Within the Biblical context, Job’s exemplary perseverance is legend. But that does not do justice to the process and the perspectives weaved into the untidy narrative by different characters and entities, providing us a rich and stranger than life background on how earthly-minded participants attempt to discern and interpret the mind and will of Yahweh as a result of Job’s afflictions. Is the Book really about sin and suffering? Does it explain steadfastness? Or is it about God?
The introduction immediately clarifies that the basis of Job’s foundational faithfulness to God became the focus of Satan’s attention. This Adversary is no mere fool in his perceptive reading of human motivation, and he is also aware how God buffers those who belong to Him. Satan’s principal claim was that a faith that remains untested is no faith at all; and when God withdraws His protection, Job would actually curse Him (Job 1:9-11; 2:4-5). The essential question that Satan poses, applies to us all.
Instantly, after lifting His protection, Job’s fortune in every aspect, took a fatal dive (Job 1:13-19). His initial faith held firm, as he retorted against his wife’s angry reactions, willingly accepting blessings and misfortunes as coming from the same God. But towards the end of the first week, with his physical wellbeing strikingly deteriorating, Job cursed the day he was born (Job 1:22; 2:9-10,13; 3:1). As he attempts to fathom the possible errors of his ways, his humanity reveals his insecurity and hopelessness, his frustrations and misery: from seeking a basis to interrogate Almighty God, to concluding that he is innocent and is therefore being victimized (Job 9:2-35; 13:3-28; 27:2-6). But like all of us, we eventually realize the thresholds of our own rectitude before God (Job 40:2-5), as he humbly accepted God’s grace that brought him through the test; God’s trial.
Although Job’s three friends endeavour to address various angles of his predicament, he calls them ‘sorry comforters’ (Job 16:2). Eliphaz the Temanite was the first to speak, upbraiding Job that he is being judged because he did not fear God sufficiently, as he declared himself righteous. And since we are incapable of being righteous, the only way to satisfy God is to absolutely fear Him and accept His judgment humbly, since He knows what He is doing (Job 4:1- 5:27). Bildad the Shuhite, on the other hand, focuses on the fact that Job’s loss of all his tangible wealth indicated that God was judging his lifestyle, and he needs to repent and to know his place in God’s economy for him (Job 6:3-22; 18:5-21). Zophar the Naamathite implies that God’s judgments are unfathomable and it is impossible for anyone to know Him, especially when He does not communicate with Job; perhaps his punishment should have been heavier, who knows! (Job 11:1-20). These not totally unreasonable entrenched perceptions of God’s judgments over apparent sin seem innocuous, but they are after all opinions of ‘the blind leading the blind.’
Elihu the Buzite, the youngest of Job’s friends, seems out of line when he rebukes Job, his senior, for thinking himself righteous before God, and his three friends for providing unhelpful answers, and yet, ever so willing to condemn their friend (Job 35:2-16). Elihu is not entirely incorrect to claim that God being God has free reign to fiddle with the destiny of man, but that in itself does not explain Job’s predicament (Job 36:5). At the end of these dialogues, Elihu alone remains above God’s judgment.
Yahweh finally joins the conversation. He talks about His sovereignty and power, debunking all their simplistic worldviews and hollow earthy assumptions by rhetorically addressing Job directly (Job 38-39; 40:15-24; 41). Yes, God is righteous and awesome, unknowable and just, but He is much more than they had made Him out to be (Job 42:7). He chides Job for claiming that he ought to be vindicated, as he is not completely cognizant of the reasons for his own suffering; and even though his misfortunes are not directly attributable to his sins, his self-righteous assertion borders on sin itself (Job 40:2-14; 42:2-6). Ultimately, this Book emphasizes the certainty that the all-knowing Yahweh’s mysterious ways is well beyond our grasp, as in this existence, the truth to life’s profound perplexities is never that clear-cut.