Introduction to Books of Poetry
and Study of Job 1-4
May 25th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Books of Poetry (Overview)

The collection of Old Testament books of poetry, also known as the books of wisdom, consists of five books. This set begins with Job, which is followed by Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and ends with Song of Solomon. These books bring us back to time periods that we had read about in the previous section of the Bible, including the eras of the Pentateuch and the books of Kings. The difference is that instead of providing a narrative, these books are presented as poetic reflections on certain events and lessons learned. Major themes of wisdom in these books include the following (1):

    1. A questioning attitude about the problems of life: why there is suffering, inequality and death, and why the wicked prosper;
    2. A search for how to master life and understand how humans should behave before God;
    3. A great interest in the universal human experiences that affect all people and not just believers in Yahweh
    4. A joy in the contemplation of creation and God as Creator

    These poetic books of wisdom are written in a style that offer us beautiful and heartfelt language for expressing our relationship with our Creator and for describing a wide range of human emotions from joy to fear and despair. We find that many of the passages are comforting, but some are very disturbing. Given the depth of content and range of emotions, it is a perfect set of works for reading in the late spring and long days of the early summer in the northern hemisphere and the long nights of the southern hemisphere in May and June. I encourage you to take your time to reflect on these words, allow them to be absorbed into your mind and soul, and consider how they can inspire you in your relationship with God and people.

    Job (Overview)

    The book of Job is the first of the books of poetry in the Old Testament. The events take place during the time of the patriarchs, such as Abraham, but the author is unattributed. The translators of the Dead Sea Scrolls inform us that the rabbinic tradition assumes Moses was the author and note that one of the ancient scrolls containing Job was written in the same paleo-Hebrew script that was only used for the books of Moses (2). The Dead Sea Scrolls were written by Jewish scholars hundreds of years before the birth of Christ and then discovered in a set of caves near the Dead Sea in the mid-20th century. They are the oldest copy of Scripture known to man and also represent the form of Scriptures that Jesus may have studied and read.

    The story in this book focuses on a man named Job and his reaction to disaster. The purpose is to emphasize the importance of trusting in God no matter what happens. Bad things will happen to good people for various reasons, all relating to the brokenness of our world and the human race, but not necessarily because of something that the victim did. Disasters caused by humans are the result of greed, pride, jealousy, and other negative traits. Natural disasters are evidence of the broken and imperfect world we live in. They are not caused by man or God but are allowed to happen - although God wields the power to intervene in the time and way of his choosing.

    We might wonder why this story is included in the books of poetry instead of the books of history or some other section. Perhaps it exists here because of the poetic dialogue among the main characters: Job, his three friends, a fourth companion, and the ever-present companion.

    The chapters of the book of Job can be divided into several parts:

      The LORD Giveth and Taketh Away (chapters 1-4)
      Job 1-4 (The LORD Giveth and Taketh Away) - May 25th

      Many Friendly Opinions (chapters 5-31)
      Job 5-8 (Point and Counterpoint) - May 26th
      Job 9-12 (Zophar on Deck) - May 27th
      Job 13-16 (Down Thou Climbing Sorrow!) - May 28th
      Job 17-20 (How Long Will You Torment Me?) - May 29th
      Job 21-24 (Mock On!) May 30th
      Job 25-30 (Closing Arguments) May 31st

      One More Opinion (chapters 31-37)
      Job 31-34 (Introducing Elihu) June 1st
      Job 35-37 (Elihu Makes His Point) June 2nd

      The LORD Responds (chapters 38-42)
      Job 38-42 (The LORD Responds) June 3rd

    References used for the analysis of this book includes the following

    • Abegg, Martin Jr., Flint Peter, and Ulrich, Eugene; The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, HarperCollins Publishers, NY, NY, 1999
    • Boadt, Lawrence, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ; 1984
    • Fee, Gordon D., Stuart Douglas, How to Read the Bible Book by Book, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2002
    • Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993
    • Chambers, Oswald, Baffled to Fight Better, Job and the problem of Suffering
    • Janzen, J Gerald, Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Job
    • Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, M; 1991 (with commentary from an inter-denominational team of experts)
    • Men's Devotional Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993 (with daily devotionals from Godly men)
    • The New American Bible, Sponsored by the Bishop's Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Bible Publishers, Wichita, KS, 1970
    • Noroton Presbyterian Church Sermon Library,
    • Peterson, Eugene, The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, 80920, 2005

    Job 1-4 (The LORD Giveth and Taketh Away)

    Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

    Key Verse

    He said, “I was born with nothing, and I will die with nothing. The LORD gave, and now he has taken away. May his name be praised!”

    - Job 1:21 (GNB)

    Summary of Chapters

    Job lived a happy life of health and prosperity with his large family in the land of Uz. He offered regular sacrifices to God on behalf of his family.

    One day Satan challenged God to allow Job to suffer and see if he remained faithful. God allowed Satan to cause suffering but ordered him not to touch Job physically. As a result, Satan wiped out Job’s children and possessions. In response, Job praised the LORD, “the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:20 - KJV).”

    Ever persistent, Satan challenged God again, suggesting that Job would turn against God if he was physically harmed. God allowed Satan to cause harm, but declared that “you must spare his life (Job 2:6 - NIV).”

    Job continued to praise God, even after this second disaster and even when ridiculed by his wife, but fell into a state of mourning and despair. His friends came and sat with him in silence for seven days. Job then gave a poetic speech, cursing the day of his birth, but not cursing God.

    His friend Eliphaz was the first to speak, presumptuously suggesting that Job’s sin was the cause of his suffering, “those who plow evil and sow trouble reap evil and trouble (Job 4:8 - MSG).”

    Reflection and Application

    We can learn a lot from Job in these early chapters: For example, if we wish to honor God, we will praise him in good times and bad, as Job did. As parents, we follow Job’s model when we sacrifice our time to pray for our children, as Job did.

    We are also reminded that God is always in full control of any situation. In this case, he put specific limits on what Satan could do at each interval. He continues to control our world and puts limits on what troubles we face.

    Job’s friends demonstrated for us a model of restraint by sitting in silence for seven days, which was the standard practice of "sitting Shiva." They would have been wise to remain in that state, but did represent a good model for seven days, which is pretty impressive. Our presence and silent prayer can be the most powerful support for friends in need. We don’t need to find anything clever or deep to say.

    Although he was mistaken in some respects, Eliphaz was correct in asking “'How can mere mortals be more righteous than God (Job 4:17- MSG)?” But Eliphaz was wrong in assuming that he understood the cause of Job’s suffering. We should be careful to not draw hasty assumptions about the cause of our friends’ troubles. In his introduction to Job, Gordon Peterson observes that, "fixers" flock to problems the way vultures flock to road kill," and warns us not to try to be fixers. Instead we should seek to empathize and comfort our friends or family who are in trouble.

    Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

      Related Questions
      1. What is the worst natural disaster that you have experienced up close?
      2. How did Job find the discipline to continue to trust in God in these situations?
      3. Who needs us to be a good listener today?
      Recommended Prayer
      Father in heaven, we know you are in control of everything - even the forces that work against you are under your ultimate control. Help us to listen to our suffering neighbors the way you listen to us.

      Suggested Prayer Concerns
      People recovering from natural disasters


      (1) Boadt, Lawrence, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ; 1984, p 472-473
      (2) Abegg, Martin Jr., Flint Peter, and Ulrich, Eugene; The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, HarperCollins Publishers, NY, NY, 1999, p590

      Looking Ahead

      Tomorrow's reading: Job 5-8 (Point and Counterpoint)

      Comments and Questions
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