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If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher
of humanity? Why have you made me your target?
See Important Quotations Explained
If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher
of humanity? Why have you made me your target?
Job is a wealthy man living in a land called
Uz with his large family and extensive flocks. He is “blameless”
and “upright,” always careful to avoid doing evil (1:1).
One day, Satan (“the Adversary”) appears before God in heaven. God
boasts to Satan about Job’s goodness, but Satan argues that Job
is only good because God has blessed him abundantly. Satan challenges
God that, if given permission to punish the man, Job will turn and
curse God. God allows Satan to torment Job to test this bold claim,
but he forbids Satan to take Job’s life in the process.
In the course of one day, Job receives four messages,
each bearing separate news that his livestock, servants, and ten
children have all died due to marauding invaders or natural catastrophes.
Job tears his clothes and shaves his head in mourning, but he still
blesses God in his prayers. Satan appears in heaven again, and God
grants him another chance to test Job. This time, Job is afflicted
with horrible skin sores. His wife encourages him to curse God and
to give up and die, but Job refuses, struggling to accept his circumstances.
Three of Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar,
come to visit him, sitting with Job in silence for seven days out
of respect for his mourning. On the seventh day, Job speaks, beginning
a conversation in which each of the four men shares his thoughts
on Job’s afflictions in long, poetic statements.
Job curses the day he was born, comparing life
and death to light and darkness. He wishes that his birth had been
shrouded in darkness and longs to have never been born, feeling
that light, or life, only intensifies his misery. Eliphaz responds
that Job, who has comforted other people, now shows that he never
really understood their pain. Eliphaz believes that Job’s agony
must be due to some sin Job has committed, and he urges Job to seek
God’s favor. Bildad and Zophar agree that Job must have committed
evil to offend God’s justice and argue that he should strive to
exhibit more blameless behavior. Bildad surmises that Job’s children
brought their deaths upon themselves. Even worse, Zophar implies
that whatever wrong Job has done probably deserves greater punishment
than what he has received.
Job responds to each of these remarks, growing
so irritated that he calls his friends “worthless physicians” who
“whitewash [their advice] with lies” (13:4).
After making pains to assert his blameless character, Job ponders
man’s relationship to God. He wonders why God judges people by their
actions if God can just as easily alter or forgive their behavior.
It is also unclear to Job how a human can appease or court God’s
justice. God is unseen, and his ways are inscrutable and beyond human
understanding. Moreover, humans cannot possibly persuade God with
their words. God cannot be deceived, and Job admits that he does
not even understand himself well enough to effectively plead his case
to God. Job wishes for someone who can mediate between himself and
God, or for God to send him to Sheol, the deep place of the dead.
Job’s friends are offended that he scorns their
wisdom. They think his questions are crafty and lack an appropriate
fear of God, and they use many analogies and metaphors to stress
their ongoing point that nothing good comes of wickedness. Job sustains
his confidence in spite of these criticisms, responding that even
if he has done evil, it is his own personal problem. Furthermore,
he believes that there is a “witness” or a “Redeemer” in heaven
who will vouch for his innocence (16:19, 19:25).
After a while, the upbraiding proves too much for Job, and he grows
sarcastic, impatient, and afraid. He laments the injustice that God
lets wicked people prosper while he and countless other innocent people
suffer. Job wants to confront God and complain, but he cannot physically
find God to do it. He feels that wisdom is hidden from human minds,
but he resolves to persist in pursuing wisdom by fearing God and
Without provocation, another friend, Elihu, suddenly
enters the conversation. The young Elihu believes that Job has spent
too much energy vindicating himself rather than God. Elihu explains
to Job that God communicates with humans by two ways—visions and physical
pain. He says that physical suffering provides the sufferer with
an opportunity to realize God’s love and forgiveness when he is well
again, understanding that God has “ransomed” him from an impending
death (33:24). Elihu
also assumes that Job must be wicked to be suffering as he is, and
he thinks that Job’s excessive talking is an act of rebellion against
God finally interrupts, calling from a whirlwind and
demanding Job to be brave and respond to his questions. God’s questions
are rhetorical, intending to show how little Job knows about creation and
how much power God alone has. God describes many detailed aspects
of his creation, praising especially his creation of two large beasts,
the Behemoth and Leviathan. Overwhelmed by the encounter, Job acknowledges
God’s unlimited power and admits the limitations of his human knowledge.
This response pleases God, but he is upset with Eliphaz, Bildad,
and Zophar for spouting poor and theologically unsound advice. Job
intercedes on their behalf, and God forgives them. God returns Job’s
health, providing him with twice as much property as before, new
children, and an extremely long life.
The Book of Job is one of the most celebrated
pieces of biblical literature, not only because it explores some
of the most profound questions humans ask about their lives, but
also because it is extremely well written. The work combines two
literary forms, framing forty chapters of verse between two and
a half chapters of prose at the beginning and the end. The poetic
discourse of Job and his friends is unique in its own right. The
lengthy conversation has the unified voice and consistent style
of poetry, but it is a dialogue between characters who alter their moods,
question their motives, change their minds, and undercut each other
with sarcasm and innuendo. Although Job comes closest to doing so,
no single character articulates one true or authoritative opinion. Each
speaker has his own flaws as well as his own lofty moments of observation
or astute theological insight.
The interaction between Job and his friends
illustrates the painful irony of his situation. Our knowledge that
Job’s punishment is the result of a contest between God and Satan
contrasts with Job’s confusion and his friends’ lecturing, as they
try to understand why Job is being punished. The premise of the
friends’ argument is that misfortune only follows from evil deeds.
Bildad instructs Job, “if you are pure and upright, / surely then
[God] will rouse himself / for you” and he later goads Job to be
a “blameless person” (8:6, 8:20).
The language in these passages is ironic, since, unbeknownst to
Job or Job’s friends, God and Satan do in fact view Job as “blameless
and upright.” This contrast shows the folly of the three friends
who ignore Job’s pain while purporting to encourage him. The interaction
also shows the folly of trying to understand God’s ways. The three
friends and Job have a serious theological conversation about a
situation that actually is simply a game between God and Satan.
The fault of Job and his friends lies in trying to explain the nature
of God with only the limited information available to human knowledge,
as God himself notes when he roars from the whirlwind, “Who is this
that darkness counsel / by words without / knowledge?” (38:2).
The dominant theme of Job is the difficulty of understanding why
an all-powerful God allows good people to suffer. Job wants to find
a way to justify God’s actions, but he cannot understand why there
are evil people who “harm the childless woman, / and do no good
to the widow,” only to be rewarded with long, successful lives (24:21).
Job’s friends, including Elihu, say that God distributes outcomes
to each person as his or her actions deserve. As a result of this belief,
they insist that Job has committed some wrongdoing to merit his
punishment. God himself declines to present a rational explanation
for the unfair distribution of blessings among men. He boasts to Job,
“Have you comprehended the / expanse of the earth? / Declare, if
you know all this” (38:18).
God suggests that people should not discuss divine justice since
God’s power is so great that humans cannot possibly justify his
One of the chief virtues of the poetry in Job is its
rhetoric. The book’s rhetorical language seeks to produce an effect
in the listener rather than communicate a literal idea. God’s onslaught
of rhetorical questions to Job, asking if Job can perform the same
things he can do, overwhelms both Job and the reader with the sense
of God’s extensive power as well as his pride. Sarcasm is also a
frequent rhetorical tool for Job and his friends in their conversation.
After Bildad lectures Job about human wisdom, Job sneers, “How you have
helped one / who has no power! / How you have assisted the arm /
that has no strength!” (26:2).
Job is saying that he already knows what Bildad has just explained
about wisdom. The self-deprecating tone and sarcastic response are
rare elements in ancient verse. Such irony not only heightens the
playfulness of the text but suggests the characters are actively
responding to each other, thus connecting their seemingly disparate
speeches together. The poetry in Job is a true dialogue, for the
characters develop ideas and unique personalities throughout the
course of their responses.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Bible: The Old Testament!