Job 1:1, 2:1-10

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Job 1:1, 2:1-10

Background to the Book of Job

The book of Job was of immense importance to me when first I studied it as student. It contains wonderful poetry, marvellous rhetorical questions to Job and is unique in the way the question about suffering is addressed within the book. It begins and ends with prose writing (Job 1-2 and 42:7-17) with Job 1-2 setting the scene for the following chapters. The prose gives us information about Job, his character, family and social circumstances and takes us into the heavenly realm for the dialogue between God and Satan. The image of a God who has to play games with Job and his family as a means of proving that Job will remain faithful even without any protection from God, doesn't sit easily with a Christian perspective. It is well to be reminded that the picture of God in the Old Testament reflects something of the world of that time as well as going beyond that view.

The understanding of suffering is tied to the idea of retribution, that is, when a person sins they will suffer the consequences, therefore if a person is suffering they must have sinned. Job is insistent that he hasn't sinned even with his horrific suffering, and his friends depicting the current thought of the time are equally sure that he must have sinned to be suffering so much. Job calls on God to vindicate him and indeed challenges God's own integrity. In the end it is the personal encounter with God which leads Job to retract his case against God (Habel 1985, 66). Job never hears of the wager with Satan nor did he ever succumb to his friends and accept their view of his suffering.

The prologue and epilogue bear characteristics of folk tales and one suggestion has been that a folk tale from a surrounding country has been used by the author of Job for his own purposes. On the other hand, Habel believes there is a continuous narrative plot and the framework should be part of a coherent whole (Habel: 1985, 25). These two points of view are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Many scholars see the Elihu speeches as later insertions that turn up suddenly in chapter 32 and disappear again after chapter 37. This may be the case, but if we deal with the book as a whole we ask questions about their role in the overall message. Habel includes them in his last movement as set out below (Habel: 1985, 70-73).

  1. Job 1:1-2:10 - God afflicts the hero - the hidden conflict
  2. Job 2:11-31:40 - the hero challenges God - the conflict explored
  3. Job 32:1 - 42:17 - God challenges the hero -the conflict resolved

It has become more frequent for scholars to view Old Testament Literature as beautifully crafted pieces of literature and in applying the tools of literary criticism realise the benefit which can help us gain a deeper understanding of the message. The author is well versed in Israelite literary traditions: speeches are shaped as disputations, rhetorical questions, legal argumentation and hymns are all genres drawn from prophetic, wisdom and other Israelite traditions. An examination of Job reveals close parallels with a number of prophetic books especially Isaiah 40-55, Lamentations, Psalms and Proverbs. Furthermore, the author was probably familiar with the Mesopotamian tradition of the 'righteous sufferer' or other Near Eastern Wisdom literature. 'Job' is not a typical Israelite name, and the land of Uz is located in either Edomite or Aramean territory (Berlin: NIB.1996, 328). The three friends, also come from outside of Israel. It is these facts which support the adoption of a non-Israelite story to surround the theological question of 'why the righteous suffer?'

There has been a variety of dates suggested for the Book of Job which seek to take into account what appears as very early material as well as that which is from a later period. The lack of any historical events or persons make it even more difficult to give a firm date and provenance. I think it is best to acknowledge that there is very likely to be early material in Job, but its final composition has taken place in the post-exilic period. The representation of Satan supports this view as it parallels literature from the same period (1 Chronicles 221:1, Zechariah 3:1-2). The issue of the righteous person suffering cannot be linked to a particular time or place.

Job is portrayed as quite passive in the opening prologue, but once we enter into the speeches with his friends and God we encounter quite a different person. He becomes hostile towards God, and his frustration, bitterness and anger are all present in the speeches. Notwithstanding, within the book we have the person who appears initially to accept his suffering and conversely a person who rails against his circumstances.

Context of Job 1 & 2 (What's Happening in the Literature around Job 1 & 2)

Job 1:1 introduces us to the person of Job, where he lived, and his relationship to God. The verses which are omitted in the lectionary reading (Job 1:2-22) tell us about Job's family and the dialogue between Yahweh and Satan. Yahweh introduces Job into the conversation using the same phrases as in Job 1:1: there was no need for Yahweh to do this except to boast to Satan. Satan picks it up quickly and suggests the only reason that Job is so perfect is because God himself protects him, but once this protection is withdrawn then see what happens to Job's perfect behaviour. Yahweh accepts the challenge and allows Satan to do what he likes except harm Job. The consequence of what has occurred in heaven is now lived out on earth. All of Job's stock, servants, and even his own family are destroyed by various calamities. Part of his response (Job 1:21b) is one that is often used in a funeral service: "the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord". In Job's case, it is rather hard to imagine anyone in his circumstances saying these words. The narrator finalises this chapter with the verdict: "In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong".

The next section speaks of the second gathering of the heavenly council and the consequences lived out for Job on earth. We will deal with it in detail in the next section. Job 2 introduces us to Job's three friends who hearing of his misfortune decide to come and comfort him. Job's condition is so bad that they don't recognise him and keep silent for seven days because of the severity of his suffering. The poetic section which follows gives us great detail of the dialogues between Job and his friends, Job's monologues and his dialogues with God.

Insights/Message of Job 1 & 2 (Insights from the Text & Literary Structure)

Verse one of the Book of Job tells us a great deal. Job lives outside of Israel with a wife & family and has a non-Israelite name. However, he knew Elohim (one of the Hebrew names for God) and we are told he is without sin, righteous, fears God and has turned away from evil. The word for "fear" has the meaning in Hebrew of one who is respectful, in awe and not the modern day meaning of fear as fearful, scared or terrified. Job's ideal religious character is almost over the top and indeed, he has more faithful traits than those assigned to Noah (Genesis 6:9).

These traits are presented in two couplets: "blameless and upright", "fears Elohim and shuns evil" which appear in the mouth of Yahweh in his conversation with the Satan about Job. We cannot, but be convinced about this person who is perfect in his relationship with God and [and] how he lives out his life.

Job 2:1-10 is almost an exact repetition of the scene in Job 1:6-12. An additional phrase in 2:1 has the Satan "presenting himself before the Lord" as though giving obeisance to God (Habel 1985, 94). Another difference is in Job 2:3a in which we see God's acknowledgement of Satan's actions to try [and] to get Job to curse Yahweh. God blames the Satan for making him move against Job (Hartley:1988,80 suggests that by Yahweh stating the Satan has incited him to this unjust action he, Yahweh, is taking full responsibility for Job's plight). This statement is quite bizarre when it was God who introduced Job into the conversation and who allowed Satan to set up the suffering. In v.3b God affirms that Job still holds onto his integrity (another change from the first scene) and has not cursed God. The Satan entices Yahweh to let Job suffer further from a terrible skin disease which he is sure will certainly turn Job against God. Again, God agrees and sets a condition whereby Job is to remain alive. Repetition of a scene such as this moves the suspense along and we, the audience, wonder whether Job will break now and curse God. The prose dialogue sets the action for the discussion about the righteous suffering. It is not a philosophical question, but [the] discussion[s are] centred on a person who is suffering unjustly. It makes the whole book very personal and is a brilliant technique to involve us at a deeper level.

There is play on the Hebrew word "for nothing" or "without cause" at the end of 2:3. Job is going to be destroyed undeservedly- he has done nothing wrong. This links back to Job 1:9 in which the Satan asks whether Job respects God without cause and the rhetorical answer is no. Job knows of God's involvement in his life and has cause to respect God whereas his destruction is without cause. The statement links forward to the dialogues with his friends in which Job reiterates time and again that he has done nothing wrong and we know he is telling the truth from this statement in 2:3.

"Skin for skin" could be a past saying whose meanings are lost to us but the implication in the context is that a personal physical affliction is more likely to make Job recant on his faith that his loss of children, servants, livestock and home. There is another twist on words when the Satan is able to strike Job physically in v.5 and at the same time in v.6 he is "to guard/preserve his life".

The lectionary reading finishes with the action and consequences of the Satan described in graphic detail (vv.7-8) and a dialogue between Job and his wife. Why hold onto your integrity is her question to Job?; why not curse God and die? She has become the mouthpiece of the Satan and gives earthly voice to his desires. It must be noted also she repeats the words of Yahweh in question form. The word translated "curse" is usually the one used to bless and only rarely means to curse. One wonders why she speaks these words. Does she think it were better if he were dead because his suffering is so great? Job answers with a view which understands God as the source of both good and evil. The narrator has the last word with his comment is that Job did not sin even with all this suffering imposed on him - he had not cursed God.

Message / Theology in Job 1&2

That God believes and trusts in Job is the agreeable part of this message. In turn Job confirms that trust is warranted. However, the narrator is preparing us to participate in the wider theological question of why does a person who doesn't deserve punishment, suffer so badly. Now we know that in the case of Job it is because God decided to allow the Satan to test Job's faithfulness. This sort of competitive rivalry among those in the heavenly realm is part of many religions and may not cause any problems to the listeners of the time. The narrator wants us to be very clear that in the case of his hero, Job doesn't warrant at any level, anything that befalls him. His personal story is the centre of the debate which is described to us in the following chapters. We become aware that the orthodox theology of the time is very firm about the point that when a person is suffering it is because they must have done something wrong. Sin brings outward punishment.

If we move the theological question away from Job, we find it is still one that is part of our world today. Am I being punished?: is the question asked when some tragedy happens in a family. A question which has been asked of me many times in pastoral visits.

Why do some people seem to suffer so many more tragedies than others? There are no answers to some of these questions we have to live with the mystery of not knowing the answers to some questions in our lives. This goes against all our present day philosophy which suggest that we have the answers to most of life's mysteries. Carol Newsom (Job: NIB. 359) suggests that people have a subconscious contract with God in which God protects us from tragedy simply because we belong to God.

The most profound theological statement is present in Job's reply to his wife: "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" God has given freewill which immediately allows evil to be part of our world whether personified in the Satan or in human form. God does not stop the suffering caused by the created world. God does not prevent suffering caused by greed and quest for power which is the cause of so much evil in the world.

Because this is only the beginning of the story we cannot give the answer which Job receives later in the book.

One wonders whether Job's sharp response to his wife's questions in 2:9 touch into his own conscious and he has to rebut her vigorously to alleviate any possible treacherous thoughts of his own. We find in life that other people will ask the questions we are thinking, but are too afraid to name.

Job has lived a very comfortable and trouble free life up to now. Will he still be faithful to God when hardship strikes? Is his faith based on receiving the good things of life? Will he abandon God in the hard times? All these questions are part of the message for us.

In all this Job did not curse God. Psalm 26 is the cry of a person like Job who declares they have lived their life with faithfulness and integrity and asking God to vindicate that life of righteousness.

Resources/Worship for Job 1 & 2 (Worship and Ways to present Job 1&2)

The Dramatised Bible sets out Job 2:1-10 in its various speeches and would be easy to use.

Robert Frost has this wonderful poem on Job called a "Masque of Reason" which is set out in poetic dialogue. It is both very clever and brings God and Mrs Job into the picture in different ways. This poem sets out the issues and if read well can be very interesting to listen to.

Masque of Reason: 232 - 235

This begins on page two of the poem
(The throne's a plywood flat, prefabricated,
That God pulls lightly upright on its hinges
And stands beside, supporting it in place.

Wife: Perhaps for an Olympic Tournament, Or Court of Love.

Man: More likely Royal Court Or Court of Law, and this is Judgement Day.
I trust it is. Here's where I lay aside
My varying opinion of myself
And come to rest in an official verdict.
Suffer yourself to be admired, my love,
As Waller says.

Wife: Or-not-admired. Go over
And speak to Him before the others come.
Tell Him He may remember you: you're Job.

God: Oh, I remember well: you're Job, my Patient.
How are you now? I trust you're quite recovered,
And feel no ill effects from what I gave you.

Job: Gave me in truth: I like the frank admission.
I am a name for being put upon.
But, yes, I'm fine, except for now and then
A reminiscent twinge of rheumatism.
The letup's heavenly. You perhaps will tell us
If that is all there is to be of Heaven,
Escape from so great pains of life on earth
It gives a sense of letup calculated
To last a fellow to Eternity.

God: Yes, by and by. But first a larger matter.
I've had you on my mind a thousand years
To thank you someday for the way you helped me
Establish once for all the principle
There's no connection human can reason out
Between their just deserts and what they get.
Virtue may fail and wickedness succeed.
Twas a great demonstration we put on.
I should have spoken sooner had I found
The word I wanted. You would have supposed
One who in the beginning was the Word
Would be in a position to command it.
I have to wait for words like anyone.
Too long I've owed you this apology
For the apparently unmeaning sorrow
You were afflicted with in those old days.
But it was of the essence of the trial
You shouldn't understand it at the time.
It had to seem unmeaning to have meaning.
And it came out all right. I have no doubt
You realise by now the part you played
To stultify the Deuteronomist
And change the tenor of religious thought.
My thanks are to you for releasing me
From moral bondage to the human race.
The only free will there at first was humans ........
Who could do good or evil as they chose.
I had no choice but I must follow them
With forfeits and rewards they understood -
Unless I liked to suffer loss of worship.
I had to prosper good and punish evil.
You changed all that. You set me free to reign.
You are the Emancipator of your God,
And as such I promote you to a saint.

Job: You hear Him, Thyatira: we're a saint.
Salvation in our case is retroactive.
We're saved, we're saved, whatever else it means.

Job's wife: Well, after all these years!

Job: This is my wife.

Job's: If You're the deity I assume You are
(I'd know You by Blake's picture anywhere) -

God: The best, I'm told, I ever have had taken.

Job's wife: I have a protest I would lodge with You.
I want to ask You if it stands to reason
That women prophets should be burned as witches,
Whereas men prophets are received with honour.

Job: Except in their own country, Thyatira.

God: You're not a witch?

Job's wife: No.

God: Have you ever been one?

Job: Sometimes she thinks she has and gets herself
Worked up about it. But she really hasn't -
Not in the sense of having to my knowledge
Predicted anything that came to pass.

Job's wife: The Witch of Endor was a friend of mine.

God: You wouldn't say she fared so very badly.
I noticed when she called up Samuel
His spirit had to come. Apparently
A witch was stronger than a prophet there.

Job's wife: But she was burned for witchcraft.

God: That is not
Of record in my Note Book.

Job's wife: Well, she was.
And I should like to know the reason why.

God: There you go asking for the very thing
We've just agreed I didn't have to give. -

(The throne collapses. But He picks it up
And this time locks it up and leaves it.

Where has she been the last half hour or so?
She wants to know why there is still injustice.
I answer flatly: That's the way it is,
And bid my will avouch it like Macbeth.
We may as well go back to the beginning
And look for justice in the case of Segub.

Job: Oh, Lord, let's not go back to anything.

God: Because your wife's past won't bear looking into? -
In our great moment what did you do, Madam?
What did you try to make your husband say?

Job's wife: No, let's not live things over. I don't care.
I stood by Job. I may have turned on You.
Job scratched his boils and tried to think what he
Had done or not done to or for the poor.
The test is always how we treat the poor.
It's time the poor were treated by the state
In some way not so penal as the poorhouse.
That's one thing more to put on Your agenda.
Job hadn't done a thing, poor innocent.
I told him not to scratch: it made it worse.
If I said once I said a thousand times,
Don't scratch! And when, as rotten as his skin,
His tents blew all to pieces, I picked up
Enough to build him every night a pup tent
Around him so it wouldn't touch and hurt him.
I did my wifely duty. I should tremble!
All You can seem to do is lose Your temper
When reason-hungry mortals ask for reasons.


Clines, David J.A. 'Job 1-20'. WBC 17. Dallas: Word, 1989.

Good, Edwin M. 'In Turns of Tempest: A Reading of Job with a Translation'. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press,1990.

Eaton, J H. 'Job'. OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1985.
Habel, Norman C. 'The Book of Job'. OTL. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985.

Hartley, John E. 'The Book of Job'. NICOT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988.

Janzen, J.Gerald. 'Job'. Interpretation. Atlanta: John Knox, 1985.

Newsom, Carol A. 'The Book of Job'. NIB Vol IV. Nashville: Abingdon, 1996.

Pope, Marvin H. 'Job'. 3rd ed. AB 15. Garden City, N.Y.: doubl;eday, 1979

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989


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