I have now read to the end of the book of Job. It comes right after Esther, which I think is a really weird book (although very important historically for Jewish people, who still celebrate Purim today). I found it uncomfortable for two reasons. Firstly, Esther is very much a pawn. She is first used by Mordecai, who sends her off to enter a harem (not what I would want for any female I cared about). Later, she is pretty much used at the whim of the king, even though she does manage to use this to her advantage (and save the whole Jewish race). The second problem I have with the book is that when the Jewish people are saved, they then violently kill all their enemies. Chapter 9 is pretty gory (which was never really mentioned when I was in Sunday School!)
However, if Esther is one of my least favourite books of the Bible, my favourite is probably the book of Job. Which is surprising, as until recently I did not understand it, and probably disliked it as much as I now dislike Esther. If you have never read it, properly, from start to finish, do it this week. It isn’t an easy book to read, and the themes seem strange and complicated, but the message is huge.
In summary, Job is like a piece of theatre. It is an ancient story, and was told for generations, to show why God is worshipped. The dating of the book is difficult, and there is some evidence that shows it may have been written even before Moses’ times. It was a story that was told, some scholars think that even King Solomon used it, and it is thought to have been originally written in Arabic (so some of the translations are unsure). Job himself is thought to have been a real person, possibly a descendent of Nahor (Abraham’s brother). He is not part of ‘the promised race’, so it’s very interesting that this book is included as part of Jewish scriptures, and given equal weight to their other holy books.
The story is about Job, a good man, who worships God (which is significant, as he was a gentile). He is rich, with a family, and God allows just about everything to go wrong for him. So he looses his family, and all his possessions, and finally his health. Most of the book shows him, wretched and in despair, and we read the dialogues between him and his friends. His friends tell him that the calamity is due to his own evilness, that he has sinned against God, and therefore everything has gone wrong. Job defends himself, and says he has always been true to God, and it isn’t fair, because there are rich, happy, successful people who are evil. Then God speaks. God shows his might, his absolute power, his authority over everything. Which is why people should worship God. He is worthy of worship. Mankind is insignificant, so how can Job protest? Job, and his friends, repent, and God gives Job more than he had at the start of the story.
I love this story for several reasons. Firstly, I love the language of the last few chapters, when God is speaking. It talks about dawn holding the skirts of the earth, describes storehouses of snow waiting to fall; such beautiful imagery. I also like the main theme, that God should be worshipped because he is God. Our religion can be a useful way to achieve this – but sometimes it gets in the way. Sometimes the singing, the sermon, the Bible study can detract from what we are meant to be doing, which is worshipping God. We do not worship because we’ll be given peace, or blessings, or help through troubles. We worship because God is worthy. That is all. This is something we need to learn, and constantly remember. God is worthy, and that is all.
If you imagine a power-rangers type movie, where there are huge forces fighting for power, would you not want to be on the team of the power that will win? Don’t you want to be allied with the right side? That is what this book is about. It does not promise health or wealth or anything else, it just points out that God’s side is the best side, and so we should be on that team.
Now, I will admit, some of the text is a bit awkward. This might be because it is a translation.
There are some difficult ideas too, so Chapter 40 seems to be describing a dinosaur, and Chapter 41 has a pretty accurate description of a sea-living dragon, complete with fire-breathing capabilities. So what does that mean?
Some scholars have tried to explain this by saying they are mistranslated, and actually describe hippos and crocodiles. But if you read the texts, to my mind, this is a cop-out and not what is written. A crocodile does not breathe fire, and a hippo does not have a straight strong tail (like a brontosaurus).
My theory (based on nothing other than a desire to believe that dragons may have once existed!) is that there is no reason why early man would not have discovered fossils of prehistoric creatures. If they uncovered fossils of huge, fierce, dinosaurs, would they not have reasoned that these creatures existed? The world was pretty small in Bible times, people didn’t travel very far, so to believe that somewhere undiscovered, were huge animals, was not unreasonable. God was then using these beliefs when giving examples of his might (which was not untrue, because God did create the dinosaurs, even if Job had never encountered one). This is consistent with other Bible passages, where God used the beliefs of the day to explain something – such as the sun moving across the sky (whereas we now know that the earth moves around the sun). God has always met people where they are, and has made his explanations understandable for people, even if their own basic beliefs have been wrong.
So, there it is, my reasons for loving the book of Job. I love it so much, I tried to bring some of these themes into my story about Clara. You can order a copy from me at the special price of £7.95 until the end of March (it’s £12.99 in shops). Send me a message, and I’ll email you with details.
(Photo above by Sandara)