STUDY GUIDE FOR THE BOOK OF JOB
Bill Long, M. Div., Ph. D., J. D.
INTRODUCTION (written 1/7/05)
This page consists of 66 studies on the Book of Job written during the first three months of 2005. It is meant to supplement the essays on the Book of Job on this web page as well as my 2004 book, A Hard-Fought Hope: Journeying with Job Through Mystery (Upper Room Books, Nashville, TN, 2004). The ideal use of these studies is in individual or group contexts where ample opportunity is allowed for reading the text of the Book of Job closely and discussing or writing answers to the questions posed. The Book of Job is an incredibly rich source for exploring the range of human emotions attendant upon loss; our close reading of the Book of Job, with probing questions and opportunities for writing and discussion, will allow us to understand our own losses and griefs, and begin to construct hope in the midst of loss.
Each of these studies is designed to be used in a setting from 45 - 60 minutes, though some may find that slow probing of Job and these questions takes far more time than that. Each of these studies is designed to evoke your own knowledge and reflected experience. That is, the philosophy behind these studies is that you are the experts in understanding the psychology of loss because you have experienced loss or you know others who have. The experience of loss and grief gives one a sense of authority and clarity in expression that few other experiences in life can provide. However, I also occasionally give other Scripture passages or provide more detailed contextual or lexical (clarifying the text) clues that might help focus your discussion or personal consideration. I think that loss and hope are best explored in the context of community, and I would look forward to hearing from you if you find these studies useful. If you use them in a group context or print them off, I would ask that you would give appropriate citation to me.
Though there is not one overriding form for all the following studies, most of them are arranged as follows:
I. Title, Scripture Passage, and Goal or Purpose Statement
Each study is independent of the others, so that you can choose any combination of studies that you desire to fit your goals. My interest is in providing studies of rather small units of text (I rarely "cover" more than a chapter in one study, and usually focus on 10 verses or so) so that the power of Job's highly compressed language will be more easily understood. For example, the first study, entitled "Getting to Know Job," will consist of a detailed consideration of only the first five verses of the Book of Job. I also want to be clear with you about what I think the goal of each study should be.
II. Context-Setting Comments
Either near the beginning of the study or as the questions develop will be a paragraph that helps put the problem of the day into greater focus. Sometimes I will allude to previous (or subsequent) discussions in Job that clarify our study; sometimes I will point to other Scripture passages; sometimes I will state the issue in philosophical, theological or psychological terms. In this section I seek to bring home to us in 2005 (or whenever you are studying Job!), the human struggles that Job and the friends are experiencing as they deal with the horrendous realities of Job's loss.
III. Questions and Quotations of the Text
Each study has no fewer than two and usually no more than four sections for consideration. Here I will provide the text of the Book of Job that motivates the question. If the text is too long, I will often quote sections of it so that you can see how the question relates to the discussion in the Book of Job. I will use the New Revised Standard Version as my text, though I encourage you also to compare this version with others you may have. I will sometimes make reference to the Hebrew text (a very difficult text at that) in order to bring out a particularly salient point. Just translating the text of Job adequately has occupied considerable time of some of the greatest Job scholars of history; thus I can only hope to point to a few of the issues where knowledge of Hebrew helps to clarify (or confuse) us.
IV. Summary of our Learnings
I will not often say what I think we have learned at the end, because I respect the reader (i.e., YOU!) enough to come up with your own reading that I don't want to 'impose' my interpretation here. I do that in my book and in the Job essays on this web site. I sometimes will have what you might call "parting ideas" that help to fix certain concepts in my mind as I conclude a section of text. I hope you will find these parting thoughts useful to you.
You will note that I assume and expect a lot out of the reader in these pages. I think the Book of Job is probably the most difficult and demanding book of the Bible to understand, and my purpose is to make the issues more accessible through these studies but not to "simplify" them for you. There is a joy, and almost an exhilaration, that comes from understanding the nuances of a creative thinker's mind. We have such a thinker in the Book of Job. When all is said and done, there is a lot of ambiguity and unclarity in the Book of Job. There are many theological questions that remain after we study it. For example, one that continues to haunt me is to what extent Job's vision of God in Job 42 opened him further to the grace of God or closed him off from that grace. You will have to ready my essays on Job 42 and go through the study guide on Job 42 (which I won't get to until about March 2005) to understand why this is a persistent question for me.
My fondest hope is that these questions, and the accompanying essays, kindle such a interest in this classic statement of loss, grief and hope that it will reorient your view of your own past, present and future. Thus, in the final analysis, a sincere study of the Book of Job is an act of courage as well as a means of self-exploration.