Lecture 06: Job and Apocalyptic Literature
Course: The Book of Job
Lecture: Job and Apocalyptic Literature
I. Parallels between Job and Apocalyptic Literature
In this lecture, I want to talk to you about the relationship between Job and apocalyptic literature. I do not mean to say that Job is apocalyptic literature. But I mean to say that there are a number of remarkable parallels between Job and apocalyptic and that these parallels help us to understand what is going on with the book of Job.
First of all, what I mean by apocalyptic literature. Basically, think Daniel and Revelation, books that have these visions of heaven and strange visions of
animals, that talk about the future and that talk about the ultimate clash between good and evil. That is what we mean. Apocalyptic, just think Daniel, Revelation.
But I want to suggest to you that the book of Job has a number of striking parallels to these books; and that by observing these parallels, we get a good
sense of what the book of Job is all about and what the book of Job is doing.
A. Both deal with reality on the heavenly and earthly levels
First, both Job and apocalyptic literature deal with reality on two levels, the heavenly and the earthly. Let’s think about the book of Job. Job begins in heaven
with this conflict between God and Satan. There is in effect a kind of wager over whether Job will curse God and die if he is seriously afflicted. So after that, Job gets all of these afflictions: His children are killed, he loses his wealth, he loses his health, he is suffering; and from that point on, Job and his three friends are debating what is going on. They are down on earth. They see all of this affliction, they see all of this suffering. They are trying to figure it out.
The reader already has seen what happened in heaven and so knows there is a heavenly reality and there is an earthy reality. Then we get another glimpse of the heavenly reality when God comes down to Job and speaks to him and tells him what it is really all about. He gives him the final answer from heaven. The important thing is, you have this conflict and this suffering and all of this terrible pain going on on the earth; but beyond that you have a heavenly reality.
What do we see in the apocalyptic literature that is similar? A very short, simple example is Revelation chapter 4, verse 1. John has received a message from Christ to send letters to the seven churches and then he says: “After this I looked and there before me was a door open in heaven. And the voice I had heard first speaking to me like a trumpet said, ‘Come up here and I will show you what must take place after this.’” So we then see John is taken up to heaven and he sees the heavenly reality that is behind all of the suffering and all of the turmoil he sees on earth that is reflected in the seven letters.
Perhaps a more graphic example is Revelation chapter 12, verse 1 and following, the vision of the woman and the dragon: “A great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet and a crown of 12 stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven, an enormous red dragon with seven heads and 10 horns and seven crowns on his head. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child who will rule over all the nations with an iron scepter. Her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of 1,260 days. War broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was not strong enough and they lost their place in heaven.”
We’ll drop down to verse 13: “When the dragon saw he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. The woman was given two wings of a great eagle so that she might fly to a place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for time, times and half a time out of the serpent’s reach.” Then it continues on, how the serpent tried to destroy the woman, tried to drown her, and then called up the great beast.
What is going on there? I’m not going to try to give you a full exegesis of Revelation 12, other than this: Behind all of that vision is an earthly reality. The
earthly reality, of course there is the story of the birth of Christ, the Child of Israel, who is the woman. But then there is the persecution of the people of God, the persecution of the church, how the dragon pursues them and wants to destroy them, and raises up finally a great beast to do war with God’s people.
What does all of that mean? It means that you have the earthly reality of conflict and suffering and persecution on earth; and above that, you have the heavenly reality of the conflict between the great dragon, Satan, and God. So you can see that there is in apocalyptic literature this sense of the heavenly and the earthly reality.
B. Apocalyptic deals in special numbers, especially 3 and 7
The second thing is, apocalyptic deals in special numbers, especially 3 and 7. Let’s think about Job for a moment. Job has seven sons and three daughters. After he is struck with all of his afflictions, his friends come, his three friends come, and sit before him for seven days. They then engage in three cycles of debate. Then after the wisdom poem of chapter 28, there are three more major speeches.
There are even other things we could point to. At one point that we will look at later, Job gives what is called “the negative confession” in which he declares all of the sins he has not committed. It turns out he lists 14, which of course is 2x7.
You have all of these examples of three and seven within the book of Job. What about say, Revelation? The examples are too numerous for me to even begin to list them all, but let me read a few of them for you:
At the very beginning of Revelation, chapter 1, verse 4: “John to the seven churches in the Province of Asia.” Verse 11: “Write on a scroll what you see and
send it to the seven churches.” The churches are then listed. Verse 16: “In his right hand he held seven stars and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword.” Moving ahead, chapter 4, verse 5: “From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peels of thunder. In front of the throne seven lamps were blazing. These were the seven spirits of God.” Chapter 5, verse 1: “Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on it on both sides, sealed with seven seals.” Chapter 8, verse 13: “And I watched, I heard an eagle that was flying mid-air, call out in a loud voice, ‘Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth because of the trumpet blast about to be sounded by the other three angels!’” Chapter 9, verse 18: “A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulfur that came out of their mouths.”
I could give you a whole lot more examples, but you get the point. Besides those I have already mentioned, there are seven trumpets of God’s wrath, there are seven bowls of God’s wrath. It just goes on and on, the numbers 3 and 7 in the book of Revelation and not only here, it is strikingly similar to what we have in the book of Job.
C. Apocalyptic literature acknowledges the reader’s inability to decipher the meaning of the text and calls them to deeper understanding
Another thing, apocalyptic acknowledges the reader’s inability to decipher the meaning of the text and calls upon the reader to deeper understanding. In other words, it recognizes this is really hard material and on first reading, it won’t make any sense to you. But it wants you to pay close attention, to read carefully and figure out what is going on.
Let me give you some examples from elsewhere in the Bible. One actually comes from the book of Matthew. In Jesus’ discourse on the Mount of Olives, in which the most apocalyptic section of the Gospels, in Matthew chapter 24, he is giving an account of what is coming and the dangers ahead. Then in verse 15 it says; “So when you see standing in the holy place the abomination that causes desolation spoken of through the prophet Daniel, let the reader understand.” So there is this surprising little comment right in the middle of Jesus’ discourse, that this is difficult, this is kind of hard to figure out, but you need to give careful attention to it. You need to try to figure out what is going on in this revelation.
Back again in the book of Revelation, we have Revelation chapter 13, verse 18: “This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, that number is 666.” So notice here again, it is giving us a very mysterious piece of data, the number of the beast is 666. But it tells us it calls for wisdom. The person who is going to deal with this needs to have insight to calculate what it means. So within apocalyptic literature, or an apocalyptic text like Jesus’ Olivet discourse, you have these statements to which you have to pay close attention, because this is hard.
What about the book of Job? I don’t want to get too far into this because later on we are going to examine it at length. But where I think this has a parallel is in the Elihu speeches. You will remember that after Job gives his final discourse, and before God steps in and speaks, this character who beforehand we didn’t know anything about, named Elihu, jumps in and he gives a long speech. Elihu, to put it simply, is trying to untie the knot. He is trying to figure out what is going on. He is trying to explain it to the other people and trying to explain it to himself. I will tell you right now, before we get there, I don’t think Elihu really gets it. But he tries and his speech is a really good indication to us who are reading Job, this is a very hard problem that the book of Job has presented us with, this problem of the righteousness of God, this problem of a good and righteous man being afflicted in such a terrible way. So I think the Elihu speech in effect has the function of saying, “Let the reader understand.” It is very difficult, it is a very complex issue. Even God’s speech that is about to be given, is kind of hard to work through. But we are called to show wisdom and to seek understanding of what all of this means.
D. Apocalyptic literature uses fantastic or mythological animals as symbols to get the message across
Fourth, apocalyptic literature uses fantastic and mythological animals as symbols to get its message across. You are very familiar with this from Daniel and
Revelation. Let me just go back to Daniel for a moment. Daniel chapter 7. Daniel has a vision and here is what he saw, Daniel 7, verse 1: “In the first year of
Belshazzar, King of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.” Verse 2: Daniel said, “In my vision at night I looked and there before me were four winds of heaven churning up the great sea, four great beasts, each different from the others, came up from the sea. The first was like a lion and it had wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so it stood on two feet like a human being and the mind of a human was given to it. There before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides and it had three ribs in its mouth before its teeth. It was told, ‘Get up, eat your fill of flesh!’ After that, I looked and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard. It had four wings like those of a bird. The beast had four heads and it was given authority to rule. After that in my vision I looked and there before me was a fourth beast, terrible, terrifying and very powerful. It hard large, iron teeth, it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left.”
What we see there in Daniel are four beasts that Daniel sees and they are strange kinds of composite animals. A lion with wings who stands on his hind feet and has a human mind or human heart, a leopard with four wings and four heads. All of these strange composite beasts that are the essence of his vision.
We see the same kind of thing in the book of Revelation. For example, we can look to Revelation chapter 9. In Revelation 9 the fifth angel sounds his trumpet, a star falls to the earth and opens up the abyss and out of the abyss comes these strange locust beasts. Here is what it says about them, chapter 9, verse 7: “The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold and their faces resembled human faces. Their hair was like women’s hair and their teeth were like lion’s teeth. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. They had tails with stingers like scorpions and their tails had the power to torment people for five months. They had over them a king who is the angel of the abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon.”
We have another we could look at very briefly, just look at a verse or two. Revelation chapter 13: “The dragon stands on the shore of the sea and he calls up the great beast. He says, ‘I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had 10 horns and seven heads and 10 crowns on his horns and each head had a blasphemous name. The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but it had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like the lion.’”
So we see in these passages these strange composite animals that represent something that is terrifying, something that is evil, something that is destructive, indeed, Satanic.
What about the book of Job? The speeches of God to Job end with two great creatures. The two great creatures are Behemoth and Leviathan. Leviathan and Behemoth, as we will discuss later – I don’t want to get into it in detail now – but Leviathan and Behemoth are not natural animals. They are not like a
hippopotamus or a crocodile or something like that. They are supernatural animals. They are animals that are again, composite, having many characteristics. They have a ferocity which is similar to what we see in Daniel and Revelation. Let me give you a brief clue, a brief picture. If we turn to Job chapter 40, verse 15, here is what we read about Behemoth: “Look at Behemoth, which I made along with you, which feeds on grass like an ox. What strength it has in his loins. What power in the muscles of its belly! Its tail sways like a cedar; the sinews of its thighs are close-knit. Its bones in tubes are of bronze, its limbs like rods of iron. It ranks among the first among the works of God, yet its maker can approach it with his sword. The hills bring it their produce, all of the wild animals play nearby. Under the lotus plant it lies, hidden among the reeds in the marsh. The lotus conceals it in their shadow, the poplars by the streams around it. A raging river does not alarm it; it is secure, though the Jordan should surge in its mouth. Can anyone capture it by the eyes, or trap it and pierce its nose?” Then it goes on and says, “Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook or tie down his tongue with a rope?”
So what do we have here in Behemoth and Leviathan? Behemoth is a strange creature. He lives among the lotuses. He is huge. He is powerful. You might think, as some have said, that maybe he is a hippopotamus or something. But he has a gigantic tail like a cedar, which would not be a hippopotamus. Again, I don’t think it is any actual natural animal. It is some kind of weird composite animal that is there in order to convey a message.
We aren’t going to read about Leviathan at this point. We will study Leviathan in much more detail later; but Leviathan is the same way. He is described as heavily armored. He is described as unbeatable. He is described as having a cunning mind. He is described as being fire-breathing. All of these strange characteristics kind of come together in this composite, monstrous creature called Leviathan.
Leviathan and Behemoth together correspond, I believe, to these apocalyptic animals of Daniel and Revelation. They are, as it were, supernatural creatures of evil and they represent everything that is wrong and everything that God must defeat. We won’t go into that in any more detail now, other than to say that this, in my mind, is a very striking parallel between Job and apocalyptic literature.
E. Apocalyptic often includes a cataclysmic undoing of creation
We then come to at this point, apocalyptic often includes a cataclysmic undoing of creation. So we have this, for example, in Revelation chapter 8, verse 7 and following. We are having a vision of the pouring out of the wrath of God and here is what it says. This is the trumpets: “The first angel sounded his trumpet and there came hail and fire mixed with blood. It was hurled down to earth. A third of the earth was burned up and a third of the trees were burned up. All of the green grass was burned up. The second angel sounded his trumpet and something like a huge mountain all ablaze was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned to blood. A third of the living creatures in the sea died and a third of the ships were destroyed. A third angel sounded his trumpet and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water, the name of the star is Wormwood,” etc.
What do we have here? Here we have the beginning of the wrath of God in which the cataclysmic judgments fall down from heaven and creation is undone. In the trumpets, it is one-third of everything. One-third of the fresh water is destroyed. One-third of the seas are filled with death. One-third of the land is burned up, and so forth. But basically the earth as a livable creation is beginning to come apart. Then, finally when you get to the seven bowls of wrath, everything is destroyed, all of creation is undone. So you have in apocalyptic literature the sense that ultimately creation itself will come apart. Creation itself will be undone.
There is something kind of analogous to this in the book of Job. I don’t want to get into it too deeply because that is the topic of a lecture we are going to have right away, and that is Job chapter 3. That is where Job curses the day of his birth. When Job curses the day of his birth, we need to understand that the day of his birth is for him the day of existence. It is for him the day the world began. And when Job calls upon his birth to be cursed, he is in effect calling upon the whole of existence, the whole of creation to be cursed; and he does kind of allude to what we have in the creation narrative in the way that he curses his birth. He says, for example, in chapter 3, verse 4: “That day may it turn to darkness. May God not care about it. May no light shine upon it. May gloom and other darkness claim it once more. May a cloud settle over it and blackness overwhelm it.”
What does that seem like? That is the undoing of the first day of creation. “And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. And God separated the light from the darkness.” What is Job calling for here? He is calling for a return to absolute darkness. He is calling for the day of his birth to be a day without light, so it is an undoing of creation. He does something similar when he says, “That night, may thick darkness seize it; may it not be included among the days of the year nor be entered in the month.”
So we can see, he is simply saying may his birth day be obliterated. But when he speaks of the days of the year, the month, what does that kind of allude to? It alludes to the fourth day of creation when God put up the stars, the sun and the moon to mark seasons and years to serve as a calendar. He goes on and he says, “May its morning stars be dark; may it wait for daylight in vain and not see the first rays of dawn.” The stars he wants to be darkened. Again, what did God create on the fourth day? He created stars.
What I’m trying to get you to see is, and I’m not alone in this, but I believe that when Job is cursing the day of his birth, he is not just saying, “Boy, I’m really
unhappy.” He is saying, “The whole of creation should come apart. As far as I am concerned, it would be better off if none of it was here.” Why Job says such a radical thing we will get to when we get to that lecture. But the point is, there is a kind of undoing of creation in Job’s speech.
F. Apocalyptic sometimes contains a doxological intermission
Apocalyptic sometimes contains a doxological intermission, both to break the tension of the conflict and to signal that divine intervention is about to begin. We see this for example in the book of Revelation in chapter 19. Up until this point in Revelation it has been the people of God suffering persecution. Satan is making war against them, Satan raises up the great beast to persecute the Church, so forth. So there is all of this conflict and persecution and turmoil and people calling upon God for help and the people of the earth persecuting the Church. Then we read in chapter 19: “After this, I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting, ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.’ And they shouted: ‘Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.’ The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. They cried, ‘Amen, Hallelujah!’”
We could read a few more verses, but the point is this: The ending has not yet come. The ending will come when Jesus shows up and when he slays the wicked and when he judges heaven and earth and when he judges the righteous and judges the wicked, and casts the wicked into the lake of fire, so forth. So, the ending has not yet come. But you have this interlude of praise and thanksgiving and glory to God that serves as sort of an intermission between all of the turmoil of chapters 1-18 and the final conflict and the final work of God in chapter 20 and following.
So what do we have in the book of Job that is in any way comparable to that? We have talked a little bit about the significance of Job 28 in a prior lecture. Job 28, you remember, is the wisdom chapter. That is the chapter that looks upon the difficulty of finding wisdom, how humans will mine and dig and delve and find all of kinds of minerals and precious stones, but they can’t find wisdom. But there is an answer towards the end of chapter 28. It is not a full answer to the problem of Job, but it signals that an answer is coming. After talking about the difficulty of finding wisdom and the fact that it is beyond human understanding, chapter 28 ends: “When he established the force of the wind and measured out the waters, when he made a decree for the rain and the path of the thunderstorm, when he looked at wisdom and appraised it, he confirmed it and tested it. And he said to the human race, ‘The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.’”
We don’t get a full answer at that point; but we get a sense that there is an answer and it somehow is related to what we have just read. We have seen
already in the structure of Job as I laid it out as a Chiastic structure, how this chapter, chapter 28, is right in the center structurally. It is kind of the pivot point for the whole book. Again, just like Revelation 19 will prepare the reader for the fact that a solution is coming, the salvation of God is about to arrive; and it has this little intermission with its praise of God; so also Job 28 will say, “Yes, human wisdom is at its limit; this is beyond what any human can fully understand.” But then it offers a little glimpse of hope, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding, telling us that if we yet fear God, there will be an answer to the problem. So I think in that sense, they have similar functions.
G. In Apocalyptic literature, divine intervention concludes the conflict
In apocalyptic, divine intervention concludes the conflict. In the book of Revelation you know how it is: Jesus comes on his white horse, he slays the
wicked with the sword of his mouth. The beasts and the false prophet are thrown into the lake of fire. The wicked are judged and the righteous are raised to eternal life and a new heaven and a new earth. By God’s intervention, evil is destroyed. Evil is done away with and the righteous have eternal joy.
The same thing happens in Job, only in a very different way. God doesn’t come in with legions and armies and he does not slay all of the wicked in the book of Job. Instead, he gives Job an answer. The whole book of Job is taken up with the debate over the question of the righteousness of God. Job gets into this titanic struggle with the three friends and finally, God shows up and gives him the answer and to paraphrase, Job says, “Oh, I get it now” and the problem is
It is only a work of God that resolves the problem of the book of Job. Without getting in advance into the answer to the whole thing, I will tell you that in the answer God gives, it is understood that only God can solve the problem of evil; that God Himself must act in a way that humans cannot anticipate, that will deal with the problem of evil.
H. Apocalyptic literature calls the believer to endurance in the face of severe suffering
Apocalyptic calls the believer to endurance in the face of severe and inscrutable suffering, and the same is true I think of Job. In Revelation the saints are called upon to endure. The souls of the slain are under the altar, they are calling out to God to vindicate them, to avenge them. They are given white robes and they are told to wait a little longer. In the letters of the risen Christ to the seven churches he appeals to them to persevere, to hang on, to not let go of the word of their testimony until he finally intervenes.
What is behind all of this suffering on earth is the conflict in heaven and what God is calling upon his people to do is persevere, wait, hold on in faith. Don’t lose heart. Don’t give up on your confession.
What do we have in Job? We have a man who is suffering mightily. He is enduring surprisingly persecution in the form of his three friends, who came to comfort him, but then argued with him ferociously, saying, “Job, you must be a sinner, repent, repent, repent!” In this case their advice was wrong and Job perseveres, he holds on, he looks for an answer from God and finally, God answers.
But there is an important theology of redemptive suffering in Job, just as we have redemptive suffering in the suffering of the saints as in Revelation. So apocalyptic calls the believers to endurance, and so does Job.
I. Apocalyptic literature concludes with the faithful believer having entered into bliss
Finally, apocalyptic concludes with the faithful believer having entered bliss, joy. Revelation 21, of course, the righteous enter a new heaven and a new earth and there is a description of the New Jerusalem and all of the joys that they have. Whereas, in the book of Job, it is with Job fully restored. His property is restored. His family is restored. He is once again experiencing the joys of life, the happiness of life that he had before all of this stuff happened to him.
They are not exactly the same. The one has to do with resurrection in Revelation. The other has to do with the story of the man Job and his personal affliction. The point is, they both end with the righteous sufferer finally vindicated and finally brought out of all of his suffering.
What is the meaning of all of this? Very briefly:
A. There is a reality beyond appearances
First, there is a reality beyond appearances in both Job and in apocalyptic. There is the appearances that we are all seeing around us. Evil is triumphant. The wicked just go from victory to victory. There is no faith. There is no decency. There is no honor. There is only hatred and anger and persecution. That is the world that we see. But there is a heavenly reality above all of that. And in apocalyptic and in Job, we understand that there is much more going on than what we see here on earth.
B. There is a reality to supernatural evil
The second thing we can draw from all of this is that there is a reality to supernatural evil. This is of course evident in a book like Revelation where Satan
appears repeatedly. But it is also evident in the book of Job where of course, Satan appears in the very first chapter and then towards the end of the book we encounter Behemoth and Leviathan. So there is a supernatural evil behind all of the evil that we experience in this world.
C. Endurance of the saints
The third thing we should get from this comparison is the idea, as I have already mentioned, of the endurance of the saints. We are called to persevere when things go wrong. When the church is suffering, we are inclined to think, where is Jesus? If he really cares about us, would he let us go through all of this terrible stuff that we are going through? When we encounter personal tragedy, we think to ourselves, well, where is God? Does God not care? Does God just routinely slap people down just for the sake of doing it? We get very discouraged and we get very upset.
But we are called upon to persevere in our faith, to endure in our confidence in God.
D. Deliverance comes from God alone
The last thing I would say by the way of the significance of all of these comparisons is that deliverance comes from God alone. The solution to the
problem of evil cannot come from any human being. That is something that Job will make very, very clear. We are not the solution. We are called to have faith in God for Him to bring the solution. As I said, that was kind of foreshadowed in chapter 28. The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom. And to shun evil, that is true knowledge.
Is Job apocalyptic literature just like Revelation and Daniel? No. It clearly has many differences from those texts. But it has a surprising number of close
similarities and those similarities I think are very instructive and will help us understand Job as we move forward with this course.