BIBLIOTHECA SACRA 154 (October-December 1997): 436-51
REFLECTIONS ON SUFFERING
FROM THE BOOK OF JOB
Larry J. Waters
Written by an unknown author, possibly the most an-
cient literary account in the Bible,l the Book of Job is a mixture of
divine and human wisdom that addresses a major life issue:
Why do righteous people suffer undeservedly?2 The Book of Job is
also a prime example of Hebrew wisdom literature3 that labors
with the concept of theodicy,4 which is a defense of the integrity of
the justice and righteousness of God in light of the evil, injustice,
and undeserved suffering in the world. Some writers have sug-
Larry J. Waters is Professor of Bible, International School of Theology-Asia,
1 Ample evidence supports the claim that the setting of Job is patriarchal. See
Roy B. Zuck, "Job," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Old Testament, ed. John
F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1985),717, for nine reasons the
Book of Job points to a patriarchal period. Archer and others see the Book of Job as
the oldest book in the Bible (Gleason L. Archer, The Book of Job: God's Answer to
the Problem of Undeserved Suffering [
views are given in Edouard Dhorme, A Commentary
on the Book of Job (
1984); F. Delitzsch, The Book of Job, trans. F. Bolton, 2 vols. (
Eerdmans, 1949); M. Jastrow, The Book of Job (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1920); and
Gordis, The Book of God and
2 "Undeserved suffering" does not imply that God unjustly placed mankind un-
der the curse as a result of the Fall. Rather it refers to suffering that is not directly
traceable to an act of personal sin or disobedience. This phrase does not imply that
Job was sinless, nor that he was without sin during the cycles of debate. Suffering
is undeserved in the sense of being or appearing to be unfair or unjust.
3 David J. A. Clines, Job
1-20, Word Biblical Commentary (
1989), xxxviii. He points to three major issues in sutTering: (1) How do we answer
the why's, how's, and what's of suffering? (2) Is there really such a thing as inno-
cent suffering? (3) What kind of answers can be given when suffering?
4 This is not to imply that "theodicy" is the one main theme of the book, nor that
one main theme can be agreed on. While one may see one primary emphasis in the J
Book of Job, it encompasses several related themes. See the review on theodicy in
Konrad Muller, "Die Auslegung des Theodizeeproblems im Buche Hiob," Theolo-
gische Blatter 32 (1992): 73-79.
Reflections on Suffering from the Book of Job 437
gested that theodicy is the theme of the Book of Job.5 If this is so,
then the emphasis of the book is not totally on the man Job and his
suffering, though he and his suffering are certainly central, but
also on God Himself and His relationship to His supreme cre-
Job therefore is a book dealing with human suffering,6 even
though the suffering of the innocent7 does not encompass the au-
thor's entire purpose. It is also more than an ancient play written
to portray the absurdities of life, the weaknesses of man, and the
prominence of the sovereignty of God.8 The Book of Job shows that
the sufferer can question and doubt,9 face the hard questions of
life with faith, maintain an unbroken relationship with a loving
God, and still come to a satisfactory resolution for personal and
collective injustice and undeserved suffering. These observa-
tions need to be addressed not only within the context of the suffer-
ing by the righteous man Job, but also because many believers to-
day suffer and can identify with Job.10 As Andersen points out,
"the problem of suffering, human misery, or the larger sum of
evil in all its forms is a problem only for the person who believes
in one God who is all-powerful and all-loving."11 Suffering,
5 For example Clines, Job 1-20, xxxiii.
6 "What one learns from suffering is the central theme" (Bruce Wilkinson and
Boa, Talk Thru the Old Testament [
Tsevat, "The Meaning of the Book of Job,"
nual 37 (1966): 195. Though the word "innocent" disturbs some, it is used here in
the sense of innocence of any wrongdoing as the base for the suffering Job endured,
not innocence in the sense of having no sin or culpability as a fallen creation. See
Clines, Job 1-20, xxxviii, for a more detailed discussion.
tation?" Evangelical Quarterly 63 (1991): 151. It would seem that the author of Job
had several purposes under the general theme of wisdom's teaching about God and
human suffering. While God and His freedom are the major focus of the book, the
problem of suffering is the medium through which the book's purpose is pre-
sented. Stressing one subject over the other would be unproductive.
9 Zuck, "Job," 715. "The Book of Job also teaches that to ask why, as Job did (-
12, 16,20), is not wrong. But to demand that God answer why, as Job also did (;
19:7; 31:15) is wrong" (ibid.).
10 Wesley C. Baker, More Than a Man Can Take: A Study of Job
tament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1976),64-65. This is not to
say that a nonbeliever does not struggle with the same questions. But if an unbe-
liever's questions do not lead to a relationship with God, then they are normally
used as excuses for not believing in God and as reasons to dismiss divine claims
without struggling with the biblical issues. The believer, however, struggles with
the seeming inconsistencies and incongruities, attempting to harmonize these dif-
ficulties with faith in what is known of God in His Word.
438 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1997
then, is the prominent issue that forces a consideration of the
deeper questions posed by this concept, especially as it affects the
lives of those who have a loving, intimate relationship with the
true and living God. All the questions that relate to God, man,
and Satan-justice and injustice, sovereignty and freedom, in-
nocence and guilt, good and evil, blessing and cursing-are in-
terwoven within the context of undeserved suffering. The Book of
Job and its presentation of undeserved suffering, therefore,
serves as a dependable, useful model12 for the believer of any
generation in dealing with the problem of theodicy.
Is God to be held to a strict set of regulations based on human
interpretations of His relationship with mankind? How does the
Book of Job handle this question and its connection with unde-
served suffering, while still demanding faith in an omnipotent,
sovereign, and loving God? This study suggests several answers
from the Book of Job in an attempt to (a) reveal the false theologi-
cal method of Satan in regard to human suffering, and his role as
the cause or "prime mover" of suffering, (b) show how the three
counselors, while presenting some truth, follow a retribution13 or
recompense14 theology as a method of explaining suffering that is
related to Satan's original attack on Job, (c) briefly present
Elihu's answer to Job's suffering, (d) suggest God's estimation of
Job's complaint and suffering, that is, a correction of the three
counselors and Job himself, and (e) summarize the various
lessons Job learned from his suffering.
12 "By all means let Job the patient be your model so long as that is possible for
you; but when equanimity fails, let the grief and anger of Job the impatient direct
itself and yourself toward God, for only in encounter with him will the tension of :
suffering be resolved" (Clines, Job 1-20, xxxix).
13 "Retribution theology" is a term often used to explain the "cursing and blessing"
clauses of the Mosaic Covenant. Here it is used mainly to describe a misuse of that
theology that attempts to set boundaries on God's sovereign will and obligate Him
to man's actions and assumptions concerning blessing and cursing. The term is
also used to represent a theology that assumes God's blessing is based on how good
a person is or acts and that His cursing is based on how bad a person is or acts.
extended in grace. Conversely the righteous often suffered along with the unrigh-
teous under the discipline due them, the nation, and its leaders. In Job, Satan and
the three counselors tried to limit God and His freedom to act according to their
own standards. They saw this concept as a fixed formula for judging the life of an
individual and therefore for limiting God to predetermined actions in dealings
with people. The biblical idea of blessing and cursing is based on a relationship
with God and is primarily internal in nature. The satanic counterfeit of blessing
and cursing is based on a relationship with health, other people, and material
goods, and is primarily external in nature.
14 The term "recompense theology" suggests the concept of "payment." Job's ac-
cusers said God is somehow under obligation to mankind and is confirmed to giving
exact payment to individuals.
Reflections on Suffering from the Book of Job 439
Job is truly a wisdom book. The basic concept of wisdom has
always been connected with skill and "know-how,"15 for
"wisdom was the art of achieving," and the "emphasis was on
competence."16 Wisdom (hmAk;HA/MkaHA) challenges readers to dis-
cover the "know-how" presented in the book so that they might
achieve competence in dealing with the questions of suffering.
From the Book of Job readers can learn how to challenge the false
concepts related to suffering and how to maintain a loving and
meaningful relationship, in the midst of suffering, with the
sovereign God. Only God "understands the way to [wisdom] and
he alone knows where it dwells" (Job 28:23, NIV).
SATANIC MOTIVATION AND METHOD
AS A CAUSE OF SUFFERING
As Alden points out, blaming the devil for suffering is an all-too-
common activity of many Christians.17 The message of Job deals
not with "cause and effect"18 but with coming to the realization
that "nothing happens to us that is not ultimately controlled by the
knowledge, love, wisdom, and power of our God of all comfort"19
(2 Cor. 1:3). Certainly he is correct; however, this principle also
often leads to blaming God for suffering. While Satan is the
prime mover behind sin, evil, and suffering, it is also correct to
point out that one cannot ignore the connection between Satan's
desires and God's permitting him to carry out those desires. This
friction is clearly demonstrated in the terrible troubles inflicted
on Job. Satan was the cause, and Job felt the effect. God, however,
was also at work in Job's suffering. But this does not mean God is
unconcerned about what happens to His people. "We must admit
that God plays in a higher league than we do. His ways are far
above our ways. God is greater in intellect, power, and knowledge
than we are. So, His ways are usually past our finding out"20 (Job
28:23; Isa. 55:9). God does inflict suffering directly and indi-
rectly for many different reasons: judgment, discipline, refin-
ing, and more, but Satan is behind much of human misery.
15 L. D. Johnson, Out of the Whirlwind: The Major Message of the Book of Job
(Nashville: Broadman, 1971),8.
L. Alden, Job, New American Commentary (
Holman, 1993), 41.
18 Andersen, Job: An Introduction and Commentary, 68.
19 Alden, Job, 41.
20 Steven J. Lawson, When
All Hell Breaks Loose (
440 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1997
The book opens when the Accuser ,21 after traveling through-
out the earth, went before the throne of God. Satan challenged Job
in three areas: Job's righteousness, Job's fear of God, and Job's
separation from sin (Job 1:8-11). Why does Job live righteously,
fear God, and separate himself from sin? Satan alleged that Job
fears God only because God protects and prospers him.22 The
prosperity issue and its resultant retribution/recompense theol-
ogy become a major focus in understanding suffering throughout
the book (1:9-10; 2:4; 5:19-26; 8:6-7; 11:17-19; 13:15-16; 17:5;
20:21-22; ; 24:1-12; 34:9; 36:11, 16; 42:10). The presentation
of this false theology is therefore found in Satan's statements be-
fore the throne of God (chaps. 1-2), Job's lament (chap. 3), and the
three dialogue cycles involving Eliphaz and Job, Bildad and Job,
and Zophar and Job (chaps. 4-31). The monologues of Elihu
(chaps. 32-37)23 and the speeches of God (chaps. 38-42) present a
correction to this theology."
Ancient Israelites24 and others of the ancient Near East25
21 "The Accuser" (NFAW.Aha) occurs fourteen times in eleven verses (Job 1:6-9, 12; 2:1-4,
6-7), always with the definite article.
22 Johnson, Out of the Whirlwind, 25.
23 A presentation of the differing views on the authenticity, placement, structure,
and purpose of the Elihu speeches can be found in David Allen Diewert, "The
Composition of the Elihu Speeches: A Poetic and Structural Analysis" (Ph.D. diss.,
the Elihu Speeches (Job, Chaps. 32-37)," American Journal of Semitic Languages
and Literature 27 (1910-1911): 97-186; Matthias H. Stuhlmann, Hiob. Ein religioses
Gedicht aus dem
Hebraischen neu ubersetzt, gepruft und erlautert (
Friedrich Perthes, 1804), 14-24,40-44; and Gary W. Martin, "Elihu and the Third
Cycle in the Book of Job" (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1972),51.
24 "The classical Judaic tradition toward suffering is expressed in the Talmudic-
Midrashic writings. God is seen as the One who punishes the wicked, as well as
the One who brings good and rewards the righteous. Job is considered by some ex-
egetes to be a Jew while others believe that he never existed as a person but was
merely an example. Other talmudic writers thought God rebuked Job for his lack of
patience when suffering was inflicted on Job; still others excused his outbursts because
they were uttered under duress" (Buddy R. Pipes, "Christian Response to Human Suffering:
A Lay Theological Response to the Book of
Job" [D.Min. project,
25 There is evidence of this concept in ancient Near Eastern literature and in the
Old Testament (see Bildad's appeal to "tradition" in Job -22 and the many par-
allels in the Book of Proverbs and the Psalms). That this was a general viewpoint of
ancient peoples can been seen in the parallels between ancient wisdom texts and
the Book of Job (Gregory W. Parsons, "A Biblical Theology of Job 38:1-42:6" [Ph.D.
Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (
versity Press, 1950),418-19,589-91,597; and W. G. Lambert, "The Babylonian Theod-
)icy," in The Babylonian Wisdom Literature (Oxford: Clarendon, 1967),71-89, espe-
cially page 75, lines 70-71. "The Mesopotamian texts dealing with the problem of the
righteous sufferer give one a glimpse of the intellectual tradition within which the
book of Job fits. It is a long tradition that
includes an early Sumerian composition
and an Old Babylonian Akkadian text. Its most elaborate literary expressions, how-
Reflections on Suffering from the Book of Job 441
viewed suffering under the rubric of retribution/recompense the-
ology .26 This theology is challenged by Job's own personal strug-
gle with this faulty theology.
If Job accepted Satan's false theology, as presented in the dia-
logues, and "repented" under false pretenses, then Satan would
have proved his case in the court of heaven. When Satan asked,
"Does Job fear God for nothing?" he implied Job served God for
"something," that is, some reward. If Job confessed some nonex-
, istent sin so he could return to his former prosperous and healthy
lstatus, then Satan's premise in 1:9-10 and 2:4 would be substan-
tiated. Also God Himself would be deemed guilty of blessing Job's
deception and falsehood and therefore would be at fault.
Satan's accusation was directed toward both God's justice and
Job's righteousness. Satan basically asked the question, Is it love
or is it self-serving greed that motivates a person to be righteous,
to fear God, and to be separate from sin? Satan wrongly assumed
that since God protected and blessed Job, greed was the foundation
of his righteousness rather than Job's personal intimate relation-
ship based on love, trust, and fear of God (1:8-10; 2:3). Tradi-
tional wisdom27 reasoned that since God is in control of the world
and because He is just, the only way wise people can maintain
faith in Him is to see all blessing as evidence of goodness and
righteousness and all suffering as evidence of unrighteousness
and sin.28 Johnson correctly calls this viewpoint "pragmatic re-
ligion" and an "insidious heresy."29 Belief in God and subse-
quent service to Him would then be reduced to a prosper-
ity/pragmatic religious formula or system of works.
After the first two chapters, Satan is noticeably absent from
the story. His presence was no longer a factor, but his assump-
tions, accusations, and theology are still evident throughout the
dialogue. In the fabric of retribution/recompense theology, ex-
pressed by the three friends who interacted with Job, Satan's pur-
pose was to see God's highest creation curse Him. Satan's objec-
tive was to turn a righteous man against the just God ().
ever, are found in the long poem 'I Will Praise the Lord of Wisdom' (Ludlul bel ne-
meqi) and 'The Babylonian Theodicy,' a text constructed in the form of a cycle of di-
alogues between the righteous sufferer and a friend" (James Luther Mays, ed.,
Bible Commentary [
26 Clines, Job 1-20, xxxix-xxxx. Also see Nahum Glatzer, The Dimensions of Job
dlc-Midrashic tradition in relation to Job.
27 "Traditional wisdom" refers here to what is contrary to God's wisdom (Matt.
6; Mark 7:3, 5, 13;
28 Johnson, Out of the Whirlwind, 17-18.
29 Ibid., 18.
442 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1997
It is interesting that God's charge against Satan, "You incited
me against him to ruin him without any reason" (2:3b, NIV), is a
horrifying, yet enlightening look into the character of Satan.
Humanity means no more to the Accuser than a vehicle for curs-
THE THREE FRIENDS' FALSE THEOLOGY
Job's three counselors perpetuated the same satanic false doctrine
of retribution/recompense. They held that the righteous never suf-
fer and the unrighteous always do. Each friend had his own ap-
proach to Job's problem, yet they shared this theology of retribu-
tion/recompense. Therefore their proposed solution was the same:
Repent of your sins so God can restore your prosperity." Or, more
directly, "If you want your health, family, and prosperity back,
accept our evaluation, admit to sin and wrongdoing."
The avowed objective of the three friends was "to sympathize
with him and comfort him" (). But this objective was never
achieved (except for the first seven days when their silent pres-
ence may have been of some comfort to Job). A short summary of
the speeches of these men reveals this fact.
After Job lamented his birth (chap. 3), Eliphaz began the three
cycles of debate (chaps. 4-31). His speeches are recorded in chap-
ters 4-5, 15, and 22. Eliphaz's questions immediately revealed
his theology, "Who ever perished being innocent? Or where were
the upright destroyed?" (4:7). However, experience and history,
Job said, show that many innocent persons have suffered (24:1-
12). Job himself, he said, is an example. Yet based on a wrong
premise Eliphaz sought to convict Job of his "foolish" response to
misfortune and to urge him to lay his sin before God (5:8; -
35; 22:5-12). His basic message was that Job must be sinning be-
cause he was suffering (; 15:2-5, 20-35; 22:5-15). With-
out the benefit of knowing the unseen events of chapter 1, Eliphaz
saw God as both the initiator and reliever of suffering (Job ).
Therefore Eliphaz wanted Job to see that God's oppression resulted
from the patriarch's many presumed sins (-16, 20; 22:5-11).
Once Job admitted his sin, God would heal Job and his prosperity
would return ().
When Job said to his friends, "If I have sinned, show me"
(; cf. -21), Bildad took up the challenge (chaps. 8, 18, 25),
and in his first speech he appealed to traditional wisdom ("in-
Iquire of past generations, and consider the things searched out by
their fathers," 8:8). Bildad correctly asserted that God is not un-
just or unfair (8:2-3). But Bildad was wrong in saying that Job.
Reflections on Suffering from the Book of Job 443
was totally at fault and needed to repent before he could be restored
(8:4- 7). God would be unfair to allow undeserved suffering to
come to a righteous man. Job's insistence on innocence was an
affront to the justice and rightness of God (8:3, 20). Bildad
frankly told Job he was evil and that he must repent so that God
could bring back his laughter, joy, and peace (-22, a cruel
reminder of Job's losses). According to Bildad, Job was suffering
because of sin; and according to the principle of retribu-
tion/recompense, Job deserved to be punished. Because Job re-
fused to accept this principle, Bildad said the patriarch did not
know God and had been rejected by Him (8:4; 18:5-21). Therefore
how could Job claim to be righteous when the evidence against
him was so strong (25:4-6)?
Zophar continued the attack on Job's righteousness and in-
tegrity (11:2-4), fear of God (vv. 5-6), and morality (vv. 6, 14).
to have a superior understanding of God and His
dom, Zophar said Job was too superficial to understand the deeper
things of God (vv. 7-12). This third agitator stated that God had
even overlooked some of Job's sins (v. 6). While Job admitted that
God was the source of his suffering (-25), he insisted that he
had committed no sin commensurate with his suffering (chap.
While it is true that God's wisdom, as Zophar said, is unfath-
omable (11:7-9), this was not the issue in Job's situation. Satan's
original faulty premise was repeated by Zophar: If Job were good,
he would prosper; but since he suffers, he must be evil and will die
(vv. 13-20). Zophar accused Job of wickedness (20:6), pride (v. 6),
perishing like dung (v. 7), and oppressing the poor (v. 19). Like
the other two antagonists, Zophar spoke of the wicked person's loss
of prosperity (vv. 15, 18, 20-22). He hoped this would establish the
premise of traditional wisdom and eventually lead Job to repent.
Job's irritation at the arguments of these three advisers (and
at God) can be seen in these paraphrased responses: "When will
your arguments end?" (-17). "What have I done to deserve
this?" (). "God, just forgive me and get it over with" ().
"No matter what I do, nothing changes" (chap. 9). "Why won't
You answer me, God?" (10:1-7). "I can't take any more of this!"
(-22). "Nobody cares about me!" (-22). "Where can I
get some answers?" (28:12). "Everything used to be so perfect"
(chap. 29). "What good is it to serve God?" (chap. 30).31
30 For an excellent discussion of Job 31, see Pipes, "Christian Response to Human
Depression (Wheaton, IL: Shaw, 1987), 53-61.
444 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1997
Soon after his first calamities, Job worshiped God, saying
"The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the
name of the Lord (). He "dId not sm nor dId he blame God"
(v. 22). But later, under the pressure of his opponents' accusations
and under the weight of his seemingly endless physical and
emotional plight, Job said, "For He bruises me with a tempest, and
multiplies my wounds without cause" ().32 In his despair Job
accused God of being unfair and unjust (vv. 17-20), since he ob-
served that God punishes good people and rewards bad people (vv.
21-24). God does not fit the preconceived claims of traditional
wisdom, so as Job became despondent over the brevity of life (vv.
25-26), he sensed that Go~ would never forgive .h~m (vv. 27-31),
and he pleaded for a medlator33 (vv. 32-33). GIvmg up on that
possibility, Job asked God to diminish his suffering so that he
could meet God in court and plead his own case (vv. 34-35). Even
though Job saw great inconsistencies in the application of the re-
tribution/recompense doctrine by the three antagonists (24:1-
12),34 he concluded that God did not really care for him and that he
was caught in some sort of divine entrapment in which God's lov-
ingkindness was absent (10:1-13, 16-17). He lamented his birth
(vv. 18-19) and his coming death (vv. 20-22). Captured by false
counsel and confused by God's ways, Job was now ready for a true
THE INTERVENTION OF ELIHU
Elihu began his discourses with a lengthy introduction and ex-
pression of anger toward both Job and the three older companions
(32:1-10).35 He felt that both parties had been guilty of perverting
32 Also see -21; -24; 10:3; -25; -22; 14:18.-22; , 13; 19:6,21; ;
27:2; 30:20; and 31:35.
33 Could this be the role of Elihu in either acting as a mediator or suggesting one?
See H. D. Beeby, "Elihu-Job's Mediator?" Southeast Asian Journal of Theology 7
(October 1969): 33-54. Other suggestions include Elihu as a "forerunner" to God in
chapters 38-42 (Robert Gordis, "Elihu the Intruder," in Biblical and Other Stud-
res, ed. Alexander Altmann [
78, and Elihu as arbiter (Norman C. Habel, "The Role of Elihu in the Design of the ;
Book of Job," in In the Shelter of Elyon, ed. W. Boyd Barrick and John R. Spencer !
34 The fact that God postpones judgment disproves the theory of the three friends
concerning immediate retribution for wrongdoing. "Job is no more out of God's fa-
Ivor as one of the victims than the criminal in vv. 13-17 is in God's favor because of
inaction" (The NIV Study Bible, ed. Kenneth Barker [
van, 1985], 759).
35 Like the reader, Elihu was dismayed, worn down, and tired of the dialogues
which had solved nothing. Many have criticized Elihu's lengthy introduction, but
both protocol (his youth against the age of the others), local custom, and his exas-
peration were justly expressed.
Reflections on Suffering from the Book of Job 445
divine justice and of misrepresenting God (32:2-3, 11-22). Elihu
attempted to correct the friends' and Job's faulty image of God.
Elihu affirmed that God was not silent during Job's suffering
(33:14-30). He argued that God is not unjust (34:10-12, 21-28).
Furthermore God is neither uncaring (35:15), nor is He powerless
to act on behalf of His people (chaps. 36-37). Elihu presented a to-
tally different perspective on suffering from that of the three. He
said Job's suffering was not because of past sin, but was designed
to keep him from continuing to accept a sinful premise for suffer-
ing, to draw him closer to God, to teach him that God is
sovereignly in control of the affairs of life, and to show him that
God does reward the righteous, but only on the basis of His love
and grace.36 It was as if Elihu were saying, "You insist on justice
and righteousness, but do you really want to be treated justly?
Have you really considered what would happen if God took you at
One cannot have a relationship with God as long as one thinks
that there is something in oneself which makes one deserve God's
friendship-or for that matter, a genuine relationship with an-
other human being on such terms. ...God never withdraws from
the just, no matter what, no matter how deep the frustration, the
bitterness, the darkness, the confusion, the pain.38
Elihu identified himself with Job. He was a fellow sufferer,
not an observer (33:6).39 He helped Job realize that a relationship
with God is not founded on nor maintained by his insistence on
loyalty, purity, or righteousness, but is wholly of God's grace.
Elihu did not see the primary basis of Job's suffering as sin,
though he did not minimize Job's move toward sin in the dialogue
(e.g., 34:36-37; 35:16). Among other things suffering, Elihu said,
was a preventive measure to keep Job from perpetuating a sinful,
false theology. God's sovereign control and freedom of action
over the affairs of Job's life were not restricted by a theological
system of retribution/recompense, but were acts of grace and
36 Lawson, When All Hell Breaks Loose, 220.
37 Walter L. Michel, "Job's Real Friend: Elihu," Criterion 21 (Spring 1982): 31.
39 "Elihu appeared on the scene. . . . He confesses that he, too, is involved. He ad-
mits that Job's problem is humanity's problem and he realizes that Job's question is
basically the same as his own. In contrast to Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, who re-
jected Job, Elihu identifies with him and speaks to him out of inner solidarity"
(Henri J. M. Nouwen, "Living the Questions: The Spirituality of the Religion
Teacher ," Union Seminary Quarterly Review 32 [Fall 1976]: 21). Also see Marvin
Tate, "The Speeches of Elihu," Review & Expositor 68 (Fall 1971): 490; and Gordis,
"Elihu the Intruder," 62-63.
446 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1997
mercy. God therefore rewards the righteous in grace, not because
"of some human action seeking a deserved response.40 Job was
never the same after his contact with Elihu.
The three counselors intensified their pressure on Job to ac-
cept the traditional doctrine of retribution/recompense, thus in-
flicting greater mental suffering on Job.41 Acting unknowingly
as agents of Satan's philosophy, the three friends increased the
suffering of an already hurting man. However, even though Job
found inconsistencies with the application of the doctrine, he
shared the view of the friends that the world is based on a reward-
and punishment scheme.42 This position only added to his frus-
This quid pro quo premise was contested by Elihu and shown
to be without substance. He prepared Job for God's response to the
debates and Job's ultimate submission to His sovereignty. Elihu
brought "perspective, clarity, empathy, compassion, and concrete
help,"43 thereby preparing Job for God's words.
GOD'S SPEECHES TO JOB
Speaking out of a windstorm, God began by charging Job with
darkening His counsel by "words without knowledge" (38:2; as
Elihu had said twice [34:35; 35:16]). God did not address Job's suf-
fering directly during this discourse, nor did He answer Job's
attacks on His justice. After attempting to find answers to unan-
swerable problems, Job and. his friends were now forced to return
to God. God spoke of His sovereignty and omnipotence as
demonstrated in the creation of the earth, the sea, the sun, the un-
derworld, light and darkness, the weather, and the heavenly bod-
ies (38:4-38). Animate creation testifies of God's sovereign power
and providential compassion: the lion (vv. 39-40), the raven (v.
41), the mountain goat and the deer (39:1-4), the donkey (39:5-8),
the ox (39:9-12), the ostrich (39:13-18), the horse (39:19-25), the
hawk (39:26), and the eagle or vulture (39:27-30). Then He said to
Job, "Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him
who reproves God answer it" (40:2). Of course Job could not re-
spond to God's remarks (40:3-5).
The storm motif continued in the second speech (40:6). Job
40:8-14 presents the power of God versus the power of man. God
40 Lawson, When All Hell Breaks Loose, 220.
41 Johnson, Out of the Whlrlwlnd, 30-60.
42 Tsevat, "The Meaning of the- Book of Job," 97.
43 Michel, "Job's Real Friend: Elihu," 32.
Reflections on Suffering from the Book of Job 447
affirmed His justice without defending or explaining it. God
said, in essence, that He is and always will be just and fair to His
creatures. God alone-not Job, nor the three friends, and cer-
tainly not Satan-administers and regulates justice. "The ode to
the behemoth" follows, in which God's own wisdom poetry stresses
His power in opposition to that of man or Satan (40: 15-24). The
second poem (chap. 41), "the ode to the leviathan," represents the
same essential principles. What the behemoth and the leviathan
represent is contested in scholarly circles, but the message is
clear: Since man has no power over these creatures, he can find
strength and power only in God. God is sovereign, omnipotent,
just, loving, and perfectly righteous.44
God did not tell Job to repent so that his pain would be ex-
plained, or that he would be vindicated, or that his prosperity
would be restored. Instead, God brought Job to a face-to-face meet-
ing with Himself. What did Job learn from this encounter?
Perhaps the first thing he discovered concerned the mistaken rea-
son for Job's quest. The consuming passion for vindication sud-
denly presented itself as ludicrous once the courageous rebel
stood in God's presence. By maintaining complete silence on this
singular issue which had brought Job to a confrontation with his
maker, God taught his servant the error in assuming that the
universe operated according to a principle of rationality. Once
that putative principle of order collapsed before divine freedom,
the need for personal vindication vanished as well, since God's
anger and favor show no positive correspondence with human acts
of villainy or virtue. Job's personal experience had taught him
that last bit of information, but he had also clung tenaciously to
an assumption of order. Faced with a stark reminder of divine
freedom, Job finally gave up this comforting claim, which had
hardly brought solace in his case.45
Then Job repented of his misconception of God, not of any al-
leged sin on which his three friends had focused.46 Still, God
44 Zuck comments, "The behemoth and leviathan have many similarities, so if one
is an actual animal, then the other probably is also. As discussed earlier, in the an-
cient Near East both animals were symbols of chaotic evil. . . . Man cannot subdue
single-handedly a hippopotamus or a crocodile, his fellow creatures (40:15). Nor
can man conquer evil in the world, which they symbolize. Only God can do that.
Therefore Job's defiant impugning of God's ways in the moral universe-as if God
were incompetent or even evil-was totally absurd and uncalled for" (Zuck, "Job,"
Also see Roy B. Zuck, Job, Everyman's Bible Commentary (
Moody, 1978), 180.
45 James L. Crenshaw, Old Testament Wisdom:
An Introduction (
46 "His emotional world suddenly assumes a different form. The clouds of dark-
ness are dispersed. A feeling of infinite confidence in the world and its Divine
Leader arises in his soul and he laughs at the thousand questions, the hungry
448 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1997
commended Job, because even in the face of doubt and pressure
from false theology, he maintained a personal relationship with
Him and brought his doubts directly to Him. Therefore Satan's
hypothesis (1:9-11; 2:3-4) was proven false. Job finally rejected
human approaches, the approaches of tradition, logic, and all
wisdom that was foreign to what he learned about God and him-
self. All attempts to explain God and His actions, either logically,
historically, or, traditionally, failed. Job was left with God and
God alone. Job’s prosperity was returned only after everyone In-
volved understood that all blessing comes by God's grace alone,
not .because of an individual's piety nor because of accepting a
While God is just, it is wrong to assume that the fallen world, un-
der the rulership
of Satan, is fair. The failure of traditional
dom to answer Job's complaint reveals that the world operates by
the plan of a fallen being, and only by a personal relationship
with God can fallen humanity find meaning and purpose within
the injustices of the world. Satan, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and to
some extent Job wrongly assumed that punishment of the wicked
and reward of the righteous in this life is a fixed doctrine. But this
limits God's freedom. For example in retribution/recompense
theology, rain was often seen as a reward, or if rain were with-
held that was viewed as punishment. Here, however, "the phe-
nomenon is shown not to be a vehicle of morality at all-the
moral purpose ascribed to it just does not exist (38:25-27),"47 Rain
falls by the grace of God on both the righteous and wicked (Matt.
Is it not conceivable that God wanted to show that neither
man's piety nor his sin affects how God administers His plan?
Did He not then, and does He not now, administer that plan by
grace? As Tsevat wrote, "Job behaved piously throughout, but his
behavior had, in the narrated time of -31:40, no consequences
compatible with the accepted idea of reward and punishment."48
His hope had been in the positive results of a false doctrine, while
his friends had extolled the negative aspects of that same doc-
trine. First Elihu (chaps. 32-37) and then God (chaps. 38-41)
wolves with burning eyes, and they disappear from his soul" (Chaim Zhitlowsky
and Faust," in Two Studies in Yiddish Culture, ed. Percy Matenko [
Brill, 1968], 152).
47 Tsevat, "The Meaning of the Book of Job," 100,
48 Ibid., 104.
Reflections on Suffering from the Book of Job 449
stated that these misplaced hopes of retribution/recompense have
no place in the divine economy. In fact in his final replies (40:3-
5; 42:2-3, 5-6) "Job acknowledges this fact and is now prepared
for a pious and moral life uncluttered by false hopes and un-
This is not to say that the Book of Job teaches that a person has
no obligation to moral and righteous living nor to a commitment
to truth and justice in the face of sin and evil. What it does say, at
least in large part, is that the believer has an obligation to exam-
ine his motivation in coming to and serving God, especially dur-
ing times of trial and suffering. Furthermore the Book of Job does
not support the mistaken idea that all suffering is for discipline
or that suffering always results from sin and evil. God does dis-
cipline, teach, guide, and direct through suffering, but He cannot
be manipulated by a manmade system of blessing and cursing-
a system negatively called the theology of retribution/recompense
or positively labeled the theology of prosperity. God is not obli-
gated to man under any conditions. Once this is understood, be-
lievers are free to examine their suffering on the basis of God's
grace. All saints share in the "fellowship of his sufferings"
(Phil. 3:10). "That the Lord Himself has embraced and absorbed
the undeserved consequences of all evil is the final answer to Job
and to all the Jobs of humanity. As an innocent sufferer, Job is the
companion of God."50
The question, "Why do the righteous suffer?" cannot be clari-
fied by only one answer. The many reasons given in Scripture
for personal suffering51 must all be examined in light of God's
50 Andersen, Job: An Introduction and Commentary, 73.
51 The most common examples are these: (1) Suffering is used to test and teach
(Wilkinson and Boa, Talk Thru the Old Testament, 1:145). The focus is on what Job
learned from suffering, not suffering itself. Suffering therefore teaches believers
to look to future glory, to be obedient, to learn patience, to be sympathetic to others
who suffer, to live a life of faith, to understand God's gracious purposes, to abide in
Christ, to pray, to be sensitive to sin, to love God, to draw closer to the Scriptures,
to learn contentment, and more (George Washington Oestreich, "The Suffering of
Believers under Grace" [Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1944], 42). (2)
Some hold that no answer is given to the problem of undeserved suffering. God is
so great that if an answer were given, one could not understand it (David M.
Howard, How Come, God? Reflections from Job about God and Puzzled Man
God to "demonstrate the meaning of full surrender" and to demonstrate the New
Testament principle of Romans (Archer, The Book of Job, 18). (4) Suffering is
given for the purpose of preventing one from becoming arrogant (2 Cor. 12:7-10). (5)
Suffering demonstrates that God is absolutely sovereign and can do with His crea-
tures whatever He pleases (Parsons, "A Biblical Theology of Job 38:1-42:6," 151),
with focus on the "sovereign grace of God and man's response of faith and submis-
450 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1997
grace. Job was righteous because he had a grace relationship with I
the Righteous One, not because he had earned it. Job responded
IwIth humIlIty and godly fear of God's sovereignty (42:1-2), he ,
acknowledged God's inscrutability (v. 3), reflected on His supe-
riority (v. 4), refocused on God's intimacy (v. 5), and repented of
serving God from wrong motivation (v. 6).52 So why did God put
Job through all of his suffering? Primarily it was
to reveal Himself to Job. . . . Through this interrogation, God has
taught Job that He alone created everything-the heavens and
the earth, and all that is in them-and He alone controls all that
He created. He alone has the right to do with His own as He
pleases. He is under no obligation to explain His actions to His
creation. He alone is sovereign and unaccountable to anyone.53
However, the purpose of the Book of Job should not be limited to
an expression of God's sovereignty. Can a community of suffer-
ing saints find other answers and applications here? Yes, be-
cause Job's struggle and ultimate triumph gives those who suffer
much more to apply. The following sixteen truths may be gained
from the Book of Job.
1. God is not to be limited to a preconceived notion of retri-
2. Sin is not always the basis for suffering.
3. Accepting false tenets about suffering can cause one to
blame and challenge God.
4. A retributive/recompensive theology distorts God's
ways and confines Him to human standards of interpretation.
sive trust" (ibid.).
Far Away). (6) Another approach simply suggests, "What cannot be comprehended
through reason must be embraced in love" (Alden, Job, 41). (7) "Knowing the answer
\to the question who, Job no longer needs to ask the question why" (David L.
Job, Communicator's Commentary [
not receive explanations regarding his problems; but he did come to a much deeper
sense of the majesty and loving care of God" (Zuck, "Job," 776). (8) Suffering is often ,
given for disciplinary purposes (William Bode, The Book of Job and the Solution of
the Problem of Suffering It Offers [
Suffering is a tempering process (Oestreich, "The Suffering of Believers under
Grace," 57). (10) Some see undeserved suffering as providing the opportunity for .
the exercise of faith (ibid., 50). First Peter supports this view, as well as Ro-
mans 8:35-39. (11) Suffering is a testimony to others of the believer's love and faith-
fulness to God (ibid., 54). (12) There is also a sense in which believers suffer by be-
Iing a part of God's family (ibid., 66-71). (13) Believers often suffer because of the
invisible war that is waged beyond human vision (Job 1-2). (14) God is glorified and
honored by the testimony of the believer in the invisible court proceedings in
heaven (Job 1-2). (15) Suffering makes believers acutely aware of the power of evil,
strips them of all their worldly securities, allows them to see Christ in His glory,
and enables them to bear the fruit of the Spirit (
52 Lawson, When All Hell Breaks Loose, 245-48.
53 Ibid., 240.
Reflections on Suffering from the Book of Job 451
5. Satan is behind this false concept and delights in using
it to afflict the righteous.
6. The devil's world is unfair and unjust, and even though
people may misunderstand the ways of God and the "why's" of
life, having a personal relationship with God is the only way one
can know justice.
7. Life is more than a series of absurdities and unexplain-
able pains that simply must be endured. Instead life for believers
is linked with God's unseen purpose.
8. People do not always know all the facts, nor is such
know ledge necessary for living a life of faith.
9. God's wisdom is above human wisdom.
10. God's blessings are based solely on grace, not on a tra-
ditional, legalistic formula.
11. Suffering can be faced with faith and trust m a loving,
gracious God even when there is no immediately satisfying logi-
calor rational reason to do so.
12. God does allow suffering, pain, and even death, if they
best serve His purposes.
13. Prosperity theology has no place in God's grace plan.
14. Suffering can have a preventive purpose.
15. The greatest of saints struggle with the problem of unde-
served suffering and will continue to do so.
16. Because God's people are intimately related to Him, suf-
fering is often specifically designed to glorify God in the unseen
war with Satan.
Satan, who attacked Job in Job 1-2, was silenced in chapter 42
because Job's response (42:1-6) proved that God's confidence in
him was not unfounded (1:8; 2:3). Though God needs no vindica-
tion, the Book of Job shows that undeserved suffering, accepted
and borne by a child of God, does in a sense vindicate God's grace
plan for His saints. "True wisdom, like God, defies human rea-
son."54 Therefore true wisdom defies the wrong concepts of tradi-
tional wisdom, and, when properly applied by God's people during
undeserved suffering, it becomes a living demonstration of God's
grace and a believer's faith. "I have heard of Thee by the hearing
of the ear; but now my eye sees Thee" (42:5).
54 Crenshaw, Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction, 123.
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