A dramatic poem of human experience, in which Job's patience and integrity in the face of overwhelming tragedy vindicate the righteousness of God in His dealings with men and confute the theory that suffering is a divine retribution for human misdeeds. In the Hebrew printed Bibles the book of Job stands in the 3rd section, the Hagiographa, or Writings (see Old Testament), and stands between Psalms and Proverbs. In the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and modern translations, it appears as the first of the poetical books. From ancient times the book has been held in highest esteem, inasmuch as unaccountable suffering and disappointment have ever been man's lot, and men have drawn solace, courage, and hope from the example of Job. The dramatic conversational form and the graphic imagery of the book make it fascinating to read, even in translation. As literature it easily deserves a place among the great classics of all time. Early Jewish tradition, though not unanimous, attributed the book to Moses, whereas modern scholars have suggested Elihu, Solomon, and Ezra as possible candidates for authorship. The following reasons have been deduced for ascribing the book to Moses. Moses sojourned in Midian (Ex 2:15), which was possibly in the vicinity of the land of Uz itself. The land of Uz appears to have been in or near the land of Edom (see Lam 4:21). Thus during his sojourn in Midian, Moses could easily have been acquainted with Job or with his descendants or some who had known him personally. Being "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians" and "mighty in words and in deeds" (Acts 7:22), Moses unquestionably possessed the literary background for writing this poetic masterpiece. In recent years texts in alphabetical Semitic script dating from the same period have come to light in the region of Moses' sojourn, disproving the former critical position that writing was not known at the time of Moses. The strong Arabic flavour that permeates the narrative of Job, coupled with allusions to Egyptian life and customs that occur in the book, points to a writer who was personally acquainted with both cultures. Furthermore, the concept of God as Creator, reflected in Job 38 to 41, harmonises with the Creation narrative in the book of Genesis, which Moses wrote. Also, certain words found in the book of Job appear also in the Pentateuch, but rarely elsewhere in the OT. One noteworthy illustration of this is Shaddai, "the Almighty," which occurs 31 times in Job and 6 times in Genesis, and only eight times elsewhere. Words occurring in the Pentateuch and in Job but nowhere else are: achu, "meadow"; tenuah, "opposition," "amazement"; nes, an unclean bird; palil, "judge"; yarat, "to throw."
Arguments that have been advanced against Mosaic authorship on the grounds of a dissimilarity of style as compared with other books attributed to him cannot be taken seriously in view of the vast difference in content. The argument that Job resembles the so-called "wisdom literature" of a later period in no way precludes the existence of this literary style at a much earlier time. The historical data in the book, scanty though they are, clearly imply that Job was an actual person, to whose experience an inspired account of the supernatural background of the tragedy that befell him is added. Following this simple, historical record of what befell Job, the solution to his problem of suffering is presented in a series of dialogues between Job and his friends, and later between Job and God. To this is appended a brief historical epilogue that reports the sequel to Job's experience.
The problem to which the book of Job seeks a solution is, "Why do the righteous suffer?" The answer is that Satan is the author of suffering, as he is of the theory that makes suffering out to be divine punishment for sin. Suffering is the result of an evil genius at work in the universe, and not necessarily of particular acts of wrongdoing on the sufferer's part. God's role in human suffering is permissive. This is not to deny the law of reward and punishment (see Gal 6:7 9). It is true that persistent refusal to comply with the divine will brings misfortune (Ex 23:20 33; Deut 28; Ps 1; Jer 31:29, 30; Eze. 18), but the fact that suffering is a natural result of sin at work in the universe does not necessarily imply that suffering can be traced to some particular antecedent sin. In a world where sin prevails, the righteous often suffer along with the guilty, while the wicked sometimes appear, for a time, to prosper (cf. Ps 37:7; Jer 12:1).
The narrative of the book of Job opens with Job at the summit of prosperity, a man "perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil" (Job 1:1). But suddenly and without apparent cause he is reduced to a state in which death appears more desirable than life (chs 1:13 21; 2:9; 3:1 3, 20, 21), yet "in all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly" (ch 1:22). On the basis of the tradition that suffering is punishment for sin, Job's wife gives the situation up as hopeless (ch 2:9), and his best friends, who presumably come to comfort him (v 11), succeed only in deepening his misery (ch 16:2). It seems to Job that even God no longer understands or cares (ch 23). Apparently forsaken thus alike by God and man, and prostrate in a deep, dark pit of discouragement, Job nevertheless maintains a degree of spiritual poise. He does not claim to be without sin, but protests that he knows of no rational explanation for his suffering, on the premise that punishment is retribution for a supposed crime. In a supreme act of faith he commits his way to the Lord, even in death, confident that in time God will "have a desire" to the work of His hand (ch 14:12 15). His faith that God is good leads him to triumph over the most forbidding circumstances. Slowly but surely this faith lifts him from the pit into which Satan has plunged him, until finally God sharpens his vision to see circumstances in their true perspective from the standpoint of the divine philosophy.
The poem proper is composed of 3 parts, in the 1st of which Job debates the problem with his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar (chs 3 31). In the 2nd part he debates the problem with Elihu (chs 32:1 to 37:24), and in the 3rd God intervenes and explains the problem to Job (chs 38 to 42). Job's debate with Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar is in 3 cycles, each of which contains 3 speeches by Job and one by each of his 3 friends in response, except that the 3rd cycle contains no speech by Zophar. The speeches of the 3 friends have been compared to a number of wheels rotating on the same axle, in that all attempt to prove misfortune to be divine punishment for sin.
After the prose prologue (Job 1:1 to 2:13), which sets the stage with Job prostrate upon a heap of ashes and surrounded by his 3 well-meaning but mistaken friends, the 1st cycle of the argument between Job and his friends begins (chs 3:1 to 11:20). Job makes 3 speeches and is answered, in turn, by Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. Job tells of his affliction and expresses his inability to understand why God permitted all this to happen to him. His friends assert that he must have committed some heinous sin, to have deserved a punishment such as this, and appeal to him to repent. In the 2nd cycle (chs 12:1 to 20:29) Job maintains his integrity--he has not been guilty of such a sin. He then laments the unjust and unmerciful accusations of his would-be "comforters," and affirms his belief that someday God will vindicate his cause. Again replying in turn, Job's friends reprove him for maintaining his integrity, which, because of their mistaken concept of suffering as the penalty for particular sins, is gross impiety. The 3rd cycle (chs 21:1 to 31:40) once more presents Job giving 3 speeches in which he observes that the wicked sometimes prosper even as the righteous sometimes suffer. He appeals to God to hear his case, reviews his experience, and maintains his innocence. Eliphaz replies to Job's 1st speech, Bildad to the 2nd. They appeal to him to repent, and seek to prove that Job is foolish to expect God to justify him. Silenced at last, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar retire from the stage. Then Elihu, a young man who has been standing by, offers another philosophical approach to the subject (chs 32 to 37), reasoning that suffering is not so much divine punishment as it is corrective discipline. After Elihu has spoken for some time God interrupts (chs 38 to 41), and in 3 addresses emphasises His concern for man's well-being. He directs Job's attention to countless aspects of the natural world that reveal God as the Creator and Sustainer of all things. If God takes an interest in all of these, can He be unconcerned for Job in his abject misery? The climax comes in a declaration of God's omniscience and omnipotence (ch 41:34). Job can therefore have implicit confidence in Him. In the prose postlude (ch 42) Job acknowledges God-s great power and wisdom. Through this experience he has attained to a richer and deeper appreciation of God and of God's ways of dealing with man. God then denounces the false philosophy of Eliphaz and his companions and summons Job to pray for them (Job 42:7), but does not include Elihu in His censure. Then "the Lord turned the captivity of Job" and gave him "twice as much as he had before" (v 10). A rich reward awaits those who endure the vicissitudes of life with patience and courage, a reward that will compensate them fully for all they have endured because of sin--"an hundredfold now in this time, and in the world to come eternal life" (Mk 10:30).
Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.