Looking At The Book of Job

The book of Job is a fairly neglected book. I should clarify what I mean. Chapters 1,2, and 42 are frequently read but the other 39 chapters are often ignored. I have personally made this mistake. We know there is a reason why these other chapters are in the book. We deeply shortchange the book when we summarize the book as simply Job losing everything but getting it all back at the end. This conclusion is not the message of the book at all. There is a reason why this is a long book. Any summary study of just three chapters is completely insufficient. At minimum, the size of the book of Job is showing us that answers are not fast nor easy when it comes to the topic of suffering and God’s authority over these things. It is a long book because it invites the audience to reflect on the answers it gives. The issue of suffering and the questions that suffering raises about God cannot be resolved with cliche answers or a postcard summary. Trying to take such shortcuts defeats the purpose of a deliberately long book like Job. The book does not arrive at simple conclusions or easy answers, which we notice when we read through the book. Rather, the book explores the process of loss and grief, the reworking of faith, and the transformation of Job in the process. I believe there are three helpful lenses for reading the book of Job.

First, be prepared for shocking teachings. We need to read the book truthfully, honestly, and fully with the expectation that our faith will be torn down and built back up. Our easy answers to suffering and God will be dismantled by this book. Nearly every cliche answer that has been offered for suffering is destroyed by this book. To study the book of Job we must first become ready to be made uncomfortable by what the book teaches. We need to be ready to change our thinking about suffering and God as we read this book. We do not need to defend God with our preconceived notions or ideas but must listen to what God is telling us.

Second, understand the type of literature that is found in the book of Job. Notice where the book of Job is located in the Old Testament. It is located among the wisdom books. Not only is this book considered wisdom literature, but you will notice that the contents reveal itself as a history book. Turn to chapter 3 and notice in your scriptures how the format of the text block changes. From Job 3:1 through 42:6 you will see that the text is indicating Hebrew poetry. Almost the whole book is written in poetry. Only the first two chapters and the very end of the book are written in prose. The book is not intended to be read as a history book as if you were reading Genesis or 1 & 2 Kings. You are to read this book  like you were reading the Psalms or Lamentations. It is poetry. This is why we see these cycles of speeches in the book. You are reading poetry. This does not mean that a man named Job did not exist or that his suffering is not real. Poetry does not mean that these events are not historically factual. The book of Lamentations is all poetry about the historical, factual destruction of the Jerusalem. But understanding the type of literature helps us understand how to read the book.

Third, God did not directly tell Job why he suffered. We must not come into this book thinking that all of our questions about suffering will be solved. They will not be. The book of Job does tell us about how we should think about God when we are suffering, which is really what we need to know. The purpose of the book is to explore God’s policies with regard to suffering in the world, especially when the righteous or innocent suffer. This book will revolutionize our thinking about God and the way he runs the world. The book will shift our thinking from the way we likely think God runs the world to the actual way he runs the world. Ultimately we will see that the way God operates the world is more complicated than people can imagine and God’s way cannot be reduced to a simple formula or principle.

Short articles do not offer the place for lengthy explanations for the book of Job. I have a fuller explanation of the book on the website below. However, I hope over the next few articles to offer up a few “pointers” that might be helpful in understanding this beautiful poetic book that speaks to the majesty of God who rules over suffering, sin, Satan, and every person on earth.

Brent Kercheville

www.westpalmbeachchurchofchrist.com