As we began our study of Job together, I saw a question posted to a Bible reading group I’m in. It is a great question, and one that has been asked by every careful reader of Job. Here’s the question:
I have often wondered, why does God even have a conversation with Satan (as in Job), or even how?
It’s a great question, because most Christians believe that Satan was cast out of heaven after he rebelled against God (more on that in a moment) and that nothing evil can be in God’s presence. So what is Satan doing presenting himself to God (Job 1:6)? So I’ll give you my opinion, but please know that I’m holding it VERY loosely. I would be happy to be proven wrong, and this isn’t something that is essential to my faith either way. But here goes:
I think it is important to understand that in the Hebrew text of Job, “Satan” is always paired with the definite article “the” (Hebrew “Ha,” so ha satan ) Satan is the Hebrew word for “adversary.” So you can read it as “the adversary” and not necessarily the proper name Satan. Also, Hebrew doesn’t have capital letters (or, it has only capital letters, depending on how you look at it), so there is no way to differentiate a proper name from a title or role other than context. You can therefore translate “the adversary” instead of “the Adversary”).
Now consider the fact that the word “Satan” only appears three times outside the book of Job: once in Chronicles (21:1) and twice in Zechariah (3:1-2). Both of these were written after the Babylonian exile. There’s very little evidence that the Jews had a concept of Satan as The Prince of Darkness and the ultimate personification of evil. The word “devil” is not found in the Old Testament, nor is Lucifer named by name, except in the KJV rendering of Isaiah 14:12 (“How art thou fallen from Heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning…”)
Most scholars would say that the Jews developed their concept of Satan as THE enemy of God after they were influenced by Persian beliefs during the Exile. I’m not saying Satan doesn’t exist; I’m just saying the Old Testament barely talks about him, and never before the Exile to Babylon. For more on this, check out this article from the Jewish newspaper Ha Eretz: Do Jews Believe in the Devil?
So, back to Job: “Satan” is just a translation of “the adversary.” So I am a lot more comfortable with an angel or some other (non-fallen) spiritual being present in God’s throne room to present himself before God. It doesn’t have to be the beautiful angel that led the rebellion against God and was thrown out of heaven. To be honest, we actually get most of that image from Milton’s Paradise Lost, and not from the Bible.
For me, I look at Job as possibly the oldest example of Jewish liturgical drama. I’m not saying it didn’t happen. I’m simply saying that even if Job is not based on a historical event and instead was a drama used to teach about God’s character and the problem of human suffering, that doesn’t take away from the truth of the book at all. God communicates truth in poetic language in the Psalms and Song of Solomon, so He can communicate truth in drama as well.
With that in mind, I invite you to read Job like an episode of Law and Order. Stick with me here: All the elements of an episode of Law and Order are in the book of Job. Let’s look at them scene by scene.
Scene 1: The crime and the victim
Law and Order always begins with a crime committed (first thirty minutes) followed by the trial (last 30 minutes). This is essentially the structure of Job: The crime is in chapters 1-2, in which Satan is permitted to test Job. Violence is committed against Job, and Job demands justice (chapter 3).
Scene 2: The Investigation
Three investigators, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, each question Job to try to determine whether he is complicit in the violence that was done against him. Was it Job’s own action that brought this on himself? With each one, Job defends himself against their questions, which progressively sound more and more like accusations. While Zophar has yet to speak, I think the investigation phase climaxes with Job’s request for an arbiter or mediator (see Job 9:33). . Since no one steps up, Job decides he needs to act as his own attorney. He then pleads for God to hear his case (Job 10).
Scene 3: The Trial
Job 11 moves into the trial phase. There’s the judge (God). We’ve already met the accuser of Job (“Satan” or “the adversary”), who, in a classic Hollywood twist, also turns out to be the perpetrator.
There’s the defendant (Job). Then you have witnesses for the prosecution, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. Each presents his case, and with each one, Job is allowed to cross examine.
Scene 4: Closing Arguments
Finally, beginning with Job 31, we have the closing arguments of the trial. Job goes first with his final appeal (31-32). After this, you get the closing argument from Elihu (Job 33-38), who up to now has not been present. So maybe he’s the prosecutor. He condemns Job (chapter 35) and then appeals to God to render a guilty verdict.
Scene 5: The Verdict and Sentencing
Finally, in Job 38-42, God, the Righteous Judge, speaks, and the verdict is…
Not guilty (42:7)! Job is proven to be righteous! And in another twist that puts the best John Grisham novel to shame, the Judge condemns the witnesses for the prosecution! He “sentences” the three friends to make burnt offerings, while the innocent Job prays for them (42:8-9). Who would have seen that coming?
Epilogue: Compensatory Damages
Job ends (42:12-17) with a sweet epilogue in which Job is awarded damages: He receives back double everything material he had lost, and his family relationships are restored. The music swells and the screen fades to black.