Date Written: After 970 BC
Most scholars suggest that Job was written during or after the reign of Solomon, but that the setting of the story is in the much earlier patriarchal period, about the same time as Abraham. The book of Job is included in the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament. While Job may have been an historical person, the book's purpose is to deeply meditate on the mystery of suffering.
Job is a poetic book with a dramatic structure. It begins with a bargaining match in heaven between God and Satan. The Lord boasts about Job's righteousness, but Satan claims that Job is self-serving, acting righteous only to reap the benefits of God's blessing. So the Lord allows Satan to take away all of Job's blessings: his wealth, his flocks, even his children. When Job remains faithful to God, Satan returns to the bargaining table and God allows him to afflict Job with a terrible skin disease.
The poetic core of the book begins in ch. 3 where we find Job sitting by himself, complaining to God. Soon his friends come to talk to him and the magnificent dialogue begins (4). Job's friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite counsel him. They argue that Job must have sinned against God to bring such suffering on himself so he ought to simply accept the discipline and repent of his sin. Yet Job maintains his innocence before God. He claims his suffering is not a result of his sins.
While Job does not curse God as his wife suggests, he does struggle with his suffering. He curses the day of his birth (3:3) and he accuses the Lord of being unjust (). He claims that God has treated him unfairly (10:5-7). To give vent to his anger and frustration with God, he even wants to sue God in court for his inappropriate treatment (13:18-19). After the three friends fail to console Job, he sums up his case (29-31) and demands that an arbiter or judge hear his case against God (31:35).
Elihu, Job's young friend, shows up to act as the arbiter (32:11-12). He examines Job's case, but decides in favor of God by rejecting Job's right to bring a suit against him (34:23). Then God himself appears and confronts Job (38). The Lord does not answer Job's accusations and complaints directly. Instead he lifts Job's gaze from his miserable circumstances to God's glory. He illustrates the inscrutable nature of his divine wisdom. Job is silenced (40:4-5). He finally repents of the foolish words he spoke and withdraws his legal suit against God (42:2-6). God's appearance is enough for Job.
The major question Job confronts is why the just person suffers. The author gives us the benefit of the heavenly perspective. We know that God is testing Job's character, but Job's friends are convinced that his sins have brought suffering upon him. Job protests his innocence and insists that wicked people often prosper. However he can't see what God is doing so he angrily complains to God. Yet his suffering is not the direct result of his sin. Rather, his suffering is brought on by his righteousness!
Job is a book of poetry, so it must be understood within the complexities of poetic language. It is important to note when Job is speaking to his friends and when he is talking to God. Though Job's material possessions are restored in the end, the theology of the whole book shows that they are not the substance, but the expression of God's blessing. Jesus later emphasizes this same perspective (Matt 19:29). Jesus also clarifies and agrees with Job's view that sin is not always the cause of personal suffering (John 9:3).
Job is a consoling book in times of suffering. While it does not solve the problem of suffering, it shows us that the complexities of human life are not easy to understand and that God is present with us when we suffer.
By Mark Giszczak