The Hard Job of Interpreting Job
This past Sunday evening, a young woman in our congregation asked if I knew of a book or sermon series to help her work through portions of the book of Job. She was, like any who have spent time studying Job--especially chapters 3-37--wrestling with how to understand the many difficult things said by Job and his friends. It is a well attested fact that neither Martin Luther or John Calvin wrote commentaries on the book of Job--though Calvin preached 159 sermons on the book during 1554-1555. The Puritan Joseph Caryl--a member of the Westminster Assembly--preached 424 sermons on the book of Job over a 24 year period (1643-1666). Spurgeon was right when he wrote, "Caryl must have inherited the patience of Job to have completed his stupendous task." To follow Caryl's example would, however, be highly unadvisable, as Derek Thomas has explained: "In the final sermon [Caryl] apologizes, saying: 'I have not attained so clear an understanding of some passages.' Despite the value of the sermons (currently in print in twelve volumes)," writes Thomas "this is not an example to follow!"
Despite the enormous challenges the reader faces when working through the book of Job, it is full of divinely inspired spiritual instruction for believers. The book of Job teaches us, in an unparalleled way, about God's sovereignty over all things, the reality of spiritual warfare, the hope of the consummation, the rationale for the suffering of the godly, the mysterious wisdom of God in creation and providence, the need to be careful about how we counsel friends who are suffering and the important place of prayer and worship in the life of the believer.
The book of Job poses a great number of interpretive challenges for the reader. This is on account of both the Hebrew language it contains as well as on account of the difficulties of interpreting the content of the lengthy dialogue between Job and his friends. For instance, much of what Job's friends tell him appears to be sound theology that is clearly misapplied to his situation--making it bad theology. Add to this the fact that the Holy Spirit says, at the outset of the book, that Job was "blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil." However, when the Lord confronts Job, at the end of the book, he addresses him as one who "darkens counsel with words without knowledge." What are we to make of the different views of this one who suffers so greatly throughout the narrative? Then, there is the question of how to relate the book of Job to the history of redemption. Is Job a type of Christ? He certainly appears to be so in light of the fact that he is a righteous man who suffers and who intercedes for the good of his friends. He undergoes a death and resurrection--suffering followed by glory. However, the New Testament never alludes to or calls Job a type of Christ.
In order to help the reader work through many of these challenges, I want to recommend a few books, articles and sermon series to help us navigate the difficult terrain of this wonderfully complex portion of God's word.
Theodore Beza Job Expounded
William Henry Green Conflict and Triumph: The Argument of the Book of Job Unfolded
C.J. Williams The Shadow of Christ in the Book of Job
Richard BelcherJob: The Mystery of Suffering and God's Sovereignty
Derek Thomas Calvin's Teaching on Job
Geoff Thomas Job Sermon Manuscripts
Laird Harris, "The Book of Job and Its Doctrine of God," Grace Theological Journal 13.3 (Fall 1972) pp. 3-33
Meredith Kline Introduction to Job
Meredith Kline "Trial By Ordeal," in W. Godfrey ed. Through Christ's Word: A Festschrift for Philip E. Hughes
Lynne Newell "Job: Repentant or Rebellious," Westminster Theological Journal vol. 46, pp. 298-315.
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