Introducing the Book of Job
Bill Long 3/27/06
Five Lessons on Job
Let us assume that you or someone you love has been asked to teach a biblical study on the Book of Job. You might say that this is improbable, since most people don't spend their time trying to understand this classic. You would be right, of course, but that doesn't mean that there aren't lots of people who really want to probe the issues raised by this book. I have prepared many essays on this site which should help you gain general and very specific knowledge of the book, but the essays on this page are intended to provide a guide to those who are leading only a five-week study on the book. Here is what I would do:
Week 1: The Book of Job as Ancient and Modern Book; Meeting Job.
Week 2: Job's Loss and First/Second Reactions to Loss
Week 3: The Book of Job and the Notion of Friendship
Week 4: The Contours of Job's Funk ("Distress" in more conservative surroundings)
Week 5: Reconstructing Hope
In addition, I would have people get a copy of my book A Hard-Fought Hope: Journeying with Job through Mystery (Upper Room Books: Nashville, TN, 2004), which is intended for study groups and individual study of the Book of Job.
I. Ancient and Modern Book
In the first session I would emphasize two major points: (1) The Book of Job as an ancient book and a modern book; (2) Meeting Job. First, let's explore Job as an ancient book. For Job to be an ancient book means that it must be understood in the context of the wisdom literature of ancient Israel. This literature (Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes) was ancient "advice-book" literature. It, especially Proverbs, gave pithy instructions on successful living. What is the "heart" of this tradition? Proverbs 3:9-10, which says:
"9 Honour the Lord with your substance
and with the first fruits of all your produce;
10 then your barns will be filled with plenty,
and your vats will be bursting with wine."
I would ask the class about these words. What is the world-view assumed by them? Are they "true"? Should they be qualified? Why would someone "simplify" life with such statements? Do we teach the same kind of lessons today?
Then, the second point I would make (still under (1)) is that the Book of Job is a modern book. It is modern because it skillfully presents the emotions accompanying the experience of grief. Grief and loss accompany the process of living. Emotions afflict and sometimes overwhelm us as we deal with experiences of loss. I ask people to describe some of the emotions attendant upon loss. Usually they mention anger, bitterness, resentment, grief, humiliation, shame, etc. Take some time to probe why they say that particular emotion attends the experience of loss. People do not have to share the details of their own losses to be able to speak knowledgeably and elouqently about loss.
Then, before leaving this introductory point, I stress that the Book of Job is a book we only "grow into" as we get older. Ask people what you mean by that statement. What I mean by it is that we only become skillful at exploring the dimensions of loss and what loss does to us when we have had some experience in living. One of the things I have noticed about myself is that I don't fear loss as much as I used to when I was young. I see it as part of the human symphony of life rather than a surd in the "equation" of life.*
[*Often at this point, I will also go into a brief explanation of the structure of the Book of Job. I have a chart depicting this both in A Hard-Fought Hope as well as this essay.]
II. Meeting Job
I then like to open the text of Job. Usually I make photocopies of the texts I want to study with people so that we all are on the same "page," though I also encourage them also to bring their Bibles. I use the New Revised Standard Version, which is easily found online. I begin with Job 1:1-5, which I provide here for your convenience.
"There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. 2 There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. 3 He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. 4. His sons used to go and hold feasts in one another's houses in turn; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5 And when the feast days had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings, according to the number of them all; for Job said, 'It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.' This is what Job always did."
You may find it helpful to present for discussion some of the questions I provide on this page.
If here is time, I also like to probe Job's self-understanding. That is, I think Job's self-righteous narrative from ch. 29:1-17 makes for very interesting reading next to the description of 1:1-5. Of course, Job 29:1-17 is Job's post-distress thinking about his pre-distress condition. Sometimes pre-distress things might appear more rosy in post-distress times than they actually were. After all, Job says in 16:12, describing his earlier situation in a nutshell, says: "I was at ease, and you broke me in two." By putting 29:1-17 next to 1:1-5 you can probe the question of how memory recalls and distorts the past.
I have two detailed studies of Job 29 here and here.
By the end of the hour you ought to be able to have a feel for how you view Job in his "pre-loss" condition against the backdrop of Hebrew society 2500 or more years ago. You are ready, now, to explore Job's experience of loss.
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long