Jesus and the Book of Job
The book of Job presents the preacher with a myriad of homiletical challenges. First there’s the book’s sheer length, weighing in at a hefty 42 chapters. Then you have the cyclical and repetitive aspects of Job’s conversations with his three older friends which make up the majority of those 42 chapters. As you preach the book you will also encounter a variety of literary genres, including prose, historical narrative, wisdom and poetry. In addition to these formidable issues, you have the herculean task of wrestling with the subject matter of the book. The book of Job addresses deep questions including the limits of Retribution theology, the reasons for human suffering and the inscrutability of God’s will. While Job addresses deep questions, the answers it offers to these questions are often only partial in nature and are likely to be poorly received by most modern listeners who expect God’s will to be fully explained. It is no wonder this book is so neglected in the pulpit. Any sane preacher would look at these obstacles and shudder at the thought of trying to bring his modern day, internet savvy and text messaging obsessed, congregation through such a quagmire!
While all of the above enumerated challenges are sufficient to discourage a preacher from mining the riches of Job in the pulpit, there is yet one additional challenge that preachers will face if they deign to preach on this book—how does one bring the Lord Jesus Christ to the people when preaching the book of Job? This is the biblical theological challenge of preaching the book of Job. Put succinctly, the big question is—does Job speak of Jesus?
When most people think about connecting Job to Jesus, they immediately jump to Job 19:25, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand on the earth.” Clearly, here is a prophetic reference to the resurrection and redeeming work of Jesus Christ straight from the mouth of Job, right? Well, most modern evangelical commentators on the book of Job express strong reservations regarding efforts to read this text in this manner. For example, consider Daniel J. Estes comments on this verse:
The content of the book of Job makes it highly unlikely that Job is here thinking of resurrection at the end times, because that would be revealed by God only much later in history. Similarly, only in the New Testament would the concept of redemption be developed to speak of what Christ has accomplished for humans as the divine provision for the justification of sinners (Rom. 5: 8– 9); as the ultimate redeemer for sinful humans, Christ is able to plead successfully for them on the merits of his own perfect substitutionary atonement for sin.1
While it may be tempting to connect the biblical theological dots here from Job 19:25, the scholarly consensus suggests that such an effort is without merit.
Having failed in an effort to use Job 19:25 as a point of connection between Job and Jesus where can we then turn? Frankly, at first glance, there does not appear to be many great options. There are simply very few direct connections between Job and the New Testament. Jesus never quotes from Job or alludes to the book. Paul quotes from Job twice (Romans 11:35, quoting Job 41:3 and 1 Corinthians 3:19, quoting Job 5:13), but in ways that are not directly helpful in connecting Job and Jesus. James is the only New Testament author to mention Job by name (5:11) and he does so in an exemplary sense, holding up Job as a model of perseverance. If you are looking for explicit connections, or even tenuous allusions, between Job and the New Testament you will likely be disappointed at the paucity of available material.
So, does this mean that Job does not speak of Jesus? Is there no hermeneutically sound way of preaching Christ from the pages of the book of Job? Well, the answer to those questions is an unequivocal “No!” Of course, there is a way to preach Jesus from the book of Job, it just requires a bit more work and care on the part of the preacher. Let me suggest three themes from the book of Job which can be mined, both typologically and redemptive-historically, in an effort to shine the spotlight on Jesus. In citing these three themes, I by no means want to suggest that they are the only way to do this, but I think they will help guide the preacher on a sound path to preaching Jesus from the book of Job.
The Righteous One Who Suffers
Most modern evangelical commentators contend that one of the canonical purposes of the book of Job is to provide a corrective to a formulaic and distorted view of what is known as “Retribution theology.” Essentially, Retribution theology maintains that wise and righteous people/choices are prospered by God and foolish and sinful people/choices are penalized by God. In many ways, this wise/righteous v. foolish/sinful formula of Retribution theology describes well much of the wisdom we find in Proverbs. In other words, Retribution theology is not false. Wise and righteous people often are blessed by making wise and righteous choices and vice versa. But sometimes the saints of the Old Testament were inclined to distort the general principles of wisdom and transform them into something resembling the law of gravity. Thus, these principles of wisdom are transformed into immutable laws, which bind even God’s own nature and will. Many biblical scholars suggest that that the book of Job was written in order to provide a counterbalance to such distortion of wisdom. For in the book of Job the strict adherent to Retribution theology is confronted with the utterly befuddling situation of a clearly wise and righteous man in Job (as attested to by God himself in Job 1:8) who suffers enormously.
Understanding this purpose of the book of Job is very helpful in preaching the book in general, but it is particularly useful in preaching Jesus from the book of Job. After all, Jesus is the example par excellence that proves the limitations of Retribution theology. While Job may have had an outward righteousness, Jesus was entirely sinless and yet suffered profoundly, even to the point of facing the wrath of God. In this sense, the story of Job serves to prepare the way for the story of Jesus. Job forces the read to confront the reality that it is possible for one to be righteous, wholly pleasing to God, and yet suffer. Job thus joins the prophet Isaiah in creating an emerging portrait of the Suffering Servant who will become known as the Lamb of God. This theme of the righteous one who suffers provides great opportunity to make connections between the experiences of Job and the ministry of Jesus.
The Longing for a Mediator
Another theme in the book of Job which leads us to Jesus is Job’s desire for justice. You see, Job is also an adherent to Retribution theology and thus part of his personal struggle is trying to figure out why God has been so unfair to him. In other words, much of Job’s existential struggle is trying to figure out why God “broke” the rules. In Job’s mind, God is beholden to uphold the exchange inherent in Retribution theology and he is convinced, by his innocence and his suffering, that God has not upheld his end of the bargain. In Job’s mind, God has committed a breach of contract. This leaves Job bewildered, befuddled and downright angry at times. It also leaves Job seeking redress. In essence, Job seeks something similar to a modern lawsuit wherein he is the plaintiff and God the defendant.
A prime example of Job’s desire to seek legal redress figures quite prominently in Job 9. Here Job thinks through the prospects of litigating with God and he ultimately comes to the conclusion that such a course of action is futile. This reality leads to exasperation and he cries out in Job 9:32-35 (NIV):
“He is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court. If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot. (Emphasis mine)
Here Job expresses a desire for someone to mediate between himself and God in an effort to reconcile their fractured relationship. But Job subsequently realizes that no one is qualified to fill this role. He desires a mediator, but none can be found. After all, who is qualified to stand before the face of God?
This theme of longing for a mediator provides a path for connecting Job and Jesus. For Job’s longing here is the inner longing of every sinner. We all need one to advocate and mediate for us before the face of God. Of course, we find that mediator in Jesus Christ. As Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:5-6 (NIV), “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” This longing for a mediator provides another bountiful biblical theme for exploration while preaching the book of Job. It is another way in which Job speaks of Jesus.
The Lack of Answers to the Problem of Suffering
One of the most challenging aspects of preaching the book of Job is that it really does not answer the questions that we desire it to answer. This is challenging for the preacher because the congregation will look to him to provide answers and the answers that the book of Job provides are not all that satisfying to the modern mind which, even in its Christian form, is severely impacted by the expectations of a scientific and secular worldview. The book of Job gives partial answers and answers which many will find unpalatable and unsatisfying, particularly when it comes to the reasons for suffering and the problem of evil.
But, instead of becoming forlorn regarding the inability to give your congregation complete answers to the questions raised by the book of Job, you can instead rejoice in this reality because the absence of answers leads us directly to Jesus. You see, ultimately, the questions raised by Job regarding the mystery of evil and cause of human suffering only find their answer in the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross gives human suffering its meaning and significance. It also provides hope for a new world where suffering shall cease (Revelation 21:4). The answers to the questions raised by the book of Job are answered in the question of Jesus on cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, NIV). In reality, it is in the silence of the book of Job, in its lack of answers, that the book most powerfully speaks of Jesus.
Preaching Job is a hard task, but it is such a worthwhile one. The contemplative wisdom of Job on the human experience and its glorious revelation of the sovereign unwillingness of our God to be moored by human demands and definitions, are so needed in our modern world. The people of God need to hear the voice of this book. Most particularly, they need to hear of how Job speaks of Jesus.
1. Estes, Daniel J. (2013-07-15). Job (Teach the Text Commentary Series) (Kindle Locations 3723-3726). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Anthony T. Selvaggio is a preacher, lecturer and author. His prior ministry experience includes a pastorate in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA).