††††††††††††††† ††††††††††† BIBLIOTHECA SACRA 151 (October-December 1994): 393-413

†††††††††††††† Copyright © 1994 by Dallas Theological Seminary.Cited with permission.


†††††††††††††††† GUIDELINES FOR UNDER-


†††††††††††††††††††††† THE BOOK OF JOB


††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Greg W. Parsons


††††††††† Though many writers have given lavish tribute to the

Book of Job especially concerning its literary excellence,1 many

preachers tend to shy away from preaching the book. If they do

preach on Job, the sermons focus on only one aspect of the book-

the familiar "storyline" of the prologue (chaps. 1-2) and epilogue

(42:7-17) in which Job is portrayed as the paragon of patience.

Consequently Job has often been presented as a model for mod-

ern-day believers to "be patient" in the midst of trials. However,

few expositors delve into the complex dialogue between Job and

his friends. Preachers tend to skip over Job's cursing of the day of

his birth (chap. 3), the intricate and often argumentative interac-

tion between Job and his friends (chaps. 4-27), and other hard-to-

understand passages. Sermons or lessons have mainly focused

on Job's idealized faith and patience epitomized in the famous

verse, 19:25. Yet this image of Job is a distortion of the overall

story presented in the Book of Job.2

††††††††† This general neglect in preaching from the whole Book of Job

is partially caused by the difficulty of properly understanding the

book.3 Because of the widespread misunderstanding of Job's mes-


Greg W. Parsons is Professor of Biblical Studies, Baptist Missionary Association

Theological Seminary, Jacksonville, Texas.


1 Essayist and historian Thomas Carlyle remarked concerning the greatness of

Job among world literature, "There is nothing written, in the Bible or out of it, of

equal literary merit" (cited by Robert Gordis, The Book of God and Man: A Study of

Job [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965],3).

2 See M. Vernon Davis, "Preaching from Job," Southwestern Journal of Theology

14 (Fall 1971): 65.

3 There is no consensus among scholars concerning its literary structure, unity,

or essential meaning. A contributing factor to the distortion of the overall message

of Job has been the difficulty of translating the Hebrew text into English. The Book

of Job is probably the most difficult Old Testament book to translate since it has

394 †††††††††††† BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1994


sage, the biblical expositor finds a challenge in seeking to teach

and preach the Book of Job in an accurate and relevant manner.

Habel illustrates this predicament. "Preaching from Job is like

nurturing a cactus garden. One is liable to recoil from constant

prickles and miss the blossoms in the night."4 The temptation is

to follow the traditional, distorted view of Job's life and to ignore

the many hard questions Job raised in facing the mystery of his

innocent suffering. Yet the candid record that Job began to ques-

tion God strikes a chord familiar to humankind. To ignore Job's

question "why?" (see 3:11, 12,20; 10:18; 13:24; 24:1) and his search

for God's answer is to ignore basic issues of life everyone must

faces. Thus a second reason many do not preach from Job is the

difficulty of answering the various theological and philosophical

questions raised in the book.6

††††††††† The present writer believes that it is worth the effort needed to

understand the Book of Job. Continuing Habel's metaphor, one

must cautiously approach the many prickly passages in order to

gather the blossoms-messages that "touch the faith and fears of

contemporary listeners. The spines and spikes of Job reflect a

real world with which we can identify."7 Yet there is a paucity of

tips for the biblical gardener who seeks to cultivate the unfamil-

iar "desert land" located between the prologue and epilogue of Job.

Though many have written concerning various hermeneutical

factors related to the Book of Job, there has been no comprehensive

study com piling guidelines for understanding the book.8 Fur-

thermore little has been written on the teaching or preaching of

the Book of Job. Habel has contributed a small but helpful study

for preaching the whole Book of Job.9 From the perspective of an

African-Arnerican pastor, J. Alfred Smith has contributed prac-

tical insights for lessons and sermons on the Book of Job.10 Yet no


more rare words and a richer vocabulary than any other biblical book (Gordis, The

Book of God and Man: A Study of Job, v, 160-63). Furthermore the poetic body (Job

3:1-42:6) contains numerous images foreign to modern culture.

4 Norman C. Habel, Job, Knox Preaching Guides (Atlanta: Knox, 1981), 1.

5 See Davis, "Preaching from Job," 65.

6 See ibid. and J. Alfred Smith, Making Sense of Suffering: A Message to Job's

Children, A Guide to Teaching and Preaching the Book of Job (Elgin. IL: Progres-

sive National Baptist Convention, 1988), 41, and the table of contents in Ord L.

Morrow, The Puzzles of Job (Lincoln, NE: Back to the Bible, 1965).

7 Habel, Job, 1.

8 Perhaps the most helpful introductory discussion of these issues is C. Hassell

Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books, rev. ed. (Chicago:

Moody, 1988),83-88.

9 Habel, Job.

10 Smith. Making Sense of Suffering: A Message to Job's Children. Though writ-

Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Book of Job †††††††††† 395


resource is available that summarizes specific guidelines for

preaching and teaching the book.

††††††††† The purpose of the present study is to cultivate an interest in

the study and use of the Book of Job by pastors, teachers, and

laypersons in ministry. Specific guidelines for understanding

and communicating this ancient wisdom book are proposed.






††††††††† This fundamental rule of interpretation is more crucial for

understanding the Book of Job than for any other Old Testament

book except Ecclesiastes. Largely a dialogue between Job and his

"friends," the Book of Job "contains all sorts of wrong advice and

incorrect conclusions as they come from the lips of Job's well-

meaning 'comforters.'"11 Thus much of the book is human wis-

dom, "seemingly logical but actually wrong."12 Furthermore it

contains much that is theologically sound but with wrong applica-

tions to Job's situation.13 Consequently preachers who ignore the

dialogue or try to pullout some principle without an awareness of

the immediate and overall context are in danger not only of dis-

torting the story of Job but also of misrepresenting (however un-

wittingly) the message for today.14

††††††††† Procedure. The first step (which will be obvious to many

readers) must be emphasized since it is so foundational and cru-

cial: read the book in its entirety (preferably at one sitting in a

modern version) several times to observe the "big picture."15 M-

ter the fast-paced action of the prologue (chaps. 1-2), one may be


ten from a nonevangelical perspective, this volume contains practical insights on

understanding Job, ideas for helping laypersons study the book, and several mes-

sages (of varying value) based on the Book of Job.

11 See Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth:

A Guide to Understanding the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 193-94.

12 Ibid., 195.

13 See Elmer B. Smick, "Job," in The Expositor's Bible Commentary (Grand

Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 4:859-60; and Derek Ridner, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job

& Ecclesiastes: An Introduction to Wisdom Literature (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-

Varsity, 1985), 60-61.

14 As already mentioned, Job 19:25 has frequently been abused in this way. See also

the misuse of 15:20-22 as explained by Grant R. Osborne, Hermeneutlcal Spiral: A

Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-

Varsity, 1991), 192.

15 The student of the Book of Job often "cannot see the forest for the trees" and

needs a "photograph" taken, as it were, from an aircraft to understand how each in-

dividual "tree" fits the whole rugged landscape of the book.

396 †††††††††††† BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1994


frustrated by the intricate poetic "dialogue" (3:1-42:6). Ryken

warns the reader not to expect "a fast-moving plot" but "to respect

the leisurely pace of Hebrew poetry" with its skillful use of repeti-

tion and figurative language.16 One goal of this inductive ap-

proach is to find the natural boundaries (or major subsections) in

the landscape of Job. Another objective is to formulate a suggested

purpose for the writing of the book.17

††††††††† Proper view of structure as a literary unity. To understand

its message one should assume the literary unity of Job.18 Though

it has various contrasts and opposites, the book should be viewed

as a harmonious whole.19

††††††††† Through one's own inductive reading and preliminary

study, the following major landmarks in the rugged terrain of

the Book of Job should be observed.

††††††††† I. Prologue-in prose (chaps. 1-2)

††††††††† II. Poetic Body (3:1-42:6)

††††††††† ††††††††† A. †††† Job's initial monologue or lament (chap. 3)

†††††††††††††††††† B. †††† "Dialogue"20 in three cycles between Job and his


16 Rather than "looking for a sustained philosophic argument," one should expect

"characters in conflict, oratorical outbursts," and "the leisurely poetic embellish-

ment of virtually everything that is said" (Leland Ryken, Words of Delight: A Liter-

ary Introduction to the Bible [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987], 342-43). Contrary to

David McKenna (Job, Communicator's Commentary [Waco, TX: Word, 1986], 19-20),

the dialogue of the Book of Job has no simplistic plot that moves logically forward

in a definable pattern. Though he acknowledges that he has oversimplified the

data, he wrongly analyzes the plot of Job as a drama in the classical Greek and

modern Western sense. Norman Habel uses biblical narrative as a more reliable

model to understand the plot development of Job: "In biblical narrative the dialogue

not only reports or foreshadows actions in the plot but may itself also be an action

which retards, complicates, or resolves an episode in the plot. . . . This model has

been modified with expansion of the dialogue into speeches which both retard and

complicate the plot" (The Book of Job: A Commentary [Philadelphia: Westminster

Press, 1985], 26).

17 In this reading and inductive study, one must eschew commentaries and study

helps. However, see Hans Finzel, Opening the Book: Key Methods of Applying In-

ductive Study to All of Scripture (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1987), 109-10, 120-25, for a I

helpful format in conducting an inductive study of Job.

18 See Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books, 83. It is im-

portant that the expositor deal with the text in its current canonical form rather

than discarding portions of Job that do not fit his preconceived notions. See Gre-

gory W. Parsons, "The Structure and Purpose of the Book of Job," Bibliotheca Sacra

138 (1981): 142-43, reprinted in Roy B. Zuck, ed., Sitting with Job: Selected Studies

on the Book of Job (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 18, esp. n. 2.

19 For a summary of some of these contrasts, Habel argues cogently that these var-

ious "opposites" in Job need not reflect irreconcilable conflict but "points and I

counterpoints" or necessary "polarities" (Job, 4-6).

20 This is not a dialogue in the modern sense but more like a "speech contest" in

which one speech is not necessarily correlated to another (Francis I. Andersen,

Job: An Introduction and Commentary [Downers Grove. IL: InterVarsity, 1976], 96-98).

Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Book of Job †††††††††† 397


†††††††††††††††††††††††††††† friends (chaps. 4-27)

†††††††††††††††††† C. †††† Poem on wisdom (chap. 28)

†††††††††††††††††† D. †††† Job's concluding "monologues" (chaps. 29-31)

†††††††††††††††††† E. †††† Elihuís speeches (chaps. 32-37)

†††††††††††††††††† F. †††† Yahweh's speeches and Job's replies (38:1-42:6)

††††††††† III. Epilogue--in prose (42:7-17)


††††††††† Two extremes must be avoided in examining the relationship

of the prologue to Job's speeches in the main body. The first ex-

treme is the tendency of critics to overemphasize the differences

between the "patient Job" of the narrative framework (chaps. 1-2

and 42:7-17) and the "impatient Job" of the poetic body (3:1-42:6)

so that the book is seen as without unity.21

††††††††† Ironically some evangelicals also have unwittingly inter-

preted Job in a similar fashion. By assuming that a Christian

should never ask God "why?" or candidly offer complaints to

God, they seem to side with Job's friends in castigating Job for

questioning the Lord.22 However, Westermann wisely concludes

that this is not a biblical concept. The complaint, which was a

necessary part of the sufferer's prayer in the Psalms, has been di-

vorced from its original context.23 Thus the Book of Job demon-

strates that Job was a real person (not an imaginary hero of a

"folktale") who struggled with his emotions and feelings.

The second extreme is to obliterate the differences between the

two portraits of Job so that Job's apparent statement of faith in

19:25-26 is made determinative for the whole dialogue and poetic

body. For instance McKenna sees this as the turning point after

which the resolution of the conflict is assured by faith.24 However,

this is too simplistic. In reality Job's confidence of vindication

it developed into an overconfident and self-righteous attitude (see

esp. 31:35-37 where he demanded that God answer and vindicate

him).25 The real turning point in Job's faith was his final


21 Critics allege that this is a sign of "sloppy editing" by the author of Job who

failed to reconcile the "folktale" with his own portrait of Job in the dialogue.

22 Because the modem perception of "complaint" is necessarily negative in conno-

tation, people are urged to "suffer without complaining."

23 See Claus Westermann's penetrating analysis of this modern misconception

("The Two Faces of Job," in Job and the Silence of God, ed. Christian Duquoc and

Casiano Floristan [New York: Seabury, 1983], 18-19). What has resulted is discord

between the patient Job of the prologue and the complaining Job of the dialogue and speeches.

24 McKenna, Job, 19-20.

25 Longman rightly criticizes McKenna's emphasis on Job's development of faith

as a distortion of the data which "shows Job moving away and not toward God in the

dialogues" (Tremper Longman III, Old Testament Commentary Survey [Grand

Rapids: Baker, 1991], 98).

398 †† BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1994


response to the Lord (42:1-6).26

††††††††† Though each passage is important for a proper interpretation

of the Book of Job, the roles of the prologue (chaps. 1-2) and Yah-

weh's speeches (38:1-42:6) are particularly crucial. The prologue

is the indispensable backdrop for the story of Job as a whole. It

tells the reader (like the narrator in a dramatic production) that

Job was innocent. Since the reader is aware of the scene in

heaven whereas Job and his friends (real-life "actors") were not

the prologue sets the stage for irony. The basic problem of the book

is articulated in 1:9.27 If the prologue serves as the vital platform

for the story of Job, the climactic speeches of the Lord are "the most

determinative part of the book."28 Since much of the Book of Job is

the human speculation of Job and his friends, to interpret any part

without the divine input from chapters 38-42 is to distort the

meaning of the book.

††††††††† Purpose. The expositor also needs to do an inductive study of

Job to determine the possible major purpose for its writing.29 The

key to unlocking the purpose of the book is the Lord's speeches.

They do not give a direct answer to Job's question, "why?" Instead

they challenge Job with an avalanche of questions to insinuate,

"Who do you think you are?" (see esp. 38:2-5; 41:11) so that he may

find the answer by faith in "who the Lord is."30 Until one becomes

confident in stating his own understanding of the message of Job,

the present author's conclusion concerning the purpose of the

writing of the Book of Job may be used as a working hypothesis:

"The purpose of the Book of Job is to show that the proper rela-

tionship between God and man is based solely upon the sovereign

grace of God and man's response of faith and submissive trust."31


Job's faith found no resolution until the Lord had confronted him for this atti-

tude of pride he had developed after the coming of his three friends. Only then did

he become willing to trust God as sovereign Lord without knowing all the answers

to his questions.

27 Terrien states, "Here is the starting point of the discussion, the nerve of the.

drama, the basic verse in the whole book. . . . Is not Job pious, as any other man, in

exchange for his privileges?" (Samuel Terrien, "The Book of Job: Introduction and

Exegesis," in The Interpreter's Bible, 12 vols. [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1954],


28 Bullock, An Introduction to Old Testament Poetic Books, 82.

29 There has been no consensus concerning a single purpose for the book. Some

authors argue that it is not possible to state one single purpose (Smick, "Job," 858).

Cf. Kidner, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job & Ecclesiastes, 85. For tips on an induc-

tive approach to Job, see Finzel, Opening the Book, 121-25.

30 Cf. McKenna, Job, 15.

31 Only the "basis of the proper relationship between God and man" as articulated

in the prologue (1:9) is broad enough to encompass all the subthemes in the book.

Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Book of Job †††††††††† 399




††††††††† Literary forms. It is generally agreed that the Book of Job is a

mixed genre combining a variety of literary types to communi-

cate its message.32 In his literary composition the inspired author

utilizes various traditional literary forms (such as the lament-

or complaint--and the hymns familiar in the Psalms, the legal

language of the lawsuit, and the disputation speech from wisdom

literature) by transposing them to meet his specific needs.

Though the book does "weep with complaint, argue with disputa-

tion, teach with didactic accuracy, excite with comedy, sting with

irony, and relate human experience with epic majesty," it is a

unique literary masterpiece that "must not be fit into any precon-

ceived mold."33 Therefore it is imperative for the student of Job to

become familiar with these various genres so that he may learn to

identify them according to the normal structure and language of

each.34 Based on this norm, the reader must then carefully look

for the ways the author has adapted or combined them to convey

the message of the book as a whole or to shape the precise meaning

of a specific passage.35

††††††††† Literary devices. Though the Book of Job exhibits the basic

types of poetic parallelism, the inspired poet created unique pat-

terns and variations.36 Both antithetic--or contrasting--paral-

lelism so common in Proverbs and strict synonymous paral-

lelism (in which one line repeats the thought of the previous line)

are infrequent in Job. Rather the poet prefers "ambiguous varia-

tion" from one line to the next, which is sometimes spiced with


The issue of Job's innocent suffering was only the catalyst for the larger issue of

how man should relate to God whether he is suffering or not. See Parsons, "The

Structure and Purpose of the Book of Job," in Sitting with Job, 22-23.

32 Andersen observes that the Book of Job is "an astonishing mixture of almost ev-

ery kind of literature to be found in the Old Testament" (Job: An Introduction and

Commentary, 33). For several examples of the dozens of literary forms sewn skill-

fully into the fabric of Job, see William S. LaSor, David A. Hubbard, and Frederic

W. Bush, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old

Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 578-82.

33 Ibid., 574-75.

34 For an orientation to the main literary forms in the Book of Job, see John E.

Hartley, The Book of Job (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 37-43. Also see LaSor,

Hubbard, and Bush, Old Testament Survey, 578-82. For a thoroughgoing analysis

(from a nonevangelical perspective) with emphasis on the structure and message of

the book, see the invaluable work of Roland E. Murphy, Wisdom Literature: Job,

Proverbs, Ruth, Canticles, Ecclesiastes, and Esther, Forms of Old Testament Lit-

erature, vol. 13 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 3-82.

35 See Hartley, The Book of Job, 42-43.

36 See Smick, "Job," 849-50. Examples of the three traditional categories of paral-

lelism are as follows: synonymous (13:12), antithetic (8:20), and synthetic (38:2).

400 †† BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1994


implicit word plays.37

††††††††† The Book of Job also abounds in verbal imagery, including

metaphors, similes, and other graphic word pictures.38 For in-

stance, chapter 14 combines three poignant similes of man's tem-

porary life (vv. 1-6) with multiple nature analogies to emphasize

the seeming finality of death for mankind: an extended

metaphor contrasting man and a tree (vv. 7-10), and comparisons

of man with dried-up bodies of water (vv. 11-12) as well as with an

eroded mountain never to be restored {vv. 18-20).39 Greenberg's

summary captures some of the innovative imagery that perme-

ates the poetic body of the book. These include the felled tree which

renews itself from its roots (14:7-9) as a metaphoric foil for man's

irrevocable death; humanity's kinship with maggots (17:14) and

jackals (30:29) as an image of alienation and isolation; the con-

gealing of milk (10:10) as a figure for the formation of the embryo;

the movement of a weaver's shuttle (7:6), of a runner in flight, or

of the swooping eagle (9:25-26) as similes for the speedy passage of

a lifetime; God's hostility figured as an attacking army (19:12);

God's absence represented in the image of a traveler's un found

goal in every direction (23:8; a striking reversal of the expression

of God's ubiquity in Ps. 139:7-10).40

††††††††† The legal metaphors that (in tandem with legal terminology)

saturate the poetic body41 are probably the most significant im-

agery occurring in Job.42 Through the legal metaphor Job dared to

treat God as his equal by entering, as it were, a "lawsuit"43

37 An example of subtle variation and ambiguity is "Naked I came from my

mother's womb/And naked I shall return there" (1:21). See Habel, The Book of Job, 47-48.

38 LaSor, Hubbard, and Bush, Old Testament Survey, 575-76.

39 See Andersen, Job: An Introduction and Commentary, 170-71,173.

40 Moshe Greenberg, "Job," in The Literary Guide to the Bible, ed. Robert Alter

and Frank Kermode (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1987),302. The dating of the writing

of Job is debatable, but a good case can be made for it after the writing of Psalm 8,

which seems to be parodied in Job 7:17-18. See the introduction to the Book of Job in

the present author's contribution to The New King James Study Bible (Nashville:

Thomas Nelson, forthcoming). .

41 However, the prologue may initiate the legal imagery with the mention of Satan,

who brought the charges against Job and placed him on trial before God and the

community. Strictly speaking the Hebrew 1~~iJ, "the adversary," is not a proper

name for Satan but designates "a prosecutor or accuser in a court of law" (see Ps.

109:6). See Kidner, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job & Ecclesiastes, 58.

42 This phenomenon is consistent with Job's role in 29:7-17, 22-25 as an important

city official or judge. Thus Job felt at home with the legal metaphor and jargon. See

the present writer's brief analysis of legal metaphor in Job in "The Structure and

Purpose of the Book of Job," in Sitting with Job, 28-33.

43 The Hebrew term byri (whether as the verb "to contend or make a complaint or

accusation" or the noun "complaint") is used metaphorically in Job of the "lawsuit"

between Job and God except for two places where it denotes Job's previous judicial

experience (29:16 and 31:13). See ibid., 29.

Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Book of Job †††††††††† 401


against God for malpractice as Creator and Judge of the uni-

verse.44 In 41:11 the Lord confronted Job for feeling that He owed

him something for his righteousness and for insinuating that

God ought to "pay" him (i.e., make restitution45 for the property,

reputation, and posterity He allegedly had wrongfully seized

from him; see 9:12 and 10:2-3).46 Thus the use of the legal

metaphor illustrates the bankruptcy of viewing man's relation-

ship to God as a business "contract" between equals that can be en-

forced through court proceedings.47

††††††††† The Book of Job (as part of ancient wisdom literature) also

utilizes several key metaphors from creation theology that reflect

the mythological milieu of the ancient Near East.48

††††††††† Another significant literary feature of the Book of Job is the

use of irony saturating nearly every section. At least two types of

irony are frequent in Job: dramatic irony and verbal irony.49

The former, similar to that found in Greek drama, is an irony of

events whereby the reader (or "audience") has knowledge con-

cerning the activities on the heavenly "stage" of which Job and

his friends were not aware. Because the readers know that Job

was innocent of wrongdoing and was being tested by the Lord, the

vigorous debate between Job and his friends becomes almost com-

ical at times as they frequently make dogmatic statements that

are undermined by their ignorance of the events of the prologue.50


44 The dilemma of Job, who portrayed God as both an unjust judge (9:15-20) and le-

gal adversary (10:2), sets the stage for Job's cries for an impartial mediator to help

him (9:32-33; 16:18-21). Then Job placed his confidence in his "redeemer" or legal

advocate (19:25). Finally Job wished (or more likely demanded) that God hear him

in court to vindicate him (31:35). However, the Lord ignored Job's plea for a day in

court and rebuked him for seeking to bring a "lawsuit" against Him (40:2).

45 The Hebrew verb means to pay a debt or to make restitution for something lost

or stolen (Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and En-

glish Lexicon of the Old Testament [Oxford: Clarendon, 1955], 1022). See especially

the NIV translation of 41:11 (Heb., v. 3): "Who has a claim against me that I must

pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me."

46 See Sylvia Huberman Scholnick, "Poetry in the Courtroom: Job 38-41," in Direc-

tions in Biblical Hebrew Poetry, ed. Elaine R. Follis (Sheffield: Sheffield, 1987),

187 -88, reprinted in Sitting with Job, 424-25.

47 The Lord contradicted Job's misconception (based fundamentally on the retri-

bution dogma he shared with the pagan religions) that He is obligated (as though by

a business contract or a judicial claim) to reward man if he is obedient.

48 Leo G. Perdue, Wisdom in Revolt: Metaphorical Theology in the Book of Job

(Sheffield: Almond, 1991),28-31,74,260-73.

49 For a brief introduction to irony and its utilization in Job, see the present

writer's "Literary Features of the Book of Job," Bibliotheca Sacra 138 (1981): 215-18,

reprinted in Sitting with Job, 38-43; also see Habel, The Book of Job, 51-53.

50 Whedbee describes comedy as including a "perception of incongruity that

moves in the realm of the ironic, the ludicrous, and the ridiculous" (William

402 †††††††††††† BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1994


Verbal irony (a literary relative of sarcasm) is employed repeat-

edly by Job and his friends as they trade remarks laced with the

very words previously used by one another but with a modified or

opposite meaning.

††††††††† Job frequently used mythopoeic language (the poetic usage of

mythological allusions without endorsing the pagan beliefs or

practices). For example he alluded to the pagan belief that an

eclipse was caused by the chaos monster Leviathan which could be

called up to swallow the sun or moon (3:8).51 Job's clear statement

of monotheism (31:26-28) suggests that the numerous mythologi-

cal allusions in the book should not be interpreted as belief in the

existence of other deities or the validity of pagan practices but

merely as borrowed imagery from the ancient Near Eastern cul-

tural milieu.52

††††††††† Furthermore the Book of Job sometimes neutralizes polytheis-

tic allusions by demythologizing them or even reversing them in

polemical fashion.53 For instance 26:5-14 (which emphasizes

Yahweh's sovereign control over all forces of nature) contains

several mythological allusions54 to show that the Lord, not a

nature deity, controls the chaotic sea.55




††††††††† Two suggestions may be made in connection with under-

standing the Book of Job in its cultural milieu.


Whedbee, "The Comedy of Job," Semeia 7 [1977]: 4-5; see also 12, 15, 23, 25, 29).

51 However, his clarifying words in 9:7, which states that the command of God is

the real cause of an eclipse of the sun, demonstrate that Job was not endorsing pa-

gan cult practices; rather he was employing the most vivid and forceful language at

his disposal to express the intensity of despair and anguish. See Parsons, "Literary

Features of the Book of Job," in Sitting with Job, 43-44.

52 Ibid., 43-45. For an in-depth look at various kinds of mythopoeic allusions in

Job, see the two significant articles by Elmer Smick, "Mythology and the Book of

Job" and "Another Look at the Mythological Elements in the Book of Job," reprinted

in Sitting with Job, 221-44. (Also see the more recent summary by Smick, "Job," 863- .


53 The concept of polemic derives from the Greek 1T6).EJlOS" ("war, battle"); thus it is

an offensive war of words against a rival concept.

54 In 26:12 Job referred to "the sea" (C';iJ, with the definite article), which grammat-

ically indicates this is not the proper name of the god Yamm. This is in contrast to

7:12 in which the context suggests that the same Hebrew word (without the article)

may refer to this pagan deity. See Parsons, "Literary Features of the Book of Job," in

Sitting with Job, 44-47; and Smick, "Job," 865-66, 868-70.

55 This teaching is reinforced by Yahweh Himself in 38:8-11, where He shows that

(the) sea is not really a rival chaotic force or god, though it was considered such in

that culture. The absence of the article with the Hebrew word MyA in verse 8 is not

necessarily significant since the article is infrequent in Hebrew poetry.

Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Book of Job †††††††††† 403


††††††††† First, the expositor should note that the message of the Book of

Job challenges some common assumptions of traditional wisdom

literature. Traditional ancient wisdom, as illustrated in the

Book of Proverbs, assumes a fundamental unity of the cosmos--a

relationship between the natural and social-moral order. What

one observes in the natural order has implications for the social

or moral order.56 Job's friends operated under this assumption.

For instance Bildad championed this traditional understanding

what analogies from nature could be used to confirm principles

in the social and moral sphere.57

††††††††† Furthermore the Book of Job includes various facts and

analogies from nature to challenge this view of moral retribu-

tion.58 This is particularly true of Yahweh's speeches.59 On one

hand there is no mechanical law or principle that determines how

Yahweh must always act in either the natural order or the social-

moral order;60 on the other hand the mysterious order observable

in nature is an implicit testimony to an analogous order that

(despite the protests of Job) exists in the social and moral spheres.

The traditional wisdom belief in moral retribution, which

lay at the core of ancient Near Eastern religions,61 had become a

dogmatic assumption (with no exceptions) for Job's friends. Be-

cause the righteous were always blessed and the wicked always

punished, Eliphaz and Bildad alleged that Job's suffering proved

he was guilty of hidden sin (4:7-11; 8:11-20; 18:5-21).62


56 See Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books, 162. In Egypt

this concept of unity also included the political order. For documentation of the

concept of cosmic uni ty in Egypt and Ugarit, see Greg W. Parsons, "A Biblical The-

ology of Job 38:1-42:6" (Th.D. diss., Dallas Theological Seminary, 1980), 10-11, 145.

57 Bildad argued that the principle of cause and effect, which is illustrated in na-

ture (8:11-19), could be transferred to prove the dogma of divine retribution. Dra-

matic irony shows the foolishness of his conclusion (in 8:20-22) that from the effect

(Job's loss of health and wealth) he could deduce the cause (Job is a sinner). See

Gleason L. Archer, Jr., The Book of Job: God's Answer to the Problem of Unde-

served Suffering (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1982), 56-57.

58 See Habel, The Book of Job, 57-58. Job frequently used an analogy from nature or

compared his own situation to some animal or phenomenon of nature to argue his

innocence despite the allegations of his friends.

59 He argued from the natural world that His universe includes chaotic elements

such as the sea (38:8) and the desert (38:26-27) as well as the magnificent creatures

Behemoth and Leviathan (40:15-41:34), which were symbols of chaos in the ancient

Near East. Yet He restrains these chaotic forces so that order and balance in na-

ture results according to His divine plan (38:39; 39:1-4).

60 See Habel, The Book of Job, 65, 68-69.

61 See Parsons, "A Biblical Theology of Job 38:1-42:6," chap. 1. Cf. John H. Walton,

Ancient Israelite Literature in Its Cultural Context: A Survey of Parallels be-

tween Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989), 179-87.

62 Ironically because Job accused God of injustice in order to maintain his own

404 †††††††††††† BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1994


††††††††† The Book of Job serves to refute this "retribution dogma," a

simplistic understanding of the divine retribution principle

maintaining that there is an automatic connection between one's

material and physical prosperity and one's spirituality.63

Though divine retribution is a valid biblical principle (Deut. 28),

the error is making it an unconditional dogma by which man can

predetermine God's actions and judge a person's condition before Him.

God is not bound to act according to this manmade retribution dogma,

though He will normally bless the righteous and punish the wicked.

††††††††† Perdue argues that the traditional metaphors of creation the-

ology that Israelite wisdom literature shared with the ancient

Near East have been "deconstructed" in the Book of Job. The man

Job made a wholesale assault on each metaphor of creation faith

in order to challenge the view of Yahweh as the righteous Ruler

and Judge who maintains creation with retributive justice.64

Second, along with noting how the Book of Job challenges tra-

ditional wisdom assumptions, the expositor should consider par-

allelliterature (including the "innocent sufferer" texts). The ex-

positor should utilize both primary and secondary resources to ob-

serve key parallels or contrasts to the Book of Job.65 A general

comparison of the Book of Job with the "righteous sufferer"66 texts

in the ancient Near East shows that the Book of Job contains the

same basic solutions to the problem of "innocent suffering" as

found in the extrabiblical texts.67 The main difference between


innocence (40:8)-assuming that God was punishing him, though unjustly-he sub-

consciously held to this dogma of retribution. See Parsons, "Structure and Pur-

pose," in Sitting with Job, 24-25.

63 See ibid., 23; and Hartley, The Book of Job, 48.

64 Job radically revised traditional metaphors of God as a beneficent artisan or as

the divine warrior who wins the combat with chaos monsters to establish order in

the cosmos. Job portrayed Him as a capricious judge (9:14-24) and vicious warrior

(16:6-17) who had turned against creation (Perdue, Wisdom in Revolt, 171, 269-71).

65 James B. Pritchard's classic work, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the

Old Testament, 3d ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), remains.

the most accessible primary source for the general reader. For a brief but beneficial

survey of the main parallel literature from Egypt and Mesopotamia with valuable

bibliography of primary sources, see Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in Its

Cultural Context, 169-89. Also note Kidner, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job & Eccle-

siastes, 132-40; Hartley, The Book of Job, 6-11; and LaSor, Hubbard and Bush, Old

Testament Survey, 538-42.

68 See Parsons "A Biblical Theology of Job 38:1-42:6," chap. 1, where six of these

texts are compared to Job.

69 These solutions are as follows: (a) man's congenital sinfulness (Job 5:6-7; 15:14-

16); (b) accusation of God as unjust (9:22-24; 24:1-17); (c) incompleteness of human

understanding (Job 28; chaps. 38-42; cf. Zophar in 11:7-9). See James L. Crenshaw,

"Popular Questioning of the Justice of God in Ancient Israel," Zeitschrift fur die

alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 82 (1970): 387-88; and Walton, Ancient Israelite

Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Book of Job †††††††††† 405


the Book of Job and these other texts is the direct theophonic

intervention of God and His direct speeches (chaps. 38-41).68

Thus the Book of Job offers neither a definitive answer to

Job's question "why?" nor a solution to the problem of innocent

suffering; therefore the significant point of the book is not its ap-

proach to the problem of suffering,69 but the uniqueness of the God

to whom man must properly relate (whether suffering or not).70

††††††††† Furthermore individual parallels or contrasts can some-

times shed light on specific passages in the Book of Job. For in-

stance in contrast to the Egyptian "Dispute over Suicide"71 and the

Babylonian-Assyrian work "The Dialogue of Pessimism,"72 Job

(though he "cursed" the day of his birth and longed for death,

chap. 3) never considered suicide.73




††††††††† The expositor should not read the New Testament back into

the Old Testament. One should heed Bullock's caution to avoid

using "New Testament concepts as tools to hammer and chisel the

book of Job into New Testament shape."74 Thus Job ought to be

interpreted in light of its own cultural context before considering

the impact of the New Testament on its message.

††††††††† Two examples illustrate the proper procedure: the role of Sa-

tan in the prologue, and the mention of Job's "redeemer" in 19:25.

Literature in Its Cultural Context, 183-86.


68 Cf. LaSor, Hubbard, and Bush, Old Testament Survey, 540-41. The one and only

true God Yahweh is both transcendent and personal in contrast to the immanent

yet impersonal nature deities of the ancient Near East.

69 Yet the Book of Job is a unique work which stands "head and shoulders" above

"its nearest competitors in the coherence of its sustained treatment of the theme of

human misery, in the scope of its many-sided examination of the problem, in the

strength of its defiant moral monotheism. . . . Comparison only serves to enhance

the solitary greatness of the book of Job" (Andersen, Job, 32).

70 This supports the conclusion that the purpose (or central issue) of the Book of

Job focuses on the basis of the proper relationship between God and man.

71 See Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 405-

7.For a modern paraphrase, see Victor H. Matthews and Don C. Benjamin, Old Tes-

tament Parallels: Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East (New York:

Paulist, 1991),206-11.

72 See Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 437-

38, 600-601. For a modem paraphrase, see Matthews and Benjamin, Old Testament

Parallels, 219-24.

73 Andersen, Job, 29-30,32, 109; Hartley, The Book of Job, 7-9. That Job merely de-

sired that the Lord would allow him to die is supported by other passages such as

7:15-21 and 10:18-22.

74 Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books, 88.

406 †††††††††††† BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1994


First, Satan does not appear in Job as the chief adversary of God

as he does in the New Testament. Therefore one must not presup-

pose all that is later revealed about him.75 Second, as tempting as

it may be, one must not allow the New Testament doctrine of the

Incarnation to shape the understanding of Job's "redeemer."76 In

9:33 Job longed for a mediator or neutral party to arbitrate a set-

tlement between himself and God, and 16:18-21 continues the le-

gal metaphor.77 That Job ardently wished for an intercessor in

19:25 is undeniable, but it is not likely that Job conceived of his

"redeemer" as being God Himself or Jesus Christ.78




††††††††† It is imperative to consider the entire Book of Job in prepara-

tion for preaching on a particular portion. Sermons on the pro-

logue should take into account the "rest of the story," namely, the

"impatient Job" of the poetic body.79 Also sermons utilizing a por-

tion of Job or one of his friends' speeches must be preached in light

of the total argument of these many speeches. Failure to do so may

not only reinforce a distorted picture of Job as a "patient saint" but

may also encourage the misuse of proof texts.80

††††††††† If the expositor realizes that the Book of Job presents a mes-

sage in counterpoint (presenting opposing views in a delicate

balance), he may carefully traverse the exegetical "tightrope"

between opposing views about Job, about God Himself, and con-

cerning such issues as the reason for human suffering.81 It would


75 See ibid., 86-88, for the cogent argument that the development of the doctrine of

Satan (like the Old Testament doctrine of the Messiah) was not fully disclosed un-

til the New Testament.

76 Ibid., 88.

77 See above, n. 44.

78 However, this does not negate the conclusion that the ultimate fulfillment of

Job's need for a mediator and "kinsman-redeemer" was found in Jesus Christ. See

Parsons, "Structure and Purpose of the Book of Job," in Sitting with Job, 31, esp. n.

74; and Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books, 88.

79 Habel recommends reading portions of chapters 3, 7, 12, and 16 to provide a bal-

ance to the traditional portrait of Job in chapters 1-2 (see Habel, Job, 2-3).

80As noted above, Job 19:25 is often ripped from its literary context, the intricate

poetic body (3:1-42:6). Kaiser cites Job 36:11 as one of the proof texts wrongly used

by advocates of the so-called "prosperity gospel." This interpretation ignores the

overall context of Job's whole life and that Elihu is parroting a traditional idea of

the three friends who were rebuked by the Lord in 42:7 (Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., "The

Old Testament Promise of Material Blessings and the Contemporary Believer,"

Trinity Journal 9 [Fall 1988]: 151-52, 166-67).

81 Habel observes, "A passage from one speech in Job finds its counterpoint in an-

other. Points and counterpoints are typical of the great debate. Opposing views

Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Book of Job †††††††††† 407


be unbalanced to assume that the friends spoke only error82 or that

Job was always right; therefore one must exercise care in mak-

ing valid application today.83

††††††††† As already noted, a careful study of Job's life reveals two

contrasting "faces." Each has important features for people today.

The traditional portrait of Job as the patient "saint" who belongs

on a stained glass window (with a halo) must be modified (in

light of the poetic body) to portray Job as the persevering saint who

struggled with his emotions. Thus he is a person with whom each

believer may identify. Similarly the profile of the almost blas-

phemous Job which emerges from the poetic body reveals that be-

lievers may ask honest questions of God when confronted with the

question "why?" To focus on only one "face" of Job for preaching

without consideration for the other creates an imbalance that may

cause one to misapply the text. Biblical faith is not a stoic accep-

tance of suffering.84 Thus the next guideline addresses the need

to make valid applications.





††††††††† The Book of Job contains an extraordinary range of subjects

of universal interest, including "emotions of serenity and terror,

hope and despair; the contrasting characters of men; doubts about

and affirmations of cosmic justice; the splendors and wonders of

animate and inanimate nature."85 Job's "questioning of the

value of faith and his search for the reality of God" are points at

which contemporary humankind "can most readily identify with

him."86 It bears repeating that Job's struggle supplies the preacher

with a fertile source for sermons that engage basic issues of life.

Why is there suffering, pain, and inequity in life? Is life really

worth living? Why do good people suffer bad things? Modern hu-

manity has still not resolved these fundamental issues of human

existence.87 These subjects are universal in appeal and should


about God, suffering, human nature, wisdom, and prayer recur throughout the

book" (Job, 4).

82 This is illustrated by the fact that Paul quoted Eliphaz (Job 5:13) with approval

in 1 Corinthians 3:19.

83 Ibid.

84 Roland E. Murphy states that "the formalism which prohibits an honest con-

frontation with God is not part of biblical faith" (The Psalms, Job, Proclamation

Commentaries [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977], 88).

85 Greenberg, "Job," 302.

86 See Davis, "Preaching from Job," 65.

87 See the feeble attempt of Rabbi Harold Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to

408 †††††††††††† BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1994


yield timeless applications.88

††††††††† Consequently with proper consideration of one's own culture

and particular community, the expositor should seek applications

that are both relevant and timeless (true to the context of Job's

story and culture as well as for his own modern cultural setting).

After having followed the proper hermeneutical guidelines al-

ready suggested, the expositor should prayerfully read and medi-

tate on the passage89 (as well as the book as a whole). (1) He ought

to reread continually the whole book in light of his knowledge of

the general needs of his culture and the specific needs of his

community.90 However, the focus must remain on how the Bible

has the answer to every need of humanity.91 (2) By prayerfully

meditating on the text, the expositor should discern the underly-

ing theological principle that "bridges" the gap between the "then"

of the text and the needs and issues of the "now."92 Sometimes he may

perceive specific parallels between the biblical situation and various

general or specific issues today as a clue to the timeless message.93


Good People (New York: Avon, 1981), who concludes that God is limited and not in

control of everything. For an excellent analysis from a conservative evangelical

scholar, see D. A. Carson, How Long, 0 Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil

(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990).

88 Cf. McKenna, Job, 17. Habel states that Job's speeches touch "the quick of hu-

man suffering and the passion of real life" (Job, 1).

89 See Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, 343; and John MacArthur, Jr., "A

Study Method for Expository Preaching," in Rediscovering Expository Preaching,

ed. John MacArthur, Jr. (Dallas, TX: Word, 1992), 216-18, who rightly states that

this step is an important link between exegesis and timeless applications.

90 For some thought-provoking questions and insights relating to pastoral and

theological considerations, see Daniel J. Simundson, The Message of Job: A Theo-

logical Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1986). A pastor or missionary must

not only have a thorough knowledge of the text of Job but must also get to know his

flock. He should spend time with them so that he may know their interests and

discern their needs. Then he can correlate this data with the issues addressed in

the text. Proper contextualization occurs when there is specific application to the

situation of the audience (Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, 346-47).

91 Cf. Roy B. Zuck, "Application in Biblical Hermeneutics and Exposition," in

Walvoord: A Tribute, ed. Donald K. Campbell (Chicago: Moody, 1982),24. One must

not become so concerned with contemporary relevance that he preaches what peo-

ple want to hear rather than "thus saith the Lord." The message must not be lifted

from its historical-cultural and biblical context to tickle the ears of the audience or

to massage the hurts of the sheep. See Richard L. Mayhue, "Rediscovering Exposi-

tory Preaching," in Rediscovering Expository Preaching, 1, 6, 14.

g}. See Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, 345; Zuck, "Application in Biblical

Hermeneutics and Exposition," 26-27; and Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward an Exeget-

ical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching (Grand Rapids:

Baker, 1981), 151-52, 197-98. In the Book of Job this principle is often inseparably

tied to the overall purpose of the book.

93 Osborne warns that these "parallels should be genuine rather than contrived"

(The Hermeneutical Spiral, 343).

Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Book of Job †††††††††† 409


For example in chapter 24 Job questioned the inactivity of

Almighty God, who seemingly ignores the cries of poor and help-

less members of society who are exploited by the wicked (vv. 1-

12). He complained about the high crime rate especially at night

(vv. 13-17). These issues of social injustice and crime are cer-

tainly relevant today.94 In chapter 38 the Lord responded directly

to Job's remarks (vv. 12-15). He reminded Job that because He

controls the coming of the dawn, the chaotic darkness is dispelled

and the activities of the wicked are restricted. Though crime and

injustice are prevalent in the world, this does not mean that the

Lord has abdicated his throne to Satan or to chaotic elements in

the world.95 An underlying theological principle is that God is

still in charge and in control even when things seem chaotic and

senseless. The timeless message and application will relate to

this. The Book of Job utilizes the subject of human suffering and

social injustice to teach that God is trustworthy even when circumstances

may shroud His sovereign plan and call His goodness into question.

††††††††† Job 3 has contemporary relevance in particular for the issues

of suicide and euthanasia (mercy killing). If anyone ever had

good reason to consider suicide, Job did. However, as already

noted, Job (in contrast to other writings from his time) did not

consider suicide; rather he wished that he had never been born

and he desired to die to escape suffering. Furthermore he never

asked his wife (who had already suggested in 2:9 that he commit

"indirect suicide" by cursing God96 or any of his friends to assist

him in self-destruction.

††††††††† The Book of Job also demonstrates that the believer should be

able to pour out honestly all his emotions and feelings to God. Job

3 and many other passages in the poetic body document the vent-

ing of Job's bitterness and frustration to God in prayer.97 Thus

individuals who are facing circumstances that cause them to feel

angry toward God should not be told to suppress or to ignore their

feelings. Rather they ought to be encouraged to get alone with God

as they read Bible books such as Job. They ought to ventilate their

intense hurts and needs to the One who alone understands the


94 This sounds almost like a letter to the editor in the newspaper protesting gov-

ernment failures to deal adequately with social problems. Perhaps a sermon on Job

24 could begin with the reading of such a letter (either real or imagined) as a cata-

lyst for the message.

95 In the prologue Satan had to ask permission to torment Job (1:11-12; 2:5-6), and

38:8-11 emphasizes the Lord's control of the chaotic sea.

96 Andersen, Job: An Introduction and Commentary, 93.

97 See C. S. Rodd, The Book of Job (Philadelphia: Trinity, 1990),88,104-10.

410 †††††††††††† BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1994


depths of human pain and frustrations. The Book of Job (in the

context of the Bible as a whole) provides answers to the human

problem of depression.98 Job rode an emotional roller coaster that

began with the height of patient trust in God (chaps. 1-2) but

sharply dipped to despair (chap. 3) and then continued mainly on

the downward side toward despondence, bitterness, and despair

but with occasional glimmers of hope throughout the dialogue.99

Many today can identify with such emotions.100

††††††††† Job eventually learned to have confidence and trust in God's

sovereign plan even in the midst of mystery. This trust resulted

in renewed stability to his emotions. Therefore the expositor

should challenge those who are suffering inexplicable pain and

emotional turmoil to dare to trust the Lord with their lives and

circumstances even though they may never fully understand

why. If Job could realize this even before the coming of Christ,

how much more should believers today (in light of New Testa-

ment revelation) exhibit faith in the _midst of suffering.




††††††††† Several writers have noted that without the New Testament

the Book of Job remains incomplete. Many of Job's questions re-

main unanswered until the coming of Christ.101 However, the

caution already issued about not reading the New Testament

back into the Old Testament must be heeded. The preacher or

teacher must balance the Old Testament context with the input

from the New Testament.


98 See John Job, Job Speaks Today (Atlanta: Knox, 1980), 55-68.

99 "Throughout the story, Job plummets into the depths of despair just short of

hell itself and vaults upward to the heights of revelation" in other passages

(McKenna, Job, 24). Cf. Kidner, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job & Ecclesiastes, 67-69.

For example in chapter 14 Job alternated between despair over the futility of life

(vv. 1-6) and the finality of death (vv. 7-12) and then had a glimmer of hope for life

after death (vv. 13-17). But he returned to the reality of life's despair and pain (vv.

18-22). Chapter 19 begins in dark despair (vv. 1-22) but ends in a note of confidence

of vindication (vv. 23-29).

100 Simundson observes that the sharp mood swings of Job are normal for suffer-

ers; those swings are usually unpredictable and beyond control (Simundson, The

Message of Job, 67-68.]

101 See John Job, Job Speaks Today, 12-13; and McKenna, Job, 24-25. For instance

Job's longing for a mediator (9:33; 16:18-21) ultimately is fulfilled in Jesus Christ (1

Tim. 2:5). However, as already noted, this does not mean that this was the thinking

of Job. His question of whether man has more hope of life after death than a tree

(Job 14) is answered in Jesus' teaching (John 11:25) and in His resurrection, which

guarantees the believer's future resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20-23). See G. Campbell

Morgan, The Answers of Jesus to Job (reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1973).

Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Book of Job †††††††††† 411


Habel suggests expositors preach a series of sermons before

Easter Sunday in which they view Job's major struggles in the

context of Christ's suffering.102 One must not ignore the overall

context of the Old Testament, however, as one moves to the New


††††††††† The New Testament corroborates or clarifies one's under-

standing of certain key points in the story of Job. For instance the

earlier conclusion that the Lord (in the prologue) did not abdicate

His sovereign position to Satan is confirmed by the New Testa-

ment record that Satan was given permission to sift Peter as

wheat (Luke 22:31-32).104 Like Job, the Book of James demon-

strates that suffering may operate for higher purposes than hu-

mans may realize.105 In contrast to Job's friends who said "in ef-

fect: 'When you meet with various trials, repent.' James wrote,

'When you meet with various trials, rejoice.'"106




One goal of the expositor should be to find illustrations from

parallel situations in one's own culture to reproduce the effect of

the message so that it may be communicated as clearly as in an-

cient times.107 Drama may be a modern analogy108 that can be


102 Habel, Job, 10-12. Hubbard suggests an interesting parallel between the ques-

tions asked by Jesus' opponents and the series of interactions between Job and his

"friends" (D. A. Hubbard, "The Wisdom Movement and Israel's Covenant Faith,"

TyndaleBulletin 17 [1966]: 28, n. 60).

103 The relationship of Job to the so-called "Suffering Servant" songs of Isaiah

might serve as an important transition to help one understand Christ's passion

and how He identified with human pain (Hartley, The Book of Job, vii, 14-15; and

Andersen, Job: An Introduction and Commentary, 72-73).

104 Christ's prayer for Peter illustrates that trials from Satan have a higher di-

vine design (Kidner, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job & Ecclesiastes, 59-60).

105 Hubbard "The Wisdom Movement and Israel's Covenant Faith," 23.

106 Ibid. (See James 1:2-3). Also James clarified that God was not tempting Job as

Satan was, but was testing him to see ifhe would persevere (James 1:12-13).

107 Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, 318, 325.

108 Job has been compared to a cosmic drama on a double stage that allows the

reader (as an audience) to observe it as the curtains of heaven above and then earth

below open (Luis Alonso-Schokel, "Toward a Dramatic Reading of the Book of Job,"

Semeia 7 [1977]: 46-47). Edwin and Margaret Thiele also develop the book in analo-

gies to a drama (Job and the Devil [Boise, ID: Pacific, 1988]).. For a briefer comP.ari-

son to a play with nine scenes, see Mildred Tengbom, Sometimes I Hurt (NashvIlle:

Nelson, 1980), 14-15. However, van Selms notes that the ancient Near East, unlike

ancient Greece did not know drama as an art form (A. van Selms, Job: A Practical

Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985], 4).

412 †††††††††††† BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1994


utilized to present the message of the book.109 Though Job is un-

like drama in having virtually no plot,110 Ryken calls it a "closet

drama," intended to be read rather than acted.111 The literary

form of the Book of Job is "ideally suited to dramatic recitation or

presentation."112 The role of irony in Job suggests audience par-

ticipation (originally the reader).113

††††††††† However, another possibility may be to convert the "dialogue"

occurring at the "ash heap" (or garbage dump) into a modern sit-

uation.114 Perhaps a trial with various witnessesl15 or a debate

format between actors who voice in modern idiom the concerns of

Job in contrast to Job's friends and to the Lord Himself could ap-

proximate some of the intense feelings found in chapters 3-42.


††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† CONCLUSION

††††††††† This article has proposed four hermeneutical guidelines and

four homiletical suggestions for understanding and proclaiming

the Book of Job. However, to learn the lessons of Job and to seek to


109 In doing so the emphasis should be on using drama to enhance the biblical

message rather than as a theatrical gimmick (John MacArthur, Jr., "Frequently

Asked Questions about Expository Preaching," in Rediscovering Expository

Preaching, 345). The present writer's former student Terry Tolleson has utilized

the following format: (1) preaching a sermon emphasizing the story and message of

Job on Sunday morning; (2) in a more informal setting such as Sunday evening

dividing the congregation into small groups to study different character parts; and

(3) preparing for the actual dramatization for the next Sunday.

110 Gordis concludes that Job is "poles away from Elizabethan and from modern

drama" (The Book of God and Man, 4). However, in the virtual absence of plot, Job

parallels the modern "theater of the absurd." Other parallels to this type of drama

include "a sense of loss, alienation, and metaphysical anguish which culminates in

. . . the total absurdity of the human condition" (Renate Usmiani, "A New Look at

the Drama of 'Job,'" Modern Drama 134 [1970]: 197, 199-200). Furthermore all the

speakers "talk past each other" and they did not really know what the issue was in

Job's trials (van Selms, Job: A Practical Commentary, 4).

111 Ryken, Words of Delight, 343.

112 J. H. Eaton, Job (Sheffield: Sheffield, 1985),39; and Alonso-Schokel, "Toward a

Dramatic Reading of the Book of Job," 45-61.

113 Ryken, Words of Delight, 343. In some churches (though certainly not all) an

informal service or class might allow for actors who insert laughter or even cat-

calls at appropriate junctures where Job's friends misjudge him as they place

"their foot in their mouths" or holler to Job (who cannot hear) that Christ is the an-

swer to his various questions.

114 However, one should not go so far as in Archibald MacLeish's Pulitzer Prize

play, JB (Boston: Houghton Miffiin, 1958).

115 The present writer's student Jerry Payne used this format successfully for a

seminary class with various classmates reading a prepared script. For clues on

how to incorporate the legal metaphors into a drama, see Alonso-Schokel, "Toward

a Dramatic Reading of the Book of Job," 46-50,52-59.

Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Book of Job †††††††††† 413


teach and apply them to one's own generation is a lifelong jour-

ney of faith one must "experience as an adventure on the growing

edge of the human spirit."116 Job's example provides practical

truths such as persevering in prayer during trials. But these :

truths must be applied by faith. A person may never fully appro-

priate them until he suffers.117

††††††††† Job probably never knew the reason he suffered and seldom

do others. Therefore the question is, "Will we persevere in prayer

and in life no matter what happens?" The proof of faith will be the

way a person lives in the midst of fiery trials. Can the believer

say with Job in 23:10, "When He has tried me, I shall come forth

as gold (cf. 1 Pet. 1.6-7).




116 McKenna, Job, 15.

117 See Rodd, The Book of Job, xiii.



This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Dallas Theological Seminary

†††††† †††† 3909 Swiss Ave.

††††††††††† Dallas, TX†† 75204††††††††††



Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:thildebrandt@gordon.edu