The book of Job is a catechism on the theology of the cross. Throughout the centuries countless believers, bruised by the rod of suffering, have embarked on a pilgrimage into the heart of this ancient story to inquire, “Why do the innocent suffer?” Many have retreated from the answers sadly disappointed, others passionately frustrated, and still others-like Job-faithfully content. Perhaps the reason some find the answers inadequate is because they have failed to ponder a far weightier question, “How is God known by man?” Truly, that question lurks behind every syllable of this holy book. And it is that question which jerks the head of the sufferer upward, and rivets our eyes on the cross of Jesus Christ. For only there is the divine understanding of suffering revealed.
The Life and Times of Job
The prologue of Job introduces the reader to a patriarchal hero who is exemplary in piety, blessed with affluence, paternally productive (seven sons, three daughters), and the scrupulous household priest of his close-knit family (1:1-5). All is well in the life and times of Job. Then one day the satanic serpent slithers into the throne-room of Yahweh and argues that Job walks in the path of righteousness only because of his material blessings. Satan challenges God, “But put forth thy hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse thee to thy face” (1:11). Soon thereafter, through a blitzkrieg of natural and supernatural disasters, Job loses livestock, servants, and all ten of his children. Unmoved, however, from his firm stance of faith, Job confesses, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21).
The devil reappears before God and this time argues, “Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. However, put forth thy hand, now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will curse thee to thy face” (2:4-5). With divine approval Satan then “smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” (2:7). At this, even Job’s wife mutters, “Curse God and die!” Nevertheless, Job persists in his integrity.
With the advent, however, of Job’s three friends-Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar-and a seven-day, seven- night vigil of silent suffering, the tenor of the account changes. What follows in the main body of the book (chaps. 3-37) are three cycles of ever intensifying debate-like speeches between Job and his unholy trinity of accusatory friends. Job vigorously defends his innocence in the face of their legalistic claims that he must have sown vast seeds of iniquity to be reaping such ghastly fruits. Finally, when the friends have blunted their arguments against the iron wall of Job’s defense, a spectator named Elihu enters the fray. He first chides Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar for their poor arguments and then proceeds to offer his views. Although sharpening the previous arguments, Elihu too falls short in his endeavor to probe into the mystery of suffering.
Finally, wisdom speaks. Hiding and revealing himself within whirlwind and storm, Yahweh puts Job on the stand in the celestial courtroom, twice interrogating him (chaps. 38-39, 40-41). The divine questions are exquisitely crafted to evoke humility, awe, fear, faith, and wisdom in Job. In response to this twofold interrogation, Job twice utters confessions of repentance and faith, ultimately coming to terms with his suffering and his God.
The epilogue paints a joyous portrait of complete reversal-one might even say “resurrection.” Job is publicly vindicated by God, while his friends are indicted because they did not speak of God rightly (42:7). The suffering patriarch becomes their sacerdotal intercessor, offering sacrifices to atone for the sins of their mouths. The Lord then restores Job’s fortunes by doubling the number of livestock he had previously possessed, granting him ten more children, and bestowing upon him a long life and, finally, a blessed end.