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Preaching on Job

An overview of the historical background and theology of Job to help you develop your sermon series and apply it to your hearers.
Preaching on Job
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Historical Background

The Book of Job is regarded as one of the great literary treasures of the world. In the first verse we read, “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job and that man was blameless and upright” (1:1). An ancient person would have heard these opening words the way we hear, “Once upon a time” or “In a galaxy far, far away.” We are invited into a story. While the Bible itself affirms Job as a historical figure (Ez. 14:14; Jam. 5:11), the book’s author desires that we hear God speak to us through the medium of story and poetry.

The timeless quality of Job complements the other books of wisdom literature in the Bible. Proverbs shows us how God’s wisdom tends to work in everyday life and Ecclesiastes displays the exceptions to the rule, while Job explores wisdom in the midst of painful and confusing circumstances. By guiding us through Job’s experiences, the author of the book calls us to pursue questions about God in a broken world that doesn’t always make sense. The book invites our pain, anger, questions, and doubt. The human author of Job was aware that this book is contributing to the larger conversation of lived wisdom. Rather than providing simplistic answers, the Book of Job invites us to learn through our greatest suffering that God is the only answer to our most challenging questions.

Ultimately, both the book and the character of Job point us to the greater Job: the one truly innocent sufferer, who endured not only physical agony and social ostracization, but bore our sin upon himself, so that we who deserve to suffer the consequences of our sin might experience forgiveness, redemption, and restoration.

Sermon Series

The Book of Job is broken into three main parts: Prologue, Dialogue, and Epilogue. The dialogue contains five cycles of poetic conversations between Job and his friends and then Job and God.

  • Prologue (1:1-2:13)
    • Job’s Lament (3:1-26)
  • Dialogue (4:1-42:6)
    • Speech Cycle 1 (4:1-14-22)
      • Eliphaz (4:1-5:27)
      • Job’s response (6:1-7:21)
      • Bildad (8:1-22)
      • Job’s response (9:1-10:22)
      • Zophar (11:1-20)
      • Job’s response (12:1-14:22)
    • Cycle 2 (15:1-21:34)
      • Eliphaz (15:1-35)
      • Job’s response (16:1-17:16)
      • Bildad (18:1-21)
      • Job’s response (19:1-29)
      • Zophar (20:1-20)
      • Job’s response (21:1-34)
    • Cycle 3 (22:1-30)
      • Eliphaz (22:1-30)
      • Job’s response (23:1-24:25)
      • Bildad (25:1-6)
      • Job’s response (26:1-27:23).
      • Author of the book of Job raises essential questions (Job 28:1-28)
      • Job’s call for vindication (Job 29:1-31:40)
    • Cycle 4 (32:1-37:24)
      • Elihu’s 4 speeches (32:1-37:24)
    • Cycle 5 (38:1-42:6)
      • Yahweh’s speeches and Job’s responses (38:1-42:6)
  • Epilogue: Job’s restoration (42:7-17)

Exegetical big ideas to build a sermon series around

Sermon 1: Job 1:1 – 2:10 (selections)

This sermon could introduce Job as an upright, righteous person (Job 1:1-3) who experiences catastrophic loss (Job 1:13-2:8). The message would focus on how suffering enables Job (and us) to demonstrate that we love God for God’s sake, not because knowing God benefits us (Job 1:20-22). A subtheme of the sermon could include that there are no simple answers to the problem of suffering (in Job’s case, Satan is involved (Job 1:6-2:7)). This message could also show how even people of genuine faith experience deep anguish and mourning (Job 1:20).

Sermon 2: Job 3-31 (selections)

This sermon could cover the speeches of Job’s friends from Job 4-31. It could discuss how Job exerts superhuman spiritual strength by praising God in the midst of his devastating calamities (Job 1:20-21), but then begins to cry out, “Why? Why? Why?” and curses the day he was born (Job 3).

A preacher could then explain how Job’s friends were right in visiting him in the midst of his troubles and acknowledging his pain through their presence and tears (Job 2:11-13). The take-away here is that we should not avoid people who are suffering, but instead be present to them, acknowledge their pain, and serve them in ways that provide support such as listening or providing a meal.

Afterwards, a preacher could take a selection from the speeches of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, and demonstrate how when they speak into his suffering they offer simplistic and unhelpful answers, such as asserting that the innocent always prosper and evil people always perish (Job 4:7-9).

Sermon 3: Job 32-37 (selections)

This sermon could cover selections of Elihu’s speech (Job 32-37). While he repeats some of the same arguments as Job’s three friends, who contend that the innocent prosper and evil people suffer, he seems to offer a more enlightened perspective. Job contests the speeches of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, but not Elihu’s speech.

At the end of the Book of Job, God looks back over Job’s suffering and rebukes his three friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar but does not rebuke Elihu. While Elihu’s words are not flawless, one could preach a sermon on his discussion of how God speaks to us and refines us through suffering (Job 33:14-19 and Job 36:15).

Sermon 4: Job 38-42 (selections)

This sermon focuses on God breaking his silence through two speeches. In God’s first speech, he asks over 50 questions and demonstrates his understanding of and control over the universe, and by contrast how much Job (and we) do not know.

In God’s second speech, he focuses on his power over chaotic, powerful creatures such as the Behemoth and the Leviathan. These creatures likely not only represent the hippopotamus and the crocodile, respectively, but are also symbols of cosmic evil. God has power over cosmic evil.

God does not answer Job’s questions nor those of his friends, but instead gives his presence. While Job likely still has questions about his suffering and why there is evil in the world, when he “sees” God, Job also experiences a certain level of peace and he repents of his accusations that God is unjust (Job 42:5-6). In a way that dovetails with Proverbs, the Book of Job affirms that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Job 28:28, Proverbs 9:10).

Sermon 5: Job 42 (selections)

This sermon would focus on the epilogue of the Book of Job, affirming that the God who speaks to Job from the storm in fact controls the universe (Job 38-41). In addition, the preacher could draw on the Book of Revelation and affirm that the slain Lamb is on the throne of the universe (Revelation 5:6).

While we see in both Job’s life and in the Book of Revelation that there is great suffering in the world, some of which is caused by Satan, God is ultimately in control. The slain Lamb shows us that God has vanquished Satan (Colossians 2:13-15); though he is still active, he is a defeated foe on a leash.

Job’s restoration also shows us that God is gracious and good. While we may not experience the same kind of tangible, visible prosperity at the end of our lives as Job did, we will experience a final redemption and restoration in the world to come; a place where there are no more tears, death, mourning, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:4).


-There are no easy answers to suffering. The Book of Job refutes a karmic understanding of life where we always get what we deserve. Our lives are not as simple as a mathematical formula in which we are at the center.

-Job’s three friends express their thoughts with great poetry and some truth, but generally provide overly simplistic applications. Their presence in silence with tears is exemplary, but their explanations for why Job is suffering actually hurt him. How do we walk (and not walk) with others through suffering?

-Consider and speak to the actual pain and challenges that people in your congregation are experiencing: loss of a loved one, wayward children, infertility, financial stress, health concerns, social isolation, a difficult relationship, unwanted singleness, pain from childhood memories, depression, mental illness, addiction, identity issues, inability to find a job, and so on.

-Remember wisdom is found in God alone. While we understand some things, there’s much we don’t understand. Our relationship to God may be analogous to a dog’s relationship to its master—only our ability to understand God may be more than one million times more difficult than for our dog’s ability to understand us!

-True wisdom comes from the fear of the Lord.

-God is on the throne of the universe.

-God is good. God intends good for us, and our story ultimately, though not necessarily during our lifetime on this earth, has a good ending.

Theological Themes

Does God control the universe?

The Book of Job makes it clear that God is all-powerful and in control of the universe. God is the one who laid the earth’s foundations (Job 38:1-3) and set the constellations in place (Job 9:9, Job 38:32). God alone establishes the boundaries of the seas (Job 38:8-11) and makes the eagle fly at his command (Job 39:27). God also controls the behemoth (Job 40:15-24) and the Leviathan (Job 41:1-34), which likely symbolize cosmic spiritual evil. It is also clear that while Satan is given some freedom, God is ultimately in control. Satan is on a leash (Job 1:6-12, Job 2:1-6).

Why is Satan allowed to be active in the world?

There is debate as to whether Satan, literally “the satan” (Job 1:6) or “the accuser,” is the devil or an angelic member of the heavenly court. The inclusion of the definite article before “satan” might preclude the idea that this is a proper name. Part of the reason Job is allowed to be tested is so he can demonstrate his integrity before God. As aforementioned, however, the interaction between God and “the accuser” demonstrates God’s sovereignty and control over each part of Job and our lives—the bad and good.

Are we allowed to doubt and complain to God?

In the Book of Job, we see Job complaining about his lot and accusing God (Job 3; 21:4; 23:3-6; 40:8). Yet, at the end of the Book of Job, we see he is deemed (relatively) innocent and vindicated (Job 42:7-8). Grumbling is a sin and distances us from God—we see this when the Israelites complain about their life in the wilderness (Numbers 16:31-35; 21:6-7). However, there is a kind of lament that is directed toward God and can lead us closer to him. David’s complaining and brutal honesty before God (Psalm 13, 22), as was also ultimately true for Job, creates a bridge of conversation to God and God responds (Job 38-42; Psalm 22:2-4).

How do we live wisely in the midst of suffering and brokenness?

The Book of Job shows us that there are purposes to suffering we may not be aware of (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6). It is also clear that our suffering is not necessarily the result of our sin (Job 42:7-9). Job’s “friends” are often wrong in their content and tone, but occasionally they are correct. Job’s friend Eliphaz speaks truth when he asserts that suffering can be used by God to discipline us (Job 5:17; Heb. 12:5-6). Elihu also rightly contends that God delivers the afflicted by their affliction and speaks to us in our suffering (Job 36:15).

We also see that God will ultimately redeem our suffering—if not in this life—certainly in the world to come (Job 42:7-17). In the Book of James, we are called to follow the example of Job’s patience and live with hope, seeing what the Lord finally brought about in his life (James 5:10-11). Scripture affirms in Job, and other places, that God redeems our suffering (1 Pet. 4:12-19; Rom. 5:3-5; 8:28-30; Rev. 21:4).

Does God care when we suffer?

Job doesn’t understand why he is suffering. He feels that God does not care and is not aware of his affliction (Job 3; 23:1-6). When we suffer we can feel as though God does not see us or care. But in Job’s situation this is not the case. He did not know he was on “center-stage” before God and that God was on his side (Job 1:6-12).

The life and death of Jesus also shout an emphatic, "Yes!" to the question “Does God care when we suffer?” Jesus is not indifferent to our suffering; Jesus experienced suffering first-hand during his earthly lifetime (Heb. 4:15), and on the cross he experienced affliction like none of us will have to endure. In Revelation, John says that after he saw heaven coming to earth, a voice called out saying, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4) We also know that Jesus cares because when he returns he will remove our suffering.

My Encounter with Job

I chose the series title Can God be Trusted? in part because I feel it’s a relevant, existential question for people. The title, of course, is not original with me. It’s a question many people ask. John G. Stackhouse Jr. has a book with that title as do some other authors. Given the fact that the book explores wisdom, my subtitle was simply: Wisdom from the Book of Job.

When I sought to develop a preaching outline, I tried to analyze the book for homiletical units that provided a combination of theological truth and relevant application (see section 3). Job’s three friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar’s three cycles of speeches and Job’s responses (Job 4-31) take up 27 chapters in the Bible. Because the speeches are quite repetitive, obviously it would feel tedious for most preachers (and congregations) if there was a sermon on each of these chapters!

I chose to preach a series on this book knowing that if a person lives long enough, they will surely suffer or someone close to them will experience affliction. When we or a loved one suffers, we want God to speak into our suffering. In the Book of Job, although there are no easy nor definitive answers to the “why” of suffering, God clearly speaks into the experience of suffering in a human being’s life.

Another reason I chose to preach this is because people who are hurting need to know that they are not necessarily suffering because of their sin. There are complex reasons for why people experience suffering. The Book of Job also helps instruct us on how to walk (and not walk) with those who are suffering.

The book in the end demonstrates that God is in control and can be trusted.

Finally, Job himself as a character points to the truly innocent sufferer, who experienced agony outside of the gate of his city, social ostracization, shame, and offered up a sacrifice to God, so that we could experience forgiveness, redemption, and restoration. Job is a great book from which we can preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.


Tremper Long III, Job: Baker Commentary of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012).

Francis Anderson, Job: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1981).

Richard Rohr, Job and the Mystery of Suffering (Herefordshire: Gracewing, 1996). (Poetic and spiritual reflections on suffering and the book of Job)

For pastors who are looking for a quicker entry into the themes of Job, the following two resources are helpful:

The Bible Project (www.thebibleproject.com) offers two videos and three podcast episodes on Job that are helpful for preachers seeking a quick and easy entry into the book’s structure and themes.

John Walton and Tremper Longman III, How to Read Job (Downers Grove: IVP, 2015). John Walton and Tremper Longman III discuss the main themes, strategy, and message of the Book of Job in this short overview.

(I would like to thank my pastoral colleague Craig Pagens for helping me to research the Book of Job).

Ken Shigematsu is pastor of Tenth Church in Vancouver, BC and the author of the award-winning, bestseller God in My Everything

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