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by Ger de Koning
The authors of the commentary on the book of Job have been deeply impressed by this book. The intense suffering of Job that is described, and his struggle with God over it, have touched us deeply. It felt like we were present at the conversations that Job and his friends had about this.
We have witnessed conversations in heaven between God and satan about Job, which Job was unaware of. We have listened carefully to the orthodox statements of Job’s friends about God and Job’s reaction to them. In his reaction, Job not only speaks about, but also to God. Some statements of Job we have listened to with bated breath. How dare he say this? We have realized that these are utterances by a man who has been pushed to the breaking point by unbearable and hopeless suffering, and that he cannot come up with any explanations for his suffering. The only Person who can tell him that, is the One who has brought it upon him. That is why he rushes to God.
The silence of God during all of the questions that Job fires towards heaven is impressive. God does not allow Himself to be provoked and at the same time He gives Job the space to ask all of his questions and to express his grave doubts concerning God’s righteousness. All these questions and doubts show that he does not let go of God, but clings to Him instead.
When the conversations between Job and his friends have come to an end, a fourth friend steps forward. He too speaks to Job, but adopts a different tone from the other three. Elihu, who is this fourth friend, acts as a mediator between Job and God. Elihu’s contribution is the preparation for God’s speaking to Job. Job does not react to what Elihu says.
God’s appearance to Job has also made a deep impression on us. God showed Job some of the wonders of His creation, and also how He controls everything, and that Job cannot verify what He does. After all, He is God! God does not have to account for His government. Job does not receive an answer to the question on the meaning of suffering. Nor do we. When things happen in our lives that we do not understand, He wants us to learn to trust that He is in complete control and has not lost control of our lives.
Job has become deeply aware of God’s greatness and his own smallness. We have also come to realize this. We hope that this will not be a passing realization. It is our prayer that the reader will experience the same.
Ger de Koning / Tony Jonathan
Middelburg / Arnhem, March 2016 (Translated April 2020)
Introduction to the book of Job
The book of Job is a part of “the sacred writings” (2Tim 3:15). Therefore, it is a Divine book. It is “inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2Tim 3:16-17).
The book of Job belongs to the Old Testament. That is remarkable, because while the Old Testament displays a clear, Jewish character, as an exception this book does not share that characteristic. We can compare this to the letter of James in the New Testament, a letter which, as an exception in the New Testament, displays a clear Jewish character.
It is understandable that this book does not have a Jewish character when we consider that this is the oldest book written in the Old Testament. There are clear indications that it was written in the time of the patriarchs, years before Israel was established as a people. In addition, the subject of this book is about more than the people of Israel, because this is a problem that affects all of humanity, namely the problem of suffering.
The Old Testament can be divided into three parts, namely the Law, the Prophets and the Writings (cf. Lk 24:44). To this day, this is the common Jewish division of the Tanakh – which is the Old Testament. The Law teaches us about God’s thoughts. In the Prophets we hear how God speaks to His people. The Writings describe the experience of the believers in this world.
The book of Job is part of the Writings. While the Psalms, as the most characteristic book of the Writings, speaks of the experiences of Christ and His people in this world, Job, as a non-Jewish book, speaks of the experiences of a believer with regard to the suffering in this world. This is already reflected in the name Job, which is both the title and the name of the main character of the book, and means ‘where is (my) father’. This meaning fits in well with the theme of the book, as Job wonders where God is during his suffering.
The book of Job is about the intense and profound experiences of the individual human being. In it, we discover the absolute insignificance of man in the deepest suffering, amidst the loss of his possessions, the loss of his most loved ones, and the fiery arrows of the reactions of his friends, which have gone right through his soul. However, in the end, we witness the struggle with his own righteousness and lack of understanding of God’s way with him.
When Job has reached that low point in his struggle, an ‘interpreter’ comes who leads him to a higher ground, where he can hear the voice of God. In the encounter with God Himself, he learns to know himself, but above all, God. Finally, this gives him peace in his soul right through suffering. Then comes again the abundant blessing of God and he can also be a blessing for his friends as an intercessor.
These are lessons from the book of Job which we too, as believers living in the modern twenty-first century, still need to learn in order to be, as quoted above, “equipped for every good work” (2Tim 3:17).
On the basis of Scripture there is no doubt as to the historical correctness of the book of Job. His name is mentioned twice in the Old Testament (Eze 14:14; 20) and once in the New Testament (Jam 5:11). In Ezekiel 14 he is presented by the LORD together with Noah and Daniel as someone who is personally a righteous one. The reason is the condition of Israel which has become so bad, that even if these three men would have lived in Israel at that time, they would only save their own lives and not Israel as a nation.
The letter of James sets Job as an example of perseverance. There we see how the end of his history is “the outcome of the Lord’s dealings” literally “the end of the Lord”, which means that the Lord has reached His goal with him. We also see there that we can learn from His history “that the Lord is full of compassion and [is] merciful” (Jam 5:11). Throughout all the suffering, Job has come to know the LORD personally in a special way (Job 42:5).
Possibly Moses is the author of this book – so according to the Talmud; the Dead Sea scrolls point in the same direction – and is it written even before Genesis. If so, Job is the oldest book in the Bible with the theme of suffering. Old interpreters suggest that Moses wrote this book in Midian, where he was a shepherd for some time (Exodus 2:15-3:1). He would have written it with the intention of comforting and supporting his suffering people in Egypt in their troubles and turning their eyes to the ultimate blessing that God has ready for his people, just as He ultimately blesses Job.
Job lives in the land of Uz, an area of the Edomites (Lam 4:21). The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, identifies Job with Jobab, a king of Edom (Gen 36:33).
Job must have lived before Moses. In Psalm 90, Moses speaks about the age of men. There he says that as a rule, just as is the rule today, it is seventy to eighty years old (Psa 90:10a). Job, however, reaches an arch paternal age of over two hundred years. We can see this from the fact that before his suffering he has ten adult children, while after his suffering he still lives for one hundred and forty years (Job 42:16).
Another indication is that the offerings mentioned in this book are burnt offerings, even in case of sins (Job 1:5; Job 42:8). The distinction in sacrifices is only given by the giving of the Law at Sinai (Leviticus 1-6). We always find burnt offerings in the book of Genesis. Also, the name ‘LORD’ is mentioned relatively sparsely, while the name ‘God’ often occurs.
Job is someone from the Gentiles, he does not belong to Israel. Yet God speaks with him in a way he did not even with an Abraham. This book expresses the great value that a single person has for God, Who is no respecter of persons. The book of Job proves that this interest in a single person is not a retrospective thought of God when Israel has corrupted his way, but that from the beginning God’s interest is in every individual human being, without distinction. It is therefore impossible for the Jew, with the book of Job in his Bible, to say that someone from the pagan nations is not relevant to God.
The book of Job is one of the two most tragic books of the Bible. The other book is the book of Lamentations. That book too has suffering as its main theme. The difference is that Lamentations is about the suffering of an entire people, while the book of Job is about the suffering of one person.
The book of Job gives insight into the enigma of suffering that God brings about on someone in His government, without solving that enigma itself. What we do see, what we do gain insight into, is “the end of the Lord” (Jam 5:11), or the Lord’s intention with it. It is about questions such as:
1. Why do God-fearing believers suffer?
2. If God is love – and He is! – why does He allow His own to be affected by adversity?
3. How is the suffering of the righteous compatible with the righteousness of God?
As we have seen above, the book shows us the struggle of the puny man with the great problem of suffering. It also allows us to look behind the scenes, in the throne room of the reign of the great, sovereign God of eternity. He is personally involved in the suffering of His creatures in general and of each individual human being in particular. The book appeals to all who are in suffering. Peter in his first letter answers the question of the purpose of suffering, which is “that the proof of your faith, [being] more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1Pet 1:7).
There is no need to have a long story about the prosperity of Job. Only a few verses are devoted to his prosperity, which serve as a backdrop to everything that happens to him. Contrary to the few words about his prosperity, the Holy Spirit has thought it good to tell us in detail about everything that happens during his tests. He considered this worthwhile for the benefit of all God’s children until the end of time.
Job is the exalted example of a man’s faith in the midst of overwhelming suffering. We see a man learning the lesson of his own nothingness, in the fierce fire of deep trial for robbery, loss, and sickness, who also has to face the rigid philosophy and harsh attacks of his friends. Moreover, he learns to know his own pride, his own righteousness and unbelief. Until an ‘interpreter’, Elihu, is heard, who brings him to the point where he listens to God and teaches the lesson of all centuries that God is only God and that in his acknowledgment of this lies his blessing and that of every human being.
The great problem addressed in this book is the reign of God, who is not directly as with Israel, but indirectly, in providence. A direct government means that God punishes a man’s evil immediately and rewards good deeds immediately. An indirect government, a government in providence, means that it seems that one can do evil unpunished and that good deeds remain unrewarded.
Job’s friends – but also Job himself – understand nothing of God’s government. They assume a direct government of God. They state that Job must have done sin, otherwise he would not suffer so much. A superficial view of life can lead people to judge that they are suffering according to the extent of the sins they have committed. Job’s reaction is also wrong. He does not understand God’s government either. He states that he is innocent and that God makes him suffer unjustly.
Although Job does not sin with his lips, the conversations with his friends do show what is in his heart. Although the friends do not understand God’s government, they do say many true things about that government for other cases. The question that plays in the background for Job and his friends and that brings them to their statements is this: How can God be both good and sovereign when you look at the suffering of the innocent and the prosperity of the evildoer?
It has always been difficult to explain why the wicked prosper, while oppression can so often afflict the God-fearing. This difficulty disappears when we realize that we are living under an indirect government of God. As has already been said, in a direct government, God punishes evil immediately and rewards good immediately. In an indirect government, evil is not punished immediately, although the punishment certainly comes, and good is not rewarded immediately, although the reward certainly comes.
In Psalm 73, Asaph had the same questions until he “came into the sanctuary of God” (Psa 73:17). Likewise, Job’s questions are brought to an end when he says: “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You” (Job 42:5b).
The rounds of discussions and the ‘protagonists’
There are three dialogues or rounds of discussions between Job and his friends (Job 4-27) and three monologues: of Job, Elihu and God (Job 29-41). The dialogues and monologues are separated by a speech of Job about wisdom (Job 28).
The ‘protagonists’ in the book are, after Job, his three friends and Elihu. After these five people have spoken, God speaks. He does not speak as Someone Who, after the attempts of the friends and Elihu, makes a final attempt to convince Job. He cannot be compared to any of the previous speakers. He is God and speaks as God. When Job comes face to face with Him, he retracts and repents.
Of those who speak from Job 3 onwards, we can mention some characteristics as an introduction:
1. Eliphaz is the first to respond to Job’s expressions of misery. There are good reasons to assume that Eliphaz is an Edomite. There is talk of an Eliphaz who is the first-born son of Esau. This one has a son named Teman (Gen 36:4; 15). Several prophets mention Teman as a place or region in Edom (Jer 49:7; 20; Eze 25:13; Amos 1:12; Oba 1:8-9).
a. Apparently Eliphaz is the oldest of the three friends, because he speaks first. He is also addressed at the end of the book by God as the spokesman of the three (Job 42:7). In his speeches he shows a wider spirit than the others, accepting Job as a God-fearing man, but who has gone astray. Although he shows lack of compassion, he is the only one of the three to show some compassion and respect.
b. In his reactions to Job’s words it appears that he considers everything from his personal experience. We hear this in the words “according to what I have seen” (Job 4:8). He, as the oldest, represents ‘the old school’.
2. Bildad is the second. He is not mentioned in any other book of the Old Testament. He considers Job’s struggle about God’s righteousness as blasphemy. His learning, his knowledge and the tradition of ancient wisdom he uses to prove that Job’s family members have received what they deserve, and he warns Job of the same fate.
Bildad judges the situation of Job from the tradition and authority of antiquity. We hear this in his call to Job: “Please inquire of past generations, and consider the things searched out by their fathers” (Job 8:8). He represents the middle age.
3. Zophar, the third, is the most sarcastic of his friends. His message is that Job must repent or else he will die a horrible death that the evildoers deserve.
Zophar looks at Job from the sphere of law and religion. He says to Job: “If iniquity is in your hand, … do not let wickedness dwell in your tents; then … you would be steadfast and not fear” (Job 11:14-15). He is convinced of his own sharp judgment, ‘that is how it is and not otherwise’ (Job 11; 20).
4. Job, in his attempts to defend himself because of the suspicions and negative judgments of his friends, indirectly accuses God of injustice (Job 10:7-8).
5. Elihu is younger than the three friends and therefore keeps himself out of the discussion and waits until they are all finished speaking (Job 32:4-6). He is a type of Christ as the Mediator. He speaks in the name of God (Job 33:4-5).
6. When all speakers are silent, God takes the floor. He shows Job His divine wisdom and His power in nature. In contrast, Job sees how completely insignificant he is.
Division of the book
I. Introduction (Job 1-2)
A. Job’s prosperity (Job 1:1-5)
B. Job tested (Job 1:6-22; Job 2:1-13)
1. Satan’s accusation of Job (Job 1:6-12)
2. Job remains standing at the loss of family and possessions (Job 1:13-22)
3. Satan’s further accusations (Job 2:1-6)
4. Job stands firm in his personal suffering (Job 2:7-10)
5. The arrival of Job’s friends (Job 2:11-13)
II. The dialogues or the disputes (Job 3-27)
A. Job’s opening complaint (Job 3)
B. The first round of discussions (Job 4-14)
1. Eliphaz (Job 4-5)
2. Job’s reply (Job 6-7)
3. Bildad (Job 8)
4. Job’s reply (Job 9-10)
5. Zophar (Job 11)
6. Job’s reply (Job 12-14)
C. The second round of discussions (Job 15-21)
1. Eliphaz (Job 15)
2. Job’s reply (Job 16-17)
3. Bildad (Job 18)
4. Job’s reply (Job 19)
5. Zophar (Job 20)
6. Job’s reply (Job 21)
D. The third round of interviews (Job 22-26)
1. Eliphaz (Job 22)
2. Job’s reply (Job 23-24)
3. Bildad (Job 25)
4. Job’s reply (Job 26)
E. Job’s closing address to his friends (Job 27)
III. Intermediate chapter on wisdom (Job 28)
IV. The Monologues (Job 29-41)
A. Job’s closing speeches (Job 29-31)
1. Job’s former honor and blessing (Job 29)
2. Job’s current dishonor and suffering (Job 30)
3. Job’s last statement of innocence (Job 31)
B. Elihu’s speeches (Job 32-37)
1. Introduction (Job 32:1-5)
2. First speech: part 1 (Job 32:6-22)
3. First speech: part 2 (Job 33)
4. Second speech (Job 34)
5. Third speech (Job 35)
6. Fourth speech (Job 36-37)
C. God speaks to Job (Job 38-42:6)
1. God’s first speech (Job 38-39:30)
2. Job humbles himself (Job 40:1-5)
3. God’s second speech (Job 40:6-24; Job 41:1-34)
V. Job’s repentance (Job 42:1-6)
VI. The ending (Job 42:7-17)
A. God judges (Job 42:7-9)
B. The restoration of Job’s prosperity (Job 42:10-17)
In summary, the book is composed in this way:
1. Job 1-2
The historical introduction containing Job’s godliness and prosperity and his suffering through satan in destroying his possessions, his family and his health.
2. Job 3-31
The dispute between Job and his three friends. It reveals the futility of human reasoning in relation to
a. explaining the ways of God in the disasters that come upon a man;
b the deep-rooted self-righteousness of the human heart.
3. Job 32-37
The testimony of Elihu concerning God’s features of holiness and mercy.
4. Job 38-42:6
The testimony of God Himself from creation through which Job is tested and what brings him into the dust.
5. Job 42:7-17
“The end of the Lord” (Jam 5:11), that is, the result of God’s ways with Job, Who restores him and gives him a greater blessing than he has lost.
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13