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Who was Job? Was he a Jew?

Dear Father Paul: I am fascinated by the story of Job in the Bible … his struggles, his ultimate vindication and the restoration of all that he lost, etc. But who was Job anyway? Was he a Jew? — Lenda

Dear Lenda: Bible scholars mostly agree that the Old Testament Book of Job is probably the oldest book in the entire Bible, the story having happened some 4,000 years ago. But that is where their agreement mostly ends. The book itself tells us very little about Job himself … just that he was a wealthy farmer, was righteous before God, had a wife and a large family and lived in the land of Uz which is believed to be located northeast of present day Israel.

Some Bible scholars assert that Job was in reality the grandson of Jacob (thus the great, great grandson of Abraham) and, as such, he is briefly mentioned in Genesis 46:13 where he is called “Jashub” … or in Hebrew “Job.” If this is true, then Job was indeed a Jew. But we simply don’t know for sure. The book itself nowhere refers to  Job as an “Israelite.”

Was Job a real person? Did the story of Job actually happen? Some Bible scholars write that Job was indeed a real person who actually lived out the story exactly as it is recorded in the Bible.  Others say that Job was not a real person, but rather that the story of Job is an allegory about why good people sometimes suffer. In my mind, the fact that Job and his story are mentioned in detail in James Chapter 5 in the New Testament gives credence to the notion that Job is indeed a real story about a real man.

 The actual author of Job is unknown. Some scholars believe it was written by Moses. Others say it was written by Solomon, although, again, the story itself is thought to be much older than either Moses or Solomon.

In the story of Job, Satan comes before God and reports that he has been traveling far and wide watching what is happening on earth. God then asks Satan, “Have you noticed what a fine, godly man my servant Job is?” Satan challenges God by answering, “He’s only godly because you have blessed him so much. Take away what you have given him and he will curse you to your face.”

God accepts Satan’s challenge. He says, “Okay, let’s see who is right. You may test Job any way you want, except you may not kill him.”

Satan then causes Job to lose all of his ten children, all of his wealth and possessions and even his health. Job is miserable … as low as a man can get. Yet he cries out in Chapter 1 Verse 21: ”The Lord gave me everything I had, and (now) the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord.” Three of Job’s friends then give him various reasons why God has allowed all these catastrophes to happen. “You must have sinned, God is just punishing you with what you deserve,” they say (how often we still hear this utter falsehood today from well meaning friends when bad things happen to us). Even his own wife urges Job to “… just curse God and die.” Have you ever suffered so much that you felt like doing just that? Are you there now?

But Job knows he loves God and that he has lived a godly upright life. In Chapter 13, Verse 15, Job makes his loyalty to God crystal clear when he says, “Though he even kills me, yet will I still wait upon him and serve him.” Wow! What a statement of total loyalty and devotion.

Finally, in Chapters 38 – 41, Job has an encounter with God himself and he cries out to God for reasons for his suffering. But God doesn’t answer Job’s question directly. Instead, he helps Job to see that he is God and Job is not. God helps Job see that he (God) is in total control of the earth, and that he and only he understands fully why good people are allowed to suffer. Basically, God helps Job to see who he (God) really is and that through suffering we can learn that God alone is enough for us and for our future and that, lastly, when we have absolutely nothing left like Job, we still have God. Yes, testing and suffering can be difficult, and I have had my share, but those who faithfully endure and persevere like Job will experience God’s great rewards in the end.

In Chapter 42 God restores double all that Job had lost, gives Job seven new sons and three new daughters and 141 more years of life. The last sentence of the Book of Job says, “Then he died, an old man who had lived a long, good life.”

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[Father Paul Massey is Pastor Emeritus of Church of the Holy Cross in Fayetteville, Ga.]