1. Job is an ancient book about a gentile patriarch.
The book of Job is placed in the canon of the Old Testament between Esther and Psalms. This placement sometimes leads to wrong conclusions about who Job was and when he lived.
First, most scholars agree that Job was not an Israelite. This conclusion stems from the fact that he lived in the land of Uz rather than the land of Canaan (Job 1:1). It is likely that Job lived in the land of Edom, as Lamentations associates Edom with Uz (Lam. 4:21). While Job was not an Israelite, it is unequivocal that he worshiped and served the God of Israel. Job’s living outside of Israel may be suggestive of the fact that the wisdom of the book of Job, much like Proverbs, is universal in nature, speaking to issues (such as suffering) with which all humans struggle.
A second misconception concerns the timeline of the events of Job, which do not coincide with the timing of the events of the book of Esther (486–485 BC). Rather, the events are more aligned with the timeframe of Abraham and the patriarchal period (approximately 2100–1800 BC). In fact, many scholars believe that Job predates the Abrahamic covenant. There are several factors that support the argument that Job lived during the patriarchal period. First, the divine names used for God in Job are similar to those used in the books dating from the patriarchal period. Second, the description of Job’s wealth (i.e., the number of cattle, bondservants, precious metals) are also consistent with the patriarchal period. Third, Job’s lifespan of 140 years (Job 42:16) corresponds to the lifespans of the patriarchs. Fourth, and most convincingly, Job acts in a priestly role for his family, suggesting that the Levitical priesthood had not yet been established (Job 1:5).
2. The book of Job teaches us that God allows righteous people to suffer according to His wise purposes.
Often, people think that the book of Job explains the mystery of human suffering; it does not. It does, however, explain to us why Job suffered (though the reason was never made known to Job himself). Job suffered because Satan contended that the only reason that Job worshiped God was because God had blessed Job. Should God remove these blessings, Satan predicted that Job would curse God’s name (Job 1:9–11). God, in His absolute sovereignty, allows Satan to test his hypothesis, and Satan is proved wrong, vindicating both God and Job. God is vindicated as being worthy of worship simply for who He is, and Job is vindicated as a man of integrity.
But the lessons of the story of Job should not be limited to just one ancient man living in the land of Uz. This account of the mysterious relationship between God’s sovereignty, human suffering, and personal righteousness speaks to larger universal issues related to the human condition and offers a corrective to bad theology. The story of Job does this by establishing the principle that suffering is not always tied to sinfulness. Job teaches us that righteous people will also suffer in a fallen world. As Job 1:1 reveals to us, Job was an upright, blameless, and righteous man. Yet, as the rest of the book reveals to us, he suffered greatly.
By setting before us the example of a righteous person who suffers, the book of Job provides us with a helpful corrective to what is sometimes referred to as “retribution theology.” Retribution theology maintains that people suffer in response to their unrighteous actions and are rewarded for their righteous actions. Job’s friends embraced this errant theology, and we modern believers can be tempted to do the same. Thankfully, the book of Job uncovers the falsehood in such thinking by reminding us that God allows righteous people to suffer for His good and wise purposes, even when the details of those purposes are often not revealed to those who endure such suffering.
3. Job prefigures the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.
One way that the book of Job points us to the work of Jesus Christ is through Job’s desire for someone to mediate between himself and God. As the story unfolds, Job begins to question God and, at one point, becomes exasperated, crying out for a mediator to represent him before God (Job 9:32–35). Of course, the New Testament reveals to us that God provided such a mediator in Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:5–6).
But the primary way the book of Job prefigures the redemptive work of Christ is by teaching us that a righteous man may encounter great suffering to accomplish God’s wise purposes. As we have seen, the righteous Job was allowed to suffer in order to vindicate both God and Job. Of course, Jesus, who was perfectly righteous in every way, was allowed to suffer the wrath of God to accomplish the wise purposes of God’s redemptive plan and secure the salvation of His people. The story of Job foreshadows the story of the cross, and it is in the story of the cross that we find the true meaning and significance of suffering.
This article is part of the Every Book of the Bible: 3 Things to Know collection.