The Word Made Fresh
1There was once a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was a good man without blame who feared God and resisted evil. 2He had seven sons and three daughters. 3He owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred pairs of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and many, many servants. He was the wealthiest man among the people of the east.
4His sons used to gather for parties in one another’s houses, each taking his turn. They would also invite their three sisters to join them. 5When their parties ended Job would send a message blessing them, and the next morning he would offer burnt offerings for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and dishonored God without being aware of it.” He did this for them after every such gathering.
6One day the angels gathered before God. The Satan also came with them. 7The LORD said to the Satan, “Where have you been?”
The Satan answered, “I have been walking back and forth on the earth.”
8The LORD said, “Have you seen my servant Job? There is not another like him on the earth, virtuous and blameless, who fears God and shuns every evil.”
9The Satan answered, “And why is this Job such a good man? 10Have you protected him and his household and his belongings from every harm? Haven’t you blessed his work and increased his wealth? 11But reach out now and claim everything he has, and the man will curse you to your face.”
12“Alright,” said the LORD. “He’s all yours to do with as you please; just don’t kill him.”
Then Satan left the LORD’s presence.
13Some time after that, on a day when his sons and daughters were having a party at the eldest son’s house, 14a messenger came to Job and told him, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing beside them,15when Sabean raiders attacked and killed the servants and took all the animals. I am the only one who survived to tell you.” 16Before he had finished, another messenger came and said, “Fire from God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants. I am the only one who survived to tell you.” 17Before he had finished, another messenger came and told him, “Three groups of Chaldean raiders came and carried off all the camels and killed the servants. I am the only one who survived to tell you.”
18While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were dining together in their older brother’s house, 19and a terrible storm blew in from the desert. It collapsed the walls of the house and the house fell on them, and they are all dead. I alone have survived to tell you.”
20Job stood up and tore his robe. He shaved his head and fell face down on the ground worshiping God. He said, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I shall go naked to my grave. The LORD has given, and the LORD has taken. I honor the name of the LORD.”
Through all these things Job never sinned, and never accused God of any wrongdoing.
Almost all of Job is written in Hebrew poetic style, which cannot be replicated in English; there is no meter and no rhyme. Even so, most English translations strive to render it verse to verse as a poem. Some contemporary versions (The Word Made Fresh, for example) simply present it in prose, which makes the twists and turns in Job’s and his friends’ arguments more easily followed.
1-5: The setting of the story of Job is impossible to ascertain because it contains none of the usual references to rulers or to known events of history. The location is just as obscure. Uz is completely unknown elsewhere in the Bible or in other ancient literature, and the only place reference, that it is in “the east” (verse 3), is not helpful except that it probably is meant to indicate that the tale takes place outside of Israel proper. We are introduced to Job (not a typical Israelite name), a Noah-like character who is “upright and blameless.” He is a wealthy man with 10 children, thousands of animals, and a mass of servants. His children are grown, and we are given a happy family photograph with all ten of them gathering regularly for a big party, rotating between houses. Job is so religiously conscientious that he offers sacrifices following each party to atone for any sin they might have carelessly committed.
6: The story moves from the earthly to the divine plane and we find ourselves in the courts of heaven where God is conferencing with the other divine beings (literally “the sons of God”) who have come to report their activities. We meet the Satan (I agree with the many scholars who insist that the word indicates primarily a function in the heavenly court, not the personal name of a distinct individual being). We first met the Satan in 1 Chronicles 21:1, where it was said that the “Satan rose up against Israel and persuaded David to count the Israelites.” So, we understand the Satan to be one who not only accuses but also tempts. Nowadays we call that “entrapment.” It may surprise you to learn that the Satan is mentioned only 14 times in the entire Old Testament, and 11 of these are in the first 2 chapters of Job (the others are 1 Chronicles 21:1, Zechariah 3:1 and 3:2).
7-12: God engages the Satan in dialogue, and the two of them square off against each other over Job. It seems to be the Satan’s job to disagree with God and to challenge God’s assessment of particular individuals. God sees Job as an entirely righteous and faithful man. The Satan sees Job’s faithfulness as a function of his good fortune. God has blessed him with great wealth, he says, so of course Job is righteous. Take away his wealth, challenges the Satan, and see just how righteous Job really is. Again, we see the Satan’s function as not just accuser but tempter as well. God agrees to allow the Satan to take away Job’s wealth and see what happens. In other words, God agrees that trials and temptations can sometimes be helpful in determining a person’s true character. We saw this, for example, when God tested Abraham by telling him to sacrifice Isaac. This attribute of God is most disturbing to me, but I confess that I find in it a troubling measure of truth.
13-19: In a series of calamities Job loses everything. All his servants are killed, and all his animals are destroyed by wildfire or stolen by raiders. Then the worst news arrives; all his children are killed when his oldest son’s house collapses on them in a storm. This last is unexpected, for modern readers do not think of children as wealth, but that was a common way of thinking in ancient Near-Eastern cultures.
20-22: Job grieves but absorbs the blows with stoic faithfulness. It all belonged to God in the first place, he reasons, and God is entitled to take it away. There are many memorable nuggets of wisdom in the book of Job, and we find one of them in these verses: “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I shall go naked to my grave. The LORD has given, and the LORD has taken. I honor the name of the LORD.”
The book of Job, in terms of development and structure, is considered by many to be the most complicated of all the books of the Old Testament, rivaled only by the book of Revelation in the New. Chapters 1 – 2 and the last 11 verses of the book provide a framework, although a sketchy one, in which to contain the complicated and sophisticated philosophical and theological arguments within. Commentators have also been prone to simplify the nature of the book and the character of Job, emphasizing the “patience of Job,” for example. Such a characterization is an unfortunate scraping of the surface, for the book of Job is a deepening maze of human attempts to understand the nature of God, the nature of humanity, suffering, and life itself. Still, the very struggle to understand helps us come to grips with some of life’s most persistent and crucial questions.