Overview: The Book of Job

The Wisdom of the Ancient Idumean King

Job (Hb. ēyōv) was a wealthy Gentile nobleman described as blameless and upright, a man who feared God and shunned evil. He lived in the Land of Uz, possibly a wooded region to the east-southeast of Palestine. A genealogical analysis of the names of Job’s three friends Eliphaz of Teman, Bildad of Shuah, and Zophar of Naamath indicate they are most likely Idumeans (i.e. Edomites). The historical setting of Job appears to be either that of the Patriarchs, in which case Esau and his sheikdom merged with the early Idumeans, or else later toward the end of Moses’ time and early in the time of Joshua and the Judges. The contents of the book lean toward the latter time period. If the latter time period is correct, Job may be synonymous with Jobab (Hb. ēyōvav) the second Idumean Sheikh and son of Zerah who ruled in Bozrah. Before him was Bela (Hb. belegk) son of Beor, who may be synonymous with Balaam (Hb. bēlegkam) son of Beor or else the brother of Balaam, the Gentile prophet hired by Balak, son of Zippor and King of Moab, to curse Israel. This, of course, is all tentative and speculative, but the facts neatly fit together [1].

Job was clearly a man of great socioeconomic and political significance to this ancient near-eastern region. “He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the East”. The utter desolation of his estate at the hand of the Adversary (Hb. satan) is a deathblow not only to Job but also to the economy and the community being upheld by his employment and leadership. The shepherd has been struck, and the sheep are on the verge of scattering.

Job’s three companions (Hb. reah), neighbor-herdsmen, arrive to lament and comfort him. Job along with these three men might have formed the leadership foundation of their Idumean Sheikhdom with Job stationed as the “chief cornerstone” and Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar stationed as the other three cornerstones. This is analogous to the leadership foundation of King David as chief cornerstone and his three mighty men Josheb-Basshebeth, Eleazar, and Shammah as the other three cornerstones. Similarly consider the Great King Jesus as the true “Chief Cornerstone” with Peter, James, and John as his three mighty men. Job’s three friends have come to assess the situation, to comfort and counsel Job, and to set the situation aright, even to assume the mantle of leadership in order to stabilize the crumbling sheikhdom if need be. If Job is indeed Jobab, second of the seven Idumean Sheikhs, this makes sense as none of the seven sheikhs came to power by blood descent [2].

Here is the structure of the Book of Job; it has chiastic bookends and three panels or cycles of accusations and responses.

A – The initial character and estate of Job (1:1-5)
B – God puts Job with his people to a symbolic death (1:6-10)
C – Job’s three friends brought in (2:11-13)
D – Job confesses to God (3:1-26)

E – Eliphaz speaks (4:1-5:27)
E – Job answers (6:1-7:21)
F – Bildad speaks (8:1-22)
F – Job answers (9:1-10:21)
G – Zophar Speaks (11:1-20)
G – Job answers (12:1-14:22)

H – Eliphaz speaks (15:1-35)
H – Job answers (16:1-17:16)
I – Bildad speaks (18:1-21)
I – Job answers (19:1-29)
J – Zophar speaks (20:1-29)
J – Job answers (21:1-34)

K – Eliphaz speaks (22:1-30)
K – Job answers (23:1-24:25)
L – Bildad speaks (25:1-6)
L – Job answers (26:1-31:40)
M – Elihu speaks (32:1-37:24)
M – God answers (38:1-41:34)

D – Job confesses to God (42:1-6)
C – Job’s three friends are sent out (42:7-9)
B – God raises Job with his people up again in glory (42:10-11)
A – The glorified character and estate of Job (42:12-17)

The contents of each dialogue cycle could certainly be subdivided further, specifically Job’s answers (especially his final discourse), Elihu’s multipart discourse, and Yahweh’s interrogation. Yahweh examines and answers Job in two successive sessions with Job confessing after each session; this sets up a twofold witness to establish the truth.

The name Job means “Hated” or “Persecuted” and is apropos under the circumstances that befall him in the book. Job is a man who is hated by the Adversary and persecuted by his friends. Yet he is blameless and perfect, the exact words that describe animals fit for sacrifice. God is offering his beloved Job up as a worthy sacrifice. In this way, Job is a type of Christ, a king who is hated by the dark forces, persecuted by the leadership of the time, delivered unto death by God, and raised up by God in greater glory.

The theme of the Adversary, literally “the Satan” as legal accuser in the heavenly court, is pervasive throughout the whole book. Although “the Satan” only appears by name in the opening chapters and then seemingly drops out of sight, Job’s three friends take up the mantle of the Adversary for the majority of the book. They accuse Job of secret sin. Their sustained wisdom is that bad things only befall bad people; Job has received due justice from the Almighty. Job simply must be sinful and needs to acknowledge his sins and repent in order for Yahweh to lift his wrath from Job and the people. To his three companions, it is crucial that Job confess his apparently obvious sinfulness and repent for the future prosperity of the sheikhdom.

However, Job insists that he is righteous and has walked in integrity; he insists that he has a sound case for vindication from this travesty of cosmic justice. He laments and curses everything about his life so that he will not curse Yahweh but rather speak only of his righteousness.

The book climaxes with Yahweh vindicating Job. He is the one who has spoken well of God. Yahweh commands the three friends to bring ascension offerings to Job as their priest and intercessor.

The book revolves heavily around the “problem of pain” or the question of evil and suffering in life: Why do “bad” things happen to “good” people? The beginning of an answer is seen in the Adversary’s actions as he accuses Job and provokes Yahweh in his veiled activities through Job’s three accusing companions and in his role as an agent of untamable cosmic wickedness symbolized by Leviathan the Sea Dragon, which God alone can tame and will ultimately destroy [3].

I recommend A Son for Glory: Job Through New Eyes (2012) by Toby Sumpter for a rich devotional commentary on this book from the wisdom literature of the Bible.

Endnotes:

[1] For more, read Was Job an Edomite King? Part 1 and Part 2 by James Jordan.

[2] See also The Seven Edomite Kings by James Jordan.

[3] For more, read Leviathan and Job Part 1 and Part 2 by Jeffrey Meyers.

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