The Book Of Job And Suffering

Why do the righteous suffer? The book of Job upset the apple cart of the theology of his day. Three friends try and help Job come to terms with the disasters in his life and answer the question: Why?

The Book of Job attempts to answer some age-old questions: Why do the righteous suffer? Is the any justice in this life? Rabbi Harold S. Kushner attempted to answer many of the same questions in his book "When Bad Things Happen to Good People". Job was a righteous man put to the test by God. Three close friends try to help him come to a resolution.

Job was not a Jewish man, but he was a righteous one. "There was a man named Job, living in the land of Uz, who worshiped God and was faithful to Him. He was a good man, careful not to do anything evil." (Job 1:1) Job was also a wealthy man. The accepted theology of his day was that God rewarded the righteous in this life, so Job was prosperous as a result of his faithfulness. If you were bad, you would be repaid on Earth also. The Old Testament doesn't present us with any prospects for a heavenly reward; it's here or never.

The proverbial apple cart was overturned on the reigning theology when a good man met with disaster. In God's courts of heaven the Lord was bragging about the uprightness of Job. Satan, the accuser, suggested that Job had every reason to be faithful since God had blessed him so abundantly. Satan questioned Job's motivation for his faithfulness and decency. The accuser said to God: "Would Job worship you if he got nothing out of it? You have always protected him and his family and everything he owns. You bless everything he does, and you have given him enough cattle to fill the whole country." (Job 1: 9,10)

God gave Satan the power to test Job. He put everything Job owned under Satan's power. The Sabeans attacked Job's servants, killed them all and stole the donkeys and oxen. Lightning struck and killed all of his sheep and shepherds. Chaldean raiders killed more servants and took all of the camels. A storm blew down his oldest son's house and killed all of his children. This all happened in one day and Job tore his clothes in grief. "I was born with nothing, and I will die with nothing. The LORD gave and now He has taken away. May his name be praised!" (Job 1: 21)

Satan then requests the power to hurt Job physically claiming that this kind of suffering will cause Job to curse God to his face. So God allows the devil to hurt Job, but not to kill him. Now Job is inflicted with boils and sores from head to toe. The advice from Mrs. Job is: "Why don't you curse God and die?" (Job 2: 9)

Job's three friends come to console him. They are Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. They are so overcome with the state of Job's dilemma that they just sit with him for seven days, saying nothing. Job complains about his lot and wishes he had never been born. He wants to die and bring an end to his pain.

The bulk of the text of Job is the content of three cycles of dialogue by the friends and Job's responses to them.

In the first cycle (Job 4-14) Eliphaz speaks first. Reflecting the standard Hebrew line of theology, he urges Job to repent of his sins since he is obviously being punished. The other two friends deliver the same line of thought. Job defends himself with each one and maintains his trust and faith in God. He is bitterly disappointed in their accusations and attitude towards him.

Cycle number two (Job 15-21) is like the first only more heated. The friends have only one answer to Job's situation: Job is wicked and won't admit it. There is no other explanation for the torment that God is allowing him to endure. They don't believe Job's claims of innocence and are blunt, sarcastic and accusatory. Job want to know why the wicked prosper. He feels that everyone is against him.

The third cycle of dialogue begins in chapter 22 and Eliphaz lays into Job harder than ever. He accuses Job not only of guilt but also of being God's enemy. It's a final plea for Job to confess and end the misery. Bildad resigns himself to state that no one can claim to be without fault and leaves it at that. They are at a stalemate. What is the answer to the suffering of the righteous? Can anyone be declared righteous?

Job makes a final plea to all three and claims to be innocent of all charges against him. The friends are silenced; they give up. A bystander who has been listening to the whole exchange introduces himself. His name is Elihu and his speech takes up six chapters. He is angry with the friends for their accusations. He is mad at Job because Job was hinting that maybe God is not just. He accuses Job of trying to undermine the sovereignty of God.

Finally God speaks in chapters 38 - 41. The Lord basically asks Job, Who do you think you are? It is a lesson on the sovereignty of God. We cannot question or understand God's motives and Job is reprimanded for doubting God's justice. The Lord then takes Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar to task for their accusations. God asks them to make sacrifices for their sin and asks Job to pray for them. In the end Job is rewarded for his refusal to curse God. He becomes twice as prosperous as he was before.

Why do the righteous suffer? Why do bad things happen to good people? The lesson in Job is that we can't know the answer. The only attitude to have is one of faith and trust in an almighty, sovereign, loving God who knows all and sees the beginning and end of everything. In the New Testament we are presented with a new theology which includes a heavenly reward in the hereafter. If we are immortal souls then this life is only a shadow in the light of eternity.


Good News Bible, Canadian Bible Society, 1992

Halley's Bible Handbook, Zondervan, 2000

William Neil's One Volume Bible Commentary, Hodder & Stoughton, 1962

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