Enjoy and learn! (Hint: You might want to watch it more than once because it’s packed with good stuff.)
These illustrated charts are so helpful, I encourage you to download a copy for personal study. It’s free! Courtesy of The Bible Project.
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The book of Job. It’s a profound and very unique book in the Bible for lots of
reasons. The story is set in a very obscure land that’s far away from Israel, Uz.
The main character, Job, he’s not even an Israelite. And the author, who’s anonymous,
doesn’t even set the story in any clear period of ancient history. This all seems
intentional though. It’s like the author doesn’t want us to be distracted by
historical questions but rather to focus simply on the story of Job and on the
questions raised by his experience of suffering. The book of Job has a very
clear literary design. It opens and closes with a short narrative prologue
and then epilogue. And then the central body of the book is dense Hebrew poetry,
representing conversations between Job and four dialogue partners called “the
friends.” These conversations are then concluded by a series of poetic speeches
given by God to Job. Let’s dive in to see how it works together. The prologue
introduces us to Job and we’re told that he’s the blameless, upright man who
honors God. He’s a super good guy. And then all of a sudden were transported
into the heavenly realms and God is holding court with his staff team. It’s a
very common image in the Old Testament describing how God runs the world. And
among the heavenly beings is a figure called “the Satan,” which in hebrew
means “the Accuser” or “the Prosecutor.” It’s like we’re watching a court scene.
God presents Job as a truly righteous man and then the accuser challenges
God’s policy of rewarding righteous people like Job. He says the only reason Job
obeys you is because you bless him with prosperity. Let Job suffer– then we’ll
see how righteous he actually is. And then God agrees to let the accuser inflict
suffering on Job. Now it’s at this point in the story that most of us go, “What? Why
did God do that?” and then we assume that this book is going to answer that
question–why God allows good people to suffer. But as you read on, the book
doesn’t answer that question. Nothing in the book ever answers that question.
The prologue is setting up the real questions this book is trying to get at.
Questions about God’s justice and whether God operates the universe
according to the strict principle of justice. And the response to those
questions comes as you read through to the end of the book, not at the beginning.
The ultimate reason for Job suffering is simply never revealed. So the prologue
concludes with a suffering and bewildered Job who’s rebuked by his wife
and he’s approached by three friends who are going to try and provide wisdom and
counsel. Their names are Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite.
They are all non-Israelites, like Job.
And they represent the best of ancient Near Eastern thinking
about God and suffering in the human condition. And this moves into the main
part of the book. First Job speaks. This is how this section of the book works:
first, Job is going to speak and then will follow a response from a friend.
Then Job will respond to that friend and then another friend will respond to Job’s
response and so on, back and forth for three cycles. And this whole
debate has focused on three questions: “Is God truly just in character?” and “Does God
run the universe on the strict principle of justice?” And if so, then how is Job’s
suffering to be explained? As we’re going to see, Job and the friends, they’re
working from a huge assumption about what God’s justice ought to look like in
the world, namely that every single thing that happens in the universe should
operate according to the strict principle of justice. So if you’re a wise,
good person and you honor God, good things will happen to you. God will
reward you. But if you’re evil and stupid and do sinful things, bad things will
happen to you. God will punish you. Now Job’s constant arguments throughout his
speeches is this: first of all, that he’s innocent and so the implication of that
is that his suffering is not a divine punishment. Now we know from the prologue,
both of these things are true. Remember, God Himself said Job is righteous and
blameless. And so Job concludes his argument by accusing God. God either doesn’t run
the world according to justice, or even worse, God Himself is simply unjust. The
friends, on the other hand, they beg to differ.
Their argument is that God is just. The implication being that God always runs
the world according to justice in this way and so they conclude by accusing not
God, but Job. Job must have done something really, really bad for God to
punish him like this. They even start making up possible sins that Job must
have committed. Job protests all of this. In fact, he gets so fed up with the
friends that he eventually just gives up on them. He takes up his case directly
with God. Now something to be aware of is that Job, he’s on an emotional roller
coaster in these poems. He used to think that God is just, but now he can’t
reconcile that with his suffering. And so, in some outbursts Job will accuse God
of being a bully. Once he even declares that God has orchestrated all the injustice
in the world. But the moment he utters that thought, he’s terrified of it because he
wants to hope and believe that God is truly just. Job is all over the place in
this section. And so he makes one last statement of his innocence and then he
demands that God show up personally to explain himself. Now it’s at this point
that a surprise friend shows up,
Elihu the Buzite. Now, he’s not an Israelite but he does have a Hebrew name.
And Elihu has the same assumption as Job and the friends. . He argues that God
is just and that that implies that God always operates the universe according
to justice. But then Elihu draws a more sophisticated conclusion about why good
people suffer. It may not be punishment for sin in the past.
God might inflict suffering as a warning to help people avoid sin in the future. Or
God might use pain and suffering to build character or to teach people valuable
lessons. Elihu doesn’t claim to know why Job is suffering but one thing he is certain
of: Job is wrong to accuse God of being unjust. Job doesn’t even respond to Elihu and
the dialogues come to a close . It’s like the wisdom of the Ancients has been
spent and the mystery remains. And then all of a sudden God shows up in a
whirlwind and he responds to Job personally. He first responds to Job’s
accusation that he is unjust and incompetent at running the universe. So
God takes Job on a virtual tour of the universe and he starts asking him all these
questions about the order and origins of the cosmos. Was Job ever around when God
architected the earth or organized the constellations? Has Job ever commanded
the sunrise or controlled the weather?
God has his eyes on all of these cosmic details that Job has never even
conceived of. Then God starts going into detail describing the grazing habits of
mountain goats and how deer give birth, or the feeding patterns of lions and
wild donkeys. What’s the point of all this? Remember the assumption of Job and
his friends about what it looks like for God to run the world according to
Underneath that assumption is a deeper one that Job and his friends have a wide
enough perspective on life to make such a claim about how God ought to run the world.
And God’s response with this virtual tour, it deconstructs all of these assumptions.
It first of all shows that the universe is a vast, complex place and
that God has his eyes on all of it–every detail. Job on the other hand, has only
the small horizon of his life experience to draw from. His view of the world is
very limited and so what looks like divine injustice from Job’s point of
view needs to be seen in an infinitely larger context. Job is simply not in a
position to make such a huge accusation about God. After the virtual tour, God
asks Job if he would like to micromanage the world for a day according to the
strict principle of justice that Job and his friends assume; punishing every evil deed of
every person at every moment with precise retribution.
The fact is that carrying out justice in a world like ours, it’s extremely complex.
It’s never black and white like Job and the friends seem to think. Which leads to
God’s last point. He starts describing these two fantastic creatures, Behemoth
and Leviathan, which some people think are poetic depictions of the hippo and
crocodile. More likely they refer to well-known creatures from ancient Near
Eastern mythology that are used elsewhere in the Bible as symbols of the
disorder and danger that exists in God’s good world. These creatures, they’re not
evil. God is actually quite proud of them. But they’re not safe either. The point is
that God’s world is amazing
and very good but it’s not perfect or always safe. God’s world has order and
beauty but it’s also wild and sometimes dangerous, just like these two
fantastic creatures. And so we come back to the big question of Job’s suffering.
Why is there suffering in God’s world– whether it’s from earthquakes or wild
animals or from other humans. God doesn’t explain why. What he says is that
we live in an extremely complex, amazing world that at this stage at least is not
designed to prevent suffering. And that’s God’s response. Job challenged God’s
justice. God responds that Job doesn’t have sufficient knowledge about our
universe to make such a claim.
Job demanded a full explanation from God and what God asked Job for is trust
in His wisdom and character. And so, Job responds with humility and repentance. He
apologizes for accusing God and he acknowledges that he’s overstepped his
bounds. Then all of a sudden the book concludes with a short epilogue. First
God says that the friends were wrong, that their ideas about God’s justice
were just too simple– not true to the complexity of the world or God’s wisdom.
And then God says that Job has spoken rightly about him. Now this is surprising
because it can’t apply to everything
Job said. I mean we know Job drew hasty and wrong conclusions, but God still
approves of Job’s wrestling. How Job came honestly before God with all of his
emotion and pain and simply wanted to talk to God himself. And God says that’s
the right way to process through all of this, through the struggle of prayer. The book
concludes with Job having his health, his family, his wealth,
all restored– not as a reward for good behavior but simply as a generous gift
from God. And that’s the end of the book. The book of Job, it doesn’t unlock the
puzzle of why bad things happen to good people. Rather it does invite us to trust
God’s wisdom when we do encounter suffering rather than try and figure out
the reason for it. When we search for reasons we tend to either simplify
God–like the friends– or like Job, accuse God, but based on limited
evidence. And so the book is inviting us to honestly bring our pain and our grief to God and
to trust that God actually cares and that he knows what he’s doing. And that’s
what the book of Job is all about.