Hello, Scroll Eaters! Welcome to Job! I’ll let you know right off that these readings are long, as you probably figured out when you tackled five chapters of Job. Part of that reason is that so much of Job is poetry, which always makes for dense reading.
I’m going to do something different through Job, as opposed to what I did in Genesis or what I will do in Exodus onward. My Genesis posts were mostly commentary. Job’s going to be bit different. Most of Job is a debate between Job and his friends, and much of it is repetitious, which is often what we see in real life. Much of what needs to be said from our perspective is in Job 1-2 and 41-42. Job is a book that almost teaches itself when we have the context down, so I’ll take a few days to unpack all the contextual stuff we need to make Job make sense. The first thing we’ll look at today is why we’re looking at Job now, right after Genesis.
Job is the oldest book in the Bible. It might be the oldest book in the world. It’s older than Genesis, though Genesis covers older material. An analog would be if I now wrote a book about JFK and compare it to a book written ten years ago about Reagan. The Reagan book is older than my book, but mine covers earlier material. Genesis covers Creation to the Flood, and then the era of the patriarchs. Job is set in the era of the patriarchs, but is in face an older book than Genesis. We know this because of the age of the Hebrew used. Languages evolve through time. Compare modern English to “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe, from 1843, which uses phrases like “you fancy me mad.” Today we’d say, “you think I’m crazy.” Even further back, say, 1611, we read English like this: “And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5 KJV). The difference in 1611 and 2011 is 400 years, and today we’d read, “‘Do not come closer,’ He said. ‘Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground'” (HCSB). That’s only 400 years difference; the Hebrew Bible covers Hebrew written from about 1800 BC to at least 430 BC, maybe later. That’s over 1200 years of change! Linguists can judge the age of a document based on how old its diction is. The oldest Hebrew: Job. The Hebrew in Job is so old it’s unique. It’s actually often called “Paleo-Hebrew.” Job was written in the time of the Patriarchs. Genesis was written, or compiled, by Moses, some 430+ years later! The difference in Job and Genesis is the same as our KJV and today! So, Job’s our oldest book, but when is it set?
Job is in the time of the patriarchs, meaning the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Most likely, it was somewhere after Babel and before Abraham. This would be ≈2200 BC to 1800 BC. How do we know this? First, like Abe, Ike, and Jake, Job’s life is long. He lived 140 years after the events of the book, but was old enough at that time to have seven sons and three daughters. Looking at contemporaries, Terah had Abraham at age seventy and, so if Job were say, fifty, then Job would have died at 190. We can estimate Job’s age from 180 to 220 fairly easily.
Another reason we know it’s of that era is that Job’s wealth is measured in the size of his flocks and servants, rather than in money as will happen later. Compare Abraham’s record of wealth in Genesis 24:34-35 NASB, “So he said, ‘I am Abraham’s servant. The LORD has greatly blessed my master, so that he has become rich; and He has given him flocks and herds, and silver and gold, and servants and maids, and camels and donkeys…,'” to Job’s in 1:3 NASB, “His possessions also were 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and very many servants; and that man was the greatest of all the men of the east.” Also, for the record, that last bit about the men of the east – Job is from Uz, which most likely in northern Arabia – Edom. This is a nice summary of the location question.
Another is that there’s no priesthood. Just like Abraham made altars, like to sacrifice Isaac on, and Jacob built altars, we see Job function as the spiritual leader. He makes sacrifices for his sons “just in case” in 1:5. This places it before the Levitical priesthood.
There are a few other things we could look at, but this should be sufficient to know that Job’s an old book, predating or being contemporaneous with Abraham. By contrast, the account of Abraham himself was written/edited/redacted by Moses 400 years later.
Another background issue we should look at is the structure of Job. A cursory look in an any non-paraphrased Bible will show that Job is a bit of prose on each end with a large chunk of poetry in the middle. There’s some debate, but the consensus is that the prose bookends are the older part, and were probably later separated and the poetry section inserted by an anonymous writer. If you take the poetry section out and read the prose straight through, it doesn’t flow, so the middle prose section was likely removed, expanded in poetry, and replaced.
Next, what is the book about? If you said “patience,” you are in line with popular conception, but wrong! Job is not about patience, though it’s true James uses Job as an example of patience or endurance. Job is also not about suffering. It is interesting that Job never finds out why he suffered! No explanation is given for his suffering, nor is the book an investigation into the mystery of suffering. Neither is the book about faith. Neither is it about retribution. The theological concept we’re left with is that this book is about the sovereignty of God. What is sovereignty? It’s the right of God to rule, to enact his will. The book’s question is “Is God in control?” and if so, “Is God loving and just?”
The greatest challenge the non-believing world puts to us is not proof of his existence, it is that if God is loving and just, “Why do the innocent suffer?” The crazy thing is, though this book raises the question, God does not answer it! God’s response is, “Who do you think you are?”
Let me finish today by summarizing the prologue of chapters 1-2. We get a seat of God’s council with the angles, a rundown of who Job is, his suffering, his innocence (so we know it’s not punishment), and an introduction to all of Job’s friends except Elihu. We also see that God did not directly cause the suffering, but allowed Satan to do it with his permission. There are five scenes alternating between earth and heaven. Earth first, then, Heaven, Earth, Heaven, Earth. The only person who goes back and forth is Satan.
I’ve got much more to say about this section, but we’ll wait until tomorrow.
For tomorrow read Job 6-9.
The Lord bless you and keep you.