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September 19, 2021 | Doug Sauder
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As a father of two young kids, I have found that one of the first and most frequent questions kids learn and use is “Why?” or as my daughter says, “But why?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this question for literally everything.
Me: “Zoe, eat your dinner please.”
Zoe: “But why?”
Me: “Jude, put on your shoes. We’re going to the mall.”
Me: “Zoe, can I have a kiss?”
Zoe: “But why?”
Me: “Jude, it’s time to wake up for school.”
Children have an immense, insatiable curiosity and desire for knowledge. They have a deep longing to comprehend how it all works, to grasp truths and how they impact their lives, to understand why . . . and they’re not the only ones!
As adults, our lives are filled with why. As you go from childhood into adolescence and then into adulthood, you begin to ponder the big, significant questions of life. Who am I? Why am I here? What is life all about? Why am I the way I am? Our search for significance, purpose, and meaning causes us to examine our existence, the way the world works, and our place in it. And among the most common questions we ponder as humans are: Why is there suffering in the world? If God is good, then why do bad things happen? Why do bad things happen to good people?
These questions plague many, they cause stumbling, resentment, and sometimes even hopelessness. If we don’t approach them with an understanding of who God is, with an intimate knowledge of His character, then we will struggle with these types of questions until the day we die.
The Book of Job explores these enduring, important, and relevant questions. This unique, magnificent, and powerful story explores why suffering exists, how to respond to suffering, and shows us how to help others who are suffering—and what not to do when trying to help someone who is suffering. Through its 42 chapters, we gain a deeper understanding of the character and nature of God, how we should see God in the midst of pain and suffering, and how to deal with pain, loss, suffering, and grief in healthy, biblical ways.
Before you dive into this unparalleled and extremely heavy book, we thought it would be a good idea to provide you with some context. Why was it written? Who wrote it? What are some of the key themes in the book? These are all questions we’ll address here to help you get a full picture of Job.
“Rarely has history left such a literary genius unnamed and unknown.”—William LaSor
This is an interesting question. Job is an anonymous work. Nowhere in its 42 chapters is any author credited, and there is no indication as to who wrote it. All that can be known about the author is based on the deduction from the careful study of the book. For one thing, it is clear that the author, like Job, must have suffered immensely and excruciatingly, as his genuine empathy for Job leaps off the pages. It’s also evident that he had been thoroughly trained in the wisdom tradition of the ancient world, as both the theme and variety of literary devices can attest to.
Recognizing this, we can also come to the conclusion that his experiences with suffering set him at odds with the teaching about absolute patterns of divine retribution—that blessing is always the result of righteousness and suffering the result of sinfulness. Lastly, based on his view of divine sovereignty, divine justice, and understanding of biblical morality and ethical behavior, it can be reasonably deduced that the author was an Israelite.
Jewish tradition states that Job was written by Moses. And while there is nothing in the book nor in any biblical archeological findings to confirm this, the internal evidence of the literary similarity to the Torah, understanding of biblical morality and Jewish thinking, and the external testimony of Jewish tradition lends strong credence to Mosaic authorship.
Regarding the date, many have sought to place the writing of the Book of Job in the post-exilic era. However, a post-exilic date seems extremely unlikely in light of other ancient Near Eastern works of the same genre. A large number of what are called “pessimistic” tests from the ancient world seem to share some parallels to Job in that they address the problem of suffering and the apparent indifference of heaven.
There are comparable works from pre-exilic Mesopotamia, Babylon, and Egypt, dating as far back as early to mid-second millennium, potentially placing the possible date anywhere between the time of Moses and the time of the Judges.
The book itself; however, is set around the time of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). This is based on 1) the predating of a priesthood or temple, which is why Job performed his own sacrifices, 2) his possessions, like Abraham and Jacob, being measured in sheep, camels, oxen, and servants as opposed to gold and later forms of riches, 3) his land being subject to the raids of pillaging tribes, and 4) his lifespan being 140, which matches the lifespans only seen in the time after Noah and before the Judges—Abraham was 175, Moses was 120 when he died.
The Book of Job is set in the land of Uz. While the exact location of Uz is uncertain, many scholars have estimated that it was more than likely in the land of Edom. The name Uz appears several times as an Edomite name (Genesis 36:28; 1 Chronicles 1:42). In addition to that, the text itself provides some strong evidence. It’s implied that Job’s three friends are wisdom teachers, and Edom was famous for its scholars and wise, learned men.
Further evidence can be seen in the name of Job’s friend, Eliphaz, which is an Edomite name (Genesis 36:15–16). This information also helps us narrow the date range for when Job took place, as the Edomites were descendants of Abraham’s grandson Esau, thus placing the events of Job likely somewhere between 1900 and 1700 B.C., which lines up with its writing taking place somewhere around the time of Moses or a little after.
This can range based on whose estimated date of writing you lean towards. However, regardless of whether you believe it was written during the time of the Exodus, the time of the Judges, or even the time of Solomon, the audience was God’s people, the Israelites. This story being passed down through the Israelites dating back to the Exodus certainly makes a great deal of sense, as they experienced trials in the desert, even if it wasn’t formally written down until a later date.
Cultural Facts and Interesting Tidbits
Job presents us with the problem of the righteous sufferer. Over the millennia, dating back to the earliest records of human philosophy, the answer to the question of why people suffer has been that they were being punished for their own sins or the sins of their forefathers.
Whether divine retribution or karma, the idea has been constant through the ages and was the exact answer that Job’s friends presented to him. The reader; however, knows from the very get-go that this is not the case because we are told in the first few verses that Job was suffering because he was righteous. Thus, when Job rails against his pain and contends that he didn’t deserve it (Job 31), the reader understands that he is telling the truth. Thus, unable to fall back on the conventional answers that were then and now almost universally accepted, the reader is forced to wrestle with alongside Job as to why . . . having to work his or her way through the entire book to discover God’s answer.
For readers at the time of its writing, before the coming of Christ, before the new covenant, gaining this new understanding of the meaning of suffering and the sovereignty and justice of God, which was in complete opposition to the widely-held philosophies, must have been astonished in the same way the many teachings of Jesus and the apostles astonished them.
God’s Sovereignty: God is in control of everything (37:14–24, 42:2)—even Satan (1:12, 2:6). His ways are beyond human understanding (28:1–28), and our ability to understand wisdom is limited to fearing God and obeying His commands (28:28). We might never comprehend the reasons behind our own suffering or that of others while on Earth, and God may never provide us with the reasons why. He doesn’t have to; we don’t have to know. But what He does offer is so much better . . . He offers Himself—His presence, His comfort, and His love.
God’s Goodness and Justice: How can God be good and just if He allows the innocent to suffer while the wicked prosper and enjoy success (12:6)? Job affirms God’s goodness (1:1–2:13, 42:7–17), while conveying that sometimes bad things happen to good people and vice versa. This is simply a product of a fallen world and the reality of sin and brokenness.
Satan: Satan is the adversary of God’s people and the one who seeks to corrupt and destroy God’s creation, work, and will. As the accuser (Zechariah 3:1; Revelation 12:9–10), his goals are to alienate people from God and spread unbelief (Genesis 3; Matthew 4:1; 2 Corinthians 4:4). While we are usually unaware of what goes on in the spiritual realm, it affects us nonetheless.
A Proper Response to Suffering: As we struggle with our own suffering and the suffering of others, it’s so important to balance our honest questions with humility and reverence for God (Deuteronomy 4:5–6; Job 28:28, 42:1–6; Proverbs 8:4–9, 9:10; Ecclesiastes 12:13). The temptations to justify ourselves at God’s expense or to blame Him must be resisted, as they are sinful and lies from the devil (Genesis 3). God expects us to be faithful and trust Him despite our suffering, because we understand that He is in control, that He loves us, that He has a plan, and that He never leaves nor forsakes us. This book reminds us that suffering can be a sacred trust allowed by God to bring us to a deeper, full dependence upon and trust in Him. This is seen clearly in Jesus, who suffered and died on our behalf to fulfill the will of God, as well as the apostle Paul, who suffered greatly for the sake of the gospel and yet rejoiced in the sufficiency of God.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
As you study along with us, think about how you see God in the midst of your pain and suffering and how you deal with pain, loss, suffering, and grief. Think long and hard about the people who you allow to speak into your life. Finally, think about how you can help ease the suffering and pain of others in your life, community, and across the globe.
We can always trust God's character, even if we can't always understand His ways.
Danny Saavedra has served on the staff of Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.