The Book of Job: An Overview

Job is renowned as the archetypical “suffering man” of the Old Testament, and rightly so. His losses were immense. But his comfort amidst his suffering is the knowledge that God Himself is perfectly steadfast and desires to act in mercy toward His servants.

The following text is adapted from volume 1 of The Lutheran Bible Companion.

A Summary of Job

Chapters 1–3: Prologue and Job's Opening Lament

Job has a wonderful—even “perfect”—family and life. Yet Job’s devotion to God is not based on self-righteousness. He recognizes the sinful, corrupt nature at work within his family and seeks God’s forgiveness (1:5). God agrees to test Job through suffering. Rather than curse God, Job blesses and worships Him. He displays no regret, as though he suspects his loss is the result of sin by someone in his family. He sees God’s hand at work in his suffering. Though Job loses virtually all his possessions, he does not lose trust in the Lord. He feels there is nothing he can do. Job’s friends also display genuine, appropriate sorrow and care. Even the most optimistic people will reach despair when overwhelmed by pain and suffering.

Chapters 4–14: The First Cycle

The first cycle of speeches by Job and his friends begins with Job expressing sorrow. Eliphaz tries to comfort Job but only adds to Job’s misery. He only offers platitudes. Job harshly accuses Eliphaz and his other friends of failing to provide even the smallest amount of comfort or help. He turns to God with this desperate cry: “Leave me alone” (7:16). Bildad argues backward: sin produces suffering; therefore, all who suffer must have sinned against God. Job responds that he has no hope of fixing the problem with God. God is too powerful and there is no one to mediate between him and God—not even Job’s friends. Of the three friends, Zophar is the most vehement in his denunciation of Job. He does not base his speech on visions (Eliphaz) or tradition (Bildad). He simply concludes Job is a terrible sinner, for how else can Job’s extreme sufferings be explained? Whereas Zophar has wrongly focused on people’s supposed ability to shape their own destiny, Job correctly recognizes God’s control. Job rightly sees that the world is in a state of frustration; sin is still so powerfully at work in our world, and even in our lives as believers. Job expresses the hope of forgiveness and life, but struggles with an overwhelming awareness of God’s heavy hand upon weak and sinful human beings like himself.

Chapters 15–21: The Second Cycle

In the second cycle, Job’s misery only increased through the aggravating words of his friends. Everyone has abandoned him. Even God has treated Job as His enemy. But Job confesses that God will nevertheless be his witness and intermediary at the coming judgment. After Job’s great confession of faith in his heavenly witness-mediator, he begins to consider his outward circumstances once again. He describes how the situation was becoming bleaker. Bildad implies that unless Job repents, he will suffer the ravages of death. When Job’s physical condition grows closer to death and he considers a permanent memorial to record his innocence, his spirit soars to his only hope: the Redeemer, God Himself. The divine Redeemer will stand on the earth on the Last Day. Job will receive his vindication in his resurrected body, from which he will see the Redeemer with his own eyes. Zophar assumes that the truly righteous are somehow exempt from external miseries and must enjoy prosperity now (“theology of glory”). Job’s friends ignore the observable fact that many among the wicked prosper and live seemingly easy lives. By truthfully describing life on earth, Job is reminded to look beyond this life for his hope and righteousness. 

Chapters 22–26: The Third Cycle

In the third cycle, Eliphaz’s speech calls Job to repentance, and as such, this chapter is profitable for meditating on one’s own sin and the need for God’s deliverance. Job complains that God seemed distant and impossible to find (23:3). Yet he remains convinced—by faith and not by sight (2Co 5:7)—that God does not change His will (23:13–14). The brevity of this last speech by Job’s friends shows they have finally run out of arguments. Bildad’s speech is a good sermon for Job and for everyone. Job states that the almighty God has created the heavens and the earth (26:7) and still controls all things (26:8–10). But this work is merely the “outskirts of His ways” (26:14)—as if the entire creation was the hem at the edge of His cloak!

Chapter 27–31: Job's Monologue

Job refuses to abandon his confidence. He knows and confesses “what is with the Almighty” (27:11), namely, that he will finally be vindicated (27:6), while his enemies will be swept away (27:13–23). He explains that people cannot find wisdom by their own reason or strength. God alone can give it through His declaration—His Word. Job bases his speech on the idea that moral behavior merits God’s favor and that immoral behavior earns God’s displeasure. If anyone could be justified before God based on good works, it would have been Job. But God’s justice is too uncompromising, and His ways on earth are hidden.

Chapters 32–37: Elihu's Speeches

Elihu now speaks up. He argues that there is no clear correlation between our experience of suffering (or good) and the will of God. He maintains that when Job, a mere human, dictates to God how or when He must act, Job must be charged with rebellion. Elihu believes that Job has added unbelief to his sin by complaining so bitterly. (In doing so, Elihu fails to consider some understandable human emotion on Job’s part.) Elihu counsels Job that the Lord uses affliction not just for our punishment but also for our deliverance. Elihu tells Job to abandon obstinacy and, with proper fear and trust, to submit to God as his Lord, thereby preparing Job for God’s visit in the whirlwind (38:1).

Chapters 38–42: Yahweh's Speeches and Job's Responses

In the whirlwind, God responds with a mild, yet firm counteraccusation. The Lord reminds Job that He not only created the world but also continues to care for it. Job falls silent. Job finally recognizes his real insignificance in comparison with Behemoth’s and Leviathan’s might and defiance. In the end, the Lord restores Job. We see him praying for his friends, who, though they seemed friendly, were acting as his spiritual enemies. Job does not accuse his friends and ask for judgment, but follows the Lord’s gracious lead and acts as their mediator before the Lord.

Specific Law Themes

The Book of Job presents the disappointing truth that people suffer unduly in a world broken and corrupted by sin. Although no sinner can merit God’s mercy or the security of life now or eternally, it seems unfair that outwardly wicked people may escape suffering while nice people do not escape. Job emphasizes that no one—not even he, as one known to be “blameless and upright” (1:1)—can justify himself before God. The book likewise acknowledges that Satan can tempt people, deceive them, and even inflict suffering upon them, while God seems silent or distant. 

Specific Gospel Themes

Job shows that the Lord—in apparent silence and distance—may accomplish His good purposes through suffering. Even while His people mourn their losses and suffer in ways that appear unfair to human judgment, the Lord remains the Redeemer of His people, governing creation and life according to His good and gracious will. Job even foresees the blessings of the resurrection of the body, which physically illustrates the sad realities of destruction and the joys of restoration that appear in Job’s story and our own.

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