1. Title. The book bears as its title the name of its chief character—Job, Heb. ’Iyyob.
2. Authorship. Early Jewish tradition, though not unanimously, assigned the authorship of the book to Moses. The Babylonian Talmud claims, “Moses wrote his own book, and the passages about Balaam and Job” (Baba Bathra, 14b, 15a). This assertion is rejected by most modern scholars as well as by many of earlier date. Some of these suggest Elihu, Solomon, and Ezra as possible authors. Others believe the book to be the work of an unnamed author, perhaps of the time of Solomon, or of the time of David, or of the era of the Captivity. All of these claims that have been developed at length by various authors are conjectural, with insufficient evidence, either internal or external, for positive identification. There remains much to support the tradition that ascribes the book to Moses. Moses spent 40 years in Midian, which would give him ample background for the strong Arabic flavor that is evident throughout the book. Moses’ Egyptian background also explains the allusions to Egyptian life and practice that occur in the book. The picture of God as creator and sustainer fits well with the creation narrative preserved in another book written by Moses (see Ed 159). Some scholars object to Mosaic authorship on the grounds of dissimilarity of style between Job and other books attributed to Moses. The argument from style is a tenuous one. Naming Moses as author of the book of Job does not preclude the possibility that much of the material may have already been in written form—penned, perhaps, by the hand of Job himself. The subject matter of Job is altogether different from that of the other books of Moses, and would require different treatment. On the other hand, striking similarities of style can be demonstrated. For instance, certain words used in the book of Job appear also in the Pentateuch, but nowhere else in the Old Testament; many other words common to both Job and the Pentateuch are seldom used by other Bible writers. The title ’El-Shaddai, “the Almighty” (see Vol. I, p. 171), is used 31 times in the book of Job and 6 times in the book of Genesis, but occurs in this particular form nowhere else in the Bible.
3. Historical Setting. The book of Job is a poem of human experience, with a prophet of God as its author. The above comments reveal the approximate time of the writing of the book—during Moses’ sojourn in Midian. Job may have been a contemporary of Moses. This concept regarding the date of authorship reveals why the book makes no mention of the Exodus or of events following it. These events had not yet occurred. Scholars who seek to place Job in the time of Solomon or later must explain the absence of all such historical allusions in Job. The similarity between Job and the wisdom literature does not indicate that Job copied the style of Solomon or his contemporaries. It is as reasonable to assume that Solomon was influenced by such a masterpiece as Job as to assume the opposite. We need not take either position. The obvious setting of Job is that of Arabian Desert culture. Strangely enough, it is not an Israelitish setting. There were worshipers of God outside the confines of Abraham’s descendants. The setting is not political, military, or ecclesiastical. Rather, Job emerges from a domestic background, common to his age. He was a wealthy landowner, honored and loved by his countrymen. He can be identified with no dynasty or ruling clan. He stands out, a lone, majestic figure in history, important because of his personal experience rather than because of his relationship to his time or to his contemporaries.
4. Theme. This is the story of a man finding his way back to normal life after a series of terrible, unexplainable reverses. The elements in the background that make the situation dramatic are (1) the contrast between Job’s prosperity and his degradation, (2) the suddenness of his calamity, (3) the problem posed by the philosophy of suffering common in his day, (4) the cruelty of his friends, (5) the depth of his discouragement, (6) the gradual ascent to trust in God, (7) the dramatic appearance of God, (8) the repentance of Job, (9) the humiliation of his friends, (10) the restoration of Job. No single statement is sufficient to cover the complex teaching of the book. Many minor themes fit into the larger theme, making the book as a whole resemble a symphony of ideas. One of the grandest contributions of the book is its picture of God. Never have the glory and profundity of God been more eloquently expressed, except in the person of Jesus Christ Himself. Satan tries to impugn God, circumstances tempt Job to doubt God’s love, friends misinterpret God; yet, in the end, God reveals Himself so magnificently that Job is led to exclaim, “Now mine eye seeth thee” (ch. 42:5). It is significant that, even in the depths of his sorrow, Job mourns more over what seems to him his loss of God than he does over the loss of property and family. God stands at the center of the book, sometimes hidden by clouds of misunderstanding, but finally vindicated as a just and loving Creator.
The problem of suffering also looms large in the book. The reader of the narrative is acquainted from the outset with the reason for Job’s misfortunes. Job was not aware of Satan’s intrigues against him. On the contrary, Job and his friends were steeped in a tradition that claimed that suffering was always punishment for specific sin. Job was not aware of such sin, and was faced with the predicament of finding an explanation for his misfortune. Over the obstacles of misunderstanding and misrepresentation, placed in his path by the current tradition, Job had to make his way from despair to confidence. In his sickness Job was brought face to face with death. He was thus led to ponder the condition of man after death. Job considered death a sleep (ch. 14:12), with a resurrection beyond (vs. 14, 15). The presence of this statement has been a stumbling block to commentators who believe in the conscious state of the dead. Many fanciful interpretations have been made of Job’s references to the future life, though such references are in full harmony with the teaching of other scriptures.
Another secondary theme is the personification of Wisdom. As Solomon did later, Job extolled wisdom as the greatest good. Both writers associate wisdom with “the fear of the Lord” (Job 28:28; Prov. 15:33).
In interpreting the book of Job, distinction must be made between those ideas that express divine truth and the statements of personal feeling and opinion that are expressed by the various characters in the narrative. For example, the philosophy of suffering set forth by the friends of Job is not correct. It reflects the faulty thinking of the times. The bitter speeches are not in harmony with God’s will. Inspiration has recorded the mistaken notions of certain men, but that does not make these ideas correct. The reader of Job must always distinguish between the truths that God is teaching and the faulty ideas often expressed by the finite speakers. To use a statement from Bildad, for example, to establish a doctrine is to follow a questionable principle of interpretation. In the comment on the book alternate interpretations are given certain passages. The principal reason for this is the obscurity of the Hebrew text. Often Hebrew words have several meanings. These meanings are frequently quite dissimilar—even opposite. In some cases a statement may be interpreted in several ways. In such instances variant possible interpretations are given. At times the Hebrew is so obscure that conjecture is involved. These problems, however, do not materially affect the over-all meaning of the text. The amazing feature of Job is the literary skill with which the theme is developed. Prof. George Foot Moore of Harvard University speaks of the composition as the greatest work of Hebrew literature that has come down to us, and one of the greatest poetical works of the world’s literature. Another eulogist calls it “The Matterhorn of the Old Testament.” The book of Job cannot be well understood without attention to its design. The book is obviously a poem. The basis of Hebrew poetry is parallelism. This is a poetic form in which an idea is expressed in two short sentences. Sometimes the two sentences are almost identical, as in ch. 3:25. Sometimes the second expression is an amplification of the first and adds an additional thought (see ch. 5:12). For a discussion of Hebrew parallelisms see pp. 24-27.
The book has three divisions: prologue, poem, epilogue. The poem is divided into three parts: the dialogues between Job and his friends, Elihu’s speech, God’s intervention. In Job’s arguments with his friends there are three cycles, each of which contains three speeches by Job and one each by the friends (except for the absence of Zophar’s speech in the third cycle). In Job’s final address there are three speeches. God is introduced as making three addresses. The epilogue is divided into three parts. This design may be carried even into the construction of some of the individual speeches in the book. Such an arrangement is in no way surprising; it is in perfect accord with the genius of Hebrew poetry. (See on ch. 27:13 for the view that Zophar made a third address.)
A word is in order regarding repetition in the book of Job. The average reader is impressed—and sometimes discouraged—by the many instances of repetition of the same idea. It must be remembered that all the speeches of Job’s friends were intended to prove one idea—that misfortune should be construed as punishment. Elihu also developed one main theme—that misfortune should be construed as discipline. Job, on the other hand, was aiming at one objective—the vindication of his challenged integrity. In each instance every resource is exploited toward the proving of the case. This leads to the expression of the same thought in many different settings—for example, each of the friends covers the same ground, emphasizes the same ideas, and frequently employs the same expressions. It should be observed that the prevalence of repetition ceases when God begins to speak. The speeches of the friends have been compared to so many wheels revolving on the same axle. Their sameness makes this comparison apt. Elihu’s speech represents the pent-up emotion of a young man enthusiastic over what he considers a great idea. God’s speeches are different. They are in a class by themselves. All the way through the divine utterances there is progress. Every phrase is full of meaning. God’s speeches are a clear revelation of the divine One, who is using the objects of creation as a medium of expression. These facts must be recognized by the student of Job in order that the outline of the book may be correctly interpreted.
I. Prose Prelude, 1:1 to 2:13. A. Job and his family,1:1-5.
B. Satan obtains permission to afflict Job,1:6-12.