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The book of Job opens with a curious courtroom scene where the satan, or the accuser, challenges God’s way of rewarding righteous people like Job. The satan says that Job is only acting righteous because of God’s generous provision. But if God were to let him truly suffer, then Job’s true character would emerge. God rejects that idea, saying Job will continue to live faithfully even in the face of intense suffering.

Using dense Hebrew poetry, the author lays out Job’s brutal experiences and his wife’s and friends’ speculations about why Job is suffering. Is he not a righteous man? Why would God allow this? Job accuses God of failing to operate the world with justice, and he asks God to explain himself. What unfolds after this exchange helps us see that God’s wisdom is more complex than we often imagine.

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Job

Who Wrote the Book of Job?

We are not sure because the author is anonymous.

Context

Job is set in a land far from Israel called Uz. The author does not set the story in any clear period of ancient history (though sometime between the 7th and 4th century B.C.E. is likely).

Literary Styles

Hebrew poetry and narrative

Key Themes

  • Trusting God’s wisdom amid human suffering
  • The goodness of God’s world
  • The relationship (or lack thereof) between suffering and punishment
  • The mystery of God’s justice

Structure

The book opens with a short narrative (the prologue in chapters 1-2) and closes with another short narrative (the epilogue in chapter 42). The central body of the book contains many conversations in dense Hebrew poetry.

The Story of Job

The author introduces Job as an upstanding man from the land of Uz who honors God. We read about his large family and prosperous estate, and it becomes clear that Job is wealthy—a man with everything to lose.

The author then transports readers to a heavenly courtroom where God is meeting with spiritual beings. Among them is a figure called the satan, which in Hebrew means “the one opposed.” God presents Job as an admirable and righteous man. But the satan dismisses this, saying that Job only serves God because of his blessings and protection over Job. The opposer is sure that if God stopped treating Job so generously, Job would curse God. God knows that Job’s faithfulness is not based on circumstance, so he allows the satan to inflict suffering on Job’s life, affecting his family, riches, and health.

At this point, many of us are wondering why God would allow a good person to suffer this injustice. It’s an important question, and the prologue helps us get to the root: Does God’s justice mean he rewards and punishes people based on their behavior? And if good people suffer, does that mean God isn’t just? The book of Job explores this question and offers a surprising answer in the conclusion. But before we get to that, we’ll see how Job’s friends try to make sense of his suffering and God’s role in it.

Dialogue of Job and His Friends

Chapters 3-37 are full of dense Hebrew poetry that helps readers visualize a heated debate between Job and his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. The friends assume that God orders the world by a principle of retributive justice—if you’re wise and honor God, he will reward you with good outcomes, but if you are foolish and dishonor God, he will punish you with harsh circumstances. As the friends witness Job’s suffering, they conclude he must be guilty of wrongdoing. Job defends his integrity. While he agrees that bad deeds deserve punishment, he knows he’s innocent. So he speculates that God must be punishing him without cause. The friends passionately disagree, insisting that Job must have done something wrong.

Job and his friends argue back and forth in three cycles found in chapters 13-14, 15-21, and 22-28. Their debating continues until Job tires of responding to them and takes his complaints directly to God. His prayers show us the depth of his agony, confusion, and despair. He accuses God of being against him and guilty of coordinating all the injustices in the world. But then he realizes that can’t be right—God must be fair and all-powerful. But he still can’t reconcile why all these terrible things have happened to him, and he demands that God explain himself.

This section ends with the reply of a new friend, Elihu. He draws a more complex conclusion about why people might suffer. Elihu says that God may not be punishing them. Maybe God uses suffering for warning or building character. Unlike Job’s other friends, Elihu doesn’t claim to know why Job is suffering. But he is sure of one thing: Job is not qualified to judge God.

God’s Response to Job

In a surprising turn, God visits Job in a powerful storm and responds to his prayers. A whirlwind of rhetorical questions exposes Job’s lack of understanding. God asks whether or not Job helped him create the cosmos or set the constellations in place. Has he ever awakened the sun or managed the Earth’s weather? Would he like to oversee the world for a day, according to his narrow principle of justice? God’s questions dismantle many of Job’s assumptions about justice, proving that the world is far more complicated than he ever imagined.

God then goes on to describe two terrifying creatures, the Behemoth and Leviathan. These creatures symbolize the dangers that exist in God’s world, illustrating that while the world is good, it’s not always safe and does not operate as humans assume. God’s world is beautiful, but it is also wild and dangerous. Both are true, but God doesn’t explain why. By the end of God’s powerful speech, Job is convinced he would not even understand God’s answer. And this leads us to the final scene in the book.

Test Your Knowledge

Job is ______________.

The Big Idea

God’s wisdom, goodness, and justice transcend our assumptions about fairness and push beyond the limitations of human reasoning.

Conclusion of the Story of Job

Job humbly admits his narrow thinking that led him to accuse God of injustice. Job does not have sufficient knowledge to comprehend or pass judgment on God’s reasoning. But even without full knowledge of how God orders the universe, he can still choose to trust God’s wisdom and good character.

The book concludes with a short epilogue, showing how God restores Job’s losses and defends his character to his friends. God says their explanations of justice were inaccurate and clarifies that Job spoke truthfully about him. While Job was wrong to accuse God of injustice, he was right to eventually turn away from his friends’ accusations and trust God. Admitting his struggle and continuing to bring his questions to God in prayer was a faithful act from Job, and God is pleased with Job’s humility, honesty, and commitment to receive answers from him.

Test Your Knowledge

The book of Job implies that suffering is God's punishment for human sin.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who was Job, and who wrote the book of Job?
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When and where does the story of Job take place? When was the book written?
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Why would it be good for someone to read the book of Job?
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What does Job teach us?
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Why did Job repent? And why did he shave his head and sit in ashes?
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Why did Job question God? Why did Job curse God and the day he was born?
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Why does Job still praise God in the end?
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How does God respond to Job?
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Here are some of the most common questions people ask online about this book.

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