We are using the book of Job as a guide to learn how to live faithful lives while experiencing personal or national crisis. Job did not live during a time of war or famine, the type of social and national crisis that imposes hardship on the individual regardless of his personal circumstances.
Job's crisis was personal, imposed on him through supernatural means but experienced fully in a physical and emotional way (loss of wealth, family, health and status in society). We said that the core of Job's book describes his reaction to unjust suffering. Basically, he was a good man who was subjected to what he believed to be undeserved suffering.
Job's dilemma lay in the fact that he believed the theology of that era which taught that suffering was the direct result of personal sin. In other words, God punished sinners in 'real time.' We still have that idea prevalent in various belief systems today. People often say, "What did I do to merit this?" Of course, the religions of Hinduism and Buddhism contain a similar concept of fate and auto retribution.
Unfortunately, the teaching to which Job ascribed did not match his personal experience, thus causing his dilemma or crisis.
- He knew that he was a good man and therefore could not understand why he was made to suffer.
- He also knew that God was just so he not only suffered but had no way to explain why a just God would cause him to suffer unjustly.
Add to this that his friends each in turn assumed that he was guilty of sin and had brought these calamities upon himself and with this Job experienced the loss of his final possession: the respect and the sympathy of his friends during a time of extreme suffering.
With this summary in mind we will examine the various characters in Job's story and a possible outline of the book we can use in our study. It is helpful to have an outline because with it we can keep the action of the story in perspective at all times.
The book of Job could easily be staged as a play since most of the action revolves around the dialogues between several main characters:
- God with the devil and then at the end with Job himself.
- Job with his wife followed by a series of exchanges with his three friends plus a fourth individual.
- Job's response to God at the end.
And so, the main characters are the following:
A wealthy patriarch with a large family who lived in the land of Uz (modern-day Saudi Arabia). He is a figure of history since he is mentioned along with Noah and Daniel in the book of Ezekiel.
12Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, 13"Son of man, if a country sins against Me by committing unfaithfulness, and I stretch out My hand against it, destroy its supply of bread, send famine against it and cut off from it both man and beast, 14even though these three men, Noah, Daniel and Job were in its midst, by their own righteousness they could only deliver themselves," declares the Lord God.
- Ezekiel 14:12-14
He was not an Israelite (no references to key theological elements in the book, for example: Law, covenant, temple or Yahweh). He was blameless and upright, a man who feared God (believer) and one who shunned evil.
He had grown children (seven sons and three daughters) and his sons themselves were wealthy men who hosted lavish feasts, especially on their birthdays.
We will learn more about Job's life, character and experience as we go through his book.
Not much is said about her in the Bible as such. Some Jewish folklore gives her name as Sitis which is a root word for Satan. These same sources claim that she died and eventually Job married Dinah, Jacob's daughter, but none of this is supported by Scripture.
The Bible records that at a certain point she encourages her husband to kill himself in order to put an end to his suffering.
An angel referred to with other angels as "sons of God" here in this book. The term Satan means "adversary" and only appears in three other books of the Old Testament (I Chronicles 21:1; Psalm 109:6; Zecheriah 3:1-2).
He is able to exist and move in both the physical and the spiritual realms. He is also responsible for Job's suffering, as we will learn when we review his exchange with God regarding Job's righteousness and faith.
The key to the story is that we know this as do God and the devil but this information is never revealed to Job, even when God appears to him at the end of the book.
It was a custom of the times to visit, sit with, encourage and mourn with those who were ill or suffering hardships. Due to the serious nature of Job's woes and condition, three of his friends come to sit and comfort him.
They travel from northwest Arabia and upon arriving simply remain silent out of respect for Job's great loss and suffering. When they do begin to speak, however, we begin to see what kind of person each is.
One good note about them is that they came to say what they had to say to Job in person and didn't talk about him behind his back. Most of the time, this type of gossip tries to determine why the person is being punished.
The three visitors and the local man were:
- Eliphaz (God is fine gold) He was a descendant of Esau. He was old, devout and more gracious than the other visitors. Some have referred to him as a mystic of that era. Today you would classify him as a liberal.
- Bildad (Uncertain source) He was a descendant of Abraham and Keturah, Abraham's wife after Sarah died. He's been called a scholar or traditionalist according to his speech. He was less kind and sympathetic than Eliphaz in his comments to Job. He stood for rigid authoritarianism. Today you would classify him as a conservative.
- Zophar (Male goat) He was dogmatic, impetuous and intolerant. He was wise in his own eyes, as well as unmoving and judgmental. Today you would call him legalistic.
- Elihu (He is my God) He was a local man and the youngest of the four who waited until all spoke before speaking. This was done as a sign of respect for his elders. In his speeches Elihu doesn't actually add anything new to the arguments of the others. He rebukes the three for various failings but repeats their arguments and finishes by correcting two of Job's erroneous points:
- That God was somehow unjust
- That God refused to speak to Job
Of course, we are going to examine these speeches more closely as we review the text.
God is present at the beginning of the book along with Satan and then at the end with Job. He does not appear to Job in order to comfort or to explain the situation but rather to reveal Himself more clearly to him; the idea being that to be in God's presence is a transcendent experience that goes beyond explaining, understanding or comforting.
In the end, Job gets to have a clearer, crisper vision of the true and living God and this in itself is enough, actually more than enough. No longer any need for answers or the smoothing over of feelings since once in the presence of almighty God one exists on another plane.
Outline of the Book of Job
There are always many possible outlines that can be used in the study of any of the books of the Bible. The difference between the variations are usually based on the specific focus or the approach that the teacher wants to use in studying the material. For example, in a basic study model where you are introducing the book to those not familiar with it, a standard overview outline is best.
Here is a sample of this type taken from the Blue Letter Bible based on material developed by Warren Wiersbe, an American writer, speaker and theologian.
Overview Outline: Book of Job - Warren Wiersbe
- Job's Distress – Ch. 1-3
- Prosperity – 1:1-5
- Adversity – 1:6-2:13
- Perplexity – Ch. 3
- Job's Defense – Ch. 4-37
- First round – Ch. 4-14
- Eliphaz – Ch. 4-5 - Job's Reply – Ch. 6-7
- Bildad – Ch. 8 - Job's Reply – Ch. 9-10
- Zophar – Ch. 11 - Job's Reply – Ch. 12-14
- Second round – Ch. 15-21
- Eliphaz – Ch. 15 - Job's Reply – Ch. 16-17
- Bildad – Ch. 18 - Job's Reply – Ch. 19
- Zophar – Ch. 20 - Job's Reply – Ch. 21
- Third round – Ch. 22-31
- Eliphaz – Ch. 22 - Job's Reply – Ch. 23-24
- Bildad – Ch. 25 - Job's Reply – Ch. 26-31
- Young Elihu speaks – Ch. 32-37
- Contradicting Job's friends – Ch. 32
- Contradicting Job himself – Ch. 33
- Proclaiming God's justice, goodness and majesty – Ch. 34-37
- First round – Ch. 4-14
- Job's Deliverance – Ch. 38-42
- God humbles Job – 38:1-42:6
- Tough questions too great for Job to answer – 38:1-41:34
- Job acknowledges his inability to understand – 42:1-6
- God honors Job – 42:7-17
- God rebukes his critics – 42:7-10
- God restores his wealth – 42:11-17
- God humbles Job – 38:1-42:6
In this outline we can see, in one glance, a detailed description of the events of this book in chronological order and thus quickly become familiar with the "action and sequence" of the story.
If you wanted a compressed version of this outline, however, you could say that the three main divisions of this book are as follows.
- Job's distress – Ch. 1-3
- Job's defense – Ch. 4-37
- Job's deliverance – Ch. 38-42
Having these types of outlines helps teachers and students not get lost in the poetry and details when studying the book. They help provide a constant context as the storyline is examined more closely.
Finally, here is a thematic outline based on the title of this series, "Faithful Living in Times of Crisis."
- The Physical Crisis
- The Devil's attack – Ch. 1-3
- The Theological Crisis
- Job's friends attack – Ch. 4-37
- The Spiritual Crisis
- God challenges Job – 38:1-41:34
- Job's faith saves him – 42:1-17
This outline assumes that the student is familiar with the story and the characters so that the focus of teaching can be on the attempt to answer the question, "How does one maintain faith in a situation or period of time where there doesn't seem to be any satisfying answers or cosmic fairness?" Surely a question asked throughout history by all kinds of people.