Skip to main content

Reflections on the Story of Job

By WizenedSage (Galen Rose)

I recently reread the story of Job (King James Version). I cannot recommend it to you. That some people hold this story in reverence frankly astonishes me. The short version of my critique of the Job story is this: it is boring and morally disgusting.
Satan Smiting Job with Boils, from the Butts s...Image via Wikipedia
The long version (but not nearly as long as the Book of Job itself) follows. I am aware that I have only scratched the surface of the inconsistencies and grotesqueness of the story, but I didn’t want to bore you with endless details. However, I welcome your own perspective on the story.

The Story of Job was clearly intended to teach the lesson that man must continue on the righteous, god worshipping path no matter what life hurls at him, but it also teaches that the righteous life will not necessarily protect one from evil. In fact, god may well bring evil to the righteous man as he feels no compunction to deal fairly or justly with humans. It teaches that god can be frivolous, capricious and contemptuously disrespectful of man. Nor does he feel any need to explain himself to man. Most of these lessons are lost on the faithful. Another lesson that’s there for the taking by any discerning reader; the author of this story was not a talented writer. And if you try to tell me that god is the author of the Bible, then I must ask how it came to pass that god is so vastly inferior to Shakespeare (or Stephen King, for that matter).

As you may recall, the story begins with god bragging about how upright and perfect Job is. Satan answers that’s only because god protects Job and brings him endless good fortune. God essentially answers, “Is not!” and enters into a bet with Satan that Satan cannot make Job curse god.

Satan proceeds to arrange for the theft or killing of all of Jobs livestock, most of his servants, and finally his sons. Then Satan curses Job with boils all over his body. While it is perhaps Satan who does the direct damage to Job, god nevertheless admits his culpability when he says, “and still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause.” (Job 2:3) Notice the words “without cause” for they are important.

Several of Job’s friends arrive arrive at his house and, after a bit of quiet, try to enlighten him. Eliphaz the Temanite says, “Shall mortal man be more just than God?” (Job 4:17) Although Job doesn’t say it, the answer has to be “yes.” A mortal man may be just, but god certainly is not just in allowing Satan to destroy Job’s life “without cause.” Bildad the Shuhite makes the same mistake when he says, “Doth God pervert judgment? or doth the Almighty pervert justice?” (Job 8:3). Isn’t what god allows Satan to do to Job a perversion of justice? Should the righteous man suffer the wrath of god and Satan “without cause?”

I know some Christian reading this will suggest here that god is acting for a “greater good.” I contend that this attitude is naive. The lesson or moral of the story would be identical had Job been lied to about his children’s deaths, or had they been abducted or become estranged from him and embittered. There was no need to murder Job’s children.

Bildad compounds his misunderstanding of god when he says, (Job 8:5-6) “If thou wouldest seek unto God betimes, and make thy supplication to the Almighty; If thou wert pure and upright; surely now he would awake for thee, and make the habitation of thy righteousness prosperous.” He also says, “Behold, God will not cast away a perfect man, neither will he help the evil doers.” (Job 8:20) Wrong again, god is an accessory to Satan’s destruction of Job’s life.

Job somehow continues to respect god, yet he is perfectly aware that he doesn’t deserve the treatment he is getting. “For he breaketh me with a tempest, and multiplieth my wounds without cause.” (Job 8:17) One might even say that Job proves himself the better “man.” Also, “This is one thing, therefore I said it, He destroyeth the perfect and the wicked.” (Job 8:22)

From this point on the narrative becomes deadly boring! Job and his friends go on and on and on, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” As Job says at one point, “How long will ye vex my soul, and break me in pieces with words? These ten times have ye reproached me…” (Job 19:2-3)

My computer, with no help from me, suddenly redirected me to another site at one point and I lost my place while reading Job. Upon returning to it, I read over two chapters before I realized I had already read them. It was just a long tirade on how the wicked shall be treated by god. It was so mind numbing that it made no impression on my mind the first time I read it. How poorly, poorly written! As I proceeded through chapter 24, my eyes started to droop…and it’s morning; I’ve only been up for about 2 hours! However I am determined to get through the whole thing, so I start skimming. I understand that if you wish to drive a point home you might repeat it once or twice…but 47 times? Now you are just boring your reader, punishing him.

A couple passages, however, did jump out of this tedium. “And unto man he [god] said, Behold, the fear of the LORD, that is wisdom...” (Job 28:28) Yes, it does seem that the primary lesson of Job is that one should fear god. And, at the end of Chapter 31, this, “Let thistles grow instead of wheat, and cockle instead of barley. The words of Job are ended.” (Job 31:40) YES! Praise Zeus, He’s finally going to shut his mouth!

Ah, but then comes Chapter 31 wherein the young Elihu takes 22 verses just to say that he’s about to speak and Job and his friends should get ready. Man, this guy is as wordy as the old dudes! But that’s just the beginning. His monologue goes on for 7 chapters, that’s 160 verses. It doesn’t say whether he ever paused for breath.

I know some Christian reading this will suggest here that god is acting for a “greater good.” I contend that this attitude is naive. The lesson or moral of the story would be identical had Job been lied to about his children’s deaths, or had they been abducted or become estranged from him and embittered. There was no need to murder Job’s children. As Elihu speaks, he shows that he doesn’t know the score any better than the old men, as he says, “Therefore hearken unto me ye men of understanding: far be it from God, that he should do wickedness; and from the Almighty, that he should commit iniquity.” (Job 34:10) But isn’t it wicked to take everything away from Job and let Satan cover him with boils when Job has done nothing wrong? And even here, the “god experts” of yore, such as Elihu, claim to know the mind of god just as they do today.

Finally, in chapter 38, God has his say… and then some. He goes on for 71 verses about what business has Job got judging god? Was Job there when he laid the foundations of the earth? He goes through several dozen more questions of this sort, such as, “Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? or hast thou walked in the search of the depth?” (Job 38:16) and “Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?” (Job 38:17) and “Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth?” (Job 38:33) and so on and on. I despaired of counting these endless examples of Job’s supposed ignorance. God must think Job is terminally stupid if he requires several dozen examples to get the picture.

Job basically says he’s sorry in two verses, and then god starts in all over again. Finally, in chapter 42, god forgives Job and gives him back even more sheep, oxen, camels and asses than he had at the beginning. And then god gives Job seven more sons and three more daughters to replace the ones he had taken from Job in the beginning (though it is never explained what happened to the daughters).

Now replacing all Job’s camels, sheep, etc., and even increasing their number might seem almost fair, but who among us would think that our children can be replaced by another set of children? This is the ultimate indignity god visits on Job, and the point at which god (or the story’s author) proves he has no real understanding of man, as he assumes that he can just replace Job’s children by another set and all will be well. To any normal parent, his child’s life is more valuable than his own. No normal human parent thinks any child of his can be replaced. This really shows the ignorance of the author of Job. I’m guessing he was a bachelor, or only had daughters, which weren’t worth much to the sort of men who wrote the Bible.

Any useful, positive moral there might have been in the story of Job is rendered moot by the evil of a god consenting to the murder of a man’s children and then trying to make it right by giving him more children. It is a story of evil, of how a god may visit destruction on a man merely to win a bet. And why on earth does god feel like he has to prove a point to Satan anyway? Didn’t this god create the universe, and Satan himself, in 6 days? Yet, he goes on to destroy a man’s life and allow the murder of all of his children to prove this point. This god is not only evil, he is also unfathomably insecure.

The essential lesson of the Job story, the one believers are sadly oblivious to, is that the god in the story is not worthy of worship. He is, in fact, and literally, unbelievable.