The Book of Job
The Book of Job and the anguished attempts of Job and his comrades to understand the ways of God have perplexed, stimulated, and inspired thinkers and philosophers for thousands of years. The ideas in this book are at the heart of the age-old question: ‘Why do bad people prosper while good people suffer?’
There is another question about the book that may shed some light on how it should be understood. When did Job live? Unlike other narratives in Scripture, the author does not reveal when or in what context the events took place. Indeed, the Talmud notes eight different opinions regarding when he lived, and the ninth opinion that it is a parable, that he never lived at all!
Judah Loew ben Bezalel of Prague, known as Maharal mi-Prag (circa 1529–1609), explains that the theme of suffering is universal and cannot be isolated to any particular period. Job could only have lived, if he ever did, in a time of crisis, when God judges people strictly. That is when people must be concerned that their deeds may be subject to rigorous and painful scrutiny.
Satan in Job was sent to test its protagonist to let him prove that he was worthy of God’s blessing. Job’s ordeal, therefore, is recorded because it is a paradigm for anyone who suffers and seeks to know why. Just as Job’s suffering can be understood in the context of various historical periods, so each individual’s ordeal must be interpreted with the context of his own period of history. In discussing when the story happened, the sages differ only regarding what is the most fitting setting for such a test.
The many messages of the book are wrapped in enigmas. Job’s friends fail to convince him. His arguments seem to overpower theirs. One wonders why they do not show him more sympathy. In the end, God himself comes to blunt Job’s challenge. Job accepts, not because of logic, but because he realises that he is mortal and cannot understand divine wisdom or divine justice. At times when people are at a loss to understand the rigours of life, that must be their response as well; that there is a plan, and that man must trust in the one who puts the plan in place – the Lord God Almighty.