Author and Date
Although most of the book consists of the words of Job and his friends, Job himself was not the author. We may be sure that the author was an Israelite, since he (not Job or his friends) frequently uses the Israelite covenant name for God (Yahweh; NIV "the Lord"). In the prologue (chs. - ), divine discourses ( > -- ) and epilogue () "Lord" occurs a total of 25 times, while in the rest of the book (chs. - ) it appears only once ( ).
This unknown author probably had access to a tradition (oral or written) about an ancient righteous man who endured great suffering with remarkable "perseverance" ( ) and without turning against God (see ), a tradition he put to use for his own purposes. While the author preserves much of the archaic and non-Israelite flavor in the language of Job and his friends, he also reveals his own style as a writer of wisdom literature. The book's profound insights, its literary structures and the quality of its rhetoric display the author's genius.
Two dates are involved:
The latter could be dated anytime from the reign of Solomon to the time of Israel's exile in Babylonia. Although the author was an Israelite, he mentions nothing of Israel's history. He had an account of a non-Israelite sage Job () who probably lived in the second millennium b.c. (2000-1000). Like the Hebrew patriarchs, Job lived more than 100 years (). Like them, his wealth was measured in livestock and servants (), and like them he acted as priest for his family ( ). The raiding of Sabean () and Chaldean () tribes fits the second millennium, as does the mention of the k e ́s i ̣t a h, "a piece of silver," in (see ; ). The discovery of a Targum (Aramaic paraphrase) on Job dating to the first or second century b.c. (the earliest written Targum yet discovered) makes a very late date for composition highly unlikely.
Theme and Message
When good people (those who "fear God and shun evil," () suffer, the human spirit struggles to understand. Throughout recorded history people have asked: How can this be? If God is almighty and "holds the whole world in his hands" and if he is truly good, how can he allow such an outrage? The way this question has often been put leaves open four possibilities:
In ancient Israel, however, it was indisputable that God is almighty, that he is perfectly just and that no human is pure in his sight. These assumptions were also fundamental to the theology of Job and his friends. Simple logic then dictated the conclusion: Every person's suffering is indicative of the measure of their guilt in the eyes of God. In the abstract, this conclusion appeared inescapable, logically imperative and theologically satisfying.
But what thus appeared to be theologically self-evident and unassailable in the abstract was often in radical tension with actual human experience. There were those whose godliness was genuine, whose moral character was upright and who had kept themselves from great transgression, but who nonetheless were made to suffer bitterly (see, e.g., ). For these the self-evident theology brought no consolation and offered no guidance. It only gave rise to a great enigma. And the God to whom the sufferer was accustomed to turn in moments of need himself became the overwhelming enigma. This theology left innocent sufferers imprisoned in windowless cells to agonize over their crisis of faith.
In the speeches of chs. and we hear on the one hand the flawless logic but wounding thrusts of those who insisted on the traditional theology, and on the other hand the writhing of soul of the righteous sufferer struggling with the great enigma even while being wounded by his well-intended, theologically orthodox friends (see ). Their learned theology had no helpful, encouraging or comforting word for a truly godly sufferer.
The author of the book of Job broke out of the tight, logical mold of the traditional orthodox theology of his day. He saw that it led to a dead end, that it had no way to cope with the suffering of godly people. It could only deny the reality of the experienced anomaly and add to the pain and inner turmoil of the sufferer. Instead of logical arguments, he tells a story. And in his story he shifts the angle of perspective. All around him, among theologians and common people alike, were those who attempted to solve the "God problem" in the face of human suffering (are the ways of God just?) at the expense of humans (they must all deserve what they get). Even those who were suffering were told they must see matters in that light. The author of Job, on the other hand, gave encouragement to godly suffers by showing them that their suffering provided an occasion like no other for exemplifying what true godliness is for human beings.
In summary, the author's pastoral word to godly sufferers is that God treasures their righteousness above all else. And Satan knows that if he is to thwart the all-encompassing purpose of God, he must assail the godly righteousness of human beings (see ;; ; cf. ). At stake in the suffering of the truly godly is the outcome of the titanic struggle between the great adversary and God. At the same time the author gently reminds the godly sufferer that true godly wisdom is to reverently love God more than all his gifts and to trust the wise goodness of God even though his ways are at times past the power of human wisdom to fathom. So here is presented a profound,but painfully practical, drama that wrestles with the wisdom and justice of the Great King's rule. Righteous sufferers must trust in, acknowledge, serve and submit to the omniscient and omnipotent Sovereign, realizing that some suffering is the result of unseen, spiritual conflicts between the kindgom of God and the kingdom of Satan -- between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness (cf. ).