The Book of Job
The Book and the Man
The adult bible study at Peace has begun a Lenten study of the book of Job. I have led this study before at St. Matthew’s in Bloomington and during that time I had written a series of blog entries to reflect on this important and beautiful book. This is the first of those articles edited and republished. For this study, as for the study in 2009, we are using Carol M. Bechtel’s Kerygma materials entitled “Job and the Life of Faith.”
Why do bad things happen to good people? This is at the heart of the entire book of Job. This is a question that is asked in culture after culture, from the dawn of time. We noted that there are pre-Job stories which come from the ancient Sumarians, Babylonians, Egyptians and on and on. Samuel Balentine notes in his comprehensive commentary: “For as long as men and women have walked this earth, they have shared the journey with someone, somewhere, named Job.” (pg. 5). Frost notes that “this is my story, your story, every person’s story.”
There have been a variety of ways to explain this. One very common explanation – which we find throughout the bible – is what we would call “Retributive Justice.” As one of us noted – this is the “Santa Claus” theology of “if you are good you will get good things; if you are bad you will be punished.” Unfortunately life doesn’t seem to work like that. Retributive Justice is well represented in the Book of Job by the three friends, but ultimately the book of Job rejects this understanding.
It is a very common understanding however. In my own life and ministry, especially during my time as a hospital chaplain, I was often confronted with this understanding. I shared that when I was about 13/14 I was working in a lumber yard and the foreman (and my boss) told me a story about a young man who was killed in a horrific car accident. This young man had become a “born-again” Christian a few months earlier but this had not changed his life-style. Johnny suggested that God did this to him as punishment. This terrified me at the time, but now almost 50 years later I look back in disgust at the way this story was told to a child. It was manipulative and it is also simply untrue. I do not believe that God causes horrific things to happen on purpose in order to punish. I do not believe in retributive justice.
Retributive justice is well represented in the book of Job. The bulk of the body of the text consists of the three dialogues (and there is the Elihu speech as well) during which the three friends strongly and uncompromisingly maintain their belief in this theology. “You must have done something wrong, Job!” Job maintains his innocence and the dialog becomes more heated and rather nasty by the end. Ultimately the book of Job rejects retributive justice. We will examine this and what other alternatives (if any) are presented.
We also talked about authorship. The book of Job is a parable. It is not a historical event. It emerged from a long oral history of like stories and was most probably assembled by a variety of writers over a long period of time. Below is a list of the possible versions of the story and how it came to be formed in its final form.
The Many Possible Editions of the Book of Job
By Carol M. Bechtel
• 1st edition: The oral tradition of a righteous man who suffered much
• 2nd edition: The prose introduction (Job 1:1-2:13)
• 3rd edition: The poetic dialogues only (Job 3-27; 29-31; 38-42:6) (minus the wisdom hymn in Job 28 and the Elihu speeches in Job 32-37)
• 4th edition: Prose introduction plus the poetic dialogues (minus 23, 32-37)
• 5th edition: Prose introduction, poetic dialogues (minus 28, 32-37) plus the prose conclusion (ch. 42:7-12)
• 6th edition: Entire book (wisdom hymn in 28 plus Elihu’s speeches in 32-37 added here)