The Book of Job is much more than a “story.” It deals in depth with the major questions of the human condition. The misfortunes of Job—after having been abundantly blessed all his life, he is reduced to utmost misery—are merely a pretext to have us reflect on this reality: human life on earth is not satisfying. Suffering and death would not be so dark if it were not for this malaise or scandal that comes from the absence of God in our world.
Job only needs to contemplate nature to believe in God and divine providence. However, his misfortunes bring him to reconsider the concept he had of a tacit agreement between the just man, himself and the just God.
Job accuses and cries out to God with all the force of his thwarted hope and, in the end, God will have to intervene.
The Book of Job
The starting point of this book is a popular tale found in the first and last pages (1:1—2:13 and 42:10-17): the story of the holy man Job. Yahweh had tested him by taking everything away from him but in spite of that, Job remained faithful. In the end, God gave everything back to him.
The moral was somewhat simplistic. Then, an unknown author wrote the poems of chapters 3—41. There, a very different Job from the first one accuses the human condition and his three friends confront him with the answers of traditional wisdom.
These chapters constitute the most sizable collection of sapiential literature in the Bible. It may be helpful to recall that this new section presents a view of life that is very different from the view proposed in the books of the Law and the prophetic books. These were mostly interested in the history of Israel, the ups and downs of the Sinai covenant that had transformed Israel into a people set apart and the bearer of a universal mission.
On the other hand, here the history and vocation of Israel are forgotten (seemingly, at least). The author has returned to what constitutes the lives of all humans, whatever their countries or religions may be. Human beings are before their destiny with no other revelation than what nature is telling them in a thousand ways, what the tradition of their ancestors has handed down to them and has interpreted for them. Human beings are not in a world without God. On the contrary, they see God’s presence everywhere. Yet, they are first conditioned by their material existence and the fact that so many people live in inhuman conditions raises questions about God’s honesty and the way God treats human beings.
Job’s discourses are strongly marked by the culture of his time. Above all, he insists on being known as a just man: honor and shame are decisive criteria for tribes. Hence, the need to appeal to an arbitrator or a tribunal to clear his good name when his misfortunes have made him look guilty. The book is going to show that there is no answer: God’s intervention in chapters 38—42 moves in a different direction from the conclusion in 42:10-17. We remain with our malaise and we will not be healed before we see God.