EDITOR’S NOTE: This groundbreaking series is being offered in celebration of a previously top-secret project and now unprecedented new 3-Volume book series (over 10-years in the making) from best-selling scholar Dr. Thomas Horn and biblical history and theology majors Donna Howell and Allie Anderson: THE MYSTERY OF JESUS FROM GENESIS TO REVELATION—YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
The books included in the “wisdom” section of Scripture are Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. They’re in a category of literature that’s shared with a few extrabiblical/apocryphal books (such as Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon), grouped as material ancient Israel looked to for answers to the questions of daily life. They don’t fit into the categories of the Law, history, the prophets (major or minor), or any other Old Testament theme. Nor do they overemphasize the transcendent, spiritual, and theological principles of God like the didactic—or “teaching”—books (Epistles) of the New Testament…at least not intentionally. Because their central purpose is to explore the interaction between God and man in light of human emotions, decision-making, and the pursuit of a good life, they sometimes resemble the Epistles, though they differ in their approach by not specifically addressing the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah (who became “the” answer to every question thereafter). Nor do they focus on a main character at any point (with the exception of Job, discussed first in the following pages), so their typology depends on a different, higher perspective. Additionally, they tend to mesh many of their conclusions together, as well as provide accounts of the unique journey each writer took to make those conclusions. So, because every one Wisdom book tends to sharply contrast books in the rest of Scripture, they belong together in one study.
Remember as you read along the historical context of the word “sage” refers to the wise men throughout Israel’s history that deeply studied the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament before it was canonized with the New Testament). Jesus, Himself, was the greatest Sage, having become the Rabbi He was as a result of His studies of these Wisdom writings while He walked the earth. While He lived in human form, He was opposed by men who believed themselves to be Jewish sages (like the Pharisees). These “wise men” challenged Christ repeatedly in the attempt to stump Him or put Him down in front of a crowd, yet His answers were always unbeatable, putting His agitators back in their place and reasserting Himself as the all-knowing Son of God. So, as modern readers take in the words of the ancients, we need remember that Jesus was familiar with these books, too, and He knew very well not only what they said, but their intent as well—in context of their culture, background, original audience, and the rest of Scripture. That said, Jesus would have known when one of the Wisdom writers was speaking of the Messiah in the original texts. Some of these references are astonishing, especially one made by a man in what is widely considered the oldest book of the Bible.
As noted, the book of Job (pronounced “jobe”) is unlike the other Wisdom books in that it provides a bit of a storyline and a main character who, in many aspects, belongs in a category all his own. Yet, because he ultimately visits questions exactly like, or strikingly similar to, those of his Wisdom-literature-writing counterparts, his book accomplishes the same goal. Let’s dig a little deeper to explain what we mean.
Most people know about Job. He was the guy who had it rough; he was tested by God, lost everything, and only gained it back through what must have felt like nearly endless faith in the face of disastrous solitude and trials. From time immemorial, those experiencing their own seasons of loss have dropped his name as the one who had it worse. And that’s not an irresponsible conclusion. Job faced misery most of us will never know in our lifetimes (and hopefully will never know in the next).
After reading that Job is a godly man who loved and cared for his family (Job 1:1–5), we read about a bizarre scene that takes place in heaven, wherein God is approached by Satan.
Many questions arise as to whether this is the same Satan who appears in the New Testament, the one who has unequivocally been God’s enemy since the time of his fall from heaven. Until we can stand at the throne of God and ask that question, we may never know for certain, as even the brightest scholars in the world do not agree. There is good reason for this. Apart from being a name, the Hebrew word satan also means generically “adversary.” But not every “adversary” in the Hebrew Bible was a bad guy. For instance, when studying Old Testament Christophanies, Numbers 22:22 (in the account of Balaam’s donkey) comes into the picture quite regularly. The text, in English, states: “And God’s anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the Lord stood in the way for an adversary against him.” This “Angel of the Lord” is, many scholars teach (as we noted near the beginning of this book), Jesus, Himself, in His eternal nature prior to the Incarnation. In close proximity, even the English makes it clear this angel is sent by the Father to intervene in an act of evil. Therefore, this character cannot be the same “Satan” that appears as the enemy of God in the New Testament. However, the “adversary” in Numbers 22:22 is, in fact, the Hebrew word satan. This angel (or Angel) may have been an “enemy” or “adversary” in his opposition to Balaam or his donkey, but his purpose was to accomplish a righteous task for God, negating the idea that every time satan appears in Hebrew, it’s one of the “bad guys.” (Many other examples of this same translational code appear when bringing the Hebrew language into words we can understand.)
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So, back to our question: Is this being in Job the enemy of God or a mere messenger? Many believe he is not the enemy of God, but rather just another angel. Their reasoning is, briefly, that personal names in Hebrew usually don’t involve the definite article ha (Hebrew, “the”) before them. In the Old Testament, this almost always suggests a title—even a temporary or circumstantial one, just as the “angel” in Numbers opposed wickedness, not God, and wouldn’t otherwise have been referred to as an “adversary” in every case. There is also no lingual or theological connection between Job’s ha satan and God’s enemy elsewhere in Scripture (such as the serpent in Genesis 3). Lastly, they support their case by stating that ha satan of Job is provoking a test of Job’s faith, not necessarily performing an act of outright malice (that would have resulted in God’s rebuke anyway).
Did Job fear God for the right reasons? (Job 1:9). He went on to describe Job’s current blessings: “Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land” (1:10). The question was essentially this: If Job was merely a pampered follower of God, how could it be known whether his faith was real, and not just a religious lifestyle based on convenience? Would Job turn his back on God if he didn’t have so much going for him in his life?
From this moment, a barrage of horror befell Job: He lost his servants, livestock, camels, and children. He then rose, tore his robe (an expression of grief), fell back to the ground, and worshipped God, saying: “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21).
After this, the scene in heaven occurred again, but this time the accuser wondered if the reason Job remained faithful was because he still had his health. So, God allowed the accuser to put Job to the test again; the next portion of the account describes Job sitting in ashes scratching festering, painful sores with broken bits of pottery. His wife then uttered one of the most often-quoted lines in all of Scripture: “Curse God, and die” (2:9). We love what one commentator has to say about the truth behind this: “Nothing makes the ungodly so angry as to see the godly under trial not angry.”[i] But Job dismissed the “advice” of his wife to curse God and die, choosing instead to show he had layers of spiritual depth and maturity in his faithful relationship with Yahweh beyond the disappointment of his expectations and circumstances, saying, “What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10).
This is the point where the gears shift and the trial of Job vs. God begins. Job’s friends—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar—sat with him in mourning for seven days before beginning their own investigation into why all of this was happening. Over and over throughout much of the rest of the book, they continued to poke and prod at the idea that Job had done something to deserve all of these troubles.
A central reason this book is considered part of the Wisdom Literature and not a narrative or history book is because of its form and content, with its themes of justice and legal terminology. We not only encounter the “trial” theme as it applies to the hardship and tribulation God allows to happen to Job, but we also see “courtroom” imagery as the almost literal framework throughout the whole work. Legal phrasing and terms of justice (introduced in 8:3) either directly mentioned or implied include: Job was put on “trial” by God, so to speak, and was “released” in the end as an “innocent” man. Meanwhile, the debate that raged between Job and his religious-spirited friends strongly resembles the relationship between a defendant and his prosecutor. Job’s “crime”—his character—remained in question until he was proven “not guilty” and allowed to resume and rebuild his life.
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In these conversations between Job, God, the accuser, and the friends (which could be interchangeably referred to as either “persecutors” or “prosecutors,” depending on one’s interpretation of the “courtroom framework” here), the emphasis is not on the history of God’s covenant promises for Israel, the Exile, prophecy, kings and queens, priestly duties, judges, or Law, but upon an individual’s account of loss and gain and the wisdom of his faith during the worst of this earthly life. Thus, Job is a Wisdom book instead of a mere narrative, because it offers wisdom to the reader who may feel like Job. One overall, crucially important question that underlines the entire book is this: Does God really allow bad things to happen to good, obedient people?
This question is irrefutably the crux of a theological principle called “retributional justice.” It draws its root from Deuteronomy 28–29, wherein the Law of God explains that the righteous will be blessed and the wicked will be cursed or punished (cf., Deuteronomy 28:3–4; 28:16–17). This blessing or punishment can come either through a direct act of God’s hand, or through a more natural order of the operating world. One theologian refers to this as the “hot” and “cold” system of retribution: In the “hot” system, God is an active agent, seeing to justice personally; in the “cold” system, the righteous or wicked face natural outcomes from good or bad decisions in relationships, business dealings, etc.—a kind of “you reap what you sow” effect.[ii] However it comes about, though, this lingering question is one that all the Wisdom books address, thus reinforcing the case for Job’s proper placement among the Wisdom literature (despite some storyline).
In the beginning, Job is pronounced blameless and upright (1:1, 8). This is not to suggest he is sinless or perfect like Jesus, but that he has lived his life in accordance to God’s will as best as an imperfect human can. In this sense, Job can be viewed already as a type of Christ. Jesus never sinned, even though He faced unfathomable punishment. Using the Christ as our example here, we immediately have at least one answer to Job’s question: Yes, God does allow the righteous to suffer, often for the sake of their own sacrifice being a blessing or a lesson to God’s people from that day forward. In Jesus, we have both the blessing and the lesson: 1) His sacrifice brought salvation; 2) His behavior throughout trial set the highest example of faithfulness to the Father during seasons of strife. No matter what Job faces, he, like Jesus, endures.
Many see Job as the prime example of “the patient sufferer.” But this popular moniker misses something essential. In order to see him as always being patient, we have to ignore most of what he says in his defense, which frequently includes words of anger, frustration, and even doubt. It’s not hard to see that Job’s expectation aligned with some in ancient Israel who saw the principle of retributional justice, believing that through his righteousness and obedience he would experience blessings, generally. The argument of his innocence is heavily maintained throughout the work, and not one accusation against him by the accuser or his friends about hidden sin or any other possible cause for suffering is justified or acknowledged by God. In fact, God’s comment to Job’s friends, who sought to find some blame in Job, was, “My wrath is kindled against thee…for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath” (42:7). Nevertheless, Job was human, and therefore, he spoke like one who faces the same human emotions anybody in his position would. In the end, though Job is not always patient, he does always persevere, and that is something we can all learn from him as he is vindicated in the end of the book (something we all hope for during heartache).
Ultimately, then, the conclusion of Job that convicts the reader is not a question of whether God allows bad things to happen to good people, as we know He does, but whether God is sovereign in His decision to allow it. Without the suffering of Christ, we would not have salvation, yet He was the supreme example of “a good person.” Without Job in the canon, we may not ever fully comprehend just how intense our responsibility is to acknowledge the sovereignty of God in this area. But because of its inclusion, countless believers now have the most extreme example of the theological exceptions to the principle of retributional justice, and the “happy ending” of his story will never stop inspiring people to keep persevering in the midst of anguish.
But, viewing the Jesus of Job doesn’t solely rely on the blamelessness of the book’s central character or on how his undeserved suffering would influence the world. Many interesting parallels illustrate Job as a type of Christ:
- Despite everything, Job never stopped obeying God and trusting in His sovereignty and will (13:15), even going as far as to challenge his greatest skeptic with the question, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10); Christ never stopped obeying God and trusting in His sovereignty and will (Luke 22:42), even going as far as to challenge the skeptical Peter with the question, “The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11).
- Job treasured the words of God more than his portion of food (23:12); Jesus said that His portion of food was to listen to the words of the Father, “to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” (John 4:34).
- Job’s friends goaded him to cry out to God for help in his affliction, if he was so pure (5:1); at His death, Jesus was taunted in the same attitude (Matthew 27:43). Both resisted lashing back.
- Job’s friends repeatedly failed him; Jesus’ disciples abandoned Him to die alone, and His closest apostle denied Him (Matthew 26:69–75).
- Job’s suffering was referred to as “labor” (9:29); Jesus’ suffering was prophesied to be “labor” (Isaiah 53:11).
- Both Job and Jesus were fully restored (Job 42:10–17; Luke 24; Philippians 2:9–10).
It’s a beautiful picture that, if it ended here, would be glorious enough to call for devoting an entire book just to the similarities between the faithful Job and Christ.
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However, there is a crucial moment in the tale we can’t miss…and it happens to be one that leads straight into the Psalms: In the middle of the “trial,” Job longs for his own legal representation—a defense attorney, for lack of a better term—whom Job refers to as an “arbiter” in the ESV translation of 9:33. This is the Hebrew word mokih: “For he is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together. There is no arbiter [mokih] between us, who might lay his hand on us both.”
Francis Anderson of Job: An Introduction and Commentary acknowledges that “the Hebrew word mokih does not mean a judge, who merely decides who is in the right; he is a mediator who settles the quarrel by reconciliation, a negotiator who brings both parties together, by laying his hand upon us both as a common friend.”[iii] Richard Clifford, scholar and author of The Wisdom Literature: Interpreting Biblical Texts, states: “In the ancient world, law was important and a common source of metaphors for describing the relation between the gods and the human world.… To combat his friends and to confront God, Job must use legal language. One aspect of the legal metaphor drives the plot forward.… The mediator someday will appear in court to vindicate him.”[iv]
This verse is not the only time we read of Job longing for this mediator (cf. 16:19–21; 31:35). Then, in 19:25, Job says something odd, almost prophetic: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.”
Wait, what? Surely he couldn’t mean…
Actually, he very likely is referring to Jesus. The authors of the classic commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown, are among many to make the connection that Job is here referring to the Someday Messiah: “The idea in ‘redeemer’ with Job is Vindicator…the idea of the predicted Bruiser of the serpent’s head. Tradition would inform him of the prediction”—meaning Job would have heard about the Redeemer through Israel’s traditional messianic teachings and referenced Him here—“Job’s sacrifices imply sense of sin and need of atonement [which comes from] Jesus Christ his Vindicator, the Living One who giveth life.”[v] Another classic, Matthew Henry’s, treats the concept of Job’s familiarity with the Someday Messiah as common knowledge, saying, “Here is much of Christ and heaven.… Job was taught of God to believe in a living Redeemer; to look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come; he comforted himself with the expectation of these…and expected salvation through him.”[vi]
Albert Barnes, in his Barnes’ Notes, was thrilled when he finished his Hebrew study on this Scripture! He shared his enthusiasm in strong words: “For I know that my Redeemer liveth—There are few passages in the Bible which have excited more attention than this… [I]t is one of the most valuable of all the testimonials now remaining of the early faith on that subject.”[vii] Zondervan Press superstar, D. A. Garrett, in the “Poetic and Wisdom Books” section of Holman Concise Bible Commentary, notes that “it is pointless to deny that Job looked for a resurrection and a Redeemer. The book, through the sufferings of its hero, points to the two universal human needs: the need for a Deliverer and the need for release from mortality.… These needs, poignantly portrayed in Job, are dramatically fulfilled in the New Testament [in Christ].”[viii]
And in case you may be wondering, yes, the Hebrew word for redeemer here is the same as the go’el of Ruth.
How can we know that Job was referring to the Redeemer, Christ, and not just a redeemer, like a court official?
Countless scholars unite Job’s words in 19:25 with 16:19 as a reference to the same entity: “Also now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and my record is on high.” What “witness” would be “in heaven” if the redeemer were a mere mortal? Benson Commentary asks, and then answers, this question:
But what Redeemer, and what deliverance, does Job speak of in this and the two following verses? Answer: Some late interpreters understand this passage metaphorically [as the present Yahweh, the Father, restoring his life]… But most interpreters, both ancient and modern, understand it of Christ, and of his resurrection, and of Job’s resurrection to life by his power and goodness. And this seems most probable, for many reasons: 1st, Because a proper and literal interpretation of any passage of Scripture is always to be preferred before the metaphorical, where it suits with the text and with other passages. 2d, Because the Hebrew word, go’el, here used, although sometimes used of God, absolutely or essentially considered, yet most properly agrees to Jesus Christ: for this word is primarily spoken of the next kinsman, whose office it was to redeem, by a price paid, the sold or mortgaged estate of his deceased kinsman… All which most fitly agrees to Christ, who is our nearest kinsman and brother, as having taken our nature upon him, Hebrews 2:11; who hath redeemed that everlasting inheritance which our first parents had utterly lost, by the price of his own blood… [We will skip the highly theological and extensive points 3 and 4 for the sake of space.] 5th, Because this well agrees with several other passages in this book; wherein Job declares that, although he had no hope as to this life, and the comforts thereof, yet he had a hope beyond death, which made him profess, Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him, Job 13:15. Trust in him for what? Surely, for comfort and happiness. Where? Not in this life, for that he supposes to be lost; therefore it must have been in the next life [the following verse in sequence, Job 19:26, refers to Job’s death. The commentary goes on to list a lengthy argument for how Job, “in those ancient times, and in that dark state of the church, should know these great mysteries of Christ’s incarnation,” using a compelling scriptural comparison of the teaching of the patriarchs. Then, it says:] therefore, it cannot seem strange that Job professes his faith and hope in these things.…
And that he shall stand in the latter day—In the days of the Messiah, or of the gospel, which are often called the latter or last days.[ix]
It’s nearly unbelievable to think that Job, in such an early era of human history, would come to expect or yearn for a future promise like that which Jesus would provide in the New Testament. Yet that’s the interpretation many theologians allow. But even if the writer of Job didn’t intend a messianic reference here, it is still prophetic in its hope. How can we say this? Because God wouldn’t position Jesus to be the fulfilment of something casual someone said in the Old Testament just to make it link up with something or Someone in the New Testament, especially since a human courtroom “arbiter,” “mediator,” or “redeemer” could have easily been viewed as the intended meaning here.
It was in God’s plan from the beginning, and whether Job (or the writer of Job) knew it or not, the New Testament would make it clear that “there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
For Job, this Man was the answer to all of his trials. With all the evidence we’ve discussed, we can responsibly say Job was able to glimpse the future promise of our Redeemer. He knew he could never adequately defend and free himself without a Deliverer, to whom he looked toward for final rest beyond the grave. He knew that, because this Redeemer lived (Job 19:25), he would one day see God in the flesh (19:26). It was a trust in life beyond death that nobody in Job’s time could have imagined unless he was so in tune with the Creator that he was able to perceive—even if not intellectually—eternal salvation through a grand Intercessor and Mediator. Obtaining one who would negotiate on his behalf during this biblical courtroom drama was everything to him when his life was in upheaval!
Do you see it? Job “got it,” even before there was something to “get,” and he believed so wholeheartedly in this hope of the Resurrected Redeemer that when everything else in his trial failed, there was a Protection Service that would whisk him away from his enemies and into the safety and presence of the Holy Father!
In the end, in His majestic and long-awaited response to Job, God asked who laid the foundational cornerstone of the world (38:6). In biblical context, a cornerstone is the rock upon which the entire foundation of a structure rests. Job admitted he had no answer to this, and conceded to put his hand over his mouth in defeat (40:4). But, in the New Testament, we discover that the cornerstone is Jesus, Himself (Ephesians 2:19–22).
Though Job wasn’t aware of this detail then, he is no doubt aware of it now. Isn’t it going to be glorious when we can sit and break bread with him to ask for ourselves what was going on in his mind during these trials? No doubt his faith has earned him quite the spectacles in heaven. We can’t wait to see it all!
UP NEXT: Jesus in the Psalms & Proverbs
[i] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D., Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible: Volume 1 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1997), 311.
[ii] Brueggemann, Walter, Reverberations of Faith: A Theological Handbook of Old Testament Themes (Louisville, KY: John Knox, 2002), 174–176.
[iii] Andersen, F. I., Job: An Introduction and Commentary: Volume 14 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1976), 163; emphasis in original.
[iv] Clifford, R. J., Wisdom Literature: Interpreting Biblical Texts Series (Nashville: Abingdon, 2011), 80.
[v] Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, 324.
[vi] Henry, M., & Scott, T., Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1997), “Job 19:23.”
[vii] Barnes, Albert, Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible (Ephesians Four Group; Howard City, MI, 2014), Kindle Edition, Kindle locations 47763–47766; bold in original.
[viii] Garrett, D. A., “The Poetic and Wisdom Books.” In D. S. Dockery (Ed.), Holman Concise Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1998), 208.
[ix] “Job 19:25,” Benson Commentary, Bible Hub Online, last accessed February 23, 2022, https://biblehub.com/commentaries/benson/job/19.htm.