The ancient Israelites understood Job to have been a real person and so did Christians in the first century CE and many others since then. He is mentioned in verses 14 and 20 of Ezekiel chapter 14 as an example of an outstandingly righteous or upright man, and the disciple James (5:11) referred to the outcome for Job after his trial as revealing God’s compassion.
It is most unlikely that his parents would have named him “Job,” for in the Hebrew language that name may be linked to a root meaning “to be hostile.” Therefore, the name “Job” may be regarded as reflecting his experience as a greatly afflicted man or as an object of hostility or attack. According to an epilogue found in the Septuagint but not in the extant Hebrew text, his original name was “Jobab” (Iobab), and he is identified as having ruled as king in Edom. (Job 42:17b, d; compare Genesis 36:31-33.)
Based on the view of ancient rabbis, the Babylonian Talmud (Baba Bathra, 14b) identifies Moses as the writer of the book of Job. One extant Dead Sea Job scroll (4QpaleoJobc) is written in ancient Hebrew script (paleo-Hebrew). This suggests that, when the text was copied late in the third century BCE or in the second century BCE, the book of Job was regarded as being very ancient. The Septuagint translator, however, did not slavishly follow what appears to have been the ancient Hebrew text but took considerable liberties in his renderings. This may indicate that he did not consider the book of Job as having the same authority as, for example, the Pentateuch (the five books attributed to Moses — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) of which fragmentary manuscripts in paleo-Hebrew also exist.
After a prose prologue (1:1-3:2) that refers to Job’s uprightness, his wealth, and his children, the interchanges between God and Satan regarding Job, the suffering that subsequently befell him, the impact the calamity had on Job’s wife, and the arrival of Eliphaz, Zophar, and Bildad for the purpose of comforting him, the book continues as a poetic composition. It largely sets forth the wrong views that Eliphaz, Zophar, and Bildad expressed about Job’s suffering, and his adamant denial of their contention that he was afflicted on account of the wrongs he had committed. The expressions of the young man Elihu, which are also in poetic style, are not followed by any rebuttal from Job. The poetic section comes to a conclusion with the words of God and Job’s acknowledgment that he had spoken in ignorance and, therefore, repented. (3:3-42:6)
The epilogue tells of the divine reproof directed to Eliphaz and his two companions and relates the blessed outcome for Job. This epilogue reflects the joy and contentment that are not evident in the prologue, for in the prologue Job handled affairs in a manner that reflected fear. In the epilogue, however, the mention of the names of the daughters and of their beauty serves as a bright contrast to the serious concern Job had regarding the possible failings of his grown children with reference to God and the need he felt to make atonement for each of them with sacrifice. (42:7-17; compare 1:4, 5.)
Especially because the book of Job is mainly poetic and contains many words that are not found elsewhere in the biblical text, it is very difficult to translate, and one cannot be certain about the specific meaning of various parts of the preserved account. This, however, need not be a matter of great concern, for the message of the book is clear — human suffering is not to be regarded as establishing the nature of an individual’s moral state.
For those who are looking for definitive answers regarding human suffering, the book of Job will prove to be disappointing. This book does not contain these answers, but it emphasizes the tremendous limitations humans have when it comes to comprehending what God may do or permit. As the God who trusts those who are devoted to him, he will ultimately bless all those who trust him.
In the prologue, God is portrayed as one who trusted Job, whereas Satan is depicted in the role of a suspicious informant who had no such confidence and who was determined to prove the rightness of his doubts about Job. Therefore, by focusing on God’s trust in them and on the outcome for Job, those who are devoted to God can draw comfort from the book. They can be confident that absolutely nothing that may befall them will result in permanent harm. Even the worst of suffering will, in the end, be transformed into joys and blessings beyond compare. That reversal, though, may not become fully realized until the dead are resurrected.
Because the book of Job is primarily a poetic composition, one cannot definitively state which, if any, part of it is truly revelatory. The calamities that befell Job are not without parallel. Throughout the centuries, countless numbers of parents, including God-fearing men and women, have lost all their possessions and children on account of wars, gang or mob violence, persecution, genocide, earthquakes, typhoons, tsunamis, hurricanes, and tornadoes. After these losses, numerous wives have seen their husbands stricken with painful and debilitating diseases. Often the lives of both husbands and wives ended without their experiencing the kind of dramatic reversal in their fortunes that came to be Job’s lot.
The prologue in the book of Job contains features that suggest it functions mainly as a literary introduction to set the stage for the poetic debating that follows. Job’s wife is not portrayed as a fellow sufferer but as a temptress to turn Job away from cleaving to God. Yet she, too, had lost everything, and all the children to whom she gave birth had perished. With the exception of not being afflicted with a loathsome disease, she suffered no less than Job did. In the Septuagint, this aspect is not passed over in silence. After every calamity, there was only one escapee and the only purpose for his survival was to make his report to Job. If regarded as revelatory, the heavenly scene would mean that God, in effect, was willing to make a bet with Satan that he was right and that Satan was wrong. No such teaching is ever alluded to anywhere in the biblical accounts, and even the epilogue includes no revelation to Job about divine permission being granted to Satan to afflict him.
It may be that the introduction of a heavenly scene basically serves to expose wrong views regarding God. In Job 15:15, Eliphaz is quoted as making the claim that God does not trust his “holy ones” or angels and that even the heavens are not clean to him. The expressions in the prologue indicate that Satan regarded Job as one whose trust in God was rooted in selfishness, but God is portrayed as one who fully trusted him. While God may permit godly persons to experience calamities, he (as evident from the prologue) is not the source of their suffering. Another important truth conveyed in the prologue is that servants of God are not pawns in the power of Satan. Nothing takes place outside the realm of divine permission. In view of the fact that the book of Job was written at a time when peoples generally were in fear of invisible powers and believed that they needed to appease them to avoid harm, the portrayal of God as the absolute Sovereign who trusts his servants and who has everyone and everything under his ultimate control is truly significant.
In 1 Kings 22:19-22, the prophet Micah is quoted as portraying a heavenly scene to indicate that King Ahab would listen to false prophets and would suffer calamity as a result. The nature of the book of Job suggests that the depiction of a heavenly scene serves a similar purpose, revealing that the prosperous state of Job would not continue.