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Job 1:1-3:26

Roger Hahn

The prologue of Job consists of the first two chapters of the book written in narrative form. These chapters set the stage for the long dialogues or debates between Job and his so-called "friends" found in Job 3:1-42:6.

The Prologue of Job - Job 1:1-2:13

The prologue is composed of six scenes. The first scene, Job 1:1-5, introduces Job as a wealthy Middle East sheik who was very devoted to God. The next four scenes are composed of alternating descriptions of meetings of the heavenly council with God and Satan, the chief characters, and the events in Job’s life that resulted from the decisions of the heavenly council. The final scene of the prologue introduces Job’s friends.

The prologue is carefully composed. The descriptive parts of the narrative are brief and to the point. Most of the characterizations are accomplished by the speeches and by responses to the action. Usually there are only two characters per scene that keeps the story line simple and clearly defined for the reader. The style is concise and compact. It is an excellent example of Hebrew narrative in its characteristic style.

The opening scene unfolds Job’s wealth and devotion. The story begins very simply by stating in verse 1, "There was a man in the land of Uz named Job." This simple sentence identifies Job’s name and his home. The meaning of the name Job in Hebrew has been debated. It is possible that Job’s name originally derived from a verb meaning "to show hostility." If this were the correct etymology of the name it would be very ironic that the name Job would mean "enemy of God." Such an interpretation is not surprising when we consider the way Job often seemed to argue against God – at least against the interpretation of God held by his friends. Some scholars suggest a passive understanding rather than active, which would have the name Job meaning "alienated."

Another way the Hebrew root for Job’s name can be understood is in connection with the Arabic root for "repent" or "return." This would also be ironic since Job spends most of the book insisting he does not need to repent. Then when God speaks to him he repents immediately without argument. It is possible that the author knew one or more of these meaning for the name Job and wrote this book with a bit of a grin that the hero’s name would reflect so well on his actions.

However, the name Job or very similar Semitic words have been found in several archaeological finds from about 2000 BC. A number of well-to-do Canaanite men had the name Job in that period of history. Thus there is no reason to suppose that the author made up the name to fit the character. Hartley (pp. 66-67) points out that Biblical characters are usually introduced with a full genealogy. The fact that no genealogy is given, no mention is made of Job’s tribe or clan, and there is no reference to the time in which Job lived is important. Silence in these three important ways of identifying a person has meant that Job is able to represent anyone from anytime.

The location of Uz is uncertain. Some scholars locate it in the area of Edom while others believe it was to be found north in the area of Haran. Verse 3 describes Job as a man of the East. In Palestine the term translated "east" here was a general expression for the area east of Palestine including Ammon, Moab, and Edom. In the final analysis we do not know exactly where Job lived and we do not need to know to understand the book.

The second sentence of verse 1 describes the spiritual characteristics of Job. Four words or phrases are used (see Parallelism in Hebrew Writing). The first word applied to Job is "blameless" which is a translation of the Hebrew word tam. This word was often used to describe sacrificial animals that were required to be without blemish or perfect. The King James Version frequently translates tam as perfect, which it does here. The word was often used of persons but it did not refer to sinless perfection. Rather, tam describes a person of integrity who is all that they are expected to be as a human being in relationship with God (see The English Term "perfect").

The second word describing Job was "upright." This word meant that Job faithfully obeyed God’s laws. This included justice and mercy in the treatment of other people. The third description of Job is a brief phrase, "he feared God." The fear of God is the highest expression in the Wisdom literature to describe wisdom. The fourth description is the phrase, "he turned away from evil." It is clear from Proverbs that avoiding evil is the practical expression of wisdom in the moral realm. Though we learn hardly any details of Job’s historical context in the opening verse we are told a great deal about him spiritually. It would have been hard to have compressed any higher compliments of Job’s integrity, wisdom, and righteousness than those contained in the second part of Job 1:1.

Verses 2-3 turn to a description of Job’s wealth. The numbers three and seven appear twice and five plus five or ten is mentioned once. The numbers three, seven, and ten were frequently used in the Bible to symbolize completeness. There was nothing that Job lacked materially in the culture in which he lived. The full measure of God’s blessing can be seen in verse 2 where the text states that Job had seven sons and three daughters. Both Ruth 4:15 and I Samuel 2:5 describe seven children as the ideal number. Job is further blessed in that he has seven sons, which were more favored than daughters, plus three daughters.

Verse 3 states that he had seven thousand sheep. The Hebrew word translated sheep means both sheep and goats that were normally pastured together. Three thousand camels represent the number of camels attributed to the wealthiest nomadic Bedouins of ancient times. The large number of donkeys and oxen also communicates immense wealth. In fact, just to feed and care for such a large number of animals would require very many servants, as the author notes. The conclusion of this listing of Job’s assets notes that he was "the greatest of all the people of the east." The exact meaning of the term "great" depended on the context in which it was used. Here it seems clear that the author intended us to understand that Job was the wealthiest person east of Palestine.

Verses 4 and 5 return to the theme of Job’s piety. Apparently Job’s sons were grown and lived in their own homes, probably with responsibility for some part of Job’s large estate. The text does not intend to describe Job’s sons as "party animals." Rather they would get together on festive occasions. Some commentators think that birthdays would have been such occasions while other scholars believe sheep shearing and other agricultural duties provided the occasion for the festivals. Job’s family was close knit and very wealthy. After each festival Job would offer atoning sacrifices for his children. In the Old Testament the burnt offering that the text mentions was designed to atone for sin in general rather than for specific transgressions. Job was concerned that one of his children might have cursed God in their hearts. Job was the priest for his family and verse 5 shows that he took this responsibility very seriously. It is significant that the sin Job feared for his children – cursing God – was the sin that Satan is sure Job will commit if he were to lose everything.

The second scene, Job 1:6-12, describes a meeting in the presence of God. It is difficult to describe the participants in that meeting. The King James Version and the New American Standard Bible call the participants "the sons of God." The New International Version calls them "the angels" while the New Revised Standard Version uses the expression, "the heavenly beings." The Hebrew text literally refers to "sons of God" or "sons of gods" (the same Hebrew word is translated "gods" or "God"). This exact expression occurs twice in Genesis 6, (verses 2 and 4; see Sons of God and Giants) and three times in Job.

Most scholars believe that the expression refers to a heavenly council of spiritual beings. The NIV and NRSV translations reflect that understanding. The Revised English Version describes these beings as "the members of the court of heaven." There is not sufficient information in Job (or the rest of the Old Testament) to be able to describe these beings with confidence. The implication of Job is that these heavenly beings met with God on a regular basis. It is interesting that the author of Job shifts from the generic term for deity (God) to the Israelite covenant name (Yahweh) to describe the host of this meeting.

However, the author of Job is not really interested in communicating to us about the heavenly council or angels. Only one member of the heavenly court is of interest in this scene, that being the satan. To capitalize Satan is a step of interpretation already. The Hebrew word satan literally means adversary or accuser. The article (the) appears here in Job indicating that the term is not a personal name, i.e. Satan, but a title, the Accuser or the Adversary. The Accuser appears with the heavenly court. Some scholars believe that this Accuser had the responsibility of prosecuting attorney for the heavenly council. It was his job to seek out human sin and to bring charges to the heavenly court against sinners. Such a view is consistent with the statement that he was going back and forth over the earth – presumably to find sinners. Whether the prosecuting attorney image is correct or not one thing is clear. The picture of the satan here in Job is not the same as the picture of Satan as the ruler of demons and evil that is found in the New Testament. One may debate whether the satan of Job is an early step in the development of the doctrine of Satan that would emerge between the testaments or simply a literary figure opposing Job. In either case the satan, the Accuser appears only in Job 1-2 as the test of Job is being set up.

Yahweh initiates the conversation in verse 7 asking the Accuser where he has been. The satan responds that he has been roaming over the earth. The word "roaming" (NRSV: "going to and fro") suggests a spy randomly seeking subjects disloyal to the king. Yahweh’s response sets up the rest of the book of Job. He asks if the Accuser has noticed Job. The Hebrew word usually translated "considered" literally means to "set your mind on." Yahweh seems ready to provoke the Accuser almost taunting him. He is confident that the satan has not discovered any evil in Job. In fact, Yahweh is confident that there is no one like Job. He then repeats the four characteristics attributed to Job in verse 2, thus verifying that high evaluation of Job. He also described Job as "my servant" which is the highest compliment the Old Testament ever pays to human beings. The concept of servant combined overtones of obedience, worship, and faithfulness.

There are many historical and theological questions that arise from the interaction of Yahweh, the satan, and Job. However, we would do well to ponder what it would take to become the kind of person in whom God could have such confidence. Perhaps such people are as rare today as they were in the time of Job. In the light of Christ we need to ask why people of such integrity and uprightness are so rare.

The Accuser is not so impressed with Job. He has seen enough human beings to suspect that Job has a weakness. He accuses Yahweh of putting a fence around Job to protect him and his wealth from any harm. The satan is confident that Job serves the LORD because of all his material blessings. The Accuser accepts the popular theology of late Old Testament Judaism that blessing is a sign of favor with God. He is so confident that he demands Yahweh to put Job to the test by stripping him of those material blessings. It is fascinating that Job feared one of his children might have cursed God in their heart. The satan is confident that financial loss will cause Job to curse God to his face. Job worried over secret sins; the Accuser boldly predicted defiant rejection of God.

But Yahweh was not impressed by the satan’s claims. Accepting the challenge, he gave the Accuser access to destroy any of Job’s possessions as long as he did not attack Job personally (physically). This permission sets the stage for the third scene.

The third scene, Job 1:13-22, returns to earth. Job and his family are unaware of the agreement between God and the Accuser and no mention of that agreement is made in scene three. Life was going on normally when tragedy struck. A series of four messengers come running to Job with a succession of bad news. It is interesting that the order in which Job’s losses are reported is opposite the order in which his blessings were enumerated. The result is that the climax of tragedy is the death of Job’s children. The blessings of children, flocks and camels, and herds and donkeys proceeded from the most important to the least. By beginning with the loss of the herds and donkeys and moving to flocks and camels, the author builds up the tense expectation of the worst possible news regarding Job’s children.

The four tragedies communicated an all out attack on Job. The forces of destruction alternate between earthly and heavenly (Sabeans, fire of God or lightning, Chaldeans, great wind). Each attack comes from a different point of the compass. The Sabeans were from the south, the lightning from the west, the Chaldeans from the north, and the desert sirocco wind blew in from the east.

Though Job’s losses were devastating they are not the goal of the third scene. Job’s response is the climax of the scene. Though Job did not know of the challenge between Yahweh and the Accuser, we the readers know and Job’s response is astounding. His devotion to God stands steadfast and firm. He was devastated by the losses – any person would be – and he followed the customary rituals of grief by tearing his robe and shaving his head.

The next verb is the surprise to us, Job worshipped. As part of his worship he pronounces the insights of verse 21. Three times in this verse Job speaks the name of Yahweh. This is a powerful testimony to the strong sense of personal, covenantal relationship that Job had with the LORD. He acknowledged that he had entered life with nothing and that he would take nothing with him. He affirmed that the God who had given him all these blessings had the right to withdraw them at any time. As Hartley (p. 78) notes of Job, "In sorrow as well as in blessing he praised God’s name." The author then makes an editorial comment in summary. In all this tragedy Job did not sin or accuse God of wrongdoing. Job’s piety had stood the test.

Job 2:1-6 returns to the presence of Yahweh for the fourth scene of the prologue. The language of verses 1, 2, and most of 3 are almost identical to the language of the second scene in Job 1:6-8. Yahweh again affirms Job as "my servant," blameless, upright, fearing God, and shunning evil. The final line of verse 3 is important. Yahweh not only brags on Job’s integrity, he also accuses the satan of "inciting" him against Job. The Hebrew word translated "inciting" means to allure or stir someone to a course of action that person would not normally take. This is important as Hartley (p. 80) states:

"Yahweh accepted full responsibility for Job’s plight. He would not concede any of his authority to the Satan…in the dialogue Job will seek deliverance from Yahweh alone and rightly so, for he has no battle with the Satan. This statement also explains why the Satan does not reappear in the epilogue. Yahweh himself feels obliged to resolve the conflict for Job."

The satan is unshaken in his confidence that Job’s faithfulness is given only to Yahweh for what he (Job) can get out of it. Since Job’s health was preserved he has not really been tested. Had God allowed a true test of Job that would include his physical well-being (skin, flesh, and bone) Job would surely curse God to his face. The Accuser challenges God to threaten Job’s life. God then grants the satan the right to attack Job’s health in any way as long as he was not killed. It is possible to see the prohibition against Job’s death as Yahweh still maintaining a fence of protection around Job. However, should the Accuser kill Job the question of Job’s faithfulness could not have been answered. Yahweh was not protecting Job by not allowing him to be killed. He was, in fact, making Job’s test all the more excruciating since the Accuser could prolong any threat of death against Job as long as he (the satan) wished, gradually and continually increasing the pressure and torment.

The fifth scene, Job 2:7-10, returns to earth and to Job. While the third scene had prolonged the story of Job’s losses by means of the four messengers, the author gets straight to the point in verse 7. The Accuser afflicted Job with a terrible illness. Some of the symptoms mentioned throughout the book include boils, disfiguration, oozing-scabbing-cracking sores, sores infected with worms, shriveling of the skin, diarrhea, sleeplessness, choking, bad breath, and excruciating pain throughout his body. All attempts to achieve a modern medical diagnosis of Job’s illness are fruitless. The ancient world did not distinguish between terminal illnesses and those that could be cured. People often died of what we would call a minor infection while others would survive a dreaded disease. Thus from his cultural perspective Job was facing death.

Job’s wife enters the scene for the first time in verse 9. Within the drama she functions to emphasize Job’s attitude of acceptance. She speaks more like we would expect Job to have spoken. She asks why he persists in his integrity. These are the same words Yahweh had used in verse 3 to compliment Job to the Accuser. Job’s wife, however, saw persisting in integrity as dangerous fanaticism rather than Job’s strongest point. She demands that Job curse God and die.

Through history Christian interpreters have been very critical of Job’s wife. Some of the great commentators of Christian history have called her "Satan’s ally" or "the Devil’s best scourge." But we need not accuse her. She personifies the position that there is no hope for Job. He has suffered irreparable damage. He will never again enjoy health, wealth, and the obvious signs of God’s blessing. Job’s friends will take another position. They will argue that is he would just repent his fortunes could be reversed. Job, however, affirms his trust in Yahweh. One must accept the bad that Yahweh brings in life as well as the good. The author then comments again that Job did not sin with his lips.

The final scene of the prologue comes in Job 2:11-13 with the introduction of Job’s friends. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar heard of Job’s terrible losses and agreed to go to Job and comfort him. Several things are accomplished by this scene. First, the friends confirm the severity of Job’s disease. They did not recognize him so disfiguring with his illness. Second, they join Job in grief. They throw dust, tear their robes, and weep to show their identification with Job. That they would sit in silence for seven days also signifies how deeply they share Job’s sorrow. Finally, the arrival of the friends sets the stage for the dialogues that will compose the majority of the book.

Job’s Lament - Job 3:1-26

Chapter 3 has been outlined in several different ways. The most common way is to see three parts: Job’s curse of the day of his birth in verses 1-10, his personal lament in verses 11-19, and his complaint in verses 20-26. Van Selms (p. 29) organizes these three parts with these phrases: verses 1-10 – "if only I had never been born," verses 11-19 – "if only I had died at birth," and verses 20-26 – "What meaning does an existence like mine have?"

Chapter 3 begins with Job’s curse of the day of his birth. The word "cursed" weighs heavily on evangelical ears. However, this chapter is not about Job "cussing." He does not speak either profanities or obscenities. The "test" of the satan was whether or not Job would curse God. He does not. These words are not addressed to God. They are the agonizing words of a man whose life has been devastated. What Job does is to speak negatively about his birth. He declared that he wished that he had never been born. Such negative talk is often described as "cursing" in the Hebrew Bible. After sitting and suffering in silence with his friends for seven days Job burst forth with this expression of his pain. Verse 4 exclaims of the day of his birth, "That day – let it be darkness." These words speak directly opposite the first words of God in creation in Genesis 1:3, "Let there be light." Part of the theme of Job’s lament is that of anti-Creation. God began with light and ended resting. Job begins by calling for darkness and ends in verse 26 by having no rest. Not only does he curse the day of his birth, he bitterly regrets the day of his conception as well.

In verses 11-19 Job asks why he did not die at birth. The reference to knees has been interpreted in several ways. Comparison with Genesis 50:23 suggests that it was the father’s knees that welcomed a child at birth. Isaiah 66:12 speaks of the mother’s knees as the place of affectionately playing with the newborn child. Job’s question is not really a philosophical question. The question, "Why did I not die at birth?" is the way of wishing for something different than the pain he was enduring. Had he only died at birth he would be at rest and in the company of kings, princes, and other leaders who had gone on before. He notes in verse 17 that in death the wicked no longer trouble a person and there is eternal rest. Without directly mentioning the word Job speaks of Sheol, the place of the dead in Old Testament thought. There he would be at ease again instead of in the torment of tragedy and disease.

Verses 20-26 continue the questions, "Why is light given to one. . . who longs for death. . .?" By means of this question Job protests the seeming injustice of life being given to those who don’t want it and taken from those who do. Verses 20 and 23 use the word "light" instead of life. Very literally light contrasts with the darkness of the grave. However, here it continues the contrast with creation light. The darkness that Job longed for was invaded by God’s creative light.

These are the harshest words Job will utter in the entire book that bears his name. For many it is shocking to find such words in Scripture. That the Bible would preserve them may be surprising to some, but it is not surprising that Job would utter such words. People who have suffered profoundly have had such thoughts pass through their minds, though few are so eloquent as Job in expressing such anguish. 

Now is not the time to condemn Job for his depression. These are not Job’s final words nor were they his first words. He has already affirmed his confidence and trust in God in chapter 2. He will again affirm his faith. There are the words of pain that gush forth unbidden when the hurt is too great to bear (see Lament Psalms). As too often happens today, Job’s angry honesty shocked his friends. In the literary structure of the book this speech rouses the comforters from their silence. Job’s fanaticism that worried his wife has given way to near blasphemy. His friends will bandage his wounds with their formulas for faith.

Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion

These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.

As you study each day ask the Lord to speak to you through his word. Ask the Holy Spirit to make the word come alive to you for that day.

First Day: Read the notes on Job 1-3. Look up the Scripture references given.

1. Note and jot down one or two new thoughts that seemed important to you. Why were they important?

2. Select one or two spiritual insights that would apply to your own life. Describe how they apply for you.

3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to help you grow spiritually to the point that He could express confidence in you to any accuser.

Second Day: Read Job 5:1-27. Now focus in on Job 5:1-16.

1. Why does Eliphaz conclude that human beings are born to trouble as the sparks fly upward (verse 6)? Are we predestined to difficulty or is trouble the result of our own choices?

2. What motivations does Eliphaz list in the focus verses for his seeking of God? What motivates you to seek the Lord?

3. Paul appears to quote Job 5:13 in I Corinthians 3:19. Study 1 Corinthians 3:18-23. What concepts from Job 5:8-16 does Paul share in this passage from 1 Corinthians? What conclusions about your own life do you draw?

Third Day: Read Job 5:1-27. Now focus on Job 5:17-27.

1. Hebrews 12:5-6 appears to quote Proverbs 3:11-12. Compare Job 5:17-18, Proverbs 3:11-12, and Hebrews 12:5-6. What conclusions do you draw concerning the discipline of God?

2. One commentary entitles verses 17-27 "God’s Ability to Deliver." As you study these verses what insights about God’s ability to deliver come to you?

3. Verse 27 is Eliphaz’s claim to have proven God’s deliverance by his own experience. What experiences do you have of God’s deliverance? List some of them and thank God for them. How do you think God will come through for you in the future?

Fourth Day: Read Job 6:1-7:21. Focus in on Job 6:1-30.

1. What claim(s) does Job make in verses 1-13? Do you think he was justified in making them? Would you be able to make to same claims? Why or why not?

2. What accusations does Job make against his friends in verses 14-23? Is he correct? What insight can you draw from these verses about how to best comfort those who suffer?

3. What does Job ask of his friends in verses 24-30? Could you ask your friends for honest and reliable instruction on how to understand the work of God in your life? Why or why not?

Fifth Day: Read Job 6:1-7:21. Now focus your attention on Job 7:1-21.

1. What statements of Job in verses 1-10 have you observed to be true by your experiences in life? Do any of his statements seem too pessimistic? Why or why not?

2. In verse 11 Job declares that he will no longer remain silent. What are the advantages of speaking the anguish of one’s spirit? What are the disadvantages? What insight does Psalm 39 contribute to this?

3. By verses 20-21 it seems clear that Job is speaking to God rather than to his friends? Where do you think this shift occurred? Why?

Sixth Day: Read Job 7:1-8:22. Now focus your attention on Job 8:1-22.

1. Summarize Bildad’s appeal to Job in verses 1-7. How would it make you feel if you were Job? Is Bildad right?

2. What do you think Bildad was trying to communicate in verses 11-19? How can he draw the conclusion of verse 20 from what he has already said in chapter 8?

3. Claim the promises of verses 20-21 for yourself or someone you know who is hurting. Write a brief prayer that God will being back the laughter in your or/and their life.

-Roger Hahn, Copyright © 2012, Roger Hahn and the Christian Resource Institute
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