Job Lesson One
Background and Structure of the Book of Job
You have already read through the Book of Job, so you have some understanding of what the book is all about. In this lesson, we will seek to understand something of the background of the book and its basic structure. This will give us the tools to help us understand the message of this book. Remember! Keep reading through the book; spend some time meditating on some of the key verses that you discover.
Background of the Book of Job
Who was Job?
Job was an actual historic person. Both the Old and New Testaments speak of Job as a man who actually lived.
- Job 1:1
- Ezekiel 14:13-14; 14:19-20 mentions Job as a righteous man, along with Noah and Daniel.
- James 5:11 mentions Job. “. . . You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord, that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.”
When did Job live?
The Hebrew Bible tells us that Job lived to be over 200 years old; the Greek Septuagint version even says that he lived 248 years. He was probably not as old as those who lived before Noah’s flood, but he was as old as many of the patriarchs before the Exodus. Job lived before the birth of the nation of Israel, before the Abrahamic and Sinai covenants.
Job chapter 1 tells us that the Chaldeans raided Job’s servants. The Chaldeans later became the Babylonians, a mighty empire; but at this time they were still a nomadic people. Job may have lived about the same time as Joseph, in the early stages of his captivity.
Job 1:1 tells us that Job lived in the land of Uz, “in the East.” Genesis 10:23 says that one of the sons of Shem was named Uz. This was a proper name, but it is possible that the area in which he lived came to be known as Uz. Most scholars think that this area was northeast of the Sea of Galilee.
Who wrote the Book of Job and when did he write it?
The book is written as a direct revelation from God, which means that the author spoke prophetically. The Bible does not say that he was a prophet, but he spoke prophetically.
Who wrote it?
- Job himself? If he wrote it, then this book is the oldest book of the Bible. But there is no evidence that he himself wrote it.
- Moses? Many people think this because Job probably lived during the patriarchal period. But there is no evidence for this.
- Solomon? The Book of Job is wisdom literature, and wisdom flourished during the time of Solomon. But there is no evidence for this.
- Jeremiah? Some think that Jeremiah may have written the book because Jeremiah included a lament in his writings that is very similar to Job’s lament: “Cursed be the day that I was born!” (Jeremiah 20:14-18) He even says “Woe is me, my mother, that you bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land! I have not lent, nor have I borrowed, yet all of them curse me.” (Jeremiah 15:10) He also complained to the Lord: “Righteous are You, O Lord, when I complain to You; yet I will plead my case before You. Why does the way of the wicked prosper?” (Jeremiah 12:1)
Yet there is an important difference between Job’s suffering and that of Jeremiah. Job was living a very happy, self-satisfied life when tragedy struck him. Jeremiah, on the other hand, knowingly accepted suffering when he responded to God’s call to become a prophet. Job complained about his personal tragedy; Jeremiah complained about his nation’s tragedy. Jeremiah would have understood Job very well, but there is no clear evidence that he wrote it.
No one knows who wrote this book. Most scholars of Job admit that they do not know who wrote it, or even when it was written.
Then what do we know?
We know that God gave the world this majestic book to teach us about His steadfast, unending love and Job’s persistent and enduring faith in a time of great suffering. The Book of Job deals with one of the greatest philosophical and religious questions ever asked. Why do innocent people, righteous people suffer? God Himself said that Job was blameless and upright, one who feared God and shunned evil. So why did Job suffer so greatly?
- Philosophy cannot answer the problem of suffering. Socrates was one of the greatest philosophers, but he could not solve the problem of suffering; all he could say was something he had read as an inscription on a temple: “Know yourself.” Socrates had a deep knowledge of man, and he was able to reveal the fact that lying beneath the superficial knowledge we have is a profound ignorance of our origin and destiny. Philosophers have contributed greatly to our understanding of the meaning of life, but they cannot know the mind of man.
- Religion cannot answer the problem of suffering. Buddhism has dealt with the problem of suffering more than any other religion except Christianity. Buddha discovered that we are bound by the prison of our ego, which creates anxiety that causes deep suffering. He taught us how to get rid of our ego, but could not provide the solution to the problem of suffering. Neither philosophy nor religion has the answer to why the righteous suffer.
Job himself persistently asked the question “why.” Is there a merciful God? Does He answer the question of suffering? Job did not find the intellectual answer to his question of “why.” But he did find the solution that goes far beyond the question “why.”
Structure of the Book of Job
Job chapters 1 and 2
- Chapters 1 and 2 are written in prose; the remainder of the book is written in poetry, except for the last section of chapter 42. Notice who the Bible says Job was, and how Satan attacked him. As you read through the text, ask some questions; then answer them from what you are reading. Satan’s purpose was to destroy Job, along with his family and his great fortune. Begin thinking about what God’s purpose was in allowing Satan to attack Job this way. Keep in mind the apostle James’ comment about God’s intention for Job: “. . . You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord, that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.” (James 5:11)
- Chapter 2 concludes with the account of Job’s 3 friends coming to comfort him. They were so overwhelmed at the extent of Job’s sufferings that they sat down on the ground with Job for seven days and seven nights, and spoke not a word.
Job chapters 3—37
This largest section of the book is written in poetic style. It is a poetic masterpiece; it is difficult to find poetic expression greater than the Book of Job. Take time to read the poetry slowly. You will need to allow God to use your imagination to enable you to enter into this dialogue of Job and his friends. You will notice at the end of their dialogue that a young man, Elihu, suddenly appears and gives a long argument (chapters 32—37). So there are 5 men who speak in the main body of the book: Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu.
Job chapters 38—41
God suddenly appears in a whirlwind and silences all 5 of the speakers. God does not answer Job’s question of “why.” He simply appears in His great majesty and silences everyone.
Job chapter 42
This is the conclusion to the book. Job’s eyes are opened; he has an “epiphany” of God. Until now, Job only knew about God; but now he meets God face to face and repents. God is not angry with Job, even though he complained and doubted. Instead, He is angry with Job’s 3 friends. God restores Job; He also restores Job’s 3 friends, but only after Job prays for them. Job discovered that there is no philosophical or religious answer to the question of suffering. God Himself is the Answer.
Some things to consider
1. What are some things you have discovered as you come to understand the structure and background of the book?
2. Has praying the Lord’s Prayer as you study helped you in understanding this book? In what ways?
Note on the Lord’s Prayer Walter Ciszek (1904-1984) was a Polish-American Jesuit priest who spent twenty-three years in the Soviet prisons and labor camps of Siberia. He discovered an important key that enabled him to retain his hope in the midst of his suffering. He began to understand the way he should pray. “Lord, teach us how to pray,” the disciples said. Jesus then taught them to pray what we today call “The Lord’s Prayer.” Let’s listen to how Fr. Ciszek described this prayer:
“Jesus begins by placing us in the presence of God: God the almighty, who has created all things out of nothingness and keeps them in existence lest they return to nothingness, who rules all things and governs all things in the heavens and on earth according to the designs of His own providence. And yet the same all-powerful God is our Father, who cherishes us and looks after us as His sons [and daughters], who provides for us in His own loving kindness, who guides us in His wisdom, who watches over us daily to shelter us from harm, to provide us food, and to receive us back with open arms when we, like the prodigal, have wasted our inheritance. Even as a father guards his children, He guards us from evil—because evil does exist in the world. And just as He can find it in His Father’s heart to pardon us, He expects us to imitate Him in pardoning His other sons and daughters, no matter what their offenses.
“The [Lord’s Prayer] is a prayer of praise and thanksgiving, a prayer of petition and of reparation . . . it is a prayer for all times, for every occasion. It is at once the most simple of prayers and the most profound . . . if one could only translate each of its phrases into the actions of his daily life, then he would indeed be perfect as His heavenly Father clearly wishes him to be. Truly, the Lord’s Prayer is the beginning and end of all prayers, the key to every other form of prayer.
“If we could constantly live in the realization that we are sons of a heavenly Father, that we are always in His sight and play in His creation, then all our thoughts and our every action would be a prayer . . . And every true prayer begins precisely here: placing oneself in the presence of God.”
3. What does the conclusion of the book tell you about God’s original intention for Job? How does this help you understand where God is, and what He does, in the midst of the suffering of righteous people around the world? Or in the midst of your own suffering?
* Try to remember the structure of the book as you continue your study. This will help you sense the movement of the story. It will also help you look back at what you have studied and know what to expect as you continue.
* Make a decision to study the Book of Job with a shepherd’s heart. That means you will not be studying just to accumulate knowledge; rather, you will be studying with a heart to help others who may be suffering or who do not understand the ways of God. You will be an encourager for many people. If you study with a shepherd’s heart, the Holy Spirit will reveal more truth to you. May God bless you as you ask the Holy Spirit to enlarge your heart for the world.