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Title: Job – An Ancient Poem of a real life
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Job – An Ancient Poem of a real life
Well tonight we are going to begin our venture through the single most unique book of the entire Bible.
Now that IS quite the claim, but I believe that by the end of this introduction to Job, its uniqueness on MANY fronts will bear out my claim.
Let me begin by saying that dating the book has thus far proven elusive. Up to this point no one is able to be 100% certain of a date of composition.
That having been said, one thing MOST agree upon is that Job is the oldest book in the Bible.
While I do not agree with them, many date Job to between the 7th to the 5th century B.C.. What I find incredible is that if this is true why is there NO mention made of Assyrian or Babylonian captivity of Israel or their HUGE empire which though possibly not including the territory of Uz their proximity would certainly have affected Uz.
No mention is made of Nebuchadnezzar or Cyrus the Great either. This seems very unlikely for a Biblical book of that time period!
I however, believe that it is most likely that the book of Job actually predates the writings of Moses in the Pentateuch by 750 years. I base this on a good number of evidences which we will address later.
If I am correct then this is just the first thing which contributes to the uniqueness of the book of Job.
Just so you can get a handle on the scope of the implications of this, consider that the Bible is a near to 100% Jewish book, written to the Jews, about God’s interactions with the Jews and the role they play towards the salvation of the world. Yet, if my dating is correct then during the life of Job, the Jewish people did not even exist.
In fact, the Jewish people would not begin as even a fledgling nation for at least another 324 years! Nevertheless, this pre-Jewish, non-Jewish book is not only included in an otherwise entirely Jewish book, it is the first book written in it.
For people such as myself, this requires a very good reason to prove why this book rightly belongs in the canon of Scripture at all!
EVERY other book in the entire Bible, WITHOUT EXCEPTION, is predicated upon the existence and contents of the Pentateuch – but not Job!
So I thought to do some additional searches in the scriptures to see what else is missing in this book which is included in all other Old Testament books.
What I found is that all Old Testament books contain at least one of the following:
- references or quotes of the law of Moses
- mention of Israel
- Mention of particular members of patriarchal families of Israel
The only two exceptions to this are Job and Jonah.
Jonah however, DOES mention being a Hebrew who worships Yahweh which clearly dates him as after the law of Moses.
This leaves Job very much in a class by itself in the Old Testament and in fact the entire Bible as the ONLY BOOK which has NO direct connection with the rest of the Bible except being included in it!
To be sure Job does use the words Eloheem, Yahweh, satan and sin but all of these are generic terms except Yahweh.
The use of Yahweh may be an indicator of a later date than I accept or it may be due to translations into the Hebrew language. Which is the case is unknown. These things alone however, are not sufficient to sway my opinion of a very early date.
Also, and I am getting ahead of myself here, but there is no indication of the priesthood, a temple or a developed sacrificial system in Job.
Job seems to offer his own sacrifice for himself but also in order to sanctify his adult children. This is NOT consistent with the Old Covenant Law.
Barnes says, “The word here rendered as “sanctified” (קדשׁ qâdash) means properly to be pure, clean, holy; in Pihel, the form used here, to make holy, to sanctify, to consecrate, as a priest; and here it means, that he took measures to make them holy on the apprehension that they had sinned; that is, he took the usual means to procure for them forgiveness.”
According to the Law, once a man was 20+ years old they were responsible for their own decisions before the Lord and would bring their own sacrifices.
There is no precedence for fathers seeking sanctification for his adult sons even if they themselves WERE repentant and there is no indication that Job’s sons had any contrition of their own.
This as well as other considerations which I will mention later all conspire to paint a picture of Job existing prior to the giving of the Law.
The consideration of this is overwhelming and more than a little problematic.
Now… I know what I’m about to say lends itself to something very much akin to circular reasoning, but the fact that Job is referenced by two other writers in the Bible… one from both Testaments, gives sufficient testimony to the inspiration of this book, as well as its rightful place in scripture.
The first is in Ezekiel and the second in James. I will address this later.
What type of literature is Job
I taught you WAY back towards the beginning of our trek ‘Thru the Bible’, that the Old Testament scriptures are traditionally divided into four broad categories.
- The Pentateuch which includes the first 5 books of the Bible the recording of which is attributed to Moses.
- The Historical books such as 1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, 1&2 Chronicles.
- The Prophetic books which we just finished such as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Malachi…etc.
All of this we have already covered.
The fourth and final division of the Old Testament are the poetic books.
- Elccesiastes and
- the Song of Solomon
Now to further complicate these divisions, there is within this fourth division of poetry a further division referred to as ‘Wisdom literature’.
Those books include Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.
The title of tonight’s lesson is Job – A Real life captured in an Ancient Poem.
As the title of this message states, Job is both an ancient, historical account of a real person’s life as well as a poetic book.
Now add to this the fact that it falls into that subgroup of scriptural poetic literature of Wisdom and what you find is a poetic narrative of History in which wisdom is conveyed.
To quote from the notes of the New English translation,
“The book uses a variety of genres (laments, hymns, proverbs, and oracles) in the various speeches of the participants. This all adds to the richness of the material. And while it is a poetic drama using cycles of speeches, there is no reason to doubt that the events represented here do not go back to a real situation and preserve the various arguments.”
That’s quite a lot for one single book to deliver. To better equip you to appreciate and understand it requires a bit of unpacking.
It really is very difficult to reconcile such a convergence of literary styles and functions with any examples in modern English.
That is why I have decided to begin our opening lessons on this book with a better understanding of the book itself.
We know it is ancient… VERY ancient and as such was likely written in a very early form of Hebrew or some other related Semitic dialect.
Now I say “very likely written” because we simply do not and cannot know what language in which it was originally composed.
Naturally, all of the copies we have of Job are just that – copies. Like any other ancient book, it could have originated in another language making the oldest of our copies a translation as well.
The reason why that is all the more possible with the book of Job is because it is written with unusual grammatical constructions, and it makes use of many very rare words.
Some of these words are old and rare enough that we simply have no basis from which to translate them.
Job might very well represent the only surviving book written in a nearly pure form of one of the languages God generated as a spin off language at Tower of Babel.
As is often the case in instances where we have very little upon which to translate certain words, context nearly always gives us enough to go by so as to not miss the intended point, though we may very well miss the precise words or examples offered.
An example of this is found in Job 6:6.
It is actually a common enough phrase yet it’s safe to say that most do not know it traces its origins to this book. The statement is regarding the tastelessness of the white of an egg.
The verse reads like this,
“Can food that is tasteless be eaten without salt? Or is there any flavor in the white of an egg?” ~ Job 6:6
What’s unknown here is the actual food being set forth as an example of “tasteless”.
In the ancient copies of this book the word “food” does not actually appear and the words “white of an egg” are supplied by guessing.
Now to be certain it is not a completely unguided guess.
The root of the word suggests its connection with several known words like “egg”, “healthy”, “dream” or even “soft cheese”.
It has also been connected with various plants such as the herbs marshmallow & milkweed.
Out of the entire word ‘ryr hlmwt, its root רִיר (rir, “spittle, mucus, slime”) occurs only here and in 1Samuel 21:13 where it means saliva.
This is a meaning held in agreement with Aramaic and Arabic cognates.
So while we do not have a perfect means of translating the word we have enough to go by to get the point across.
It is clearly something you eat that has no real flavor and very likely has texture issues.
So, let that suffice as our token example of just how ancient this book is!
There are also factual clues which point to an ancient date to this book.
At the very end, we see that Job continued to live an additional 140 years. Now the typical age for a man to have children following the flood was 30-35 years old according to biblical records.
At the beginning of the book of Job, he is shown to be a man with 10 adult children with homes of their own. This shows he was at least 70 years old when all of the events in this book first started.
So adding to this 70 years an additional 140 years would place his age at death approaching 210. This was approximately the average lifespan of those living between 5 and 9 generations removed from the flood. Now again a generation would have been about 35 years at maximum making 5 to 9 generations between 175 to 315 years. So given these lifespans, we are talking about Job very likely knowing Noah’s grandsons if not his sons!
The Tower of Babel took place just 3 generations from the flood.
Now the earth was a very active place for a while until a few generations following the dispersion at Babel. It was then that people began to settle in their own lands with others who spoke the same language.
As we begin reading, we will see that Job is raided by a passing band of Chaldeans. This is suggestive that the Chaldean’s were a lingually connected group but who had not yet settled in Ur and were therefore nomadic.
The notes from the New English translation say this about this word:
The name may have been given to the tribes that roamed between the Euphrates and the lands east of the Jordan. These are possibly the nomadic Kaldu who are part of the ethnic Aramaeans. The LXX simply has “horsemen.”
If these WERE Chaldeans who were still nomadic that would be one more additional proof of the early nature of this book, because Abram came from Ur of the Chaldeas.
So it is likely that Job himself lived at that time somewhere between the dispersion at the Tower of Babel and the calling of Abram out of Ur of the Chaldeas.
All of this conspires together to place Job as living around 4,200 years ago OR in approximately 2,200B.C..
Abram was generations after the Tower of Babel when men’s life span began to drop to about 200 years old or younger. As an example of this Abram’s father Terah lived to 205 while Abraham died a 175.
This would make the entire contents of the book of Job fit between chapters 9 and 12 of the book of Genesis.
This would also make Job the oldest book of the Old Testament and quite likely the oldest book on earth!
If you were to “Google” it, the claim is that the Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest written literature on earth. Most place its date around 2000B.C., whereas it seems pretty reasonable that Job predates this by about 200 years!
Of course nothing about the Bible will ever be credited with containing the oldest writing on earth due to humanistic secular principles alone. For us however, that truly does not matter.
While the book of Job has fascinated readers for ages, it is a difficult book. Difficult to translate and difficult to study!
Most of it is written in poetic parallelism and is sometimes more than a little cryptic. This is why we must approach statements which seem out of step with the rest of scripture or which introduce a rogue and unsupported stance on a given topic with extreme caution.
If a book in scripture has elements which are known to be difficult to translate, is in an ancient dialect with rare and unique words and is itself written as an ancient Semitic poem then it introduces too many unique and unknown elements to be used to establish a new doctrine or to confirm another doctrine which needs support.
There is no indication of who the author was, and the book is largely written from the perspective of an onlooker rather than from the 1st person.
That having been said, it is still possible that it was largely recorded by Job himself.
In this book things like some of the thoughts in Job’s mind and some conversations one would think would have been private, lead us to lean in the direction of Job himself being the author.
Additionally, at one point Job expresses an interest in having the events of his suffering recorded for posterity sake. So we know that recording these events was at least considered by him.
Job 19:23-24, “(23) I wish that my words were written down, that they were recorded on a scroll (24) or were inscribed in stone forever by an iron stylus and lead!”
If it was recorded by Job it would exempt, of course, that segment of the final chapter that tells us how long he lived. That would not have been known for certain until after he had died.
As always there is a small group of those who believe Job was written much later, even dating it late in the intertestamental period which we just covered. However, this is ruled as impossible by the lifespan of Job and by the appearance of translations and copies of this book which most notably includes bits of a Targum of Job in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
In the end Job is a historical narrative which should be considered LITERAL.
The New Testament letter of James sets forth Job as very likely a real life person, whose endurance is offered as an example for us to follow. He is cited as a person, for whom God’s purpose was “full of compassion and mercy”. [See James 5:11]
Even so, this reference alone could still have been pulling from a well-known, yet fictional character to use as an example. We do this all the time in modern writing. Familiar examples would include Superman, Dr. Suess, The Little Engine that Could and Sherlock Holmes. These, I dare say, have graced more than a few inspired sermons over the years being served up as examples, even though they are known to be fictional.
However, in addition to James, we have another rather clear statement indicating Job was a real person. God Himself mentions Job to Ezekiel in the Old Testament prophetic book bearing his name.
“(12) The LORD’s message came to me: (13) “Son of man, suppose a country sins against Me by being unfaithful, and I stretch out My hand against it, cut off its bread supply, cause famine to come on it, and kill both people and animals. (14) Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would save only their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign LORD.” – Ezekiel 14:12-14
This seems to remove all doubt that the person and life of Job were quite real and the story should be understood as literal. Also it gives much greater credence to its inclusion in the canon of scripture.
Also, it should silence those who believe Job was written in the intertestamental period since Ezekiel was written prior to that!
Overview of the lessons in Job
To me the book of Job has been a deep and abiding source of insight into the way life works.
So many questions I have had are either answered in Job or have set the stage for encouraging me to seek an encounter with God of my own for my answers. Job provides a context for such an encounter and for that I will be forever in debt to it.
In the book of Job, God is revealed as very much aware and involved in earthly matters.
Job was close enough to major global events like the flood and the Tower of Babel to not buy into the lie that God is distant and unconcerned with mankind. However, this may well have served as a two-edged blade. It would certainly have contributed to Job’s reverence for God, but that reverence seems to initially be somewhat devoid of intimacy or even an awareness of the potential for intimacy. Job’s seems to be a reverence for a God Who is an omniscient, all-powerful judge – but not a loving and involved Father.
To me the book reads almost like progressive acts in a theatrical play. By the book’s end, God is set forth as not just the playwright, He is literally one of the characters in the story.
One often thinks of God as above it all, untouched and untouchable by His creation – but Job reveals a God Who not only influences His creations… He is Himself affected by them.
He has emotional and even familial attachment to the characters in the story.
Something somewhat curious about Job is the way God’s sovereignty is handled. He is clearly seen as possessing all authority and yet He is SO magnanimous in His generosity as to allow others to play part in the story’s development.
Yet for all of this, God’s sovereignty is not only maintained throughout the narrative it is its constant theme.
It’s a curious sort of sovereignty which, in an odd way, seems to make it all the more reasonable to accept as represetning the truth regarding God’s sovereignty.
It points us towards the uncomfortable realization that we are NOT the only characters in the story God is telling and that the story is NOT really even about us.
We share our place on the stage with other characters which include both heroes and villains and no life can be said to be insignificant. But while we certainly have a lot of spotlight time, it is only so our lives can tell and illustrate a story bigger than ours. A story we are part of, but the story is actually about God. Therefore, it is possible that for the sake of credibility, God tends to edit the story with a light hand.
Like all of the best stories in literature, our part in God’s story has a plot, a purpose and an overarching end in mind.
It has characters which each help develop the details of the story without affecting the certainty of its end.
The devil is also presented as a real character who has a place in the story and no apology is made for this – it simply is and that, perhaps more than many other aspects of this book, gives it a ring of truth.
Through Job we see that the story has a history which predates us and will continue long after we’re gone. It is a world large enough to live in, that includes us, but does not depend on us and this is strangely comforting.
All of this is held in a sort of perfect tension which offers no blanket, single phrase, “one-size-fits-all” answers to difficult questions of life or even to the reason behind suffering – which is most often wrongly set forth as the central topic of the book.
Instead it seems to be perfectly comfortable with embracing all of these things and introducing the possibility of each person discovering these answers for themselves – face-to-face with God.
In fact, the eventuality of a “face-to-face” with God seems to be where the entire story was aiming from the beginning.
All of this collaborates together to introduce a strong suggestion that the Creator intended questions.
He is in fact, very likely behind many of their developments in order to inspire a personal encounter with each of us. THAT is a HUGE take away that is at once both humbling and a little scary!
It has left me feeling much the same way as I do when I read Hebrews 12. We are encouraged in that chapter to encounter God by comparing the relationship with Him under the Old Covenant with that under the New Covenant.
When you are done reading that segment of the chapter you’re not sure if you’re glad to be facing the ever living God or whether it might have been better to face the fire on top of the mountain.
I mean yes, under the New Covenant there is intimacy but it’s not an intimacy that is devoid of the possibility of grave apprehension.
Let’s read it and you determine for yourself if it has the same effect on you. It is found in Heb. 12:18-29
“(18) For you have not come to something that can be touched, to a burning fire and darkness and gloom and a whirlwind (19) and the blast of a trumpet and a voice uttering words such that those who heard begged to hear no more. (20) For they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” (21) In fact, the scene was so terrifying that Moses said, “I shudder with fear.” (22) But you have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the assembly (23) and congregation of the firstborn, who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous, who have been made perfect, (24) and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks of something better than Abel’s does. (25) Take care not to refuse the one who is speaking! For if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less shall we, if we reject the one who warns from heaven? (26) Then his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “I will once more shake not only the earth but heaven too.” (27) Now this phrase “once more” indicates the removal of what is shaken, that is, of created things, so that what is unshaken may remain. (28) So since we are receiving an unshakable kingdom, let us give thanks, and through this let us offer worship pleasing to God in devotion and awe. (29) For our God is indeed a devouring fire.”
In Job one thing becomes clear, we are not simply pawns on a chess board, moved about on the whim of an all-powerful player. And yet there are truths revealed in its telling where such a picture is not entirely out of place either.
Our lives and God’s interactions with them may not be predictable in the details, but there is a Storyteller Whose heart is good and benevolent and we are encouraged to come to know and trust Him. This is true even though we cannot see Him and would not ourselves choose some of the decisions He makes regarding our lives.
We can, from this book, come to an awakening of trust and reliance that God is in the end, both good and worthy of trust.
The book of Job seems to be the life story of a man who, living in the early post-flood world, had a reverence for God, but not a view which included a relational knowing of Him.
God seems to be using all of the events and details of Job’s life – both those He causes, those He allows and those of Job’s own making – to rescue Job from a reverent yet obscure connection with Him.
It is clear that it was God’s desire all along to bring Job to a place of knowing Him relationally while still maintaining a deeply rooted reverence for Him. To develop relational trust in a God he has come to know and love in response to God’s love displayed towards him.
For these and other reasons I find this book redemptive in the extreme.
It invites the creature to wrestle with the Creator and though each of us will lose the match, we will as a result win the day!
Like Jacob we will walk away limping, but with a smile on our face and a heart that will never be the same because we have finally begun to know our Creator for Who He is!
How is Jesus seen in Job
Many today are evidently afraid to point to Job 19:25 as a prophetic reference to Jesus but I cannot for the life of me understand why – though I’ve read their reasons.
In Job chapter 19, we see Job himself responding to his friend Bildad who has charged him with sin – explaining that such was the reason behind his sufferings.
Job offers his opinion, which itself is not correct either and in which he justifies himself at God’s expense.
Then in the summary of his response he makes this famous statement which is most often “quoted out of context”…
“(25) For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; (26) And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God, (27) Whom I will see for myself, and Whom my own eyes will behold, and not another. My heart grows faint within me.”
A fair treatment of these words would reveal that Job was not speaking of THE Redeemer as would be understood in a New Testament context, but rather of a vindicator. Someone who will set the record straight and prove Job’s innocence. No doubt this vindicator would be God Himself, but it would be quite a stretch to assume that Job was himself “thinking” of the person the Jews would later refer to as Messiah.
Job’s statement indicates that God will appear on the earth and that even after Job has died, he will still see God with eyes of flesh.
Now we will address the difficulties in this passage when we eventually arrive in chapter 19, but I have to say that it is far from unprecedented to have a statement in the Old Testament which was clearly about a real-life and current event, but which spoke with such a clear prophetic voice about Jesus that one could be excused for thinking that was the immediate point of the verse.
There are a great number of these examples which we have seen. Many times a passage in the Old Testament mentions specific things regarding Israel’s future which would have been entirely unknown and unexpected by the writer or even sometimes a prophet as speaking specifically of the Messiah. Yet, we know it spoke with crystal clarity regarding Messiah when He came. In fact some of those verses served as beacons pointing to Him and a sign of His having arrived!
Such I fully believe to be the case here!
While our modern use of this phrase is entirely out of step with the way Job said it, it still rings of a prophetic truth!
I agree with this summary of the note given by the New English translators regarding this verse –
the idea of the resurrection, which is implicit in these words and is pregnant with theological ideas yet to be revealed, such is nonetheless not explicitly stated or intended in this context.
However, even with that example set to one side, I think one would have to be stricken with a special type of blindness not to see Jesus both directly and indirectly revealed in this book!
God is seen as the Arbiter and the devil is seen as the accuser of God’s people. Man is presented as existing in the middle of this with actions which condemn him, though man often sees themselves as at least partly righteous.
Man wrestles with these issues in their own intellect and raise their opinions against the God of heaven.
Into this, God sends a mediator to show man that God is right and they are wrong. Furthermore, He provides an answer which is found in an encounter with God. God is set forth as both the Judge and the One Who justifies the unjust and blesses him.
As a result the justified person becomes a mouthpiece for God, and a conduit through which others are evangelized and won.
It all sounds very redemptive and New Testament Messiah-like to me!
So that is our rather lengthy preamble to this amazing book!
Keys to interpretation
One thing to remember before going into this book is the time period.
This is between the flood and the giving of the law. That means it was in that time of human history where men did what was right in their own eyes and incurred no blame.
This is addressed in Romans 4:15 & 5:12-14…
Rom. 4:15, “For the law brings wrath, because where there is no law there is no transgression either.”
Rom 5:12-14, “(12) So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned – (13) for before the law was given, sin was in the world, but there is no accounting for sin when there is no law. (14) Yet death reigned from Adam until Moses even over those who did not sin in the same way that Adam (who is a type of the coming one) transgressed.”
There were SOME things people knew to be wrong – murder, stealing, lying were all probably widely understood as sin against God. However, a great majority of the things the Law mentioned as sin and clarified regarding things such a murder, stealing and lying were NOT KNOWN until the Law was given through Moses.
THAT is VERY VERY important!!!
I will offer a horrific example of this just to drive the point home.
Lot is referred to in scripture as a righteous man. Yet, this righteous man was willing to send his virgin daughters out into the street to be raped by the men of Sodom in order to protect the angels who had come to warn him. It never occurred to Lot that such would be a sin. THAT is how dark man’s mind is apart from God!
God certainly hates rape and violence and had the angels forbid this action, but He did not charge Lot with sin for considering or suggesting it. There was NO law, so man’s grasp of right and wrong were limited to their own understanding.
Hopefully this will prepare you for better understanding this amazing book and being able to “rightly divide” the doctrines it teaches.