The book of Job has always been a difficult book for me to read–from the long (seemingly boring) monologues of Job’s friends to the questions that are raised in one’s mind about the fairness of Job’s situation. How to Read Job by John H. Walton and Tremper Longman III is a new resource that aims to help us better understand this complex book.
Walton and Longman are both established Old Testament scholars, and their insights are certainly valuable in this volume. And, although they are established OT scholars and the book comes from IVP’s academic imprint, How to Read Job is readable at many levels. As a seminary student, I found it to be a solid introduction to reading Job. Pastors would benefit from How to Read Job as part of their preparation to preach or teach through the book of Job. Thoughtful congregants wanting to dig into Job in their personal study would find this to be a readable volume as well.
The Book is divided into four parts:
- Reading Job as Literature,
- Getting to Know the Characters of the Book of Job,
- The Theological Message of the Book of Job, and
- Reading Job as a Christian.
A significant strength, in my opinion, is the presence of Walton’s trademark emphasis on ancient Near Eastern backgrounds. Chapter 3 is dedicated to this, but there are also insights regarding ANE backgrounds interwoven throughout.
The true strength of this volume is found in Part 4 (Reading Job as a Christian). How to Read Job not only aims to give a better understanding of Job within its ancient context of the Old Testament world, but also to give the reader a practical, applicable understanding of Job as Christians in the 21st century. As Walton and Longman point out, in order to gain as full of an understanding as possible, we ought to read the book of Job twice–first, doing our best to read it through an ancient lens, focusing on what the original audience may have understood; second, reading the text in light of the revelation of the New Testament, which is now a part of the same canon as Job.
Unfortunately, the appendix, which lists commentaries on Job, isn’t very extensive, and I think it could have been bolstered by including additional commentaries, and perhaps other resources/monographs. But, this, of course, is only a technical weakness.
So, is Job a book that we ought to readily go to in times of suffering? Does it provide comfort? To begin the book, Walton and Longman suggest that those who do approach the book in this way are often left unsatisfied, essentially because “their expectations are misguided” (p.13). Near the end of the book, they pose this question, answering: “When understood in the way that we have discussed above, the short answer, of course, is no–and it is not designed to do so” (p.169). But, one of the great benefits of this book is that it does not end there. The final chapter is “Applying the Book of Job,” which is certainly needed in a book of this sort. Without application, we are left wondering, “So what?”
Considering the intimidation that the book of Job poses to some readers, this volume is a welcomed addition to IVP’s ‘How to Read’ Series (which also includes volumes on Genesis, Exodus, Psalms, and Proverbs).
Applicable points that stood out from page 187 of the book, from the chapter “Applying the Book of Job”
- “Refrain from all attempts to manipulate God, because when we think about God that way, we diminish him. We must adopt a view of God that respects his wisdom.”
- “If we seek to elevate ourselves higher than God, we will end up with a God not worthy of our worship.”
- “We should strive to have a righteousness that is not based on the benefits we receive but is founded in the worthiness of God.”
Official Product Description
We often turn to the book of Job when we encounter suffering. We look for an explanation for the questions “Why me?” or “Why her?” But what if it turns out that although Job does suffer, the book is not really about his suffering?
If ever a book needed a “How to Read” instruction manual, it is the book of Job. And when two respected Old Testament scholars team up—both of whom have written commentaries on Job—we have a matchless guide to reading and appreciating the book. From their analysis of its place in the wisdom literature of the Bible and the ancient Near East to their discussions of its literary features and relationship to history, Walton and Longman give us the best of their expertise. They explore the theology of Job, placing it within Israelite religion and Old Testament theology. And they coach us in how to read Job as Christians. When it turns out the book is not what we thought it was, our reading is richly layered and more satisfying.
Whether you are preparing for preaching, teaching, leading a Bible study, studying for a class or for personal enrichment, How to Read Job is your starting point.