Job (book of Bible)

 

I   INTRODUCTION

Job Afflicted by Satan

This 13th-century stained glass window from the Strasbourg Cathedral in France depicts the biblical story of Job. God and Satan test Job to see if he will curse God after losing his possessions and his family and being afflicted by painful boils. Despite his afflictions, Job refuses to curse God.

Bridgeman Art Library, London/New York

Job (book of Bible), book of the Old Testament. It is attributed to Job, the principal character of the book. Biblical scholars have dated the book variously from Mosaic to postexilic times. The time presently favored by most scholars, however, is the later postexilic period, or from 500 to 250 bc. The author, who is unknown, is thought to have used an Israelite or Edomite folktale or epic dating perhaps from the beginning of the Israelite monarchy as a framework for his poetic dialogue. Later, another writer (or editor) added the speeches of a youthful fourth friend (chap. 32-37). The book is part of the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, which includes Ecclesiastes and Proverbs.

The Book of Job consists of five distinct sections: a prose prologue (chap. 1-2); a series of dramatic discourses between Job and three of his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar (chap. 3-31); a discourse between Job and Elihu, a fourth friend (chap. 32-37); God’s speeches from the whirlwind (38:1-42:6); and a prose epilogue (42:7-17).

II   THE PROLOGUE

Job is a “man . . . blameless and upright . . . one who feared God, and turned away from evil” (1:1). He is pious, rich, and the head of a large, contented family. Then on a day “when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord” (1:6), God asks Satan what he thinks of Job’s piety and righteousness. Satan proposes that Job would curse God if he were to lose all his wealth; so God and Satan agree to test Job. Satan proceeds to take away Job’s possessions, even his sons, and finally to afflict Job with extremely painful boils. Job refuses, however, to curse God. Three of his friends, having heard of his misfortunes, now arrive to comfort him, but they are dumbfounded at their first sight of Job.

III   JOB AND HIS FRIENDS

Job’s Comforters

Job’s Comforters is one of 21 illustrations created by English poet and illustrator William Blake for the Old Testament Book of Job. According to this book from the Bible, Satan deprived Job of his possessions, wealth, and family and inflicted painful boils on him in order to test his faith in God. Three of his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, arrive to comfort him and are horrified by what they find. This 1825 watercolor illustration, from Illustrations of the Booke of Job, is in the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City, New York.

The Pierpont Morgan Library/Art Resource, NY

The second section, after Job’s first complaint (chap. 3), consists of three cycles of speeches. During each cycle each one of his three friends speaks once and Job, directly replying to each in turn, answers three times. The gist of the speeches of the three friends is that Job’s misfortunes and suffering must result from some wickedness on the part of Job and therefore he is justly served. Job, steadfastly proclaiming his innocence, soon becomes irritated, then angry, with his friends for their apparently unwarranted, superficial judgments; still he continues to seek an explanation for his sufferings: “Oh that I had one to hear me! Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me” (31:35).

The third section consists of the speeches of Elihu. His wrath is kindled against Job “because he justified himself rather than God” (32:2) and against “his three friends because they had found no answer, although they had declared Job to be in the wrong” (32:3). Elihu contends that Job has added “rebellion to his sin” (34:37) by questioning God’s judgment. His support for this contention is the belief that “the Almighty—we cannot find him; he is great in power and justice” (37:23).

IV   GOD SPEAKS

In the fourth section, God speaks from out of a whirlwind. He seems to ignore completely Job’s desire for an explanation or justification of his suffering; instead, he humbles Job by challenging him to explain how the universe was created and how it is ordered. Job’s “error,” apparently, is his presumption that God’s ways and his omnipotence are humanly comprehensible. In seemingly irrelevant questions (40:8), God both rebukes Job and makes his most direct reply to Job’s earlier question: “What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? And what profit do we get if we pray to him?” (21:15). Recognizing at last that he has spoken out of ignorance and that he may come no closer to God than his vision of him, Job now repents (42:1-6).

V   THE EPILOGUE

In the last section, God rebukes Job’s three friends (Elihu does not appear) because they “have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (42:7). He gives to Job twice the wealth and possessions he formerly owned, seven sons and three beautiful daughters, and a contented old age. The epilogue, like the prologue, is in prose, and it most clearly reflects the probable folktale origins of the poetic discourses.

 

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