What are the main ideas behind the book of Job and how do these relate to modern times?


Job is a wisdom book, and it relates to modern times insofar as wisdom tends to be relatively timeless. What was wise then is almost always still wise today.

What makes Job particularly difficult is that it contains speeches from 6 different characters (excluding the narrative of the first two chapters), and many of these characters are unreliable sources of wisdom. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar each offer some legitimate observations based in conventional wisdom, but they draw incorrect conclusions from these observations. We know that their counsel cannot be trusted because God says so himself (Job 42:7-9). This demonstrates the limitations of conventional wisdom to fathom the depths of God's wisdom.

Elihu, who enters the discussion much later, is a bit more difficult to gauge because God neither affirms nor rebukes him.

God's speeches, of course, are to be understood as completely reliable wisdom.

The main character of the story is Job. His wisdom seems to grow throughout the book. In the beginning, he learns the basics (Job 1-2). Then he seems to hit the wall by realizing that all his friends' conventional wisdom cannot find the truth in Job's situation. He realizes its limitations, but he cannot determine true wisdom in his circumstances (Job 3-31).

At this point, Elihu enters the discussion, offering words that seem to foreshadow much of what God says (Job 32-37). However, no other character in the story ever responds to Elihu, or even explicitly acknowledges his presence, so it is hard to figure out how to handle his counsel. The fact that God does not condemn his counsel may indicate that he speaks the truth. It is possible that Job alludes to Elihu's words when he says, "My ears had heard of you" (Job 42:5a), but certainly not beyond doubt.

After this, God himself speaks (Job 38-41). He charges Job with reaching for wisdom beyond human ability to understand, and proclaims that humanity will never be able to see from God's perspective.

Seeing God (Job 42:5b), Job immediately repents and admits the limits of his conventional wisdom and of his own perspective (Job 42:1-6). In his repentance, and in God's blessing of Job in this repentance, it appears that true wisdom which transcends conventional human wisdom can be found in things such as:

  • a personal encounter with God, who alone governs the rational and irrational;
  • trusting God's character and intentions to be righteous;
  • admitting the limitations of human wisdom;
  • submission to God;
  • repentance.

    None of this makes conventional wisdom illegitimate. Rather, it demonstrates the limitations of conventional wisdom, and it relegates all human wisdom to a position below God, so that human wisdom is incapable of calling into question or assailing God.

  • Answer by Ra McLaughlin

    Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.