paul Harvey used to say, "the rest of the story!"
A Brief Biography of Job
According to Bible scholars, Job lived during what theologians call the “patriarchal period” between The Rebellion (when Adam and Eve sinned and were expelled from Eden) and the appearance of Abraham. This timing issue is significant. Why? Because it predates the existence of any covenant relationship between the One True God and His creation, man.
On top of that, Job had no Scriptures. The first written books of the Bible were penned by Moses during the wilderness phase of the Exodus several centuries later. All Job had were oral traditions at best.
These two facts are crucial because they demonstrate that, according to the biblical record:
- Job had little revelation of the One True God beyond His general existence and displeasure with sinful behavior.
- God had not promised Job anything he could stand in faith upon.
- Job apparently knew nothing about the existence of a spirit realm (the alternate dimension where God and angels as well as Satan and demons exist).
- Job appeared to be completely ignorant of Satan's existence.
Also, because he lived millennia prior to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, he was unregenerate, that is to say he had not experienced the new birth and did not have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside his physical body as all Jesus’ followers do. As a result, he had no spiritual authority against the devil to prevent/combat such tragedies as the ones which befell him.
Nowhere in the Bible does it describe Job as a prophet or priest empowered by calling and equipped by revelation to speak ex officio for God to other humans.
On top of that, all of his so-called “friends” were in precisely in the same boat and, based upon their words in the Book of Job and God's later discourse to them, they knew even less about God's character and nature than Job did!
To summarize what we know of Job:
- He was a righteous man (God said that Himself, so that is not open for debate).
- He didn’t have a covenant with God as Abraham and his descendants did.
- He didn’t have any Scriptures wherein God had revealed or promised anything to him.
- He apparently didn’t have a clue about the existence of angels, Satan, or demons.
- He was neither called nor empowered to speak on God's behalf to anyone
- He wasn’t born-again, had no indwelling of the Holy Spirit. He therefore had no spiritual authority on the earth.
Here is another tidbit about the Book of Job: there is an impression held by many folks that Job’s trials went on for years and years. Actually, it all transpired over the course of only a few days or weeks, depending upon how much Job and his idiotic friends said which was not included in the narrative and how long the pauses were between their rants.
Another popular abuse of this book is perpetrated by those who have created their own personal disasters through their own sins (selfishness, greed, hatred, lust, addiction, etc.). I’ve lost count of the jail inmates I’ve heard state they were experiencing tribulation like Job when they were going through nothing of the sort at all. They were in jail pending trial because they had committed one or more crimes (in other words, they were unrighteousness) whereas Job was attacked despite the fact that God had declared him righteous.
Truly Reported vs. Truly Spoken
As a result of all this, the Book of Job has to be the MOST misunderstood, MOST misinterpreted, MOST misquoted book in the entire Bible. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard Job 1:21 unctuously and ignorantly quoted after some disaster like someone’s kid dying or other loss of a loved one saying, “the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord”. There is even a popular contemporary worship tune where it says, "He gives and takes away" during the song's bridge.
There’s one major problem with doing this. You see, Job was dead wrong!
“But wait!” you exclaim, "It says that right there in the Bible!" True, and I am not contesting that aspect of the Word.
Job indeed said that.
But the foundational doctrine of the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures in the original languages and their total infallibility does not extend to every word some unregenerate human said in it.
Here's what I mean: the Bible truly and factually reports what was said by everyone quoted therein, but not every word that was said by some of those folks was true and factual.
For example, there are instances where the Bible quotes someone who was lying, such as Annanias and Sapphira in the Book of Acts. Elsewhere in that same book, Simon the Magician asked to buy the ability to perform miracles by the Holy Spirit. Satan lied to Jesus during His temptations. It would be ludicrous for us to assert that Annanias and Sapphira's lies were in and of themselves the voice of God speaking through them, wouldn’t it? Or that Simon was asking by the inspiration of God to buy the ability to perform miracles? Or that Satan was speaking with God's voice as he tempted Christ?
But we do accept that the Bible is totally accurate in its reporting of these incidents — what was said by whom and the events which transpired. Why would we hold the words of any other human — other than Jesus or a prophet speaking ex officio from the Lord — to a different standard?
On top of that, the context of any quote made by a human being in the Bible also must be taken into account. This means the context of the verses immediately before and after the quote, the context of the other chapters within the same book, the context of the covenant under which that person was living, and finally the context of the Bible as a whole.
So we can safely conclude that the Bible is 100% true and accurate in reporting what Job and those around him said. It is also a 100% true and accurate statement that Job and his so-called buddies were totally clueless about what they were talking about!
A Brief Synopsis of the Book of Job with Commentary
Chapter 1 describes Job as a righteous man and extremely blessed in having 10 children, a huge servant staff, extreme wealth. I guess you could say the Bible describes him as a patriarchal type of Warren Buffet or Bill Gates, fabulously wealthy and famous throughout the region.
Satan’s First Attack
In verse 6, it describes Satan entering into God’s presence. It’s hard for us humans to get our minds wrapped around how our holy God would countenance the personification of evil in His presence, but that is precisely what this verse says, so it has to be the Truth.
What we do not know is how the death and resurrection of Jesus may have altered that access a few millennia later. The NT repeatedly proclaims how Jesus defeated the devil and took from him the keys of death, hell, and the grave. If that is indeed the case — and I firmly believe this is absolute Truth — then how could Satan appear before his conqueror in this manner? Though it’s an interesting concept to contemplate, the fact is that we will never know this side of heaven, so let’s move on.
God says something interesting to Satan about Job. He asks if Satan has “considered” Job. Most preachers interpret that as meaning that God was bragging on Job to Satan. I've actually heard people say something along the lines of, "God made a bet with Satan and Job lost."
However, when you look up “considered” in a lexicon, you will find that it’s the Hebrew word siym. Interestingly enough, there are other definitions found there, ones like “to lay violent hands on” and so on. In context of subsequent events that transpired, it would be a bit more accurate to say that God was accusing Satan of hatching some sort of evil plan to destroy Job.
Then Satan appears to obtain permission from God to attack Job. Could there be an alternate interpretation? I believe there is. Take a quick glance at where Job says:
'For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me, And what I dreaded has happened to me.' — Job 3:25
The idea that Job was operating in fear rather than faith is bolstered by the description of his behaviors in verse 5. And God answers Satan in verse 12 in an unusual way. He doesn’t overtly give Satan permission, but says, “Behold, all that he has is in your power…” Is it possible that God was saying words to the effect of, “You already have power over him” due to Job’s fear? But God did limit Satan to not touch Job’s physical body.
Again, is this the way things always work or was that only before Jesus was exalted and made the Supreme Authority in heaven and earth and later delegated that authority to His followers? Frankly, we don’t know for sure, because the Bible is silent on the topic, but by implication from the many verses in the NT dealing with Satan’s defeat by Jesus, I feel this is an unlikely scenario for after Jesus’ resurrection. Again, we’ll only know for sure once we arrive in heaven. What we can count on in this life is that:
'…God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.' — 1 Corinthians 10:13b
And we see what happened. Job lost almost everything: his children and his wealth. Job’s response was to not blame God and get bitter, something those who quote this book so casually should take note of. Though he incorrectly attributed the catastrophes to God rather than Satan, God doesn’t hold his ignorance against him and states that Job was blameless and without sin.
Satan’s Second Attack
Chapter 2 starts with the same scene portrayed in Chapter 1: God’s holding court and Satan shows up. God again asks the devil if he has “considered” Job. This brings up a translational issue because the word for “considered” here in Chapter 2 is different from the one in Chapter 1. Instead of the Hebrew word siym, the word used in verse 3 is leb, which — in addition to “considered” also means “heart”, an “inclination”, a “determination of will”, among others. It would be safe to state, given the context, that God was asking Satan, “Have you truly set your heart on destroying Job?”
Again, God does not necessarily give Satan permission, but simply states that, “he is in your hand.” So again I have to ask the question: Is God giving permission or did Job already give the devil an opening through his fear?”
The end result was that Job was in severe pain. His worthless wife chimes in and exhorts Job to "curse God and die," probably blaming him in her grief for the demise of their children and lifestyle.
Again, Job incorrectly attributes the evil that came his way to God, though God again doesn’t hold Job accountable for his ignorance of the facts — He declares Job righteous yet again.
Then his “friends” show up. What a bunch of ignorant losers! But we’ll get to them in minute after we cover this first:
Job Has a Pity Party
In Chapter 3, Job now commences to feel sorry for himself and whines to his friends. Frankly, if any of us was in the shape he was in going through what he was going through, I don’t think any of us would do any better, even with our being able to appropriate the grace of God. Almost all of us would be whining, as well, and most of us would be blaming God and angry/bitter at Him for being “unfair” and a bunch of similar nonsense.
Job’s "Friends" Accuse Him & Job Defends Himself
In Chapters 4-37 we have an interminable exchange of arguments back and forth between Job and his so-called “friends” in which they accuse him of offending God somehow and that he needs to 'fess up and repent. Job responds by defending his own righteousness. The friends' comments are a veritable litany of what I have termed as "man's religion."
God Shows Up & Sets the Record Straight
I love God’s opening remarks to these sorry excuses for theologians:
Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? — Job 38:2
In other words, God is telling the whole lot of them that they are all full of bovine scatology and goes on for a couple of chapters declaring exactly Who He is and who Job and his friends aren’t. At the beginning of Chapter 40, He then addresses Job personally and starts taking him to task for his words.
An interest item shows up later during God’s questioning of Job:
Then I will also confess to you that your own right hand can save you. — Job 40:14
I’m frankly still at a loss of what exactly God is saying here. Could Job have prevented his catastrophes through refusing to indulge in fear? Could it be that Job had revelation of some sort of spiritual authority unspecified in the text and unused by him to turn events around? I have to admit I don’t know and seriously doubt if anyone else does this side of heaven.
Job Repents, God Rebukes Job’s Friends, God Restores Job's Family & Fortunes, Film at 11
Regardless, God finishes by the end of Chapter 41. In the opening verses of Chapter 42, Job repents and basically says, “Well, shut my mouth!” as they are wont say in the Deep South.
God then rebukes Job’s friends and tells them to offer up a burnt offering of bulls and rams in the presence of Job, that Job would then pray for them, and they would be forgiven.
When Job prayed for his friends (please note the power of forgiveness at work here), it says that Job was restored double what had been taken from him, he had ten more kids and his daughters were some of the hottest babes around.
James, the brother of Jesus, wrote in his epistle:
Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord — that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful. — James 5:11
So this to me puts a final coup-de-grace to the notion that God visited evil upon Job, even passively. It echos the saying that generation after generation of God’s people in the OT said when they are described as worshipping God in the beauty of holiness:
Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever! — 1 Chronicles 16:29
God is a good God! And the devil is a bad devil!
For more articles by Dr. Willis, explore his Miscellaneous Ramblings website.