The Book of Job is part of the Old Testament portion of the Christian Bible and an integral part of the Hebrew Bible. The book of Job is extremely well written and one of the most renowned pieces of Biblical literature as it aims to investigate the common question which a majority of human beings tend to ask, regarding the returns they receive from God. Job is a married man, has children, and appears to be wealthy.
The story of Job is very popular because it provides insight into human suffering and the story of Job’s life is made intriguing by the fact that God plays an important role in making him suffer. His life is a good illustration of an element of justice called conflicting claims and how it is resolved through a disposition by a supernatural entity. The literary work is a masterpiece and is a beautiful combination of verse at the beginning and prose at the end of the book. The poetic discourse between Job and his friends and later between Job and the Whirlwind is one filled with mood alterations, sarcasm, and allusions.
Job is married, with seven sons and three daughters, and is a man of great stature. Job is a righteous man and even the Almighty praises him, asserting that “there is no one on earth like him, a man of perfect integrity, who fears God and avoids evil.” It is for this reason that he is blessed with a good life. Job obeys God, offers prayers and sacrifices for not only himself but also his family so that the Lord will continually find favor in them.
When God makes known His pleasure regarding the remarkable behavior of his “servant Job”, an accuser makes a counter-argument that Job is upright since he has a “good reason for being so good”. The accuser challenges God only if God would “just reach out and strike everything he has” and grant him the permission to destroy Job’s livelihood and wreak havoc in Job’s life Job would begin to curse God.
God grants the accuser the power over Job’s life and “everything he has” warning him not to “lay a hand on him,” the accuser visits Job and his family. “That same day” the accuser does everything possible in his capacity to cause havoc in Job’s life by destroying (through raiders and bandits sent by him), all that Job owned, including his oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, and sons and daughters who “were feasting” and were killed when the house they were in collapsed.
Surprisingly, even after the complete destruction of Job’s life and belongings at the hands of the accuser, Job does not sin against God by cursing him. Instead, he accedes that “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken” and prays that “the name of the Lord be blessed”. When the Lord tells the accuser on his next visit that “there is no one on earth” like Job, and that he “is holding on to his innocence” and had been punished “for no reason”, the accuser challenges God to “just reach out and strike his flesh and bones” and “I bet he’ll curse you to your face.” God now wants the accuser to try this stunt as well and grants him the permission to do as he desires but warns him not to kill him”.
The accuser begins with his next strategy of inflicting Job with physical pains and covers Job’s body “with boils, from his scalp to the soles”. Even his wife is tormented at the sight of Job and asks him to “Curse God, and die”. But Job holds on to his faith and trust in God and tells his “foolish woman” that when they had readily “accepted good fortune from God” they should have no problems in accepting the “bad fortune too”.
Job is in a terrible physical state and when his three friends “Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Namathite” hear about his illness and problems, they come “to mourn with Job and to comfort him”. However, they see Job and are so moved by his condition and so utterly speechless at Job’s condition and “sat with him for seven days and seven nights”, but were not able to console him or utter a single word “for they saw how great his suffering was.”
The dialogues between Job and his friends are a true reflection of the painful irony of Job’s pathetic situation. As readers, we are aware that Job is not punished for bad deeds but God’s desire to prove to the accuser that Job is a truly noble man and loves Him dearly. However, Job’s friends assert that Job has faced misfortune due to some evil deeds done by his family or him. Accordingly, Bildad tells job that if he is “pure and upright” “God will rouse himself for you”.
It is ironic that Job’s true friends consider him to be evil while God and the accuser know that Job is “blameless and upright”. Despite being Job’s friends they cannot gauge his pain, anguish, and suffering and try to encourage him to beg pardon from God. This section also reflects the inability of a man to judge his fellow beings even if they are the best of his friends. It is in this argument that Job and his friends falter, for all of them try to explain the true nature of God for what is actually a simple game between God and the accuser. Obviously, they fail miserably at their assumptions for the limited knowledge they have. This, god, notes when he rhetorically questions them through the whirlwind asking them, “Who is this that darkness counsel / by words without / knowledge?”
The principal premise of the book is the inability of Job to comprehend why God lets the good suffer and the bad prosper. In spite of evaluating several ways to justify God’s actions which Job considers unfair, he is unable to gauge why the evil humans who actually “harm the childless woman and do no good to the widow” are let free by God. Job’s friends to believe that humans by virtue of their mortal souls are erring beings which is why God decides to inflict them with sorrows and pain. Accordingly, they insist that Job too has been punished for some wrong which he or his family have done. Of course, this explanation is irrational which God affirms when he asks Job “Have you comprehended the / expanse of the earth? / Declare if you know all this”. Through this statement, God declares that the power and knowledge of God is way above the understanding of humans and therefore they should not discuss the justifications of God’s actions and ways.
The use of rhetoric in the poetry is the primary quality of the Book of Job which facilitates the idea in the mind of the reader and the listener, rather than clearly defining the actual premise. The series of rhetorical questions which God overwhelms Job with have a sublime effect on Job as well as the readers and listeners. God defies and challenges Job to do the same things which He has done and in a way passes the important message that the creator is far greater than the creation itself. Finally, God questions Job whether he dares “to deny my judgment? Am I wrong because you are right?’ giving the final indication to Job that He had acted for a reason and this action supersedes all the boundaries of “wrong” and “right”.
The use of sarcasm in the poem is an effective tool used to imply the most accurate meaning without actually stating it. When Bildad tries to guide Job and speaks about the wisdom of human beings, Job derides him with the question “How you have helped one / who has no power! / How you have assisted the arm / that has no strength!” through this statement Job ridicules Bildad and tells him that he already knows what Bildad is trying to preach him about wisdom.
The verse, though ancient, is full of sarcasm and criticism, which all the characters display for one another. The play of irony in the poem is one of the best features of the poem and this lends an interesting tone to the poem, making it appealing to the readers and listeners. The poetry in the Book through the means of dialogue enables the characters to develop and display their true personalities all through the course of this great masterpiece in literature.
Mitchell, Stephen. The Book of Job. New York: Harper Perennial, 1992.