I think I had a revelation reading the Book of Job this week. I wondered why the book bothers with so many conversations that are just wrong anyway and why God needed to correct Job. But what if Job is prophetic? For example, chapters 14-16 are nearly a direct match for the suffering of Jesus. Is Job actually a messianic prophecy?
I believe you are on to something, but as with any Christian reading of the Old Testament reading with the illumination of the Holy Spirit, there are layers of meaning to be considered. Among these, I would include (1) a literal sense that asks, “What does the author mean to convey to his readers?” (2) a moral sense that asks, “How does Job inform my life as a growing disciple of Jesus Christ?” and (3) the gospel sense that asks, “How does Job prefigure the life and ministry of Jesus?”
LITERAL SENSE (NOT LITERALIST)
The Literal Sense does not mean that we need to read the book as the actual history of a man who once lived in Uz. The book may have been inspired by a tragic figure who lived long ago, BUT when we speak of the literal sense, we recognize the genre in which it was written and the more-than-literal truth the author wants his readers to hear. For example, we should notice that Job is written as a poem and as a play, with distinct acts, strong characters, and a poetic flare (English readers can see that by the layout). It also includes a prologue and two epilogues, borrows some mythological creatures from pagan astrology (Leviathan and Behemoth), and a unique version of Satan not found elsewhere.
Inside the fascinating style points of Job, the author offers an overarching message about the problem of suffering. He wants to say that we should not assume that tragedy, sickness, and suffering are punishments sent by God that we can blame on the victim. In fact, to suggest that puts you into the role of the accuser (“the satan”) rather than the advocate (who you see in Job 33:23-26). He also wants to show us that the path to redemption is now found in justifying ourselves but in humility before God, even when the answers aren’t coming.
We could say much more here, but there is an additional literal layer to ponder. While the story world of Job may reflect ancient oral tradition, even predating the Law, Jewish scholars such as Robert Alter, suggest that the book shows hints that it was written much later, deliberately using archaic language, as if I were to write this post in King James English. If so, then when was it written and why?
A PARABLE OF GOD’S PEOPLE IN EXILE?
Some Bible scholars, conservative and liberal, believe that Job may represent God’s people, in a kind of parable, suffering in exile after the tragedy of Jerusalem’s destruction. If so, the book addresses the remnant (perhaps like ‘the suffering servant’ of Isaiah?) who grieve ‘by the rivers of Babylon’ (Psalm 137) despite their personal faithfulness to God. For example, those accusers who apply the prophetic sanctions from Deuteronomy 28 are like Job’s foolish friends, who fail to see that the affliction this remnant faces exceeds any warrant. To blame them or cast God as their divine Punisher requires pushback. It’s a theory I would be open to, and you can see how the redemptive ending could be heard as a promise of restoration to their homeland.
MORAL SENSE (NOT MORALISTIC)
For Christians, the Moral Sense of the book relates to 2 Timothy 3:16, which says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” In other words, the Poetry of Job is more than just a morality play that reinforces the Law, especially if we reduce the heart of the Law to prohibitions and punishments (which is to misread it badly).
Instead, the moral sense looks to Job for inspiration in the life of daily discipleship. How might this book direct us (personally and corporately) on our journey of transformation toward a more Christlike life? How does it fashion the image of Christ in us?
Briefly, this is where Old Testament books can also serve as cautionary tales. That is, many Old Testament stories are examples of what NOT to do (just as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 10:1-10). For example, back in the day, I decided to stop reading the speeches of Job’s foolish friends because I figured they were useless. God had dismissed them as folly, so why shouldn’t I? But then, over a decade later, I re-read what they were saying. To my dismay, some of their answers sounded perfectly reasonable to me… and indeed, I heard their platitudes coming out of my own mouth! By reading their speeches carefully, those silly characters were actually showing me how to avoid their error and become more Christlike, empathetic, and compassionate.
Further, the character of Job himself can shape our moral character if we follow him from self-justification to humility and on into intercession for our accusers. You know,… like Jesus did on the Cross and Stephen when he was being stoned to death. Job forges a difficult path, but to follow his transformation through to the end is to anticipate Jesus’ call to “take up your cross and follow me” by praying for and blessing even those who point the accusing finger.
GOSPEL SENSE (NOT SIMPLY PROPHECY)
The Gospel Sense is a bit more complex than saying, “Job is a prophecy about Jesus.” Instead, we ask, “How does the story of Job prefigure Jesus?” What is the difference? Prophecy is a direct prediction or revelation of future events, while prefigurement is a symbolic foreshadowing or hint of future events. Don’t worry, I’ll explain. Understanding the difference helps us read the Bible in “the Emmaus Way” (Luke 24:13-27), where Jesus identifies how Moses, the Prophets, and ALL the Scriptures (verses 27, 44) prepare us to see “how the Messiah had to suffer and then enter into his glory” (verse 26).
The first Christians understood this so well. For example, Melito of Sardis (2nd century) explains how the Old Testament prefigures “the mystery of the Lord” (i.e., Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection). In a sermon titled “On Pascha” [Passover], he preaches,
Thus the mystery of the Lord, prefigured from of old through the vision of a type,
is today fulfilled and has found faith, even though people think it something new.
For the mystery of the Lord is both new and old;
old with respect to the law, but new with respect to grace.
But if you scrutinize the type through its outcome you will discern him.
Thus if you wish to see the mystery of the Lord,
look at Abel who is likewise slain,
at Isaac who is likewise tied up,
at Joseph who is likewise traded,
at Moses who is likewise exposed,
at David who is likewise hunted down,
at the prophets who likewise suffer for the sake of Christ.
And look at the sheep, slaughtered in the land of Egypt,
which saved Israel through its blood whilst Egypt was struck down.
The Mystery of the Lord is proclaimed through the prophetic voice.
For Moses says to the people:
“And you shall look upon your life hanging before your eyes
night and day and you will not have faith in your life.”
“Why have the nations been haughty, and the peoples
imagined vain things?
The kings of the earth stood by and the rulers gathered themselves together
against the Lord and against his anointed one.”
“I am like a harmless lamb led to sacrifice;
they planned evil for me, saying: Come let us put wood on
his bread and let us rub him out from the land of the living.
And his name shall not be remembered.”
“Like a sheep, he was led to slaughter, and like a silent
lamb before its shearer he does not open his mouth; who shall tell of his generation?”
Many other things were proclaimed by many prophets concerning the mystery of the Pascha,
who is Christ, to whom be the glory forever. Amen.
THE MYSTERY OF THE LORD
(ADAPTED FROM A MORE CHRISTLIKE WORD)
Notice how Melito refers to seeing “the Mystery” of the Lord in the Law, the Psalms, the Prophets, and more. What is this “Mystery”? That our salvation (our redemption from bondage to satan, sin, and death) was a mystery concealed (yet foretold) and now revealed (and forthtold) in the incarnation of Christ, his suffering and death, and his glorious resurrection. Most of all, as a teacher in the tradition of John the Beloved, Melito sees Christ as the Passover Lamb whose victory comes by means of his passion—whose glorification is achieved via the cross.
To summarize, while we still need to work out the literal and moral sense of Scripture, we’ve not really read books like Job as gospel until we’ve read it the Emmaus Way. Reading this way, we can gather ALL the Scriptures into three broad categories:
• Every Old Testament trial (however disastrous and prolonged) prefigures Christ’s ultimate, brutal suffering and death on behalf of those who suffered the trial—and on behalf of everyone.
• Every Old Testament injustice (by the people, the kings, or the priests) prefigures humanity’s ultimate and more wicked betrayal of Christ through Judas, the Sanhedrin, Herod’s palace, and Pilate’s empire.
• Every Old Testament victory (however dubious in its xenophobic violence) prefigures Christ’s ultimate and more beautiful victory over darkness, dread, and death.
That sounds all-inclusive—and it’s meant to be. But perhaps you have reservations about the misuse of prophetic typology. Believe me, I’ve seen it, and I get it. I can testify to how some of our friends over-spiritualize texts and misapply them to world events in worrisome ways. I believe we can be generous in saying, “I see Christ foreshadowed here,”without claiming, “God told me this verse means that.” This is not an “anything goes”hermeneutic. Rather, we’re reading with an open ear for intimations of the gospel itself within the Scriptures, and in this case, the poetry of Job.