The book Job is composed of three parts: a prologue, an epilogue, and the body of the tale. Many scholars are convinced that the prologue and epilogue are additions to the story’s original body. The two are different in tone and portray God in a radically distinctive manner that will disturb rational thinkers. The two additions were probably made hoping to describe God in a way the average reader would like. Scholars cannot agree on when the book was composed, who wrote it, and its intended audience; however, it was probably composed sometime between the 7th and 5th century BCE.
The book’s prologue states that Job was afflicted with a debilitating skin disease by God’s command to show that Job, a very pious non-Israelite who did not live in Canaan, would not curse God even though he suffered constant pain. God also commands that Job’s children should be killed, and he lose his wealth. This prologue theme to see if Job will curse God is different from the theme in the body of the book, which explores the age-old question why bad things happen to good people.
Significantly, despite his enormous wealth and not being very intelligent, Job is a simple ordinary good man, an individual with whom the average reader will identify. He lacks spiritual maturity; his pious acts toward God are unsophisticated and consist primarily of sacrifices, equivalent to today’s prayers. His thoughts and concerns are not deep, certainly not philosophical. As God predicted in the prologue, this good man doesn’t curse him explicitly when he is inflicted and loses his children and wealth, but he comes very close He disparages human life, all that God created. It is as if one man says to another, “I certainly like you, but I dislike everything you do.” Job is disappointed, confused, and questioning. He doesn’t curse God directly because he is afraid of him and his punishment, not because of respect. Intelligent readers will see that he fails God’s righteousness test. Job does not curse God because of piety but fear.
Who is God?
The book does not identify God’s name. The portrait of God in the book’s prologue is, as previously stated, different than his portrayal when he speaks to Job at the end of the body of the book during a whirlwind, a violent scene of nature in turmoil, a symbol of God’s message to Job. In the prologue, God is shown as a monarch sitting before attendants, presumably angels, and mentions that Job is one of the most excellent human beings. An accuser, one of the assembled angels, disagrees. He argues that Job is only behaving well because he is prosperous. He would turn and curse God if he lost all and was afflicted with a painful disease. God disagrees. He tells the accuser to inflict Job to prove that he is right. God’s decision to murder Job’s ten children, cause Job pain, and prove to an underling that he is correct, are uncharacteristic of what people think about God, a being who is just and all-knowing, who should be respected by all, especially by angels who shouldn’t doubt his views. The psychologist Carl Jung wrote that the prologue portrays God as morally inferior to Job.
Explanations of Job’s three friends
Job is visited by three friends who sit by his side for seven days without speaking because they are considerate of Job’s suffering. (It is interesting to note that the magic numbers seven and three, which frequently appear in Scripture and fairy tales, are often mentioned in the story.) The friends soon ignore Job’s suffering and criticize him for failing to understand what caused his situation. Each of the three, with increasing pious emphasis, reminds Job that God is just, and they chastise him for not realizing that he is suffering because he is being punished for past misdeeds. When Job repeatedly reminds his friends that he never did anything wrong, which, as God noted, is correct, they insist he is morally blind. Readers hearing the friends suppose that evil occurs in this world because the good and just God is punishing a wrong-doer; those who agree with the three friends may wonder how God could act as he did, making Job suffer a test, including the murder of innocent children.
Elihu, Job’s younger acquaintance, remains silent during the three supposed friends’ rants and then offers his assessment. While he insists that his explanation for Job’s misfortune is better than that of the three friends, he spends much of his time extolling God’s greatness and justice. He seems to say briefly – but this is not certain because the text is not that clear – that suffering helps people realize how they can improve.
God’s explanation is delivered in a whirlwind
Job hears God’s voice after Elihu’s explanation. He tells Job that he and his three friends do not understand the purpose of the world or how it operates. Their premise that the world functions on a moral basis of good and evil, that God oversees human behavior and punishes bad acts and rewards good deeds, and that humans are the center and purpose of creation are wrong. The whirlwind is the true symbol of how the world functions. The earth is full of violence. The lion pounces upon the deer, tears it apart, and consumes it. Violent creatures are, metaphorically speaking, God’s toys. Humans, with their wrong notion of morality, want to see a different world, but the world functions as God wants it. Suffering is part of nature, the way things are. People need to understand this and accept the world for what it is, not what humans naively want it to be.
The message of this biblical book is not comforting, but it is realistic. The world functions according to the laws of nature, not morality. The philosopher Moses Maimonides (1138-1204) understood this. He explains that the Job story is a parable. And like most parables, some details are not fitting, even impossible and wrong. Also, in book one, chapter 2 of his Guide for the Perplexed, he points out that we should not make decisions based on morality, but on reason, on understanding how the universe functions, for the world works by the laws of nature. In later chapters, he explains that evil is the result of natural law, one of three things: people harm themselves, others harm them, or they suffer from natural events, such as hurricanes, which are necessary for the world as a whole but may not be suitable for a particular person. Most laws, human and those in nature, are good for the majority but harmful to some people.
This lesson that what people consider evil is necessary will bother many individuals. They want to be convinced that God cares for them and protects them as a compassionate, moralistic father. Accordingly, an additional ending was added to the Job fable, either by the original poet or some later writer, which is similar in tone to the poem’s prologue. In it, a loving, helpful God, unlike the God of nature who spoke from the whirlwind, awards Job for his conduct during his suffering by giving him seven sons and three daughters again, doubling all of his previous possessions, and prolonging his life.