The Book of Job, named after its protagonist, is an exquisite dramatic poem which treats of the problem of the suffering of the innocent, and of retribution. The contents of the book, together with its artistic structure and elegant style, place it among the literary masterpieces of all time.
Job, an oriental chieftain, pious and upright, richly endowed in his own person and in domestic prosperity, suffers a sudden and complete reversal of fortune. He loses his property and his children; a loathsome disease afflicts his body; and sorrow oppresses his soul. Nevertheless, Job does not complain against God. When some friends visit him to condole with him, Job protests his innocence and does not understand why he is afflicted. He curses the day of his birth and longs for death to bring an end to his sufferings. The debate which ensues consists of three cycles of speeches. Job’s friends insist that his plight can only be a punishment for personal wrongdoing and an invitation from God to repentance. Job rejects their inadequate explanation and calls for a response from God himself. At this point the speeches of a youth named Elihu (Job 32-37) interrupt the development.
In response to Job’s plea that he be allowed to see God and hear from him the cause of his suffering, God answers, not by justifying his action before men, but by referring to his own omniscience and almighty power. Job is content with this. He recovers his attitude of humility and trust in God, which is deepened now and strengthened by his experience of suffering.
The author of the book is not known; it was composed some time between the seventh and fifth centuries B.C. Its literary form, with speeches, prologue and epilogue disposed according to a studied plan, indicates that the purpose of the writing is didactic. The lesson is that even the just may suffer here, and their sufferings are a test of their fidelity. They shall be rewarded in the end. Man’s finite mind cannot probe the depths of the divine omniscience that governs the world. The problems we encounter can be solved by a broader and deeper awareness of God’s power, presence (⇒ Job 42:5) and wisdom.
The divisions of the Book of Job are as follows:
I. Prologue (⇒ Job 1:1-⇒ 2:13)
II. First Cycle of Speeches (⇒ Job 3:1-⇒ 14:22)
III. Second Cycle of Speeches (⇒ Job 15:1-⇒ 21:34)
IV. Third Cycle of Speeches (⇒ Job 22:1-⇒ 28:28)
V. Job’s Final Summary of His Cause (⇒ Job 29:1-⇒ 31:37)