Guidelines for Reading/Listening to the Book of Job

by George Guthrie on January 23, 2012

One of the most difficult spans of Scripture to place in the Read the Bible for Life chronological reading plan was the book of Job. Scholars are all over the map on when this might have happened, and that is somewhat appropriate, because the theme of “Suffering” is supposed to have an “always relevant” flavor to it.  On the one hand, Job’s culture seems to be in line with the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob), but there are elements that have encouraged some scholars to place the book later in Israel’s history.

There are “pluses” and a “negatives” to placing Job where we have in the Story of Scripture. Let me mention just one of each. On the negative side, Placing Job right after Genesis interrupts the story of Israel, which moves from Joseph and family in Egypt to their descendants being oppressed in Egypt. On the positive side, I really like how the Joseph story and the Job story approach the problem of suffering from such different angles—and both, of course, are TRUE! Joseph underlines that God is in control of circumstances, even when life seems to be taking tragic turns. He is a Redeemer of our sufferings and can turn the evil of people inside-out for His purposes for His people. Job presents a picture of suffering, asking how we respond when suffering seems consummately unjust, and we DON’T get any answers. What does faithfulness to God look like at that point? How do we process our suffering or relate to someone else who is suffering?

Let me mention 4 things to keep in mind as you read and/or listen to Job.

1. Keep in mind the main purpose of the book. Job combats a simple approach to the problem of evil and suffering that says, “God blesses good people and punishes bad people. If you are suffering, it is because you sinned.” God Himself says that Job was a man of perfect integrity, who feared God and turned away from evil (Job 1:1,8), so that simplistic approach to a theology of suffering simply does not fly here.

2. In line with point 1, Eliphaz and Job’s other accusers at times say things that sound good and may even have elements of truth, but taken as a whole and in context, they lie about God

“After the LORD had spoken these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My anger is stirred up against you and your two friends, because you have not spoken about me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7 NET)

So you have to read and listen for the context—ask, “Who is speaking this part of the book?”

3. Much of Job is poetic in nature (see Read the Bible for Life, chapter 7 for help with reading poetic literature). So think in terms of figurative language and parallel poetic structure (things repeated to emphasize a point, or show a contrast, or progress from one idea to another). When you encounter a striking poetic feature, stop and think about what that word picture is trying to communicate.

4. See the book as profoundly God-centered, reading the whole in light of the book’s beginning (where God interacts with Satan) and the end (where God interacts with Job). At the end of the day, Job never gets answers, he just gets God, and, as it turns out, God is all he needed from the beginning. As you read Job, allow the book to lead you to God.

{ 2 comments }

MarieP January 25, 2012 at 7:05 am

My pastor is currently preaching through Job. It’s actually the first time I’ve heard an exposition of it! It’s been very edifying and convicting so far. It’s also helpful to keep in mind that it was not only written for our admonition, but also so we’d see our sinless, suffering, falsely accused Savior in the example of Job. You can listen here: http://tinyurl.com/7q6mwad

Robin R January 28, 2012 at 11:24 am

Have just read Job twice. When I ask most people what they think of when I say “Job”, they say either “patience” or “suffering”. Our Pastor and I are a week ahead of the church body as we Read the Bible for Life, chronologically, this year. Point 4 you mention above is my big “take away”. However, I also see Job as showing some arrrogance, ie., 13:3. Overall, its a gut level, story of human experience. New and profound for me.

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