An overview of Job
R. Catchpole, London
The title of the book is taken from the person whose experience it records. That Job was a historical figure is confirmed by later references to him in the scriptures. Ezekiel makes reference to Job alongside Noah and Samuel, the three men being commended for their righteousness, Ezek. 14. 14, 16, 20. In the New Testament, James refers to the ‘patience of Job’, Jas. 5. 11. Apart from those two passages, the only information we have about Job is the detail recorded in this book that bears his name.
In the Hebrew scriptures, the thirty-nine books of our Old Testament are divided into three groups, the Law, the prophets and the writings. The book of Job is placed in this third section of the Hebrew Bible, the third of three ‘poetical books’ the preceding two being Psalms and Proverbs. 1
Taking a broad survey of the five poetical books we might suggest:
- In the book of Job, we see the perplexity of suffering.
- In the book of Psalms, the praise of God.
- In the book of Proverbs, the wisdom borne of experience.
- In the book of Ecclesiastes, the vanity of life ‘under the sun’.
- In the Song of Solomon, the devotion of love.
J. Sidlow Baxter suggests that together the five books can be viewed as tracing a believer’s spiritual development and progress. ‘In the book of Job, the death of the self-life, through the fires of affliction and a new vision of God, Job is brought to an end of himself. In Psalms the new life in God expressing itself in praise and prayer. In Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, we are in God’s school. In Proverbs learning a heavenly and practical wisdom for life on earth. In Ecclesiastes we are taught not to set our affection on anything under the sun. The Song of Solomon symbolically expresses the sweet intimacy of communion with Christ in all the fullness of His love’. 2
The book of Job is generally acknowledged to be a literary masterpiece on account of the richness of its language, its use of similes and metaphors, and the mixture of prose and poetry, monologue and dialogue. 3
In reading the book we must bear in mind that Hebrew poetry is dependent upon literary structure and cadence rather than metre or rhythm. ‘Its basic structure is parallelism or thought arrangements rather than word arrangements’. 4
The book of Job is quoted twice in the New Testament, Rom. 11. 35; 1 Cor. 3. 19. But many themes introduced in the book are reflected and expanded in later portions of God’s word. The only New Testament Epistle to mention Job by name is the Epistle of James and the two books can be profitably studied together.
Many issues raised in the book of Job are answered in the New Testament. By way of example:
- Job’s wish for a ‘days-man’ that could intervene between himself and God has its answer in ‘the one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus’, Job. 9. 33; 1 Tim. 2. 5.
- The exhortation of Eliphaz, ‘Despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty’, and the reference that Elihu made to the chastening of God find an echo in the Hebrew Epistle. 5
- The questions of Zophar, ‘Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? Deeper than hell; what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea’ are answered in the Ephesian Epistle, Job 11. 7-19; Eph. 3. 17-19.
- ‘Job’s cry ‘Oh that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat!’ stands in contrast to the exhortation given to believers today, ‘Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need’, Job 23. 3; Heb. 4. 16.
The subject of the book
The book records the personal history and experiences of a godly man. It commences with a scene in heaven, where it is evident that not only has God’s eye been upon Job but Satan’s eye also. In response to God’s question, ‘Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth?’ Satan suggests the commendation was unjustified, that Job’s righteousness and devotion to God had never been subject to testing. Within his charge there is an assertion that Job only served God for the blessings he received, and if these were removed Job would quickly denounce God. In the permissive will of God, Satan is given liberty to prove his suggestion, and does all he can to undermine and destroy Job’s faith. All his efforts are defeated and after the opening two chapters he retires from the scene.
Hearing of Job’s plight, three ‘friends’ come to express their sympathy with him and offer solace. Shocked at his condition, they seek for an explanation, but only compound the difficulty. They came to comfort, but ended up condemning him, all three suggesting that great suffering is an evidence of great sin. Job recognizes that he is not sinless, but asserts he is no sinner to the degree they suggest. Throughout the long dialogue with his ‘friends’, Job adopts two positions. On one side, Job longs to reason with God, accusing Him of being too hard and stern in His ways with him. But, over against that, despite all he suffered, throughout the book Job displays implicit trust in God.
The three ‘friends’ were unable to account for Job’s sufferings, or to answer his charges against God. A younger man, Elihu, then joins the debate and suggests that suffering is not always to be linked to punishment for sin, but, often, is God’s way of chastening men with a view to their instruction and benefit.
Finally, God Himself answered Job, revealing His glory and total sovereignty in creation. The attitude of Job immediately changes. Enlightened by God’s manifestation, Job confesses his own unworthiness and his folly in seeking to reason with God.
The book concludes as it began with an account of Job’s blessings and God describing him as ‘my servant Job’.
The purpose of the book
We cannot do better than quote from a series of articles on Job by the late W. W. Fereday, ‘It is wonderful that God should devote so large a book to His dealings with one soul. The book of Esther, where the deliverance of a nation is in view, contains 167 verses, while the book of Job contains 1,071 verses. What comfort to our hearts to know that our God is interested in all our individual sorrows and exercises’. 6
From the book of Job, we learn:
- God is sovereign in His government of the world and in the life of His people.
- Satan is limited in what he can do, being subject to the permissive will of God.
- Satan seeks to undermine faith and must be resisted.
- Godly people are not exempt from suffering.
- Suffering is not necessarily because of sin.
- The inability of man’s wisdom to explain the sufferings of the righteous.
- Something of God’s ways in the chastening of His people.
- The Lord is full of pity and tender compassion.
- The ways of the Lord with His people culminate in the defeat of Satan, the righteous being vindicated and God glorified.
The plan of the book
- Introduction: ‘My servant Job’, 1. 1-5.
- Accusation: Job and Satan, 1. 6 – 2. 10.
- Disputation: Job and his friends, 2. 11 – 32. 1.
- Intervention: Job and Elihu, 32. 2 – 37. 24
- Revelation: Job and the Lord, 38. 1 – 42. 6.
- Conclusion: ‘My servant Job’, 42. 7-17.
The author and date of the book
The author and date of the book are unknown.
Broadly speaking, most commentators favour either Moses or Solomon to be the author. Moses because internal evidence suggests that Job lived in the time of the Patriarchs and there are striking similarities with the book of Genesis. Such suggest that the book of Job could have been the first book of the Bible to be written. Those who favour Solomon as the author draw attention to the similarities between the book of Job and the wisdom literature, namely Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. But whoever wrote the book and whenever it was written we know the author was divinely inspired and the book has a legitimate place in the canon of Holy Scripture.
That the author and time of writing are unknown imparts to the events of the book a particularly timeless character, a reminder that in every generation the righteous are not immune from suffering.
Several things suggest Job lived in the days of the patriarchs.
- The length of his life corresponds to that era. Following the events recorded in the book, Job lived for another 140 years, 42. 16. Since he had ten children before the trials came, and his sons were clearly adults, each with his own house, we might speculate that Job was around 200 years old when he died.
- In the presentation to God of ‘burnt offerings according to the number’ of his sons, Job acts in a priestly capacity as the head of the family, consistent with the pattern of patriarchal priesthood.
- Several events referred to in the book recall the early chapters of Genesis. For example, Eliphaz makes reference to the flood, 22. 15-17. Job in his initial outburst mentioned ‘kings, counsellors and princes’, 3. 14, 15. These offices only existed after the division into nations at Babel.
- There is an absence of any reference to the Exodus, the Law, the Levitical priesthood, the Tabernacle or the Feasts of Jehovah, all things connected with the ministry of Moses.
W. W. Fereday commented, ‘There is nothing of the pilgrim character noticeable in Job. It is recorded of Abraham and others that they “confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims in the earth . . . they desired a better country that is a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city”, Heb. 11. 8-16. Although Job has an honourable place in Ezekiel and James he has no place in Hebrews 11. The principle of separation which makes all who receive it strangers and pilgrims here, had not been introduced while God was dealing with His servant Job’. 7 There was no idolatry before the flood. This suggests that Job lived somewhere between the flood and the call of Abram.
[Selected from Beginnings, Volume 1 of the Old Testament Overview series published by Precious Seed Publications]
1 As found in the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures, there are twenty-four books not thirty-nine.
2 J. Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Bible: The Poetical Books. Quoted from an e-book.
3 R. B. Zuck, Everyman’s Bible Commentary, Job, Quoted from an e-book.
4 M. F. Unger, Bible Handbook, pg. 267. For a more detailed consideration of the various styles of Hebrew poetry see: W. Henderson, Old Testament Overview, Volume 6: Lessons for Life, Introduction to the poetic books, Precious Seed, 2015, pp. 9-14.
5 Job 5. 17; 33. 16-19; Heb. 12. 5-11.
6 W. W. Fereday, ‘Job and His Book’, Believer’s Magazine, March 1948, pp. 52-54.
7 W. W. Fereday, op. cit., pg. 29.