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The narrative of Job is lavished with themes, ideas, and concepts significant in the interpretation of the events. The book of Job is an example of a very rich literature and with its fullness, the central idea could be conceived from the sensible structure of the colorful language. Although the author used very rich language to interpret the events, the narrative is nonetheless consistent with reality and the description pertains to the life and struggles of human beings during the period. The account of Job therefore is not fiction but a record of the events in the life of an actual person that existed in the period. The account however, is put in the rich language of literature but the concept remains true to the experience. Hence, the themes of the story reflect the condition of life and struggle of the people during the time, particularly of Job, a human being who lived back in time.
Themes in the Book of Job
The book of Job primarily depicted the prominence of God’s sovereignty, the perplexity of human suffering, the salient intrusion of Satan in the relationship of God and man, and man’s tendency to sin. From these four evident conceptions, different themes are discerned. These themes are discussed accordingly in this paper.
The Prominence of God’s Sovereignty
God’s sovereignty is prominent in the book and is seen all throughout the story. Job recognizes God’s sovereignty when he said “I know that Thou canst do everything and that no thought can be witholden from Thee” (42:2). Job knew that God is aware of his suffering and that He is in control of his life. He further affirmed it saying “the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21). Job still praised the Lord even in his suffering just as how he was grateful to Him when he had all his wealth in life. Job knew his God well and he knew that God is in control of his life therefore, he did not “curse [Him]” (2:9) when his wife told him to do so. When Job saw the Lord (42:5), he “abhor [himself] and repent in dust and ashes” (42:6). God revealed Himself and the presence of His majesty caused him to “abhor [himself]” before God.
God gave an account of His sovereignty when He answered Job “out of the whirlwind” (38:1) saying “…I laid the foundations of the earth” (38:4),… “stretched the line upon it” (38:5),… “laid the cornerstone thereof” (38:6),… “shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb” (38:8),… “made the cloud the garment thereof, and thick darkness a swaddling band for it” ((38:9),… “commanded the morning since thy days; and caused the dayspring to know his place” (38:12). In these verses God revealed Himself as the Creator of heaven and earth and everything in it including Job. God was trying to convey here that He has control over everything therefore assuring Job that He is control of His life too.
When Satan asked God to “put forth [His] hand…and touch all that [Job] hath” (1:11), God shows His sovereignty over man by giving Satan the “power” over all of Job’s possession (1:11) and later over “his bone and his flesh” (2:5). This is a clear evidence that God allows everything to happen in our lives although He is not the cause of it. Moreover, God also demonstrated His sovereignty over Satan. Satan cannot just touch God’s people without His permission. Satan knew that he was still under the control of the Almighty God therefore he recognized His sovereignty also. He asked God’s permission before he touched Job. He is aware that God cannot be deceived and therefore he cannot go over His authority (1:11-12).
God’s sovereignty over man is apparently portrayed in the book. Job had not a single power over his life and over anything that he had. Even Satan had no power over him until God gave it to him (1:12). Job recognized the sovereignty of God over his life when he answered his wife saying “what? Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10). Job is aware that God’s power is working on his life both in good and in bad times.
The Perplexity of Human Suffering
During the period, the theory that the wicked suffers from his wickedness and the righteous prospers in life is widely believed. People thought that if a man suffers, he is cursed or punished by God. And if he is prosperous, he is blessed by God. Eliphaz, one of Job’s friends who came to mourn with him, believed that Job has sinned secretly and therefore was punished by God. “Remember, I pray thee, whoever perished, being innocent? Or where were the rightous cut off?” (4:7) Eliphaz speaks according to the widely accepted retribution-recompense belief. He stated that “they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same. By the blast of God they perish, and by the breath of his nostril are they consumed” (4:8-9). Elihu is asserting that Job’s suffering is the result of his sin, of which he did not know. He believed Job sinned in secret that’s why God punished him. This belief was also accepted and regarded by Job’s other two friends, Bildad, and Zophar. However, the belief is not true in Job’s case. Job lived a righteous life and God considered Job as “none like [anyone] in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil” (1:8). But beyond his godly life, Job still experienced deep grief and suffering.
Job, himself, took his suffering as a trial. He said that “when [God] hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (23:10). He took into account the process of gold refining where the gold is tried in fire to make the stone more precious than it has been. He believed his suffering was a process of refining to make out the most of his character.
On the other hand, we can depict that Job’s suffering is a permission God gave to Satan. In their conversation, Satan asked God permission and God gave Satan power over “all that he hath” (1:12) and later over “his bone and his flesh” (2:5). We can see clearly that God allows suffering to happen both to the righteous and the evil. However, it is not God but Satan who is the cause of man’s suffering.
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Moreover, Job’s suffering is beyond his understanding because God’s justice and knowledge transcends human knowledge. Job recognizes God’s ultimate wisdom therefore he said “I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not” (42:3). He realized that God’s knowledge could not be compared to his limited understanding. Job resorted to a better understanding and therefore said “the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding” (28:28). He resolved that he did not need to worry, nor asked God about His intervention but rather “fear” Him because “that is wisdom” (28:28).
Satan’s Intrusion in the Relationship of God and Man
Job was a “perfect and upright” man (1:1). He “feared God and eschewed evil” (1:1). God even described him as “none like [anyone] in the earth, a perfect and upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil” (1:8). The first description was the author’s, a man who lived in the same period and who witnessed Job’s life. This fact tells us that Job was regarded righteous by the community he was living with. Moreover, the second description which was told in the account of God is also in accordance with the first. This proves strongly that Job lived righteously.
However, Satan strongly believed that Job’s righteousness is superficial and insincere. He claimed that Job’s righteousness was a mere appreciation of God’s blessings in his life. He further asserted that “Job fear God for nought” (1:9). That if God “made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side…and put forth [His] hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse [God] to Thy face” (1:10-11).
Job shared and enjoyed a healthy relationship with God. His thoughts and his life conformed to the will of God. Elihu knew that his friend lived his life right. He mentioned that Job “hast instructed many and…, strengthened the weak hands, …that [his] words have upholden him that was falling, and…hast strengthened the feeble knees” (4:3-4). These acts are showing that Job indeed lived a godly life and therefore, he was considered upright by God himself. However, Satan, the master of superficiality, alleged that Job was not sincere in his dealings. He therefore directly came to God and negotiated with Him regarding Job’s faith and sincerity. Satan obstructs the relationship of Job towards his God and tried to destroy it by putting suffering in his life which he thought would weaken Job’s faith in God. At first, he took away his oxens, burned his sheep, killed the camels, slain his servants and sons and daughters (1:14-19), and later “smote him with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown” (2:7). He thought that if Job would experience deep suffering beyond his righteousness, “he will curse [God] to [His] face” (1:11). Satan even used Job’s wife who told him to “curse God, and die” (2:9). In his suffering, his friends came, but instead of giving comfort, they brought him scepticism. By all means, Satan did everything to destroy his rellationship with his Maker. But Job did not doubt God’s presence and sovereignty. Because he knew his God well, he knew that everything happening in his life is not strange to his Maker therefore, even if he cannot fathom the cause of his suffering, he knew that God is in control and that he has no right to question God because his knowledge is beyond His.
Man’s Tendency to Sin
After the fall, man’s tendency to sin was awakened by the great deceiver. Man does not need to struggle to sin but his all strength is not enough to resist evil. This truth has been a reality since the fall and until the present time. In Job’s time, this tendency of man is also depicted. According to God’s statement, “there is none like [Job] in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth eveil” (1:8). This statement is a proof that no one in earth is as faithful and as righteous as Job. And this statement is telling us that the rest of the people are unrighteous. Only Job was found blameless. However, when Satan brought him suffering, he had a difficulty maintaining his uprightness. And since He did not know that it was Satan causing him to suffer, he thought the Lord was responsible for his suffering and therefore could not fathom the reason why God had to inflict him such suffering beyond his righteousness. His grief was “heavier than the sand of the sea “for the arrows of the Almighty are within [him], the poison whereof drinketh up [his] spirit: the terrors of God do set themselves in array against [him]” (6:4). From this statement, we can see that Job really thought it was God who caused him to suffer. However, because of his humility, he chose to submit to God even if he could not understand God’s motive in his suffering. Moreover, he recognized God’s wisdom as supreme than his; and therefore said “I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not” (42:3).
In the account, we can see clearly that Job struggled hard to become righteous and he was put to the possibility of sinning that if he did not hold fast to God, he would surely fall. But since he knew his Creator well, he chose not to submit to the sinful tendencies of human nature.
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The rest of the characters had sinned. Job knew that his sons’ tendency is that of sinning therefore he “sent and sanctified them…and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for [he] said, “It may be that [his] sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts” (1:5). Even his wife resorted to sinning easily. When she saw that Job was afflicted with boils and deep grief, she ordered him not to “retain [his] integrity” but rather “curse God, and die” (2:9). Job’s three friends also resorted to sinning therefore, instead of bringing comfort to Job, they caused him unbelief. Notice that the other characters did not struggle to sin, because man’s tendency is that of sinning. While Job, struggled hard to become righteous, the other characters hardly exerted effort in choosing to sin.
Themes from the Story of Job
From Job’s story, we may gain the following themes which envelop man’s situation during the period:
- God’s sovereignty is prominent in the Christian warfare.
- God is in control of everything.
- God’s wisdom is beyond our conception.
- Everything under the heaven happens for a purpose.
- Sin is not always the cause of suffering.
- Satan has no power over us unless we give ourselves to him and unless God gave him power over us.
- Trials are like fire refining the character.
- God’s justice transcends human knowledge.
- Satan intrudes human relationship; therefore, man’s suffering may be a form of his intrusion.
- Only God knows whether a man is sincere or not. Satan does not have the ability to read a man’s heart.
- Human’s tendency is to sin; therefore, man has a great need to connect to his Maker.
- Sin is a choice even if it is man’s tendency.
These themes are drawn from real life therefore they should be held true and may be employed in our lives also. Like the characters in the story, our tendency is to sin but it is our choice whether to sin or not. To do this, we need to maintain a healthy relationship with God who knows what is best for us. We may experience suffering but God is in control. He sees and hears every sincere pleading. However, his answers may be beyond our knowledge. Though we may not understand, we should adopt Job’s humility and surrender ourselves to God rather than question Him about our sufferings. Everything that happens happens for a purpose and if we cannot comprehend it, we just have to trust God.
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