Job

Job

Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom & Psalms

Job

By

Tremper Longman III

Volume 18: Job

I. The Prologue: The Suffering and Patience of Job (1:1–2:13)

I. The Prologue: The Suffering and Patience of Job (1:1–2:13)

Translation

Translation

1:1 There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was innocent and virtuous, fearing God and turning away from evil. 2And seven sons and three daughters were born to him. 3His property included seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred pair of cattle, and five hundred donkeys. He had an extremely large workforce. He was a great man among all the people of the East.

4His sons went and prepared a banquet on their birthday,Literally “on his day” (yômô), likely indicating the day of each son’s birth. If it does mean simply “their day,” it could indicate that they had a party each day of the week, one for each of the seven sons. and they sent invitationsA hendiadys, lit. “they sent and invited” (šālĕḥû wĕqārĕʾû). to their three sisters to eat and to drink with them. 5After days of feasting had passed,The verb’s root is nqp, and it is Hiphil. The meaning of the root is “to go around,” in this case referring to the “going around” or “passing” of time. Job would send and consecrate them. Rising early in the morning, he offered a whole burnt offering for each of them, for Job thought: “Perhaps my children sinned and cursedThus I translate the euphemistic (or antiphrastic—here the nonliteral use of the word would be for ironic effect) use of the verb brk, which means “bless.” Other examples of this use of brk for “curse” may be found in Job 1:11; 2:5, 9; 1 Kings 21:10, 13; Ps. 10:3. This use of brk is a way of distancing the common word for “curse” (perhaps qll) from “God.” God in their hearts.” Thus did Job regularly behave.

6One day the sons of God came to stand before Yahweh, and the accuser was also in their midst. 7And Yahweh said to the accuser: “Where have you come from?” And the accuser answered Yahweh and said: “From roaming the earth and patrolling it.” 8And Yahweh said to the accuser, “Have you consideredLiterally “have you set your heart on” (hăśamtā libbĕkā ʿal). my servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, an innocent and virtuous man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” 9And the accuser answered Yahweh and said: “Is it for no good reason that Job fears God? 10Don’t you place a hedge around him, his household, and all that belongs to him? You bless all the work of his hands. His livestock burst forth on the earth. 11However, send forth your hand and afflict all that belongs to him and see if he doesn’t curse you to your face.” 12And Yahweh said to the accuser, “All that he has is in your hand, only don’t send your hand against him.” And the accuser went out from before Yahweh.

13And the day came when his sons and his daughters were eating and drinking wine in the house of their brother, the firstborn. 14And a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, 15and Sabeans fell (on them) and took them, and they struck the servants with the sword. Only I alone escaped to tell you.”

16While this person was still speaking, another came and said, “A great fireOr “a fire of God.” Sometimes “G/god” (ʾĕlōhîm) is used as a superlative. fell from heaven and burned among the flocks and the servants, and they were consumed. Only I alone escaped to tell you.”

17While this person was still speaking, another came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three bands of raiding parties and attacked your camels and took them away, and they struck the servants with the sword. Only I alone escaped to tell you.”

18While this person was still speaking, another came and said, “Your sons and your daughters were eating and drinking wine in the house of their brother, the firstborn. 19A mighty wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house. It fell on the young ones, and they died. Only I alone escaped to tell you.”

20Job rose up and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell to the ground and worshiped, 21saying,

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,

and naked I will return there.

22Yahweh gave and Yahweh took,

blessed be the name of Yahweh.”

23In all of this, Job did not sin, and he did not ascribe wrongdoing to God.

2:1 One day the sons of God came to stand before Yahweh, and the accuser was also in their midstSpelled bĕtôkām in 1:6 and bĕtōkām in 2:1. to stand before Yahweh.“To stand before Yahweh” (lĕhityaṣṣēb ʿal-yhwh) is not found in 1:6. 2And Yahweh said to the accuser, “WhereMēʾayin in 1:7; ʾêy mizzeh in 2:2. have you come from?” And the accuser answered Yahweh and said, “From roaming the earth and patrolling it.” 3And Yahweh said to the accuser, “Have you consideredCompare the idiom in 1:8, but here the preposition is ʾel, not ʿal. my servant Job? For there is no one like him on earth, an innocent and virtuous man, fearing God and turning away from evil. He still maintains his innocence, though you enticed me to injure him for no good reason. 4And the accuser answered Yahweh and said, “Skin for skin. People will give all they have for their life. 5However, send forth your hand and afflict his bones and his flesh and see if he doesn’t curseSee the footnote on this term in 1:5. you to your face.” 6And Yahweh said to the accuser, “He is in your control. Only preserve his life.”

7And the accuser went out from the presence of Yahweh, and he struck Job with horrible boils from the soles of his feet up to his head. 8He took for himself a shard of pottery to scrape himself, and he sat in the midst of the dust.

9And his wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your innocence? Curse God and die.” 10But he said to her, “You are speaking like one of the foolish women. Should we receive good from God and not receive evil?” In all this, Job did not sin with his lips.

11The three friends of Job heard of all this trouble that came to him, and they each went from his place: Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite. They consulted together to go to mourn with him and console him. 12They lifted their eyes from afar, and they did not recognize him. Then they lifted their voices and wept, and each one tore his robe, and they sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. 13They sat with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights, not uttering a word, for they saw that his pain was exceedingly great.

Interpretation

Interpretation

The book of Job opens with a prologue written in prose. The end of Job is also written in prose, while the vast middle is poetic, which creates a literary envelope that provides a strong sense of opening and closure to the story. This literary feature has also given rise to speculation about the history of composition of the book, since the prologue and epilogue together provide a kind of simple folktale (see “Authorship and Date” in the introduction).

In the final form of the canonical book, the function of the prologue is to introduce the main characters and the plot complication that provides the background for the extensive discussion and debate that follow in the poetic middle.

The first person the narrator introduces to readers is the central character, Job. The purpose of his introduction is to establish beyond all doubt that Job is innocent. The narrator says it outright (1:1), and he has God say it (1:8; 2:3). Even the accuser (Hebrew haśśāṭān, “the satan”) does not doubt it. What the latter questions is Job’s motivation. Does he obey God only to be rewarded, or is his piety disinterested?

Some scholars believe that here the accuser turns the heavenly court into a legal one as he takes the role of prosecuting attorney.For the most recent and extensive treatment, see Magdalene, On the Scales of Righteousness. Job is the defendant who is accused of a mercenary faith. However, there are deficiencies with this view of the scene (see “Legal Metaphors: Is the Book of Job the Account of a Trial?” in the introduction). There is an absence of legal language here, and it is better to understand the relationship between God and the accuser as that of king and one of his spies giving a report. God initiates the discussion about Job, leading the accuser to issue his challenge.

The accuser talks God into two rounds of tests, and at the end of the chapter Job stands firm. Indeed, the end of the second phase announces, “In all this, Job did not sin with his lips” (2:10b). However, it may be wrong to think of the testing as completed and passed at this moment. God does not step in immediately to reward his faithful servant and rectify his situation. On the contrary, Job continues to sit on the ash heap for seven days in the company of three new characters, his friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. Indeed, the story is just beginning at this point.

1There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was innocent and virtuous, fearing God and turning away from evil. 2And seven sons and three daughters were born to him. 3His property included seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred pair of cattle, and five hundred donkeys. He had an extremely large workforce. He was a great man among all the people of the East.

1:1–3. The introduction of Job, part 1: His character and wealth. The very first words of the book introduce the main human character, a man named Job. Clines points out that the specific manner by which Job is introduced (“there was a man …”) is only paralleled in parables (2 Sam. 12:1) and fables (2 Kings 14:9) in the Bible. He also indicates that this does not decide the issue of whether Job was a real person; rather, it is a way of showing that he is not a part of the mainstream of Israel’s redemptive-historical story.Clines, Job 1–20, 9.

Job is first of all identified as living in the land of Uz. While we are not certain exactly where Uz is located, we do know it is outside the land of Israel. Good reasons exist to think Uz is a city in the area known later as Edom: Lam. 4:21 uses it in parallel with Edom, and a man whose name is Uz is found in a genealogy of Edom (Gen. 36:28; 1 Chron. 1:42). Job may be a descendant of Abraham, since “Job” can be construed as a Hebrew name (see below). However, though possible, it is more likely that Job is a non-Hebrew who worships the true God (similar to Melchizedek and Jethro). That some of Job’s friends have names associated with the Edomite genealogy (see below) further supports the idea that Job himself is connected with the land of Edom.Perhaps Alter (Wisdom Books, 11) is correct to think that the poet chose Uz (ʿûṣ) because of its connection with the Hebrew root yʿṣ, “to advise, counsel.” This conclusion stands in spite of the fact that two texts (Gen. 10:23; 1 Chron. 1:17) associate the name Uz with Aram and thus perhaps point to northern Mesopotamia.

The name “Job” (ʾîyôb) is of uncertain meaning. It has been interpreted to mean “Where is my father?” If so, “father” likely indicates God. On the other hand, it has also been connected to a Hebrew verb that means “to hate” or “to be an enemy.”See T. F. Williams, NIDOTTE 1:365–71. This verb provides the base for the noun “enemy” (ʾōyēb) and, if the association is correct, may be explained by the fact that for a period Job becomes an enemy of God.This is the view supported by Weiss (Story of Job’s Beginning, 20), who points out that Job 13:24 uses the verb ʾyb as Job charges God with considering him an enemy.

After giving the main character’s name and telling the reader where he lived, the narrator proceeds to the more important task of describing his character. He was “innocent” (tām) and “virtuous” (yāšār), fearing God and turning away from evil. Significantly, this language has close affinities with the description of the wise in the book of Proverbs (“innocent”: Prov. 2:7, 21; 11:3, 20; 13:6; 19:1; 20:7; 28:6, 10, 18; 29:10; “virtuous”: 1:3; 2:7, 21; 8:6, 9; 11:3, 6; 12:6; 14:11; 15:8; 16:13; 20:11; 21:2, 8; 23:16; 29:10). In Proverbs these terms refer to people who do what is morally correct. They are the ones who heed the commands of the father and gain wisdom. Their lives are largely marked by ethical rightness and legal obedience.

The preamble to the book of Proverbs states that the “fear of Yahweh” is the beginning of knowledge (see also especially 9:10, but also 1:29; 2:5; 3:7; 8:13; 10:27; 14:2, 26, 27; 15:16, 33; 16:6; 19:23; 22:4; 23:17; 24:21; 28:14; 29:25; 31:30). In 1:7 as well as elsewhere, the fear of God is coupled with turning from evil (most pointedly, 3:7). Here “fear” does not mean horror, the type of emotion that makes a person run away. However, the common idea that here “fear” is close to the English “respect” is not correct. Closer is the idea of awe. Those who fear Yahweh know their proper place in creation. They are not the center of creation; God is much greater. The person who fears God thus is willing to listen to God and to obey God; in this way it is the beginning of wisdom/knowledge.

Thus Job is immediately characterized as the epitome of the wise as described by the book of Proverbs. God himself will affirm this characterization in Job 1:8. The reader is left in no doubt concerning Job’s character. He is one of the godly wise.

Verse 2 now describes Job’s family. He has seven sons and three daughters. No wife is mentioned, but of course she is implied by the birth of the children. We know that Job had a wife because she (in)famously speaks to him in 2:9. The children are described in a way that shows he has a large and, for an ancient Near Eastern context, well-balanced family. Ten children constitute a goodsized family, and that there are more boys than girls also would be considered a blessing. Indeed, that there are seven sons is especially significant because seven is the number of completeness.It “indicates the ideal family” (Cornelius, “Job,” 249). Indeed, the ideal of having seven sons is behind 1 Sam. 2:5 as well as Ruth 4:15. His quiver is indeed full (Pss. 127; 128).

In short, the description of his family indicates that he is living the good life, and this theme is continued in v. 3, which enumerates his wealth. That his wealth is described in terms of number of animals, rather than land or precious metals, does point to an early, patriarchal setting. A large workforce supported him. This may point to slaveholdings, but not necessarily. The summative statement that he was a great man among the people of the East could be surmised from the description. That he is compared to those in the East adds even more support to the idea that he was from a place like Edom, which was east of the promised land, though as Clines points out it could also refer to the more northern region where the Arameans dwelt (Gen. 29:1), and even Solomon could be called one of the “sons of the East” (1 Kings 4:30).Clines, Job 1–20, 15. Weiss has suggested that Job’s description as a “great man” should be taken in regard to his wisdom rather than his wealth, though it is his wealth that has just been described.Weiss, Story, 27.

That such a godly man was so prosperous would not be surprising. After all, Proverbs as well as the very structure of the covenant (as shown by the book of Deuteronomy) would lead one to expect that such a man would be rewarded in this way (see “Suffering: Job and Retribution Theology” in the introduction).