Bible Commentaries
Job 1

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary



Job 1:1 to Job 2:13

The story which now stands as a prose introduction and a prose conclusion to the Book of Job can be read in two ways. It can be read for itself, apart from the poetical discussion, and indeed this is the way it undoubtedly once existed. Or it can be read in connection with the discourses, preparing the way for them although not explaining them.

In itself this is the story of a wise, good, pious, and immensely prosperous man who suffered the loss of all the blessings that had once been his; who, in addition, suffered the most grievous blows in body and spirit; and who yet maintained an unshaken trust in God. In a religious culture which necessarily regarded material benefits as rewards of true religion (see Introduction) the story performed a valuable function, for it keeps the order between faith and its rewards straight. Benefits are the result, but they are not of the essence of faith. Job’s story shows that here is one man who does not make faith depend upon its results, who does not reverse the basic truth into untruth. His goodness, the story indicates, was "disinterested goodness," neither dependent upon rewards nor destroyed when blessing turned into loss. In the end (see the Epilogue) the benefits reappeared, for the story makes it plain that there is a connection between goodness and rewards. But the connection is not mechanical, and quality of life and trust do not depend upon its exact working.

The second way the story can be read is as background for the discussion in 3:1-42:6. Undoubtedly the story had long been in existence when the unknown author of the present book saw in it an ideal setting for the theological discussion he wished to present. We may assume that he took this ancient tale, the theme of which must have been familiar to many people, and gave it a new direction. It became then not simply the story of a good man who maintained his goodness and his faith when the usual and expected benefits were taken away. Whereas the original story in a real sense focused on Job, in the light of the poetic discussion which is introduced it now centers on God. For its major significance now is to serve as a prelude to a theological discussion, raising the whole question of the nature of God in whose world tragedies such as Job’s do happen, and the even more personal question of the relationship between God and man in the light of the undeniable facts of human existence.

The Prologue alternates between earth and heaven in its scenes, building up to a great climax. It has many stylized and somewhat formal elements, indicating that it had taken shape first of all in the process of ancient storytelling.

Verses 1-5

The First Scene on Earth (1:1-5)

The locale is "the land of Uz," which is probably to be identified with a portion of the land of Edom (other elements in the book are associated with the same land). The protagonist is "Job," whose name may mean "hated" or perhaps "penitent." The name occurs again in Ezekiel 14:14; Ezekiel 14:20, where it is connected with "Noah" and "Daniel," and where Job, along with the others, is taken as an example of righteousness.

The tradition of Job’s righteousness is elaborated in the first scene of the Prologue, where he is described in honorific terms. First, as to his character, he is "blameless and upright." The former term is used of other Old Testament characters (Genesis 6:9; Genesis 17:1), and although it does not imply absolute perfection it does refer to blamelessness in connection with God’s demands. It is essential to note that this blamelessness on the part of Job is never seriously questioned, save by his three friends, who are proved to be wrong. In the next scene God himself puts his seal on the perfection of Job, and throughout the book it is taken for granted. Thus at the outset we are warned against the natural disposition to "explain" all that happened to Job on the basis of his sins.

Matching Job’s perfection of life, both in relation to God and in relation to man (vs. 1), there is perfect prosperity. Job’s family and his holdings are described in ideal terms (note the Numbers 7, 3, 5, 5). Finally, to this picture of perfection there is added the note of perpetual joy, symbolized in a round of feasts at the houses of the seven sons. Externally these verses provide a description of a great chieftain or sheik in a nomadic land (although such features as "the house" do not exactly fit the nomadic atmosphere). But the story essentially demonstrates the truth that fearing God and turning away from evil constitute precisely the good life.

Job’s piety is further illustrated by his repeated acts of sacrifice. Is there a note of superstitious fear here, in that, although he did not know of any evil wrought by his children, he made burnt offerings for them? Is he fearful lest something happen to disturb the even and happy tenor of life? Such a fear would not be unexpected and would not in any sense detract from the genuine piety that is pictured here.

Verses 6-12

The First Scene in Heaven (1:6-12)

The antiquity of the story which the author of the Book of Job uses as his setting is indicated by the bold way in which it pictures a heavenly council that includes one rather disreputable member. It is also significant that the author apparently uses the story without change, although he undoubtedly would not himself have accepted some of its implications. At any rate, to balance the preceding picture of piety and calm prosperity there is now presented a scene of foreboding. The "sons of God" are to be understood as semi-divine beings, perhaps angels (see Job 38:7; Gen, 6:2; Psalms 89:6). "Among them," that is, as one of their group, there was also "Satan" or more properly "the Satan." The term is probably not to be understood as a proper name but as a descriptive word (see margin). It is clear that although in an ultimate sense this being can be identified with "the devil" of Christian tradition, he is not so conceived here. The Old Testament in general has no concept of an evil being in opposition to God, although its sense of powerful chaotic forces held in check by God presages such a figure. Here "the Satan" is represented as the adversary not of God but of man, and his concern is to reveal the flaw in human nature (see a similar picture in Zechariah 3:1-5).

The Satan poses the challenge: Job is not good "for nothing," His piety is simply insurance against loss. His goodness will evaporate if the benefits it brings are removed, God accepts the challenge with an astounding faith in man, or at least in Job. Within limits, which are carefully set by God, the Satan is now permitted to test Job — to "touch all that he has."

Verses 13-22

The Second Scene on Earth (1:13-22)

The "day" of the heavenly council (vs. 6) is now paralleled by another "day" (vs. 13). This day, which is pathetically described as a day of feasting, brings between dawn and evening total loss and total tragedy. The horror of the happenings is heightened by the fact that they follow one another without cessation. Flocks, herds, servants, and children are taken from Job with a single blow.

The scene ends with Job, unshaken in his trust in God, still worshiping, and not charging God with "wrong." The man of faith is reduced to mourning, his only prospect is emptiness, but he still cries, "Blessed be the name of the Lord." God’s faith in his servant Job is justified.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Job 1". "Layman's Bible Commentary".