Lessons From Job: Introduction

September 15, 2009

Naked I came from the womb, so I shall return… 

Naked Came I...

Naked Came I...

Preface:  

I teach The Book of Job as literature in my high school Honors English class. Once the students realize that, yes, you can read the Bible in a public school, as long as no one is proselytizing their religion (I am convinced, however, that some never really believe me, and secretly think they are breaking the law with me; hey, whatever holds their interest!), the complaining stops, and many report at the end of the year that Job turned out to be their favorite unit. And why not? The story is an interesting concept (if you choose to believe it is only a story), and it raises philosophical questions that humans are still grappling with to this day. It is mostly written in poetry, and the imagery and metaphorical symbolism in the book are stunning. When I first began to search out Christianity, people who knew I wrote poetry told me to read the Psalms, and they are good, but in my opinion, Job holds the title for the best poetry in the Bible. Once I read it, it quickly became my favorite book of the Bible, not just because of  the poetry, but all the questions that led me to Jesus, and all the questions of life that were (and many are still) burning in my heart are asked in The Book of Job. In class, I try to create activities that really bring The Book of Job to life. We have acting projects, and I make students draw something from the imagery, but my favorite lessons are the group discussions and debates that Job inspires. I only mediate these discussions, not wanting to cross any legal boundaries, but mostly so the students can find their own questions and then ponder the answers on their own. There is nothing more exciting for me, in my teacher role, to see students, who are drowning in the over-stimulation of the media and the drama of their own insecurities, apply a deep philosophical question from an ancient text to their own lives, making it current and relevant to the issues we have today. My students discover that we humans have not really changed all that much in the 4,000 years of recorded history.

In my class, I try to just let these ancient writings raise the questions, so I teach the students how to inquire on their own as we study the literature, dissecting lines of poetry, connecting common themes throughout the book; however, there is much insight from The Book of Job that I have discovered for my own life while teaching Job in this capacity. I don‘t think I would have discovered these personal lessons if I only viewed Job as scripture. Not to mention, many of my students have had profound insights that I never would have discovered looking only through religious glasses. A few months ago, I was asked to give a teaching on these lessons at a small group meeting in the church I worship at. The teaching was well received, so I have decided to undertake writing these lessons down in hope that someone else might be able to learn from them, or at least begin to ask their own questions. I thought I might just write a quick post, but as I began to review my notes, I realized that this task is much bigger than I thought. In the coming weeks and months I will be adding more posts specific to “Lessons from Job.” Since I can’t make you act or draw pictures, and since we can’t really debate, I hope you find the words interesting and engaging!

Peter L Richardson

 

Introduction:

This is the background information that I make students takes notes on. I admit it’s kind of dry (unless you are a geek like me). It is not essential for understanding the kind of lessons I’ve learned, but I’ve decided to add it here because I think if you are going to take an in depth look at The Book of Job, this is worth taking the time to know.

If you are not familiar with the story, Job is considered to be the most righteous man “in all the East.” One day God is bragging about his servant Job in heaven, and Satan challenges God, through two wagers, that if God removed his protection and allowed Satan to take everything away from Job; including his riches, family and health, he would curse God to his face. God took him up on the bet. When Job loses everything, he remains faithful to God, but ends up pretty depressed. Three of Job’s friends hear about his state and travel many miles to comfort him, but after mourning in silence for a week, they begin to advise Job to repent of whatever horrible sin he committed so God will let up. Job claims to be innocent of any gross sin deserving that kind of punishment, and thus begins the debate. In the end, God breaks in and tells all of them that they don’t really know what they are talking about; he honors Job for staying faithful, and he restores everything back to Job and then some. Common themes from The Book of Job are:

  • Why do the righteous suffer?
  • The virtue of patience.
  • Keeping integrity in the face of disaster.
  • To reveal God as creator.
  • The lack of human ability to fathom God.
  • Wisdom begins with fearing God.
  • The need for repentance and humility.
  • Knowing and trusting God is more important than righteousness.

The Book of Job (Iyyobh in Hebrew) is considered to be the oldest book in the Bible by most scholars. Both Christians and Jews consider Job to be fully “inspired by God” and consider it to be Holy Scripture. Job is an important religious figure in Islam as well. If Job was a real person, he would have been alive around 2000 BC in Mesopotamia, which is now the Middle East. He would have been a contemporary of Abraham, who is considered to be the patriarch of both Jews and Arabs. This is around 600 to 800 years before Moses wrote down the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, what is considered to be “the Law” of God. Both the prophet Ezekiel (in the Old Testament) and the apostle James (in the New Testament) speak of Job as if he were a historical figure. Possible authors of The Book of Job are: Job, himself, writing about his personal experiences in about 2000 BC; Moses, acting as the scribe of a story handed down during his time as a shepherd in Midian in about 1250 BC; King Solomon while he was composing and compiling “the Wisdom Literature” of the Bible in about 950 BC; and finally an anonymous Jewish exile in Babylon to explain the suffering the Jews were experiencing in about 400 BC.

One thing that is peculiar about The Book of Job, when compared to most ancient literature, myth, and religious documents, is the scientific integrity the book holds. Most ancient cultures tried to explain the natural process of the world through strange myths and allegories. The author of The Book of Job seems to have a strong understanding of the scientific world, even about things only discovered relatively recently. For instance, Job 26:7 states: “God spreads the canopy of the sky over chaos and suspends earth over the void,” which suggests that the author has some understanding of the earth being suspended in space. Regardless of who the author was, The Book of Job was written a long time before Galileo. Other than some discrepancy with the identity of certain beasts, or discrepancy with the proposed timeline of evolutionists, with the correct interpretation of figurative language in The Book of Job, the scientific content of the book is entirely correct in its explanation of how the physical world works.

The Book of Job follows the model of  Babylonian “discussion literature” where different sides of an issue were debated in a poetic format. The Book of Job is part of the section of the Bible known as “Wisdom Literature” which also includes Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. All the books hold the common theme: “Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord,” and they teach men how best to live a moral and righteous life. Besides the Prologue and the Epilogue, The Book of Job is written entirely in poetry.

All scripture references are from The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha.   

Peter L Richardson

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