Lesson 4 of 5
In Progress

Introductory Issues in Job

Cause of suffering

After reading the entire book of Job, the reader may still wonder if the book gives any clear answer about the cause and meaning of suffering. Is the answer in the prologue, in the interpretations of the counselors, in the God speeches, in Job’s humble submission at the end of the book, in Job’s reward for staying strong throughout the ordeal? Or is the “answer” in the realization that from the human perspective there is no answer? Conclusions vary greatly from those who read Job and try to apply its lessons to their own life experiences.

The comforters

The dialogues between Job and his counselors could be used as a manual on “how not to comfort one who is in trouble.” Though their intentions are good, they keep on blundering ahead with their heavy-handed interpretations of why Job is suffering, essentially looking for some sin (possibly unknown) that set these terrible tragedies in motion. Though their pastoral skills are certainly suspect, their theological answers have had lasting power and are still in prominent use today. Such answers need to be carefully reconsidered.

Difficult text

The Hebrew text for the book of Job is very difficult. There are many words that do not appear any place else in the Bible. When one reads Job with a study Bible, it is apparent that the translator is often unsure of the exact meaning of the words. One often encounters a footnote that says “the meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain.” The difficulties also become obvious when different translations are compared.

The Elihu section

Scholars have long wondered about the sudden appearance of Elihu in chapter 32. Up to this point in the book, there were only three friends. They were introduced at the end of chapter 2 and took turns talking to Job about his suffering. Elihu claims to be young and angry about the way the conversation has gone. He is going to step up and speak his mind because he cannot any longer sit back and witness the inability of the others to make good responses to some of Job’s outrageous statements. Those who see Elihu as an original part of the book think that he helps prepare Job for his audience with God (chapters 38-41). The majority opinion is that Elihu was added to the book at a later time to make one more attempt to deal adequately with the hard questions about suffering and God’s justice.

God’s speeches

The book of Job leads up to the climax when God will finally speak and clarify the confusion among Job and his friends. Is Job guilty and deserving of his fate, as his friends believe, or has he been treated unjustly and is innocent? Unfortunately, God does not answer the questions raised by the dialogues. Job is not declared innocent, nor is he pronounced guilty. That question is ignored. Rather, God, in the first speech, makes clear that God alone is the one who can know and do everything, in contrast to human limitations. In a second speech, God makes clear that only God has power to control the Behemoth and Leviathan. If humans attempt to fight on their own against these horrible beasts, they will not have a chance. Over the years, there has been much conversation about the full meaning of these speeches. If this is the climactic moment in the book, then what is the meaning that we should take with us when we are confronted by tragedies that have no apparent meaning? Is God with us, even if we cannot understand everything? Most believers who have read Job have concluded that the answer is yes.

The legitimacy of lament

Job is often remembered as the patient one who endured all kinds of hardships with a stiff upper lip, not complaining about his situation. That may well fit the Job described in chapters 1 and 2. If one reads the rest of the book, beginning already with his painful lament in chapter 3, it is apparent that Job is no compliant victim who is willing to suffer in silence. The neglect of the defiant, complaining Job in our common thinking is typical of the avoidance of the lament tradition, a tradition that pervades the Bible. When in trouble, people complain and cry out to God for help. The image of the stoic sufferer is reinforced by a limited examination of the real Job.

The nature of God

The way God is presented to the reader of Job is problematic for many. In the prologue, God seems to be too willing to turn his faithful servant Job over to the hands of Satan. For many chapters God remains silent, even though Job begs for some word to clarify his situation. Has God found him guilty or not and, if not, why is he suffering? In the God speeches, God seems to intimidate Job with power and sarcasm. How do all these images of God harmonize both within the book and in the context of the whole Bible?

Permission given to Satan

The presence of Satan in the prologue raises many questions. This is one of only three appearances in the Old Testament of Satan as a heavenly figure. Why are God and Satan in such a cozy relationship? Why does not God address Satan at the end of the book (in the epilogue of 42:7-17) to taunt him for losing the bet that Job would curse God to his face?

The unity of the book

Was the book as we know it written at one time by the same author? Many have questioned the connection between the prologue/epilogue and the rest of the book. The style is narrative, rather than the poetry of the rest of the book. The language is different and the theology is inconsistent. Further, many believe that the Elihu section (chapters 32-37) is a later insertion into an existing book. A logical conclusion could be that there existed an old story about Job (represented by the prologue/epilogue) that was used by the author of the dialogues and God speeches. A third stage was the addition of Elihu.