5.1 “What”: The Structure of the Discourses
The book of Job is highly structured. Each person speaks in turn and is replied to in turn, as Table 5.1.
Table 5.1: The high degree of structure in the book of Job.
Job speaks (Ch. 3)
|Eliphaz speaks (1)
|Bildad speaks (1)
(Ch. 8) Job replies
|Zophar speaks (1)
(Ch. 11) Job replies
|Eliphaz speaks (2)
(Ch. 15) Job replies
|Bildad speaks (2)
(Ch. 18) Job replies
|Zophar speaks (2)
(Ch. 20) Job replies
|Eliphaz speaks (3)
(Ch. 22) Job replies
|Bildad speaks (3)
(Ch. 25) Job speaks twice
(Ch. 26-28 and 29-31)
(Ch. 32-37) GOD speaks twice
(Ch. 38,39 and 40,41)
It may seem odd that there is a prose beginning and ending attached to a book with a poetic core. But in the same way that “a picture speaks a thousand words”, a single sentence of prose can unravel a thousand lines of poetry. Thus the prosaic beginning very rapidly sets the scene for the main action of the book: the debate between Satan and the righteous man. Likewise, with the debate concluded and God having made revelation of Himself and His purposes, the epilogue is swiftly conducted in prose style. The prose beginning and ending essentially magnifies the poetic discourses and thus reinforces their centrality to the purpose of the book.
5.1.1 Job’s Speeches
The speeches that Job makes evidence interesting trends as the debate proceeds. Initially, he talks quite openly with his friends, reflected in the length of the speeches he makes to them. Yet as the debate continues, the amount he says to them exponentially decreases. By contrast, the length of the three speeches Job voices generally, to the universe at large, exponentially increases. Furthermore, there is an almost exact 2:1 ratio in the volume of the three speeches, between those delivered specifically and those delivered generally (Figure 5.1).
Figure 5.1: Above: The number of words Job speaks in the three rounds of his replies to Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, which decreases exponentially. Below: The number of words Job speaks in each of his three general speeches, which increases exponentially.
The speeches of Job are evidently relayed with latent mathematical beauty, which testifies to the great care with which the drama is presented. Are there other lessons we should derive from the two contrasting trends in Figure 5.1? If so, they are hard to determine, but one can certainly see Job’s desire to talk with his friends decreases sharply, while his desire to speak per se does not abate. Perhaps this simply underscores the pathos of his position. When the known world of his friends proves inadequate, even hostile, to his need for comfort and support, Job cries out to the unknown world, desperate to find an advocate even if he be hidden in the trees or hedgerows.
5.2 “When”: What is the Chronology of Job?
Existing suggestions for the chronology of Job span a wide spectrum: from before the Genesis Flood,1 to the time of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,2 3 4 to as late as the time of Isaiah in the seventh century BC.5
Here is the Scriptural evidence which places Job’s chronology:
1. Contemporary generation length
Job lived 140 years and saw the fourth generation of his descendants (Job 42:16). By referencing the genealogies listed before the Flood (Gen 5) and afterwards (Gen 10), one can easily calculate that before the Flood ~410 years are required to see one’s fourth generation and ~125 years afterwards. This demonstrates the time of Job was after the Flood.
2. Names in the book of Job
Figure 5.2: Placing the characters in Job chronologically and geographically.
The names and genealogies in the b ook of Job contribute to establishing its chronological placement. There is only one time in Biblical history in which one can coincidentally find the five tribal names of the drama: Teman; Shuah; Naaman; Uz and Buz. This is about four generations after Abraham (Figure 5.2).
Does this place the book of Job at this time, about four generations after Abraham? No, it does not, and some expositors stumble here by finding the names and then automatically assigning the chronology of Job as coincident.6 7 Each of the principal figures: Teman, Shuah, Naaman, Uz and Buz need first to become tribal names before the account of Job begins, not just individual ones, because they appear as tribal names in the Joban tale. This can only be established some significant time after each individual man has lived and his family expanded into a large number of people.
3. Job’s description of the Red Sea crossing
I believe this is the single most important detail in establishing the timing of the book of Job. Job says:
“The pillars of the heavens quake, aghast at his rebuke. By his power he churned up the sea; by his wisdom he cut Rahab to pieces. By his breath the skies became fair; his hand pierced the gliding serpent” (Job 26:11-13, NIV).
At first glance the above quote seems no help in determining Job’s chronology — or anything for that matter! But Isaiah unambiguously translates this as a reference to theRed Seacrossing. First, Isaiah translates the name Rahab:
“An oracle concerning the animals of the Negev: Through a land of hardship and distress, of lions and lionesses, of adders and darting snakes, the envoys carry their riches on donkeys’ backs, their treasures on the humps of camels, to that unprofitable nation, to Egypt, whose help is utterly useless. Therefore I call her Rahab the Do-Nothing” (Isa 30:6, 7, NIV).
So “Rahab” is Egypt.8
Isaiah assists us further in a later prophecy. He utilizes the same language as Job, but, by saying more than Job does, Isaiah leaves us in no doubt that the language refers to the Red Sea crossing, where the Egyptians are destroyed by God.
“Awake, awake! Clothe yourself with strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in days gone by, as in generations of old. Was it not you who cut Rahab to pieces, who pierced that monster through? Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, who made a road in the depths of the sea so that the redeemed might cross over?” (Isa 51:9,10, NIV).
This is invaluable in dating Job’s chronology. Comparing Job’s quote above (26:11-14) with these prophecies of Isaiah, we can see beyond doubt they are describing the same scenario. Thanks to the extra details Isaiah employs, we can confidently conclude that this scenario is theRed Seacrossing; and thus the book of Job must date later than the Exodus from Egypt.
5.2.1 Spiritual lessons from the genealogies in Job
Figure 5.2 also reveals our first spiritual gem from the consideration of Joban chronology. We learn that Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite are all children of Abraham. Yet our earlier article has identified them as personifying Satan. So, metaphorically, Satan was a son of Abraham! As further striking counterpoint, righteous Job is likely a Gentile. Though Job’s exact genealogy is obscured (I suggest deliberately so, as we shall consider later), we know he is established in the Gentile land of Uz. I’m using the term ‘Gentile’ as one not descended from Abraham, which is a common usage of this slightly flexible label.
Let’s not miss the forest for the trees with all these specifics. How fascinating it is that back here in the Old Testament there lies a story of a faithful Gentile persecuted by self-righteous, (unintentionally) Satanic, children of Abraham! This is a wonderful precedent to the principle the Lord Jesus will expound in its fullness: that a person’s living faith determines whether they are a spiritual family member, not their genetic background.
I wonder if this forms the basis of John the Baptist’s warning to the Pharisees. The Pharisees were very proud of their ancestral heritage reckoned through both Abraham and Moses. John the Baptist reveals to the Pharisees that righteousness comes through an attitude with which life is lived and the subsequent good fruits realized therefrom, not from asserting a genetic relationship to a man who pleased God. One does not ride into the Kingdom of God on the coattails of another, or somehow qualify through the labyrinths of social ingratiation. Interestingly the language John uses to reveals this to them may well be drawn from his knowledge of the book of Job:
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt 3:7-10).
Job is being attacked by the self-righteous pride of three children of Abraham who had assumed their relationship with God was good, when it was not. So I wonder if reflection on the Joban Scriptures prompted the specific content of John the Baptist’s message.
5.3 “Where”: Where is the land of Uz?
The land of Uz (Job 1:1) is in the hill country of Seir, a mountainous region south-east of Israel (Gen 36:20). This region was also populated by the children of Esau, whose alternative name was Edom (Gen 36:8,9). These facts are corroborated by Jeremiah (Lam4:21).
So how do three children of Abraham: Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, encounter Job in the hill country southeast of Israel?
A readily available solution is that the people ofIsraelwere in the 40 year wilderness wandering period. This marries well with three things we know:
- Geographically: Uz is in this wilderness region.
- Chronologically: the time of Moses is sufficiently late for Teman, Shuah, Naaman and Buz to have become tribal names.
- Scripturally: Satan defined his origin as wandering in the Earth (Job 1:7).
Considering these things, it’s understandable that by “roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it” the satanic spirit of jealousy, supposed injustice and injured pride is aroused in the Israelite multitude, as they see settled peoples with homes they want but can’t have. Truly Satan is born (again). And in this way the power of the literary device of the Satan as the extraction of all the ungodly aspects of the human heart is seen. One can see how the Satan becomes a ‘superhuman’ character: obviously ‘he’ outlives any given human because he is reborn in every human heart that fosters pride. Whenever a human conceives in his or her heart to resist God, out of pride-filled preference to serve self rather than God, Satan breathes. He is indeed a long-lived enemy!
5.4 The Joban tale within the wilderness wandering
It’s worth taking a step back from the book of Job and looking at the bigger storyline in which it is couched. I suggest there is a single storyline, spread over ~500 years, several countries and seven books of the Bible, which provides a spiritual context for the exchanges in Job. This Big Picture story is shown in Figure 5.3. It depicts a geographically closed loop where the people of Israel leave the house of God (Bethel), travel through a series of refining experiences, and finally return to the house of God.
Figure 5.3: The ‘Big Picture’ context of the timing of the book of Job: towards the end of the ~500 year closed loop travels of God’s people from Bethel to Bethel.
The story starts when Jacob receives his new name “Israel“ (Gen 35:10): an event which bespeaks the opening of a new chapter, the beginning of a new journey.
Jacob becomes Israelin the house of God (Beth-el), where he builds an altar to Him. It forms a beautiful scene. “Jacob”: the usurper, the deceiver, has been transformed into “Israel“: a prince with God, when he stands in the House of God. What a fine hope this extends to all of us! But, by the same token, the subsequent action: where Israel departs the house of God (Gen 35:15,16), now bears something of a didactic flavor, and one well mirrored in the spiritual degeneration of the tribes as they descend into Egypt. Israel will not return to the house of God for about 500 years.
After descending into Egypt, ostensibly because of the famine, the Israelites remain there for many generations. Initially they dwell under the favor of the Pharaoh who knew Joseph (Gen 41-50), but later under the disfavor of the subsequent Pharaoh, who subjugates the immigrant populace as slaves (Exod 1). God’s compassion frees His people and they depart Egypt under the guidance of Moses and Aaron (Exod 12). They are chased across the desert by the Egyptian army (Exod 13), but delivered through their baptism and the destruction of ‘Rahab’ in the Red Sea(Exod 14; Isa 51).9
At Sinai the Israelites received from the LORD the Ten Commandments (Exod 20) and the rest of the law and covenants (Exod 21-24; Lev) by which the newborn nation would govern itself. The Israelites are then guided north towards the land promised to them (Num, Deut), until at the very brink of entry they fail in faith. They refuse to take arms against the physically larger incumbents, as God had called them to do, at which sin God directs they return to the wilderness for 40 years until that generation passes (Num 14). Eventually, 40 years later and after the death of Moses (Deut 34), the Israelites are led by Joshua into the Promised Land. Once more this is achieved through a miraculous dry land crossing in the midst of a body of water (Josh 3). And after they cross this body of water, their re-baptism, they finally re-enter the house of God:Bethel(Josh 8). This 500 year closed loop, from Bethel to Bethel, I see as one overarching ‘Big Picture’ story of abandonment, travail and redemption. And the drama of Job fits inside it, right at the critical boundary of travail and redemption.
Thus, we have reasoned, the chronology of Job lies during the wilderness wanderings (and more specifically, for reasons I will advance later, towards the end of that period). And by considering this bigger picture of the departure from, and return to,Bethel, we can place the Joban drama on the spiritual spectrum. During the wilderness wandering the people ofIsraelare at their very lowest spiritual ebb. They have been outside of the house of God for about half a millennium. They have recently failed to achieve communion with God through accepting His provision of a homeland; instead they were overwhelmed with human fear of the army that God had assured them He would overcome.
I believe God made the Israelites physically homeless in order to draw attention to their spiritual homelessness. God employs a similar strategy during the time of the prophet Haggai, where He refuses to allow the homebuilding and crop planting of the people to be successful, because they insist on building only their own homes and ignore the rebuilding of the House of the Lord (Hag 1:2-11).
Armed with this knowledge we can better approach the mindset of Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite. They are spiritually debilitated and, while I do not attempt to justify their false doctrine and ultimate lack of compassion, we can now have some understanding of why their arguments are likely to be spiritually derelict.Israelhave been outside of the House of the LORD for about 500 years. Job, a righteous man and one who feared God and shunned evil (Job 1:1), is about to be confronted by the spiritually homeless; so we can anticipate an acrimonious assault from the three ‘friends’.
From our identification of the Satan as the pride of the three friends, we have concluded that the core of the book centers on the struggle between the Satan and Job. This article adds the dimension that this struggle happened in the wilderness. Ergo, the plotline of the Joban drama is Satan confronting a Righteous Man in the Wilderness, to tempt him.
An important theme is emerging.
1. T. Longman III, in “The One Year Chronological Bible”, 1995, Eds M. Norton and D. Barrett,Wheaton,USA, 15
2. E.M. Spongberg, “The Book of Job”, 1965, private publication, v
3. J. V. McGee, “Thru the Bible Commentary Series: Job”, 1991, Thomas Nelson,Nashville,TN,USA, viii
4. J. Balchin, Ibid, 5
5. J.E. Hartley, “The Book of Job”, in “The New International Commentary on the Old Testament”, 1988, Eerdmans,Grand Rapids,MI,USA, 20
6. E.M. Spongberg, Ibid
7. J.V. McGee, Ibid
8. The proper name “Rahab” in Isaiah 30:7 (NIV) is translated as the word “strength” by some versions, and can also mean “pride” or “boaster”, which will prove highly symbiotic to the analysis I adopt here (J. Strong, Ibid, 107). Whether the Hebrew word “Rahab” is meant as a word or a proper name, it should not be confused with the name of the female citizen of Jericho, “Rahab” (Joshua 2), whose name is a different word in Hebrew, perhaps better transliterated “Rachab” (Ibid, 108).
9. Most likely the Red Sea crossing was across the eastern Gulf of Aqaba, leading to Sinai in the land of Midian (see Figure 5.3) and not as commonly represented on the eponymous peninsula between the gulfs. Later Scriptures confirm that Sinai was indeed in Midian (Acts7:29,30), on the eastern side of the Gulf of Aqaba.