To be honest, though, the book of Job takes us even deeper than a cosmic chess match between two unequal players, God and Satan. Satan never makes a reappearance after Job 2, but God and His ways are on trial throughout the book as Job, his three friends, and the younger Elihu try to make sense of what God is doing in Job’s case. None came up with the right answer.
Introduction (Job 1-2): Job is righteous and rich (narrator’s and God’s perspective)
But how could they? Job 1-2 makes us privy to details that they had no access to. How could they know that God had singled out Job for special mention in front of Satan? How could they know that Job is under satanic attack because he is both righteous and rich? How could they know how important it is that Job know nothing about why this is happening to him? (For him to know would ruin the test.) What they do know is that Job responds to losing everything with worship and trust. But Job hurts, and when he opens his mouth to express that hurt, it begins three rounds of conversations (more like monologues in some cases) that continue until the last chapter of the book.
Round One (Job 3-31): Job is unrighteous (three friends’ perspective)
Job 3 is where Round One of the conversations begins. Job opens the conversation, not by questioning God overtly, but by lamenting his own existence. Such a complaint implies that Job has not received fair treatment from God, an implication the three friends pounce upon. As the conversation cycles three times (chs. 4-14, 15-21, 22-31), the three friends stick to their guns: God punishes the wicked and blesses the righteous. If you are experiencing trouble, then you must be wicked. Repent and your life pathway will smooth out again. Initially, the friends treat Job rather kindly as they press their theology on him, but as the conversation continues they get increasingly pointed and harsh.
Job also stays his ground: he is not suffering because of any specific sin he has committed. He avers unswerving loyalty to God. But Job does have questions—lots of them—for God. God has unfairly made him the target of His wrath, and Job would like a chance to argue his case with Him. Job even denies, on occasion, that one can tell a person’s moral standing before God just by their prosperity or lack thereof—a proposition his friends find intolerable—but Job does believe fearing the Lord is wisdom (28:28). The lengthy conversation with the three friends ends by Job’s making a final defense of his integrity (chapter 31). Round One is over.
Round Two (Job 32-37): Job has responded unrighteously (Elihu’s perspective)
Round Two brings Elihu into the ring with Job. He is upset with Job’s friends because they failed to silence Job, and he is upset with Job because Job justified himself instead of God. Elihu has a valid point (that Job justified himself more than God) and correctly views chastisement as a way for God to open our ears to His instruction (36:15), but even he, in all of his bluster, comes short of the mark in putting his finger on why Job is suffering.
Are there any other answers out there as to why Job has suffered the loss of fortune, family, and reputation?
Round Three (Job 38-41): Job does not know what he is talking about (God’s perspective)
In Round Three, God speaks and provides the answers that have been needed all along. But He answers by not giving an answer at all. Both His speeches (chs. 38-39, 40-41) are almost nothing but questions.
Questions for Job.
Questions that reveal that Job knows nothing about running the universe and that Job is powerless to control creatures--like Behemoth and Leviathan--that God created and, therefore, easily controls. Although God provides Job with no answers as to the why of his suffering, Job, remarkably, walks away fully satisfied. He confesses his ignorance, realizes he has spoken rashly, and repents.
Conclusion (Job 42): Job vindicated as righteous
In the conclusion to the book (ch. 42), God accepts Job’s repentance, commends Job before Job’s three friends, and blesses Job with double what he had enjoyed before.
The key point that emerges from these three rounds of conversations is that we do not have and we do not need answers to life’s greatest enigmas. We need rather trust that the sovereign God--who runs our universe and everyone and everything in it--is just, wise, good, all-knowing, and all-powerful.
As you read Job, look for these five themes:
- How Job’s speeches often turn into prayers as he takes his frustrations to the Lord
- How the three friends insist that calamity is an infallible sign of divine displeasure
- How Job insists on his righteousness (6:10; 9:21; 24:4-5)
- How the conversations so often focus on whether God governs justly and righteously (or how God’s justice works)
- How God’s questions affirm His omniscience, sovereignty, wisdom, and power
- Explain why we say that God, not Job, is the one primarily under attack in the book of Job.
- What are some of the elements in the introduction to Job (chs. 1-2) that we as readers know but Job, his three friends, and Elihu did not?
- What do Job’s three friends think is the reason for Job’s calamity?
- Does Job admit that he is unrighteous? (Is he claiming to be sinless or just that he has committed no specific sin that has led to his calamity?)
- What is Elihu upset about? (Is he right?)
- When God finally speaks what does He have to say to Job?
- Is Job satisfied with God’s reply to Him?
- What is the key point that emerges from the three rounds of conversation?
- How can this key point help you as you face calamity in life?