A “blameless and upright” man named Job lives in the land of Uz with his large, wealthy household, including many children, servants, and livestock. Job has always worshiped God and resisted evil. He even regularly offers sacrifices to God on his family’s behalf.
One day in heaven, God and Satan have a conversation. God asks Satan if he’s ever considered God’s “servant Job,” who is so righteous that he’s unlike anyone else on earth. Satan argues that if God allowed Satan to harm what belongs to Job, then Job would actually curse God. So God grants Satan power to touch Job’s possessions, as long as he doesn’t hurt Job directly.
One day, Job suddenly receives terrible news from one messenger after another. The first three messengers report that, in a series of disasters, Job’s livestock have been stolen and his servants have been killed. Worse, the final messenger tells Job that Job’s eldest son’s house collapsed while all 10 of Job’s children were feasting there; all have been crushed to death. At this news, Job tears his robe, shaves his head, and bows to the ground, praising God’s name and refusing to accuse him of wrongdoing.
The next time Satan visits the heavenly assembly, God points out that despite what Satan has done, Job remains righteous. Satan retorts that if he’s allowed to harm Job’s own body, then Job will definitely curse God. God allows this, and Satan then afflicts Job with terrible sores. As Job scrapes at his sores, his wife suggests it would be better to just “Curse God, and die.” But Job refuses. Soon after, three of Job’s friends—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite—come to visit. When they see Job’s suffering, they weep, and they spend seven days grieving with him in silence.
After the seven days are up, Job finally speaks (and the book’s prose opening gives way to poetic dialogue), cursing the day he was born and wishing he were resting peacefully in the grave. Then Eliphaz claims that God doesn’t afflict innocent people this way and that no human being is sinless (implying that no matter what he says to the contrary, Job isn’t suffering innocently). He advises Job that God doesn’t wound people without healing them, so Job should patiently trust God. In response, Job accuses Eliphaz and his friends of being cruel and wishes that God would kill him rather than continue to torment him this way.
Next Bildad speaks, insisting that God never does anything unjust and that he always vindicates the blameless in due time. While Job doesn’t disagree, he sees no point in questioning or arguing with God; after all, God isn’t a human being who could be taken to court. Further, it distresses Job that by afflicting him, God gives the appearance of siding with the wicked.
Zophar addresses Job next, calling Job’s words “babble” and pointing out that God’s wisdom is limitless, so Job shouldn’t claim to grasp it. He assures Job that if he directs his heart toward God and turns from wickedness, he won’t be miserable anymore.
Job responds to Zophar with sarcasm, saying that Zophar is clearly the only wise person alive. Job laments that people used to look up to him for his insight, but now he’s just a laughingstock. Nevertheless, there’s nothing new that Zophar—or any of Job’s friends— can teach him. It’s God Job wants to argue with. In fact, he’ll defend himself before God even if God kills him for it. He prays, begging God to stop oppressing him, even to look away from human beings, whose lives are so brief, so that they can enjoy what little time they have on earth. Eliphaz responds by claiming that Job’s own words condemn him and that, once again, Job is only suffering the rightful consequences of defying God.
Job calls his friends “miserable comforters” and, in view of the fact that God seems to have abandoned him, he calls for a heavenly witness to vouch for him. When Bildad objects that the ungodly never thrive, Job is undeterred, maintaining that God is pursuing him without just cause and that everyone who loved him has now abandoned him.
And yet, Job believes that his “Redeemer lives,” and that someday—even after Job’s body has decayed—he will see his Redeemer on the earth.
But Zophar, agitated, insists it’s always been true that wicked people live unhappy lives devoid of God’s blessing. Job tells Zophar to stop mocking him and counters that, in fact, the wicked prosper, live fearlessly, and die in peace.
When Eliphaz speaks up next, he continues to argue that Job has done wrong—he’s even been cruel to the needy—and that’s why his life is filled with terrors. He accuses Job of being like those who assume that God is too far away to see the awful things they’re doing. If Job wants God to answer his prayers, then he must repent.
Job responds that he wishes he could go to God’s house and plead his case in person; then God would hear Job’s arguments and acquit him. The trouble is, no matter where he goes, he can’t find God. But Job knows that God knows where he is, and that, furthermore, he will emerge from God’s testing “like gold” since he hasn’t abandoned God’s commandments.
Bildad interjects that nothing and nobody is pure or righteous in God’s sight, but Job sarcastically cuts off his “helpful” friend. Job goes on to describe God’s mighty power over the natural world and his wisdom, which is far beyond human discovery. He wishes he were still in his prime, back in the days when young and old alike respected Job and sought his counsel. Now, he’s in constant pain, mocked by everyone, and seemingly abandoned by God. He insists that if he has done anything wrong, then he deserves God’s judgment (implying once again that he’s innocent). Then he stops speaking, and his three companions do the same.
Then, a fourth companion speaks up—Elihu. Elihu is angry about Job’s self-justification and the three friends’ failure to answer Job. Elihu acknowledges that he is young, but that he’s been listening to the others for a long time and can no longer contain himself—he must speak. Elihu insists that because God is so much greater than mortals, it isn’t right to argue with him. He claims that God often speaks to people through bodily suffering in order to draw their souls away from Sheol. He charges that Job is behaving rebelliously, like a wicked person, when he maintains his innocence. He urges Job to observe God’s mighty works in nature and explain them to his friends if he can (which will prove that Job is no wiser than the rest of them).
Suddenly, God himself speaks to Job “out of the whirlwind.” God demands to know who dares question him and says that Job must answer his questions. God then interrogates Job, asking him a long series of questions about the making of the earth and its creatures. He even mocks Job, saying that surely Job must know all these things. At last, Job admits that he is small and declares that he will no longer speak.
But God isn’t done speaking. He tells Job to consider fearsome creatures like Behemoth and Leviathan that God created and that God alone can tame. In response, Job confesses that he’s spoken foolishly about things far too wonderful for him to understand; he humbly repents.
Afterward, God admonishes Eliphaz for not speaking about him in the right way. He orders Eliphaz to make a sacrifice and ask God’s servant Job to pray for Eliphaz and the others. When Eliphaz does this, God accepts Job’s intercession on his friends’ behalf. Not only that, but God also restores Job’s fortunes, making him even more prosperous and blessed than he was before his suffering and granting him 10 more children. Job lives for 140 more years and dies “old and full of days,” having seen several generations of his descendants.