The wisdom literature of the Old Testament — written originally in poetic form — provides a tremendous source of "learning…patience…comfort…[and] hope" (Rom. 15.4) to the Christian. Books comprising this section of the Hebrew Scriptures include, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon.
These books, along with the rest of the Old Testament, no longer function as the legal code for Christian conduct (cf. Heb. 8.13; 2 Cor. 3.7-18; Eph. 2.14f), since our Lord has "wiped out" that law and "taken it out of the way" when he died upon the cross (Col. 2.14).
Notwithstanding, though the Mosaic system is no longer our legal authority (for we will be judged, not by Moses, but by Christ—Jn. 12.48-50), its contents nonetheless furnish us with numerous "examples," so that we may be "admonished" not to rebel against divine authority as the Jewish people so often did, but to serve the Lord faithfully and fully (1 Cor. 10.6, 11).
The Old Testament poets in particular were some of the most cherished and revered men of Hebrew fame. New Testament writers allude to and quote from the wisdom literature with great frequency. They therefore merit our humble reflection.
The first document arranged in this section of the Old Testament is The Book of Job. This volume stresses the value of patience and the purpose of suffering.
Events In Job
The book of Job may be divided into four main sections:
(1) Job’s loss (1-3);
(2) Debates between Job and his friends (4-37);
(3) God’s response to Job (38-41);
(4) Job’s repentance and restoration (42).
Having lost his possessions, children, health, and even the support of his wife, Job’s sorrow was brought to its extreme limits:
“I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, for trouble comes” (3.26).
To add insult to injury, Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, each assume that Job must have sinned against God, since, in their erroneous estimation, all suffering is a manifestation of the anger of God aroused against those who transgress his law.
Conversely, Job affirms his innocence (cf. 6.29; 7.21; 27.1-6), but wonders why God has targeted him like a lion hunting his prey (cf. 7.20; 10.16). His friends were no source for comfort either, being both premature in their assumptions and lacking any genuine empathy for Job’s plight (16.1-5).
Instead, Job asks for an audience with God (23.3-7), desiring to hear God’s written “case” against him (31.35). This marks the end of Job’s speeches.
The young man, Elihu, next offers a humble rebuke to Job and his friends for:
(1) assuming that all suffering is punitive in nature (33.12-33; cf. Heb. 12.1f);
(2) failing to justify [defend the integrity of] God (34, 36-37); and
(3) adopting a self-righteous position (35).
At the conclusion of this speech, God answers Job “out of the whirlwind,” demonstrating the superiority of his knowledge and virtue over Job’s (38-41).
Finally, although Job had spoken truly regarding his former innocence (42.7-8), Job instantly repents of his impulsive statements (42.6).
Job’s three friends are likewise obliged to repent of their merciless errors. And, though his friends had severely wronged him with great persistence, Job, in a display of forgiveness worthy of Christ himself, prays for the welfare of his friends, causing the Lord to bless “the latter days of Job more than the beginning” (42.12).
May we all learn to adopt such patience and compassion toward those who are wont to wrong us (cf. Mt. 6.38-48; 18.21-35)!
The Patience of Job
There are two components to living a patient life.
First, patience involves the passive endurance of a trial, temptation, or suffering (cf. Lk. 21.10-19; Mt. 24.9-13; 2 Cor. 12.7-12; Heb. 12.11; Jms. 1.2-3).
Second, patience involves the active persistence of doing what is right (cf. Rm. 2.7; Lk. 8.15; Heb. 12.1).
Job — renowned for his patience (Jms. 5.11) — not only passively absorbed Satan’s onslaughts, but also retained his trust in God, even if God himself should become his slayer (cf. Job 13.15; 2.10). Indeed, whether the Lord "gave," or whether he has "taken away," Job's mantra remained the same: viz., "blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1.21).
It should not be supposed that Job was endowed with a special natural ability for patience. Job’s patience did not stem from mere self-fortitude, but was only achievable through a righteous faith in God (cf. Job 1.1; Ezek. 14.14, 20). The stronger his faith, the greater his ability to endure Satan’s scheming and maintain his spiritual integrity.
It is no less true of us. The more we study and learn of God, the better equipped we are to become patient and steadfast (cf. Col. 1.23), to do good in times of trial (cf. 2 Tim. 3.16-17) and to resist evil in times of plenty (cf. 1 Pt. 5.9-10).
Because of his righteous patience, the Lord blessed Job with “twice as much as he had before” (Job 42.10). However, the blessings God will provide for the patient Christian shall far surpass the corruptible treasures Job was ever allowed to obtain (cf. 1 Pt. 1.18).
If we, like Job, endure the hardships of this life and, by faith, continue doing good, we will not only increase our faith in turn (cf. Job 1.4; Heb. 12.1-11), but we will be given eternal access to the incorruptible treasures of heaven (1 Pt. 1.3-9).
The Suffering of the Righteous
In an attempt to stymie Job’s faith, Satan used Job’s finances (1.13-17), family (1.18-22; 2.9-10), flesh (2.1-10), and friends against him (2.11-13; 32.3). His suffering was truly comprehensive (3.24-26).
Yet, despite all these privations, Job “did not sin nor charge God with wrong” (1.22). Many have only experienced a fraction of the kind of suffering which Job endured, and have faltered in their love for God because of it (cf. Mt. 24.3f; 12-13).
Yet, righteous Job endured every conceivable form of suffering all at once, and continued to trust God to bout (13.15). Truly, the righteous are not exempt from suffering.
Trials and sufferings, such as those which Job experienced, though unpleasant initially, are designed to perfect our faith in the mercies of God (cf. Heb. 12.11; Jms. 1.2-3; 2 Cor. 12.7-10). While the faithless may fret over death and its attendant ills, the righteous realize the spiritual value of pain and temporary earthly existence, and may thereby take courage when suffering and death ultimately do occur (cf. Heb. 2.15; 12.5-6; 13.6).
Indeed, for the Christian, death is a "blessed" thing (Rev. 14.13), for it is "far better" to "be with Christ" than to "remain in the flesh" (Phil. 1.23-24). Hope has replaced fear. And pain, for those who are faithful in Christ, is daily giving way to eternal glory (cf. 1 Cor. 15.54-57).
May we, like Job, remain patient and true to our maker, regardless of the good or ill which may envelop us in this life.
"For I know that my redeemer lives, and he shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!" (Job 19.25-27)
Part 1: Jewish Poetry (1): Job
Part 2: Jewish Poetry (2): Psalms
Part 3: Jewish Poetry (3): Proverbs
Part 4: Jewish Poetry (4): Ecclesiastes