A. Job’s Faith and Prosperity (1:1–5)
1 In the land of Uz there lived 1 a man named Job. This man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and shunned evil.
2 Seven sons and three daughters were born to him,
3 and he had seven thousand small cattle, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred asses, and a great many servants. This man was the greatest among all the people of the East.
5 When a round of feasting had ended, Job would send 4 and have them ritually cleansed. 5 Diligently making preparations 6 in the morning, he would offer burnt offerings for each of them, for Job said,
“Perhaps my children have sinned
Thus Job did regularly.
1 The narrative opens in epic style, there lived. Job is simply introduced as a citizen of Uz. Unfortunately the exact location of Uz remains unknown. The evidence points in two different directions: a southern location in the vicinity of Edom and a northern site northeast of Palestine in the Hauran. 9 The evidence slightly favors the latter location. Many explanations have been offered for the name Job (Heb. ʾîyôḇ or LXX Iob). In 42:18 the LXX identifies Job as Jobab, an Edomite king (Gen. 36:33 = 1 Chr. 1:44; cf. Gen. 10:29), but there appears to be no connection between this Edomite and Job. Some have argued that Job is related to Heb. ʾôyēḇ, “enemy,” the name meaning then “the enemy of God.” 10 Another explanation identifies the Hebrew name with the Arabic root ʾwb, “return, repent,” i.e., “the penitent one” (cf. Ewald). If this were its meaning, the name would intimate the outcome of the drama, but such a meaning stands in stark contrast to Job’s stern conviction that he need not repent. Finally, the appearance of this name in numerous texts from the 2nd millennium B.C. casts doubt on the search for an etymological understanding of Job’s name as a literary device. Rather than being a literary invention, Job is the real name of a prepatriarchal hero. 11
A patriarch is usually introduced in the biblical text with a full genealogy (e.g., Abraham, Gen. 11:26–29); thus it is noteworthy that Job is introduced without genealogy and without reference to his tribe or clan. There is also no specific reference to the time when Job lived. The author thereby masterfully composes a literary piece in which Job is representative of all who suffer.
Two sets of word pairs characterize Job as a man of untarnished character and devout faith. The first pair, blameless (tām) and upright (yāšār), 12 indicates that Job was a person of pure motivation. Heb. tām frequently designates a sacrificial animal as “spotless, without blemish,” but when used with a person it means personal integrity, not sinless perfection (Josh. 24:14; Judg. 9:16, 19). 13 The blameless person is one who walks in close fellowship with God (Gen. 17:1) and who delights in obeying the law (Ps. 119:1). He serves God wholeheartedly. The word upright 14 depicts faithful adherence to God’s statutes (cf. 1 K. 14:8; 15:5) and an honest, compassionate manner in relating to others. Job treated others, including his servants, fairly and justly (31:13–23). Also he zealously showed mercy to the unfortunate.
The second pair of words describes Job’s devout faith. He feared God and shunned evil. 15 The fear of God is an expression found throughout the OT and frequently in the Wisdom literature. It stands for a solid trust in God. One who fears God loves him devoutly. Therefore he approaches God reverently, filled with awe and deeply conscious of God’s contagious love. In daily life he expresses his fear by striving to please God in faithful obedience inspired by love. 16 The Wisdom literature places the highest value on fearing Yahweh, asserting that it is the very foundation for true wisdom (Job 28:28; Prov. 1:7; 9:10). Whoever fears God avoids the very appearance of evil (raʿ; cf. Prov. 16:6b). He shuns all enticements to wrongdoing (cf. 31:1–12) and never places his trust in any other god or thing (31:24–28). The combination of these four character traits and his vast wealth bore witness in his culture that Job excelled in wisdom (cf. Prov. 3:9–10).
2, 3 God richly blessed his faithful servant. The author uses the numbers three, seven, and ten, all symbolic of completeness, to demonstrate that Job’s wealth was staggering. Though he apparently resided in a city, he owned and cultivated land nearby and employed numerous shepherds who tended his flocks at great distances from his home. 18
God fully displayed his abundant favor on Job by giving Job seven sons and three daughters. This combination symbolized an ideal family. 19 Sons, valued in those days above daughters, are more numerous. In the epilogue the importance of the sons is counterbalanced by the mention of only the daughters’ names. God gave Job a rich heritage. 20
Job had enormous herds. He had seven thousand small cattle, i.e., sheep and goats. His holdings included three thousand camels. 21 The camel was a prestigious animal, and such an enormous number symbolizes great status. This large number suggests that Job engaged in caravan trade. To work his farmland he had five hundred yoke of oxen, mentioned in pairs because of their use in plowing. By ancient standards this number of oxen could till a considerable acreage. Five hundred (female) asses, animals of burden, are listed; their giving milk and bearing offspring made them more valuable than the males. As would be expected, Job had a large staff of male and female slaves 22 for the work of his vast estate. In every way Job’s wealth surpassed that of any other sheikh of the East. 23
4, 5 As a further witness both to Job’s affluence and to his piety, a family custom is recounted. This custom is presented in a way that lauds Job’s character while setting the stage for the tragic fate that will befall his children.
Each of Job’s sons, in turn, held a seven-day feast at his own house. 24 The brothers extended a special invitation to their sisters, who were presumably unmarried and living with their father. While the language may indicate that there were continuous rounds of feasting, it is more probable that each son periodically held a nonreligious feast, possibly a birthday celebration. 25 This detail witnesses to the closeness and the affluence of Job’s family, not to the fact that Job’s children were given to frivolous living.
Another noble characteristic of Job portrayed in this picture is his fervent spiritual leadership as head of his family. At the conclusion of each round of feasting he offered burnt offerings, atoning sacrifices, for all his children, just in case any of them had cursed God in their hearts. Before making the sacrifices he sent servants to make sure that his children were ritually cleansed for the solemn occasion of offering up sacrifices for expiation. No doubt his children were present the next day when Job, acting as the priest of his family, sacrificed burnt offerings for them. Since the sacrifices were whole burnt offerings, the entire offering was consumed by fire (cf. Lev. 1). Nothing was left for either the children or the offerer to eat. Whole burnt offerings atoned for human sin in general, rather than specific transgressions, which were expiated with a sin offering (Lev. 4:1–5:6). Job was motivated to present these sacrifices because he was apprehensive that one of his children might have cursed God during the week’s festivities. In no way did he want a hasty curse to fester unexpiated in the conscience of one of his children. It is clear that Job took his role as the family’s priest very seriously, and this ritual of sacrifice was an expression of the entire family’s contrite attitude toward God. As priest of his family he interceded for each member lest any thought disrupt their relationship with God.
At this point it is important to note that the sin of cursing God is pivotal to the prologue. Whereas Job feared that his children might speak lightly about God, the Satan will argue that Job would certainly curse God should he suffer loss (1:11; 2:5). Then Job’s wife will urge him to curse God and die (2:9). With this motif the author focuses on the basis of an individual’s relationship to God. Does a person worship God out of genuine love or primarily for God’s blessing? This is the issue for everyone.
Furthermore, this characterization of Job portrays him as having a pure heart and a dynamic, active faith in God. God confirmed Job’s trust by blessing him abundantly. But Job did not grow overconfident. Scrupulously he offered sacrifices continually, seeking to expiate every possible sin—even the incipient thought of denying God—both his own and those of his family. Job lived an exemplary life.
1 This introductory formula, found also in 2 Sam. 12:1 and Esth. 2:5, differs from the more frequent wayhî ʾîš “and there was a man.” It does not necessarily indicate that the account is late nor does it signal that the account is fictional.
6 Heb. hišḵîm is generally translated “rise early.” The essential idea of the root emphasizes arduous work done eagerly, persistently, and with a sense of urgency. Pope thinks that it may be a denominative of šəḵem, “shoulder,” thus referring to arduous work that requires putting the shoulder to the task. The link with “morning” comes from the frequent use of the phrase “in the morning” after the verb (as here). But “early” is not an essential part of its denotation.
7 The word translated “curse,” bāraḵ (also in 2:5, 9), which usually means “bless,” is used euphemistically. Many consider it a scribal change for an original qilləlû (which Targ. reads here), but there is no reason why this euphemistic style may not have been original.
8 Heb. lēḇ, lēḇāḇ$, “heart,” represents the thoughts, the will, and the tender emotions. See H. W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament, tr. M. Kohl (London: SCM; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974), pp. 40–55.
9 On the one hand, many facts connect Uz with Edom. According to Lam. 4:21 the daughter of Edom lives in the land of Uz. In Jer. 25:20–21 Uz is associated with Philistia, Edom, and Moab. Uz was the son of Dishan, a chief of Edom (Gen. 36:28; 1 Chr. 1:42). LXX accepts Edom by reason of its associating, though inaccurately, Job with Jobab, an Edomite king (42:17ff.; Gen. 36:33). On the other hand, there is much evidence for locating Uz in Hauran. Some genealogical evidence points in this direction: Aram had a son named Uz (Gen. 10:23; 1 Chr. 1:17 [one Hebrew ms. and LXX]). Another Uz was the oldest son of Nahor, the Aramean brother of Abraham (Gen. 22:20–21). The reference to the children of the East could mean the area to the east of the Jordan River, if the author lived in Palestine. Josephus (Ant. 1.145), along with later Jewish and Arabic traditions, adopted this location of Uz. In addition, there is a monastery close to Damascus named Deir Ayyub in honor of Job. Cf. P. Dhorme, “Le pays de Job,” RB 20 (1911)102–107; B. Moritz, “Edomitische Genealogien 1,” ZAW 44 (1926) 92.
10 Job 13:24 (cf. 33:10) has an interesting play on the similarity between Job’s name and the Hebrew word for “enemy.” There Job accuses God of treating him like his enemy. Support for this view comes from taking the name of Job as developed from the pattern qaṭṭāl > qiṭṭōl; in this form a person or an object embodies the quality borne by the root (see Fohrer; GKC, § 84be). In a similar direction Gordis interprets the form of the name Job as a passive participle of ʾāya̱ḇ, meaning “the hated or persecuted one.”
11 A Tell el-Amarna letter (no. 256; 14th cent. B.C.) witnesses to a prince of Ashtaroth named ʾayyab. A Palestinian chief with the name ʾybm is also attested in the Egyptian Execration Texts (2000 B.C.). The name ʾA-ya-bu occurs in texts from Mari and Alalakh. W. F. Albright (JAOS 74  223–33) interprets this name as a contracted form of ʾAyyȃʾabu(m), meaning “Where is (my) father?” This meaning corresponds well with Job’s continual cry for God to reveal himself. In an Ugaritic text (PRU II , 35, reverse, line 10) there is a personal name ʾyb; it may have been pronounced ʾay(y)abu (Pope).
13 Throughout the book Heb. tām is a pivotal word, for with it the author keeps in focus the fact that Job is “blameless.” It appears in 8:20; 9:20–22 (3 times); tāmîm, an adjectival form of this root, occurs in 12:4; 36:4; 37:16.
16 There is a close tie between fear of God and love for God in Deuteronomy (10:12; 13:5 [Eng. 4]). Cf. G. von Rad, Wisdom in Israel, tr. J. D. Martin (London: SCM; Nashville and New York: Abingdon, 1972), pp. 65–68; and G. A. Lee, “Fear,” ISBE, 11:289–91.
17 Cf. also Jas. 5:11. The word translated “patience” (AV) is hypomonē, which means “endurance, steadfastness, perseverance” (see BAG, p. 846; cf. Andersen, pp. 100–101). While many think that this reference refers to the Job of the prose account, not to the Job of the dialogue, their position is not necessarily accurate. The context indicates that James is emphasizing that Job endured great tribulation until he saw God. Also the idea common to the OT background and to James is that “Job waited on God,” i.e., his attention never deviated from God. Cf. Hauck, “hypomonē,” TDNT, IV:581–88.
18 Numerous commentators have been troubled by the apparently conflicting picture of Job—a city dweller in the prologue and a semi-nomad in the dialogue. Often they have used this discrepancy as evidence that these two parts of the book had distinct and unrelated origins. Recent sociological studies on the Near East have begun to clarify the multiple social structures evidenced there. The cleavage between farmers and shepherds is no longer sharply drawn. As N. K. Gottwald says, “It is abundantly clear, therefore, that agriculture and pastoral nomadism are by no means mutually exclusive but are often combined in the same human community in manifold forms” (The Tribes of Yahweh [Maryknoll NY: Orbis, 1979], p. 439; also cf. pp. 437–63). It is likely that Job was a city dweller who engaged in farming and commerce and employed pastoral nomads to tend his vast herds. M. B. Rowton identifies this social pattern as dimorphic society. Cf. M. B. Rowton, Al-Bahit, Studia Instituti Anthropos 28 (1976) 219–57; idem, Or 42 (1973) 247–58; idem, JNES 32 (1973) 201–15.
19 The ideal of seven children is referred to in 1 Sam. 2:5; Ruth 4:15. But Job is blessed more abundantly, for he has three daughters in addition to his seven sons. Ugaritic mythology has an interesting parallel: Baal had seven sons and three daughters (UT, 67:V:8–11), and the daughters, but never the sons, are named.
21 Dhorme cites Aristotle (De Historia Animalia 9.50.5), who mentions that Arabs would at times possess three thousand camels. The camel, the one-humped dromedary, was the means of transportation across the desert. The fact that Job had camels is not anachronistic as archeological evidence has shown. For instance, excavations at Mari have found camel bones in a house dated to the 24th cent. B.C. Scholars differ, however, as to whether this evidence can support the great size of Job’s herd. Cf. W. F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity, 2nd ed. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1957), pp. 120, 196, 219; J. P. Free, “Abraham’s Camels, “JNES 3 (1944)187–93; B. S. J. Isserlin, “On Some Possible Occurrences of the Camel in Palestine,” PEQ 82 (1950) 50–53; R. Walz, “Zum Problem des Zeitpunkts der Domestikation der altweltlichen Cameliden,” ZDMG 101 (1951) 29–51; idem, “Neue Untersuchungen zum Domestikationsproblem der altweltlichen Cameliden,” ZDMG 104 (1954) 45–87; A. Parrot, Syria 32 (1955) 323.
23 The term “East” (qeḏem) generally stands for the area east of the Euphrates (cf. Gen. 29:1). But for those who lived in Palestine it is the area east of the Jordan (cf. Jer. 49:28; Ezek. 25:4, 10).
25 Heb. yômô, “his day,” means a birthday, as in 3:1.