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Book of Job: Tips and Devotion

 Below is a rough summary of a Come, Follow Me presentation I did online for a group of Latter-Day Saints on Facebook:

Book of Job


Job is an old book. Like many books in the Old Testament, it really is just a best guess estimation of when it was written. Interestingly, some traditional Jewish views claim Moses wrote the book while the more scholarly take generally places the book’s origin between the 7th and 4th century BCE.

Job in Hebrew is one of those names without a universal consensus among Biblical scholars. The name meaning, I personally like is “The Persecuted” or “the object of enmity”. This corresponds well, I think, with how Job is afflicted by Satan and how his friends treat him. While Job may have been written at another time, the story itself appears to take place during the time of the patriarchs in the Old Testament. The evidence we have of this is Job lived to a very old age like many who lived in the time of the Patriarchs; he lives 140 years after his ordeal (see Job 42:16). Interestingly, one of the three friends of Job that come to comfort him is Eliphaz the Temanite. Jewish tradition holds that this Eliphaz was the same Eliphaz who was Esau’s firstborn son (Esau was the son of Isaac). Assuming this is correct, this puts the Book of Job in the time of Isaac and Jacob which would have approximately been somewhere between 1800 BC – 1650 BC. In addition, this understanding means Job is an ancient Saint who was not a member of the covenant family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He fell outside that and was probably a contemporary of those ancient patriarchs.

The Book of Job is easily regarded as not just a great piece of Hebraic poetry, but one of the greatest literary masterpieces to have ever been written. The French Novelist, Victor Hugo, once said of the book, “Tomorrow, if all literature was to be destroyed and it was left to me to retain one work only, I should save Job.” Scholars list many reasons why this book is a masterpiece, but one you might not notice but is front and center in the book is that the Book of Job is an ancient piece of comparative theology. Each of Job’s friends represents a differing cultural or religious tradition at the time and each tries to explain the nature and meaning of suffering. Job’s tradition, obviously, wins out in the end.

In my personal readings of the Old Testament this year, I am reading the Hebrew Bible instead of the KJV Christian version of the Old Testament. In the Hebrew Bible, Job is the 27th book instead of the 18th book in our Christian canon.

Story background

The story of Job begins in Heaven with an exchange of words between the Lord and Satan. Both discuss the faithfulness of Job and, typically as the accuser, Satan is skeptical of Job’s faithfulness. Satan accuses God of abundantly blessing Job and declares that if things were to go wrong for Job “[that Job] will curse [God] to [his] face”. The Lord interestingly says to Satan “Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand.”

Within the bounds the Lord has set, Satan goes forth and influences the slaying of Job’s servants, livestock, and all of Job’s children. Even further, Satan gets permission to afflict Job with boils all over his body. “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” To bring Job comfort, three of his friends come and visit him to mourn with him and comfort him.

In rough summary, those are the first two chapters of Job. Starting in chapter 3 throughout virtually the rest of the book is Hebrew poetry that is meant to be a literary masterpiece and case study on the nature of suffering and God’s role in it. We learn in the Come, Follow Me manual in the essay titled “Thoughts to Keep in Mind: Reading Poetry in the Old Testament” that:

“Because reading poetry is different from reading a story, understanding it often requires a different approach… First, it may help you to keep in mind that Hebrew poetry in the Old Testament isn’t based on rhyme, like some other kinds of poetry. And although rhythm, wordplay, and repetition of sounds are common features of ancient Hebrew poetry, they are typically lost in translation.”

The manual goes on to give some tips on how to read Old Testament poetry, I recommend reading those, I also have some tips here to review as you begin reading Job this week:

Tips on Reading Job

1.      Understand that the literary format is done on purpose.

a.       I would recommend finding a publication that has the text in poetic format, instead of the verse-by-verse format. To our western eyes, reading it this way can trick our brain into reading this book the way it is supposed to be read.

b.       “The Lord Loves Effort.” President Nelson

c.       Hugh Nibley tells a story: “Years ago when I wrote the 1957 priesthood manual, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, the committee turned down every chapter. But President [David O.] McKay overruled the committee on every chapter. He said that if it’s over the brethren’s heads, let them reach for it. He left every chapter just as I had it. The committee fumed at the mouth and protested, “We can’t have it!” President McKay turned right around and said, “We jolly well, can have it! Let them work at it a little.”

2.       When possible, really take the Book of Job slow. Let it wash over you.

a.       I know in our CFM format we only got a week to go over the book, but when you have a chance, go back and read through it slowly.

b.       One Scholar has written: “Job is 42 chapters long for a reason. The emotional turmoil of pain and grief is long. There are no easy answers; no quick fixes. Healing takes time. And the extensive dialogue between Job and his friends, with its conflict and confusion, mimics the experience of real suffering. The book offers no clear answers to Job’s questions, which is what sufferers often experience in their pain. The book itself presents a picture of human experience in a fallen world, in which answers to these questions elude us, and we’re forced simply to trust God. The book invites the reader into a long journey, and in that process our lives may be shaken up but ultimately transformed.”

3.       Read carefully and note when the speaker has changed.

a.       The Book has many different people in it. You have God, Satan, Job, three of Job’s friends, Job’s wife, a fourth freight that comes in at the end, and at times the Heavenly Council in Heaven. Each one speaks in this. Note each speaker’s subtle differences and what points they are trying to convey.

4.       Read Job’s words sympathetically.

a.       There are sometimes, like how we sometimes do, that Job lashes out and he laments and complains like an eruption.

b.       One scholar has noted: “Job’s protestations aren’t cool philosophical reflections; they’re the white-hot outbursts of one caught in a raging river of pain and sorrow. Recognize that though Job speaks harshly, he continues to seek God. More than anything else, he wants to confront God. He’s more concerned with a relationship than with answers.”

5.       Related to previous points above, the Book of Job is meant to be wrestled with.

a.       Don’t shy away from the hard questions it asks and don’t shy away from the self-reflection it inspires.

b.       Don’t shy away if it forces you to rearrange some theological furniture in your mind.

Some devotional thoughts

Elder Neal A. Maxwell is one of my favorite people to read. Interestingly, one of the scriptures he seemed to quote the most in his talks and books was Job 1:22.

Contextually speaking, Job’s children and his property are destroyed. Job rents his coat in grief and shaves his head. His instinctual reaction to this is to then fall on the ground and worship. Job, in his worship, says:

“Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.”

Job placing his grief within its eternal context was helpful for him. Also, as you read the book, Job still has many questions unanswered, but perceivers anyway. Notice, also, how amid this he was still given room to grieve. In his grief, he still submitted. I think that might explain how being faithful and knowing the Plan of Salvation still doesn’t preclude us from grieving. Job might be an example of how grief can be used to further keep the faith. Admittedly, as you read the text, you will find that Job does have moments of weakness. Also, we should see that “Job’s calamities had absolutely no connection to his character”.

As stated above, Elder Maxwell loved quoting Job’s line and warned against “charging God foolishly”. Elder Maxwell, while commenting on the origins of suffering and evil, once said:

“Restoration correctives provide emancipating perspectives! The revelations, when “pressed down and shaken together,” emphasize that man is, at once, an intelligence or spirit co-eternal—but certainly not co-equal—with God (see Abraham 3:18). Thus, doctrinally, we are positioned very differently, because “God is neither the source nor the cause of either moral or natural evil” (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, s.v. “evil”)… When Restoration truths are thus “shaken together,” powerful understandings vital to daily life emerge. It is my opinion, not Church doctrine, that one distant day, brothers and sisters, it will even become more apparent than it now is that—given whatever constraints within which God began His work (so far as whatever each of us was, way “back of the beyond”), and also given the agency and independency of man— our loving Father God is doing all even He possibly can do to help us!”

This thought can cradle us and prevent us from “Charging God foolishly”.

But what do we make of the Lord seemingly letting Satan loose upon Job? Isn’t God responsible for that? Even though he placed some strict parameters on what Satan could do to Job?

Interestingly, amid the Prophet Joseph Smith’s, arguably, hardest part of his life the Lord tells Joseph, “Thou are not yet as Job” (D&C 121:10). Job, Joseph Smith, Abraham, Nephi, and a host of others in the scriptures go through what some in our dispensation have termed as “Abrahamic Tests”. These tests have the greatest amount of irony and pain usually attached to them. They are meant to shake us to the core because they seemingly go against the grain of what we thought about God. C.S. Lewis once wrote:

“My idea of God is not a divine idea… It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of his presence?”

While God may not be the source of moral or natural evils in this world, as Elder Maxwell says, it is also true that God is serious about proving us and us coming to know Him (see John 17:3). God’s communication with Satan about Job is meant to have us rearrange the theological furniture in our minds and it is meant to tell us that “not charging God foolishly” is the hallmark of the Lord’s most committed disciples. The Lord must, in some sense, leave us alone to try our independence. This is how we come to know Him. Brigham Young was once asked:

“Why is it that the Lord is not always at our side promoting universal happiness and seeing to it that the needs of people are met, caring especially for His Saints? Why is it so difficult at times?”

President Young answered, “Because man is destined to be a God, and he must be able to demonstrate that he is for God and to develop his own resources so that he can act independently and yet humbly.” Then he added, “It is the way it is because we must learn to be righteous in the dark.” (Brigham Young’s Office Journal, 28 January 1857.)

The gospel is full of beautiful paradoxes. One of the most beautiful is that “God is doing all even He possibly can do to help us” while also understanding that “all these things shall give thee experience and be for thy good”.

The overall takeaway I get from Job is that our suffering is a witness of our need to grow our divine relationship to the Lord and not so much, for now, getting answers. I have found, and I think Job did as well, that the process of grief, suffering, and wringing our souls completely dry of lament is the Lord’s way of having us come to gain answers for ourselves. We are invited to ask our questions like Job, but also like Job, we will find our answers as we continue to ask but remained committed to and grow our relationship with Jesus Christ.

To end, I want us to try a little experiment. Think of a gospel question you have, or, if you can’t think of one, reflect on a hard time in your life in which things seemed almost unbearable. Remember at the beginning of Job, Job refused to charge God foolishly or sin with his lips after he suffered severe loss. As you progress through the book of Job this week, and as I mentioned previously, you will find Job succumbing to “charging God” for his afflictions. At the end of the book, God appears and doesn’t answer any of Job’s questions directly but does answer Job. Think of the Gospel questions you have and liken yourself to Job as you hear the Lord’s response:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
 I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
    and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? (Job 38:2-7 NRSV)

The Lord goes on to give the longest single discourse without stopping that He gives in the entire Old Testament. He continues to question Job on his knowledge of various parts of Creation. The Lord ends by asking Job:

“Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? he that reproveth God, let him answer it.” (Job 40:2)

A little later Job responds in wonderful Poetic verse:

“I know that you can do all things,
    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you declare to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:2-6 NRSV)

Now with any gospel question we have, imagine the Lord responding to you this way. How many of us “utter things we do not understand?” Amazingly, the Lord doesn’t shut down Job’s questioning though. He invites us to ask in a spirit of faithfulness.

President Nelson recently quoted Elder Maxwell who said, “God is giving away the spiritual secrets of the universe, but are we listening?” Understanding our true relationship to God and how much we have to learn from Him, I would suggest is one of the great spiritual secrets of the universe.

Joseph Smith has said this:

“If men do not comprehend the character of God they do not comprehend themselves. They cannot comprehend anything, either that which is past or that which is to come. Having a knowledge of God, we begin to know how to approach him, and how to ask so as to receive an answer. When we understand the character of God, and know how to come to Him, he begins to unfold the heavens to us.” 


  1. These notes and your preparation are well thought out. Your presentation at CFM Principle Challenge Live will be terrific. I'm very honored you would be with us tonight.


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