The Background of Job
Author and Date
The unknown Israelite author of this book presents Job as a person living in Uz (see note on Job 1:1). Job’s godliness (Job 1:1) matches the ideals of Israelite wisdom literature. He clearly knows Yahweh (Job 1:21). The events of the book seem to be set in the times of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob).
The book of Job concerns itself with the question of faith in a sovereign God. Can God be trusted? Is he good and just in his rule of the world? The book shows that the reasons for human suffering often remain a secret to human beings.
In the book of Job, God seems both too close and too far away. On the one hand, Job complains that God is watching him every moment so that he cannot even swallow his spit (Job 7:19). On the other hand, Job finds God elusive (Job 9:11). Though God is greatly concerned about humans, he does not always answer their most agonizing questions.
At the same time, Job’s friends offer no real help. They come to “comfort” him (Job 2:11), but Job ends up declaring them “miserable comforters” who would console him “with empty nothings” (Job 21:34). These friends represent an oversimplified view of faith. They think that all human troubles are divine punishments for wrongdoing. Their “comfort” consists largely of urging Job to identify his sin and repent of it. These friends are negative examples of how to comfort those who are suffering.
The book illustrates that one does not need to fully understand God’s will in order to be faithful while suffering. Those who suffer need not be afraid to express to God their confusion and questions.
The book of Job was written to those who struggle with the question of how God can be good when the world is filled with suffering.
The author does not provide a formal defense of God’s justice. Rather, as Job’s friends offer their inadequate answers, the author shows how their reasoning fails. Then, in ch. 38–41, the Lord speaks in his own defense, bringing Job to fuller understanding (ch. 42).
Even during his suffering and confusion, before God finally speaks, Job can triumphantly declare, “I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25).
I. Prologue: Job’s Character and the Circumstances of His Test (1:1–2:13)
II. Dialogue: Job, His Suffering, and His Standing before God (3:1–42:6)
A. Job: despair for the day of his birth (3:1–26)
B. The friends and Job: can Job be right before God? (4:1–25:6)
1. First cycle (4:1–14:22)
2. Second cycle (15:1–21:34)
3. Third cycle (22:1–25:6)
C. Job: the power of God, place of wisdom, and path of integrity (26:1–31:40)
D. Elihu: suffering as a discipline (32:1–37:24)
E. Challenge: the Lord answers Job (38:1–42:6)
III. Epilogue: The Vindication, Intercession, and Restoration of Job (42:7–17)
The Global Message of Job
With its story of one man’s life and suffering, the book of Job raises universal questions. Why do people suffer, especially godly people? Where is God in suffering? Can God be trusted amid suffering? Job’s friends try to answer such questions with superficial and simplistic solutions, eventually earning God’s rebuke (Job 42:7–9).
Ultimately we learn from Job that we can hope steadfastly in our sovereign God. Instead of providing easy answers to hard questions, this incomparably glorious, all-knowing, and almighty God presents to people in all places and in all times the simplest, most powerful, and most universal answer to these questions. God’s answer to human suffering has everything to do with his own infinite goodness and care for his creation.
Suffering in a Fallen World
In the life of Job we see the breadth and depth of human suffering. We see suffering in health (Job 2:7), suffering in the loss of property (Job 1:14–17), and suffering in the tragic death of family members (Job 1:18–19). In Job we also listen in on a discussion in the heavenly courtroom between God and Satan (Job 1:6–12; 2:1–7), in which God delights in the upright life of Job. There we are given a window into the normally invisible reasons for our trials and suffering.
Sin and Suffering
Suffering is universal, though the kind of suffering differs from circumstance to circumstance. Sometimes we suffer because of our own sin. There is no such thing as sin without consequences. Sometimes God himself directly chastises his people for their sins. However, Job’s friends are wrong to assume that his suffering is a direct result of disobedience (Job 8:4), and it would likewise be wrong to conclude that all or even most suffering in the world today is divine punishment for specific sins. The speeches of Eliphaz (ch. 4; 5; 15; 22), Bildad (ch. 8; 18; 25), and Zophar (ch. 11; 20) reflect such wrong assumptions.
Another type of suffering is what we might call “common suffering.” This is suffering that affects all people without distinction. It is simply the result of living in a fallen world. It includes health problems from colds to cancer. It includes bad weather, earthquakes, and typhoons. It includes financial struggles, and even death itself. Each tragic incident in Job’s life includes an element of this common suffering.
Godliness and Suffering
Not only are godly people afflicted with suffering just as others are, but the godly experience some kinds of suffering due specifically to their godliness (Matthew 10:24–33; Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12). Faithfulness to Christ will bring insult and at times persecution— suffering that could be avoided if we were not disciples of Christ. We see this principle in Job, for it was precisely Job’s uprightness that prompted God to single him out to Satan and then led Satan to seek to afflict him (Job 1:8–12).
Job’s suffering is uniquely profound and painful. Some suffering, we learn, defies any category. We discover in Job that Satan has a hand in some of the suffering of God’s people (Job 1:6–12; 2:1–7; compare 2 Corinthians 12:1–10). But even such demonically instigated suffering is not outside of God’s sovereignty. Nor should our focus be on Satan when we suffer but rather on persisting in steadfast faith amid such God-ordained pain. At the very least a lesson to be learned from Job is that our vision and insight into suffering is severely limited. What is not limited, however, is God’s perfect understanding and sovereign control over every event in our lives. In the “Yahweh speeches” of Job (ch. 38–41), God does not engage Job in the details of his questions and complaints. Rather, God reminds Job that God is God and Job is not. God laid the foundation of the earth (Job 38:4); he is God over the seas (Job 38:8, 16), over the stars (Job 38:31–33), and over every creature (Job 39:1–30; 40:15–41:34).
A Global Message of Comfort and Hope
The Almighty, All-Good God
Despite its focus on challenges and sufferings, the book of Job speaks a message of great hope to the world. We live in a world longing for comfort and hope, and such hope is found in the sovereign God who sees, who is good, and who is faithful. We are not victims of random fate or uncontrolled circumstances. We are loved faithfully and passionately by a sovereign God who works all things for our good (Romans 8:28). The suffering global church can take comfort amid suffering, knowing that God is pleased with our faithfulness to him, even as God expressed delight in “my servant Job” (Job 1:6–8; 2:3). James 5:11 reminds us that God will fulfill his good purposes and is indeed compassionate and merciful toward his people.
No Neat Formulas
Living an upright life of faith in God does not exempt us from suffering. This was the fundamental misunderstanding of Job’s friends (Job 8:6) and the reason that their “comfort” was so “miserable” (Job 16:2). Indeed, in Job and in all of Scripture we see that suffering is a part of the experience of godly people, and that suffering is also a means for our sanctification. Suffering is a blessing as through it we learn that God’s ways and purposes are much greater than we can know (ch. 40–41). His purposes and faithfulness are much greater than the achievement of ease and a comfortable life; the global church must not make an idol out of worldly comfort and earthly abundance.
The Sufferings of the Savior
Job confessed faith in the living Redeemer (Job 19:25). That Redeemer would one day come and suffer for us on a cross. Here we have yet another kind of suffering, the atoning sufferings of Christ. He suffered for our salvation, bearing the penalty for our sin. It is also our great privilege to share in his suffering (2 Corinthians 1:5; 2 Timothy 1:8; 2:3; 1 Peter 4:13). These are not the sufferings of health problems or bad weather or the consequences of our own folly. These are sufferings that flow from our union with and loyalty to Christ. There is a global attack on the righteous, but God will continue to provide sufficient grace to his people (2 Corinthians 12:9). He will grow both his people and his kingdom through such suffering as it is endured in faith.
Our Intercession and Mission of Hope
Though God’s righteous anger burned against the three friends of Job, their folly was forgiven in response to the righteous intervention of Job’s prayers (Job 42:7–9). What then is the Christian response to those who suffer— and to those who cause suffering?
We are to intercede for the world, both in prayer and in life. We are to “comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:4). This comfort must find expression in our ministry and service to those in need both where we live as well as around the world— to orphans, widows, and all those who suffer.
This comfort is most gloriously and eternally known as the church ministers the gospel of new hope in Christ to the world—to the lost, to the downtrodden, and even to our enemies (Matthew 5:44). For the greatest suffering in this world is not the loss of property or even family; it is to be lost in sin, without the living Redeemer.