After Job seems to become increasingly haughty and hostile, God finally enters the story with comments that are far from comforting and puts Job in his place, reminding him of just who he is dealing with. The story ends with Job’s chastening and the restoration of a life of prosperity again.
So, with that being said, there are a few points to discuss.
First, Job is a drama. Now, this is not to say that the drama is not based on an absolutely true tale about a man named Job, but it is very clearly, in its original language, an ancient drama meant to be reenacted with actors that have long monologues and used as a dramatic teaching tool. Read Job like you would a play.
Second, it is interesting to note Job’s friends partaking in the Jewish observance of shiva. In Jewish culture, when a person is in a period of grieving and loss, the friends show up and “sit shiva” with the griever. You are not allowed to speak unless spoken to; you are just there to be present for the suffering. There is a great discussion about this practice in the NOOMA video “Matthew” by Rob Bell.
Third, I have placed Job as a Exilic Prophet. Many conservative Bible teachers would teach that Job is one of the oldest stories of the Bible. There are elements of the story that seem to resonate with a much older Hebrew prose somewhere around the date of Abraham. However, there are many elements to the story that seem to be problematic to this view. Some of the other content of the book does not match the time period at all (e.g., Zodiac references, language surrounding the beasts, etc.); additionally, the blatant reference to Satan would be almost a millennium ahead of its time. The reference to Satan as a personified character doesn’t begin until the Hellenistic period. Such a reference would be unheard of that early in history. There is another prevalent theory (especially amongst Jewish thought) that the book of Job belongs to the books of wisdom in the Ketuvim, perhaps even written by Solomon. There is much to support this claim, as well, which we will pull apart here shortly. However, this doesn’t solve some of the same issues mentioned above. My teacher preferred to place Job in the Babylonian exile, which is where I place it, as he thought it was an incredible dramatic/poetic/prophetic message to a people who had lost everything, just like Job.
My personal opinion is that it is likely all three of those options. I imagine the story of Job would very likely be a very ancient tale; humans have been wrestling with questions about suffering since the dawn of time. I can also see a character like Solomon taking this same story and giving it new life (similar to how we like to resurrect old classics and remake them into new movies today). Of course, I can easily see this popular story being reclaimed yet again during a period of intense national suffering in captivity. This would explain all the elements, the old and the new, that are present in the book.
Fourth, Job is chiastic. There is no way for me to explain this chiasm in one blog post, but for those eager students of the Text, I would invite you to explore this amazing site here that outlines the chiastic structure of Job (your head will explode, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!) and for those REALLY in the mood for punishment, you could listen to my teaching on the book of Job here. These tools will explain the chiastic nature and literary debate surrounding Job in much more detail.
Long story short, the center of the book of Job ends up becoming chapter 28. I don’t want to post the entire chapter here, so please take the time to read it.
The whole point of the chapter is that true wisdom belongs to God. Only He knows where to find it and only He can unearth the amazing treasures of wisdom that come from His divine perspective. This is an incredible treasure to be buried in the center of a play about a guy who loses everything.
Which leads to my final thought: Job does not end with an explanation. After God shows up to throttle Job, you want God to end His discourse with an explanation of Job’s suffering. Doesn’t Job deserve at least that much? But He doesn’t.
Because that’s how life is.
That’s how suffering goes.
We don’t always get the answers.
But you as the reader, of course, are let into all of the backstory that the Job character knows nothing about! Can you imagine how things would have changed if Job knew that his suffering was coming as a result of a heavenly wager that rested on God’s beaming confidence in him? (Again, I would recommend watching another NOOMA video entitled “Whirlwind” by Rob Bell.)
Perspective. The author of Job is inviting us to consider the infinite and eternal possibilities that could lie behind our suffering, to know that God sees things that we could never begin to see and understand. God can mine wisdom from the hills of suffering as easily as man mines minerals from the mountains.
Even in the midst of suffering, we are being invited to trust the story.
Where then does wisdom come from?
Where does understanding dwell?
It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing,
concealed even from the birds in the sky.
Destruction and Death say,
“Only a rumor of it has reached our ears.”
God understands the way to it
and he alone knows where it dwells,
for he views the ends of the earth
and sees everything under the heavens.
When he established the force of the wind
and measured out the waters,
when he made a decree for the rain
and a path for the thunderstorm,
then he looked at wisdom and appraised it;
he confirmed it and tested it.
And he said to the human race,
“The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,
and to shun evil is understanding.”