The story of the book is easily told. The prologue (i., ii.) introduces Job as a pattern of scrupulous piety, and therefore, in accordance with the ancient view, a prosperous man. In the heavenly council, the Satan insinuates that, if the prosperity be withdrawn, the piety will also disappear. Jehovah, sure of His servant Job, grants the Satan permission to deprive Job of all that he has, in order that he may discover what he is. Job sustains the four fierce blows, which stripped him of all, with beautiful resignation. The Satan is foiled. He now insinuates that the trial has not been severe enough: only his property has been touched -- not his person. With Jehovah's permission a second assault is made, and Job is smitten with the incurable and loathsome disease of leprosy, so that he is without hope in the world. He has nothing but God -- will God be enough? Again Job sustains his trial in noble and ever-memorable words; and the Satan is foiled again. Then three of Job's friends -- great sheikhs -- come to express their sorrow.
Then follow three cycles of speeches between Job and his friends (iii.-xiv.; xv.-xxi.; xxii.-xxxi).
First cycle. Job begins by lamenting his birthday and longing for death (iii.). Eliphaz, a man of age and wisdom, with much courtesy and by an appeal to a revelation which had been given him in the night, seeks to reconcile Job to his lot, reminding him that no mortal man can be pure in the sight of God, and assuring him of restoration, if he accepts his suffering as discipline (iv., v.). Job rejects this easy optimism and expresses his longing for a speedy death, as life on the earth is nothing but a miserable warfare (vi., vii.). Bildad, annoyed at Job's challenge of God's justice, asserts the sure destruction of evildoers, but implicitly concedes, at the end, that Job is not an evil-doer, by promising him a bright future (viii.). Job then grows ironical. Of course, he says, God is always in the right. Might is right, and He is almighty, destroying innocent and guilty alike. He longs to meet God, and to know why He so marvellously treats the creature He so marvellously made (ix., x.). Zophar bluntly condemns Job's bold words and urges repentance, but, like his friends, foretells the dawn of a better day for Job, though his very last words are ominous and suggestive of another possibility (xi.). Job, with a sarcastic compliment to the wisdom of his friends, claims the right to an independent judgment and challenges the whole moral order of the world. Better be honest -- God needs no man to distort the facts for Him. Job longs for a meeting, in which God will either speak to him or listen to him. But, as no answer comes, he laments again the pathos of life, which ends so utterly in death (xii.-xiv.).
Second cycle. Eliphaz, concluding that Job despises religion, describes in vigorous terms the fate of the godless (xv.). Job complains of his fierce persecution by God, and appeals, in almost the same breath, against this unintelligible God to the righteous God in heaven, who is his witness and sponsor; but again he falls back into gloom and despondency (xvi., xvii.). Bildad answers by describing the doom of the wicked, with more than one unmistakable allusion to Job's case (xviii.). Job is vexed. He breaks out into a lament of his utter desolation, the darkness of which, however, is shot through with a sudden and momentary gleam of assurance that God will one day vindicate him (xix.). Not so, answers Zophar: the triumph of the wicked is short (xx.). Job, in a bold and terrible speech, assails the doctrine of the friends, challenges the moral order, and asserts that the world is turned upside down (xxi.).
Third cycle. To the friends Job now seems to be condemned out of his own mouth, and Eliphaz coolly proceeds to accuse him of specific sins (xxii.). This drives Job to despair, and he longs to appear before the God whom he cannot find, to plead his cause before Him. Why does He not interpose? and again follows a fierce challenge of the moral order (xxiii., xxiv.). The arguments of the friends are being gradually exhausted, and Bildad can only reply by asserting the uncleanness of man in presence of the infinite majesty of God (xxv., xxvi.). In spite of this Job asserts his integrity, xxvii.1-6. Zophar repeats the old doctrine of the doom of the wicked, xxvii.7-23. Then Job rises up, like a giant, to make his last great defence. He pictures his former prosperity and his present misery, and ends, in a chapter which touches the noblest heights of Old Testament morality, with a detailed assertion of the principles that governed his conduct and character. With one great cry that the Almighty would listen to him, he concludes (xxix.-xxxi.).
The Almighty does listen; and He answers -- not by referring to Job's particular case, still less to his sin, but by questions that suggest to Job His own power, wisdom, and love, and the ignorance and impotence of man, xxxviii., xxxix., xl.2, 8-14. Job humbly recognizes the inadequacy of his criticism in the light of this vision of God, xl.3-5, xlii.2-6, and with this the poem comes to an end.
The epilogue, xlii.7-17, in prose, describes how Jehovah severely condemned the friends for the words they had spoken, commended His servant Job for speaking rightly of Him, and restored him to double his former prosperity.
It is obvious that we have here a religious and not a philosophical discussion. Indeed it is hardly a discussion at all; for, though the psychological interest of the situation is heightened by every speech, there is practically no development in the argument. The friends grow more excited and unfair, Job grows more calm and dignified; but so far as argument is concerned, neither he nor they affect each other -- the author meaning to suggest by this perhaps the futility of human discussion.
The problem of the book of Job has been variously defined. In one form it is raised by the question of Satan, i.9, "Doth Job fear God for naught?" which is the Hebrew way of saying, "Is there such a thing as disinterested religion?" But the body of the book discusses the problem under a wider aspect: how can the facts of human life, and especially the sufferings of the righteous, be reconciled with the justice of God? With delicate skill the author has suggested that this problem is a universal one; not Israel alone is perplexed by it, but humanity. To indicate this, he puts his hero and his stage outside the land of Israel. Job is a foreign saint, and Uz is on the borders of the Arabian desert.
The ancient theory of retribution was very simple: every man received what he deserved -- the good prosperity, the bad misfortune. In its national application, this principle was obviously more or less true, but every age must have seen numerous exceptions in the life of the individual. The exceptions, however, were not felt to be particularly perplexing, because, till the exile, the individual was hardly seriously felt to be a religious unit: his personality was merged in the wider life of the tribe or nation. But the exile, which saw many of the best men suffer, forced the question to the front; and the explanation then commonly offered was that they were suffering for the sins of the fathers. Ezekiel denied this and maintained that the individual received exactly what he deserved (xviii.): it is well with the righteous and ill with the wicked. The friends of Job in the main represent this doctrine, Eliphaz appealing to revelation, Bildad to tradition, and Zophar to common sense. The author of the book of Job desires, among other things, to expose the inadequacy of this doctrine. Job, a good man -- not only on his own confession (xxxi.), but on the express and repeated admission of God Himself, i.8, ii.3 -- is overwhelmed with calamities which cannot be explained by the imperfections which are inherent in all men, and which Job himself readily admits vii.21. How are such sufferings to be reconciled with the justice of God?
The problem had to be solved without reference to the future world. To a steady faith in immortality, which can find its compensations otherwhere, there is no real problem; but it is certain that, though there are scattered hints, xiv.13, xix.25ff. -- which, however, many interpret differently -- of a life after death, this belief is not held by Job (or by the author) tenaciously, nor offered as a solution, for the lamentations continue to the end. The solution, if there is any, the author must find in this world. It would seem that no definite solution is offered, though there are not a few profound and valuable suggestions.
(1) The prologue, e.g., suggests that the sufferings of earth find their ultimate explanation in the councils of heaven. What is done or suffered here is determined there. (2) Again the prologue suggests that suffering is a test of fidelity. Job has proved his essential and disinterested goodness, besides glorifying the name of the God, who trusted him, by standing fast. (3) The friends make their shallow and conventional contribution to the solution: from the doctrine -- whose strict and universal truth Job denied -- that sin was always followed by suffering, they inferred the still more questionable doctrine that suffering was punishment for sin. In estimating the views of the friends, it should never be forgotten that Jehovah, in the epilogue, condemns them as not having spoken the thing that is right, xlii.7, 8. Of course, though inadequate, they are not always absolutely wrong; and Eliphaz expresses a truth not wholly inapplicable to Job's case -- at least to the Job of the speeches -- when he insists on the disciplinary value of suffering, v.17 ff.
(4) If a real solution is offered anywhere, one would most naturally look for it in the speeches of Jehovah (xxxviii. ff.); and at first sight they are not very promising. Their effect would most naturally be rather to silence and overwhelm Job than to convince him; and to some they have suggested no more than that the contemplation of nature may be a remedy for scepticism. But their object is profounder than that. By heightening the sense of the mystery of the universe, they show Job the folly, and almost the impertinence, of expecting an adequate answer to all his whys and wherefores. A man who cannot account for the most familiar facts of the physical world is not likely to explore the subtler mysteries of the moral world. But there is more. The divine speeches suggest that God is not only strong -- Job knew that very well (ix.) -- but wise, xxxviii.2, and kind, feeding even the ravenous beasts, xxxviii.39, and tenderly caring for the waste and desolate place where no man is, xxxviii.26. The universe compels trust in the wisdom and love of God. (5) The epilogue, too, shows how the suffering hero was rewarded and vindicated. The reward we shall discuss afterwards; but it is with fine instinct that the epilogue represents Job as a man so powerful with God that his prayer is effectual to save his erring friends, and four times within two verses, xlii.7 f, Jehovah calls him "My servant Job." Therein lies his real vindication, rather than in the reward of the sheep and the oxen.
The book clearly intends to suggest that in this world it is vain to look for exact retribution. From calamity it is unjust to infer special or secret sin: the worst may happen to the best. Again, there is such a thing as disinterested goodness, a goodness which believes in and clings to God, when it has nothing to hope for but Himself. But the book may also be fairly regarded as a protest against contemporary theology; and, in its present form, at any rate, it suggests that God loves the independent thinker. The friends are orthodox, but shallow; "Who ever perished, being innocent?" iv.7. They are so wedded to their theories that even the oldest and wisest among them cruelly invents falsehoods to support them (xxii.). Job replies to theories by facts. He is a man of independent observation and judgment, his mouth must "taste for itself," xii.11. He is bold sometimes almost to blasphemy, he accuses God of destroying innocent and guilty alike, ix.22, and does not scruple to parody a psalm, vii.17 f. Yet he does this because he must be true to facts, whatever comes of theories: he must cling to the God of conscience against the God of convention.
In discussing the scheme of the book and the solution it offers of the problem of suffering, we have not yet taken into account the speeches of Elihu (xxxii.-xxxvii.). The value and importance of these have been variously estimated, the extremes being represented by Duhm, who characterizes them as the childish effusions of some bombastic rabbi, and Cornill, who calls them "the crown of the book of Job." It is not without good reason that the authenticity of this section has been doubted. After the dramatic appeal at the close of Job's splendid defence, it is natural to suppose that Jehovah appears; and when He does appear (xxxviii.), His speech is expressly said to be an answer to Job. Elihu is completely ignored, as he is not only in the prologue but also in the epilogue, xlii.7. The latter omission would be especially strange, if he is integral to the book. As his speech is not condemned, it is natural to infer from the silence that it is implicitly commended. In that case, however, we have two solutions -- the Elihu speeches and the Jehovah speeches. But there is practically nothing new in the Elihu speeches: in emphasizing the greatness of God, they but anticipate the Jehovah speeches, and in emphasizing the disciplinary value of chastisement, they but amplify the point already made by Eliphaz in v.17ff., and most summarily expressed in xxxvi.15. Almost the only other assertion made is that, as against Job's contention, God does speak to men -- through dreams, sickness, angels, etc. The lengthy description in which Elihu is introduced, and the mention of his genealogy, are very unlike the other introductions. The literary art of the section is, speaking generally, inferior to that of the rest of the book. It is imitative rather than creative. Elihu takes about twenty verses to announce the simple fact that he is going to speak, though there might be a dramatic propriety in this, as he is represented as a young man. Further, the language is more Aramaic than the rest of the book. Cornill, however, defends the section as offering the real solution of the problem. "If a man recognizes the educative character of suffering and takes it to heart, the suffering becomes for him a source of infinite blessing, the highest manifestation of divine love." But it seems rather improbable that the true solution should be put into the lips of a young man, who said he was ready to burst if he did not deliver himself of his speech, xxxii.19. Apart from the fact that it is more natural to look for the solution in the speeches of Jehovah, and that the Elihu speeches, in condemning Job, disagree with the epilogue, which commends him, the arguments against their authenticity seem much more than to counterbalance the little that can be said in their favour; and in all probability they are an orthodox addition to the book from the pen of some later scholar who was offended by Job's accusations of God and protestations of his own innocence.
The authenticity of the prologue and epilogue has also been questioned, some scholars asserting that they really form the beginning and end of an older (pre-exilic) book of Job, the body of which was replaced by the speeches in our present book. The question is far from unimportant, as on it depends, in part, our conception of the purpose of the author of the speeches. Against the idea that the prologue and epilogue are from his hand are these considerations. They are in prose, while the body of the book is in verse. Again, the name of God in the prologue and epilogue is Jehovah; elsewhere, with one exception, which is probably an interpolation, xii.9, it is El, Eloah, Shaddai, as if Jehovah were purposely avoided. In xix.17b, where the true translation is "Mine evil savour is strange to the sons of my body," the children are regarded as living: while in the prologue they are dead. But more serious is the fact that the Job of the prologue seems to differ fundamentally from the Job of the speeches. The former is patient, submissive, resigned; the latter is impatient, bitter, and even defiant. Further, the epilogue represents Jehovah as commending Job and condemning the friends without qualification, whereas it may be urged that, in the course of the speeches, the friends were not always wrong, nor was Job always right, and that it is impossible that his merciless criticisms of the moral order could have passed without divine rebuke: much that Job said would have delighted the Satan of the prologue. These considerations have led to the supposition that, in the original book, Job maintained throughout the spirit of devout resignation which he showed in the prologue, while it was the friends who accused God of cruelty and injustice. A bolder and profounder thinker of a later age attacked the problem independently on the basis of the old story, and inserted his contribution, iii.-xlii.6, between the prologue and the epilogue, thus giving a totally different turn to the story. [Footnote 1: Ch. xxxviii. i, being introductory to the speeches of Jehovah, should hardly be counted.]
This view is ingenious, but does not seem necessary. Psychologically, there is no necessary incompatibility between the Job of the prologue and the Job of the speeches. It must not be forgotten that months have elapsed between the original blow and the lamentations, vii.3 -- months in which the brooding mind of the sufferer has had time to pass from resignation to perplexity, and almost to despair. Again, the words of Job are not to be taken too seriously; they are, as he says himself, the words of a desperate man, vi.26, and the commendation in the epilogue may be taken to apply rather to his general attitude than to his particular utterances. Some kind of introduction there must undoubtedly have been; otherwise the speeches, and especially Job's repeated asseverations of his innocence, are unintelligible. The literary power and skill of the prologue is as great as that of the speeches: dramatically, the swift contrast between the happy family upon the earth and the council of gods in heaven, or the rapid succession of blows that rained upon Job the moment that Satan "went forth from the presence of Jehovah," is as effective as the psychological surprises in which the book abounds. The language is slightly in favour of a post-exilic date, and the conception of Satan appears to be somewhat in advance of Zechariah iii.1 (520 B.C.). On the whole it seems fair to conclude that the great poet who composed the speeches also wrote the prologue, though of course his material lay to hand in a popular, and not improbably written story.
With the prologue must go at least part of the epilogue, xlii.7-9; for the author's purpose is to characterize the two types of thought represented by the discussion and to vindicate Job. More doubt may attach to the concluding section, vv.10-17, which represents that vindication as taking the form of a material reward. A Western reader is surprised and disappointed: to him it seems that the author has "fallen from his high estate," and has failed to be convinced by his own magnificent argument. But, as we have already said, the real vindication of Job is the efficacy of his prayer, and the material reward is, in any case, not much more than a sort of poetic justice. It is indeed an outward and visible sign of the relation subsisting between Job and his God; but it is hard to believe that the genius who fought his way to such a solution as appears in xxxviii., xxxix., would himself have laid much stress upon it. Yet it is not inappropriate or irrelevant. Job's sufferings had their origin in Satan's denial of his integrity; and now that Satan has been convinced -- for Job clings in the deepest darkness to the God of his conscience -- it is only just that he should be restored to his former state.
It is not certain that ch. xxviii. with its fine description of wisdom, which is neither to be found in mine nor mart, is original to the book. It does not connect well either with the preceding or the following chapter. The serenity that breathes through ch. xxviii. would not naturally be followed by the renewed lamentations of xxix., and it would further be dramatically inappropriate for a man in agony to speak thus didactically. It is a sort of companion piece to Proverbs viii.; it is too abstract for its context, and lacks its almost fierce emotion.
Doubt also attaches to the sections descriptive of the hippopotamus and the crocodile, xl. l5-xli. The defence is that, as the earlier speeches of God, xxxviii. xxxix., were to convince Job of his ignorance, so these are to convince him of his impotence. But the descriptions, though fine in their way (cf. xli.22), do not stand on the same literary level as those of xxxviii., xxxix. These are brief and drawn to the life -- how vivid are the pictures of the war-horse and the wild ass! -- those of xl., xli. are diffuse and somewhat exaggerated. Of course Oriental standards of taste are not ours; still the difference can hardly be ignored. It is worthy of note, too, that the word leviathan in xli.1 is used in a totally different sense from iii 8, where it is the mythological (sea?) dragon. The author appears to have travelled widely and the book betrays a knowledge of Egypt (cf. pyramids, iii.14; papyrus, viii.11; reed ships, ix.26; phoenix, xxix.18), but it is not without significance that all his other animal pictures are drawn from the desert -- the lion (iv.), the wild ass, the war-horse. On the whole, it is hardly probable that these long descriptions, rather unnecessarily retarding, as they do, the crisis between Jehovah and Job for which the sympathetic reader is impatiently waiting, are original to the book.
Certain redistributions of the speeches seem to be necessary. Ch. xxvi. is conceived in a temper thoroughly unlike that of Job at this stage, while it closely resembles that of xxv. As ch. xxv. would be an unusually short speech, it is probable that xxv. and xxvi. should both be given to Bildad. That there is something wrong is plain from the fresh introduction to xxvii.1 (cf. xxix.1), a phenomenon which does not elsewhere occur and which, if xxvi. is Job's, should be unnecessary. Again in xxvii.7-23 Job turns completely round upon his own position and adopts that of the friends. It has been said that he "forgets himself sufficiently in ch. xxvii. to deliver a discourse which would have been suitable in the mouth of one of the friends." Surely such an explanation is as impossible as it is psychologically unnatural: in all probability vv.7-23 ought to be given to Zophar -- the more probably as xxvii.13 is very like xx.19, which is Zophar's. This would have the further advantage of accounting for the fresh introduction to xxix. (especially if we allow xxviii. to be a later addition).
Probably xxxi.38-40, which constitute, at least to an Occidental taste, an anticlimax in their present position, should be placed after v.32, and xl.3-5 (followed by xlii.2-6) after xl.6-14.
The date of the book of Job is not easy to determine. Ch. xii.17 shows a knowledge of the dethronement of kings and the exile of priests and nobles which compels a date at any rate later than the fall of the northern kingdom (721 B.C.) more probably also of the southern. The reference in Ezekiel, xiv.14, 20, to Job should not be pressed, as it involves only a knowledge of the man, not necessarily of any book, still less of our book. Nor can much be made of the parody of Psalm viii.4 in Job vii.17, as we have no means of fixing precisely the date of the psalm. Job's lament and curse in ch. iii. are strikingly similar to Jeremiah xx.14-18, and there can be little doubt that the priority lies on the side of the prophet. Jeremiah was in no mood for quotation, his words are brief and abrupt. The book of Job is a highly artistic poem, and it is much more probable that Job iii. is an elaboration of the passionate words of Jeremiah than that Jeremiah adapted in his sorrow the longer lament of Job. This circumstance would bring us down to a time, at the earliest, very near the exile.
At this point it has to be noted that the discussion of the moral problem in the book of Job is in advance of Jeremiah or Ezekiel. Against the explanation that the children's teeth are set on edge because their fathers have eaten sour grapes, Ezekiel has nothing to offer but a rather mechanical doctrine of strict retribution (ch. xviii.). The book of Job represents a further stage, when that doctrine was seen to be untenable; and the whole question is again boldly raised and still more boldly discussed. This would carry the date below Ezekiel. As the problem in Job is individual, and only indirectly, if at all, a national one -- "there was a man in the land of Uz" -- the book cannot be earlier than the exile.
But further, there is an unmistakable similarity between the temper of this book and that of the pious in the time of Malachi. "Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of Jehovah, and He delighteth in them. Where is the God of justice?" Malachi ii.17. We might fancy we heard the voice of Job; and almost more plainly in Malachi iii.14, "It is vain to serve God, and what profit is it that we have kept His ordinance?" Equally striking is the similarity between the dialectic temper in Job and Malachi. Everywhere in Malachi occur the phrases, "Ye have said, yet ye say," etc. Good men have not only raised the problem of the moral order, as Habakkuk and Jeremiah had done: they are formally discussing it -- exactly the phenomenon which we have in Job and do not have in pre-exilic times. If it be asked why, in that case, there is no trace of influence of Deutero-Isaiah's solution, the answer is that, in any case, that solution stands without serious influence on the subsequent development of religious thought in the Old Testament.
Again, the peculiar boldness of the discussion suggests a post-exilic date. Jeremiah is also very bold, xii.1, but it is a different type of audacity that expresses itself in the book of Job. Unlike Ecclesiastes in practically everything else, Job is like it in being a sustained and fearless challenge of the phenomena of the moral world. A post-exilic date, and perhaps not a very early one, would seem to be suggested by these phenomena. It is the product not only of an unhappy man, but of an unhappy time, when life is a warfare, vii.1, and good men are bitter in heart. This date is borne out by the angelology of the book, v.1, and by its easy use of mythology, iii.8, xxvi.5 -- a mythology which is felt to be completely innocuous, because monotheism is secure beyond the possibility of challenge. It is practically certain that the book falls before Chronicles (circa 300 B.C.) as in 1 Chronicles xxi.1, Satan is a proper name, whereas in Job the word is still an appellative -- he is "the Satan.". Where the evidence is so slender certainty is impossible; but there is a probability that the book may be safely placed somewhere between 450 and 350 B.C. One could conceive it to be, in one sense, a protest against the legalistic conception of religion encouraged by the work of Ezra, and this would admirably fit the date assigned.