Many people only read the entire book of Job as an allegory – yet, there is a lot of specific reference to him as an actual individual and the book provides suitable context to the background of his time period. The story of Job takes place outside Israel to the east and south (Uz is related to Edom, which may be the setting of the book c.f. chapter 2:11, 6:19; Lamentations 4:21), and it is clear that the author of the book is thoroughly immersed in the Hebrew Scriptures. This author knew the constellations (Job 9:9; 38:31), could discuss meteorology (Job 38:22-38), and makes direct allusion to other Scriptures (e.g. Psalm 8:4; c.f. Job 7:17-18; Psalm 107:40; Isaiah 41:20; c.f. Job 12:21, 24) – suggesting that the book may be dated in the exilic/post-exilic period (around 600 to 500 BC – approximately just before the Ezra-Nehemiah-Esther books). However, it has also been surmised that Job predates even the exile – that he may be a contemporary of Abraham’s son Isaac. See Matthew Henry’s commentary:
“We are sure that it is very ancient, though we cannot fix the precise time either when Job lived or when the book was written. So many, so evident, are its hoary hairs, the marks of its antiquity, that we have reason to think it of equal date with the book of Genesis itself, and that holy Job was contemporary with Isaac and Jacob; though not coheir with them of the promise of the earthly Canaan, yet a joint-expectant with them of the better country, that is, the heavenly. Probably he was of the posterity of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, whose first-born was Uz (Gen. xxii. 21), and in whose family religion was for some ages kept up, as appears, Gen. xxxi. 53, where God is called, not only the God of Abraham, but the God of Nahor. He lived before the age of man was shortened to seventy or eighty, as it was in Moses’s time, before sacrifices were confined to one altar, before the general apostasy of the nations from the knowledge and worship of the true God, and while yet there was no other idolatry known than the worship of the sun and moon, and that punished by the Judges, ch. xxxi. 26-28. He lived while God was known by the name of God Almighty more than by the name of Jehovah; for he is called Shaddai–the Almighty, above thirty times in this book. He lived while divine knowledge was conveyed, not by writing, but by tradition; for to that appeals are here made, ch. viii. 8; xxi. 29; xv. 18; v. 1. And we have therefore reason to think that he lived before Moses, because here is no mention at all of the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt, or the giving of the law. There is indeed one passage which might be made to allude to the drowning of Pharaoh (ch. xxvi. 12): He divideth the sea with his power, and by his understanding he smiteth through Rahab, which name Egypt is frequently called by in scripture, as Ps. lxxxvii. 4; lxxxix. 10; Isa. li. 9. But that may as well refer to the proud waves of the sea. We conclude therefore that we are here got back to the patriarchal age, and, besides its authority, we receive this book with veneration for its antiquity.“
The name “Job” means persecuted, he who weeps – yet could also be related to the Hebrew word for “enemy”, perhaps referring to Job’s response to suffering. It would appear the earliest reference to Job outside the book itself is in Ezekiel where the prophet names three virtuous persons: Noah, Daniel and Job (Ezekiel 14:14, 20); he is also mentioned in James 5:11 as a man of steadfastness receiving the LORD’s compassion and mercy. It is important that Job’s “virtue” is interpreted hand in hand with the LORD’s mercy – for Job’s queries of his suffering goes to the heart of the gospel.
The first verse opens with describing Job as a “blameless and upright” man who feared God and turned away from evil (c.f. Genesis 6:9 and Genesis 17:1 where the same description is applied to Noah and Abraham). He was considered the “greatest of all the people of the east” (v.3) and had:
- 10 offspring (7 sons, 3 daughters)
- 7,000 sheep; 3,000 camels; 500 yoke of oxen; 500 female donkeys; and very many servants
It is important that Job is from Uz – and in understanding Job 1, we understand the final chapter of Job as well. Uz is known as a fertile/oasis/garden-like pace – a garden land situated in the east, sounding a lot like the garden in the east mentioned in Genesis 2. Where Genesis 2 considered sin and death coming into the world, Job considered suffering – an echo of the fall.
Following Esther, note the lavishness of Job’s sons – that each is able to hold a feast each day of the week, with the three sisters joining (v.4). They are immediately consecrated and Job would arrange burnt offerings for each of them to ensure that their hearts are in the right place – in the Son. It is important that this first chapter and last chapter of Job show that the book is bookended by burnt offerings, just as Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega.
V.6-12 describe the heavenly beings gathered before God like a council before a king (15:8; Psalm 29:1; Isaiah 6:1-8), notably Satan the chief angel coming among them (implying he, too, is a “son of God”). Consider what Satan had been doing prior to joining this council in v.7 – Satan had been “going to and fro on earth, and from walking up and down on it”. This phrase is peculiar, as Adam Clarke comments:
“The translation of the Septuagint is curious: περιελθωντηνγηνκαιεμπεριπατησαςτην υπουρανονπαρειμι; “Having gone round the earth, and walked over all that is under heaven, I am come hither.” The Chaldee says, “I am come from going round the earth to examine the works of the children of men; and from walking through it.” Coverdale, who generally hits the sense, translates thus: I have gone aboute the londe ond walked thorow it. Mr. Good has it, from roaming round the earth, and walking about it.
St. Peter, as has been already stated, 1Pe 5:8, refers to this: Be sober, be vigilant; for your ADVERSARY the DEVIL GOETH ABOUT, as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. I rather think, with Coverdale, that arets here signifies rather that land, than the habitable globe. The words are exceedingly emphatic; and the latter verb hithhallech being in the hithpael conjugation shows how earnest and determined the devil is in his work: he sets himself to walk; he is busily employed in it; he is seeking the destruction of men; and while they sleep, he wakes-while they are careless, he is alert. The spirit of this saying is often expressed by the simple inhabitants of the country: when they perceive a man plotting mischief, and frequent in transgression, they say, The devil is BUSY with him.”
In the devil’s busyness, the LORD said to Satan whether he had considered Job “who fears God and turns away from evil” (c.f. Proverbs 3:7, 14:16, 16:6). Satan contends that if Job was removed from his circumstances, he would curse God (the same verb used in v.5 regarding the children’s cursing). Although the Hebrew word literally means “bless”, the book of Job is commonly also seen as a commentary on Deuteronomy 28 – the chapter on blessing (as used in v.5 of Job 1) and cursing from the LORD. So Satan believed that Job would curse the LORD to his face, whilst Satan “went out from the presence of the LORD” (literally, left the face of the LORD) – ironic, since it is Satan who is the prime adversary who cursed the LORD to his face.
It is therefore important that we are immediately faced with Satan’s power, as allowed by the LORD (reminding us of His divine sovereignty never undermined by Satan’s darkness, c.f. v.9-12). Job is faced with the following troubles:
- Sabeans attacking (v.15);
- Fire coming from heaven (v.16)
- Chaldeans attacking (v.17)
- Wilderness wind (v.19)
Such tragedies, immediately coming one after another, is to give Job a sense of restlessness (chapter 9:18) – causing the very deaths of his sons, daughters, and much of his material wealth.
Yet, Job’s reaction is wise. He fell on the ground and worshiped (v.20) – what a stark contrast to what Satan expected. Just like Haman (c.f. Esther) who boasted in what he expected of Mordecai’s death, so Satan also boasted that Job would curse the LORD’s face. Instead – as the underlying inspiration to the Matt Redman song – blessed be the name of the LORD (v.21). Even the narrator stated from this that Job did not sin nor did he charge God with wrong (v.22).
As a repeat of chapter 1:6-12, v. 1-6 explores the second test proposed by Satan and allowed by the LORD – again, to spare Job’s life (v.6). This test is with regard to Job’s bone and flesh, his very health (v.5, 7), loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head (v.7). Job, even in this pain, did not curse God and die; it would seem to be an easier exit from his pain that Job should die as a result of cursing (the foolishness of his wife, identified identically with Satan’s provocation c.f. 1:11, 2:4), but he would rather bless the LORD and live a painful but blessed life (v.9-10). Thus is Job’s theology (c.f. Psalm 119:75):
“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”
It is at this point, v.11 onwards, that we meet Job’s three friends – Eliphaz (“God his strength“) the Temanite (an important city in Edom c.f. Genesis 36:11, 15; Ezekiel 25:13; Amos 1:11-12, known for its wisdom – Jeremiah 49:7), Bildad (“son of contention“) the Shuhite (from Shuah, a name of one of the sons of Abraham from his marriage to Keturah, whose brother was Midian and whose nephews were Sheba and Dedan – c.f. Genesis 25:2, 1 Chronicles 1:32; the latter being a place in Edom or Arabia) and Zophar (“sparrow“) the Naamathite (from Naamah, name of a woman listed in Cain’s genealogy – Genesis 4:22, from whom the Kenites were descendants – Genesis 4:22; the Kenites are mentioned in connection with the Midianites in the Sinai and Arabian deserts – Numbers 10:29, Judges 4:11), meeting together to show him sympathy and comfort him. It would appear that this is the crux of Christian fellowship; to also identify with Job’s pain by tearing their robes and also sprinkling dust on their heads toward heaven (v.12), sitting with him for seven days and seven nights – symbolic of the same amount of time Job’s children used to hold their feasts; but also symbolic of the time God used to create the earth and man – only for man to undo the LORD’s creation on the 7th day (v.13; also signifying a complete time of mourning in response to the suffering – c.f. Ezekiel 3:15). If only Christians were to learn half of what these friends have done!
Yet, such sympathy and comfort is – like Satan states – skin for skin (v.4). This is skin-deep – as the flesh of their sympathy and comfort is revealed in the coming chapters.
On the eighth day, Job finally opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth – that the day of his birth be darkness (v.4-7), be barren – a large contrast to the joy of creation, the joy of our birth as shown in Genesis 1. At no stage does he see life as anything other than divine (c.f. 10:8-13), while he poetically focuses on the moment of birth, calling even upon Leviathan (c.f. Psalm 74:14, Isaiah 27:1 – monster used as a figure for Egypt; an awesome creature) as a contribution of lament to his day of birth. Thus, the opening words of his speech are opened with “let“s in every verse v.3-10. The next verses 11-26 are characterised by the why’s, ranging from references to kings and princes who laboured to obtain wealth and build cities but now laying without them in death, to the way death removes the constraints of social position, focusing attention on the small and the slave, and those who have been weary or prisoners; ranging from themes of light to death:
- Why did I not die at birth (v.11)
- Why did the knees receive me or why the breasts, that I should nurse? (v.12-15)
- Why was I not as a hidden stillborn child, as infants who never see the light? (v.16-19)
- Why is light given to him who is in misery and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures, who rejoice exceedingly and are glad when they find the grave? (v.20-22)
- Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden whom God has hedged in? (v.23-26)
It is possible that Job will not find an answer lest Wisdom be shown (c.f. Job 28; although he does not receive a proper answer until Job 42) – yet, in Job’s accusation – and contrary to Satan’s expected response to Job – Job does not consider his material wealth and health as the cause of his uprightness. Rather, as the ESV Study Bible states,
“Job refers to his sustained life amid inscrutable circumstances of suffering as rendering him one whom God has hedged in. Satan’s contention is disproved through Job’s continued faithfulness. Job’s overall lament of his situation is something which God both reproves and commends (see chs. 38-41; 42:7).”