The Parable of Job

Job may have been a real person but his book reads more like a morality tale than a literal biography. Think of the historical plays of Shakespeare (e.g., the Henrys [7] and the Richards [2]). They have a core of fact but re-present history to the playwright’s own ends.

If we came across this book outside its biblical context, we wouldn’t be tempted to treat it as unvarnished history. It has the feel of a legend. There may be real characters at root, but the cast is full of caricatures; from the headliners (God and Job), to the supporting actors (Satan, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and Elihu).

The story is staged like a play, complete with an omnipresent narrator. Act 1 opens in heaven with God and Satan betting like two blasé aristocrats (Recall the 1983 movie, Trading Places where two bored commercial brokers mess with the lives of their subordinates.)

Act 2 is the heart of the piece as Job is crushed and tries various strategies to cope. (Picture a vitriolic Jack Nicholson.) In Act 3, God wins his bet and Job is doubly blessed. It’s a “happily ever after” ending worthy of Hollywood.

On the other hand, taking Job at face value creates some disturbing theological problems:

  • Does Satan really have unfettered access to the courts of heaven?
  • Does God actually make wagers with the devil?
  • Does the Heavenly Father casually allow innocent children to be thrown under the bus just to prove a point?

Better to see Job as an extended parable. It is “true” in the same way the parables of Jesus are true. It’s a story that conveys a moral truth. The details are important but their factuality is irrelevant. (What was the Good Samaritan’s name? Where did the Prodigal Son live?)

So what are the lessons gleaned from a careful reading of Job?

That we should endure suffering with patience – Job didn’t.

That we can expect to be treated justly in this life – Job wasn’t.

That God is God and we’re not – Bingo!


2 thoughts on “The Parable of Job

  1. I’ll tell you why I think job is a real story. He does have a name…unlike the Good Samaritan, or Profdigal son. And because I am reminded of the event in the NT when Jesus told Peter that Satan had asked to sift him like wheat. I certailnly don’t understand any of this, but it appears Satan does have access to God;s throne, and he accuses us there all the time..If I could understand all of this I could be like God, and oops! Didn’t that kind of thinking cause all kinds of trouble before? I think of the Bible like an onion, with layers and layers and layers…. we will never get to the bottom of it. I am convinced there is much more happening in the Job story than we can see from the narrative.I think it will take us all of eternity to learn all of the stories God wants to reveal to us, and we are going to love it!


    1. You’re certainly not alone in your thinking, Pat. Either way, the overall message of the book is the same. God is God and we’re not. And that WILL take eternity to understand.

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