A More Christlike JOB (the book) – Part 1 – The Literal Sense of Job – Brad Jersak
I think I had a revelation reading the Book of Job this week. I wondered why the book bothers with so many conversations that are just wrong anyway and why God needed to correct Job. But what if Job is prophetic? For example, chapters 14-16 are nearly a direct match for the suffering of Jesus. Is Job actually a messianic prophecy?
I believe you are on to something, but as with any Christian reading of the Old Testament with the illumination of the Holy Spirit, there are layers of meaning to be considered. Among these, I would include (1) a literal sense that asks, “What does the author mean to convey to his readers?” (2) a moral sense that asks, “How does Job inform my life as a growing disciple of Jesus Christ?” and (3) the gospel sense that asks, “How does Job prefigure the life and ministry of Jesus?”
Literal Sense (not literalist)
The Literal Sense does not mean that we need to read the book as the actual history of a man who once lived in Uz. The book may have been inspired by a tragic figure who lived long ago, BUT when we speak of the literal sense, we recognize the genre in which it was written and the more-than-literal truth the author wants his readers to hear. For example, we should notice that Job is written as a poem and as a play, with distinct acts, strong characters, and a poetic flare (English readers can see that by the layout). It also includes a prologue and two epilogues, borrows some mythological creatures from pagan astrology (Leviathan and Behemoth), and a unique version of Satan not found elsewhere.
Inside the fascinating style points of Job, the author offers an overarching message about the problem of suffering. He wants to say that we should not assume that tragedy, sickness, and suffering are punishments sent by God that we can blame on the victim. In fact, to suggest that puts you into the role of the accuser (“the satan”) rather than the advocate (who you see in Job 33:23-26). He also wants to show us that the path to redemption is not found in justifying ourselves but in humility before God, even when the answers aren’t coming.
We could say much more here, but there is an additional literal layer to ponder. While the story world of Job may reflect ancient oral tradition, even predating the Law, Jewish scholars such as Robert Alter suggest that the book shows hints it was written much later, deliberately using archaic language, as if I were to write this post in King James English. If so, then when was it written and why?
A Parable of God’s People in Exile?
Some Bible scholars, conservative and liberal, believe that Job may represent God’s people, in a kind of parable, suffering in exile after the tragedy of Jerusalem’s destruction. If so, the book addresses the remnant (perhaps like ‘the suffering servant’ of Isaiah?) who grieve ‘by the rivers of Babylon’ (Psalm 137) despite their personal faithfulness to God. For example, those accusers who apply the prophetic sanctions from Deuteronomy 28 are like Job’s foolish friends, who fail to see that the affliction this remnant faces exceeds any warrant. To blame them or cast God as their divine Punisher requires pushback. It’s a theory I would be open to, and you can see how the redemptive ending could be heard as a promise of restoration to their homeland.
Stay tuned for Part 2 (The Moral Sense of Job) and Part 3 (The Gospel Sense of Job)
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