Book of Job
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The Book of Job (איוב) is one of the books of the Hebrew Bible, describing the trials of a righteous man whom God has caused to suffer. The bulk of the 42-chapter book is a dialogue between Job and his three friends concerning the problem of evil and the justice of God, in which Job insists on his innocence and his friends insist on God's justice.
The Book of Job has been called the most difficult book of the Bible and one of the noblest books in all of literature. Alfred Lord Tennyson called it "the greatest poem of ancient or modern times." Scholars are divided as to the origin, intent, and meaning of the book. Debates also discuss whether the current prologue and epilogue of Job were originally included, or were added later to provide an appropriate theological context for the philosophically challenging dialogue. Numerous modern commentaries on the book address the issue of theodicy, or God's relationship to evil.
Job, a man of great wealth living in the Land of Uz, is described by the narrator as an exemplary person of righteousness. God Himself says there is no one like him, declaring him to be "blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." (1:2) Job has seven sons and three daughters and is respected by all people on both sides of the Euphrates.
One day, the angels—among them Satan—present themselves to God, who boasts of Job's goodness. Satan replies that Job is only good because God blesses and protects him. "Stretch out your hand and strike everything he has," Satan declares, "and he will surely curse you to your face."
God takes Satan up on the wager and permits him to put the virtue of Job to the test. God gives Satan power over the Job's property, his slaves, and even his children. Satan then destroys all of Job's riches, his livestock, his house, his servants, and all of his sons and daughters, who are slain in a seemingly natural disaster.
Job mourns dramatically at these horrible misfortunes. He rends his clothes, shaves his head. But he refuses to criticize God, saying, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord." (1:20-22)
Satan then solicits God's permission to afflict Job's person as well, and God says, "Behold he is in your hand, but don’t touch his life." Satan smites Job with dreadful boils, so that Job can do nothing but sit in pain all day. Job becomes the picture of dejection as he sits on an ash pile, scraping away dead skin from his body with a shard of pottery. His wife even advises him: "curse God, and die." But Job answers, "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" (2:9-10)
Soon, three of Job's friends come to visit him in his misfortune—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. A fourth, the younger man Elihu the Buzite, joins the dialogue later. The three friends spend a week sitting on the ground with Job, without speaking, until Job at last breaks his silence. When he does so, his attitude has changed dramatically. Now apparently in touch with his deeper feelings, Job no longer blesses God or pretends to accept his fate without complaint. Instead, "Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth."
- Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?
- For sighing comes to me instead of food; my groans pour out like water.
- What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. (3:23-25)
Job's friend Eliphaz responds to Job's expression of his anguish with pious proverbs. He harshly scolds Job for not realizing that God is merely chastising him for his sin: "Blessed is the man whom God corrects," Eliphaz reminds Job, "so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty." (5:17)
Job, however, insists on what we have already been told: he has done no wrong, and yet, "The arrows of the Almighty are in me, my spirit drinks in their poison; God's terrors are marshaled against me." (6:4)
Bildad the Shuhite enters the argument at this point in defense of God. "Your words are a blustering wind," he chides the miserable Job. "Does God pervert justice? Does the Almighty pervert what is right?" Job is quick to agree that God is indeed all-powerful. This is one point on which all the dialog partners are unanimous. "He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion," declares Job, "the Pleiades and the constellations of the south. He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted." (9:9-10)
Where Job differs from his companions is on the question of God's absolute goodness and justice. His friends claim that God always rewards the good and punishes the evil, but Job knows from his own experience that it is not that simple. "He destroys both the blameless and the wicked," Job insists. "When a scourge brings sudden death, he mocks the despair of the innocent. When a land falls into the hands of the wicked, he blindfolds its judges. If it is not he, then who is it?" (9:22-24)
Next, Zophar the Naamathite enters the discussion. He argues that it is not God who mocks the innocent, but Job who mocks God by maintaining his own innocence. Zophar urges Job to admit his error and repent. "If you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent," he counsels, "then you will lift up your face without shame; you will stand firm and without fear." But Job refuses to admit he is guilty when he knows he is not, demanding: "I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God." (13:3)
The debate continues through several more rounds. Job's friends attempt to convince him that he must be wrong, for God would not punish an innocent man. Job insists on his integrity, demonstrates his good character and works, and argues that God has done him a grave injustice. Both Job and his friends express God's attributes of power and sovereignty in majestic, poetic images that rank among the greatest in all of literature. But they remain at loggerheads as to whether God has done right to cause Job to suffer.
Despite his frequent complaint that God has treated him wrongly, Job does not entirely give up hope. "Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him," he says. (13:15) Indeed, he longs for God to appear and deal with him:
- Now that I have prepared my case, I know I will be vindicated…
- Then summon me and I will answer, or let me speak, and you reply.
- How many wrongs and sins have I committed? Show me my offense and my sin.
- Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy? (13:19-24)
Job ends his words by examining his life and finding no sin it, despite his friends arguments to the contrary: "I sign now my defense, he declares, "let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing." (31:35)
After this, the relatively young Elihu, who has not been previously introduced, delivers a long speech, uninterrupted, for six chapters (32-37). (Many believe Elihu's speech is a later addition, inserted between Job's final declaration and God's response, which naturally follows immediately after Job's words are finished.) Elihu becomes "very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God." But he is also angry with the three friends, "because they had found no way to refute Job." Speaking with the confidence of youth, Elihu claims for himself a prophet's wisdom and condemns all of those who have spoken previously. In his defense of God, however, he seems to offer little new, echoing Job's other friends in declaring, "It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice." What is novel in Elihu's approach is that it underscores the idea that Job's position is flawed because Job presumes that human moral standards can be imposed upon God. In Elihu's opinion, therefore, "Job opens his mouth with empty talk; without knowledge he multiplies words."
In the thirty-eighth chapter of the Book of Job, God finally breaks His silence. Dramatically speaking to Job from a whirlwind, Yahweh declares His absolute power and sovereignty over the the entire creation, including specifically Job. He does not directly accuse Job of sin, nor does he blame Satan for Job's ills. However, God makes certain that Job understands his place, asking: "Do you have an arm like God's, and can your voice thunder like his?" In almost sarcastic tones, God demands:
- Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand.
- Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
- Who stretched a measuring line across it?
- On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—
- While the morning stars sang together
- and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (38:4-7)
God describes in detail the remarkable creatures that He created along with Job, in a world filled with both majesty and violence. "Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of the lions when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket?" he asks (38:39-40). God thus assumes complete responsibility for what the philosophers call "natural evil." Even mythical monsters are His to command:
- Can you pull in the Leviathan with a fishhook
- or tie down his tongue with a rope?…
- No one is fierce enough to rouse him.
- Who then is able to stand against me?
- Who has a claim against me that I must pay?
- Everything under heaven belongs to me. (41:1-11)
Job's reply and epilogue
Whatever the merits of God's arguments, His mere presence and authority are enough to transform Job. "My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you," Job admits. "Therefore I despise (myself) and repent in dust and ashes." (42:6)
Yet, surprisingly, God sides with Job and condemns his three friends because "you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has." (42:7) God appoints Job as their priest, commanding each of them to bring Job seven bulls and seven rams to him as a burnt offering. Soon, God restores Job completely, giving him double the riches he before possessed, including ten new children to replace those Satan had earlier murdered under God's authority. Job's daughters are the most beautiful in the land, and are given inheritance while Job is still alive. Job is crowned with a long and happy life and, 140 years after his trials, "died, old and full of years."
Job and the problem of Evil
The basic theme of the Book of Job is the question of theodicy: how does God relate to the reality of evil? While there are several ways to deal with this crucial philosophical problem, Job focuses on only two basic possibilities. Since all parties in the dialog affirm that God is all-powerful, either God must be just, or He must not be just. The book does not deal with the possibility that God does not exist or that God is not all-powerful.
In the end, the basic question of God's justice is not clearly answered. God simply appears and asserts His absolute power and sovereignty, and Job repents. One would think from this outcome that Job's fiends were in the right: Job had sinned, and only the appearance of God brings him to the admission of this. Yet God affirms quite the opposite, namely that Job has spoken "what is right concerning me," while Job's friends have spoken wrongly. Whether intentionally or not, this resolution is a brilliant literary device, for rather than answering the issue for the reader, it serves to make the book's essential paradox more intense. God is clearly all-powerful, but still righteous men suffer. Job repents when he finally confronts God, and yet Job has spoken "what is right" in questioning God's justice.
The framing story complicates the book further: in the introductory section, God allows Satan to inflict misery on the righteous Job and his family. The conclusion has God restoring Job to wealth and granting him new children, in what some critics describe as a half-chapter "fairy-tale ending" to a long theological dialogue that rivals even Plato for its length and depth. But does a parent ever forget the pain of lost children? How God could test a righteous man so unjustly remains a subject of intense debate to this day.
It should also be noted that while the traditional Christian perspective affirms the prologue's character, Satan, to be the Devil, he is actually presented here as "the satan" (ha-satan, 'the adversary'). "Satan" thus does not seem to be a personal name. Moreover, he appears not as the adversary of God, but of man. Indeed, Satan is actually God's agent, employed by Him to test Job's faith.
Job is one of the most discussed books in all of literature. Among the well-known works devoted to its exegesis are:
- Carl Jung, Answer to Job—A psychological analysis affirming that the ultimate archetype of God embraces both good and evil.
- C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain—A Catholic viewpoint affirming that human suffering is part of God's plan to enable us to more fully resemble Him
- Gustavo Gutierrez, On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent—An exegesis from the standpoint of liberation theology in which the character of Job sets the pattern for honest theological reflection concerning the problem of human suffering
- Harold Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People—A contemporary Jewish analysis raising the possibility that God is not all-powerful after all.
Alfred Lord Tennyson called the Book of Job "the greatest poem of ancient or modern times."
The 'faith of Job'
Despite its theological challenge to God's justice, certain sections of the Book of Job have become extremely important to traditional religious teachings. Preachers, seeming to ignore Job's oft-repeated complaints throughout the dialog portion of the book, frequently point to Job as an exemplary man of faith, who refuses to curse God even after he has lost his wealth, his possessions, and his children.
- I know that my Redeemer lives,
- and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
- And after my skin has been destroyed,
- yet in my flesh I will see God. (19:25-26)
The Book of Job is clearly in the category of Wisdom Literature, along with Psalms and Proverbs. However, it rejects the simplistic moralistic formula of most of these writings, grappling with the problem of evil and suffering in a manner more akin to the Book of Ecclesiastes. Most modern scholars place its writing around the time of the Babylonian exile.
Traditionally, the Talmud (Tractate Bava Basra 15a-b) maintains that the Book of Job was written by Moses. However, there is a minority view among the rabbis that says Job never existed (Midrash Genesis Rabbah 67; Talmud Bavli: Bava Batra 15a). In this view, Job was a literary creation by a prophet to convey a divine message or parable. On the other hand, the Talmud (in Tractate Baba Batra 15a-16b) goes to great lengths trying to ascertain when Job actually lived, citing many opinions and interpretations by the leading rabbinical sages.
Whatever the story's origins, the land of Edom, has been retained as the background. Some of the rabbis therefore affirm Job was one of several Gentile prophets who taught Yahweh's ways to non-Israelites.
The Sumerian text Ludlul Bêl Nimeqi, also known as the Babylonian Job, (c. 1700 B.C.E.) is thought by many scholars to have influenced the Book of Job. It is the lament of a deeply pious man troubled by the world's evil and yet unable to obtain and answer from his deities. A typical verse resonates with Job's sentiments entirely:
- What in one's heart is contemptible, to one's God is good!
- Who can understand the thoughts of the gods in heaven?
- The counsel of God is full of destruction; who can understand?
- Where may human beings learn the ways of God?
- He who lives at evening is dead in the morning (v. 35)
Various additions are thought to have been made to the current text of Job. For example, the speech of Elihu (Chapters 32-37), is thought by many to be a later addition, inserted between Job's resting his case and God's answer to him.
The prologue and epilogue are also thought to have been added by a later editor to provide a more acceptable context for the theologically disturbing dialog. The prologue is meant to show that Job's suffering is merely a test provoked by Satan rather than an unjust punishment from God, as the dialog suggests. The epilogue provides a happy ending in which Job lives happily ever after with his wife and a new set of children. This final chapter is seen by many literary critics as analogous to Walt Disney's "happily ever after" solution to the originally more troubling endings of some of his fairy tales.
A debate also exists over the proper interpretation of the last line that Job speaks (42:6). Traditional translations have him say, "Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes." The word "myself," however, does not appear in the Hebrew. Some argue that in the context of Job's story and character, what he despises may not be himself, but his life; and his "repentance" in dust and ashes refers to his continued mourning the day of his birth, which he has been doing quite literally throughout the dialogue. ''Young's Literal Translation'' gives the verse as: "Therefore do I loathe [it], And I have repented on dust and ashes."
The Testament of Job, a book found in the Pseudepigrapha, has a parallel account to the narrative to the Book of Job. It contains legendary details such as the fate of Job's wife, the inheritance of Job's daughters, and the ancestry of Job. In addition, Satan's hatred of Job is explained on the basis of Job's having previously destroyed an idolatrous temple, and Job is portrayed in a much more heroic and traditionally faithful vein.
- Ludlul Bêl Nimeqi www.fordham.edu. Retrieved July 10, 2007.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Eby, Lloyd. “The Problem of Evil and the Goodness of God.” in Antony J. Guerra, ed., Unification Theology in Comparative Perspectives. Unification Theological Seminary, 1988.
- Farrer, Austin. Love Almighty and Ills Unlimited. Collins Press, 1962. ASIN: B000M1AUIO
- Hartshorne, Charles. Omnipotence and other Theological Mistakes. New York: The State University of New York Press, 1984. ISBN 9780873957717
- Gutierrez, Gustavo. On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent. Orbis Books, 1987. ISBN 9780883445525
- Jung, Carl G. Answer to Job. London, UK: Routledge, 2002. ISBN 9780415289979
- Kushner, Harold. When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Anchor; Reprint edition, 2004. ISBN 9781400034727
- Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain. HarperSanFrancisco; New Ed edition, 2001. ISBN 9780060652968
- Reardon, Henry. The Trial of Job: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Job. Conciliar Press, 2005. ISBN 978-1888212723
All links retrieved November 18, 2023.
- Judaica Press Complete Tanach: Job translation with Rashi's commentary Chabad.org.
- Book of Job www.jewishencyclopedia.com.
- The Catholic Encyclopedia Job. www.newadvent.org.
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