Reading the Book of Job Like Never Before

Derek Ouellette —  February 21, 2011

I have heard many sermons on the Book of Job, come across many books and sourced many articles over the years. In the following two posts I will be taking an approach to Job which is unique to them all. Most work done on the Book of Job seems to treat it in an abstract way which broadly addresses the question of “Theodicy”: If God is all powerful and all good, how can there be evil in the world? Or why does evil befall the righteous?

But I think a key element to understanding the point(s) of Job are to try and ascertain when it was written, why it was written and to whom it was written. These are big questions which no one agrees on. I have a working hypothesis though which both excites me (for its “Christocentric” possibilities) and discomforts me (because I can’t find any biblical scholars who might make a similar suggestion). For what it’s worth, I’ll pitch it to you – the reader.

Working Thesis: Exile and Restoration

I believe Job was probably a real person who lived in the same era as the patriarchs (but I can’t be sure). Still, I’m inclined to accept the general view among scholars that “the Book of Job” was written sometime during or after the Babylonian exile[1]. If both of these points are true it would account for a few things:

1. The story of Job (found in the prologue and epilogue) was deeply embedded in Israel’s oral tradition so that Ezekiel could simply make passing reference to Job – along with Daniel and Noah – without explanation [Ezekiel 14:14, 20].

2. It would help answer the question of why the book shifts from prose to poetry and back to prose. The “prose” of the book reflects the oral tradition well known and embedded in Israel’s culture.

What might we say about the authority of the book then? Someone in Israel’s scribal elite used the well known (oral tradition) story of Job, wrote it down, and added dialogue in order to address some specific situation which the Israelites found themselves in (the [post] exile?). This is not too dissimilar as to say that Moses wrote Genesis – by divine inspiration, but that a later unknown scribe[s] touched it up (also by divine inspiration?). Thus Job is still divinely inspired in the same way.

If this suggestion is true (big “if” I admit) then perhaps we ought to read Israel’s exile as the backdrop to the Book of Job. And since I believe that Israel’s exile did not end until Christ’s crucifixion (I’m a “Covenantalist”) we might suggest that the “restoration” of Job could have some very Christocentric implications.

If all of this is true then the question(s) to which Job is seeking to answer is not too dissimilar to the question Paul takes up in Romans, namely “How can God be “Righteous” if he has turned his back on his covenant people” (Israel = Job)? The answer Paul gives is straightforward, God has not turned his back because “not all Israel are Israel” meaning true Israel will be vindicated (and for Paul that means whoever is “in Israel” which actually means “in Christ”). In Job, as in Paul, the answer is the same: God has not abandoned Israel, for Israel (Job) will be restored (42:12-17). In this view there is a striking similarity between Job 38:1-5 and Romans 9:19-21.

Of course there are some pretty large problems with my (working) hypothesis of Job. For example, the author presents Job, not as an Israelite but as a non-Israelite from the land of Uz (an Edomite). But this might not be a huge problem because I believe if the exile proved anything, it proved that Israel was (sinking) in the same boat as the rest of humanity. Thus Job could be the embodiment of all of humanity (Israel included) needing a savior. Perhaps this is why he is depicted as proto-Israel (as the story takes place at the time of Abraham before there was any Israelite). But this introduces my second and larger difficulty: Job is presented and emphasized as being “blameless” and “upright”. But this neither describes humanity nor Israel (cf. Romans 3:9-18).

In any case, with a broad stroke, I believe Job is aiming at two things: God’s people must be faithful in the midst of trial (a la Book of Hebrews) and God is Righteous (a la Book of Romans).

Perhaps I totally grossly misrepresented the whole Book of Job. Like I said, my views are quite undetermined and convoluted. But I want to try and understand Job in light of the Narrative of Israel (since it was an Israelite who wrote it, and one has to wonder “why?”).

So over the next two days of reflecting on Job (via my “through the bible in 90 Days” challenge) I’m going to attempt to read Job with Israel’s exile as a backdrop and seek to ask questions like, “why was Job written down at this period?”, “what did the story mean to an Israelite newly restored to their homeland?” and “why is Job depicted as a gentile?”.

If anyone has read or knows of an author who approaches the book from an “exile-restoration” angle, I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know so I can see what they have to say.

[1] Katharine J. Dell, Eerdman’s Commentary on the Bible, p.337

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • Britt

    I really enjoyed that.=)

  • Martin Davies

    I agree with Britt – fascinating.

  • Guy Woodward

    Feb. 24, 2011

    Very good commentary! I do not really see an issue with your two problems you mention. Does not Jehovah tell us that he sends rain on the just and the unjust? (Mat 5:45). Yet the whole chapter of Matt. 5 starts with who Jehovah blesses and begins with those who realize their need for him. I think Job realized later in the book just how much Job and we all need Jehovah!

  • FrGregACCA

    I would think that the POETIC sections of Job would represent oral tradition rather than the prose sections.

    • Derek Ouellette

      Isn’t it easier to orally pass on a story than a dialogue?

  • Greg Lowe

    Funny, I just came to the same conclusions. Ysekf today as I finished the book. I find the choice of language in the last chapter verse 10 telling: Job’s suffering is refered to as “captivity”. This is where my wheels began turning along the lines of what you’re suggesting. Could the book be about resurrection?

    • Derek Ouellette

      I abandoned my view by the time I was done the book. But I’d be interested in your thoughts anyways. Maybe I can reconsider.

  • Sandra

    Love the Book of Job! Love your working thesis! I’m constantly searching for other interpretations because something is “missing” from the traditional teachings.

    In any case, I ran across this website, it is late, & I didn’t even read it all myself, but thought it might go along with your thesis somewhat. :)