The Book of Job: A blow-by-blow


The first of my required readings for January, the Book of Job is ultimately about the test of life, the unknowability of God’s purpose, and the central question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”. Unlike the Biblical text of Genesis, which we read in the first semester, Job contains only a single story – that of Job’s suffering at the hands of God. A God who seems to want to prove something to the angel Satan about the worthiness of Job, but also wants to prove something to man about his own power. In my first reflection here, I have attempted only to breakdown the book in order to better understand its structure and message. The Book of Job is essentially a long dialogue between Job, four people who come to sit with him, and God. There is a dramatic arc in the story as the arguing and insults from the friends intensify against Job’s denials of wrong-doing.  Ultimately God appears in the story’s climax and gives a long speech in which he asserts his ability to know all things, unlike Job’s persecuting friends. There is certainly much to break down in Job’s long speech (near the end) as in God’s – but for this first pass I am attempting only a synopsis.

Chapter One: We are introduced to Job, a man with seven sons and three daughters, thousands of livestock and many servants. One of the greatest people in the land of Uz. God and Satan are looking down on the earth and God praises Job to which Satan says – if you curse him, see how quickly he will turn against you and “curse thee to thy face”. God takes the challenge, saying I will test Job and you will see, but Satan, do not touch him.

Then all the calamities befall Job – his livestock are stolen and his servants of the field killed, some other livestock are burned in a fire from heaven along with the servants that tended them. The sons and daughters are killed when a great wind strikes the house in which they are eating, crushing the four walls of the house inwards.

Job is told of these things in turn and so tears his clothes, shaves his head and prays to God. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

Chapter Two: God brags to Satan about Job anew because Job is prayerful even amid this calamity. Satan then says to God – you have done all this but you have not touched his body. See what happens when you touch his bone and flesh. So God says – go ahead and touch him. So Satan afflicts Job with boils all over his body. Job is crushed and sits in the ashes, crushed one again when his wife turns against him. Job says to her:  “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?”.

Job’s three friends – Eli’phaz, Bildad, and Zophar come to see him, in anguish because they do not recognize him. They sit with him for seven days and seven nights without saying a word.

Chapter Three: Job curses the day of his birth. He asks why he has been brought forth from the womb to live in such agony. Why didn’t he just die in birth if this was what the world had in store for him?

Chapter Four & Five: Eli’phaz argues that those who are truly good are never entirely forsaken by Providence, but that punishment may justly be inflicted for secret sins. He denies that any man is innocent and censures Job for asserting his freedom from guilt. Eliphaz exhorts Job to confess any concealed iniquities to alleviate his punishment.

Chapters Six & Seven: Job speaks back to his friend and says he does not know why God would afflict him such: “What is man, that thou dost make so much of him, and that thou dost set thy mind upon him, dost visit him every morning, and test him every moment? How long wilt thou not look away from me, nor let me alone till I swallow my spittle? If I sin, what do I do to thee, thou watcher of men? Why hast thou made me thy mark? Why have I become a burden to thee?”

Chapter Eight: The friend Bildad says – if you are blameless, God will lift you back up to your former joy and glory.

Chapter Nine: Job answers, yes – I know that is so. I try to purify myself in the most painful of ways (washing my body with snow, washing my hands with lye) but ultimately this is between God and I – you can’t judge what is there. I don’t know what to do to speak directly to him.

Chapter Ten: This is the chapter of Job’s questioning. He says I loathe my life, why doesn’t God tell my what he has against me? “Does it seem good to thee to oppress, to despise the work of thy hands and favor the designs of the wicked? Hast thou eyes of flesh? Dost thou see as man sees? Are thy days as the days of man, or thy years as man’s years, that thou dost seek out my iniquity and search for my sin, although thou knowest that I am not guilty, and there is none to deliver out of thy hand? …. Remember that thou hast made me of clay; and wilt thou turn me to dust again?….. Why didst thou bring me forth from the womb?…… Are not the days of my life few? ”

Chapter Eleven: Zophar speaks – he is none too subtle in his accusations, suggesting that Job is the recipient of divine punishment and must set his heart right in order to have his suffering relieved.

Chapters Twelve through Fourteen – Job responds that he is not a stupid nor is he a godless man. And he challenges his friends that they cannot hide their own iniquities from God so they are not better than him. God has his reasons, why do none of them plead the case for God. Why does man suffer greatest among the beasts?

Chapter Fifteen – Eli’phaz speaks, becoming a much more bitter accuser in the second round. He basically says that Job’s own words condemn him to punishment, that his meditations are false, and that Job must be a truly wicked man to have received such punishment.

Chapter Sixteen – Job calls his friends miserable blowhards and tells them they are some comfort. Job affirms that although God has made him a target, he does not hold violence in his heart and his prayer is pure.

Chapter Seventeen – Job continues on that death is just before him, and he is surrounded by mockery – he believes he is an example to the righteous but his friends are too selfish to see that.

Chapter Eighteen – Bildad says why do you think we are so stupid? What right do you have to question our counsel? Clearly you don’t know God or this wouldn’t be happening to you.

Chapter Nineteen – Job answers, you should be ashamed of what you are saying to me. Clearly God has cast you all apart from me, just as he killed my children and turned my wife against me. All despise me now, even those who once loved me. This is what God wants for me, even as I suffer, in order to see God clearly.

Chapter Twenty – Zophar says clearly you are being punished for the wealth in your home, for your selfishness. This is what God is opposed to, you have had too much.

Chapter Twenty-one – Job says – that’s nonsense. Many of the wickedest aren’t punished like I am right now. This is not a given, that when calamity befalls someone they are immediately to be considered guilty of sin.

Chapter Twenty-two – Eli’phaz attacks Job again and accuses him of all manner of nastiness – he has taken the clothing from his brothers, sent the weary away without water, sent widows away empty. Job is greatly wicked by these accusations and God can see all. If Job would just recant before God, his suffering would come to an end.

Chapters Twenty-Three & Four – Job gives a speech in which he universalizes his suffering, recognizing now that so many suffer, and so many go with prayers unanswered. His plea becomes one of the unknowability of life for all men in the face of God’s plan.

Chapter Twenty-Five – Bildad says no one born of woman is without sin. Every man before God is a maggot.

Chapter Twenty-Six through Thirty-One – Job continues to plead his case, that he has done right by the Lord when he has been blessed to do so, that the wicked will be judged upon their deaths and he has no doubt of that. This is the longest speech of Job in which he lays out his works and deeds, and his ultimate faith in God.

Chapters Thirty-Two through Seven – Now Eli’hu speaks (he has seemingly come out of nowhere for his is not previously mentioned in the text), having waited until all the elders have finished. He is angry with both Job and his friends for not showing wisdom on the situation. Elihu feels it isn’t true that suffering can only come down on those who are not righteous, and believes that it may fall upon the innocent as a protection against greater sin, for moral betterment and warning, and to elicit greater trust and dependence on a merciful, compassionate God in the midst of adversity.

Chapter Thirty-Eight & Nine – God now speaks from a whirlwind and says – how dare any of you interpret my actions? What do you know puny humans? I made the earth and the seas and the clouds and the darkness. I command the earth and all its creatures, so I know about things let me tell you.

Chapter Forty & Forty-one – God addresses Job specifically, asking him if there is anything he thinks God cannot do. And telling him to rise up and answer without fear.

Chapter Forty-two – Job responds that he knows that the purpose of God is divine and not to be thwarted, and while he doesn’t understand God’s purpose all the time, he does not question his right to it. Then God expresses anger at the three friends for speaking wrongly about God and orders them to go make an offering. In the end, God restores all to Job and doubles his wealth, gives him new children and grants Job a long and full life to 140 years.

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