Job is a wealthy man living in a land called Uz with his large family and extensive flocks. He is “blameless” and “upright,” always careful to avoid doing evil (1:1). One day, Satan (“the Adversary”) appears before God in heaven. God boasts to Satan about Job’s goodness, but Satan argues that Job is only good because God has blessed him abundantly. Satan challenges God that, if given permission to punish the man, Job will turn and curse God. God allows Satan to torment Job to test this bold claim, but he forbids Satan to take Job’s life in the process.
In the course of one day, Job receives four messages, each bearing separate news that his livestock, servants, and ten children have all died due to marauding invaders or natural catastrophes. Job tears his clothes and shaves his head in mourning, but he still blesses God in his prayers. Satan appears in heaven again, and God grants him another chance to test Job. This time, Job is afflicted with horrible skin sores. His wife encourages him to curse God and to give up and die, but Job refuses, struggling to accept his circumstances.
Three of Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, come to visit him, sitting with Job in silence for seven days out of respect for his mourning. On the seventh day, Job speaks, beginning a conversation in which each of the four men shares his thoughts on Job’s afflictions in long, poetic statements.
Job curses the day he was born, comparing life and death to light and darkness. He wishes that his birth had been shrouded in darkness and longs to have never been born, feeling that light, or life, only intensifies his misery. Eliphaz responds that Job, who has comforted other people, now shows that he never really understood their pain. Eliphaz believes that Job’s agony must be due to some sin Job has committed, and he urges Job to seek God’s favor. Bildad and Zophar agree that Job must have committed evil to offend God’s justice and argue that he should strive to exhibit more blameless behavior. Bildad surmises that Job’s children brought their deaths upon themselves. Even worse, Zophar implies that whatever wrong Job has done probably deserves greater punishment than what he has received.
Job responds to each of these remarks, growing so irritated that he calls his friends “worthless physicians” who “whitewash [their advice] with lies” (13:4). After making pains to assert his blameless character, Job ponders man’s relationship to God. He wonders why God judges people by their actions if God can just as easily alter or forgive their behavior. It is also unclear to Job how a human can appease or court God’s justice. God is unseen, and his ways are inscrutable and beyond human understanding. Moreover, humans cannot possibly persuade God with their words. God cannot be deceived, and Job admits that he does not even understand himself well enough to effectively plead his case to God. Job wishes for someone who can mediate between himself and God, or for God to send him to Sheol, the deep place of the dead.
Job’s friends are offended that he scorns their wisdom. They think his questions are crafty and lack an appropriate fear of God, and they use many analogies and metaphors to stress their ongoing point that nothing good comes of wickedness. Job sustains his confidence in spite of these criticisms, responding that even if he has done evil, it is his own personal problem. Furthermore, he believes that there is a “witness” or a “Redeemer” in heaven who will vouch for his innocence (16:19, 19:25). After a while, the upbraiding proves too much for Job, and he grows sarcastic, impatient, and afraid. He laments the injustice that God lets wicked people prosper while he and countless other innocent people suffer. Job wants to confront God and complain, but he cannot physically find God to do it. He feels that wisdom is hidden from human minds, but he resolves to persist in pursuing wisdom by fearing God and avoiding evil.
Without provocation, another friend, Elihu, suddenly enters the conversation. The young Elihu believes that Job has spent too much energy vindicating himself rather than God. Elihu explains to Job that God communicates with humans by two ways—visions and physical pain. He says that physical suffering provides the sufferer with an opportunity to realize God’s love and forgiveness when he is well again, understanding that God has “ransomed” him from an impending death (33:24). Elihu also assumes that Job must be wicked to be suffering as he is, and he thinks that Job’s excessive talking is an act of rebellion against God.
God finally interrupts, calling from a whirlwind and demanding Job to be brave and respond to his questions. God’s questions are rhetorical, intending to show how little Job knows about creation and how much power God alone has. God describes many detailed aspects of his creation, praising especially his creation of two large beasts, the Behemoth and Leviathan. Overwhelmed by the encounter, Job acknowledges God’s unlimited power and admits the limitations of his human knowledge. This response pleases God, but he is upset with Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar for spouting poor and theologically unsound advice. Job intercedes on their behalf, and God forgives them. God returns Job’s health, providing him with twice as much property as before, new children, and an extremely long life.
Please ruminate upon the following:
1) What do you think about the depiction of God here? Is he exhibiting all of the attributes that we have discussed in class?
2) What conclusion (if any) does Job reach regarding the problem of evil?
3) Is there a message here about how we should approach or think about evil?
4) What is the meaning of the section concerning Job's friends? What are we meant to learn from this section?
5) What is the role of Satan in this story? Does he behave as you would expect him to?