Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Introducing Job

Introductory Matters

Time and Place

The reference, in chapter 1, to Job offering sacrifices for his children tells us that this story occurs before the time of Moses and the Covenant of Law. Isaac's brother Esau had a son named Eliphaz who had a son named Teman. It is possible that Eliphaz the Temanite in the book of Job was a descendent of Esau. It seems reasonable to place the time of the book between the days of Isaac and Esau and the days of Moses.

Job was from the land of Uz. Noah's son Shem had a son named Aram, who lived just west of Assyria. Aram had a son named Uz. This conceivably places the events in Job around the same area. Today this would be somewhere in northeast Lebanon. This is further confirmed by the references to Wadi's which would be found along the trade routes east of the Jordan river. It suggests that Job lived enough north and east to make the eastern route to Egypt shorter than the western route.

Fact or Fiction

Some have conjectured that Job is a fictional work. Some make a big deal at such a thought. I tend to think that the events actually happened, and then composed into an epic using the literary forms of its day. 

But whether the events actually happened or not, my not be that big of a deal. If one looks at the parables of Jesus, we can note that some, like the Good Samaritan, could likely be based on real stories. Others might be made up, such as the pearl in the field or the parable of the vineyard and the owner who went on a trip. Others could go either way, like the prodigal son. The point is, that no one insists that Jesus' stories be from actual events. We understand that he is teaching through the story.

The story of Job is a parable. He is the man who deserved blessings and received devastation. He is the one around whom we can ask the most ancient of questions, "Why do people suffer?" If Job suffered, what hope do we have of escape. It is the unique combination of character and initial blessing that makes Job fit the bill for such a discussion.

I believe that there was a man named Job who was pure, upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil. I believe that the events surrounding his loss of all things happened. But the force of the story is not lessened if Job were made up to drive home spiritual realities that we must all confront.

The Man

The Book of Job begins:

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. And that man was pure and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. (Job 1:1, The Net Bible

There are few people who could be so described: Pure, upright, fearing God, turning away from evil. But this is how we must know Job in order for this book to reveal its message. Not only is this how others knew him, we are very shortly told that this was the Lord's assessment of the man too:

And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a pure and upright man, one who fears God and turns away from evil.” (Job 1:8)

In fact, the Lord lets us know that Job is morally at the top. There is no one on the face of the earth who is his equal. Job, we must understand, is purer, more upright, more God-fearing, and a faster turner than anyone who lived at that time. The events that follow and the lessons that they teach are best understood in the light of this revelation. It will be easy to lose, but you must not lose sight of it. Job never did.

Job was also wealthy:

Seven sons and three daughters were born to him. His possessions included seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred female donkeys; in addition he had a very great household. Thus he was the greatest of all the people in the east. (Job 1:2-3)

We have to see the list of Job's possessions in business terms. Sheep imply the production of wool and dairy products. Camels imply commerce and trade to distant places. Oxen imply a large agricultural enterprise. Donkeys would be used to travel around his estate and to carry supplies. The great household represents his employees, slaves and servants in his day. And thus he was the greatest man in terms of wealth.

Job was Billy Graham, Mother Theresa, and Bill Gates all combined! He had good character and great wealth.

Job was a leader. Later on in the book, he related this aspect of his life before the troubles came:

When I went out to the city gate and secured my seat in the public square, the young men would see me and step aside, and the old men would get up and remain standing; the chief men restrained from talking and covered their mouths with their hands; the voices of the nobles fell silent, and their tongues stuck to the roof of their mouths. (Job 29:7-10)

Job was a concerned father. His seven sons seem to be grown and live in their own houses. They have either an annual celebration of birthdays or a weekly celebration of meals together. Job's three daughters might be young, since they are not yet married. They also join in the feasting. Job, as the family priest, watches over their spiritual condition.

Now, his sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one in turn, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and to drink with them. When the days of their feasting were finished, Job would send for them and sanctify them; he would get up early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job thought, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Job customarily did this. (Job 1:4-5)

We see that Job's concern for his children is spiritual above all else.

Job may have had a rags-to-riches-story. Elihu spoke to Job about his being delivered from distress to a full table. Elihu could not have spoken these words about Job's future. Therefore, I infer that he is speaking of Job's past:

He delivers the afflicted by their afflictions, he reveals himself to them by their suffering. And surely, he drew you from the mouth of distress, to a wide place, unrestricted, and to the comfort of your table filled with rich food. But now you are preoccupied with the judgment due the wicked, judgment and justice take hold of you. (Job 36:15-17)

And so we meet this remarkable man. He had the respect of God and man. He was great in character and in wealth. If ever there was a man who deserved all the blessings from God's hand, it was Job.

Thursday: The Court in Heaven

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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