The prologue. The LORD points out to the Adversary that Job is the most virtuous person on earth, but the Adversary suggests that Job's virtue is
a function of his material success, arguing that if Job were to suffer he would cease to be a man who fears God and would
“blaspheme You [God] to Your face” (
). God thereupon empowers the Adversary, a kind of heavenly prosecutor, to afflict Job with undeserved suffering in order
to test by experiment the LORD's thesis that Job's virtue is unconditional. The verdict of the prologue is that, contrary to the Adversary's expectations,
Job responds to the loss of all his material goods and the death by natural disaster of his seven sons and three daughters
by praising God and refusing to blaspheme (
). When the Adversary challenges the LORD to perform an additional experiment to see if physically afflicting Job himself might cause Job to commit blasphemy, the
LORD again agrees (
). Once again, even though Job's wife attempts to goad Job into blasphemy (
), “Job said nothing sinful,” and he thereby vindicates God in His argument with the Adversary. The prologue constitutes a
drama of five scenes, alternating between heaven and earth, as follows: Scene One (
): Job's way of life and his good fortune; Scene Two (
): the first dialogue between the LORD and the Adversary about Job; Scene Three (
): Job in the first phase of his trial; Scene Four (
): the second dialogue between the LORD and the Adversary about Job; Scene Five (
): Job in the second phase of his trial.
Uz, or Edom, in the East, was a traditional source of wisdom (see intro.). Job, the hero of the book, bears the name given to a virtuous person of hoary antiquity mentioned by Ezekiel (Ezek. 14.12–20
), who, along with Noah and Daniel, is a paradigm of righteousness. Blameless…upright….feared God…shunned evil: These characteristics underline Job's goodness, indeed, his perfection, and his subsequent actions (vv. 4–5
) will demonstrate this perfection. Fear of God (or fear of the LORD) is the major principle in wisdom literature (Prov. 1.7; Eccl. 12.13
) and signifies obedience to God's will. Even a non‐Israelite like Job can be God‐fearing. The reason for Job's fear of God
will soon be questioned by the Adversary. A Talmudic tradition (b. B. Bat. 15b) considers Job to have been more virtuous than Abraham because only the fear of God is ascribed to Abraham and Job's
other virtues are not.
The numbers three and seven are special numbers in the Bible, and here they indicate that Job's family was the perfect size.
So, too, his possessions are great, a sign that God has blessed him for his virtue. Many of the numbers used in the prologue
are stereotypical, and help to create a fairytale‐like atmosphere in the book.
Blasphemed God in their thoughts: The plot turns on what Job will say out loud, whether, when deprived of his good life, he will curse God (v. 11
). Here, virtuous Job shows his extreme piety by worrying whether his children, in a moment of levity, may have thought unseemly
thoughts about God. The Heb throughout the prologue euphemistically uses the root “b‐r‐k,” lit. “bless,” to indi‐ cate “blaspheme.”
The divine beings presented themselves before the LORD
: Similar meetings of the LORD enthroned on His heavenly throne and all the heavenly host standing before Him on either side are reported by the prophet
Micaiah son of Imlah in 1 Kings22.19–23
, by the prophet Isaiah in Isa. ch 6
, and in Ps. 82
and Dan. 7.9–10
. The members of the heavenly court, here and in Ps. 82
called divine beings (here lit. “sons of the gods”; in Ps. 82.2
lit. “gods”) are called in 1 Kings ch 22
“the heavenly host”; in Job 4.18
they are called “servants” and “angels”; in
they are called “holy ones” and “the heavens,” while in
they are identified with the moon and stars, who, with the sun, are called “the whole heavenly host” in Deut. 4.19
. Typically, these divine beings, though they have great power, may not act independently of God. The Adversary, or “the Accuser,” Heb “ha‐satan,” is one of the divine beings. He functions as a kind of prosecuting attorney, and should
not be confused with the character of Satan as it developed in the late biblical (see 1 Chron. 21.1
) and especially the postbiblical period, that is, the source of evil and rebellion against God. (Heb “ha‐” is the definite
article, which cannot precede a proper noun, “Satan.”) Later, the idea of Satan developed into the devil, but these associations
were not present at the time of our story.
The LORD repeats the four attributes by which the narrator characterized Job in v. 1
, thereby confirming them.
Does Job not have good reason to fear God? Some scholars hold that this issue—whether Job's piety is disinterested—is the center around which the legend revolves, and
that the ultimate answer of the book is that such disinterested piety is possible.
The first test is the removal of all Job's possessions, including his children, by sudden catastrophes that alternate between
acts of war and acts of nature. The phrase “I alone have escaped to tell you” serves as a refrain, highlighting the increasing horror of these escalating catastrophes.
Sabeans, nomads from Arabia; it is the same place as in “Queen of Sheba.”
Chaldean: The term usually refers to Neo‐Babylonians, from southern Mesopotamia, but here it may mean semi‐nomadic marauders.
In the fourth catastrophe, the four corners collapse, just as there are three columns in the third catastrophe (v. 17
). This, along with the notice that the enemies are coming from all different parts of the globe, highlights the fairytale‐like
ambiance of the narrative.
The LORD has given…: This phrase is often recited at Jewish burial services. Job blesses the LORD rather than blaspheming. This verse contains a unique biblical reference to mother earth (naked shall I return there).
His wife: This is the first of three references (see 19.17; 31.10
) to Job's wife, who remains nameless. Second Temple Jewish literature and later Jewish, Christian, and Muslim exegetical
literature tend to identify unknown and unnamed persons, often with known and named persons. In the apocryphal Testament of Job, Job's wife is named Sitis, probably from “sitos,” Gk for “food” or “bread,” reflecting a tradition that Job's wife supported
him from her work during the time that his illness made it impossible for him to work. In 1st‐century CE Pseudo‐Philo (L.A.B.), and in Gen. Rab. Job's wife was Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah (see Gen. 30.21; ch 34
). Thus, several later Jewish traditions develop and improve the image of Job's wife. However, both the Church Father Augustine
and the Jewish sage Rabbi Abba b. Kahana (
) compare Job and his wife to Adam and Eve, noting that both men were urged by their wives to transgress and that Job, unlike
Adam, withstood the test.
Shameless woman, Heb “nevalot,” plural of “nevalah,” translated “outrage” at Gen. 34.7
and “shameful thing” in Deut. 22.21
, is a very strong term, referring in both of those texts to extramarital sex. Drawing on this connotation, the medieval Job
Targum here translates “women who engage in premarital sex.” Many modern translations prefer “foolish,” however, without sexual
connotations, though this may be too weak.
It is difficult to know how closely we should read the phrase said nothing sinful; might it imply, in contrast to
, Job did not sin, that at this point, he harbored sinful thoughts, as suggested by one talmudic sage (b. B. Bat. 16a)?
Eliphaz and Zophar bear names associated with the Transjordanian peoples called Kedemites. Kedem was a traditional source of wisdom (see intro.).
Temanite, Teman was a grandson of Esau, ancestor of the Edomites (Gen. 36.11
). Shuhite, Shuah was a son of Abraham by Keturah (Gen. 25.1–2
), and probably also stands for the Edomites. Zophar the Naamathite is probably from Sabean (Arabian) territory (see 1.15 n.
). To console, Heb “lanud,” “to nod,” short for “to nod their heads” (Jer. 18.16
), a nonverbal expression of empathy. Unfortunately, Job's friends forgot their empathy; see 21.2
Sitting on the ground for seven days resembles the Jewish mourning practice of “sitting shiv'ah” (sitting for seven [days]).
See Gen. 50.10 n.
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