The poetry of the Book of Job is exquisite. “An Old Testament scholar, H. H. Rowley, reflects, ‘The book of Job is the greatest work of genius in the Old Testament, and one of the world’s artistic masterpieces’ “(H. H. Rowley, The Growth of the Old Testament, 1966, p. 143).
Job was a just and “perfect” man who walked uprightly before the Lord. Some readers think he is mythical, because his circumstances follow a fantasy-like conversation between God and Satan. Yet, Job is quoted as an example later in history. James spoke of Job in the New Testament:
“Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy” (James 5:11).
In Section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the first prophet of this dispensation recorded a modern revelation from God. Joseph Smithwas languishing in jail, in extremely difficult and unhealthy conditions, while the Latter-day Saints were being driven from their homes in Missouri in the midst of a brutal winter. He pleaded with the Lord for relief, and the Lord answered him thus:
“Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands. Thou art not yet as Job; thy friends do not contend against thee, neither charge thee with transgression, as they did Job. And they who do charge thee with transgression, their hope shall be blasted, and their prospects shall melt away as the hoar frost melteth before the burning rays of the rising sun…” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:9 – 11).
Thus, even though parts of the story of Job may appear to be fanciful, it appears that he really existed, and suffered to the brink of death, but through all, kept the faith. There are some important doctrinal messages in Job, also. He has an understanding of the Plan of Salvation and expects to see God face to face.
“The book of Job is a beautiful literary masterpiece that deals with this question: Why do the righteous suffer? Many lessons are to be learned from the book, but one distinct lesson emerges above all others: after his suffering was ended, Job discovered that the Lord had ‘blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning’ ( Job 42:12 ).
Job was a wealthy man with a wonderful family and many good friends. He was important in his community, a man of influence who enjoyed many blessings. At the beginning of the book, we learn that he had seven sons and three daughters. The Lord used Job as an example of righteousness in His conversation with Satan, and Satan claimed it was because he was so blessed and protected that Job was so faithful. God gave Satan permission to take away all of Job’s blessings, as long as Job’s life was spared.
Job’s servants were set upon by the Sabeans and killed, the livestock stolen. Then fire from heaven consumed the sheep and the shepherds (Job 1). A windstorm arose and caused the house to fall upon the young men; all were killed. Job rent his clothes and went into bitter mourning, but still kept the faith.
Then Satan “smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown” (Job 2:7). Job sat down in the ashes and scraped his wounded flesh.
“Job’s face was so disfigured that his friends could not recognize him. Worms or maggots were bred in the sores ( 7:5 ). His breath became so foul and his body emitted such an odor, that even his friends abhorred him ( 19:17 ff), and he sought refuge outside the city on the refuse heap where outcasts and lepers lived. Pain was his constant companion ( 30:17, 30 ) as were also terrifying nightmares ( 7:14 ).’ “( The Westminster Study Edition of the Holy Bible, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, p. 641, note.)
His wife suggested that Job “curse God and die,” but Job responded, “What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil” (Job 2:10)? Our faith must be true and strong in bad times as well as good. Job’s most difficult test was that the Lord seemed to abandon him:
“Thus, Job, in turn deprived inexplicably in his own mind of his wealth, his family, and his health, living daily in much pain, deprived of the psychological and spiritual support of friends and loved ones who should have cared, ultimately finds himself deprived of the support of the Lord—the greatest of all comforters. No one seems to have asked Job which of these losses afflicted him the most; but, at least, initially, Job was able to say of the Lord that he had given, he had also taken away. One, therefore, suspects that in the long run his greatest loss and deepest need came when he finally realized that the Lord was not responding to his heart-felt cries.”
Job’s friends came to mourn with him, and they sat down on the “ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that hisgrief was very great” (Job 2:13). This is the Jewish tradition called “sitting sheva.” Upon the death of a loved one the surviving relative sits in his house for seven days of mourning. The door is open for friends to come and mourn with the grief-stricken. The person in mourning engages in no entertainment (in modern times, paintings in the house are covered and the TV stays off), and might not shave or bathe during this time. Job’s friends care enough to sit sheva with him, but not enough to assume that Job was innocent of any transgression.
It is comforting to those of us who now have trials to bear, that Job was considered perfect by the Lord, but still complained bitterly about his trials. At the beginning of chapter 3, Job wishes he had never been born. “Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly” (Job 3:11)? Sometimes we feel guilty when we complain; we feel we should bear our burdens silently. But the nature of Job’s complaining is important. He did complain about his losses and even wished he’d never been born. But he never blamed the Lord or lost his faith; he never ceased praying and calling upon the Lord, and he never ceased singing the Lord praise. How we face our trials is all-important to the development of our faith and testimony of Christ, for as with Job, if we endure in faith, we receive spiritual gifts that are ours for eternity after the time of adversity is ended.
Job’s friend Eliphaz recalled how Job instructed and helped many people, but now Job was the one who needed aid. Then he says, “Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same” (Job 4:8). Eliphaz assumed that Job’s sins must the cause of such great punishments from God. He advised Job to accept God’s chastening: “Behold, happy isthe man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty” (Job 5:17).
At the beginning of Chapter 8, Job’s friend Bildad chimes in, “If thou wert pure and upright; surely now he would awake for thee, and make the habitation of thy righteousness prosperous” (Job 8:6). Job then lauded the greatness of God in some beautiful verses. In chapter 11, we hear from Job’s friend Zophar. He claimed that God is incomprehensible for man. He said that the wicked will always fail. Job answered in Chapter 12, “I am asone mocked of his neighbour, who calleth upon God, and he answereth him: the just upright man is laughed to scorn” (Job 12:4). He claimed that the wicked seem to prosper.
Then Job asked, “If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come” (Job 14:14). This is a direct reference to the resurrection and the afterlife, which Job truly believed in. In Chapter 16 Job bewails against the wicked who oppose him—Though even his friends scorn him, he testifies that his witness is in heaven and his record is on high. He says, “…miserable comforters areye all” (Job 16:2). Then Bildad tells of the damned state of the wicked who know not God (Job 17). Chapter 19 has important messages — Job says, he knows that his Redeemer lives—He prophesies of his own resurrection and that in his flesh he shall see God. (See vs. 25, 26.)
Job’s friends still assert that his trials must be the result of wickedness, but Job repeatedly affirms his own righteousness. He admits that sometimes the wicked prosper for awhile, but that is just on earth, not in heaven. The emphasis in the Old Testament is on works, and Chapter 29 of Job is no exception; Job says he was blessed for his charity, his righteousness, and his good deeds. In Chapter 30, Job is a type of the Savior, derided by the children of vile and base men (the best of men smitten by the worst of men).
Then Elihu, a younger man who has deferred to Job’s older three friends, finds his voice. In Chapter 33, in poetic cadences, he says God is greater than man—He speaks to man in dreams and visions—He ransoms those cast into the pit—He delivers their souls and gives them life. He talks about the perfection and justice of God. In Chapter 35 he cites the imperfections of men and says that men should trust in God. Still Job’s friends were convinced Job had sinned.
Late Mormon Prophet David O. McKay “has said that he has always ‘thought that the purpose of the book of Job was to emphasize the fact that the testimony of the spirit—the testimony of the Gospel, is beyond the power of Satan’s temptation or any physical influence’ (Dedication of the Salt Lake Temple Annex in 1963, Deseret News ). The book of Job therefore becomes a great testimonial to us of this great truth. Thus, the three things that any person must know if he is to have faith in the Lord are all reflected in Job’s life. His marvelous testimony, ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’ ( 19:25 ), indicates how well he knew of the Lord’s existence. Statements like the one in ch. 13 , ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him,’ indicated how well he knew the Being in whom he trusted. And finally, the knowledge that the course of life that he was pursuing was pleasing unto the Lord, all gave him the strength to endure in faithfulness when adversity came into his life. His life, then vividly illustrates that such faith comes when one knows that God exists, that he is perfect in his character and attributes, and that the course of life one pursues is pleasing to the Lord. “
In Chapter 38 the Lord answers Job out of the whirlwind. Here we get a glimpse of what Mormonscall the “Pre-existence” or Pre-earth-life, wherein the Lord formed the earth, and all of us dwelt with God as His spirit children. The Lord has told modern prophets that we shouted for joy when we learned the Plan of Salvation in the Pre-existence:
“…or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:6, 7)?
The Lord’s beautiful poetry continues describing the wonders of the earth, His creation and the comparative impotence of men. Then, in the last chapter of Job, the Lord accepts Job’s philosophy and rejects the ideas of his “friends.” The Lord commands Job’s friends to offer sacrifice and repent of their wrong judgments. Then, Job sees the Lord. “…also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:10).
“So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning: for he had fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she asses. He had also seven sons and three daughters (Job 42:12, 13).
Job then lived to a ripe old age, enjoying generations of his family. Note that all his wealth was doubled, but he received the same number of children that he had before his trials. His posterity still doubled, since his children would be his eternally. Just because his first ten children had died does not mean he had lost them.
*This article was adapted from the LDS Institute Old Testament Manual.
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