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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; 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 to men. 

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 Jewish dating:

- 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. 

Clear Conscience?

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 to man.  

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).  

The Atonement

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 through him. 

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 (29:12)

- Rigidly shunning idolatry and sexual sin (ch. 31)

- Enjoying abundant material blessings, which he recognized were from God. 

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.

Imputed Righteousness

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.