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The following was originally published on Medium.
One book of scripture has given Bible scholars more cause for disagreement than any other: the Book of Job. The disagreements range from who and when it was written, the purpose behind its literary construction and alternating poetic/prose style, the spiritual lessons it seems to teach, and even how (or if!)it fits into the greater gospel message.
Some even question if Job — like they question Adam — was a real person. Ezekiel 14:14 implies that he was, as does James 5:11. Remember also that the Lord refers to Job in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 121:10, when Joseph is in Liberty Jail (“Thou art not yet as Job; thy friends do not contend against thee, neither charge thee with transgression, as they did Job.”) Christ could have been referring to Job as a literary figure and not a real person, but I doubt it, for I can find no precedence for that elsewhere in scripture.
There is a Job named as the son of Issachar, one of Israel’s 12 sons, in Genesis 46:13. The Jews themselves however claim that the Book of Job pre-dates the 5 Books of Moses, and in fact say it is the oldest book of scripture in existence. So while plausible, it appears that Issachar’s son could just be the namesake of an individual who lived even earlier.
To see what I believe is the Book of Job’s true message, it really must be taken in at a macro level, all at once. If you don’t have the time to thoughtfully push through 42 chapters, below is my outline of the book, intentionally formatted to draw attention to the parallels I see.
I would like to thank Mack Sterling for his previous scholarship into this approach, for helping me see what now seems so obvious. To watch his presentation on the subject, go here.
The Beginning of Job
The Book of Job is a story of his spiritual journey to obtain divine justice and mercy. It begins with Job in a very idyllic state. Shortly though, God allows Job to come to Satan’s attention. This precipitates several questions which dominate the book: What is Job’s character? Is it appropriate for him to seek God’s face? Is there value in worshiping God?
The story begins with a description of Job as just and perfect. He is guilty of nothing — as was Adam before the Fall — and fears God. (1:1) Essentially however, he tastes only the sweet. While he is described as righteous and moral, he is NOT referred to in any way as wise, intelligent, or possessing any great understanding. He is like a child.
Job’s location is eastward. (1:3) Among men, there is none greater. Job offers burnt offerings (1:5), where the entire offering was consumed to symbolize complete fidelity. He is perfectly obedient, but far from perfect. He is obeying all of Father in Heaven’s commandments.
Satan enters the scene, and God wants to know what he has been doing there (“Whence comest thou?”) (1:6–7) His evasive answer indicates that he is doing that which others commonly do on earth.
A garden wall — a hedge — protects Job, possibly inferring he lives in a garden-like paradise (1:10). Satan tells God that if he removes Job from the uncommonly idyllic state he lives in, Job will curse God to his face (1:11).
God allows Satan to exercise power over Job (1:12), and in that day, came death. He no longer has his home, possessions or his family. Interestingly, his children are lost even as they are dining “in their eldest brother’s house”. When Adam fell, all of his potential posterity were literally in heaven with their eldest brother (1:13, 18). Job is naked. (1:21)
Following a second conversation with Satan, Job’s entire body from the crown of his head to his foot is become impure and a source of affliction. (2:7) His body will have to become clean again to have full restitution. He finds himself alone in a dreary location — the town ash dump. (2:8)
Job’s wife — perhaps unknowingly — helps facilitate Satan’s desire to see Job sin and fall. (2:9)
Three friends come to mourn with he who mourned, and comfort he who needed comfort. (2:11) We will see that they can only take him so far in being reconciled and getting him answers, and eventually become a hindrance. Revelation from God directly to Job, culminating in an interview with the Lord himself — will be necessary for further understanding and advancement.
While this is lost on the English reader, chapters 3–42:6 are in poetic form. Chapters 1–2 and 42:7–17 are in prose (straight forward and plain language), perhaps because whatever is found there was meant to be very specific, and changing the language to fit a poetic meter was not appropriate or acceptable to the original Hebrew author.
Job regrets he was ever born. He finds this new situation to be wholly to his displeasure. He can’t see the purpose or benefit of any of it. (Chapter 3)
While in his paradise Job believed God was good no matter what he gave or took away (1:21), the three friends basically argue that God provides good for good and evil for evil in this life. They claim he must be suffering because he has sinned. The beliefs Job claimed before falling are being tested.
One of the friends, Eliphaz, claims he received the following revelation from an undiscernable spirit (never a good sign) which caused him to fear: Man can be neither as just or as pure as God can be. (4:14–17) He mingles his false doctrine with scripture to back up his position (Job 5:17–18 is from Proverbs 3:11–12) The friends now represent conventional religion.
Job prays God will kill him (Chapter 6), and even considers that God will make him guilty even if innocent (Chapter 9). He asks, “What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him?” (7:17) Job does not know why God would bother to make anything more of man than he already is. He has no idea of his relationship to God, the purpose of his life, or the plan of redemption. More importantly, he does not understand the character or thoughts of God.
Bildad does not like the words of Job’s mouth (8:2), and tells him that his mouth should be filled with laughter. (8:21)
At his lowest point, Job questions why evildoers prosper. (12:6) He THINKS that the lesson from the beasts, the fowls of the air, the fishes of the sea, the earth itself, and even that man’s very breath comes from God (12:7–10) is this: Because God hath wrought it all, we are in His hands, and therefore HE is responsible. The implications of Job’s comments denies agency and suggests that God also created evil and suffering, and even brings darkness to light. (12:22) Whereas before he never thought of cursing God, now he is on the verge of breaking the trust God placed in him and being cast off. Satan is about to be proven right.
Gaining Understanding and Knowledge
But then Job develops . . . a desire. Ever so small, but he seizes onto it. He never mentions where the desire comes from. Perhaps the source of its influence was so faint as to be imperceptible. With eyes to see and ears to hear (13:1), Job develops a desire to speak to the Almighty himself. He wants to reason with him. (13:3) He wants to converse with the Lord.
Regarding this request, Job asks the Lord to promise not to do two things: withdraw His hand, or make Job afraid. (13:20–21, see also vs 22 and Ether 3:6–7)
Finally, Job receives his first powerful revelation: God DOES have a desire for the workmanship of His hands, and has provided a way for Job to be redeemed from transgression. God calls us, and we can answer. God numbers our steps. (14:15–17). Job also begins to consider the possibility of a resurrection. (14:14).
After this first gift of knowledge, Job is left alone and his faith is tried for a time. In chapters 15–21, the friends continue to point out that God punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous almost immediately, and for the first time accuse Job of sin. But Job receives two more great revelations to add to his first insight.
The second is that there is a witness in Heaven (the Holy Ghost) (16:19) and that there is also One that will plead for man with God as he would for a neighbor. (16:21) Job’s understanding of the Godhead is increasing.
The third revelation he receives is worth quoting in its entirety: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.” (19:25–27) Job’s understanding of God is becoming much deeper and more complete.
In Chapters 22–27, the friends now accuse Job of serious and specific sins, such as defrauding the poor to make himself rich. Or in other words, they accuse him of being a poor steward of his material blessings and other personal resources. This is to convince him that his trials and suffering must indicate he is not worthy to approach God.
Stumped at Job’s logic, Eliphaz tries to strike. While correctly discerning that the wicked often go unpunished in this life, Eliphaz draws the wrong conclusion from this fact and proposes God is indifferent to our acts, virtuous or otherwise (grace without works?). He also suggests to Job that if he accepts his beliefs, Job will once again have gold and silver. (22:23–25) Bildad suggests man is a worm, a profane and lowly creature.(25:6)
But Job receives a fourth and final revelation (a gift — or token if you will — of God’s love) while reaffirming his desire to find God and his “seat” (23:3). He wants to know the words to say to God, and what God will say in return (23:5), and this is what he learns: Our Advocate will not only plead for us, He will strengthen us (23:6). Not only will God allow Job to talk with Him and yet be delivered, but all the trials he has experienced shall make Job “as gold”. (23:6–10) The Godhead is of one mind (23:13).
Consider now that all four of Job’s revelations make reference to the Atonement of the Savior.
Job desires that which “eye hath not seen” and wisdom which gold is unable to purchase (28:7, 15).
Job longs for the glory he now recognizes he once possessed. (29) His current state is the polar opposite of what he once had. (30)
In chapter 31, Job makes covenants (31:1) regarding topics such as chastity (31:9), charity based on an understanding of men’s equality (31:14–19), evil speech (31:30), etc. He invites as punishment various cursings, including thistles and noxious weeds (see 31:8, ,22, 40, including footnote “40a” in the LDS scriptures). Job has apparently tasted the bitter without becoming bitter.
Scholars agree that Job 31:35 is poorly translated. There is a Hebrew word found there, “tav” which is translated as “desire”. But this is clearly wrong. The word “tav” appears only one other time in the Bible, in Ezekial 9:4 & 6, and the word there is translated as it should be, which means “mark” or “sign”. Thus Job 31:35 should read, “Oh that one would hear me! Here is my sign (or mark)”. Interestingly, the next verse refers to binding a crown to one’s shoulders, an ancient middle-eastern practice which has been well-documented.
Then comes a figure called Elihu. He is frustrated that the three friends have been unsuccessful in their attempts to dissuade Job. He dismisses their arguments, although he has no new arguments to contribute. Many scholars believe that the name Elihu (meaning “he is my God”) has idolatrous connotations. Elihu represents the adversary, and he has come to make his final (weak) arguments.
Elihu tells Job that he too is one of God’s sons (33:4–6), implying that he and Job are brothers. He says messengers from God are rare (33:23). He offers to be Job’s teacher (33:33), and after acknowledging God’s power, outright accuses Job of wickedness and rebellion (34:36–37)
Elihu continues teaching his most dangerous philosophy: “Look unto the heavens” he says. “If thou sinnest” or “if thou be righteous,” how can an all-powerful God care either way? We are nothing to him, he implies. (35:5–13) Again we see someone trying to teach false conclusions about the creation.
In chapter 36, Elihu claims to have the righteousness of God (36:3), and implies that God prospers the righteous in this life, and causes the wicked to perish. This is a denial of various gospel principles. He follows it up with yet another series of extolling words about God’s greatness. He is trying to turn Job’s adoration of God against him by causing him to fear God’s presence, rather than crave it (which Job has done faithfully since the 3rd chapter). He admits that concerning God, “we know him not” (36:26).
Elihu tells Job that Job knows nothing of God’s wonderous works, nor his own garments (37:16–17). He tells Job that he played no part in the creative process, and that if he dares attempt to speak with God, he will be “swallowed up” (37:18,20). Finally, Elihu says “Touching the Almighty, we cannot find him out.” (37:23)
Through the Veil
Enough is enough. We do not hear Job’s response. Perhaps therein is wisdom, not to allow oneself to be caught in further arguments with Satan (or his representatives). Either way, Elihu appears to be dismissed, and Job is rewarded with a revelation from God himself.
The interpretation accepted by almost every scholar regarding Job 38–41 is that God is “putting Job in his place” so to speak. He is humbling Job by showing him all of his mighty creations. But this position would imply that the three friends and Elihu were correct all along in accusing Job of being prideful or unrighteous in his desire to seek God’s face, and so now God has to come and do it himself. But if that isn’t what God is trying to do here, what ishappening? Let’s take a closer look.
First, God poses a series of questions, testing Job’s knowledge, to be sure Job understands the entire plan of salvation. He tests his knowledge of:
The Pre-existence (38:4–7)
The Creation (38:8–11, 18)
The creation of night and day (“By what way the light is parted”) (38:24)
The various waters (38:25–26)
The plants (38:27)
The stars (38:31–32)
God then asks, “Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven?” (38:33) What follows is another series of questions, where God asks Job if he can do the things that God does (38:34–39:30). Again, the almost universal interpretation is that God is pointing out the difference between Himself and Job to humble him.
But what if He is really saying this: “Can YOU do this? Are YOU ready to take upon yourself the powers of creation and redemption?” What if God is not trying to intimidate Job, but instead is asking him if he is ready to become a creator as well? To create clouds, rivers, seasons, goats, “every green thing”, horses, birds, eagles, grasshoppers, etc.? What if God is offering Job power to act as He does? And what if God is saying that the ordinances of heaven can give Job this power?
Now look very carefully at 40:1–5. Job’s response at this point is simply that he cannot give God the response he asks in order for him to finish their conversation. He does not know the words to say. The correct response was never taught him in his previous revelations, or in any of the wisdom he has obtained thus far in his conversation with God. He cannot proceed further till he receives it.
My interpretation of God’s response is thus: “Cloth thyself with majesty, glory, and beauty (40:10). Join me in doing my work” (40:7–13).
“Then will I confess unto thee THAT THINE OWN RIGHT HAND CAN SAVE THEE.” (40:14, emphasis added) Surely there is power in God’s right hand (“Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power,” Exodus 15:6). But here God is telling Job a secret: it is his own right hand that will eventually be the source of his salvation.
In the next chapter and a half, till the end of 41, He shows Job the greatest of all his creations: Behemoth and Leviathan. For an in-depth analysis of this section, see another article I wrote called “Understanding Job’s Behemoth and Leviathan”. Briefly though, God points to the source of Behemoth’s greatness: “His strength is in his loins, and his force is in the navel of his belly.” (40:16) Verse 17 and 18 mention his bones and sinews.
A better translation for 40:19 is “He is the chief and first of God’s creations, yet He that created him can still approach him with a sword,” (perhaps implying that even God’s first creation, despite his greatness, obeys and serves him.) Likewise, while this first creation is subservient to God, so is the rest of creation subservient to this first creation. They “feed him” (40:20), shade him (40:21), cover and encircle him (40:22), and the Jordan River itself serves this chief among creations (40:23).
In chapter 41 God next turns his attention to a second powerful creation, one called Leviathan. He reigns over the waters just as Behemoth reigns over the land. This creation needs to be “drawn out” (41:1), and will make supplications to Job in soft words (41:3). Apparently Job has the ability to enter into a covenant with this being, causing him to serve Job forever (41:4). Nevertheless, he cannot be controlled (41:13–14). He is comprised of material finer than normal. Air itself cannot even permeate him (41:15–16). Various forms of light come from him (41:18–21) Weapons are useless against him. (41:26–30) He is a singular creation, who beholds both the best and worst (41:33–34).
Job then repeats back to God his own words (compare 42:2 to 38:2, and 42:4 with 40:7). He has now not only heard God’s voice, but now he is in His presence, seeing Him with his eyes (42:5).
A better translation of 42:6, in my opinion, is “I recant and change my mind concerning dust and ashes,” meaning Job now has a new opinion regarding the relationship between God and man, the purpose of life, and the value of worshipping God despite worldly suffering.
The rest of this final chapter goes back into prose. Some scholars have suggested that the poetic portion happens in the world, and the prose sections are “beyond the veil”. Either way, here’s what happens:
Job assumes the role of a priest and king, offering sacrifices and praying in behalf of others (42:7–10), and receiving tribute from all his former acquaintances (42:11). His latter end was blessed MORE than his beginning (42:12). He wasn’t just restored to his former glory. . . he surpassed it. In fact he is given twice as much as he had originally. Consider Adam’s course of Terrestrial (Eden), Telestial (the World), then finally Celestial (not just back to Terrestrial).
Job is given land (a “house”), possessions, seven sons, and a crowning gift which I can especially appreciate:
Three fair daughters (42:11–15).
These gifts are representative of the blessings promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They are 1) a Place, 2) Possessions, 3) Priesthood (the sons), and 4) Posterity (the daughters).
It should also be noted that the daughters are actually named, while the sons are not. The significance of this is to emphasize that Job’s posterity are known to him, and it says they are known for at least four generations (42:16, four being symbolic of the world or time as it is experienced by man. The opposite of this concept of “time”– or shall we say its “Godly” equivalent — is simply “eternity”.)
This outline is but a taste of what is actually found within the book of Job, and the intent is simply to encourage personal study, not provide authoritative interpretation. Interpretation of any type has the potential to rob symbols of their power. I have intentionally left out some of the more amazingly curious passages. Some are so striking when looking at the book in a Later-day Temple context that I have been reluctant to include them.
Because of the powerful and sustained connection I see between the Book of Job and the Endowment, I think one could be used to help understand the other, and vice-versa. Because I also know of no evidence that Joseph Smith used the Book of Job to create the endowment, to me it is just one more confirmation — on top of a mountainous stack — that the LDS Temple Endowment was indeed received by inspiration, and is a pattern that God has taught from the beginning whenever he had a people ready to receive it.