Job 1:1; 2:1-10
The book of Job is a particularly well-crafted book that raises difficult questions for consideration, such as:
• “Does Job fear God for nothing?” (1:9). In other words, does Job maintain his faithfulness to God only because he expects God to reward him for doing so? Is the faith of devout people self-serving?
• If God is both good and all-powerful, why does he permit suffering?
• What is the relationship between sin and suffering?
• Why do good people suffer? Why do bad people prosper?
• Are good people vindicated in the end? In this life, or only in the life to come?
• From whence cometh evil? If God is created all things, did he create evil?
Note that I said that this book raises these questions. That is different from saying that it answers them. It encourages us to wrestle with these questions, but does not give neatly packaged answers. This is part of its continuing appeal. It does not dispense platitudes that bear no resemblance to the reality of our lives. Instead, it tells a story that informs and haunts us. It haunts us by honestly portraying life and inviting us to examine life in all its messiness.
This book is also haunting because it leaves us struggling with the questions that it raises. Is the faith of devout people self-serving? Of course! People serve God, in part, because they expect better lives through their relationship with God. But that is only part of the answer. People also serve God because they love God and feel drawn to God’s holiness and righteousness.
Why does God permit suffering? The easy answer is that suffering is our punishment for sin. This book, however, does not allow such a simple answer, because Job suffers in spite of being “blameless and upright”—a man who “feared God, and turned away from evil” (1:1). Even God uses that language to describe Job (1:8).
The book begins with a prose section (1:1 – 2:13) and ends with a prose section (42:7-17), but the rest is poetry. The prose sections draw us into the story and conclude the story, but the poetry carries most of the load. Poetry is more inclined to help us see things in a new way than to provide tightly reasoned conclusions. Thus the medium of the book perfectly matches its purpose, which is to invite us to wrestle with the kinds of questions mentioned above.
Given the open-endedness of the book, it seems appropriate that we do not know who wrote it or when. Job calls us to wrestle with mysteries, and is itself somewhat a mystery. Scholars have suggested dates that range from the time of the patriarchs to the time following the exile (Hartley, 17; see also Andersen, 15). Therefore it could be one of the earliest books of the Old Testament—or one of the relatively late books.
The book of Job is all the more fascinating because it sees life quite differently from the Deuteronomic view of history that pervades so much of Hebrew Scripture. In particular, the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, and 1-2 Kings interpret “events in terms of adherence or disobedience to the Mosaic law” (Myers, 280). They tell us that Israel prospered when it obeyed God and suffered when it did not. They promise prosperity to the faithful (Deuteronomy 28:1-2, 7-8; Psalm 34:15-22).
That cause-and-effect view carries over into other parts of the Old Testament—and even into the New Testament (Galatians 6:7; 1 Peter 3:10)—but the overall message of the New Testament is different. As Francis Bacon said, “Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament; adversity is the blessing of the New.” That comment is only partially true, because the New Testament emphasizes service and sacrifice in this world, but does promise eternal rewards in the next world.
Advocates of the Prosperity Gospel continue to promote the Deuteronomic viewpoint, claiming a close linkage between faithful discipleship and material prosperity. The evangelist, Oral Roberts, was quoted as saying, “I live in one of the finest homes. I drive one of the finest, safest cars, and if a newer, safer one were to pull up in front of my door, I’d go out and say, ‘I want it,’…God designed life for believers to be an abundant life….God designed you to live in the overflow.” His wife, Evelyn, said, “To maximize his ministry, (Jesus) would need television. For television programs he would need to tell time. Would Jesus wear a Rolex? Why not?” Adherents of Prosperity Theology emphasize here-and-now material blessings to faithful disciples. Their promises attract many adherents, but (in my view) fail to take seriously Christ’s call to take up a cross and follow him.
But on the other hand, there is a rightness to the Deuteronomic viewpoint that we must also acknowledge. “God’s moral administration of the world requires that the rightness of right should lead to well-being, and the wrongness of wrong should lead to disaster” (Andersen, 67). Absolutely! But Andersen adds, “But the connection (between rightness and well-being) is often not obvious, and life is much more complex than this simple formula.”
Andersen thus moves us from the realm of the Deuteronomist to the realm of Job, which refuses to reduce faith to a simple formula. The book of Job addresses the questions raised by a world where the righteous don’t always prosper and the unrighteous sometimes do prosper. It is a messy world—one that is hard to understand and harder to appreciate—but it is the world in which we live. It is that real but messy world that the book of Job invites us to examine.
JOB 1:1. THERE WAS A MAN WHOSE NAME WAS JOB
1There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job. That man was blameless (Hebrew: tam) and upright (Hebrew: yasar), and one who feared God, and turned away from evil.
“There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job“ (v. 1a). While we cannot identify the land of Uz with certainty, there are two likely candidates. Both are in the east (v. 3). One is Edom, located to the southeast of the Dead Sea (Lamentations 4:21). The other is Aram, located northeast of Israel (Genesis 10:23; 22:21). However, the exact location is less important to our understanding of this book than the fact that Uz lies outside Israel.
Some scholars, noting that Job is not a traditional Israelite name, conclude that Job was probably a Gentile (Ballentine, 44). However, that, too, is uncertain. Ezekiel groups Job with Noah and Daniel, two great heroes of the faith, labeling the three of them as righteous (Ezekiel 14:14, 20). That suggests that Job was probably an Israelite living outside Israel.
“That man was blameless (tam) and upright” (yasar) (v. 1b). This is the first of two pairs of descriptors that portray Job as a man of good character and devout faith. Blameless (tam) has to do with Job’s rock-solid integrity—he can be depended on to do what is right. Upright (yasar) has to do with his faithful obedience to God’s law. The juxtaposition of these two adjectives tell us of a man who, when faced with a decision, will try to do the right thing.
“and one who feared God, and turned away from evil“ (v. 1c). This is the second pair of descriptors that describe a righteous and honorable man. The fact that Job fears God means that he stands in awe of God—that he understands his proper place in relationship to God. “The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10; see also Proverbs 1:7; Job 28:28).
The fact that Job turns away from evil means that he not only decides to do right but also avoids doing what is wrong. Both are conscious, deliberate choices. He will not allow himself to be tempted. When he comes into contact with evil, he quickly moves away.
But Job is a blameless man—not a sinless man. He offers burnt offerings, an act that serves as atonement for his sins and the sins of his family (v. 5).
JOB 1:2-22. HAVE YOU CONSIDERED MY SERVANT JOB
While these verses are not included in the lectionary reading, the preacher needs to be aware of them.
The book starts by establishing Job’s sterling character (1:1, 5) and prosperity (1:2-4). Then it presents us with a convocation of heavenly beings (Hebrew: bene ha elohim—”sons of God”), including “the satan” (Hebrew: has∙satan—the satan) (1:6).
THE SATAN: “Although ‘the satan’ is rendered in most English translations as ‘Satan,’ it should not be understood as a proper name. Proper names in Hebrew are not preceded by a definite article. Rather ‘the satan’ refers to the role enacted by one of the heavenly beings (literally sons of God)” (Conrad, 113; see also Murphy, 263). The diabolical Satan of the New Testament is a later development. The satan of the book of Job is one of God’s minions.
God asks the satan where he has been and the satan replies, “From going back and forth in the earth, and from walking up and down in it” (1:7). The satan doesn’t say why he has been going to and fro, and raises no questions about what he found on his journey. However, God responds by saying,
“Have you considered my servant, Job?
For there is none like him in the earth,
a blameless and an upright man,
one who fears God, and turns away from evil” (1:8).
The satan responds with a question that sets the stage for all that happens thereafter—”Does Job fear God for nothing?” (Hebrew: hin∙nam—the same word is translated “for no reason in 2:3). He implies that Job serves God because God has blessed him—and that Job will quickly abandon God if he perceives that God has abandoned him. Satan challenges God to “put forth your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will renounce you to your face” (1:11).
Rather than doing that, God gives the satan permission to do it (1:12). This results in the death of Job’s children and the loss of his many possessions (1:13-19). But instead of cursing God, Job says,
“Naked I came out of my mother’s womb,
and naked shall I return there.
Yahweh gave, and Yahweh has taken away.
Blessed be the name of Yahweh” (1:21).
The narrator concludes, “In all this, Job did not sin, nor charge God with wrongdoing” (1:22).
JOB 2:1-2. SATAN CAME TO PRESENT HIMSELF BEFORE YAHWEH
2:1 Again it happened on the day when the God’s sons (Hebrew: bene ha elohim—”sons of God”) came to present themselves before Yahweh, that Satan (Hebrew: has∙satan—the satan) came also among them to present himself before Yahweh. 2Yahweh said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered Yahweh, and said, “From going back and forth in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.”
“Again it happened on the day when the God’s sons (bene ha elohim—”sons of God”) came to present themselves before Yahweh, that Satan (has∙satan—the satan) came also among them to present himself before Yahweh” (v. 2.1). This verse is almost the same as verse 1:6. This verse adds, “that Satan came also among them to present himself before Yahweh,” perhaps implying that the satan came before the Lord to give an accounting (Hartley, 79).
See the notes on THE SATAN above.
“Yahweh said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?‘” (v. 2). This verse is essentially the same as 1:7.
JOB 2:3. HAVE YOU CONSIDERED MY SERVANT JOB?
3Yahweh said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? For there is none like him in the earth, a blameless and an upright man, one who fears God, and turns away from evil. He still maintains his integrity (Hebrew: tum∙mah), although you incited (Hebrew: sut) me against him, to ruin him without cause.” (Hebrew: hin∙nam).
“Yahweh said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? For there is none like him in the earth, a blameless and an upright man, one who fears God, and turns away from evil‘” (v. 3a). The first part of verse 3 is the same as 1:8. God states once again Job’s religious credentials—”blameless and upright”—”fears God, and turns away from evil.” These were impressive credentials earlier, when Job was enjoying the prosperity of a large family and great wealth. There are even more impressive now that Job has lost his family and wealth. Job has suffered great loss, but has not wavered in his faithfulness to God. Satan earlier proposed that Job be tested. Now he has been tested, and has passed the test with flying colors. God has reason to be pleased.
“He still maintains his integrity” (tum∙mah). (v. 3b). God has twice pronounced Job “blameless” (tam). Now he draws attention to Job’s continuing integrity (tum∙mah). These two words, tam and tum∙mah are related, based on the same root word (Alden, 63).
The satan earlier suggested that Job was faithful only because God was prospering him (1:9-10). The satan challenged God, “put forth your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will renounce you to your face” (1:11). God allowed the satan to strip Job of his family and wealth, but Job’s tum∙mah is still unwavering.
“although you incited (sut) me against him, to ruin him without cause“ (hin∙nam) (v. 3c). The word “incite” (sut) “has the sense of stirring up persons with the intention to get them to deviate, to act with destructive, harmful purposes or results in mind; to incite people to be evil, to lead them astray” (Baker & Carpenter, 773-774). “With these words God accepted full responsibility for Job’s plight. He would not concede any of his authority to the Satan. This point is crucial, for in the dialogue Job will see deliverance from God alone…. This statement also explains why the Satan does not reappear in the epilogue. God himself feels obliged to resolve the conflict for Job” (Hartley, 80).
“without cause” (hin∙nam). This is the same word that the satan used in 1:9 when he asked, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” (hin∙nam).
When Job lost his family and wealth “for no reason,” he entered a nonsensical world where cause and effect no longer apply. He didn’t deserve his losses, but experienced them nevertheless. Even worse than losing everything, he found himself in a world where he had no idea what to expect. His world no longer made sense. It was a world calculated to drive him mad.
In the film, “Schindler’s List,” Ralph Fiennes plays the part of Amon Goeth, a Nazi officer in charge of a death camp. In one chilling scene, Goeth picks up a rifle, steps to his balcony, takes aim at a prisoner who happens to be passing by, and pulls the trigger. The prisoner falls, mortally wounded, and the other prisoners scatter—running for cover. Goeth did this to terrorize the prisoners, who were trying to make sense of their nonsensical world. They would ask what the victim had done wrong so that they might avoid his error. Was he walking down the wrong street? Was he outdoors at a forbidden time? Was he walking too slowly? Was he carrying contraband? The randomness of the killing—the “for no reason” of it—was even more troubling to the other prisoners than their fellow prisoner’s death, because it robbed them of the sense of security that they might gain if they could understand the reasons why things happened to them.
It is that kind of random, “for no reason” world that Job entered when he lost his family and his possessions.
JOB 2:4-5. TOUCH HIS BONE AND HIS FLESH
4Satan answered Yahweh, and said, “Skin for skin. Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. 5But put forth your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will renounce you to your face.”
“Satan answered Yahweh, and said, ‘Skin for skin.'” (v. 4a). This seems to be a proverb, the meaning of which is uncertain. However, it is clear that the satan is suggesting that the testing has not gone far enough. Job has lost his family and his wealth, but he has not yet suffered the kind of pain that comes with terrible illness or injury. His skin is intact. However, it will not always be so. This verse points toward the next trial that the satan will inflict on Job a terrible skin disease.
“Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life“ (v. 4b). The satan suggests that the ultimate test is one that threatens one’s life. A person might mourn the loss of family and possessions, but it is the prospect of death that is truly terrifying.
“But put forth your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will renounce you to your face“ (v. 5). The satan now seeks to incite God to subject Job to the ultimate test—some sort of terrible infirmity that would consume the totality of his physical body.
JOB 2:6. BEHOLD, HE IS IN YOUR HAND
6Yahweh said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand. Only spare his life.”
This verse is similar to 1:12, but there is a difference. In chapter one, God forbade the satan from imposing physical injury on Job. Now God removes that restriction, but adds another—”only spare his life.”
JOB 2:7-8. SO SATAN STRUCK JOB WITH PAINFUL SORES
7So Satan went forth from the presence of Yahweh, and struck Job with painful sores (Hebrew: sehiyn—boils) from the sole of his foot to his head. 8He took for himself a potsherd (Hebrew: heres) to scrape himself with, and he sat among the ashes.
“So Satan went forth from the presence of Yahweh, and struck Job with painful sores (sehiyn—boils) from the sole of his foot to his head“ (v. 7). As the story progresses, we will learn more about Job’s infirmity. His “flesh is clothed with worms and clods of dust. (His) skin closes up, and breaks out afresh” (7:5). His “breath is offensive to (his) wife. (He is) loathsome to the children of (his) own mother” (19:17). His “bones stick to (his) skin and to (his) flesh” (19:20). “In the night season (his) bones are pierced in (him), and the pains that gnaw (him) take no rest ” (30:17). His “skin grows black and peels from (him). (His) bones are burned with heat” (30:30). These symptoms make it clear that he is suffering some sort of dread malady, but we can’t identify it with precision.
If Job’s body is covered with boils as we know them, his suffering would be terrible indeed. A boil is a skin infection, sometimes brought about by an ingrown hair or a foreign object such as a splinter. The kind of boil depends on the type of bacteria that causes the infection. A common type of boil, known as a carbuncle, can be quite painful. Typically, each boil becomes red and quite sensitive. The pain becomes intense if the boil is bumped or touched. A person whose body is covered with boils will have pressure on some boils no matter what posture he/she assumes. The constancy and intensity of the pain would be essentially unendurable.
In most cases, white blood cells eventually overwhelm the bacteria so that healing takes place. That process, though, is slow and painful. In some cases, it is necessary to have infected sweat glands surgically removed to stop the infection. (http://www.medicinenet.com/boils/article.htm)
“He took for himself a potsherd (heres) to scrape himself with, and he sat among the ashes“ (v. 8). A heres can be clay pottery or a potsherd (a broken piece of pottery). In this case, it almost certainly means the latter.
The picture we have here is of Job sitting “among the ashes” at the city dump—a broken man in a place of brokenness.
When I was a child, my grandfather would take me to the city dump where we would plunk away at tin cans and bottles with a rifle. It was a desolate place. There was never anything that called out to me to take it home—nothing even remotely interesting. But my most lasting memory of the dump was its smell. It wasn’t a rotten smell, but an odor of ashes that had been burned and dampened by rain and burned again. It has been sixty years, but I can still smell those ashes. I can still feel the acrid taste in my mouth.
Job’s presence in such a place would isolate him from polite society. The Jewish people commonly banished people with communicable diseases to isolated places, and it is quite possible that they have banished Job to this ash heap.
Broken pottery would be plentiful in such a place, so Job finds a piece of pottery to scrape himself. While scholars ponder whether this might be an act of self-mutilation, it is difficult to imagine a man suffering from boils doing anything to disturb those boils unnecessarily. Job is almost certainly using this piece of pottery, with its sharp edges, to scratch his itch.
“and he sat among the ashes“ (v. 8b). Ashes had symbolic value to the Hebrews. They associated ashes with mourning (2 Samuel 13:19), distress (Ezekiel 27:30ff.), and penitence (Jeremiah 6:26).
JOB 2:9-10. DO YOU STILL MAINTAIN YOUR INTEGRITY?
9Then his wife said to him, “Do you still maintain your integrity? (Hebrew: tum∙mah) Renounce God, and die.” 10But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?”
In all this Job didn’t sin with his lips.
“Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still maintain your integrity?‘” (tum∙mah) (v. 9a). Earlier, God said that Job “maintains his integrity” (2:3)—a high compliment from the Lord. Now Job’s wife says in a scoffing tone, “Do you still maintain your integrity?”
It seems like a reasonable question. Tum∙mah has to do with completeness or freedom from fault. While Job’s character has held up remarkably well in the midst of his suffering, his circumstances and his body are anything but complete and fault-free.
It is also worth noting that Job is in this fix because of his integrity. Had he not been of such sterling character, God would never have pointed him out to the satan.
But integrity is the one thing that has not yet been taken from Job. It is his sole asset now, and he will not surrender it. Later, he will say to his friends, “Until I die I will not put away my integrity from me. I hold fast to my righteousness, and will not let it go. My heart shall not reproach me so long as I live” (27:5b-6).
We have been hard on Job’s wife, whom we know only from these words—but we need to have compassion for her. She, too, has lost her children, her possessions, and her station in life. Now she is subjected to seeing her husband terribly afflicted—perhaps fatally so. Her words seep up from a deep well of pain.
“Renounce God, and die“ (v. 9b). Some ancient manuscripts read “Bless God, and die.” That might be due to the unwillingness of pious scribes to copy the words, “Curse God.” (Newsome, 534).
It is difficult to know the wife’s intent in uttering these words. The traditional interpretation is that, by cursing God, Job would invoke God’s wrath—something that would lead God to kill Job and put him out of his misery. It might be that the sight of Job’s terrible suffering is so troubling for his wife that she would rather see him dead.
But it is also possible that “her question could be a taunt (What good has your integrity done you?)” (Andersen, 92).
“But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women would speak‘” (v. 10a). Note Job’s restraint—remarkable for a man who has lost so much and is in such pain. He calls his wife neither evil nor foolish. He impugns only her speech. Whether or not she is a foolish woman, her words at this point sound like the words of a foolish woman.
“What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?“ (v. 10b). Once again, Job demonstrates remarkable poise. He has been rich and he has been poor, and he understands the need to honor God in either circumstance. He has been at the center of a large and loving family, but now has been relegated to the outskirts of town—but he will not isolate himself further by moving away from the presence of the Lord. He has been healthy, and he is now suffering a terrible illness—but he will not curse God in the midst of his suffering. He has always understood his need for God—now more than ever.
“In all this Job didn’t sin with his lips” (v. 10c). Some rabbis have suggested that this verse suggests that Job did not sin with his lips but did sin in his heart (Balentine, 66). However, our lips (our tongues) are one of the most unruly parts of our bodies, and one of the last to come under control (James 3:2). It seems unlikely that Job’s heart was full of rebellion while his lips were being faithful.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Alden, Robert L., New American Commentary: Job, Vol. 11 (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993)
Andersen, Francis I., Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Job, Vol. 13 (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, no date)
Balentine, Samuel E., Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Job (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2006
Baker, Warren and Carpenter, Eugene, The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: Old Testament(Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2003)
Clines, David J. A., Word Biblical Commentary: Job 1-20, Vol. 17 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990)
Conrad, Edgar W., “Satan,” in Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob (ed.), The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible: S-Z, Vol. 5 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009)
Hartley, John E., New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Job (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988)
Janzen, J. Gerald, Interpretation Commentary: Job (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1985)
McKenna, David L., The Preacher’s Commentary: Job (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986)
Murphy, Roland E., in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text. The First Readings: The Old Testament and Acts (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
Myers, Allen C. (ed.), The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, “Deuteronomic History” (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987)
Newsome, James, D. in Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993)
Newsom, Carol A., The New Interpreters Bible: Job, Psalms, and 1 & 2 Maccabees, Vol. IV (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996)
Tucker, Gene M. in Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993)
Wilson, Gerald H., New International Biblical Commentary: Job (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007)
Copyright 2009, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan