Job had a problem: He was good and he knew it. In fact, he was known far and wide for being exceedingly rich, fair, merciful, and generous. That’s not usually considered a problem, which really is the problem. When our good becomes acceptable, God becomes insignificant. We were never meant to set the standard for excellence.
(If you don’t consider yourself to be a good person, then you can stop reading now. This isn’t for you. “Bad” people don’t have this problem.)
The book of Job is particularly important because it is very old and very well written. I agree with those who place it between Abraham and Moses. That would make it between the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Iliad, which are filled with war, mythology, and crude conduct, both on the part of men and of gods. Although Job’s estate was pillaged by marauding bands, he and his friends were committed to a remarkably high level of morality, reminding us of the Code of Hammurabi, which was probably written close to the same time. Moreover, God’s integrity is impeccable in the book of Job, in sharp contrast to the mythological gods. In other words, the book of Job describes a moral civilization living in the midst of less moral civilizations.
Job’s story is not about suffering, as it seems at first, but about goodness, especially God’s goodness. The idea of suffering comes in because Job thinks he’s so good that it’s not fair for God to allow him to suffer. He wishes that he could find God and argue his case. Then God would realize that He made a mistake.
“Oh, that I knew where I might find him…
Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
No; he would pay attention to me.
There an upright man could argue with him,
And I would be acquitted forever by my judge.” (Job 23:3,6,7)
Job was aware of the concept of a Redeemer who will return to the earth in the Last Days and give him life after death.
“For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,” (Job 19:25,26)
This is an amazingly complex understanding of goodness for such an ancient document. According to what is written in this book, Job understood that sacrifices were somehow tied to a single person who would redeem him, or pay for his guiltiness, in order for him to be good enough to see God face to face. Like many of us, Job had a head knowledge of redemption, but he stubbornly resisted admitting his personal need. Although I don’t want to be guilty of projecting New Testament doctrine on the Old Testament, I find it hard not to see this as Job’s personal conversion experience.
“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
But now my eye sees you;
Therefore I despise myself,
And repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5,6)
I don’t know if there is a better message in history of God’s goodness until the story of the New Testament Redeemer. Merry Christmas!
The central topic of Job is Why do the righteous suffer. Scripture says he was blameless and upright, had to be, as explained throughout scripture, due to faith, no other way possible. Job’s friends claimed that there must be some sin. What friends. Talk about kicking someone when they are down! So now Poor, sick Job had to “speak what is right about God” as he lay there in the ashes. Basically, his “friends “ did not speak “what is right “ about God as Job did. The real scary part is Elihu, who was more accurate theologically, but claimed that we can’t know God. We have no record of God ever speaking to him, (matching his theological expectations.) And, as to the big question, Why do the righteous suffer, except for the little heavenly realm vignette, there is no reason given. But one thing we know for certain, God is good through and through.
Thanks so much for some great and accurate remarks, Frank. It’s true that suffering is the obvious topic of discussion, but it may not be the purpose of the book. In “The Remarkable Record of Job”, Henry Morris says, “Unfortunately, many expositors maintain that the main theme in Job is the mystery of suffering: ‘Why do the righteous suffer?’… But it is not the major theme of the Book of Job.” (p. 21-22). As Morris explains, God gives a 4-chapter monologue and never discusses suffering. The human condition is only part of the picture. I believe that Job is a Gospel narrative written in the vocabulary and culture of Abraham. The theme, as I see it, is God’s greatness and goodness and mercy. What makes it so remarkable is the contrast between Job’s God and the gods of the Greeks, Mycenaeans, Egyptians, and Babylonians.
Yes, Obviously the purpose of every book in the Bible is to portray the greatness and ultimate goodness and mercy of God. But it arrives at this conclusion with a very lengthy and in-depth discussion, (debate) between Job and his “friends”. They are largely telling this man, who the Bible claims is “blameless and upright”, (by all scriptural logic demanding that he must have had faith in God to be so, faith being the only way we can be declared blameless and upright by God) that he is suffering because he has done something wrong, or sinful. This lasts for 36 chapters of the total 42, 85+% of the book. Granted, the book never tells why the righteous suffer, other than the scenes with Satan at the beginning of Job, but it definitely disposes of the natural notion that if someone suffers, it is for wrongs they have done. Job trusted God. God knew that Job was “His” and that he worshiped God for the right reasons, not just because he was healthy and wealthy, crazy wealthy. One of the great side themes of Job, as shown by the real estate it consumes in the book of Job, is a warning to not be like Job’s friends. They build their attack, ultimately joining Satan as junior “accusers of the brethren”. Fortunately at the end of the book, God gives us His account of their discussions so that we know that the three friends “did not speak rightly about Me (God) as my servant Job has”. His friends did so well– until they opened their mouths. And as I mentioned earlier, the big stinger in this whole plot is the enigma of Elihu, who, although his theology was more accurate than the three friends (as I read it), twice told us how we could not ever hope to know God, and as such, we have no record of God ever speaking to him or about him. It is as though He ignores Elihu. Elihu had good head knowledge, hopefully more, but not necessarily so (as we read in Job), so a warning to us all, one of the biggest warnings in the entire book. At least God disciplined the three friends, a huge comfort in itself. And yes, as you say, when the book of Job has disposed of typical faulty notions of “kharma -like” reasons for suffering (especially, specifically among the “upright”) it contains some of the most amazing and beautiful expositions of the grandeur, greatness, ultimate goodness and mercy of God, especially when contrast to every other faulty construct of false god or gods throughout history, even today. God knew Job! Staggeringly relevant and devastatingly insightful.
That’s fascinating. I think we should meet and visit more about it. Two thoughts: Job is like the OT version of the temptation of Jesus. Jesus passed but Job fails. Much to talk about there. Secondly, I think that if you assume that Job was “saved” in the beginning because God calls him upright, you have problems later on. Much to talk about there too. I think that Job and his three friends were arguing that man’s goodness can save him, but Elihu said they were all wrong and spoke of a righteousness that can only be attributed by God. Job repented and interceded for his pharasaical friends. I’d like to discuss that with you. Good stuff!