The Bible is a library of many passages, written by authors from the ancient times dealing with different topics like creation, faith, suffering, glory. These and many more are scribbled all through out the texts and are divided into clusters called the books. The authors of these books came from different times and places. There are even views that additional chapters are added after the original book has been finished.
Having said these, one cannot be sure of the exact origin of the stories, nor the message conveyed with in them. One of these books tackled on the idea of just punishment, a very simple one yet with a lot of twists. It was a part of the bible that was read, reread, and tested from time to time. Scholars tried to translate the many double meanings found in the book, as well as come up with their own ideas regarding it.
The Book of Job tells the story of a man, Job, who had everything that he could possibly dream of. He has a nice family, good health, material possessions, and a peaceful life; all of which he thanked God for. This was noticed by the devil, who in turn made a wager with God – saying that Job only praises God because he has everything he would ever need, and that in times of misfortune he would definitely curse God. God agreed, and allowed Job to lose his possessions, his sons and daughters killed, his skin covered with boils, and his life completely ruined, provided that Job would not be dead.
After these tragedies, the book focused next on the debates Job had with his three friends – Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. These debates marked the first of several conversations found in the book. The speeches were designed in such a way that Job answered each one of them and tried to defend himself. In the end, God himself talked to Job, taking part in another speech portion which led to God’s answers. The story ended with God giving back Job his lost health and wealth. God also ordered Job’s friends, who misinterpreted Job’s misfortunes, to ask him to pray for them.
The Book of Job is a very controversial part of the Bible, since it deconstructs the logical belief on punishment – that a just punishment is given to those who have sinned and the level of the punishment depends on how grave the committed sin is. But for punishment to be rendered to someone like Job who in his whole life praised and worshipped God for all the goodness He has given him and the prosperity he has acquired, surely, we may say that there is injustice.
That is why there are many assumptions on why God allowed these to happen to Job. It may be to prove to the devil that Job is really God’s man, or to show that God is really all powerful and all righteous, or it may also be for the atonement of the sins that Job’s sons had committed. These are wild guesses and can’t be really answered without reading and understanding the book as a whole.
In the story, God responded to Job’s questions by a series of statements that could mean many things. His replies are intellectual, and may be interpreted in many ways and may take many points of view. In fact, the story itself may be seen in many ways. It all depends on who reads the text and how the said text is understood. The last chapters of the book define many things and answer a lot of questions that is reflected all throughout the book as well. To narrow it down, God’s reply can be found in chapters 38 to 41. The first verses from the said chapters may be analyzed in two ways.
At a first glance, one can see God’s answers to Job’s questions as proof of His omnipotence and self righteousness. And the questions such as ‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?’ (Job 38:4), ‘Have you seen the gates of death?’ (Job 38:17) and ‘Who provided food for the young?’ (Job 38:41) that seem to have God as the only answer thus proves His confirmation of His omnipotence and self righteousness more. They can be interpreted as God’s way of proving to Job that though the reasons behind His actions may be uncertain to us humans, He, in contrast, as an almighty being is certain of them.
Another possible explanation would be that of God’s attempt in providing proof that ideas such as that of providence and purpose exist; purpose defined as being the reason given to everything that happens within the realm of God and providence as His way for intervention with everyday human life. And so, these assumptions suggest that there indeed is a purpose behind Job’s suffering.
This “purpose” is also evident in evil which can be seen in God’s second speech to Job. God portrayed evil in the form of two fearsome beasts – the behemoth and the leviathan. The behemoth was described as having “bones of brass and gristles of iron” (Job 40:18). And that it could be found in the mountains eating “ox as if they were grass” (Job 40:15).
On the other hand, the leviathan was depicted as a beast that lives by the river and that it has skin so hard it would be questionable to “pierce it with barbed irons and fish spears” (Job 40:31). The Bible had even more descriptions of this leviathan scattered in the Book of Isaiah, all pertaining to the beast as a possible manifestation of evil itself. Having said these, God made a point to Job that humans are indeed no match to these beasts and that nothing could bring them down except God Himself.
In doing so, He admitted to have created these evils and He alone has the power to banish them (Job 40:19). Therefore, God concluded in His second speech that the purpose of evil in this case, Job’s suffering, will be explained at the end of the world as He smites the beasts.
God, in His conclusion, only gave a hint of His side of the argument without actually producing a clear answer to Jobs many questions about his misfortunes. In this lack of explanation, a chance opened up for Job to question and criticize God. But instead, he still chose not to condemn God but to worship Him even further. It seems that despite everything, he understood the existence of the hidden purpose in evil. He also came to realize that had judged God prematurely and without faith.
By analyzing God’s response to Job, we can draw a number of conclusions as to what He wishes us to understand. One is the purpose in evil, which was discussed in the previous paragraphs. Another is the presumptuousness of mankind. God may want to show that humans think that they know all. But by asking questions such as ‘Do you observe the calving of deer? Can you hunt the prey for the lions?’ (Job 39:1), He can easily mock this said high intelligence of humans probably hoping that instances as such may instill humility. Also, in the debate between Job and his friends, we can see another pitfall in human perspective, which is the hasty judgment of suffering as the end result of wrongdoing. It was stated in the book that his friends even asked Job to repent for sins that he didn’t commit.
This is because we tend to see a misfortune merely as a retribution for offense. In line with this thinking, we automatically assume that there is a need for repentance, and that it is the only way to redeem ourselves and be given back what we lost through misconduct. The next conclusion is the mentioned existence of the end of time where unanswerable questions will be answered. It is also in this said time that God will put an end to the evil He has created. Finally, the statements made by God reveals a kind of test for us humanity – Will we condemn God so that we can justify ourselves?
The Book of Job may seem controversial, but God in the end provided some sort of answers which to some may be incomplete. The way to view this book may differ from time to time, from reader to reader and from place to place. We really can’t put our finger on what the final message is but I believe that the conclusions drawn above are enough for now. Summarizing the whole paper, we humans seem to have a certain fear against punishment, and quickly tie it with some sin or some failures. The Book of Job awakens us that the reasons for punishment come in different forms, and as long as we are certain of our faith, we must not judge and condemn anyone, for that matter, prematurely.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible
“Book of Job” Chapters 1-31; 38-42