The book of Job is a “God-book” from cover to cover. God is the subject or the subject-behind-the subject of every page. Through its compelling plot and exalted speeches the book of Job explores the mystery of God’s ways to a depth and with an intensity that is unsurpassed in all of ancient religious literature.
Job has the power to engage its readers on different levels. Intellectually, it forces the reader to rethink traditional theories of divine justice by exposing the inadequacy of the simplistic, fatalistic doctrine of retribution. Emotionally, it stirs feelings of sympathy, anger, frustration, sorrow, and even laughter over its surprising plot and ironic language. Spiritually, it calls the believer to a new and higher kind of piety a piety that trusts God in spite of life’s cruel absurdities and loves God simply for who he is. It invites the reader, like Job, on a journey of faith that ends with an unexpected and life-transforming encounter with the sovereign Lord of the universe.
The book of Job stands apart from parallel literature in several ways. First, of course, is its unique theology. The monotheistic perspective of Job posed a special problem for the author’s consideration of the role of God in human suffering. No other ancient work goes as far as Job does in its search for an answer to the problem of theodicy. Its challenge to retributive justice as the sole model by which to understand how God governs his world is unapproached by any other ancient work. Second, the book of Job stands out as literature. Its characterization and employment of its protagonists, its balancing of lament and substantive debate, its blending of religious tradition and wisdom, and its powerful use of lyrical poetry are all without peer in the ancient literature. Finally, the book of Job surpasses its ancient parallels in the lasting influence it has had in human intellectual history, especially on the thinking of the Western world.
The book of Job also makes important contributions to our understanding of the faith of ancient Israel. The story of Job’s undeserved suffering and his search for the meaning of God’s role in it gives rise to a theological discussion that is as provocative as it is profound. Some of the issues explored by the book, though addressed elsewhere in the Old Testament, are discussed more fully and with greater intensity in Job than any other book of the Bible.