Lecture 07: The Prologue (Job 1–2) | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 07: The Prologue (Job 1–2)

Course: The Book of Job

Lecture: The Prologue (Job 1–2)


We have done a lot of preliminary work. We have looked at the background of Job, issues regarding the geography and the language, parallels in ancient and Near Eastern literature; and we are finally ready to begin to look at the book of Job itself. We begin with the prologue, chapters 1 and 2.

I. Summary of the Structure

Let’s take a look quickly at the structure of the book of Job. It has as its beginning the background of the story, chapter 1: 1-5; then at the end of chapter 2, the background of the dialogue. Of course, in chapter 3 and following we will have the dialogue between Job and his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. So you have first the background of the whole story and then the background specifically of the dialogue.

These two sections, A and A-prime, are kind of like bookends. They are structured, as scholars call, “an inclusion structure.” This basically just means they
are the two bookends in which everything else is included. Between these two bookends we have a parallel structure. First, there is dialogue in heaven, that is B, chapter 1, verses 6-12. Then there is the affliction of Job, C, chapter 1:13-19. Finally, there is Job’s response to his first affliction, chapter 1:20-22. Then 2:1-6 there is another dialogue in heaven. Then C-prime, the affliction of Job again, 2:7-8. Then B-prime, Job’s second response, 2:9-10. So you can see in B, C, D and then B-prime, C-prime, D-prime, we have these two parallel sections that are inserted between A and A-prime.

II. Main Points in the Prologue

A. Job is declared to be upright and blameless

So, what is going on in this passage? We begin Job chapter 1, verse 1: “In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” I have talked about this already, but let’s make sure we get the point. The very first verse of the book tells us Job is not guilty of something that caused God to give him the afflictions. The book could not possibly be more clear. It uses repetitive language to make sure you get it. He is blameless. He is upright. He fears God and he shuns evil.

So we read this and we understand from the very outset, this is what we are dealing with. This is the premise of the whole book. To put it simply, Job suffers because of his righteousness, not because of any sin.

The book then tells us more details of his life, that he was very wealthy. He had seven sons, three daughters, all these thousands of sheep and camel and oxen and donkeys. These were of course ways of accumulating wealth in the ancient world. So he was among the greatest men of the people of the East. He was a very great and very powerful man, and righteous. So we read an account of how Job lived in verses 4 and 5. He was so concerned about the need to be careful before God, to not offend God, to be sure that he and his family were right before God that whenever his sons would hold feasts, which they would do frequently, he would offer the sacrifice, saying, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God In their hearts.” So, even though he didn’t see them doing anything, he was so scrupulous, that he would give all of these sacrifices to be sure that if any offense was given to God, sacrifice had been made for atonement. That is the opening of the book.

B. Appearance of Satan

Then we get to the appearance of Satan. Satan shows up in chapter 1, verse 6. “One day the angels came to present them before the Lord and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.’” Satan says he has been going to and fro across the face of the earth.

God then asks him if he has considered his servant, Job. Notice how God describes Job. “There is no-one on earth like him. He is blameless and upright, a
man who fears God and shuns evil.” Exactly what verse 1 said. So God Himself affirms, yes, Job is totally righteous. Notice that Satan does not contest the idea that Job is righteous, but he says, ”Does Job fear God for nothing?” So even in Satan’s own words, out of his own mouth, Job is righteous, but he thinks Job is only righteous because in effect, God is paying him to be righteous.

There is an issue we need to deal with in this passage and that is, the identity of this figure called Satan. There is a very common debate among scholars over the meaning of the term. In Hebrew it says, “ha satan.” Now ha satan can be taken as a common noun with a definite article, meaning “the adversary.” So many people will say it is not a proper name. It is not Satan, the figure, the person, the Devil. It is rather someone who is simply described as “the adversary.” Many people in turn will say, “Well, not only is this not Satan as we think of the term, but he is not even evil. He is actually there just doing a job. He is like a state prosecutor. The attorney of the state is not an evil man, he is just a man who has the job of prosecution and if someone he thinks committed this crime, it is his job to go before a judge and jury and say, ‘Look, I think this man is guilty of such-and-such a crime and you have to punish him.’” Many people will say,”This figure in Job chapter 1 is not the Devil, not Satan. He is ha satan the adversary, who is simply doing his job and declaring that God needs to be real careful before he says that Job is righteous.”

Is that correct? I do not think it is. I think there are a couple of things we can say about ha satan in Job. First of all, his malevolence is very clear. When you read what he says to God, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” He really wants Job to be evil. When he afflicts Job with the most severe possible pain, the killing of all of his children, taking all of his wealth, covering his body with agonizing sores, it is an attempt to coerce him, to force him to sin against God, to curse God and die. That is not the job of a prosecutor. That is not what someone does who has no malevolence. So I think the figure of Job chapter 1 is clearly a malevolent, evil figure.

Furthermore, the term “ha satan” is a proper name and it does mean “Satan.” It could have left off the definite article, “the.” In Hebrew the word for “the” is (ההשּׂמשּׂשּׂמטן) and if that had been left off, it would just say, “satan” and we would say, “Okay, it is the proper name Satan.” Why does it say “ha satan?”
Because sometimes his proper name includes the definite article “the.” How do we know that? Because it appears in Zechariah chapter 3, verse 2. The malevolent figure in this vision in Zechariah chapter 3, who by the way again is accusing and in this case he is accusing Joshua the High Priest, he is clearly saying in Zechariah he is understood to be a specific individual, Satan. The Angel of the Lord rebukes him and says, “May the Lord (Yahweh) rebuke you, Satan.” In Hebrew (יִגְעַר יְהוָה בְּךָ הַשָּׂטָן). May he rebuke Adoni ha satan, The Lord. May the Lord rebuke you, ha satan, which means Satan. So he is simply calling him by his name, ha satan. Again, it could be translated “the adversary;” but it is in this case, and I think also in Job chapter 1, it is functioning as a proper name. He is not just “the adversary,” he is Satan. This is an actual evil figure who is presented as a person who is malevolent, who desires to destroy Job and desires to bring him down. 

C. Job loses all his wealth and children in the first affliction and his health in the second

We go through the story and it is all pretty familiar to you. We don’t need to recount everything that happened. Satan tells God, “You have to take away all of his stuff and then he’ll curse you.” God says, “Okay, you can take away all his possessions, but don’t harm him.” Satan does that. All of Job’s properties are lost. All of his children die. The Sabeans and Chaldeans come sweeping in and kill everybody. When Job is mourning and grieving, he says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I will depart. The Lord has given and taken away. May the Name of the Lord be praised.” In all of this, Job did not sin by charging God with any wrongdoing.

So we know the story at that point. Then Satan comes back and he says, “Well, here is what is going on. He didn’t get hurt himself. If he was bodily harmed
himself, in his own flesh, then he would curse you. But I guess he can stand losing all of his possessions.”

The key comes in verses 3 and 4, chapter 2, verse 3 and following: “Then The Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no-one on earth like him. He is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.’”

D. Satan’s proverb, “skin for skin” appears nowhere else in the Bible

“Skin for skin” Satan replied. A man will give all he has for his own life. What in the world does that mean – skin for skin. Let’s try to figure it out. Satan’s proverb, skin for skin, is in Hebrew [reading Hebrew], “skin or flesh for the sake of, for the price of skin.” This idiom doesn’t appear anywhere else in the Hebrew Bible. So we are left trying to figure out, what in the world did he mean when he said, “skin for skin, skin for the sake of skin,” or perhaps, “skin for the price of skin.”

We don’t have this idiom anywhere else in the Hebrew Bible, but we do have an idiom that is kind of similar to it. You know it very well. It is the idiom, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life.” It appears for example in Exodus chapter 21, verse 24. The Hebrew is (עַיִן תַּחַת עַיִן), eye instead of or for the sake of, again eye. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life. So the Hebrew is not actually completely identical. There is a slight difference in “skin for skin” it is (עוֹר בְּעַד־עוֹר). In Exodus 21 it is (עוֹר בְּעַד־עוֹר). It is not exactly the same, but it is a close parallel. What does it mean? When you say, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life,” that means when it comes to punishing someone for wrongdoing, the only appropriate punishment is something that is of the same value. The only thing that is of the same value as knocking out someone’s tooth is to knock out their tooth. If someone strikes out someone’s eye, the only penalty that is completely equivalent is to strike out his eye. If someone murders another person and takes his life, the only thing that is equal to it is his own life. So that is the idea in Exodus 21. It is trying to find what is equal punishment for a crime.

Skin for skin would then seem to mean, there is nothing of equal value to one’s skin except the skin itself. There is nothing else that a person will value the way he values his own skin. There is nothing you can give in exchange for his skin. The idea then is, the one thing he will value above everything else is his body, his health. If his body is afflicted with suffering, that is something he won’t be able to take. So when Satan says “skin for skin” I think he means there is nothing Job values so much as his own skin. There is nothing of equivalent value to skin; and the way to make Job break is to take away his health.

The passage goes on, of course. God says, “Okay, you can take away his health, but don’t take away his life. He is to remain alive.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, verse 7, afflicted Job with painful sores from the sole of his feet to the crown of his head and Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. Scraping with pottery apparently is just kind of a counter irritant. He is in great pain. Boils can be very itchy and he seems to be using the pottery to scrape himself to give himself a little bit of relief.

His own wife tells him to curse God and die; and I don’t think she is to be thought of as an especially evil person. She just says there is no point in just going on; all you are going to do is suffer.

E. Job won’t curse God and die. The rest of the book is Job and his friends trying to figure out why

Job will not curse God and die. That part of the story kind of ends right there. Job has suffered the most severe possible affliction. He has been tempted to curse God and put it all to an end, but he refuses to curse God. To put it simply, in terms of passing a test, the test is over. Job has passed. So what follows is not a continuation of the test. What follows is Job and his three friends trying to figure out what it all means. When you read the rest of the book of Job, chapter 3 and all this lengthy debate, don’t think, Is Job going to curse God? What is going on here? That has already been settled. Job did not curse God. Now the question is, how can what happened to Job possibly be right? That is what the book is going to be all about.

F. Job’s three friends show up

So we have the three friends show up, chapter 2, verse 11. This will set the stage for everything else. Going back to our outline, this is A-prime, this is preparation for all the basic follows.

“When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort with him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him. They began to weep aloud and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No-one said a word to him because they saw how great his suffering was.”

The point here is, when Job’s three friends come, they do not come to afflict him. They come to comfort him. The friends begin as sympathetic characters. They don’t come as his enemies. They don’t come to gloat. They don’t have joy over his suffering. They come and they are so thunderstruck by what they see, they can’t even speak. So they sit there for seven days, the text says. I guess they stare at each other. They are so dumbfounded, they are so struck by it all, no-one knows what to say. No-one knows what to do.

Why is this important? It is important to realize, the three friends are very like Job. They are people who care a great deal about righteousness. They are people who believe that if you do what is right, God will watch over you, God will protect you. They understand that it is their duty for them to come to Job in compassion and help him through his suffering. What that means is, when the three friends speak, they don’t speak as what we would call enemies of the faith. They are orthodox to the core; and a great deal of what they say will be true. Yet, by the end of the book, God Himself will make it clear, they were wrong in what they said to Job.

We need to balance the fact that some of the things that friends will say will be Biblically correct, will be right; and yet in the context of Job, they will get it all wrong. We need to understand because they start from compassion and they move toward, as we will see, terrific, ferocious anger at Job, just really speaking to Job in the cruelest, meanest possible way, that their misapplication of their doctrine has led them to become, to be blunt, hateful people, people who started out filled with compassion, people who journeyed, made these immense, long journeys to find him and to speak to him and to comfort him, wind up furiously angry at him because he represents a contradiction to what they believe to be orthodox truth and they don’t know what to do with it. 

Let me close by reminding you of something about the Pharisees, who confronted Jesus and finally crucified Jesus. When we read the Gospels, we often have the sense that the Pharisees were just evil people. In fact, that is not true. The Pharisees had great desire to live pure lives before God. They were very concerned with orthodoxy and with avoiding the kinds of sins that had gotten Israel destroyed. And much of what they believed and much of what they said was right. Even Jesus would say, teaching his disciples, “Listen to their teachings, do what they teach, but don’t do what they do.”

But the Pharisees on a very fundamental level, missed something about the righteousness of God and about the plan of God and about the will of God. That led them to hate Jesus, even as they were defending what they believed to be orthodoxy. That is what we are going to see in the three friends. They do not come as heretics, although some of what they say will be false. But they are people who are defending what they believe to be the truth; but out of their frustration and out of their misapplication of their orthodoxy, they will be led to become hateful, angry people.

That is the prologue to the book of Job. Next time we will look at Job’s opening speech.

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