The Message of Job: Suffering and Grace (The Bible Speaks Today)

Written by David Atkinson Reviewed By J.E. Hartley

The Message of Job is a solid study of the book of Job from a pastoral counsellor’s perspective. He interprets the speeches as a whole, not verse by verse, and includes anecdotes, quotes and experiences in order to apply the ancient message to the contemporary scene. One anomaly of this approach is the large amount of space given to Job’s wife in comparison to that which she has in the text, for the author wishes to explore the anger toward God that one feels as a result of a loved one’s suffering.

The author moves through the book of Job as received except that the speeches of the friends are explained in one section and Job’s speeches in another. This arrangement somewhat limits providing a sense of the interchange among the speakers. Atkinson is to be commended for demarcating the positions of Eliphaz, Zophar and Bildad. He highlights the truth in their discourses and points out the error in the way they apply their theology.

The speeches of Job are identified according to phases in Job’s experience of suffering. This approach is admirable, but it encounters the difficulty of trying to categorize under a single heading the many directions that Job takes in most of his speeches. In chapter 13, for example, Job comes to state his resolve to argue his case directly with God (vv. 3, 13–27), but the title ‘Terror at God’s Absence and God’s Presence’ conceals the determination to which Job has come and which will lead him to swear his daring avowal of innocence in his final speech (chs. 29–31).

Atkinson is aware of the critical problems regarding the text of Job. He makes reference to them, but he does not enter into the debate. For example, he observes that even though the Elihu speeches are stylistically different from the rest of the book, they have a significant role in its final edition. He addresses head-on the keen disappointment contemporary readers feel with the Yahweh speeches by unfolding the rich teaching found in them in five insightful sections. He concentrates his attention on the message of the pivotal passages and large units.

Atkinson grounds his interpretation on some basic principles, and he forthrightly informs his audience of them. These principles are vital for a correct interpretation of the message of the book of Job. For example, many questions like that of suffering are not to be approached as a problem to be solved, but as a mystery that must be coped with. In this light a study of the book of Job will offer significant insight into human suffering, but not a definite answer. Atkinson also points out that the book of Job allows for evil’s presence in the world through the figure of Satan, but that the Scriptures do not allow for a clear dualism of two co-equal forces, good and bad, God and Satan, fighting each other for supremacy. God is fully sovereign: whatever power evil has is limited by God’s permission. Furthermore, Atkinson points out that Job, though not sinless, was ‘blameless and upright’ before God (1:1) so that nothing of what befell him could be attributed to any wrongdoing on his part. That Job was truly upright is crucial for him to become the model of innocent suffering and thus prepare the way for the concept of an obedient servant of God who will suffer vicariously for the sins of others (Is. 53).

This work could be enhanced with an introduction to discuss some of the critical problems and to prepare the reader for different ways of reading Job. The social and historical context of the book of Job could also be more fully addressed.

The rich insights contained in this book demonstrate that Atkinson has lived with the book of Job for a long time. His goal in composing this work has been achieved commendably.

J.E. Hartley

C.P. Haggard School of Theology, Azusa Pacific University