Our inability to define Job’s historical circumstance specifically, the obscurity of the book’s provenance, and even the uncertainty regarding its genre call us–ironically–to pay all the more attention to the book’s message. It is almost as if Job says “don’t be concerned with extraneous details, wrestle with the meaning of the book”.
And what an awe-inspiring, troubling and yet, reassuring message it is. As a book of wisdom, Job makes an implicit claim to universal relevancy. Sure, it wants to tell us the story of Job; his intangible accuser, his stolen loved ones, his blighted body, his brazen friends, and his encounter with an ostensibly capricious God. But the Job’s author has something bigger in mind–he wants to create empathetic connections in our minds with Job’s experience. He wants us to learn Job’s experience so that we may share it in ours. Emotions, therefore, may run quite high when someone reads the book of Job thoughtfully.
Thus the task of interpreting Job is an enormous one, but one that also requires special attention to the use of sound biblical interpretation. Thankfully, two new commentaries on Job are now available, and each takes its own distinctive interpretive approach while recognizing the strong emotive nature of the book.
Job: Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms
Tremper Longman, Robert H. Gundry professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College, is well known for his uncommon insight into the Old Testament, as well as his prolificacy as a writer. Longman’s commentaries include, Ecclesiastes (Eerdmans: 1997), Daniel (Zondervan: 1999), Song of Songs (Eerdmans: 2001), Proverbs (Baker Academic: 2006), among many others. He also serves as the general editor of the well-received Expositor’s Bible Commentary published by Zondervan, and the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms series.
Job is the final volume in the aforementioned Baker series. It is an exegetical commentary in the proper sense, illuminating technical aspects of the Hebrew and other details in order to unpack the book’s meaning. It is therefore not merely concerned with specialized matters, but in understanding the book’s message. This intention is underlined by extensive coverage of Job’s theology in the introduction, some 25 pages with a final, particular treatment on Job’s relationship to Christ. Further augmentation of these motifs is provided through 44 “Reflective Essays”, spread throughout the commentary, which include titles such as ‘Accusing God of Injustice’, ‘”God Hates Me: A Reflection on the Emotions of God’”, ‘”I Know that My Redeemer Lives’”, ‘Maggot Theology’, and many other colorful topics. And again, at the risk of over stressing the point, Longman uses these “reflections” as a means to make the story of Job meaningful, emphatic, powerful–personal.
The exegetical section largely focuses on technical details, as we might expect. Longman places particular emphasis on word meanings (as should be expected in wisdom/poetry) and the role they play in the story. Yet, to no less degree does Longman continue to emphasize the message of the text, weaving his interpretation together as he explains how the exegetical details feed the theological themes in Job.
Job: NIV Application Commentary
John H. Walton, who is professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, is an outstanding writer with a particular gift for making complexity and ambiguity clear and explicit.
In addition to Job, Walton also produced the Genesis volume for the NIV Application series, co-wrote the IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament was co-editor of the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Old Testament, 5 Vols. and has published multiple monographs.
Walton makes a direct appeal for us to not repeat the speculative questions asked by the cynical existentialist. Instead, he wants us to ask better questions, more penetrating questions of the text that aim not for rhetorical effect, but concrete–worthwhile–answers. Walton believes we often miss the most important questions and thus the answers themselves–and we do this in Job because we do not understand that Job is giving us multiple answers up front and these lead to a single critical question. That question, Walton submits, is about God–not us. God is on trial. Not Job. Not us. God. Only when this is understood can we find the message of Job meaningful and relevant to our lives as it must become.
Walton follows the standard format of the NIV Application series to draw out this plot. He performs standard exegesis (labeled as ‘Original Meaning’ in the commentary) for each pericope. He frames each passage theologically and structurally in the “Bridging Contexts” and finally, in “Contemporary Significance”, Walton draws out the meaning of the text for contemporary life.
This last section, relatively unique to the NIV Application series, draws heavily on anecdotes and even interviews in order to demonstrate just how powerfully Job speaks to our culture, our world, our troubles. The format is followed throughout the commentary and Walton’s engaging writing style and penchant for making unexpected, but no less captivating observations make the commentary not only helpful, but thoroughly enjoyable to read.