Feast upon the Word Blog

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KD OT Lesson 32: Job

Posted by Karl D. on August 22, 2010

Gospel Doctrine
Lesson: Job
Reading: Job

1 A Note on approach

These represent the notes I made during my reading of the scriptural text for this lesson. It is not a lesson outline or a lesson plan but really notes about issues and questions that struck me as interesting during my reading. Consequently, the notes do not have a conclusion and very little mention of application. I like to let those things arise while I teach.

2 The Grandest Thing Ever Written

Thomas Carlyle said the following about the book of Job:1

I call the book of Job, apart from all theories about it, one of the grandest things ever written with the pen.

Do you agree? Why or why not?

Edwin N. Good, in his commentary on the book of Job references Carlyle but notes a downside to Carlyle’s and others’ praise:2

The praise the book of Job has received may put some readers off. Who feels equal to comprehending “one of the grandest things ever written.”

  • Do you agree with Good? Does the extensive praise of the book of Job make you less interested in the book?
  • Does it make you feel like maybe you are missing something when you read it?
  • Does this “literary” praise make it more difficult to read and enjoy the book as scripture?

3 The Structure of Job

The bulk of the book is poetry but a prose prologue and epilogue surround the poetry. The book of Job divides nicely into five sections:

1. Job 1–2 Prose Prologue
2. Job 3–31 Job and His Friends Have a Poetic Chat
3. Job 32–37 Young Elihu Poetically Condemns Job
4. Job 38:42:6 The Lord Poetically Answers From the Whirlwind
5. Job 42:7-17 Prose Epilogue

4 A Brief Taste of the Prologue

Read Job: 1:1-3

(1) There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil. (2) And there were born unto him seven sons and three daughters. (3) His substance also was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she asses, and a very great household; so that this man was the greatest of all the men of the east.

  • What do we learn about Job the man and Job the book in these verses?
  • What numbers show up again and again? Are these numbers important?

5 The Central Message and Themes of Job

5.1 What is the Book About?

  • What is the book about? What are we supposed to learn when we read it?
  • What are some of the book’s main themes?
  • Which themes resonant with you the most?

5.2 Some possible messages and/or themes:

Do you see any of the following as the central message or important themes of Job?

  1. Why the righteous suffer.
  2. How to endure suffering.
  3. Human suffering is not necessarily deserved.
  4. Believing that all suffering is deserved leads to a false understanding of God.3
  5. “There is no way of understanding the meaning of suffering. That is, in the Lord’s argument, the reasons for suffering – if there are any – are simply beyond human comprehension.” 4
  6. Theodicy: defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil.
  7. Friendship

5.3 A Pivotal Question

Read Job 1:7-12:

(7) And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. (8) And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? (9) Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? (10) Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. (11) But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. (12) And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.

What question are God and Satan interested ?

  • I would probably summarize it as: Are humans capable of being righteous without the incentive of rewards
  • Do you think this is an interesting question? Why or why not?
  • Can this be possibly be an importat question or the question God is interested in? There has to be a promised reward or punishment somewhere, right? There has to be incentives somewhere?
  • Job is Wisdom Literature like Proverbs. Why might this question be important given the backdrop of a book like Proverbs?
  • Does this question suggest a central message or point?

5.4 Primary Theme

I am not sure the preceding question is the theme of the book. I think it is an important question that runs throughout the book but maybe not the theme. Do you agree? Why or why not?

  • How about the following as the central message of the book?

    God expects us to be righteous even in the face of injustice and suffering

  • Suppose the preceding really is the central message of the book. Is there something unsatisfying about viewing the book of Job this way? Why or why not?

6 You Reap What You Sow in Proverbs

In Proverbs if a person has wisdom what happens? If a person is foolish or wicked what happens?

Read Proverbs 11:8-9

(8) The righteous is delivered out of trouble, 
    and the wicked cometh in his stead. (9) 
An hypocrite with his mouth destroyeth his neighbour: 
    but through knowledge shall the just be delivered.

Read Proverbs 11:31:

(31) Behold, the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth: 
    much more the wicked and the sinner.
  • How would you summarize these verses? You reap what you sow?
  • Wisdom literature (particularly proverbs) is often seen as emboding this particular world view (often referred to as Retributive Theology).

6.1 Extreme Implication of Retributive Theology

  • Are we talking about some sort of positive but noisy, in a statistical sense, correlation between righteousness and earthy reward?
  • Read Proverbs 26:21
coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire;
    so is a contentious man to kindle strife.

7 Job and Wisdom

7.1 Job’s Friends and Wisdom Literature

Let’s turn to the book of Job. Specifically to one of the speeches of Job’s Friends. Read Job 4:6-9 (Eliphaz to Job):

Is not this thy fear, thy confidence, thy hope,
and the uprightness of thy ways?

Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent?
or where were the righteous cut off?

Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity,
and sow wickedness, reap the same.

By the blast of God they perish,
and by the breath of his nostrils are they consumed.

  • What is Eliphaz telling Job? Does it sound like Proverbs and conventional Wisdom literature?
  • Is Job the Book contradicting Proverbs and other parts of the Wisdom literature?
  • Is it more accurate to suggest that Job is provided perspective or nuance?

7.2 Retributive Theology in the Doctrine and Covenants

Read D&C 130:20-21:

(20) There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated (21) And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.

  • Are the D&C and Eliphaz making the same point?
  • Are there any differences?

7.3 Job’s Response to Retributive Theology

Read Job 9:21-24:

(21) Though I were perfect, yet would I not know my soul: I would despise my life. (22) This is one thing, therefore I said it, He destroyeth the perfect and the wicked. (23) If the scourge slay suddenly, he will laugh at the trial of the innocent. (24) The earth is given into the hand of the wicked: he covereth the faces of the judges thereof; if not, where, and who is he? (KJV)

(21) I am blameless; I do not know myself; I loathe my life. (22) It is all one; therefore I say, he destroys both the blameless and the wicked. (23) When disaster brings sudden death, he mocks at the calamity of the innocent. 24) The earth is given into the hand of the wicked; he covers the eyes of its judges if it is not he, who then is it? (NRSV)

  • How does Job feel? Why does he feel this way?
  • How does Job react to his friends use of conventional Widsom arguments?
  • How has his suffering affected his understanding of God?
  • Is it bad or wrong for Job to feel this way?

7.4 Job Wants to Take God to Court

Read Job 9:14-20

(14) How then can I answer him, choosing my words with him? (15) Though I am innocent, I cannot answer him; I must appeal for mercy to my accuser. (16) If I summoned him and he answered me, I do not believe that he would listen to my voice. (17) For he crushes me with a tempest, and multiplies my wounds without cause; (18) he will not let me get my breath, but fills me with bitterness. (19) If it is a contest of strength, he is the strong one! If it is a matter of justice, who can summon him? (20) Though I am innocent, my own mouth would condemn me; though I am blameless, he would prove me perverse.

  • Why does Job want to take God to court?
  • Why can’t he take God to court?
  • In what way does Job fundamentally misunderstand God?
  • There is irony here; Job does not believe God will listen to his voice, but that is exactly what God does.
  • Is it fair to say that all the characters misunderstand God in different ways?
  • Does Job provide an important reminder to us about our relationship to God?

8 God in the Whirlwind

8.1 The Lord Responds

In chapters 38-41 God appears to Job in the Whirlwind. Let’s read Job 38:12-18 to get a feel for God’s response Job:

12 Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days;
   and caused the dayspring to know his place;
13 That it might take hold of the ends of the earth,
    that the wicked might be shaken out of it?
14 It is turned as clay to the seal; 
   and they stand as a garment.
15 And from the wicked their light is withholden, 
   and the high barm shall be broken.
16 Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea?
   or hast thou walked in the search of the depth?
17 Have the gates of death been opened unto thee?
   or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?
18 Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth?
    declare if thou knowest it all.

And Job 38:34-36

34 Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds,
   that abundance of waters may cover thee?
35 Canst thou send lightnings,
   that they may go, and say unto thee, Here we are?
36 Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts?
   or who hath given understanding to the heart?
  • I am struck by the contrast here. The Lord has been silent for about 35 chapters. Now he bursts on to the scene and responds at length. On the other hand Job now become terse in his responses to the Lord.5
  • What is the Lord pointing out to Job?
  • The response by the Lord is long. What does the length underscore?
  • Why doesn’t God answer Job in a direct manner? Something along the lines of the following: “Job this is why you suffered …”
  • Some have suggested that the answer Job received is that God appeared to him and that what he says is alrgely secondary. Do you agree? Why or why not?

8.2 Job After a Theophany

Let’s look at Job’s response. Read Job 42:1-6

(1) Then Job answered the LORD, and said, (2) I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. (3) Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. (4) Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. (5) I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. (6) Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.

  • What does Job do? Why do you think Job reacts this way?
  • Why does Job repent? What is he repenting of?
  • What do we learn about our relationship with God?
  • Has Job changed? If so what changed Job?
  • What does Job mean when he says, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.”?
  • This doesn’t answer the question of why we suffer, but does it answer the question of why we should obey God?


1 I find that people tend to be interested in questions concerning the historical reality of Job the person. I don’t have much to say on the subject but let me note a couple of things. Many LDS commentators have relied on D&C 121:7-10 to conclude that Job was a real person:

(7) My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; (8) And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes. (9) Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands. (10) Thou art not yet as Job; thy friends do not contend against thee, neither charge thee with transgression, as they did Job.

It is certainly reasonable to view these verses as evidence in favor of the historical reality of Job. On the other hand, the First Presidency in the past has at the very least suggested some flexibility regarding the historicity of Job the person and Job the book.

In October 1922 … the First Presidency received a letter from Joseph W. McMurrin asking about the position of the church with regard to the literality of the Bible. Charles W. Penrose, with Anthony W. Ivins, writing for the First Presidency, answered that the position of the church was that the Bible is the word of God as far as it was translated correctly. They pointed out that there were, however, some problems with the Old Testament. The Pentateuch, for instance, was written by Moses, but “it is evident that the five books passed through other hands than Moses’s after his day and time. The closing chapter of Deuteronomy proves that.” While they thought Jonah was a real person, they said it was possible that the story as told in the Bible was a parable common at the time. The purpose was to teach a lesson, and it “is of little significance as to whether Jonah was a real individual or one chosen by the writer of the book” to illustrate “what is set forth therein.” They took a similar position on Job. What is important, Penrose and Ivins insisted, was not whether the books were historically accurate, but whether the doctrines were correct.

Alexander, Thomas G., 1996, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-Day Saints, 1890-1930, University of Illinois Press (Paperback), page 283.

I think one can easily make too much of this and other related issues which is why I relegate it to a footnote.

2 Good, Edwin N., 2000, “1 & 2 Kings” in Harper Collins Bible Commentary, Harper & Row, 369.

3 Gruber, Mayer, 1999, Job:Introduction in the Jewish Study Bible, Oxford University
Press, 1500.

4 Gruber, Mayer, 1999, Job: Introduction in the Jewish Study Bible, Oxford University Press, 1500.

5 Good, Edwin N., 2000, “1 & 2 Kings” in Harper Collins Bible Commentary, Harper & Row, 390.

3 Responses to “KD OT Lesson 32: Job”

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