The book of Job (rhymes with robe) has often been called the literary masterpiece of the Bible and is part of the collection of wisdom/poetic writings. Job powerfully and poignantly delves into the question of suffering and explores various understandings and responses to it, along with the help of his so called friends.
The bulk of the book (chapters 3 through 41) are a series of verbal exchanges between Job and his friends, who turn out to be not too good of friends after all. This is preceded by an introduction (chapters 1 and 2) that sets the stage for the dramatic dialogue that follows. The book ends with a conclusion (chapter 42) showing Job’s steadfast faith and God’s grace. Don’t get so focused on the discourses in the middle of the book that you miss this fitting conclusion.
You may have heard the phrase, “the patience of Job” (think “longsuffering”). That saying originates from this book and Job’s stellar example. Perhaps an even better synopsis of this book would be “the love of Job.” Indeed, Job conclusively shows what real, unwavering love is towards God. We generally love others because of what they do for us or give to us. We rarely love in spite of what they do or how they treat us. In the same way, most people approach God for what he will do for them. But when they don’t feel his love or when he doesn’t make sense, their love for him waivers, fades, or even goes away. Job shows us a different way: We should steadfastly love God in spite of what is happening in our lives and what struggles we are going through.
Earlier I wondered if Job was real person or a fictional character. Despite support for both perspectives, my conclusion was that it doesn’t really matter. We can learn from him regardless if his life is a fictitious or historical account.
Another debated question, which is without definitive answer, is when was Job written? While some say that it was an early book of the Bible — perhaps even the first — this conclusion is more speculative than evidentiary.
Regarding this, let me make two observations:
1) There are significant thematic parallels between the books of Job and Ecclesiastes, specifically regarding the brevity of life and futility of living.
2) The books of Job and Song of Solomon have a similar construction, which is not found anywhere else in the Bible. Each is heavy in dialogue — almost exclusively so — reading like a screenplay.
The books of Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon were both written by King Solomon. Because the book of Job shares a similar construction and theme, perhaps Solomon also wrote Job.
Knowing when Job was written doesn’t really matter, but it is an intriguing thought to consider that perhaps King Solomon is the author.
A common lament of Job throughout the story bearing his name is his begging God to answer his pleas. However, it seems that Job (and his friends) are too busy talking to give God a chance. When God does respond, Job’s friends are rebuffed and Job’s righteousness is affirmed.
Job’s brief reply to God’s discourse is humble and contrite. After acknowledging God’s complete knowledge (omniscience) and total power (omnipotence), Job unabashedly admits:
“I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”
With all of our knowledge and assumed understanding of God and his ways, I think that Job’s words are more often an appropriate and accurate posture then for us to assuredly spout our religious opinions (theology) as if they were fact.
After Job’s so-called friends fail so miserably to comfort him in his time of need, after they criticize and malign him, God steps in. God puts them in their place for what they said and affirms that Job has spoken truth.
Then God tells the friends to prepare a sacrifice and to ask Job to pray for them.
Picture the situation. Job’s life is in a shambles; he is destitute and in pain, despising life itself. The only people who will even talk to him, attack him and his character, pulling him down even further. Then they have the audacity to ask him to pray for them!
If you were Job, how would you respond?
Praying for them would be a hard thing to do; it would be far easier to give them the payback they deserve, but not Job. In the midst of his torment, he prays for his misguided friends even though they seem to be in a much better state than he is.
God accepts Job’s prayers — and then restores his fortunes twofold.
What if Job had refused to pray for his friends, might God’s response have been different?
1) What Job feared most happened to him. The enemy (that is Satan, the devil) knew Job’s fears and exploited them. Although everyone fears something, we are best advised to turn our fears over to God and not dwell on them.
2) Job believed that through good behavior he deserved God’s blessings. Things are not any different today. The common belief is that we can earn God’s love and attention. Of course, the converse of that is rejected; people assume that bad behavior should be forgiven, not punished. The right motivation for good behavior is simply out of respect for God and to honor him, not to earn something in return.
3) When Job had nothing left to say that is when God spoke. It is hard for us to listen when we are talking; it is no different in our relationship with God. When you pray do you spend more time talking or listening?
As readers of the book of Job, we are privy to the whole story: Satan torments Job in an effort to prove that Job’s Godly devotion is conditional, that it is dependent on circumstances.
Job, however, does not have the luxury of this grand view. All he knows is that his once blessed life is now in shambles. He is in pain, and with seemingly nothing left to live for, he wants to die and end his misery.
With a limited view of God and not knowing the back-story, Job’s only conclusion is that this is God’s doing. His perspective is to blame God.
Job lacks an understanding of God’s overarching purpose at work. Job is unaware that once he proves himself faithful and that the enemy, Satan, is proved wrong, all that Job lost will be restored — two-fold.
In many ways we are like Job. We lack a comprehension of God’s overarching plan and end up blaming God for our pains, our disappointments, and our anger.
If we could just see a glimpse of God’s big picture, then we would know that he in not the source of our frustration, that it lies elsewhere; we would see the reward that awaits us if we but stay on course.
Job did just that, even though he didn’t see God’s big picture.
Do you give the horse its strength or clothe its neck with a flowing mane?
Do you make it leap like a locust, striking terror with its proud snorting?
It paws fiercely, rejoicing in its strength, and charges into the fray.
It laughs at fear, afraid of nothing; it does not shy away from the sword.
The quiver rattles against its side, along with the flashing spear and lance.
In frenzied excitement it eats up the ground; it cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds.
Although this is a most appropriate description of the mighty steed Secretariat, it was not written for him or the movie, but was penned several millennia before. It is from the book of Job in the Bible; the movie quotes directly from the NIV version.
Secretariat is an inspiring, feel-good flick about a magnificent racehorse, his will to win, and his big, strong heart. It is also a movie about the determination and drive of his owner to make it happen, fulfilling the vision of her late father.
Secretariat is not only a movie most worthy of our time to watch, but as a bonus, it is also family friendly. From a production standpoint, it is top-notch, especially with believable recreations of the races themselves.
Among many who care about such things there is a debate as to the veracity of the story of Job. Succinctly, was Job a real person or is the book about him a work of fiction?
Supporting evidence that Job wasn’t a real person:
Job is not mentioned in any of the historical books of the Bible and only referred to once outside of the book bearing his name.
Job was “blameless and upright” and despite being afflicted, he “did not sin.” Since only God is without sin, this characterization is false (although it could also be hyperbole, a practice that does occur elsewhere in the Bible).
Supporting evidence that Job was a real person:
God, as recorded by the prophet Ezekiel, refers to Job along with Daniel and Noah. Surely, if Job was fictional, God would not mention him in the same context as two people who did live (for whom there is biblical support).
In that same passage, God testifies that Job was righteous. It seems unlikely that God would so affirm a fictitious person.
So was Job a real person or not? Was his story fact or fiction?
The answers to these questions will never be fully resolved, but for me it doesn’t matter. Whether he is fact or fiction, Job’s story is part of God’s inspired word, so regardless we can learn from it, be inspired by it, and be strengthened in our faith because of it. Arguing about its origin is only a distraction from the truth that in contains.
A few weeks ago, I mused that the Song of Solomon (Song of Songs) might be best understood as a screenplay of sorts. Reading and meditating on it as such gave me new insights and a deeper appreciation of this often-overlooked book.
It seems that the book of Job is not dissimilar in this regard. It, too, could have been an early version of today’s screenplay.
In the book of Job, there are eight characters:
Job, the protagonist
God, Job’s protector and overseer
Satan, Job’s antagonist
Job’s unsupportive wife, a bit part, albeit a painful one
Job’s three “friends:” Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, (with friends like these, who needs enemies?)
Job’s fourth friend, the initially quiet and then verbose, Elihu.
The book of Job opens with a prologue (chapters 1 and 2) that establishes the setting of the story and concludes with an epilogue (chapter 42) that provides for a satisfying ending. In betwixt is all dialogue between Job and his four increasingly critical friends.
Aside from a brief ending summation by Job in the epilogue, the last oration is from God. It is fitting that God has the final word — and that Job listens.