Is Job a Chiasm?
Dr. Douglas Stuart
Notice the way things are organized. There is a prologue that is a couple of chapters long and there is an epilogue that is not a full chapter, but there is a lot in it. Then there is Job’s opening lament, chapter 3. Then look near the end, there is Job’s closing contrition. Then there is a dialogue or dispute set of cycles; three of them. Then there is a set of monologues and then it centers into the middle with the wisdom interlude. This is what we call a chiastic structure or a concentric structure. If those terms are new to you, look them up. They just talk about the way you work in from the ends, the first element and the last element are going to parallel or be close in some way. Then the next one, the second from the beginning and the second from the end, will parallel one another in some significant way and you work in toward the middle. Some people have learned wrongly that the middle of a chiasm or a concentric structure is what it concentrates on; this is a mistake. The middle is a convenient hinge of some kind but it is not the center of the importance. You need to understand that. It can be but not usually. So do not think that the whole chiasm or concentric pattern focuses on the middle, rather it hinges on the middle in some useful way. So, what is in the middle of this one?
There is a wisdom interlude that really is not anyone talking except the writer of the book and we are not sure who that is. It could have been Job himself or somebody else. It asks the question, where do you find wisdom? You go everywhere looking for it. The final answer is that it is found in the Lord. He is the source of wisdom. The book is especially structured in these dialogues. Here is what we say about Job in contrast to Proverbs which is monological wisdom; there is somebody saying the Proverb. We say that Job is dialogical wisdom. In this case, people are debating back and forth what the right and the wrong are. The point of this can be shown in the following very quick run-through. I want to apologize for this; it is just my way of trying to cover a very big book very quickly. I do a lot of that in this course. That is the nature of what we are doing. We are seeing the overview. This can be frustrating unless you just say, “Look, he is not going to ask this question on the test, there is nothing like this: Summarize the dialogues of the Book of Job.” I just want to give you a feel for the way the debate works; just a feel for it, just a sense of it. What I have done is provide a summary of what you can find anywhere: a good commentary, any bible encyclopedia article on Job will summarize and outline the arguments. This is nothing new.
What we have is a situation where God gives Satan unusual power, power Satan does not normally have. Satan has to ask for it. That is the power to make people ill. You might say, “I just thought Satan always caused illness.” No, Satan cannot normally cause illness according to the Scripture. That is a very important thing to appreciate. Demon possession is a type of illness, and Satan can certainly cause that, but only if God allows it. I would argue that demon possession is not possible for believers. The idea that a believer would be demon possessed is, I think, theologically contradictory. That is another issue, I realize, but just in case you have thought that it might be so, at least let me challenge you, to prove it to yourself. Study the topic and see if you do not become convinced. It makes no sense to say that a believer, a real follower of Christ, could be demon possessed based on the data in Scripture. Anyway, Satan has the unusual power to make somebody sick and to control the weather, which he normally does not control. It seems like it most of the time in New England but he honestly does not control the weather.
Miseries of all sorts come to Job. The challenge is this—Satan says to God, “I can get Job to curse You.” That is the challenge. Now God will win that challenge and Satan will lose if Job is impatient. He can be impatient, he can be angry, he can be frustrated, he can hurt like everything, he can tell you chapter after chapter how unfair everything is, but if he does not curse God, Satan loses and God wins. That is the big challenge. Even Job’s wife unwittingly plays into Satan’s hands.
At the very end of the Book of Job is the epilogue. “The Lord then speaks to Job and the others and He says to them,” to Eliphaz particularly, “I am angry with you and your two friends,” this is Job 42:7, “because what you’ve spoken in not right as my servant Job has.” In other words, what Job has said is right. Now that is incredible. What did Job say? He said life is unfair; it is. This life is unfair; the Bible says it. Jesus said, “God’s reign falls on the just and the unjust.” He said it too. There are lots of ways that it is said in Scripture. The wisdom psalms say that, “The wicked often get away with everything but don’t join them, it looks good now but it won’t be good forever.” So in the life, in this world, now at this time life is unfair. Good people do suffer; bad people often do not. That is the way it works. Indeed, in the New Testament suffering is often an indication that you really are following Christ. It is a kind of proof that you are not leading a hedonistic but you are living an unselfish life of the sort that Christ wants us to live. That is one of the evidences that suffering is positively directed toward. So Job has spoken correctly. That is an important thing. However, what does Job keep asking for? “I want to talk to God. Oh if I could see Him personally. Oh if I could be in His presence. Oh if I could have some connection, if there were somebody who would be between us, a go-between, oh would that be great; then I could understand it all.” What Job is looking for is the kind of thing that Ecclesiastes is looking for; we are getting to that next. He is looking for some way in which he could figure out what this life is all about. The answer is that you figure it out by what God has in store for making all things right. Job is implicitly waving a flag at you and saying, “We need something other than this life. There needs to be something other than this life, this world which is so unfair, which has so much cruelty in it, so much suffering, so much hardship; there has got to be something else.” That is hinted at by the restoration to Job of all kinds of blessed things. It says, “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former.” That is a very important statement. The best is yet to come is in effect the message of the Book of Job.