3-2-1 The Conversion Of Job
It is probable that many Bible readers have come to perceive the
book of Job as largely revolving around the identity of the satan,
and the problem of suffering. Subconsciously, it is easy to feel
that the book has an opening two chapters concerning the satan,
and then a mass of complicated dialogue between Job and the friends,
ending with God's speeches concerning the wonder of the natural
world, and then Job's justification. Such a view misses the whole
point of the book: " How can a man be just with God?"
(Job 4:17 R.V.mg.; 9:2; 25:4). Job's growth in understanding this
is the main theme; and the many applications for ourselves are independent
of who the satan is, or exactly why God permits suffering.
Job was a " perfect" man, whose moral integrity was recognized
by God (1:1). Yet he suffered greatly. The theological perspective
of both Job and the friends seemed to lead them to feel that suffering
was a direct response to sin, and blessing was therefore proportionate
to righteousness. This created the spiritual and intellectual dilemma
for both Job and the friends, which their long speeches so painfully
reveal. Indeed, it seems that Job's lack of understanding
was as much a cause of the agitated depression he developed, as
the very physical extent of the trials he experienced.
That Job was indeed depressed can be seen by the vast number of
times Job speaks of " I" or " myself" . There
are some 40 occurrences of these words in Chapter 29 alone. Those
seeking to understand the relationship between faith and depression
would do well to examine the record of Job, before turning to the
psychology of a God-forsaking world.
Longing For Christ
Understanding the real import of the speeches rests largely on
a correct understanding of Elihu. Job longed for one like Elihu,
who could reconcile God with Job's righteous life , his sufferings,
and all his intellectual doubts. Elihu points out that he is the
fulfilment of Job's need (33:6 cp. 9:33). With this, Job has no
disagreement. Elihu is to be seen as a type of Christ (see later).
The speeches of Job therefore make us see the desperation of man's
need for Elihu/Jesus; especially the need of those who lived under
the Old Covenant. Job's weakness, morally, physically and intellectually,
becomes representative of the weakness of each of us. We breathe
a sigh of relief (as Job did too) when Elihu appears on the
scene. This matches the moral and intellectual " rest to your
souls" which the true believer in Christ experiences; rest
from the weight of the mental burdens which the spiritual life imposes.
Job's greatest pain was not physical; it was the pain of being misunderstood
by those close to him (e.g. his wife, relatives and the friends),
the ingratitude of those around him, the agony of knowing that no
one had been down the mental path he was being forced along. He
longed for his grief to be written in a book, for true recognition
to be given to his desire for righteousness. He could not
turn to his friends, who must have been close to him spiritually
at one point. Eliphaz cruelly mocked his spiritual isolation: "
Call now, if there be any that will answer thee; and to which of
the saints (in the ecclesia) wilt thou turn?" (5:1). Job's
desire for real spiritual friendship grew so intense that he comes
to visualize an ideal friend, who would not only appreciate his
every grief, but who would offer more than commiseration. He came
to long for one who would reconcile him with the righteousness of
God. Naturally, he would have had in mind Abraham's promised seed.
His mind was therefore being prepared to desire the coming of Messiah;
in prospect, he was developing a personal understanding and appreciation
of the Lord Jesus. In all this, Job is our glorious example. There
can be very few who have not experienced the terror of complete
spiritual isolation, longing for understanding and true appreciation,
but finding none within the ecclesia whom they can turn to. As we
look back from our traumas to the glorious reality of Christ's existence,
so Job looked forward to it.
Yahweh The Saviour
It has been observed that the Covenant name of Yahweh is not used
in the speeches of Job and the friends. Instead they speak of God
as El (power) or Shaddai (the fruitful one). This
shows how they perceived God as the awesome power of the universe,
the one who granted their physical blessings in response to their
obedience to Him. 'God' was like a profitable insurance policy.
But Yahweh is fundamentally a saviour-God, one who manifests
Himself in men for their salvation, and is supremely manifested
in the Son. Significantly, we are told in chapter 42 that Job finally
spoke to Yahweh; it was to Him that he said: " I have
heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth
thee" (42:5). He came to understand God's Name, His personality,
in far greater fullness. He came to appreciate far more the extent
of God's manifestation in the true friend which he looked forward
to. Our sufferings and traumas have a like effect, if we respond
as Job did. Note that both Jacob and Samson, in their time of spiritual
maturity, also reached a higher appreciation of the names of God.
Reflect likewise how Abraham told Isaac that “elohim yir’eh”, the
elohim would provide the sacrifice; but after the wonder of the
ram being provided, he named the place “Yhwh yir’eh” (Gen. 22:14).
The experience of this foreshadowing of the cross led him to know
the Yahweh Name more fully; and for this reason it can be shown
that the cross was the supreme means of that Name being declared
Job: Preface To The Law?
The exasperating speeches of the friends also highlight the need
for Elihu, and also the inability of human reasoning to bring about
justification with God. Much of their reasoning was repeated by
exponents of the Mosaic Law as a basis for salvation. The connections
between the book of Job and the Mosaic Law have been shown elsewhere
(1). It seems significant that the
book was probably written by Moses in Midian just prior to the giving
of the Mosaic law (there are very strong Jewish traditions to this
effect). Job was therefore placed into circulation amongst God's
people to prepare them for the giving of the Mosaic law. Those who
perceived the mind of the Spirit would realize that they were being
taught that cold obedience to a set of commands was not the basis
of justification with God. In the book of Job, human moral 'perfection'
was shown to be both unattainable, and irrelevant to bridging the
gap between sinful man and a righteous God.
There is Biblical evidence that the drama of Job occurred at some
time after Abraham, and before the exodus, thus confirming the traditional
- The Sabeans of 1:15 were probably the descendants of Sheba,
Abraham's grandson (Gen. 25:1-3). For his children to grow into
a separate tribe, the events of Job must have happened some generations
before the Law was given.
- Eliphaz was of the tribe of Teman, Esau's grandson (Gen. 36:10,11).
For Teman's children to be called 'Temanites' rather than 'the
sons of Teman' would have required a few generations.
- The Septuagint states that Job was the " Jobab"
of 1 Chron.1:44,45, who lived five generations after Abraham.
- Job had 10 children by one wife and then another ten by her-
sounds like pre-flood times
- Job uses very early titles for God.
Job was a “perfect” man before the afflictions started; and he
is presented as a ‘perfect’ man at the end. The purpose of his trials
was not only to develop him, but also in order to teach the friends
[and we readers] some lessons. The purpose of our trials too may
not only be for our benefit, but for that of others. If we suffer
anything, it is so that we might help others (2 Cor. 1:4). Consider
too how the palsied man was healed by the Lord in order to teach
others that Jesus had the power to forgive sins (Mt. 9:2-6). The
'perfection' of Job before the trials is something to marvel at:
" That man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God,
and eschewed evil" (1:1). He was even considerate for the very
feelings of the soil as he ploughed his land (31:38-40); such was
his sensitivity. And frequently, Job protests the clarity of his
conscience. The more we can appreciate the high level of Job's righteousness,
the more we will understand how good conscience and obedience alone
are not the basis of salvation. God emphasizes that He was not looking
for any specific sin of Job's to be revealed, as a result of the
trials (35:15). The New Testament's revelation of Christ's righteousness
likewise leads us to the conclusion that we lack both the self knowledge,
and the appreciation of God's righteousness, to be able to say that
we have a totally clear conscience. Paul also emphasized his clear
conscience (Acts 23:1), yet he concluded: " I do not
even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but
I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me" (1
Cor. 4:4 R.S.V.). No amount of mental searching can " find
out God...unto perfection" (Job 11:7). Holding 'the truth'
alone is not the basis of salvation. Understanding those doctrinal
truths is quite rightly the basis of our fellowship with
each other; but not of our salvation. God's fellowship with a man
is not fundamentally because that man holds true doctrine. It is
because that man appreciates God's righteousness, his own sinfulness,
and the mediatorial work of Christ between us and God. The final
speeches of God and Elihu brought home the point that the righteousness
achieved by man was not comparable with God's righteousness (e.g.
40:7-10). We are left to draw the conclusion: that the only way
for man to be just with God is through the imputation of God's righteousness
Discerning and feeling ones own sinfulness is an undoubted part
of conversion. Elihu on God’s behalf rebukes Job for thinking that
“I am clean without transgression” (33:9,12); and Elihu’s exhortation
to Job to say “I have sinned” (33:27) is obeyed by Job, as if he
accepted the truth of what Elihu was saying. When Job finally lays
his hand upon his mouth (40:4), he is only doing what he had earlier
told the friends to do in recognition of their folly (21:5).
This leads the student of Job to a finer appreciation of Christ's
work. If he had been born of human parents, he could theoretically
have attained as much righteousness as was possible for a man to
achieve. Perhaps Job was also one of the few (the only one?) in
this position. But that righteousness would not have matched that
of God. Christ had to be the begotten Son of God, so that "
God was in Christ...that we might be made the righteousness of God
in him" (2 Cor. 5:19,21). In a sense, God's righteousness was
given to Christ (Ps. 72:1), which is why He can judge men (Ps. 72:2).
An ordinary man, even if he were perfect, would not be able to truly
judge other men on God's behalf. Job was brought to realize all
these things, through his sufferings. It is quite possible that
it was also through the extent of his 'undeserved' sufferings that
Christ, whom in some ways Job typified, also came to appreciate
the necessity and intricacy of the atonement which God achieved
However, chiefly Job is typical of us rather than Christ. A brief
summary of his characteristics brings home the similarities between
Job and many a steady believer:
- A good conscience
- Knowing true doctrine
- Vexing his righteous soul at the worldliness of his family
and the sin of the surrounding world
- Putting his hand deeply in his pocket to support any good cause
- Rigidly shunning idolatry and sexual sin (ch. 31)
- Enjoying abundant material blessings, which he recognized were
His trials brought him to realize that whilst these things were
not irrelevant to God, none of them alone were the basis of salvation,
or proof that he was acceptable with God. He was brought to question
whether he really believed the basics of the One Faith;
or whether he just knew those things as abstract pieces of doctrine.
That God is good, that he is love, that man is sinful and
abhorrent to God, that there will be a resurrection and just judgment;
all these things Job was driven to either reject or believe more
desperately, more urgently, more intensely. " I have heard
of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee"
(42:5). In our re-conversions, we go through the same process. With
Job, it was a process. During it, there were wild fluctuations
in Job's faith; from denying that there would ever be a resurrection,
to the matchless confession of faith in this found in 19:25-27.
Job's tender love and appreciation of God (" He sheweth Himself
marvellous upon me" , ) is countered by his
rage against God for hating him (16:9). Such wild fluctuations
indicate more than the unstable brain chemistry of clinical depression.
They are part of the spiritual adolescence which we each go through,
in some form, as we go through our re-conversions, growing up into
the maturity of the spirit of Christ. The briefest examination of
our own ways, coupled with a true appreciation of human sinfulness,
will show that our spiritual level wildly fluctuates. How many times
have we walked away from close fellowship with Yahweh and His Son
at the memorial table, to then do the grossest despite to the spirit
of grace- even if it be 'just' in a hard word or thought.
The Psychology Of The Friends
The psychology of the friends is profitable to analyze. Job was
the “greatest of all the men of the east” (Job 1:3),
the Hebrew implying the eldest, the most senior. The friends were
older than Job, and take pleasure in reminding him of the wisdom
of the ‘elders’. He had risen above his place, got too
great too quick, and therefore they were intent on proving to him
that actually he was not so great, he had sinned, and they by their
supposed wisdom and understanding were really greater than him.
And they bent their theology, their guesswork as to his possible
sins, to that subconscious end- of justifying themselves and pulling
Job down beneath them by their interpretations of his misfortunes.
What this indicates is that during their period of ‘friendship’
previously, they had nursed unconscious feelings of jealousy against
him. The lesson for us is to re-examine our friendships, our loyalties,
to see if they carry the same feature; a desire to ‘be in
with’ the popular and the successful, to catch some reflected
glory. The conversion of Job led him to understand the fickleness
of his friends, and to pray for them in it.
The friends ended up playing God. They presumed to judge Job according
to their own limited and inaccurate theology, by assuming that he
must have sinned in order to receive such terrible trials from God.
Zophar claims to have revealed Job’s guilt, and then says
that “the heavens”- an elipsis for “God”-
have revealed Job’s guilt (Job 20:27). Job figured out what
was happening when he complained to them: “Why do you hound
me as though you were divine?” (Job 19:22 NAB). But something
good came out of all this for Job. The way the friends played God
set up a kind of dialectic, from which Job came to perceive more
powerfully who God really was- and, moreover, how in fact this God
would ultimately save him rather than destroy and condemn him, as
the friends falsely thought. By ‘dialectic’ I mean that
the way the friends presented a false picture and manifestation
of God’s judgment led Job to react against it, and thereby
come to a true understanding of God’s judgment. Having stated
his perception that the friends are indeed playing God (Job 19:22),
Job goes straight on to make a solemn and important statement. The
solemnity of it is witnessed by his request that what he was now
going to say would be inscribed in rock with the point of a diamond
as a permanent record (Job 19:24). And that solemn statement was
that he knew that God would be his vindicator at the last day, that
he would “see God”, that he would have a bodily resurrection,
and that at that time it would be the friends who would be condemned
(Job 19:25-29). This supreme statement of faith, hope and understanding
was elicited from Job because of the rejection he suffered from
his friends, and the way they so inaccurately and wrongly played
God in wrongly condemning him on God’s behalf. Job thus came
to long for the judgment seat. There are few believers who have
reached that level of intimacy with God- but Job did, thanks to
the way his friends so cruelly turned against him. And this is a
major lesson we can take from being the victim of slander, misunderstanding
and misjudgment by our own brethren. Job 23:3 perhaps epitomizes
this desire of Job for judgment day: “Oh, that today I might
find him, that I might come to his judgment seat!” (NAB).
He wanted the judgment seat to come that very day! The invisible
hand of God is working in every life that suffers from ones’
brethren ‘playing God’ in false judgment of us…
to lead us to this wonderful and blessed attitude.
In the end, Job was saved by grace, and by righteousness imputed.
God's graciousness towards Job's hard words of anger is perhaps
an insight into how He judges the words and actions of people in
grief or depression. God justifies Job to the friends as having
spoken that which was "right", even though Job spoke much
that wasn't right, and shook his fist at God. It may be relevant
in this context to note that God condemned Edom / Esau because "his
anger did tear perpetually" (Am. 1:11)- as if He was willing
to understand the gut reaction of anger [in Esau / Edom's case,
over Jacob's deception]; but He does expect us to work through the
stages of it, not to be caught up on the 'anger' stage of our reactions
to loss and grief.
(1) See Job in
James And Other Studies. This article also shows how Rom.
3:23-26 is alluding to Job 33:23-28, as if Elihu is to be read as
typical of Christ. Note in addition how Dt. 4:32 = Job 8:8.