Job’s devotion to God is tested
By an unknown author
The Book of Job is considered one of the greatest literary works in history.
It reflects a familiar theme in ancient literature, namely, the problem of suffering, particularly unjust suffering.
If obedience to God leads to prosperity and if disobedience leads to adversity—the message of books such as Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges—then why does Job suffer?
After all, Job is considered one of the best and most righteous people of his day. Shouldn’t Job enjoy a blessed life?
As a result of such profound questions, the Book of Job is categorized as a book of wisdom. Based on the language and understanding of retribution in Job, many date the book in its current form to the sixth century B.C.
The Heavenly Debate
In spite of its placement in the Bible at the end of the historical books, the story of Job is set much earlier, perhaps as early as the Patriarchal period.
Set in the land of Uz, the book describes Job as a man whose righteousness and good deeds appear perfect yet who is tormented by God’s messenger, known as the Adversary (or “the Satan”).
This angelic accuser questions God before His celestial throne in an attempt to find the reason behind humanity’s devotion to God.
Unaware of the heavenly debate behind his suffering, Job and his friends heatedly discuss the reasons for Job’s pain.
Even after many appeals to ideas of divine retribution and the advice of the pious man Elihu, Job’s friends do not have a satisfactory answer to the troubling questions Job is persistently asking.
Finally God Himself addresses Job, but only after Job challenges Him to step forward and account for Himself.
Context For Reflection
But God’s answer is not unambiguous. Some reckon that God is chiding Job for questioning Him in the first place. Others figure that God’s response has more to do with the limits of human understanding.
In the end, God’s speech to Job appears to provide not so much an answer to the question of evil and suffering, but perhaps a context for reflection.
This, too, is the way of wisdom; for it results in a deeper understanding of God, the individual, and the world.
The lesson learned from this book is that God’s people must have unwavering faith in Him and never stray from respecting and honoring Him.
In the epilogue (Job 42:7–17), God rebukes Job’s friends for their unwise counsel and restores Job’s fortunes.
The dialogue between the Accuser and God is similar to what might be heard during a court case.
Job is a person of the utmost integrity; he is someone God highly respects as His servant.
Attacked by the Accuser in God’s heavenly court, Job’s actions are both supported and evaluated by God, who fills the roles of both Job’s Advocate and the Promoter of Justice.
Reflecting on his conception, Job wishes darkness and death could have prevailed over light and life on that day.
The one place that represents such darkness and death is called sheol. Job and his contemporaries believe all people go to sheol when they die. The Bible describes it as the very opposite of the heavens, a land of no return that is dark, dusty, and silent.
Certainly this is not the heaven or hell of the New Testament; it is neither a place of communion with God nor a place of torment. One’s comfort after death is not determined by where he goes, but by whom he is with.
The people of the Old Testament hope to “leave this world to sleep with their ancestors.” Such a fate is the reward of following God’s path in life.
The first of Job’s three wise friends, Eliphaz, is a man guided by strong convictions and a belief in the accumulated knowledge of his ancestors.
Because he thinks Job is suffering due to his own unintended sins, Eliphaz dwells on God’s responses to the wicked and the righteous, believing he will encourage Job to accept God’s correction of his sins.
Although his intentions are good, Eliphaz does not realize that Job will have a different perspective on his words. Eliphaz’s intended encouragement instead upsets Job more.
These powerful convictions are expressed in the wrong place and time.
It is possible to imagine God’s creation as fabric on a loom and God as a weaver.
The threads of the world are stretched out vertically on a large loom, creating the warp of the fabric; and God weaves the threads of our lives horizontally, pushing them back and forth quickly around the vertical threads with His shuttle, creating the weft of the fabric.
Job pictures his life ending when the thread runs out ( 7:6 ), but here he asks God to release His guidance on Job’s life and cut him away from this world prematurely.
To do so, God would cut across the warp, thus affecting all of creation and not just Job himself. Even though God does not grant Job’s wish, Job has no thought of suicide; he knows only God has the right to begin and end life.
Job compares his treatment to God’s defeat of two mythic enemies of creation: Yam and Tannin.
Ancient Near Eastern legends say that before God created the world, the “formless void” that existed was called “the deep.” When God separated the heavens from the earth, He divided the formless void with the horizon, leaving the waters of the earth below (the oceans) and the waters of the heavens above (the blue skies and clouds).
Yam the sea god and Tannin the sea monster tried to interfere in this separation. God of course defeated them, imprisoning them in the sea with sandbars.
Job’s reference to this myth shows he believes God is treating him unfairly, punishing him as brutally as He did these subhuman, rebellious creatures. Job, on the other hand, has not been rebellious to God.
Much like Eliphaz, Bildad believes people suffer as a result of their own sins. But his justification of that suffering is different. Bildad reasons that God is just; as God, He is justice personified. Because He is so perfectly just, God will not punish someone who is also just.
Bildad’s logical but flawed conclusion is that Job must have sinned to deserve his current pain.
Surprisingly, he manages to be even less effective than Eliphaz had been, alienating Job by reasoning that Job’s children must have sinned to deserve their deaths and implying that Job’s regular sacrifices on their behalf were not enough to save them.
Throughout the book, Job has very little to cling to besides a hope for the end of his current suffering.
Each of his three friends expounds on hope, drawing three similar but increasingly brutal conclusions.
- Eliphaz realizes Job is basically a righteous man, so he encourages Job to take hope in the person he already is; somehow his own righteousness will manage to save him.
- Bildad adds to Eliphaz’s conclusion, claiming that wicked men cannot hope; they are left with only despair.
- Zophar, the most unabashedly honest of the three men, believes hope exists only for the righteous; and since Job is obviously a sinful man, he is hopeless until he changes.
Fortunately, all three “wise” men are ultimately wrong. Hope is a product of trusting God and is not based on anyone’s actions, wicked or otherwise.
Genesis 6:1–4 tells the strange story of God’s own heavenly messengers procreating with beautiful human women.
Such a union was obviously forbidden, possibly because it endowed the children with eternal life, based on God’s response to the situation — limiting the lifespan of humans to 120 years.
As Job has revealed, these heavenly messengers are with God all the time. They do His bidding. No one could possibly know His rules better than they do or have more motivation to follow them, yet they still chose to disobey God.
Eliphaz’s point is clear: no human could possibly claim to be above the temptation to sin when God’s heavenly envoys are not.
Job in his despair and frustration responds as he and his friends have been taught by previous generations to display grief: by donning sackcloth and covering the head with dust to show devastation, as if everything has been lost even to the point of death.
Bildad sees the realm of death not just as a place of rest and waiting, but as a growing society ruled by a king.
Sheol always has room for more citizens and always wants more. Like an infant, this place — this firstborn of death — has a voracious appetite for the wicked.
And the infant’s father, the king of terrors, has many ways to provide for his child. His terrors are not nightmares or phobias or any other psychological device.
Instead, he rules over disaster, disease, and famine — anything that brings death. Through his vibrant imagery, Bildad explains that death is the ultimate fate of the wicked; he implies that Job cannot be evil because the terrors he has faced have not yet killed him.
Literally, a redeemer “buys back” something that was taken away.
In the Old Testament, kinsmen-redeemers are men who buy their relatives out of slavery, buy family property back from creditors, or marry their brothers’ widows to save the women from destitution.
What is it that Job needs returned to him? Acknowledgment of his innocence and a renewed life.
Because all of his family and friends have abandoned him, Job is trusting in his plea to God. As he did in chapter 16, Job is personifying his words and hoping in the redemptive power of his own argument.
Many millennia later, Christians do not have to trust in their own actions or persuasive reasoning to save their lives. Jesus redeemed all when He died on the cross — trading Himself to buy back our lives. He is the ultimate Redeemer.
Throughout the Bible, God is called by many names. One of the most frequent in the Old Testament, Shaddai, was a favorite name of God for patriarchs such as Abraham and Moses.
Based on the etymology of the name, many suggest Abraham brought that epithet with him from Mesopotamia, so it is logical that Job (another patriarch from outside of Israel) could often refer to Him the same way.
El Shaddai, which translates to “God of my mountain” or possibly “God of might,” aptly describes many characteristics of God. He is strong and high above everything, just like the heights of a mountain. He is a protector, just like the rocky crags in the side of a cliff.
And certainly God associates Himself with mountain ranges — having Abraham bind Isaac on Mount Moriah, giving the Israelites the law from Mount Sinai, and placing His sacred temple on Mount Zion.
Whether speaking to humanity from the top of a mountain or the heights of heaven, the Lord is certainly the Highest One; no one is above Him.
This passage is challenging to translate because it appears to have Job arguing against his previous convictions by claiming the wicked do suffer, which fits better with Zophar’s philosophy.
But that textual difficulty offers two possible explanations of Job’s apparent dual arguments.
First, it is possible to read these verses as if Job is quoting his friends; he is not adopting this theology, but mocking his friends who do.
Second, Job may be cursing the wicked, wishing these evil things would happen to them.
The Greek version of the text, called the Septuagint, provides the second translation of this passage.
Regardless of who said it and how, this passage describes the possible pitfalls of evil actions.
Thanks to commonly known Greek and Roman mythologies, it is not difficult to imagine what “the land of the dead” or sheol may be.
But what is this place of “destruction,” known in Hebrew as abaddon?
The Hebrew word comes from a verb that means “to become lost,” and abaddon is usually mentioned in the Old Testament in conjunction with the land of the dead, the grave, or death itself — places lost to the living world.
In the New Testament Book of Revelation, abaddon is personified as the “messenger of the abyss” ( 9:11) who rules the locusts — horrible creatures that torture any living thing.
Based on these clues, abaddon may be thought of as a place for the dead (like here in Job) or as death personified (like in Revelation) that decimates everything around it or commands the destruction of everything it sees, a primitive creature living in its own chaos where no one would ever want to visit and wreaking havoc wherever it goes outside its home.
Proverbs 1:20–33 and 8:3–36 give the best articulated picture of wisdom in the Bible. Personified there as Lady Wisdom, this character was created by God long before His creation of the world — which she then aided in.
After creation, she wanted nothing more than to be with humanity and help them to have full, truthful lives; but here Job explains that wisdom is now hidden.
Certainly God knows where she is, although He isn’t telling; but humans have a better chance of finding immeasurable wealth than of attaining wisdom.
This is because she is only found on one road, and that’s the God-fearing road of piety. In order to find wisdom, one must allow God to direct him there; and ironically, the knowledge that God must direct lives is wisdom itself!
In this speech, Job is actually recording his deposition; he is calling God to come answer the charges he is laying out. Using a rigid format, Job explains away eight areas of potential sin in his life.
So certain is Job that he is innocent of wickedness, he actually pronounces curses upon himself if the all-knowing God finds him guilty of any of the sins.
This ethereal courtroom procedure would be like any human going to a court to explain how he did not violate the law of the land and prefacing his testimony with a proposed sentence of the death penalty if the judgment goes against him.
Job will soon learn that it is never appropriate to assume he knows more about justice than God, the very author of justice.
Due to the abundance of grapes and the absence of refrigeration, wine was a staple drink in the ancient Near East. The process of making wine was basically the same one used today, although the equipment was different. Grapes were grown, gathered, pressed, fermented, and stored.
For the fermentation process, wineskins (usually made of goat hide) were used instead of today’s barrels. Wineskins were the perfect choice because they could expand as the grape juice released its gases during the fermentation process, much as the human stomach expands as it digests food, as Elihu points out.
It was imperative that new wineskins were used for each batch of wine because each skin could only expand so far; a second round of fermentation in an old skin would rupture the skin and spill the wine — a truth Jesus makes famous in Luke 5:37.
After fermentation, the wine was stored in amphora jars with vented tops, so any gases could be released and the wine still be contained or even transported.
In his first speech to Job, Elihu has been a cowboy, brazenly calling Job out for his blasphemous words about God. He has not exactly condemned Job as a wicked man; he has condemned Job for his reaction to his suffering and to God.
This is unprecedented behavior, since a younger man would never contradict an elder, especially in the presence of other elders. Possibly realizing how disrespectfully he has been acting, and certainly noticing that Job isn’t responding well to his arguments, Elihu begins this second speech with a new approach.
He tries to gain the support of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. Maybe if other elders are on his side, Elihu can make Job understand that it is wrong to question God, the very Creator of justice.
The discussion has included many references to nature and weather. Maybe it has been spoken in the midst of a storm and as a clap of thunder sounds overhead, startling all five of the men.
Elihu picks up the conversation again with renewed vigor, possibly gesturing toward the sky as he speaks about the storm of life in which Job is caught.
Weather, controlled by the Creator
For the patriarchs, there is really no greater mystery in the natural world than the weather.
- What keeps the rain up in the sky, or what makes it fall to the earth?
- Why does water sometimes freeze and sometimes dry up?
- What is lightning and thunder?
Weather impacts every part of their lives, determining whether or not they can farm and pasture animals, where they can live, and if they can live. Since none of these questions can be answered with scientific explanations yet, societies invent gods whom they think control it all.
Ancient people hope that by doing or saying the right thing, they can convince the god to send rain when it is needed or stop the damaging hail before their roofs cave in. These pagan worshipers aren’t too far off in their thinking; they just have the wrong god. The Lord’s followers have the answer right in believing He controls it all.
When they look at the weather, they see God’s power. As God will expound upon Himself shortly, the One who controls the weather is the One who created it.
He put order in the cosmos, although humans may not always understand its order, just as He organized everything else. God, who has perfect understanding and unimaginable power, cannot be comprehended with the human mind and should not be questioned by the likes of Job.
Behemoth isn’t just any beast. Because of the Hebrew grammatical construction, it is apparent that Behemoth is the largest, strongest beast the Lord ever created. With the exception of his dreadful size and strength, Behemoth’s description seems to be one of a peaceful animal — hanging out by the river and chewing its cud.
Ancient Jewish myth describes him otherwise: the primal land monster will one day fight against the primal sea monster, Leviathan, bringing chaos; their deaths will end the world. This legend may be the backdrop of Behemoth’s description here, and some see it obliquely referenced in the New Testament.
In Revelation the beast who is the antichrist is accompanied by the false prophet; but Leviathan isn’t the one who kills Behemoth, or the false prophet as some see him. God throws the false prophet and the antichrist into the “lake of fire that burns with sulfur” (Revelation 19:20; 20:10).
In modern times, a leviathan is understood as something large and formidable. It may apply to an abstract entity, such as a totalitarian state, or to an actual monster, such as Captain Nemo’s giant squid.
That modern idea is based on an ancient creation myth. Psalm 74 alludes to God’s conquest of Leviathan, a seven-headed monster that breathed fire, before His creation of the world.
Leviathan was the master of chaos, living somewhere in the deep along with Rahab, another sea monster. The story goes that God chopped off six of Leviathan’s heads and imprisoned it in the deepest parts of the ocean, where it remains today.
Leviathan creeps up occasionally in the Bible as a terrifying adversary, most notably in Revelation where it is described as a dragon or beast that comes up out of the sea and is specifically identified as Satan ( Revelation 12:9; 13:1-3 ).
So Leviathan will get another chance to fight God, but once again it will fall to the One who brought divine order to chaos.