Background

The book’s title is drawn from the name of its primary character, Job. The name may be derived from the Arabic language and mean “one who turns back (to God), one who repents.” Some prefer to trace the name to the Hebrew verb, “to hate, be an enemy of,” and see the name as one signifying “the assailed one, an object of enmity.” Some degree of uncertainty prevails in all attempts to tie down the meaning of the name.1The introductory information on this page is adapted from Professor Emeritus Forrest Bivens’ course notes for Senior Old Testament Isagogics at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Used with permission.

The historical setting of Job is generally viewed as belonging to the patriarchal period. The absence of references to other historical people and events makes it difficult to determine the most probable lifetime of Job. There are a number of evidences that lead a majority of Bible students to conclude that Job most likely lived in an age before Moses, perhaps that of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). There is no mention of and no obvious allusions to the nation and history of Israel. The extensive ownership of livestock, a “patriarchal family-clan” type of social organization, and the age attained by Job are usually seen as more compatible with patriarchal rather than post-Exodus conditions. The fact that Job as head of the family rather than a Levitical priest offered sacrifices also points to a time before Moses and the Old Testament Law. The mention of the kasitah (Job 42:11) as a monetary unit correlates well with patriarchal times (Gen 33:19) or at least as early as Joshua (Josh 24:32). On the other hand, if these events took place beyond the borders of Israel (in northern Arabia, east of Edom), many of these items may be compatible with local conditions much later in Old Testament history. Thus caution must be taken when trying to assign a definite time period to the events of Job.

While considering the possible historical setting for the events related in Job we are affirming that we believe the events to be true history rather than fiction. The prologue and epilogue present the information as real events and without any suggestion or indication to the contrary. The references in Ezekiel 14:14-20 and James 5:11 also seem to treat Job as a historical person. The characters (Job’s three friends and three daughters) do not have symbolic names and Uz is a real geographic and tribal name (Gen 10:23, 22:21, 36:28, Lam 4:21). A common view among conservative Bible scholars is that Job was a real character who suffered greatly and that a later writer based his poetic theodicy (a literary defense of God’s goodness despite there being evil in the world) on the historical facts.

We acknowledge that if someone dates the composition of the book, for example, to the reign of Solomon (see below), it is difficult to see how an accurate record of the actual conversations involving Job and his four companions could have been preserved. Still, as Gleason Archer states:

The author may well have composed it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and accurately represented the sentiments and theological opinions historically expressed by the parties concerned. It was simply that the dramatic or poetic form in which they were composed was the product of the literary artist…it certainly must be conceded that the text of Job does not read like an ordinary conversation such as would be carried on under usual circumstances. Apart from the introductory and the concluding chapters, the main body of the text reads like a poetic and highly artistic composition, employing language which would not normally be used by persons speaking extemporaneously in a real life situation.2Archer, Gleason L. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2007. 509.

An inspired and poetic recounting of a historical event in no way detracts from the historicity of the event or the accuracy of the account.

Authorship

The authorship of Job has long been discussed and debated, primarily because the book itself does not reveal the identity of the writer and there is no single consistent rabbinic tradition in regard to the chosen author. Scholars have variously identified the author as Job (or Elihu or one of their contemporaries), Moses (because of vocabulary similarities between Job and the Pentateuch), or an unknown foreign author whose work Moses translated into Hebrew (most likely from the Aramaic).

The most common opinion among conservative scholars is that the book was written by an unknown writer during or near the time of King Solomon. This opinion largely rests on the fact that Job has the earmarks of Wisdom Literature that was produced in Israel during the Solomonic age. Similarities between Job 28 and Proverbs 8, and the fairly extensive knowledge of foreign countries exhibited in Job and known to have existed in Solomon’s time are factors also given to advocate a tenth century BC authorship.

Recent language comparisons between Job and Isaiah have led an increasing number of scholars to advocate an 8th century BC authorship, however, and these arguments may be taken seriously. Ultimately “evidence is extremely difficult to establish, and in any case the timeless nature of the message makes the dating of the book a moot point.”3Hill, Andrew E. and Walton, John H. A Survey of the Old Testament. 329.

Purpose for Writing

The theme and contents of the book are clearly centered in the question of how the suffering of the righteous can be reconciled with the existence of a loving and almighty God. This is a theodicy, a literary composition focused on defending God’s goodness in a world with so much evil. Job’s three friends offer their basically identical answer that suffering is the result of sin. Elihu expands the thought to include the explanation that God sends suffering to those he loves for their betterment. The Lord gives his answer by clarifying his majesty and wisdom in contrast to human littleness and limitations.

Christ Connection

The messianic content of the book is clearly seen despite the fact that the man Job shows no indication he was an Israelite. He may have been an Edomite, rarely identifies God with the use of the Tetragrammaton (El, Shaddai, and Eloha are mostly used), but knows well the work of his coming Savior, his Kinsman-Redeemer (Job 19:23-27). The question of whether Job could or would be aided by a mediator is advanced several other times and with a variety of Hebrew terms (Job 5:1, 9:33, 16:18-22, 33:23). The role of the mediator is clear, dominates much of the dialogue section of the book, but fades as the book reaches its conclusions. It is not always clear whether the Messiah and his work are in the picture. The mediator’s (and Messiah’s) role is not prominent in the restoration of Job’s fortunes at the conclusion of the book. Still, Christians can certainly draw parallels and ponder the full implications of Christ’s full work throughout the book of Job.

Notable Passages

  • Job 1:20-21
  • Job 2:9-10
  • Job 2:13
  • Job 19:25-27
  • Job 38:1-3
  • Job 38:4-7
  • Job 40:1-5
  • Job 42:1-6

Outline

Traditional outlines of the book follow these general patterns:

  1. Prologue (Job 1-2)
  2. First Cycle of Speeches (Job 3-14)
  3. Second Cycle of Speeches (Job 15-21)
  4. Third Cycle of Speeches (Job 22-31)
  5. Elihu’s Speeches (Job 32-37)
  6. The Lord’s Speeches (Job 38-42:6)
  7. Epilogue (Job 42:7ff.)

and:

  1. Prologue (Job 1-2)
  2. Dialogues (Job 3-27)
  3. Interlude (Job 28)
  4. Discourses (Job 29-42:6)
  5. Epilogue (Job 42:7ff)

References   [ + ]

1. The introductory information on this page is adapted from Professor Emeritus Forrest Bivens’ course notes for Senior Old Testament Isagogics at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Used with permission.
2. Archer, Gleason L. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2007. 509.
3. Hill, Andrew E. and Walton, John H. A Survey of the Old Testament. 329.