The Prologue of Job: The Structured Story

The story narrated by the Prologue is symmetrical and artistic.  It is neatly structured into two encounters between Yahweh and Satan bounded by an introductory affirmation of Job’s character and a concluding mourning with friends.  We may outline it in this manner.

A. Introduction: Job’s Character (1:1-5)

B.  First Encounter between Yahweh and Satan (1:6-12)

 C.  The Disasters on Job’s Children and Wealth (1:13-19)

D.  Job’s Response (1:20-22)

B’  Second Encounter Between Yahweh and Satan (2:1-6)

C’ The Disaster on Job’s Person (2:7-8)

D’ Job’s Response (2:9-10)

E.  Conclusion: Job Mourns with Friends (2:11-13)

As noted in previous posts, Job is a wise person whose soul, like everyone’s, has regions of fear. He fears calamity. His devotion is sincere, his piety is authentic and his wisdom is renown but he nevertheless fears for his children, as most parents do.

The Trials

Yahweh gathered the “sons of God” before his throne and among them was one designated “the accuser” because of the role he would play in the prologue. This one stands as the accuser of humanity, of Job in particular. The accuser turns Yahweh’s invitation to enjoy and delight in Job’s goodness into an accusation against Job.

The narrator introduces us to how meaningful human life is by adopting the literary convention of a “trial” within the divine assembly. Yahweh values Job’s wisdom, accentuates it, and brags about it.  The accuser questions it.  Yahweh decides to test it—and Job himself, later in the Dialogue, senses he is being tested (Job 23:10).  Job’s faith has cosmic meaning; it has a significance beyond its situated exercise in the Transjordan.

Job represents all humanity. We enter this story through Job (or sometimes through the friends).  The significance of his faith is the significance of our faith. We matter to God just as Job mattered.

And this faith must be fully tested. All the props of faith are knocked out from under Job—external blessings (children, wealth) and personal blessings (health, relationships). Ultimately, Job stands naked and alone before God. It is naked faith—no support, no props, no blessings. And Job still blesses the name of Yahweh.

The trials are not so much random acts by Yahweh as they are part of Yahweh’s management of the cosmos. Testing, probing, challenging and exercising faith through struggles is part of the means by which humans are transformed more fully and more deeply.  This is the theology of trial or testing in the hands of Yahweh as the narrator offers it to us.

The Nature of the Trials

Job’s suffering is multi-faceted. There is no easy explanation from a human point of view.  The chaos of nature—though called the “fire of God”—results in death and destruction and the moral outrages of the Sabeans and Chaldeans bring theft and death. It is seemingly chaotic, but it is not. It is specifically permitted, bounded, and empowered by Yahweh.

The narrator calls them “troubles” or “evils” (Job 2:10, 11; 42:11). It is a word that has a wide range of meaning from evil to disasters. Its basic meaning is “evil,” but in varying contexts it  may be translated “troubles” or “disasters.” It is what Job, as a wise person, avoids–he turns away from “evil” (Job 1:1, 8; 2:13), but it is also what he has received from the hand of Yahweh. The narrator uses the same word to describe what Job avoids and what Yahweh empowered.

Job experiences what theodicists have called moral and natural evil, but not ultimately at the hands of a satanic demon or a chaotic reality but by the hand of Yahweh. This is chilling, and immediately we want to find hermeneutical moves to say, “It ain’t so!” But the narrator is clear. Job himself voices it…twice (1:21; 2:10). And nothing in the coming dialogues and monologues as well as Epilogue questions that claim.

Nevertheless, interpreters have attempted to set the Prologue in tension with the rest of the literary work. For example, Yahweh does not take responsibility in the Yahweh speeches, does he? Or, does not the dialogue indicate the futility of attributing these “evils” to God? As we move through Job, we will pay attention to these supposed tensions. But I think they ultimately fail. The whole of the work—from Job in the Prologue, to the friends in the Dialogue, to Job in his monologue, to Elihu in his intervention, the narrator in the Epilogue, and, yes, even Yahweh—lays these “evils” at the feet of Yahweh.

It is for this very reason that Job feels so abandoned, so alone. Though expressing piety in his mourning, it will soon explode in a protesting theodicy. Yahweh is responsible! What’s up with that?

The Mourning Ritual

Friends do arrive. Job is no longer alone. They come to “sympathize with him and comfort him.” These terms are found in parallel in Psalm 69:20 where the lamenter bemoans the lack of support in his community.

Reproaches have broken my heart,

so that I am in despair;

  I looked for pity [sympathy], but there was none,

                    and for comforters, but I found none.

Job, too, looks for such. Perhaps he finds it, at least somewhat in the seven days of silence that his friends weep with him. I imagine this weeping is not inaudible. The silence probably refers more to the lack of dialogue rather than the lack of groaning, crying, and moaning.  The seven days may be symbolic of completeness or perhaps it is the mourning practice of an ancient culture.

The actions of the friends reflect an authentic sympathy. They care for their friend. They share his dust and they share his grief by ripping their clothes. The friends show up; they are present. Nothing need be said; nothing need be shared except the tears.

Job is no longer alone….or is he?

8 Responses to “The Prologue of Job: The Structured Story”

  1.   Rich constant Says:

    What a good morning
    John mark

  2.   Jimmy Hinton Says:

    JM, I used to always believe that the devil was responsible for most tragic events in our lives until I took Providence and Suffering with you. Now I see clearly the scriptures where blame is placed on Yahweh and we are taught to have faithful lament in spite of our sufferings. One of the most (ab)used cliches that people spew is that “God will not give you more than you can handle,” a complete misquoting of 1 Cor 10:13: “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” When our view of God is that He doesn’t allow bad things to happen to good people, we set ourselves up to be shattered when disaster strikes.

    Your discussions are very engaging and are helping me to understand how we move through our sufferings in a faithful way. Keep the good discussions coming!

  3.   Rich constant Says:

    john mark, I have never quite gotten the designation,” the sons of god” I know it’s just another stupid question that I’ve never asked before but then I have ask you so many stupid questions on this blog, that I think we should I stop now.
    just some sort of a literary device that use by the author to designate the heavenly host.
    thank you sir.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      “Sons of God” in Ugaritic texts indicates the “family of God” and in Canaanite texts are usually physical descendants. In Hebrew the construct can refer to anyone who belongs to a group of some kind, that is, the “sons of the prophet” are the disciples of a prophet. Job 38:7 parallels them with the “morning stars” and thus probably represents them as an angelic host or heavenly beings who share God’s life without being gods themselves (though they can be called “gods” as well, cf. Psalm 82:1, 6).

  4.   rich constant Says:

    pretty neat!
    thanks john mark

    always wondered bout that little phrase.

  5.   rich constant Says:
    Ugarit and the Bible

    this paper from a baptist Theo. school gave me about an hour of reading. about the significance of what you are saying on the Hermeneutical Considerations.
    i even picked up a new word ” inclusion”
    the more i read the more i am convened of just how much you have had to go through.
    thanks john mark … again… 🙂
    boy oh boy…

  6.   Sarah Says:

    “Yahweh is responsible! What’s up with that?”

    You write with an excellent balance of depth/wisdom + real/accessible language. This is a treasure to me. Thank you!

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