Sefer Iyov, the Book of Job, is a complex work. It presents a number of questions which are very difficult to answer, the most famous of which is the question of theodicy: why do bad things happen to good people?
Apparently, God made a wager with the Satan that Job would remain true and loyal even when horribly tormented and knowing that he deserved no punishment. What follows is a description of how Job’s family is killed and all his property is lost. Job accepts this with equanimity. The Satan then afflicts Job with a horrible disease, but stops short of taking his life as instructed by the Lord (1:12). At this point Job can no longer cope. He begins to question God’s justice, though he never questions God’s existence or even His power.
Job’s friends come to reassure him, but their way of comforting Job is to assure him that God’s justice is absolute and that he must deserve his horrible suffering. Throughout this surprising remonstration, Job gets more upset, and continuously protests his innocence of the suggested wrongdoings. Eventually, God appears and remonstrates both Job for doubting Him, and the friends for sinning against Him, and Job has his former happy life restored.
Throughout the course of the book, Job is meant to learn humility and that it is not his place to evaluate or question God. In accepting his suffering, Job becomes a better person. As the commentary in The Israel Bible demonstrates, sometimes it is those that God loves most that He causes to suffer, because in doing so He makes them stronger.
Whether or not we can pinpoint a reason for Job’s suffering, one thing is clear from the end of the book. We must always remember that there is a Divine planner who has ultimate wisdom and a perfect sense of Divine justice. Though His reasons for running the world as He does may not be obvious to us, we must put our trust in Him alone and believe that everything He does is for the best.
There is a debate among the Sages of the Talmud regarding when Job lived. According to one opinion, he did not live at all and the story of his suffering is meant to serve as a parable and a model for dealing with suffering and other difficult philosophical questions. It has also been suggested that the book is not meant to be merely a parable of suffering in general, but of the suffering of the Jewish people. Indeed, Job’s homeland, the land of Uz, is understood by many as another name for the Land of Israel.
The Jewish people have suffered considerably over the ages. Throughout history, they have lost everything from their families to their possessions, their homes and even their homeland.
They have been afflicted physically, emotionally and spiritually, but like Job, have been promised that the life of the Jewish nation will never be extinguished. Also like Job, they have at times remained strong and at times have questioned, but through it all they clung to their belief in the Creator.
Though we might never be able to fully answer the question of why Israel had to suffer so much throughout history as they did, the Book of Job reminds us that we must always trust in the Lord. We believe that the suffering of Israel is ultimately for the good, and we must have the confidence that Israel will be restored to their former glory, safe and secure in the Land of Israel.