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Introduction to the Book of Job

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Related articles

Interpreting Hebrew poetry Interpreting wisdom literature
Why does God allow suffering?

Job the man

Job was a common name in Mesopotamia. He was from the land of Uz (1:1), which is where the Arameans lived (Gen 10:23, 20:20-23). In Hebrew, Job's name was 'Iyyob', which probably comes from a root meaning to come back, or repent, perhaps signifying one who turns back to God.

Date of the Book of Job

There is great debate over the date of the book. Suggested dates are divided between the time of Abraham, during the united monarchy under Solomon, or from sometime between the seventh and third centuries BC.

Suggestion I: Time of the Patriarchs

From internal evidence in the book, Job probably lived in the second millennium BC, during the age of the Patriarchs. His wealth is described in terms of the numbers of his flocks, slaves and offspring - typical of patriarchal times. The roving semi-nomadic Sabean and Chaldean tribes also fit the second millennium BC, as they did not settle until about 1000 BC (Gen 36:15). Fragments of a book found at Qumran suggest that they believed that the Book of Job was set during the time of the Patriarchs.

There is no mention of the nation of Israel, or of any historical events, or of Moses, Abraham, or any kings or prophets. The lack of these would suggest that the events of Job must have taken place before Israel was formally established as God's covenant nation. However, there is always a danger from arguing from silence.

There is no mention of the Sinai covenant, or of any of the Mosaic laws, suggesting that the book pre-dates the time of Moses. Job and his friends appeal to the law of God (23:13, 22:22), and speak much about right and wrong, but do not appeal to the law of Moses. There does appear to have been an earlier 'law of God' (either verbal or written), which the patriarchs were aware of. For example, God declared that Abraham had obeyed God's laws, statutes and commandments (Gen 26:5).

The law of Moses defined the tribe of Levi as the priestly tribe, to officiate at the sacrifices for the sins of the people. No other tribe was permitted to do this. Before the Levitical system was established, the patriarchal head of the family offered the sacrifices. Both Noah (Gen 8:20), and Abraham (Gen 22:13) are recorded of performing sacrifices. This was also the practice of Job (Job 1:5), and of his three 'friends' (Job 42:7-9).

There is no hint of any paganism, polytheism or idolatry among the people described in the book, whether Job, his three friends, or Elihu. Job's friends knew of the One True God, although they did not have a correct understanding of his ways. They never appealed to paganism, or to other gods. The events must have taken place very soon after the dispersion from Babel, before the early nations drifted into pagan idolatry. There are also many allusions to events in the early chapters in Genesis, including: creation, the flood, and the dispersion following the Tower of Babel. The tribes and places fit well with the Table of the Nations (Gen 10).

God is called 'The Almighty' (Heb = Shaddai) more times in Job, than in the whole of the rest of the Bible. El Shaddai was the characteristic name of God used by the Patriarchs, which God used to reveal himself to them as the Almighty Creator God, who could do anything (Gen 17:1). The personal name of God, Yahweh (LORD), is only used in the prologue and epilogue, not during the dialogues, where Elohim is used instead.

Job continued to live for 140 years after the events described in this book (42:16). Although we do not know his exact age before his afflictions, he was an adult with grown-up children. He probably died around the age of 200. This long lifespan is similar to that of the patriarchs following the flood (see Gen 11).

If this date is correct, then this would imply that Job is probably the oldest book in the Bible, apart from the first 11 chapters of Genesis.

Suggestion II: During the monarchy

In our Bibles, Job is put together with the wisdom writings, which are mostly from the period of the monarchy, particularly David and Solomon. There was a great rise in wisdom during the reign of Solomon.

Some phrases in Job are similar to those written during the reign of David or Solomon, for example: "What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them" (by David) (Ps 8:4), compared with, "What are human beings, that you make so much of them, that you set your mind on them" (Job 7:17).

It has been suggested that Job was written to challenge orthodox wisdom, as expressed in the book of Proverbs. For example, this is stated in Proverbs: "The light of the righteous rejoices, but the lamp of the wicked goes out" (Prov 13:9). This is similar to a statement by Bildad: Surely the light of the wicked is put out, and the flame of their fire does not shine" (Job 18:5). Job can be seen as challenging this conventional wisdom: "How often is the lamp of the wicked put out? How often does calamity come on them? How often does God distribute pains in his anger?" (Job 21:17). Conventional wisdom in Proverbs stated: "The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away." (Ps 1:4), but Job challenges this, "How often are they (the wicked) like straw before the wind, and like chaff that the storm drives away" (Job 21:18). Job is saying that he knows the conventional wisdom, but he does not see it happening in real life.

If the Book of Job was written at the time of the monarchy, then Job was probably not a historical character, but invented as a literary device.

Suggestion III: Seventh to third century BC

A variety of later dates have been suggested, including: during the reign of Hezekiah - who was interested in wisdom literature (Prov 25), during the exile - a time of suffering for Israel, or during the national struggles of Persian period after the exile.


Jewish tradition strongly holds that Moses was the author of the Book of Job. It may be that Job himself recorded the events of the book, including the four chapters of the words of God. These writings may have been preserved, and later edited by Moses, thus giving rise to the Jewish tradition. Moses could have received the writings from Jethro the Midianite, who lived close to the lands of Uz and Edom. The style of Hebrew poetry suggests that it could have reached its final form by Solomon's time, the height of development of Hebrew wisdom literature.

Job as literature

The book of Job is one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written. The poet Tennyson said that: "Job is the greatest poem of ancient and modern times". The author of Job had a remarkable understanding of nature. He was a bold and original thinker, prepared to ask disturbing questions and push the boundaries of traditional thinking that suffering is deserved.

The main characters and geographical locations

The book of Job is set outside the boundaries of Israel. The characters are not Israelites, and the setting is in Edom, Arabia, or the east. If the book was set during the time of Abraham, then Israel was not yet a nation.

Job of the land of Uz

Job appears to have been a leading citizen of Uz, an elder of the city, well-respected by the leaders of the land. Job was the greatest of all the people of the east (1:3). He was one of the elders of the city: "When I went out to the gate of the city, when I took my seat in the square, the young men saw me and withdrew, and the aged rose up and stood, the nobles refrained from talking ..." (29:7-10), and, "... I sat as chief, and I lived like a king among his troops ..." (29:25)

Many scholars deny that Job was a historical figure, claiming that this story is fictional. However, elsewhere in the Bible, Job is presented as real character, and his sufferings as genuine history. Ezekiel presents Job together with Noah and Daniel (probably) as historical figures (Ezek 14:14,20). James reminds his readers, "You have heard of the endurance of Job ..." (James 5:11)

The land of Uz

Job came from the land of Uz (1:1). There are two people named Uz in the OT. The first is the son of Aram (founder of the Arameans), son of Shem, son of Noah (Gen 10). The second is a grandson of Seir, the Horite, who settled in an area later known as Mt. Seir, which eventually became part of the land of the Edomites (Gen 36:8,20-21,28). The second Uz, may have been named after the first Uz, who may have been his ancestor. The Book of Lamentations implies that the land was known as Uz before the Edomites entered it: "Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, that dwells in the land of Uz" (Lam 4:21).

The land of Uz appears to have been around the region later known as Edom, mostly south-east of the Dead Sea. Today it is desert, but at the time of Abraham and Esau it was well populated and fertile.

The three 'Friends' and Elihu

Eliphaz the Temanite, was from Teman, an ancient city, which was later prominent in Edom.

Bildad the Shuhite, was from Shuhu, an Aramean city south of Haran, on the middle Euphrates.

Zophar the Naamathite, was from Naamah, a city either in Arabia or in Edom

Elihu, was son of Barachel the Buzite (32:1), of the family of Ram. He was younger than the three friends. He came from Buz, probably in northern Arabia.

Purpose of the book

The author demonstrates that the theological position of Job's friends represents a shallow and partial observation of life - that man's suffering is always in proportion to his sins. There is no attempt to justify God with regard to the innocent suffering, but the author shows that God has higher purposes. Far from abandoning the sufferer, he communicates with him at the proper time.

A secondary purpose is to show that although men are often sinful, weak and ignorant, they can, like Job, be relatively pure and upright even in the midst of emotional turmoil and spiritual testing.

Job's problem is the vexing question of theodicy - the justice of God in relation to the innocent suffering. This book pursues a middle way between fatalism, where divine power is the origin of evil (as in Babylonian theodicy), and a view of human freedom which would ignore the sovereignty of God. There is no attempt to give a rational or philosophical solution to the problem of evil. The problem of theodicy is left with the fact that God is a sovereign deity who created and sustains all that exists, and who in his omnipotence and omniscience can and does use a second means to bring about his higher and perfect purposes.

For more about the difficult subject of why God allows suffering, see the suffering page.

Themes of the book

The book deals with the theoretical problem of pain and suffering in the life of the godly. It attempts to answer the question, "Why do the righteous suffer?" The answer comes in a threefold form
1. God is worthy of love and worship, even apart from the blessings he bestows upon us.
2. God may permit suffering as a means of purifying and strengthening the soul in godliness.
3. God's thoughts and ways are moved by considerations too vast for the small mind of man to comprehend. Man is unable to see the issues of life with the breadth and vision of the Almighty.

Nevertheless, God really knows what is best for his own glory and for our ultimate good. This answer is given in contrast to the limited concepts of Job's three friends.

Job's friends persist in trying to tell Job what the answer to his suffering is. They were in a dilemma because of Job's catastrophic disaster. If a man of such high reputation could suffer so devastating a misfortune, their own security was imperiled by the same possibility that the same thing could happen to themselves. Their basic motive in attempting to elicit from Job a confession of sin was to establish their own sense of security. If Job had been guilty of some grievous sin which the public had no knowledge of, then his overwhelming disaster could have easily been understood as the retribution of the righteous God. Failing to get Job to repent, despite all their diligent efforts, they felt unable to return home relived and reassured that calamity would be kept from their door.

The role of Satan

The first two chapters form an important introduction the book. They reveal to the reader that Job is suffering because he is been tested. Job is one of God finest servants, and God takes the initiative, by pointing Job out to Satan (1:8). Satan challenges God (1:8-9), saying that Job only follows God for selfish motives, not because he loves God. God allows Satan to test Job, but sets limits on Satan’s actions. First, God allows Satan to touch Job’s possessions, but not to touch Job personally (1:12). Then secondly, God allows Satan to touch Job’s bone and flesh, but not to take his life (2:6). Job’s suffering is to vindicate God’s trust in Job, to show that serving God is credible. The fundamental question is: "Is God worthy to be served, just because of who he is, not because he blesses us". Satan wants Job to turn his back on God and to curse God (cf 2:9).

The Book of Job is not attacking other truth in scripture, but attacking people’s theorising and application of truth if it misrepresents God.

The approach of Job’s friends

At the start, his friends come to help, not to gloat (2:11). They are sincerely trying to bring answers to explain Job’s situation. They are not fools, but they bring a serious message, one which was the popular understanding of the time, and is found elsewhere in the Scriptures. For example, Jesus was asked about the man born blind: "Who sinned, this man (the blind man) or his parents?" (John 9:2). The friends were trying to defend God, as a just and powerful God, who forgives repentant sinners. In their thinking, Job was suffering, therefore he must be being punished by God. They closed their minds to anything that did not fit their thinking.

However, they overestimated their grasp of truth, and misapplied the truth they knew. Proverbs states: "Do not despise the Lord’s discipline ... for the Lord reproves the one he loves" (Prov 3:11-12). Eliphaz alludes to this by saying, "How happy is the one who God reproves, therefore do not despise the discipline of the Almighty" (5:17). The problem is that this was not what has happening in the life of Job, so was not applicable. Readers of the book are given an insight into the test described in the encounter between God and Satan in the first two chapters. Neither Job nor his friends had this insight.

Job recognised that he was not sinless, but knew that his suffering was not caused by his sin. His friends gradually become more and more angry with him (22:5), and do Satan’s work of accusing him. They affirm Satan’s view that Job was serving God in order to receive his blessing. They start with gentle probing, moving to strong rebukes, and finally give an untrue catalogue of Job’s crimes (ch 22). They misjudge Job by making him fit into their understanding of theology. They paint a picture of a perfect world, which does not exist, in order to protect their theology. They ignore any exceptions to their theology.

1. Eliphaz

Eliphas was the oldest and most gentle of Job’s friends, at least to start with. He speaks out of his life experience, saying, "I know ...", "I have seen ...", and out of mystical experiences, saying, "A spirit glided past my face, the hair of my flesh bristled ..., I heard a voice, ‘Can mortals be righteous before God ...’" (4:15-21)

2. Bildad

Bildad was not so gracious to Job, speaking from tradition and history.

3. Zophar

Zophar was the youngest of the three fiends. He was rude, abrupt and disrespectful towards Job. He tended to speak out of legalism.


Elihu was young, opinionated and angry. He claims that suffering is discipline from God, and that Job needs to learn the lesson that God is trying to teach him.

There are contrasting opinions about Elihu, whether what he says has some value, or not. The question is why does God remain silent after Elihu’s speech, not rebuking him. He is not made to repent at the end, unlike the three friends (42:7). One opinion is that there is no value in what he says. Another is that we should agree with him. He claims to be speaking from God: "I have something to say on God’s behalf ..." (36:2). There is truth in the statement that suffering does educate and cleanse us (33:14, 36:15), but this is not true in the case of Job. All the characters in the book are unaware that Job’s suffering is happening as a result of a test from Satan (ch 1-2).

God’s reply

In his reply, God does not give any answers about suffering, but instead asks about seventy unanswerable questions. Job and his friends have been asking the wrong questions, looking from their limited point of view. By asking questions, God shows Job that he does not know as much as his thinks.

God does not offer Job a defence of his actions. He never refers to the events of the first two chapters. Instead, God is enlarging Job’s horizon: God is greater and wiser than Job could imagine. Towards the end, Job repents of words he said in the present (42:3), not of any sinful actions in the past. God’s speech also shows Job’s littleness. Job is limited in his understanding, and he should not try and teach God his business. Job’s questions are not answered, but instead he gains an understanding of his place, and of God’s place as creator of universe.

At no point did God seek Job’s approval of what had happened. God never became accountable to Job. God is not frightened of our human struggles and questions, but is opposed to simplistic answers.

At the end, Job completely surrendered and trusted God. He had to pray for his friends before he received healing and blessing (42:8). Then God declared his innocence (cf James 5:11). Job entered a new level of faith and relationship with God (42:5), without knowing what we know from the first two chapters. God affirms that what Job had said about God was right, and that his friends were wrong. Twice God said this to the friends: "You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has" (42:7,8). They were guilty of mis-representing God, and had to repent. They were told to bring a burnt offering, and Job prayed for them. By contrast, Job did not have to bring a sacrifice. He had not sinned in what he said. By his own initiative, he had previously regularly brought sacrifices to God (1:5). God accepted his prayer and did not deal with them according to their folly (42:8), and finally God restored the fortunes of Job.

Related articles

Interpreting Hebrew poetry Interpreting wisdom literature
Why does God allow suffering?

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