Posted by Josh Kirby August 21, 2015

“The author [of Job] peel[s] off the layers of Hebrew life and thought and expose[s] the bare core in a daring adventure – when the justice of God and the righteousness of man clash, what resolution exists?”1 Readers are invited to join in the adventure with a man who struggles to find peace in the midst of extreme suffering.

Job is generally associated with suffering, but the book deals with a composite of ideas. The issues are attracted to two poles – the justice of God and the integrity of the righteous.  Clustering around these poles are other issues inherent in any consideration of the two – the mystery of evil, the prosperity of the wicked, and the suffering of the righteous, to name a few. The suffering of the righteous inevitably leads to the larger question of whether or not there is moral order in the world (9:22-24).2

The book has a sandwich structure:

  • Prose (1:1-2:13)
  • Poetry (3:1-42:6)
  • Prose (42:7-17)

The prose provides context – in the form of conflict and resolution – for the poetry.

A simple outline of Job is as follows: 3

  • Prologue (1-2)
  • Job’s dialogues with his three friends (3-31)
    • Job’s lament (3)
    • Three cycles of dialogues (4-27)
    • Poem on divine wisdom (28)
    • Job’s last speech (29-31)
  • Elihu’s monologue (32-37)
  • God’s speeches (38:1-42:6)
  • Epilogue (42:7-17)

“The prologue opens the narrative by introducing the main characters and the setting. It initiates the plot by raising the problem that needs a resolution: Job’s suffering despite his apparent innocence. The prologue also takes the reader behind the scenes into the very council chamber of God. We know what the characters do not; we know that Job is suffering as a test of his faithfulness to God.”4

The first five verses of the book of Job highlight the moral fiber of Job. V.1 calls him “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” V.5 notes Job offered sacrifices to God on behalf of his family’s sins. Though Job was wealthy, the author defines Job especially by his faith, not his wealth.

The behind-the-scenes look into the council chamber of God is enlightening. We glimpse the chamber on two separate days, on which the sons of God present themselves before the Lord (1:6; 2:1). On both occasions Satan is present (v.6). Satan claims Job will curse God to his face if he is allowed to suffer.  But Satan is wrong twice in the prologue. Job does not curse God when his possessions and children are taken away, nor does he curse God when he loses his health. But Job is now left to grapple with life’s great enigma – unexplained, personal suffering. Though tempted, Job says, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Then the author tells us, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2:10, ESV)

Yet Job’s initial integrity and statement of faith does not prevent him from asking questions: “Why? Why is this happening to me?” The prologue demonstrates Job’s faith in the face of adversity. But beginning with chapter 3 we begin to see Job’s faith on a roller coaster, to the point he feels the need to repent at the end of the book (42:6). Job never cursed God to his face, as Satan had predicted, and never does throughout the book, but Job’s faith is tested and tried to the extreme and thus wavers. He finds irreconcilable what he believes about God – that God is just – and his current experience – he is suffering, though innocent of any wrongdoing.

At the end of the prologue Job is visited by three friends – Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. We later learn a fourth friend, Elihu, is present. After seven days of silence, during which time neither Job nor his friends speak, Job finally opens his mouth to lament (ch.3). His lament is in the form of many of the psalms of lament recorded in the book of Psalms. In his lament Job curses the day of his birth, bemoans his conception, and wishes that he had died at birth or would have been stillborn. He is unwilling to curse God, but instead curses the day of his birth.

Following Job’s lament, a dialogue begins between Job and his three friends. The dialogue is structured by the author in cycles (4-27). The highly literary nature of the dialogue is revealed by the structure. There are three cycles, in each of which one of the friends addresses Job and then Job responds to each one in turn. The order is always Eliphaz, Bildad, then Zophar:4

Speech Cycles In Job

First Cycle

Second Cycle

Third Cycle

Eliphaz (4-5)

Eliphaz (15)

Eliphaz (22)

Job (6-7)

Job (16-17)

Job 23-24)

Bildad (8)

Bildad (18)

Bildad (25)

Job (9-10)

Job (19)

Job (26-27)

Zophar (11)

Zophar (20)

Zophar (27:13-23) *

Job (12)

Job (21)

Job (28-31)

*There is a possible error in transmission toward the end of the book. Job’s words in 27:13-23 seem contradictory to everything else he says in the section. Thus many scholars attribute them to Zophar, who is missing a third speech. Another possibility is that the dialogue in this section is Job’s representation of what a silent Zophar might have said. We can’t be sure of anything in this regard. A couple of rules of Bible interpretation are that we always must be careful imposing upon the biblical text and we must deal with it in its current form.

As the dialogue progresses over the course of 23 chapters, the arguments become shorter, yet more intense. It may be this is the author’s way of communicating that the three friends are running out of arguments against Job (32:1), as they become increasingly frustrated with him. This literary devise leads nicely to the speech of the angry Elihu (32-37).

So, what is the meaning of all this talk? As we have already noted the book of Job is a wisdom debate and the question of “Who is wise?” dominates the book. Each character is allowed his say in turn. Ultimately, when human wisdom runs out – when age has had its say, youth has had its say, and the suffering man has had his say – God takes center stage and it becomes obvious that divine wisdom is unmatched (38:2-39:30).

Throughout the book, Job cries out for an umpire (9:33), a witness in heaven (16:19), a redeemer (19:35), and one to hear him. Job hopes for an interview with God, to learn why he suffered (Job 23:2–7).  At the conclusion of his final speech (chs.28-31), Job cries out: “Oh, that I had one to hear me! (Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!) Oh, that I had the indictment written by my adversary! Surely I would carry it on my shoulder; I would bind it on me as a crown; I would give him an account of all my steps; like a prince I would approach him.” (Job 31:35–37, ESV)

God grants Job’s request. But God does not justify himself to Job nor does he give Job a straight answer to any of his questions, he simply demonstrates the superiority of his wisdom and chides Job for challenging him (40:8). Who is wise? Job? The friends? No, God is the one who is wise.

Job was brash enough to challenge God, so God challenges Job:

  • ““Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” (Job 38:2–3, ESV)
  • ““Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?” (Job 40:7–9, ESV)

God then proceeds to ask a series of questions for which Job does not have the answer – questions about creation, how the universe is sustained, and more. Job is stunned and does not attempt to answer any of God’s questions. He simply must say: ““I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”” (Job 42:2–6, ESV)

In the epilogue, God rebukes Job’s friends and tells them to go to Job to have him offer sacrifices on their behalf (42:8). So they did. The epilogue ends with the restoration of Job’s fortunes. Job was granted twice of all he had before. “And after this Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, four generations. And Job died, an old man, and full of days.” (Job 42:16–17, ESV)

The book of Job is deeply relevant to modern readers, as we all experience suffering and pain. A lengthier discussion of the problem of suffering and pain can be heard in the full sermon audio. In this blog, we will limit ourselves to making the point that our character will be measured not by suffering itself, but by how we chose to react. Jerry Bridges, in his book The Practice of Godliness notes, “Frequently our reaction to trials is like Job’s. At the beginning of his testing, he reacted positively with the statement, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord by praised” (1:21). But as time wore on and the trials, aggravated by the false accusations of his friends, continued, Job’s…patience gave out. He was finally reduced to saying, “It profits a man nothing when he tries to please God” (34:9). But though Job’s faith [wavered], God’s faithfulness did not. He stayed with Job until he had learned the lesson of God’s sovereignty, and then he gave Job twice as much as he had before.”6

The longer we suffer the harder it is to keep face and keep faith. That is why we must have a firm foundation for our faith. Job is mentioned only once in the New Testament, but the mention is significant: “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” (James 5:11, ESV) God’s purposes truly are compassionate and merciful, even in suffering. This may be hard for us to accept. But we must learn to let God be God and persevere knowing our wisdom is far inferior to that of the creator and sustainer of the universe and our lives. Job wished for a redeemer, an advocate. This Christians have in Jesus Christ.


1 Bullock, C. Hassell. An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books. Chicago: Moody, 1988, 70, Print.

2 Ibid. 69-70

3 Longman, Tremper, Raymond B. Dillard, and Raymond B. Dillard. An Introduction to the Old Testament. Second Edition, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006. 227 Print.

4Ibid. 228


6 Bridges, Jerry, The Practice Of Godliness. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 2008, 113-114, Print.


Audio will be published as available.