Study Guide

Book of Job

Book of Job Summary

Job is the bee's knees. Really. He's blameless and upright, and he has kids, a wife, land, and a bunch of sheep. Doesn't get much better than that. Up in the heavens, God brags to the divine assembly about Job. Lo and behold, Satan comes out and challenges God on Job's goodness. This can't end well.

Note to Shmoopers: this is not the Satan of Paradise Lost or even the Satan of the New Testament. So which Satan is he? For the full scoop, head on over to our "Figures" section.

Back to the story. Satan tells God that, sure, Job loves God now, but take away his earthly possessions and his children, and he will dump God in a New York minute. God agrees to the challenge, and Satan unleashes a force that kills all of Job's family except his wife, kills his servants, and reduces his homes to dust. Ouch.

But guess what? Job remains loyal. He refuses to denounce God. Take that, Satan. God gets to back to bragging and Satan sets up another challenge. This time, God lets Satan give Job a nasty rash, boils, and blisters all over his body.

Now Job becomes a much less happy camper. After all, he was loyal to God, and look what happened. He doesn't renounce God, but he does insist that he deserves some kind of explanation—wouldn't you want one? His buddies Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar have an answer: it's his fault. Hmmm.

Job isn't quite satisfied with that explanation. Just in the nick of time, Elihu pops in to tell Job that he may not have sinned, but he still has no right to question his fate. After all, God's universe is still endowed with immortal power. Bottom line: suck it up.

After much fretting and many speeches, God finally shows up. Why? For a scolding. Where was Job on the day the universe was created? Where was Job when God was designing the architecture of the seas and the continents? Where was Job when God invented Arrested Development?

Needless to say, Job feels a little humbled and acknowledges that, as a mere mortal, he can't possibly understand everything in an immortally ruled universe. Taking Elihu's advice, Job goes back to his day job, and eventually God gives him double what he had at the outset. Job lives to a ripe old age, and both God and Satan fade into the shadows.

  • Chapter 1

    Family, Divine Dealings, & Death

    • We are introduced to Job right off the bat. He's pretty much the coolest guy alive and life is good.
    • Job has a big family, lots of property, 7,000 sheep (5,000 looks like this), 3,000 camels, 500 oxen, and 500 donkeys. 
    • Oh, and he's one of the most righteous men out there. 
    • Not bad.
    • God is psyched about how awesome Job is, so he brags to Satan. As you might expect, Satan doesn't agree. He says that Job is only so righteous because his life is so good. 
    • Challenge accepted
    • God agrees to let Satan destroy Job's life—you know, just to see what happens.
    • And…go. Satan destroys Job's life.
    • But guess what? Job remains loyal to God, understanding that God gives and God takes away.
    • Only a few servants and Job's wife survive the destruction.
  • Chapter 2

    No, Not More…

    • God gets back to bragging about Job, and Satan, once again, doesn't buy it.
    • This time, God gives Satan permission to hurt Job physically, something he wouldn't let him do last time. Just don't kill him, God says.
    • Satan's method of choice? Give Job sores from his tippy-toes to his noggin. 
    • Job's wife apparently doesn't find this attractive, because she suggests that he curse God and die. But Job refuses to be disloyal.
    • Job's buddies Eliphaz, Zophar, and Bildad come to visit and chill with him while he rolls around in ash and sackcloth. This is all standard procedure, don't worry.
  • Chapter 3

    Job Calls His Birthday a "Crummy Holiday"

    • Suddenly, the text moves from prose to poetry.
    • Job cries out that he is in pain, and rues the day he was born—poetically, of course.
  • Chapter 4

    Eliphaz Calls Angels "Bad Flyers"

    • Breaking the silence, Eliphaz throws his two cents in. He says that Job must have done something wrong to merit this punishment. Innocents, he says, are never punished.
    • And hey, if God even gets annoyed at his angels, how can humans pass the test? Basically, humans have no chance.
    • Don't forget, folks—Job is still maintaining his innocence.
  • Chapter 5

    Eliphaz Decides God's Punishment is Good for Job

    • Eliphaz is still chatting away. Now he says that God doles out both good and bad, and that the righteous have nothing to fear from him. 
    • Finally some good news.
  • Chapter 6

    Job Hits Back

    • Job isn't buying it. He's in pain, he's covered with sores and ashes, and he wants some answers. His complaint is valid, he says. 
    • Job gets that his friends are confused. After all, in their worldview, the righteous are not punished. But he's not satisfied with that answer.
  • Chapter 7

    The Pained Spirit

    • Job decides he won't take this lying down.
    • This is his "why me?" moment. He asks God why he specifically has become God's target. 
    • He's in such pain that even death would be better. 
    • We're really starting to feel for the guy.
  • Chapter 8

    Enter Bildad, Stage Left

    • Bildad (friend #2) tells Job to repent. Why? He thinks it could have been his kids who sinned and brought this misery upon Job. Think Barty Crouch, Jr
    • Then he gets all poetic, comparing Job's suffering to a garden sown with bad seeds from his past or from his offspring.
    • Hasn't your past ever come back to haunt you
    • Bildad is just trying to give the situation some sense for his buddy.
  • Chapter 9

    Job Regrets the Man-God Connection

    • Job wants a mediator. Can't someone just judge who's right—him or God? Because really, if God is omniscient and omnipotent, then what he did was really, really mean.
    • He laments that there is no justice between mortals and immortals, and then he demands a trial with God. 
    • Judge Judy wasn't around then.
  • Chapter 10

    Job Hates His Life

    • Job continues his bumming out session, asking God why he would oppress the people who love him. Doesn't really seem like a good business model.
  • Chapter 11

    Zophar Gets All Up In Job's Face

    • Time for more thoughts from the peanut gallery. 
    • Zophar says that Job must have done something wrong; God is unfathomable, sure, but he always punishes people less than they deserve. 
    • Some friend.
  • Chapter 12-14

    Job Issues His Reply to His Amigos

    • Now that he knows all his friends are kind of jerks, he talks back. After all, he says, he's their equal and, well, they're not being very nice.
    • He knows that God is almighty, sure. But he still thinks he deserves an explanation for why God is shredding his life to pieces.
    • He's mortal. His time is short. He wants some answers.
  • Chapter 15

    Eliphaz Retorts

    • Eliphaz is back on the scene. He says that that Job is undermining God by questioning his ways, which are both unknowable and infinitely powerful. 
    • We feel like we've heard that one before….
    • He continues to say that the sinful are doomed for destruction. And you know who falls into that sinful category?
    • That's right: Job.
    • And here comes one of the most famous phrases in the Bible: "Your own lips testify against you" (15:6).
  • Chapter 16-17

    Job Demands a Hearing

    • In case we didn't get the picture already, Job reiterates how uncool his friends are. Then he—yep, again—confirms that he has done nothing worthy of this punishment. 
    • Why shouldn't he, a penitent man, get a fair hearing?
  • Chapter 18

    Bildad Up to Bat…Again

    • Bildad's back.
    • Guess what he's saying this time? That's right: God punishes the wicked. 
    • This time, though, he adds (in a possible reference to Canaanite lore) that the Firstborn of Death will visit the evil.
    • Um…gulp?
  • Chapter 19

    I Will Be Redeemed

    • Apparently no one is listening, so Job reaffirms his desire to plead his case before God. 
    • He's so worked up about it, he wants to etch his complaint in something more permanent than his mortal voice. Maybe on a rock or—surprise, surprise—in a book.
  • Chapter 20

    Zophar & His Asps

    • Zophar decides to beat a dead horse.
    • Not literally.
    • He tells Job that the wicked get what they deserve from God. 
    • For good measure, he adds that the venom of asps will poison people's stomachs and kill the sinners. Well that's graphic.
  • Chapter 21

    Job Refutes Zophar

    • Job sticks to his guns.
    • The wicked, he says, go unpunished all the time. Not that he's cool with that. He prays for the sinners' destruction, and then tells Zophar to stop being so depressing.
  • Chapter 22

    One More Time, Eliphaz

    • Eliphaz won't back down. He tells Job that he definitely messed up somehow to merit such a crazy punishment.
    • According to this major downer, the rules are the rules; if you're being punished, you must have done something wrong.
  • Chapter 23-24

    What Talking to God Might Look Like

    • Job reflects on what he would do if he were actually allowed to present his case to God. 
    • He makes the call: he would "heed" him but not "contend" with him. God is, after all, God. Contending may not be the best idea.
    • Next up? A long monologue about the state of violence on earth. 
    • Yeah, this one's a downer.
  • Chapter 25

    Bildad Poses a Question

    • This chapter is short but punchy.
    • Bildad asks Job, "How can a mortal be righteous?"
  • Chapter 26

    Job Replies With Belief

    • Job's ready with an answer.
    • He declares that of course God is the master of the universe, but it doesn't matter. He still deserves some explanation.
    • God may be within everyone and everywhere, but he's still as mysterious as they come. 
    • And when it affects people (like Job), those people need some answers. 
  • Chapter 27

    Job Maintains His Position, Divine Justice

    • In verses 1-7, Job refuses to back down from his earlier position. Yeah, it's a little repetitive, but hey, the guy has gone through a lot.
    • Verses 7-23 is where it gets interesting.
    • We're not sure who's talking, but it's a discussion of divine justice and how the evildoers (nonbelievers) will get what's coming to them by God.
    • If this is Job speaking, it's probably an ironic speech, given that he's been yammering on about how divine justice has wronged him, a righteous man.
  • Chapter 28

    Wisdom Interlude

    • Getting tired? Good. It's time to shake things up.
    • In this unsigned interlude, the speaker riffs for a while about where the seeker can find wisdom. Answer? We're still not sure.
    • We suggest you go back and read this passage—if pretty poetic. It doesn't hurt that we're still in poetry here. 
    • The moral of the story is that wisdom lives with God. To fear the scope and power of this divine wisdom is to be truly wise in a human sense. Kind of how a truly wise man knows that he knows nothing.
  • Chapter 29-31

    Job Completes His Words

    • One more time! 
    • Yep, more lamenting. 
    • Job isn't happy with the pain and embarrassing nature of his position. He reminisces about the good ol' days and tries to understand why he's being punished.
    • He concludes that he has done all God asked, and that God owes him an explanation. Wait, where have we heard that before? Oh yeah, that's right—everywhere in this entire book.
    • Think X-Men here. Really. The whole point of Wolverine's scenes is to show you that Hugh Jackman is a cool dude. That way, the audience is totally with him when he demands answers about his origins.
    • Same with Job. It's an old trick.
  • Chapter 32-37

    Elihu. Eliwho?

    • Elihu comes out of nowhere. 
    • He's only mentioned in these passages, but his speech adds a new layer to Job's friends' words, so pay attention.
    • He starts by stating that he is younger than the other three, and that he is only speaking out of concern for Job. Fair enough.
    • Elihu then tells Job that he (Job) isn't necessarily a sinner, but that his misfortunes are just part of a cycle of divine power that cannot be questioned or understood. It just is. 
    • This guy is clearly very chill. He basically tells Job that he's not necessarily a sinner just because he is being punished, but his reaction to that punishment is an expression of foolishness. 
    • So, yeah…he's calling Job a fool.
  • Chapter 38-39

    God. Just God.

    • Enter God.
    • He comes down in a whirlwind and poses a number of rhetorical questions to Job, all of which are designed to show Job how small he is in relation to the universe...which, by the way, God created. 
    • You should probably go back and check this part out. Some of the questions are pretty awesome.
    • God's wisdom isn't like human wisdom. After all, God is concerned with making waves flow and the architecture of the heavens. You know, big deal things.
    • This doesn't mean that human affairs don't concern him; they're just one part of a vast, unknowable whole. 
    • Basically, Job's question is answered with a bunch of equally unanswerable question. He is completely and totally out of his league on this one. 
    • Note to Shmoopers: God talks of natural things in human terms so that Job can understand them. By doing so, he illustrates how the mortal and the immortal are so far apart even though they are physically close together (see 38:28).
    • Deep, right?
    • Oh, and by the way, a lot of these passages make their way into modern thought. Again, just go ahead and read it.
  • Chapter 40

    God: Take Two

    • Job splutters a mere two verses in response to God's line of questioning. Wouldn't you be a little freaked out, too?
    • And then…God cuts him off. He's known to be an interrupter.
    • This time, he has some important news: Job is not guilty or innocent, just powerless. Job has been condemning God to justify himself, and that is just plain uncool.
  • Chapter 41

    God: Take Three

  • Chapter 42

    All's Well That Ends Well

    • Get ready for a happy ending.
    • Job is humbled and pledges his loyalty to God. 
    • And don't worry, Job's friends get their comeuppance. They're rebuked for giving him bad advice, and Job goes on to live a happy, prosperous life.