Many people may know the gist of the book but not many actually understand it or have given it much consideration, apart from "poor Job!"
It certainly is not an easy book, but it has a deep meaning that I believe we cannot ignore.
It has a very peculiar opening. It is the first time in the Old Testament that we are introduced to Satan. Some people want to point out that Satan has appeared before that. Well, actually no.Moses' account in Genesis does not identify the snake as being Satan, and other instances where the word "Satan" is used (such as Numbers 22, 1 Chronicles 21 etc) do not include the definite article (which is important in Hebrew if you are referring to a specific person or being). The only times the definite article is used (Ha-Satan) is in Job 1-2 and Zechariah 3.
The problem is compounded by the fact that in Job Satan is part of the Divine Council, "sons of God." Though some translations use the term "angels", the proper translation is "sons of God". The difference being in Hebrew - Bene Elohim (sons of God), as opposed to Mal'ak (messenger - angel). The Bene Elohim are made famous from a very brief passage in Genesis (6:2) that many have sought to figure out over the centuries (with all sorts of wild stories thrown about). There is further insight into this Divine Council and the Bene Elohim in Psalm 82:
God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment… …I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall as one man, O princes.” (Psalm 82:1, 6-7 ESV)
There are numerous other passages that expound on this Divine Council (Especially in 1 Kings 22 and Revelation). In Job we get a unique insight into this Divine Council. They seem to be above the regular Mal'ak, that is, angel messengers. Though they may still be angels, they seem to have a much higher standing. Their title (sons of God) alone signifies their importance. And guess who is part of it? The Hebrew makes it pretty clear, though our English translation makes it a little ambiguous, Satan is part of this council, and like the others, giving his report to God. The casualness of God engaging him in conversation enhances that even more.
Some theologians, identifying the trouble of having Satan in this position, make the arguement that this Satan is not the same Satan of the New Testament. The main issue stems from the fact that if Satan was the serpent in the garden of Eden, he could not be on God's Divine Council (going from the assumption that Satan was cast out of Heaven before the creation of Humanity). I don't see that to be a problem, though I would argue that the serpent is not Satan simply because the punishment from God is given to the serpent. If it were Satan, why is the serpent punished? On a side note, the reference in the Book of Revelation that states "Satan, that serpent of old" (Rev. 20:2), is a descriptive connotation not a title or actual reference. It equates Satan to the deceptiveness of the serpent in the garden, not that the two are one. That's not the purpose of that comment.
Satan's role here is not necessarily an evil one. He is referred to as the adversary/challenger (the actual Hebraic meaning of the word Satan). In Hebrew culture, this was a legal status, a functional designation found especially in court rooms. In the New Testament it is obvious that Satan, having learned from being the challenger, now uses those skills to challenge us in our daily walk with God. Constantly having us questioning ourselves. At the time of Job though, it is clear that Satan is still in Heaven and operating in his place as one of the Bene Elohim.
The problem now becomes ethical. It is the foundational problem with the Book of Job, and these opening verses hit us with four basic points that make it difficult for any Christian to just ignore..
1. Job is innocent - He has done nothing to deserve what is about to happen to him.
2. Job is not on trial - As stated, he is innocent, he has nothing to prove, nor does he need to defend himself.
3. Job is ignorant of the decision made in heaven - I think Job's life would have been made a little easier if he knew of this discussion God had with Satan. It's hard to not make assumptions but we must aware of the fact that many times we are ignorant of the "big picture."
4. God both initiated the discussion and approved the course of action - This is just a stated fact and it leaves us a little uncomfortable doesn't it? It seems even more cruel that Job doesn't die. I'm sure he would have preferred death than enduring what he went through. We have to be careful though, relegating this all to a facetious bet between God and Satan would be missing the entire point of the book. Either way it leaves us with more questions than answers (answers I'm hoping to give by the end of the series).
Though the book was definitely written after the Exodus by an Israelite (primarily because God is named by His true covenant name with Israel, Yahweh, given to Moses at Mt. Sinai), the period the supposed events of the book took place were during the Patriarchal period of around 2,000BC (around the time of Abraham). Whether the book recounts an actual event or not does not minimise the contents of it or the acuracy of its depictions.
This past Sunday we talked about the three D's (Disappointment, Distrust & Disorientation). This coming Sunday we will be expanding on that and the impact of what suffering, hurt and pain can do to us. As Job is dealt the knee jerking blows by Satan, the question that will arise from that is this... What does it truly mean to choose faith?