The Book of Job Teaches How the Righteous Suffer
Individual Project – Written Sermon
Jason M Roebuck
Professor: Erica Mongé-Greer
Course: Old Testament Wisdom and Ethics
April 29, 2016
The Book of Job was a difficult read from beginning to end because of the repetitive nature of the argument between Job and his friends. On reading this book in the course of reading through all of the bible for the first time, it is possible to ignore the repetitive nature and possibly just read through the book without taking any notice of the peculiarities that repeat in the arguments. However, after studying it, the Book of Job is deemed a book of wisdom because of the way that Job, a righteous man, suffers severe misfortune and argues that he does not deserve to suffer because of his righteousness, and impatiently waits for God’s response. The response from God makes clear who is in charge and so the Book of Job shows how a person should approach God when questions arise about God’s omnipotence or his authority. It is a call to be patient.
In the first verse of the first chapter, Job is introduced to the reader as a man who is without blame, who had a healthy fear of God and stayed away from evil.1 This understanding of his blamelessness is important to his story. It sets up the counter-point to his friends who will all argue that everything he suffers comes from his lack of fidelity to God. It isn’t until the middle of the book that Job begins to make the argument that God is absent in respect to justice. This can be seen as a natural step in understanding the will of God in a tough situation that is addressed by the Book of Psalms as well as the Book of Job.
In Psalm 73, it questions the prosperity of the wicked.2 Similarly, Job 21 argues the same, albeit in answer to Job’s friends saying that he is being punished for his wickedness.3 The question is raised in both the Psalms and Job that may require a deeper spiritual understanding. In an article that discusses the references to the “night” in both the Psalms and the Book of Job, Funlola Olojede states, “In terms of content, some aspects of Job’s speeches also bear striking resemblance to some Psalms of lament.”3 Psalm 73 is one of the Psalms of lament. Later in the article, he explains that the suffering that is common to the Psalter is also the center of Job’s lament expressed through his trials.4 All of this leads to an understanding that although lament is a normal part of suffering, it should lead to the realization that the nighttime, or suffering, is just another time in the course of a whole day. Therefore, it is not necessary to dwell on the negative aspects of our existence for too long, because the night only has power if it is given it. As Olojede’s articles ends, he articulates, “Darkness is exposed as day dawns again and the heavens declare the glory of the Lord!”5
All of the repeated questioning and arguing between Job and his three friends, as well as the younger and more impetuous Elihu, leads to the response that Job was waiting for. In his article titled, “Interpretation”, Samuel E. Balentine pronounces, “By any normal definition of Justice such evidence requires God’s intervention.”6 God finally puts Job in his place, and answers his questioning of justice with a resounding rebuff about how God’s will is more important than any creation’s question of why he does what he does. Again, Balentine says it this way, “Until God speaks and settles these matters one way or the other, every steward of Job’s faith listens for God with ears attuned to the cries for help of the wound and the dying.”7 Although, he continues on to talk about a nation who suffered during a war, he could just as easily went back to discuss how every person who will suffer during their lifetime will wait for help to come to them and those who suffer that are close to them. God’s answer that comes to Job directly in chapter 38 is a sign to everyone that all of the argument that came before is nothing but pointless drivel. God explains himself as the omniscient and all-powerful one clearly to Job in chapters 38 and 39.8
The righteous one, Job, is restored to his former place of honor in his family and among his friends, with more offspring and twice as much prosperity as he had before.9 In his final response to God, Job realizes that everything that God has spoken about him is true. It is not just because Job is God’s creation and therefore has no right to question the creator, but also because God’s authority in everything is perfect. The purpose for Job’s trials, or any trial that human beings endure in this world, is to accomplish God’s design in the world, and not anyone’s individual design, regardless of their righteousness. It is important to wait for the answer that will come from God whenever trials come, and only listen to the advice of friends that tell you to wait for the Lord.
If someone had to suffer all of what Job suffered in one lifetime, it seems like a bit much to presume they could endure it. So, it is the idea that no matter what a person suffers, up to an including all that Job suffered, they should wait patiently for the answer for their suffering. The implication that can be drawn from the Book of Job is that the answer may be that God allows our suffering to prove a point. While patiently enduring our suffering know that God’s will is perfect. The last line of the Book of Job says, “Then Job died, old and full of years.”10 If this would have been the ending without Job’s restoration, the assumption could be made that his reward for his long-suffering life would come after death, and for many Christians who suffer today this brings hope. However, all Hebrew people did not believe in the resurrection, so it would be hard to see Job being written that way. It is possible to go through life constantly questioning why God would allow suffering of any kind, in our lives or the lives of other more faith-filled people. Yet, it is a much better life, even for an outsider like Job, to lean on God’s understanding and be patient and know that he is God.11
1. New American Bible. (Washington, D.C.: Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., 2010), Job 1:1.
2. Bible. Psalm 88:19.
3. Funlola Olojede, “…What of the night?” Theology of night in the Book of Job and the Psalter,” Old Testament Essays, 28(3), (2015). 726, accessed April 29, 2016, https://dx.doi.org/10.17159/2312-3621/2015/v28n3a10.
4. Olojede, Job and the Psalter, 732.
5. Olojede, Job and the Psalter, 736.
6. Samuel E. Balentine, “Job 23:1-9, 16-17,” Interpretation. 53.3 (1999): 1, accessed April 28, 2016, Academic OneFile.
7. Balentine, Interpretation, 3.
8. Bible. Job 38-39.
9. Bible. Job 42:10.
10. Bible. Job 42:17.
11. Bible. Psalms 46:11.
Balentine, Samuel E. “Job 23:1-9, 16-17,” Interpretation 53.3 (1999): 1-3. Accessed April 28, 2016. Academic OneFile.
New American Bible, Revised Edition (2010). Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC
Olojede, Funlola. “…What of the night?” Theology of night in the Book of Job and the Psalter,” Old Testament Essays, 28(3), (2015): 724-737. Accessed April 29, 2016. https://dx.doi.org/10.17159/2312-3621/2015/v28n3a10.
(This is my final forum post in my Wisdom and Ethics class, that references this past assignment, and I hope it makes clear the wonderful concepts of wisdom that came to me through this great class!)
1) Wisdom to me before this course was something that old people had through immersion in knowledge learned from experience in the world and through scripture. It was also an identity that was personified through some of the texts from the Old Testament. Finally, wisdom was something to be acquired over time, it is for the older generation, and even though I am older, I have always seen it is as something that my elders would have, not me.
2) My first premise about wisdom was confirmed but it has changed, in that I have seen that wisdom comes from many different parts of scripture. The most dramatic understanding for me was the knowledge that wisdom comes through the Psalms, and although I think I knew it from praying through the Psalms for years, I had not given them the credit they deserved. I have confirmed the knowledge that wisdom is personified through the Wisdom of Solomon, but I had not paid much attention to how wisdom was personified in Ben Sira. I hope that through this class and after graduation in December, I can continue to learn about wisdom and increase in my knowledge of it through continued study of the scriptures.
3) As I said in my individual project, I feel the ethical topic that came through the book of Job was patience. Specifically, I don’t think I quoted this verse in my paper, but Job 1:21 says it all:
He said, “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back to the earth. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!”
I heard this verse quoted to me by a father who had just lost his son in the Umpqua River about 7 years ago, and I will never forget the faith that he displayed in that moment for me of real despair. Now, I know that it was not just faith, but patience in knowing that only in God’s time would he would know the reason for this tragedy. We still can’t explain why Josue is not with us today, he would be 23 years old this year. He has a nephew, who bears his name as his middle name, and I pray that he watches over him and all of us. However, his passing will forever be a reminder to me of faith of a father and patience in knowing God’s will for us in our suffering.