Why should I read the book of Job?
I received the following email and think it is worth including in its entirety. It reflects a perplexity about the book of Job that resonates with many.
This morning I opened my bible to read, instead of going to Hebrews as I had been, I just started reading in Job where I opened because a verse caught my eye. It happened to be a passage where one of Job’s friends, Elihu, is speaking. As I was reading the passage, I remembered that God was not happy about what Job’s friends shared with him. For example,
The Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has (Job 42:7).
My first thought was maybe I shouldn’t waste time reading this section since they haven’t spoken what is right about God. But if “all scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16), then this is in here for a reason.
Is there a bit of truth mixed in with inaccurate information about God in the passages where job’s friends are giving counsel? Now I’m curious.
I have also been perplexed by the fact that Job’s friends say so much that seems right, yet God was displeased with them. I have been perplexed that Job said so many things against God and His goodness, yet God said he spoke rightly. I have been perplexed by the apparent abrupt end to the discussion (and the book) without any apparent (to me) conclusion to the whole affair. Like the person writing to me in this email, I would read through the book picking out short passages, a few verses here or there, that really captured my attention and appreciation—“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth (Job 19:25).”
With the help of good commentaries1 and patience, I gradually began to appreciate its place. I now think it is an underappreciated book and needs much more serious attention than we normally give it. The reason is that it deals experimentally with the subject that afflicts us all—legalism. It is the experiential side of the doctrine of Galatians. I think that a good subtitle for the book could be “The Danger of the Legal Premise.” Job and his friends all approach their relationship with God on a legal basis. This leads to Job’s struggle with his place before God and Job’s friends struggle with Job.
God says Job is righteous
Understanding the book of Job depends on our remembering throughout that God said that Job was upright (Job 1:1,8; 42:8). The struggle in the book circulates around what God said about Job, what Job thought about himself and his condition and his relationship with God. Job’s friends basically make things worse by actually taking Job’s side about his relationship with God, but in a way that deepened Job’s despair. This is important to see. Job’s friends, by condemning Job’s self-righteousness—remember, God did declare that he was righteous—pushed Job to continue to justify himself. Job was not self-righteous like the Pharisees. His confession or appeal (Job 29:14, for example) was an honest appraisal, not a smokescreen. But his righteousness did not avail before God (Rom. 4:2). The real lesson for Job and for us is that the standing of the First Man (under Adam) at his very best simply shows the necessity of the Second Man, Christ. Of course, Christ is not mentioned by name but seems implied by the repentance of Job at the end (Job 42:6).
Job says many things that are not right
Reading what Job said about his relationship with God we tend to forget the starting point—Job is righteous. Reading the many insightful things that Job says might encourage us to skip over the frustration he expresses toward God. But, we must cringe at some of his accusations and wonder how he could have been declared righteous by God. But, unlike the man in Romans seven, who recognizes his failings and is struggling to improve, Job is blind to his failings, and this is by design.2 This condition resonates with what we have in Galatians 3:1-5. We find in Galatians that the end of adopting “the legal premise” to their relationship with God is that they “bite and devour” one another (Gal. 5:15). And, surprise–surprise, that is just what we find in Job’s friends.
Job’s friends say many things that are right
In Job’s friends we find the terrifying spectacle of the legalist and his relationship with those who he perceives to be not as good as he is. May God deliver us from “friends” like Job had. The three friends each picture for us a distinct aspect of legalism. (Scripture is never redundant.) Together they manage to burden Job with empty accusations and grossly misrepresent God. But, for the sake of this post, I want to notice that this is cloaked in sanctimonious language that mixes true statements about God (Job 15:15-16) with totally unjustified statements about Job (Job 15:4-6).
It is striking how Elihu bases his argument on the natural world. The Lord Himself used many examples from nature in His parables. This is a fascinating study in itself which we cannot get into here. See Psalm 19; Romans 1:20; 1 Corinthians 11:14a; etc..
The book of Job seems to end abruptly without much explanation. One might simply think that the book is all about humbling Job. But, again, we need to remember that God Himself declared Job “righteous.” So, I think it is a mistake to think the book is just an expansion of the lesson of Romans 7. The fact that the book ends with Job offering sacrifices for his friends and the description of this final blessing is a clue that the book is not so much about Job as it is about the necessity and means by which the whole position taken by Job’s friends must be annulled.4
1. William Kelly, Eleven Lectures on the Book of Job (Oak Park: Bible Truth Publishers, 1976). Samuel Ridout, The Book of Job (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, Bible Truth Depot, undated).
2. Some have imagined some kind of evil in the activities of Job recorded in the first couple chapters, but this is mere supposition and misses the point.
3. Here is an excellent comment from one of my Editors (Daniel Hayes): I find that Elihu also presents one of the clearest references in the OT to the process of intercession and redemption, typically pointing to Christ’s own work as mediator between God and man (Job 33:22-33, 1 Tim. 2-5-6). In that passage Elihu also describes evangelistic outreach by those redeemed to those still perishing (verses 26-28). Considering that Job is one of the earliest books of Scripture, this shows remarkable insight to God’s work of salvation and eternal judgement that was available for those seeking it (as shown in your Romans 1:20 reference and Elihu using the natural world to base his argument).
4. I chose this word deliberately as it is used in Romans 6:6 (DBY) and this is, I believe, the primal lesson of the book of Job.